Mensajes subcristianos en la predicación

Sub-Christian messages in preaching

If we do not identify the redemptive purposes of a text, we can say all the right words about a biblical text and still send all the wrong signals. I hear examples of this lack of communication almost every time the most listened to radio station in our city broadcasts its morning “meditation.” In each meditation, the preacher addresses a topic—procrastination, parenting, honesty at work, etc.—with one or two Bible verses. The station increases the reverb during the inspirational minute, so that it sounds as if the words are coming directly from Mount Sinai. Not paying attention seems almost a sin. As the preacher reminds us to practice punctuality, good parenting, and business ethics, I imagine thousands of Christian listeners nodding their heads and saying in unison, “It's true… this is how we should live.”

I have played recordings of these meditations in my seminary classes and asked if anyone can discern the error. They almost never detect a problem. The speaker quotes from the Bible accurately, defends moral causes and promotes loving behavior. So the students are amazed when I point out that the radio preacher is not a Christian. In fact, it represents a large sect.

How is this possible? How can so many Christians (even well-informed ones) so easily approve the words of someone whose commitments are radically anti-Christian? The answer is that the radio announcer does not reveal his heresy in what he says , but in what he does not say . He will never talk about the atoning work of Christ or the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Each message focuses on human improvement through human willpower. But this approach is not the most painful. The most significant problem is that many Christians approve of his messages because they differ very little from the sermons we regularly hear from evangelical preachers .

A message that only advocates morality and compassion is still sub-Christian, even if the preacher can prove that the Bible demands such behaviors. By ignoring the fallen state of humanity and the fact that our best works need God's rescue (Is 64:6; Luke 17:10), and by neglecting the grace of God that makes obedience possible and acceptable ( 1Co 15:10; Eph 2:8-9), these messages disrupt the Christian message. Often Christian preachers do not recognize this anti-evangelical impact in their preaching because they are simply promoting behavior that is clearly specified in the portion of the text before them. But a message that even inadvertently teaches that our works are the only requirement for God's acceptance will end up driving people away from the gospel. By themselves, moral maxims and exhortations to maintain ethics that do not lead to pious dependence are not only sub-Christian, they are anti-Christian. Jay Adams explains it with passionate eloquence:

If you preach a sermon that would be acceptable to a member of a Jewish synagogue or a Unitarian congregation, there is a serious problem with it. Truly Christian preaching is unmistakable. And what makes it unmistakable is the dominant presence of a saving and sanctifying Christ. Jesus Christ should be at the center of every sermon you preach. This is just as true for edifying preaching as it is for evangelistic preaching.

...Preaching for edification must always be evangelical; that is what makes it moral and not moralistic, and what makes it unacceptable in a synagogue, a mosque, or a Unitarian congregation. By evangelical, I mean that the importance of Christ's death and resurrection—His substitutionary death and bodily resurrection—to the topic under consideration is clearly shown in the sermon. You should not exhort your congregation to do anything the Bible requires of them as if they could fulfill those requirements themselves, but only as a consequence of the saving power of the cross and the sanctifying presence of Christ in the person of the Spirit. Holy. To be Christian, all preaching for edification must fully consider the grace of God in salvation and sanctification.

All other religions teach that humans reach God by some measure of effort or through some state of mind, but Christianity's unique claim is that God reaches us graciously because of our insufficiency. The Bible teaches that our relationship with God is not based on what we do but on what Christ has done: our faith is in His work, not ours (Gal 2:20). Therefore, an accurate description of biblical commands does not guarantee Christian orthodoxy. Exhortations to engage in moral conduct without the work of the Savior become mere self-righteousness, even when preachers promote the actions with biblical support and good intentions. A spirituality based solely on personal conduct cannot escape its human-centered orbit, even if its intention is to elevate him to the divine.


This article was adapted from a portion of the book Christocentric preaching published by Poiema Publications . You can download a free sample by visiting this link .

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