A True Critique May Not Always Be A Wise One

My two year old likes to sing. And when he sings, he sings with all his might. And, you know, he can carry a tune — for a two year old. And because he is two and can barely put sentences together, and because he has not been trained in the academy or raised for operatic genius, I would critique him quite differently than I would a professionally trained singer. The slightest error might be cause for a corrective and stringent critique towards the trained professional. But for my son, the slightest error is only part of a larger reality that he is putting words together and being excessively cute. And so that sort of critique would not exist. Critique might come, but it will come much more indirectly and softly, according to his ability to handle it. Depending upon the experience and training and ability and maturity of the singer, the critique will be more or less stringent. It might even address different things.

The issue in giving critique is to know the one whom you are critiquing. The better we know them and their abilities and their level of training, the better equipped we will be to offer appropriate and gracious criticism.  I think we largely fail at this. The reasons for this suggested failure are manifold: perhaps, pride — we cannot stand to fathom that this person might be more gifted than me, so we have to knock them down a notch with our superior knowledge. Perhaps, extreme expectations, which is another way of saying gracelessness.  This is the inability to consider room for growth. We tend to think of people in static terms. What they are now, that they will always be. So we are more inclined to criticize harshly, thinking that by our effort they might be transformed. Tangential to this, I think, is the lack of a truly pastoral heart. Again, a failure to understand sanctification and how best to bring others along to full maturity in Christ. Or worst of all, perhaps, a simple lack of love. This idea is underneath the others. Love seeks to edify, to build up. And don’t misunderstand me. Direct and stringent and tight criticism can be edifying and has been necessary and useful in my own life as I have received it from others. I am not calling for the abolition of such critique. It can be done, it must be done in love. But a lot of what I have witnessed on this front is, ultimately, a failure to apply growth-inducing compassion. It requires the hard work of getting on the other person’s level, understanding their foundation, trusting in the inward work of God’s Spirit to transform, and offering edifying critique on those grounds.

An example and a final thought.

Example: My local church has an apprenticeship for men aspiring to the office of pastor, or missionary, or, very wonderfully, the biblically-informed and brave-hearted husband and father. Preaching a handful of short sermons is part of the course. While I am not in the apprenticeship, I sat in on one of the sessions a few months ago. One of the brothers preached for the rest of the men, about twenty-five of us. It was his first attempt at preaching before other human beings, much less a room full of present seminarians and future pastors and missionaries. And when he finished, he was critiqued — critiqued hard. One of the brothers used his knowledge of biblical Greek to criticize one of his points. What’s the problem? Not that this brother desired to help this other brother see things a bit more clearly by means of New Testament Greek. But that a critique was offered by means of New Testament Greek to a brother who had not yet taken New Testament Greek. And a few other such critiques were offered. I have been in both shoes. By God’s grace, I was able to see his discouragement. So afterwards, I went to him and mentioned a few things that he had said that were encouraging to me, that God really used to build me up in the faith. He had studied hard. He had genuine affections for the truth of the text. He had wrestled with it experientially. And he taught it with passion appropriate to the glory of Christ. He even used suitable illustrations (something I envy). And so I made these things known to him in order that he might be encouraged to continue to grow in his craft. Later, he sent me an email thanking me for the encouragement.

A final word: what this means is that while a critique may be true, a true critique may not always be wise. Again, know the person, know their foundation, give room for growth and sanctification, trust the working of God’s grace, seek to build up, and before speaking, consider humility. It is not that they do not need to know the truth at the center of your critique. They do! It is rather the packaging of it. And the packaging of it usually shows the maturity of our own hearts. Do we only seek to be a corrective? Or do we also seek to offer affirmation? Do we hold them accountable for things beyond their current level of knowledge or ability or experience? Or do we package these things with understanding and an encouragement that looks to future growth in what they lack? If we approach criticism in the latter ways described, then our hearts are venting a shepherd’s love. And at the end of the day, it is this shepherd’s love that must serve as a guide to all of our conversation.

Christian Responses to the Tragedy in Aurora

While this certainly grabs at the heart of every American, it is somewhat nuanced for me in that I attended that midnight showing of The Dark Knight earlier this morning.  But in God’s providence, I watched in Louisville, KY and not Aurora, CO.  Still, the news was, needless to say, burdening and broadening.  Here are two responses from Collin Hansen and Al Mohler.  Praying for these families during yet another sin-evincing crisis, and for all the churches in the Denver area, that they will be granted wisdom, grace, spiritual life, and a gentle boldness in bringing the gospel of Jesus to bear upon the hardest realities of this world.

Fighting Sin With Worship, by Tim Keller

Originally part of a sermon, and recently posted at the Desiring God blog.

If you are a Christian and you are dealing with enslaving habits, it’s not enough to say, “Bad Christian, stop it.” And it is not enough to beat yourself up or merely try harder and harder and harder.

The real reason that you’re having a problem with an enslaving habit is because you are nottasting God. I’m not talking about believing God or even obeying God, I’m saying tasting —tasting God.

The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time.

Go here for the whole, really, really, really good excerpt on the enslaving nature of sin and the power of worship to set us free.

Jesus’ Doctrine of Scripture, by Kevin DeYoung

After working through four main texts (John 10:35Matthew 5:17-1912:38-4219:4-5) I provided a summary of Jesus’ doctrine of Scripture.

Jesus held Scripture in the highest possible esteem. He knew his Bible intimately and loved it deeply. He often spoke with language of Scripture. He easily alluded to Scripture. And in his moments of greatest trial and weakness—like being tempted by the devil or being killed on a cross—he quoted Scripture.

His mission was to fulfill Scripture, and his teaching always upheld Scripture.

He never disrespected, never disregarded, never disagreed with a single text of Scripture.

He affirmed every bit of law, prophecy, narrative, and poetry. He shuddered to think of anyone anywhere violating, ignoring, or rejecting Scripture.

Jesus believed in the inspiration of Scripture, down  to the sentences, to the phrases, to the words, to the smallest letter, to the tiniest mark.

He accepted the chronology, the miracles, and the authorial ascriptions as giving the straightforward facts of history.

He believed in keeping the spirit of the law without ever minimizing the letter of the law. He affirmed the human authorship of Scripture while at the same time bearing witness to the ultimate divine authorship of the Scriptures.

He treated the Bible as a necessary word, a sufficient word, a clear word, and the final word.

It was never acceptable in his mind to contradict Scripture or stand above Scripture.

He believed the Bible was all true, all edifying, all important, and all about him. He believed absolutely that the Bible was from God and was absolutely free from error. What Scripture says God says, and what God said was recorded infallibly in Scripture.

Jesus submitted his will to the Scriptures, committed his brain to study the Scriptures, and humbled his heart to obey the Scriptures.

In summary, it is impossible to revere the Scriptures more deeply or affirm them more completely than Jesus did. The Lord Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior, believed his Bible was the word of God down to the tiniest speck and that nothing in all those specks and in all those books in his Bible could ever be broken.

Go here for his exegetical, theological, and logical work that leads to these conclusions, and for all eight sermons recently preached on the doctrine of Scripture.

How the Gospel Changes Our Apologetics, Part 1, by Tim Keller

Apologetics is an answer to the “why” question after you’ve already given people an answer to the “what” question. The what question, of course, is “What is the gospel?” But when you call people to believe in the gospel and they ask, “Why should I believe that?” —then you need apologetics.

I’ve heard plenty of Christians try to answer the why question by going back to the what. “You have to believe because Jesus is the Son of God.” But that’s answering the why with more what. Increasingly we live in a time in which you can’t avoid the why question. Just giving the what (for example, a vivid gospel presentation) worked in the days when the cultural institutions created an environment in which Christianity just felt true or at least honorable. But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it.

Go here for the first part of this blog series by Keller at City to City.

5 Resolutions For A Christian Communicator, by Daniel Darling

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the calling of a Christian communicator. This could be your duties as a writer, whither blogs or books or articles. Or it could be your task as a preacher or teacher, whither in small group, pulpit ministry, or classroom.

To communicate the truth of the good news of the gospel, in any form, is a high privilege and a sober calling. I’m always mindful of James 3, which outlines the seriousness of the calling and the negative and positive effect of the words we craft.

Go here for the list.

Trusting God Is Not Easy, by Ray Ortlund

Trusting God is not comfortable.  It doesn’t belong in a Hallmark card picture — a colorful valley, a quaint village, a church steeple, with a sentimental slogan.  Trusting God can be extremely uncomfortable, even painful.

Rabbi David Kimchi, one of the early Hebrew lexicographers, defined the verb “wait” inIsaiah 40:31 with reference to the medieval German verb for “twist.”  That is, waiting on the Lord can involve tension and pressure and stress.  How could it be otherwise?  Waitingis pent-up irresolution.

Go here for the rest of Ortlund’s post.

When He Lies, He Speaks Out of His Own Character

I happened to be watching ESPN’s First Take this morning, while wearing out my daughter before putting her down for a nap.  The particular topic being discussed was whether or not the debaters were buying Tim Tebow’s comments pertaining to the success of fellow New York Jets quarterback, Mark Sanchez.  One of the debaters, Stephen A. Smith, essentially said he didn’t buy it, which was followed by Skip Bayless with the charge that he had called Tebow a liar.  Smith then posed the million dollar question to defend what he had said: if someone lies one time, is he a liar?  Does that speak to his essential character?  For the record, Smith said “no,” while Bayless said “yes,” although Bayless, a lover of all things Tim Tebow, did not accuse the Jets quarterback of lying.  And both of these men are professing Christians.

Whether or not Bayless could defend his position theologically, I do not know.  But Jesus can.

John 8.31-47 has become one of the most important passages in the Bible for me in understanding why we do what we do, say what we say, think what we think, desire and will what we desire and will.  It is a passage about universal enslavement dependent upon one’s nature.  You see, all human beings are born with not one but two fathers: an earthly father and the devil.  All human beings are born as Paul says it, “dead in trespasses and sins . . . following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2.1-3).  Jesus simply says it this way, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  By contrast, He ends the text with, “Why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (Jn 8.46-47).  In other words, while all human beings are, at first, stillborn spiritually as children of the devil, being not “of God,” yet God in His grace regenerates the spiritually dead sinner, and in this process makes the person a new creation with a new heart, new desires, a new will, and a new nature out of which the believer now lives, thinks, acts, speaks.  The Christian is “of God.”  We have been “born of God.”  We are the children of God.  God is our Father, and this changes everything.  We are no longer enslaved to the desires of the devil.  We are set free to be a slave to God.

As Jesus explains these things to his audience, He says something fundamental about the relationship between character and action.  In John 8.44 Jesus teaches, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  The reason they won’t believe Jesus is because Jesus is telling them the truth, but their father is the father of lies, he is a liar, and therefore he lies.  And because the will of the unrepentant sinner is to do their father’s desires, they embrace his lie, they lie.

Jesus fundamentally disagrees with Stephen A. Smith.  And for a couple of reasons.  First, contrary to Smith, Jesus understands that no person has only lied one time (Smith actually said of Bayless that he knew he didn’t lie).  Insofar as a person is enslaved to the desires of their father, the devil, they lie constantly by their rejection of the truth, namely, Jesus Christ.  Secondly, Jesus attaches lying to character.  When a person sins, it does not so much make them a sinner as it proves that they are one.  When a person sins, it is because they are a sinner.  In other words, life — thoughts, words, actions, motivations — arise out of nature or character.  If a man lies, it is because he is a liar.  Now, before moving on, I just want to go back to John 8.47, because Jesus teaches that a man’s nature or character can be supernaturally resurrected from the spiritually dead.  This is good news!  What we are now is not what we must always be!  We need not always be defined by our initial relationship to the devil.  We do not have to remain enslaved to his desires (enslaved, by the way, does not equal drudgery; unrepentant sinners are very much in love with this enslavement, they love their sin, and indeed find it to be of their own volition with joy).  Jesus proved to be the one and only exception to this rule.  Thus, Jesus died in the place of sinners, and by His death purchased the new birth for everyone who believes in Him.  So Christians really are set free from sin, death, Satan, and all his desires, his nature, his character; and we really are set free from having our characters and lives defined by a serpent’s.  Nevertheless, until this grace is bestowed, a sinner sins because he is a sinner.  A liar lies because he is liar.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character.  

A common objection to this goes as follows:

What about Christians?  Do Christians sin?  Don’t Christians lie, etc., etc.?  What is the difference between the one who is “of God,” and those who are still of the devil?  This is a key issue.  In fact, it is one that I am confronted with most often in evangelism.  So here goes (disclaimer: this is a difficult subject to navigate):

1.  Yes, Christians sin.  And, yes, Christians sin by lying and in many other ways.  So what is the difference?  If the unbeliever sins, it is because he is a sinner.  He sins out of his own character and nature.  Is this true for the Christian, and if not, how can that be so?

2.  This is not true of the Christian.  There are only two natures that can be experienced in this world.  The old and the new.  That of the devil and that of God.  That which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit.  And they are mutually exclusive.  They cannot be held together.  All human beings experience the former in every case.  Some also experience the latter by grace.  How then does the Christian still sin and how is this not indicative of a sinful character?

3.  I want to be very clear here.  This is not an easy subject.  So while it is obvious that I still sin, that since having been born of God almost 13 years ago, I have sinned in many ways, it is not indicative of my nature or character.  And this is not some philosophical mumbo-jumbo designed to self-justify.  There is a reality true of the children of God that is not true of an unrepentant sinner: the child of God is free, while the child of the devil is not.  What that means is that the unbeliever can only do what is pleasing to his father, the devil.  Again, Jesus: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  Volitionally, the unbeliever is gladly enslaved to sin.  This volitional enslavement, or enslavement of the will arises from and evinces their sinful nature or character.

The Christian, on the other hand, has been “set free” by the Son and so we are “free indeed” (Jn 8.36).  Whereas the unbeliever has one option and can see no other but to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to them, namely, sinful desires, the Christian has been set free to be gladly enslaved to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to God.  And the Christian knows the other option too, namely, sinful desires.  The Christian knows both the desires of their heavenly Father and the desires of their former father.  Whereas the unbeliever can do nothing but sin, for they do nothing from faith (Rom 14.23), the believer can do what is pleasing to God and we can sin.  And when we do the latter, we are acting contrary to our new nature.  We are testifying falsely about Christ and our character.

4.  One more crucial reality must be tied to this.  I have confessed that Christians do still sin after being the recipients of divine and resurrecting grace.  To confess to the contrary is simply unbiblical and dangerous (1 Jn 1.8, 10).  But this must be said also: because of our new nature, the Christian is characteristically violent against sin.  In other words, the Christian will not stay there without a fight.  He will abide in the dark without turning on the flash light.  In fact, distinctive of the Christian is a walking in the light where God is, which is a metaphorical way of saying that the Christian does not desire to walk in sin, and if the Christian has committed sin, we do not desire to conceal it, but rather to confess it, to go public with it to our Father, and to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

The Christian knows that Christ has taken away sins by His death on the cross, and that not just in a legal sense, i.e., our sins have been forgiven.  This is wonderfully true, but if this is not packaged with the new birth, it can lead to great misunderstandings about the Christian life and the call to personal and corporate holiness.  In other words, licentiousness (abusing God’s grace to justify our continuance in sin) happens when the truth of justification is severed from the truth of regeneration or the new birth.  But the Christian believes the Word of God, that Christ taking away sins means not only that Christ has brought about the forgiveness of our sins, but also the removal of the present power of sin — and very soon the presence of sin entirely in glory!  The Christian holds these together.  We have been forgiven by God in Christ.  And the very reason we have believed that is because we have been born again by God in Christ, by the working of His Spirit.  As we hold it together, it means that we who know that Christ has taken away our sins also know that we cannot and desire not to live in sins any longer.  We desire, pursue, strive for holiness of life.  Do we sin?  Yes.  But that is not our first love.  And, most importantly, by God’s Spirit, we are fighting against sin — this is all the difference in the world!  Is their a fight?  This distinguishes “of the devil,” from “of God.”  The child of God is a growing person.  We are growing up into Christ.  We are maturing in the ways of our Father.  We are being transformed day by day.  And so, although sin’s presence will not be fully eradicated until heaven, our love for and practice of sin grows less and less, while our love for and practice of holiness increases more and more.  If it doesn’t, we simply are not new.

Psalm 127.3-5: Why We Aren’t Done Seeking To Have Children After One Boy and One Girl

May 6, 2010 Jenny and I had our first child, a boy whom we named Luke.  March 28, 2012 we had our second child, a girl whom we named Kate.  And believe it or not, we aren’t done seeking to have children, although the comments from many seem to suggest a wisdom to the contrary.  This is a wisdom from the world.  Two children is to some two too many.  Two children too many is time to stop.  And apparently, when the two you have been given by God are a boy and a girl, you’re all done.  Well, we aren’t done seeking to have children.  We aren’t done seeking the Lord for this mercy.  This is one purpose for our marriage (Malachi 2.15).  Along with this, it just makes sense when our worldview is shaped by Scripture, and particularly the overarching truth that we are at war.

I do not mean war in the political sense.  I do not mean war in the present national sense.  I mean war between God and every being at enmity with God, and therefore every being at enmity with us (Psa 120.7) because we preach the gospel of God’s reign in Christ (Isa 52.7; Mk 1.15; Acts 2.30-35).

As bullets fly by, the soldier at war desires as much weaponry and armory as possible.  It is simply reckless to go into battle underprepared.  Legalos is a fool if he only carries one or two arrows into the battle at Helm’s Deep.  And I am a foolish warrior if I only carry two children with me into the fray of spreading Christ’s victory and battle cry.  Now, I have many, many friends, dear brothers and sisters whom the Lord has not granted children.  These are not fools because they cannot carry what has not been granted.  But a fool I am if I carry not what God has granted for that purpose.

So we aren’t done seeking to have children after one boy and one girl.  Why?

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate” (Psa 127.3-5).

Why?  Because the Bible tells me so.  Because in the truest sense, we are at war, not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers of the air, and God gives children, biologically (Psa 127.3), by adoption (rooted in Eph 1.5), by conversion (1 Thes 2.7) or discipleship (1 Tim 1.2), in order that we might be well-equipped for the fight — a fight fought because Christ has already won.

Honoring God in an Unequally Yoked Marriage, by Sarah Flashing

There is an important question that needs our attention: How does a wife honor God’s intended plan for marriage in a circumstance that doesn’t comport with God’s plan to begin with?

Go here as Flashing unfolds her answer while dealing with the ministry of wives to husbands, the issue of functional egalitarianism in such marriages, and the necessity of the wives own personal spiritual health and its impact upon the health of unequally yoked marriages.