Precious Puritians & The Race Card

Last week the most interesting “controversy” in the Christian blogosphere was the drama surrounding a track from Propaganda’s (really, really good) new album Excellent. The song, “Precious Puritans” is an unsettling meta-critique of the Puritans pretty awful tract record with slavery and race. But with one listen of the song, it is evident that his purpose isn’t to blast the puritans, stir the pot of Christian hero-worship and remind his listeners that even the best of the best are awful. And like anything of this nature, the song got tossed around the blogosphere like controversial little rag doll.  The heat started when Owen Strachan, professor of Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted a critique of Prop’s track, saying,

I wonder if Propaganda isn’t inclining us to distrust the Puritans.  He states his case against them so forcefully, and without any historical nuance, that I wonder if listeners will be inclined to dislike and even hate them…He qualifies his words on Joe Thorn’s blog–pretty strongly, in fact–but what about all the people who hear his song but won’t read that specific blog?

Enter Joe Thorn’s Joe Thorn’s recent blog posts. Prop qualified his words with an interview on Thorn’s blog (as a response to some of the grumpy backlash) and reminded folks that “God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.”. And realistically, all Prop did was reiterate what he said in the song. The meaning is clear; God uses really awful sinners, like Propaganda and the Puritans. I think Strachan didn’t give the listeners (or Propaganda) enough credit in being able to discern the meaning of the song. ‘Precious Puritans’ is meant to ruffle the feathers of Puritan readers (like me) and it’s meant to wake us up!

Evangelicalism seems to have forgotten about race. American Christians have made a mess of racial relations in the church over the last two hundred years, and instead of proactively moving towards repentance, the church simply doesn’t talk about it anymore. Propaganda doesn’t let us get away with this. I think he realizes that a lot of the dudes out there listening to Christian rap are White dudes. And maybe this is exactly what Prop wanted, because anything that is really true is going to cause a ruckus. Like much of what Propaganda says throughout the album, we should approach this track with a teachable spirit and a humble view of our corporate and personal failures. This disposition will be ripe soil for revival and the fruit of the Spirit.

And don’t forget, you can buy Propaganda’s album here, or you can get it for free from the Humble Beast website. It’s a great album, one of the years best so far.

Check out  Joe Thorn’s post for the lyrics of Precious Puritans and to hear the track streaming free. Again, it’s dope.

Cheap Grace & Expensive Grace | The Best Ways (NOT) To Enjoy God’s Grace

Grace is scandalous, scary and hard to understand all at the same time. Everybody has their own definition of “grace”. A friend of mine used to say “well, all sins are forgiven so let’s rock ‘n roll!”. However, my personal favorite is Aunt Bethany’s understanding of grace. (‘She died thirty years ago!”).

And outside of the church, grace is everything from what you say before Thanksgiving to the fluid stunts of a gymnast. But inside the church, there is just as much confusion as to what grace is and why it is so enjoyable. When grace is understood and enjoy, it leads to incomparable freedom. In Dynamics of Spiritual Life,  Richard Lovelace explains that

Believers who are truly established in Christ have experienced the shattering of their spheres of ignorance and darkness by a growing understanding of the nature of God, their sin and God’s provision of grace in Jesus Christ

But I usually fall short of this earth shattering understanding and acceptance of God’s grace that is taught in the bible and in most orthodox theological systems. Why? What inhibits me from enjoying what should be the most joyful and freeing spiritual revelry that the soul of man has ever known?

Well, in short, I do.

The two ways that it is easiest for me and most Christians to not enjoy the grace of God are through “Cheap Grace” and “Expensive Grace”.

Cheap Grace

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who first coined the term “cheap grace”. Lovelace would say that it is “the wholly unbiblical teaching of justification without sanctification”(p.100). Essentially what happens is a Christian misunderstands that grace is not meant just to pardon us, but to change us also. This understanding of grace comes from a misunderstanding of why we need grace. Sin is just a few pesky slip ups, not an utter and complete treason against God embedded in the DNA of an individual, as explained in detail in many, many Biblical texts (such as Jeremiah 17, Psalm 51 and the book of Romans). This misunderstanding of the severity of human depravity makes grace look less amazing, and subsequently less enjoyable. To quote Lovelace again, (you can tell what I’ve been reading lately, can’t you?)

‘A conscience which is note fully enlightened both to the grandeur of God’s merciful provision of redemption [grace], will inevitably fall prey to anxiety, pride, sensuality and all the other expressions of that unconscious despair which Kierkegaard called “the sickness unto death”‘

Expensive Grace

The other extreme can be just as bad, if not worse. In a state of ‘expensive grace’ the Christian realized the despair of his or her depravity and is wrecked by it (as we should be!). Then grace comes along and all of their sin has been forgiven! God now accepts the believer unconditionally and whenever they sin, they remember that God has already forgiven that sin! How grand! And how true! But again, soon the same problem with cheap grace can rear  head: justification without sanctification. Grace is applied to the sins, but not the sinner. Enter Lovelace,

It is not enough to tell believers ‘you are accepted though your faith in Christ’. We must tell them also ‘you are delivered from the bondages of sin through the power of the indwelling Christ’.

If there is no grace to defeat sin, then the believer can easily enter into a pseudo-monastic guilt complex that feels the weight of grace and the weight of sin and must strive to at least pay God back a little bit for the sacrifice that he has made. This was Luther before God changed his heart through the book of Galatians. Constantly flogging himself and living in a legalistic hell of unpayable repayment. Let’s see if Lovelace has anything to say on this matter…. As a matter of fact, he does! Let’s listen in,

Even if we are assured that our sin is covered, we do not want to face the despair of having to live in conscious helpless awareness of its tyranny, abusing the grace and forgiveness of Christ. If we have to go on running further and further into spiritual debt, we would rather do this in the dark without realizing what is happening.

Essentially, our conscience cannot handle the weight of our sin and the weight of our forgiveness without the power of conformity to godliness. And since this view of grace essentially says “I am accepted and I will never follow God as I aught”. And while, in a sense, true, this leads to hardworking, miserable Christians. This is popular is the “gospel-centered” crowd (with people like myself). Much more could be and should be said about this.

But what is the alternative? How do we actually enjoy grace?

Free Grace.

Free grace is a full theology of atonement. Free grace says that we are flawed beyond our wildest imagination and forgiven even beyond that! But that is not all. Free grace says that grace is not just for salvation but for sanctification. We often see ourselves in control of our spiritual growth and striving. But the gospel says that God is actually the one in control of it all (Philippians 1:6). We enjoy grace by seeing our complete, comically terrible inability to be righteous and God’s complete, comically lavish grace on those who have faith. From there we trust that God gives us grace to live in line with the gospel. It is the grace of God working through the Holy Spirit that allows us “not [to] sin, (and to remember) that when we do we have an advocate through Jesus Christ”. This God driven sanctification frees us not to freak out when we (or others) are not perfect AND to respond joyfully to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Totally free, totally not of our own strength and totally enjoyable (albeit sometimes difficult). If I understood this better in my daily life, I am 100% those around me would see Jesus clearer and I’d be happier. But you know what, God will surely bring that to completion, so it’s a good day!

Central Illinois School Shooting: A Case Study of Despair in the Youth Culture

The September 7th School shooting in Normal, Illinois had the potential to be much worse than it was. Nobody was physically harmed, only three shots were fired and the evacuation plan went as smooth as it possibly could. But it was certainly not a smooth morning. According to the Huffington Post,

“the gunman walked to the front of the room and pulled the gun, a hatchet, a canteen he said was full of kerosene and a bottle of what he said were painkillers out of a backpack.

…he [the student] had pulled out a weapon and pistol, and said, `Now it’s time for you guys to listen to me,’

…a few students managed to slip out of the room, and that led the shooter to fire the first shot into the ceiling. The shooter told at least one student he wouldn’t hurt them, and after lining the remaining students up against a wall complained that no one was willing to listen to him about unspecified problems.”

After a heroic effort by the teacher, the student was subdued until police arrived. And while this all ended better than it could have, this raises some questions that Christians must address about the culture at large.

 Why are so many so unhappy?

In America, There are more kids (and adults) on anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication than those who are not. We are disenfranchised, selfish, lonely and desperate. Have we always been like this under the surface or are we getting worse?

 What can be done to prevent not only shootings, but the isolation and desperation that lead to events like this?

Sure, metal detectors and security guards will find most of the kids with guns but how can we get kids to no want to shoot up their schools? Will there always be reckless minorities of angsty kids, or can this be curbed? On a larger scale, it seems to be a lost cause in the present. The present cultural darkness is simply different and more public than it has been (not to say that it is getting worse, just changing shape).

What is the hope of the youth culture?

As Christians, we have a hope and a joy to offer a disenfranchised, sad, licentious youth: Jesus. But is that what they hear at church? The gospel of Jesus is the only hope that the youth culture (and any culture, for that matter) has. But is that doctrine alive in the church? As Richard Lovelace points out on the progression of spiritual live and death in the church, After Luther awakened the gospel kraken of Justification by Faith alone “subsequent generations of Protestants were capable of turning Luther’s teachings into dead orthodoxy, and this seems to have happened especially in the Lutheran sector”

How can the church communicate and address this in the current culture?

Are old methods just in need of spiritual renewal or does the church need creative, new outlets? I am not convinced that the methods in use to reach the youth are issue, but it is the heart of the matter. Gospel renewal and revival is not as much a question of what, but of who. Who is changing the culture? Is it the Holy Spirit or the hardworking Christian crusader? Offering an alternative to the moralistic perspective of cultural change, Richard Lovelace notes that renewal is not of human strategy but

“Rather, it is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which restores the people of God to normal spiritual life after a period of corporate declension. Periods of spiritual decline occur in history because the gravity of indwelling sin keeps pulling believers first into formal religion and then into open apostasy. Periods od awakening alternate with these as God graciously breathes new life into his people”

So the church’s response to the brokenness of the world need not be one of despair but one of prayer. Only Spiritual revival will change the church and affect positively the world around us, and only the Holy Spirit can do that, as seen in Acts 19:18-41. In sum, it really is only God who can change the hearts of those so desperate and despairing that they would turn a gun on their classmates.

How Did It Get To This? *Why* Chick-Fil-A Day Happened.

As most of us are aware, yesterday, at the prompting of a conservative politician, American Christians (and social conservatives) waited in line for hours to eat at Chick-Fil-A. It was supposed to be some sort of “buycott” to get back at the Mayors of Boston & Chicago and all of those darn liberals who “opposed the Christian values of Chick-Fil-A”.

We’ve all heard this rhetoric a thousand times by now. The left says “Chick-Fil-A is a hategroup” and the right says “they are trying to take away our religious liberty, THIS IS PERSECUTION!!!!!”.

Seriously??? And at least the other guys made an effort to learn the basics of Photoshop.

It’s all so over-the-top…

So how did this happen? How did Christians in bulk allow themselves to get so engrossed into such a laughable, hateful, pathetic situation as this one? There have been plenty of good thoughts reprimanding the actions of the church, but little talk on why these actions actually happened. Below, I’ve offered five specific thoughts on why the church embarrassed herseld last Wednesday, and what possibly can be done to avoid another “Chick-Fil_A Day”.

5. Culture

The aggressive American bi-party political system mixed with the sensationalism of news media and the cultural polarization known as “the Culture Wars” have simply pulverized any type of dignified social dialogue in this country. Period. Like shooting bottle rockets a drought-stricken field, the culture was bound to catch fire some time. American Christians have too long be distracted by the right vs. left political games. With flashy rhetoric and some supposed religious liberty threatened, we reacted. This is the environment that we have been lured into. It is not an excuse, but simply a reality.

4. Misunderstanding of ‘Freedom’

Christian theology teaches that freedom is not given by man, but given by God himself. When the Bible talks about freedom, it never talks about political freedom or legislated “rights”. The Bible repeatedly talked about freedom as the liberation from sin and it’s punishment both in this life and in the life to come. 2 Cor 3:17 says “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”, now,written in the face of ubiquitous danger and persecution this takes on a very apolitical meaning. It means that true freedom is dependent on the intervention of God, not man. Christians were seeking freedom this Wednesday at Chick-Fil-A, but sadly they were looking somewhere that it cannot be found. Only in Christ is religious freedom found, not the Constitution (Romans 6:17-18). True Christian freedom, which is much too deep to fully unpack here, leads to humble service and a joyful contentment (Galatians 5:13), not vain anti-protests.

3. Comfort

American Christians (including me, especially me) NEED comfort. And there exits a fear of losing the comforts that we belief are afforded to us, in this case American legislated liberty and Christian cultural dominance. It is like the child who refuses to try to learn to use the toilet because he is quite comfortable having his parents change his diaper. There seems to be a belief that if we can hold on to the comforts of life, we will be happy. We do not want to be challenged because, well, it is hard. This week we have seen how far Christians will go to preserve their perceived needs of comfort. The American church believed the lie that Constitution has the power to deliver true peace and true comfort, but only Christ is capable of that.

2. Lack of Global Vision

While somewhat tied to the point above, I think that there are some even deeper ecclesial issues plaguing the American Church today. While this subject in particular deserves much more time, thought and space it is still important to look at. Today, many in the Church in the United State “go to church”. Not understanding that 1.) The church is a body of believers who have been joined together by a mutual salvation and are part of the singular ‘Bride’ or ‘Body’ of Christ (Rev 19:7, Col 1:18, 1 Cor 10). Along with that, as a part of that Body, we have been commissioned to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:20) and forsake our worldly comfort, possession, status, reputation and rights (Mark 13:9-13) for the glory of the God that we serve as Christian believers. With this comes a view of the church as the main means of spreading the love, mercy and grace of Jesus. Paul used Church planting as his vehicle of kingdom expansion. Yet most see the church as a spiritual organization that must gain influence politically, socially and hell, even militarily sometimes. This led to a backlash against the non-Christian culture’s push for the legalization of gay marriage. Christians (I believe especially when it became a ‘front page issue’ earlier this year with the dealings in North Carolina) have been quite focused on this issue lately, as have non-Christians. All leading to a quite unredeemed cultural skirmish were bridges are burned between the church and the gay community, and the church simply is not acting like who the bible says she is.

1. A Gospel Issue

It all truly comes down to where Christians are finding their salvation and what their functional god commands of them. When we believe that Jesus has truly secured salvation for us, we are free to joyfully obey his commands by the power of the Holy Spirit. These commands not simply being “have a good family, support the right things, live a good and moral live, vote republican”. But an internal and external transformation into Christlikeness, characterized in Galatians 6 as looking like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,[&] self-control” (v.22-23). This comes from knowing that standing with God is 100% secured regardless of behavior. It is the backbone of Christian freedom, that Christ has taken on our burden of sin completely in exchange for his perfect righteousness. When we don’t believe this we live something that kind of resembles the Christian life but is not. When we are not secure in Christ, we are always looking for salvation (this is called ‘idolatry’). Some Christians commit idolatry with the god of politics, comfort, culture or security. Naturally, with these lackluster saviors comes opposition and these gods enlist their followers to fight for them to ensure their victory. Both non-Christians and Christian engaged in this in the Chick-Fil-A wars. One side looking for ‘personal acceptance’ and the other ‘religious freedom’, two pretty abysmal gods (although very good things themselves). But the gospel says that these two things are found not in chicken sandwich restaurants, but in Jesus himself!

So as we all try to make sense of what the heck has happened in the last two weeks concerning this tasty, albeit controversial restaurant and we consider the failures of the Christians let us not set for Christians a trap of condemnation, guilt and shame. Instead, let’s encourage each other to trust more fully in the Gospel of Jesus, something that will be much more attractive and authentic than chicken sandwich boycotts.

Stephen Prothero | The American Bible

“To be an American is not to subscribe to a common creed. It is to engage in a common conversation”.

I would not consider myself much involved in politics or patriotism to any degree of intensity beyond casual, but this conversation cannot be ignored. Traditionally, America’s greatest strength was it’s free range of ideas, ideologies and thoughts. But today it seems as if nobody is willing to discuss politics or religion out of some strange cultural more masquerading as politeness. Or if we do, it is on Fox New or MSNBC hurling insults and outlandish claims of Nazism at the “other guys”. Just look at your Facebook wall: everybody has that one Facebook friend who reposts borderline hateful political posts every few hours. We are in all-out ideological war (or trying to make hasty, unwise peace like Neville Chamberlain at Munich) and our reputation, liberties and intellectual dignity are in grave danger.

Enter Stephen Prothero. Prothero is a New York Times bestselling author (read Religious Literacy, seriously), professor of Religious Studies at Boston University and writes for CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. He is a voice crying in the wilderness when it comes to issues of dialogue, religion and literacy. And The American Bible is Prothero’s most ambitious and most important project so far.

I have never, ever seen a book like this. The American Bible is a tour through the “canon of American texts” and responses to them.

The book features the very best of the American canon, from the overlooked to the overused.

The book contains some of the most important theological and ideological texts that have sparks some of the most heated and defining arguments of our national identity. The list of texts is impressive and vast. Spanning from Noah Webster to Malcolm X to Dwight Eisenhower (and a pleasant surprise visit from Woody Guthrie, a personal hero). For many texts, it displays them in their fullness or the book offers a relatively comprehensive description of the artifact and then lets the culture wars rage. Prothero has gathered responses, articles and sound bites from people all over the theological and political spectrum weighing in on some of the most important artifacts in American history.

In The American Bible, Prothero has captured the spirit of the culture wars without saying much at all. Like a photojournalist, Prothero doesn’t need to say much at all to make his point clear. His point being, we need to talk to each other again. This volume is a call to civil discourse. If anything, that we could learn about those on the other side of important issue and not demonize them but dialogue with those who hold to different beliefs. Prothero is asking that we put off our airs of superficial politeness and put down our weapons of cultural trench warfare in favor of conversation. Few texts have done this as well as The American Bible.  It is not like the book inspires you to go sentimentally hug a fellow American as much as is prompts you to tackle the tough stuff within our cultural identity, particularly our relation to the Divine God. Unlike many well-meaning Evangelicals, Prothero does not insist on crusading our way back to a “Christian nation” nor does he suggest we throw away Christian theology or morality like many liberals. He simply presents undeniable realities of faith, disagreement and the American way of life.

Now, I would certainly not say this is a perfect book (outside of the Bible, is there such a thing?), the structure was a bit choppy trying to read all the way through and sometimes I felt  as if he represented Christians a bit too politically with his choices of contributors and commentators. But overall, it is one of the best things that I have read in a while and kindled quite an aesthetic nostalgia for the rich Americana stories that so mystify me. It also gave me hope that the gospel can be a part of the American discussion. Not just in a “keep ‘Christ’ in Christmas” sort of way, but in a truly radical and appealing way. I plan on keeping this book as my coffee table book and returning to it somewhat frequently for reference. Very rarely do I come across something as unique and important as The American Bible.

Horton slams “tough-guy Christians” | Can’t we all just get along?

 

Today, Justin Taylor posted an essay by Michael Horton that critiques the macho feel of a lot of young reformed dudes. His post came off unapologetically intense,

“In the drive to make churches more guy-friendly, we risk confusing cultural (especially American) customs with biblical discipleship. One noted pastor has said that God gave Christianity a “masculine feel.” Another contrasted “latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers” with “real men.” Jesus and his buddies were “dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.” Real Christian men like Jesus and Paul “are aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal.” Seriously?”

And in a lot of ways, Horton is right on. This shenanigans floating about that men should be nonverbal, “tough” and angry is crossing a line. And a lot of it may be pushback to a feminist, egalitarian culture but it doesn’t seem to be a healthy approach. It seems to be just another example of God’s people taking their eyes off the big picture and setting for themselves a standard outside of faith in Christ. That isn’t new to man and it never leads to anything good. It has been going on ever since the dawn of time (see the Golden Calf, Peter denying Jesus, Peter giving in to the Judaizers, Luther writing of the Jews and their lies or John Calvin having his critics arrested then executed). Today it is this (usually contrived) over-machismo niche that “is discovering Jonathan Edwards and “masculine Christianity” in one fell swoop” is just another distraction from true meekness, humility and repentance that comes though a gaze fixed on Christ himself.

But lets zoom out a bit. Nobody would legitimately argue that you have to be able to bench 250+ to be a man of God. I think Horton may be arguing against a hypothetical person, because I have not met that guy…and I have been to my share of conferences. To be quite be honest, I am much more worried about the constant barrages of “responses” to something or someone who is a bit off the responders perceived definition of theological accuracy. It seems that Jefferson Bethke’s use of the word “religion” or if it’s wrong to make a theological statement by having a beard is on the same lines as heresy (also, if you don’t get the “bearded gospel men” deal, I really can’t explain it to you). Where is the unity of the body?

 

It isn’t that critiques aren’t legitimate; it is that they are too harsh and too public. We come off as judgmental, sectarian and catty to an outside public much of the time and that usually is somewhat accurate. And in a strange way, I realize that I am writing one of those “critiques”. But I do it now as an act of repentance, because deep down, I love to criticize style, music, theology, culture, denomination, etc (mostly out of pure arrogance). And I hope to become much more ecumenical and gracious in my approach of other Christians. I hope to become much less a methodological/ideological fundamentalist and much more of a pluralist in the church. Of course, not a theological pluralist and I still hold to my methodological convictions but as the body of Christ, it is those differences that make us who we are. Sure every method is tainted with the odor of our sin, but our attempted obedience is a sweet aroma of Christ. If we were all perfect methodologically and theologically, why would we need the gospel?

As for me, I will continue to sport a gospel-driven beard (aka I like Spurgeon and Joe Thorn), continue to read people in my “stream” and continue to have “feminine communication patterns” (I talk about my feelings a lot…I am a writer after all). But I will also make an effort to build up those that are different from me by discussing differences but not taking them down as if they were advocating the sale of indulgences. It’s critical to know when to respond in criticism (i.e. when someone actually sins publicly and damages the reputation of Christendom), when to respond in humility (i.e. you messed up), when to respond in inquisitive dialogue (i.e. when you seriously disagree with someone’s method or secondary theology) and when to respond in love (i.e. most of the time).

If anything, I would encourage Horton, those “young restless reformed” dudes, and myself to press on towards what is truly important: the gospel. As Paul says,

 

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

(Titus 3:3-9 ESV)

 

How do we avoid foolish controversies? As Paul says here in his letter to Titus, it is by remembering who we are in Christ. The gospel doesn’t allow for bickering because it shows us for who we really are, which is deserving of condemnation. When the gospel is savored, believed and enjoyed, there isn’t much room to talk trash. And we will never do this perfectly, but in Christ, we are already perfect. May the church rally around that before anything else.

9 Things That Christians Shouldn’t Neglect (But Usually Do)

The church has a unique culture to it and it always has, especially in America. And for the most part, this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just the way it is. Karl Barth  said that “God’s congregation possessed and at al times possesses its own language…For it has in history its own special history”. With any culture or langauge, though, there are things that escape through the back door that deserve more time than they get and words that get ignored until they become archaic. I am writing this as much to myself as I am anyone, because by simply dusting off the spiritual and intellectual riches that sit on the shelf there is so much potential for rediscovery of gospel truths and this world’s lost treasures.

#9| Poetry

When most of us (Christians, that is) read Christian books, even old books by dead guys, it is almost always a non-fiction academic or pseudo-academic proclamatory essay. This is everything from Owen’s The Mortification of Sin to a Mark Driscoll book. As wonderful as these are (and I love them) and as wonderful as a good novel/short story can be, let us not forget the great art of poetry. There is such a rich and vast collection of gospel-saturated poetry throughout the millennia. I wish I had read more. From Tennyson to John Donne to Milton, there is an untapped spiritual well of poetry for the one who would invest the time. In the past few years, few texts outside of the bible have given me more joy in Christ than Tennyson’s In Memoriam. I have spent much time reflecting on the lines

 Forgive these wild and wandering cries

confusions of a wasted youth

forgive thee where I fail in truth

and in Thy wisdom make me wise

#8| Silence

Some time in the last few generations the act of silent contemplation of God as an act of worship has been replaced with really really loud guitars, organs, drums, etc… Not that those are bad or don’t have a place but there seems to be little public place for “be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). At least in the evangelical church, there is little room in the service for quiet contemplation. I hope that it makes a comeback. Silence allows you to actually think about God and it is a great discipline for us in the technological age, when we are always plugged in to something.

#7| Karl Barth

This is a bit of a random one. But this is a guy who has fallen out of the Christian mainstream (maybe not academia, but I’m not in academia so I don’t know). And I just recently have began to read Barth (I’ve been on a German history kick, but that’s another story) and I can’t read more than a page at a time. Not because he is too wordy, but because he says some great things about Jesus. Now, I don’t agree with everything that he writes (we will get to that in a few paragraphs) but when he is on, he is on. For example,

Can God be known? Yes, God can be known, since it is actually true and real that He is knowable through Himself. When that happens, man becomes free, he becomes empowered, he becomes capable -a mystery to himself- of knowing God. Knowledge of God is a knowledge completely effected and determined from the side of its object, from the side of God. But for that same reason, it is a genuine knowledge; for that very reason it is in the deepest sense free knowledge. – (Barth Dogmatics in Outline, pg. 24)

Simply awe inspiring thoughts.

#6|The Deep Things of God

We are a practical people. Most all sermons end with a practical application and a “how to” of the scripture preached. But what happens is we can really strip the Holy Spirit of his power. If we preach justification by faith alone and then turn it around and starting singing a tune of “free to work” then we have eliminated the internal process of application. We rely on others to do that for us. Many who struggle with legalism (or immorality) need not another law to fight their sin, but to mediate on the deep things of God. The truths of God have the power to ignite us (2 Tim 1) and manifest themselves in wonderful, practical ways (Ephesians 5). And it can be so easy to turn the gospel into a “how to be good and do good” list by doing the imperatives and neglecting the indicatives.  One way to fight this is to believe the gospel, and to believe the gospel one must know the gospel. Not just what the gospel means, but what the gospel is. We could all (especially me) use some more of that sweet, sweet gospel.

#5|More Nasty and Judgemental Comments on Blogs/Twitter/FB

Just kidding. We have plenty of this. If possible, could we all be as nice to one another online as we are face to face? Which brings me to my next point…

#4|Vunerablity

Whenever another Christian asks you “how are you today?” and we say “great!” in that soft, soothing, sterile, Christian radio voice we chip away at our trust in the Christian community. Really, how many of us are doing awesome all of the time? Not very many. But we have been called by God to share life with other Christians. I would venture to say that the bible calls us to share everything with other Christians: our money, our time, our emotions (Acts 2, 1 Cor 13). Yet Sunday morning and Wednesday evening is time to make small talk and pretend like we are all good Christians. We need to flat-out repent of this. How can the gospel transform our lives and our churches if we don’t let anybody know what needs to be transformed? This is exceptionally hard for me. I even have a hard time making prolonged eye contact, but my soul needs to be open to other Christians love, rebuke and preaching. I know this, because whenever I humble myself and am honest with others, I am encouraged and God uses it to impress the gospel deeper into my sinful little head.

#3|Sin

No, we don’t need to sin more. But we need to talk about it more. Tying into the last thing, if we don’t know about a problem, how can we approach it with any competence? Sin has literally invaded every crevice of life. From how we treat people to how we think of ourselves to how we conduct our daily routine to natural disasters to that time you got into a fist fight in 4th grade. It is everywhere and it wants to kill us. Yet our working definitions of sin are often far too small and far too docile. If Jesus can to take away the sin of the world and we have been saved from sin, it is good to know what that “sin” actually is. The bible uses war metaphors to describe our fight with sin. Let us not treat an enemy of war like a schoolhouse bully. When we get sin, we get how good it is that Jesus has saved us from it.

#2| Authors Who aren’t “on our team”

We are all wrong about something, we just don’t like to think about it. I am so so so so guilty of this. The books that I read are almost all books by people (sans history books, novels, etc..) who I agree with theologically. But I have so much to learn from those in different theological camps. If we are not challenged, how exactly do we grow?

#1|The Gospel

I don’t care how hip “gospel-centeredness” is in evangelicalism right now, the gospel is still inexhaustible. We need more talk about the radical saving work of Jesus. Justification by faith alone, union with Christ, the restoration of creation, the imputation of righteousness, it cannot be worn out or used up! How amazing is it that whenever we fail as Christian, God looks down and says to us “Justified”. Then we fail again, with the same sin and God says “justified”. This is the entirety of the Christian life, and no matter how much we think about it and talk about it, we still need more of it. It isn’t just good news, it’s the best news. Neglecting the gospel is like drinking  from the fountain of life only to return to salt water: it doesn’t make sense. But when we do it, God still says “justified”. How unnatural and unbelievable! Which is why we need to constantly simmer in it. It is in fact what makes us the church.