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

Top #Reformedish Posts of 2014

2014This was a big year for me in terms of writing. Or, at least it felt that way. Though I slowed down a bit this fall, I still think I had an overall average of about three pieces per week, most of the time pushing into the four- or five-per-week range. While most of this was for my own personal blog, a fair amount went to other sites. What I’d like to do here is simply list out my top articles of the year on my own site, the articles I think did best on others, as well as some of my own favorite to write. Sound good? Alright. (In any case, it wouldn’t matter because this is my blog and I’m going to do it anyways.)

Top Post of the Year

Far and away my most popular post of the year was a quick one I wrote for TGC:

Dating Advice You Actually Need.” At last count, it had been shared something like 19,000 times and my editor told me it passed 100,000 views a little bit ago. I tell you, it’s always the marriage and dating ones.

Top Posts on My Blog. These were the most popular things published on my blog.

1. “23 Things To Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23” and Other Myths. This was response to that viral piece that went around earlier this year. Again, it took almost no time to write, but it was about dating and relationships, so it spread quickly.

2. A Few Words About Driscoll, William Wallace II, and Advice For Young Pastors. I wrote this after a couple of the Driscoll scandals, but before some of the later stuff came out and the implosion.

3. If Jesus is the Word of God, Can We Call the Bible the Word of God? This was a fun piece responding to a very annoying charge made against evangelical views of Scripture. I also found the creepiest image for it.

4. A Few Follow-Up Thoughts on Sneering Calvinists. I wrote a piece for TGC which will be linked below, and then I had to write this clarifying follow-up.

5. The Beauty of the Cross: 19 Objections and Answers to Penal Substitutionary Atonement. This is easily my favorite article of the year. It’s not really an article, but more of an essay. It’s probably the longest thing I’ve written since grad school and I love it.

Top Posts Elsewhere. These were the pieces I think were most popular written not on my blog. Also, my guesses here are just that: guesses. So the ranking does not matter.

1. Recovering an Engaging Doctrine of God. This was definitely not a top post in terms of page-views, but it’s probably the finest thing I’ve written all year. I kind of love this piece. It’s at the heart of what I care about most.

2. The Progressive Evangelical Package. I wrote this a few months back outlining what I took to be the “progressive Evangelical package” of positions and their underlying values. Needless to say, this proved controversial.

3. Sneering Calvinists. Lest it be said I merely troll the other side, this was a piece telling my Reformed brothers and sisters to calm down with their sneering and engage others with grace.

4. Should Evangelicals Care About Gungor’s Doubts? Michael Gungor said some things about doubt and faith and people reported on it. It was a controversy.

5. The Danger of ‘What This Really Means”. I don’t know if this is actually one of my most popular, but I think it was important on the danger interpretive suspicion in our current debates.

6.  Making the Case For Make-up: In Which Calvin Defends Lip-Gloss. Can’t be explained. Only read.

Random Favorites. And here are a few randoms I enjoyed writing that were also fairly popular.

A (Very) Brief, Gospel-Centered Defense Against the Problem of Evil

‘Plain Readings’ of Scripture, Job, and Other Assorted Thoughts on the #CalvinismDebate

Love, Hate, and A Counter-Intuitive God

Abraham, Cultural Distance, and Offering Up Our Moral Conscience

Sabbath Sticks, OT Morality, and the Jesus Tea Strainer

A Crash-Course in Revelation (Or, Reformedish Thoughts on Scripture According to Westminster)

Alright, that’s about it for now. Thanks for reading and making it a fun year, folks!

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. 

 

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 

How to Avoid Celebrity Derangement Syndrome: Dealing Fairly with Evans, Driscoll, and Piper (CaPC)

kid yellingBack in G.W. Bush presidency, someone coined the term “BDS” or “Bush Derangement Syndrome”, in order to refer to that unhinged segment of the punditry who couldn’t mention his name without the words “Nazi” or “anti-Christ.” (Now, for Obama it’s ”Muslim/Socialist” and “anti-Christ.”) I’d like to submit three new terms: PDS, RHEDS, and DDS. John Piper, Rachel Held Evans, and Mark Driscoll Derangement Syndrome. Those three number among a set of high-profile names you can attach to any story and immediately pique the interest of the bizarre, tribalistic, and over-active Evangelical segment of the social media universe. They’re also among the select group of people that we’re beginning to lose our ability to speak to, read, or read about, sanely.

Enraged Illiteracy
I’m not talking about the regular, normal, justified criticism any one of these high-profile teachers and authors deserve. But if you pay much attention to evangelical culture, you know what I’m talking about. So and so tweets out a tweet, and it’s extrapolated into an entire political philosophy, or psychology of parenting, or what-have-you. We have heard so much of their teaching (actual or reported), made our judgments, and now we read every sentence waiting to pounce, publicize, and mobilize the troops in shock and outrage.

Click on Christ and Pop Culture to read the rest of the article.

“You Didn’t Talk About….” (Or, It’s Just a Blog Post)

Sometimes people want an encyclopedia instead of a post.

Sometimes people want an encyclopedia instead of a post.

Theologians and ethicists will point out that sins can be grouped into a couple of types: sins of commission and sins of omission. In the first, the sin is active–I did something wrong that I shouldn’t have (ie. punched somebody in the face). In the second, I failed to do something that I should have (ie. I failed to speak up on behalf of a slandered friend.) Of course, usually you can frame any action in a passive or active form and mess with the whole idea, but, we’ll leave that to the side for a moment.

Why go into this? Well, because sins of omission are of the most common types that bloggers and online authors are accused of committing:

“You didn’t address…”

“What you left out…”

“Why didn’t you say…?”

“Your problem is that you don’t talk about…”

It’s easy to find these or a half-dozen other variants in the comment section of any semi-controversial or persuasive article; I know I’ve had more than a few along those lines and left some myself. Often-times they’re quite on point. Authors will forget, leave out, ignore, or deny key issues in the discussion, which makes the discussion weaker and skews the whole argument. When it happens it ought to be addressed and dealt with.

That said, it bears considering, especially in online forums, that there are structural limitations to the format. Unless your name is Alastair Roberts and you write posts that ought to constitute chapters in very large reference books, a blog post, with a word limit and a limited of scope and focus, simply can’t address every issue that may be tangentially connected to it. Nor should it have to.

For instance, a buddy of mine wrote a post the other day criticizing a very popular line of thought in Evangelical dating wisdom about what constitutes male ‘intentionality.’ He wrote it to specifically address one article on the subject and provide a corrective. Now while a great deal of healthy discussion ensued, a number of people proceeded to criticize him for failing to address a whole host of points connected to the issue. One even said it was a failure because he didn’t first articulate a comprehensive theology of dating from which to address the point.

Really? Really? So your complaint is that this was a post instead of a book? Cool.

And this is where I get to the point of this mini-rant on blogging hermeneutics: you can’t say everything in every post all the time. It’s simply impossible.  When you’re reading stuff online, don’t assume that just because an author doesn’t mention a point, they don’t believe it.

So, in the interest of better, future blog I’d like to quixotically suggest a few questions that readers can ask themselves as they read and comment:

  • “What is the author’s argument? What are they trying to accomplish?” In this way, when you see that someone is dealing with an issue related to the cross, it’s not necessarily the case that they’re ignoring the resurrection–it’s simply that this isn’t the point of the discussion.
  • “Does the neglect of this topic, or verse, or fact, necessarily mean the person doesn’t believe it?” Again, maybe they just didn’t have time to address it given their stated purpose and word-limit.
  • “Is this really a bad article, or did I just want a different one altogether?” Consider whether your problem is that the author left something out, or whether you just thought they should have written a different article. Often-times the article is fine for what it’s trying to do, but you really think an entirely different article should have been written. If so, it’s fine to say that.

We could probably think of other questions and angles on the issue, but these are probably a good start.

Soli Deo Gloria