Sunday, October 14, 2012

Modern Preachers & the Bible Buffet

The problem with most modern preaching can be stated, sadly enough, with this simple image.  The preacher stands before the Word of God as a hungry child stands before a beautiful buffet.  With no restraints whatsoever he is allowed to pick and choose the dishes he wishes to deliver.  The problem with such preaching is easy to discover.  As with the child at the buffet, his plate is likely to be filled with all the things that make him smile, while avoiding most scrupulously the things less appealing (though probably beneficial) to his body.  He contends that he is faithfully preaching God's Word, for everything he says comes from the provisions of the buffet, but it fails miserably to represent the intended healthy balance and beauty designed by the Great Chef. 

The Gospel is a balanced meal.  It contains on the one hand the gentle invitations and genuine sympathies of a good God who does not delight in punishments.  Christ is presented as a sufficient Savior - and the Cross a testimony of His rich provision for our complete forgiveness for all who believe in Him.  The Lord beckons men with the promises of better things: Living water, Answered prayers, Eternal life.  All this, and much more, are at hand for the person in the pulpit to please his hearers with. Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Isaiah 55:1)

But there is another side.  The God who woos is also the God who warns.  The same Lord who holds forth the promise of Heaven also threatens with the prospects of Hell.  The free provisions of the Gospel are always coupled with the unswerving and unbending demands of the Law.  The joyful prospect that some can be saved is always compared in Scripture with the dreadful reality that most will not.  The beauty of holiness is always contrasted with the real stench of sin.  Paul says to those who persist in unbelief  "But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed." (Romans 2:5)

This is why the real problem of modern preaching is so hard, at first glance, to discover.  The problem is not so much with what IS said, but rather with what is NOT said.  Dessert is fine when consumed in its proper proportions.  Wine is wonderful when moderation is maintained.  But the problem with modern preaching is that it leaves the hearer's soul fat and drunk on Bible promises, while dying from spiritual malnutrition for lack of a balanced meal.  The modern pulpit no longer warns about the dangers of unbelief, nor does it convict comfortable Christians who persist in soul-destroying sins.

And let's be fair.  We who sit in the pews are equally to blame.  We "vote" (if you will) for the type of preaching we demand by our faithful attendance (or lack thereof) every Sunday.  We may agree in our hearts that a more balanced Gospel, the true Biblical Gospel, is what our generation truly needs.  But as long as we tolerated the textual truffles and chocolate covered content week after week, we tell the church leadership what we really prefer.

I need a balanced Gospel. Like G.K. Chesterton once quipped, I want "a religion that is not only right where I am right, but a religion that is right where I am wrong."  My soul needs this kind of preaching.  I need my eye poked and my heart prodded with the truth.  I need a ministry that does not fail to bring "the whole counsel of God" to bear upon my life.  Buffet-style, pick-what-you-please  preaching will never do this.  Balanced preaching is not something merely to be "liked" on our social media platforms.  It is literally a matter of life and death.  May the Lord give us the courage and wills to insist upon it. 

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