Friday, February 19, 2016

Hardening of the heart. . .

James R. Rogers again:

Speaking to this intellectual and social muddle is the challenge of the Church today.

One response is to succumb, and embrace the regnant relativism of much of elite American culture. Churches doing so largely just dissolve into that culture. After all, why get up on Sunday morning to learn there’s really no point to getting up on Sunday morning? 

A second response is also a form of capitulation, although subtler. Seeker-friendly churches aspire to be instrumentally valuable to Americans imbued with the commitments described above. They tone down the Christ talk, tone down moral imperatives of a new life in Christ, amp up the music and ramp up the talk of “how to be a better you.” These churches may continue to attract congregants, but their message often reflects and resonates with this mindset more than challenging it.

A third response is to double down on established practices. The premise, a descriptively accurate one to my mind, is Evangelical churches experience the presence of Christ – epiphany – mainly through the sermon. According to this line of thought, the remedy to the subjectivist muddle is for the churches to preach better sermons – which is mainly suggested to mean the preaching of more doctrinally-substantive sermons.

I don’t disagree with the aspiration to improve sermons – I’m one of those Bible nerds who actually enjoys long, dense sermons. And I agree preaching and teaching the Word is a uniquely significant means by which the Word is made present.

What this view neglects, however, is the subjectivism in American society developed in large part as armor against the Word. The Bible calls this process “hardening one’s heart.”

This Texas layman and professor at Texas A & M has hit it right on the head.  Many, too many, churches have caved in and merely reflect back what they see and hear around them.  So what is the point?  Others have directed the Gospel into the realm of self-help motivation designed to improve you, your life, your job, your family, or your well-being.  And there are those of us, me included, who insist that we need to preach substantively as well as winsomely the full counsel of God's Word.  But Rogers has raised an important caveat.  American culture and many Americans have developed a tone deafness to the Word of God, what Scripture calls a hardening of the heart.  We cannot preach our way through this but must depend upon the providential work of God and the aid of the Holy Spirit to open up the closed minds and closed hearts of those around us.  Preaching and praying must also be accompanied by practice and piety. 

Too many American Christians have loved the privilege of believing that God is in the business of forgiving sins and it is our job to give Him something to forgive.  We have not seen our doctrinal orthodoxy or our liturgical renewal accompanied by the faithful living out of our baptismal vocation and by the quest for the holiness we wear by baptism.  Until this happens, we will find ourselves dismissed by those who not only reject the Scriptures but reject any supposed Gospel which does not have any power to transform and change the daily lives of those who claim to believe it.

Yes, there is much more here to consider.  Read Prof. Rogers in First Things for yourself!

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