The Church in America is in a Missionary Situation

4645-everyday-church.jpgImagine you woke up one day to discover that you had become a missionary in a foreign land. The language, the culture, the worldview, and the values are all unfamiliar. Fortunately you are part of a team. What are you going to do? Together you are going to learn the language and the culture. You are going to explore how the Bible story interacts with the outlook of the people around you. You are going to try to connect them with at a relational level.

This is the situation in which the church in the West finds itself. The culture has moved on. It is not what it was a hundred years ago when it was significantly shaped by the Bible story. We need to wake up and realize we are in a missionary situation.

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church

The Hole in Our Holiness

31ArGG9+ClL._SL500_AA300_Kevin DeYoung’s little book, The Hole in Our Holiness (Crossway, 2012), is an excellent antidote to the seemingly prevalent view of many Christians today that have either grown up in the weak world of broad evangelicalism or have cast off legalism and have drifted into a form of libertarianism. Such brothers and sisters from the latter group, having escaped the gospel-destroying clutches of Pharisaical burdens, often throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to holiness. They mistakenly think that freedom in Christ and the grace of God mean that they can indulge in whatever practices they desire.

This reaction is due to the comprehensive nature of legalism. Because legalists fail to distinguish extra-biblical, manmade commands from the actual commands of Scripture, when a brother or sister casts off the strictures of the legalistic system, they reject everything, including biblical truth. In this way, legalism fails to teach discernment. The sheep are considered too dumb to be able to distinguish, and so are taught to “just trust what they are told.” Additionally, a sound, biblical approach to Christian liberty is often not taught out of fear that members will decide for themselves how to apply Scriptural commands.

All of these factors often lead to some degree of a libertarian bent in those who have escaped legalism. They think that holiness is a return to the former bondage, and cannot see any place for it in their new life of “grace.” This kind of thinking, as DeYoung says, leaves a hole in the Christian’s desire for holiness. He suggests that many Christians think of holiness like non-campers think of camping.

It’s fine for other people. You sort of respect those who make their lives harder than they have to be. But it’s not really your thing. You didn’t grow up with a concern for holiness. It wasn’t something you talked about. It wasn’t what your family prayed about or your church emphasized. So, to this day, it’s not your passion. The pursuit of holiness feels like one more thing to worry about in your already impossible life. Sure, it would be great to be a better person, and you do hope to avoid the really big sins. But you figure, since we are saved by grace, holiness is not required of you, and frankly, your life seems fine without it (p. 10).

DeYoung cites J. I. Packer’s claim that holiness is considered passé by many Christians today. Packer cites three pieces of evidence in his book, Rediscovering Holiness (Regal, 2009): 1) We do not hear about holiness in preaching and books, 2) We do not insist upon holiness in our leaders, 3) We do not touch upon the need for personal holiness in our evangelism.

DeYoung also addresses the mistaken notion of many who are trying to be truly gospel-centered that to speak of holiness is to reintroduce a moralism or a legalism from which we have just escaped. Not so. Holiness is the reason God saved us. Ephesians 1:3-4 reminds us that God saved us for holiness:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV)

DeYoung concludes his book with a call and encouragement:

God wants you to be holy. Through faith he already counts you holy in Christ. Now he intends to make you holy with Christ. This is no optional plan, no small potatoes. God saved you to sanctify you. God is in the beautification business, washing away spots and smoothing wrinkles. He will have a blameless bride. He promises to work in you; he also calls you to work out. “The beauty of holiness” is first of all the Lord’s (Ps. 29:2, KJV). But by his grace it can also be yours.

The Anatomy of Holiness

You can think of holiness, to employ a metaphor, as the sanctification of your body. The mind is filled with the knowledge of God and fixed on what is good.The eyes turn away from sensuality and shudder at the sight of evil. The mouth tells the truth and refuses to gossip, slander, or speak what is course or obscene. The spirit is earnest, steadfast, and gentle. The heart is full of joy instead of hopelessness, patience instead of irritability, kindness instead of anger, humility instead of pride, and thankfulness instead of envy. The sexual organs are pure, being reserved for the privacy of marriage between one man and one woman. The feet move toward the lowly and away from senseless conflict, divisions, and wild parties. The hands are quick to help those in need and ready to fold in prayer. This is the anatomy of holiness.

Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness, Crossway, 2012.

The Leader and Truth

The conscious denial of reality is a central danger of leadership, and the leader must defend against this temptation. History is filled with generals who refused to admit they had been out-maneuvered, captains who refused to admit they were lost, and CEOs who refused to admit that no one was buying their products. In order to do this, the leader must demand to know everything critical and essential to the organization, its tasks, its operating status, its finances, its policies, its history, and its opportunities. The leader must be unafraid of data and facts, and he must surround himself with people who know the information he needs and will give it to him. The leader starts out by affirming the importance of reality and the crucial facts that must be known, and he makes clear that decision making is going to be accountable to those facts. The data will be investigated, analyzed, poked, prodded, and sometimes taken apart and put together again. The leader assumes the responsibility to work until the facts make sense and a clear picture comes into view.

Thus, the leader’s disciplined posture is to lean into the truth and to be unafraid of it. He demands that those around him tell him the truth, and he leads by being the truth teller in chief. He does not allow the organization to be tempted by either dishonesty or self-deception, and he models personal honesty.

Al Mohler, The Conviction to Lead

Leaders are Readers

When You Find a Leader, You Find a Reader, and for Good Reason

As a general rule, clichés are to be avoided. The statement that leaders are readers is an exception to that rule. When you find a leader, you have found a reader. The reason for this is simple–there is no substitute for effective reading when it comes to developing and maintaining the intelligence necessary to lead…Leadership requires a constant flow of intelligence, ideas, and information. There is no way to gain the basics of leadership without reading.

Leading by conviction demands an even deeper commitment to reading and the mental disciplines that effective reading establishes. Why? Because convictions require continual mental activity. The leader is constantly analyzing, considering, defining, and confirming the convictions that will rule his leadership…

Leaders know that reading is essential, as it is the most important means of developing and deepening understanding. That is why leaders learn to set aside a significant amount of time for reading. We simply cannot lead without a constant flow of intellectual activity in our minds, and there is no substitute for reading when it comes to producing this flow.

Al Mohler, The Conviction to Lead (Bethany House, 2012)

Sexual Wholeness, and Not Just Purity, Is the Goal

Every other October we sponsor a Sexual Wholeness Week in seminary chapel. The intent behind this series of chapels is to exhort our students in what it means to be sexually whole. This concept goes beyond just helping students avoid adultery in seminary and ministry. The greater concern is that they would be sexually whole people who are not perpetuating brokenness in themselves, their families, and their ministries.

One of the most helpful books I came across in preparation for this series is Judith and Jack Balswick’s book, Authentic Human Sexuality (IVP, 1999). They explain the complexity of human sexuality and seek to define sexual wholeness.

Human sexuality must be understood in light of a variety of influences, including biological, sociological, psychological, theological, as well as gender, emotions, behaviors, attitudes and values. We begin with the presupposition that authentic sexuality is meant to be a congruent, integral part of one’s total being. Further, we believe that God intends for our sexuality to be a real, genuine, believable and trustworthy part of ourselves. In this way we embrace what God has created and declare with God, “It is very good.” (p. 13)

 

This book is filled with chapter after chapter of some of the best writing I have ever read on sexuality. Since sexual issues are one of the most, if not the most, pressing issues in the American church today, I highly recommend pastors get this book and read it.

Here’s an example of the kind of wisdom gathered in the book. The Balswick’s quote Lewis Smedes on the need to go beyond an emphasis on sexual purity in marriage to sexual wholeness:

A man or woman can be just too busy, too tired, too timid, too prudent, or too hemmed in with fear to be seriously tempted by an adulterous affair. But this same person can be a bore at home, callous to the delicate needs of the partner. He or she may be too prudish to be an adventuresome lover, and too cowardly to be in honest communication and too busy to put oneself out for anything more than a routine ritual of personal commitment.

One may be able to claim to have never cheated…but may never have tried to grow along with their partner into a deep personal relationship of respect and regard within marriage. Their brand of negative fidelity may be an excuse for letting the marriage fall by neglect into dreary conformity to habit and, with that, into a dull routine of depersonalized sex. I am not minimizing the importance of sexual fidelity, but anyone who thinks that morality in marriage is fulfilled by avoiding an affair has short-circuited the personal dynamics of fidelity.

Lewis Smedes, Sex for Christians (Eerdmans, 1976), 168-9.

Wayne Grudem’s 24 Moral and Spiritual Issues at Stake in the Election

A useful PDF file comparing the major political parties on 24 issues.

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