A year or two back, Al Mohler gave a talk at one of the conferences he regularly speaks at which he titled, The Tyranny of the Contemporary. He had many good points (as usual), but a couple were especially relevant to our culture today, and particularly to this part of the country. One of these points was about how we are told that the gospel is offensive to folks today, and that this is a new problem. Funny. I think the New Testament writers made clear that this problem existed two thousand years ago, and Christian leaders since that time have continually reinforced the idea that the gospel was offensive to non-regenerate folks ever since.
Another point that Dr. Mohler made was in regard to the idea of full churches and empty preaching. At least in the Southern Baptist denomination (in which I participate), this is true to some degree. We measure pastoral success by baptisms, giving levels, and above all, attendance levels. One will often hear pastors and laypersons alike asking each other at state or regional meetings how 'big' their church is. "Whatcha runnin' these days?" is a common question. I've never been asked how deep the church is. Just how big. Maybe it happens, but not when I've been listening. And on top of that we keep reading about how we are losing our youth to secularism. As Michael Horton puts it, we are not only not reaching the lost, we are losing the reached. I won't say this is completely due to poor preaching and the abandonment of the gospel in preaching, but I'd be willing to bet some lunch money a good statistician could find a fairly strong correlation between these things.
Dr. Mohler also talks about the universality of these issues. Citing John 6, he notes that 'seekers' never seek what ought to be sought and needs to be found. He reminds us that after Jesus fed the five thousand, those in attendance looked not for spiritual truth from the source of this miracle, but rather they looked for more food. Physical food. Bread. Not the bread of life.
And people say the offense of the gospel is a new problem?
So in response, we look to new ideas and programs to try and outfox the problems. We look to contemporary technologies, contemporary worship styles, contemporary dress and mannerisms, contemporary programs, contemporary advertising campaigns, contemporary church names, and on and on it goes. But where'd the gospel go? I don't recall Paul saying anywhere that contemporary ideas were the power of God unto salvation, but we certainly tend to live like he did.
Every time we are tempted to buy into a new idea about anything, we ought to run it past Romans 1:16-17 four or seven times just to make sure we are keeping the main thing, the main thing.