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The Tragedy of Compromise

by Ernest Pickering

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Please Donít Make Me Think!

Modern Americans have been raised on a steady diet of entertainment. Television has affected our culture to a very large extent. Preachers are now confronted every Sunday with members who have spent hours that week in viewing the very latest in entertainment. Television has made the general public very entertainment conscious. It has definitely had an adverse impact upon people's ability (and desire) to think and to follow reasoned arguments. Since preaching is based upon reasoning and the orderly marshaling of ideas, it becomes difficult for many moderns to follow an exposition of the Bible. One has rightly observed of television:

Its form of communication (and form of knowing) encourages the aversion to abstraction, analysis, and reflection that characterizes our culture at all levels. Thinking is often hard work.

Television's surfeit of instant entertainment not only provides relief from such hard work, it offers an attractive, alternative, "way of knowing" (as does rock 'n' roll) that makes reasoning seem anachronistic, narrow, and unnecessary.35

In an interesting examination of the differences between "Pre-Boomers," "Baby Boomers," and "Baby Busters," Gary McIntosh notes that "while expository sermons used to be thought of as the order of the day, baby boomers and baby busters now want 'how to' sermons and 'issue-oriented' sermons."36In light of this trend, however, the preacher must ask, "Is genuine, acceptable preaching a declaration of what God wants man to hear or of what man wants God to say?" Historically, preaching has been viewed as the art of communicating to men, in language understandable to them, the timeless truths from the Bible about God and His works. The starting point for preaching has been God and not man. This is not to say that true biblical preaching is in any way impractical. In such preaching, however, the preacher begins with an exposition of what God says, and then makes application to man's personal needs. The Bible was not written merely to satisfy man's needs and to give him answers to his everyday problems. It was written to show forth the majesty of God and to trace God's purposes for the created universe, angels, earth, Israel, and the church. That one does not receive a "blessing" from some portion of Scripture when it is expounded does not necessarily mean that the exposition was ill-chosen or worthless. To judge preaching by its personal impact alone is to view it from a selfish perspective. "In fact, there is a trend in contemporary evangelicalism away from expository, doctrinal preaching and a movement toward an experience-centered, pragmatic, shallow, topical approach in the pulpit . . . . Churchgoers are seen as consumers who have to be sold something they like."37

One of the chief purveyors of the "new approach" in preaching is Leith Anderson, pastor of a megachurch in the Twin Cities. His two books Dying for Change and A Church for the 21st Century have made a great impact upon the thinking of many young preachers and are considered to be among the leading statements of the philosophy of church growth promoted by New Evangelicals. Because of Anderson's prominence in this field, we pause to consider what he has said about preaching and matters that relate directly to preaching.

The old paradigm taught that if you have the right teaching, you will experience God. The new paradigm says that if you experience God, you will have the right teaching. This may be disturbing for some who assume that propositional truth must always precede and dictate religious experience. That mindset is a product of systematic theology and has much to contribute . . . . However, biblical theology looks to the Bible for a pattern of experience followed by proposition. The experience of the Exodus from Egypt preceded the recording of the Exodus in the Bible.38

This alarming statement graphically illustrates the shift of emphasis which has taken place in the modern church. Experience is magnified over knowledge and actually becomes the judge of knowledge. Invalid is the argument that the exodus supports the theory that the experience of God precedes the knowledge of God. God clearly imparted much knowledge about Himself to Moses and the children of Israel prior to His deliverance of them from the land of Egypt. God appeared to Moses, spoke to Moses, and instructed him that He would bring His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land (Exod. 6:1-8). The various plagues upon the land of Egypt were revelatory in nature (Exod. 7-11) and prepared the people for the exodus experience. Of course the book of Exodus was written after the events themselves took place, but this fact in no way demonstrates the idea that revelation follows experience. The revelation to ancient Israel at this time in their history was through Moses, was direct and immediate, and was not delivered by inscripturation. Explicit instructions were given as to how the Israelites were to leave the land of Egypt. These instructions were preceded by such phrases as "the Lord said" (Exod. 11:1) and "the Lord spake" (Exod. 12:1). These phrases indicate divine revelation, such revelation preceding the actual events of the exodus and providing the basis upon which Moses acted as he led the Israelites from captivity.

According to Anderson's paradigm, one's experience with God is the standard by which one judges the correctness of teaching. This is completely contrary to what the Scriptures teach and also to the historic position of orthodox Christians. In the matter of personal salvation, the unbeliever hears a message (propositional truth) and then experiences salvation. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ [propositional truth], and thou shalt be saved [the experience of regeneration]" (Acts 16:31). The same order is given in Romans 6:17-18 where Paul rejoices that his readers had "obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you." Following their acceptance of this propositional truth, they then experienced freedom from the tyranny of sin (v.18).

As we have already mentioned in other contexts, one of the chief errors of New Evangelicals is their tendency to overemphasize experience to the neglect of sound teaching. The charismatics have led the way in developing this mindset and have influenced evangelicalism in general. This is the reason so-called Christian rock is popular. People want to "feel" something rather than "learn" something. It also explains the current fascination with so-called Christian psychology. Again, people want to "feel good about themselves" but are far less interested in digesting any systematic diet of Scripture.


The Tradedy of Compromise. ByErnest Pickering. ©1994. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address:

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