To Speak or Not to Speak -- That Is the Question...

Posted by David Wallover on June 18, 2015 @ 12:18 PM

Perhaps it's stating the obvious, but we live in a brave new world. At least, I do. Being a child of the baby boom, many of the assumptions about life I had once taken for granted are suddenly either irrelevant or seriously questioned. On the upside of this brave new world, I have discovered that the internet, and particularly social media, offer amazing ways for people to make genuine and fun connections! Sometimes such connections are (somewhat dismissively) referred to as "cyber relationships," or "virtual friendships," as though these relationships don't really count; they aren't really substantive. These subtly negative connotations are unfortunate. The reality of virtuality is no less a helpful vehicle for building relationships than letter-writing and "pen-pals" were in our previously "low tech" culture.

However, that said, I am disheartened by the downside to these media. As I indicated, I'm a baby-boomer. I was raised in a day when we were trained (both at home and at school) to measure our words, to be thoughtful and (one hopes) artful in how we communicate. Such common graces are rapidly becoming a relic of a bygone era -- or at least, so it appears to me. Consequently, I find myself torn between wanting to respond to current events and topics, but becoming reluctant to do so because of the rancor and ugliness that can follow whenever anyone states an opinion (right, left, or center; religious or secular) that someone else finds objectionable. The offended party(-ies) often feel(s) no moral restraint in belching forth bile in response. The ultimate casualty in the process is meaningful public discourse, along with respect and actual tolerance (not just the PC, sloganeering variety).

What's an unreconstructed child of a pre-internet education to do? Do I weigh into the fray, giving as good as I get? Do I withhold comment, attempting somehow to rise above it all? Do I focus only on matters that are benign, bordering on vapid? Do I attempt to introduce reason and civility, knowing that the likelihood of such a perspective gaining ascendancy is low in today's polarized climate?

The conundrum is more than just academic for me. I am a minister, after all. I am called to "proclaim," to preach. I know: Such a position is unpopular in any case. "Don't preach at me" is the garden variety rebuke of anyone (including me) who is ticked off when someone else becomes presumptuous and condescending. (Parenthetically -- how sad that "preaching" has become so associated with pomposity and arrogance...that's a whole 'nother topic...) So, what's a product of pre-internet education, who is also a professional preacher, to do? (See the alliteration? I told you I was a preacher!...)

I'm not sure how to respond. I'm really not. I am nearly convinced that political discussion in social media is universally useless. We either insult each other or we only talk to those with whom we already agree (again, left, right, or center). Meaningful discussion has so decayed into mere name-calling that I despair, not of politicians, but of voters. We are as bad or worse than those we elect. If Congress is useless, folks, it's time to look in the mirror. We elect our REPRESENTATIVES; and they are aptly named.

But what of broader cultural and spiritual concerns? I am not convinced that the situation changes much by a change of topical venue. The shouting still takes place; the insults, the rancor. It's all there. We appear to be a population suddenly incapable of self-restraint or mutual respect. [Pop quiz: Define "wisdom" and give three examples.]

The bottom line for me is that I do desire to engage the current topics! I believe that there are perspectives that I can offer that might be helpful to some. I'm not so arrogant as to imagine that my opinions will sway anyone else's. But perhaps, as we engage each other thoughtfully, respectfully, together we might move the public needle away from polarizing extremes toward edifying accommodations and solutions. Such would be my hope. But as this post no doubt shows, I am skeptical that such an outcome is achievable.

For the record, topics I would love to discuss in reasoned, patient ways include: Redefinition of marriage; racial reconciliation; the legitimate power and extent of civil government; civil liberties and social responsibilities; sexual brokenness and the breakdown of the family; the beauty of Jesus Christ both as to His Person and His work; the call to faith that is personal but never private; the need for Christians to repent and believe Christ before we ever ask a non-Christian to do so; the need for non-Christians to see their need of God's forgiveness and the depth of His love; the dignity of human life as a concept dependent on the existence of God (or put differently -- the impossibility of human dignity as a result of evolution); why the Browns will always be losers and the Steelers will always rule; and why I am so very proud of the Cavs and their efforts in the recent playoffs, and why that's important for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. (Okay, maybe the Browns/Steelers discussion won't be civil...there are exceptions, after all.) There are surely other topics, as well, but that's a good list to start.

But having said all this, I'd be content to start with five questions that Al Dayhoff has articulated (see his book, Church in a Blues Bar). I'd love to engage folks in a CONVERSATION, not a debate -- just a conversation. I'd even promise to be quiet...okay, never mind, that'll never happen. But I'd promise to try really hard to listen well! Honest! The questions are these: (1) Where do you think we came from? (2) What do you think of God? (3) What do you think of Jesus? (4) What do you think of the Church? (5) If you could sit down with God, face to face, and ask Him one question, what would it be?

I don't know, maybe I'm nuts, but I think it would actually be fun if people could talk about those things while feeling safe. Maybe it's time to create a Facebook page for these conversations, and call it, simply, the Safe Place. I don't know; I'm just "spit-ballin'" here. But if you think you'd like to engage those questions with me, let me know. I just want a place (virtual OR physical) to talk, quietly and respectfully, whether or not we ever agree. I'd like sincerely to understand.

Caveat: I am a Christian. Not gonna lie. In other words, I do believe the Bible -- not in a wooden fashion, but nevertheless, I believe it is the product of God interacting uniquely with the writers in order to say stuff to us that we need to know. Consequently, and specifically, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross as an atoning act for others; that He is truly alive; that He is holy (i.e., that He is pure and scary-good and whole in a way we were created to be but aren't); that He is Lord (i.e., He's in charge, not us); that He saves those who trust Him, both here and hereafter; that He saves us both because we NEED saving and because He loves more deeply than anyone really fathoms. So, yes, I have skin in this game. But my convictions don't alter the fact that I really do want to understand and love others where they are, as they are -- again, regardless of whether or not we come to agreement. Perhaps it's a conversation we could have with others, too; or just one-on-one -- either way. Perhaps it's a conversation that could spread and so have a positive influence on other conversations. Perhaps by having these conversations, we would learn as I was taught, even in this "virtual age," to converse artfully and with mutual respect.

It's a thought...

You must be logged in to add a comment to this blog. Click here to login

The Past is Prelude to the Future

Posted by David Wallover on May 11, 2015 @ 10:12 AM

If things continue in Western culture unchecked and unchanged, then the following statement will become prophecy: "It is likely that I will die in my bed. My successor will die in prison. His successor will die executed in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." [Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, quoted in World magazine, before his death on April 17]

Perhaps that statement has greater poignancy for me because, while not a bishop, I am a pastor. My successors and I would likely face a similar trajectory. It is no longer a quaint historical oddity that the sixth ordination vow in my denomination reads: "Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?" These days, those words are taking on new potentialities. They are words I have promised to uphold.

If the Cardinal's statement is NOT to become prophecy; if my ordination vow is not to be tested in real time with real consequence, then the church as a whole - the people who follow Jesus - must be awakened and revived by the Holy Spirit. To that end, we should pray - earnestly, seriously, humbly. And as a result of such prayer, we must lead by returning to, and humbling ourselves before God, making it our priority once again to love Him and our neighbor with honesty and grace, above all else.

Unless we do so, we have no right to expect, much less to demand that people who do not follow Jesus will even consider repentance before God, unless they see it modeled sincerely by us. It costs, beloved, not so much materially (though that could be a reality, as well), but more in terms of giving up any self-centered pursuit of our own comfort ahead of others. God's honor deserves such devotion. Our neighbors need such devotion. When we face our own sinful dispositions, and return to the Lord in faith, we will have more credibility as we lovingly challenge and embrace others to see theirs and turn from those dispositions to the risen Christ who saves us, both here and hereafter. Will you join me in such praying? May God have mercy on us all.

You must be logged in to add a comment to this blog. Click here to login

The Wrestling Match

Posted by David Wallover on April 22, 2015 @ 11:59 AM

With whom are we prepared seriously to wrestle?  Merely with Republicans or Democrats?  Over whether or not a bakery must serve cakes at a secular event? That fight is a mere schoolyard brawl - petty and juvenile (even vicious when seen against the backdrop of genuine oppression, illustrated so vividly by ISIS, et al).  No, I ask again:  With Whom are we prepared seriously to wrestle?  "[Our much needed reformation] will come when men and women of God wrestle with God as Jacob wrestled with the angel -- wrestling with God, with their consciences, with their times and with the state of the church in their times, until out of that intense wrestling comes an experience of God that is shattering and all-decisive, and the source of what may later once again be termed a reformation. 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.'" (Os Guinness) And that Reformation, just as the one which preceded it 500 years ago, will necessarily be one that begins in each heart, born of extraordinary grace, which can then transform each home, which can then transform each community, which can then transform a nation, which can then bring peace among nations.  Such, at least, should be our aspiration, but starting first in each one of our own lives and extending to our relationships - with everyone. 

The issue, then - the essential issue for followers of Christ - is emphatically NOT how entertaining our worship services are, NOT how well our congregations are programmed, NOT how well I experience therapeutic comfort from a message, NOT how hip we are with the latest social media.  Followers of Christ may indeed ask that our worship be excellent, focused beautifully, compellingly, on God Himself; that our lives be ordered well, so as to facilitate love; that we experience the comfort (forgiveness) of the gospel and its incentive to grow in grace and love, in order that we may increasingly look outward to others, building actual (not virtual) relationships of mutual respect and commitment.  Nor is the essential question one of how to dominate the culture.  We should indeed ask how we can be salt and light in the culture, letting our good deeds so shine that the Father is glorified.  But all those outcomes are the result, the byproduct of focusing on the essential issue, which is Christ Himself, the Lord, the Redeemer -- and by extension, as He directs our attention to the Father, by the power of the Spirit -- our triune God.  Unless or until His character and will become the paramount issue of each day, for each of us who are His followers, then we will continue to slouch, not toward Bethlehem, but toward Gomorrah. [for the metaphor, see Robert Bork's book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah; and see the phrase toward which the title alludes in W.B. Yeats' poem, "Second Coming," where decadence slouches toward Bethlehem.]  

But if we plead with Him, wrestle with Him, as Jacob did, who had been confronted with his own broken character and sin; who returned, finally, humbly toward God; who was then able to return humbly to his brother to ask forgiveness -- if we will wrestle like Jacob, we may yet see a new day in the Church in the West, and a merciful day FOR the West. It was when Jacob wrestled with God, as counterintuitive as it appears, that he discovered his actual dignity and worth.  Up until that moment, he imagined that only as he wrestled with others in order to best them, only as he schemed in order to achieve personal gain at their expense, would he find his value.  It took most of his life, culminating in his match with God, to bring him to the realization that only God could grant him his dignity – and He did, when Jacob cried out for God's blessing.  That cry was an implicit recognition that it is God alone who can grant dignity. In that moment, Jacob won, because God did.  From that moment, Jacob was able to approach his brother, whom he had wronged, who then welcomed him with joy. 

In similar moments of wrestling with God in our own lives, we will discover the true source of our own worth and dignity.  And flowing from such moments of wrestling, cakes can be served all around, flowers can be arranged for everyone -- not as a moral statement of approval or disapproval, but as a celebration of our own forgiveness and restoration in Christ.  From such wrestling, we will not have to wait to be asked to celebrate life; we will initiate celebrations that are focused truly and redemptively, pointing each other and our unbelieving neighbors to Christ in the process.  Rain will indeed fall on the just and the unjust alike, but the just will have a new sense of courage and determination and hope and generosity, accompanied by joy -- and the unjust will either be mystified and join the laughter, repenting and believing with us in the process; or be humiliated and retreat in self-inflicted disgrace, for pride cannot abide love.  The unjust may indeed resort to violence and oppression -- but they will fail inevitably, because joy cannot be defeated, for "the joy of the Lord is our strength."  And withal, love for God and love for neighbor will be the norm --all through faith in Christ alone.  

Lest anyone think I am willfully naive, let me say:  I know that the scene described above will only ultimately be fulfilled and completed at Christ's return.  In the meantime, we do wrestle with enemies within our own hearts and around us in the world.  And that wrestling is not easy or simple.  That kind of wrestling with evil will result in wounds and sorrow.  It is that reality the Lord says we should mourn.  Yet, even then, while mourning the brokenness of life as we know it, we know His blessing.  Thus, also in the meantime, at the very least, by wrestling with God at the same time that we wrestle with evil, we will gain greater and more frequent tastes of His love.  His Spirit is present to us, in us, among us now.  And where His Spirit is present, there is freedom.  

Even so, come Lord Jesus.  Bring to us the Noontide of the Day, when your love WILL be the unchallenged norm -- and will be so forever.

You must be logged in to add a comment to this blog. Click here to login

Day Three: 2014 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America

Posted by David Wallover on June 19, 2014 @ 1:26 AM

Breezy!  Found out today that Houston is not usually breezy!  Huh!  Who knew! But it has felt great when walking out on the street.  And sunshine? Well, happily whenever we had to go out for a meal, it was pleasant, but we did have some pret-ty impressive thunderstorms this afternoon!  Yeah…like I’m surprised.  It’s Texas, after all.  OF COURSE their thunderstorms are massive!  ;-)

Happily, too, the weather outside was no reflection of events inside.  The Assembly considered one of the issues that could have proved to be fairly controversial: “The Report of the Ad Interim Study Committee of Insider Movements to the Forty-Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.”  (gotta love the catchy titles we Presbyterians come up with for our materials…)  :-)  

I will attempt here the briefest possible summary:  “Insider Movements” are a development in predominantly Muslim countries where missionaries accept that it is possible for a Muslim to convert to Christ while remaining outwardly and in all other functional respects a practicing Muslim. The rationale for this approach is a recognition that Muslims who convert are frequently vulnerable to persecution, even death.  Further, it is thought that by retaining Muslim customs and practices, these “Muslim-Background Believers” who privately profess faith in Christ are able to bear a witness within Muslim communities that they would otherwise be unable to maintain.

When this development in world missions came to the attention of the PCA several years ago, we were, as a denomination, deeply concerned.  There was confusion and conflict arising from this approach. And that confusion was affecting the relationships of our missionaries with others of their colleagues around the world.  Hence, in 2011, the Thirty-Ninth General Assembly erected a study committee aimed at clarifying our own position on the matter and then offering guidance to both our missionaries and our churches on how best to share the gospel among Muslims and how to nurture those who do convert.  In response, the committee has produced a thorough, thoughtful report. The level of scholarship and sensitivity to the nuances of this issue is impressive, even when one simply skims the report. 

In the end, the committee found itself in full agreement when they articulated a series of affirmations and denials, i.e., things we affirm relative to the Insider Movement and things with which we take issue.  However, a minority of the committee believed that the majority effectively ran roughshod when applying those affirmations and denials to, as the title of the Minority Report puts it, “Realities on the Ground.”  Hence, they wanted to offer a supplement to the Committee Report. The majority, however, did not agree that what they provided was merely a supplement, but that in fact it was a departure from the very affirmations and denials to which they had all agreed. The majority asserted, in fact, that the Minority Report worked at “cross-purposes” with the committee report.  The majority critiqued the Minority Report in three main areas:  Our identity as believers in Christ, our involvement in and commitment to the Church as a fruit of our conversion, and the minority's specific conclusions about what some passages of Scripture actually say as they pertain to conversion.

In the end, a vast majority of the Assembly agreed with the Committee Report.  But as I suggested above, the entire debate was undertaken with a spirit of genuine, mutual respect among the committee members. They simply disagreed among themselves on some of their conclusions.  That respectful spirit helped calm the nerves of the Assembly. Debate on the floor was methodical and technical, in order to determine how best to handle the differences, but at no time did anyone become rancorous or mean-spirited. In that respect, the debate was vastly different in tone than it was last year. 

All this to say that it would appear that we are capable of beautiful orthodoxy in the PCA! :-)  And when we do proceed in that manner, much truth can be affirmed and the foundations of our faith and its practices can be strengthened in wonderful ways! 

The worship in the evening was once again…wonderful.  The singing, prayers, and preaching all contributed to a clear and uplifting focus on Christ.  Dr. Derek Thomas, Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC, preached.  And it was once again refreshing.  His focus was on Gal. 6:14:  “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  In his exposition, Dr. Thomas drew attention to the fact that there are three crucifixions in view in the text:  Christ’s, the world’s to Paul, and of Paul to the world.   This three-fold focus on crucifixion fixed our attention on the marvel of Christ’s atoning work, on the world’s ultimately empty attractiveness, and on our sinful nature being done away, thus freeing us both to be bold in this life, and in the next, to be secure in our hope – all these perspectives blended together in such an encouraging fashion. 

I am humbled once again as a teaching elder in the PCA to be surrounded by such excellent expositors of God’s word.  They are both inspiring and impressive.  They are craftsman – and I can only aspire to improve my own craft as I witness them employ their skills. Preaching is not just technical – grammar and history and such; preaching is deeply personal.  And the way these men express what is most personal while at the same time expressing eternal truth with such evident skill and beauty – I’m just humbled.  No other word for it. May God grant me half that ability – for your sakes! That you would see Christ with the same clarity that we have seen Him in the last two worship services and in other settings, as well – THAT is the goal!   Pray for me, beloved. Pray that I be a better preacher. That is God’s call on my life – to be His preacher.  Whatever else I must do in my profession, if I do that job poorly, I do not do my job at all.  And there is always room for any craftsman to improve.  Pray that I spend the time you need me to spend in prayer and study, with self-discipline and focus. Preaching is a large (not the only!) part of how you are fed spiritually.  So, pray – Please. May God be increasingly honored and you be increasingly strengthened in your faith through the preaching of His gospel at Harvest Presbyterian Church. 

Love, Your Pastor

G’night!

 

PS--This will be my final blog post from the Assembly.  We return home tomorrow so I can perform a wedding this weekend! :-)  We have breakfast early tomorrow to discuss and build camaraderie around church planting in Cleveland/Akron/Canton.  That should be fun...assuming I'm actually awake.  ;-)  And please do continue to uphold our Assembly in prayer.  They will be facing a couple of issues that could prove to be fairly disturbing -- one involving how best to address our culture as a denomination in the face of the increasingly hostile attitudes toward Christians with regard to the sanctity of human life and our convictions about the nature of marriage.  Also, there are some discipline issues that are percolating which could prove to be disruptive if we do not address them decisively now.  Those cases are potentially explosive because they deal with core convictions in the PCA, i.e., the doctrine of justification and the authority of Scripture in all matters pertaining to faith and life.  Dave and I will join you as spectators for this Assembly's close.  Thank you for praying thus far!  And add a prayer for our safe return.  Thanks!

Julie Brown said...

Posted on June 19, 2014 @ 10:08 AM -
So encouraging to see a very positive report on the governance of our church. I am impressed that the issues delt with seem very relevant to the world in which we live. I would like t get the book you mentioned on homosexuality. Seem to be rubbing shoulders with more people who see that as their identity and more often than not they are hostile to Christianity or their experience of it. The seven steps also very good. I have heard Ellen Dykes speak and appreciate her perspective. Thanks again for being our pastor and representing us at GA.
You must be logged in to add a comment to this blog. Click here to login

Day Two: 2014 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America

Posted by David Wallover on June 18, 2014 @ 12:57 AM

Still hot…gloriously, sunnily, breezily hot!  Ahhhhhhh!  Bathing in sunshine!  Yeah, you betcha. Well, taking a quick dip in the sun, more like.  The Hilton facility is quite amazing!  And a perfect size for our Assembly.  But it is all self-contained. If Dave and I didn’t decide to go out for meals, we could easily spend the entire time without actually seeing anything of Houston.  BUT!  WE are intrepid visitors!  We go out! :-) And those brief walks to nearby restaurants grant us the sun and warmth. 

The day was the start of seminars.  The first one that I chose…was cancelled due to illness of the speaker.  Oh, well.  Got to watch some of the Mexico v. Brazil match.  So, there’s that.

The second seminar I chose for the afternoon was held.  And it was titled, “Gay-Identity vs. Identity-in-Christ? Making Sense of an Explosive Topic.” The speaker was Ellen Dykas, Women’s Ministry Director for Harvest USA, a ministry based in Philadelphia which reaches out to people who are suffering from sexual brokenness, whether of same-sex attraction or heterosexual issues.  It was an excellent presentation – she was clearly committed to truth of Scripture, but expressed it with such grace abnd love.  The botton-line application from her material came in the form of seven “General Discipleship Steps for Churches:” 

  1. Welcome!
  2. Learn her/his story and language
  3. The key focus:  Our idenity in Christ
  4. The key dynamic for us all: repentance and faith
  5. Honor singleness – it’s a valid life condition, not a flaw. 
  6. Teach how the gospel touches all our broken hearts and loneliness
  7. Build godly relationships

Those items may seem at some level like no-braniers, but when applied to this volatile topic, they become essential, self-conscious and intentional components of our ministries. And that all rests on the foundation of finding our identity in Christ, not in our sexuality, be it heterosexual or homosexual.  Ellen offered some titles as good resources for anyone interested in knowing more, one of which is Is God Anti-Gay? By Sam Alberry. I look forward to reading it.

The evening commenced with wonderful worship.  While in worship, I began receiving texts from my sisters – today would have been our dad’s 93rd birthday.  It was strangely comforting to be reminded of that fact while sitting in an assembly of over 1200 people singing, praying, listening to God’s word wonderfully expounded – and then to share the Lord’s Supper.  The mystery of that moment was made profoundly personal given the reminder about our dad. And the line between time and eternity blurred a little for me in that moment.  My father and mother are worshiping Him in His presence – and we were partaking of that meal which He said would be the means of us being brought into His presence from this side, through our union with Him by the power of His Spirit.  In other words, what we were experiencing by means of the table on earth, is their reality – their singular reality, right now.  It was moving.  And all this on the heels of arguably one of the best sermons I have ever heard at General Assembly.  Ray Cortese spoke eloquently of “beautiful orthodoxy,” in contrast to the lifeless orthodoxy of Pharisees.  He said beautiful orthodoxy is marked by humility, mercy and rest – and all focused on Jesus. So refreshing. The sermon was itself an example of beautiful orthodoxy. 

After worship, we formally opened the Assembly by electing our new moderator.  This year, we elected Bryan Chapell, former President of Covenant Seminary, and now Chancellor, while he pastors a PCA church in Peoria, IL. He will be a fine moderator. He is gracious and quite conversant in our parliamentary procedures – essential traits to be a good moderator. He was elected by acclamation – which means he was unopposed. 

And on that note, the Assembly adjourned for the night.  Dave and I went to the exhibit hall where we continued to promote church planting in Cleveland/Akron to anyone who would listen.  And I do intend to promote church planting in Cleveland/Akron/Canton and all NE Ohio as much as possible.  Several good conversation have taken place already.  The most encouraging aspect of it all is that it’s not on us to produce church planters.  The Lord has men in mind already!  We get to play hide and seek to find them! :-)  Hence, as with evangelism, so with recruiting church planters, we go looking and strike up the conversation as much as we can.  Pray with us! Pray for those men and their wives and families whom God is calling to NE Ohio – whether or not they know it yet. Pray for us to be good commissioners in the exercise of our duties, as well.  Just pray.  It’s good for the soul in any case! 

G’night! 

You must be logged in to add a comment to this blog. Click here to login

Day One: 2014 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America

Posted by David Wallover on June 16, 2014 @ 11:28 PM

Greetings from Humid, Humming Houston! Urban life, Texas-sized. And our General Assembly this year is in the heart of it.  Nice view from the 14th floor…as long as I don’t look straight down…

Yesterday I was reminded why I am quickly becoming convinced that driving is better than flying, unless you can afford first or business class.  No problems, per se, just cramped space and stress making connections. Of course, compared to the Senior High Mission Trip to London a couple of years ago, I have NOTHING to complain about – but flying just isn’t the exotic travel experience it was when I was a kid.  So, on the whole, if I can get there on the ground, that’s how I’ll go. 

But the company is great! Dave Beard and I have enjoyed great conversations between us and with others already after our first full day here – a good reminder of the truth of Psalm 133:  “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” The Presbyterian Church in America, for all its flaws and family squabbles, has some of the most engaged and engaging leaders in the body of Christ.  I am humbled to be among them. 

That high quality was well-illustrated by the Christian Education and Publications Committee meeting I attended as a commissioner today.  Always known for their desire to serve the Church and provide high-quality resources for equipping us all to be growing disciples, that Committee is taking great strides forward as it adjusts to the changing realities of our culture and habits.  When the committee report comes before the Assembly later this week, among its other recommendations will be one to change the name from “Chrsitian Education and Publications” to “Committee of Discipleship Ministries.” The change is not merely cosmetic. It reflects the intention of the committee to connect the congregations of the PCA more meaningfully to each other regionally and nationally.  In what has come to be known as “the Great Commission,” Jesus calls us to make disciples. That mandate is at the core of Christian ministry.  Without that commitment, the gospel is just words on a page.  But when we engage the content of the gospel in the context of relationships, something extraordinary happens.  We witness both within and among us changes of character and disposition that only God could accomplish. 

So – I am genuinely enthusiastic about the momentum that is growing in this discipleship emphasis, and the connections that will emerge from it, thereby making the PCA an even more robust and resilient branch of the wider Church.  I won’t bore you with details. You can browse the CEP website and see for yourself how things are evolving:  http://www.pcacep.org.  

All this to say: I fully expect that there will be unpleasant moments in the course of debates on the floor of General Assembly – it’s simply the nature of human deliberation, especially at high levels of oversight. Still, I am reassured by the work of CEP that, potentially unpleasant debates notwithstanding, we have legitimate cause for encouragement as we contemplate how the Lord will use us as part of the PCA to play our part in advancing the gospel in our own and others’ lives – in short, as we make disciples. 

More tomorrow! Thank you for your prayers for our travels.  Do keep the Assembly in your prayers, as well, not merely that we could avoid controversy, but that we could be enthusiastically focused on the power of the gospel! G’night!

You must be logged in to add a comment to this blog. Click here to login

reactions...?

Posted by David Wallover on August 29, 2013 @ 11:05 AM

reactionary |rēˈakSHəˌnerē|

adjective

(of a person or a set of views) opposing political or social liberalization or reform.

Huh.  What follows is a random, stream-of-consciousness overflow of confusion. 

 

Where is the tipping point in a society?  When do “progressives” seeking “radical” reforms become the “reactionaries” defending “established” norms and practices?  I’m wondering because I am fascinated (appalled) by the tone and tenor of social media today.  Am I thus a reactionary or a progressive?  Bill Maher increasingly looks moderate.  And Martin Luther King, Jr., looks positively traditional.  “Content of my character?” Seriously?  And who is to say what that content should be?  And for that matter, what is character, anyway?  I mean, I think I know...but I'm a Christian, so what do I know?  To the world around us, character is a wax nose.  And by that measure, everybody has character...

 

Miley Cyrus v. Syria and Egypt.  Which is more important to our society?  Yes.  In different contexts, both can be understood as bellwethers for our future – or demise.  And what will guide us into that future?  Evolutionary biology or Judeo-Christian mores?  Neither.  We are a culture in meltdown.  Am I being reactionary now?  Or realistic?  If the West really goes head-to-head with Radical Islam, will it prevail?  Jury’s out.  The West is hollow, pointless, valueless, drifting.  And this is called “freedom” by progressives.  Huh.  The only threat to them is Christians, apparently.  Miley Cyrus’s public disintegration is not a problem – only an occasion for faux reactionary (progressive?) outrage.  Syria and Egypt are detached, third-world problems that don’t concern us.  Or do they?  And do they concern us to the point that we intervene militarily?  Or if we do, on whose side do we enter? 

 

Shades of the Spanish Civil War, which was the opening act in World War II…eewww.  Nuts.  Every 60 years or so, humanity apparently has this inborn instinct to cleanse itself, to purge itself of organisms that threaten us.  Only who is the organic threat to humanity?  In 1914, it was German imperialism.  In 1939, it was German imperialism.  In 1949-1990, it was Soviet, state-sponsored atheism.  Today, it’s Radical Islam…or is it Western European, state-sponsored atheism?  Wow.  A veritable smorgasbord of pathogens!  And let’s not forget that Christians are the target of convenience when there’s no one else to blame. 

 

And Spain led off the last round by proxy in 1935, leaving us with Hitler or Anarchy?  Really?  That’s the choice we have?  Al Qaeda or Secular materialistic nihilism (aka Miley Cyrus – what’s the term – “torqueing” on television?  I need to get those hip terms of jargon down, because I might not be relevant for – what? – thirty seconds?, which is about the adolescent attention span of Americans today). 

 

Somebody build me the Mayflower III.  But where to go? Where to go?  Antarctica?  I hate winter.  And the penguins might defend their shores.  They could actually form an alliance with the seals and killer whales to defend their native land against a human infestation.  Wouldn’t that be a kick!  The environmentalists would go mental! 

 

Reactionary.  I wonder….is there anything left to which anyone can actually react?  I’m not sure.  Man the lifeboats.  

 

said...

Posted on November 02, 2013 @ 6:11 PM -
Per Woody Hayes "There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the h--l kicked out of you.”. Maybe the cup of iniquity is full and we're in for it.

said...

Posted on November 02, 2013 @ 6:11 PM -
Per Woody Hayes "There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the h--l kicked out of you.”. Maybe the cup of iniquity is full and we're in for it.
You must be logged in to add a comment to this blog. Click here to login

I Think I Owe Carl Trueman an Apology...

Posted by David Wallover on August 25, 2013 @ 10:34 AM

I'm not sure, but I suspect that I owe Carl Trueman an apology.  I am a novice in the world of blogging.  He is a pro.  So, I need to acknowledge his prowess with admiration -- which I do happily!  I enjoy his style, his willingness to say provocative things.  I enjoy that he challenges conventional, bland, vanilla thinking and action.  I wish we were all a bit more like Carl Trueman in this present day and age.  The Church could do with more of a spine.  

So, imagine my surprise at the reaction -- pro and con -- to my response to Carl Trueman's post about transformationalism.  I was taken aback.  To all who read my response, please understand something:  I meant what I said.  I respect Carl Trueman!  That comment was not a throwaway designed to soften a blow or to deflect future criticism.  I disagreed (mildly, I thought) with one position he has articulated.  In replying to him, all I wanted to point out is that in this rough and tumble world, not every Christian who engages in the spheres (yes, I used a term of Kuyper's) of culture is a triumphalistic theonomist or a weak-kneed collaborationist.  Sometimes Christians operate in the various arenas of culture because they are simply seeking to be faithful to God.  I just didn't want that role and attitude to be lost in the discussion.  

In it all, I did not mean to attack Carl Trueman, to belittle him, to belittle his concern, or in fact, ultimately, to disagree with him.  Overall, I think he makes very valid critiques of certain segments of the so-called "evangelical" and "reformed" world.  Many of us would do well to take his critique to heart -- and I include myself in that statement.  It is very easy for me to grow comfortable trying to "influence" people, such that I forget (fear?) to tell the truth.  Again a Luther reference:  "Peace if possible, but truth at all costs."  (I have read that one; I know it's not apocryphal.)  I only hope that I can remember to tell the truth with genuine love and respect.  

So, Dr. Trueman, while I still hope that the point of my original response to your post about transformationalism is not lost, I want you to know that I truly respect and admire your role in the larger conversation.  I don't know you personally; perhaps one day we will meet, and if we do, I don't want you thinking that I'm gunning for you.  I'm not.  My response was the response of a pastor, not a raconteur.  I simply want to be a pastor -- a pastor who equips the flock to do the work of ministry.  That ministry, as I understand it, includes us all being salt and light in each of our respective sphere's of influence, be it work, home, neighborhood, congregation.  For that aim to be achieved, we all need to have confidence that what we do, both as to work itself, and as to our witness to Christ in those contexts, is truly worthwhile and biblical.  It counts.  God wills to use us in the building of His kingdom.  I believe that Carl Trueman understands that perspective and embraces it himself, if I understand his writing at all.  

So, I apologize for stirring up a hornet's nest.  That was not my aim.  I want a good, robust conversation -- but not ad hominem attacks. Carl Trueman is a faithful spokesman for the gospel, as far as I can tell.  Thanks to God for raising him up, among others, to call all the rest of us to remember and press on in our own callings -- and to do so with faithfulness, insight, wisdom, and courage.  God bless him.  

You must be logged in to add a comment to this blog. Click here to login

Carl Trueman is generally one with whom I agree.  But not this time.  This time I think he misses the point about Keller and Kuyper almost completely.  Let me add from the outset – so do some who use the rhetoric of “transformation."  But it is Carl Trueman’s piece to which I am responding at the moment.   If a piece appears from the other side of the spectrum, I will address it accordingly.  However, the issue here is not "how we will effect the transformation of society," be ye pro or con on the matter.  The issue is fidelity to the Sovereign God’s call to build culture, and for Christians to be salt and light in it.  Any transformation is, and has forever been, in God’s hands alone as the Sovereign.   I think both Kuyper and Keller make that point throughout their respective bodies of work. 

Yet, as Sovereign, the Lord commands us to build culture and to be salt and light in it.  It is not for us to quibble with the King; in the words of Tennyson, “ours is but to do – and die.”  And that perspective is precisely the gospel’s own.  It calls us each to come and die.  Die to self, die at the hands of the world.  Die.  Period.  But die that we might live to God.  Such personal death and resurrection is quintessential to being a pilgrim people!  And as ironic as that juxtaposition of dying and building may be, it is there.  In light of that reality, efforts to build and penetrate culture are hardly utopian, elitist, or naïve.  They are expressions of faithfulness.  And such a view is essential to the (singular) “Christian worldview.”  Whatever diversity there may be on other points among Christians about how best to view the world, this point should not be in dispute.  It is (or ought to be) truly “catholic.” 

Understood in that context, then, the gospel is (or has the potential to be) transformative – both personally and culturally.  On that point, surely there is no debate.  Dr. Trueman raises the spectre of present-day Amsterdam.  Fair point.  Many similar cases could be added.  Let’s mention apartheid, or American slavery under the watchful eyes of Southern (and Northern) Presbyterians.  Nor should we forget the Crusades themselves, which we have to thank (in no small part) for the current ills with Islam.  At the same time, however, Dr. Trueman neglects the work of men like Wilberforce and his lifelong devotion to the elimination of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.  He neglects Thomas Chalmers and the strength of diaconal ministry to the poor which helped transform urban ministries and environments altogether, at least where his efforts were duplicated.  He forgets the place that the Church achieved in Roman society, in the space of less than 300 years – a place it achieved on the strength of fidelity to the gospel in all facets of Roman society, and in spite of all facets of Roman society.  He forgets the role the Scoti peregrini had in the development of the very universities in which Dr. Trueman himself matriculated and from which he graduated. 

Furthermore, as my friend and fellow elder, Mitch Brown, observes, “Culture-building is something we do, not as an end in itself, but as a useful gauge to see if our efforts in faithfulness are bearing fruit within an immediate culture. It is very evident that Keller's work, like Kuyper's work were/are very influential in the cultures they ministered to.  That said, longevity of faithfulness in a culture has very little if any connection to the original culture shaping or transforming works - longevity is a measure in some respect of the faithfulness of successive generations in the church.  The kinds of criticisms that Trueman is leveling against Keller and Kuyper could just as well be leveled against men like Jonathan Edwards - who could doubt the transformative effect of his work? But like Kuyper it didn't last either - look at America today!  Are we to believe that we shouldn't bother impacting culture on this kind of rationalization?” 

In short, then, given what he could have observed from history, Dr. Trueman’s (or his assertion of D.G. Hart’s) history lesson is selective – and thereby misleading.  In light of Trueman’s/Hart’s faulty conclusion, there is a story (apocryphal or true, I don’t know) about Martin Luther that serves as a fitting corrective to Dr. Trueman’s perspective.  The story: Luther was asked what he would do today if he knew that Christ were returning tomorrow.  “Plant a tree,” he replied.  “Why? What on earth for?,” was the incredulous response.  “Because it is the faithful thing to do,” was his reply.  So, at least, is my recollection of the anecdote.  And in any case, it illustrates my point:  We are called to be faithful, regardless of any outcome we might expect, good or bad.  We are called to be faithful – in business, in education, in the home, in politics, and in the arts.  All of life is to be shown the ingredient of the gospel as the essential ingredient that makes life honorable and uplifting. 

In the process, the Sovereign Lord may make use of those efforts to lead some of His elect to faith in His Son, at least as the gospel itself is declared within each of those spheres.  In the process, the Sovereign Lord may actually grant awakening and revival such that there really is a transformation of the culture – or He may not.  For instance, as of this writing, Egypt is erupting in civil war.  Christians there for the first time in centuries have a realistic opportunity to play a meaningful role in what kind of culture emerges from this conflict.  Their fidelity to Christ as salt and light in Egyptian culture is hardly a case of “pandering to middle class tastes and hobbies.”  They are literally dying, trusting in Christ and the final resurrection, and doing so for the sake of witnessing to Christ in their culture, in hopes too that Egypt may emerge more humane as a result.  That outcome may be forthcoming; it may not.  But truly, our brethren in Egypt understand poignantly what it means to be a pilgrim people.  We in the West should not be smug in the face of their sacrifice; indeed, we should be so faithful!    

In any event, failure to be faithful to the gospel in these endeavors will not deprive the Lord of any of His elect.  Nor will infidelity result in the obstruction of the Lord’s ultimate judgment and rejuvenation of creation.  But it will deprive us disciples of the joy that arises from faithfulness to Him.  And it will deprive the cultures we build of the stability that the gospel can provide as a function, at the very least, of God’s sovereign, common grace.  And in any case, failure to be faithful is simply unrepentant and disobedient. 

I’m not sure who all have promoted the grandiose rhetoric of transformation.  I am vaguely aware of the “two kingdom” v. “one kingdom” debate (although I do confess, I don’t recall hearing those categories back when I studied under Kline, and I am left somewhat confused by their use.  Shame on me if I was asleep in class on those days).  I know too that some brands of postmillennialism promote such hype.  Even some branches of amillenialism.  Regardless of who promotes it or even why, triumphalistic rhetoric is wasted – even mistaken.  Until Christ returns, the Westminster Standards (rightly summarizing Scripture’s teaching) remind us that sin will continue.  And any view that minimizes the ongoing reality of sin, and then hyper-extends the hope of temporal transformation into a promise, should be corrected.  And if Dr. Trueman was aiming precisely to provide such correction, then I applaud him for doing so. 

But I do not believe that either Kuyper or Keller is triumphalistic, and therefore are not liable for such correction.  By asserting that they are, Dr. Trueman runs the risk of polarizing opinions where they need not be – indeed where they should not be.  Kuyper and Keller are each gospel-motivated.  And that outlook is something to be emulated by all.  More specifically, Kuyper himself, in his Lectures on Calvinism, makes the point that the Calvinistic portion of the Church will likely always remain a minority voice; and he makes that observation on an optimistic assessment of the influence Calvinism may have (not a guaranteed outcome, even in Kuyper’s estimation).  Such a perspective does not appear to me like one that is triumphalistic.  On the contrary, his observation looks remarkably circumspect. 

Thus, I think that Carl Trueman, whom I have grown sincerely to respect as a commentator on matters pertaining to faith and life, needs to rethink his position on these men.  It’s one thing to hold us all accountable for departing from the faith.  Triumphalism does depart in that manner, as liberalism and the social gospel of previous generations only too well illustrate.  Thus, yes, we need to confront triumphalism.  By all means!  But please let’s distinguish between triumphalism and fidelity.  And please do not attack those who are being faithful.  Instead, we should do all in our power to encourage Christians who, in Christ’s name, participate in the spheres of culture as salt and light, come what may.  It’s just faithful to do so.  If we recapture that faithfulness now, we will be able to withstand whatever the near future holds.  

You must be logged in to add a comment to this blog. Click here to login

It's my birthday, I'll pray if I want to... :-)

Posted by David Wallover on July 25, 2013 @ 9:04 AM

Banner of Truth is a publishing house that has kept alive the writings of many Puritan leaders.  Included among those works is a collection of prayers titled, Valley of Vision.  On their website, Banner editors provide a daily selection from that collection.  Today's is very fitting as a petition and reminder to me of what is most important as I mark another year completed.  The prayer both humbles and encourages me.  May it help you, as well:

 

Thou God of all grace,

Thou hast given me a Saviour,

         produce in me a faith to live by him,

   to make him all my desire,

     all my hope,

     all my glory.

May I enter him as my refuge,

   build on him as my foundation,

   walk in him as my way,

   follow him as my guide,

   conform to him as my example,

   receive his instructions as my prophet,

   rely on his intercession as my high priest,

   obey him as my king.

May I never be ashamed of him or his words,

     but joyfully bear his reproach,

   never displease him by unholy or imprudent

     conduct,

   never count it a glory if I take it patiently

     when buffeted for a fault,

   never make the multitude my model,

   never delay when thy Word invites me to

     advance.

May thy dear Son preserve me from this present

     evil world,

   so that its smiles never allure,

   nor its frowns terrify,

   nor its vices defile,

   nor its errors delude me.

May I feel that I am a stranger and a pilgrim

     on earth,

   declaring plainly that I seek a country,

   my title to it becoming daily more clear,

   my meetness for it more perfect,

   my foretastes of it more abundant;

   and whatsoever I do may it be done

     in the Saviour’s name.

 

You must be logged in to add a comment to this blog. Click here to login
1, 2, 3
Email A Friend
From Name
From Email
To Name
To Email
Note