October 24, 2017

Jared Wilson: The Internet Monk Interview

jcwJared Wilson is the author Your Jesus Is Too Safe and the blogmeister at Gospeldrivenchurch.com.

1. You’re obviously influenced by the rhetorical style of someone like Driscoll, in that you are communicating intensely, but with humor and pop-culture to counter-balance. Yet, you’ve managed to put the emphasis on the Biblical content, not on the style or the preacher. What would say to all those young preachers who want to imitate guys like Chandler and Driscoll?

Well, there are worse guys you could imitate. Some practical advice would be to mix it up. Don’t just listen to one or two guys. Listen to several, or many if you have the time. Take a breather from podcasting. You WILL pick up not just sermon points but actual vocal inflections and figures of speech and tics from these guys if you listen to them too much. I think young guys like me especially have a wiring to absorb and regurgitate, to ape. (It’s borderline autistic how we go through lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Beavis & Butthead or whatever.) And we like rock stars. And we, like all people, are idolaters. And this can all happen really subtly.

Podcasting is a blessing and a curse. The technology is a blessing and a curse. I wouldn’t have experienced the gospel renaissance in my own life if it weren’t for Driscoll’s and John Piper’s message audio. I don’t say that lightly. I was in a church where Jesus sometimes made cameos in the sermons and I had no idea anybody could preach an entire message where Jesus was the point until I heard Mark Driscoll. (And I grew up in the church.) But it’s a curse too, because it has seriously spoiled us for appreciating our own pastors and the way God has designed us to deliver his word from the contexts of ourselves. I think we need to remind each other that every podcasted guy is the pastor of his church, not ours. Your church needs you to preach and pastor, not be the best version of Chandler you can approximate.

But again, if you’re gonna copy somebody, Chandler’s the dude. 🙂

A good rule of thumb is if you spend more time hearing someone else tell you what the Bible says than you do actually reading the Bible yourself, you’re out of whack.

2. This isn’t a Ben Witherington III Introduction to Jesus, but it rests on the scholarship of guys like Ladd and Wright. As a Gospel communicator, what do you find exciting about New Testament scholarship and how it can help us?

My perspective is unique (I think), because I don’t approach the use of NT scholarship as most writers of these sorts of books do, which is for the purpose of apologetics. You probably noticed there’s not much of that in the book (proving the virgin birth and the resurrection and the like), although there is some. And some folks assume this means the book is mainly for Christians, not non-Christians, for that reason. They are probably right, but not for that reason.

It’s fairly simple for me, because I don’t think it helps anybody to read the Gospels and not know what they mean. And scholarship helps us understand what they mean. This probably seems like an obvious or minor point. But Tom Wright helped me see what Jesus meant in the Olivet Discourse. Ladd helped me see what the kingdom is and isn’t. And they do this by teaching us about the culture and the history of that day, about the people and the places, about the language and the use of language. It helps us answer the question, “How would Jesus’ audience then have understood this?”

It isn’t revolutionary. How many Sunday school teachers explain the camel and the eye of the needle thing with some anecdote about a city gate a camel has to stoop through? That anecdote is wrong, by the way — that gate didn’t show up until the middle ages — but the teacher uses it to explain Jesus’ teaching. And that’s what good NT scholarship does. It helps us understand. You can’t believe Jesus or learn from Jesus if you don’t understand him. (And just assuming we understand him has caused a lot of the mess we’re in.)

3. I can hear someone out there saying, “This is a good series of messages, but you talk like every sermon has to be about Jesus. That’s simply excessive. We need to talk about parenting and finances, too.” How do you express what you mean by putting a constant focus on Jesus in preaching?

The best reference point itself is the Bible itself. If we learn from the best — Paul and the other apostles — they put the constant focus on Jesus. Ephesians is a great example, with the stuff on parenting and children and other practical lifestyle matters, with Christ towering over the whole thing and the gospel running throughout.

If we don’t make it “excessively” about Jesus, it just becomes law. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, which I take as permission to be fixated on him. Everything else is peripheral.

4. One thing you and I share is a desire to call evangelicals back to the Gospel. There’s evidence that we’re making some progress, but the situation is still dire in many quarters. What sorts of things exemplify for you the crisis over the Gospel in evangelicalism?

The data. The number of megachurches is increasing but the number of professing Christians is decreasing. Something’s not working, clearly.

That it took a methodological trainwreck and thousands of dollars spent for the good folks at Willow Creek to determine that Bible study is the best catalyst for spiritual growth is bizarre.

Joel Osteen, the head of the largest church in North America, saying on national television that Mormons are Christians too.

I’ll tell you what drove it home for me personally. Two years ago after preaching the Element Easter message in the evening a guy came up to me and said, “I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear about the resurrection on Easter.” I laughed, but he wasn’t kidding. I listened to the podcast of the church he attended that morning, and he wasn’t exaggerating. On Easter Sunday, there was a brief nod to the resurrection at the front of the sermon and then the message was about stepping through new doors and opportunities God presents to you in your life. So we’ve now replaced the eucatastrophe of the universe with some tips on personal lifestyle success.

You can’t even satirize this stuff any more.

5. You’ve described one of your personal missions as “reforming the discipleship culture” of the church. Can we produce disciples just by preaching and good books? If not, what else is needed that we still need to take seriously?

Well, I think preaching can create a disciple because I take Romans 10 seriously. But you can’t disciple anybody with preaching alone. Disciples follow Jesus. I look at what Jesus did to disciple, and I see he basically taught, went, and taught as he went. So I imagine we’ve got to do the same.

But we’re idiots, so we like one or the other. Guys in my tribe emphasize the teaching, not the going. In other tribes they’re huge on going but not on teaching.

I like to call this a two-fisted gospel. If you aren’t articulating the gospel of the kingdom regularly and also seeking to live the kingdom out, you aren’t discipling anyone in the way of Jesus.

The danger for most folks of my sort is that we really become admirers of the gospel, not treasurers of it. And admiring it is not really centering on it. When it’s got you forgiving your cheating spouse or serving people in the ghetto or even mowing your neighbor’s yard, it’s changed you.

Comments

  1. I’d encourage young preachers to learn how to critically evaluate any preacher they hear, esp to identify what doesn’t need to be imitated. Every good preacher has bad habits or potential issues if I imitate them.

    IMO, listening to guys trying to be Driscoll more than showing that God called THEM and THEIR gifts to preach is tedious and sometimes seriously distracting.

    • Jeremiah says:

      There is a temptation to buy into the “formula”. They are successful preachers so if I do what they do. Very tempting and very wrong.

    • Yup, and the same is true for southern baptist “shouters.”. People find a model and play the part.

  2. I like what he’s saying. Sounds Lutheran to me! One problem as a preacher I have with this style is though I am the same age as these guys, I checked out of pop culture before High School and I don’t have the desire or the time to keep up, I mean do I have to be parked in front the TV a few hours every night to be relevant like these guys?

    • Not at all, look at John Piper. That guy does not give a rip about pop culture. He treasures Christ and has been gifted with the ability to communicate and instill that ability in others. Mark Driscoll has been gifted with the ability to relate to the culture and present the gospel through it. Neither way is better, what’s important is that Christ is preached and God is glorified.

      Each pastor or teacher has to find their gift, the way God has designed them to teach, and do that.

  3. iMonk,

    I agree with your assesment of preachers needing to be individuals.

    Thankfully, the church I attend has a quite good team of preachers. They tend to focus on Jesus and the scripture, not swerve into “lifestyle” coaching.

    Of course, the issue I do have is that we sometimes forget to tie the message to the calendar, even the church calendar. Not mentioning Memorial Day on Memorial Day Weekend can be forgiven during the sermon, although some sort of recognition during the service (if even the Welcome) would have been nice. Not mentioning the ascension on Ascension Sunday is a little wierd for me, though.

    Or am I out standing in my field – all alone?

  4. Im happy to leave the secular calendar out completely, esp the patriotic part. But where I live, they value the patriotic holidays and family holidays far more than any Christian ones. They have no idea what the Christian calendar is in Baptist circles. Catholic and must be avoided, etc.

    • Yeah, I live in a BRAC-closed Air Force town. Still a lot of sentiment for the troops, airmen, Marines, and sailors. And the base closed nearly 15 years ago. And the people are bitter about it. Even in the churches.

      But it’s also a Revolutionary War town with a National Monument that IS a fort. I think the only one. So there’s a lot more patriotism vs. Jesus as priority when it comes to activities by Christians.

  5. iMonk, I’d ask you to expand your scope a bit. You’re referring to “young preachers”. Mind opening that up a bit to “all preachers”? Your scoping in on young’ins is a part of the dichotomy of the Church today (and not just the SBC – as you seemed to have lamented a bit earlier this month).

    There may well be a “mean” age in the Church, but that doesn’t tell the story. There’s probably more accurately (where’s Michael Bell?) two “humps” or Bell curves (no pun intended, Michael!) that have a “high mean” and a “low mean” that are actually far from the statistical mean of the entire “curve”.

    Having worked with young people (and I’m 36) between 18 and 30 who are, for the most part, either a) still under mom and dad’s roof and living their faith or b) tired of not having a place to fit into a “marrieds only” club (also, for the most part), I’m concerned when anyone not in the demographic that Barna refers to as “Mosaic” (16-29) exhorts that age group (and only that age group) to examine Scripture for themselves. I’d be willing to bet that there are just as many Busters who haven’t examined Scripture for themselves as the Mosaic or “internet” generation.

    I’m also prompted to ask. What’s the age demographic of podcasted preachers? How does that age demographic speak to the types of younger pastors who might be imitating?

  6. I loved Point #3 very much. The reality is that Jesus must overlap, overpower, and overshadow everything else we do. It doesn’t matter if the “best” preachers are doing it or not. If I talk to my non-Christian friends about finances, marriage, fatherhood, etc, even if from a Christian viewpoint, and don’t include Christ, I’ve just done the Kingdom and my friends a disservice. Preachers should be the same, but that’s my opinion. The thing I believe is fact is how we should act around others. And that is that Christ must be King.

  7. “A good rule of thumb is if you spend more time hearing someone else tell you what the Bible says than you do actually reading the Bible yourself, you’re out of whack.”

    SMACK!

    Good stuff!

    dm

    • I had a post here earlier. I didn’t see where iMonk sent me any MOD chastisement, so I’ll post again. (or maybe I never hit “Submit comment”. That’s happened before. 🙂 )

      I think a better rule of thumb, Jared, isn’t that if you spend more time hearing someone else tell you what the Bible says… It’s more if you spend more time hearing someone else tell you what the Bible MEANS than you do actually reading the Bible yourself, you’re out of whack. Remember the verse about faith coming from hearing the word of God?

      • I haven’t moderated any today. Don’t know what happened.

      • Derek, that’s what I meant.

        If a preacher spends more time listening to others’ podcasts than he does reading/studying the Bible — he and the text — he’s out of whack.

        Hope that makes sense.

        • Absolutely, Jared. Thanks for the clarification. It’s, of course, easier to look at the word on the screen and scrutinize than it is to hear a sermon and not say, “Hey, wait a second!” until 2 hours after the fried chicken’s been digested… 🙂

          I was thinking more from the seat of the parishioner than from the pulpit. It’s always about perspective.

          And I’m interested in checking out your book, even if it means I don’t hit up Michael’s wish list. Of course, I seem to have forgotten how much college textbooks cost for my Master’s program I’m starting. 🙂

  8. I appreciate what Ryan asks: “do I have to be parked in front the TV a few hours every night to be relevant like these guys?” As a 32-year-old “well-churched” person, I enjoy listening to Driscoll and Chandler and feel like a pretty hip Christian when I do, but maybe the question when thinking about whether to imitate is how do we define successful preaching/pastoring?

  9. Jesus did “taught, went, and taught as he went,” but he also healed, went and healed as he went.

  10. If we don’t make it “excessively” about Jesus, it just becomes law. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, which I take as permission to be fixated on him. Everything else is peripheral.

    Absolutely great point. Very insightful.

  11. I think a better rule of thumb, Jared, isn’t that if you spend more time hearing someone else tell you what the Bible says…