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Thornwell Lectures Archive - Pastoral Wisdom Article

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2016 Thornwell Lecture Introduction

Pastoral Wisdom in an Uncertain Age

Excerpt from "First Things" Vol. LXVI No. 21, May 22, 2016

A Healthy Church is A Hearing Church

It has been argued that western evangelicalism has lost its confessional and theological character. Theology has moved from the center to the edges of the life of the church, we are told, and technique has moved in to occupy this new space. Of this development, one cultural commentator has noted: “A new and more culturally adapted evangelicalism emerged, the central figures of which were no longer the scholars who had been prominent in the immediate postwar years but rather a host of managers, planners, and bureaucrats – and, not far behind them, marketeers.” This new set of church leaders – with their new and industrialized model of ministry in tow – view the church the same way one might view a business. For the business, as well for the church, all one needs for its health and success is simply to understand the current state of the market and then to apply the right techniques. While marketing techniques may well be attended by success of particular varieties, this does not, however, validate their use. “Success,” David Wells reminds us, “is not an adequate criterion for either truth or wisdom.”

When the church succumbs to the temptation to borrow and employ procedures foreign to its identity (that is biblically defined), she finds herself at deep risk, listening to voices that do not seek her welfare. Soon, technique is substituted for truth, thought is replaced by marketing action, a doctrinal vision is commandeered by a therapeutic vision, the church is thought less as organism and more as organization, and she gives up her holy posture of listening to the proclamation of the Gospel to instead finding herself held captive to ever-shifting marketing trends.

In the face of the seductive lure to be a “more successful church,” we do well to remember that the definitive act of the church is her faithful hearing of the announcement of the Gospel by our risen Savior in the power of the Holy Spirit through the service of Holy Scripture. We can tell we are led astray when we forget that the church is founded and nurtured only by divine action. When we slip into the mindset that our endeavors, activities, and undertakings (noble though they may be) constitute the church, we betray a sense that the pragmatism of our culture is in our bloodstream. We live and breathe as the people of God only by direct reference to God’s Holy Word.

It’s for this reason that I’m pleased to mention that our Thornwell summer lecture series this year focuses our collective attention on a clutch of topics that are rooted in the Word of God. It’s our hope that a clear exposition of Scripture in each of our lectures within the series will help shape the way we, as a local body, can live faithfully in the world, prompting us, first and foremost, to become more in tune with the truth that a healthy church is a hearing church.

Please join us each Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. in the Family Life Center, where we will have the wonderful experience of hearing from ten guest speakers over the course of ten weeks this summer. The topic for this year’s series is “Pastoral Wisdom in an Uncertain Age,” which begins on Sunday, June 5. We look forward to seeing you there.

Mark McDowell


This page last updated June 15, 2016.