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FIRST-PERSON: Radical hindrances to the Gospel

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–I am immensely indebted to the preaching and ministry of David Platt. David’s candor in preaching has exposed the idolatrous meandering of American culture into the pit of mammon worship.

My deep sense of personal gratitude is why LifeWay has chosen to partner with David Platt to simulcast Secret Church to churches and homes all over the nation.

David’s challenge to the church in America is to be radical about her faith. Being radical simply means devotion and obedience to Jesus’ commands. Sadly, simple obedience to Jesus is “radical” in our culture because we have loved idols for so long.

About eight years ago I conducted research regarding the unchurched in America. In “The Unchurched Next Door” I discovered some sobering realities about the lostness of our country. From David Platt I learned about the waywardness of some of America’s churches. I believe there is some overlap between these two groups.


While research cannot prove a direct relationship between wealth and resistance to the Gospel, the evidence seems compelling that such is the case. Not all wealthy persons are skeptics, agnostics or atheists. A person of lofty financial means can be a Christian, of course. Jesus did say of the wealthy entering the kingdom, after the disciples asked him if the rich can be saved, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

If our primary contacts are among the wealthier of society, or if our churches are located in more affluent areas, the likelihood exists that we will find greater resistance to the Gospel. Perhaps the growing wealth of our own nation at least partially explains the decline in conversions over the past 50 years. Evangelism among the wealthy in our society is difficult, but they need Christ as much as any of us.

Also consider the immense despair and sense of loss our nation is feeling during this economic recession. People are losing their jobs. Retirees are increasing years of employment in order to meet goals inhibited by shrinking 401(k) plans. Amidst these terrible circumstances our ultimate allegiance is exposed. The radical wealth of our nation has too often proved too great a temptation for our malleable hearts.


No other nation is as well educated as the United States. Americans are afforded access to educational opportunities internationals move halfway around the world to matriculate. While wealth seems to be one major obstacle to receiving Christ, advanced education may be another. More than 39 percent of the most hostile skeptics, agnostics and atheists have a master’s or doctoral degree, compared to 14 percent of the total unchurched population.

Mark J. from Maryland is a typical highly educated unbeliever. He claims to be an agnostic, but sounds more like an atheist. Mark received his Ph.D. in economics some 20 years ago. Like many highly educated unbelievers, Mark attributes his denial of the reality of God as a natural consequence of his advanced learning. He told me, “The more education you receive, the more you realize that religious beliefs just don’t make any sense.”


It’s a sad, but true axiom that cynics are celebrated in our culture. This posture of radical cynicism corrodes the heart at a staggering rate. During my research for “The Unchurched Next Door” we found that unbelievers over 50 years of age were twice as likely to be unchurched as all of those under age 50. Cynicism grows like a cancer over time and eventually will take over one’s life. A cynic doesn’t want to receive the Gospel because it is foolishness to him or her (1 Corinthians 1:18).

But this isn’t just a problem with the unchurched. Cynicism leads to the sort of discontentment that divides churches. In this area in particular, the world and the church often share a great deal in common.


All of these hindrances have one common denominator: pride. Wealth can lead to pride in power and thereby control. Education can lead to a mindset of intellectual superiority. Cynicism is an overall prideful attitude. The cynic places himself above all his peers — the epitome of pride. All of these radical hindrances to the Gospel share the belief that people do not need anyone else. Their lack of need directly opposes the foundation of the Gospel. The neediness of the sinner is the cornerstone of repentance.

Radical humility is required to overcome these stumbling blocks in our culture.
Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. This column first appeared at his blog, ThomRainer.com. To learn more about the Secret Church simulcast, visit LifeWay.com/SecretChurch.

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  • Thom S. Rainer