Dr. Robert Smith was interviewed by Art Azurdia in the current issue of the Spurgeon Fellowship Journal. Dr. Smith serves as Professor of Christian Preaching at Beeson Divinity School and was a pastor of the New Mission Missionary Baptist Church for twenty years.
I think that too many churches in America pattern the Athenian congregation. I think you are either an Athenian entity or a Beroean entity. Acts 17:11 says that the Beroeans heard Paul preach and daily examined the Scriptures to see whether or not what he said was so. They welcomed his message with eagerness, appreciating his preaching and critiquing it. They didn’t trust it just because he said it. They went home, read it, and checked it out so that they could grow and internalize the message. They could say they believed not only because Paul said it, but because they discovered it to be true upon their examination of the Scriptures. Now, that’s what I think the church needs to be . . . so biblically saturated that it’s not enough to be in church, hear the word and study the word, but to go home and to be a Beroen Christian who consumes that word so it becomes part of them and so they will not be carried away by every wind of doctrine. On the other hand, you could also be an Athenian congregation. Acts 17:21 says that the Athenians did nothing all day long but to listen for something that was new . . . fads, novelties, theological innovations, tricks, and gimmicks. I think that’s where too many preachers/churches are. We are more Athenian. You’ve seen it – people trying to make relevant that which can never be irrelevant. By trying to be relevant we relativize the gospel and so I want to push pastors to be Beroean pastors and congregations to be Beroean churches – not Athenians! Also, I think we tend to be more reactionary. We’re reactant to every crisis and felt needs and what we think people want to hear – what is popular in culture. In the words of H. Richard Niebuhr, “If it’s Christ against culture, the folk don’t want to hear it. It’s not popular and we can’t fill our churches.” Less people means less money, and so we wind up no longer having churches, but Sunday clubs where people come to meet and enjoy and socialize and where no one gets offended. There is no scandalous, cutting, penetrating thrust in the gospel. It is no longer a two-edged sword. It is not an any-edged sword! If there’s an edge to it it’s been blunted. We’re no longer affected. And so I think we need to avoid being reactionary. On the contrary, I think we need to be pre-actionary. Before any action takes place I think we need to be in the advance guard, up-front leading the way since we already know we’re victorious and Christ is Lord. This is His battle – we ought to take it to the gates of hell. Of course, for so long we’ve interpreted that text in Matthew 16:18 as if we are on the defense. But we are on the offence. Gates don’t come up from the ground and come after us. We go to the kingdom. And so I think we need to be pre-actionary, offensive, the kingdom of God comes through violence I think we need to be that and stop being so defensive and frightened. It may cost some blood and some loss of life. But God is on God’s side and if we are on God’s side God will answer. The prosperity theology is very crucial and we are catering to what people want. These are the things that threaten the gospel. You see it in Scripture – it’s not just the 21st century. Ray Stedman once said that the New Testament is not twenty centuries old, but one century old repeated twenty times. And that’s so true. We’re on different terms in a different context seeing the same thing.