Should Christians “Name Names”?

Maybe it’s me, but the idea of “naming names”—calling out a specific pastor, teacher or author as promoting false doctrine and heresy—has increasingly felt awkward to me. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that I’ve seen very few examples of it done well. Generally, those naming names seem to be folks that Paul warns about in the pastoral epistles—men who love to stir up controversy and division who we should have nothing to do with (1 Tim. 6:4; Titus 3:10). They appear to jump on a video clip, a poor choice of words, or a seven year old blog post and go to town. This is why on any given day, you can find everyone from James MacDonald to John MacArthur declared heretics on the Internets. Frankly, it gets so ridiculous at times that I can completely understand why people would never want to say anything that would even suggest that someone might be a false teacher.

Yet, as I study the Scriptures, I find that I cannot go there. The authors of Scripture take false teaching very seriously and so must we. Indeed, throughout the New Testament, we see numerous examples of specific men named as false teachers—as traitors to the gospel.

Paul tells Timothy that Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus are among those who have made a shipwreck of their faith and swerved from the truth (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18). Their “irreverent babble,” he says, will spread like gangrene among God’s people. Their false teaching is like an infection that must be treated with the utmost seriousness and efficiency. Failure to do so will result in the infection spreading. The apostle John warned his readers of Diotrephes, “who likes to put himself first, [and] does not acknowledge our authority” (3 John 9). This man, who was apparently influential among John’s audience, refused to acknowledge the authority of apostolic teaching, becoming an authority unto himself (sounds familiar, doesn’t it). And Jesus himself warned of the Nicolaitans and their presence in Ephesus and Pergamum. He hated their works and commands those who hold to their teachings to repent or be caught on the wrong side when he would come to make war against them (Rev. 2:6; 15-16).

So if we look at these New Testament examples, we can say with reasonable confidence that the answer is yes—it is right and biblical for a pastor to warn against a specific teacher. But also notice that the answer isn’t quite as simple as we’d like it to be.

First, we must be careful to not declare a particular individual a false teacher unless the body of evidence warrants such a charge. Paul commanded Timothy that he should not “admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim. 5:19). This is good advice. In our context, that means that an out-of-context quote from six years ago cannot qualify as confirmation of a teacher being a heretic. However, if the body of evidence strongly points in a particular direction, then it may be prudent to openly condemn that teacher’s doctrine.

Second, while the biblical authors clearly treat false teaching and teachers with dreadful earnestness, it is always addressed within the context of a specific local church. When Paul warned Timothy of Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus, he was giving him warning of men who would impact Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus. He didn’t warn Titus of these men. John, likewise, wrote specifically to Gaius. And Jesus said nothing of the Nicolaitans in his messages to the church in Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia or Laodicea. Their error didn’t directly affect these churches in the way that it did Ephesus (with their positive rejection) and Pergamum (with their foolish acceptance).

This is instructive for our own day. While there might be a very real threat to the gospel, it may not actually be relevant to our particular local church. If we know that a particular author is widely read among our congregations and we know that he or she holds views that are opposed to the gospel, then it is right to warn the congregation of their teaching. But to name a particular individual who has no influence within our churches may have more in common with gossip than contending for the faith.

Finally, we should always remember the goal of “naming names”. You’ll notice that I repeatedly advise condemning a person’s teaching, rather than the person. This is intentional and, I hope, biblical. While Paul names names, even saying he has handed them over to Satan, it is to that “they may learn not to blaspheme.” Jude likewise commands us to show “mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 23). Simply, the goal is to bring those who promote false doctrine to repentance, and not simply say “They’re traitors and blasphemers, may they burn in hell.”

While we must always be willing to call false teaching what it is—heresy—we ought to be thoughtful about how we express it in relation to the person propagating that teaching. Hate their teaching, hate the lies they spread, hate the mockery they make of the gospel—but do not transfer that hatred to the person. Rather, pray for them to come to repentance and if you have the means, plead with them personally to return to sound teaching.

So, is it appropriate for Christians to name names? Yes, if it is to the benefit of our congregations and that our desire is to see those false teachers return the fold as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

What’s the Deal with One or Two?

This past week I spent a lot of time blogging through the messages of the truthXchange’s Think Tank and some of you might be wondering, “What’s the deal with this One or Two thing they keep going on about?” The big idea behind this concept is that fundamentally, there are only two worldviews—there is the Truth and the Lie. This is essentially what Paul is talking about in Romans 1:25 when he says that “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Take a look at this quick video:

The language of One-ism vs. Two-ism is a really helpful tool to unpack this truth and how it affects the world around us today, where increasingly our culture and even our churches have succumbed to varying degrees to the Lie. Recently I was asked in an interview about how it’s been helpful for me and probably the biggest has been having a really helpful tool to begin to teach my children the most basic concepts between different worldviews. The grid of One or Two allows us to ask questions of the shows we watch with the girls and even the marketing they’re exposed to in the stores, asking what it is that they’re trying to teach, what do they think it says about God and about us. For us, it’s about critical thinking and not simply telling our kids what to think (because we can’t really do that in any long-lasting way), but how to think. We want them to think carefully about all they are exposed to both outside the church and inside it; to understand, should the Lord open their minds and hearts to understanding such things, that the distinction between Creator and creation is a thing of beauty and really what makes this world and the good news of the gospel make sense.

I hope you’ll take some time to learn more about truthXchange’s ministry by checking out Peter Jones’ most recent book, One or Two, and reviewing the articles and audio/video resources on truthXchange.com. And if the Lord leads, please give financially to support this fantastic ministry.

You Might Be Killing Your Ministry (And Not Even Know It)

What is the one thing that will kill your ministry faster than anything else?

Consider that question as you read. I frequently love to read Proverbs. Reading these principles of life and godliness often serves as a corrective for me as I work and pursue ministry. Something I mentioned a few weeks back was a tendency toward performancism—that is, a tendency to turn the gifts and abilities that God has given as the measure of my worth. So when I’m doing lots and being productive, then I’m great and God’s favor is upon me. When life starts to turn to a subtle shade of Milhouse, well…

As I look around the “celebrity pastor” scene, it seems I’m not alone. One pastor’s Twitter feed has turned into a commercial for his current book. Another shares on his blog how many baptisms his church has seen since its inception whenever criticism starts to come his way. A third’s staff mocks a blogger who voices concern about their boss’ theology. I could go on, but you get the idea and probably have your own experiences.

But this isn’t really a post about celebrity pastors. Other men like Mike Cosper and Thabiti Anyabwile have written on this in the past and I’d commend their work to you. Instead, let’s get back to the question I asked about two paragraphs ago—what will kill your ministry faster than anything else?

Pride. 

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has a passing familiarity with the Proverbs. There is nothing that kills effective ministry faster than pride (even if that ministry seems to be thriving on the outside). Consider the following:

  1. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov. 16:18)
  2. Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin. (Prov. 21:4)
  3. “Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride. (Prov. 21:24)
  4. The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. (Prov. 8:13)
  5. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. (Prov. 11:12)
  6. Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. (Prov. 18:12)
  7. One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. (Prov. 29:23)

Seven times in these passages, God’s Word says the same thing:

  • Pride is an abomination.
  • It leads to destruction.
  • It brings disgrace.
  • It humiliates.
  • It is hated by God.

We dare not pass over these words quickly. If God truly hates pride this much, then we must consider our actions in the face of criticism and in light of success. If we follow the wisdom of Scripture we see that seeking celebrity will kill our ministries. Bad company will kill our ministries. And failing to listening to wise counsel will kill our ministries.

Do we get the picture, yet?

To be proud in ministry is to jeopardize our ministry—to risk God, in his loving kindness, humiliating us if we start foolishly believing that the number of people who show up matters, how many copies of our books are sold or that we’re above being corrected (even by nobodies who apparently attend Star Trek conventions and live in their moms’ basements). Brothers in ministry, let this never be said of you. Surround yourself with godly men who love you enough to tell you the truth, accept criticism well and fear God above all else. Wisdom and humility will save our ministries—pride will destroy them.

Podcasts, Pastors and People

Recently my friend Trevin Wax shared his concerns about people treating their podcasts as their pastors. There is great reason to be concerned about this. He explains:

But just because we cannot and should not point fingers at each other regarding the problem of celebrity does not mean that we shouldn’t carefully consider the ramifications of pastoral influence being mediated through technology instead of the local church. I offer these thoughts not as a point of criticism but as one of concern. And I’m open to suggestions as to how to lift up local church pastors and celebrate their influence and mentoring.

John Piper was right to remind us that we are not pastored by “professionals.” Perhaps it’s time we remembered that we are not pastored by podcasts either.

In reading his concerns, I kept coming back to the question of why? Why are people turning to podcasts and perhaps too frequently looking to them as their source of biblical nourishment. Where Trevin suggests that this might be, in part, because of a “drought caused by the fatherlessness of our society” along with “the heavy rain of pastoral resources available through technological advance,” I have to wonder if, perhaps, there are at least two other reasons:

1. An inability of church members to submit to the leaders placed over them. The reasons for this are twofold: First, we lack a proper understanding of that there is even such a thing as objective truth. This is fundamentally a worldview issue—if truth is relative, then I am the arbiter of truth, so I’m ultimately my own authority. At best, everyone else has an opinion, but it’s not something I need to listen to. The current generation’s attitudes toward leadership is fruit of decades of mistrust and skepticism. We expect politicians to lie to us. We assume our bosses are going to throw us under the bus in order to save their own skin. And we have wrongly projected that onto our church leaders. The drought Trevin refers to is inextricably connected to this unhealthy attitude, and it is something that must be countered and corrected.

2. Pastors are failing to preach. This is a subject I’ve written on before, but it bears repeating—if pastors are not preaching the Word, they are failing their congregations. And as Jared Wilson said so well recently, “Putting some Bible verses in your message is not the same thing as preaching the Scriptures.” Christians who are starving for the nourishment that only comes from the preached Word will inevitably begin seeking it out, and if they aren’t getting it from their own pastors, they’ll find it somewhere else. It’s not terribly kind to say, but here’s the thing all of us who have been given the privilege to serve the Church through preaching need to remember—Christians need to hear what God says, not what any of us have to say. My message might be cute, maybe even helpful sometimes, but it has no power. The Holy Spirit doesn’t transform lives through a clever turn of phrase; He does so whenever and wherever the Word is faithfully proclaimed.

This is something I’ve had far too much personal experience with. Once upon a time, I was an incredible consumer of podcasts—I was famished, desperate to hear the Word proclaimed and I wasn’t getting that in my local church. Eventually, for various reasons that I’ve shared previously, my family and I left and joined another congregation here in London. And a funny thing happened. As I sat under biblical instruction, I found my “need” to listen to podcasts diminish to the point that I rarely listen to them on a consistent basis today. And within a very short period of time, my pastor actually became my pastor. Because he cares enough to share the full counsel of God—to preach the Scriptures and proclaim the gospel—I want to submit to his leadership. I want to submit to his authority.

So perhaps that’s the place we need to start as we look at our concerns over unhealthy relationships with podcasts and “celebrity” pastors. If you’re pastor isn’t your pastor, then you need to look at why. Examine your own heart and attitudes first and repent of any genuine sinful mistrust of authority, appealing to Christ for his empowerment in putting that sin to death. Don’t automatically assume that your problem is your pastor, because the problem could likely be you. But if the problem truly is that your pastor is failing to preach, humbly approach him in love. Voice your concerns. Pray for him. And as a last resort, part company.

A Biblical Battle Plan for Faithful Street Ministry

Artur Pawlowski. Street Church. Are these names ringing a bell? Depending on your theological convictions, they may be actually sounding an alarm. Many Canadian Christians already know about brother Artur’s “evangelistic escapades” in Calgary, Alberta, over the past six years—actions which have lead to his repeated injunctions, fines, and arrests. A recent National Post article gave him national (and international) attention as he voiced his frustration over the treatment he’s received from police versus that of the Occupy movement protestors.

Though this article is not in an endorsement of Artur’s ministry, it seems that he and I do share something in common: persecution for our faith right here at home.

As a minister of the Gospel, I too have been forced from street corners and threatened with arrest by local law enforcement. I have also been sucker punched while preaching open air. Doing spiritual battle always carries a cost…even when the mission field is right here in Canada.

But how does a good soldier of Christ Jesus both tactically and tactfully please the One who enlisted him, effectively reach out to the lost, sincerely respect authorities, and do so all without compromising the core Truth of the mission?

After years of experience, I have come to believe that biblically and culturally balanced street ministry in North America may be best modeled after what have been called the “three worlds” of Paul the Apostle.

Paul’s “Three Worlds”

The Cross Current (TCC) equips local missionaries to preach the Gospel specifically in the context of our increasingly complex North American culture.

TCC’s training is based on the ministry demonstrated by Paul the Apostle. As an evangelist to the Gentiles, Paul has been appropriately called the “man of three worlds” – an expert in the Scriptures, false beliefs, and rights of Roman citizenship.

This “tripod” of training expertise enabled Paul to be a fruitful and faithful witness predominantly in the context of a Greek (Acts 17) culture, much like ours today.

First, street ministers need to accurately apply the Scriptures. As a Jew, Hebrew of Hebrews, and former Pharisee (Phil. 3:5), Paul was masterful in his handling of Scripture in both evangelism and discipleship. As faith and regeneration come only by God’s sovereign grace through hearing His Word (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 10:17; 1 Pt. 1:23), street ministers must resist the pull towards pragmatism and “culturally relevant” preaching by constantly placing their trust in the power of the foolish preaching of the cross.

Second, street ministers need to biblically defend against false belief systems. As a Greek thinker, Paul demonstrated exceptional dexterity in boldly confronting the false belief systems of his day with the truth of Christ, yet always doing so with sensitivity and diplomacy (Acts 17). As ones called to bear witness to exclusive Truth amidst an academically charged culture steeped in philosophical/religious pluralism, street ministers must develop an appropriate balance of both presuppositional and evidential apologetics.

Preaching Christ in Canada, eh?

Granted, while the first two aforementioned Pauline “worlds” are hopefully very obvious to today’s street ministers, it’s been my experience that the third is rarely (if ever) explored. And that is that street ministers must know how to legally leverage their rights as citizens. In several instances, Scripture testifies to how Paul’s timely appeal of his Roman citizenship not only spared him further persecution, but also furthered His God-given mission of evangelizing the Gentiles (Acts 16:37; 22:25). Undoubtedly, this vital component of Paul’s public preaching ministry is the most often overlooked. [Read more...]

The Role of Prayer and Serving the City

As I’ve been continuing to process For the City along with a number of other books on engaging our cities and culture there’s something that’s been bugging me.

Is it my imagination or does the conversation tend to overlook the importance of prayer?

A lot of time is spent discussing techniques and programs designed to engage people (which is good), but little time is spent discussing prayer’s role. Perhaps it’s simply assumed that we would be praying for our cities, because, well, why on earth would we not? (But you know what they say about assuming…) Is it possible, though, that by assuming that we’re praying for our cities, we might actually forget to do it? Do we really get the importance of prayer to all we do to reach our communities?

In Acts 1:14, we find the early church (then perhaps 120 people), gathered in the upper room where they were “devoting themselves to prayer,” and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come. When He did descend upon them (Acts 2:1-4), they were again together and in prayer. The apostles themselves were devoted to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). When Peter was imprisoned, the church made “earnest prayer” for him (Acts 12:5). Prayer and fasting guided the appointing of elders (Acts 14:23).

In Paul’s epistle to the Romans, we see him command that they “be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). To the Colossians he says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer” (Col. 4:2) and he says the Thessalonians are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). And, of course, Jesus Himself commands that we “pray for those who persecute [us]…” (Matt. 5:44).

The point, obviously, is not to just chuck a pile of verses, but we do have to recognize this pattern that appears throughout Scripture. What made the Church’s ministry so powerful and effective in its early days was not programs or technique, but a commitment to prayer. It’s not that programs, starting non-profits, appropriate contextualization or any number of points made in any of the “being missional” books are bad things (they’re not), but we always need to be careful of the snare they can represent. Our hearts are so easily turned away from the truth of the gospel, “prone to wander” as the song says, that we can turn to these good things and see them as the secret to being for our communities—that we become dependent upon technique for success instead of God and His grace for fruit.

That takes me back to these commands to “be constant in prayer,” to “pray without ceasing…” Could this be the reason why the Church has in the West has floundered so greatly in the last century? Not because we’ve not kept up with the times, but because we’ve failed to rely upon the power of God and His gospel?

This is not a post pointing fingers at anyone, expect probably myself. I’m certainly no expert in this matter; in fact, I’d say my prayer life is pathetic. But when I see what’s going on in my city, with a population that’s increasingly hostile to the gospel, I don’t find myself trying to figure out how some new technique—I find myself desiring to pray more. To pray that the churches in our city would be faithful to the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16), and that our congregations would not just being people that say they are for the city, but people who are praying for the city.

“What’s Your Model?”

I’m reading Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter’s book, For the City: Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel, and I was blown away by this passage:

During our conversations, the assessment team and I had open and honest debate about an appropriate philosophy of ministry. Our interactions were friendly and loving, not adversarial . . . All of my conversations with them, though, came down to one piece of advice and one basic question: “We think you should have a model. Which one will you choose?”

So I gave in. Sort of?

I replied, “You want a model? Here it is.

“Imagine an urban church so influenced by the power of the gospel that it seized every opportunity to proclaim and live out the gospel for the good of the city. Imagine that this church physically and spiritually served the poorest of the poor, but also lovingly rebuked the wealthy. Imagine this church as the epicenter of straight-up, God-fearing, Spirit-filled revival, leading thousands of people to eternal life in Christ in just a few years. Imagine a church that built elderly housing, housed all the orphans in the city, and taught wealthy business people to have a ‘double bottom line’ so they could run a profitable business in order to support the work f the church and meet the needs of the city.

“In other words, imagine a church that boldly preached the gospel and lived out the values of the kingdom. Don’t you want to be a part of a church like that?”

“Of course. Who wouldn’t?” they responded.

“What if I told you that the church model I’m describing is as trusted, tried, and true as any you’ll find?” I said.

“What model is it?”

“Metropolitan Tabernacle,” I replied, receiving blank stares in return.

“Where is it? Who’s the pastor?” one team member asked?

A thin smile spread across my face.

“London, 1852,” I said. “The pastor is Charles Spurgeon.”1

I loved reading this (so much so that I went back over it twice) not because it was a shot at the assessment guys or about any particular ministry model, but because of what it represents—what happens when a church is gripped by the gospel and empowered by the Spirit to serve as an outpost, a foretaste of the kingdom still to come. Would that this could be said about all our churches.

Perhaps it will before the day is through.

Four Things I Learned While Writing a Book

A while back I shared a few things I’d been learning during the early stages of writing Awaiting a Savior. Since that time, the lessons have kept coming and I thought I’d share four more with you:

1. Writing something important will result in trials. I was speaking to one of our pastors on Wednesday night and when he asked how I was doing, the first word out of my mouth was, “Busy.” Over the last three months, I’ve finished writing a book, sold a house, moved, attempted to relax during a vacation, attended a prescreening of Courageous, wrote a script for Awaiting a Savior’s book trailer, on top of dealing with the high demands on my waking hours from my job and family. I’ve never had such a busy season in my entire life (and Lord willing, I won’t have one that’s quite this extreme again). The busyness of my life has escalated to the point that I’ve actually found where my capacity ends. Hopefully things will slow down for me sometime soon. I know my wife would appreciate that very much.

2. Don’t expect your “heroes” to endorse your book, but ask them anyway. Asking for endorsements was probably the hardest part of the post-writing process. You never know who is going to say “yes” or “no.” But one thing is entirely likely: You’re probably not going to get Piper, Driscoll or Francis Chan to read your book—at least not unless you’ve got a lead time of six-eight months (which I did not). However, thirty-four people kindly agreed to read the manuscript (that in itself was pretty amazing) and about a third of those have provided a blurb so far (I’ll be sharing some in tomorrow’s post).

3. Reading your own endorsements is alternatively encouraging and frightening. It’s really cool to see people you respect say, “This is really good!” But it’s also something that can cause the head to become a bit puffed up. This is something I’m trying to be even more watchful of than usual as I have a very intense predisposition toward pride. It also means that I will be trying to avoid doing things like reading reviews on Amazon.

4. The secret behind good writing? Great editing. No writer—no matter how good—can edit their own work. None of us are that good. A great editor can take a I have been enormously blessed to have had Kevin Meath edit this book. Not only is the end-product much stronger, but I am a better writer because of it. That’s in part because he wasn’t afraid to call me out on some of my bad habits as a writer (a proliferation of single-sentence paragraphs—which naturally has it’s home in blogging), but because he pushed me to make sure I was being as clear as possible for the average reader. With a subject like poverty, a lot of us who deal with it on a regular basis have a lot of knowledge that after a while becomes assumed. Transferring that into your writing makes for a bad reading experience.

If you’d be so kind as to keep three things in prayer:

1. Humility. Emily and I are watching like hawks for evidence of pride creeping in; we do not need or want me having a fat-head and thinking I’m important. Please pray that we won’t let our guards down.

2. Balance. When things start getting lopsided, it’s hard to manage the stuff of life, even when it’s for “good” reasons. Please pray that a sense of balance can be brought back into my life and schedule.

3. New Opportunities. We don’t know what God’s got in mind for this book; it might be a one-and-done kind of thing or it might be the beginning of a whole new adventure for my family and me. Please pray that we’d be faithfully open to whatever He chooses to do.

Corporate Competition and the Disciple of Christ

Today’s post is by Aron  Utecht. Aron is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He’s also  written Putting God in His Place: Exalting God in the iCulture with three colleagues, which is about how western cultural assumptions steal God’s glory. You can contact Aron at ontheirshoulders.com.


Yesterday I made the point that competition is a fundamental motivator for many aspects of our culture. By harnessing my natural desire for recognition and reward, competition typically pushes me toward higher achievement. The underside of this spiritually is that human greed is nurtured and celebrated instead of crucified. The result is a compromised life spiritually for the individual. Today I want to explore a couple of the ways that competition affects us corporately.

When we introduce the concept of competition we automatically create winners and losers. We create categories of in and out. Whether in sports, honor societies, 500 Clubs, or even in churches, we find ways to create the category of other so we can feel better about ourselves.

This doesn’t please God. Jesus cleared the temple in Matt. 21:12-13 because gentiles were literally squeezed out of what should have been a house of prayer for the nations. Paul is also clear that one of the many things accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection was the abolishment of national prejudices (Eph. 2:11-22). Competition creates the category of other, which is sometimes less than, but akin to an enemy. We’re told to love our enemies, not conquer them (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:9-21).

Identifying the underside of competition might also impact our view of evangelism and cultural engagement. When I became a believer in college I treated apologetic encounters as a chance to prove myself and beat the other person into following Christ. Of course it never worked no matter how much I brushed up on my arguments. People intuitively took a defensive posture. This wasn’t ever taught by any of my mentors but something I assumed on my own. Perhaps if we identify how our culture shapes us we can send new converts down an altogether different path to begin with – one that overtly celebrates humility instead of subtly nurturing pride and triumphalism. [Read more...]

Personal Competition and the Disciple of Christ

Today’s post is by Aron  Utecht. Aron is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He’s also  written Putting God in His Place: Exalting God in the iCulture with three colleagues, which is about how western cultural assumptions steal God’s glory. You can contact Aron at ontheirshoulders.com.


It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Most of us have been told that at one time or another, but usually as a way to mollify a loss. Closer to the truth, we all want to win. Sometimes desperately.

It isn’t just sports that stoke my desire to win. In addition to the entertainment industry called professional sports, competition is something that impacts us every day of our lives. Competition is also an underlying motivator in education, and is the principle driver of our economic system. Even our politics are often more about competition than what is truly best for all.

The conventional wisdom is that competition is good. It pushes us out of our natural slothfulness toward excellence. This is often true. But there is a dark underside to completion that can go unnoticed. It’s a dark underside that if we’re not aware of it can compromise our life as disciples of Jesus.

Consider Ephesians 5:3, where greed is grouped with impurity and sexual immorality. The believer is instructed to avoid any appearance of these.  Yet everywhere I turn, my greed for acquisition, accomplishment, and accolade is nurtured and encouraged. The economic system of capitalism is particularly good at harnessing human greed, which Paul calls idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

Does this mean that if I’m successful in business that I’m an idolater? Well, maybe. Maybe not. What it means for sure is that sin is battling against me more than I realize. Simply living in the system I do will shape my thinking, and my spiritual formation, and if I don’t intentionally find ways to push back against those influences, they will undercut my spiritual life, and my faithfulness to Christ.

Competition harnesses my desire for acquisition, accomplishment, and accolade. But instead of nurturing these impulses I should be crucifying them.

I’m not trying to create a new rule, or say that we should drop out of life and refuse to participate in our economic system. But I do think we need to be attuned to the influences in our lives, and push back accordingly. By identifying how competition affects me negatively I can keep things like sports and academics in perspective. Keeping that perspective can be exceptionally difficult when money is involved though.

Regardless of the difficulties, spiritual health demands that I push back on the sin of avarice. I need to constantly check my motives, and ask myself often: Am I too emotionally involved in sports? Does my academic achievement reflect my love for Christ, or my love for recognition?  Is my business big enough to support my family? And, perhaps even… Is my church big enough to glorify God as we are?

Unfortunately, I don’t have to weigh any of these for very long to find myself wanting.

Tomorrow I’ll explore some of the ways that competition affects us corporately.


Aron is married to Jenn, and father to Abigail, Elizabeth and Benjamin. They live in Beulah, ND where he is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. Aron has an MDiv from Denver Seminary, an MA in American History from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and loves to study the Bible. Aron doesn’t have free time, but if he did he would enjoy cycling, camping, and exploring the outdoors with his kids, in addition to reading on theology, history, culture, and leading better in ministry.

Announcing My New Book: Awaiting a Savior

As some of you may know, this year, I started sending out proposals to publishers related to a book I’d wanted to write for a while. (I’ve talked a bit about what I’ve been learning through it in the past.) After many months of prayer, effort, one or two mild panic attacks and a couple of really, really nice rejection letters, I’m pleased to announce that my new book, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and The End of Poverty, will be available October 1, 2011 from Cruciform Press!

Awaiting a Savior follows the storyline of the Bible to examine the problem of poverty—where it starts, where it ends and how we can faithfully respond in the meantime. I’m unbelievably excited to share this book with you (and it’s been killing Emily and me to not really be able to say too much publicly about it until now) and I’m very thankful to Kevin, Bob and Tim at Cruciform for allowing me to do so. The titles they’ve released so far have been excellent and I’m glad to have been added to the line-up.

In the weeks ahead, I’m looking forward to sharing some excerpts from the book as well as any cool things that may come up surrounding it. I would really appreciate you joining us in prayer as we prepare for the book’s release—and I’d love it if you’d pre-order a copy (which will be available in both print and digital editions for you e-book readers).

Looking forward to sharing more soon!