July 16, 2019

Riffs 11:07:06 Bryan Chapell on Brokenness; Julie Bogart on Truthfulness

logo.gifOn the sidebar of the Boar’s Head Tavern, a well known member’s only establishment, there is a sidebar link entitled “The Poor In Spirit.” If you go there, you will find the funeral sermon by Dr. Bryan Chapell for his friend and mentor, Petros Roukas, former pastor of Lexington’s Tate’s Creek Presbyterian Church, who had taken his own life after years of struggling with depression.

Dr. Chapell’s message is one that explores the dark, dark place most evangelicals avoid and deny, until some event makes it impossible to do so. Evangelical Christians talk about life transformation by the grace of God. At the same time, millions of people have tried what evangelicals have recommended- conversion, church, prayer, Bible reading, deliverance, worship, discipleship, Christian events, retreats, music and on and on- and remained the same. Unchanged.

In the case of Petros Roukas, the struggle ended in tragedy. Dr. Chapell spoke truthfully and profoundly. I hope you read the message, and pray for his wife, Jan and their children.

At the same time, I want you to read another piece. Not from a pastor, and not even from an evangelical. Julie Bogart is a former evangelical writing some honest words to those evangelicals that might be listening to some voices outside the usual box. Her theme is the evangelical claim to have the means of life transformation. She says it’s not true.

When does the evangelical church admit that they don’t have answers for sexual addiction, perversion or homosexual inclinations?

The evangelical church needs to be honest and admit that prayer, accountability, Bible study, preaching from the pulpit and exorcising demons does not guarantee the end of sexual addiction or sexual sin for many people. What if the church said that much? What if evangelicals admitted that breaking bad sex habits is beyond the scope of its ability and is not a promise in Scripture?

Instead the church ought to advertise what it is best at: coming together to share our lives in community — to care for each other when we’re sick, to pray for one another, to offer help when someone has a baby, to give food to the poor… What if someone said, “I’m struggling with sin,” and the church said, “We can’t promise you that you’ll change, but we can offer you a place where you’ll make friends and find meaningful work to do in spite of your struggles?”

When people say that Haggard should have been more honest with himself, I want to say that evangelical theology is guilty for his dishonesty. The promises are lies. They make a mockery of leaders who depend on the promises and find no relief. What else does a pastor do but lie when the practices he preaches don’t work for him?

Christianity does not cure addiction. Christians are forgiven for sin. More importantly, Christianity is a pathway to community and caring in spite of sin. Honestly, a caring community is worth a lot in this postmodern fragmented world. Nothing to sneeze at!

If evangelicals started with the humble truth, they might not have so many sick people joining up in desperation hoping to find a magical cure for what they do in secret. In fact, the church might then become that sacred space where all are welcome, where honesty is valued and where some are helped, too.

I’m not defending or agreeing with Julie Bogart in every respect. I would affirm her view of two things:

1. We do not have any way to promise any person that they will be transformed in this life.

2. Christian community itself, offers not only the message of the Gospel but the experience of inclusion and acceptance to those who struggle.

While the form that a supportive Christian community might take is a subject that needs further discussion, I agree completely- based on 15 years of ministry here at OBI- that inclusion in community is a powerful force that allows the grace of God to take root.

Comments

  1. dpaultaylor57 says

    With respect to Ms. Bogart, her analysis has the air of something weighted down with disappointment or bad experiences. In other words, the promises of Scripture, which are greater and more powerful than the evangelicalism she’s seen, get dragged down to the level of her experience because she hasn’t seem them demonstrated.

    Having said that, I agree that some promises made in God’s name, even well-meaning ones, are sometimes like NSF checks when presented for payment. A changed life can mean change over the long haul, with great effort and occasional slips and falls. But it doesn’t follow that falling into sin is proof that the grace of God is not powerful in its effects, very powerful.

  2. You say, “We do not have any way to promise any person that they will be transformed in this life.”

    I would agree if by this you mean that a person will not become sin-free or that there may be particular sins they struggle with all of their lives. But, are you suggesting that the presence (indwelling) of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life will have no transforming effect? It seems that Paul expected the lives of people to change. I am not suggesting that by saying a prayer we magically are freed from our earthly nature. But, if a person repents and believes the good news, submitting Jesus, should we not expect some change? Do you mean that a person in whom the Spirit dwells has no reason to expect that their life will in some way be transformed, that they will not become any more like Jesus than they were before? I guess I read what you write here and it sounds like you are saying a person should not expect any sanctification to take place. Am I off here?

  3. I think I have to take exception to point 1; we don’t make the promise, it is a promise of regeneration from God. As some one who grew up outside of Christianity I had the pleasure of myself being tranformed (and now day by day), and witnessing how God took all of the brokeness of my life and those I loved and regenerated it into new life. To the point where my mom and step dad have adopted two boys who are also in need to this regeneration. I am far from perfect or holy, but haveeperienced this transformation, however far frm complete it maybe. I guess I can’t promise I can do anything about it, but I can promise to be a part of what God does, take horrible things, like the crucifix, and turn them into beautiful redemtive things. The scars remain as a testimony, but the church is the bride gift.

    On point 2, is not the inlcusion part of the Gospel?

    PS I think the inclusion idea I see in the NT is at odds with our Ingroup/Outgroup dynamics which the culture warriors are so adamant about.

  4. Thanks for posting this; I appreciate it.

  5. It seems to me that Bryan’s words are full of hope and humility. These words admit the possiblity of our healing eithr now or later, as God chooses. These words are words of life. I see broken people clinging to each other in hope, repentance and humility.
    Ms. Bogarts words have the ring of real human experience and the dissapointment, cynicism and anger that we all find there. However her words are words of poverty and despair, broken people clinging to each other but nothing more.

  6. Michael, thanks so much for posting the funeral sermon for Petros Roukas. It expresses the hope of the gospel very well, and is a tonic to me as I have an all-too-often suicidal family member in hospital right now.

    I also really appreciated Michael Horton’s funeral sermon for Timothy Brewer, another depressive minister who took his own life. I can’t find that sermon on the net now, but it has the intriguing title of When Christianity Doesn’t Work.

  7. The problem that these writers hit upon is the reluctance of most evangelicals to deal with the devastation of the real world in its own terms. When you hang it out there in most evangelical churches — that you’re using pornography or addicted to a substance or breaking off your marriage — most responses look like crossing to the other side of the road instead of bandaging the wounded. Folks promise to pray for you. I wish when I am hurting someone would just cry with me.

  8. What happened to the more recent “Hearing ourselves as others hear us” post?

  9. In the grandest arc of time, existnece is a comedy for a Christian, this in the classical sense of a postive resolution, a denouement, a working out. But, man, when people expect things to work out positively NOW it is a setup for intense heart-break, suffering, and false guilt. Expect a miracle, sure, but I don’t think life is happiness drive thru even if you have tons of faith.

    And amen, Julie Bogoart. Who said everything was going to be okay in the here-and-now?

    I was struck by this when reading Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, of the almost wholescale destruction of Early Modern Japanese Christianity. No easy resolution there, as most Christians were murdered, fled, or apostatized. One is forced either to 1) condemn all those Christians as weak, ‘not real Christians’, not of the Elect, etc.; or to 2) admit that things are awfully complicated and messy.

  10. Thank you for posting Bryan Chapell’s funeral sermon. I appreciate it. The Christian life is so much more complex than what we’ve been sold. It’s so much worse and better than anything told. Thank you again.

  11. I think that we need to hear the Julie Bogart’s of the world. And I fully agree that there is no “promise” of transformation. But there is hope that we can be transformed. I’ve struggled with sin issues and could say that the Gospel has failed me. But when I am honest I realize that I’ve failed the Gospel.

    I know God’s love and grace for me. I see my failings as a reason to give grace to those who also struggle. I see my failings as a reason to stay humble and to cry out to God.

    However, I don’t see my failings as an excuse to quit or give up hope. The reality is that the Holy Spirit can transform me. The hope is real and there is a “promise” that He can save my Spirit and my Soul.

    I read Julie Bogart and have sympathy for her not condemnation. But I must ultimately disagree with her that Christianity can’t cure addiction.

    I agree with your first point that we cannot promise transformation. That is because transformation is a transaction between a person and the Lord. But we can promise that God is faithful and His hope is true.