May 26, 2020

Ordinary Questions 2: Thoughts and A Story

egghead.jpgUPDATE: You have to wonder why David Wayne can see that it’s possible to cite and commend both Piper and myself positively, while other reformed bloggers are denouncing me for denying sovereignty and hating on Piper? “From a different perspective….” I guess that phrase is allowed some places and not others.

First, thoughts.

You go to the doctor with pain in your chest. He spends the whole hour talking about God.

Is this OK?

You go to a musical production of “Oklahoma.” The cast comes out and gives their testimony the entire time.

Is this OK with you?

You hire a carpenter to redo the kitchen. He spends most of his time talking about God, and runs the hours up twice what they should be.

An EMT comes to help you when your mother falls. He talks about God all the time he’s taking vitals and getting her ready to go in the ambulance.

If you are like me, you’re happy these people are godly and God-centered. But at these moments, you would like them to do the ordinary thing, and to do it right and well. They can talk later.

This isn’t hard, and it’s not denying the faith. It’s the way good parents raise their kids, the way good employers and employees do their jobs, the way anyone expresses their faith in their vocation.

Sometimes I preach and sometimes we conjugate verbs. Both are God’s work in my life. I believe, confess, teach and preach that God is sovereign, but I’m not the guy who falls down the steps and says “Glad I got that over with.” And when someone else falls, I’ll help them up and see if the steps need to be fixed. It doesn’t mean I believe in God’s sovereignty less. Maybe I believe that if God is sovereign, I’m free to not worry about the whys, objections and explanations.

Now the story.

When I was in seminary, I was on staff for several years on a church that you could call a “seminary church.” By that, I mean that a significant number of the congregation came from the seminary down the road. We had faculty and many students. At the time I left, probably 60% of the church was seminary related.

Our pastor was extremely popular with the seminary community, and deservedly so. A bright young New Testament scholar with an attractive family, he came from a blue-blood Baptist family in the south and had a career as a popular college preacher, so he understood the journey of the seminary family, who mostly came from similar roots and journeys.

The graduate school was especially well represented in our church. We had many members who were on the Ph.d track at seminary. Most wanted to be seminary professors. We also had a fair number of grad program drop outs and people who had attended seminary but never graduated. It was a unique congregation, to say the least.

Now, this was a great blessing in a lot of ways. We never lacked for teachers. We were able to do a lot of things in worship that other Baptist churches couldn’t do because of the particular background of our congregation. I enjoyed many wonderful, high level theological discussions with church members.

Of course, those of us on staff were also there to run a church, and before long, we learned about the other side of the coin with our unique congregation. Having a church full of seminary students created some unique problems in the “ordinary” business of running a church.

What do I mean? Well…..you have to understand that Baptist churches allow a lot of congregational input. Monthly “business meetings” or congregational meetings are part of how the church is administered. There are many committees. The deacons have a lot of input. When significant changes are made or new directions are undertaken, there will be a lot of discussion with the congregation.

In our church, that meant that a small army of seminary faculty, seminary students, seminary drop-outs and seminary professor wannabes participated in all that congregational input. From monthly business meetings, to congregational forums discussing new church policies, to committee meetings on financial purchases, we were subjected to what we came to call “The Seminary Treatment.”

“The Seminary Treatment” meant that you couldn’t talk about the issue in front of you without backing up and taking the big picture- as seminary folks saw it- into account. What should have been ordinary, became an occasion to show what you knew and to pontificate and opine with the passion of a Luther.

Ordinary issues became reformation-level debates. Minor purchases took on major significance. Pragmatic policies sank into the swamps of theory and theology.

At one point, we decided to renovate our fellowship area and to purchase round tables. Or, let me say, we attempted to purchase round tables. First, we had to go through weeks of discussion on the Biblical ethics of spending the money. Then we had to discuss what the Bible meant by fellowship. Then we had to discussion the inclusion of the poor and the homeless. And then we had to discuss the dynamics of round tables and how that affected discussions. And we had to hear the latest research on group dynamics. And then we discussed how we need to encourage more interaction between seminary and non-seminary church members. And then we had to ask if Jesus wanted us to have a building. And then we had to admit that we were participating in the western, suburban idea of church. And then we had to talk about the symbolism of the circles. And then we talked about a lot more stuff.

What we needed to do was buy some tables. Instead, we spent hours listening to theology, ethics, research, social theory and the “wisdom” of the seminary community.

Now listen: these are all good questions. There’s a time to ask them. But it’s difficult for a church to do what needs to be done when theological questions become the dominant questions about everything.

There’s a time to talk about God, and there’s a time to get people to work in the nursery. There’s a time to be God-centered, and there’s a time to be focused on the problem in front of you. There’s a time to quote Jonathan Edwards, and there’s a time to just be quiet and clean up the spilled soup.

Read Ecclesiastes. There’s a time to remember your creator. There’s a time to enjoy life and think of something else. GOD CAN HANDLE IT IF WE DON’T TALK ABOUT HIM ALL THE TIME. God is sovereign over tragedy, but that’s not all that Christians have to say or do. God never asks us to be his attorneys in the court of world opinion.

We should be God-centered. It’s my constant prayer. God’s sovereignty is a comfort and a rock in trouble. But being God-centered doesn’t mean God talk and God questions all the time. It means the ordinary questions have their place.

Comments

  1. I’m sure we are about to hear that:

    1) “Yeah, well….you’re denying the sovereignty of God anyway.”

    2) “My God can beat up your God.”

    3) “I believe in my God a lot more than you believe in yours.”

    4) “Your God is a sissy and a wimp. Look at the poster I made! LOL!”

    5) “Your point is obvious: you’re denying the entire Gospel and all the Bible.”

    6) “Good thing I was smart enough to understand what you were REALLY saying.”

    7) “Wait till my friends on other blogs kick your post-evangelical hiney.”

    8) “Blog what you want. Just don’t mention my pastor or my church or I’ll vaporize you with my ray gun.”

    9) “I never said you weren’t a Christian. I just said you denied the Gospel.”

    10) “I can’t believe you responded to what I wrote! You’re out of control! You’re melting down! Arrrgh!!!”

  2. I’m an eye doc and a preacher/teacher. I don’t talk about God when I’m doing an eye exam. What I’m doing is an “ordinary” eye exam. Now if a patient wants to talk about the Lord or some theological question, I will oblige them. More than anything else, I think God wants us to be ordinary folk–after all, I’ve known a lot of ordinary people to do extraordinary things for God, and a lot of extraordinary people do nothing for Him. Another great post!!

  3. You know, I think I went to that church in seminary. There are times I fear I still go there…

  4. A couple of years ago I went to see an internist. After we were done the lengthy diagnostics and the treatment plan he had proposed he said, “Can I pray for you?” Of course I said yes and he prayed a lovely prayer for me and for my wife who was sitting in on the debrief session. Turns out he was a Roman Catholic who didn’t feel his treatment was done until he had prayed for patients if they would let him.
    I like a Doctor who prays for his patients as long as he or she is a good doc.

  5. Too much Calvinistic overthinking, Michael!

  6. problem is: there’s been too much “underthinking” on this important subject. The blog is right on!! As Larry Lujack used to say on WLS years ago: “What this world needs is a lot more Jesus and a lot less “rock and roll”.

  7. …and I’m really kind of curious what Vincent Price and the Batman TV show have to do with this?

  8. The character was Egghead. Smartest person in the world.

  9. Patrick Kyle says

    It’s called the doctrine of vocation. God has called me to be a husband, father, son, brother, grocery store manager, elder at my church, and friend among other things. In fulfilling these roles to the best of my ability, I am doing good and God pleasing work. Fulfilling these roles in a Godly manner doesn’t necessarily involve ‘God Talk’.
    Luther said that the mother lovingly changing her baby’s soiled diaper was engaged in a far more holy work than any monk in a monastery. Gene Veith wrote a book on the subject called “God at Work”, that explicates this scriptural teaching and its ramifications in the life of Christians. I have found the doctrine of vocation as recovered by the reformation to be very freeing because it released me from the guilt that I had to always be involved in “ministry”( read that church busy work or witnessing)

  10. Patrick Kyle says

    Dr.Veith has posted on his blog on this very subject. (Second post down as of Friday.)

    http://www.cranach.worldmagblog.com/cranach/

  11. I think I get your drift. The most God-centered way I can be a barista is to make my coffee well….and treat customers as humans worthy of dignity and not as mortal enemies who hate me and must die before they kill me first. Of course I seek to evangelize to my co-workers as oft as possible, if not by word, then by example, if not by example, then by apologizing for failing to be like Christ for their sake. But though there may indeed be a time wherein I could justly speak the gospel to a co-worker at the expense of my productivity, that is the exception, not the rule.

    Then there is the question of whether or not I’m actually just building the tower of babel making coffee….but that is for another day.

  12. We experienced what you wrote about when my hubby attended seminary in Dallas, but on a small group level.

    Here’s another topic: What about folks who are in the ministry but don’t really work? They hang. They do the minimum. But they refuse to have a work ethic.

  13. “What this world needs is a lot more Jesus and a lot less “rock and roll”.

    That is only if you think Jesus and rock n’ roll are mutually incompatible. What about a rock n’ roll song about plumming and the sovreignty of God? I am feebly trying to be funny, but I hope the point comes through. What about just me and letting God be God?

  14. Last line for last post should read:

    What about me just being me and letting God be God?

  15. St Francis has two quotes I love:

    Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.

    and

    It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.

    I think if we are excellent and faithful in our work, we won’t have to preach at anybody, but I’m open to answer any questions if someone asks me.

    I worked the switchboard at a church in Houston during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and people were calling wondering why they didn’t see (on tv reports) people evangelizing down at the Astrodome as they unloaded evacuees.

    A hungry person only hears his stomach growl. A thirsty person could care less about what is going on around them. A person who needs clothes or a shower isn’t going to respond to anything until they are clean and covered.

    Meeting a person’s physical needs first, I believe, helps people be more open to hearing the Gospel later. They will remember your kindness and wonder where the source of that kindess came from.

    There is a time and a place for sharing our faith, but it doesn’t always necessarily need to be the first thing we do when we encounter a person, especially when that person has a physical need that should be met first. Let God be God. Let the spirit move. Being the vessel God works through doesn’t mean you have to be the mouth.

  16. Michael,

    These are good thought’s on this topic. I want to point people here to see what I mean when I say I want a earthy Christianity.

  17. “Mutually incompatible”–I think not; Jesus is compatible with anything that is of the Father. He said I say nothing and do nothing except it come from the Father.If you want to write a rock-n-roll song and capture the essence of the “sovereignty of God” in it, then I’ll be the first to buy it. Bottom line–we’ve got so far away from what Christ intended that it stinks. We don’t just let God be God–that’s part of the fallacy. God IS God and God does as He pleases. Here we go back to the God-centered vs. me-centered universe. I don’t mean to be critical, but we must try to understand everything from God’s viewpoint, not our own. I would point you to some of the books by La Verne Fromke quite a few years ago, but they are still timely today.

  18. I would like to correct myself: The author’s name is DeVerne Fromke not La Verne Fromke. Sorry. Anyway, they are great books esp. “Ultimate Intention.”

  19. ron fournier says

    hi, for a hollywood take on this watch the movie ‘ big kahuna’ starring danny devito and kevin spacey.

    ron

  20. ron fournier says

    for a hollywood take on this see the movie ‘the big kahuna’

    ron

  21. “You hire a carpenter to redo the kitchen. He spends most of his time talking about God, and runs the hours up twice what they should be.”

    I hired a carpenter to redo my bathroom. He spent most of his time talking….and talking…and talking. He runs up hours over twice what they should be (quote of 3 weeks, finished in 8). He match had to match his quote. He went broke.

    Next guy does not talk and meets or exceeds his budget. He stays in business.

    Who says Darwin doesn’t have his uses?

    Also on a related note, my firm made a practice of not renting any equipment to any organization that began with the word “Christian” or ended in “Church.” They almost never paid their bills, or if they did, it was never on time. They always expected you to give it to them eventually as a “donation.”

    So they we did not deal with them either. So your examples are really not far from reality. In fact, they are waaay too close.

  22. Not sure what happened in my above post. The number eight turned into a smiley face. The quote was for three weeks and it ended up taking eight. (Just to clarify.)

    😉

  23. Terrific stuff!

    But the one poster above should know that you can’t be a barista and a Christian!! Who is discipling that poor fellow?!

  24. “We don’t just let God be God–that’s part of the fallacy. God IS God and God does as He pleases.”

    That is my whole point. If God IS God, then what option do I have but to let God be God. God does not hack through the door of my heart with an ax. God knocks at my door, usually in a distressing disguise. What pleases God is to love us. What pleases God even more is when we return this love and when we love each other in the way Jesus taught us. Because God loves us he leaves the returning bit up to us, respecting the freedom necessary to bring about God’s ultimate purpose in our lives and in the world as a whole.

    By me being me, I don’t mean doing whatever I want. Even though I am a Catholic, I am an Augustinian and know that left to my own devices I am in trouble. My main point is I am not going to waste time worrying determinism of any sort, be it scientific or theological determinism (see above).

    I think it was also Augustine who wrote: “Love God and do what you want.” That is not an antinomian sentiment.

  25. I can’t tell if Joe is oblivious as to what a barista is, or if he’s making a feeble attempt at a joke. Either way, I hope W. G. Smith is neither offended nor discouraged.

    I must say I’m impressed that so many responses are positive and I must agree… we are to live by example and do our work as if doing it for the Lord, no matter what that work is. God, being sovereign, provides work for us to do, so get busy and do it the best you can.

    Those who feel it necessary to theorize and chatter concerning God’s take on any effort that requires action are probably starving for His word and they should be fed, but they need to be feeding themselves.

    One’s relationship with God is a personal thing. If you want God to speak to you, read His word… it will. Having someone else read it to you should only be necessary if you can’t read. Besides that, preaching to someone who doesn’t want to hear will do no good. Only those who want to know will listen and God will bring them to you. Those are the ones you should encourage.

    Do you think anyone reads this website that’s not interested in God?

    I would back up my comments with scriptures, but I noticed no one else does that. Why not?

  26. I would back up my comments with scriptures, but I noticed no one else does that. Why not? — Bonnie

    With me, it’s because I’ve had it used as a weapon. On me. Never mind what’s right or wrong, just bury your opponent in Bible quotes and crow in triumph over his grave. (See the first entry on this comment thread for some of the attacks that use Bible verses as ammunition.) After years of getting hammered like that, you start looking on “God’s Word” as “The Party Line, Comrade”. (See the recent IMonk post “I’m Not On This Bus” for some of the Party-Line buses in the terminal.)

    Also, you get Christians who use rote memorization and “rewordgitation” as a substitute for thinking. Or out of laziness; why put energy into thinking for yourself when you can quote a proof text? You see this tendency carried to the max in Jihadi Islam; “Gagdad Bob”s blog once speculated that we were to jam on the Bible like a jazz musician instead of rewordgitating it like the Koran. (But then, Gagdad Bob’s really philosophical and really strange.)

    As a result, when somebody “backs up their comments with scriptures”, a big red alarm starts going off in my head.

  27. As a result, when somebody “backs up their comments with scriptures”, a big red alarm starts going off in my head. – Ken

    I understand that there are those who love to use the scriptures out of context. It remindes me of those people who use high-heel shoes to drive nails when they can’t find a hammer. Funny to look at, but basically sad and exasperating.

    For myself, I know that the Holy Bible is truth. It does not activate alarms for me. Instead, it brings comfort, guidance, and reassurance. I suppose that puts me in the category of the truly blessed.