March 29, 2013
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.
George Herbert (1593-1633)
January 26, 2013
In the late 90s, Rosaria Butterfield was content. She seemingly had all she wanted: A tenured position in her department at a major research university. A respected administrative position in the university community. A long-term, stable relationship with her lesbian lover. A large group of people who admired her as a person and agreed with her worldview.
As recorded in her recent book – The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith – God smashed to pieces that world of contentment. Through a research project on the religious right, God brought a local pastor and his wife into her life. They loved her, listened to her, and invited her into their home. God opened Rosaria’s eyes: “I asked him to take it all: my sexuality, my profession, my community, my tastes, my books, and my tomorrows” (509). He did. After a few years, the only constant from her past life was her dog. She experienced a series of difficult trials as she dealt with “the rubbish of my sin, forgiven by God, but still there to be cleared away” (596). As she writes, Rosaria needed to fall on her face to learn God’s lessons – so He was kind enough to let her fall (1414).
The book is a compelling story of Rosaria’s struggles at conversion and in her Christian life to grow in Christlikeness. It also contains an invaluable critique of evangelical American subculture from someone who shares a belief in biblical authority, but lived for much of her adult life outside that subculture.
I strongly recommend the book. As Carl Trueman writes, “I do not agree with everything she says; but I did learn from everything she wrote.” Let me whet your appetite by providing excerpts – some clearly helpful, some provocative – on four topics: Sexuality, effective outreach, her critique of the evangelical subculture, and the strengths of a biblical church.
Homosexuality— like all sin— is symptomatic and not causal— that is, it tells us where our heart has been, not who we inherently are or what we are destined to become (690).
In understanding myself as a sexual being, responding to Jesus (i.e., “committing my life to Christ”) meant not going backwards to my heterosexual past but going forward to something entirely new (705).
2) Effective Outreach
Too often the church does not know how to interface with university culture because it comes to the table only ready to moralize and not dialogue. There is a core difference between sharing the gospel with the lost and imposing a specific moral standard on the unconverted (238).
Ken and Floy invited the stranger in— not to scapegoat me, but to listen and to learn and to dialogue. . . . We didn’t debate worldview; we talked about our personal truth and about what “made us tick.” Ken and Floy didn’t identify with me. They listened to me and identified with Christ. They were willing to walk the long journey to me in Christian compassion (308, emphasis added).
If Ken and Floy had invited me to church at that first meal I would have careened like a skateboard on a cliff, and would have never come back. . . . Ken was willing to bring the church to me (320, emphasis added).
That morning— February 14, 1999— I emerged from the bed of my lesbian lover and an hour later was sitting in a pew at the Syracuse [Reformed Presbyterian] church. I share this detail with you not to be lurid but merely to make the point that you never know the terrain someone else has walked to come worship the Lord (494).
3) Critique of the American Evangelical Subculture
I believed then and I believe now that where everybody thinks the same nobody thinks very much (176).
Christians claimed that their worldview and all of the attending features that I saw— Republican politics, homeschooling biases, refusal to inoculate children against childhood illnesses, etc.— had God on its side. Christians still scare me when they reduce Christianity to a lifestyle and claim that God is on the side of those who attend to the rules of the lifestyle they have invented or claim to find in the Bible (208).
I think that churches would be places of greater intimacy and growth in Christ if people stopped lying about what we need, what we fear, where we fail, and how we sin. I think that many of us have a hard time believing the God we believe in, when the going gets tough. And I suspect that instead of seeking counsel and direction from those stronger in the Lord, we retreat into our isolation and shame and let the sin wash over us, defeating us again. Or maybe we muscle through on our pride. Do we really believe that the word of God is a double-edge sword, cutting between the spirit and the soul? Or do we use the word of God as a cue card to commandeer only our external behavior? (588)
[Reflecting on Ezekiel 16:48-50) Living according to God’s standards is an acquired taste. We develop a taste for godly living only by intentionally putting into place practices that equip us to live below our means. We develop a taste for God’s standards only by disciplining our minds, hands, money, and time. In God’s economy, what we love we will discipline. . . . Undisciplined taste will always lead to egregious sin – slowly and almost imperceptibly (653).
I know, I told my audience, why over 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce: because Christians act as though marriage redeems sin. Marriage does not redeem sin. Only Jesus himself can do that (1632).
[When reflecting on some who left their small church plant because of a “lack of fellowship.”] What does it really mean to “lack fellowship”? At least as it regards the handful of families that showed immediate excitement and then after a month a changed heart, this is what “lacking fellowship” means. It means that the family needs to be in a church made up of people who are just like they, who raise their children using the same childrearing methods, who take the same stance on birth control, schooling, voting, breastfeeding, dress codes, white flour, white sugar, gluten, childhood immunizations, the observance of secular and religious holidays. We encountered families who feared diversity with a primal fear. They often told us that they didn’t want to “confuse” their children by exposing them to differences in parenting standards among Christians. I suspect that they feared that deviation from their rules might provide a window for children to see how truly diverse the world is and that temptation might lead them astray. Over and over and over again I have heard this line of thinking from the fearful and the faith-struggling. We in the church tend to be more fearful of the (perceived) sin in the world than of the sin in our own heart. Why is that? Here is what I think: I believe that there is no greater enemy to vital life-breathing faith than insisting on cultural sameness (2229, emphasis added).
4) The Strengths of a Biblical Church
I needed (and need) faithful shepherding, not the glitz and glamour that has captured the soul of modern evangelical culture. I had to lean and lean hard on the full weight of scripture, on the fullness of the word of God, and I’m grateful that when I heard the Lord’s call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girlfriend and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself (566, emphasis added).
The fact that God is sovereign over the good and the evil does not necessarily make the evil any less frightening (1370).
I came to believe that my job was not to critique and “receive” a sermon, but to dig into it, to seize its power, to participate with its message, and to steal its fruit (1424).
Through [her pastor’s] preaching, I would learn how to grieve through repentance without feigning false innocence. I learned that night the simple truth of sanctification on this side of heaven: it is as the writer of Hebrews tells us, both “already” and “not yet.” Even when faced with the blinding sting of someone else’s sin, it really is not someone else’s sin that can hurt us. It is our own festering sin that takes the guise of innocence that will be the undoing of us all (1490, emphasis added).
[All references are not to page numbers but to Kindle locations of the beginning of the quote.]
July 22, 2010
It is indeed a most lamentable consequence of the practice of regarding religion as a compilation of statutes, and not as an internal principle, that it soon comes to be considered as being conversant about external actions, rather than about habits of mind. This sentiment sometimes has even the hardiness to insinuate and maintain itself under the guise of extraordinary concern for practical religion; but it soon discovers the falsehood of this pretension, and betrays its real nature. The expedient indeed of attaining to superiority in practice, by not wasting any of the attention on the internal principles from which alone practice can flow, is about as reasonable, and will answer about as well, as the economy of the architect who should account it mere prodigality to expend any of his materials in laying foundations, from an idea that they might be more usefully applied to the raising of the superstructure. We know what would be the fate of such an edifice.
It is indeed true, and a truth never to be forgotten, that all pretensions to internal principles of holiness are vain, when they are contradicted by the conduct; but it is no less true, that the only effectual way of improving the latter, is by a vigilant attention to the former. It was therefore our blessed Savior’s injunction, “Make the tree good” as the necessary means of obtaining good fruit; and the holy Scriptures abound in admonitions, to let it be our chief business to cultivate our hearts with all diligence, to examine into their state with impartiality, and watch over them with continual care. Indeed it is the heart which constitutes the man; and external actions derive their whole character and meaning from the motives and dispositions of which they are the indications. . . .
Yet though this be a truth so obvious, so established, that to have insisted on it may seem almost needless; it is a truth of which we are apt to lose sight in the review of our religious character, and with which the habit of considering religion as consisting rather in external actions than internal principles, is at direct and open war
Another excerpt from William Wilberforce, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes of This Country Contrasted With Real Christianity (1797). The book is available in its entirety at the link. Here is a three-page pdf file of this excerpt, plus last week’s excerpt plus surrounding text. Note that, as was common in his day, when Wilberforce uses the word “religion,” he most often is referring solely to Christianity.
May 25, 2010
The audio for last Sunday’s sermon on the Third Commandment is now posted at this link. Here is the G. Campbell Morgan quote read near the end of the sermon, from The Ten Commandments (Fleming H. Revell, 1901), p. 41-43.
The last and most subtle form of breaking the third commandment is committed by the man who says, “Lord, Lord,” and does not the things that the Lord says. Prayer without practice is blasphemy; praise without adoration violates the third commandment; giving without disinterestedness robs the benevolence of God of its lustre and beauty. Let these thoughts be stated in other words. The profanity of the church is infinitely worse than the profanity of the street; the blasphemy of the sanctuary is a far more insidious form of evil than the blasphemy of the slum. Is there a blasphemy of the church and the sanctuary? The prayer that is denied by the life, the praise offered to God which is counteracted by rebellion against Him when the hour of that praise has passed away, that is blasphemy, that is taking the name of God in vain. If a man passes into the sanctuary and preaches and prays and praises with eloquent lips and beautiful sentences and devotional attitude, even with tears, and goes home to break the least of these commandments, that man blasphemes when he prays; but if he deceives the world, he never deceives God! . . . The form in which this third commandment is broken most completely, most awfully, most terribly, is by perpetually making use of the name of the Lord, while the life does not square with the profession that is made. . . . Unless the last name, the name of Jesus, gathering into itself all human beauty and all Divine attributes – unless, as it is used, it is the keynote of the soul, the talisman of deliverance from evil – then had the name better never be mentioned, for so it is taken in vanity. May it be to all more than that.
Note that this book is now available in its entirety online at Google Books.