“I think relevance is a crock. I don’t think people care a whole lot about what kind of music you have or how you shape the service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, where they’re taken seriously, where there is no manipulation of their emotions or their consumer needs.
Why did we get captured by this advertising, publicity mindset? I think it’s destroying our church.” (Eugene Peterson)
In my estimation, as well as many other pastors and theologians, Eugene Peterson may be one of the most important writers on the Christian life, spirituality and the church. No one understands the heart of the gospel message more than Eugene Peterson. He is a convicting voice in a society that wants to cater the message to culture, in the process watering it down, or “taking the guts out of it” as Peterson would say.
I think Peterson is a prophetic voice, and that when he speaks, people should be listening and thinking.
Please read the full article above…it is well worth your time. But here is some snippets from his interview…best read in full context of course. Very convicting stuff, especially since I pastor in Los Angeles, a place where church too often caters to the culture around it. Check out the following excerpts, but not if you don’t want to be convicted. If you are in pastoral ministry, you best read this article. (These are answers from Peterson without the context of the questions):
“I don’t want to suggest that those of us who are following Jesus don’t have any fun, that there’s no joy, no exuberance, no ecstasy. They’re just not what the consumer thinks they are. When we advertise the gospel in terms of the world’s values, we lie to people. We lie to them, because this is a new life. It involves following Jesus. It involves the Cross. It involves death, an acceptable sacrifice. We give up our lives.
The Gospel of Mark is so graphic this way. The first half of the Gospel is Jesus showing people how to live. He’s healing everybody. Then right in the middle, he shifts. He starts showing people how to die: “Now that you’ve got a life, I’m going to show you how to give it up.” That’s the whole spiritual life. It’s learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love.
It involves a kind of learned passivity, so that our primary mode of relationship is receiving, submitting, instead of giving and getting and doing. We don’t do that very well. We’re trained to be assertive, to get, to apply, or to consume and to perform.”
“Do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture of Canaan is reproduced in American church culture? Baal religion is about what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I can get out of it. And of course, it was incredibly successful. The Baal priests could gather crowds that outnumbered followers of Yahweh 20 to 1. There was sex, there was excitement, there was music, there was ecstasy, there was dance. “We got girls over here, friends. We got statues, girls, and festivals.” This was great stuff. And what did the Hebrews have to offer in response? The Word. What’s the Word? Well, Hebrews had festivals, at least!”
“We’ve all met a certain type of spiritual person. She’s a wonderful person. She loves the Lord. She prays and reads the Bible all the time. But all she thinks about is herself. She’s not a selfish person. But she’s always at the center of everything she’s doing. “How can I witness better? How can I do this better? How can I take care of this person’s problem better?” It’s me, me, me disguised in a way that is difficult to see because her spiritual talk disarms us.”
“What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naÃ¯ve criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it.
Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death.
So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.
In my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the reality of congregationâwhat it is. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why are we always idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn’t idealize? There’s no idealization of the church in the Bibleânone. We’ve got two thousand years of history now. Why are we so dumb?”
“I think the besetting sin of pastors, maybe especially evangelical pastors, is impatience. We have a goal. We have a mission. We’re going to save the world. We’re going to evangelize everybody, and we’re going to do all this good stuff and fill our churches. This is wonderful. All the goals are right. But this is slow, slow work, this soul work, this bringing people into a life of obedience and love and joy before God.
And we get impatient and start taking shortcuts and use any means available. We talk about benefits. We manipulate people. We bully them. We use language that is just incredibly impersonalâbullying language, manipulative language.”
“Yes, except something backfires on you when you’re impatient. How do we meet the need? Do we do it in Jesus’ way or do we do it the Wal-Mart way?
Spirituality is not about ends or benefits or things; it’s about means. It’s about how you do this. How do you live in reality?
So, how do you help all these people? The needs are huge. Well, you do it the way Jesus did it. You do it one at a time. You can’t do gospel work, kingdom work in an impersonal way.
We live in the Trinity. Everything we do has to be in the context of the Trinity, which means personally, relationally. The minute you start doing things impersonally, functionally, mass oriented, you deny the gospel. Yet that’s all we do.
Jesus is the Truth and the Life, but first he’s the Way. We can’t do Jesus’ work in the Devil’s way.
I get exercised about this because many pastors are getting castrated by these methodologies, which are impersonal. There’s no relationship to them. And so they become performance oriented and successful. It’s pretty easy in our culture, at least if you’re tall and have a big smile. And they lose their soul. There’s nothing to them after 20 years. Or they crash. They try all this stuff and it doesn’t work, and they quit, or quit and start doing something else. Probably 90 percent of the affairs that pastors have are not due to lust, but boredom with not having this romantic kind of life they thought they’d get.”
“When you start tailoring the gospel to the culture, whether it’s a youth culture, a generation culture or any other kind of culture, you have taken the guts out of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not the kingdom of this world. It’s a different kingdom.”