Among the things that could be said to be rocking the American church in 2016 are writers and teachers who have claimed a Christian mantle to teach decidedly unchristian things. Jen Pollock Michel writes for Christianity Today about Glennon Doyle Melton’s recent announcement that she was dating another woman.
Melton is as modern as she boasts—even if her effusive references to “love” and “joy” are reassuringly offered to confirm that her choices are in everyone’s best interest. From the public announcements both of her divorce and her new dating relationship, she wants us to understand this: The greatest gift any of us gives to the world is our true self. Let’s not look to anyone else for permission or feel any obligation for explanation. Humans flourish as they obey their desires.
She goes on to contrast this with the marvelous story Augustine tells of his conversion, but I want to jot down a thought on this idea of being our true selves.
“Humans flourish as they obey their desires.” No one really believes this. They only believe it for themselves, that they will flourish if they are allowed to do their own thing. Follow your dream, kid; just don’t let your dream interfere with mine.
Politicians live high on public money by obeying their desires. Thieves follow UPS trucks to pick up their deliveries before the owners do. Rioters destroy their neighbors’ businesses. Poachers kill off animal life. This is the flourishing we can expect when humans obey their desires.
It is Christians, after all, who (almost alone in our present age) recognize that “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Our confessions declare that we are not good people but evil people, saved not by our golden deeds and noble aspirations, but by the work of Someone Else.
Human beings will only flourish when they recognize themselves as servants and stewards on the vast estate of the Governor of the Universe. Our kindness, love, hope, and courage are defined by him, not our own desires, so yes, humanism can do a lot of good when it runs parallel to the goodness Christ has taught us, but that’s the only time.
We weren’t made for self-fulfillment. We were made to be filled by Christ.
I read Adira’s testimony with lightning running down my back. At my alma mater, a college I warmly remember, God is at work. Through diverse means, including the heroic efforts of Rob Gregory and the McKeen Study Center, he’s moving. I can scarcely say how encouraging this is. We sometimes approach secular schools as if they are fortresses, but they are not. They are filled with people–flesh-and-blood people made in God’s image. The university is filled with humanity, teeming with purpose, loaded with promise. No person on campus is without worth. No resident is without value. And it must be said: no one is beyond the reach of God.
This is how Kevin Frye begins his frank story of the first year or two of his marriage on a new website focused on helping and connecting Christians who resist the pull into same-sex attraction. The founders of Your Other Brothers say:
Beyond our fellow same-sex attracted believers, we also share our stories for our heterosexual brothers and sisters. We are here to say that this “issue” of homosexuality exists as people here in your midst, and like anyone else in your pews, we are yearning to be heard, known, and loved.
We never chose our sexuality, but we aren’t content to pursue it either. We are locking arms with each other in the belief that our Father has something better intended for His children.
Frye’s story is a hopeful one, but not one that spells out how all of the pain is behind him. It’s the kind of raw testimony I hope every church family has provided a place for, stories of current addiction, recent failure, and dimming hope for recovery. In present-day America, this feels radical, but our society has been sex-crazed for years now. We can’t wish away ugly subjects like pervasive racism, the idolatry of wealth, and homosexuality. We must face them in the beautiful light of the gospel.
I have often chafed at appeals to 2 Chronicles 7:14 for American health, but I have wanted to believe them too.
The context is Solomon’s dedication of the temple. The Lord comes to him at night, saying, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).
Many Evangelical voices tell us that if we, the church, will humble ourselves and pray, then our Lord will heal, bless, rebuke, correct the American people, but as Dr. Moore explains, interpretation like that is corrupt.
When God said to [the original readers], “If my people who are called by name,” he was specifically pointing them back to the covenant that he made with their forefather Abraham. At a specific point in their history, God had told Abraham about his descendants, saying “I will be their God” and “They will be my people.” That’s what “My people” means. God reminded a people who had been exiled, enslaved, and defeated that a rebuilt temple or a displaced nation cannot change who they were. They were God’s people, and would see the future God has for them.
We can’t blur the line on who God is talking about here and attempt to claim divine blessing that isn’t offered. The straightest line to draw from this verse to us will not lead to America, but to Christ.
Faith is a root from which may grow all that can adorn the human character. So far from being opposed to good works, it is the ever-flowing fountain from where they proceed. Take faith away from the professed Christian and you have cut the sinew of his strength. Like Samson, you have shorn him of his locks and left him with no power either to defend himself or to conquer his foes. “The just shall live by faith”—FAITH is essential to the vitality of Christianity and anything which weakens that faith weakens the very mainspring of spiritual power!
Brothers and Sisters, not only does our own experience teach us this, and the Word of God declare it, but the whole of human history goes to show the same Truth of God. Faith is force! Why, even when men have been mistaken, if they have believed the mistake, they have displayed more power than men who have known the truth, but have not heartily believed it. The force that a man has in dealing with his fellow men lies very much in the force of conviction which his beliefs have over his own soul. Teach a man the Truth of God so that his whole heart believes in it and you have given him both the fulcrum and the lever with which he may move the world.
To this very moment the whole earth is tremulous like a mass of jelly beneath the tread of Luther, and why? Because he was strong in faith! Luther was a believer in the Word of God and the schoolmen with whom he had to contend were mere disputers. The priests, cardinals and popes with whom Luther came into contact were mere traders in dead traditions! Therefore he smote them hip and thigh, with great slaughter. His whole manhood believed in what he had learned of God—and as an iron rod among potters’ vessels, so was he among the pretenders of his age! What has been true in history all along is most certainly true now. It is by believing that we become strong—that is clear enough.
Whatever supposed excellencies there may be in the much vaunted receptive condition of the mind, the equilibrium of a cultured intellect and the unsettled judgment of “honest” disbelief, I am unable to discern them. And I see no reference to them in Scripture. Holy Writ neither offers commendations of unbelief, nor presents motives nor reasons for its cultivation. Experience does not prove it to be strength in life’s battle, or wisdom for life’s labyrinth. It is near akin to credulity and, unlike true faith, it is prone to be led by the nose by any falsehood.
“In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.”
What is the origin of the anchor as a Christian symbol, and why do we no longer use it? Apparently, it relied on a play on Greek words, so as Greek lost its hold as a language among Christians, so did the symbol.
I’m sure Frank Thomas could makes many good points on how “African American preaching, in all of its beauty, depth and history, can once again change the perspective of this nation,” but I fear we may have fundamental disagreements–particularly how it isn’t the style but the Word of God itself that transforms. Still, I don’t doubt that if the Lord would lift up many Black pastors to proclaim the gospel to our nation, we would be renewed.
Perhaps, this message from Pastor H.B. Charles Jr. would be a good example of the style Thomas is talking about.
Pastor Andy Stanley has been making headlines by questioning what he calls “The Bible says” preaching. He says we live in a post-Christian world, and many people have already dismissed the Bible’s authority. How can we reach the lost, he asks, with sermons that appeal to the authority of Scripture if our audience doesn’t already trust that authority?
You’d be shocked by how many students and adults in your church view the Bible as a spiritual book that says true things to live by as opposed to an inspired collection of documents documenting events that actually happened. This is why I will continue to insist the foundation of our faith is not an inspired book but the events that inspired the book; events that inspired writers, born along by the Holy Spirit, to document conversations, insights and events—the pivotal event being the resurrection. While it’s true we would not know these events occurred had they not been documented, two other things are equally true. First, they were documented years before there was a Bible (i.e., New Testament bound together with the Jewish Scriptures). Second, it is the events, not the record of the events that birthed the “church.” The Bible did not create Christianity. Christianity is the reason the Bible was created. The reason many Christians struggle with statements like these is they grew up on “The Bible says” preaching. And that’s fine as long as one first believes the Bible is inspired.
Stanley compares this faith in the Bible’s inspiration to Muslims’ faith in the Quran. If you don’t already believe the Quran speaks to your life, why should anyone appeal to it as an authority?
There is zero room here for the actual reality of the Bible as God’s living Word. There is zero room here for the supernatural reality that the Bible carries a weight with lost people they don’t often expect it to! But this inadvertent nod to materialism and pragmatism is certainly expected from those with a proven track record of treating the Bible like an instruction manual rather than as the record of the very breath of God.
If preachers are trying to Christianize people into acting like Christians because the Bible says they should, then yeah, they will have problems motivating people to do what they want. But Christianizing people isn’t the gospel. We can’t justify recommendations found in Scripture based on unbiblical worldviews in an effort to make non-believers look like believers. What we can do is tell them about Jesus, to talk about life in the light of Christ, and to marvel at the Son of God in their presence. What we want to do is demonstrate our preeminent love for the Father by how we love our neighbor, all the while speaking of the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).
How is anyone going to believe the Bible if we do not preach the Bible?
John Mark Reynolds reviews Disney’s new movie, Queen of Katwe, which has many great things going for it, except that the “based on a true story” part can’t find a way to articulate the Christian motives of its characters.
Anybody want to bet whether a Ugandan evangelical ministry ever talks about Jesus? Why is this offensive? . . . Disney shows that it can get Uganda sort-of-right, but Uganda’s pervasive Christianity must be minimized. We should ask: “Why?”
Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research surveyed three thousand Americans on their theological beliefs. The results show a great need for godly churches to reach their communities with the gospel.
Many self-professing evangelicals reject foundational evangelical beliefs. The survey results reveal that the biblical worldview of professing evangelicals is fragmenting. Though American evangelicalism arose in the twentieth century around strongly held theological convictions, many of today’s self-identified evangelicals no longer hold those beliefs.
You can browse the findings yourself on their website.
The same percentage of respondents (62 percent) agree or somewhat agree with the statement, “By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven,” as well as “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.” Slightly more of them (64) would say “everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature,” but 73 percent disagree or somewhat disagree that “even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.”
That conviction is fundamentally a conviction about the character of God. If he is perfectly holy and just, he cannot let sin go unpunished. But God is no longer holy—in the minds of six out of ten Americans.
“It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic, and what not,” Lewis wrote. “But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.”
Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center shares some good thoughts from C. S. Lewis about Christians in the political world, but I think I may have strong disagreements.
Certainly, to create a specifically Christian political party could cause problems, because while the Bible has many applications to civil society, it does not give us a platform for twenty-first century governing. Wehner says Lewis “believed that theocracy was the worst form of government and detested the idea of a ‘Christian party,’ which risked blaspheming the name of Christ.”
I can see that danger, but who among us is even capable of establishing a theocracy? If God were to descend on Washington D.C. and declare his regulations from the Lincoln Memorial, if he were to charge his followers with discipling those who refuse to obey him and blessing them with divine gifts for carrying out his will, then we would have a theocracy. What are the Lord’s trade and immigration policies? How does the Lord want us to handle our crime-ridden cities? Let’s ask him directly.
No. We can’t get there from here. We could set up a “Christian” party. I’m pretty sure we have. And we have several Christian candidates for various offices, but none of them can reconstruct our government to submit to the direct decrees of God. What Wehner and Lewis, I suppose, are criticizing is a government ruled by priests who claim to speak for the Almighty–the Holy American Empire, in other words. Continue reading No One Can Set Up a Theocracy→
One of the best things I’ve read in some time, from Tom Holland in NewStatesman:
The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable.
From our earthly perspective, it may not seem to us that the motley assortment of deeply flawed humanity that makes up the church has much to commend it. What kind of a reward is this for Christ’s suffering? Yet Jesus does not hesitate to call us beautiful!
Iain Duguid writes about the hope and security found in Daniel 6. “My salvation rests not on my ability to ‘Dare to be a Daniel,’ but solely on Christ’s perfect obedience in my place.”
How do you react to the claim that what a Christian does at church on Sunday morning is the most important thing he can do that week? I think some pastors have said this as a way of saying worshipping God is our most important act, but if that’s what they intend to say, they aren’t quite saying it. One could easily hear in such a claim that attending church that morning is the most important part of the week. Is that what worship is? Are we only able to worship the Lord in an organized service on one day or can we develop a lifestyle of worship for the whole week? Is the church’s mission to draw people into its organization or to declare the wonders of Christ Jesus?
Jared C. Wilson has experience in churches that put all of their creative energy into making the Sunday morning service exciting, unique, and attractive to the people of their city, and he believes those church leaders have lost the vision for Christ’s church on earth. The manner of the services and the theme of the sermons (or talks) point to good feelings and self-improvement. “But are they the real message of Jesus?” he asks.
Wilson’s argument in The Prodigal Church rests on his belief that what you win people with is what you win them to. “Pragmatic discipleship makes pragmatic Christians. The way the church wins its people shapes its people. So the most effective way to turn your church into a collection of consumers and customers is to treat them like that’s what they are.”
He urges church leaders to question their assumptions about what takes place in their services and programs. If their goal is make clear the claims of Christ or to help others make God of first importance in every part of their lives, then they are on mission regardless their presentation style.
You could walk away from the attractional church’s pattern of teaching and think you needed some more skills, some more enthusiasm, and some more advice, but you’d rarely walk away thinking you need more grace.
Wilson is careful not to overly criticize. He isn’t arguing for his preferred church style or saying that everyone has to agree with him on what makes for a good worship service. He admits we have different styles, but making consumerism a normal part of the American church does not lift up the name of Christ or apply his grace in healthy ways. That’s not a style choice. It’s a problem. It isn’t cultural sensitivity; it’s being co-opted by the culture.
The second part of the book offers many thoughts on how to do church well, including some stories of people who realized their manner of ministry didn’t accomplish their intentions. I heartily agree with and recommend this book.
Many attractional churches still preach that Jesus died for our sins, of course. But too often this message of Christ’s death has become assumed, the thing you build up to rather than focus on. Or, in too many other cases, this message is treated as the “add-on” to other messages, the proposition presented at the end of a message that is more about our personal success than Christ’s personal victory.
A cognitive dissonance can result for those who hear a message all about what they should do to be more successful or victorious or happy or what-have-you, only to then hear the proposition that Jesus died for our sins. To hear a lengthy appeal to our abilities, culminating in an appeal to our utter inability, can cause spiritual whiplash.
But the appeal is easy to see. Attractional is certainly attractive. These kinds of messages, over time, communicate to seeker and believer alike that Christianity is about themselves, making the faith more about self-improvement or life enhancement—which are things we all want deep down. But are they the real message of Jesus?
Though I am in no position to challenge Wilson’s assessment here, I want to offer the suggestion that the spiritual whiplash may be negated quite a bit by presenting the gospel with a heavy emphasis on personal choice. These preachers could be summarized as saying that since Christ has done so much for our eternal lives, doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of it. Don’t you see how your life would be improved by declaring yourself a follower of Christ Jesus?
That may be a way to make converts, but it isn’t a way to make actual disciples.