Your presuppositions shape your response

Bill-Nye-debate

Last night was the big origins debate between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis). And while I’m sure every side is declaring victory over the other, from what I saw an opportunity was lost. Why?

Because the problem with the origins debate is the key point that’s almost always missed: this isn’t a scientific debate. Not really. Instead, we need to recognize it for what it truly is: a philosophical and theological one. 

A year ago, I read a very thoughtful book by Gerald Rau, who is both a Christian and a scientist, called Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (reviewed here)In this book, Rau makes a critical point:

“Our worldview and philosophy shape the way we view that evidence from the first time we hear it… Each scientist is working from the perspective of one particular theory, which affects both data collection and interpretation.” (Kindle locations 189, 202)

Sha-zam.

Rau gets it.

Your worldview—the underlying presuppositions you hold which help you make sense of the world—necessarily affects your observations about the world. So think about it this way:

For the Christian, everything ties back to the truth that God created the universe and everything in it. That he creates and sustains and holds all things together.1 And so the Christian can provide an answer to many questions the naturalist cannot.2

His worldview is begins with a Creator, and the natural response for the Christian is to worship. To give praise to the One who made all things.

For scientists who are Christians, this is what drives so much of their work. It’s not a desire to simply know “what,” but a desire to worship the “Who” behind the “what.” (Does that make sense?)

For the naturalist, though, the answers Christians provide come across as pat or (as my my friend Bill described it), as though you’re trying to counter science with magic, something that’s incredibly frustrating to Christians for whom these answers seem so “obvious.” Why?

Because the naturalist’s underlying presuppositions about how the world works—his worldview—necessarily prevents him from accepting even the idea of God as a possible answer. In order for his worldview to remain coherent, he must reject categorically reject the supernatural, even if it means having to say “I don’t know” to questions Christians can answer.

And because the subject is rarely ever broached, the real debate gets completely missed. It’s like buying a house and spending all your time focused on the flooring, but never investigating the foundation. You might buy something that looks pretty, but is structurally unsound.

This is where our debates need to go—Christians need to stop trying to debate symptoms, and start dealing with causes. The creation vs evolution question is a symptom of competing worldviews crashing into one another.

We must always remember that our presuppositions shape our response to the evidence we see. We always interpret what we experience and what we learn through the lens of our worldview.

So we need to open up the worldview question, and humbly begin to explore its coherence (or lack thereof). When we do this, we may find our debates to be far more fruitful for all.

God’s love attracts and repels all of us

amber-heart

We claim to find comfort in the fact that God is love, as the apostle John put it. We pine after him. We talk of him incessantly. We spend centuries waiting for him. We prepare for his coming by building grand religious edifices. But when this God who is love comes, we, like the grand inquisitor, imprison, interrogate, and then kill him. That’s why Christ’s compassionate acts could draw great crowds that in the next moment would turn and lunge at him with bared fangs, like a startled dog or provoked bear (Matt. 21:9; 27:20ff.; cf. Prov. 17:12). Every one of us does this, including the author of “The Grand Inquisitor.” The story is powerful because it points to something deep in all of our hearts—a hatred not just for God but for his love!

What people fail to realize is that true love—God’s love—simultaneously attracts and repels all of us. It’s a thing of beauty and a thing of gross offense to the fallen heart. That’s why Jesus is the bad guy, at least in our minds. Gaze upon the love of God from one angle, and it will appear as the most resplendent thing in all the universe. But walk a few yards and look up again, and you will find that your lip snarls, your fists clench, and your heart becomes morally offended. It’s the same thing you’re looking at—God’s love. You’re just seeing it from a different angle.…

 Christ’s love, though beautiful to the natural man by common grace, also offends him (see 1 Cor. 2:14). We like all the talk of compassion and caring for the downtrodden. Our eyes sometimes weep over acts of self-sacrifice by a mother, a brother, a friend, or a lover. Still, there’s something deeper about God’s love that offends our natural, unregenerate eyes.

Jonathan Leeman, The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, p. 79

Always talking, never doing

One of the great tensions we face in the Christian life—and the Christian faith—is the tension between belief and action. When you see discussion of topics like antinomianism, of the relationship between law and gospel… at the heart of these debates and discussions is this tension.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan gives voice to this tension through the meeting of Faithful and Talkative. As his name suggests, Talkative loves to wax eloquent about any number of subjects, but especially that of religion and piety. Indeed, he talks a good game. But his talk isn’t enough. Bunyan writes:

talkative

“…to know is something that pleases talkers and boasters, but to do is that which pleases God. Not that the heart can be good without knowledge, for without knowledge the heart is empty. But there are two kinds of knowledge: the first is alone in its bare speculation of things, and the second is accompanied by the grace of faith and love, which causes a man to do the will of God from the heart.

“The first kind of knowledge will serve the talker. But a true Christian will not be content until his knowledge results in sincere works that please God. ‘Give me understanding, and I shall keep Thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.’”

Talkative protested, “You are trying to trap me again; this is not edifying.”

Many of us have a similar response to the idea of obedience that Talkative does. We don’t like the idea that “a true Christian will not be content until his knowledge results in sincere works that please God.” It’s offensive and doesn’t feel terribly edifying to talk about.

But it shouldn’t be, not really. After all, Jesus Himself said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). In other words, Christ’s people don’t just hear, they obey.

Their belief flows into action—right action that pleases God. Their knowledge is “accompanied by the grace of faith and love, which causes a man to do the will of God from the heart.”

Talkative was content to talk a good game. He could speak truthfully, to be sure—but his lifestyle revealed the truth of his state before God. He was “a man whose religion is only talk and your conduct is at odds with what you profess with your mouth.” In fact, he was one who caused many to stumble by his example.

He professed faith but did not possess faith.

Many of us are not that much different. Our talk is good and right and true, but that’s about as far as it goes.

We are always talking, but never doing.

But we must be about more than talk. We must embrace the tension we perceive in the Christian faith, understanding that, really, there is no tension at all according to Jesus. We must not be one who simply hears and parrots, but one who hears and does.

 

Brothers, don’t ignore the devout nations

Hands Holding a Seedling and Soil

Recently, Time shared the list of the most and least godly cities (which, incidentally, was updated here). Careful readers will hopefully find much to be encouraged about in it—there is much work to be done in America, and there are many who have not been reached with the gospel, so there’s much to be excited about. But there’s one item I hope missionaries and church planters ignore entirely:

Christian missionaries can apparently steer clear of Tennessee, as the report suggests the state is the most devout in the union. Chattanooga was found to be the most Bible-minded city in America, a title it won from last year’s victor, Knoxville.

I’ve got a lot of friends in Tennessee (in fact, we’re going for a visit in just a few weeks—you have been warned), and I’ve gotta say, there are some amazing churches and ministries in this fine state:

  • LifeWay’s doing some amazing stuff, with the Gospel Project and a number of other initiatives;
  • Ray Ortlund and Immanuel Church are seeking to “make the real Jesus non-ignorable,” (which, by the way, is one of the best mission statements ever);
  • Josh Howerton, Matt Svoboda and the crew at The Bridge are doing great things down in Spring Hill.

Then there’s The Fellowship, Grace Community Church, Christ Community Church… and those are just a few of the ones I know about surrounding Nashville!

There are so many wonderful, gospel-loving, Jesus-proclaiming churches in a state like Tennessee that it’s easy to forget that there are still a whole lot more that are either soft on the gospel, or have abandoned it altogether. In my own homeland, Canada, we don’t have remotely close to the remaining cultural openness to Christianity that America does, but we still have many good, faithful churches.

And you know what those churches need?

They need more faithful churches around them.

They need more faithful brothers and sisters working alongside them, sharing the good news about Jesus, preaching the Scriptures unashamedly, shaking sleepy churches out of complacency, and rescuing people from the clutches of damnably apostate ones.

In our country, where there are tens of thousands of churches across the land, and yet anywhere between four and eight per cent of the population are evangelicals, and is home to the single largest unreached people group in North America, there is a great need for the gospel. In fact, it’s a need at least as great as that of many lesser developed nations. Though it was once so, a devout nation we are not.

Brothers, we must go out to all the nations. We dare not neglect the call to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples from every tribe, tongue and nation (Matt: 28:19-20).

But don’t ignore the “devout” nations, either.

6 quotes Christians need to let lie fallow

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

We Christians do love our quotes—and there are so many brilliant ones to choose from! But by golly, we sure do seem to be a repetitive bunch. Far too often, we’re using the same quotes, over and over.

And over.

So yesterday, inspired by a friend’s lament of the increased use of the Samwise “everything sad is coming untrue” quote from Lord of the Rings, I took to the Interwebs to get your feedback, asking what you believe are the most over-used quotes from Christian authors.

Here are the top answers:

1. “We are far too easily pleased…” From C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

2. John Piper’s mission statement. From Desiring God (and pretty much everything else he’s ever written and/or preached since):

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

3. “He is no fool…” From The Journals of Jim Elliot:

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

4. “More wicked… but more loved.” Tim Keller’s gospel summary, from multiple books and sermons:

“We are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope.”

5. C.S. Lewis’ trilemma. From Mere Christianity:

‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

6. The one which Martin Luther never actually said. But the ideas can definitely be gleaned from his work:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.

You can see why they’re quoted so often. They’re conceptually brilliant and (in most cases) captivating in their simplicity. But there are two dangers with quoting these so frequently:

We risk cheapening their meaning. And when that happens, powerful truths become pithy sentiments. 

That’s the first danger. The second is it reveals we may not be diversifying our reading in a healthy fashion. When we all read the same books, by the same people, quoting the same things, we risk creating a homogenous intellectualism. And when this happens, we risk losing our ability to think critically, as well as the joy of discovering ideas that come from outside our normal spheres of influence.

When boundaries are swept aside, pragmatism follows

word-balloons

Whenever truth, dogma, and boundary lines are swept to the side in churches, pragmatism almost always follows, just as it does in philosophical circles.… In and of itself, thinking pragmatically is not a bad thing. The problem comes when pragmatism fills the vacuum left by the rejection of biblical principles, such that pragmatism becomes the only principle. Pragmatism, by its very nature, requires us to base our decisions on visible, even quantifiable, results. But surely the utility of statistics in a Christian church is limited at best, deceiving at worst. Does a large church mean that the preaching has been sound or entertaining? It’s hard to say. How can we quantify the movement of the supernatural? How accurately can we evaluate those things that the Bible assures us can be seen only with eyes of faith? How well can we discern what’s in the mind of God?

In other words, the very things that give life and breath to the church cannot be seen or measured. A hundred Boy Scouts can meet in a room, as can a hundred Masons, as can a hundred Muslims, as can a hundred people calling themselves “Christian.” What’s the difference between these groups? Statistically, nothing. What’s the difference between them spiritually? Hopefully, everything. But spiritual differences can be seen only with spiritual eyes. They cannot be surveyed with the kinds of questions human beings are capable of answering by checking a box, at least until ministers and churches become able to discern which conversions are genuine and which ones aren’t, and whether numerical growth in the church is a sign of God’s decision in eternity past to bless a church with fruitfulness or merely the effectiveness of catchy programs.

Statistics may have their uses for churches, but the most important things about a church cannot be measured—the differences between fake and real, between flesh and spirit, between the minds of men and the mind of God. Only as we stand before God on the day of judgment will the real measurement of things be revealed. Sadly, too many pastors and churches attempt to measure their ministry by what is seen rather than what is unseen.

Adapted from Jonathan Leeman, The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, 60-61

How Jesus’ teaching reinforces the sanctity of life

BabyGirl

The law not only prohibits certain negative behaviors and attitudes, but by implication it requires certain positive behaviors and attitudes. That is, if adultery is prohibited, chastity and purity are required.

When we apply these patterns set forth by Jesus to the prohibition against murder, we understand clearly that, on the one hand, we are to refrain from all things contained in the broad definition of murder, but on the other hand, we are positively commanded to work to save, improve, and care for life. We are to avoid murder in all of its ramifications and, at the same time, do all that we can to promote life.

Just as Jesus considered lust a part of adultery, so He viewed unjustifiable anger and slander as parts of murder. As lust is adultery of the heart, so anger and slander are murder of the heart.

By expanding the scope of the Ten Commandments to include such matters as lust and slander, Jesus did not mean that it is just as evil to lust after a person as it is to have unlawful physical intercourse. Likewise, Jesus did not say that slander is just as evil as murder. What He did say is that the law against murder includes a law against anything that involves injuring a fellow human unjustly.

How does all of this apply to the abortion issue? In Jesus’ teaching we see another strong reinforcement of the sanctity of life. Murder of the heart, such as slander, may be described as “potential” murder. It is potential murder because, as an example, anger and slander have the potential to lead to the full act of physical murder. Of course, they do not always lead to that outcome. Anger and slander are prohibited, not so much because of what else they may lead to, but because of the actual harm they do to the quality of life.

R.C. Sproul, Abortion: A Rational Look at An Emotional Issue

The shocking secret to finding God’s will

word-balloons

The other day I was speaking to a young guy who is currently unemployed. He wants to get a job, and has been told about a particular one he should apply for. But he wasn’t sure if he should.

“I’m just not sure it’s what I should do with my life,” he said.

I get where he’s coming from. When you’re looking for a job, particularly if you’re in the under 35 crowd (which I’m almost not anymore), the goal seems to be looking for your “calling,” that thing you’ve been uniquely made to do. And this causes a great deal of handwringing, particularly among young Christians.

After all, what if we take a job that’s not God’s will for us?

(Cue the Spirit keys. Wait, no…)

Discovering God’s will is one of those topics that Christians (at least, North American ones) never seem to tire of. We want to know if what we’re doing is what God wants for us, his “best” for us, if you will. There are tons of books on the subject (only a couple that are worth reading in my opinion, though), lots of sermons and blog posts. And, honestly, if you read most of them, you’d think there was some sort of big secret—that God was leaving his will for our lives shrouded in mystery.

A mystery you must solve in order to have your best life now™.

Or something.

But God has not left us to flounder on this, as if we were to wander about aimlessly with no hope of finding an answer. But he’s also not provided an answer that will satisfy some to the degree they’d like.

Instead, God directs us to his word, where he’s pretty clear-cut about no less than five things that are his will for our lives, which are helpfully detailed in John MacArthur’s book, Found: God’s Will and Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something:

1. God’s will is for us to be saved. God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (1 Peter 3:9). Simply, he wants us to be Christians, to know and worship Jesus.

2. God’s will is for us to live Spirit-filled lives. Our lives will be guided by the Holy Spirit as we are careful to study and listen to God’s Word and persist in prayer (see Acts 4:8, 13:9; Eph 5:18).

3. God’s will is for us to be sanctified. God’s will for our lives is that we grow holiness, putting sin to death and growing in Christlike character (Romans 6:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

4. God’s will is for us to be submissive. God’s will is that we obey the authorities he has placed over us, whether godly or ungodly. This is crucial to our witness as Christians in the world. The only time when we may disobey is when those authorities command us to do what God forbids, or to not do what God commands (see Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13-25; Acts 4:19).

5. God’s will is for us to suffer for the sake of Christ. God’s will for our lives is that as we follow Christ in this world we will suffer for Christ. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you,” said Jesus in John 15:18.

There’s nothing about secret whispers, visions or any of that stuff. There’s not even anything about looking at your passions and strengths as a person. Just believe in Jesus, live a Spirit-filled life, pursue holiness, obey God’s Word and the earthly authorities over us, and embrace the suffering that comes with being a Christian.

That, friends, is the totality of God’s revealed will for our lives.

It seems God is more concerned with revealing his intentions for our character and our heart’s condition than declaring a particular vocation. This isn’t to say that God doesn’t care about such things—after all, he has ordered every detail of our lives, appointing the time and place in which we live. God is in absolute control over the events of our lives—but he doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in acting like someone who spoils your favorite TV show on Twitter.

So instead of spending a great deal of time trying to figure out the details of God’s secret will, maybe we need to spend more time considering what he already has revealed.

Or am I crazy?

That awkward moment in kids ministry when…

children-in-a-circle

We all have them—awkward moments in children’s ministry:

  • Maybe it’s when you realize none of the kids have been paying attention to what you’ve been saying for the last ten minutes; or
  • when you realize how awful your rhyming scheme for your points truly is (and not just because you came up with it the night before); or
  • you realize, as you’re teaching, that this is probably the first time any of the kids in the room have ever heard the concept of God’s wrath.

That was my Sunday last weekend. I was teaching a lesson on Zephaniah, an Old Testament book where the wrath of God being poured out plays heavily in its message.

“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth… I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,” the book begins (Zephaniah 1:2-3). And the temperature only turns up from there as oracle after oracle is spoken to the people of Judah, warning them to watch for the day of the Lord, and to repent of their sins.

I’ll admit, teaching this was awkward. Not because I don’t believe it—in fact, I think we’ve failed to adequately do the subject justice, especially in the last 20 or so years—but because it seemed pretty clear that this was one of the first times the kids had heard much of anything about God’s wrath.

Many of the kids knew sin is bad and that it separates us from God… but it was in an abstract way. The way that suggests God doesn’t really have feelings toward sin. And then I had to go and shatter the glass.

Or rather, the Bible did. I was just the one teaching it.

As we talked about this, that God’s wrath would be poured out, and that God was warning his people to give them an opportunity to repent, one of the kids said something very interesting.

“God knew if he did this, he’d be doing something bad, so maybe that’s why he was warning them…”

Out of the mouth of babes, as the saying goes.

What’s fascinating is how quickly we try to start rationalizing, or make excuses, even making up ideas about why God would punish sin and tell people he’s going to to it. No matter how old we are, we naturally squirm at the idea of God’s wrath—mostly because we think of God’s feelings as being the same as our own.1 So when we think of God’s anger, we see it in light of our own, or our parents’. We know that we overreact, or go a bit too far sometimes. We know our anger doesn’t always produce good results, and it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around God being righteously angry.

So I asked this nine-year-old, “But is anything God does bad?”

“No,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because everything God does is good.”

“So… is God being angry and punishing sin a good thing or a bad thing?”

And then he started to get it.

Teaching awkward subjects is just that. Awkward. It’s hard to teach our kids about God’s wrath, about how only people who love and worship Jesus will be in heaven, and an eternity in Hell awaits all who refuse to recognize him for who he is. We want to shave off these hard edges. But if we’re going to be faithful Sunday school teachers, or faithful parents for that matter, we can’t avoid the awkward for our own comfort. Someone stepped out and warned us to flee from the wrath to come. Perhaps our kids need us to do the same.

It’s not a cold—it’s cancer!

Sin is one of those subjects that is tough to do justice to.

Most of the time, we err on the side of minimizing it. We treat it as little more than a personal dysfunction or a character flaw. Even in our strongest language, we tend to speak of sin in terms of brokenness, of separation, but shy away from the darker picture Scripture paints for us. “Instead of interpreting our present-day sin in the light of a divinely revealed standard,” wrote H.J. Whitney, “we reduce this standard to a pale reflection of our own man-made standards.”1

In effect, we treat sin as if it were a cold instead of a cancer. 

Sin is alien, and intrusive. It is an invader in the created order, attacking, perverting, and twisting what is good into something other than it’s intended effect.

It distorts image bearers of God into rebels lying to the world about their Creator. It perverts notions of biblical submission and service between men and women into strife and servitude. It disrupts and destroys everything it touches.

When we remember to see sin in this way, it also changes how we deal with it. It reminds us that sin isn’t something to be managed, it’s something to be destroyed. It’s not something we can will away by being more awesome, but something we defeat by surrendering to the Holy Spirit who is at work within us.

Cough medicine doesn’t kill sin. We need chemo.

Killing sin is hard work. It causes a lot of pain. And sometimes, it seems like it’s going to kill us in the end. But, fighting sin is a life-or-death situation. “Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work,” wrote John Owen, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Misusing the Lord’s name and delighting in the Law

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This year, I decided to shake up my Bible reading. Normally, I tend to avoid using the reading plans—not because I have a particular problem with them, but because I generally prefer camping in one book for a long period of time. But, like I said, I decided to shake it up. So, for the last week and a bit, I’ve been reading through the Bible’s big story, hitting the major beats from Genesis through Revelation.

Yesterday’s passage had me reading the Ten Commandments. While I’ve read these many times now, I keep thinking about this one, the third commandment:

Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name. (Ex. 20:7 HCSB)

More familiarly, this verse is often stated as “do not take the Lord’s name in vain,” which we typically use to say don’t use Jesus’ name as a cuss word. While “do not take the Lord’s name in vain” and “do not misuse the name of the Lord” mean the same thing, there’s something helpful about this restatement, isn’t there?

If nothing else, it reminds us just how easy it is to violate this command.

Misusing the Lord’s name is far more than flippantly speaking his name—it’s actually about our lifestyle and our worship, too. Simply, this reminds us that it’s serious business to call oneself a Christian, yet behave no differently than the non-believer—mistakenly believing Paul’s hypothetical question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” should be answered in the affirmative—or to heap a burden of rules and regulations upon oneself that the Lord has not, treating your behavior as the source of your salvation. Both are a gross misuse of the Lord’s name.

And as we worship, particularly our corporate gatherings, how easy is it to do the same thing—to put on a show in the name of “leading people into an experience of God’s glory” or some such thing. To put up our hands because the song says it, but not because our hearts are leading us to do so. To give in the hopes of getting.

This is an important reminder: the Commandments exist to remind us of God’s perfect standard, and to reflect to us our own failure. But they should also serve as a reminder that, once again, we can rejoice in Jesus’ fulfilling of the Law for us—and progressively his fulfilling the Law in us as he gradually moulds us into his image, so that we “walk in the light as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7).

Three things I’d like to see in the Christian blogosphere in 2014

keyboard

For the last couple of years, I’ve shared a few things I’d like to see change in the Christian blogosphere each year (here’s a look at the 2012 and 2013 editions). Looking back over these past dreams has been fascinating for me. What we’ve seen in the last year, and in particular the last several months, has been a greater confirmation that we don’t handle controversy well, and our public personalities struggle to understand what it means to take personal responsibility. So one thing we can be sure of is I am no prophet.

This—the controversy and shameful public behavior, not the not being a prophet—has been an ongoing frustration for me. Why? Because the whole thing casts a dark shadow on our witness. And that’s got to stop. We need to be less about whatever bonehead move Celebrity Pastor X made this week and more about the gospel. Here are three ways I’d suggest we do that:

1. Bloggers practicing Titus 3:10. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,” wrote Paul to Titus. A while back I wrote on this in a more in-depth fashion (specifically on what makes a person divisive), but we should remember the seriousness of Paul’s words: If a person is being divisive—whether it’s a church member stirring the pot through gossip and slander, or Christian celebrities who crash conferences and seem to lack any sort of real accountability1—then you should have nothing to do with them.

Don’t read their books. Unsubscribe from their blogs. Stop following them on Twitter. Stop paying attention and those problems will, in time, go away on their own.

2. Bloggers actively serving in their local churches. Something peculiar I’ve noticed is that a number of people seem to treat their blogs as their ministries. But they don’t appear to be involved in any meaningful way at their local church beyond showing up on Sunday and singing off-key for a few songs. Blogging is an effective aspect of ministry, but it should always be an add-on to their ministry in the real-world. So serve people, whether it’s by leading a small group, joining an evangelism team (if your church does street witnessing), volunteer in the nursery or toddler room… do something that stretches you and benefits others.

3. Bloggers who don’t think too highly of themselves. No blogger—especially not a Christian one—should walk around thinking they’re a big deal. Whether you’ve got 10 followers or 10,000,000, it really doesn’t matter that much. It doesn’t matter if you don’t weigh in on every significant issue. (Or any of them, for that matter.) Focus on creating content that’s edifying—for yourself and others. What is the Lord teaching you through your regular study of his Word? How is he working in your life? Think on these things—and share the ones that should be shared.

That’s what I’m hoping to see in 2014. More importantly, I’ll be doing what I can to adhere to them. How about you?

You are not a Christian just because you like Jesus

Photo by Isidora Leyton

Photo by Isidora Leyton

Jesus is even popular with people who aren’t Christians. He garners a lot of respect from the great men and women of other faiths. The fourteenth Dalai Lama, one of the primary leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, called Jesus “an enlightened person” and heralded him as a master teacher. Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi wrote warmly about Jesus, “The gentle figure of Christ, so patient, so kind, so loving, so full of forgiveness that he taught his followers not to retaliate when abused or struck, but to turn the other cheek, I thought it was a beautiful example of the perfect man.” The renowned scientist Albert Einstein once told The Saturday Evening Post, “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene [Jesus].… No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.” Even the Qur’an refers to Jesus as a prophet and messenger of God.

What should we make of Jesus’s popularity? It’s not difficult to understand that being a Christian means liking Jesus, and that someone who does not like Jesus is probably not a Christian. But can we say that liking him is enough to make you a Christian? If Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and even atheists can think that Jesus was a great guy, then certainly we cannot say that.

In the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life, time and again he encounters people who like him, respect him, and approve of what they perceive to be his message. But then he turns around and tells them that they are not his disciples, that they are missing something (e.g. John 3; Luke 9:57–62; Luke 18:18–22). You are not a Christian just because you like Jesus. Instead, being a Christian means that you believe in him. That is to say, you must have faith in him.

Mike McKinley, Am I Really A Christian?, pp. 44-45

Church, celebrity and our last idol

microphone

“My usefulness was the last idol I was willing to part with,” said Cotton Mather. As true as this was in Mather’s day—who lived over 300 years ago—how much more is it in our own?

On writing on how the gospel should change the church’s celebrity culture, Matthew Sims writes that although there’s always been a culture of celebrity within the church (think the brother who is famous “for his preaching of the gospel” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8:18), “We’ve flipped it.”

Oftentimes the controversies rise up because it seems many well known Christians are more concerned with their position, power, and authority and less concerned about the integrity of the gospel.

Matthew’s hit the nail on the head on the issue. The other week, I was reading a book that described how, as part of a particular church’s mission, they were attempting to strategically raise the profile of its lead pastor. In other words, to make him a celebrity.

Reading this, honestly, left me feeling a bit like I needed to take a shower. It just felt wrong, in the same way that laughing at Everybody Loves Raymond seems wrong. Not because expanding the reach of the gospel is a bad thing—far from it!—but because the way this ideal was communicated made it seem to be all about the man, not about the Lord.

The reason this rubbed me wrong, I believe, is because it’s contrary to the counterintuitive nature of the gospel. Take, for example, John the Baptist’s view of his own ministry. When John came on the scene as the last of the Old Covenant prophets, he understandably caused a scene. He was telling everyone to repent for the Lord was on his way.

Then Jesus came. And before too long, John’s ministry started to get smaller. And smaller. And smaller still.

People began to ask John, “Aren’t you bothered by this?”

And all he said was:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Let that sink in.

John could have pursued celebrity, but instead he embraced obscurity. Not that this would have been easy, mind you. After all, it feels really good when people are paying attention to you. When people are waiting to hear what you’re going to say next. But the Lord’s glory was more important to John than his own.

John was useful—he prepared the way of the Lord (Matt 3:3). He was effective. But in the end, his most important accomplishment was to “decrease” when the preparation was done.

Which brings us back to Cotton Mather and Christian celebrities. “My usefulness was the last idol I was willing to part with.” Our usefulness is a good thing, to be sure. But if can be a dangerous thing, too. Whether it’s having a New York Times bestseller, having a big church, or even just a widely-read blog—how would you feel if the Lord wanted you to give those things up?

To not preface the next book with “bestselling author” or maybe never write another one again?

To stop having TV screens serve as pastors, and plant autonomous churches instead?

To pull the plug on your social media and only interact with people in your local community?

If that’s what decreasing would require so the Lord’s glory might increase, would you do it? If the integrity of the gospel was at stake, would you set aside your own “usefulness”?

This, again, is why I’ve suggested a key way to fix the problem of celebrity-ism is through community. People who know us help us see our idols for what they are. People who care for us let us know when our usefulness is getting in the way. People who love us remind us that we must decrease so that Jesus might increase.