Author’s note: This is the first article in a mini-series of articles reviewing Almost Christian by Princeton professor Kenda Creasy Dean. All quotes without direct links are directly from the book’s first few chapters. To hear Dr. Brown’s review of this book, click here.
A large-scale departure from a biblical understanding of what living as a follower of Jesus looks like in the lives of modern adults has brought about an epidemic of young people whose basic concept of religion is centered around a sense of enhancing their own, and others’ emotional well-being, which has almost created a new religion, though its “followers” still outwardly identify with the name of an existing religion. Kenda Creasy Dean, a professor at Princeton’s theological seminary, published a book called Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church that explores the emerging ramifications of the lack of passion and faith in God in previous generations. This book is based on the National Study of Youth and Religion by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton which gave this new religion the name of moralistic therapeutic deism:
As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these:
1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”
These recent studies testify to the fruit that decades of a consumer-driven, therapy mentality have brought into our churches. Dr. Michael Brown’s books, How Saved Are We and The End of the American Gospel Enterprise, point to a very similar attitude that was already entrenched in the American Church over twenty years ago:
The American Church at the end of the twentieth century is experiencing a crisis. For years we have preached a cheap gospel and peddled a soft Savior. We have taught salvation without self-denial and the crown without the cross. We have catered to the unsaved and compromised with the world. Now we are paying the price. (How Saved Are We.)
Our contemporary gospel has bred complacency instead of compassion, success instead of sacrifice, prestige instead of Prayer. We no longer ask what we can do for Him, but rather what He can do for us. (American Gospel Enterprise.)
Dean says there are four things that deeply religious teenagers, whose faith affects their day to day lives have in common:
Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.
Recapturing a passionate, articulate faith in teenagers and young people requires not simply a new “method” to reach them, but rather a revitalization of faith and devotion in the day-to-day living of adults. According to Dean,
Since the religious and spiritual choices of American teenagers echo, with astonishing clarity, the religious and spiritual choices of the adults who love them, lackadaisical faith is not young people’s issues, but yours… So we must assume that solution lies…in modeling the kind of mature, passionate faith we say we want young people to have… We have successfully convinced teenagers that religious participation is important for moral formation and for making nice people… Yet these young people possess no real commitment to or excitement about religious faith.
What is the one thing that truly differentiates faith from religion? Dean says this:
Faith is a matter of desire, a desire for God and and a desire to love others in Christ’s name…Love gives Christianity its purpose and meaning. Religion functions as an organized expression of belief… Yet Christianity has always been more of a trust-walk than a belief system…Faith depends on who we follow, and that depends on who we love.
John Wesley, whom Dean quotes, experienced in his own life a time when he called himself “almost a Christian,” while living with the same kind of approach many do today:
I did…good to all men; constantly and carefully using all the public and all the private means of grace…and…doing all this in sincerity… Yet my own conscience beareth me witness in the Holy Ghost, that all this time I was but almost a Christian... The great question of all, then, still remains. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can you cry out, “My God, and my All”?… Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing?
Another crucial question is this: how can we experience this passionate love of God if we have not seen the man Jesus tortured, bleeding, dying, and abandoned because of the depths of sin in our own hearts? The only true knowledge of the incredible love of God that evokes such devotion can come through a changed heart which has been wrung by a deep conviction of sin and repentance, and has seen the cost God afflicted on Himself in order to rescue us from the power of sin and bring us into fellowship with Himself.
Dr. Michael Brown reviewed the first few chapters of Almost Christian on his Line of Fire Radio show, and here is a quote from his closing remarks:
We are fundamentally off: with much of our preaching, with much of our emphasis…we’ve been in the wrong direction for years. We have soft-peddled the gospel, we have by-passed the cross. We haven’t preached a faith which is glorious and wonderful, and a savior who is so extraordinary, who delivers us from a wrath which is so terrible, that we JOYFULLY give up everything to have Him!
Changed hearts in the church as a whole is the only way to see the transformation that so many adults in the church have said they desire to see in their children, as Dr. Brown stated in The Jesus Manifesto:
The dawning of the 21st century finds the church of America in a moral and spiritual crisis. Decades of self-centered living and worldliness have taken their toll. Years of compromise and toothless gospel preaching have had their effect. And now we have reached the moment of truth: Either we wake up, stand up, speak up, and act up, or we run the risk of becoming a mere historic curiosity, an irrelevant religious sideshow, an entertaining, harmless spectacle. Something must change, and it must change now. There is no other choice.
‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’ -Lev. 10.3
The nations are perishing and the Church is languishing for want of the knowledge of God. This generation of American souls is largely ignorant of the God of the Scriptures, and we have been too preoccupied and distracted by this world to come into that knowledge ourselves. We have preached a hollow message that bears little resemblance to the revelation of God set forth by the apostles and prophets, and the condition of our nation testifies to it.
We have made light of sin, made the faith into a mere subculture, and the cities of America remain mostly unconvinced of the reality of God. We have not demonstrated His love and purity, for we have been functioning along the lines of the world, catering to self and living under the intoxicating influences of a consumeristic society.
This story of Aaron’s sons rattles our presumptuous definitions of God, and while it may seem unsavory or distasteful to consider, it is a vital portion of Scripture that needs to be reflected on. We need to reckon with passages like this until we break into a fuller understanding of who the Lord is, for if we pick and choose passages only of our own liking, we end up forming distorted views of God. Indeed, we all see in part, but to willfully neglect an aspect of who He is according to the Scriptures is to open the gate to deception.
I believe the message of His great love must increase and be shouted from the rooftops, but if He has also shown Himself as holy, and we fail to see Him as He has revealed Himself, what foundation do we have? His attributes are not categories that we can pick based on personal preference, as if the Bible was a menu at a restaurant. His traits are intertwined and tied up with His Person, and every revelation of God given in the Scriptures is a glimpse into His great heart. We cannot discard the portions that seem less appealing. If we do that, we have created our own view instead of receiving His. At best, our revelation of God will be a partial foundation, and that is not sufficient for a life of discipleship, nor will it hold in days of great trial and upheaval. We need to be rooted and grounded in His great love and purity, walking in the joy of communion and the fear of the Lord, for this alone will fit us to glorify Him in the day of His power.
He has revealed both His “kindness” and His “severity” for a reason (Rom. 11.22). It is not merely so that our systematic theology will be accurate. He has revealed Himself in this way because this is who He is, and to know Him and love Him as He is, that alone is eternal life.
Decades ago, A.W. Tozer wrote:
I refer to the loss of the concept of majesty from the popular religious mind. The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge, and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.
…. The world is evil, the times are waxing late, and the glory of God has departed from the church as the fiery cloud once lifted from the door of the Temple in the sight of Ezekiel the prophet.
The God of Abraham has withdrawn His conscious Presence from us, and another God whom our fathers knew not is making himself at home among us.
(A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy; Harper & Brothers, 1961; pp. 6, 49)
I am convinced that Tozer’s words are profoundly true of the Church in our times, and one of the chief reasons for this loss of majesty is that we have diminished- perhaps unconsciously- the sense of God’s holiness. We need a recovery of reverence, hatred for sin, and a baptism of fire to purge us of the arrogance and strutting that still marks too many of our lives and ministries.
There are wonderful teachings on the love of God in circulation, and I pray they continue to increase as our hearts enlarge in the experience of His kindness and compassion. But we are radically lacking a sense of His holiness, and since He is both loving beyond comprehension, and holy beyond description, the whole counsel of Scripture is essential for a true knowledge of God. Passages like this from Leviticus 10 provide a crucial vantage point for our understanding of Who God is.
Aaron’s sons, along with the people of Israel, had witnessed the majesty of God at the end of chapter 9. “The glory of the Lord appeared to all the people,” “fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering,” “and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” (9.23-24)
Without a doubt, the scene was exhilarating, and the sense of God’s mercy and holiness was overwhelming for all who were present. Reverence and joy mingled within them, and the people fell prostrate with shouts of praise and awe issuing forth. What happened next is both devastating and sobering.
“Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” (10.1-2)
We don’t know exactly what prompted Nadab and Abihu to perform what is recorded in chapter 10. Were they trying to reproduce the elation of the previous event? Were they wanting their names to be recognized before the people, rather than being jealous for the glory of God’s name? We don’t have the answer to every question here, but we do know that the fire they offered was not authorized by the Lord. It was offered in their “respective firepans,” and its source was of men rather than of God. It was “strange” and unholy, something “which He had not commanded them.”
It was so offensive to the Lord that “fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.”
At this point it is easy for our hearts to short-circuit. We lose touch with the raw reality of the Biblical passage. We cannot fathom the thought that the very fire of God Himself actually came out from the holy place and devoured the sons of Aaron. Our view of the Lord is casual and light, and the idea of judgment is foreign to most modern believers. If the idea of God’s wrath is agreed to in a credal way, it often bears a feeling of unreality, and the idea of judgment actually touching men on the earth seems fictitious or mythical.
But that does not discount the truth of the passage, and we need to realize that this is an actual historical event. It is not allegorical or symbolic, but a true piece of our heritage in the faith. It is meant to bring to us what it brought to Moses, Aaron, and the people of God; namely, a sense of His holiness, and an awareness that He does not tolerate sin, nor any activity that is carried out in His name that misrepresents His glory.
Just when we might have blamed the event on some demonic attack, Moses gives clarity to what has occurred.
“Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD spoke of when he said:
‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’
Aaron remained silent.” (v. 3)
This event of judgment, which gripped the community of Israel with holy fear, is completely intertwined with the revelation of God in the Scriptures. It is just as much a revelation of His personality as was His washing of the disciples feet, His blessing of little children, and His raising of Lazarus from the dead. It is a revelation of God’s holiness, and it is one that we need desperately to recover. He is holy, and we cannot use Him for our purposes.
This hits home in a concentrated way in this present generation. Perhaps the fouls committed against the sense of His holiness are no more flagrant than in certain segments of the Charismatic Church, where charisma and gifting are often elevated while the Scriptures and the character of Christ are undervalued.
My heart aches in this hour of often flippant faith, when silliness and frivolity are equated with “liberty in the Spirit,” and when anyone with jealousy for truth and reality is accused of having a religious spirit.
When I see men placing a low value on the Scriptures, or labeling anyone with passion for the Word a “pharisee,” I tremble on the inside.
When I see men acting as if they are inhaling the Holy Spirit through imaginary marijuana joints, calling it “Jehovajuana” and claiming that they are “toking the Ghost,” I am mortified at the total loss of reverence for God. There is absolutely nothing holy about such activity! It is a deplorable and scandalous example of strange and unauthorized fire.
When I see men boasting of great power and bragging about the international influence of their ministries while the sense of His holiness is absent, it makes me apprehensive.
When a so-called “revivalist” can shed his wife and marry another woman with no Scriptural grounds, only to re-enter public ministry with the blessing of well-known leaders, I am filled with concern. This has happened many times over the years, and I am wondering where the standard of truth has gone!
I want to be merciful towards all men, but there has to come a point where the gullibility and lack of discernment are spoken against. I don’t think we are far from Tozer’s description, that “another God whom our fathers knew not is making himself at home among us.”
A few of my mentors have even encountered a trend among “worship-leaders,” where they will use profanity, or do other wild and crazy things in services, claiming that by this absurdity they are “shaking the religious spirit off of the crowd.” I cannot give words to how far we have fallen.
You may say that I have a religious spirit myself, but I cannot give my soul over to these expressions of spiritual activity that militate against the revelation of God that I have received over the course of my life in God. He is holy, holy, holy, and the line of revelation from Genesis to Revelation does not alter one bit. He is kinder and more loving than we can describe, but He is pure and just as well, His judgments have already touched the earth, and He is still slated to return as both Savior and Judge.
We do need to desire “earnestly” the gifts of the Spirit and the outpouring of His power. We need to be awakened more and more to the depth of His great love and compassion. And indeed, when the Spirit of God moves in power, things will happen that we cannot explain and that take us by surprise. But what has happened to the fear of the Lord?
I am convinced that our unwillingness to come into the knowledge of God, as the Scriptures have revealed Him, has produced the seedbed for our sub-apostolic Christianity. Before the cities of the earth will be “turned upside down,” we need to regain the majesty of the revelation of God Himself. We need to turn from sin and return to the God of glory, to the Scriptures, to prayer and fasting, to worship and obedience.
We have lost the sense of His holiness, and I fear the consequences are much worse than the immediate judgment of two priestly sons. The Lord has permitted many to veer off into their own ideas of Himself, even while chasing supernatural activity, and their stupor grows heavier the more and more men make light of sin and neglect the Scriptures. A widespread famine of the true knowledge of God is even more tragic than the death of Aaron’s sons. Entire movements are chugging along without a sense of His holiness, quite at home with sin, and so intermingled with the world that there is no “distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean.” (Lev. 10.10)
We cannot rightly value the kindness and mercy of the Lord if we have diminished the bright light of His holiness and the radical nature of His hatred for sin.
We are more like the 1st-century Church at Corinth than we realize, and the word of the apostle Paul is the same to us as it was to them. He did not doubt the validity of their gifts, nor did he consider them unbelievers. But he had serious correction to give as well, for they were veering off in the wrong direction:
“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’ Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” -1 Cor. 15.33-34
Oh, for the true knowledge of God! For the joy of communion and the trembling of reverence! The salvation of Israel and the nations, and the raising of our sons and daughters depends entirely upon the measure to which we have come into the knowledge of God, as He truly is. He kindly invites us into the purity and joy of union with Himself, for which reason we have been saved. We need to be enlarged in His love. We need the sense of His holiness. May we hear from God Himself in this hour.
Lord, our lips are unclean, and we live amongst a people of unclean lips. We have failed to see You as You are, but You have been so gracious to give us the Scriptures. You have been so gracious to send Your Son. You are merciful enough to send us Your Spirit and to lead us into all truth. You have been so patient with us. Would you wake us up to the reality of Your holiness? We want to turn from silliness and deception, and to come into the apostolic faith of the Scriptures. Make us a people of humility, holiness, love, and power. Let us come into the sense of Your holiness, that a line of distinction may be drawn in the earth again. Let us know You as you are, and let Your name be honored and glorified above all.
A letter from Mike Bickle and Lou Engle concerning the critical hour in which we live – it is time to encounter God and take action
We stand at a critical juncture in our nation’s history. It is time to encounter God and to take action. The Holy Spirit is visiting His people with power. At the same time, the powers of darkness are raging against the moral fabric of our nation. The light is getting brighter as the darkness gets darker.
Many of you will have heard of the spiritual awakening at our Bible school. On Wednesday, November 11, the Spirit fell on a class for more than 15 hours. The word spread quickly and over 2,000 people spontaneously gathered in the auditorium from all over Kansas City, as deliverance and physical healings continued to increase. We canceled our classes for the next week so that each one of our 1,000 students and interns could receive from the Spirit in an extended way.
We decided to meet nightly from 6:00pm to midnight because His manifest presence continues to increase. Visitors are pouring in from many places across America to partake of this spiritual awakening.
We will continue these evening meetings until our onething conference, December 28–31, 2009, when we are expecting 20,000 young adults to gather for worship, teaching, and to participate in the supernatural ministry of the Spirit.
Last year, over 16,000 young adults attended this conference. We are still hearing testimonies of lives that were changed. This year, we are expecting to receive even more from the Spirit. We believe that this will be a historic and important conference, and encourage you to attend.
The theme for onething’09 is “What is the Spirit saying to the Church?” Our team will proclaim what we believe the Spirit is prophetically speaking to the Church in this hour. We will also share practical ways in which we can “adopt” high schools and colleges across our nation as we envision young people to impact each sphere of society with works of justice and acts of compassion. At the conference, we will have extended ministry times to receive healing, renewal, and impartation from the Spirit. We believe that the Spirit will release His power at this conference, as evidenced by what He is currently doing in our evening meetings.
Mark Anderson, a senior international leader in YWAM who also works closely with Campus Crusade for Christ, will host forums for leaders to discuss how we can systematically evangelize entire cities and campuses in partnership with the houses of prayer in their area. Mark has remarkable insight that comes from his 30 years of successful ministry in evangelism. The Lord has given him some bold new strategies for this hour.
The crisis in our nation is real. The serpentine stranglehold of abortion continues to squeeze the life out of over 4,000 wombs daily. Sexual immorality, both heterosexual and homosexual, are reaching epic heights of perversity. The number of women and children being trafficked into the dark underbelly of the sex industry in our cities is growing at an alarming rate. Entire school systems are giving way to darkness. The sanctity of marriage is under siege, threatening to destroy the moral foundations of our nation.
We will also address the growing crisis that is emerging in many churches across America. A new wave of confusion is systematically seducing many young adults into deception. Sincere young people whose hearts were once ablaze for Jesus are being allured into compromise on foundational biblical truths and practices, while at the same time they are increasing in works of compassion and justice. No amount of increased ministry activity can “balance out” their profound spiritual compromises. In the name of tolerance, they are settling for a humanistic and “politically correct” theology that trivializes the glory of Jesus. Many young adult ministries are falling prey to this as they are seeking “relevance” that dulls the razor’s edge of truth for the sake of man’s approval. It is not enough to mention Jesus’ name if they deny foundational truths about Him. Our works of justice must flow from deep allegiance to Jesus and the Scripture.
Our nation has never stood on such a precarious footing as today. The onslaught of spiritual darkness is increasing in our classrooms, boardrooms, courtrooms, and bedrooms. We must confront the confusion that is pouring forth from many pulpits as well as from the halls of Washington. It is time to draw a line in the sand. We must hear what the Spirit is saying and we must act on it. The Spirit will confirm the truth with demonstrations of power.
It is darkest before the dawn. Our hearts are full of faith. We know another historic “Great Awakening” is soon to sweep across our nation. We look with confidence to God’s promise: “In the last days . . . I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17-21). All nations will receive the witness of kingdom with power (Mt. 24:14; Rev. 7:9). What a privilege to live in this awesome hour of history.
At this very hour, Jesus is raising up young adults who are being mobilized to cry out in night and day prayer, win the lost, heal the sick, and do works of compassion and justice as they impact the very fabric of our society.
Please join us in Kansas City from December 28–31. The onething’09 conference is FREE. You can register at IHOP.org/onething09
With passion for Jesus,
Mike Bickle and Lou Engle
More about the awakening, and live video of the Wednesday through Saturday meetings, can be found here.
The moral desolation in America and the stagnation in America is not due to the strength of Humanism, it’s because of the weakness of evangelism. People don’t get born again when they come to the altar. They come down then they leave it down. They’re not born. People can’t be born in 5 minutes, put off ten million sins and transgressions and violations of the law of God. They can’t change a way of life, put off the old man, put on the new man, by just standing there in tears.
As we continue to put forth efforts to reach the lost, confront evangelistic atheism, and build a “stone wall” of intercession to confront gay activism in society, we must remember that we’re not part of an institutional religion but a powerful spiritual community of people that have encountered the Living God and are forever changed. Have you had that encounter? Have you died to this world and been risen in Christ?
In Charles Finney’s account of his baptism into the Holy Spirit, he said, “As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me then, nor did it for some time afterward, that it was wholly a mental state. …He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. …I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to him. I wept aloud like a child, and made such confessions as I could with my choked utterance. It seemed to me that I bathed his feet with my tears…”
I think that this description is characteristic of a genuine Holy Spirit encounter…our love for and revelation of the Son will grow and blossom.I don’t understand people who have “revivals” and conferences where they are obsessed with the Holy Spirit, but don’t even acknowledge Jesus.They sing songs about glory, power, anointing and never mention the name of Jesus.They talk about angels and miracles, visions, encounters and third Heaven experiences, but never talk about Jesus.How can this be?The Holy Spirit does not come to speak of Himself…He points away from himself to another – Jesus!
John 16:13,14 says, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for HE SHALL NOT SPEAK OF HIMSELF…HE SHALL GLORIFY ME: for he shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you.”
It is impossible to have a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit and not have an encounter with Jesus.If you ever see this happening be very careful, because while there are many spirits in the world, there is only ONE HOLY SPIRIT!
In Genesis Chapter 24 we read the story of Abraham sending his servant Eliazar to find a wife for His son; Isaac.It is Eliazar who brings Isaac and Rebekah, his bride, together.In this story we see so many types.Abraham is a type of God the Father.Isaac is a type of Jesus.Eliazar is a type of the Holy Spirit, and Rebekah is a type of the Church.There are many spiritual truths that can be drawn out of this story, but there is one that jumped out at me as I just read this verse recently.
Even though Rebekah had never seen Isaac, she seemed to love him greatly.She chose to leave her father, mother and family to be with him.As soon as she saw Isaac, she jumped off her camel and went to meet him.When they met face to face there was an instantaneous bonding between them.There were no dates, no courting, no prenuptial agreements or arrangements…they went straight to the honeymoon.
How is it that Rebekah loved Isaac even though she had never seen him?I think you can blame this on Eliazer.I think that from the moment he met Rebekah, he began to talk about his master and brag about him telling Rebekah how wonderful he was, how handsome, kind and gentle.On the entire camel ride back to the south country, Eliazer told Rebekah stories about Isaac and described him in detail.Rebekah was infatuated with this incredible man and could not wait to meet him face to face.
1Peter. 1:8 says, “and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory…”
Verse 53 says that Eliazer, “…brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold and raiment and gave them to Rebekah…” These gifts that Eliazer lavished on Rebekah are types of the gifts of the Spirit.They were not Eliazer’s, they were Isaac’s and were a sign of Isaac’s love. Of course they made Rebekah look beautiful as well, but the real purpose was to cause Rebekah to fall more in love with her groom…and it worked!When the Holy Spirit is moving and the Gifts of the Spirit are in operation we can expect to find people falling more in love with Jesus.
But consider this: what if Eliazer had flirted with Rebekah and tried to attract her with is own charm? What if Eliazer had given her his own gifts and told stories about his own life to win her over?What if Rebekah had become infatuated with and fallen in love with Eliazer instead of Isaac?He would have been a wicked, unfaithful and seductive servant.
Paul warns us that in the last days there will also be “seducing spirits” in operation.A seducing spirit is one that would seek to divert attention from Jesus and unto itself.Where people love the gifts more than the groom there are seductive spirits in operation.Where people seek manifestations more than “the man,” there are seductive spirits at work.Any time Jesus is not the main focus, the supreme attraction, the ultimate fascination, the crowning prize and the preeminent desire – WATCH OUT! The Holy Spirit has nothing to do with it!
The Holy Spirit will always speak about JESUS, reveal JESUS, exalt JESUS, promote JESUS and magnify JESUS…nothing else and nothing less than JESUS!
“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeded from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26).
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” -Jn. 6.63
In comparison with the nature of preaching in centuries past, I would say that truly anointed proclamation is at an all-time low. Many fellowships have little value for true preaching and teaching, and the saints as a whole have mostly lost touch with the preciousness of speech to one another. New movements arise, encouraging more entertaining modes of proclamation, and the Church is inundated with programs, pre-packaged sermon illustrations, and a host of mere opinions. Scarcely do we hear a true voice which quickens the heart of the Church, creating and effecting, through grace-charged proclamation, a fuller vision of Jesus Christ.
Consider this story from David Ravenhill:
“Some of you are familiar with one of the great revivals: the revival in the Hebrides. Back in the late 1940s-early 1950s, this little group of islands experienced a powerful move of the Spirit of God, one of the purest revivals that we have seen, at least in my generation. Seventy-five percent of the people who were saved were converted outside the walls of the church.
In other words, God came down and saturated the community with His presence. People were up all night getting right with God. People would walk on the road and come under conviction of sin and fall down at the side of the road, repenting of their sin. They weren’t exposed to any preaching, just the Spirit of God that suddenly invaded the area. The revival was preceded by the earnest praying of several young men as well as two elderly women. Their cry was that God ‘would rend the heavens and come down.’
The people reported that five years after that revival you could count on one hand the number of people who had drifted away from God. Bars closed down; saloons closed down; dance halls closed down. The entire community was changed as a result of that revival.
One man whom God greatly used was a Presbyterian minister by the name of Duncan Campbell. Duncan Campbell was the key figure really. One night he had a dream, and in this dream he was walking into one of the small towns on the islands. As he approached the town, he noticed that there was a large crowd of people listening to somebody preaching the Word of God. As he got closer, he could hear the Word of God being proclaimed, but he didn’t recognize the preacher. After a while it dawned on him that this was no ordinary preacher; this was the devil.
Finally the crowd dispersed, and in his dream he went up to the devil and said, ‘You’re the devil, aren’t you?’
‘Yes I am,’ he replied.
Duncan Campbell then asked, ‘Why are you preaching the gospel? Why are you preaching the Word of God?’
And the devil responded, saying, ‘Duncan Campbell, don’t you know that the greatest weapon I have is the preaching of the Word of God without the anointing of the Spirit? You see, the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.’ (Surviving the Anointing, pp.70-71; Destiny Image, 2007)
In the first months of the Hebrides Revival there was little preaching, but the Lord eventually raised Campbell up (among others) to proclaim the Word with a true anointing, and many communities were transformed by the power of the Gospel.
The gift of proclamation has been given to every saint on one level or another, for we all have the capacity to speak. Some will preach in larger settings, some will not. But we all have a calling to bear witness to the lost, and to speak the truth to one another in love. The question is not, “Where shall I speak,” or “What shall I speak,” but “How shall I speak?” We need a recovery of a true value for the gift of speech. Jesus’ words were spirit and life, which is something far beyond soulish talk or religious opinion. Dear saint, what is the substance of your speaking? I’m not asking if all of your conversation is religious or biblical. I’m asking what your source is. Is it you? your spiritual opinions? your personal paradigms?
Or is it “spirit and life?” The future of those listening to you may well depend on the answer to these questions.
“Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God…” -1 Pet. 4.11a