Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Lot of Judgmental Preaching

This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.--Genesis 19:9

Many advisors suggest that pastors emulate the qualities of other careers. Successful pastoring is found by becoming more of a CEO...motivational list could go on and on.

However, there is one he is to avoid at all costs.


I was told once by a man, "I don't mind if you say the church disagrees with another religion. I don't even mind you saying that you believe the church is right. I just don't think you should say the church believes others are wrong." This kind of statement reveals the tone of today. It's ok if a preacher proclaims truth, but he should do it in a say that doesn't violate another person's opinion. Stacks of books today claim the non-christian is avoiding the church because it is far too judgmental. After all, the central verse in Scripture is Matthew 7:1, right?

How dare you, Lot!

Lot draws the ire of the men from Sodom. This man, an outsider, had the audacity to treat them like they were doing wrong. The men of Sodom were offended, and were prepared to treat Lot worse than his visitors. Who did Lot think he was?

Lot, the outsider.--When Abraham and Lot split up, Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom (13:12). The immediate context (13:13) tells us that Sodom was already "exceedingly wicked and sinning against the Lord." Despite the climate of the city, we are told that Lot eventually moved into Sodom (14:12). But how long had Lot lived in Sodom before the city was destroyed?

We can work backwards a little to see for sure. Just before Sodom is destroyed, Abraham is informed that his wife will have Isaac in a year (18:10). This would place Abraham at 99 years old (21:5). Abram had Ismael at age 86 (16:16). Abram lived in Canaan for 10 years before Hagar conceived Ishmael (16:3). By the battle against Chedorlaomer (more below), Lot is living in Sodom and it appears Abram is still childless. Therefore, depending on when you place the reference to living in Canaan (12:5 or 13:12), Lot has at least lived in Sodom for 13 years and could possibly have lived there up to 23 years. Had he just arrived and immediately started preaching?

Not only were the people of Sodom wicked and sinning against the Lord, their rebellion also spread to government. When the people rebelled against Chedorlaomer and his allies, Sodom started a fight they could not finish. As the kings routed Sodom, they took all their goods and food supply (14:11). Lot was helpless to stop the fight, as he and his possessions were carried away as well. At this point, Sodom could have simply been left devastated except that Abram came to the defense of his nephew. As Abram and his 318 men defeated the kings, he returned Lot, the goods, the supplies and captives. Then, when the king of Sodom offered for Abram to keep the supplies for returning the people, Abram refused. He did not want the king of Sodom to believe he contributed to Abram's wealth (14:23). Therefore, through Lot's relation to Abram, Sodom received their people and supplies back freely. Had he been a total freeloader, not benefiting their society?

Lot the influence. When Abraham pleads for the righteous citizens of Sodom, he "works" God down to the number of ten. For merely ten righteous persons, the Lord was willing to spare the entire community (18:32). Certainly, Lot qualifies as one of the righteous (2 Peter 2:7). Therefore, the city only needed nine other righteous persons to be spared. Lot had a wife, two daughters and two son-in-laws-to-be. Therefore, if he had persuaded his own family to righteousness, only four other righteous people would have been needed. Of course, his son-in-laws were certainly not righteous (19:14), nor was his wife (19:26) and his daughters actions suggest question (19:32). While Lot may have been oppressed and tormented by the sin in Sodom (2 Peter 2:7-8), relief certainly did not come through bringing others to righteousness.

Of course, results are not up to Lot. Perhaps he did preach and seek to influence others. Perhaps he regularly called people to consider the Lord's righteousness. We do not find evidence that he did, however a lack of converts does not mean a lack of his preaching. However, we can at least see that the antagonism Paul faced for changing Ephesus (Acts 19:26-27), would not be due Lot. Had he "ruined" their city, creating lots of changes?

All of these things factor into Lot's "history" with the people of Sodom. Gaining that context, let's consider his actions that created the great offense:

His hospitality--Approaching these men, he urged them strongly to stay the night in his place. He took them in, washed their feet, prepared a feast and provided them lodging. While Lot may have just been showing hospitality, he certainly was aware of the evil that could befall these angels. However, in his plea we do not see him describe the wickedness of Sodom or speak ill of the people. If anything, it appears Lot is quick moving, attempting to keep the guests from even seeing the depravity of the city. He did not present the people in a bad light.

His refusal--Perhaps this was for discretion (to keep from pleading with the citizens before his guests) or perhaps it was to protect his guests, but Lot slips out the door and shuts it behind him. As he speaks to the citizens, he certainly does not consider himself a superior. "Please" can be rendered, "I beg you," placing himself in a subordinate position. He even seeks commonality, calling them "brothers." He begs them to reconsider their evil intentions. Certainly, the term "wicked" may have been the offense. Lot did the unthinkable by suggesting that the rape of male guests by the male citizens of Sodom would be a wicked thing.

His proposal--It really is unfathomable. Perhaps Lot panicked. Perhaps the word "wicked" just hung out there for a second and he could see the disapproval from the men of Sodom. Whatever the reason, Lot next suggests a "compromise." To prevent the men from acting wickedly against his guests, he was willing to offer up his daughters. The statement, "do whatever you like" makes one sick to the stomach. (By the way, where is the protest from the son-in-laws-to-be at this point?) Understanding that some may consider his plea too judgmental, Lot offers a repulsive compromise to the men. He does not call for them to repent of their sexual urges, he simply asks them to redirect them. In fact, by offering his daughters, he seems to tolerate fornication, and by reasoning that he wants to be a good host, he even avoids condemning their homosexuality.

In the end, it certainly appears that Lot has not treated the citizens in a judgmental way.

Their response

(Warning: Understatement Ahead) The people were not pleased. They claim offense at Lot's stance. Has this outsider (resident for over a decade, whose uncle rescued the town) positioned himself as judge? Though vague in his warning, the men still take it as Lot thinking he is better than them. Though offered a compromise, they are not interested in directing their lusts elsewhere, but instead decide to abuse the guests and Lot. Even when the angels rescue Lot and blind the men, they do not turn away, but continue to grope around blindly for the door. In fact, they wear themselves out trying to get in!

So how do we escape being seen as judgmental?

Bottom line: We don't. It's amazing how people have developed techniques over the years which they believe will keep people from being offended...

Don't preach right away. Take your time and get to know a person first. You must first develop a relationship before people will care to listen. (Didn't seem to help Lot.)

Before you preach, you must first meet a person's needs. Whether food, water, shelter, or even cheaper gas, you must first create advantage for them so that they will listen. (Didn't seem to help Lot's case.)

Don't speak with imperatives, simply suggest. (Image their rage if Lot hadn't said please!)

Speak as one of the people. (With "brothers" like Sodom's citizens, who needs enemies?)

Don't speak directly to a sin, but keep it vague. (Again, didn't seem to help.)

Offer incremental, attainable goals. (Imagine Lot's first conversation with his daughters after they found out they were the "alternative.")

Perception is not reality

Certainly, a pastor should not be judgmental. A proper understanding of Scripture attributes all righteousness to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). That righteousness is only credited to us through faith (Romans 4:5). And even that faith is actually a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are not superior. We have nothing to boast in but Christ!

But this does not mean a preacher will be immune to the accusation. If one is faithful with the gospel, the message will offend. And if the message offends, people will take it out on the messenger. Certainly, we do not want to act in a way that makes us the offense, but if a person find the message judgmental, there is very little we can do about it.

Lot didn't try a tactic or two to avoid offense, he tried all of them. The message wasn't more palatable. The results weren't greater. It made a mess of his family. And he was still accused of being judgmental.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


I ran across this quote two nights ago:

It is Easter morning 2006. And there, lurking in the shadows, is a figure rarely seen in church. It's Superman. Yes, Superman! He who leaps tall buildings in a single bound as he pursues evildoers.

No, wait a minute. It's not him. Actually, it's only the senior pastor. The senior pastor all decked out as Superman, ready to communicate the gospel to a new generation...

...Is this an anecdote plucked from an obscure part of the evangelical vineyard in America? Did it really happen? Is it so bizarre as to be unrepresentative? This incident actually happened in a church that received the Rick Warren award for church of the year. Besides, this co-opting of showbiz, this transformation of Christianity into entertainment, is rapidly becoming the norm today, not the exception. Pastors are straining to outdo each other in becoming as chic and slick as any show in Las Vegas.--David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant, p23-24
Wells' book is incredible. But when I read this section, though he quotes this incident is from 2006, I assumed it had truly become obscure by now. Surely, those days of silliness were shortlived and over, right?

Then I ran across this quote in a blog this morning:
...perhaps the greatest fictional Super Hero of all time. I’m speaking of course of Super Man! Super Man was created by Jerry Siegel and Canadian born artist, Joe Shuster in 1932 while they were both living in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1938, the character first appeared in Action Comics.

This Sunday we will launch into the second half of our Super Heroes series as we study a significant characteristic of what it means to be a Biblical Super Man. These 4 weeks will take us verse by verse through the one chapter New Testament book of Philemon as we discover that real Biblical Supermen know how to forgive. In order to set the mood, everyone on stage will be wearing our Super Man T-Shirts. Word has it that Super Man may make an appearance. It all depends on if we can find a phone booth and if the outfit really fits me (ur...I mean him)!
I'm all for preaching through Philemon (though it is a book about how freedom from sin found in Christ radically transforms all relationships, including slave and master--not a how to guide on being a better man.), but here's hoping that before the pastor dons his cape, he exercises some super discernment.