I know from my missionary friends in Zambia and from following Pastor Conrad Mbewe that the prosperity gospel is ravaging the African Church. The prosperity gospel subverts the glorious gospel of God even here in America. Here is a short video from John Piper:
The title is a quote from J. I. Packer and I have been thinking a lot about it as I pursue correcting the errors of my former (and present) theology. It’s hard. It’s hard to stare at the untouched cello in the corner or at ficus trees outside my window and beg and plead to understand who God is and what he has done in Christ Jesus.
I’m scared, I’m scared to get things wrong, to get wrapped up and out of proportion, to forget the gospel again and sink back into that darkness which still clings to my heels.
I know one thing, I love Jesus. As I probe for him, he has promised to be found by me—even if it takes a lifetime, and an eternity thereafter.
God honors the needle of truth in a haystack of error.—J. I. Packer
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
Psalm 1:1 (NIV)
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
Psalm 1:1 (ESV)
To scoff means to deride, sneer at, mock, ridicule, dismiss, laugh at, and belittle. Does this heart attitude match up with the gospel? Would we consider this a fruit of the Spirit? How often do we really see it used as a “technique” by Jesus or the Apostles?
If we mock the unbeliever or a fellow Christian, we are acting like the wicked, we are sitting in the seat of scoffers. Can a Christian who is saved by the blood of Jesus act in this way? Yes. It didn’t un–Christian me when I sat in the seat of the scoffers. But my words and attitude brought shame to the name of Christ. This sin grieves me deeply. Because I’m well acquainted with it, and because I constantly war against it, I spot it in others, and not rarely enough, find myself scoffing at them for it.
I wrote in Gospel Amnesia that I am concerned about this attitude in the Church. I’m troubled not only because of the witness before an increasingly secular culture, but because what this sin does to individual souls. If you scoff at a brother or sister in Christ then you have forgotten the gospel. If you scoff at an unbeliever, then you have forgotten the gospel. Our hearts are very good at justifying us. Under the cover of “speaking the truth in love,” “sound doctrine,” “fighting for the faith,” “rebuking a brother,” “playing Elijah to Baal of the world,” and so on, we have stumbled brethren, wounded tender consciences, and brought shame to the gospel we think we are “contending” for.
“You are what you worship” may have become a cliche but it is true. Paul says “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). As someone who has so often fallen in this area I urge you to be careful whom you “follow” and “imitate.” When we imbibe too much from the well of scoffers (no matter under what cover they sell their wares) our souls will imitate.
When our hearts have been transformed by the gospel we remember who we were and could have been, but for the grace of God. Remembering softens our hearts. Softened hearts are strong, strong enough to be longsuffering with the unbeliever and the brethren. Softened hearts are not exacting. Softened hearts give room for the Holy Spirit to do his work in the lives of others. Softened hearts do not equal cowardice or impotence. A softened heart is a meek heart. And if we truly worship Jesus, we will not scoff at a meek heart. After all, our God was not ashamed to say that he is gentle and humble in heart (Matthew 11:29).
In Gospel Amnesia, I discuss one of my biggest idols: the desire to be a godly parent. I know it may sound paradoxical. After all, which Christian parent doesn’t want to be a “godly parent.” And besides, aren’t we commanded in the Scriptures to be godly parents?
You can find the rest of my article over at GCD.
I write poetry. From time to time I publish some of them on the blog. Today’s poem is my lighthearted way of breaking up some of my somber philosophical posts. It traces some of my thoughts and feelings as I read my friend, Gloria Furman’s book Glimpses of Grace. (My full review and recommendation will be published at Gospel Centered Discipleship.) This book softened the heart of a woman like me—a woman who became cynical after over–dosing on motherhood books, a woman who spent years preferring “godly living” books above the gospel. If you don’t want women around you to sink into the darkness of gospel amnesia, like I did, give them an offensive weapon—a copy of Glimpses of Grace, the anti–gospel amnesia book.
A GLIMPSE OF GRACE WILL DISPEL GOSPEL AMNESIA
When I am weak, old, and fragile,
Thin will be the veil.
Long gone my alacrity,
I settle and exhale.
The taste of venom,
Long gone from the memory of my tongue.
Washed away by grace
Back when renewal begun.
Confusion, darkness, and idolatry,
Left my soul desolate.
Gospel amnesia controlled identity.
Warring against cynicism and disillusionment,
Soul sickness welled up at the sight,
Closing my eyes, turning my back,
On a long line of motherhood advice.
With the tang of weariness,
Flirting on the senses,
Glimpses of Grace proceeded,
To bring down my defenses.
Tenderness, tears, and gospel treasure
Set wisdom accruing.
Unlocking the joy once more,
Setting aside the stewing.
Dispelling gospel amnesia,
Glimpses of Grace,
Restores the treasure of the gospel,
To my home, to my faith race.
Sunday evening we were at a leadership training session at our church when the speaker said something that stuck with me. He pointed out our tendency toward selfishness, etc. and in so doing used the phrase, “It’s all about me.” Although I’ve heard that phrase countless times inside and outside of church over the years, on Sunday night it had a different nuance and my mind filled with some of the thoughts I have written in Gospel Amnesia.
A good tell–tale sign that we have forgotten, assumed or marginalized the gospel in conservative circles, is when we move toward a sanctification–centered theology. There is nothing wrong with desiring spiritual growth and maturity, but the bottom line truth is, that’s not what the Christian life is about. Sanctification or better yet, progressive sanctification, is an ancillary benefit to a life lived for the sake of Jesus Christ and a life centered around him.
Part of the problem of a sanctification–centered theology is that in spite of the fact that it looks like an honorable goal, it is actually selfish to the core. It is one of the best tools Satan can use to distract Christians. Sanctification–centered theology is a me–centered theology, it is replacing God and his gospel with me, my personal spiritual and physical welfare.
So what does a sanctification–centered theology look like? (a) My personal sanctification/godliness and that of my family is my number one priority and is the center of my thought life. (b) All decisions I make for myself or my family are centered around and tested by “will this make me more godly?” (c) A preoccupation with where I am in progressive sanctification. (d) The work and ministry I perform is all gauged by how it will affect my sanctification/spiritual maturity. (e) My doctrine will tend to focus on a strict “rightness,” including the rightness of my focus on rightness. And we can keep going, but these examples should suffice.
Someone might wonder, “well what’s wrong with those things, what’s wrong with desiring to be more godly?” A better question to ask is: What should be the ultimate desire and longing for a Christian? It is desiring God! It is desiring the person of Christ, not of his benefits—which is what sanctification is. Sanctification is a free gift of grace, it is the fruit of the Spirit, it is the beauty of being transformed more into the image of Christ. Christ is supreme, not sanctification. Because Christ is to be worshiped, not our glorified selves. A sanctification–centered theology is a worship of self. A gospel–centered/Christ–centered theology is the worship of the living God.
This morning, my first book, Gospel Amnesia: Forgetting the Goodness of the News is being released in ebook format. You can go to GCD Books and buy it right now.
I don’t know what other authors go through but it has been a stressful time for me the last 4–5 days. My gifts wage war against my fears and my fears fight back with a vengeance that looks and feels more like spiritual warfare than your ordinary fear of failure. From my earliest convictions that I should write this book, like Moses, I told the Lord that I would not “go up” unless he went with me. I have no need of celebrity or notoriety. But I do have an unquenchable need to love and obey the calling of my Heavenly Father. And so yes, I had one of those conversations with God, where I just plain out told him that unless he was in it, there was no way I was going to do this.
The internet is a funny place, it can be a source of blessing or a black hole for time and babble. I’ve done some thinking about my place in the category of writing, especially in the Christian genre, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to see what I don’t want. I am also convicted that this process is not me crafting myself into the image of the thinker–writer–theologian–philosopher that I have in my head, but God forming and crafting me into the image of Christ and raising for himself a daughter. As I have struggled to understand this calling and where I go from here and which writing projects to tackle next, the Lord consistently brings to mind who he is, what he has done and my need to be attentive to the work of the Holy Spirit.
I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self–control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace… But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness…
2 Timothy 1:6–9, 2:16
I think about the real and practical work of keeping a home, raising children, serving God alongside my husband, serving in my local church, helping those who are theologically hungry, studying, thinking and writing. And then I think about the Holy Spirit. I think about all the times when I thought it was my “duty” to do his job. With each step deeper into the gospel comes a respect and awe for the person of the Holy Spirit. His work becoming more palpable. My soul finds much peace and rest in this knowledge. It allows me to see who I am, in light of eternity.
My short answer to those wrestling with that question is: Please read Gospel Amnesia. Not because I want to sell my book, but because one of my hopes and prayers for Gospel Amnesia (to be released Jan.15th) is that it would further this discussion along. The theology is by no means exhaustive, it is only the beginning of the discussions I hope we can all have.
I lived for many years believing that God will love me more if I did X, Y, and Z. I was theologically convinced that God’s love for me depended upon my obedience. When I obeyed him I expected he would be pleased with me and bless me and when I disobeyed I expected him to be angry, displeased and in judgment of me. But you can’t fight reality, and theology will always break down when it can’t be supported by reality.
I am a fallen woman. A sinner. And so invariably I would sin, sometimes it was little sins and sometimes it was big sins, but I didn’t stop sinning after I became a Christian. What happens logically if you live under the paradigm I held, but continued to sin and thus be displeasing to God? You live under a constant battle between finding things you can do so that you can please God, so that he will love you while constantly fighting despair because you know you are consistently falling short. It is a losing battle. Even given all my outward conformity and good works, I was hopeless because I could never do enough to earn constant love from him. It is hell.
There is an important distinction here. I am not talking about classic works–righteousness. I never believed that I could actually earn my salvation. As a Calvinist I firmly believed that God’s salvation was a gracious and unmerited gift by faith alone through the finished work of Christ alone. I’ve had many theological errors but one of them was believing that I can earn more love from God by being obedient to his commands.
We all have errors in our thinking. I understand that those in teaching positions have a greater burden. What I believe Pastor Tchividjian is trying to do is remedial help for Christians like me who have spent years raking our souls over coals. My husband and I have never walked away from listening to Tchividjian thinking: “Oh good, now I can just let it all go, I don’t need to love and obey God.” It’s more like: “Wow! Lord, you really love me?” with many tears flowing.
My heart is very burdened over this. Maybe Pastor Tchividjian needs more clarity and distinction. I hear what Dr. Murray is saying as well, and I’m thinking about it. I’m grateful for open debate, done with humility and the recognition that none of us are as precise as we think we are. One thing I see in this theological debate is a head collision between the heirs of Luther and the heirs of Calvin (more on this another time). I was greatly benefited just last night from Justin Taylor’s post on the distinction between our union in Christ and communion with Christ. Finally, one of the most eye-opening and balancing sermons on the relationship between loving God and obeying him is John Piper’s If Anyone Loves Me He Will Obey My Word on John 14:15–24. I discuss some of these issues in Gospel Amnesia.
The picture I have chosen for this post is one of the Reformers in Geneva. My sincere prayer is that we can talk about these very important issues that affect our every day Christian life, but without mockery, spiritual pride or a critical spirit—holding all things with grace and humility.