Recovering the Essence of the Gospel Message
I've been mulling this topic over for some time now but haven't had time to write with my college finals and family and work taking up most of my time. This issue has been bantered about so much it almost makes people immediately turn away, I am talking about the problems in many of our churches today. It's Dec 26th and just for example a large number of churches across the nation opted to not have services yesterday, being Christmas day and all... Among the group leading the charge Rick Warren who seems to speak for all evangelicals in matters of faith these days said that the Saddleback church would be closed Christmas day so people could spend time with their families. Now my intent is not to go on a tirade against Rick Warren his mentality is simply an example of the pervading mindset in our time. Churches have grossly man (consumer in modern parlance) centered, that is the issue. The cry of many of our modern churches is not an exaltation of Christ and His glory and a bewailing of man and his fallen state, but rather a chipper "Find the champion in you!" (Joel Osteen) is the slogan of the church that boasts the largest congregation in America.
To get to my point I think that David Wells is right when he says "God rests lightly on the evangelical church today". This explains the casualness of much of our worship as well as our growing theological illiteracy. God has ceased to be weighty in much of evangelicalism and in the minds of many, He is irrelevant to our lives. The Hebrew word translated "glory" in the OT literally means weight. So that is the issue Wells is getting at God has ceased to be weighty and if that is the case He, and His truth may be treated in a cavalier manner. This no doubt has to do with postmodern views on truth influencing the church, for in the postmodern mindset pragmatism seems to be king. Whatever works best that is true. Thus we see again churches being consumer centered striving to satisfy baby boomers with slick marketing techniques (ex: one church will change your cars oil while you are in the service) . All of these cute things we may do whether it be plays and skits or free esspresso can never replace solid God exalting preaching. And the problem is that it seems impossible to do both marketing techniques and be God centered and God glorifying. Either it is man whom we seek to please or it is God, and I say that you can not serve two masters.
What then is needed today is a restoration of God's transcendence in our churches and mostly our lives. The theological work is there many great theologians past and present have written and magnificently defined orthodoxy for us, the problem is that modern man has ceased to care. What advances man's estate is what most interests him, thus theological precision is irrelevant. The transcendence of God is at the heart of this issue, the infiniteness of God and His glory. That's a staggering word, infinite, yet it rolls right by us so often. The fact that God is infinitely holy, and thus separated from sinful creatures should amaze us. God is not like us. God by nature is the very definition of perfection. Yet it is this transcendent righteously aloof God who stoops down to take the form of a servant in Christ. In Christ we see radical contrasts of status He is both King of Kings and the servant of all, He who alone deserves praise and He who made of Himself no reputation, judge of man yet judged by men, etc. In the life of Christ the infinitely detatched God draws near to fallen man and redemption is accomplished.
Why was this done? It was the conviction of Jonathan Edwards and my own that God does all things for His own glory. This is a long argument to explain and for a concise treatment I highly recommend "God's Passion for His glory" by John Piper the 1st half is John Piper the second is the complete writing of Edward's "Dissertation concerning the End for Which God Created the world" that book by pointing me to scripture after scripture has helped me to see the God centeredness of God. To give a brief explanation on how Gods glory is the most precious thing to God and how everything without exception He does is for his own glory will take a post of itself. But for the sake of argument I point anyone who may read this to (Isa 48:9-11) here we see repeatedly the motive behind God's reinstating of Israel, His glory. My point is that it is this vision of an infinite transcendent God centered God that is needing to be restored in the minds of believers today. Titus is exhorted to teach the young men to treat doctrine with gravity or seriousness (ch 2) how can we expect men to treat theological truth with seriousness when God is irrelevant to post modern minds? God is not transcendent He is our buddy who is there to enhance our life's travels.
It is no wonder why we can not stomach an honest examination of issues such as God's sovereignty, election, wrath, and human free will. All these issue offend the natural man, and with a man-centered God with no wrath but only love toward those who despise Him the aforementioned issues are completely irrelevant. My point is that our view of God directly effects our capacity to do theology. To me the "hell fire and brimstone preacher" is a myth but the talk of God's being love and His being worthless is a reality. It was this sort of preaching which led me to seriously pursue theology, I heard the most blasphemous sermon of my life, my wife walked out I stayed to assess the message. The man was directly pitting God's wrath and love against eachother wit love canceling wrath (this is classic liberal theology). To get back on topic I think the main issue is that we need a high view of God and all that He is in His character and attributes and thus become ourselves God centered. We need to be still and know that He is God.
To give a final example of the weightlessness of God here is a comparison of one of my favorite hymns with a modern "worship" tune:
"Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and natures' night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke the dungeon flammed with light
My chains fell off my heart was free
I rose went forth and followed Thee"-(Charles Wesley)
"I need you to hold me
like my daddy never could
and I need you to show me
how resting in your arms is so good
I need you to walk with me
hand and hand we'll run and play
I need you to talk to me
To tell me again you'll stay"-(Brenda Lafavre)
Wesley is clearly descibing the biblical truth that all believers know namely regeneration. Lafavre is describing the psychologized yearing for a father figure being met in I think God.
Another post on Christianity and psychology will be up soon.