Challies-TitleGraphic-ReadingClassicsTogether_v17abcI would pay good money to watch a debate between John Owen and Joel Osteen. Wouldn’t you? I have read John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation many times now, and have benefited with every reading. It just never gets old and it just never stops sounding so counter-cultural, countering both the wider culture and even the going Christian culture.

This week I read a chapter that teaches the value of self-examination and self-abasement. I was immediately struck by the difference between the heart of Owen’s understanding of the Christian life and what passes for Christian living today. I don’t mean to pick on an easy target, but it makes a fascinating contrast to compare Owen’s books with, say, Joel Osteen’s. I am not exaggerating when I say that they really are polar opposites in just about every way. Though both pass as Christian books, they could hardly be more different.

Where Joel Osteen writes about how we are to accept the unfortunate reality that we have made mistakes, his solution is that we should just press on and determine that we will not do bad things again. Owen, though, calls our mistakes “sin” and assures us that this sin has eternally distanced us from God. He allows sin no quarter and would never stoop to calling it a mere mistake. Where Osteen teaches that we are fundamentally good and that we should think highly of ourselves, Owen teaches that we are fundamentally sinners and need to fill our minds with self-abasement and thoughts of our own vileness.

Yet these low thoughts of ourselves have an important purpose and an important qualification. We are not to think low thoughts about ourselves in isolation. Instead, such thoughts are to be the natural consequence of pondering the majesty and the “otherness” of God. Do you want to see yourself accurately? Then see God accurately first. As we ponder God we are led to see the inconceivable distance between him and us. Once we see that distance, all we can really do is accept and ponder his greatness and our comparable vileness. I am sure there are those who read this and quickly picture dour Puritans who enjoy thinking of how awful they are, as if beating up on themselves is a form of holiness. But this is not what Owen says at all. Instead he teaches that proper thoughts of God and of humanity are of critical importance because only through abasement of ourselves before God can we experience humility of spirit. It is like a balance. As our thoughts of God increase, our view of ourselves naturally decreases accordingly. As that view of ourselves decreases, our love for God swells.

Osteen and so many of today’s other popular authors could never arrive at such conclusions because there is too little difference between their view of humanity and their view of God. In their way of thinking, we are not so far removed from him. They think of God too seldom and themselves too much; with every great thought of themselves, they lower God.

Here are a few of Owen’s best quotes from this chapter:

  • “Our further progress consists more in knowing what he is not, than what he is.”
  • “The intention of all gospel revelation is not to unveil God’s essential glory that we should see him as he is, but merely to declare so much of him as he knows sufficient to be a [foundation] of our faith, love, obedience, and coming to him—that is, of the faith which here he expects from us; such services as beseem poor creatures in the midst of temptations.”
  • “Know that your very nature is too narrow to bear apprehensions suitable to his glory.”

Next Time

For those reading Overcoming Sin and Temptation with me, well, I know that I took some liberties this week by looking beyond the one chapter. I couldn’t help myself! Next Thursday we will continue with the thirteenth chapter of the book—we are nearing the end! You can still get the book and read along if that is of interest to you.

Your Turn

I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.

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Defending the Faith

In the first few centuries of the church there came forth Christians who articulated a defense of Christianity against the pagan society of Rome; they were known as the apologist. Educated in Greek philosophy, they used commonalities to bridge the gap in understanding, showing that Christians worshiped the true and only God. At this early point in Christianity, many false assumptions where made about the new Christian faith. At first Rome believed they were just a branch or sect of Judaism and as such offered to them some relative peace in worship of their own God. Judaism had gained that exclusive privilege largely due to their history of rebellion to any suggested blasphemy and the Roman government had rather let them be instead of forcing the worship of other gods upon them as was the requirement of any other religion. However, when Rome realized the Jews hated the Christians it moved them into a new category of religion and that privilege was revoked. Soon rumors of indecency, cannibalism, and taboo rites begun to circulate from an ignorance of Christian doctrine and added to the fuel of persecution throughout the empire. The apologist rose to combat these false reports.

Early Apologist

The earliest known of these apologists was Aristides of Athens. Aristides contrasted other religions against the Christian faith to show how that it is superior to all others and is the only true religion.

Another early but unknown apologist wrote what is known as the Epistle of Diognetus. (click here to read earlier post on this work) Like Aristides, this work contrasted pagan idol worship and morals to present the Christian life as the only true way. He also used examples of persecution as evidence of this faith.

Athenagoras, a philosopher turned Christian, used his previous knowledge and understanding of Greek philosophy to articulate a defense Christianity against accusations of Atheism and for the foolishness of polytheism. He appeals to reason in his writing, “A Plea for the Christians” as can be seen here in part as he states, “it would be irrational for us to cease to believe in the Spirit from God, who moved the mouths of the prophets like musical instruments, and to give heed to mere human opinions.”

Another important apologist of this era was Theophilus, the bishop of Antioch. He also made strong use of Greek philosophy in his writing making cases such as in Chapter 4 of his book II, about the “absurd opinions of the philosophers concerning God.”

Justin Martyr

Finally the most well-known of the apologist was the skilled man named Justin Martyr. Justin wrote two apologies and another work called a “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew” that we still have access to today. Justin’s philosophical apologies took aim at the pagan high-society, the empire, Judaism and heretics who misrepresented the Christian faith. He drew a distinction between Christian morals and those of the pagans as well as pulled from prophesy to prove out the truth of God.

The Logos

Common between these early apologists was the doctrine of the Logos. The Logos (the Word) was a concept understood by Greeks and afforded the opportunity to convince them of the true Logos; Jesus Christ. The Logos represented wisdom in the Greek understanding and allowed the skilled apologist to connect the wisdom of the Greek philosophers and everything that was good in them to the incarnate Logos, Jesus Christ as illustrated in this passage from Athenagoras, “the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being–I have sufficiently demonstrated. [I say “His Logos”], for we acknowledge also a Son of God.”

Leaving a Legacy of Defense

We must give thanks to the early work of these apologists; many of who were killed for contending for voicing the truth. These early fathers of the faith show us how we today can combat the false accusation and heresies of twenty-first century and beyond by contrasting the truth of scripture and the false world-view of man pointing the hearer to the glory of God and His salvation for man.

 

The post The Early Apologist: Lessons in Church History appeared first on Hearts for the Lost.

James Boice

Today I am kicking off a brand new series of articles I am titling The Defenders. Through brief sketches of Christian leaders, I hope to draw attention to believers known for defending the church against specific theological challenges or false teachings. I will be focusing on modern times and have chosen to begin with James Montgomery Boice, a long-time defender of the doctrine of inerrancy.

Inerrancy

The Christian faith stands or falls on the Bible. It stands or falls on the trustworthiness of the Bible. It is no surprise, then, that the Bible has often been attacked at this very point. A long list of dissenters have maligned the Bible by insisting that it cannot be fully trusted, and asserting that errors have crept into it. The doctrine of inerrancy addresses the Bible’s trustworthiness.

Wayne Grudem defines the doctrine in this way: “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.” Said otherwise, “Inerrancy is the view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrines or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences” (P. D. Feinberg). If it is true that the Bible is reliable and contains nothing contrary to fact, then it is worthy of our trust and able to guide us in matters pertaining to life and godliness.

It was this doctrine, and the attacks upon it, that drew the attention of James Montgomery Boice.

James Montgomery Boice

James BoiceJames Montgomery Boice was the much-loved pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death in 2000. A prolific author, he penned dozens of books and commentaries, including a massive and influential four-volume work on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. His long pastoral ministry was unblemished and his congregants remember him as a kind and loving pastor. But outside that congregation he is remembered as a fierce defender of the doctrine of inerrancy.

In a stirring tribute to his friend and mentor, Richard Phillips says that Boice’s ministry can be roughly divided into three phases. The first of these phases lasted from the mid-1960’s to just around 1980, and it was here that Boice distinguished himself as a defender of the doctrine of inerrancy. Phillips explains:

These were the years when Boice was wrapping up the education he received in liberal institutions like Princeton Seminary and the University of Basel. In his John commentary, dating from these early years, one will frequently read Boice defending the Bible from the interpretations of liberals like Rudolf Bultmann. These were also the years when Boice was ordained in the liberal United Presbyterian Church, so that the context for his ministry was that of opposition to liberal attacks on the Bible. It is no surprise that Boice’s chief concern during these years was to defend the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, as seen in his leadership of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI).

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy was founded in 1977 for the express purpose of defining and defending the doctrine of inerrancy. Boice, who that year would publish Does Inerrancy Matter?, was asked to serve as Chairman. The Council met in 1977 and determined they would write a book-length response to Jack Rogers’ Biblical Authority, an influential work championing neo-orthodoxy and denying inerrancy. Boice served as editor for that work and in it he warned “even among evangelicals, Christian doctrine and Christian living are moving progressively away from the biblical standard and from the classical teachings of the church.” In the fall of 1978 the ICBI held their first conference with nearly 300 Christian leaders in attendance. During that conference the Council met repeatedly and wrote what came to be known as The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

In 1988 the ICBI was disbanded, having completed the work it was created to do. Mark Dever says explains that “The plan, all along, was to have a limited life, so as not to form another institution which could go astray. Its purpose was to hold conferences and publish books to the end of championing the traditional position on the inerrancy of Scripture. And their efforts—and those of their friends at the time—have left us one of the richest stores of literature on inerrancy.”

While Boice’s ministry progressed through two more phases, each with a different focus, he did not leave inerrancy behind. In 1984 he wrote Standing on the Rock: Upholding Biblical Authority in a Secular Age. In his theological work Foundations of the Christian Faith he returned to inerrancy, saying:

Can God reveal himself to humanity? And, to be more specific, can he reveal himself in language, the specifics of which become normative for Christian faith and action? With an inerrant Bible these things are possible. Without it, theology inevitably enters a wasteland of human speculation. The church, which needs a sure Word of God, flounders. Without an inerrant revelation, theology is not only adrift, it is meaningless. Having repudiated its right to speak on the basis of Scripture, it forfeits its right to speak on any other issue as well.

He continued to display leadership among Reformed Protestants. In 1994 he convened a meeting with a number of key leaders and together they founded the Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals, a work that carries on today, and continues to champion a high view of Scripture.

Boice once wrote these words (italics are mine):

It is sometimes said by those who take another position that inerrantists have just not faced the facts about the biblical material. This is not true. These men have faced them. But they are convinced that in spite of those things that they themselves may not fully understand or that seem to be errors according to the present state of our understanding, the Bible is nevertheless the inerrant Word of God, simply because it is the Word of God, and that it is only when it is proclaimed as such that it brings the fullest measure of spiritual blessing. May God raise up many in our time who believe this and are committed to the full authority of the Word of God, whatever the consequences. In desiring that “Thus saith the Lord” be the basis for the authority of our message, the seminaries, whether liberal or conservative, are right. But we will never be able to say this truthfully or effectively unless we speak on the basis of an inerrant Scripture.

God did raise up those people, and Boice’s efforts were rewarded with a generation committed to the inerrancy of the Bible. The Chicago Statement remains a clear, strong, and scriptural call to inerrancy. Boice’s ministry still resonates in the church even fourteen years after his death, and it will continue to do so long after his name is forgotten. At his death his friend R.C. Sproul said it well: “Here we had a valiant warrior for the church militant in our age.”

Recommended Reading

On Inerrancy:

By James Montgomery Boice

The Bestsellers
Here is another entry in a series I am calling “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I am looking at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We have encountered books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and Randy Alcorn (The Treasure Principle) all the way to Bruce Wilkinson (The Prayer of Jabez) and Paul Young (The Shack). Today we look at the only bestselling book written by a alumnus of John MacArthur’s college and seminary.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

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Francis Chan was born in San Francisco in 1967, the son of Chinese immigrants. After professing faith at a young age, he attended The Master’s College and The Master’s Seminary, graduating with Bachelor of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees. In 1994, he and his wife Lisa founded Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. Though the church began with only thirty people, it grew quickly and within six years numbered over 1,500.

In 2005 Chan released a video titled Just Stop and Think that quickly went viral while also setting him up for the release of his first book: Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. Published in 2008, the book is a call for Christians to live an authentic faith, and it was marketed behind language like this: “Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts — it’s falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, as Francis describes it, you will never be the same.”

Chan develops two substantial themes. The first is a painstaking self-examination to determine if the reader is truly saved. “A lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are ‘lukewarm’ are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven.” The second theme is a radical obedience concerned more for future rewards than present comfort or prosperity. “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”

What may sound cliché after nearly ten years and a host of imitators was fresh in its time. “This book is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American Christianity offers. It is for those who don’t want to plateau, who would rather die before their convictions do.” At the time Chan was writing, many Christian leaders seemed to be leading people away from the centrality of the local church. Chan, though, wished to express his love for the church and wanted to draw people back to it. In an interview after the book’s publication he said

As a pastor I hear a lot of emergent leaders talk about what is wrong with the church. It comes across as someone who doesn’t love the church. I’m a pastor first and foremost, and I’m trying to offer a solution or a model of what church should look like. I’m going back to scripture and seeing what the church was in its simplest form and trying to recreate that in my own church. I’m not coming up with anything new. I’m calling people to go back to the way it was. I’m not bashing the church. I’m loving it.

Crazy Love served as a call for young Christians to live obediently rather than safely. It was a message that resonated with an entire generation.

Sales & Lasting Impact

By 2009 Crazy Love had sold 500,000 copies and was awarded the Gold Book Award; the following year it crossed the 1 million threshold and was awarded the Platinum Book Award. To date it has sold more than 2 million copies. It is now clear that Crazy Love was responsible, at least in part, for kick-starting an entire theme in the Christian world—the theme of living radically, but doing so while being grounded in the gospel. Bestselling books like Radical and Jesus > Religion develop the same topics, though with different emphases.

Since the Award

In 2010 Chan announced to his congregation (which now numbered several thousand) that the Lord was leading him in a new direction, though he was not yet certain what it was. He explained that he was weary of being an Evangelical celebrity and that he was concerned that within his church he heard the words “Francis Chan” more often and with greater excitement than “Holy Spirit.” After his resignation he spent several months in Asia before relocating to San Francisco where he founded a church planting movement geared specifically to the city’s poor. He continues that work today.

Chan followed Crazy Love with Forgotten God, a book about the Holy Spirit, and then with Erasing Hell, a response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. In 2012 he teamed up with David Platt to write Multiply and to launch a discipleship movement. He has also written several books for children and travels extensively to speak at conferences and other events. While his influence crosses many demographics, his greatest popularity is among teens and young adults.

A Personal Perspective

My first exposure to Chan, at least to my recollection, was his “Just Stop and Think” video. I reviewed Crazy Love in 2008, shortly after its release, and expressed gratitude for it. Though I still think we need to focus on being ordinary Christians as much as we focus on being radical Christians, I understand how and why his book had such massive appeal, and especially among young people. While I have been a little bit concerned by some of the things Chan has said and done over the past few years, I appreciate his generosity (To my knowledge he has given away all or most of his book royalties which would now number in the millions of dollars) and his desire to escape the Evangelical celebrity culture.

 

The-Bestsellers-Cover1Here is another entry in a series I am calling “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I am looking at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We have encountered books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and Randy Alcorn (The Treasure Principle) all the way to Bruce Wilkinson (The Prayer of Jabez) and Paul Young (The Shack). Today we look at a controversial devotional work that has left an indelible mark on Christian publishing.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

ljesus-calling-119195560017700_2Compared to other bestselling authors, Sarah Young is a mysterious figure. Notoriously secretive, she has written a book that has sold in the millions, but to my knowledge has never spoken in public, has never appeared on television or radio, and has completed only the smallest handful of written interviews (and even then only through a publicist).

What we do know is that Young is American, was a 1968 graduate of Massachusetts’ Wellesley College, is married to a Presbyterian missionary, lived in Japan for many years, and has recently returned to America after living in Australia. Also, she suffers from significant health concerns related to vertigo and Lyme disease.

Thomas Nelson published Young’s first book Jesus Calling in 2004. Though sales were slow at first, the book began to hit its stride in 2008, tallying over 200,000 sales that year and growing year-over-year from there. To date it has sold over 10 million copies and has outpaced many better-known New York Times bestsellers. The Daily Beast, writing for their non-Christian audience, rightly referred to it as “The Evangelical Bestseller You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Jesus Calling is a daily devotional that contains a year’s worth of reflections on the Christian faith. What sets it apart from the thousands of other devotional works is not what Young says as much as the claim behind it. She claims that as she listens, Jesus speaks to her, and that these devotionals are his more than they are hers. Through them she promises a closer relationship with Jesus and a more tangible sense of his presence.

The first editions of Jesus Calling reference her indebtedness to A.J. Russell’s 1932 work God Calling which Russell claimed was prepared by two “Listeners,” women who received and recorded messages directly from God. This book was unorthodox both in its writing and in its content and in many ways more closely resembles the New Age movement than orthodox Christianity. Still, Young says it “became a treasure to me,” and that as she read it over and over

I began to wonder if I, too, could receive messages during my times of communing with God. I had been writing in prayer journals for years, but that was one-way communication: I did all the talking. I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believe He was saying. I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message. It was short, biblical, and appropriate. It addressed topics that were current in my life: trust, fear, and closeness to God. I responded by writing in my prayer journal.

What she wrote in her prayer journal was later compiled into Jesus Calling and she makes a bold claim: “This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline, so I want to share some of the messages I have received. In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and Peace. The messages that follow address that felt need.”

This excerpt from the reading for January 8 is representative of the daily devotionals:

Softly I announce my Presence. Shimmering hues of radiance tap gently at your consciousness, seeking entrance. Though I have all Power in heaven and on earth, I am infinitely tender with you. The weaker you are, the more gently I approach you. Let your weakness by a door to My Presence. Whenever you feel inadequate, remember that I am your ever-present Help.

Sales & Lasting Impact

In the first 3 years following its publication, Jesus Calling sold fewer than 60,000 copies, but then sales suddenly spiked so that it quadrupled its sales in year 4 and has nearly doubled every year since. It sold its millionth copy in 2010 and was accordingly awarded the Platinum Book Award. The publisher claims that the book has now sold more than 10 million copies in 26 languages. Not surprisingly, it has spawned many imitators which also claim to bring the voice of God to the printed page.

Since the Award

Despite the book’s massive success, Young has remained as mysterious as ever and has completed only a handful of interviews. She has continued to write other books, including a sequel called Jesus Today (which received ECPA’s Book of the Year award in 2013), and children’s titles Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions for Kids, and the Jesus Calling Storybook Bible. A host of gift editions, calendars and other related products have also sold in the millions.

While Jesus Calling has sold far beyond expectations and has been joyfully received by Christian readers, it has also garnered a significant amount of criticism for both its method and its message.

Not surprisingly, the primary concern relates to Young’s method and her claim that she speaks for Jesus. Many concerned Christians have pointed out that the Bible gives us no clear indicator that we can claim Jesus will speak through us (apart from the Bible) and that Jesus’ agency behind her words is unverifiable. Young implies that though the Bible is inerrant and infallible, it is insufficient. After all, it was not reading Scripture that proved her most important spiritual discipline, but this listening, this receiving of unmediated messages from the Lord. Thus the heart of the book is not the Bible, but these extra-biblical messages from Jesus. Some have pointed out with suspicion that the Jesus of Jesus Calling does not speak in the voice of the Jesus of the Bible, but in the voice of a middle-aged woman.

As for the message, Michael Horton says it can be reduced to one point: “Trust me more in daily dependence and you’ll enjoy my presence.” He goes on to point out that “Compared with the Psalms, for example, Jesus Calling is remarkably shallow. … The Psalms first place before us the mighty acts of God and then call us to respond in confession, trust, and thankfulness. But in Jesus Calling I’m repeatedly exhorted to look to Christ, rest in Christ, trust in Christ, to be thankful and long for a deeper sense of his presence, with little that might provoke any of this. Which means that I’m directed not actually to Christ but to my own inner struggle to be more trustful, restful, and thankful.” It is noteworthy that “The first mention of Christ even dying for our sins appears on February 28 (page 61). The next reference (to wearing Christ’s robe) is August 9 (p. 232). Even the December readings focus on a general presence of Jesus in our hearts and daily lives, without anchoring it in Jesus’s person and work in history.” The message of Jesus Calling is, thus, very different from the message of the Bible.

In her few interviews, Young has defended both her method and her message. Interestingly, the references to God Calling that appeared in early editions have since been removed and the word “messages” to describe the revelation she receives has been replaced with “devotionals” and other synonyms. But the book itself remains unchanged.

A Personal Perspective

I reviewed Jesus Calling in 2011 after seeing it rocket up the list of bestselling Christian books and it quickly proved one of my most-read reviews. I concluded, “Jesus Calling is, in its own way, a very dangerous book. Though the theology is largely sound enough, my great concern is that it teaches that hearing words directly from Jesus and then sharing these words with others is the normal Christian experience. In fact, it elevates this experience over all others. And this is a dangerous precedent to set. I see no reason that I would ever recommend this book.” I stand by those words today and believe the success of the book says a great deal about a lack of spiritual discernment among Christians.

 

shutterstock_139472012It is going to take time—decades at least—before we are able to accurately tally the cost of our cultural addiction to pornography. But as Christians we know what it means to tamper with God’s clear and unambiguous design for sexuality: The cost will be high. It must be high.

We all know the cost will be high in fractured families and heartbroken parents, husbands and wives. Already we are seeing far too many of these and each one is its own tragedy. We know the cost will be high in the countless thousands of women who are used and abused in front of cameras so they can be violated for other people’s pleasure. That is a sickening tragedy as well. But an overlooked cost, and one that will only become clear in time, is that porn is stealing the best years from a million young Christian men and women. Porn is dominating their lives during their teens and twenties. It is controlling their lives during those years when energy is high and responsibility is low, when the world lies open before them and the possibilities are endless, when they are charting the trajectories for the rest of their lives. Their dreams and their abilities are being hampered and squelched by a reckless commitment to sin.

So many young Christians have stunted their spiritual growth through what I call pornolesence. Pornolescence is that period when a person is old enough and mature enough to know that pornography is wrong and that it exacts a heavy price, but too immature or too apathetic to do anything about it. Pornolescence is that period where he feels the guilt of his sin, but still enjoys it too much to give it up. He may make the occasional plea for help, or install Covenant Eyes (but keep a workaround for when he’s really burning up), or ask for an accountability partner. But he doesn’t really want to stop. Not yet. She may phone a friend on occasion or plan to speak to one of the older women in the church, but in the end her internal shame weighs heavier than her desire for holiness. So she continues on, night after night.

This is pornolesence, that period between seeing the sin for what it is and actually putting it to death, that period between the deep soul conviction of immorality and the stubborn commitment to purity. For some people it lasts days, but for many more it lasts for years. A lot of young people—too many young people—are growing up too slowly today. Their sexual awakening is coming far too early and amidst all the wrong circumstances, and it is delaying every other kind of awakening and maturing. It is especially delaying their spiritual maturation.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 makes it as clear as day: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” A Christian’s growth in holiness and his development in Christian maturity is directly and inextricably tied to sexual purity. A person cannot full-out pursue God while also full-out pursuing porn. It’s either/or, not both/and. God will not be mocked. God will not allow you to soar to spiritual mountain tops while you stoop in pornographic filth. God will not allow you to grow in Christian maturity while you wallow in your incessant pornolesence.

And I think time will prove that this is one of the gravest costs of pornography: It is stealing the best years from so many young Christians. It is stunting their spiritual growth and delaying their entrance into Christian ministry and service. These are the people who represent the future of the church—future elders, future deacons, future women’s ministry leaders, future youth leaders, future children’s workers, future mentors, future missionaries, future seminary professors, future defenders of the faith, future denominational heads, and on and on. But with each click, with each video, with each unblushing exposure to what God deems abhorrent, they choose to worship a god in place of the God. And all the while they delay their entrance into maturity, into leadership, into who and what God calls them to be.

If this is you, hear my plea: For the sake of Christ’s church, and out of love for Christ’s church, put that sin to death. Do it for Him, and do it for us.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Last weekend I was a guest on Up for Debate on Moody Radio where we discussed whether or not Christian parents should send their children to public schools. I am not opposed to homeschooling or Christian schooling—not even a little bit—but do maintain that public schooling may also be a legitimate option for Christian families, and this is the perspective they asked me to represent. It is quite a controversial position in parts of the Christian world today.

As I prepared for the show I went back through my archives to find what I had written on the subject in the past. I found that I first wrote about it around eight years ago when my son was in first grade. Well, he is now just days away from his eighth grade graduation and this seems like an opportune time to revisit the subject and to ask, What have we learned in ten years of public schooling (which includes two years of kindergarten)? I spoke to Aileen and together we jotted down a bit of what we’ve learned from having three children in public schools. Here are ten lessons from ten years of public schooling.

1. Develop and Deepen Convictions

I often find that parents who put their children in public school are represented as being without convictions while parents who homeschool or who enroll their children in Christian schools are the ones with strong convictions. Admittedly, that is sometimes the case and if you are a person without convictions it is unlikely that you are homeschooling. But before Aileen and I put our children in school we developed and deepened our convictions about public schooling and these convictions allowed us to enroll our children with confidence and to keep them there with confidence. At the same time we have regularly revisited the subject to ensure that we have not grown complacent but are still following conviction. My encouragement to any parent considering any of the educational options is to develop and to deepen Bible-based convictions, and then to respond charitably to those whose convictions differ from your own.

2. It Is Possible

There is a lot of fear involved in parenting. There is an extra measure of fear in public schooling, and especially so when so many Christians warn of all you stand to lose if you allow your children to attend them. The gentlemen who represented homeschooling on the radio last weekend said he had statistics to prove that something like 83% of all Christian children who go to public school end up forsaking a Christian worldview. That is a scary statistic, though I am far from convinced it is accurate, at least when it comes to families who are Christian in more than name. By the grace of God, the last eight years have not ruined or harmed our children, at least as far as we can tell. I will grant that they are still quite young and have lots of growing up to do, but when we evaluate, we do not believe we made a bad decision all those years ago. We made that decision in light of biblical convictions, and we believe our experience has validated those convictions.

3. The Family Goes to Public School

The third lesson is this: You do not send your children to public school—you send your family. What I mean is that public schooling requires the participation of the parents which, in our experience, is something the school values just as much as we do. We have attempted to remain involved with the school and with its teachers. This means that my wife volunteers and spends at least one morning a week in the school and that both of us volunteer to go on class trips. Not only that, but we attempt to get to know our kids’ teachers and to interact with them through the year. They appreciate our involvement and we appreciate their support. This was one of our big takeaways from the excellent book Going Public.

4. Don’t Send Your Kids As Evangelists

One of the common reasons people send their children to public school is to allow them to be salt and light among their fellow students. However, this is a heavy burden to place on young children, and especially young children who are not yet believers. Children are not born believers and, therefore, cannot be expected to be evangelists until they are converted. We never placed that responsibility on their shoulders. (With all of that said, we have found that as our children show an interest in the gospel and become believers, they naturally become evangelists as well. As our kids have grown, they have had many excellent conversations with their fellow students and our kids have pillaged the house for Bibles to give away at school.)

5. Be Open To Alternatives

Aileen and I heed the old mantra, “A kid at a time, a school at a time, a year at a time.” We are not public schoolers by blind ideology and feel very willing to explore alternatives if and when it seems a wise course of action. My son’s graduation to high school has given us good reason to explore all the alternatives once more and we find ourselves seriously considering Christian high school. We public school best when we are willing to not public school.

6. It Takes a Church

It takes a congregation to raise a child. This is true whether your children are educated at home, in a Christian environment, or in public school. As my kids have gone through public school, they have also been deeply involved in a solid church where their peers and adults engage them and pursue them. When my children wrestle with spiritual issues, I find it a joy to be able to tell them to speak to their friends who are also my friends. Our church supports our educational choices by their involvement in our kids’ lives.

7. The Teachers Are Your Friends

We have encountered many teachers over the past ten years, and our experiences have almost all been very positive. It is easy to caricature teachers as being unapologetic leftists or vile perverts who are out to corrupt and destroy our children. But we have found that teachers love our kids and take joy in their success. When we have expressed concern over any part of the curriculum, the teachers have been very eager to show it to us and to ensure we are comfortable with it. In our experience the caricatures have been unfair. We do far better to regard the teachers as our friends and allies.

8. Prepare for Difficulty

I would be lying if I said public schooling has been wine and roses in every moment. There have been a number of difficult situations over the years—teachers who lacked skill or compassion, students who were cruel, ideology that contradicted our own, class trips that we chose to keep our children from attending. But we knew these situations would arise and while our preparation did not prevent them, it did allow us to respond appropriately and to walk our children through them. We have not had one situation yet that was outside God’s ability to use and redeem for good. So be prepared for difficulty, don’t be afraid of it, and don’t allow minor ones to drive you to despair.

9. We Are All Homeschoolers

Inviting the public school system to educate our children has not meant that we abdicate or outsource all responsibility or ultimately responsibility for the kids’ education. We remain involved in what they do, what they learn, the kids they befriend, and all the rest. Wherever or however children are receiving their education, they need their parents to be involved. Their parents have by far the loudest voice into their lives and, by looking to the Bible together, we can explore, explain and interpret anything that comes their way. We are all homeschoolers!

10. Enjoy It

We have few regrets with our decision—no more than we would have had if we had chosen an alternative, I’m sure. We have enjoyed the public schools and believe our kids have been blessed in and through them. If you are going to public school your kids, allow yourself to enjoy it—enjoy the schools, enjoy the teachers, enjoy the kids you’ll get to meet, and even enjoy the challenges. God can use them all.

(Please do note that our experience is our experience. We are who we are and where we are—in a particular context that is different from your own. We did not choose to put our children in public school outside of our own context. Had we lived elsewhere or had some of the particulars of our life been different, we may well have chosen a different course. What I mean to say is while we believe public school has been a good and viable option for us, we are firmly convinced that every family ought to make their own choice based on their unique circumstances.)

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There is something to be said for evangelism strategies and discipleship programs. My guess is that most churches have some way to introduce unbelievers to the Christian faith and to mature those who are new to the faith. I would guess as well that most churches keep an eye on the various new offerings, looking for what is original, what is interesting, what promises results. But what if we’ve made it all too complicated? What if both evangelism and discipleship can be as simple as reading the Bible?

One To One Bible Reading
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One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm offers the simplest solution of all. “Reading one-to-one is a variation on that most central Christian activity—reading the Bible—but done in the context of reading with someone. It is something a Christian does with another person, on a regular basis, for a mutually agreed upon length of time, with the intention of reading through and discussing a book or part of a book of the Bible.” In their book The Trellis and the Vine (a must-read for anyone involved in ministry), Colin Marshall and Tony Payne dream about just this kind of thing:

Imagine if all Christians, as a normal part of their discipleship, were caught up in a web of regular Bible reading—not only digging into the Word privately, but reading it with their children before bed, with their spouse over breakfast, with a non-Christian colleague at work once a week over lunch, with a new Christian for follow-up once a fortnight for mutual encouragement, with a mature Christian friend once a month for mutual encouragement.

It would be a chaotic web of personal relationships, prayer, and Bible reading—more of a movement than a program—but at another level it would be profoundly simple and within reach of all.

It’s an exciting thought!

It is, indeed. Can you imagine this in your church, in your neighborhood, in your home? It would be a beautiful thing to see.

Helm sees at least four potential benefits in something so simple as one-to-one (or two-to-one or three-to-one) Bible reading:

  • Salvation. The Bible alone, when read and understood, is sufficient to turn a heart from darkness to light. In this way it is an effective means of evangelism.
  • Sanctification. Christians are told to encourage one another and to build up one another. What better way to do this than to learn together from God’s Word—to allow the Bible to be the training manual.
  • Training. Simply reading the Bible together is a great way to train new leaders and future leaders toward greater ministry responsibility.
  • Relationship. Many people, and perhaps most people, are hungry for more and deeper relationships. Reading the Bible together is an ideal means of growing deeper in relationship together.

This short book not only explains the why of one-to-one reading, but also the how. In fact, at least two-thirds of the book offers gentle counsel on how to actually go about such a relationship—who to look for, how many times to meet, what books to read in specific circumstances, and so on. There are even short guides to some of the books of the Bible to help those who are uncertain about leading another person through Scripture.

What I love about one-to-one Bible reading is that it extends the expository ministry from the pulpit to the pew. It is not only the preacher who is going to God’s Word week-by-week and day-by-day to teach, to train, to call to faith, but the entire church. It is not longer simply expository preaching, but an expository church where every person is leading others to and through the Word of God.

One-to-One Bible Reading is a short and inexpensive book, but one that accomplishes its purpose well. It’s just the kind of book you can buy in bulk and distribute within your church. Buy it, read it, and implement it!