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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Silliness A Stepping Stone To Substance

Mark Dever spoke about the importance of preaching in chapel today, and he shared this quote by John Piper:
Everybody knows that with the right personality, the right music, the right location, and the right schedule you can grow a church without anybody really knowing what doctrinal commitments sustain it, if any. Church planting specialists generally downplay biblical doctrine in the core values of what makes a church "successful."

The long term effect of this ethos is a weakening of the church that is concealed as long as the crowds are large, the band is loud, the tragedies are few, and persecution is still at the level of preferences.

But more and more this doctrinally-diluted brew of music, drama, life-tips, and marketing seems out of touch with real life in this world, not to mention the next. It tastes like watered down gruel, not a nourishing meal. It simply isn't serious enough. It's too playful and chatty and casual. Its joy just doesn't feel deep enough or heartbroken or well-rooted.

The injustice and persecution and suffering and hellish realities in the world today are so many and so large and so close that I can't help but think that, deep inside, people are longing for something weighty and massive and rooted and stable and eternal. So it seems to me that the trifling with silly sketches and breezy welcome-to-the-den styles on Sunday morning are just out of touch with what matters in life.

Of course, it works. Sort of. Because, in the name of felt needs, it resonates with people's impulse to run from what is most serious and weighty and what makes them most human and what might open the depths of God to their souls. The design is noble. Silliness is a stepping stone to substance. But it's an odd path. And evidence is not ample that many are willing to move beyond fun and simplicity. So the price of minimizing truth-based joy and maximizing atmosphere-based comfort is high.

More and more, it seems to me, the end might be in view. I doubt that a religious ethos with such a feel of entertainment can really survive as Christian for too many more decades. Crises reveal the cracks.
I think Piper's hit the nail square on the head here. We don't need more churches that are "relevant" in the same way that pop media is relevant: funny, witty, entertaining, consumer oriented drivel that shifts our gaze off of the serious to tickle our self-centered appetites.

What we need are churches that are "relevant" in the same way the gospel is relevant: speaking to hardness and suffering of this present life. We need substance, not fluff. We need churches that are committed to the preaching of this kind of Word.


At 7:38 PM, October 20, 2005, Blogger Master Aegidius said...

If I don't have anything planned for the day, a doughnut for breakfast is just fine.

But if I want to get some work done, I need fried eggs, hashbrowns, and tenderloins washed down with a pot of coffee. And then I am ready to go.

At 8:08 PM, October 20, 2005, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

I got hungry reading this first reply...

You know, I am, in many ways, so out of place in the contemporary or modern "church society" in which I live, breath and work. This is because, even though I love praise bands and even clever and creative ways of communicating the gospel in fresh ways, I am MORE interested in encountering Jesus and being transformed by Him - even if that means no band, no drama, no choruses, no hymns, no projection system, no choir - and the list goes on.

My favorite passage is Acts 2:42-47. In that passage we are given such a crystal clear illustration of what the best draw is for the church - it is "lives transformed in the power of the Holy Spirit." In fact, I wrote an article about this last year called, "The Best Church Growth Plan ever created." Have not had it published yet because it runs in the face of popular church growth teaching and models which you and Piper so clearly speak to in this post...

My goal as a music and worship leader is ALWAYS FIRST that those in our church ENCOUNTER CHRIST regardless of what's on the music or creative arts menu. If we can get there via hymns and choirs, then great! If it takes praise bands and contemporary music, then fine. If it's best achieved through silence and every laying prostrate, then so be it. I am so not "into" the idea of trying to program growth!

Thanks for a great post!!

At 9:38 PM, October 20, 2005, Blogger Master Aegidius said...

Let's see,
If my sins were forgiven for His name's sake,
If we are to bless the name of our Lord,
If the saints will be gathered to declare His glory,

I think I am seeing a pattern here....

If I want to be entertained, I go to a movie,

If I want to be edified, I go to my church.

At 9:41 PM, October 20, 2005, Blogger Master Aegidius said...

Or how about this:

When fishing for fun,
I tie on a Pale Morning Dun.
When fishing for dinner,
the Prince is the winner.

At 6:33 AM, October 21, 2005, Blogger Krissy said...

I agree completely that shallow, entertainment based church is not getting anywhere and not really going to be satisfying in the end. But i do have to put a post modern plug in for making sure that the doctrinal commitments are understandable. And the best way i know to make things understandable is to understand and speak the cultural language. So i guess what i am saying is that sometimes doctrine that doesnt sound too doctriny is even more powerful because the way it is presented is more relevant to people's lives.

At 7:11 AM, October 21, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Good comments, one and all (yes, even Master Aegidius - I wonder how many people got your Pale Morning Dunn vs. Prince Nymph metaphor? Probably only us fishermen ;-)

Krissy: I think you are exactly right here. We always need to strive to be relevant in the sense that we speak the common language, not just sit and mindlessly chant the same refrain as our forefathers (however right they might be - it won't matter at all if no one understands it).

So the challenge is to be faithful to the word (relevant because it's God's content to us), and yet at the same time to articulate that word faithfully (in a way that those who need it will recognize it's relevance for us in the hard times of the here and now).


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