Reflections

 

Apr

25

2012

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:07 am CT

Principled Cooperation

“One danger to our unity and our coalitions may be the tendency to think in pragmatic rather than principled terms about our cooperation. I need to be principled.”

I wrote that a little while back, reflecting on a number of important developments in the Evangelical world at the time.  I’ve noodled on that thought off and on over the months.  I’m still baking some thoughts, but here’s what’s rising thus far.  This is not a well-rounded doctrine of cooperation/separation.  I’m simply saying, “These are the kinds of people I want to cooperate with.”  Much more could be said in a fully developed biblical position on cooperation.  But for now, here are my five principles for cooperation:

The Absolute Centrality, Necessity, and Supremacy of Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, Buried, Resurrected, Reigning and Coming for His Eternally Elected, Saved, Sanctified, and Glorified People.

We’re simply speaking of the Gospel here.  It’s absolute because there is zero cooperation with those who intentionally deny, distort, or denigrate this message.  Central because nothing else has sufficient convening power to hold us together.  Necessary because without it we are not a people and haven’t the resources for maintaining any unity.  Supreme because all of life must be lived under this over-arching narrative, beneath the sovereign hand of this Lord, and with the hope of being His forever.  In this short life I have–already shortened by more than four decades of living–I want to invest with people and groups who hold the message of our Savior more dear than life itself.

Apart from Jesus Christ offered in the gospel all of life disintegrates.  Apart from Jesus Christ offered in the gospel all cooperation and coalition-building and network-making likewise disintegrates into lesser interests, petty politics, power plays, and personality cult.  These are clear and present dangers against which the people of God must have principled opposition.  But not just principled opposition; we must also have principled advocacy for something positive, greater, better.  Men may be against things and never together for things.  The easiest thing in the world to do is simply oppose something.  All opposition requires is negation.  But to be for something requires risk, disclosure, sacrifice, integrity, and perseverance.  What better or greater thing to be for than the Good News of our Sovereign, Saving, Satisfying Lord Jesus?  I want to cooperate with men who feel that way.

An Unshakable, Unwavering, Unflinching, Relentless Dependence Upon the Fully Inspired, Inerrant, Authoritative, Necessary, and Sufficient word of God.

I don’t need the Bible to appear “credible” or “reliable” to a scoffing academy or a sin-deranged culture.  Not in the first instance.  We can get to defending the Bible against “the cultured despisers.”  No, in the first instance, I need the people I’m locking arms with to have an unshakable, unwavering, unflinching, relentless dependence upon and faith in the word of God.  What other ground can we build on?  What other basis of authority and unity is sufficient?  Not tradition for there are multiple traditions even within our own denominations and ecclesial bodies.  Not policy or politics.  Not preference or platform.

We need something beyond us, something over us, something more permanent and enduring than ourselves.  We need a divine word from the only God–a word “forever… firmly fixed in heaven” (Ps. 119:89).  That’s found only in one place–the holy Scriptures of both the Old and New Testament.  As Jesus put it, “Not one jot or tittle shall pass away” until He fulfills it–down to the jot and tittle.  I want to cooperate with men who don’t blink when they hear the Savior put such trust in God’s word, because taking their cue from the Savior they too put their trust in the Bible.

The Utter Urgency, Beauty, and Priority of Thinking, Feeling, and Living as One New Humanity or Spiritual Ethnicity in Christ.

To put it plainly, I want to labor, strive, build, risk, sacrifice, rejoice, mourn, and serve with those Christians who put our identity in Christ before any lesser identity.  All other identities–which we surely, necessarily, and joyfully embrace–are still lesser identities when compared with that new personhood we receive from and in the Savior.  Doctor?  Lesser.  Preacher?  Lesser.  Rich or poor?  Lesser.  Immigrant or national?  Lesser.  This natural ethnic group or that?  Important.  Intentional.  Beautiful.  Lesser.

I want to live and labor with those who know, count, and embrace the cost of living out this radical new existence, where “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).  But I want to also labor with those who feel, embrace and rejoice in the beauty and intentionality of the vision in Rev. 5:9-10–”You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”  Neither Jew nor Greek… one in Christ Jesus… and yet every tribe and language and people and nation in praise to God… a kingdom of priests serving God.  Forgetting ourselves while being ourselves while consumed with Jesus.  ”For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and the regulations.  His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death the hostility” (Eph. 2:14-16).  Oh to live and work with saints who know that Jesus has “put to death the hostility”–that is, the hatin’, the cliques, the prejudice, the bigotry, the pride, the racism, the ethnocentrism, the racial supremacy, the cultural imperialism, the chauvinism, the snobbery, the indifference, the know-nothingness, the blinders, the victimology, the guilt trippin’, the resentment, the disenfranchisement, the oppression, the power playing, the privilege-protecting, the race-carding, the white flight, the angry Black, the gentrification, the red-lining, the segregation, the ghetto-ization, the marginalization, the balkanization, and so on!

I want to cooperate with men and women who take seriously the burden-sharing, burden-carrying call of Galatians 6:1-2.  I especially want to cooperate with men and women who do that on the issue of our new identity in Christ because the reality is there’s a cost to African Americans who feel like they’re giving up who they are without reciprocity and acceptance in order to be who Christ calls us to be.  Simultaneously, the reality is there’s a cost to White Americans who feel like they’re risking blame, castigation, rejection, and privilege without the chance of acceptance in order to be who Christ calls them to be.  I want to be with White brethren who carry my burden with me.  And I want to carry the burdens of my White, Hispanic, Asian, African, Caribbean, Indian, and European brethren who shoulder their own burdens in all of this.  And I don’t want to hang with anyone–Black, White, or other–who pretend that either there are no costs or that they’re the only ones paying it.  I want to cooperate with those who believe we either hang together or we shall surely hang together.

Here are some of the ways I look for “put to death the hostility” realism in such cooperation.  First, there’s the verbal espousing of this ethic.  Doesn’t have to be all the time, but constant enough to know folks are thinking about it.  Isn’t enough in itself, but it’s at least necessary to know it’s on the agenda.  Second, there’s the willingness of others to take up “my” issue as “our” issue–to bear the burden.  That means the Black, Asian, or Hispanic guy isn’t reflexively asked to lead on “their” issue.  Other folks have a willingness to get into my world or another’s world.  But it also means that I don’t sit back and say, “That’s a white thang; it doesn’t matter where I live.”  The issue may not matter in the Caribbean or in Southeast DC, but it matters to the body of Christ, my new spiritual ethnicity.  So it must matter to me.  Third, I’m looking for sensitivity and action even when I’m not in the room or involved.  Does the reality of our new spiritual ethnicity reach living rooms and dinner tables when it’s just you and your peeps.  Fourth, I’m looking for some measure of “self policing,” some “get ya boy” responses to others belonging to one’s own natural ethnic group on behalf of this greater principle of new humanity in Christ.  I don’t want to call everything I see “racist.”  Let some African Americans call other African Americans “racist” when they see it.  Let White brothers do the same with White brothers, Asian American with Asian American, Hispanic American with Hispanic American, and so on.  Fifth, I want to know if we’ve all relinquished our passive approach to friendships to actively cultivate–not inter-racial or multi-racial or diverse friendships–but gospel friendships with the entire body of Christ.  Inter-racial, multi-ethnic, and diverse relationships are not the end but one of the necessary by-products of taking seriously our common identity in Christ and the death of trans-ethnic hostility.  I’m not looking for folks who have to say, “Some of my best friends are _____.”  I’m looking for folks who can say with deep affection, “This is my brother/sister” and not be strained or surprised to learn that said brother/sister represents the diversity that’s around the throne of glory.

In none of these am I looking for perfection but for an earnest attempt to embrace Eph. 2 and live it out by God’s grace, however imperfectly.

As far as I’m concerned, anything less than this is either worldliness (regarding each other according to the flesh) or punkin’ out (refusing to even belly up to the table).  It’s certainly living well beneath our inheritance in Christ Jesus who gave himself to make us one in himself.

The Foundational, Binding, Sacrificial, and Distinctive Mark of Love Requires I Give Myself to Loving Others and Allow Myself to Be Loved by Others

“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.  And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:3, 13).  ”And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col. 3:14).  ”A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).  ”Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2).

True confession: I don’t love as I ought.  Plain and simple.  But also inexcusable.  The way the Master has loved me demands that I love my brothers (1 Jn 3:16; 4:11-12).  So, I need to be in fellowship and cooperation with brethren who “stir me up to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).  This is not just a theological principle; it’s a deep need I have.  And it’s a great motivation for cooperating.  I want to be in those associations that help perfect me in love.  And further to the principle above, I can’t learn to love when hangin’ with people who all look and act like me or when hangin’ with people who don’t inconvenience me with their faults, foibles, problems, and sins.  To only be with people like me and who never inconvenience me is simply self-love spread over a wider area.  But His love crosses boundaries and gathers up into itself inconvenient ‘aliens’.  I want to love like that.  I want to be with people loving and learning to love like Jesus.

The Undeniable Importance, Integrity, and Consistency of Both Practice and Method with 1-4 above.

I still believe the medium/method is the message in many respects.  I believe our method says more than merely “This is how we do it.”  It can also say, “This is why we do it” and “This is what we think is important” and “This is what we trust.”  Not all methods are created equal.  So, our practice and our method needs to be principled as well.  Otherwise, we’re just talking about pragmatism.  Doesn’t matter how many fancy words we use to describe it, how many books we footnote to substantiate it, or how many appeals to this or that goal we make to justify it.  It’s pragmatism, and the one question pragmatic philosophy cannot answer is, “Ought we to do it?”  The “ought” answer comes from the gospel, the scripture, love, and the ethics of our new identity in Christ.

Surely godly Christians can differ on a variety of methodological issues and practices that are indifferent.  But we cannot pretend all methods and issues are inconsequential.  We must define practice and method boundaries for our cooperation lest we by our cooperation uncritically endorse things that undermine our message and our cooperation.  I want to cooperate with men who rank method last in importance compared to the great truths of the faith.  But I want to cooperate with men who do rank method and practice as important, even as we admit a charitable range of freedom without compromising critical convictions.

Conclusion

I suspect others have other principles.  Cool.  This simply reflects the developing principles of one man–me.  Perhaps one or two of these things put me on an island by myself.  That’s fine; I’ve grown accustomed to living on an island these last six years.

I fully recognize that in the interest of positive influence with others, one might from time to time speak at an event with others who don’t share all the convictions above.  But I also suspect it’s wise not to make those one-off events a lasting cooperation.  Seems to me we ought to be wary of either appearing to endorse things contrary to principle and be wary of how those things affect us in unexpected ways.

My wife prays that I might have “a bridge-building heart.”  Man, I love that woman!  And I love her prayers for me.  She sees the difference between my “want to” and my “won’t do.”  And she knows that closing the gap between the two is a matter of the Lord refining my heart.  Because the truth is, I can use these principles to shut down and run away from imperfect cooperation, inconvenient association, and just plain roll-up-your-sleeve-and-love-hard opportunity.  Isn’t it easy to make “my issue” the cost of admission for Christian love and fellowship?  So, I’m hoping these principles are appropriate fences but also strong motivation to seek out as well.

There’s so much more that could and should be said.  This, again, is simply where one man lands.  What about you?

 
 

Feb

06

2012

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:33 am CT

11 Things I’m Thinking in the Wake of Recent Events

In the immediate aftermath of ER2, a wise older brother counseled me to avoid the inevitable flurry of blog activity for at least a week.  That was really wise advice and I’ve taken a tad bit longer because I’m a tad bit slower than most.  One benefit of the advice given was that it allowed a lot of the early reactions (pro and con) to come and go.  That was useful simply for getting some perspective and not getting caught up in heat rather than light.  As time wore on, more light began to shine through as godly people on both “sides” of the issue joined in with helpful thoughts.  I’ve particularly appreciated the balanced and insightful piece Carson and Keller offered late last week.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  And if you have read it, you’ll probably want to read it slowly a few times.  I certainly did.

Reading and re-reading Carson and Keller, as well as a number of other post-game reports, left me with a few reflections, for what it’s worth.

1.  Nothing has changed with Jakes.  I won’t belabor this point because Carson and Keller’s piece covers that quite well, as does a couple other posts around the blogosphere.  Jakes’ comments on the Trinity were essentially the same comments he’s been making for the last 10-15 years.  He says he has moved and the Scripture prompted him to do so.  Comparing his statements in 2000 and 2012, it’s difficult to see that he’s moved at all unless the movement happened before 2000!  As far as I am concerned, the man’s teaching on the Trinity remains heretical.

2.  Something may have changed with us.  The Church is split more than it was previous to the ER.  We have new lines of division.  Are we among those who favor public discussion or those who are against public discussions with heretics?  Are we in the truth camp or the love camp?  Again, Carson and Keller expose this false dichotomy nicely and point us forward in healthy ways.  My only point is to say, “This division inside the broadly ‘Reformed’ camp feels new to me.”

3.  Theological depth is critical.  Honestly, I was surprised that so many could make such quick and bold pronouncements of Jakes’ orthodoxy after a short conversation before cameras.  Jakes used the same spiel he’s always used.  The entire discussion revealed not only Jakes’ poverty but the poverty of a lot of evangelical and Reformed Christianity.  In the final analysis, we were given not only a view of Jakes’ modalism but also of our own slippery and sometimes lazy grasp of the Trinity and other doctrinal issues of importance.  Let’s admit there’s truth beyond our knowledge here.  But let’s also admit that too many of us have not really sought to grasp what may be known.  Consequently, a lot of observers weren’t theologically prepared to discern truth from error, heat from light, wheat from chaff.  For me, that was painfully clear in the celebratory declamations following the event.  It saddened me and left me with a resolve to teach more systematic theology to my own church.  It also left me more determined to be a watchman on the wall.  How urgent it is for us “to watch our lives and doctrine closely.”  I think I’ll read Spurgeon’s “The Minister’s Self-Watch” again today, just for my own soul’s sake.

4.  We need a practical understanding of repentance.  ”Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance” was John the Baptist’s declaration.  The apostle Paul preached that men should “perform deeds in keeping with repentance” (Acts 26:20).  So, how do we know a person is genuinely repentant of false teaching or other sins?  Well, there should be some practical outworking of the changed mind and heart; there should be “deeds in keeping with repentance.”  What would that look like with Jakes?  Answering that question keeps us from making snap judgments and prematurely assuring someone in their error.  So, ask yourself: If I were a pastor and Jakes were on my staff while teaching these the prosperity gospel and modalism, what would I ask him to do to demonstrate his repentance?  Most of us would probably have a few things in mind, including: (a) a definite retraction and renunciation of previous error taught, (b) a clear and unprompted statement of the changed belief, and (c) a request for forgiveness from any offended.  In short, we’d look for him to clearly own his error without equivocation, advance the truth, and look to make amends where possible.  That would be the minimum we would expect before we gave him another public opportunity to teach.  Or, at least that’s the minimum I’d expect in the church I pastor.  But the evangelical practice of repentance can at times be so shallow, and we can at times be so desirous of a good outcome, that we grab at any mirage or any pretensions to repentance.  But group hugs are no substitute for thoughtful pastoral engagement.  In the end, we hurt ourselves and the very one needing to change.

5.  Divisions come swiftly and easily.  My heart breaks to see how quickly and easily the unity of the Spirit can be broken.  It really doesn’t take much at all… a few poorly stated sentences, hurts nursed and rehearsed, the refusal to reach out or keep short accounts.  Ephesians 4 and 5 contain critical instructions for us!  And this medium that I’m using right now can make the divisions deeper, wider, and quicker than most anything else I can imagine.  And, yet, some divisions are most certainly necessary.  I wish the necessary divisions could be recognized and enacted more quickly while the unnecessary divisions could be avoided all together.  Is it just me, or doesn’t it seem the unnecessary variety comes at the speed of light while the necessary toddles along slowly?

6.  A lot of reconciliation and brotherly affection gets shared privately, but it’s sometimes not useful to be insisted upon publicly.  A lot of people have taken it upon themselves to be the “private conversation police.”  They want to enforce a new rule for public discourse: Talk privately with those with whom you disagree before you disagree publicly.  I think that’s well intended, but it’s quite problematic.  Again, Carson and Keller handle this very well.  I just want to add that this desire to require private conversations before public redress has two unintended and negative consequences.  First, it means that the first persons to speak have the controlling leverage in the conversation.  That’s not much of a problem unless the first one to speak speaks heresy or some false teaching.  In that case, everyone who would act to counter the falsehood is held hostage by the purveyor of falsehood!  That’s a very bad outcome.  Second, the vocal insistence on private conversation, or rather the suggestion that no such conversation is happening, can actually frustrate and undermine very real private efforts at unity, restoration, and correction.  It’s surprising how public comments (ironically, without first making private contact!) about perceived private failings actually complicate the very private efforts being called for.  It’s also interesting to note how many unrelated parties feel entitled to know what’s happening in private sessions.  They don’t seem to realize that asking for private matters to be disclosed publicly might actually hinder trust and communication.  As it is, these things don’t always work out.  So, it’s probably prudent to use that few moments of keyboarding to instead offer a few words of prayer and intercession.

Here’s a rule of thumb: If you have to speculate about whether this or that conversation is happening, you’re probably not close enough to the situation to be useful.  If you can’t pick up the phone and ask one of the parties, “What’s going on?” then you’re probably not positioned to help or insist on private communication.

Speculative and sometimes accusatory writing in public forums, in my opinion, actually do very little to help situations while doing a fair amount to complicate matters and frustrate people.  I’ve become a fan of the old rules of engagement: If a person speaks or publishes something for public consumption, that speech or publication is automatically fair game for public critique and correction.  It can be useful, courteous, and sometimes necessary to contact a person to be sure you’ve understood them correctly.  But public addresses are fair game for public redress.  This in no way releases us from all the biblical requirements for charity, grace, and the like.  But it does free us to respond where situations warrant.

7.  Our cooperation needs to be principled rather than pragmatic.  This has really come home to me in a powerful way.  I realized something about myself.  My cooperation in TGC has largely been pragmatic.  I learn so much when I’m with the guys.  I’m stimulated by the conversations we have.  Many lessons and resources are shared with the church I pastor.  In all these ways I benefit from TGC.  Here’s the problem: I’ve been essentially selfish.  I was in danger of only cooperating for as long as it benefited me.  I was in danger of being “at the table” but not really contributing fully.  That’s selfish and it’s sin.  The divisions and threats to unity forced me to remember (realize?) that I need to remain involved in TGC because there are important principles at stake.  There is the evangelistic signal effect of unity with other disciples who hold the same gospel (John 13:34-35).  There is the need for unity beyond my local congregation.  There is the necessity of defending and confirming the gospel (Phil. 1:7; Jude 3-4).  There is the necessity of every part of the body contributing to the whole (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4).  I could go on.  The point is simply this: One danger to our unity and our coalitions may be the tendency to think in pragmatic rather than principled terms about our cooperation.  I need to be principled.

8.  Our cooperation can have a liberalizing tendency.  I’m all for a more robust unity across denominational lines.  But I’ve seen enough situations where “cooperation” becomes code for liberalizing.  I’ve seen this in denominational mergers here in the Caribbean, where groups from quite distinct confessional traditions have rushed to the lowest theological common denominator to create unity.  I’ve seen it in international churches in some of the great crossroads cities in the world.  The great diversity in those churches can subtly pressure leaders to minimize doctrine in order to “fit as many people in as possible.”  The victim will inevitably be doctrinal integrity and truth.  This doesn’t have to happen; it’s not a foregone conclusion.  I’ve seen international churches thrive quite well across wide diversity anchored in a shared confessional stance.  And we’ve seen the rise of trans-denominational networks that have held fast to robust theological commitments.  So, the act of cooperation does not lead inexorably to theological laxity and liberalism.  But it can if we’re not watchful and if we’re not constantly sharpening our commitments and restating them in fresh, living ways.

9.  There are descriptive and prescriptive ways of using “race.”  I injected the notion of ethnicity in my original post on the Jakes invitation.  I did so by pointing to the enormous influence the man has in predominantly African-American churches.  The intent was simply to describe an effect, to note a phenomena.  Such description is sometimes necessary and helpful.  But description is miles apart from injecting “race” in a way that prescribes how people should act, whether coercing certain behaviors or playing to certain expectations and stereotypes.  These prescriptive uses cross the line, in my opinion.  Attempting to prescribe behavior along “racial” lines keeps us locked into unhelpful “racial” categories, histories, and sins.  It’s one thing to say descriptively “Thabiti is African American” or “Sarah is Kikuyu.”  It’s an entirely different thing to say prescriptively, “All African Americans must act this way” or “Kikuyu people should be treated thus.”  One simply helps us observe the world as it is while the other attempts to sinfully manipulate and control others.

10.  ”Race” is not only powerful, it’s also about power.  These categories and histories affect us–sometimes viscerally.  They’re powerful. Just the mention of racial stereotypes or insinuating racial motives is enough to stir heated reaction and even riots in the streets.

But another thing for us to keep in mind is that “biological race” as a construct has always been a sibling to power.  Racial categories were created and put in the service of oppression and claims to supremacy.  The categories became justification for slavery, prejudice and bigotry, and all manner of evil.  The ability to define someone as a “racial other” is, plain and simple, an act of power.  The greatest acts of power occur when you not only define someone else’s reality but also when the persons so defined willingly accept your definition.  We have real power when people freely see themselves as we tell them to see themselves.  So, when African Americans or any ethnic group accepts “race” as a category–a category we did not invent but was forced upon us and used to justify our subjugation–we unwittingly succumb to the power of others to define us.  Without question, African Americans have appropriated those categories in subversive ways.  Think of the romantic appeals to Ethiopia in the 18th and 19th centuries, the New Negro movement, the Black Pride movement, and Afrocentrism.  All of those efforts to redefine categories–Ethiopian, Negro, Black, African American–largely thrust upon us but ultimately accepted, while subversive, are ultimately capitulations to the very categories themselves and to the power dynamics coupled with the categories.  The real power of self-determination doesn’t settle with redefining the categories, tinkering around the margins of color symbolism and cultural romanticism, but rejects the categories outright.

The Power we should be happily submitting to is that power to define us that YHWH alone has.  He has purposed that various families, clans, and ethnic groups exist, but not that those families should be categorized, marginalized, subjugated, or separated based upon the phony notion of “race” as “biological otherness.”  The question simply becomes: Who has power to define us and to define our behavior–God or man?  The answer ought to be obvious.  But here’s the challenge: Will we willingly endure the cognitive dissonance, social dislocation, and emotional discomfort to live under God’s definition?  In other words, will we be sanctified enough to conform more fully to the new humanity in Christ to which we’re called?

While I’m at this, I should point to something that seems to escape the notice of some people.  It’s just as much an act of power to define people in such a way as to deny their ethnic identity as it is to define them in ways that insist upon a racial identity.  Some people think that saying “‘race’ does not exist” provides a warrant for saying all that’s happened in the name of “race” did not happen or does not matter.  They seem to think that saying “‘race’ does not exist” means there is no sense or aspect of “otherness” that matters.  ”Race does not exist” becomes a magical mantra that wipes the slate clean and absolves us of any responsibility for pursuing reconciliation and justice.  ”Forget about culture.  Forget about ethnicity.  Let all that stuff go,” they tell us.  But, friend, doing that to someone is no less an act of power than defining them in a “racial” category of your choosing.  It’s simply a box marked “nothing,” which can be as debilitating as one of the many boxes marked “race.”  And it trades in the same power differential and dynamic.

What’s the solution then?  Let people self-identify.  Let’s be honest: None of us has this figured out.  Even those who feel they understand the Bible quite well on these points, if they’re honest they must admit that they understand these truths better than they live it.  So, people are in progress.  The light we have today we didn’t have five or ten or fifteen years ago.  If that’s true of us, then we should give others the five, ten, fifteen, twenty or more years they need to figure some things out, too.  Let’s be patient with one another and let folks grow into what Christ has called them to be.  Relax.  We don’t actually have to define one another into neat boxes with stereotypes and judgments.  We can actually allow the Lord by His word to define us and to define others.  We can and must allow Him to remove the old man and to renew us in the new man, a new man who remarkably includes in himself every ethnic group, family, or clan of the world.  It’s worth figuring out our ethnic selves because in the age to come our ethnicity will redound to the Lamb’s glory.

11.  My assumptions about my usefulness need chastening.  What do I mean by that?  Two things.  First, it was evident that a lot of the actors and commentators before, during, and after the event had very little knowledge of Jakes and his teaching.  Some of the least familiar have been the most unhelpful.  I’m not blaming them because I recognize in this situation my tendency to sometimes speak when I should really remain silent, listen, and learn.  I’m sometimes asked to speak at various places or address certain topics for which I have little to no expertise.  Thankfully, to this point, I’ve been able to spot most of those invitations and turn them down.  Recent events have made me all the more concerned about rightly assessing what I know (or don’t know!) and responding accordingly.  I can’t be helpful where I’m really ignorant.  Second, it was also evident that we live in a complex world with lots of factors and pressures acting on people all the time.  We can sometimes think that action ‘x’ should lead to result ‘y’.  But, if I’m honest with myself, I almost never see that happen in life and ministry.  I’m far less influential than I sometimes think.  Seeing the complexity and seeing my limitations have taught me in some measure, however small, to think less of myself and my ability to be strategic, influential, helpful, etc.  I’m not that useful.  The work and the battle is the Lord’s.  I rest in Him.

 

Well, that’s my 11 things for tonight.  Tomorrow, Lord willing, we’ll try to put a face on some of this.

In the comments, I’m not looking for more debate about recent events.  I’m registering my thoughts for what they’re worth.  Feel free to comment.  But if the comments get steered toward acrimony or allegation, I’ll either delete the comment or close it altogether.  I’m hoping these are constructive thoughts and hoping yours will be, too.

 
 

Aug

30

2011

Thabiti Anyabwile|8:11 am CT

Spiritual Depression, 2

I had forgotten one of the reasons I love Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ preaching–his straight-forward, systematic, logical statement of things.  Lloyd-Jones marches through an argument, assembling texts and data the way you’d expect a physician to assemble test results in forming a diagnosis and treatment.  In fact, Dr. Lloyd-Jones described his own preaching in much the same way:

I started with the man whom I wanted to listen, the patient. It was a medical approach really–here is a patient, a person in trouble, an ignorant man who has been to quacks, and so I deal with all that in the introduction. I wanted to get the listener and then come to my exposition. [Typical Welsh preachers] started with their exposition and ended with a bit of application.  (see Ian Murray’s, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, pp. 146-147)

So, we should not be surprised that the opening two chapters in Lloyd-Jones’ great work, Spiritual Depression, begin with the clinician’s approach.  Chapter 1, “General Consideration,” gives us a basic overview spiritual depression.  Using Psalm 42:5, 11 as his text, Lloyd-Jones provides two reasons for the importance of the topic: (1) “for the sake of those who are in this condition, in order that they may be delivered from unhappiness, this disquiet, this lack of ease, this tension, this troubled state…” and (2) “for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the glory of God” (p. 11).  Here we see the preacher’s dual focus–help the people and advance the kingdom of our Lord.  Those two aims should motivate any sermon.

With this as his stated aim, Lloyd-Jones moves on to consider the general causes of spiritual depression.

1.  ”First and foremost I would not hesitate to put–temperament” (p. 14).

2.  ”Let us pass to the second big cause–physical conditions” (p. 18).

3.  ”Another frequent cause of spiritual depression is what we may describe as a reaction–a reaction after a blessing, a reaction after some unusual and exceptional experience” (p. 19).

4.  ”Then we come to the next cause.  In a sense, and in the last analysis, that is the one and only cause of spiritual depression–it is the devil, the adversary of our souls” (p. 19).

5.  ”Indeed I can put it, finally, like this: the ultimate cause of all spiritual depression is unbelief” (p. 20).

My aim in these posts is not to give a full summary of the sermons (better that you read or listen to them personally).  Rather, I’m trying to benefit my own soul by prayerful reflection on the sermons, some of which I’ll share from time-to-time on the blog.  This isn’t morbid introspection–which Lloyd-Jones warns against–not is it lurid, detail exhibition–which we have too much of in the culture.  But it’s one man thinking out loud about some aspects of his own soul, hoping those things I can share will be a help and encouragement to others.  So here goes….

I’m certain that I’ve experienced spiritual languish at various seasons for each of these causes.  Of the five general causes Lloyd-Jones mentions, the first probably rang loudest to my soul.

I know that my own fight for a more expressive joy involves a fight against myself, against my “wiring.”  In temperament, I tend toward seriousness, quiet, and reflection.  Moreover, I’m an introvert.  I love people (a definite work of Christ in my life), but I lose rather than gain energy in social interactions (unlike my lovely wife who grows stronger and stronger the more people time she meets.  Never go to the grocery store with the woman!).  Lloyd-Jones’ inclusion of temperament reminds us we’re different kinds of people.  Some of us have natural temperaments that predispose us to spiritual depression.  As the Doctor points out, “temperament, psychology and make-up do not make the slightest difference in the matter of our salvation;… we are all saved the same way, by the same act of God in and through His Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…” but our temperament “does make a very great difference in actual experience in the Christian life” (p. 15).

That’s helpful application (and a helpful model of application in preaching).  We sometimes imagine Christians to be more or less the same kind of being.  We imagine that anyone saved by the grace of God ought to be joyful and basically impervious to spiritual depression.  While we might expect that Christians “ought to be joyful,” we should not expect that Christians “ought to naturally be joyful.”  That little word “naturally” presupposes the same basic temperament for all Christians.  But in truth we come in a variety of temperaments, which means that some will have to fight their nature for consistent and expressive joy.  It also means that expressions of joy will vary in type and intensity from Christian to Christian.  Lloyd-Jones’ simple acknowledgement of differing personalities allows more of his audience and readers to see their place in the Christian family and it empathizes with their fight for joy.

Lloyd-Jones points out that the existence of varying temperaments means “there is nothing which is quite so important as that we should without delay, and as quickly as possible, get to know ourselves” (p. 15).  Men are not machines and we do not face life with the same experiences, backgrounds, talents, or personalities.  The difficulties, problems, and perplexities we face “are in a large measure determined by the difference of temperament and type.”  He asks us to ask ourselves: “Do we know ourselves?  Do we know our own particular danger?  Do we know the thing to which we are particularly subject?” (pp. 17-18).

Those, I find, are important questions.  If we find ourselves repeatedly tripped up into spiritual depression, it may indicate we’re not familiar with our own hearts and states of mind.  We may not be familiar enough with how our temperaments enhance or inhibit our joy.  Do we know makes us tick, and what makes us stick?  That’s the first step in fighting for joy.  And it’s a good first step because it allows us to build walls and fences, keeping the good in and the problematic out.  ”Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Prov. 25:28).  If we don’t know ourselves, we can’t control ourselves.  And like an unfortified city, we’re subject to be over-run by every emotion and spiritual state, including spiritual depression.  When I’m attentive to myself, to my state of mind and my emotional reactions, I’m far better able to protect myself from unwanted depressions and to live in a more consistent and expressive joy.

I also benefited from Lloyd-Jones’ discussion of the second big cause–physical condition.  In short, I need to take better care of myself physically by eating well, exercising, and resting.  No question: When I’m in poor shape, I feel it spiritually.  When I’m in better shape, I feel better.  I don’t need to prolong this point; I need to get outside and exercise!

So, I’m already thankful for Lloyd-Jones’ Spiritual Depression.  I’m reminded of some issues I need to address, and see some solutions I want to apply.  Looking forward to more prayerful reading of these sermons.

Of the five things Lloyd-Jones identifies, what would be the area of greatest concern for you?

 
 

Mar

16

2007

Thabiti Anyabwile|8:36 am CT

Some Reflections on the Ligonier Conference

I’m thankful for the Ligonier webcast of the conference happening right now in Florida. I’m thankful for the opportunity to watch, listen and learn from some of the best apologetic, preaching, and theological minds in our day.

I’ve not been able to catch all the sessions, but what I have seen has been thought provoking. Just a couple of reflections so far, both from Piper’s sessions.

First, the Thursday evening talk on apologetics struck me again with the necessity of loving Jesus for who He is. Piper’s task was to define faith. And in his characteristic way, he went beyond typical definitions and analogies to underscore the indispensable place of affections for and highest valuation/esteem for Christ. Piper questioned whether a person really had faith if they had not received Christ, that is come to prize Christ above all things and for who He is instead of “receiving” Christ as an effective solution to fear, comfort, safety, escape from hell, etc.

Pastorally, I’ve often wondered about individuals who “confess” Christ but seem to have no genuine affections for Him. The number of people who say “I believe in him” as though assent were all there was to following Christ, and at the same time say or demonstrate that their affections reside elsewhere, is really quite concerning to me. It’s as though the gospel nestles in the ear or in the mind but doesn’t worm its way into the core, the heart, of the person.

And I was reminded of how many times I’ve been guilty of distinguishing between “head religion” and “heart religion” but construing the difference as a matter of whether or not “heart religion” was reflected in service to the church and various other outward displays that were supposed to indicate being “on fire for Christ.” I’m thankful for the ways that Piper and others have helped me draw, I think, a better distinction. The head may give intellectual assent, but true faith is a work of the Spirit that opens the blinded eye and stirs the heart of man with rejoicing, pleasure, and deep, centralizing affection for Jesus as He really is. The person with such a heart has “heart religion,” genuine saving faith.

Second, I was struck with Piper’s meditation on the effect of relativism on the use of language. Language when used to describe objective truth has a high, noble and glorious purpose. But he described how relativism is used to actually hide the truth, counterfeit reality and to evade real commitment and conviction. In a relativistic culture, language becomes ultimately about spin, about appearing to believe or hold the same truth but actually masking either shallow understanding or real denial of the truth.

It provoked me to think about the use of language in preaching, to be sure that my speech in the pulpit and outside the pulpit is plain and granite where the Truth is concerned. That doesn’t do away with the need to be loving, etc., but the Truth needs to be in al our speech.

I missed his first couple points in this sermon. But I caught a couple other effects of relativism. Relativism…

  • Cloaks greed in the guise of flattery.
    Cloaks pride in the guise of humility. “All over the country relativism is being sold in the currency of humility.”
  • Enslaves people. “If we create a kind of Christianity that says there is no truth we will simply create a kind of Christianity that colonizes slaves.”
  • Leads to brutal totalitarianism. “When relativism holds sway in a society over time sooner or later more and more people do what is right in their own eyes. And when enough people do what’s right in their own eyes we call it anarchy. There are only two solutions to anarchy. One is revival. Or a dictator.”
 
 

Mar

02

2007

Thabiti Anyabwile|8:32 am CT

Reflections on the Recent Trip to Southeast Asia

Well, I’m trying to get back in stride here at the church and with life in Cayman. It’s been a great couple of days back. I returned to the same loving family and congregation that sent me off nearly ten days ago. It’s wonderful to return to such love and care.

I also returned in time to see a precious young couple from our church leave for a life of overseas service in the Gospel. We had their ordination service the Sunday we left for southeast Asia. And yesterday, we met them at the airport for a time of prayer and send-off. The young man look at me and said, “I feel like we’re tag-team wrestling for the Gospel as you’re returning and we’re leaving.” I love the image… tagging one another, taking turns combatting darkness with the light of the Gospel. And it’s such a tremendously humbling, encouraging, faith-building, worthy, sad and joyous thing to see men and women give their lives for the Gospel in so committed a fashion. What a privilege.

The 10 days or so in southeast Asia were packed! The first night there was the night of the Christian-Muslim dialogue. We were discussing the question “Who Is Jesus Christ? In Light of the Bible and the Qu’ran”. This is a topic that the muslims insisted on… and so we happily obliged! As far as the folks there are aware, this is the first time that this question has been openly discussed in a public forum by Christians and Muslims in any country in that region. A couple hundred folks (90% Muslim) turned out on just three days advertisement. Nearly 100 ESV Bibles were distributed. And to be sure, this is the first time most of them have heard the Gospel proclaimed in person.

The rest of the week was a blur! We spent several days interacting with college students on two campuses in the region. I had the privilege of preaching two sermons and doing a Q&A session on the dialogue at a local church. It was wonderful rejoicing in the Gospel with about a 1,000 believers from all nations in that region! It was just powerful looking out on so clear a manifestation of the Gospel’s power as reflected in the tremendous diversity and unity of that body in Christ. And we ended the trip with a church-sponsored conference on evangelism. T.V. Thomas, an evangelist who now resides in Regina, Canada, served as the keynote. Due to another speakers’ illness, the privilege of pinch-hitting on the topic “How to and how not to witness to Muslims” fell to me. That was a lot of fun.

Aside from the joy of serving with brothers and sisters there, I’ve left southeast Asia still processing several impressions and thoughts. Without much elaboration and in no particular order, here they are:

1. Islam is not impregnable. The Lord is at work! We need to pray for more laborers and that they would be bold to open their mouths with the gospel as they ought, but we really need to drop any impression that Islam is a steel door shut tight to the Gospel. It certainly is nothing of the sort.

2. There are many who are paying high costs to follow Jesus. Being there and interacting with a number of people who have come to faith in Christ out of Muslim backgrounds really blazed that across my mind. Our conversations weren’t about whether God wanted them to take this or that job or NPP or emerging/emergent. They were counting the costs of telling family and friends that they were followers of the Lord–costs that ranged from being disowned to being killed by those same family and friends. To see their faith and commitment in such circumstances impressed upon me the shallowness of my own service to and identification with the Lord.

3. In the words of Piper, “risk is right.” There’s no two ways about it. It is good and right for us to take bold, faith-filled risks for God’s glory and the spread of His name to all nations. And in point of fact, we’re the only ones who can safely take such risks because we actually risk nothing eternal and can only receive glory with our Savior.

4. The Gospel is the power of God. Be confident in it. T.V. Thomas at one point in the evangelism conference stated that he thought the greatest risk to the gospel was that so many were not confident in it. I think he’s on to something there. Romans 1:16 is still true. What vascillates is our confidence and reliance upon that truth.

5. I mentioned this earlier, but I was struck afresh by the glories of God revealed in His church. And I’m struck with the rightness of a church comprised of people from every nation united in their worship of the one true God. The church is a secondary doctrine, but the life of the church together is anything but secondary! There is a difference between the importance of the doctrine (formal systematic and biblical statements) and the living, abiding thing itself. And doing the living, abiding thing well is of utmost importance

6. I fear too much and am too often in fear.

7. Regard no man from a worldly point of view. My friend Mack, who also spoke at the evangelism conference, did a fabulous job of expounding 2 Cor. 5. I was convicted at how often I think of men in fleshly terms, and how often that prevents me from regarding them from God’s vantage point, and how often that causes me to bottle up the Gospel and love from them. How easy it is to see the beards, the robes and head gear, and to think of them with something less than God’s viewpoint. Lewis’ words kept ringing in my head: “You have never seen a mere mortal.” Amen. And I need to stop regarding men from a worldly viewpoint

8. Hold the rope. You all will know the famous story of William Carey and Andrew Fuller. Carey went to India to reap a Gospel harvest and Fuller stayed behind to excite support for the missions effort. Fuller’s words: “We saw that there was a gold mine in India, but it seemed almost as deep as the center of the earth. Who will venture to explore it? “I will go down,” said Mr. Carey to his brethren, “but remember that you must hold the ropes.” We solemnly engaged to do so; nor while we live, shall we desert him.”

9. Darkness is really dark indeed. This was so evident in some of the conversations I had with Muslim friends. They were lost in the darkness of their own minds and hearts. Their reasoning was confused, proud, and self-serving. This, of course, was not because they were Muslims but because they are like all of us who once walked according to the ways of this world, according the prince of the air, as children of wrath. That darkness is deeply dark and nothing but the light of Christ can pierce it. See #4.

10. Love is necessary. On the plane ride back, I began reaing Alexander Strauch’s little book, Leading with Love. So much of the ministry in southeast Asia and the ministry in the local church would be “clanging cymbals” if it lacked love. At times, the Lord allowed me to see plainly when I was moved with love and when I was moved with pride or fleshly comfort. I could hear the clanging by God’s grace. I’m struck by how love for Christ, His people, and the lost are so essential to everything. And I’m struck by how much farther I have to go in having and demonstrating the love of Christ.

We’ll know in eternity what this labor produces to the glory of God. But right now, I’m thankful to all of you who sent notes of encouragement and to all of you who prayed for the trip. And right now, I’m more sure than ever that the Gospel ministry is the most important service to mankind and that our selling all for this great treasure is the wisest investment. May the Lord bear much fruit!

 
 

Jan

01

2007

Thabiti Anyabwile|12:26 pm CT

A Reflection for the New Year

2007 is here! The New Year’s Eve parties are all held, the ball has dropped, the fireworks are all exploded, confetti is being swept away, the parades are over, and minds are slowly turning to the reality of work tomorrow.

Awww maannnn!

Like most people, this has been a reflective time for me. It’s natural… between the year now sunk into eternity past and the year that lays ahead should Jesus tarry (come, Lord Jesus!)… to speculate about, plan for, and pray over the year ahead. Thanks to having to prepare a sermon for New Year’s Eve, I’ve done less of than than normal, but I’ve done some.

What about you? What are your hopes, plans, and prayers for 2007? Please share. And I encourage all who read this post and any comments to pray for what others share.

My main reflection is summed up by Ligon Duncan’s opening response to the opening question on the opening panel of 2006′s T4G Conference. The question was, “What are you doing with your life and why?” Okay, a great question right. Lig’ responded:

“When people ask me what my job is, I tell them that it is to minister to the people of God by preaching the Gospel. I:

  1. preach the word;
  2. love the people;
  3. pray down heaven;
  4. promote family religion; and
  5. train the elders of the church.

Underneath all that, I’m called to live a godly life.”

Lig’ shared this without batting an eye. I think it’s in his bones. I can spend the entire year immersing myself in this rather full and absorbing summation of pastoral ministry. I’m both emotionally encouraged and spiritually challenged and practically helped by this.

My New Year’s reflection: I want to be like Lig’ Duncan when I grow up.

 
 

Dec

22

2006

Thabiti Anyabwile|9:51 am CT

Reflections

With time and space, reflection often deepens and grows. The clearer air of separation, and to some extent solitude, often produce a more robust gratitude.

As Christmas approaches, I’m reminded of the distance in both time and space traveled over the past year. And I’m growing more reflective, which is mostly good.

Good Reflections
Preparing to preach Genesis 1 and 2 this Sunday, Lord willing, I was prompted to take a peek at Mark Dever’s The Message of the Old Testament. As I leafed through its pages, flashes of memory came and went. I could remember hearing this sermon or that point. But most of all, gratitude to God for allowing me the privilege of being a part (as hearer) of so momentous a work and such a wonderful fellowship filled my heart. When I was there, these were just a collection of great Sunday morning sermons, the fare to which we were treated and spoiled each Sunday morning, whether it was Mark or Michael or a guest preacher. With time and space, I recognize in these sermons a much greater treasure for the Church and I’m thankful to God for what He has done in and with them.

Time and space and reflection have made me more appreciative of my family and friends back in the states. Separated by an ocean and a plane ride (which really aren’t that great a barrier in our day), I’m reminded that seeing them isn’t as easy as jumping in the car. In phone calls, where I’m asked from time to time for counsel or prayer, I’m more deeply affected with the knowledge that their well-being totally depends on God who sustains all things. There are hurts I don’t see, laughter I can’t share, hopes realized and dashed that escape my notice. And in it all, I’m made more grateful to God for the family and friends he’s given me. Five months time and a couple thousand miles of distance have me missing these great blessings of family and friends. And, I’m thankful for them all… old and new.

This is the first moment I’ve had to stop and contemplate what the Lord has done in bringing the family to Grand Cayman and the FBC family. I’ve thought a lot, but the pace of things hasn’t allowed for deeper reflection. There’s reflection ahead of me, I’m sure, as we enter the week of vacation beginning Monday. But, I’m deeply grateful–deeply grateful–for the people here. Such open love and care. Several women in the congregation have absolutely adopted my family as their own, investing vast amounts of time and interest in my daughters particularly. The way people have cared for us in the birth of Titus and in a 1,000 other ways is embarrassing in its tenderness and generosity. And I’m moved to tears even now with gratefulness to God. It’s an incomparable joy and privilege to labor here as their pastor and to live together with them as a brother in Christ.

My mother is here visiting with us. Kristie’s mother was here a few weeks back. As with each of our children, they’ve come to help out with the newborn routine. I simply wouldn’t know where to begin in describing my love for my mother and mother-in-law, or in describing how thankful I am for the Lord’s good providence in placing me in both these families. There isn’t time and space enough for me to finish reflecting on the love, grace, tenderness, compassion, wisdom, joy, patience, steadfastness, beauty, faith and courage of these women. I am grateful to God for them.

My wife is a chip off the ol’ block. Tender and courageous. Patient and bold. Witty and wise. Gorgeous and gracious. Full of life and laughter and light. Her children will rise up and call her blessed. And if there is any praise in the gates for this stubborn, cantankerous ol’ dog, it’s in no small part because of Kristie. Gratefulness is too shallow a word to describe how I feel toward God for Kristie. Babe, I love you with an everlasting love.

Afiya, Eden, and Titus. And then there were three! These are three extraordinary children. Courteous and kind. Full of giggles; even Titus is smiling quite a bit in these last couple of days. I am thankful for the humbling the Lord produces in me through them. I am thankful for the motions of grace I see in Afiya and Eden in particular. I am thankful for their contribution to our family and am excited to see what the Lord will make them to be. I am grateful. My reflection on who they are produces a certain urgency and yearning to see them walk with the Savior. I want them to be godly, Christ-following, pure ladies… exhibiting womanly grace, modesty, knowledge of Christ, maturity, faith, hope and love. Reflection becomes dreaming… and the prayer of faith becomes so urgently necessary.

Life is good. Eternal life is best. This morning, my longing for heaven is strong. It’s not always so. But right now, I want to be with my Savior, to see Him face-to-face, to know Him as I am known, to rejoice with the company of heaven at the glories of our God and King! I want all the persons I know to be there with me… but I’m ready for eternity. Christ has purchased and our omnipotent God has vouchsafed a life without end for all who repent and believe on Him, a life wihtere there is joy and pleasure forevermore, where there is no more sun or moon because God himself lights that place, where God is the Temple, where “when we shall have been there 10,000 years” we will only have just begun to sing God’s praises. In the quiet of space and time… today, and I pray it would be every day all the time, I want to see my Savior.