16 September 2008

Pretentiousness and Gospel ministry (part 2 of 2)

by Dan Phillips

Okay, I'm 'way,'way overdue on this. Over a month ago I fired off part one, and promised part two... but never delivered.

Humblingly enough, no one has complained. Or, apparently, even noticed! But hey, I promised, and must deliver. So...

I had made the case that the Emerg*** movement is all promise and no delivery, all about image and no character/value, that it is all ad and no product, that all its vaunted "new" is in fact old, discredited, and rotten.

Then I finished by framing and posing this question:
Of course, anyone who really wanted to have a revolutionary impact on the world might give a thought to how Paul did it. He managed a pretty good job of staging a counter-cultural revolution. What was Paul's orientation?
For starters, then, let's fix our eyes on 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake
Paul knew there was a spiritual veil over his hearers' minds. He knew that he was inadequate to penetrate that veil (vv. 3-4). It could not be reasoned away, persuaded away, amused away, entertained away, distracted away, or forced away. So what could be done, and who could do it? The very prospect was overwhelming to him (cf. 2:15b).

So did Paul reinvent himself to fit the times? Did he change his core beliefs to be more acceptable to the blind? Did he adapt his message to accommodate the Satanic veil?

Absolutely not. To the contrary, Paul held such a mindset in molten contempt (v. 2). What he did instead was a full-out, pedal-to-the-metal proclamation of Christ in all His world-shattering, uncongenial, edgy glory (vv. 4b-5). He described beauty and glory they could not see. He told them a message they hated to hear.

In fact, note this particularly: "what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord" (v. 5). Paul specifically and expressly eschews making himself and his experience the issue. The issue is Jesus Christ. That proclamation, the heralding of Christ, is a decisive, critical, sharp-edged, objective proclamation. It is not a way to become broadly popular and well-loved by the blind and hateful. In fact, the "many" on the broad way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13) find such proclaimers to be a disgusting, repellent stench (2 Corinthians 2:16), and will vent their fury and loathing for God on them (John 15:18).

About the same fragrance, the elect will say, "Ah, sweet!" The others, "What? That bloated-corpse smell? Yargh!"

Now, Paul had in fact talked a bit about himself in the previous chapter. But what he said was pretty dismissive. You look in vain for self-promoting titles such as "futurist" or "Imagineer" or "Life Technician." No, the apostle says this: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" (4:7). " What are we?" Paul asks. "Clay pots," is the answer — and that for a reason: that attention might focus on the contents. Not on the pot.

A modern Spiritual Invasion Strategerist might think that what's really needed is a pot-improvement program. Glaze the pot. Paint the pot. Pierce the pot. Day-glo the pot. Make the pot shine!

But Paul was utterly uninterested in any such regimes. The pot was powerless and dying. The pot was nothing. The pot could produce nothing worth offering. The pot was powerless to give sight to deluded and blind lost people (4:1-6). What they needed wasn't a better pot. They needed what the pot carried, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So if you won't proclaim Christ with all His razor-sharp edges, in a way that disgraces and damns and judges the world — for those keeping score at home, I just said the same thing in five different ways — you have to do something else.

Which is precisely what many Emerg*** leaders seem to do.

They seem to be proclaiming themselves. Not Jesus Christ as Lord.

The Gospel of Christ saves.

Pretentiousness kills.

That's why it bothers us.

Dan Phillips's signature


David Kyle said...

Dan when you said this...

"So did Paul reinvent himself to fit the times? Did he change his core beliefs to be more acceptable to the blind? Did he adapt his message to accommodate the Satanic veil?"

I could already hear people misquoting and misusing what Paul said to the Corinthians...

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. ~1 Corinthians 9:19-23(ESV)

Could you head those comments off at the pass here?

DJP said...

Thanks. Not as well as Phil could, but I'll try.

As I always try to do, I phrased myself very deliberately:

"So did Paul reinvent himself to fit the times? Did he change his core beliefs to be more acceptable to the blind? Did he adapt his message to accommodate the Satanic veil?"

To say the least, I have no problem between using cultural touch-points that make the offensive messagenot more palatable, but — more clear and inescapable.

When Nathan approached David and told him a story about two guys and a little lambie (2 Samuel 12), it wasn't to make his confrontation of David in his sin easier for David to swallow.

It was to make it impossible for David not to swallow (at least in the sense of feeling the sword's tip at his throat).

I don't see the goal of much modern contextualization (such as Phil criticizes) to be springing a "Thou art the man."

It's more like, "Look! A sparkler! Cool, huh?"

Chris said...

Excellent second installment on this necessary topic Dan!

Reading this today made me think of a sneaky suspicion I've had, on several occasions, with regard to a possible deeper strategy that may be behind the marketing strategy on the surface of emerg*** (of course, at the deepest level, it is simply and tragically the spirit of the age). I've been meaning to ask you what your take is on this possibility: many of them are fully aware of a coming, increasing persecution against the church and Truth--like we are--but instead of committing to take a stand for Truth, they are demonstrating a pathetic cowardice that they believe will provide them with a "win-win" situation in their eyes because they can avoid the prevailing storms, while at the same time they can "enjoy the ride" in all of its carnality. Then they can rationalize to themselves how they are effectively "reaching' people in "relevant" ways.

Just a thought.

David Wayne said...

Yeah, you say you are talking about the emergent folks but I know good and well you are talking about me - I know it by the picture - after all, I am known around here as "The Preacher from the Black Lagoon." ;-)

Good stuff and I agree, how would you factor I Corinthians 9 into this - "all things to all men."

Anonymous said...

"For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." 1 Cor 2:2

Hallelujah! Praise to the glory of His grace!

Thank you, Dan.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Thanks for this post.

I missed the regular pantsing of the Emerg*** here on TeamPyro. And I missed PolyCarp's incisive laser beams into the Pomo's and LibProts.

Michael said...

For my own part, in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 I see that while Paul expresses a willingness to set aside his Christian freedoms to win some (observing some Jewish ceremonial and food ordinances when in their presence so that his witness is not negatively impacted), to lay aside his strength in Christ and admit his weaknesses to those lacking strength, and to deal with the Gentile community not as a Jew to Gentiles, but as one weak human vessel to another, sharing the love of Christ, I do NOT see that he in any way altered the message.

In fact, the only reason he does the things listed above is for the sake of the gospel...which he refuses to water down or contextualize outside of its clear meaning.

Chris said...


"all things to all men"

yes...assuming the spirit of the Lord is directing anything we do or say, and that nothing we demonstrate in our attempts at being "all things to all men" contadicts other explicitly stated directives in scripture with regard to our lives, our conduct, our beliefs--else, we would have dozens of stories, and even directives, in scripture encouraging the popularized plunge into sinful carnality and unbelief. This example is absurd, of course, but since most emerg*** feel that making such obvious and direct distinctions between the two paths of right and wrong are above their pay grade, such an example is necessary.

Dan said...

The more I read your blog...the more I am comforted that I'm not the only one thinking something is really wrong with the modern version of church. I just got done working at a marketed "hip" church and came away feeling empty and like a salesman with the gospel. That's not what its about. The path is NARROW.

When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and DIE.

Chris said...

Dan, you said:

It's more like, "Look! A sparkler! Cool, huh?"

or, its like saying: "the real problem was with Nathan, who just didn't learn the fine art of 'nuancing' his convictions any better towards his target audience"

DJP said...

One self-test question I'd propose is:

Are you trying to make the saving offensive message clearer (and thus, potentially, MORE offensive)?


Are you trying to make the offensive message less offensive (and thus, certainly, NOT saving)?

Carrie said...

Great post and perfect timing for me.

Thanks Dan!

David Kyle said...

After listening to a number of these "relevant preachers" and/or reading their blogs, it has become clear that the Gospel is second to or even incidental to their own promotion.

The difference between them and Paul is, Paul has seen the Lord of Glory and Paul has come face to face with his own sin as God sees it.

The very things Paul may have promoted to earn him points with the crowds he counted as rubbish...

For we are the circumcision,who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. ~Philippians 3:3-11(ESV)

I just love this passage!

Chris said...

Good scratch test Dan!

Witness: precisely!

Chris said...

Is it just me, or is that silly word, "nuance", appearing more and more these days? It must be in an ec book somewhere, or on one of their websites. Does anyone know who recently dug-up this word and re-contextualized it?

David Kyle said...

The idea that someone feels they have to do something to "make the Gospel connect" anyway says alot about what they think of the message itself. In fact it describes their whole theology and understanding of Who God is.

I like how Jesus made His message relevant for Paul on the Damascus Road and connected with him!

Don't get me wrong I am not abdicating everyone need be struck blind to be saved (mostly), but it certainly doesn't reflect the line of reasoning we see coming out of the seeker sensitive crowd or emerg blah blah blah folks.

The Blainemonster said...

Dan, you said:
Now, Paul had in fact talked a bit about himself in the previous chapter. But what he said was pretty dismissive. You look in vain for self-promoting titles such as "futurist" or "Imagineer" or "Life Technician."

Nice jab. Perfect. Laughed out loud.

Strong Tower said...

Scratch and sniff corpse, cool!

Lot's of talk about pigs in lipstick, these days.

I am reminded of a child's book. Yeth, it is right here next to Luther's Large.

It seems that a little girl piggy rufused the soap for her bath. But the fun that she was having turning her bath into mud looked so inticing that eventually the whole family jumped in. The book ends with that, but the reader is left wondering just when the fun will end and all will have to take a bath anyway... with clean water and soap. Now, the reader might also make the discovery that no one else had to act as foolish as the little piggy and could have saved themselves the need to wash their folly away. Such a waste of time, too, when it is understood that when all had dipped themselves in their own filth and fun, the means to clean and stay clean remained, unchanged, and they would have to avail themselves of it, anyway.

Love those children's stories. You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still lipstick.

donsands said...

Another s-pot on teaching. I would say this shows how the kettle calls the pot black.

Keep the edifying posts coming. Thanks.

Doug Short said...

One thing that we need to be sure that we are clear about is that the emergents are not simply changing styles and methodologies-they are challenging and changing Christianity itself. Rob Bell is clear in Velvet Elvis that, according to his horrible exegesis of Matthew 18:18-19, it is the duty of the church to reinterpret the Scriptures within one's faith community to discover what truth really is. Is the Bible true? Well, it depends on what you mean by that, many of them will argue ("I don't say there is no such thing as absolute truth- I'm just saying that I don't believe you can know what it is" says Doug Pagitt). Their so-called "trajectory hermeneutic" is leaving them with no real Scriptural foundation. Any thing goes in practice, because anything goes in belief. One emerging house leader has recently declared that their church community has determined that the prohibitions against pre-marital sex are no longer binding in their community because it is simply unreasonable to think that God would hold us to that in today's day and age. My point being that you can't really argue the methodology of Paul with those who do not hold the theology of Paul.

Strong Tower said...

But doug,

I don't think that this is about just the emergents...

There are a few others that have sound doctrine and it is not reflected in their forms or practices. The problem comes in when what is attracting the people is the act or the actor and not the script. True enough, the two camps don't look to much different at times. The cross over is where much of the confusion for the weak is being played out. It is hard enough to get the message across without the issues being further confused by the masks people wear.

It is one thing to put on a puppet show depicting the passion. And another to put on a puppet show dipicting passion. And it is another to put on a puppet show where the audience cannot tell the difference.

Doug Short said...


Of course I agree.

But, I was responding in light of Dan's statement that:

"I had made the case that the Emerg*** movement is all promise and no delivery, all about image and no character/value, that it is all ad and no product, that all its vaunted "new" is in fact old, discredited, and rotten."

So, I figured they were his specific target here.

I know many assume that the emergents are defined primarily by their methodology while I am simply saying that it goes much deeper than that. Before I read McLaren and Bell, etc., I thought that Mark Driscoll was just playing his typical role of court jester when he called them "heretics." Now I know that he was right.

Strong Tower said...

I think that by that statement Dan was also pointing to the excesses of "mainline" seeker sensitives, not excluding Driscoll.

There is a church here called Element, and if you check out their staff's favorite authors it is the same thing you'll find among other emergents. But, this church is not emergent, it is Wesleyan Holiness, a church plant of The Evangelical Church of America. So, what is going on? Why is it that from the SBC to to the RC to extremist Arminians like ECA are falling into this mode. The motivation really isn't their doctrine, at least up front. I find that disturbing if simply for the fact that Paul did not offer the Gospel in deception. And, it would be one thing if it was wolves in sheeps clothing, but were talking of sheep in wolves clothing. It ain't right.

Up front it is pragmatics, what builds numbers, and when that is motivation, the other becomes secondary and eventually unimportant and then non-existent. Doctrine must take the back seat or those in the front row will walk out. Though it has been in the works for a long time, the Finnyesque approach to "what ever it takes to win em" is taking hold in areas before thought impregnable. What gives.

As I said, it is weird that the ECA would sponser churches so contrary to their doctrine, yet, even they are stooping to raising their skirks to get a rise from the crowd.

donsands said...

"My point being that you can't really argue the methodology of Paul with those who do not hold the theology of Paul."

Good thought Doug. Good to see you commenting.

Anonymous said...

I had a terrible flashback to Todd Friel interview with Doug Paggit. GAAAH!

Jesus Is Coming Soon said...

Thanks! Good Stuff, When you hear Gods Word taught and revered you know
it.You are not satisfied with the smoke and mirrors.

Rick Frueh said...

There are doctrinal heretics and there are methodological heretics. I would suggest Mark Driscoll is the latter.

DJP said...

Dorian - "I had a terrible flashback to Todd Friel interview with Doug Paggit."



Wow wow!

Kay said...

I'd a make a pun about being seen as 'potty' by the world, but that word has a slightly different connotation across the pond if I recall aright...

Strong Tower said...


would a potty mouth in the U.K. be an irrational speaker? Or just a foul one?

I can see how it would be punable. Paul Tripp thinks that s*** is a power word. He'll be speaking about the usefuleness of potty mouth at Piper's upcoming conference featuring Driscoll. Driscoll will try to explain why potty can be used to a rational end in evangelism and not just something we use to train a child where "it" properly belongs.

David Kyle said...

I think a question that needs to be asked is "Do I really need to become like the culture, or take on some aspect of it, to reach those immersed in it?"

I would offer no. My reason is the message (The Gospel of Jesus Christ) has enough power, relevance and heart penetrating truth to reach people where ever they are at.

I think to add potty words to our vocabulary, piercings to our faces, or preaching from Dr. Seuss in effect says we do not believe the message can reach otherwise.

I could be wrong... but I don't think so.

David Kyle said...

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. ~Romans 1:16(ESV)

I love this verse!!! The power to reach, the power to save is in the very message we should be preaching! I tremble at the thought people think they need to do something above and beyond what God has provided to reach the people He has determined to save.

When we change ourselves, or the message then it has become a matter of "look at me" rather than "look at Christ".

Sorry, but this topic has really struck a chord with me. BTW, translating the Word of God into other languages is not the same as me taking up ultimate fighting so I can try to pass out tracts at the gym.

DJP said...

Well, there you go, and that's doubtless something we could pursue more... though Phil certainly already has said good things about it.

There's a big difference between (say) growing a pony tail at age 52 so They will think I'm One of Them and therefore Cool, and mentioning a line from a current song or novel in a sermon then bringing Biblical truth to bear as a point of contact. I think Paul did the latter in Acts 17 - quoting pagan writers then demolishing them with the Biblical worldview - and didn't do the former.

David Kyle said...

Dan you asked an insightful question...

"Did he change his core beliefs to be more acceptable to the blind?"

I think it becomes easier for people to do that very thing (changing core beliefs), if those beliefs were never grounded in Scripture in the first place.

That's why we see things like... well take your pick from Dr. Seuss to filthy language.

Kay said...

Nope, while we do use a potty to toilet-train children, 'potty' over here means 'nutty' or 'crazy'. We don't use the phrase 'potty-mouth', though I know what it means, which is precisely why I didn't leap in with an ill-advised and un-signposted pun :-D

Strong Tower said...

"current song or novel"

One of the things that I really like about A. Begg is his grasp of literature and use of "classic rock". He would just look weird with a tail, but a mullet, now...

Golden Years...

Chris said...


Yea, what's with all these gray pony tails these days...in churches especially??

Well, with all due respect to my reformed brethren who happen to be in/from the baby-boomer generation simply by their birth date, what we are seeing today in every facet of society, including the church, are vast numbers of a generation who never grew up, who embraced a philosophy/movement of rebellion that found its voice at Berkley in the 60's, who sought to dismantle and undermine social structures that were established by so many of their God-fearing parents. They had to go through the eighties and the nineties living lives of quiet desperation, but now--in the new millenium of "change"--they get to let their (gray) hair down...or tie it into one of those mini pony tails because, well, there's not much of it left anymore.

Oh, this talk about gray hair makes me think of that great quote from Spurgeon--when he asked an elderly man whether or not his gray hair was "a crown of glory or a fools cap" to him. Well, in the case of old hippies in 2008, the answer is quite clear--they are fools' caps.

What I find so troublesome is the simple fact that so many of these childish bearers of "fools caps" are occupying positions of quasi-leadership and/or quasi-authority in so many important areas of society, not the least of which includes churches and "Christian" colleges and/or seminaries.

DJP said...

Grey pony-tails... brrr!

But it could be worse.

Chris said...


That dapper fella seems to have taken his doo through at least a few decades in one sitting ;^D

Gilbert said...


You should be a pastor. And go to the doctor about that condition of yours that turns you into the Creature From The Black Lagoon when you hit the water...

OK, OK...


>My point being that you can't
>really argue the methodology of
>Paul with those who do not hold
>the theology of Paul.

But we need to go one step further, since we have the mind of Christ:

You can't argue the methodology of Christ with those who do not hold the theology of Christ.

Ouch? You betcha. And while there was plenty of discussion from the apostles about what Jesus was doing, they only argued amongst themselves from time to time---and promptly got nailed for it. Remember their arguing about who is better in the kingdom of Heaven? Sounds a lot like what we're seeing today, no?

I'll turn off the lights on this meta. I'm usually behind in my reading, so I've gotten good at finding the light switch.