We Cannot Improve the Health of the Dead
by Stuart DiNenno
I see men who I believe to be faithful Christians publishing books, podcasts, articles, etc., and I am sure there are many things in these productions that are true and insightful, and which could be of benefit to many Christians. No doubt there is quite a bit being advocated in them that I could wholeheartedly endorse and would like to see implemented.
But I never read or listen to any of it.
Why? Because while I know that they are identifying and addressing many of the characteristics of today’s Christianity that reveal its weakness, I also know that they are not dealing with the root cause of the weakness.
The foundational problem we have with Christians today is not that they are being led astray by false doctrines, although they are being led astray by false doctrines; it is not that they have compartmentalized their religion so that it is not applied to all of life, although they have compartmentalized their religion so that it is not applied to all of life; it is not that they are not being educated about how the wicked have destroyed Christian civilization, although they are not being educated about how the wicked have destroyed Christian civilization; and it is not that they are splintered into innumerable sects, although they are splintered into innumerable sects. The foundational problem we have with Christianity in America, and all the Western nations, is that the churches are dead. The people in them are unregenerate and this is because the kind of preaching through which God ordinarily brings life to the dead is absent in them. Nothing can be changed for the better until this is rectified, and it is the proverbial “elephant in the room” that is never mentioned in any of today’s Christian presentations.
The reason I ignore most of the books, podcasts, articles, etc. put out today, even by those with whom I agree and those I know are likely to be correctly identifying many problems, is because I know that none of it will make any difference until the gospel is preached.
When I say that the so-called churches in America today are not preaching the gospel, what I mean is that the gospel they preach does not present its hearers with the strict requirements of the law of God, does not confront them in an accusative way with their transgressions of the law so that they are thoroughly convicted of the guilt of their sins, does not impress upon them the frightening reality of their own innate depravity and their natural enmity against God, does not demand repentance and cause them to be of a “broken and contrite heart,” does not empty them of self-righteousness, does not cause them to see that they are in a helpless condition so that they despair of themselves, does not make them realize that they can do nothing but cry out to God for mercy, and because it fails to do these things it never truly makes them see their desperate need for the Savior and so it does not bring true spiritual conversion.
Despite all the wisdom that shines forth in some of the books, podcasts, articles, etc. that I find interesting and which could be worthwhile, they are almost entirely unproductive because they fail to address the root of the problem. They are like a man having a car with a broken engine who wants to get his car moving. He sees that the tires are worn out, so he replaces them and, of course, this does nothing to get the car moving. While he is changing the tires, he notices that the wheel bearings are worn out, so he replaces them, but still the car will not move. In the process of changing the wheel bearings, he also notices that there is something wrong with the driveshaft, so he has that fixed. All these things really were defective and they needed to be repaired but as long as the car owner does not deal with the non-functional motor, he will not be going anywhere.
Just as we cannot improve cars with dead engines, so we cannot improve the health of dead men. If someone were to write a brilliant book on natural medicine and he placed a copy of it on every grave in his local cemetery, would this help to heal the cemetery’s occupants? If an expert on healthy nutrition went to the county morgue and set up a loudspeaker so that everyone there could hear his enlightening lecture, would his advice benefit the health of the residents? Of course not. These things are of value only to the living.
Until the gospel is preached in a confrontational and convicting way that brings forth repentance and makes men truly see their utterly hopeless condition outside of Christ, the people will not be hearing the message that God ordinarily uses to bring life to the dead, our churches will remain in a moribund state, and all of our attempts to educate the people about how to apply Christian principles to all of life, how to view the world through a biblical lens, and how to do what is necessary to overcome the wicked, will be of little value.
What we most desperately need is a revival of true Christianity and a reformation of the church, and this must begin with a renewal of preaching:
“Is it not clear, as you take a bird’s-eye view of Church history, that the decadent periods and eras in the history of the Church have always been those periods when preaching has declined? What is it that always heralds the dawn of a reformation or of a revival? It is renewed preaching. A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the Church. ”
— Martyn Lloyd-Jones