The Application Trap

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“The ‘application’ part of the sermon works by making people anxious about whether they’re living the way ‘we as Christians’ are supposed to: faithful, loving, caring, experiencing the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and so on.  It’s a trap  Either you believe that stuff about yourself, which makes you self-righteous, or you don’t, which makes you anxious.  Either way you’re stuck.  You can try to convince yourself you’re oh-so loving (so much more loving than your neighbors–now isn’t that nice!) or you can worry about how shabby your Christian life is (haunted by that feeling, ‘what’s wrong with me?’).  There’s no escaping the trap unless you believe that Christ came to save sinners and that includes you…

So here is another thing that the preachers who want to be ‘practical’ don’t get.  They are apt to conclude the sermon with an application that goes like this: ‘We need to ask ourselves: Am I really following Christ, focusing on him, loving God with my whole heart, caring about my neighbor,’ etc.  The most truthful answer to such questions is surley, ‘Of course not! I’m not like that!’  But then I want to ask the preacher, ‘Now do you have any good news for sinners like me?’  Unfortunately, there is usually no good news coming, because that’s the end of the sermon.  The whole point is to throw the ball in our court and see what we can do with it.  It’s a ‘practical’ sermon, so it leaves us trapped, left to our own resources and cut off from Christ.”

Phillip Cary “Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do

PS: Just a note of caution with Cary’s book.  I personally don’t agree with everything he has to say, particularly the part about  how God guides us today (although he has some fantastic warnings about how that practice is abused today).  Therefore, as he urges you in his book, think critically if you decide to read it.  This said, most of the book is spot on in both the critique it offers of present day evangelicalism and the fresh way it offers the gospel to anxious Christians like you and I.  Enjoy!

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