A discussion with a member of your church prompted the listening of, and the following analysis of, a sermon you delivered. This member of your church did not participate in what followed that preliminary discussion. But a copy of this analysis has been given to him. We think it would be helpful to your ministry if you gave the following copy of it your close attention. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
Mr. Cochrane, Crossroads, April 26, 2009, The Way of the Lord.
Summary: ‘Follow me’ is the text. To change your thinking and to believe are the first two imperatives. ‘Follow me’ is the third. The text, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ is a springboard from which to explain ‘follow me.’ “Jesus’ truth gets far more attention than Jesus as the way.” Jesus is not just our way to God, but God’s way to us. “Some of you have repented; you’ve changed your thinking; you’ve changed your heart.” Jesus claims to be the only way to the Father. “The Way to God is not a proper set of beliefs…not a lot of activity in the name of God…but a person and relationship with Christ.” Jesus is just like us, God in the flesh. The way is a person, but also a way of life. The way is to obediently follow Jesus Christ. Characteristics of the Jesus way: (A) It is a holy way. This is to be separate, distinct. God is holy. By the work of Jesus we get to God, who is holy. We must deal with sin, turn away from wickedness. People who walk in the way become increasingly holy. 1 Corinthians 13 shows us what a holy person looks like. A holy person is loving, patient, etc. (B) A way on the margins. Jesus chose to spend his time on the margins, like in Capernaum, among the marginalized. Follow him to the lost. You can measure your progress by this. (C) A way of sacrifice. This is to take up your cross, to lay your ambitions at Jesus’ feet, to give rather than accumulate. There are two ways in Psalm 1. There is the Jesus way; there is another way, or variations of it. Why choose the Jesus way? Because both ways have outcomes. “The way of the wicked will perish. C. S. Lewis said, utterly, irrevocably, and forever lost. It’s tragic.” The ones on Jesus’ way will stand in the end. They do not repent of the way of holiness and sacrifice. “Death where is your sting; death where is your victory.”
Remarks: (1) Concerning repentance, which he mentions a few times. He says this is a change of mind, and he’s right about that. But he never comes to any specific sins that must be repented of, except for what is mentioned incidentally, like when he cites the instance of the woman caught in adultery being forgiven. Sins like this are never mentioned as being possibly committed by his listeners. He keeps things very general and non-offensive. For instance, he mentions wickedness, but nothing specific like drunkenness and sleeping-around, which his members might be committing in secret. How are people to know what to repent of unless they are told? If they are not told, will they not think their pastor is okay with them going on in sin? He mentions the specific virtues common to holiness, but he says nothing specific about sin. This is a lopsided emphasis. The Bible lists both our virtues and our sins.
(2) Concerning regeneration, which he does not mention per se. He says that these persons who’ve signed up to repent have ‘changed their own hearts.’ When preachers in pulpits speak of a change of heart, they usually mean that change traditionally understood to be accomplished by the Holy Spirit alone, in that work the Bible calls regeneration. So what this man is doing, hopefully by mistake, is attributing this work that only God can do, not to God, but to man. He seems to confuse repentance and regeneration.
(3) Concerning the way: (A) It is a holy way. This is to be separate, distinct, he says. This is correct. He speaks of this as it is with God. But when he says that those who walk in the way must become increasingly holy, he does not say how holiness is obtained, maintained, and increased (by the Holy Spirit, through faith in Jesus’ life and death.) (B) A Way on the Margins. The way might be on the margins. But being on the margins of society does not prove we’re on the Jesus way. Just go and look at all the unrepentant sinners down at the soup kitchens and at the Buffalo Hotel, not just those who are helped, but the helpers. And consider, too, all the sinners in prominent positions in societies in history who have repented, like the Haldane family, for instance, who were aristocrats. And so to be on the margins with the marginalized may mean nothing at all. (C) A Way of Sacrifice. What kind of ambitions must we lay down at Jesus’ feet? He does not tell us. How are we to know which ones? Earlier in the sermon he cites 1 Corinthians 13 as the passage exhibiting what a holy person looks like. This is good. But this passage also shows that even the most sacrificial soul may be in a lost condition. Since this is the case, a qualification pointing this out seems necessary. One could be on as sacrificial a way as Mother Theresa was on, and still be on the wrong way.
(4) Concerning the two ways in Psalm 1. No sins are singled out here as being committed by those on the wrong way. All we get from his quoting of the Psalm is that it must be wrong to be ungodly. But this is a state, or condition. What sins are involved? This is what the people need to be told. He says that the way of the wicked will perish. The wicked will be irrecoverably lost. But what does it mean to be lost? Is it hell? We are not told. What are some of the characteristics, at least? He does not give us any.
Conclusion: Because of the mention of these first two imperatives, repentance and faith, possibly he is addressing Christians alone. At one point he does say that by the work of Jesus we get to God. But then he contradicts this by presenting ‘the way’ as a lifestyle. Here is how that happens. He says, “The way is not a proper set of beliefs, not a lot of activity in the name of God, but a person and relationship with Jesus…It is a person, but also a way of life.” I don’t know what he means by ‘not a lot of activity,’ for this seems to contradict the way as being a self-sacrificial lifestyle among the marginalized. The way is a person and a relationship with that person. This is true. But what about the statement that the way is not a set of beliefs? This statement is not surprising since John 14.6 was not exposited, but used as a springboard instead. John 14.6 teaches Jesus as the way to God. Mr. Cochrane is teaching lifestyle as the way. Maybe Mr. Cochrane did not mean to communicate a method of works as the way, but this was my first impression. It is natural to get this impression because John 14.6 is about Jesus as the way of access to the Father. When lifestyle is presented as the way instead of Jesus, who he is and what he did, the sermon comes across as getting to God by how we live. This is salvation by works. And this shows the danger of using a text as a springboard instead of expositing it. When people see access to God in the verse, and then they pour Mr. Cochrane’s content into it, they will interpret the way as access to God by a lifestyle of works. There is no real exposition and preaching here. Exposition would have prevented these errors. The message feels like advice and self-improvement. In this sermon there is no content to repentance, regeneration is by the sinner, and the way seems like nothing else but salvation by the moral law, though this is not well defined. The way presented seems to be a self-reformation of whatever the sinner believes must be reformed, for no sins that must be repented of are specified. These errors are the common lot of contemporary theology, and are committed by those who hold this idea that Christianity is nothing but a relationship. “Jesus’ truth gets far more attention than Jesus as the way,” says Mr. Cochrane. But truth is exactly what gets least attention today. Truths like justification and redemption are precisely what are needed to show the way because he who is the way opens the door through these realities. And a singling out of sins is needed because only by conviction of sin will sinners repent and be ushered by God into this way of Jesus. The way can never be disconnected from belief, as was done in this sermon. If the way does not include a set of beliefs concerning Jesus and our sin, it cannot be the Jesus way. The way in John 14.6 is about access to God by Jesus for salvation from hell and admission into God’s kingdom. The necessity of believing as much is implied. So the way is a set of beliefs, after all.
This sermon was listened to and discussed by three Christians. The first one wrote this analysis, which is based mostly on what he thought. The other two generally agree with it. And these two persons were asked two questions at the end of the discussion. First, in case the sermon was for the lost, “Did you see the way of salvation in the sermon?” The first one answers, “This must be preaching to the saved.” The second one answers, “Not clearly.” Second, in case the sermon was for the saved, “Could you stay comfortable in your sins during this sermon?” The first one answers, “Yes!” The second one answers, “Yes, I was not convicted at all. Without the conviction of sin, how can there be any true repentance? Without repentance, how can there be salvation and growth? The preacher’s goal in every message must be to bring sinners to repentance while drawing genuine believers closer to Christ. Nothing less pleases Almighty God.”
Mr. Cochrane, we have brought our discussion and notes of your sermon together into the form of this document so that nothing we aim to share with you is lost. Your communication to us is welcome and desired. While we understand how busy you must be, we encourage you to examine whether or not what we have said is true. Our concern is for the proper conveyance of God’s truth.