In my area there is an insurance company who runs two incredibly opposite ads. One depicts a man who gets off with what appears to be murder and the other an altruistic claim to love helping those in need. Maybe I’m just more cynical than most people, but I can’t help but notice the absolute lack of substance in either commercial. The message of both ads is absolutely irrelevant: they are both pieces of rhetoric intended to drum up business. Almost all marketing is like this, I know, but these two ads by the same people for the same product, exemplify this in a higher degree than anything else I’ve ever seen.
Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. My interest is in this whole phenomenon of communication without substance. I am bothered because this is the model adopted by so many “evangelism” techniques of our day. Every attempt is made to find some catchy idea or buzz word that will resonate with hearers and address a “felt need,” assuming that this is what will get them to come to God. Precious little of modern evangelism contains any content. Feeling and emotion are what is addressed. Lost men’s greatest need is the one they never feel: their being dead in sin. Corpses don’t have felt needs because they don’t feel.
Let me backtrack a second and address a popular misconception. Reformed people are often accused of being droll, boring and emotionless. No doubt there are Arminians who are boring too. Theology has nothing to do with that. But it is wrong to assume that Reformed theology is emotionless because we speak against this appeal to emotions and feelings. Right out of the box, the Heidelberg Catechism tells us that we will feel gratitude to God when we understand how great our sin and misery are and how great a salvation Christ has accomplished for us. Gratitude is an emotion.
Secondly, Reformed worship feels boring to Arminians and Pentecostal types in particular, because they are used to a form of “worship” that has zero doctrinal content and is aimed at nothing else but stimulating emotions. Granted, this is more fun that being intellectually challenged, but it is not the Biblical way to address people.
Consider for a moment the times in Paul’s epistles when he breaks out in a joyful burst of emotion in praise to God. What prompted this? Was it a string of feelings-targeted statements accompanied by moving emotion-charged music? No. It was his response to dense, closely argued theological truth. That is the biblical model. Evading contact with the mind in order to get emotions whipped up – this is little more than a parlor trick. And yet this is all that most of contemporary Christian preaching, literature and music is. We now have churches full of people who live on fortune cookie slogans instead of sound doctrine.