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Pastor as motivational speaker

In a recent Mars Hill Audio Journal interview, Dallas Willard speaks about his book, Knowing Christ Today.  Willard believes that religious knowledge has been nudged outside of public discourse and deemed invalid and irrelevant. This elbowing of religious knowledge out from the public square has been occurring since the mid to late nineteenth century. And, surprisingly, the church has even contributed to the problem. In an effort to insulate the faith from the rapid cultural and intellectual changes occurring from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, Christians (both conservative and liberal) tinkered with the faith, making it more subjective and privatized.

One result of this has been the increasing popularity of the pastor as motivational speaker. Combine a riveting (but often times empty) sermon with a goose-bump inducing praise band and what you have are the ingredients for spiritual success, so the thinking goes. The pervasiveness of this strategy within evangelicalism was observed by Alan Wolfe. He says, “Generally speaking, preaching in evangelically oriented growth churches, however dynamic in delivery, has remarkably little actual content” (The Transformation of American Religion, 31).

The root problem in this church model is that it is divorcing the faith from knowledge. The idea is that religious practice is not based on knowledge, but emotion, sincerity, the right vibe, etc.  Curiously, while we believe this works with religious matters, we do not believe in the strategy in nearly any other area of life. We do not think that brain surgeons, so long as they are peppy and energized, will do just fine. No. We expect them to know their stuff, and we should. The same could be said of lawyers, bankers, CEOs, etc.

While this model may boost baptisms and fire people up for a spell, it does not have the momentum to sustain. This is why American evangelicalism, while wide, tends not to be very deep. For more on this, I direct you to another Mars Hill interview from the same issue.

Author: Casey Shutt

View more articles by Casey Shutt.

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