You really cannot grow in your knowledge of God if you are full of bitterness or other self-centered sins. There is a moral element in knowing God. Of course, a person might memorize Scripture or teach Sunday School somewhere or earn a degree in theology from the local seminary or divinity faculty, but that is not necessarily the same thing as growing in the knowledge of God and gaining insight into his ways. Such growth requires repentance; it demands a lessening of our characteristic self-focus. To put it positively, it demands an increase in our love, our love for God and our love for others.
Just as knowledge of God and his Word serves as an incentive to Christian love, so love is necessary for a deepening knowledge of God, because it is exceedingly difficult to advance in the Christian way on only one front. Christians cannot say, “I will improve my prayer life but not my morality,” “I will increase in my knowledge of God but not in my obedience,” or “I will grow in love for others but not in purity or in my knowledge of God.” They cannot do it. The Christian life embraces every facet of our existence. All of our living and doing and thinking and speaking is to be discharged in joyful submission to God and to his Son, our Savior.
Archives For Christian Living
Ralph Waldo Emerson (among others) famously said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” There’s a lot one can easily resonate with here. After all, it’s easy to become so consumed with a particular goal—with an ideal you want to get to—that you forget to live life right now.
But, honestly, this quote has always bothered me for one simple reason:
There’s no such thing as a journey without a destination.
Let’s apply this to writing, specifically:
Whenever someone sits down to write, their goal is typically to persuade the reader of something, or to elicit some sort of emotional response. In non-fiction, it’s usually spelled out something like this:
- In my first chapter, I will introduce my point.
- The following chapters will provide you with several supporting arguments, and maybe even address some counterpoints.
- My conclusion will confirm that we have indeed arrived at the point I set out to show you.
Pretty simple formula, right? But effective.
Fiction, though, is a different animal. With fiction, you don’t get a neat outline. You usually don’t know where you’re going until you get there. This is the drama of storytelling. The journey is crucial to making the point—but that point, that destination, will still make or break your book. It either makes you throw the book away, saying “Seriously? That’s where we ended up?” or it compels you to go back and re-read, to go on the journey again to see all the hints that were dropped along the way.
In good storytelling, the destination deepens the journey.
It’s the same in life, too.
For the Christian, we know the destination—we know where all of this is heading. We know that there’s a day coming when this world and all God’s people will be remade, perfect and spotless, forever free from the curse of sin. God has promised this and it will surely come about.
And yet, we so often live as if we don’t know this. We get consumed with things that are less important and distract us from the destination. This is why Paul told the Colossians in the face of distracting (and destructive) false teaching, “If then you have been raised with Christ…set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:1-2) And again he tells the Philippians:
…Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:12-14)
That, friends, is the goal. “The goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” To be with Christ. And this goal consumed Paul, to be sure—but it also informed all that he did. It’s this goal that allowed him to go to where Christ was not known, so that he might be the first to preach the good news. It was this goal that allowed him to suffer enormous hardship, multiple shipwrecks, numerous imprisonments, poverty and plenty and still say, “I am content.”
It’s the same goal that allowed Horatio Spafford to pen the words of his famous hymn, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”
In the Christian life, just like in good storytelling, the destination doesn’t distract from the journey—it deepens it.
Preaching the psalms can be tricky business. On the one hand, there are few better ways to help people see the “human” side of Scripture. So many psalms are almost shockingly emotional. They’re full of beauty and drama and imaginative poetic language…
And that’s also why they’re tricky.
While they’re incredibly human, beautiful and emotional, they’re also easy to misinterpret. If you don’t read them appropriately—as poetry, songs and prayers—you can wind up developing some pretty whack theology, thinking God the Father has a physical body (He doesn’t) or thinking God approves of dashing babies heads against rocks (ditto).
Worst of all, it’s really easy to miss an important truth:
The psalms are all about Jesus.
In Psalm 19, for example, we see David exclaim the amazing reality of creation proclaiming God’s existence and work. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork,” he writes (Psalm 19:1). When we see amazing images from super-powered telescopes, we can’t help but be in awe of God’s creative power.
Even more down to earth, we have the consistent routine of the sun’s rising and setting, and can recognize that God is precise. He doesn’t do things willy-nilly. He abhors chaos.
And then the scene shifts to David extolling the virtues of the Law. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple…” (19:7). David loves the Law. He loves God’s Word, as should we all. He loves it because it brings life. He loves it because it reveals God’s commands and HIs promises.
He loves it even as it condemns him in his sin.
This is where we can get into trouble, if we’re not careful. Remember, the Law itself cannot save—it’s not intended to do such a thing. The Law reveals our sin, but has not the power to free us from bondage to sin.
And yet, when we get to the end of the psalm, we see David throwing himself upon the mercy of his Redeemer. He pleads that God would declare him innocent of hidden faults and keep him away from overt, arrogant rebellion. He prays that he would be blameless before God.
So how did he get there?
Because he sees Jesus in the Law. David sees there’s no way for him to keep the perfect Law of God, nor can he possibly meet its standards. He is condemned under the Law—and yet it brings life. It “revives the soul.”
Why? Because from beginning to end, Jesus is there:
- Jesus is the promised seed of the woman in Genesis 3.
- Jesus is the true offspring of Abraham who would be a blessing to all nations
- Jesus is the true Lamb, offered in place of Abraham’s son.
- Jesus is the perfect sacrifice the imperfect sacrifices of the Law point to.
- Jesus is the better priest in whose shadow the Levites stand.
- Jesus is the greater prophet Moses promised would come.
- Jesus is the faithful king to whom even Israel’s greatest king pledges allegiance.
And David, reading the Law, sees his Rescuer and Redeemer there. He knows this faithful King, this better Priest and greater Prophet is also the perfect sacrifice. Even in the midst of the Law’s righteous condemnation of David does he see his redemption. David loves that which condemns him because it holds out the hope of his salvation. When we read, preach or teach the psalms, we need to do the same.
We live in a day when we are being reminded again and again of our temporal privileges and responsibilities as Christians: we enjoy abundant life now, and we must remember to help the poor, seek justice for all, insist on integrity and demonstrate it ourselves. Such reminders are important, precisely because it is possible in a superficial sense to be heavenly minded yet morally and socially useless. At the same time, Christians must avoid identifying the goals of the kingdom of God with political, economic, or social goals; or, more accurately, such identification must never be exclusive. Just as the kingdom of Jesus Christ is not of this world (18:36), so also is it not restricted to this world. Our ultimate goal is not the transformation of society, as valuable as that may be. Our ultimate goal is pure worship in the unrestricted presence of God.
That perspective, and that perspective alone, is powerful enough to call forth our unqualified obedience. Such an eternal vantage point enables us to be more useful in our society than we would be otherwise; for, following an exalted Master, we learn something of service while walking in self-denial that eschews personal empire-building. Empire-building is so common a temptation for idealists that today’s revolutionaries commonly become tomorrow’s tyrants. The Christian has the potential to escape this snare, for his highest goal transcends the merely temporal. He magnifies integrity coupled with meekness because he recognizes that such graces are gifts from the Master who exemplified them.
D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus
Pray for your pastor.
Those four little words may not currently be on your radar, I pray they will be by the time you’re done reading this.
Pastoral ministry is difficult and demanding work. The pastor is expected to be on call 24/7, preach one to three messages a week, lead Bible studies, small groups, speak at funerals, weddings, make hospital visits, or to meet many other needs as required of a shepherd of a church. The demands of pastoral ministry can wear down a pastor to the point of exhaustion.
- 50 percent of newly appointed ministers will not last 5 years;
- Over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month;
- 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression; and
- 80 percent of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
Prayer is a mighty weapon and a means of grace God has given His people—and your pastor needs your prayers. Here are four ways you can be in prayer for your pastor:
1. Pray for your pastor’s growth in the gospel.
Paul tells the Colossians to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word…” (Colossians 4:2-4). And again, “Brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
Your pastor spends a great deal time reading, studying and meditating on the Word. Pray as he studies that he would be freshly affected by the text he is studying. Your pastor faces an immense amount of pressure to do anything but grow in and preach the gospel. Pray that he would be faithful to constantly saturate his heart and mind in the gospel so the overflow of his life will result in the outpouring of God’s grace into the lives of those under his care.
2. Pray for the integrity of your pastor’s heart.
Pastors are not super human. They are normal men, facing the same temptations, struggles, and even circumstances you do. He faces temptations on every side, temptation to compromise the gospel, temptation to engage in immorality, among other things. When you pray for integrity of heart for your pastor, you are praying not only for your pastor to grow in grace but also that he guards his heart, marriage, and that he hides the Word in his heart. Integrity begins with the Word of God massaged deep in the heart of the pastor. The result of this is godly character and conduct that, while not perfect, is worthy of imitation (1 Corinthians 11:1).
3. Pray for your pastor to lead courageously.
Making decisions that affect others is taxing and stressful. It is easy to raise a voice of criticism against certain decisions, and your pastor gets criticized all the time. Even the thickest skinned pastor can be negatively affected by criticism.
Rather than criticize, pray for your pastor’s leadership. Pray God would bless it as he seeks to keep watch on his doctrine and life. Pray for his family as he seeks to lead them. Pray that he would not sacrifice his family on the altar of ministry. Encourage your pastor to love Jesus, love his family, and to care for God’s people through preaching, teaching and pastoral care.
While the pastor is the one preaching the Word, church members can create a culture where the ministry of the Word and your pastor can flourish. This is accomplished by being a people who properly submit to the pastor and church leadership as they seek to follow the Word and declare the Gospel through the act of praying for the church leadership.
4. Pray for your pastor’s time.
Pastors have huge demands on their time and often have to make hard choices on who to spend time with. They need to go visit the ill person in the hospital and the couple struggle in their marriage, but they also need to meet with the young man seeking to grow in the grace of God and pursue a call to minister. Which one is more important? These are questions the pastor must deal with and you must learn to be okay with what they decide. Pray for wisdom for your pastor. Pray that God would give him the necessary level of wisdom to know how to balance his time in the Word with time among God’s people.
Pray for your pastor. Pray for his growth in the gospel, for his integrity, for his courage and for his use of time. In doing so, you are not only lifting up your pastor, but helping to create a culture of prayer in your church—a culture where the gospel may speedily advance. A praying people are a gospel loving people, and a gospel loving people create a gospel-centered culture where the gospel is declared to the glory of God.
Whenever people ask me how I’m doing, I’m always tempted to answer in the same way: “Busy.”
I really hate answering that way. A lot. I hate it because it sometimes seems like a badge of honor—”dude, I’m so busy right now; I don’t have a clue how to keep on top of all this stuff.” I also hate it because I’m not always sure it’s true. Am I really that busy, or am I just not using the time I’ve been given well? (And don’t get me started on the difference between busyness and productivity; they’re not remotely the same thing.)
But more than these reasons, I really hate saying I’m busy because—when I legitimately am—it’s usually my family that’s hurt the most by it.
For example, when I was writing my first book, Awaiting a Savior, I was working a full-time job, then after the kids were in bed writing researching for four-five hours a night. Every night. For three-four months. On top of that, I had preaching opportunities and a ton of work at my day job.
When I wrote Contend, it didn’t get quite as bad, but we had a few weeks where I was stretched pretty thin, especially when I was in the midst of a massive website overhaul project (again, a day job thing).
This week I’ve been digging into Kevin DeYoung’s upcoming book, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem, and came across a passage where I think he nails the problem. DeYoung writes:
Busyness is like sin: kill it, or it will be killing you. Most of us fall into a predictable pattern. We start to get overwhelmed by one or two big projects. Then we feel crushed by the daily grind. Then we despair of ever feeling at peace again and swear that something has to change. Then two weeks later life is more bearable, and we forget about our oath until the cycle starts all over again. What we don’t realize is that all the while we’ve been a joyless wretch, snapping like a turtle and as personally engaging as a cat. When busyness goes after joy, it goes after everyone’s joy. (28)
I really resonate with this—the cycle we go through, again and again. We’re like the guy who gets trashed at the bar, makes a promise to God that we’ll never do it again… at least, until the next time.
“Busyness is like sin: kill it, or it will be killing you.”
If that’s true, it can mean only one thing: it’s not a godly thing to be “busy”—it might actually be something that’s killing you and ruining the joy of others around you. So, if you, like me, find yourself always too busy, always stretched too thin, what do you want to do about it?
I unlock the front door and my children and I fall into the house. We had a busy morning and it is already 12:30. The baby is cranky because he should have eaten at 11:30 and gone down for a nap at 12. The others are squabbling over who gets to sit on the left part of the bottom stair while they take their shoes off. I get the baby into the high chair and start nuking some baby food. I open a can of Princess Pasta (now made with real princesses!) and dump it into a pot.
And then She sneers in my ear:
“If you’d planned better, you would have packed a lunch. Also, that Princess Pasta is basically dog food for children.”
No, I don’t have some jerk living in my house that stands around waiting for me when I get home. What I do have, is an idol.
Meet the Homemaker Demon Mother Goddess (or, for the sake of brevity, the HDMG).
She takes no pity on me, and offers no help in time of need. She exists in a state of eternal displeasure. She is not impressed with my home-keeping, and thinks I need to dust more often. She tells me my children would comply if I’d done a better job with them as infants, and practiced more of what I was supposed to learn from those Christian parenting videos.
The HDMG thinks counselling is for weaklings and epidurals are for wusses. She demands my supplication and obedience, so I read parenting and home-keeping books, articles, blogs to try to do better. But she accuses me from there as well; I don’t move the furniture when I vacuum. I use formula and jarred baby food. I feed our family white flour. I can’t train my kids to pick up after themselves in “3 easy steps!”
I don’t homeschool.
I’m happy with “only” three kids.
I don’t want to adopt.
The Homemaker Demon Mother Goddess scorns my failings and condemns me for them.
Praise be to God that the Homemaker Demon Mother Goddess is nothing but a stone idol. When I forget this, my spirit shrinks and I feel so wretchedly inadequate. But when I cower before her cold marble stare, I am facing away from my precious Savior. Jesus neither condemns me, nor gives me a list of cultural (or countercultural) mandates to follow. Jesus has, by His blood shed for my dead and idolatrous soul, freed me to live for Him, and only Him.
So what does this mean? It means I can keep my house as clean, or as messy as I want to, so long as I bring glory to Him. I can raise my kids using whatever parenting methods I want, so long as I raise them in a way that glorifies Him. And I am free to never, EVER vacuum under the sofa, because it’s who sits ON the sofa when we practice hospitality that matters.
Seven years ago, I prayed desperately for God to tell me what His plan for me was, and I heard a name: Harriet. I had no idea what this meant so I looked up the meaning of the name. Turns out it means “Home ruler.”
That is who I am. And when I get caught up in false guilt, thinking of how I “should” be, I am living out of fear of the Homemaker Demon Mother Goddess, not in the freedom that God has given me to run this house for His glory.
The baby is asleep upstairs, and the older kids are (gasp!) watching TV. The tornado of lunchtime has blown over, and nobody died or got scurvy from Princess Pasta. We all have days when we feel like everything we do is wrong, and I’m sure I have many more ahead of me.
But Jesus knows I am trying to raise my kids and run my home for His glory. I will not do it perfectly, and I will hear the insidious voice of the Homemaker Demon Mother Goddess from time to time.
But Christ is for me, and I can trust that He is pleased.
Yesterday we visited the church where my friend Andrew is the pastor. It was a lot of fun for a number of reasons, most significantly, it was my first time hearing Andrew preach (I’m usually there as a guest speaker). And boy, am I glad I was there. The message opened with a doozy:
I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please. Not too much—just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust. I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation. I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races—especially if they smell. I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like about three dollars worth of gospel, please.
Those are the opening words of D.A. Carson’s excellent book, Basics for Believers. And they cut deep, don’t they?
Few of us would openly say this is what we really want—and yet, when you survey the landscape of the North American church, when you look at the individual Christian’s lives (even the “boring” ones)… far too often, it looks like we’re asking for ”three dollars worth of gospel, please, but no more.”
We go to work and we fail to live by our convictions. We bounce from event to event, looking for a spiritual high. We dull our consciences into complacency so we don’t risk upsetting the security and safety of the familiar.
But the power of the gospel—and even the power of Carson’s satire—is that the gospel’s call is to so much more than ecstasy, transcendence and “mak[ing] my family secure and my children well behaved…”
Christ’s call to follow Him means one thing:
We give up everything and we follow.
We give up politicking in our jobs and live as men and women with (and of) conviction. We give up searching for the next spiritual high and embrace the everyday discipline of communing with the Lord. We give up the idols of safety and security for the sake of obedience.
“Three dollars of gospel, please, but no more.” Surely we can do better than that, can’t we?
My friend Adrian Warnock pointed me to a pretty provocative response he’s written to John MacArthur’s upcoming Strange Fire conference. He’s frustrated by what he sees as MacArthur lumping the roughly 500 million Christians who believe the Holy Spirit’s miraculous gifts1 continue today in with the more…”exuberant” folks you might see on certain TV stations.
MacArthur says the Holy Spirit has been under assault for decades and decades, and he wants to know, “Where are the people rising up against the abuse and blasphemy of the Holy Spirit that’s going on?”2
The only reason for silence about these things, he suggests, is that evangelicals “have been literally backed up into a corner by intimidation that they need to be loving and accepting and tolerant and not divisive in the body of Christ…”
Anyone familiar with MacArthur knows he’s not exactly, shall we say, warm to the idea of charismatic gifts continuing today. But he’s not anti-faithful charismatics. He holds (or at least has held) particular men such as John Piper and C.J. Mahaney in high regard.3
More importantly, he is absolutely incensed by the blasphemous teaching that comes from within a segment of the Charismatic movement: that damnably devilish doctrine of “health, wealth and prosperity.”
And rightly so.
That wicked nonsense which truly does blaspheme our Lord Jesus is being exported around the world and must be countered with faithful, biblical teaching—and its adherents must be called to repentance or branded as the false teachers they are.
Now, let me just say I have an enormous amount of respect for MacArthur, even if I think he sometimes gets a bit too cranky, and winds up injuring faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in the process. And I really appreciate his call to faithful Christians in the Charismatic movement to speak out against those who are responsible for spreading false doctrine (as seen in the following video).
Personally, in reviewing some of MacArthur’s videos on the Strange Fire site, this is the most charitable I’ve seen him in ages.4 Nevertheless, I get where Adrian is coming from—he is concerned, and again I think rightly, that we not lump faithful charismatics in with the crazies.
So how do we avoid that?
1. Be as clear about who is being addressed. From everything I’m seeing, MacArthur isn’t talking about the Matt Chandlers and Adrian Warnocks of the world. He’s talking about prosperity preachers like T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer. He’s talking about the Christ-defaming foolishness of folks like Todd Bentley and the so-called Lakeland Revival.
Was MacArthur clear on this? More or less. Could he have been more explicit? Absolutely.
2. Proceed with charity. This, again, is something that I think MacArthur’s done pretty well in the video I shared above. But more can always be done. We do our brothers and sisters in Christ a disservice when we lump them in with those who hold to erroneous beliefs (that that goes for whatever side of the fence you sit on). Instead, we ought to celebrate those who are faithfully following and proclaiming Jesus in whatever movement they’re a part of, even as we challenge one another to dig more deeply into the so-called secondary issues, and be incredibly cautious about crying heresy. It may only be six letters, but it’s a big word, and one we don’t throw around flippantly.
3. Recognize that while many charismatics are evangelicals, not all charismatics are evangelicals. This is probably the biggest point of contention, and a topic deserving far more attention than I can give it in this post. Nevertheless, we need to recognize that many charismatics are faithful Christians who would fit into the category of “evangelical.”5 But not all charismatics, even those who claim to be evangelicals, are.
So, many charismatics believe that any modern prophecy given is subject to the authority of the written Word of God. “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good,” Paul wrote in 1 Thess. 5:20-21. Whether it’s a public or private word from the Lord, it is only valid if it lines up with Scripture, in principle or precept. That, one could reasonably argue, is a valid evangelical position on modern prophecy.
However, there are some who treat their alleged private words from the Lord as being equally authoritative or higher in authority than Scripture. If Scripture is our highest authority, and all else is subject to it, then any view of private or public prophecy that diminishes the priority of the Word cannot be called “evangelical.”
And that, I suspect is the true problem: what is an evangelical?
So many of our conflicts boil down to talking past one another because we don’t know what we agree one. We don’t know who we are. If we don’t know what we are, then we don’t know what to defend.
That’s a huge problem.
Do we need to warn believers about the dangers of the excesses of one part of the Charismatic movement? Absolutely. But we also need to be prepared to do the painstaking work of trying to answer the big question of what it means to be an evangelical. Let’s get to that, shall we?
That’s Hudson’s response when I ask him if he wants to pray. Whenever our kids make little steps that might to be toward Jesus, it’s pretty exciting. But they also sometimes seem few and far between.
Both our girls shout “Mediator!” when we ask what they want to listen to in the car (they really like Ghost Ship). But our oldest, when she was having a hard time on her first day of school, didn’t want to hear any encouragement from Scripture, nor did she want us to pray with her. Hannah, our middle girl, decided she wanted to pray tonight at dinner (which was super-cute). She also plays with her My Little Ponies games that usually end, “And we’ll KILL her with the helements of harmony!”
(And yes, she really does pronounce elements with a hard-h.)
Reading Michael Kelley’s new book, Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life, gave me a really great piece of encouragement:
There are spiritual moments with your children that are paper thin, and they don’t seem to happen that often. It’s those times when you really sense they are understanding the nature of sin and our great need for forgiveness, and then they’re thinking about Pokémon again. These moments are extraordinarily thin, but they are there to be seized upon if we are ready. The thing is, though, those moments don’t just pop out of nowhere. They are, in a sense, manufactured through a commitment to the daily routine. They are hard fought and won through getting up early to make sure breakfast is on the table so you’re not rushing around. They are created through showing up around that table day in and day out. They are born from the tedious acts of doing the same thing, day after day after day. (130)
The hard work of discipling our children isn’t going to pay off in the short-term. We’ve probably got more days in front of us breaking up fights, dealing with tantrums, and cleaning boogers off the wall than we do anything else. But the infrequent glimpses into what God (possibly) is doing in their hearts makes the “tedious acts of doing the same thing, day after day after day” more than worth it.
What does this fear of God look like? [Isaiah 8:13] says: “The LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy.” In other words, “Dare to treat God as God. Don’t respond to life in a way that makes God look helpless and weak and worthless.” Living emotionally as if God were not really our Savior is practical atheism. If God is God, he is all that finally matters. The remnant respects God enough to live that way.
How we treat God determines how we experience God, either as a sanctuary or a snare: “And he will become a sanctuary and . . . a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (v. 14). Every one of us will experience God one way or the other. If we take him into account as God, we will enter his sanctuary and experience his presence. But if other things compel us — well, God isn’t going away. We end up colliding with him and tripping over him as a snare. The New Testament explains that God is the most unavoidable and the most dangerous in Jesus. He himself said, “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:44). Some people dismiss the gospel as irrelevant. They stumble, fall, and are broken. But grace awakens the remnant to a trembling faith.
What ties us together? What do we talk about when we meet, even after a church service? Mere civilities? The weather? Sports? Our careers and our children? Our aches and pains?
None of these topics should be excluded from the conversation of Christians, of course. In sharing all of life, these things will inevitably come up. But what must tie us together as Christians is this passion for the gospel, this fellowship in the gospel. On the face of it, nothing else is strong enough to hold together the extraordinary diversity of people who constitute many churches: men and women, young and old, blue collar and white, healthy and ill, fit and flabby, different races, different incomes, different levels of education, different personalities. What holds us together? It is the gospel, the good news that in Jesus, God himself has reconciled us to himself. This brings about a precious God-centeredness that we share with other believers.
This means that in our conversations we ought regularly to be sharing in the gospel; that is, delighting in God, sharing with one another what we have been learning from his Word, joining in prayer for the advance of the gospel (not least in the lives of those to whom we have been bearing witness), encouraging one another in obedience and maturing discipleship, bearing one another’s burdens, and growing in self-sacrificial love for one another for Christ’s sake.
In short, we must put the gospel first. And that means we must put the fellowship of the gospel at the center of our relationships with fellow believers.
D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Kindle edition)
A few years ago, another blogger, who was writing a review of a pretty terrible book, began with the following story:
A professor at Southern (who shall remain nameless) once said in class “Incestuous breeding produces bastard children.” In context, I think what he meant was that serious scholars and pastors should not consume themselves with only reading things with which they agree. It is good for the mind and even sometimes good for the soul to read people who have different opinions and even different theological positions.
This really left an impression on me when I first read it. It still does.
We who live in this peculiar world of the “Young-restless-reformed/gospel-centered/whozamafaceit” have a nasty habit: we tend to be pretty insular in our reading.
While there’s much to like (even love) about writers from this particular group—we are right to appreciate writing that makes the gospel great, to be sure. But there’s a danger, too: if you’re not careful you can wind up only reading and listening to people you agree with.
Your arguments become second- (even third-) hand. Your discernment dulls. You risk becoming, well, kinda boring (and not in a good way).
“Incestuous breeding produces bastard children” indeed.
This is why I try to regularly read people who are firmly within the evangelical sphere who aren’t in the same camp as me. As frustrating as I find them to be at times, it’s helpful to read something by Craig Groeschel or Andy Stanley every once in a while. Sometimes you pick up a genuinely good insight that makes it worthwhile.
It’s why I also regularly read material from outside the Christian sphere altogether. Reading books by non-Christian authors allows me to see what people are picking up on via the common grace of God, while also getting a better sense of where the world around me is going.
It’s why I also have a simple rule I’ve been following faithfully for the last several years: Read at least one book a year that I know I’m going to flat-out disagree with. This year, I’ve read at least two, one on being a “biblical” woman, and another that wasn’t even worth talking about by a very famous hipster ex-pastor (there are probably more, but I can’t think of them).
Why would I do this to myself? Do I have some sort of perverse need to bang my head against a wall?
I do it because reading something I disagree helps me to think clearly about what it is I do believe—and why.
It forces me to not rely on the arguments and opinions of others, but to actually interact with the assumptions of someone very different than me, turn to the Bible and see for myself whether or not it lines up, and to see where these authors may be asking the right questions (even if they’re giving the wrong answers).
At the same time, though, this should only be done within the context of an ever-increasing knowledge of the truth. Handing a new believer a Rob Bell book, for example, is rarely going to end well. He or she needs a firm foundation before being able to test the mettle of the voices vying for his or her attention.
The point of reading is not only to be affirmed in what we believe, but also to have our assumptions challenged. Reading outside of our comfort zone allows us to do both—to be affirmed in what we know is true, to embrace truth that is coming from outside our usual sphere of influence, but also to test our discernment to the glory of God.
What have you read lately that’s been particularly challenging for you?
Atheism is an idea. Most often (thank God), it is an idea lived and told with blunt jumbo-crayon clumsiness. Some child of Christianity or Judaism dons an unbelieving Zorro costume and preens about the living room.
Behold, a dangerous thinker of thinks! A believer in free-from-any-and-all-goodness! Fear my brainy blade!
Put candy in their bucket. Act scared. Don’t tell them that they’re adorable. Atheism is not an idea we want fleshed out.
Atheism incarnate does happen in this reality narrative. But it doesn’t rant about Islam’s treatment of women as did the (often courageous) atheist Christopher Hitches. It doesn’t thunder words like evil and mean it (as Hitch so often did) when talking about oppressive communist regimes. His costume slipped all the time—and in many of his best moments.
Atheism incarnate is nihilism from follicle to toenail. It is morality merely as evolved herd survival instinct (non-binding, of course, and as easy for us to outgrow as our feathers were). When Hitchens thundered, he stood in the boots of forefathers who knew that all thunder comes from on high.
N.D. Wilson, Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent (19-20)