‘Popularity gospel’ is today’s ‘prosperity gospel’: former Christian music star on how to fear God
Many Christians today are more concerned about their popularity and how many followers they have on social media rather than following God’s direction for their life, the former lead vocalist of a renowned Christian metalcore band has said.
Mattie Montgomery, who for 10 years served as the frontman of “For Today” before the band stopped touring in 2016, says in his new book, Scary God: Introducing the Fear of the Lord to the Postmodern Church, that too many churches today are doing a “great disservice” by teaching believers that they don’t need to fear God.
Although “fear of the Lord” is an instrumental part of the Christians faith, Montgomery says that many believers are being taught that they only need to respect and honor God.
Such teaching, he says, is causing believers to avoid seeking God’s help when tackling life’s biggest challenges and is leading many to seek protection, safety and help from worldly sources.
The Christian Post spoke with Montgomery last week to talk about his new book. Below is an edited and condensed transcript of the interview.
CP: What inspired you to write this book?
Mattie Montgomery: I think that one of the most misunderstood concepts in the modern church is the fear of the Lord. If we hear teaching on it all, we hear teaching on it that goes out of its way to try to communicate to us that God is not to be feared, not in the way that we use the word commonly but only to be respected or revered.
In my own experiences with God — and I talk about a number of them in the book — I've had terrifying encounters with Him. There are times when it feels like I'm so close to God that every little action or movement matters, where I'm so deep into God’s presence there's no room for anything casual. I have to make sure that every step, every word, every thought, every action has to be with the nearness of God in mind.
I think we have done a great disservice to try to teach that you don’t have to be afraid of God and that the fear of God doesn’t mean fear, it means honor or respect. Scripture is really clear.
The Hebrew word used for fear is the word ‘yirah,’ which is the same word that Adam used in the garden when he said, ‘I heard you walking in the garden and I knew that I was naked so I was afraid and I went and hid myself.’ If you remember that the promise made to him was that in the day that you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will surely die.
Adam says that the feeling he had when he thought he was going to die was yirah — fear.
That is the word Jacob uses when he thinks that Esau and Esau’s Army are coming to kill him.
It is the word consistently that people use in scripture when they think they are going to die. Yet, that's also the word that Proverbs uses when it says "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10).
To teach that fear means respect or honor is not only not biblically accurate, it's also not beneficial in a practical sense for our lives. If I have a God that is just nice, when I need a warrior and I need a hero, I can’t turn to Him.
If the enemy that is against me is ferocious and relentless and aggressive and determined, it's not until I have a revelation of the fierceness and ferocity of my God that I can understand that really no weapon against me can prosper.
I have seen it as a prevailing issue in the modern church and something that I felt God said a couple years ago: "It’s time for you to write it." So I did.
CP: What's the downside to viewing ‘fear of God’ as respect and honor?
MM: I think respect means a lot of different things for different people. I have a different kind of respect for my best friend than I do a police officer. I have a different kind of respect for the president of the United States than I do the bagboy at my local grocery store. I do respect those different people but if a president walks into a room, you make sure your close fit right and you stand up and you carry yourself respectfully. That is because there is an honor or respect for the position.
Respect can mean a million different things to a million different people and it can work itself out in a million different ways. So we have a whole generation in the church that says, "Don’t fear God. Just respect God." They respect God the way they respect their best friend or their buddy. Ultimately, God is friendly toward us but He is not just our friend. He is fatherly toward us but He is not just our father. He is loving toward us but He is not just our beloved. ...
The primary drawback to our misunderstanding of the fear of the Lord is that we diminish our acknowledgment of the divinity of God and as a result, we approach God as a concept or an idea. Most often, I think some people approach God as a friend, colleague or associate. Some people view God as a benevolent force in the sky that on occasion will rain down good fortune but lose our sense of awe at the majesty and magnitude of God by being taught to respect God instead of fear God.
The everyday believer does not view God as a hero anymore. He is not our champion, He is not our rescuer. We need to view Yahweh the way that the Philistines viewed Goliath. He is my Champion who goes down into the valley for me and confronts the enemy who opposes me and He wins the victory so that I don’t even have to fight anymore. So when we can view God as scary, then we are more than happy to send Him into the valley for us.
CP: You write in your book that Christians today don’t ask God to handle their problems and that they are slaves to “fear of man.” Can you elaborate on what that means?
MM: We have been taught — especially in our social media generation — that the most important thing you can be is popular. Your value as a person is defined primarily by the number of followers you have on social media, how many likes you get. So we have diminished the idea of self to being a commodity that is to be bought and sold. We market ourselves. We don’t just market a product we are trying to sell people. We market ourselves, which is such a twisted way to live.
Because we market ourselves and packaged ourselves as a product to be sold, if we ever come to a place in our life where people aren’t buying the product, we feel like an absolute failure. Ourselves, our individuality, our identity comes under attack. If people just don’t like us, they don’t follow us on social media or maybe they disagree with something we believe or something that we teach.
I have a friend who once said that if the primary deception of our parents' generation was the prosperity gospel, the primary deception of our generation is the popularity gospel. In our parent’s generation, we were taught that the evidence of God’s hand on someone’s life or ministry was their financial prosperity — they had a lot of money.
Similarly, in our generation, we are taught that the evidence of God’s hand on someone’s life or ministry is their popularity, how many people they are reaching, how many people come to their church and follow them on social media.
The truth is that we [need to] look at the fathers of our faith. A great example is Jeremiah, who preached for 40 years and not a single person repented because of his message.
If we look at Noah, he preached for 100 years and only 11 people were saved from the coming destruction. Or even the ministry of Jesus, He healed entire cities full of demon-possessed people, sick people, raising the dead. He completely transformed the culture and atmosphere of a region. Yet, at the moment of his trial, there was not a single person to stand up and testify on his behalf.
There is this misunderstanding that I think has crept into the Church that we would call the ‘fear of the spirit of man’ that has deceived us into believing that God’s will for our lives is that we be popular or influential. The heroes and fathers of our faith, many of them could not have been described as popular or influential. But they were faithful and they feared God above all else. The reason I still talk about this today is not that they were influential or popular but because they were faithful to what God called them to do even in secret.
As we fear the Lord above all else and we honor His word and His command above all us, we will find that He will be able to use us for His purposes. But if we try to put words into God’s mouth and demand that God help us become more popular or influential, we are going to find that someday we will look back and say, ‘I had a lot of followers on social media but I wasted the time God gave me.’ I don’t want that for anyone.
CP: What does it mean to truly fear the Lord?
MM: To truly fear the Lord is to behold Him for who He is and to make Him the sole obsession of our lives. I think that is easy if you really see Him the way His throne room is described in Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4. The way the nearness to God is described in Scripture is unbelievable, unimaginable. It is far beyond any movie special effects we can imagine.
We have been invited to approach God with freedom and confidence. So if we have been given access by the blood of Christ, what it means to fear God is to behold Him so clearly that his attributes are able to shock us and short circuit our thinking and transform us from the inside out and revolutionizes who we are and how we see the world — that everything we do will have to run through the filter of who God is and what He says.
CP: What is Awakening Evangelism? And what services does it provide? Reporter’s note: Montgomery founded the Alabama-based ministry Awakening Evangelism in early 2018 after years of providing evangelism training across the world.
MM: I think it is important that Christians to articulate the Gospel that we proclaim to believe. Most Christians don’t know how to do it and they don’t know how to see an opportunity for the Gospel to be preached.
We work to provide training and resources for believers to really take ownership of the Gospel and take responsibility for the world around them and to be people able, willing and enthusiastic enough to be able to preach the Gospel in any situation that they might find themselves in.
We have an online course, an online school of evangelism called BASE. Through BASE there is a network of other people that people can get connected to — coaches. There is online reading material that we provide, guides and things like that.
We will also do evangelism training. I will travel and do evangelism training in churches all-around the world.
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