“Great sermon pastor, but…”

We have experienced in the American church a shift to either one of two dangerous poles in discipleship. The first shift is the acquisition of more knowledge that results in an amputated application of the knowledge to our daily lives. For instance, it adds nothing to the kingdom of Jesus to have all the blanks and contemplated journal entries filled out in your Share Jesus without Fear workbook if you never share the gospel with anyone. We have settled for a brand of Christianity in the West that makes us more knowledgeable regarding our own morality, but less likely to actually apply that morality to our daily behavior. The second shift is at the opposite end of the spectrum, a growing complacency with respect to biblical literacy.

The first church that I served had a tradition that after the service, the pastor would stand in the back of the sanctuary to greet people as they departed. For the most part, the comments I received were warm, encouraging to my heart as a young minister. But, on rare occasions, a comment was levied that would make anyone raise an eyebrow in confusion. I recall one particular Sunday where I stood greeting people after preaching a series on 1 and 2 Peter. A church member paused, smiled, shook my hand and said, “Great sermon pastor, but…” That one little word has the ability to immediately cause a pastor’s stomach to do somersaults. My body stiffened for the hand grenade of criticism he was about to launch at me.

The full text of his comment was, “Great sermon pastor, but when are you going to preach on the words of Jesus?” I must have paused long enough or had a look of confusion on my face because he felt it then necessary to clarify his question. He quipped, “You know? The words of Jesus in the Bible. The words in red.” Bless his heart. By the way, anytime you hear the phrase “bless his heart,” you know that nothing good is about to follow. The response that I intended to say was, “Well, technically they are all his words.” But, I bit my tongue and reminded him that we were beginning a series on the Gospel of Mark soon. Biblical illiteracy is dangerous and it is growing more prevalent in our churches.

I use these two shifts in discipleship to illustrate my point about the infection of postmodernism within the Western church. Postmodernism’s expectation for the rejection of objective truth fits the paradigm of discipleship that essentially says in its praxiology, “I can know a lot about a subject, but I dare not apply it lest it make me stand out among the crowd.” On the other hand, postmodernism’s production of a less competent society has resulted in a complacency for intellectual pursuit in the church. The rejection of objective truth and a less competent populace has produced in the church individuals who either sever their knowledge from their behavior or they shun knowledge for their behavior. Unfortunately, both of these postmodern tendencies in discipleship end up in the same place, immorality.

When did we cease, as a church, to not only think deeply about our faith, but also to practice deeply our faith? The answer might be found in the push towards a personal relationship with Jesus preached and taught in the Western church over the last sixty years. It is true to say that Jesus does have a personal relationship with each one of his children, but it is a stretch to say that when Jesus was on the cross, he was thinking about me above anyone else. The horror of the cross must never be reduced to an individualistic event. He gave his life as a ransom for many. The reductionist nature of such thinking fits well with a Western conscience, but it does not accurately reflect the biblical narrative or the theology which arises from it.