November 30, 2020

The iMonk’s Weekend File 1/22/05

belushi1941.jpgI’ve got three topics running around in my head. All are important and deserve some ink. I’ll call it the iMonk’s Weekend File. Nothing too long and complex, but enough to say things that need to be said. Maybe they will reappear later as actual IM essays or BHT discussions. Would love your comments or emails. Here we go…

1. The Ministry of the Naked Text: When I was growing up, I sat under some great Biblical preaching. I’ve written about the impact of my uncle’s ministry on my life. But his approach to the Bible was typical of so much conservative Christian use of the Bible: a spiritual encounter with the text of the English translation; no background; no other levels. No big picture. God inspired the words, and all we need to do is talk about them in “preaching” and we are getting the ministry of the Word of God. There was never an approach to the text that asked why the text was written? When? In what situation? If we were studying Romans, we read Romans 1:1, and the preacher preached on it. The Holy Spirit spoke through that verse. Much of the “loudness” and perceived arrogance in my Baptist preaching tradition comes from this idea that we need to say the naked text loudly to show it is true, powerful and believable. No questions, no uncertainties allowed.

No one advocating the real presence of Christ in the elements could outdo our confidence that the real presence of the Lord was upon the pages and sentences of the King James Version, and we needed nothing else. The background and larger context of a book or passage were not just unimportant.They were unncessary and even distracting. Everything was “What does God say to me in this verse? Now?”

There was a lot of confidence in the Bible and a lot of faith in God in this method. But the Bible wasn’t treated rightly, and it took a long time for me to realize that the inspiration of scripture wasn’t magic in the words, but the actual message of the book. It always seemed insulting to say the Bible was just like any other book, but it is! That’s the wonder of inspiration. All the same rules for proper interpretation. The same approach to context, sentences and grammar. The same concern with the original situation the book speaks to and the worldview of the author. I was told my education would ruin the Bible because I would come to believe it wasn’t inspired. Of course, what did we mean by authority and inspiration? How about “The authority of the Bible is in the God it presents, and especially in Jesus, the focus and final Word of the whole Biblical narrative?”

I still love and respect scripture memory, and I believe the promises of scripture are important to know and use. But the greatness of the Bible is found in hearing what it has to say. Its entire story. Its complete teaching. What it really is, is what it ought to be in the church, and not something else. I’m so glad that I’ve found a view of scripture that affirms so much that can be good and valuable in the whole intellectual adventure, and that doesn’t just restrict me to crumbs from the table of foundationalism.

I have a lot of creationist friends who are very excited everytime they can find a way that it appears science is “proving” scripture. Lord, deliver me from that narrow view of truth. Your word is Your story about Your world, Your Son and Your people. Help me to find myself in that story, every day.

Interested in Biblical Theology? Here is a treasure trove: Biblical Explore and find all the great resources to build a narrative approach to the Bible in your family, church or class.

2. A Christian Blogosphere Moment: I’m getting a cultural vibe. The media has started to notice evangelical Christianity in ways that are different from the way they noticed us in the 80’s. Somehow, the political and cultural influence of evangelicals has evolved to the point where people want to understand us. Take, for instance, this Newsweek profile of The Falls Church, done just to help readers understand President Bush’s supporters. Church profiles like this aren’t unusual any more. In fact, they are common. We are on the radar. Maybe it was asking who were all those people going to see “The Passion” three times. Maybe it was the election of GWB. Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit. All I know is that we are in a time when the culture is caring to notice that we aren’t all Falwell and Swaggart. We aren’t all televangelists. We aren’t all Jim Bakker. It’s a good thing. Hard to get used to, I know, but good.

So now what? Enter the blogosphere. It’s our moment. I think Hugh Hewitt’s book “Blog” is a must read for Christians who want to understand what to do with the cultural window we’ve been given. We’ve got a moment not unlike the time Luther was given the printing press to spread the Reformation. The information revolution has given the culture more than one channel to listen to, and the Christian blogosphere is one of those channels. We’ve been empowered. And in the realm of cultural communication between Christians and the culture shapers, we have some great resources. With the culture listening, it’s time for the Blogosphere to show the face of Christianity in America that the media has ignored. Pajama armies! To battle!!

What shoud we be promoting? Well, good blogs, that’s what. Get them in front of the people in media, academics and business. Help them to see how the information revolution can introduce them to the world of evangelicals in a new, and large non-embarassing, way. What are the required stops in the evangelical blogosphere? Here’s my list:

Mark Roberts
Al Mohler
Amy Welborn
By Faith Online
Tim Challies
Christianity Today
Evangelical Outpost
George Grant

Get Religion
Jolly Blogger
Real Live Preacher
Relapsed Catholic
The Holy Observer
Mere Comments
Wesley Blog

Send that list to someone who might care to see something other than Robert Schuller or Joel Osteen. Send it to your newspaper editor. Send it to the local news reporters. Send it to the staff of your congressperson. Send it to the principal of your local high school and the President of the college your kids attend.

This is the moment when the “little platoons” can do much good. All of us who are bloggers and internet writers have a clear calling into the culture right now. A calling to let our lights shine. Sure, there are blemishes and embarassments in the cyber-church, but we have some stellar communicators out there, and the Christian publishing powers-that-be can kiss my monkish backside. They can’t shut us up any more. Let bad books become door stops! Blogs rule!! Zondervan drools!!

For example, The DaVinci Code will soon be a major movie. Where will the culture wide discussion of fiction and truth take place? On Larry King? In the New York Times? On Bill O’Reilley? No, it will take place on hundreds of blogs who will go out there daily and “blog” that movie and link the truth. It will be the blogosphere that will let the voices of our scholars be heard around the world. It will be on the net that we can win the wter cooler conversations and dinner table debates. The tools are there, and we need to use them. It’s on our blogs that journalists will find the facts that will let the truth shine through. It’s on our blogs that students will get the ammo to stand firm against the nonsense on their campus. I am looking forward to it. It will be an exciting time. A lot of Christians will be protesting in front of the theater. But I hope many articulate bloggers will be staying up late taking on the distortions with the truth.

Can it work? Ask Dan Rather!

3. The Misplace of Experience: As I get older, it becomes more and more clear to me that most of conservative American Christianity is in an endless search for experience. Look around. Listen to the music. See the emphasis on hot technology. See the celebrities, and the emphasis on “life changing principles” in so many churches. Listen to the promises of experience if you will attend this or that church. Listen to the incredible promises made in the name of church growth. Look at the emphasis on experience in worship. And if you tune in to the Pentecostal side of the dial, it is a hurricane of experience. God is doing things so fast you need a program guide to keep track of it. There is more divine drama at the local charismatic church than on the Soaps Channel.

Yet, the Bible tells us that the Gospel is an announcement. Not an experience or a promise of experience, but an announcement of what happened that most of us totally missed because we weren’t even born. It is what God has done for us, in Jesus. Believe it. Is there an experiential side to it all? Of course, but if that is moved to the front or the center, it is misplaced. And that is exactly where conservative Christians have put experience- front and center in a faith that is the announcement of what God has done in Jesus.

John Piper frequently uses language like this: Do you believe that God’s love is to “make much” of you, or that God’s love is to enable you to “make much” of him, and his son, Jesus? Contemporary Christians can sound as if they believe in a God-centered faith, (listen to all those chorus lyrics!) but the emphasis is plainly on the “I” in it all. “I will praise Him” is more about I than Him. The proof of God’s love is not so much what he has done for me by grace, but what I feel about it in church or prayer, and how much that feeling can dominate my motives and behavior. It’s supernatural living, they say. Not a life that believes Jesus is God, but a life of continuous miraculous proof that God is there. The announcement changes these people very little. It’s not even all that exciting. The real center of most experience is the promise to change me a lot supernaturally and now, if I do the right things or go to the right services. So what God has done is one thing. The experience I have in, for instance, praising him for it or being given a miracle, is another thing.

Again, Piper’s “Christian hedonism” addresses this matter of experience rightly, with an emphasis on enjoying God as the highest form of worship. (What we love, we praise, and enabling us to praise him is an aspect of God’s new covenant love in Christ.) But Christian Hedonism is different from most Christian experience: it is relentlessly God-centered, putting us into the “fight for joy,” and not the endless quest for experience as an end in itself. Piper’s view of enjoying God isn’t a continuous stream of Holy Spirit thrills, but a deeper and deeper conquest of the heart by Jesus, uprooting sin and replacing it with the quest for joy in Jesus.

My experience centered friends are always into something new. They need a new song, a new church, a new prayer trick, a new bolt of lightning at the altar, a new voice in their ears. It wears me out. I want more Christian experience, and I pray for the Holy Spirit to fill me with the reality of my salvation. But it all is what God has done already, and what I will trust to such a God now. My “experience” of praise, worship, transformation is always the experience of the one Christ who has already done everything for me and for my salvation. Experience can be great, or absent or confusing, or just a longing. But it doesn’t matter. Jesus remains, despite my experience and at the heart of the Gospel.

Piper’s book, When I Don’t Desire God is excellent for working out a true theology of experience.


  1. On your first point…

    The one book I recommend to anybody and everybody on this matter is Graeme Goldsworthy’s *Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture*. Don’t let the title fool you. This book is for anyone who really wants to understand the centrality of Christ in either reading or hearing the Bible, and how every book and every genre is to be understood in light of Him. It is not “technical” for the most part, but stimulating reading nevertheless. This book is worth more than most seminary classes on exposition – and I can speak from experience on that.

  2. I have that book and his According to Plan. GG is top notch in this way of looking at the Bible. Kudos.

  3. Topic 1: I often wonder if some people have faith in the bible or faith in God.

    Topic 2: I like to read your thoughts before going to church on Sunday to help me remember that I’m not the only one unsatisfied with shallow enthusiasm and emothional manipulation.

    Topic 3: As a life-long charismatic, I should have been supernaturally transformed into something much more holy and powerful than I am by now. Must be my lack of faith and commitment. But lately I do notice God in many worldly and unholy places that most of my church-mates do not.

    Have a blessed week, brother.

  4. amen. Love point 3. Piper has been such a blessing for our church community. His continual work on our being most satisfied when God is most glorified. Some great mp3s from Piper speaking at a church-planters conference I attended at hits on all this as well.

  5. Topic 1: I was fortunate in my upbringing: the churches my family went to never gave any context or any outside help for Scripture (except for really bad teen devotionals), but my parents did. They taught me how to use Strong’s concordance, and often used Matthew Henry’s commentaries. Hooray!

    Topic 2: Blogs are great for getting news/thoughts from a multiplicity of viewpoints. If I read blogs from various counterbalanced views, I find that my own thought life is more varied and more balanced.

    3. Amen.

  6. Mike,

    I would like to disagree with your praise for blogs. As a computer network administrator who had a web page back in the mid-’90s, before anyone knew what dot com meant, it seems to me that blogs are a fad that is peaking right now and, while they won’t disappear completely, their importance has been greatly overstated. The link below to an article on Slate does a pretty good job of explaining what I mean here.

    And as far as using blogs as a tool to reach the lost, every tool necessary to reach the lost existed back in 33 AD. Whether it’s a sickle or a mechanized harvester, there has to be a will to harvest. No tool can change that. Look at all the newfangled bible software packages – are people reading their bibles more today? It seems to me that if blogs were the panacea that everyone claims they are, Jesus would have made sure to set up Peter, Paul, etc. with blogging software.

    It’s interesting and fun, but I doubt this new twist on fairly old tech will bring about the revolution so many expect.

  7. On #1– Do you think that a recovery of preaching the narrative and context of the whole redemptive plan of God can happen apart from a re-framing of the whole approach of most local church ministries? It seems that the pragmatic, atomistic, “reduce everything to an alliterated outline” approach shows up in worship,discipleship approaches, counseling, decision-making,policy-framing, etc…The church is following the lead of the preaching in so many ways…
    #3– The thirst for experience is stunningly subtle and tantalizingly powerful. Watch 5 minutes of the TBN nightly thing and see the people with glazed over eyes, jumping & swaying while the music cranks to a new key, certain that this will be the night they breakthrough. But it’s not just there–in our church, there is often a resistance to doctrinally rooted thinking in favor of the programmatic need of the moment. Piper’s book is a stunning diagnosis of the reasons for a faith that makes much of something other than God– and a hopeful, practical, biblical prescription.