Friday, March 23, 2012

Is Dumbed-Down Preaching Producing Hypocrites?

By Buddy Hanson

A hypocrite is a person who professes to believe a certain set of principles, yet lives according to another set of principles. As we all know, non-Christians love to hang this disparaging title on us. In some instances their accusations are spot on, but in others they simply catch us in our normal imperfect and sinful human condition wherein we “do not practice what we will to do, but what we hate.” [1] Sitting under solid orthodox biblical instruction helps us to smooth out the disobedient bumps along life’s pathway as we grow in God’s grace and knowledge.

However, for the vast number of Christians who unknowingly are sitting under weekly sermons and small group studies that are dumbed-down in order to not offend them, they are not only being hindered from growing in God’s grace and knowledge, but are, in effect, being trained to be Spiritual hypocrites! The reason for this is that even though they are being taught truths about God, they are not being instructed in how to apply those truths to their everyday situations and circumstances. The net result is that while they can accurately, and sometimes adamantly express why they are a Christian, their lifestyle continues to mirror that of the very non-Christians to whom they are witnessing. As one divinely-inspired writer puts it, “they fear the Lord, yet serve their own gods.” [2]

Attempts to make the Gospel more attractive through a combination of man’s wisdom and God’s wisdom are doomed to failure because there is no biblical basis for imagining that the imperfect and sinful wisdom of a creature can do anything other than to detract from the perfect wisdom of our holy Creator. There is no possible way to have “the best of both ethical worlds,” because God demands that we conform our lifestyle to only His commands.

Seeker-sensitive, half-truth messages [3] about God “loving” us and His “wonderful plan for our life,” are very appealing, but at bottom they are only appealing to one’s self-love, pride and ambition, which means such messages are “not of the Father, but of the world.” [4] While it is true that God’s love toward us is based upon nothing that we have done, it is a blatant and blasphemous lie to say that we are a Christian because of His grace, yet give little or no thought of being accountable to how we live our life. [5] Such preaching has led many Christians to conclude that the authority of God’s Word, (His Laws), and the church is not on a par with the laws of the State. For example, ask the typical Christian whether he or she would be more worried about being “disciplined” by a church court, or by a civil court.

Since dumbed-down preaching presents no specific instructions about how to live-out one’s faith, many professing Christians think that the only way to do so is through church-sponsored activities, which means they continue to conform the remainder of their lives, including how they work, raise and educate their children, to the ethics of their non-Christian neighbors. It is not that they have a lack of interest in honoring God with their lifestyle, or are indifferent to demonstrating an explicitly Christian lifestyle to their neighbors, but rather that they haven’t a clue about how to do so because they have not been systematically taught how to incorporate the truths they profess to believe into their daily decision-making. Sadly, far too many Christians go through life existing for God, when they could be demonstrating the excellencies of being an adopted member of God’s family and Christ’s Kingdom in their daily situations and circumstances.                       

Christian Smith, a Sociologist at the University of Notre Dame, has interviewed thousands of young adults over the past few years and has concluded they have adopted a religion he calls, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” [6] According to Smith, the dumbed-down preaching throughout most of the last century and into this one has led to the following five tenets of the current way young adults view Christianity. If you, or someone in your church teach a youth group it would be an eye-opening experience to devote a class (which may extend to several classes!) on having open discussions about Smith’s findings. I would suggest introducing the class with the statement: “Today, we’re going to have an open discussion. I’m going to be the moderator, and let your comments lead the discussion.” Then begin with question one. Resist the temptation to edit or correct any of the learner’s statements. Instead, say something like, “That’s interesting, what does anyone else think about that?” When the discussion dies down, drop in a few questions of your own. I have included some suggestions after each of Dr. Smith’s comments. In the event that you find that there are a couple of divergent groups of opinions, assign them the task of defending their ideas with Scripture at the next meeting. 

1. God created and watches over human life.
            Great, but what does this mean? Why does God create and watch over life? Is He merely an interested observer, or is He our sovereign Lord, Savior and King who is in complete control of His creation?

2. God wants people to be nice and fair.
            According to what ethical standard? What standard of justice should we use to become “nice and fair?”

3. Life’s ultimate goal is for each person to be happy and feel good about himself.
Becoming a Christian transforms our motivations from being self-centered to being others-centered in order for us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” [7] Jesus also commands us to “deny ourselves, take up His cross and follow Him.” [8] Are we to ignore Christ’s command and follow our desires?

4. God does not need to be intimately involved in anyone’s life – He is just there for emergencies.
           Do we live in an orderly cause-and-effect creation, wherein our behaviors result in either positive or negative consequences, or do we live in a chance creation that is susceptible to random consequences? If God is our Comforter, but not also our Counselor, then does this mean that His Word is irrelevant to our lifestyle?

5. Good people go to heaven.
           How do we define “good?”

It’s easy to take pot shots at the various theological air-heads that are leading many of our churches and youth groups, but these five questions could form the basis of doing something positive about turning things around. In addition, they could assist some of your young adults to view Christianity through God’s others-centered eyes, rather than through their self-centered eyes, and to present a daily testimony to their friends that is consistent with what they profess to believe. What more could we possibly hope to affect in them than that!

P.S. If I were teaching, I would send an email recap to the parents summarizing the comments, how we were going to continue the discussion the next week, and either  invite them attend, or offer to have the same discussion with their study group.

(Scripture quotes may be paraphrases) 

1 Romans 7.15-16
2 2 Kings 17.33
3 Since there is no such thing as “half-truth,” such sermons reflect “no truth.”
4 1 John 2.16
5 Mark 10.21
6 See Souls in Transition: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, (Oxford University Press, 2009)
7 James 2.8
8 Mark 8.34

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