Jerry Seinfeld has a bit in his popular standup routine where he addresses the various labels on pain relieving medicine:
this one’s quick acting, this one’s long lasting.
“Hmm, when do I need to feel good?”
“Now or later?”
“I don’t know.”
I tend to think about this routine whenever I read about updated statistics on church decline and growth in America. The latest Pew research report from the Washington Post leads with the exceedingly frank title: Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving. Here are two lengthy but insightful quotes:
After statistically analyzing the survey responses of over 2,200 congregants and the clergy members who serve them, we came to a counterintuitive discovery: Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline.
This quote leads to the meat of the findings:
What explains the growth gap between liberal and conservative congregations? In defense of liberal churches, one might venture that it is the strength of belief, not the specifics of belief, that is the real cause of growth. In this case, pastors embracing liberal theology are just as likely as conservative pastors to experience church growth, provided they are firm and clear in their religious convictions. Yet different beliefs, though equally strong, produce different outcomes.
I have seen this last sentence first hand in my life. My dad grew up in the home of conservative Southern Baptist parents. And his reaction to their strong beliefs was to strongly believe in a practical form of Atheism for most of his adult life. Then, in his 50s, he was dramatically converted to Bible-believing, Jesus worshipping Christianity. Shortly after his conversion, I entered seminary and began studying theology broadly across the various positions on the spectrum. In a moment of tender honesty, my dad asked me a question that has stuck with me today — for it is the question that many a new believer will eventually ask as discipleship is taking place:
Why would anyone choose to be a Liberal Christian?
Keep in mind that my dad was a staunch political Liberal before his conversion. He knows the world of Liberal philosophical thinking well and has traveled in its company for most of his adult life. So when he asked why anyone would willingly choose to be a Liberal theological Christian, he was assuming that Liberal is something self-evidently antithetical to Christianity and therefore something of an oxymoron in the spirit of Microsoft Works, king crab, or the living dead.
Making matters more complicated, I was in a period of seminary training when a great many of my fellow seminarians were flirting with the idea of moving over to Liberal Christianity in their own theological journeys. In each conversation I would ask my peers what was motivating them to switch sides from a more faithful reading of The Bible as authoritative to a more referencing attitude towards holy scripture as a helpful tradition. In many of the cases, the answer was the same: The Christianity I inherited (Conservative, traditional, Baptist) was either incapable of or uninterested in speaking to the pressing social issues of the time. Whether the place of gay people in the church, or human trafficking, or political rights of the marginalized, or women’s rights at large — my colleagues felt that the conservative church wasn’t moving at all or fast enough in addressing these issues. So the motivation to switch sides was to do something about the issue of injustice and marginalization.
I think it would be fair to summarize the statements made by my classmates in the following manner: We want justice, and we want it now.
This is certainly an overwhelming motivation to leave the safe suburbs of conservative theology and move into the urban areas of Liberal theology. Since the ministry of Walter Rauschenbusch, Christians have viewed Liberal theology as the framework that best approximates immediate action, swift justice, and real change in society. As the Washington Post article mentions, much of this impulse to change for the sake of change reveals the attitude towards the Bible made most recently famous by Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong in his book “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” If Christians will throw out the literal interpretation, Song writes, they will be poised to address current issues. If they maintain a literal interpretation of God’s Word, they will be unable to help.
And many of my seminary friends bought in to Liberal theology and were able to act quickly.
And many Americans have bought in to Liberal theology and were able to act quickly.
And the Washington Post reports, this quick action is, tragically, not long lasting. In economic terms, the Liberal churches are quickly losing a labor force that could help them with their social agenda. And that leads me to another crucial question: Why are so many Liberal churches dying? I have a few thoughts on why this is:
- Liberal theology is ill-equipped to address the significance question. There will always be a tension between the difficulty of the mission and the reason for the mission. If the mission is challenging and the reason for the mission is weak, the mission will fail. Liberal theology has historically struggled to answer the big “Why” question in any type of compelling way. Thus, the lack of a compelling reason undermines the very mission effort of social justice and change. For example, a parishioner may ask, “Why are we helping fight sex trafficking? Why does this effort matter?” A Liberal theology that denies the resurrection and denies the authority of Scripture (usually the same philosophical move) has no compelling reason to provide the justice and help that it was originally aiming to provide. Again, “Why do you want to help victims of sex trafficking?” Because it is an immoral thing? But immoral according to whom? According to what standard? When you have no authoritative standard, or when your authority is something fluid like an appeal to “common humanity” or “it just is,” your standard will struggle to hold up to the “Why” question. And your mission and standards with both struggle to hold up to the great effort that true justice ministry will require. I suspect that one reason for the shrinking of Liberal pews is an unsustainable and flat reason for why effort should expended towards the mission of justice in the first place.
- Liberal theology is continually uncomfortable with absolutes. Again, this premise undermines the mission. If there is no absolute right and wrong, and if everything is somewhat relative, then why again is sex trafficking wrong at all? Isn’t it relatively wrong? Isn’t continual oppression of gay Americans only relatively wrong (in other words relatively right)? Isn’t denying Syrian immigrants entrance into the USA relatively wrong? Or relatively right? Who is to say? And that is a huge problem. When there are no absolute truths, there is no authoritative source to which humanity can commonly appeal for unity, alignment, and guidance. Thus, it becomes the blind leading the blind. Or worse, it becomes the law of the strongest. Whoever is strongest wins. Might makes right. And that ironic — that the problem which Liberal Christians try to fight — namely oppression and injustice — becomes the end to which Liberal Christians work — namely that they will be able to use might to get their justice accomplished. This is why, I suspect, many Americans are saying no to the Liberal church.
- The Jesus of the Bible isn’t welcome in the Liberal Church. To be fair, Jesus isn’t always welcome in every corner of the conservative and evangelical church (cough cough race issues). The churches I have been a part of have their fair share of blind spots and tone deafness. But there is a substantial difference between blind spots (which we all have) and closed doors. And the Liberal Church has closed their doors to Jesus. What they want is something akin to Jesus as a malleable symbol onto which Liberal Christianity can project its current pressing issue agenda. To this approach, pastor Tim Keller says, “If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.” Again, the conservative church can tend to have an unbiblical vision of Jesus from time to time, but the conservative church pairs with this vision a commitment to studying the Bible and being submitted to what it actually says. Thus, there is a course correction built into the very framework of evangelical Christianity to mitigate against error. The Liberal church doesn’t have this same framework and thus is adrift in the sea of relativeness.
It is to this last observation that I return to Jerry Seinfeld. Liberal Christianity may be quick acting, but conservative Bible-based Christianty is long lasting. This past week I had the pleasure of attending the Passion Conference in Atlanta with 60,000 college-aged Christians and leaders. Over the past decade, Passion has been responsible for leading the way in fighting sex trafficking on a global scale — to the point that President Obama initially invited founder Louie Giglio to pray at his inauguration. This past week, Passion students adopted more than 4000 children at risk in 4 countries, through Compassion International. Neither of these social justice issues were part of the Passion project when I first started going in the early 2000s. But now they are an integral part of Passion.
What happened in the span of 15 years?
The conservative, Bible-believing church caught up. They are long-lasting. And they always will be.
Yes, the Church often lags behind in addressing the world’s need. Sometimes they are behind because they are sticking their head in the sand (American slavery, racism, etc…). But more often than not, they are principally not quick-acting because they need to pray, discern, seek wisdom, and make sustainable infrastructure changes so that they can be long-lasting. And this adjustment period often takes time.
So, if you are someone who is leaning towards Liberal Christianity for the purposes of quick action, I would encourage you to stop. Instead, I would encourage you to spend your efforts ringing the clarion call before the leadership of the conservative Biblical Church. Ringing may take time. In fact, ringing towards new things will often take time. But keep in mind that prophetic activity is often a long-play ministry (See the Old Testament). And keep in mind that conservative Bible-based Christianity is the only labor force who can change the world. And keep in mind that Liberal Christianity is dead on arrival. And keep in mind that its not about you. God is in control. He wants Justice far more than you do. Play your part. Ring the bell. Pray for ministry and change. Start helping in your own individual ministry way. And keep worshipping Jesus as the God of the universe — He will come through.
Here is part 2 of my radio interview with Bill Feltner. You can listen to part 1 here.
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with Pilgrim Radio’s Bill Feltner to chat about Dawson Trotman and The Navigators. If you have 30 minutes, this would be worth your listen. Part 2 is coming tomorrow.
You have certainly seen the headlines by now.
The question has surely come up in your mind: What in the world is going on in Orlando? After all, you understand the basics of math. y=mx + B. With three plot points, one can see the forming of a line that appears to be sloping in the negative direction and that only can mean a downward spiral for Orlando. It’s over. Get outta the city as fast as you can. There is no hope. There is no opportunity for rebound.
As a Baylor grad and former Waco resident, I have wrestled with similar headlines before. Branch Davidians, Baylor Basketball Scandal, Baylor Football Scandal. And, I have asked, What in the world is going on in Waco?
But perhaps I could even ask this question in general — what are we to do when we experience a series of common events occurring in rapid succession in one particular area of life? Because, this is much bigger than Orlando. And this is much bigger than Waco. This is a downward spiral of Job-like proportions. And, it is far more common to life than many of us may realize.
Consider this common scenario: A woman comes home to find that her mate has walked out on her and the children. As divorce papers are finalizing, the woman learns that her job is being eliminated. As the woman is putting their for sale sign in the front lawn, headlines indicate a cooling of the housing market. When crying on the phone with her lawyer, the woman learns that one of her children is sick with a cold. What is she to do?
Or this scenario: Its an election year and supreme court nominations and who do I vote for and where is our country heading? What are people to do?
So. What should we do with these kinds of plot points in life? And is there anything that can inform the way we live so that we don’t end up in a massive depression?
The Bible And God’s Providence
The place to begin is with Truth. In the time when Jesus walked the earth, people in these types of situations would often ask, “Who sinned, this man or his family?” In their superstitious worldview, they would interpret these kinds of successive events as eternal punishments from an angry God in response to one’s personal holiness, cleanliness, or obedience. This is not unlike the eastern notion of Karma, where good deeds are rewarded with good fortune and bad deeds in kind.
But Jesus doesn’t respond to this question with affirmation. Instead he answered:
“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:3-5 (ESV)
In this short reply, Jesus reminds us of several important ideas which speak to Orlando, Waco, and our own plot points of despair:
- God’s got this. God is sovereign. He is in charge. Nothing, and I mean nothing, occurs without His permission. And He is working in this for His glory and for the good of His people (Romans 8:28). This idea reminds us that even when events prompt hopelessness, we can still have hope in Jesus.
- We don’t live in Paradise yet. In Genesis 3 we learn that humanity was removed from the perfect garden because of their willful choice to exalt self over God. When sin entered the world, the world fell in every way. This idea helps us to understand why there is so much animosity between mankind. This idea helps us to understand why there is so much animosity between man and beast. This idea helps provide a framework for mental illness, for evil choices, hate crimes, and for tragedy.
- There is still work to do. Jesus says later in John 10:10, “The thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The fact that so much evil exists, in part, reminds us of the Jesus work Christians have to do. The reason we are still alive is to help make others alive in Jesus.
Processing The Plot Points
So with this truth from John 9 in mind, I want to offer some thoughts on how to process through the plot points, whether you are thinking about Orlando, or whether you are thinking about your own personal downward spiral.
- Anxiety is normal, but don’t let it master you. I want to encourage us with what Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Anxiety often accompanies plot points of despair. And God knows this. That is why he has given us an antidote called prayer. In praying to God, we get to do two significant things:
- We get to thank Him for everything he has given us. With a background of thankfulness in view, our three measly plot points don’t get to seem so unbearable. We remember that God has taken care of us in the past and God will take care of us in the future.
- We get to make prayer requests to God. Supplication (Asking for God to supply) is a really good discipline because it reminds your soul as it reminds God that He is the only one who can really help you. When you request things of God, you basically praise Him for his sole helpful ability.
- The slippery slope feels real, but it is not. Fatalism is the idea that we are all trolly cars linked to a defined route on a street and that once we jump on the trolly car of life, God is moving us towards a predefined point that we can’t change. This view makes us prisoners of life on a slippery slope. The only problem with this view is that it A: has been disproven in the experienced lives of far too many people to be a comprehensive explanation of reality and B: is not what the Bible says. The Bible tells us that God provides for creation in a way that a father provides for his children (Matthew 7:7). Within the framework of a father/child relationship we know that sometimes a child goes through rough season, but that never hinders a father from providing for his children.
The Big Take Away
Three plot points are not enough to invalidate the amazing, surpassing, sovereign work of the Creator of the universe. Even though it is tragic, scary, and unnerving to read the news today, know this Christian: God’s got this. And, He will continue to provide for and care for His children. And He will continue to give His children opportunities to share Christ so that they can bring friends with them to be with Him in Heaven.
My wife and I have been married for 12 years. We dated for a year and a half before getting engaged, which lasted one full year — so technically, my wife and I have been an item for 14 years. Nonetheless, we celebrated 12 happy years of marriage this re-ast weekend and in turn I thought I would trot out 12 nuggets of thusfar-wisdom about married life, specifically from a Christian perspective. Here goes:
- Marriage really is like a Navy SEALs training program for character development. One week into marriage and I realized just how selfish I was. 12 years in, I am fully aware of my own depravity and tendency towards selfishness (BTW: Having kids is like the Navy SEALs version of the Navy SEALs version of character development). I used to have a routine that was intricately built upon my precise needs. Then I got married and had to develop a routine that was built upon my precise needs, precisely when my wife’s needs did not interfere with my needs. In other words, I had to start thinking about someone other than myself. And it has been an incredibly helpful thing. In the process of marriage I have learned to consider others before myself.
- When someone truly loves you for who you are, it is one of the most amazing things in the world. Think about it. You brush your teeth — a fairly revealing act about the true nature of your mouth area — in front of someone with whom you are trying to woo. This doesn’t appear to be a pleasing gesture at first thought. In fact, there is no way to redeem the process of brushing slimy gunk from your teeth and mouth roof. Also, hurling all of that bile into a sink is equally gross to display in front of another. However, when that person looks at you and smiles and says, “I love you” even with mouth bile still residing in the sink…you come to realize that you don’t have to fake it any longer. That, my friends, is powerfully freeing. In marriage, you get to be the real you. You don’t have to fake it till you make it. You get to be you, mouth nastiness and all. And someone loves you — unconditionally. And at this moment, you get to see a small glimpse of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Marriage is not the antidote for singleness. Community is the antidote for isolation. I was in community before I got married. Marriage is just a particular form of community. But I know lots of people who practice isolation before getting married and then they get married and are still isolated. Marriage cannot cure isolation. But community can. Singleness does not mean lack of community. But often single adults are in isolation. Marriage will not solve this. Community will.
- Adventures are important for marriage. Whether it is visiting new cities or taking staycations in your neck of the woods, healthy marriages are fueled by common experiences together. My recommendation for any married couple is to plan for and save for adventures together. Seriously, it is worth it. Natalie and I were tallying it up and we have visited East Coast, West Coast, Southeast, Midwest, Canada, Mexico, Africa, and Europe together. While these travels have broadened our horizons, they have even more so fueled our marriage. It is not that I have visited San Francisco – it is that I have visited San Francisco with Natalie. We have tons of shared experiences and endless inside jokes together.
- The ministry of home is an irresistible force for good. As I have documented before, Natalie and I regularly have people over to our home for meals, Bible studies, and parties. Our homes have become a location where we have seen God do amazing works of transformation. We tell couples in our pre-marital ministry to consider buying a home with ministry in mind. One of the best things you can do is invite people over to eat dinner with you and watch how a Christian family works – it is a powerful way to model the gospel.
- My wife is really amazing. Seriously.
- That being said, I was not 100% knowledgable about who my wife was when we were preparing for marriage. And this is okay. I knew that Natalie had strong character. I knew she was a Christian. I knew we had a basic chemistry. I knew she went to bed early and was an early riser. I knew she was frugal with money. I knew she was adamant about gathering with a church family on Sundays to worship. I knew she wanted to be a pastor’s wife. These were all qualities I wanted in a spouse. What I didn’t know, that I was pleasantly surprised to discover, is that Natalie is passionate about order in the home and in life. This has resulted in our home being consistently perceived as hospitable and friendly to guests. What I didn’t know is that Natalie is a rule follower. This means that Natalie is able to hold me accountable, not to her standards, but to my own standards. She is my biggest cheerleader, and my life coach. All this to say — if you are engaged and reasonably sure that the person you are marrying is right for you, just understand that there is a whole lot more coming down the pipeline. Again — this is not only okay, it is part of the adventure of marriage.
- Even with the best prep work, prayer, and persistence, marriage can have some difficult seasons. Although I can look back and remember some past seasons of marriage as challenging, these seasons don’t affect us in the present. Lets just say that up front. However, in the midst of the particular struggle, it was a struggle. For better or worse includes the worse and it can be the worst. But God has been faithful to get us through them all.
- Mentors have been crucial for us. Older couples. Older singles. Wise people. People with stories. All of them have helped us. And this hasn’t happened by accident. First, God has brought people into contact with us. Second, we have actively sought out, cultivated, and kept up with many of these people. Being mentored is both a passive and an active task and it is has been vital for the health of our marriage.
- Date nights are not optional. And by date nights, I mean regular moments where the two of us connect. Generally, this involves some type of foodstuff — coffee, tea, dessert, meal, whatever. But Natalie and I have aimed to have a regular time just to connect with each other and assess how we are doing as individuals and as a family. It has also given us an opportunity to go on adventures to check out the local food scene in the places we have lived.
- The honeymoon doesn’t have to end. The best thing about the honeymoon is that it seems like you are living in a consequence free environment with almost no concern for the cares of the world. And while the magical non-consequential attitude of the honeymoon leaves the minute you get back to the real world, the sense of awe, wonder, and fascination with your new mate doesn’t have to stay in the honeymoon suite. This is why adventure is so important. This is why date nights are important. This is why anniversary trips are important. Natalie and I don’t actually celebrate anniversaries, as much as we celebrate the anniversary of our honeymoon. This has been an intentional value that helps fuel our marriage.
- Marriage does get better with age. Anyone who tells you otherwise is misleading you. I think each passing year our marriage gets easier to sustain and better in quality. Ours is a shining example of why the “marriages have an expiration date” logic is flawed in its very foundations. Marriages are supposed to go the distance. They should last 40, 50, 60, 70 years. They are a highly stable institution. And the reason for the stability is because marriage is so fulfilling and enjoyable. Probably because God invented it.
Perhaps you have had a similar experience — you are sitting through an English or Art class and your classmates seem to intuitively grasp some deep meaning within a story of literature or work of art. Meanwhile, you are looking at the cover of the book or straining with a puzzled gaze at the work of art thinking, “Is there really some deeper meaning in all of this?”
Well, two teenagers in San Francisco decided to call BS on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this past month. Having walked through the exhibit of puzzling items that were cleverly displayed as “modern art” the teenagers “looked at it and we were like, ‘This is pretty easy. We could make this ourselves.’” The two teenagers found a blank wall with open space and decided to place a pair of eye glasses on the ground.
Rather than stand around to form the first crowd, the teenagers walked away to observe from a distance. Within three minutes museum patrons took note of the glasses and began openly admiring the work of “art” by taking pictures and launching into deep discussions about the meaning of life, beauty, and reality.
What Does This All Mean?
This incident illustrates many things. So allow me to be meta here and draw meaning from the act of people drawing meaning from something that was, by design, meant to be meaningless.
- This story illustrates the value of authorial intent when trying to interpret meaning. One of the best features of DVD movies is the director’s commentary audio. While sometimes laborious, hearing the director’s commentary helps viewers appreciate the whats and the whys behind a film’s construction. Often times, this can take a film from an enjoyable rental to a “I’ve got to own it” purchase.The reason that DVD commentaries, podcasts about book histories, and other historical methods appeal to consumers of art is that we want to know why we are interacting something. Every director of a film had a reason why he or she made the film Every painter had a reason why they were putting paint on a canvas. Every writer had a reason why they put pen to paper. Understanding an author’s intent is crucial in the appreciation of art in any form.This gets us back to the art mockery in the SFMoMA. The authors behind the glasses display had no intention or purpose in displaying the glasses on the floor. And yet, what they witnessed, in turn, was a group of patrons who were conditioned to pull meaning out of random and meaningless objects. Therein lies the humor and tragedy in the prank — a problematic feature of modernity — our culture is lacking the ability to locate authority and therefore lacking in the ability to interpret things in culturally helpful ways.
- This story illustrates the unfortunate prominence of group think. Many of us start reading a book or watching a film or listening to music because we are told by our culture that this artifact is worth exploring. What we don’t get from culture is why this artifact is worth exploring. The answer to the “why” question is closely related to authorial intent. The author will tell us what this meant to him or her. That first order meaning will then frame a context of exploration that allows us to determine what a particular art form means to us. But this process is far too complex for the commercial society in which we dwell. Marketers won’t spend too much time telling you why a song is good, they will just simply tell you that a song is good. The pitch is, “Just listen to it because it is good. Trust us.” And because some popular cultural figure agrees, it begins the process of group think where people perpetuate the messaging that the art is good without ever considering first order meaning or second order meaning. And this approach is quite successful from a monetary standpoint. However, at the end of the day this approach is just a monetized version of two teenagers placing glasses on the floor of the SFMoMA and laughing as patrons take pictures. And it is not ultimately helpful for cultivating a society that learns how to appreciate art.
As a double Baylor alumnus I have been disheartened at the recent news and information concerning my alma mater. That university officials would systematically permit sexual abuse in order to maintain a favorable public image for a winning football program is evil. And yet, having grown up in football-crazed Texas, I am sad to say that I am not entirely shocked that this occurred. Perhaps this is the most disheartening reality of all.
I remember attending a parent-player meeting for my high school athletics program where a department official discussed consequences for illegal and immoral behavior during the upcoming calendar year. As the official read from a printed handout, the list went something like this: Theft would result in automatic suspension from team membership. Marijuana use would result in automatic suspension from team membership. Alcohol use would result in a one game suspension from team membership.
I remember nudging my dad at this statement and mouthing the words, “Can you believe this?” He shushed me and told me get real. After all, he said, high school students were going to be drinking and I needed to check into reality and not be so legalistic.
I remember thinking at that time that this was an egregious act of cowardice on the part of the athletic department, because it indicated something of a law outside of the law for high school athletics. My experience in the upcoming seasons of athletics only served to bear out this reality. Simply put, if you were a stud athlete, you could break certain rules, by which other non-stud athletes had to abide.
I wish that high school athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do. I wish that college athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do. Heck, I wish that professional athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do.
So that brings us back to Baylor. What exact lessons should we be taking away from the findings of Pepper Hamilton? Here are a few from my perspective:
- The world needs more leadership, not control. And there is a difference. Leadership says, “Here is the vision of where we want to go, here are the values that drive us, here are the steps and strategies that will get us there, and here are the leaders that will help us achieve our vision.” Control says, “We have a machine that is moving, a status quo to maintain, and a visible personality to perpetuate. Therefore, maintain at all costs.” Baylor seems to have entered into troubling waters when it chose controlling the momentum over and against upholding the values inherent in the vision. Transparency early on would have perhaps cost Baylor some wins in the short term. But if the vision was true, then it would have worked out any way — meaning that being a bit more transparent would have been beneficial in the long run.
- Always side with the victim. Always. When someone says they are being bullied, when someone says they have been raped, when someone says they have been victimized, what is the harm in believing them to be honest until proven a liar? Logically speaking, there is always a greater cost of not believing a victim. And Baylor has learned that the hard way.
- This isn’t a uniquely Baylor thing. This is a college-wide thing. Baylor is on the news at the end of May in 2016 because they did something that no other college has done. I am not talking about covering up rape — Florida State has done that in just as evil of a manner. Baylor is in the news because they did something unique — they chose to become transparent when they could have easily continued to cover up. In this way, I am proud that Baylor has chosen to do the right thing after years of doing the wrong thing. While I wish that Baylor had done the right thing from the start, I will have to settle for Baylor doing the right thing starting now.
- This isn’t a uniquely college thing, this is an all of life thing. If today you are under the impression that athletics is the only arena where permissive rule breaking occurs, you are as sadly mistaken and naive as I was in that athletic meeting. This kind of permissive system of evil occurs daily on places like the financial districts of Wall Street, board rooms in corporate headquarters, back rooms of Silicon Valley startups, and leadership meetings in church communities. Any place that has human beings trying to gain and control success is going to have the temptation to look the other way. In this way, I hope that Baylor is providing a template on how to come clean after being so dirty for so long.
- Money and Government may still be our idols. It is unfortunate that threat of legal suit and Title IX blowback may have actually been the leading catalysts for this come to Jesus meeting at Baylor. It still seems that in 2016, we are still more fearful of legal repercussions and government intervention than of the wrath of God. What I read in the Pepper Hamilton report is the use of moral (read Biblical) language to characterize a failure to do the legal thing and failure to do the governmental thing. I understand many of the technicalities of this brief and do not fault PH or Baylor. Still, it would have been nice of a Christian university to give a timeline like this: “We were in a season of confession and prayer as a staff and when we came across this issue we realized that we were collectively out of sync with the Holy Spirit over this issue of sexual assault. Thus, we hired an outside firm to help us to be more accountable to Jesus and to our values.” Maybe I am still too naive.
Growing up I loved watching epic hero films. I loved them so much that I would inevitably adopt the culture and lifestyle of the heroes and live it out in my daily life. When I first saw Superman I decided to wear my red caped pajamas to school for remainder of the school week. I dyed myself green after watching The Incredible Hulk because I wanted to be like Lou Ferrigno. I only ate pizza after seeing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I only wore underwear after seeing Masters of The Universe. In short, I entered into discipleship after these heroes.
Recently my daughter has begun to demonstrate this same adoption of culture and lifestyle. Only, it is not with superheroes — it is with Netflix-type shows. My wife has been watching Call The Midwife, a PBS period drama about obstetrical care in the 1960s in England. My daughter has occasionally walked in and asked what is happening on the television and so my wife explained as best she could that these women are pregnant and that these nurses are helping to deliver the baby. So, it came as no surprise that we found our daughter delivering small dolls from the stomach of her much larger teddy bear. Last night I swear I heard her yell out, “Oh no, the baby is in breach position.” My daughter also loves watching Dancing With The Stars. Soon she began mimicking the routines in her bedroom and then begging us to give her scores for her routine. But her favorite show is Fixer Upper. Shortly after watching the first season for third time we found our daughter yelling out “Demo Day” before banging on her bedroom walls. Afterwards, she came into our living room and said, “Are you ready to see your Fixer Upper?” before rolling back an invisible canvas in reveal of her remodel. And if we don’t begin crying and screaming, “Oh my goodness!” our daughter will instruct us to do so as it is in keeping with the tone of the show.
In reflecting on this humorous facet of parenthood, I began asking myself an important question: Why does my daughter imitate these shows in such precise detail with little to no apparent struggle? No one instructed her to obey the shows. No one told her that there were rules to follow. No one demanded that she work on her strict obedience to the shows. And yet I see her intuitively becoming a young disciple of Chip and JoJo.
The Great Commission, Discipleship, And Obedience
People who tend to talk about the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, tend to emphasize three important things (teaching the Bible, going, and making disciples) and yet tend to miss one important thing — obedience to Jesus is the outcome of The Great Commission and the metric that Jesus’ gives for Christians to evaluate the effectiveness of their own personal ministries. Yes Jesus wants Christians to make disciples, and yes disciple making will entail going to places, baptizing people, and teaching the Bible. But obedience and life change is the metric for evaluating this.
So why is it that we might de-emphasize this key component of Matthew 28? Perhaps it is because obedience sounds so…well…old school. Obedience feels like the proverbial older deacon in the church who is yelling at us to slow down. There doesn’t seem to be any fun in obedience. We prefer focusing on fun things like teaching and going and the like.
But obedience is still a component of discipleship no matter how we feel about it. So is there a vision for embracing a joyful side of obedience?
Why Imitation Is Helpful For Obedience
Thomas à Kempis was a Dutch Catholic priest most notable for his work, The Imitation of Christ. The goal of this book, and the educational program that sprung from his book, was to train people in obeying Jesus through imitating everything Jesus did. Thomas discovered that imitation is like the sugar that helps the medicine of obedience go down with much less struggle.
What disciple-makers like Thomas have discovered is that obedience is inherent in imitation. When we strive to imitate someone we learn to obey, not out of dry obligation, but out of the joy before us. I became obedient to the Ninja Turtle way because of the joy of imitating their ways. My daughter is obedient to Chip and JoJo out of the joy of imitating their ways. Likewise, Jesus understood that if we can become enthralled with Jesus, we will begin to imitate Him in all things. And this imitation will involve obedience to everything He taught.
Imitation, then, is the vision for obedience to Jesus in discipleship. Imitation, then, puts all of scripture into a workable paradigm. Jesus’s teaching on loving our enemies, for example, not only makes philosophical sense as a teaching, but it becomes a way of life that we see Jesus living out. And we love our enemies out of imitation of Jesus. Likewise, Jesus’ teaching on not being anxious makes theological sense, but it also becomes a lifestyle imitation precisely because we see Jesus not being anxious.
So today, if you are someone who is struggling with obedience in a particular area, can I encourage you to stop trying to obey (in a dry, rigid, rule following manner). Instead, can I encourage you to spend your efforts reading the Bible to catch a vision about how Jesus is living then focus your efforts on imitating Him in that area?
Discipleship is not about following rules, it is about following Jesus. Discipleship is meant to feel like binge watching a Netflix show about the King of Kings and then immediately going to imitate Him in all things.
In this sermon I looked to 1 Peter 4:19 and hoped that we see that sometimes God permits suffering so that as we grab onto Jesus, we communicate to the World that God is good.