Time for a Renaissance (with Guinness in Hand)

Contrasting the sober culture change realists James Davison Hunter and Andy Crouch, Os Guinness’ new book Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times refreshingly reminds us of 9780830836710the Gospel’s life and culture-changing power and hope.

I intend on writing a review of Renaissance soon, but from what I’ve read it’s a timely and necessary book given our present cultural moment. Reading Guinness’ Renaissance in one hand while holding a Guinness in the other hand seems most fitting. (Os is a great-great-great grandson of Dublin brewer Arthur Guinness.) 

Most websites provide a brief sample of Renaissance, but you can read the entire first chapter here.

For the past two years Guinness has been making the rounds speaking on what it means to have a Gospel renaissance. The most recent talk was at a recent Anglican conference in June 2014, beginning at the 37th minute:

Law and Gospel Unhinged?

A fellow Presbyterian pastor on Tullian Tchividjian’s recent comments on law and gospel:

Many of us have hoped that real good will be done in the current debates on sanctification, in which Pastor Tchividjian plays so central a role on the law-gospel side of the discussion.  I still hope that good is resulting.  But it is now unavoidable that real harm is being done by Tullian’s runaway rhetoric in opposing the Bible’s clear salvation teaching.  At this point, we have to wonder how long The Gospel Coalition will permit this frankly false doctrine to continue on its web pages.

Strong stuff.

Read the post here.

Blustery Brouhaha Over Law and Gospel?

There’s a serious and worthwhile discussion unfolding among notable Reformed folk regarding the Law and Gospel. Here’s a chronological summation:

  1. May 2: Jen Wilkins wrote a blog post, “Failure Is Not a Virtue” for The Gospel Coalition, introducing (and dismissing) “celebratory failurism,” which (says Wilkins) effectively truncates Law and obedience and inflates grace. Jen asserts this is an unbiblical and misguided understanding of the relationship and between Law, Gospel, obedience and grace.
  2. May 9: Tullian Tchividjian was asked (apparently by TGC blog’s editors), to respond to Jen’s initial post. In his post “Acknowledging Failure IS a Virtue: A Response to Jen Wilkin,”  Tullian sharply draws a distinction between Law and Gospel, making some accusations regarding Wilkins (see below).
  3. May 9: Mike Kruger quickly responds to Tullian, who, he says, “accuses her of ‘theological muddiness,’ of having ‘deep theological confusion,’ and of mixing law and gospel in a way which ‘prevents the reader from hearing (and being relieved by) the real good news.'” Kruger then defends Wilkins while raising pointed questions regarding Tullian’s response to her initial post.
  4. May 10: Mark Jones proposes a debate between him and Tullian regarding the Law and Gospel.
  5. May 12: Carl Trueman weighs in, heightening concerns about Tullian, defending Wilkins, and throwing his name in the hat to debate Tullian.

Some may view this brouhaha over Law and Gospel as damning evidence of unnecessary theological in-fighting over minor issues.

Except these aren’t minor issues.

Instead, these discussions have significant implications for how today’s church understands Law, Gospel, grace and obedience.

In other words, they have everything to do with how the church understands and lives the Christian life.

Resurrection Realities for Real Life

In 2011 I wrote a blog post for Desiring God on what it means to be a peculiar Easter people 365 days of the year, 24/7. Rereading it three years later, I’m surprised—even alarmed!—how little I mentioned the resurrection.

And so I repent.

This Easter season, I’m more deeply pondering how the staggering reality of Christ’s resurrection is not only one of the means, but perhaps the primary means by which I and all of God’s people can truly and fully live the Christian life. So I’m going to more deeply explore what it means to think and live all of life in this sin-riddled world as if it’s shot through with Jesus’ explosive resurrection power.

How does one celebrate the resurrection not only during Eastertide (i.e. the fifty days of Easter) but every day, especially Sunday? And how does Eastertide help one rediscover joy, experiencing the resurrection’s ongoing life changing power in our lives?

In other words, if the resurrection really did happen (objectively) what tangible difference should it make in my every day life (subjectively)?

I plan on finding out.

Free E-Book Today Only: How People Change

For today only, the excellent book How People Change by Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane, normally $17.99Image, is free (e-book format only). 

From the publisher:

A changed heart is the bright promise of the gospel.

When the Bible talks about the gift of a new heart, it doesn’t mean a heart that is immediately perfected, but a heart that is capable of being changed. Jesus’ work on the cross targets our hearts, our core desires and motivations, and when our hearts change, our behavior changes. It’s amazing to watch people who once seemed stuck in a pattern of words, choices, and behaviors start living in a new way as Christ changes their hearts.

This is one of, if not the, best books I know on the subject of how the gospel produces deep and lasting change in matters of the heart.

The Problem With Tracts (And One to Commend)

On the whole, I’m glad that tracts exist and have been used in many good and creative ways to effectively communicate the Gospel. For that, I thank God.

However, generally speaking I’m not a big fan of Gospel tracts. Why? Three primary reasons:

  1. Content: Tracts can be theologically weak or imbalanced. For example, some either emphasize the Gospel’s good news (yes, I realize the redundancy) so much that the bad news, i.e. our fallenness and God’s subsequent wrath, holiness, consequences of sin, etc. is eclipsed. Conversely, many tracts can overly emphasize the bad news so much that the Gospel’s good news of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and the subsequent sheer beauty and glory of the Gospel is truncated. Both errors are unfortunate and, quite frankly, inexcusable. The tract’s Gospel content is of utmost importance. Start here.
  2. Aesthetics: This refers to the tract’s graphics, font, layout, paper, size, etc. How are the tract’s contents presented? Do the aesthetics detract from the content, or instead serve it, winsomely complimenting and highlighting it?
  3. Passivity: Gospel tracts can tend to create passive Christians. It’s easier to pass out a tract instead of entering into the complex world of face-to-face discussion with someone who’s not a Christian. This passivity produces two problems. The first is laziness (not understanding the Gospel message for oneself, instead simply leaving it to the tract to the hard sledding). The second problem is fear. Many Christians are simply afraid of evangelism and don’t know where to start a Gospel discussion with someone who’s not a Christian. If you primarily lean on tracts, you won’t conquer your fear, but only stoke it.

So am I suggesting we do away with Gospel tracts? Absolutely not. Tracts with great content and aesthetics –recognizing that they’re not one size fits all and should speak to a particular people and context at a given point in time–are necessary. Indeed, more tracts should be created–just the right kind of tract.

I certainly haven’t seen every tract in the English language, and there are undoubtedly many good, even excellent, ones. However, there’s one tract that combines great theological content and aesthetics, is fairly brief, faithfully covers the Gospel message’s main points in a memorable way, and is aimed at the general reader. In short, it’s one of the best tracts I’ve seen.

To which tract am I referring?

This one.

Sinclair Ferguson on Celebrity Culture, the Local Church, Preaching and Retirement

Ligonier conducted their first Google hangout today with pastor, theologian and writer Sinclair Ferguson, where he offered advice to young pastors and church planters, discussed the role of preaching in the local church, gave commentary on celebrity pastors and the mega-church, his long relationship with R.C. Sproul, his recent retirement from full-time pastoral ministry, and his post-retirement plans (which include a number of promising writing projects).

Watching and listening to Sinclair for 45 minutes was a refreshing exercise in remembering what the pastoral ministry, indeed the Christian life, is primarily about: communion with the Triune God and the centrality of Christ crucified. (And it doesn’t hurt that he speaks with that lilting Scottish brogue accent.)

And lest you think the hangout was only for pastors, my wife also listened in, often giving a hearty “Amen!” to Sinclair’s comments.

Watch the hangout here:

“So, Are You Open and Affirming?” A Lesbian, a Pastor and Sparks of Glory

Several years ago during Lent, I went to a local coffeehouse–also a lesbian hangout–to prepare a sermon. With my books spread out on the table, deep in thought while my fingers danced on the computer keyboard, a young woman unexpectedly sat down next to me.

“What are you working on?” she asked.

In hushed voice, I hesitantly replied, “a sermon.”

Her face lit up. “So you’re a pastor? That’s great! I’m ___________, and I’m a lesbian. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

Bracing myself, I knew what was next. “So, is your church open and affirming?”

Pregnant pause.

“What do you mean by ‘open and affirming?’ I asked, trying to appear calm and sincere while nonchalantly sipping my coffee. Surely she must be on to me.

“You know, is your church open and affirming of the gay and lesbian lifestyle?”

Of course I knew. After all, this is Minneapolis.

Now I could have simply told her the cold hard truth and promptly ended the discussion. “Sunday’s a comin’!” is the pastor’s mantra, and I had a long way to go before the sermon was ready for delivery. But she seemed genuinely interested in friendly conversation. And with me, a pastor. Moreover, she didn’t appear militant. So not wanting to kill the conversation, I took the bait and attempted to answer her inquiry.

“Our church seeks to be open and welcoming to all sorts of people, including those in the GLBT community.”

“That’s great! I completely agree!” she said.

“Well think about it” I replied. “What sort of people did Jesus hang out with much of the time? The super-religious people of his day accused him of being a drunk, a friend of prostitutes and ‘sinners.’ It got him in a lot of trouble, eventually leading to his awful death.”

“I guess you’re right.” She seemed genuinely intrigued, so I continued.

“I envision a church with all sorts of people learning what it means to be followers of Jesus living in a broken world. We want to be open to everyone from across the spectrum of faith, including those who are unsure of what they believe. The gospel, this amazingly good news about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, is something we want all individuals, whatever their temptations may be, to know and love. So from that perspective, yes, we are an open and affirming church.”

So began a long and fruitful conversation on the gospel and same sex attraction. It probably wasn’t the answer she expected. We even discussed the necessity of repentance and faith, not just for the non-Christian but for Christians.

Mind you, this wasn’t the time or place to give a comprehensive gospel presentation–at least not yet. My initial aim was more modest: to simply talk respectfully and seek to understand someone with whom I often struggle to find common ground, sprinkling the conversation with compelling gospel truth.

Later that night, I was reminded of something John Calvin wrote: “…wherever you cast your eyes, there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of his glory” (Institutes I.V.1).  And while Calvin was referring to the heavenly bodies above, if I had eyes to see past this lesbian’s sexual sin-marred physical body, surely I would behold sparks, even faint ones, of Divine glory. “For although God’s glory shines forth in the outer man, yet there is no doubt that the proper seat of his image is in the soul” (Ibid I.XV.3).

Contextualizing Calvin, I wasn’t speaking merely to a lesbian. While she and others may ultimately define her by her sexual practice, a greater truth emerged: I was beholding a woman–a person–created in the Imago Dei, who was living in a world that’s not how it’s supposed to be because of this anti-God virus that infects us all. That night, God gifted me with the grace and pleasure to talk with a sin-riddled woman shot through with God’s glory, despite her sexual orientation and practice, or the nature and gravity of her sin.

I didn’t finish my sermon that evening. Instead, I chose to wade into the complex world of a fallen Daughter of Eve who perhaps considered her need for a Savior, one who was open to some hearty discussion with a pastor during Holy Week.

And you know what? Given the chance, I’d do it all over again.

Matthias Media’s “Gospel Convictions”

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Matthias Media, the Australian publishing ministry behind the book The Trellis and the Vine, has an excellent summary of their doctrinal stance they’ve called “Gospel Convictions,” encompassing six evangelical essentials:

  1. The truth and centrality of the Gospel of Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ.
  2. The necessity of the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit to initiate and enable repentance and faith.
  3. The assurance of salvation that belongs to those who have been justified by the blood of Jesus and sealed by his spirit.
  4. The authority and sufficiency of the God-breathed Scriptures for Gospel truth and life.
  5. The tension of Gospel-living in the world today.
  6. The urgency of Gospel-living in the world today.

Read it here. If you agree with it, please sign it (electronically) at the bottom.