I love these lines from The Cross by D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones:
“There are certain things which have to be said over and over again, of necessity, and yet this is the marvel and the wonder of the cross, that however many times a man may preach about it, he has never finished preaching about it. There is always something fresh to say, always something new. There is a great central message that is always there, but nothing is so wonderful as to see that one thing in different ways . . . . During these twenty-six years in my Westminster pulpit there have been times when in my utter folly I have wondered, or the devil has suggested to me, that there is nothing more for me to say, that I have preached it all. I thank God that I can now say that I feel I am only at the beginning of it. There is no end to this glorious message of the cross, for there is always something new and fresh and entrancing and moving and uplifting that one has never seen before.”
Even angels long to look into the gospel. Why? Because it is endlessly fascinating.
I think these words are closely related to the Catch-22 of gospel-centrality: Those who love the gospel do not tire of hearing it, and those who do not love the gospel will not love the gospel without hearing it. So whatever our audience, the gospel must be central to our message. Don’t let anyone — devil or man — tell you differently.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
D.A. Carson writes:
People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.
You will not grow in the Christian life through stasis. You must move.
But move where? Move how?
What is “grace-driven effort” and how is it different from some other kind of religious or spiritual effort?
I think grace-driven effort springs from parking ourselves at the gospel and beholding. People who behold (super)naturally move into mission. They can’t not runteldat.
Here is one of my favorite passages from Paul. He is talking about pressing on and moving forward, upward, Godward, but notice how he begins and ends this thought on Spiritual effort:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
– Philippians 3:12-16
The beginning of this passage affirms that what has been attained was not by Paul’s causal effort but Jesus’ causal effort. And the passage ends with Paul saying “Let’s hold to what we’ve already got.”
“Not that I have already made it my own; Jesus made me his own.”
“Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”
We don’t graduate from the gospel. We hold true to it. And it alone propels us out and empowers us to press on.
Grace-driven effort is effort that flows from the joys and wonders of worship that flows from beholding the amazing gospel of God’s grace.
I am excited to share that my next book, tentatively titled Gospel Wakefulness: Treasuring Christ and Savoring His Power, will be released by Crossway sometime next year.
I’m very happy to be partnering with the great folks at Crossway and am extremely blessed to join their fantastic stable of authors.
In what they call in “the biz” a “two-book deal,” they have also asked for my next book after that, which was surprising and encouraging to both my agent and me. Now I gotta make it my biz to figure out what that next book would be.
If you’re a reader, thanks for reading. I hope to bless you, and I promise to fixate stubbornly on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
#1 Our older daughter Macy turns 9 today. Someone slow down time. I know it’s a cliche to begin a sentence with “It seems like only yesterday,” so I’ll just tuck into the 2nd and 3rd parts of this sentence, because it seems like only yesterday she was toddling around in the living room babbling on about Memo. (That’s Elmo to you and me.) I held her 4 month-old form in my lap when I watched the 2nd plane hit the WTC live on “The Today Show.” I was frightened then about the world we were going to raise her in. For eight years I worked from home, making me a stay-at-home dad for our little girls. Becky and I sought as best we could to reverse our roles all that time, but 9 years later, now that she’s at home and I’m in the fields, I am profoundly grateful to have been able to spend so much time with my girlies as they learned how to walk, play, laugh, and ask big questions. Not many daddies get that. I’m glad I did. (Becky has a Macy birthday post here.)
#2 Great post by Trevin Wax: Glorifying God = Fulfilling the Mission
#3 Lots of discussion over David Platt’s book Radical. I have it but have not read it yet. I look forward to doing so. I think the message that folks like Platt (and Francis Chan, et.al.) give to the evangelical church is valuable and necessary. Like some others, though, I do worry at times that it inadvertently implies a pendulum swing off the other side into a pietism of sorts, if not legalism. I think Chan could stand to proclaim some more gospel in his stuff, needful thought it is. I don’t know if I’d say the same about Platt yet, but it appears others are saying so. Guess I’ll see when I read the book.
#4 The incomparable Doug Wilson writes in the Washington Post about how/why Fox News features risque ads while more “liberal” news sites don’t. At his prophetically snarky best.
#5 According to this article from Science Daily, having 500 or more books in your home is as important to your child’s educational level as your own educational level. And for the record, I can always tell who’s not a reader when they come to my house, see the books, and ask, “Have you read all these?” I always want to say, “Have you eaten all the food in your refrigerator?” Well, of course not, but it’s there when you need it.
#6 This passage from a recent blog post is one of the bajillion reasons why I love Ray Ortlund:
I don’t change when gospel concepts start surprising me, wonderful and essential as that is. Gospel concepts spread the table, so to speak, for the feast of Christ himself, who fills me and heals me and energizes me. I change, really change, when I feel loved by him. I change when I feel accepted by him. I change when I feel set free by him. That goes beyond concepts. It is an experience. That experience follows the logical and psychological trajectory set by the doctrines. But what I need is the touch of Christ himself.
#7 If I started writing about the debacle that was Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, I wouldn’t be able to call this feature “quick.” I am smarting after that inglorious loss by the Boston Celtics. But Game 6 is tonight, and if they can manage despite Perkins’s verge-of-suspension technical foul situation, Davis’s and Daniels’s concussions, Wallace’s back spasms, Rondo’s sudden anomalous slowness, and Orlando’s Dwight Howard’s sudden decision to play like a basketball Kraken to eke out a win, they will proceed to the Championship series. I’m not sure my heart could take a game 7. Go Celtics!
Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont once practiced covenantal infant baptism (paedobaptism). There are currently members of the church who were baptized in the church as infants, and there are families in the church who already hold to covenantal paedobaptism. When the previous pastor assumed the pastorate of the church, the practice of paedobaptism ceased because he is a “believer’s baptist” (credobaptist), as am I.
When I assumed the pastorate in 2009 this information came to my knowledge, and I became aware of families in the church who are paedobaptists but remain in fellowship believing the unity of the body around the gospel of Jesus Christ and the foundations of the Christian faith were more important than differences in modes of baptism. I was convicted that the church may have been maintaining a type of “second class” citizenship in the church for those who aren’t credobaptists. Full fellowship could be enjoyed, but if a baby was born — and one was — I struggled with the idea of having to tell them to go elsewhere to have their baby baptized.
This conviction led me to researching the notion of dual practice. Middletown Springs Community Church membership stipulations already allowed/allows both those baptized as infants (in a covenantal understanding) and those baptized as believers to become members provided a credible profession of faith, agreement with the church’s Statement of Faith, etc. So one hurdle that many churches are moving toward had already been leapt. But in 2010, as part of the church’s revamping of the bylaws, I preached a message titled Baptism Matters, which was my defense of credobaptism but also an invitation to the church to pass the proposed new bylaws, which call for the allowance of covenantal paedobaptism in the church.
Several weeks later the proposed bylaws passed unanimously. There were no nays and no vocal abstentions.
This post will serve to revisit the why’s and what’s of our adoption of dual practice, as questions will continue to arise. The FAQ below attempts to answer questions I have received and continue to receive, mostly from those outside the church who are curious as to how we reached this decision and what it all means for the life of our church and mission. (What you will not find below is a defense of paedobaptism or argument for credobaptism, or exegetical work on the biblical texts on baptism.) Aside from my sermon linked above, you can look elsewhere for that. My point has never been to change someone’s mind about credobaptism, but to change their mind about whether this difference should divide us.
While this post was precipitated by the discussion online that ensued from Twitter comments of mine, I write it first and foremost as a reference for the people of Middletown Springs Community Church, whom I love dearly and find it a deep, deep privilege and honor to shepherd. To my brothers and sisters of my local body, I pray this will be helpful to you.
What is covenantal paedobaptism?
In short, covenantal paedobaptism is the baptism of an infant or small child with the understanding that baptism is the sign of God’s promise of salvation to the child, if he will repent of his sins and believe in Jesus Christ. The baptism does not save the child. This sets covenantal paedobaptism apart from, say, Catholic christening or other types of infant baptisms found in some traditions. Covenantal paedobaptists view baptism as the sign of the new covenant of Christ, replacing the sign of the old covenant, which was circumcision. As in the old covenant faith justified a believer, but all male infants were circumcised, so covenantal paedobaptists believe baptism applies to the same objects: infants.
Covenantal paedobaptists, like all evangelicals, believe that no one is saved until they repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Isn’t this just baby dedication with water? Why don’t they just let their babies be dedicated and then get baptized later after they profess faith?
Covenantal paedobaptism is sort of like baby dedication, but not really. A baby dedication is not the covenant sign; water baptism is. This question would be akin to asking a credobaptist if believer’s baptism was just like rededication with water. The issue is not: What do we do with our kids? The issue is: What is baptism?
Will our church still practice baby dedication?
Yes, we will continue to administer dedications of infants to the Lord for believing parents, whether they be credobaptist or paedobaptist.
What is the reasoning behind allowing covenantal paedobaptism in the church?
The reasoning is several-fold:
1. It honors the heritage of our church which practiced covenantal paedobaptism at one time.
2. It honors families/members already in the church who are paedobaptists, and whom we’d have to ask to take their precious little ones born into our community elsewhere to be baptized.
3. It honors Christian families who are covenantal paedobaptists who may move to our town. We are the only evangelical church in our community, and I personally believe if we are to be an evangelical community church — which is still an integral church form in rural New England — we should attempt, as best we can, to provide a place of unity for evangelicals in our community.
4. Most importantly, by erasing a division over baptism, we create greater unity around that which is most of first importance: the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
The question I continued to ask myself is this: If Jesus himself welcomes paedobaptists into his arms based on their profession of faith in him, who am I to be stricter than Jesus?
Of course, all churches create “extra strictness” for local church membership, but my conviction is that these extras should be minimal. (See below on “Jesus +.”)
John Piper writes (on this issue), “[E]xcluding a true brother in Christ from membership in the local church is far more serious than most of us think it is.”
My goal as the shepherd of the church is to cultivate greater gospel centrality in our church. This is one reason why, although I am a Calvinist and an amillennialist and believe the charismatic gifts are still in operation today, I would never be in favor of making Calvinism or amillennialism or the charismata (nor their opposites or alternatives) prerequisites for membership or fellowship in the church.
I believe we will honor Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17) and the New Testament call to be “likeminded” if we can unify our local body around that which unifies us in the spiritual Body of Christ: our great salvation in the resurrected Son of God. Every local church establishes a “Christ +” for membership. Our duty is to reduce as much of the “+” as we can.
What is in our “+”? What are the requirements for church membership?
Directly from our new bylaws:
This church will welcome into its membership any person who has;
a. given evidence of his/her love for Jesus Christ and can wholeheartedly accept the Doctrinal Statement (article III) and Covenant (article IV) of this church, and
b. has been baptized as a believer or has confirmed his/her personal faith in Christ after having been previously baptized as an infant.
I have pasted the Membership Covenant in the first comment under this post.
Again, the requirements for membership have not changed under the new bylaws. We have just taken the next step consistent with allowing membership to those baptized as infants.
All candidates for memberships must:
a) meet with me to demonstrate credible profession of faith and basic grasp of the gospel. This interview process also involves questions about unrepentant sin, previous church membership and involvement, etc.
b) have been baptized, either as a professing believer or as an infant in a covenantal understanding
c) agree with our Statement of Faith
d) agree to our Membership Covenant
e) be presented before the congregation.
As to point (b), I would reiterate that this means if someone was christened or baptized as an infant in a church that teaches that baptism is salvific, etc., they would not meet our baptismal requirements for membership.
(In my dialogue with many curious parties about this issue via Twitter, I mistakenly said that one must be 18 to become a member of the church. This is not true. One must be a member and 18 to exercise voting rights. One can be a member younger than 18; he or she just would not be able to participate in congregational votes until they are.)
What resources got you to this point?
I was moved originally by the efforts of John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, Minnesota to allow membership in the church to those baptized as infants in a covenantal understanding. (This effort has yet to pass the elder approval at Bethlehem.) We have already embraced allowance of membership to those already baptized, but I believe stopping there, for our church at least, creates a second class membership for paedobaptists, because we would have to insist they take their infants outside our community to be baptized.
I was also influenced by Wayne Grudem’s section titled “Should We Divide Over Baptism?” which appeared in the original edition of his Systematic Theology. Grudem is a credobaptist but argued in that section that believers could healthily enjoy unity without dividing over baptism.
I know that Grudem removed this section from later editions of his work, but I am encouraged by Piper and Grudem’s own wife chastising him for doing so.
I also enjoyed plenty of works by covenantal paedobaptists like R.C. Sproul and Michael Horton, et.al., and while I was not convinced by them to embrace paedobaptism, I was convinced that covenantal paedobaptism is a sincere and thoughtful and traditional and evangelical interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on baptism.
Does anyone else do this?
As I researched this subject, I asked myself the same question. I was surprised to find more churches than I expected that are credobaptist officially but allow membership to paedobaptists. These are conservative, evangelical, Bible-devoted and gospel-centered churches. But I further wanted to know who practices both types of baptism.
The Evangelical Covenant Church is probably the largest denominational body that practices both credobaptism and paedobaptism without officially endorsing one over the other. You can read their position paper here (pdf).
There are also other individual evangelical churches that have incorporated dual practice to better unify their communities around the gospel and strengthen the giftedness and fellowship of evangelicals inside their congregations.
In addition, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which is the 2nd largest Presbyterian denomination in the US and one of the fastest growing denominations period, allows dual practice in their congregations, although the official stance of the PCA is covenantal paedobaptism. In fact, all covenantal paedobaptist churches administer credobaptism to professing believers who have never been baptized. They don’t say to new converts and the never-baptized, “Well, you should have had it when you were an infant; guess you’re out of luck.”
What if someone baptized as an infant in our church later grows up to change their baptismal view from that of their family and wants to be baptized as a believer?
As with all baptismal candidates, an interview process would sort this out on a case by case basis. There is no one-size-fits-all template for re-baptisms.
I am generally opposed to re-baptisms. But here are some general parameters I work with:
If the candidate for believer’s baptism is a minor and their parents are opposed to their re-baptism, I would probably not baptize them.
If the candidate for believer’s baptism is a minor and their parents support their change of position while maintaining paedobaptism themselves, I probably would baptize them.
If the candidate for believer’s baptism was baptized as an infant in a Catholic context or other non-covenantal church, I probably would baptize them.
If the candidate for believer’s baptism had already received believer’s baptism, I probably would not baptize them.
In every case, I would confirm as best as I’m able that the candidate for believer’s baptism understands credobaptism.
And in every case, I would confirm as best as I’m able that candidates for infant baptism have parents who understand covenantal paedobaptism.
No one will walk in and just say “Please baptize my baby” and have me say “Okay.”
Would you administer the baptisms to infants?
No. As a convinced credobaptist, my conscience would not allow me to administer the infant baptisms myself.
Per the bylaws, paedobaptisms will be administered by a person that I select and who has been approved by the deacon board. The likely suspect is our deacon who is a covenantal paedobaptist.
If you want paedobaptism in the church but you won’t administer it, doesn’t this make you a hypocrite?
(Yes, I have been asked this.) I am convinced this position does not make me a hypocrite, because it is neither right nor safe to go against conscience — to quote Luther — and my conscience is convinced before God that I can shepherd paedobaptists without administering their baptisms.
In the same way, I will pastor Arminians without becoming or “practicing” Arminianism, pretribulationists without believing in pretribulationism, etc.
What will be the church’s official teaching on baptism?
The official teaching of the church on baptism is articulated this way in our Statement of Faith:
9. We believe baptism is an outward visible sign of God’s covenantal faithfulness to his people. It does not bestow salvation but represents the saving work of Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. (Colossians 2:11-12; Romans 6:4; Acts 10:47-48; 16:31-33)
This is our official stance on what baptism is, designed in such way to maintain biblical fidelity while allowing evangelical unity among credobaptists and paedobaptists.
The official teaching on baptism will be credobaptism, because I am the lead pastor of the church and credobaptism is my conviction. While we may strive for unity in our membership and fellowship around the essentials, I cannot strive for personal neutrality on matters of doctrine because like all individuals, I have individual opinions, flaws, perspectives, and understandings. In the same way, we will not make Calvinism a requirement for fellowship or membership, but I am going to preach from a strong Calvinistic perspective, because I am one. I am going to preach from an amillennial perspective on eschatology and a covenantal understanding of history (as opposed to, say, dispensational) and a non-cessationist view of the Spiritual gifts, etc. Preaching will always reflect the flavor of the preacher.
This is similar to the practice of the PCA, which practices both credo- and paedobaptism, while officially teaching paedobaptism. In our context, we will practice both while officially teaching credo-baptism.
Won’t this cause confusion? As an example, being a complementarian, would you allow women to hold pastoral positions in the church, assuming they were evangelical?
No. We of course allow fellowship and membership to evangelical egalitarians but women could not hold pastoral positions in our church. The general reason for this is that our church is made up largely of families who hold to the traditional (and biblical, we would argue) view of gender roles, which is evidenced in our Statement of Faith. But the operative reason this wouldn’t happen is again connected to my conscience and exercise as an individual with convictions. As a complementarian, I can “easily” pastor egalitarians. As a complementarian, I could not pastor alongside women or recognize women as authorities over men in my congregation, as that would violate my conscience.
What will we tell our children? We have raised them to believe in believer’s baptism. Won’t this confuse them?
It might. I believe this could be a great opportunity, however, to teach our children about the utmost importance of the gospel and the foundational beliefs of Christian orthodoxy.
I plan to explain it to my girls like this: Our family believes that baptism is for those who are able to say they have received Jesus for salvation. But some other families in our church believe baptism is for babies in Christian families, as a sign of God’s promise to save them if they will later believe. We disagree with them about baptism, but we agree with them that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again, and because we agree on the most important things (like the Trinity and the infallibility of the Bible, etc.), we are happy to be a part of the same church. What we agree on is better and bigger than what we disagree on.
There are likely more questions not addressed here. You can leave them in the comments or email me via jared AT gospeldrivenchurch DOT com, and I will respond as I am able. (Questions from people in my church will take priority.)
There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all.
This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be trust as long as we live.
Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be.
It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest.
– B.B. Warfield
What a wonderful and incomprehensible thing it is to know that at conversion we receive all of Christ and certainly all we need, yet there is always more of Christ to have and yet always what we need.
Last fall a student of Fair Haven Union High School received permission from the principal to hold a “National Day of Prayer at the Flag Pole” event, which was attended by a number of students, staff and adults.
The students were very enthused with the results and asked the principal if they could continue once a week with these meetings. They have been meeting every Wednesday morning all through the winter, rain or shine, and have been faithfully praying for God’s presence in the school and in the lives of the students, for the nation and children in Sudan, etc.
Several weeks ago students participating were brought into the principal’s office, told there was a complaint, and that they could no longer continue and that adults should not have joined, although this was originally approved. Thinking that the adults were the main concern, they met again for prayer at the pole without them. They were again brought into the office one or two at a time with the principal and superintendent and told they could no longer continue. It seems the superintendent was concerned that some other group might want to use the area around the pole and the school would have to let them. The students asked to speak to the School Board. A meeting was held May 17.
At that meeting, the board and superintendent were asked if this action was precipitated by a complaint. They would not give a straight yes-or-no answer to this simple question and told the students it was irrelevant, saying it was a matter of policy and safety and offered the students a room to pray in out of sight.
Mind you, these students have been praying since last fall with no concerns or safety issues. Two days before the meeting a car wash was held in the same general area with adult participation.
It was quite obvious to everyone in attendance at this meeting (about 30 students and adults) that this action was precipitated by a complaint, which makes it a religious issue and not a safety issue, a reality the superintendent and the School Board want to avoid, but the truth is the truth.
It is a sad day when the students at FHUHS are going through a civil exercise to ask for their rights under the Constitution of America and the top educator in our system and the School Board can’t give an honest answer to a simple question.
It is also a sad day when the constitutional rights of people in this country are denied because they are Christians. These students now pray on a lawn next to the school. I pray for the day they can return to school property by the flag pole, a symbol of our freedom and our great nation.
If you click on the article link and peruse the comments, you will get a taste of the flavor of the community conversation on this kind of issue.
A personal note before I comment on this story: Roland Smith is a friend of mine. He’s a great guy with a fantastic testimony — he used to be the biggest drug dealer in Fair Haven, Vermont until Jesus hijacked him, and now he pastors a church there — and I love him.
Public prayer is always a subversive act. I don’t care if you’re in the churchgoer-thick of the Bible Belt or the post-Christendom wasteland of New England: praying to the Triune God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and John the Baptist in public announces to everyone that Jesus is King and our “Caesars” are not. It announces that our governmental Caesars are not sovereign and the great Caesar of Self — or the great “Pope Self,” if you prefer Luther’s twist — are not sovereign. This is a subversive act. Increasingly so in every part of the Western world.
But especially so here in the Northeast.
This means that push-back on public prayer should not surprise us. You can claim your rights and freedoms all you want; the second you declare there is a God who is sovereign over all and that his Son is the only Way to eternal life, even if you’re doing it with your eyes shut, head bowed, and mouth shut, you are telling anybody who disagrees not only that they’re wrong, but that they’re deadly wrong. And people don’t like that.
But push-back on public prayer should not deter us.
I do think American evangelicals conflate too often Christianity with American patriotism, which leads to wanting to fight battles the New Testament gives us no directive to fight. I don’t know exactly where Rev. Smith is going with his final words, but the American flag is no talisman for prayer. Your prayer doesn’t need it to reach God and your prayer doesn’t need it to offend unbelievers. (In many cases, I would think it would be an unnecessary offense. Why insist on the flag? Just persist in prayer.)
That said, telling kids they can’t pray of their own accord outside of class time at school, whenever it goes to court, has always been ruled unconstitutional. If they want to make a rule, they should make a “no loitering” rule around the flag pole for everybody. But telling kids not to loiter in gathering places at the school they’re supposed to be at by law is nonsensical.
I think the kids have the right to pray publicly. I just wish Christians wouldn’t put so much passion into prayer being recognized by the government. I think we can actually harm our witness by constantly crying about our rights and trying to throw our rapidly diminishing weight around. The Church isn’t growing in China b/c the government recognizes it and gives it freedom to do whatever it wants.
But of course that doesn’t mean restrictions on religious freedoms are okay or that we shouldn’t say anything about them.
Nevertheless the push-back on public prayer should not hurt us.
Prayer is recognized by the sovereign God of the Universe. That is sufficient.
You’ve probably heard this Sunday School humor tidbit:
Sunday School teacher holds up a picture and asks the class, “What is this?”
Little Johnny answers, tentatively, “Well, it looks like a squirrel, but I know the answer is ‘Jesus’.”
I can laugh at the Little Johnny and the Squirrel story, but I think it’s true too. The best teaching and preaching always makes the answer “Jesus.”
Not every biblical text is explicitly about Jesus of course. But no matter what it looks like, we can show that the answer is Jesus.
Here’s how I approach biblical texts in the mode of gospel-centrality:
If I’m looking at an exhortation/command/Law, I ask what precipitates it. Sometimes you have to draw in the gospel reminder if it’s not immediately in the text or context. For instance: Leviticus is chock-full of commands, but this book comes after Exodus, after the Israelites are set free from Egyptian bondage and are in the wilderness. So I remind myself and my church that obedience is a response to God’s freedom, not the leverage for God’s freedom. In other words, we don’t obey to be set free; we obey *because* we’ve been set free. In the same way Jesus announces the blessings of the kingdom coming in the Beatitudes, and then proceeds to tell us what life in the kingdom looks like (the rest of the Sermon on the Mount). Pronouncement precedes exhortation; being precedes doing.
This is easier to do in Paul’s letters, because Paul is always connecting commands to gospel pronouncements, couching what we do in “what we are.” One has to try really hard to divorce Paul’s exhortations from Paul’s gospel proclamations. A lot of preachers do it, but you really have to put the blinders on. It gets harder in the Old Testament, but even in some of the hard core hellfire and brimstone passages of the Minor Prophets, there are plenty of little gospel pronouncements. (Malachi’s burning furnace and threat of God smearing dung on our faces comes after he explicitly reminds us “I have loved you.”)
If the text I’m looking at is a story of some kind, the most important thing I try to do is use it to point to Jesus as the hero of history. So David and Goliath becomes not about our having courage in the face of adversity but about Jesus defeating sin/death/Satan on our behalf. We aren’t David in that story; we are the scared Israelites.
A good template for gospel-centered biblical storytelling is Ferguson’s “Jesus is the true and better __________.”
This is extremely important. And once we make it our routine practice, it will get easier to see the gospel springs running beneath the hard soil of God’s harder words. Once we train our eyes to see it, we will see the gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected as the theme of all of Scripture, not just the New Testament, and not just the parts in the New Testament that are “easy.”
Eventually we can look at any text and say, “Well, it looks like a squirrel — and maybe it is a squirrel — but we know the answer is Jesus.”
Okay, no doubt the Christian blogosphere is going to be inundated with LOST-related reflections on faith and spirituality, especially given the “universalism”-tinged finale last night.
I have not read Chris Seay’s The Gospel According to LOST, mainly because it doesn’t interest me too much. I will just say that I gave up on expecting any coherent Christian worldview from LOST back when Mr. Eko said Jesus had to be baptized to cleanse him from his sins. At that point, I wasn’t angry that LOST didn’t reflect Christian theology, but mainly that LOST couldn’t even get it right from a characterization integrity standpoint. Eko knew Catholic theology. He was posing as a priest. Believing Jesus needed to be cleansed from sins is not something you’d expect from a Catholic priest. So they botched it there, and from then on I wasn’t expecting good solid Christian theology from a television show. But I wasn’t really expecting it before that either.
So while others may be arguing the merits or demerits of the “all faiths” suggestions (did you see the stained glass window at the chapel at the end?), I’m coming at it from a different angle. What is it exactly about LOST that engaged people so much, and what can the church learn from that (if anything)?
I think of three things off the bat:
1) LOST was robust. It did not partition off “spiritual matters” and “scientific matters” and “romantic matters,” etc. It wasn’t a romance show. Or an adventure show. It wasn’t just science fiction. It wasn’t fantasy. It was — I think — more along the lines of “myth,” but what it managed to do was weave a “philosophy of everything” into its storyline. I think Christians can learn from this that “Christianity,” as David Powlison says, “is higher than anything is high, yet walks on the ground.” The Incarnation of our Lord itself reminds us that Christian faith and practice has ramifications for and application to everything in the world, including the things it opposes. This helps us steer clear of easy and brittle “faith vs. art” or “faith vs. science” sorts of gnosticism. Christianity is a sturdy, earthy, robust way of life.
2) LOST was multiethnic. Has there ever been a show that was not only this diverse but diverse without relegating minority characters to background, “token” positions? I think part of LOST’s appeal was its racial diversity and the strength of characterization within the diversity. This is compelling to lookers-on. So the church can learn from this not just the inclusion of multiple tongues, tribes, and races, but the integral inclusion of them.
3) LOST got narrative. What do people in most modern contexts need from the Church’s communication? A story that is comprehensive and compelling. And of course there is no more comprehensive and compelling story than the Christian one, which has the added benefit of being a true one. We can learn from LOST to tell the biblical stories well, to tell them in compelling ways, to show how our stories are part of God’s story, to show how Jesus is the hero in every story and the gospel the theme, and to help people see what God is doing in the world over and throughout history. History is going somewhere. (Of course that somewhere is not a purgatorial “now” where sincere believers in x, y, and z all connect. But we are headed for a finale.)
The Church doesn’t need LOST. Like all TV shows, this one will drop off our radar in a few years, fondly remembered when retrospectives and nostalgia trips arise. But the creators of the show did some stuff tremendously right; as far as TV goes, they made some stinkin’ good art here. I think we can learn something from it, if we care to.