Lifting Sails Or Revving Outboard Motors
.... Paul makes (a contrast) in Romans (9:8) and Galatians (4:21-31) between Isaac the "child of the promise" and Ishmael the "child of the flesh" (see Genesis chapters 17, 18, 21). Tired of waiting for Divine intervention according to God's promise, Abraham took matters into his own hands and attempted to produce God's seed in his own initiative and power by fathering a child with his slave girl Hagar.
Much of the evangelism in New Paradigm churches today can be illustrated by this promised child/natural child analogy.
It is neither an unorthodox view nor a new idea that true evangelism is the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the convicting and drawing work of the Spirit is indispensable to biblically centered, successful evangelism. But the Spirit of God cannot be organized and installed on some church-growth assembly line. Jesus, speaking of people being born-again, quickly added, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit " (John 3:8).
Observe and listen to the presentation and practice of New Paradigm (Seeker Sensitive) evangelism. Its focus is rarely on the wind of the Spirit. There may be passing reference given to the Spirit, but its "success" does not depend upon nor require the convicting and drawing activity of the Holy Spirit. Rarely do we hear of waiting on the Spirit as Paul and his companions did in Antioch (Acts 13:1-4). Rather, the prevailing practice seems to be to "rev up" the methodological outboard motor (often borrowed from market analysis and managerial mentors) and push the throttle full speed ahead.
With an outboard motor there is no need for the wind; therefore, little attention is given to it. There is no need to worry about a calm, still day; wind can, in truth, be a downright nuisance. Does it seem as though I am calling for the church to just sit around waiting for God to do it all? Hardly! In sailing, one does not just spend time anchored and sunbathing. Serious sailing requires one to be alert, checking wind speed and direction, always ready to lift the sails to catch the wind. Sailors depend upon and wait for the wind. Outboard motors and the gasoline that powers them are efficient products of man. Manufactured power means there is no longer a need to wait for some kind of uncontrolled thrust that blows when and where it wills. Man cannot duplicate the complex, natural phenomena that cause wind. Therefore, the sailor, though he builds his boat and sews his sails, is totally dependent upon and ready to catch the wind whenever it comes.
In New Testament evangelism the wind of the Spirit always blows in concert with the message of the cross. In the apostolic record true evangelism--the authentic message of Christ's death and resurrection--was not only Spirit-directed but Spirit-attended. In Paul's systematic description of the Gospel in Romans, we find the content of the Gospel he preached. He did not just refer to the cross in passing, but he explained the Gospel, giving a detailed account of what Jesus accomplished at the cross. It was this message that Paul relied on, this message that Paul was confident the Spirit of God would endorse. The cross in New Testament preaching is always presented in the context of man's sin and presented as the only remedy for man's sin. There is absolutely no reliance on any other attraction to draw people to Christ. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. This is the purpose of Christ's death on the cross. He paid the penalty for man's sin--it was finished at the cross. This is the Gospel; the New Testament suggests no other purpose for Christ's death and resurrection.
In stark contrast New Paradigm churches focus more on the cross as a source of resolving a whole host of personal problems. This is not to deny that God does, according to His will, often resolve many personal problems, but this is a byproduct of His grace in our lives.
In the NT, the cross was a scandal to the Gentiles as well as to the Hebrews. Paul knew this came with the territory, but Paul never tried to soften the scandalous blow by appealing to more popular cultural desires in order to attract more converts. For Paul the message of the cross, no matter how scandalous to the Greek/Roman mind, was all he had to offer.
Today's seeker-sensitive, full-menu churches often physically remove the cross from their meeting places lest they offend (scandalize) the seekers. Though there are some variances between Schuller's self-esteem gospel and the personal-fulfillment message of Willow Creek and the purpose-driven ministries, all these initiated their ministries by taking neighborhood surveys of unbelieving people and shaping the message according to the collected data.
Paul lived long before market analysis theory and demographic polling, but is there any indication that Paul might have relied on these tools and shaped his message on them, even if he had taken a marketing course at Tarsus Seminary? No! Paul's reliance was always on the demonstration of the Spirit and the authenticity of the message of the cross:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you accept Jesus Christ and Him crucified And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (I Corinthians 2:1-5).
If it is true that the Spirit of God, blowing on the message of the cross, produces the thrust and movement of evangelism, then why do the marketers seem to want to avoid the Gospel in building their churches? Gene Edward Veith cites Dave Shiflett of the Wall Street Journal, who quotes researcher George Barna:
... 26 percent of born-agains believe all religions are essentially the same and that 50 percent believe a life of good works will enable a person to get to heaven. ... More than one in three (35 percent) born-again Christians do not believe that Jesus rose physically from the dead. ... Ten percent believe in reincarnation. Twenty-nine percent believe it is possible to communicate with the dead. (Gene Edward Veith, Unbelieving 'born-agains,' WORLD, Dec. 6, 2003, Volume 18, Number 47)
What's wrong with this picture? Could many supposed "born-again believers" simply be the product of truncated, trimmed-off, dumbed-down, inoffensive "gospel" messages adapted directly from the world because of churches' increasing reliance on marketing/managerial theory?
In previous Plumbline issues I have given much attention to the market-driven evangelism of Schuller and Hybels. In this issue I want to speak briefly to Rick Warren's purpose-driven evangelism theory and his book The Purpose Driven Life. Some within the "purpose-driven" movement suggest that they are not to be confused with other seeker-sensitive churches. However, Warren did establish his church, as did Hybels, with the aid of a neighborhood survey learned from Robert Schuller. This sort of marketing method inherently downplays both the cross and Spirit-directed outreach.
Tim Stafford, staff writer for Christianity Today wrote:
During his last year in seminary, he and Kay drove west to visit Robert Schuller's Institute for Church Growth. "We had a very stony ride out to the conference," she says, because such nontraditional ministry scared her to death. Schuller, though, won them over. "He had profound influence on Rick,' Kay says. "We were captivated by his positive appeal to nonbelievers. I never looked back." (CT Nov. 18, 2002, p. 45)
Let me say this at the outset: Warren is motivated to reach as many people for Christ as possible, and this is to be greatly commended. In his latest book, The Purpose Driven Life, which is a runaway bestseller and national phenomena, Warren offers some good, sound, helpful advice and practical suggestions. However, Gary Gilley asks the question,
"Who is Warren's audience?" I was thoroughly bewildered as to whom the author was trying to connect. If it is a book for unsaved then he fails, for the gospel is never at anytime clearly presented. The closest he came was when he wrote, 'Real life begins by committing yourself completely to Jesus Christ' (p. 58). In Warren's gospel no mention is made of sin, repentance or even the Cross. Real life (i.e. a life with purpose) seems to be the reward, and lack of real life (purpose) the problem. The thesis of ne Purpose Driven Life is stated, I believe, on page twenty-five, "We discover that meaning and purpose only when we make God the reference point of our lives." Warren's message is this: find God and you will find yourself (purpose). We will agree that meaning and purpose will be a reality to the Christian but they are not the objects of the gospel itself. The gospel is that we as rebellious sinners have offended a holy God, and are dead in our sins, enslaved to sin and the devil and under the wrath of God. But God, rich in mercy, sent His Son to die as our substitute to redeem us from our lost condition and give us eternal life. We receive this gift by faith as we turn to Christ, and from sin (Ephesians 2:1-10). That our life takes on new purpose at that point is absolutely true. However, we do not come to Christ because we sense a lack of purpose, but because God has opened our eyes to our need of forgiveness of sin and a relationship with Him. This is one of the fatal flaws in the market-driven church's message in which the unbeliever is called to follow Christ in order to receive any number of benefits--fulfillment, self-esteem, improved marriage, a thrilling lifestyle, or purpose, rather than freedom from sin and the gift of eternal salvation.
If Warren is writing for new believers, which seems to be the case due to the elementary tone and substance of the whole, he again misses the mark, for he uses many expressions and biblical references that would be unfamiliar to the novice. On the other hand, if he is writing to the mature he has wasted paper for any semi-well-taught believer will be completely bored with this book. ...
Be that as it may, I want to give credit where credit is due. Warren writes some good sections on a number of subjects, including worship, community, the church, truth and spiritual gifts. If some of these topics could only be isolated from the main body, they would make for helpful reading." (Think on These Things, "Purpose-Driven Life: An Evaluation Part I" Vol. 9, Issue 10, Oct. 2003)
In "Peace Plan," posted on his website, Rick Warren makes some startling claims:
This weekend, I will begin teaching the most important series of messages we've ever taught in 23 years at Saddleback Church. We believe it is part of the beginning of a Spiritual Awakening, a Global Movement, a New Reformation. ...
I now believe I know why God is blessing this book (PDL) in such an unusual way. ... I now also see that God is using this phenomena to expand the platform for us to mobilize thousands of local churches for global world missions through the PEACE plan. Right now about 5000 more churches are doing the 40 Day of Purpose campaign, and now the program has been adopted by corporations (like Coke, and Walmart)... In 2004 we expect over 15,000 more churches to participate. The influence of the book keeps amazing me everyday as I get requests for autographed copies. In today's stack: I signed books for 1) All the Supreme Court Justices 2) One for Fidel Castro (!) ... (http://ww-w.saddleback.coni/homel todaystory /asp.?pd=6213 )
Sadly, Fidel's copy doesn't have a clear explanation of the Gospel of the cross!
Warren says he rejects psycho-babble, but then proceeds to use it freely in statements like this: "Most conflict is rooted in unmet needs" (p. 154). This, of course, has its historical source in Rogers and Freud, not in Scripture.
It is a basic tenet of New Paradigm churches that the gospel is to be fashioned and presented as a personal-needsmeeting message. Warren's sermon preparation is apparently driven by the perceived needs of his audience.
He first considers: "To whom will I be preaching" ... Then, I consider what are their needs, hurts, and interests, and I ask a second question: "What does the Bible say about their needs?" (Dr. Robert Klenck, "What's wrong with the 21' century church?" www.crossroad.to/News/Church/Klenck2. htm])
For those with an historical memory, this has a familiar ring. Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) was the national spokesman for American liberal "Christianity." He preached at Riverside Church in New York (built by Rockefeller money). He had a nationwide radio ministry in the 1930s and 40s. Every true Gospel preacher knew that Fosdick was an enemy of the cross; he continually stated that preaching the message of the cross was ridiculous. Interestingly, Fosdick's messages were purposely crafted to be problem centered, beginning not with Scripture itself, but with the interests and felt needs of unbelievers. Fosdick wrote:
The modern preacher ... should clearly visualize some real need, perplexity, sin or desire to his auditors, and then should throw on the problem all the light he can find in the Scripture or anywhere else. ... There is nothing that people are so interested in as themselves, their own problems, and the way to solve them. (quoted by John MacArthur, Jr., Our Sufficiency in Christ, " Dallas, Word Publishing, 1991, p. 147)
I am not suggesting that Warren is a theological liberal like Fosdick who denied the virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ, and most other foundational Bible doctrines. Warren claims to be an evangelical, but in his Purpose-Driven Life he never clearly describes the Gospel.
Warren has a video teaching program for his earlier book, The Purpose Driven Church; titled "40 Days of Purpose." Jason, a young friend and relatively new Christian, recently related to me his experience with the "40 Days of Purpose' in his church. Jason is well educated and has developed a great ability for scriptural discernment. He had attended a home group where the initial video was shown. Jason was surprised at his own reaction to this video, and described it as a false gospel. My first reaction was that this indictment sounded rather heavy-handed, so I asked him what it was that prompted him to call it a false gospel. He responded that he heard Warren lead someone in a prayer for salvation, using words something like, "Lord, give me a purpose and meaning for my life," after which Warren welcomed that person into the Christian family. There had been no mention of the sin or the cross as is normal in a repentant sinner's prayer.
The temptation to soften or delay the message of the cross in evangelism is to gut the Gospel of its inherent power, given by the Holy Spirit! New Testament preachers and evangelists did not shy away from preaching the fullness of the cross to unbelievers, even though the cross was the primary scandal related to the Gospel. It is certain that Paul would never have thought of adapting the Gospel to appeal to the temporal needs of unbelievers; neither would he have repackaged the gospel by simply omitting its most "unpopular" elements. To Paul, that would have been no Gospel at all (see Galatians 1:6-9).
Paul would never compromise the smallest fraction of the truth of the Gospel to satisfy anyone. Paul was willing to sacrifice his personal rights that his life might not create a stumbling block for his hearers. But never would he compromise the Gospel entrusted to him by Christ Himself. For Paul the Gospel was the power of God unto salvation, and the Spirit was the endorsing power that made that Gospel savingly effective. Paul knew how to hoist the sails and catch the Spirit's thrust and power. He would, however, never have stooped to starting up the outboard motor of human reliance, no matter how trendy and promising it may have appeared.
In New Paradigm circles the offense of the cross and an utter reliance on the Holy Spirit are too often minimized in order to make an attractive church for Unchurched Harry and Saddleback Sam. Such churches now offer what Harry and Sam want. David Wells aptly observes:
"The new paradigm churches, then, appear to be succeeding, not because they are offering an alternative to our modern culture, but because they are speaking with its voice, mimicking its moves." (Losing Our Virtue, Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans, 1998. p.32).
About the Author
Orrel Steinkamp is publisher of Plumbline Newsletter and director of Plumbline Ministries. He has, served as a missionary to Vietnam, professor and pastor in Australia and most recently pastor of an AOG church in Redwood Falls Minnesota. He received his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He currently resides near Renville, Minnesota.
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