Category Archives: Worldliness
Peter Kreeft writes that the following excerpt from C. S. Lewis, “contains the most important and enlightening single statement about our civilization that I have ever read.”
C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, page 77:
There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the “wisdom” of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.
If the Enlightenment helped the modern world discard notions of original sin and moral absolutes, it also uprooted the foundations of truth and goodness. Unlike the Medieval era, all we have left are vague political and psychological notions of what works efficiently. Technology has replaced religion as our civilization’s summum bonum. Naturalism has replaced supernaturalism. Subjectivism has defined a new age of moral relativity.
Explains Timothy Keller in The Reason For God, page 71:
In ancient times it was understood that there was a transcendent moral order outside the self, built in to the fabric of the universe. If you violated that metaphysical order there were consequences just as severe as if you violated physical reality by placing your hand in a fire. The path of wisdom was to learn to live in conformity with this unyielding reality. That wisdom rested largely in developing qualities of character, such as humility, compassion, courage, discretion, and loyalty.
Modernity reversed this. Ultimate reality was seen not so much as a supernatural order but as the natural world, and that was malleable. Instead of trying to shape our desires to fit reality, we now seek to control and shape reality to fit our desires. The ancients looked at an anxious person and prescribed spiritual character change. Modernity talks instead about stress-management techniques.
In 1670 Puritan William Greenhill (1591–1671) published his long sermon: “Being against the Love of the World.” Our friends at Reformation Heritage Books will reprint the sermon next year under the title Stop Loving the World. This excerpt is pulled from the forthcoming title, pages 71–72 (posted with permission):
If you would have your heart removed from the things of the word, behold the crucified and glorified Lord Jesus Christ.
Set Christ crucified often before your eyes, and look on Him with the eye of faith. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). That is, “I look on Christ crucified, and by the eye of faith I can see Him hanging there, and all the glory of the world stained there. Is all the world comparable to Christ? There is the King, the High Priest, the Mediator, the great Prophet. There is the Heir of the world crucified. There is His blood running down. He has laid down His life for sinners, and to take my heart off from the world.” If you look on a dead man, it deadens your spirit. What will looking on Christ do then? It will deaden your heart toward the world if you look on Jesus Christ crucified. “I am crucified to the world,” said Paul.
Then look on Christ glorified, and your heart will be raised above the world. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1–2). Christ has died, risen, and gone to glory. If now you are risen out of the state of sin, transferred from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, you will have your heart where Christ is. Consider Christ in this way: “There is my Head, my King, my Husband. There is my Redeemer, the one who is a thousand times better than the world. Therefore, I will not set my heart on things of the earth, but on things above. How glorious it is to see the King in His glory!”
Look much, and consider much of Christ crucified and glorified.
Craig M. Gay, in his book The Way of the (Modern) World: Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live As If God Doesn’t Exist (Eerdmans, 1998), seeks to expose the symptoms of worldliness in the postmodern world. The organization of the book is quite thoughtful and the author builds a new theme off the previously theme, eventually tying all the themes together.
In a very basic form, the book develops around five progressive building blocks:
(a) Control—Man seeks to control his world through technology and rationalism. By this he refers to the impulse in the postmodern heart to control every area of life through technology, not merely to improve certain areas of life.
(b) Secularity—The aspirations of the modern man to this techno-rational control of the world leave little room for any god, save the “self-defining self.” God—if ever referenced at all—becomes a “god of the gaps,” a god whose necessity is limited to the areas of life that are outside of our control. Think “acts of god.”
(c) Individualism—The forces of control and secularity combine to encourage individualization, a fix-it-yourself mentality that breaks apart personal relationships and community.
(d) Anxiety—Man becomes an individualized self. But “the assumption of godlike responsibilities has turned out to be a heavy burden and that we have become increasingly anxious beneath the weight of this burden” (p. 308).
(e) Impatience—Combine control, secularity, individualism, and the anxiety from these godlike responsibilities and you end up with “what is possibly the master theme of modernity, and now of ‘postmodernity’: that of impatience” (p. 308).
This progression is helpful. And when the author begins to weave together the anxious impatience of our world his work really proves practical. Because, as Christians, we are called to cultivate an eschatological worldview and the spiritual disciplines of waiting and watching, distinctives directly undermined by modern forms of worldliness. I will leave the topics of prayer and community is for another post altogether.
I mention the five building blocks of his book because it provides an introduction to an important quote from the conclusion on the topic of “anxious impatience.” Gay writes:
…anxious impatience is evident in virtually all aspects of modern social and cultural existence, and not least in the increasingly frantic pace with which so much of life is carried on today. It is largely by reason of impatient frustration, after all, that we have been persuaded to try to perform the functions of the hidden—and, indeed, seemingly absent—God.
“God is either unwilling or incapable of helping us,” we say in effect, “therefore we have no choice but to help ourselves, to take matters into our own hands, and to try to engineer a habitable environment for ourselves.” Ironically, it is this same anxious impatience that has consequently moved us to surrender ourselves so naively to the dehumanizing techniques of the modern world.
Indeed, it is anxious haste that has incited us to mortgage ourselves to technical rationality for the sake of its promise of control. “After we have taken control of the world,” so we tell ourselves, implying that taking control of the world must somehow enable us to take control of ourselves, “then we will discover how to be human persons again.” But the horizon keeps receding, and we always seem to be waiting for the promised control to be established.
The longer we are forced to wait, however, the more anxious we become; and the more anxious we become, the more prone we are to placing what little hope we have left into the possibility of technical-rational control, and thus to giving ourselves over to dehumanizing modern systems; and so forth. It is an unfortunately vicious cycle.
Modern secular society is thus a culture of anxious impatience, a culture in which so much stress has been placed upon human abilities and human agency that the modern mind has effectively lost the ability to trust anything, or more importantly anyone, else.
—Craig M. Gay, The Way of the (Modern) World: Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live As If God Doesn’t Exist (Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 310–311.
So it’s not difficult to see why our postmodern culture find it difficult to understanding the value of faith, why it finds trusting in God difficult, why it’s unlikely that man waits patiently for God to lead and act, and how the cultural assumptions impinges upon God and distracts the heart by anxious impatience. Even as Christians, we feel the weight of this unbelief, this worldliness.
And so if you are looking for a book to help make sense of the modern world and to expose the subtleties of worldliness (and its costs), this book is an excellent—albeit studious—starting point.
“’I have crucified the world,’ says Paul.
That word, the world, is used in Scripture with varying meanings. Sometimes it stands simply for the numbers of our fellow men and women round about us. And, in that sense, God loves the world—the foolish, ailing, blundering, kindly, human, stumbling world—loves it well enough to give His Son for it. And we must learn to love it too.
But often the world means that vague, dim, ever-present, threatening mass of things inimical to the soul; the currents that sweep one away from what is high and true and unselfish; the pressure of the crowd about us tending to carry us along with it into the customary, the mean, the earthy; the throng of interests that crowd our minds and leave no room for Christ.
Whatever robs God of our allegiance, whatever cheats us out of our inheritance in Him, whatever drags us down and back, that is the world; not necessarily anything evil in itself—that is more the flesh and the devil—but just the fullness of life, the rush of things, the babble of affairs, our dreams and hopes and ambitions and desires. Matters quite harmless, even true and beautiful in themselves, can grow into one’s world.
A man’s home, says Christ, can become his world—even the wonderful gift of human love! For he may sink back luxuriously into that, grow soft and flabby and self-indulgent, and forget that those about him need his help.
Or a man’s business, it seems, can become his world; though surely we are given our talents to use and not to let them rust. Yet we can grow so one-idead, so absorbed in it, that ‘getting and spending we lay waste our powers’; and the soul forgotten, left untended, sinks and flickers, and goes out.
Our success can become our world, and we intemperate for more and more and more of it. If anything is crowding God out of your life, if anything is making you throw aside the dreams and hopes and high purposes with which you started as quite obviously impracticable, if anything is convincing you that of course Jesus’ teaching is mere poetry that can’t be taken seriously, and is not meant for literal obedience, that is the world for you. And it is through things like that that souls are mostly lost. The flesh and the devil are open enemies. But the world is far more subtle and insidious and deadly….
You, too, will have to pass through Vanity Fair; and at every booth eager hucksters will thrust their tawdry nothings into your face, and plead and press for custom. You also must meet Madam Bubble with her many-colored wares, how beautiful, and yet a touch, and they have vanished. You can’t evade the ordeal. ‘I pray,’ said Christ, ‘not that Thou shouldest take then out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.’
We must live in the world, must do our part to keep the great earth spinning round and round. But we must not be of it, must not drift into adopting its aims, its ends, its standards, its ambitions, its methods and ways.
And not to do so is so hard.”
—Arthur John Gossip, The Galilean Accent (T&T Clark, 1926), 144—146.
Craig M. Gay in his book The Way of the (Modern) World: Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live As If God Doesn’t Exist argues that worldliness is life severed from daily dependence upon God. In part Gay argues that worldliness is exposed whenever we grow anxiously impatient. Why? The reason is simple.
In the modern world we grow familiar with technological advancement. As the innovations multiply we are increasingly capable of controlling the world we live. Or so we think. Convinced we have harnessed some level of control, we actually become godlike, bearing a divine weight that none of us, not all of us collectively, can carry. And although we are surrounded by evidence that our techno-rational control of the world is insufficient, we are not quick to turn to God but ironically we are prone to look for further control of the world, which further roots our modern hope in technology. This in turn heaps a further weight of responsibility upon our finite shoulders.
Thus by channeling our anxious impatience into further technology we are left with an eroding theology that refuses to wait upon God. We find in the midst of technological advancement—which itself is a gift of God—that no matter how much control of the world we believe we have achieved we cannot free ourselves from anxious impatience.
In fact our anxious impatience drives us deeper into what Gay calls “the dehumanizing techniques of the modern world” (p. 310). As we praise human potential we are, in fact, praising technological advance. As we praise technology we grow increasingly impersonal. As we become increasingly impersonal we become incapable of trusting in anyone, certainly not a god. Thus the modern man finds it impossible to trust patiently in God, impossible to walk by faith and not sight, and is found to be clutching a worldview that is not nourished by a healthy anticipation of Christ’s return. Our anxious impatience in the modern world is a signal that (to some degree) we have given up on our faith and trust in God and no longer patiently anticipate His timing.
Please do not misunderstand. Technology is not itself sinful or wrong. I believe technology is a gift of God’s common grace. However when we find ourselves growing impatient and anxious in this world we should be concerned that our appreciation for technology has overstepped its role and has displaced God. Anxious impatience is a signal that we seek to control our world and our own lives. Thus when anxious impatience appears in our hearts, it should be truthfully interpreted as a manifestation of God-ignoring worldliness. Only by grace and a firm faith in God can we be freed from the anxious impatience of the modern world.
A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness
by Jeremiah Burroughs
Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) is one of my favorite Puritan authors and (I dare say) one of the most overlooked.
In his extensive writings, Burroughs authored a very helpful book on discerning worldliness in a book now titled A Treatise on Earthly -Mindedness. It was retypeset and edited by Don Kistler and published in 1991 by Soli Deo Gloria.
Burroughs builds his argument from Paul’s sobering ‘enemies of the Cross’ statement — “their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:19-20).
Burroughs first discerns the seriousness and dangers of worldly thinking (pp. 3-92). His goal in this first section is to call this earthly-mindedness what it really is – adultery, idolatry and enmity. This earthly-mindedness suffocates the work of grace, opens the soul to further temptations (1 Tim. 6:9), stifles the hearing of preaching, breeds foolish lusts in the soul, spreads roots for future apostasy, deadens the heart for prayer, dishonors God, hinders our preparations for death, and ultimately drowns the soul into perdition.
The second section covers the implications of our citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and is filled with helpful practical advice on to living as foreigners in our sojourning through life on earth (pp. 93-178). This theme continues in the final section which helps discern what walking with God looks like in everyday life (pp. 179-259). The final chapter contains very useful wisdom on walking with God when His presence seems distant (pp. 254-259).
Throughout his works, Burroughs avoided a common Puritan pitfall. The Puritans frequently narrowed in so tightly on a particular topic that surrounding contexts and connections were forgotten. It’s not uncommon to read a Puritan on the topic of sin continue on and on without any mention of the Cross, God’s grace, and living in freedom and victory over sin. Even some of the great Puritan classics (such as the works of Richard Baxter and The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal) woefully assume the Cross.
Burroughs is quite the opposite. He’s hardly begun a lengthy diagnosis of worldliness in the heart before breaking into a short digression on the glorious work of grace in conversion (pp. 29-30)! This work of God transforms enemies of the Cross into those who now have quickened souls. Those once veiled by sin and blinded by the world now see the light of God’s glory! We are new creatures, creatures no longer content with worldliness but now transcending the circumstances of the world and clinging to eternal hope. This new life enlarges our heart and our spiritual appetite becomes so large that no earthly means could fill it. This grace severs our grip on the world, and we begin to experience God’s sanctifying grace in our souls. For Burroughs, even when discovering the depth and darkness of sinfulness in the heart, God’s grace is ever in view.
With careful pastoral balance, Burroughs encourages us to pursue excellence in our earthly calling, while exhorting us to carefully avoid the snares of worldly-mindedness.
“Considering what has been delivered, I beseech you, lay it seriously upon your heart, especially you who are young beginners in the way of religion, lest it proves to be with you as it has with many who are digging veins of gold and silver underground. While they are digging in those mines for riches, the earth, many times, falls upon them and buries them, so that they never come up out of the mine again. … Keep wide open some place to heaven, or otherwise, if you dig too deep, noxious gas vapors will come up from the earth, if it doesn’t fall on you first. There will be noxious gas vapors to choke you if there is not a wide hole to let in the air that comes from heaven to you. Those who are digging in mines are very careful to leave a place open for fresh air to come in. And so, though you may follow your calling and do the work God sets you here for as others do, be as diligent in your calling as any. But still keep a passage open to heaven so that there may be fresh gales of grace come into your soul” (p. 85).
Fitting of Burrough’s classic, Soli Deo Gloria published A Treatise on Earthly -Mindedness with an attractive dust-jacketed, durable cloth cover and Smyth-sewn binding. It’s an excellent work for those of us who sometimes find ourselves surrounded by the cares of this world, asphyxiating on temporal toxins rather than breathing fresh grace.
Title: A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness
Author: Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646)
Editor: Don Kistler
Reading level: 2.0/5.0 > easy thanks to excellent editing (includes nice section and subpoint headings)
Boards: hardcover, embossed
Dust jacket: yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: no (would have been very useful)
Scriptural index: no (would have been very useful)
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Ligonier; Soli Deo Gloria
Year: original ed., 1649; edited ed., 1991
Price USD: $18.00 from Ligonier
Our friends over at 10:31 Sermon Jams are getting ready to launch a new and improved Website next week and with it comes the release of their 4th volume of sermon jams. And they keep getting better! Over the coming days at TSS we’ll be giving you some exclusive access to songs from the new volume.
This first one, War, comes from John Piper’s sermon on Romans 8:10-17 (his ministry will always be equated in my mind with thunder):
“I hear so many Christians murmuring about their imperfections and their failures and their addictions and their short-comings, And I see so little war! ‘Murmur, murmur, murmur… Why am I this way?’ MAKE WAR!”
Ed Welch: “There is a mean streak to authentic self-control. Self-control is not for the timid. When we want to grow in it, not only do we nurture an exuberance for Jesus Christ, we also demand of ourselves a hatred for sin. The only possible attitude toward out-of-control desire is a declaration of all-out war. There is something about war that sharpens the senses. You hear a twig snap or the rustling of leaves and you are in attack mode. Someone coughs and you are ready to pull the trigger. Even after days of little or no sleep, war keeps us vigilant.”
Lessons from the life of John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom was nicknamed “Golden Mouth” and stands as one of the most famous Greek preachers in church history. I return to his life frequently to be reminded of some golden lessons.
1. Earnest education in the grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture. Plaguing the exegesis of the early church preachers (the Patristics) is an allegorical interpretation of Scripture. The move away from allegorical to the grammatical-historical was attempted by several but matured primarily under the scholarship of Diodore of Tarsus and it was this man who passed this method of interpretation to Chrysostom in Antioch. Contrary to most schools, the Atiochene school was “built on a method of interpretation rather than a theological tendency” (Old, Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, 2:169).
Training in the grammatical-historical method shows itself clearly in the fruits of Chrysostom’s preaching, reflecting a high view of the authority of Scripture. “The preaching of the Word of God is authoritative and efficacious because it is God’s Word, not the preacher’s. Here is the foundation of the passion and the power of great preaching. It is for this reason that the great preachers have preached and their congregations have heard them” (Old, 2:185). Only a conviction of Scripture’s authority forces the preacher to interpret carefully. Chrysostom held a high view of Scripture.
2. Secular liberal arts education. Amazingly, Chrysostom was both educated by one of the great Christian exegetes of his era and one of the great secular orators. His widowed (but wealthy) mother sent John to study under Libanius, a pagan professor famed for his rhetorician in Constantinople and Nicomedia. It seems to be an odd decision for a Christian mother but the fruit of this secular learning – a strong imagination, skills in clear communication and a powerful literary talent – are all evident throughout John’s later work (see our excerpt on spiritual warfare from last week). Hughes Oliphant Old writes, “Metaphors and similes seem to come to this preacher all quite naturally and without the least sort of effort” (Old, 2:193).
This blending of the secular/pagan and Christian educations was beneficial. Getting good exegetical and theological training is obvious. But those seeking to preach are encouraged to also seek a secular degree in liberal arts, too. “One of the reasons John Chrysostom achieve such distinction as a preacher was because he mastered both classical oratory as it was so brilliantly taught by Libanius and the principles of biblical interpretation as taught with no less luster by Diodore” (Old, 2:172). The diversity of training provides the preacher excellent skills in critical thinking, communicating in general and specifically in speaking the Gospel to fellow classmates who represent the diverse colors of culture (homosexual worldview, humanism, naturalism, atheism, agnosticism, theological liberalism, feminism, etc.).
3. Preaching against the sins of culture. In our day, when church-going Christians are in the minority, we are told the church should resemble the world in order to get non-Christians in the door. Chrysostom knew better. Christianity in his time was also the minority, lived among a majority of pagans in Antioch. Crowds of pagans would gather to hear good oratory and so Chrysostom’s sermons were well-attended by non-Christians. This did not stop him from taking the cultural sins and idols head-on. And he encouraged his people to live differently than the culture around them, to evangelize their neighbors by their actions before evangelizing with words. Chrysostom encourages us to evangelize our culture by being radically different.
4. Fighting worldliness. Chrysostom wrote on the topic of fasting: “Fasting is, as much as lies in us, an imitation of the angles, a contemning of things present, a school of prayer, a nourishment of the soul, a bridle of the mouth, an abatement of concupiscence: it mollifies rage, it appeases anger, it calms the tempests of nature, it excites reason, it clears the mind, it disburthens the flesh, it chases away night-pollutions, it frees from head-ache. By fasting, a man gets composed behaviour, free utterance of his tongue, right apprehensions of his mind.” Chrysostom understood the benefits of fasting and taught his people to prefer godly sorrow over worldly joy. John challenged his congregation to fast as an offensive against the idol-saturated Antioch. His asceticism and preaching against extravagance infuriated emperor Arcadius and his wife Eudoxia. Despite the mocking of the day, great and earnest preachers perceive the sinfulness of worldliness and warn souls.
5. Preaching plainly. I don’t suggest that John was a plain preacher. He was trained under one of the greatest Pagan orators in Libanius and his sermons bear the watermark of oratorical greatness. Whether a true offer or not, it is said Libanius eyed his prized student Chrysostom as his replacement. Obviously, Chrysostom could have preached with the greatest eloquence of his age. However, he chose rather to open Scripture in a simple manner, accessible to all of his hearers. “His plainness of speech gave great offense to the beautiful and imperious Eudoxia, the worldly consort of Arcadius. This hatred of the empress and the envy and anger of many of the clergy were the causes of Chrysostom’s deposition and banishment” (Dargan, A History of Preaching, 1:90).
Chrysostom preached to sinners in the “real world.” He touched understood the lives of his hearers, he was experientially sensitive and these qualities made a great impact. “The Shakespeare of preachers has not appeared,” John Broadus wrote in 1907. “But why should he not some day appear? One who can touch every chord of human feeling, treat every interest of human life, draw illustration from every object and relation of the known universe, and use all to gain acceptance and obedience for the gospel of salvation. No preacher has ever come nearer this than Chrysostom, perhaps none, on the whole, so near” (Broadus, Lectures on the History of Preaching, p. 78).
6. Late start. Chrysostom, who died at 60, took to the pulpit in Antioch at the age of 39. He had been educated in the Liberal Arts, worked in law and served as a deacon for several years. He had many years of Christian service behind him and a great knowledge of the world when he rose to the primary preacher in Antioch. But he was also a considerably old man when he got his start. This teaches preachers a bit about patience. You may know God has called you to preach His Word but now you are in school or working a secular job or otherwise wondering what God has in store. Chrysostom reminds us that God’s timing may come later than we want but He is sovereignly preparing us for ministry no matter where we are. We are called to commune with God and experience life in the “real world” in preparation for our future tasks. John Broadus writes, “In our impatient age and country, when so many think time spent in preparation is time lost, it is well to remember that the two most celebrated preachers of the early Christian centuries began to preach, Chrysostrom at thirty-nine, and Augustine at thirty-six” (Broadus, p. 76). Nearly 40 years of preparation for 18 years of fruitful ministry (12 years in Antioch and 6 in Constantinople). However in these 18 years, Chrysostom preached daily and only Spurgeon has left more sermons in print. Be patient in the preparation.
7. Sensitive to the cultural events. One of the most powerful experiences of Chrysostom’s ministry in Antioch occurred in 386. The people believing emperor Theodosius was overtaxing them rioted and destroyed imperial statues in the Antioch. Such an act brought swift and harsh response from the emperor including many arrests and killings. Even before the reprisal took place, the people knew they had sinned and were in deep trouble.
Amidst the upheaval in Antioch as the city awaited certain reprisal from the emperor, Chrysostom asked his city who they feared more. Do they fear the wrath of the emperor more than the wrath of God?
Chrysostom immediately began preaching sermons we now know as the “Sermons on the Statues” and initiated a 40 day fast for the city. Of his sermon content we are told, “At one time his object here is to console a people struggling with present distress; at another, to strengthen minds that were sinking under the extremity of danger; and above all, by repeated admonition, to persuade the people of Antioch, on occasion of the threatened calamities, to correct the vices and to wipe away the crimes that had thus provoked God’s wrath; which endeavor on the part of Chrysostom certainly ended in results agreeable to his desire, as he sometimes acknowledges” (Preface to the Benedictine edition).
In one sermon Chrysostom said,
“How then is it any thing but absurd, to submit to the greatest hardships, when an Emperor enjoins it; but when God commands nothing grievous nor difficult, but what is very tolerable and easy, to despise or to deride it, and to advance custom as an excuse? Let us not, I entreat, so far despise our own safety, but let us fear God as we fear man. I know that ye shudder at hearing this, but what deserves to be shuddered at is that ye do not pay even so much respect to God; and that whilst ye diligently observe the Emperor’s decrees, ye trample under foot those which are divine, and which have come down from heaven; and consider diligence concerning these a secondary object. For what apology will there be left for us, and what pardon, if after so much admonition we persist in the same practices.”
Chrysostom, like Jesus, used the climate of the day to point souls towards the holiness and wrath of God and to encourage repentance (Luke 13:1-5)? When preachers today use 9/11, tsunamis and hurricanes to point souls towards God they walk in the pattern set by Christ and followed by Chrysostom. So preachers, take advantage of the times. Be acquainted with the conditions of your culture and put them to use spiritually in calling sinners to repentance.
8. Preaching as a prophet calling God’s people to repentance. Chrysostom did not hesitate to call professing Christians to repentance. In this sense he was prophetic. “One can hardly avoid the observation that if he was everything a Greek orator was supposed to be, he was also everything a Hebrew prophet was supposed to be. With all the passion of Elijah he confronted God’s people with their sins; with all the eloquence of Isaiah he called his congregation to repentance” (Old, 2:195). This certainly flows from an understanding of the age he preached and the specific temptations of his people. The great preachers seek to pull their congregation out of their sins to humble them and lead them to the Cross. A failure to lead a church out of a particular sin leads to serious corporate troubles (see Rev. 2:1-3:22).
9. Errors. Chrysostom leaves a great legacy to follow but not without errors. While watching the busy city of Antioch, John “sharpened that penetrating knowledge of human nature,” but would later move to a monastery, a decision that would certainly hamper his (and his followers) sensitivity to the surrounding culture (Broadus, p. 73). While not allegorizing, he is known for twisting passages to suit his own needs. His emphasis on celibacy, transubstantiation, monasticism are all quite unfortunate though compared to his contemporaries Chrysostom held a cautious and discerning Mariology.
But most unfortunate, Chrysostom said far more about ethics and works than about Christ and redemption in the Cross. Too frequently readers of his sermons will find only momentary glimpses of the Cross. Were it not for his concluding benediction, Jesus Christ would be altogether absent from many of his sermons.
It does no good making a list of errors if we don’t humbly recognize we have our own. Church history repeats one general theme: Even the greatest preacher will not escape the errors of his day. We take lessons from Chrysostom’s life tempered with the sober reality that the Patristic era of church history contains many grievous errors. It will prove beneficial to pray and ask God this question: What errors of my age – those errors commonly held by my friends and associates – what of these errors have I unknowingly fallen? The errors which seem so obvious centuries later go unseen at the time.
The beauty of history is that we take the good and leave the bad. From the fruit of Chrysostom’s life we can return to our ministries with a basket filled with rich lessons.
[For more information on the preaching of John Chrysostom see Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, vol. 2, The Patristic Age (Eerdmans: 1998) pp. 167-222.]