“Shut up and preach the gospel” is a refrain that has been shared with me several times a year. Not exactly in those words perhaps, but that is the intent. As I reflect on the events of this year and how we should respond to cultural and political issues, it occurs to me that underlying these criticisms is an assumption that our culture is inherently good and is only corrupted by the sinful actions of individuals.
As white American Christians we have difficulty acknowledging that there is something sinful about our way of life and worldview. And because we only see issues as individual problems (also a function of our American individualism) we prescribe the ‘preaching of the gospel’ as the solution. But we should remember the gospel has implications that impact society as a whole.
For example, the church that Paul planted in Corinth was the result of many souls coming to Christ via the preaching of the gospel. (Acts 18) But that same church needed the guidance of Paul on cultural matters correcting their behavior both as individuals and a community. The gospel that saved them also had correctives for what they believed about their cultural practices. For them it was eating meat offered to idols among other things. For us it is the commitments to systemic racism, the idolatry of consumerism, an unnatural affection for guns, and a conflation of patriotism with the gospel of Christ.
Some who applaud Paul for his corrective preaching to Corinth based on the implications of the gospel, now defend our culture against the corrective measures of the gospel, simply because they can’t fathom that our culture is as sinful as the First Century Corinthians. And further believe white American culture to be superior and inherently righteous. Instead of faithfully proclaiming the gospel that changes lives, too many American pulpits are mere reactionaries to the culture. Pastors tread carefully as too not offend the sensitivity of parishioners. They ignore what is happening and peddle in spiritual novelties and motivational trinkets.
For example, I once saw where a preacher boldly proclaimed “Join us tonight at 7 pm, I promise you have never heard what I am going to preach tonight.” Let that phrase sink in. “You have never heard what I am going to preach.” When did novelty become the standard for great preaching?
Imagine your doctor saying to you, “I’m going to perform a surgical procedure on you that has never been tried before. It just came to me.” I think that we all would reject that standard in every other walk of life. We would never be willing to risk our health in order to validate the creative novelty of our doctor, yet we are willing to subject our spiritual health and eternal destiny to the creative license of those who declare themselves as God’s spokesmen? Remember that Paul proclaimed in 1 Corinthians 15:3 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” Paul, who vindicated his Apostleship by citing direct revelation from Christ Himself, did not trade in novelty, but in what he had received. And in Jude verse 3 we read these important words, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.”
As Christians, we aren’t called to contend for “something no one has ever heard before” but rather to contend for “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” We are not in need of another new concept that merely serve to tickle the fickle ears of audiences with the attention spans of squirrels drinking Mountain Dew. We need to hear about the perennial faith that forever flourishes in the soil of human hearts that have been transformed by the gospel of Christ. The gospel of Christ should be the litmus test for great preaching. A gospel message that creates a disruption to the larger culture, resulting in what the late great John Lewis called “good trouble.”
Pastors please do not entertain me with a circus, convict me with a Holy Spirit anointed word that points me to the cross of Christ. Challenge my cultural comforts and disrupt my life, because Hollywood strategies are a poor substitute for Holy Ghost convictions. Even Jesus Himself did not come to “destroy the law” but to “fulfill” it. He did not bring a new word but a life changing Word. May we do the same as preachers of the gospel.
Or as Robert Capon reminds us, “Preachers are stewards whom the Lord has “set over his household servants to provide them with food at the proper time.” After all the years the church has suffered under forceful preachers and winning orators, under compelling pulpiteers and clerical bigmouths with egos to match, how nice to hear that Jesus expects preachers in their congregations to be nothing more than faithful household cooks. Not gourmet chefs, not banquet managers, not caterers to thousands, just Gospel pot-rattlers who can turn out a decent, nourishing meal once a week. And not even a whole meal, perhaps; only the right food at the proper time.”
My inconsistencies are many and often I serve others better than I serve myself. I tend to “eat” whatever is left over of the spiritual delights forgetting that if I fail to nourish myself, I’m not much use to anyone. A gospel message that is impotent in changing me will do little to change the world. With this in mind I have a responsibility to preach this gospel of disruption to myself first.
As Paul David Tripp observes in Dangerous Calling, “Because there will be many times when no one knows what you thinking and therefore cannot interrupt your private conversation, you need to be committed to preaching the gospel to yourself. You need to preach a gospel that finds its hope not in your understanding and ability but in a God who is grand and glorious in every way and who has invaded your life and ministry by His grace. You need to preach a gospel to yourself that does not find its rest in you getting it right but in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You need to preach a gospel to yourself that does not get its motivation from human success, respect, and acclaim but from plenteous grace, which you could have never earned. You need to tell yourself again and again that there is no pit of life or ministry so deep that Jesus isn’t deeper. You need to call yourself to rest and faith when no one else knows that private sermon is needed.”
The gospel still has a lot of work to do. I think I’ll keep preaching.