New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:
New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:
First, I generally concur with all you say in the Warhorn post above. Insofar as you lay a charge at the door of evangelical pastors (I won’t claim to speak about those within the PCA; that’s a different household than the one I’ve dealt with the past 50 years), I lay the same charge. And, yes, the dereliction of duty reaches all the way back to the beginning of that half-century. It was in full cry as I dealt with my vocational peers five years out of seminary.
That said, I raise a quibble, because going forward there’s a problem about which I’m unsure how best to advise pastors setting out on their ministries today. So here goes . . .
You ask, “Who can deny the way God has used preaching and pastoral care to lead and guide His people in past centuries?”
This is, of course, a rhetorical question. No one would deny such a thing. You’re asking, of course, a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious to anyone with even the smallest exposure to the history of the Church."
Then you ask, "Is there any reason to believe our preachers and pastors both Evangelical and PCA are less influential today … "
Well, yes - they are relatively less influential than their peers 500 or 1,000 years ago. How do we explain that they are far less influential than their peers centuries ago?
Chief among them must be this: the exposure of God’s people (evangelical and PCA alike) to voices ostensibly within the Church who conflict with faithful pastors and their preaching is vastly greater than it was a century ago, and even more so before the rise of mass media (first print in the days of the Reformation, and later digital, mass communication in our lifetimes).
How many voices competing with basic orthodoxy are available to any Christian today?Are they more numerous or less numerous than Christians could hear centuries ago?
How easy is it for today’s Christian to avoid all those competing voices? An ordinary evangelical/PCA pastor may (at best) get his flock’s attention for a couple of hours a week. At best. How many other hours a week might an ordinary Christian find himself reading/listening/viewing a competing voice? I say competing, not supplementary.
This exposure to “authorities” competing with an ordinary orthodox evangelical/PCA pastor - how does today’s exposure to them compare with anything similar a century ago? Half-a century ago? Does not the explosion of mass communication in the past 50 years bring a unique challenge to the faithful pastor today?
Agreed - I suspect that many pastors have absolutely no idea who else their flock are reading or listening to.
A generation ago the issue was Christian TV. And then the Internet/WWW came along, and meant that people were exposed to all sorts of things …
Postman claims we need filters for the information glut of mass media if we are to have a worldview that is anything except “all information is good all the time”—what he calls a technopoly.
It’s a fascinating concept that I keep seeing everywhere after reading his book with @ldweeks.
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. We are a generation who has raised the Athenian idolatry of knowledge to a new level of art. And with it, we have achieved a new level of ability to create and idolize our self-identity, divorced from all the natural relations and forms of community that God has instituted. It is a kind of e-gnosticism.
I am only barely beginning to work through my own place and complicity in this. One of the things that makes it especially hard is that I have no real idea of how the internet would look if it were carefully and thoroughly integrated into God’s creational design for community worship and growth, as a theologically-informed tool for holiness, rather than a radical free-for-all.
I appreciate the way you’ve described the problem here. I’ve thought so much about this in the last few years.
There was one time, years ago, when the internet excited me. What a powerful media for the spreading of the truth of God’s word! Surely, the internet shall fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)!
But as time went on, and my church began to crumble due to heretical influences invading from the outside, so too did my optimism crumble. Now, I see that the internet is moreso exploited as a media for those who creep into households and capture weak women, who are left always questioning everything they’ve ever been taught, never able to arrive at a firm knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:6-8).
The internet is an amazing and terrible tool. It gives equal platform to truth and heresy, and we consume it in the privacy of our smartphones, outside of any context of authority – except for, of course, whatever our social media overlords feel like censoring because it doesn’t conform to the socially-prescribed worldview of the day.
But what are we going to do about it now?
The more I’ve observed it and thought about it, I really do believe it as an authority problem in the church. And I furthermore began to realize that the game hasn’t changed since the garden.
First, pastors need to stop getting their theology from the hey-honey-check-out-this-clip-I-found-on-Facebook excitement of their wives. Is this not exactly what happened in the garden, when the man laid aside the commandment of God and went along with his wife?
But as soon as a pastor has done this, so too the other men of the church will follow suit. And as soon as the pastor’s wife has gotten away with it, so too will the other women of the church. Pretty soon, we’ve exchanged the faith once for all delivered to the saints for a cheesy, emotional experience, and our church has become a synagogue of Satan.
When the elders sacrifice their authority upon the alter of egalitarianism, they have sacrificed their sheep unto Baal.
Like pastor, like people, indeed.
This is a very helpful way of looking at what we all recognize is a problem. We live in a fallen world, with fallen people; the instruments of this world have no moral agency but they do reflect aspects of the fall. What ought their use look like, so that they might be sanctified. One thing is for sure, God has used the Internet in immeasurable ways to grow his church. I won’t despise it completely, but our use of it so often profanes His purposes.
Something I meant to say before was that this idea of filters helps clarify the necessity of something that has scandalized many people—pastors saying “Do not read (or listen to) so-and-so.”
Filters have to be set based on a worldview. If you don’t trust your pastor to remove a few authors and podcasters from the countless things you could consume, you don’t believe in a shepherd.
Interestingly, Postman puts the first half of the collapse in confidence in religious worldviews (and thus religion-based filters) at the trial of Galileo, and the second half of the collapse at the Scopes trial. I think he is describing the underlying cause of the problem @Fr_Bill described above—the decrease in influence and authority of pastors.
Of course, I agree with your points, Bill. But one clarification: what I was arguing was not that pastors have less influence today than in the past, and that’s precisely the reason somewhere around half of conservative Christians are unwilling to condemn child slaughter and sexual perversion. After all, I was assigning the blame for the horrible state of confession of Christian faith in the PCA to the pastors and their seminary profs at Covenant.
Does this mean faithful pastors don’t have more to contend with in terms of direct assaults upon God and the authority of His Word and truth today with the ubiquity of other voices assaulting his congregation/flock? No, it is worse, I’m sure.
But pastoral care and authoritative protection and warnings have not been tried and found difficult. They have been found difficult and left untried.
Am I making sense? Love,
Isn’t this just a reminder that it’s time for pastors to fight for their authority again – like the Apostle Paul (humiliatingly!) fought for the hearts of the Corinthians against the “super-apostles”. And you look at the depth of the questions they evidently sought his instruction on (“Now about virgins…now about food sacrificed to idols…now about the gifts of the Spirit…now about the collection for the Lord’s people…”), and you see how they obeyed him in the matter of the man who had his father’s wife-- what beautiful fruit of his labors.
Excellent comments. Only grown to love the Apostle Paul more as I’ve aged.
Indeed, dear Brother!
Perhaps I’ve generated a different discussion, prompted by a puzzling over how that difficult pastoral ministry should be pursued today, when part of the difficulty it faces is the chorus of competing heterodox/heretical voices - both outside the Church and from within it (e.g. Revoice, et al.).
I’ve been puzzling over this question the past few days, adding to your thoughts those of others who have posted replies to your original post above. If an idea gels sufficiently, I’ll propose what might be a strategy for modern pastors to implement with an eye to that raging theological noise surrounding us.
This is indeed often the issue. Whether it’s pastors and elders with their congregations, seminary professors and their students, or parents with their children, the strong temptation is always to choose the safe and easy way, the path of least resistance. This is one of the reasons Jesus warned against the broad, easy way, which leads to destruction. It’s why John said in Revelation 21:8 that cowards would be outside the New Jerusalem. Our natural man doesn’t want to exercise the difficult and dangerous task of being faithful. Doug Wilson was right when he said that “desperate times call for faithful men and not for careful men.”
At the end of the day, despite the difficulties of being a faithful witness in the face of the world’s pressures, we should remember Jesus’ encouraging words in John 16:33
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
I have no numbers to back this up, but my impression is that seminaries are generally more liberal than the denominations they serve. This seems to be true across a wide range of churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, and over a periods of decades if not centuries. This leads me to think that it’s probably time for a different model of pastoral training.
Second, and I think this is at least partly related to my first point, there are a large number of people looking to Internet teachers for greater Biblical faithfulness than what they receive on a given Sunday. The sword cuts both ways, but it does indeed cut.