LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Today’s minister faces challenges unlike any throughout recent Christian history, said Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Mohler, speaking March 27 at a one-day “Power in the Pulpit” preaching seminar at Southern Seminary, said a dramatic shift has occurred in what people believe in the post-Christian age.
“Not one individual in Western culture for at least the last 1,000 years could have understood the world — his or her place in it, right and wrong, reality, time and eternity — without explicit reference to the Christian worldview” based on Christian truth, Mohler said.
Such understanding no longer exists, he said.
“The most basic structures of our culture [and] our legal system are based upon an understanding of the human being and of human life, and the reality of right and wrong established in the Christian worldview,” Mohler said. “That is now gone.”
Mohler spoke about the “priority of preaching in a post-Christian age” at the seminar, which featured Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., as the keynote speaker. Other speakers included Southern Seminary faculty members Daniel Akin, vice president for academic administration and dean of the school of theology; Mark Howell, assistant professor of preaching; and Hershael York, the Victor and Louise Lester Associate Professor of Christian Preaching.
Mohler detailed 10 issues that ministers must confront in their daily lives: dominance of secular space, corrosion of truth itself, denial of authority, rise of the individual, confusion of meaning over reality, innovation of the consumer culture, triumph of the therapeutic, influx of entertainment, made-to-order spirituality and new cyber reality.
Secularism — or secular space — dominates the world, Mohler said.
“The worldview or world picture held by the majority of Americans today has no explicitly theistic content to it whatsoever,” he said. “The average American can get rather comfortably through life without thinking about God, meaning, reality, truth, eternity, judgment, sin, grace — all of these are words that are nearly foreign to his vocabulary.”
Mohler said one problem is the corrosion of truth. The majority of people, he said, reject the idea of objective truth.
“The relativity of truth is now taken for granted not just among academic pointy-headed postmodernists in the universities, but it’s taken for granted by Joe and Mary Public, who believe that truth really is relative,” Mohler said. “Just about any poll you can cite demonstrates that a majority of Americans deny the very existence of any kind of objective or absolute truth. That is a huge shift in the consciousness of the people.”
Concerning the denial of authority, Mohler said, “The great question Americans ask is, ‘Who says? Who has the right to tell me anything is right, anything is wrong?'”
The pastoral understanding of this can be found in the New Testament, he said.
“The right understanding of authority is found in the model of the apostle Paul,” Mohler said, “as he exhorted Timothy to preach the word in season and out of season, and warned him of the itching ears he would confront as a preacher. The authority of the preacher is not the preacher. The authority of the preacher is the Word of God.”
Mohler said the denial of authority has led to the rise of the individual.
“Most modern Americans feel absolutely no obligation to anything beyond themselves,” he said. “A recent poll of young Americans indicated that 80 percent of Americans age 29 and under said they could not imagine a cause for which would be willing to die.”
Concerning the issue of meaning over reality, Mohler said, “Persons want meaning but they don’t want truth. They want meaning but they don’t care about reality. For most of human history, we assumed that meaning came out of truth and was established in reality, but the average American doesn’t believe that anymore. He or she can get meaning out of just about anything.”
Many times, Mohler said, people try to attain meaning from money and purchases — what he called the “consumer culture.”
“The culture we live in is a culture of mass marketing,” he said. “Everything is directed to us. This culture is living by the motto, ‘I am because I buy and I buy what constructs the kind of me I want. I expect everything to be consumer tailor-made to me.'”
Another challenge ministers face is the triumph of the therapeutic. Instead of looking to God, Mohler said, people simply look inward.
“Most persons in human history believed that their problem was that they were disconnected from their creator,” he said. “We’re [now] being told that we are disconnected from ourselves.”
Entertainment is one source of secular meaning.
“Everything has to be entertaining,” he said. “The nightly news has to be entertaining. It has to be entertaining to talk about mass murder and war. If it’s not entertaining, people will tune it out.”
This has led to hollow sermons from the pulpit, since some pastors put “style over substance.”
“I’m not suggesting that we be boring. … If you’re preaching this Word, it can never be boring,” Mohler said. “The problem with so many of the entertainment-driven ministries is that they communicate, but they never communicate the Word.”
Sometimes, Mohler said, people simply look for tailor-made spirituality.
Mohler told the story of a conversation he and another pastor had with a waitress at a restaurant.
“We asked, ‘Do you go to church?’ and she said, ‘Oh yes, several.’ She proceeded to tell us about the range of churches she attended regularly. … She said, ‘I think I’m a member at most of them.’ That is a fairly tame example of what we’re dealing with here. There are people who sit in your pews who would feel perfectly at home in a yoga class of classical Buddhism,” Mohler said.
And, concerning the “new cyber reality,” Mohler said, “The Internet really does change the way we think and the way we operate.
“I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the computer — especially the Internet — is one of the great cultural divides that we have to cross … It is a remarkable opportunity.”
But the medium should in no way change the message, Mohler said.
“You as a preacher are standing in a vast ocean of information,” he said. “I want to suggest the stewardship of this time had better mean that we focus that information on what is most urgent for our proclamation, and not spend our time talking about how to have greener grass and healthier pets, but focus on the reality that heaven and hell are hanging in the balance, and there is a gospel whereby men must be saved.”