Friday, September 6, 2013
By: Thomas F. Booher
I took an art appreciation class a few years back in college. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned a lot about paintings, sculptures, carvings, and the artists themselves. I even learned, in some generic sense, how to interpret the paintings, and why they were painted the way they were. Perhaps I even gained a rudimentary understanding of how to make art as well. The farthest thing from my mind, however, was learning how to paint in art appreciation class. No, I wanted to understand art and the artist, to see something of its skill and worth, its beauty. But be an artist? Try and practice what I learned from art appreciation class? Perish the thought!
In a sense, I think this strikes close to what is wrong with our churches today. We view church, Bible conferences, the whole Christian life even, as theology appreciation class. We want to know something of God's Word, we want to grasp Jesus Christ with our mind. We want to see what He has done for us, and usually we want to praise Him for it. What we so often don't want, however, is to be like Him. We don't get so excited when Christ tells us to take up our crosses and follow Him. That's a command we can't parse. It's a cold hard dose of reality, and we refuse to accept it.
We enjoy God like an art appreciation class. We pursue God like an art appreciation class -- to know Him, not to be like Him. To be renewed in our minds (Rom. 12:2), but not to be transformed by that renewal. In a sense, we intentionally make knowing God and studying His word impractical. Or maybe better, anti-practical. We disconnect knowing God from being like Him. We desire seeing Him as He is, and praising Him for it, but we so often do not desire to be holy as He is holy. Sometimes we try to hide our lack of desire to be like Christ in pious terms: We overemphasize our depravity to say we can never be like Him, or we say our freedom in Christ allows us to relax our "legalistic" pursuit of holiness.
Pastors and parents contribute to this faulty mindset. Often, pastors' preaching is little more than lecturing. It gives food for the brain, but not passion for the heart. It produces knowledge, not conformity. Sometimes I think we have confused knowing God abstractly, or theologically, with knowing God experientially, or practically. That is, we think when we know God simply in the form of a theological construct, we have done what God commands when He says love Me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Somehow, we have confused knowing the commandments with keeping the commandments. We think we've honored God fully when we grasp the doctrine, see some beauty of it, and praise Him for it. All of that we should of course do. But there is more. We must then ask, "Lord, how can I be like you?" We must seek to understand theology and attend church as sheep longing for their Shepherd to direct them on how to be good sheep; that is, how to be who they are in Christ.
To be clear, I am saying we have confused church and studying God's Word with art appreciation class. Just imagine if you told your teacher of this art appreciation class that while you enjoyed the concepts and admired the skill and talent of the artists, you could never see yourself ever striving to be an artist yourself. Perhaps the art teacher would be fine with that, but don't you think he would likely say, "Ah, that's too bad, I was hoping some exposure to the realm of artistry would inspire in some of my pupils a desire to be like the artist. I guess, then, art just isn't for you."
Whoa, do you see the problem here? If that is really how we are approaching Jesus Christ, we are essentially saying, "Wow Jesus, you're a really swell Guy, being the Lord and Savior of me, and I really appreciate you and what you have done for me. I won't ever forget. But, you know, I really don't think I have an interest in you beyond that. I'll continue to appreciate you, and show that appreciation through worship on Sundays. But I won't actually try to be like you. It just isn't for me." Frightening, isn't it? Of course, we wouldn't actually talk to Christ like that if we are true Christians. But in practice, could it not be possible that to some extent, perhaps even a large extent, we approach studying God like an art appreciation class?
Then contrast that with my approach. My approach, insofar as keeping with the art appreciation analogy, would be to keep going after you have taken "theology appreciation." Keep going as in, now that I understand a bit about the doctrine of Scripture, let me look at it again and see how I can conform my life to that doctrine of Scripture, because after all, the law of God, and any true doctrine, is simply God's character in written form, as a theological construct. But now I must translate that construct into personhood. And how can I do that? Well, I shall look to Jesus Christ, firstly, for He is the Word made flesh. He is theology made flesh. He is the God-man, the perfect image of the Father, and I am to be like Him.
Of course, I think if we consistently approached Scripture in this manner, we would lead much holier lives, and indeed better understand the doctrine themselves, because we would now know how to translate it into humanity, that is, into what Christ has done. We should be asking and thinking, "Now how did Christ perfectly embody that doctrine, and how can I embody that doctrine, by God's grace, through His Spirit, as well?"
Imagine if sheep sought God like that? Imagine if pastors preached like this, to show sheep how to be like Christ, not to simply understand the doctrine, but to embody the doctrine in Christ, and then in ourselves.
This approach changes everything. If we approached Scripture like that, we would not stop once we grasped the doctrine logically. We would then seek the logic, the practical point, of how to put this bit of God into practice. This practical point, mind you, isn't something beyond the doctrine itself. No, I believe we understand the doctrine most rightly and fully when we see how it connects to our being made in the image of God. Only once we have grasped that will we see how this doctrine is to shape us, and only then can we actually be shaped by it and live out the doctrine ourselves.
And that is the heart attitude sheep should have when they go to church, and study God's Word, and discuss theology. That is how preachers should preach and parents should parent. And so often, that is exactly the opposite of how we approach church, and how pastors approach preaching. This is why there is a famine of spirituality in the land, and this is why I want to be a shepherd. But first, Lord, let me be a good sheep.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
By: Thomas F. Booher
I'm blowing the horn right here, right now. Many reformed churches aren't living up to their name. It's time we wake up to this, find out why, change, and call others to change. For God's glory.
If you know me or have followed my posts closely, you probably already know that I grew up in a PCA church my whole life. Yet never did I hear the doctrines of grace in my home church. It wasn't until I went off to a secular college that I heard of the reformed faith. That was five years ago. Now I am a convinced Calvinist, and I hold to reformed/covenant theology. I am also convinced that many reformed churches aren't reforming. I believe God uses this to convict me to become a pastor more than anything. To preach, but more, to shepherd. To write blog posts like this and call out the institutions and people I am in rank with. Maybe you think my accusations are crazy, my concerns misplaced. Maybe you think I am crazy, ignorant, too narrow-minded, too pessimistic, out of place to even say these things. I almost hope I am wrong, but I am convinced that I am not. Why?
Because I think reformed churches need reforming. Semper Reformanda, yes, except I am actually serious. We need to look at what we are preaching, how we are parenting, how we fellowship, how we evangelize, and how we are engaging culture. I see those five things as five pillars needed for a modern day reformation, and I think on the whole reformed churches today are doing poorly with all five.
This may be deeper than you think. I am not simply saying we need more expository preaching. I am saying we need to go back and make sure we know what expository preaching is, and then actually do it. We need better shepherding. We need much better parenting, and a much higher view of children. Then we need to go back in Scripture and check up on what it really means to raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And then we need to faithfully do it.
We need to re-examine the nature of the new covenant. What role do works have? And why do we keep saying that God is never angry with us? We must pursue holiness, but before we do, we probably need to go back and make sure we understand what holiness is, and how we go about pursuing it.
We need to be salt and light, and we need to know how to be it, and also that we are, in Christ, salt and light by nature. We need to check our theology of evangelism. We need to remember that God has comprised the body of Christ with many parts, all of which serve one another. Which leads to fellowship: we need to fellowship better, not more.
Then, if we begin to get preaching, parenting, fellowshipping and evangelizing straightened out, we need to look at society and culture at large. We need to look at our relationship to the arts, the cultural/dominion mandate.
After all, I just wanted to be a fiction writer and perhaps teach writing for God's glory (okay, and maybe become a professional baseball player). But I can't because I'm convinced reformed churches are dying, and we don't even recognize it. I can't because I see sheep starving while thinking they are full. Worst of all, I see reformed pastors think they are feeding when they are not. And I think, by God's grace, I know enough to actually make such an audacious claim.
Consider: we preach about our sinfulness, but do we preach at sin? Do we preach at people? Do pastors preach at their flock concerning their sins? Hardly. Is this because we think we are when in reality we aren't? Or is this because we think that is wrong? Or is it because pastors are more worried about keeping their jobs than reproving, rebuking, exhorting, and correcting? Do we address sins in our families, in our friends, in our children? Hardly.
Consider: Are we applying with the text? Are pastors applying specific texts to their specific people and their specific situations? Are pastors giving good analogies, or is all this theology just head knowledge? I think we have forgotten that until we have grasped how to rightly practice a doctrine or piece of theology, we have not actually grasped that doctrine or piece of theology.
To Parents: I am soon to join your ranks, but I have some grave concerns, and complaints. Why do you insist on family worship if you do not insist on being parents to your children in worship? Why do you let your children flop around like fish out of water, talking, looking around, and complaining? Why do you hardly say a corrective word to them when they do this? Why for the love of your own children and the love for others do you not take them outside and spank them? Why do some of you even look upon your children's sins approvingly? If this is your children's behavior in public worship, I dread to think how it is in private worship, and at home in general. I wonder if the private worship is little more than a few Bible verses at a meal, or a few catechism questions in the afternoon. Have you stopped and thought that maybe you should ask them questions to see if they understand what you are reading and saying? Have you looked to see if they are even paying attention? Because many aren't in church. Are they actually learning the catechism and doctrine, or just parroting the words? Can they put it into their own words? Can you?
And Pastors: Can your eyes not see the rambunctious children, and the neglectful parents? Does this not give you pause, and cause you to think that maybe all of your words are not reaching to the hearts of your congregants, but are at best staying in the realm of their logical thoughts? Does not conviction compel you to address these families and children, firmly and in love? Does this not burden you, make you angry, make you weep? It does me.
Parents: Maybe you aren't disciplining your children because your pastor isn't disciplining you. Maybe our reformed churches have come to a place where we can talk about all the other people, all the other churches and even reformed churches, but not ourselves, not our own. Maybe we keep our talk about sin so general that it is just far enough away from reaching to our hearts, the very fountain of sin. Maybe we avert our preaching away from the sins in our churches because its more comfortable that way.
Also, have we forgotten that guilt for our sin as believers can be a good thing, something even prompted by the Holy Spirit, and not simply our doubting of the gospel or tempting from the devil? Should not all of Christian life be one of repentance? Then why are our pastors not calling us to repentance, except at most on hot button issues like homosexuality or abortion? Why aren't our pastors showing us the depths of our depravity, from the text being preached on, and then lifting us up to Christ? Why aren't we being instructed from the pulpit on how to recognize the deceitfulness of our own sins, and how to by the power of the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh? Instead, most of what I am hearing is about how in Christ God always loves you. But does not righteous fathers get angry and discipline their children? How much more so, and perfectly, our heavenly Father. Preach the Father's correcting, convicting love!
We should look back to the Puritans. They wrote books and preached whole sermons on things like indwelling sin, and mortifying the deeds of the flesh. Why aren't we preaching this? Why are our sermons so much about knowing God intellectually, but not so much loving Him from the heart? Why is so little preaching about sanctification and confession of sin? Isn't sanctification and confession of sin our very expression of love to God from the heart? Or have we forgotten this to?
I am convinced that our problems aren't all that far from the problems of non-reformed churches. The problems may at times be different, but by degree they are nearly as bad. Yet we think we have it right because we have true doctrine. We think we have found the narrow road of Christian life because we understand predestination and God's sovereignty. Yet we continue to neglect our families by working and worrying ourselves to death.
But do we even understand predestination and God's sovereignty? Do we really understand just what it is that He has saved us for? It is good works, conformity to the image of His Son. And have we forgotten that sanctification is synergistic, and requires taking up our crosses daily? Are we so foolish as to believe that if we get all our theological ducks in a row, all our temptations and struggles with sin will simply melt away? Then, do we think that simple reflection on the gospel and how glorious Christ is will somehow infallibly restrain us from that temptation? In short, are we actually following after the things that make for true revival and reformation?
I don't think so. If we were, we wouldn't be longing for a modern day reformation. We'd be living in it.
I think I have some answers, by God's grace, and I'll post more on what I think soon. The thoughts aren't new. I found them in Scripture. I could be wrong, but I am going to argue for them and decry the reformed pastors and parents and church goers who don't practice them until they show me how wrong I am and foolish I have been. At that time, I will shut up and repent. But if you examine what I am saying and find it to be true of you and reformed churches on the whole, it is time for you to repent. Not to me, but to God. Then go and tell others to repent to God, in love, for our good and His glory, for the advancement of His Kingdom; do what is necessary for God by His Spirit to bring in a modern reformation, a true revival -- or to bring persecution the likes of which we Americans have never seen, from within the church and without.