Cultivating a Culture of Grief in the Church

One of the fundamental doctrines of Reformed theology is the idea of “total depravity.” While this doesn’t mean that everyone is as bad as they could be, it is a recognition that we are all sinful to our core, tainted by sin in every aspect of our lives. Along with this is a recognition that the Fall of Man has affected every facet of society and life. People are evil and do evil things every day. And this is borne out in the daily lives of Christians and unbelievers alike. From abuse to sexual assault to illness and depression, deeply painful things happen frequently in the lives of people who enter the doors of the church on Sundays.

But what happens when they come in to worship? Often they are met with happy songs and happy people, a generally hopeful message, and a coffee culture. But if this is all that the culture of Sunday mornings is, then is there any space for grief? Did anything that happened on Sunday morning have much bearing on the deeply painful realities through the week of many of the people in the church? Continue reading

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Rethinking Gospel-Centered Preaching

For a decade or two, there has been a resurgence in Reformed churches of what is generally called “Gospel-centered preaching.” Popularized by celebrity pastors and supported by dozens of books written to budding pastors, this has become a preeminent approach to preaching the Bible in many conservative and particularly Reformed churches. And in many ways, it has come at a very important time. With many churches fading into liberalism, emphasizing moralistic or therapeutic sermons, a return to preaching the explicit Gospel has been refreshing and vivifying for the church. But of course with every trend comes danger. In this case, one wonders whether these Gospel-centered sermons truly preach the whole Gospel, and whether the whole Bible is actually being exposited.

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Dividing the Church in Apathy

Somewhat ironically, the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper has been at the center of debate and division in the church over the centuries. Generally, the lines of these debates fall in fairly predictable places: debates over transubstantiation and the manner of Christ’s presence within the elements, the features of worthy participation, the judgement promised on those who partake unworthily, children’s participation at the table, and many other attendant questions. In all these debates, few passages of Scripture feature more prominently than 1 Cor 11:17-34. Paul’s commands surrounding the Supper in this passage are often pulled apart and put to work for the various sides of these debates.

However, while those debates are well and good, I fear that the noise of these debates has sometimes deafened us to subtler particularities of Paul’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper, and done so in a particularly egregious manner within this passage. The point that seems to get little attention is the issue and nature of division at the table. Continue reading

Rethinking “Salvation by Faith Alone”

The doctrine of sola fide is one of the most treasured doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. In many ways, it functions as the cornerstone of those evangelical churches who remain conservative and committed to living by the explicit Gospel. In general, discussions concerning the doctrine of salvation by faith alone emphasize the fact that all of salvation is by the gift of God, a gift unmerited by any works done by man. Of course, this gift must be received, but it is received by means of the one thing that cannot be considered a work of merit: faith. This faith is merely a gaze of the eye toward the work of God’s hand, an anti-work as it were. To top it all off and to make sure no one thinks that he can be proud of his faith, the faith, too, is a gift of God’s grace. (Take that, self-saviors).

As it stands, this is all good theology and worthy to be discussed; but it doesn’t answer an essential and fundamental question: why must salvation be by faith alone? The answer most evangelicals give to this question comes straight from the Bible: “so that no man might boast.” It’s hard to argue with a quote from Paul. But does that actually answer the question? We can simply push the question one step back: why is it necessary that we not boast? It is to this question that I think we must turn if we’re to fully appreciate the soteriological and narrative scope of salvation by faith alone.

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Rethinking Eschatology

Often when churches and theologians talk about eschatology, what they’re really talking about is what is going to happen immediately before Christ’s (final) return. Often this discussion centers on what Scripture means by the “millennium,” and how one interprets the Olivet Discourse and parts of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation. We force ourselves into certain labels, such as amillennial, postmillennial, or premillennial. Perhaps even partial-preterist. Others shy away from the “what will happen” or “when is the millennium” question, and simply shrug their shoulders and say eschatology means “Jesus wins” and it all pans out: we can call these the panmillennialists or promillennialists. For most of these groups, the ones who revel in it and the ones who shy away from it, eschatology means discussing what will happen right before the end of the divine plan. In a sense, it is often a discussion of the penultimate moment in the divine drama, one that is so muddy and confusing, and often bizarre, that it bears little fruit for the life of the believer. Even if we knew exactly what would happen, it wouldn’t help us much in the here and now. But what if our discussion of eschatology took a different focus? What if it switched gears from the millennium question and speculation about “signs and seasons” and instead focused on two questions: what is the mission of the church and what is the destination of the church? What are we doing and where are will we end up?

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The Lord’s Supper and the Dialectic of Faith and Doubt

The life of the believer is not one of faith. At least, it’s not one of consistent faith that never wavers and never doubts. A cursory reading of Hebrews 11 (the “hall of faith” as many have called it) reveals the great exemplars of faith being ones filled with doubt, backsliding, discouragement, and weakness. Even Abraham, the “father of faith” himself, lived a life more akin to faith-filled doubt than simply faith. But as we walk the same road as Abraham walked in this weary dialectic of faith and doubt, God has given us means of strengthening us and giving us hope to carry on.

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