I'm going to talk about somebody in particular in this post, and I wavered over whether to mention his name or not. I don't think it's that important, because it's not this person I am concerned about so much as the sort of thing this particular example evidences. In other words, this isn't about him really, but the sort of thing he did.
But then I also feel like talking about somebody without being brave enough to name them is lame. So I'll name him: Perry Noble.
I don't know Perry Noble. I'm sure he's a fantastic guy. As sure as one can be about somebody one doesn't know, I'm sure he's my brother in Christ. I don't name him here to malign him or to condemn him, but to warn against the sort of thing I'm really trying to malign here, which is Jesus-deficient preaching that distorts or misunderstands the gospel.
Got that? Feel free to send hate mail; I'm prepared.
I was reading Perry's blog, and he's in a series about arguments you can't win, and so far they are predictably about things he hears from "religious" people. In the latest one, about criticisms his teaching isn't deep enough, he says some interesting things.
First, I share his concern about what "deep" means. I think people tend to mean different things when they say they like "deep" teaching. The guy who founded Element was aiming for deep teaching, and he asked if I could do verse-by-verse expository preaching. That's not my bag, so I said no. To him, he was thinking a lecture-type message might help folks go deeper. And it does help some people go deeper. But it's not what I mean when I talk about deeper teaching.
So I agree with Perry Noble that when people say they want something "deep" and all they're looking for is big words and hollow intellectualism, we should discard their concerns. But he writes: "No one, I mean NO ONE has EVER been able to define deep!"
I don't think that's really true. What the well-meaning folks asking for deeper teaching usually mean is "Can we be taught Scripture more fully?" They just don't have the vocabulary to express it. And pastors should know this. Playing confused is a cop-out. You know what the sincere ones mean, and we shouldn't ignore them. They are saying, usually respectfully and sincerely, that they hunger for the written Word, and they are getting stories and jokes and props and it's not feeding them. Don't tell them to go feed themselves or whatever. Consider what they're saying. How are you treating Scripture from the pulpit or stage?
I define what I mean by "deep" here. To quote myself:
For us, depth is not about chasing theological rabbits or splitting exegetical hairs. For us, nobody is deeper than Jesus and nothing is deeper than his character, his love, and his atoning work.
Depth is Jesus. That's what I think.
So I was curious when Perry contrasts the need for "deep teaching" with teaching about Jesus! He writes, "Our job is not to confuse people…but to preach Jesus Christ, the GOSPEL."
And here I agree with him again, wholeheartedly. I wanted to hear how Perry preaches Jesus and the gospel to the NewSpring folks, so I pulled up a random (but very recent) message from their audio page and gave it a listen.
Twenty minutes into it, I had heard a long story about football and an admonition about foreplay but no mention of Jesus and no Scripture.
Twenty-five minutes in, Perry reads a verse or two from Psalm 45.
Jesus eventually gets one mention, in the context of a joke about homeschool moms being cultish and desperate for Jesus.
No other mentions of Jesus except for repeated references to "The King" and then the "pray this prayer" invitation at the end.
I suppose "The King" references can be said to be preaching Jesus.
But the context is really strange and, despite Perry's blogged conviction about not confusing people, I found this context a profound confusing of the gospel message.
Essentially the message is that The King finds you (women specifically) very beautiful. He says over and over, "The King is enthralled by you."
Seriously: Over and over. This is the point of the message, I would say: "The King is enthralled by you."
Essentially what he's communicating is that God thinks you're awesome. He is smitten by you; he can't get you off his mind.
I wonder who exactly is the worshiper and who is the worshiped in this dynamic.
This (wo)man-centered gospel gets further complicated when he begins to lead into his invitation time. Perry says that God thinks women are beautiful and if they'll just let him come in and clean them up . . .
Huh? If they're beautiful, why does God need to clean them up. He spent roughly 45 minutes telling women not to listen to outside sources telling them they're not beautiful. In fact, they are so beautiful that God is "enthralled" by them.
So why would I need cleaning up?
Perry doesn't mention sin until the "repeat this" prayer. His message is a simple confusion of the gospel: God thinks you're totally awesome as you are; He also wants to fix you.
Does not compute.
For all of its talk of enthrallment, this message was not the least bit enthralled with Jesus. And for all its concern over women feeling good about themselves, it won't do a hill of beans worth of good when the good news preached is that God thinks you're great just as you are, but by the way, you should pray this prayer . . .
This is one message out of many. Perhaps this is an off day for Perry. I don't know.
And this is why this isn't really about Perry Noble. It's about this sort of message.
I've heard this sort of message and endured them for years. (Actually, this one is pretty good compared to some teaching I've sat under.) And all along my discontent was not because I wanted big theological words and roots of roots of roots and I didn't want to practice my faith, or any of the other things defensive pastors accuse their sincere critics of, but because I was HUNGRY FOR JESUS, and my preacher was starving me. And everybody else who relied on them to proclaim the gospel.