Category Archives: Christianity

A Model of Charity, Clarity and Courage in Pastoral Care

We pastors often find ourselves speaking during troublesome and difficult times. We address biblical texts with thorny truths that offend people. We appear at bedsides to comfort the dying and the grieving. We sometimes get called upon to help the wider community navigate calamity and crisis. Pastors speak. And there are times when not speaking amounts to a dereliction of duty.

But that doesn’t mean we always know what to say or how to say it. Sometimes circumstances defy easy speech. Add to that the fact that we pastors have not finally mastered our tongues, that there’s a world of fire in our mouths too, then we understand that not only must pastors speak but they must do so while warring against the flesh and facing the lions. You cannot be a pastor without courage.

That’s why I appreciate these pastoral comments from Sandy Wilson regarding events in Ferguson. Sandy serves as senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN and as a council member of The Gospel Coalition. Over the years that I’ve known Sandy, he’s been nothing but gracious, thoughtful, earnest and desirous of God’s best for all people. He’s a model of charity, clarity and courage in pastoral care.

Watch these five minutes as Sandy addresses his congregation and let us all grow in grace:

Sandy Willson on Recent Events in Ferguson from Second Presbyterian Church on Vimeo.

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One Man’s Justice Another Man’s Nightmare: It Really Could Have Been Me

Last night I had a twitter exchange–one of many–with an assertive brother insisting that I was biased in my view of the events in Ferguson and in my assessment of the grand jury process. We pressed each other on various points until we agreed that we could no longer hear one another and should stop for the night. I’m grateful we talked. And I’m grateful we stopped.

The stopping allowed me to process one part of our exchange in particular. My interlocutor at one point mentioned that it is government’s job to bring justice in the case of lawbreaking. I asked if he would give me a definition of “justice,” to which he replied “the virtue which consists in giving everyone his due.” My friend was certain justice had been served in the shooting of Brown if Wilson acted in self-defense. Brown, in that case, had received “his due.”

One Man’s Justice

On the drive to school this morning, the children and I rode mostly in silence as I thought a lot about our exchange. I thought a lot about the iron-clad certainty some people have in judging Brown’s shooting “just.” And I thought a lot about how that certainty is informed not by their knowledge of the events of that morning (my partner was honest enough to admit he wasn’t there and didn’t know) but by the menacing portrait of Brown and his family developed and spread in some quarters. Our conversation began with my friend asking me to comment on this graphic:

For …

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Spotting “Gospel Escapism” in Evangelical Circles

I am an evangelical. That statement needs explanation.

I am a theological evangelical. I believe the Bible is the divinely-inspired word of God. I believe it is inerrant and sufficient. I believe a person must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Apart from this spiritual resurrection, we die in our sins and we suffer God’s eternal wrath forever. Christ Jesus, the Son of God, atones for our sin in his death on the cross. He provides our righteousness by his perfect obedience. There is no salvation from sin and judgment apart from that Christ offered in the gospel. None. But by repentance and faith, all that Christ is and all that Christ has done is ours. Evangelicals at our best are “gospel people.”

But being “gospel people” comes with a peculiar pitfall. It’s possible to be the kind of “gospel people” who use appeals to “the gospel” as a way of escape rather than engagement. Let’s call this “gospel escapism,” that attempt to flee from either the banality or brutality of life by superficial recourse to the gospel. These “gospel people” use the word “gospel” in their writing and speeches a lot. They think simply mentioning the word is the same thing as applying the various truths of Jesus’ life and work to the exigencies of life. It’s escapism because it fails to see in any deep way how Jesus’ Incarnation, active obedience, sacrificial and substitutionary death, resurrection, heavenly session and imminent return for sinners speaks …

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Hear C.S. Lewis Reading a Portion of “Mere Christianity”

I really enjoyed listening to this recording of C.S. Lewis addressing British audiences during the War years. The series of addresses became “Mere Christianity.” Apparently only one recording survived. Enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2

Also posted in apologetics, audio, books | | 1 Comment

Matthew Parris Goes to Africa and “Gets” Religion… Sort Of

I’ve read exactly two articles by the British columnist Matthew Parris. An avowed atheist, I find Mr. Parris refreshingly honest and genuinely insightful. Having read two columns (here’s the first), I’m pretty sure I comprehend his body of work. Not really. But I like what I’ve read.

His latest (second) piece to catch my attention–“As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God“–makes the bold (for an atheist) and undeniable (for a Christian) claim that Africa needs God! He means Christ, not pagan, tribal witchcraft. That, too, staggers the imagination given the more strident anti-Christian atheism en vogue these days. What can I say? This man is worth the read.

Anyway, back to Africa and God. Here’s how Parris begins his piece:

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution …

Also posted in Africa, evangelism, mercy, missions | | 11 Comments

Learning to Be the Moral Minority from a Moral Minority

In recent weeks the evangelical world has found itself reeling from cultural setbacks it once took for granted. The re-election of President Obama, state passage of “gay marriage” initiatives, the uninviting of Louie Gigglio to the Inauguration, and even last night’s Super Bowl have signaled to some that Christians and Christianity have lost their welcome place in the public square. For the first time, some evangelical conservatives feel like an oppressed minority in the country.

As I’ve watched the chatter mixed with laments and jeremiads, I couldn’t help but think of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority,” founded in the late 70’s and defunct by the late 80’s. For nearly a decade, the Moral Majority exercised its political voice largely in southern states.

It seems to me that the very notion of a “moral majority” rested on two assumptions that some evangelicals no longer find tenable. First, it assumed the basic morality of most of the country. It assumed basic “Judeo-Christian principles” shaped and framed the moral reasoning of the average citizen, making your “average Joe” basically friendly to the aims and concerns of conservative Christians. Second, it assumed privilege. The very notion of “majority” suggests strength in numbers, a perch from which to rule for no other reason than outnumbering one’s opponents. The last couple months have upturned both of those long-standing assumptions and some evangelicals find themselves at a loss for how to handle it, claiming to be “persecuted,” “rejected,” and “shut out” from the public square. Many who …

Also posted in Christian living, Christianity and politics, culture, persecution, perseverance | | 37 Comments

Christian Tribalism in the Era of Democratized Publishing

Dare anyone deny that Christians are among the most tribal of peoples in the world?  I’m not thinking of the way Christians may legitimately distinguish the church from the world, the saved from the lost, or the way lines must necessarily be drawn between orthodox and heretical views, or even about denominations (as Trueman likes to point out: “Denominations mean that somebody somewhere still believes something”).  Rather, I’m thinking about the way Christians divide and gather, further divide and gather into value-based societies distinct from and uncooperative with one another.  Is it me, or is the problem pandemic?

On one level, the problem exists simply at the label of labeling.  We have and need ways of describing ourselves, our commitments, and our ambitions.  The natural tendency is to create a moniker, a one-word or one-phrase representative of deeper meanings.  I don’t know that this is avoidable or good even if it were avoidable.  We’ve been naming things since Adam, and good names carry meaning, history, and identity.  That’s why any call for doing away with labels won’t work.  Sometimes we hear things like, “Can’t we just call ourselves ‘Christians’?”  But what is “Christian” but a label?  And what must “Christian” mean in order to escape a reductionism that leads to rank individualism?  We need labels–good labels– that communicate who we are.  So, we’ll never escape naming ourselves and the quest for a one-size-fits-all tag seems quixotic.

But there’s something deeper than naming that feeds the tribalism.  Beneath it all run three tributaries that dump into the lake of …

Also posted in sanctification, unity | | 19 Comments

An Apologetic Duel in Poetry

Desiring God linked to these dueling videos from a young Muslim and a young Christian poet.  Apparently, the Muslim’s video launched first, and the Christian responded with the support of Alpha & Omega Ministries.  One thing should be abundantly clear from the videos: Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.  That should have been obvious, but sometimes people need it stated.  It’s creatively stated here:

Also posted in apologetics, Islam, poetry, video | | 5 Comments

Talking About Jesus, Christians, and Christianity

A couple days ago I linked to the Matthew Parris article warning Christians not to be too chummy with the defenses of Christianity offered by non-Christian critics.  It was a thoughtful piece and since reading it I’ve come across a couple related things that help you to see his point.

First, there’s this video and article at CNN from atheist Alain de Botton advocating what he calls “Atheism 2.0.”  de Botton has grown tired of the old strident atheism that chucks out everything having to do with religion.  He says that atheism 2.0 should, of course, reject the silly notion of there being a God, but culture needs all the things that religion provides that makes us feel good–Christmas carols and preaching, for example.  Let’s keep the feel-good trappings and utilize the effect things like preaching for an atheist cause, but waive our hands at any serious notion of God existing. De Botton writes:

God may be dead, but the urgent issues which impelled us to make him up still stir and demand resolutions which do not go away when we have been nudged to perceive some scientific inaccuracies in the tale of the seven loaves and fishes.

The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many sides of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed. Once we cease to feel that we must either prostrate ourselves before them or denigrate them, we are free to discover religions as a repository of occasionally …

Also posted in persecution | | 7 Comments

Fandom: The People and Realm of Evangelical Celebrity

It seems like forever since we started this series on celebrity culture in Evangelical and Reformed circles.  I’ve enjoyed a rather long blog hiatus, for which I’m thankful.  And tonight I feel like writing that final post I promised some time ago.

For several posts, we attempted to think about the issue of “celebrity pastors.”  Over the last several years, the topic appeared repeatedly in the blogosphere and in on-line periodicals.  ”Celebrity pastors” are universally decried (well, except for Jonathan Leeman’s appreciation) but rarely defined or identified.  Since the term and its cousin, “Rock star pastor,” communicates negative judgment, and since the tag rarely falls on particular pastors but drapes like a blanket over much of the conference-going, book-buying Evangelical and Reformed world, it seemed at least some preliminary investigation and framing were required.

In this series, I’ve offered one take, depending on the secular work of Daniel J. Boorstin and Neal Gabler.  Thus far, we’ve covered the following ground:

In all of this, I’ve tried to dust off some corroded social science approaches to the issue.  And at the heart, I’ve tried to show that celebrity culture involves three players, each with their respective role: the well-known person who may or may not be guilty of …

Also posted in culture, Evangelicals, Uncategorized | | 3 Comments