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On Angry Preachers & Angry Preaching

I’m growing evermore concerned about the debased preaching in many American churches. Here’s how it goes, preachers are talking about how sin “pisses off” God or that some people think Jesus “dressed like a fairy,” or that Jesus “wasn’t a wuss.” I’ve even heard one well-known pastor tell a story about dismissing a young man’s theological questions because he was “a loser that lived at home with his mom.” In addition, more and more preachers/church planters/lead pastors – whatever you want to call us – are spending a good percentage of sermon time yelling at their congregations. Trust me, I understand the desire to shake the church from it’s missional malaise, but I don’t think raising the volume is going to work. Churches are dying, not deaf. I suppose all the yelling is designed to communicate passion, but it so often comes across as anger.

I know what these guys (and they are mostly guys) are attempting to get at. They simultaneously want to wake a sleeping church, make her seem cool, and ostensibly help men see a Jesus they can relate to. But I have to question whether or not they need to be Sam Kinison to do it. I find it odd that some feel the need to make Jesus seem cooler or manlier than the versions they grew up with. Not because Jesus is not cool or manly, but rather because in their effort to shape Jesus into their own image, they make the same mistake their forerunners did by simply not allowing Jesus to be Jesus.

Why are we so afraid of dealing with Jesus on his own terms?

What’s more, in shouting at the congregation and using an 8th graders vocabulary, we undo much of what Jesus taught about speech and speech acts and ethics. Our Lord taught that the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart. I would hate the idea that my heart would conceive of making sure people knew that Jesus wasn’t a “fairy,” or that anyone else was. It just wouldn’t occur to me as a theological category. Homo-ology, I guess.

In all our consternation to ensure the world knows Jesus wasn’t effeminate, what do we say about boys and men who are or the women who date and marry them?

I love sports, wear a goatee, enjoy the occasional cigar, love explosions in movies and other typical “guy” things, but I think someone can be like Jesus even if they don’t. I’m deeply concerned about the passivity of men and the lack of courage we generally display as a gender, but a faux, painted-chest version isn’t going to help us break out of it.

What bothers me, perhaps, is that it’s all so childish. All the yelling and name-calling seems like something we all should have learned to quit doing when we stopped pulling girl’s hair. But maybe some of us haven’t learned to stop pulling? Jesus can be Lord, King and Conqueror, without me having to preach that, “One day Jesus is coming back to kick-ass and take names.” Doesn’t he already know our names? Shouldn’t our words about God be the very best words we know rather than us playing preacher-shock-jock or going for the quick and easy laugh?  If preaching – this noble, difficult and life-altering task that I’ve devoted my life to – is going to turn into Saturday Night Live, I’d just rather stay up late Saturday than arise early on Sunday.

Are you seeing angry preaching where you are? How does this kind of language affect our presentation of the gospel?

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  • Brock

    I love it – “Doesn’t he (Jesus) already know our names?” This was a great post!

  • Mark Edge

    Sean,

    You really did a good job with this post. Thanks.

  • Eric

    I understand your frustration, however I have to somewhat disagree. If the punch line IS the coarseness of language and if it has taken precedence over the value of scripture, wisdom and teaching, then it is out of line. However, there IS so much room for righteous anger in the world we live in today. A lot of men ARE losers for the way they treat women, don’t go out and find a job, are ignorant… it is direct disobedience to what is laid out in scripture… and it’s just the hard truth… and the truth is, it DOES piss God off because it is sin… and using words like that is often the only way to penetrate a callous heart. A Mr. Rogers isn’t going to get “THAT” guy’s attention… but a Paul Teutul Sr. will.

  • Right on, brother! Sometimes strength shows itself best in restraint and self-control. Worldly images of macho masculinity sound like Peter, alright, but unfortunately more like him before he “turned again.”

  • I appreciate the post. Well said.

  • Steve

    SUPERB post.

  • Chris

    Yelling and anger will shut down the responsiveness of many men who were yelled at and disciplined sternly as kids. I don’t think it shows love and to say that there is a place for anger is confusing to me. God does have a hatred for sin but if we are saved through Jesus is it not true that when he sees us, he sees only purity through the filter of Christ’s ultimate gift? I am not sure I want to think about a God who even though He says I am blameless still looks at me with condescending looks because of my sin. The promise is that because of Jesus we are blameless in His sight. I hold to that because otherwise I have no purpose to try to live for Him.

  • Provocative post, and I understand the sentiment.

    However, I am one of the ones who grew up viewing Jesus as being effeminate in addition to viewing Christian men as weepy and wimpy, and was seriously turned off by that as a young man.

    I agree that some pastors (like Mark Driscoll who you quote) can be over the top and even mean in their masculine portrayal of Jesus, but also understand that they are trying to reach young men – a demographic very hard to connect with and the least likely to be part of any church.

    I became a Christian when I was in my early 20s attempting to enter the Marine Corps. The guy who reached with the gospel was able to do so because I respected him, and I would not have respected him if I had thought him a weepy wimp – neither would any of my friends back then.

    Jesus was not a weepy wimp, yet he is largely portrayed as one in our culture. Allowing Jesus to be Jesus might require reimagining Him as different than “the Jesus you grew up with” if the one you grew up with isn’t real.

    There are some Christian leaders out there today I can’t stand to listen to, but I also understand they are reaching people with the gospel I would never be able to reach. At the same time, there I people I can reach they probably never could. That’s something else to keep in mind when thinking through issues like the one raised in this post.

    • Wes,

      I guess my concern is establishing something arbitrarily as “male” or “masculine,” which is frequently, though not always, just machismo and then berating people who aren’t into that arbitrary distinction. Which I understand not everyone does.

      As I said, the masculinity of Jesus, whether he was a brute or a wimp, was simply never a concern for me. I never wondered if Jesus was masculine or feminine or how tough he was.

      I know that a lot of people have responded to this approach. I applaud that. I do. And having just come from a Christian book store, I was amazed at how feminine just about everything was. That being said, I don’t see femininity as a negative.

      I also know that a lot of people have come to Jesus through incredible tragedy. I’m just not willing to start that as a ministry at my church.

      I see in Jesus a man with the strength of personal power to stare down crowds and defend the powerless. I also see a man who was bloodied and beaten and is the focus of scriptures which teach us to embrace power in weakness.

  • As a preacher/pastor, I understand the frustration when some Christians and/or churches seem to work against the gospel rather than with it. That makes me want to scream and just get behind the pulpit and “tell it like it is” as I once heard a preacher saying that is what he does.

    However, I highly value redemption when it comes to preaching. That is, I want people to lead people to a deeper level of faith and commitment and that will not happen by just “scolding” adults like they are still 13 years old. As the old saying goes, “bees are attracted to honey, not vinegar.”

  • Darin Campbell

    Fantastic post, Sean! While I agree with everything you say, especially about not being a bully from the pulpit and using coarse language to make a point, I do find myself at times wishing more preachers would get angry. It’s time someone took a stand against the laziness and apathy of so many consumer Christians filling the pews of our churches. It’s easy for me to fall into that trap, and I need my preacher to get in my face and call me into accountability. But calling people names and using coarse language is definitely not the answer. This is great food for thought… thanks for posting.

  • SBL

    Thanks, Sean – well said. I’ve never thought of anger, courage, or coarseness as ‘male’ qualities. From the responses I’m seeing here, I would welcome further discussion/reflection on what courageous faith looks like and what righteous anger looks like and focuses on.

  • Tim Spivey

    I’m with Wes on this one. I think a lot of preachers uncomfortable with the Mars Hillish stream of machismata fail to understand, without caricature, what they’re aiming for. I once heard a well-known preacher say, “God’s hands are bound by his love for you.” I heard another say Jesus was actually more like a woman than a man–a comment this youth minister meant as a compliment because of his own low view of men.

    To me, both tracks (machismo and effeminate) will battle with each other, unfortunately, until we can all get comfortable with gender ourselves. Many anti-Driscoll people are Christian feminists and advocates for egalitarianism over complimentarianism–they see Driscoll and company as the embodiment of harmful doctrines that have been used to harm/suppress women.. I think the Driscoll/Piper stream sees egalitarianism as a culprit in blurring gender to the point no one knows the difference between a man and a woman…and the decline of Christian men is but one fruit of that. They see feminist theologians doing to Jesus what society has done to men as a whole.

    They may both be right.

  • Thanks, Tim.

    There’s more to say about this, and I might one day, but suffice it to say, neither egalitarianism or complementarianism are tenable in the actual world. That’s why the fight is so ferocious. The egalitarians see the harmful effects of complementarianism because it exist and vice-versa. They are arguing at extreme positions no person actual hold in terms of day-to-day functioning.

    At any rate, those theological issues need not be presenting angrily, which is my issue. There are popular, angry, bullying preachers, and in response some bloggers, preachers, theologians have responded with their own brand of bullying.

    Also, people always bring up people who are being reached in different context and with what some might consider questionable tomes and tactics. I ask this honestly, are there limits to contextualization. I can come up with a masculine theology, a feminine theology, a white European theology, a black theology, etc…but I believe Jesus calls us to question and overcome that very thing.

    Thanks for your input.

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