June 29, 2000
Allowing people to go to hell
feeling good about themselves!
(Part II: Is the therapeutic now our "gospel"?)
By JOHN ANDERSON
brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or
of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not
to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified...that
your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."
According to James Davison Hunter, much of the church today has replaced discussion of sin, repentance and redemption with the therapeutic language of self-esteem and self-love. The secular worldview is, thus, influencing our churches far more than our churches are influencing the surrounding society.
If Hunter is correct, and, sadly, it does appear in a great measure that he is, then we in the pulpit are perpetuating that most traitorous of heresies, the heresy of allowing people to go to hell while feeling good about themselves.
A therapeutic "gospel" makes God a genie whose power we can manipulate to obtain success, happiness and earthly benefits. Personal blessing becomes the focus of our message, not personal salvation. The Church seeks growth by being congenial and obliging, not by being consecrated and humble.
There are a couple of serious casualties in such a treacherous message: One is that the character of God gets distorted. God is holy, just, merciful, loving, omnipotent, gracious and wrathful, to name just some of His glorious attributes. Today however we tend to ignore God's holiness, justice, wrath, accountability, judgment, etc., and fashion a stripped-down "god" to our liking, a here-and-now, friendly, buddy-god, a kind of a heavenly butler or Santa Claus god who makes us feel good, be successful, happy, positive, and who stands waiting our beckon.
But such a god is no god at all. It's an idol.
And such idolatry is too prevalent today in the Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic worlds.
William Eisenhour said, "Preachers of an earlier era reassured their listeners that the wrath of God was conditioned by His love. It falls to us to assert that the latter is conditioned by the former."
Eisenhour also said: "We can believe in a 'god' acceptable to culture, a 'god' of all-accepting, morally indifferent, unconditional love, or we can repent and believe in the God of the Old and New Testaments. But we cannot do both. They are incompatible. It is time to awaken, to strengthen what remains, and to reopen our eyes to what the Bible actually says."
Of course when we disregard such aspects of God character as holiness and judgment, defining sin and God's hatred of it also tends to get ignored. Part of the revival we say we want will assuredly include a penetrating, fresh awareness of God's hatred of sin, with a renewed understanding that from eternity past to eternity future, God hates sin: He hates pride, lying, immorality, murder, stealing, shedding innocent blood etc. He hates it in me; He hates it in you.
God's hatred is not like ours: petty, reactionary, arbitrary. His is a holy hatred, unchanging, absolute, never diminishing. His hatred is His anger, His wrath against "all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18). It is fierce, withering. We tremble before it.
A glib catch phrase is, "We are to hate the sin, and love the sinner." True enough, if understood aright. But we do neither. God does both. We do not hate sin with the deep, eternal revulsion with which God hates it. Nor do we love the sinner with the great, compassionate heart of the Father. For us, the phrase comes out "tolerate the sin, and excuse the sinner."
The distortion of God's character in a therapeutic gospel leads to a second: The biblical focus on repentance is discarded. John the Baptist proclaimed repentance. Jesus began His ministry preaching, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17); He warned, "Unless you repent, you too will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5); and He called five times in His messages to the Seven Churches in Revelation, "repent." On the Day of Pentecost, Peter also exhorted "repent."
Of course our touchy-feely, hedonistic, psychologically seduced society doesn't give serious thought to repentance. The concept of sin is altogether lost. No, it is driven to feel good. So it focuses on ridding itself of bad feelings, not sin; at feeling good again, not of humbly repenting before God, against Whom it's sins have been egregiously committed.
Such an attitude is predictable in a society. However when we in the pulpit sell out to this attitude, we betray our message: Instead of the Good News, we preach nice news.
The Good News is good news precisely because there is bad news: we have sinned and deserve and face judgment. But Christ died for us because God loved us. And God now calls us all to repent. (Acts 17:30-31)
The Good News of Scripture proclaims both the mercy and the justice of God. God will be just as resolute in punishing the stubbornly wicked, as He was with Sodom and Gomorrah. He will be just as gracious in sparing the repentant, as He was with Ninevah. His is immeasurable justice to the rebellious unrepentant; and His is immeasurable patience to the humble penitent.
It is inescapable: equitable justice will be meted out! Never has God failed to vindicate His righteousness. Never have transgressors escaped, and never will they. As certain as night follows day, vengeance will come. Wrath accumulates as in a thundercloud, and is poured out when the storm breaks out. In the Day of Judgment, there will be no distinction between sinners and their sin: Sinners will stand before the holy, just God and face His eternal hatred of sin, their sin; and they will remain under His wrath forever in the Lake of Fire. When "the great day of His wrath has come," sinners: presidents and kings, poor men and slaves, will cry out to the mountains and rocks to fall on them. (Revelation 6:15-18)
However the insipid nice news, from an equally insipid man-fashioned god, ignores this inescapable truth and offers only fatuous, therapeutic answers that nonchalantly allow men and women, our entire nation, to perish while thinking all is well.
We in the pulpit must repent, repent for stripping our Great and Holy God of His awesome character; repent for not faithfully defining sin; repent for not preaching repentance.
And let us lead our congregations, and our nation, in repentance by calling for times of solemn assemblies in our churches and communities. We must have priority times to stop and examine ourselves and our message; times when we look at where our nation is, and where it is headed; times when we reflect on and worship the wondrous majesty of our gracious Lord.
For our children's sake, for our nation's future, may we know the urgency of such times!
Let us pray:
Our gracious Heavenly Father,
as ministers entrusted with faithfully proclaiming Your Word, we
repent. We repent for our unfaithful message in which we have
substituted an idol for You, an idol we have fashioned by excluding
Your wondrous Holiness, Majesty, Righteousness, and just Wrath from
your marvelous character. We repent for not defining sin from your
Word. We repent for not preaching repentance. We repent for allowing
our hearers and our nation to perish in the delusion that all was well.
We ask you to hear our cry, and to come down in revival, revival that
is both terrifying and wonderful; terrifying as we are gripped with our
sin in Your Holy Presence; wonderful as we experience the indescribable
joy of forgiveness and knowing You and Your love.