I have an article published at Mere Orthodoxy focusing on the necessity of pastoral work and preparation for the renewal of the church. Below is an excerpt.
Orthodox Protestantism, including my own Presbyterian tradition, has valued God’s ordinances as central to the life, witness, and mission of the church. Public worship on Sunday, composed of faithfully preaching the gospel as given in the scriptures, administering the sacraments, and devotion to prayer have historically characterized the church. While this is the work of the whole church, the responsibility to lead and disciple falls upon the pastor. The faithfulness of the pastor leads to the equipping and health of the church: The pastor’s exposition and application of God’s word, liturgical leadership, and humility in prayer are indispensable tools by which the church’s witness is upheld and mission accomplished…
Much of what ails the church today and has undercut its potency and witness is the loss of basic pastoral competency. The race to the lowest liturgical denominator, along with theologically and biblically illiterate pastors, has left the church weak and its witness murky. No amount of missional recalibration can compensate for this.
The “Everything-Goes Presbyterian Church.” Plenty of pastors in the EPC have heard our church described that way. The EPC has a well deserved reputation for charity, for not splintering over non-essential issues, for valuing relationships over litigiousness. For that reason the EPC has become a refuge for many. I count myself among them. At the same time, this relaxed and charitable posture has been perceived as lackadaisical, that the EPC is the denomination you join if you want to be presbyterian and evangelical but still do whatever you want.
I expect that in the next few years the EPC will start receiving an increasing number of requests to join us from disaffected PCA congregations. Within the PCA there are a number of debates raging over what dissatisfied congregations may view as secondary issues which demand liberty. The allure of the EPC to these congregations is as an apparent landing place where they can now freely practice what is contested or banned in their current church.
My own Reformed ministry began in a PCA church before I headed to the EPC, and I retain a love for the PCA. The EPC is a more relaxed church than the PCA, but we are not in reality an “everything-goes” church. Below are a few areas that disgruntled PCAers should be aware of the EPC’s actual stands.
1. The EPC is a confessional church. All of our officers, like in the PCA, vow to sincerely adopt the Westminster Confessions and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine found in the scriptures. The EPC’s confessionalism is well known for presbyterian churches considering a new denominational home. But the implications need to be teased out. Like in the PCA, the Westminster Standards are the subordinate doctrinal standards of the church. “The Essentials of Our Faith” is often used as a shorthand for our essential doctrines, but it is not that in actuality. The Westminster Standards are. Which means the Westminster Standards restrict doctrine and practice in the EPC in the same way they restrict doctrine and practice in the PCA….
Spiritual depression is a melancholy disquiet of the soul, alternating between angst and stupor, that affects the souls of people and nations. A cause that Lloyd-Jones catalogs here is the utilitarian approach to the Christian faith, of valuing Christ’s kingdom as a means to an end. Now, of course no American church or Christian would ever say such a thing. Instead they will talk about the relevance and application of the gospel to their lives: what good is God to me and my interests? This is the way of spiritual depression.
The American church at this moment is in something of a spiritual malaise. This is nothing new; Lloyd-Jones preaching in 1960s London was no stranger to those whose interest in Christianity was focused on its worldview and its applications. There have always been those who view the faith pragmatically and have pressured their leaders and flocks to emphasize the usefulness of the religion. Yet, there is a particularly sharp uptick in the American church of those who see the church’s role as speaking prophetically (that is, mimicking the talking points of political parties with the same level of decorum) to faddish issues and the pressing concerns of that particular congregation’s constituency.
Our debates, discussions, splits and schisms, our tribal identities are being driven by differences over the utility of the gospel.
Click through to read the rest of article.
I had the privilege to present on the subject of evangelism during a lunch session at this summer’s EPC General Assembly. My talk was sponsored by the Westminster Theological Society, which was an honor. Unfortunately, I’m a technological doofus and failed to hit the right button on my mic to record the talk. Below is a rough paraphrase of my talk: “Christians Need To Be Evangelized, Too”. I started my talk by reading Isaiah 60:1-6.
To be evangelized, eugelizoed, is to be gospeled. To evangelize is do the working of gospeling. There is a need to do this for Christians, and not just because of the volume of ignorance in our churches. There would be nothing more disheartening for a pastor than to survey his congregation with the question “What is the gospel?” and read the results. Those of us who have done officer interviews and ask this question have far too been dismayed as we are met with answers focusing on personal experience, transformation, and comfort, not the affirmation that the gospel is the good news that Jesus is king and that he has inaugurated his kingdom through his death and resurrection…
Since I wrote on James’ article on First Things there’s been some additional commentary, which I think deserves a response.
Tim Keller has never applied his “third way” towards partisan politics as such, but to the essence of church fellowship. This article on the whole brouhaha by Brian Mattson is good, but misses what Keller is doing:
Keller absolutely affirms that abortion is a great evil—he is a conservative Presbyterian pastor, after all. But then he follows up with the idea that the best way to reduce abortion isn’t exactly clear, and maybe the left has ideas as good as those on the right. This is where the missing priorities problem is at its greatest. If it is a great evil, if it is the unjust taking of human life, at the very least it should be illegal. At the least.
Except, as I pointed out in my last post, Keller very strongly and publicly opposes legal abortion. He even publicly committed to civil disobedience if compelled to support it! Keller is saying that those who adopt different political strategies for addressing abortion (or pick your political topic) than him should not be barred or cast out of church. That’s what his recent tweet thread was about, that’s what his articles that James and Mattson cite are about.
That’s what makes James’ followup so frustrating: “I am largely concerned about the way [Keller’s] framework is broadly appropriated by his disciples, many of whom populate leadership positions in churches and other Christian ministries.” He should have said that in his first essay. James is at pains to say he appreciates Keller, even his approach, but thinks a) inadequate Keller’s winsomeness applied to politics and b) inappropriate the way Keller’s framework has been misused by his disciples. Then say that. Writing an article about how he has moved on from Keller, rather than one about how Keller has been misapplied and there needs to be a recalibration, strikes me as unfortunately cynical.