But—if I may, for just a moment—I realized upon reflection that what made me cry could have made anybody cry, whether Jew or Greek, male or female, Democrat or Republican, God-hater or God-lover, Christian or Sikh or secular humanist.
You see, in the sermon that set up this moment, I’d heard a lot of stuff. I’d heard, Be a good dad because dads are vital for the spiritual health of their kids. I’d heard, God is powerful and you need him to help you be a good dad. I’d heard, No situation is beyond redemption. Yes, and amen; yes, and amen; yes, and amen.
But do you know what I didn’t hear? I didn’t hear that my own failure as a dad and my own failure as a son is proof-positive of my own sinfulness, for which I will one day be judged by God, the Creator of all things. I didn’t hear that this Creator who owns my life and to whom I am accountable is also a Father, one who has in love and before the foundation of the world predestined a people for adoption as sons through his Son, Jesus Christ. I didn’t hear that through this Son’s blood, sons of disobedience could become sons of inheritance, and children of wrath could become children of promise—because of love and by grace, so that no one may boast. I didn’t hear that the best is yet to come for these newly adopted sons, that their Father’s inheritance in all of its riches and kindness await them in glory, kept safe for them under their older Brother’s watchful eye.
In short, I didn’t hear the gospel.
I realized that what I’d seen had been engineered, like a midday infomercial’s before-and-after photo, to depict life change without an entirely straightforward explanation for how it happened. It was impressive, even moving, but it was gospel-less.
I want to be clear about what I’m not saying: I’m not saying these particular families and their stories are gospel-less. I trust every single one of them would attribute every shred of grace in their lives to the loving-kindness of God their Father and their Lord Jesus Christ. I trust every single one of these fathers loves Jesus and knows the gospel. But in this particular church service, these otherwise “real” stories became, in a sense, un-real. At the risk of speaking crassly, let me explain what I mean: these stories became a product, placed in a particular time and place and date to prove a concept, the one just articulated by the preachers on the stage.
Stories of God’s grace changing people’s lives are beautiful. They attractively advertise to the world, and they motivate Christians to joy and obedience. For example, at my church, before someone gets baptized they stand center-stage and read their testimony—not unlike what happened at this Father’s Day gathering. But this is always done in connection to a crystal-clear and extended articulation of the gospel—both in the sermon and the testimonies themselves—so that there is no confusion.
What I fear happened on this particular Father’s Day, and what I fear happens in attractional churches across the globe every Sunday, is that people sit in these services and respond precisely the ways these churches are praying for them respond. What I fear is that people cry—or laugh, or manage their money better, or stop drinking, or stop yelling at their wives—for insufficient reasons and with insufficient motivations because they have an insufficient understanding of who Jesus is and what the Christian life is.
Generally speaking, totally depraved people want to be better parents. They want to be better people. They want to manage their money better and stop drinking and stop looking at pornography and feel less hate in their heart toward their estranged sibling and work out three to five times a week and rise up the food-chain at work through their industry and integrity.
And so sermons about these things, or about other generic benefits of following Christ, will “work.” They’ll make a dent. But like a thumb on a thousand-dollar mattress, you’ll see it and then it’s gone.
I realize I’ve spent over 2,500 words now to make a simple point: Because total depravity is real, the attractional—some might call it “seeker-sensitive” or “pragmatic”—model of church simply doesn’t work. It’s weighed down by good intentions, and its “success” in producing converts—both genuine and apparent—should not let us ignore the scourge of people that it leaves unsaved yet self-deceived, relaxed yet unregenerate.
It’s like putting a magnet in a jar full of gummy bears. It’s like raising your voice while talking to someone who doesn’t speak your language. Again, it simply doesn’t work.
Humanity’s problem is too great to be solved by relatable sermons and niche programs for broken people. And God’s solution is too great to exhaust itself with redeemed families and balanced budgets.
So, what do we do? We trust the means God has promised to bless in his Word, which is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
This article originally appeared here.