Well, happy new year. Nice to see you. I feel like it's been a whole year since I have just flat-out blogged, and I have a great list of things to blog about. There's the question of Mark Driscoll's blog post saying he has historical proof that the gifts didn't cease, which will be a delight to unpack. Then there's the Elephant Room, which we'll have to wait a couple of weeks for, and the counter-furor over Mark Driscoll's sex book, and if we get bored we could take a look at Rick Warren's Twitter feed for laughs.
I'm going to leap off with some lite fare -- a blog article everyone and his tweeps tweeted approvingly about last week which, in my view, wasn't the man's best work.
Now, look here: I like Russell Moore. I enjoy his blog. I think he's a credit to SBTS and the Southern Baptists as a breed. I'll bet he's a wickedly-challenging professor and a clever and charming fellow in person. I have absolutely nothing against him.
This blog post got passed around last week like the titular Rose in Matt Chandler's tale of bad evangelism, so maybe my problem is that I got to it after everyone else did and it was falling apart. It's a text, though, and not a fragile piece of flora, so that's not very likely. You can read it for yourself, and (since this is the internet) read the whole thing. It won't actually hurt you.
My friend Mark/Hereiblog objected to the piece because Dr. Moore unfortunately equated Jonathan Edwards, Charles Wesley, Billy Graham, Charles Spurgeon and Mother Theresa as Christian leaders of equal stature. Meh - he's not really making that theological point in that paragraph, so I'm willing to cut him some slack on that. He's really saying that God can do anything with anyone by grace through faith -- he literally says, "the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so." That's good enough for me.
My problem is the actual larger point of the essay, which stems from a report Dr. Moore makes of something Carl Henry once said to him and a group of fellow seminarians.
Several of us were lamenting the miserable shape of the church, about so much doctrinal vacuity, vapid preaching, non-existent discipleship. We asked Dr. Henry if he saw any hope in the coming generation of evangelicals.
And I will never forget his reply.
“Why, you speak as though Christianity were genetic,” he said. “Of course, there is hope for the next generation of evangelicals. But the leaders of the next generation might not be coming from the current evangelical establishment. They are probably still pagans.”
“Who knew that Saul of Tarsus was to be the great apostle to the Gentiles?” he asked us. “Who knew that God would raise up a C.S. Lewis, a Charles Colson? They were unbelievers who, once saved by the grace of God, were mighty warriors for the faith.”And to make sure we don't miss the point he is trying to make here, Dr. Moore concludes thus:
Jesus will be King, and his church will flourish. And he’ll do it in the way he chooses, by exalting the humble and humbling the exalted, and by transforming cowards and thieves and murderers into the cornerstones of his New City.
And, be kind to that atheist in front of you on the highway, the one who just shot you an obscene gesture. He might be the one who evangelizes your grandchildren.Now, let's take this stuff as it comes and not in such a way to merely take a pot-shot at a reputable man and good Christian brother. In some sense, the point he makes is one I have made often in the past: God saves people, and he doesn't just save good people. He saves lousy people (and in my case, I can say plainly, "like me").
That is actually the Gospel hope: to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. That's what we do, and what we hope for, and what we think has happened to us.
But, as I read it, Dr. Moore and the beloved Dr. Henry have leveraged that hope one too far. In the best case, they have not shown us all the work, as my High School Calc teacher used to say. Because the hope of the Gospel is not that all leaders will be, as Dr. Moore intimates in his essay, just like Paul. In fact, I think the church is in a lot of trouble right now because we have too many people who, from their own hermeneutical crow's nests, think they are just like Paul -- except for the chains, if I can put it that way. Some of them think they have been called by the voice of God to lead the church, and unless that's patently true it's patently the pattern for a great fall from orthodoxy. Some think they are great defenders of the faith, forgetting how loving and pastoral Paul was before he brought out the lash for the foolish Galatians or the sassy girls possessed by a prophetic spirit. Some others still think they are like Paul because they have written fantastic books, or planted many churches, or maybe because they have a messy eye disease.
|... for example ...|
And surely: some of those were once, as they say, ones such as these -- once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But the way they got from point "A" to point "B" was not merely by Gospel anti-taxidermy where the dead thing has its atrophied and lifeless guts taken out and replaced with living stuff which, it seems, is also the stuff of leaders. There's a middle step, a long step which requires the actual church, and the Gospel itself, and stuff like love, joy, peace, patience and so on, not the least of which is self-control. And, as Paul also says, whatever it means to be one who is "not a recent convert."
So yes: Christ saves sinners, and some of those are surely going to be leaders at some point. But when we are concerned that the church is, herself, sick, and that her leadership is a warren of ignoble furry ticks and not men with pure hearts and good consciences and a sincere faith, to simply declare that the Gospel makes criminals into spiritual paragons misses the point. It may in fact undermine that point.
And in this new year, where what kind, how many, and for what purpose we have leaders is going to be a highlight (or low-light, as you may wish to call it) of what happens in the English-speaking church, we should consider it, and reconsider it: there's more to Christian Leadership than merely claiming that Jesus has made you a made man.
Think on it, and we'll tackle something really interesting next week.