Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category
I wanted to re-post something that Chuck DeGroat wrote earlier this week on his blog, The New Exodus. I think this is a pretty important discussion that needs to happen amongst the New Calvinism. Reductionism is dangerous and it hurts people. Legalism is dangerous and it enslaves people.
Maybe you’re like the many men and women who I’ve talked to. Having been through Sonship (a fairly well-known discipleship program in conservative Reformed circles) or having digested the writings of Keller or Powlison or Tripp, your still struggling. Or, maybe your version of “believing the Gospel” came from a preacher who told you that the answer to your lifetime of guilt was greater “Gospel depth” or deeper “Gospel transformation.” And so, you searched high and low for that newer and better way, the Gospel way, only to try to believe better and repent better and be less guilty. And that, too, didn’t amount to much.
Just recently, I was talking to yet another person whose digested all the writings and listened to all the sermons and read all the tweets, and ‘Gospel repenting and believing’ isn’t working. He went through Sonship. And each time he talked to his Gospel phone coach, he’d confess his latest idol. “I’m justifying myself through my attempts to repent better, and repentance is now my idol. So, I’m repenting of my repentance, but I’m still neck deep in feelings of guilt. What’s wrong with me?”
“Gospel Tweeting” is the latest phenomenon. The answer to all our problems is this: Just believe the Gospel! If it was that easy. This seems to me to be the newest quick fix, the most recent Christian cliche, and I’m growing weary of it. I’ve counseled people who’ve done the full Sonship workout only to be more racked with guilt than ever. They are repenting of their failed repenting and repenting of their failed attempt to confess their failed repenting. They’re more twisted in guilt than ever. And the ‘Gospel Twittersphere’ isn’t helping.
This is oversimplified Calvinism. Period. It doesn’t take the complexity of sin seriously enough, though it claims to in every way. It doesn’t take it seriously because it oversimplifies the remedy, leaving troubled and struggling people feeling even worse. Gospel counselors tell people that their troubles amount to a failure to believe the Gospel. Freedom is available, we’re told. Just repent and believe! Over and over, preachers are trying to boil this down to 140 characters on Twitter. And I think it’s Gospel arrogance.
The problem is that we’re far more complex and psychologically broken that we’re often aware of. It’s not just “unbelief” that bears down on us. It’s a whole host of things – neural pathways grooved by years of living a certain way, a “divided heart” that thrives on its habitual polarities, weakness of will, and the extraordinary brokenness manifesting in the systems we inhabit, whether in our families or workplaces or churches. And if I’m not being pessimistic enough, consider John Calvin’s words:
“But no one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him” (Institutes, 3.6.5 or pp. 1:689)
But the problem extends beyond understanding the complexity. It’s the cure that is far more difficult. Having counseled too many men and women who beat themselves up for not growing fast enough by repenting and believing, I’m convinced we do many people a disservice (and harm!) by oversimplifying both the problem and the cure. Those fearful of modern psychology need to begin listening at this point, because what we’ve found is that growth and maturity isn’t found in a method or a discipline or a repentance exercise. In fact, growth is harder, longer, more painful, and more puzzling than many of us care to admit. People who we serve in the church would like microwavable strategies, but the fact is that growth and maturity isn’t microwavable. It defies programs and methods. It frustrates the most competent pastor or therapist or spiritual director. And, it can’t be captured in a tweet, even a well-formed Gospel tweet.
I admire the hearts of my friends out there who attempt to tweet Gospel cures. They mean well. Most are pastors, and you know who you are. And I really do like you a lot. But, hear me when I say that people are suckers for your 140 word fixes. Why do you think you get re-tweeted so much? We’re suckers for remedies and methods. We love a sound byte. But I’m asking you to step back and consider the complexity. Do you really see people growing that quickly in your churches? Do you really see ‘Gospel transformation’ happening in a “repent and believe” moment? I’m prone to think that this is where we need a good dose of those old stories, like Pilgrim’s Progress, that highlight the long and difficult journey. Because most people I know don’t find that the methods work. Most people I talk to struggle day to day just to believe, just to utter a one word prayer, just to avoid another outburst of anger or another deluge of cynicism. Most people find that it takes a lifetime to believe that they are the prodigal who is lavished with a Father’s prodigious love.
Gospel tweeters: Relax. You are far more screwed up than you think. And your cure is far too simplistic to help. This journey requires more than a 140 characters of Gospel happy juice. A big and good God requires a long and difficult Exodus journey for real change to happen.
This list is what I think are the 10 best books that I have read from John Piper. I haven’t read some of the more recent ones, but have heard good things about This Momentary Marriage (a book on marriage apparently).
1. Desiring God [y, l, e, p, s]
This classic is what introduced me to a sovereign God and the doctrines of grace. It also taught me that my pursuit of joy and my pursuit of God were one and the same pursuit. If you cannot get through it or are intimidated by its size, try The Dangerous Duty of Delight, he essentially says the same things, just more concisely.
2. Don’t Waste Your Life [y, l, e, p, s]
Quite simply this book needs to be read (and can be) by everyone. The title says it all. His passion for living a worthy life is infectious.
3. Let the Nations Be Glad [y, l, e, p, s]
This is his book on missions. It is excellent. Reading this book is what compelled me to spend time overseas investing the Gospel into people.
4. Brothers We are NOT Professionals [l, e, p, s]
Just as relevant in 2009 than it was in 2002. I agree with my friend James W. that this book ought to be read by every seminarian before and after seminary. Piper takes aim at the professionalization of the ministry. We are not professionals, we are shepherds.
5. The 5 Book Biography Set [y, l, e, p, s]
Each book has three or so vignette-length biographies. They are all good and the link above takes you to DG’s Christmas sale.
6. Finally Alive [l, e, p, s]
This book may prove to be one of Piper’s most important contributions. The book concerns the rarely written on, doctrine of regeneration. Definitely one of the best books of 2009.
7. Battling Unbelief [y, l, e, p, s]
This book gives you tools to fight for your joy in Christ when you don’t feel it. Also, I am told that, When I Don’t Desire God, and When the Darkness Will not Lift are both quite good and in the same vein.
8. The Supremacy of God in Preaching [e, p, s]
One of the best books on preaching. Period.
9. Future Grace [l, e, p, s]
The superior pleasure of Christ and the hope of future grace are our tools in fighting against sin.
10. God’s Passion for His Glory [y, l, e, p, s]
This books is Piper channeling Jonathan Edwards thoughts (which is much of what Piper has done his entire ministry… and that is a good thing). We would be wise to listen to Edwards and his vision for a God who is passionate for His own glory.
What’s the Difference – book on Biblical manhood and womanhood.
Counted Righteous in Christ – book defending the doctrine of Christ’s imputed righteousness. A critical doctrine and a solid book on the matter.
The Justification of God – rock solid exegesis of Romans 9. If you have ever had questions about Romans 9, this book will answer them.
(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)
These books are books that are excellent concerning Missions, Evangelism, or Discipleship.
1. Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper [y, l, e, p, s]
This classic elevates worship as the goal of missions. It is an easy and enjoyable read.
2. The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman [y, l, e, p, s]
Coleman takes a thorough look at Jesus’ method of discipleship. A short and easy must read.
3. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions by Ruth Tucker [c, y, l, e, p, s]
Missionary biography is fascinating and oftentimes hilarious. See my previous write-up here.
4. Tell the Truth by Will Metzger [y, l, e, p, s]
Great book on evangelism written from a Reformed perspective. Metzger challenges people to tell the whole gospel to whole people, causing you to ask the questions, ‘what are the essentials of the Gospel and people?’
5. Operation World by Johnstone and Johnstone [y, l, e, p, s]
Operation World is essentially several dossiers on the remaining unreached people groups, giving analysis on how you can pray for them. Also, Window on the World is like Operation World for kids.
6. A Faith Worth Sharing by C. John Miller [c, y, l, e, p, s]
Jack Miller lived a pretty crazy life. These are some of his stories. It is a short, encouraging, and easy read. Also, Miller’s, Heart of a Servant Leader is excellent – it consists of letters he has written to various people under his care throughout his ministry. Really valuable wisdom.
7. Transforming Mission by David Bosch [p, s]
This is a deep, dense, and thorough look at missionary paradigms. It is not an easy read but patience will be rewarded with excellent deep thought.
8. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement by Ralph Winter [y, l, e, p, s]
This is the classic introduction to the task that lies ahead for the worldwide church.
9. Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community by Ed Stetzer [l, e, p, s]
Stetzer is quite knowledgeable on how to create church cultures that have real Gospel impact on their community. Also, Lesslie Newbigin’s, The Open Secret, and Darell Guder’s (editor), Missional Church are excellent.
10. Re-Entry by Peter Jordan [c, y, l, e, p, s]
Going from living in one culture back to your culture can really mess you up (just think of the stereotype of the socially awkward and/or out of touch missionary who comes back to give a powerpoint presentation to your church). Long-term missionaries invariably find themselves in a cultural no-man’s land as they have adopted many of the redeeming aspects of the people they are ministering to, while putting off many of the deplorable or unfortunate aspects of their former culture. There is also the question of where is home? The people you are ministering to or the place where you grew up? Re-Entry is a helpful guide for the returning missionary.
Update: Highly Recommended
Church Planting Movements by David Garrison
I have heard this book recommended several times (including the comments from this post), so I thought I would put it up here.
(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)
I recall twice during my time at Creekside Community Church in Gainesville (FL), Pastor Parker polled the congregation seeing how many people had been at the church 4 years or less. Both times, at least 50% of the congregation raised their hands indicating being there less than 4 years. If you are in a college town or a city that has a University or has major office parks, you may notice the revolving door of a good percentage of your church. Globalization, the abundance of English, the ease of travel, and electronic communications have shrunk our world and have increased mobility within countries and across countries. Lets define our terms:
Globality is the the theoretical end-state of globalization – a world and economy without national borders.
Mobility is the idea of population migration or population turnover.
Much of this blog post is inspired by a speech that Stephen Um delivered at the Gospel Coalition ’09 entitled, “On Ministry and Revolving Doors: Practical Challenges and Ideas for Ministry in a Mobile Society,” (audio). In his speech, he likens the issues that the early Christians faced in Acts, to the complexities of doing ministry in the 21st century – namely, mobility, globality, urbanality, and pluralism.
The 2st century is becoming a globalized, urbanized, and post-secular world again. I say ‘again’ because this means that the 21st century will be more like the 1st century AD than has been any of the centuries in between. -Tim Keller, Theology and Practice of Church Ministry: Ministry and Leadership in the City (Unpublished private notes, 2004), pp. 90-93.
Evangelical churches, particularly the ones in more urban areas, near employment hubs, or near Universities, are going to have to learn how to train up people who will be sent out elsewhere. Churches will need to be able to take people who are under their care for 2-4 years, promote spiritual maturity, promote community, and connect them to mission at-hand. Churches will need to invest in these people and not seen them as a poor ROI (return on investment) because some other church in some other place will benefit from your hard labor. Before you say that this is impossible, recall that Jesus only spent three years in his public ministry and under three years training up His disciples. These men went on to make huge kingdom differences as they were sent out and spread out following the Ascension and persecutions. Consider also, if every church had the attitude of stewarding the migratory transplants in their flock, then when someone came from another church, they come to you already heavily invested.
Moving forward, the evangelical church is going to have to rediscover the art of disciple-making. From my experience, most churches just hope that discipleship happens and have no real plan for doing it. They could learn from organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ, who routinely take some of the most spiritually immature young people and turn them into passionate multiplying disciples in under four years. Urbanization, globalization, globality, and mobility present incredible opportunity for the church. The more mobile people are the higher the velocity of interaction in the world. In The Rise of Christianity and Cities of God, Rodney Stark points out that one of the reasons that Christianity spread so quickly was because it was an urban religion and even though 98% of the population was rural, culture was created in the cities. We must be investing in individual people following the discipleship model of our Lord. If we do not, we will be further lost in the increasing complex web of interconnectedness and paradigm shifts.
Up next we will look at some of the false assumptions of the culture in evangelicalism’s game plan at reaching America.