WHY THE GOSPEL PREACHER CANNOT BE A MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER
IS THIS A CRISIS?
Al Mohler while addressing the 2017 Ligonier Conference identified what he termed the four horsemen of modern day apocalypse. In this lethal list of ‘pillars of modern degeneracy’ (apocalypse), Al Mohler counts Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. In my view nowhere has this apocalypse had a more devastating influence than on the Christian Pulpit, and no other ideas have shaped the content of the modern Pulpit than those championed by these four men. In summary, they have together leavened, weakened and in some cases overtaken the Christian Pulpit. If God has been pleased to reveal Himself through the proclamation of His own Revelation, If men are indeed saved by the preaching of the Gospel and if men are to grow as babies do on the sincere milk of the word of God (and we hold these affirmations to be self-evident), it follows that an attack on preaching and the weakening of the Pulpit and its message must be considered a matter of apocalyptic implications-verily a crisis.
A QUANTUM SHIFT
Preachers are rated by the big crowds they attract, ministries are evaluated on the scale of their financial strengths and reach of their influence in society and government, preachers are recognized by how big a personal brand they have built. Churches have long ceased to be sacred places where people go to hear God speak through the Bible read and explained by faithful men. They are more like recreational clubs, a place of belonging, a place to get ones weekly spiritual fix to last one through the next week, and hopefully keep one in touch with their spirituality’. The strong and unequivocal “thus saith the Lord” from the scriptures has been largely replaced with suggestions, helps, alternatives, different view points from which one with the help of the psychological preacher chooses the best option for better results. Increasingly churches are becoming places where life skills and therapy are dispensed, and the preachers are little more than life coaches. Apostles Paul or Peter would scarcely recognize the modern pulpit. There has been a significant shift in preaching these days
While there has been a definite and alarming shift in the manner and message of the Pulpit; I rather think a more subtle, yet deadlier shift has happened not so much in preaching itself as it has on the basic philosophy of preaching. I mean that the Pulpit has turned from its Theological nature to a newer psychological nature. From instructional to motivational, from convicting to therapeutic. In a nutshell Preaching and the Pulpit have turned from being God centered to Man centered.
THIS IS VERY REAL
Mr. Joseph Mattera (whose other views are not endorsed by this author), writing an article for Charisma News titled ‘HOW PREACHING MOVED FROM SOLID THEOLOGY TO POP PSYCHOLOGY’ made the following eye opening statements:
“Because of this cultural shift away from theology, the people who attend Christian churches today have been trained to think that theology is not necessary or even practical. This is in spite of people being destroyed by a lack of the knowledge of God (Hos. 4:6). Worse yet, this has led pastors to preach messages that show they spend more time studying behaviorism and sociology than they do the Scriptures. Many of the fastest growing churches today have pulpit preaching based on self-help positive messages with or without Scripture as an appendage. The days of a pastor preaching relevant doctrinal messages have now gone the way of the dinosaur!…In my observations of the church over the past 30 years, I have seen biblical literacy gradually being replaced by a touchy-feely subjective approach to God that can eventuate in replacing the logos (reason; truth) of God with an irrationalism that is closer to new age spirituality than it is to historic Christian orthodoxy”.
Noel Jones, pastor and Bishop of City of Refuge Church in Los Angeles, and a star in the famous (or infamous ) reality TV series ‘Preachers of LA ,while speaking at the REVIVE THE STONES CONFERENCE IN DALLAS on the subject ITS JUST A SET UP’, said “my preaching has been changing from theological to psychological”, then he goes ahead to explain why we must graduate from ‘dry theology’ to practical application which is to be found in psychological entreaties in the sermon. T.D Jakes shot to raving fame in the Christian world by literally making the marked shift from relatively theological preaching in the 80s and early 90s to decidedly more psychological, life skills sort of preaching; for which he is renowned the world over. He who was known for Titles such as ‘Satan the Blood is against you’ is now known for such popular themes as ‘woman thou art loosed’ in which he psychologically explores the battered mind of the disempowered woman, coming out of terrible experience of rape, abuse and so on to overcoming that psychological battle and taking charge of her own destiny. Those familiar with T.D Jakes will recall his “HE-MOTIONS’ program. Here he would get the women to stop thinking men have no feelings, theirs are “He-motions”. In these conferences men are counselled and brought in touch with their emotional side, they weep and vent in that mass therapy from the pulpit. Joel Osteen shot to fame by his myriad of motivational programs beneath which lurks the mantra “it’s all in the mind, if you can win in your mind, you can win anywhere “.It is Joel Osteen who has the slogan “discover the champion in you”. The list is long and may include Joyce Meyer. Sadly even within what was formerly Orthodoxy, this psychological approach has been gaining steady ground.
IT IS THE OLD MARKET LAW OF DEMAND AND SUPPLY
We are living the ‘microwave’ and ‘instant coffee generation’. People hardly have time to work at anything. Outsourcing seems to be the catch phrase, we outsource everything including parenting to schools and day care centers.it is the age of career pursuit and self-actualization. Life is getting busier and ever more cut throat. The one who will stand out (and it seems standing out is the goal of many), must be the one who has an edge in whatever endeavor. So self-improvement is big, very big. Consequently self-help books are by far the best sellers of our day, Napoleon Hills Think and grow Rich, Norman Vincent Peales The Power of positive thinking, Dale Carnegies How to Win friends and influence people, Rick Warrens Purpose Driven Church and Purpose Driven life, or Ben Carson’s Think Big are the stuff of our day. The god of this age, the Internet provides an ever quicker way of accessing these self-help materials by a simple click of the mouse or a touch of the screen. Generally Google searches are dominated by How to sort of material. It is standard advise for bloggers, you tubers and other content producers on the internet that if you hope to attract viewership or readership, put in the word How somewhere in your title to enhance your search engine optimization.
Motivational speakers and life coaches are slicing an ever increasing market share. They are the gurus and go to people, with successful seminars and workshops. Men and women of our generation are looking for shortcuts, easier ways, and quick success
This is the environment the church and her ministers find themselves. This is the arena in which preaching must struggle. Words like irrelevant, outdated, and out of step are insinuations and sometimes flat out accusations we find leveled against Old Faithful Biblical preaching. Cool, relevant, uplifting, practical and progressive are the compliments which follow the modern, psychological, non- theological preaching. The pressure to capitulate from faithful preaching has been with us since time immemorial. Yet there can be no gainsaying the fact that in these days that pressure has been escalated to what I consider crisis levels and has in large measure yielded a dearth in faithful Biblical preaching.
Among Pentecostals, Charismatics and the emergent Churches the war seems pretty much lost. The real fear is that this pressure is now being felt among what would hitherto be considered orthodoxy. The pulpit has morphed from the high place where God’s word is preached, to a stage from whence life lessons are delivered in ever mesmerizing modules. The successful preacher is the one who has mastered this tide and can ride it to his advantage and the growth of his ministry-it is what the people want. This explains the phenomenal rise of Joel Osteen and the Lakewood Church in Houston Texas, Joyce Meyer and her worldwide ministry, The Old Baptist preacher T.D Jakes understood much later in his ministry that the message of the Old rugged Cross doesn’t sell as much as ‘woman thou art loosed’ or ‘Soul survivors’ men’s conference. All of these are decidedly psychological even psychotherapeutic sorts of ministries. An appeal must be sustained towards the mental powers of the individual in order to compel him towards the change he desires. It is not God centered but man centered. Rick Warren in his book Purpose driven Church understands this market dynamic and urges that whoever will start and run a successful Church must do research into the target audience, understand there economic status, their worries and fears and then tailor make his ministry accordingly.
MODERN MAN HAS TOO MANY PROBLEMS TO BE BEATEN DOWN BY NEGATIIVITY
The Old Gospel message in its general tenor is a decidedly negative message. It speaks of such depressing subjects as sin, condemnation, cross, blood, death, hell and such unwelcome themes to the modern, busy, career man or woman. He has enough stress from the tough week of riding the treadmill of life. He has goals to reach for and targets to meet. The modern person wants a life coach, a therapist and a motivator. He sees these roles as belonging to the ‘members club’ he calls Church and the pastors and teachers the instructors-more like membership in the local gym. Preaching and pastoral ministry has consistently degenerated into little more than a social service-helping people to cope with everyday life. Well to be sure, they don’t think like this consciously but on the whole this is what Church has become to the ladder climbing modern person.
Accordingly they will recruit pastors and preachers to meet this need. Not surprisingly it is becoming a requirement in many ‘well established’ churches that the applicants to the pastoral office have some training in psychology or psychiatric counseling from a recognized institution, qualification in any other professional field (other than theology and Christian ministry) is an added advantage. The words of the Apostle Paul aptly captures the crisis of preaching in our days;
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear”-2 Timothy 4:3 (NIV)
So good old exegetical preaching is fast disappearing from the pulpits and the utilitarian Gospel taking its place. The question we must confront head on is whether this utilitarian preaching is legitimate in the Christian context. Does it even qualify to be labeled Gospel at all? Is it a difference of style or can we discern a more sinister agenda in the rise and dominance of this type of preaching? Is it merely an application of Scripture principles for better lives or it is in fact a soul destroying scheme? It is the Lord who posed the question what shall it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lost his own soul?” It is the contention of this writer that the modern social, utilitarian gospel answers this question with the unspoken words “man will profit everything”. Man can and should have everything is the underlying belief.
It is perhaps best to approach those questions by juxtaposing by way of contrast, this type of preaching to the Old exegetical, expositional, God centered type of preaching.
THE TWO CONTROLLING TEMPLATES
Those familiar with computer applications will understand that though PDF and WORD are both document related, yet the two are built on totally different templates. This is the case also for Biblical, expositional, God centered preaching as compared to modern day Utilitarian, Psycho-therapeutical, man centered sort of preaching. While at college my teacher Keith Underhill introduced me to a Latin expression “a priori “, a word which literally means a deduction which is naturally made from the mere fact of the case, it need not be defended, it is a given, an assumed premise. What I am suggesting is that the two templates proceed from different ‘ a priori’ assumptions. The underlying assumptions are diametrically opposed. At this basic skeletal framework, the two take routes which followed faithfully and logically will never have a convergence, in fact are antithetical. By reasons and arguments I will attempt to set forth in the second part of this article , I will be arguing that this new template is at best ‘another gospel’ and at worst an affront to the authentic Gospel.
Join me for the second part of this article.
Elly Achok Olare
Pastor at Gospel Missions Agency Church-Mumias Kenya
Principal Wisdom Training Center-school of Ministry and Theology