The evangelical world has been buzzing these past couple of months with conversations about the Holy Spirit. Much of this was spurred by John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference. The conference led to some interesting conversations in the blogging world between those in the cessationist and continuationist camps. Even though the main focus of MacArthur’s conference might have been the incredibly blatant heresy of health and wealth types, many very orthodox continuationists felt like they were getting hit with friendly fire from the conference.
In a lot of the conversations that have come out of the conference it seems that there are two dominant views of the Holy Spirit and a whole bunch of people caught in the middle somewhere. I’m going to use a couple of stereotypes to describe the extremes in hopes that they might help shine a light on a middle ground.
This view of the Holy Spirit is full of mystery. There is no telling where or how the Holy Spirit will move and when he does move the results are always explosive, dramatic, and very, very visible. There’s not much time for doctrine or theology because it is all about being in tune with the Spirit and having Spirit filled experiences and living in anticipation of that next great emotional high.
This view of the Holy Spirit likes to have everything neat, tidy, and quantifiable. It is very Western and very post-Enlightenment. In this view the Holy Spirit is very quiet. He works in the background and never really makes his presence known in visible ways. He operates within the confines of systems and lists and does not deviate from those parameters.
There are two very Scriptural problems with both of those views. The problem with “The Artist” view of the Spirit is found in Paul’s letters to the churches in Corinth. Those Christians were the definition of “Spirit-filled.” They had boisterous church services full of many incredible signs and wonders. In fact, they had become so focused on these gifts of the Spirit that they were in danger of becoming a church full of great spectacle but lacking in love. Paul does not tell them to abandon their fervor for the Spirit or his good gifts but instead issues a course correction. He tells them to desire the spiritual gifts but not at the expense of love and turning those good gifts into a sort of idol or measuring stick of spirituality. He doesn’t completely shut them down but he does put the breaks on a bit and exhorts them to return to some order in their services so that the whole body of Christ might be edified by the work the Spirit was doing in their midst. (see I Corinthians 12, 13, and 14)
The problem with “The Accountant” view is best summed up in John’s letter to the church in Ephesus in the book of Revelation. This was a church that had everything down. From the outside it looked like their house was in order. They knew their doctrine and theology to such a deep level that John commended them for their skill in calling out false apostles. When it came to doctrine, theology, and knowing the truth inside and out the church in Ephesus was a great model. Yet, John offers them a stern warning and a call to a course correction. Even with all their learning, quantifying, and contending for the truth they were lacking something. They lost the love they had at first. The passion was gone. The emotion was gone. They had developed extraordinary skills in theology and apologetics but they had lost their passion for God. John does not tell them to cease in their quantifying and calculating ways but he does tell them to recover their passion, zeal, and love for God.
Looking at those two passages, it seems that Scripture points us to a middle ground. Paul does not tell the Corinthian Christians to abandon their pursuit of spiritual gifts (quite the opposite actually). John does not tell the Christians in Ephesus to stop pursuing their deep level of theological knowledge. Instead, a course correction is given to both and, interestingly enough, the correction for both groups of Christians involves love. Paul says the greatest gift by far that a Christian can possess is that of love. Imagine what would happen if Christians passionately prayed that the Holy Spirit would teach us how to love? We might not have any more jerks failing to tip and leaving self-righteous and graceless remarks instead. John says that no matter how much we think we know or how much of Scripture we are able to fit into boxes, lists, and charts we must never lose the love that we had at first. In other words, our doctrine and theology should not make us cold and passionless but rather should ignite in us a love for God, the church, and the lost. Too many churches are full of people who know and contend for the truth but who lack any visible and passionate love for God.
In the Spirit there is mystery and there is order in tension with each other. Let us not fear and flee from the mystery. Let us not fail to appreciate and practice the order.
“Strange Peace.” Sounds like it could be a conference title. It’s not. I call it strange because it really defies my explanation. When we were essentially forced to leave the church where I was pastoring within two weeks of having our second child it would be fair to say that I was in a bit of turmoil. We’d just lost our home, our livelihood, and had been removed from the place where God had led me to minister.
Those first few weeks at our new (temporary) home in Oklahoma City were especially hard. Not having any employment while feeling a great burden to provide for your family is a heavy load to bear. Yes, it was great to get to spend more time with my family but the honest truth is that being home was a constant reminder that I was not working and providing.
Thankfully, two job opportunities came along. Both of them are temporary but the fact that they both came along when they did provided not just much needed income but also something else. Strange peace. I call it strange because it was unexpected. I did not expect to be content at this stage in my life with working retail and doing data entry from home. I did not expect to enjoy selling gadgets to people. I didn’t realize how refreshing it would be to go to work every day and be around people who don’t use churchy language and put on churchy masks just because I’m a pastor. Shoot, I didn’t expect to enjoy learning so much about the metal industry for my data entry job.
So this strange peace has helped make the transition to this weird stage in my life a lot easier. That’s not to say things are easy. It is hard to sit in church on Sunday morning. Not because I dislike being at church but because I feel like I need to be teaching and preaching. I often find my mind thinking about what could have been had I continued as a pastor at our previous church. I think about the fruit we were starting to see but that we won’t get to finish watching grow. So there are definitely still struggles. But the strange peace, the little affirmations from co-workers and bosses, and countless other little things are all working together to remind me that God is still in control. He is still directing my life for his glory. He is the one who will grow the seeds planted in our previous pastorate. He is the one who will guide us down the path to wherever we are supposed to be next. But right now, he has guided us here and he is teaching us anew to rely on him and to be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
I love apologetics. Real apologetics. I’ve known Christians who say they like apologetics, want to learn apologetics, or enjoy doing apologetics. That’s a really great thing! The desire to learn how to do apologetics can lead not just to a deeper understanding of Christian theology but also many other disciplines as well (philosophy, physics, biology, astronomy, literature, psychology, etc.). But sometimes I fear that an overzealous pursuit of apologetics can lead not just to sloppy arguments but to arguments and behaviors that are downright harmful to fellow Christians and to the witness of Christians in the world.
So let’s start out with a good definition of apologetics. Our word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word ἀπολογία which means “a verbal defense” especially in the context of a courtroom. It implies intelligence and competence. It implies well reasoned and thought out arguments that are given in the hopes of swaying people to see your side. Christian apologetics done right should have all these things in mind plus the ultimate goal of bringing glory to God by pointing people to the infallible truth of the Scriptures.
The tool of apologetics is something that should typically be wielded like a scalpel. The best apologists are those who are able to systematically dismantle the arguments of their debate opponents in a systematic, clear, and winsome manner. They use apologetics like a surgeon’s scalpel and carefully address every argument against the faith while offering their own powerful counterarguments. The apologetics scalpel is incredibly effective. Even those who disagree with Christianity can at least respect and admire the strength of a well made argument that is delivered with charisma and intelligence.
Unfortunately there are those who wield apologetics more like a sledgehammer. Sadly they will sometimes turn that sledgehammer against their fellow Christians too. I’ve seen it all too often: Christians who are rightly passionate about correct doctrine and practice who, in their zeal, will damage and destroy their fellow Christians because they wield apologetics like a sledgehammer without the seasoning of love and grace. They will often see a fellow Christian who they believe to be in error and without going through the effort to build a relationship with the person in error, to love them, and to disciple them; they will instead immediately whip out the sledgehammer and bombard the person in error with proof texts. Sadly, many who wield apologetics in this manner will then walk away with head held high, feeling like they’ve done their duty in defending the faith when in reality all they’ve done is alienate and hurt a person who needed love and discipleship. A sledgehammer breaks and destroys whereas a scalpel cuts, and while it can hurt, it does it with the intention of healing and growth.
I say all this not as someone who is an apologetics expert. I’m decidedly not. I’m not quick enough on my feet to be a good debater. I don’t have a mind with the sort of encyclopedic recall that you see from many of the best apologists. Mostly I say this for all those in churches who love apologetics and want to do it themselves. People who want to contend for the faith; who want to be ready to offer a defense in season and out of season. People who love the Scriptures and want to see them upheld. Those are all worthy and admirable things. But I would encourage you to make sure that in your zeal to do apologetics you don’t make it impossible for yourself to do discipleship. If you are quick to smash all errors with the apologetics sledge you might find that people shy away from you and fear asking you questions because they know you will simply crush them with your apologetics sledgehammer.
Instead, learn to wield apologetics like a scalpel. Part of being a good doctor is knowing the proper time to do surgery. The same goes for the apologist. There is a time and a place to make that irrefutable defense but most likely it will be after you have invested many hours developing a friendship and toiling in the fields of discipleship. Ultimately, it is worth remembering that the world will not know us by the strength of our arguments but by how well we love and care for each other. Make sure you keep that at the forefront of all your apologetics efforts.
What do you think of when you think of nuclear weapons? Do you think of bunkers full of the most technologically sophisticated equipment in the world? Do you think of layers of security and safety protocols to ensure that an accident is next to impossible? Do you think of all the “command and control” structures to make sure that every weapon is accounted for and never used in response to a false alarm or by a rogue group or individual?
My assumption had long been that the most powerful weapons in the world would have merited the best of all the above. In “Command and Control” Eric Schlosser pulls back the curtain and reveals just how close we came over and over again to nuclear disaster in the past sixty years. He uses the accident in Damascus, AR as the main narrative thread for the book. But what really makes the book stand out is how he weaves the account of the disaster in Arkansas with a history of nuclear weapons in the United States and the many near misses that should have made the government far more safety conscious than it was at the time of the explosion in Damascus. At first, it seems like he’s just providing a little historical color when he gives the history of the nuclear arsenal and the near misses but he pulls all the threads together in the end and the result is a nail-biting conclusion and a truly well crafted book.
Schlosser brings a great deal of narrative skill to the book. It doesn’t read like dry history but rather has a pacing more in line with a fictional techno-thriller. This is a book that will keep you up far past your bedtime in an effort to get in just a few more pages to find out what happens next. Educational, sobering, and a real page turner. Pick this one up if you have the opportunity.
I read. A lot. My wife reads. A lot. We are a reading family. My wife has been using Goodreads for quite some time and I’m a relatively new user. One of the first things I did when I signed up was to go through and start rating books that I had read. Recently I logged onto Goodreads and looked at my wife’s profile. I noticed a “compare books” link so I clicked on it. That allowed me to see the books that my wife and I have both read, want to read, or have rated.
The results were fascinating to me. My wife reads a lot more Young Adult Fiction and I read a lot more history and theology. But when we read the same books we have remarkably similar taste. So, realizing that correlation always equals causation, I determined that the success of our relationship is assuredly due to our similar taste in books. Thus, I have developed the Goodreads Relationship Compatibility Test (GRCT). The test is primarily for romantic relationships but I suppose it could be used to determine whether or not your bestest friend forever and ever (and ever) is really your BFFEE or will viciously run you over on their bicycle with a hipster basket on it. This test is based on many arduous minutes of looking at charts, graphs, professional research, and various internet memes.
So without further adieu, I present the GRCT. Use it at your own risk and watch your relationships either blossom like the pedals of a flower on a warm spring morning or blossom like a fiery mushroom cloud after a nuclear explosion (I just read a book about nuclear disasters so mushroom clouds are on my mind. Seriously. Check my Goodreads.)
If your tastes are…
0-20% Similar- This person will stalk you through a creepy amusement park with clowns and ominous carousel music. Run far, far away.
21-40% Similar- This might start off okay as long as you keep your deep, dark differences far from the light of day. However, once they are revealed you will likely find yourself stranded in the country being dive bombed by a biplane. Best to not even try.
41-60% Similar- Things look good. Really good! Until the third or fourth date. Then you find out that one of you is hardcore Marvel and the other hardcore DC. Or maybe you find out that while you preferred Frank Hardy the other person preferred Joe (or -GASP- Aunt Gertrude). Perhaps most horrific would be to find that one prefers werewolves and the other vampires. If you lean close to 60%, a fifth date might be in order. Just make sure you pack a wooden stake. If you lean close to 41%, take your Hardy Boys books and go stay with your rotund buddy, Chet Morton. Otherwise, you might end up locked in a wine cellar with bottles of a fine vintage of uranium.
61-80% Similar- Are those wedding bells I hear? Of the books you’ve read you have similar tastes the majority of the time! That means dinner table conversations will be full of joyful banter as you discuss the newest systematic theology book. It means that together you can sneer at the TwiHards with their “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” shirts when you show up at the premier of the next Hunger Games movie wearing a burning dress and toting loaves of bread. It means that bliss is within reach but you have to be especially careful because now the differences become more glaring. Now when one of you loves a book but the other despises it you will have to learn to work though it or else you might find yourself sleeping on the couch or in a creepy hotel on a rainy night chatting with some dude named Norman about his mommy.
81-100% Similar- You are probably already married. Your friends and family are disgusted by how perfect a couple you are. You make people want to vomit when you start talking about how ideal you are for each other and how you never disagree about anything and how you read physics books aloud to each other before bed because you both are so passionate about quarks and string theory and multiverses. Beware, however, the 100%-ers. Yes, those people who match perfectly. These are one the ones that are the most dangerous. They probably share a Facebook profile and have a tandem toilet. This is a recipe for disaster. All it takes is one wrong rating on even the most trivial of books to cause a tear in the fabric of space time and a crushing of the hopes and dreams represented by the tandem toilet. If this happens, you will likely find yourself sad and alone and will spend your days in an apartment spying on the neighbors with the telephoto zoom lens on your camera.
So there you have it. How do you rate with your significant other or BFFEE?
I’m no poet. I freely admit that and I make no claims that this is any more than some rambling attempt for me to express one of the weightier aspects of being a parent. So take it for what it is: a daddy, who is about to be a daddy for a second time, still learning the depths of his responsibility to his kids.
He’s Looking At Me
He’s looking at me from two and a half feet high.
Blue eyes always watching, observing, learning.
He sees me care and sees me hurt.
He sees me love and sees me cry.
He’s looking at me from two and a half feet high,
What am I showing him?
He’s listening to me from two and a half feet high.
Little ears always hearing, heeding, learning.
He hears me build-up and hears me subvert.
He hears me submit and hears me defy.
He’s listening to me from two and a half feet high,
What am I confessing to him?
He’s following me from two and a half feet high.
Little feet always walking, running, learning.
He steps in my footprints in the dirt.
He shadows the things I glorify.
He’s following me from two and a half feet high,
Where am I leading him?
He’s imitating me from two and a half feet high.
Little hands always doing, working, learning.
He knows my laziness and knows my effort.
He knows what I deify and knows what I crucify.
He’s imitating me from two and a half feet high,
Should he be?
Over the past couple of months I’ve been working through a rather thick tome on the American Civil War. I’m a relative noob when it comes to Civil War history and I have found the book (Fateful Lightning by Allen C. Guelzo) incredibly fascinating. While much ink has been spilled on biographies of the major historical figures of the period and numerous volumes written about the great battles of the period, this volume focuses more on what was happening in the background that drove those soldiers to bloody battlefields across America.
If you ask the average American what they know about the Civil War they’ll probably mention Lincoln, slavery, The Emancipation Proclamation, and maybe even some well known figures like Grant, Sherman, Lee, or “Stonewall” Jackson. Slavery was a huge aspect of what turned brother against brother but the cultural divide was deeper than even this horrific aspect of the times.
One of the most striking things about America during the years leading up to the Civil War is how vastly different things looked in the North versus in the South. The northern states had embraced the industrial revolution and manufacturing had exploded. Agriculture was becoming less important as people were able to move into large cities and find employment in factories. The power of the industrial system in the north would eventually play a vital role in the defeat of south because the Confederacy simply could not match the industrial output of the Union.
In the South, agriculture was the main driver of the economy. Specifically, cotton was the big money crop. The southern states also clung to a social structure that more resembled what one might have found in Europe. Wealthy landowners formed a gentry class of well bred, well educated, and well funded people who stood head and shoulders above the rest of the social strata. The southerners viewed this social structure as more sophisticated and genteel than the more fast paced and hard charging culture of the northern states.
To summarize, the United States was a land where one group of people desired the country look a certain way and another group of people desired a country that looked the opposite way. Sparks flew, tinder ignited, and between 600,000 and 700,000 Americans died in the terrible bloodletting that followed. The war was longer, bloodier, and more brutal than anyone had anticipated.
Now, you are probably asking where the church comes into this picture. If you get any group of people together, no matter how homogeneous they might seem, there are bound to be differences that crop up among those in the group. The local church is not immune to this sort of thing. Most of the time a church is able to move along quite nicely with at least a reasonable amount of unity. But often it takes surprisingly little for the unity to be shattered and warring cultures to rise up within the church and turn their ire against one another.
Here’s a relatively minor example from personal experience. A few years back when my family lived in Texas and attended a good size church near the seminary where I graduated, the church leadership decided to make a change to the Sunday morning schedule. The only change was to flip-flop the times of the Sunday morning services. The contemporary service which had been before Sunday School was changed to the time slot after Sunday School and the traditional service was moved to the earlier slot. All things considered, this is pretty small potatoes. However, to hear some people talk you would think the world was coming to an end. Quickly factions arose: those who liked or didn’t mind the change and those who disliked the change. It didn’t take anything more than a shuffling of the Sunday morning schedule to reveal fractures in the unity of the church.
One of the biggest tragedies of civil wars in churches mirrors one of the great tragedies of the American Civil War. Friends are pitted against friends, neighbor against neighbor, and sibling against sibling. Perhaps the saddest thing is how little it takes to divide us. When you hear of churches in the midst of a civil war occasionally you will hear of it occurring over a truly foundational issue of doctrine but all too often these civil wars are fought over the most ridiculous of things.
What are some of the instigators of civil wars that threaten to rip appendages off of the body of Christ? How about the classic “worship wars” where factions pummel each other over musical preference? One can’t fail to mention the divisions that occur over carpet color or other aesthetic issues that come up periodically. Sometimes preaching style can bring about a civil war with expository folks on one side and the topical folks on the other. Occasionally a personality conflict or a simple misunderstanding can fester and eventually explode into a mess of hurt feelings, furrowed brows, and withheld tithe checks.
Perhaps most tragically is that while all these internal squabbles are occurring, the effectiveness of the church is dramatically diminished. If all the physical, mental, and spiritual resources of the church are tied up in a civil war how can the church focus on its Divine mission (Go, make disciples)? Honestly, it can’t. A church engaged in civil war is an internally focused church and an ineffective church. Not only is the church not actively engaged in the mission it has been given by Jesus himself, but it is tarnishing the reputation of the church in the community at large. Civil wars don’t just hurt the church members but also those who could potentially be church members.
So what is the answer? How do churches avoid and minimize these bloody and crippling civil wars? I think the answer is astonishingly simple. It has nothing to do with a program of church growth. It has nothing to do with everyone using the same Sunday School curricula. It has nothing to do with crafting a sermon series with pithy titles. It has everything to do with being actively engaged in the Kingdom work God has given the church to do.
In the military, any NCO worth their salt will tell you that one of the worst things for soldiers is a bunch of down time. When soldiers are not actively engaged in some sort of task idle hands will lead to, shall we say, unsavory activities (during the Civil War prostitution boomed as ladies of the night followed groups of soldiers around the countryside to ply their wares on men far removed from the watchful eyes of their wives, betrothed, and girlfriends). I think the same holds true for the church. When church members are not actively engaged in fulfilling the Great Commission we end up with a bunch of people with idle hands. So instead of building God’s Kingdom we build our own kingdoms within the church. We grab onto whatever we can control. We resist change because change might mean a loss of power and control. We pursue agendas that serve to advance our own kingdoms instead of the Kingdom. The result is an ineffective church and a recipe for civil war when someone tries to wrest those kingdoms away.
To put it another way, a church that is busy building the Kingdom will have little time to bicker over the petty things that often divide churches and start civil wars. When a church has a laser-like focus on going and making disciples that penetrates the heart of every member all of the sudden issues like decorating and preaching style fade dramatically in their importance because the church has real unity. Unity of purpose. Unity of mission. Unity around the idea that there is one Kingdom to build and it is not our own.