'Motorcycle Reverend' John Smith examines the good-feeling praise theology of many churches.

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For those who lack the privileges of position and opportunity in the so-called free enterprise Western economic system, God's approval is not forthcoming in material reward. But the experience of many in the two-thirds world outside this system, and the marginalized within it, has more parallel with the real situation of the New Testament church.

At the sunset of the first century, the faith of the great apostles had not protected them from the violence of the sword, the crucifix and the lions.

The view that intriguing life-sparing miracles indicate closeness to God has become an accepted myth in evangelical and charismatic autobiography, biography and preaching. It is a far cry from biblical reality.

Where we live or die is secondary. And frankly, whether life is a happy experience to me is also an irrelevance.

What kind of epitaph would it be to proclaim: "John Smith was happy!" Much preferred would be the words of the late Whitney Young: "I tell people, 'I can't guarantee you a monument in stone. Your monuments will be people helped in moments of distress, people given hope when they had every reason to feel despair'."

The obsession with enjoyment and success has removed us far from the wounded heart of God. And in so doing it has removed us from those who are the first object of attention by that heart.

We could be far more impressed by the power evangelism of the new 'near-to-God' movements were they to grow multiple 'successful' congregations in the poorer suburbs and inner-city slums rather than among the self-indulgent upwardly-mobile new rich.

It may be true as an old chorus has it that "There is a place of quiet rest near to the heart of God, a place of quiet rest near to the heart of God, a place where sin cannot molest near to the heart of God."

But it is equally true that Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you."

Thus spake the Man of Sorrows, who was acquainted with grief. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.