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.
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
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…
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.
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?
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.