Extrabiblical Movements

Writing for Grace to You, Cameron Buettel and Jeremiah Johnson examine the pervasiveness of pragmatism in the visible Church.  Because of the pragmatic approach to “doing church” we now have “seeker-sensitive gurus…devoted to developing the latest and greatest formula for selling the gospel. Every aspect of the church experience, from the style of music and teaching to design aesthetics—even the kind of clothes the pastor wears—are carefully chosen to make the message as user-friendly and enticing as possible.”

So, should Bible believing Christians fight back against the pragmatic incursion in our churches? Listen to what Buettel and Johnson have to say.

Church entertainment

Seeker-sensitive churches offer worldly entertainment, pop culture trends, and man-centered self-improvement.

Most diners and restaurants across the country can serve you fried chicken, but only KFC has the Colonel’s original recipe of eleven herbs and spices. The same goes for other brand names you recognize—Coca Cola and Krispy Kreme stand out from their competitors because of the uniqueness of their products.

In each case, the secret recipe is the key to their success. Through trial and error, each of them has developed a specific formula for its product that appeals to the widest-possible audience.

But what if you’re not selling chicken, soda, or doughnuts? What if, as prosperity preacher T.D. Jakes once said, “Jesus is the product”? Tragically, too many in the church today have adopted that mindset—they’ve developed their own formulas to make Christ and the gospel more appealing to the world.

The quest for Christianity’s secret recipe goes back to nineteenth century revivalist Charles Grandison Finney. Finney believed he could win souls through a variety of methods that would compel his listeners into making a decision for Christ. He argued that a revival “is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means.” [1]

Finney was a pragmatist driven solely by results. He held no strong allegiance to any theological framework. That’s why his preaching was such a mixed bag—he was only interested in refining his sales pitch. In his day, that meant crusades of fire and brimstone preaching, as he worked to scare sinners into the arms of the Savior.

Finney’s methods live on in the hellfire and damnation preachers we see on busy street corners today. Their promise of fire insurance against God’s impending wrath echoes the tone and topic of much of Finney’s teaching.

But Finney’s legacy extends beyond modern prophets of doom. The seeker-sensitive movement—while seemingly antithetical to fire and brimstone preaching—owes just as much to Finney’s influence, with its emphasis on emotion, pragmatism, and developing widespread appeal.

In fact, Finney’s fingerprints are all over modern seeker-sensitive strategies. Consider these words from Rick Warren, perhaps the world’s foremost purveyor of seeker-sensitive strategies: “It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart. . . . The most likely place to start is with the person’s felt needs.” [2]

Just like Finney, seeker-sensitive gurus are devoted to developing the latest and greatest formula for selling the gospel. Every aspect of the church experience, from the style of music and teaching to design aesthetics—even the kind of clothes the pastor wears—are carefully chosen to make the message as user-friendly and enticing as possible.

But marketing and manipulation don’t make the gospel any more plausible or potent. No scare tactics or sideshow techniques can secure salvation or transform the sinner’s heart. Even Finney acknowledged that the vast majority of his converts “would of course soon relapse into their former state.” [3]

The truth is that the gospel doesn’t need to be cleverly packaged—it simply needs to be preached.  Continue reading

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