The Fault of Modern Evangelicalism
“Preach the Word.” – Paul
It is an interesting thing, human nature. It is unpredictable in its application, but understandable in its reasoning behind its actions. That is, we can anticipate why a person will do what they do, but when they will do it remains a mystery. A great example of this is are those shows on TV where you have detectives searching for a serial killer. They can study and learn his reasoning for doing what he does, but they still cannot fully anticipate where he will strike next. Human nature is like a serial killer. We can study it, we can understand its reasoning, and we can learn from it, but we never expect to see it as clearly as we eventually do. People watch these shows on TV all the time, where some person goes on a rampant murdering spree, but when someone in their life is actually killed (or simply dies of natural causes), they are shaken up, because they never really expect it to hit so close to home. We never think our car will be stolen, but lo and behold, these things we think never happen actually happen, and we don’t know what to do. Life goes on- people live, people die, and nature fails to care. And each part of creation continues to function as it was meant to. And yet in all of creation, there is something unique about humanity. The character of humanity is strange, in comparison to the rest of the created world. God tells the sun to rise, and it does, and has done so the same day in and day out since it was first set in motion. God tells the clouds to rain down on the earth, and they do, and have done so since the first command, without any sense of wavering. God tells Adam and Eve “You may eat of all these trees, except that one tree.” And humanity has disobeyed in abject rebellion ever since they first took the bite of fruit from that one tree.
The character of humanity is, quite simply, to satisfy. It is human nature to crave something, as we all do, whether in the realm of food, comfort, lust, longing, hope, spiritual solace- we want things! And likewise it is human nature to run after the things we crave. When a baby craves milk, it cries until it gets what is craves. And when an adult craves food, they either examine the fridge they know has nothing they want in it, or will finally get in the car and buy whatever it is they feel they need. This then leads to (and was, as it were, designed for) the realm of morality. Humanity, if it craves something, will go so far as to steal, rape and murder, all for the sake of obtaining the thing they feel they need, and make gods fashioned to their fleshly desires. It is not uncommon for famous people and “professional” advise-givers to declare the purpose of life to be happiness, and people have (especially recently) pushed harder than ever for people to follow their hearts- what they feel to be right, regardless of what others may say. This has led to the charge of the homosexual and transgender movements, fighting for their rights to do and say what they feel is right, regardless of the consequences, and humanity (mainly in western nations) has opened their arms wide to embrace this newfound morality, going so far as to tear down laws and justice to obtain it, all in the name of their self-perceived rights.
Sadly, we see even professing Christianity following along happily, embracing these lifestyles as well, while sacrificing Biblical clarity for public acceptance. They take away from the Bible, and add to it, all for the purpose of making a god that satisfies their financial, fleshly and emotional desires, all without taking a second thought as to whether or not this is consistent with the God of the Bible Himself. We seem to think as though we are naturally entitled to happiness, and thus feel we are promised by God that we will have health for our bodies, money for our adventures, and family and friends to share these with in a long and prosperous life, without any care to see whether or not this is what God actually promised. “If God is love, then this must be so!” is essentially the justification behind it.
And thus we come to Paul’s letter to Timothy. He reminds and reaffirms to his disciple that “difficult times will come,” and thus must be continually restated throughout our churches, not because we don’t know it, but because so many Christians don’t actually seem to think it is true based on their lifestyles and pursuits. It could well say “Difficult times must come!” because such is the very nature of our salvation, and yet by their very actions professing Christians respond by adding “Unless you are in God’s favor, in which case you will receive many blessings (in the form of money primarily).” And this is further shown by the response of professing Christianity when trials actually come. They fall into despair and depression, and hate the very existence of God because He did not meet their self-declared expectations of Him. But as Paul so clearly reminds Timothy, we are not saved to anything in this world, but are saved from the sin within this world, and are therefore no longer a part of this world (John 17:14). And we see one of the underlying drives behind the universal rebellion against God by mankind, and this is found in the next phrase “For men will be lovers of self…” which is the thing that results in all the remaining attributes of sinful people. After all, what is the greatest commandment according to Jesus? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mat. 22:36-40) Thus, we can deduce the reality that to love one’s own self above God is to commit the worst sin, in a sense. This is in direct reference to what is often called the “Unpardonable Sin,” that being blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. What can this sin not be “pardoned”? Because the Holy Spirit is the primary requirement to come to the knowledge of the truth, and without Him it is impossible to be saved. Therefore, if we throw Him aside, it is impossible to be “pardoned” since it is only by Him that we can ever see the need for Christ as our Savior! And so to transgress the greatest commandment by loving one’s own self over God is to deny God (and thus be denied by the Son (Mat. 10:33)) and thus continue on in the footsteps of all sinners who have come before you. And so here we see Paul reminding Timothy that it isn’t just some general monotony that will continue on, but that people will become increasingly rebellious and hateful towards God, and this is because they place themselves farther and farther from the “greatest commandment.” And it is in this world- this sinful, hateful and rebellious world- that God has called us to remain, and as Paul tells Timothy in the very next chapter, “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season…” (4:2) And those words are incredibly applicable to the preacher of the Word, because they underline the whole reason why he is here on the earth. And it is easy for the non-preacher to read and accept, because (as they might say) “He is a preacher, that is his job!” But what of those of us who are not ordained pastors? What is our command in this life? Are we not to spread the Gospel wherever we are placed? “Well yeah,” says the non-pastor, “but that’s when we’re given open doors.” And by that is often meant “When people are most likely to accept it, of course.” And so when someone does not appear in the ideal “Christianizing” circumstance, they will simply be friends until that perfect opportunity comes. But there is an issue with that…
We often see the Gospel presented in the least ideal circumstances in the Bible. Even in the Old Testament, when the prophets would do what they were told by God Himself and declare the Word to the people of Israel, they were by no means the most popular of people (Jeremiah being an excellent example). Most of them were killed by the very people they prophesied to, or at the very least were driven out of their nation. Even King David fled from Saul before he become King over Israel, and was hunted for the longest time. Likewise, in the New Testament, the ones who said “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” were the very ones who would later say “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” And thus is the very point of Paul’s words to Timothy. You must preach the Word even when people are not willing to listen. And we likewise must share the Gospel, even when it is most likely to be rejected, and there is a very particular reason as to why we do this. After all, the question may well be asked, “What is the goal of the person who shares the Gospel?” What are you looking (hoping) to see when you share the Gospel? What is your definition of a success after sharing the Gospel? When you die, and stand before the God who you spoke about in the Gospel, what do you want to say when asked to give an account of what you did? Will you pull out the long list of people you brought to Christ? Many believe this is what the point of the Gospel is. As they might say, “I want to save souls.” And that’s all well intended, but it could not be farther from the truth that is found in the Gospel itself…
A clear indicator of why we do what we do is the end result of our aspirations. If we are baking for ourselves a cake (as an example), what do we want to see? We hope to see a cake that is not overcooked, nor one that has yet to be baked at all. We want the ingredients to be properly measured out, apply the instructions and requirements where they ought to be, and have a delicious cake by the end of it all (and I am not even terribly fond of cake, to add that important context to this example). Likewise, when a parent raises their child, what do they wish to see? A fully grown adult who is responsible, patient and able to fulfill their purpose with clarity of mind and maturity of attitude. And when we preach the Gospel, what do we hope to see? Those to whom we speak come to the knowledge of the truth, while growing in it and abounding in the work of the Lord. But what happens if the cake doesn’t turn out? What happens if the child grows up to be an abject fool and worthless as far as good things before the Lord? Do we despair to no end? Is it the end of all things? No. If, however, our focus at the onset was faulty, then our response in the end will likewise be faulty. If I raise my children with the expectation that they will turn out exactly as I believe they should, then I will be inevitably disappointed. And such a start to a long process will surely result in the despair of the parent, because it begins with the assumption that I know what they should or should not be. But if I come into it with the mind that God determines what they are and are not to be, then I go onwards based on that realization, and do my best to maintain His standard of righteousness within them, regardless of the results. Because I understand that only He can bring them up as righteous adults, and I must be pleased and eager to be a part of that. And if they do not turn out as I hope, we rest in the knowledge that it is God who is in control, and God will “bring them around” if He so chooses.
And so it is with the Gospel. If I come into it with the expectation that they will believe me I will be doomed to disappointment, because in so far as they have believed my words, they will fall based on my words. But as far as they have trusted upon God’s Word, their souls will be saved by His eternal consistency, not my ever-bending tones or actions. If I come into the Gospel-preaching experience with the expectation that I will “save souls,” I am doomed to disappointment, because I can never save a single soul, and to believe otherwise is both foolish and Godless, because it makes the dreadful assumption that I have the ability to save someone’s soul, when in all reality I am nothing more than a tool in this process. It is God who saves the soul, and God who maintains the soul. If we have any basic understanding of the Gospel, then we know first and foremost that it is the work of the Spirit that leads us to repentance, not cleverness of words or the external display of our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:17, 2 Peter 1:16-21). Because it is God who saves the soul, we then must see that our position is not “savior of their soul,” but rather we are the proclaimers of the Gospel. We do not declare it per se, as though we can say what the Gospel is or is not, but instead we declare what the Gospel says of itself, and quite plainly say what it has to say. And this has multiple foundations to it, as far as the presentation of the Gospel, and I would like to go through a few of them.
1. The Judgment of Sin: Sin will be judged, because sin must be judged. It is like the example of fire and the chaff- it is the way that righteousness and evil relate to each other. Righteousness- God’s rightness- always conquers sin, and will always come out on top. And sin must be burned up, as it is the imperfection on God’s otherwise “very good” world (Gen. 1:31). Sin, by its very nature, is that which is contrary to God, and must be dealt with like a cancer, being cut off and destroyed. And when we see the sinners of the world, we must see this as a brutal fact, not an optional point of view, because regardless of whether one hears the tree fall in the forest, it still makes a sound- sin requires judgment no matter where we stand. And so when we see a sinner to which we get the opportunity to preach the Gospel, we must see one who is facing eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire, not simply someone who is wandering. Because God has, in fact, set aside the day when He will judge the world in righteous through Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31), and we must fear that day on behalf of the one who faces it, lest we forget why we are preaching a saving Gospel- Good News of salvation from sin.
2. Only One Savior: Too often people preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ as though He is a picture of the Gospel- the personification of the ideals of the Bible- instead of the actual Savior Himself, through works actually done on earth and before the Father, as a real person doing real things for real issues because of a real need for salvation from that actual judgement. Instead of asking “Where will go you go if you die today?” it is better to ask “Where will you stand before God when you are judged? Because you will be judged, one way or another?” We will stand either by ourselves, or with Christ, the Mediator between His “called out ones” and the Father, being the provider of much needed righteousness. And we see the work that He did, being both the much needed sacrifice and High Priest before the Father- living the life we couldn’t and bearing the punishment we deserved.
3. The Imperative: Being hearers and believers of the Gospel, we are tasked with something vital to our purpose, and is the sole reason why we remain on the earth: sharing the Word of Hope. This is not to say that there aren’t things we do outside of evangelism, but I am saying that the only reason we have not been raptured into heaven is due to the reality that not all who are meant to be saved have been saved- there is still work yet undone- and we are called to take part in its completion. And so we are told to share the Gospel, both in word and deed, and are to view it as that reason why we are here on the earth. The time will come when we will go into the presence of our Father, but until that day comes- until the Master returns- we are to be doing the Master’s work. And so, as seen in James’ letter, we are to be living out the faith that we profess and share, and are to be abounding in it, not merely settling for it.
And so we are going to share the Gospel based at least in a majority of these reasons. We share it because we understand it, because we believe it, and because it is why we are here- it matters, especially before the Father. But see what is lacking there- my absolute perfection. You see, we are called to strive for perfection before God (Phil. 3:12), but if we were expected to be perfect on this earth, we would surely fall short. Nevertheless, we push onward for it, but with the understanding that we will only obtain it when our God has seen fit. And we see Paul pushing Timothy in this goal, in both the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the saints, by telling him plainly “Preach the Word!” And again, notice what is lacking- external acceptance. He doesn’t say “Preach the Word to save people!” Indeed, he hopes for the salvation of people, but he does not list it as imperative- “saving souls” is not given as a command nor an expectation. It is a result long hoped for, but it is not a requirement. Instead, the focus is placed on the Word that saves souls. The imperative is found in the proclamation of God’s saving and edifying Word, and the reception of the hearers is found to be irrelevant in this particular command. “…in season and out of season…”
What does this mean? Quite plainly, it means that we do not share the Gospel with the expectation that people will be saved. We hope for it, we long for it, but we cannot simply expect it, because that is not what we are called to do. The work of acceptance- salvation, edification, glorification- is all left in the hands of Paul, and he instead places his focus on the task at hand. Proclaiming what God has said, saying it as clearly as he can without thought of reception or acceptance. And this is vital to our understanding of the Gospel. As long as we aim to “save souls,” we will be in despair, because we never save souls, no matter how well we present the Gospel, primarily because that objective of saving a soul while preaching the Gospel is contrary reasoning, because the Gospel tells us who saves souls- God- and we are told to share the Gospel, not fulfill its effects. Jeremiah faced this reality, seen in the fact that most people didn’t actually believe what he said, and it is very likely that he died alone as far as companions are concerned. And thus we ask a very important question to ourselves: “If I stand before God, and my list of people who believed the Gospel because of my evangelism is utterly empty, am I a failure before God?” And the answer is a resounding “God forbid it!” Because external results- outward acceptance by a sinful world- are never the standard for which we strive. The words of our Lord, “Well done My good and faithful slave,” are we seek to hear. And He does not say it because of the number of people we will bring with us into Heaven, but rather He judges based on the effort we put into doing what He said- abounding in the work of our Lord. We do not share the Gospel to save souls. We share the Gospel so that God might save souls, but we share it because we are told to, and we seek the approval of our Master and Father, not that of the world.
And Paul adds to this, because we see that less and less people will even hear what we have to say, and they will become more and more intolerant of the Word of God, because they want their ears to be tickled, not convicted. They will hear the Truth, and perhaps even admit its rightness, but will reject it because they simply don’t like it. They are unwilling to take up their cross and follow Him, like the “rich young ruler” who ran away weeping, because he was unwilling to accept the words of the Lord, “Give up what you have and follow Me.” And much of what we must give up is public approval.
And such is the fault of modern evangelicalism. Because they seek to “save souls” over and above anything else, they are willing to compromise the consistency and clarity of the Gospel for the sake of “getting people to come to church.” They would rather get someone to “walk the aisle” than hear the Word of God plainly and actually preached. This is why music and entertainment has become too prominent within the church. You cannot win a large amount of people with convicting and brutal truths found within the Bible, so substitute the bad parts of the Gospel with inspiring music, amazing light shows and mystic fog. Show them what the Spirit looks like, but don’t say what He says through the prophets and apostles. Feel what God has to say, but surely don’t actually look for yourself to see what He says! And as long as this remains the goal, the Gospel will continue to diminish and shrink, while external values become more the new steeple of the church. “Look!” they say to the ever-evolving sinful world, “We’re finally relevant!” They market the Word as though it is an option among many- as though it is a high-quality product- and not the words of life. And the command to Timothy becomes increasingly less profitable.
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” – 2 Timothy 4:1-8