One of my favorite movies is the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and some of my favorite parts are the songs of the Oompa Loompas:
Oompa Loompa doompety doo; I’ve got a perfect puzzle for you
Oompa Loompa doompety dee; If you are wise you’ll listen to me
What do you get when you guzzle down sweets; Eating as much as an elephant eats
What are you at, getting terribly fat; What do you think will come of that
I don’t like the look of it
Oompa Loompa doompety da; If you’re not greedy, you will go far
You will live in happiness too; Like the Oompa Loompa doompety do
Who do you blame when your kid is a brat; Pampered and spoiled like a siamese cat
Blaming the kids is a lie and a shame; You know exactly who’s to blame
The mother and the father
Oompa Loompa doompety da; If you’re not spoiled then you will go far
You will live in happiness too; Like the Oompa Loompa doompety do!
These songs have a moral at the end that teaches right behavior. They condemn gluttony and spoiling children. They tell us that if we avoid those things then life will go well for us. Many in our churches would look at movies like this and say, “I wish the shows of today would provide a moral like that.” The truth is so much of our teaching the Bible is exactly like that, to children and adults. We teach our people, after they have prayed to receive Jesus, that the Bible is about practical tips for how to live your life now that you are saved. You need to be good by doing this and not be bad by doing that. You need to take these certain steps for life to go well for you. Noah was obedient, you be obedient. David was brave and took down the Giant in his life, you be brave and take down the giants in your life. Ruth was kind to her mother-in-law, you be kind to your mother-in-law. Daniel prayed, you pray. This is one reason why many have walked away from the church, because they thought it was about a list of rules that you are to follow.
Yet, there is a major problem with this style of teaching. The problem is not exhorting people to be moral. The problem is moralism. You cannot please God by doing good things or even avoiding bad things. Why? You are not moral. You cannot be moral. I like what Mark Driscoll says, “We see the world as full of bad guys and good guys, instead of bad guys and Jesus.” He is the only one who did perfectly the good things he was supposed to and avoided the bad things he was not supposed to do. Since many see the Gospel as merely introductory, they view the “meat” of the Bible as tips on how to live the Christian life moving toward maturity now that you’ve crossed the line of faith. Yet, the Bible never treats the gospel as a hoop, and morality is never exhorted apart from the Gospel. The imperatives of the Christian life are always built on the indicative of what Jesus has done for you (the Gospel story). This is true at Sinai when Yahweh gives the 10 commandments. What does God say? He says, “I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of bondage in Egypt, have no other gods before me” (Exo. 20:2-3). The 10 commandments are given because they have already been saved by God. They are to live in accordance with what God has done for them. The same is true in the NT. Paul spends the first 11 chapters of Romans explaining the gospel. People often will say that Paul does the theology first, and then moves into the practical stuff. That is not true. What does Paul do starting in chapter 12? He says, “Therefore.” Because Christ is our propitiation before God, you need to live a transformed life. You are to live in accordance with the Gospel story of Jesus rescuing you.
I know this video is long, and much of the content could be discussed (as in his other sermons). My intent here is not criticize him or what he is doing personally in terms of his aggressiveness in personal gospel proclamation. I admire it. My critique here will not even touch on issues of style. What is alarming to me is the commonness of this view in our pulpits both consciously and unconsciously that we should not preach the gospel every week. It is a view that the gospel is introductory to the Christian life but not pervasive. The gospel (or the “plan of salvation”) is a hoop that you jump through in order to become a Christian and go to Heaven, and then you go on to more important Bible teaching on how to live the Christian life. Some hold a pragmatic view of preaching that sees as its goal the giving of tips on how to live life, and they fall into the trap of abstracting sermons from the Gospel. Others view preaching in this way because they think the sermon’s purpose is to mature believers, and they do not think the gospel is what matures believers. This is all based on a faulty view of the Gospel that believes it is only for unbelievers and not for believers, and that the gospel is how you start the Christian life, not how you live the Christian life. This stems from the way we view the Bible as being primarily about us and our lives, not primarily about Jesus.
Instead of teaching the Bible as if ALL is centered in the Gospel of Jesus, we teach our children that the Bible is saying the same things to them that Barney is saying, and we teach our adults that the Bible is saying the same thing to them that any “self-help” therapist would say to them. Why do we teach the Bible that way? Because deep down we think it is a story about us and what we are supposed to do, rather than a story about Jesus and what He did to rescue the world from the curse of sin!
We do not know how to read and preach the Bible because we do not see it as centered in Jesus. If we read the Bible as though the Gospel of Jesus is the point throughout it will turn us away from moralism that leads us either to self-righteousness or self-condemnation. Jesus and the NT tell us that this is the way to read the Bible: Luke 24:27-27, 44-45; John 5:39-40, 45-47; 2 Cor. 1:20; 2 Tim. 3:14-15; etc (perhaps another time we can show how this works). Your own story will either be found in His or outside of His. Your life is either being conformed to His or not. The story of Jesus rescuing the world and what your identity in Christ means for how you live life is the point.
If we were to recover this type of preaching in our pulpits, then we would see the task of preaching as Gospel proclamation every week to believers and non-believers. The non-believers would be hearing the gospel weekly and having the idols in their lives knocked down. The believers would also be hearing the gospel weekly, having idols knocked down, and learning what identity in Christ means for living. The man who cheats on his wife with a computer screen would hear that his marriage is telling a false gospel of a Christ who abandons His church to satisfy his own selfish lusts (Eph. 5), not just that it will make life miserable if he gets caught. The couple who refuses to give to the church because other priorities have crowded that out will hear that Jesus who was rich became poor so that they could become rich (2 Cor. 8), not just give because God commands it. The awkward teen age boy who seethes in hatred at the group that makes fun of him as he passes their lockers will not hear, “If you do not forgive, you are only hurting yourself.” Instead, he will hear the message that Jesus took the punishment for sin and will one day punish unrepentant sinners, and he does not need to accomplish that by holding his grudge. Forgive because in Christ you have been forgiven!
If the Gospel is a hoop and the Bible is mostly about giving us tips for living life, then our teaching will rarely rise above the level of having the Oompa Loompas come in for special music on a Sunday morning. But, if the story of Jesus of Nazareth living the life we could never live, drowning under God’s wrath in our place, and being vindicated as the firstfruits of a New Creation on the third day IS the Christian life, both how you enter and live it, then our preaching and teaching will be about knocking down the idols in the lives of our hearers, both believer and unbeliever, and conforming them to the image of our King!
Tim Keller Sermons (Must Listens and downloadable)
Dr. Russell Moore’s article
*Edmund Clowney Unfolding Mystery.
*Graeme Goldsworthy Gospel and Kingdom.
*Dennis Johnson Him We Proclaim.
*The introduction to Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel A Son to Me.