"In a therapeutic culture in which psychology is the lingua franca, it's easy to inadvertently subvert the gospel, to imagine we're talking about the gospel when we're really talking about the anti-gospel.
A few months ago when I was traveling, I attended a local church that was 'the' evangelical church in that suburb. The text for the day was the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The preacher began by reminding us of the context—the search of a shepherd for a valuable sheep; the search of a woman for a valuable coin. We were then told that the father in the parable, when he saw his wayward son far off, did not see someone who was selfish or a loser. Instead, through all the junk, he saw something valuable: a son. The sermon concluded with a reminder that God gives us the ability to see the treasure, the value in everyone we meet.
I am one with this preacher's motives and aims. But in his desire to proclaim the magnificent love of God, he inadvertently fell into language that actually proclaims bad news—all this talk of the intrinsic value in the object of love. This preacher did not go so far as to say it, but I've heard the following in sermons and read it in books by respectable evangelicals: 'You are unique and valuable. You were worth so much to God that he was willing to die to redeem you, so you could be in his family.' And this: 'We are worth the price God paid for us, the death of his Son.'
But of course this gets it exactly backwards. Unfortunately, in an attempt to convey the radical love of God, such well meaning Christians actually sabotage it.
For if we have some measure of intrinsic value to God, a number of things follow: First, it is our value, and not God's love, that forces God's hand. He looks at us and sees something of value, and being a reasonable fellow—one who knows and appreciates things of value—he pretty much has to redeem us. The love of God is not given freely in mercy to the undeserving, but instead to the deserving—because, after all, we are of infinite worth! God would be a poor judge of character if he did not choose to die for us."The article is well worth reading: Love Needs No Reason.
In the current issue of Christianity Today we have an excerpt from a forthcoming book by J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett, Grounded in the Gospel. In this important book Packer and Parrett argue for recovering the time-tested practice of catechesis.
Here's what they say is the problem with Sunday School:
"Today, however, things are quite different, and that for a host of reasons. The church in the West has largely abandoned serious catechesis as a normative practice. Among the more surprising of the factors that have contributed to this decline are the unintended consequences of the great Sunday school movement. This lay-driven phenomenon swept across North America in the 1800s and came to dominate educational efforts in most evangelical churches through the 20th century. It effectively replaced pastor-catechists with relatively untrained lay workers, and substituted an instilling of familiarity (or shall we say, perhaps, over-familiarity) with Bible stories for any form of grounding in the basic beliefs, practices, and ethics of the faith.
Thus, for most contemporary evangelicals the entire idea of catechesis is largely an alien concept. The very word itself—catechesis, or any of its associated terms, including catechism—is greeted with suspicion by most evangelicals today. ('Wait, isn't that a Roman Catholic thing?')
We are persuaded that Calvin had it right and that we are already seeing the sad, even tragic, consequences of allowing the church to continue uncatechized in any significant sense. We are persuaded, further, that something can and must be done to help the Protestant churches steer a wiser course. What we are after, to put it otherwise, is to encourage our fellow evangelicals to seriously consider the wisdom of building believers the old-fashioned way." (emphasis theirs)The book should be out next month. It is from Baker Books with 240 pages and will sell for $16.99.