Tragedy of Compromise
If the Trumpet
Gives an Uncertain Sound
Evangelical thought has had a tremendous impact upon the
science of preaching. Down through the centuries God has
been pleased to bless the preaching of His Word to the salvation
and edification of millions. Preaching, however, has fallen
on hard times. This is the age of "sharing" and
"interacting." Many do not desire an authoritative
pronouncement but rather an "observation" to which
other such "observations" can be compared. It
is a day of humanism in preaching.
Let's Be Positive
Evangelicals the cardinal sin is negative preaching. Repeatedly
we are told by those who would tell us how to build large
churches that we are to be "affirmative" rather
than "prophetic" in our preaching. Basically one
is affirmative when his listeners have a positive feeling
about themselves rather than a negative one. So-called prophetic
preaching is that kind of preaching which makes the hearer
feel uncomfortable. Leith Anderson declares that "preaching
has changed from the days when the parishioners at the door
said, 'Thanks pastor. You really stepped on our toes today,
and I loved it.'"23
The most important question, however, is this: What kind
of preaching is approved by God? What guidelines for preaching
are set forth in God's Word?
of the current religious scene have noted that moderns do
not desire the same type of preaching that their forefathers
did. One observer believes we should abandon the superchurches
as models for the average church and notes that such churches
major "in 'positive preaching' (confrontational preaching
has not found a spot on most church growth lists I’ve seen)."24
In the biography of Robert Schuller, a current model
for the church growth movement, the author states that Schuller
learned from Norman Vincent Peale, the liberal Manhattan
pastor, that we should treat people positively. We should
avoid making them feel guilty but rather make them feel
good about themselves.25
If a preacher can make enough people feel good about themselves,
he can draw quite a crowd. People like to be made to feel
good, to feel they have the inner potential to "make
it work," to succeed in life. No wonder that contemporary
"ear ticklers" can attract such huge audiences.
makes a strong plea for a return to biblical preaching,
to an emphasis upon sin and grace.
yet, the very approach I am suggesting, which has been
characteristic of evangelical preaching and teaching
for centuries, and lies at the very heart of the Biblical
revelation, is anathema in many evangelical circles
today. Roy Anderson, who teaches a course on the integration
of self-esteem and theology at Fuller Theological Seminary
in Pasadena, California, complains about the psychological
battering of the cross . . . . There is no doubt that the cross
does inflict upon us a "psychological battering."
Theologically, we have considered that to be part of
the process leading to repentance.26
a telling remark is the following: "People today hunger
not for personal salvation…but for the feeling, the momentary
illusion of personal well-being, health, and psychic security."27
It is no doubt true, but should we aim in our preaching
to satisfy these desires of the flesh? Experienced pastors
have often heard the complaint, "But, pastor, you are
not meeting my needs." One has correctly observed that
the "focus is on oneself rather than on Christ."28
Another has noted, "By preaching to 'felt needs' we
are often preaching to selfish and idolatrous cravings."29
If preachers give in to these current notions, they will
be giving people what they want to hear rather than what
God wants them to hear. There is a big difference.
noted, evangelical Christians have become enamored with
psychology. This fascination has definitely had its effect
upon preaching. People are more interested in having their
feelings explored and diagnosed than they are in hearing
objective truth from the Scriptures. "We are living
in an age where the focus of ministry is upon counseling
and group manipulation rather than upon preaching. Expertise
in psychology and in church management are deemed more important
than immersion in the Word of God."30
preacher to be mainly a pulpit psychologist, applying "spiritual
Band-Aids" to the emotional hurts of his hearers, or
is he to be a proclaimer of the rich and varied truths of
the Word of God? Much preaching today, particularly in those
churches thought to be models of success, is centered on
psychological themes—meeting a person's emotional needs,
helping individuals achieve self-esteem, and solving their
personal and interpersonal problems. The Bible becomes a
textbook in psychology. "Personality theory, psychopathology,
health, and therapeutic change have replaced Biblical anthropology,
sin, grace, holiness, and sanctification. Psychology's culture,
social, and pragmatic authority proved too strong. Biblical
truth seemed insufficiently applicable."31
sad for one to think that biblical truth is inapplicable
today! The Word of God was written to meet the needs of
men, but, more important, to reveal the thoughts of God
and to direct man away from himself and toward the Lord.
The emphasis today is upon "my needs" rather than
upon God's person. Preachers have, in response, been turning
away from the exposition of biblical truth and have scurried
about to locate verses and passages that would "meet
needs." Those who do not "meet needs" may
be in danger of losing their jobs!
people's concept of Bible study is to gather a group together,
have them open their Bibles, and then go around the circle
having each share "what this passage means to me."
Under most circumstances this practice results merely in
an accumulation of ignorance. The first question one must
ask is: "What does the passage mean?" not "What
does it mean to me?" In order to answer that
question, one must have spiritual discernment and some knowledge
of the principles of biblical interpretation. However, most
unfortunately, many persons are not nearly as interested
in what God said as they are in finding answers to their
problems. Much preaching today is infected with this subjective
and selfish approach to the examination of God's revelation.
Leith Anderson notes that old-style preaching used to "tell
people what to do." But times have changed. "Modern
Americans don’t want their politicians, doctors, or pastors
telling them what to do . . . . Today's speaker is more of a 'communicator'
than a 'preacher.' The older-style preaching was marked
by such words as 'ought' and 'should' and 'must.'"32
Such language is to be avoided by those who would build
large and successful churches.
great British expositor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, some years
ago lamented certain influences which were undermining the
character and authenticity of modern preaching. One of these
was the change from "preaching to sharing . . . . Worship
When the approach of "sharing" is adopted, one's
attention immediately is diverted from God's revelation
to man's perception.
expectations for preachers have caused many a man of God
to rethink his approach. Should I give in to the demands
of the people, forsake the expository approach, and deliver
"sermonettes" to "Christianettes"? These
are hard questions facing pastors today.
world wants religion to answer "practical"
questions about relationships, child-rearing, self-image,
lifestyle, "how to do" this or that. God must
not interrupt! He must never get in the way.
must never tell a person what he or she must believe
or do. It must simply help the world solve its practical
centuries Christians have found the answers to life's deepest
problems in the teaching of Scripture. But these answers
have been discovered as applications of the great doctrinal
truths about God and His works. The great preachers of the
past have not gone to the Scriptures with the primary aim
of meeting human need but of finding and declaring the mind
and purpose of God. In so doing, they have met human needs.
The Tradedy of Compromise. ByErnest Pickering. ©1994. BJU Press.
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