16 September 2014

A Gentle, Kind Learner

Jack Miller, 1996, a few months before his death, in a letter to a man preparing to plant a church--
I am so much this way--the aggressive personality--that for a long time I questioned whether I could function as a pastor, whether I would not overwhelm people with my personality. Enthusiasm was not just my middle name: it was my first, middle, and last names. Eventually the Holy Spirit began to tame my spirit, and out of these changes I discerned that pastoral ministry was actually much easier than I thought. Basically at the beginning of a ministry, the leader should humble himself and not try to do too much. Really, even later a good pastor is pretty much a good listener, a patient, deliberate questioner; and at the beginning of a church-planting enterprise you will be astonished how well things will go if you are just a gentle, kind learner.

My own conviction is that the flesh is still so strong in the Christian leader that each of us needs a healthy fear of our own capacity for ruining the work of God with our unconscious pride.
--The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 86; emphasis original

14 September 2014

How Can a Preacher of Radical Grace Be Radically Self-Centered?

Though the attempt to claim justification without a clear commitment to sanctification outrages our conscience, we usually repress this from conscious awareness, and the resulting anxiety and insecurity create compulsive egocentric drives which aggravate the flesh instead of mortifying it. Thus the Protestant disease of cheap grace can produce some of the most selfish and contentious leaders and lay people on earth, more difficult to bear in a state of grace than they would be in a state of nature. 
--Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Eerdmans, 1979), 103-4

08 September 2014

What a Pastor Does

It is to feed sheep on the truth that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do.

If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God.

The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland.
William Still, The Work of the Pastor (rev. ed.; Christian Focus, 2010), 23

31 August 2014

Alive to Beauty

Today my book Edwards on the Christian Life releases. How good of Steve Nichols and Justin Taylor to invite me into their Theologians on the Christian Life series. And George Marsden was kind enough to write a foreword. What grace!

I am happy about this book.

Why? What's it trying to do? After all, we have no shortage of books available to us these days. Billions of words clamor for our attention, in dozens of various print and digital formats. Why put in the time to write this one?

Well, what I'm not trying to do is set the record straight on any of the various intra-Edwardsian-scholarship discussions.

Nor am I telling the story of Edwards' own life.

Nor rehashing and synthesizing what others have said about Edwards.

Nor addressing his theology as a whole.

Nor doing mainly a historical/cultural/backgrounds study.

What's it for then?

I am trying to give readers a taste of what Edwards has given me. Something like pulling the shades up on a bright Spring morning to let the light stream in after waking from a nightmare. Or stepping into an air conditioned home on a hot, humid day. Or walking through the tunnel into the open air of an enormous football stadium and trying to take in what you're looking at.

It's a book that takes one specific aspect of Edwards' overall theology and vision of the universe--everyday living of the Christian life--and then tries, in explaining it, to create space for that to come alive in the lives of the book's readers. It's for tired Christians who on the one hand have tasted the sweetness of the Christian life but on the other hand find this sweetness constantly getting fizzled out through boredom, weakness, failure, loneliness, disappointment, weariness. It's for Christians like me.

There is simply no one like Jonathan Edwards when it comes to telling us of the Christian life. The sweetness, the blanketing shalom, the sun-like nature of it. The loveliness of walking through life with Christ as our beautiful, and beauty-nurturing, Friend. "There is a brightness and a glory in the Christian life," wrote Edwards. There was in his. I want there to be in ours. That's why I wrote.

Jonathan Edwards has left us such help in living the Christian life. If you long to live out of a stable calm and nobility that is beyond the reach of circumstance, weather, and finances, I hope you will consider picking up a copy. Above all, I hope you'll find yourself a tiny bit more radiant on the other side.

*This blog post and this brief online article will give you a flavor of the book. Neither is extracting content from the book, but both get at the heart of what I'm trying to say in it.

29 August 2014

O Give Me That Book

John Wesley:
I want to know one thing--the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way. . . . He hath written it down in a book! O give me that book! At any price, give me the Book of God!

I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. . . . I sit down alone: only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. . . . I meditate thereon, with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable.
--John Wesley, 'Preface,' in The Works of John Wesley (London: Thomas Cordeux, 1811), 7:4-5 ('homo unius libri' = 'a man of one book')

28 August 2014

24 August 2014

Hope Beyond the Walls of the World

Tim Keller addressing Hong Kong University, on the subject of hope. Q&A for the last half hour. Good stuff.

21 August 2014

'Overcoming Chronic Temptations'

C. S. Lewis, letter to Mary Neylan, January 20, 1942:
I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations.

It is not serious provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience etc doesn't get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are airing in the cupboard.

The only fatal thing is to lose one's temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present to us: it is the very sign of His presence.
--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 2 (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 507; emphasis original

11 August 2014