June 2012

Jesus Deficit Disorder

I am currently re-reading the book ‘Jesus Manifesto‘ by Len Sweet and Frank Viola subtitled ‘Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ’. In this book Len coins the phrase ‘Jesus Deficit Disorder’ (JDD), a play on the familiar mental condition labelled Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). His contention is that the focus of today’s church flickers from one thing to another but seldom settles on Jesus. Like a child with ADD the body of Christ focuses first on social upliftment, then on politics, then on getting rich, then on biblical knowledge acquisition, and so on … but seldom on Jesus. Yet Jesus Christ is the creator, sustainer, head, and lord of the church. Without Him the church just isn’t the church. It may be a religious institution, or a philanthropic society, or a bless-me club; but without Jesus at its very centre it cannot be the church.

When a person is diagnosed with ADD they are most frequently prescribed a psychostimulant drug like Ritalin, but I was interested to discover that the same drug is often given in cases of lethargy, depression, and obesity. Perhaps if I were a medical doctor instead of a Ph.D I might be tempted to prescribe a spiritual Ritalin to treat the church’s JDD, lethargy, depression, and obesity. However, before attempting to prescribe I have to ask two questions: Is the church in general suffering from JDD? And if it is, then what is the spiritual equivalent of Ritalin that it can take?

A colleague of mine wrote to Len to enquire what sort of research he had conducted in order to diagnose the church as suffering from JDD. He replied that his observations had come out of ‘a lifetime of learning and living in the Spirit’. Len Sweet travels extensively as a speaker and theology professor and has been exposed to countless churches and Christian leaders over many years and in several nations, and so he is well able to diagnose the church’s current condition. I think his diagnosis is correct, but on what do I base my opinion?

I conducted a little rough and ready ‘research’ of my own. I looked at the list of the top ten articles for pastors published on SermonCentral.com over the past five years.  I reasoned that what pastors valued most as input must reflect in some way on what they believed was most important to them.  The first article listed was ’21 irrefutable laws of communication’, the second was ‘5 things God never said’ and the third was ’20 non-preaching websites for better preaching’. The list continued with not a single mention of Jesus or anything to do with Him.

I read the list to my wife and she responded, with a gentle smile, that pastors like me were focused on leadership and preaching related matters and that the list didn’t represent the real focus areas of Christians in general. So, I Googled ‘bestselling Christian books in 2010‘ and found that the name of Jesus features in only one book title, and that was 365 day devotional! After reading through the list I can understand why Sweet and Viola write of ‘ best-seller Christianity, which has become self-centeredness wrapped up as “spirituality”’.

So, from the evidence of my rough-and-ready research it looks like the church may well be suffering from JDD. But what can the body of Christ take to treat this malady? 
Perhaps the Bible is the Ritalin the church needs for recovery. No I don’t think it is. In general, the church still honours the Bible and often makes it the focus of attention. However, it is all too easy to read the scriptures without seeing that they consistently point to Jesus. The Pharisees of New Testament times had this problem because Jesus had to say to them, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). Not much has changed since then. Sweet and Viola write; ‘The written Word is a map that leads us to the living Word. Or as Jesus Himself put it, “The Scriptures point to Me! ”Every part of the sacred text breathes the same oxygen—Christ. So the Bible is not the destination; it’s a compass that points to Jesus— heaven’s Lodestar’.

No, there is no spiritual Ritalin for the JDD of today’s church. More Bible study isn’t it and nor is a revamped social upliftment program ‘it’, or a larger worship band, or a power-preacher in a white suite! The only remedy for JDD is for the church to reform itself around the centrality of Jesus. Sweet and Viola put it this way; ‘ Only a recovery of the greatness, supremacy, sovereignty, brilliance, and “allness” of Christ will lead us to restoration and even revival. The wonder of Jesus as “all in all” is the only hope for igniting the flame of a new reformation and resuscitating a church that’s presently on life support.’


The three greatest qualities of a Christian are faith, hope and love and they are also the three greatest needs in the world today. Love, unconditional self-giving, is the opposite of the self-serving greed that dominates most of modern society. Faith, complete trust and confidence in God, has been replaced by qualified faith in science, wealth and power structures. Hope, the expectation of future good, has in the main become a whimsical wish for some light in a dark future.

I am writing this article early in 2012 and I want to focus on the light of hope that we as Christians are called upon to shine into the gloom of our current national and global circumstances. Paul’s benediction to the church in Rome is, ‘may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 15:13). Our God is the God of hope, the source of real hope, and the basis for that hope. But what is the nature of our hope in God?

Firstly, it is the hope of eternal life. In Titus 3:4-8 Paul writes; ‘When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.’ Our hope of eternity with God is not based on anything we have done or could do, but upon His mercy and grace. It is therefore a real and unconditional hope.

Secondly, our hope is focused on the here and now (1 Timothy 6:17-18) and this present hope also has its source and substance in God. Jesus’ promise to his disciples, and therefore to us, is that He will never leave us but will be with us until the very end (Matthew 28:20). Because of His constant presence with all who are born of the Spirit we can be assured that in all things He will work for our good (Romans 8:28-29). This is the basis for our hope for tomorrow – Jesus is with us and He seeks to work through all the circumstances of our lives towards our highest good. Because of this hope we can have the joy and peace of which Paul writes, both now and eternally.

This hope which we as believers have is not supposed to be restricted to our own lives or even the lives of other believers. We are called to hold up the light of hope to the people around us who do not yet know Jesus as saviour and lord. ‘In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15-16). Our nation, and indeed the world, needs the light of hope that only we can offer for Ephesians 2:12 describes the condition of unbelievers as ‘without hope and without God in the world.’

The 23rd December, 2011 edition of one of the local community newspapers carried an article titled ‘Psychic makes 2012 prediction’. These prognostications included cripplingly high fuel costs; dire shortages of electricity, food, and water; disruptions to all forms of transport; the breakdown of communication systems, computers and cell-phones; and the collapse of economic structures leading to bartering systems! But, hey, the good news is that the manual typewriter will come back into fashion and we will have some really cool family times because of the lack of television, computers and cell-phones. Now I put no store at all in psychic predictions but they do say something about how people are thinking about the future – dark and without hope.

Our societies need our light. Jesus said that we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Why is this? We are the light of hope because we are the ones who know the source of light and hope, Jesus Christ, and our mandate is to overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. The substance of the hope which we offer is that through Jesus all who believe can be born again by the power of the Holy Spirit into a living relationship with Almighty God. Because of this, all who are saved by His grace can enjoy His constant presence in their lives and know with certainty that He works in all circumstances towards their highest good. Finally, when their journey together with Him on this planet comes to an end they have the sure hope that their lives will continue with Him into eternity.

Getting to the end of ourselves

We need to get to the end of ourselves to fully experience God’s power in and through us. Would you agree with this statement? Well, it seems to be one of the things Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 12 where he defends his apostolic ministry. First he mentions that God caught him up to heaven where he ‘heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell’. Then, he continues, God gave him a ‘thorn in his flesh’ to prevent him from becoming conceited. But Paul’s affliction also served another purpose; it kept him dependent on God. 
When he asked the Lord to heal his progressive blindness, for that is what I think the ‘thorn’ was (see Galatians 4:13-16 and 6:11), God responded with, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. The first part of this could well mean something like, “Paul, don’t worry what others think of you because my favour and regard is all you need.” However, it is the second part of the statement that I want to zoom in on; “My power is made perfect in weakness”. A loose paraphrase of this could be, “My power only really manifests fully in you when you stop trying to do it all yourself. For me to be strong in you, you need to know that you are weak in yourself.” Now that is a rather strange thought for many of us. Certainly it contradicts the way the business and political world thinks; one of their mottos is ‘the only one you can rely on is yourself’, and there are several others that express the same sentiment. But does God mean that He wants us to do nothing so that He can do it all? I don’t think that is quite it. 
In the Old Testament, there is the fascinating story of how Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord at a place he later called Peniel. Jacob was a tricky fellow who had thrived by using his wit and abilities to excel, largely at the expense of others. He had stolen the rights of a first born son from his brother Esau and now the time had come for him to face up to both himself and his brother. He sent his family and possession on ahead of him to impress and placate his brother in a final attempt to get ahead through guile and strategy. Then he stayed alone all night at a spot where the Jabbok and Jordan rivers meet. The Lord appeared to him in material form and wrestled with him until dawn. Finally, when all of Jacob’s strength and endurance were at an end, the Lord permanently impaired him by throwing his hip out of joint. God then changed the ’victorious’ man’s name to Israel. 
 I have three questions concerning this powerful interaction between God and Jacob. The first is, ‘Why did the Lord wrestle with Jacob the whole night when he could have beaten him in a nanosecond?’ I think that it was because He wanted Jacob to get to the very end of himself; of his strength, skill, and endurance. Secondly, ‘Why did the Lord give Jacob a permanent limp (a thorn in the flesh)?’ My belief is that this was to constantly remind him that God was stronger than him. Lastly, ‘Why did the Lord change Jacob’s name to Israel?’ Well, the name Jacob means ‘supplanter, trickster, con-man’. Israel, on the other hands means either ‘he strives with God’, or ‘Prince with God’, or even ‘Let God rule’. By the way, the reason one Hebrew word can be translated in different ways is primarily because the language has no vowels and so these are added when translating to make sense of the word within its specific context. By renaming Jacob I believe that God was, among other things, saying, “Jacob, in yourself you are just a con man, but in me you are a prince.” Jacob came to Peniel in his own strength but he left it to meet his brother in the Lord’s strength. 
Paul expressed the principle of getting to the end of oneself as, ‘For when I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Corinthians 12:10). However, it is clear from his attitude and actions that he didn’t stop trying his hardest to be and do what was honouring to God. For instance, in Philippians 3:13-14 he writes, ‘Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus’. The proper response to the realisation that Gods strength is manifest in our weakness is not to give up or to try less, but to come swiftly into line with God’s purpose and power. It is mostly a matter of attitude. 
What usually happens with us, if we are honest with ourselves, is that we try to do everything we can in our own strength and then, like Jacob, we only come to God for help when we have tried everything but are still not succeeding. We seem to have to get to the end of ourselves before we rely on God’s grace and strength. What a pity! Wouldn’t it make so much more sense if we realised up front that we can’t do it on our own and asked the Lord Jesus to partner with us from the very beginning. 
I think the words ‘partner with us’ are the key here. God is the senior partner and we are junior partners – but partners never the less. We need to do our very best, but in partnership with Almighty God. Our prayer needs to be, “Lord I can’t do this on my own so I want to do it with you, and your way, from the very beginning”.

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.