Armchair Theologian Warning

“The Puritans made me aware that all theology is also spirituality, in the sense that is has an influence, good or bad, positive or negative, on its recipients’ relationship or lack of relationship to God. If our theology does not quicken the conscience of soften the heart , it actually hardens both: if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride. So one who theologizes in public, wether formally in the pulpit, on the podium or in print, or informally from the armchair, must think hard about the effect his thoughts will have on people – God’s people, and other people.” – J.I Packer, Among God’s Giants

Theology is fun, I sometimes have a hard time understanding why large portions of christians in general would not be interested in the nuances of doctrines or applications. I love a good debate. Evenings where I get to hold court from my armchair or spark a passionate back and forth are all too rare in my opinion. However, what I have learned is that what I consider a robust past time can sometimes be a setback for others. Packer here provides an excellent reminder to me as an amateur writer and armchair theologian about the seriousness of that in which I engage. 

Puritans called the pulpit the Sacred Desk. They spoke to men as a dying man speaks to dying men. It is always good to remember the gravity of rightly handling theology. Too often it is dry and academic, yet often it is often used as a cudgel to beat into submission or drive away. Pride is what does all of those things. This is the sin that every theologian must mortify otherwise they will fail in their task at best, at worse they will travel across land and sea to make one disciple and make him twice the son of hell they are.

“Theologians are called to be the churches water engineers and sewage officers; it is their job to see that God’s pure truth flows abundantly where it is needed, and to filter out any intrusive pollution that might damage health. The sociological remoteness of theology colleges, seminaries, and university faculties of theology from the true life of the church makes it easy to forget this, and the track record of professional teachers in these units has in my time been distinctly spotty so far as concerns their responsibility to the church and to the world.” – J.I Packer, Among God’s Giants

Clubbableness

Introduction

I don’t remember where he pulled it from but I was taught by John Bryson many years ago about the three types of friendship that bless and encourage a mans life: the Needy Protégé, the Side by Side Friend, and the Admiring Mentor. I have/do have those relationships in my life and they indeed are life giving and spiritually enhancing. The challenge though is finding them. To hear the average pastor preach that difficulty lies in your lack of church attendance. I have heard it sound like you can’t swing a dead cat in a sanctuary without finding a mentor, a disciple, and a mens group for life. The reality though is far from this assumption. Proximity does not a relationship build. 

“You too?“

A few years back I spent a generous amount of time discipling an excellent young man and we both grew and deeply enjoyed each others company. It went so well he parents instructed his younger brother to ask me to take him on as well. We gave it the old college try but didn’t click, the discipling relationship petered out. Move to today I rarely see the older brother and am even concerned with a few of his theological stances, the younger brother is a good friend and is smoking cigars with me on a near weekly basis. The point of my tale is that that in any relationship there must be a factor where you click with the other person.

Some people are very driven and their idea of discipleship is waking up at three in the morning for a systematic theology lecture. And more power to them, others need something closer to a mentor who listens, guides, and directs. I have seen many people get burnt out from a rigorous method when what they needed was their affections stirred and interests peaked. And I have seen A type personalities wither under a more relaxed form of teaching. Success is not guaranteed just because a young guy found an older Christian man who was willing to teach them. Friendship is even trickier.

In my current mens group things are tough. We have proximity. We lack a cohesive interest. We are brought together by the gospel, our church, our conservatism, and… that is about it. These are not issues that are binding in a way that builds friendships. On these three issues we are similar in thought so after a few years now we have very little to add that is not simply preaching to the choir. We lack the stuff that friendship is made of, that moment Lewis speaks of, “you too? I thought I was the only one!” We were thrown together by an associate pastor and despite his best effort to create a culturally diverse group (more of which below) has ended up being the most vanilla mens group since four Mormon men decided Salt Lake seemed like a nice place to settle down. Friendship requires more than being thrown together. Friendship may arise but it is not guaranteed.

Causes

It has been lamented increasingly that the western evangelical church has a lack of male friendships. And we have been puzzling over this for some time. From my perch the culprits are pretty plain to see but start pointing them out and you start to get that nervous feeling Arius should have had right before Nicholas clenched his fist. Since my nose has already been broken from a melee incident in my youth I will proceed.

The decline of male friendships can be attributed but not limited to the following: Legalism, the feminization of the church, and recently diversity requirements. Any time that Pharisaism or requirements are applied to that which God has given and designed to naturally occur the good he intended withers and dies. Men gather and build friendships in ways that a fallen world increasingly hates. Male friendship,among christians, is spiritual warfare. Why else have we substituted it for, “accountability partners” which has proven to be such a roaring success against porn usage…

Men need to lead the church and that is done in, to borrow from Tolkien, A Fellowship. It has become popular to speak of families as little platoons. Why should we not see mens groups as such. It almost seems obvious. And as mentioned above the church is feeling this loss. The problem is we are not willing to sacrifice our sacred cows to achieve something that would actually be good for us. When men gather as they are driven to do under natural circumstances it is poo poohed. Either because of the fear from a boatload of Vikings*, the thought of real masculinity being antithetical to a soft western mindset, or simply because an infantilizing view of men reduces their friendship needs to the assumption that gathering with light supervision will do nicely. 

clubbableness

There is one and one only who can preordain friendships. 

In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” – C.S. Lewis – The Four Loves

All that churches or wives can do is try and stack kindling. Too often though when the sparks begin to fly they are tamped down because coals in the grate are more controlled than a roaring bonfire in the field. I mentioned in an Impromptu how I have been blessed with such bonfires of friendships. These can only fit Lewis formulation of the Grand Master of the Ceremonies because outside of that there is no reason any one of us should have had the moment of, “You too? I thought I was the only one.” Yet I must confess, these friendship started and have grown quite outside of my church. And they have been crackling along merrily in large part do to the complete and total lack of interference from my wife. My wonderful N knows that our marriage is stronger because there are strong men deeply involved in my life. They don’t fight for me, they fight for my marriage. It is why they stood next to me when I covenanted with God to marry that woman. This is the end result of male friendship.

Therefore, if friendships are preordained by God what then, if I may stretch the words of Paul in 2 Timothy, “fans the flames of the gift of God.” I think Lewis termed it best as clubableness, today it is, somewhat sterilely, referred to as a third place. It is the idea of a location were friends may gather, but for men more so, a place where they gather on their own terms. First place is the home, second is work. And while those are places where friendship may operate occasionally, both come with some form of supervision (eg, spouse, boss). A third place is untethered, clubs, pubs, cigar lounges, sport venues, cabins, hunting blinds, fishing shacks or in the example of my master Lewis personal rooms at the college. 

What is ironic to me is how often I hear pastors get on the case of men to make room in the schedule and budget for their wives to have third places (“Get coffee with the girls” as Matt Chandler has often put is). But I have never heard a pastor tell wives to make sure there is room in the budget and schedule for the husbands to get pints with the lads. 

The Friendless American Male

In addition to the general need for third places it is high time that the infantilizing treatment given to men by wives and theologians in general be rebuked. That sort of eye rolling, boys will be boys, I let him have his man cave, nonsense. Doug Wilson has pointed out many times that women are, by nature institutionally friendly. Godly women encourage and exhort one another in calm and often expedient ways. Every school administrator is perfectly happy with a typical christian woman’s correction of another, it involves a conversation and sharing of feelings, it is more than likely to remain contained. Godly young men might communicate a Biblical correction to another with a punch to the back of the head and derogatory comment about his lineage. Yet that may be the best way to get through a thick skull the message of a sin being committed and repentance being required. Yet what institution wants physical altercations taking place in its hallowed halls, no matter how glorifying to god the scuffles are? This principal extends to male friendships. Men make friends slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, and to viewers it merely looks like a waste of time. Wives can start to think of all the other things she would rather have him be doing. Pastors can assume that if these two can shoot the breeze over those corrupting beers they can do the same and get the church nursery repainted while they are at it. Or in observance of more boisterous times it may appear that things have gotten out of hand and really should be reigned in, indoor voices please. Yet these are the ties that bind and interference creates what is lamented as The Friendless American Male. 

Everyone sees the crises, but no one likes or wants to act on the solution. Men hate churches because they are run by Mr. Collins’ and Lady Catherine de Bourgh’. Why would they want to be in a place that constantly talks down to and supervises them as if they were a child? I have lost track of how many times I have attended a mens function that was an excuse to try and knock men down. I am nearing the end of my rope with meeting with another Christian man and just as we start to begin where the first buds of friendship begin to form, his wife pops out to send him to bed, hint at my departure by a pointed clean up, or worse, come supervise us with what she thinks is a needed topic change. Ironically I talk to those same pastors or hear from those same wives how they can’t figure out why these men aren’t more involved in the church or have friends. 

Conclusion

The real solution lies with the men. First pastors need to recognize their own masculinity and stop indulging the velvet veto. Men should be treated with respect from the pulpit. They should be called up not put down. And Godly men need to take back what is theirs. That spine God has given should be used. The foundation is Knowing God and aligning the will of the man with God’s. If he truly is Gods man he will lead and pursue friendships that he needs. The gears will jam when a wife who is used to having her way finds her will overridden. And before we go further it should be noted that male friendship is not something that she is allowing him to try until her patience runs out. If a man is called to confess and repent for not living with his wife in an understanding way she the church should be equally prepared to call her to confess and repent of nagging, disrespect, and subversion. Men pursuing friendship will not fit into comfortable institutionalized boundaries such as prayer breakfasts, conferences, and politely moderated Bible Studies. This is not a bad thing, but it is a necessary thing. The medicine may be unpleasant to our sensitive tastes but the health that will come is much to be desired. 

*There is a genuine fear to be had here. Sadly the escapades cataloged by Michael Kimmel in Guyland are a result of boys who have had no discipline to make them into men. They are idiots who have discovered mens tools for friendship and abused them as toys. 

Temperance and Lewis

“But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he can not give up things himself with out wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons – marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.” – C.S. Lewis; Christian Behaviour, Chapter 2

Having a proper kvetch about teetotalers can be a pleasant past time. You sit with the lads over pints and it becomes like shooting fish in a barrel. The tricky part about legalisms is that we all have them and while we taking potshots at the sacred cows of others we are shocked and appalled when someone cruises past our pasture like Baby Face Nelson looking for something he hates worse than coppers. *

I find the above quote from Lewis is a good corrective for approaching my own pitfalls. There are multiple things that I abstain from, and I would argue, for very good reasons. I think I can build a pretty sturdy case against certain genres of television or film, and even stronger cases against specific shows or movies. I deeply dislike liturgical calendars as I detect the stench of the East wafting by way of Rome in them still. I can cite other opinions I hold to on the ridiculousness of vegetarianism and his absurd little cousin veganism. And yet… Lewis challenges me to enjoy my turf and turf and my sister to rabbitlike enjoy her pureed carrots masquerading as a beef patty, without either of us looking down our noses at each other. I must admit no one is forcing me into an Ash Wednesday service or penitential season, so I can I be happy for those who find these things to give them needed structure?  

I think the temptation is there for every Christian to become the kind of bad man who gives something up and wants everyone else to as well. Just as I want to cling to my cigars, scotch, bourbon, pork, lamb, chicken, beef, and many other open handed things in a world of yes. There are others who want to hold just a dearly to their, horror films, oxymoronic veggie burgers, lenten seasons, and Clive Cussler books. This is at the heart of, “do as you would be done by” and “removing the log from our own eyes before removing the splinter from our brothers.”

*If you don’t get this reference leave now, go watch O Brother Where Art Thou, then come back and finish.

Calvinism by the Rules of Comedy

Introduction

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery makes the interesting point that the plot structure of the Bible is a U shaped comedy plot. It begins in paradise, descends into chaos, and ascends in paradise. Or to use the literature maxim, “In a tragedy you die, in a comedy you get hitched.” Comedic principals and instincts are important to understanding the one true faith. It is integral to it. No other religion has been so deeply invested in the nurture and flourishing of comedy because without humor Scripture becomes opaque. Elton Trueblood points out that even Christ himself can not be properly understood without a grasp of comedy.

“Anyone who reads the Synoptic Gospels with a relative freedom from presuppositions might be expected to see that Christ laughed, and he expected others to laugh, but our capacity to miss this aspect of His life is phenomenal… A misguided piety has made us feat that acceptance of His obvious with and humor would somehow be mildly blasphemous or sacrilegious. Religion, we think, is serious business, and serious business is incompatible wit banter.” – Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ

Beyond that Christians have a rich comedic history Terry Lindvall covers the growth of humor from the Hebrew prophets all the way through to Stephen Colbert. In a desperate attempt to find humor in other world religions James Martin wrote Between Heaven and Mirth and yet the overwhelming page count devoted to very funny jokes made by Christians compared to a smattering of witticisms from pagan teachers really does prove the point that one true God sits high in the heavens and laughs. 

Why Comedy Matters

A common crack made at the adherents to the Doctrines of Grace is that we are, “The frozen chosen.” Stereotypes exist for a reason, there is a truth beneath them. I am going to put forward that part of why the reformed evangelical church is floundering is our lack of Chestertonian Calvinism. We talk about joy, but the stern face and and pursed lips betray us. Or we are blown about by every wind of secular doctrine because we didn’t understand the rules of comedy that guide us to Christ.

Buy the Premise Buy the Bit

Lip service is all fun and games until somebody looses a doctrine. I fear this is what happens. When we claim with Calvin that God is sovereign, that he predestined his church before the foundations of the earth, we are claiming that we believe He is in complete control. Which we are fine with until that control conflicts with our desires or currently the desires of a lost and dyeing world that we long for the approval of. This makes us like the weird kid in gym class wearing a headset for his braces, clutching a D&D Dungeon Master manual, calling out, “Guys pick meeee!” 

In sketch comedy the first rule of writing is, “Buy the premise, buy the bit.” Translated if people can not understand immediately the premise of the sketch, they will not get the joke. My concern is that most “Calvinists” have not bought the actual premise of the theology, therefore they do not buy the practical implications. If you deep down to your roots believe God is sovereign then you will live in such a way that give not a wit for what man thinks. You will live like a Narnian in Calorman

“It was quite unlike any other party they had seen that day… Instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders go free, and chatted and laughed. One was whistling. You could see that they were ready to be friends with any one who was friendly and didn’t give a fig for anyone who wasn’t. Shasta thought he had never seen anything so lovely in his life.” – C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

In my estimation we do not live like Narnians under the reign of Peter the Wise but cowering under the lies of Shift the ape.

As an example (which I pray becomes dated) at this moment in time people are driven by fear of an invisible virus, the hide their faces and look suspiciously at those closest to them fearing for their very lives. And the church has gone merrily along with this. But the premise is that we worship the one who conquered death, who has appointed to each his day of death, we are held in the palm of His hand we can not add nor subtract one second from our time here on earth. At the risk of quoting a confederate and a great Calvinist:

“Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.” – Stonewall Jackson

Very few of us frequently stand in battle fields where death is all around, yet in comfort that would have awed Augustine, we cower.

Yes, And.

Christ came not just to give life, but life more abundant. The practical implication of this can be summed up in the improvisational comedy rule, “Yes, and.” In improv to say no is to kill the sketch, the “reality” of the situation that is being created is ruined by a participant who denies that reality. For example “We are standing in this nunnery.” Response “Yes, and I have stuffed all these nuns in beer barrels.” If the response was anything other than yes and the sketch grinds to an unseemly halt. Yet it is not enough to simply agree to the premise, ex. “We are standing in this nunnery.” Response, “Indeed, we are.” There must be an and, the plot must advance. 

So, Christ is Lord, Savior, generous giver of life, king who’s enemies are even now being fashioned into a footstool, all that and a bag of chips. Yes, and my worship will be that life with gusto. Christians are not called to be dour killjoys that concern the world that they might catch what ever it is we have. The good news we proclaim is about eternal life, why on earth would anyone want what we are offering if it is presented with the wild enthusiasm of a mortician off his depression meds. As N.D. Wilson has so effectively pointed out life for every believer is like being in Disneyworld and having the last name Disney. Live like it! Mental assent to the premise of the Lordship of Christ is not enough, there must be an and, we are required to respond, to act.

Theologians have posited that life here on earth is akin to a dress rehearsal for the other side of eternity. Why then does it appear we are rehearsing a tragedy. Christ has already won, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. you as a believer in Christ have been adopted into this victorious royal family. Right now you are in a far country, a blood bought representative of the conquering king. If God is for you who can be against you? 

The and of Calvinism is the joy that is set before us. We should live in such a high spirited way those who are dying want what we have. Our confidence in Christ should make us fearless. The most common command in all of scripture is fear not and its derivatives. Vim and vigor, should be our modus operandi. Whatever our hand finds to do we should do it, and relish the doing of that good work. Meals should be savored, books conquered, friendships long and deep, hobbies delighted in, homes welcoming, sleep like Calvins’, whiskey neat, and all to the glory of God. A lukewarm life of worship is an unacceptable living sacrifice. 

Surprise

All comedy depends on the element of surprise. Because God has built rhythms into the world eg. “ A time to sow a time to reap etc.” we have expectations toward normalcy. Humor is birthed in the moment that the rhythm is upended and an expectation is unmet in a pleasant way. But God, being the greatest comedian of all, gave the punchline away in Genesis three and repeated it for thousands of years. The joke seemed done to death. And yet he resurrected it in glorious fashion. It changed the world, it shocked and surprised the antagonist, and the hilarity of his defeat is ours to laugh at all the way to the wedding banquet. The resurrection of Christ is the greatest comedic moments of all history. Read the accounts afterward, the Marx Brothers themselves could not have done better with the mayhem. In 1 Corinthians 1:25 Paul runs against E.B. Whites warning, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” 

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Brothers, consider the time of your calling: Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly and despised things of the world, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast in His presence.

It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God: our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:21-31

A child in a manger that dies on a Roman cross, returned to life, and he chose you, before the foundations of the earth. How is that not hilarious? How could you not live in a way that shocks a dying world?

They Really Lived

One of my favorite movies is Secondhand Lions. It begins and ends with the brothers McCann’s deaths from trying to fly a biplane upside down through their barn. The middle is all about their fantastic lives that made these fascinating men. At the end of the movie their nephew Walter is asked by the young grandson of a desert sheik who was part of their tall tale of a life, “So these men, they really lived? To which Walter replies, “Yeah, they really lived.” For the Christian this life is only the beginning. We are in the dress rehearsal for eternity, and our aim is that by the end of hour in which we strut and flit across the stage that what will be said of us is judged by our performance we really will live.

Would You have a Drink with It?

“One of the tests that should regularly be applied to the results of any thinking process, however plausible, is: Would I like to sit down and have a vermouth with this thing I have just talked myself into? On that scale, ballerinas, oysters, free speech, and romantic love come off just fine. Computers, the Modern Presidency, National Honor, Protective Reaction, and Keeping America Number One make terrible drinking companions.” – R.F. Capon; Hunting the Divine Fox, Chapter 10 Computers

I am reminded of an essay I read once and have since lost track of by Garrison Keillor on how to look like an interesting person in public by reading a news paper. He covered the order, how to fold it, and speciffically that it must be an actual newspaper, not a digital one. His point was if you are trying to be an interesting person they physical object is vital, an iNook is not intresting everyone is staring at a divice. THey signal, “do not talk to me.” By driving people away you become uninteresting. There is something about the physical thing that lends itself to pleasure. A pint with my laptop is not nearly as enjoyable as a pint with a book. The pleasure of a good draft is enhanced by the feel of the paper on my fingers, the sound of pages sliding across one another as they are turned. I want to have a drink with my books, I am driven to drink by my laptop. 

I would assume for many at some point a cage stage Calvinist has stained what should have been an otherwise good theology, “full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable comfort to godly persons” as Article 17 would say. The Doctrines of Grace should be the best drinking companion but often it is has been introduced by a loud and obnoxious drunkard. I would not want to drink with that idea and its jerk of a friend, and neither should anyone else. But when understood rightly, a better evening could not be wished for. Lewis called it Chestertonian Calvinism and it is the kind of idea you want to stay the weekend for a proper bash where the good scotch is brought out, the cigars are Churchills and you enjoy it because you know you don’t really have any other choice.

What else then has been accepted as an uncomfortable drinking companion? Capon largely talks about ideas and I appreciate his criteria for some mental housecleaning. It is a healthy practice to consider what our drinking companions are that serve more to drive away people than invite them in by being interesting. In a world of think as I do or be banished to the outer darkness we have become a miserable people, our own worst drinking companions.

Preaching with “Uses”

Introduction 

Some years ago Doug Pagitt, whom I was surprised to find is still a minor thing, caused something of a stir with the quote “Preaching doesn’t work.” The larger context was his book Preaching Re-Imagined which brought about a flurry of rebuttals. My favorite being Matt Chandlers delivered as a sermon at an Acts 29 Conference. 

Pagitts premise was to call preaching speaching, bringing to mind a rather shrill old school Billy Sunday or a dyed in the wool frozen chosen drone. Then push his new concept of progressional dialogue. Where he says something that causes someone to say something followed by another person saying something that has occurred to them due to the first two thoughts etc. “In a real way the conversation has moved forward.” Pagitt says. “From nowhere, to nowhere.” Was Chandlers witty reply. The most fun to come out of this for me was a published paper* from Master Seminary that was forced to admit (though this was relegated to a footnote) that the best living example of a preacher who proved Pagitt wrong was Mark Driscoll. All this is dated and a little inside I know, so let me get to the point.

Pagitt’s damage was done. While the emergent church has all but died or rebranded as the woke church; some of their stupid ideas continue to infect churches that are otherwise striving to be reformed. Just as the work and thinking of Driscoll has and continues to influence me. So The work of Rob Bells, Doug Pagitt, and Brian McLaren echo down the halls of evangelicalism. Like all heretics none of those three started out to become apostate. They like Pelagius before them were not mustachioed twirling villains laughing into their sleeve while throwing orphans out into the snow. They genuinely believe what they say, bone headed as it is. And that passion affects those who learned under them for a long time. That influence then is handed down to the disciples of their disciples, often in a weird form. But the vapors of stupid still linger.

I think one example of Pagitts particular brand of stupid is for preachers to try and have the congregation talk back to them. In the worst case scenarios I have seen this happen and the preacher consider that to have been the application of the text. Which is horrific. The rest of this piece is going to be an exhortation to preach, to preach effectively. To preach in a way and with an authority that would make Doug Pagitts head spin.

Stirring the Affections

There is a legitimate charge to be leveled at some preachers that they are emotional. Either in that they personally are too emotional. Like Rev. Green from Clarence Day’s God and My Father who would tear up in every sermon until Father stood up mid sermon shouting “Oh Damn!” and stormed out of the church. Or pastors who use such flowery language and insipid language trying to move the emotions of the congregation. Like a bastardized Spurgeon. Plucking the heartstrings gets the sermon only as far as the parking lot then the tears are dried and the point is forgotten. Instead preaching should be so clear and forthright that pastors should long to be criticized as J.C. Ryle was: “I came to hear a bishop speak, and I could understand every word that man said!” Preaching is to be clear but lest we fall into the category of the dull we must also listen to our Puritans. They were the doctors of the soul, they looked to stir the affections 

“Puritan sermons placed immense demands on the intellect, but this emphasis on the rational understanding of truth was balanced by an appeal the the heart and will. The Puritan sermon was affective: it aimed to affect the listener…The affective preaching resided, not in the manipulation of the audience by the preacher, but in the action of the Holy Spirit.” Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints

“As man is not so prone to live according to the truth he knows excepth it do deeply affect him, so neither doth his soul enjoy its sweetness, except speculation do pass to affection. The understanding is not the whole soul, and therefore cannot do the whole work… The understanding must take in truths, and prepare the for the will and it must receive them and commend them to the affections:… the affection are, as it were, the bottom of the soul.” – Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory

Puritans were so good at this that in her history of John Winthrop and the Boston Puritans atheist and comedic historian Sara Vowell, in her brilliant Wordy Shipmates, had to concede that while she set out to mock them their preaching stirred even her.

“I am a reasonably happy-go-lucky person with a serviceable sense of humor and a nice-enough apartment in New York, the most exciting city in the world. Once I decided to devote years of my life to deciphering the thoughts and feelings of the dreary religious fanatics who founded New England nearly four hundred years ago, I was often asked at parties by my fellow New Yorkers the obvious question, ‘What are you working on?’ When I would tell them a book about Puritans, they would often take a swig of the beer or bourbon in their hands and reply with either a sarcastic ‘Fun!’ or a disdainful ‘why?’

At which point, depending on my mood, I would either mumble something about my fondness for sermons as literature or mention taking my nephew to the Mayflower replica waterslide in a hotel pool in Plymouth. I would never answer with the honest truth. Namely, that in the weeks after two planes crashed into two skyscrapers her eon the worst day of our lives, I found comfort in the words of Winthrop. When we were mourning together, when we were suffering together, I often thought of what he said and finally understood what he meant.

Uses or as We would call them, Application

“Application is the skill by which the doctrine which has been properly drawn from Scripture is handled in ways, which are appropriate to the circumstances of the place and time and to the people in the congregation.” – William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying

Fair warning form here I will largely just be directing you, dear reader, to William Perkins. My goal is to whet your appetite for his most excellent book The Art of Prophesying which is available from The Banner of Truth Trust.**

Primarily Puritans referred to uses, which would today be called application in a sermon outline. Uses is a good word because of its basic utilitarian nature. To preach well is to stir the congregation to act, “tomorrow morning when the alarm clock goes off” as the old preacher said. The affections have been stirred, now they must know what to do with this desire to be godly, they must be instructed, in the specifics. 

“The basic principal in application is to know whether the passage is a statement of the law of gospel. For when the Word is preached, the law and the gospel operate differently. The law exposes the disease of sin, and as a side-effect stimulates and stirs it up. But provides no remedy for it. However, the gospel not only teaches us what is to be done, it also has the power of the Holy Spirit joined to it. When we are regenerated by him we receive the strength we need both to believe the gospel and to do what it commands. The law is, therefore, first in the order of teaching; then comes the gospel.” – William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying

The error that primarily gets made is for a preacher to prefer one over the other. The fire and brimstone preacher who dwells long and hard on the little treadmill of the congregations pet peeves of secular sins and the wrath they store up. Or the Preachers that are all gospel, Jesus meek and mild, a milquetoast savior who carries you across beaches at sunset. I exaggerate but the in-between in also well known. As Doug Wilson is fond of saying the gospel must be preached like Laphroaig straight from the cask*** A gospel with no sin to turn from is a gospel with no direction. 

7 Types

“There are basically seven ways in which application should be made, in keeping with seven different spiritual conditions. 1. Those who are unbelievers and are both ignorant and unteachable. 2. Those who are teachable, but ignorant. 3. Those who have knowledge, but have never been humbled. 4. Those who have been humbled. 5. Those who already believe. We must teach them. 6. Those who have fallen back. 7. Churches with both believers and un believers.” – William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying

I would here prefer to reproduce in it’s entirety but copyright and space will not permit. What is interesting that in all of the above cases Perkins made room for pastoral counsel. Time for people in the congregation to respond with their thoughts and to be catechized. But he never allows for that interaction at the expense of a minister of word and sacrament bringing to the congregation, in force, preaching with direct application delivered. 

In short the modern desire to progressively dialogue, under the guise of feedback or counseling from the pulpit, would have been condemned in the strongest way in a Puritan church. If for no other reason than the congregant who is wrong should not be given a platform to address the whole body incorrectly. Application comes from the study and preparation work of the preacher steeped in the text and in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Even in Perkins list of who application must be made to it should be noted that even the best parishioner is to be taught. Sermons are not conversations, they are not participatory in the way we generally think. 

“The Puritan practice of affective preaching meant that listening to a sermon was not a spectator sport but an active involvement. Critiques of sermons by liturgical advocates, in the Puritan era or today, misunderstand the dynamics of good sermon listening. For the Puritans, listening to a sermon was an active exercise that required the full attention of the listener.” – Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints

These practices included note taking, meditating on the sermon from the notes, and audibly repeating and discussing it with family, again from the copious notes, and these were done thought the week.

“The Purpose of preaching, in other words, was judged not by what went on the the church, but by the the effect of the sermon outside the church.” – Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints

These practices today could be enhanced with congregations being taught to not use digital Bibles, but to turn them off and use bound Scriptures to remove distraction. And throughout the week taking advantage of our digital age and re-listening to the sermon over the course of the week. Short attention spans should not require a preacher to shorten or become more interactive. The role of a pastor is to teach, grow the congregations attention and active listening practices, do not bow to them thus aborting the word preached. 

Conclusion

I hope that at this point is is apparent that a preacher has no time for extracurriculars. We are commanded by Christ through his preacher Paul:

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.“ – 2 Timothy 4:2

Preaching is not a conversation. It requires uses/applications. Congregations should not be relied upon to make the connections for themselves. A unified church requires a unified thought. Bodies need a singular brain. The Body of Christ requires a singular preacher. 

* https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj17k.pdf

*Banner Books if you ever want to send me books I will be happy to read, review and in all likelihood plug them shamelessly to all five of my readers. Just saying…

**Aged ten years… It will knock your socks off. Almost enough to convert me from the cult of Ardbeg.

Gratitude for Third Places

I would recommend reading the following two articles before continuing

https://letterandliturgy.wordpress.com/2021/03/15/on-male-friendship-and-the-local-church/

Having spent a good portion of my last fifteen years studying the Biblical Manhood movement it is rare that I find writing on the subject that moves beyond the usual pablum. They articulate very well not only a part of the problem but also beginning to point toward a solution.

I can remember joining the mens group at my church and the general unease and sending out of feelers as to everyone’s position on stogies and alcohol. I still can not imagine the day when a pastor announces the mens group will be meeting this Thursday and the church will be purchasing a couple of kegs for the event and there will be no devotional just pints, fire and “smoke if ya got em.” However, I would suggest that those are the springboards that launch men toward the kinds of fellowship that you can build a tight knit group of future church elders out of. 

Third spaces were done away with as an early move of the feminist movement.* Men congregating without women to supervise… Many grasped for their pearl necklaces, Carrie Nation snatched up a hatchet. “A bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.” Delightful woman, I love how she thought Jesus needed her input. The result being that now women have the men constantly and it would appear they want to give him back. 

So now men are friendless and a little displaced in their own homes.** The above articles bear this out. Yet as I read them I was struck by how, unlike the writers, this has not been my experience. I have been blessed with not only a third place, my beloved Hammer and Ale, but also the friends to go with it. I had not realized how abnormal my situation is. As I write I am sitting waiting for them to join me, like most days. Later we have a Laphroig tasting to accomplish, we have some controversial statements from John MacArthur to parse, and then once we have gotten H. through his, “a bit fighty” phase of drinking we will get into marriage and other issues of life. 

And here is my point, I am grateful. I have been blessed to not be friendless or displaced. And this is not to boast, simply to say I am rather taken aback, I never realized how fortunate I was to be living in that “clubbableness” Lewis described what was so vital to men.

*I know this is a very reductionist history in this paragraph, I might revisit with nuance later but these are supposed to be short pieces.

**Lets revisit later the infantilizing “man cave” concept.

“My Rights”

“I’m not arguing. I’m just telling you the sort of chap I was, see? I’m asking for nothing but my rights… I’m only a poor man. But I got to have my rights same as you, see?” – The Big Ghost, The Great Divorce

Introduction

Something to consider when it comes to speech, written or spoken, is that while we live in a ostensibly free environment, we may have our right but are not always required to use it. It would seem that if you feel your freedom of speech is under threat that perhaps you should just get louder and become harder to shut up. And I am not advocating for just rolling over and giving up, but I would like to take some time to consider discernment in our free speech. 

The Lay of the Land

 There is debate happening over speech in the western world. It would seem that there has been a rather quick flip on the roles. Some aspects I will grant others I will not. For example. I do think that the left played a very long game media wise and played the game well. It is a lot easier to shut down the, “religious right” or “moral majority” when you have plenty of footage of them from the nineteen nineties grandstanding, protesting, boycotting, and pontificating and then simply attach that footage to whatever conservative ideas you currently wish to discredit. So I would say that the shift that has left many conservatives reeling did not happen overnight but was slowly prepared for over time. It has been quick in that the relatively sudden rise of internet businesses and their power to censor is stunning. But most interesting to me is how it is the conservative playbook that is being used against them. Boycotts, calling out offenders and trying to have them fired, shaming people, banning books, protests; all things I can remember from by Southern Baptist boyhood. 

The tables have turned and some of the vehemence probably stems from a feeling that one was shut out of the main discourse. Perhaps the rise of Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter and their draconian approaches is indeed the revenge of the nerds. My concern is that history that is not learned from is doomed to be repeated. Every generation rebells against the previous one. And there is a real possibility that by infuriating a marginalized group we will just be right back to where we were, for good or for ill.

One more note on where we are. This clash is religious. All men were made to worship and the only question is what will they worship? Hate speech is just a new name for blasphemy. Blasphemy laws are always just a twinkle in some legislators eye. The fight here is not a clash of ideas but of God against the Baal’s of our age. It might therefore be wiser to fight like Elijah on Mt. Carmel. Let God win the day first, then deal with the prophets. I fear with all of our shouting matches online and occasionally in person we are trying to kill the prophets and leave the idol alone.

But let me broaden this out a bit. My larger concern is not the switch in power dynamics, rather it is what that has done to the state of our conversation. Wherever you land on the spectrum the temptation on condescend, over assert, mock, or rhetorically crush opponents is great. And I do not deny that there is a time and a place for flaming hot verbosity. The problem is that all of us think we are operating on the same level as Luther and that our particular cause is just as important, if not more so.

Some Thoughts on Stewarding our Words Well

Discernment is one of those things Christians are aware of but I have found really have no clue what it actually it. At it’s base discernment is living well. It is the constant pursuit of the moral and general Will of God applied judiciously to all of life, it culminates in wisdom. It takes time, Scripture bound to the heart, prayer, and no little thought. Discernment while capable of a snap decision does not live for them. Discernment is patient, it is charitable, it is a life of worship. 

To be discerning with our words begins with self control. If I had to choose a fruit of the spirit that runs against the grain of western society, self control would be in hot competition with patience. But nothing makes for a fool more than a babbler according to Proverbs.

“The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” – Prov. 15:2

“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.” – Prov. 18:6-7

“Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.” – Prov. 19:1 (The Amplified Version adds self-confident to fool)

Keeping Your Mouth Shut

A fool does not know how to hold their tongue. They are like Kanye West at an awards show. Wisdom dictates knowing when to shut up, but it starts with simply keeping your mouth shut.

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” – Prov. 10:19

“A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly.” – Prov. 12:23

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” – Prov. 17:28

You are For them

I enjoy sitting with pastors, I love hosting them and providing a respite from their labors. But inevitably a theological issue comes up that I really, really, want to set them straight on. But what I have learned is that A. in most cases I am not close enough to them relationally to be heard yet B. They have fifty people who think they are that close and have often vented their spleen C. If I am going to be in the position to be heard and hopefully bring them around they need to experience so they can know that I am for them. I don’t want to push them in a certain direction because I am a doctrine fusser (though I absolutely am) but because I want them and their churches to thrive. In short wisdom plays the long game. I am discerning in my words because when I use them I want them to resonate in a positive way. As a result I will sit silently and charitably for a long time.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1

Knowing if or when You Need to be Heard

Turning our attention to this digital age of ours I would posit that perhaps the world will keep on spinning without our constant shouting into the void; often in 280 characters or less. On a pragmatic level it ought to be considered by every person if they have not already stirred up enough relational strife with their actual words to their immediate relational group. 

“As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife” – Proverbs 26:21

If perhaps you are already considered quarrelsome by those who love you then going global might not be the best thing for you. But more that that I suspect that our other sin of envy drives us to be extreme. The drive to influence, stir up, or even just to be noticed begins small and innocuous enough but often is the driver to bigger and greater self centeredness and selfishness.

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

What if instead God were taken at His word and humility was the driving investment. Not every article, blogpost, or tweet needs your complete take on it. And just between the two of us I have yet to see a kind comment comment that produced a storm of words from other tweets. Just because you disagree or are offended does not mean you need to speak out. Quarrelsomeness online is the same sin it was in person during the reign of Solomon.

Overestimating your Own Importance

And as we approach the root we come to pride. The feeling that you need to be heard or that you can set someone straight is usually more about you than the issue. Wether you care to own it or not you are Joe Schmo and you are probably not going to speak with the authority you think you possess. And that is because you are a prideful person in a world of prideful people. 

To illustrate, I was reading on Samuel James’ excellent blog Letter and Liturgy the other week. I like James because even when I have a nit to pick I still enjoy his prose or had to consider a position that I personally would nuance differently. And such was the case with the post I was reading. I scrolled down to the comments section to consider if I might be interested in the discussion. And there I found a post… nearly 700 words long taking severe issue with the same sentence I did as well. And it made me realize what a fools errand it is to vent your spleen in a comments section. It is not as if James is going to be reduced to a puddle of regret, and even I who agreed with the point was turned off by the pontification. The comment was pure ego. And it was petty. That is the problem with pride, it puffs up the individual but makes them small and pathetic in the eyes of others.

Conclusion

At the end of the day you do have rights. Humility calls for those rights to be laid down and you will ultimately be granted greater freedoms. I have heard more and more sermons of pastors pleading with their congregations to turn off their social media, to show charity to the brethren. They are not wrong, but what I see are a church of ghosts, demanding their rights, they would rather have those than the fellowship offered them.

“So that’s the trick, is it? I thought there’d be some damned nonsense. It’s all a clique, all a bloody clique. Tell them I’m not coming, see? I’d rather be damned than go along with you. I came here to get my rights see? Not to go sniffing along on charity tied to your apron-strings. If they’re too fine to have me without you, I’ll go home. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll go home. I didn’t come here to be treated like a dog. That’s what I’ll do. Damn and blast the whole pack of you…’ In the end, still grumbling, but whimpering also a little as it picked its way over the sharp grasses, it made off.” – C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Hidden Book Rooms

There is a room in the basement of the Public Library here in Memphis that only a few can enter. It is filled with books, obviously, but these books are neither for borrowing or lending. These are destined to find homes in homes. It is the sorting and warehousing room for Second Editions the used book store of the library.

Inside this room a small group of wizards determine the merits and qualities of each book. There is a vault of sorts for the very valuable ones. Outside it’s doors are enormous wheeled carts filled with sad books. The kind that were mass produced and shouldn’t have been. These are headed to a grim and well deserved fate. The sheer volume of them make one consider if after Ted Deckers death a basement filled with chimpanzees and typewriters will be discovered in his house. 

This room is overseen by soft spoken man named Sheldon. He is just a lovely guy and I have infiltrated his domain twice. He pointed me in the direction of the books I was looking for, just past the book press, the poetry section, which was conveniently located at the end of the theology row. I stocked up on my way down before turning the corner to literature to swell the ranks of my original Penguin Classics collection. And there, in petty I found a gem, a small, two by one inch, purple silk cloth covered, folio society edition of  Sir Patrick Spens and Other Ballads, in it’s gold slipcase. The book is so small it could easily be missed. And yet this was the kind of treasure that can only be found in a subturanian wonderland filled with mountains of books. It was like Bilbo discovering the Arkensone in the Lair of Smaug. Sheldon didn’t know what it was and let me take it home for a buck. 

The second time I visited the cave of wonders beneath the library I managed to smuggle in T.S. we both made out like bandits. 

I am a little obsessive compulsive about my books being organized and beautifully displayed. But there is a part of me that longs to have a book room like the one beneath the library. And it would appear I am headed that way. Though my piles are discreet, they are growing. Eventually I will probably die in an avalanche caused by the retrieval of the wrong book form the Jenga like structure that is currently growing under and around my desk.

One day I intend to get back into the Library book room. And by Gods grace I shall. Currently I am trying to finagle a way to get Hudson down there. I am not so subtly growing his library. It has been a few years since I was down there last. But a new year has dawned and if Sheldon wants to get ahead in his sales… I might be able to help.

Note: The picture above is from another library basement. Sadly I don’t have a picture of the real one to post here.

Atheist Counselors

Let me begin by saying I love logic, reason, and R.F. Capon. The following is not an attack on any of these things. But I have a nit to pick with an aspect of premarital counseling and unfortunately the good reverend provides an excellent example of the problem before my eyes. 

Now pushing aside my general suspicion of the profession of Christian Counselors, and my observing that premarital counseling as it is currently executed is wildly ineffective. I would like to camp on the tendency of counselors and pastors to, in counseling, not believe the Bible.

I do not mean that I think apostates are running wild in our pulpits.* But I do think that there is and has been for sometime creeping failure to stand upon the granite in favor of a soapstone. The softer and porous nature makes things easier to receive and I suspect we think it makes hard truths easier to digest.

Allow me to Illustrate (at some length)

“A couple of years back there was a cartoon that showed two clams sitting at the bottom of the ocean. One of them says to the other, “But you wouldn’t buy a new car without first driving it, would you?” My pre-marital couple doesn’t crack a smile. Not an eye blinks. Nobody’s punch lines fall flatter than a priests in marriage instructions. As far as they are concerned I am only supposed to be a “minister of religion.” Like in the movies. The predictable vicar who thinks life is about afternoon teas and long walks. No matter, I press on. I raise the subject of premarital chastity as such. It is not old-fashioned, I tell them, or if it is, it has yet to go out of date as far as the facts are concerned. What do you think you have to practice for marriage? They watch me blankly, but they are watching. Well, you don’t have to practice going to bed together. And you don’t have to, because you can’t. Premarital intercourse is not the same thing as the marriage bed. of course there is something unique about the first time whenever it comes, but if it comes before, there is inevitably attached to it the flip of the forbidden. It doesn’t matter how enlightened people are, or how blasé the society is; our mores, honored in breach or observance, are our mores, and were stuck with them. We might as well try to change out air. Do it now, I tell them and doing it later will have the edge taken off so say the least. People think of the flesh as as a mighty monster straining at the leash, bursting with health and unquenchable vigor What they don’t know is that poor flesh takes an awful drubbing. It;s not all in the head, but a good bit of it is… 

Licit sex usually runs a poor second to illicit; don’t make any more comparisons than you can help. What you really need to practice is keeping promises Right now of course you wouldn’t go to bed with anybody else, but later on, it’s not always that clear, and then these little exercised in fidelity will be worth something in terms of chastity and trust. So, I say, if you have so far been chaste, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. And if you haven’t been, well try and cut out the compromises. Even a tardy dose of principals is better than none.

Well that usually produces something of a steady silence.” R.F. Capon Bed & Board; Chapter II

This is one of the most succinct and best bits of reasoning on why unmarried couples barring down on the wedding should avoid sex before the “I do”s.” The problem is that it is a piece of reasoning. Capon was a priest at the time. A very Biblically literate man. And yet the problem I have with this is the same I have with most “Christian Counseling” it makes sense but there is no authority behind it. 

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” – Joshua 1:8

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” – 2 Timothy 3:16

“The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.” Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1 Section 4

“The exceptional character of the influence of Scripture lies in two things: 1. Its power to penetrate into the spirit of man… 2. Its ability to bind the conscience, that is, to constrain it before God either to excuse or accuse us of sin.” – William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying

My point here is a simple one. I fear we have exchanged authority for pragmatics. Calling people to simple obedience to Scripture seems cold and rote. We fear people won’t understand the reasons behind the commands. Perhaps we think we are being condescending or behind the times. Therefore, we look to explain and make sense. Which in itself is a good thing. But over time it appears to me that Scripture took a back seat. It get’s lip service but that is in the form of a preface before the real work begins. A command is not presented as a command but just a reasonable point. 

A Rebellious Age

Authority is what is needed, and in our culture it is despised. Not to lay the blame at the foot of the internet, but it has certainly been an enabler in this enterprise. Everyone is in a position to be an intellectual jack of all trades yet master of none. A few years ago Mitchell and Webb created the character The Evil Vicar who perfectly, if foully, sums up what most pastors feel they are up against. 

“Aren’t you all ‘entitled’ to your half-arsed musings on the divine? You’ve thought about eternity for 25 minutes and think you’ve come to some interesting conclusions. Well, let me tell you – I stand with two thousand years of darkness and bafflement and hunger behind me, my kind have harvested the souls of a million peasants and I couldn’t give a ha’penny jizz for your internet-assembled philosophy!” – David Mitchell

But deeper than the arrogance instant Google searches can grant is the real problem: Sin. Plain and simple, sin is indeed the problem. It is alluring, and easier. Like sirens it calls us to destruction, damnation. To admit to sin is a hurdle on it’s own. To repent… Well that is the trick isn’t it?

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” – Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV)

“All we like sheep have gone astray;

    we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

    the iniquity of us all.” – Isaiah 53:6

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23

And possibly most damning, yet clarifying…

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:2-4

I have been teaching Scripture for over twenty years now and in that time I have never had a person come to me and say, “Thank you! thank you for showing me I am the most repulsive vile sinner.” No one wants to think they are that bad. We all want to play the Pharisee game of finding the guy who is worse than us and making them our standard of righteousness. Why else is Hitler the most popular person to compare any opposition to? If you can make anyone, “literally Hitler” then you are golden. No one wants to truly admit to how depraved they really are, how evil their hearts are. And they are quick to jump on pastors who pull the curtin back revealing the decrepit little imp inside. Pastors have for years been condemned as judgmental, hurtful, condemning, not meeting me where I am. And I call bull. It is all a smokescreen to keep the sinful man hidden.

Sadly I fear many pastors and counselors have capitulated to this temper tantrum. They found the words, felt needs, and ran with them. Cushioning the blow, pulling the punches. Trying to comfort the sinner and coax them out of their hovel, as if they were a spooked stoat. soft words and softer hands beckoned sinners from one sin to the next, from from open fornication to lying about salvation. This is how pillars of the church are made. 

And authority is forfeited.

Authority flows to those who take responsibility. The man of God does not sit on a sofa empathizing a sinning couple into hell. He ascends to the sacred desk and brings to them the word of the Lord. He speaks to them as a dying man to dying men. He proclaims like Bunyan Good News to the Vilest Sinner. And he does this for the glory of Christ. God is a jealous God, he will endure no rivals, no matter how small. The red lizards carried by men must be put to death.

“Oh to behold the Glory of Christ! Here in would I live, Here in would I die, here on would I dwell in my thoughts and my affections until all things here below become as dead and deformed things, and in no longer, any way, calling out for my affections” ~ John Owen

The Subject has not changed

Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. From this verse all counsel must flow. Even when that counsel is not understood. Pastors can, and should have requirements of those who they shepherd. In this they are unique. They are not a hired gun, or a lawyer. When a pastor engages in counsel reason and logic are not to be neglected but they are to be an integral part of the declaration of truth. And if the person coming for counsel can not understand the hard command remains. It is the way, it is the truth, it is the life. 

Because these sayings are hard, uncomfortable, and force sinners to either be held by their profession, repent and be converted, or depart into the outer darkness. They are softened. People come to pastors or counselors assuming they are automatically on their side. This is false. They are on the side of truth. Or at least they are supposed to be.

At the end of the day I fear most counselors and pastors do not really believe the Bible. This is why they lean hard on reasoning someone out of bad decisions rather than simply say, Scripture says. At best they invert, leading with reason and backing up with Scripture. Either way it shows a functional atheism. They do not actually believe Scripture to be living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, separating bone and marrow. And because for years counselors and pastors have failed to really believe Scripture, it should come as no surprise that those seeking counsel don’t either. 

Conclusion

To paraphrase an illustration from Voddie Baucham. If you were a knight preparing for a fight, and your rival shouts to you, “I dost not believe in thine sword!” What do you do? You hit him, with the sword. 

*Let me narrow this down by saying I mean in our solidly reformed, weapons grade calvinistic pulpits. There are plenty of loony toons out there playing church and the obviously don’t believe in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture even if they say some nice things about it on their, “What we Believe” page.