Christianese mixed with a lot of blabber...

Here is a post by Alastair Roberts using Rob Bell as his central example of a problem in American Christianity today. He describes him as an ad man, and he points out that there are lots of these in the Christian world these days.

His post isn't mainly criticizing Rob Bell, although it's important to know that Rob Bell is a false teacher. Instead it is about what has happened to communication in the 21st century. And he gets it exactly right. Here's the part I want to take further:

Advertisers can be masters of eliciting feelings and states of mind in a manner that makes you think that you are on exactly the same wavelength, without actually telling you anything. They give you the bucket and you fill it, without recognizing what you are doing. Vague and indefinite terms that will be filled with highly emotive states (e.g. ‘spiritual’, ‘transcendent’, ‘wonder’ – words which almost always carry great emotional resonance for any hearer) and prose that seems to be saying something profound without making much of a specific claim is fairly typical here. They hold up a mirror and you see yourself in it.

The best way for a pastor, author, or Christian conference speaker to keep from offending anybody who happens to be there is to be an ad man. Truly gifted ad men are rare. So if you can both say nothing and get people very excited about it, you can make lots of money, even with a Christian audience.

It's the fact that this works with Christians that bothers me. We should be able to distinguish between Christian teaching and Christianese mixed with a lot of blabber, but too many of us can't. 

Often when you try to point out the problem with what an ad man has said, people get offended. Why? Because they have bought into his narrative with their feelings. So when you attack what he says, you are attacking them. They'll call you a grump and say, "After all, he didn't say anything particularly wrong, did he?" No. He mostly just implied things that were wrong. So how can we as Christians tell there's a problem, and how can we train other Christians to spot ad men?

The first test I propose is that you ask yourself this question. "If I was a non-Christian, would I still totally agree with this guy?" If so, you've got a problem. He's itching your ears, and it's time to run away.

Joseph and his wife, Heidi, have two children, Tate and Eliza Jane. He graduated from Vanderbilt University and Clearnote Pastors College. Currently serving as pastor of Clearnote Church in Indianapolis, Joseph is also working to plant a church in Cincinnati in 2015. Sign up here if you would like more info.

Comments

Honestly Joseph, I don't know why some of your posts do not generate more comments.

The larger problem is that people do not want to leave their comfort zones and they certainly do not want to work for salvation. Yes, I get the whole Calvanist  unconditional election deal, but Christians must still have a great deal of self control and discipline (The root of disciple is discipline, as you know) and it's easier for most Christians to just think all they need to do is have a good heart, accept Jesus as Lord and savior and repent for their sins.

They disregard the magnitude of the gift of salvation and assume that no actual work is required for it save for Sunday worship. They are easy pickins for the mega church pastors who talk much but demand little from their flock. Unfortunately today, 999 out of 1000 pastors are weak little woman parts who demand large paychecks, but nothing else from their parishioners. The last Methodist church I was a member of had a pastor who told the finance committee that if he did not get a 20% raise he would just go back to the private sector. He's not going to like hell.

It's also time for more pastors who understand their mission to start publicly calling out their fellow pastors who don't.

Often when you try to point out the problem with what an ad man has said, people get offended. Why? Because they have bought into his narrative with their feelings. So when you attack what he says, you are attacking them. They'll call you a grump and say, "After all, he didn't say anything particularly wrong, did he?" No. He mostly just implied things that were wrong. So how can we as Christians tell there's a problem, and how can we train other Christians to spot ad men?

I experienced this years ago very first-hand: I started contending against what I realized were false teachers and their influence, upon realizing that the evangelical church--and the cultish little alternatives that arose in the sixties and 70s in reaction to problems that have largely since worked to get its approval (such as through membership in the NAE) without fully being identified, both such teachers in our church, as well as outside it but influential or with materials sold to the organization, and discovered that it was taken like a personal attack, that the faith of these people was emotive rather than intelligent, and founded upon them (and teachers outside like them), rather than the living Word and abiding in His Word.

Of personal significance though, was when I first had to come to grips with that it was I who had this problem in the first place, and it was through hypocrisy of having such concerns for those outside me, those I had counted as brethren, because of evident contradictions with the word, by which I was brought to see these things in myself, examine myself...and it killed me. After I got very ill, and have been struggling since, (recently TeamPyro raised my spirits a bit when quoting a sermon by Spurgeon about how God has often saved a man by throwing him on his deathbed or a bed of illness), financially, in health, spiritually, and even mentally, and perhaps let myself still be too vexed by these things, sorrowed by the State of affairs of all these masses calling themselves "Christians" without being so blithe, and learned that the more open I was about my "concerns" the more those in popular rejection won't take me seriously: even former, supposed friends.

My realization back then was that so many were assured of their salvation, then captivated with themselves and all they suppose themselves doing for Christ and His Kingdom--with its greatness and importance--and made to be so captivated by the so-called pastors who are actually feeding on them to build their pathetic little personality-cult kingdoms, starting on a basis of other gospels and even Jesuses (while they themselves sometimes--when you find one with a little more depth than his peers--of the problem of another Jesus in the likes of Mormonism); they were caught with other bait than salvation from sin, which they might have thought salvation from hell, rather than its cause; or with the love of God for feelings' sake, rather than its demonstration in salvation from the darkenss of human nature, its depravity, that can be called "sin"; they were enraptured with the notion--sometimes early on in life--of becoming important and given a mission that assigns purpose and meaning in life, getting men saved, rather than being caught-up and enraptured instead with the wonder and glory of the Savior for the Savior's, and not humanity's, sake. And I was like them...

So I started contending against these foundations, not always in the most direct way, but by example: I was brought a young women who had been engaged in lesbianism, for instance, highly emotional and babbling about having just been saved, with all these happy peers bringing her along to show off the accomplishment in which I was supposedly supposed to take joy, and proceeded instead to ask her basic questions about the gospel while ignoring the rest. While the gal they had gotten to say a damnable little prayer couldn't answer, they seemed rather awstruck by the fact of what I was doing, and because I wasn't just as excited. I spent the next hour explaining the blood atonement, the nature of man, the holiness of God, and how those things together were meaningful in a biblical way. It wasn't just God saving people from hell, and I even dared say (right there, and Reformed men actually warn against this these days) that men are only saved if elected by God--that eternally He intended whether to save or condemn His creatures, because man is now so wicked and terrible that He has no claim to merit or reason to deserve being saved, is NOT lovable but is damnable and hateful to God, but God is so great that He offered Himself, in the person of His Son, as a sacrifice for the sins, pouring out His life's blood in our place to save us, and that if she was truly and genuinely saved, it was because God before the foundations of the world chose to Her. The other "Christians" had glassy eyes or had long walked away, but the formerly enthused, highly emotional, bubbly women who couldn't explain anything about the gospel other that she had been saved because she had just said a prayer to some vague Jesus, was crying and declaring back to me "God did all this for me?" in that unbelievable-yet-grateful/believing sort of tone people sometimes have.

I guess you can say I attacked the emotional root while I had the chance, and perhaps actually my own too: it was really upsetting watching eyes glass over at the "needlessly cautious" examination of this woman's/girl's new confession, and realizing by the end that our hour (or two?) discussion probably meant that she had a better grasp of Christ and what He did than six or seven who had been "Christians" for between 7 and 10 years (especially as those who hand't yawned these things off and gone to bed somewhere in the process still just stood there, hard and caring less about it): some where even small groups leaders (another, largely unbiblical I think, organizational development with people funtioning as pastors without the qualifications, often as youth without any maturity). I noticed about this girl, that she went from hyper bubbly-excited/ecstatic to sober and crying in something like a mix of sorrow (I think) over what man is and has done, with a joy and thankfulness also evident about what He did and Who He is: those making Christianity marketable rather than unpalatable, do so by being ultra-positive, ultra-hyper-bubbly-joyous, ultra "you want this joy too, SEEEE!!!!"

To this day I hope that seed took: she had, after all, been made to repent of a lesbian relationship before saying that damnable assent/prayer thing. I went all "fundamentalist" a few years later by heeding the "come out from among them"--hoping, actually, that my "brothers" and "sisters" would even just call and show themslves to actually did love/care: rather they stayed busy focused on "church" and its schemes, programs, community provocations, outreach efforts, etc., "getting men saved"; my atheistical Chinese roommate/friend, who I have spoken a little bit about this, has said, "we call those meet-and-party friends", meaning people who are friends as long as you're participating in activity together that are considered positive.

Anyway, if I could beg prayer from brothers and sisters who come post here, it's hard to find a Reformed Church here in Colorado that's not Tim Kellerite, Charismatical, or more dispensationalist (often in confession just a mix of eschatological dispensationalism with a slight mix of minimalist evangelical soteriological statement) than orthodox, and I have no idea how to figure which claimants are which because there are so many to drive between one Sunday after another, they're spread out, it takes a long time to fairly assess the spirit of a place and what really is its doctrine, and I don't have a lot of money or time (being sick and desperate, and having as my main source of living a family business that often demands I go work Sundays). I have tried e-mailing pastors of Churches to ask about their doctrine and practice to slim-down the candidates, but rarely get a reply. Also, I mentioned the atheist roommate from China: I have no idea how to be a good witness to someone without much shared background, culture, or even a solid mutual grasp of the same language, and prayer for God's spirit and power, at the very least to be a faithful witness, is also deeply desired. I beg on forums of strangers because I have been isolated a while, first by health, then by homelessness (mixed with the health), later by work of the first reliable job (that I needed just to pay rent), and later taking care of a relative wiht Alzheimer's: perhaps I should just ask, please pray for me, as I find it fearsome that mere circumstances would continuously be a hindrance to finding fellowship: I know I am awful and terrible inside, but have desired since I left high school to find sound men to be accountable to, and sound pastors who are good stewards to learn the word from.

Life can be very, very hard when you have firm Reformed convictions and churches are light on the ground, like one (of a sort) every hundred miles.

Ha--I like your euphemism "woman parts". Just say what you mean!

My friend has a house church that I wish I could attend, but we're poor and can't afford the gas. All other kinds of churches are fake. They're looking for increases in membership and so they do the sort of "say this prayer and you're saved and don't forget to come to church now and put money in as the offering is being taken." They use the "salvation prayer" as a magical incantation; their victims have no idea that they have anything to repent from. They look really good, but as you have found for yourself, go and have a severe problem, and they will drop you like a hot potato. They might "pray for you" and the women's ministry might send you a card, but stopping by to visit or even picking up the phone? Forget it, the fellowship stops at the church doors. I wish persecution on the American church so we can get beyond our "churchianity" and get on with the business of making men and women disciples of Jesus. The big buildings? What an incredible waste of resources that could be going to ministries like Gospel for Asia or Voice of the Martyrs. Our freedom to preach in America has been wasted.

John, the United Reformed Church has four particular churches in Colorado that are of sound doctrine, in Loveland, Highlands Ranch, Colorado Springs, and ski country.  I also know of one other church in Colorado Springs that is good too. 

Monica,

For a time, during my quest to find true preaching, administration of the sacraments, and church discipline, I attended a Southern Baptist church. The place had a lot going for it, a couple things I remember is that they had a bus which gathered up neighborhood children on Sundays, and the pastor visited me in my home, the only time this has ever happened in my life.  To this day, I still remember a child squirming in his seat during the sermon, and the pastor stopping his preaching to discipline the child out loud.

But in response to your post, I just wanted to ad that at this Southern Baptist church it was the first time I was exposed to vehement dislike of para-church organizations, and I have joined those ranks ever since. I think that a truly functioning church would preclude all extraneous ministries.

Joseph,

I have coined a term to describe the talky talk of Christians: Lingua Evangelica.  I am going to use it at an appropriate time when I comment on an article about the faith of a certain leader in Washington.

Mike, should we be insulting "woman parts" (and their associated women) by associating them with Gospel-free pastors?  I'm thinking that the proper word would be castrati, don't you think--along the lines of Galatians 5:12?  :^)  Hirelings would work well as well.

Seriously, one big reason the ad men/hirelings/castrati do such a good business is that the flock hasn't really been taught the implications of the Gospel, as John notes.  We understand dead works pretty well, though.

Here's my picture of this.  I've taught Sunday School and small groups for over two decades now--maybe sometimes well, perhaps more often badly--and one time I was struck when a quick summary of the Gospel--God is love, man is sinful, sin is death, Christ gives life--was seen as something new by the group.  In this group were a former pastor's stepson and others who had been "in the church" for decades.  I was the spiritual youngster, chronologically speaking, but it appeared that I was the only one there who could even present an over-simplified version of the Gospel.

We need fewer altar calls and more real appeals to the glory of the Gospel, methinks.

BP quote: "Mike, should we be insulting "woman parts" (and their associated women) by associating them with Gospel-free pastors?  I'm thinking that the proper word would be castrati, don't you think--along the lines of Galatians 5:12?"

OK, my bad as castradi is probably more of an accurate descriptor.

You also write:"We need fewer altar calls and more real appeals to the glory of the Gospel, methinks."

I agree. The current state of Christianity in America is pretty dismal.

Castrati...................time for a new keyboard.

Bert - I agree about the fact that we should drop altar calls, and I'm not even Reformed. Jesus told us to "count the cost!" and I have never heard an altar call, or anything like it, which has told people to do that. Not even from Ray Comfort, for whom I have a high if nuanced regard. Actually, Mere Christianity has a chapter in it called "counting the cost".

IIRC Martyn Lloyd-Jones would preach the Gospel in his Sunday night meetings, but not have anything like an altar call. He waited the next day to see who would turn up in his office to talk it through further, reasoning that if God had brought them to that point, that He was doing something in them.

For a while I was exceedingly discouraged when some fellow believers couldn't see through the lies of some of these ad men.  It made me think that maybe they weren't true believers, since they couldn't see something (that should be) so obvious.

I know now that's wrong thinking.  And what I think now is that this problem (widespread lack of discernment among Christians) is mostly due to lack of good leadership in the church.  Didn't Paul the apostle have to correct and rebuke his sheep for believing lies quite often?  We still need shepherds who do that, but today it seems that very few do.  

It can take time to learn to trust shepherds who speak the (difficult to hear) truth to you, but when you do, you start to realize how much you *need* their leadership in your life.  

God teaches His children discernment, but it seems to me that He mostly teaches it to them through His appointed shepherds.  It also seems to me, as I mentioned before, that it takes time for sheep to learn to trust true shepherds.  

I thank God for the ones He's placed over me!!

Hi DT,  You mean these folks? - http://www.calvaryurc.org/  and http://coramdeourc.org/recommended-resouces   If so, the latter is within reach for me, and I perhaps have much to thank you for.  Thank you, John

p.s. this blog and mobile are at enmity...

Dear Denver Todd,

Thanks again for telling me about the URCNA. I went to one in Highlands Ranch Sunday (Coram Deo, http://coramdeourc.org/) and the preaching was on Zech 9:9-12(ish) and the related portions of the gospels, and how the Jews did not understand that difference between a Messiah coming on a white horse and One coming in on the son of a Donkey, the political liberator and conqueror who would [come in glory] and shed blood and humble servant come to glorify God come to shed his own; that they wanted the former and hated His corrections to show that He was, at that time, the latter: he didn't detail it, but also commented on how there is a strange modern obsession by Christians with political dominance and identifying with right wing politics, and cautioned hearers on being sure not to mistake worldly politics with what Jesus himself would approve. Afterwards the pastor, "Carl", found me and we a spoke a while: I told him my concerns about their not being a lot of confessional churches in our area, and with evangelicalism; how some current confessional churches are are quite odd, e.g. the place I last attended (infrequently, unfortunately) did strange things like promote how they're Reformed Baptist but their confession consisted of a re-hashing of dispensational eschatology and a little evengelical soteriology (and requiring people to subscribe to THAT--really, THAT?--for membership). He was apparently aware of what I meant, and this church has apparently not always a Reformed bunch themselves, about which "Phil" (below) said (paraphrasing) "Carl really wants to lay a good [doctrinal] foundation [...]". Carl apparently befriended the guys from White Horse Inn, who are in the same classis, so they meet in Southern California now and then, and likes to talk about their books, which preliminarily has to be taken as a good sign. :~) He wants to get together one-on-one to talk some time this week.

On Sundays they not only have morning services, but do a catechesis service (and given how ignorant modern "Christians" seem to be of the faith they supposedly hold, not just for kids) in the evenings. It's neither the Westminster standards (and 2nd LBCF) that I'm a little more familiar with, but nevertheless I look forward to learning; the only other time that I heard of such a thing was a little RB church in Fort Collins which I had started attending after leaving evangelicalism, but I ended-up having to leave the city when I got really sick (to move home, which only lasted all of a few months). I met another fellow named Phil, who apparently went to an OPC composed of members who unfortunately meet the sort of criticisms of Reformed-ism often found on this blog, so took his family elsewhere: he rambles a bit, but between the smile and extremely big, beautiful combed beard, is worth it. : ) (Rare that you find guys with a big ol' beard.) The poor guy is newly put in the role of fighting the CMS for their web site, trying to figure how to fix their dates and times throughout (among other things). But getting back on topic: unfortunately I couldn't go to the evening service Sunday, due to prior plans to spend time with my mother, as recently 'twas her birthday, but I am hopeful for the next week. 

Thanks and regards,
John

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