Apologetics Award: “An Interview with John Frame On Apologetics to God’s Glory” – John Frame is absolutely brilliant, and this is a great introduction and defense of his apologetic method.
Platform Building Award: “5 Reasons Publishers Love Bloggers” – It’s not just a platform thing. There are other good reasons publishers love bloggers.
Non-Fiction Award: “Master the Particulars of Grammar with this Pop Culture Chart” – Now you can show off your knowledge of participles with this neat infographic, thanks to Pop Chart Labs.
Fiction Award: “Writing is Not Self-Expression” – “Writing fiction is not “self-expression” or “therapy.” Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whizz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace.” – SARAH WATERS
Preaching Award: “You Aren’t As Smart As You Think You Are…So Don’t Manuscript Your Sermons” – David Prince wisely critiques a recent 9 Marks article espousing preaching with notes. Essentially, manuscripting your sermon creates huge hurdles to effective oral communication, and only the very, very best and most talented preachers have the gift of instinctively overcoming them.
A Glimpse of Truth Award: “The Writer’s Skill” – I’m always amazed at the ways Steven Pressfield ties his art into spiritual matters. He’s not a Christian, but essentially he concedes that the act of creating presupposes a Creator. Great stuff.
Reading and Literature Award: “10 Little Known Shakespearisms” – Because how many times have you thought, “An old cloak makes a new jerkin!”
Theology Award: “Why Tradition Matters in Interpretation” – I’ve heard far too many Christians abandon tradition in the name of Sola Scriptura. The Westminster divines placed a very high value on tradition – they just put it in its proper place. Sola scriptura, not SOLO scriptura, folks.
Spiritual Life Award: “You’re Not a Leader if You Never Say You’re Sorry” – Eric Geiger on the money, here. Someone said to me this week that pastoring is about leading with repentance – it stuck with me, and this blog post is hammering it home.
Motivational Award: “The Two Deep, Dark Secrets of High Producing Novelists” – Jerry B. Jenkings on what it takes to start PRODUCING.
Fun Award: “What TEDx Talk Are You?” This is ingenious and awesome and fun. I got “the comedian”, even though I was trying to sound really profound…
Christianity and Culture Award: “You Will Be Persecuted With Words” – I’ve been guilty of saying Christians don’t experience persecution in America. But biblically speaking, that’s not true.
Any reader who isn’t as revolted at this question as Wolfgang Puck to a microwaved corndog probably shouldn’t be reading. It’s absurd. There is no Christian art, there is only “more Christian” and “less Christian”. Why? Because truly Christian art is perfect. It is perfect, as it’s Heavenly Father is perfect. And as of yet, no such art exists.
A better question, perhaps, is, “What does the Christian artist aim toward?” That is a good question, because it means something. And the answer is: “Truth.” By “truth” I don’t mean mere factual accuracy, but the ability to capture life as it is, in all of its spiritual and physical beauty and horror.
It’s more difficult than you think.
Because we suppress the truth (Romans 1). So the world creates art which is “suppressed art” – it is suppressed truth. It doesn’t have the proper anchor; it isn’t grown in the right soil. The world’s art is true like a Van Gogh is true in fluorescent lighting. “Yes, but…no”. It’s true, but untrue. Adam wrote the first work of fiction when he bit the apple – he exchanged the truth about God for a lie. The world continues to rebel, with Adam, as it creates worlds unlike our world.
The world loves Creation, then, like a maniac loves his sleeve as a dinner mint. It loves Creation not for what it is, but for what it wishes it to be. The world is afloat on the ocean, suppressing the buoy of reality between their legs. They have not been content with the world as it is, and so have dug the wells of another. When the Apostle Paul said we see as through a glass dimly, he implied not only the Creator but all Creation as well – without Christ, we cannot even see the world.
But the Christian loves creation for what it is. Why? Because the Christian loves the Creator. I have sitting before me my son’s work of art, complete with dinosaurs, soccer players and an airplane shooting lasers (why not?). I love it. I love it because I love him. If I didn’t love him, it would be meaningless – it would be just as well to me as a Kleenex. I couldn’t love it for what it really was unless I loved the one who made it. And I do.
The Christian loves Creation, because it loves the Creator. It loves Creation not for what it wishes it to be, but for what it is. And out of that love flows Christian art. We present the world not merely accurately, but mythically – life in all its spiritual, psychic and mechanical dimensions. We look at life, as best as we are able, from its Throne. We are craggy-cheeked watchman, sitting at the lighthouse, bellowing the foghorn of (R)eality.
But why artists? Because art infiltrates. There is a certain visceral ethos to one who sees life as it is – we trust the artist implicitly, because he understands. The surest way across the ocean, after all, is with the man who knows his way to shore. It is a principle rule of life that we begin to understand when we feel we are understood, and there is no more profound act of understanding than artistry. Art leads us to the shore, and in this way, the artist gains the credibility to lead beyond.
How does the artist do this? With subtlety. This is the unique trick of the Christian artist. Writing is, as one artist has put it, “A lie that tells the truth.” It is seed planting: a small work, a humble work – but the work that sprouts the wood. And so it is with Christian Art – it is the subtle planting of reality into our chests. It is the glass of water into which the pill of truth is slipped. Artists are only doctors dressed as jesters.
Is this a case for realism? Yes and no. Just as a mirror at once reflects us perfectly and oppositely, so art may look wholly different from our world, yet perfectly reflect it. Fantasy may be more true than biography, depending if one looks with the Divine Eye. In fact, the less it looks like our world, the subtler, and, perhaps, the truer.
Apologetics Award: “Haunted by Nature in Our Secular Age” – A great little piece of writing on how the power of nature forces us into an experience of transcendence.
Platform Building Award: “Why Content Goes Viral” – This is a collected analysis of over 100 million articles. The insights are great.
Non-Fiction Award: “Omit Needless Words” – “Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” – WILLIAM STRUNK, JR. and E.B. WHITE
Fiction Award: “4 Hidden Dangers of Writing Groups” – Heaps of great, practical insights, borrowing from Catmull’s book “Creativity Inc”.
Preaching Award: “Is Preaching Really Foolishness?” Yes. No. Sort of. I’ll take “How did Paul Mean it?” for $5000.
A Glimpse of Truth Award: “A Novel Every Christian Should Read” – I was really encouraged to read R.C. Sproul’s takeaway from Moby Dick…I felt the same way, but thought maybe I was crazy or completely inept.
Reading and Literature Award: “15 Things You Might Not Know About the Count of Monte Cristo” – Including the fact that it was inspired by a true story about a shoe cobbler.
Theology Award: “A Q&A with Kevin Vanhoozer on the Pastor as Theologian” – I’ve never seen Vanhoozer in person, and this little interview met all my expectations. Bright, brilliant, God-fearing, clear-headed. Gotta love the guy.
Spiritual Life Award: “Hello, I am an Idol” – I guess it’s kind of obnoxious to give myself an award…But hey, you should read this anyway.
Motivational Award: “When Resistance is a Compliment” – Pressfield’s book, “The War of Art” talks quite a bit about the ‘resistance’ that keeps us from creating. Here’s a great little snippet about when resistance is the strongest.
Fun Award: “If Star Wars Invaded…” Some eerily realistic photos of what the world would look like if Star Wars invaded our major cities.
Christianity and Culture Award: “Tim Cook on Values in the Workplace” – I’m really enjoying Trevin Wax’s series analyzing graduation speeches for nuggets of Christian truth, or secular compromise.
I grew up in a Lutheran church. I learned Luther’s small catechism, the centrality of Christ’s work for justification, and that being a pastor must be a nice gig since few other professions allow you to wear your robe to work and drink on the job.
But one thing was conspicuously amiss: the law.
The law, after all, was for Old Testament people. Legalistic people. People without the Spirit. The law was good in the same sense that Great Aunt Martha’s refried beans were good: you toughed them out to get to the gospel dessert. They were the no-name cover band that played before the REAL concert of Jesus Christ Superstar.
But then I started reading my Bible. I read the Sermon on the Mount, in particular. And here’s what I read: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
“Of course,” I reasoned, “He means he’ll abolish them BY fulfilling them.” But then there were those uncomfortable, lengthy discourses about cutting off hands that sin, managing conflict, giving to the poor – all this stuff that sounded strikingly similar to the Old Testament, yes even LEVITICAL law (which is where that bit about “loving your neighbor as yourself” came from (Lev 19:18))
And I thought: “No wonder I see so many hypocrites. Jesus said we’re supposed to be DOING stuff with our faith. Forget this free-license gospel stuff. We need the law.”
And that’s what I preached. I preached it to Bible-studies, small groups, adult Sunday School classes who were too stiff to see reason, and later to my own youth group and others: law, law, law. Do. Do. Do. Jesus, well, Gandhi too, and C.S. Lewis and yes also anyone do-gooder who has great ideas about being radical and changing the world.
I’d climbed up one cliff-face, in other words, and fallen off the other side.
Neither License nor Legalism
Later, through some faithful Bible expositors, I learned that obedience to the law is, in fact, preceded by faith in the finished work of Christ. The gospel doesn’t save us from the law – it gives us hearts that accord with the law. As Spurgeon once brilliantly quipped: “Before Christ we were under the law as a burdensome weight. After Christ, we walk over the law as a delightful guide.”
Now, get that second part. Because I feel that’s missing. It was missing from my Lutheran background, and it’s missing from many Christian circles today: the law is a delightful guide to life. That means: we still use it. We’re still corrected by it. We’re still guided by it’s commands. It’s not “replaced” by the Spirit, or the “law written on our hearts” or the “new law to love one another.”
But I hear phrases like these ALL THE TIME.
This isn’t a new problem. It’s old enough to have a name: Antinomianism (anti-law). It’s something Paul struggled with in the early church, and it’s something I see commonly in protestant/reformed settings (actually, this was the view held by Tullian Tchividjian who recently confessed to an affair – correlation is not causation, but sometimes the correlation makes more sense than others).
6 Wrong Views
That being said, I turn the mic to J.I. Packer, who outlines 6 common ways modern Christians fall into Antinomianism in his book, ‘Concise Theology’. See if any of this sounds familiar:
Dualistic antinomianism – “Appears in the Gnostic heretics against whom Jude and Peter wrote (Jude 4-19; 2 Pet. 2). This view sees salvation as for the soul only, and bodily behavior as irrelevant both to God’s interest and to the soul’s health, so one may behave riotously and it will not matter.”
Spirit-centered antinomianism – “Puts such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Freedom from the law as a way of salvation is assumed to bring with it freedom from the law as a guide to conduct. In the first 150 years of the Reformation era this kind of antinomianism often threatened, and Paul’s insistence that a truly spiritual person acknowledges the authority of God’s Word through Christ’s apostles (1 Cor. 14: 37; cf. 7: 40) suggests that the Spirit-obsessed Corinthian church was in the grip of the same mind-set.”
Christ-centered antinomianism – “Argues that God sees no sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them, and therefore what they actually do makes no difference, provided that they keep believing. But 1 John 1: 8– 2: 1 (expounding 1: 7) and 3: 4-10 point in a different direction, showing that it is not possible to be in Christ and at the same time to embrace sin as a way of life.
Dispensational antinomianism – “Holds that keeping the moral law is at no stage necessary for Christians, since we live under a dispensation of grace, not of law. Romans 3: 31 and 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 clearly show, however, that law-keeping is a continuing obligation for Christians. ‘I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law,’ says Paul (1 Cor. 9: 21).”
Dialectical antinomianism – “As in Barth and Brunner, denies that biblical law is God’s direct command and affirms that the Bible’s imperative statements trigger the Word of the Spirit, which when it comes may or may not correspond exactly to what is written. The inadequacy of the neo-orthodox view of biblical authority, which explains the inspiration of Scripture in terms of the Bible’s instrumentality as a channel for God’s present-day utterances to his people, is evident here.”
Situationist antinomianism – “Says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Decalogue and other ethical parts of Scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are mere rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at any time disregard. But Romans 13: 8-10, to which this view appeals, teaches that without love as a motive these specific commands cannot be fulfilled. Once more an unacceptably weak view of Scripture surfaces”.
It does to me, too.
But that’s not all. As Packer says in his closing comments: “The Spirit is given to empower law-keeping and make us more and more like Christ, the archetypal law-keeper (Matt. 5: 17).” The Spirit who inspired the OT law is the Spirit of Christ, and He is the Spirit living in us.
In other words, Christ fulfills the law in part by being the law-keeper. But he also continues to fulfill it in our own lives: as we let the rays of his grace shine ever more brightly on us, we see the beauty of the rock-carved paths he’s etched for us in the law.
Take law without grace, and you have legalism. Take grace without law, and you have license. Take Christ at His word, and you have neither. Would that we preached both, and drove less sheep off either side of the cliff.
Apologetics Award: “Justin Martyr: The First Christian Apologist” – Just a note on this one that the Talbot folks failed to highlight: when Martyr talks about ‘free will’, he doesn’t mean it in the sense of ‘neutral will’ as we do today. He’s arguing against Greco/Roman fatalism. Point done.
Platform Building Award: “6 Twitter Secrets Ever Writer Needs to Know” – My publisher says I need to beef up my tweeting. Thus, the beef recipe.
Non-Fiction Award: “Who/Whom for Dummies” – It’s a little dense, so watch the video. Boy, you really feel like a dummy when you can’t understand a “for dummies” article at the first glance…
Fiction Award: “Five Writing Tics to Eliminate in Your Revision” – These are difficult to catch because they’re not always obvious, but the author is right on.
Preaching Award: “How Younger Preachers can Help Their Hearers” – These 8 points are wise and very valuable to us young preachers.
Christianity and Culture Award: “The Future of Christianity: An Interview with Rodney Stark” – Rodney Stark, if you know not his name, is an amazing sociologist and 1st century historian. His insights here are fantastic.
Reading and Literature Award: “11 Contemporary Authors All Christians Should Read” – This introduced me to a couple of names I want to be more familiar with.
Theology Award: “Not Your Average Paedobaptism” – I’ve avoided most of these articles for my theology awards, but I wonder how baptists would respond to this.
Spiritual Life Award: “Jonathan Edwards Would Like to Ask a Few Questions of Your Troubled Soul” – These are heartwarming and soul-searching, as always with Edwards.
Motivational Award: “How to Find the Right Critique Group for Your Writing” – Writing groups are great for motivating us to write, every week. Here’s how to find the right one.
Fun Award: “The Tree of Languages Illustrated in a Big, Beautiful Infographic” – THIS is pretty fascinating.
The Glimpse of Truth Award: “Stephen Colbert’s Commencement Speech” – T. Wax examines the pluses and minuses of Colbert’s speech to Wake Forest.
A few weeks back, Barnabas Piper sent me a copy of his forthcoming book, “Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith”. It’s a helpful treatment of something we all struggle with, and it provides clear direction without pat, easy answers. Here are a few questions Barnabas has graciously answered for us here at Scribblepreach:
In your book, you talk about the popular bumper sticker/mantra: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” What’s wrong with this type of thinking?
The short answer is that it’s simplistic. That mindset fails to take into account human nature and our wavering faith. It is often more of a mantra than actual belief, something people mindlessly repeat instead of taking to heart.
It also fails to recognize the incredibly complex and deep aspects of scripture. The Bible is not an easy book to understand or believe in parts. It is a revelation of an infinite God, not all of Him, but the parts that He wanted us to see. It raises as many questions as it answers, so to comfortably land on “I believe it and that settles it” seems trite. Ultimately the Bible is every bit of truth we need for faith and reveals exactly those aspects of God’s being and character that He wants us to have. But that does not make it simple or easy.
You distinguish in the book between “doubt” and “unbelief”. Could you articulate, briefly, the difference?
Doubt is akin to not yet being able to see something. It isn’t quite in focus. It is just over the horizon. You believe it, but at the same time you doubt it. “Unbelief” is akin to “anti-belief,” a willful rejection of something. Instead of straining to see it and not being quit there (like doubt), unbelief closes its eyes or turns away altogether.
The implications of this are wonderful and terrible. It means that doubting is not a sin so long as you are straining to see. We can be free from guilt for our doubt as long as our hearts yearn after God’s truth. But unbelief is rebellion against God. It can even disguise itself as belief, cloaked in right answers and truisms.
One of the most striking parts of your book is the way you lead us away from “answers” to tough questions, and toward a relationship with God. Why is this so important?
Many of those tough questions simply don’t have answers we can understand. To insist on answers is to demand that God reveal something to us that our minds cannot comprehend. As finite beings we are always inside walls of knowledge, inside limits. As an infinite being, God’s reality expands limitlessly beyond our comprehension. That means huge amounts of truth that He ordains happen outside of our borders of knowledge. If we expect that every hard question have an answer we can grasp we are demanding that God be equal to or lesser than us.
But if we are in a genuine relationship with God we know something of Him that is far richer than any answer: His character. Just like children often don’t understand their parents’ reasons or actions but trust their intentions, so we are with God when we know Him. We ask “why?” and “how?” like a child, but when the answer isn’t forthcoming our closeness to Him allows our faith to remain strong. We look for answers, we ask for answers, we seek truth, and we rest in His goodness.
You mention in the book that we often skirt aside some difficult Bible passages. What is the benefit of diving into the more difficult sections of scripture?
God didn’t include those in scripture for nothing. Just because we are limited in our ability to understand God’s fullness doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! Many of those difficult passages aren’t just complex (sovereignty vs. free will, a Triune God, etc.), they’re hard to stomach – death, tragedy, war, plagues. We must be willing to read them all and see that God’s nature and wisdom and sovereignty are so far beyond our comprehension that it puts us in our place. We must come to a place of acknowledging what we can’t understand and declaring what we do side-by-side. To ignore the hard passages is to shrink God. To declare God to be bad because of the hard passages is to shrink Him. The hard passages are the ones that reveal most about His divinity and our humanity.
If you could give someone a few tips on developing a deeper relationship with God today, what would you say?
For me it is in knowing Jesus. Jesus is the glory of God incarnated, in person, for us to relate to. The thing that drew me into profound belief was seeing Jesus’ person and character and work in the gospels. When you start there and become attached to Jesus and then expand your view to see that He was sent by the Father it is stunning. This God, this infinite God, sent Jesus on my behalf. It is so Sunday school we brush right past it, but it is the key to knowing God.
When you know Jesus and read the Old Testament the lens is different. When you know Jesus and get bogged down in theological conundrums they are less threatening. When you know Jesus and face a life circumstance that is devastating you can remember the character of God to care for His loved ones.
So I guess my advice is to dig into the gospels to see all they have to say about Jesus. If you have been raised in church do your best to start fresh, to take off the Sunday school glasses and see Jesus anew. As you see you Him you will love Him, and that love will frame so many other things that are burdensome or confusing.
Thanks for this, Barnabas! We’ll look forward to your book launching on July 1st!
You can pre-order “”Help my Unbelief” here.
Barnabas Piper is a Christian writer exploring the connections between ideas, faith, and people. He writes weekly for WorldMag.com and The Blazing Center Blog and has contributed to “Leadership Journal,” “Tabletalk Magazine,” Relevant.com, The Gospel Coalition blog, and DesiringGod.org. He is an avid reader of all sorts of books, a learner, and he loves a good story.
Barnabas lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two daughters. Originally from Minnesota, he has never been able to (or wanted to) shake his allegiance to to the Vikings, Twins, and Timberwolves. No matter how much pain they cause him.
Apologetics Award: “Tim Keller on Matthew Vines and the ‘Biblical Homosexuality’ Movement’” – This reply from Keller is gracious, brilliant, and as always, demonstrates how the proponents of this movement cut their own knees from under them.
Platform Building Award: “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of a Best-Selling Book Launch” – Jeff Goins shares all. Lengthy, but good.
Non-Fiction Award: “The Most Neglected Part of Writing” – AKA: Having something to say. yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.
Fiction Award: “How Writers Can Be Story Showers Instead of Story Tellers” – Some great, practical ways to make your story come alive.
Preaching Award: “The Winston Churchill Guide to Public Speaking” – This article is absolutely fascinating, and convicts me somewhat as a preacher…much to learn here, from one of history’s greatest orators.
Christianity and Culture Award: “Christian: Are You Ready for Exile Stage Two?” – Stephen McAlpine with an interesting take on our comparing America to Athens…he says it’s more like Babylon.
Reading and Literature Award: “21 Famous Authors’ Favorite Books” – I confess I’ve read shockingly few of these. Then again, it’s sort of obligatory that famous authors choose obscure books as their favorite.
Theology Award: “What is the Gospel?” – This article not only details Paul’s description of the gospel…it also shares some helpful insights on how and how not to phrase the core gospel principles for maximum clarity.
Spiritual Life Award: “Leave not off reading the Bible till you find your hearts warmed…Let it not only inform you but inflame you.” -Thomas Watson (RT @DonWhitney)
Motivational Award: “How to Write a Bestseller” – This article is great. It’s time to stop worrying about writing something that will sell.
Fun Award: “12 Things You Might Not Know About the Screwtape Letters” – Number 5 had my wife and I howling.
The Glimpse of Truth Award: “17 Words of Wisdom from Les Miserables” – Trevin Wax with an awesome collection of Les Mis quotes (from the BOOK, people!)
I’m very excited that this week, my book “Faker” has launched in the UK (hint, hint UK readers!).
Hand in hand with that, The Good Book Company has posted an article I’ve written that some of you may have seen already: 9 Ways to Get Your Teenagers Reading. Parents and Youth Pastors – enjoy.
Even more exciting, the publisher has also posted an edited excerpt from my book, “Faker”, which you can read below. If you click through the link, you’ll also see some of the great visuals that decorate the pages.
PS: If you’re a US reader, you can STILL pre-order a copy from the good book’s website (go to their American website: www.thegoodbook.com)
A note from me
Let me preface this all by saying that this book has been stretching for me. Yes, I know, it’s geared toward teenagers/college students. But I wrote it out of a vulnerable place in my life, and some of the adults I’ve handed it to have expressed something similar: although it’s geared toward teens, Jesus’ message is one we all need to hear. As author Jonty Allcock has said: “This book took me on a journey…”.
It took me on a journey, too. And writing it has transformed my life. If you’re anything like me, you can grab some for kids in your youth group, your own kids, grandkids, or college students as a graduation or going away gift…but save a copy for yourself. Get past some of the youth culture illustrations, and I think you’ll find Jesus’ words speaking to you, as they did me.
Here’s the excerpt:
“Have you ever felt like a Faker?
I’ve felt like no one in the world knew who I was. I’ve felt like I had to be someone I’m not. I’ve felt like, no matter who I was, no one would care.
I’ve felt alone. I’ve felt like I was living with a mask. And I’ve seen others wearing masks, too. Maybe you’ve looked around your work or school and thought: “What are we all doing? Why are we all trying to impress each other? Why can’t anyone accept me for who I am?”
All of us turn, again and again, to whatever “mask” we’ve created for ourselves—the Jokester, the Smart Kid, the Athlete, the Fashionista. Even being a social outcast can become a mask—we start doing everything to “not be like the sell-outs,” and so we stop being ourselves.
And we do it all because, deep down, we’re afraid. What if the mask comes off? What if people knew what I know about me? What if the people who hate me are right, and the people who love me are wrong? What then?
Where fear comes from
So fear is what leads to faking it. And in his parable in Luke 18 v 9-14, Jesus shows us where that fear comes from. It comes from us deciding what will make us good, right and worthy of love: trusting in ourselves that we are righteous.
In my own life, I’ve seen this happen in three ways:
“They will like me when…” syndrome. When I was at school, there were the skaters I tried to fit in with. The jocks I tried to hang out with. The nerds I tried to keep up with. I even tried the cross-country kids. Later, it was the boss I wanted to impress. Parents I wanted to please. My wife and kids I wanted to look up to me. In every case, everything I did was measured by: “Will they like this?”
“I will like me when…” syndrome. I’ve been here many times: I will like me when I publish a book. When I get good grades. When I have more money. When I become a professional hockey player. (Yes, I thought that would happen—I’m not sure exactly why.) On the list goes: things I had to achieve before I was likeable. But all of these things send me down the faker roller coaster—when I do well, I look down on others; when I don’t, I feel terrible.
“God will like me when…” syndrome. This is a tricky one, because it sounds good. God will like me when I stop looking at porn. When I have my anger under control. When I go to church. When I read my Bible. When I quit my addictions. When I achieve nirvana (if I’m a Buddhist), or keep Adhan (if I’m a Muslim), or become one with the universe. The problem with this approach is this: it’s self-righteousness in disguise. Think about it: did GOD ever say he would like you when you achieve these things? Or, was that you, or some other mere human? People who have this problem often say things like: “I know God forgives me, but I just can’t forgive myself.” And really, that makes US God, doesn’t it?
Read the rest of the excerpt here.
I’ve got some cool ideas to introduce the book to my US readers over the next couple of months – so stay tuned!
Also, if you click on the link to the book, and click on “Look Inside”, you can read the first chapter for free!
If you find any of this helpful, do please share below on Facebook, Twitter, E-mail, or whatever your social media platform of choice. You, my faithful readers, are my army. I can’t do any of this without you. Even if you just click “share”.
(Also, if you’re a blogger and would like a pre-release copy for review, I have a limited number I’d be happy to give away. Just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org Topic: Faker Book Review).
Apologetics Award: “Should We Go Looking for God?” – T. Keller on why ‘looking for God’ doesn’t work out: “Christians do not claim that their faith gives them omniscience or absolute knowledge of reality. Only God has that. But they believe that the Christian account of things – creation, fall, redemption, and restoration – makes the most sense of the world. I ask you to put on Christianity like a pair of spectacles and look at the world with it. See what power it has to explain what we know and see”. Do read the rest, at the link above.
Platform Building Award: “How to Secure a Traditional Book Deal Through Self-Publishing.” Jane Friedman debunks a major myth, and helpfully reconstructs it.
Non-Fiction Award: “5 Tips on Making you a Tough (and better) Writer” – This article is chock-full of really great quotes from masters of the craft.
Fiction Award: “5 Necessary Factors for Weighty Fiction” – This is full of unusual and helpful insights.
Preaching Award: “Long Preaching isn’ Always Good Preaching” – Aaron Armstrong shares his journey away from long preaching, which has been similar to mine. A great Spurgeon quote explains why the journey is necessary.
Christianity and Culture Award: “Three Reasons for Christians to Engage in Science” – Ed Stetzer shares some of his background in the sciences, and dispels some common Christian notions.
Reading and Literature Award: “A Brief Survey of the Short Story: David Foster Wallace” – I’m reading Infinite Jest this summer (ha!), and this article shed some light on Wallace’s thinking that was very helpful to me.
Theology Award: “6 False Gospels that Lead Away from the True Gospel” – Trevin Wax with a really insightful list of ‘false gospels’ we adhere to in our own lives…especially those of us within the church.
Spiritual Life Award: “When Assurance is Lacking” – This is a very helpful and insightful letter from a pastor to a congregant struggling with doubt over salavtion.
Motivational Award: “Nathan Bransford’s 10 Commandments for the Happy Writer” – Bransford shares how not to get caught in the “if only” game, and enjoy the writing journey, wherever it takes you.
Fun Award: “7 Bookstores Too Beautiful for Words” – These are small glimpses, so you might want to look up more images on your own.
The Glimpse of Truth Award: “Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly. All he thinks he has a right to when he comes to you to be yours is fairness. After you have been unfair to him he will love you again, but he will never afterwards be quite the same boy. No one ever gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter.” – J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
I will never forget being in high-school, reading John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart”, in which Eldredge pummels the idea that Christianity ever be presented as a “Systematic Theology”. It is, he argued, a story.
For a long time, this stayed with me. But then again, this was my camp. My crew. My homies.
Then I changed camps – I became part of the YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) movement. I read Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”, and I was thankful and amazed at the ways it opened my eyes to scripture. I lauded youth pastors who took four years to preach through Systematic Theology and other like systems.
But in seminary, I began to question this way of thinking. As I heard the grand narrative of scripture articulated through the doctrine of Biblical Theology, I began to question how useful was my Systematic Theology, and the arguments that had been made. I began once again to see that scripture was a story – a story out of which even our systematic reasoning must flow.
I’ve ebbed and flowed between these places for years, mostly because I’m both a right and left brained thinker – I like systems, and I like stories. And, normally, I’ve found myself at one extreme or the other: “Preaching should be all about story,” or, “Preaching should be all about doctrine.” Or, “God loves story” or “God loves truth.” And even, “Christianity IS a story”, or “Christianity IS a series of doctrines.”
These extremes have often led my own life to extremes. Sometimes I’ve weighted myself so heavily on the “story” side of scripture that I’ve taken scripture out of context, applying it to my own life willy-nilly, and even using it to justify my own disobedience to God’s commands.
On the other hand, I’ve often leaned so heavily into the ‘doctrinal’ side of things that I’ve slipped into spiritual pride, thinking simply because I knew a whole lot about scripture, my heart was somehow more right with God than others.
This has shown itself in my life, but it’s also shown itself in my ministry. At times, my heavy doctrinal preaching has TAUGHT people to treat Christianity like a system to master, rather than a presentation of Christ by whom we must be mastered. I’ve TAUGHT people that they can take the scriptures pell-mell and apply the narratives however they so like.
And neither of these have been healthy for me, nor the church. Why? Because the truth is, Christianity is not essentially about a story, and it is not essentially about a series of propositions. And despite the guru in me, I don’t even want to say Christianity is “both” story and system. It is not – it is something beyond that. Christianity is NOT essentially about stories or systems. Christianity is, essentially, about Christ.
The Doctrinarrative God
Let me explain.
Paul says in the Book of Colossians, speaking of the Old Testament narratives: “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:17). This tells us two things:
1. God delighted to use “types” and “shadows” and symbols and story to convey truth, AND
2. These types and shadows were incomplete without the reality of Christ.
Here, Paul affirms both that God delighted to communicate to His people through narrative, story, metaphor and poetry, AND that these things aren’t fully understood without a clear understanding of their reality as articulated in the writings of the New Testament Apostles (the systems).
God delights, in other words, to use both stories AND systems to communicate His own essence, found in Jesus Christ.
What Anna Karenina Taught Me About the Bible
Think of it this way: let’s say I asked you to summarize Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. You could give me two answers to this, both of which would be right and wrong: you could begin at the beginning, list the characters, highlight the dramatic points of tension, and then spin the story out until its devastating conclusion. You could, in other words, give me the narrative.
OR, you might quote Tolstoy himself, and say: “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” You could, in other words, give me the doctrine.
Which answer would be correct? The answer is both, and neither. Why? Because in order to fully grasp Tolstoy’s patently clear (let’s say ‘doctrinal’) statement, you would need to experience the story. Clearly, this one sentence isn’t going to do it – it is a skeleton in need of flesh.
But without this one sentence, Anna Karenina can be interpreted any number of ways. Tolstoy wasn’t interested in writing a reader-response novel; he wrote a very clear statement of intent, then articulated it through story. Without it, the story would be flesh without skeleton.
The point is, to fully answer the question “What is Anna Karenina about?” We need both: we need Tolstoy’s own ‘doctrinal’ statement, but we also need the story which brings it to life – the ‘narrative’.
And this, we might say, is the relationship of narrative to doctrine in scripture. In one sense, the New Testament doctrine of Paul is the clearest statement of our faith, much like Tolstoy’s opening line. But on the other, the clearest articulation of Paul’s ‘bare essence’ statements can be found in the 1,100 pages preceding: the narrative.
And this, in general, is the function of both: story allows us to experience truth at a very human level. It is truth aimed at the heart.
But doctrine is what allows us to draw precise connections between the truth of the narrative and our everyday experience. Doctrine ties the correct strings from the “types and shadows” to God’s essential nature, and so to our everyday obedience. ‘The dream’, after all, is followed always with ‘the interpretation’.
Bringing it Home
What does this mean for you and me? It means, for one, that we need to get over what is essentially a right-brain left-brain personality war about “stories vs. systems.” We are not all about either – we are all about Christ.
And, secondly – we need to enthusiastically embrace both the narrative of scripture and the doctrine that clarifies its connections to Christ and our daily life. If we lead a doctrineless Bible study, we will have sheep with very strong hearts and very poor eyesight – prone, in other words, to fall into the snares of the Evil One. On the other hand, if we lead a Bible study with no narrative – no OT illustrations, cultural allusions, or striking metaphors – we will have sheep with keen eyesight and hearts the size of the Grinch (before Christmas, that is).
Healthy Christianity is never a personality cult, unless we are speaking of the person of Christ. And the person of Christ is both an Author and a Protagonist – he has both a parable and an interpretation. And we are to receive the gift of His gospel with both hands, not the right or left alone.
Woe to us if we neglect the one, and love the other.