From the beginning, cultural influences have threatened to weaken the church. The Apostle Paul exhorted the Roman Christians to resist the temptation to be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2 ESV). And then he continued to remind his readers of the importance of thinking and discernment. Biblical nonconformity requires that we become aware of the forces in our culture that threaten to press in, confine, and reshape the church.
Last week we introduced Os Guinness (see “Faith, Doubt, and Unbelief”
). The following are five excerpts pulled from Mark Dever’s recent interview
with Guinness helps us better discern the cultural influence that threaten to reshape the church—worldliness, pluralization, secularization, and privatization.
Guinness on Worldliness
The story of [theological] liberalism is the story of adapting, accommodating, and then surrendering to the spirit of the age.
When I came to Christ, evangelicals had a high view of worldliness. Often the things that were considered worldly were rather trivial, so called “no-nos.” But now in some circles we don’t even have any view of worldliness. And you can see that with the rise of the church growth movement in the extremes, the seeker sensitive movement in the extremes, the desire to be relevant, etc. Evangelicalism has its own version of the liberal tendency. And many people are taking on modern ideas, modern practices, without a thought, and it is absolute folly…
Capitalism has trounced all its enemies: socialism and communism and the rest. But it is now at its greatest danger, both as a theory and as something practical in terms of, say, daily consumerism. And we as followers of Jesus must give a theoretical critique of capitalism and a very practical critique of capitalism in terms of shopping malls, etc. And if we don’t, it is going to undermine itself and our culture.
Guinness on Pluralization
Pluralism is just a social fact. There is a diversity, a great many people, a lot of differences, faiths, social backgrounds, languages, cultures, and so on. That is pluralism.…The early church, [although it] was born in a pluralistic climate,…was absolutely faithful to the exclusiveness of Christ. And they would die for it.
Pluralism is different from what the social scientists call pluralization, which affects us psychologically and spiritually.
So for instance, in a simple, traditional, culture, the idea that you had your faith that was for all of life was relatively easy. Like one man, one woman, till death do us part. But I often say, if I had my grandfather’s silk handkerchief and I lost it, I would look for it. It is precious. It is old. It is valuable. It is connected to the family. It would be stupid to look for a Kleenex. A Kleenex is made disposable, thousands of them.
Now in the same way, in a modern world, our relationships have been pluralized. And that is one of the deepest reasons undermining marriage. Every day you are meeting other people. Every woman could see another man she might do better with, and every man another woman he might do better with. And so our relationships have been pluralized, and that is very, very dangerous.
Peter Berger describes modern faith as “conversion prone”—we should always be changing, there is always something else. You could pass down the supermarket of faiths and today I am this, and tomorrow I am that.
One megachurch pastor said to me, “I look into my congregation’s eyes, and I am haunted by the fact that they are always only two weeks away from leaving me to join a bigger church, a better church.”
You can see church-membership shopping, surfing, channeling, and so on. “I don’t like your music. I like the music down there. I like the worship there. They are liturgical, or they are not liturgical,” or whatever.
You can see that a whole generation is pluralized. So pluralism is simply a fact. Pluralization is potentially very dangerous.
Guinness on Secularization
Secularism is a philosophy, the idea that there are no gods, no supernatural: atheism, naturalism, and science. That is secularism: a philosophy.
Secularization is a process, and it should be distinguished [from secularism]. It is the idea that as the world gets more modern, it gets less religious. Now the theory of secularization was actually grossly overstated for the first 200 years, and it has collapsed. It used to be thought [that] the world inevitably gets less religious as it gets more modern. So Europe was the model and the United States was the exception for the moment, but the whole world would eventually go the way of Europe. That’s now being seen to have the bias of a secular philosophy behind it. It is wrong. Empirically it is wrong. Philosophically it is biased.
So the secularization theory is under heavy assault today. But there is some effect of secularization. For instance, in our modern world, most of us, even as Christians, have a tendency to be atheists unawares in the sense [that, like] the modern world, [we put] all the premium on the five senses—what you can touch, taste, see, calculate, measure, weigh, and so on. So [in] many churches the whole understanding is this side of the feeling.
You know, I have rarely been in churches in the United States where sometimes in the sermon or worship the ceiling was punctured and you knew you were in the presence of the transcendent. I have rarely experienced that over here, because it is all this side of the ceiling.
And you look at, say, much of the church growth movement: They know everything about parking lot theory, the color that your tie has to be, and all sorts of things to grow the perfect church. The church could operationally go on for 50 years if the Holy Spirit withdrew altogether, because it is all this side of the ceiling, it’s all worldly operational procedures.
We have actually been much more secularized than we realize. That is why brothers and sisters from Africa or Asia, they know the power of Spirit…for healing or other areas, which many of us in the West simply don’t know. We have words like prayer or the supernatural, but a direct living experience of them we often don’t have.…
Now, with the rise of the Iranian revolution in ’79 and then all sorts of things right down to September the 11th, Peter Berger said famously, “The world is as furiously religious as ever.”…I personally think that when secularization seemed to be sweeping everything, atheists weren’t very strident. They didn’t need to push religion. It was on the way out. But suddenly they realized [that] the world is “furiously religious,” and they see Islamic extremism and look at Christian fundamentalism as dangerous. Now you see the new atheists—Dawkins, Harris, and so on—are strident because they are actually panicking.
Guinness on Privatization
Privatization is the way in our modern world we lose the integration of faith. So go back to a traditional world, small town, village: Where someone lived, worked, and went to church was integrated. You could probably walk around them in half an hour, certainly go around on a horse in an hour. But as the modern world explodes, where people live and often where they go to church is relatively close still (although in L.A. it might be an hour away, traveling 50 miles to go to church). But then where they work is quite different altogether.
So it is called privatization, the way religion and faith in general [get] restricted to the private sphere—the home, the church, the weeknight, the weekend. But the world of work, politics, business, science, technology is another world, with a different way of doing it.
So, as one person says, people have different hats and they have different souls. A non-Christian said the churches in California he studied were privately engaging, publicly irrelevant. That’s another way of saying privatization…
Now up until the ’60s, most evangelicals, a great majority, [were] privatized. Then came the ’60s and evangelicals slept through it. ’73 was the wake-up year—Watergate, Roe v. Wade, OPEC, the oil crisis. Evangelicals started to realize the culture was slipping away.
The tendency then was to make the opposite mistake, to politicize faith, to swing from a privatized faith that lacked integration, the lordship of Christ in every area of life...They swung to a politicized faith, thinking politics was the be-all and end-all, and that lacked independence. No longer was faith primary. Christians became core chaplain to whatever party they supported, more recently the Republicans.
Guinness on Sociology
I was studying at Oxford, and Peter Berger became my mentor. And I realized that most apologetics, most Christian thinking, used the history of ideas, going from thinkers and their thoughts to the impact on the street, church, or whatever. Whereas the “sociology of knowledge,” as it is called, looks to the street, the social setting of people’s lives, and describes how that shapes even their thinking.
And you can see [that] the modern church is affected by crazy ideas. But it is much more affected by the way we live in our modern lifestyles and so on. So I tried to write The Gravedigger File to take ideas that were relatively well known in sociology, but show their relevance to Christians who didn’t understand sociology.
So terms like privatization which are bandied around by a lot of people now—the way, in our modern world, faith easily becomes privately engaging, publicly irrelevant. I tried to explain those and show Christians how they are shaped by faith.
Now when I wrote that, there was almost no one in evangelical circles looking at sociology. Today I am embarrassed and, more than that, disturbed, to say many people pick up sociology but uncritically. They take the latest insights they read from whoever it is and take it as gospel. Sociology is a very useful tool, but a very dangerous master…
Look at the seeker sensitive movement. It looks at the world to try and catch up with it, be relevant to it. Whereas actually, if you look at the world critically, there are things that are good and there are things that are very, very dangerous and to avoid at all costs. Sociology should make us much more discriminating.
[Mark Dever mentions David Wells’s series of books—No Place for Truth (1993), God in the Wasteland (1994), Losing Our Virtue (1998), and The Courage to Be Protestant (2008)—and asks if these books have been successful in uniting theology and sociology.]
Absolutely. I tease my good friend David because early on he was what I would call a “straight theologian.” I told him, “David, you can’t make sense of theology without looking at the modern world.” Now some people say today there is too much sociology. And before his last book…I said, “Come on, we need a bit more theology, not just sociology.” But he is a good example of someone who is doing this well.
Listen to the entire interview, “Life and Ministry with Os Guinness."
September 25, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Book reviews | Doubt | Faith | Unbelief
Os Guinness is a fascinating man, blessed with an impressive mind, broad skill, and a unique biography and family heritage.
The Guinness family traces missionary roots back to a relative named Hudson Taylor—the famous missionary to China. Os’s great-great-grandfather founded the Guinness brewery and was a friend of William Wilberforce. His grandparents and parents were all missionaries. Os himself was born in China during World War II and lived there through the 1949 Communist Revolution. Os recalls living through the house arrest of his missionary parents and a widespread famine that claimed the lives of five million people. He shares more of his family and missionary background in a recent interview
with my friend Mark Dever.
I’ve listened to this interview twice. It is both interesting and instructive. At the end of this interview, Mark says to Os, “I have as many questions as I had to begin with.” I don’t think I’ve heard Mark say that before (he certainly didn’t say this after he interviewed me!).
Os has worked alongside Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri, as a freelance reporter for the BBC, and as Guest Scholar and Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He has edited or written over 20 books on a broad range of topics. Listening to this interview reminded me of how I have benefited from the writings of Os Guinness over the years.
In Two Minds
Today I want to draw attention to Os Guinness’s helpful teaching on the topic of doubt
At one point in the interview, Mark asked him about the purpose of his book In Two Minds: The Dilemma of Doubt and How to Resolve It
(IVP, 1976). Guinness responded: “Well, I myself didn’t have a lot of the doubts described in the book, but I met so many people who were either ashamed, embarrassed, or felt guilty about doubting. And I wanted to relieve them of that. Doubt is not the same as unbelief. You have faith
in Christ, which is sure of Christ, and you have unbelief
which, sadly, is not sure of Christ. And doubt
is a halfway house. And all the languages of the world as well as the Scriptures had this idea of doubt in two minds. So like a coin spinning it will come down heads or tails. It has got to be resolved, but you don’t need to feel bad about doubt. You just need to resolve it.”
This recent interview led me to pick up again my old, yellowing, and well-worn copy of In Two Minds
. By the pen markings throughout the book and the dog-eared pages I’m reminded that Guinness has a lot of excellent points on this topic.
“I Believe in Doubt”
That’s the title of the first chapter. In it, we get a big-picture of why it’s important to properly understand doubt, even to understand the potential of doubts to bring us deeper in our communion with God! Guinness writes,
“Christianity places a premium on the absolute truthfulness and trustworthiness of God, so understanding doubt is extremely important to a Christian. Of course, faith is much more than the absence of doubt, but to understand doubt is to have a key to a quiet heart and a quiet mind. Anyone who believes anything will automatically know something about doubt. But the person who knows why he believes is also in a position to discover why he doubts. The Christian should be such a person.
Not only does a Christian believe, he is a person who ‘thinks in believing and believes in thinking,’ as Augustine expressed it. The world of Christian faith is not a fairy-tale, make-believe world, question-free and problem-proof, but a world where doubt is never far from faith's shoulder.
Consequently, a healthy understanding of doubt should go hand in hand with a healthy understanding of faith. We ourselves are called in question if we have no answer to doubt. If we constantly doubt what we believe and always believe-yet-doubt, we will be in danger of undermining our personal integrity, if not our stability. But if ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger still. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply.” (pp. 15-16).
In the next chapter, Guinness steps back and asks a fundamental question: What is doubt
? After a detailed explanation of the five senses of the word he summarizes the many sides of doubt
. “If a person is ‘torn’ between options, unable to ‘make up’ his mind, or if he is ‘up in the air’ over something and unsure which side he should ‘come down on,’ or if he is furiously ‘debating’ with himself or ‘hanging back,’ or weighing up his ‘reservations,’ he is nothing if not ‘in two minds.’ This is the essence of doubt” (p. 27).
And doubt looks very differently in each of our lives.
“Problems strike us all differently. What is trivial to one person may raise titanic questions for someone else. Some people face doubt only if they find no answer; others trigger doubts merely by raising questions. What puzzles a philosopher and taxes his mind to distraction may look completely irrelevant or quite obvious to a businessman. The point is not to judge who is right, but to meet and resolve whatever doubt is a problem to a particular person” (p. 32).
No matter what level of doubt we face, living in constant doubt is not where we want to live our lives. But neither should be automatically feel guilty and sinful for all doubting thoughts. The reality is that doubt is inevitable in the Christian life. Guinness writes, “In the same way assurance of faith depends on our grasp of God and his faithfulness and not on a mastery of all the doubts that are ever likely to assail us. Otherwise faith could never be assured while one last doubt remained” (p. 33).
But there is danger in long-term doubt. Chronic doubt leads to serious consequences. “For the Christian, doubt is not the same as unbelief, but neither is it divorced from it. Continued doubt loosens the believer's hold on the resources and privileges of faith and can be the prelude to the disasters of unbelief. So doubt is never treated as trivial” (p. 31). Later he writes, “If faith does not resolve doubt, doubt will dissolve faith” (p. 187). Guinness warns us never to lessen the significance of doubt (especially lingering doubt) in our hearts.
So how do we effectively confront doubt? We need to remember that the “largest part of doubting comes simply from ignorance of what God has said and done” (pp. 34-35). The cure for doubt is preventative—we cultivate an active and vibrant life of faith in what God has said and done.
“What is more, faith, like health, is best maintained by growth, nourishment and exercise and not by fighting sickness. Sickness may be the absence of health, but health is more than the absence of sickness, so prevention is better than cure. Equally, faith grows and flourishes when it is well nourished and exercised, so the best way to resist doubt is to build up faith rather than simply to fight against doubt” (pp. 33-34).
Much of In Two Minds is dedicated to the topic and excellent quotes abound. Here is one—“We do not trust God because he guides us; we trust and then are guided, which means that we can trust God even when we do not see guided by him. Faith may be in the dark about guidance, but it is never in the dark about God” (p. 261). In fact, “God proves not only better to us than our worst fears but better to us than our wildest dreams” (p. 184).
In fact, how we handle doubt is largely a reflection of the health of our faith because “since the object of Christian faith is God, to believe or disbelieve is everything. Thus the market value of doubt for the Christian is extremely high. Find out how seriously a believer takes his doubts and you have the index of how seriously he takes his faith” (p. 31).
I think pastors would be wise to assume that members of their churches are familiar with doubt in their thinking and personal experience. And I’m especially aware of this in the lives of high school and college students, and surprisingly even in new converts. Often these individuals wrongly associate doubt with unbelief, and therefore experience shame, embarrassment, and guilt over the very presence of doubts in their hearts.
In my perspective, it would be wise for pastors at some point to address this topic and provide excellent supplemental materials to address the topic of doubt.
Now for the bad news: Os Guinness’s book In Two Minds: The Dilemma of Doubt and How to Resolve It is out-of-print. The good news is that used copies of it are available online from used-book stores.
UPDATE: In Two Minds is in print! The book was republished by Crossway under the title God in the Dark: The Assurance of Faith Beyond a Shadow of Doubt (Crossway, 1996).
Today we feature more wisdom from Mark Dever in my 2007 interview with him. This time Mark shares details about his personal preparation and delivery of sermons.
C.J. Mahaney: Let’s move into the topic of preaching. The first of the “nine marks” is expositional preaching. Talk to us very specifically about your process of preparing a sermon.
Mark Dever: I assume that my mind is in too many ways a stagnant swamp that needs the fresh water of God’s Word constantly being poured in to understand him better, to understand myself better, to understand life better. So I want to give myself to preaching on a certain passage of Scripture. I usually don’t preach because I am looking to talk about a particular problem. This year we are going through Luke’s Gospel, and so I want to work specifically on the passage I am going to be preaching Sunday. I want to read it over and over and note things.
Gordon Fee taught me New Testament exegesis at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and—although I didn’t agree with his feminism or his kenotic Christology—I did love his story about the graduate student in ichthyology. There is a student studying fish at a doctoral level, and a world-class expert tells him to write down everything he sees about the fish and then he leaves. And the guy is kind of disappointed, because he was studying under this great expert. He thought, “Why am I doing this?”
He wrote down a few things. The expert returns about 30 minutes later and says, “This is all you’ve got?”
And the graduate student says, “Yes.”
He says, “I want you to do this for the next hour.”
And the student says, “An hour? You’re kidding!”
So for an hour the student does it and he starts noting down more things, and seeing more things, and writing them down.
The expert returns an hour later and he says, “All right. This is a pretty good start. Why don’t you do this the rest of the afternoon?”
And the graduate student is thinking, What are you thinking? You are the great expert, I came to learn from you and this is just a fish floating here.
So the student spends the rest of the afternoon doing the same thing. But by the end of the afternoon he realizes he has learned more about fish just by sitting and staring at the fish.
All of that to say: Rather than reading all the commentaries, I spend my first day in sermon preparation just reading and rereading the text and praying about it and noting things I see (any structures or questions that are answered). I find this to be the most fruitful way for me to have my soul freshly engaged by God about his Word.
And I also think of it in the context of where I’ll be preaching it—to this congregation. So I assume my exegesis should be very similar to what other people have done, but I will be looking at it with certain questions in mind from my own life, from the lives of those people in the congregation, and from the congregation as a whole.
So the most fundamental part of the sermon preparation for me is this reading and rereading of the text.
CJM: Do you do recommend pastors consult commentaries?
MD: Yes, particularly when there are things I’m not sure what to do with—but only after I have completed all this work on the text myself. Otherwise I will just become an echo chamber for somebody’s commentary rather than talking with the commentary, as it were. When I have a text, I will put a question mark by a certain thing that I have a question about in my Word doc. I will write out my question and then I make myself answer it. Then I will type in “Answer” and insert the best answer I could think of at the time (even if it is not a very good one).
Then once I have this in mind, I try to answer all the questions I have about the text. Only then do I feel it’s safe for me to look at a commentary. Hopefully a lot of the things commentators will have thought of are some of the questions I have considered as I have been reading and rereading the text and praying over it. So I am able to have a conversation with the people who have written the commentaries, rather than just let them sort of type on my brain.
CJM: All right. Average number of hours each week devoted to sermon prep?
MD: Thirty to 35.
CJM: How long do you speak on Sundays?
MD: One hour.
CJM: You work from a manuscript?
MD: I do, though I don’t generally recommend other people do that.
MD: Manuscripts can just be deadly boring. I don’t want to say there are few people who can use a manuscript well, but it is definitely a minority.
CJM: And you don’t remain restricted by your manuscript, though. That would be the difference.
MD: For whatever reason, I can glance down and pick up several sentences and then talk. So I don’t think it appears that I am reading.
CJM: Not at all, no.
Matt Schmucker: And you often get accused of saying that your best stuff after a sermon is the stuff that wasn’t in the manuscript anyway. We call it off-roading.
MD: What everybody thanks me for as they walk out at the door usually had nothing to do with my manuscript.
CJM: You are unique in your preparation process in that you love to have people around you. True?
MD: Well, honestly, there are some parts of preparation when I do prefer to be alone, especially when I am trying to think things through. But I like having people around for me to be able to bounce things off of. Particularly when I go over my application grid and fill it out, I do that with another member of the church.
CJM: Describe that process. Because before you preach a sermon on Sunday, you meet with a member of the church on Saturday to do what?
MD: They will have been reading over the text of Scripture. We will sit and talk about the Scripture. So they will ask me any questions they have. And that helps me sometimes, because they will have questions—as someone who hasn’t done all this study will have. Sometimes I’m thinking, “Well, you don’t need to explain about the Samaritans. Everybody knows.” They’ll say, “Well, no, actually I don’t know. Who are the Samaritans?”
These things are very helpful as a reality check for the preacher, I think.
But then we labor in giving our time to application where I have various categories set up, which can change from series to series. But generally for each point of my sermon I try to ask,
- What is this saying to the individual Christian? This is the category I think most evangelical preachers preach from—and only this one. But there are others.
- How does this point to Christ?
- What is this saying that is unique in salvation history that I need to articulate?
- What is this saying to the non-Christian?
- Are there any public implications?
- What is it saying to Capitol Hill Baptist Church? How should we as a church, as a congregation, be challenged, encouraged, or shaped by what we are hearing?
These categories provide me a structured meditation on the text. And it is really helpful for me to have someone else to talk through these categories with.
September 19, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Humor | Interviews | Reading
In the interview
I did with my friend Mark Dever in 2007, I asked him to describe each of the following men in a single sentence: Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Sibbes, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Carl Henry, John Stott, J.I. Packer, D.A. Carson, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Tim Duncan, and John MacArthur. Guess which one left him speechless.
Sports are a gift from God. And for the Christian, sports provide a means of growth in godliness and an opportunity to glorify God.
But too often Christians participate in sports without first being theologically informed about sports.
To my knowledge, there are few books available that present a biblical worldview of sports, and even fewer that are rooted in the gospel, assist us in applying the doctrine of sin to our hearts, and help us grow in godliness through our participation in sports. So I am thrilled to now hold in my hands a copy of Stephen Altrogge’s new book, Game Day for the Glory of God: A Guide for Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).
Stephen is currently a student in our Pastors College. Previously, he was a pastoral intern at Sovereign Grace Church
in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his father, Mark Altrogge, serves as senior pastor.
Last week I sat down and interviewed Stephen. We talked about sports, why he wrote this book, and how it will equip athletes, parents, coaches, and pastors to glorify God in sports. But it also provided an opportunity to ask: How did Mark Altrogge—a much-loved pastor and world-class songwriter, but a man with limited athletic ability or interest—raise a son with such a strong appreciation for sports? I’m assuming Stephen’s athletic ability and interest come from his mom.
Listen online or download the 20-minute interview with Stephen Altrogge.
to the interview online here:
(20:1; 13.8MB MP3).
September 11, 2001 was, for me, memorable. It marked the first morning of a very special trip with my wife to the quaint town of Chatham on Cape Cod. Carolyn and I had just finished breakfast at the Wayside Inn and were eager to begin this relaxing and romantic day together. And the day could not have been more inviting.
But while preparing to pay for breakfast, I noticed a gathering of people in the adjoining bar area, studying a television screen. Curious, I took a place among them and learned what they already knew: Two jet airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center towers, both the apparent attacks of terrorists.
We made our way back to our hotel room stunned and perplexed by the images we had briefly viewed. Just yesterday we had flown into Logan International Airport in Boston, now the airport of origin for the two flights that slammed into the towers.
I had no category for what had taken place. Like the rest of the world, we stared in disbelief at the television, immediately aware that our trip would not end as planned. I called home to talk with the pastors to begin altering the message for the Sunday meeting and assembling the church that evening for the purpose of prayer. It was important to return home to serve the church with a message providing biblical perspective to the events. I was one of countless pastors whose plans were altered that week by the crisis.
Years ago I came across an article with the title “When the News Intrudes: What Do You Say from the Pulpit about National Crises and Tragedies?”. Though I would give the article a mixed review, I like the title and the idea behind it. Pastors have a unique responsibility and opportunity during a national or local crisis. How are pastors to effectively serve and lead those they care for “when the news intrudes”?
Hopefully nothing like 9/11 will ever happen again. But events that capture the attention of the world and broadly affect the world will happen again. So how should a pastor serve and lead the church during these times?
I’m no expert on this topic, but the following is what I learned in leading Covenant Life Church through experiences like 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Beltway sniper attacks....
[Download the full article, titled “9/11, Crisis, and the Pastor,” as a PDF document here.]
The book of Proverbs is a unique gift to those in their teenage years. Whether you're a parent or a teen, do you value the wealth of wisdom contained there? In these two messages, C.J. highlights the danger of foolishly “dissing” Lady Wisdom, and the importance of listening to her words.
Two audio recordings from Worthy08, the recent Covenant Life Church parent-youth retreat:
Part 1: The Danger of Dissing Lady Wisdom
August 19, 2008
Worthy08 parent-youth retreat; North East, Maryland
52:56 run time; 97.0MB MP3
Part 2: The Danger of Dissing Lady Wisdom
August 19, 2008
Worthy08 parent-youth retreat; North East, Maryland
46:19 run time; 84.9MB MP3
C.J.’s message from the 2008 Together for the Gospel conference, “Sustaining the Pastor’s Soul,” has been added to the sermon archive. To read, listen to, watch, or download the message, click here.
Sustaining the Pastor’s Soul
April 17, 2008
Together for the Gospel Conference; Louisville, KY
Each year, Sovereign Grace Ministries presents a short documentary highlighting a few of the activities in our family of churches. This Mission Presentation is usually made in Sovereign Grace churches over various Sundays in October. This year, we produced three shorter films to highlight each of our funding categories—our Pastors College, our ministry among international churches, and our church-planting activities in the United States.
This year’s Pastors College documentary features the Arche Church in Hamburg, Germany, which sent Christian Wegert to be part of the 2007–2008 Pastors College class.
The international documentary features Covenant Life Church of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which was planted by two Pastors College students five years ago and is now planting another church in Addis.
The final video is an interview with C.J. Mahaney by Joshua Harris, which addresses some of the structural changes Sovereign Grace Ministries has made to position our ministry for growth in domestic church-planting.
Watch a trailer of the three 2008 Mission Presentation videos
Related: Previous Mission Presentations can be viewed at www.missionvideos.org.
The role of the church in influencing and shaping contemporary American culture is a topic generating much interest, discussion, and disagreement. Gauging from the many books on the subject, there is a lot that can be said, but I especially appreciate what my friend Mark Dever has said.
Today I want to draw off another excerpt from my 2007 interview with Mark. Mark lives, works, and pastors a church four blocks from the U.S. Capitol and three blocks from the U.S. Supreme Court. Mark is geographically—and in his thinking—on one of the front lines where the church and contemporary culture meet.
C.J. Mahaney: Elaborate more on the priorities of 9Marks.
Mark Dever: Well, what we want to see are communities of people that reflect the character of God, and by doing so are distinct from the world around them. As I travel around I see so many evangelical churches trying to “break the code” of how to look as much like the culture as possible and yet keep the gospel, assuming this will maximize the evangelistic impulse.
I’m not sure that’s true.
I think there is a lot of peril in this. And it seems to be that even from the very earliest chapters of Acts, what strikes people are not thoughts of, “Hey, they speak Hebrew too,” but rather, “Hey, look at how they love one another in a way that is different from the way we are loving or being loved.”
So I think that God’s character, as it is reproduced in a community of people, must be one of the most powerful witnesses to the truth of the gospel, both for evangelism and the edification of those already converted. So I would like to see evangelical churches— while not becoming unsophisticated in how they interact with culture—keep cultural interaction in perspective, and realize that the life-blood of your church continuing is not your contextualization (your similarity to the culture), but how you are blessedly distinct from the culture. The church is full of people who are born again.
So our distinctives are what we want to hold out, and trust that God will make them attractive and will commend the gospel to other people.
So sometimes I feel like I am being called to tar the ark before the flood. Our world is increasingly secular. And churches that are trying to be as much like the world as possible, I fear, are very leaky arks. And churches that are trying to be like the world are often unselfconsciously nothing more than part of their culture. I fear they are just going to sink and become spiritually worthless spiritual tombs.
So I think the rise of secularism will itself cut down on nominal Christianity. It will actually encourage the clarity of what truly is the gospel and the effects that it has, because the cache, the worth, the value of nominal Christianity will just continue to decline in the culture broadly, so that you won’t want to be known as an evangelical Christian because that means you hate various groups of people or you believe these weird things. (As opposed to in the 50s it meant you were a respectable, upstanding citizen.) So as the general cultural perception turns on evangelical Christianity, I think we are just seeing all the more clearly our need to have a positive vision for the church as distinct from the culture.
CJM: And so what would you say to a pastor who is attracted to models of the church that aren’t distinct from the culture and aren’t distinctly proclaiming the gospel?
MD: Well, when you are not distinctly proclaiming the gospel, then you are not talking about a healthy church in any way whatsoever.
I want to be careful here. Not every church is going to be exactly alike. For example, there are churches that deliberately dress differently, or have a different kind of music, or different order of their services. But as long as they are preaching the gospel, preaching the Word, the things they are saying are true, they are reading Scripture, they are praising—as long as they are doing the things we are commanded to in Scripture, I am prepared to believe there are a number of different ways, and that in different settings one can be better than another.
But I would be very careful if these things are what a church begins majoring on. If the adverbs overtake the verbs, the adjectives overtake the nouns, the how you do it becomes more important than what you are doing, well then I think you have surely lost your way.
For more on this topic, consult Mark’s T4G’08 message (“Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology”), The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World by David Wells (Eerdmans, 2008) and Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson (Eerdmans, 2008).