The assumption that Christianity is all about me has many variations. Whatever version we propound, there will be problems as we try to preach the Bible faithfully. Yesterday we considered the duty and guilt filters – two ways that preachers can reframe any passage to preach pressure on those present. In these approaches, the Bible comes across as a whip to stir the lazy or the guilty into striving action. But there is another pair of angles to consider here:
3. The selfish filter. Here is a perversion of the same problem. Instead of turning the listener inwards with guilt or pressure to perform, this feeds the self-absorption in the other direction. Not “you are nothing” but instead, “you are god!” Somehow the self-absorption of the preacher has been corrupted so that the Bible is twisted to support selfishness. The text is read as a means to an end, and the end is a sanctified sinfulness. Suddenly God is the great slave of all who get their ducks lined up so that He will do their bidding. Suddenly the manifold grace of God to the undeserving becomes the heavenly affirmation of our incurvedness as we take advantage of plucked promises and twisted truths. The preacher here is the life coach and guru for sanctified sinfulness (in all its variations).
4. The success filter. Perhaps this is a low-level version of number 3. It doesn’t claim that God is our great slave who delivers freely for our selfishness, but it does still see life as essentially independent. The preacher becomes the life coach for personal success in all areas of life: marriage, parenting, work, leisure, health, etc. The Bible is seen as the instruction manual for successful Christian living, and the listeners are invited to have their self-focus affirmed in the continual pursuit of relevant applications.
The issue in all of these angles is not just the broken view of sin (i.e. not seeing the self-oriented nature of the fallen human heart), but also a poor view of God and salvation. The Bible does not suggest salvation is the divine provision for independent living. As preachers of the Bible, if our view of God does not grip our hearts and reorient everything, then we will misrepresent the Bible in our preaching and corrupt application into some form of self-serving exercise. God’s goal has never been our independent functioning, but rather the privilege of participation in His fellowship. Preaching that makes it all essentially about me will be problematic, whatever the flavour.