Tag Archives: Pragmatism

Church Gimmicks and the Idol of Success

Timely.

The following quotations are from the article “Church Gimmicks & the Idol of Success” in the latest issue of Credo Magazine “Churchy Gimmick: Has the Church Sold its Soul to Consumerism.”  You can read the article, and others, in full here: Credo Magazine, latest issue

“Following America’s lead, churches around the globe are spending through the roof trying to attract the greatest number of people into their worship gatherings.  Success is the name of the church-growth game.”

“In fact, one of the most frequent questions a pastor receives is, “How many did you have in worship?” or “How big is your church?”  It seems like buildings, bodies, and budgets sideline Christ crucified, a stumbling block and offense.”

“I maintain that the ‘How to’ of being faithful to God in worship and ministry is demonstrated through the ordinary, historic, and apostolic means of grace, particularly, ministry of the Word, prayer, and sacraments.”

“If God has already provided the ordinary means of growing in grace as we find in His Word, why do we think that we have the right or the greater wisdom to invent new ways through entertainment-driven, success-oriented worship and ministry?”

“I plead with you not to be tempted with success, professionalism, or the fading fads of our entertainment-driven culture.  Rather, pursue Jesus as the all-satisfying treasure that He is and strive to faithfully feed His sheep through the means of grace that God has already provided His Church.”

Brian H. Cosby (Ph.D., Australian College of Theology) is pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church (PCA) on Signal Mountain, Tennessee and author of Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Church (P&R).

Book Review: Marks of the Messenger

It’s been a pretty busy 2 weeks for me, so I haven’t been able to post with the normal regularity.  I did, however, want to post a brief review of a book I just finished up written by J. Mack Stiles entitled, Marks of the Messenger.  Most books on evangelism tend to either focus on the message or the methods that the evangelist must say or do.  These generally tend to reduce the Gospel message down to a tract-like message or emphasize pragmatic, results driven means of delivering that message, which Stiles says results in “an evangelism that is twisted and deformed.”  In his book, the focus rests squarely on the shoulders of the “messenger”.  Simply put, this is a much needed book.

The last 30-50 years have been highlighted in this country with a surge in emphasizing the Great Commission, particularly overseas.  While no doubt God has done many wondrous works in the sacrificial lives of missionaries in spreading the Gospel, there have also been many well-intentioned, though knowledge lacking, efforts that have presented an incomplete or incorrect Gospel.  In Romans 10:2, referring to his kinsmen of the flesh, Paul says they have “zeal for God, but not according to knowledge”.  This passage seems to best summarize many of the errant missionary efforts that have taken place.  I’ve often wrestled with the question myself, who should be a missionary?  Just anyone who “feels led”?  The young college student who barely has a grasp of the Gospel themselves?  Is anyone just to jump up one day and take off in any direction and wherever they end up is where God was “leading”?  These questions that I had are ones that get answered in this book.  In his first chapter, “Don’t Peddle the Gospel”, Stiles offers the following summary on this zealous approach by asking an important question, “So why have people jumped into action, in this case evangelistic action, before being people of faith?”  To which he offers, “Maybe it’s because they can.  We have not been watchful enough about the conditions of people’s hearts before we ask them to act, because with the right method or program, the condition of a person’s heart isn’t that important.  We have become pragmatists.”  Summarizing this “pragmatic evangelism” Stiles concludes that it counts, “converts, members, programs, but rarely counts faithfulness to the message or the faithfulness of the messenger.”

In his second chapter, “Students of the Message”, Stiles details the importance of Gospel study and understanding the message of evangelism.  This is where I think it’s important to make the distinction about who we send forth as missionaries and evangelists.  While it’s true, every Christian is to be a witness for Christ and share the Gospel, not everyone is adequately equipped with sufficient knowledge of the message they are charged with sharing and this is to their own detriment.  In this chapter we are encouraged to take the time to study and understand the Gospel message to avoid spreading a false Gospel. 

“Don’t assume the Gospel”.  That’s the subtitle to Chapter 3, “On your Guard” and it was probably one of the most helpful points for me in this book.  Stiles begins this chapter by recounting the story of Kevin Roose, a writer posing as a believer at Liberty University who participated in campus activities, Bible studies, prayer meetings, etc. all in research for his book detailing the lives of evangelicals.  In short, he played the part and talked the talk, but it was all an act in an effort to publish his book.  Roose’s story took a profound turn when he met an agnostic on campus and that student confessed that he was not a Christian and said that most people on campus just “assume you are Christian.”  To this Stiles says, assuming the Gospel is the first step in losing the Gospel and he outlines 4 helpful steps. 1) The Gospel is Accepted 2) The Gospel is Assumed 3) The Gospel is Confused 4) The Gospel is Lost.  Assuming is the first step in losing it.  Think about that.  Don’t assume because someone is sitting beside you in Church they are a Christian.  Don’t assume just because a person volunteers to run a Church program or is zealous about overseas missions that they are a believer.  Because if they aren’t, it leads to Gospel confusion, and the next step is the Gospel lost.  This is precisely what is happening overseas and is quite epidemic in our own country.  Depending on the poll you follow, upwards of 83% of Americans identify themselves as “Christian”.  83%!?!  If that were truly the case, wouldn’t we be the most God-fearing, God-honoring, God-loving country on the planet?  But this isn’t the case, as should be evident to anyone, America is on a moral decline.  Why?  Assuming the Gospel.  It’s assumed that 83% are Christians.  It’s assumed that the person next to you in Sunday service is truly a believer.  It’s time to stop assuming the Gospel and start proclaiming the Gospel.

J. Mack Stiles challenges his readers to walk the talk in chapter 4 and in chapter 5 he focuses on an oft-confused aspect of the Gospel, social change.  So many zealous evangelicals today confuse social change, social action, or social justice with the Gospel.  He rightly asserts the following, “For years Christians have separated social action and the gospel message.  Yet to separate the gospel message and social action is to assume that the gospel doesn’t produce social change.  But the gospel brings social change in and of itself.” (emphasis his)  This is where it seems so many “social justice Christians” go awry.  While it’s wrong to leave off the social aspect of Christianity, i.e. helping the poor, needy, orphans, and elderly, it’s equally wrong (arguably even more so!) to leave off the Gospel from social action.  Preaching the Gospel will bring about social change, but preaching social change is Gospel-less and therefore powerless.

In chapter 6 of this book, the author takes time to explain the nature of conversion and its impact in the life of the believer.  In other words, a change will be necessarily brought about by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and good spiritual fruit will be the evidence.  While not only describing conversion as a work of God in the hearts of hearers of the Gospel, Stiles points out those man-made methods which are so commonly used to “generate conversion”, apart from God’s work.  Chapter 7 is an important chapter for any faithful witness of the Gospel, namely the required boldness it takes.  J. Mack Stiles offers biblical encouragement for believers to share their faith, centered around Proverbs 29:25 “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.”

In chapter 8, subtitled “Mistaking the World’s love for God’s Love”, Mr. Stiles offers a helpful discussion on God’s love.  Much like what we discussed here in Lady Gaga, Rob Bell, and Misunderstanding the Love of God, this chapter highlights the confusion that so many have concerning God’s love and offers the following helpful warning, “If we only speak of God’s love while forsaking God’s other attributes (such as holiness, righteousness, and justice), we are tailoring God to a popular image, an idol really, and not the God of the Bible.”

In bringing his book to a close, chapter 9 highlights the importance of the Church and the love that Christians are to show to one another.  Interestingly, this chapter included a list of “16 ways to demonstrate love and unity in the Church and in doing so become a healthy evangelist”.  Highlights from this list include the practice of church discipline, discipleship, respect and reverence for the church, prayer, and reading helpful books such as C.J. Mahaney’s Humility (which I have not read, so cannot recommend) and Mark Dever’s  9 Marks of a Healthy Church (which I plan to read and review here).  Stiles concludes his book with a few actions steps for being a healthy evangelist: 1. Body check, i.e. is anything holding you back, 2. Prayer for those who don’t know Christ 3. Plan, i.e. think through where you’ll be what your doing for witnessing opportunities 4. Think through issues 5. Prepare or practice the Gospel in a minute (God, Man, Christ, Response) 6. Get started 7. Gather, i.e. events, Bible study, prayer groups, etc. 8. Serve 9. Speak of Jesus 10. Pursue 11. Invite.

Marks of the Messenger is a short, well-written, and easy to understand book.  Yet it is profound and timely for a generation of Gospel assumers and Gospel confusers.  This is one of those books that should be required reading for all those in ministry, whether it be the Sunday School teacher, the open-air preacher, or the country church pastor.  You can purchase this book by following the Amazon link below or by using the Recommended Reading tab above.

4% of the total purchase on this link will go to support this site.

Red Skies in the Morning

pink-sky-in-morning

He answered them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’  And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’  You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” Matthew 16:2-3 ESV

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared”  I Timothy 4:1-2 ESV

 

In the past year, I’ve written several posts on deception that has crept into the modern church in the form of false teachers/preachers.  The Bible provides the basis for the increased presence of these leaders as we head towards to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Peter 2:1-3, I Timothy 6:3-5, et.al.).  To date, my primary focus of discernment has been on emerging/ent church pastors, such as Rob Bell and Brian McLaren, whose “gospel” is twisted and dangerous and prosperity/social gospel-lite teachers like Joel Osteen or Rick Warren.  Each of these “preachers” present their own unique dangers and personally I prefer to ascribe to the practice of avoidance rather than acceptance and picking and choosing what is right or wrong with their ministries.  A half-truth is still a lie.  But there is a storm approaching that has potential to be just as dangerous.  Consider this post of a weather storm warning that is quickly turning into a storm watch. 

 

This new storm has some interesting twists and plots associated with it that I’ve been watching unfold for almost a year now and it involves a pastor whom I highly respect and have grown from spiritually.  But like all men, pastors, even those on the national scene, are fallible and must constantly be tested against the Word of God.  It doesn’t matter if it’s your own pastor, one down the street, or one you see on TV, we should always be discerning as to test them against the Bible.  There is a danger with following men too closely, and especially “living” men because they are constantly moving and developing themselves, whether for good or bad.  That’s not to say we can’t learn from those church fathers that have come before us, but most of them have withstood the test of time, the scrutiny of their words have withstood against the truths of the Bible.  Most pastors on the scene today have not withstood that test and have not gone through that level of scrutiny, like for instance a Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, John Owen, John Calvin, etc.  We know where these men stood on doctrinal issues and while not perfect, they remained faithful to God in their ministries. 

 

The storm of which I am speaking has Pastor John Piper in its eye and his decision to extend an invitation to Pastor Rick Warren to speak at the upcoming Desiring God conference.  I’ve held off until now with posting on this, mainly to remove any potential emotionally charged response, but this announcement was made in April and sent shock waves throughout the evangelical world.  Blogs, talk shows, and social media alike have been abuzz over what the implications of this decision might mean and the dust has yet to settle.  Pastor Piper’s biblically sound ministry is one of the more popular reformed ministries today and he has done a faithful job in his nearly 4 decades of preaching the Word.  However, despite some questionable alliances recently, this latest one has many confused about what this means for his ministry going forward.  Many less-discerning evangelicals may see nothing wrong with Pastor Warren and his Purpose Driven Ministry so in order to make this more evident, I’ve included a link below to some of Pastor Warren’s publically stated positions on various theological topics, along with a clip from him speaking to a group of unbelievers, and have included Pastor John MacArthur’s revealing look at the Purpose Driven Life

 Apprising Ministries – Chameleon-Like Rick Warren

 

 

 

 

Below is a clip from Pastor Piper where he addresses questions concerning the announcement of Rick Warren joining his conference.  I don’t disagree with inviting someone to a conference where a discussion can take place over various beliefs, doctrines, and theological differences, however, what I do take umbrage with is the insistence that Rick Warren is theologically sound and the validation that his association with this conference, and specifically John Piper, gives him within reformed circles.

 

 

PRAGMATISM – a practical approach to problems and affairs; a movement in philosophy marked by the doctrines that the meaning of conceptions is to be sought in their practical bearings, that the function of thought is to guide action, and that truth is preeminently to be tested by the practical consequences of belief.

Finally, in this clip is where John Piper seems to be confused on his stance with Rick Warren.  At one point he states Rick Warren is a “problem” while he next states he is theologically sound.  Then Piper states that Warren frustrates him with some of his teachings, but ensures that he likes him.  Is it therefore any wonder why there is so much confusion over this decision when Piper himself is confused?  Until a public repentance is issued regarding this alliance or unless the conference proves to be a venue for revealing Rick Warren a false teacher, I can no longer endorse the teaching of Pastor Piper.

 

Below I’ve included my public statement on the Piper/Warren Alliance that was posted on other blogs around April 9th, roughly a week after the announcement:

This news saddens me deeply, but really comes as no surprise. I felt discernment was needed with Dr. Piper considering his close allegiance to Mark Driscoll, but nevertheless I didn’t dismiss him completely because I had hoped he was taking a mentoring approach in their relationship (though one has to question the presence of the Holy Spirit within a pastor that enjoys being so crass to the point of vulgarity and his loose handling of scripture for comedic relief, but I digress). Admittedly I have enjoyed listening to some of Dr. Piper’s many sermons, specifically those on Romans, and have grown through his expositional teaching while in the back of my mind there has been an “approach with caution” warning light. I’m hesitant to say this is what I’ve been waiting for, perhaps more so what I was praying against, but this turns the warning into a full-fledged alert.

I suspect however that this relationship is deeper than a conference invite because as we know the iceberg tip is all that can be seen, the depth of which likely extends into Driscoll’s Acts 29 Ministry and Warren’s various ecumenical groups/agendas each of which spread like a spider’s web among the evangelical who’s who. When Piper aligned with Driscoll, he brought a certain level of validity or endorsement to Driscoll’s ministry wherein many fringe reformers were willing to overlook language and behaviors as being merely “rough around the edges” like a John Calvin or Martin Luther. The problem is they weren’t offensive for the sake of attention or relevance, it was for the sake of the Gospel, of which they were prepared to die. The addition of Warren to Piper’s circle of reformed influence is especially disconcerting because the common theological ground on which he stood with Driscoll bears no merit with his relationship to Warren, despite Piper’s efforts to defend his selection. What it does however, is add validity to a ministry that continually seeks to evolve to the current trends in the religious marketplace, in this case Calvinism or perhaps more accurately “New Calvinism.”

If I may, a quote from Dr. John MacArthur’s book Ashamed of the Gospel:

“In the first quarter of 2009, Time magazine ran a cover story titled “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” Number three on their list was “The New Calvinism.” All of this, obviously is strong motivation for evangelical and post-modern pragmatists to jump on the Calvinist bandwagon. (Why wouldn’t those who think of religion as a product to be marketed-as well as those addicted to popularity-want to get into the fastest growing demographic?) Prepare yourself for a wave of erstwhile Emergents and evangelical pragmatists to run to the crowd and declare themselves the true representatives of neo-Calvinism. They will bring every pragmatic tool in their arsenal and will exert all their energies toward making “the New Calvinism” seem even more stylish-until the glow fades and something else becomes stylish, and they will run after that. The sober, biblically minded remnant in their [reformed] midst need to remain on guard.”

Sadly John Piper’s latest alliance has ushered in that which Dr. MacArthur warns about, because now Warren can put his marketing skills to work within Calvinistic circles.  Piper himself in the video above recognizes Warren as a self-described pragmatist, but dismisses this notion quickly. As a result of this alliance, there needs to be either concern about the discernment of Dr. Piper or concern over his willingness to overlook obvious issues within the ministries of fellow pastors, neither of which is especially flattering for a man like him. The question is will those of the “sober, biblically minded remnant” be courageous and bold enough to take a stand when even those most prominent among them seem to be faltering? On a side note, it’s interesting how this announcement seems to coincide with John Piper’s planned 8-month leave of absence, curious if the timing is related or merely coincidental.

I will continue to pray for JP.