- C.S. Lewis
Note from CM: This was written about a month after Michael Spencer died in 2010. I was coaching my grandson’s T-ball team at the time and remembering Michael’s love for baseball when I wrote it. It touches on a theme that was also a common concern for Michael and me: the dearth of understanding in evangelicalism about spiritual formation and the contemplative life. This has long been one of my major issues with American activist-style religion.
• • •
I had a vision of the evangelical church today. While coaching at my grandson’s Little League game (6-8 year olds), the heavens opened and a lot of things became clear to me, especially:
- Why it’s so hard to be a Jesus-shaped follower of Christ in America today.
- Why the evangelical church is not helping in that regard.
I love these kids at the ballyard, and we have all kinds on our team. There’s this tiny kid, Johnny, who just stares at me with a goofy look on his face whenever I try to tell him something. Then he does whatever he wants. We have Big Jimmy, who has grown faster than his peers. He can hit the ball hard, and we have to make sure the younger ones aren’t picking their noses or playing in the dirt when he’s at the plate. Then we have L’il Jeffrey, the small athletic child who is quick as a fox and plays with abandon. Our team has two little girls in the lineup. They are among the younger ones, and they don’t really get this baseball thing yet. Nor do a few of the boys, who dig their spikes around in the dirt, blow bubbles with their gum, and watch what’s happening in the stands as much as what’s on the field.
The majority still can’t catch a fly ball unless it happens to fall directly into the web of their glove. Catchers duck and let the ball go to the backstop rather than making any effort to stop it — if they even see it coming, that is. The concept of a “force out” mostly eludes them. If you ask one of them what he was thinking when he threw the ball to the wrong base, or kept running when the coach told him to stop, he’ll probably shrug his shoulders and say, “I dunno.”
What they do know is that they get to wear a uniform, swing a cool bat, be with a bunch of other kids, and have a snack at the end of the game. They don’t talk much about winning and losing, and when they do, their words don’t reveal much emotion. They’re kids. It’s about having fun. About the only time tears fall is when someone gets embarrassed or is made to feel ashamed for something he’s done or failed to do. Or gets hit by a ball or scared by one.
This is instructional league. Kids are there to learn the basics and have some organized fun. Coaches focus on teaching proper fundamentals. How to hold a bat and swing it. A good batting stance. How to be ready in the field. Throwing at a target instead of just heaving the ball somewhere. Listening to the coach. What to do and where to look when running the bases. We don’t even have “game situations” to worry about at this age. We just play and help kids learn the game. Hit the ball. Throw the ball. Catch the ball. Run. Support your teammates. Be a good sport.
It’s kinda like church, I thought. Just a bunch of kids trying to be like Jesus.
As I stood there in the third bases coaching box, watching one of our young hitters at bat, it suddenly hit me how loud it was. The kids in the field were chanting in chorus, “Hey batter, batter! Hey batter, batter! Hey batter, batter, SWING!” Our team in the dugout raised their own cry, “Here we go, Johnny, here we go (clap, clap)!” Three or four coaches were yelling encouragement and instruction. “Get a rip, Johnny!” “Johnny, back off the plate!” “Get your bat up!” “Watch the ball now!” “Level swing!” Johnny’s parents and other team parents were in on the act too, of course. “C’mon Johnny! Remember how we practiced it! Get your elbow up! Keep your eye on the ball! Let’s go, Johnny! You can do it!” Between pitches, even the coach on the other team, who was standing behind the catcher to help keep the game moving along, would walk up and help our hitter stand himself correctly in the box and hold his bat in proper position.
With each pitch, the cacophony restarted. When Johnny hit the ball, everyone screamed, “Run! Run!” And then a chorus of admonition rose like a wave from the other team’s bench and stands. “Catch the ball, Billy!” “First base, first base!” “Watch the runner going to third!” “Don’t hang on to the ball, throw it!” “Tag him, Mark!”
Mostly, the kids just played while everyone else was yelling for them and at them. It seemed to me that only a small percentage of what was screamed in their direction was heard. They simply tuned it out. Whether the coaches and their parents liked it or not, the players reverted to their own habits and did it their way. A number of them have shown progress by steps over the course of the year, but rarely do you see them alter their stance or do something dramatically different in the midst of a single game.
And suddenly I thought of something else about the contemporary church.
And how we are supposedly trying to help people be like Jesus and follow Jesus.
And it hit me that what we usually do is yell at them and expect them to perform.
This is the evangelical church. It’s ballyard religion.
A new believer comes up to the plate and we yell encouragement and instruction to him.
- Read your Bible!
- Pray every day!
- Make sure you’re in church each Sunday!
- Take our discipleship training course!
- Become a member of the church!
- Get involved and get busy serving the Lord!
- Be generous with your money! Give to the church!
- Discover your spiritual gifts!
- Have a heart for missions!
- Take a stand on the important cultural issues of the day!
- (Pick one:) Husbands, love your wives! Wives, submit to your husbands! Children, obey your parents!
- Become a member of a small group!
- Listen to Christian music!
- Go to this special conference we’re holding!
Every time a believer goes to church, attends a small group or Bible study, turns on Christian media, walks into a Christian bookstore, reads a Christian magazine or goes to an online Christian site, attends a Christian conference or concert, or gets together with evangelical friends at a coffee shop, it seems like the conversation is about what we should be doing, what our church should be doing, what Christians should be doing. What book we should be reading. What seminar we should be attending. What Bible study we should participate in. What concert is coming to town. What friends we should be praying for. What political decision is proof positive that America has finally departed completely from God and is going to hell in a hand basket, and what we should do about it.
The pastor is telling me to keep my eye on the ball. My Bible study leader is challenging me to keep a level swing. Various program leaders in the church are saying, “Run! Run!” Leading evangelical spokespersons are telling me I’m doing it wrong and I need to adjust my stance, get my hands up, and step toward the pitcher when I swing.
Everybody is telling me what to do. At the same time. With urgency.
The ethos of evangelicalism has always been that of activism. We are saved to serve. Growing in Christ happens when we exercise properly. There is no shortage of voices calling out help and encouragement. But it’s often like the ballyard. The voices are white noise. It’s hard to pick out anything that will really help me know Jesus better.
Besides, I already live in a world like that. A noisy world. A world full of opinions blasting out all around me 24/7. Why would I want to go to a church that just does the same thing in religious terms? And why do we do it anyway? Do we Christians think we have to raise our voices and shout to be heard above the crowd?
In my earlier coaching days, I used to join the chorus of voices. I don’t think I was very effective. Now, when I want to tell a player something, I call his name until he looks me directly in the face. I say one thing that I want to get across, in as simple language as I can muster. I ask, “Do you understand?” Then I say, “Go get ‘em!” I try to get a small victory, a miniscule change, a moment of communication.
I’m convinced evangelicalism has a poor understanding of the processes that lead to true spiritual formation in Christ. We don’t need a ballyard full of people yelling out in a cacophonous chorus of encouragement and instruction. We need pastors who visit us and help us know Jesus better. We need friends who let us be ourselves and patiently walk with us in our journeys. We need mentors who will model the way and take us under their wings. We need spiritual directors who will patiently teach us to listen to the quiet voice of the Spirit. We need to learn spiritual practices that will form us and shape us into the image of Jesus.
We need quiet. And slow. And personal. One voice at a time. Face to face. Unhurried conversations. Time. Patience. A willingness to make mistakes, and a willingness to let others do the same. Small victories. Miniscule changes. Moments of reflection.
And it all needs to happen in the context of day to day life, because when it comes to faith, that’s where the game is played.
I love the ballyard, I just don’t want to try to play the game of life with Jesus when everybody’s yelling at me like that.
Alfred Hitchcock films are some of our family’s favorites. Engineer Husband says Vertigo is a masterpiece. Brown Bear Daughter likes The Lady Vanishes. Betsy-Bee and my sister say they are both fans of Rear Window. I rather like North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief, only partially due to my crush on Cary Grant.
Author Jim Averbeck harbors a fondness for “Hitch”, too, and he’s made the famous director a central character in his debut middle grade mystery novel, A Hitch at the Fairmont. After his aspiring actress mother drives her car off a cliff, eleven year old Jim Fair is a double orphan. His horrible Aunt Edith, his sole surviving relative, takes him to live with her at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, but when Aunt Edith disappears, Alfred Hitchcock is the only adult Jim can trust to help him find his awful aunt and avoid the social worker who wants to take him to an orphanage.
There are lots of reverences and allusions to the canon of Hitchcock films as Jim and Mr. Hitchcock careen through their own film-worthy adventure. It’s San Francisco, and one chapter takes place at the Mission Dolores. Also a ghost lady lures the crooks out of hiding. (Vertigo) Jim gets a ransom note embedded in a news article titled “Birds Terrorize Coastal Town” (The Birds). Jim and Hitch briefly mull a theory that Aunt Edith might have been carried out of the hotel, dismembered, in several suitcases or trunks, and another part of the action takes place in a building that is a “camera obscure” that the two use to spy on their suspect (Rear Window). Hitchcock talks to the social worker from the shower while pretending to be Aunt Edith shaving his/her leg (shades of Psycho!). In The Lady Vanishes and in North by Northwest, the police disbelieve the witnesses to a kidnapping/disappearance, and the same thing happens in A Hitch at the Fairmont. And Jim and his mentor Hitchcock meet the kidnappers in a church while the congregation is singing a hymn, similar to the Ambrose Chapel scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much.
I’m sure that fans will find several more echoes of Hitchcock films as they read A Hitch at the Fairmont, and middle grade readers who are not familiar with the movies Mr. Hitchcock directed might find this book an entertaining introduction to Hitch. I thought the book was fun and intriguing, just as Alfred Hitchcock’s movies were.
(As best I can figure out, we're close to releasing my next novel, Death's Doors. To whet your appetite, here's a snippet. lw)
We have no use for barns anymore, but are ashamed to tear them down. So the lofted sheds stand here and there across the land on derelict farmsteads, redundant, their backs swayed like old horses'.
The woman tossed her cigarette away. It arced like comet spit in the dark. She went into the ruined barn through a dutch door, pulling open first the upper panel, then the lower. The granulated hinges screamed and the bottom scraped an arc in the earth. She was afraid the noise would wake the baby she cradled in her left arm, but it did not. Such a good baby.
The law said she could be rid of a baby up to the age of eight weeks. She would never have let this one go except for something like this - something terribly, cosmically important.
Her flashlight showed her a low-ceilinged side-shed with animal stalls along its inside wall, its dividers and wooden posts scaly with brown flakes of ancient, petrified manure.
The old woman she'd come to see sat so still that she overshot her with the flashlight beam and had to back it up. Once fixed by the beam, the old woman smiled - a smile of radiant beauty that brought to mind a Renaissance Madonna gone wrinkled and white-haired.
"You - you're the one I was to meet?" the younger woman asked.
"I am, child. Don't shine the light in my eyes, please."
"You can give me the Key?"
"That I can."
"But you - you look so kind!"
"I would hope I am, child." The old woman's blue eyes radiated pure pity - the pity of one who has lived long, and done all things, and gained infinite understanding through experience.
"Then - then you'll accept some other price! You're too good to ask this. I can see that."
The gentle eyes held hers with empathy more than mortal. "Give me the child, Child. Ê¼Tis the easiest way."
"No! No! You're merciful. I see that. You'll take some other price. You'll take money, or let me be your slave, or - something. You won't ask this. You can't. I know you can't."
The old woman held her hands out, smiling. "Give it over, there's a good child."
Her body racked with sobs, the woman gave her baby up. Made clumsy with weeping, she dropped her flashlight. It went out striking the concrete floor, dilating the darkness about them.
She felt something smooth and warm pressed against the palm of her hand. "Good girl," said the old woman's voice. "Here is the Key, as we promised."
She groped for her flashlight and found it. She lurched out the door, bumping her shoulder against the frame, the useless flashlight in one hand, the Key in the other.
But the world she found outside was not the one from which she'd come.
Scandinavians are so culturally identified with coffee that one of America's foremost brands actually made a Scandinavian (of unspecified nationality) their spokeswoman for more than twenty years, a period of time popularly known as "our long national caffeine-induced nightmare."
From 1965 to 1986, Virginia Christine, an actress of Swedish extraction, played "Mrs. Olson" in one of the longest-lived commercial campaigns in history. Throughout those years this diabolical old harridan, obviously unhappily married herself, insinuated herself into other people's domestic problems, like this.
According to her Wikipedia page, Ms. Christine spent her declining years as a Planned Parenthood volunteer, which explains a lot, it seems to me. Clearly she was slipping contraceptive drugs into these people's coffee. Which obviously accounts for the dropping birth rates that characterized the '60s, '70s, and '80s.
Coffee. A clear and present danger to the republic.
Angel Sarkela-Saur and Andrew Saur have been painting with coffee for years. This video introduces them and their artwork. They mention sending their work to the U.S. Embassy to Malawi in the video. Now they are sending three pieces "Drained," Dabble," and "Voyage to Valhalla" to our ambassador to Columbia for a three year stay.
VotM Persecution Blog has a helpful post on five truths to keep in mind as IS advances in Iraq. I like these two the best:
2. God always finds a way to encourage, grow, and build His church. He's just looking for those willing to count the cost. . . .Amen.
5. The battle is already decided.
Have you read the Book of Revelation? We know who will ultimately win the battle—the Lord Jesus Christ. Until that day, when Jesus makes His final return to take His rightful place, you can stand with your persecuted family by choosing to fellowship with them through your prayers and actions.
Jesus is patient and kind; he is not envious or boastful; he’s not arrogant or rude. He did not insist on his own way but following his Father’s will, left the glory of heaven to empty himself and serve us and sacrifice himself for us.
Jesus isn’t irritable or resentful. And Jesus keeps no record of wrongs that he might rejoice over us in our sins and failings – for he has forgiven us all our trespasses, throwing our sins into the depths of the sea to remember them no more and has JUSTIFIED us. Jesus rejoices with the truth of his grace that declares us righteous; he delights in us and over us.
Therefore, in Jesus we can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.
Jesus never ends.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
– 1 John 1:7
We feasted on this verse at our men’s discipleship group meeting last night. There is much to be nourished by here. One connection we do not often make is how “walking in the light” is connected to “having fellowship with one another.” But the connection is this: if we are not willing to step into the truth of confession, repentance, faithfulness, and the humility all that entails, no one can be in a real relationship with the real us. The less we are in the light, the less the true us is known. Whole relationships carry on in the dark sometimes, especially in churches, where everyone is in relationship with everybody’s projected version of themselves, with facades.
Here is Ray Ortlund on this passage from his great little book The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ:
A heart aloof from God grows aloof from others. It engages in merciless comparisons and endless faultfinding. Therefore, all restoration begins by going back to God first, prodigals that we are.
The wonderful thing is that, when we lose our way, God is not hard to find again. He has made himself very findable. He is “in the light” — right out there in the place of truth, honesty, openness, confession, and owning up. God himself awaits us there. We sinners can go to him freely through the cross of Christ. There in the light, but only in the light, everything gets better in our relationships with one another too.
The price we pay is to face ourselves. That is humiliating and painful. It’s why we shun the light. There are episodes in our past that we don’t want to think about — harsh words, acts of betrayal, broken promises, and worse. We shove these memories down into the darkness of our excuses and blame-shifting. We refuse to call sin “sin.” We feel too threatened by what we have done even to admit it to ourselves, much less confess it to others. But those places of deepest shame are where the Lord Jesus loves us the most tenderly. Is there any reason not to walk in his light together, where we recover fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin?
It is so refreshing to come back out into the light of honesty again, where we first met the Lord. It is there that ex-friends can be regained by love. It is there that Jesus is glorified in the eyes of the world.
Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.
With all the coffee choices we have now, are coffee farmers making more money or expanding their markets like they could not 20 years ago? It doesn't appear so. Oscar Abello writes about the pitfalls of Fair Trade certification and the clash between what professes to do and reality.
If Fair Trade certified coffee is intended to be sold at a fair price to give workers a fair wage, then why are farms larger than 10 acres allowed to be certified, when they can afford to pay their workers better than small farms.
When Aida Batlle she took over her family's 38-acre farm in El Salvador in 2002, it was too large for fair-trade certification, even though Batlle claims to pay her workers three times what everyone else is paying, plus transportation and food. After winning El Salvador's inaugural Cup of Excellence competition in 2003, Aida became something of a celebrity in the "Third Wave" movement of coffee, even getting her own profile in the New Yorker.Maybe certification is merely another way to pay bureaucrats for the privilege to say what they want us to say.
One of Batlle's longest-running buyers is Counter Culture Coffee, founded in 1995 in Durham, N.C. Ten years ago, Counter Culture was still mostly a smaller regional roasting company, trying to get a market foothold by handing out samples in grocery stores. Customers would ask why one coffee from Nicaragua was certified fair-trade and this other one from El Salvador (the coffee from Batlle's farm) wasn't. In reality, Batlle's workers were among the highest paid of all of Counter Culture's suppliers.
"The idea that this was somehow unfair because there's no certification on it, no seal, was just maddening," says Counter Culture Kim Elena Ionescu.
In other news, Dunkin Donuts now offers a coffee-flavored doughnut, which makes me ask why they didn't have this before. Particularly since DD is known for their coffee, I assumed they already had a coffee-flavored doughnut, just as I would assume they zip up their pants. When you notice you point it out like a mistake, not a new idea.
In spite of the televangelism scandals and the failed presidential run of Pat Robertson, the evangelical right remained the political and cultural baseline for measuring the status of religion in American public life. The emergence of groups like Moral Majority, wrote theologian Richard John Neuhaus in the mid-1980s, “kicked a tripwire” in the ongoing church-state debate. Perhaps, as wise minds across the political spectrum once again argued, religion was vital to the health of American democracy. In the Age of Evangelicalism, “religion” was often translated, however inaccurately, as “evangelical Christianity.” Yet many evangelical elites saw themselves as an embattled minority even as they sought—and gained— public influence. In the 1990s, the audacious Christian Coalition and other born-again banes of President Bill Clinton shared the stage with a disproportionately prominent group of moderate evangelical scholars and public intellectuals. They, in turn, coexisted with (and chafed at) the booming evangelical music and entertainment market. Two metaphors profoundly informed discussions of faith and public life in the fin de siècle United States: the “naked public square” and the “culture war.”
• The Age of Evangelicalism
This excerpt from Steven P. Miller’s book on public face of American evangelical Christianity from the years 1970-2008 speaks to what happened in the 1990′s, after the rise and triumphs of the Christian Right in the 1970′s and 80′s. During this decade, evangelicals consolidated their power, engaged in spirited discussions about the role of religion in public life, and continued to participate in a process of reshaping historic alliances and loyalties. As Miller writes, “A nation that once thought in terms of Catholics or Protestants (or, more specifically, Polish Catholics or German Lutherans) had become a society of pro-lifers and pro-choicers. A conservative Southern Baptist now might have more in common with a traditionalist Catholic than with, say, Jimmy Carter. The new coordinates were easily politicized. Such divisions threatened to tear apart American society.”
The lines were drawn in the 70′s and 80′s. One scholar described the 1990′s as public evangelicalism’s transition “from revolution to evolution.”
As for me personally, this was the decade in which I served in an evangelical church in Indianapolis, a “community” church. It was a “daughter church” that had been planted by another congregation which was, at least in the context of our county, a megachurch. This group of churches was founded by pastors and missionaries in the Methodist and Wesleyan traditions. The congregations were intentionally non-denominational and independent of one another, based on a ministry philosophy of evangelism, discipleship, church-planting and missions, non-doctrinaire, non-liturgical, and elder-led with strong senior pastor leadership. Bible-based, they emphasized practical Christian living rather than in-depth study or theology. They were committed to church growth, and a great deal of that growth came from Christians who migrated from other congregations.
As a pastor in such a church in the 1990′s I tiptoed my way through the minefield called “worship wars.” The more I studied worship and read people like Robert Webber, the more I questioned what I was doing as a “worship leader” (now an official category of vocational ministry in evangelicalism) and whether we evangelicals understood much about worship at all. I spent countless hours in Christian bookstores. I went on mission trips and watched my children go on them as well. I coached Little League and developed a life outside the church and thereby realized more and more the “Christian Bubble” I and my fellow evangelicals were living in. Thankfully, the senior minister with whom I worked was more of a traditional pastor than a church growth practitioner or CEO, so our congregation was less “driven” than some others.
We were not a politically-obsessed people. Occasional remarks like, “No true Christian could ever vote for Bill Clinton,” were thankfully rare and not the focus of our conversations. But that had more to do with our pastor and the atmosphere of unity and focusing on essentials that he worked hard to maintain among us.
The 1990′s were good years for me. However, many of the seeds of later dissatisfaction with evangelicalism were planted and/or watered during that decade. They did not break the surface until the 2000′s.
The 1990′s were the years we became familiar with:
- The culture wars
- Influential writings by Richard Neuhaus (The Naked Public Square, First Things journal), James Davison Hunter (Culture Wars), Stephen Carter (The Culture of Disbelief), Mark Noll (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind)
- Pat Buchanan’s “culture war” speech at the 1992 Republican Convention
- The Fundamentalism Project
- Voices of “thoughtful” evangelical intellectuals: George Marsden, Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, Randall Balmer, Richard Mouw
- Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), Neuhaus and Charles Colson
- The “commoditization” of evangelicalism: “The booming “Christian lifestyle” phenomenon took many forms, ranging from contemporary Christian music to megachurches and the rise of such Christian-friendly citadels as Colorado Springs and Branson, Missouri.”
- The widespread growth of Christian bookstores.
- Christian music artists “crossing over” into popular music and the development of “Praise and Worship” music.
- The rapid expansion and establishment of megachurches and the “seeker” approach. Bill Hybels and Rick Warren. The expansion of the Willow Creek Association. The Purpose-Driven Church.
- Founding of the Christian Coalition. Ralph Reed.
- The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the evangelical answer to the ACLU. Jay Sekulow.
- The rise of conservative talk radio and cable news. Rush Limbaugh.
- The Clinton Presidency, the Republican triumph in the 1994 mid-term elections, Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America.
- The Promise Keepers men’s movement. Their emphasis on racial reconciliation.
- Resurgence of the evangelical left: Habitat for Humanity, Jimmy Carter’s post-presidency, Tony Campolo.
- The Clinton impeachment hearings, led by independent counsel and evangelical Kenneth Starr.
At the end of his chapters covering the 1990′s, Steven Miller summarizes where we were with regard to evangelicalism in public life:
As the impeachment crisis revealed, the evangelical right held more power in the House of Representatives than in society as a whole. Public distaste for the impeachment process was a pointed reminder that, while evangelicals might occasionally form a moral plurality, a true majority was out of reach. That distinction became particularly important a few years later, by which time the Christian Right again was the talk of the Beltway. “We are going to have to invent a presidential candidate for the year 2000,” Ralph Reed declared after Clinton’s reelection victory in 1996. Four years later, Reed found his man.
• The Age of Evangelicalism
Coffee week, huh? That's what I get for being gracious, in a moment of weakness.
Getting into the spirit of the thing, I want to recommend to you Mark Helprin's masterful novel, Memoir From Antproof Case. It's a moving story about a man who goes into violent rages whenever he smells coffee, or sees anyone drinking it. Needless to say, he's a sympathetic character.
I wanted to re-post my review, but it seems to be on the old blog, where I can't search.
Also, on another note, I want to thank Loren Eaton for giving me a mention in his latest review. I have trouble commenting over there, so I'll say it here.
Now get some sleep. Helpful hint: It helps if you lay off the caffeine.
It's coffee week here on Brandywine Books. Come back everyday for wonderful posts and links to coffee-related information bound to bless your taste buds and have you leaping like Arabian goats.
Are you looking for new roasts to try? Startup company Craft Coffee already has a large database in pursuit of their goal to become the Pandora of coffee flavors. Fill out their survey, try their service, and they will apply their algorithms to your tastes to help you find a cup of coffee you love to death.
Benjamin Obler has collected ten scenes or lines which include coffee, like this one from Muriel Spark's The Comforters.
"Tell me about the voices," he said. "I heard nothing myself. From what direction did they come?"
"Over there, beside the fireplace," she answered.
"Would you like some tea? I think there is tea."
"Oh, coffee. Could I have some coffee? I don't think I'm likely to sleep."
Isn't it terribly English of the Baron to offer tea to Caroline, who's just fled a religious centre (not a nunnery, not a retreat), has separated from her husband, and is now suffering delusions - hearing the clacks of typewriter keys and a voice narrating her very thoughts! Take comfort in tea. It is in character of the Baron to think so: he's a man of affected intellectualism, calling the sections of his bookshop "Histor-ay, Biograph-ay, Theolog-ay," and addressing everyone as "my dear". But only coffee is up for the job. This is coffee as antidote to madness. What else to clear her head in this fix? They've already had CuraÃ§ao - that didn't help. Coffee as realignment. Coffee to reconnect with your own synapses, to reset the senses and solidify reality in the forefront.
Note from CM: Here is the last of the three “Evangelical Collapse” pieces that Michael Spencer wrote five years ago. I think five years provides a good mile marker at which to look at what he said then, how it compares to the landscape today, and what we might see ahead. We’ll stick to discussing U.S. evangelicalism in one form or another throughout this week. If you haven’t been following along, we started last Monday, and I’d encourage you to peruse those posts and comment threads so you’ll know what ground we’ve already covered.
• • •
I’ve received many notes and emails over this series of posts, and I’m glad that it has been provocative and discussion-producing.
Is the coming evangelical collapse entirely a bad thing? Or is there good that will come from this season of the evangelical story?
One of the most encouraging developments in recent evangelicalism is the conviction that something is very wrong. One voice that has been warning American evangelicals of serious problems is theologian Michael Horton. For more than 20 years, Horton has been warning that evangelicals have become something almost unrecognizable in the flow of Christian history. From the prophetic Made in America: The Shaping of Modern American Evangelicalism to the incredible In the Face of God to the most recent Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Horton has been saying that evangelicals are on the verge of theological/ecclesiastical disaster.
Horton’s diagnosis is not, however, the same diagnosis as we saw in the heyday of the culture war, i.e. that evangelicals must rise up and take political and cultural influence if America is to survive and guarantee freedom and blessing. Horton’s warning has been the abandonment of the most basic calling of the church: the preservation and communication of the essentials of the Gospel in the church itself.
The coming evangelical collapse will be, in my view, exactly what Horton has been warning us about for two decades. In that sense, there is something fundamentally healthy about accepting that, if the disease cannot be cured, then the symptoms need to run their course and we need to get to the next chapter. Evangelicalism doesn’t need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral.
But not all; not by any means. In other words, the question is not so much what will be lost, but what is the condition of what remains?
As I’ve said in the previous post in this series, what will be left will be 1) an evangelicalism greatly chastened in numbers, influence and resources, 2) a remaining majority of Charismatic-Pentecostal Christians faced with the opportunity to reform or become unrecognizable, 3) an invigorated minority of evangelicals committed to theology and church renewal, 4) a marginalized emerging and mainline community and 5) an evangelicalized segment of the other Christian communions.
Is it a good thing that denominations are going to become largely irrelevant? Only if the networks that replace them are able to marshal resources, training and vision to the mission field and into the planting and equipping of churches?
Is it a good thing that many marginal believers will depart, leaving evangelicalism with a more committed, serious core of followers? Possibly, if churches begin and continue the work of renewing serious church membership?
Is it a good thing that the emerging church will fade into the irrelevance of the mainlines? If this leaves innovative, missionally minded, historically and confessionally orthodox churches to “emerge” in the place of the traditional church, yes. Yes, if it fundamentally changes the conversation from the maintenance of traditional churches to developing new and culturally appropriate churches.
Is it a good thing that Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority of evangelicals? Yes, if reformation can reach those churches and produce the kind of unity we see in Wesley and Lloyd-Jones; a unity where the cleavage between doctrine and spiritual gifts isn’t assumed.
The ascendency of Charismatic-Pentecostal influenced worship around the world can be a major positive for the evangelical movement if that development is joined with the calling, training and mentoring of leaders. If American churches come under more of the influence of the movement of the Spirit in Africa and Asia, this will be a good thing. (I recognize, btw, that all is not well overseas, but I do not believe that makes the help of Christians in other cultures a moot point.)
Will the evangelicalizing of Catholic and Orthodox communions be a good development? One can hope for greater unity and appreciation, but the history of these developments seems to be much more about a renewed vigor to “evangelize” Protestantism in the name of unity. For those communions, it’s a good development, but probably not for evangelicals themselves.
Will the coming evangelical collapse get evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallowness that has brought about its loss of substance and power? I tend to believe that even with large declines in numbers and an evidence “earthquake” of evangelical loyalty, the purveyors of the evangelical circus will be in full form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church’s problems. I expect the landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time. (I rejoice in those megachurches that fulfill their role as places of influence and resource for other ministries without insisting on imitation.)
Will the coming evangelical collapse shake loose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? We can all pray and hope that this will be so, but evidence from other similar periods is not encouraging. Coming to terms with the economic implications of the Gospel has proven particularly difficult for evangelicals. That’s not to say that American Christians aren’t generous….they are. It is to say that American Christians seldom seem to be able to separate their theology from an overall idea of personal affluence and success American style. Perhaps the time is coming that this entanglement will be challenged, especially in the lives of younger Christians.
But it is impossible to not be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, “Christianity loves a crumbling empire.” Christianity has flourished when it should have been exterminated. It has conquered when it was counted as defeated. Evangelicalism’s heyday is not the entirety of God’s plan.
I think we can rejoice that in the ruins of the evangelical collapse new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. New kinds of church structure, new uses of gifts, new ways to develop leaders and do the mission- all these will appear as the evangelical collapse occurs.
I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, paid staff and numbers its drugs for half a century.
I expect to see a substantial abandonment of the seminary system. How can a denomination ask its clergy to go into huge debt to be equipped for ordination or ministry? We all know that there are many options for education from much smaller schools to church based seminaries to internet schools to mentoring and apprenticing arrangements. We must do better in this area, and I think we will.
In fact, I hope that many IM readers will be part of the movement to create a new evangelicalism that learns from the past and listens more carefully to what God says about being his people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture. There are encouraging signs, but evangelical culture has the ability to disproportionately judge the significance of movements within it.
I’ll end this adventure in prognostication with the same confession I began with: I’m not a prophet. My view of evangelicalism is not authoritative or infallible. I am certainly wrong in some of these predictions and possibly right, even too conservative on others. But is there anyone who is observing evangelicalism in these times who does not sense that the future of our movement holds many dangers and much potential? Does anyone think all will proceed without interruption or surprise?
On his blog and Facebook timeline last week, Tim Challies posted the following picture and quote. In my opinion, it represents a point of view that is a constant problem for evangelical worshipers. Challies represents the new calvinist tradition, so the quote takes on a distinct cast, but other evangelical groups share a similar perspective, even though the specific requirement they place upon believers might be different.
The big problem this quote reveals might be labeled pietism. Evangelicals of all stripes tend to approach worship from a pietistic perspective. What I mean by this is that the emphasis falls on what believers bring to worship rather than on God’s actions in worship. In the end, this approach is about my piety or lack thereof. That’s what makes things really happen.
The quote from Donald Whitney clearly recommends this. It is the believer’s mindset that determines whether or not worship occurs. The burden falls upon each individual, therefore, to make sure his or her mind is right when worshiping in the sanctuary. If we sing without concentrating on God, then it is not worship.
Which begs the question, how fully must I be “thinking about God” in order for worship to occur? What percentage passes the test? How can I be sure I’ve thought hard enough, long enough, rightly enough to satisfy the requirement?
Other evangelical groups might stress something different. Perhaps it’s not so much a matter of “thinking about God,” but “experiencing God’s presence,” or “feeling the Spirit.” Perhaps in those churches it’s about people clapping or raising their hands, closing their eyes, swaying to the music, smiling, singing enthusiastically, dancing, speaking in tongues or expressing spiritual ecstasy in some other fashion. Maybe the emphasis is not so much on our thoughts, but on our feelings or certain specific experiences or spiritual manifestations that the particular community recognizes as evidence of “real” worship.
As one commenter last week wrote, “One old girlfriend said she left Evangelicalism . . . because she got tired of having to be excited all the time.” Excitement!!! is the requirement, apparently, in a lot of evangelical churches.
Is this really what coming before God in worship is about? Trying to work up the right thoughts and feelings? Making sure I don’t sully the divine presence with unworthy concerns and emotions that are weighing me down?
I don’t think so.
- who accepts imperfect sacrifices from distracted people whose minds are a thousand miles from where they should be on a Sunday morning.
- who welcomes me into his presence through Christ even when I can’t sing or smile or lift my hands.
- who hears my unspoken prayers, my fears, doubts, and laments, my unbelieving hesitations, and even my rebellious rants.
- who doesn’t give a hoot if I fit in to the accepted patterns of “worship” some church community tries to impose on me, either through specific teaching or general peer pressure.
- who simply invites us to come, we who are “weary and laden with burdens,” so that he might give us rest.
He invites us to a place where he speaks a Word so alive it can cut through the distractions, and even when it seems like it doesn’t, it still finds ways of doing its work in our lives.
He invites us to a table where he provides food that sustains the weary, worn out, and empty of heart, mind, and spirit.
Next time you’re in worship, whether you are singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” or some other hymn or praise song, go ahead, try to focus on God, who he is, what he’s done to bring newness of life to us all in Christ. Nothing wrong with that, and if you can do it, great. And if the song lifts your spirit and brings a rush of emotion or a manifestation of God’s presence in some special way, be thankful.
However, if you can’t stop thinking about your finances or your kids or something that upset you at work or all you have to do this week, don’t beat yourself up. You are still there, in worship, with God and with your brothers and sisters, many of whom are probably equally distracted and finding it hard to concentrate. And I have good news for you: God is still present and active. God will still speak to you. God will still feed you. God will still call what you are doing “worship.”
Pietistic expectations with regard to worship are cruel. They put the burden on us, rather than inviting us to come and have our burdens relieved by the One who never stops thinking graciously toward us.
Now that’s something to think about.
Hello, fellow iMonks. It has been a sad, scary week in the world’s news. Iraq. Gaza. Ferguson, Michael Brown. Robin Williams. Ebola. Kevin Ward. Ukraine. Suffering right before our eyes on the TV screen and a whole world of hidden suffering we can scarcely imagine. With all the bad news, we’ll seek respite in a bit of humor and distraction today, digging out a few odd and wondrous gems from that little source of information and entertainment we call the internet. We won’t ignore the serious stuff, but heaven knows we need some laughter-medicine too, don’t we? However, I’ll warn you, I’m in no mood to be cute or subtle (or nice) today.
Anyway, I invite you to join me, your grumpy Chaplain, as we ramble through the good and the bad, the silly and the sobering.
• • •
I know what we need! An app that makes Satan shut up and flee! Yeah, that’ll do it. According to Kevin Winkler, the “Shut Up, Devil!” app is just the ticket to overcome evil. He writes:
We activate Scripture as a weapon in our lives when we speak it. In fact, this is the model Jesus used during His temptation in the wilderness. Three times He countered Satan’s temptations with scripture, responding, “It is written…” In other words, “Shut up, devil!” Scripture silenced Satan and forced him to flee (Matt. 4:1–11).
I found speaking scripture crucial to keeping Satan silenced in my life too. My strategy began with note cards on which I penned personalized versions of scriptures relevant to whatever issue I faced. I kept these cards on me throughout the day, intending to speak them aloud as often as I needed. Still, despite my best intentions, I frequently forgot or became too lazy.
With this, I implored God for something more convenient—something always with me that could help me remember. That’s when I received a download from heaven. Over the next day, God revealed to me the blueprints of what is now known as the Shut Up, Devil! app.
Now if we could just airdrop a bunch of these into northern Iraq (along with smartphones, of course), where actual evil is revealing itself with all its might, we could help those folks do serious battle with the devil, IS, and all things jihad.
Sheesh. I think the only “download from heaven” KW received was the anointed trifecta of bad theology, evangelical silliness, and hucksterism.
Meanwhile, here in the land of the fat and the home of the tailgate, many of us are saving our best energies for that which is truly important — College Football (let us pause for a moment of silent reverence). We’re less than two weeks away from a historic season, when, for the first time, NCAA Division I football will have a playoff system. The final four teams will be decided by a panel of “experts,” one of whom was a surprise choice some football folks didn’t like. That would be former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
Though I disagreed vigorously with many of the policies she represented under President Bush, I have long admired and liked her as a person. But boy, you thought she had a demanding job as National Security Advisor and then as Secretary of State? As we speak, Rice is preparing to tackle (pun intended) the toughest assignment of her life. Rice, now a professor at Stanford and a lifelong football fan, will put her prodigious talents to work on the aforementioned 13-member panel College Football Playoff, Playoff, Postseason, Selection Committee.
Good luck, Madame Secretary. Let’s see, what poison would you pick? Dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 + weapons of mass destruction + the Afghanistan and Iraq wars + trying to find Osama bin Laden? Or duking it out with SEC fans? Yikes.
Oh, and just for fun, we did have more Ken Ham “news” this week. With tongue firmly in cheek, Bible scholar and blogger Pete Enns imagined a scenario in which “Ken Ham blasts God for not taking the Bible seriously.” Here’s a taste:
In a recent statement from his Creation Museum office, Ken Ham blasted God for “not taking the Bible seriously and undermining its authority.”
. . . “Once you start reading the Pentateuch, you get a clearer picture of God’s unbiblical agenda,” Ham alerted his followers.
“Just look at the laws. In Exodus God says to roast the Passover lamb and definitely not boil it. In Deuteronomy God says to boil it. In Chronicles God says to roast and boil the Passover meat. This is nothing less than a blatant liberal attack on the Bible.” [Exodus 12:8-9; Deuteronomy 16:7-8; 2 Chronicles 35:13]
Enns is making a crucial point with this bit of fun — it’s important for us to deal with the Bible we actually have, not the one we wish we had.
Yet another CCM artist has “shocked” the evangelical world. Vicky Beeching, a popular writer and singer of contemporary worship songs, came out as gay Wednesday in an interview with the U.K. newspaper, The Independent. I’ve been told that her most popular anthem is “Glory to God Forever,” which is one of CCLI’s top 100 songs.
According to an article in CT, Beeching “still considers herself an evangelical, although she no longer attends charismatic evangelical services and now prefers the more traditional services of London’s main cathedrals.” I’m sure this will give some people ammunition to say she’s abandoned the gospel (Oh my God, not only is she gay, she’s Anglican!), but there is no indication her faith has changed.
Christians had better get used to the idea that a certain small percentage of people in their families, churches, and ministries are gay and stop turning each new coming out into (SHOCKING!!!) headline news, followed by gnashing of teeth, wringing of hands, and casting of stones, ad nauseum.
Speaking of nausea, it’s State Fair time here in Indiana, time when Hoosier people “let ‘er fry.” With that in mind, let’s run down the five finalists for this year’s State Fair “signature food” award. [See the gallery below -- click each pic for a larger image.]
Funnel Cake Ice Cream Sandwich, made by Urick Concessions. It is soft-served vanilla ice cream sandwiched between mini funnel cakes. It’s then topped with powdered sugar and a chocolate sauce.
Colossal Grilled Cheese Sandwich with a Salted Chocolate Caramel Shake, made by the American Dairy Association. It’s three columns of breaded mozzarella with American cheese on sourdough bread. It’s served with a salted chocolate caramel milkshake.
Cheeseburger Basket on a Stick, created by Barto’s Catering. It has seasoned ground beef and sharp cheddar cheese in a hash brown potato ball. It is then rolled in season breadcrumbs and fried.
The Mac Daddy, made by Gobble Gobble. It’s homemade macaroni and cheese topped with BBQ pulled turkey.
Fruit Twister Shake-up, created by Goodwin Family Products. The drink has fresh lemons, oranges, pineapple and strawberries. It’s shaken with sugar or Splenda, ice and water.
During the Assyrian Empire, the Aramaic language was like English today — a common language that was spoken from India to Egypt. An article by Ross Perlin in Foreign Policy says that a tragic effect of the Islamic State’s persecution of Christians in northern Iraq is the potential extinction of the Aramaic language, one of the three biblical languages and most likely the tongue Jesus himself spoke. This would be a significant historical and cultural loss to the world.
Nearly three millennia of continuous records exist for Aramaic; only Chinese, Hebrew, and Greek have an equally long written legacy. For many religions, Aramaic has had sacred or near-sacred status. It is the presumed mother tongue of Jesus, who is reported in the Gospel of Matthew to have said on the cross: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”) It came to be used in the Jewish Talmud, in the Eastern Christian churches (where it is known as Syriac), and as the ritual and everyday language of the Mandaeans, an ethno-religious minority in Iran and Iraq.
The Syrian civil war scattered inhabitants from locales where Aramaic was spoken and so, “until early August, the best hope for Aramaic’s survival was in northern Iraq, in the diverse North-Eastern subgroup, with its greater number of speakers and its roots in larger communities.” It is feared that the subsequent scattering of these communities from the plains of Nineveh will prove a mortal blow to the language.
Unless quickly reversed, the murderous presence of the Islamic State on the Nineveh plains may be the final chapter for Aramaic. Globally, languages and cultures are disappearing at an unprecedented rate — on average, the last fluent, native speaker of a language dies every three months – but what’s happening with Aramaic is far more unusual and terrifying: the deliberate extinction of a language and culture, unfolding in real time.
In the face of death, just shut up. Your opinion, in the face of a tragic suicide, means less than nothing. So keep it to yourself. There is no need to comment. Just mourn. Respect the dead and those who love them.
So I’m going to try and practice what I preach with regard to the sad passing of Robin Williams, who has given me great joy over the years. Rest in peace.
“To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him and travel in his company.” ~André Gide
Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.
Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.
After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.
Coffee has been a subject of some uneasiness on this blog from the time I climbed on. There used to be a mission statement around here somewhere that said (I quote from memory), "Book reviews, creative culture, and coffee." It's no secret to any fair-minded reader that Phil has discriminated against me constantly because I don't consume the vile stuff.
My isolation is increased by the importance of coffee in Norwegian-American culture. If I had a nickel for every time somebody has said to me, "What kind of Norwegian are you? You don't drink coffee!" I'd be able to afford... a cup of coffee, I guess, because they cost a lot of nickels these days. But how did coffee get to be so important to Norwegians? I now know the answer, thanks to a book I'm reading.
I was recently given, as a birthday present, an interesting work by Kathleen Stokker, Remedies and Rituals: Folk Medicine in Norway and the New Land. It's mostly about the superstitious - but sometimes scientifically valid - remedies Norwegians have used through history, and the sometimes celebrated, sometimes persecuted, but always feared people who practiced them.
One of the subjects covered is the use of brennevin (distilled spirits), which held an important place in folk medicine. That touches on the subject of the general use of alcoholic beverages in Norwegian history. The Norwegians, like all Europeans, were drinkers from the earliest times. But they mostly drank beer, and often quite weak beer. Later brennevin appeared, but its use was generally restricted to medicine and celebrations. But in 1817 a law was passed giving every Norwegian farmer the right to distill as much liquor as he liked whenever he wanted.
The result was disastrous. Celebrations became drunken brawls, ending in injury and death. Accidents increased. Productivity decreased. More and more individuals became hopeless slaves to drink.
By the mid-19th Century, people were forming temperance and abstention organizations, and the distillery law was repealed. One of the substitutes suggested to people who wanted to kick the brennevin habit was coffee:
Coffee quickly replaced both the "morning dram" downed by workers before their earliest morning chores and blanda, the daily beverage of water and whey formerly favored by adults and children. Coffee also replaced brennevin as the drink received by women in childbirth. But its rapid rise rested in part on a misunderstanding. German scientists had asserted that since both coffee and meat contain nitrogen, coffee had the same nutritional value as meat. Based on this assertion, district doctor Michael Krohn advised in an 1859 lecture that coffee could also replace milk, and P. C. AsbjÃ¸rnsen repeated both of these assertions in his popular 1864 cookbook, Fornuftig madstel (Common sense cooking.)
So Phil, here's a coffee post from me. Just my thanks for telling me about the Whit Stillman series on Amazon Prime.
Lauren Bacall wrote three memoirs over the years. The last one was released in 2005. She said of loving Bogart, "I'd suddenly had this fairy-tale life, at such a young age, who would have thought something like that could happen?"
"Writing a book is the most complete experience I've ever had," she said.
Whit Stillman's next work will be on Amazon.com. A TV pilot episode for a potential series, "The Comopolitans," will be available through Amazon Studios on August 28. See a cute preview here.
"This has elements of all three of the first films," he tells Vanity Fair, referring to his 1990 debut, 1994's Barcelona and 1998's The Last Days of Disco. "It's very much like the fourth film, of those three." He says one has to earn a living, and TV is where one can do it.
He also says he doesn't watch TV with violence and sex, "so it knocks out almost everything." Others say he only watches TV on airplanes.
I don't know how to link to single entries on Dave Black's weblog, but his 8/14/14, 8:20 a.m. entry on marriage and the recent loss of his own wife is very much worth reading, even if you have to do some scrolling or searching to find it.
Peter Leithart gives a concise explanation of the symbolism and context of Revelation 12.
Job's Tormenters, by William Blake, 1793.
Thought thunk today: The Book of Job is the oldest book in the Bible, one of the oldest books in the world.
What does it say about humanity that in the 8,000 years since, we haven't managed to surpass it in terms of wisdom?
Update: Ori, tedious pedant that he is, pointed out that my numbers are off by slight margin of maybe 5,000 years.
I wish I were surprised. I'm always doing that with numbers. A counselor once told me that the problem wasn't in my brain, but in my emotions. Somewhere along the line I developed a fear of numbers that blossomed into functional innumeracy.
But with education, support, and billions of tax dollars you can make a difference. Give today through the United Fund.
Or just buy one of my books. Or double that and buy three.
A few years ago I had a book published called Gospel Wakefulness. It is a very important book to me, as it came out of the second most important event of my life, second only to my conversion — the moment when the gospel became realer than real. And this happened out of a great personal disaster. I won’t rehash my testimony here; many of my readers are familiar with it. But it was important for me to include in this book a chapter on Depression. That may seem like an odd choice for a book about exulting in the grace of God with joy unspeakable and full of glory, but I wasn’t interested in applying the gospel to the happy-go-lucky. And this book out of all my books, and this chapter out of all my chapters, has prompted the most messages of appreciation. I trust it is helpful.
Below is an excerpt from this chapter, a portion that covers God’s gracious provision of ordinary “helps,” and a gracious encouragement to those hurting who are often further hurt by well-meaning churchfolk who inappropriately spiritualize such afflictions.
The first thing we may say about the bigness of Jesus is that he is big enough to help us in many ordinary means. Many Christians have adopted the unfortunate posture of Job’s friends, adding more discouragement to those discouraged in depression by urging them not to seek help except via spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study. These are certainly the most important prescriptions for any of us!
The fuller truth, however, is that while Jesus is enough, his enough-ness may be manifested in our getting help from material means. These too are gifts from God, provided through the common graces of scientific research, academic study, pastoral giftedness, analytic method, and modern medicine.
What I mean is this: talk to a trained counselor and take the meds if they are needed. When it comes to medication, at the very least, don’t not take it out of fear of distrust of Jesus. Antidepressants may or may not help you, but discuss the options with your doctor, preferably after conferring with a clinical psychologist who is also a Christian, and if you decide they are not for you, don’t decide so because you think to take them is to deny Jesus’s ability to heal.
Yes, Jesus is enough, but it must really be Jesus, not some invoking of the idea of Jesus, some platitude involving Jesus’s name, some hollow encouragement via cheap cliché. One question I’d ask those who’d suggest that those on medication for depression or anxiety should ditch the pills and just “trust Jesus” is if they’ve ever been to the doctor for anything, taken medicine for anything. Do they wear glasses or contact lenses? Why? Isn’t Jesus enough? (Do you drive a car? Why doesn’t Jesus beam you to work?)
I’m being silly, but I really am not trying to be reductive. The problem with “Jesus should be enough” in response to the question, “should Christians take anti-depressants?” is that the Jesus in view in the assertion is disembodied. He is an idea, a concept. I don’t think Christians can say with any integrity, “Jesus is enough,” without attempting to do what Jesus did to “be Jesus” for people, which frequently included meeting their physical and emotional needs. The gospel truth of “Jesus is enough” doesn’t have some vague, ethereal, unincarnated spiritual meaning.
That we have medicine to help us heal physically and psychologically is a gift from Jesus, just as salvation from sins is a gift from Jesus. Of course, if I had to take one over the other, I would take pain now and heaven later, but that’s theoretical, and thankfully I don’t often have to choose one or the other.
And it certainly isn’t the gospel of Jesus to heap guilt on people who need medical help to be healthy people. Jesus may heal any of us without ordinary means—and I do believe he heals today by purely Spiritual means, what most of us would call a miracle—but this kind of healing is not normative. And that’s all right. Medicine is not a mandate for the depressed person. But neither is it off limits. It can be, properly prescribed and taken, a gift of common grace. Likewise, seeking help from a pastoral counselor or Christian psychologist is nothing to be ashamed of.
– from Gospel Wakefulness (Crossway, 2011)
"This summer on my way to work," writes The Public Humanist at The Valley Advocate, "I found something just for me in a box of cast-off books on a sidewalk in downtown Northampton . . . a yellowed and fragile New York Times Book Review clipping, from April 2, 1978: a list of the books that Tolstoy was most impressed by, organized by the age at which he read them."
The list was written in 1891 and includes selections such as Puskin's poems: Napoleon, Gogol's Overcoat, The Two Ivans, Nevsky Prospect, Rousseau's Confessions, all of Trollope's novels, and all of the Gospels in Greek. (via Open Culture)
Jim McGuiggan has a way of packing a lot of meaning into his weekly reflections. This week's essay shines light on the OT world, especially in relation to Genesis 1 & 2:
The business of the biblical witness is not to tell us about the historical, cultural, religious, political or literary climate of the day though in the process of doing what it does it reveals a lot of that.Jim's little essay is loaded with insights, and I recommend reading the whole thing.
For example, Genesis 1 & 2 sets itself against its environment in which the gods of the nations whose stories are told in the Enuma Elish or the Baal Cycle or the many myths of Sumeria and Egypt. In the Bible God as God has no mythology—he isn’t created, he doesn’t war against other gods to become the chief god nor does he die or be killed and somehow come to life again. Stories like that occur in the mythology of the polytheistic world to explain their experience with nature.
Robin Williams greets the troops on a USO tour.
You've probably already heard the news that Robin Williams is dead at the age of 63. I sat thinking about which of his movies I've seen, and I realized I've only seen one - Popeye, a film of which I am, as far as I know, the only fan in the world (it helps to appreciate it if you know about the original comic strip, not the animated cartoons).
But the man had an unquestionable gift. Nobody ever did "off the wall" improvisational, stream of consciousness comedy like he did. He always admired Jonathan Winters, but he was better than Winters. He hit the bullseye more often.
Reports are that he died by his own hand, having struggled with depression and substance abuse for many years. One always suspected that he needed artificial stimulation to maintain that manic comic delivery. But he also seemed to be able to work just fine when he had dried out. Still, we don't know the pressures he was under. I can speak from experience about the pain of depression. Someone like me can always tell himself that if we achieved this or that we'd feel better. What do you do when you've reached the top and still don't feel good about yourself?
I had always assumed - stereotypically - that Robin Williams was Jewish. But his Wikipedia page says he was raised Episcopalian, and remained a member of that church.
We sacramentalists put great faith in the keeping power of God's grace in baptism and holy communion. Let us pray that Robin Williams has found his long-sought peace in the grace of the Lord Jesus.
The Amazon.com dispute with Hachette continues with full page ads in the New York Times and emails aplenty. Hachette's Michael Pietsch writes, "This dispute started because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves.
"Both Hachette and Amazon are big businesses and neither should claim a monopoly on enlightenment, but we do believe in a book industry where talent is respected and choice continues to be offered to the reading public."
Many authors are throwing their weight into the fray. "As writers--most of us not published by Hachette--we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want." Amazon argues that when paperbacks came out, publishers hated them just like cheap ebooks.
In related news, Amazon is disputing its contract with Disney and withholding pre-orders on select movies.
You know, when you find everyone around you acts like a jerk, the reason could be the common denominator--you.
Question: Could Peter Mead's essay on preaching and paradigms possibly be good enough to sustain this powerhouse opening:
When we preach, we don’t simply present a truth, make an offer, or demonstrate the relevance of an ancient text. Every biblical passage is a heavenly assault on the unquestioned assumptions of a fallen world.Answer: yes. I recommend reading Peter's whole article. Plus, this week's series on who is listening is also worth reading on the Biblical Preaching home page.
Peter Leithart shares some brief, beautiful thoughts on how wine in the church breaks down the archaic distinction of sacred and profane.
When I first began this weblog in 2005, I frequently linked to gems of expositional treasure at NT scholar Conrad Gempf's now-defunct weblog, Not Quite Art, Not Quite Living. From what I can tell, Dr. Gempf is no longer posting daily notes for his Bible students, but today it was good to read his thoughts this month on Mark 12:28-34.
Another scholar whose biblical insights I treasure is the extraordinarily prolific Peter Leithart. One of his latest expositional posts is on the great sword in Revelation 6:4.
It shouldn’t work. It makes no sense. It is not lofty wisdom and it is not a miraculous sign, as far as signs expected go. It’s really just a message, an announcement. When you break it down — you know, information-wise — it’s really simply an historical anecdote.
But it’s really all we’ve got.
See, while some seek to persuade by barbarism or bribery, by marauding or manipulation, we’ve got a message. (shrug)
Some religious missions will put a knife to your throat. In this one, the only throat threatened may be our own. Some crack the metaphorical whip, the leverage of the law. Us? Anything we might hand out says not “to do” but “was done.” What the heck are we thinking?
As Rabshakeh asked Hezekiah, “Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war?” (2 Kings 18:20).
The answer is yes. Yes, we do.
Because this news of a thing done two thousand years ago is power today straight from another world. It crushes strongholds, destroys spiritual kingdoms. It resurrects the dead, revives the weary. It captures and frees, builds and destroys, transforms and terrifies. The infernal prince of the power of the air? One little word shall fell him.
Some seek wisdom and others seek signs. But we preach Christ crucified. Foolishness. Scandalizing. Where the magnificent gears of religious machinations turn, while the scrolls of philosophy endlessly unfurl, while the cult of spiritual thuggery keeps up its march of bloodshed and tyranny, we sing “Jesus loves me, this is I know. For the Bible tells me so.” It’s for children, for God’s sake.
And yet in a world of perverse wickedness, of rampant injustice, of deep brokenness, of desperation and of despair — this one little message is our only hope.
And it is the only power. You cannot stop it. One day every knee and tongue will be compelled to respond to this laughable notion, be it with regret or reverence.
Dress for action like a man, world. The gospel is coming.
[T]he word of the truth, the gospel, [has come] to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing.
– Colossians 1:5-6
In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil, first with that bread we’re always hungering for. And Jesus is certainly hungry. But his eyes are not on signs but on the signified. Second, then, the Devil tells the Lord to throw himself off the temple and into the arms of the angels. Is this religious self-interest not the leaven of the Pharisees? Jesus, wary of this leaven, refuses. So the tempter offers Jesus the world, the leaven of Herod. And where Adam and Eve failed, Christ succeeds. He does not use the world’s wisdom to persevere, for if he did, he would certainly stuff his face, take the plunge, and seek the greedy gain. Instead, the embodiment of wisdom walks by faith and puts wickedness to shame.
And he does all of this to save his stupid friends who cannot see it to do it themselves. It is for this reason that Paul begins his great gospel proclamation in 1 Corinthians 15 with, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you” (v. 1).
Do you not yet understand? Is your heart hard? Jesus is specializing in complete idiots! He specifically prefers them. The future of those yahoos in the boat scratching their heads about the forgotten bread is, despite themselves, incredibly bright.
And because Jesus specializes in enlightening the foolish and strengthening the weak, anyone can get in on this.
If you look to Jesus, the bread of life, and ask him to satisfy your hunger, he will not give you a stone. He will give you himself. Let us then stop begging for signs and start beholding Jesus.
There is one great sign that you are loved more than you thought. It is the cross. And there is a still further sign that you will live in this love forever. It is the empty tomb.
Come, you who hunger, bring your nothingness and trade it for the abundant wine and bread of Jesus Christ.
– The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles (Crossway, 2014), pp.58-59.
This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
– John 5:18
Okay, so the biggest problem with the quasi-evangelicals justifying their referring to God as “Mother” is not necessarily their feminist ideology or their misapplying actual biblical metaphors (like Matthew 23:37, for instance). Those are serious problems of course, but the real trouble lies in the very area in which they claim continuity with orthodoxy — discipleship to Christ.
What I mean is, it’s becoming more and more common for these folks who see nothing wrong with calling God “Mom” say that their faith is less about doctrinal truth claims and more about “following in the way of Jesus” (or whatever), but what they seem to miss (or ignore) is that “the way of Jesus” was to relate to God as Father. Yes, God is spirit and therefore without gender, but the Son of God exclusively referred to the first person of the Trinity as “Father.” And that is the way he taught his followers to relate to God (Matt. 6:9, etc.).
The progressive evangeliwhatchamacalits seem to think they can mess with the revelation of the nature of our relational God without messing with the revelation of the nature of his Son. But we find all our information about “the way of Christ” in the same Bible we find all our information about God our Father. To mess with God as Father, then, is also to mess with Jesus as Son. (Unless one wants to argue that the eternal Word of God, the second Person of the Trinity, is not God’s eternally begotten Son but only became “Son” when he incarnated male flesh.)
That God is genderless is besides the point, really. He has revealed his relational nature to us in the first case as Father and in the second as Son. That was his call, and it’s no more a suggestion than Jesus’ command to love our enemies. If you want to mess with the biblical revelation of God’s Fatherhood, then, you end up messing with the revelation of Jesus Christ himself, like “red letter Christians” with bottles of white-out. Might as well call Jesus “daughter,” I s’pose.
For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”?
– Hebrews 1:5
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
– John 4:23
Preacher, it's probably good to know how to preach on technology.
So imagine you are sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. When he calls your name, he’s going to tell you whether or not you have cancer. Your mind is racing with questions. If I have it, will I do chemo? Radiation? How will I tell the kids? How curable is this kind of cancer these days? What does WebMD say? What does this mean for my career?
Then you see the doctor. You don’t have cancer. It’s not that all your questions were answered, it’s just that they don’t matter anymore.
All of life is a waiting room. When Jesus comes back, we’ll step out of ourselves and into the light and exclaim, “O my God! Everything I was worrying about for 90 years was bullshit!”
This one from Jeff Weddle is worth reading: The Subtle Danger of "Living for Christ."
NT Wright also thinks the UN is a great force for good in the world.
All the world’s a conspiracy, if you believe those who are in the business of selling tinfoil hats.
I’d rather be with NT Wright’s cabbie: if God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, all the rest is basically rock’n’roll.
This is a good article:
One-sentence summary of the argument: Once the state no longer has to recognize your marriage and family, the state no longer has to respect the existence of your marriage and family.
Peter Leithart once again offers a few brilliant expositional insights, this time on Psalm 78.
After looking at the confusion of magic and God's power in Acts 19:11-20, Matt Dabbs wonders if preachers are falling into a similar trap as the Scevason brothers:
How often do we have the same sort of magical thinking when it comes to faith…that if we say the right words or do worship just so that God will have to bless us or that we will make a great name for ourselves or that the worldly standards of success will be satisfied.
It just doesn’t work that way.No, it doesn't.
This is my second time through this book, the first time I breezed through, this time I want to get at what he wants to get at.
Worship matters. It matters to God because he is the one ultimately worthy of all worship. It matters to us because worshiping God is the reason for which we were created. And it matters to every worship leader, because we have no greater privilege than leading others to encounter the greatness of God. That’s why it’s so important to think carefully about what we do and why we do it.
The first chapter is about how Kauflin started his career, and about a really dry spot he went through. Frustrated and tired, he was pointed again at the cross (a good thing.)
What I hope to get from this book HOW worship matters, as well as WHY worship matters.
There is a line that Sunday morning groups need to grapple with, that many don’t: what is the difference between being in a performance group, and being in a group that deliberately leads a congregation in corporate praise?
That’s not a matter of how to choose songs, that’s a matter of leadership technique.
I'm sitting here in a starbucks in LA in a state of mixed emotions of fear and hope. And I just want to share with you some unedited thoughts and prayers because... honestly, I don't really know. I just feel like I should.
"Why did you bring me here, Lord? What did you want me to get out of it?"
Me. God simply spoke. "You.
"God, I pray that I pray bigger. I pray that I have eyes to see you. I pray that I have courage to ask for help. I pray that I won't just sit back and soak it all in but that I would jump in and shake up the place. I pray that I would be so unsettles, so unsatisfied with mediocrity that I have to, I have to move. I have to create. I have to stand up. I pray that you send me people. That somehow in this short time I would be able to win them over. I would find it in me, find it in YOU, the confidence, the courage, the drive to affect people. I pray that I will let people help me. I want to be the 300 picked. [Judges 7]."
Then I paused for a moment and a deep question filled my soul.
"Why? Why is it that I want these things? What did I want coming out here?"
Another pause. A long pause. A lot of reflection. And an overwhelming sense.
"I want God. That's what I want. At the end of the day I want more of you. I want to feel more of your presence and power. I want to know you more. I want to rely on you more. I want more discipline. I want more trial. Because the more of my apathy, my laziness, my self-absorption I strip away- the more of you I get. The less of this life I have, the more of you I get. When I'm done with this life, I open myself up to you. Lord, I want to count the cost. And I want the cost to be worth it. Because YOU are worth it."
Then I read Numbers 22 and everything in me changed. I never really thought that Numbers would be the book that shifted my perspective.
I always just kind of thought of Numbers 22 as the talking donkey chapter. A weird, random story where all of the sudden Balaam's donkey starts talking. But God revealed much more to me this time. Basically in the story Balak sends men to summon Balaam back to his kingdom of Moab to curse the Israelites. Balaam seeks God on what to do and He says to not go. So Balaam refuses to go to Moab. Balak doesn't take no for an answer so he sends more men, much more honorable men it says, and they ask Balaam again. He seeks God again and this time God says go. So Balaam goes.
Then the very next verse it says, "But God's anger was kindled because he went." WHAT? God told him to go! Why would his anger be kindled? And the rest of the chapter is the whole thing with the angel of the Lord getting in Balaam's way but he can't see it, only the donkey. So the donkey won't go and Balaam is freaking out then the donkey talks to him and then Balaam sees the angel and realizes that God is serious. God is like "you will go but you will ONLY say what I tell you." Balak wants Balaam to curse the Isrealites but God is saying that they will be blessed because they are his people.
And I realized... once again... that God desires- REQUIRES- full obedience. Fearless obedience. If you want to see God move in your life in big ways you have to obey. I think he was more angry with Balaam that he asked of the Lord a second time after God already said no. I think he was angry because Balaam didn't keep to God's word. And Balaam really wasn't like rebelling. He just was like "let me seek God again." That seems awesome. But God already told him not to go. Not to curse them. So Balaam going back is like him checking with God that he was serious. God doesn't want us to negotiate or compromise with him. He just wants us to obey him fully.
Then something in me clicked.
"That's what I lack. That is what is holding me back."
Why is God not doing huge things in my life? Why do I feel like I am waiting on God to move and nothing is happening? Because I don't obey God. Not fully. Not with a steadfast trust in his goodness. Not in the everyday, mundane. That is a huge weakness of mine.
"So the next question is: How bad do I want you? To what lengths will I go? How much will I deny myself, my reputation, my dignity FOR YOU?
"For your names sake do I live. The price is eternal life with you. When i can rest in your arms and enjoy the abundant life you died for. The life that you have planned for since the beginning of time. Speed that day up, LORD.
"I must be convinced of the eternal hope I have in you to elicit change in me. I must be convinced of the love I have today. Right now."
Then I stopped to listen. And I had a small sense of God saying "Put actions to words."
There was this older man at the table next to me working. And I had the crazy thought to tell him that God loved him. And I just pushed that thought away. But it came back. And my heart started pounding. And I couldn't erase that thought. Just do it. How serious are you, Bethany? How far are you willing to go? The more I thought about it the more fear that filled my life. And then the rationalizations. He's this older man. I'm a 20 year old girl. Everyone in the shop will hear me because it's so quiet. It'll be awkward sitting here after I tell him. What if he hates God? What if he doesn't know what to say? What if he starts talking more? What if he wants to know more? I wouldn't know what to say. Can I get up and go after I say it? Where will I go because I still have work that needs to be done?
This went on for at least 10, maybe 15, minutes. I was just sitting there. Not doing anything. Just freaking out. Sometimes stealing a glance at the man. We made eye- contact. I looked away. I freaked out even more. Then, suddenly, he started to pack up to leave. He had a lot of stuff so it took him a minute or two. I thought to myself: "this is my last chance. This is a perfect opportunity as he leaves." I was gonna do it. Because I want to be obedient. I want God more than this world. I took out my earphones. And I looked at him and watched him clean up. Just say "Sir." I thought. Go on. He was almost done. This was my last chance.
And then he walked off. And I watched him go without saying a word.
My heart didn't stop pounding for the next five minutes. I had never felt more afraid and my heart had never pounded harder. But I failed. I didn't obey God. In something as simple as just saying "God loves you." My heart dropped to my stomach. I wanted to cry. I wanted to kick myself. I wanted to just go home. Like... to Texas. I literally prayed "God just take me now. I don't deserve anything."
I failed once again at radical, fearless obedience. And I can't blame God for anything in my life. I can only thank him that he hasn't killed me yet. I don't know if this is all dramatic or not theologically sound. But I do know that God desires obedience more than greatness. And even though his faithfulness lasts for the ages, he does require of me something.
Last night at Mosaic, Erwin McManus talked about the story of Gideon. And he made a point that God is so good that the 2700 that turned away from the battle still get the prize of victory when the 300 get home but they don't get the story of being the 300 that battled for the 3000. But the 300 had to not run from fear, and they had to be people that were picked by God to go. And he had requirements. (lapping the water vs. dipping head in).
I don't want to just sit back and let others fight for me. I want to get my hands dirty. I don't know necessarily what is going to have to break inside of me for me to be serious, but God knows. And I'm not ready to give up just yet. I know I have so much discipline to learn but I know that God is worth it. And I believe that God can somehow take the dirt that I am and make something beautiful.
I may have failed today but I hope that that is not what the last page of my life says. I hope that is says that I was so convinced of the love and grace of Jesus Christ that I followed him into the fire and the war.
Salvation is for us, of course — God doesn’t need it — but it’s not mainly about us. It is mainly about God. How so?
Turning to the deep well of Ephesians 2, we read:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Here we find three ways salvation is ultimately about God:
1. Its aim is our Christlikeness. See the contrast between the deader-than-deadness described in vv.1-3 as life apart from Christ and the new life described in vv.5-6. See also 2 Corinthians 3:18.
2. Its aim is our “in Christ”-ness through union with Christ. See v.6, as well as Galatians 2:20 and Colossians 3:3.
3. Its aim is to show off God’s glory. “Because of [his] great love.” “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace.” “This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” “For we are his workmanship.” So that we will not boast. But God may and will.
The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles is a companion volume of sorts to last February’s The Storytelling God (on the parables). This book covers most of Jesus’ most startling supernatural acts and teases out the myriad ways they help us see his satisfying magnificence coming to bear in the gospel of his kingdom.
Some kind words from others on the book:
“Christianity is supernatural. We read the Bible and see God doing things that can’t be explained rationally. That is the God we long for, One who can do extraordinary things in and around our ordinary lives. But Christianity is about God, not just what God does. I love this book, because Jared Wilson helps us worship the miracle worker, and not settle for just wanting and worshiping miracles.”
—Darrin Patrick, Lead Pastor, The Journey, St. Louis, Missouri; Vice President, Acts 29; Chaplain to the St. Louis Cardinals; author, The Dude’s Guide to Manhood
“Could it be that Jesus’s miracles were not the paranormal, but actually the true normal breaking into our world of paranormal sin corruption? Wilson gets to the biblical heart of why Jesus performed miracles—these harbingers of God’s mission to set right all that has gone so terribly wrong. Along the way, Wilson helps us hear what Jesus has to say to enlightened postmoderns, skeptics demanding apologetic proofs, and the paranormally fascinated. A soul-refreshing, gospel-drenched read.”
—Jon Bloom, President, Desiring God; author, Not by Sight and Things Not Seen
“Jesus walked on water and healed the sick. He turned water into wine and raised men from the dead. How often we skim over these familiar stories, but as Jared Wilson writes, ‘Miraculous events in the Bible are God putting an exclamation point where he normally puts a period.’ The Wonder-Working God teaches us that these miracles aren’t meant only to amaze us, they are to point us to Jesus Christ himself. I’m convinced I will never read about Jesus’s life the same way again. Read it and think deeply about it as you glimpse the glory of Jesus—our Savior.
—Trillia Newbell, author, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity
“Jared Wilson brings his characteristic wit and careful exegesis to the often-misunderstood passages on God’s miracles in a fresh and insightful way. The Wonder-Working God is a timely and necessary work for the church if we are going to better understand the workings of our great God in the present age.”
—Matt Carter, Pastor of Preaching, The Austin Stone Community Church, Austin, Texas; author, The Real Win
“Finally, a treatment of Jesus’s miracles that presents them more as a ‘preview of coming attractions’ and less as God’s attempt to convince skeptics of his existence—as though God has ever ‘attempted’ to do anything. As Jared shows us, Jesus’s miracles are more normal than we realize—an indicator of the way things used to be, before sin and death invaded God’s story, and a precursor of the way things will be one day, when Jesus returns to finish making all things new.”
—Scotty Smith, Teacher in Residence, West End Community Church, Nashville, Tennessee
“Into a world where naturalism is the prevailing philosophy, Jared Wilson casts a fresh vision for the wonder-working power of the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth. This biblically engaging, Christ-exalting, and never-boring book deserves your close and attentive reading.”
—Sam Storms, Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
“Jared Wilson’s crisp, potent, and winsome style portrays the Savior whose worth is magnified by his miraculous power. If you’re holding this book, my advice is: Buy → Read → Wonder → Worship!”
—Dave Harvey, Pastor of Preaching, Four Oaks Community Church, Tallahassee, Florida; author, When Sinners Say I Do and Am I Called?