Archives For The Gospel Coalition

I have only on a few occasions reposted articles or blog posts in their near entirety. Doing so smacks of my days as an English TA in college, when 50% of the papers were handed in 50% plagiarized by unassuming and presumptuous freshman who borrowed another’s thoughts because they said them so much better. Well of course they did, but they were freshmen once too and did their homework more earnestly, I promise you.

(Lest there be any confusion, I am the freshman in this case.)

This book review by Joni Erickson Tada kept me gaping the whole time I read and so I’m at least sharing a few nuggets of it with you. But go read the whole thing if you please, and the book reviewed as well; I plan to.

Through the decades, I have learned that when you’re hemorrhaging human pain, answers—even if they are good, right, and true—can sting like salt in a wound. When you are decimated and down for the count, the “16 good biblical reasons why all this is happening” can come across as cold and calloused. Answers are good when you’re asking “Why?” with an open heart, but they can do damage when you’re asking “Why?” with a clenched fist.

That’s what irks [a few friends who gag when they hear the God of the Bible is not embarrassed to say he’s sovereign over suffering]: that sticky, inconvenient propensity of God to tuck everything under his overarching decrees without explaining why (or getting himself dirty). That’s what drives them crazy.

Admit it: like pickles in a jar, our minds are soaked with all sorts of secular subtleties. We are infected by our culture of comfort and convenience, and would rather erase suffering out of the biblical dictionary. We want a God who supports our plans, who is our “accomplice;” someone to whom we can relate as long as he is doing what we want. If he does something else, we “unfriend” him.

From Joni Erickson Tada’s review of Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller

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I have a short article up on The Gospel Coalition today on Millennials and who has not left the Church: 

There are times I wish we could capitalize letters verbally.

One of the main speakers at a conference I attended this week stated his case, including some lines about “the church shrinking these days.” Did he mean his local church, lowercase c? Or did he mean the great, grand, beautiful capital C Church, the one encompassing millions of believers the world over, the one that has lasted for generations and generations, withstood dark ages and bright ones, the one Jesus said he would build and nothing would prevail against? I don’t know, and the comment wasn’t clarified. But recently I read an article about why Millennials are leaving the church, and my heart had the same reaction.

Whose church are we talking about here?  Continue reading.

A few months ago I wrote an article that caused a bit of a firestorm among some of my writing compadres. Perhaps I gave it a provocative title, but I maintain its truth: Mark Driscoll is Not My Pastor.

Amongst the backlash of that article there was also a curious phenomenon on the twitter chat: the affirmation of the virtual church.

What was being espoused by person after person was the reality that they considered their online friends their church. “Twitter is my church” and “You guys are my church and my pastors” were among some of the statements I read. The definition of virtual is “Existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form, or name.”

Hear me out, one of the ministries to which God has called me is of the online variety. This blog and other publications I write for take a good amount of mental and spiritual energy. You are my ministry. But you are not my local church.

More and more I read articles lumping authors into clear and present camps. You have the Jesus feminists, the red letter Christians, the social justice-cause driven, the reformed, the story-tellers, the orthodox. There are these hard and fast lines boxing authors to a particular movement or theological framework, and once they have been flagged as such, they are blacklisted or embraced. There is little room for grace in this world because if I confess I agree with Rob Bell in this one area, that is a blight on my character to those who disagree with him. If I confess I agree with John Piper in this area, well, count me out of an entire sector of the blogosphere.

If we are in an age of the virtual church, then we are also in an age of virtual shunning.

You won’t ever hear me disavow the importance of the global Church. That I can consider someone who lives thousands of miles from me one of my closest friends—that is the power of the bond we have in Christ.

But love for the global Church does not negate the biblical importance of the local church. Too often I hear great passion in my brothers and sisters for the health of the Church, without seeing evidence that they value it at its most local level. I see bloggers calling men and women to task, and shunning those who associate with them, without seeing any accountability to authority in their own lives. I see much concern for orthodoxy and discipleship and brotherly love, without seeing evidence of those things in their lives.

I am not saying those things are not happening, what I am saying is that I don’t see it.

I don’t see it because they are not my local church and I do not know them in the way I know the people alongside whom I walk. I don’t see it because I am not privy to the conversations they have with their pastors (if they have pastors) or elders. I don’t see it because I don’t see them taking meals to new moms or visiting the sick or weeping with those who weep. Seeing those things is reserved for those who are not virtual, but real life, flesh and blood.

I’m writing this because too often the assumption is made that the virtual groups with whom I am associated are somehow the people to whom I am submitted. The assumption is we ascribe to the same set of theological ideals, we have discussions behind closed doors, spit-shake on how we’ll handle certain situations, administer church discipline and the sacraments together. And it’s simply not the truth.

I have pastors and a local church. I write for publications, enjoy friendships, but they are not my local church or my elders. Simply because a publication for which I write or a group of online acquaintances embrace a certain stance or ideal, does not mean I agree with them.

A year ago I had a conversation with one of my pastors. I met with him to discuss an opportunity put before me to participate in a publication where I would share the platform with some diametrically opposing authors. Should I do it? was my question. Yes, was his answer. Why? Because every opportunity we have to proclaim the gospel is good and we should prayerfully consider taking it. Some of the places I write, I write because I do disagree with their stance on certain issues. I write because it is my prayer that the gospel would go forth. My name doesn’t matter, but Christ’s does.

We proclaim Christ best by loving what He loves. What Christ loves best is the glory of His Father, and the Father is glorified when we are his disciples, when we love one another—at the most difficult, personal, beautiful level: right here, locally.

Love the Church, friends, but start by loving the church.

I’m loathe to take a camp, step off the fence, call my cards, or slap a label on myself, but all it takes is one quick glance through Sayable, a brief perusal of the publications for which I write, and the local church I call home for others to safely land me in with the neo-reformed. I won’t reject the title, but in normal fashion, I will not lay claim to it. However, there’s been something rotten in the state of Denmark recently and all fingers are pointing back at, well, I’ll say “us” for the sake of this post.

If you have no idea what rotten piecemeal is being bandied about, I have no interest in educating you. Others have done so much more thoroughly than I, with much more anger than I, with many more bones in the game than I. I weigh in today because May was supposed to be my sabbatical month and instead I have been peppered with more questions than ever on why I haven’t written on the SGM civil suit.

Here are the main reasons:

1. I am not affiliated in any way with SGM. Though I may be affiliated with those who are affiliated with them, we can play that game all day in every which way. Kevin Bacon anybody? These days everyone knows everyone somehow. It is a small world after all.

2. I am not a lawyer, but I think I am a fairly intelligent person, and even I had a bit of trouble getting my mind around the legal jargon of all the documents. And I’ve been in my share of courtrooms, with my share of lawyers spouting legal jargon—two can play that game. All I’m saying is, someone wants to win and so it’s hard to trust a system where winning is the goal. Last shall be first and all that.

3. I’m one of those fools who trusts the men who keep watch over my soul. Maybe that play isn’t for everybody, but I figure the Bible spent a lot of time talking about it, so nuff said.

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Just because I didn’t say anything about it, though, doesn’t mean I didn’t feel complicit in the alleged ongoing silence by “us.” I was a bit confused as to why men and women I respected within the Church at large weren’t weighing in on the suit at all, save from a post by Tim Challies. It is good to be slow to speak, yes, but not speak at all? It didn’t seem right. I knew I didn’t have anything to add to the civil suit conversation, but surely something could be said to acknowledge the situation period?

(Adding my voice to the cacophony of the Christian blogosphere wouldn’t assuage those out for an admission of guilt, though, if you’re wondering why I didn’t say anything. I’m under no illusions—I might be affiliated with those affiliated with SGM, but I’m no Kevin Bacon, if you get my drift.)

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In the light of more recent occurrences, though, and now that some of “us” have issued a public statement, I thought a few things might be said. Take them for what they’re worth to you. Remember comments aren’t open on Sayable ever so I’m not shutting you down and there’s no need to respond. They’re just my simple thoughts for those who might need them.

If you are a pastor:

Please protect your sheep. I meant what I said above about trusting those who keep watch over my soul. I mean that because the Bible says it and I trust the words of God. However, you, by nature of your position and your God-given authority, help illuminate those words for your sheep. You can use or abuse your authority and position, and you can, unknowingly, be the voice of the accuser to people—even in your silence. Always protect your sheep. If one of your talented, seemingly godly, charismatic sheep turns out to be a wolf, go after him. If one of your sheep leaves the fold, go find her. Pastor your people, don’t just preach at them.

If you were abused:

This case feels like the nail in the coffin, trust me, I know. Even if it wasn’t the same as your experience, you can easily relive your experience every time someone dismisses the concerns of the victims, every time someone seems complicit with their silence. Your heart means well here. The grace of God for you takes a horrific experience and gives you the tools to minister to these issues in a way those higher-up might never be able to do. That is not your blight or your stain, that is the precious work of grace to take the broken and make beautiful. Now is your time to speak in and with grace.

If you were an abuser:

You did wrong and you know this. You ought to make recompense for what is considered a crime in the eyes of God and the judicial system. But this does not mean forgiveness is withheld from you, or should be withheld until you “pay for what you did.” Forgiveness doesn’t work that way. I pray you know the fullness of the gospel covers your crimes, but does not blot them from history. Repent, accept the judicial punishment, and if you are His Child, look forward to a lifetime of His grace and an eternity in His presence.

If you want to leave the church because of this:

Part of me wants to say, please do, and trust me, there’s no snark in that statement. I’m fully convinced that no matter how far you run, you cannot outrun the wild, ferocious, loving heart of our God. If leaving the Church for a while helps you clear yourself of the clutter of its underbelly, please do. You have the freedom to leave abusive situations, Christ sets us free to do that, and you should. But I will also say this, as a child who has seen her fair share of the underbelly, if you’re His? You’re grafted in. You’re knit so tightly into His body and flesh, his scars and blood-bought redemption that you can’t leave the Church because you are part of it. And it’s beautiful. Really beautiful when you see it like that.

If you are neo-reformed (or whatever it is called these days), but embarrassed by the silence or complicit responses:

Can I implore you to press in close to your leaders, your elders, your editors, and your pastors. Sometimes they know things about a situation that you don’t know, isn’t public knowledge, isn’t on some legal document, and isn’t widely known. Sometimes they’re withholding comment because it could actually make it worse for the most helpless of the situation. You don’t know. There’s a lot of speculation, regardless of who you are and who you know and who you know who knows someone else. You aren’t Kevin Bacon, you just saw one of his movies once or twice. Reserve judgement.

If you know someone who knows someone (who was abused, who went to an SGM church, or anyone at all):

One of the things I love about the Bible is there are all these portions where it’s just one man or one woman and God (or the enemy). There are no eye-witnesses, it’s just Moses and the burning bush, Daniel and the lions, David and the bears, Jesus and the enemy. We get this birds-eye view into the situation, but really, when it happened it was just them there.

So we have perceptions of how things looked or played out, but I’ll bet you could poll any thirty of us and we’d all have a different setting in mind for Moses and his burning bush. There would be similarities, of course, but it would be different. This is how it is to hear any story second hand. We can know that some things are true, but some things are simply perceptions. Because of this, it is almost always better to reserve your own words about another person’s experience. There may be truth to it (and in this case specifically, it seems like there is definitely much truth to it), but the retelling of it multiple times will never end well. Mourn with those who mourn, bring it to the authorities if need be, but keep silent about the specific matter unless you know you speak the canonized truth.

If you are a mere onlooker:

If you’re just a casual reader, a blog reader, a curious atheist, a questioning agnostic, I am sorry. This entire situation, from twenty years ago until today is unfortunate and shameful. This is not becoming to the Church and I deeply regret it happened. However, let me say this, I am firmly convinced the Church tries to keep its wedding dress too squeaky clean, and this case is a perfect example of it. The reality is we’re blemished and broken, spotted and wrinkled, and Christ is the only way we’re getting presented cleansed. He’s it. It’s not through a denomination, a pastor, a friend, a court system, or a blog post that the resolution of all things comes, it’s Him. Him alone. Be encouraged, there’s room at the table and we don’t mind if you’re messed up. Really. We’re messed up too.

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That’s all. I know this is long, and I’m breaking sabbath to share it, but I couldn’t sleep and I love to sleep.

Go in peace, brothers and sisters, pastors and sheep, abused and abusers, doubters and finders, He is faithful to complete His work. He seals it with His spirit.

I tell a friend this morning that I feel straddled between two camps and I don’t know how long I can sustain this position. I fear being viewed as tepid water. John writes of luke-warm water being spewed from the mouth of God (Rev. 3:16), but sometimes we think we’re God, spitting out those who don’t agree, can’t agree, or just cannot see.

We’ll show them.

And what?

What are we showing them?

For those who take and adopt the phrase “gospel-centered,” do we show those who don’t hold to our same brand of theology that they are luke-warm? And for those who take and own the phrase “story-teller,” do we spew out those whose stories may look different than ours, take longer than ours, or shorter?

Water sputtering everywhere and not a drop to drink…

Continue reading at The Gospel Coalition.

 

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