Thursday, March 23, 2006

Seeker-Sensitive Remixed

The Willow-Creek Saddleback model has come in for a considerable degree of criticism. There are those who resisted it from the beginning. There are others who believe that its time has come and gone. I believe that much good has been done for the cause of the kingdom by these churches; however, there is unavoidable baggage when attendees are trained to think as consumers and start their journey toward Christ expecting to be entertained.

Some have rejected the slick, highly-produced presentation of the gospel and gone to the other extreme of
rough-edged, spontaneous, “authentic” gatherings.

In New York City,
Redeemer Presbyterian Church is following a “third way.” It is lead by the gifted Tim Keller. (This guy makes me feel like a pre-school dropout.) He suggests that the pastor speak to believers and unbelievers at the same time. In fact, he says, “Speak to your whole community, not just the ones in the seats.”

Traditional services tend to assume that the listeners have lots of biblical knowledge and are familiar with the insider jargon. They also tend to use “we-them” language. Consequently, the Christians who attend the service know that their non-believing friends would not feel welcome in the service.

Instead, a pastor should try to create an environment where the Christian attendee would say, “Oh! I wish my non-Christian friend could see (or hear) this!”

But this does not involve “watering down” the gospel. But it does involve presenting the gospel in different terms. The gospel has traditionally been presented as “forgiveness from sin.” But in a world where people don’t accept the concept of sin and say they don’t believe in moral absolutes, this approach falls flat.

Keller suggests that sin be explained in this fashion, “Sin keeps you from being free as you need to be, and therefore it enslaves and de-humanizes you.” The gospel shifts from being a gospel of forgiveness to being a gospel of freedom.

Now there is nothing unbiblical about this. We have been so conditioned to think of the gospel in terms of a legal transaction, that we have failed to notice all the other ways the gospel is presented in the New Testament. (See
Three Gospels.)

Non-believers value freedom. They see religion as “restrictive.” They need to hear the need for the gospel is these terms, “You are actually being religious, though you don’t know it—trying to be righteous in a destructive way.”

Then they can hear the good news that Jesus Christ redeems us, frees us from slavery.

Tomorrow I’ll look at how Keller suggests that a pastor can speak to believers and non-believers at the same time and be effective with both groups.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


BugBlaster said...

With respect, if you believe that the presentation of the gospel does not need to include the necessity of "forgiveness from sin" then you won't be presenting the gospel that Jesus did. You will be watering it down, and in fact you'll be presenting another gospel.

Whether or not the presentation of the true gospel falls flat is not our concern. I doubt that the Holy Spirit needs our assistance to gloss the truth and make it attractive.

Sin does not de-humanize us. Sin is what characterizes us as humans. This is why forgiveness is so important a message.

True religion is restrictive in the sense that non-believers define restriction. If you "sell" it to them under other terms then the smart ones will see the lie. It's only when their eyes are opened by God that they believe and understand that true religion is freedom, not restriction. And it's freedom from sin.

The kind of gospel presentation you're advocating appears to be at best bait-and-switch (not telling them about the need for forgiveness till later), and at worst a false gospel, a gospel that presents the all powerful God as an attractive alternative lifestyle instead of a righteous judge.

Keeping James 3:1 in mind, I would flee in terror from the platform if called upon to deliver the message you're advocating.

I've not read any of your other stuff other than comments at another blog, so I apologize in advance if I've misunderstood your message. It seems pretty clear though.

Pastor Rod said...


You're right. You've misunderstood my message.


BugBlaster said...

Hi Rod,
I'll stay tuned for part two.

MTF said...

I cannot see how anyone can draw anything contrary to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ from this post. Perhaps it is in all of us to tear each other down automatically. Well, I guess I'm quick to jump to your defense only because I feel I know you and the depth of your faith. I only hope that others come to know you as I do. Besides, the enemy has certainly changed tactics in his war with the Kingdom. He grows ever more desperate as his time draws to a close. Shall we not be wise and pray the Holy Spirit's guidance on how to defeat the enemy in this age? MTF

BugBlaster said...

It's not my intent at all to tear down someone else automatically. I write with fear and trembling because I am more comfortable with encouraging than discouraging. I do not know Rod as you do, but when I read what was written, I see de-emphasis on our total unworthiness and depravity, and emphasis on actualization as a selling point of the gospel. I think that is wrong and I need to say so.

In fact, I may be wrong, but Rod didn't elaborate on what I've misunderstood, so I'm not able to say.

God bless.

MTF said...

Thanks, BB. I can appreciate where you're coming from. I for one appreciate your thoughtful and and sincere love of the truth. In that respect, we are kindred spirits-- and certainly brothers in Christ. MTF

Pastor Rod said...


If you want to get into a debate, I will gladly indulge you at the Behind the Scenes blog. But I will not do so here.

You said, "I've not read any of your other stuff other than comments at another blog." This does not sound like someone who really wants to know.

If you wanna fight. Let's take it outside.


BugBlaster said...

It seems that either you've got weak reading skills, or I've got weak writing skills, or perhaps a bit of both. I've just found this place. I should have said that I've not read any of your other stuff YET. And just so you know, the other blogs where I've read you were pyromanics and reflections of the times.

No need to indulge me; I'm not seeking a debate. I've said my piece. I will restrict my future comments if any to your "fightin'" blog, or to my own.

I wish the best for you and your ministry.

Gummby said...

Looking forward to part 2.