January 2006 Issue
by William E. Brown, PhD
Jesus answered them, "Stop
complaining among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the
Father who sent Me draws him...." (John 6:43-44a, HCSB)
As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God.
(Romans 3:10-11, HCSB)
The Lord looks down from heaven on the human race to see
if there is one who is wise, one who seeks God. All have turned
away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does
good, not even one. (Psalms 14:2-3, HCSB)
Tom and I had been waiting for Jim*
at the rendezvous point thirty minutes longer than expected. After
a morning of moose hunting on a rainy, chilly September day, we
had decided to head back to camp. We split up to cover more ground
on the return to the canoe, and I last saw Jim as we all entered
a large thicket.
Tom and I emerged almost simultaneously about forty minutes
later within fifty yards of each other. We expected Jim to be
right there with us, but he didn't show. Tom and I were long-time
Alaskans who had agreed to take Jim hunting after his week of
preaching in a friend's church. When Jim did not appear I began
to rehearse the worst-case scenarios. Jim was older and had dressed
in cotton instead of wool or synthetics and, therefore, was susceptible
to hypothermia. A misstep and a hunter can find himself with a
broken leg. Or each year at least one Alaskan hunter gets chewed
up by a brown bear. The longer we waited, the more rapidly these
thoughts ran through my mind.
Since Jim was a well-known Southern Baptist pastor, the thought
occurred to me that I might be known as the man who got Jim killed.
Talk about hurting one's preaching "career."
Tom and I decided that we would swing wide of Jim's anticipated
route, cutting him off in case he had headed in the wrong direction.
Soon after beginning our search, a single shot sounded out in
the distance. Much to our relief we located Jim a short time later.
As we walked up to him, Jim said, "I don't know where I am,
but there's a lake right over there."
Jim related how he had walked for quite a while and finally
had found the lake, hoping that it was the one with the canoe.
He was a little embarrassed as I explained to him how, after walking
in a large circle, he was only a few yards from our lunch spot.
For almost thirty years, church growth experts, pastors, and
evangelists have used the term "Seeker." Rare is the
article, book, or conference that does not use "Seeker-sensitive,"
"Seeker-driven," or "Seeker services." But
is the term biblical? And what are the ramifications of its usage?
The Biblical Concept of
The Bible establishes from its opening verses that God is the
initiator of His relationship with mankind. He is the Seeker.
As Creator, He spoke the world into existence to have a relationship
with His highest creation man. When Adam and Eve sinned,
they hid instead of seeking God. The Old Testament repeatedly
portrays man as incapable of instigating his own salvation. Like
Hosea purchasing Gomer off the auction block, God redeems us in
the midst of our unfaithfulness. The Bible clearly teaches that
man cannot initiate or advance his salvation. He cannot seek.
One may ask, "How about Matthew 6:33, 'Seek ye first the
kingdom of God....?' or Hebrews 11:6 where God reassures us that
He rewards those who diligently seek Him?" Whenever the Scriptures
speak of man seeking God, it is in the context of a relationship
in progress, not man deciding on his own to restore his relationship
The Ramifications of the
Modern Seeker Theology
Charles Finney, the "Father of Modern Revivalism,"
laid much of the groundwork for modern seeker theology. His semi-Pelagian
position that a non-Christian could accept Christ, of his
own initiative, whenever he so chooses motivated Finney's
use of "New Measures." Finney experienced great revival
successes unfortunately, success promotes imitation. Following
the Civil War, numerous revivalists patterned their organizations
after Finney's. As with many things, Finney's efforts present
a "good news/ bad news" reality. The good news was a
century of mass crusades with untold numbers of people hearing
the gospel from men like Billy Sunday, Dwight L. Moody, Gypsy
Smith, Sam Jones, Mordecai Ham, Billy Graham, and other itinerant
evangelists. The "bad news" includes our present "Seeker,"
Finney designed his New Measures methodology to encourage his
audience to receive Christ. In doing so, he walked a fine line.
There is always tension between presenting Christ in a compelling,
clear, and effective manner, and manipulating someone to ensure
a response. Jesus presents the image of compelling guests to come
to the feast (Luke 14:23). Yet, He challenged the "Rich Young
Ruler" to sell all in order to become a disciple. We are
told that Jesus loved the young man but would not lower the standards
of discipleship (Mark 10:17-23). We are to be passionate for the
lost, like the woman looking for the lost coin, the shepherd for
his lost sheep, or the prodigal's father, but we can not circumvent
When modern evangelists or pastors emphasize the importance
of praying the sinner's prayer without presenting the cost of
discipleship, one must think that we have become consumed with
seeing results. As Jesus revealed, it is easier to have "seekers"
than followers (John 2:23-25).
We must always remember that our responsibility is to clearly
declare the gospel, giving people the opportunity to respond to
the Holy Spirit's stirring rather than our own.
When we assume responsibility for the individual's response
to the gospel, it is just a short step to the Seeker model. After
all, if I can stir emotions so that people will "accept Christ"
after they have come to the service, then should I not also do
whatever I can to get them to the service in the first place?
Consequently, seeker-driven churches feel compelled to shape
their worship services to entice seekers, which often leads to
questionable methodology. I just read an article extolling a church's
"springtime initiative to encourage members to minister to
their friends." Everyone who brought a friend to church was
able to place an entry in a drawing for a new Harley-Davidson
motorcycle. The guest was qualified to enter twice for his visit.
Some would point to the large numbers of entrants and say, "Praise
the Lord." I must ask what are we teaching of God, evangelism,
and discipleship? How was that "ministering to their friends?"
Remember Jim? One of the first rules of wilderness survival
is stay in one spot. The more one tries to not be lost, the worst
his situation becomes. Lost seekers can not find salvation, only
another spiritual fix. Seeker theology has damaged the lost and
the church. Many seekers have become "Christians" without
experiencing conversion and becoming followers of Christ.
Vaccinations work by exposing the patient to a dead or weakened
form of the disease, thereby promoting the body's immune system
to reject the real disease. Have we inoculated a generation of
Americans against biblical Christianity's call to discipleship?
I am afraid so.
Rather than trying to attract the lost, the Good Shepherd went
in search of the lost sheep. The Great Commission commands us
The church needs to remain fixed to its biblical identity.
For years we have shaped our ministries to appeal to seekers;
there always seems to be a call for changes to reach current generations
through questionable methodologies. Methodologies constantly change
with generations, cultures, trends, and fads. Biblical principles
transcend time. The lost must be sought, not attracted. Evangelism
is 24/7, not just inviting my friend to a "cool" service
on Sunday so we can have a chance to win a Harley.
Jim realized he was lost and decided to remain in one spot
until we found him. He signaled for help and waited. Jim was found
not by his seeking, but by his being sought! A more theologically
correct term instead of "Seeker" would be "Responder."
Only when man responds in faith to God does salvation come. Any
methodology that denies that truth results in churches focused
on man instead of God. And Christianity becomes a religion to
improve my finances, family, health, or whatever I need to have
a better life, instead of the truth that Almighty God has reconciled
Himself to me through the Cross and I have the opportunity of
giving my life to His service.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent
and the embarrassed.
William E. Brown, PhD, is associate professor
of Evangelism and Church Planting and Nehemiah Project director
at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North
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