Home > Uncategorized > Where is the “Evangel” in Modern Evangelicalism? A Comparison of a Piper and a Lutheran Sermon

Where is the “Evangel” in Modern Evangelicalism? A Comparison of a Piper and a Lutheran Sermon

July 13th, 2008
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What strikes many converts from Evangelicalism to Lutheranism is how much Lutherans talk about Jesus Christ. No, scratch that. Not “about” Jesus Christ. They proclaim Christ. They talk Christ. They preach Christ and Him crucified. Many Evangelicals think they are proclaiming, talking and preaching Christ, but upon closer analysis, there is a whole lot of “God-talk” and not nearly enough “Christ-talk.” For much of Evangelicalism the “Gospel” is good news, but good news for a specific, “decision” or moment of conversion after which point the focus shifts from Christ to us; whereas, in Lutheranism, it’s always all about Jesus and everything He has done, and is doing, in our lives.
Let me offer another comparison. Here is a word cloud for John Piper, one of the most well known conservative Evangelical preachers working today, and one generally regarded as being more aware of the centrality of the Gospel. But look at this analysis of one of his sermons preached in the past year or so, on “overcoming the world.”

Picture 4

Now, look at a sermon preached by a Lutheran pastor on good works. You would think that if there ever would be a place where even Lutherans would dive well into a focus more on me, myself, I and we and us, and a focus on the law, it might be here. But, even in a sermon that was highly “practical” in its proclamation of the life of the Christian being marked by good works, notice the prominence of Christ. The sermon was on Eph. 2, “God’s workmanship.”

Picture 5

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  1. Monte Meyer
    July 13th, 2008 at 21:47 | #1

    This is a fascinating way to examine a sermon. Very, very handy.
    My son and I had a chance to worship together at another church for a change, and he said “Dad, I’ve heard this pastor about 5 times now, and he uses the word “God” a lot, but rarely “Jesus” or “Christ”. He gets close to delivering the Gospel, but doesn’t quite get there.”
    It was a good observation – and I thought of the Word Cloud – wouldn’t it be interesting to put some of our sermons through the “cloud”?

  2. July 16th, 2008 at 03:05 | #2

    No offense to Piper fans (since I was one myself), but Dr. Piper I surmize is a neo-legalist pietist. I soaked on his sermons and his books – Desiring God/ Future Grace/ for example, his view of grace is gratia infusa.
    You won’t be able to detect it until you study the BoC and Lutheran writings.
    LPC

  3. July 16th, 2008 at 11:10 | #3

    For more Wordle fun, somebody could feed it some hymns from the LSB and compare them to a few contemporary worship songs. My guess is that the first person pronoun would dwarf all other words in the praise songs.
    Here’s my creation of the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed using Wordle:
    http://wordle.net/gallery/wrdl/47867/The_Nicene_Creed
    http://wordle.net/gallery/wrdl/47874/The_Apostles%27_Creed
    (I had those printed on good stock paper and they are hanging on my office wall now.)

  4. Steve Newell
    July 16th, 2008 at 13:18 | #4

    If one combined this “word picture” and Todd Wilken’s sermon test from Issues Etc, one could quickly see that what many call a Christian sermon is not a true Christian sermon, but a bible sermon without Christ. I can preach from the bible and it can not be Christian. Even the devil quoted the bible to Christ. Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses quote the bible, but they are not Christian.

  5. Kevin Martin
    July 17th, 2008 at 08:37 | #5

    It is an interesting tool but maybe it is good only up to a point. I picked a Nagel sermon at random from the Concordia collection, one he’d preached at St. Louis sem and posted it a few minutes ago in the Wordle gallery under “Nagel sermon, St. Louis sem, by K. Martin”
    If you look at it, you’ll notice it doesn’t have words like “Christ, Jesus, Forgiveness, Salvation, Church” prominently, or much at all. It looks “worse” in that respect than the Piper sermon, but it certainly was an excellent law/gospel sermon on how the gifts of Christ are surely delivered to us in holy absolution by the called and ordained men who speak in His Name. So I’d say that maybe you actually need to read the sermon to say whether it is Christ centered or not. Just saying “Jesus” “Christ” or “Church” or “Supper” every other sentence doesn’t necessarily make it a Christ-centered, sacramental, evangelical sermon. You might just be talking about what a great moral example Jesus is, or what a big job He’s given the Church to do, or how crucial it is to maintain certain historical rubrics in the liturgy, which is hardly Gospel proclamation…

  6. Holger Sonntag
    July 17th, 2008 at 21:16 | #6

    Word Clouds can be an interesting way of looking at a text. But let’s not forget that these clouds are about stats, not meaning and weight given to individual words by context. Sure, there is meaning in stats too, but they sure aren’t the whole picture. A sermon, totally legalistic, preached on Christ’s command to love our neighbor could, e.g., feature “Christ” and “love” and “salvation” prominently — are we to conclude from this that the preacher understood the proper relationship between these three terms and is therefore to be considered a Lutheran?
    It’s also interesting to run certain chapters or sections of the bible through this method, take, e.g., Rom. 3. What stands out? “God,” “law,” “faith,” “one,” “righteousness,” “justified.” “Jesus” appears among the finer print of this word cloud. What are we to conclude from this? That Jesus plays a minor role in God’s saving the world? Hardly.
    Do the same thing with Eph. 2:1-10, the basis for the Lutheran sermon above. Again, what stands out? “Us,” “Christ,” “Jesus,” “God,” “grace,” “dead,” “following,” “saved,” “trespasses,” “works.” This of course changes if you submit the entire second chapter: “Christ,” “God,” “us,” “Jesus” — just how do these all hang together?
    Interesting things happen when you submit Galatians to this examination: “Christ,” “God,” “one,” “law,” “faith,” “Jesus,” “Spirit,” “flesh,” “gospel.” Pretty good, though perhaps not perfectly Lutheran, one might think. But Paul seems to have forgotten even the little he had there, when he gives his farewell speech in Acts 20: “God,” “Lord,” “know,” and “will” dominate the picture, followed by “Jesus” and “Spirit,” as if he were some “Evangelical guy!” The phrase “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” is central to the faith, and highly important in the sermon, even though it is statistically marginal (“blood” appears bigger only because the computer does not distinguish between God’s blood (v. 28) and man’s blood (v. 26) — a serious confusion of law and gospel).
    So, I say: the program is neat for the graphics department, but shouldn’t replace careful hermeneutics and exegesis, or the attentive listening to sermons — and those sermons would quickly become boring if they followed always the same pattern and didn’t pay attention to whatever the concrete lessons and the diverse congregational situations demand. Let’s remember: that the gospel predominates does not simply mean that there’s statistically more “gospel words” in the sermon.

  7. Larry
    July 19th, 2008 at 18:43 | #7

    “No offense to Piper fans (since I was one myself), but Dr. Piper I surmize is a neo-legalist pietist. I soaked on his sermons and his books – Desiring God/ Future Grace/ for example, his view of grace is gratia infusa. You won’t be able to detect it until you study the BoC and Lutheran writings.”
    BINGO!
    Monte is spot on the money, unless you have experienced it first hand, Piper at length, you will not detect it after hearing from the Luther/Lutheran quarters. Piper’s doctrine/theology more than anyone drove me to the brink of utter despair and near suicide over “am I saved/elect” than anyone I read. I myself too was once a huge Piper person…I mean intensely involved. Piper’s way is tough to ferret out unless you’ve been there then had Luther feed you Christ 200 proof. The reason is because he’s not a “in your face” legalist/pietist but one that cries and shows emotions. And I’m not doubting his affections or such at all. But don’t let that fool you. Sometimes “smiling emotional” pietism is worse than “in your face pietism” as it hits the soul and takes away Christ for you. And it’s hard to get past that American emotional appeal, soft compromising way of debating an issue. It’s almost like American Idol and the emotional audience versus Simon Cowell, Cowell is right a lot of the times on his assessment, blunt and to the point – but emotionally driven American audiences just mindlessly BOO anyway. There’s almost a “puppy” factor to Dr. Piper, you don’t dare speak against him and don’t dare bring up the fact that he rarely GIVES Christ and his books for the most part are 100% Christless in that the left hand ALWAYS robs anything the right hand meagerly gives involving the Cross. People that don’t see this have not experienced it AT ALL and CANNOT speak to it. I suspect Monte understands this as much as I do, how hard it is to bring this against Piper’s teachings – there’s a hushed ‘hands off’ and if you do dare, MAYBE ‘you are not saved or elect’, how could you be!
    If you marry all that up with the “Calvinism” and baptistic “believers only” use of the sacraments you end up with a “gospel” that’s nothing more than a hellish forever carrot on a stick on a tread meal (a double going no where), always “just out of reach” but never TO/FOR you. There’s a difference in preaching Christ in such a way that you find yourself believing, and so called preaching that demands belief such that all you do is doubt that you do and that He is for you at all. In short there’s a difference in GIVING Christ to the baptized and just holding Him out of reach in your face as another law to follow.
    Larry
    Another issue with Piper and his throngs, again I was one of them, is that they hold a very very strong, almost Anabaptistic with a Calvinistic flavor, “negative theology of glory” disguised and alluded to and confused with a “theology of cross” as if it is the same theology of the Cross Luther spelled out. A constant question in our former strong Piper like church was, “Why are we not persecuted like ______”. Behind it was the constant unspoken deadly fear that “maybe I/we are not Christians/saved/elected” which in turn is because “we are doing something right” in order to “get this persecution”, whereby we might know that we like them are true Christians. That’s a hell in and of itself. (Being a former Piperholic like myself Monte probably understands that all too well also). But you won’t see that unless you were steeped in it and then came across and read something like Forde’s treatment on the subject.
    “Don’t Waste Your Life” is not theologically significantly different from “Your Best Life Now” or “40 Days of Purpose”. It’s more intellectual and derived more soundly in the sense of acumen, but theologically a pure theology of glory – and the title really does give it away. Those books are an infinite religion away from “Luther On Vocation” – two different religions when all is weighed, said and done.

  8. Larry
    July 19th, 2008 at 19:02 | #8

    If you can get a text version of sermons, try using the Word programs automated summary feature. It’s not flawless but looks more at reoccurrence of words and phrases to generate an executive summary.

  9. July 20th, 2008 at 23:27 | #9

    Larry,
    It was me, Lito whom you quoted. I do not mean to divert the discussion but I did blog on Piperian Gratia Infusa at http://extranos.blogspot.com/2007/09/properly-speaking-i-am-not-christian.html.
    You are the second person whom I have learnt driven to dispari by Piperian Gratia Infusa.
    LPC

  10. Steven K. Andrews
    July 21st, 2008 at 19:56 | #10

    I’m coming out also. My name is Steven and I’m a recovering Pipernist! It wasn’t until I read the BOC before I realized how ” me-driven” his theology was. I bought every single book he printed and read them 2-3 times. I was almost to the brink of severe depression until Luther’s gospel came to save me. Everything mentioned above is absolutely true! Thank you to the Wittenberg Trail for it’s ministry for burnt out evangelicals!

  11. July 25th, 2008 at 19:09 | #11

    This was an incredible post and it definitely hit home for me. In fact I started my blog for the very purpose of making these comparisons! I grew up in an evangelical/non-denominational/seeker-sensitive church and slowly arrived at a Lutheran church. The differences are unbelieveable sometimes.
    On that note, feel free to stop by my blog any time. I’d love to hear any comments or insight you might have. Thanks!
    Andrew http://solagratiasolafide.blogspot.com/

  12. Larry KY
    July 28th, 2008 at 18:31 | #12

    Lito,
    Ooops. Sorry about that. I got confused about which name went with which posting. I’m starting to show my “middle age”!
    Thanks, I’m going to check out your post.
    It’s funny you mention the “Infusa” of Piper. I swear I never read you paper or before know knew you, but I first realized that reading “Let God Be God” about Luther and his theology in opposition of the scholastic and others of the time. I started reading on the difference Luther was sharply cutting between Thomas A. and some others back then and himself. The VERY FIRST one that struck me was, “This is John Piper hands down, Luther would have written against him.” (having been a “disciple of his” for years.
    It’s subtle every time because the language is always similar, ‘grace’, ‘faith’, etc…but the out come of the communication is anti-gospel (e.g. Piper) versus gospel (e.g. Luther). It’s never an explicit denial of the Gospel, nor intended even, but it IS at the end of the day a different “good” news.
    Yours,
    Larry
    Larry

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