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Something Stronger

Ordinarily, I am entrusted with the task  of preaching once per month but because of summer holidays and staff vacations I find myself in middle of preparing three consecutive sermons.  I am enjoying the opportunity, but I am also gaining an appreciation for those whose regular task is weekly preaching!  As I sit down this morning to begin preparing for next Sunday, a couple of quotes that came through my inbox last week are bouncing around in my head.

The first is from an article by Brett McCracken over at the Wall Street Journal‘s opinion section called “The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity.”  McCracken rightly wonders about some of the innumerable (and transparently desperate?) attempts to sell Christianity in an increasingly post-Christian cultural climate:

But are these gimmicks really going to bring young people back to church? Is this what people really come to church for? Maybe sex sermons and indie- rock worship music do help in getting people in the door, and maybe even in winning new converts. But what sort of Christianity are they being converted to?

… [I]f we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.”

In a similar vein, I received another quote from an article by John Stackhouse called”Clergy Courage” in Church: An Insider’s Look at How We Do It.  In a discussion of the nature of the call to Christian discipleship, Stackhouse says this:

Whether such a call seems “relevant” or “realistic” or “contemporary” or “enlightened” finally isn’t the point.  We turn to the churches, or to other historic religious traditions, because we want something more than talk-show psychology and soap-opera morality.  We want something richer, stronger, and sounder than whatever happens to be current opinion.

Clergy must offer that to us and not shortchange us because they’re afraid we’ll back away, for…clergy have in the end nothing else distinctively worthwhile to do.”

It can be easy to fall into the trap of telling people what they want to hear or failing to present the life of discipleship as the bracing, demanding, and all-encompassing call that it actually is (or ought to be).  I am grateful for these challenges to avoid this trap as I work toward Sunday.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great quote from McCracken. Thanks for the reminder!

    Ben Witherington said something similar today over at his blog (

    “What the church often wants, or even thinks it needs, is not in fact what it needs…The Bible frankly doesn’t need to be ‘made’ relevant. It is inherently relevant to the practice of ministry in any age.”

    August 17, 2010
    • Thanks for the link, Dave. It’s interesting to think about how this question relates to seminary education. Do we train people who will slide into churches as they are or do we train them to push and challenge churches as they are? As always, the best approach is somewhere in the middle…

      August 17, 2010
  2. “Sex is a popular shock tactic. Evangelical-authored books like “Sex God” (by Rob Bell) and “Real Sex” (by Lauren Winner) are par for the course these days. At the same time, many churches are finding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church.”

    Did he even read either of the said books? He really likes the broad brushes…

    It is interesting to me that you end the post with: “failing to present the life of discipleship as the bracing, demanding, and all-encompassing call that it actually is (or ought to be).” Precisely the things that the above books helped me understand and desire; focus on discipleship, community hermeneutics and community living, with Christ at the center of it all…

    August 17, 2010
    • I, too, wondered about his linking the books by Bell and Winner with Mark Driscoll’s sermons on “Biblical Oral Sex” :). Like you, I’ve read (and profited) from both books. I have no idea if he’s actually read them but based on how he connected them with the other folks it sure seems like he just found two books with the word “sex” in the title and used them as evidence for his argument. It’s too bad, because I otherwise think the article is pretty decent and identifies a real trend out there.

      August 17, 2010
      • I don’t mind his conclusion; I just don’t like how he gets there. There is a difference between kitsch and art, he seems to lump the two together. I felt the same that he took the word “sex” as a buzzword and ran with it.

        Both kitsch and art can have same buzzword, but that is where similarities end. He seems to lump all as the same to make his point.

        August 17, 2010

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