Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. (Psalms 36:1)
Some time ago, I was talking with one of the elders of a healthy CREC church and I asked him whether there was any fear of God in his congregation? At first he said "yes," but after thinking about it a minute or so he said "no."
Where is the fear of God in our churches? Or rather, where is the fear of God in our own minds and hearts and the minds and hearts of our children?
In the Reformed church of North America today, I fear the fear of God is almost nonexistent.
Because there is no preaching of the Law and coming Judgment, nor of repentance... We have become precisely what Martin Luther warned we would if we refused to give equal time in our preaching to repentance and faith:
In regard to doctrine we observe especially this defect that, while some preach about the faith by which we are to be justified, it is still not clearly enough explained how one shall attain to this faith, and almost all omit one aspect of the Christian faith without which no one can understand what faith is or means. For Christ says in the last chapter of Luke [24:47] that we are to preach in His name repentance and forgiveness of sins.
Many now talk only about the forgiveness of sins and say little or nothing about repentance. There neither is forgiveness of sins without repentance nor can forgiveness of sins be understood without repentance. It follows that if we preach the forgiveness of sins without repentance that the people imagine that they have already obtained the forgiveness of sins, becoming thereby secure and without compunction of conscience. This would be a greater error and sin than all the errors hitherto prevailing. Surely we need to be concerned lest, as Christ says in Matthew 12:45, the last state becomes worse than the first.
Therefore we have instructed and admonished pastors that it is their duty to preach the whole gospel and not one portion without the other. For God says in Deuteronomy 4:2]: "You shall not add to the word...nor take from it." There are preachers who now attack the pope because of what he has added to the Scriptures, which unfortunately is all too true. But when these do not preach repentance, they tear out a great part of Scripture. (Luther's Works; Volume 40; Church and Ministry II; Edited by Conrad Bergendoff; Muhlenberg Press; Philadelphia; 1958; "Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors"; pp. 274, 275.)
This isn't exclusively the fruit of redemptive-historical preaching, but stop and think what the normal practice of this method has become. Start by asking what we mean by "redemptive?"
Obviously redemptive means grace and Jesus and the substitutionary atonement and effectual calling and growth in grace and perseverance (but really eternal security) of the saints--then Heaven. But if we allow the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to define the meaning of redemptive-historical preaching in the New Covenant, we find that the Old Testament account of the slaughter of many thousands of God's Covenant People because of their fornication and grumbling and idolatry was written down by the Holy Spirit for us for our warning. And what about all the warnings in Hebrews and our Lord's command, "Remember Lot's wife?"
Let me put it this way: if purportedly "redemptive-historical" or "Gospel-centered" or "Christocentric" preaching really were redemptive, it would never fail to preach the Law, the Day of Judgment, and repentance because these are always the Biblical context for grace, mercy, and faith. But we preach grace and faith and forgiveness with no context of why anyone needs them. What's the point of grace if we're too timid to speak of God's wrath against the ungodly? What's the point of forgiveness if we don't open up the pit of Hell for all to see? How can there be faith where there's no explicit call to repentance? How can any man have Jesus as his Savior who consistently refuses to submit to Him as Lord?
You see, it's my conviction that redemptive-historical preaching has become the rubric for our doing what we want to do from the sinfulness of our unbelieving hearts, which is to make a big show of being faithful to preach all of God's inerrant Word while refusing to say God's "no" with His "yes." So redemptive means we take the easy path to gentle kind Jesus presented by our Old Testament text, and taking the path to Jesus never ever means Jesus as Judge and Lord and Master--only Jesus as Savior and Friend of Sinners.
Maybe you disagree with my diagnosis of the Reformed church today? Maybe you think the CREC is worse than the PCA? But let me say that, for myself, I mentioned the CREC because I think it's less taken in by the redemptive-historical fad than the PCA and I expect its preaching to be at least as good as the PCA.
Really, though, my main point is that if this is what we find in some of the most Biblical Reformed churches of the PCA, OPC, and CREC (the denominations where I've held membership and fellowship), what hope is there for the churches who don't even hold to Biblical doctrine?
If someone can come up with a flow chart for redemptive-historical preaching that restores the Law of God and the Day of Judgment and repentance by way of the preaching of the historical texts of the Old Testament, I'm all for it. That would be truly "redemptive."
The path to revival or reform--call it what you will--lies through the preaching of the Fall and Original Sin and total depravity and the wrath of God against all ungodliness. There's no detour around the fear of God that gets anyone to justification, sanctification, and glorification.
(With thanks to God for Max.)