500 Years Later, We Doth Protest Too Much!

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On October 31st 1517, 500 years ago yesterday, a German Monk named Martin Luther posted 95 complaints against the Church on the door of his local Cathedral.   For a few centuries before him the church in Western Europe had been in severe moral decline.  There were certainly many who remained faithful to the gospel but there was a general sense across Western Europe that Christianity as a whole had strayed too far from its roots.  Martin Luther’s 95 complaints began the process of reforming those wrongs.  Luther and his followers were very quickly labeled, “Protesters” or “Protestants” by their critics.  It was thought that all they did was protest.  However, they called themselves Reformers because they wanted to reform the church into something resembling its earliest roots.

When I teach classes about this time in history I always end up talking about one thing Luther had that nobody before him had, namely the Printing Press.  Before Luther, someone could write something in England and someone else would write the same things in Austria or Egypt and they never would have known about each other.  It took information a long time to circulate and because it traveled so slowly, it was easy for those in authority to stop the spread of ideas before they could take off.

Then came the printing press and suddenly all it took was a month for information to circle the continent of Europe.

As I explain to my classes, the Reformation did not begin when Luther nailed his 95 complaints to a wall.  It actually started when someone took the complaints down, ran them through a Printing Press and circulated them across Europe.  Luther was one of the very first historical figures to experience the odd sensation of going viral.  In no time at all he was both famous and infamous.  Within months his name was well known but he was also being accused for heresy and treason.

As people joined his cause and started a movement, Luther’s followers gained a popular nickname by their Roman Catholic countrymen.  They called them “Protesters” or “Protestants.”  It was thought that all they did was protest.  They protest so that they can protest so that they can protest some more.  Their critics cast them as ugly, violent protesters who were lazy and uneducated.

Some of them kind of earned it.  The first generation of Protestants were more violent and more vitriolic than we are today.  Some of those who read Martin Luther’s 95 theses responded in obscene ways and the German people ending up staging a brief but violent revolution against the Roman Catholic church.  Some of them went around burning down entire towns and doing all kinds of ugly things in Luther’s name.  Luther, of course, denounced all of it but when you start protesting you give the violent a means of exercising the violence that is within them.  Some people go around looking for any and every reason to do harm and Luther unfortunately gave them one.

Now I reside in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition and our piece of this narrative is a little bit more insane.  Twenty years after Luther posted his complaints, a hormonal king named Henry VIII decided he was going to protest his wife and he asked the Pope for permission to divorce her.  The Pope refused so Henry protested the Pope and he left the church to start his own church.  Strangely, though, Henry could never quite figure out if he was Protestant or Catholic and this created an identity crisis in England that resulted in hundreds of years of civil unrest and war.

This century of church-inspired violence led the early American forefathers to stage their own kind of protest.  Along with taxation without representation and divinely endowed monarchies, they also protested having a state sanctioned church.  Tired of the Protestant Vs. Catholic Vs. Quaker wars that had defined England, our founding fathers decided to not establish a national church.  The phrase that one of them chose to describe it is “separation of church and state.”

But after 240 years many have noted that we haven’t separated churches from the state nearly as well as we have separated churches from each other.  By not having a state sanctioned church we have given anybody permission to do what Henry VIII did.  Any dissatisfied soul can start their own Protesting Reformation and start their own church, making up their own doctrine.

I know of at least three or four churches that have had a Protestant Reformation in the last six years.  In these churches a group of people got angry about something trivial.  They didn’t like the songs.  The pastor wasn’t Republican enough or Democrat enough.  The women’s ministry stopped doing the afternoon tea social.  The denomination wasn’t firm enough on “key” convictions.  So they went to their social media and posted 95 theses for all to see and then they took their cronies and like Henry VIII started their own church.

They have staged these coups using their own version of the printing press, the internet.  In fact, historians believe that the internet is the most significant invention since the printing press.  Some of you have perhaps heard the famous quote by Eric Schmidt who said, “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”

After the printing press it took a month for ideas to circulate the globe.  After the internet it takes mere seconds.  The internet has made posting complaints and protests on walls one of the most popular things you can do.  Social media has made us all Martin Luther. Or are we Henry VIII?

The Printing Press started the Protestant movement.  The internet has completed it.  But some of us are wondering if all this has made us Protestants the very thing we have been protesting.  Many of us in fact have begun to ask ourselves, “Doth we protest too much?”

I’ll be honest when I look at our modern day Protestant movement I don’t see much of the gospel.  Instead I think that our protests have made us the very opposite of that which we claim to protest.

By protesting we have rejected Christian charity for secular hatred.

We have also rejected the peace of Christ for the wars of the principalities and powers.

We have rejected the unifying power of the cross for the divisive rhetoric of useless doctrines.

We have rejected the justification that comes from God for the self-righteousness that comes from thinking I am right all the time.

We have rejected Scripture’s repeated and clarion call to “be quiet,” “be still,” (Psalm 46:10) “be quick to listen, slow to speak,” (James 1:18) and to “live quiet lives among the pagans.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

In sum, we have rejected the Spirit’s quiet wisdom and guidance to chart our own noisy path to destruction.

The Protestants doth protest too much and after 500 years I think maybe it’s time to end the protestant part of our movement.  It is time for us to stop protesting and stop complaining.  It’s time for us to shut our big mouths and stop our quick fingers from typing.  After 500 years it’s time to do what Scripture commands, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry.”  (James 1:19).

As Protestants we doth protest too much.

But We Doth Reform Too Little!

But Martin Luther’s followers called themselves by another name, that is Reformers.  The title “reformer” signified a hope that both drove their protests but was much deeper than protest.  The word “Reformer” hinted at the deep and abiding conviction that the church and the world could be better.  They would tell you that they were not just protesting to protest.  Their goal was not a never ending protest but they protested because they believed that all of us could do better.  More than that, we could be better.  We could work harder and think longer and study the scriptures more diligently.  They believed that we could love the poor and that we didn’t need to tolerate systems in government or church that oppressed them.

They started the Protestant Reformation not because they were self-conceited but because they were hopeful for a better world and a better church.  Not all of them were angry just to be angry.  They were angry because they believed in a better world and in a heavenly kingdom that was and is still coming.

By the way, their hope was rooted in the Scriptures.  They believed in the kind of church that the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 12-15.  They believed that we could have a church which is for all people, not just for the rich and powerful.  They believed in a church which welcomed outsiders free of charge instead of making them buy indulgences to be among the in-crowd.  They believed in a church devoid of arrogance and pride but instead built on the humble love of God given to us through the Holy Spirit.  They believed in a church which is not led by hypocrites who tell the everyday people to do something while they do the opposite in private.  They believed there could be a clergy class defined by the fruits of the spirit instead of their opposite.

They were not just hoping to protest those things.  They were hoping to reform them.  And we have now spent 500 years working towards those goals.

In sum, we do protest too much but after 500 years we have not reformed nearly as much.

We need to stop the protests but keep up the reformations.

For us every Sunday is reformation Sunday.  Every Sunday we gather around the Scriptures and the table and ask God to reform us.  Every month our board meets and we do reformation meetings.  We talk about how to continue reforming our local congregation so that it can better resemble the love of Christ to this sinful world.  Every bible study we use the Scriptures to hold each other accountable to the Reformation process.  Every time I meet with someone over coffee or breakfast or dinner, I am hopeful for a Reformation.

In conclusion, over the last summer God gave me a wonderful verse.  I was revisiting Philippians and I was enlivened by Paul’s admission:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

After 500 year, us protesting reformers have not laid hold of that for which we are laid hold of.  We have not attained to the perfection to which we were called.  But for 500 years now we have pressed on and I hope for 500 more years we will continue to press on toward the goal.

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What’s Pastor Kevin Reading: A LOT of Books

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Long time followers of this blog (again, really, just my mother and I think at this point her uncle Paul) know that my huge goal for the 2016 calendar year was to read 100 books.  Well, as of yesterday around 3pm I read the last words of Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful novel Lila and let it slowly dawn on me that I had actually succeeded.

Then I went to my list of books and went to publish them here only to realize I had accidentally listed one book twice which meant I still had another book to read!  So I frantically downloaded a Walter Brueggemann volume on the life of David, read it over the last 36 hours and can now proudly say I read 100 books this year!

This part of 2016 has been brutal but well worth it.  I do not sit still well and I have always found reading boring but several times this year I forced myself to sit for hours at a time and work through a book when I rather would have been doing anything but.  That is the real victory.

I made up some other rules as the year went on to keep myself in check.  At one point it occurred to me I had not reread any books from previous years so I continued that, meaning the list below were all brand new to me this year.  At another point I realized the oldest book I had read was from the 1960s and that bothered me so I began reading older books.  Then I noticed that some books I read were kind of short so I forced myself to read a string of longer, harder books to make up for it.

So after a long year of averaging 2 books a week, I proudly publish my list.  I broke them into categories for you all.  I wanted to do an official ranking but that was taking way too long.  But I do have categories for the top five and for “forgettables.”  I didn’t include those in other categories.  I typed some sarcastic or noteworthy comments on the ones that felt like they deserved it.  This is for your perusal and I hope you spot one or two you would like to read in the next year!

(Oh and if you spot another book I listed twice, just go ahead and keep that to yourself.  Ignorance is bliss!)

Top 5

  1. Prophetic Lament by Soong Chan Rah (Not only the best but also the newest. I think I bought it two days after publication.)
  2. Gilead by Marilyne Robinson (Robinson’s three novels about pastors and their families are on this list but this one, the first one, stands above the others as a triumph in literature.)
  3. A Failure of Nerve, by Edwin Friedman
  4. Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson
  5. The Social Animal by David Brooks

“Forgettables”

*I honestly did read these books but I also honestly have no recollection of doing so.

  1. The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen 
  2. Story-Shaped Worship, by Robbie Castleman (Sad story: this book was listed twice on my original list which meant I had to read another book at the last minute to get over the 100 mark.)
  3. Move on By Vicky Courtney
  4. Growing God’s Church by Gary L. McIntosh (I remember this book now! It was stupid in every way.  I hated it.  I wrote a blog about it too!  I am still leaving it here though in the hopes that I forget it again.)
  5. Charles Finney Biography
  6. Essential Beliefs by Mark Maddix and Diane Leclerc
  7. God Dwells Among us by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim
  8. Jesus the Pastor by John Frye

Most Unique

  1. The Sacred Diary of Plass by Plass (A friend lent me his copy. Good luck finding another one.)

Bible Books

  1. Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson
  2. Kings and Presidents by Tim and Shawna Gaines
  3. Our Father Abraham, by Marvin Wilson
  4. Carolyn Sharp Old Testament Prophets for Today
  5. Interpreting Prophetic Literature by James Nogalski
  6. Challenging Prophetic Metaphor by Julia M. O Brien
  7. The Theology of the Book of Amos by John Barton
  8. The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel by Paul Anderson
  9. Cycle of Victorious Living by Scott Daniels
  10. Paul by Rowan Williams
  11. Who’s Got Your Back by Eddie Estep
  12. The Rapture Exposed by Barbara Rossing
  13. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter (I am ashamed to admit that I had not read Alter or Brueggemann before this year. But at least I remedied it now.)
  14. The Art of Biblical Poetry by Robert Alter
  15. Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann (I feel like Brueggemann’s books are cheating because they are short but every word is packed with incredible meaning. The point to page ratios are outstanding!)
  16. David’s Truth In Israel’s Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

The Cheaters

*With low page numbers, these count as books but barely.  Most were read in a day or even an hour when I was down, unmotivated and desperate to catch back up.

  1. Trinity: The God We Don’t Know by Jason Byassee
  2. 30 Days with Wesley by Mark Harmon (a wonderful Wesleyan devotional meant to take a month. I was behind by four books in late July so I read it in an hour and a half.)
  3. Antagonists in the Local Church by Brian Samsen (This was actually a thesis for a D.Min but it was 120 pages and very good)
  4. Missions Mosaic by Donna Wilson (This is one of the Church of the Nazarene Missions books. I could have read and counted all six but that really would have been cheating)
  5. Church History for Modern Ministry by Dayton Hartman (This is not the worst book but it is the most disappointing. I bought it thinking it would be a long primer in church history and found it was 4 chapters and 80 pages talking about why pastors should study church history)

The Grossly Overblown Discussions of Meaningless Data

  1. Meet Generation Z by James Emery White (Spoiler alert, the next generation is being raised by the current generation so James Emery White is fairly convinced they are going to be bad at everything, mostly God stuff)
  2. Reaching Millenials by David Stark
  3. America at the Crossroads by George Barna

More Theological and Academic

(Three of these are about Martin Luther and one is by Martin Luther.  It is kind of fun to just dig deep into one historical person and their theology.  This category also wins the award for most books written by people I know!)

  1. Holy Trinity: Holy People: The Theology of Christian Perfecting, by T. A. Noble
  2. The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas Jay Oord
  3. Wholeness in Christ by William Greathouse
  4. Theology of Martin Luther by Paul Altheus
  5. Martin Luther’s Theology by Lohse
  6. Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will by Julian Baggini
  7. Christian Ethics and the Church by Philip Turner
  8. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy
  9. The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther (By far the oldest book I read!)
  10. Union with Christ by Braaten and Jensen

Novels

  1. Home by Marilyne Robinson
  2. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (This is written like a novel but could easily fit in three or four categories. It is a must read and fascinating in every way.  I still find myself quoting it in my head.)
  5. Lila by Marilynne Robinson
  6. Far Side of the World by Patrick O’brien
  7. The Prestige by Christopher Priest (The Christopher Nolan movie based off this book is way better. One of those rare cases where cinema was an improvement.)

Pastor and Church Helps

  1. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor or Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  2. How Odd of God: Chosen for the Curious Vocation of Preaching by Will Willimon
  3. The Cross Shattered Church by Stanley Hauerwas
  4. The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen
  5. The New Parish by Dwight Friesen and Paul Sparks
  6. The Power of Loving Your Church by David Hansen (Hansen’s books are now sacred to me because they were given to me by a mentor during a difficult time.)
  7. Time Bomb in the Church by Daniel Spaite
  8. Fellowship of Differents by Scot McNight
  9. The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson
  10. Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation Between a Mormon and an Evangelical by Robert L. Millet and Gregory C.V. Johnson
  11. The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson (see below comment about point to page ratios. This book easily could have been fifty pages long and instead was 350.)
  12. On Leadership by John Gardner

Devotional.  .  .Maybe? or Mostly Just Self Helpers

  1. The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to Jesus: Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Awesome? By Tripp Fuller
  2. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
  3. Life in the Spirit by A.W. Tozer (It is quite possible Tozer would turn over in his grave to be included on a list between Tripp Fuller and Rachel Held Evans. . .or maybe he would be honored. The jury is still out on this one.)
  4. Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
  5. Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans
  6. Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves Adam Hamilton
  7. The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
  8. Love and Respect by Emmerson Ebberichs
  9. A Woman of Strength and Purpose by Cynthia Tobias
  10. Grace Walk by Steve Mcvey
  11. Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren Wiener
  12. The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
  13. In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson
  14. Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson (I judge books by the point to page ratio, asking “how many legitimate points did this person make per page?” Batterson fails every time.  He makes one point for every two hundred pages, making 90 percent of his words superfluous.)
  15. Grace by Max Lucado
  16. Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker

From or About History, Recent and Long Ago

*Let’s just assume that almost every single one of these books was incredible!  I love history.

  1. Truth and Duty by Mary Mapes
  2. Nazarene Roots by Stan Ingersol
  3. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
  4. Natural History Essays by Henry David Thoreau (This was the oldest book until I read Luther’s “Bondage of the Will”)
  5. The Big Short by Michael Lewis (The movie and the book are must read/must watch to understand just how disgusting the 2008 market crash was.)
  6. America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis
  7. The Great Crown Jewels Robbery of 1303 by Paul Doherty (Have you guys seen Braveheart? Well, true story, it turns out while Edward the Longshanks was defeating William Wallace at Falkirk a bunch of monks and thieves broke into his treasury and scattered the contents across London.)
  8. Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel
  9. A History of Davis County by Glen Leonard (Picked up this 400 page volume at my local library. It is a history of the county where I live and a fascinating one at that)

Memoirs of the Living

  1. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton (A fascinating account of the trials of a suburban, church mom. I wonder how many like her sit in our pews every week?)
  2. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisis Coates
  3. The Blood of Lambs by Kamal Saleem
  4. The Pastor by Eugene Peterson
  5. Usain Bolt’s Autobiography

Technology Culture

  1. Alone Together by Sheryl Turkle
  2. Screens and Teens by Kathy Koch
  3. Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

The More You Read, The Less You Know

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A bit under a year ago I made the big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG’s as they are called) to read 100 books over the 2016 calendar year.  It was a hard goal to commit to and has been a harder goal to pursue.  Right now on August 22nd, I freely admit that I will never do this again.  On January 1st I will gladly drop back to my usual pattern of reading one book a week.

The books I have conquered have not all been easy 100 page self helpers with one point chapters.  Over the last month I completed Martin Luther’s 350 page “Bondage of the Will” and read three systematic theologies all running over 300 pages.  In addition, I have kept to my usual pattern of reading 2 or 3 news articles a day, every issue of TIME magazine and a few religious periodicals as they become available.

Since it is August 22nd, I should also freely admit I am not sure why I am doing this.  Initially it had something to do with the fact that I did second grade twice.  Since then I have always felt like I was a year behind my fellow colleagues.  This is the year I catch up!

The reasons for the BHAG go deeper than that.  Every older pastor I respect has impressed upon me that pastors must read and that they must read a variety of books from a variety of fields and perspectives.  On the same note, I know several pastors who don’t read, or only read very selectively, and almost to a person their ministries, especially their sermons, are theological disasters.  Some of them pastor large churches but they are peddling cheap forms of consumer religiosity, not the deep truths of God’s Word.  I don’t want to be them, even if it means being a small church pastor for the rest of my life.

With that said, the more I read the more I distrust reading.  In fact, over the last several months I have come across several quotes by historical figures who themselves read very widely and deeply.  Yet at the end of their lives they recommend Christians just read the Bible.

A.W. Tozer, who wrote 40 books himself and was known for reading several more, is one of the more blunt ones.  In sermons he preached towards the end of his career that are now published as “Life in the Spirit” and “How to be Filled With the Spirit”, he recommended his congregation not read too many books other than the Bible.  He argued that we could trust his judgment in this because he had read so many books himself.

I am quickly agreeing with Tozer.  It is quite possible that in the very near future I will tell my congregation, “my job is to read books so that you don’t have to.  And trust me, that is a great act of love and sacrifice on my part!”

What Tozer may have known is that the more you read, the less you know.  It has all ready been commonly said that the goal of an education is not intelligence or rote memorization of data or even acquisition of a skill, but humility.  One of the jokes told to us in college was that if we graduated thinking we knew something, my alma mater would have failed me and I would deserve a $100,000 refund.  Sadly, I know some of my classmates who deserve the refund.  But the more you study, read, memorize and practice, the more you realize you don’t know anything.

There is a vast universe of information out there of which the smartest of us have only grasped an iota.  The more I read the more I discover things I was flat out wrong about, or had not even the slightest idea existed.  The more I read, the more I know that I know not.  Everything I thought was true proved wrong by another turn of a page.

Also the more I read, the more I realize the authors don’t know what they are talking about either.  They are almost as limited as I in their grasp of reality.  Take Martin Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” where he quotes Romans at length.  Over the last century new archaeological findings from the 1st century Roman empire, including several written documents, have proved most of Luther’s exegesis of Paul misleading.  On top of that, the holocaust awakened scholars to the long neglected awareness of 1st century Jewish thought and literature.  Post holocaust we understand Paul was much more Jewish than Gentile and our Gentile readings of his letters are incredibly inaccurate.  Poor Martin Luther didn’t know that.  He was a victim of his time and place and of the information he had available to him at the time.  Because of that he also advocated for the Holocaust centuries before his followers would actually carry it out.  One Lutheran historian noted that you can’t blame him for his antisemitism.  He was merely acting out of the common sentiment of his time.

Aren’t we all?  I too am a victim of my own time and place and so are all of the many authors whose books I have been devouring these last months and years.  Don’t even get me started about present day “journalists” who seem to be more victim to their context, which in this case is internet clicks, than anybody has ever been!

Realizing this to be true, what could I possibly say from the pulpit on Sunday?  We might be wrong about everything?  There is a futility to existence that I know not how to answer?  Don’t ever read anything by anybody because they are probably wrong?  Martin Luther was a heretic?  John Wesley probably was too?  But don’t worry, you and I are definitely worse than either which is why we keep their stuff around and insist that at least our pastors study them!

All of that may be good, especially for our time and place where people are growing increasingly arrogant about what they assume to be true.  However the second half of Tozer’s advice rings truer.  The Scriptures are far more profound than anything I have yet discovered.  The Scriptures ring truer, reveal more and inspire us to virtue more than any other document yet produced.  I have spent my 32 years on this planet studying them, memorizing them, learning their languages and I have yet to discover their depth. And I am sure that I will spend the next 40 to 50 years of my life continuing to pore over them only to continue to discover new territories of God’s wisdom and grace.

For this reason, the more I read the more I find myself quoting books from the pulpit, but not to say, “See here, this author has something to teach us.”  But to say, “See here, this author maybe should have read Scripture more closely.  See here, this author might have been wrong because Scripture teaches something else.”  Or on a more positive note, “See here, I didn’t read Scripture well enough and this author pointed out to me something I had missed in the text.”  “See here, our God is greater and more loving than even Luther or Wesley or Tozer or Lewis or Chrysostom or even our modern day authors have yet discovered!”  They help us dig a bit deeper but Scripture reveals to us that there are much greater and deeper ravines of God’s great love yet to explore!

After all, Scripture teaches us over and over that it is not about what you know, but it is about who you know, that all loving but all encompassing, great three in one, one in three personality we label God and the Hebrews called YHWH!

See here, I read many books so that I can continue to encourage you to spend your life reading the one Book and getting to know the one God!

A Pastor’s Dilemma: When I Disagree With My Heroes

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John Wesley is my patron saint.  I have spent hours of my life reading his sermons, letters and journal entries.  Those hours double, maybe even triple, when you include the amount of things I have read about Wesley.  I am even reading a book now that is a collection of devotionals from Wesley’s writings.  Furthermore, I have written well over 20 papers about Wesley.  I have spoken about Wesley in several sermons, almost all of them and now I am even writing one more blog post about him.  I also sing John’s brother’s (Charles) hymns and spend hours searching the internet to find obscure Charles’ poems that help inform my understanding of Wesleyan theology.  To top it all off, I go to weekend conferences that are named after John Wesley!

I am proud to call myself Wesleyan/Arminian, with ultra emphasis on the Wesleyan.  I am a proud heir of his ministry and theology.

But I disagree with John Wesley.  First of all, I think he was kind of mean, maybe meaner than a Christian should be.  I had a seminary professor who said, “you would love to hear Wesley preach but don’t go out for coffee with him.”  The implication was that Wesley was not easy to get along with.

It was probably because of that meanness that John Wesley also had a lousy marriage.  Rumor has it he didn’t know his wife even died until months after the fact.  Lying behind that practice, or lack thereof, he had a pretty low view of marriage in general.  He wrote several letters to the betrothed, begging them not to go through with their weddings so that they can remain single and free for Jesus.  (Okay, I admit there are days when I do wonder if he has a point there.)

Wesley also said things about the use of Scripture that I am not sure I agree with and he also seemed to highly prioritize the penal substitution view of the atonement, which I highly de-emphasize.

Once in awhile people in my tradition will get into a theological or political debate and one person will pull out a Wesley quote that somehow pertains to the debate topic.  This person will do so with a smug satisfaction, as if by just mentioning Wesley they have won the debate.  When they do that, I always wonder if they are promoting Wesley’s words to the level of Scriptural infallibility, as if everything Wesley said was somehow divinely inspired and inerrant in every way.

And Christians don’t do this with just John Wesley.  Calvinists do it with Calvin.  Lutherans do it with Luther.  Some of us do it with Augustine (with whom I disagree on almost everything) or Irenaeus (whom I like a lot).  A lot of us do it with C.S. Lewis or A.W. Tozer.  We even do it with the living, people like Pope Francis, Timothy Keller, Scot McKnight, James Dobson, etc.  And, very disturbingly, a lot of Christians have begun doing it with Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, even Ronald Reagan and the like.  We have this list of so called “authorities” and when we get into debates we name drop as if to say, “This person is God and they are right about everything and therefore you are wrong!”

I don’t think it works like that.  In fact, I wonder if what lies behind the “appeal to authority” is a misplaced faith.  Put another way, I wonder if we are promoting our heroes to the level of deities.  When we go further and use the very slippery adjective “biblical” to describe their works, I am wondering if we are trying to say that their writings were infallible and inerrant and should be added to the words of Scripture as a sort of 3rd or “Newer than New” testament.

For this reason I am always a bit relieved when I find something questionable written or said by my heroes.  Now that does not mean I am right and they are wrong.  Indeed they may be and probably are more accurate but the very fact I disagree with them means I am not worshiping them or elevating their works to the level of the Scriptures.

In fact, I might take one more step and argue that unless you do find something with which you disagree than you are, by de facto, claiming that this author is God and their works are sacred Scriptures.

And I am not sure we want to do that as faithful Christians.

That was just a thought for a January Monday morning.

Sola Fides: A Wesleyan Pastor’s Return to Faith

Standard

I grew up in what some people still call a faith tradition.  I was taught that it is by grace we have been saved (read Romans) and that grace is sort of activated through faith.  That is standard 4 year old Sunday School terminology in the Evangelical world.

It was reinforced in every grade and every age until I went to college where over time faith took a back seat to every Wesleyan’s favorite buzz word, “love.”  In college and seminary we talked a lot about love.  Love became that word that both began and ended all theological discussions and debates.

So now when I read Scripture my head just naturally bolds and underlines the word “love” in the text.  If love appears in any pericope, I know what my sermon is going to be about.  If it doesn’t appear, I try hard to make it appear, sometimes a bit too hard.

And I think our tradition is justified in that hermeneutic.  After all the great Apostle Paul himself said, “Now three things remain:  Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.”  Love is more important than faith, more important than grace, more important than doctrine and knowledge and data.  Love is the crowning virtue, the eternal truth, the reconciling doctrine.  See, just that one verse is enough to get me waxing poetic about love.  I guess you could say that I am in love with love.

And to my great frustration, it would seem the other half of evangelicalism, namely the Calvinist half, doesn’t agree with us Wesleyans on that.  Actually the Calvinists have become so numerous in Evangelical circles that they are not half of us.  They are 9/10s of the movement.

And this huge majority just likes faith better than love.  They talk about it more.  They bold and underline “faith” in the text.  if faith isn’t in the text they find a way to put it there.  And every one of their sermons quickly follow behind, adopting the mantra, “believe or be damned.”  Now, I know that is not a fair generalization but it does seem to at least describe the majority of their tradition.

Lately as I have been reading and studying Exodus, and through Exodus revisiting what Paul has to say about laws, works, circumcision, Abraham, Moses and the old covenant, I have rediscovered they may be onto something.  Faith has incredible value.  After all, “Abraham had faith in God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

As I have studied that one verse and how Paul uses it, I have come to believe that faith didn’t allow God to overlook Abraham’s sins, but faith made Abraham stop sinning.  Faith is what makes us holy and righteous.  Faith is what makes us innocent, though we be guilty.  Simply put, as a good Arminian, this is imparted righteousness, not just imputed.

If I am right about this, that means faith is about holiness and holiness, in turn, is activated by faith.  If we want to express holy love, we must first trust God.  In fact, love without trust is not very loving.  You might say that faith without works is dead and love without faith is six feet under.

And therein lies one of the problems of the entire Evangelical tradition.  The great Reformers, Luther and Calvin and Zwingli, fully understood that faith meant trust.  But their heirs, gradually over many centuries, started defining faith as a mental assent to doctrine.  So now when we talk about faith, we are not preaching trust, we are instead claiming that “by correct doctrine you are saved, not works.”

As I have talked to people who preach this false faith, I have come to believe that they think the entrance room to heaven is going to be an SAT exam room.  You will be given a test with a bunch of true false and multiple choice questions and if you don’t pass it, you are going the other way.

But faith isn’t about doctrine.  It is about trust.  We trust God like we would trust any employer, any parent, hopefully any spouse.  We trust that God has our best and the best of the world in mind.  We trust that God created the cosmos and so can save said cosmos.  We trust God to provide for us when we are starving in a desert.  We trust God not to kill us for petty reasons.  We trust this God to heal us, if not in the present, than in eternity.  And, yes, we trust God to raise us from the dead after sin has claimed our mortal lives.

Faith is all about trust.  And when we trust God enough to enter into a loving relationship with God, we become holy.  God’s holy love emanates out to us and saturates us so that we become a people not defined by our hatreds or lusts but by a trusting obedience in the God who created us and everything else.

Correct doctrine will not save you.  The tongues of men and of angels will not save you.  Good works definitely won’t save you.  Only God will save you and only if you trust Him and out of that trust, obey.