A passion is worth a thousand words

If our passionate convictions would be laughed out of the room by persecuted Christians, we might consider new convictions. At the very least we should dial back on the passion & authority when we share them.

At some point in a Feb 28 message entitled “Saved by the Church” Andy Stanley said:

When I hear adults say, “Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,” I say, “You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids [or] anybody else’s kids” … If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church. Instead… you drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church. They go to college, and you pray that there will be a church in the college town that they connect with. Guess what? All those churches are big.

When the video clip started making the rounds on internets and Google machines AS issued an apology:

Some dispassionate thoughts on the firestorm from North Point:

1. Lackluster apology – Maybe AS will say more¹ the next time he takes the stage but tweeting an apology seems like the least one can do—literally. It’s not that we need to legislate apologies but somehow a tweet just doesn’t seem up to the task in a situation like this. It’s also impossible to know what he’s apologizing for–what was it that he also found offensive?

2. Nothing new under the sun – AS has expressed similar sentiments before. Take, for example, the following passage from Deep & Wide. I’ll leave it to the reader to identify the common themes between the two quotes but we should ask: At what point do these comments begin to reflect a man’s philosophy or theology?

If you try [to teach as if people are seeking truth and not happiness], you will end up with a little congregation of truth seekers who consider themselves superior to all the other Christians in the community. But at the end of the day, you won’t make an iota of difference in this world. And your kids—more than likely your kids—are going to confuse your church with the church, and once they are out of your house, they probably won’t visit the church house. Then one day they will show up in a church like mine and want to get baptized again because they won’t be sure the first one took. And I’ll be happy to pastor your kids. (115)

3. Homiletical chickens come home to roost – It seems like only yesterday that AS characterized expository preaching “cheating” and “easy” before concluding that effective preaching is “one point that is somehow connected to a passage and it is connected to a life.” [emphasis added] Every preacher will put his foot in his mouth at some point no matter what his preaching style (verse-by-verse, thematic, topical, etc.). But when your sermon isn’t tethered to a specific text, the risk of foot-in-mouth increases because you tend to make your point rather than the Scripture’s point.

4. Proof texting – related to #3, the offending comments aren’t even “somehow connected” to a passage.

5. Failing the PC test™ — I’m all for “contextualization” and “enculturated” preaching but if you’re going to be passionate about something you might as well be passionate about what is universally true. It really is sobering to think that much of our “insight” doesn’t reflect truth for all so much as what’s true for us. In that respect, I’ve found it helpful to ask how well our claims would hold up in the context of a persecuted church. If our passionate convictions would be laughed out of the room by persecuted Christians, we might consider new convictions. At the very least we should dial back on the passion & authority when we share them.

6. Passion sticks – Perhaps most disconcerting is that, by his own admission², AS is passionate about building big churches with separate youth groups. We don’t need to infer that he doesn’t really love Jesus or that he’s not a Christian. But passion doesn’t come by spontaneous generation. Passion is cultivated. And in that respect the passion behind Stanley’s remarks is just as telling as the speech itself.

At the end of the day, episodes like this bring me back to D. A. Carson’s word of caution:

If the gospel—even when you are orthodox—becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that—you won’t even mean that—but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.

¹Stanley has more to say on the controversy here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march-web-only/megachurch-pastor-andy-stanley-explains-controversial-remar.html

²The video of Stanley’s remarks, which has since been removed, records him interjecting “Can you tell I’m passionate about this?”

Disappointed but not surprised

We interrupt our regularly scheduled musings for the following news flash.

It’s come to our attention that a prominent pastor (PP) recently addressed some vexing problems for the church in America:

“There is not consensus in this room when it comes to same-sex attraction. There is not consensus in this room when it comes to gay marriage,” said [Prominent Pastor].

“We just can’t continue to look into the filter of our politics at our spirituality. Its got to be the other way around … and specifically when it comes to this issue.”

And from a subsequent interview:

Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.

To sum up: (1) Christians have no consensus on gay marriage. (2) Verse-by-verse preaching is easy but it doesn’t grow anyone & it has no biblical model.

Public reaction to these statements is mixed but reports are beginning to trickle in. It seems that some Christians are now desperately searching for an apolitical, authoritative word to create a consensus on gay marriage while a small number of pastors have already renounced expository preaching. Reports that lexical aids & exegetical works are being collected for book burnings have not been confirmed.

I left out the most important part

As an “associate” pastor (curious as to how this title came to be) you have a hidden blessing when it comes to preaching. Most associates only preach when the “senior” pastor is unavailable and since many senior pastors want to preach, they seek to minimize their unavailability for the pulpit. The associate, then, doesn’t preach on a weekly basis which means he has the luxury of sitting on certain passages as he waits for the next available opportunity. Depending on how long you’ve been sitting you may already know the major points you intend to hit well before it’s your turn to stand in.

Such was the case last Sunday when I stepped in to preach from 2Sam 12:1-15a. The passage recounts the Lord’s indictment & sentencing of David–spoken through Nathan–for his adultery with Bathsheba & the subsequent murder of her husband. There’s no way to honestly preach a section of Scripture like that without addressing the coexistence of God’s judgment & forgiveness. But 2Samuel 12 offends our natural sensibilities when we discover that David isn’t executed for his adultery & murder (both capital crimes under OT Law) while the infant son conceived through the affair is (2Sam 12:14). Say what you will about God’s mercy & forgiveness, are we really expected to see the juxtaposition of David’s pardon with the infant’s death as a demonstration of God’s justice? Yes, for at least three reasons:

1) God’s judgement is righteously dispensed to the criminal & to those he represents. It started with Adam as the head of the entire human race. As our “federal head” Adam’s guilt became our guilt (Rom 5:12, 19a) and God declared the sins of the father would be judged to the third and fourth generations (Exod 34:6-7). Thus, David’s infant son was corrupted by his father’s guilt (not to mention Adam’s guilt as well).

2) Following on #1, there are no innocent defendants in God’s courtroom–not even infants. David rightly declared in his confession psalm, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psa 51:5) If David was sin-cursed from conception how much more his son conceived in the act of adultery? The awful reality is that every life is issued with a death sentence, amassing more guilt & condemnation as (s)he grows (Rom 3:10-18).

3) The punishment for David’s crimes wasn’t denied–it was delayed & displaced. #1-2 are cold comfort until we understand that justice was served in every way. Although David was pardoned his sin didn’t go unpunished. God merely suspended David’s death sentence until the time He would place it on His own Son, Jesus Christ. On the cross, Christ suffered the penalty that David was spared and justice was served in full. God proved His righteousness in pardoning David by punishing Christ (Rom 3:23-26).

This final point was what I inexplicably forgot to explain in my pinch preaching. It’s the most important part because it represents the heart of the gospel. All of humanity deserves death but God has commuted the death sentence to His Son so that His people will be granted life. Sadly, I fear too many of us mistake the death of David’s son to be the greater mystery.

I am Jonah

Jonah 4:2-3  [Jonah] prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.  3 “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”

My joyful obedience as an ambassador in the advance of God’s kingdom is directly proportional to my enjoyment of God, not as I would like Him to be, but as He is. (2Cor 5:18-20)

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