The past couple weekends I spent considerable time in my car driving to relatives on one occasion and a distant ballpark on another. I listened to the radio during most of my travel time, primarily contemporary Christian stations. While the music was uplifting I noticed a distinct trend in the messages of these recording artists. They sing almost exclusively about God’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace, and joy, and revel in His blessings, promises, hope, and commitments. Their emphasis draws on biblical truth that encourages, inspires, comforts, and sustains believers. During my twenty-plus hours of driving more than 95% of the songs I heard focused on those themes.
On the one hand, I enjoyed these positive, uplifting messages. They align with God’s word and definitely represent an important component of the gospel. On the other hand, I was troubled that very few songs addressed the difficult lessons Jesus taught and emphasized during His ministry – ones we find uncomfortable today. His challenging messages on discipleship, repentance, denying ourselves, forsaking all, counting the cost, humility, and avoiding the lures of the world are as equally true and important as His message of love, mercy, and forgiveness. In fact, you cannot experience one without the other because both sets of truth represent God’s word and reveal His character.
But in recent times the church has shifted its focus to those themes highlighted on Christian radio while ignoring the difficult ones Jesus preached on so often. Sunday sermons rarely address Jesus’ most challenging teachings because congregants have little interest in hearing those truths. As a result, a generation of believers understands the gospel only in the context of the benefit they receive from it and know nothing of the cost. They are familiar with God’s blessings and promises but have little familiarity with Christ’s expectations, especially on those topics that lack appeal in our culture. A quick perusal of the local Christian bookstore reveals the same trend with authors. Lots of books address biblical truths we want to hear while few tackle the portions of Scripture that disinterest us.
So where have all the prophets gone? Why are most of our preachers, singers, writers, and evangelists focused primarily, often exclusively, on those aspects of the gospel everyone wants to embrace? Why do so few share that part of the gospel that challenges listeners to follow Christ in full, even when doing so is difficult and runs counter to our desires?
As I see it, there are several reasons for this trend. First, preaching, singing, and writing a message that everyone wants to hear generates more income, popularity, and influence for the pastor, singer, or author. Such attractive perks do not accrue to those who share Jesus’ challenging lessons. Since most want the status, affluence, and power enjoyed by the Pharisees, they share only those Scriptural truths people find appealing. Few are willing to bear the disrespect, contempt, poverty, and social isolation endured by Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist.
Also, most church leaders today have a blind spot with respect to some of Jesus’ most difficult teachings. They have explained away the true meaning of His words for so long that they no longer understand the simplicity of what He taught on subjects such as discipleship, sacrifice, and the dangers of this world. God has withdrawn from them an ability to comprehend His truth on these subjects because they have no desire to preach it.
Finally, congregants insist pastors, musicians, and authors share only palatable truths. They have itching ears that demand soothing words that reinforce their beliefs irrespective of their alignment with Scripture. They use the power of their wallet to demand easily digested spiritual food, even if it results in an imbalanced and nutritionally compromised spiritual diet – like a three-year old who demands to eat only candy and cookies.
But a gospel that captures only half of what Jesus taught, that reflects only half the Scriptures, is no gospel at all. It is a dangerous doctrine that leads down a path to eventual destruction. That is why we need more pastors willing to preach the entire gospel, recording artists willing to sing about the difficult truths Jesus spoke, and authors willing to address the challenging messages of the Bible.
I am not suggesting Christian leaders ignore God’s love, mercy, peace, hope, forgiveness, promises, and joy. Those are as critical to the gospel as His call for repentance, complete submission, obedience, sacrifice, humility, and the full embrace of discipleship. We need both. We need teachers and leaders who share both as the full gospel.
Recognizing the dearth of teaching on several critical areas of biblical truth in this country, I will use this blog to address some of these topics in upcoming posts. The content will challenge most readers and make many uncomfortable, but I encourage you to read the articles anyhow. Avoid dismissing the message as nonsense. Instead, explore what Jesus taught on these matters and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance in understanding. You may find yourself awash with a fresh, exciting faith as a result.