It is because preaching is not exposition only but communication, not just the exegesis of a text but the conveying of a God-given message to living people who need to hear it.John Stott
I finally finished reading Rosaria Butterfield’s fascinating autobiography. Her writing is full of wisdom, flavor, and honesty. More importantly, her story of conversion is God-magnifying and very insightful. She details the very interesting path she took to find Christ. She truly was an “unlikely convert.” An atheist-agnostic who prided herself in an openly homosexual lifestyle, she disdained ignorant evangelicals. She was a tenured professor at a research university and was quite popular in her community. However, despite her opposition to Christianity, she eventually became a follower of Jesus.
Her story is full of insight, perspective, and wonder. She is able to analyze her own sin struggles, idolatrous thoughts, and search for God in a way that avoids oversimplification.
Christians would do well to learn from her experience to see how they can reach the “unlikely” people in their lives with a message that is honest, patient, and life-changing.
The first few chapters are riveting. The last few are denominationally specific and might not appeal to a wide audience. However, it’s her story and she can tell it how she wants.
An extended interview with the author can be found online:
A few of my favorite quotes from the book:
“It has always seemed to me that without the proper response to failure, we don’t grow, we only age. So I was and am willing to take the risk of being wrong for the hope of growing in truth.”
“The truth is, feminists have been more successful rhetoricians at the core of major U.S. universities than have Christians, even though most of these universities have Christian origins.”
“Here’s what I think happened: since all major U.S. universities had Christian roots, too many Christians thought that they could rest in Christian tradition, not Christian relevance. Too often the church does not know how to interface with university culture because it comes to the table only ready to moralize and not dialogue.”
“During one sermon, Ken pointed to John 7: 17, and called this “the hermeneutics of obedience.” Jesus is speaking in this passage, and he says: “If anyone is willing to do God’s will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself.” Ah ha! Here it was! Obedience comes before understanding.”
“…repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin.”
“I had to lean and lean hard on the full weight of scripture, on the fullness of the word of God, and I’m grateful that when I heard the Lord’s call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girlfriend and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself. Biblical orthodoxy can offer real compassion, because in our struggle against sin, we cannot undermine God’s power to change lives.”
“How do I judge my own sincerity? The saving grace of salvation is located in a holy and electing God, and a sacrificing, suffering, and obedient Savior. Stakes this high can never rest on my sincerity.”
“Learn how to glean good lessons from bad teachers in an effort to be a good teacher to those undergraduates under your care.”
“It’s better to be wrong on an important subject than right on a trivial one, as long as you are willing to learn from your mistakes.”
“This experience taught me a powerful lesson about evangelism: the integrity of our relationships matters more than the boldness of our words.”
“It took me a while to figure out how I felt about the Bible verses on the placards. On the one hand, the Bible had become my life, my guide for life, my paradigmatic mirror in which I found meaning and direction. I loved (and love) the Bible, gorging on huge chunks at a time. But these skinny verses, taken out of their rich and complex context, were just sitting out there on placards, naked and rude. I felt an immediate aversion to the aesthetic even as I identified with the message. For example, John 3: 16 without John 3: 17 seems to balance itself in the wrong place.”
Have you ever wondered how we used to navigate the world before cell phones, gps, and the internet? I remember walking the boardwalk at Virginia Beach in college while talking on the phone as my friend directed me to his location. The thought crossed my mind, how did I used to find people? Did we actually make plans and meet at the designated time and place?
Recently I was asking a teenager for directions. His response, “I don’t know, I always just follow the GPS.” This is one of the first generation of drivers in which GPS devices are ubiquitous. The result, many people have no idea of how to get from place to place without being told every step along the way. In the end, if someone doesn’t know how to think for themselves, even with someone telling them where to go, they take the wrong turn.
Even when following a GPS device there is a need for discernment, interpretation, and thinking for yourself.
(*Note* NBC Universal will not allow me to put this clip up but they also will not make it available on their website. Here is an alternate link of inferior quality that will let you sort of watch this clip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIakZtDmMgo Now back to our programming.)
This same problem is pervasive in the church. First, many pastors merely parrot the latest Christian celebrity, fad book, or acceptable commentary. In fact, I know a reasonably well-known pastor who blatantly plagiarizes sermons. I’m talking about a pastor who has spoken at seminaries, held state denominational positions, and more. For whatever reason (and I have my suspicions) many pastors skip the hard work of biblical exegesis. Rather than think for themselves, the merely say what they’ve been told.
Second, many Christians merely listen to the pastor’s word and never interpret and discern it for themselves. I sometimes wonder whether pastors want people to only take their word or be equipped to think for themselves? Is this some power grab meant to keep the laity subservient? I’m not willing to buy into that sort of conspiracy. However, a good deal of ineptitude and laziness might be in play. It is much more difficult and less gratifying to the ego to empower rather than just preach.
To use a cooking illustration, it is more gratifying to bring out the perfectly cooked dinner than to take someone in the kitchen and teach them how to cook. I believe that the best leaders can do both. I believe that they can both cook and teach others to cook for themselves.
So, what is my challenge to those who preach God’s word? First, do the hard work of studying the Bible. Second, teach your hearers how to study, think, and apply God’s word for themselves.
With their most recent release, there is a sense of seriousness and maturity to the famously playful band. As a quintessential example of the millenial generation, I have watched Vampire Weekend “grow up” in my lifetime. Modern Vampires of the City seems to connect the playful meaninglessness of previous releases with an earnestness of seasoned young men. The more mature sound and content of this album asks many of the questions with which modern young people wrestle yet it posit few answers; but that may just be the point.
It seems that everyone is so easily offended. I’ve watched from the sidelines as comedians navigate which words are in and which words are out (sometimes at the expense of honesty). Political correctness dominates the cultural conversation but usually without a careful understanding of language and morality. Instead, arbitrary preference and magical words restrain truth-telling.
The same seems true in the church. So many people are looking for an opportunity to be offended. Often they are offended on behalf of other people (an odd phenomenon). It just seems that a lot of amateur referees are waiting to blow their whistles. As a result, those who are called to lead and challenge are often forced to mute the force of their message for fear of upsetting or unsettling. There is no room for pandering in the church (2 Tim. 4:3).
There are clearly things in the Bible that are offensive. In fact, God’s Word intentionally offends and disrupts (1 Cor. 1:18, 21, 23; Gal. 1:10, 5:11, 6:12-14). Jesus was anything but politically correct. Paul was far from gentile in his speech. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible are not the kind to invite to a formal dinner party.
Sometimes, to expose sin and make room for truth it takes a disturbance. Maybe this comfortable ‘don’t rock the boat’ attitude is hampering our growth in Christ. In my life, my greatest times of spiritual growth come in the midst chaos. I’ve learned more from the teachers that have challenged me than the ones who let my complacency suffice.
Recently, I read this interesting quote: “the easily offended are missing the point.” If I am on guard (always critiquing, always judging) then I am not listening, gleaning, discerning, or participating. As the same author reminds, “Learn how to glean good lessons from bad teachers.”