Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, June 22, 2007

Biblically Literate Evangelism

Todd Friel, Way of the Master Radio host, spent a day at the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention. The last 5 minutes or so of the first hour (Direct MP3 link) he played a brief audio clip from Kirk Cameron challenging the pastors of the SBC. Here's the transcript:

Can I speak to you from my heart for a moment? I realize that, theologically, I’m not worthy to wash your socks. But imagine this scenario with me, if you will: Imagine I’m a “seeker”- I’m a non-Christian, sitting in your church week after week after week listening to you. Am I ever going to hear the message that will save my soul from Hell? Will you ever tell me the truth clearly enough so that I realize that my sin has made me an enemy of God: that I am currently on the path that leads to destruction, with the wrath of God dwelling upon me, and that unless I repent and put my faith in the Savior, I will perish? Or have you decided that it’s better to simply entertain me, and on Sundays I can come to have my “felt needs” met with good music and good advice? Pastor, while I would appreciate that, it’s the ultimate betrayal of my trust in you if you don’t tell me the truth. Will I ever hear the words “repent,” “surrender,” “turn to the Savior,” “be born again”? If you don’t tell me those things, how will I ever know to do it?Please don’t leave it up to the Wednesday night small-group leader. They’re taking their cues from you. You’re leading the flock.

And now I speak to you as a Christian. If you and I fail to teach the whole counsel of God, and we don’t warn sinners to flee from the wrath to come, and run to the love of Christ on the Cross to save their soul, we make a terrible mistake. It doesn’t matter how happy a person is- how much a sinner is enjoying the pleasures of sin for a season- without the righteousness of Christ, he’ll perish on the Day of Judgment. The Bible says, “Riches profit not on the Day of Wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” You see, that’s how Kirk Cameron realized he needed a Savior. I had riches, but I knew that it was the righteousness of God that I needed in order to be saved from my sin

I truly appreciate his comments and agree with them whole-heartedly. And I am not just saying that as one of Kirk's fellow church members.

It certainly is true that a seeker-sensitive mind-set, which has as its goal to entertain congregations with gimmicky and manipulative techniques at the expense of declaring an unadulterated gospel message, has blinded the focus of the Church as a whole and Southern Baptist Churches specifically.

However, seeing that I come from the official American Bible Belt South, where Southern Baptist Churches thrive, and having lived in the first notch of the belt right below the buckle for a number of years growing up, I have some experience with Southern Baptist Churches and gospel preaching. Though there is deep truth behind what Kirk said to these pastors, if I could be so bold, I wanted to expand upon those comments.

Rather than a problem with preaching the gospel, I believe a much larger problem needing to be addressed is biblical and theological illiteracy in the pulpits and the pews. I have heard hundreds if not thousands of sermons from SBC preachers and evangelists and nearly everyone of them ends with a rousing invitational call for those who need the gospel. The person who has not heard the gospel, if any are genuinely present at all in the congregation, are implored to walk down the aisle in response to that invitation, meet with the pastor or some counselor, pray a sinner's prayer, and sign a card indicating they have given their lives to Christ. So in a sense, the gospel is proclaimed to a certain degree.

But, that gospel invitation often times comes after the conclusion of a poorly preached, biblically muddled sermon. Each Sunday morning and evening is an adventure as Christians have to endure a sloppily prepared sermon that has basically three points somewhat related to the context of the passage, and then have the message trivialized because it is punctuated with inappropriate humorous illustrations that detract from the seriousness of the subject matter.

Moreover, there is no biblical continuity from week to week. A couple of verses are randomly seized from their contexts, stripped of their true contextual meaning, and employed to bolster some spiritual opinion that has no bearing on the passage being preached. Additionally, the subjects preached are all over the map and taken from a hodge-podge of books. On one Sunday morning the pastor could be in Judges preaching on temptation, and then that Sunday evening in Colossians addressing worldliness, whereas on Wednesday evening its a message on commitment from Matthew, and then Sunday morning a message about prayer from 1 Peter.

Sunday school classes are really no better. Youth groups are primarily fast paced fun-and-games style presentations covering the generic topics on morality assumed to be relevant to Christian youth. Usually messages on premarital sex are high on the list. Rarely do the kids open their Bibles to hear their youth pastor teach on the attributes of God's holiness.

Most adult Sunday school teaching is done from a little quarterly booklet prepared by the national denomination which is designed to rush the class through a study of the Old and New Testaments within a few years (Or the Baptist Faith and Message), and never is there any time to stop down and ponder a key passage like Ephesians chapter 1 for a few weeks. As a result of these prefabricated lessons, the folks have a shallow, superficial understanding of the Bible once they are completed.

Certainly there are exceptions to my comments here. I am thinking in broad, general terms born from experience (keep in mind the words "broad" and "general" before leveling criticisms). However, in addition to challenging pastors to preach a clear, concise, and theologically accurate gospel message, I would also challenge them as to their preaching and teaching. I want them to set a standard of excellent for study in God's Word by presenting coherent, biblically sound messages.

No more simplistic sermons written hurriedly the Saturday afternoon before it is preached. And away with plagiarized sermons whose outlines are taken from something found on www.lazypastor.com and www.theultrabusypastor.com. If a pastor is too lazy to study so as to prepare a message, he must repent on his knees and discipline himself to prepare. If he is too busy, he must cut out superfluous activities from his life that rob his time. And shame on congregations who equate busyness with spirituality and work their pastor like a dog and don't afford him the time to study. They need to repent also.

I would exhort the pastors to preach and teach expositionally, verse by verse through a book, for that forces the pastor to deal with the entirety of God's Word. Exposition also makes the pastor think carefully through the Bible and drives him to wrestling with how to explain the text to his people. It even makes him deal with those oft avoided, difficult passages which raise uncomfortable questions, stir emotions and inflame religious fervor.

And finally, I would say pastors need to expose their flocks to rich theology from the pulpit and in the Sunday school classes. That would also include our heritage we have in a study of Church History. Pastor's must not keep their people ignorant of these things, even if the subject matter is considered difficult. I would also say include the youth, especially teens. Show them why the Bible is important and their faith profound by laying aside silly amusements and teaching them scripture. I believe teens are better prepared to handle these truths than we give them credit.

I believe Kirk is right. Certainly there is a dire need to proclaim a pure gospel message. But a pure gospel message is a result of a solid, biblical foundation and can be much more effective in presentation when the person has a firm knowledge of the truths he or she proclaims. Such knowledge can only come from sound preaching by men committed to preach and teach the full depths of God's revelation.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said.

5:35 PM, June 22, 2007  
Blogger Rhett said...

Amen. Speaking as a Southern Baptist in Georgia, there's TONS of ignorance in both pews and pulpits all around here!!

4:32 AM, June 27, 2007  

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