Book Review: The Savior Sensitive Church – By Paul Chappell & John Goetsch

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letter-aAnybody who’s paid attention to the happenings in the Christian church throughout the past few decades cannot help but notice the advent the megachurch, what are often popularly termed “seeker-sensitive” churches. As one might guess by the title, The Savior Sensitive Church is an attempt at rebuffing what its authors see as a detrimental mindset within the contemporary church.

The seeker-sensitive movement in this context can be seen as those churches which attempt to cater to the desires of contemporary congregants. On a light level these may simply be churches which modify their music to embrace contemporary styles or who do away with a pulpit and suit for a stool and casual wear (or at least the author would likely posit these churches as such).

On a heavier level these are churches which make pop psychology and entertainment the central aspect of the service, as opposed to the expounding of scripture and the presenting of the means of grace (ie, the sacraments, though the author wouldn’t focus on the ‘means of grace’ aspect); they are those churches which desire to fit in with the culture by creating and environment in which the natural man is not confronted with their nature.

At the root of this issue the author places the emergence of post-modernism, which he defines as that which “asserts that external absolute truth – that is a truth that is true for all people in all places at all times – cannot be known through reason or science because truth is non-existent or unattainable.” According to the authors “this relativity has led to a tolerance of any and all ways of thinking, except any thinking that declares or believes in absolute Truth. You see, the only thing that post-modern culture intolerant of is absolute Truth.” Thus, the churches attempt to create an environment tolerant of the world’s culture.

After positing post-modernism as the issue the authors then go on to designate the two types of truth which have arisen as a result: designer truth (that of the relativists) and discovered truth (that of the Christian). This is followed by an analysis of the ways in which a seeker sensitive church operates, and offers the solution of a savior sensitive church (that is, a church which focuses on catering to Christ rather than the culture). His goal is to bring back the authority of Christ in the church and to make the Gospel the center of the message, as opposed to psychology or entertainment.

At just under 100 pages this is a very easily read and easily digestible book, though chances are nobody who isn’t already in agreement with the author is going to care to read it or gain anything by the arguments presented. The book doesn’t really say anything new, though taking a few minutes to read it may help to give the reader a cursory understanding of one way in which post-modernism and the emergent movement are seen as plagues to the church, though only through the strong conservative Baptist lens which the author wears.

Memorable Quotes:

[I’m fairly certain many of these are not original to the author, simply because I recall hearing them. For instance I’ve seen the fourth quote attributed to John C. Maxwell, and I believe I’ve heard the first two from C.S. Lewis at some point…]

-“God does not believe in atheists. Man does not scoff at the Bible because he does not think there is a God or because he does not think it is true… Man scoffs at the Bible because he is walking after his own lusts.”

-“You cannot improve on ‘Thus saith the Lord.'”

-“It is not the business of the church to adapt Christ to men, but men to Christ. We must never forget our calling to bring men and women to the Savior.”

-“People do not care how much we known until they know how much we care.”

-“We must come back to the conviction that it is the Gospel, alone, that will draw men to the Savior and bring true spiritual results in the church.”

Specific Criticisms

There were a few things which came at me like a curve ball in this text, some of which I’m simply not sure how to interpret. One such statement is that “Though Baptists are not Protestant, it is interesting to note, the author of the article gave explanations for the decline of Protestantism.” This is a bit of a fuzzy assertion. While many try and trace a shaky line back to older style Anabaptists, and there may be an argument for a few baptist groups falling outside a strict definition of ‘protestant’, for all intents and purpose they’re the same thing.

Another possible criticism is of the author’s division of truth into the categories of ‘designer truth’ and ‘discovered truth’. Designer truth for the author is that truth which is formulated to fit the individual, it’s tailored to their relativistic needs. Discovered truth on the other hand is that truth which is present and eternal, simply in need of being ‘discovered’ by man. One might present a better category for the second classing, that is ‘revealed’ or ‘revelational’ truth, simply because it makes these truths not only eternal, but it makes them God’s truths (as opposed to truths which have simply been discovered by man).

Still further in offering a critique of this book is strong conservative Baptist bias which the author bring forth. This can be seen in such quotes as “Worse yet, we now want a new King James Bible, or a new International Version or a new American Standard.” As if updating our translations of the Bible (due to whatever reasons, whether because updates in scholarship or to better express the thoughts such as with the New King James) were somehow detracting from our dedication to truth. By this sort of logic the King James Bible itself should be suspect, ridiculed for being some ‘new’ version which further removes us from the original texts.

In a similar vein comes the authors critiques of music, stating that “In an effort to attract people with ungodly music, we distance them from God and defile His church with carnality. Spirit-led, Spirit-filled music will always be greatly different from the world and will in no way mimic or reproduce a secular style or feel.” Somehow the author feels that traditional hymns are somehow more Biblical than contemporary Christian music, as if the hymns weren’t simply the contemporary music of a bygone era. The author argues against the amorality of music, stating that certain types of music (even without words) create a carnal mood. He fails to actually elaborate or defend this notion.

My last criticism comes in the author’s critique of people who go about studying their Bibles. In this the author singles out “seminary cloisters” (whatever that refers to) and other such people working to interpret the Bible. The author’s position is that instead one should let the Bible interpret/examine them; as he quotes “Quit studying your Bible; let your Bible study you!” The author is quick to note that he doesn’t want the reader to literally stop studying their Bibles, but rather to “give ourselves to God’s word in a spirit of humility and submission – truly allowing the living oracles of the eternal God to search our deepest hearts and pierce the innermost recesses of our beings.”

He states that we need to read the Scripture with an attitude of submission instead of one where we try and discover and interpret what it means, however he never actually says what this looks like. In the end the result is a vague pietistic anti-intellectualism.

It is this anti-intellectualism that likely results in the author settling for the most general and stereotypical definition of ‘postmodernism’. It is unlikely that the author has any real understanding of the movement beyond what he has read from those who critique it.

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