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

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“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.

Why I’m excited about 2014

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Last week I shared how 2013 felt like one long giant pregnant pause—that moment when you know something’s going to happen, but it just hasn’t yet. 2013 may have been a bit of a mixed bag for us in that regard, but I’m feeling unusually optimistic about 2014. Here’s why:

2013 is done. While it’s not exactly a full-on reset (the effects of what we did yesterday are still here today), there’s something refreshing about starting the calendar over, don’t you think? Say goodbye to resolution guilt (at least for another few hours until the new round sets in), and enjoy the moment.

Our family is healthy. While Emily’s epilepsy isn’t completely under control—she still has a few seizures here and there, but it’s very limited—her medication is helping. This is a very good thing, indeed. And our kids continue to grow, and surprise us with their cleverness, silliness and thoughtfulness. We’ve got a lovely family, and I’m very thankful for them.

It just “feels” like something big is going to happen. I hate saying stuff like this, but there it is. You know how you get that feeling sometimes—you can’t quite put your finger on it, you have a hard time describing it, but you just know something big is going to happen? That’s pretty much been the last few weeks. I don’t know what it looks like, and I don’t know when, but I can’t shake it. And that’s left me feeling really encouraged. (Although I hope it’s not a sign I’m becoming more naïve as I age…)

Jesus is alive and at work. Call it a cop-out if you must, but it’s true. This is the biggest thing any Christian can or should be excited about. Jesus continues to save his people and grow his kingdom. And we’ve started to see some interesting things in our own family, too. We’ve been praying for family members’ salvation for the better part of a decade now. We’ve been praying for Christians to begin influencing them—and we saw a little glimpse of that at Christmas this year when my dad showed me a gift he’d received: a Reformation Study Bible! We spent a portion of our car ride home praying he’d meet Jesus while reading it.

I don’t know what 2013 was like for you. Maybe it was a fantastic year. Maybe it was a total bummer. Maybe it was somewhere in between. But wherever you find yourself as 2014 begins, I really hope you can begin it with a sense of optimism. It could be a year of big change, or things could stay more-or-less the same. But as long as Jesus sits on the throne, we’ve got a great deal to be thankful for, don’t we?

When we switched to The Gospel Project…

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A post I wrote for The Gospel Project blog:

In late September, I was getting ready for my first weekend teaching our new children’s ministry curriculum. After several years of using a curriculum produced by another organization, we’d finally made the switch to The Gospel Project.

But it wasn’t without a bit of anxiety.

For years, the teachers, with rare exception, would take the biblical text from the old curriculum, toss out all the prepared material and start from scratch. This was a lot of fun for a few of us, particularly the geeks like me who enjoy doing sermon prep (which is really what we were doing—only shorter). But as fun as it could be for us as teachers, it wasn’t an ideal situation. Tossing the curriculum every week created a number of problems, notably that there were many inconsistencies between what was taught in the large group teaching time versus the smaller group setting. On top of that, we were inundating our children’s ministry director with emails about what we were changing and why. Although always sympathetic, the ongoing laundry list of complaints from teachers had to be getting a bit old, and maybe discouraging.…

Continue reading at The Gospel Project blog.

Jesus is not like Willy Wonka

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Do you remember the classic 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory? (I’m talking about the old freaky one starring Gene Wilder, not the new freaky one starring Johnny Depp.) After our heroes Charlie and Grandpa Joe have survived an arduous tour of the Wonka Chocolate Factory, they go to collect the grand prize that’s been promised to them: a lifetime supply of Wonka chocolate. But there’s a surprise at the end. Willy Wonka, the factory owner, denies Charlie the prize based on a technicality.…

Here is the misunderstanding to guard against: Jesus is not like Willy Wonka. Our God is not a God who delights in keeping people in the dark, only to pull the rug out from under them in the last minute and deny them the rewards he promised. He is not a miser looking to withhold blessings on a technicality.

Instead, God delights in saving his people. Jesus says that he “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). That is why he came to earth, to save us from our sins. If he didn’t want to save us, he would not have come in the first place. Jesus is not a cheat. He is not a swindler. He is not an inhumane monster. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mike McKinley, Am I Really A Christian?, pp. 24-25

Three ways we can live out our faith publicly

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Sometimes we read things in the Bible that don’t jive with our experience, or seem to be confusing. We see the seeming tension between God’s sovereign will and our moral culpability or that the gospel call is to go to all, and yet not all will receive it (nor, it seems, can they). These are but two popular examples. But one place where the Bible shows no tension whatsoever is this:

Being public about your faith.

“There is absolutely zero tension in the Bible between being a ‘private’ and a ‘public’ Christian,” writes Owen Strachan in Risky Gospel. “In a similar way, there is no biblical tension between loving others in word (witness, proclamation) and loving them in deed. The Lord wants both, and if we only focus on proclamation (or the reverse), we miss the mark” (195).

Strachan hits on something we too often overlook: We seem to think we can go about our lives being Christian in private, but not necessarily having to “be” Christian in public. This is, in fact, what our culture encourages by telling us, “you can believe whatever you want to believe—as long as you keep it to yourself.”

And many of us (myself included far more than I’d like to admit) seem okay with it. Yet, if Strachan is correct (and he is) it’s anything but. Why should we demure from being openly Christian in the public square—especially considering we still live in a culture where being a Christian is more or less safe (even if it’s going to win you as many friends as bringing gazpacho to a barbecue). We know we’re not going to be murdered for being Christians, and yet, we get scared. Why?

I suspect it’s because we don’t know how to “be” Christian in public. For some, the only examples of public Christianity they’ve seen are those of Pat Robertson and James Dobson—a highly politicized focus on traditional moral values. Others haven’t really seen an example at all, and so feel completely inadequate, as if they’re going to somehow do it wrong.

I suspect, though, that living out a public faith is easier than we might think. Here are three things that might help:

1. Be concerned about social issues—but get involved in them. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the corner outside the hospital holding up a sign pleading for the end of abortion (but it might). It simply means that where there’s a need you see, you should get involved. And in case you’re wondering, sharing videos on Facebook (remember Kony 2012?) or buying a t-shirt from Sevenly doesn’t count. Volunteer at a street mission or homeless shelter; get involved in an after school program for kids. Sponsor a child with an organization like Compassion. Do something that causes you to invest in people.

2. Talk about Jesus—but talk about Jesus like he really matters to you. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be out on the corner street preaching (though, again, it might). It simply means speaking like a human being about Jesus in a way that shows he really matters to you. So talk about going to church when the barista asks you what you’re up to on Sunday morning. Talk to your coworkers about what you’re working through in your small group. Wherever you can in a way that’s natural, talk about Jesus. Seriously, people aren’t likely to rip your head off.

3. Repent—but repent well. This doesn’t mean owning all of the faults and failings of Christians from days gone by—it simply means owning yours. Or, y’know, having character. This mean we don’t use sketchy language like, “a mistake was made, and if anyone was offended I apologize.” Instead, we say, “I did X and it was wrong, please forgive me.” We own what we do wrong and accept the consequences.

While no doubt there’s more to it, this should be a good starting point for living out our faith publicly. What are some strategies you’ve found helpful?

The regal emblem of a scepter

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So Caesar gave the command in order to tax the whole world (Lk. 2:1). The star gave the command that magi from the east would voluntarily come, bearing gifts (Mt. 2:11). Augustus won his throne through a great deal of killing at the battle of Actium. The Lord Jesus won His throne at the battle of Golgotha, where He conquered and crushed the devil by dying, and not by killing. The star in the east, the one the wise men followed, was a star that declared a coming kingdom, a kingdom that would never end. This is the kingdom of the true king, before whom the most magnificent kings in the history of the world were but flickering types and shadows.

Note the contrasts. Taxes are coerced from the populace, for kings are afraid that if they weren’t mandatory, then no one would pay them. But the first tribute that came to Jesus was tribute borne by traveling aristocratic foreigners, who were under absolutely no obligation to bring their gifts—other than the internal obligation that God had given them. The difference between these two forms of taxation can also be seen in how these rulers undertake their rule. Augustus insisted that taxes be paid to him. Christ came down to insist that the fundamental payment be made by Him. And because He humbled Himself freely, God saw to it that tribute flowed to Him freely and without coercion.

The star of Bethlehem is therefore the regal emblem of a scepter, a scepter of never-ending glory. That glory is the glory of free grace, which means that we are ruled in liberty. We give in the same way that the wise men did, out of sheer gratitude.

Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything

What makes a person divisive?

It doesn’t take an in-depth understanding of the New Testament to see an important truth:

God really isn’t pleased with divisive people.

A totally unexpected and mind-blowing truth, I know. In Paul’s day, there were many who were stirring up division and dissension; the super-apostles in Corinth, the Judaizers in Galatia, former ministry colleagues throughout the land who’d abandoned the gospel…

These are some of the examples of overtly divisive people—but you don’t have to be someone who’s openly defying the Lord and proclaiming a false gospel while seeking to destroy God’s people to be divisive.

Being divisive is a lot easier than you think. In fact, you might be a divisive person and not even realize it.

All it takes is a little bit of pride.

My wife and I both love to be right. And it’s usually over the most trivial matters. In our efforts to help ourselves recognize our behavior, we’ve given it a title: being the rightest person in the room. It’s a silly term, but it helps snap us back to reality when we’re getting ridiculous.

Imagine, though, if we didn’t do this. Our meaningless debates would escalate into a serious conflict eventually. We’d dig our heels in, refuse to give ground and, sooner or later, say something we’d regret.

That’s why we need safety measures in our lives. We need silly names to defuse our own goofiness. We need people who can call us on our guff and tell us to chill out.

This is what I’ve seen people desperately needing in the recent Driscoll ballyhoo, on both sides. The folks who are looking to lynch him need to look at themselves for a second. It’s not that the idolatry of celebrity isn’t a crucial issue (it is), but what does the response of many say about the state of their own hearts?

Remember the behavior Paul charged Titus to teach: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2). Does the delight some seem to take in thrashing this particular person online reflect this kind of attitude? Worse, do they think it’s really going to help him be responsive to legitimate concern and attempts at correction?

When you look at a guy like Driscoll, it’s not hard to make a case that he’s a divisive figure—but are the rest of us any better? There’s a certain extent to which we’re all that guy. The difference is, we just don’t get as much airtime, and it’s but by the grace of God that we are not also being torn apart by people who, arguably, care little to nothing for us as people. Who don’t necessarily want us to get better, but just don’t want us to have a voice anymore.

But we ought to remember that, as Paul says, all of God’s people “were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). This is what God rescues us from. Why sink back into that kind of divisiveness?

Critical thinking is good for your soul

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

There’s a line I shared in my little eBook on how to write book reviews that goes like this:

“Brothers and sisters, we are not to be sycophants. Don’t write a review that sounds like it was written by one.”

I want to take a bit of time today to expand on that a little more.

One of the mistakes I see less experienced bloggers make—which, by the way is a really bizarre statement to make (when did I become one of the more experienced bloggers??)—is always writing positive reviews. They seem to be wowed by every single book they read!

Now, I know there are some bloggers who only write reviews of books they like, and that’s fine, if your genuine, heartfelt conviction is you only want to talk about books you unabashedly love. But honestly, I can’t go there. Why?

Because critical thinking is good for your soul—and it’s a skill we sorely lack in our culture, Christian and otherwise. The Bible calls critical thinking “discernment,” which is referred to as both a discipline and a spiritual gift. Basically the idea is being able to identify truth from error, and doing so requires effort. It’s like exercising. The more consistently you do it, the stronger your muscles get, and the more your endurance increases.

So what do you need to do? The best way to know how to identify truth from error is to know the truth really, really well. So you read your Bible, you study it diligently. You work hard at this.

But then you need to put it into practice. There are two ways I do this: the first is I periodically read books I know I’m unlikely to align with theologically (such as A Year of Biblical Womanhood or Love Wins). This allows me to both test my own assumptions as well as think through the arguments and implications of other works. The goal, particularly when reading a book like this for review purposes, is to develop a balanced, helpful critique.

The other way I put it into practice is by, as I explained in the eBook, treating the author as secondary to the message. This is especially important when reading someone you like. Because you’ve got your own biases at work, you’ve got to be diligent to push through and not assume—whether because the author is a personal friend or an influential figure you admire from afar—what’s being written should be given a pass. Doing so is both dishonoring to the author’s intentions1 and damaging to you as a Christian. Thinking critically about the material from trusted sources has allowed me to dig into my own assumptions in a way that even reading opposing views doesn’t.

This was certainly the case when reviewing Why Cities Matter, which actually helped me to focus my views on urban ministry a little more definitively (in that I’m now far less comfortable saying we should focus on urban contexts at the expense of rural ones in order to “reach the culture”). Driscoll’s new book helped me work out my views on video preaching and think about the implications of a teaching pastor divorced from the body.

Finally, moving beyond the personal, there’s the benefit to those reading the review: when you read a critical review, you’re seeing a model of how to think critically. When I write a critical review, I don’t want you to just know what I think, I want you to see how I got there. I want you to see how I think and use what’s helpful in your own thinking.

Obviously I’m not advocating slamming books for the sake of slamming them. And I don’t want anyone to feel bad about writing predominantly positive reviews. What I am advocating for is careful, consistent, thoughtful discernment. A little good ole fashioned critical thinking is good for the soul, both your own and your reader’s.

The day God waged war

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I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with Christmas, or at least a lot of the trappings surrounding it. The struggle to create a “perfect” Christmas, the whole Christmas-karma nonsense… But one of the things I desperately struggle with is our lack of understanding of what Christmas is really all about.

Christmas—the incarnation—is a declaration of war.1

And yet, more often than not, we shy away from this understanding, don’t we? We joyfully embrace what happened that day and all the details of the story—

The Son born of a virgin, the shepherds attending Him, the angels singing, all of it.

But we forget to talk about why. Why did Jesus come to be Emmanuel—”God with us”? Why was it necessary for Him to come at all?

And, of course, we know the answer. We know why Jesus came. We know the baby didn’t stay a baby, but became a man who would die in our place, perfectly satisfying the wages of sin. We know the Easter story… and yet we don’t seem to connect the it to our Christmas celebrations.

We need to connect the dots. We need to remember, as some have said, that Jesus was born in the shadow of the cross. To see, as Simeon did, who this baby truly was and rejoice as he did:

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)

Simeon doesn’t rejoice simply because he’s seen the baby Jesus—he rejoices because he’s seen God’s salvation. He’s held Him in his hands. That’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?

Can you imagine what our Christmas celebrations would look like if we had that same sense of awe?

This year, remember Christmas not just as “Jesus’ birthday” as some of us tell our kids, but as the day God waged war on sin and death. For when we do, it changes the celebration. It doesn’t remove the joy or the excitement. It doesn’t turn what should be thrilling into a funeral procession. If anything, remembering this only deepens our excitement.

For Christmas is the day God waged war—and it’s a war He wins.

Celebrating Christmas is telling the story of world history

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In our celebration of Christmas, we are telling the story of world history. Just as the Fourth of July tells the story of independence from Britain, so Christmas tells the story of our successful war for independence from the devil. Christmas, and all the symbols of it (whether trees, carols, or Handel’s Messiah), are markers, monuments built from stone. They are an Ebenezer—thus far the Lord has helped us.

And practice. We order our lives around the life and accomplishments of Jesus. We do this, not so that we might live like pagans in between our holidays, but rather so that these holidays will mark and bound our lives, lives that are lived in the light of the conquering gospel.

And since we believe that the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, by this celebration we are not only living out our own worldview, we are declaring to unbelievers what the worldview of the entire earth will someday be.

Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything

Is it the method or the message?

Discipleship can be tricky business. You don’t always know what’s going to work with an individual, a small group or the larger congregation. Sometimes we think the solution to discipleship is giving people more books they won’t read. Sometimes we think it’s talking only about how we apply the truth to our lives (even if we don’t necessarily talk about how we arrive at said truth).

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My friend Trevin Wax gets the frustration; more importantly, he’s voiced it in his new book, Gospel-Centered Teaching. What I really appreciate about what he’s written so far—and I’m only just a few pages in, so this isn’t a review by any stretch of the imagination—is he also get where the frustration stems from: it’s that we’re focused on the wrong thing. He writes:

I get the feeling that a lot of leaders are weary of running to the newest fad. Tired of trying to stir up enthusiasm for doing the same old thing. They realize it’s not enough to give the newest method.… I’m convinced that the method is not what matters most anyway; it’s the method. Get the message right, and God will work through a variety of methods. But miss the message, and the best methods in the world won’t bring about transformation. (Gospel-Centered Teaching7)

When we’re focused on methods, it’s easy for people to hide what’s really going on in their lives. It’s easy to hide your personal sin and struggles behind a video curriculum. It’s easy to ignore conviction when reading a how-to book.

It’s a lot harder when you’re being challenged to think in light of the gospel. Discipleship stems from the “therefores” of Scripture. “Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:1 (HCSB); but the message comes first. We can’t walk in light of what we don’t know. That’s what Trevin’s talking about, and that’s what we need more of in our thinking on discipleship, whatever method we employ.

Encourage your pastor by being fruitful

Hands Holding a Seedling and Soil

How do you encourage your pastor? In some ways, the answer seems obvious. We know we should pray for them (and hopefully we do). We know we should thank them. We know we should find ways to help them (all ideas I’ve discussed here). But there’s another way we can do this—simply, by being fruitful.

I love the way Thomas Watson explains this in his work on the Beatitudes. Watson writes:

Encourage God’s ministers by your fruitfulness under their labors. When ministers are upon the ‘mount’, let them not sow upon the rocks. What cost has God laid out upon this city! Never, I believe, since the apostles’ times, was there a more learned, orthodox, powerful ministry than now. God’s ministers are called stars (Revelation 1:20). In this city every morning a star appears, besides the bright constellation on the Lord’s Day. Oh you that feed in the green pastures of ordinances—be fat and fertile. You who are planted in the courts of God, flourish in the courts of God (Psalm 92:13). How sad will it be with a people, who shall go laden to hell with Gospel blessings! The best way to encourage your ministers is to let them see the travail of their souls in your new birth.

It’s this last line, “let them see the travail”—the difficult labor—”of their souls in your new birth,” that made this click for me. Pastoral ministry, one-on-one discipleship, small group leadership… there’s a great deal of pain that comes along with these things. When a leader sees someone they’ve invested in walk away from the Lord, it’s painful. When they see ongoing patterns of sin unaddressed, it grieves them. There are more tears in these roles than most of us realize.

But what brings much joy is to see a young man or woman “get it”—that lightbulb moment when they understand why an important truth is really important. When a leader gets to rejoice with them over the defeat of a particular sin. When they get to pray together over how to share the gospel with a family member who is far from the Lord.

Growing in grace—being fruitful—whatever language you want to use, if you want to encourage your pastor or lay leader, that’s the way to do it.

The gateway drug of ghostwriting

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There’s a lot of talk these days of ghostwriting, brought to the surface by the allegations of plagiarism facing Mark Driscoll. Ghostwriting is a serious issue—one that seems to be pretty clear cut, and yet many don’t see it that way.

Ghostwriting is the practice of writing books or other material where another author—usually someone who’s public notoriety can sell books, even if they’re incapable of actually writing them themselves—receives full credit. This is a pretty standard practice in publishing, one many don’t think too much of. In fact, if you’ve read an autobiography of an actor or politician, chances are you’ve read something that’s been ghostwritten.

And if you’ve read a book by a pastor, sadly, there’s a decent chance a ghostwriter’s been involved, too. A number of notable Christian pastors and leaders—among them Driscoll and John Maxwell—have employed ghostwriters over the years.

Writing a sermon and writing a book are entirely different animals. The only thing they have in common is they’re a form of communication. They require words. But how you write a sermon is not remotely like how you write a book. I remember being involved in a conversation with a big-name Christian pastor who admitted he has a really hard time sitting down to write—not do sermon prep, but actually write. It takes courage to admit that. And when he finally did release a book, he credited the person who helped shape the book, taking his sermons and making them actually make sense, as his co-author.

It takes integrity to do that.

Unfortunately, many don’t do this. They fall on the “accepted practice” clause, but fail to think through their actions biblically. The Bible doesn’t say, “thou shalt not employ a ghostwriter,” but it sure does say, “do not lie.” And using a ghostwriter and failing to credit them is lying. This is the same point Kevin DeYoung made just yesterday when he wrote:

Whether in sermons or in print, it’s not okay for pastors to take credit for something that is not theirs. Granted, the lines can be blurry. But that doesn’t mean the line doesn’t exist. And just because it feels like the sin of sloth more than the sin of theft doesn’t make it less of an error.

Randy Alcorn is even more forceful in his rebuke of what he calls the scandal of evangelical dishonesty. He reminds us that lying only begets more lying—ghostwriting is the gateway drug to larger integrity issues:

If we teach them it’s okay to lie by taking credit for a book they didn’t write, why should we be shocked if we discover they lied when they claim to have graduated from a college they didn’t, or to have fought in a war they didn’t, or to have done a job they didn’t? Isn’t it ironic that Christian publishers would consider it an ethical breach if they discovered an “author” gave them a resume containing false information, when the same publisher has knowingly led the public to believe this person wrote a book he or she really didn’t write? Which is the bigger lie?

Alcorn is quite clear: ghostwriting is lying. Period. In writing this, I realize I’m dangerously close to violating Paul’s admonition that the younger man should not rebuke the older. My goal here is not to do that. Instead, I want to ask the older men, particularly those who’ve employed ghostwriters: Why is this okay—and what does it teach those of us who are coming behind you?

To the younger, particularly those of you who are writers, I don’t have a rebuke, but I do have a plea: If someone asks you to be a ghostwriter, say no. If you have been ghostwriting, please stop. I know it pays pretty decently, but is the money worth the cost of your—and others’—integrity?