The Centrality of the Gospel in Preaching 6

In a recent letter, Pastor Dr. John MacArthur wrote, “You cannot deny our world is shaped and driven by emotion. Everything today – from music to entertainment to advertising and even the news – is designed to affect and manipulate our feelings. Facts and objective truth only matter in terms of the emotional response they can prompt from you.”

“This isn’t a secular problem, either,” he continues. “If we’re honest, many Christians put far too much trust in their emotions – we’ve become like the world in that way. Instead of holding to objective, immutable truth, they chase the highs and lows of their own feelings. In many cases, they let their moods or subjective impulses determine how they think and live.”

As R. Scott Clark, professor of history and theology at Westminster Seminary, California writes, “What little is left of the Reformation devotion of the book and its ‘truths’ is nearly swallowed up in euphoric experience” (Tabletalk February 2011, 6).

Dr. Michael Horton relates a similar situation in his book Christless Christianity.

Several years ago a mainline theologian told me of his experience at an evangelical mega-church. He was visiting his children and grandchildren during spring break. In the church they attended Easter Sunday, nothing visibly suggested that it was a Christian service, but this distinguished theologian tried to rein in his judgments. There was no greeting from God or sense that this was God’s gathering. The songs were almost exclusively about us, our feelings, and our intentions to worship, obey, and love, but it was not clear whom they were talking about or why. He concluded, “Well, evangelicals don’t really have a liturgy. They put all the content into the sermon, so I’ll wait.”

However, his patience was not rewarded. Although it was Easter, the message (with no clear text) was on how Jesus gives us strength to overcome our obstacles. Lacking even a benediction, this theologian left discouraged. He had come to an evangelical church at Easter, and instead of meeting God and the announcement of a real victory over sin and death by Jesus Christ, he encountered other Christians who were being given fellowship and instructions for making their own Easter come true in their life.

Pressed with leading questions by his son-in-law as to his reaction to the service (such as “Did it touch your heart?”), the theologian broke his silence, “I assume you’re trying to ‘evangelize’ me right now,” he said. “But there was no ‘gospel’ anywhere in that service that might convert me if I were unconverted. Not even in the most liberal churches I’ve been in was the service so devoid of Christ and the gospel. It’s like ‘God who?’”

Since then, a mainline Methodist theologian told me of an almost identical experience – curiously, also at Easter – in a conservative Presbyterian church that was known around the university for its “Bible believing” and “Christ-centered” ministry. He too left disappointed (the sermon was something about how Jesus overcame his setbacks and so can we), further substantiating his appraisal that evangelicals are likely as mainliners today to talk pop psychology, politics, or moralism instead of the gospel. (Christless Christianity 29-30)