The Evangelical Preacher

Given, a man with moderate intellect, a moral standard not higher than the average, some rhetorical affluence and great glibness of speech, what is the career in which, without aid of birth or money, he may most easily attain power and reputation…?

…in which a smattering of science and learning will pass for profound instruction, where platitudes will be accepted as wisdom, bigoted narrowness as holy zeal, unctuous egoism as God-given piety? Let such a man become an evangelical preacher; he will then find it possible to reconcile small ability with great ambition, superficial knowledge with the prestige of erudition, a middling morale with a high reputation of sanctity.

Pleasant to the clerical flesh… is the arrival of Sunday!… He has an immense advantage over all other public speakers. The platform orator is subject to the criticism of hisses and groans. Counsel for the plaintiff expects the retort of counsel for the defendant. The honorable gentleman on one side of the House is liable to have his facts and figures shown up by his honorable friend on the opposite side…. the preacher is completely master of the situation: no one may hiss, no one may depart. Like the writer of imaginary conversations, he may put what imbecilities he pleases into the mouths of his antagonists, and swell with triumph when he has refuted them. He may riot in gratuitous assertions, confident that no man will contradict him; he may exercise perfect free-will in logic, and invent illustrative experience; he may give an evangelical edition of history with the inconvenient facts omitted;-all this he may do with impunity, certain that those of his hearers who are not sympathizing are not listening.

~George Eliot, Westminster Review, 1855

15 thoughts on “The Evangelical Preacher”

  1. ninjanun – I reread what you wrote and I do agree with almost everything. I take back my great speech idea only to the point that I think they should do what you said each Sunday, but make no mistake there is always room for a quick 4 step on if you need Jesus in your heart whenever the time is right in the service. We can see people all the time who look like they are saved, but one never knows the state of the heart. And as a pastor…I believe he should put that in every Sunday. We can’t just wait till we have a lot of visitors to bring it up…there may be plenty who come and don’t have Jesus. My husband got saved on Easter Sunday while visiting a church of my sister’s. The pastor shared the Jesus died for your sins and my husband got saved in the very folding chair, because the pastor summed up “what must be done to be saved”. There was no Just As I Am song and no alter call. That church doesn’t even believe in alter calls. But the poiint remains that the Holy Spirit can do His job, if we do ours. It was a beautiful testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life. Jesus sttod at the door of my husband’s heart and knocked.I went for counseling yesterday to help me get over the “hurt”. Guess what? I actually prayed for the pastor and his wife and asked for forgiveness to God and for him to lead us to a new church. I am not 100% better, but I am not going to give them the power anymore to poison my life. I am looking at the ashes of what happened and now trying to picture them as rose petals. I am looking to God as this is what we have to go through to get to the next level andplace in our lives. I am crucified with Christ. My counselor said to fall on the Rock of Christ Jesus and fall so hard that while clinging to it, it pierces even to my inner spirit and soul so that I may know that I partake in suffering along with Him. He was betrayed and suffered in friendships and misunderstood. This is so I picture my hurts and put them in His love and mercy. I feel so much lighter and really I am realizing that to think I should have a bright shiny bubble christian life in the ministry is to think wrong. I read some more on Paul. I am not equating to him as I am to really not put so much emphasis on my pain and magnify it but to really seek how through this I can glorify God in all this. I will Rise up and call myself Blessed!Please don’t think I am completely over it, but I want this time to be shorter and to not be bitter. I don’t want to wait 40 years before I see my “burning bush” with God. thoughts anyone?

  2. “…in which a smattering of science and learning will pass for profound instruction, where platitudes will be accepted as wisdom, bigoted narrowness as holy zeal, unctuous egoism as God-given piety? Let such a man become an evangelical preacher”It’s funny that a person from the 1850’s would have this type of insight – makes me wonder how much the church has matured in 150 years? These same problems Eliot is picking out still exist on some sporadic level. Reminds me of a few pastors I have known in my 6 year tenure in the church (1993-1999). “the preacher is completely master of the situation: no one may hiss, no one may depart”So true – not like it’s a discussion the preacher is having with the congregation – it’s more like commandments for living – and he is the Moses of the scenario. I think sheep pinned it last blog with a comment about the ‘saviour complex’…I think this idea is true on some levels (namely when it comes to authority). 150 years ago this was written and we still have the same problems in our churches – can someone say ‘ignorance is bliss’.

  3. Some of which Sheep describes is like that which went on in the Shepherding Movement(not presuming anything,just drawing a comparision). For those unfamiliar it had its genesis in the mid 1970’s with the “good intentions” of fostering greater discipleship among the mass of new converts via the”Jesus Movement”. It did cross some church traditions but was mainly found in charismatic and non-denominational churches. In short it did lead to a “saviour/messiah complex” in many of these churches where your”shepherd”(primarily the pastor) became more controlling and manipulative to get his congregation to march lockstep in the direction he felt God wanted them to go(also on an individual level). To the point of where(and I personally knew of one) ministries kept dossiers on members to “plot their roadmap” even “suggeting” whom to marry. Sounds like something a guy named Moon might do-yes-cultlike. Mostly defunct now (waned in late 1980’s) but its influence can still be seen in some ministries today. Yes, Society, ‘ignorance is indeed bliss’.

  4. Steve… I wondered into your space the other day and found this quote. Though written in the 19th century, it voices the same complaint I have concerning what happens in church nowadays.<>…. the preacher is completely master of the situation: no one may hiss, no one may depart. Like the writer of imaginary conversations, he may put what imbecilities he pleases into the mouths of his antagonists, and swell with triumph when he has refuted them. He may riot in gratuitous assertions, confident that no man will contradict him; he may exercise perfect free-will in logic, and invent illustrative experience; he may give an evangelical edition of history with the inconvenient facts omitted;-all this he may do with impunity, certain that those of his hearers who are not sympathizing are not listening.<>I really can’t engage in the comments made by others to this post. My number one issue concerning the way we do church is that, despite protestation contrary, it is configured around the one man – and I say man on purpose because in my experience it is always a white middle class male. His god, and his interpretation of scripture, is hoisted unto us all. There is no opportunity for feedback, discussion or objection. The pew filler – because that is all we are in this mode of church – has no option but to suck it up, put up or leave – I have gone with the last option. I am looking to be part of a church where theology is done in community, owned corporately and worked out in the blood and guts of real life and real relationships. I realize this may be easier said than done but I am going to risk the experiment.

  5. I don’t think “being saved” is a 4-step process. I think it’s a life-long process. So when I say “present the gospel,” I do mean in its fullness, not JUST (although not to the exclusion of) the steps laid out according to the “roman road” or “4 spiritual laws” or whatever. The Holy Spirit is amazingly skilled at using whatever poor tools/word choice we as humans happen to use to reach people’s hearts. As for the rest of your comment, I’m glad you’ve found some peace, but please don’t feel like you have to push the process or be “over it” by some certain date. Healing takes time, some wounds go deeper than others, and you might not even know the extent of it until something comes up later that reminds you of what you’ve been through. At this point I’d say you’re just cleaning out the wound so it doesn’t get infected. 🙂 *I had some fairly shallow gouges on my thumb caused by, of all things, a plastic hanger with a rough edge. It has taken about two weeks to heal, and there is still a bright red scar. And that was just a flesh wound! Back in October, I slipped and fell down my porch steps when it was rainy, and landed on the small of my back. It left a scrape all the way up my back that took a good month to heal. And whatever I bruised on the inside (couldn’t tell if it was a bone or muscle, but it hurt when I twisted ’round) has taken even longer to heal. Sometimes it still hurts a little, if I move a certain way.*My point is, physical wounds can take a long time to heal, and I think spiritual wounds can take just as long. I think sometimes as Christians we try to downplay this hurt and healing process because we think if we “forgive” than that makes the pain go away, and if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with us. But I think healing of deep wounds, whether physical or spiritual, can take time, and you can’t force the process to go faster. The best you can do is be honest about the situation and try not to reinfect or otherwise irritate the wound. I hope that helps, and I hope you’re having a great day! 🙂*Yeah, I’m pretty clumsy.

  6. A sheep… I have been reading along and not responding yet… giving a chance for everyone else to chime in. Didn’t want you to think I had forgotten about you.You asked for feedback on your counseling experience… and I read that comment and the next one about how you feel you are moving through the grieving process to a resolution stage.Here’s my thoughts: Everyone is different. I just want to offer this to you… please do not be hard on yourself and feel “guilt” if and when you find yourself pissed off, bitter or depressed about this sometime down the road. Have love for yourself and give yourself the grace to grieve.The grieving process is not linear. It’s not step one, step two and so on. You move back and forth through the stages – at least that’s my understanding. So today you maybe at resolution and next week you may be back at “anger” or the next week “depression”. Each moment you are in will teach you something about yourself and the situation. In my experience, peace comes from not trying to fight through the stages (in that sense you are working against the process) – peace comes from letting each stage envelope you and teach you what you need to learn… even if it is painful. Prayer or meditation has been good for me – not asking to be free from the pain but to learn from it… that has brought healing more than anything in my life.I am not a counselor…I am just sharing my experiences for what they are worth. Thanks for sharing your story. Keep writing…putting it out on paper and black and white can be a powerful healer as well.

  7. Thanks Ninjanun! If I lived where you live we could meet for coffee! But hey, I am drinking some now so I will pretend you are sitting across from me. Yes, I just meant 4 step as in presentation style-keep it simple- but “we walk out our Salvation with fear and trembling”. I guess my hurt happened May 2007. So, it’s been dissolving or evolving. The wound kept getting a scab and then I would rethink through every thing and you know what that does…you take the scab off. But, I read your last blog on circle jerk and this one and I seriously can’t believe how reading these excerpts into people’s thoughts can sorta heal or help. It has. I just want to get through my grief and I am now maybe in resolution stage. This is not a brick and mortar church but the reception and love I have felt is even better. Because, the truth is a lot of tomes we go to a church and would never say these things in a small group or at the coffee bar because it would stir up stuff. Plus, some people don’t really have a true transparency to them as this does. I think when you type it, it takes so much longer than talking that thenyou really are able to communicate versus just babbling. However, my past couple of blogs have been so long that if I was at the church coffee bar, then whoever was listening to me – well, we would miss service due to the time it took for me to espouse all this. :0)I would like to throw this out there…music/praise/songs have truly helped me get through some very sad days. I am amazed at the power of hearing praise and then engaging it. Does anyone have a favorite CD that just ministered to them like no other? Curious.P.S. I love Rob Bell. I think his medium of sharing is awesome.Steve, I am still composing my little short story. Just in case, I write a book someday…

  8. Ninjanun, I am more amazed how alike we think the longer I read your comments. I’m not sure if that’s something for you to be happy about 🙂 Maybe I’ve changed or it’s just the subject matter. (Let’s not start anything on politics, ha, ha!)But, I’ve thought for a long time that church services ought to be about the family primarily and not the guests. Not that you would treat a guest badly or exclude them. But, you wouldn’t rearrange EVERYTHING for them.I think that being seeker-driven is to do the seekers a disservice. You may unintentionally lead them to believe you are someone you’re not. It tends to come off as cheesy patronizing. If they are truly seeking, then wouldn’t they just want to come in and observe? Yes, they will be affected by your hospitality (or lack thereof), but their purpose for coming is to see if they’ll fit in.I agree with all the other things you said about evangelism, etc.

  9. I just found your blog and am a little late to this post Steve, but thanks. Interesting blog you have here!It’s amazing that George Eliot was so dead on about the evangelical church even before the US Civil War began. Some things never change…when they don’t have to.

  10. Hi, a sheep! I wanted to address your questions here:<>If someone gets saved, then great, but we really want hurting christians that we can help and so they will see we are a ‘safe church’.” Last time, I checked the Bible – Jesus didn’t target market or have a group he only ministered to…this worldview thinking of only offering a certain type of gospel is the downfall of the church today and has been. I once was told by my husband that any type of sermon that does not offer or share the “good news” – present the gospel, is really just a good speech. To share the gospel is the definition of preaching…am I wrong on this?<>Those are great questions and ponderings. I don’t think it’s wrong for a church (as in the regular “worship service”) to minister/preach to their members and regular attenders; I think this time is meant for believers primarily, not non-believers. It’s meant as a time of refreshment and celebration for the servants of Christ. If a non-believer visits, they will see a family celebrating their Father, their brothers and sisters in Christ, and ministering to each other. They should feel welcome and loved, the same way a dinner guest in your house would, but the dinner guest should not expect the family to rearrange their dinner rituals and traditions nor only speak about things the dinner guest finds relevant at the expense of neglecting the family’s needs. I do think sermons should include the Good News of Jesus Christ–but the problem a lot of churches have is that they think the “Good News” is just “Jesus died so you don’t have to suffer hell,” and that it doesn’t need to be heard once someone is “saved.” However, the gospel is not just about answering the question, “what must we do to be saved?” but also “how then, shall we live?” The Good News is about following the Way of living and being in the world that Jesus has shown through his teaching and example, too. When you neglect one in favor of the first part, you end up with Christians who don’t have the full gospel to help them mature in Christ.Another problem is that many churches have decided that Sunday morning is going to be their time of “ministry” and “outreach” to seekers and non-believers–and what happens is that people who have been Christians longer are hearing the same “repent and be saved” message and not moving on to “solid food.” And so churches train their members to think that Sunday morning is the time they “do ministry” rather than “minister and be ministered to” by fellow believers, so that ALL believers may then go out into their normal work-a-day week and be salt and light wherever they are at. As a result, members are encouraged to “invite their non-Christian friends to church,” and are let off the hook from sharing the gospel/being a witness to following Jesus to the people in their lives. And I think the pastor becomes the Super Christian who is the only one doing any sort of ministering–whether to only believers (like at your church), or only to non-believers (at seeker-sensitive type churches). If the full gospel is being preached, believers are encouraged in their walk in order to grow and be ministers where they’re at (outside of church activities and programs), and non-believers get a fuller sense of what it means to be part of the family of God.Does that make sense?Oh, and hey Steve–not sure if you already knew this, but George Eliot was a < HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Eliot" REL="nofollow">woman<>. Rock on! 🙂

  11. Note: I will write Steve and Senecus personally when I figure out how to condense a 7 year story into a 2 page diatribe…I am working on it. As for this review by Eliot…whoa!Can the flesh be separated from even the spirtual? I don’t think so in this life on Earth…only in Heaven. I think that pastors say they have only great intentions…but how many have PURE intentions. Do you know even this week I was talking with a friend from our past church and she told me that during last summer when she went for counseling on issues…just regular issues…that the very next Sunday or Wednesday that the sermon was on exactly what she and the Pastor and Pastor’s wife had discussed during counseling??? Can you believe it? She said she felt she was being lectured on the sly, and basically was embarassed because she thought maybe the whole “unpaid staff” knew or the little click with pastor and that we all talked about her and her husband.She had been told things in counseling and then the pastor ( little p forever…) :0) then preached on it the next meeting and did 5 point sermons on the very issues she discussed. After 6 or 7 times of this, she and her husband left the church. She felt defenseless and hurt.Only now does she tell me this. I was on “unpaid staff” at this church. Remember this is last year…and I was clearly told about her and her husband and that she was “crazy” and to not be her friend. Just be friendly, but not her friend – this was by the Pastor’s wife – my “old” best friend. Do you see how the manipulation and unpure motives are put forth. FYI- she is not crazy and her issues were that of someone who had been saved for only two years and was struggling with the age old issues of drink or not drink, how many times to read the bible, how to deal with unforgiveness…just questions we all have dealt with in our hearts. So my long point is that I got a fresh perspective on someone I was told was crazy and to not be friends with and yet they were a new baby christian struggling and wanting some answers. If this happens on the basic level of in the pastor’s office – then how many messages are so much more from the pulpit trying to get across the agenda – so to speak.Don’t get me wrong- but there is a difference between encouraging and teaching the bible versus 5 points on how to get the people in the church to fall inline and do such and such. I was a part of it and now no longer. As for the messiah comlex – I learned that it is a real occurance in someone’s mind and they think that their way of thinking and being is the only way. They think they are the only ones to help, give advice and teach. Basically they are the savior to people and to show them the way. What is truly sad is that my old pastor really thinks this way. They think they are the only church in town that will have a “move of God”. They have told me that the quickest way to “grow” a church is from a another church splitting. Then the split will cause others to come to them because their other motto is “we help hurting christians”. I promise I was told that in confidence. Can you believe this??? So they think they are the only ones that are really hearing from God and they are the only ones that will see the move of God in their church and they have the answers. One more thing – I once brought up the idea of alter calls or extending invitations for salvation. I was told “that “pastor” isn’t very comfortable with that…that is not how it is done nowadays and that our ministry is really to hurting christians, not the world. If someone gets saved, then great, but we really want hurting christians that we can help and so they will see we are a ‘safe church’.” Last time, I checked the Bible – Jesus didn’t target market or have a group he only ministered to…this worldview thinking of only offering a certain type of gospel is the downfall of the church today and has been. I once was told by my husband that any type of sermon that does not offer or share the “good news” – present the gospel, is really just a good speech. To share the gospel is the definition of preaching…am I wrong on this? So, in closing…boy this itself was a sermon ;0)…Eliot was right on target and all those preachers out there…as far as I am concerned unless you share the gospel from the pulpit each Sunday…then you are not “preaching” you are filling the ear space in our hearts and heads with a good speech. Okay, I promise the next comment in this blog world will be greatly succint.

  12. One of the major components that I’ve seen lacking in most churches, is a really good diciplesship program. Here’s what I understand it to be:Elder (wise both in life and spirit) men/women who take younglings under their under their care. In days long gone, young people would apprentice into their life long career. And so they would spend day after day with their mentor, who not only taught them a craft/skill, but also guided them in life and spiritual matters. This close bond is something which is virtually non-existant in todays western culture. Who has time to teach a young pup the ways of the world? Parents definitly aren’t topping out that list.So what would it look like, if said “elders” where to take on 1-3 young people from their local community and “feed” them? What would that do to the streangth of that local congregation? What would sudays look like?IMO, small groups, life groups, bible studies, whatever hip name you want to give them, are a lazy substitute for discipleship. It’s usually a smaller more “intimate” version of sunday church. Where’s the “food” coming from? Where’s the guidance?This almost ties in to my comment on the last post regarding our diconnected world we live in.Watch “Everythings Spiritual” by Rob Bell, and tell me life in isolation is the way God inteaded it.great selection Steve.

  13. Yep, the seeker-sensitive and seeker-friendly churches need to realize that church is for the believer first, not the seeker first. By putting the seeker first and trying to get them into the body of Christ with various promises, you are actually starving the body of the teaching and food they need to remain healthy and strong. Remember a healthy body is a paying body and that’s what churches really care about anyway, isn’t it?

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