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Living in the Shadow of Faith

Oct 01, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

G.K. Chesterton on the miserable state of those who despise what they cannot fully leave behind:

They cannot get out of the penumbra of Christian controversy. They cannot be Christians and they cannot leave off being Anti-Christians. Their whole atmosphere is the atmosphere of a reaction: sulks, perversity, petty criticism. They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith.

Now the best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to love it. But the next best is to be far enough away not to hate it. It is the contention of these pages that while the best judge of Christianity is a Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian. The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgments; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows now what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard. . . . It would be better to walk past a church as if it were a pagoda than to stand permanently in the porch, impotent either to go inside and help or to go outside and forget. (The Everlasting Man, 10-12).

The severest critics of Christianity are those who, having walked away from the faith of their younger years, cannot help but camp out in the driveway of orthodoxy and throw bricks at the house they once inhabited.

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How the News Makes Us Dumb

Sep 30, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

If you are going to read just one out of print book with a terrible cover this year read C. John Sommerville’s devastating little book How the News Makes Us Dumb (IVP 1999). I read the book soon after it came out. It was wonderfully iconoclastic then–and that was before the ascendancy of the internet and social media. The news examples are hopelessly out of date (they were already in 1999), but the media criticism is as relevant as ever.

Sommerville’s main point is not the news is dumb, but that we are dumb for paying so much attention to it (11). We have become conditioned to think that the really important stuff of life comes to us in a neat 24-hour news cycle. Worse than that, in our mobile-digital age most of us assume that news is happening every second of every minute of every hour of every day, and if we tune out (or turn off our phones) for more than a few hours (minutes?) we will be rendered out of touch and uninformed. That’s dumb.

The solution is not better news, but less of it. The problem is with the nature of news itself. The news is all about information. It’s about what’s trending now. It rarely concerns itself with the big questions of life. It focuses relentlessly on change, which, as Sommerville points out, gives it an inherent bias against conservatism and religious tradition (50-54, 60-62, 135). Our soundbite/twitter/vine/ticker-at-the-bottom-of-the-screen/countdown-clock/special-report culture of news encourage us to miss the forest of wisdom for the triviality of so many trees. As Malcolm Muggeridge once observed: if he had been a journalist in the Holy Land during Jesus’ ministry he probably would have wasted his time digging through Salome’s memoirs (54).

Of course, not all news is pointless. There are long form essays, insightful commentaries, skilled journalistic exposes, striking documentaries–all of these can come under the category of “news” and all of them, when done excellently, can point people to the true, the good, and the beautiful. Sommerville’s not even against the here-today-gone-tomorrow bits of news. Neither am I. The Lord knows–and so does the internet–that I’ve written blog posts on current events before, and every Monday I post two or three minutes of silliness, for no reason except to laugh a little. The news doesn’t have to make us dumb, but if we don’t take the necessary mental and habitual precautions it almost certainly will.

Constant attention to the news will not remind us of the weight of glory. We will end up expending our emotional and intellectual energy on a thousand things that prove to be unimportant. Let your weekly magazine sit for three months; you won’t care to read half of what’s in there. No one wants to read yesterday’s paper. It’s old news. More than that, most of it is insignificant news. Not insignificant to the people in the middle of the latest tragedy or travesty, but insignificant in the scope of human history and nothing more than background noise for your crazy busy life. Go read Time from six years ago, or six months ago or six weeks ago, and you’ll be amazed how little of what’s in there even matters any more.

How the News Works

Christians talk a lot about having a world and life view whereby we can discern the news from a biblical perspective. That’s a wonderful goal, so long as we are discerning about all the subtle ways the nature of news itself distorts our view of reality.

  • The news exaggerates the extent of disaster in the world. Scandal sells. Tragedy sells. Controversy sells. Sure, the nightly news may end with a 60 second feel-good story or a funny YouTube clip, but the constant drumbeat of the news is bad news. The news reports on murders, abuse, war, disease, shootings, hurricanes, safety recalls, and airline crashes with complete disregard for whether these bad things have actually been getting better. Did you know that the rate of domestic violence related arrests in the NFL has decreased under Roger Goodell? Did you know that NFL players are half as likely to commit domestic violence as men in their 20′s in the general population? Everyone agrees a two-game suspension was woefully inadequate, and we all know what Ray Rice did was reprehensible.  What we don’t know is how many athletes consistently do the right thing or how to place this incident into a larger framework.
  • The news entices us into over reactions. Don’t waste a crisis, right? Anytime something breakdown or someone cracks up you will hear plaintive cries–some well-intentioned, others manipulative–to do something, anything, right now!! Especially in the frothing world that is the Twitterverse, we are expected to respond immediately to whatever might the scandal du jour. And if you don’t do something–and by that I mean, if you don’t call on someone else to do something–then you are bound to be this week’s social media pariah. As Sommerville notes wryly, “Of course news is not authorized to offer forgiveness, but it compensates by inviting us to join in blaming others” (121).
  • The news over-emphasizes the role government should play our lives. This is true whether you get your news from the leftwing or the rightwing because so much of the news is about politics. In fact, oftentimes the political class and the media class act as if the other is only reality worth noticing: politicians strategize to win the 24-news cycles; media outlets talk incessantly about the latest political dish (64). And when they talk politics, it’s rarely about the “first things” behind our political disputes. It’s about outrage, opinion polls, who’s hot and who’s not in Washington. Politics has become a perpetual campaign, and most of the reporting is about the horse race not the horses. The ceaseless energy spent reporting on politics reinforces the erroneous notion that government is the proper focus of our attention and the entity most likely to solve our problems (77).

“Well,” you may say, “I don’t care if the news is fundamentally flawed. How else am I supposed to know what is going on? I don’t want to be ignorant about the state of the world.” But you already are. Even if the news is accurate—and Sommerville provides dozens of examples of major papers trumpeting exactly opposite headlines on the same day, sometimes within the same paper—how could it possibly keep us truly informed about two hundred nations and seven billion people? This is one of Sommerville’s most powerful points: “It turns out being informed really means knowing what the people around you are talking about. Our reality is the news, not the world” (43).

The news doesn’t keep anything before us for long. Are the racial tensions exposed by Ferguson no longer an important issue in our country? Of course not, but most people will quickly move on to something else because the news will move us to something else. In the world of news there is little proportion. Today there will be breaking news, special alerts, and another must-read. How can we possibly know what really matters when everything matters to the very utmost every day? “News is addictive, and if we want to regain an active intelligence, it will mean getting over the idea that news keeps us informed in any grown-up sense of that term” (131). We are already ignoring virtually everything happening in the world. So if we have to ignore something, let’s work hard to make sure it’s the ephemeral and not the eternal.

Putting First Things First

So what’s the answer? How do we prevent the news from making us dumb?

Sommerville does not argue for a complete repudiation of the news, and neither do I. But we must keep the news in its place. Most of us would do well to read the news less often. We would be wiser, happier, and more useful if we read more books and fewer blogs, if we read older stuff, if we read the good stuff—the lasting stuff—first instead of last. Put down the phone and pick up a book. Get more worked up about the Bible and less worked up about this afternoon’s internet brouhaha.

And for those of us who blog, let’s make sure it’s not all Duck Dynasty, Miley Cyrus, and the latest slice of evangelical gossip. I’ve written plenty about hot topics from homosexuality to Hobby Lobby to the emergent church. But hopefully there’s something of lasting biblical reflection in those posts, and hopefully there’s much more to the blog than pop culture and current events. If nothing on my blog could be useful outside America and nothing will be worth re-reading a year from now, then I am of all bloggers most to be pitied. Popular perhaps, but not, in the long run, particularly helpful.

I’m not against sports and entertainment. I’m not against political punditry and cultural commentary. I’m not against all news. As gospel people we are great lovers of good news! But unless we see what the modern phenomenon of news is and what it does and what it conditions us to expect, we will be unthinking in our consumption of the news and unreflective in our digestion of the same. The news will make us dumb unless we are smart enough to merely nibble on it as snack and look for our daily sustenance somewhere else.

After writing this post, a mutual friend pointed out that Joe Carter has also written on this topic. I commend his reflections to you as well.

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 29, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

An oldie, but still a goodie. The context: the men of the family are trying to impress their wives with sentimental gifts, and the wives are trying to prove they can’t be wooed so easily. Mom and Dad Huxtable are up last. Enjoy.

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Thanks Paulie, You’re One of the Good Guys

Sep 26, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

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What Our Pastoral Interns Read

Sep 26, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

For several years we’ve had a part-time pastoral internship program at University Reformed Church. This year, for the first time, our interns work full-time. The bulk of their time is spent in four areas:

1. Reading and writing

2. Ministry observation

3. Personal ministry (they do for others)

4. Personal discipleship (they receive from the pastors)

Under the first category, our interns read several books. Actually, many books. And many papers (relatively short papers–2000 words). You can see below what they will read between now and the end of May.

They will read portions of Lectures to My Students (Charles Spurgeon), Spiritual Leadership (J. Oswald Sanders), and 9 Marks of a Healthy Church (Mark Dever). These selections are for discussion only. The other ten books are read in their entirety and require a written paper.

Our interns tend to be recent college graduates who have not yet gone to seminary. We try not to duplicate the reading they do in seminary. We don’t teach languages. We don’t do church history. We don’t attempt to do what full-time professors can do better. We focus instead on books that touch on the practical side of ministry (yes, I know all theology is practical). Having said that, we want our interns to be squared away on the basic theological categories. We also want them to be challenged with some heavier reading than they probably do on their own.

1. Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity. Biblical, historical, and rich. We thrown the interns into the deep end first.

 

 

2. John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Short, but substantial. If pastors don’t understand the salvation and atonement, they aren’t ready to be pastors.

 

3. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. Well written and still relevant.

 

 

 

4. Robert Plummer, 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible. Nicely organized. A good introduction hermeneutics, genre, textual criticism, and the doctrine of inspiration.

 

 

5. Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship. A good blend of worship theology and praxis. Helpful for interns to see where a more traditional liturgy comes from and why it makes sense.

 

6. David Helm, Expository Preaching. Best book on the how-to and how-come of expository preaching.

 

 

7. Guy Prentiss Waters, How Jesus Runs the Church. PCA-centric, but useful for anyone in the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition.

 

 

8. Timothy Witmer, Shepherd Leader. Puts a good theology of eldership into hands on ministry practice.

 

 

9. D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited. Balanced and wise. Provokes good discussion.

 

 

10. David Hesselgrave, Paradigms in Conflict. I am more decidedly Reformed in a couple areas, but the format effectively presents the key issues in missiology today and points the reader in a good direction.

 

 

The list of assigned books gets tweaked year by year. In the past, we’ve assigned a few of my books, but it’s hard to write an honest paper for the guy who wrote the book. Other books we’ve assigned over the years include: Exegetical Fallacies (D.A. Carson), Worship by the Book (D.A. Carson, ed.), The Church of Christ (James Bannerman), Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (Paul Tripp), Preaching and Preachers (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones), The Message of the Old Testament (Mark Dever), The Courage to Protestant (David Wells), A History of Israel (Walter Kaiser), Biblical Eldership (Alexander Strauch), A Praying Life (Paul Miller). The pastoral interns also study our church’s confessional standards, though that is covered more extensively in our membership class.

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History Helps Put Things in Perspective

Sep 25, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Crying in ChurchI am strongly opposed to providing our kids with alternate worship experiences all the way through high school. They ought to be worshiping with adults, with their families, in “big” church, not having a special service tailored to their teen demographic.

I am a believer in parents bringing their children, even young children, with them into worship. Our kids can pick up more than we know. And even if the content is beyond them, they will learn some songs, pick up some liturgy, and see their parents worshiping Christ.

I’m a proponent of families worshiping together.

I’m not a proponent, however, of taking a good principle and making it an absolute rule. Moreover, I’m not in favor of making other Christians feel like the truly biblical (or Truly Reformed) position is to have your kids of all ages with you in church at all times.

This is where history helps put things in perspective.

In sixteenth century post-Reformation Scotland, church attendance was mandatory. Kirk sessions took their responsibility seriously to see that the Sabbath was observed and the people attended the preaching of God’s word. And yet, they were not absolutists.

One significant portion of the congregation was systematically excluded everywhere from Sunday sermons. While sermons were central, the elders knew that they had to be audible to be effective, and so they barred babies and very young children from attendance lest they disturb the adult hearers—a factor that must be borne in mind when trying to gauge actual church attendance in early modern Scotland.

The Glasgow sessions designated eight as the cut-off age; Aberdeen prohibited “young bairns [children]…not at the school and not of such age and disposition as they can take themselves to a seat when they come to the kirk, but vague [wander] through the same here and there in time of sermon and make perturbance and disorder.” These children were to be ‘kept at home, for eschewing of clamour and disorder in the kirk.’

Kingsbarns’s session ordered them not only to be kept away from the kirk, but also to be shut up indoors lest parishioners be troubled by the “running up and down of little ones and young children on the Lord’s day in the time of sermon.”

Perth’s session in 1582 actually ordered warding (gaoling) and a 6s 8d fine for ‘bairns that perturb the kirk in time of preaching’ instead of being kept at home. Such rulings would obviously have reduced church attendance quite considerably, since the adult caretakers would have had to stay at home with their young charges. Sessions routinely excused absenteeism by parents, nurses, and other servants for this reason. (Margo Todd, The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland)

Do I think children under eight should be barred from attending worship? No. A sixteenth century Scottish provision does not need to be our rule (and there is evidence that some Scottish parents disregarded the rules and were fined for bringing their naughty children to church!). But it does suggest we should not make it seem like bringing every child into the service is the only responsible choice for theologically serious people. Just as important, it suggests parents of small children should cut themselves some slack–and we should do the same–if church is interrupted for them or even made impossible at times because of the demands of little ones.

And while we’re at it, we should thank the Lord for nursery workers.

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A Ministry, Not a Lordship

Sep 24, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) to Pope Eugenius:

You have been made a superior. For what? Not to domineer, I suppose. Therefore, highly as we think of ourselves, let us remember that a ministry has been laid upon us, not a lordship given. Learn that you need a hoe, not a scepter, to do the prophet’s work (quoted in Calvin’s Institutes, IV.xi.11).

Now read that again. And one more time, slowly. And pray it through. Down in your soul, and up to God.

“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

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The Sanctifying Spirit

Sep 23, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The opening greeting of Peter’s first epistle gives a clear example of the Trinitarian nature of our salvation. The “elect exiles” are saved according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, that they might be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled by his blood (1 Peter 1:2). We see here the Holy Spirit sanctifies in two ways. First, he sets us apart in Christ that we might be cleansed by his blood. Second, he works in us so we can be obedient to Jesus Christ. Through the sanctification of the Spirit we are given a new position and infused with a new power.

It’s the second element, the new power, that we usually think of when discussing “sanctification.” Though sanctification is positional too, as a theological term it usually refers to our progressive sanctification, the way in which God works in us for his good pleasure as we work out the life of salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13). Or as Romans 8:9-13 puts it, we are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit (position); therefore, by the Spirit we ought to put to death the deed of the flesh (power).

Though we must make effort in our growth in godliness (2 Peter 1:5), the Spirit empowers through and through. The Bible is not a cheap infomercial telling us to change and then assuring our little ponytail hearts, “You can do it!” We have already been changed. We are already new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and have a new strength at work in our inner being (Eph. 3:16), producing gospel fruit in us by the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23). The Bible expects that because God dwells in us by the Spirit, we can, by that same Spirit, begin to share in the qualities that are characteristic of God himself (2 Peter 1:4). Of course there is still a fight within us. But with the Spirit there can be genuine progress and victory. The New Testament simply asks us to be who we are.

How exactly, then, does the Spirit empower us for growth in godliness? Well think again of the metaphor of light. The Holy Spirit, as we’ve seen, is a like a light shining into our dark places, exposing our sin and leading us to repentance. The Spirit is also a lamp to illumine God’s word, teaching what is true and revealing it as precious (1 Cor. 2:6-16). And, as we saw in John 16, the Spirit throws a spotlight on Christ so we can see his glory and beauty and be changed accordingly. This is the stunning argument Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Just as Moses had his face transformed when he saw the Lord’s glory on Mt. Sinai, so will we be transformed when we behold God’s glory in the face of Christ. Except we won’t just get a shiny tan face, we will grow more and more into the image of the one we see. We become what we behold.

My wife loves to watch figure skating (which wife doesn’t?). She loves the artistry and beauty of it. She also enjoys the puff pieces on the young women. I find them nauseating (the pieces not the women), but I have to admit it is pretty remarkable what the skaters can do. I imagine most of them grew up watching figure skating. They probably marveled at all the lay-back spins and double-axles and triple salchows (uh?). I’m sure many of them were mesmerized as little girls by Kristi Yamaguchi or Michelle Kwan. They probably thought, “I want to do that. That’s amazing! That’s incredible! How can I be like her?” Of course, it takes practice to be a world class figure skater, just like sanctification takes effort on our part. But the effort in both cases is inspired and motivated and modeled after glory. The sight of brilliance and majesty is transformative in and of itself.

That’s why when the Spirit is at work to sanctify us—by revealing sin, revealing truth, and revealing the glory of Christ—and we look the other way, it is a profound offense. The Bible refers to this as resisting (Acts 7:51), quenching (1 Thess. 5:19), or grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). There may be slight nuances among the three terms, but they all speak of situations where we do not accept the Spirit’s work in our lives. When we reject what the word of God has to say to us, when we turn our eyes from the Spirit’s exposure to sin, when we say one thing as Christians and do another, we sin against the Spirit. But when we finally see clearly to acknowledge our sin, accept the truth, and adore Christ, then we can be sure the Spirit is at work within us to will and to do according to his good purpose and for God’s good pleasure.

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 22, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Not exactly on the same page, I’d say. (HT: 22 Words)

Which, of course, reminds me of this (the action picks up at 0:40):

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What Jesus Didn’t Say

Sep 19, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

But on the other hand, do not think that I have come to completely affirm everything in the Law or Prophets either. There are stories in the Old Testament that did not happen as they are recorded. Sometimes, God’s people thought they heard the voice of God, but were mistaken. Other times, ancient people used God to justify their violence and exclusion. We can still read those parts of the Hebrew Bible and learn how unenlightened people used to think, but those sections are best corrected or set aside.

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Obviously, this is a bit of an overstatement–Jewish hyperbole, poetic license, that sort of thing. By “jots and tittles” I don’t mean every bit of chronology, cosmology, or history. I’m just trying to say that the Old Testament is still really important and that it points to me. But whether, say, the exodus happened like it says in Exodus, or if Isaiah made any predictive prophesies, or whether the whole storyline of the Old Testament is out of whack–that kind of thing is not terribly important.

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Again, let me clarify: I’m not actually against relaxing some of the more outdated commandments. After all, who doesn’t like relaxing! I don’t want my disciples getting hung up on minutia. As long as you are concerned about love–whatever you understand that to be–I wouldn’t worry about the particulars. People need relationships not rules, you know.

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In hindsight, this is probably not the best way to express myself. I’m sorry for anyone who was hurt by the whole “never enter the kingdom of heaven” bit. That’s just an figure of speech for “the best way to live!” And I apologize if the righteousness piece felt legalistic. When I talk about hungering after righteousness or pursuing righteousness I’m thinking more on a cosmic level, not so much about your personal holiness. The only righteousness I expect to see from you is being right enough to know you are wrong. Look, the last thing I want is for people to get uptight with the Bible and start freaking out about doing everything by the book.

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were super cool with his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had a realistic understanding of the Bible and helped the disciples feel better about themselves.

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