Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Greatly Rejoicing

Donald Macleod post:  Joy Changes Everything

It’s often important to assure despondent Christians that Jesus himself sometimes plumbed the emotional depths. But it’s equally important to guard against the opposite extreme, as if joy were a luxury we could well do without.
Being a man of sorrows was only one side of Jesus’s life. The Spirit dwelt in him without limit (John 3:34), and wherever the Spirit is there is joy (Galatians 5:22). Clearly, too, he found joy in his special relationship with his Father, in whose will he took delight (Psalm 40:8Hebrews 10:7); and as he approached the end of his ministry, it was the prospect of the joy set before him that strengthened him to endure the cross (Hebrews 12:2). This was not merely the anticipation of joy; it was the joy of anticipation — and it was a key element in the psychology of his obedience.

The Heart of Joy

Peter speaks of a similar joy when he describes believers as “greatly rejoicing” in anticipation of their final salvation (1 Peter 1:6). Indeed, joy is part of the spiritual profile of every Christian.
It has little to do, however, either with our natural temperament or with our personal circumstances. It is the fruit of the Spirit, and it is worth noting that when Paul uses that phrase, he speaks not of “fruits” in the plural, but of “fruit” in the singular. The fruit is one indivisible organic whole, which means that whenever the Spirit comes to live in a human soul the result is love andjoy and peace, and all the other graces which the apostle mentions inGalatians 5:22–23. It is one fruit, with many segments. There cannot, therefore, not be joy in a Christian heart. Even its temporary absence is a symptom of some underlying spiritual malady.
On the other hand, the fruit is not produced mechanically, but grows up like the seed which germinated while the farmer slept (Mark 4:27). It is the result of a living relationship with the Holy Spirit. We bear it only if we keep in step with him.
When we grieve the Spirit, our own joy withers.

The Focus of Joy

But not only is the Spirit the one who personally produces this fruit in believers. He produces it by focusing our minds on spiritual things: those very things which the natural man cannot receive (1 Corinthians 2:14). Specifically, he fills our hearts with joy by focusing our minds, not on joy itself, but on the majesty of God, the beauty of Christ and the unsearchable riches which are ours in him. Two or three examples must suffice.
First, the case of the Philippian Jailer. Having received the gospel, he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God (Acts 16:34). It’s not clear how narrowly we should take this (presumably in his previous life he had been an idolater, not an atheist), but whatever else is implied in the jailer’s coming to faith, it certainly meant that God had suddenly become utterly real to him — and commonplace though it is, there is no greater joy than the assurance that God is and is for you. To those who have come out of the dark night of atheism, this is the greatest truth of all. “It is a great thing to believe in God,” said the seventeenth-century Scottish theologian Robert Bruce. It makes the whole universe glow.
Secondly, there is the point which Peter makes in 1 Peter 1:8. He himself had had the privilege of seeing Christ; his readers, however, had not, yet they believed in him and they loved him, and the result was that they rejoiced with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8). The same is still true, surely, of believers today. The sheer beauty of his immaculate humanity and majestic deity captivates our hearts, and we draw our very identity from the fact that we are loved by God’s own Son.
Thirdly, we rejoice when we think of the future. Christ will return, and when he returns we will receive in full the inheritance already prepared for us in heaven. This is not something to be pushed to the margins of our Christian lives. It has to be absolutely central, as it was in the life of Christ, who in his closing hours focused his mind on the glory which would follow the completion of his work (John 17:1–5). Indeed, it is so central that when Peter urges us to be ready to witness to Christ at very opportunity, he describes this witness as a defense, not of our faith, but of our hope (1 Peter 3…15). If we bear in mind the close connection between hope and joy, what Peter is really saying is, “Be sure you are always ready to speak up whenever non-Christians ask you to explain the joy that so clearly fills your lives.”

The Overflow of Joy

But does joy really matter? It certainly mattered to the apostle John, who tells us that what drove him to write was his concern that his readers’ joy should be complete (1 John 1:14). We have already seen the link between joy and obedience in the life of our Lord. The same link holds in our own Christian lives. “Holy joy,” wrote Matthew Henry, “is the oil to the wheels of our obedience.” It was this same principle that Jonathan Edwards highlighted when he wrote that God had made our affections the spring of our actions, adding, “The Scriptures speak of holy joy as a great part of true religion.”
This was clearly exemplified in the life of the apostle Paul, the supreme example of “labors more abundant” (2 Corinthians 11:23). Not only does he constantly urge us to rejoice; he exemplifies it himself. He was “always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). But he also presents us with another remarkable example of joy in action. When he urges the Corinthians to contribute liberally to the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem, he invokes the example of the Macedonian churches, whose “overflowing joy” welled up in rich generosity (2 Corinthians 8:3). This is what joy does. It overflows.
William Wordsworth once defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” However inadequate these words may be as a definition of poetry (Milton’s Paradise Lost was certainly not spontaneous), we have every right to introduce Wordsworth’s language into the vocabulary of the Christian life. Our service is the spontaneous overflow of powerful Christian joy, deeply rooted in union with Christ and sharply focused on the beauty of his gospel. Where there is such joy, there can be no lukewarm-ness. It overflows in spontaneous obedience.

The Strength of Joy

We see the same principle at work in the life of Nehemiah, one of the great action-men of the Old Testament. When the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem had been completed, all the people assembled to hear Ezra read the Book of the Law, but as Ezra read, Nehemiah noticed that the people were weeping (Nehemiah 8:9), and he immediately sensed danger. On a day that was sacred to God, it was utterly inappropriate to be mourning and weeping (Nehemiah 9:9). He then gave a remarkable instruction: “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared” — and to that instruction he appended a memorable statement of principle, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
The terrifying corollary to this is that without joy we are impotent, like Samson shorn of his strength, and this has huge implications for every pastoral and preaching ministry. How can we equip the saints for works of service? We are in grave danger of falling into the patterns of the secular world and its obsession with special courses, training-programs, consultants and even boot-camps; and when all else fails, simply off-loading huge burdens of guilt on to demoralized congregations, whose commitment never seems to match our expectations.
But if Paul is to be believed, the task of motivating and equipping Christians for service is neither more nor less than the ordinary, stated work of pastor-teachers; and if Nehemiah is to be believed, the primary way to achieve that object is by filling their hearts with joy; which in turn means filling their minds with constant reminders of the breadth and depth and length and height of the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18–19).
Sorrow, especially for our own sin, has its place. But it is not our strength. That lies in the joy of forgiveness.

De-Centers People

Steven Dilla post:  Idols of the Heart

Modern Christianity speaks often of “idolatry.” In once sense the term is outdated—harkening an era of statues and animism. Yet in another it is radically seasonable. Psychiatrist David Powlison explains:
What happens to the Gospel when idolatry themes are not grasped? “God loves you” typically becomes a tool to meet a need for self-esteem in people who feel like failures. The particular content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—”grace for sinners and deliverance for the sinned-against”—is down-played or even twisted into “unconditional acceptance for the victims of others’ lack of acceptance.”
Where “the Gospel” is shared, it comes across something like this: “God accepts you just as you are. God has unconditional love for you.” That is not the biblical Gospel, however. God’s love is not Rogerian unconditional positive regard writ large.
Dr. Powilson’s masterful work, Idols of the Heart and “Vanity Fair” explores the immense power idols have on modern life:
Idols define good and evil in ways contrary to God’s definitions. They establish a locus of control that is earth-bound: either in objects (e.g., lust for money), other people (“I need to please my critical father”), or myself (e.g., self-trusting pursuit of my personal agenda). Such false gods create false laws, false definitions of success and failure, of value and stigma. Idols promise blessing and warn of curses for those who succeed or fail against the law.
A culture’s idols are not simply its statues, but the things it pours the most energy and resources into worshipping. Ancient cultures built structures that survived millennia; U.S. investment portfolios designed around the 7 deadly sins outperform the S&P 500 every quarter. Startup investing Motif Investingexplains:
Some luxuries see reduced demand during tough times. But smokers could keep smoking, drinkers keep drinking, and the lustful keep…lusting. Bad habits are hard to break. And when times are rough, who wants to even try? Nobody can predict the markets, but consumers are only human. And economic conditions may not be able to defeat their appetites for sinful stuff.
Christianity challenges the faithful to sacrifice their life of idolatry—not in a misguided attempt at moralism, but because the gospel offers something infinitely more valuable. Powilson concludes:
The Gospel is better than unconditional love. The Gospel says, “God accepts you just as Christ is. God has ‘contra-conditional’ love for you.” Christ bears the curse you deserve. Christ is fully pleasing to the Father and gives you His own perfect goodness. Christ reigns in power, making you the Father’s child and coming close to you to begin to change what is unacceptable to God about you. God never accepts me “as I am.” He accepts me “as I am in Jesus Christ.” The center of gravity is different. The true Gospel does not allow God’s love to be sucked into the vortex of the soul’s lust for acceptability and worth in and of itself. Rather, it radically de-centers people—what the Bible calls “fear of the Lord” and “faith”—to look outside themselves.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Stand in Awe

Stephen Miller post:  The Wow of Worship

We were near the Grand Canyon.
This past year, our band was leading worship for a church in Phoenix when we had this realization — and found out that none of us had ever visited the Canyon for ourselves. So on a whim, we decided to make the quick trip before heading home to Texas.
As we stood around plotting our adventure, a nearby eavesdropper interrupted, “You don’t want to see the Grand Canyon. It’s not that great. It just looks like a painting. Just go check out Sedona, then head home.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if we were about to drive hours out of the way just to be disappointed. In the end, we succumbed to our fear of missing out, and decided to do both. The next morning, we made our way to the Grand Canyon by way of Sedona.
And we did not regret it.

Find Breathtaking Grandeur

As soon as we could see Sedona in the distance, we couldn’t help but stop every few seconds to take pictures. Every corner revealed a new angle of breathtaking grandeur. It didn’t matter that we were taking essentially the same picture over and over. We had to take turns driving because none of us could keep our eyes on the road.
I couldn’t bring myself to stop exclaiming, “Wow!” Could there be anywhere on earth more beautiful?
Then we came to the Canyon. I have never seen anything like it. Glorious in every way.
We walked around this huge hole in the ground trying to get a better vantage point to see its glory from another perspective and fall even deeper into a sense of awe and amazement. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face as joy overwhelmed me. It felt transcendent — like I was participating in something much bigger than me, and not about me.
It was just a tiny taste of what God is like, and what eternity with him will be like.

Glimpse the Wonder

Have you ever worried that eternity might be boring because you’re spending forever staring at the same things? Like when you read that the worshipers in heaven never stop shouting, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!” (Revelation 4:8)?
Will that get old?
It sure doesn’t seem like it! Revelation describes the worship of heaven as a loud, exciting, rowdy, multisensory overload because Jesus is the center of it all, a conquering king whose eyes blaze with fire as a sword protrudes from his mouth. King of Kings and Lord of Lords is written on his thigh (Revelation 19:16), and around his throne are flashes of lightning, peals of thunder, and exquisite colors we have never seen before (Revelation 4:5–6).
Heaven is filled with “Wow!” that never ceases for all eternity, and when we gather to worship, we are invited to get a glimpse of the wonder.

Raise Your Expectations

As we pursue our Lord with all our hearts and minds and strength, he is seeking us out to show himself to us in a way that ought to leave us amazed, longing for every new vantage point of his glory we can experience.
Yet often, rather than immersing ourselves in the wonder of who God is, letting him captivate our imaginations with his majesty, we worship like we are looking at pictures in an old atlas.
We treat worship like that man who said the Grand Canyon really isn’t that great, and settle for watching at a distance, gaining intellectual knowledge apart from intimacy, or having an emotional experience apart from a life submitted to his authority.
But God is not interested in empty words sung from far-off hearts — no matter how profoundly deep or theologically accurate. Similarly, he is not interested in all of our crying, shouting, warm fuzzies, and goose bumps, unless they are tethered to the truth of his word, will, and ways.
He is too good for half-hearted worship, too awesome for emotional gibberish. He wants all of us. He deserves all of us.

Stand in Awe

This weekend in corporate worship — or this moment over your Bible — you have the opportunity to gaze upon the infinite, unparalleled glory of God. To seek him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to let him captivate your affections, intellect, and allegiance.
Why would you settle for “just doing church” when you could stand in awe? Why would you settle for mumbling through words with your hands in your pocket, when wonder is to be had? Why just sing, when you can see and savor?
We find many things in this world amazing, yet we are far too easily satisfied. Far too easily distracted by lesser things.
The one true God is inviting you to see him and stand amazed. Don’t miss out on the “Wow!” There is more than enough at the foot of the cross.

Let Us Remember

Jon Bloom:  Remember 

Memorial Day, as Americans have come to know it, began in the years immediately following the Civil War. But until World War II, most people knew it as “Decoration Day.” It was a day to decorate with flowers and flags the graves of fallen soldiers and remember those who had given, as Lincoln beautifully said, “the last full measure of devotion” to defend their nation. It was a day to remember what the honored dead had died to defend.
A century and a half has passed since Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, effectively ending a national nightmare that filled over 625,000 American graves with dead soldiers. Since then, other international nightmares have ravaged the world and put more than 650,000 additional Americans into war graves in Europe, North Africa, the Pacific Rim, Asia, and the Middle East.

Remembering Is for the Future

Memorial Day is an important national moment. It is a day to do more than barbeque. It is right and wise to remember the great price some have paid to preserve the historically unprecedented civil and religious freedoms we Americans have the luxury to take largely for granted.
But the importance of Memorial Day is more for our future than it is for our past. It is crucial that we remember the nightmares and why they happened. We forget them at our own peril. The future of the United States depends in large amount on how well we collectively remember and cherish what liberty really is and the terror of tyranny. There is a high cost to forgetting. In the words of George Santayana’s famous aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

A Memorial People

Christians, of all people, understand the crucial importance of remembering. Christians are “memorial people” because the whole of our faith depends upon remembering. Those who persevere into the glorious future are those who remember the gracious past.
That’s why God has surrounded us with memorials. The entire Bible itself is a memorial. We meditate on it daily to remember. The Sabbath was a memorial to Israel’s freedom from Egyptian slavery (Deuteronomy 5:15), and the church switched it to Sundays as a memorial to Christ’s resurrection and our freedom from sin. Israel’s great gathering feast days were memorials (Exodus 13:3). And now each time a local church gathers, each Lord’s Supper celebration (1 Corinthians 11:24–26), each baptism, each Christmas celebration, and each Easter celebration is a memorial.
Remembering God’s past grace is necessary to fuel our faith in God’s future grace for us.† This makes the memory one of God’s most profound, mysterious, and merciful gifts granted to us. God designed it to be a means of preserving (persevering) grace for his people. We neglect it at our own peril.
The future of the church, globally and locally, and of each Christian depends largely on how well we remember the gospel of Jesus, all his precious and very great promises, and the successes and failures of church history. Scripture warns us that if we fail to remember, we will be condemned to submit again to sin’s and hell’s enslavement (Hebrews 6:4–8). Such warnings are graces to help us remember.
So as we commemorate Memorial Day as Americans, let us do it with profound gratitude for the extraordinary common grace given to us when men and women laid their lives down for the sake of America’s survival. And let us remember the past evils that we may not repeat them in the future.
And as Christians, let us make every day, as long as it is called today, a memorial day (Hebrews 3:13). Let us “take care lest [we] forget the Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:12).
Let us “remember Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:8).
† The most worshipful meditation on the human memory I’ve ever read is in Augustine’s Confessions, Book Ten, sections Vlll–XXV.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Have This Mind

Jon Bloom post:  Why is Humility So Attractive?

Why are we attracted to humble people?
Why did atheist Mark Twain find the devout Catholic Joan of Arc’s humility so beautiful that she became his historical hero? Why do people all over the world, even of other religions, find Jesus’s lowliness so compelling (Matthew 11:29)? Conversely, why do people like Michael Prowse feel revulsion in the divine pride they think they hear in God’s biblical commands that we worship him?
There is something about humility that resonates deeply in our psyches, far deeper than evolutionary explanations go.

More Than Evolutionary Residue

Evolutionary sociobiologists explain our innate pride as a primal survival instinct. The theory is that our desire to dominate and manipulate others is a genetic residue of our ancient evolutionary struggle to compete in the winner-take-all contest of natural selection. But while this might fit well in that theoretical framework, it does not sit well in our souls.
We know instinctively, at a level deeper than mere enlightened self-interest and social reinforcement, at a level just as (or more) primal to our pride, that we are meant to behave differently from other creatures. We know that the “alpha” behavior that becomes a silverback gorilla does not, for some reason, become us.

We Know Pride Is Pathological

We know that for us, pride is pathological. Try as we might, we cannot come to peace with our conceit. When we do try, we must struggle hard to suppress our conscience, which keeps warning us of its evil. And when we don’t see the evil clearly in ourselves, we surely see it clearly in others. When we see it on a large enough scale, something tells us that a good transcending even the interest of the human species has been violated. Hitler’s diabolism is still too fresh for us to ignore.
We know instinctively that pride is a mark of a lesser human soul, while humility is a mark of a great-souled person. That’s why humans have always regarded true humility as truly honorable while regarding those who have acted most like animal alphas as human monsters. We find something pathetic and degrading about the man who must have as many women as he can or as much power as he can or as much attention as he can. We know this betrays a hole in his soul.
How do we know these things? Deep down in the primal places of our personhood, perhaps scripted into our genetic code, we carry the ancient historical knowledge that we humans, unlike the other terrestrial creatures, are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). We are unique, there is a holiness about us, and we are subject to a holy moral law that requires us to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8).
We are attracted to humility because we are designed to be attracted to God. What we find attractive in humble people is the Imago Dei.

What Is Humility?

I don’t find most of the dictionary definitions of humility very helpful. They tend to emphasize the quality of one not thinking oneself as better than others, which is a biblical quality (Philippians 2:3). But that’s more of an expression of humility than a definition.
A helpful biblical definition of humility is found in Romans 12:3, where Paul says that a person should “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” In other words, humility is an accurate estimation of our self-importance in relation to God and others. It is not inappropriate self-exaltation or self-abasement. Pride then is the over-estimation of our self-importance in relation to God and others.

Why Humility Looks Different in God and Us

God is humble, the most humble person in existence. He is also the greatest. So God’s humility, his accurate assessment, his self-importance in relation to everything else, is holy — its expression is unique to anyone else’s.
For example, since God is supreme in everything, including supremely satisfying to us, it’s not proud of him to declare it (Psalm 97:9;Philippians 2:9). And since we always express our greatest enjoyments by praising them, it isn’t vain of God to command our praise. God’s humility and love in fact require him to exhort us to enjoy our deepest satisfaction as opposed to lesser ones.
For us, accurately assessing our self-importance as it relates to God and everything else will often be expressed differently from God, since we’re not God. If we commanded others to praise us, it would be the pinnacle of pride.
True humility pushes us to extremes. On one end there’s the glorious privilege of being an image-bearer of God, a reality we’ve hardly begun to understand. On the other end we have horribly sinned against God (Romans 3:23) and it required Jesus’s death to redeem us (2 Corinthians 5:21), also a reality the depths of which we’ve barely plumbed. And then there’s the humbling fact that our tenure and impact on this earth is comparable to grass (Psalm 103:15).

Attracted to Jesus

But God’s humility is not always expressed differently from ours, though we will never match his scope. There is one place where we clearly see the height of his glory in the depth of his magnificent humility, and when we really see it, it resonates in the deepest places of our psyches: in the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus.
[For] though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6–8)
There it is. That’s the humility that all but the most hardhearted among us find beautiful. This is the fundamental reason we are attracted to humble people, because we see in them the likeness of God in Christ.
God’s wonderful invitation to us through Paul is to “have this mind,” for in Christ it can be ours (Philippians 2:5). Today we can have this mind by repenting of any pride we are aware of, embracing an honest self-assessment of who we are, meditating on Philippians 2:1–11, and obeying what it says.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Gentleness and Respect

David Mathis post:  We Are Not Entitled to the World's Respect

Winning arguments is not the same as winning souls. Very few, if any, have lost a quarrel and found themselves converted. But we all know the impulse deep down, when engaging with unbelief, to lash out in an effort to show ourselves right rather than win the unbeliever.
If we genuinely are willing to take our cues from the New Testament, rather than instinct, we might be surprised to find the way the apostles would have us to engage with our society. Paul points to kindness, patience, and gentle correction (2 Timothy 2:24–26), and Peter lays out the way of “gentleness and respect” and compelling hope.
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
Will they ask about our hope if our rhetoric is full of fear and at fever pitch?

Church Meets World

Don Carson has seen a lot come and go in the church and in the world.
Not just a world-class scholar of the New Testament, he’s been a keen observer of cultural upheaval and societal change for some five decades now. He laid bare the philosophical foundations in his impressive volume The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism and authored Christ and Culture Revisited as a steady guide for orienting Christians in a swiftly changing milieu.
Being cosmopolitan, in the best sense, has helped. He was born to British parents, raised in French Canada, has taught at the graduate and doctoral level for more than thirty years, and has traveled extensively, observing trends worldwide like few have.
“Winning arguments is not the same as winning souls.”
Recently I had the privilege of sitting down with Carson to ask about his sense on the state of the church in America today, and going forward.
You might wonder whether someone with his ecclesiological pedigree and breadth would dream nostalgically about the 1950s and join the fight to reclaim the golden era that seemed so much more conducive to Christianity. Carson, however, is much less worried about the broadening gap between church and society — and much more eager for Christians to learn to engage with humility and kindness.
We are all products of our age, in some degree, admits Carson, and in the days ahead, evangelicals desperately need to take their cues from Scripture, rather than engaging with society on its own terms, in its own tenor.
“What is first of all required is to take our cues on conduct and civility and tongue — what we say, what we think, where we’re going, what our values are, living in the light of eternity, living under the shadow of the cross — take all of that from Scripture, from the gospel, from Christ and subconsciously work toward being a counter culture, a different culture, one with an allegiance tied to the kingdom of God.”
Carson’s concern is that far too often we have let the surrounding culture define the rules and assumptions of our engagement. When shouted at, we are prone to respond with the natural human instinct to shout in return. We return shrillness with shrillness. But in our increasingly post-Christian society, we are in increasing need of being the kind of people who respond to a slap on one cheek by turning to the other and who respond to vitriol and venom with gentleness, perceptive questions, careful listening, and loving kindness.
We need to learn, in the words of the apostle Paul, “to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2).

Growing Up in Opposition

This isn’t the first time Carson has experienced firsthand growing opposition to the church. His patient vision for engagement today has its roots not only in the biblical text, but also in his upbringing in French Canada, where evangelicals were openly opposed, even persecuted, in the 1950s. Carson’s childhood in Quebec was not your mother’s upbringing in the southern United States.
“Because of the background in which I grew up, I never held a view that Christians are entitled or Christian ministers ought to be revered by the culture. Baptist ministers alone between 1950 and 1952 in French Canada spent about eight years in jail. I’ve never been tempted by the view that Christians ought to be honored by the culture.”
Carson says he understands why people raised in deeply Christian contexts would develop a different reflex than his, and he is not eager to minimize the losses that come with an increasingly secular society. We should be honest about the real pains and losses of growing opposition, he admits, but he’s eager to highlight the gains as well.
“I probably feel a little less that we’re losing something massive. We’re losing some things, but we’re also gaining some things now.”
Among those gains, he includes the purifying of the church from “nominal Christianity” — from those who are Christian in name only, not truly born again from the heart.
“We have let the surrounding culture define the rules and assumptions of our engagement.”
“The rising antipathy against the church means that there’s less and less Christian nominalism around. . . . If what’s going down is the nominalism, so that proportionally there’s more authentic Christianity that’s biblically based, this becomes a way of purifying the church, too.”
“Some of the apparently Christian ethos inherited from Judeo-Christian roots was fake, it was hypocritical,” and Carson appreciates the fresh desire in our day to be honest — “authentic” in its best conception — rather than put up a façade. This is a gain.
He also finds among the gains his sense of less rebellion against Christianity among young adults — and even new curiosity about the faith.
“As the culture moves further and further away from Christian roots, what you’re finding nowadays, for example on university campuses, is that there is less rebellion against Christianity than there was fifteen years ago because they don’t know enough about it to hate it. There’s at least a sort of open curiosity.”

In the days ahead, Titus 3:1–3 is one of many passages that will help us take our cues from Scripture, as Carson charges, rather than from society’s manner and assumptions in public speech. There Paul writes to his protégé Titus, ministering in the moral chaos of Crete, a society hostile to the gospel,
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. (Titus 3:1–3)
Whether in private conversation with friends, family, and coworkers, or in the public speech that an increasing number engage in through the Web and social media, we are prone to forget the depravity into which we were born, and the sin that still courses in our veins. But we are called to remember from where we’ve come — and the sinful proclivities we’re still fighting within.
The Christian’s charge is not to respond to fools with folly, but to cultivate the empathy that is fitting when we’re aware that we ourselves were once foolish — but for God’s grace — and still war against our foolishness in many respects.
“We must not project ourselves as screaming angry people but as broken people living under the cross.”
It is striking in our day of soundbites and the growing polarization of perspectives to “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle.” It rings of Paul’s charge to another protégé, Timothy, in the caldron of Ephesus.
The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24–26)
It is remarkable that the apostle would say, related to our engagement with outsiders, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5–6). Always gracious — always. And that graciousness, he says, is vital to knowing how we ought to answer. As Christians, only by the grace of God, we have no excuse to let any words fly — in speech, tweets, or Facebook comments — that are ungracious.

Called to Engage with Kindness

At the end of the day, our gracious speech may open the door to some, but it doesn’t mean we will avoid being misunderstood, mistreated, and maligned.
“A great deal of public opinion,” says Carson, “is shaped by dogmatic heated antitheses. It’s really hard to find people to engage civilly on many topics. . . . It really is increasingly difficult to hold a civil conversation in the broader discourse because when you put your head up above the parapet, you’re labelled and shut down.”
It is inevitable that in such an age our kindness will be rejected, but that doesn’t mean we devolve into the meanness and shrillness that surrounds us. In Christ, we have a higher calling and capacity.
“One of the things that Christians have to learn in this frame of reference is, even if the whole society becomes uncivil in all discourse, we must not descend to that level, we must not project ourselves as screaming angry people but as broken people living under the cross, submitting to the lordship of Christ, wanting to think fairly and accurately and faithfully and truly and hopefully and edifyingly in a Christ-honoring, church-building-up sort of way.
“If that earns us a certain amount of opprobrium, pay the price. That’s what we do. But we don’t want to descend to the screaming level.”