Monday, June 14, 2010

The Relevant Pulpit of the 21st Century: The New Hermeneutic

        "Relevance is relative." Not really. But many congregations and their pastors insist on being relevant in such a way that the inspired word of God no longer (or seldom) finds its way into the "relevant message" on Sunday morning; pastors are too often relevant to the neglect of the word of God. Happy, smiling preachers(?) talking to a happy crowd about how to have a great life now after a happy clappy song service are all the demand these days. Relevance is the new hermeneutic; felt needs is king. And what are "felt needs?"
        Felt needs are those emotional needs experienced by church members that they feel should be addressed by the pastor, regardless of whether or not the pastor's pulpit counsel is biblical. These needs touch on such relevant topics as family problems, financial problems, relational problems, work situations, etc.. Robert Shuler and Joel Osteen are prime contemporary examples of pastors who preach to felt needs to the neglect of God's word and what God commands His pastors to preach. Felt needs are the itching ears demanding to be scratched from the pulpit by a man or woman who wants to scratch them. Felt needs are the guiding principle, the determining factor behind many pulpits rather than the word of God.
        The shame of preaching to felt needs is that it is usually approached from a secular man-centered perspective; anyone could sit under such "preaching" even if they are not Christian. Felt needs preaching is too often mistaken for actual preaching. God's name is thrown in occasionally along with a scripture here and there and a Bible is always present. The "relevant talk" begins with a joke, is filled with "feel good" homilies, and ends with an invitation to "accept Jesus into your heart," the heart being the seat of one's emotions, the seat of one's felt needs. The idea behind such gospelless messages is nothing more than to appeal to the masses. Upon hearing the so-called "opportunity" to invite Jesus into your heart at the end of these no-gospel talks, one must wonder, "who is this Jesus you are suddenly inserting into your talk?"
        The shame of felt-needs-preaching is that those very needs addressed without the word of God are in fact addressed in the word of God and can legitimately be addressed from the word of God through the legitimate preaching of the word of God. Expositional preaching is guaranteed to cover every felt need humanity experiences. So why not obey the word of God when pastors, i.e., God-called pastors, are told to "preach the word?" The word of God is always relevant.

For an outstanding read on this concept of felt needs and the gospelless talks of our time, see Michael Horton's "Christless Christianity," Baker Books, 2009.

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