Note from CM: This is a really old Michael Spencer reflection, but one with which I identify more and more each day. It talks about the kind of craziness that is simply taken for granted in religious subcultures (in this case, the world of Christian evangelicalism/fundamentalism). Many have lived in this bubble for so long and have been formed to think and talk in certain ways that we simply can’t imagine anyone would question our jargon and persuasive techniques. I think it’s one reason why Bonhoeffer eventually said he felt more comfortable with the religionless than with the saints.
Even if you are not from this subculture, Michael’s words stand as a warning to us all. Don’t just assume that your little world is the be all and end all, and don’t expect others to understand if you don’t work at listening first, then speaking.
• • •
Monday with Michael Spencer
Today I listened to the preacher in chapel. Really, really closely for a change.
It probably wasn’t a good idea. See, God is giving me a gift. I’m starting to hear sermons like non-Christians hear them. I’m starting to feel what they feel, and it’s disconcerting.
It’s scary. Some of my Christian friends won’t like this, but that may be a good sign.
The first thing I noticed was the insulting approach tactics. The speaker had an object lesson, and took quite a while to work through the object lesson. In someone’s universe, people being forced to listen to a talk will have their minds pried open by these kinds of illustrations. You supposedly totally put aside that you are in church, that you are going to be evangelized, and you just think about the box of donuts or the picture of the puppy, or whatever. Then, while your mind is relaxed….bang! The real point comes flying out of the blue and jumps into your open mind.
This is cool. No…this is stupid. Anyone who is taken in by this sort of thing shouldn’t be subjected to religious appeals anyway. It’s unethical. But this is the way we approach unbelievers that we want to listen to us. We goof with them, and treat them like they have no idea what’s up.
Then it’s assumed we need Jesus. If you don’t know who Jesus is, you are lost right now. But assuming you know what Mel Gibson’s movie was about, you get at least something of what’s going to be the main issue of the evening. The speaker say that you need Jesus more than he says anything else. Over and over. We need Jesus. If you are awake to what’s going on, you know that it’s likely to prove true that anything and everything will be said until you finally admit you need Jesus. Does this seem like trying to get you to “break?” Yes.
There is, behind this appeal, a kind of crass sales pitch that really can make you angry. It’s like being told by the guy in your living room that you need a vacuum cleaner or Tupperware. You can’t help but feel that your “need” is really about this guy’s need to be right, or to make the sale. What you “need” is hardly his business, especially standing up there without really knowing you at all.
It must be insulting to constantly be told you need Jesus by someone who doesn’t know you. Even if you DO need Jesus, how about getting to know me at least as well as a telemarketer? You may even hear this guy say Jesus loves you and Christians love you….because they are telling you you need Jesus.
Gee thanks. I feel warm all over.
Of course, we have the Bible. The Bible is read, and quoted, with authority. It’s the bottom line, the final word on everything. It is the proof that this guy is right and everyone else is wrong. The fact that he isn’t explaining why the magic book is right, and your experiences and thoughts are wrong doesn’t seem to be on the agenda. You need to do more than accept Jesus. You need to accept the way this guy reads the Bible.
A preacher earlier in the week said he believed the Bible was true because it was controversial. Other people say it is just obviously from God. (Explain that please.) Or it’s full of proof by way of prophecies. Or the change in lives proves it. Or the sheer number of Bible-toting Christians proves it.
Is anyone else bored? This preacher was no better or worse than thousands of others: the appeal to authority was everywhere, and you are simply SUPPOSED TO ACCEPT IT. If you don’t, that’s proof you are on your way to hell. If you are going to heaven, you buy this without serious questions.
The content of the message? I have to admit, listening to it as an unbeliever might, it was so irrelevant I can’t imagine why anyone would listen. It would make sense to Christians, but to anyone else? Would anyone else ever start to find it interesting or worth believing? It was just a way to spend time yacking. Logic, reality, honesty. Not on the radar screen. We’re talking about filler for the weakened mind, and nothing for the serious thinker or seeker.
The real point is always the same: You need to accept Jesus. You need to accept Jesus. Whatever the heck that means. Best I can tell, you tell the preacher that you accept Jesus, and they say you accept Jesus, and from then on you get to tell people that you accepted Jesus. Say some religious things, do some religious things and join the Jesus team. Be one of the bunch that is sitting there nodding.
Perhaps nothing stands out as much as the total submersion of every word and action in the sticky-sweet, sappy overtones of being RIGHT and “You better listen to the guy who is right.” Christians live in this so much they can’t see it. They make absurd, ridiculous, bizarre, almost insane, fairy-tale statements as if they are run of the mill.
“Now when Jesus spoke to the Apostle John…”
Well, we’re not even stopping. That’s baby stuff. Have a miracle. Or some answered prayer. Or an incredible story. Or a Biblical example. Or a “can’t fail principle.” Or a talking snake, fallen angel or vision of heaven. These people have the book, they read it right, and they have the answers. They know what you need, and what everyone around the world needs. They will do the talking, and if you are smart, you’ll accept Jesus.
Is this the way it sounds most of the time? Are we really so insulated from real communication that we don’t realize how we come off?
116 thoughts on “Monday with Michael Spencer: How We Sound to Those Who Don’t Believe”
It’s not a pastors role to save people. It’s the Holy Spirit role. A pastor should be spiritually inspired to teach, inspire and maybe convict. After that it’s up to the Lord. It’s not about entertainment, or idolizing the pastor .Its simply should be about doing life together under Christ. I feel this article is a subset of a consumer reviewing a product sell. It sounds funny on the surface but it’s really pathetic. The truth is it doesn’t matter what unbelievers think because only God knows their hearts. So to make a snarky article peddling sermons that sound stupid doesn’t come across as insightful but comes across sad and stuck in his own little world.
Frankly, I can’t stand megachurches and preachers who believe they are bigger than God but if you read scripture you should already know these things will be apparent during the last days.
Thanks for the insightful reporting on the hypocrisy. Boy, you got a leg up on us. So honest…not!
Amway is DEFINITELY still around, and apparently doing very well.
That Trump in 2020 campaign kickoff earlier this week (20,000 in attendance) was held in AMWAY STADIUM, Orlando, Florida.
Problem is these days, that’s a FEATURE (not Bug) in the Evangelical Wilderness.
–> “…when he interrupted and said, ‘What’s my name?’”
Gotta remember that one.
GREAT comeback line.
Really makes the point.
Sell That Fire Insurance!
(And your sales record is all that determines your place in Heaven; the more Souls (not people) notched on your Bible, the higher your position.)
I noticed the “stupid Christian tricks” keyword and did a search on it.
We haven’t had a “stupid Christian tricks” post for eight years, and I’m sure there have been a lot of STCs between now and then. So let’s see some more!
people often gravitate towards that which they can understand,
but the thing about Christianity is its mystery of how little ones will understand what wise men cannot, and how it is that the mercy of God is stronger than His justice,
but some people need to have a religion with all the answers and where ‘those other sinners’ go to hell and the idea of God’s mercy is not something that fits into such a religion
does personality determine denomination? It may have something to do with it, yes
‘mystery’ is not something with which Western Christians are as comfortable as are the Eastern Christians;
Western Christianity is more comfortable with ‘reason’ than ‘the sacred’
basic modern ‘fundamentalism’ in the USA offers ‘answers’ in a straight-forward manner to its followers, but having all the answers may not be the same as connecting with the Holy One,
in which case, there is still hope for the poor fundamentalist, this:
“25But if we hope for what we do not yet see, we wait for it patiently. 26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. 27And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8)
More like “I’M RIGHT! YOU’RE WRONG! SEE? SEE? SEE? HAW! HAW! HAW!”
Like that Christianese-specific Fringe Archaeology, The Search for Noah’s Ark. i.e. Finding hard physical evidence that YEC (and thus the Bible) are word-for-word true and rubbing it in the face of Heathen Science-so-called.
maybe He saw something in the freaks and the losers that was God-like: humility
this is true that today’s ‘fundamentalist’ in the United States is a very modern phenomenon
contrast the way today’s ‘fundamentalism’ treats women with this ancient letter written by an early Christian to his wife:
“From a letter by Tertullian, an Early Church Father, to his wife, ca. 202 A.D.
” How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice.
They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in Spirit. They are in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit.
They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another.
Side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another, they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts… Psalms and hymns they sing to one another.
Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present, and where He is, there evil is not.”
This doesn’t sound at all like modern ‘fundamentalism’ does it? The early Church was very different from today’s ‘ far-right Christians’
Show of hands…
How many have been suckered into attending an Amway sales pitch by a “friend”?
My hand goes up.
Yes. That has to be the post of the day. Excellent!!!
Probably still around but with a lower profile.
But the Legend Lives On (from the Chippewa on down?)
Word of Calvin masquerading as Word of God?
I have experience that “Turn or Burn” has long-term NEGATIVE side effects.
I’ve actually seen that. In Campus Crusade, Cal Poly Pomona, late Seventies.
There was a Billy Graham Crusade in town, at Anaheim Stadium over at the other end of Brea Canyon. CCC/Cru announced this with an appeal to “Bring your Unsaved friends to the Crusade (and Get Them Saved)”.
“OH NO I ONLY HAVE THREE WEEKS TO MAKE FIRENDS WITH SOME HEATHENS SO I CAN TAKE THEM TO THE CRUSADE! WHAT DO I DO? WHAT DO I DO?”
I kept thinking (and was smart enough not to say out loud) that if they did and the “Heathen Friend” found out, he’d be justified in gunning for them.
What Bill Bright called “Multiplying Ministry” — sheep whose only purpose is to save more sheep whose only purpose is to save more sheep whose only purpose is…
And resemblance to a pyramid/ponzi/MLM scheme is NOT coincidental.
Just in Christianese, SOULS (not people) are the currency of Heaven.
I keep remembering that Rabbi from Nazareth snubbed the Righteous God Squad types to hang out with freaks and losers like the rest of us. Sometimes that’s all I can cling to.
Holy Nincompoop Syndrome.
If you’re any sort of thinker or have a thirst for knowledge, you DON’T want to be anywhere near them.
But the Christian reaction always seems to be “Double Down AND SCREAM LOUDER! LOUDER! LOUDER!”
“When all you have is answers people stop asking questions.”
I think I need to put that on a t-shirt.
Yes, yes. Thank you, Greg!
Amen. That’s as correct today as it was the day Michael Spencer wrote it. Christians of all stripes could do with a lot more “Show. Don’t tell.”
I didn’t mean (necessarily) literally in terms of cash, but in terms of “paying” time, commitment and faith: you “pay” your time, faith and commitment to the church, and all you are “paying” for is he opportunity to con others into joining too, without there being any a actual “product”.
Is Amway a thing anymore?
“Is my friend’s salvation going to be determined by what I say or don’t say? No!”
no act of kindness is too small in the Kingdom of Our Lord, the impact will always be a major event in the Cosmos that someone was kind to another and showed caring for them;
but you are right, your friend’s salvation is in the Hands of the Good Lord Who made him and sustains him in this life and will some day receive him in ‘ the world to come ‘
but that you cared to help him ? an act of mercy, of kindness, yes. and the ripples from this are felt in eternity, you bet
Instead of sacred tradition, senecagriggs has John Tors (whoever that is).
–> “The current buzz phrases all seem to center on putting the manliness back in the church…”
oh goody, so now ‘they’ are going to start treating the women like human beings instead of servants and slaves? I’ll believe it when I see it
Does this include “Sanctified Testosterone” and other attributes of the Cult of Priapus?
From several of the Spiritual Abuse Watchblogs on the blog list, more like “putting Toxic Hyper-Masculinity back in the church”. “Manliness” defined as Domination and Aggression.
I once had a pastor who offered a money-back guarantee that tithing would make your prosperous and happy (in a Baptist church). If your income didn’t increase by more than you tithed he would give your tithe back to you. Nobody took him up on it but I have thought about looking him up several times since my income is less than what it was back then. Yep, money-back guarantee, from the pulpit.
To me the greatest proof that the Bible really is the Word of God is that it that it is *not* any of the things those Bible “salesmen” say it is. The Bible is complex, contradictory, opaque, difficult to interpret, and layered so densely that different people reading the same text may come to very different conclusions. Every time we try to turn it into an answer-book or a collection of proof-texts it wriggles out of our hands or twists around and bites us. That’s bad news if you’re trying to sell people a band-aid fix for shame or insecurity, but great news if what we’re offering is the adventure of discovering a mysterious and inscrutable and transcendent God.
–> ““Turn or Burn” may not appeal to you or me personally as something to say to a rejector of God’s call, but God can use – even that. He is not limited by the inadequacy of His saints.”
I do agree with that statement. God can work amazing things through broken pots like you and I.
–> “Is my friend’s salvation going to be determined by what I say or don’t say? No! Is God giving me the opportunity to share what I believe? Yes. I like my friend; I would hope he would turn towards the Living God.”
I hear what you’re saying. I’ve got a similar situation with a guy I’ve known a long time. Agnostic. His bookshelves are loaded with religious and spiritual books that run the gamut from Eastern religions, karma, New Age, etc etc. He’s clearly a searcher/seeker. The only times I’ve “witnessed” have been when: 1) I prayed to God before meeting him that God would have the topic come up organically; and 2) My friend then brought up the subject.
One day God told me that I needn’t tell him any more other than this simple statement: “Tell him that if God exists, He wants to have a relationship with you.”
In other words, God said, “Let me prove it to him. You can now relax.”
I eventually was able to tell my friend this, and he appreciated the fact that it was a statement that was “testable.”
Has God shown up? I don’t think He has… not yet.
so, instead of going to seminary, a fundamentalist-evangelical preacher might get training for selling Amway, and just switch a few words around and that’s the sales pitch?
pressure sales ‘your time is running out to catch this deal’ – check
‘you need this NOW’ – check
‘guaranteed to work’ – check
and so forth . . . ad nauseum
. . . good grief, very depressing if this is true
–> “I have come to think it can’t be conveyed by argument, only by example.”
Yep. And to me the best expression of that is… Do I see the Gospel as Good News for myself? Is the hope I have in Jesus coming out in a way that is attractive to others?
Biblically speaking, the people who seemed to flock to Jesus with attentive ears and with ultimate joy were the sinners and tax collectors. The religious folk were so far from portraying God correctly that a whole chapter in Matthew is devoted to Jesus’ condemnation of their religiosity (Matthew 23).
–> “The current buzz phrases all seem to center on putting the manliness back in the church…”
Our church’s men’s group did a “study” last year of a book called “Man Up.” I did not enjoy it…LOL.
Great Example, ChrisS !!!
For years I worked in the non-profit sector but the past 5 or 6 years, have been working in the for-profit world. It has opened my eyes big time to the marketing bent of the church. Corporate marketing training urges us to always be ready to tell our company’s story at any time with the goal of more sales; on the golf course, when going to a concert with friends, etc. Isn’t this the same spiel I hear at church? Always be “on”, look for opportunities to share your church’s story no matter where you find yourself; on the golf course, at the mall, in the park with friends.
I listened to a podcast series a few months ago about Amway and other multi-level marketing companies and could not shake the feeling that I could insert “church” for almost any of these MLM groups and the podcast wouldnhave sounded the same.
No disrespect intended, but you ARE a modernist (evangelicalism is the step-child of modernism). You read the Bible like a modern person, with all the presuppositions of modernism (like foundationalism – absolute truth and certainty, something Paul’s original readers would have seen differently) not like an ancient person to whom it was actually written and for whom it had different meaning than it does to you today. You drag in all the baggage of modernity, as well as your church culture and religious traditions every time you read the Bible (we all do – some of us are just more aware of it than others) and disregard, or are ignorant of, the cultural world of Paul’s original readers. It might not hurt to actually try to gain some knowledge from someone who has spent their professional life studying ancient Greek, ancient culture, sociology, and ancient ways of arguing points (Campbell). It’s remotely possible he might have a better handle on Paul than you or me (well, me anyway).
That’s odd. I always thought you touted the innerrant Bible and scripture as the source of your belief, not a fallible human being.
Before people can be converted, two things have to happen:
1.They have to realize that they need to be saved. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job, to convict, and while he uses people, a lot more people think they can save him some work by jumping in where they think he’s not doing what they want.
And 2. The person(s) who bring them the good news have to have some credibility in the mind of the recipient. What sales-based evangelism does is damage that credibility when the evangelist relies more on their method than on the Holy Spirit. God in his grace does reach some with this method — but a lot of other people are ‘inoculated’ against faith. I watched my youth group ‘bludgeon’ a classmate with the gospel ‘for his own good’ and I lost any opportunity or credibility to share with him ever again.
I’m an Evangelical; not a modernist.
Oh my goodness, yes! There is a definite “Christianese” language that I think most Christians, especially evangelicals, do not even realize they are speaking. Phrases like “love on you”, “intentional living”, “serve an awesome God” the list is endless. And horrifically annoying to anyone on the outside. The current buzz phrases all seem to center on putting the manliness back in the church, as in Charleton Heston with the 10 Commandments manly. Sure. Right.
Although I still identify as Christian, I increasingly see myself bailing out of the whole thing, sooner rather than later.. More and more, “the faith” seems to be a product which is being marketed to unwitting people; more like a multi-level marketing scheme than an encounter with the divine. I wouldn’t want to buy.
I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard some bonehead preacher say ‘the only reason God didn’t take you to heaven the minute you got saved was so you could lead others to Jesus. That’s the only reason you’re here.’ Apart from the fact that one never finds anything close to that in the Bible, and that it makes God the great whip-cracking overseer, it leads to slavery not abundant life. Where is life in that?
I have started asking people ‘who do the biblical writers point to as an example of what a real Christian faith looks like?’ Aside from some stumbling, memory searching, and the occasional ‘Paul’ for an answer, most people don’t seem to have thought about it much. Most preachers point to Paul or Timothy or some martyr missionary. But the example most often pointed to in the Bible is Abraham. Both Paul and James point to him as a model of faith. Did Abraham ever ‘share his faith’? Did he ever preach a sermon (that we know of)? Did he read his Bible every day? Of course not – he was 2000 years too early for that. He was just an average guy living an average life for his day, and VERY much part of his culture and its values. He was not ‘on fire’, did not have a ‘extreme faith’, was not ‘fully surrendered’ or ‘sold out’ to Jesus. He was just a guy, and God liked him. Why don’t preachers point to that as the model of faith. It would take off a lot of the pressure to be ‘on fire’ and telling people about Jesus all the time.
I like your third ‘option’, Adam
it is said that the Holy Spirit points only to Christ, not to Himself
there seems to be no ‘ego’ problem in the Holy Trinity, only love
I would say that IF Christian people want others to know Christ, they can ‘point’ to Him. It does help if they do this by the example of their lives lived out in patience, kindness, love, longsuffering, etc. etc. . . . .
There IS something to that saying:
‘preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words’
when the local fundamentalist goes around the neighborhood threatening folks with hell ‘unless’, the neighbors look across the street and they see his poor wife, exhausted from the night shift at the hospital as a nurse, coming out to mow the lawn . . . I know this because we had an amateur ‘Reverend’ Bob in our neighborhood and his wife Elsa was a friend to us all and she was much put upon by this man who ‘lorded it’ over her in the worst way. She was so patient. So kind. A good mother. He was never satisfied with her subserviance, and we all saw this . . . . he was laid off from a job (we think because of proselytizing instead of doing his work) so Elsa supported the family and did the yardwork and the housework and cared for her daughters.
We heard. And we saw. And what we saw make us question Bob’s faith, and we learned more of Christianity from the example of his good wife than he ever showed any of us. We all loved Elsa. I have wondered if he did. ??
Yup. Not even close. That’s a summary of Reformation era systematic theology based on a misreading and misunderstanding of Paul’s argument in Romans. Read Douglas Campbell’s ‘The Deliverance of God’. Deconstructs ‘justification theory’ with devastating logic and exegesis.
What I think he means is that to appreciate (at least historically) Western culture one must have some familiarity with the Bible. We use catch-phrases from the Bible all the time, usually without explicitly connecting the narratives.
i remember taking English lit in college (and loved it). I thought often about how much (or little) someone with no familiarity with the Bible would get reading English authors, even people like Shelley or Byron (much less Milton). it’s full of biblical allusions and themes. It is (or was) part of our cultural literacy. Of course internet acronyms and social media self-announced celebrities are what passes for cultural literacy today (old guy rant).
Exactly. Perhaps because he didn’t put up so many barriers to keep them from coming to him.
Read Paul’s sermons to Gentiles in Acts. He never, NEVER, uses that line of argument.
Written by John Tors
“But how do you convey that path to an agnostic or atheist in non-religious terms?”
I have come to think it can’t be conveyed by argument, only by example.
And the true gospel is this: that man is alienated from God and under His wrath because of sin, and unable to save himself; that God the Son became flesh and dwelt among us as the perfect man; that He died on the cross as the propitiation for our sins and then rose bodily from the dead; that all who avail themselves of this sacrifice by faith alone in Christ alone will not perish but will have everlasting life and receive adoption as sons of God. This is the greatest news of all, and our mission is to preach this news and plead with people to be reconciled to God through Christ, for it profits a man nothing even if he should gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul and be cast into hell.
Yup. One of the best lessons I’ll never forget. Cheers RR!
I truly am poor at verbally sharing my belief that God offers salvation to those willing to trust him. But I also believe that we can give the absolute worst, awkward communicators of the Good News, and God can use it.
“Turn or Burn” may not appeal to you or me personally as something to say to a rejector of God’s call, but God can use – even that. He is not limited by the the inadequacy of His saints.
I’ve been witnessing, kinda, to a guy I play golf with. He frequently “gigs” me about my faith but because of the “gigs,” I think he’s searching. I find myself flailing but I like him as a friend and I desperately don’t wish for him to be eternally separated from God. As an Evangelical, I’m not a universalist; i.e., even those who spend a life time rejecting God get to share eternity in His presence. I don’t believe that at all. If you wish to reject God for ever, He will let you.
[ Think of Hell as sitting in the Atlanta Airport waiting for you flight to be called. But all that happens is; every 15 minutes you get a text saying the “flight has been delayed.” And it never changes; you’re there with other people awaiting the flight but it never comes, it’s forever delayed. and so you sit there, hour after hour after hour.]
So any how, I try to share my hope that there is a God; but you must chose; pursue after Him or be your own God, determining that you have it right.
Is my friend’s salvation going to be determined by what I say or don’t say? No! Is God giving me the opportunity to share what I believe? Yes. I like my friend; I would hope he would turn towards the Living God; [we could play golf together in Heaven, – where I’m assured there are no Double Bogeys.] Or else he sits forever at Hartsfield waiting for the flight that will never come.
–> “…when he interrupted and said, ‘What’s my name?'”
Ouch! That was a ZING moment for ya, eh? Thanks for sharing, Chris. Good reminder.
It’s Amway! “Well, I’ve used up all my friends. Time to make new friends!”
–> “The best path is to pick Christ as He is portrayed in the Gospels.”
Oh, I agree completely! I study the gospels frequently to remind myself of what’s important to Jesus.
But how do you convey that path to an agnostic or atheist in non-religious terms?
I think the trainwreck analogy really works, at least for me. Case in point, we were discussing the prodigal son parable in men’s group this Saturday and someone made the observation, “What would’ve happened had the famine not occurred?” The younger son/brother would have never had his trainwreck moment, that moment of realization that his only hope was returning home and counting on his father’s love.
‘there ought to be a better song to sing than this’
–> “Key aspect here is being with someone in that moment. Very distinct from preaching at someone.”
Relationship, relationship, relationship.
OMG . . . those ‘membership contracts’ that are legal documents . . . . it’s about the $$$$$$$$ ?????
a business at best, a ‘club’, entertainment on a ‘stage’, ‘rock’ music . . . . a coffee bar, and all the while, the accountant’s office next to the pastor’s office ?????
I heard if you break or try to break one of those ‘membership contracts’, they give you all kinds of hell and you have to get an attorney . . . something about ‘authority’ ????
but a ponzi scheme? well, I know there is money to be made actively on ‘the circuit’ where speakers go round to different ‘churches’ preaching Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, anti-Catholic/Orthodox, bibliolatry, male idolatry, and outright misogyny, as well as it’s okay to beat on your little kids ‘to break their spirits’
THAT sadly, is big money in this world of anger and hatred and fear
But a ponzi scheme? That is taking it to a lower level. Much lower. (sigh)
and well-meaning people get trapped in this web, I guess, so desperate and fearful are they of ‘not belonging’ ?
–> “Any Westerner who considers himself educated has to be familiar with the Bible as a baseline.”
Be careful there. I know many educated people who have no interest in the Bible, and I’d certainly not consider anyone “uneducated” if they weren’t familiar with it.
“…if you don’t work at listening first, then speaking.”. That line at the beginning of the post reminded me of myself on the street, preaching, at about 19 years old. I had been speaking fervently to this gentleman for about ten minutes when he interrupted and said, “What’s my name?” Of course he could tell that listening was not part of my agenda and when I had no answer he did a very pronounced about face and walked away. When all you have is answers people stop asking questions.
“If you strip away the God elements and spiritual aspects of the Bible, what it contains is a history lesson and some consistent wisdom.”
Fair point. And if you make the Bible and your interpretation of it *not* center on Christ, that’s exactly what you’ll get, and all you’ll get. But those “God-elements” (what I would like to consider Christ-elements) make all the difference. You have to pick some axiom to order all those lessons and wisdom around. Some people pick the Ten Commandments. Some people pick their current culture. The best path is to pick Christ as He is portrayed in the Gospels.
Jerram Barrs makes a very similar point in his works – the Gospels record that many marginalized and even “sinful” people *flocked* to Jesus. Are such people flocking to *us*? And if not, why?
As usual, your analysis is long on blithely assuming standard fundamentalist axioms, and short on empathy. IMonk was asking that we try to understand what the things we say sound like to those who don’t start from those axioms. Are you even capable of doing that?
If when people ask you “Well I’m here, I’ve joined,what do I do now?” your only answer is “Go and find more people to join.” what you are running is a Ponzi scheme.
> Either u persuade people by force or persuade (sale) them
The first is Coercion, not persuasion. The second [selling] is a very transactional view.
There is a third option: Inspire Them.
It is similar the old adage: If nobody is following you, then you aren’t leading.
Maybe: if nobody is coming to you, then more likely than not, you are not attractive.
Insisting that you are attractive won’t help.
> And if you DO read the Bible without any spiritual angle
Have someone in my life who did just read it, for the sake of reading it.
What that seems to have demonstrated, at least for this intelligent and very literate person, is that the narrative of the Bible is essentially unintelligible without a great deal of external framing.
Those of us who have been in it at least a bit are sorting and categorizing as we go. We categorize the story of Balam’s Ass and not boiling a goat’s head in its mother’s milk, and all what not. Without that sorting, if it is all on a level field, it is very much a great mess.
> This goes for nations, governments, tribes, individuals, even animals… it seems everything under
> the sun experiences a trainwreck moment
Agree, completely. And I find that aspect of the Bible very compelling. With the caveat that I grew up with mythological/supernatural, and ancient, narratives, so the chunking and decoding of the Bible did not automatically feel unnatural. I suspect introducing a thoroughly modern person to the Bible would be challenging [or, I can add, in fact that it is].
> Oh, and you just might find a bit of hope for people who need help through their trainwreck moment.
Key aspect here is being with someone in that moment. Very distinct from preaching at someone.
“…why would anyone want to read the Bible outside of a faith in God?”
This is, to my way of thinking, a very strange question. The Bible is a central document in Western culture. Any Westerner who considers himself educated has to be familiar with the Bible as a baseline. Any non-Westerner who wants to learn about Western culture must also, in the same way that any Westerner who wants to learn about Arabic culture has to have some familiarity with the Koran. I’m not saying any of these people need to be experts, but you need to have a decent idea of what the book is. This is basic cultural literacy stuff.
You are right. My wording was bad, I should have said “effective”. Or “effective at its stated intent [Evangelism]”. It wasn’t effective – as all the data now demonstrates.
You are also correct in that it did have a point, just not the stated one.
Younger Me was prone to this error, even as cynical as I was, of believing people were using language in the way I was accustomed to it being used. I made that error frequently; I was one who would have nodded along with an essay that begin with something like “The dictionary defines ____ as…” as if that had some existential merit [it doesn’t, BTW].
Richard, I think most likely that Michael was responding to preachers who came in to the school where he teached and tried to convert the students (many of whom came from non-Christian backgrounds).
–> “If Paul were alive today (or in the 18th, 19th, or 20th centuries) he would have LOUDLY condemned all that manipulative fire and brimstone preaching. Instead he would tell the story of what God has done in Christ and let the Holy Spirit do the persuading.”
I, too, believe Paul would have many face-palm moments over how his words have been twisted over time.
I know, JB. And I beat you to the punch and made a post more gracious than my original dig, and hopefully one that spurs some actual discussion.
–> “Think any true believer in anything is myopic to some extent.”
Hey, I’m as open-minded as they come, as long as they believe what I believe!
I am trying to be bionic like 6 million dollar man
Senecagriggs seems secure and happy in his faith, He does inter act and contribute to the dialogue I
Think any true believer in anything is myopic to some extent.
Sorry, Seneca, for the dig. Let me re-phrase that more politely…
Assuming you actually read Michael Spencer’s post and assuming that some aspect of made its way into your head for consideration, how would YOU use non-religious terms to present the Gospel that YOU find so in need of sharing? In other words, how do you tell someone they’re sinning and need to accept Christ as their savior or they’re going to Hell in non-religious terms?
may you come to believe in the mercy of God for those who pray,
‘Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief’
‘unbelievers’? going to hell? ‘the lost’? those phrases are not in my lexicon as a Catholic, because I see something different about Christ and how He related very kindly and gently to those who ‘know not what they do’ and lack hope and are ‘lost and confused and without a shepherd’. . . . . .
the really wonderful thing about Christ is that He embraced our humanity and took it to Himself in order to heal it.
That thing about ‘unbelief’ and ‘doubt’:
““Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith”
‘doubt’ is a step up from not caring or wondering about the things of God. At least, the ‘question’ is formed in one who doubts, and the person begins to seek some answers. If this is done honestly, as in the example of the man seeking Christ’s help, then God CAN respond to the ‘help Thou my unbelief’.
Doubt is not the same as outright denial.
Doubt is a question that does not yet have an answer. But we know that all who seek and all who knock will have the door opened to them . . . after all, we know that Our Creator has planted within each of us a desire to understand much more than we have the capacity to grasp on this planet. If, by the grace of the Holy One, we are humble enough and honest enough to reach out our hand, He will take it and raise us up.
But if we are prideful and closed to His Presence and filled with a certainty that poses as faith, but has no love or hope in it, then the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in our hearts and point us home to Our Lord.
Christ showed infinite patience and kindness to St. Thomas as a way to show people how to help those with doubts . . . we need to remember how Our Lord was with St. Thomas.
And, if we are honest, all of us, from time to time, will need to pray in humility:
‘Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.’
To Michael Spencer’s point so long ago, lately I’ve been really mulling on how to present the Bible and the Gospel to agnostics and even atheists. It would seem that the best way to do so would to be using non-religious terms or risk not making any sort of connection.
So… why would anyone want to read the Bible outside of a faith in God? That question has led me to the following line-of-thinking. (Feel free to augment or GENTLY criticize…LOL…)
If you strip away the God elements and spiritual aspects of the Bible, what it contains is a history lesson and some consistent wisdom. And if you DO read the Bible without any spiritual angle, what you’ll see is a story of trainwreck after trainwreck after trainwreck. In fact, the history of the world is nothing but trainwreck after trainwreck after trainwreck. This goes for nations, governments, tribes, individuals, even animals… it seems everything under the sun experiences a trainwreck moment. The Bible captures all that. You can see from almost Day One a trainwreck moment, and even if you don’t believe the Bible contains any spiritual truth, what it does contain–what it IS honest about–is mankind’s history of trainwreck moments. So if you’re experiencing a trainwreck moment or ever find yourself in a trainwreck moment in the future, just open the Bible and read about the history of trainwrecks and some wisdom about trainwrecks. Oh, and you just might find a bit of hope for people who need help through their trainwreck moment.
John, Paul was in fact opposed to those very tactics. 1 Cor in usually misunderstood to mean Paul is against ‘wisdom’ and (ironically) in favor of ‘foolishness’ (I do know a lot of people for whom ignorance is a spiritual virtue – the less you know the more spiritual you are.) Bruce Winter has demonstrated that Paul’s opponents at Corinth were in fact Christian teachers who had taken up the methods of the Sophists (Greek orators who were the celebrities of the ancient world). What he opposes is rhetorical methods for the purpose of bringing about conversions. The Greek words Paul uses in 1 and 2 Corinthians are very important because many are technical terms related to Greek oratory and rhetorical methods. In 1 Cor 1:17 he says that God did not call him to preach with ‘wisdom of word’ (what the Greek actually says – NOT ‘words of wisdom’). The NIV says ‘words of wisdom’, which has it backwards. This is a technical term for Greek rhetorical methods which were well-known in the ancient world. When Paul says the Greeks demand wisdom and the Jews a sign, he is NOT talking about philosophy or whatever as opposed to a ‘foolish’ gospel. He is talking about the PRESENTATION. The Jews wanted signs and miracles before they would believe. The Greeks wanted it presented in persuasive terms and polished rhetoric before they would believe it. (When Pauls says in 1 Cor 1:26 that not many of them were wise, powerful, or noble he is mocking those Christian teachers. These things, Winter shows from other sources, were the three things Sophists boasted of – even as Sophists these teachers don’t measure up.)
His point in that whole section is that he is opposed to these teachers who used the persuasive methods of the Greek rhetoricians. And the main technique of those orators was – guess what??? – emotional manipulation. Tell those sad stories to get people to the ‘altar’ – like the one about the drawbridge operator who has to lower the bridge on his son to save the people on the train – stock in trade of the very people Paul condemns. That’s why PAUL said ‘I did not come to you with lofty speech or wisdom (of word – rhetorical methods) . . . so that your faith WOULD NOT rest in (or result from) that ‘wisdom’ (rhetorical methods or persuasive techniques) but in the power of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:1-5). If Paul were alive today (or in the 18th, 19th, or 20th centuries) he would have LOUDLY condemned all that manipulative fire and brimstone preaching. Instead he would tell the story of what God has done in Christ and let the Holy Spirit do the persuading.
Look at Paul’s sermons in Acts (what few we have). They don’t contain any emotional manipulation or sales pitches at all.
I suspect that REAL Christians stand out of the crowd but not in the ways of this world, but more in the ways of pointing towards what is good and right in accordance with the teachings of Christ Himself, of His example in how He related to people when He was among us, in His commands to love, which seems so simple but is the hardest of all to obey in the end.
The ‘standing out’ isn’t like the usual attention-getting behavior, no; it is more subtle, more gentle, more humble, seen in the quiet ways that don’t demand ‘credit’ or ‘payment’ or ‘quid pro quo’, but are more in the nature of serving and caring, often going unnoticed, maybe even unappreciated or taken-for-granted, but that also is unneeded by the Christ-follower.
So what is ‘seen’ or ‘felt’ or ‘heard’ from these ‘Christians’? How do you measure patience, or kindness, or any of the ‘fruits’ of the Holy Spirit that these people show abundantly in their nature . . . . the kinds of behaviors that don’t draw attention to self, but seem to point to something beyond the horizon, something hopeful and loving beyond all imagining.
Michael Spencer wanted an authentic Christianity. He had a vision of it, perhaps in the negative at first by realizing that a lot of practices in evangelical-fundamentalism were fear-oriented instead of pointing to the light in the darkness. Michael had a gift for words for those things that most people have no words to express, and he was a spokes-person for something in many Christian people that was needing to be addressed. His gift burned brightly and he is missed. He was an ‘authentic’ voice of longing for Christ’s presence in the Church, and for not handing the Church over to fear-mongers and charlatans. This is my opinion. He had a gift from God that he shared with us for a while. And we were grateful.
Poor Seneca. Such a myopic view of God…
–> “Well back in olden times of yore when I was growing up there was no attempt to reason. It was ‘Get right or burn in Hel!’.”
Several of us discussed this very thing in a Sunday school study I lead when I asked the question, “How has your view of the Gospel and the message of the Gospel changed over time?” There seemed to be a consensus that many of us became “born-again” as an avoidance of hell (Fire Insurance!!), but that is now viewed as the LEAST LIKELY Good News Gospel Message we’d present to a non-believer/non-Christian. I’m not into Fire Insurance, nor am I a Fire Insurance salesman. I feel God’s purpose for me is to help Him build bridges for the lost to enter His Kingdom, and that’s by telling folks simply, “God wants to have a relationship with you.”
–> “I can’t escape the conclusion that then as now all this is more about reassuring the believer they have something good than trying to convince the unbeliever of anything..”
I agree but with a caveat to see my last sentence in the paragraph above. If I have His reassuring goodness, then I can feel more confident that He wants others to share in that reassuring goodness. I may not be able to convince them of that, but it’s at least a message I can try to deliver! LOL.
But it does have a point:
Drawing a gulf like that between Heaven and Hell between Us and Them.
“And stop screaming. Nobody likes a religion with people screaming.”
— The original Internet Monk
If you were Really Truly REFORMED, you wouldn’t send missionaries at all. Because God Hath Predestined who Shall Be Saved and Who Shall Be Damned before the creation of the world. “In’shal’lah…”
He puts into words what I observed but had no words for.
As a genius-level Introvert, I grew up socially and psychologically isolated. The TA term for this is “Growing up Martian”, an outsider observing from the outside like some alien probe. (“V’Ger Seeks Information…”) I default to “How We Sound to Outsiders” because I grew up an Outsider. And notning irks me like duckspeak Chrstianese, blabbing away with NO concept of how this is going to sound outside the Christianese bubble.
Greg , I have heard many consider Paul, the great salesman of Christianity. I think that to be true, without the negative image of salesmen. Is not life deciding what to buy in the journey of life? So how does the good news get spread and maintained? I guess all the apostles were salesman. I believe most faith leaders are sincere and more than salesmen .the prosperity bunch. R salesman but good ones. Either u persuade people by force or persuade (sale) them . If only the choir is there who else can u preach to?
I read an article a while back about how ‘revivalism’ is beginning to go away in many evangelical churches (except for SBC churches). This is a good sign but the question is (according to the article) what will replace it? Will it simply be nineteenth century sawdust revival sermons repackaged into ‘relevant’ sermons? Instead of you need Jesus to save you from hell will it be you need Jesus to have a happy marriage and trouble-free teenagers? If that’s the case it probably won’t have any more appeal. Too many non-Christians have happy marriages and trouble-free teens.
Absolutely. Rodney Stark, ‘The Rise of Christianity’.
His point is that the whole pitch is just that – a sales pitch. I remember while in seminary my wife and i filled out a card for a chance to win a free set of encyclopedias (at the mall or some place), back when people actually bought those things – pre-Google. Anyway, the guy came to our seminary housing apartment and did his spiel. At the end of the pitch he said, ‘If we could make this affordable, is there any reason you would not buy these today?’ My immediate thought was – ‘You took Evangelism 101 at my college!!!’ Do you want to lead me in a prayer too?
And it’s the same pitch, from the pulpit or in the living room. Do you REALLY believe that anyone is going to make a life-changing decision like this based solely on a 20 minute sermon or a 10 minute sales pitch? I know – the Philippian jailer, blah, blah, blah. I remember a church we attended once had a city-wide ‘crusade’ (a culturally-sensitive term that draws in Muslims to hear the ‘gospel’ in droves). There was a group called the ‘Power Team’ that tore up phone books, broke ice blocks, and generally put on a great circus. We had 800 attending each night for a week. There were 315 ‘decisions for Christ’ during that week. During the follow-up we found that most people weren’t interested at all. Only a few would even talk to us – but just last week you gave your life to Jesus!!!! In fact, a month later I could point to about a dozen people attending our church who got ‘saved’ during that event. Six months later an it was almost none.
And to Michael’s point – the pitch is so corny, and uses a ‘code language’ most non-Christians don’t understand (and even Christians don’t understand how the terms were used in the Bible) that it’s basically meaningless to non-Christians.
And so much of the ‘salvation’ language is simply appropriated from the Bible and given new meaning that fits the pitch. For example, we talk of ‘receiving Christ’ or ‘accepting Jesus’. That language comes from John 1, but it is NOT the language of salvation or religion – it is the language of empire. Jesus came unto his own people as their messiah (king) and they rejected him (and when Caesar comes to town and people do that it usually doesn’t end well). And the ‘new birth’ language of John 3 has special (and probably specific and only) meaning in light of John’s appeal to Jews. John was no doubt an evangelistic tract written for Jews, who believed that their birth – physical birth – is what mattered. Jesus challenges that with a passage from Ezekiel to show that those Jews need a ‘new birth’ (part of the ‘New Covenant’), something which has no real significance to Gentiles at all. But in evangelical culture terms which had a particular meaning and application to a particular people are generalized into the necessary experience of all, and then that language is pushed on confused non-believers. And then we wonder why they don’t respond more – it’s because their hearts are hard (always the reason for failure).
So IF YOU believe people REALLY need to be saved, should YOU not at least critically examine your methods and message to see if 1) it is working and 2) if it is even biblically accurate? That’s the gist of what Michael is saying.
But in fundamentalist churches, which includes most SBC churches, EVERY sermon is ultimately about evangelism. Even the materials for Bible studies are about evangelism – which is why they never go very deep.
“SIN? You’re just fine as you are. Not to worry. Ignore those who would suggest otherwise.
Salvation? Not necessary. Just try and be a better person. ”
Is this truly I-monker’s stance. Better not to be an awkward and imperfect witness then tell people, you believe there is a Hell for unbelievers and there is salvation for those who seek it?
What strikes me about this essay is that Michael seems to accept the premise that the purpose of a sermon is evangelism. His critique is of bad evangelism, not of the underlying assumption. How does this make sense? The idea seems to be that there might be some guy lurking in the back row who has not yet rededicated his life to Jesus, and persuading him to do this is the only thing that matters. Were I sitting ahead of the back row, I would conclude that I wasn’t the target audience for this sermon, so I would leave (or more realistically, stay out of politeness, but not come back).
So when does the pastor speak to his flock about stuff that would benefit them? Well, modern Evangelicalism introduced the sermon as second-rate self-help lecture. This is not an improvement, and suggests that the tradition of the sermon as evangelism was so dominant that they had no clue what to do when they moved away from it. I think this is yet another area where churches benefit from using the lectionary. This insures not only that the congregation will hear a substantial chunk of Scripture every week, but gives the pastor a natural source of material to talk about.
“””I can’t escape the conclusion that then as now all this is more about reassuring the believer they have something good than trying to convince the unbeliever of anything..”””
Evangelical Sermons are even more odd if you take another step back – – – sometimes it sounded as if they thought they were speaking to people who wandering in off the street, rather than to the very same people who were there last week. But you are correct, that was probably a ruse.
Stephen excellent point
Well back in olden times of yore when I was growing up there was no attempt to reason. It was “Get right or burn in Hel!”.
I can’t escape the conclusion that then as now all this is more about reassuring the believer they have something good than trying to convince the unbeliever of anything..
Adam T W “You better listen to the guy who is right “is the article .I agree with you it is broiler plate basic fundamental preaching to the choir message. I watch old reruns of Fulton Sheen on EWTN, like him a lot but know his viewpoint is not representative of the present RCC. Most evangelicals have moved on as that is the course of human history, things change and messaging changes. Another generation and it will be a moot point.
I recall all the “little gods” sermons; the ones where those people are living in their sins, walking around not knowing they need Salvation, believing they are each “little gods”. They needed to surrender their arrogance, recognize their brokenness, and come to Christ.
Yeah, because the single mother on the bus to her second part time jobs arrogantly believes she is a “little god” unto herself.
When I was younger I thought this kind of rhetoric was pointless. As an adult -. how could anyone believe such a thing? Were they not paying attention at all? In my darker moments I wonder: How many Evangelical pastors are sociopaths? [ because if you look at other people and see **that**, what does that say about you? ]
Man, that guy was spot on. Makes me remember why I started reading here so regularly.
> Our neighbors and the wider world require no less from us today; are we willing to give it?
No. I do not believe ‘we’ can even agree what that would look like. Because it will look very different in 2019 than it did in 0119.
> Or do we prefer to just talk?
Yes, you missed the point completely. It is a critique of what is in many many places the boilerplate sermon: the blockhead’s attempt at Evangelism.
If it is not the boilerplate in your experience, then you may rejoice.
> 4. If a religious leader gives me the impression he is right not the Bible…
I miss how you got here from the post.
> ow much their own Christianity is really another form of The American Dream and lifestyle,
> and how similar rather than different they are to their non-Christian neighbors.
> That is not lost on non-Christian Americans;
>wonder why should they bother with something that doesn’t make a difference
It’s just as foolish to send missionaries to a foreign country, or your American neighbors, with no respect “for their language, their culture, their beliefs and symbols.” Yet the church has been doing it for centuries.
But the other equally fatal mistake that American Christians make is to not be cognizant of just how much their own Christianity is really another form of The American Dream and lifestyle, and how similar rather than different they are to their non-Christian neighbors. That is not lost on non-Christian Americans; they hear the Christianese, but they see Christians living no different from the way they do, and they wonder why should they bother with something that doesn’t make a difference in lifestyle, that seems so superficial.
As usual I am missing the ;point other than M. Spencer had doubts about and disagreed with the messaging of the evangelical church. So my questions are
1. Do people need to accept Jesus as their personal savior?
2. Is the Bible was where we learn about Jesus and does the Bible have authority?
3. Whatever your faith or religious orientation in the 21st century we have the opportunity and obligation to explore and exam what is preached to us and examine our self and test what we are being told. This was not an opportunity many people in the past had and those that did took action, some negative, some positive. If Martin Luther were just an uneducated peasant would he have the impact he did?
4. If a religious leader gives me the impression he is right not the Bible than it is time to move on but to do that you must know the Bible.
In the first centuries of its existence, Christianity spread horizontally through kinship and other natural relationship connections, not by aggressive marketing techniques or know-it-all preaching and preachers. Christians impressed the pagans of the first, second, third and fourth century Roman Empire by their material care for not just their own, but their non-Christian neighbors. They cared for the sick, the hungry, the orphaned, they fed, nursed, opened their homes to those in need. There was great personal sacrifice involved in this. Our neighbors and the wider world require no less from us today; are we willing to give it? Or do we prefer to just talk?
At a Reformed theology conference long long ago, one of the keynote speakers challenged the audience to understand living as Christians in modern America as living as missionaries. Would you send missionaries to a foreigner country with no understanding of their language, their culture, their beliefs and symbols? Well, that’s where we are here today, he concluded.
What he said had a profound impact on me. As for whether or not it impacted the rest of the audience… God knows.
I am a Christian and this is what it sounds like to me. Michael was very instrumental in helping me to see through this kind of nonsense years ago.
Another excellent re-post. Keep ’em coming!
” These people have the book, they read it right, and they have the answers. They know what you need, and what everyone around the world needs. They will do the talking, and if you are smart, you’ll accept Jesus. ”
Looks like Michael saw through the profoundly Pharisaical smugness of a ‘know-it-all’ posture with ALL the answers;
the sheer stupidity of being ‘right, right, right’.
‘Si comprendis, non est Deus’