The Weekend Wanderer: 25 July 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Lewis and Packer“Growing Young and Growing Old: The Legacies of John Lewis and J.I. Packer” – Russell Moore writes after the passing of two great figures last week: “Within a span of 24 hours, we learned of the deaths of two titanic figures—civil rights leader and United States Congressman John Lewis, and evangelical theologian J.I. Packer. Both were old—Lewis was 80 and Packer 93—but upon reflection, I couldn’t help but see each, in my own imagination, at radically different periods in life. With Lewis, I saw the smiling, young civil rights worker in the mug shot after his arrest in Mississippi. With Packer, I saw the frail, wizened theologian ambling through a library, a stack of books precariously cradled in his arms.”


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“Multiracial Congregations May Not Bridge Racial Divide” – Via NPR: “Twenty years ago, a sociologist at Rice University directed a study of efforts by white evangelical Christians to address racial inequality. Michael Emerson’s provocative conclusion, summarized in his book Divided By Faith and co-authored with Christian Smith, was that evangelicals ‘likely do more to perpetuate the racial divide than to tear it down,’ largely because they tended to worship in racially segregated congregations and viewed racial prejudice as an individual, not a societal, problem….Emerson then proposed an answer to the problem he had highlighted: If Christians of different racial backgrounds began worshipping together, he suggested, racial reconciliation could follow. In a 2004 book, United By Faith, a sequel to his earlier book, Emerson and a team of collaborators called for a new church movement.”


alan jacobs“Plurality and Unity” – From Alan Jacobs at his blog, Snakes and Ladders: “A few years ago I would have said that the greatest danger facing the Christians I know was a kind of carelessness about the truth, a shrugging at difference and disagreement; now I think it’s the opposite, a kind of premature foreclosure, which is a way of immanentizing the eschaton. Obviously in any group of people we will find both intellectual flaccidity and intellectual rigidity present, but I do think that rigidity is now in the ascendent, simply because it is in the ascendent in our ambient culture and Christians, for the most part, behave as their ambient culture behaves.”


J I Packer“6 Reasons Christians Worldwide Thank God for J.I. Packer”Ajith Fernando is one of my favorite Bible teachers and commentators. I really enjoyed his reflections on the worldwide appreciation for J. I. Packer after Packer’s passing last week. “Often when the church in the West commemorates the giants it produced, it forgets the contribution these leaders made to the church in the Global South, and the part they played in the renewal our churches are experiencing today. We have just seen the passing away of another of those giants: J. I. Packer. This is a personal reflection on his impact on my life, and I believe on the lives of many Christians in the majority world.”


Evans - systemic racism“What Is Systemic Racism (Dr. Tony Evans)” – There is a lot of discussion right now around issues of racism, sin, systemic racism, and systemic sin. This is not an easy topic to discuss but also requires a good deal of thoughtfulness in how we approach it. In this six minute video Dr. Tony Evans offers a fairly helpful look at the topic in his typically balanced manner.


what is the church?“What is ‘the Church’?” – In Comment, philosopher Peter Kreeft revisits a two-thousand-year-old question: what is “the Church”? His reflections reveal that the answer isn’t simple, which is to be expected. At the same time, Kreeft’s reflections should give us pause in this day of rethinking church and hopefully point us toward more meaningful engagement with who we are in Christ and what it means to be His people.


Music: Aretha Franklin, “Respect.”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 July 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


George Yancey“Not White Fragility, Mutual Responsibility” – The pressing conversations related to race in America eventually turn toward the topics of white privilege and white fragility. The most well-known resource on the latter is Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. The conversation about this topic feels largely over, yet here is George Yancey calling for a reassessment. If you’re not familiar with Yancey, he is a professor of sociology at Baylor University who has done a tremendous amount of work on race relations as an African American Christian, including writing both popular and academic books. Yancey has developed a model for race relations that move beyond colorblindness and anti-racism. Please read this important article.


J I Packer“J. I. Packer, ‘Knowing God’ Author, Dies at 93” – I still remember reading J. I. Packer’s book Knowing God for the first time while a freshman in college in a discipleship group. The basic walk through the character of God was my first exposure to the writings of J. I. Packer, who became a trusted theological voice in my life with books like Evangelism and the Sovereignty of GodConcise Theology, and Keep in Step with the Spirit. I was sad to read early this morning that Packer died yesterday at the age of 93, but was thoroughly blessed by Leland Ryken’s moving remembrance and reflection on his life.


Walter Kim“The Long Obedience of Racial Justice: To bear the image of God is a declaration of dignity that challenges power” – Christianity Today is hosting a great series of posts on race and faith called “The Race Set Before Us.” Walter Kim, recently appointed President of the National Association of Evangelicals, offers his unique perspective in one of the most recent posts here. “Our identity as humans is based on being made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). More than a premise for discussion, to be made in God’s image is a declaration of dignity and a prophetic challenge to power.”


cancel culture“10 Theses About Cancel Culture” – Here’s Ross Douthat in The New York Times with his ten sweeping theses about cancel culture. Love it or hate it, it is hard to avoid the topic. Douthat takes an able swing at helping us understand what’s really going on with cancel culture. “‘Cancel culture’ is destroying liberalism. No, cancel culture doesn’t exist. No, it has always existed; remember when Brutus and Cassius canceled Julius Caesar? No, it exists but it’s just a bunch of rich entitled celebrities complaining that people can finally talk back to them on Twitter. No, it doesn’t exist except when it’s good and the canceled deserve it. Actually, it does exist, but — well, look, I can’t explain it to you until you’ve read at least four open letters on the subject. These are just a few of the answers that you’ll get to a simple question — ‘What is this cancel culture thing, anyway?’ — if you’re foolish enough to toss it, like chum, into the seething waters of the internet. They’re contradictory because the phenomenon is complicated — but not complicated enough to deter me from making 10 sweeping claims about the subject.” If you have a hard time getting through the NYT paywall, you can also read it here.


statue removal“American History Is Not Canceled” – Has there ever been so many statues falling in a nation as now? In light of Ross Douthat’s comments about cancel culture, we may wonder if all this statue removal is just another aspect of cancel culture. Or is it something else aimed at reevaluation of what we celebrate?  Thomas S. Kidd, professor of history at Baylor University and author of Who Is an Evangelical?: The History of a Movement in Crisis, addresses the recent very public debate about symbols—statues, plaques, and flags—and what it means to consider this from the perspective of our faith and the broader background of American history.


Religious violence India“Hate and Targeted Violence Against Christians in India” – While most of the news coming from India these days focuses on either trends with COVID-19 or tensions along the border with Pakistan or China, other things continue to happen. A friend shared this report from the Evangelical Fellowship of India about recent uptick in religious violence against Christians in India during the first six months of 2020. “A lynching, community ostracization and concerted efforts to stop worship and gospel-sharing, mark the 135 cases registered by the EFI in the first six momentous and eventful months of 2020. ”


W1899-1-1-pma“The Million Masks of God: Henry Ossawa Tanner and the Art of Sympathy” – I thought I had posted this essay from Nathan Beacom awhile back when I first read it, but realized I had not. Henry Ossawa Tanner’s art is some of the most beautiful I have encountered, but his story is piercing. “Crucified on his own easel, Henry Tanner lay on the pavement on a cool Philadelphia evening. A clique of students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts had tied the young painter, their only black peer, to his equipment and thrown him in the street….What struck Tanner most deeply about racism (he told a friend that a brief encounter on the street would nag at him for weeks) was the conflict it presented with his certainty that, like anyone else, he was a son of God. Race hatred (as he called it) was not just a personal attack, but an affront to divine justice. In a quiet way, his art was subverting the impulse to dehumanize by proclaiming in paint the dignity of the human person.”


South Africa Hostage Church“South African church attack: Five dead after ‘hostage situation'” – I thought that church conflict was sometimes intense, but this takes it to an entirely different level. Is this what happens when power and influence become central in the life of a church? I’m not sure, but I can pray, “Lord, have mercy.” “Five people have been killed after attackers stormed a South African church, reportedly amid an argument over its leadership. South African police said they had rescued men, women and children from a ‘hostage situation’ on the outskirts of Johannesburg on Saturday morning. They have also arrested at least 40 people, and seized dozens of weapons.”


Music: Radiohead, “Daydreaming,” from A Moon Shaped Pool.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Exemplary Lives of Renewed Pastors

Richard Baxter.jpgIn reading J. I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness some time ago, I came across this moving quotation from Richard Baxter about the need for pastors to attend to their own lives in ministry. Baxter was an interesting figure, best known for his writing of that classic of pastoral practice, The Reformed Pastor.

Just a quick note that the term ‘reformed’ for Baxter does not merely refer to the reformed theological tradition, but also to the pursuit of a thoroughly reformed life before God. A more easily understood title for that book today might be “The Renewed Pastor.” I am confident that more than a few readers might agree with me that what we need today, no less than in Baxter’s day, is renewed pastors whose lives are exemplary and saturated with the character of Christ.

Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others….be also careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others….watch therefore over your own hearts: keep out lusts and passions, and worldly inclinations; keep up the life of faith, and love, and zeal; be much at home, and much with God…take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine…lest you unsay with your lives, what you say with your tongues….we must study as hard how to live well, as how to preach well.

This is a challenging and good word to those of us who serve the Lord and His church in pastoral ministry. Baxter draws attention to the key topics: the steadiness in our exercise of faith, the personal response to the message we preach to others, dealing with the desires and longings within our own hearts, our zeal in ministry, and our everyday living for God. There is hardly any part of our lives to which Baxter fails to call attention. God forbid that we should take lightly our call and the example which we must set as servants of Christ in His body!

With confidence, Paul could say these words to one of his congregations: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Pastor, I ask myself and invite you to join me in considering whether we can we offer the same confident statement to our people from our own lives. With a tip of my hat to E. M. Bounds, I must say that what we need today as pastors is not primarily more activity in the church, or more impact in the social arena, or better programs, or more-updated models of ministry. No. For all the good that those things can offer, they are not the primary necessity in pastoral ministry today or in any other era. Our primary need for pastoral ministry in today’s church is that humble servants of Christ will lay down their lives daily in order to be made completely new and alive to God in Christ. May God transform us as pastors into examples others can follow for His glory.

The Apostle James’ words come to mind:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).

The Church is a Hospital for Sin-Sick Sinners: J. I. Packer from a Quest for Godliness

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This past weekend in my message, “Friend of Sinners,” I mentioned an article by J. I. Packer that I read many years ago in which he talks about the church as a hospital for sinners. In searching for it, I discovered that the article was actually an excerpt from Packer’s book, A Quest for Godliness. I found an excerpt that I am sharing below:

Truth obeyed, said the Puritans, will heal. The word fits, because we are all spiritually sick — sick through sin, which is a wasting and killing disease of the heart. The unconverted are sick unto death; those who have come to know Christ and have been born again continue sick, but they are gradually getting better as the work of grace goes on in their lives.

The church, however, is a hospital in which nobody is completely well, and anyone can relapse at any time. Pastors no less than others are weakened by pressure from the world, the flesh, and the devil, with their lures of profit, pleasure, and pride, and, as we shall see more fully in a moment, pastors must acknowledge that they the healers remain sick and wounded and therefore need to apply the medicines of Scripture to themselves as well as to the sheep whom they tend in Christ’s name.

All Christians need Scripture truth as medicine for their souls at every stage, and the making and accepting of applications is the administering and swallowing of it.

J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 1990, reprint (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 65, paragraphing added.

Recovering Holiness

HolinessAs I continue to reflect on the nature of pastoral ministry, ministry in the North American evangelical church, and questions of ministry integrity, I find myself returning often to the topic of holiness. Even writing the word holiness makes me feel a little bit “old school.” However, if I hold the tension of that uncomfortable feeling for a bit, I cannot help but think we may need to be a little “old school” right now on this issue.

So, I turned to a voice from an earlier time, J. C. Ryle, whose classic book Holiness has been highly regarded for years, with pastors like J. I. Packer and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones urging Christians to read it. Let me share a brief excerpt from his introduction to this book, which, I believe, puts some perspective on where we stand today in North American Christianity.

I’ve had a deep conviction for many years that practical holiness and entire self-consciousness to God are not sufficiently attended to by modern Christians in this country. Politics, or controversy, or party spirit, or worldliness have eaten out the heart of lively piety in too many of us. The subject of personal godliness has fallen sadly into the background. The standard of living has become painfully low in many quarters. Immense importance of “adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10), and making it lovely and beautiful by our daily habits and tempers, has been far too much overlooked. Worldly people sometimes complain with reason that “religious” persons, so-called, are not so amiable, and unselfish, and good-natured, as others who make no profession of religion. Yet sanctification, in its place in proportion, is quite as important as justification. Sound Protestant and evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless: it does positive harm. It is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt. It is my firm impression that we want a thorough revival about scriptural holiness, and I am deeply thankful that attention is being directed to the point.

As Ryle continues his introduction, he outlines a series of issues related to holiness, some of which apply to our own day and some of which seem more bound to his own time. It is, however, his first point that I find particularly relevant to our own context. In the midst of our heavy emphasis on grace in North American Christianity, we have at times veered off into various versions of antinomianism, where there is no place – or at least disregard – for God’s law and obedience. As with the work of Dallas Willard, sometimes simplified in the writings of John Ortberg, we find Ryle grappling with the tension between faith and work, between earning God’s favor and application of effort to honor God. On the subject of holiness, he writes:

That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness; that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ; that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness; that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy; that the life that we live in the flesh, we must live by the faith of the Son of God; that faith purifies the heart; that faith is the victory which overcomes the world; that by faith the elders obtain a good report – all these are truths which no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith….Justifying faith is a grace that “worketh not,” but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ (Rom. 4:5). Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it “worketh by love,” and, like a mainspring, moves the whole inward man (Gal. 5:6).

What Ryle emphasizes, and we rightly need to recover, is the emphatic coupling of justifying grace with sanctifying grace. We need to recover the truth that our unearned salvation by grace through faith in Christ overflows into a holy life strenuously lived as worship unto the Lord through obedience. I cannot help but think that one of the things we most need to recover today in North American Christianity is holiness.