|Adapted from Chapter 11 of Insincere, Irrelevant, Invalid.|
So, what happens to the Church when you have upcoming generations of Americans who have been immersed in a gospel presentation based upon shaky foundations, post-modernism, prosperity, pragmatic marketing, a high view of man and its abilities, and a low view of Christ? You are left with nothing more than mere moral TED Talks.
TED Talks are some of the most popular videos found on the internet today. These talks are catchy, informative, and straight to the point. These talks can vary from all subjects but usually are meant to spark ideas, inspire, or provide some form of self-improvement. Whatever niche you are in, whatever things you may enjoy doing or need help with, there is most likely a TED talk on that particular topic.
These TED talks usually look to bring the topic or idea as the focus of the speech and are usually used for the audience to gather information about that specific topic or idea. This contradicts the Sunday Service, as the focal point of a sermon should be primarily focused on God. And although we the audience can gather information and gain knowledge from the Sunday Service, the goal of the sermon is for people to Worship. Too many people in the modern church believe that the Worship stops at the end of the singing, and the self-help tips and tricks begin with the preaching. Jonathon Edwards explains the goal in the Sunday Service as this,
“ God glorifies himself towards the creatures also [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to them, being manifested to their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. . . . God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. . . . [W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it; his glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.”
With the influx of these TED talks along with the rise of easily accessible content like the modern-day podcast found on such platforms as YouTube, Spotify and iTunes, the modern-day Christian has more than enough capabilities to truly make an impact upon the secular world. And I believe the greatest thing about these influences of TED talks and the like, is that it has pointed out that people in America really do have enough of an attention span to sit and listen to someone talk for an hour.
Tongue-in-cheek comment, but it is nonetheless true. It appears this TED talk style is just the kind of preaching modern Pastors across the nation seem to strive for. (Yet, the majority of TED talks based upon religion are the very talks that critique the Christian Church so harshly. But I digress.) But speeches that inspire, motivate, and engage, ultimately only point to the Speaker as being the one responsible for these actions and feelings being whipped up in the audience. Striking emotions with motivational stories of overcoming, seem to only elevate the speaker, while the exaltation of God’s word will only humble both the speaker and listener.
Everyone needs inspiration. I can relate, sometimes life just gets you down, especially in the middle of a pandemic people just want to go listen to someone give them tips and tricks on how to make their life better. Which is fine, go do your Tony Robbins thing, go get a kick in the rear from Dan Pena, learn how to sell from Grant Cardone. But turning the Sunday Sermon into one of these self-help experiences at the expense of the Gospel is one of the most harmful things the American Church can bring upon this generation. To limit the Gospel to just mere self-help and wellness, “Be good” messages, does nothing but brings upon these younger generations a motivational moralism with no proper application to how we interact with the outside world around us.
In a world full of Tik-Tok, Instagram live videos being all the rage, American Generations seemed to have wanted our Gospel to be prepared the same way. As the older Generations reduced the outcome of the Gospel to mere Prosperity and reduced Christ to being just a mere man, so the newer generations have come along and added another piece to the reductionism puzzle, reducing the Gospel message to just mere forgiveness and moralism. Because of our lack of a proper Bibliology the American Church often views the Bible as a self-help book, filled with quick little stories about right and wrong, and then tack on that Jesus died for our sins and add a Sinner’s prayer at the end and what do you know, a sermon. The Gospel is more than just mere forgiveness of sins, and it is more than just being good. Because of our lack of understanding of who we really are, and who Christ is, and what he has done, we view the Bible as just a recipe that will make our lives just a tad better and easier.
Even if these newer mega-Churches deny preaching a Prosperity or Seeker Gospel, they still cannot help but seep some of these teachings into their Sunday Service. Instead of promising a wonderful life they use words such as “winning”, and instead of offering health and wealth from God, they offer ways to utilize the Bible teachings to help you “live life to the fullest”. All the while the Sunday service becomes nothing more than a mere motivational speech, designed to help one feel better about themselves and get thru the next week, month, or year. Example’s being Andy Stanley’s North Point Church’s new Sermon Series titled “Better Decisions,” in which Stanley provides the listener tips on how to decide and change their life or story, and how to “make better decisions by asking good questions.” Or Steven Furtick’s life advice on how to “take back your imagination”, so you “can feel free again” from constant worry. Or Brian Tome’s series on “new path’s” stating he is “in the job that he is in only because he likes helping people,” and “if you want to get to a different place this year, you are going to have to go to a different place this year,” exegeting Matthew 7:13-14 in the process.
All within the span of about 40 years the Church went from tithe so you can prosper, to be good so you can prosper, to be good because Jesus was good and you are just like him, to be good because that is how you can become a better you. Churches have even gone so far as to add services focusing on different enneagram types, finding out what number you are and how to interact with other numbers, to help us grow spiritually. Morally, yes, it is a good thing to interact respectfully with others and to help us grow and do the right thing when presented with difficult situations. But coming from the Pulpit, mere moralism and self-help does both the believer nor the unbeliever no good.
I agree with John MacArthur when he states that, “Morality damns just as immorality”, and in reality, most of Jesus’ rebukes came against the very “Moral Arbiters” of that time period. We understand and know now that when we read the Gospels, most of the time Pharisees equal bad. But the problem is if we were to live in the first century Judea, we would have thought the total opposite. That is why the rebukes were so shocking because the Pharisees were the most “moral”, and “religious”, people, and yet Jesus blatantly addressed and rebuked them as “Hypocrites” on multiple occasions (Mat. 23:13-25). Mere moralism at the Pulpit containing “be good” or “do the right thing” stories will not help the unbeliever reach heaven any more than a Ponzi scheme will get them a new house.
When reading the Bible correctly, there of course will always be a moral outcomes, rights, and wrongs. But this is always in reflection of who we are and who Christ is. Our morals should stem from God’s attributes and love toward us and hatred toward sin. It is never about “winning at life”, or how we can become the “best version of ourselves.” If anything, it is always about how we cannot win without Christ at all, and that in our morals as fallen sinners wrapped by a sinful nature, we will always do nothing but fail!
The commands in scripture of doing what is right and straying from doing what is wrong are great and are a part of our sanctification by which we continue to grow in the Spirit to become more and more like Christ. But we can never have sanctification without a true justification. To properly understand why the moralistic teachings in the Bible are important we need to fully understand who we are with and without Christ. The Gospel.
 Ted.com. Technology Entertainment and Design talks are presentations and short talks to inform and educate. The most popular TED talks mostly include presentations on self improvement.
 Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies,” ed. by Thomas Schafer, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 13 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), p. 495. Miscellany #448; see also #87, pp. 251–252; #332, p. 410; #679 (not in the New Haven Volume)
Andy Stanley. “Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets, Part 1: Deciding Our Way Forward // Andy Stanley.” YouTube, uploaded by Andy Stanley, 4 Jan. 2021, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGTO7kVjVWw&list=PLjX09Tk7xvkj98rk1cpXdvJa3wv_lLVSz.