Calvinism and certainty

I am a Calvinist. There. I said it. 

 

Inspired by Marilyn McEntyre here’s a list of caricatures of Calvinists.

Angry
Serious
Strict
Logical
Imagination-less
Bible-toting
Supersilious
Literalistic
Emotionally-stunted
Axe-grinding
Heretic-hunting
Church-splitting
Fun-killing
Joy-sucking
Liberal-hating
Arminian-hating
Wrath-loving
Love-avoiding

The sad thing is that at different times of my life I have been all of these things though I doubt I’ve ever been all of them at the same time.

I hope.

 

 

[Expanded] Why we hate each other

In many ways hate is the lazy way out.

If can label someone and then emote against that label and do it online and in abstract terms then I don’t actually have to wrestle with all of life’s complexity.

And if hate is lazy then it should come as no surprise that our intellectually sloppy culture is beset with hate.

Here is a simple explanation for the crazy about of vitriol and bile in our political discourse:

Kids brought up with Facebook and Instagram are more politically bigoted, not because they don’t hear alternative opinions, but because they don’t learn the concentration necessary to listen to opponents — a difficult and unnatural skill.

To put it another way, today’s American elections are mild compared to those of, say, 1800 or 1860. The relative tolerance that characterized the twentieth-century reflected rising education and rising intelligence, which made voters more capable of empathy with opponents. Reverse that rise and people will revert to the more primitive but easier rule-of-thumb: my tribe good, your tribe bad.

I find it pretty compelling, you?

Being a pastor will break your heart

God in the storm

I once went camping with my wife when we were still dating. I have little in the way of camping skills, but one thing I can do is summon rain on demand any time I plan to pitch a tent. True to form we hiked into the camp site, set up the tent at dusk, and shortly thereafter it rained.

And rained.

And rained.

Then the lightening started and the thunder too. Thunderstorms aren’t too bad when you’re tucked in your bed, under a roof and away from tall objects.

Let’s just say that a tent doesn’t offer a whole lot of defense against the shock and awe of a southern thunder storm. Every minute the tent lighted up like daylight. Then came the crack of thunder which rolled down the valleys like a boulders being tossed by a giant in a game of bowls.

It was intense

Pastoring can be intense too–like being in a tent in the middle of a thunderstorm, naked and vulnerable.

No one told me that becoming a pastor would break my heart.

The cost of pastoring

I’ve been in ministry for a long time, more than fourteen years. Most of that time I’ve been in what we presbyterians call “specialized ministry.”

Specialized ministries usually mean chaplaincy, faculty, or denominational work. Of course, all ministry is specialized–none more than the work of parish Pastor.

I’ve found that specialized ministry can sometimes be shorthand for a boondoggle–a sweet employment gig that doesn’t involve weddings, funerals, sermons, or sessions, and comes with a tax-exempt housing allowance.

If you’re going into ministry I recommend you go for a specialized ministry (preferably something with the word ‘executive’ in it) because serving a congregation will break your heart.

Pastoral ministry is a wilderness and if you’re not prepared for that, you’ll probably become a casualty.

Its like a marathon. Ever see anyone sprint across the finish line of a marathon?

Sure.

Ever see someone do that and then do some pushups, jumping jacks, and then get on with their day?

Me either. Most people look pretty bad when they’re finishing a marathon. That’s because running a marathon exacts a toll; so does being a pastor.

You are weak

My first pastoral call ended in a most Pauline fashion. In 2 Corinthians 11:33 Paul recounts his departure from Damascus:  “I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his [the governor’s] hands.” 

The basket I escaped in was my wife’s editorial job in another city. It let me sneak out of the walled city and away from the conflict.

I left the church in turmoil behind me.

I was weak. I am weak.

I didn’t have a job to go to. I felt like a failure. It broke my heart.

When I was younger I expected that my vocational path would take me from glory to glory. Some of my friends have picture-perfect career progressions.

Mine, not so much.

Life is full of seasons

Ecclesiastes tells us that our lives are marked by seasons. The seasons don’t define us, but they do shape and affect us in deep ways.

I’m still a pastor and I’m still in ministry. I hope to serve a church again in the future. For this season, I’m enjoying God’s good gift of lying fallow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book publishing in 9 minutes

I stumbled on this video today while doing some research. It offers an inside glimpse into the book industry through the lens of Penguin Random House. While IVP is significantly smaller, pretty much everything you see in this video is mirrored in the way we carry out or publishing mission. Enjoy!

The dual-career couple

“In almost half the two-parent households in the United States (compared with 31% in 1970), both parents work full-time. Still, companies struggle to anticipate and mitigate the effects on their talent pipelines…. The crux of the problem is that companies tend to have fixed paths to leadership roles, with set tours of duty and long-held ideas about what ambition looks like. That creates rigid barriers for employees—and recruitment and retention challenges for their employers, many of whom are failing to consider the whole person when mapping out high potentials’ career trajectories. To reap the benefits of their investments in human capital, organizations must adopt new strategies for managing and developing talent.”

Jennifer Petriglieri, “Talent Management and the Dual-Career Couple,” Harvard Business Review, May-June 2018 (pp.106–113)

 

 

 

The decline of attractional church

You remember peak oil, right?

For those who don’t it is “the hypothetical point in time when the global production of oil reaches its maximum rate, after which production will gradually decline” (via: Wikipedia).

According to Tim Challies we may have reached the peak of the attractional church model with Ed Young’s sermon series “Wrastlin'”:

In case you’re not familiar with the term “attractional,” here’s Tim Challies offering a definition:

“The attractional church is, according to Jared Wilson, a “ministry paradigm that has embraced consumerism, pragmatism, and moralism as its operational values.” It assumes that the greatest and highest purpose of the church service is to evangelize unbelievers rather than to encourage and disciple believers. It assumes we are responsible to do whatever it takes to get people through the doors of the church. It assumes that we shouldn’t do or say anything within a service that may make unbelievers uncomfortable. It assumes that growing numbers are a necessary indication of God’s favor.”

The attractional model has been the dominant paradigm in American church for several decades now. And it was successful in filling seats. It turns out to be less successful at making disciples.

The problem?

Boice’s law: “what you win them with is what you win them to.” 

In my experience precious few churches successfully make the beauty of the gospel the thing that “wins” people.

I love these eight characteristics of a gospel-centered church offered by Challies:

  1. Trust not just in authority of Scripture but sufficiency of Scripture
  2. Sermons that emphasize “It is finished!” over “Get to work!”. Jesus is the star, not a bit player
  3. Meaningful membership encompassing whole-life discipleship, pastoral care, and church discipline
  4. Emphasis on members as missionaries & emphasizing “go and tell” over “come and see”
  5. A total trust in the gospel to be the power of transformation that no amount of inspiration can be
  6. Regular commitment to the Lord’s Supper
  7. Reliance on robustness of the gospel to apply to the believer, justification & sanctification
  8. Church as community of saints, not merely a worship service or resource center for programs

As Biblical Christianity runs afoul of our culture’s values we’ll necessarily see the decline of attractional church. Good riddance.

One election away from…what?

A timely word for evangelicals and progressives

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A word of warning to evangelical Christians

At a recent event President Trump warned that we evangelicals are “one election away from losing everything.” Doubling down, he added that should the GOP lose in the November election evangelicals ought to expect that violence will be perpetrated against us. To say that this sort of political speech is unusual requires a memory longer than the last two years during which time such exaggerated and inflammatory discourse has, alas, become par for the political course. 

Reformed theologian Michael Horton has rightly objected to the President’s fear-mongering reminding believers that we ought not to put our trust in chariots, princes, or anything other than our God. You can read his Christianity Today article here. One paragraph offers a concise summary of Horton’s point:

…[T]he church does not preach the gospel at the pleasure of any administration or decline to preach it at another administration’s displeasure. We preach at Christ’s pleasure. And we don’t make his policies but communicate them. It’s not when we’re fed to lions that we lose everything; it’s when we preach another gospel. “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

[emphasis mine]

Horton continues:

Something tremendous is at stake here: whether evangelical Christians place their faith more in Caesar and his kingdom than in Christ and his reign. On that one, we do have everything to lose—this November and every other election cycle. When we seek special political favors for the church, we communicate to the masses that Christ’s kingdom is just another demographic in the US electorate.

As a Evangelical Presbyterian minister, I hold some opinions that are profoundly offensive to many whose beliefs are not shaped by the Bible and the church’s interpretive tradition in the same way mine are.

To wit:

  • I reject the notion that humanity is justified by God in any manner other than through the free gift of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by which our sins are counted his and his righteousness is counted ours.
  • I reject that marriage as an ecclesial act may be defined in a manner contrary to the witness of Scripture. Marriage is exclusively the union of a man and a woman in the sight of God and in the context of a congregation (see point number one). I do not object to the state enforcing such a view because this view is not exclusively rooted in revelation, but in the natural law.
  • I reject no fault divorce as contrary to the teaching of the New Testament and that divorce ought only to happen with the advice and consent of the Session of a person’s congregation.
  • I affirm that the practice of homosexual sex is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and disqualifies a person from church membership and church office. Homosexual orientation is not a gift of God, but a result of the fall as is transgenderism.

You get the idea. The whole world might stand against these views, but so long as my conscience is captive to the Word of God my views are unlikely to change. I find no reason to cloak these views or to dissemble them. Life’s too short.

Furthermore, I don’t particularly need the government to protect these views neither do I need popular opinion on my side. I would be a fool to believe that a GOP majority will somehow safeguard my views.

A word of warning to progressives

It seems to me that evangelicals are not alone in needing to center our faith in God rather than the civil magistrate. The last year has created something of a crisis of confidence among Christians who call themselves progressive or justice-oriented. I know of one author who has not returned to church since the election of Donald Trump because he views the church as complicit in the evil of a democratic election. This is imprudent. If a single election can make or break your faith–evangelical, progressive or any other tribe–then I question the authenticity of your faith in the first place.

Progressive Christians are equally guilty of ceding faith to the temporal realm. Let’s not kid ourselves that this is a uniquely evangelical problem. It’s not. There’s more than enough guilt to be shared.

Please move the statue

I have little sympathy with the sort of person who finds it necessary to topple a statue in order to make a point. It is, simply put, an act of criminal damage and the sort of thing decent people don’t engage in. By all means protest, but let’s avoid violence.

At the same time, it’s not difficult to understand the frustration surrounding statues dedicated to the memory of the Confederate dead.

Across our land there are multiple peoples whose reason for being in the United States is irrevocably tied to their forceable abduction from their homeland, conversion (legally) into chattel (personal property), and subsequent abuse and systematic dehumanization and disenfranchisement.

And with the North Carolina General Assembly somehow disconnected with reality, its difficult to imagine them taking any sort of leadership on unifying the state in any meaningful way.

I have no wish to dishonor the memory of the war dead, of the Civil War or any war. Confederate soldiers fought for their state, for their principles, and they offered the ultimate sacrifice for them.

This is true of both sides in every major conflict.  The cause may have been wrong, misled, or immoral, but it is a small person who cannot honor one who laid their life down for it.

I come from a line of soldiers, and though not one myself, am keenly aware of the importance of honoring sacrifice.

One of my forefathers has fought for the Crown in most of the conflicts of the Twentieth Century–from Dublin to the Transvaal, from Jakarta to Aden. In many of these instances Her Majesty’s forces were engaging in force for the purpose of keeping peace around the Empire. The exception being World War II.

There are those who might look upon monuments to their memory as a different Silent Sam. On one level, of course, they’d be right. At the same time, it’s easy to be indignant from a distance of centuries.

Should the statue be moved? Yes.

I see no reason to destroy it, but to move to a different and less conspicuous place. And for God’s sake let’s make sure to honor the sacrifices of others–those whose bodies and lives were taken from them and sold into slavery–and repent of the sin that brought that practice into being.