Watering Down The Word? – Part II

I received some great comments to my recent post ‘Watering Down The Word?‘ and figured a follow-up post was warranted (might be helpful). Those familiar with my ministry know that I don’t have it in me to preach anything less than the Bible (2 Timothy 4:2). I don’t have it in me to preach anything less than Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). I’m also mindful of how my choice of words (vocabulary) hugely affects how my message is heard. I’m convinced that a communicator’s manner of delivery has the ability to attract or repel the hearer. Yes, God is sovereign. I rely on this! I will not, however, use God’s sovereignty as an excuse to preach without any thought of form and manner of delivery. I see value in being attentive to the mindset of those I’m speaking to. I see value in anticipating their objections and questions. I see value in in speaking sensitively and sensibly to them. Having done that, I leave it to God to soften hearts and to seal the message that Jesus is LORD.

I commend to the readers of this blog the following video from Desiring God Ministries. Thank-you Cliff Cline for locating this for me. Our new ministry, The Well, may not use a traditional pulpit, but John Piper’s message, ‘Don’t Waste Your Pulpit’ still applies. Keep those comments coming!

9 thoughts on “Watering Down The Word? – Part II

  1. Wow. Three things to say:

    1) Amen, preach it, brother!
    2) Soooo glad to see you back to blogging, after a short time away, Bryn!
    3) John Piper freakin’ ROCKS! 🙂

    I love the clarity of this message. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about God’s word. So true.

    I’m always heartbroken when I experience a preacher who reads from the Bible and then delivers a nice speach about some topic that has some loose connection to the passage read…instead of wading hip-deep into God’s word to see what God has to say.

    At Orange, Louie Giglio talked about trancendence rather than relevance. It was a challenging and fascinating talk…his idea was that we shouldn’t sell out to culture – use culture to explain, to illustrate God, yes…but not to place any high premium on how relevant we are. Instead, to look to the transcendent truth of Jesus Christ as our boasting ground. To use what is cultural to teach what is timeless, as Reggie Joiner put it.

    All good thingst to think about!

  2. Having read Parts 1 and 2 of this blog entry, here are some thoughts I’d like to weigh in with revolving around scripture, transcendence, culture and relevance.
    1) At it’s heart, isn’t the cry for relevance in the pulpit related to the reality that people have lost a sense of the holiness/distinct otherness of God? We as preachers need to re-instill that value in believers. God is not culturally relevant, He is “covenant-relevant”.
    People don’t understand the language and it is our call to teach them & our folly not to!
    2) Everything we do as preachers of the gospel conveys a message. In church I do not wear a gown, but I always wear a collar to make sure that people understand that my role is set apart. If I dress like the people, is it possible that I might convey the message that I am like them, and ultimately, by transferrence, that God is like them, and not set apart as holy? If the music is like the rest of the world, if the preacher looks like the people on the street, if the “sanctuary” is stripped of all the elements that hint at it being the house of God – how can I ask the people to turn their hearts towards Him and focus on Him? We risk making coming to church being too much like the rest of culture, instead of church being a sanctuary from culture…
    4) Is the gospel / scriptures culturally relevant, or does it “transcend” culture? I want those that I feed to experience and feel the transcendent love of God that overarches all the cultural messages and junk they are faced with every day…
    5) a gentle afterthought… I don’t know much about Reggie Joiner’s teachings, but I do remember that one of the historical-critical methods of interpretation / heresy (tongue in cheek) was that the gospel was trapped within the Greco-Roman culture. Shouldn’t we be using timeless truths to transform culture, rather than using culture to teach what is timeless?

    Late night ramblings.
    Peace of Christ,

  3. Hi Darren,

    I hope I can address some of your comments, in the interest of friendly discussion between pastor-types.

    1) I have to admit, I like the way that Erwin McManus (rather boldly) puts it: “The incarnation of Jesus Christ is God’s undeniable evidence that relevance to culture is not optional.” I agree that teaching is unbelievabley important, but if we begin in a language no one understands, we’re not going to be able to teach a thing. Think of western missionaries going into a foreign land and trying to teach Biblical truth in English using western illustrations. There are several classic stories of missionaries conveying something VERY different than what they intended to convey, simply because they didn’t understand the culture. In our context today, we live in a mission field. Everything outside the church doors is different – people don’t understand the language we talk in church. If we don’t learn to communicate with them using language they understand, then we’re going to fail to share Christ with anyone. This isn’t a new concept, at all. Paul was well versed in it: 1 Corinthians 9:20.

    2)You’re right, everything we do conveys a message. The reality is that God came onto our turf (put on flesh and dwelt among us) so that through the life, death and ressurection of Jesus Christ the barriers between us and God would be destroyed. I have difficulty wearing something that declares a barrier (or a space, or a difference or a ‘set-apart-ness’ or whateve language you want to use to describe it) between me and the folks I minister to. Having said that, I made the compromise of wearing a collar at communion and when baptizing, when I came to the church I serve. But even on those days, the collar sits uncomfortabley on my neck. I have had specialized theological teaching and I have a calling to a specialized role in the Body of Christ, but I don’t think I’m much different from the folk in the pew. I fear the loss of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ when clergy set themselves apart…I also fear being unteachable myself…if I set myself apart, am I able to learn from someone who has not had the specialized theological teaching I’ve had, but who has a deep and true relationship with God and some life experiences that leads them to something I haven’t learned yet? (Or something I need to be reminded of.)

    3) Is there a 3? Did I miss it? You did say it was late at night… 😉

    4) My short answer: both! The love of God transcends culture, but there is a cultural need for the love of God. In our culture there are all kinds of places (listen to the music of Linkin Park, for example) where the raw, bleeding desperation of this wounded world becomes obvious. Using these examples to say, “Hey, we’ve got something that can heal that!” makes great sense to me.

    5) Using what is cultural to teach what is timeless is FOR the purpose of transforming culture. It’s not that culture is good in and of itself, it’s that culture is a tool or a vessel that we can use to convey the timeless truth of God. The end result should always be life-change. If there’s no life-change (and therefore community-change and world-change and culture-change), then it’s not a ‘win.’

    Anywho…interesting questions and points. I hope my answer (intended to clarify what I think/believe/say/do in ministry) doesn’t come off as attacking!


  4. Hey Rebecca, I don’t get offended easily! Don’t worry. Thank you for your comments.
    May I reply?
    1) Regarding the use of language… I would suggest that the basic gospel that is salvation for the believer is conveyed through language that must be / is cross cultural. Doesn’t Paul say that faith comes through hearing? (Romans 10:17). Otherwise, there would be no point to missionary work… The language that we use within the realm of theology is absolutely confusing to the laity. As Bryn so aptly pointed out, you cannot loosely say “sanctification”, instead, to help the laity you say, “the process of becoming like Jesus”… But still, there does demand some theological underpinning to understand the phrase “becoming like Jesus” in the same sense that the early church was accused of cannibalism when it spoke of “eating the body and blood of Christ”. Most of the church hasn’t been fed some of the basic tenets of our faith. I understand you quoting Paul in regards to relating to culture, what I wonder about is, to what extent and purpose? “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.” To the Jews, Paul became a Jew in the sense that he engaged with their cultural rituals for the purposes of questioning their world view and teaching them a different way… Paul is extracting the non-essentials of their beliefs / lifestyle / culture, to teach them the essentials of the way of following Christ…
    2) Regarding barriers, yeah Jesus died and rose from death to break down barriers. But the reality is, some barriers (cultural and ecclesiastical) still exist. When we were baptized, we were set apart from culture and brought into a faith community. When we were ordained, we were set apart from the laity. We made a covenant agreement or perhaps in your understanding, a compromise… Whether we like it or not, people mentally set us apart. Being ordained does not mean that I am not teachable –especially by the people I am called to serve. It does mean, whether I like it or not, that I will be looked to as an example and leader. I don’t think I’m much different than the folks in the pew, but they do. How I teach them to see me is up to me. I believe strongly in the priesthood of all believers, and I want to see it practiced more in the church, but the church isn’t ready to embrace it to the degree we preachers want to see it happen. When we celebrated the Baptism of Christ this year I did a blessing service, to remind people of their baptism into Christ. When the service was over, my wife loosely commented to someone in the congregation that no one offered to bless me… No one believed they were fit to. I have only taught the opposite… We cannot lose the priesthood of all believers if it’s already lost / hasn’t been reclaimed in our day.

    4) The love of God transcends culture, there is a cultural need for the love of God, but culture in and of itself is not capable of loving God. That’s why Jesus transcends culture. In the world, both the church and the unchurched there is a raw, bleeding desperation for of woundedness. Woundedness is part of the human condition. Jesus can heal that, but you don’t need to be relevant to show people that. You have to show that Jesus is practical! The truth of Jesus healing cannot be based on platitudes.
    5) Good news! I agree with everything you wrote in point 5!
    Finally, I love the post-modernist twist at the end. I did not feel attacked. I suppose I should also add that I respect and love your truths, and humbly beseech thee to love and respect my truths.
    Cheers back at ya!

  5. What the heck. Gotta chime in here. Five thoughts, not necessarily adhering to the numbering of earlier comments.

    (a) As a preacher, I have feet of clay, just like everybody else. My authority comes from presence, not from what I wear or don’t wear.

    (b) The sanctuary, under the new covenant, is the human heart. That room with the funny furniture can be called what you wish! 🙂

    (c) Scripture is always relevant; our job is to make clear its relevance by means of relevant communication. (I heard a sermon at a meeting the other night that could be characterized as the dullest communication of God’s Word ever! It did the gospel no justice by being proffered in a sinfully boring fashion.)

    (d) We can only transform culture with timeless truth when the culture “gets” timeless truth.

    (e) What’s the deal with “your truths…my truths”? I thought there was only one Truth…? 🙂

  6. Great dialogue! Back and forth like this is what makes a blog superior to a traditional website (now it sounds like I’m against all things traditional!…I’m not.). You’ve both weighed in with some good points; let me jump into the fray with a couple side comments.

    St. Giles Kingsway will soon be doing a rare thing: we’ll be offering two services with -massive- style differences. I realize a myriad of congregations offer a traditional service and a contemporary. I don’t know of any as formal/traditional as St. Giles Kingsway (SGK) that also attempt a Willow Creek/North Point/Meeting House approach service.

    At the risk of sounding overly diplomatic….we do the former because we totally agree with Darren’s points. We do the latter because we totally agree with Rebekah’s.

    Admittedly, SGK runs the risk of ‘trying to do too much’, but I’ll take that risk in order to offer the most comprehensive, God-glorifying ministry within our God-given means.

  7. Hi Darren – the funny thing is, I think we actually think fairly similarly…

    1) You wrote: “Paul is extracting the non-essentials of their beliefs / lifestyle / culture, to teach them the essentials of the way of following Christ…” I agree! In fact, I would say that’s a way of re-stating the ‘use what is cultural to teach what is timeless’ principle. That is exactly what we should be doing with the culture around us: using the non-essentials (ie pop culture: I use the example of Britney Spears’ 55-hr marriage to talk about the broken-ness and messed-up-ness of our understanding of marriage and covenant) to teach the essentials of Jesus Christ (the groom who loves his bride, the church, throughout eternity and with a passion that does not fail). Of course we need to teach the ideas – but words like sanctification, immutability, pneumatology…even things like ‘grace’ and ‘mercy’ need to be said in a way that your average joe (and I am SO the queen of average joe’s!) gets it. That doesn’t mean we abandon the concepts, but I am all for abandoning $12 theological words.

    2) We probably agree to disagree about the collar thing. I don’t think that my covenant or my call are affected by whether I wear a symbol like the collar (admittedly, this takes some education for the folk in the pew, and some of them don’t like it…but I’m okay with that). You (I think, tell me if I’m wrong, or if I’m putting words in your mouth) see the collar as a deep sign of your covenant/call.

    4) I think showing that Jesus is practical IS being relevant. Maybe semantics are screwing me up, but that’s at the heart of what I want for relevance: for a new generation to come to know that life in Christ’s presence is so much better than life without Christ’s presence. How we communicate that is a question that has no answer. I’m most comfortable communicating the absolute practicality of Jesus by using references to things I see in the world today…I don’t really know any other way to communicate.

    5) YAY! We agree! Double cheers!

    Great to discuss these things with you!

  8. Hey I-
    think we’ve messed things up effectively, and now cleaned them up well too.
    One final point. I do not see the collar as having significance to my calling, in and of itself it has zero worth or authority other than serving as a miniscule reminder and miniscule symbol that points people to the bigger authority and the concept of “holiness”, (that which I spoke of earlier in my lament over its loss in the church today). Symbols help us convey the message of who God is…

    In response to Jeff, it really don’t matter what we wear. We’re all human. I don’t wear a collar for my benefit, I wear it to try to help people see me in God’s house in a specific role…

    Oh, and the “your truth, my truth” thingy, just a old modernist comment… There is only one ultimate truth. But, we are so afraid of expressing truth today because we fear we will offend. I think Rebekah was kinda thinking she was banging my beliefs and attacking / offending me.

    As Bryn says, we all do things to the glory of God in ways that, prayerfully, work within our means…
    Soli Deo Gloria…

  9. Darren, good for you for calling a spade a spade when it comes to the fear of offending. Too many pastors in too many traditions are afraid to exercise their prophetic role because they’re afraid that they’ll be booted out for so doing.

    Long live the Presbyterian axiom, “The authority of the Session ceases at the pulpit stairs.”

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