Here’s the fourth and final installment in our “five minutes with David Powlison” series. The first three are available here
, and here
I asked David to elaborate on this quote:
Wise living involves alertness to experience and emotion. The goal of such self-awareness is not introspective self-preoccupation. Such awareness is rather a matter of integrity and honesty. It is meant to lead you to those twin radical “extrospections”: faith and love.
—Seeing with New Eyes (P&R, 2003), p. 221.
To hear David expand on this quote, download the 5-minute audio recording here
(4.4 MB) or listen online:
Here’s the third installment third installment in our “five minutes with David Powlison” series. The first two installments are available here and here.
I asked David to elaborate on this excellent quote:
A biblical understanding of “feelings” lets us look behind the often deceptive language of daily life.
—Seeing with New Eyes (P&R, 2003), p. 43.
To hear David expand on this quote, download the 5-minute audio recording here (4.7 MB) or listen online:
No one has taught me more about applying the gospel to my heart in the midst of daily life than my friend David Powlison. I have benefited from dozens of outstanding journal articles he has written, from the books he has authored, and from the courses he has taught.
In May I sat down with David in the Sovereign Grace studio to discuss a short list of my favorites from among his resources. The result is an hour-long narrated bibliography of sorts.
We talked about life, his decorated athletic career at Harvard, the New York Yankees, the outrageous cost of dissertations, and some communication theory. But mostly I wanted David to explain the origin and purpose of six specific resources: two conference messages, a course, two books, and his dissertation.
You can download the 56-minute interview here (45 MB), or listen online here:
• Message: “Jesus Christ Is NOT One-Size Fits All” on 1 Thessalonians 5:14, delivered at Sovereign Grace Ministries’ 2004 Pastors Conference. This message was later developed into an article, “Familial Counseling: The Paradigm for Counselor-Counselee Relationships in 1 Thessalonians 5” (The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Winter 2007).
• Message: “In the Last Analysis: Look Out for Introspection” Delivered at our 2007 Pastors Conference.
• Course: Dynamics of Biblical Change. The 1996 version is available as a set of 22 audio CDs from Westminster Bookstore. The distance education curriculum edition created in 2006 can be accessed through the website of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.
• Book: Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the Lens of Scripture (274 pgs; P&R, 2003).
• Book: Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community (203 pgs; New Growth, 2005).
• Dissertation: Competent to Counsel? The History of a Conservative Protestant Biblical Counseling Movement (500 pgs; New Growth, 1996), re-published as The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context (New Growth, 2010).
In the first half of our series, my friend David Powlison introduced us to two fictional works that each featured pastors—Cry, the Beloved Country and Gilead. In the second half, which you are about to read, David recommends six fictional works he classifies as “dark realism,” books that look honestly at the darkness of the human heart without Christ. Along the way David will explain what pastors can gain from works like these.
Like the previous half, this interview except was transcribed from an audio recording.
PART 2: DAVID POWLISON ON “DARK REALISM”
I am a real believer that pastors need a better sense of the messiness of life. You can have your nose in the Bible, you can do all your exegesis, and you can actually miss how gritty the Bible itself is. And you can certainly miss it and develop little idealistic, plastic-smile versions of the Christian life that are not reckoning with what real life is, the things you read about in a history of World War II or in Dostoyevsky. Even in a redeemed sense of things you read in these other two novels [Cry, the Beloved Country and Gilead] that have a powerfully redemptive, overtly Christian theme to them.
I mandated my class read three books. Cry, the Beloved Country and Gilead were two of them. For the third one I gave them the choice and they could pick from a list of the most despairing—but thoughtfully despairing—twentieth-century works I could think of:
• Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
• The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill
• Anton Chekhov's Short Stories
• A short story by Raymond Carver
• Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
• The Plague by Albert Camus
I called these six books "dark realism." They are all worldviews that explore the darkness of human life. What I like about them is that if there is no Christ, they are right. And I don’t think we present Christ well if we do not reckon with the alternative, and the alternative to Christ is darkness.
I have appreciated all six of those books. Conrad, in Heart of Darkness, is looking about as straight as one can look into the pit of the human heart, and he sees the horror of human evil. Conrad is so profoundly pessimistic, an almost unalleviated cynicism and darkness. I think if you want to know about the nature of sin and death, it really behooves us to be aware of some of the more modern writers.
Chekhov is interesting because he has an equally pessimistic worldview, but there is a kind of common grace. Chekhov treats his characters with love, with a palpable love and respect in the way that he portrays people, even though he has no basis for it. In his worldview you die, and that's it. But there is a kind of dignity and grace of spirit.
One very admirable thing about all these guys is that they value honesty. And even if I fundamentally disagree with their vision, there is a certain way in which they have a love for what is true and a hatred for false fronts and hypocrisy.
They usually hate religion—which is what they think Christianity is. And they don’t have kind words to say about the church, but I always think it's worth hearing us at our worst, or hearing how we may be coming across, not because I don’t believe in Christianity, but because the Bible I read has an even more unsparing critique of the church's failings. But the Bible also has a Redeemer.
So these six books will give you vicarious wisdom to learn about people. But they shouldn’t rattle your faith—this is the alternative to faith!
More to come…
I appreciate David’s list of books (and just in time for summer). Over the coming days and weeks be watching for more from David.
Coming soon we will be posting a number of audio clips we recorded with David, including a narrated bibliography. I asked David to walk through several resources on biblical counseling that he has authored over the years to explain why he created them, who will benefit, and how. I think this recording will provide a useful overview to David’s most valuable tools for pastors.
We also recorded four short podcasts with him on topics including good advice versus the Good News, cravings and conflict, feelings versus reality, and the value of personal emotion. Stay tuned for more.
May our summer reading remind us of the light of the gospel that broke into our darkened souls. And may these books supply us with a sobering reality of sin’s darkness and generate a deeper love for the lost.
The audio recording of C.J.'s first message delivered at the New Attitude conference is now online.
The Troubled Soul: God's Word and Our Feelings
Sunday, May 25, 2008
(A continuation of C.J.’s interview with pastor and author Dr. Sinclair Ferguson)
C.J. Mahaney: Sinclair, I am going to ask you to elaborate on four quotes. I have chosen four quotes among so many that I have benefited from personally in my study and used consistently in messages and books. I want to read them and then simply want you to comment on them, noting anything about their origin, or anything from them that you want to elaborate on. I would be most grateful.
The first quote states as follows:
The evangelical orientation is inward and subjective. We are far better at looking inward than we are looking outward. We need to expend our energies admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ.
What’s the origin of this statement? You obviously were observing this evangelical orientation as being inward and subjective and then drew attention to that orientation, exhorting us to expend our energies admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ. Why?
Sinclair Ferguson: This comes from a course on the doctrine of the church and the sacraments, and therefore since I am not saying anything here about the church or the sacraments, it is probably an off the top of my head comment in passing and I am not able to contextualize it.
CJM: By the way, I find that a little discouraging. This is off the top of your head?
SF: Well, come on, now. C.J., you say things off the top of your head.
CJM: Oh, yes, but they never make their way into print.
SF: I think it has arisen from a variety of things I have noticed over the years in the evangelical world. If I were to explain in a technical sense, I would say that I think one of the places where the impact of the Enlightenment has come home to roost is in the way in which I see the impact of a man called Friedrich Schleiermacher on the church. He was reacting to the intelligentsia of his day who were demeaning the gospel. And he really, in a way, turned the gospel on its head by saying it’s what happens internally that’s important.
And I think over my Christian life I have seen more and more how that has become true of evangelicalism. I mean, evangelical Christianity has a very broad subculture that now, probably since the 1960s, has been the kind of “born again” generation, where the really important thing was that you had been “born again” and you had an “experience.”
I began to notice that often being “born again” in the teaching of John 3 was dislocated from the rest of John 3, which had to do with believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and, through him, having salvation. And so sometimes when you had people interviewed who had been “born again,” there was no connectedness to the person of Christ at all.
And so I think I saw the pervasiveness of that and also in my own subculture—the Reformed subculture (if that is the best way to put it). I have been in that subculture all my life. I am a Presbyterian. I have never been anything but a Presbyterian, and that’s been my world.
I noticed in the revival of Reformed theology a glorious worldwide phenomenon. The revival of Calvinism brought much of the interest in terms of literature. The books that people read and were encouraged to read (and rightly encouraged to read) tended to be the ones that dealt with subjective experience.
And so in my subculture we were somewhat critical of the rest of the subculture of evangelicalism, and maybe particularly critical of the charismatic subculture that was all taken up with experience. We didn’t notice that actually, in some ways, we were just using a different mathematics for our experience. One of the books to which many people referred was John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, a hammer on the top of an Arminian’s head. And I observed that people, as I would put it, changed their mathematics about the atonement. But perhaps hadn’t really grasped what this was saying about the Lord Jesus himself and his glory.
And I guess, too, many people became Calvinists through their understanding of the application of redemption (sometimes called the ordo salutis). I began to see and hear people speaking about this almost without reference to the Lord Jesus, saying things like, “Regeneration causes faith, faith brings repentance, faith leads to sanctification.”
You remember those Find Waldo books? In the midst of all this I was saying, “But where is Jesus here?”
SF: I remember on one occasion listening to a series of sermons through one of the Gospels. Here was the basic motif of the sermons: Where are you in this Gospel story?
Now, there is an authenticity about that, but the real question is: Who is Jesus in this Gospel story?
And so, watching all this, I realized by looking at the literature that was being produced (including the literature I was producing), that it had more about how to live the Christian life....And so I think that is what lies behind this quote.
Curiously, I think it was C.S. Lewis that gave me the clue to this. When an undergraduate, I remember reading his book A Preface to Paradise Lost (on Milton’s book). And that wee book is not a well-known book of Lewis’s, but it is a great wee book with some stunning quotes.
In that book Lewis discusses what I had noticed in the kind of discussions as a student: Why is it that in Paradise Lost, if you ask who the hero is, just in terms of the literary power, Satan turns out to be the hero? And the literary critics had discussed this a good deal. But Lewis said it very simply. He said it’s far easier to portray evil than it is to portray perfect good.
And the more I thought about that, the more I realized: For preachers it’s much easier to seek to bring about conviction of sin and expose sin than to magnify and glory in the Lord Jesus.
Photo © 2008, Lukas VanDyke