Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Just 'Cause You're Not Deep Doesn't Mean You're Not Confusing

Jesusless preaching is a big deal. I didn't make that up.

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.


BrianD said...

This isn't a knock on Perry Noble, but a reply to this type of message:

If this message was preached in your neck of the woods, how many pagans would have wondered if "The King" reference was to Jesus, Elvis or Jerry Lawler?

David Rudd said...


Good post, and great clarifications about the "deep" question. I'll likely pass along some of that stuff to some people I know who are struggling to express what they mean by "deep teaching."

I know that i've even been guilty of using those words without really thinking through what they meant.

I have a close friend who loves Perry, and has pushed me to listen to some of his messages for a long time. It may be that one or both of us has hit upon an exception, but the sermon I heard was all about Jesus.

I wouldn't have done it exactly like him, and I didn't agree with all the points he made, but he certainly preached Jesus, at least that day.

I didn't take the time to go dig up the link, but I'm sure if you wanted to you could find it easily. He was answering the question, "Can you lose your salvation?"

Again, the first half of this post was one of your best (the second half wasn't bad, but just not as good as the first!)

Jared said...

If this random selection is an exception, then I am overjoyed.

I believe it is characteristic of a message type that is epidemic in American churches, though, even if Perry is not one of the individual perpetrators.

I know this is epidemic b/c I've sat under it in several churches, have sampled the big influences, and I hear from too many people saying the messages they hear are just like it.

Marc Backes said...

Man...Driscoll and take all comers...

Interesting post..main thing to remember: There is no inherent power is simply saying the name of "Jesus"...unless the soul is awakened and grasping the infinite realities that make that name so powerful and precious...

If angels long to look into the Gospel for all of it wrong for us to ponder and look into the depths of the love of Christ found in the Gospel along with them?

Scott Bailey said...


It is shocking to me how many self-help sermons I sit through without a mention of Jesus.

Equally problematic as well is how many sermons I sit through that offer abstract ideas about God as a role or force but never as a person.

I think much of this is just the consequence of modern evangelical neo-gnosticism in which our dogmas about God are more important than being transformed by the PERSON of Jesus; where it is more important to be right than the right type of person; and as we have gone from communion being the central element of our gatherings to the sermon being the central element.

Keep on giving them Jesus...

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

David Rudd said...

absolutely. it seems like the corporation church (and the conference circuit it has spawned) is gathering "momentum".

Whether or not this is about Perry, I see many "churches" which are racing toward social club status at an unstoppable rate of speed.

I wish I could remember where I read this, but I remember reading the blog of a pastor who commented off the cuff that the four-week series he was currently doing was the first time in his life he had preached through a book of the Bible... the church was at least 2 years old.

Of course, I don't want to be overly critical, because I know I've got my own problems!

Jared said...

There is no inherent power is simply saying the name of "Jesus"

Marc, you're right. But mentioning his name is minimum, right? :-)

richard said...

A good test is for the preacher to ask "Would I be satisfied with this sermon if it were the last sermon I would ever preach?". The only yardstick to measure that, I think, is Jesus.

Matthew Johnson said...

In a comment that's sure to cause gnashing of teeth in a fine Calvinist establishment like this :-P...

Wesley said, in the footsteps of Richard Baxter, "I preach as never sure to preach again and as a dying man to dying men." I have this written in my Bible as a reminder.

Jared said...

No gnashing here.

Check out fourth paragraph of this post:


nhe said...

My in-laws live 45 mins from Anderson and made the drive for about a year to hear Noble - man, did they ever rave about him......they eventually got tired of the drive and stayed local.

I wonder if too many guys are just flat trying to be like Driscoll, A. Stanley, Hybels, Warren.....they just care more about being dynamic (and they pull that part off) than they care about preaching Christ......

I also think that the "pray this prayer" syndrome is a way for a lot of pastors to say they preached the gospel and mentioned Jesus.

There are a number of pastors who I would challenge to preach the gospel and talk about Jesus without talking about a "decision" and without asking people to make one.....

Jamie Steele said...

How dare you attack the new "good ol boys" network (young, stanly, noble, furtick) about preachin.
You will never ever be invited to speak at Catalyst or to sit in Rick Warren's white chair.
It want be long before Tony Morgan does a blog about you and list 10 reasons why he hates Christians who disagree with "their way of doin church".

by the way "how those Redskins doin"

Jared said...

The only part of that comment that stung was the Redskins thing. ;-)

Bill Kinnon said...

It's a very good post.

Perry provoked a post from me a couple of years back that created a good email conversation between us. I believe him to be a good guy who honestly loves Jesus (not that you are questioning that). I also believe he's bought into the "relevant" world of folk like Ed Young Jr. We keep the scandal of Jesus to a minimum so as not to offend our audience - because the audience numbers are critical to how we gauge our success.

I've sat through a number of sermons recently from a gifted southern preacher, Fleming Rutledge. The Trinity is central to her messages. Scripture makes up at least 50% of what she says. The name of Jesus is always on her lips. She speaks of a Transcendent God who breaks through time and space to reconnect us to himself. She speaks of the horror and the scandal of the cross - and the trauma and the scandal of our sin. And the awe-inspiring, truly incomprehensible mystery of Grace that we are offered. Sermons that are profoundly relevant to a diseased and dying world.

But. Then again. What would I know.

BrianD said...

I've done the megachurch thing, heard the dynamic preachers, blah, blah, blah.

None of it is meaningful when you're disconnected and struggling to find a place to fit in, and fellow believers to do life with.

Fact is, there may yet come a time where the 'relevant' churches will be forced to ask hard questions about how they do church - whether it's a mass exodus of people, or some pastor realizing he has tens of thousands of people whom are not following Christ and have no real interest in doing so, or a mass of people who are hurting and have been chewed up and spit out by the machine.

I hope Perry Noble and Newspring finish well. I hope they will realize that it's the Holy Spirit who does the attracting, not His people, and that we are to preach and live out the gospel at every turn.

Rodger said...

Isn't it interesting (and telling) that you can't really post a comment on Noble's "blog"... Reminds me of the way Al Mohler "blogs" without anyone really being able to have any kind of conversation on that blog.

That tells me this guy's about power... and not about to share it through true communication. Amazing that people keep getting sucked up into this alternate universe - yet, how many folk keep flocking to Ballard in Seattle to listen to Driscoll's rants?

Good post, great thoughts.

Anonymous said...

God thinks you're totally awesome as you are; He also wants to fix you. Does not compute.

I'm pretty sure that, in the minds of some people, what needs fixing is our wrong view of ourselves. We need to be "fixed" to see ourselves as the enthralling creatures that God sees when He looks on us. I remember Robert Schuller once defined sin as "low self esteem". And I think that is what's going on here.

John said...

I'm just a passer-by, never read or commented on this blog before, but I'm reminded of Matthew 11:11 - "Of those born of women, none is greater than John the Baptist, but the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he." So, there you have it, Jesus calling us great, in fact, calling us greater than any man who has ever lived! In James, the poor man is directed to "consider his high position." So I don't think there is a problem with considering that the Father (whose heart was revealed by Jesus) might just find us enthralling. So enthralling, indeed, that He sent His Son to bring us into His family for all eternity.

He also said that we are "worth more than sparrows" and that our Father has "numbered the hairs on our heads." That could be considered "man-centered preaching," no?

One of the big problems I've seen with standard evangelical presentations of the gospel is that the message that comes through is "God basically hates you, but He loves Jesus, and Jesus loves you, so He's grudgingly accepted you."

God loves us so much, that He's made us to rule with Him. I think God thinks we're rockstars, and Jesus is the King!

Jared said...

John, seeing in Matthew 11:11 the lesson of inherent greatness is a stretch, but okay.

I also am not promoting that people aren't valuable. God loves us, and we are precious to him.

I don't know anybody who preaches that God hates you but grudgingly accepts you.
Standard evangelical presentations of the gospel tend to be "You're a rock star! Why wouldn't God love you?"
At least here in the Bible Belt they are.

Thanks for commenting.