Posted in Christian Faith

Compare and Contrast Deep & Wide and The Prodigal Church A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo

This may not be of much interest to very many people, just a little something I wrote for school.

Actually the first thing I wrote as a doctoral student so it’s kind of a big deal to me.

Introduction

            If one were to search the Scripture for the purpose statement of the church they may end up in Acts 2:42 that reads, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  Another biblical purpose of the church is to proclaim the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20).  Further, the church exists to promote the Gospel, to be a lighthouse in the community, and to prepare members to proclaim the Gospel” (1 Peter 3:15).  Although the biblical mandates of the church are relatively straight forward, pastors and church leaders have developed differing philosophies on church structure, mission, and day-to-day operations that are most effective at realizing their God given purpose. Within the pages of Deep & Wide and The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, Pastors Andy Stanley and Jerod C. Wilson, who share an equal concern for the lost and helping people grow in their faith share differing yet compelling visions for how modern American churches should function.

Deep & Wide

            When Jesus was called out for his association with sinners, he replied with parables that reflect God’s great love for the lost.  

“Or what woman who has 10 silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her women friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’ I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:8-10). 

Stanley does not come out and say so but, perhaps, it is a joy similar to that of the angels when one sinner repents that motivates his approach to ministry that seems to consist of doing whatever it takes to attract the lost and unchurched.  On a purely practical level this philosophy makes perfect sense.  If the church is unapologetically committed to being attractional, they will reach people who are not the target demographic for less attractional churches and some of those people will embrace the Gospel and give their lives to Christ.   Pastors, church leaders, and the laity should have hearts for the lost and unchurched but where a philosophy like the one Stanley embraces suffers is in the execution.  According to Stanley, “Our goal was to make our environments so irresistible that even people who didn’t by our theology would want to come back and participate.”[1]

            Stanley is passionate in his opinion that traditional churches are not as effective as they could be at reaching the unchurched and surveys they conduct at the church reflect the fact that they are meeting their attendance goals.[2] But are numbers, even vast numbers of people, especially if they include kids who “will never be satisfied anywhere else”[3] doing anything to fulfil a mandate to make disciples if those who are attracted to the campus do not buy the theology? 

            It is an unconventional approach to want people to attend a church knowing full well that they may not buy the theology but Stanley and his team “are committed to creating churches for unchurched people and fighting the pull for their churches to become churches for church people.”[4]  Stanley realized that there was a problem with how traditional churches do church and a new way ahead was needed so unconventional was his objective.  But if truth suffers because of his objective, then the objective should be questioned.  Stanley writes that “People are far more interested in what works than what’s true. I hate to burst your bubble, but virtually nobody in your church is on a truth quest, including your spouse. They are on happiness quests.”[5]  Assuming this is true, is biblical truth being sacrificed in order to make the unchurched Stanley is trying to attract to his church happy?  Stanley also writes that, “Attractional or seeker friendly churches who strive to be so accepting they extend too much grace truth becomes a casualty.”[6]  The consumerism, desire to make people happy with their church experience, and a disproportionate desire to attract the unchurched rather than feed the churched can have a negative impact on seeker friendly and attractional churches and Stanley obviously understands that.  There is no data in Stanley’s book to suggest his church has suffered but that possibility certainly exists and he may need to adjust his church’s laser focus on the unchurched and their happiness quests and make much of the Gospel instead.   After all, “believing that the finished and sufficient work of Christ for salvation is, as Paul says, “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3).”[7]  

The Prodigal Church 

            In The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, Jared Wilson writes of traditional churches that there are good ones and bad ones and that it is cheap to label them as “boring, fundamentalist, or backward.”[8]  His critique or his gentle manifesto against the status quo therefore does not ask modern seeker friendly or attractional churches to give up their guitars or their coffee bars but, instead, to consider what they do with them.[9]  In short, Wilson, even though he feels there are problems within contemporary churches, does not argue simply that they become more traditional but that they become more biblical.  And by more biblical, he means less culturally relevant because it is “the self-professed culturally relevant churches that are the chief proponents of legalism in Christianity today.”[10] It seems intuitive that a culturally relevant church would be less stuffy and legalistic rather than more so but practical messages that sound more like good advice or motivational speeches than they do sermons just shift the focus off of law-minded “don’ts” and on to right living “dos” when “dos and don’ts are just flip sides of the same legalistic coin.”[11] The cultural relevance the church tries to achieve with “do good” sermons cannot, as Wilson writes “scandalize (in a Galatians 5:11 sense) a lost and broken world because most people know how to be good even without the help of Christianity.  The lost and broken of the world don’t need the church to act like good people, really; they need the church to point to Jesus as the only true good person.”[12]

            One of the most intriguing points made in Wilson’s book is in the title of Chapter Four, The Bible is not an Instruction Manual.  This is in opposition to what most people will tell you about the Christian faith but Wilson explains by asking “What has been the net effect of the last several decades of the application focus of attractional churches?  What is the fruit of treating the Bible like an instruction manual?”[13]  Wilson uses statistical data to back up his claim that the attractional seeker friendly churches have not had the impact church leaders had hoped for because, as he explains, a customer focus takes the does not look to the Gospel but, instead, it looks more to what people may be looking for on their happiness quests.[14]

The More Biblical Approach

            Both Wilson and Stanley grew up in traditional evangelical churches, are both passionate about their calling to preach the Gospel, and both share a biblical concern for the lost, as we all should.  Although the differences in the pastor’s ideas of what the church is and how it should operate are notably different, it would be too easy to fully endorse one approach over the other when both of their philosophies have merit.  Noting that there are both positive and negative aspects of both approaches to leading a church, the philosophy proposed by Wilson is more biblical. 

            In Romans 12:2 we are told not to conform to the pattern of the world but, instead, to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  If people are, as Stanley noted, on happiness rather than truth quests[15] does a church doing what it believes will make the people happy and want to come back doing anything to satisfy the biblical mandate of the church to advance the Gospel?  

            Regarding the Gospel Wilson writes, “Preaching even a “positive practical message with no Gospel centrality amounts to preaching the law.  A list of things to “do” divorced from the “done” of the Gospel is the essence of legalism.”[16] Wilson goes on, “the message of the law unaccompanied by and untethered from the central message of the Gospel does not empower us but actually condemns us.”[17]  Stanley is a strong advocate for attractional churches and will do almost anything to get people to attend, to get them to come back, and to get them to invite their unchurched friends. Reaching the unchurched is unquestionably an admirable goal but the messages attractional church pastors often rely on may come with unintended consequences, especially if rigid legalism is what is keeping some of the unchurched away in the first place.  To this point Wilson writes, “The typical application message [which are common in attractional churches] tends to overemphasize our good works while a good proclamation message will emphasize God’s finished work.”[18] And the finished and sufficient work of Christ for salvation is, as Paul writes, “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3).

Conclusion

            In the end, both books represent the views of successful pastors of large churches who have recognized that traditional church models are not as effective as they could be and aspects of how church is done need to be changed.  As Wilson asked, “What if what we are doing isn’t really what we are supposed to be doing?”[19]  Both Stanley and Wilson share a concern for the lost, have hearts for making disciples, and love both the Lord and the local church.  As well, their passion and their desire to biblically reform what they believe is broken is strongly evident.  Although they have the same end in mind, they advocate for vastly divergent ways to get there.  Stanley is a gifted communicator who, along with his team, “are committed to creating churches for unchurched people and fighting the pull for their churches to become churches for church people.”[20]  

Wilson, on the other hand, understands that “gospel-deficient practical sermons [favored by attractional church pastors and, presumably, well received by people who are on happiness quests] do not make empowered, victorious Christians, but self-righteous self-sovereigns. And the self-righteous go to Hell.”[21] Compelling cases are made in both books and both authors demonstrate that they love the Lord and are striving to be true to their pastoral calling. But Wilson seems to prioritize proclaiming the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20) over an enjoyable church experience that will cause the unchurched to come back with their unchurched friends and that approach is more biblical.

Bibliography

 

         Stanley, Andy. Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012. 

         Wilson, Jared C. The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015. 


[1] Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, (2012): 160.

[2] Survey results can be found in Appendix A, pg. 319 

[3]  Ibid. 161

[4] Ibid. 93

[5] Ibid. 114

[6] Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, (2012): 74.

[7] Ibid. 83

[8] Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo, (2015): 18.

[9] Ibid. 18

[10] Ibid. 18.

[11] Jarod Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, (2015): 34.

[12] Ibid. 84

[13] Ibid. 73

[14] Ibid. 73

[15] Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, (2012): 114.

[16] Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo, (2015): 88.

[17] Ibid. 88

[18] Ibid. 82

[19] Jared Wilson, Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, (2015): 24.

[20] Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, (2012): 93

[21] Jared Wilson, Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, (2015): 89.

8 thoughts on “Compare and Contrast Deep & Wide and The Prodigal Church A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo

    1. I kinda thought you might Have Person of Interest. Most of my reading lately has been about church leadership and theology but I like Wallace and still enjoy apologetics sometimes.

      Liked by 1 person

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