How incredible is it that the nation of Israel saw God part the Red Sea, drop bread from heaven for them, and make water flow out of rocks and still didn’t believe. And how much more incredible is it that people today use those acts of God to say the Bible can’t be reliable because those kind of things don’t happen.
Israel saw the wonders and didn’t believe. People today read the wonders say they don’t believe because such wonders can’t happen.
John 5:46-47 “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
Last Sunday I was accepted into the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. I visited the school last week and, after spending time in thought and prayer, I’ve decided to pursue my MDiv (Master of Divinity) degree at Southern. I’ve been deliberating between Southern and The Master’s Seminary for much of the last year, and while it wasn’t an easy decision, it was one marked by a clear sense of direction from the Lord.
I confess it is rather scary to leave the familiar environment of the Master’s community. Much of who I am in the Lord has been forged in the classroom and offices and dorm rooms of TMC. I will greatly miss the Master’s community. The Lord has blessed me far beyond what I ever could have hoped for in quantity and quality of friendships through my time at college. It is hard to leave what God has used to shape me into His image. I’ll also miss being able to visit my Cornerstone Community Church family. It’s a lot further of a drive from Louisville than Santa Clarita. In a very short time I’ve come to love you all very much. It has been a joy to serve the youth and I’m looking forward to the last couple of months of disc golf, Gleanings, and study of Philippians.
So why am I going to Southern?
1) I will get to study under an incredible group of professors. The faculty at Southern pretty much comprises a “Who’s Who” list of conservative scholarship. Russell Moore, Timothy Paul Jones, Bruce Ware, Tom Schriener, Stuart Scott, and the list goes on and on. Other seminaries use the books written by these men as textbooks for their classes. At Southern I will be able to study under the men who wrote the textbooks.
2) The leadership and professors love the local church. The classes I was able to sit in on were not set in ivory-tower academia, but rather the mud and mire of the realities of church ministry. Theological instruction for the sake of theological instruction will not help me better serve the bride of Christ.
3) I’m coming to realize the importance of being taught from a variety of perspectives. Not a variety of doctrinal perspectives, but rather a variety of emphases within those commonly held doctrines. To have undergraduate and graduate degrees from the same institution is not the end of the world, but it would leave me unbalanced in areas. The greatest strength of TMS is how it prepares men to preach the Word. That is my greatest strength in ministry as well. I want to go to a school that will challenge me in my weaknesses so that I will grow in my ability to minister before the Lord.
4) Southern has a culture of grace and appreciation towards men of different doctrinal perspectives who have accomplished great things for the Kingdom. This walks a fine and dangerous line. Russell Moore exemplified this attitude best in a theology class I sat in on about Eschatology. He said something akin to, “We’re to be dogmatic about the things Scripture is clear about and humble about the things it is not. We can learn much from the elderly dispensationalist-holding church members as they eagerly await the rapture. And they can learn much from us historic premillenialists as we prepare ourselves for suffering.’ That is an impressive attitude.
There’s other reasons why I’m going to attend Southern, but these are the most important. I’m thankful for the year off to recharge my academic batteries, and I’m excited to begin this new stage in my life.
Friday night I was invited over to Al Mohler‘s house. He and his family live in the president’s mansion (a word not accidentally chosen) next to the grounds of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Okay, so there were about 200 other people invited that night as part of the preview weekend at the Seminary, but let’s not dwell too long on the petty details.
The way I figure, it’s all about getting that “inside story” from a celebrity. Something that won’t appear in any book or on any talk show, but rather is just a random piece of the person’s life. Mohler and his family stood at the door of their home greeting all of the preview students and families. While shaking hands he asked me where I was from. “San Luis Obispo, CA area” I replied. At that point he got rather animated and pulled his wife and daughter over and said “He’s from San Luis Obispo!” I was expecting a “Where exactly is that?” response, not a interrupting-other-people’s-conversation-with-his-daughter-and-wife response. “What’s the significance of that?” I asked with a smile and a shrug. Mohler then proceeded to tell me about a Fourth of July vacation they took in my stomping grounds.
While stopping for gas on the Fourth, a woman approached Mohler outside the convenience store. Looking up at him she exclaimed, “You are the ugliest man I have ever met! You are so incredibly ugly!” I had to laugh at the reminder to be humble, Mohler interjected. The woman was quickly shooed away by a cop with “a thick Jersey accent.” The cop said something akin to “Don’t worry about it, she says that to everyone who goes into the store. She’s crazy.” Mohler inquired as to where the fireworks were going to be that night and the Joisey cop responded, “Ah nah. Wee don’t have no fireworks heere. It sceers away da boidees.” Yet another Fourth of July foiled by the Snowy Plover bird colonies.
Later in the evening I was poking around Mohler’s 40,000 book personal library when I walked into a room where he was informally answering questions with about 15 prospective students. I stood back and listened for a while, but decided to join the fray when I realized I was stuck in the room until the crowd packing the two entrances thinned out. I like to ask questions that help me view such men as people with real lives in situations like that. I can go find something Mohler’s written to answer any doctrinal questions I have, and that kind of setting doesn’t afford enough time to give the details necessary to ask a life-situation question.
So I asked “What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked?”
I thought he might say “Yours,” but instead replied “It was on the day that I was to be announced as the president of Southern Seminary. I had been up for about 72 hours straight, being grilled by the board of trustees, flying to different places for various meetings. I was 33 years old and incredibly young for the job. I was about to meet with a very hostile press for this announcement when a reporter asked me ‘You’re 33 years old, what do you plan to do about that?’ I turned to him and said ‘I plan to age.’ And let me tell you, that is the promise I’ve kept most faithfully over the last 17 years.”
So there you have it, my experience of hanging with Dr. Mohler.
I’m preaching this at the North County Christian School chapel tomorrow, from 1 Corinthians 1:18. Pray that God will cause the students to see that commitment to Christ cannot be halfhearted, and that the cost of following Christ is high but entirely worth it.
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. What’s the word of the cross? The gospel. Who are the perishing? Those who are unbelievers. What do they think of the gospel? They think it’s foolishness.
Nobody respects what they think is foolish. There is no honor or reputation in identifying yourself with something that others think is foolish. I mean, when was the last time you saw someone get all fired up about unicorns?
If I were to come up to you, look you straight in the eye, and then with absolute sincerity, all honesty, and a forthright passion say, “Let me tell you about something. And this is really exciting. This is what my life is all about. There are two different types of unicorns. There are red unicorns and blue unicorns. And we can tell a lot about these different types of unicorns by their color. You see, we know that the blue unicorns live in cool climates because a certain plant that only grows in cold climates turns their skin blue. And the red ones, we know they live in the tropics because their red skin tone protects them from constant exposure to the sun’s rays.”
I mean, what would you think? I don’t care how many times you’ve seen the Charlie the Unicorn Trilogy. You’d think I was nuts.
And according to Paul who says, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” the gospel doesn’t sound any different to those who have not repented of their sins and come to saving faith in Christ. The gospel–the fact that human beings are sinful by nature, that God Himself was crucified on a cross, that our sins were transferred onto Him and His righteousness was transferred to us by that death, that He conquered death through His resurrection–is unicorn talk to those who don’t believe.
If you’re looking for respect, if you’re looking to be cool, if you’re looking to be considered intelligent by men, then the gospel isn’t for you. Because the truth of the gospel is completely foolish to those who are perishing. And they’re going to think you’re nuts for believing it.
It’s foggy in London tonight
And the spires of cathedrals are shrouded from sight
The trucks are all stalling and the children all calling
For their Father who seems to be gone.
It’s twilight in cratered Berlin
And out come the stars, stirring up hope once again.
The Father’s big smile cracks the chains of Belial
And the cross and the tomb come to life.
The fog of the day and the clear of twilight
Are just metaphors of a little child’s fight
Against the doubts and the tears and unwarranted cheers
And the thought he could ever be content
With anything less.
It’s raining in Old Orchard Park
Another blesséd day of life in the dank and the dark
Though the weather is contrary, at least its only temporary,
Because sunny is the weather of my home.
And the fog and the rain and the sun and twilight
Are just metaphors of a little child’s fight
Against the doubts and the tears and unwarranted cheers
And the thought He could ever be content
With anything less.
My biology professor loved his class pet, Fifi. Fifi was a dissected cat, hung up above the pickling solution for us to stare at. I wrote a paper on the church for a college class that wound up becoming a verbal version of Fifi the cat. It was a painful Monday evening when Judge George Crawford thoroughly disemboweled my argument that the church as an institution is different from the church as a congregation. “It’s a well-written paper Mr. Brooks, but the church is the church is the church.” He was right. And I had to go back to square one.
One of the tragedies of our doctrinally illiterate Christian landscape is our confusion about what constitutes the true Church of Jesus Christ. Is the church a building? Is the church its elders? Is the church a group of individuals? Mirriam-Webster will tell you its all these things. But what Mirriam-Webster won’t distinguish is the difference between the true church of Jesus Christ and a “church” that is such in name only. There’s a large building in my town that has a steeple and a cross and a huge banner that proclaims “God Still Speaks Today.” Of course, they also have rainbow stickers and “LGBT WELCOME/OPEN AND AFFIRMING CONGREGATION” plastered on their marquee. A Seattle man made the news by claiming to be a vampire and space cowboy, so we know claims don’t always match reality.
While talking with a Samaritan woman, Jesus describes true worshippers of Him in John 4:24: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” That is to say, two elements must be present to make a church: worship in truth (i.e. the message proclaimed and believed is the gospel) and worship in spirit (i.e. that message must be internalized and believed from the heart).
It is fashionable to trot out the Crusades as proof that the Christian God is just as viscous and bloodthirsty as the god of the Muslims. That’s a result of failing to distinguish between true and false churches. The medieval Roman Catholic Church worshipped in neither spirit nor truth. Just because a church claims to represent our Savior doesn’t mean they actually do.
After the distinction between true and false churches, there is another line that needs to be drawn. There is a difference between the local and global church. “The church” in its local form is a gathering together of the redeemed who identify themselves as a group of individuals who gather together to worship God in spirit and in truth. “The church” in its global form is the sum total of all the redeemed in all the local churches worldwide. (There are unbelievers who identify with the local church, but that’s a whole different discussion.)
So what about The Church and “The Man” generation? When the disenfranchised rail against “the church” what do they mean by that? Church-skeptics’ attitude seems to boil down to this:
“I am disenfranchised with the global church because my participation in several local churches hasn’t met my expectations. Though these churches are gospel-centered, I cannot identify with them because they do not care about [AIDS in Africa? Adoption? Climate change? Cultural awareness?]. The pastor does not preach on these topics, and the people spend their time on less important matters (which often are parenting, discipleship, Bible studies, etc). I believe [insert issue here] to be a critical expression of a love for the gospel, therefore this congregation does not truly love the gospel.”
Underneath this mindset is deep-seated, selfish, consumerism painted up to look like holiness and piety. Why is this person disenfranchised with the church? Because the local congregation doesn’t share their soapbox. In reality, this is old-fashioned reductionism. The goodness and worth of the local church hinges upon one particular result of the gospel. Never mind that God is worshipped well in the church. Never mind that the pastor’s messages glory in substitutionary atonement, penal substitution, and the power of the cross. If the church truly cared about these things, they would care about [my soapbox]. And since they haven’t awakened to the importance of [my soapbox], the church is a failure.
I’ve been there before. I was led astray by an anti-materialistic mindset and became judgmental towards other believers because they bought more toys instead of supporting more missionaries. Do I still think that the church (on the whole) is sinfully materialistic? Yes. But am I really going to make financial sacrifice the one proof of someone’s love for the Lord and purity of ministry? I may pass that particular test. But if someone valued inner city ministry as the proof of genuine gospel love, I know I’d fail. We only soapbox what we’re strong in ourselves, which over-inflates our sense of spiritual maturity and feeds our arrogant glances upon those we perceive to be hopelessly earthly-minded. If someone were to have the soapbox of adoption, would you pass the test? What about evangelism? Or unreached-people missions work?
The truth is, most soapboxes are good things that the church should care and talk about. The gospel rightly understood makes us passionate about doing what we can to lift the curse in hearts and circumstances. But if you expect your pastor to lead the charge on your very good and just soapbox, you’ve missed the point of joining the church. It’s not that the pastor doesn’t care. It’s that his job and responsibility is to do what the Apostles did: devote himself to the ministry of the word and to prayer.
If you care about an issue, you take the initiative. Go and talk about it with your pastor. Chances are he loves what you love too, but it’s not his responsibility to start and lead every ministry in the church. Go with a plan of how you are going to lead this ministry focus. One friend of mine was inspired by the Moravians’ 100 year-long prayer session for their missionaries. He went to the pastors with his idea and led an 8-5 prayer continual prayer meeting for the missionaries we supported as a church. Some people signed up to pray, others didn’t. That’s okay. There are far more good ministry opportunities for the faithful to be involved in then they could ever hope to participate in. Lack of participation doesn’t mean lack of care or interest. A working father with five kids under the age of ten isn’t going to have the time that a single person does. His ministry is primarily to his family. And God rejoices in men who raise their children to fear Him.
It’s much easier to sit on the cushy couch of the critic and deride the church for its lack of concern for the world. But every believer is part of the church. Criticizing a local church without being involved is unvarnished hypocrisy. No church is perfect. No church could ever hope to meet all the ministry needs in this cursed and fallen world. By playing critic instead of participant, people deprive the church of their gifts and passion for ministry. It’s never easy to minister. Satan hinders ministry, he doesn’t hinder judgmental criticism. Please, work against him and not for him. Please, dream big and do something in the church.
This is part three of a series entitled The Church and “The Man”.
For part one click here.
For part two click here.