Sunday, March 23, 2014
So, What's the Difference?
While reading through 1 Timothy it is obvious that Paul strongly warned his young pastoral protégé to watch out for false teachers. In fact, in 1 Tim 1:3-11, Paul reminded Timothy that he had been left in
Ephesus, in part, to
“command certain men not to teach false doctrines.” It seems that Ephesus was rife with
individuals who bucked Paul’s apostolic authority and were leading the church
On Sunday, March 23, 2014 I preached on the text above. (The entire message is available at http://www.raleighroad.com/category/series/the-gospel-centered-church/) In so doing, I raised two ways in which the modern church presents a partial gospel (which is no gospel at all). The first is the propensity to attempt to get people to “pray the prayer.” Akin to a shaman’s totem, we act as if there is some sort of magical incantation that inoculates a person against an eternity in hell. If we can just get them to “pray the prayer” they will be alright. Unfortunately, it is simply not true. There is no place in the Bible that commands someone to “pray and ask Jesus into their heart.”
That does not mean that God doesn’t answer a prayer of repentance. It means that the prayer of repentance is followed by a life of repentance. It means that those who call on Christ and are saved by God’s grace continue to live by His grace. It means that the promise of God to continue the work He began in us (Phil 1:6) shows itself in a transformed life. When we act as if “praying the prayer” is the goal, we proclaim a partial gospel that denies the call of Jesus to, as Dietrich Bonheoffer said, “come and die.”
The second way I mentioned we proclaim (or tolerate) a partial gospel is our uncritical analysis of popular preachers. Some of the most famous preachers today would fall into the category of “false teachers.” Specifically in the message I mentioned Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. My complaint with these two is not stylistic; it is theological. Osteen’s comments are well known. His reticence to preach about sin alone is problematic. How can one know they need a Savior without knowing that their sins have separated them from God? In Meyer’s book The Most Important Decision You’ll Ever Make, she argues that Jesus paid for our sins in hell and not on the cross (second printing, 1993, p 35). If these two are mistaken about such fundamental aspects of the gospel, it is clear they are not a good source of biblical and theological instruction for Christ followers.
I was asked after the message whether my perspective on Meyer and Osteen also applied to secular teaching and/or teachers. Specifically, I was asked, what is the difference between listening to a motivational speaker and a person like Meyer or Osteen? It is a good question that deserves an answer.
Simply put, I have gained much from “secular” leadership speakers and writers. I credit Jim Collins, Malcolm Gladwell, and Patrick Lencioni. Though I do not know the spiritual condition of any of these men, I do know that they are not purporting to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, they are seeking to share their expertise in the area of business leadership. As they do, I evaluate their teaching in light of biblical principles in order to know which principles I can apply in my life and which ones I cannot.
So, someone may say, why not do that with Osteen and Meyer? Why can’t we just ignore the stuff that is wrong? Because Meyer and Osteen do, in fact, purport to be bible teachers / preachers. They are claiming to speak for God when they preach / teach. As such, they are held to a higher standard. Isn’t that what James said in James 3:1? In that passage he writes: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
Claiming to speak on behalf of God (which is what EVERY preacher does) means that there is no preaching / teaching that is inconsequential. Certainly that is not to say there is not room for disagreement on minor issues of doctrine and theology. I’ve written about that here. Clearly, issues central to the gospel (like man’s sinfulness or the atonement) are not up for debate. The inability of Meyer and Osteen to be clear on these issues alone is an indictment of their ministry.
So, who should Christians listen to? Well, I’m not about to provide an “approved” list of preachers/teachers/commentators. Doing so would be arrogant and could lead to a type of legalism that I find repulsive to the gospel. Instead, let me provide you with a “top five” of my favorite preachers / teachers. People whose podcast I listen to regularly and benefit from greatly.
1. The Briefing (http://www.albertmohler.com/category/the-briefing/)
The Briefing is a daily podcast with commentary on social, political, and religious issues of the day by Dr. Al Mohler.
2. Truth for Life (http://www.truthforlife.org/)
Truth for Life is the bible teaching and preaching ministry of Alistair Begg. If I could only listen to one preacher the rest of my life, it would be Alistair Begg.
3. Renewing Your Mind (http://www.ligonier.org/rym/)
Renewing Your Mind is the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries. Dr. Sproul has been a leading voice among evangelicals of the Reformed tradition for over 40 years.
4. Let My People Think (http://www.rzim.org/let-my-people-think-broadcasts/)
Let My People Think is the teaching ministry of Ravi Zacharias that emphasizes apologetics and the reasonableness of the Christian faith.
5. A New Beginning (http://feeds.harvest.org/ANB)
A New Beginning is the teaching ministry of Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, CA.