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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Sir Winston Churchill

3.29.2008

If Only the Purpose-Driven Life was Driven By God's Purpose, Not Man's

Here's a compelling dissection of the McChurch phenomenon:

Bob DeWaay, pastor of a non-denominational church in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area, recently spent two years studying the seeker-sensitive movement. His study began with Rick Warren and his church, Saddleback Community Church, but it soon became apparent that Warren is only the most successful exponent of a movement that began long before Saddleback Church was formed, and that has been implemented, to one degree or another, by a majority of America's evangelical churches.

This movement has as its goal nothing less than a "second reformation" of Christianity. DeWaay's analysis is presented in his book Redefining Christianity, and it is summarized in a 15-part radio series that is archived and can be listened to (for free) here.

DeWaay's basic conclusion is this: The purpose-driven movement begins with the premise that the only way to attract non-Christians to church is by offering to meet their felt needs, rather than their real need for salvation through Christ. If a non-Christian "seeker" visits a church where he hears the traditional Gospel message that he is a lost sinner in need of a salvation that can only come from personal repentance and trust in the atoning death of Christ, he will be repelled by the challenging message, and will not return. To prevent this failure, so the theory goes, a church must conduct market research into what people in its area want, and then find a way to give these seekers what they want.

One result is that the deep and challenging teachings of traditional Christianity must never be presented in the Sunday morning worship service that has traditionally been the cornerstone of Christian fellowship. Not only will non-Christian seekers probably not want to hear that God regards them as sinners, but they will have no interest in what Warren (and theological liberals) dismissively call "doctrine," that is, the actual content of the religion preached by Christ and the Apostles. The result is a Christianity that retains the rituals and some of the language of traditional Protestant Christianity, but is effectively stripped of its content.

In a typical Sunday morning worship service at a typical seeker-sensitive church, attendees experience the following:

Professionally-produced "praise music" that expresses emotions, but contains little theology, that is, little articulation of sometimes-difficult religious truths.
A sermon that emphasizes how faith in God can make your life better, but does not mention the troubling idea that God is angry with sinners, and demands repentance and faith in Jesus in order for His wrath to be averted.
A liturgy (form of worship) that embodies current standards of popular decorum and entertainment rather than pointing people to a transcendent God.
Children's programs that entertain (albeit in a quasi-Christian mode) rather than push the youth to learn challenging doctrines.

What the purpose-driven movement offers, in short, is a religious product for religious consumers, people who want a certain amount of religiosity in their lives, but who don't want to be troubled by the full measure of Christianity. Since man is an inherently religious being, and since Christianity (at least in name) still has the respect of most Americans, it is to be expected that a Christianity designed to please will be successful. But a Christianity designed to please will not be faithful to the actual teachings of Christ and the Apostles, i.e., the ones who have the authority to say what Christianity really is.

The seeker-sensitive movement does resemble the movement of theological liberalism that began to take over the upper leadership of most Protestant denominations starting in the early Twentieth Century. In both cases, people wanted to keep the forms and language of traditional Christianity, while investing the faith with new meaning and emphasis. In the case of liberal Christianity, the new meaning was a denial of the supernatural, which made Jesus just a good man, the resurrection just a metaphor, and the divinity of Jesus just a legend.

But there are also significant differences. Whereas liberal Christian clergy and theologians deny both the supernatural and the literal truth of the Christian doctrines that are based on the supernatural, seeker-sensitive clergy generally affirm these beliefs. (The seeker-sensitive movement began among evangelicals, not liberals.) But they take care never to push these doctrines on the seekers who may not be inclined to believe them. Unlike liberal clergy, most of whom unambiguously oppose supernatural doctrines, seeker-sensitive clergy generally keep silent about these doctrines, or only hint at them. By their relative silence, they give at least de facto support to a Christianity redefined to remove troubling doctrines.


I used to attend Saddleback Church, and it is just the godless soul-crushing Tony Robbins-inspired monstrosity De Waay describes. About the only thing he's left out is the "God Libs"---fill-in-the-blank sermon notes which I found to be about the most insulting aspect of a completely irreverent service.

Nondenominational "churches" like Saddleback are nothing more than social clubs for liberals who want to claim they are religious without all the bother with sin, redemption, and sacrifice. It is Christianity minus the Cross, which of course is not Christianity at all.

Honest seekers after Christ will continue on to communities which take Him more seriously. The dishonest will move on to the next fad once it materializes and proves even less demanding.

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2 Comments:

Blogger reddog said...

Most liberals don't go to church. A few may become Unitarians. Most will fill whatever spiritual needs they have by getting involved in some "cause", working the phones during the local public TV station's pledge drive, or spending a few afternoons a month as a docent at a museum.

Churches cater to the judgmental, holier than thou, Pharisee types, that nobody can much stand to be around. The only people worse than church goers are actual clergy.A typical church goer's idea of a charitable activity is to open a soup kitchen so they may despise and feel superior to the clients after they have tortured them with the obligatory pre prandial Jeremiad and then smile knowingly as they trudge out for the post prandial short dog.

Christians mostly just try to build a life where they aren't chronically lying to and ripping off other people and then living it. Everybody messes up, all the time. There's plenty of time for redemption when you're dead.

The purpose driven life movement is just another religious franchise opportunity to make some money off religion without having any redeeming original content.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Teflon said...

I don't share your cynicism about churches in general, reddog, although I agree with your take on liberals corrupting them.

The homeless can get a meal anywhere, particularly around the holidays. This is because food is cheap, the government has fallen over itself to provide shelters and kitchens for a favored bloc, and churches view feeding and sheltering the poor as part of their reason for being. The trouble isn't that they have to sit through a "pre pandial jeremiad"; it's that they don't.

The mentally ill and the addicted make up the overwhelming majority of the homeless. It should be clear why they eschew public assistance whether secular or religious.

7:56 AM  

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