The Antidote to the Poison of the Love of Applause

Robert George gives excellent “Advice to  Young Scholars” which is fitting for anyone committed to learning, especially theological learning. This is important to remember for those starting out in ministry so that this truth, this antidote becomes foundational to life. And one never moves beyond this foundation because one’s health and well-being, one’s life lived under the Lord and before people in ministry requires a long, humble, grateful obedience in the same direction.

Advice to young scholars and, especially, to aspiring public intellectuals: Although it is natural and, in itself, good to desire and even seek affirmation, do not fall in love with applause. It is a drug. When you get some of it, you crave more. It can easily deflect you from your mission and vocation. In the end, what matters is not winning approval or gaining celebrity. Your mission and vocation is to seek the truth and to speak the truth as God gives you to grasp it.

There is a particular danger for those who dissent from the reigning orthodoxies of a prevailing intellectual culture. You may be tempted to suppose that your willingness to defy the career-making (and potential career-breaking) mandarins of elite opinion immunizes you from addiction to affirmation and applause and guarantees your personal authenticity and intellectual integrity. It doesn’t. We are all vulnerable to the drug. The vulnerability never completely disappears. And the drug is toxic to the activity of thinking (and thus to the cause of truth-seeking).

To me, the reality of this temptation, no less than any other temptation, should keep us mindful of the need constantly to tend the garden of one’s interior life. If anything can immunize us against the temptation to love applause above truth, it is prayer. We all need that immune system strengthener. Even those of us who think we are strong, who flatter ourselves with the thought that we are invulnerable to the lure of approval, are weak. In fact, in our self-flattery we are, perhaps, among the most vulnerable. It is so easy to think of oneself as Socrates—until the hemlock is served.

Though post-fall this has always been a temptation, it appears to be particularly acute among Evangelicals as of late. Why do you believe this is so? How do you guard your heart? What is it of God’s grace and the gospel that give us the foundation and the center of who we are and what we do (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7; 2 Cor. 3:4)?


Life, Lips (sayings) and the Lordship of Christ

As believers, everything we do, everything we think, everything we say, everything about everything occurs under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There is nothing that is outside of that realm. This also means that everything we observe, read and experience are to be assessed, interpreted and evaluated under that same Lordship of Christ.

Paul exhorts believers to take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:3). Elsewhere he states that we are to do everything to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

The heart of this thinking is a biblical worldview and the heart of this life is living under the Lordship of Christ, a disciple living a life of discipleship.

Recently Drew Dyke shared how he approached this. Each day as he stopped by Starbucks he was treated to coffee and an Oprah Winfrey quote. This went on for a number of days, and he felt himself getting progressively frustrated by the emptiness of these self-exalting expressions. Then it struck him: since he is an editor, why not edit the statements made by Oprah. Rooted in a biblical worldview under the Lordship of Christ, he made the following changes on a few of the quotes:

Be more splendid. Be more extraordinary. Use every moment to fill yourself up.

Be more splendid humble. Be more extraordinary. Use every moment to fill empty yourself up.

Your life is big. Keep reaching.

Your life is big small. Keep reaching serving.

Follow your passion. It will lead you to your purpose.

Follow your passion. It will lead you to your purpose ruin if that’s all you follow.

How about you? How do you interpret, respond and live in this world, but not of this world? How do you live the biblical worldview under the Lordship of Christ, and how do you impart that to others?


Hot Topics, Reminders

The Church and Youth Ministry

Though it is important to be aware of the various segments and age-stages and life-cycles of God’s people, when that group becomes a special interest group to which we focus to win, I fear something might be lost. Though there is something to age, experience and wisdom (not all happen based on chronology alone!), there is something wrong when that focus or special interest group trumps the community God creates through the gospel, and the life to which the gospel calls us.

Here are some interesting thoughts to ponder regarding Dietrich Bohnoeffer’s reflections on ministry to youth in the context of the church. The author claims that making youth the focus actually hurts the youth and the church. And the reason for hurting the church is because this special-interest focus misunderstands the church. And yet, this is what we hear and observe over and over again.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer delineated his thoughts on youth ministry in “Eight Theses on Youth Work in the Church” (Volume 12, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works):

  1. The future of the church is not youth itself but rather the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
  2. The question is not, What is youth and what rights does it have? but rather, What is the church-community and what is the place of youth within it?
  3. Being in the church-community means being in Christ; being in Christ means being in the church-community.
  4. Youth enjoys no special privilege in the church-community.
  5. The Bible judges youth quite soberly: Genesis 8:21;Isaiah 3:5; Jeremiah 1:6;Ecclesiastes 11:10; 1 Peter 5:5; 2 Timothy 2:2 and other passages.
  6. Church youth work is possible only on the basis of addressing young people concerning their baptism and with the exclusive goal of having them hear God’s word.
  7. The authenticity of young people’s protest against their elders is demonstrated by their willingness to maintain solidarity with the guilt of the church-community and to bear that burden in love, abiding in penitence before God’s word.
  8. There is no real “church association”; there is only the church.

Though this focuses on youth, lest we think this is only a youth problem, it happens at the other end of life with those who want music a certain way or demand certain ministries or programs because it is their preference and they built the church with blood, sweat and tears. And it is not just the bookends of life that are affected, it also happens in between with those who want their church experience to consist of other young, professionals living and working in the city (consider the look of many of the young church planters).

This does not mean one does not focus for a time or a season on a certain age, youth in this instance. It is important to be aware. But it must be remembered that it is done in the context of the church.  It is a reality, and a good ministry practice, that we address people in various ages and stages knowing they are going through experiences unique to that season of life. But when any group becomes the focus as an end, making the part (certain age or stage) the whole (the church) or the whole (the church) subservient to the part (certain age or stage), life and ministry become misaligned, the gospel and its entailments become secondary or used, and the church suffers. Ministry to parts must always be done within the context and with an eye to the whole.

For another context, consider the family. This is similar to parents who are aware of the ages and stages of each child who parent them appropriately for that age and stage, but always within the larger family. Even though the growing teenager wants some independence, parents grant a growing responsibility, but it is not apart from the context of life together in the family but within. He/She is not allowed to avoid or ignore his/her brother or sister.

And for another context that often makes the parts the focus and end, consider parachurch ministries. They are good and important and serve an invaluable role in the lives of many Christians, but they are part ministries that must also bear in mind that they exist to serve the church. It is the church the Lord Jesus promised to build, not the parachurch.

Certainly time and place, culture, affect this. However, it also raises good questions for us. With what do we agree and/or disagree with Bonhoeffer’s theses? Do we relegate his thoughts to a by-gone day? What do we learn about what he writes historically? What can we learn for the present? Do we have a parts and whole problem in the church?


Back Again!

After a brief break, I reengage with writing for the blog. It is always good to step away from a routine for a time. But it is also always good to reengage, to step back into the routine. I find that is true for writing the blog.

While I did not post anything during this break, as I read materials and pondered matters, my mind often engaged in a way that processed for a blog post. (In fact, I saved some of those which will be posted at some point in the future.) It is quite amazing how habits and disciplines affect our thinking and our living. When I write that, I am, of course, thinking of the good habits and disciplines that become part of the routine of our lives that form and shape us. But because of the “power” of them, unhealthy habits and disciplines can and will hurt, affect and possibly harm oneself and others.

I am thankful for a break and change of pace. I am also thankful for routine. My desire in all of life is to live, think, love, serve, write, whatever I do, to do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17, 23), with the strength he works in me (Col. 1:29), for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-8), desirous to use time and energy wisely (Eph. 5:15-17).

With fall ministries beginning, might you remember that it is not by might, nor by power but by the Spirit you live life and engage in ministry (Zech. 4:6), that it is his mighty power that works in you, not your own strength (Col. 1:29), and that ultimately you will find and experience the joy of the Lord being your strength (Neh. 8:10).  

Lord, may it be so.