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“Measuring Kingdom Usefulness”

“Well, that makes it just a Law-Life.” No, it doesn’t. You . . . you try to keep this Law, and it crushes you, and you go to God for Grace. But you minimize the Law, and you think you can do it on your own. And you can go days without asking Him to help you obey or anything else (20:55+).

Folks, I can’t do this. This crushes me when I read this. I need divine grace to do this because I’ve got a heart that wants just to do the externals and get by. And so do you. But Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook with externals. He said, “You can’t just be like Pharisees and comply on the outside. I’ve defined what it’s like in the heart, and you can’t do that without Me.” And that’s exactly where He wants us (32:00+).

Jim Berg, “Measuring Kingdom Usefulness”

I found the sermon that pushed me over from apathetic, half-lidded shrugging to resolved action. You need to listen to it.

It was from the first week of February, 2006. And I couldn’t blog about it specifically at the time, of course, so here’s what I tried to say.

Preached in BJU campus Sunday Morning church on February 6, 2006 by Jim Berg, its title “Measuring Kingdom Usefulness” really says it all. Here’s the handout he references. Because so many “campus leaders” were absent for the Sunday morning service due to extension responsibilities, Berg repeated the sermon the next Thursday for an APC/PC meeting. That’s how significant he judged his message for campus life. This is the philosophy behind BJU student life at Bob Jones University.

This sermon is gravely in error.

Here’s what Berg argues in a nutshell:

If you’re incredulous at that reasoning, listen to it for yourself. That’s the message. And that. is. not. the. Gospel. At all. Christ is not even mentioned in that schema. Christ is not our Atonement here. He’s not the fulfillment of the Law. He simply communicates its requirements. And in this mistelling of the Gospel, Christ’s sacrifice is proof that we can do it!!–not our substitution for our doing it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Reformed, Dispensationalist, Wesleyan, Lutheran, or Anglican. Any believing Protestant would take issue with that message.

To ignore that error, you’d have either agree with it or dismiss it as unimportant. Fundamentalism has so dulled the discernment of its followers–myself included!!–by overwhelming them with the quantity of messages that they can’t hear the quality anymore. When I woke up and listened and then dug deeper, I realized that this was not the set of fundamentals I agreed to uphold. And I was just enough of a fundamentalist that I knew I had to speak up. . . even if it was within the organization that trained me to do so.


14 thoughts on ““Measuring Kingdom Usefulness”

  1. I remember this message. It was my last semester at Jones, and it followed a summer of working at the fundy Camp CoBeAc and an autumn spent at home during which I really began to think through my experiences as a camp counselor. When this sermon was preached, I had just finished reading “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.” I’m quite certain you and I had talked about it too. What I remember most about this sermon though, is not its obvious error–no, I’d grown quite accustomed to that by this time. What shocked me more was the response I got when I tried to get my peers to talk objectively about it. One said I was thinking too hard, another said I was arrogant (which I probably was a little), and another said I was making church all about me. Nobody in their disagreement ever brought the conversation back to Berg’s sermon. It was all ad hominem. That was when I realized something: fundies in power are never held accountable for their words. And the way they ensure this is genius. They assure you that you are the one with the problem. This charge is certainly not something you can argue with as a fundyist, and so you cower away and focus on yourself and your depravity for a little time… I guess this works on most people. But they didn’t get me.

    1. I noticed you referenced Camp CoBeAc and I had to respond.

      I grew up in the Detroit area, and I remember the retreats my church took to the camp well before the CBA kicked our church out their little click. apparently, we were too liberal (perhaps neo-evangelical) for the fundies who ran the camp.

      I just wrote a blog about CoBeAc and I mentioned an encounter I had with a 500 pound man (his name is actually Harry Love) who chided me for my hair length. Do any of you readers from Michigan remember this guy? He was an acid trip, to-say-the-least.

  2. Ok-delurking again:) I skimmed over his outline. I don’t remember this sermon but doesn’t mean I didn’t hear it. I think the one thing that particularly stood out to me and did always bother me was the emphasis on “turning” others in and the defense of that at the end of the outline. I have to say though in regards to that I now work at a hospital with a code of conduct and we are told that if we know of a violation and don’t report it we are culpable. Now I feel they want us to use common sense and they obviously don’t link it to our spirituality but nevertheless the same principle is there. I do still see how the pressure applied to do that at BJU may not be Biblical. Continuing on with my work analogy. I have to abide by lots of “rules” there. I am told exactly what to where-all the way to what color scrubs. I am told when to be there, how to chart, and also sorts of other stuff. Now these are not “spiritual” rules and can’t be found in the Bible. However, I have to agree that my response to these rules is a principle in the Bible. I do submit to them- I have willingly placed myself under my employers authority. Why should our response be different if our employer is a Christian?
    Honestly when I was a part of the school and especially when my husband worked there( those were the days when the wife even if she wasn’t employed was expected to comply with the rules) I bristled a lot at what was expected. I got through it by coming back to the realization that this is where God had me, my husband for that time and even though I didn’t agree, we had willingly place ourselvers under their authority because we felt that is where God wanted us. I complied b/c I wanted to obey God. Some people may call that legalistic and lacking in grace but I know my heart and that wasn’t the case. Now that we are no longer a part of that I don’t submit to those rules anymore and neither do I think BJU expects that. I guess in some ways this is what I have understood Dr. Berg to be saying.
    I have to agree, he does put a lot of emphsis on conduct but the Bible, even in the New Testament talks about conduct. 1Tim 4:12, James, 1 Pt 1:15 are just a few. I know that I don’t measure up to what God requires. I don’t worry about it, I know God loves me and His grace is there all the time, but neither do I throw out all attempts at doing the things God wants us to do b/c it doesn’t merit me God’s favor. Of course it doesn’t and I know that but I do think a Christian acts different and yes it is a heart change only God can do. He makes us want that but He doesn’t force us to make right choices. Anyway like I said earlier I have a hard time putting into words what I mean so I hope this makes sense. Thanks for letting me discuss this. I have been doing lots of thinking and am in the “figuring it out” stage:)

  3. This mindset that we are saved unto law keeping seems to weave its way through much of Evangelicalism. It’s like Jesus was a step we had to go through to get to the good stuff. The good stuff being Spirit-enabled law keeping. Not that you hear it phrased that way but I think that’s the essence of it.

    And not that being indwelt by the Spirit is not good. It most definitely is. But to see that as the main accomplishment of Christ is to see an incomplete picture of the Gospel.

  4. Doesn’t Paul write that the Law was given to lead us to Christ, not to “crush us”? I’m not sure about Berg’s interpretation of “fulfill” as filling up to it’s fullest and then using that to say that Jesus means to hook us more deeply with the Law like a game of gotcha. He does make passing reference to Jesus fully keeping the Law for us because we can’t do it for ourselves, but Scripture teaches that is the point. Because Jesus kept the Law we who are in Christ are free from it.

  5. Another thought. I have a real problem when people like Berg and some of the preachers and teachers I heard growing up use the idea of obedience to God-given authority to justify every rule, regardless of how ridiculous that rule may be. Even good rules are made into a legalistic way of “pleasing God”, and many times it becomes abuse when the powers that be try to be above question because “you must obey the authority God has place you under.”

  6. Ok I have now listened to the message {as much as I could with a two year old:) ) I will probably have to listen again to catch all the points. I know I seem I disagree with you and I probably do on some points but I may agree more than you realize. First of all I did cringe when I heard him talk about the law was meant to crush us when referring to Christians. I am not sure I like that choice of words. I have to agree that the law can no longer “crush us” after we are saved. What I would like to know is how you view our responsibility to obey anything God says. While I would agree that we are no longer under law in the fact that we must no longer fulfill it perfectly to earn heaven and God’s love, we still can’t disregard all aspects of it. Take for example the Ten Commandments. I think we would all agree that it is a really good idea to not steal, kill, commit adultery, etc. That hasn’t gone away. We are not free to do those things. As I mentioned in a previous post the NT has requirements. Paul talks about conduct, about relationships. James talks about the tongue. Peter reminds us to be holy. What do we do with those? What should our response be? Personally I find a lot of what is asked of us in conduct to still be pretty difficult. So do I disregard it and say “good thing I am not under the law anymore” or do I ask God to help me be the kind of person He would have me to be. And yes I know that God has imputed unto us God’s righteousness but I can’t agree He finds it acceptable for us to continue in behavior contrary to His word.
    It is interesting that yesterday I was with a friend and she just went through a small trial and didn’t handle it well and she was talking about how scared she was God would send her another one b/c she blew this one. I and another friend reminded her that God wasn’t that way. She then proceeded to talk about how something Dr. Berg had said caused her to feel that way. I know Dr. Berg isn’t perfect and I don’t’ defend all he says. Each preacher of the word needs to be compared to the Bible but Dr. Berg is a man who I believe has a growing relationship with Christ.
    Also am thinking a lot about Fred’s second comment. Interesting food for thought.

  7. What I would like to know is how you view our responsibility to obey anything God says.

    I always smile at this response because it’s predictably the argument that’s tossed back to us in these discussions. Stephen Jones and Gary Weier made these same points in our final meeting a year ago.

    First of all, my life isn’t THAT much different than it was a year ago. Yes, I wear pants much more now, and I have attended in total four movies. But I still don’t drink, I still go to church regularly, etc. I’m still a real square! 😉 My moral life is really just about the same outside fundamentalism as inside.

    Secondly, the difference really is this — the order. I know that’s a characteristically Presbyterian response before I am officially one 😉 , but it is the case. We believers do the right thing not because we are working for our saving/sanctifying grace, but because we are thankful for it! It makes all the difference.

    Thirdly and most pointedly, obeying God is, of course, what we should do. No one denies that. But that’s really not what rises to the surface in these sermons. It’s obeying man. It’s obeying an institution. It’s calling your entire spiritual condition into question if you chew gum. It’s calling normal but negative human feelings “outside” of God’s grace. That’s not what God says. That’s what man says.

    Jim Berg is constructing a “hedge around the Torah.” That’s what the Pharisees created in order to “protect” people from breaking God’s law. At their best, the Pharisees were trying to “democratize” God’s commands. Honest!! But their hedge obscured the fulfillment of Torah–Christ.

    I don’t see any difference here.

    Luther’s advice to his buddy Melancthon is good for people like you and me, Stacy. And for your hurting friend:

    If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

  8. Another thing . . .

    There’s a perfectionism (both theological and psychological) in this hedge-constructing. I think Luther’s advice points that out. You know this, Stacy, I’m sure. We fundamentalists are so convinced that God can only use us if we’re sinless and we’re so aware of of our sin (or our imaginary sins like gum-chewing or movie-going) that we never *do* anything. We’re stuck. That’s what I was trying to talk about in this earlier post.

    I sense so much stifling angst among my fundamentalist friends. And it’s this perfectionism really.

    That’s not the Good News!

  9. I had a feeling you had defended that point before:) Nevertheless that is where my question truly was. Not trying to be difficult. And honestly I grew up in a fundamentalist church and I was always taught that our right actions should grow out of a love and thankfulness to God and not b/c of a fear of punishment.I was NEVER taught that we EARNED our sanctifying grace in fact was taught much the opposite. I remember clearly a message my Pastor preached on Romans 8 about the trap we fall into when we get saved by faith but try to get sanctified by works. That is not what I was arguing above. It just seems at times that I get the idea that we can disregard God’s law altogether. And although obeying God out of thankfulness is the way it should be I would still think it would be a good thing to not steal even if it was for fear of punishment. That is the more immature response and one that shows some heart issues. I do agree since I was immersed in that culture that I do know how over spiritualized certain standards were/are. Very frustrating and I will be glad to see that change. I really do see a difference in my age group. We are not taking things for granted and our truly seeing what it is God is saying. I do kind of wish that the other side wouldn’t scream legalism every time someone decides they should hold a higher standard that isn’t specifically spelled out in the Bible. Although it can be it isn’t always the case.
    And for the record I definitely don’t consider pants wearing and movie going a moral issue:). We probably are very similar in our standards. I may even be more relaxed in some areas. I just feel that I don’t want those with strict standards judging my heart and I will try not to judge their heart.
    I do agree my friends thinking is wrong and so not representative of God’s grace. When I was struggling the most with our infertility I had some very bad responses. I am not proud of those but the biggest lesson I learned out of the whole thing is how much God loves me.
    Thanks again for the opportunity to have this discussion.

  10. I was NEVER taught that we EARNED our sanctifying grace in fact was taught much the opposite.

    Me too!! I think this is why I am stunned by this message because I grew up in fundamentalism — went to the biggest BJU churches — and I didn’t hear this.

    And although obeying God out of thankfulness is the way it should be I would still think it would be a good thing to not steal even if it was for fear of punishment.

    I don’t disagree.

    I really do see a difference in my age group. We are not taking things for granted and our truly seeing what it is God is saying.

    I know!! I know exactly what you mean. I think the Spirit is working. Especially around here, you know!!

    When I was struggling the most with our infertility I had some very bad responses. I am not proud of those but the biggest lesson I learned out of the whole thing is how much God loves me.

    ((((you)))) It stinks. It just does. And I always come back to what Jim Berg said to me at my daughter’s memorial service (and I’m paraphrasing): “This is a lost and dying world and it’s gonna stink.” That doesn’t mean we’re not going to feel those big, big feelings. That doesn’t mean we don’t get angry!!!!! Paul distinguished between anger and sin when he told the Ephesians to “be angry and sin not.” It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to plead with God, “Why? WHY?? WHY????” Christ did as much in the Garden.

    We just must be sad, be angry, and continue questioning all with hope. Hope in Christ.

  11. This sermon is deeply disturbing.
    It appears to confuse justification and sanctification. The statement “The law is supposed to crush us,” is true regarding the unregenerate, but it appears that Dr. Berg is referring to believers.

    What he refers to as the two key components from verse 19 1) breaking one commandment 2) do and teach them are actually referenced by Christ in vs. 19 “except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Clearly, then it would seem that the passage is referring to justification.

    The whole idea of Christ coming to “set the hook deeper” is also disturbing. It is true that Christ revealed that one could not keep the law merely by observing externals, and that “looking on a woman” was equal to adultry, etc. But the point of that was that CHRIST fulfilled the law for us, (Romans 3:19-28), justified us, adopted us and sanctifies us. It is through sanctification that we are “enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness” (West. Shorter Cat.), and that is where Dr. Berg is mistaken.

  12. >>This sermon is deeply disturbing. It appears to confuse justification and sanctification. The statement “The law is supposed to crush us,” is true regarding the unregenerate, but it appears that Dr. Berg is referring to believers.>>

    I agree. That is one part of the sermon that really disturbed me too. There were other parts that I had wished I had written down but I’m NOT listening to it again. Like you said, it is too disturbing!

    He is really into chewing gum and the “law of obedience” isn’t he? As a teacher, I don’t like gum in my class either but at least I haven’t made a sermon about it.

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