I haven't listened to his series but this introduction is indicative of a number of problems.Last week I finished a nine week series on the Sermon on the Mount entitled “The Glorious Impossibility.” I opened the series by saying that we naturally treat the Sermon on the Mount like we typically treat the rest of the Bible–like it’s a divine self-help manual, a blueprint for having your best life now. But actually the Sermon on the Mount is intended to show that the Christian life is a glorious impossibility.In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wants to set us free by showing us our need for a rightness we can never attain on our own–an impossible righteousness that’s always out of our reach. The purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to demolish all notions that we can reach the righteousness required by God–it’s about exterminating all attempts at self-sufficient moral endeavor.So, in the deepest sense, the Sermon on the Mount is not a goal, but a wall we crash into so that we finally cry out “I can’t do it!”
1. He sets up a false dichotomy: either the Sermon on the Mount is a "divine self-help manual"or it's goal is to "show that the Christian life is a glorious impossibility." By setting up the issue this way he prejudices the outcome-- of course no one who honors the Word wants to think it's a "self-help manual...a blueprint for having your best life now" (a not-so-subtle reference to Joel Osteen's book).
2. He misunderstands the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount as its intent is allegedly "to demolish all notions that we can reach the righteousness required by God." Is it really about "exterminating all attempts at self-sufficient moral endeavor?" Is that what Jesus really meant? Is this what the apostles would have understood Jesus to have meant?
Tchividjian has articulated a typical Lutheran perspective on the Sermon on the Mount. One of the major problems with this approach is that it places the Sermon in an artificial construct. It abstracts the Sermon out of its first century Jewish context and places it in a foreign context. New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has written an excellent book seeking to place Jesus in his first century context in his book A New Vision of Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context (Eerdmans, 1999). In reference to the ethics of Jesus he writes:
The theological controversies that fermented during and helped precipitate the Reformation focused on grace and works. Too often Jesus was seen as a sophisticated theologian. Two facets of this debate deserve mention: the Lutheran use of the ethic of Jesus as merely a heightened and intensification of the law, which brings people to trust in grace; and the Calvinist focus on the theology of faith and grace in Paul, which virtually eclipsed the need for the ethic of Jesus, except to flesh out what Paul meant by the life of faith.
Lutheran theology, with its dichotomizing of law and faith, found in the Sermon on the Mount a Mosaic-like demand for righteousness. This led to severe tension with the Lutheran emphasis upon salvation by faith alone (understood as trust in God's gracious provision of salvation in Christ) and ultimately to a reinterpretation of the Sermon on the Mount in a manner totally out of harmony with its own conclusion (Matt. 7:13-27). Consequently, Jesus' ethic was perceived to be a concentration of Moses' law for the purpose of driving his listeners to see their absolute need for trust in God's grace rather than in their human capacity to obey. A full critique of this approach cannot be offered here; suffice it to say that a theological dialectic has been permitted to do violence to the clear words of Jesus. (p. 159)There seems to be an unwarranted fear that if we heed the actual words of Jesus this will lead to some sort of "works righteousness." We do not honor the words of Jesus by ignoring these words in an effort to uphold a theological system. As McKnight states elsewhere in his book:
Jesus, however should not be made subservient to the Reformation; his theology stands on its own in its thoroughly Jewish context. Reformation theology needs to answer to Jesus, not Jesus to it. (pp. 33-34)