Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pharisees with Fauxhawks

Last night on the way home from small group I listened to the guy on the local Christian radio station give a ten-minute presentation of what he learned in church the previous day. It boiled down to an appeal to make Jesus our "role model." (Yes, using those words.)

There is no better role model than Jesus. You won't find me arguing against that to anyone. And wanting Jesus for his benefits but not for his cross is a serious problem in Christianity.
But there was zero gospel content in this presentation. It could've been delivered by the Dalai Lama. Richard Gere thinks Jesus is an awesome role model. The world thinks Jesus is a good role model, and in fact, most of them wish Christians acted more like Jesus (or at least, more like their perception of Jesus).

"Jesus as role model" is not the gospel. At one point in his spiel, the radio dude hat-tipped self-help books and advice columns, saying "We read all those things, but we never think to go to the Bible for God's advice!"
As if the alternative to advice from the world is more advice, albeit from the Bible.

The gospel is not advice.

This is yet another example of something I've been harping on in my last two years of writing: just because you dress casual, play rock music, and talk a lot about grace, doesn't mean you aren't a legalist. And in fact, the self-professed "culturally relevant" churches today are the chief proponents of legalism in Christianity. They don't think they are, because they equate legalism with fundamentalism, with rigidity and dourness, with suits and ties and organ-led hymns. They equate legalism with "don't"s.

"Do" isn't any less legalistic than "don't."
"Do"s and "don't"s are just flip-sides of the same coin. The gospel isn't "do" any more than it is "don't"; both are merely religion.

And a Church that is mobilized with a gospel of "do good" might make for good p.r. for our churches, but the gospel of "do good" cannot really scandalize a lost and broken world, because most people know how to do good without the help of Christianity. They don't need the Church to be "good people."

And so the hip church believes it is railing against legalism and oferring grace because it creates culturally relevant, casual, innovative environments, because it makes the message of the Bible one of practical stuff to do, because it is cheerful, because it takes WWJD? seriously, and all the while they still don't know the power of the gospel of Christ's finished work, sufficient for salvation and fit for proclamation.
Instead we get the gospel of busywork.

Should we do good? Absolutely! Hearers of the word who don't "do" are only fooling themselves and have not the Spirit within them.
But if the gist and bulk of our proclamation is "do," we aren't preaching the gospel, which Scripture also calls us to do.

Remember that the Pharisees were the religious leaders who missed the gospel because of their focus on do's and don'ts. Pharisaical legalism was just self-help without good p.r.
This is why today's Pharisees aren't the concerned folks in the pews worried about their discipleship (as they are so often accused), but rather the preacher on the stage whose message is always helpful tips on how to get better at being a Christian.

We are eager to hand over our sin to God; we are ever reluctant to put our righteousness on the altar.

Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works.
-– Robert Farrar Capon

Oh, for a recovery of the glory of the gospel!

The Weird Modern Desire for Legalism (and How Some People Don't Even Know they Have It)


Taylor McRae said...

Amen a thousand times over! As good as it may seem that ALL know Jesus, it doesn't really seem that anyone truly understands WHO He was and is.

I know it's simple, but we MUST ask ourselves WHY God should be the absolute center of our lives. This, it seems, is the only way we will reach a broken world.

As always, thank you for writing with conviction. :-)

Anonymous said...


I needed to read this. As a new deacon, I constantly see myself fall into this trap. It's so easy to disconnect good works from the Gospel and do them for the sake of good works. Gospel must be tied at the hip to our works. Thanks for sharing.


Randi Jo :) said...

"We are eager to hand over our sin to God; we are ever reluctant to put our righteousness on the altar."

phew. that's awesome right there.

there's just sooo much to each of your posts. I just leave a little dumb-founded. like... ok what to do with this. what does it look like today to truly be the church GOd wants us to.

I always leave these posts just running to God like ohh yeah what He said God - teach me what He said. because I know it's true... it's like my intuition (spirit) knows these are true --- but my rational/brain hasn't caught up yet. come on brain catch up!

I want your book asap! :)

thanks jared. awesome stuff

p.s. sometimes I wish when I'm listening to things I could just know what your response to them would be. Ex: we listened to this new "drive-in" series northpoint/andy stanley is doing... and some of the stuff he says I just know I don't agree with... but not mature/knowledgeable enough to know why.

anyway.... just rambling.

Anonymous said...

This is good stuff!
I believe that Jesus did leave us some commandments, did't he? I believe that one of them was to count the cost of following him up front because the journey would be difficult. I don't hear that preached in churches today. Don't store up stuff.... That's not preached either. Go the extra mile and give more than you're asked and carry a cross. Wow! If that were only preached much today either.

Martin said...


What's needed is for someone to deconstruct and expose the legalism inherent in typical self-help preaching in a way that exposes the idols that it seeks to satisfy, similar to the way Keller has done this for the more fundamental/elder brother types. Keller typically contrasts elder/younger brother types and speaks of how elder brother types can be found in the church but, to my knowledge, he has not specifically talked about how much of what happens in non-conservative/fundamental churches is effectively targetting younger brother types in church and giving them a more liberal form of legalism (i.e. good advice rather than a list of "don'ts" as you say).
(very) Tentative example:
elder brother types get meaning/identity from their conformance to the rules; younger brother types get meaning/identity from having a good time - hence much of what happens in services is done because its exciting.

Am I on the right lines?

Jared said...

Martin, I think so.

What I think this problem needs is someone big within the machine to have his eyes opened and start speaking out about this.

Some of us thought that could've happened at Willow with the REVEAL thing. And some of us thought that would happen with Sally Morgenthaler's bombshell revisiting of the worship evangelism phenomenon in Allelon last year. But neither raised an eyebrow.

Matt Chandler speaking at Catalyst is a good start.
But it's got to be guys already doing this sort of stuff, teaching this sort of way who suddenly about face and become loving, humble, but stern prophets to their brothers. Guys from the outside don't get listened to very well. For all their innovation and cultural relevancy, the attractional/new legalist crowd is very insulated, closed-minded, and non-reflective.

I know, b/c I was there for 12 years. And I know now b/c guys like me are pretty much preaching to other pastors like me, or to the disillusioned folks in the attractional pews.

Something's gotta bubble up in the "fauxhawk pharisees" tribe from the leadership class.

Martin said...

All that will do little good, if Christ is not held up as Saviour rather than good example. Without the gospel proclaimed as the only motivation it just becomes more stuff we must do motivated by fear and/or pride. Unless the gospel is clearly proclaimed non-believers will just thing we're calling them to (sacrificially) hard work. Conservative/reformed churches struggle to grow because that's all they're preceived to be saying. Charismatic types of churches appear to be growing, partly through the restlessness and church-swapping of those they attract, and partly because they are seen not to offer rules to obey but rather good experience / good advice to those who would otherwise follow Oprah.

Jared said...

All that will do little good, if Christ is not held up as Saviour rather than good example.

Martin, how often do you read my blog?
This is pretty much all I talk about. And it is the point of this post.

All I meant in my previous comment was that for these guys to start preaching the gospel of Christ's finished work, one guy (or a few) have to have a change of heart and start doing it and become encouragers of their brothers to do it.

The rest of your comment I obviously agree with. Again, it is a huge part of the point of my site and is something I write about on almost a daily basis.

Martin said...

Thanks Jared. I'm in the UK so I know less about the folks you mention but I think you're right. I think there's a blindness to their idols. I recently listened to a recording on leading worship in small churches by Pat Szebel, a Sovereign Grace pastor who said he went from leading worship in a large attractional church to planting a small sovereign grace type church and the attractional folks thought he was mad to jack-in a promising 'career'.

Martin said...

Jared, my comment about holding Christ up was directed to JERALD not JARED (admittedly very similar) - hope that clears that up! :-)

Jared said...


Yes, I know guys who think about leaving the Bible Belt to plant churches who are warned about "ruining their careers." It's ridiculous.
And just proves how sick evangelicalism is.

Jared said...

directed to JERALD not JARED

Ack! Totally missed that Jerald commented.

My apologies, Martin. I just assumed you'd gotten my name wrong. Mea culpa.

Randi Jo :) said...

So Jared... let me play d's advocate for a second. When you say,

"And so the hip church believes it is railing against legalism and oferring grace because it creates culturally relevant, casual, innovative environments, because it makes the message of the Bible one of practical stuff to do, because it is cheerful, because it takes WWJD? seriously, and all the while they still don't know the power of the gospel of Christ's finished work, sufficient for salvation and fit for proclamation.
Instead we get the gospel of busywork."

what's wrong is the way they apply it? Not the way they do it right?

I just wish I could see an example of what "they" are doing wrong or what is being preaching wrong and how they are *not* preaching the gospel and instead a works related untruth...... because I'm sure it's not so blatant - or I would have seen it. or maybe it's just that I'm not wise/discerning enough to catch it all.

I mean... when I listen to things like this new "drive in" series by andy stanley that he made for church leaders... about creating churches that desire to be outsider-focused....and creating appropriate environments that are engaging, etc...

it all sounds like it makes sense to me. I believe his heart is in the right place. Well - I can't really judge that....but I don't automatically assume his heart is in the wrong place... because I THINK that he has helped many a lukewarm christian takes steps in devotion & relationship with Christ... even if he's not attracting unchurched as he desires.. it appears they have been able to create enviroments for true community to occur. and discipleship to happen.... but I truly have no clue or not, I wouldn't know how to judge that.

BUT my point is... the questions he asks to church leaders when looking at their church model/how they do church... he asks, is the context appealing? is the presentation engaging? is the content helpful? ....

I don't think those are 'wrong' questions to ask.... but I don't know.

he backs those questions up with.... a) the way Jesus did things. He told stories to make it engaging and He was very engaging... b) life application like Paul's letters to the different churches - relevant to the questions they were asking - to make it 'helpful'

So I guess what I'm asking is... it's not inherently wrong to be engaging, practical... I get what he's saying about creating right environments.... but maybe what is wrong is believing that the Spirit can only move in x,y,z places??

and of course it's wrong when the truth is ever sacrificed... but he kept saying throughout those videos that obviously the content must be truthful - we're past that... that the content is truthful - now we have to figure out how to make it helpful to people's lives.

so I don't know... I guess maybe I just need to hear you preach so I can figure out the differences in the message :)

I mean, is there a way to meet in the middle? Is there a way to use the observations his team has found...but never lose sight of the gospel?

*sigh* I don't know... I'm just lost because I can honestly say I have never seen it flesh out the way so many of "you" describe it should be and could be...

when you say:

"culturally relevant, casual, innovative environments, because it makes the message of the Bible one of practical stuff to do, because it is cheerful, because it takes WWJD? seriously..."

you aren't saying that practical teaching is wrong?

I assume that when you teach, you are engaging and you do give practical, helpful "to do" things, don't you?

A. Stanley argues there is a 'model' for spiritual growth. he is big on saying they don't have structures... but that they create environments. and He says God builds faith in 5 ways.. and they help create environemnts based on these 5.... a)practical obedience I think he calls it... when you do something the scripture says to do and God blesses that. b) providential relationships c) personal service -- how Jesus put his followers into situations to serve others - in situations they were ill equipped for which increased their dependence on Him d) pivotal experiences - good or bad. e) private disciplines - memory verse cards, devotions, whatever

soooo my point is --- what in the world does discipleship look like? what does "gospel driven" preaching sound like?

and is there a middle ground? between the people that rail against relevance vs. people who rail against the people who rail against relevance? :)

what do you believe north point is doing right with their models/ideas? if anything? or do you even know anything about them?

SOOOOO I don't know where I'm going.... maybe you'll be able to figure out what I'm rambling about though even though I can't.

Maybe there's some labels for these different "types" that I don't know that would make it easier to describe.

because maybe a church that from the outside just appears to be all about relevant... is truly preaching the gospel too?

well anyway.. totally don't feel obligated to respond.. I'm just trying to sort all of this out in my head and I'm not getting anywhere.

THANKS for your teachings!!! :)

Jared said...

I love Stanley. I don't preach the way he does, and I'm not sold that his method is the best, but I've profited from his teaching.

I am on record as saying that being boring when preaching the gospel is a sin. :-)
So, yes, I am a fan of engaging, passionate speaking.

what's wrong is the way they apply it? Not the way they do it right?

What I'm saying is that when your message is consistently and thoroughly "Jesus said do this, so do this" and not "Jesus did this, so the work is done," we create a discipleship culture that is active in doing good but not awake to the gospel. And that combination leads to burnout.

And it doesn't set us apart. Angelina Jolie and her army of adoptees are saving the world too. She's not doing it in Jesus' name, but I'm sure she'd credit Jesus as a role model. When you subtract the articulated gospel, there's no difference really. It's all religion.

you aren't saying that practical teaching is wrong?

I'm saying that our focus should be the gospel. Jesus should be the hero of our preaching. And when it is all practical tips and little to no gospel, it is actually anti-gospel, even if we're using Scripture for our do's and don'ts.

Before we left our last church, we would go months without hearing much of anything about Jesus in the sermon. Lots of inspiration, lots of practical tips, stories and illustrations and special songs and skits and videos and big props on the stage. Very edgy, very innovative, very appealing.

And it was sucking my soul dry b/c I could get all that stuff with Oprah and a concert DVD. I needed Jesus and the gospel.

And the data is proving that all these churches doing the same stuff for the last 15 years are not producing mature disciples. Willow Creek basically invented the engaging, appealing, dynamic message full of practical tips on Christianity. And they discovered last year they weren't creating mature disciples. Oops.

Sally Morgenthaler, one of the leaders in the original 'worship evangelism' movement, cited and loved by all these churches, revealed last year that she's changed her mind b/c the research has shown that while megachurches have gotten bigger, the number of the unchurched has actually doubled.
So all this talk about this stuff saving seekers is wrong. It's not happening. In fact, what they've found is that these churches basically just switch around consumeristic Christians every 4 years or so.

I assume that when you teach, you are engaging and you do give practical, helpful "to do" things, don't you?

You can take a look at the notes from my last message at Element to see that I include practical aspects:

But you can go this old post to find out why I purposefully downplay application in my teaching:

what does "gospel driven" preaching sound like?

Matt Chandler, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever, Tim Keller, Thabiti Anyabwile, Ray Ortlund, and lots of others.

Different styles, different contexts, different personalities. But all are great examples of gospel driven preaching.

Randi Jo :) said...

THANK YOU!! :) I def. get what you're saying. I will look up those preachers.

ohhh pastor Jared you are so extremely serving to pour into us like you have, thank you!

I'm pumped that you have your notes on the element blog - I didn't notice that before.

Anonymous said...

Gotta steal from the best, who in turn steal from the best....

“The great gospel imperatives to holiness are ever rooted in indicatives of grace that are able to sustain the weight of [Scripture's] imperatives. The Apostles do not make the mistake that’s often made [by Christians]. [For the Apostles] the indicatives are more powerful than the imperatives in gospel preaching. So often in our [personal study of Scripture our grasp of Scripture's] indicatives are not strong enough, great enough, holy enough, or gracious enough to sustain the power of the imperatives. And so our [attempt to apply Scripture's imperatives] becomes a whip or a rod to beat our [own] backs because we’ve looked at the New Testament and that’s all we have seen. We’ve seen our own failure, and we’ve seen the imperatives to holiness, and we’ve lost sight of the great indicatives of the gospel that sustain those imperatives” (adapted from Sinclair’s sermon at 2007 Banner of Truth conference).


Randi Jo :) said...

That was awesome... but a bit over my head.

I think I msised some of it because of either the language or my stupid-ness.

Can anybody translate it into Randi english?


Jared said...

Randi, try replacing "imperatives" with "things we're supposed to do" and "indicatives" with "things Christ has already done," and see if it makes it clearer.

The first statement would then read something like: "The great gospel commands of things for us to do are ever rooted in the announcements of what Christ has already done that sustains the weight of the commands to us."

The announcements are more powerful than the commands, etc.

Does it help?

Randi Jo :) said...

yes much better!!! thank you! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the rewording on that, Jared. Sometimes, Sinclair Fergurson needs a little 'splainin.

Anonymous said...

one can try to
do things one thinks are good, and
try and be how one thinks Jesus was.

one must
believe in Jesus Christ to be in His Love, and so
being led by God by His Spirit.

the dos and do nots of man are just that. of man.

there is no map, there is a living relationship for us to be in.

it is interesting how one can not really list exact rules of how to follow the Holy Spirit. just as the monarch butterflies know where to return, we know the voice of God when we believe in the Son Jesus.

i know, there have been people that do crazy things because they have said that God told them to do it. that is why we must test the spirits.

so, how does one test the spirits?

Jared said...

Nancy, 1 John 4 seems to offer two ways to test the spirits:

1. Do they affirm the Incarnation? (Jesus is from God and came in the flesh).

2. Do they listen to "us" (by which I think John means the apostles)? This is a Scriptural test.

If the spirit denies Christ and/or is not in conformity with Scriptural teaching, it is the spirit of antichrist.

Anonymous said...

thanks, jared.
i appreciate you leaving an answer to my question.