The world needs strange Christians, not relevant ones

rolling-stone

One of the things we Christians tend to make fun of ourselves over is our desire be culturally relevant—to be hip, cool and engaging enough to hold the world’s attention. We know, at least to some degree, that it doesn’t work. We’ve seen what happens when people go too far in their attempts to be like the world (think the former megachurch pastor whose message to the world bears no resemblance to biblical Christianity), and we know that when we do try to be with it and hip, we wind up being neither.

Instead, we get stuff like this:

Russell Moore reminds his readers repeatedly throughout his upcoming book, Onward, that Christians should seem strange to the world—because the gospel itself is strange. Think about it: Christians believe that God became a man, a poor carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus who was crucified, rose from the dead and now rules over the entire universe.

When you actually say it out loud, yeah, it’s kind of strange. But that’s the thing about Christianity: either it’s true or we’re all nuts for believing it.

And this also shouldn’t surprise us. After all, as Martyn Lloyd Jones pointed out in Preaching and Preachers, “Our Lord attracted sinners because He was different. They drew near to Him because they felt that there was something different about Him.”

So for us to go about trying to win the world by being basically like the world is “basically wrong not only theologically but even psychologically,” he wrote. “This idea that you are going to win people to the Christian faith by showing them that after all you are remarkably like them, is theologically and psychologically a profound blunder.” (139, 1972 edition)

What Moore and Lloyd-Jones before him encourage us to do is recognize that trying to be relevant is a lost cause. We can never reconcile Christianity to the culture on its own terms. After all, “culture is a rolling stone, and it waits for no band of Christians seeking to imitate it or exegete it” (Onward, 107 [ARC]). Instead, we need to embrace the strangeness of Christianity—remembering that our “distinctive strangeness,” as Moore puts it, is what the world needs.

 

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H has a number of books on preaching on sale through July 14th including:

Reformation Heritage’s Reformed Historical-Theological Studies series is also on sale:

Today’s the last day to get these two books by Joe Thorn for $3.99:

And finally, you can get Basic Christianity by John Stott for $3.74.

What about Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus?

Justin Taylor shares a classic illustration from Francis Schaeffer.

A Word on Social Media Civility

Chris Martin:

Christians, we need to be kind on social media. We need to not get angry and rage-tweet as often as we do especially around controversial issues. We have the truth of the gospel, and we need to communicate like we care about its implications.

But God made me this way…didn’t He?

Marty Duren:

We cannot believe The Fall was bad enough to threaten eternal destinies without believing it thoroughly corrupted temporal realities. Hell is not the only concern. Life is, too.

Christian Summer Blockbusters

This is really funny  (and probably a bit sad because I can imagine someone thinking some of these are good ideas).

Seeking Transcendence in the Summer Blockbuster

Andrew Barber:

For the last century mass entertainment has been marked by attempts to present children’s fare for adults. Comics have transitioned into graphic novels that are taught in college courses, gaming has gone from Pac-Man and Mario to riffs on high literature and explorations of philosophy, the space drama of Buck Rogers has become the pseudo-religion of Star Wars. So we have extended adolescence, packed out Comic-Cons, and the summer blockbuster.

Simultaneously, the Christian world has become increasingly adept at cultural awareness and engagement. There are, of course, incredibly strong and diverse feelings about this trend, but the motivation often seems in the right place: while maintaining orthodoxy, Christians want to create a positive, common space with a culture from which we feel more and more disconnected. And Christians also want to encourage each other to consume beneficial art.

20 of my favorite quotes from The Prodigal Church

Recently I’ve shared a couple reflections on, as well as a review of, Jared Wilson’s new book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo. This was a book that I underlined quite heavily—probably more than I’ve done on any since Keller’s book on prayer. There’s a ton of wisdom found within its pages. So today, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites (some of which have been made into nifty shareable graphics):

“‘Healthy things grow’ sounds right. But cancer grows too.” (40)

“I want to suggest that it’s possible to get big, exciting, and successful while actually failing substantially at what God would have us do with his church. It’s possible to mistake the appearance of success for faithfulness and fruitfulness.” (46)

“Pragmatism is anti-gospel because it treats evangelism as a kind of pyramid scheme aimed at people who have it all together, not discerning that, in the Gospels, those most ripe for the gospel were those at the bottom of the social caste system, the undesirable, the non-influential.” (53)

“Pragmatism is legalistic, because it supposes that evangelism can be turned into a formula for ready results.… The pragmatist has forgotten that Christianity is supernatural, that it is capital-S Spiritual.” (53)
2

“When you try to help the Holy Spirit, you quench him.” (54)

“It is not in the best interest of the very unbelievers we’re trying to reach to appeal to consumerist tastes in the interest of offering them the living water of Christ.” (67-68)

“When we stage a worship experience that hypes up experience, feelings, or achieving certain states of success or victory, we miss the very point of worship itself: God.” (68)

3

“Neither the Spirit nor the gospel needs help from our production values.” (70)

“We have not prospered theologically or spiritually when we emphasize the professionalization of the pastorate.” (75)

“Fortune-cookie preaching will make brittle, hollow, syrupy Christians.” (77)

“We must have a stronger faith to trust that a sermon mainly about Jesus will ‘help people grow’ more than our set of tips will.” (80)

1

“I will go so far as to suggest to you, actually, that not to preach Christ is not to preach a Christian sermon. If you preach from the Bible, but do not proclaim the finished work of Christ, you may as well be preaching in a Jewish synagogue or a Mormon temple.” (80)

“The self-professed ‘culturally relevant’ churches are the chief proponents of legalism in Christianity today.” (84)

“The ‘dos’ can never be detached from the ‘done’ of the finished work of Christ in the gospel, or else we run the risk of preaching the law.” (85)

“When we preach ‘how to’ law sermons instead of the gospel, we may end up with a bunch of well-behaved spiritual corpses.” (89)

“The reality is, worship does not begin with the worshipper. It begins with God. It is a response to God’s calling upon us.” (97)

4“We do not worship the Father, the Son, and The Holy Ingenuity.” (167)

“If you worship God in a less-than-clear or in a doctrine-less sense, you end up worshiping another god. You worship the god made in your image. When we divorce theology from worship, when we fail to cultivate a theology of worship, we compromise our worship. It may look great, but it is hollow and shallow.” (99)

“Part of moving forward and away from the functional ideologies of the attractional church is also abandoning ourselves to the sovereign mercy of the Spirit, who cannot be measured or leveraged or synergized or whatever.” (162)

“The Spirit doesn’t wear the church’s wristwatch. You cannot control him.” (166)

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Over at Ligonier, they are giving away two eBooks about John Calvin for the next 24 hours:

Finally, Crossway is giving away Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God At His Word in exchange for answering a couple questions.

The Incredible Future of the Medium-to-Small-Sized Church

Bob Roberts:

The reality that we have over 400,000 churches in the U.S. and just over 1,600 megachurches (churches of 2,000 or more) means that 398,400 of us are never going to be that! But don’t be discouraged. You can still change your city and the world (and you may actually be better at changing it than a huge church).

8 Signs You Are a Discipleship Bully

Derek Brown:

This kind of bullying, however, does not need to express itself in verbal or physical abuse. It can manifest itself in a subtle form of spiritual tyranny where the teacher, by virtue of his position and self-perceived knowledge, tends to overwhelm and micro-manage his disciple. Sadly, when these kinds of discipleship scenarios progress unchecked, both parties—the discipler and the one being discipled—will find their spiritual life stunted and their relationship with one another in serious jeopardy.

When to Cover, When to Confront

Ray Ortlund:

When should we cover another Christian, and when should we confront another Christian?  The categories that guide me are 1 Peter 4:8 and Titus 1:9.

What Happened to the Emerging Church?

C. Michael Patton offers an answer. A shorter one suggested by my fellow Canadian Joe Boot at TruthXchange in Feburary: It didn’t die, it went mainstream.

Don’t Put God in a Box

Erik Raymond:

As a pastor I have been asked this question more times than I can count, particularly by people who are visiting and considering joining the church. My answer in short is “no”. I do not believe that the gifts of tongues and healing are present today as we saw in the early church. Much of what today gets passed off as tongues and healing are not what the Bible shows, namely known languages spoken and understood; and people being instantaneously (and fully) healed with a word or a touch. I tell them that my position (cessationist) is based upon observation: I see a tapering off of the miraculous gifts (tongues and healing) in the NT with the close of the Apostolic era and I do not see them consistently displayed in church history. Therefore, I don’t believe they are normative in the life of the church today. (note: prophecy is defined in different ways, but I would say that God is not giving new revelation today either. If you want to take prophecy as preaching, admonishing or exhorting-that’s fine.)

What is the response to this? “Don’t put God in a box.”

If you had to rebuild your library, where would you start?

rebuild-library

Imagine for a moment all your books were gone, fellow book hoarders.

Terrifying, I know.

Perhaps some sort of disaster befell your home, leaving everyone in your family perfectly fine, but all your books were destroyed. Or perhaps you were moving a long distance, and the only things lost in the move were your books.

How would you start over? If you had to rebuild your theological library from the ground up, what would be the first books you’d include?

A number of years ago, I was asked this question by an acquaintance online. It’s something I’ve thought about a great deal—and continue to do so—in part because I’ve had to do it. When I became a believer, I rebuilt my library because I found I had far too much that conflicted with my newfound faith and weren’t helpful for me to read any longer. As I developed my theological convictions, I had to rebuild my library again as I increasingly found the books I once enjoyed to be problematic (thankfully at that point my library was still quite small so it didn’t hurt too much to get rid of a number of books).

Today, my library is always in flux. Books are always coming and going. The last time I purged, I found somewhere around 300 books I had to get rid of. And if we ever move houses again (we’ve been in our current rental home for almost four years as of this writing), I’ll probably have to get rid of even more.

So what would I do if I had to start over again? Here’s how I’d probably do include:

Start with a good study Bible. Although they’re limited in terms of depth and focus, study Bibles work well as a commentary in a pinch. And for the average person, really, you don’t need more than that. I’d recommend the HCSB Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible.

Add at least one book on Church history. For a single volume edition, I’d go with Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. However, this is probably the most necessary (yet neglected) category, so it’s unwise to stop with one (I have a few more recommendations here).

Then include a biography. We should have lots of these, but if you’re looking to get started, I’d recommend pretty much anything from Reformation Trust’s Long Line of Godly Men series. Douglas Bond’s volume on John Knox is wonderful.

Follow that up with a classic or three. In my opinion, every Christian should own a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Augustine’s Confessions.

Don’t forget a book or two on the disciplines of the faith. Tim Keller’s Prayer would be one I’d want right away, as would Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Finish it off with a systematic theology. These are really helpful tools to have available. Frame’s Systematic Theology is one I’d lean toward adding if I could only include one, though Sproul’s Everyone’s a Theologian is nice for those who want something a little more accessible. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is very nice as well if you want to go a little older.

There are lots more I’d add, but if I were starting from scratch, those are the books I’d most likely include right from the get-go. At least this week. Ask me again and you might get completely different answers.

What would you include if you were starting from scratch?

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

How the Gospel ended My Same Sex Relationship

This was terrific:

I am a Christian, one who believes that what the Bible says about sexuality is of great importance. I’m also someone who was in a same-sex relationship for many years, even as I claimed Christ. For a long time these were the two things that defined me.

The Image of God In A Gender Neutral World

Stephen Altrogge:

Kathy Witterick and David Stocker have decided to raise their child, named “Storm”, in a gender free environment. In other words, they don’t want Storm to be influenced by cultural stereotypes of what it means to be a boy or a girl. They want Storm to have the freedom to create his/her own gender identity apart from all the cultural ideas of what gender really means. They are taking a bold stand for freedom in an age of gender restriction.

Is this a problem, and if so, why? After all, even most Christians would agree that our culture has unbiblical standards of what it means to be a man or a woman. I don’t want our culture instructing my daughters on the meaning of femininity. So is it really such a bad idea to raise a child in a gender free environment?

20 things you should never say to a graphic designer (but probably do)

I’ve heard all of these, and sadly said a few, too.

Dismantling the Façade of “Authentic Vulnerability”

Chris Martin:

I went to a small Christian liberal arts school, so in the dorms or in school-established small groups, it seemed spiritually cool if you talked about “authenticity,” “vulnerability,” and a host of other such “-ity” words. Maybe you experienced something like this in college—you definitely did if you attended a Christian one.

At my school, “intentional community” was as important as academics, so naturally, there was plenty of talk like this.

The problem was, nobody really meant it.

5 lies preachers believe about preaching

Mary Duren:

Pastors suffer from an abundance of unsolicited advice about their preaching. Many not called to preach think themselves the most gifted to critique. Despite this there are few church members more critical of the preaching than the one who delivers the sermon.

After I have preached my wife usually asks, “How do you think it went?” Most of my responses are in the “I guess it went alright” vein followed by, “How did you think it went?” Assurances of “it was great” or “that was one of the best sermons you’ve ever preached” are mostly doubted. I know the times I’ve lost my place in the notes, become mentally distracted, and realized the second point had too much or too little content. My train of thought has refused to leave the station, or derailed once it did.

A pastor’s normal excessive scrutiny about his preaching is bad enough, but it is made worse when these five lies are believed.

3 reasons why I try to expose my kids to lots of different kinds of books

books-kids

Tuesday night, the UPS guy arrived at the door with our latest Amazon order. I secreted away the box as quickly as I could in order to avoid too many “What is it Dads”. (I was only partially successful.) I opened the box, and pulled the two books out. Perfect, I thought, we’re going to have fun reading these.

“Hey, Abigail,” I called into the living room. “Want to see what we got today?”

“YES!”

I presented her with two new comic books: Tales of the Batman: Len Wein and The Mighty Thor by Walter Simonson vol. 1. Abigail went supersonic with delight.

This is one of the things I love about being a dad. I love being able to share the things I loved as a child and youth with them (like comics, which I still enjoy). But more than that, I love being able to expose them to as many different kinds of books as possible (as does Emily). There are a few reasons for this:

1. We want them to find books they like to read. As you can imagine, we place a high value on reading in our home. With certain exceptions—we tend to avoid books that glorify witchcraft and death, and books series where every instalment has literally the exact same plot, for example—we really don’t care what they read as long as it’s close to age-appropriate. So we’ve got superhero comics, we’ve got fantasy novels, we’ve got historical fiction, and classic works all readily available. And because they have a lot of different kinds of books available to them, they tend to read pretty widely, even if some days Abigail simply reads and rereads Bone during resting time.

2. We want to help our kids as they learn to read and develop their vocabulary. Hannah, our middle kid, refuses to let us help her as she reads (unless it’s her idea). In fact, she gets pretty ticked if we notice she’s doing it at all! One of the great things about having comics in the house, though, is we’ve seen Hannah sounding out the onomatopoeias in her quest to master reading. The variety of books also helps the kids develop their vocabularies as they’re exposed to words they may not be otherwise.

3. We want to help our kids understand the world around them. The same night we introduced Abigail to Walter Simonson’s Thor, we also wound up having a discussion about something she read in her book about Princess Isabel of Spain. In that book, a Catholic priest informed the young princess that it was inappropriate for her to learn about math and science because she was a girl. (Abigail was quick to point this out as being wrong, in case you’re wondering.) This allowed us to explain about how God created men and women, the equal value and dignity we all have by virtue of being made in his image, and even talk about how sin causes conflict between us. That’s kind of a big deal, and the type of thing you don’t really get from Walter the Farting Dog (although nothing’s wrong with Walter the Farting Dog… except his horrible flatulence).

That, in a nutshell, is why we try to expose our kids to as many different kinds of books as possible. And it’s pretty exciting to see how they’re developing as little people as a result.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H has put a number of digital Bibles on sale for the next few days:

Also on sale:

Who is the Most Influential Person in Your Life?

Who’s the person who most influences you? You are.

8 Verses For Christians Who Think Homosexuality And Same-Sex Marriage Are No Big Deal

Jeff Medders:

A low view of scripture doubles down on a low view of God, which results in a low view of sin, which ebbs into accepting and normalizing sin, which dominoes into celebrating sin. For Christians, the Bible isn’t something we can edit, ignore, or tailor to wear another culture’s clothes. It is what it is. Rather, the Bible edits us, showing us our own sin, reminding us how to follow Jesus as new people living from Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Titled, Not Entitled

Meghan Rayno:

Everyone is gifted in one way or another. Whether we are called to serve on the mission field, in the ministry, in the workplace or in the home, God has individually gifted us with the skills and knowledge needed to do His work. When we use our gifts wherever He places us, we glorify His name and reflect His character.

However, we all have a sinful tendency to pride ourselves in our title, position and abilities. For those of us who have earned a title by a diligent use of our gifts, this can be an especially difficult spiritual battle. Here are 7 humbling truths that we would do well to remember as we seek to combat pride and continue to honor the Lord with our gift.

Are we preaching Christ or preaching about Christ?

Ray Ortlund shares a doozy.

Cheering Costly Obedience

Lindsey Carlson:

Those of us with easier pasts may not feel as compelled to push back the darkness in such costly ways. We’re happy to serve by putting money into offering plates, bringing a few canned goods to the food drive, or mentioning Jesus if he comes up in conversation. But I wonder if it’s too much of this “safe” service that causes it to be infrequent, passionless, done more out of a sense of obligation than of gospel gratitude. While God certainly uses “safe” endeavors for his eternal purposes, we should desire to carry the cup of living water to those who need it at any cost—and with consistency, passion, and joy.

The Prodigal Church

 

prodigal-church

Years ago I went to a church conference focused on bringing up the level of creativity and the production values of the Sunday morning worship gathering (or experience, as they preferred to call it). As the band turned their amps up to loud enough to make my ears bleed, and lead the group through 13 or 14 rounds of “whoa-oh-oh-oh, whoa-oh-oh-oh-ohs”, I decided it’d be a good time to hang out outside. Not too long after, I was joined by another attendee. We chatted for a while about what we’d been learning at the conference, and this person lamented, “It just seems like a show, not worship.” I agreed. This person was right: it was a show.

And I suspect that’s what’s going on far too often in churches all over North America.

People who know me well (and, let’s be honest, people who don’t know me all that well at all) know I’m not a fan of what’s called the “attractional” approach to church—the big show, felt-needs oriented style of church popularized in the 80s and 90s by the likes of Bill Hybels and Rick Warren. Why am I not a fan? It’s not because I’m grumpy and/or only like hymns. Though the aims of its practitioners are noble, this approach encourages people to act like consumers rather than grow as disciples. And that’s totally antithetical to everything the worship gathering is supposed to be about.

Jared Wilson gets this. He’s served in attractional churches, and seen the fruit of the model. Or, rather, the lack thereof. But rather than spend an entire book railing against everything that’s wrong with attractional churches (because, hey, who doesn’t like hearing how they’re doing everything wrong?), Wilson simply asks, are you sure about that? Are you sure the smoke machines, lasers, sermons on being a better whatchamacallit and skinny jeans are what the world needs? Maybe what we need to do is go back to the Bible, not to do away with innovation, but to recover a sense of wonder and awe at the glory of God—and build our lives and worship around that! That, in a nutshell, is The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo.

And it’s quite spectacular.

The practice of preaching and the priority of people

What will surprise most readers of The Prodigal Church is its tone. Wilson strikes a delicate balance, simultaneously calling us out for acting like pragmatic knuckleheads while making us feel really good about it. There’s no sense of animosity toward practitioners, but great—and I believe warranted—hostility toward the practices themselves.

Take topical preaching, for example. While it isn’t wrong per se, what is questionable is the practice of putting together messages based around ideas I as a preacher might have (with biblical support), rather than preaching the text itself. And to preach in an expository fashion—that is through an entire book, verse by verse or passage by passage—is considered lazy or cheating by some, such as Andy Stanley. Wilson has some harsh words for this criticism, notably asking, what’s the fruit of the topical/applicational focus?

“What is the fruit of having treated the Bible like an instruction manual?” he asks.

[W]hen the church is run as a provider of spiritual goods and services, and slowly stops asking, first, “What glorifies God?” and begins asking more and more, “What do our customers want?” what the customer wants becomes more central to the life of the church. The functional ideologies of pragmatism and consumerism erode our theology, which becomes more flexible and less faithful. (73)

Or, more succinctly, “To teach and preach in this way is implicitly to say that the Bible can’t be trusted to set the agenda, and that my ideas are better than the Bible at driving change in my audience” (72).

This is what we need to understand: Pragmatism puts humans at the forefront, rather than God. They, functionally, become our gods. So you need to resort to more pomp and circumstance to keep them coming back. More programs, flashier gimmicks, bigger, better… whatever.

The only problem is it doesn’t work.

But faithful preaching does. The kind that puts the Bible at the forefront, puts Jesus in the place of greatest prominence, does this. And it isn’t cheating:

It is in fact hard work, at least spiritually, because it always necessitates dying to ourselves. The sermon prep may not take as long—thank God!—but the impulse to go first to Christ can be more difficult, and counterintuitive. We must have a stronger faith, to trust that a sermon mainly about Jesus will “help people grow” more than our set of tips will. (80)

Inviting prodigals home

In every chapter, readers will see Wilson avoiding cheap victories. He doesn’t go for the easy joke (usually). He doesn’t resort to nasty ad hominems, which are the weapon of choice of people with a weak argument. Instead he points out the issues with a deficient view of worship, a weakened approach to preaching, and offering programs as a substitute for shepherding congregations, and says, it doesn’t have to be this way. Things can be different, but it means giving up control:

Part of moving forward and away from the functional ideologies of the attractional church is also abandoning ourselves to the sovereign mercy of the Spirit, who cannot be measured or leveraged or synergized or whatever. (162)

And this is what we all hate, isn’t it? We like to think of ourselves as the masters of our own destiny. That when we hear “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves,” it might actually be true. And this is where we need the gospel—not simply as an add on at the end of our message, but as part of what we live and breathe as Christians. We need to recognize that we don’t need to make our own fate, God’s got that handled very well, thank you very much. We don’t need to put on a big show to draw people in, Jesus has it covered.

The gospel is not made more powerful by a dynamic preacher or a rockin’ band: those things might adorn the gospel in an excellent way, but the gospel cannot be improved. The message of Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection is capital-S Spiritual power all unto itself. (163)

The best way to get it into the hands of others

Since I finished reading The Prodigal Church, I’ve been thinking about how to get it into the hands of those who really need it. And the truth is, we all probably need it, to greater or lesser degrees. Many of us attend churches that have embraced the attractional ethic, if only in part. It’s definitely true of  my own church and the network we’re affiliated with since most of them have embraced the principles of corporate worship espoused in a not very good book. But how helpful would it be for me to hand it to my pastors and say, “Here you go, read this?”

Probably not very. Instead, here’s what I’d recommend: read it for yourself and see what God brings to mind about your own life and attitude. How do you express your worship privately? What does reading the Bible look like for you? How are you seeking to love and serve those around you, beginning with those in your local church? Don’t simply read it to try to determine everything that’s wrong in your church (or the one down the road). Let what you learn change you first. Then you’ll be in a better position to pass it along to others—and they may be more inclined to give its message serious consideration.


Title: The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo 
Author: Jared C. Wilson
Publisher: Crossway (2015)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new deals for you:

And today’s the last day to get these ones from B&H:

That “Billy Graham” Rule

Appreciated this piece from Sharon Hodde Miller:

What I struggle with is how these rules can make certain people feel–especially single women, who are already a more vulnerable population in our churches. When applied too bluntly, the rules make single women feel like temptations or seductresses, rather than dignified sisters in Christ.

Will the multisite movement grow-up?

As someone with very serious concerns about the multisite approach—particularly in the mode of having a TV screen for your pastor—I am very glad to have read this:

When the multisite model (defined as one church in two or more locations) works, once-empty pews are filled with worshipers and an older church’s legacy lives on while a larger church expands its outreach. But when things go poorly, multisite churches can become another struggling American franchise, precariously built on the brand of a celebrity pastor—and one step away from collapsing like a house of cards.

Posture in Post-Christendom

Tim Brister:

Christendom is dead. For some, this is a time of lament. For others, it is a time of renewal and revival. I want to offer my reflections on the three different phases of Christianity and culture and the corresponding posture for Christian cultural engagement.

Pastors Who Don’t Delegate

Thom Rainer:

Failure to delegate will always limit a pastor. He will not be able to expand the ministry of the church because that ministry is limited to one person.

Often the pastor who does not delegate gets overwhelmed and essentially stops functioning. At other times, he may move toward workaholism until the inevitable burnout takes place.

Controversy or Complacency

Tim Challies:

But as I read 1 Timothy and hear Paul warn about these controversialists, I hear him sound a second warning as well. This is a warning about a second kind of person who sins very differently but no less seriously. If we have controversy on the one side of the equation, we have complacency on the other. This, too, is a sin and it, too, is very dangerous.

When I don’t know where I’m going with something…

stop-working

“I have no idea where I’m going with this,” I said.

I’d been working on an article—one of the many sitting in my “to-write” pile—and it wasn’t coming together. I had my thesis down (I think), but the rest of it wasn’t coming together. Emily, with her usual wisdom, simply responded, “Well, maybe you should stop working on it then.”

So I did.

I currently have somewhere around 25 different writing projects in various stages of development. Most of these are articles (though a couple are book proposals that I’m particularly excited about). Some will even turn into something. But a lot are just not coming together.

As you can imagine, this is incredibly frustrating. But it’s also part of the work of writing. And make no mistake, writing is work. There’s this notion out there of the inspired writer—the one who sits down to write and every word is breathtaking, a joy to read. And then when you actually start writing, you realize, this kind of stinks sometimes. Why? Because sometimes what you’re writing just doesn’t work.

I learned about this the hard way. When I was early in my writing career (not that I’m terribly far into it now, mind you), I would crank something out and be done with it. This was partly out of necessity, and partly because I didn’t really have people to bounce my work off of. And so when I look back on blog posts I wrote five or six years ago, ones I remember fondly, I cringe a little. Some actually do hold up, surprisingly, but most are pretty awful. Silly, sloppy, blech. They feel like novice writing because it is novice writing. There were posts that were really more or less about nothing at all, or had the start of a good idea that got lost along the way.

Bloggers fall into this trap pretty easily, of course. When we set our schedule, we expect ourselves to meet it (even if no one is reading). We do the daily blogging thing because it’s what someone we read does, but then run out of things to say, and so our blog dies. And while I’m a fan of daily blogging (otherwise I wouldn’t do it), it’s not for everyone. The schedule makes a terrible master and not everyone thrives under pressure.

And even if you do find pressure helpful, you’ve still got to deal with the fact that sometimes what you’re writing just isn’t going to come together the way you’d hoped. It’s not going to work. You’re going to have enough material to fill ten books, and none of it’s going to be useable.

If you’re an aspiring writer, you need to learn to be okay with this. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a screenplay, a kid’s book, a novel, a blog post, or a theology book, you’re going to hit a point where you don’t know where to go with it. And sometimes the best thing to do is stop. Maybe not forever, but just go on to something else.

Put down the pen.

Step away from the keyboard.

Write something else.

Clear your head.

And then get back to it. The draft will still be waiting for you. Cool?

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Both of Joe Thorn’s excellent books are on sale this week for $3.99:

Also on sale:

Jesus is on the wrong side of history

This is an older piece by Trevin Wax, but it’s well worth reading.

What if the baby isn’t healthy?

Micha Boyett:

My son Ace was born seven weeks ago. He is my third baby, a boy like his brothers. He has blue eyes and sandy brown hair that’s making way for blonde. He can already reach out and grab the toy that hangs over his head. He has rolled over twice (accidentally, I’m pretty sure).

Yet everything feels different. My pregnancy with him was different.

In December my husband and I received a prenatal diagnosis that shook us. Though we shared it with close friends and family, we didn’t tell anyone else.

Student in a School of Fools

R.C. Sproul Jr:

When I was a younger man I looked upon virtually every conversation as an opportunity for battle. As a college student I regularly called my dad after class and let him know of the great victories I imagined I had won. He, being wise, cautioned me—you can learn something from all of your professors. You’ll serve yourself better being a discerning student than a tilting Quixote. Trusting the teaching of my own father, I have sought to be just that, a discerning student.

The message of the Bible in a sentence

Dane Ortlund asked 26 pastors and scholars to give it a shot. This is what they came up with. Bonus points to Greg Beale for providing a paragraph while keeping it technically a sentence.

‘Apollo 13’: When Will We Be Going Back?

E. Stephen Burnett:

The film showcased Americans’ boredom with the space program … and today our disinterest in space exploration is even worse. Today the answers are the same: Not anytime soon, and likely no one alive today.

The film showcased Americans’ boredom with the space program — until astronauts’ lives were at risk — and today our disinterest in space exploration is even worse. As a Christian, this renews in me a groaning for lost opportunities but even more for a lost paradise.

I also ask what the film’s Lovell left unasked: If we’re refusing to go back, why is that?

The Fresh Prince theme as a blues song

YES!

HT: Aaron

We talk about hell so we can marvel at grace

hell-scare-straight

I’ll be honest, in the last while, I can’t remember the least time I read a book or blog post or heard a sermon that spent much time dealing with hell. Now, there are some good reasons for this, obviously. If you’re preaching and it’s not really relevant to the text you’re focused on, you probably don’t need to bring it up. If you’re writing on marriage, you may not need to deal with it (unless it’s to counter the “marriage and/or singleness is…” attitude).

But I suspect one reason we shy away from talking about hell is we don’t get why it matters to us as Christians. We easily imagine every mention of wrath or hell as being straight out of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (despite most of us never having read it). We hold it at an arm’s length because it’s too unpleasant to deal with. Because we don’t want to be scene as fear-mongering—trying to scare people straight.

But preaching about hell, writing about isn’t about scaring anyone straight (at least not ourselves). Not really. We should grieve, certainly, as we consider what awaits those who die apart from Christ, and we should warn them to flee from the wrath to come. But there are good reasons for believers to think about hell, too. And chief among those is to help us appreciate the grace we’ve been shown. Sam Storms puts it this way in To the One Who Conquers:

Thinking about hell and the second death has immense practical benefits.…It is remarkable how tolerable otherwise intolerable things become when we see them in the light of the second death.… It puts mere earthly pain in perspective. It puts tribulation and poverty and slander and imprisonment and even death itself in their proper place. The collective discomfort of all such temporal experience is nothing in comparison with the eternal torment of the second death in the lake of fire.

The one who conquers, said Jesus, “will not be hurt by the second death.” Not even when Satan viciously accuses me of sins we all know I’ve committed? No, never, by no means ever will I be hurt by the second death. Not even when others remind me of how sinful I still am, falling short of the very standards I loudly preach and proclaim? No, never, by no means ever will I be hurt by the second death. Not even when my own soul screams in contempt at the depravity of my heart? No, never, by no means ever will I be hurt by the second death.

And that for one reason only: Jesus, in unfathomable mercy and grace, has suffered that hurt in my place. (73-74)

I will never be hurt by the second death. I never have to fear for the wrath to come. Why? Because “Jesus, in unfathomable mercy and grace, has suffered that hurt in my place.” Amen.

June’s top ten articles at Blogging Theologically

top-10

Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in June:

 

  1. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  2. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  3. 5 books every new Christian should read (May 2014)
  4. Six books every Christian should read on prayer (August 2014)
  5. How do we keep these things from happening? (June 2015)
  6. What should the church expect as same-sex marriage moves forward? (April 2015)
  7. Five phrases Christians should never use again (May 2015)
  8. Seven books to read on Christianity and homosexuality (August 2014)
  9. Long preaching isn’t always good preaching (May 2015)
  10. Five books Christian dads should read (June 2015)

And just for fun, here are five favorites written over the month:

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.