Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pastors and the Centrality of The Gospel

Jared C. Wilson. The Pastor's Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway 2013). 187 pages.

I really do believe the pastoral vocation is at a crisis moment. For too long we have been unable to biblically and faithfully answer the question, "Who is a pastor, anyway?" and so we have succumbed to models of leadership more suited to ice cream stand franchising than gospel proclamation.  Beginning with his own call to the ministry as a young age, and referencing his own evolution as a pastor, Jared Wilson does a wonderful job of dealing with the one thing necessary for the pastor's job - Christ and him crucified.

Jared Wilson is now all about the gospel though it wasn't always that way.  He notes that for a long time he was subject to the seeker sensitive model's way of  crafting a sermon and building a church.  His reflection on those years reveals that he was simply a moralist using Scripture to support his own wisdom.  But so it is, he argues, with any form of pastoring or preaching that does not begin and end with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In two parts of the book he takes 1 Peter 5:1-11 and then the five Solas of the Reformation to talk about the vocation of pastor and the centrality of the gospel.  He writes with a great deal of clarity and unblinking honesty.  He warns pastors against being "lily-livered" more than once, gets after the leadership cult in evangelicalism (an insidious temptation!), speaks bravely about the temptation to power, and presses the pastor to find their right place under Christ and the gospel.  And throughout it all he encourages ministers to let the truth and power of the gospel permeate their entire ministry, not just their preaching.  Throw out the "how-to" models and "7 Easy Steps" in favor of the never-changing good news of Jesus Christ.

I have a great appreciation for a book like this because it is both accurate and timely.  It begins with God's Word and then builds a genuinely useful model of pastoral work.  Pastors would do well to give the ideas in this book a long hard look and see where they may need to alter their course in the direction of the gospel.

If this review was helpful, say so on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Miley Cyrus and Her Soul

In case you missed it, Miley Cyrus recently acted like an over-sexed teen on national TV.  It has been
interesting to watch people on both the 'left' and the 'right' react in shock and disapproval.  It isn't often some of these people agree on cultural issues.  So, putting aside the fact that she is not the first and will not be the last, and the fact that the African-American hip-hop culture lives and breathes on hyper-sexuality and exploitation, and that people rarely react to these displays relative to how often they are public, I want to think through a couple of reactions to her performance.

First of all, many people have responded with some version of, "If you don't like it, turn the channel."  This is a very politic answer.  It relies on the notion that we live in a pluralistic culture in which plenty of people do things that we disagree with, some things we disagree with strongly, but which we must learn to live with.  I don't like the fact that the VMA are more about debasing women and teens than it is about music, but I lack the social power to force my opinion upon MTV and we are generally happy that a single individual or a single group of people lack that power.

Alongside that reaction has been an either explicit or implicit acceptance of her behavior as a result of the image of her mother in the audience approving of what she had just watched her daughter do.  This reaction relies heavily upon the knee-jerk relativism of our society that teaches us that if someone approves of a behavior (especially someone as close to an individual as a parent), then we are not in a position to disagree with it.  Yet, even among hard-core relativists, moral judgments refuse to be so pliable.  An individual may make the argument that hyper-sexual behavior in music is fine because they are inured to that behavior, and yet the same person is likely to eviscerate someone who takes a strong stand against abortion or for traditional marriage.  In the end, the retreat to relativism here is exactly what it always and everywhere is - a "get out of moral reasoning FREE" card. 

What I see is a screaming soul.  And no, I don't mean that is what I think of her singing ability.  I see a soul so far from her God that she, and the crowd that influences her, believes that what she did was good for her and those around her.  In no mature, rational sense is this the case, yet she seems to be sure of it and there are plenty around her ready to buttress that belief.  What she did was not some form of respectable free-expression or artistic display.  It was not deep.  It was not meaningful.  It was transient trash performed by an eternal soul who does not know how low she has sunk.  To paraphrase C.S. Lewis and his essay, "The Weight of Glory," she was playing with mud pies when the glories of heaven are being offered to her.

Without the reality of our Creator God alive within our lives and our culture, we are subjected to semi-serious conversations about whether what she did was appropriate or even profound.  Yet, when the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ breaks in on that insanity, we see things differently.  We watch a soul writhe, not in simulated sexual pleasure, but in the spiritual agony of a drifting and anchorless soul.