I’ve heard it said that what happens in the USA happens here in the UK, twenty years later.
If that’s so, then we’d better take the following to heart.
William Willimon, Dean of the chapel at Duke University, recently stated, “Today’s conservatives sound like yesterday’s liberals.” In a fascinating article titled “Been there, preached that.” (Leadership, Fall 1995) Willimon sounds a prophetic warning to evangelicals, that they might not be seduced by the sirens of modernity and follow the path of tragic insignificance which mainline denominations have trod.
“I’m a mainline-liberal-Protestant-Methodist-type Christian. I know we’re soft on Scripture. Norman Vincent Peale has exercised a more powerful effect on our preaching than St. Paul…
I know we play fast and loose with Scripture. But I’ve always had this fantasy that somewhere, like in Texas, there were preachers who preached it all, Genesis to Revelation, without blinking an eye…
I took great comfort in knowing that, even while I preached a pitifully compromised, “Pealed” -down gospel, that somewhere, good old Bible-believing preachers were offering their congregations the unadulterated Word, straight up.
Do you know how disillusioning it has been for me to realize that many of these self-proclaimed biblical preachers now sound more like liberal mainliners than liberal mainliners? At the very time those of us in the mainline, oldline, sidelined were repenting of our pop psychological pap and rediscovering the joy of disciplined biblical preaching, these “biblical preachers” were becoming “user friendly” and “inclusive,” taking their homiletical cues from the “felt needs” of us “boomers” and “busters” rather than the excruciating demands of the Bible.
I know why they do this… It all starts with American Christians wanting to be helpful to the present order, to be relevant (as the present order defines relevance). We so want to be invited to lunch at the White House or at least be interviewed on ‘Good Morning America.’ So we adjust our language to the demands of the market, begin with the world and its current infatuations rather than the Word and its peculiar judgments on our infatuations.
If you listen to much of our preaching, you get the impression that Jesus was some sort of itinerant therapist who, for free, traveled about helping people feel better. Ever since Fosdick, we mainline liberals have been bad about this. Start with some human problem like depression; then rummage around in the Bible for a relevant answer.
Last fall, as I was preparing in my office for the Sunday service, the telephone rang.
‘Who’s preaching in Duke Chapel today?’ asked a nasal, Yankee-sounding voice.
I cleared my throat and answered, ‘The Reverend Doctor William Willimon.
‘Who’s that?’ asked the voice.
‘The Dean of the Chapel,’ I answered in a sonorous tone.
‘I hope he won’t be preaching politics. I’ve had a rough week and I need to hear about God. My Baptist church is so eaten up with politics, I’ve got to hear a sermon!’
When you have to come to a Methodist for a biblical sermon, that’s pitiful.”