God's Word is Dangerous Entertainment

I know an unbeliever who while in the middle of a prolonged affair, oddly loved to listen to a local preacher who repeatedly scolded adulterers. This guy had a sense that the preacher was speaking God's Word, but he nonetheless made no effort to leave his life of sin. Then, one day, despite his fondness for him, he killed the preacher.
I am, of course, talking about King Herod and John the Baptist. This old story is a relevant warning to all who come to church as religious consumers and listen to sermons as entertainment.

Mark 6 tells us that John railed against Herod, telling him "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." Herod "feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man" and "he liked to listen to him." Of course, respecting and appreciating God's Word is no equivalent to doing it. Herod, was a fan of John, but not a follower, and thus did not respond to the clear rebuke and instruction of John.
And it went with him as it most often does with fans - given the right conditions they become outright enemies.

It strikes us as amazing that Herod would so easily go this way -- How could he choose this, knowing John to be a "holy" man? The answer is disturbing: Herod had trained himself for this day of decision with countless repeated decisions to ignore, to persist, not to repent. Herod sealed his fate long before the day of decision. And so do we.

Give consumers of God's Word the right circumstances and they'll crucify those who bring it. 

Consider the fact that millions of people hear the Word of God proclaimed in churches across the globe. Many people have heard a sermon virtually every week for a lifetime. Is it possible to absorb and live out so much, or is the result more often inoculation?

Consumers are lousy disciples. As I study Jesus' ministry, one thing is abundantly clear: Jesus did not come to earth to draw a crowd, but to make disciples. He's constantly avoiding crowds and trying to rein in his popularity. He knew how fickle crowds are. You remember that the same crowds that cried “Hosanna, Save us” to Jesus on Palm Sunday, cried “Crucify Him” on Good Friday. 

This sort of Christian consumerism is epidemic today. Somehow we’ve sadly been convinced that the best way to follow Jesus is to learn something new about God, when in fact God would be more pleased, and we’d be more blessed, if instead we put into action one thing we’d already learned. You're better off hearing one sermon in your life, or reading one book of the Bible and learning to obey it, than consuming thousands and finding them fascinating. Our God is isn’t looking for an audience, he is looking for followers. I wish our churches displayed a similar interest.

Dallas Willard likes to repeat Kierkegaard's observation that while most people think that in church the preacher is the performer, God is the prompter and the congregation is the audience, the truth is that God is the audience, the preacher is the prompter and the congregation is the performer. Willard slyly suggests that pastors, who too often hear "Good job" after the worship service, consider preempting this by asking congregants "How'd you do?" as they shake hands on the way out. 

Many Christians could write a book of the things they’ve learned about following Jesus, but couldn’t fill a postcard with the things they’ve actually learned to live. Virtually every Christian I know understands far more about Christianity than is necessary to be a mature follower of Jesus.

I know this is true of me. You might say I've acquired 10 lifetimes of learning and display about 10 minutes of wisdom. May God save you and me both from Herod's fate, as together we take the next step of obedience, and the one after that.


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  2. An essay, 'The Wellspring of Hope', by Timothy Radcliffe in his book 'Sing a New Song' provides an interesting counter argument to this post. It is addressed to the Dominican Order, which is an order of preachers and makes the case for study as central to the preachers' role. The context is of course different, as dominican study in in a relgious community where there is accountability. But it is a persuasive exploration of the role of study in Christian life.

    He argues the goal of study is to discover God's truth for today, avoiding the twin mistakes of relativism and fundamentalism, despair and fear. The goal is to give birth to Christ in Community and to show there is hope for the future.

    I can't do it justice in a comment but if you can find it, it would be interesting to read how you respond to it in the light of this post.