This week’s articles follow, but first – a sermon excerpt for all those who haven’t listened to the new Beautiful Eulogy album yet…
But then the pastor preached. I was fascinated. I had never heard a pastor talk about the things he did. Tim Keller’s sermon was intellectually rigorous, weaving in art and history and philosophy. I decided to come back to hear him again. Soon, hearing Keller speak on Sunday became the highlight of my week. I thought of it as just an interesting lecture—not really church. I just tolerated the rest of it in order to hear him. Any person who is familiar with Keller’s preaching knows that he usually brings Jesus in at the end of the sermon to tie his points together. For the first few months, I left feeling frustrated: Why did he have to ruin a perfectly good talk with this Jesus nonsense?
With mainline religious congregations dwindling across America, a scattering of churches is trying to attract new members by creating a different sort of Christian community. They are gathering around craft beer.
I think some of this could be a fine para-church ministry, but I’m really concerned about the “ho-hum” approach these people seem to have to the gathering of God’s people and approaching God with reverence.
Earlier this year, I was going over Martin Luther’s 95 theses, and it occurred to me that many of them apply to the teachings we call the prosperity gospel. The comparison isn’t exact, of course. Prosperity teachers may be popular, but they aren’t part of the majority church as were the teachers Luther opposed. And if you remember from reading Luther’s list, he gives the Pope all due respect, suggesting that he is being misrepresented, not that he is teaching heresy himself. We can’t say that for the preachers of the prosperity gospel.
Here’s my list, taken from and based on Luther’s original–and four theses short. You see today’s Wittenberg doors on the right. They’re bronze, so we’ll have to post new theses with sticky tack. You’ll also see that several of the theses here are Luther’s own statements, taken from this translation.
These are the people who put her memoir near the top of the New York Times bestseller list the week it came out in September. They are the ones who follow her every tweet and Facebook post by the thousands, and who have made the Lutheran minister a budding star for the liberal Christian set.
And who, as Bolz-Weber has described it in her frequently profane dialect, “are [mess]ing up my weird.”
A quick tour through her 44 years doesn’t seem likely to wind up here. It includes teen rebellion against her family’s fundamentalist Christianity, a nose dive into drug and alcohol addiction, a lifestyle of sleeping around and a stint doing stand-up in a grungy Denver comedy club. She is part of society’s outsiders, she writes in her memoir, its “underside dwellers . . . cynics, alcoholics and queers.”
Again, I’m OK with some of her attitudes and tactics – I’m all for more authentic people and preachers – but I maintain that a cleaned up person, and a preacher of the Word, should have the sensibility to know that poor language isn’t to be tolerated in the pulpit. Also, I’m generally cautious about anything that classifies itself as “progressive.”
The City of God must be read against the backdrop of the sacking of Rome, where critics argued that Rome fell after it embraced Christianity and lost the protection of the gods. Augustine argued that the pagan critics were defining goodness on the basis of the satisfaction of their own desires, rather than the true definition which sees that the ultimate good is found in God alone. Augustine shows that everything in history happens for good purposes, if goodness is rightly understood. He pointed to the pagan desire to return to the city of Rome, and argued that their desire was right but their destination was wrong. True happiness could only come in the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God.
One of the reasons that Augustine’s work remains unread today is because of its length and digressions. In lieu of an abridged version, Michael Haykin of Southern Seminary offers a selective reading guide to the book, which I’ve included below for those who want to take up one of the great classics of the Christian tradition.
As stoked as I get when one of the places I pray about closes down, let me be clear that my prayers are not vindictive or self-righteous. We need to be grounded in the Father’s heart of love and compassion as well as His heart for justice. I don’t pray for porn shops and strip clubs to close down because I want a power trip. I pray because these kinds of places are strongholds of addiction, spiritual oppression, and the dehumanization of both men and women.
When I pray in this way, I pray for a blessing on the next people who will occupy the buildings I target. I pray that God would break the spiritual strongholds and curses within those spaces. And I pray that He would bring healing, freedom and repentance to the previous owners of the place.
John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference has come and gone and the book will be shipping next week. Whatever you felt about the conference, there is little doubt that a lot of work and a lot of discussion remain as we, the church, consider the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the aftermath of the event, and with the book on its way, I think we all have questions we’d like to ask Dr. MacArthur. A week ago I asked for your questions and sent them through to him. Here are his answers to the first batch of questions. I anticipate adding a second part to this interview within the week.