How healthy is our growth?

healthy-cancer

Any time I hear a pastor speak about church growth—whether in a book, a podcast, or a conference message—I want to cringe. Not because I’m against having a large number of people as part of a congregation, but because congregation size is so often used as a defense: What we’re doing must be working since people are showing up, so God must approve, right?

And yet.

The thing I wonder about among many of these apparently healthy churches—and perhaps it’s just me being me—is how healthy are they, really? And how would you know if the growth experienced is actually beneficial? Based on what I’ve read so far in The Prodigal Church, Jared Wilson shares this concern. He writes:

It is a customary mantra of ministry that healthy things grow. And yet sometimes healthy things shrink. This is certainly true of our bodies, when we’re eating right and exercising. I mean, the formula doesn’t always work in every circumstance. “Healthy things grow” sounds right. But cancer grows too. (40)

Now think about that for a second: healthy things grow—but you really need to qualify what you mean by healthy growth. Are the people attending growing in godliness, or are more people simply showing up? Are more people being invested in so their gifts can flourish, or do they have to look elsewhere in order to exercise their gifts? Are leaders growing more deeply in their love for the people they serve—or are they beginning to hate them?

This is the danger of the unqualified (and unhelpful) mantra of “healthy things grow.”

If having a large number of people show up every week is our primary goal, we will inevitably do whatever it takes to make it happen. And as more people show up, while we might enjoy the high of it, we’ll eventually grow bitter toward some—perhaps many—of them because they don’t give, serve, or contribute to the life of the body in any discernible way.

The thing we want risks becoming the thing we hate.

The body will be ravaged by cancer, and we’ll be hard-pressed to do anything about it.

So what’s the solution? Having people show up on a Sunday isn’t bad, obviously, and if people are legitimately meeting Christ, we should praise God for his use of crooked sticks such as us. But maybe the best place to start, perhaps, we sit among the congregation on Sunday morning or we serve them as our vocation, is to begin asking ourselves not “are we growing”, but “are we growing in the right way”? Is our growth helping us—or is it hindering us?

There isn’t an easy answer to the question—even if that difficulty is merely accepting the truth—but it is worth asking.

May’s top 10 articles at Blogging Theologically

top-10

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

  1. Five phrases Christians should never use again (May 2015)
  2. What should the church expect as same-sex marriage moves forward? (April 2015)
  3. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  4. Long preaching isn’t always good preaching (May 2015)
  5. The way we show love to abusive leaders (May 2015)
  6. Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011)
  7. Church Buildings: They’re actually useful! (December 2009)
  8. Six books every Christian should read on prayer (August 2014)
  9. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  10. What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (April 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.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to get these titles in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series for $5.99 each:

Also on sale is Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan for $2.60.

How Age of Ultron should have ended (part one)

And just for fun…

5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel

David W. Jones:

No matter what name is used, the essence of this message is the same. Simply put, this “prosperity gospel” teaches that God wants believers to be physically healthy, materially wealthy, and personally happy. Listen to the words of Robert Tilton, one of its best-known spokesmen: “I believe that it is the will of God for all to prosper because I see it in the Word, not because it has worked mightily for someone else. I do not put my eyes on men, but on God who gives me the power to get wealth.” Teachers of the prosperity gospel encourage their followers to pray for and even demand material flourishing from God.

Cochrans4Chicago Update

Glad to see this update on my friend Joey’s family and ministry (and that he’ll be staying in the Chicago area for a while).

What kind of men does God use?

Ray Ortlund:

The Bible says, “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).  This is a big part of the power of the gospel.

Horatius Bonar painted that picture with greater detail after observing the kind of “vessels” God clearly used with divine power.  Writing the preface to John Gillies’ Accounts of Revival, Bonar proposed that men useful to the Holy Spirit for revival stand out in nine ways.

No, I Won’t Bless the Food

Don Whitney:

Maybe it reflects the limits of my own experience, but it’s been my observation that nowadays fewer followers of Jesus pause like this at the beginning of a meal to give thanks for what they are about to eat.

This seems to be true for individuals and for families, at home and in public.

Why the decline? As with all Christian practices and disciplines, unless each successive generation is taught the reason for something, it soon devolves into mere a routine, then an empty tradition, and then disuse.

Six books I want to read this summer

summer reading

Summer vacation is already here for some of us, and nearly upon us for others. Although my reading has left me feeling a little unfulfilled of late, I’m still looking forward to what some time off with a good book or two will bring. Here’s a look at what I’m planning to read this year:

The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo by Jared C. Wilson

This is one I’ve been meaning to get to for a while now. I’ve read a few pages, though, and it’s delightful.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien

I’ve been reading the Lord of the Rings series for the last little while, so it’s going to be fun to finish it up.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore (trilogy box set)


Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke

I am a big fan of the Theologians on the Christian Life series from Crossway, and based on what I’ve seen so far, this volume looks pretty spectacular.

Buy it at: AmazonWestminster Bookstore


Onward by Russell Moore

Though this one has the least practical relevance to my life (since I live in Canada), it should be a thought-provoking read nonetheless.

Buy it at: Amazon (pre-order)


Preaching by Timothy Keller

The people we have the most to learn from about preaching (aside from those to whom we preach) are those who have done it for a long time. Given Keller’s decades of pastoral ministry experience, I’m really looking forward to learning from this one.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


The Batman Adventures, vol 2 by Puckett, Parobeck, and Burchett

For an entire generation, Kevin Conroy’s Batman from Batman: the Animated Series is the definitive Dark Knight. I finally introduced Abigail to this staple of the 90s, and she thinks it’s pretty rad. It’s also one of the few superhero comics I’ve been able to find that isn’t kind of porny or otherwise wildly inappropriate to share with my kids (but that is a story for another time…).

Buy it at: Amazon


That’s a quick look at what I’m trying to read. Some of it I’ll be done sooner than others, naturally, but I think it’s a reasonable goal. What’s on your reading list?

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a number of great resources for sale, including:

  • Moses and the Burning Bush Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)
  • John by R.C. Sproul (Hardcover)
  • After Darkness, Light: Distinctives of Reformed Theology—Essays in Honor of R.C. Sproul (Paperback)
  • The Spirit of Revival: Discovering the Wisdom of Jonathan Edwards (ePub)
  • In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel-Centered Life by Sinclair Ferguson (ePub)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

You Don’t Need a Good Reputation

Aaron Earls:

Is that really how you want to live your life—overly concerned with how others view you? Chasing after a good reputation places us at the whims of those around us. That’s never a good place to be.

Even if our desire is to have a godly reputation, we are still missing the point. Ultimately, what does it matter if everyone around you thinks you are an obedient follower of Christ, if underneath that’s not the case?

A Pastor’s response to the death of a childhood abuser

Mez McConnell:

I thought I might dance a little jig or even feel a sense of release and elation at news I longed dreamed about and ached for as a kid. This is a woman who drove me to such despair that I attempted to set her on fire in her (drunken) sleep when I was no more than 10 years old. But there is no jig. There is just a heaviness of heart and the nagging itch of my suffering and her evil never admitted in this life. The problem is that I want to feel joy at her passing. I want to rejoice in the belief that she will face the judge of all the earth for her crimes against me. I want to revel in the thought that she is having her own spiritual Nuremburg moment right now. That father time has caught up with her and her sins are about to be found out and brought into that terrible, perfect light. That the angels in glory will see just what a monster she truly was.

I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me

This was interesting, and kind of terrifying (note: language warning—there is a bit of cussing in this article).

Four Reasons Why Pastors Should Quit

Mark Dance:

In light of the famously exaggerated statistics about pastoral attrition, you may be wondering why LifeWay’s pastor advocate would hope for even more to quit. We are all painfully aware that there are people in the ministry who never belonged there in the first place. While I prefer encouraging pastors to fulfill their call and finish strong, I am also a pastoral pragmatist who desires to speak the truth in love to those who are miserable in ministry, as are those around them.

I want to suggest four check-points to consider before quitting or continuing in ministry.

They Believe God Is The Only One Who Wants Them

Jared Wilson:

Hersh said that a Christian church service in the village might have been one of the most vibrant experiences of worship she’d witnessed. There was so much joy, so much emotion, so much confession, so much exaltation of and desire for God. They were excited, expectant, enthusiastic, enthralled. “Is it always like this?” she asked a local.

“Yes,” came the reply. “They believe that God is the only one that wants them. And so they want him.”

You know they’re not in conflict, right?

large_3981364314

It’s probably safe to assume that any time the “religion vs. Jesus” thing comes up, I’m going to wind up annoyed. Some Christian gobbledygook of this persuasion popped up in my Twitter feed the last night, this time on how to use the Bible—find out what it says and follow that, or find out how it points to Jesus and follow him.

Now, before I go any further, I agree with the whole “do vs. done” element of the general argument. And I also firmly believe you should absolutely read the Bible with an eye to how it points to Jesus because he is the one we not merely follow, but worship as God. If you don’t read your Bible this way, you’re not reading it as a Christian (he says, preaching to the choir).

But this whole “follow the Bible” vs “follow Jesus” thing… Can we just not, please?

Let’s be honest, this sort of either/or—either follow what the Bible says or follow Jesus—isn’t really all that helpful. It’s actually kind of dumb. Let’s not forget:

Jesus followed commands in the Bible. Jesus was a devout Jew. Devout Jews kept the Law. Jesus kept the Law perfectly, as no one else did or could.

Jesus gives us commands. It’s true. “Follow me”, and “abide in me” are commands. Not only that, he tells us to pray (and even says “like this”), to love others, to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s… He even says “if you love me, you will obey me.” Those don’t sound like suggestions, do they?

The commands Jesus gives us are in the Bible. At least, that’s where they were the last time I checked. (Yep, still there.)

We are expected to do what we’re told in the Bible. When we read that we are to “love your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself”, it’s not a suggestion. It’s an imperative, which means we are to do it. Repent and believe? Yep, that’s another one we are expected to do. Make disciples? That one too. Submit to one another out of love for Christ? Ditto. Have nothing to do with false gods? You know it. These are things we are to do, as obeying the commands of God1 is evidence of our love for Christ.

Pitting Jesus against the Bible comes across like a kid trying to pit mom and dad against one another. The only one it’s going to go badly for is the kid.

So, yeah.

If we could never do that again, that would be super.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Sexual Abuse Among Us

Christopher Pierre:

The media have responded with continued attempts to dig up and display the shameful details of Joshua Duggar’s past and repented sin. This has been accompanied by an analysis of how appropriately his parents, his church, and law enforcement did or did not respond. As both a prosecuting attorney and a pastor, I am particularly intrigued and concerned by these unfolding events.

But how should the church respond? How should we deal with similar situations of abuse and wickedness in our midst?

The Fields Are White

Don Whitney encourages us from John 4:35:

It’s important to realize that He said this in Samaria—a place where Jews (like Jesus and His disciples) weren’t welcome and where Jesus had seen only one convert, and that one just a few minutes earlier

In other words, the twelve apostles did not consider Samaria a place where there had been, or likely ever would be, many conversions.

The Courage To Tell My Story

Mike Leake:

Mr. President, you tweeted yesterday that it takes courage to share your story. This has inspired me to tell my story…or at least a portion of it.

The Most Courageous People In The LGBT Movement

Stephen Altrogge:

But I am increasingly convinced that the most courageous people in the LGBT movement are those men and women who have come to the conclusion that they are gay, have publicly told their friends and families that they are gay, and yet for the sake of Christ, have chosen to remain celibate for the rest of their lives. To make such a choice requires incredible, God-given, Holy Spirit-inspired courage.

Raising voices

Mike Cosper:

Eugene Peterson once said the primary goal of pastoring was to teach people to pray. I agree, but I might amend his words slightly: to learn to pray, we must learn to sing.

This shouldn’t take any serious student of the Bible by surprise. Music shows up early in the Book of Genesis, and the people of God are seen singing throughout both Testaments, in ordinary places and odd ones: on their way to battle, while chained up in prison, and at the end of the world. I confess, I cringe a little when I hear the Psalms described as the great “prayer book” of the Bible. It’s not that this statement is untrue – the Psalms are certainly prayers – but it is incomplete; the Psalms are first and foremost songs.

Lost in Transmission

lost-transmission

After writing online daily for six years, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: slander sells.

If you want to get people’s attention, you’ve got to be willing to go for the click bait… or at least, that’s what I keep seeing other people do. Honestly, when controversies come about, the last thing I want to do is write (or read for that matter) is 14 articles on why so-and-so is a gospel-denying liberal who probably voted for Obama and would gladly do so again, or whatever it is that people are doing this week.

Although my example is a bit ridiculous (though, sadly, not by much), I’ve seen the approach doesn’t actually help with encouraging discussion and offering correction. Instead, it causes people—particularly offenders and defenders—to dig their heels in and double-down. Even if the people who are angrily blogging are right about whatever they’re writing about, the vitriol with which they write obscures their point.

This is something I appreciated about Nicholas Perrin’s tact in Lost in Transmission. This relatively short book was released a number of years ago to address the criticisms of Bart Erhman, he of Misquoting Jesus fame (so it might be strange to see something close to resembling a review of it at this stage).

The challenge for Christians

Perrin has two goals in this book: the first is to challenge Christians to not be frightened of challenges to their faith. For, “when people succumb to that temptation of ignoring challenges to their faith, they are in the end demonstrating that they are more committed to the feeling of having a lock on truth than they are to truth itself” (XXI).

This is something that too many of us, I suspect, would affirm yet practically deny. How quickly do we get our back up when someone challenges our position on a particular issue, regardless of significance? Are we able to engage thoughtfully with critique or do we immediately get our rage on?

There isn’t an easy answer to this question, at least not for me. I know there have been far too many times when I’ve behaved like an arrogant so-and-so because I thought I was right (and sometimes I even was). But my “rightness” was really just being unwilling to be challenged. And this simply will not do: if we’re serious about the truth, then we need to be serious about the truth. If we’re unwilling to be challenged, how do we expect to grow in our faith?

The unknowable Jesus

Second, Perrin wants to demonstrate why we need not fear—and he does this by illustrating the insufficiency of the challenges put forward by Erhman. But he doesn’t do this with mockery, but civil engagement. It is clear he’s read Erhman carefully, for he understands the heart of the matter. As a scholar, Erhman long ago succumbed to the “deeply ingrained pressure toward historical agnosticism (we can’t know what Jesus really said)” (60). This, in turn fuels religious agnosticism—that if we can’t know what Jesus said, we can’t know if what he said was true and therefore we can’t know who he really is.

If we can know what Jesus said, that puts us in a position whereby we must decide on Jesus. Either he was who he and his followers claimed him to be, or he was not. But if we cannot get back to Jesus because his words and very identity have been all but lost in transmission, then this keeps alive a corresponding agnosticism when it comes to weighing Jesus’ claims against other counteroffers. (60-61)

Now, even in his many errors, Erhman has long been a defender against those who would try to argue that we cannot know if Jesus even existed at all (something many of his critics have even given him praise for). Erhman’s issue is not Jesus’ existence, but whether we can know much, if anything, about him.

The transmuted Jesus

Thus, he offers the gnostic writings in all their peculiar glory as alternative “Christianities” that didn’t gain prominence simply because the sects promoting what we now consider orthodoxy won the fight. But, as Perrin writes, “it was not the Christians who were sitting in the second-century equivalent of smoke-filled rooms, cutting deals as to what constituted right belief and what should be in the canon” (160).

Power belonged to the Romans, not to the Christians. But the Gnostics had nothing to fear from Rome:

The Gnostics wanted to have Jesus, but at the very point at which identifying with Jesus’ mission became politically or socially awkward, the Gnostics had a way of transmuting Jesus into their own ideal of a starry-eyed mystic or Greek philosopher. (161)

It’s easier to turn Jesus into something other than Jesus than to follow Jesus when it’s not advantageous. This is what we’re seeing in our own day as people lament the decline of Christianity in the West. But that’s not what’s happening: people who didn’t believe anyway are now just admitting they don’t believe. There’s no social benefit to professing to be Christian (at least culturally), so it’s better to not do it at all.

Engaging with respect and what this book still has to teach us

As I said before, this is a relatively old book—and, honestly, I’d recommend The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Köstenberger and Kruger ahead of this if you’re looking for an evangelical critique of Erhman. But it’s it’s still one worth reading. Why? Because although it is not as thorough a refutation as some might like, in reading it, you get to learn how to approach controversial or destructive teaching with respectful engagement.

This is something I’ve tried to do for the majority of my time as a blogger (although I know there are times when I’ve failed in it). Nevertheless, it is the approach I prefer to take when possible.

Probably the most difficult aspect of this is the fact that this sort of engagement requires actually reading opposing viewpoints carefully and fairly. If anything, this is probably the most difficult thing to do. It’s easy to pick up a book by someone like Rachel Held Evans1 and have pretty good sense of what it’s going to be about going in. It’s quite another to go in knowing we’re likely going to disagree with it, and still do our best to give it a fair reading.

That’s what I want to see when I engage with the ideas of others. It’s what I want to see when any Christian seriously engages with anyone’s thoughts. Ad hominem attacks, mockery, and potentially jumping to conclusions… those are easy, and lazy, and really have no place in the Christian life. But to engage with someone else’s thoughts, and to actually try to understand where they’re coming from and be able to articulate it well enough that my “opponent” could say, “Yes, that’s what I believe”—to contend without being contentious—is much more difficult. It takes a great deal more patience, which, in all honesty is the most difficult part for me (again, primarily because it is so much easier to not). But I think it’s worth it. While there might be better rebuttals of Erhman on the market (and there are), there are few that provide as helpful an example of respectful engagement and disagreement.


Title: Lost in Transmission? What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus
Author: Nicholas Perrin
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2009)

Buy it at: Amazon

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

For God so loved Caitlyn Jenner

Marty Duren:

We do not have to understand the situation to love those in it. We do not have to understand why some have gender reassignment surgery to love those who have had it. We do not have approve of abortion to love the woman who had one or love her boyfriend who, under threat of abandonment, coerced the woman into having the procedure. We do not have to approve of greed to love the businessman who made a fortune lying to customers. We do not have to approve of pride to love each other when set ourselves above the rest.

The love of Jesus prohibits me from treating Caitlyn Jenner like the two-headed goat at the Ripley’s Museum.

This piece from Alex Duke at TGC is also worth reading.

Smartphones, Tablets, and Christian Parenting

Russell Moore:

Sadly, though, we see a culture, even among Christians all too often, that is willing to give a child a serpent, as long as he really wants it. After all, all his friends have access to venomous reptiles and we don’t want him to feel different. Plus, we think he’s trustworthy as a snake-charmer.

Brothers and sisters and friends, this is madness.

Creepy Ads Use Litterbugs’ DNA to Shame Them Publicly

This is intriguing and kind of terrifying.

The Duggars and the Evil Outside

Trevin Wax:

…I’d like to point out a problematic, but fairly common assumption in many corners of evangelicalism — an assumption that needs to be challenged. It’s the idea that sin is something out there that we need to watch out for. The reality, however, is that sin is not primarily something we need to be sheltered from, but delivered from.

Disappointment is an Opportunity to Be Reminded

Michael Kelley:

Have you been disappointed by something yet today?

If not, just wait. It’s coming. Because it happens most everyday. We make our plans, with the best of intentions, and then things don’t wind up going the way we think they should. Granted, some of these disappointments are bigger than others, but imagine with me for a second that the disappointment you face today is something big. Maybe it’s a project you have put your heart and sweat into that is not yielding the results you wanted. Maybe you poured your soul into a Bible study or a sermon and only were met with blank stares. Maybe you bent over backward to create a special experience for your spouse or child and they were only mildly enthusiastic. And you find yourself disappointed.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

My friend Barnabas’ new book is available for pre-order now at Amazon. You can get Help My Unbelief for $7.99 now. This is one I’m looking forward to checking out. Also on sale:

The free book of the month from Logos is Esther by Anthony Tomasino from the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series. Christian Audio’s free audiobook is Being a Dad Who Leads by John MacArthur.

Who Are Leaders Accountable To?

Matt Perman:

The necessity of leaders being accountable to those that they lead follows from the fact that all people are in the image of God and equal. Because all people are equal, no person can lord it over another. Which is the same as saying, anyone in a position of leadership is accountable to those that they lead. Nothing else reflects that equality.

You Can Almost Always Trace Legalism Back To This

Stephen Altrogge:

Because life is complicated, there are times when I want someone to spell things out for me. Just tell me what to do. Tell me how God wants me to teach my children. Tell me how I’m supposed to eat. Tell me whether or not it’s okay to watch “Mad Men”. Tell me if I’m supposed to give exactly 10% to my church. Just make it black and white for me.

The problem with this approach is that it almost always creates legalism.

The State of Evangelicalism in Canada

If you were ever wondering how to pray for Christians in Canada, this might help.

Ordinary Christian Work

Tim Challies:

Yet that old tradition is never far off, and if we do not constantly return to God’s Word and allow it to correct us, we will soon drift back. It is encouraging that today we find many Christian pastors and authors exploring what it means to be ordinary Christians doing ordinary work as part of their ordinary lives. It is encouraging to see these leaders affirming the worth of all vocations. The questions every Christian faces at one time or another are these: Are Christian plumbers, cooks, doctors, and businessmen lesser Christians because they are not in “full-time” ministry? And what of Christian mothers and homemakers? Can they honor God even through very ordinary lives? Can we honor God through ordinary lives without tacitly promoting a dangerous kind of spiritual complacency? What does it mean to avoid being conformed to this world and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2) in this area of vocation?

Brothers, We Are Not Managers

Andrew Wilson:

I suspect we autocorrect eldership to leadership for two reasons. First, especially in larger churches, we think of ourselves in organizational terms, as a firm rather than a family, let alone a flock. So we look for vision-casters and managers instead of fathers and shepherds. Second, most of us don’t understand what elders are or what they are supposed to do. Are they like tribal chieftains? Advisers? Beard-stroking sages?

“Who am I to judge?”

judgmental

Some time ago there was a young guy who was hanging out with my neighbor at the time who was a professing Christian. Really nice, sweet guy—the give you the shirt off his back type. One morning I drove him over to the Tim Horton’s on the corner (because, Canada), and we somehow got on the topic of same-sex relationships. He had a very live-and-let live attitude about the whole thing, not because he had a conviction that such things are or are not acceptable, but because he hadn’t given it much thought. And since he didn’t want to be seen as being judgmental, he simply said, “Who am I to judge?”

Everybody judges

It sounds very noble to say something like this, but it’s actually kind of silly. Why? Because everybody judges.

All the time.

We can’t help it. We judge people about everything. People who love Starbucks are either coffee snobs who enjoy being robbed every morning, or they have discerning tastes and don’t like coffee that tastes like an ashtray. Apple users are either with it and hip, or they’re desperately trying to be. Star Trek fans are… okay, there’s no winning on that one. But the same goes for Star Wars fans, too. So let’s not kid ourselves: everybody judges.

(And you might have just judged me for writing that just now.)

Judge whom?

The real question is not who am I to judge, who am I to judge: Ourselves? Non-Christians? Fellow Christians?

On judging non-Christians. I do my best to avoid blanket condemnation of non-Christians. Why? Two reasons: first, we are told not to by Paul. “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? …God judges those outside” (1 Cor. 5:12-13). Second, because of the example of Jesus. Though we are told that “someday” on the final day of judgment, believers will participate in Christ’s judgment of the world—and even the angels (1 Cor. 6:2-3)—Jesus reminds us that in his first coming, he did not come to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). During his earthly life, he was a friend of sinners, after all. Thus, we should be wise to do likewise. This does not mean participating in sinful behavior, nor approving of it; however, pursuing genuine relationships with non-Christians means we should not be condemning of them as people, even when we take opportunities to challenge behaviors. An “I think I’m better than you” attitude has no place in the Christian life, as I think we can all agree.

On judging Christians. Among Christians, the practice of judgment changes. We are not told to withhold judgment. In fact, we are told quite clearly that we are to judge among ourselves, and to “purge the evil person from among [us]” (1 Cor. 5:12-13). Therefore, we are to judge with right judgment and not according to appearances (John 7:24)—a good lesson for us all whenever we see blog posts and articles bringing to light issues with well-known pastors and churches.1 We are wise to use Matthew 18’s process for dealing with personal sin—that is, deal with personally and fairly, with unbiased witnesses being included where required. But we are also reminded that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Some of our sins don’t require confrontation or even a conversation. These we can let go; but only we can judge what those are for ourselves.

On judging ourselves. Where we see Scripture’s strongest commands about judgment relate to judging ourselves. As a general rule, we are to deal with our own sins before those of others (Matthew 7:1-5). We should never be so presumptuous to think we’ve got all our junk together or that our sin is somehow less serious than the sin of another. We never hold anyone to a higher standard than we would ourselves (7:2). If we don’t deal with ourselves first—and if we don’t hold ourselves to the same standards we hold others—we should not be surprised that Jesus would call us hypocrites.

We all fall down

When it comes to judgment, we all fall down. Sometimes we’re too harsh on non-Christians. Others, we give Christians a pass when it’s not appropriate. Most commonly, and though we would never say it, we act as though we’ve already achieved perfect sanctification, and sin is no longer an issue for us (but everyone else, oh my stars…). But this doesn’t mean we should give up. Instead, we should learn how to judge rightly, which begins with self-evaluation.

Some questions we should always try to consider:

  1. What is it about the situation that I find offensive? Trying to pinpoint the exact issue and why it is offensive to us is helpful in keeping us focused on the specifics and avoid generalities.
  2. Is this incident a one-time event or the latest in an ongoing pattern of behavior? The answer to this question may completely change our response to what we’ve experienced. The offense of one who is not characterized by being harsh with his words should probably be different than that toward the one who is known for being domineering and hostile.
  3. Is my reaction in line with the nature of the offence? There are some things we should be angered by, but sometimes our reaction doesn’t match the incident. We should be careful to consider why this is so.
  4. How can I best address the offence in a way that honors Jesus? Sometimes this will mean taking drastic action (such as calling the police in the case of sexual abuse or any other illegal activity); other times, it may mean dropping it entirely and seeking to live at peace with those around us.

Certainly, these questions are not exhaustive, but they are a good starting point. Christians are not free to abstain from judgment. If we are seeking to be faithful to Christ, it is important for us to judge with right judgment in as much as we are able and with the Spirit’s help. Lord willing, we will be up to the task.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s put the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series on sale for $5.99 each:

Also on sale:

Myers-Briggs is bunk, but I don’t care

The obvious criticism of this test is that it’s based on dichotomies. Are you perceiving or judging? Introverted or extroverted? You must choose. This reeks of pseudo-science. Of course, most of us don’t fall clearly on one side or the other. When the specific introvert vs. extrovert duality was a hot topic a few years ago, many writers persuasively argued against reducing socialization patterns to a simplistic either/or. Indeed, reams of psychological literature debunks MBTI as wildly inconsistent—many people will test differently within weeks—and over reliant on polarities. For instance, someone can certainly be both deeply thinking and feeling, and we all know folks who appear to be neither. “In social science, we use four standards: are the categories reliable, valid, independent, and comprehensive? For the MBTI, the evidence says not very, no, no, and not really,” organizational psychologist Adam Grant wrote in Psychology Today after reviewing all the science on MBTI. It’s pretty damning.

How Much of My Sinful Past Should I Tell My Children?

John Piper offers a solid answer to this question.

Five dangers of skipping church

Nathan Rose:

I read recently that my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has a total of 16 million members, but on a typical Sunday only 6 million of those members attend their local church’s corporate worship gathering. Considering the importance and necessity of corporate worship for the Christian, this is a very discouraging statistic. Not only is it disheartening, it is also spiritually dangerous for those who profess Christ, but regularly miss worship with their church family. Below, I want to list some reasons and explain why skipping church is a really bad idea.

How Whitefield walked through controversy

Ray Ortlund shares some insights from Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Whitefield.

Five Ways to Go Wrong with Church Discipline

C. Michael Patton:

There is hardly a practice in the local church that is misused more than “church discipline.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have many answers and its misuse is understandable. I think there are three primary ways that we can find it misuse: 1) It is never used at all, 2) it is misused in an unbiblical way, and 3) people are brought in for discipline for “sins” that don’t require its use.

The Search for Twitter Significance

Joey Cochran:

I want you to know that at some point during my last half-decade enjoying Twitter I have been each of these people or all of these people. I’m poking fun at me as much as the next guy or gal. And if you follow me on Twitter, you know just how true that is. You could stick my face right next to each one of these observations. But I want you to ask yourself, where could I stick my face? Does your Twitter Icon belong under any of these habits?

Joyful news leads to joyful people

joyful news

A couple of years ago, I went through a pretty bad spot emotionally. I was miserable pretty much all the time (there were many reasons for this). This wasn’t so much a depression thing as much as a frustration one, though. Lots of stress and concern about things both in and out of my control were taking their toll. The day it clicked for me was when we were sitting at the table, and my daughter, Abigail, commented that I don’t smile.

Now, strictly speaking, this wasn’t true. But she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen me smile. Her default understanding was “daddy = grumpy.”

(Isn’t it interesting how God so often uses our children to point out what we’ve been ignoring?)

I was like the monks Spurgeon spoke of in Lectures to My Students, “who salute each other in sepulchral tones, and convey the pleasant information, ‘Brother we must die'; to which lively salutation each lively brother of the order replies, ‘Yes, brother we must die'” (197).

This, again, wasn’t an unfamiliar sort of disposition for me. I spent most of my teen years being proto-emo minus the swoopy hair (except for that unfortunate year…). My favorite bands were all rather pretentious, dark and angsty. I was not a cheerful person.

I was reminded of this once again when listening to the audio edition of Lectures to My Students. There, Spurgeon commends ministers to be cheerful people. Not, an an empty sort of “levity and frothiness, but a genial, happy spirit. There are more flies caught with honey than with vinegar, and there will be more souls led to heaven by a man who wears heaven on his face than by one who bears Tartarus in his looks” (198).

Spurgeon is right in commending us to cultivate a happy disposition. Not some false air, but a genuinely joyful spirit.1 No one wants to be around the person who is constantly looking for the grey cloud in the silver lining (or is pointing out to you why gluten is terrible and going to give you cancer while also causing climate change).2 No one really likes being around the person who constantly turns your smiles into frowns.

But good news does not beget grumpiness, and good news people should not be known for their grumpiness. While they might have seasons where they experience it, they should not be characterized by it. People who have been saved by Jesus and commissioned by him to tell that good news should pursue cheerfulness—or if you prefer, joy. Because joyful news leads to joyful people. And joyful people in a bad news world are hard to come by.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to get severn of the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series for $2.99 each:

Also on sale is Know Your Bible From A to Z by Jim George ($2.39).

Google And Levi’s Are Teaming Up To Make Computerized Pants

And the “just why?” award goes to…

But today, we got some true futurism: computerized pants.

This morning, Google announced that it is teaming up with Levi’s to make jeans with conductive fabric — which could eventually allow wearers to use their legs as touchscreens — swiping their thigh, say, to accept a phone call.

My Father Killed My Mother

Joel Lindsey:

When I was 6 years old, my father murdered my mother.… He was convicted of murder in 1981 and sentenced to die in Georgia’s electric chair. His appeal reduced his sentence to life in prison.

In the aftermath, my sisters and I were adopted by my maternal grandparents, and in the face of that great tragedy, we did what any family would do—we circled the wagons, we bonded over our grief. A significant portion of that bonding came through our shared hatred of not just the evil things my dad did, but of my dad himself. So I grew up hating him, and 23 years without contact only increased the distance, fear, and disdain that defined our “relationship.”

Your Paper Brain and Your Kindle Brain

T.J. Raphael:

Linear reading and digital distractions have caught the attention of academics like Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University.

“I don’t worry that we’ll become dumb because of the Internet,” Wolf says, “but I worry we will not use our most preciously acquired deep reading processes because we’re just given too much stimulation. That’s, I think, the nub of the problem.”

Not A Single One Will Fail

Stephen Altrogge:

You may not see all his words fulfilled in your lifetime. You may not see God fulfill his promises to your children in your lifetime. I pray for God to save and bless all my children, grandchildren and every descendant of mine long after I’m gone, until the day Jesus returns.

When Your Heart Isn’t In It

Joe Thorn:

Do you really think that avoiding worship will be the means by which your heart will changed, prepared to engage in worship? Can disconnecting from the means of grace somehow bring about a revival of the heart? No! The means of grace are for those who need them; for those who are not feeling as they ought, to change the heart, realign the will, and draw men and women to Jesus Christ.