A CRISIS OF PREACHING-part 2
IT IS ANOTHER GOSPEL
THE HUMANISTIC BASE OF THE UTILITARIAN PREACHING
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is decidedly theological, today’s popular gospel is at best psychological. It is what the Apostle Paul would characterize as “another gospel, which is no gospel at all “-Galatians 1:6-8. Towards the end of part one in these series of articles ,we identified these two bases as the templates from which those two gospels proceed. The Biblical Gospel is theological while today’s popular gospel is psychological. What we mean is that the Biblical Gospel seeks out the mind of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures and expresses the same to men. The popular gospel on the other hand seeks out the mind of man, what he wants, how it can be harnessed and motivated towards self actualization. In simpler terms the one is God-centred and the other man-centred.
To the extent that the popular gospel is not theological or God-centred, it is by that same measure disqualified as good news,God’s word and can at best be described as humanistic, and at worst the enemy of the true gospel, proponents of which come Paul’s stringent anathema “let him be accursed”-Galatians 1:8
The basic concepts of psychology derive from the study of the human mind and how it affects behavior patterns. The Job of the psychotherapist and behavioral scientist then is primarily to help the human individual come to terms with this powerful instrument called the mind, and to learn how to harness its immense possibilities for self-good. This might be too simple an explanation, especially with ever growing fields within human psychology field, but I think it pretty much sums up the heart of the matter. Three things then flow from that basic understanding of psychology
All the problems of man arise from his mind
This is basic to psychology, one can say if the mind did not exist, psychology would not exist. Psychology proceeds from the a priori assumption that we become what we think. Of course it recognizes that there are environmental forces of both nature and nurture shaping the individual destiny, but these forces only succeed in so far as they manipulate the mind and affect how the individual thinks. Consequently psychology sees as the ultimate solution to human problems the health of the mind.
Stephen Richards a leading voice in the self-help, psychology and self-esteem industry, who has as part of his bio-data the following “author, film director & producer, self-help expert”, and who cites as influences on his ideas Immanuel Kant and Sigmund Freud says;
“You are essentially who you create yourself to be and all that occurs in your life is the result of your own making” ―, Think Your way to Success: Let Your Dreams Run Free.
He also says,
“Reality is a projection of your thoughts or the things you habitually think about…You willed yourself to where you are today, so will yourself out of it.”
It is the job then of the psychotherapist and in this case a motivational preacher to help you in this “willing yourself out of problems”. This is the general idea in all motivational, Psychological, human potential, self-help type of entreaties. It sees as the root of all human problems the use or misuse of the mind, and recovery of the fortunes of the individual is therefore predicated upon the restoration of this same faculty of the human being.
If one is a thief or has kleptomanic tendencies, or sexual immorality problems and so on, the problem must be sought from his childhood, his upbringing and his wants which drove him towards this mental disposition. Psychology then seeks to help the individual to deprogram what nature or nurture (or both) wired into his brain. In our first installment in these series we quoted Al Mohler listing what he described as the “four horsemen of modern day apocalypse”, one of them was Sigmund Freud. Freud’s massive Influence on the field of psychology and modern day preaching cannot be gainsaid-the mind is key to everything .
All the solutions man needs depends on the use or misuse of His mind
The second stage of psychiatric help involves building capacity (and this is a big word in Psychology and motivational world) within the individual to overcome his challenges. Again these capacities are built by harnessing the mental powers and innate abilities in the individual, but also involves inspiring a positive outlook, self-esteem and strong belief in the self.
The Christianized version of this view of man and his world comes to us in a host of misapplied proof texts, “as a man thinks in his heart so is he” and such texts pressed beyond their hermeneutics. Many preachers have been known to appeal to Genesis 11:6 where God testifies “And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (emphasis added).
So the preacher finds himself appealing to psychological mantras. Phrases such as “you are born to win”, or Joel Osteen’s “discover the champion in you “, are phrases aimed at psyching the human being to feel great about himself and so be empowered towards self-actualization. ”Believe in yourself” is a very popular line, both in motivational industry and the modern pulpit
Inherent power and ability within the human individual
The third stage of reasoning for this self-help, motivational type of preaching, is the a priori assumption that all the resources man needs are latent and innate within him. It ascribes basic abilities, even goodness within the human being. Psychology sees as the stimuli for human predicament forces outside of himself, which forces have a bearing on his mental processes and capacities and hence results in the person’s experiences. It is a basic rule of psychological therapy that the therapist speak less and listens more. The idea is that the patient’s help must come from within the patient’s self. This is rudimentary psychology, and to some extent; as far as the principle goes, the idea has some truth in it, but not the whole Truth (or what I might call the truer Truth).
This then is the very basic fabric of the fast growing industry of motivational speaking and self-help ideas, books and videos. The underlying theme is simply this “you can do it”. Watch advertising jingles on TV, billboards and infomercials, and you will see this basic assumption. The sportswear giant Nike had this mantra “Just do it “.
Again within Christian preaching you will not fail to see this assumption at the root of the messages. Those very liberal humanists will go flat out to say you can do literally anything you set your mind upon. The more reserved ones would simply urge more duty to the Christian people assuming they will be able to do it. Adolf Hitler’s murderous campaign of the Aryan race was fueled by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Ubermensch (literally superman).In Nietzsche’s idea of human autonomy and potential resided what the late Dr. R.C Sproul called ‘dialectical courage’-meaning courage in the face of an impossibility, like running headlong towards a brick wall. Nietzsche and later Hitler were convinced that what stands in the way of total liberation of full human potential is religion and its belief in a power beyond us. Marxism and communism holds this view too. The German Karl Max represents this view perhaps more succinctly;
“The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world…Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”
If Karl Max comes across as deep and perhaps not easy for the reader to follow, you are not alone. From that quote take out these lines “man makes religion, religion does not make man”, and further on “man is the world of man “.In effect when Max makes that vastly quoted phrase “It (religion) is the opium of the people“, he means for us to see that man would master his world if he would dispense with the impositions of religion.
As we have already observed this was Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Ubermensch (the superman).The Christianized version of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch or Adolf Hitler’s Aryan race comes to us in words such as ‘manifest sons of God’, in the words of Crefflo Dollar “you are in the God class”, and Kenneth Copeland “you are the god of your world”. Joel Osteen suavely urges you to “discover the champion in you”. The difference between you and your God status, victory, self-actualization, reaching your full potential and so on is the ignorance of the mind. But its all within you, the resources you need.
THE QUESTION OF PURPOSE, DIALECTICAL COURAGE AND HEDONISM
Flowing out of Nietzsche’s ideas and modern day existentialism was the deeply depressing idea of ultimate pessimism. Simply put life is really meaningless. There is no grand climax to life, this is all there is and we are all that matters right now. The idea of ultimate reality, a rendezvous with God at the terminal end would be scoffed at in this scheme of thinking.
Dr. R.C Sproul writing on Pessimistic existentialism and remarking on how it seized modern thought through film production, has the following telling words;
“The theater of the absurd gained prominence with Samuel Becket’s play, waiting for Godot. In this play, two vagrants pass the time while waiting for the unidentified Godot. But Godot never arrives. Godot is a thinly veiled characterization of God. The idea is that modern man lives in the absence of God. He waits for God, but God never shows up”.
And then in another paragraph, quoting another writer Yeats, Dr. Sproul makes the following statement
“When mankind no longer lives spontaneously turned toward God or the super-sensible world, when to echo the words of Yeats, The ladder is gone by which we would climb to a higher reality, the artist too must stand face to face with a flat and inexplicable world. This shows itself even in the formal structures of modern art. Where the movement of the spirit is no longer vertical but only horizontal, the climactic elements in art are in general leveled out, flattened.”
So this is the gist of existentialism, modernism and in large part science. It views man as the ultimate reality unto himself and the upward posture of a higher being and final reckoning as “the theater of the absurd”.
Nietzsche therefore argued that the ultimate freedom of the human race is to be found in what we have labeled dialectical courage, that is to say courage in the face of such meaninglessness to life (if you can make sense out of that ). This is the basis of that slogan “you have only one life, live it to the fullest “, because this right now is all there is .In the words of scripture it is the “let’s us eat and be merry for tomorrow we die “.
The God of the Pulpit died?
So to sum up what we have said this far, the basis of psychological therapy and the human development movement with its attendant self-actualization arise from three a priori assumptions. It is all in the mind, man has all resources he needs to actualize his desires and reach his potential, and lastly life is really all horizontal, not so much vertical, what we have now is the ultimate reality. What these three assumptions propose is the obfuscation, even obliteration of God and the establishment the individual as the sole center and gravitas of his own existence. To the modern mind and the expressions of popular preaching, God may as well be dead.At the very least He has been emasculated in the Christian pulpit.This is the result of Nietzsche, Freud, Marx and Darwin-the four horsemen of modern day apocalypse accomplished that.Nietzsche was the one who declared “God is dead” and Richard Dorkins wrote about “the God delusion”.What these three assumptions propose is the obfuscation, even obliteration of God and the establishment of the individual as the sole center and gravitas of his own existence. This is the result of Nietzsche, Freud, Marx and Darwin.The four horseman of modern day apocalypse accomplished the ‘murder of God’ from the conscience and discourse of many, and ultimately on the Pulpit and it’s message. It was Nietzsche who declared that God is dead, and Richard Dorkins wrote about the ‘God delusion’. Karl Max had no space for God or religion in the affairs of men, while Charles Darwin cast doubts even ridicule on the creator. Great influences which together and severally shaped the collective thought of our civilization-influences which are sadly very clear in the weak and apologetic pulpit of our days..
These influences would be tolerable, even to be expected in ‘Babylon’ a fallen world drunk with its own debauched wisdom. However, it is tragic that this strange song plays in Zion and the daughter of the heavenly Jerusalem dances along in that comical tragedy. Oh! For such as would recall the nolstagic days of powerful unedited, culturally abhorrent preaching which turned the world on its head in the days of the apostles! Might we hope for days when it would be said “so mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed “-Acts 19:20.Not subdued by popular culture and swallows by modernization …but mightily grew and prevailed. Oh! for days like the mighty protestant reformation which challenged status quo and popular religion. The message of the cross and it’s offense that shook the known world and brought an empire to its knees! How soon the Pulpit has capitulated and the message fallen short of the glory of the gospel!
WHAT ARE THE RESULTS OF THIS INFLUENCE?
Hedonism in preaching
Wikipedia defines hedonism as “a school of thought that argues that pleasure and happiness are the primary or most important intrinsic goods and the aim of human life”. This is direct result of modernism, existentialism and the influence of German philosophies championed by men such as Karl Max and Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and all these build upon the Darwinian denial of ultimate reality of God .Because there is no ultimate purpose to life, get the most of it now, since the individual is the ultimate reality answerable to none but himself he must seek his self-actualization in the face of a meaningless life. With God out of the picture, we live not Coram Deo (in the presence of God) but for ourselves. The preacher is then under pressure to bring a message which in its content and manner of delivery will aid in actualization or self-aggrandizement of the individual. The message must then be relevant to my earthly pursuits because that is all there is.The pulpit exists to help me in making the most out of this life. Joyce Meyer called her Television program “Enjoying everyday life” and this is symptomatic of the aims of today’s
It is telling that many televangelists are transforming into nutritional experts and fitness gurus, hosting cooking and healthy eating habits on programs which would otherwise have worked for that which does not perish. The eternal perspective of the preacher and his message has since been overtaken by the pragmatic, even if transient cares of this world. There is no God and where He is confessed He is little more than an idea that gathers people for some earthly pursuits ,a galvanizing concept around which we may come together to find our best life now.
Again, man must be awakened from the slumber brought upon him by limiting religious beliefs. Doctrine is in this respect a limiting dogma, walls which stand in the way of human progress. Times are a changing and so must preaching and its application. The human spirit can be freed and unleashed to limitless capacities, if it can be extricated from the shackles of dogma and ‘restrictive pigeonhole’ of doctrines. As opposed to laying out God’s commands, duty and conviction, it is seen as the task of the motivator/preacher to inspire the greatness that resides deep within the human spirit, a greatness which may have been suppressed by forces of nature and nurture.
In the field of mental health practice, those external factors which created a negative reality must be peeled off to reach ‘the real person’ and his potential. Eastern religions would speak of finding your ‘chi’ and connecting with it. Motivators seek to tell people there is yet a lot of goodness and value in this life. No doubt the Christian preacher must find a way to clothe these philosophical and psychological standpoints in Biblical language, but for the informed it is “the same old devil dressed in evening clothes”, to use the words of Martin Luther.We recognize the finger prints of Sigmund Freud and the unholy disdain of Friedrich Nietzsche.
Barack Obama, one of the most famous humanist of our recent times rode on this simple philosophy to the presidency of the greatest nation on earth “yes we can “.The ‘great’ pulpiteers of our day, those who have gained public prominence by reason of their worldwide reach have used the simple logic of motivation to self-actualization. The point is, it works, it is pragmatic and the preacher of the Gospel has largely succumbed to this pressure and dropped the incorruptible word for the utilitarian message-bowed to the spirit of the age.
Right and wrong are relative concepts and God’s word rendered preposterous
It is the age of relativism as there is no ultimate truth. Your truth may not necessarily be my truth, your outlook on life may differ from mine, and both might be valid because the individual is the ultimate reference point. To speak of Gods word, command and demands is a laughable idea in our times. Preachers and the Pulpit must navigate a world which sneer at such primitive outdated beliefs. This is manifestly very hard for a Church that craves the love of the world and it’s acceptance. This is why authoritative preaching is frowned upon as arrogant and obnoxious. This is why despite homosexuality being an abominable sin in the Bible, it is now welcome in the churches and increasingly being endorsed from the pulpits. The reason is that the happiness of man rather than the will of God has become the reference point. Preaching then loses its relevance and in its place comes ‘advise’ and ‘counsel’, life skills and self help talks. Remove an almighty, authoritative God who speaks infallibly and unapologetically from the inerrant words of Scripture and preaching dies a natural unavoidable death-this is what has happened or at least is happening in our times.
Death of sin and Hell and the Irrelevance of the authentic Gospel
We have observed the ‘psychologization’ of sin as a mental health issue. Our culturally sensitive and politically correct gospel has christened sin with less ugly names like mistake and weakness. Michael Angelo the world’s greatest painter in the estimate of many, famously said, “people do better when they know better”. This is the controlling mindset of our days and sadly it has permeated the preaching ministry. Preaching having lost the idea of sin hopes to guide men by wise counsel and impartation of life skills, and then with some motivation get them to be better versions of themselves.
With sin redefined , and God ‘murdered’ as both Nietzsche and Dorkins alleged; the ideas of Hell and eternal punishment make no sense at all.
Mr. John Blanchard wrote a book whose title is a question “WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HELL?”. We can now answer that question by saying the modern gospel has rendered Hell a laughable doctrine despite its large presence in the Bible. With that vetoing of sin and Hell has gone also the need and goodness of the good news –The Gospel. God has been pleased to save men through preaching, but it would seem that preaching itself needs saving at the present time.
One is not far from the truth when one asserts that despite apearnces of Godliness in the present day pulpit, it has in large part denied its essential power.They have “…a form of Godliness but denying the power thereof…”-2 Timothy 3:5
We may cry as the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha “my Lord,there is death In the pot”, and I hold that until we cry thus,we cannot begin to seek the remedies which are urgently needed for our times.
In the wake of such considerations I welcome you to join me in the 3rd part of these series where we shall by the good Grace of God look at the diametrically opposed aims of the two templates. The aims and methods of the authentic Biblical message and those of the modern popular gospel.
Pastor Elly Achok Olare