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  • When “Believing the Gospel” Doesn’t Work

    I wanted to re-post something that Chuck DeGroat wrote earlier this week on his blog, The New Exodus.  I think this is a pretty important discussion that needs to happen amongst the New Calvinism.  Reductionism is dangerous and it hurts people.  Legalism is dangerous and it enslaves people.

    When “Believing the Gospel” Doesn’t Work

    Maybe you’re like the many men and women who I’ve talked to.  Having been through Sonship (a fairly well-known discipleship program in conservative Reformed circles) or having digested the writings of Keller or Powlison or Tripp, your still struggling.  Or, maybe your version of “believing the Gospel” came from a preacher who told you that the answer to your lifetime of guilt was greater “Gospel depth” or deeper “Gospel transformation.”  And so, you searched high and low for that newer and better way, the Gospel way, only to try to believe better and repent better and be less guilty.  And that, too, didn’t amount to much.

    Just recently, I was talking to yet another person whose digested all the writings and listened to all the sermons and read all the tweets, and ‘Gospel repenting and believing’ isn’t working.  He went through Sonship.  And each time he talked to his Gospel phone coach, he’d confess his latest idol.  “I’m justifying myself through my attempts to repent better, and repentance is now my idol.  So, I’m repenting of my repentance, but I’m still neck deep in feelings of guilt.  What’s wrong with me?”

    “Gospel Tweeting” is the latest phenomenon.  The answer to all our problems is this:  Just believe the Gospel!  If it was that easy. This seems to me to be the newest quick fix, the most recent Christian cliche, and I’m growing weary of it.  I’ve counseled people who’ve done the full Sonship workout only to be more racked with guilt than ever.  They are repenting of their failed repenting and repenting of their failed attempt to confess their failed repenting.  They’re more twisted in guilt than ever.  And the ‘Gospel Twittersphere’ isn’t helping.

    This is oversimplified Calvinism.  Period.  It doesn’t take the complexity of sin seriously enough, though it claims to in every way.  It doesn’t take it seriously because it oversimplifies the remedy, leaving troubled and struggling people feeling even worse.  Gospel counselors tell people that their troubles amount to a failure to believe the Gospel.  Freedom is available, we’re told.  Just repent and believe! Over and over, preachers are trying to boil this down to 140 characters on Twitter.  And I think it’s Gospel arrogance.

    The problem is that we’re far more complex and psychologically broken that we’re often aware of.  It’s not just “unbelief” that bears down on us.  It’s a whole host of things – neural pathways grooved by years of living a certain way, a “divided heart” that thrives on its habitual polarities, weakness of will, and the extraordinary brokenness manifesting in the systems we inhabit, whether in our families or workplaces or churches.  And if I’m not being pessimistic enough, consider John Calvin’s words:

    “But no one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him” (Institutes, 3.6.5 or pp. 1:689)

    But the problem extends beyond understanding the complexity.  It’s the cure that is far more difficult.  Having counseled too many men and women who beat themselves up for not growing fast enough by repenting and believing, I’m convinced we do many people a disservice (and harm!) by oversimplifying both the problem and the cure.  Those fearful of modern psychology need to begin listening at this point, because what we’ve found is that growth and maturity isn’t found in a method or a discipline or a repentance exercise.  In fact, growth is harder, longer, more painful, and more puzzling than many of us care to admit.  People who we serve in the church would like microwavable strategies, but the fact is that growth and maturity isn’t microwavable.  It defies programs and methods.  It frustrates the most competent pastor or therapist or spiritual director.  And, it can’t be captured in a tweet, even a well-formed Gospel tweet.

    I admire the hearts of my friends out there who attempt to tweet Gospel cures.  They mean well.  Most are pastors, and you know who you are.  And I really do like you a lot.  But, hear me when I say that people are suckers for your 140 word fixes.  Why do you think you get re-tweeted so much?  We’re suckers for remedies and methods.  We love a sound byte.  But I’m asking you to step back and consider the complexity.  Do you really see people growing that quickly in your churches?  Do you really see ‘Gospel transformation’ happening in a “repent and believe” moment?  I’m prone to think that this is where we need a good dose of those old stories, like Pilgrim’s Progress, that highlight the long and difficult journey.  Because most people I know don’t find that the methods work.  Most people I talk to struggle day to day just to believe, just to utter a one word prayer, just to avoid another outburst of anger or another deluge of cynicism. Most people find that it takes a lifetime to believe that they are the prodigal who is lavished with a Father’s prodigious love.

    Gospel tweeters:  Relax.  You are far more screwed up than you think.  And your cure is far too simplistic to help.  This journey requires more than a 140 characters of Gospel happy juice.  A big and good God requires a long and difficult Exodus journey for real change to happen.

  • 3 Month Introspective

    Introspective

    So, I’ve been blogging consistently for three months.  This is the week of Christmas and I’ll be all over the place.  I thought I would briefly summarize the 3 months of blog series on here:

    Blaise Pascal:  We took a look at Blaise Pascal’s thinking, its use of aphorism and its relationship to both tri-perspectivalism and presuppositionalism.  We also looked at his use of aphorism and his warnings against deism and atheism.

    Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future, Parts 1-7:  We defined the term evangelical.  We looked at its historical roots in the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and its ties to celebrity culture, democritization of knowledge, and modernism.  Then we looked at the roots of liberalism, the Protestant split and suburbanization, and defined and outlined evangelical populism and their game plan for reaching America.  Finally we assessed the current status of American evangelicalism and then made some predictions of future trends.

    Introduction to Apologetics, Parts 1-7:  We looked in broad strokes at the various schools of apologetics.  We then took a more in-depth look at:  Classical Apologetics, Evidentialist Apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics, and the specific apologetics of Blaise Pascal and Alvin Plantinga.  Finally, we employed the three phases football as an analogy for the different apologetic schools and I likened Tim Tebow to the presuppositionalists.

    Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Parts 1-10:  We looked at some analysis of some shifts evangelicalism will need to make moving forward:  Doctrine, Worldview, Urbanization, Globality/Mobility, “Post-Modernism,” American Culture(s), Contextualization, Balance, and Final Analysis.

    Top ~10 Books by Topic:

    Top 10 Systematic Theology Texts

    Top 10 Devotional Classics

    Top 10 Books on the Church

    Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

    Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

    Top 10 Books on Culture

    Top 10 Books on Eschatology

    Top 5 Books on Worldview

    Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

    Top 10 Books on Church History

    Top 40 Books to Read While in College

    Top 10 Books on Missions, Discipleship, and Evangelism

    The 25 Most Destructive Books Ever Written…

    Top 10 Apologetic Works

    Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

    Top 10 Books by John Piper

    Top 5 Children’s Books

    Best Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms of the Christian Church

    A Comprehensive List of Top 10 Book Lists of 2009

    Up Next:  We will be looking at some thoughts on the economy and investment and then delve into the mind of Friedrich Nietzsche…

  • The Original Tweeter

    twitter_logo_header

    Some 122,791 days have passed between the posthumous publishing of Blaise Pascal’s, Pensees and the creation of the website twitter.  Twitter is a social networking website where people may share their thoughts, musings, rants, or comments about anything.

    Some 336 years before Twitter, I think Blaise Pascal was the original Tweeter.  I have attempted here to tweet a rough sketch of Pascal’s main thought (I know that not all of these aphorisms are under 140 characters):

    24.  Man’s condition.  Inconstancy, boredom, anxiety.

    70.  If our condition were truly happy we should not need to divert ourselves from thinking about it.

    133.  Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.

    136.  The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion.

    136.  What people want is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the burdens of office, but the agitation that takes our mind off it and diverts us.  That is why men are so fond of hustle and bustle; that is why prison is such fearful punishment; that is why the pleasures of solitude are so incomprehensible.

    136.  rest proves intolerable because of the boredom it produces.

    114.  Man’s greatness comes from knowing he is wretched:  a tree does not know it is wretched.  Thus it is wretched to know that one is wretched, but there is greatness in knowing one is wretched.

    117.  Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness.

    149. Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.  It must account for such amazing contradictions.  To make man happy it must show him that a God exists whom we are bound to love; that our true bliss is to be in him, and our sole ill to be cut off from him.  It must acknowledge that we are full of darkness which prevents us from knowing and loving him, and so, with our duty obliging us to love God and our concupiscence leading us astray, we are full of unrighteousness… Let us examine all the religions of the world on that point and let us see whether any but the Christian religion meets it.

    149.  What religion, then, will teach us how to cure pride and concupiscence?   What religion, in short, will teach us our true good, our duties, the weaknesses which  lead us astray, the cause of these weaknesses, the treatment that can cure them, and the means of obtaining such treatment?  All the other religions have failed to do so.

    12.  Men despise religion.  They hate it and are afraid it may be true.  The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect.

    148.  Man without faith can know neither true good nor justice.  All men seek happiness.  There are no exceptions

    170. One must know when it is right to doubt, to affirm, to submit.  Anyone who does otherwise does not understand the force of reason.  Some men run counter to these three principles, either affirming that everything can be proved, because they know nothing about proof, or doubting everything can be proved, because they do not know when to submit, or always submitting, because they do not know when judgment is called for.  Skeptic, mathematician, Christian;  doubt, affirmation, submission.

    167.  Submission and use of reason; that is what makes true Christianity.

    110.  We know the truth not only through our reason but also through the heart… Principles are felt, propositions are proved, and both with certainty through different means.

    7.  Faith is different from proof.  One is human and other a gift of God.

    185.  Faith certainly tells us what the senses do not, but not the contrary of what they see; it is above, not against them.

    189.  All those who have claimed to know God and prove his existence without Jesus Christ have only had futile proofs to offer… without Scripture, without original sin, without the necessary mediator… it is impossible to prove absolutely that God exists, or to teach sound doctrine and sound morality.  But through Jesus Christ we can prove God’s existence, and teach both doctrine and morality.  Therefore, Jesus is the true God of men.

    192.  Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair.  Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.

    352.  The Incarnation shows man the greatness of his wretchedness through the greatness of the remedy required.

    308.  Jesus without wealth or any outward show of knowledge has his own order of holiness.  He made no discoveries; he did not reign, but he was humble, patient, thrice holy to God, terrible to devils, and without sin.  With what great pomp and marvellously [sic] magnificent array he came in the eyes of the heart, which perceive wisdom!

    332.  There is a succession of men over a period of 4,000 years, coming consistently and invariably one after the other, to foretell the same coming; there is an entire people proclaiming it, existing for 4,000 years to testify in a body to the certainty they feel about it, from which they cannot be deflected by whatever threats and persecutions they may suffer.

    346.  It was foretold that at the time of Messiah he would come to establish a new covenant which would make them forget how they came out of Egypt.  That he would implant his law not in outward things but in their hearts, that he would implant his fear, which had only been in outward things, in their inmost hearts.  Who cannot see the Christian law in all this?

    357.  No one is so happy as a true Christian, or so reasonable, virtuous, and lovable.

    136.  Telling a man to rest is the same as telling him to live happily.

    September 29, 2009 • Pascal, Philosophy, Twitter • Views: 441