18 August 2008

A Better Way

What's wrong with jumping on and off the fad-wagons?
The final entry in our series on evangelicals' pathological obsession with trendiness.

(First posted Thursday, July 28, 2005)

Complete series:
  1. The Fad-Driven Church
  2. The Church-Marketing Fad
  3. The Fallout of All Those Fads
  4. Requiescat
  5. Evangelicalism in Ruins
  6. A Better Way

ome people actually watch the undulating waves of fads in the evangelical movement as if these were the best barometer by which to discern how the Holy Spirit is working in the world. Many evangelical leaders actually seem to think the fads are a better gauge than the Word of God for giving us a perspective on what God wants to do in His church from season to season.

Rick Warren, for example, encourages church leaders to develop their skill at fad-surfing:

At Saddleback Church we've . . . tried to recognize the waves God was sending our way, and we've learned to catch them. We've learned to use the right equipment to ride those waves, and we've learned the importance of balance. We've also learned to get off dying waves whenever we sensed God wanted to do something new. The amazing thing is this: The more skilled we become in riding waves of growth, the more God sends! (The Purpose-Driven® Church, 14-15.)

Notice his tacit assumption that the fads are the means God uses to bring growth.

Faddism has begun to usurp the role of Scripture in contemporary evangelical thinking. Fads (not the Bible) are seen as the main instruments of growth and edification. Fads (not Scripture) also set the agenda for church ministry. If you want to discover what God is doing and formulate a working strategy for church growth, you have to get your nose out of the Bible and hold up a wet finger to pop culture. Take a survey and find out what people want, then give it to them.

That is the not-so-subtle message of a hundred or so volumes on church growth that have circulated among evangelical leaders over the past 20 years.

By definition, a Fad-Driven® church cannot be a church governed by the Word of God. Those who set their direction by following the prevailing winds of change are being disobedient to the clear command of Ephesians 4:14, which instructs us not to do that.

It is a serious problem that in the contemporary, Fad-Driven® evangelical culture, very few pastors, church leaders, and key evangelical figures are both equipped and willing to answer the serious doctrinal assaults that are currently being made against core evangelical distinctives—such as the recent attacks on substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, and the doctrine of original sin.

Someone decided several years ago that the word propitiation is too technical and not user-friendly enough for contemporary Christians, so preachers stopped explaining the principle of propitiation. Now that the idea of propitiation is under attack, we have a generation of leaders who don't remember what it meant or why it's important to defend.

Something seriously needs to change in order to rescue the idea of historic evangelicalism from the contemporary evangelical movement.

And here's a good place for the change to begin: A generation of preachers needs to rise up and be committed to preaching the Word, in season and out of season, and be willing to ignore the waves of silly fads that come and go and leave the church's head spinning.

Bonus: Here's an excerpt from a sermon on Hebrews 4:12:

We need to have more confidence in the ability of the Word of God to penetrate people's hearts. This is one of the real deficiencies in this generation of evangelicals. We don't have enough faith in the power of God's Word to penetrate a hardened heart. Some Christians—and even lots of churches—actually back away from proclaiming the simple Word of God to unbelievers in plain language. They think it's necessary to have musical performances, drama, comedy, wrestling exhibitions, or other forms of entertainment ("pre-evangelism") to soften people up and prepare them to receive the Word. And in most cases those who opt for such a strategy never do get around to declaring the Word of God with any kind of boldness.

The idea is to find some activity or technique that entertains people and tries to make them friendly to Christianity while carefully avoiding the risk of confronting them with the truth of Scripture—as if something besides the Word of God might be more effective than Scripture at penetrating their hearts. That is sheer folly, and all the emphasis given to such gimmickry these days is a tremendous waste of time and energy. Nothing is more penetrating and more effective in reaching sin-hardened hearts than the pure and unadulterated Word of God. All our human techniques and ingenuity are like dull plastic butter knives compared to the Word of God, which is "sharper than any twoedged sword."

Phil's signature


greglong said...

Thanks for the Heb. 4:12 bonus. Very helpful.

David A. Carlson said...

So, RW is deceitfuly scheming is he? Which false doctrines is he teaching that concern you? Which part of the Nicene Creed has he done away with? Does he no longer preach about the atonement? Justification by faith?

Phil Johnson said...


I've been without an Internet connection for most of the weekend. On Friday, I briefly read the comment-thread here and (uncharacteristically) deleted a few comments, including one or two from a rather conspicuous troll who has dropped by a few times lately, and one or two from David Rudd. In a comment I made Friday, I remarked that David had been banned.

David wrote me a private message to say he believes I'm mistaken and although he has been warned about his occasional nuisance-commenting, he has never actually been banned. So I checked. By my records, I banned him for a couple of rule-4 violations in July last year, but that ban didn't stick. He has commented successfully numerous times since then.

So apparently I owe David Rudd an apology for stating categorically that he has been banned:

I'm sorry, David. First chance I get, I'll reinstate the comments from Mr. Rudd that I deleted, or try to repost them in the appropriate thread. Today, however, I am off to Nantucket, so I don't know what my connectivity is going to be like.

Phil Johnson said...


Did RW ever "preach the atonement"? Where?

However, I don't recall accusing him of "deceitfully scheming." What, precisely, are you referring to?

Travis said...

I believe dac is making reference to your usage of Ephesians 4:14 in connection with the Fad-Driven Church. I agree with you though, Warren hasn't clearly preached the atonement - at least not in the "Purpose Driven" series.

But I did enjoy the Saddleback forum this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Phil Johnson,

Thank you for this series. It has been a great blessing, a great help, and a great inspiration.



Phil Johnson said...

Travis: "I believe dac is making reference to your usage of Ephesians 4:14 in connection with the Fad-Driven Church."

Ah, I see.

Well, let's look at that, shall we?

Ephesians 4:14: " so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."

The command there is not to follow every wind and wave and scheme. To suggest that Rick Warren hasn't taken that command very seriously is not to accuse Warren himself of deliberate deceit.

Few would argue that he has proved himself to be a paragon of discernment or someone known for the soundness and care with which he handles doctrine. That's certainly a serious problem for anyone who has accumulated as many followers as Warren has. But to point that fact out is not to accuse Warren of what "dac" claimed I accused him of.

. . . which is kind of funny, because you might think someone as concerned as "dac" is about making sure every critical remark is roundly challenged and carefully deconstructed would be more careful about the accusations he makes.

James Joyce said...


The basis of the fad driven church is to tell people that our sword will be more effective if we tape a plastic knife to the point. That is is a 'deceitful scheme' for it is a false teaching and a bad plan regardless the intentions of Mr. Warren.

Thanks for reposting this series Phil.
It has been a timely read as our church has been focusing on biblical evangelism in our small group studies.

Phil Johnson said...

So--I mentioned in an earlier comment (made during breakfast at Panera Bread) that I'm headed for Nantucket today. Turns out they have wi-fi and electrical plugs on the ferry, so I'm connected for the next hour or so, and commenting from somewhere in US waters on the Atlantic Ocean.

We don't get a lot of comments from here.

I may be the first.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Doctrines of Grace. That's so cool. As a way of understanding and conceptualizing calvinism.

Grace. Great word.

It's not easy to know or discern between the Holy Spirit genuinely moving or a fad. Therefore, many people reserve judgment. By reserving judgment, they are practicing or extending grace, or at least they hope to.

(Perhaps this is what Pastor Piper was doing in regards to the Lakeland "Revival" nonsense.)

Another difficulty is that "fads" don't earmark or advertise themselves as "fads". Conversely, the Holy Spirit frequently doesn't earmark or advertise what God is doing as "non-fad."

So although I greatly agree with PJ and my teampyro commenters on the ill-effects of "faddishness" in the contemporary evangelical church, I believe in extending a measure of grace to those who got sucked in by fads from those who've had the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

And even when we've had 20/20 foresight and made discernment warnings, they still need to be conducted with grace. Much like DJP's posts did so well in his analysis of the Lakeland farce.

sevenmeditations.com said...


Great post. I do have a few follow up questions for you:

Is there no room for us to "fad-surf" in the context of a passage such as 1 Cor. 9:20? If so, what does that look like today or what example could you point to where a church has "became a Jew to win Jews" while still remaining faithful to the Gospel? Or is this all simply the case that the fad itself has barred any opportunity of sharing the Gospel sincerely and accurately?

FX Turk said...

Yeay! Phil's back. For a minute.

VcdeChagn said...

We need to have more confidence in the ability of the Word of God to penetrate people's hearts.

I preached (briefly, before the main sermon) at my youngest's dedication yesterday. Some friends who are Catholic were in the audience.

According to folks who heard what I said, the Gospel was preached. Not only that, but my pastor then preached a fantastic sermon on 2 Cor 5.

I was then asked if I thought it had been driven home to anyone.

I said I hoped so, but I didn't know. My job isn't to do the penetrating, it's to preach the Gospel and let God do the penetrating.

Mike Westfall said...

> It's not easy to know or discern
> between the Holy Spirit genuinely
> moving or a fad.

But sometimes it's real easy to discern, yet people don't.

F'rinstance, when I hear of people receiving "prayer cloths" that were "anointed" at some specific venue so as to extend the supposed move of the Spirit to those locations where the magic cloths end up, then discernment seems easy to me. I bet those prayer cloths aren't sent out for free, either.

olan strickland said...

dac: So, RW is deceitfuly scheming is he? Which false doctrines is he teaching that concern you?

1. He is interested in quantity and not quality (as per his own words in his books and interviews) which according to the Lord Jesus in Matthew 7:13-27 characterizes lawless and foolish false prophets.
2. He fails the test of 1 John 4:5-6, not only speaking as from the world and the world listening to him, but also instructing others that if they want to market their church to the un-churched then they must learn to “think like and speak like they do.”
3. He violates the clear teaching of Scripture against God commanded separation from unbelieving and opposing religions through his ecumenical religious pluralism for the sake of so-called peace (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
4. He teaches a strange and unbiblical ecclesiology and thereby perverts the God-given purpose and sound doctrine of the church. His five functions of the church are actually an outflow of being saved and do not have to be taught. No one taught the new believers to desire these things because it is an outflow of being Spirit-led rather than being purpose-driven. For the Scriptural purpose of the church see Ephesians and 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.
5. He teaches a strange and unbiblical soteriology perverting the sound doctrine of salvation with a God who isn’t so holy and a man who isn’t so bad resulting in a miasma of man-centered methods as the power of God unto salvation.
6. Therefore RW is interested in “a better way”, “band-wagons”, and “neology rather than theology.”

Rick Frueh said...

I'm going to have to refurbish and modernize the fads I use to draw in people. My "hola-hoop" church and "lava lamp" church seem so ineffective now.

David A. Carlson said...

Phil :

Ephesians 4:14?

So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.

We are to avoid the "trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes" I assume that the we was us, and those that were using the fads were the deceitful schemers.

I assumed you implied that by tying the Ephesians passage to Fads and RW. If not, I was wrong. My apologies.

donsands said...

"We've also learned to get off dying waves whenever we sensed God wanted to do something new."

How do you sense God? And sense Him doing something new?
What's that feel like, and look like I wonder?

Great post.

If only God would set a great hunger for His Word in the hearts of every church member, and we would cry out to the Lord to send His pastors, shepherds, and fill the church pulpits with those god has set apart to teach His Word, and shepherd the flock with the Word. (John 21:15-17;Acts 6:2-4;1 Pet. 1:23-2:3)

Stefan Ewing said...

Re the Hebrews exegesis:

Wasn't one of the acts that got the Reformers in trouble the act of translating Scripture into the vernacular language?

And wasn't the purpose of that to make the Gospel accessible to common folk, no longer shrouded behind an impenetrable curtain of linguistic obfuscation?

And indeed, didn't the teaching of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone by Wycliffe, Hus, and Luther ignite a continent-wide revolution that restored the truth and simplicity of the Gospel after 1200 years of darkness?

The word of God is no plastic butter knife, indeed!

Stefan Ewing said...

I saw the 2003 movie Luther last night. Your bonus section Hebrews 4:12 was highly a propos.

Mike Westfall said...

Hey, I'd like to see a new fad, err.. a new movement of the Spirit, I mean.

You know, a revival for us guys. I have no need of gold dust and angel feathers, though. No, the revival I'd like to see would be one where the Holy Spirit manifests His presence by raining down brewskis and bratwursts.
Oh wait, I need a proof text. Hmm, let's see. Oh! I know, How about Psalm 81:10 "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it." With brewskis and bratwust please.
Why hasn't anybody thought of this yet?

Thanks for this series of posts, Phil. It has certainly been enlightening to me.

sevenmeditations.com said...

Bill "Butter Knife" Hybels?

Unknown said...

I figure if people say I'm a conservative legalist baptist calvinist....well them i'm doing Ok. As long as I go against the fad grain...I must be dong something right.

Oh yeah..I also get my guidelines for living from the Bible, not the most recent copy of People.

John said...

I'm glad you posted this. I wish I could get my whole church to read it. But then they would just think you were just an old grouch, like they do me. (Even though I'm 33.)

Warren Chua said...

"Many evangelical leaders actually seem to think the fads are a better gauge than the Word of God for giving us a perspective on what God wants to do in His church from season to season."

rightly said!