Open Letter to Preachers #2

Dear Preacher

Allow me to share a personal secret with you. Although raucous rock music tends to be associated with the Enemy, in my blinder moments, I wish that I was a great musician and a world class performer, like Jack White or Thom Yorke; someone who draws a crowd and captivates an audience. [In God’s great wisdom, I’m a dull, introverted personality, with less-than-mediocre musical abilities]. And why should I be dissatisfied? As preachers, we’re called to a much greater task when we stand up before people. Yet, as I consider why it is that we have so much Christendom and so few Christians, I wonder if we as preachers don’t tacitly desire a rock-stardom of our own? Are we sometimes guilty of pleasing crowds, rather than preaching gospel?

Louie Giglio has recently grown quite a following here in South Africa, and not for nothing. On the basis of the 4 or 5 DVDs of his that I’ve seen, his presentations are well put together, and generally a delight to listen to. I have no gripe with him, but I worry about what he represents to you and me.

The four (ish) talks that I’ve heard Louie give have all been one: Whether you look through a telescope or a microscope, you witness the power and glory of God in creation. Therefore God is great.

All that is true and good. The problem is this. What I haven’t heard from Louie is the gospel. Almost everything that he said for those few hours could easily be said by a Muslim, or any other believer in a creator god. It was great to learn about stars and cruciform protiens, and what Louie did on those videos has its place. But regardless of how many cross-shapes he could have ennumerated in nature, that was not actually Christian preaching.

I’m worried that you and I see the ‘success’ of this aesthetic theology, and we take it as a model, rather than the interesting diversion that it is. We all value success and popularity and (dare I say) fame, but I fear that we somehow imagine that we can comfortably combine these things with our calling as preachers. And so we seek to replicate ‘Indescribable’ every Sunday in the pulpit.

In fact, we really only have one task as preachers, and that is variously described as ‘being [Jesus’] witnesses’ (Acts 1:8), ‘making disciples’ (Matt 28:18) and ‘preaching Christ and him crucified’ (1Cor. 2:2), among other things. We have to explain the gospel as revealed by the scriptures as clearly as possible, so that people will take up their crosses and follow Jesus. And as soon as we take that task seriously, we realise that Jesus and the NT writers considered the gospel to include a good 1000 pages of Old Testament, and the substantial body of writing thereafter. So, it’ll take work and time to explain how all of that relates to Jesus’ death for us.

And shortly after you begin confronting people with the meaning and demands of the gospel, you’ll discover that they don’t nod as vigorously as they did to the ‘God is great’ message. In fact, a lot of people will distinctly resent gospel preaching, because although grace is freedom for the human heart—a fragrance of life to those being saved—it is the smell of death to the rest (2Cor 2:16). In fact, you may not end up preaching to much of a crowd, and some people might actively dislike you. But, as someone once said:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)

The third thing you’ll discover about Christian preaching is that God uses it to change lives. Not to excite people, not to swell crowds, not to make people sing louder, but to actually change lives. Forever. Be a part of it.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1Cor 1:21-24)

POSTSCRIPT

Just to pre-empt your abuse, my comments about our brother Louie are on the basis of what I’ve seen only, not on his entire body of work. No doubt he is a fine gospel preacher too. I also note that he has a talk online called ‘Waking up to the whole gospel’, so I hope that he and I agree. My concern is with perceptions of what marks ‘successful’ preaching.

Secondly, although I’ve only read the free online chapter, Michael Scott Horton’s book ‘Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church’ would seem to be a must-read for more on this topic.

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