I pulled out several of our books on postmodernism NOT because I want to reread them for engaging relativists, but because I need some input on how to engage fellow Evangelicals!
Stuck in the Present
No matter what Christian tradition we align with, or group we associate with, all of us should consider the following questions. Over the years I developed this list to ask myself these kinds of things on a regular basis:
*Am I fearful of speaking up due to the fear of losing my livelihood? As a pastor I regularly reminded myself that the folks at church were not responsible for paying me. They were God’s instruments to be sure, but God was in charge of my well-being. I am glad for a father who instilled in me the virtue of doing the right thing no matter the cost.
*Am I fearful of speaking up due to jeopardizing opportunities for ministry (or business) in certain venues? Much could be said about this, but the reality is that many don’t press important issues over fear of losing out on speaking and writing opportunities.
Years ago, I talked with a guy who lost his job at a big, Christian publishing house because he protested them accepting a book which contained heresy. The best-selling author stayed and the editor left. It cost him in some significant and very tangible ways, but it did not cost him his integrity.
*Am I fearful of speaking up because I truly like these people and don’t want to lose my “community”? This is understandable as indeed all of these temptations are, but we must ask how good the friends really are if any pushback and challenge is viewed as a threat to the friendship.
Personally, I don’t mind hearty disagreements and have had them with many friends. I do mind when a lack of respect, not actively listening to one another, setting up straw-man points, ad hominems, or the all too common practice of passive-aggressive behavior takes place.
*Am I fearful of speaking up because I don’t want to be tagged “a critical spirit”? Labels can be lethal. I have seen the “critical spirit” label wielded with wicked efficiency.
To be candid, I have been guilty for labeling some “company men” who may not have deserved it. Others probably did, but that still is not the best way to communicate. We label because as David Dark said so well, we are lazy and want “mental shortcuts.”
In either case, we ought to be willing to be misunderstood, but actively seeking to understand others better. I am absolutely convinced this is greatly aided by proximity. If I don’t know someone it is easy to label them in an unfavorable light. If I do get to know them, we might still disagree, but be less keen on categorizing one another with our unflattering arsenal of terms.
One example is the mea culpa a popular blogger gave over his less than flattering review of Ann Voskamp’s, One Thousand Gifts. Tim Challies candidly registered his dismay over how he treated Voskamp (http://www.challies.com/articles/in-which-i-ask-ann-voskamps-forgiveness). Wonderfully, it was Voskamp’s invitation to Challies and his family for a meal with the Voskamp family which got that ball rolling. So proximity is powerful. Repeat it often!
My go to verses which have helped me better navigate (no perfection achievable this far from Eden!) the choppy waters of simultaneously not fearing man, yet remembering the need to remain a man growing in peace with others whenever possible are:
“Stop regarding man, who breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?” (Isa. 2:22)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)
“If possible, so far as depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Rom. 12:18) while always remembering the balancing verse of “Woe to you when all the people speak well of you; for their fathers used to treat the false prophets the same way.” (Luke 6:26)
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19)
Late last night, I was overcome with grief. The tears were not expected.
It is impossible to digest properly all that happened yesterday. As I write in my forthcoming book Stuck in the Present, we need the longer view of history for that, so I am heeding my own counsel.
Over the years, I have heard warnings to not take the American experiment in democracy for granted. It is sturdy in one sense, but still fragile. I remember hearing that each generation of Americans must commit to it. I thought it was good to issue such a warning but was never too worried. No longer.
Have things been this bad before in America? An argument can certainly be made for that and the antebellum period is the one historians typically mention.
Are our cluster of present problems unique to the more modern period of American history? Again, I think the 1960s offers another example of serious strife and deep division.
My deepest sadness, however, is not over our country’s present chaos and strife.
My deepest sadness is over the state of the Christian faith in America.
For many decades I have witnessed Christians who are apathetic about knowing God’s Word, loving one’s enemies, an unwillingness to suffer for Christ in the most modest of ways, prayerlessness, and much more.
Most Christians are poorly prepared for times of crisis. We love the church programs that meet our insatiable desires. We adore our celebrity pastors. We are biblically and historically illiterate, but more than willing to offer our superficial opinions on the most vexing issues of the day.
This sad state of affairs is due to a lack of making long-term discipleship and serious grounding in the Christian faith our priorities. These simply do not take place in many churches (or parachurches for that matter). We have sown the wind and are reaping the whirlwind. We should not be surprised where we find ourselves.
Things are not going to be any better by avoiding these realities. Things also might not be any better if we face these realities but at least we will have been faithful.
I pray for God’s mercy, but I do not find myself too sanguine. My lack of “optimism” is not because the culture is so bad. Rather, it is because many of us Americans claiming the name of Christ have become dull of hearing.
God’s Word makes it clear that Christians can lose their influence (Mt. 5:13; Rev. 2:4,5). We are kidding ourselves if we think this is not happening right now.
All of us who claim the name of Christ need to ponder and consider Peter’s dire warning:
Indeed, none of you should suffer as a murderer or thief or wrongdoer, or even as a meddler. But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?… (I Peter 4:15-17)
I added this in the reply link, but will also add it here:
Again, to underscore the biggest point of the post: Yes, shock over the events of yesterday, but I am much more worried about the state of Christianity in America. And my concerns go way back before Trump or any other politician.
We must look at ourselves!
Nine minutes worth your attention:
Here is a piece I wrote for Christianity Today at the beginning of 2020.
If you read my piece you will see that I intended to do three quick readings of the Bible. That changed pretty early on. I finished the Old Testament, but then got gloriously stuck in some slow reads of a few books in the Bible.
I have always been comfortable allowing for flexibility as long as my overall goal of regular engagement with the Bible takes place.
For the past couple of months I have been mulling over and do multiple reads of both Lamentations and Jonah. Since I am putting together mini commentaries for both, I may be gloriously stuck there for some time!
Your “Bible-reading plan for this year” may get modified as mine did last year, but whatever you end up doing, make it a priority to have regular intake of God’s Word. It is always good to plead for God to “open our eyes to behold wonderful things from His Word.”
“Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life.”
Sen. Alan Simpson
Eulogy for George Herbert Walker Bush
In short compass (unlike Moby-Dick!) Philbrick gives the reader a wonderful preview of the riches in Moby-Dick.
I am very interested in early nineteenth century literature (Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Poe, Melville, Hawthorne, Whitman, Fuller, et al.). Philbrick’s book motivates me to revisit Melville’s great work.
Philbrick is a skilled wordsmith and offers many suggestive and wonderful insights about human life in the midst of an uncertain and many times terrifying world.
I must add this work to the annual books of the year list. I finished it today, so it is still 2020!
This is a short, but well-written account of America’s Christian origins. It is not one of those goofy, triumphalist books where every founder is strait-jacketed into being a devoted follower of Jesus.
Rather, it shows quite persuasively that those who lean hard in the direction of America’s founders being formed more by the Enlightenment than the Christian faith have to be more careful with the full record.