Why are you here? We’re talkin’ purpose.

Last week I posted an article by Jen Wilkin regarding God’s promises.  One of God’s greatest promises is that He has a purpose for me — and for everyone.  Just think about the implication of that easily missed or passed over promise.  I’m probably more attuned to the idea of God’s having a purpose for me because of my friendship with Todd Wilson.  Todd is a brilliant “futurist” and a living example of one who has actively sought and discovered God’s unique purpose for his life.  Todd has written about and now teaches  extensively on discovering and then, most importantly, acting on the knowledge of that purpose.  The benefit of finding God’s purpose in a person’s life, as Todd puts it, is that will be the person’s “sweet spot,” where life becomes a joy irrespective of the difficulties and obstacles that purpose may subject one to.  Anyway, here is a neat article on life purpose by J.D. Greear, a pastor, theologian, and author.  The original article appeared at: jdgreear.com as:  Does God Have a Purpose for My Life?  RMF

Pastor J. D. Greear
Pastor J. D. Greear

DOES GOD HAVE A PURPOSE FOR MY LIFE?

Little in life is as important as finding purpose. If you know a certain experience has a purpose, you can endure all kinds of hardship because of it. But if you don’t see a purpose, any hardship—however small—feels like drudgery.

I’m convinced that if we could get a hold of God’s purpose for us, really sense what he has for us, that it would completely reshape how we see our lives. It would transform what we do with our blessings; it would transform how we interpret our pain. Nothing would ever look the same again.

got_plans_mugMost people want to know God’s purpose for their lives, but they simply don’t know where to look. Is it possible to even know God’s purpose for our lives? And how do we discover what it is?

Psalm 57 teaches us three truths about our God-given purpose:

1. God has a purpose for you – but it’s not about you (Psalm 57:5,11)

David’s situation in Psalm 57 is pretty dire. The little note at the heading of the psalm indicates that David is writing this while he’s hiding in a cave (not ideal writing conditions). Saul, the current king of Israel, is applying every lever of force to find and kill David, so David is on the lam. To say that this was not David’s “best life now” would be an understatement.

But as I read through Psalm 57, I don’t see a single request for God to change his circumstance. Instead, we keep hearing David say, “God, may you be exalted above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.”Superseding David’s desire to be rescued is his prayer for God to be glorified.

The ultimate purpose of your life is not about you. You exist for God’s glory. I exist for God’s glory. Every person you meet and have ever met exists for God’s glory. Even creation cries out: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). This is by no means easy for us to grasp, since our default setting in life is self-centered. For instance, my kids are self-centered, just like me, but not because I trained them that way. No one ever has to teach their child to say, “Mine!” And while most of us learn to temper that unbridled selfishness as we get older (most, not all), our prayer lives often reveal how little has changed in our hearts. For most of us, our prayer lives can be summarized in three words: “Gimme, gimme, gimme!”  We live as if God exists to glorify us as the center of the universe.

If we’re going to discover God’s purpose for our lives, we need to have a Copernican revolution of the soul: the world does not revolve around me. Jesus didn’t come to be an important planet in our solar system; he came to be the center of it. We will never understand our purpose—in times of pain or times of blessing—until God’s glory outweighs our self-centeredness.

2. God has a purpose for you – and it’s mostly about what he’s doingin you (57:1).

When life seems unfair, our refuge and faith must be in God, knowing that he is doing something in us. Most of us think that if our life is not full of rainbows, sunshine, and puppies that God must not be happy with us. But God is more interested in making us holy rather than just happy.

Notice how many times in verse 1 David talks about his soul finding refuge in God: “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” David’s refuge was not in the cave he was hiding; his refuge was in God’s presence. And that’s God’s purpose for you, too.

All of us have a place of refuge, something or someone we look to for safety, security, and identity. For some it’s in a job or a bank account. For others it’s in prestige or recognition. For some it’s in a relationship. For others it’s in the bottom of a bottle. But it doesn’t matter how acceptable or unacceptable the refuge seems. If your refuge is not in God, it will fail, because God will often attack your place of refuge to teach you that it isn’t permanent. This can be painful, but God is more interested in your character than your comfort.

3. God has a purpose for you – and if you are surrendered to it, he will fulfill it (57:2).

In verse 2 David says, “God will fulfill his purpose for me.” David understands that God is a perfectionist: when it comes to his purposes, he will not let anything come in the way of what he is doing.

Here’s the irony: only when you say, “I don’t want to be the center of the universe,” will God reorder all things in the universe to fulfill his purpose for you. Make yourself the center of the universe, and nothing will work for you. Make God the center of your universe, and the entire cosmos is realigned for God to fulfill his purposes for you.

Once you’ve surrendered to God’s purpose, you’ll be able to lie down and sleep even in the midst of “fiery beasts,” and rise up with joyful song even in the midst of heartache.

God has a purpose for you. He wants to use you to exalt his name in the earth and he wants to teach you to trust him. Whatever situation you find yourself in right now, know that it’s okay—even good—to pray for God to change the situation. But God’s first purpose is that you would be able to pray, “God, glorify your name through me in this.” “Help me know you more.” Don’t waste your pain, and don’t squander your blessings: they’re both gifts from a good God who has a purpose for you life.

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The Under-Dawgs

Football fans and lovers of the under-Dawgs everywhere and in every situation.  HERE is a link to a neat little article that appeared in this morning’s Washington Post.  The author, Neely Tucker,  is a third-generation Mississippi State Bulldawg (not to be confused with the much more prosperous and well-regarded Georgia Bulldawgs), and claims he has the liver to prove it. Today, Mississippi State is playing Alabama, and guess which team is No. 1.  Amazingly it is Mississippi State.  Although, that should not be confused with being the favorites in today’s game.  No, Alabama’s Crimson Tide is favored.  This all makes for an exciting matchup which became all the more significant to me after reading the article.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I’m conficent Mr. Tucker enjoyed writing it.  RMF

Mississippi State is playing Alabama, and guess which team is No. 1

Neely Tucker

Neely Tucker

By Neely Tucker November 14, 2014

Heellllloooooo down there, small and tiny people of college football land!

You appear far and wee. Clouds billow by us and we, the Lords of College Football, your very own Mississippi State Bulldogs, sit atop Mt. Footbaw and regard y’all with a clanga-clanga of the cowbell.

No, we don’t know what we’re doing up here, either.

We awoke from a bourbon dream on the back porch after the Auburn game and . . . WHOA, lookit Sportscenter! The top teams in the championship playoff! Hi ’Bama, you’re No. 5! Oregon, you’re No. 2. Defending national champs Florida State? You’re No. 3.   Continue reading

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Biblical promises correctly understood and applied

I love the promises of the Bible.  If you follow this blog you probably do too.  That being the case it is incumbent on us to really get a handle on, what the Bible calls, these: “…exceeding great and precious promises….” (2 Peter 1:4 KJV) and how to “rightly handle” them.  The following article by Jen Wilkin, one of my very favorite blogers, is useful in that regard.  Her instructive post appeared as: Which Promises Are For Me on her The Beginning of Wisdom blog.  

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Jen Wilkin

Jen Wilkin

which promises are for me?

Not many things are more comforting than a promise made and kept. And not many things are more hurtful than a promise broken. Knowing we worship a God who keeps his promises is a source of deep joy. But misapplied, this knowledge can also lead us to treasure-hunt Scripture for promises in problematic ways. How can we know which promises are for us? How can we lay claim to the promises of the Bible without overstepping their application? Here are some common pitfalls to keep in mind as you study:

got_plans_mug

  • Confusing a promise with a principle. Promises are always fulfilled 100% of the time. Principles state general truths. The book of Proverbs is often mistaken for a book of promises, when in fact it is a book of principles. The principleof “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” is generally true and is wise to heed. But it is not a guarantee that every child who is raised with godly instruction will become a believer.

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Finding answers. Finding wisdom.

I follow a blog by author and speaker Michael K. Reynolds at Real Life. Real God that you can sign up for HERE. The following is a great example of the type of material Mr. Reynolds produces.  RMF

Michael K. Reynolds

Michael K. Reynolds

The Question Google Should Never Be Asked

by Michael K. Reynolds

We live in an unbelievable age. One where seemingly every question can be answered by the mere tapping of our fingertips.

QuestionWith their cell phones our youth now have more computing power in their hands than global super computers had when many of us were growing up.

As a historical novelist I can’t even imagine how much more difficult my predecessors had it in conducting basic research prior to conveniences provided by the Internet.

Want to know how to repair a leaking sink? Google it. Interested in learning how to dance the two-step? Google it. Solve a math equation? Win a trivia bet? Prune a tree? Google it. Google it. Google it.

So if we can get the answer to every question imaginable to man on Google, why do we bother asking God anything?

Click HERE to read the remainder of the article.

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Our Vote And What It Says About Us

Dr. Albert Mohler is a brilliant theologian and current president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  In the following article reflecting on yesterday’s election results Dr. Mohler describes his view that a person’s worldview does much to direct a person’s behavior and conversely that behavior goes far in determining a person’s worldview and values.  Do you agree with him?   You can find the original of Dr. Mohler’s article at his website: www.albertmohler.com.  RMF

What the Election Reveals About Us, and Why We Vote as We Do

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Campaigning over the weekend, President Obama said, “The American people are with us on all the big issues.” He continued, “You know it. I know it. The polls show it.”

Dr. Albert Mohler
Dr. Albert Mohler

  Yet the midterm election yesterday did not affirm President Obama’s statement. In fact, yesterday’s election is what political scientists classify as a “wave election.” The “wave” became evident early on Tuesday evening and it continued throughout election night as Republicans won key seats in the Senate. Even as some elections are still yet to be called, it is clear that the Republican Party has gained control of the United States Senate and now holds control of both the House and the Senate for the first time in eight years .

Furthermore, the pickup in the Senate was even beyond what most Republican analysts had estimated. With Senatorial elections in the states of Louisiana and Alaska still pending, the Republican Party has already picked up seven seats. This is a massive change for America’s political system. Coming in the sixth year of President Obama’s administration, this midterm election is a massive check upon his presidential power and will inevitably be seen as a political judgment upon the President’s leadership. This is due to the fact that the President of the United States is also seen as the symbolic head of his political party – in this case the Democratic Party.

Key Senate elections were won by Republicans in the states of West Virginia, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, and also in the state of North Carolina. The change of party control in the Senate will mean that the Republicans now hold key decision-making positions, especially in terms of the key committee chairmanships. Furthermore, the Senate’s very important constitutional role in the confirmation of presidential appointees will also be a major factor in the last two years of the Obama administration. In short, the next two years are going to be very politically interesting.

Claiming victory last night in his own Senatorial contest in Kentucky, Senator Mitch McConnell, who is also now the majority leader, pledged to work with President Obama in a bipartisan consensus where that is possible. Today President Obama is expected to address the nation with his response to the midterm elections. Americans are going to be watching in order to see if indeed the President of the United States and a Republican-controlled Congress can govern together on issues in which there might actually be common concern.

Yet yesterday’s election results also point to the continuing and deepening partisan divide in America. Christians watching this must understand that this partisan divide is not merely a political issue—it is a worldview issue. What divides these two parties is not primarily personalities or regionalism. Instead, what divides these two parties are their visions of political stability, morality, and even what it means to aim for human flourishing. Both parties represent competing worldviews and the most loyal members of each party recognize this reality. What separates these parties from one another are the answers they provide to such basic questions as the meaning of human life, our understanding of morality and even our understanding of marriage.

In last night’s wave election, several very strategic governorships were also on the line. Republicans won key contests in states including Florida, Iowa, Kansas, and even the state of Massachusetts—one of most deeply democratic states in the entire nation. Yet there were other very important issues faced by voters in respective states. In the state of Oregon, for example, voters supported a measure legalizing marijuana. This comes even after the Governor of Colorado warned other states that they should avoid the kind of reckless experimentation that he suggested his own state had engaged in by legalizing recreational marijuana two years ago. In Washington, D.C. voters approved an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana. Yet this vote will not affect the vast areas within the district that are controlled by the federal government. Further, since the D.C. government is ultimately under the control of Congress, Congress may also intervene in this situation. Voters in Alaska also passed a similar proposition known as Measure 2. Meanwhile, an effort to legalize so-called medical marijuana narrowly failed in the state of Florida. It gained more than 50% of the vote but that was short of the 60% that was necessary in order to affect the change.

On the issue of abortion, the states of Colorado and North Dakota turned back personhood amendments—amendments that would have criminalized any assault upon an unborn fetus. In the case of both states, this was a significant setback for the pro-life cause. But the pro-life cause won a huge victory in the state of Tennessee where voters approved Amendment 1—an amendment to that state’s constitution that would allow significant restrictions upon the availability of abortion. This is especially important since Tennessee had become a so-called ‘destination state’ for abortions in the American Mid-South.

The vote in Tennessee, however, was also was deeply revealing. The vote on Amendment 1 demonstrated a very significant moral divide, political divide, and thus a worldview divide between rural and urban voters in that state. Urban voters overwhelmingly voted against Amendment 1 and thus in favor of unrestricted abortion rights. On the other hand, voters in rural Tennessee overwhelmingly voted for Amendment 1. This simply affirms something that political scientists have known for a very long time—rural voters generally vote in a far more conservative pattern than urban or Metropolitan voters. This is in some respects due to the fact that cities tend to draw together persons with more liberal worldviews. At the same time, it also reflects the fact that cities have a liberalizing effect. Sociologists regularly indicate that persons who move from a rural to a more Metropolitan environment also shift their political opinions. This tells us that worldview is also at least partly dependent upon context.

In response to the election, Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban published a rather amazing article in the op-ed pages of the New York Times. They began that article stating,

“As America completes another costly, polarized and exhausting election cycle, it’s commonplace to characterize our society as being divided into warring tribes of liberals and conservatives. But this view oversimplifies the causes of our political differences.”

Their argument continues,

“Most people aren’t ideologically pure, and most don’t derive their opinions from abstract ideologies and principles. People are more strongly influenced by the effects of policies on themselves, their families and their wider social networks. Their views, in short, are often based on self-interest.”

What should Christians think about their argument? Should we accept the fact that self-interest actually guides political decisions? From a biblical perspective, Christians ought to recognize that this is indeed the case. We should expect that in a fallen world it would be nearly impossible for any of us to escape the type of moral calculus that includes our own self-interest. And as these researchers make very clear, self-interest is not limited to an individual perspective, but to our family, to our group, or to our community. Weeden and Kurzban continue:

“This point may seem obvious, but it is overlooked by many political scientists who focus on other explanations: parents and peers, schools and universities, political parties and leaders, and that abstract and nebulous catchall, ‘values.’ But the most straightforward explanation, demographics, is also the most persuasive.”

These observations should deeply interest Christians as we consider how political opinions and political decisions are formed. The authors further state,

“Self-interest is not limited to economics. People who want to have sex but don’t at the moment want babies are especially likely to support policies that ensure access to birth control and abortion. Immigrants favor generous immigration policies. Lesbians and gay men are far more likely to oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation. . . . Those who do best under meritocracy — people who have a lot of education and excel on tests — are far more likely to want to reduce group-based preferences, like affirmative action.”

Further:

“A focus on self-interest helps explain why three-quarters of people who went to church as children don’t attend church in their 20s. The young people most likely to abandon the church are those engaging in the kinds of lifestyles — involving alcohol, recreational drugs, premarital sex and nonmarital cohabitation — that religious conservatives condemn.”

Weeden and Kurzban are pointing to something that every Christian leader, parent, or pastor must understand. On the one hand, we recognize that worldview determines behavior—what we believe is inevitably played out in our lives. But we must also recognize, as Weeden and Kurzban point out, that not only does our worldview determine behavior but the contrary is also true – our behavior often affects our worldview.

The illustration used by Weeden and Kurzban is very instructive. Young people who are involved in premarital sex, non-marital cohabitation, and recreational drugs develop a worldview to justify their activities. Of course, this is what all sinners do. Sinners want to justify their sin and in order to accomplish this they try to realign their worldview in order to create moral justification for their behavior. Christians need to understand that Weeden and Kurzban are onto something real here; not only does worldview determine behavior but behavior can determine worldview.

These two researchers are primarily interested in how this plays out in the political sphere. But Christians looking at the same article need to understand that something deeply biblical is being affirmed here. As the researchers very specifically point out, when young people get involved in what the Bible identifies as sinful activities, their worldview often shifts in an attempt to justify their actions—thus leaving the worldview commitments they may have inherited from their church and from their parents and adopting a new set of worldview presuppositions that are at peace with their behavior. As Weeden and Kurzban write, “Despite their early socialization, as adults start making their own decisions, their religion and politics usually align with their interests.”

The results of this midterm election will give intelligent Christians a great deal to think about. But when it comes to the larger issues at stake, the midterm election is simply one episode in a very long story, a story of political engagement that should lead Christians to continue to think ever more seriously about the issues that are really at stake.

This essay is a an edited transcript from the Wednesday, November 5 episode of the The Briefing.  You can contact Dr. Mohler at mail@albertmohler.com and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/albertmohler.

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Assault on the Church and Biblical Christianity

Last week some leaders from our church, New Life Christian Church in Chantilly, VA, attended the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) national conference in Nashville, TN.  From all accounts it was a super event.  Instead of me describing it here permit me to share with you a brief article by Dave Brown, a Pastor at Large and Director of the Washington Area Coalition of Men’s Ministries (WACMM).  I receive Dave’s monthly newsletters and always find them a great source of information and inspiration.  (You can check out WACMM and subscribe to their newsletter by visiting the website, wacmm.org,  HERE.)   A great feature of  Dave’s article is his recommendations concerning some of the key presentations by selected speakers and a link to the videos captured at the entire conference.  If you’re interested in the church, the future of marriage, and/or are involved in men’s ministry I know you will appreciate Dave’s and the conference’s ministry in making the videos available.  Enjoy.  RMF

Washington Area Coalition of Men's Ministries

Dave Brown Director, WACMM

Dave Brown
Director, WACMM

Brothers,
All of us know there’s an unprecedented, virulent secularism infecting America with its god-less worldview. It is tirelessly seeking to marginalize, discredit and intimidate Christ followers. This juggernaut has been redefining not only marriage and manhood but also sexuality, morality, conscience, liberty and freedom. Most recently we’ve seen the blatant subpoena assault against five Houston pastors. The secularists hurl charges against us of ignorance, bigotry and intolerance that go unchallenged and are perpetuated by like-minded acolytes in the media, academia and Hollywood. Before our eyes we see the dismantlement of the unique American social contract and the rise of a new culture of licentiousness, depravity and corruption. How then should we as blood-bought brothers think through the implications of all this? How should we respond to it? How should we push back with grace and truth?Last week I was with 1,300 other pastors in Nashville for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) national conference addressing “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage”. It was the first significant, broad-based gathering to address the moral revolution surrounding homosexuality and same-sex marriage. It focused on how churches, ministries and individual Christians should think about and respond to these historic changes, how  we are to minister to LGBT’s, how to defend and strengthen biblical marriage, and to explore what the gospel means for the future of marriage and sexual identity.The nearly fifty speakers were so challenging and helpful and the networking with other pastors so rich and encouraging I wanted to share the link below of these presentations with you. Regrettably the Christian men’s movement has been silent on these issues and so I strongly urge you to watch/listen to these talks and let us all learn together from them so that we might have a shared gospel understanding and a courageous resolve to engage this battle for the sake of the gospel and the truth and authority of God’s Word.http://erlc.com/conference/liveblog/While all the talks are worthwhile, several I particularly commend are:

  • Al Mohler’s opening session
  • Russell Moore’s Interview of Rosario Butterfield “Secrets of an Unlikely Convert”
  • Questions & Ethics Live with Russell Moore
  • Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God | Christopher Yu
  • Is There Really a Slippery Slope? A Gospel-Centered Assessment of Gender Identity, Transgender, and Polygamy | Denny Burk
  • Marriage and Missions: How Singleness and Marriage Connect to the Great Commission | David Platt
  • J.D. Greear’s closing session – “Preaching Like Jesus to the LGBT Community and Its Supporters”
  • The Daily Recaps section at the bottom is also good.

Hope this is edifying, challenging and helpful to you and your ministry.

Locking Arms Together,

Dave

Dave Brown

Director and Pastor-at-Large

Washington Area Coalition of Men’s Ministries (WACMM)

Chairman, Foundation for Manhood

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The Media and its influence on the Church

Perhaps like me you’re fascinated by the media’s handling of faith-based issues.  As “orthodox Christianity,” whatever that may be at any one time, seems to further diverge from popular culture,  the media’s attention to what is happening in the church appears to have increasing influence on the church itself.  This issue is addressed intelligently, with wit, and with humility by Matthew Lee Anderson in the following article.  I’m hoping that like mine your thinking and understanding of the church vis-a-via the media will be enlightened by his article, which appeared at Mere Orthodoxy.  (Visit the original article for many thoughtful comments on the article.) Mr. Anderson is the founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy and the author of Earthen Vessels. He does other stuff, too. RMF

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson

The Media, Evangelicals, and Me: On Being a Pessimist in a Progressive Age

The conservative evangelical world has confronted stories over the past two weeks of defectors and would-be defectors to the traditional view of marriage. Hillsong, the mega-mega church from Australia who are re-colonizing the West with their church plants, found themselves under the spotlight precisely by trying to avoid it. Conservatives denounced them, led by one-time Mere-O writer Andrew Walker, and they promptly came out and said that Saint Paul was right, guys, and everything is A-OK. Then Jonathan Merritt wrote a story on David Gushee’s change of heart that was sent around with trumpets and fanfare.

I was mildly critical of both Andrew and Jonathan’s pieces for related but slightly different reasons. I’d like to say one or two more things about my reasons here, not to reopen old wounds but because I think there’s something to learn. And by that I mean I have something to learn, because the Good Lord knows I’m implicated in what I’m about to say.

I was once asked by a reporter whether I thought the “young evangelicals” were going to give up the bigotry of their parents. After I finished laughing, I promptly rejected the question and provide a different one of my own. The poor reporter (probably) wasn’t malicious, but she didn’t have many theological categories either. We talked for an hour…and exactly three of my sentences appeared in print.

I tell that story only to highlight one fact about the press, which by now is well known: many of its members simply don’t “get religion.” Just two days ago, a major news organization published a story that would be laughable, except it isn’t: it’s sad, and media theological ignorance does genuine harm to the cause of Christ.

I say this because I can see at least some decent reasons why a minister of the Gospel might opt to filibuster when the local newspaper reporter asks for his views on sex. The newspaper is not the political authority that Paul preaches to, no matter how much we like to speak of “popular opinion” in juridical terms. The pastor would not be pronouncing the Gospel in unmediated fashion to the world: he’s speaking to a reporter who may or may not faithfully present his views. And neither is the newspaper column the pulpit, which is where the central political and theological (verbal) announcement of the church occurs. He cannot prevent the reporter from listening to his sermons, nor should he try. But he is under no obligation to invite their attention, nor should he feel any compulsion to answer their questions. The Church should proceed on these issues in its own way and time, and that way and time is not that of the press.

Hillsong, of course, brought the media down upon their head and then tried to squirm through their uncomfortable questions, which strikes me as an obvious case of wanting to have their cake and eat it too. But it is the conservative response that interests me most, and the quickness by which people like Walker concluded that Hillsong was simply preparing to change their position. Alan Jacobs, in a more measured fashion, also pointed out that these “journeys” institutions are on only lead to one spot. The point is well made, and I sympathize with it. After all, it has history and statistics on its side—look at those United Methodists and Episcopalians, after all!—and who wants to argue with those?

Except Christians, anyway. Christians want to argue with history and statistics and all the other tools that give off the impression the “journey” inevitably leads away from orthodoxy. I understand (and share!) the skepticism about Hillsong and the concern they will become unorthodox to maintain their buildings and their crowds. But such a skepticism cannot be the first or final word, nor should it pervade our response to their wanderings. Any counsel or response we offer must be saturated in hope, which means we cannot consign people to a path before they have walked it. No institution is on a journey toward a more conservative outlook—yet. They might be, though, if at the moment of hesitation conservatives would walk along side them. Hillsong or any other organization may have a grand reversal, just as there may yet be a glorious revival.

For the one who is not against us is for us.” That word from the Gospel is not the only word our Savior gives to help us understand how we might relate to those outside the faith, but it is a word which deserves its place. Our Lord goes on to say that anyone who gives us a cup of water because we belong to Christ “will by no means lose his reward.” But the question for conservatives runs the opposite direction: If Hillsong or anyone else who gets weak-kneed on marriage “belongs to Christ,” will we offer them a cup of water or shake the dust from our feet? If they never belonged to Christ, then there is no reason to respond at all: they are who we thought they were, we might say, and go on our way.

Pulling the denunciation trigger quickly is an obvious path toward ensuring the clarifying press release is written, which is the only evidence many conservatives need to show the denunciatory strategy “works.” But the effort will ultimately come to nothing as long as it reinforces the rotten idea that the only movement possible is away from orthodoxy, not toward it. Denunciations and warnings have their place, just as the Bible’s warning passages have a serious place in the life of the church. But those do not come with the overtones of an inevitable apostasy, the way the conservative response to Hillsong did.

Walker’s post was aptly titled a “Church in Exile,” a mentality that unnecessarily hastens the exit of those on the fringes precisely because being a beleaguered minority becomes a necessary part of its self-consciousness. (The language of “faithful minority”, which Russell Moore has deployed at points, has the same kind of effect.) A church in exile will have more of an interest in “shoring up the faithful” than winning converts, precisely because it views its relationship to the surrounding world in necessarily oppositional terms. Yet it paradoxically seems to be proceeding by drawing the lines so narrowly around the “faithful” such that no church or institution who hesitates can have a place. The unintended casualties in such an environment are those who have hesitations and doubts about the traditional view: the stakes on this issue are unquestionably high, but if conservatives decide to greet every organization that seems to waffle with the swift word of warning I suspect they may find themselves much lonelier much faster than they need be.

“Breaking: Leading Evangelical Ethicist Wakes Up Thinking That the Gospel and Gay Marriage are Not Compatible, Just Like Yesterday.”

Besides being much too long, that’s not the kind of headline we’re going to see from the press anytime soon, at least not unaccompanied by a story filled with derision. And that is understandable: It is only news when someone of influences changes their mind. The news exists to tell us things we don’t know, not things we already do.

But therein lies a deep problem for how Christians should think of the media’s involvement in the debates within the church. For Augustine, curiosity is a vice which is marked in part by the aspiration for novelty: it seeks to comprehend that which was previously unknown. Our modern news obsession and the chatter (like this!) which accompanies it are structured by what the ancients considered an intellectual disease. The widespread interest in the “young evangelicals” (or now, “millennial Christians”)—of which I have been one of the main partakers of—is itself simply a part of the pervasively progressive assumptions which underly our media pursuits. There is no story if the young evangelicals are just like the old ones. The media culture depends upon the world being different than it is now, and so they endlessly look for such changes and so help bring them into being.

In that sense, stories about Gushee and Hillsong don’t have the kind of neutrality that newspaper people claim for them. It’s important to understand my point, as I’m not suggesting anything about the intentions of their writers. No journalist worth their salt deliberately sets an agenda that way. But the ‘newsworthiness’ of such accounts depends upon and deepens our fixation with whether evangelicals will stay orthodox on the question of marriage, and as such it has a formative effect as much as it responds to a “market demand.” If the underlying presuppositions of our media diet changed, Gushee’s shift would evoke more of a shrug: it’s not a story if Gushee had gone from being a just warrior to a pacifist, for instance, or vice versa (I don’t actually know his position on the question). We care not just about Gushee changing his mind, but changing his mind in this way because of the pervasive unsettledness on the question of marriage. But the media makes us care, too, in their selection and foregrounding of the accounts that they present.

It’s by no means clear to me that this media fixation is healthy for the life of the church, or for our roles within it. It is clear to me that evangelicals have a nasty case of it; our lack of interest in denominational and other institutional structures gives media stories an undue influence. In a weird way, conservative evangelicals fighting proxy-battles for orthodoxy through the media must undermine their own congregationalist ecclesiology, as bloggers claim for themselves the responsibility of shepherds for abstracted flocks which will never meet together, and challenge the authoritative guidance of local church pastors (like Hillsong’s) who have been entrusted by God for the care of their people. And they undermine their own conservative temperament, prescribing for every religious institution a path that pays no heed to how the particularities of time and space might determine the right course. Paradoxically, it’s just in those particular institutions where the long, plodding work of persuasion and discernment on these issues needs to happen. That Hillsong felt compelled to publicly respond with their clarification is, on this score, as troubling as their original statement itself.

Perhaps most troublingly, letting the news cycle determine our debates encourages a widespread hastiness to ‘set the narrative’ and, crassly, capture those retweets. Conservative evangelicals like me who have long mocked being ‘relevant’ are often the first people with a word about the controversy of the day. James 1:19 can mean many things, but at a minimum it seems to mean that we should be slow to speak (there’s your fancy exegesis for those who are scoring at home). The news cycle waits for no one, though, and so we hastily draw our conclusions before all the facts are even in.

I suspect that this media fixation and our curiosity for the ‘new’ breeds a kind of sympathy with progressive intuitions. The media’s interest in ‘novelty’ invariably brings more extreme forms of life into the foreground. The growing interest in polyamory at places like The Atlantic seems to be part of this trajectory: talking about gay unions is so 2000s, after all. The main counterexamples to my thesis, though, are those conservatives who themselves changed their minds, like Rosaria Butterfield. Her astonishing rise is a bit like an oasis in the desert: evangelicals rushed to her story out of a kind of desperation to counter a narrative that seems so pervasive around them. Matthew Schmitz’s account has a similar feeling. But such stories are indications of how deeply saturated by novelty our minds have become. The good news is good precisely because as news it is as old as the universe itself. At the end of the day, orthodoxy is going to be (as C.S. Lewis called it) the “same old thing.”

In a world where progressive impulses dominate, pessimism has an invaluable social role. The optimistic attitude toward ‘change’ is built into the progressive temperament, which loads the dice in its favor and then claims that the game is not rigged at all. (Roger Scruton’s book defending this thesis is the best on the subject.) The effect of this is that people who raise cautions or worries get cast as ‘curmudgeons’ or ‘cranky,’ which is the easiest and fastest way for progressives to delegitimize their critics. Casting those who disagree as “old” is not a mark of respect, even though it should be. It is instead a capitulation to the very culture of youth which flows from the same diseased fixation on the ‘new.’

I have myself been so characterized recently, and I understand well the dynamics that produce the charge. The easiest suggestion is that I am, in fact, becoming a curmudgeon and a crank in my middle age. And that may be right. Those I have disagreed with would probably be happy to so write me off: it is easy to ignore cranks, even when they provide reasons for their objections (which, whatever else my many failures might be, I have always sought to do).

But even if it is true, I am glad to be old ‘before my time’, for I do not view age as the enemy but as the friend of wisdom. I am increasingly pessimistic about the world, which means the triumphalism and rallying charges of ‘courage’ that my conservative friends have sounded ring hollow to me, and it means that my progressive friends who are joyfully ushering in the next phase of history are no more attractive. (You may feel free to characterize me as full of hubris at this point; I won’t deny it, and almost certainly confess it.) I am pessimistic about the quality of my own efforts this past decade to affect any meaningful change, and I am similarly pessimistic of most everyone else’s. I am pessimistic about the evangelical culture’s hurried, frenetic, passion-driven life, and pessimistic that we will discover the deep wellsprings of quiet, unmoving confidence for when we need it most. I am a pessimist in a world where pessimism is one of the only available sins.

But I have hope, and while my pessimism takes hold my hope grows stronger yet. I once heard Oliver O’Donovan suggest that at the start of the 20th century no one could have predicted that one of the great works of the Spirit would involve a faithful, hitherto unknown Anglican nurse introducing hospice care into the world. And likewise few of us may have eyes to see the great work of God that lies ahead of us. The great crisis of marriage which is now in its final stages (it’s final stages, mind you, not its first) may precipitate the renewal of the church. The explosion of singleness may move evangelicals to recover the witness of celibacy (as, indeed, I’m told ERLC emphasized in their conference this week). The escape from our bodiliness that our culture is awash in may awaken the deepest commitments to the flesh of our Savior in us. The exhaustion from our media-info-tainment diets may deepen our longing for the permanent things and the quiet stillness of prayer. In all this, and in so many more ways which are not now known to us, the Lord may come and renew our world. And the great number of evangelicals who are currently waffling and hesitating on the matter of marriage may awaken once again too, and find themselves on the side of the right. I have no confidence that this will happen: I am increasingly pessimistic about our efforts to bring it about. But I have a growing hope that this or much more may yet come to be.

A final, brief, and personal word: the above reflects my own failures and sins as much or more as it does any of my disagreements. If you wish to find places or ways that I have myself been complicit in the very mentality which I examine here, you will not have to look very far or very long ago (some may say yesterday, even!). My path through this world has been uneven: it has been marked by petty vices and failures, which I have no need to confess here. They are known well enough to myself, to God, and to those who have suffered them. But the one grace I have long thought God has given me was the willingness and strength to plumb those petty sins near to the bottom, to discover within them a path toward becoming more securely wise rather than a path toward my destruction. I have always found it easier to write from my failures, and to urge others away from them with as much grace as I can have.

The simplest explanation for the above is that I simply have a critical spirit with a heart that revels in controversies. That conclusion is not far from the truth, though not nearly so close as people might think. I have always felt free to say what I think, and received my most formative education in an environment where blunt disagreement was a sign of respect. I have never felt the impulse to join the team-mentality that pervades the conservative evangelical world (and which I have oft criticized before), and have been happy to dissent when I have thought dissenting needed to be done. I have always been more inclined to criticize when the format is limited: I save my substantive, positive proposals for the places where I can work them out in full. None of this fits very well in an environment where ‘nice’ is the currency of the day and fawning praise must precede and accompany every disagreement.

But still, you will find places that I count as failures. This post itself might be read as one, in its own way. The paradox which I face, and which I cannot escape, is that in bearing the message I engage in the same vices. The messenger is, in this case, highly unsuited for the task he discerns necessary. Such are, perhaps, the deepest and most profound sources for my pessimism. I am what’s wrong with the world, and I always have been. But so also my hope: the glory and the grace that are not of my own provide assurance and hope that despite all my worst efforts to the contrary, all things will one day be well.

Posted in David Gushee, Evangelicals, Hillsong, Jonathan Merritt, Matthew Lee Anderson, Media, Progressives | Leave a comment
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