This post contains two book excerpts on the seeker-sensitive movement within Evangelicalism. This means it is a slightly longer post; but it is very powerful. I hope you’ll take the time to read both excerpts.
The below excerpt is from the preface of By Faith Alone, edited by Gary Johnson and Guy Waters. This preface was written by David Wells. The second excerpt is from J.I. Packers Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, who almost speaks prophetically about this movement as it was written in 1961.
This first excerpt is taken in the context of discussing three primary groups within Evangelicalism today. The first is the group which is true to teachings of the Reformation, the second is the “Emergent” group from which the New Paul Perspective and Federal Vision groups stem, which is the focus of this book. The third group (and the largest) is the “seeker-sensitive” group, which has damaged the Protestantism in unfathomable ways. David Wells explains:
In the last few decades, however, a second church constituency has been emerging, first in America, and now, like so many other things American, it is being exported overseas. It is made up of a generation of pragmatists, initially Baby Boomers but now spilling out generationally, who have lived off this reformational understanding as does a parasite off its host, separate but surreptitiously using its life and slowly bringing about the death of its host. These pragmatic entrepreneurs, these salesmen of the gospel, may not always deny reformational understanding overtly, but even if they do not, they always hide it from view. They shuffle off this orthodoxy into a corner where they hope it will not be noticed. To the seekers who are so sensitive and who are their target audience, this orthodoxy would be quite incomprehensible, not to say off-putting. So, it is covered up because it is judged to be irrelevant to what is of interest to them and tho those who are in the business of selling Christianity; it is likewise judged to be irrelevant to their work.
They want to reconfigure their churches around the marketing dynamic, and this is something quite different. It is this experiment of borrowing off the mechanisms of capitalism, this skimming off of business savvy and the niche-marketing that follows, that makes up the second major constituency in evangelical faith, as I see it.
…In fact, it is the dominant constituency in American evangelicalism today, which is why it is pandered to so shamelessly by Christianity Today. And that is also why it passes unchallenged by many evangelical leaders who might know better. Its stunning success has placed it beyond accountability or criticism. Its success has made it invulnerable and impervious.
The idea at the heart of this experiment was always rather simple. If Coca-Cola can sell its drinks, if Lexus can market its cars, why can’t the church, using the same principles, the very same techniques, market its message? After all, this is the language that all Americans understand because all Americans are consumers. And so it was that the seeker-sensitive church emerged, reconfigured around the consumer, edges softened by marketing wisdom, pastors driven by business savvy, selling, always selling, but selling softly, alluringly, selling the benefits of the gospel while most, if not all, of the costs were hidden. Indeed, it got worse than this. Sometimes what was peddled was a gospel entirely without cost, to us and apparently also to Christ, a gospel whose grace is therefore so very cheap. And it has gotten even worse. Just as often, the gospel has vanished entirely and been replaced only by feel-good therapy. The message has been about a God without wrath, bringing man without sin, into a kingdom without a judgement, through a Christ without a cross…all that we might feel good about ourselves and come back to “church” next week. This, actually, is how Niebuhr described the old, defunct Liberal gospel! But, never mind. Buoyed by George Barna’s statistics and flushed with success, seeker-sensitive pastors have sallied forth into the consumer fields in ever more inventive and extraordinary ways to bring in the harvest now ripened, now ready to be gathered and fetched into their auditoriums.
But to what are these seekers coming? Gone are all the signs of an older Christianity. Churches that once looked like churches, symbols of a message transcendent in origin, have now been replaced by auditoriums, and some of them might even be mistake as business convention centers. Indeed, they might even pass as showrooms – boats and home appliances on display during the week and Jesus on the weekend. And why not? Gone, after all, is the transcendent message, and what remains, really, is quite-this-worldy. And this is subtly broadcast visually. Pews have been replaced by chairs, the pulpit by a stage, or, maybe, a plexiglass stand, the Scripture reading by a drama group, the choir by a set of sleek and writhing singers who could be straight out of a show in Vegas, and everywhere the Jumbotrons, the technology, the wizardry of a control so complete that it all comes off as being super-casual. This church stuff is no sweat; it’s fun! It is to this that seekers are coming. Indeed, far more frequently than we might wish to know, it is only to this that they are coming.
Barna, at least, is now dismayed. His assiduous polling, which initially launched this experiment in “how to do church,” has now been following behind it and churning up some truly alarming findings. You see, none of this pizzazz and glitz has made an iota of difference to those who have been attending. They have been living on our postmodern “bread,” on technology and entertainment alone, and not on the Word of God. The result is that they are now living no differently from those who are overtly secular, he says. They have no Christian worldview, they exhibit no Christian character, and they show no Christian commitment. Their pastors, he says, measure their own success by the number of attendees and the square footage of the building, but the people who attend, those who are born again, show none of the signs of the radical discipleship that Jesus demanded. Am I just old-fashioned when I wonder to myself where there might be a causal connection between this flagging discipleship and the abandoned biblical concerns about truth, the irrelevant orthodoxy, in these seeker-sensitive churches?
Now, a word from J.I. Packer:
There is today a controversy in some evangelical circles about evangelistic methods. Some are criticizing, and others are defending, the type of evangelistic meeting that has been a standard feature of English and American evangelical life for almost a century. Meetings of this type are well known, for they are very characteristic. They are deliberately made brisk and bright, in the hope that people who have little interest in the Christian message, and who may never have been inside a Christian church, may nevertheless find them an attraction. Everything is accordingly planned to create and atmosphere of warmth, good humor and happiness. The meeting normally includes a good deal of music – choir items, solo items, choruses and rousing hymns, heartily sung. Heavy emphasis is laid on the realities of Christian experience, both by the choice of hymns and by the use of testimonies. The meeting leads up to an appeal for decision, followed by an after-meeting or a time of personal counseling for the further instruction of those who have made, or wish to make, a decision in response to the appeal.
The main criticisms that are made of such meetings – whether they are wholly justified we would not venture to say – are as follows. Their breezy slickness makes for irreverence. The attempt to give them “entertainment value” tends to lessen the sense of God’s majesty, to banish the spirit of worship and to cheapen men’s thoughts of their Creator; moreover, it is the worst possible preparation of the potential converts for the regular Sunday services in the churches which they will in due course join. The seemingly inevitable glamorizing of Christian experience in the testimonies is pastorally irresponsible and gives a falsely romanticized impression of what being a Christian is like. This, together with the tendency to indulge in long, drawn-out wheedling for decisions and the deliberate use of luscious music to stir sentiment, tends to produce “conversions” which are simply psychological and emotional upheavals, and not the fruit of spiritual conviction and renewal at all. The occasional character of the meetings makes it inevitable that appeals for decision will often be made on the basis of inadequate instruction as to what the decision involves and will cost, and such appeals are no better than a confidence trick. The desire to justify the meetings by reaping a crop of converts may prompt the preacher and the counselors to try and force people through the motions of decision prematurely, before they have grasped with is really all about, and converts produced in this way tend to prove at best stunted and at worst spurious and, in the event, gospel-hardened.
The way ahead in evangelism, it is said, is to break completely with this pattern of evangelistic action, and to develop a new pattern (or rather, restore the old one which existed before this type of meeting became standard), in which the evangelizing unit is the local church rather than a group or cross-section of churches. Then the evangelistic meeting finds its place among the local church’s services – a pattern, indeed, in which the local church’s services function continually as its evangelistic meetings.
Therefore, because we believe that dispensationalism has at least crippled the Church in her duty of proclaiming the gospel and discipling the nations, and out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed in a series of videos written and produced by NiceneCouncil.com under the title The Late Great Planet Church. And as iron sharpens iron we request that every Christian, congregation, and denomination discuss and debate these issues. By the grace of our great Sovereign let us engage in this debate with an open mind and an open Bible. Like the Bereans nearly two thousand years ago, let us “search the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things are so.”
Teaching awkward subjects is just that. Awkward. It’s hard to teach our kids about God’s wrath, about how only people who love and worship Jesus will be in heaven, and an eternity in Hell awaits all who refuse to recognize him for who he is. We want to shave off these hard edges. But if we’re going to be faithful Sunday school teachers, or faithful parents for that matter, we can’t avoid the awkward for our own comfort. Someone stepped out and warned us to flee from the wrath to come. Perhaps our kids need us to do the same.
There is a persistent, parasitic myth buzzing around that academic theological books are wet blankets for your devotional life, or your relationship with Jesus, or something. The source of these myths is typically those who out of principle do not lift books that require cerebral weight training. You won’t hear the same anti-theology myth coming from someone who has popped out on the other side of a dense library.
A “win” for me is not that my attractions shift from same-sex attractions to opposite-sex attractions. For although such a change would be from unnatural desires to natural ones, the struggle with temptation would remain. The theater of battle would have moved, but the fighting would remain as fierce.
No, the “win” for me, and for everyone who struggles with same-sex desires, is a greater love for Christ, and to have a deeper knowledge of the all-sufficiency of his grace. There is a prize greater than heterosexuality — a greater Bread — in the holy One who is what we are not or cannot be, in whom is found our ultimate and eternal satisfaction.
The biggest contradiction is not Romans v James. The biggest contradiction, says James, is a Christian without good works.
“Yes, we eat grass and we’re proud of it because it demonstrates that, with God’s power, we can do anything,” said 21-year-old law student Rosemary Phetha and member of Pastor Lesego Daniel’s Rabboni Centre Ministries in South Africa in a Times Live report.
Phetha said for more than a year she struggled with a sore throat that only healed after Daniel “turned me into a sheep and instructed me to eat grass.”
Are you. stinkin. kidding. me?
You know, if the tradition diverts us from Christ, diverts us from the gospel, diverts us from the words of Scripture, and points us to experiences or points us to some great achievement of some great person, well I think that’s tradition run amuck. But, a tradition that points us to Christ, that points us to the gospel, that very clearly and compellingly says, “You need to listen to the Word of God,” well that’s a tradition that’s worth listening to. That’s a tradition worth holding on to.
Over the years Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., has seen plenty of opportunities to accrue authority, some of which he keeps, many of which he passes out. And the way he passes out authority has shaped the culture of our church in countless ways.
Here are 20 ways he distributes authority, followed by 10 ways this shapes our church culture. Some apply just to lead pastors; many apply to all of us.
I’ve made it my goal over my Winter Break to read and digest a large quantity of books in a short period of time. It’s my pleasure to now write about one of these books, Jesus on Every Page by David Murray. This book has been on my list since it came out earlier this year, and I was very excited to finally get to read it.
The goal of Murray’s book is to overview 10 ways to see Christ throughout the Old Testament. Those various ways are listed below:
1. In the Creation
2. In the Old Testament Characters
3. In His Old Testament Appearances
4. In the Old Testament Law
5. In Old Testament History
6. In the Old Testament Prophets
7. In the Old Testament Types
8. In the Old Testament Covenants
9. In the Old Testament Proverbs
10. In the Old Testament Poems
Why This Book?
This book comes at a time where it is needed now more than ever. The Evangelical church is in a state where the Old Testament is hardly referenced, and when it is it is most often for morals or character examples rather than pointing to Christ. Not only for this reason, but David Murray also points out other reasons why a revitalization of the Old Testament in the Evangelical church is needed:
1. Liberal scholars have created an environment of skepticism and doubt shrouding the Old Testament.
2. Many Christians are ignorant of the Old Testament’s purpose and historical setting.
3. Still others find the Old Testament to be irrelevant in light of the New Testament.
4. The primacy of Dispensationalism in Evangelical churches tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role.
5. There are so many bad examples of Old Testament preaching that fuels peoples lack of interest.
7. People think the Old Testament is official, not personal (pgs. 6-7).
Interactions with the Text
It would be difficult to go in depth about each of the chapters in this book without writing at length or writing multiple posts. Instead I’d like to just write about a few moments (of many) that stuck out to me in the text and hope that is both informative for you as a reader and convincing enough to buy the book for yourself.
One thing that immediately jumped out to me is in the opening chapter on seeing Jesus in the creation. I was delighted to finally read a book that doesn’t turn Genesis 1-2 into a debate about creation or evolution, but instead teaches its intent for us as readers to see: the glory and majesty of Christ as creator and ruler over all of creation. Murray communicates this thought intimately and beautifully as he lists out the aspects of creation that point to Christ. A section I found really personal was titled “The Accessories of Redemption,” which discusses aspects of the creation that will ultimately be used as part of the plan to redemption. I’ve never thought about the creation with such questions as “What did he (Christ) think when he made the trees, one of which would one day suspend him between heaven and earth? (pg. 47)” When we think of all Christ did in creation despite his foreknowledge of our rebellion, we learn so much about his character and love for us.
I also appreciated David’s approach to the Old Testament characters. One thing is for sure: more often than not we tend to preach the Old Testament in a very man-centered fashion. This approach says we need to have faith like Abraham, forgive like Joseph, and have strength like David. In contrast, Murray shows us how we should instead read the Old Testament characters of old as shadows, types and pointing to Christ and his character. This approach leads us away from man-centered moralism and instead to Christ-centered doxology.
I was also overjoyed to see a chapter on the Old Testament appearances of Christ, also known as theophanies or christophanies. It is wise to learn and observe that when God reveals himself or speaks in the Old Testament it is always through the Son. Charles Drew refers to these appearances as love letters or phone calls between two lovers, acts which are temporary and create anticipation for the genuine arrival (pg. 81-82). Or, as some of Murray’s Scottish friends have said, “Christ enjoyed trying on the clothes of his incarnation.”
Another discussion that would benefit many people is that of Christ as the Wisdom spoken of in the book of Proverbs. It would be unwise for me to go into lengthy discussion on this chapter, but I was awed at how the Proverbs continually point to Jesus Christ.
Like many great books, this text comes complete with a Scripture Index. This index is particularly helpful because it will be useful for future reference to find quick points, introductions and illustrations. In addition, the book contains sets of study questions for each chapter than could be used in a group context.
The only critique I would have for this book is not the content, but a preference about the style. Murray often references Scripture or various commentaries and sources through the use of footnotes. However, instead of including these footnotes on the bottom of the page they are located in the back of the book. I would have much rather seen these footnotes cited on the bottom of the page, particularly for the scripture references that are either paraphrased or not quoted directly.
All in all this is a great book and one that I would heartily recommend to anyone who struggles reading through the Old Testament or wants to pick up new pointers on seeing Jesus in the Old Testament text. While a short primer on the subject matter, it will continue to be a book I delve into for pointers and advice as I read through the Old Testament.
Facebook can be very helpful to pastors. It helps us to know how to pray. It is a great avenue for communicating your message, making announcements, establishing connections, helping people to laugh, and a host of other things.
So while there are certainly exceptions, I’ve identified nine common lies perpetuated by people in the media. Granted, there are enough vocal evangelicals to bolster each of these stereotypes, so the media isn’t completely responsible. But nuance is necessary here. Thus this post.
What is amazing is how quickly we can make the switch, how quickly we can turn honor into dishonor and love into hate. From the heights to the depths may be only a matter of weeks or months. Then the book deals are gone, the platforms are removed, the Twitter feed vacant. The higher the climb, the farther the fall. The farther the fall, the longer we have to sit back and watch it all unfold. When it comes to our celebrities, we can be every bit as petty and every bit as cutthroat as the culture around us.
Pastors, I want to talk frankly and, hopefully, with a spirit of love, about one of the biggest mistakes I see many of you make. Most pastors have little emphasis, or sometimes, even knowledge about the content that is taught in groups in their churches.
Something I have found personally helpful in counseling with both men and women through this issue is helping the counselee identify what motivates him or her to seek out pornography. In some ways we might say the actual viewing of pornography is symptomatic of a deeper worship disorder that is happening in the heart. What motivates and precedes the viewing of pornography? Once that can be identified then more specific biblical counsel can often be offered.
The real danger here is not plagiarism—it is idolatry.
All idolatry debases the image bearers who become caught up in its train. Idols promise superhuman results, and for a time they can seem to work. But in fact they destroy the true humanity of both those they temporarily elevate and those they anonymously exploit. Nothing good can come from the superhuman figure presented to the world as “Pastor Mark Driscoll”—not for the real human being named Mark Driscoll himself, and not for the image-bearers who may be neglected in his shadow.
My tummy hurts. Ergo, there is no god.
This argument may be absurd, but it’s not intended as a reductio ad absurdum. Although in simplistic form, this enthymeme encapsulates one of the primary atheological arguments—the argument from evil.
Everything about this is heartbreaking.