How helpful is the Christian confessional?

christian-confessional

He walked across the stage toward the microphone, the room was more crowded than he’d expected. All eyes were fixed on him. He smiled awkwardly and wondered, can I really do this? What will people think? Heart racing and palms sweating, he gathered up his courage and began to speak softly.

“Hi, um, I’m a, uh, a Christian,” he said, “and I have a… a confession to make.”

He cleared his throat, tugged at his collar and continued.

“I want to apologize for the Crusades. And I want to apologize for politics being confused with Christian faith. I apologize for hate crimes being perpetrated in the name of Christ and for slavery. I’m sorry for everything that we’ve ever done that has made life difficult for anyone. But I want you to know something… We’re really not all that bad. I hope you’ll forgive us.”

As he exited the stage, several people came up to him, most of them from his small group, and congratulated him on his effort.

“I don’t know if I would have had the courage to say that,” they told him. “That was so humble of you.”

The young man blushed and thanked them for their kind words.

“I just want to be real, y’know? Authenticity is important to me.”

* * * * *

You’ve probably seen, heard or read something similar to this before: the Christian confessional.

This idea was popularized by Donald Miller in his too-young-to-write-a-memoir memoir, Blue Like Jazz. Miller describes setting up a confession booth on a college campus where he and others would confess the sins of Christendom and ask for forgiveness. In the years since the book’s release, many others have gone and done likewise. These days it’s usually seen in the form of videos of random dudes confessing the institutional sins of Christendom on YouTube.

Now, I’m not against publicly confessing sin, obviously. I’m not even entirely against the idea of the Christian confessional under certain circumstances. But whenever I see it, it’s typically only used to say to our post-Christian culture, “See, we’re not so bad.” And I’ve got to be honest, I wonder if it’s actually beneficial? I mean, I know it’s typically done under the guise of being authentic, and I’m sure those doing it have the best of intentions, but is it really authentic to confess sins you have not committed to people who may not have been sinned against?

Now, certainly there are some (many, even) institutional sins we should ask forgiveness for broadly. For example:

  • We should ask forgiveness for our churches or denominations using the Bible to wrongly treat other people as less than human.
  • We should ask forgiveness for failing to remember that the “but you were washed” of the gospel applies as equally to the gossip and slanderer as it does to the homosexual man or woman.
  • We should ask forgiveness for giving cover to peddlers of God’s word who seek to fleece people instead of feeding God’s sheep.

But these things should always be done from a place of genuine heartfelt repentance. We ask forgiveness because we see genuinely believe they were wrong and we are striving to reconcile with those who have been injured by those actions and beliefs.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if the Christian confessional is just another attempt to have the appearance of godliness without actually having to be godly. It’s like confessing generic issues in a small group—”Gosh, y’know, I’m just really wanting to follow God’s will for my life, but it’s a struggle. Pray for me, if you don’t mind.” Now, there are definitely times when you need to be a little more vague than even you might prefer—especially if you’re in a place where you’re not sure what’s actually wrong, but you’ve just got a sense that something’s off—but it’s easy to use this kind of thing to give you a pass from actually repenting of anything at all.

It’s like saying “mistakes were made,” or “I’m sorry you felt that way,” which is really just having the appearance of contrition without a contrite heart. And the thing that is so deadly is that most of us wouldn’t even be able to recognize that’s what’s going on. But that’s how pride deceives us, isn’t it?

In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells the following parable:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee thanks God for the righteousness that God has given him; that He has made him not like other men who are “extortioners, unjust, adulterers.” He even points directly to the tax collector and thanks God for not making him like him.

Think about that for a second. The Pharisee slams the tax collector—right to his face. All while he’s thanking God and declaring how he fasts and tithes faithfully. Imagine if the Pharisee, rather than saying, “Thank you that I’m not like this tax collector,” said, “God, thank you for not making me like the Crusaders, the slave traders, and the fundamentalists. I live in a monastic community and only buy products that reduce my carbon footprint.”

Imagine if the Christian confessional went a little more like this, “I want to apologize for every time I’ve put my own desires ahead of those of others. For using my words to cut people down instead of building them up. For using the Bible in a hamfisted manner instead of taking the time to explain what it says with patience. For constantly forgetting that grace is freely given to all who ask, and that I am in dire need of it. And I would ask anyone here who has been personally hurt or offended by me to come and speak with me, so I can ask your forgiveness directly for what I’ve done wrong.”

The Christian confessional has its place, just as asking forgiveness for institutional sins has its place. But what’s more authentic, and what’s more God-glorifying, is to put our own need for God’s mercy on display—and to rejoice in the knowledge that while we are great sinners, we have a great savior in Jesus Christ.


An earlier version of this post first appeared in 2010.

 

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s deals from Crossway focus on apologetics:

Also on sale is Puritan Portraits by J.I. Packer for $3.99.

The Symbolism of the Rainbow

Nick Batzig:

Yesterday one of my sons asked me why there were so many rainbows on the television and internet. Most of us have have seen them on children’s books and clothing from our earliest days–and in recent years placarded on the television and internet–yet many have never stopped to ask the question, “What symbolism did God invest the rainbow with from the the day in which He first set it in the sky?” There is a rich biblical-theological answer to that question, and it would serve us well to consider what we are taught from the Genesis narrative–as well as from the rest of redemptive history.

In an Instant-Messaging Age, Sometimes It’s Best to Sleep on It

Nathan Bingham:

For bloggers like me, a literal seven-hour delay can be a beneficial habit. We are a unique breed with unique temptations. We might say that we write for the simple love of it. But that doesn’t mean we would love writing as much if no one were to read our posts. Pride is often crouching at the door as we hit the publish button. And it’s this desire to grow our readership that can push us to write on every scandal or trending topic, even if when we seriously consider it, we have nothing meaningful to contribute or any legitimate reason for providing our commentary. Simply sleeping on it, or sending the draft to a trusted friend for their counsel, can be enough to prevent publishing something that you will later regret. Making this your practice will provide you with the time to examine your motives, repent of any sin, and thereby grow in your walk with the Lord and ultimately the quality of your blogging. Having a social media editor isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of maturity.

We’re Addicted to Doubt

Barnabas Piper:

When I say “we” I mean younger people in the church. We are addicted to doubt — a reaction to a religious background that stifled it during our formative years. When we were growing up questions about God, any sign we lacked surety, was frowned upon either explicitly or tacitly by the greater church. Sometimes we were reprimanded, but more often we simply received canned answers to hard questions and were told to believe them. Our doubts were not resolved; they were suppressed. Many of us grew up in fundamentalist contexts where things were black and white, right or wrong, yes or no. There was no room for anything else. Anything else was sinful.

Computer Brains, Mind Trips, and the Ugliness of Myopia

Luke Harrington:

There’s a fascinating post up at Google UK’s research blog right now about image recognition and “neural networks.” These are networks of computers designed to mimic the human brain in the way they operate—they think, and they can learn, and yes, they’re probably plotting world domination as we speak. Here we had an act of terrorism carried out by a man who was enough of a racist cartoon to make Yosemite Sam look like Laurence Olivier doing Hamlet. . . . And yet, so many of us still wanted to make it about anything other than racism.In the meantime, though, they show a lot of promise for automatic image classification. For instance, if your phone has thousands of photos on it, and you haven’t done anything to sort them (imagine that, right?), a neural network could search through them for you. If you search for “dog,” and the network has been taught what a dog looks like, it’ll return all of your photos of dogs to you; if you search for “vastly overrated television program,” you’ll presumably get some stills from Breaking Bad.

Three Reasons White Pastors Need to Start Preaching on Race

Dan Darling:

For most white evangelical pastors, racial reconciliation hasn’t been a primary emphasis of their teaching. This may be for a variety of reasons. First, as the majority culture, white Christians don’t feel the sting of prejudice. It’s not that all white evangelicals are insensitive; it’s that many are not in proximity to racism or injustice. Because most of our friends are white, we aren’t forced to empathize with our minority brothers and sisters in Christ. Second, there is likely some fear of addressing race. Racial issues are delicate. Pastoral leadership is already a tightrope act; why stir up more trouble? Third, it could be that pastors might view racial reconciliation as a worthy goal, but not a gospel issue.

The limits of love

heart

One of the greatest lies we tell children is a nursery rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I remember repeating this to myself as a little boy, over and over again, with tears running down my face, as the terrible things other kids said about me kept repeating in my head. I was desperate for it to be true.

It never was.

So I get how so many Christians feel living in a thoroughly post- or anti-Christian culture, as many of us do in the West. Recent political decisions only officially made legal what was already approved culturally. Those who hold to the traditional or biblical definition marriage have long been called intolerant, bigots, homophobes, and numerous other pejoratives. One website ran an entire article that existed only to direct the F-word (and I don’t mean “fundamentalist”) at us, and particularly politicians and political figures who voiced concerns about or opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.

The intolerance of tolerance is at work.

The hurtful words are terribly discouraging. No one wants to be called a bigot, or a hate monger—no one. And yet, this is what is happening and will continue to happen until the West falls or Jesus returns, because we have to understand that love has its limits. There are places that, because we love people, we cannot go and ideas we cannot embrace or endorse.

I was reminded of this again by Sam Storms in his devotional, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3. In writing of Jesus’ commendation of the Ephesians, Storms describes them as a church that had “20/20 discernment.”

They hated evil—period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Whatever form evil took, whether ethical or theological, they stood resolute in their opposition. No compromise. No cutting of corners. Their love was revealed in their intolerance.… This was their most stellar achievement. No heretical concept could ever raise its ugly head in Ephesus without being decapitated by the swift stroke of biblical truth. (41)

The Ephesians understood that Christian charity could not give room to false teaching within the church. Whatever else was going on in the culture, whatever trials they would face, whatever persecution they would be forced to endure, they would; but they could not suffer the usurping or perversion of biblical truth. And, again, Jesus commended them for this. Why? Because, as Storms writes, Jesus hates moral and theological compromise.

Any appeal to grace to justify sin is repugnant to our Lord. Any attempt to rationalize immorality by citing the “liberty” we have in Christ is abhorrent to him and must be to us. True Christian love is never expressed by the tolerance of wickedness, whether it be a matter of what one believes or how one behaves. (43)

This is the position we find ourselves in today. The culture has spoken and, while we can (and I believe should) disagree with the outcome, we should at least acknowledge the reality. This means the hateful and hurtful words are going to keep coming, with a promise they’ll stop as soon as we are willing to stop believing what we believe. If we can just embrace same-sex marriage, and then polyamorous relationships, we can all get along. But is that the best way to demonstrate love to our unbelieving neighbors and our fellow believers?

No. Instead, we need to be willing to affirm that love has its limits. And just as the Ephesians were forced to in the face of the Nicolaitian heresy, we must ask what we must say no to for the sake of our devotion to Christ—and in order to demonstrate the love of Christ to all.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

There are a lot of articles coming out about the same-sex marriage ruling from the US Supreme Court. Here are a few reflections and items on implications worth reading:

Now for a few other links worth checking out…

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to take advantage of these deals from Crossway:

Also on sale:

Guilt Is Not Just a Feeling

Sinclair Ferguson:

The stories of how individuals are converted vary enormously, but there is one strand that features constantly. They may have begun with no obvious awareness of guilt and no special sense of need for God. When probed a little, they might have been self-defensive, even self-justifying, but nevertheless they felt secure, safe.

But nobody can protect himself or herself fully and finally from God’s invasions.

A Stupid Promise To God

Brad Hambrick:

But how many of us have tried to make private deals with God where we promise, “If you just get me out of this situation, then I will [blank].” And, usually, what goes in the blank is some flavor of stupid – extreme, unsustainable, impossible, in conflict with other moral commitments, etc…

What do we do with that? And, as important, how do we prevent our response to these stupid promises from making us cavalier in our attitude towards God?

Proud of our children—or because of them?

Barnabas Piper:

Being proud because of your kids, though, is not aimed at your kids at all. It’s self-focused. It’s feeling an increased sense of self because your child had a success. Your child is the best soccer player, first chair violin, a scholarship winner, or on the A honor roll. Thus they are the best, and that means you, as the one who crafted them, are also the best! It’s a game of compare and contrast with other parents in which your child has become the basis for your success (or failure). It’s usury.

Choking ourselves to death

choking

During Jesus’ incarnation, the religious elite of His day, the scribes and Pharisees, would follow Him around and seek to trap Him, discredit Him and have Him arrested and killed.

The Pharisees honestly get a bad rap sometimes. During the 400 year silence prior to John the Baptist’s arrival on the scene, these men saw the godlessness of their countrymen and wanted to do something about it. They wanted Israel to live according to the Law. So the strove to obey the Law as closely as possible; to obey God as His people. But then they started adding laws to the Law in order to help them obey the Law. The spirit of the law became the letter of the law and man’s laws overtook God’s Law and then they were left with something opposed to the Law.

Although there were many, a common example is found in the Sabbath. God had commanded that on the seventh day, all his people should rest. No work was to be done, for just as God had rested from his work of creation on the seventh day, so too would his people from theirs. They had a lot of extra rules about what to do, where to go, what you could carry and even whether or not someone could be healed. So one day, Jesus was at Bethesda and saw a man who has been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. (John 5:6-9)

Jesus performed an amazing miracle in the life of this man. An invalid for over 30 years, yet now he could walk. People should have been celebrating! Except, there was one small problem: “Now that day was the Sabbath” (v. 9b). The Sabbath—the same day on which the Pharisees had determined that people could not carry a mat because they considered that work.

So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:10-17)

The Pharisees sought to persecute Jesus because “he was doing these things on the Sabbath” (v. 16). They persecuted Jesus because he broke their rules. Rules they had equated with God’s. And they became so blind with pride that they could not see who Jesus was or what he was doing.

This is something we all need to be careful of. There’s a tendency among Christians to be afraid of grace—if we talk about it too much, or if we really believe in it, people might start thinking we don’t care about obedience, or we think you can live however you want because “once saved always saved.” Even when we don’t do this, we add rules about what to wear, what to drink, what to say, what to think, how to pray, how to sing, whether to put our hands up (and how high)…

We love our rules, don’t we?

And yet, they’re the very things that might be choking the life out of us. When we substitute human effort for genuine affection for God, terrible things follow. I can’t help but think of the seven churches of Revelation to whom Jesus sent warnings and encouragement. The Ephesians, for example, he commended for their uncompromising doctrine, and their unwillingness to bear with false teachers. Yet he warned that they had abandoned “the love [they] had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4).

Jesus warned these Christians that he would put an end to their church not because they were following false teachers, but because their hearts were far off from him. Their right concern over protecting their doctrine was choking the life out of them because they’d forgotten the spirit in which it was to be pursued. Right doctrine was to lead to greater delight and devotion, not to a cold, “dead” orthodoxy (which is completely unorthodox).

One of the things I always want to be careful of in my own life—and I’ll be honest, I chafe at it whenever certain things are imposed from the outside—is whether or not the rules and structures I’ve implemented in my own life and in my family are life-giving or if they are ultimately pushing me and others away from Jesus. If a “read the Bible in a year” plan is about little more than checking a box, it ought not be done. Bible reading should happen, but the form that takes needs to change. If prayer is rigidly structured and my words are rehearsed, there’s a problem. Prayer should still happen, but the form is (generally) open by necessity. If “worship” only happens when hands are raised higher and voices are louder, well… you get the idea right?

Seeking to obey God in all of our lives is right of course. It is good and necessary and life-giving. However, we need to be careful of not adding rules that go beyond those found in Scripture lest we become proud, devoted and dead.


This post is based off a much earlier one from 2010.

 

 

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10 Reasons Racism is Offensive to God

Kevin DeYoung:

I’ve grown up my whole life hearing that racism was wrong, that “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” (to use one of the first definitions that popped up on my phone) is sinful. I’ve heard it from my parents, from my public school, from my church, from my college, and from my seminary. The vast majority of Americans know that racism is wrong. It’s one of the few things almost everyone agrees on. And yet, I wonder if we (I?) have spent much time considering why it’s wrong. We can easily make our “I hate racism” opinions known (and loudly), but perhaps we are just looking for moral high ground, or for pats on the back, or to win friends and influence people, or to prove we’re not like thosepeople, or maybe we are just saying what we’ve always heard everyone say. As Christians we must think and feel deeply not just the what of the Bible but the why. If racism is so bad, why is it so bad?

What I Learned from Elisabeth Elliot in Her Last Years

Jennifer Lyell:

There is much I could share about those days I spent with Elisabeth, but one experience is particularly on my mind as I write while flying home from her funeral service. The moment came in a simple circumstance with Elisabeth, arguably the most influential Christian woman of the 20th century. We were far off the beaten path in a place where there was no fanfare for this spiritual giant who had given so much to Christ and his kingdom. I sat holding her hand, but the microphone was gone. The lines waiting for an autograph were gone. The pen would be pointless. She sat struggling to stay awake even as we journeyed on. And I was full of a righteous anger I’d not previously experienced.

Bros before Marios

This is a bit older, but it’s pretty funny nonetheless:

God Will Use Even You

Steven Lee:

I have not written a New York Times Bestseller, and no one has publicly endorsed, recommended, or vouched for me. I don’t have any letters after my name. I can’t charge an exorbitant hourly fee for my time. I don’t speak on any circuits, have given no TED talks, and have been the keynote speaker less than once. No buildings, streets, or hospitals have been named in honor of me. I have an unimpressive family background and do not come from a long line of important people.

And that is okay. Really, it’s just fine.

The danger of being theoretical Christians

heart

Buzzwords make me want to die inside. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about in the business world or ministry world, they are just painful. I cringe every time I hear “strategy” or “strategic” (or worse, “strategic strategies”). I squirm when I hear the term “missional.”

It’s not that these words are bad. But what gets me is how easily they can be bent toward passivity or, worse, theoretical living. I know of lots of folks who talk about the importance of strategy all day long, but it doesn’t go beyond talking about why it matters. We believe it in theory, but actually building one and then following it, that’s something else. I’ve heard dozens of sermons about being missional or reaching the community around us, but it doesn’t really seem to go beyond the hypothetical. We believe in the idea in theory, but when it comes to actually doing something like getting to know our neighbors, oh my goodness.

Now, here’s the thing: For me, I don’t have an “everyone else should do better at this” attitude, because I’m just as bad as everyone else. I live in my head. It’s easy for me to live theoretically, but not move beyond theory. And this won’t do, because, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it well in Seeking the Face of God, “People are not interested in something theoretical.”

The thing that always convinces people is reality. If they see there is something about our lives, a certain quality, a certain calmness and equanimity, the ability to be more than conquerors in every kind of circumstance, if they see that when everything is against us, we still triumphantly prevail whereas they do not, they will become interested in what we have. They will want to know more about it. I am convinced, therefore, that the greatest need today is Christian people who know and manifest the fact that they know the living God, to whom His “loving-kindness is better than life.” In other words, nothing is more important than an assurance of salvation. (122)

This is what we’re to be about, isn’t it? We’re to be people whose knowledge and love for the Lord are clearly visible. Who recognize that salvation is truly of grace and live like it’s true. So what does that look like?

It means we quit running around as though we’ve got to do “enough” in order to earn God’s continued love. It means we speak up about our faith with confidence, at the right times and the right ways, not to beat people over the head with the gospel, but because we speak about what we care about. We don’t pretend we’ve got all the answers to every question, because we don’t. And we do our best to be honest about the fact that we’re totally going to blow it on nearly everything I’ve just said. And we can do that because we know that we are secure in the loving-kindness of our Savior.

That’s a little bit of what it looks like to live as something more than a theoretical Christian. And a theoretical Christian is exactly what we must not be. The world doesn’t have time for it, and neither do we.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

The Easiest Way To Self-Publish

David Murray shares about a new tool he’s using for self-publishing called PressBooks. It looks pretty neat.

Why donations of free media are almost always a bad deal

This was interesting:

When someone gives away free media, it’s possible they’re being truly philanthropic and donating something of value. More likely, though, they’re unloading “garbage” on you — media they haven’t been able to sell because it has little or no value in the marketplace. They’re just going for the tax deduction.

How to Prevent a Gospel-Centered Fizzle Out

Erik Raymond:

We are well into this new and widespread recovery of the centrality of the old gospel. I continue to see and hear of lights being turned on for people. Those precious, robust theological truths of yesterday are gripping hearts today. While I rejoice in this there is also something of a rock in my throwback theological shoes: these truths are being recovered because they were once under-emphasized.

What Are Some Concerns You Have With the Homeschooling Movement?

R.C. Sproul Jr shares five things he believes are a current danger for homeschoolers in America. It’s good stuff.

Four Tips for Dealing with Church Antagonists

Rob Hurtgen:

For some reason it seems every ministry will have antagonists. Those who—for a variety of motivations—set themselves against you as the leader, the ministry strategy, and, in extreme instances the church, itself. Most often—at least it has been my experience—antagonists are not evil people. They are men and women who say they love Jesus and are concerned about the church. However, they become antagonistic when the pastor and other ministry staff do not conduct ministry they way they think it should be done. When decisions that are made that are not decisions they would make. Often their preferences and their issues–theological persuasion, political temperament, worship style, etc.–become elevated as dogma and those who are not full agreement with them are quickly dismissed as spiritually immature and intellectually faulty.

Schaeffer on the Christian Life

schaeffer-review

One of the people I’ve not read nearly enough of is Francis Schaeffer. Maybe you’re with me on that. But this is something I realized, after reading How Should We Then Live?, I realized I needed to correct. But where to start?

While some might suggest starting with a seminal work like one of those found in Schaeffer’s TrilogyThe God Who Is There, Escape From Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent—I’d recommend taking a step back and getting a better sense of the man himself. And probably the best place to start is with Schaeffer on the Christian Life by William Edgar. Divided into three parts, Edgar examines Schaeffer by:

  1. Helping us understand Schaeffer the man and the era in which he lived;
  2. Summarizing the fundamental beliefs undergirding Schaeffer’s views—his “countercultural spirituality”—as well as their application; and
  3. Examining how Schaeffer lived out his faith, trusting God for all things.

Praying like God would really answer

While I found much of the biographical sketch fascinating (more on it in a minute), it was the final part—Schaeffer’s dependence upon the Lord for all things—that I found captivating. Francis Schaeffer was not a man who gave lip service to trusting God. He really believed it. And this really hit home when Edgar recounts a question Francis asked his wife, Edith, “What if we woke up one morning and our Bibles were changed? What if all of the promises about prayer and the Holy Spirit were … eliminated from the text? What real difference would it make in our lives?” (129)

This question wrecked me.

I’ve reflected on this in greater detail elsewhere, but cultivating a healthy prayer life has been one of the most challenging parts of my life as a Christian, and is probably my most significant area of weakness (aside from all the other ones). It’s not that I don’t believe in the importance of prayer, nor do I disbelieve in God’s working through it. Just the opposite—I take God at his word in regard to his promises, and I’ve seen him work quite powerfully and obviously through prayer. Yet, when it comes down to brass tacks, I still struggle with this disconnect, and prayerlessness can easily reign in my life if I’m not watchful. Schaeffer’s rebuke, that far too many Christians sit in the “chair of unfaith,” stings (131).

This, of course, has major implications in my personal life (to say nothing of my current and future ministry). But it is also where I took a great deal of encouragement from the Schaeffers’ example. Edgar describes the Schaeffers (and indeed, all involved in the L’Abri work) as people who prayed like they meant it. Whether it was for the finances to ensure the lights would still be on or for the salvation of a visitor, they truly believed prayer made a difference. They trusted that God would indeed answer (132).

How I’m seeking to apply this is through repentance and simple obedience in the area of prayer. Though not terribly profound, this means when I am asked to pray, or I feel any sort of compulsion to pray, I stop what I’m doing and pray at that moment. While this has lead to a few funny looks from my wife who might suggest praying about something and has been met with “okay, let’s do that,” it’s been a really, really positive experience for me.

First, it’s helping me to remember that—blasphemy aside—there is no wrong way to pray. Prayer is not magic; it is communication. And though reverence and respect should be obvious, it should reflect a true relationship.

Second, it’s helping me relearn the proper posture for ministry. I’m not some sort of super-person that can do all things through sheer force of will.

Finally, it’s a reminder that, if I want to see people move toward Christ, I must be praying that God would move them. I cannot make someone a Christian. I can no more make someone a genuine Christian than I can make a rock become a tree. But God can, and so I need to pray he will do it.

Doubt’s role in developing stronger Christians

But this isn’t all I’ve seen and appreciated in Edgar’s reflections on Schaeffer. One of the things Edgar does well is he doesn’t create a picture of Schaeffer that pretties up his weaknesses. In fact, it’s his recounting of Schaeffer’s greatest spiritual crisis that made me respect him more. During the 1950s, Schaeffer became increasingly concerned with how he had been less than loving to those with whom he disagreed. Eventually, having been “plunged into the depts of doubt,” he came to the point where he had to “rethink ‘the whole matter of Christianity.'” (53, 55)

He decided in the midst of this dark night of the soul that the only honest way forward was to rethink his entire theology and Christian commitment, even at the risk of finding it not true in the end. (53)

Some readers might be concerned with such a decision, but it’s important to remember that doubt is not the enemy of faith in some respects—it can be the catalyst for a stronger commitment. It all depends on how we are approaching resolving our doubts though. Let’s say I start having doubts about whether or not my faith is even real, if it’s not just some happy clappy placebo effect that ultimately doesn’t actually mean anything. If I just let my doubt linger, and never really deal with it, guess what? It’s not really doubt: it’s unbelief. But if I recognize it and decide to do what I can to resolve it, my doubt can actually be a catalyst for a stronger, more certain commitment at the end.

Schaeffer reemerged a free man—one who recognized the need to balance truth and love, for they are inseparable. The journey through doubt resulted in a changed man, one who better reflected his savior. That’s the role doubt can play in our lives: it drives us to cry along with the desperate father in Mark 9:24, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!” Schaeffer knew, as that father did, that if we call to the Lord in this way, he will answer.

Reading Schaeffer on the Christian Life has been good for my soul, and its compelling and challenging portrait of “countercultural spirituality” really looks like leaves me wanting more in all the right ways. I trust it will be the same for you as well.


Title: Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality
Author: William Edgar
Publisher: Crossway (2013)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Talking About ‘Inside Out’

Jeremy Pierre:

While Inside Out overstates the primacy of emotion in human motivation, the movie nevertheless helpfully forces the audience to acknowledge that emotions make up a major part of why we do what we do. For Christians, acknowledging this is vital to discipleship, which requires that we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). In other words, Christians value emotions because they are part of how God designed us to worship him.

The Best Way To Teach

Tim Challies:

As someone who both writes and preaches, I have been struck by my tendency toward hypocrisy in this way. I know that I am capable of teaching what the Bible says about marriage (or anything else, for that matter) even when I don’t act what the Bible says about it. I am capable of writing “8 Ways to Guarantee the Flame Lasts Forever” while acting as if I don’t care if it lasts another 5 minutes.

3 Ways I Know I’ll Never Be “Ready” to Be a Dad

Chris Martin:

One reason a lot of young couples don’t have kids, though, is that they don’t feel “ready.” The common phrase you always hear about being “ready” to have kids is similar to the one about marriage, “No one is ever ‘ready’ to have kids (or get married).” Both statements are true to a point—a lot of marriage and parenting is only learnable via experience.

In reality—I’m not even a parent and I know this—you are never “ready” to parent because there’s nothing quite like parenting. Below are three ways I know I’ll never be “ready” to be a dad, even though I plan to be one anyway.

Foolish, ignorant controversies

Landon Chapman:

The meteoric rise in social media has enabled folks from around the globe to exchange information and converse, both audibly and visually, with great ease.  As the platform has continued to grow and mature, developers have simplified its usage to the point where even those with the most basic of personal computing knowledge and/or extreme time limits, may quickly and easily engage their not so geographically close peers.  Of course, it is likely that none of this information is new to anyone reading this article.  Rather than crafting yet another piece lamenting the many reasons why social media is destroying our culture, faith communities, families, etc., I want to instead focus on a Biblical issue to which the widespread adoption of social media has contributed.

The big list of Christian podcasts

Clayton Kraby’s put together a great (and very thorough) list of podcasts touching on topics of interest to Christians. No doubt you’ll find a few in there that you’ll want to subscribe to.

The number one Christian conversation killer

speech

There are certain words that are conversation killers:

  • Hitler (doesn’t matter what you’re comparing, if you bring in Hitler, the conversation is over)
  • Nazi (whether grammar, brand, or any other modifier one may choose to use)
  • Homophobe (because, well you know…)
  • K (because it’s a letter, not a word)
  • YOLO (because it it makes you look like an idiot)

In Christian circles, we have our own conversation killers, in addition to the ones we’ve picked up from the surrounding culture. Most of these are buzzwords like “missional” and increasingly “gospel centered”—the terms and phrases we either overuse or just haven’t bothered to adequately define, thus rendering them meaningless. But there’s one word to rule them all—one forged in the fires of Mount Doom:

F-U-N-D-A-M-E-N-T-A-L-I-S-T

“Fundamentalist” is a big word, and not just because it has 14 letters. It’s one that some—usually those who prefer the term “progressive” to describe their doctrine and outlook—use with alarming frequency, arguably more than some folks use “heretic.” And for Christians, it really is the ultimate conversation killer. After all, no one wants to be called a fundamentalist—homophobe we can handle. Out of step, ditto. Being on the wrong side of history, no problem. But “fundamentalist”? No way—that’s like being the kid who had cooties on the playground during recess!

Okay, I kid a little. (Maybe. Probably not.)

But you often see the F-word used by the desperate, the folks who put something out there but what they’re saying doesn’t really have legs. Here are the two ways I typically see it play out:

1. To defend preference. There’s a great deal of freedom in the Christian faith, on this I hope we can all agree. And there are certain things we cannot reasonably be too hardline about. For example, if I were to say all alcohol consumption is sinful, I’d have a hard time squaring that with Scripture. Now, I don’t drink due to personal conviction, so for me it would be sinful unless I had a change of conviction (which I have not). That is perfectly within the bounds. However, if I were to say “and you drink can’t either—everyone,” I’d be on the wrong side of the Bible (Romans 14:1-12).

However, there are other things that aren’t really up for debate (even if we still debate them anyway). If we’re participating in occult practices or taking part in spiritual practices from other religions, we’re going to have a hard time squaring that with the Bible. We point to Paul’s words about eating meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8, and say that idols aren’t living things, but ignore that later he warns us against participating in idolatry itself in 1 Corinthians 10:14-21. We talk about Paul’s freedom in eating meat sacrificed to idols—but we forget that he’s talking about meat purchased in the marketplace, not being part of the sacrifice itself.

In our day, it’s things like yoga, The Walking Dead, and 50 Shades of Creepy.These are the things where we disagree (rightly or wrongly). But if we’re going to disagree, let’s at least make sure that our views are based on something a little more substantial than “I like it,” “it feels good,” or “it works for me.” Actually have a good argument.

2. To defend syncretism. This is the second time the f-word is typically dropped—on the clear black and white issues like the supremacy of Christ, the authority of the Bible, who goes to heaven and hell, sexual morality… Big stuff. Fun fact: I once read a blog where the writer called Scripture’s command that a man spiritually lead and provide for the needs of his family (cf. 1 Tim 5:8; Eph 5:22-33) a misogynistic, patriarchal attitude and anyone who says different is, well, you know…

On big issues—the things where the Bible doesn’t give any wiggle room whatsoever—it’s not being fundamentalist to say “Nope, Christians can’t affirm XYZ”. It’s not unloving or unkind. It’s just being honest. And when we resort to name-calling and conversation killers rather than engaging people honestly, it just says we’re desperate, proud and kind of lazy. It might be easier to demonize those we disagree with—regardless of our position on the theological spectrum—but it’s not worth it. And I don’t think any of us want that.


An earlier version of this post was written in 2010.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Also on sale are several volumes in Crossway’s Knowing the Bible series ($5.38–$6.99 each):

The Story of the Most Daring Cliffhanger in ‘Next Generation’ History

Really enjoyed this behind the scenes look at one of the best stories to appear on Star Trek.

How to Conquer the Grumbles

Michael Herrington:

Last week, in preparation to preach from Philippians, I began tracking how often I grumble. How often do I complain either out loud, under my breath, or in my mind? I’m ashamed to say it was far more than I would have suspected.

Paul says we should do all things without grumbling or disputing (Phil. 2:14). He then goes on to describe four characteristics of what we will become when we do so: blameless, innocent, children of God, and above reproach. He’s not talking about salvation with these terms; that was accomplished by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. He’s instead talking about how others will perceive us. He’s talking about an outward revelation of an inward reality.

In Search of True Evangelicalism

C Michael Patton offers a framework for defining evangelicalism.

How Pixar Enchants Us

Michael Cavna at the Washington Post:

Arguably no film studio in the world expends so much energy actively trying to fail. And succeeding at it. Time after time, in 15 mostly acclaimed feature films over two decades, Pixar’s history is littered with big and beautiful and once-treacherously unwieldy failures — epics of initial underachievement and momentary monuments to the quagmire of the creative mind.

I Just Agreed With Richard Dawkins

David Murray:

Although we usually disagree on just about everything, I recently found myself in the strange position of agreeing with Richard Dawkins as he came to the defense of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Sir Timothy Hunt, who’s been hounded out of his important and prestigious job for foolish comments he made at a scientific conference in South Korea.

How do we keep these things from happening?

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This weekend, the news broke that Tullian Tchividjian resigned as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, after admitting to an extramarital affair in a statement provided to the Washington Post.

There’s so much that could be said about this issue, and no doubt, much of it will be in the days (or hours) to come. Some of us will make the mistake of reading most of it (not that all the commentary will be bad, but because most of it won’t be necessary). So, naturally, I’m writing something related to it that I hope you’ll actually read and find helpful.

Although I’ve met Tullian, shared emails periodically and had a couple of Skype calls (for an interview a couple of years back), what I know of him mostly comes from his books and preaching. I’ve never attended his church, so I don’t know what the culture is like there in terms of the whole creepy pastor-celebrity worship thing that sometimes happens in churches with pastors who have a large platform. I don’t know what his accountability structure was like at his church, but I do know from what we see in the Post article that there was some form of authority playing an active role in his life, one looking out for his good—and not merely his platform.

So please don’t read this as someone trying to do armchair detective work and pinpoint “the real problem”. I don’t want this to be assumed to be a rant that comes across like the self-righteous boasting of the Pharisee who prayed, “Thank God I am not like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). And likewise I don’t want to offer the despicable “nobody’s perfect/we all make mistakes” sentiments you often see when a high profile Christian is found to be engaged in disqualifying sin.

So why I am I writing this then?

Honestly, I think I mostly want to address one question: How do we help ensure these sorts of things don’t keep happening? This sort of sin is heartbreaking on every level: It’s awful for the people involved. It’s devastating to a local church. It hurts so many people on so many levels, both inside and outside the church. And we need to treat it as such. And one of the best ways to do that is to figure out how we protect our pastors, our fellow church members, our friends, our family, and ourselves from crossing that line we’re all only one or two wrong decisions away from.

Now, here’s the first thing we need to remember: Sin isn’t a problem for “celebrity” Christians alone. Sin is no respecter of a person’s anonymity or notoriety. So we can’t say point a finger and say, well, of course XYZ happened—look at the size of his or her church, platform or whatever. Nor do we point fingers at theology in general. While sometimes the sins we see committed (or we commit) are the outworking of a deficient theology, the problem can’t be neatly pegged on a theological system. After all, as we’ve seen, it’s possible to learn directly from Jesus and still fall prey to the fear of man and be guilty of hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-14). So while it’s tempting to say that sin is the result of being too light on law or too free with grace or something like that, we need to look at a different area of our lives. The problem we face is certainly a theological one, and there’s no one answer to the problem, but I wonder if it’s helpful to consider our view of the place of the church in accountability?

More pointedly, how do we answer these two questions:

Who really knows us? If you’re in a North American evangelical church with a congregation larger than 200, there’s a good chance that you can easily hide if you so choose. You could come every single week, sit in the same seat, and leave again without ever being noticed. It’s possible to do this (in fact, I know of one church in my city that’s known for being the church you go to if you want to hide, which I’m sure is not the leadership’s intention whatsoever). And if you’re a pastor, it’s possible to set up your entire life in such a way that you never, ever have to deal with the people who are (allegedly) being shepherded by you. While it might be convenient, perhaps even appealing, there’s a pretty significant problem with this set-up: if no one knows us, there’s no one to protect us from ourselves.

Now, make no mistake: letting people know you is risky. It means you actually have to let them know you. They must know things about you, and not just what you’re looking at on the Internet. After all, we have CSIS and the NSA for that (hi, guys). We need to have people who can ask us about just about anything in our lives—and expect a real answer. If you don’t have someone who’s willing to call you out when you’re full of crap, you might have a problem. Speaking of which…

How highly do we esteem ourselves? How we see ourselves is just as important as anything else. If we act as though we are somehow above certain sins, we’re almost certainly going to fall to those very things. Bloggers know where I’m coming from on this: If someone doesn’t read my blog today, am I going to lose my mind and check my stats incessantly? How do I react when others experience greater success than me? How do I react when people leave my church and go to the one down the road? Do I actually believe that if Jesus is to increase, I must decrease—or do I just affirm it with my lips all the while thinking I’m a pretty big deal? All of this, though, is just an expression of autonomy—which is really just a polite way of saying “I worship myself.”

I’m not exaggerating when I say we’re all only one or two wrong decisions away from being in a similar situation as any number of Christian leaders who’ve committed adultery, become domineering or otherwise abused their authority. I don’t wonder, “How could this have happened?” when I learn about adultery among pastors or any of the other sins we see being committed. I grieve over them because I know exactly how they happen. It just takes one decision. It happens in an instant, and happens in the heart long before it happens in the body. That’s one of the things I love about people who know themselves well: they’re not naïve enough to assume they couldn’t do something similar, and so are intentional about being faithful, God-honoring men and women (in every sense).

And this is one of the things that terrify me about the advice I see offered in leadership circles. It’s the whole, “Nobody gets your struggles/leadership is lonely/you’re a snowflake” thing. Which, incidentally, is the same kind of stuff someone trying to tempt you into sin will say to you (as many a woman or man knows). The problem, of course, is it’s complete bunk. It not only sets up the pastor as being somehow in a different class than other believers, but it leaves him without the protection that comes from being a part of the body.

Which brings me back to something sorely lacking within evangelical churches today: accountability. Is this the only issue? Nope. Like I said, when it comes to sin in general, and sin such as adultery in particular, it’s a lot more complicated than just accountability. Nevertheless, it is an issue. The gospel doesn’t just save us from sin, but saves us into community. And among the many ways community helps us is to protect us as people know us. To continually call us all to live in light of what Jesus has done and continues to do in our lives. Is accountability a perfect failsafe? Nope. But you and I need it nonetheless—desperately. Likewise, we need to carefully consider how we would answer these two questions: Who really knows us, and how highly do we think of ourselves? The answers to those may make a world of difference for ourselves, our churches and the world around us.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week’s deals from Crossway are focused on reading and understanding the Bible:

Also on sale is Has the Church Replaced Israel? by Michael Vlash ($2.99).

Stop The Racist Jokes

Jeff Medders:

Racism is satanic. And so are racist jokes. We can often feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin with the race conversation. Let’s start here: No more racist jokes. No more. Zero. I’ve heard too many jokes about Mexicans (my race) swimming across and doing manual labor. I’ve heard too many jokes about Asian people’s eyes and driving. I’ve heard too many jokes about Black people’s hair—it’s all wrong. And as Christians, we must adopt a zero tolerance culture toward racism.

Take heed

Nick Batzig:

Consider the following: If an innocent man could choose a piece of fruit over the infinitely valuable God (Gen. 3:6); if the most righteous man of his day could get so drunk that he passed out naked before his sons in his tent (9:21); if the most faithful man of his day could father a child with his wife’s handmaiden (16:1–4) and twice hand his wife over to other men (12:11–15; 20:1–2); if the mother of promise could laugh at the words of the God of promise and then lie to Him about doing so (18:9–15); if “righteous Lot” could greedily pick the most materialistic and sexually depraved place for himself and his family to live (13:8–13), and could hand his daughters over to the sexually perverse men of the city (19:4–8); if the son of promise could show partiality to his oldest son because he liked his hunting skills (25:28), and he, too, could hand his wife over to another man (26:6–11); and if the namesake of Israel could swindle his brother for a birthright (25:29–34), then so could I.

Evolution not Dissolution of the Parachurch

JD Payne:

Though much of my twenty years in vocational ministry has been connected to the local church, I have also been significantly involved in parachurch (i.e., alongside of, not in competition with the local church) ministries. Even extending back to my college days, campus ministry was a major part of my leadership development process. Seminaries, mission agencies, and other parachurch organizations have always been near to my heart. Much Kingdom good may be found with such ministries.

However, my concern with such ministries, both when I was immersed in them vocationally as well as now, is that we were never evolving.

His Eye is on the Sasquatch

Jared Wilson:

I like to think about those creepy fanged fishies deep in the Mariana Trench, swimming around in the murky darkness of the oceanic fathoms, their dangling bioluminescence their only lantern into the future. Most of them we will never see — at least, not on this side of the new earth, where we don’t have the lung capacity or the mechanical capacity to withstand the pressure of such depths. There are species down there we have zero clue about. I think of exotic fish in clear pools of water in the darkness of undiscovered caves deep in the jungles that human feet will never enter. In the thickest centers of the wildest forests, there are species of insects and birds that are yet undetected.

What’s the harm if pastors aren’t theologians?

Good stuff from Kevin Vanhooser:

HT: Derek