My thanks to Jared Wilson, not only for another thoughtful book, but for expressing many of the very things I would like to express. In his 2015 book, Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, Wilson has written a book I wish I had written.
In the present sermon series in our church I am working through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Rather I should say “we” are working through the book of Galatians, as while I am preaching the bulk of the messages I am sharing the teaching with my Associate, Camper Mundy, and a couple of other pastors who are part of our church. But in my preparations for each message there are a few non-technical resources I am uising that would also be beneficial for anyone who is studying Galatians – whether a seminary graduate or a typical church member wanting simply to deepen his/her understanding of this letter.
One of these resources is Tim Keller’s Galatians For You. In the video above Tim introduces his intent in developing this book, and offers some suggestions of how it might be used beneficailly. And though perhaps to those hearing my message may assume seeming little of Keller’s words may be overtly expressed my messages, without question the depth of Keller’s insights has helped shaped my understanding of this book and how the message applies to us today.
Below is a short list of some of the non-technical resources I am reading (or re-reading) during this series, Freedom: A Study of Galatians.
One of the more helpful works I have read concerning gospel-centered Christianity is Jared Wilson‘s Gospel Wakefulness. Perhaps most insightful to me was Jared’s point that gospel-centeredness can be explained but cannot be taught. In other words, it requires a grace of the holy spirit. I do not think this realization moves gospel-centeredness into a neo-gnostic or higher life kind of category. It simply is the realization that it is God who must work in us in our sanctification. Thus the phrase Jared Wilson uses is Gospel Wakefulness.
In this video, Jared Wilson explain what Gospel-Wakefulness is. This is not a short video, by any measure. But it is worth taking the time – whether in one sitting, or in a series of starts-and-stops.
Jared Wilson counsels:
There is a great danger this Christmas season of missing the point. And I’m not referring simply to idolatrous consumption and materialism. I’m talking about Christmas religiosity. It is very easy around this time to set up our Nativity scenes, host our Christmas pageants and cantatas, read the Christmas story with our families, attend church every time the door is open, and insist to ourselves and others that Jesus is the reason for the season, and yet not see Jesus. With the eyes of our heart, I mean.
I suppose there is something about indulging in the religious Christmas routine that lulls us into thinking we are dwelling in Christ when we are really just set to seasonal autopilot, going through the festive and sentimental motions. Meanwhile the real person Jesus the Christ goes neglected in favor of his plastic, paper, and video representations. Don’t get distracted from Jesus by “Jesus.” This year, plead with the Spirit to interrupt your nice Christmas with the power of Jesus’ gospel.
I was stunned the first time I read about the plan of a church in the area where we then lived to give away prizes at an Easter gathering. And they were not just going to give stuff away, they were planning to create a frenzy. A helicopter was leased, piloted by some guy in an Easter Bunny costume (which alone raises questions). With people gathered at a rented junior high school soccer field, the Easter Bunny would drop plastic Easter Eggs each filled with either candy, cash, or with redeemable certificates for such items as i-pods, cell phones, etc. And they did this on Easter Sunday right after their services. It just seemed wrong, but I held my tongue.
For two weeks leading up to the “drop” the local newspaper contained a full page ad promoting this “celebration”. But it was not until I read an interview with the pastor the day after Easter that I could stand it no longer. His statement that set me off? He said: “We’re just loving on our neighbors.”
While that statement may seem benign enough, I felt compelled to respond. So I shot him an e-mail. I had met the guy before, though did not know him well. But I hoped he would at least consider his actions, or the potential effects of them. So I wrote him a note challenging his notion of “loving his neighbors”.
I told him that he was not so much loving his neighbors as he was buying them, or bribing them. True, he had gathered a large group to an Easter event, but it was not because of the proclamation of Christ crucified and resurrected (- though I assume that was mentioned at the actual church service). How many in attendance were actually members of other congregations who were enticed only by the promise of goodies? (No, no one from the church I served attended their event.) I conceded that perhaps such a giveaway would have been an expression of love had they chosen to hold it at one of the local public housing projects, and limited the participation to those with minimal incomes. After all, that would have given to those who are without, and given to those who can give no more to the church than their presence. But they had been advertising for weeks to the whole city – wealthy, middle-class, and poor alike. They were merely buying potential “customers” – just like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, or any other consumer-driven business does.
Perhaps not surprising, I did not get a response to my e-mail. The next year the church added a giveaway at the worship service – a new car to some lucky person with the correct number on their Easter Sunday worship bulletin. I did not bother to send another e-mail. I just mused in disappointment about what seems to be replacing the gospel in too many churches.
Apparently I am not alone in my distaste for this practice. I recently read a post by Jared Wilson, who also has some concerns about it. In his post Wilson gives ten spot-on-right reasons why he thinks luring people in with cash and prizes is not a good idea:
1. It creates buzz about cash and prizes, not the Easter event. When the media takes notice, nobody wants to interview these pastors about the resurrection. They want them to talk about the loot.
2. It identifies the church not with the resurrection, but with giving toys away. It makes us look like entertainment centers or providers of goods and services, not people of the Way who are centered on Christ.
3. Contrary to some offered justifications, giving prizes away is not parallel to Jesus’ providing for the crowds. Jesus healed people and fed them. This is not the same as giving un-poor people an iPod.
4. It appeals to greed and consumerism. There is no biblical precedent for appealing to one’s sin before telling them to repent of it. This is a nonsensical appeal.
5. Yes, Jesus said he would make us fishers of men, but extrapolating from this to devise all means of bait is not only unwarranted, it’s exegetically ignorant. The metaphor Jesus is offering here is just of people moving from the business of fishing to the business of the kingdom. There is no methodology being demonstrated here. (But the most common one would have been throwing out nets anyway, not baiting a hook.)
6. It is dishonest “bait and switch” methodology. Sure, the people coming for the goodies know they’re coming to church. But it’s still a disingenuous offer. The message of the gospel is not made for Trojan horses.
7. It demonstrates distrust in the compelling news that a man came back from the dead!! I mean, if nobody’s buying that amazing news, we can’t sell it to them with cheap gadgets.
8. It demonstrates distrust in the power of the gospel when we think we have to put it inside something more appealing to be effective. What the giveaways really communicate is that we think the gospel needs our help, and that our own community is not attractive enough in our living out of the implications of the gospel.
9. The emerging data from years of research into this kind of practice of marketing/evangelism attractional church stuff shows the kind of disciples it produces are not strong. I have no doubt these churches are going to see decisions Easter weekend. They’ll herald them on Twitter and on the blogs. As questionable a practice as that can be, I’d be extra interested in how discipled these folks are in a year or two years or three. Hype has always produced “decisions.” Would anyone argue that after 30 years or so of the attractional approach to evangelism the evangelical church is better off, more Christ-centered, more biblically mature?
10. What you win them with is what you win them to.
In my old Jeep it is not uncommon for one of the indicator lights to flash on. Sometimes more than one may illumine. Whenever this occurs it is an indication that there may be a problem. Because it is an old Jeep, some lights pop on more frequently than others – often enough that it would be easy enough to ignore. But to disregard any of these signs, common or not, could prove costly in the long run.
What is true of that old Jeep is, in a way, also true of my life. For one thing, I have some miles on me, and no little wear and tear. And sometimes my body will provide me with warning signs. But what of the parts of me that are not physically detectable? They also can go out of kilter. And neglect of these areas is even more perilous than neglect of the body. (1 Timothy 4.8)
Fortunately there are some indicators of our Spiritual vital signs. While not “scientific” the following inventory, adapted from a list developed by Jared Wilson, are excellent personal examination points to consider:
- The gospel doesn’t interest you – or it maybe it does, but just not as much as some other religious subjects.
- You take nearly everything personally.
- You frequently worry about what other people think.
- You treat inconveniences like minor tragedies (or maybe even major tragedies).
- You are impatient with people.
- In general, you have trouble seeing the fruit of the Spirit in your life. (Galatians 5.22-23)
- The Word of God holds little interest.
- You have great difficulty forgiving.
- You are told frequently by your spouse, a close friend, or some other family members that you are too “clingy” or too controlling.
- You think someone besides yourself is the worst sinner you know. (1 Timothy 1.15)
- The idea of gospel-centrality makes no sense to you.
“OK”, you might say, “I have checked the list and see that a few of these lights come on at least every now and again. So now what?
Do you sometimes have difficulty understanding or remembering who does what in our Spiritual maturation? We get that it is God who must make us alive to believe (regeneration), and that he gives us the gift of faith to believe, which leads to salvation (justification). But then what? Surely there is something we must do. What about spiritual disciplines? But then, how does grace work? What does the Holy Spirit do?
As long as we are thinking of achieving the fruit of the Spirit by our own efforts to be more fruitful and joyful, we may be working in their direction, but we’re getting there by the sweat of our brow. We’ve embraced rowboat spirituality. But think of the obedient work of the Christian life like a sailboat. There are lots of things to do on a sailboat. Sailors don’t just sit there – at least, not for too long. There are lots of working parts on a sailboat and lots of things to pay attention to. But none of those things make the boat go. The boat doesn’t go unless the wind catches the sail.
What we are picturing here is the work of the Spiritual Disciplines in conformity with the law of God found in Scriptures, not as the means of propulsion, but as the means of setting the conditions for Spiritual fertility. In obedience, we till the soil of our hearts so that they are more receptive for the planting and growth of the Word in our lives. We obey both in response to the Spirit’s awakening us and in order to raise the sail for the Spirit’s movement.
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” ~ Galatians 5.25