Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: Pulpit Crimes

Pulpit Crimes
The Criminal Mishandling of God's Word
by James R. White
©2006, Solid Ground Christian Books
156 pages

As the title suggests, White's book is more about exposing destructive trends in the pulpit today than it is a "how-to" of preaching. However, like most things of a polemical nature, White will also turn people toward the Word of God to gain direction and insight toward preaching. White does a good job of showing that his arguments are not just reinforced by Scripture, but are actually built out of the Scriptures. This is especially helpful when he shares concerns in regard to style and practice; showing how our methodology is not completely isolated from our theology. White breaks down the following "Pulpit Crimes" in his book (with a brief explanation from me within parenthesis):

1. Prostitution (The influence monetary gain has had upon preaching, ranging from the gross indulgences of prosperity preachers to the pastor avoiding certain topics because it might scare away "big givers.")

2. Pandering to Pluralism (The tendency to shy away from the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus Christ, either in the name of pluralism or inclusivism. This includes the current popularity of modern-day moralistic "life improvement" preaching that avoids addressing the offense of the gospel.)

3. Cowardice Under Fire (The lack of perseverance by pastors to continue to preach sound doctrine when met with challenge. This includes avoiding doctrine or softening the stance when opposition arises.)

4. Entertainment without a License (The focus of our corporate worship shifts from the audience of One to the members of the audience and keeping them happy.)

5. Felonious Eisegesis (In effort to be relevant and attractive, the pastor chooses his topic, theme or title and then looks to the Bible to make his claim. Grossest abuses become obvious when a pastor switches to a different translation so that he can find his one word and be able to leap off from it.)

6. Cross Dressing (White shows how the acceptance of women preachers has contributed to multiple abuses of the pulpit. After walking through 1 Timothy 2, White simply asks, "Could it be that once you loosen that one cord enough to allow yourself into the eldership a few other holes open up in the fabric that will allow all sorts of other things in?" p120)

7. Body Count (The role of membership within a local church has caused two effects: 1) People who are not connected to any local congregation but consider TV preaching, radio programs or webcasts to be their corporate worship, thus neglecting the role of the Body of Christ with each other; 2) Mega churches over obsession with numbers to be their validation for any of their practices, though their numbers do not usually add up to the effects they claim.)

8. Identity Theft (The sacraments of the church are being distorted, neglecting communion because of its inconvenience while at the same time pushing baptism so hard that people are entering the baptismal who do not yet have a clear testimony for Christ. White makes no apology for the fact that he believes that biblically clear preaching is diminished when our theological system causes us to redefine baptism to not be the response of a conversion to Christ.)

9. Warranty Fraud (How "easy-believism" and "free grace" gospel messages have contributed to a distorted perspective of eternal security, thus making it difficult to convince someone who raised their hand/came forward/filled out a card that he may not actually be saved.)

White regularly reminds the reader that "what you win them with, you win them to" (a phrase I first heard from Mark Dever). White graciously allows for freedom in ministry and does not require everyone to fit a cookie cutter design. At times, he shares his preference, yet makes sure that the reader understands it is only his preference. I appreciated White's ability to scratch below the surface and ask some hard questions as to why we would do certain things. Consider this quote:

There is another major factor that gives rise to entertainment in the place of worship: man-centered theology and a man-centered gospel. If you do not trust the power of the Spirit and the word to bring men and women to repentance and faith, but instead think that the final arbiter of whether God will succeed in the gospel or not is in fact the rebel man, you will use just about anything at your disposal to bring about that ultimate "good" of a person "accepting Jesus." So if you are willing to manipulate their emotions, tug at their heart strings, and in general wring a "decision" out of them through such means, you will likewise try to get them in with any kind of attraction that will work. Put on a show, try to look like the theater down the street, put on a raffle, sell lottery tickets. As long as it works, right? Keep them coming back long enough and who knows, they might just sign the dotted line, and won't Jesus be lucky to have them on His side!--p91
Just like Azurdia's book, White concludes his book with instructions for how the congregant can help prevent pulpit crimes.

Overall, this book serves as incredibly helpful for the pastor who is willing to acknowledge that we all can be tempted to build our ministry on our own wisdom, and not the Lord's. Read with a humble heart, the pastor can see ways he is tempted (or has even committed) pulpit crimes. This book also serves as a good resource for the person in the pew who is uneasy with the preaching trends in their local church but is not sure of the root problem or how to graciously approach their pastor about it.

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