Saturday, October 15, 2011

For the pod

My day-off habit is to go for a walk or if I'm driving somewhere to listen in the car to the next instalment in the Gospel of Luke. This is I think the 93rd in the series.  Some of the most memorable being:

The Cost of Discipleship

Jesus vs Satan

Mary and Martha

Jesus calls the Twelve

Jesus and the Holy Spirit

The Bible is about Jesus

Jesus and Religion

Heaven and Hell

The latest is called Jesus sweats blood and just the title should tell you this is not a sermon for the faint-hearted- the second half is shocking and disturbing stuff if you are unfamiliar with the idea of the wrath of God. You have now been warned and as one or two in this series have done it made me think, pray and question very deeply about the lost, the mission of the church and the nature of God. Thousands are seemingly coming to listen to this sort of sermon (10k last weekend attended Mars Hill), particularly men, and are being saved and my question having listened to it is I suppose, "Why?" The message is so very hard for most of us to stomach. It is patently and intentionally un-user friendly and offers any listener stark truth (in fact is this not just the basic facts of the gospel that any evangelical knows but brutally articulated in a very direct and very un-English way. Mark Driscoll has a brash and aggressive manner which is quite horrifying to some. Differentiating the style from the content is important and working out which it is that offends us is part of this reflection)

People are coming though to hear this by the thousand nonetheless and downloading these sermons in their droves, many of them onto the iPods of the UK. People I respect and value are greatly blessed by the teaching from Mars Hill, yet others find it overly macho, aggressive and lacking some of the fruits of the Spirit you might hope to see when someone is speaking about Jesus. One Vicar pal who listened to this sermon thought it was one of the most powerful he has ever heard and another thought the things he heard were truly dreadful and disgusting. The sermon Tough and Tender speaks to this and in many ways I have found my passion for Jesus stirred and helped but for others the reverse is clearly true. Books such as Rid of my Disgrace (an overview of the ministry to abused and raped women of whom they have about 2500 @ Mars Hill) and Redemption attest to some of the fruit of the ministry at Mars Hill. I want to spend a little time reflecting on these things.

Lloyd-Jones said:
We shall never have an adequate conception of the greatness of this salvation unless we realize something at any rate of what we were before this mighty power took hold of us, unless we realize what we would still be if God had not intervened in our lives and had rescued us.
In other words, we must realize the depth of sin, what sin really means, and what it has done to the human race.

(H/T What's best next)

Here are my thoughts on this sermon. First, have we perhaps become so Marcion as a church that we find it hard to hear about the different sides of the character of God? A wrathful God (read about the Passover or Joshua if you need reminding) does not play easily to our western, secular and increasingly liberal sensibilities. What we want is a 'laissez-faire do what you like on your terms God' but what if that is not actually what God is like? Perhaps it also explains why there is so little mission to the lost going on. It's why in the C of E our most pressing issue is The Covenant and not how to engage in mission for the salvation of souls in our land. If God is 'nice' and 'relaxed' rather than holy there is likely to be far less urgency to share the gospel and far less recognition that making such an effort to share it is truly a matter of consequence. Mission if you take scripture seriously is literally a matter of life and death and with that backdrop Jesus commands 'Therefore go.....' Are we not going because we don't actually believe Him? Is this why Christians like me who sing what people call 'happy-clappy songs' on a Sunday often rarely speak of Jesus to their friends and colleagues and families on Monday? Are sermons like this one a form of modern-day Jonathan Edwards preaching that shake the bride with uncomfortable truths , as Sinners in the hands of an angry God shook people but at the same time ushered in the first Great Awakening? (but you might not think these are doctrinal truths or that they are a distortion of them which is of course your prerogative).

Win Arn surveyed over a thousand churches and he asked this question:

"What is the mission of the church?'

In answer to this question, 89% of people said "The church exists to meet the needs of me and my family" whereas only a staggering 11% said, "The church exists to make Christ known to the world".

(Source: Rethinking the church Emery White)

The workers are indeed few.

Here I reflect on my own tribe for a moment:

1. It's not about us it's about others: The charismatic church has focussed almost exclusively in recent years on the love of God but far less often preached clearly on the atonement and many conferences in recent years have had as their centre piece physical healing (he does indeed truly love us by mercy and grace so don't misunderstand me please and a context for that statement is contained in the sermon) However, it is  rare to hear a talk on the justice of God or the wrath of God and have we perhaps taken it for granted that people understand this dimension of the gospel when perhaps the reality is that they do not. We have tended to assume that because God loves ME (which he certainly does), wants to heal ME and because he speaks to ME, my main preoccupation should be to hear from him about ME and expect him to do things for ME. Middle-class types like me take any opportunity to lap up a word about ME and I for one am too easily preoccupied with myself and my agenda forgetting that mission is all about others and reaching them with the gospel as a matter of urgency in word and deed. It's so easy for us/ me to get stuck at the God speaks part and be much slower at getting ourselves on mission in response to the things God says and the freedom God births in us through his Spirit. We are birthed and freed for the mission. Ask us to sell our valuable homes and give up life's comforts and 'go' to share the gospel with a lost people group or take a lower paying job to free up time for mission or allow ourselves to hear a call involving some hardship and everybody (including me I might add) quickly goes rather quiet. The danger is that we have missed the truth that God has already called, has already spoken and is now longing to send people out on his mission but we first must hear it and say 'Here I am send me' (Is 6 v 8). In order to respond to this, the truth is what we in fact need to do is present the ME and get obedient to the SEND. As a friend says, we too easily lean to what feels good rather than what challenges. When John Wimber was asked about the Toronto blessing he was reputed to have said that it's not whether you fall down that matters it's what you're like when you get back up that counts. The call to mission challenges us and so it should do given the nature and urgency of the gospel as Oswald Chambers states so graphically here.

2. It's all about who you are trying to reach: There are very few men in the church. Whilst women might respond to long sermons on love and worship songs full of intimacy men do not react in the same way. Is this style of sermon awakening men in a powerful way where our best intentions at preaching a 'warm' and 'family-friendly' feminine-oriented message (as Why men hate going to church contends) have apparently failed to? Is Driscoll on to something here? (which I think he may be). This seems to be the crucial point- he is very clear that he is trying to reach young men in Seattle and his messages are tailored with them in mind. If you are not a young blue-collar man in Seattle his preaching may very well not be your cup of tea and there should be no great surprise about that. It is young unchurched men in their twenties and late teens who he feels specifically called to preach to and he says God spoke audibly to him about this. In watching a podcast it's as though we are listening in and clearly no one has to do this and so we are in some ways a by-product audience. Now, do you have this profile of person in your church and if not why not might be very a good question to ask? They are clearly being saved in number listening to such preaching and perhaps we can learn something from this?  We should wrestle with this at some length given our rioting cities and fatherless young men who as yet remain largely unreached. Even if you disagree with this theologically, and one may choose to reject this as totally barbaric, it takes quite a bit of mettle to get up and preach a message like this and I should know because I am a preacher. Are we preachers more concerned about being liked (such a temptation) than being truthful and therefore not doing our job which is to tell people the gospel even when it means teaching stunningly hard things that appear before us in the text? If the content of this sermon is really true no one will thank me for being 'nice' or 'funny' as they face their maker on that final day. Now, if Driscoll is just a fundamentalist nutbag (as some may think he sounds at times) then surely no one would be coming- but as it is he is the most down-loaded preacher in America and his website The Resurgence is the most trafficked Christian blog on the web. Also, his Leadership Coaching is now spreading his message far and wide. More than a few people are resonating with this 'tough-love gospel' and I think it is healthy to force ourselves, which is what I have done, to ask the question "Why is this?"

In conclusion, it seems the world hears a message like this and its call to repentance while those currently in the church hear (or in fact maybe never hear which is exactly my point) such things preached and are in danger of not. That really interests me and is why I am facing up to some hard questions and their implications (if this sermons content really be true). Personally, this message turns me into more of an evangelist but it is quite definitely what one might call 21C ''fire and brimstone" so do proceed with some caution and be prepared to think and be very deeply challenged.


Anonymous said...

I'll be polite and simply encourage people not to listen to this. In my humble opinion it won't help you love God or build his kingdom.

David Cooke said...

Thank you for the comment. That is why I deliberately put a warning on it. I have personally found my love for Jesus to be warmed by working through the Luke series but have also been deeply challenged by some of these texts that have been preached and their implications.

Of course feel free not to listen.