People Don’t Change

Introduction

If I may start by venting my spleen. The chief frustration in counseling* is being ignored. You listen, ask all the relevant questions, and then apply scripture to the situation as the basis for your counsel. And nine times out of ten, you know the person sitting there has just wasted both your time. They came to you not for insight or advice, but for a rubber stamp on the stupid thing they want to do. Or in the hope that you would give justification for their new “Trauma,” as Screwtape would say, “Beelzebub, what a useful word!” And when you don’t do that, they try and weasel around it, and then just lie, saying they listened.

Actually the biggest frustration is knowing you will be repeating this process ad infinitum

People Don’t Change

It is ironic that frequently the people who need counsel inevitably want other people to change  but they don’t want to make any adjustments about themselves.The number one problem I run into when discipling young men is idiot friends. From there you can move to romantic relationships. Everyone wants other people to be more Godly but they don’t want to become more Godly themselves. 

I remember reading about one college pastor who would meet with students who had returned from their first semester at University and not surprisingly they would admit to wanting to leave the faith. His first question was always, “So what’s his/her name?” No part of a Christian life comes easy. It is like rowing upstream. With fellow believers you have a team and the job is easier. With unbelievers there is dead weight and distraction. One group helps every one move further up and further in. Another gets you out to being lost at sea.

Many Christians who come to be counseled really want permission to load down their boat with more weight than they can carry and then advice on how to convince those people to suddenly have a form of Godliness, or at least how to cope with being stuck in the strong currents. Left to their own devices no one in that boat will change, they are all doomed, together they will sail into the outer darkness. That Christian will be in a living hell with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

That Christian has neglected two of the major gifts God has given to keep them from getting into that situation. The Body of believers, which is the church, and the infallible instruction and wisdom of God, the Scriptures. The believer that devotes themselves to these things finds themselves rarely in need of a counselor. Frequently those who require counseling are already so far gone what is really happening is triage. Sadly I find most don’t make it.

Sanctification Changes

People do not change, they are incapable of doing so. As a matter of fact they only have the potential to, “go down to the bad all through the ages.” As Tolkien would describe. Something outside of them must do all the work**. God changes people, he puts their old sinful self to death, and raises them into new life. From there he shapes and molds them into his image before in one final glorious eucatastrophe he perfects them fully and with his right hand ushers them into his presence and pleasures forevermore. As in the story of Lazarus He has told us the end, but not the middle. Yet through it all he is with us and guides us, and has generously given us two guides. These are the tools every counselor should leverage, Scripture and fellowship with the church body.

Scripture should go without saying. However, I have lost track of the number of “Biblical Counselors” I have heard who try and estimate how “Christian” a client is and then use corresponding amounts of Scripture (less for the nominal, more for the avid fan) so as not no offend. This is simple spiritual malpractice. 

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

I know more people who are quicker to quote their therapist than Scripture, and at some point it should be asked if our emotional slavery is directly linked to our Biblical illiteracy. as well as being the inerrant Word, Scripture is also living and active, it is a sharp sword that is wielded in the spiritual realm. It cuts through our issues and objections, it slices and dices away at our sins. It shows us the way to and of salvation. It brings us to Christ the great healer. It shapes and molds the believer into the image of Christ. It is a sanctifying force, and the filter though which all of life goes.

If this were not enough God has given the additional aid of fellowship with the church. I am fascinated how many friendless christians there are in local churches, and those tend to be the people who keep regular appointments with their counselors. It would appear that real “life together” as Bonhoeffer would advocate for, has been outsourced to paid persons who have the Scriptural knowledge of an elder but lack their authority. They have the listening skills of a friend, but are unobtrusive otherwise. They always say “hard things” the right way in the right tones, which means they can be ignored when the desire to sin or be foolish arises. And they can’t require repentance for sin, but are quick to give assurance of pardon. 

Friends, and elders are gifts from God who know you. They deeply know you. They call you out, they rebuke you, they point you to Jesus. They are interested in your spiritual growth out of love not professionalism. They don’t wait for you to realize, “you need help” they come to you head on and do everything to drag you back to the cross. It is done imperfectly because they love you like the brother or sister you are in Christ. Their great desire is for your sanctification, they spur you on, and the hope is that you will do the same. The relationship is by design both ways.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:23-25

The Greatest Service

The goal of any counseling is discipleship, and seeing as that is the great command given by Christ, not the great suggestion, it is what every Christian should be about. Any counseling that is done should be done in such a way that the person seeking counsel leaves more capable of being a reproducing follower of Christ, not simply possessing better self esteem. This is done best in the context of believers, not behind closed doors of an office with licenses on the wall. It is done best by those saturated with Scripture who simply marinate the disciple in the commands of God. If i may awkwardly take the image from David. It should be like a honey glaze.

What this builds to is not then the brilliant insights of the counselor, but the Scripture he expounds, and then the prayers he prays. At the top I related the most frustrating thing about giving counsel is being lied to. They nod along, then go off and continue in sin or foolishness. Therefore they must be placed in the hands of God. And those prayers must not always be of the sweet edifying kind. My own mother used to pray that if I or my sisters sinned we would be caught. David prayed that God would send his enemies to hell. It is good to pray for conviction of sin, for repentance, for God to do his will in bringing his wayward child back into fellowship with him and the eternal family. Prayers should be made for the person and in front of them.

Conclusion

The true work of a Christian who gives counsel is to disciple and to pray unceasingly. playing therapist is self defeating and ultimately frustrating. People need Christ and Him Crucified, they must be conformed to his image. To do this takes a spine and a well known Bible. Love sometimes means not allowing the person to get away with lying to you, and or wasting both your time. You can not change a person, only Christ can. People don’t change, Christians do, hold them to that confession and if they are true, the transformation will take place.

*A longish footnote on counseling. Consider it like the Appendices to Lord of the Rings. Not necessary to the post but informative anyway. 

  • I. I dislike the idea of professional “Biblical” counselors. Hiring a counselor is like hiring a lawyer, they are only representing you and and have a financial incentive to do so. A Pastor is required Biblically to interview all parties involved in an emotional kerfuffle and is not on anyones side but Gods. A paid counselor is only required to get one side of the story and work from there. Frankly anyone with any experience with people knows there is this side, that side, and the truth. As well there is the obvious incentive to create a reliance on continued visits to the counselor for emotional, or worse, spiritual direction. Counselors have no spiritual authority they can only advise which, if there is a paycheck tied to sessions ad infinitum the lack of any ability to speak as one through whom God speaks is not really a problem. Commanding obedience to Scripture despite feelings leads to healing, massaging emotions with inspirational Bible quotes is self perpetuating naval gazing. As a result I refuse any payment for counseling and I operate from a pastoral model, if anyone was asking. My only allegiance is to Christ and Him Crucified. 
  • II. There is a genre of counseling that mostly deals with emotions or “trauma” (see quote from Screwtape above) I have a hard time with this one as well. A lot of emotional outbursts and perceived hurt is usually a rebellion of one or more Fruits of the Spirit. Real issues, such as a genuine psychological issue or chemical imbalance, should be dealt with by a medical physician.
  • III. The ultimate goal of any counselor should be discipleship. It is to get a person together enough that they are best served by the Word, read and preached, and the body. Puritans were the first physicians of the soul and they did 90% of their counseling from the pulpit. The last ten percent was meeting objections raised by the minority. A Puritan minister filled his week between sermon preparation and visiting his parishioners to catechize them. The little amount of counseling required was because Scripture is sufficient, and the congregations knew how to apply it to all of life. The reason Christian counselors abound and pastors schedules are slammed is that the people do not live and die by the Word of God. They live and die by the authority of their feelings.

**If you didn’t see this coming then I require your Calvinist Card.

Shoot the Foxes

Introduction

Solomon warns us in his song, to beware the little foxes that gnaw at the roots in the vineyard of love. Little foxes are an excellent metaphor for small slights, that chip away at the foundation of relationships. There is nothing new under the sun and as just as in the days of Christ divorce is on the table for reasons as ridiculous as Rabbi Hillel’s, “if she burns your food.” right down to Rabbi Akiva saying if you just find another woman attractive. Ecclesiastes is not wrong in saying everything comes back into fashion. Here’s looking at you no fault divorce and shacking.

Now I could indulge in the making of hay over these things but they are not my main point. It is in the water and therefore it is in the church, where it plainly should not be. Yet there it is, and it has borne terrible but strange fruit that bears some scrutiny. A few years back He-Who-Must-Not-be-Named* commissioned a study that found committed Christians with deeply reformed theology and regular church attendance had remarkably low divorce rates. But to survey pastors today it seems divorce a ticking time bomb in every marriage. This leads me to conclude that two things are happening. 1. There are a lot of non christians sitting in churches and they will do what unregenerate people do. And 2. A lot of little foxes are running around in marriages and not being shot dead.

Pragmatics

Complication: The modern evangelical church has neglected the gospel for pragmatism.

It has. It seems that there is a dichotomy of pastors who preach the gospel and those who preach how to live. It’s low hanging fruit to smack Steven Furtick around the head for the carousel of his five favorite topics none of which are the gospel. But his sermons did cross land and sea to make other pastors who are twice the practical son of hell he is. And some of them did some excellent plagiarism of really good marriage resources. Those sermons made for great free audio books of works I could not afford at the time. 

Obviously, The solution is not an either/or, but a both/and. This is true because the Puritans did this well. No theologians were more gospel centered and devotional** and at the same time endlessly practical. From Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory down to the well publicized case in Boston where a husband was placed under Church Discipline for being to pious for two years to have sex with his wife. No one toed the line of gospel and pragmatics like the Puritans. And seeing as there is an embarrassment of riches in published works throughout church history on both gospel and marriage there really is no excuse to be either/or.

Permanence of Marriage

It should first be noted that it is not common for the church to really lay the groundwork for how permanent marriage is supposed to be. It seems to receive lip service, and divorce is commonly seen as bad. Marriage workshops happen. However, it is nearly always presented in the context of the already married couple. When there should be front loading happening. Real permanence should be emphasized constantly. The volume should be high on the value of the last day over the first day. And that drum should begin beating at very young ages well before dating is even on the horizon. The fear that kids raised in single family homes might feel different because a parent is missing should not distract us. That is a consequence of sin, and it is sad, but keep in mind Truth is a person, and either he or the kids will be offended. As a child of divorce I can speak confidently to the ability to survive truth in a world marred my sin.

The objection that arises when a firm line is drawn is the exceptions that do legitimately exist. Abuse by a spouse is abandonment, as well as evil. And the “churches” that in practice never allow divorce for any reason and force women to stay with evil spouses are not churches, they are cults. They have nothing of the kingdom of God in them, they are sons of the Devil. Actual churches are filled with Grace and truth they posses wisdom Therefore they know when to apply which scripture. It is the difference between a dam and a levee. A dam lets loose the bad, a levee just holds everything in.

A constant refrain in the church should be that divorce without a Biblical reason is not an option.*** People should be engrained in the witty wisdom of Jack Benny, and then the fox hunt can begin.

“Mary and I have never considered divorce. Murder, yes, but never divorce” – Jack Benny

Back to the Foxes

With a firm theology of marriage and it’s permanence in place churches then are free to deal with all of those pragmatic issues that dog marriages and weaken them. It may be stretching the idea of Martin Luther**** that Shepherds are to hunt the wolves in the flock to include the ideas represented by foxes, but it is apt. And it does not mean leaving behind exegetical preaching in favor of topical. Often the gospel is connected to marriage, there are numerous examples of marriage in both testaments that provide asides for instruction and wisdom. As well direct instruction is given in the Epistles. Practical exhortation is not difficult to find and teach.

A simple example of fox hunting is found in 1 Peter 3:7. Instead of leaping to defend the “weaker vessel statement in the second half of the verse give attention to living with a wife in an understanding way. This includes knowing her mind and emotions. It involves not provoking her for amusement, picking battles and on occasion laying down desires or acting as one might toward a “weaker brother” abstaining from permissible things out of charity and gentleness. Additionally this allows for confidence in leadership because the command is given as a gift to build up trust. The Gospel application is simple in that the command points to the sacrifice of a husband and in his being Christ like in the pursuit of his bride. What can erode a marriage is a husband who baits his wife for his own amusement or insists on his way in scenarios where it doesn’t really matter. And, returning to the previous point, in this day where the worry is that a spouse may have been catechized into the frailty of marriage every fox nip feels like one less root holding the thing down.

Similarly application for wives can be made out of numerous proverbs on nagging. It is a fox to be shot. It opens the door to multiple forms of manipulation and is the sins of rebellion, lying, and lack of self control. A wife who nags is trying to seize control from God of the role her Husband has been ordained to play, that usurpation is done through refusing to control the tongue and often emotions, and is frequently denied and justified as a help which is the lie. It is a dramatic sin with dramatic responses recommended; men are counseled to move to their roofs or a desert to die than live with the drip drip drip torture of a nagging wife. The Gospel call is to repent and submit, as the church is called to do toward Christ. The fox bites in this example are plain.

Lot and his wife loved this world. Their last day ended badly. A marriage entrenched in worldliness and neglecting holiness may make it till death do part, but it is a failure. There is no evidence that Lot nor is salinenated wife pushed one another toward holiness, all the evidence s toward the idolatry of mammon. And little by little, acquisition by acquisition, comfort by comfort they moved toward Sodom and disaster. What idols need to be purged, what holiness fought for, each purchase may be the pulling of a root by a fox. Only Christ will satisfy and cause flourishing, he may give the gift of struggle embrace it, embrace him.

Fox hunts are not difficult, but they must be engaged in.

Conclusion

There is no new attack on marriage, the same battles are fought over an over again, the ground is the same, only the soldiers are different. Our weapons remain the same, and for the christian our arsenal only grows through history. Scripture alone is sufficient, it simply must be used. Yet God in his generosity has amply provided varied and exciting weapons of our war. Generation after generation have learned and articulated well how to fight for marriage for the glory of God. New soldiers must be trained in these weapons. To send them out with only a graduation ceremony and some lovely words about duty and honor and love is not enough. They must be brought up in the cold hard truth of the situation and shown what line must hold. To hold that line then means dealing with all the skirmishes that follow until they are called off the field of battle. The alternative is capture, and that is a dark day. 

“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.”

*Mark Driscoll. “Gasp!” gaspeth you, “But he did wrong!”

“Yes” I reply, “and he did a lot of good, get over yourself.”

**When Calvin starts having your works translated because he is nervous his students are too heady and not devotional enough, you know your stuff is Gospel centric.

***Again there is a distraction of the exceptions making the rule. Yes there have been bad churches that counseled women to to stay married to abusive men. Those are not real churches but cults, they are evil. Real churches have robust theology, leading to wisdom. They are able to handle towing a firm line and knowing how to handle tragedy.

****”With the wolves you cannot be too severe; with the weak sheep you cannot be too gentle.” – Martin Luther, Table Talk

The Stories He Tells Himself (Or Mike Cosper’s Ax to Grind)

Lets just jump in and admit that there was already very little chance that I was going to be a fan of Christianity Today’s new podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. Four episodes in and I think I can put my finger on the major problems.

It is customary to, on the front end, say a few nice things about anything being critiqued. But I will reject that for the time being that A. I agree with Mark Dever it is more manful to start with the critique and then build up at the end. And B. It always feels that that method comes off like what you say to the parents of an ugly baby, “It’s very alert!”

I would like to pick the many nits I have but they all boil down into the two primary flaws of the entire project to date. 

  1. When listening with my wife she kept saying how it sounded like the true crime documentaries she watches on Netflix. And she is not wrong. The style of the podcast draws heavily from that genre. Right down to the eerie music they play in the background whenever Driscoll is being played or if anyone is talking about good things that happened in the church. The entire tone is that the good was just a cover for something deeper, something sinister. And that points to the first problem. The premise is that the criminal is Driscoll. He is guilty, he is always guilty, and anything good done by him had nefarious motive behind it. True to the true crime format you already know who the killer is and that he is guilty. But there is a twist…
  2. Mark was just the face. The real danger that this podcast is trying to alert people to is complementarianism.* my good friend and sometime contributor D.W. Smythe caught this before me and he is not wrong. The goal is to attach a theology that CT dislikes to a person they despise. Experts brought include Doug Pagitt, Rachel Held Evans, Kristin Du Mez. Early on Driscoll is attached to Doug Wilson and the fourth episode is devoted to how they view his position on masculinity as toxic. Ultimately the goal is to try an nail complementarianism to the barn wall over at CT.

Did Driscoll do wrong? Sadly, yes. When the podcast relies on the (real) expertise of men like Paul David Tripp, or Ed Stetzer it is at it’s best. And the things they say are damning enough. As much as I love the preaching of Driscoll, I know that he has erred and sadly looks to be repeating the same mistakes**. Mars Hill had many problems and Driscoll’s ego, temper, and lack of self-control were front and center. It would appear that those have carried over to his new church with the addition of nepotism. He had an enormous impact on the evangelical world, for good or bad. And I can understand the interest, even all these years later. The podcast itself admits Mars Hill and Driscoll were and are clickbait. I do not reject the idea of a deep forensic dive into the tragedy that was the rise and fall of Mars Hill. My objection is how this podcast is lying in it’s thesis. Mike Cosper the writer, editor, and host has an ax to grind against theological positions he does not like and he is using the story of Mars Hill to subtly take his jabs.

*Another theology that is attacked is Calvinism but that is more of a drive by assault that the sustained attack being waged on complementarianism.

**“Do you know the difference between an error and a mistake, Ensign?” ‘No, sir. ‘ “Anyone can make an error, Ensign. But that error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” – Grand Admiral Thrawn, Heir to the Empire

The Forgotten Category

Introduction

For a society that prides itself on tolerance for a vast range of ideas and opinions. The prevailing morality is distinctly black and white. As Captain Jack Aubury would say, “What a fascinating modern age we live in.” Christians struggle with this in many ways. Calling out sinners in the style of Bunyan seems a little harsh, no matter how Biblical it was or obvious that his honest pleading was in fact loving. And there we struggle too, sounding loving, when we are being screamed at that our truth is hurtful to someone else’s truth, objective reason, evidence and history on our side being damed. We get off kilter because of fear of man, or/and ignorance of Scripture.

 A Quick Reminder

Briefly it should be pointed out that our greatest weapon in our offensive against the kingdom of this world is Scripture. Many christians have bought the lie that they can not use the the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God simply because the enemy has told us it won’t effect them. To use an illustration of Voddie Baucham’s; if you are a knight preparing to fight another and he tells you “I doth not believe in thine sword.” How do you convince him? You hit him, with the sword, hard. Or as Doug Wilson would have it the problem with the christian who would not hit him is that it is not the other knight that doesn’t believe in the sword, it is the christian. Any Christian that backs down from using scripture doesn’t believe in scripture

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

Someone says, “I don’t believe in the authority of scripture” the natural response should be, “That is interesting because scripture says that I am charged to, ‘preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.’ and scripture goes on to predict you saying, ‘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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 

A Forgotten Category

That said, there is a Biblical category, and it’s opposite, which has been neglected which, if recovered would help us to add some color to our binaural chromatic worldview. That of the Fool. Naturally the counterpart of a wise person is something that is acknowledged in church circles, but when was the last time fools were called out. I think during the era for Mark Driscoll, but he hurt the feelings of a lot of Peter Pans in his church so it all stopped. Yet this category was given to us, by God, and for a reason.

And it is useful. Foolishness is that breeding ground for sin. It is the time of stacking kindling that will burn a path to hell. Proverbs describes the fool as the simple, lacking sense, putting himself in a position to sin more easily. 

“For at the window of my house

I have looked out through my lattice,

and I have seen among the simple,

I have perceived among the youths,

a young man lacking sense,

passing along the street near her corner,

taking the road to her house

in the twilight, in the evening,

at the time of night and darkness.

And behold, the woman meets him,

dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.” – Proverbs 7:6-10

It it the premeditative stage, where no easily recognizable sins have yet been committed and the justifications for the sin to come can be aligned like good alibis.

Sinners are committed, fools are dabblers. Much of the time fools are neglected because they have not committed any obvious sins, yet. They appear harmless, almost childlike. However, just as a good parent knows a child want’s to play with a power outlet that does not mean that the child is given carte blanche with a butter-knife and the socket. Fools should be corrected, directly, pleadingly and (my personal favorite) short sharp satirical rebukes.

The Objection Met

As usual there is anecdotal evidence pointing to fools who became hardened sinners because they weren’t respected or their feelings were hurt. I do not deny it. At the same time I will point out that by doubling down and committing to sin and rebellion they proved their status as a fool. As well fools do not deserve respect, respect is earned, fools are living examples of emperors with no clothes, it is the job of the wise Christian to point out the unseemly nudity of the fool pretending to be king, no matter how embarrassing it my be to the nudist.

As well the call of the Christian is to faithful obedience to Christ. Regardless of the outcome the obedience is what matters. As Spurgeon* teaches, “The same sun that melts wax hardens clay.” Some fools will turn to sin out of spite, and others will repent. It is not up to the person providing the rebuke how they respond. 

As well a person who rejects correction because the correction was not delivered in a way that they liked is evidence that they are a fool. Elevating feelings over and against wise counsel is a display of lacking good sense.

“Even as fools walk along the road, they lack sense and show everyone how stupid they are.” – Ecclesiastes 10:3 (NIV)

More Than Rebuke

With the categories in place the corrections can follow appropriately. Rescuing from the fire is not enough, there must be healing and instruction on how to avoid falling again. This is where teaching comes in. They should be introduced to Truth, who is a person:

“I am the way the Truth and the life”… John 14:6 (Emphasis added)

It should be expected for a fool to recoil from some of the character of Christ that they are to conform to. Those used to the soft surfaces sin provides early on are not always prepared for the granite that is the Chief Cornerstone. Feelings should not be allowed to reign, they are filled with folly and are ever changing.

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” – John Adams

The truth of Scripture should be taught in season and out. This does not mean that love will not enter into the fray. On the contrary it is love that motivates the fight against imbedded idiocy. God has given ways to teach truth, the broad range of those tones, approaches, and methods should not be neglected. Yet the ways should never abort the truth because due to the feelings of the one being corrected. 

Taught the Fear of the Lord

Fools go merrily through life never knowing how close they are to danger. They neither notice or care that the wrath of God tarries for them. They don’t learn from errors because they can not conceive that they have actually erred. They are like Maeby Fünke from Arrested Development narrowly avoiding disaster and simply thinking “that was a freebie.” And while the Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in love. He does store up wrath, there are no actual freebies merely delayed consequences. 

Fools need to be rebuked and made aware of their precarious position. And taught a healthy fear of the morass he is in. Part of the danger is that a fool often stays in the mire, teaching the dangers takes time.

“Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” – Proverbs 26:11

Without a fear of the Lord there can never be a love of the Lord. The beauty of the law is that it drives us to Christ. It reveals the quagmire of sin we live in, It reveals the holy character of God and how we have fallen short and justly deserve wrath. Yet there is Christ bearing our sins. His glory can not be beheld until it is first feared. The peril of a fool is in his complete and total disinterest in the things of God, he runs on false assumptions, which place him in the crosshairs of divine wrath. 

God is abounding in love, but his anger does burn, it should be feared. Out of that healthy fear they should begin to show the early sprouts from repentance which is wisdom.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Proverbs 9:10

Lift up their Eyes

Instilling fear is relatively easy thing to do. The hard work comes in the work of stirring the affections, as the puritans called it. When a fool has been taught the fear of the Lord he has the beginning of wisdom. But those embers need to be stoked into a roaring fire. The must be rebuked first but then exhorted and encouraged and trained in righteousness. The logs must be stacked on the kindling. The beginnings of wisdom must be grown. As Piper paraphrases 2 Timothy 1:6-8.

“Feed it, Timothy. Feed it. Feed this flame! Because if you don’t, it will go out. Don’t quench this spirit, Timothy. It is a gift from God. Fan it till it is white-hot. Feed it till it is all ablaze… Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift — of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel.” – John Piper, Feed the Flame of God’s Gift***

The danger is to teach the former fool to fall back into his emotionally driven ways. The flames are fanned by a hot gospel of knowledge. Not a dry academic one. Many fools are in the academy with more degrees than fahrenheit and they are solidly fools. They must be taught knowledge that engages the mind but lives in the heart. Only then will the law of God be as honey on their lips because by the law they know the nature and character of God and their desperate need for him. Their eyes must be lifted up to him.

“All intellectual knowledge begins with sense perception. To acquire knowledge, Scripture refers man not to his own reason but to God’s revelation in all his works. Lift up your eyes, and see the one who has created all things; [lift them up] to the teaching and the testimony; otherwise, they shall perish. Whoever rejects the word of the Lord can not have wisdom. This truth of empiricism: being a reality to which the sense perception the subject corresponds.” – Herman Bavink, Christian Worldview

Conclusion

In refusing to make use of the category of the fool for fear those who are foolish will be offended; the church has fallen into creating a space where people can navel gaze while they stack kindling for future sins. They are not clear on their position before the Lord. They wander around in the state fuddled state Screwtape**** longed for all humans to remain in until they could really begin sinning. 

God gives categories, and he gives them for good reasons. It is only because our feeling have become too sensitive and ears too delicate that we worry about using them, “Out of love.” Leaving a man to his sins is not loving. Just because he does not wish to be snatched from the fires of hell does not mean we should refuse to do so.

Bunyan has fallen from style, and that is to our detriment. The day has come when calling a sinner a sinner, or a fool a fool is desperately needed. The holiness, nor the wrath of God does not change simply because we have grown sensitive. As the first of Luther’s 95 Theses states: ”When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Funny how little things actually change.

*This has also been attributed to “Puritans.” I have not put in enough research to find out the proper origin.

**Let me take a quick poke here at our recent history “The fool says, there is a corona virus outside I may catch it…”

***https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/feed-the-flame-of-gods-gift

****Did you really think we were going to get this far without Screwtape showing up?

The March and the Dance

Introduction 

If someone has been reading in these parts for any time now it is pretty clear how enamored I am with Francis Schaffer’s two questions from A Christian Manifesto: “What does loyalty to Christ mean to you?” and, “Why are you a Christian?” Building on this Os Guinness reminds us that it used to be common parlance for people, Christians in particular, to “count the cost” before embarking upon an enterprise. It stands to reason that the loss of this kind of thinking has been detrimental on many levels first an foremost what it even means to be a Christian. 

It can be argued that easy believeism, past legalisms, America being founded on rebellion all contributed to the failure to seriously consider and then follow what the demands of Christ actually are. But it is simply sin nature, Humans are born wanting to sin, pride an laziness are in us and that feeds our ability to blithely sail along ignoring Christ and then being shocked and appalled when we run into the rocks of his clear commands. Like all rude awakenings we tend to take umbrage rather than recognize it for what it really is, what Sheldon Vanauken called, a Severe Mercy.

Christians are not called to a charmed life of ease.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 6:24-26

Again count the cost, what does loyalty to Christ mean to you? Why are you a Christian? Yet in all of this there is a reason. Christ is purifying out, sanctifying the saint, which is a difficult yet beautiful process.

“but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.” – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

God is in this for our good and his glory.  It is us who fight to abort this process because our pride tells us it is beneath our dignity.

Capon Illustrates

And example of where we would fight the commands of God is in the perpetually ongoing debate over roles in marriage. The text says what it says about husbands and wives, but we reason that could could not have possibly meant that, there must be a way out. When in fact there is not only a practical reason but a deeper and more beautiful one.

“The reason the headship of the husband is so violently objected to is that is is misunderstood. First of all…* the Bible does not say men and women are unequal. Neither does the Church. There are no second-class citizens in the New Jerusalem. It is husbands and wives that are unequal. It is precisely in marriage that they enter into a relationship of superior to inferior – of head to body. And the difference there is not one of worth, ability or intelligence, but of role. It is functional, not organic. It is based on the exigencies of the Dance, not on a judgement as to talent. In ballet, in any intricate dance, one dancer leads, the other follows, Not because one is better (he may or may not be), but because that is his part. Our mistake, here as elsewhere, is to think equality is based on the image of the march. IN a parade, really unequal beings are dressed alike, given guns of identical length, trained to hold them at the same angle, and ordered to keep step with a fixed beat. But it is not the parade that is true to life; it is the dance. There you have real equals assigned unequal roles in order that each may achieve his individual perfection in the whole. Nothing is less personal than a parade, nothing more so than a dance. It is the choice image fulfillment through function, and it comes very close to the heart of the trinity. Marriage is a hierarchal game played by co-equal persons. Keep that paradox and you move in the freedom of the dance; alter it, and you grow weary with marching.” – R.F. Capon, Bed & Board

To survey the state of marriages today it appears there is much more marching going on than dancing.** A good bit of this could be traced to the cultural lies that the church is an idiot and doesn’t know what it is talking about with Headship. But more than that I suspect most couples failed to count the cost and ask what loyalty to Christ would look like in how they function in their marriage. Or to paraphrase Schaffer, Why did you get married? Capon points out the obvious illustration of the trinity marriage is supposed to display. God did have a plan and a purpose in creating marriage, it is not as if he was just spitballing when he brought the Woman to Adam in Genesis 2. If couples would work out their marriages with fear and trembling before the Lord perhaps marriage would be something that a lost and dying world actually wanted.

Aiming at Heaven

The law of God is, or should be, honey on our lips. But a hearty number of professing christians see it more like Jim Carry in Bruce Almighty, “God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass. And I’m the ant! He could fix my life in one second, but he’s rather burn off my feelers and watch me squirm.”  That feeling comes from disobedience and the discipline of a holy and good Father.

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:7-11

This is the difficult process though which God is taking away with his left hand that which he intends to give back more so, in his right hand are pleasures and more pleasures forevermore.*** 

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” – Matthew 6:24-26

Coming across a command of God and rejecting it is gaining a portion of this lost and dying world at the expense of eternity. It is denying the dance in favor of goose-stepping to the drum beat of a fallen world. To go against the diktats of the world through obedience to Christ is to move further up and further into His glorious already not yet kingdom.

“Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in, aim at Earth and you will get neither” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

An illustration of this is the issue of modesty. To be modest is to be set free. Cultures have dress codes. In Islamic nations women’s bodies are controlled through the mandated covering of their entire bodies in liberal nations women’s bodies are controlled through the mandated revealing of their bodies. To fail to go along with the culture in either case brings shame and condemnation. The Christian woman who refuses cultural norms in her conformity to Christ is the actual free one. She is not at the tyranny of the male or female gaze, she serves neither, she servers a higher authority that is deeply vested in her own joy. To seek approval of the world by indulging in pride and subsequent failure to reach an impossible standard is the essence of what Lewis means by aiming at the earth and gaining neither that nor Heaven.

My Kindergarteners Know this

When a man becomes a Christian he is transferred from being a slave to sin and made a co-heir with Christ. He leaves the domain of darkness, and citadels of unbelief and becomes naturalized to the kingdom of eternal light. That new citizenship, sonship, comes with blessings and obligations. All sin is premeditated, cosmic treason. Fortunately our Father is filled with grace and mercy, but that is not there for us to continue to trespass on his patience. Rather it should spur us on to higher and ever higher loyalty to Him. Or as my kindergarteners have been taught to sing:

“I’ll live each day to serve my Savior, for He’s my Lord and King.”

Loyalty to Christ is not a part time gig, compartmentalizing is not loyalty. Salvation is an all or nothing proposition. God will have no competitors. Those commands we so dislike are for our good, they are stripping away idols, of pride and power. Our time, our bodies, are not our own, they all were given a free gifts and we give them back as living sacrifices, for Him to do with as He wills. Count the Cost what does loyalty to Christ mean to you, if you can not, why are you a Christian?

“When Christ calls a man he bids him, come and die.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Conclusion

It should not come as a surprised to the three regulars here that this blog expresses grave doubts about the actual number of christians occupying pews in churches. And it is for reasons like this. The average professing church goer would struggle to accurately articulate the gospel, and many of those people fill pastors inboxes on Monday mornings frequently because the word preached did not align with the gospel they assumed. Our salvation was hard won for us, we should count the cost to Christ, which is our gain, and count the cost to us, which is his gain in glory from our holy lives.

God is not a cosmic killjoy looking to deprive his children of their fun and games. He is a father who restrains us by his will from those things that are detrimental to us. Though they promise freedom they lie and enslave into a march into the outer darkness. Loyalty to Christ is an eternal dance underneath a glorious proscenium before an adoring audience of one. The lights, backdrop, and wings may feel limiting but they contain the dance for it’s greatest manifestation. 

The texts that we would rather not be contained in the cannon are there and they are there for a reason. They are the boundaries of the dance. If you find yourself chaffing at them it would be healthy to beg the questions: What is loyalty to Christ worth to you? Why are you a Christian?

*Capon throws in an unhelpful jab about the apostle Paul being prejudiced against lady pastors here. Which I find ironic due to the fact that our roles in the church are also a ecclesiastical version of the dance he so wonderfully describes for marriage. Women Pastors are so clearly a move from the dance to a march and hilariously are the only kind of clergy that gets attention in an actual parade these days!

**In a similar vein Capon on the subject of masculinity and femininity in sex is wonderfully illustrative of this dance. 

***I already quoted Screwtape once and Mere is coming up, a paraphrase seemed better form here. But yes if you thought that was too good to be me, you were right.

The Failed Pastor’s Kid

“And that was our last Sunday at Wildwood Baptist.” My father tossed that line off as if it were no big concern. I was shocked, there had been no clue this had been coming. That morning in the service there had been no mention of our leaving, no tears, everything had seemed completely and entirely normal to my mind. My mother turned in her seat and confirmed that it was indeed the last time we would be there. I had no idea that my father had just been fired as pastor of the church for having an affair. It would be the start of a whole new life that ended my parents marriage and would find my mother as being a children’s pastor at an even larger church. 

Over the past weekend I flew through Barnabas Pipers excellent little book The Pastor’s Kid. It’s one of the rare books that I found almost nothing to disagree with, or even quibble. It was just a easy read, solid thinking, and as a former pastors kid it pretty much nailed my sisters and my experience. With one exception.

Piper writes about what it is like to grow up as a PK to a faithful pastor. By all accounts his father ended his pastoral career well*. And that is something to celebrate and rejoice with Barnabas over. However, I was left thinking it would be nice to have a resource for or about PK’s who are in the awkward position of dealing with parental failure on a public stage that moves them further into the public eye.

There is something about disaster that moves people into the spotlight. Some of it is genuine compassion and kindness. But there is also a voyeuristic schadenfreude that makes people gawk and hope for a little more. After my (now) single mother was employed at the new church my sisters and I found ourselves again in the position of being the PKs. Even though we were not the official ones, the drama of our situation was just too much for that Southern Baptist Church to ignore. This was the late nineties and Jame Dobson still had evangelicals focusing on the families and ours was the family to watch. 

Simply because of who I am I managed to easily fill the budding theologian (or at least Bible encyclopedia) role. But because there was no strong man for me to look up to Dobson had taught the church I was a time bomb of rebellion just waiting to go off, or worse due to my slender fame and disinterest in sports a future gay. My mother was terrified, she even resorted to hiring young men in the church who were cool to “disciple” me. And I don’t blame her she had three PKs with all the watchful eyes of the women’s prayer circle on her and us. 

Perhaps the vast majority of pastors who disqualify themselves somehow hold off until their kids are out of the house. I doubt it. Being a PK comes with a standard low level stress from the spotlight. A PK whose life has been upended by the sinful and disqualifying actions of their father brings a whole new set of complications. I might not be the one to write about it, but perhaps someone should.

*Though for a retired man John Piper certainly still seems to be going full steam ahead.

A Screwtape Letter Twenty-Two Woman

A strong contender for my favorite (which is something like trying to pick a favorite child) letter from Screwtape would be letter twenty-two. Where the Patient has fallen in love, and in the worst possible way, to a Godly woman. Since much hay has been made over the Proverbs 31 woman I would like to explore the kind of woman that thinking of contributed to the demon inadvertently transforming into a large centipede. 

“[I] am horrified at what I find. Not only a Christian but such a Christian – A vile, sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouse-like, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and-butter miss. The little brute. She makes me vomit. She stinks and scalds through the very pages of the dossier. It drives me mad how the world has worsened. We’d have had her in arena in the old days. That’s what her sort is made for. Not that she’d do much good there, either. A two-faced little cheat (I know the sort) who looks as if she’d faint at the sight of blood and then dies with a smile. A cheat in every way. Looks as if butter would melt in her mouth and yet has a satirical wit. The sort of creature who’d find ME funny!” – Screwtape, Letter XXII

Such a Christian

This is such a rarity, I have met only a few. They make make the gates of hell shake because they really believe. It is not simple theological prowess but ground level understanding coupled with obvious obedience. Angular texts do not shake them, nor are they viewed as something to be explain away or deviation from justified. They joyfully obey despite wether they like it or not. It is the kind of woman who is hated by the world because they secretly fear her. To the untrained eye she may even seem to fit Screwtapes following litany, but in reality is a force to behold. There is no way that Screwtape can fight her effectively so he is reduced to ad hominem. But even in that attack he can not stay out of the truth. 

Simpering, Monosyllabic, Demure

Before assuming that this article is going to take a Handmaidens Tale-esque turn I would point to Lewis’s words introducing Screwtape:

“Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his angle.” – C.S. Lewis, Preface to Screwtape Letters

I would then posit that there is good to be taken from the tirade of insults that contains truths, twisted as is the devils style. Every trait holds some footing in the instruction of, “that pestilent fellow Paul.” The world sees him and his divinely inspired writings on the subject of a Godly woman’s character, as an object to overcome, never something to consider and obey.*

“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” – 1 Tim 2:11

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” – Titus 2:3-5

The question to ask in submission is, to what authority? The slight of hand played around this word is to immediately run to the abusers, never to the Godly men described in the preceding contexts or simply to Christ himself. If a believing woman were following the entire counsel of God with gusto, then she would be seen by the enemy to resemble something along the lines of what Screwtape describes negatively. Yet they can, and should be seen as badge of honor.

Dies with a Smile

The kind of woman described in total is one with eternity in her sights. She is in this world but not of it. Again she is force to be reckoned with who can turn what is meant for evil to good.

“[A] Huguenot woman was being led to the stake in France. She had been rich in good deeds, ministering to the poor, and a crowd of them were following her there, weeping. One of the women cried out, “You will never give me alms anymore.” And the martyr—isn’t it glorious that we will not know her name until the resurrection?—said this. She said, “Yes, once more.” And she stooped down, took off her shoes, gave them to the woman, and went to Heaven barefooted.” – As told by Douglas Wilson, The Romance of Protestantism

It should be noted, however, that the kind of ultimate sacrifice comes not from a final moment where there is a sudden rally of spirit. But from the kind of day to day death to the self that produces a selfless woman. It is the understanding that her crosses to bear are ordained by God and they are meant for her eternal good.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Matthew 6:24-26

She may not like the texts where submission is an inescapable directive from God, but to grasp and grab for authority is the path of Satan. And from a positive angle submissive to scripture does not mean spineless. In this age bravery is conferred upon those who flow with the cultural zeitgeist. But that is redundant. To stand against the direction of the culture with a face set like flint is true bravery. It shows a woman who has considered and answered Schaffer’s two great questions, Why are you a Christian? What does loyalty to Christ mean to you?”

A Satirical Wit

This begins with a Christian Worldview. Or as Lewis would say in another context:

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.” – C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory**

At the base this means the world operates in an understandable and logical way according to Gods design. It is marred by sin which distorts that ordered world bringing in contradiction. And there is the basis for satire. Comedy is couched in surprise. The unexpected incongruity tickles us. Yet the competing worldview tries to smooth over their inconstancies and hope against hope that no one notices. A satirical wit not only observes the departure from reality, but the subsequent coverup as well, then brings the entire farce into specific relief, and proceeds to mock it sharply.

Women who wield this weapon well are rare jewels. Again I have met some, they wield a fearsome rapier, it is no wonder they typically carry themselves like conquering monarchs. 

Conclusion

Women, Christian women, have been sold a bill of goods. The lie that God did not design them, love them, direct them according to his design for their good and joy and his glory, but that instead he is a mean patriarchal moron who doesn’t speak to men competently is damnable. Because it robs women of true freedom and glory. The world does not fear Christian women because the vast majority do not appear to be anything to be feared. Mocked, yes, but not the kind of eternal being pulsating with the very power that made the worlds and should make spirits tremble before them. Instead they frequently could legitimately check off a good portion Screwtapes list: vile, sneaking, simpering, watery, insignificant, add to it other sins and be praised for it. It would appear that the confession of many women of the church have decided they would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. “Slayyyyy queeeeen!”

The church should begin the hard work of building up Screwtape terrorizing women and removing from their perches the she-wolves masquerading as ewes. One kind the gates of hell will not stand against the other brings hell into our midst. Let us pray and labor toward the raising up of Screwtape Letter twenty-two women. 

*Simply for your consideration: Is it possible that there is a correlation between rebellious women preachers and weak Christian women? On the spectrum of Beth Moore all the way to the Episcopal Lesby Pastor, the followers track along from weak theologically through to downright heretical. Perhaps God through the pen of the Apostle was on to something in the way he put to order His church.

**The oft misquoted version is: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.”

Critical Reformed Theory

One of the recent crazes in evangelicalism has been Critical Race Theory (commonly known as CRT). Nowhere has this raged like wildfire as much as non denominational churches. Sure that thing burned through the PCA like California in July but they have been stacking the heresy kindling for years now and it was only a matter of time. Separate congregations in networks and such are left pretty much to their own with only outlets like TGC to provide any kind of guidance. As such they are prone to take sway when Jamar Tisby starts to get that wobble in his voice and well up some crocodile tears. 

I would then like to put forward a new kind of CRT that would actually edify the non denominational church. Built on the same intersectional foundation that those who are most oppressed have more points and therefore should be given more power, because they have been denied it. I would like to suggest Critical Reformed Theory. The idea being that no non denominational pastor really wants a truly died in the wool reformed theologian anywhere near the levers of power. I mean he might have to force the music guy to hop off that little treadmill of his ten favorite Jesus is my boyfriend choruses. And that is just for starters. The Table would have to be fenced, sermons would focus on God instead of current events, felt needs would be a thing of the past, I mean peoples preferences would just never come into the discussion because they would know Worship is about God and not them! 

This means that the most marginalized and oppressed group in the non denominational church today is a tried and true Calvinist. And by the laws of intersectionality, they should get all the power. To that end I present the following quiz. It will rank your reformed intersectional points. The higher your score the more oppressed you are and therefore the more quickly you should be shoved onto an elder board. And if you, good calvinist that you are, object to not going through a proper rigorous elder selection process, just sooth your conscience knowing all the other guys at the table got there just for looking older than the pastor. My way is slightly better than that and you can fix the process once you are on there. Assuming they don’t kill you first.

Since this blog does nothing but cost me money I am not doing a snazzy click quiz. We are going old school. Grab a pen and paper. Write down the number for each answer you chose for every question. The point key will be after the quiz for you to total up and then find your Critical Reformed Theory score.

A. Which Version of Calvin’s Institutes have you read?

  1. 1536 Edition (Battles translation)
  2. 1559 Edition (Battles translation)
  3. Banner of Truth “Highlights” Edition
  4. There are editions?

B. Read the following excerpt and react: 

“I believe in the Holy Spirit,

      the holy catholic church,

      the communion of saints,”

  1. This sounds familiar
  2. Shouldn’t Catholic be capitalized?
  3. Good catholic is not capitalized, as it should be
  4. I still develop an eye twitch when I see the word catholic no matter it’s capitalization.

C. Music from Bethel and Hillsong is?

  1. Accessible to most modern churchgoers.
  2. Sometimes actually good and useful for worship.
  3. Crap
  4. Heresy

D. Sermons should be…

  1. Long and expositional
  2. Positive and encouraging
  3. As a dying man speaks to dying men
  4. “We have a second service coming up so, stick to the clock.”

E. Social Justice is to the church as

  1. Liberation theology is to the Pope
  2. The word bro is to youth ministers
  3. Luther was to Papists
  4. Hemlock was to Socrates

F. The Pope

  1. Sweet guy
  2. Has a funny hat
  3. A f**king hippie
  4. The vicar of Satan

G. The Puritans

  1. Prudes
  2. Wore funny hats
  3. A gift from God
  4. Largely misunderstood

H. Your favorite Christian publisher

  1. Banner of Truth
  2. Zondervan
  3. Crossway
  4. Pilgrim Publications (I only read Spurgeon sermons)

I. John Piper is

  1. Sweet guy
  2. should wear a funny hat
  3. A gift from God
  4. A joke

J. Church fathers are.

  1. The Apostles?
  2. Wonderful
  3. Useful
  4. This needs some nuance and to be narrowed down.

K. Ok, The Desert Fathers then.

  1. Who?
  2. Wonderful
  3. Useful
  4. Highly suspect.

L. We’ve been picking on Catholics for a bit. Lets talk the orthodox church.

  1. F**king ecclesiastical hippies
  2. “Don’t they have that funky building in Russia that looks like Christmas tree ornaments?”
  3. Wonderful
  4. Highly Suspect.

M. The Enneagram.

  1. Wonderful
  2. Useful
  3. Has little to do with reformed theology so we should just ignore it an move on.
  4. Not ancient but from a Russian cult so therefore, Highly Suspect.

N. Annabaptists

  1. to flog a dead horse, Highly Suspect.
  2. Tragic in theology and deaths.
  3. Got what they deserved
  4. “Wasn’t Bunyan one of them?”

O. All of a Christians life should be…

  1. To glorify God and enjoy him forever.
  2. Being most satisfied in God so He is most glorified in us?
  3. One of repentance.
  4. This is a misquote or bad paraphrase google the first of Luther’s 95 Theses.

P. The Chief end of man is?

  1. Being most satisfied in God so He is most glorified in us?
  2. To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
  3. Sigh. Westminster, such a classic.
  4. Repentance

Q. The doctrine of Transubstantiation is?

  1. Heresy.
  2. A fun theological idea.
  3. A cockamamy theological idea.
  4. The idea that the bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Christ.

R. Calvinism is?

  1. Heresy.
  2. A fun theological idea.
  3. A cockamamy theological idea.
  4. Full of all sweet truth and joy.

S. The Christian position on alcohol is?

  1. Teetotalism (Baptist)
  2. It should be hidden in the garage incase a deacon drops by (Recovering Baptist)
  3. Joyfully received as a gift from God.
  4. Wildly on display (Pissed off former Baptist)

T. Personal Christian libraries should be…

  1. Very current to help us navigate modern times.
  2. Full of old books to intimidate any free will chump who stumbles in.
  3. As full as the grace of God.
  4. Mostly hardcover and clothbound editions.

Using the answer key below write your points next to your answers then finish at the totals below to see how you scored.

A. Which Version of Calvin’s Institutes have you read?

  1. 10
  2. 7
  3. 5
  4. 0

B. Read the following excerpt and react: 

“I believe in the Holy Spirit,

      the holy catholic church,

      the communion of saints,”

  1. 5
  2. 0
  3. 10
  4. 7

C. Music from Bethel and Hillsong is?

  1. 0
  2. 5
  3. 7
  4. 10

D. Sermons should be…

  1. 10
  2. 5
  3. 7
  4. 0

E. Social Justice is to the church as

  1. 0
  2. 5
  3. 10
  4. 7

F. The Pope

  1. 0
  2. 5
  3. 10
  4. 7

G. The Puritans

  1. 0
  2. 5
  3. 7
  4. 10

H. Your favorite Christian publisher

  1. 7
  2. 0
  3. 5
  4. 10

I. John Piper is

  1. 10
  2. 5
  3. 7
  4. 0

J. Church fathers are.

  1. 0
  2. 5
  3. 10
  4. 7

K. Ok, The Desert Fathers then.

  1. 10
  2. 0
  3. 5
  4. 7

L. We’ve been picking on Catholics for a bit. Lets talk the orthodox church.

  1. 10
  2. 5
  3. 0
  4. 7

M. The Enneagram.

  1. 0
  2. 0
  3. 10
  4. 7

N. Annabaptists

  1. 10
  2. 7
  3. 5
  4. 0

O. All of a Christians life should be…

  1. 5
  2. 0
  3. 10
  4. 7

P. The Chief end of man is?

  1. 0
  2. 10
  3. 7
  4. 5

Q. The doctrine of Transubstantiation is?

  1. 7
  2. 0
  3. 10
  4. 5

R. Calvinism is?

  1. -100
  2. 10
  3. 0
  4. 7

S. The Christian position on alcohol is?

  1. 0
  2. 5
  3. 7
  4. 10

T. Personal Christian libraries should be…

  1. 0
  2. 5
  3. 7
  4. 10

Score:

0 or less. Oh, The red hot gates of hell are creeping open, fall down on your knees and beg for deliverance. Satan is heating his pokers for you. You are probably Stephen Furtick.

1-100. You fit in perfectly at your non denominational church. That collection you have of Max Lucado books probably already has them eying you as a theological titan and future elder. This kind of milquetoast theology means you have too much power at the church and not enough oppression points. Repent and relinquish your control to your reformed brethren. A good start would be reparations paid out in the form of Banner of Truth gift cards.

101-139. Hmm, you could go either way at this point. Clearly you are not trusted with anything super serious but that is probably because you are not a super serious guy. Go find the guy with the perfect reformed score and let him whack you over the head with Brackel’s complete set of The Christians Reasonable Service a few times. It won’t really improve you but it will make him feel better after he just sat through your suggestion to the small group of reading through White Fragility.

140 exactly. You have chosen, wisely. Your Reformed credentials are impeccable. Your theology is as fresh and vibrant as a freshly grown tulip. This means you have no power in the church, what so ever. Your pastor tolerates your presence and small group leaders dread your attendance. If given the chance you would completely reset the church, but we both know that will never happen. Therefore, take heart, be faithful, work on showing grace, and continue to delight in the sovereignty of God.

141- 200. Well done. You have solid theology and are pretty much only wrong in the ways we would expect a former Presbyterian or Baptist to be wrong. You should probably be put in charge of things in the church, but that pretty much means the chair stacking team. Enjoy set up and tear down while knowing you could preach a sermon that would not have those niggling little errors the preaching team keeps making when it comes to current issues. You should have more power, but don’t hold your breath. 

Lloyd-Jones and Four Chords

Introduction

I think, by now, it is pretty apparent that I find modern evangelical worship highly suspect at best. I may be closer to the mark to say I utterly despise it. There are exceptions that sneak into the repertoire of of the four cord playing mono syllabic “worship leader”. But those are usually of such high quality (Ex. Is He Worthy) that to deny them would reveal an idiocy beyond the pale. And naturally those trilby wearing strummers are just waiting for the song to get old enough for them to, “fix” it (Ex. In Christ Alone Remix). 

I write all of this, not because I felt a cooling of the coals from the fires of “The Worship Wars” fought so valiantly in the 90’s and early 2000’s. But as an excuse to quote D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the subject. 

“Still worse has been the increase in the element of entertainment in public worship – the use of films and the introduction of more and more singing, the reading of the Word and prayer shortened drastically, but more and more time is given to singing. You have a ‘song leader’ as a new kind of official in the church, and he conducts the singing and is supposed to produce the atmosphere. But he often takes so much time in producing the atmosphere that there is no time for preaching in the atmosphere! This is a part of this whole depreciation of the message.” – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers

The Doctor spoke here as a prophet. Today we have the advantage of looking back over the carnage wrought by the seeker sensitive movement and, for the strong of heart, able to see where it’s infection is still bubbling merrily away in our churches. Obviously, I would point to the current state of what passes for “worship music” as one of these pulsating boils on the bride of Christ. I have heard all the arguments, and while I am by no means advocating for Psalter only, or pure hymnody. I am arguing for a reassessment. Here are a few things I would suggest be considered and tried.

1. Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

Only anything is a bad thing. It smacks of legalism. What is interesting to me was that during the worship wars that charge was widely used against those arguing for hymns. But the charge was never reversed toward those who were praise chorus only. Looking down your nose on those who do not follow your diktats on debatable issues is legalistic.* However, I think that Scripture charges to the fore with an excellent directive:

“Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” – Ephesians 5:19

Lo and behold, a compromise! The first two are pretty self explanatory and I would posit that the third nicely can encompass modern praise music**. If the instruction is that all three should be used in the worship of God then perhaps the command should be followed. The advantages are numerous, legalisms can be avoided, scripture is bound to the heart (Psalms), Doctrine is ingrained (Hymns) and with that foundation the choosing of current church music will be more wisely done and saints will be encouraged (Spiritual Songs).

Connecting to the next point, there is something to be said for the old school pianist who could play anything. Bands and praise teams require rehearsals and end up with a limited repertoire of old chestnuts that congregations seem to enjoy on repeat. God has blessed us with an enormous catalogue of music to sing in the worship service, the ability to draw broadly and deeply is a real advantage over being limited to four chord songs because that is what the band knows.***

2. Jesus at the Center of it All

This will sound trivial but bear with me. Move the music off the stage. put the band out of view, if there must be a praise team, put them mostly out of sight as well. One person behind a podium to keep time is acceptable. Now if you think I am trying to set worship back a few decades, I am. Not because I think worship was perfect, but I do think it was less distracting. One more note, size matters not. I have been in tiny churches that were so proud of their music set up that sprawled the platform and was revered. The problem in both the small church boastful of their good ole country worship and the mega church advertising their awesome band is that both have ignored the reason they are there. And before you argue that these people mean well and are leading the congregation in worship. The evidence points to the contrary. Lip service and good intentions are not just the purview of politicians. It is a show plain and simple, Paul Washer has observed that if you found the soundboard plug and kicked it out of the wall in most churches during the singing, everything would stop. Congregations are not singing, they are attending a concert followed by a lecture. The distractions should be removed, the body needs to be taught to sing, and they need to sing across the spectrum. A final note on this. A wise pastor can greatly help his song leader by not allowing him improvised prayers or sermonettes. At least not until it is painfully apparent how well he actually understands doctrine. This is a further symptom of a concert mentality, in reality these are sophomoric attempts to impress or remind and congregation of how “in touch” he is with the spirit, or his emotions. As he is probably about to sing on repeat for the next five minutes, “Jesus at the center of it all.”

3. Teach the People or Experience isn’t Everything 

Related to the above, and what concerned Lloyd-Jones so much is the entertainment or emotional factor. Listen to how services are described today, Roger Ebert could hardly have done better. Rather than be pleased that God was glorified, or discussion or considering how to apply the Scripture taught, the service is rated on how they felt during the music, and if they liked the sermon. I take it back, Ebert could do better, he had a broader criteria than felt, liked, or didn’t like. I am fond of teaching, church isn’t about you. It is about God. Music like the sermon should be exegetical, it is driven by the text and it’s application to the congregation. It should not be driven by the little treadmill of the band’s ten most familiar songs or, worse, what songs most often the congregation really likes. As I pointed out earlier this is evidence of a congregation not being led in worship but having their desires catered to. Manipulating emotions is vile, programing to please people is a failure in the first order. Churches gather to worship God, not to have a positive encouraging experience.

Lastly, the idea that somehow theologically complex or heavy songs will ruin the experience is lazy. As Dorothy Sayers has pointed out, “The dogma is the drama.” Assuming a theologically inept congregation and then catering to that will create that kind of congregation. A doctrinally robust congregation will revel in heady theology set to music. Overly simplistic songs are patronizing at best and infantilizing at worst. No parent wants their child to remain an emotionally driven brat who insists everything revolve around their felt needs. Why is is assumed that this approach is acceptable for Christians. If good theology is too boring for them and they only want what makes them, short sightedly, feel good; the pastor has failed. The dogma is the drama if a man can not see that and requires instead an experience it is a result of him being spoon fed a poor substitute. It is the equivalent of what Lloyd-Jones instructed pastors not to do, preach about or around the gospel, instead of preaching the gospel. One is living, the other is observing a corpse.

The Lie

The slick sales pitch that was completely bought was that we should be seeker sensitive and our churches would grow. We were told to focus on felt needs rather than real ones. And like the brothers McCann staring out at a field of a useless crop we might finally turn to one another and say, “Boy that salesman really did see us coming.” Not only were these strategies useless they were godless. Faithfulness matters, perhaps if we worship God in the way He has stated he desires to be worshiped, He might do what He says and gather His church…

It should also be noted that simply copying the tastes and trends of the world is counter to the stated direction our gatherings are supposed to take. Christians are to be strangers and sojourners in a foreign land, churches serve as cultural centers of another kingdom. Standing apart from the tastes of the day is what we do. This does not mean there can never be innovation, or updates to liturgy or style. But it does mean these changes should be carefully weighed and considered. Bad traditions burrow in like the little tick they are and are hard to remove. It would be better to squash them before they take hold. The mechanisms moving slowly around how are we worship is a feature not a bug. It makes us different from the world and aids in our Obedience to Christ and how He has said to gather. This will not hinder church growth because church growth does not depend on us, Faithfulness does.

Conclusion

Preaching is to be central, it is the declaration of Christ and him crucified. surrounding that are elements of liturgy. Now a days preaching has had some revitalization, but the other elements receive little to no thought theologically. They are evaluated on entirely different metrics, Do we have time or can we get through it faster (Communion), are these songs ones we know the congregation likes and the band knows (music), do I feel like the spirit is moving me emotionally (prayer). Serious thought needs to go into all of our gathered time on the Lords Day, slap dash or routine should not take charge. When the due consideration is put into this, God is pleased and moves among his people. I prime example of this happening is when Mark Dever punched a hard reset at his church.

“Entertainment-based worship was replaced by congregational singing, including many long-forgotten classic hymns from the past. Instead of driving people away, however, over time this approach to church life—to the surprise of many—attracted droves of new believers, many of them millennials and young professionals. Today, the average age of members at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (as Metropolitan is now known) is thirty-one, and the place is bursting at the seams, with standing room only on Sunday mornings.” – Timothy George, Puritans on the Potomac

I could point to other examples such as Kevin DeYoung, John MacArthur (whatever your opinion is you can not discount his consistent and faithful ministry). An older example would be the Prince of Preachers himself Spurgeon who compiled and had published, Our Own Hymnal, for use at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. At the end of each of his sermons is a list of hymns that were sung that Lord’s Day and they tire directly to the teaching of the sermon. Lloyd-Jones would push us toward these examples and encourage us to emulate them. Not because they could serve as a handy cudgel for those of us who truly despise modern worship music, but because they exemplify wisdom in worship. For too long the western evangelical church has coasted on assumptions about worship. It is time to reconsider our approach and, probably, realign with our protestant liturgical roots.

*I do realize that introduction could be seen as splashing around in that pool quite gleefully.

**Two slight observations. First, the “Spiritual Songs should be evaluated, rigorously, before being taught to a congregation. On a simple big E on the eye chart basis they should actually have God’s name directly in it, but beyond that the less individualistic language the better. Just because Hillsong and Bethel produce a lot does not mean they are to be relied upon for theological accuracy, much less precision, and as churches they are pretty much cults so… Second, there is some consideration for the fact that what is considered a hymn today was contemporary when it first came out. I would like to think that the best are still with us but seeing as Fanny Crosby’s Jesus Sweet Lover of my Soul is still with us gives me doubts.

***There is in churches that limit themselves to any style of music a rut to be found. A Hymn only church can just as easily fail to traverse the great heights of our endowment because the tubby man in a suit swinging his arm to keep time has only about fifteen hymns that he really likes. Like most things this requires work. (which parenthetically, when a church employs a music man, what does he do all week? I just can’t imagine that it takes that much time for him to choose four songs that everyone already knows.)

Positive Pleasures

It might be said that there is an over use of the Screwtape Letters on this blog. However, I find Lewis’ demonic alter ego to be not only pity, and insightful, but a real delight to read. As such I will use him to accentuate the ongoing thinking on pleasures as a gift from God, and a lack of gratitude to God as stock feed in growing the cultural bull of jealousy wrecking the china shop. 

God has not only given many pleasures he has also given the ability to enjoy them. At no point has he required to create tastebuds that can enjoy the tart, creamy, sweet taste of lemon cheesecake one moment and delight in the deep leathery chocolate spice of a good maduro cigar. Yet he did. He literally gave us the cake and let us eat it too. Pleasures range from simple to complex. The devil hates this lavish generosity because he hates the giver at whose right hand are “pleasures for evermore.” Satan has sought to degrade them and has been met with some sucess in that Solomon in all of his wisdom pursued them and found them empty and at best a salve for the cruel world we live in. To abuse this gift is to abort its efficacy. Very few will have the opportunity of Solomon to over indulge in every pleasure under the sun. Instead what the Devil has in store for us is the creation of ascetics. 

“The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting-point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is always desirable to substitute the standards of the World, or or convention, or fashion, for a human’s own real likings or dislikings. I myself would carry this very far. I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if is something quite trivial such as a fondness for country cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa. Such things I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust.” – Screwtape, Letter XIII

There is no pleasure that is deemed to small that it can be left alive. The real play that is to be run is first to substitute the gifts of God for inferior counterfeits by means of pressure. The game that is played by saying “you can’t possibly like that thing because I say this thing is superior” followed by a long look down the nose. Snobbery*, it is everywhere, and it robs us of enjoyment. Recently a trailer for the second season of Star Trek Picard was released and I made the mistake of reading the comments section. Not one person was willing to admit to being pleased. It seemed a race to see who could express the most disdain the fastest. The message was clear, we can not enjoy this good thing because to have one real positive pleasure would show weakness and humanity. 

“The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people think about it, is by that very fact fore armed against some of our most subtlest forms of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favor of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books.” – Screwtape, Letter XIII

Finally, Screwtape shows the best thing for the devils. A society of Ebenezer Scrooges alone staring into their empty fire grates. Or to update the picture, endlessly scrolling Netflix, bored out of their minds but never watching anything. You can’t afford what has been deemed the best scotch, but you won’t deign to drink the cheap one you actually like, so you will have neither. And naturally you would never turn to the one who made pleasures and longs to pour them out if you will just have them.

“You no longer need a good book, which he really likes to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterdays newspaper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but starting at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” – Screwtape, Letter XII

*Hat tip to Rex and Daniel of the whiskey tribe for fighting this in their niche.