Christian Living

Pleasing the Seeker or Pleasing the Lord: Is it O.K. to Make the Gospel a little less Offensive?

Seekers are welcome! Come on in and enjoy a wonderful time at “Be your Best-friend Church.” This is a place where the love of Jesus exudes from every orifice in the building. An atmosphere that says, “We accept you as you are, and we will do our best to cater to your enjoyment!” This caricature may be a bit over the top, and it may smack in the face of some of my Christian friends, but it nonetheless raises an interesting question. Which approach is the right approach to approaching someone with the gospel?

There is a very popular belief present in the minds of many Christians that the best method of reaching the lost is…well…just loving them. If we show them the love of Jesus, if we do our best to remove every possible offense, if we are extra careful not to step on their toes, then odds are we have a really good chance of convincing them of the truth. This sounds strangely similar to the approach that some noted apologists use in defending the faith. Rather than contend for the whole system of faith on which the Christian worldview stands, “…an approach that emphasizes the minimal, best-established facts…”[1] is adopted. That way, all the really sticky situations that arise from what the Bible says on various matters contained within its pages can be avoided to another time; hopefully, after this individual has weighed the evidence and decided for themselves what is right, true and agrees with their own assumptions.

 What is wrong with the seeker sensitive model? What’s wrong with making the Christian faith as easy as possible, removing all the quirks that confuse and offend people? Well, in order to answer that question we ought to look to Scripture.

In Acts 9 we are given a wonderful example of how offensive the gospel is in the object lesson provided by the soon-to-be apostle Paul. At this point in the biblical narrative he is better known as the devout student of Pharisee-ism, Saul of Tarsus. Already in his life he has heard some pretty staunch and thorough defenses of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He stood approvingly over the murderous stoning of Stephen (cf. Acts 7), and in the chapter we are briefly looking at today he is seen, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9.1). Saul is so angry and offended by the message of these people (soon to be called Christians; cf. Acts 11.26) that he requests letters from the high priest “so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9.2). Just so you know this “binding” was not for a marriage proposal or anything else festive, these people were going to be essentially handcuffed until they were found guilty, recanted or were stoned.

Now as Saul was on the road to Damascus he was confronted by the Lord. Saul was about to be knocked off his proverbial high horse (he was literally knocked to the ground; Acts 9.4) and called into question for attacking the people of God. To attack a follower of Christ is equivalent to attacking the one who purchased them, saved them and raised them up. Just as David realized touching the Lord’s anointed was a no-no (1Sam 24.6; 26.9), so too was Saul about to learn the same lesson.  Jesus identifies the persecution that Saul is delivering to the followers of the Way as persecution against the Lord Himself (Acts 9.4, 5).

With a bit of imagination, a person might relate Jesus’ confrontation on the road to Damascus with a brawny brawler from Philadelphia: “Hey you knocked [them] down, why don’t you try knocking me down!” (Rocky V). If such humor doesn’t sit right with you, please ignore and continue to the conclusion.

Here’s my point, Jesus did not approach Saul of Tarsus in a seeker sensitive way. He confronted the man who thought that he saw the truth (i.e. Saul) and let him know that he was really blind to it. As the experience he was about to have for the next three days revealed to him (Acts 9.8-9).  A loving approach is the truthful approach, and sometimes that tends to sting. Besides, God’s Word does not ever insinuate that human beings by their own initiative really seek God. That is a false premise.

In fact, God declares very clearly quite the opposite: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none that does good, not even one” (Psa 14.2-3). In fact, Paul (who we’ve just met as Saul) believed and testified the very same thing (after the Lord changed his heart, of course) in Romans 3:10-11. Paul understood that “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him [God]; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God’” (Psa 10.4); for, “the mind that is set in the flesh [i.e. natural/fallen man] is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8.7-8).

Teaching such things is not popular and is highly offensive.

In the United States the unfortunate reality is that we treat local churches like department stores. If we do not like what we find in one, we go to the next to see if what they offer pleases us more. Why, because we do not like to get our toes stepped on. We want the powder puff gospel, not the hard-hitting truth.

Study the gospels and see if that is how Jesus shared the truth. He didn’t just hit the “minimal facts,” nor did he make appeals to creaturely “comforts,” often times his teaching was hard and offensive, as the truth normally is. The result? Many of his own disciples left him (John 6.66). But the point that we dare not miss is he didn’t soften his approach or try to make it more pleasing to his hearers. He revealed to his audience what had been revealed through the mouth of the prophets, the very word that He had given them to speak in the past.

We too should follow that model set before us. We should never shy away from the truth, no matter how offensive or unbelievable our hearers might find it. Yes, it may appear that many will not listen to what you have to say and reject it offhand, but one of the greatest persecutors of early Christianity was eventually knocked down and when he got up, he was a changed man. Who do you suppose brought about that change? If you answer anyone other than God, you miss the point, and you will probably enjoy the seeker friendly movement, the “church” where all your perceived desires and needs are met. Such thinking, however, is not reflective of the God of Scripture.

ENDNOTES:

[1] Gary Habermas, “The Resurrection Appearance of Jesus,” in In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History, R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, eds (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 262. Mike Licona, William Lane Craig and others share this approach. Andy Stanley, son of Charles Stanley, has adopted a similar methodology where all the “questionable” aspects of the biblical worldview—particularly what is addressed in the Old Testament—have been set aside as either unintelligible or unimportant; rather, a focus is placed on the resurrection of Christ as the premiere doctrine of orthodoxy.

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