I have no idea if Phil is going to post today or not, and this post is a sort of stand-alone which I would normally post at my personal blog. However, I think it’s got enough chops to stand up here so I’m going to drop it off for your Friday reading enjoyment, and may the critics have their say.
For your information, I have bullet-pointed this post only because it's really a random list of thoughts I have had in the last two weeks or so, and I have somehow brought them together here. It is an unordered list.
- I have no idea how Dan and Phil feel about this, but I am completely creeped out by being one of the lesser luminaries (some might say "black hole") in the constellations in the evangelical horizon. I didn’t even realize it until we had to move this year and started looking for a new church – but the truth is, it turns out that I am pretty uncomfortable with being even mildly famous. When strangers treat me like they know me, I have to fight off an urge to flee.
When I told this to my wife last night, she said, "that’s what you get for plastering your name and face all over the internet, dummy," which is exactly what she should have said.
- Now I say that last bit to say this bit: there’s something wrong with the celebrity culture of our American church. And this is a fairly nuanced complaint, I think, because what I am not saying is that we should have no heroes of the faith who are alive and well and living in our midsts. What I am saying is that when we see those people – whoever they are – as somehow iconic of our beliefs or our movement or our faith, we are doing the faith and ourselves an injustice.
May we all have the opportunity to use our gifts for the goods works God intended them to be used for, amen? But let’s never forget that while it is a virtue to do those things which God has ordained beforehand, it is not a virtue to merely admire those who are doing what God has ordained and then nothing else. You are not a Paul-plus-James Christian if you merely enjoy the podcasts from all the T4G guys and all the Gospel Coalition guys. You are a Paul-plus-James Christian if you count trial as joy, and can say that you see that the aim of what the apostles taught is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
As my friend Ron Mooney says, you have to do the stuff. Celebrity culture inhibits you from doing the stuff.
- I’m not one of those guys who thinks you can find the Gospel in popular music, but the pagan poets before the band Nazareth said, "Love Hurts." The lesser poet J. Geils said, "Love Stinks". And I tell you that, believers and other readers, to point out something to you which you may not really understand:
Even the most mundane and in fact profane people know that somehow "love" runs counter-intuitive to what we think we know about the world. Nazareth and J. Geils may have been singing about something we would in fact reject as "love", but the truth that if you actually love you will actually suffer is something we Christians should know best.
And I say that in the context of sort of riffing on celebrity culture to say this: when we think we have believed the Gospel because we have gone to all the seminars and coalition meetings and what-not, we have completely missed the soteriological boat.
- Yes: I do mean the soteriological boat. More on that in a minute.
- Relating to my series on Titus and Timothy, let us meditate on something for a moment: when Paul tells Titus that he was sent to Crete to "set things right", Paul wasn’t telling Titus to establish a seminary or start holding conference calls about meta-issues concerning or afflicting the de facto institutions of the Christian church. Paul (as we shall see in a few weeks) was telling Titus to, in a manner of speaking, move into the trailer park or the apartment complex where these vile Cretans lived and establish elders there who will teach the Gospel there so that real people will be changed and love each other there.
So the Gospel will save those people.
- So how does doing otherwise miss the soteriological boat? Why am I not here getting gassed up about the ecclesiological boat?
It’s because soteriology comes before ecclesiology – I know you reformed eggheads know this in theory, but when I look at you (that is, at us – at me first and then at all of you) it’s like looking at somebody who gets dressed without ever checking the full-length mirror. I think you didn’t really mean to leave the house dressed like that.
Later in the letter to Titus, Paul says (as Phil rightly pointed out in his plenary session as the Shepherd’s Conference) that the church should be about adorning the doctrine of God our Savior with good works. Instead, most often, we have one of three kinds of things which happen:
 We have stupendous doctrine, mind-blowing doctrinal content, which we have defended so well that there is nobody left standing to hear it and therefore be saved by it. We have mowed down all the enemies of Christ rather than winning them out of their captivity.
 We have no doctrine because of the fear of being type  churches, so we have pointless good-works churches which are nice community centers or political outposts for either the left or the right. We have there simply put ourselves in the chains of the enemies of Christ, but at least we’re happy there.
 We have retreated from churches altogether because they are all type  or type  churches in spite of the fact that the Bible never once calls any church perfect, never tells the believer to live in a personal bomb shelter singing a sanctified version of Peter Gabriel’s "Here Come the Flood", and never says that churches will be fixed by abandoning them.
But if we took our soteriology seriously – you know: that men do not save themselves but are in fact a danger to themselves spiritually, and that only God saves, and that God only saves by the word of Christ, and that nobody can know unless they hear and repent, and nobody can hear unless someone tells them – wouldn’t we have churches that knew at least as much about love as Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, Roy Orbison and Dan McCafferty?
- You know:
Surely he has borne our griefsAnd then this:
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.That's what we say we believe -- but can we love like that since we say we have been loved like that?
Love hurts. Love scars. Love wounds, and marks any heart not tough or strong enough to take a lot of pain -- but love is like a cloud which holds a lot of rain.
I prolly wouldn't give you a nickel for the rest of that song, but here's my point: we are not really Gospel-saved people if we aren't changed by the Gospel into people who know that love hurts but that we are commanded to love anyway. And not merely the bizarre intellectually-satisfied love which stands on one foot on the phrase "love chasteneth" (which is true but wickedly incomplete and insufficient), but has both feet planted on the bedrock that Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
At some point, you – me, all of us – have to go out in the yard and befriend that kid whose parents don’t come home at night, or spends half the month in our neighborhood and half with his other parent’s neighbors, or take a plate of supper to the guy next door who’s alone, or whatever. I didn’t write all this stuff to help you grasp the nuances of systematic theology, or to become a name to be dropped. I wrote it so you would go do the stuff.
Now go do it. Start immediately, and if you can’t, start on the Lord’s Day in the Lord’s House with the Lord’s people. They are not any worse than the Galatians or the Colossians – most of them. Most of you aren’t either.
Me, on the other hand, ...