Making the Religious People Angry
I just received The Prodigal God by Tim Keller in the mail today. Tim has not written too many published books and when we get one, it is a gem. This one is no exception. Tim is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Reason for God. Newsweek called Tim Keller a "C. S. Lewis for the twenty-first century."
Tim is the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City and is actively involved in missional church planting in the major urban areas of the world. We co-hosted a conference on urban church planting with Redeemer last April. Tim is respected as a missiologist among young church planters, particularly the young, reformed, theologically astute planters in the city.
Tim succinctly addressed the problems of the contemporary church in his newest book.
"Jesus' teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders [that] Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren't appealing to younger brothers [irreligious], they must be more full of elder brothers [religious] than we'd like to think."
I love the phrase, "If the preaching of our ministers... [does] not have the same effect on people that Jesus had [they wanted to kill him], then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did."
The issue that our contemporary churches face is a strong gravitational pull toward religion and morality and away from the mission of the lost, irreligious people that we are called to proclaim the gospel. Sermons are typically full of Christianese and religious platitudes. Have you ever heard someone try to explain the sport of Cricket to an American? It all sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher, "Whaa, whaa wicket, whaa." Our sermons have the same lack of comprehension to the irreligious attendees in our church when we preach only to the conservative, buttoned down, moralistic people that make our churches a safe, peaceful place.
If our preaching does not offend the religious people, we may need to recognize that we do not really want irreligious people in our church by the way we are preaching to the safe crowd that is more likely to give an offering each week.
Mark Driscoll often says that in our sermons we need to ask the irreligious to repent of their sin and we need to ask the religious to repent of their religion. It all starts with the message of Jesus-the one that makes religious people angry.