November 22, 2017

No Jesus Needed

Read the original (written back when I was a Calvinist): On Christless Preaching.

Recently I was traveling to a conference with a friend, and I listened to a sermon. Preached by a Christian, a Baptist, a minister at a church, a graduate of a Christian school training ministers to serve and communicate Jesus.

This preacher gave a message that he had worked hard to prepare; a message he had presented before. A message he deeply believed in.

It was a message well organized, passionately delivered and completely sincere. It was a message with an application about having a purpose in living that many people need to hear.

So why am I writing about that sermon? Did it change my life?

I’m writing about that sermon because it was a perfect illustration of Christless preaching.

There was not a single mention of Jesus. Not once. Not in any way. Nowhere.

It was as if Jesus had never been born. It was as if Jesus never existed.

Jesus made no difference, made no contribution, determined no truth, solved no problem, offered no hope, performed no miracle, never interceded, never atoned, never taught, never lived the truth. Jesus made no claims, offered no invitations, defined no choices.

In fairness, the sermon was on an older testament story, but I am holding the preacher responsible for somehow preaching a Christian sermon, not a motivational talk. Christian preaching, no matter where it comes from, is necessarily oriented to the person, work and gospel of Jesus Christ in some way.

This was a talk about human motivation, with no more salvation than knowing God wanted you to change your own life, find a purpose and accomplish more in the future than you did in the past.

In short, here’s what we heard:

Your big problem is that you are not doing much with your life.

What you need is a passion for what you can do with your life.

God wants you to trust him so that you’ll have a dream and a purpose.

The story of Joshua illustrates this.

And the premise: I’m going to tell you how to have a great life.

“Great life?” Sound familiar, anyone? Think “blinking teeth.” Think “Best Life Now.” Think “Becoming a Better You.”

People ask me all the time why I call myself post-evangelical. Reformed watchbloggers routinely refer to the term “post evangelical” with contempt. Many others seem to prefer some other term to more accurately map themselves on the journey of faith. Are critics of the term “post-evangelical” paying any attention to evangelicals?

Let me suggest that if the sermon I heard represents what we have to look forward to in evangelicalism, then being post-evangelical means that Jesus matters, the Gospel is the Biblical good news and faithfulness to either requires an intentional removal from what is happening in evangelicalism. Post-evangelicalism is a place to stand in the midsts of a tide that has washed everything out and left the flotsam and jetsam of a crumbling, degraded culture on the beaches of a vacillating, deluded church.

When a preacher can stand in the pulpit, hold the Bible, represent a significant church and the training of a major school, claim to expound the meaning of the Bible and never even once mention Jesus or the Christian good news at all, there’s something monumentally wrong at work.

“Houston, we have a problem….Jesus has left the sermon.”

Were this the latest version of the new age or even the leftist fringe of the mainlines, I’d not waste five seconds of my life pointing out such a sermon. But this preacher stands in the heritage of centuries of Baptist and Protestant preaching, a heritage that has been relentlessly Christ-centered and zealous for the Gospel. This was supposed to be Christ-centered Protestant preaching, preaching that answered the sign I have up in the back of our chapel: “Sirs, We would see Jesus.”

Yet that heritage was nowhere to be found in either style or content. The influences here were entirely stand up comedians and motivational speakers. The audience’s love of entertainment and felt need of amusement and motivation were sovereign. The motivation was self-improvement with God’s help.

What kind of Christian life was this speaking to? What kind of need for evangelism? Nothing I recognized. This was human effort to solve human problems, all done as a way of saying “I’m trusting God for a great life.”

Was Jesus less than clear on what he thought was a “great life?” Is the New Testament obscure on the “life” we’re talking about. It IS a sin to waste your life, but for Christians the value that’s added to life is JESUS and JESUS alone. There’s no way to relegate Jesus to the category of “no need of further mention” so we can get on with the motivational talks.

Where is the Kingdom of God and its crucified, risen and exalted King? Where is the centrality of Jesus Christ and his distinctive call to discipleship? Where was the uniqueness, the beauty, the worthiness and the radical revolution of Jesus? Where is the community Jesus is building and the New Creation Jesus is bringing?

I can no longer protest, or even properly lament, when those set aside by the “church” with the intention of proclaiming the Word so easily abandon and exchange it for a completely Christless motivational talk.

At the moment that preacher stood up, one person in that room needed desperately to hear the hope that is mine in Jesus. Despair stalks me. Satan and life dominating sins war against my soul. Religion, motivation, church, music, the pretense of piety, the rituals of synergistic schemes of salvation- all offer me nothing. Christians have failed me. Institutional religion mocks me. Friends do not know me.

Give me Jesus, give me Jesus, one soul cries.

Can someone sing “In The Cross of Christ I Glory” as I turn my back and walk away from this kind of religion? I’m looking for the one who, when asked for a great life, said sell all you have and come follow me to the cross.

Comments

  1. Friends:

    My name is Leslie Jebaraj, an Indian Christian living in southern India. The Osteenized gospel is fast coming to India, not only via DAYSTAR and GOD TV, but from our own Indian preachers who want to ape Osteen and the like, (and become rich). There is one Rev. Sam Chelladurai in my city, Chennai, who is very articulate both in English and Tamil, and a devout follower of Hagin and Copeland. He is doing heck a lot of damage, and gullible Christians fall for him in numbers. Very few here are Biblical preachers. We are in a sorry state, too.

    (Just wanted to vent out my feelings).

  2. Steve Newell says:

    Over a year ago, I wrote a posting to ExtremeTheology.com called “Christian Worship: Christ centered preaching”

    http://www.extremetheology.com/2007/03/christian_worsh.html

    In this post, I wrote on how to determine if the pastor is preaching a Christian sermon:

    Many sermons that preached today are not Christ centered messages. Many pastors have replaced the message of the cross with a focus on the Christian life, society or other issues that are not the Gospel. Rev. Todd Wilkins, host of Issues, Etc. radio program has developed a good test to determine if the sermon that the pastor preaches is a Christ centered sermon. Here we are focusing on what the pastor says, not the delivery style or their ability to effectively communicate or entertain an audience, but the content of what is being said. This set of questions is a tool that you can use when listen to a sermon. Content is everything in a sermon!

    1. How often is Jesus mention?
    2. If Jesus is mentioned, is He the subject of the verbs?
    3. What are those verbs?

    First, if Jesus is not mentioned, then you know that this is not a Christ centered sermon and not a Christian sermon. Jesus can be mentioned in his various names and titles. Just because Christ is mentioned, doesn’t make the sermon a Christian sermon, especially if the Gospel is not present nor proclaimed.

    Second, when Jesus is mentioned, is he the subject of the verbs? In every sentence, there is a subject and a verb. If Jesus isn’t the subject, then who is? If Jesus isn’t the subject of the verbs, then this cannot be a Christ centered sermon. When someone other than Christ is the subject of the sentence, then Christ cannot be the focus of the sermon.

    Next, look at the verbs associated with Jesus in the sermon. Are the verbs associated with Jesus passive or active? Is Jesus doing the action or is he being acted upon? If Jesus isn’t the active player in the verbs, then who is? If the pastor is placing the individual as the active player, then this sermon is not a Gospel sermon. For example, “Jesus is waiting for you to give your life to him” places Jesus as the passive player and the individual as the active player. If the pastor says “Jesus has saved you and gives you life” he is placing Jesus as the active player and you as the passive player. This is very important since the Gospel is not about what we do for Christ, but what Christ has already done for us.

    At the end of the sermon, ask yourself these to questions: “What is our problem that the pastor has identified in their sermon?” and “What is the solution for our problem?” Is the problem that we are sinful by nature or that we make mistakes? How the pastor defines our problem is critical to how Christ is part of the solution. His definition of the problem also impacts the roll of Christ in the solution. If the problem is anything less than man’s sinful nature and being dead to God, then the problem the pastor defines isn’t the same problem that the bible defines are our problem.

    What is the solution that the pastor provides? If the solution is to “Give your heart to Jesus” or “Change your attitude” places the focus on the individual as the source of the solution. This is not a Christ centered sermon but a human centered sermon. The Biblical solution is always what Christ has done for you on the cross.

  3. Larry KY says:

    Is the problem that we are sinful by nature or that we make mistakes?

  4. Larry KY says:

    Oops, pasted only a sentence, sorry.

    Steve,

    That is a GREAT simple testing formula I heard via I & E about a year ago, I didn’t know it was yours, I’ve memorized that and never forgot it. I’ve passed it along to family and friends for over a year now. I have run into one problem with some peoples use of it, well really not it so much as it is people’s perception of certain words. In many of the very conservative Calvinistic pietistic SB churches we use to attend, even somewhat in reformed PCA circles that we are presently in – they would pick up on – “Is the problem that we are sinful by nature or that we make mistakes?” – right away as what they are not doing, they would not call sin “mistakes” as the softer Olsteens and such and so not guilty of “underplaying the problem”. They, however, would define and preach “sin” as either:

    1. Several notches ‘ramped’ up from and certainly not “mistakes” but “sin” at a high level but still “sin” that can “be over come” with some “law” preaching or “guilt” motivation, but never the real killing sin, not the killing hammer of God Law that breaks the rock into pieces. I’ve even seen many admit to a “sin nature” but it’s a “sin nature” that “we can work at” with “God’s grace” of course (a Protestant version of Rome’s “grace help aid”), grace here being the ever L/G confusion. It’s kind of a conservative/calvinstic/reformed pietistic “ramp up” by magnitudes of “mistakes” to “sin” per se – but its not really sin nor preaching of sin. They consider themselves true sin preachers because their idea of “sin” is definitely higher than “mistakes” or the Olstean/Warren problem, but its hardly the sin Luther preached of.

    From these types of sermons the words from hearers is often, “Boy I was convicted by that sermon”, meaning, “I need to straighten up more, pull myself up more by my boot straps”. Not conviction that is a hammer of God Law moment.

    2. The other variety of sub “sin” preaching that is not referred to as “mistakes” (because they would say ‘mistakes’ is TO TOO soft a term), and this often goes hand in hand with #1 is defining “sin” as mostly those “negative” things like lust and etc…that even pagans recognize as “wrong”. There’s NEVER the biblical idea that sin really means a thoroughly impacted nature that is INWARDLY CURVED IN UPON ITSELF so that “positive” things are sin, often time GREATER sin that bars a man from grace.

    As such the “gospel” is always less too, some form of Jesus + you doing something. The ones that preach this way usually see the Rich Young Ruler as a Gospel passage, usually. To me the “mistake” crowd is more closely aligned with pure Pelagianism (don’t even need God’s help), while the ramped up “sin” but not inward curved crowd (your typical today conservative/some Calvinistic groups that lean into pietism) are more aligned with the semi-pelagian (need God’s help called grace) view in principle.

    I love that short analytical though, this is not a disparagement of that, just something I’ve observed in “more conservative/Calvinistic” preaching circles.

    Yours/Blessings,

    Larry KY

  5. Michael,

    Thank you for revisiting this topic and for bringing your readers’ attention to your article “On Christless Preaching”. It was this article that first brought me to your website some time ago. I share your lament over the absence of Christ in much of today’s preaching.

    Here are a couple of quotes from a priceless little book on the subject by Charles P. McIlvaine (1799-1873) entitled “Preaching Christ”. First, McIlvaine explaining that religious truth is not enough:

    “It is very possible to preach a great deal of important religious truth, and so that there shall be no admixture of important error in doctrine or precept – yea, truth having an important relation to Christ and his office – and yet not to preach Christ. The defect will be, not in the presence of what should not be there, but in the absence of that which is necessary to give all truth delivered the character of ‘truth as it is in Jesus’. Such absence, when nevertheless all is true, may be more destructive to the gospel character of the preaching than even the introduction of some positive error. The preaching may be very earnest. It may contain much that is affecting and deeply impressive – strong emotions may be stirred in the hearers. The earnest inquiry may be excited. What must we do? And yet the preaching may wholly fail in giving any such distinct answer to that question as will turn the attention of the inquirer to Christ as all his refuge. You may say a great deal about and around the gospel, and never preach the gospel” (9-10).

    Second, McIlvaine describing the disappointment of those who hunger for Christ to be present in preaching and yet find Him absent:

    “They that come to be elevated in their affections to things above, and to be fed with the bread of heaven, are sorely disappointed. They came to see Jesus. They have seen only that man in the pulpit and his empty abstractions. They asked bread, and he gave them a stone” (19).

    In Christ,

    John Ward

    In case your interested in the book:

    Charles P. McIlvaine. Preaching Christ: The Heart of Gospel Ministry. (Banner of Truth, 2003. First published 1863.)

    NOTE: The book includes the first sermon preached by Spurgeon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London in 1861. His text for the sermon: Acts 5:42, “And daily in the temple, and in very house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”

  6. Steve Newell says:

    Larry,

    I willing take no credit for this. This is 100% Issues, Etc. (RIP) and 0% mine.

    I just found that this technique that Todd uses is so good that it should be used by anyone who wants to know if they are listening to a Christian Sermon.

  7. Preach on about the Gospel Brother! Have you heard of Tim Keller. Stop over to my website and check out some video of him. I like his Gospel-centric approach.

    http://spadinofamily.wordpress.com/

  8. Great post! I know I’m late reading it, but I hope to see more posts like this around the internet. I have blogged about Christless Christianity a couple of times this year (as a layperson looking for a church after moving). Here is my second post: http://mousenaround.wordpress.com/2008/04/15/more-christless-christianity/

  9. One Mr.Leslie has written on 21.4.08 in this blog about Rev Chelladurai. His messages has the foundation from Jesus Christ only. Let me briefly say what he says. He says When God created the world He gave the command to man to RULE THE WORLD. God having created man in His image gave him the right to chose the good or evil. Even to day we all have the right to chose. Eve heard the voice of Satan and chose evil follwed by Adam. Therefore the Satan’s Rule came over the world. But Jesus Christ came in the form of man and defeated Satan on the cross and by having Christ in us and by praying in teh name of Jesus Christ we execute power over Satan and we have teh Right to Rule over the earth snatched back from Satan by Jesus Christ.
    I am sur He is glorifying Jesus Chrsit only. Either heard the sermon of Sam Chelladurai accidentaly and not his many messages.
    Hence better we stop making judgments in this world which is forbidden by Jesus Christ himself.
    V.Rajan

  10. Hi, how I can send PM?

  11. We have fallen for the lie that Jesus came to make us better. He didn’t. He came because we were dead and needed life.

  12. Dear my friends in christ
    we dont have any right to judge other,or wasting time in thinking who is right and who is wrong so pls think about the way how we can together reach the unreached one tell them love of christ.No body is Perfect in this world Except Christ.
    so think about the ways to make the people chose the right messages.
    anu

  13. David Dileep says:

    Dear Brothers in Christ,

    I’ve read all your posted comments. Its good to see the people being so much interested in Christ and Christ alone. I believe, this desire in us, is for God and for His Glory. He shaped that in us.

    I felt this and so writing.

    Our Father has not left us alone to be orphans, but thanks be to Him that He sent His Spirit to live within us. And now The Holy Spirit leads us into the “TRUTH” ( Jesus Himself is the TRUTH). Apart from Christ, everything is FALSE. Don’t and never believe it, don’t give chance even to think for a moment. That’s useless and worthless.

    The very purpose of every christian is to know God Who is living and to have deeper fellowship with Him. This has been gifted to us through our LORD JESUS. I don’t and I cant find any way ( any message, any method or any one ) who can help me to have the deeper fellowship with God the Father.
    I can never miss JESUS, I can never think of any other possibility out side of JESUS, cause there’s no possible way. The only WAY is JESUS.

    The better life can never be achieved by following better principles, but it can only be achieved by having CHRIST in us, cause HE is the LIFE.

    “JESUS IS THE WAY, THE LIFE AND THE TRUTH”

    I’m over whelmed in my heart after reading this, cause you all have that very deep desire to know the very purpose of GOD, WHO is your Creator.

    Let’s live for HIM, Let’s be challenged to LIVE for the King of kings and the Lord of lords. All the people, in all the generations (from Abel to the recent martyr), have stood for this TRUTH(JESUS). Let’s also live for HIM.

    Every one in the world needs JESUS. I decided this,
    let HIS Name be preached, heard and glorified in all.

    Paul preached “the CHRIST”. And he told,”It’s no longer I, but Christ”.

    But, now-a-days, there are many false prophets,preachers who’ve entered into the Kingdom of God. Many people were deceived and went after them. (1Tim 4:1-6).

    As these are the last days, the satan will appear like an ‘angel of light’, which is very similar to the appearance of the our Lord’s. But the way to find out is ‘the wounds’. Jesus has those wounds, bacuase He was wounded for our sins.

    If no cross, no salvation. No meaning in gathering for any christian meetings. Its the cross of Jesus that made a covenant in between GOD and me, the wretched.

    Brothers and sisters, let’s invest our time in knowing GOD than investing it for useless and purpose-less works.

    Lets not judge anyone, because we will be judged one day. With the measure we use, will be measured back to us. Our Lord told us not to judge rather lets pray for those who did mistakes. Let’s us not be disturbed in our faith because some one did something wrong. God loved all by individually. So its important for us to keep our faith on HIM.

    But take care to follow the TRUTH(JESUS). I cant see anything out of JESUS, but GOD gave JESUS who is everything. Lets grab HIM, lets get HIM into our lives. Let our lives show HIS LIFE.

    I am sorry if I had bothered you with lengthy message.

    “As your Heavenly Father is perfect(In love,In forgiving,In caring,In all), ye also be perfect(In all).”

    In Christ,
    David Dileep

  14. Really Sam Chelladurai uncle’s messages are so good.Pls dont blame him.Who are we to condemn other man’s servant.Just dont justify.Coz Sam uncle is so good.