My concern is not that evangelicals are unable to stage large scale evangelistic efforts, creative programs, or innovative small group/video campaigns. This is obviously one of our strengths in the evangelical wing of the church. However, if you will audit some of the sermons preached in evangelical churches today that are dealing with anything other than evangelism per se, I believe you will find a shocking misuse of Scripture, tendency to psychologize the message for the goal of "relevance," and moralistic readings of Biblical texts.
Despite what anyone might say, the purpose of the Noah narrative is not to tell us to love animals and avoid inflicting pain upon them. That may be true enough. However, such a "reading" of Genesis is wrong, not because the "moral" is not a true statement, but because it misses the clear point the biblical author is presenting to us.
Luther's greatest contribution is often taken to be the rediscovery of the doctrine of sola fide, justification by faith alone. Luther, however, thought otherwise. He always opined that his greatest theological contribution was the differentiation of Law and Gospel, the Do and the Done. I am certainly more Calvinist than Lutheran and do not employ the Lutheran homiletic in my own preaching. However, his point is quite valid.
The fundamentalist explosion in the early 20th century objected that if religion were merely about "religious feeling" and our good works, it was no longer Christianity. J. Gresham Machen, in one of the most important books of the century, contended that liberalism was no longer Christianity at all but another religion entirely.
Against the control of the denominations by liberal scholars, the so-called "five fundamentals" put forth by the nascent "funamentalist" movement of conservatives held:
1. The Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:1; John 20:28; Hebrews 1:8-9).
Another twist came in the 1940s when Carl F.H. Henry and Harold John Ockenga proposed the term "evangelical" (actually neo-evangelical) as a way of keeping the core of the faith in continuity with the Reformation and Puritan tradition while eliminating the anti-intellectual and judgmental elements of American fundamentalism. The founding of Fuller Seminary, Gordon-Conwell, and the National Association of Evangelicals was part of their effort. Again, the emphasis was certainly "evangelistic." However, the content of the Gospel determined the message of the evangel.
In contrast to some of my gloomy prognostications in the last post, theologian Allister McGrath has painted a fairly rosy picture of the future of evangelicalism. He observes that we come from three interacting historical traditions: Reformational Christianity, Pietism, and the Puritan movement.
My concern is that in recent times, the first and last are relegated to the dustbin of history and we follow an almost exclusively pietistic and subjective compass for navigating the troubled waters of modernity and post-modernity. In a pellmell haste to "get back to basic Christianity and to ignore all of the traditions," we have tended to forget the crucial elements of our evangelicalism that are made up of sturdy Reformation doctrine and the experiential Calvinism of the Puritans, accepting largely uncritically an unconscious acceptance of the pietist tradition.
My concern with much contemporary evangelicalism is not with our evangelistic sermons or programs. It is when we are talking about almost ANY thing else than "getting saved" that we tend to become adrift. Preaching law will be either painfully judgmental or will inevitably degenerate into moralism. And, moralistic preaching is what I was objecting to in my original piece.
Enough with self-help how-to bromides and platitudes. Hurting people sensing that they are drowning in their troubles need something sturdier and more stable on which to hold than a plank of pious good wishes and a life preserver of the latest evangelical self-help “classic.” Only the bold declaration of the grace of a Sovereign God towards us sinners, the mercy he shows to us in the atoning death of Christ, and the confident peace that comes from him as the Provident One who will sustain his creation (and us) will enable us to cross these rapids of post-modern waters safely to the other shore.
When a preacher reduces the message to a list of pointers on how to vet a presidential candidate, we have missed a golden opportunity to declare that the redemptive historical metanarrative of the Bible points to a reality larger than Caesar, even these current applicants for the post. Helping Christians think through concrete decision-making is a worthy enterprise and should be part of a sermon's application, not the substitute for it.