Saturday, September 16, 2017
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Reading requires desire and discipline. Even the most educated individuals never read a book after college. What a tragedy. How to read more from James White . . . .
Want conviction? Try the title of this article: “In the time you spend on social media each year you could read 200 books.”
But is it true?
Yes, I believe for most people, it is. Here’s the four step process:
1. Do not quit before you start.
Many will hear “200 books” and immediately say, “I can’t!” or, “It’s just not possible.” All that does is guarantee that (for you) you won’t and it is.
2. Do the math.
As author Charles Chu notes, the average American reads 200-400 words per minute. The typical non-fiction book has 50,000 words.
Here’s the math: 200 books at 50,000 words per book equals 10 million words. Ten million words at 400 words per minute equals 25,000 minutes. 25,000 minutes equals 417 hours.
I know, you’re thinking: “417 hours?! No one has that kind of time.”
Which just means you’re now ready for the third step.
3. Find the time.
It was the famed business author Jim Collins who first challenged me about finding time for what matters most. He said that most of us don’t need more “to do” lists, but “stop doing” lists. That the war against something like reading isn’t that we don’t have time, but that we are filling our time with things other than reading.
Now to Chu’s point. The average American spends 609 hours a year on social media and 1,642 hours on TV. Once again, let’s do the math. That’s 2,250 hours a year. If you took all of those hours and spent them reading, you wouldn’t read 200 books a year. You would read more than 1,000 books a year.
So we have the time. Lots of it. In excess.
So why don’t we do it?
We don’t take the fourth step.
In my book A Mind for God, I have an entire section on how to read more. It includes practical steps like turning off the TV or shutting down your phone. It involves carrying reading material with you wherever you go so that you can take advantage of empty pockets of time in waiting rooms or lines. It means putting books around your home and office so that they are always there, reminding you and encouraging you to pick up and read.
And perhaps most of all, it means setting aside a time – ideally when you are mentally fresh – to read a certain amount every day. And it matters on so many fronts. As Chu writes, “Books gave me role models and heroes and meaning in a world where I had none.” Or as I wrote in A Mind for God:
From reading alone could I gain a sense of the currents shaping the world; from reading alone could I understand the prevailing worldviews from which Christianity was being assailed; from reading alone could I place myself in the vanguard of taking the Word of God to the word of the world. For it would be reading that would fill my mind with virtually limitless knowledge, instruction, and insight. It would be reading that would exercise my mind and force it to break through barriers of stagnancy.
Little wonder that a monk in Normandy penned these words in 1170: “A monastery without a library [sine armario] is like a castle without an armory [sine armamentario]. Our library is our armory.” This was certainly the conviction of the apostle Paul who, even from his prison cell in Rome, implored Timothy to be sure to bring him his books (II Timothy 4:13).
So, 200 books a year? You don’t have to give up social media and TV altogether. Just take one hour out of every four you’re spending on them,
… and read.
James Emery White
Charles Chu, “In the Time You Spend on Social Media Each Year, You Could Read 200 Books,” Quartz, January 29, 2017, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
I have thought about this troublesome issue for years and have revisited the issue with the recent natural disasters, social ills, the plight of suffering and persecuted Christians, my study of the Gospel of Luke and his emphasis on God’s Sovereignty, as well as issues that have affected family and friends. This issue is one of the most difficult that any of us will think about. Yet if you can grasp this it gives you solid footing when suffering comes your way as is promised (1 Peter 3:17; 4:19). So, I went to a reliable source and reread some material that Jonathan Edwards wrote concerning the topic. My main point is that God ordains evil not for itself but for his greater good and glory.
God’s greatest goal in all things, including the creation of the world and redemption of humanity and everything in between, is his own glory. Everything else is subordinate or secondary to this truth. Listen to the flow of thought of Jonathan Edwards, ‘So it is proper that his glory shine forth infinitely so in all his ways. It is not proper for one glory to show forth and another not all or less equally so.’ In other words, for ‘God to be glorified or revealed in his completeness’, it is necessary that all His qualities be displayed with equal force and expression.
Therefore, it is equally necessary for ‘Gods awful majesty, his dreadful greatness, his wrath, holiness as well as his goodness, love, mercy, grace should be manifest. But these could not be manifested unless sin and therefore punishment had also been decreed. If he had not decreed them the shining forth of his glory would be exceedingly imperfect both because these parts of his divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, but also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them.’ They ‘would scarcely shine forth at all.’
For instance, ‘if God did not ordain and permit and punish sin there could be no manifestation of God's holiness in hatred of sin. There would be no manifestation of grace or true goodness if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired.’
So ‘evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creatures and the complete communication of God - for which he made the world. For thus is why he made the world, the creatures happiness consists in the knowledge of God and the sense of his love. If our knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionately imperfect.’
So God ordains evil to exist for the complete manifestation and knowledge of his person to his creatures. If sin did not exist then we would not know his grace and his mercy and goodness towards us and therefore ‘by necessity would not know him more completely to more fully glorify himself.’ There is a ‘proportionate relationship between the complete communication of God, for which he made the world, and the happiness of his creatures.’ The ‘more imperfect and incomplete our knowledge of him be the more imperfect and incomplete our happiness must be.’ So God is glorified more fully for having conceived and created and governed a world like this with all its evil.
Note well, that the more imperfect our knowledge of him the more imperfect our happiness will be. This demands that we read and understand and know the word.
Monday, September 11, 2017
From Samuel Emadi at TGC blog . . .
The most read New York Times article from 2016 had nothing to do with politics, culture wars, or comic book movies. Instead, the most-read article of 2016 was all about commitment.
The piece, titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” was written by Alain de Botton. In it, de Botton takes shots at our culture’s idea that the ultimate foundation for commitment in marriage is romantic affection—that feeling of compatibility that means the other person will finally fulfill my needs and make me truly happy.
We all know this is misguided, so much so that de Botton predicts all married person will eventually find inadequacies so severe in their spouse that it will prompt them to ask, Did I marry the wrong person? As he humorously notes, the relational arc of a marriage leans away from idealistic romantic sizzle as “maddening children . . . kill the passion from which they emerged.”
‘Did I Join the Wrong Church?’
As I read de Botton’s article, I couldn’t help but see how much of our culture’s view of love and commitment mirrors how many Christians view church membership. Many Christians’ broken relationships with their churches resemble patterns of the divorce culture and its attendant assumptions about authority, love, and compatibility.
Almost all Christians know what it’s like to question whether they joined the “right church.” After an initial “honeymoon stage,” we begin to see our church’s problems with greater clarity than we see its strengths. The sermons start to seem too intellectual, or not intellectual enough. The church begins budgeting for ministries that don’t seem deserving of the dollar figure on the spreadsheet. The small groups don’t meet our needs in ways we’d hoped.
More personally, the needs of other church members begin to encroach increasingly on our own personal freedoms. Some members sin against us—even without knowing just how deeply we’ve been wounded. Without even realizing it’s happening, we begin to wonder whether our local assembly is the “right” place for us. Of course, we remind ourselves there’s no such thing as a perfect church—something we’ve even told fellow church members. And yet, we can’t help but grapple with the nagging question: Did I join the wrong church?
The problem with this question is it assumes church life shouldn’t be hard. It assumes that the “honeymoon stage” should continue in perpetuity, or that something has gone awry if we experience significant disappointment or hurt from relationships with other members or leaders.
Do the Perks Outweigh the Costs?
But these assumptions reveal a deep and unthinking commitment to consumerism: Only if the perks of membership outweigh its inconveniences will we think it’s worth it to stick it out. Regrettably, many Christians seem trapped in a perpetual cycle of this type of cost-benefit analysis.
I’ve found Christians most often push eject on their membership not because they’re upset at the church’s budget or because they disagree on matters of polity. Christians leave their churches for the same reason people leave their marriages: a lack of relational depth and affection. In other words, many leave their churches because they just don’t seem compatible with the church or because the relationships leave them feeling dry.
Personal relationships, however, were never meant to serve as the foundation for our sense of church commitment. If we pursue relationships as the foundation of our belonging, we’re more likely to be inescapably trapped in the consumerism and “met-needs” mentality at the heart of our divorce culture. However, instead of valuing consumerism, the Bible roots our membership in the idea of a covenant, which offers an infinitely superior alternative.
Covenant Before Community
Tim Keller notes in his marriage book that a covenant “creates a particular kind of bond . . . a relationship far more intimate and personal than a merely legal, business relationship. Yet at the same time, it is far more durable, binding, and unconditional than one based on mere feeling and affection. A covenant relationship is a stunning blend of law and love.”
When the Bible speaks about the church, it refers to it as a covenant community. Church members aren’t just part of a shared interest group. They’re covenanted to one another by a sacred promise to oversee one another’s membership in the kingdom and faithfulness to King Jesus (Matt. 18:15–20). The New Testament unfolds the details of that sacred promise: We regularly gather together (Heb. 10:24–25), bear one another’s burdens and sorrows (Gal. 6:2), encourage one another (Heb. 3:12–14), pray for one another (Jas. 5:16), and forgive one another (Col. 3:13). Many churches helpfully formalize these biblical instructions into a church covenant, a set of promises members make to one another when they enter into membership.
These covenant obligations are the foundations of our church commitment and should function as the backbone to church life. Covenant precedes community. We might even say covenant creates community. The covenant promises members make to one another blossom into the life-giving relationships our hearts crave.
Covenant precedes community. We might even say covenant creates community.
Rooting commitment in our covenant promises doesn’t mean church relationships are nothing but soulless duty. Instead, covenant commitments are the food that nourishes our relationships with other members. The more we hold ourselves to our covenant promises, the more our relationships blossom and endure through seasons of difficulty. Again, as de Botton perceptively notes in his article, “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.” The world argues affection is prerequisite to commitment. But the biblical picture is actually quite the opposite: commitment and service create affection.
I’m amazed at how this principle works out even in my own life. A few years ago, after a couple in our church had a baby, my wife and I signed up through the church’s member-care ministry to bring them a meal. Our act of service, however, wasn’t rooted in a pre-existing relationship with this couple. In fact, we barely knew them. We simply wanted to be faithful to our covenant promises to “bear one another’s burdens.” Yet that service, rooted in our covenant commitment, ultimately blossomed into a sweet friendship between our families. We weren’t expecting a relationship to bloom, but that’s what happens when you hold yourself to covenant promises, even with people you barely know.
Covenants Endure the Fire
The reason God roots the most important relationships in the world—like marriage and church membership—in covenants is to ensure they endure through fire. Have you ever noticed how traditional marriage vows were designed to ensure couples prepare to love one another well in the midst of suffering? Couples pledge themselves to one another even in “poverty” and “sickness” until parted by death.
This same expectation of future trials also marks the promises that members make to one another. We pledge to “bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2) and patiently bear with and forgive the sins of our brothers and sisters who wrong us (Col. 3:13; Eph. 4:32). If we make our covenant commitments the ground of our life and relationships in the church, we come to expect the rough patches and prepare to face them with godliness.
While our affections for our church and its members can be fickle, easily dissipating as soon as circumstances shift unfavorably, our covenant commitments never fade. As Keller notes, covenants are by their nature oriented toward the future. They are “not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.” In some sense, the whole point of a covenant is to pledge our love and fidelity for the rough times ahead. Thus, covenants carry us through suffering. Once more, de Botton incisively notes, “Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”
Stick with the ‘Wrong’ Church
Joining a church, like seeking a spouse, is daunting. Loving others makes us vulnerable, and committing ourselves to a church immerses us in the needs of other sinners. Eventually, every congregation will find a way to get under our skin, frustrate us, or even wound us—and we will do the same to them.
Our relationships will ebb and flow, as will our affection for the church. But the solution is not always looking for a better fit. Instead, we renew our passion and reignite our sense of belonging by holding ourselves to our membership covenant—sacred promises that bind even the “wrong” people together.
Editors’ note: This article originally appeared at 9Marks.
Friday, September 8, 2017
This has been an issue I have wrestled with the last couple of years and appears will continue to do so in my own community. This is from Gavin Ortland at TGC . . .
For various reasons I’ve been thinking about how Christians should relate to each other around secondary doctrines. What partnerships and alliances are appropriate among Christians of different denominations, networks, or tribes? What kind of feelings and practices should characterize our attitude to those in the body of Christ with whom we have significant theological disagreements? What does it look like to handle—with integrity and transparency—personal differences of conviction that may arise with your church, boss, or institution?
These kinds of questions have been a significant part of my own denominational and theological journey over the last decade, and it is a practical issue that will always be with us. So I thought it might be helpful to share two convictions that have been brewing in me while I’ve struggled my way through it all.
At the broadest level I see two opposite dangers: doctrinal minimalism and doctrinal separatism.
Danger #1: Doctrinal Minimalism
The overall trajectory of our culture seems to tend toward doctrinal minimalism and doctrinal indifferentism (especially in my generation). Four hundred years ago if you took a different view on baptism, you may have gotten drowned. Today we rightly recoil at that response, but we often go to the opposite extreme and say, in effect, “Who cares?”
I can’t recall how many times, in discussing secondary doctrines, I have heard people say, “It’s not a gospel issue; it’s a secondary issue.” Of course we should distinguish between the gospel and secondary issues, but if we fail to press any further than this basic distinction, such a statement can obscure the significance of various secondary issues. I sometimes suspect what people really mean when they make this distinction is something like: “It’s a secondary issue; therefore it doesn’t really matter.”
But doctrines can be “non-essential” and yet still important, and different doctrines have different kinds of importance. I find it helpful to think in terms of three kinds of doctrines, with a fourth category for issues on which no view is required or forbidden:
- Primary doctrines
- Secondary doctrines
- Tertiary doctrines
- adiaphora (“things indifferent”)
A fourfold schema like this is somewhat arbitrary, too (you could choose three or five or ten instead). But this way of framing issues enables you to recognize a spectrum of importance among non-gospel doctrines.
There are several reasons why we should not equate “secondary” with “indifferent,” and lump together everything in categories 2 to 4:
1. A high view of Scripture calls us to treasure all God has said.
Imagine receiving a letter from your long-lost love. You would treasure every word; there’s nothing in it you would shrug at. So also if we hold to the inspiration and perspicuity of Scripture, we shouldn’t shrug at any of its contents. Even if we don’t see the immediate consequence of a certain passage, our love for the Lord who breathed it to us—and our reverence for it as his breathed Word—should compel diligent study and effort to understand.
2. A respect for church history should help us respect what our predecessors fought over.
When we visit a memorial or museum devoted to a historical event, we rightly pay respect for the sacrifices others have made. For example, when we visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, we remember the costliness of our current freedoms.
So with church history: If we respect the great Christian leaders of the past—from the church fathers all the way up to the modern era—we should listen carefully to why they fought so passionately over certain secondary doctrines. For instance, those who want to downplay Catholic-Protestant differences today may be somewhat jolted out of this mindset by considering the example of Anglican bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, who were willing to be burned at the stake for their convictions on issues like transubstantiation and the nature of the Mass.
3. Many secondary doctrines are vitally related to the gospel.
Some doctrines picture the gospel. Some protect it. Some logically flow out of it (or into it). Rare is a doctrine that can be hermetically sealed off from the rest of the Christian faith. Thus downplaying secondary doctrines can leave the primary ones blander, quieter, and more vulnerable.
4. All truth shapes how we think and live in subtle but important ways.
I don’t believe my understanding of divine sovereignty, for instance, is a “gospel issue” in all its nuance, and I gladly welcome as brothers and sisters in Christ those who hold to an Arminian/Wesleyan view. At the same time, my understanding of God’s sovereignty has massive implications for everyday practical Christianity. For example, it affects my prayer life profoundly. So we should not shrug off issues like this as irrelevant to the gospel.
Danger #2: Doctrinal Separatism
There is, however, a danger opposite to doctrinal minimalism. To raise this point let me share some of my own story. The last 10 years have been lonely for me denominationally. I grew up in the PCA, and am greatly indebted to that wonderful denomination for the formative experience I had in it. But I landed in favor of credobaptism after intensive study on that issue, and thus became non-ordainable in the PCA. Subsequently I came to discover that I also wasn’t an ideal fit in some Baptist circles because while I affirm credobaptism, I don’t believe we should require it for church membership or the Lord’s Supper. Thus I became unacceptable in many Baptist circles as well.
Having effectively isolated myself from 98 percent of Christendom, I then further distanced myself from the majority of remaining Free and non-denominational churches by landing outside of the premillennial camp (I’m amillennial, though I don’t emphasize it).
None of these changes was particularly emotional issues for me; I had no desire to make a formal separation. I simply studied the issues and landed somewhere theologically. I sincerely miss the PCA, and I think back on my time among PCA churches and at Covenant Seminary (a PCA institution) with gratitude and a kind of nostalgia. And I regret being separated from so-called “strict Baptists” and “premillennial-only” folks, so many of whom I profoundly admire.
But I believe we must be transparent about where our convictions land, even when it leads to missed job or funding opportunities, sad relational partings, or inconvenient transitions. Some people seem to be able to “adjust” their convictions to fit into a current or prospective context; but I’m uncomfortable with that approach. I sympathize with the struggle and pain of it; and I understand the need for tact and carefulness, particularly when one is not yet fully decided. But at the end of the day, we must be honest.
I am grateful to have landed in the CCCC, which is a smaller, conservative group of Congregational churches (Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena and Park Street Church in Boston are probably the two best-known CCCC churches). CCCC has been a good fit for me theologically, and I like being part of a specific, recognizable, Protestant denomination whose roots can be traced back throughout church history (Harold John Ockenga, Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, the Savoy Declaration, and so on).
Looking back at my denominational migration, I recognize some of the partings of ways have been unavoidable—for instance, it makes sense that you need to affirm the basics of Presbyterian ecclesiology in order to a Presbyterian minister. In some other cases, though, I’ve been concerned about the danger of doctrinal separatism.
How Do We Work with Others?
So how do we decide when to partner with other Christians? This whole area is too complicated to tackle in one article, but here are four guiding questions that may be helpful:
1. What kind of partnership or unity is in view?
There are different kinds of gospel unity: being ordained in a particular denomination is one thing; becoming a member of a local church is another; and speaking at a conference is another. We should have lower theological criteria for looser forms of partnership.
2. What kind of partnership or unity will best serve to advance the gospel?
This is a hard question to answer, so we should seek the Holy Spirit’s help. Our fleshly default is to trust in our own intuition and initial impression. We must instead humbly ask the Lord to give us wisdom (James 1:5). As we do so, we should remember that the fruits of separatism—church division, aloofness from how God is at work in our city, failed opportunities to “link arms” with other ministries, and so on—are not in principle less serious than the fruits of doctrinal minimalism. Errors in both directions can clog up our gospel impact.
3. Do I naturally lean toward a separatist or minimalistic spirit?
Most of us have a particular leaning based on our temperament, background, or context. For instance, we might be naturally careful about theological clarity, but have a blind spot to the destructiveness of disunity. In the other direction, we might be horrified at the lack of love some Christians exhibit, but naïve about the effects of doctrinal erosion. We should work hard to learn what our temptation is, and then grow in our weak area.
4. Even when I must formally divide from other Christians, is the attitude of my heart gracious, humble, and inviting toward them?
Doctrinal separatism is first and foremost a heart issue. It is easy for a spirit of self-justification to come in with our secondary distinctives. We know this is happening when we feel superior to Christians of other tribes and groups, or when a particular Christian, church, or group unduly annoys us. Thus, in the midst of our theological disagreements, we should take special care that our hearts have nothing of contempt, condescension, or undue suspicion toward those on the other side of an issue (Matt. 18:10).
Always Return to the Gospel
To do all this well, we need to continually direct our deepest level of emotional loyalty to Jesus himself. He is the one who died for us. He is the one to whom we will ultimately answer, and it his business that we are about in the first place.
As we refocus on our identity in Christ, he will help us toward that healthy, happy balance of valuing all his teaching while still embracing all his people.