I have been fascinated after posts about A blog post for Brits by Mark Driscoll and this interview that evangelical Christians have been so offended by his recent comments about the British and our preachers (that would be me then). He is nothing if not controversial adding to this his book Real Marriage which is causing a stir he is now preaching through. We evangelicals, in variety of the crowds I run with often harp on about the short-comings of other tribes or people or neighbouring churches or those within the institution of the C of E.
It seems I am good at dishing out a bit of criticism (or helpful observation as I prefer to call it) but rather poor at receiving it.
I asked a crowd of church leaders this week a simple question.
"Have you seen anybody saved? Are people coming under the new birth as a result of your preaching or indeed of any preacher you know?"
There was silence. There was a bit of testimony to a salvation or two coming in dribs and drabs but they were all as a result of people coming to Christ on Alpha. Some of these were leaders, in UK terms, of 'big churches' by our standards. But they are big churches where seemingly very few are actually coming to repentance and faith in Christ. There are of course exceptions but these are often non-C of E.
Many churches run good programs and courses and lots of prayer ministry that Christians love to consume but there is not a culture of, nor expectation that, people will be converted and moved to repentance under the preaching of God's word.
No one asked anyone to church to listen to me preach last Sunday (that might be because it was gift day!) but I should ask why. Why do people not want to bring their friends to church? (There are of course a host of reasons) In fact, not one person had asked anyone who does not yet believe in Jesus to come to church with them to hear the gospel and encounter God through his people and presence. Now, happily by ten minutes in there were a few faces but none that anyone had actually invited.
Why is that?
The gospel is surely the call to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
Does it matter that people believe in Jesus?
Like really really eternally matter?
There isn't a 'nice' way to preach repentance and faith and too often perhaps the truth is I fail to. Faith yes but repentance is a bit of a tricky one. Sin and stuff. Keller and others do manage 'nice' but Driscoll is Keller born in a trailer park with a drink-soaked Irish family line and a non-Ivy league pedigree. He unquestionably has issues -anger being one- but he's working on it he tells us. This may however take a while. Smith-Wigglesworth would have been a sight on You tube though wouldn't he?
What Driscoll perhaps is asking is is this message being preached with courage, love and power in this land in a way that is resulting in significant numbers of non believers coming under the new birth as a result of the preaching.
Let me be frank. The preaching in the pulpits of the C of E is in the main dreadful. The diet in most churches is an eight-minute dull platitude that will very often not even make mention of Jesus or the Cross, let alone call anyone to repentance. Now don't get me wrong- the gospel is being preached but in only in a few select places is it resulting in conversion (Soul Survivor being one and Mike P among others is a man of great courage but that is a festival not a church)
In contrast, there is a church in Seattle which saw 800 people repent, believe and be baptised on Easter day alone listening to this sermon.
I know there are cultural factors and the States is more 'Christianised'
It takes a bit of guts to preach like this though. Trust me I am a preacher.
They were converted it seems under the power of preaching.
I have been debating with a few fellow preachers and friends and my thoughts have narrowed to the question, "Is the Lord with him?". If he is then it's worth hearing his comments on this land and if not then I can carry on business as usual. Why are so so many listening to him and finding blessing through it? They (men and women) tell me so everywhere I go. Only today, by HS appointment having heard of this man only on Monday I met an Acts 29 planter who is setting up near me as I plant in Barnes. Movements move and this one seems to be moving whether we like it or not.
Now the thing is this.
Most don't like my critic for good reasons that they will tell you but I for one am taking time to think whether or not he might have a some truth to tell me. Albeit one that now lands squarely at my door.
One word of caution. Is it not that the old wineskin rarely embraces the new? RT Kendall said as much to New Wine Leaders eight years ago preaching from Hebrews 13. I remember that hotel room in Coventry as though it were yesterday for lots of reasons. I seem to remember spending a great deal of time on the hotel carpet under the Spirit but that is a discussion for another time.
"May we never be a network who misses out on a move of God because it does not start with us" was the concluding call.
It would be a bore if just when we have all decided as a church to be egalitarian God goes and flings a loud-mouthed complementarian with a bible in his hand into our midst. He seems to know said bible backwards and is confusing us all and making us think through our doctrine and its relationship and impact on both the culture and the church. Blast. God will have habit of being God sometimes even when I disagree with him. Or it's not God and the things I think are right in which case I can ignore it-phew. Or it's not a major deal either way which is the easiest option- Hybels seems to be doing OK?
his journey on this very thorny one, author of The church planter, which unsurprisingly is a read I have checked out. This was the tinder box issue at the end of the interview. Most evangelicals in the UK thirty-five years ago would not have been the least bit troubled by Driscoll's theology of church leadership but today it's a whole other matter as the Premier interview showed so starkly. Now this might not be a move of God and Driscoll's doctrine might be crackers 'in the UK climate' and passe in which case stand down everyone and get on with whatever you're up to.
The Premier interviewer, like so many in our pews, had neither a bible in his hand nor any doctrine that he was happy to be pinned down on. He does seem a jolly nice fella though. I can bet you he knows the words to 'How Great' by Chris Tomlin. In contrast, members of Mars Hill have to read this book (which is thick, thorough and has hundreds of footnotes) in order to join the Church, that would be everybody- no read no join. He taught ten hours of sermons on the book in hour long chunks. I will say that again. People are coming to be taught the doctrines of the Christian faith from the bible in their droves for ten hours of intense theologically dense scholarly teaching. Hang on a minute, wasn't the title meant to say 'Might Believe'- surely that is a mistake? Actually 'Should' in Driscoll's world, and arguably the bible's, really does mean 'Should'. A thought. How many of your people can articulate their doctrine of the trinity (Chapter one) and where can you find similar teaching from a UK pulpit? Starts to explain a little of the reason why 30m and counting sermons have been downloaded. I would wager few would not find some merit in Driscoll's brilliant teaching on Mary and Martha and find it's truths helpful even if you don't like the style or the man?
At some point that nobody quite noticed, perhaps as everyone fell over in 1993 under Toronto, some people/churches stopped reading bibles and teaching its truths and as they woke up started listening only to worship albums. Maybe it is time for everyone who calls themselves an evangelical to pick up their bibles again and to start reading them- really reading them. Have some evangelicals in the UK simply now only got that written on the outside of the tin but poke around a bit and the liberal reality appears? At least those of a liberal mindset know they are liberal and say so, unlike your man on Premier who I don't think knows quite what he thinks from the sounds of it and certainly couldn't justify it from the bible. But might it be even though it's not very convenient, culturally insensitive, intellectually superior and it goes against what we've agreed in the C of E at a synod meeting, oh and it's not very English, God might be in all this somehow.
I am reading Ezra. When we studied it at IME my dear liberal pals went puce in horror and disgust and on any level it is quite a moment. You know the bit when God tells everyone that they have married people and they weren't supposed to. He can do that you know- being God n'all. Shocking stuff. All very messy and clearly has a cultural context (we love saying that about the difficult bits in Scripture) but wouldn't it be a thing if when every one actually started studying Scripture they realised they have made some wrong decisions and now have a right old mess if they wanted to unpick them. We'd look like complete idiots if we found out we were wrong (Josiah comes to mind) and what's more we've passed all those resolutions in our synods about gender and human sexuality but while doing so our society's gone down the materialist, social and secular swanny and the church has disappeared? Did you see that Kodak has gone out of business. Extraordinary. Massive business that didn't know what its core proposition was and hence failed to survive. That's what happens when you forget what your core proposition is.
He's right on one thing certainly- twenty something men are not exactly smashing the doors down of my church- let's be really honest about that one. They are getting smashed in the pub, rioting across London and leaving their girlfriends fatherless for other women and fathering more children or did you miss that part of last summer?
Question. Can we disagree and beg to differ but at the same time see the good in this movement and even find some grace to encourage it for the glory of God- even when the theology, culture and style is so much not our own? Now, you might say he needs to do they same to us. Perhaps he does and maybe he too needs to be a bit (a lot) more graceful and generous. All the children have to learn to play nice in the playground, but every once in while the big kid whoops someone. We've been whooped. He needs to say sorry, be nice and work out how to get along with the other kids, even if they are different and he knows his bible a lot better.
But here's the dilemma. God in his grace has raised up preachers down the years who have been enabled by the power of the Spirit to see significant numbers come to faith. This can happen through one or two individuals (Spurgeon who was weird looking, Whitfield who was squinty eyed, MLJ who was rather depressed and grumpy, Evan Roberts who was a bit crazy and Welsh and John Stott who had a few quirks my friend tells me- he shared a house with him as a Curate) that then go on to impact a whole nation. In the States MLK (by all accounts v. imperfect) and Billy Graham come to mind.
Of course there are people who can teach the bible in England. It's silly to say otherwise. But the real question I am being asked as a British preacher is what impact is this bible teaching having on this land and on God's church for its transformation. Is the gospel we preach causing unbelievers in a hugely secular godless culture under the power of the Spirit to come to repentance and faith in Christ.
If not, then should us preachers not take a fraction of a moment to be asking why not? It doesn't mean we adopt his style to do so would be insane and end in tears but should we not be praying for an anointed preacher to take our unsaved friends to listen to so they can get saved?
Of course by God's providence a preacher may be raised up or maybe as many have said this is not the English way. Its only American's who like personalities, we do things small and quiet and fresh expressiony and I think in some ways we do. Maybe all is well in the garden (but we know it is not which is what Why plant churches? speaks to)
Maybe, just maybe, people are not being converted (which my very small sample tells me in my circle they are not) because my gospel is a bit doctrinally flabby due to my lack of courage. I can't speak for others they will have to work that out before the Lord but I know I could do better if I was less concerned about my 'niceness'. I know that to show some in this culture the truth of the gospel would lead people to think that I am not 'nice' and would require some 'non-nice' truths that would over time cause me some mighty trouble. It is possible to be not very nice yet very loving- the greatest of loves being sharing Christ and seeing that love burst forth in a new salvation life. We so easily settle instead for non-missional Christian huddles of comfort, bible study groups, and perhaps, for the keen, a Christian festival. Driscoll is right we fly in someone who is preaching and teaching thoughtfully about hell, the Crazy love stuff and living radically with great impact on those who do not yet believe but doing so somewhere else. Have any of you actually read the Chapter 4 of Crazy love on the lukewarm?
1. There is hurt because what has been said is wrong and need not be listened to. In this case that may be so I don't yet know.
2. Or there is something to hear because what has been said has some truth but we don't want to face it
The offence has come it seems chiefly because the person who offended us isn't very cuddly and didn't say it very nicely. He shouts sometimes, he looks different, he is a big personality, he is steeped in the word of God, he says offensive things on occasion that he often regrets and he gets angry about sin and sinners yet crowds of people are flocking to him and 30m sermons have been downloaded, 400 churches planted and 175k are in the movement. Oh, and this has happened in fifteen years. He needs softening by the Spirit of course and is very imperfect, as am I. The only thing he isn't currently doing is eating locusts and honey :)
Maybe he is nasty, nuts, a loon or maybe he is a prophet to our land and for our day.
Most think the former and I am just exploring a case for the latter.
The frustrating thing about prophets is they don't actually give a hoot what we think. They couldn't care less.
How frightfully rude.
Steve Furtick is a man whose story I have followed.
He is currently embarking on something called Code Orange Revival Meetings. His idea is to gather twelve of the best preachers in the English-speaking world that he could convince to come and he's beaming their sermons live currently in order to see as many converted as possible. Preachers including T D Jakes, Craig Groeschl, Christine Caine and James MacDonald have been asked and they are from a variety of tribes but for the good of the gospel they have laid their differences aside for the greater good. Now there's an idea. Furtick also invited Matt Chandler and this is I think an example of the type of preaching Driscoll is talking about that is seeing people converted and that the blog post was asking for in the UK. This is the sort of preaching that is not it seems spilling out of the pulpits in our churches and doesn't get much of a laugh. It won't get you liked but it does see sinners repent and believe by the thousand. This is after all the task of the preacher.
Why is this sort of preaching not English and not what I do? Because it's not nice. Because there is a cultural gap - yes I know that. Yes, there is much good happening here in the church I know I know. Yes, there are lots of nice Vicars. And yes, there are lots of views about fame seeking American's and the nasty cult of church celebrity. But dear preachers let's be honest - preaching like this takes a bit of metal and wielding the bible with such confidence and skill is quite something. The question I am asking myself and you will have to make up your own mind if you are a preacher is am I preaching with enough courage and is there something in all this for me to hear? Perhaps if I had more courage while remaining me and more preparedness to not be liked but to bear the cost of the cross then perhaps more may be born again under my preaching.
When you witness the whooping crowds at the beginning of Chandler's preach (he is so exceedingly rude- shockingly so at the start) and then contrast this with the hushed tones at the end of the sermon you have some sense of what the power of the gospel preached looks like.
It is why Furtick called Matt Chandler and didn't call me.
By the way, I will happily do it for Furtick next time if he asks but my real hope is that next time he might at least have one of his telephone numbers that starts +44 and maybe I pray that number may be yours?