Friday, December 3, 2010

Our System is Perfectly Designed for the Results We Are Receiving

Tuesday I listened to a teleseminar speaker explain that when prayer got taken out of public schools and when the Woodstock music festival occurred our culture went downhill and now we are at a crisis point so Christians need to this time get really serious about standing up for Judeo-Christian values or it's going to get worse.

I was irritated. First, taking (school-led) prayer out of schools was not a cause of cultural disintegration, nor was Woodstock. They may have been symptoms, but not causes. What this telespeaker and so many other of our brothers and sisters for so long have believed is that the church and the culture were fine and dandy before the hippies and legal abortion, etc., but that somehow those things appeared out of nowhere. And the prescription, we are told, is to reclaim what we were doing before these things showed up.

But setting aside for the moment that American culture was not rosy before the late 60's -- or at least, it wasn't for people who weren't white -- I think it's more likely that once the church began to assume moralism as its primary message, it ceased to capture hearts and do what it claimed to do: compel behavior. So the hippie movement, legal abortion, prayer out of school, etc. may all be symptoms of an evangelicalism that traded the gospel and the all-sufficiency of Christ for "be good" and now we're both ignorant about the connection and ignorant enough to think if we go back to moralism -- for that's what championing Judeo-Christian values usually is -- we can turn the tide we gave rise to to begin with.

I talked to an older lady yesterday who is struggling in her Christian walk. She fears she is not fruitful enough. She said she's been in Bible studies and the like for 30 years and isn't sure what she's learned. I asked her, "If you could boil down all those studies and all the messages you've heard from the church for the past 30 years into one main point that they're all trying to teach you, what would it be?" After some thought, she replied: "Be a better person." And yet here she sat, not lacking in education in being a better person but certainly not feeling like it made a hill a beans worth of difference.

I wonder if the evangelical church is figuring this out yet. When Willow determined in its REVEAL study that after several decades of the highest quality production and teaching, with no lack of steps and tips and information presented with excellence and attractiveness, they were seriously lacking in "fully devoted followers of Christ," it was an alarm bell to them. Shouldn't it be to hundreds of other churches assuming the same methods?

Shouldn't more churches figure out that throwing steps, tips, and applications at people for decades has only produced Christians a mile wide and an inch deep? For all our efforts at producing better Christians, we're failing. I want to say to many architects of the attractional/applicational paradigm, Your system is perfectly designed for the results you are achieving. I want to say to the teleseminar speaker, "We've been doing the Judeo-Christian values thing for 3 decades now. Remember Christian Coalition, Moral Majority, Focus on the Family, etc etc. And things are getting worse, you say? Maybe our system is designed perfectly for the results we are receiving."

But of course the results are up to God, not us, anyway. We ought to be faithful to the message of Christianity. I reminded the dear lady I was speaking to that "Be a better person" is not the essential message of the Christian faith, and that perhaps all the instructions and information about being better were a non-starter because they had neglected the power of transformation: the gospel. So I reminded her of that, in different ways.

Let's remember that do, do, do is just the flipside of the legalism coin from don't, don't, don't. If we have not staked our hope on the gospel.

It sounds counterintuitive. Pastors and teachers think people don't do stuff because they don't know the stuff to do or how to do it. But the gospel is counterintuitive. ("Wisdom of men," and all that.)

Let's reclaim the gospel of Jesus. Let's trust that. Let's design our system around that.


jephmaags said...

Jared, this hits the nail squarely on the head. As a pastor, the response that woman gave to you would break my heart, but at the same time, would not surprise me. I agree that the fruit we are harvesting is exactly what we are planting. The idea that we win them to what we win them with. That HAS to be the gospel. I grew up hearing the legalist message and that helps nobody. It just puffs up and makes proud people. What a change in my life when I saw that Christ loved me at my worst. It wasn't about my morality. Your comment that suggests "do, do, do is just the flipside of the legalism coin from don't, don't, don't," is bang on. We don't need morality, we need the gospel, every morning, every day and my hope is we hear more of that preached than 5 steps to making life, marriage, finances, children, etc. easier to deal with.

bot1 said...

Great post. Growing up in the 50's and 60's I can identify with those milestone events that you mentioned. I also have been guilty of identifying them as the cause and not the symptom. Thanks for clarifying the root cause and the remedy - "Let's reclaim the gospel of Jesus. Let's trust that."

kwanie said...

im new to commenting on your blog but have been reading it for some time. great stuff jared..

i'm just wondering.. how then do you teach children/tweens/teens?

Jared said...

Kwanie, great question. The answer is, generally speaking, we teach them with age-appropriate gospel-centrism. Many churches are working through this right now, including my own. One resource I have found extremely helpful and shaping is by Yancey Arrington on gospel-centered children's curriculum. You can find it here:

There are some good children's curricula out there that does the gospel-centered thing. We have used things from Good News and from Desiring God.
There is actually less available for teenagers, but I know personally several youth pastors who know of the need and are working hard to address it with good literature and curricula.

Jared said...

Just as an example of what this shift looks like for children's lessons:

Instead of teaching the story of David and Goliath as a moral lesson on courage in the face of fear or even "trusting God" -- both good things to do -- after educating kids on the history of this event, we make the applicational leap that David is Jesus, stepping in for us frightened and incapable Israelites and defeating the enemy on our behalf.

That turns the story into a gospel lesson rather than a moralistic one.

Bill Kinnon said...

Great post. But I'm not sure REVEAL was any more than a momentary pause in Willow's CEO-driven Church. At least if this is any indication.

Jared said...

Yes. They appear to have diagnosed well, but treated poorly. :-/

Jason said...

I think you're dead-on with this Jared. Well done.

David Cooke said...

A moving post. Thank you.

Zach said...


I'm currently an undergrad at a Christian university that has increasingly adopted the justification by moralism ideas (a la "Moral Majority"), even though no one would ever think to call it that or admit that is what it has become. Another vein of this issue is that my school, which will go unnamed, is looking toward republican political action as the way to "Reclaim America".

Where once the Religion department was the rudder of my university, now the Law and government schools have become the main focus with a majority of grants and attention and so forth.

Our chapel services have all but become republican, moralism, and Reclaim Judeo-Christian ethic rallys (with many students buying in). And Jared, I am ashamed that I will be receiving my diploma from this Christian university.

You said once that the problem that many evangelicals find themselves in is that if America banned abortion and gay marriage and people started living right, many in evangelicalism would be happy and content.

That's where I find the state my university is in. And I see it's only getting worse. Many like-minded friends are just as frustrated and disillusioned as I am.

Our founder once famously stated that if this university ever lost its way spiritually then it should be burned to the ground. But the new chancellor and administration think where they are headed *is* the right way.

What can be done?

Roberta said...

My take on it all is that after completely giving your whole life to Jesus and praying about what God would have you do, to wait for direction from God. I admire Bonhoeffer for his complete sell out to God. He, along with the confessing church in Germany in the 30's and 40's, leaned on the government. Jesus told us to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. I believe human life and our sexuality belong to God among other things!

Anonymous said...

I love the post. Fantastic thoughts.

A quick question. Many I encounter believe simply changing the content of the preaching from life application to a more Gospel centered message would bring system overhaul. Does content change = systems change?

Missionary Confidential said...

Amen, amen, amen. Being raised in church, people were way more concerned about my attendance, clothing style, and movies I watched than if I was closer to Jesus, reading the Bible (because I wanted to, not because I had to), or serving in ministry. It was being sold-out to the Gospel of Jesus that brought about change in me, not church meetings/classes and definitely not the attractional methods.

I'm pretty sick of the "Moral Deism Police" and would rather be in a church that is truly excited to worship God and learn more about Jesus.

--C. Holland

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

If the conservative Christians who think getting God back into the schools will fix things they just haven't read R. L. Dabney's prediction about state funded school. Of course those who HAVE read Dabney seem to think that if they just home-school enough theonomistic offspring that America will be returned to covenant faithfulness as though the United States were not simply yet another nation Yahweh will crush in Psalm 2. I believe there's a South Park episode that addresses the problems in that line of reasoning. :-) There's no hedonist quite like the Christian-home-schooled hedonist who decides to live it up.

A lot of these conservative Christians don't realize that the reason liberals continue to mock or ignore them is because those liberals read their history and saw how, as they see things, the previous century of conservative religious people sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War. And that's exactly how they choose to describe contemporary conservative Christians now. The problem is that this endless game of guilt by association does nothing to advance the proclamation that Jesus is king.

Rachael Starke said...


This post has been rattling around my head in the aftermath of a collection of different conversations with parents at my girls' Christian school (where I reluctantly and fearfully put them after being convinced that homeschooling is a calling I don't yet have.) While it's not as bad as I'd feared, the truth is that there are a ton of parents who want the "good moral teachings" of Christianity, but they just don't know Jesus. They think they do. But Jesus is just a name, or a concept, to them. And I'm sorting through what kind of relationships I might have to build with them to help change that. Deep down, I'm afraid that at some point, it's going to involve some really uncomfortable conversations that aren't going to be received happily. How do you tell a wealthy, God-talking, worldly woman, whose gone to church faithfully, that she's gaining the whole world but losing her soul? That's not going to make me or my kids that popular. How do you preach to these kinds of people? There are a lot in my church too. I know they've heard the gospel, because I've heard it preached clearly. But they regularly manifest in their life a complete lack of understanding of what they're hearing. And I have the same fear - how do I challenge a youngish single woman who's full of gushy Facebook updates about the Day of Prayer and how much she loves the LORD, but her life is just empty, and I'm just not sure if it's not all a big pretense.

How do you give people the gospel when they think they already have it?

Stan said...

I whole-heartedly agree. I think one of the main reasons Willow Creek and most churches have the problems they do is because they misunderstand the purpose of preaching. We assume that the Bible wants us preach in such a way that we apply things to our lives in a read your Bible, pray, etc fashion

While that is part of the purpose of the Bible, it is not the main intent. The main point is to tell the Gospel story and declare what God is like.

Its my contention that when we tell people what to do, it doesn't actually get them to do anything. However, if we tell them what God is like, the Holy Spirit will excite them to do the things like read your Bible.

RWZero said...

Well I'm happy to see that some people are at least getting a few things right.

The church in the West can either die very angrily, or with a smile on its face. I advocate the smile.

Sincerely, a Millenial De-convert.