Yesterday we pondered the replacement of love with false reverence. Now for another test to know when “the religious” is at work in the church (launching from some thoughts of John Eldredge in Beautiful Outlaw):
2. Knowing about God substitutes for knowing God.
“Therefore, teaching is exalted. Church feels like a seminar—could be intellectual, could be motivational. Good content is what matters. Doctrine is fiercely defended. Members can explain to you theories of the atonement, or seven steps to success, but can’t name one intimate encounter they’ve had with Jesus.” (172)
This is a very real danger for us preachers. Especially those of us who have had the privilege of attending formal theological training in some form. One of two things tends to happen in Bible school, and both are problematic. Either we have a great time of personal growth as we delight in the studies and learning environment—which results in us viewing church as an opportunity to recreate that academic environment. Or we have our faith numbed as we grow sophisticated in our understanding of what true Christianity supposedly is—which also results in us viewing church as an opportunity to recreate that academic environment.
Church is not seminary-lite with courses running one lecture a week over several weeks. Church is a different animal. There should be an educational component, but it should be so much more than that. (Part of the problem may be that Bible college and seminary should be so much more than that too, but over time the ideals of the founders of Bible Institutes and Colleges tend to dull toward secular respectability, intellectual sophistication and spiritual deadness . . . perhaps a subject for another day.)
Let’s be very careful that our own study and personal walk with Christ is genuinely intimate rather than allowing it to reduce to academic study alone. Then let’s make sure our preaching pursues life transformation and personal introduction, rather than settling for information transfer and cultural reinforcement.
3. Power displays are confused for intimacy with Jesus.
Some churches celebrate the miraculous and delight that God is at work in their midst. But chasing the next miracle is not the same thing as chasing Jesus. In Eldredge’s words, “I can give someone a thousand dollars and it doesn’t make them my friend. They can keep coming back to me for more, and it doesn’t make them my friend.” (173)
Even if we have great stories to tell of God’s coming through in our lives and experience, let us not short change our listeners by failing to invite them into the reality of relationship with God Himself. A Christianity that offers only the benefits of Christ without the person of Christ might be no Christianity at all.