Home > Theology > Well-intentioned but bad preachers (“Is Jesus the ONLY way?”)

Well-intentioned but bad preachers (“Is Jesus the ONLY way?”)

What defines a “bad preacher”? Is there some objective standard by which to judge, or is it all a matter of personal taste? If it’s the latter, then I admit that based on my subjective preferences, most preachers in churches today would qualify as bad preachers.

People who know me might tell you that I am not always the most cuddly and warm person. I don’t think I’m a total jerk either, and I’m certainly working on my heart issues, but I can tend to be critical still. There was a time when I would try out different churches and leave after a few weeks based on irksome things the pastors would do.

Some wouldn’t do their research well enough and would simply commit factual errors. I once went to a church where the pastor was on a roll, shouting out various praises to God, and the congregation gleefully followed. He would shout things like, “God is good! Just like when he helped Christopher Columbus find America in 1592! Just as he helped your car to start this morning!” (It was 1492, sir, and your car probably started because the parts were in working condition.)

Some would have annoying habits, like saying “Amen?” after every statement. It seemed almost like half-neediness for approval and half-nervous tick. “And then Paul went on that road, amen? And suddenly, amen? A great light came upon him, amen?” In addition to being distracting, it made me feel nervous and guilty for not constantly affirming vocally.

Many preachers state things that are way too obvious and simple. I end up walking out feeling like I’ve learned nothing and feeling convicted of nothing. I understand that it’s hard to cater your message to a congregation where everyone is of different spiritual walks, education levels, ages, and so forth…so it’s hard to fault them too heavily.

All of these are subjective (though I still maintain that God deserves better credibility and a higher level of scholarship throughout). Maybe it’s just me, and maybe I’m the cynical one in the crowd. But there is one litmus test (out of many) I use that helps me discern who is objectively a sound preacher.

It’s how they respond to a simple question: “Is there only one way to be saved?”

As a Bible-believing Christian, the answer to this question seems terribly obvious. It’s like asking whether Jesus really died on the cross and rose again.

Disturbingly, a large number of preachers waffle on this. Instead of a direct “yes,” they start tap-dancing like a politician. Perhaps it stems from a desire to be mainstream and popular. Perhaps it’s the desire not to offend anyone and to be a polite, open-minded fellow. Sometimes, it’s clearly the fact that they are not grounded in scripture, but rather their own ideas and experiences.

To me, if the preacher gives anything but an unambiguous “yes” to this question, he has lost a great deal of my respect. If he cannot have the courage of his convictions on this straightforward matter, how can I trust him as a credible source of spiritual truth and guidance? I realize that sometimes, things are open to interpretation and we shouldn’t be overly dogmatic, but there is no leeway on this particular issue. People are welcome to different religions and beliefs, but if someone calls herself a Christian, she must follow what the Bible says on this issue since it is crystal clear. This is not a gray area, folks.

I can think of two clear examples of men who, by all appearances, are genuine in their desire to reach people for Christ…but they have gotten their theology dangerously off course. Not so surprisingly, both are very popular and mainstream.

Joel Osteen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsdkqd1GcfA

I’ll be upfront and say I’ve never been a fan of Osteen. He focuses almost exclusively on the prosperity gospel and shies away constantly from anything that doesn’t make people feel good. From what I’ve seen, his sermons are shocking devoid of a biblical foundation. He’ll throw in a couple of bible verses here and there to support his claims, but mostly, he sounds like he’s giving a self-help seminar based on his own ideas. A primary reason people should go to church is to hear the word of God, not the lectures of a fallible man.

When Osteen says, “only God knows,” he’s ignoring the simple fact that the Bible explicitly states that Jesus is the only way to life. True, we might not be able to discern who’s a “real” believer and who’s really going to heaven among “Christians” (I can say with certainty, however, that it’s nowhere near the purported 2 billion people). But we can say for sure that if what the Bible says is true, people who don’t believe in Jesus will not be saved. There are no back doors, I’m afraid, and Joel Osteen should know this simple fact by now.

Billy Graham: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axxlXy6bLH0

I must say, this one actually saddens me. Billy Graham is one of the most prolific evangelists of modern times, and no one can doubt his sincerity. However, one telling admission that he makes in this video is that he used to insist that Jesus is the only way when he was younger…but then as he got older, he mellowed out. It seems that as he became gentler, he allowed his feelings to dictate what he believes on certain points, rather than scripture.

I also have a theory that part of the reason why some preachers find it so hard to accept that nonbelievers are going to hell if they don’t accept Christ is because they face situations in their ministry where the idea of eternal torment no longer sits well with them. I wish I could ask them to consider the no-compromise conditionalist view and see if it makes more sense, but I digress.

If you’re curious, my church pastor was indeed asked this important question by a Fox News interviewer. It’s kind of funny to see him on a TV program like this and he was clearly a bit nervous haha…but I love the way he answers. He shows that it’s possible to give a respectful, gentle answer without compromising the truth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wjj-y7SKR0. Way to represent, brother.

**By the way, I just realized today that he’s written a book about pain and suffering. I always wondered why he didn’t author something, but I guess I just wasn’t informed. Check it out: http://www.amazon.com/Brokenness-How-Redeems-Pain-Suffering/dp/0976377004/ref=pd_sxp_f_pt

Some good reviews:

“This book will prove to be a valuable resource indeed, for anyone who has experienced pain and suffering.” –Dr. Tim LaHaye, co-author Left Behind series, April 2005

“If you need encouragement and strength, Brokenness will help you through the difficult times from someone who has been there.” –Dr. Jerry Falwell, Pastor Thomas Road Baptist Church, April 2005

“When Lon Solomon writes a book on Brokenness, I want to read it. He knows whereof he speaks.” –David Brickner, Jews for Jesus, April 2005

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  1. michael
    June 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    It’s interesting to see a brother go down the same path.

    I’ve made the same realizations as well about these pastors and I’ve also been shocked at what some of these preachers have done and said. You observed well when you stated that Joel Osteen, Billy Graham, and Harold Camping, those who have said some questionable things, share one thing that they did not attend seminary. I can list more: Ted Haggard – sex scandal, Creflo Dollar – questionable lifestyle, Benny Hinn – adulterer, questionable lifestyle, sells indulgence-like items, and blatantly uses God’s name to manipulate people into giving money for his ministry, Joseph Prince – Prosperity Gospel, T.D Jakes – “Jesus is the product”, Peter Popoff – straight up con-man). The list can go on and on. They all have one thing in common, they all lack formal seminary training.

    Now, I’m not saying that those who did attend seminary are perfect, but there is a notable difference. Those who did go under formal theological training such as David Platt, John Piper, John Macarthur, Paul Washer, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan etc.., there is just something different between their messages and of those who did not.

    During the time when the early church was emerging after the ascension of Jesus, there were many weird theologies and philosophies going around affecting the doctrine and beliefs of those who professed faith in Jesus Christ. In the book of 1 John, there were many heretical beliefs such as that Jesus did not come in the flesh or that God the Father can be accessible without any regard to Jesus, going around and divide the church. If we start to think or wander from any of the truths of Jesus Christ then we walk in dangerous waters. If Jesus did not come in the flesh and was merely a spirit, then the gospel begins to lose credibility immediately. Anything that takes away the importance or downplays any aspect of the gospel will result the same way. In short, confusion and/or ambiguity promote disrespect of Christ’s teachings. Disrespect results in incredulity. Weak or non-belief results in a state of not abiding in Christ; not abiding in Christ = being worldly. Remember, No exclusivity of Christ means that the world no longer hates Him. We can observe this in today’s world, where everyone likes and reveres Jesus because of His works and teachings, but they don’t follow Him believing He is the Way and the Truth and the Life; the only way to salvation and eternal life. People tend to become adverse to this idea, as predicted in scripture. Check out the larry king interviews with John Macarthur.. I think it nicely portrays the world view compared to the Christian view (The Way). I was really surprised by the Catholic’s point of view in one of the interviews.

    Anyway….. sorry went off-topic a bit, but I agree. Formal seminary training and sound doctrine are extremely important.

  2. June 19, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Thank you for that well-informed and insightful comment. I could not agree more with everything you said! I really wish it was some kind of formal requirement for a church pastor to get a seminary degree before taking the reins…most professions require some kind of formal training or certification, so why shouldn’t pastors be held to the same standard? If anything, this is a more urgent and dangerous oversight considering that people’s souls could be at stake here.

  3. Anonymous
    February 2, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    i normally don’t comment on stupidity, but as you critique these ministers, tell me your history and what are you doing for the gospel ?….

    • Joe
      February 2, 2013 at 11:49 pm

      Fair question, and despite the obvious rudeness, I’ll answer in this way:

      – this is a blog and I’m entitled to my opinions
      – a person doesn’t need to do more than another to critique someone. By your logic, no one could ever criticize or advise a President, critics couldn’t say anything about an accomplished actor’s work, a coach couldn’t correct a very gifted athlete, etc.
      – when a preacher isn’t biblical, we have every right to call them out on it. Do you suggest we blindly follow someone based on their credentials? Especially when they’re potentially doing a lot of unintentional harm?

      What’s your point exactly?

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