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What You Win Them With, You Win Them To

March 26, 2007

This is a clever little aphorism that I have preached more than once.  It means to say that if you water down the message of Jesus to reach a larger audience, you better be careful, because whatever message you sell them is the one to which they’ll be converted.  So if you tell them come to Jesus because he’ll heal your inner child, then whenever they feel their inner child is still unhealed, they’ll reject Jesus.  Or if you tell them to come to Jesus because he’ll give you great friends at His church, then they’ll bolt whenever they find out that some of Jesus’ followers are still jerks.  Or if you tell them that if they believe in Jesus we’ll provide them with quality programs for their kids, then they’ll be very demanding about the quality of programs for their kids.  Or, as AW Tozer said more than fifty years ago, “if they come for the potato salad, you better make a lot of potato salad.”

It’s a good point.  It preaches well.  But, as elder EN has suggested, maybe it isn’t true.  How many of us were in fact regenerated to true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ through a watered-down-promise-you-things-not-promised-in-Scripture gospel message?  This is certainly not to advocate preaching bait and switch messages, but perhaps we are denigrating the sovereign grace of God with this flippant little saying.  The fact is that many people preach the gospel with the shameful aids of free bicycle giveaways and people still get saved anyway.  Why?  Because the gospel is the power of God and it works even when the gospel preacher is a bonehead.

What do you think? C’mon, it’s been a while since we had a healthy back and forth ’round these parts.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2007 7:59 am

    Excellent points. What we should be careful of is to preach the gospel as best as we are able. But we’re not Arminians. Salvation does not depend on our presentation to coax the person to believe. We’re Calvinists and we know that God can use imperfect means to accomplish his glorious ends.

    The aphorism is a good caution to us to remember that our techniques can fail and produce false results. But it should not be used to discount anyone’s conversion based on the quality of the presentation. That is a mechanistic view of salvation.

    Glorify God that he saves despite the weakness of his messengers!

  2. mullyboy82 permalink
    March 26, 2007 9:21 am

    Here’s a quote from a Piper message I heard that touches on this topic and was really encouraging to me:

    “We have to figure out how to celebrate the works of God’s grace to use defective people, defective theology and defective methods that produce defective fruit to His glory. We have got to have a theology that can handle that because if the only triumphs of grace that you celebrate in the world are triumphs of grace produced by perfect theology, you will not celebrate most of what God is doing. We have to figure out a way to bring our theological bent to bear upon the imperfections of methods, theologies, structures and fruits without discounting that God is in that. Somehow doing what J.I. Packer with one sentence helped me so much to understand, ‘God loves to honor the needle of truth in a haystack of error.'”

  3. March 26, 2007 10:28 am

    Wow, great quote mullyboy. Hadn’t heard that one before. Can you give us the link to the Piper sermon?

  4. mullyboy82 permalink
    March 26, 2007 10:51 am

    How to do a link . . . does this work?

    That should take you to a page with four sermons. The quote was at the end of the first sermon where he was trying to wrap things up.

  5. March 26, 2007 10:58 am

    You’re just trying to get my Truly Reformed decoder ring confiscated.

  6. March 26, 2007 2:48 pm

    I loved the Piper quote as well. But I still agree with the “What you win them..” statement has to say – but not exclusively.

    Could this statement be catagorized as a “pastoral proverb.” It’s true most of the time? It sure seems to function this way.

    Perhaps this view is dissapointing in it’s handling of God’s grace and sovereignty.

  7. March 26, 2007 4:16 pm

    Great quote, Mully, and I agree with many of the other comments here. The common problem with witty sayings is oversimplification, no? It leaves out the work of the Holy Spirit to grow people even when we may question the circumstances. Also, please forgive my incomplete analogy, but people are often satisfied with rather poor fare.

    There are plenty of people who are quite content to eat hot dogs and mac-n-cheese and McD’s and think it’s good eatin’. But if given a meal of scrumptiously prepared fresh foods, they often recognize the superior taste of the latter. Given a teacher to instruct them in nutrition and cooking, they may be abandon the salty, greasy foods for better fare or at least only return to it on occasion and realize the folly of it. In a similar way I think people can be content with mac-n-cheese churches simply b/c they haven’t seen anything else. But the Holy Spirit can stir them up to desire more and they may encounter teachers who give them a taste for more than a watered down gospel.

    I don’t think the statement is an outright falsehood, just an oversimplification that obnubilates the various possible outcomes by denying the power of the Holy Spirit.

  8. March 27, 2007 12:06 am

    Obnubilates. Very nice. I saw that word of the day on your blog. Eschew obnubilation! :-)

  9. bankruptedbynorm permalink
    March 28, 2007 5:21 pm

    It does make you realize how powerful God is to work his truth even through our weaknesses. I’m reminded of a pastor friend who told me a story of his college days. He had planned and prepared to the nth degree on making a gopsel presentation to one of his floormates. He was convinced from knowing this guy that there was no way that he would not accept Christ, cause my friend had all the right answers and comebacks for him. Needless to say he did not come to the Lord.

    Then a few weeks later, my friend, for reasons unknown, was in a totally depressed mood and just sulking in his dorm room when a different floor mate came into his room and said he was interested in Christianity. This guy knew my friend was in a Christian group and sought him out for answers. Well, my friend stumbled all over the place in trying to explain the gospel. He was quite sure that some of his presentation was completely theologically wrong. Nonetheless that floor mate came to Christ.

    So I gave up on planning gospel presentations. Problem is….no one knocks on my door wanting to know about Jesus

    So now I’m going to make presentations about invitations to wedding banquets and see how that goes. Now, do I mention that the wedding banquet serves hamburgers and macs-n-cheese; or that it has only nutritional food, but it is really, really, really GOOD nutritional food?

  10. March 30, 2007 2:56 pm

    Good points there. I like the saying, but your point is well taken – that maybe we say this and backhandedly deny God’s spvereignty in salvation. Maybe we should use this saying as well:

    “Thank God that He can draw a straight line with a crooked stick.”

    That doesn’t mean we should go around using crooked sticks, but it does mean that God uses even our confusing and incorrect speech to draw His own to Himself.

    In Him,

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