In Tolkien’s The Two Towers we are introduced to Grima Wormtongue who, under the pretense of caring for Theoden the King, has wickedly ingratiated himself and usurped his moral authority. Indeed, as Wormtongue’s influence over Thedoen grows, the king’s power dissipates. In the Peter Jackson film, we see this vividly in the way Theoden is depicted as a mere shell of a man, somewhat skeletal with a gray pallor and dull, glazed eyes. His counselor has a parasitic effect.
It’s a dramatic link, to be sure, but I think of this relationship when I ponder the ambitions of the emergents, the neo-evangelicals, or whatever they’re calling themselves now (or not calling themselves) in seeking to commandeer the conversation of the evangelical movement. “Christianity must change or die,” a satanic bishop wrote a few years back. His spiritual progeny are catching up to agree with new books and new publishing houses, new conferences, blogs, and talk shows. But we’ve seen the trajectory for years. They can take us no place worth going. Talking out of both sides of their mouths, we ought not be surprised when the forked tongues become more evident.
Professing to be wise, they reveal themselves to be fools. “Did God actually say?” they begin. Then they’ll tell you the answer: “No.” Before long, they insist the gospel cannot expand in this brave new world without a brave new faith that coddles disbelief and calls sin virtue.
When you get right down to it, the whole enterprise is nonsensical and self-defeating. Cultural rebukes from a relativistic reading of the Scriptures and of historic orthodoxy guts any presumed authority in the rebuke from the outset. In a comment thread at one of these wormtongue-y blogs I read someone’s defense of the use of p()rnography in a marriage, arguing the need to respect differing values. The commenter also maintained that complementarian marriages were evil. “Get a brain, morans,” indeed.
The wizard Gandalf’s rebuke of the parasitic Wormtongue is fitting. In Tolkien’s book:
“Down snake!” he said suddenly in a terrible voice. “Down on your belly! How long is it since Saruman bought you? What was the promised price?”
Well, the expected reward is the same stuff they accuse prominent evangelicals of greed for: money, power, prestige. Here is the rebuke as depicted in Jackson’s film adaptation:
Be silent. Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crude words with a witless worm.
Church, only let us hold true to what we have attained (Philipians 3:16). In the days coming, a regular re-reading of the book of Jude might be in order. The talking faces of the post-evangelical Jello salad want to help evangelicals navigate the uncharted waters of post-Christendom. But Jesus gave us plenty of words about unfaithful stewards and hired hands. We can learn nothing from the heterodox about navigating “the future of evangelicalism” except how to shut the engines off and drift.
Expository means that preaching aims to exposit, or explain and apply, the meaning of the Bible. Every sermon explains and applies the Bible. The reason for this is that the Bible is God’s word, inspired, infallible, profitable—all sixty-six books of it. The preacher’s job is to minimize his own opinions and deliver the truth of God. Therefore, it is mainly Bible exposition—explanation and application.
And the preacher’s job is to do that in a way that enables us to see that the points he is making actually come from the Bible. If they come from the Bible and you can’t see that they come from the Bible, your faith will rest on man and not God.
The aim of this exposition is to help you eat and digest some biblical truth that will make your spiritual bones more like steel, and double the capacity of your spiritual lungs, and make the eyes of your heart dazzled with God’s greatness, and awaken the capability of your soul for kinds of spiritual enjoyment you didn’t even know existed.
Preaching is also exultation—expository exultation. This means that the preacher does not just explain what’s in the Bible, and the people do not simply understand what he explains, but the preacher and the people exult over what is in the Bible as it is being explained and applied.
– John Piper, “God So Loved the World, Part 2″
For today’s free copy, tell me the silliest thing you’ve ever seen passed off as “worship” in a church service. (No names, please!) I’ll pick the most terrible example from the comments by tomorrow (7/31).
“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither.”
— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
For today’s free copy, tell me why the Christian’s worship needs to be shaped by the gospel. I’ll pick the strongest answer from the comments by tomorrow (7/30).
In the news a couple of years ago I read a report from Kennebunkport, Maine that a fitness trainer had turned her business into an underground prostitution ring. I am not clear on whether there were multiple prostitutes available or just her, but the primary focus was on the “johns,” a variety of local men, some of them quite prominent figures, whose names were listed in the newspapers. The ensuing debate is over whether such a practice is appropriate. Won’t it ruin these men’s lives and devastate their families? The public shaming is part of the attempt to crack down on prostitution in the area.
I confess I’m not sure how I feel about the publishing of the names. I feel similar in my reaction to those who hang out in the parking lots of adult bookstores and strip clubs, snapping photos of the patrons as they come and go, to print their pics in the local paper, “outing” them. It’s an effort to “take back” neighborhoods, which I certainly sympathize with. In the latter example, nothing illegal (theoretically) is taking place, while of course in the former case, it is. And I guess I can also see the logic in publicizing the names of those soliciting prostitution as way of creating parity with other crimes, whose suspects are regularly named in the media.
And I suppose this is essentially a modern fulfillment of the biblical principle: “your sins will find you out.”
Your sins will find you out. You won’t get away with it. There will be justice. In this life or the next. Or both.
I think many of us who have tasted of the Lord’s holiness have a degree, some more than others, of the shame of sin. We envision the day when we will stand before the Lord to give an account of everything we’ve done. I recall preachers past suggesting a giant movie screen will play before God and everybody of all our sins, the ones external and internal, the ones we remember and the ones we don’t. Every single drop of bitterness, unkind word, every single second of lust, every hateful thought, every self-indulgent theft of the glory belonging only to God in stunning color and panoramic vision. Like a list of names in the newspaper or only infinitely worse. “This man! This man is a pervert” the broadcast will reveal.
But then there is the promise of my holy God himself—that his Son is not ashamed to call me his brother (Hebrews 2:11). He oughta be! But he’s not. He has satisfied justice by taking the endless list of my sins upon himself, bearing my shame on a public cross beneath a paper vindictively, sarcastically publishing his name. I stake everything on that promise and the promises from which it is derived. There is the promise that he will present me blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (Jude 24). Oh, he will read a list, all right. He calls it the Lamb’s Book of Life. And because this ferociously holy and glory-jealous God has foreknown me, elected me, justified me, sanctified me, is sanctifying me, and will glorify me, my name will be found in it.
“This man! This man is a good and faithful servant” the broadcast will reveal. For I have been covered in the righteousness of my precious Redeemer. He has cast my sins in to the depths of the sea to remember them no more. (Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!)
Christian, be sure his righteousness will find you out.
For today’s free copy, tell me the funniest thing you ever witnessed in a worship gathering. I’ll pick a winner out of the comments by tomorrow (7/29).
“If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant,
when they brought a complaint against me,
what then shall I do when God rises up?
When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him?
Did not he who made me in the womb make him?
And did not one fashion us in the womb?”
This passage tells us at least three things about the unborn, and thus about abortion:
1. The foundation of civil equality is traced to the womb.
Really, it is traced to God’s having made mankind in his image, but the well-to-do Job is asserting an equality of personhood with his servants based on their equal status as unborn children. Therefore, the unborn are persons with civil rights. This makes abortion a dehumanizing injustice.
2. The development of the unborn is a work of God.
Job says he and his servants were made in the womb, fashioned in the womb. Coupled with Psalm 139-s words on God’s creative work in the womb, we learn that abortion is therefore a tearing apart what God has joined together.
3. The treatment of persons as non-persons is something for which we will give an account.
“What shall I do when God rises up?” Job asks about unjust treatment of his servants. And what will we say? Injustice of this kind will be reckoned with. We will have to give an account to our holy God for the murder of millions of unborn persons he is forming in his image.
No law can be just if its justice for one is predicated on injustice to another.
The Puritan John Owen wrote: “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing and realizing of the gospel in our souls.” What Christ seeks in his church is what the gospel promises and provides. The quest for gospel holiness cannot mean acquiring confident expertise in the practice of the virtues. When Benjamin Franklin proposed to reform his life by shedding once vice at a time, he prepared an unintentional caricature of a Puritan spiritual journal.
The life of holiness is the life of faith in which the believer, with a deepening knowledge of his own sin and helplessness apart from Christ, increasingly casts himself upon the Lord, and seeks the power of he Spirit and the wisdom and comfort of the Bible to battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is not a lonely or cheerless struggle, for Christ gives the Spirit to the members of his body to help one another… . Maturing in holiness means maturing in love, love that knows God’s love poured out in our hearts, and answers with love that tastes the goodness of the Lord.
– Edmund Clowney