Midnight in the Garden of Sin and Salvation: Part I

Everyone’s a critic. When people hear that you’re studying to be a pastor, it seems that all too often people want to jump in with their advice before it’s too late. You know, before you become . . . one of them. It doesn’t happen every day, but it’s happened enough times that it is no longer awkward. I’m curious what motivates them. Maybe they don’t want me getting corrupted early on. Certainly their input is both welcome and insightful; it doesn’t put me off at all, and I truly appreciate it. It tells me that you are concerned with how the Word is preached and perceived, and whether or not people will be receptive to the gospel. That’s a good thing, and I don’t want to discourage it. However, what I find interesting is the consistency of the suggestions. It generally boils down to three pleas:

  1. “Don’t be one of those screaming preachers. Nobody likes those.” Check. I don’t like them either. I don’t really connect with preachers who overuse emotion to get their sermon across. Especially those who are overly loud and boisterous. Those kind of techniques can even be counterproductive when it comes to effectively communicating the gospel. But besides that, I’m pretty sure it’s beyond my abilities I’m mostly a soft-spoken guy who only outbursts while watching West Ham play. That generally manifests itself around 7:00 AM Saturday morning while I’m hunched over my laptop watching a match. Fortunately the only people see this disturbing behavior are my wife and cats. Mostly the cats.
  1. “Don’t be lame/boring.” Check, I think. I’m kind of cheating here. I’ve heard both of these once each, but they’re close enough so I think they warrant a mention. The idea, I suppose, was to not become one of those boring, old, normal pastors, that I should adopt a more modern persona. There’s something to that. A pastor needs to connect with everyone in their congregation on some level. If he can’t do that, he’s not much of a shepherd, is he? I can imagine even the most poignant biblical sermon would be boring to a person who couldn’t relate to it. I’m sure it will be a challenge to connect with a diversely aged congregation, so I probably won’t shoot myself in the foot by wearing black t-shirts so I can show off my cool Greek wrist tattoos*, just so I can appear hip. Or something like that.
  1. “Whatever you do, don’t go around calling people sinners!” This is by far the most common suggestion, and one I might have a little trouble accepting. Hear me out ye who do not wish to be called a sinner. If you had a terminal illness, one that if you had adequate foreknowledge of its existence you could eradicate it from your body, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Or, would you rather your doctor simply smile and nod as you leave the exam room, telling you everything is going to be just peachy when he knows full well you won’t be around for your next visit? I would want to know. I’m guessing you would too. But it’s more than that.

Is it possible to preach Christ without acknowledging sin? What would that look like? Perhaps a Semitic Buddha; a backdrop for what would most likely be the transforming of the gospel, repurposed into a series of life-bettering proverbs designed to make you healthy, wealthy, and wise. If we ignore sin altogether, it seems that preaching salvation by grace through faith would be a waste of time. After all, without sin, what would I need salvation for?

It isn’t a new phenomenon to minimize the significance of sin and the work of Christ, but it seems to be gaining popularity. In part 2, I want to take this a little further and discuss what this anti-sin worldview looks like in the modern church, and hopefully, what should be done about it.

*does not exist.

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