During his 1907 Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching at Yale University* (these lectures became his classic Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind), Forsyth shared the three ways in which he thought the Church suffers: i. from triviality. ii. from uncertainty. iii. from satisfaction (with itself, or more specifically, complacency).
He later went on in that address to emerging pastors and preachers to make this statement: “What we need is not the dechurching of Christianity, but the Christianizing of the Church.” This was his answer to the three ways the church suffers. But how was this to happen? Here’s what he said and he may well have been speaking yesterday:
We (preachers and theologians) need to “revive the faith of the Churches in what made them churches; to turn them from the ill-found sentiment which had sapped faith; to re-open their eyes to the meaning of their own salvation; to rectify their Christian charity (love?) by more concern for Christian truth; to banish the amiable religiosity which had taken possession of them in the name of Christian love; and to restore some sense, not only of love’s severity, but of the unsparing moral mordancy in the Cross and its judgement, which means salvation to the uttermost; to recreate an experience of redemption, both profound and poignant…”
As Pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, we surely need to hear this word again. To remind ourselves again and again what we are here for and for whom. I remember being asked prior to being inducted and ordained at the church I currently serve, what my plans were for the church. A simple and straight forward question it seemed, caused me to suddenly become aware of the entrenched programmatic, not to mention pragmatic activist mindset the Western Church was (is) in. “My plans,” I said, “are simply to remind the church of the Gospel in any and every way possible.”
We don’t “do the Gospel then move on.” We stay in the Gospel, preaching, proclaiming, heralding the Good News that in Christ, God was reconciling himself to the world. The Gospel is the answer to the three ways the Church suffers, and the Gospel banishes the nonsense that is amiable religiosity.
* These and other fascinating details about P. T. Forsyth were found in Jason Goroncy’s (ed.) brilliant introduction to a collection of sermons by Forsyth throughout a very interesting ministry: Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History – notes from the pulpit ministry of P. T. Forsyth. The ‘Prophet of the Cross’ is still speaking today. Thank God!