How Fascinating - Unintended Pragmatic Results 

"Most Americans who have an opinion about Warren like him and his best-selling self-help tome, 'The Purpose Driven Life.'" - Fred R. Conrad

(Original): http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/opinion/28rich.html
(Archived): http://www.westerfunk.net/archives/chri ... ecularist/

Who do you think this quote came from? A uber-critical, dry, boring, non-evangelistic Reformed guy, criticizing Warren's work as self-help? Or maybe it's a 'fundeementaleest' who views everything through the grid of his own backwoods traditions (KJVO, alcohol is sin, etc)? Nope, this is coming from a educated, city-dwelling, far-left liberal secularist. I find it absolutely fascinating he would label Warren's book self-help. And I don't disagree really. Self-help Christianity about sums it up. The message of the book is find your purpose in life, God's way. You initiate, you are the starting point for all that is in your life. If that is how the world takes it, could that be considered a gospel, when confronted with their own powerlessness, failures in sin, everyday, and the catastrophe it leaves in its wake? "Here are some helpful steps on HOW TO do ____," just doesn't help any one, especially as it relates to Christianity who has the true answer: we're helpless and need Christ to redeem us.

I am critical of Warren's strategy and book, but try to be generous and point out positives at times for the amount of good I have seen, which I do affirm some good has come out of it. The Lord works in ways that are unknown to us many times, even when we see something is flawed and potentially poisonous. The Lord used TBN in my life to hit me with the reality of God's grace through Scriptures they were presenting on the screen one summer night in '96. So many times, what we think is foolish is what God can use to bring people to faith. And yet at the same time, we also have 2000 years of church history showing things we can do better by learning from our mistakes and the tragedy left behind.

So in light of this quote, the world, the very people the book has been geared toward, assign Warren's book the category of self-help. People in our culture, many of them who are antagonistic to Christianity, view Warren's book not even as a "verion" of another good news story (a gospel) amongst the plethora that are out there convincing people of their supposed truth. But they view it as self-help. Interesting.

I mean if they are going to reject the Gospel, fine. But don't reject it because you think the message of Christianity is self-helpism. It is the opposite of this! This saddens me and is exactly why this strategy irks me: the world then begins to think that Christianity = law. "Do this and you shall live." "Do this and lose weight." "Take this and feel better." "Buy this and be satisfied." "Choose Jesus and find purpose, or healing, or financial stability, or freedom from addiction, freedom from porn." Everything except Lord, Master and Savior. Is Jesus Christ and His Gospel merely being reduced to a consumer product to be picked up whenever one feels like it? Apparently the world thinks so. This is pelagianism at its finest.

You see, let's talk pragmatically for a second about an unintended result of seeker-sensitivity. In an effort to be seeker-friendly with the Gospel and Scripture to make Christianity more attractive to the unregenerate sinner, the very opposite effect is happening. They find this version of "Christianity" repugnant, but in a different way, not because they hate the spoken Gospel, but because they are tired of self-helpism. That is the essence of religion and secularists are tired of it. Instead of being attracted to the Gospel or not, they are instead attracted to another version of self-helpism, only under the guise of Christiany, using its terms, lingo and imagery all the while making Christianity and particularly God a PEZ dispenser.

The world doesn't see Warren's book as a gospel (good news) but they see it as more self-help (more law!) amongst a host of other self-help books that are already out there (some of which in all reality are way more fascinating - check Barnes and Noble). "Do X to get Y." Or, sign on with Jesus to get the purpose for your life. It's subtle, but all that amounts to is law (Michael Horton). The Gospel says rather that Jesus has done all of this on your behalf, through faith alone, granted itself by God as a gift. You no longer have to do X to get Y, because Jesus has achieved Y on our behalf in His life's work, death, resurrection, and ascension, established by grace through true, authentic faith.

This is why we need to not hide the hardness of the Gospel as well as the greatness and beauty of it in Christ, by making all the language politically correct and "friendly": the world doesn't care anyway about that, but rather views it as just more law. They are quickly finding out how irrelevant such self-help type books are to their lives and John Piper's quote from a sermon from several years ago out of Romans 9 is coming to pass (yes I know, I know I quote this a lot, but it just hits the nail on the head):
"There is a sad irony in the seeming success of many Christian churches and schools. The irony is that the more you adjust obscure Biblical doctrines to make Christian reality more attractive to unbelievers, the less Christian reality there is when they arrive. Which means that what looks like success in the short run, may, in the long run, prove to be failure. If you alter or obscure the Biblical portrait of God in order to attract converts, you donít get converts to God, you get converts to an illusion. This is not evangelism, but deception. One of the results of this kind of 'success' is that sooner or later the world wakes up to the fact that these so-called Christian churches look so much like them and the way they think that there is no reason to go there. If you adjust your doctrine to fit the world in order to attract the world, sooner or later the world realizes that they already have what the church offers. That was the story of much of mainline Protestantism in Europe and America in the 20th century. Adjust your doctrine - or just minimize doctrine - to attract the world, and in the very process of attracting them, lose the radical truth that alone can set them free.

Many observers today are making note that what the liberal mainline churches did 60 years ago, evangelical churches are doing today. For example, Steve Bruce writes in his book, God Is Dead: Secularization in the West: 'The mainstream Christian Churches are declining in popularity, and the conservative Protestant churches are losing their doctrinal and behavioral distinctiveness.' (Quoted in Philip Jenkins, "The Real Story of Secularization," in Books and Culture, 8/6 [Nov.-Dec., 2002]: 11)

There are thousands of pastors and churches today that do not think that clear, Biblical, doctrinal views are vital in the life of the church or the believer. They believe it is possible to grow a healthy church while leaving the people with few and fuzzy thoughts about what God is like. But ignorance about God is never a mere vacuum. The cavity created by ignorance fills up with something else.Edward Norman, in his book, Secularization: New Century Theology, goes right to the heart of the problem when he describes what that something else is: 'Christianity is not being rejected in modern society - what is causing the decline of public support for The Church is the insistence of church leaders themselves in representing secular enthusiasm for humanity as core Christianity.' (Ibid, p. 10)

At first the world is drawn to a religious form of "enthusiasm for humanity," but then it wears thin and they realize that they can find it more excitingly on TV."

Again, maybe we should engage the world with some timeless historic Christianity and just tell it to them straight, instead of cowering back from the clear language of Scripture. Why do we feel we need to invent new language anyway? God's already given us what we need in Scripture. I believe it is sufficient for the evangelistic task at hand. Just a thought.

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