02 November 2005

Why not follow the simple strategy God gave us?

We've been talking about the biblical strategy for spiritual warfare for several days now. This is the final post I plan to make on the subject for awhile. Tomorrow, Lord willing, we'll move on to a different topic. But as we wrap up, I want to spell out the main point that I hope you have seen in the subtext all along:

Have you noticed how radically different the Bible's war plan is from the conventional wisdom of contemporary evangelicalism?

Nowadays we see book after book being published on ministry philosophy, church-growth strategy, and Christian leadership—virtually all urging church leaders to compromise, conform, accommodate, adapt, and adopt the language and thinking of the world. Youth Specialties and Zondervan (under Rupert Murdock's shrewd leadership) have built a major industry publishing how-to books that teach young pastors and youth leaders how to suit their style to the latest worldly trends.

I am frankly weary of all the self-styled experts who are telling pastors and church leaders today that unless they get with the times, tone down their message, adapt their methods to meet the worldly preferences of the current generation, accommodate their message to the postmodern dialectic, bone up on this or that academic fad, or otherwise adopt some fleshly strategy, the church will die or lose the battle for the souls of the next generation.

We've tried all those strategies for at least three or four generations now, and we're still losing ground. In our mad pursuit of "relevance," has anyone noticed that the church is becoming more and more irrelevant? All this accommodation to the culture is the very thing that makes the church culturally irrelevant.

We are supposed to be in this world but not of it, remember?

Now, before any one accuses me of advocating cultural defeatism, retreatism, asceticism, monasticism, or pessimism, let me say that the truth lies in the opposite direction.

I'm not saying we should give up on reaching the world or be passive and silent. On the contrary, I think we should turn up the volume. But I'm also saying this: Don't distrust the weapons Christ has entrusted to His church. Don't underestimate the power of the plain word of God or the influence of clear and dynamic preaching. Don't set aside the weapons God has chosen and trade them for Saul's armor.

Only the word of God is "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

And if you're going to wage war in the spiritual realm, against evil imaginations and false ideologies, you are going to need a weapon like that—"a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" that cuts with precision and pierces to the depths of the heart—not a toy weapon from the fleshly arsenal favored by contemporary worldly evangelicalism.

Phil's signature


Shawn said...


Can you comment on Steve Camp's blog? I think you might be interested in the topic.

Unknown said...

Amen Phil.

Unknown said...

Rather than having a radically different message communicated in the language of the culture we are trying to reach, we've had a insipidly similar message communicated in the language of our strange Christian sub-culture. There are two different problems - a problem of content and a problem of communication.

You're right that the more our message is like our current culture, the less it really has to say to it. But we do need to make sure that we are able to speak the language of our culture to communicate the Gospel.

The problem is that we rarely manage only to change our method of communication - unfortunately, much of the Church also tries to change the message to make it more "relevant". The Gospel doesn't need to be made relevant, though we do need to stop making it irrelevant by not living out and connecting our Christianity to every area of life.

There are two wrong extremes: Firstly, Assimilation, where we can speak the language of our culture but have become like it in every way and so no longer have anything meaningful to say to it. This is what you rightly speak out against. But there is a second danger, and we must be careful not to go to the opposite extreme, Insulation, where we hold to the Gospel faithfully but fail to communicate it to anyone outside. The happy medium we should be seeking is Communication - faithfully speaking the Gospel in the language of those we are trying to reach.

Tied up with this, we need genuine Christian counterculture thoroughly rooted in the Bible, rather than a Christian subculture, which is just the secular culture with a thin veneer of Christianity. When we stop merely living a sanitised secular life, and start living lives deeply rooted in God and the truth of his Gospel, and work out the radical implications of that in all our lives, then we'll be living something closer to how we should be.

Kim said...

Don't underestimate the power of the plain word of God or the influence of clear and dynamic preaching. Don't set aside the weapons God has chosen and trade them for Saul's armor.

I think this is really the heart of the matter. We just don't trust something we can't control.

Carla Rolfe said...

You know Phil... a year ago, I began researching the emerging church 'conversation'. I didn't realize what I was getting myself into at the time, but found out soon enough.

In the very beginning of that research, when I read a few different things about how irrelevant the modern church is, becaus we have the audacity to still preach sermons from a pulpit, I couldn't believe what I was reading.

I responded with one of the longest articles I've ever written, defending the sufficiency and effeciency of the word of God - it's power to change lives from the heart out. Filled with Scripture references, irrefutable, unquestionable truths, this article was responded to, by one pastor who ignored almost all of those verses and said:

"preaching isn't enough"

While I do agree that we must live what we claim to believe, I find it mindboggling that any preacher of the word would dare deny the power OF the word.

This is the problem with what we see today - in my experience. The flat out denial of the effeciency and suffiency of the word of God.

Not so surprisingly, this goes back to the same nugget of doubt spoken in the garden "yea hath God said?".

This doubt is now being entertained, from the pulpits, in books, all over blogs & websites. It's disheartening.

I believe this is one area more solid pastors and teachers need to address - the power of the word.

(and if they can address it without all the annoying modern lingo & catchphrases, that would be even better - I'm about sick of hearing the trendy buzzwords - but that's just me)

Just a few thoughts,

Steve said...

Phil said: "Don't underestimate the power of the plain word of God or the influence of clear and dynamic preaching. Don't set aside the weapons God has chosen and trade them for Saul's armor."

As you say, Phil, we aren't in need of more power, better strategies, improved techniques. We've already got it all. It's impossible to improve on what God has given us. And yet our materialistic society has trained us all too well in the art of living from fad to fad--an art that is lethal to our effectiveness in the spiritual realm.

Bryan L. Fordham said...

"Youth Specialties and Zondervan (under Rupert Murdock's shrewd leadership)"

that's scarier than anything I saw on halloween.

Udarnik said...

"I like to hear a man dwell much on the same essentials of Christianity. For we have but one God, and one Christ, and one faith to preach; and I will not preach another Gospel to please men with variety, as if our Saviour and our Gospel were grown stale."
Richard Baxter

Chris said...

"There is, however, a final irony to note. It is this: In the Old and New Testaments, the moments of great impact in the world were never those in which the people of God became indistinguishable from those in their world. When this happened it was a moment of spiritual debauchery. In order to influence the world, the people of God have to be quite different from it cognitively and morally. The irony is that to be relevant, the church has to be otherworldly; and when this spiritual otherness is extinguished by the ache for this-worldly acceptance, it loses the thing that it wants above all else—relevance. The church eventually discovers, to its great dismay, that it has lost its voice and no longer has anything left to say. That is the discovery that now seems to be looming ahead of the evangelical world. It is the iceberg that awaits the Titanic as those on board persuade themselves of their invincibility and pass the days in partying."

-David Wells

Jerry Wragg said...

Carla -
Excellent comment! Here's the bottom line---Preachers who regularly taste the grace of God's word in their personal sanctification (including failure and renewal) could never have so little trust in its power. These self-styled champions of relevance betray some level of personal weakness for which the solution has not been scripture, repentance, and a new holy zeal, but rather a re-casting of God's commands in more culture-friendly tones (which of course eases the tension or guilt they may have over stubborn sin-patterns in their own life).
The result is a new "church" environment where the lowest common spiritual character is deemed "normal" for believers (a clear violation of Phil. 3:17; 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Eph. 5:1, etc.). Anyone striving to "be holy [themselves] in all [their] behavior" (1 Pet.1:15) is quickly labeled "irrelevant", then marginalized because, after all, "no real Christian today can live like that"! And, who could argue with this thinking since every true believer feels the weight of failure, weakness, and stubborn sins? No one can claim to have “obtained it, or…become perfect”.
Yet, the sanctifying grace of God is found in a relentless pursuit of Christ's glory fully formed in us (Phil. 3:12-16). Paul clearly says to "keep following in line" in the standard of maturity we've already reached...then "press on" again.
The church growth movement, while filled with many sincere but undiscerning followers of Christ, is really a movement of those who are losing their resolve to biblically strive, and have adopted secular ideas about “normal” Christian morality. We could say that it’s not really a “growth” movement at all---It’s a “stunted growth” movement…an atrophied church…a group made up of numerous undiscerning bandwagonites, a fair amount of discouraged, withering saints, and a majority of moral unbelievers.
When we come along and speak of the power, sufficiency, and relevance of holy scripture…it is an increasingly strange sound in their ears!

Preaching to the choir,

agonizomai said...

Men will surrender to the spirit of the age. They will say that if they had lived in our day, faith would be simple and easy. But in their day, they will say, things are complex; the Church must be brought up to date and made meaningful to the day's problems. When the Church and the world are one, then those days are at hand.

St. Antony the Abbott - 300AD

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Stephen Morse said...

I just need to see more and more of His Life-changing Word: a little taste is just not enough! Thanks for this topic. I have really appreciated the encouragement and challenge!
His Word really is the power of God unto salvation!

wulffenstein said...

I'd be careful on cracks on publishers. Thomas Nelson hasn't done much better. Seen the Align Bible?

candy said...

excellent response Carla.

Phil Johnson said...

Wulf: You're evidently new to the blog. Welcome. Enjoy the archives. I used Zondervan in this instance to avoid the criticism that I have some kind of fixation with the sins of Thomas Nelson. I think this blog was actually first to notice the Align biblezine. In fact, it's kind of been a running theme here for several weeks.

Steve said...

Wulf: The theological ignorance and spiritual impoverishment at the topmost levels of today's Christian publishing industry is pretty astounding.

That's not true for all of them. But you'd be surprised at the size of this spiritual wasteland that's growing faster than the Sahara.

Sara Morse said...

i find it confusing that churches attempt to be acceptable to th culture by emulating it in so many ways. The message is watered down to the point where it is unrecognizable, and the church attempts to offer an imitation of culture, we just change the words around a little. Yet, when it comes to being "cultural" in our churches, we can't even do that as well as the culture can.We are a poor imitation of that because we cannot go as far as the culture can. We put ourselves in a no win situation by neglecting the only strength we have to offer, the only grcae we have at all, Jesus Christ and the preaching of His Word.

Sara Morse said...

sorry, i meant "grace"

Frank Martens said...

At some point I'm going to post about my experiences with the emergent foolishness. It diffinetly annoys the heck out of me. Most specifically what you'll notice is that nobody likes conflict there, so it's all about pacism. BLAH

Chris Freeland said...

"Don't underestimate the power of the plain word of God or the influence of clear and dynamic preaching."

This is really profound...
I recently got to hear Michael Easley, the new president of Moody, preach during a chapel service at DTS. His rebuke to common preaching was scathing. "We've become bored with the Word of God, so we entertain. How dare we?"

Isn't it amazing that the most simple things seem the most profound?

Mark Hunsaker said...

Amen Phil. Your description is timely as we just celebrated the Reformation, which while considered an incredible movement, was merely an attempt to return to the Scriptures.

I'm convinced that must always be our primary focus, and it must happend continuously.

Kate said...

Phil - a really great important post. Mark Hunsaker has it right in referencing the reformation. How far the church has fallen from the reformation father’s pursuit of biblical truth! All the great men of church history, and all their suffering, to produce the chaff of much of today’s church? May God open the eyes of the blind yet again.


GL said...

Do you know how this sort of argumentation by Phil and commenters is viewed inside the CGM?

Dismissed. Caricatured. If by mistake some of this anti-relevance content is accidentally encountered it is not listened to, it is dismissed and ridiculed.

The great relativizing questions of CGM leaders? How many are they running? How many have they baptized?

The only way to gain a hearing inside the CGM is to become one of them, entice similar baptism and attendance numbers.

The CGM lives in a self-sealing loop. It won't countenance criticism from those who aren't "growing" the way they define growing.

Here's the oft-repeated line: so-and-so "just doesn't get it."

This may strike some of you as ironic or a sign of the Apocalypse or just flat wrong, but from my vantage point of having worked in the CGM and having researched it, Rick Warren is the hope for reaching CGM pastors. These things are a matter of degree and thus relative to the observer, but in comparison to the CGM Rick Warren 1) reads, 2) cares a lot about theology, and 3) cares about kingdom concerns about the whole person (the kingdom is not spiritual *only*, but also social and material).

I affirm those 3 things about Warren and thus I think he is a hope to persuade CGM pastors to better ecclesial practices. I am not defending Warren in general nor oblivious to critiques about other aspects of his ministry; I am merely affirming those 3 things.

It's a shame that Warren's appetite for reading theology distinguishes him in the CGM.

Bottom Line: CGM folks that I know personally, who blew off certain critiques in the last 15 years, are now changing in their ministries and acting like anyone who doesn't jump with the changes is wrong. But these changes were things critics called for years ago but were ridiculed. Now one of the CGM, in fact the BIGGEST, Rick Warren has said these things so the CGM folks listen.

Messenger, not message.

farmboy said...

Reading Mr. Johnson’s post sent me back to my early Sunday school days: God’s plan for a Moses-led conquest of Canaan (Numbers 13), God’s plan for the Joshua-led conquest of Jericho (Joshua 6), and God’s plan for the Gideon-led conquest of the Midianites (Judges 7). In all three cases the methods God ordained did not make sense from a human perspective. In the last two cases, the people’s faith in God was such that they confidently used His methods and gained victories that brought glory and honor to God. This was not so in the first case, and the result was forty years of wondering in the wilderness.

When Christians truly believe that God is sovereign over even the minutest of details, they confidently use God’s methods, trusting God to bring about the results that He has ordained. Ultimately, this serves to bring God glory and honor.

In contrast, though they may give lip service to the notion of God’s sovereignty being found in most systematic theology textbooks, Christians that fail to believe that God is sovereign, lack confidence in the methods He ordains. Trying to help their less-than-fully sovereign God out, they substitute human methods (methods that make sense from a human perspective) for the methods God ordains. Notwithstanding the best of intentions, they end up with an Ishmael instead of an Isaac (Genesis 16).

Jeff said...

All of these comments are encouraging. There ARE people who get it!! :)

All Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching churches have had unfaithful members who identify with the group. I believe this Unfaithful group can be separated into 2 major categories of folks:

There are the ignorant
There are the unbelieving

The ignorant Christian has truly submitted to the Lordship of Christ but because of poor teaching and preaching is mostly ignorant of God's holy standards, (which however is no excuse), but nonetheless results in unfaithfulness.

The unbeliever is usually cognizant of the Truth, but in his heart of hearts refuses to obey and trust which results in unfaithfulness, (By their fruits ye shall know them).

I believe the demographic of the Unfaithful has been shifting dramatically over past two decades. When preaching first started to decline on a widespread basis, the church's unfaithful, as a whole, were comprised of predominantly the ignorant, and there were a lesser portion of unbelievers, (tares amongst the wheat).

But as the weak preaching has persisted, the unbelievers are swallowing up the ignorant (percentage wise); this is evidenced by their hostility to and outright rejection of the Truth when it is actually presented through faithful ministers of the Word. The Unfaithful today want nothing to do with it. They simply want to be entertained or pacified, or whatever...

The ignorant are teachable and tender to the Truth when it's presented clearly, thoughtfully, and powerfully. This group's numbers are dwindling.

America has raised almost two generations of children that are innoculated from the Truth. They've heard just enough of it in a weakened, unholy, just-like-the-world, dose that many of their hearts have become immune to the soul-piercing realities of Scripture.

Let's keep up the good fight...

Mike Perrigoue said...

Amen, Phil! And like Shawn, (the first comment) I too am curious as to how you feel about Steve Camp's post on Oct. 27th on reformation in Christian publishing...seeing as how you're in the business of editing books...

What sort of discernment and guidlines does MacArthur use in choosing publishers?