David Wells on Marketing the Church

forsale

David Wells has written five books addressing some of major issues in American evangelicalism over the last couple of decades. Naturally, I began with his last book, The Courage to be Protestant.  So far it has been helpful in addressing why we are where we are. Even where it is dated, Wells is still giving us a road map of the past several decades. Here is quote where he describes what happens when the church abandons the truth as the center of her life and mission and instead focuses on reaching customers.

A methodology for success that circumvents issues of truth is one that will rapidly emancipate itself from biblical Christianity or, to put it differently, will rapidly eviscerate biblical faith.

That, indeed, is what is happening because the marketing model it followed, empties the truth out of the gospel. First, the needs consumers have are the needs they identify for themselves. The needs sinners have are needs God identifies for us, and the way we see our needs is rather different from the way he sees them. We suppress the truth about God, holding it down in “unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). We are not subject to his moral law and in our fallenness are incapable of being obedient to it (Rom. 8:7), so how likely is it, outside of the intervention of God through the Holy Spirit, that we will identify our needs as those arising from rebellion against God? No, the product we will seek naturally will not be the gospel. It will be therapy of some kind, a technique for life, perhaps a way of connecting  more deeply with our own spiritual selves on our own terms, terms that require no repentance and no redemption. It will not be the gospel. The gospel cannot be a product that the church sells because there are no consumers for it. When we find customers, we will find that what they are interested in buying, on their own terms, is not the gospel.

Furthermore, when we buy a product, we buy it for our own use. When we accept Christ, he is not there for our use but we are there for his service. We commit ourselves to him in a way we do not commit ourselves to any product. There is a world of difference between the Lord of Glory, the incarnate second person of the Godhead, and a Lexus, a vacation home, or a trip to the Bahamas. The marketing analogy blurs all of this, reducing Christ simply to a product we buy to satisfy our needs. What is destroyed along the way are the biblical doctrines of sin, of the incarnation, and of the redemption. The marketing analogy is the wrong analogy. It is deeply harmful to the Christian faith.

What I find fascinating about this quote is that what was once the strategy of mega-churches and their CEO pastors has now become the strategy of virtually every church. We have drunk so deeply and for so long at the well of the market that most of our churches, denominations, para-church organizations, and coalitions function this way without even thinking about it.  Our gut instinct is to market our product. We are not preaching the truth. We are trying to gain new customers. These days most of us are selling Jesus, our church, our books, and our conferences.  It is not easy to disentangle ourselves from this method. We need websites and books. We want people to know about our churches and what they offer. Even conferences, despite their misuse and abuse today, can be helpful. But  marketing Jesus and the gospel is not a minor issue. It is antithetical to the faith which we proclaim, it leaves the sheep hungry, and does not evangelize the lost.  We must proclaim the gospel, write books and blog posts, record podcasts,  and be the church without selling the gospel like just another product.

No Crying He Makes?

newborn baby crying

Christmas songs are wonderful and they are also fraught with danger. Christmas has become a sentimental time for many people including Christians where they toss aside what is true for what makes them feel good. One good example of this is the well know Christmas hymn, “Away in a Manger.”

In that carol there is this line in verse 2: “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” Why would baby Jesus not cry? There are two possible reasons I could think of. First,  he was not fully human or was at the very least a different kind of human. Second, that crying is a sin.

Both of these are refuted by Scripture. Let’s take the second one first.  Is crying a sin? The Scriptures are clear that Christ did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). The Bible is also clear that Jesus wept (Luke 19:41, John 11:35). The logic here is airtight. Jesus cried. Jesus never sinned. Crying is not automatically a sin. Why would a baby cry? He needs food. He is dependent on his mother like all humans are. Until a child talk crying is the way a child says, “I am  hungry.”  Christ was fully human and therefore as a baby completely dependent upon those around him to feed him. If he need to eat or if something caused him pain he would have cried and in crying he would not have sinned.

The other option is that Jesus was some sort of super human that did not feel the same things we feel or did not experience the same things we do. Again this is refuted over and over again in Scripture. Hebrews 2:17-18 says,

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like his brethern that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest…

Hebrews 4:15 says,

We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathizee with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Philippians 2:1-11 teaches the same thing.

The Heidelberg Catechism says in question 35 that Christ “took upon him the very nature of man.” The Westminster Confession in Chapter VIII.II says that Christ took “upon him man’s nature with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin.” The Belgic Confession in Article 18 says,

The Son took the “form of a servant” and was made in the “likeness of man,” truly assuming a real human nature, with all its weaknesses, except for sin; being conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, without male participation.  And he not only assumed human nature as far as the body is concerned but also a real human soul, in order that he might be a real human being.

The Definition of Chalcedon says,

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin.

The point is rooted in Scripture and explained by the church through the ages. Jesus was fully human. In other words, there is no reason to assume that Christ as a baby did not cry.

The goal of the carol is to present a peaceful scene like we see in all the paintings of Christ’s birth. But in doing so the carol takes away one of the more important aspects of Christ’s birth; its reality. Of course, we all believe it happened. But we think it happened differently than normal births. Christ’s birth becomes something mystic and other worldly. We imagine that the manger in Bethlehem was filled with glowing lights, halos, peace, and warm fuzzy feelings. The reality would have been quite different. There would have been blood, pain, and anguish. Mary sat under the curse of Eve like all women do (Genesis 3:16). While Christ’s conception was of the Holy Spirit, there is no reason to assume the birth was anything out of the ordinary. Did Mary scream? Certainly it is possible, even probable. She was giving birth to a child. Did baby Jesus cry? Well of course he did. He was a baby, a fully human baby just like we were.

A Covenant Freely Given

Pierre Marcel on the glory of the covenant of grace. All italics are his.

It is a covenant of grace, that is to say, freely given. It does not depend upon any human condition, it is not a gift in exchange for some service, it does not answer to any fulfillment of law on the part of man. God Himself, in the person of His Son, provides the surety of the covenant, whereby all our obligations are met at the same time as the demands of the divine justice.

Again, it is a covenant of grace, a free covenant, because God by His grace, rendered efficacious by the working of the Holy Spirit, makes man capable of living in conformity with the requirements prescribed by the terms of the covenant. The covenant of grace has its origin in the grace of God, it is put into execution by the grace of God, and it is experienced in the life of sinners through the grace of God. From beginning to end it is pure grace for the sinner. It is God who descends to man and raises him to Himself. It is God who disannuls the covenant of sinful man with Satan and with death (Is. xxviii. 18), who places enmity between man and Satan, who destroys death, and who, taking man for His possession, promises him victory over every adverse power. It is the work of God, only His Work, and all His work. Man cannot lay claim to any personal glory: all the glory emanates from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Book Review: War, Peace, and Christianity by Charles and Demy

War, Peace, and Christianity: Questions and Answers from a Just-War PerspectiveWar, Peace, and Christianity: Questions and Answers from a Just-War Perspective by J. Daryl Charles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In my circles people talk about just war all the time. But rarely was it defined or described. What is a just war? I bought this book hoping for two things: 1. It would give me the basic parameters of just war theory. 2. It would give a me a lot of footnotes that would point me to other sources. I got both of these in spades.

The authors use a question and answer format to describe what just war is, what it is not, some questions that still need answered, and the history of just war. They talk about just war in relation to philosophy/natural law, history, the statesman, the theologian, the combatant, and the individual.They rely heavily on Aquinas, Grotius, Vitoria, and Suarez. The also use a lot of O’Donovan and a current just war writer named James Turner Johnson. They address terrorism, nuclear war, humanitarian intervention, the UN, post war development of countries, non-lethal weapons, “turn the other cheek,” does war violate the command to not kill, did Jesus change our approach to war, is just war only a Christian idea or it can it be found in non-Christian sources, Bonhoeffer’s attempt on Hitler’s life, Ghandi’s pacifism, C.S. Lewis’ writings on war, supreme emergency, the early church on war, including Roland Bainton’s pacifistic reading of the church fathers, criteria for going to war, criteria within a war, private military contractors, ethical development of weapons, Romans 13, etc. etc. The great value of this book is how much ground it covers. You will not get an in depth chapter length discussion of terrorism and just war, but you will get some basic ideas on it. It is an excellent introduction to just war thought, though I doubt any reader will agree with all.

The only drawback I would note is there is a quite a bit of repetition. The reason would seem to be the nature of the book where the questions and answers in various sections overlap with questions and answers in other sections. There are other areas that I would have like more discussion on, such as what makes an authority legitimate, but the sources cited should give provide those if the reader wished to pursue them.

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Nothing but the Blood: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 5

 

Blood 4

There is a hymn that says, “What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Why is that? Why can only Jesus’ blood satisfy the demands of God’s justice and and at the same time show us mercy. There are three options for the removal of our sins. First, we could satisfy for our own sins. Second, another creature could satisfy for our sins. Finally, Jesus could satisfy.  Why can I not atone for my own sins? Why could the bulls and goats in the Old Testament not take away my sins? Why is Jesus the only option?

The Heidelberg Catechism gives an answer to this in questions 12-15.

Q: 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favor? A: God will have his justice satisfied and therefore we must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.

Q: 13. Can we ourselves then make this satisfaction?A: By no means; but on the contrary we daily increase our debt.

Q: 14. Can there be found anywhere, one, who is a mere creature, able to satisfy for us?A: None; for, first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man has committed;  and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin, so as to deliver others from it.

Q: 15. What sort of a mediator and deliverer then must we seek for?A: For one who is very man, and perfectly  righteous;  and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is also very God.

Question 12 follows up on question 11, which says that God’s mercy does not trump his justice. His justice will be satisfied. Since God’s justice must be satisfied, how can we escape punishment?

Question 13 asks can we atone for ourselves. Is it possible that we can take away our own sin? The answer is no. G.I. Williamson gives a good illustration of why this is the case.

Suppose, for example, that you owed an infinite sum of money-so much money that even the fastest computer could never add it all up. Suppose, too, that you repaid that money at the rate of one thousand dollars a day for one million years. Do you realize that you would still be at the beginning of repayment? The reason is that an infinite sum of money cannot be repaid by any number of finite payments…We have sinned against an infinite God, and there is no way that we can fully repay him by suffering as finite creatures.

Our sins pile up day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year. But not only do they pile up, but we have sinned against God, not against a creature. The amount of sins and the one we have sinned against mean we cannot now or ever atone for our own sins. This is also why Hell is eternal. We cannot ever atone for our own sins.Having more time does not help when the sins are infinite.

But what about another creature, such as an animal. That is addressed in question 14. There are two reasons why an animal cannot atone. First, a human must atone for the sins of the human race. Second, an animal cannot bear the weight of God’s wrath. Hebrews says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Animals kept dying day after day, which meant their blood did not atone.

What do we need in order for atonement to happen? We need a true man. Someone who takes on our flesh and blood, a human who will atone for the sins of the human race. But he also must be God because no creature can bear God’s wrath.  That leads directly to question 15. If true atonement is going to happen we need Jesus.

A couple of thoughts follow from this. First, in order for Jesus to atone for our sins, he must be fully God, to bear God’s wrath, and fully man, to take the sins of man upon himself. Without Jesus being fully God and fully man we are still in our sins.

Second, because God’s justice must be satisfied the only options are trusting in Christ or an eternal Hell. There is no third option of our sins be slowly atoned by ourselves in Hell or of God’s justice overlooking sins and annihilating people. Sin must be dealt with. God’s holiness demands justice. Since our sins are against an infinite God only the infinite can bear his wrath. That means Jesus or an infinite time in Hell.

Finally, the glory of Jesus is on full display here. Jesus became the true man (Hebrews 2:14, 17) in order that he might bear the full wrath of God so that those of us who have sinned against God might be delivered from eternal damnation. What a Savior!