Many things could and should be said about Josh Harris’s announcement that he has left both his wife and Christian faith. I offer here a few things that strike me as underappreciated by many Christians. More seriously, I also think the case can be made that these areas completely pass under the spiritual radar for far too many of us.
Be Sad, but not Surprised
The Bible makes it clear that you can cast out demons and not be a Christian (Mt. 7:21-23). Since that is true, it means that you can be a pastor, missionary, memorize lots of Scripture, lead people to faith in Jesus, and a whole bunch more, yet not be a Christian.
We American Christians are impressed with behavior. Our models for Christian growth tend to focus on what people do, not who they are. Don’t misunderstand. I am a big believer in sharing my faith, memorizing Scripture, and reading the Bible. However, Scripture warns me that these important practices for Christian growth can also be done for less than honorable reasons. Though terribly misguided, it is impressive to see someone who pours gas on his own body and then lights himself ablaze as a human torch. We’ve seen this occur from time to time in various protest movements. Such a stunning sacrifice, yet the Bible makes clear that this incredible act can be done completely devoid of love (I Cor. 13:3, NASB).
I’ve done open-air preaching on the campuses of Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. I’ve also done open-air preaching on the streets of Boulder, Colorado and Dallas, Texas. Impressive, eh? I can tell you, however, that these were much easier to do than gladly serving my family when I am tired physically. People may be wowed by the public preaching, but I can attest that it was much easier to do than serving my family in obscurity.
Biblical Illiteracy is Causing Much Damage
I’m sixty-one years old. I’ve been in various ministries for over forty years. In many places where Christians congregate, I’ve seen a precipitous drop in biblical literacy. A few months ago, I asked a group of ten college students, all from evangelical backgrounds, whether they had heard at least one sermon on the book of Lamentations. Not one of them had. Here you have a book of the Bible that has much to say in our current cultural moment and yet many are unaware of its riches. I should add that the book of Lamentations is not difficult to understand. The message of Lamentations is certainly difficult to accept which maybe offers some reason why so many preachers steer clear from preaching through it. Sadly, many miss this life-giving book of the Bible that offers unvarnished language for grieving when the unthinkable happens in our life.
Taking Every Thought Captive
In II Corinthians 10, we read that we are to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” The battle always begins with our thoughts. All of us marinate on things that are ungodly. More than a few of these would be embarrassing to admit to anyone, but a loyal friend. Even then, it is risky. But what happens when you don’t know anyone who will provide a godly and safe environment to give voice to your darker thoughts? Answer: you are left to your own devices, and Scripture makes clear that going it alone is deadly.
I’ve seen this scenario play out before. A person has certain gifts that many are unwisely enamored with. The gifts cause the person to be elevated far past their maturity in Christ. In too many cases, the “indispensable” person is promoted to a position of Christian leadership when their own faith in Christ is uncertain. This, in most cases, only becomes evident later on when the damage is done.
During my various interviews for pastoral positions at four evangelical churches I was never asked about my own walk with the Lord. Everyone seemed quite happy that my two seminary degrees came from the right schools. One evangelical pastor, also with the right pedigree, only asked me about my ministry strategies for motivating church-attending men who are apathetic. In all the interviews, only one asked me about my relationship with my wife, but rather predictably, he is a professional counselor!
Where to Go from Here?
Instead of offering a grocery list of suggestions, and there are several things to consider, allow me to give one. When you think of your own life and the lives of the Christians in your orbit, focus on one thing: Who/what is loved most and why? If our communities are getting healthier, we should be free to say, “I love ministry more than God. I get more excited about shopping or golf more than anything else. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. Please help me with this.” May this be the kind of Christian communities that we build to His glory and our good!
Mary Beard’s book on Roman History is terrific. SPQR is the famous Roman catchphrase Senatus Populus Que Romanus or The Senate and People of Rome. If you know anything about Mary Beard (perhaps via BBC specials) you know this Cambridge professor is as feisty as she is brilliant. Her writing is magnificent. She knows how to tell the stories of ancient Rome in a way that are accessible and entertaining.
Some who are able to spin a good yarn are not careful with the details. Beard goes no further than the evidence will allow for telling this story. In other words, she does not traffic in speculation or try to fill in details we would love to have, but simply do not.
She does include details that make the story interesting throughout, but these are details we can be pretty confident of. For example, did you know that ancient Rome had one million inhabitants and that no city would have that many people until the nineteenth century?
Ancient Roman history is extremely relevant to the hurly-burly of twenty-first century America.
I recently read Allen Guelzo’s terrific new history of the Civil War, Fateful Lightning.
Guelzo describes how restless Lincoln was for more responsibility. Others around him, even early on with his law practice, commented on Lincoln’s ambition. It was sobering to read of Lincoln’s ambition in the 1850’s for the next decade would obviously find him with more responsibility than he could ever imagine.
If you are ambitious for more influence, that is not necessarily a bad thing. God hard-wired us for making a difference, but we must be ever so careful. Being ambitious for God’s glory and kingdom is one thing. Being ambitious to “make a name for ourselves” is no less sinister than those in Babel who wanted to do the same thing.
Remember God’s words to Baruch, “Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’”
“We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way. The rich kids I met in college were flailing as though they wanted to find walls around them, leapt as though they wanted there to be gravity and to hit ground, even bottom, but parents and privilege kept throwing out safety nets and buffers, kept padding the walls and picking up the pieces, so that all their acts were meaningless, literally inconsequential. They floated like astronauts in outer space.”
The rest is here (HT: My sister Lisa)
(I once was what you are and what I am you also will be). This memento mori underlines that the painting was intended to serve as a lesson to the viewers. At the simplest level the imagery must have suggested to the 15th-century faithful that, since they all would die, only their faith in the Trinity and Christ’s sacrifice would allow them to overcome their transitory existences.
According to American art historian Mary McCarthy:
The fresco, with its terrible logic, is like a proof in philosophy or mathematics, God the Father, with His unrelenting eyes, being the axiom from which everything else irrevocably flows.
Source: McCarthy, Mary (August 22, 1959). “A City of Stone”. The New Yorker. New York: 48.
HT: Tim Challies