Hundreds of years ago, people had a firm grip of the justice of God. When they think of God, the number one image that comes to their minds was that of a God of justice. Words like righteousness, wrath, holiness, awe and obedience are usually associated with Him. To mention a God of love and relationships would have been utterly surprising to them. They simply didn’t think of God in those terms.
Today, the exact opposite happened. Our generation only knows of the love of God. When we talk about Him, words like family, friendship, relationships, blessings, grace and favor are associated with Him. To preach a God of wrath and justice is a big no-no in modern pulpits. It drives people away. It shocks them. It scandalizes them. They could never think of God in those terms.
Pastors reason that people have had enough of fire and brimstone messages in the past few hundred years and it’s time for a change. The modern man is pressured on every side. He’s having enough of hell as it is. When he comes to church, he needs uplifting messages of hope and love and grace. No pressure. Just sit back, relax, enjoy. God loves you just the way you are. You are approved. You are chosen. You are favored.
I can understand the pastoral side of this. You look down from the pulpit on Sundays and you can see people who have been battered by life’s problems. Your heart is bound to be moved by compassion. You want to cheer them up. You want to give them something to be happy about. Joy and peace, not fire and brimstone. Sweet and comforting words, not thunderous proclamations of divine wrath.
So modern preachers are always on the quest for relevance. They craft their messages around the needs of the people. If the people are stressed out in their jobs, the preaching would be something about dealing with stress and pressure. That’s actually sensible and fine. But that’s like talking about molehills and bonsai and peebles. It’s helpful, it’s tangible, it’s practical and yes, very relevant.
But on the other hand, the greater things of God that feel like snow capped mountains and towering vistas and majestic canyons in scope never come into the picture. The glorious cloud formations are not seen. The overarching glorious doctrines of grace and holiness are never mentioned. The infinitudes of God are missing. The people were given a sense of the practical but not a sense of the majesty and the bigness of God.
J. I. Packer, in his introduction to the book The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, contended that the modern preaching of the gospel no longer produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility and a spirit of worship among believers, mainly because we no longer aim for those things. The transcendent, majestic and awesome God of Luther and Calvin is now lost in our quest to make the gospel helpful to men- to bring them peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction and the blessings of the good life. We have unwittingly traded the awesome bigness of God with the bite-size tidbits of practical and relevant gospel.
Maybe it’s time to look at the collateral damage. We have before us a generation of believers who have little or no appreciation of the Biblical doctrine of holiness which, if you follow closely, actually leads us directly to the doctrines of divine wrath and divine grace. The reason why modern Christians get lopsided ideas about grace is because we haven’t been talking about holiness and justice in the last few hundred years. You see, the extreme teachings on the love of God will be easily pulled back into proper proportion if the holiness of God is part of the conversation. I believe that to have a full gospel lifestyle, we must not be afraid to talk about grace and justice with equal passion.
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