13 January 2011

Real Passion vs. Artificial Enthusiasm

by Phil Johnson

hen we consider Christ as the very incarnation of divine glory, it ought to put all our other passions in proper perspective. It ought to make us ashamed that our focus is so far off and we are not really passionate about the one thing that ought to excite us the most.

We imitate all the world's passions. We invent gimmicks to try to win worldly people by appealing to whatever mania has captured our culture's attention at the moment. We devote our energies and our emotions to things that are not even worthy of our attention. We do things to stir artificial passion—which is an especially sinister form of false worship.

Our passions should not need to be whipped up by spiritual cheerleaders and stadium chants. We shouldn't have to be worked into an emotional state by hype and melodrama and musical manipulation. If we can get pumped to a fever pitch by some rock-star pastor's antics rather than by the truth of the biblical message, then whatever we are feeling isn't even a legitimate passion in the first place.

How many youth leaders purposely provoke their students to a state of screaming enthusiasm with gross-out games? Remember the peanut-butter-in-the-armpit performance? (Sadly, I've been unable to forget it.) Note that pastor's rationale: he say he does stuff like that frequently to "shock and astound." (Those are his exact words.) He said he did the armpit schtick because he hoped to start "a buzz that would go viral, that teens would text and Twitter about." And here's how he justified his strategy: "The idea is to get students here to meet our Savior. They are getting all this crazy stuff out there in the world all the time. We are trying to show them that God is cooler."

Now, that's obviously an extreme example, but it illustrates rather vividly the foolishness of trying to stir artificial passions by making God seem "cool" rather than simply uplifting His glory and letting the grandeur and majesty of our God move people's hearts to more legitimate expressions of deep passion.

Ersatz enthusiasm and crass tomfoolery actually contradict the message we're supposed to be proclaiming. With so many churches merely trying to entertain people, or lull them into a state of self-satisfaction, or simply gross them out, it's no wonder the world is not being won to Christ but actually becoming steadily more hostile to Christianity.

By the way, the passions stirred by a clear vision of God's glory aren't necessarily warm and comforting. It's not always a good feeling. In fact, it is much more likely that the first time someone catches a glimpse of God's glory, the result will be intense fear. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). Do a study on this in Scripture and take note of how people usually respond when they first see God for who He is. They fall on their faces in sheer terror. Almost every time.

God's glory also provokes profound amazement and wonder. Sometimes it's delight and rejoicing. (Peter fell on his face and confessed his sin when he first began to realize who Jesus was. But he sounded almost giddy when he saw Christ's glory unveiled on the Mount of Transfiguration.) All of those are legitimate emotions, and if they are real, they will make a lasting difference in us—something more than an impressive display of arm-raising and swaying with closed eyes during the song service; and something more credible than the pseudo-drunken behavior that has become such a plague in recent years.

Artificial religious enthusiasm is the bane of our age, and it's a powerful detriment to the church's testimony. There is perhaps no more reprehensible variey of raw hypocrisy.

On the other hand, if we really grasped and meditated on how the glory of God is revealed to us in Christ, we would never need any artificial gimmicks to stir our passions, and we certainly would never dream that we needed to try to make God seem "cooler" or more appealing than He actually is.

Phil's signature


Thomas Louw said...

In our popcorn, movie and PS3 world of entertainment, churches has changed from place that facilitate our relationship with God and by proxy our relationship with fellow Christians to entertainment centres which happen to now and then read from scripture.
I think it has to do to the old Gen 3 problem. The Lordship of the triune Creator God is been exchanged for the lordship of man. Age old problem in an Easter dressing. All done in the disguise of evangelism.
Humanism with a Christian tag on.
O, if we could only get over “man”. If we only could grasp one minute part of the infinite God.
Now that will be living that will be ingageing.

Anonymous said...

Being a good Baptist ( that is by conviction not by membership) I am in no danger of heretical enthusiasm, sometimes I do wonder, when do feelings in emotions come into play. I have don eth loud proud charismatic thing in youth and it really got me nowehre, I just got tired.
These days it is amazement at God, and what he has done for me in Jesus that stirs me. Good thoughts, entertainment does not eqaul worship. wish people would get that.

Michael Lawmaster said...

Great post Phil!

One age old issue is that people are trying to do God's work for Him. In lieu of obeying God by preaching the Gospel, people are utilizing the world's pragmatic methods instead in order to draw people to Jesus Christ (I think the Holy Spirit has this one down and does not need any props).

Last time I checked, disobedience to Jesus Christ was and is not an approved evangelistic method.

In the end, such people hate the individuals they are trying to reach. I am paraphrasing; however, Paul Washer stated, "When you compromise the Gospel to reach people, you will have to compromise even more to keep them."

Jesus Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. He is not weak. Instead of utilizing methods that originate with man we should start with God and proclaim the Gospel as He has instructed us to do in Holy Scripture and leave the results up to Him.

Christopher said...

I work in a youth capacity in a church and none of what I do is the entertain schmig really. I wish I could say it is just because I am so Biblical and such an awesome man of God, but it has a lot to do with my personality as well. Ask anyone and they will tell you I am not very charismatic or energetic really. It is not on purpose, it is just that when I try to do that (or have tried in the past) it is as fake as Hollywood.

That being said, I think that proves the point of using God's methods. We do not have to jump up and holler and, as some youth ministers say, get "crunk with it". All we need is faithful teaching and discipling and that gets the job done.

James Scott Bell said...

It's a mistrust or ignorance of the role of the Holy
Spirit in conviction. Also, a mistrust of da Utes. I once was asked to guest teach a lesson on prayer for a HS group. They normally did a lot of this play type stuff. I just did a straight Bible study. They ate it up. Real spiritual hunger can be satisfied only with real spiritual meat. Da Utes want it, too, if we'll only give it to them.

Hayden said...

Just so I can try to head off where I think these comments will go:

Phil you are not saying that we need to be emotionless in things like worship, right? You are not saying that having an emotional response to a song is sinful? (I don't know how anyone cannot have an emotional response after hearing Jubilant Sykes or Phil Webbsing at GCC)

I do not think that is what you mean, but in some of the 'circles' that I run in, they might read that into this.

I read a thoughtful article by Bob Kauflin at his blog that speaks to needing emotion in worship or needing a particular to feel like you are worshipping.

It's called, 'Music, Gift or God?"

I heartily agree with this post.

MST said...

Spot on Phil. We have a young "charismatic" "evangelist" here in the B'ham Al, area called Matt Pitt who whips them in a frenzy with hip hop and other stuff, and tries to teach some bible but fails in that area. Last Tuesday of every month the Basement, name of his ministry, is held and youth groups around here drag their youth off to it. Why I asked one youth leader. He said because he is saving souls. I asked him are you not capable of presenting the Gospel to your youth? I get a blank look from him. Scary part about this is Matt Pitt has become well known and goes all over the country and holding training sessions so others can do the same thing he is doing. It is spreading.

Derek said...

This is my first time entering your blog. I started one myself recently called www.proverbs8-wisdomscall.blogspot.com. One of my friends told me I might like this one and he was right. Brother or brothers (I'm not sure how many people help out with this.) I echo all of your statements especially with this post. Check mine out if you would like and you will find out that you are not alone out there. Praise the Lord for you and I will continue to read this blog.

donsands said...

"Ersatz enthusiasm and crass tomfoolery actually contradict the message we're supposed to be proclaiming."

ersatz. Never heard that word before. Good word. Greta post.

The bottom of the pot, when all is boiled away, is these type of churches have a people-centered gospel and theology.
If the Church would simply get back to a Christ-focused Gospel, and a theology that says, all we do is for God's honor and glory. The salvation of people is not our main comcern, but Gos' glory is, then we will see souls coming to Christ in a genuine manner, and these same souls being sdified in the truth, and the Church will then shine it's light in the dark.

Solameanie said...

Great post. Maybe I'm too British-minded for my own good, but I get very uncomfortable with too much hoo-hah in public, and even more so in church. And so much of the hoo-hah is whipped up and generated. Worship "experts" in some denominations used to hold workshops on how to properly choreograph a service for the maximum emotional impact. It disgusted me then and it disgusts me now.

Michael Lawmaster said...

Hi Hayden—
Regarding your comment:

“Phil you are not saying that we need to be emotionless in things like worship, right? You are not saying that having an emotional response to a song is sinful?”

God created us and emotions (feelings/passion being a part) are part of the package. I do not believe we are to be devoid of emotions when worshipping God. If that was being advocated, then man, the psalmist sure missed that one entirely. In the order of things, emotions should not supersede Holy Scripture and, I believe the puritans stated that, they should not be exalted above reason.

To me, from what I see in the post, Phil is not advocating a total lack of emotions in worship but rather a proper, biblically, grounded source and use of emotions. It seems to me Phil:

• Exhorts us to the exaltation of and focus on Jesus Christ which ‘ought to put all our other passions in proper perspective.’

• Reminds us that Holy Scripture sets the standard and reveals to us, in the light of it’s truth, where we actually are and, as Phil stated, “It ought to make us ashamed that our focus is so far off and we are not really passionate about the one thing that ought to excite us the most.”

• Demonstrates that we should put no confidence in the flesh or world for the source of passion but rather "simply uplifting His glory and letting the grandeur and majesty of our God move people's hearts to more legitimate expressions of deep passion.”

Anonymous said...

Oh, brother. The ol' "Peanut Butter Deodorant" shtick is still alive and well? That gag was a staple of "Christian" youth groups and summer camps back in my day. Takes me back, for sure. Thank God for His kind provision of milk and meat to those who crave it, while the clowns gorge themselves on (tainted) peanut butter.

Jim Crigler said...

Phil: You've split the posts yet again.

Don Sands: "Greta post"? Is Ms Van Susteren ghostwriting for Phil and I didn't get the memo?

Unknown said...

Amen, Phil.

Passion follows conviction, not the other way around. If the basis of our convictions are grounded in the truth of God's word, the person and work of Christ, and the majesty of God, then this "real passion" you describe does in fact follow, and it is more unspeakably wonderful than any manufactured enthusiasm.

Robert said...

We don't let our emotions or feelings guide us, but we let them flow as we are filled with Scripture and praise God for being so magnificent and holy. And we don't use that type of emotion as our main tool in evangelism. As Paul says, it is the Gospel that is the power of God for salvation. If we focus on something else, then we are trying to rob God of His glory because we are trying to say that we have a better way (and thus we get the credit). Why cater to the world's desires with the warnings of 1 John 2:15-17 and James 4:4? It saddens me that many "youth pastors" don't follow that type of guidance and instead follow what the world has to offer. The kids don't need the fun the world has to offer...they need the Gospel and they need to see it in plain sight instead of veiled behind these silly gross games and marketing strategies.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

The bottom line is we cannot beat the world at its own game. If we try to we are merely setting people up for whoever comes along with a better show. We need to do things focused on God and His glory and the appropriate emotions will follow.

Stefan Ewing said...


On the one hand, I see a whole range of human emotion in the Bible—especially in the Psalms, that run the whole gamut of the human heart, in the inspired words of David.

And in my own life, I can testify to moments of great joy in my Christian walk, and to moments where it's been somewhat more challenging to be joyful. But to rejoice in Christ is a command from the Apostle, and it's a good one.

What perplexes me about "passion" is that it seems to be pushed as an object, as something you must feel and exude—and even in some Reformed circles. There is one of the big name preachers (I won't say who, but you all know who he is) whose message seems to be that if you're not passionate about God, then you don't love Him enough—or maybe not at all.

Shouldn't it rather be that whatever our emotion, or whatever our mental reaction to the work of God, it should be deep and heartfelt?

At what point can a feeling or expression of "passion" become a work, and something to be pursued for its own sake, rather than as a natural expression of what's in our hearts?

Hope this makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Wordly passions and shallow enthusiasm? None of that HERE, nosiree!

Not Ashamed said...

Once again in the grand scheme of "man" we seem to think that we have the power to "lead" people to Jesus..So we must be like the culture to "woo in" the unsuspecting and then "POW" drop the Gospel bomb and surely they will see how "cool" we are and "get saved". How is it that the Creator of ALL is somehow impotent to do it without us?
I know the intentions are there and they are good but the lie of "free will" goes deep and it drills to the very core of our soul desperately trying to make man sovereign.
Praise God that He will never bow a knee to mans presumned free will and His will will be done in spite of our good yet lame intentions.

Mike the Bible Burgh Host said...

John 6:44a ... "No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him ..." Holy peanut butter in the arm pits batman, NOW WHAT?

Mike Riccardi said...

Ersatz enthusiasm and crass tomfoolery actually contradict the message we're supposed to be proclaiming.

What's so good about that statement is that it serves as a wake-up call to those who think the method and the message are in "two different hands." Ya know, you've heard the "open hand, closed hand" bit.

What this gets at is that we can seek to "do ministry" in a way that does not befit the message. Here's to a Biblical message and a Biblical method.

Melinda said...

Thank you for clarifying some of your thoughts from the previous post. I totally needed that : )

I am studying the book of Ephesians right now and I find myself in awe because of all that God has done for us in Christ.

Stefan Ewing said...


"Ephesians...in awe because of all that God has done for us in Christ."

So simple, and yet so true.

Phillipians and Colossians likewise: high Christology, coupled with deep practical application.

How apt that all three of his "Prison Epistles" (apart from Philemon) are together beside each other in our Bibles!

James S said...

Some people are emotional and some arent. Be who you are. Personally I am not emotional. I have an overactive brain but underactive motions, and thats the way I am.
But being emotional and being artificially enthusiastic with no logical reasoning as to why is something completely different.

When my older sister first began bringing me with her to her evangelical church about 1975 (I was 10 years old), I liked the lack of pretense of the people and the lack of false piety that I had grown up seeing in the roman catholic building I was raised in.

But they still had things that they did that they couldnt rationally explain to me when I asked them why. The Roman Catholic building was way worse in that regard, having all kinds of rituals and actions that they could not show me scripture to back up why they were doing it, but this new church had a few things too.
They could not explain (at least satisfactorily to me) why some women would suddenly burst out speaking in a weird language in the middle of the service, (even while the pastor was teaching the bible). It seemed awfully rude to me even if there was someone there who could understand them.

And while singing, many would raise the hands above their heads and I felt like I was doing something wrong in not doing it too, but I am rational and don't do things unless I have a logical reason even if everybody is doing it. (Thank God for that. It's kept me out of plenty of trouble even though I haven't always fit in well with any crowd).

To me, worshipping God means learning, keeping, adoring and obeying his Words and law. I believe that is how Worship is done. It is how I live from Monday through Sunday.
We all have our own understanding of these things, and that is mine.
It has nothing whatsoever to do with how the world understands worship, or even how a lot of christians understand it.

Being real and not being a pious fraud has always been important to me. It's one of the reasons I love Mark chapter 7 so much.

We never ever find Jesus being illogical or irrationally emotional in scripture. Just the opposite, we find Him always rational, and always with a good reason for everything He does.

And he never had to have freakshows along with His teaching, like strong muscle men breaking blocks of wood "for God's glory" and to attract youth like I remember seeing often in the 70's. I found that as illogical then as I do now.

Sorry for my length. This is an excellent post and a great topic which always sets me off blabbing too much.

donsands said...

"Greta post"? Is Ms Van Susteren ghostwriting for Phil and I didn't get the memo?"

The cat's out of the bag now.

I must be the worse when it comes to typing, spelling, grammer, punctuation, etc., etc.

I need to go back to school.

Jim Pemberton said...

Certain appearances of passion are immature. I notice the long-term missionaries who go through many difficulties to maintain what seems like a fruitless mission. When I first started doing short-term missions, I would get excited about a mission trip months out and talk about it coming up. I was genuinely enthusiastic about it, but my enthusiasm was a bit immature.

Anymore, I don't have a big feeling of great excitement, but the greater passion is in the endurance of many uncomfortable things. I like going now because I get to see what God is doing. Sometimes it's scary, like when our translators warn us that anti-Christians are pursuing us to have us arrested as we visit people to share the gospel with them. It can be discouraging where it seems like a trip produces very little of an impact, but years later a team goes to the people and sees that God took the little we were able to do and convicted someone to some quietly magnificent work in the area and there are now many young Christians hungry to learn more.

It's similarly amazing to see how God is orchestrating His work in seemingly unrelated ways around the world, from church planting in the slums of India to Cuban refugees fleeing captivity in Venezuela to God working in the hearts of some of the most unpopular people in our American churches. There is a much larger story unfolding under our radars than we can imagine. Prepare to be utterly amazed. God is at work. Be passionate about that.

David Wayne said...

Thanks for this Phil. When I came to my current church 8 years ago it had been the custom of the youth group for several years to go to those "Acquire the Fire" conferences, this in a PCA church. Our kids would inevitably be disappointed in our church's worship because we didn't stir people up the way they did at those conferences. Sadly, my own daughter told me the other day that at our church people just don't seem "into" worship. I really let her have it on that one (kindly) asking what in the world she thought she was doing coming into a service of worship and looking around at other people to evaluate their performances in worship. But, at her Christian high school they have chapel every day and it is a "whip 'em up" style of worship with a bunch of kids. I really do think the end result of all of this focus on passion is a degradation of worship and Christian experience. It seems to me to simply be a capitulation to romanticism.

Several months ago one of the new bloggers over at the iMonk did a post called "Filled with Passionate Intensity." They quoted some obscure "church father" I had never heard of, I think it turns out to be someone from the Eastern Orthodox tradition and maybe even a mystic. So I really don't trust said "church father," but at the same time it was of historical interest because this particular "father" and their tradition equated passion and zeal with what they call "soul-sickness." Obviously, that's not the last word and the source itself may not be the most reliable but it is interesting historically. Today, the person with the most obvious and demonstrative "passion" usually wins. While emotions aren't bad and rationalism isn't the answer, we've lost an appropriate suspicion of "emotion" and "passion" that I think prior generations of Christians had.

Pierre Saikaley said...

lol. Ed Young, Jr. needs to work on those pipes.