I subscribe to the e-newsletter of 9Marks ministry, a minsitry dedicated to seeing churches find biblical health. Mark Dever leads the ministry, and I am somewhat of a fan. The confessional, gospel-centered, nature of Dever and 9Marks are a needed balance to other influences in my life. They point me to the Scripture and the glory of God - I love that. Additionally, I really like the book "9 Marks of a Healthy Church." The cover design (to the right) looks a bit like a For Dummies book, but trust me it is not.
Anyway, I am not a 9Marks hater, so when I read a quote on their recent newsletter, which seemed a bit of an overreach, I wanted to say something about it.
In the article Plexiglas Preaching, The Devastating Consequences of a Watered-Down Message, Pastor John McArthur lists his 15 reasons against the sermon-light, theologically wimpy, non expositional teaching and how this is bad news for the church. For the most part, I found some of his assessments helpful. But, #7 gave me some pause. I'll explain why after reading it and hopefully reach a middle ground and a good place to stand:
7. It prevents the preacher from fully developing the mind of Christ. Pastors are supposed to be undershepherds of Christ. Too many modern preachers are so bent on understanding the culture that they develop the mind of the culture and not the mind of Christ. They start to think like the world, and not like the Savior. Frankly, the nuances of worldly culture are virtually irrelevant to me. I want to know the mind of Christ and bring that to bear on the culture, no matter what culture I may be ministering to. If I’m going to stand up in a pulpit and be a representative of Jesus Christ, I want to know how He thinks—and that must be my message to His people too. The only way to know and proclaim the mind of Christ is by being faithful to study and preach His Word. What happens to preachers who obsess about cultural "relevancy" is that they become worldly, not godly.
John McArthur, Plexiglas Preaching, The Devastating Consequences of a Watered-Down Message, 9 Marks Minsitry Web Site - available at www.9marks.org, Accessed July 27, 2006. Emphasis added.
Here is the rub. Obviously if the pastor is too concerned about culture at the neglect of the word, then he is amis and is perhaps ready to be taken captive by the world. Point taken. Yet, if the preacher learns deeply the Bible, seeks in Scripture the mind of Christ, teaches the Bible expositionally, etc. and knows nothing of the people he is trying to reach, or equip the church to reach, the result is, let me say, NOT GOOD. For instance, everyone agrees that we should preach in the language of the people - in doing so, care is taken to use words, grammar, and sentences recognizable by the people. In preaching, the pastor must choose idiom, illustrations, etc as he expounds God's Word and makes the meaning known to the people. To not know the stories of a culture, the questions of a culture, the art of the culture, the things that make a people tick, or ticks a people off, is to not be able to bring the Word to bear on THAT people in THIS time. Everyone knows this must be the case.
So I take this quote as a corrective to the over immersed cultural Christian who is worldly, who does not know his Bible, who does not study to seek the mind of Christ in Scripture. But if some people take this exhortation to mean "ignore the culture" and just read your Greek Bible, I fear the results will be some pretty terrible preaching that does not connect the mind of Christ, the teaching of the Word, with the people sitting/standing in front of the preacher. I think the nature of McArthur's language - Frankly, the nuances of worldly culture are virtually irrelevant to me, will lead some down this path. In doing so, he is helping someone remain blind to his own culture, and perhaps putting a stumbling block before someone's preaching. Culture is not all powerful, nor all determining; God is. Yet if our goal is to have "worldly culture to be virtually irrelevant to us," I think this is an egregious mistake and we will grow more and more impotent to connect the unchanging word to the changing peoples and cultures everywhere in the world.
Paul's example in Acts shows us he did not eliminate the message to any audience, but rather he choose different modes and ways of communicating the same message. Whether speaking to the Jewish people of the synagogue, the common man of Lystra, or the intellectual on Mars Hill, his message is strong and consistent. The death, burial, and resurection of Jesus - and a call to repentence...the way he brought this message was different, and this is recorded in the Bible. So when we communicate to someone today, I think we ought know something about them...in other words, we better know their culture and yet we better not be captured by it.
Our consciences are chained to the Word of God and we become all things to all men for the sake of the same Word. This is a hard path to find and maintain. May God help his people be faithful to both callings - into and out from the world.
If you have not subscribed to the 9 Marks Newsletter, you can do so here. As I said, I am somewhat of a fan.