MEMBERS: Is Christ-Centered Preaching Dangerous? (Transcript)

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Jon Moffitt: Welcome to the members’ podcast. As always, Justin and I are about to turn up the volume. We are thankful to and love all of our supporters. Some of you have been supporting us for almost three years. The encouragement is unbelievable. On top of your support, we’re receiving more donations. The membership podcast helps us get from month to month. That covers most of our expenses—not all of them. The additional book sales and donations help with that as the membership grows and so will our opportunities to do more. If you were to sit down and listen to our vision, which one day we might just give it to you, what we would love to see happen for Theocast… a lot of it is money. Money is our issue; it’s not our capacities. We have plenty to do and provide, but we just don’t have enough money to get it to you. So thank you for your support right now. The more money comes in, the more we’re going to keep providing more education, more books, a conference. I know people want a conference; we want one, too.

Anyway, let’s get to what the people really want to hear. I find this type of article very unhelpful, and it is what Theocast has been trying to point out for a long time. Two things: this is pietism, and pietism is the result of people who are trying to curb the moral behavior of people because one, I think they have an unbiblical perspective of Christianity. They say a Christian should act like this, and then they provide a list that the Bible never provides. That’s one. Two, they’re going after the lazy Christian, the nominal Christian, the Christian who isn’t taking God very seriously at His word. Their concern is if you preach this way, then you will not encourage people to live holy lives. I would say Piper is guilty of this, The Masters Seminary, John MacArthur, and even this article. I know people are about to fall off of whatever they’re sitting in or walking on.

Justin, what do I mean? The reason behind this article is that they’re afraid that people aren’t going to take the holiness and their responsibility seriously.

Justin Perdue: We talk about pietism a lot in that the underlying assumption underneath is that the emphasis in the Christian life needs to be imperative in exhortation to the saints. This is because what really matters in the Christian life is the life of the Christian: how we are doing, how we’re performing, how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking. Again, to be very clear, Jon and I do not disagree that those things matter. Obedience is good. We want to be thinking well. We want our affections for Christ and for our brothers and sisters to be stirred and all of those things. We’ve even said this on recent podcasts: we agree that we should be improving, but the question is how did those things really happen? How is it that we grow in the faith? I think that the assumption amongst pietists is that the way that you grow, the way that you’re sanctified, is by talking about and emphasizing sanctification all the time, and by putting the onus on the Christian. We have a different perspective on that.

The flip side of the coin is that what we need to be doing in the church, especially in our modern evangelical context, is we need to be smoking out in the fakers because they are just fakers aplenty all over the place. Because of revivalism, because of easy believism, because of the sinner’s prayer, and all of these things where people have been irresponsible in how they have administered the Word of God and the sacraments, we now need to take it upon ourselves to, like I said, smoke out the fakers, and to expose the nominal and shake them up a little bit.

One thought is I think there have always been people associated with the church who are Christians in name only. There have always been people who are associated with the church who are not really believers. The apostle Paul speaks to this. John speaks to this. The New Testament is not silent on these matters. We alluded to this at the end of the regular podcast: what is it that the apostles come in with when they’re going to speak to apathy or they’re going to speak to nominalism where there is this Christian-in-name-only thing. How do they handle it?

We would say that first and foremost, what they do is they come in with clarity on the gospel. They come in with clarity on union with Christ, then they come in and actually speak to the redeemed and understand that those who are not actually saints will overhear it. That’s how they go about doing it. They trust the Lord to use those means.

Of course, we speak to sin. If I may just say this really quickly, one issue that I have and something I take exception to is the general thought that redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching soft pedals sin—and it’s just the furthest thing from the truth. We are aiming to speak to the depth of our depravity, the depth of our need, and the depth of our desperation because sin is far worse than we think—and frankly, we’re all worse than we think. So we’re trying to expose that and drive people to Christ. We’re aiming to evoke repentance in people as we preach the Law rightly and as we exhort the saints to trust in Christ alone. That’s always in our mind. Then underneath all those things, we’re happy to talk with folks about how—again, the third use of the Law—these things are terrible for your life so don’t do them, God says they’re bad so don’t do them, this is harmful to others so don’t do them, these things are good so you should pursue them, etc. Sometimes, I struggle with this whole thing and I grow weary of the conversation, and then at other times I’m indignant. Just being honest.

Jon Moffitt: This is why we do this: to help bring some clarity. I know there are a lot of pastors who listen. We have a great pastors group on our Facebook group that we interact with and I love it.

A couple of things. Justin goes back to a podcast we did a couple of weeks ago on spiritual disciplines. When you think the responsibility of the individual listening to your sermon is self-sanctification, and the purpose of morality is to clarify their standing before God and prove that they’re a believer to God and others, and that the whole entire Christian life is basically to uphold your assurance by self-sanctification and morality, then yes, your sermons are going to be driven by that. I would argue that if you hold to self-sanctification, and you hold to morality as the way in which you find assurance, your sermons are going to be driven not by the text, you’re going to exposit that upon each other because you aren’t actually allowing the text to say what it is saying. You’re saying, “Well, I got to find some way to get people to assure themselves by obeying God.” I’m sorry but that’s just not it. When Piper says something like, “Men hover around over the text but never deal with it,” I just take great offense to that because if there’s anyone hovering something over the text, it’s your idea that the obedience or the morality of a believer upholds their assurance.

Justin Perdue: Or Christian hedonism, dare I say. We’re talking about imposing things on the text. I know Piper, again, is going to argue that he’s getting these things from the text and to some extent, that’s fine, but it’s the same way that we would say the redemptive-historical framework, covenant theology, the Law-gospel distinction—these things flow up and come up out of the text. We’re not imposing them down upon the text.

What I want to say to that whole argument is the implication is if you preach in this way—redemptive-historical, Law-gospel, Christ-centered, all this stuff—if you preach in this way, you’re going to hover over the text and not deal with the words, phrases, sentences, and the paragraphs, which is ridiculous. Then also, you’re not going to preach the point of that passage. You’re going to usurp it for your own ends—to which I’m going to say that the last time I checked, you would actually be irresponsible to preach a text as though we don’t understand the grand context in which that passage fits. If you come to a text and preach it apart from the point of the entire biblical witness, you are irresponsible. So it really irks me when guys start throwing charges of irresponsibility at redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching. You’re preaching sermons that hardly sound Christian. I’m not trying to be cruel here, but you’re saying a lot of great things about the passage, but you haven’t given people Christ yet and you’re a half hour in. What in the world are we doing? It irks me to some extent, Jon, and even to the point that you made just a minute ago on so much of the emphasis—my wife and I talk about this all the time—so much of the emphasis in evangelicalism and in the Calvingelical world is on proving yourself, proving your mettle, proving that you’re legit.

We’re very clear: God elects people unto salvation; we could never produce this, we could never do this, there’s nothing in us that makes us worthy. But then we come in the back door and say, “Now you better get to work so that you prove that you’re legit,” which to me is the worst sort of slavery because you’re telling people on the frontend you can’t do anything, but then on the backend you tell them they better do something because if they don’t, then they’re in trouble.

Jon Moffitt: It’s like a timeshare pitch.

Justin Perdue: It’s really tough. You’re exactly right that there’s this whole—dare I say this—there’s a hermeneutic of proving yourself that is laid down upon every passage of Scripture. That is not helpful when you do; you’re reading things into the texts that aren’t there: prove yourself, do this. It’s not good.

Jon Moffitt: The two ordinances given to you by Christ, the two things we must practice week in and week out, are the Lord’s Table and baptism. Both of those are pointing to something that has been done for us; it is pointing us back to Christ.

Justin Perdue: It’s pointing us to Christ and God’s faithfulness.

Jon Moffitt: Right. Obviously, we are to preach God’s Word and as we preach God’s Word, why would that be so disconnected from the other means by which God has given the church to strengthen and grow them? This is why Paul says—and I can’t stop saying this because it’s just too important—Paul says that when the body functions properly, it builds itself up in love. The application there—what does Paul start with? The first three chapters are a firm grasp of the gospel. He spends three chapters, and then in chapter four he says, “Now walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” The application absolutely comes in and that application, which is interesting, is the purpose of morality. We think you should be moral but the purpose of your morality is not to secure your relationship with God, it’s for the betterment of the church that the church might sanctify itself. What I struggle with is that biblical theology leads you to trust in Christ, and those who trust in Christ are then led to love and help others trust in Christ. What I hear a moral preaching is you need to improve yourself and you need to sanctify yourself, otherwise else beware, you lazy Christians, you useless Christians.

Justin Perdue: Of course, the implication, to be fair, is that as you improve, you’ll be of more benefit to others. But I think for us, what we want to say is let’s put the emphasis where the Scripture puts the emphasis. The Scripture puts the emphasis in trusting in the Lord Jesus, and in your life of giving yourself away, laying yourself down in love and service to your brothers and sisters. So let’s just talk that way. Let’s not confuse this and clutter it up.

Maybe last comment here because I know we’re running short on time. With respect to the article itself and articles like it, but this one in particular about redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching, we kept asking who are in the crosshairs here. I have to assume that what’s in the crosshairs is some sort of reductionistic, watered down version of the worst Tullian Tchividjian sermon ever preached. I have to assume that’s what it is, where literally every week, it’s just this: here’s what God requires, we can’t do it, Jesus did it, trust Christ, here’s where the Old Testament says Christ fulfilled it, trust Christ. Literally, that’s all we say. I have to assume that’s what is in the crosshairs, to which I say that’s a caricature and a straw man of redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching. It’s just never wise or helpful in any way to argue against a straw man. You don’t do that. You don’t argue against the caricature of another position. You want to make sure that you’re representing it as well as you possibly can.

In fairness to Sam, who wrote the article, I understand that this is not a dissertation. It’s not a research paper where he’s going to be writing 40, 50, 150 pages so he can fully flush everything out. But at the same time, there might be more nuance on the front that it may have been helpful to say, “I’m all for redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching. I think we need more of it in the evangelical world. Here are all the things that I agree with that I think are great, and here is what I’m speaking to—some really extreme outliers. Here’s an arrow that I just want us to be aware of that this actually exists and we don’t want to go there.” Then I’ve got no issues. I’ve got no issue with the article if we nuance it that way—though I may take some exception to certain things said underneath each of the headings. I don’t think the article wholesale would land on me the way that it does in its current format.

For me, I feel the need to now come in and defend redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching, which is sort of what we’ve done today. He is basically depicting our position in as terrible of a way as possible, and now we need to come in and say his critiques are against something, but they’re not really critiques of us because we don’t even understand what you’re talking about to be legitimate preaching in the first place.

Anyway, I don’t know. I can ramble and rant for a while, but I think this article falls in the category of unhelpful because it really does not clear up much. If anything, it just introduces more confusion as to what good preaching really is.

Jon Moffitt: Right. And the goal of the podcast is to help people think through things, especially those who are new coming to this perspective. We want to help you think through some things. I know there are a lot of young pastors, a lot of young preachers, we’ve got a lot of young guys who are in ministry or wanting to go into ministry who are contacting the Theocast, Justin, Jimmy, and I, and so we want to help shape and mold this next group of new movement that’s happening. It’s a historic, covenantal, Reformed movement—the Calvinism movement sparked something, and Justin and I grabbed onto that and really shifted over towards the Reformed perspective. We want to encourage that because this is where we do believe the church will grow. It will be strengthened. People will find rest, and will be merciful and kind to one another. We’ll build one another up. This kind of stuff is not helpful. It’s distracting. It’s unfortunately gaining traction so we want to throw some flags up and say maybe we should rethink some of this.

That’s it. We’ll see you guys next week.

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