Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Preaching Christ in a Pluralistic Society

So, we are pastoring a small church in the Grand Canyon National Park. I guess it is not readily known that the religious environment of the GCNP is highly pluralistic.

There is a lot of New Age philosophy here along with some Wiccans, various Native spiritual traditions such as the Navajo, Hopi, Hualapai, Havasupai. There are the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.

Some might find it surprising but religious expression here is quite diverse. Part of it is the Canyon, part of it is Arizona. Sedona, which is about an hour from here, is the New Age capital of the world. Folks floc from all over to come to Sedona.

In the Canyon itself there are lots of "pyramid" shaped structures easily seen from the rim called "temples." Several have been named after various eastern deities. For example one is called the vishnu temple. Vishnu is a Hindu god that manifest's itself in multiple incarnations. So the religious environment here is quite eclectic.

I have been preaching through John 1 verse by verse and have already had one person walk out on my sermon talking about the necessity of believing Jesus is God and why. She was friendly to my wife but hasn't talked to her since and won't talk about what is going on.

Another person stopped coming when I was talking about Jesus as the true light and how, we, like John, must bear witness to the light since we are not the light but rather must give witness about the light. I noted there are false religions that claim humans are light and such like wiccans do as well as in New Age Philosophy (not really a religion more a philosophy as I understand it), Hinduism, etc. This person disagrees and thinks all people are a part of the light and didn't appreciate me pointing out the errors of wiccans and other religions - this person reads the bible but I guess doesn't believe all of it - just parts - this person also doesn't believe in hell. Something else is going on. We're still investigating.

But that is how things are here - a real anti-Christ type attitude that doesn't want to acknowledge Jesus as the only and true God. Obviously some of this is to be expected since we know not all will receive Jesus as the true and living God. It just seems that even some Christians are wrestling with this issue - are they then Christians?

My wife is struggling with feeling like we are pushing people away and wonders if I need to not to expositional preaching right now but try a different approach. Is expositional preaching best for more knowledgeable Christians - should it be used to develop more mature Christians or can it be used to cover the basics?

I started out here at the church talking about knowing God covering some of his attributes and explaining what it means to know God - then I we did Advent and now I was wanting to carry on and talk about knowing Jesus and then knowing the Spirit - it seemed like John would be a good choice for that especially since John 20:31 notes its evangelistic purpose. It is becoming more apparent to me, however, that John is not just for new Christians but also for more mature Christians since there is just so much going on in the text.

So far I have covered John 1:1-5; 1:6-8; and 1:9-13 and have hit some bumps along the way.

I am praying as to how to move forward. I am not being harsh it just might be people aren't ready to hear that yet? It's challenging.

Any thoughts?



At 4:45 PM, Blogger Bryan L said...

I think expository preaching is WAYYY over-rated. In fact I've almost never heard a good expository preacher. They get stuck in the ugly middle of not being deep or interesting enough to be a class lecture and not entertaining or rhetorical enough to be a normal sermon. It is the worst of both worlds.

Now I've heard people preach through books and I've loved it (Rikk Watts going through Mark at the Rock Garden) but it truthfully seems rare. I swear it seems like everyone who loves Expository preaching are generally really into the Bible already and love it more because they think it is the only way to faithfully teach the Bible. But just because you don't do expository preaching doesn't mean you will be unfaithful to the Bible or treat it like a bunch of verses to be taken out of context. Anyway enough of my rant.

I mentioned to you earlier that I thought you didn't have to back away from your message but upon thinking about it, I also don't think you need to beat them over the head with it either (even if gently beating them) and emphasize it all the time. If you were ministering in an environment where there was a large homosexual population it probably wouldn't be good to tell them all the time that homosexuality is a sin and they are going to hell. You don't have to lie to them either. You can still communicate what you believe to be true (compassionately) but not focus on it all the time, but instead talk about it now and then in a gentle way and leave it to the Lord to deal with them. Sure you want to communicate truth but you don't want to drive them away so soon that you no longer have any opportunity to tell them it.

Anyway, just my opinion. I pray you get some encouragement soon and some guidance on what y'all should do.

Bryan L

At 6:12 PM, Blogger Celucien L. Joseph said...

I read Ravi's book, "Jesus among other Gods" some three years. It is a great book! The book gives a suitable treatment on the nature and philosophy of religion. Ravi set forth the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the distinctives of the christian faith. By the way, he also did a series on "The Uniqueness of Jesus World Religion." If you're interested in apologetics it is good to have it in CD (you can listen to the lectures here It is quite an apolegtic defense of the Christian Faith and the uniquness of Christ.Very informative!


At 2:12 PM, Blogger Sam said...

Brian -

I'm gonna go out on a limb here. I'm a charismatic and have spent alot of time exploring the intersection between experiential elements in occult based groups and their similarities to the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit. I haven't done this for purposes of discrediting spiritual gifts at all - quite the opposite. Is it possible that those looking for spiritual experience in other religious movements are really looking for the Spirit of God? I think so.

As such, in true Trinitarian fashion, maybe those individuals who may be turned off initially to the role of Jesus in the plan of God would be more willing to open up about the possibility of individual experience in Christianity that at lest rivals what they have expereince in their alternative religions. As an AOG graduate, this is your chance to introduce the role of the Holy Spirit. Maybe by broaching the conversation using the possiblity of individual expereince, you can eventually move them towards Christ. I know that sounds backwards, but it may just work. :)

I blogged about this a little while back and thought you might want investigate further:

Also, you may peak their interest if you know something about their religious preferences. If a Wiccan walks up to you, do you know the difference between Gardnerian and Alexandrian systems? For New Agers, do you know about the Sethian movement? They all do. You maybe able to use that as a spring board in connecting with them.

God bless,

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Good news, the person of whom I mentioned struggling with Jesus' divinity has talked with my wife and has decided to give Jesus a chance and make him Lord in her life! So there is progress there. Too bad she's leaving the Canyon Village in a week...

Bryan, I think in some case you are right that expositional preaching gets too much exposure - I think it is a good Wednesday night thing to ground the regulars in the word - but Sundays might be better suited to more topical or thematic or even evangelistic preaching.

Lou, I haven't actually read anything by Ravi Zacharias ) I just used it for my post.

Sam, I really appreciate your comments and will try to reflect on them further - the ideas behing the concept of power evangelism come to mind.

Thanks again for the comments.

At 10:36 PM, Blogger Bryan L said...


I only said what I did about Exp. preaching because I remember listening to a bunch of southern baptist professors preach that exp. preaching was the only real preaching, the only way to be faithful to the Bible and then speak about all these benefits of it and how it's so engaging and brings about transformation because you're setting the word loose, blah blah blah and then I remember giving it a shot and learning how to do it and putting it into practice when I would preach and it was just like big deal. And I went trying to listen to the best of the Exp. preachers, the ones everybody raved about, to make sure I was doing it right and it was nothing special, in fact they were pretty boring and often irrelevant, even to me who loved learning about the Bible and going deeper. Like I said it wasn't deep enough to be a lecture and not entertaining or engaging enough to be a sermon. Anyway I do think something like exp preaching is better suited for a Wednesday night type of Bible study service.

Congrats with the lady.

Hope everything is going well.

Bryan L

At 7:59 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Bryan, I am in agreement with you that not all (if even most) expositional preachers are all that exciting. I apologize if I was coming across as disagreeable. My pastor from back home did expository preaching but he did not simply explain the text and shift into lecture mode - what he did to make things different is use personal examples and use stories from his own life to amplify his sermon points and his applications were always good.

If you want to sample a sermon here is a link you can visit:

let me know what you think.

At 8:37 AM, Blogger Bryan L said...

You didn't come across disagreeable at all Brian and even if you did it's definitely your right to disagree with me on your blog (or mine for that matter) : )

I just thought I was coming across as bashing on something without giving any background to how I got to that opinion, so I thought it might be helpful to clarify a bit.

I'll check his sermons out. Thanks.



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