All Things Go! (Or, When the Trinity Moved Us From Trinity to Trinity For a Ph.D.)

sufjan-stevens-illinoise-900My wife and I got married four years ago this Friday. When we walked up the aisle after pledging ourselves in covenant before God and a couple hundred witnesses, our recessional song was Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” At the time, we loved it simply because it was Stevens, upbeat, had a gospel center, and had that lovely chorus line, “All things Go, All things go” mirrored how we felt about beginning our marriage. It’s rather amusing to think about because, really, McKenna and I aren’t by nature the adventuring “All things go” people Stevens’ is talking about. We both lived at home for college. Our first place was literally 15 minutes from where we grew up. We are each other’s first roommates. Little did we know how pregnant with prophetic meaning that song selection for those first forty steps as a married couple would prove.

Trinity 1.0

At the time, I had just started working at my church Trinity United Presbyterian in Santa Ana, as the College and Young Adult Ministries Director. I cannot express what a privilege and blessing this job has been. I could not have written a better first ministry spot for myself. This congregation, with its rich history, worship, solid preaching, and godly people has been a wonderful place to begin pastoral work. Beyond that, it’s formed a crucial home for the first years of my marriage, and a place that my wife and I have grown as disciples of Christ. I cannot express how precious this place and its people (especially my students and partners in the Student and Family ministries) have become to us.

Working with students, young adults, and just spending time in the broader congregation shaped me as a preacher, teacher, discipler, and simply a child of God. What’s more, because of Trinity’s rich, Presbyterian, confessional and intellectual heritage, it was not seen as bizarre for me to spend time studying for sermons and writing as much as I have these last few years.  It has been encouraged as an outgrowth and proper part of my church ministry to my students and peers, and for that I could not be more grateful.

While Trinity has been a wonderful home to us, after a great deal of prayer, counsel, and reflection, we realized God was calling me to pursue further academic work for the sake of the church, specifically doctoral work in systematic theology. To be honest, it has always been there in the back of my mind, but I love the church, preaching week-in and week-out, meeting with students, and so forth. Still, the last few years of reading, writing, developing intellectually, significant academic relationships, and having pretty much every one of my groomsmen and their mothers look at me and say, “Dude, you need to get your Ph.D. or I’m gonna fight you”, had its effect. So, last fall I (or rather, we) began the application process.  While the process was a spiritually trying one, it has also been a strengthening one for us, which has been one of the various confirmations along the path that this road was God’s will for us.

Trinity 2.0

Of course, the most significant sign came when we received the news that I had not only been accepted to the Ph.D. program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), in order to study with a man I’ve been reading, learning from, and blogging about for the last eight years, (surprise, surprise) Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer. For those who don’t know him, he’s one of the most respected Evangelical theologians working in the United States right now. While I could say a number of things about the impact his work has already had on me, I’ll simply note that his emphasis on the crucial pastoral function of doctrine for the life of the church has been at the heart of what I’ve tried to do in my own ecclesial ministry. (Here’s a nice write-up of him in Christianity Today.) And that’s not to mention all the other stellar faculty at TEDS.

Beyond that, we found out that I had been awarded the new Dahl Scholarship. This is a fellowship at full funding of tuition plus a modest stipend for four years of coursework and research.  For God to open this door just seemed too obvious an opportunity to walk away from. So we took it.

I’ll be honest, “excited” doesn’t begin to cover it. If you’d have told me a couple of years ago, that I’d be getting this shot, I would have laughed in your face. (Though, McKenna insists she knew something like this would happen all along). And yet, that’s the reality. This Fall, Lord willing, I’ll begin coursework for my Ph.D. in systematic theology at TEDS with Kevin Vanhoozer as my supervisor.

For those of you who may be wondering, my provisional subject of research will be a be doctrinally-constructive account of the attribute of God’s holiness. I hope to examine God’s holiness in biblical theology (OT, NT), moving on through historical accounts, and in the end, formulating a systematic account that deals with what it means for the Triune God to be eternally holy, in both the moral and the ontological sense. From there, I want to develop some applications of God’s holiness for how we think about atonement and the church’s own holiness. At least, that’s the plan right now.

As for what the plan is afterward? We’re not sure. At this point, I’m comfortable with the ideas of teaching in seminary or returning to full-time church work. Honestly, after four years of preaching and teaching at least twice a week 50 weeks of the year, I’m actually kind of scared about how much I’m going to miss the pulpit (or, dinky music stand, really). Something in-between like a pastor-theologian sounds pretty appealing, right now. But a lot can happen in four years.

Moving and Prayers

Of course, as many of you have put together already, that means we’re going to move. We’ll be living at Trinity in Deerfield, Illinois, about a half an hour outside of Chicago, (hence my intro). After 29 (and 28) years of living in California, we’re heading out to the Midwest. As I told my students the other night, “The Trinity is moving us from Trinity to Trinity.”

Oh, and, by the way, it’s happening in about a month (end of July, beginning of August). Which is why we need your prayers. For everything.

IMG_0574

This is our, “We’re so excited about the future but please-oh-please pray for us” face.

But also, these specific things:

  1. Marriage. After God, our relationship as man and wife is job number one for us. We don’t want that to change. A Ph.D is great, but not worth our covenant. Please pray this time is a special one of strengthening and marital joy.
  2. Moving. We’ve never done that before. Not really. There’s a ton of work we need to do. Pray that God gives us wisdom and good deals on moving stuff.
  3. A good church and community. We have to find a church that I’m not working at. That’s weird for us. But we know the importance of being plugged into a good church where we can find godly community and fit well. Pray that we find a healthy, gospel-rich church, and that we’re ready to be flexible on non-essential preferences. Also, the TEDS community. I already know a couple of great people in it. Still, we want to make friends and contribute to whatever community we find there.
  4. Job. Yes, I’m receiving a scholarship, for which we are very grateful and without which we could not go, but my wife is leaving her job, so we want to find something for her fairly quick. For those in the area, or who know people, she’s got a B.A. in Social Studies and history, a teaching credential, and an M.A. in Education. For the last two years, she has worked in administration at a local K-8 parochial school and is super at administrative stuff. If you know of anything, feel free to shoot me a tweet or email me at reformedish@gmail.com.
  5. Family and friends. We love our families and friends and we’re fairly sure they love us. We’re gonna miss them. Also, they’re going to miss us. Please pray for our hearts and theirs in this time.
  6. Studies. Finally, please pray for my studies. This is a gift of time and resources that I want to steward well for the sake of the church and God’s kingdom. Pray that I focus, grow, and am dependent on and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be present in my program. I mean, seriously, if you’re not a cessationist, pray for me to receive the gift of tongues. Like French and German.

Wrapping it Up

A few last details are worth noting.

First, moving and getting a Ph.D. is likely going to be a time-consuming task. Just a guess. For that reason, I’m probably going to be doing a lot less blogging and popular writing for the next few months until I get my Ph.D.-legs under me. And even then I don’t know how much I’ll be able to do. I’m not stopping completely, of course. I don’t think I could. Still, part of stewarding God’s gifts to me in this program is stewarding my time and intellectual energies, despite the immediate joy and blessing I receive from writing in this format. So, if you see things slow down, that’s probably why. (Oh, also, I’m not likely to slow the podcast down, though).

Second, there are far too many people to thank at this time: parents, friends, students, co-workers, pastors, professors, fellow-writers, editors, and mentors from near and far. Suffice it to say that if there is one thing that this experience has taught McKenna and I, it is that God’s providential care comes through the community of God’s people. None of the fruit that this process has already produced would have been possible without the Spirit-empowered words and prayers of our spiritual family.

Well, there you have it: The Rishmawys are moving to Chicago. All Things Go! All Things Go!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Jude on Showing Mercy to Three Types of “Doubters” in the Pews

mercy 2Last week I wrote a reflection/brief commentary on the short book of Jude. In it I dealt with the general problem of false antinomian teaching that had been cropping up in the church, it’s parallels to the current doctrinal struggles with moral revisionism, and our call to remain faithful in the middle of it all. Well, though I dealt with the whole of the letter, I judged it worth returning to the letter and take a closer look, especially at Jude’s admonitions to mercy towards the end.

As I read this last week with my small group, I was struck by Jude’s emphasis on mercy. I suppose I am a bit more sensitive to the subject after meditating on Thomas Watson’s beautiful reflections on the mercy of God. Still, after a letter full of warnings judgment it can strike some as a bit of a left turn. And yet it shouldn’t really. Only those with a sharp appreciation for God’s holy opposition to sin can understand the gratuitous nature of the mercy of God. It is to this dimension of Jude’s thought that I’d like to direct our attention. There is a level of discernment and discrimination (in the good sense) Jude shows, which we need to recover if we’re going to deal pastorally with those in our midst prone to various sorts of “doubt” and disagreement.

Meditating on Future Mercy

After condemning the false teachers and issuing a general call to faithfulness and resistance, Jude offers encouragement to his people:

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (20-21)

Jude tells his people to build themselves up like the holy Temple they are on the foundation of the faith, the solid doctrine they’ve been handed on from the apostles, prayerfully dependent on the Holy Spirit. They should do this as they keep themselves in the love of God, obeying God’s will. In order to do this, Jude says they should “wait for the mercy of our Lord.” Waiting for the future mercy of God in the final salvation that Jesus will bring when he returns gives them the strength to endure.  This is one of those places where having a sense of the “now and not yet” dimension of our salvation is so crucial. Christians are able to trust in this future mercy only because they are confident of the mercy already shown them in the sacrifice of Christ’s cross. His death for sin is the assurance they have passed from death to life and that the judgment of God to come no longer has their sins in view.

Mercy Towards Three Types of Doubters

From this encouragement to meditate on the mercy of God towards them, Jude urges them to extend this mercy towards others.

Be merciful to those who doubt;  save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. (22-23)

That’s one of the true tests of whether or not you understand the mercy of God: do you have any inclination or instinct to show others the grace God has shown you? If you are an unmerciful person who tends to hold grudges, keeps anger hot, and ready to unleash on others, stop and spend some time meditating on the mercy of God. You cannot do this enough.

In any case, Jude moves on to enumerate three types of people (doubters) who need to be shown mercy, but in each case there seems to be a different shape that this mercy is to take. While mercy is to be shown to all, distinctions need to be made. As we’ll see, it might be unmerciful to do otherwise.

First, there is the group that seems to be “in doubt”, or hesitant. Here we can imagine the average church-goer sitting in the pews who has been confused by the influx of smart, charismatic false teachers advocating a tempting lifestyle. It’s not an aggressive, arrogant doubt, but one that is tentative, and would likely respond if properly and carefully corrected. I’ve seen this a lot. In fact, this about 99% of what I’ve encountered in my time. Students who come in, worried about this or that article they’ve read, difficult conversation they’ve had, and so forth and they ask me a difficult question. In this case, usually that is needed is a careful conversation or two and they are ready to hear biblical truth. Mercy here is gentle engagement.

Second, there seems to be a different category where the “doubt” is more aggressive. Richard Bauckham suggests that as those who need to be “snatched out of the fire”, these people have already been lead astray by the false teachers to the point of engaging in sinful, licentious behavior. And yet, it is likely that many here would respond to proper correction. All the same, it may be that a sharper approach is necessary. Once you’re engaged in sin, all sorts of rationalizations set in which require a more forceful approach. It’s the different between warning little Johnny from running into the street while he’s in the yard, versus reaching out and pulling him out of the street after he’s already crossed the line. It’s not sufficient to call softly. “Johnny, please come back here” when there’s a car rumbling down the road, set to interrupt his play-time. In the same way, a different level of rhetorical and spiritual urgency will be required in this second case, not to mention possible movement towards church discipline.

Finally, there is a third group of those whom we are still to show mercy, but do so with fear. At this point Jude appears to be referring to the false teachers themselves. There is a certain kind of person who is not simply confused, not simply doubting, not only led astray through a lack of knowledge or sinful desire, but is actively pursuing and propagating false teaching. This isn’t the kid with normal (though difficult) questions or the relatively skeptical but honest dude in your Bible study. No, this is someone with a culpable level of responsibility, or personal authority, who is trying to influence others into adopting beliefs and practices that oppose holiness and the truth of God. It’s the difference between Eve being led astray through doubt, and the malicious serpent who “doubted” and taught others that same sort of doubt.

Jude commands us to show them mercy, nonetheless, but do so with fear because there’s a foolish sort of “openness” that can put you in danger of being led astray. Of course, you still need to love this person, pray for their salvation, and hope that God changes their hearts. But you probably need to change the way you engage with them, have fellowship with them, or whether you treat them like a believer or not. There’s a holy fear, a hatred of sin which is a part of the love of God (Rom 12:9), of even the garment that leads to sin, which means that at a certain point you may have to guard yourself from certain kinds of conversations or contact. This person needs mercy, but there’s an understanding that they should be engaged by the proper authorities who are equipped for that sort of thing. Don’t be too arrogant to think you can’t be misled.

The Trouble with Mercy Outside the Church

Now, there are all kinds of application for this sort of text today. First, of course, is in our actual churches. Pastors, people in the pews, and various church leaders need to have these distinctions in mind when dealing with false teaching popping up. You need to be able to distinguish between the honest Christian who is “hesitant” and those who are maliciously stirring up others. Dealing harshly wth the first would be to break a bruised reed, while dealing too gently with the latter might put the rest of the flock in danger. This can be difficult, which is why we should constantly be in prayer in the Spirit, meditating on the person of Jesus, and the witness of Scripture so that our instincts and imaginations can be formed and shaped by God’s Word.

Second, there’s the troubling question of online interactions. See, one of the problems I see with a lot of the doctrinal discussion online is that all of these categories get mixed up. The internet makes these lines harder Say there’s some blogger in the third category, actively trying to lead people astray, but who is read and finds sympathy with people in categories one and two. And say some pastor moves to correct or argue against a position they’re advocating. Well, the problem I see is when your signals get crossed and the harder words you have for the false teacher get read as the tone, approach, or estimation of those who are merely hesitant, or maybe still open to rebuke. Ironically enough, in your desire to guard them, they might end up being pushed towards that position in reaction.

On the flipside, you have those in that third category who hide under the mantle of the first. “Is that what God said?” becomes a cover for “Did God really say?”, so that the aggressive doubt being advocated gets smuggled in surreptitiously under its more benign cousin. I don’t know that I have a real answer to all of this. I suppose I think it’s important enough to simply be aware of those dynamics and the way it colors the way we read online engagements, or go about conducting them. Stating our understanding of what exactly it is we think we’re doing, thinking about who our conversation partners are, who might silently watching from the sidelines, and so forth. For others, it might simply be wise to start considering the nature of doubts and questions. To that end, I’d recommend Matt Anderson’s book The End of Our ExploringI can’t think of a more helpful resource on the subject.

Finally, I suppose I can end by simply noting the way that this is one more text that reminds us every inch of Scripture, even the weirdest bits like Jude, has some fitting word to speak into our day. A word of truth as well as a word of mercy for those who struggle with it.

Soli Deo Gloria

Are You Still ‘Reformedish’?

Cribbing Bavinck

I admit being entirely dependent on him theologically, but, for the record, that photo predates my Bavinck readings.

(Pardon me for the somewhat indulgent, self-referential post that follows. Then again, it is my blog, so that’s a thing. Also, on that note, I’d like to dedicate this post to Matthew Lee Anderson.)

“When are you gonna drop the ‘ish’, and just cop to being ‘Reformed’?” That’s the gist of the challenge I received as I was sitting around chatting theology with some friends last week. I can’t remember exactly what we had been talking about, but after my fifth or sixth time opening a statement with, “Well, Bavinck (Calvin, Turretin, Muller) says…”, apparently enough was enough and an intervention against my terminological obfuscation was called for.

It’s not the first time it’s happened, either. Over the last few years of blogging under the title “Reformedish”, I’ve been growing increasingly Reformed, tended to cite mostly Reformed sources, and written mostly for broadly Reformed publications. Understandably, I’ve had a number of people ask me what all the hesitation is about? Why not just own the term “Reformed”?

Well, there’s a few things to say to that, but first, I figure it’s wise to quote my own earlier explanation of my chosen blog-name:

Why ‘Reformedish’?
The title is an indicator of both my spiritual reality and theological outlook. Also, of the fact that I add “ish” to the end of a lot of words–more than I should really. The spiritual reality is that, while I’ve been saved in Christ through that ridiculous Gospel of grace and am even now being indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God, I am still in serious need of reformation–I am a work in progress. Much grace has been given–more will be needed. This will likely be evident in my writing.

Theologically I’ve become increasingly rooted in the Reformed tradition. I was drawn to this little patch of Christian thought by a few guys: Kevin Vanhoozer, Alvin Plantinga, Tim Keller, and N.T. Wright. They introduced me to their buddy, John Calvin. We’ve been friends ever since. This hasn’t always been the case, though, which means I’m still fairly new to this wing of things. I am not knee-jerk Reformed, nor an expert in the tradition. Consider me an increasingly avid novice. Still, I know that the Christian tradition is a broad and deep one so I try to read outside of what I’ve come to think of as my theological home.

So there are two dimensions. One is spiritual, the other theological and, honestly, I think both still apply. I’m not spiritually reformed by a long shot. Just ask…pretty much anybody I talk to on a daily, weekly, or centennial basis. I still stand in need of quite a bit of reformation. Consider it my own version of Kierkegaard’s unwillingness to call himself a Christian because it was too high a thing.

On the properly theological side, I still feel like I’m fairly new to the Reformed tradition. I’ve read far more now than I had when I started this thing, and can quote far more dead Reformed guys than I could then, but I’m not an expert by a long shot. In which case, I feel rather uncomfortable presenting myself as some sort of authority on “Reformed” theology. I’m not. I mean, I know more than some, but that’s not saying much. The more I read, the more I realize I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of the riches of the Reformed tradition. So, yes, I think “Reformedish” is still applicable.

Now, that said, I’d like to be clear that I do own the name “Reformed”, certainly more than I did previously. I mean, I’m certainly not Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Wesleyan, or any of the other venerable theological traditions that get that sort of designation. I also don’t tend to call myself a “Calvinist” as that usually triggers a very specific reference to a narrow set of truths connected to the theology of salvation, instead of the broader panoply of Reformed theological distinctions connected to covenant theology, the sacraments, and so forth. So yes, if you asked me on the street, beyond simply saying “Christian”, or “Protestant”, or “Evangelical”, I’d call myself “Reformed.”

Finally, “Reformedish” is my blog title and I don’t feel like changing because I’m rather loyal. And in any case, it would take way too much work to think of a different name and I’m also kinda lazy like that.

So there you go.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Progressive Evangelical Package (Mere Orthodoxy)

It’s no secret that Reformed Christians have built their own wing of the internet where they spend their time chatting among themselves. They police certain key boundaries and dissent from some of these can (rightly or wrongly) bring about serious criticism. While there is more diversity among the Reformed than critics usually want to recognize, there can also be a heavy pressure to conform to the ‘standard’. Given the more consciously confessional (and I do use the term somewhat broadly) ethos among the Reformed, it’s rather unsurprising that this should be the case.

The progressive Evangelicals now have their own wing, though, ostensibly with an emphasis on diversity and a marked aversion to foreclosing conversations or policing boundaries. The idea that there is a strict standard, a party line you have to tow in order to be a part of the club, is supposed to be foreign to the Progressive internet’s ethos. That’s for the heresy-hunting, conservative builders of Evangelical empire, after all, rather than the “radically inclusive” prophets of a more Christ-like faith. Unlike their conservative counterparts, Progressives follow a Jesus who came to tear down the walls that divide, not put new doctrinal ones back up.

Those are the stereotypes, at least. But it’s increasingly difficult to maintain this picture if we take a look at the actual situation on the ground.

There may not be a Progressive Gospel(s) Federation with explicit standards we can look to, but there are certain tenets that are increasingly defining what I’ve dubbed the “Progressive Evangelical Package.” The theological scene is beginning to mirror the political two-party system such that if you hold one or two of these positions, or want to have a voice in the Progressive conversation, it’s likely there is heavy pressure on you to begin affirming all or most of them.

These tenets do not mark out a monolith. There are undoubtedly figures who don’t fit the description, just like there are figures who spend lots of time in the Reformed world who don’t fit the characterization above, either. I maintain that they signal a trend, though.

You can read the rest of the article at Mere Orthodoxy.

Soli Deo Gloria

If the Apostle Paul Was a Blogger

I was struck with a terrible thought yesterday. What if Paul had written Romans 8 in the style of a contemporary blogger? This was what I imagined might happen. 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

"Do I bold or italicize this?"

“Do I bold or italicize this?”

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending HIS OWN SON in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit! (if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.)

Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (tweet this).

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

And those whom he predestined he also called,

and those whom he called he also justified,

and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?

Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. WHO SHALL SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF CHRIST?

Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am sure that:

NEITHER DEATH NOR LIFE,

NOR ANGELS

NOR RULERS,

NOR THINGS PRESENT

NOR THINGS TO COME,

NOR POWERS,

NOR HEIGHT NOR DEPTH,

NOR ANYTHING ELSE IN ALL CREATION,

will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

 

Four Reasons I Blog as a Pastor

blogging beardThe other day a blogging friend of mine asked a few of us other bloggers why we blog. He wanted to know our purposes and motivations for all the time and effort we put into the practice. What drives us? What do we hope to gain from it at the end of the day?

Although there are likely more, after a little thought, I came up with four basic reasons I blog and it turns out that in the long run, they all end up helping me do my job as a pastor better. I figured I’d share them here with you. Maybe it’ll re-invigorate your own blogging, or encourage some of you to pick up the practice for yourself.

1. I Like Thinking Things. I think and read a lot. Communicating what I read and think about tends to be  fruitful way for me to process it. That said, to be perfectly honest, I can’t preach half of what I think about. I mean, can you imagine me unleashing a talk on theological epistemology on my college kids? That’d be just abusive. Until I get into a Ph.D. program or something like that, blogging is an intellectual outlet for me to rip into some of the nerdier, or less immediately relevant theological and cultural analysis I might be tempted to engage in. In that way, it’s kind of a nice little intellectual pressure release for me.

2. Directly Serving the Church. The second reason I blog is that I think that it can directly serve the Church in general and my church in particular. I can think of at least three ways this happens:

  • For one, some of my students, especially my away-at-college students, tell me they read the blog occasionally, and so hopefully they’re learning from some of what I’m addressing. It’s one way for me to keep teaching them, even when I don’t have their butts in the seats right in front of me.
  • Next, some of the stuff I hammer out on the blog actually does make it’s way into my preaching eventually. Just this last week I was doing some research for an article I was writing that ended up dovetailing perfectly with my sermon. This happens regularly enough, that I can safely say my writing has helped improve and expand the wealth of material that I’ve actually processed and insights gained to be redeployed in direct ministry context. In other words, writing helps me be a more insightful preacher and pastor.
  • As for the broader Church, I know I’ve gained from other pastors and theologians who have tackled issues online that I have been grappling with, or didn’t even realize I should be. Without presuming too much, I hope my own writing contributes to blessing the church at large, both through the edification of their elders, or by directly addressing theological and practical questions in a popular form. My hope is that this blesses the life of the broader Church as it is built up in the knowledge of Christ.

3. Stewardship of God’s Gifts And Sanctification. Next, if God has given me an ability to communicate, it’s actually just responsible to continue to steward it and develop that gift. Blogging is a way to keep developing my skills as a writer and a communicator. What’s more, it’s pushed me character-wise as I’ve engaged in the broader community, and connected me with other like-minded (and not-so-like-minded) brothers and sisters who have helped develop and shape my thought, I think, for the better.

I can’t tell you how much of a blessing my Christ and Pop Culture team has been to me, or the growth I’ve had in working with the crews at The Gospel Coalition or Mere Orthodoxy. I think my church has, in some ways, a holier pastor because of the writing. (Which, based on my writing, might raise the question of just how bad was I before I started?)

4. Joy. Finally, I blog because I enjoy it. Honestly, I don’t know about everybody else, but once I started writing, it started getting addictive. Yes, the prideful stuff like page-views and twitter-followers is there too. I’ve been sanctified in Christ and yet, I am still being sanctified, right? Still, the pure joy of crafting an argument and turning a phrase is just enjoyable. Some articles can be a task and dull at times, but fundamentally, the practice of writing is something I have come to love doing for its own sake.

But how does this play into my pastoring? Well, overall joy and emotional health stemming from one practice in my life, spreads into other areas. The stress relieved, or joy derived from some time writing gives me energy to tackle some of the pastoral tasks that can threaten it, or just leave me tired.

As always, there’s more to say, but I’ll leave it there for now.

Soli Deo Gloria

How Can A Blogger Love?

The Triune God simply is love, and it is out of the love that he is that he condescends to save sinners through the obedience of the Son. Unsurprisingly, then, he commands his children who have been adopted and are being transformed into the image of the Son, to love one another (John 15:12).  But what does that love look like?

Paul offers us a punchy little summary at the center of  his extended meditation on love in the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.love one another

I got to thinking about this last weekend at our staff retreat during our hour of meditation, and my mind took a strange turn. As I began to reflect on what this would look like concretely in my own life, I started wondering what it would look like specifically in the area of blogging.

What would it look like to blog with love? To approach writing and the entire range of social media practices that accompany it, as an aspect of my Christian discipleship submitted to the loving lordship of Jesus? To undertake blogging in dependence on the Spirit, so that when people look at me, they see glimpses of the love of Jesus?

As an exercise, I wrote some brief, meandering reflections on each phrase in those verses. Since I think I’m not the only one out there who ought to be struggling with that question, I offer them up here:

Patient and Kind- I imagine blogging with patience might include the practice of waiting to write and post. There are times when quick responses are possible, but slowing down to make sure the words we write are true, both in content and form, takes the patience of love–both of people and the cause of truth itself. Given its pairing in the text with kindness, I suspect it likely includes patience with others on the internet. Patience when their writing is mediocre. Patience when their theology needs some tuning up, but they’re clearly on a trajectory. Patience to remember that you were once such as these (and to someone you still are.)

Arrogant or Rude – I don’t have the space to go into the radical change eliminating arrogance and rudeness in our blogging habits would have. It is a common-place that internet culture, even certain wings of Christian blogging culture, is infected with coarseness and a total lack of respect for dialogue partners. The Christian looking to imitate Jesus, to love the way Jesus would, must put aside all false judgments of superiority that lead to the condescension and contempt polluting our posts, tweets, and comments.

Lack of Envy or Boasting – Blogging with love would exclude both envy and boasting.  Initially, that means some of us might write a lot less, given how much is written or posted as a response to the success of others.  Also, we’d be more likely to rejoice when a friend’s article goes viral instead of mourning our own that lies ignored in its respective corner of digital space; when we truly love the way Christ does, the good of our sister is our own good. There’d probably be a lot less humble-bragging as well, and a lot more encouragement of our brothers and sisters who labor alongside of us. What’s more, we’d trumpet our own successes a bit less, and be little more circumspect about re-tweeting all of our positive mentions, in an attempt to build our reputation and platform.

Doesn’t Insist on its Own Way – This one wasn’t as obvious at first. On a surface-level reading it would probably mean listening to my editors with greater humility. While that’s something I probably should do, it seems this has more to do with cutting out the self-serving way we approach our blogging. Our blogging will be less about our self, our name, our platform, our glory, and our self-interest. We don’t have to entirely neglect our own interests, of course, but our object will be to lift up Christ’s name and to forwards the interests, good, and welfare of others in our community. We will write for the common good of others and the church, not merely our own.

Not Irritable and Doesn’t Keep a Record of Wrongs– When we cease to place ourselves at the center of our hearts in our blogging, irritability and resentment will hopefully fade away as well. When I am at the center of my affections, every post I disagree with seems to have been written specifically to annoy me and cross my will. Because of my pride, I find myself writing or commenting out of irritation with a post, or an author, instead of a heart of love. Beyond that, much of the pointless internet drama happens because So & so is still grieved over the critical review Such & such gave his book, would settle down. Or that one time there was the week-long shenanigans over the tweet you swear everyone misinterpreted? Yeah, we’d finally let go of animosities we built up in that battle too.

Does not Rejoice in Wrongdoing, but Rejoices at the Truth – This one’s big. So often our rejoicing comes from the wrong reasons. We rejoice when we see an opponent put in their place, or a favored position trumpeted loudly. And, honestly, that’s not always bad–sometimes these positions ought to be trumpeted and these persons do need to be set in their places. But all too often, our concern isn’t about the truth being championed, but about our own vindication over against those with whom we disagree. Because of that, we don’t really mind that an argument was straw-manned, or someone was mildly slandered–but we should. Blogging that rejoices at the truth is one that takes delight in the truth being known, even when that means being proved wrong.

Bears all Things, Hopes all Things, Endures all Things – Finally, blogging with love means bearing, hoping, and enduring all things. It means bearing insults and misunderstandings, at times–not passively submitting, but steadfastly refusing to return evil for evil in the Spirit of our Savior. It means hoping the best of people, reading charitably, and receiving honest criticisms in the best possible light. Or, when the best possible light is still darkness, trusting that this same Spirit is at work in their heart and mind. It means enduring through the empty days, the lonely days, the quiet times when no one seems to read or care, except for your heavenly Father above, whose eye is ever watchful on the works of his children.

Of course there’s more to life than blogging, and more to love than the paltry reflections I’ve offered up here. Still, for those of us who desire our words to be more than a noisy cymbals or clanging gongs, they’re probably a decent place to start.

Soli Deo Gloria