Peddling Jesus :: by Howard Green

How many of you have pulled into a car dealership to look at vehicles to possibly buy…only to be accosted by an overly rambunctious salesperson? This guy has an over the top air of showmanship that quickly becomes evident; it’s more about the hype and emotion of the experience then about the product itself. In the end, after the vehicle is bought, after the hype and excitement wears off, only then do people count the cost of what they bought…or bought into.

Isn’t this the same when it comes to following Jesus? We are living in a day when there are many salesman, peddlers, and hucksters of Jesus and God’s Word. They are selling the features and benefits of “The Christian life.” At the end of the day, I believe time will show that they are creating consumers….not making disciples.

They are selling a “Christian lifestyle”…not pointing the way to the crucified life. Let’s look at the reality of what many people have bought into and compare that with the true message of the crucified life.

Here is one pastor’s perspective of the Christian life:

“Our goal is to create weekend experiences so compelling and helpful that even the most skeptical individuals in our community would walk away with every intention of returning the following week… with a friend!” (Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide)

More pastoral perspective on the Christian life:

You may think there is a lot wrong with you, but there is also a lot right with you. Make church relevant. Give them something to be able to take away. I find today people are not looking for theology. There’s a place for it, but in your everyday life you need to know how to live. Don’t just accept whatever comes your way in life. You were born to win; you were born for greatness; you were created to be a champion in life. —Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now.

Sound biblical teaching on living the true Christian life is getting harder and harder to find these days. On the contrary, there is a prevailing message of what I’ll call the “Have your cake and eat it too” version of the Christian life peddled by many and it is everywhere now.

This is not a new issue…to be certain. Paul and the 1st century church dealt with the same issue…those who sell a lifestyle and profit from doing it, instead of living a life hidden in Christ for the glory of God. Here is what Paul said:

“For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17).

Before I dig into this verse and the contextual meaning, I want to briefly cover why I believe peddling Jesus and the Christian life is so harmful.

Just looking at the two examples above, it becomes clear that these are nothing less than slick sales tactics used to bring big numbers into a building, fill pews, sell books, and replicate that process.

As I read the book by Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide, I noticed he wrote a lot about form, function, and, programs… and very little about the gospel. His book focused on making church the destination, not personal holiness or heaven.

Church growth and vision casting is Andy’s genre and he caps the instruction off at his Catalyst conferences where men and women in vocational ministry flock by the thousands annually to hear motivational speakers and top leaders from the business world. One of the “leadership” conferences a few years ago even featured a guy being shot out of a cannon. Are you kidding me?

There are conversations and workshops on: Why some people thrive and some just survive. Andy has everyone from pastors, to hip hop artists, and restaurateurs…bringing their expertise during classes on “being hardwired for wonder and to create.” There are creative arts workshops, dancing scientists, fireworks, and fanfare galore.

Andy runs these Catalyst conferences in multiple cities, packing in tens of thousands of people throughout the US. each year. This is all for the individual price of only $239.00 if you register early. A great Christian from days past rightly spoke on peddlers of the gospel:

“A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats.” —Charles Spurgeon

Andy Stanley and his teachings are being gobbled up by evangelical leaders around the world. His influence is unmistakable and many congregations are strict adherents to his church growth methods. Andy’s emphasis on culture and being relevant has made him a star on the social gospel-seeker sensitive scene. It’s a shame he has the attention of many evangelical pastor’s ears because he makes unfortunate and biblically ignorant statements like this one:

“If we were able to rewrite the script for the reputation of Christianity, I think we would put the emphasis on developing relationships with non-believers, serving them, loving them, and making them feel accepted, only then would we earn the right to share the gospel.” —Andy Stanley

This is false teaching that produces false converts, not true disciples of Jesus. God is not in heaven nervously wringing his hands because he’s worried about the world’s opinion of Christianity. While cultural Christians are busy placating to the world…disciples are living out the gospel. It’s not a Christian’s job to sway public opinion, it’s our job to do the will of God.

Joel Osteen is a name well-known by millions. He’s the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston which is the largest protestant church in the US at this time. He is the face of pop-Christianity on television, talk shows, news outlets, and commands the bulk of shelf space at the local Christian bookstore. You can even enjoy An Evening with Joel & Victoria at Yankee Stadium, AT&T Park, or Barclays Center from $29-$129.00 and learn how to have you best life now, too.

Here’s the thing…a lot of people have opinions (pro and con) about Joel Osteen, his style of preaching, and his message. If we move past the hype and get right down to the point, we must measure what this man says against the Word of God. Joel Osteen makes statements like:

“You were born to win. You were created to be a champion in this life. Start calling yourself healed, happy, whole, blessed, and prosperous. I steer away from cultural hot button issues and stay with what’s relevant in everyday life.”

Joel Osteen has millions of followers and when we place his words alongside God’s Word, it’s easy to see why. He has sold the lie that this life is about your success, comfort, prosperity, fulfillment, and destiny (his words not mine). The Name of Jesus is peddled because they know His name lends credibility to their manmade product of Your Best Life Now versus taking Jesus at His Word when He said:

“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13).

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Here’s what John said about living the Christian life:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15).

Andy Stanley making church a weekend experience and Joel Osteen selling Your Best Life Now are just two of a growing pool of evangelical “leaders” who are promoting this peddling of Jesus and the Word of God for personal gain. The personal gain could be fame, financial, a following, or a combination of these.

Rick Warren and his global “Peace Plan” have won critical acclaim by world leaders such as Pope Francis. Rick Warren was chosen to be the keynote speaker when the Pope visits the US later this Summer. His bestselling book: The Purpose Driven Life and his PEACE plan are heavy on curing the world’s social ills, but the uncompromised message of the gospel is hard to find. Rick and others are trying to create peace in the world without the Prince of Peace.

Ministering and meeting practical needs in Jesus’ Name is crucial and something every believer should do, but championing this effort while blatantly ignoring the turn, repent, and sin no more, soul saving message of the Bible is a different gospel, a social gospel, and not the true gospel.

Rick Warren is selling a product, too. He is selling a program I will call: Can’t we all just get along for the greater good? Several years ago, he spoke at the Islamic Society of North America. Here is his opening statement:

I come here today with a spirit of love, a spirit of friendship, a spirit of deep respect. I love my dear, dear Muslim friends, my next door neighbors, ….and so many that are friends,…and I love you. Now dear friends as globalization draws us closer and closer together, one of the most pressing questions we have to ask ourselves is how to we deal with our deepest differences? —Rick Warren (Guest speaker at the Islamic Society of North America gathering in Washington, D.C.)

Rick goes on to break down the PEACE plan he had developed to help solve the world’s problems. He believes if we put our differences aside for the greater good, a lot can be accomplished. As I mentioned before, he said: “I believe fresh water wells should be opened for people. I think Christians should help orphans, feed the hungry, and reach out to the least of these.”

Rick rightly states that many of these problems are caused by war and poverty. Correct Rick, but you leave out a very important point. Much of the war, poverty, and disease in the world today is a direct result of radical Islam.

Mr. Warren should decide to do the most loving thing for the Muslims which he professes to love so much: He should share the life changing message of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

It’s not just the well-known so-called “evangelical leaders” peddling Jesus and the cozy Christian life. It seems to be everywhere now. Local churches have programs for everything now. Worship services are becoming entertainment venues. (I’m not advocating for or against a particular style of worship) but, I am addressing the “me” centered and feelings type of worship. This type of “worship” places the focus on us; our lives, struggles, needs, and wants instead of placing the focus directly on the Son of God.

There are support groups for virtually anything, seminars on how to be relevant, and Churches with bowling alleys and mini golf courses. Sermons preached contextually and expository teaching are being ditched for sermonettes on life’s little problems.

Looking back at our core verse in its context, we can only reach one conclusion: The Christian life is being peddled and sold by hucksters and hirelings is not the Christian life at all.

“Life will be fine, you are a winner, invite people to your great church so they can be happy too,” is not the message Paul was conveying in 2 Corinthians. Just as in our day, Paul was observing men who were selling Jesus, a lifestyle, a cause for personal gain. That message was as unbiblical then as it is now.

When men like Andy Stanley, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and the guy down the street try to create a church-topia, Best Life Now, or Purpose Driven Life…is not biblical. The Christian life doesn’t have to be peddled at all. If the Bible alone is taught, some will respond in faith because of the prompting of the Holy Spirit, not because of a man’s sales pitch.

Sales pitches create buyer’s remorse and in the case of soft sell Christianity and those who bought into it…when life gets hard and faith in Jesus costs them, many will defect and leave the church because they bought into a lifestyle and not Christ.

This marketing scheme is conveniently cloaked under the Name of Jesus but is far from what he taught. He didn’t convene a team to discuss how to reach people in a relaxed non threatening way. He simply spoke with boldness, truth, and grace. Many churches are so worried about packaging their message in such a way as not to offend the Muslims, homosexuals, Millennials, and culture they are trying to reach, that they are becoming just like the world. They want to be relevant, hip, and tolerant of course.

These men, many of whom are pastors, teachers, evangelists who are peddling Jesus like He is a genie in a bottle to be there for our every whim. This nonsense sells to the masses of “cultural Christians” because they are told they can have the cake and eat it too. They get to have their best life now, participate in a little social projects, volunteer to make sure church is aesthetically pleasing, and feel good about being part of the group.

They are sold the lie that since they show up…they are in. Heaven is assured and so is a life of bliss down here. Andy Stanley and his church growth strategists will show you how to bring in scores of people and fill a church using a marketing blitz that looks more like a Dale Carnage course meets a Latter Day Saints television ad campaign.

This scheme of mankind is not how true growth in God’s economy works. God’s way has always consisted of true converts, not numbers. The pattern in Jesus’ ministry was always, Are you also going to leave, The Son of Man has no place to lay his head, Go and sell everything you have. The world will hate you on account of my Name, etc.

True converts don’t need to be sold a bill of goods…they will remain faithful because God called them, not a program, a system, a plan, or a lifestyle. Here’s the biblical example of adding numbers to the church:

“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

I’m not down on church…I love church. I’m thankful there are still churches where men still preach the word of God and are led by the Holy Spirit to equip saints for evangelism. My pastor gives glory directly to the Lord and keeps the focus of his teaching directly on the Bible and Jesus. Thank God that there is a remnant…a number of men and women of God who won’t compromise the message of the Christian life that’s hidden in and crucified with Christ.

Here’s another pastor’s perspective on the Christian life:

Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations, and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention, but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. —A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

I just quoted an observation that A.W. Tozer made over 50 years ago. He rightly called out imitating the world via promotional methods. It was clear to him back then that many in the church were using the world’s promotional tactics to sell the Christian life. Look how things have progressed over the last five decades or even the last few years.

Men are peddling cultural and casual Christianity just as they were in Paul’s day, Tozer’s day, and now our day. Men who teach and preach the Word of God…those who belong to Him know better. Paul had a message of our perilous condition of our heart before a holy God. Brokenness, humility, repentance, and holy living was paramount in his preaching. Here is what he wrote:

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

The Christian life isn’t a commodity to be marketed. We must tell people the truth about God, His kingdom, eternity, and the eternal danger they are in. This message and this alone will cause some to come to repentance and a saving faith in Jesus. No amount of entertainment, programs, growth strategies, or positive thinking seminars masquerading as church will do this.

Please share this article with others and especially with those who are mired in soft sell cultural Christianity. It’s a loving thing to warn others about false teachers and the prevailing bent toward the social, ecumenical, and prosperity gospel so widespread today. The days are dark and Jesus is coming soon. Maranatha.