With some regularity you hear the complaint in orthodox churches that this or that preacher does not preach enough Bible or enough of the Gospel. Or that he is too infatuated with “feel good” lessons. It is easy to imagine that these “complainants” see a lack of emphasis on the requirements for gaining a personal salvation, for escaping eternal punishment. Listeners who at least try to embrace the notion that God is wrathful and ready to condemn men to Hell must logically if only subconsciously wonder why there is so little evidence of urgency in the Sunday sermons they routinely hear in supposedly orthodox, fundamentalist churches. Any lessons that don’t emphatically and dramatically address the dire consequences of failing to meet God’s expectations must cause orthodox hearers to wonder if the preacher really believes what orthodoxy teaches.
At the same time, I suspect these same hearers are themselves reluctant to share the horrendous message of eternal punishment with others, so they really want someone else to shoulder the responsibility so they don’t feel like they have to. Who would more appropriately be the one to do that than the local preacher, the one who claims a divine calling? Imagine the frustration of feeling personally responsible for selling the message of orthodoxy with its unappealing message of an angry God to friends and family and then going to church on Sunday and watching the preacher completely avoid the very subject you find so unpleasant. It would definitely be a reason to question priorities and actual convictions.
Of course, it is also obvious that if a preacher were to relentlessly harp on God’s wrath and impending judgment, people would eventually tire of hearing such an unpleasant story over and over. What is a poor preacher to do? How long would the congregants put up with hearing an updated version of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” every week? Not very long I predict. In fact, if what Jonathan Edwards presented two centuries ago is the real message, then why take the time to prepare something new each week. The exact same lesson could be repeated endlessly without revision. Preachers would just be wasting time, inventing new material each Sunday.
What a confusing, frustrating, and contrived web our institutional churches have woven. Preachers and congregants alike are victims of a system and a theology which does not and cannot work for the simple reason that it does not make sense logically or ethically. Why do we continue to sell a story that has so many obvious negative effects on everyone inside the church? Are the force of tradition and power of the entrenched clergy going to perpetuate error forever? I predict not. A new generation with a new mindset and a new access to religious dialogue will not easily fall prey to the manipulations of the past.