Are morals overrated? Is it a waste of time and energy to lead a morally pure lifestyle? Should youth pastors exhort their students to obey their parents, to tell the truth, and to read their Bibles? Or are Christians somehow beyond those rules now? These types of questions are inevitably asked of those who speak out against moralistic preaching. But these questions betray an underlying misunderstanding of the dangers of moralism. Please allow me to go on the record and state that, as a former youth pastor, I think morals are a good idea. I subscribe to the notion that I have a responsibility to advocate obedience, honesty, and sexual purity to those students who have been entrusted to my care. I also believe Christians should read their Bibles. Regularly.
However, I am growing increasingly dissatisfied with moralistic preaching. In fact, I have had quite enough of it. Over and over again, I have seen bits and pieces of it scattered among the wreckage of shipwrecked faith, too often in the lives of close friends. It masquerades as Bible preaching, but is hollow, shallow, and powerless. And at the end of the day, moralistic preaching has probably done more to destroy professing Christians than alcohol, tobacco, rock ‘n’ roll, and TV combined.
Within broad Evangelicalism today, words like community and small group are fired around with unprecedented frequency. For instance, Rick Warren and company are now following up their “40 Days of Purpose” program with “40 Days of Community.” On the website introducing the program, Warren says, “You cannot be what God made you to be, you cannot do what God created you to do … without other people… . We were made for each other, God made us for a family. Small groups provide such a family” (link here). In response to this statement, churches have often taken one of two approaches. The first is to embrace all things small groups carte blanche. They see concept of community as the deliverer of the church, the key to giving the church the impact in the world God intended it to have. Unfortunately, in many of these scenarios, community is not defined theologically; therefore, soon the small group degenerates into nothing more than a pop-psychology session. Far too often, in this type of environment, the use of Scripture is replaced with statements prefaced with “Oprah said …” or “I read in People magazine …” Sadly, this brand of counsel does little to biblically solve the problems of the sobbing couple sitting on the love seat.
This year’s Foundations Conference marks Central Baptist Theological Seminary’s (Plymouth, MN) 50th anniversary and 39 years since I graduated from the school. I was in the Fourth Baptist Church (Plymouth, MN) youth group during those first years of Central’s existence and was only aware that the church was housing something in the basement with strange people. Little did I know that I would be joining this group six years later.
This was my first visit to Central since I graduated in 1967. The seminary plant with state-of-the-art classrooms and an extensive library is well-situated to serve the needs of its students and staff. I was pleasantly surprised to see degree programs with specialization in Biblical Counseling, Urban Church Planting, as well as Biblical Studies.