Worldview and Discipleship: The Excluded Middle

No Shortcut to Success
No Shortcut to Success

Since the second day of T4G 2022, I’ve been reading no shortcut to success, and I have been loving it. But chapter 8 took things to a whole other level as it addressed worldview and discipleship. There is just so much in it to commend to you, my reader.

Getting There

More than once I’ve heard it said that if you can only read a part of this book, read chapters 1-3. And those first few chapters, where Matt Rhodes lays out the issues he is seeing on the field, are great. They are clear, helpful, challenging. But more than anything, I reached the end with a feeling of, “A ton of this applies not only to missionaries, but to pastors and elders here at home.”

Mark Dever, in the forward, suggests, “Particularly important are chapters 2, 3, 6, and 9.” (p.14) And for sure, chapter 6 is important, articulating the need for clarity in proclaiming the gospel and, especially, taking the time to learn the language. Being a language nerd in the extreme, I needed little encouragement to the importance of this task for the missionary. And had I found a quote to share, it could easily have been ignored; “Of course he would say that!”

But, despite Dever not highlighting it, I want to draw attention to chapter 8, with the following quote:

According to missiologist Paul Hiebert, missionaries often succumb to the “flaw of the excluded middle.” In other words, they address people’s “lower” needs – things like disease that are seen, felt, and experienced – and their “highest” needs – things like answers to life’s most important questions. In doing so, however, they ignore a vast “middle” of people’s worldviews. For example, what about things like “mana, astrological forces, charms, amulets and magical rites, evil eye, evil tongue”? On these topics, people are generally left undiscipled. It isn’t difficult to imagine a similar situation in which one’s “highest” beliefs about God and the afterlife were more or less correct, but one’s fundamental “middle beliefs” about money, power, sexuality, other ethnicities, alcohol, and the worth of women were confused, at best, and downright depraved at worst. Perhaps we don’t even have to look too far in some of our own churches to find such cases.

p.180

I just had to stop reading there for a moment. This is the struggle churches and pastors face every day. We have a culture (here in the US) that has been, to a great degree, saturated with the rough outline of the gospel, but knows little of its implications. The world is enamored of the “lower” message and how the church can get on board with their humanistic agenda. Any time the church deviates even the slightest from this focus, it risks losing the world’s attention, or more, its commendation. And so many churches are content to earn the applause of the world by “meeting people where they live.”

The Excluded Middle

And all the while, there is this “middle.” What does our culture value? What are some cultural assumptions and expectations, the axioms that drive how we think, talk, and act? The following values quickly come to mind:

  • Performance
  • Results
  • Fame
  • Youth
  • The American dream
  • Freedom and autonomy
  • Privacy
  • Self-esteem
  • The Individual

Each of these left to itself can wreak havoc on gospel proclamation and cause real needs to go unmet. Worldview colors the way we relate to one another, the way we make decisions as a body, the way we hold one another accountable, and the way we worship. It affects who we invite into our lives and who we reject, who we listen to and who we won’t.

On the mission field, no less than here, the goal ought to be churches being built up, whose members are growing in holiness. They are being discipled into mature believers. And the danger is we may skip this for sound bites and numbers (Performance? Results?). Because discipling worldview takes time and is messy. Or maybe we believe that worldview will work itself out. Or that we can avoid having a run-in with the world and its systems if we just stick to “the gospel.” But the gospel includes worldview! As much as we neglect the hard and long work of worldview discipleship, we neglect to actually teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 18:20)

As a pastor, it definitely gives me pause.

Complete Patience

Speaking on pastoral caution when dealing with change, and recounting advice given to him by a trusted and “seasoned” pastor, H. B. Charles Jr. points the reader at 2 Timothy 4:2. Rather than focus on the “preach the Word” part, these men instead point us to the closing words, “…with complete patience and teaching.” Some great comments flow out of this:

“Complete patience” is long-suffering. It is patience with difficult people, not just difficult circumstances. This is not an easy thing to do. Remember, Moses stood courageous before Pharaoh and demanded that he let the people of God go free. But when those same people started complaining, Moses sinned against God and was disqualified from leading the children of Israel into Canaan. As pastors, we must not play the Jonah…I’m talking the Jonah at the end of the story, who carried out his ministry assignment with a hateful attitude towards the very people he was called to serve. We must patiently love the people the Lord has called us to lead and teach.

How do you learn to practice complete patience with the people you pastor? I believe it happens through a commitment to biblical teaching. Teaching explains and exhorts biblical truth…Our willingness to teach the Word with complete patience demonstrates our confidence in Scripture. It reveals that you believe in the sufficiency of God’s Word to do its work in the life of the church. At the end of the day, true spiritual change does not happen by “casting vision.” It happens by faithfully teaching doctrinal truth. This is an essential but neglected key to faithful and effective pastoral ministry.

On Pastoring, pp.89-90

All this goes towards making a great point. Sometimes, it is best to be slow. Our culture’s quest for speed and results doesn’t always line up with God’s timing. Teach, and teach again. Or as he comments, “Teach it. Then wait. Teach it again. Then wait. Teach. And wait.” If our aim is more than numbers, more than just a big reputation – whether good or bad – then we must be about the long haul. Commit to patiently and lovingly teach God’s word. A healthy church does not just materialize over night. It is the fruit of patient work. More than that, it is a work of God’s Spirit through that consistent and patiently preached and taught Word.

Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs

Concise Theology ★★★★★ (5/5)

Concise Theology is well worth the read. In short bursts of two to three pages each (usually), J.I. Packer proceeds to lay out historic Christian beliefs for his readers. While I would have loved to see just a bit more at times, overall, I thought the pacing and breakdown was excellent.

Packer is pastoral, caring for the body of Christ, and passionate, reveling in the glories of Christ, the work of the Spirit and the majesty of the Father. Even when I either disagreed or would have stated something slightly differently, I found him to demonstrate humility and patience, no easy task when your intent is to be concise.

The Law

For example, in addressing the old testament law, I would argue against the tri-partite breakdown of a “moral, judicial and ritual law”, fleshed out more fully as “moral…political…and ceremonial.” (pp.90-92). Certainly, the Mosaic law contained all of these, but that it had a self-aware division along these lines, such that the ceremonial/ritual law could be of “limited application” in contrast to the moral law, is not immediately apparent. Instead, the whole law, even the decalogue, seems to intermix these various statutes and regulations in a way that is difficult to unwind.

Baptism

Dealing with baptism, I found his handling to be amazingly understanding. He acknowledges historical and present disagreements, while maintaining the deep connection among those with a reformed soteriology (specifically speaking of Presbyterian and Baptistic formulations). From a baptistic perspective, I wished that he was applying the regulative principle, rather than just stating it, as I believe he would likely find the admitted lack of scriptural warrant for paedo-baptism (p.214) as a powerful argument in favor of believer’s baptism. But I was thoroughly appreciative of his patient and measured approach. His last statement gives just a bit of the flavor of that: “The ongoing debate is not about nurture but about God’s way of defining the church.” (p.216) I heartily agree!

And as a way of wrapping that thought up, and finishing my response to this book, I offer the following quote:

The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness-bearing. The gospel of Christ is still the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 24:14; Acts 20:25; 28:23, 31), the good news of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit through entering a disciple’s relationship to the living Lord (Rom. 14:17). The church must make its message credible by manifesting the reality of kingdom life.

Concise Theology, p.194

If the task of the church is to “make the invisible kingdom visible”, and I whole-heartedly agree it is, then let’s baptize accordingly!

Again, a well-written, helpfully concise overview of historic Christian beliefs. Get it, read it, and dig deep into God’s word.

-redbeard

Election: A Pastoral Doctrine

Continuing this morning in Concise Theology, I offer the following:

The doctrine of election, like every truth about God, involves mystery and sometimes stirs controversy. But in Scripture it is a pastoral doctrine, brought in to help Christians see how great is the grace that saves them, and to move them to humility, confidence, joy, praise, faithfulness, and holiness in response. It is the family secret of the children of God. We do not know who else he has chosen among those who do not yet believe, nor why it was his good pleasure to choose us in particular. What we do know is, first, that had we not been chose for life we would not be believers now (for only the elect are brought to faith), and second, that as elect believers we may rely on God to finish in us the good work that he started…

Concise Theology, pp.149-50

In a day and age that proclaims the surpassing glory of human self-determination we do well to remind ourselves of what we find in John’s gospel. Jesus draws to himself all those whom the Father gives him. What rest and peace, what humbling truth!

And I just love the line, “…it is the family secret of the children of God.” What an inheritance!

The All-Sufficient Savior: He is risen!

Concise Theology

While in the Old Testament the mediating roles of prophet, priest, and king were fulfilled by separate individuals, all three offices now coalesce in the one person of Jesus. It is his glory, given him by the Father, to be in this way the all-sufficient Savior. We who believe are called to understand this and to show ourselves his people by obeying him as our king, trusting him as our priest, and learning from him as our prophet and teacher. To center on Jesus Christ in this way is the hallmark of authentic Christianity.

Concise Theology, p. 133

What an awesome way to end the brief look at the concept of mediation, and a great reflection for an Easter morning. Doesn’t hurt that my local church has been in John 5-6 for the last month, seeing Jesus proclaim his all-sufficiency in salvation, fleshing out the glory given him by the Father.

Packer’s Concise Theology is a fairly easy read so far. As the name declares, each topic is covered only briefly. It’s a good addition to our pastoral residency reading list.

May your day be blessed through a growing knowledge of the grace offered to you by the one and only savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace and love, fellow servants!

-redbeard

In The Mail – First Books of 2022

My church is soon to begin a residency program with a pretty awesome reading list. While I may have had a hand in selecting titles, that doesn’t mean I have read and/or possess all of said titles. Never one to shirk from book-acquisition, these came in the mail today:

Looking forward to getting into “Only a Prayer Meeting” first!

You are a new creation: avoiding help that is no help at all

If you treasure Jesus and long to follow him better, then can I make a blunt request? Avoid the teaching of Steven Furtick and Elevation Church.

Why so direct, today? This was in my feed over lunch break:

Besides the preaching of the local body of Christ, there are a lot of great resources out there for building our faith, extending our understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and disciple one another towards Jesus. There are simply too many good resources to take in even a snack-diet of Furtick’s brand of false teaching.

Maybe these words are just unfortunate. But I can’t wrap my head around a minister of the Gospel using the words “Following Jesus doesn’t change you…” This is the opposite of the gospel! Having a right understanding of how God sees us is absolutely essential. God loves us, that much is clear. But that doesn’t mean that the righteous judge doesn’t see us exactly as we are, as rebellious sinners in need of a savior.

From Jesus’ Lips

In my local body, we are currently in a series going through the Gospel of John. We will hit chapter 3 this coming Lord’s Day and I want to offer a preview of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in this context: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'” (John 3:3, 6-7)

Jesus calls for something beyond explanation, something more than having a better, “healthier” grasp of God’s thoughts toward us. He says that something truly marvelous must be done to make our trajectory compatible with the kingdom of God. Following Jesus certainly reveals who I’ve been all along, as the Spirit continually reveals how deeply implanted my desire for sin is, how manipulative and treasonous my flesh, and yet the depth of God’s love and mercy. If we saw ourselves through God’s eyes, apart from Christ, I think we would most likely be led to tears, rather than joyful self-assurance.

From Paul’s Pen

Paul says much the same in his “second” letter to the Corinthians:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (bold mine)

Paul tells us that we are new creations. We are not the same! Contrary to Furtick’s “help that is no help”, thank you, Jesus, we are changed into something else! What I have been is defeated and nailed to the cross. God’s work of reconciliation in Christ has powerfully made all things new. But with that, Paul reminds us that we are ambassadors. Jesus died to make us become something we were not, and could never be – the righteousness of God. His death and resurrection is transformational. It tells us not only how much God values us, but how much it cost to make us his own.

So, as a pastor, when I read Furtick’s words, I weep at what must be the outcome of such teaching: A weak gospel proclamation. A faith focused on personal fulfillment and emotional well-being but devoid of spiritual growth and dependence on the body of Christ. A worship that is self-congratulatory, neglecting to praise God for his justice in salvation.

With all that said, my prayer is, whether you have just chanced upon this blog or know me well, whether you are a long-time follower of Jesus or are simply wondering who Jesus is, that you would truly be a disciple of Jesus, changed by his limitless grace, by the power of God that raised Jesus from the grave and calls us to die that we might live.

And, find pastors and teachers who will faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus, rather than feel-good self-actualization. Steven Furtick simply doesn’t fit the bill.

Sabbatical Progress – Week 1

So, today was the first Sunday of my September sabbatical. It’s been a restful time so far, and that time has also been put to some good use! Thought I’d stop a moment each Sunday and consider the week. Primarily, this is a help to me, helping me remember what God is doing.

  • So, for starters, there has been a bunch of prayer. Prayer for my local church, prayer for my wife and kids, prayer for direction. Especially, I’ve been in prayer asking God to raise up leaders and servants, and to provide opportunities for purposeful discipleship.
  • I actually jump-started my sabbatical finishing one of my first reading goals. The book in question was Leeman’s Church Membership. I shared a couple quotes and thoughts here and here. Great book, if you are looking for something to help you think through meaningful membership.
  • I followed that up with another book in the same series, Dever’s Discipling. You can find some thoughts I posted here. Also a good read, with some great motivation for discipling with purpose, especially as it approached the final chapters.
  • I’m keeping up daily with 6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today. Last week, I commented on how he addressed worship. Today, I began the next “voice”, the voice of prophecy. I’m excited to get into the daily “devotional” portion, as last week bible readings were great reminders of how God calls us into worship.
  • I sprinted ahead in my Hebrew textbook, finally stopping at chapter 12. That basically got me through the Qal-stem forms (qatal, yiqtol, weqatal, and wayyiqtol, plus the infinitive construct). Now to go back and do some more systematic review. I’m still much further back in the workbook. I’ve also been busy loading up my Anki deck. Anki has really helped with memorization of vocabulary. Debating if I should put time into using SIL’s FLEx to begin capturing nominal/verbal system rules…debating if it is worth the time/effort. I haven’t done much with infixing in the tool, which would be critical.
  • I helped my father-in-law find a Bible translation that was good for reading. He specifically was looking for one that would be good for reading more for the fuller story, the flow. A nice, cheap HCSB arrived more quickly than I could have imagined.
  • The family spent the long weekend up in the North Carolina mountains visiting Kim’s parents, “camping” out in the front yard. Also a lot of hikes with the dogs. It’s been a blast, but tomorrow we will head back home.

Well, that is a lot! But it honestly has been quite restful. Getting some time set aside for determined reading means books are no longer building dust on the shelf, which is a weight off the shoulders! If you find the right moment, pray for me, that I might continue to use my time wisely.

Old Testament Wanderings: Worship, Personal Choice, and Vanity

In my last class, I picked up 6 Ways The Old Testament Speaks Today by Alec Motyer. It was meant as a book the student could read and review for extra credit. I fully intended, though I had no need ultimately, to do the extra credit. But, my failure to plan my time then means I have a great book now that I can use devotionally for a much more leisurely paced venture.

Each of the main chapters addresses a particular “voice” in the Old Testament. They begin with a summary of the idea, then 6 days of bible readings and discussion, plus more readings in the back of the book for deeper digging. I had already completed the first two chapters, “The Voice of History” and “The Voice of Religion”, so now I’m tackling chapter 3, “The Voice of Worship”.

I’ve loved Motyer’s manner so far, but the first day’s Bible reading for “worship” really captured my attention. Motyer sends the reader to Genesis 4:1-15, the account of Cain and Able. I must admit that when I think of dwelling on worship in the Old Testament, my mind doesn’t (or didn’t) race to this story in Genesis 4. As Motyer notes, this story “is one of the many places where we really wish the Bible gave us more information.” (p.67)

Motyer briefly walks the reader through some options for understanding the naming of Cain and the implications of God’s words to Cain in verses 6 and 7. There is a brief consideration of the type of Cain’s offering, finally turning to the “disposition of the offerer”, the fact that unlike Cain, Abel appears to go out of his way to offer the best portions.

Which brings me to the following:

If we are at all moving along the right lines (and at least it all concurs with what we learn throughout the Bible), then as a basic rule, worship must rest on, and be obedient to, a previously revealed will of God. We are not free to be self-pleasing. Worship is not an area in which personal choice and what we might find “helpful” are in order. As Calvin remarks on Matthew 15:9, “True religion must be conformable to the will of God as its unerring standard.” Jesus was, if anything, sharper: worship that is no more than a human device is “vain” (Matt. 15:9). This was the pit into which Cain fell, where arrogance, pride, and sinful animosity bound him and turned him into a brother-hating murderer (1 John 3:11-15). And indeed, we need to keep our traditions of worship constantly under review, with ceaseless reformation and adjustment according to the Word of God, lest our coming together be condemnation rather than a blessing.

6 Ways the Old Testamant Speaks Today, pp.67-68

This hit me pretty hard this morning. In what ways might I turn away from proper worship? Is it devotion to a particular style? The demand for a certain level of performance or execution? A desire to cling to tried-and-true patterns, or the warmth of nostalgia? Or maybe a persistent search for the new, different or unique. It brings up a lot of questions!

Is worship about what “works”? It was for Cain. He gave what he had, without thought for God’s former provision. Is worship simply a filler in our services, or potentially worse, clever religious marketing? Is it there to please a certain crowd, draw a certain audience, to create the right image, to check a box? Or is it there to set the mood, to create an emotional response, to cover up the transition from one part of our corporate gathering to another?

Does worship say more about us than about God? Are we focused on Him or are we looking for an outlet for our religious fervor? Is our worship aimed at humbling ourselves before God? Paul deals with this as he addresses the Corinthians. Rather than proper worship in loving community, they have perverted the Lord’s supper by their selfish carousing, taking on the role of Cain in this murderous drama. Paul does not mince words.

Finally, how do I – how do we – respond to distractions? Is a child in service – our own or another’s – a distraction that “ruins” worship? If worship doesn’t measure up to our expectations, do we respond with frustration, irritability or hurt feelings? What if the band or singers makes a mistake, or a couple mistakes, or can’t seem to get it together? How is our worship affected? Where is our focus?

Motyer has got right to the point in this first offering. Worship starts by asking what God wants, how to best please him. And our efforts to make worship in our own image stink of the grave.

How Flawed and Insufficient Your Love Is

I’ve now started into my next book, as I had mentioned in the last post. Chapter 2 of Discipling is titled “Oriented Towards Others”. A number of passages are addressed as Dever talks about the biblical pattern we experience in Jesus through the gospels, as well as the example Paul provides. But the one that stood out for me was Colossians 1:28-29. He looks at it through the lens of two different word pairs.

The first pair is “toil” and “struggling”, reflecting on the need to engage, to work hard to see the gospel take root. Discipleship doesn’t just happen. It takes conscious effort, fueled by the work God is doing in us. The second pair was “proclaim” and “present”. Here, while he is usually not making any pastoral-specific points, he does make a detour, and I am glad he did:

A Brief Word to Pastors

If you are a pastor or are considering the pastoral ministry, you should think long and hard about this passage [Col 1:28-29]. Notice that the ministry involves both fully proclaiming the Word of God and working to present the people of God mature before him.

This requires utter selflessness on our part. There is much that is good about being a pastor, but, given the sinfulness in both church members and pastors, there is also much that’s tough. Pastor, you will toil and struggle out of love for the members of your congregation, and they sometimes will respond by explaining how flawed and insufficient your love is.

Ultimately therefore, your toil and labor cannot root in your love for them or their love for you. It must root in your love for Christ, his love for you, and his love for them. He has purchased them with his blood. And you mean to present them to him. It is for him that you do it all.

Discipling, pp.32-33

He ends the chapter returning to the need for all Christians to be disciplers, each of us one who “proclaims now so that he might present later.”

Beyond what I found to be a well-aimed reminder, I thought this chapter was well timed, as well. The overlap between Colossians 1:28-29 and Ephesians 1:1-14, which our men’s group studied this morning, made me pause for a moment. God be praised for seeing fit to shower us with his grace at the right time, to call us into the work of developing biblical maturity in those we have been connected with through the Spirit.