How NOT to Preach, Part 1
I’m taking a class on Preaching and Writing about Gospel-Centered Transformation this semester and am deeply indebted to my professor, Dr. Jeff Louie for the root of this post.
As we discuss preaching the Gospel message in my class, we also learn how not to preach. It’s a fun exercise to write “wrong” outlines and hear inappropriate points, but it also helps us to know the difference between Gospel-centered preaching and other ways people can preach. It’s also quite indicting to think back on my own messages in light of what I’m learning, yikes!
The first style we practiced was preaching in the Propserity Gospel style. You know this style: preaching health and wealth, positive confession, name it and claim it, blab it and grab it.
We learned that the heart of this method is to universalize non-normative deliverances into everyday occurrances and/or promises from God.
I know, that sentence says a lot, but it boils down to promising that every positive, miraculous deliverance in the Bible is what God intends for our life: the parting of the sea, the sun standing still*, the walls of Jericho tumbling down with a shout, the miraculous healings, the jail doors opening, defeating a giant using only a slingshot, and on and on.
Of course, all of these miracles are loosly applied to the events in our lives: “Who are the giants in your life?” or “What walls do you need to break down to receive God’s blessing?” or “What prison are you locked in from which you need to break free?”
And we’re told that with enough faith, the life we’ve always wanted, full of health and wealth, is just around the corner. Your house won’t be foreclosed upon. You won’t have incurable diseases. You won’t have to settle for anything less than the perfect life.
Preaching this way is so alluring because people want to hear it; they will come running and give you money hand over fist. You will fill stadiums and have a popular TV show preaching this kind of message.
Paul promised that people would go looking for the message they want:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Or, as Space Ghost quipped, “I believe every word that man said because it is exactly what I want to hear.”
The only problem is that it’s not the Gospel.
In this model:
- God is not soverign; he is subject to our ideas of blessing.
- There is no talk of sin separating us from God, only that it separates us from “the good life”.
- Suffering and pain are an indicator that something is “off” in your life, not that we live in a fallen world that cries out for redemption.
- Our highest aim is success and pleasure, not God.
- Blessings are material, not spiritual.
- Jesus should not have suffered and died; he should have been blessed for his faith.
In all fairness, the Bible does talk about the power of faith. John 14:14 and Mark 11:24 both tell us that you can ask God for anything and you will receive it. However, these verses are in the context of God’s overarching plan: to glorify himself. Many times we ask for things that will glorify ourselves or will actually pull us away from God (though we don’t know it).
God is glorified when our lives reveal him through transformed character. I maintain that it is more miraculous when we are truly transformed people and become salt and light in this world rather than when we have lots of stuff and are virtually imperceptible in this world.
Could it be that there is something more valuable than material blessings and a perfect life that people will miss if we don’t tell them?
Up next: The Guilt Gospel
*Note: This one is really a stretch to apply generally in light of Joshua 10:14: “There has not been a day like it before or since. [emphasis mine] The Lord obeyed a man, for the Lord fought for Israel!”