Beware of Exemplar Persona Illustrations

exampleThis week I have been raising a warning flag toward preaching that makes Christ, or biblical characters, just an example to copy.  While both may be offered as example, and biblical writers do just that at times, still there is always a danger of seeking to motivate a performance approach to Christianity that is not birthed from the inside-out transformation of being in union with Christ.  There’s another area worth a mention: the use of non-biblical persons as examples.

It is so easy to offer people famous or unknown, past or present, with an implied “copy that” tone.  It could be the prayer warrior who rises at 4am, or the self-sacrificial missionary who gives up all to go and serve, or the faith-filled achiever, or whatever.  Again, there could well be real value in offering such an example.  However,

1. Be careful not to paint a caricature.  Humans are usually a mixed bag of motives.  So while in anecdotal form an individual may appear perfectly selfless and wonderful, the reality is probably not so flawless.  Even the greatest deeds and sacrifices can be made for the wrong reasons, which is what Paul addresses at the start of 1Corinthians 13.  The greatest feats can count for nothing.  So be careful not to imply that feat/deed/sacrifice/effort can trump the heart issue.  We do need to inspire a new generation with those who’ve gone before, but let’s be sure to inspire with the faith and relationship that others have with Christ, spilling into those amazing anecdotes.  Let’s invite people into the fullness of that kind of connection with Christ that can spill out in numerous unique ways in our lives today.

2. Be careful not to endorse a copycat approach.  Just to reinforce the point made above, let’s be sure to invite people into the relationship with Christ by His Spirit that can spill out in wonderful ways.  Simply copying the performance of another will not bring about the necessary heart transformation that will allow such a feat to count as anything (in 1Corinthians 13 terms such empty performance is “nothing”).  Performance is not the key to Christian living–it may be the fruit, but it is not the source.

One thought on “Beware of Exemplar Persona Illustrations

  1. “Let’s invite people into the fullness of that kind of connection with Christ that can spill out in numerous unique ways in our lives today.”

    Peter, thanks for the thoughts. I wish I had learned this truth several years before I did. It was life-changing to realize olden heroes of the faith were just weak, ordinary men who were consumed with Christ, manifested in vastly different ways. I also had to repent of practicing “exemplar persona” preaching.

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