Lessons for the Seeker Movement - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonArticles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.
Rudolph Bultmann was born at Wiefelstede, Oldenburg on August 20, 1884. He attended the University of Marburg, continued his studies at Tübingen and Berlin, and ultimately became the professor of New Testament back at Marburg in 1921. Bultmann attracted attention to himself as a radical detractor of the New Testament during the peak of higher criticism in theological circles. He gave himself over as a form critic in an extensive study of the Synoptic Gospels following in the footsteps of other anti-inerrancy and infallibility skeptics of the time. As a result of his form criticism, he became so skeptical about the Scriptures and their veracity, that he asserted one could know almost nothing about the real Jesus or the primitive church. Rather, he saw the New Testament documents as mythology. He thought this mythology was built up by the early church and cannot be deciphered, though many have tried. Rather, the real message hidden within the myth must be discovered with the little workable data available to such able scholars. It was not that there was a message behind the myth, but that the myth itself must be reinterpreted to form a new message for today. The reason he believed the Scriptures were not accurate, was that he could not bring himself to believe that a scientific man living in such a scientific age could not possibly move backwards in his intellectual evolution to believe in spirits, demons, blood sacrifices, prophets, resurrections from the dead or the like. These types of ideas were reserved for the arena of myth.
The hermeneutics which Bultmann engaged in was an attempt at translating the New Testament to find the real meaning of the text. Bultmann called this demythologizing the Gospels. He desired to translate the mythical Scriptures into existential language. It would be the same as taking the story of King Arthur and attempting to reinterpret the knightly tale for personal meaning in the mind of a modern man. Modern man cannot rightly identify with swords, jousting, a golden chalice, wizards and the like. In a similar way, the Scriptures must be interpreted existentially in the here and now, answering the needs of the scientific and technological mind. Man must obtain redemption from answering the question of his own existence, and to come face to face with the reality of certain death, and the demythologized message of Bultmann’s gospel is his only hope. The cross of Christ becomes nothing more than a fictional historical myth, which tells the tale for contemporary men to realize and enter into their own crosses. Men are then engaged in existential philosophy, not practical religion. This is not something which helps the souls, but rather, damns it further, and sears the conscience to the depraved and fallen mind.
Is this information really helpful? I mean, what does Rudolph Bultmann have to do with the Seeker Movement of today? Well, though it may seem that Bultmann’s existential, philosophical views on demythologizing the Bible are irrelevant, they are not. We must take one step back to show that his ideas here are not very dissimilar to the mega-churches of today, and the Seeker Movement which has exploded onto the scene of Christendom.
The Seeker Movement of the 21st century is embodied in such models as the Willow Creek movement, the Calvary Chapel movement, or any of these large mega-trendy churches appealing to the masses. Often, their theological stance is a watered down Arminianism, which even the historic Arminians of old would have rejected, or something even worse of their own fabrication. Most of their theology is bound up in statements of “faith” that are so vague or semantically strained that the “pastors” themselves have trouble making heads or tails of their own doctrine, which often changes with the blowing of the wind. These statements of “faith” are updated yearly to move along the current trend of the society. (This is the same plight of Bunyan’s Mr. By-Ends.) It is characteristic for them to embrace some strand or form of the charismatic movement. Some may not be as full blown as the Trinity Broadcasting Network propagate, but certain tendencies are there nonetheless. Personal experience is the victor over sound orthodoxy. People would much rather feel good than be convicted of their sin, right? They emphasize little or no church membership responsibilities and popular “Christian” music is set in place of worship. They promote drama, mime, puppet shows, psychologized sermons (or rather, homilies), and have an emphasis on meeting the needs of unchurched Harry or Sally as key and primary. They desire to make church “fun” since traditional forms of worship are not appealing to 21st century unchurched visitors – traditional church is not fun but boring. After stating the obvious, we then must ask, how are they following the footsteps of Rudolph Bultmann? In essence, their message to the masses in both their actions and from the pulpit is the same as the existential demythological message of the higher critics.
Really we should be asking the question in this way, “What are the mega-trend churches implementing or following that Rudolph Bultmann taught?” Do they believe that the older translations are inadequate? Of course they do. Translations such as the Living Bible or NIV Bible are used because the antiquated versions like the KJV speaking with “thou” or “thee” do not meet the needs of unchurched Harry and Sally with their technological minds. They simply do not speak that way anymore. They need translations which are up-to-date and relevant for the modern man. Do they opt for traditional or contemporary worship services? They most definitely implement the contemporary service. Even their alternate service, the “traditional,” is only mildly traditional. They employ what is popular because it attracts people, which means that the last 1900 years of church history will take a back seat to the innovative mime and drama sessions of the contemporary worship service. Are their pulpit messages catered to the desires of the people? Most assuredly. Most of what is preached is either banter against traditional orthodoxy, or advocating their psychologized preaching – the ten easy steps God has given us for successful living. These often result in creating the atmosphere of a pep rally than of a church. The younger children (12 and under) are often dismissed to children’s church to be separated from their parents during the preaching (??) and given over to junior workers who help them learn about God through watching a session of Veggie Tales on the color TV while sitting in their bean bags. Yes, this is 21st century church across a great part of the board. Bultmann was a champion of the same ideas. If he were alive today, he would be sitting in the front row of one of these churches cheering them on in their pursuit to demythologize the old message and old formulas, and help the 21st century’s technological mind conceive new inventions within old Bible ideas. He would praise them as form critics, if just on a practical level.
Here is where the mega-trendy churches are taking lessons from Bultmann to meet the needs of unchurched Harry and Sally. Terms such as propitiation, justification, and sanctification are antiquated and outdated. Utilizing terms such as “sin” and “wrath” in Sunday messages cause Harry and Sally to feel uncomfortable in the pew. There is a danger in using such antediluvian terms since it may cause a decrease in the number of attendees on a given Sunday. This would be unacceptable since their intention is to reach the lost. The mega-“trendy” churches must, out of necessity, cater to the unchurched. They are, in their fundamental nature, allowing the people of the pew to dictate the quality, message and form of their pulpit. This is Bultmann’s message all over gain in just another package. The Seeker Movement looks to remove what is outdated (traditional church, and tried orthodox theology) and present old ideas in a new and innovative forms to the masses; and so what if some of the truth is lost – its just all semantics anyway, right? They are modestly mimicking Bultmann’s hermeneutics.
The moment the Gospel becomes attractive and inviting to the masses, there is a grave problem. Why is this a problem? The Gospel is not attractive at all. To those who are dead in sin it is a repulsive and utterly offensive. Think on the words of Isaiah 53, “he was despised and rejected,” and He was “a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.” He was a “withered root” which sprung up out of “the dry ground.” The prophet Isaiah had to ask “who hath believed our report?” because no one wanted to believe the report! Why did they reject Him and the message of the Gospel? The rest of the passage deals explicitly with the sacrificial nature of the suffering Servant. This Servant, who is Jesus Christ, will take the sins of His people and die on the cross for those wicked, undeserving rebels who are hell-bound due to their fallen nature. They necessitate being rescued through His work on the cross because they are in a state of sin and depravity, and are in need a Savior. They are at enmity with God, and they hate God. They hate everything about God because He is holy and they are not. If they could, they would kill God, and as a matter of historical fact, when Jesus appeared as their Messiah, that is exactly what they did – they crucified Him. Does this bother unchurched Harry and Sally? You bet it does. Since the Gospel message is so revolting to the depraved mind, the Seeker Movement has changed the Gospel so that it would be attractive to the mass of perdition called humanity. And be reminded, this is far different than preaching through the excellency and glory of Christ and making those doctrines plain and attractive through preaching. To the regenerate mind, and the heart that is being worked over and arrested by the Holy Spirit, these doctrines are attractive. But to the lost, even the excellency of Christ is something vile.
Why are their churches packed? Why are there so many attending? It is simple – it is Bultmann’s existential entertainment which is at the heart of their appeal. The world is drawn to the things of the world, not the things of God. The world is not drawn to Christ, Christ must draw them; they must be given to Christ by the Father (Read John 6-10!) or they shall never come at all – they will be found running in the other direction. Thus, through compromise, these “churches” draw large numbers of lost people. Of course they do, look at their worship, their preaching, their ministries, etc! They think they are a success as a result or large numbers. When movie theaters, on opening day, advertise the coming of a long anticipated movie, the crowds gather because it is attractive to them. Oftentimes the movie is sold out. But from a Christian perspective, the movie could be filled with sex, violence and profanity, worldly ideas, and anti-Christian ideals. So what do large numbers prove?
We see this mentality stretching all through the Seeker Movement, from radio programs to billboards. Have you seen some of those billboards which are all black with white letters advertising for God? One says, “Does the road you are on lead to my house” – God,” or “Stop using My name in vain or I’ll make rush-hour Longer – God.” Such drivel is thought to promote the Gospel. It does not promote it, rather, it detracts from it. It takes away from the glorious decreed means of affecting the salvation of souls through preaching. Did Jesus use gimmicks? Or was his message “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”? Did Paul reinvent preaching to include puppet shows? Could you see Paul and Silas setting up a quick “sock puppet” to win over the jailer who asked him “What shall I do to be saved?” Or did Peter enact drama at Cornelius’ house? I mean, he had enough people to play a variety of parts. There were at least five of them present. With a few lines of memorized dialogue, and an hour of practice, he could have easily ministered to Cornelius in a much more “Greek” fashion through drama rather than preaching, right? No. They preached. And sinners today are like sinners in any day, they are lost and need the preaching of the Word in truth and righteousness to save them. Indiscriminate, convicting, God-fearing, Spirit-wrought Gospel preaching is what the day and age is longing for without even knowing it.
The form of godliness which is being propagated as truth is deceiving men and women of all ages. They believe that a watered down Arminian Gospel, and existential philosophical ideas, pioneering marketing strategies for new Gospel proclamations, catchy phrases, pithy billboard ads, and the like, are the means of spreading the Gospel. But Paul asks, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” Preachers are what is needed who preach the relevant Word. And the eternal Word of God is always relevant no matter what age we are living in. But instead of listening to godly preachers who preach indiscriminate truth, mega-churches are taking lessons from higher critics who do not even believe in the basic message of the Gospel. Bultmann’s lessons to the Seeker Movement are only damning more and more people. They are ever falling into the bottomless pit of the mouth of hell, as Proverbs says, which is “never satisfied.” Whether hell swallows liberals, Gnostics, Pelagians, or even form critics, it is never satisfied. It does not mind swallowing Arminians or even whole Seeker Churches. And if the Seeker Movement does not straighten out its understanding of the Gospel, I fear the worst for them.
Shall we critique Bultmann and his progeny – the Seeker sensitive churches – without offering help to them? No, we must not. How shall we help? We must not begin by writing books which explain why the Reformation is lost. Those people will never read such books. We ought not to push them to read Calvin, or Turretin or John Owen. As a matter of fact, we should not even try to help them understand the doctrines of grace known as TULIP. You see, these people think they are already saved. They think they are fine. Harry and Sally enjoy their shallow Seeker church and their lives there, all the while being constantly barraged with Anti-Calvinistic literature. No, this is not where we begin. Might I use an example demonstrating the incredibly poor judgment in this? I had the pleasure of visiting a seminarian friend at a Saturday gathering at his house. Other Seminarians were there, and we had a variety of good, solid, Reformed discussions. Then a young lady from a well-known Seeker Church stopped by, a friend of the wife, and she sat in our group. While she was eating with us, what do you think these seminarians did? They attempted to evangelize her, not with a Bible, but with Calvin, and TULIP, and the like. Now, I am certainly not saying that TULIP is not the Gospel – O my, NO! It is the only Gospel. But these men would have been much more wise and pastoral to ask the woman if she has daily devotions, and if she prays, and if she reads her Bible. I believe we must get these people reading their Bibles instead of just talking about Bible stories. Get them to read Jeremiah, or Obadiah, or Haggai. Get them into Isaiah 40, and 42. Get them to read Jude and the epistle to the Romans. Get them to love the Word and talk about the Word and live by the Word. Calvinism’s terminology can be implemented later – for now, use Biblical terms. It would have been so much better to have that young woman understand the word “propitiation” than pounding her with “TULIP.” Most Americans could not even define “Depravity” or “Perseverance” or “Irresistible” much less understand what you mean by it inside of 5 minutes. It has taken some of my Calvinistic friends years to understand, believe and accept the doctrines of grace. It would have been much more practical to help this young lady understand the value of the Word instead of outlining the scholarly work of B.B. Warfield’s Plan of Salvation. One could tell these men had no people skills whatsoever. They had pounds of seminarian zeal, but no knowledge on how to use their scholarship. It would have demonstrated that these men were pastors and not just scholars if they dealt with this young lady in a more pastoral fashion. (Which is another article just waiting to be written.)
Let us then, encourage them to be serious about their Bibles. If you have friends in the Seeker Movement then pray for them. Pray that God would save them if you believe them to be lost, and pray that they would believe their Bibles in either case, whether saved or lost. I think people listen to their pastors talk about the Bible more than reading and studying the Bible itself. Pray they would have an interest in reading all of the Bible, and studying it. This is where I think we need to begin. Help them see that the Word of God is the most valuable commodity to possess this side of heaven. Help them see its weight in spiritual gold, and prompt them to read it with all their might. Then, after they have embraced the Bible, after they have accepted all of the Bible and not just parts of it, after they have been genuinely converted by its message, teach them about Calvinism. Teach them the terms and definitions. Help them take their Biblical Theology and systematize it. Help them to understand it comprehensively. This is where Bultmann and the Christian part ways. The message of the Bible itself, in all its relevancy with dispel any “Bultmann” or any disciple of Bultmann that may come along.