Open Letter to Preachers #2

Dear Preacher

Allow me to share a personal secret with you. Although raucous rock music tends to be associated with the Enemy, in my blinder moments, I wish that I was a great musician and a world class performer, like Jack White or Thom Yorke; someone who draws a crowd and captivates an audience. [In God’s great wisdom, I’m a dull, introverted personality, with less-than-mediocre musical abilities]. And why should I be dissatisfied? As preachers, we’re called to a much greater task when we stand up before people. Yet, as I consider why it is that we have so much Christendom and so few Christians, I wonder if we as preachers don’t tacitly desire a rock-stardom of our own? Are we sometimes guilty of pleasing crowds, rather than preaching gospel?

Louie Giglio has recently grown quite a following here in South Africa, and not for nothing. On the basis of the 4 or 5 DVDs of his that I’ve seen, his presentations are well put together, and generally a delight to listen to. I have no gripe with him, but I worry about what he represents to you and me. Continue reading

Open Letter to Preachers #1

Dear Preacher

I’m writing to you because I’m concerned that you’re not doing your job. Sure, if you’re the average preacher, then you’re preaching to a robust group of a hundred or two, you manage to stay out of the TBN gutter, you try hard to craft topics that are Biblically faithful, and you also manage to keep your talks lively and encouraging. What more could any Christian ask, right?

Well, I wonder if you’ve spent any time recently considering where spiritual Dark Ages come from? This question bothers me a lot, because it seems to me we might be heading there soon enough. Consider this quote from our friend Richard Dawkins:

“As long ago as 1954, according to Robert Hinde in his thoughtful book, Why Gods Persist, a Gallup Poll in the United States of America found the following. Three quarters of Catholics and Protestants could not name a single Old Testament prophet. More than two thirds didn’t know who preached the Sermon on the Mount. A substantial number thought that Moses was one of Jesus’s twelve apostles. That, to repeat, was in the United States, which is notoriously more religious than other parts of the developed world.” (The God Delusion, ch.9)

So 50 years ago, in a self-consciously Christian America, Moses was an apostle, for all they knew. And I can’t imagine that Christians are doing vastly better since then. Continue reading

Phillip the Pharisee Slayer

One of my chief character flaws (near the head of a long list)  in years gone by was a desperate need to appear as perfect as possible for my Christian peers. For reasons I can’t pinpoint — perhaps it was middle-child syndrome or some quirk of my early Christian education — I would be mortified if people knew my sins and weaknesses, if they knew that I didn’t have it together.

What makes that kind of perfectionism particularly silly is that it is not really fooling anyone, least of all God. I knew that I was a sinner, and I’m fairly sure those around me suspected that I was. The tragedy is that if you really get the perfection act down (I didn’t), then all you do is irritate people. It’s like a comb-over. I know you’re bald. You know you’re bald. Who are those greasy strands meant to fool? What do you take me for?

The ultimate cure of my insecurities was meeting Phillip. Where I was working hard to become a good Pharisee, being seen to do the right thing, never daring to admit my sin and weakness, Phillip was brutally honest. Now, I was well familiar with the kind of conversion story in which one catalogues ad nauseam the horrific details of one’s pre-Christian depravity, in order to juxtapose it with the blissful purity of life in Christ. That kind of dubious honesty about one’s life I knew. However, Phillip was not like that. Sure, he had the checkered past, and undoubtedly, Jesus has changed him wonderfully, but for the first time in my life, I was aware of someone who could speak about his own failures and struggles now with genuineness and honesty. And I respected it deeply.

It was immediately apparent to me that God’s grace is evident in our weakness, not in our self-righteousness, and keeping up perfect facades in order to meet the imaginary expectations of my peers was a deep foolishness and ultimately pride and dishonesty. How can we bear one another’s burdens if we ‘don’t have any’? How can we avoid sin if we desperately avoid acknowledging its existence? If it’s the Devil’s art to deceive and lead astray, then crafting perfectionists and Pharisees out of Christians is one of his better masterpieces. So, from then on, I resolved to set aside facades and try out honesty, in the hope that I can be the kind of encouragement to others that Phillip was (and is) to me. Hopefully I’m getting there.

So, thanks Phillip, you rusty old battle-axe. Thanks for walloping the Pharisee out of me.

Go Forth, But Please Stop Multiplying!

I often hear murmurings in my Christian circles that bearing multiple children is a Christian virtue and duty. At my brother’s wedding, he was told by the minister to ‘have as many children as [he] can’. I’ve been advised to have lots of children by an older woman in our congregation, because the Muslims are having lots of children, and so Christendom needs to keep up. And in Tim and Beverly La Haye’s … er … seminal work on marital sex for Christians, The Act of Marriage, they say,

‘In city after city, after my lectures I am set upon by the younger generation because I advocate a family of four or five children… [A couple] made it very clear that I was “Neanderthal” in my approach to family planning because I reaffirmed God’s first commandment to man, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). They had been so brainwashed by the humanistic family planners of our educational system that they considered avoidance of a family a patriotic service… Who says Genesis 1:28 is obsolete? God is the only one who can nullify his commands, and I know of no verse in the New Testament that negates Genesis 1:28.’

So, seeing as I’m about 0,4 children behind the average, allow me to tell you why I think it’s both right and important for Christians to plan their families and to aim small. Continue reading