Monthly Archives: January 2009





Jared C. Wilson|10:00 pm CT

Tim Keller in Nashville: Parables, Problems, and Peoples

Went with a couple of buddies to hear Tim Keller speak at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville last night, and we were incredibly blessed and edified by his message.

Ostensibly a presentation on the meaning of the Prodigal Son parable, as tied to his latest book The Prodigal God, Dr. Keller spoke on a few other things, as well. I was so happy to have braved the cold and the traffic and the crowds to hear it in person.

Some reflections:

I was familiar with Keller’s expounding of the two brothers in the parable as the libertine and the self-righteous, and with his connection of this to gospel ministry among postmoderns and post-postmoderns, but there were two points of context he made that I had never realized before.
The first is that of the “lost” triptych (sheep, coin, son), the story of the lost son is the only one that does not have a hero. It does not have anyone who goes to look for the lost son. This cliffhanger effect naturally bridges to Jesus’ self-referential place as the good older brother.
The other point of context was how the “two ways” connects to the Sermon on the Mount, and how the “two ways to be” (house on sand or stone, etc) concludes a sermon that is not about either being a completely sinful disobedient person or not, but an indictment of two forms of self-worship: license and legalism. This is the older brother: he stays put, he obeys, he does the “right” thing, but he does it all for the wrong reasons.

Keller said most evangelical churches are the older brother, and he said “older brother”-ing predominates his own traditional, Reformed evangelicalism. (Keller is a PCA pastor.)

Keller said some great things about community, and about the connection between church community and family. You can’t pick your siblings. Neither when in church community should you pick who you associate with and who you don’t. He said that’s the inherent problem (and ease) in a big church. You can just go to a different service, or enter down a different aisle.

Keller talked about the difference between covenant relationships and consumer relationships, and he said the majority of our churches, especially the ones in the Bible Belt are consumer relationship built. You pick where you want to go based on the music and speaking, interact with who you want to interact with, quantify your exposure and involvement, and leave when you sense that your needs cease being met. He said that most churches in the South aren’t churches, but grocery stores. “Where can I get the most spiritual product for the least cost?”

Related to that, he predicted, in response to someone’s question in the Q&A time, that in one generation’s time, there won’t even be the nominal Christianity in the South that there is now. The megachurches will flounder and people will just stop going. Now they are only going b/c it is somewhat expected, part of the culture, or as some moral exercise to “stay right” or raise “good families” or do what their parents did or to “connect” with other Christian consumers.

I’m not sure if I agree with his prediction. I wonder if he hasn’t been away so long that he forgets how ingrained nominal Christianity is in this culture. BUT he’s a much, much, much smarter guy than I am and has a lot more experience and wisdom. So I offer my unsure disagreement knowing he’s probably right.

He actually said some great, insightful, prophetic things about gospel-centered ministry in a church culture today that is vapid, consumer-driven, etc.

I really wish every pastor in Nashville could have been there to hear it, but then, I know most of them would just be nodding their head in agreement, completely unaware he is speaking against things they are doing or teaching.

Keller told about a family friend of theirs, a gay man who has decided to live celibately because he knows homosexual behavior is sin, who came to Christ at their church (Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan) but who moved and visited an evangelical church in his new town. He finally felt close enough to three different guys to share his ongoing struggle with same sex attraction and his conviction to remain celibate despite it. Keller said his friend got 3 different reactions:
a) “You know God can deliver you of that, right?”
b) “How about them Dodgers?”
c) “Well, that’s all right, I don’t think those kind of things really matter if we love God.”

Three responses, each stunning and deficient in their own ways. The first demonstrates zero understanding or tact or support. The second demonstrates utter discomfort and disinterest. The third demonstrates an utter lack of biblical backbone.

Keller used that story to talk about how utter failures the church is at “gospeling” each other. He then connected to Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and shared a great illustration from C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves about the affect on the friendship circle of the Inklings when Charles Williams died.

Dr. Keller said a lot of great things (and I’m emailing the folks at Christ Pres to see if audio will come available, so you can hear them too), but my favorite quote of the night was this:
“To be a repenter you have to be really sure that God loves you.”






Jared C. Wilson|7:47 pm CT

Fine Line Between Transparency and Vanity

At what point does regular vulnerability in the context of Christian community — being “open,” being transparent, revealing all problems and perils — stop being about humility and confession and start being self-indulgent vanity? Isn’t it possible that inordinately dwelling on our problems and pasts can turn us into martyr-complexed whiners?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, particularly as many of us — myself included — seem to push more often the revelation of our victimization rather than the revelation of our victimizing (confessing our “pasts,” as opposed to confessing our sins, in other words).

So it was timely to find my friend Bob Spencer’s post today, a reflection on some thoughts from Total Church‘s Steve Timmis on Creating Crises. It is not specifically on the issues I’ve been thinking through, but I think it runs parallel. I hope Bob doesn’t mind if I reprint it entirely:

Steve Timmis has a good post at the elephant in the room blog. Steve is touching on one of my old complaints about church people. Everybody wants to be your comforter. The whole idea of church life, they seem to think, is to find out what’s hurting and pray for that. Nothing makes them light up more than to hear that you’re feeling down, or you have some back pain, or your job is boring. It gives them something to “intercede” about!

I hope I’m not sounding too awfully cynical here. I certainly do appreciate prayer, but I think we’re training ourselves to be perpetual spiritual invalids, rather than forgetting ourselves and getting involved in the mission of God in the world around us.

Anyway, as I say, Timmis is touching on that same matter. He writes:

So whereas once Christians were commended because of the way they faced persecution and death, now we face a day at the office with the same degree of trepidation — and sue God for copious grace with the same degree of urgency!

I love what Timmis goes on to say. In my opinion, it’s a lesson many of us need reminding of:

Why do our lives have a tendency towards ‘heaviness’, worthiness and intensity? We could rephrase that: why do we create crises?
Part of the answer has to be that, by and large, we don’t really have any!
That sounds like it could be a good thing, but crises are one of the ways we justify our existence. They are the way we give our lives meaning and significance. They somehow make us important, or are a means of soliciting sympathy.
But part of God’s glory is that he is the God of the insignificant, the mundane, the trivial and the incidental.
In Christ we thrive in the normality of our lives, and by creating constant crises, we rob God of the glory of his superabundant grace for the common man.

I don’t think Steve (or Bob) is saying we aren’t to be vulnerable and open and transparent with each other. I’m certainly not saying that. Indeed, Timmis is actually focusing on what we comfortable Christians mistake for “suffering.” It is the difference between taking up one’s cross and taking up one’s aggravations. But I think it applies.

I just think there is a point at which community may stop centering on the good news if it is bogged down with bad news. That point may vary for each community, I’m sure.

The goal is to be more neighbor-loving, gospel-proactive, and confessional than we are self-reflective, past-passive, and pitiful.






Jared C. Wilson|7:39 pm CT

Mark Driscoll on "Nightline"

Just watched my DVR’d “Nightline” story on Pastor Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle. You can watch the piece at ABC News here. (It’s about 7 minutes long.)

Too short. Too narrow, yet too broad. (Don’t know if that makes sense.)

It hit all the places you’d expect: the sermons on sex, his yelling, his conservative doctrine, his Calvinism, the young hipsters that populate the church.

The two places I felt they were heading in some interesting directions were the brief times they showed Mark with his family and at home and the moment the interviewer began asking him about humility. More time spent in those two areas would have been fruitful for both those familiar with Mark and his ministry and those who are not.
That’s my opinion, anyway.

I’ve reflected quite a few times in this space on Driscoll’s preaching, writing, and ministry, but here’s an older post that kinda sums up my appreciation of him: The Importance of Mark Driscoll






Jared C. Wilson|7:28 pm CT

Pastors, Take to Your Pulpit "Hot with Christ"

Some unique (but understandable) focus on John Updike this week brings us this great passage from Rabbit, Run, the accosting of a “newfangled” pastor:

Do you think this is your job, to meddle in these people’s lives? I know what they teach you at seminary now: this psychology and that. But I don’t agree with it. You think now your job is to be an unpaid doctor, to run around and plug up holes and make everything smooth. I don’t think that. I don’t think that’s your job…. I say you don’t know what your role is or you’d be home locked in prayer…. In running back and forth you run away from the duty given you by God, to make your faith powerful…. When on Sunday morning, then, when you go out before their faces, we must walk up not worn out with misery but full of Christ, hot with Christ, on fire: burn them with the force of our belief. This is why they come; why else would they pay us? Anything else we can do and say anyone can do and say. They have doctors and lawyers for that…. Make no mistake. Now I’m serious. Make no mistake. There is nothing but Christ for us. All the rest, all this decency and busyness, is nothing. It is Devil’s work.

Timely words in 1960 and prescient for today.

(HT: Reid Monaghan)

Pastors, Don’t Waste Your Pulpit
Cross-Centered Pastoring: The Burden and the Passion
Read the Bible Like You Mean It






Jared C. Wilson|11:12 pm CT

Prognosis Negative

(That’s a Seinfeld reference, for those of you not in the know.)

According to a new Barna Group poll, 1 in 3 self-identified “Christians” says Jesus sinned.

Doesn’t surprise me in the least.

And it won’t occur to many pastors/churches that even though they have never said that Jesus sinned (and even though they don’t believe that themselves!), their preaching and mode of ministry has nonetheless produced the sort of thinking that arrives at that conclusion.






Jared C. Wilson|9:52 pm CT

. . . At Rest

One assumes.

In my former (and future) life, I was a novelist. I can only hope that one day I might write nearly as masterfully as my favorite contemporary novelist, Pulitzer Prize winning John Updike, who died today at age 76 from lung cancer.

Updike’s writing isn’t for everyone, and I am feeling a bit like worlds colliding mentioning him in this space, as I doubt he’d be of much interest to the majority of my readers here, if only for some the explicit content in his books. But he wrote unabashedly and frankly, and while this could belie his Protestant upbringing, this frankness in a weird way reflected it: Updike didn’t mind at all showing sin in all its sordid glory. That forbidden fruit probably did not look rotten, after all. Updike’s work is infused with a through-running quality of God-hauntedness.

This is from my tribute today at The Thinklings:

I was a late adopter to Updike’s writing, but I quickly became obsessed. He easily supplanted Paul Auster as my favorite contemporary novelist, and he might have been America’s greatest living novelist. Until today.

I remember reading Rabbit, Run, the first in Updike’s four Rabbit novels, and being blown away. I’ve been reading novels, including literary novels, since I was a kid, but in my late twenties I had no idea someone could write like that. And by “like that” I mean “apparently just for me.”

Since then I’ve rather quickly been making my way through the rest of his works. Updike’s stories are mythic in weight but highly specific and relational in content. He wrote about lots of marriages, each of them Adam and Eve in the broken garden, and lots of affairs, each of them as ridiculous to us as they are sensible to the adulterers.

Updike wrote ecstatically but not chaotically. I think that’s what got me every time: the controlled way he seemed to open a vein on the page.
He was uninhibited and wrote with zero pretension, despite his snooty upbringing and the pretensions of lots of his characters. He somehow managed to capture the curious national blend of sex and religion and American dreaming. I don’t know of any other Christian writer (or, Christian who is a writer, if you prefer) who was as frank about total depravity (and called it that).

Bottom line, though: He told stories. And Updike could just flat out write.

Gonna miss him.

Justin Taylor has a nice post here, reprinting Updike’s stellar Easter poem.






Jared C. Wilson|10:13 pm CT

Brothers and Sisters

Almost every day I see the teenage brother and sister who live next door to us as they exit their bus after school. I leave the house to get my girls from the elementary school as their bus is dropping them at the corner, so just about every day I see them step off the bus and make the (about) 40 yard walk to their house.

They make this short walk on opposite sides of the street from each other.

A brother and sister, one year apart, maybe two. They get off the bus together. They go to the same door. But they don’t make that walk together.

Every time I see this, it makes me sad.






Jared C. Wilson|7:35 pm CT

More Things I Don’t Get

I continue not getting it.

Go here and read the post and comments.

What am I missing?

I understand this book cover is not “sexy” and probably won’t sell a bunch of books.

But seriously? Are we dogging this woman because she’s old and not “hot”?

This attitude kills me. I’m sick of not saying anything about it anymore.

God save us from being above it all and cool.

Turner has taken the blog post down. I’m assuming b/c he thought better of it, not b/c he just got tired of taking grief about it.

Received a nice email from Turner explaining/apologizing, which he didn’t have to do (as I wasn’t the old lady getting ridiculed in the comments). I’m just glad he took down the tasteless post.
He has posted a notice, as well, and some of his readers are upset he “caved.” (sigh)






Jared C. Wilson|5:32 pm CT

Know Your Place

I have a love/hate relationship with Jesus’ disciples. I love ‘em because they’re just like me. I hate ‘em because they’re just like me.

All along they’re wanting the Romans physically overthrown and Jesus on a literal throne in Jerusalem, and all along Jesus is consistently telling them the kingdom of God isn’t like that. No swords and horses. Palm branches and donkeys. No ear chopping. Foot washing.

So he goes all the way to the cross, dies and is buried. He resurrects three days later. And as he’s ascending into heaven, they’re asking, “So, um, do we get that kingdom of Israel now?”

This is me. This is you.

“Gee, thanks for the cross and resurrection, Jesus, but do you think I could have a little more? Something for me?”
It’s sort of a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of faith, and none of us is immune.

We naturally and sinfully lose perspective. We put ourselves at the center.

Prime example: The story of David and Goliath.
Do you know where you and I are in that story?

Countless preachers, teachers, and inspirational writers have gone into 1 Samuel 17 with applicatory guns blazing. The story makes for some great applicational translation. Like so:
The Christian is David. Goliath can be all manner of personal problems and anxieties, social issues, anything plaguing us personally or the Church corporately. And then the five smooth stones David picks up lend themselves so easily to five points, keys, or tips.

Let’s say Goliath is financial insecurity. The expositor can neatly point out that the five smooth stones can be budgeting, saving, tithing, generosity, and investing. That was easy.
Or let’s say you want to be a bit more “spiritual” actually, and say Goliath is “your past.” Your five smooth stones can be prayer, forgiving others, self-forgiveness, positive attitude, and walking in freedom. Or some such thing. (Ideally your five smooth stones will each begin with the same letter, because alliteration is some kind of cardinal rule for preachers.)

Those are just two applicational approaches. I didn’t invent either one. And there are lots of other options.

And they all miss the point of the story.

You’re not David. I’m not David. Goliath isn’t some problem or issue or anxiety.

We do not know our place in this story (and most of the other biblical stories).

Here is where we are:

Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified. (1 Sam. 17:10-11)

Did you see us? We’re the ones in the background, “dismayed and terrified.”

But we are not that way for long. David (not us) has been anointed to represent the children of God in battle. I don’t know why he needed five smooth stones, because it only took one. He kills Goliath, and then for good measure he chops off the dude’s head. It’s a pretty awesome story, honestly.

Then we show up again:

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp. (1 Sam. 17:51a-53)

We’re not scared anymore. We’re chasing and plundering. Because someone else did the work.
We didn’t do the work; someone else did.

That’s the Christian life. The work is not ours. It’s Jesus’. Jesus did the work we were unwilling — and unable! — to do. He killed sin and murdered death.

And that is freedom. Knowing we’re not at the center of the story keeps the Christian life in perspective; it makes the yoke easy and the burden light, because Jesus is bearing them. This is the key to boldness: we can work because the work is already done.






Jared C. Wilson|2:56 am CT

Please Keep Praying for David Wayne

My friend the Jollyblogger is still not wasting his cancer. And if you spend 5 minutes reading Drudge or something similar instead of reading his updates, you’re wasting your time.

It is my duty and calling to speak the gospel to myself and, to borrow a phrase from John Piper – to fight for joy, and not let the illness cause my soul to become downcast.

As he blogs his journey, he is pastoring all of us.

Keep praying for David, his wife and children, and his church.