Friday, April 29, 2016


His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful.
But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God.
(2 Chronicles 26:15-16)
In the past year, five of my friends who are pastors have lost their ministries because of moral failure.
Most of them were widely known beyond their local contexts as authors, conference speakers, movement leaders and such. From the outside, they appeared to be at their peak.
For reasons beyond my ability to understand, God has graciously protected me from moral collapse over the years. Knowing the fragility and fickleness of my own heart, sometimes I marvel at how this could be the case. Why them and not me? Sometimes I wonder if, under different circumstances, I, too, could collapse morally. As the famous hymn goes, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it…” Indeed, I feel my proneness to wander every single day.
When I was a seminary student, an older, seasoned pastor spoke in a chapel service and said, “Some of you are very gifted. You aspire to do great things in ministry one day. God have mercy on you.” Eighteen years later, I am beginning to understand what he meant by that.
And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not.
(Jeremiah 45:5)
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist “Prince of Preachers,” once told his students that if they could be happy doing something besides ministry, they should do it. I’m sure there were several reasons why Spurgeon gave this advice. But the reason his advice makes sense to me is because…
Being a pastor is hard.
One day in my mid-twenties, while studying to become a pastor, I came across a suicide note published in the local newspaper…written by a pastor, which included this excerpt:
God forgive me for not being any stronger than I am. But when a minister becomes clinically depressed, there are very few places where he can turn to for help…it feels as if I’m sinking farther and farther into a downward spiral of depression. I feel like a drowning man, trying frantically to lift up my head to take just one more breath. But one way or another, I know I am going down.
The writer was a promising young pastor—still in his thirties—of a large “resource” church in Saint Louis, Missouri. Having secretly battled depression for a long time, and having sought help through Scripture reading, prayer, therapy, and medication, his will to claw through yet another day was gone. In his darkest hour, the young promising pastor decided he would rather join the angels than continue facing demons for years to come.
Some of those “demons,” it turned out, were high-powered members of his church, whose expectations of him were impossibly high. More on this in a moment. But first…
Not many months after this man’s tragic suicide, another pastor, also from Saint Louis, asphyxiated himself to death because a similar, secret depression.
As an aspiring pastor myself, the news of these two pastor suicides rocked my world. How could these men—both gifted pastors who believed in Jesus, preached grace, and comforted others with gospel hope—end up losing hope for themselves?
As the stories of these pastors became more public, it became clear that both of them shared an all-too common reality for pastors. Both had allowed themselves to become isolated…especially in their churches.
They had plenty of adoring fans.
But they had few, if any, actual friends.
In his suicide note, the first pastor said that he felt trapped. He was isolated and depressed, but he didn’t tell anyone because he thought that it would ruin his ministry. He had come to believe that pastors weren’t allowed to be weak. Nor were they allowed to be human, like everybody else.
Unfortunately, the two pastors from St. Louis are not rare. Many of us pastors, including Spurgeon and including me, have fallen into the emotional abyss—not in spite of the fact that we are in ministry, but because we are in ministry.
Studies show that pastors experience anxiety and depression at a rate that is disproportionately high compared to the rest of the population. Due to the unique pressures associated with spiritual warfare, unrealistic expectations from congregants and oneself, the freedom many feel to criticize and gossip about pastors with zero accountability (especially in the digital age), failure to take time off for rest and replenishment, marriage and family tensions due to the demands of ministry, financial strains and self-comparison, pastors are prime candidates for relational isolation, emotional turmoil, and moral collapse.
Studies also show that some pastors face unreasonable, even impossible, demands placed on them by their people. I am NOT one of those pastors, thanks to a church that both receives my gifts and embraces my limitations. All in all, the people of Christ Presbyterian Church treat me with extraordinary love and kindness. But, sadly, not all pastors are as lucky as I am.
Dr. Thom Rainer, a leading pastoral ministry guru, once conducted a survey asking church members what they expected from their pastors. Specifically, Dr. Rainer wanted to know the minimum amount of time church members believed their pastors should give each week to various areas of ministry, including prayer, sermon preparation, outreach and evangelism, counseling, administrative tasks, visiting the sick, community involvement, denominational engagement, church meetings, worship services, and so on. On average, the minimum amount of time church members expected their pastors to give to the ministry was 114 hours per week.
Ministry can also take a toll on the pastor’s family. When church members don’t like the pastor’s sermon, when they don’t like the direction of the church, when they think the music is too loud (or too soft), when they believe the pastor should wear a suit instead of jeans (or jeans instead of a suit), when the pastor moves someone’s cheese or messes with someone’s “sacred cow,” the pastor’s spouse can become a sounding board for disgruntled church members.
Second only to those who are married to public officials, no spouse in the world is thrust into the line of “friendly fire” more than the pastor’s spouse. For this very reason, it took my wife Patti forty-five minutes to say “yes” to my marriage proposal! The pastor’s spouse can also experience loneliness, because in some churches, the pastor is expected to be as available to the church as he is to his own family.
Then there are the PK’s—the “Pastor’s Kids”—those little ones in the church who are sometimes expected to behave like mature grown-ups. Consciously and subconsciously, the Pastor’s Kids don’t feel that they are allowed to be kids like their peers. They feel a unique pressure to please, to perform, to play the part, to put on a show, to be on their best behavior at all times. For some, this pressure leads to perfectionism and stress. For others, it leads them to rebel. It can be difficult for PK’s to blend into the crowd and develop their own identities and personalities—because unlike most kids, they live their lives in the public eye. Sharing a last name with the pastor fuels a lot of unspoken (and sometimes spoken) pressure for a six-year-old, or for a teenager, to navigate.
So why am I telling you all of this? For a few reasons…
First, if you are a pastor, or if you are the family member of a pastor, I want you to know that the pressure and isolation that you sometimes feel is normal. Yours is a unique calling from God—an unspeakable privilege, to be sure—but is sometimes also, as I have already mentioned above, unspeakably hard. The enemy is not fond of your life’s mission. He is threatened by it, so he is going to attack you. Sometimes he will attack and accuse you through the very people God has given you to shepherd and love. When this happens, please don’t get cynical about God’s people. Jesus didn’t, even from the cross. Stay hopeful about the church like Paul did with Corinth. Look at the cracked seed and envision the flower or the fruit tree. And? Even when you are unfairly criticized, look for a nugget or two of truth in the criticism, and you may find something in there to repent of…and every opportunity to repent is also an opportunity to draw near to Jesus afresh.
But, we pastors must also admit that there are times when we, and not congregants who struggle with our leadership, are the actual problem. When we feel under pressure, we can become sensitive, defensive, snippy, and even aggressive if we aren’t careful to guard our hearts. As pastors, we are vulnerable to paint ourselves as victims on the one hand, or to become bullies or crooks or adulterers on the other.
And so, if you are a pastor and criticism comes and the criticism actually is fair…when you have hurt people, compromised integrity, or even disqualified yourself from ministry…your task is of course to apply the things that you have taught others…to take full ownership of what you have done, to repent to God, and to make restitution to those who have suffered because of your decisions wherever possible.
But this isn’t all. Your task is also to do battle against the guilt and shame that will haunt you, the guilt and shame that will linger with you even after you have owned up to God and made restitution to and sought forgiveness from those who have suffered because of your actions. Even if the consequence of your actions ends up being the loss of your ministry, Jesus can still work with you. I dare say that he is eager to do so. If there was hope for Paul in his coveting (Romans 7), and hope for Peter in his racism and cowardice and denials of Jesus (Mark 16:7; Galatians 2), and hope for David after his adultery and murder (Psalm 51), then you can be sure that no matter how far you have fallen, you have not fallen beyond the reach of God’s grace and concern. Jesus came for sinners, not heroes. Perhaps the recognition that you are not a hero can be an occasion–maybe the first one in quite some time–to fall into his healing arms. Though his rod and staff of discipline may seem harsh for a time, may they become your source of comfort down the line…just as they did for David (Psalm 23).
And, pastors, lets pray for each other, shall we? Though the spirit is willing, our flesh is weak. Let’s never get past our need for Jesus to carry us, because without him we are vulnerable. We are vulnerable when our ministries are struggling, and—as the moral collapse of my five friends attests—we are vulnerable when our ministries seem to be soaring. Paul called this “living in plenty” and “living in want.” Regardless of our situation, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. Let’s believe this together, shall we? And let’s hold each other’s arms up when we struggle to believe.
Second, if you are not a pastor, it is time to once and for all remove your pastor from the pedestal where you and others may have been tempted to placed him. Under the right circumstances, we pastors can be some of the best friends and advocates. But we pastors make very, very bad heroes. Turning us into heroes not only hurts our churches, it also hurts us. When you put us on a pedestal and we fall, it hurts a lot more to fall from a pedestal than it does from the ground where everybody else is standing. Plus, only Jesus belongs on a pedestal. We pastors are shepherds…but we are also sheep just like everybody else. We have struggles and fears. We get depressed and anxious sometimes. We are at times unsure of ourselves, and we go through seasons wondering if we really belong in ministry. Many of us are more frustrated with ourselves than you could ever be with us. Sometimes we see our hypocrisy a lot more clearly than you do. Sometimes we grow more tired of ourselves than you grow tired of us. And sometimes we get on our high horse and need a faithful Nathan, just like David did, to help us see how we fail to live up to the things that we preach.
For these and other reasons, my daily prayer for myself is:
Always grant me character
that is greater than my gifts
and humility
that is greater than my influence.
Will you also pray this for me? And…
If you are a congregant, please don’t stop holding us pastors to a high standard. Don’t let us off the hook from the high calling to lead with things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. But as you do, please also leave some grace in your heart for us for those times when we will certainly need that from you. Because you see, all of us, including pastors, are incomplete works in process. We, like other Christians, are on a journey toward perfection. But we haven’t reached it yet. What Melville once said seems to fit:
Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.
The best grace you could give to us pastors, then, is this: Pray for us, live in community with us, and insist that we live in community with you. Please don’t put us on pedestals or treat us as heroes. Rather, recognize us as fellow sojourners with you. When this happens, I think that the chances of our becoming isolated and domineering and snippy and untruthful and full of ourselves and greedy and adulterous—and whatever else could eventually disqualify us—will be significantly reduced.
Thanks for listening to this grammatically messy dump of my feelings, which also represents the messiness of my heart as I cry over friends who have fallen…
…and as I wonder why it was them instead of me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Are You Committing These Five Word Study Fallacies? part 2

This is my second posting of a summary of common exegetical mistakes from the book Exegetical Fallacies by DA CArson.  I bought this book when it first came out but never read it!  I found this summary on Exegetical Tools.  Here are the first of five common exegetical fallacies . . . 
We hope since our last post you’ve been avoiding the five word study fallacies we explained.
Now we want to give you five more to avoid. Make sure to avoid these mistakes in your preaching, teaching, research, and individual study.
For more detailed reading, buy Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies, which this series is summarizing.

  1. Verbal Parallelomania
    • Definition: “The listing of verbal parallels in some body of literature as if those bare phenomena demonstrate conceptual links or even dependency.” See the classic article from Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1962): 1-13 (online here). Since Sandmel’s article, scholars have been more judicious in their attempt to find dependency when there is only similarity, but this fallacy does still occur.
    • Example: Bultmann and Dodd’s studies in John 1:1-18 aimed at finding parallels in other literature, however, they only overlapped in 7% of their studies which suggests that any significant weight on either findings is dubious at best.
  2. Linkage of Language and Mentality
    • Definition: “The assumption that any language so constrains the thinking processes of the people who use it that they are forced into certain patterns of thought and shielded from others.”
    • Example: “The Hebrew thought in pictures, and consequently his nouns are concrete and vivid. There are no such thing as neuter gender, for the Semite everything is alive” (45). But if something were considered dead simply because it were neuter in gender, τό παιδίον could not be a living being for any Greek thinker, which is absurd.
  3. exegetical-fallaciesFalse Assumptions about Technical Meaning
    • Definition: Fallacy in which the “interpreter falsely assumes that a word always or nearly always has a certain technical meaning — a meaning usually derived either from a subset of the evidence or from the interpreter’s personal systematic theology.”
    • Example: The Greek word apokalupto, meaning “to reveal,” can be fallaciously interpreted as always applying to special revelation which was previously unknown. However, such an interpretation of the meaning of this word creates difficulty in interpreting passages such as Phil. 3:15b, where “make clear” is a better translation ofapokalupto.
    • Example: ἡγιασμενοις (1 Cor 1:2) refers to a completed action that happened at the moment of conversion for the Corinthian church. Therefore it is fallacious to assume the word “sanctification” always carries the technical sense from systematic theology of “progressive sanctification.”
  4. Problems Surrounding Synonyms and Componential Analysis
    • Definition: Fallacy involving the misinterpretation of two similar but not wholly synonymous words wherein two different words may be mistaken to mean two different things when, in fact, they are meant to be synonymous or, conversely, wherein two different words are mistakenly taken to have synonymous meanings when, in fact, they have different meanings in context.
    • Example: In John 21:15-17, the words ἀγαπάω and φιλέω both generally meaning “to love,” are both used. Ιt is fallacious to view these words as having separated meanings simply because they are different words. Context here seems to show that the words are used as synonyms in this context, just as the words “lamb/sheep” and “feed/shepherd” are used in parallel in this same passage and are synonymous. In other contexts, however, the same two words may have separate meanings since their semantic range, while overlapping significantly, is not identical.
  5. Selective and Prejudicial Use of Evidence
    • Definition: Appealing to only that evidence which supports the point a particular commentator would like to make.
    • Example: Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Groome makes the claim that the NT is far less concerned with doctrine and more concerned with obedience. He cites 1 John 2:3-5, 3:6 as his evidence for such a claim. However, he overlooks the scores of biblical witnesses, even in John, where he refers to the importance of the content of belief (John 4:50, 5:47, 11:26, 13:19, 17:21)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Are You Committing These Five Word Study Fallacies? part 1

I will be posting a summary of common exegetical mistakes from the book Exegetical Fallacies by DA CArson.  I bought this book when it first came out but never read it!  I found this summary on Exegetical Tools.  Here are the first of five common exegetical fallacies . . . 

One of the greatest aspects of learning Greek is being able to conduct word studies. One of the worst aspects of learning Greek is also being able to conduct word studies.

The problem is that many students take enough Greek to learn vocabulary and basic grammar, but quickly forget the grammar and never work on syntax and never get a feel for the language. Their use of Greek then quickly becomes a way to mine “golden nuggets” from the text for sermon or lesson material. Unfortunately, this often results in fallacious word studies that don’t treat the word correctly in context or involve some linguistically problematic methodology for arriving at the word’s meaning.
exegetical-fallaciesIn order to combat this tendency of conducting fallacious word studies (among many other fallacies), D. A. Carson wrote Exegetical Fallacies (Baker Academic, 1996). This first part of this series summaries the 16 word study fallacies explained by Carson in order to ensure that these types of errors occur less and less, especially while teaching and preaching to those who don’t know Greek and therefore can’t check your conclusions for themselves.

I read Exegetical Fallacies twice and it was the best thing I ever did for my exegetical skills. If you haven’t read it yet, definitely buy it and read through it at last once. Until then, this series will summarize sixteen different types of word study fallacies. You’re welcome! (All are summarized from Carson’s book, chapter 1.)
  1. The Root Fallacy
    • Definition: The presupposition that the meaning of a given word is bound up in its shape, components, or etymology.
    • Example: 1 Cor. 4:1 — “So then, men ought to regard us as servants (ὑπηρετης) of Christ…” The word for servants used in this passage has been mistakenly translated as “under-rower” because of the apparent use of the prepositional prefix ὑπο( meaning “under” and the root “ἐρετης” which may appear to be related to ἐρεσσω, a word for “rower” used in Homer. However, it is fallacious to derive the meaning of ὑπηρετης directly from these two components; the word does not mean “under-rower” but simply servant. (An English parallel would be deriving the meaning of pineapple from pine and apple.) Deriving word meanings in this fashion is not necessarily fallacious (as in the case of ἐκβάλλω, to throw out), but care must be taken.
  2. Semantic Anachronism
    • Definition: Fallacy where a late definition of a word is read back into earlier literature.
    • Example: Romans  1:16 — “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power (δύναμις) of God unto salvation….” Here δύναμις may be mistakenly translated to dynamite, a later derivative of the original Greek word. This translation is fallacious because Paul would not have had the idea of “dynamite” in mind when he penned the epistle, nor would such a definition fit the context of the passage (dynamite, while powerful, destroys, but Paul is speaking of God’s power in effecting salvation).
  3. Semantic Obsolescence
    • Definition: Fallacy where the interpreter applies an obsolete meaning of a word.
    • Example: The use of the word κεφαλή in 1 Cor. 11:2-16 has been taken to mean “source” or “origin” based on standard classical lexicon definitions. However, by the time of the Biblical writing, this use of κεφαλή was obsolete; instead, the word would have been taken to mean “head” in the New Testament time period.
  4. Appeal to Unknown or Unlikely Meanings
    • Definition: Fallacy where an unknown, unlikely, or esoteric meaning is applied to a given word.
    • Example: Continuing with the previous example, even in the standard classical lexicon, the use of κεφαλή to signify “source” or “origin” is both rare and uncertain. Therefore, even ignoring the semantic obsolescence fallacy, this particular meaning is unlikely. Its lack of attestation in the history of interpretation also suggests that a rare and uncertain meaning of a word has been applied to κεφαλή in NT contexts because of ideological reasons.
  5. Careless Appeal to Background Material
    • Definition: This fallacy is similar to the appeal to unknown or unlikely meanings in that it misapplies the background of a given word, although that background may not produce an unknown or unlikely meaning.
    • Example: Carson’s own dissertation referenced John 3:5 “water and (εξ ὕδατος) the Spirit.” In his original interpretation, he weighed the various past interpretations and landed on the likelihood that water referred to “male semen” and therefore in context Jesus is speaking of “natural birth (water) and supernatural birth (spirit).” However, one of his students showed him that it is better to understand these two words as a fulfillment of Eze. 36:25-27. Therefore, Jesus is neither referring to multiple births in this verse (though he uses the language of being ‘reborn’ earlier), nor is he using ‘water and spirit’ as a hendiadys. He rather refers to the one birth (the re-birth) and the dual work of the Spirit in this birth – to clean (with water) and make new (with spirit).

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

5 Ways God's Word Blesses Us

This post is adapted from a chapter entitled “How to Know God: Meditate on His Word” by Mark Dever in The Inerrant Word: Biblical, Historical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives edited by John MacArthur.

Living and Active

Since the Bible is the Word of the all-powerful God, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that it is active and accomplishes much. Perhaps it is better to say that God does much with it and through it.
Generally, what God’s Word does is bless. We read in Psalm 119:1–2: “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart.” Also, note the kind of Aaronic benediction found in verse 135: “Make Your face shine upon Your servant.”
How does God do that? “Teach me Your statutes.” As Psalm 119 makes clear, God’s Word blesses individuals in five specific ways:

For Those Who Believe the Bible

God’s Word inspires awe. We see in Psalm 119:161, “My heart stands in awe of Your words.” And in the context of that verse, Your is emphasized. The psalmist is awed by God’s words as opposed to those of a persecuting prince.
Even when the psalmist could be preoccupied by other things—such as staying alive—he writes in verse 164, “Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous ordinances.” And verse 171 reads, “Let my lips utter praise, for You teach me Your statutes.” God’s Word inspires awe and causes us to pray and to praise him. It brings us into a relationship with him.

For Those Who Care about God and Others

God’s Word causes us to grieve over sin. Verse 136 says, “My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Your law.” Verse 53 reads, “Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked, who forsake Your law.”
Studying God’s Word does not make us morally indifferent; instead, it educates our consciences, sharpens our minds, and causes us to see this world and the people in it more as God does.

For Those in Temptation

God’s Word also helps us stay pure. Verse 9 is well known: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your Word.” We read in verse 11, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” Do you have any doubt that God’s Word encourages holiness? Look at verse 101: “I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word.”
Remember how the Lord Jesus met temptation in the day of his flesh? He quoted the Bible to Satan. Why would you think that you stand in less need of knowing and using the Bible to help you with temptation than Jesus did? The Word of God is a storehouse of very practical helps for us as Christians.

For Those in Various Kinds of Need

Through his Word, God gives hope to the hopeless. Again and again, the psalmist writes, “I hope in Your Word” (vv. 43, 49, 81, 114, 147). To the afflicted, the Lord gives comfort (vv. 50, 52, 76), and to those undergoing trials, he gives joy. I’m encouraged by verse 111: “I have inherited Your testimonies forever, for they are the joy of my heart.” And verse 162: “I rejoice at Your Word, as one who finds great spoil.”
To those enduring trials, he gives peace through his Word: “Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble” (v. 165). To the young who read the Bible, he gives wisdom (v. 98) and understanding (vv. 99–100). We read in verse 104, “From Your precepts I get understanding.” This is why it makes sense to equate the Bible to a light: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v. 105). Also, “The unfolding of Your words gives light” (v. 130).

For Those in Trouble

God promises to delivers us. The psalmist knew what it meant to be in trouble. So if you’re in trouble today, God’s Word promises deliverance (v. 170) and gives help (v. 175), strength (v. 28), protection (v. 165), and even salvation (v. 41). The Lord shows us so much about himself through his Word. What we see in Psalm 119 is just some of what God’s Word does.

The Source of Spiritual Life

Friend, why would you not spend your life getting to know the Bible better than you do today? I love how the psalmist puts it in verse 24: “Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors.” Is the Bible your counselor in your decisions and questions in life?
It’s significant that throughout this psalm, the psalmist both trusts God and asks God to help him trust even more. Would you listen to God if he spoke? He’s speaking to us in his Word. In fact, the most amazing thing God gives us through his Word is life! “Your word has revived me” (v. 50).
My Christian friend, how else could you have come to be interested in God’s Word? It is only by God’s grace! And his Word is the means he uses to give us spiritual life.

Mark Dever (PhD, Cambridge University) is senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and pastor of 9Marks Ministries. Dever has authored over a dozen books, including the best-selling Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, and speaks at conferences nationwide.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


From Trevin Wax at Gospel Coaliton . . . 
“The only evangelicals voting for Trump are the ones who don’t go to church.”
That’s common knowledge among evangelical leaders trying to make sense of the 2016 Republican primary season.
But is it true?
Well, partly. Church-going evangelicals are less likely to support Trump and more likely to oppose him. But that’s not the whole story. Ed Stetzer points to exit polls showing that “Trump’s support declines with church attendance, but he is still the highest among church attendees.”
So now, in light of the news that many church-going evangelicals are supporting Trump, we question the definition of “evangelical” and wonder out loud about the legitimacy of these “churches” Trump supporters attend. In other words, “the church-going supporters of Trump must not be trulyevangelical.”
Well, maybe. The definition of evangelical is so broad, particularly in the South, that it can simply mean “God-fearing” rather than “atheist.” So yes, there are church-going voters for Trump who don’t line up with more theological definitions of evangelical (by Barna or LifeWay and the NAE).
But the reality is complicated, and it is unwise for us to immediately dismiss “evangelical” Trump voters as either “nominal” or “fake.” When we rush too quickly to denounce and disassociate, we miss the opportunity to do some serious soul searching that could lead to a healthier evangelical movement in the future.

Uncomfortable Truths

Here’s the truth. Yes, many of Trump’s “evangelical voters” are cultural Christians who don’t attend church and who resonate with a simplistic slogans like “God and country” and “put America first.” Yes, many of Trump’s “evangelical voters” go to prosperity-gospel churches that do not line up with historic evangelical beliefs and identity. But here’s the uncomfortable reality: some of Trump’s evangelical voters are church-going and do believe in evangelical doctrines.
I call that reality “uncomfortable” because it ought to give evangelical leaders pause. It is easy for evangelical writers and thinkers and pundits – and I’m putting myself in this category – to dismiss all Trump supporters as “not truly evangelical” or not “practicing” evangelicals. But when we only point to the statistics and the exit polls that back up what we want to be true of evangelical churchgoers, we screen out inconvenient counterpoints.

Many Evangelicals, Only When Convenient

For example, I have often heard evangelical leaders make statements regarding the large percentage of the population that identify as evangelical in those moments when political “muscle” is needed, when it is helpful to point to a massive political wing of white evangelicals behind you. It is hypocritical to appeal to the broader number of self-identifying “evangelicals” when it’s politically expedient, only then to turn around and dismiss many of those same people when they express support for Trump or for policies that do not align with our priorities.

Nominal Evangelicals and Our Mission Field

A second factor we must weigh is our responsibility to people who rarely attend church. We can wave off Trump voters and say, “They’re not part of a church, and they don’t belong to us,” but should we be so quick to do so? Instead, we ought to consider why so many people gladly adopt the “evangelical” or “born again” label, but do not attend church or manifest a worldview shaped by Scripture.
Christian leaders should see nominalism as a problem among people we are called to address, not as a distraction among people we dismiss. Nominal Christians are part of our mission field, no matter how much their voting patterns may distress pastors and church leaders.
If you live in the South and you only think of the mission field in terms of secular people in urban areas, or immigrants who belong to other religions, you will miss a major segment of your mission field. In your community, you will find Trump supporters who likely have good feelings regarding your church but who never attend.
Now, you can disavow these people and say, “We don’t agree, so they’re not really a part of us” or you can seize the opportunity for spiritual conversations, for discipleship, for reengaging a large swath of the public that feels disenfranchised from the political system and for whatever reason may also feel alienated from the church.

The Trump Voters In Your Church

Finally, we must consider the reasons why many churchgoing evangelicals are also supporting Trump. If we fall back on the statistics and polls that minimize this reality, we will fail to ask hard questions about the state of our own congregations, about the political priorities among the people we know and love, about ongoing questions related to loving our neighbors (including immigrants), opposing racial injustice, and sustaining religious liberty for all.
Election 2016 could lead to a stronger, healthier future for evangelicals. But only if we deal with the inconvenient and uncomfortable truths about white evangelical support for Trump.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Held by the Bible

It Was Holding Me, I Was Not Holding It

Whenever I read the Bible, it was never like a masterpiece hanging in a museum that I viewed this way and that. Rather, it was like a window. Or like binoculars. My view of the Bible was always a view through the Bible. So, all along the way, my view was getting clearer and brighter and deeper, I mean the reality seen through it was getting clearer and brighter and deeper. Clearer as the edges of things became less fuzzy, and I could see how things fit together rather than just smudging into each other. Brighter as the beauty and impact of the whole message was more and more attractive. And deeper in the sense of depth perspective—I suppose photographers would say “depth of field.” Things stretched off into eternity with breathtaking implications—in both directions past and future. You could sum this up with the phrase the glory of God. That’s what I was seeing.
This was not an intellectual effort. Seeing is not an effort the way thinking is. It happens. You may need to exert yourself to walk up to the edge of the Grand Canyon, but when you get there, seeing is not work. You may need to travel to the Alps or the Himalayas, but when you get there, seeing is not an effort. It is given to you.
I did my walking and my traveling. But I did not make myself see. And that is why I say it is not as though I was holding onto my view of the Bible, but rather that the view was holding onto me. Or God was holding onto me by making the view supremely compelling. If you are standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or rafting down the Colorado River inside the canyon (as I did in the summer of 2012), it is proper to say you are held by the view, the sight, the vista. That is what the Bible was doing for me. It was holding me; I was not holding it.

A Living Parable

Here’s an analogy—a living parable—for how it worked.
One of those seven days rafting 190 miles down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, it began to rain. That didn’t matter much, since we were already wet from the rapids. We were dressed for it. The frustrating part was that it was lunchtime, and there are only so many small beaches where you can tie up and eat.
So we tied up and set up the tables and put up a large umbrella to keep the rain off our peanut butter sandwiches. But the rain was so hard and the wind so strong that the umbrella was useless, and we had to eat soggy sandwiches. We laughed about it, but it was unpleasant and frustrating. For a moment, my “view” was not so clear, and bright, and deep. Maybe being in the Grand Canyon is not so compelling after all. Maybe a dry seat in the hotel back in Las Vegas would be more compelling.
Little did we know what was about to happen. We boarded our two large, blue, motor-driven rafts and set out down river. The rain stopped and the sky started to clear, when suddenly, almost simultaneously, dozens of waterfalls burst out into the river in front of and behind us from the walls of the canyon. Some of these were gigantic, falling a thousand feet. The water coming out of the gorges was red. The guide explained what had happened.
He said that during a hard rain the water in the gorges comes down from the steep sides and builds and builds until it is a rushing river—a rain-made temporary river in a place where it almost never rains—dozens of temporary rivers looking for an outlet. When the water reaches a certain force, it breaks out over the precipice into the canyon as a waterfall. And the red color is owing to the soil it picked up on the way. It was stunning.
Then he said, we might not see the likes of this in the canyon for another hundred years.
That is a parable of how God held onto me by my view of the Bible—that is, my view through the Bible. Just when the view started to seem foggy and rainy and frustrating, and other views of life started to seem more attractive, God would clear the skies and cause even the rain to serve the irresistibly beautiful vista of his glory. He never let any other view of reality outshine the view of the Bible.

Here I Stand

This is where I stand with hope and joy and love. This is the window of the Word through which the vision of God has exerted its compelling power. I do not merely hold a view of Scripture. I am held. The glory of God shining through his Word has been an irresistible treasure. Nothing in this world comes close to the beauty and the value of God and his ways and his grace. After almost seven decades of seeing and savoring the glory of God in Scripture, the doxology of Jude 24–25 is very personal:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
In my case—and I think it is what Jude intends—the “glory, majesty, dominion, and authority” of God are ascribed to him here because this is what, in fact, did the keeping. He has kept me—held me—by his glory by revealing his glory to my heart year after year so that other glories would not lure me away. This he has done through his word. For me, the glory of God and the word of God are inseparable. I have no sure sight of God’s glory except through his word. The word mediates the glory, and the glory confirms the word.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is the founder and teacher of and the chancellor of Behlehem College & Seminary. He served for 33 years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than 50 books, including his most recent, A Peculiar Glory.