Before you read my latest post, please read two verses from the Bible: Numbers 23:19 and 2 Peter 3:9. I don’t even want to quote them so you have to find them in your own Bible for yourself. They’re more important than anything else you’ll read from me today. My words might change or affect you…
But I have faith God’s Word will change you. Simply read it out loud. I hope that’s your soul’s main course today.
You now have my permission to read on…
It’s been forever since I’ve blogged. I’ve been stuck on 97 posts for too long.
So here’s #98…
I’ve been busy on lots of fronts–much of it in my role as Campus Pastor at Blanchard Warrenville (I’m also just back from an amazing family vacation to South Dakota, which coincided with the two-year anniversary of my brain cancer surgery…). I’m so encouraged to see our Warrenville Leadership Team taking shape, making good decisions for our future, helping us to become a church that is thriving for Christ’s Kingdom and glory.
But as we work together to talk about our long-term vision, I’ve become more aware lately of a dangerous trend in the contemporary American Church which we on the WLT need to address in our planning for Warrenville’s future–a significant point of disagreement in what I perceive to be shifting in a growing core of young evangelical thinkers in the Church today who are published, blogged, tweeted and otherwise “technologically significant.”
They echo Billy Graham’s conviction that our North American culture has become “inoculated” to the gospel–that nonbelievers and Christ-followers alike know just enough about the teachings of Jesus and the Bible to dismiss them. They might not say it as bluntly as I do in this post, but they also seem to imply that Scripture is culturally “out of touch with the times”–that we need to find ways to “massage” the text (and, in particular, Paul’s writings) to make them more inclusive–that what really matters are the teachings of Jesus and the Great Commandment. It’s clear that both young Christians and non-Christians are equally disenchanted and skeptical of the authority of Scripture.
Here’s our problem (and it’s not a new one, this latest iteration just has trendy 21st century clothes): we allow polls and cultural pressure–and especially our own experience–to subtly wear away our core convictions about the inerrancy of Scripture–a long held cornerstone of evangelical Christianity. We don’t even realize it, but we stop believing in faith that Scripture is “God-breathed, living and active”–able to transform people merely through hearing it–that it’s not good enough on its own to miraculously transform us without our own editorial comments (I’m especially aware of this temptation as I preach). Paul teaches that just the simple reading of the Scriptures out loud is a sacred and powerful spiritual discipline–an exercise to grow our faith.
We deceive ourselves into believing that our ideas about cultural relevance and missional presence are the primary keys to resurrecting the Church’s impact to restore our culture today. And while these issues are important–and always will be–they don’t capture the essence of the gospel as written in Scripture.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-5 NIV)
In our desperation to reverse the trends of a shrinking church, our implicit curriculum teaches that God is “off” his stated mission, that the inerrant Scripture is losing its efficacy–as evidenced by the droves of disenchanted young people leaving the church. It temporally appears that Jesus has changed his commitment or is, at best, slow in keeping his promise of not wanting anyone to perish due to lack of repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Evangelical pastors like me suddenly find ourselves in the dilemma of leading a movement (the Church) that appears to be both failing AND losing ground (at least in North America and Europe..), so we’ve got to do something different RIGHT NOW and RIGHT AWAY to change things. The devastating implication of all this worrying and hand-wringing is this: we subtly suggest that God is, in fact, changing or lying (by not keeping His commitments) to grow the Church by the power of Scripture. Numbers 23:19 bluntly rebuts this weak, trend-obsessed thinking. Unlike me, God is never shackled by time’s ticking bonds.
“God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act, does he promise and not fulfill?”
The grim statistics of the state of the Church in the West suggest otherwise, so from our human perspective, we get impatient and subtly begin compromising or back-pedaling on the long-held “non-negotiables” of our faith. But the gospel message from the inerrant Word of God hasn’t changed. God’s still on mission and mysteriously chooses to use people like you and me to partner with him to complete his saving work. As Paul affirms in Ephesians 2:10, “we are God’s ‘masterpiece’ (NLT), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
And if faith truly comes from hearing God’s Word as Paul teaches in Romans 10:17, why don’t we get the Bible into lost people’s hands first, before they read the latest books and blogs and get all stirred up?
Let not our methods and perceptions supersede our Message.
As theologian Thomas Oden once wrote, as Christians, let’s dedicate ourselves to unoriginality. The power of the living Word will never be irrelevant to any culture. Let’s recognize that even the most scientifically accurate polls from the Barna group and the latest, greatest thoughts of trending Christian authors in the “blogosphere” are simply that–editorial snapshots, human opinions and sometimes helpful analysis and commentary (just like this one you’re reading…). Instead, let’s start by encouraging people to find a rich faith in Christ through engaging the living words of Scripture and trusting God’s powerful, transforming Word for those eternal results.
While I have the sense that my old-fashioned position on the inerrancy of Scripture is increasingly lonely in the evangelical Church, I still believe that God will finish His mission as the Scriptures say He will. I trust them to be as true and transformative as ever. Let’s be on guard then to screen any teaching which implies otherwise as we navigate the challenging cultural issues of our day and not lose heart.
Let God’s Word speak plainly and may we continue to accept it with the faith that comes from hearing. I’ve quoted these Charlie Peacock lyrics in this blog before (from “Genius In the Details“, Kingdom Come album), but they’re worth a repeat:
You can smell the poetry, you can eat the word, dine on the rhyme…
But I wouldn’t read between the lines, there simply isn’t time,
Instead, look at all the bread floating on the water,
Hurry, cast your net, eat without regret.
In a world of taste and pleasure, it’s good to know what you can trust,
What you can trust you can treasure, and what you can trust is that there’s…
Genius in the details and in the sum of all creation,
There is a mind, not hard to find,
A mind not concealed,
In the word, the mind revealed: Jesus, word divine.