The Bestsellers

A short time ago I launched a new Sunday series called “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 will look 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 will encounter books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris, Randy Alcorn and David Platt all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson and William Young. So far we have looked at titles awarded Platinum status in 2005 and 2007; today we advance to 2008 and a book that served as the voice of a generation.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

blue-like-jazz3_2Donald Miller was born in 1971 and grew up in Houston, Texas. He left home at twenty-one and traveled across the country until he ran out of money in Portland, Oregon, and decided to remain there. In 2000 Harvest House Publishers published his first book, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, which told the story of his cross-country journey. The book made minimal impact until it was retitled Through Painted Deserts and re-released in 2005, following the breakthrough success of his second book.

Two years after Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, while auditing classes at Reed College in Portland, Miller wrote Blue Like Jazz: Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It was published in 2003 by Thomas Nelson. Sales were slow at first, but they soon picked up, and eventually the book would make its way to the New York Times list of bestsellers. It would prove to have mass appeal both for what Miller said and for the way he said it.

Blue Like Jazz is a spiritual memoir, a semi-autobiographical account of Miller’s spiritual transformation. The catchy title is borrowed from the world of jazz and the characteristic freedom and ambiguity of that musical genre. “I was watching BET one night, and they were interviewing a man about jazz music. He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery. I thought that was beautiful because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper; it is so much more a language of the soul … The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.”

Miller had been raised with a kind of cultural Christianity and had been tempted to walk away from it all together, thinking that Christianity was necessarily synonymous with fundamentalism and Republicanism. He had experienced the all-too-common moralistic therapeutic deism that marks so much of Evangelicalism. He had grown weary. What he comes to see is that Christianity is far wider and far better than what he had experienced as a youth. He comes to see that the Christian faith continues to be relevant even in a postmodern culture. He writes, “I don’t think any church has ever been relevant to culture, to the human struggle, unless it believed in Jesus and the power of His gospel.”

Through Miller’s time at Reed College, and through the relationships he developed there, he describes his arrival to a form of Christian spirituality that is imprecise and difficult to define, just like jazz music. Where jazz is nearly impossible to score, so the Christian faith is difficult to define, describe and limit. Where many Christians see life as a journey guided boldly by the Bible, he sees life as more of a meandering journey. “For me, the beginning of sharing my faith with people began by throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical mysterious system that can be experienced but not explained.”

This journey is told through skillful, self-deprecating writing, and an irreverent tone that draws many people, and young people in particular. In his memoir he arrives at an ambiguous relationship with many key doctrines of Christianity, with sin, with the local church. “At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.”

Sales & Lasting Impact

Sales of Blue Like Jazz began slowly, but began to increase after a couple of years. In 2007, three years after its release, the book had sold 500,000 copies and was awarded ECPA’s Gold Book Award. Just one year later it had crossed the one million threshold and was awarded the Platinum Book Award.

Blue Like Jazz was released at the dawn of what became known as the Emerging Church movement. Miller’s journey from fundamentalism to Christian spirituality quickly branded him as a leader in this movement even though he was not officially a part of any Emerging organization. His voice was a fresh and powerful one and extended through that movement and far beyond. His writing attracted many young people—primarily Gen-Xers—who were equally disaffected with the faith of their youth. In many ways, Miller became their spokesman, putting into words what many were feeling and desiring. Jonathan Leeman says it well:

I don’t have the exact quote, but Emerson said somewhere that great writers hold up a mirror to the world around them and say, “Here you are.” Blue Like Jazz holds up this mirror for the Gen X segment of 1980s and 90s evangelicalism—my own peer group. We grew up with one foot in the world of seeker-sensitive worship services and another foot in the world of MTV, shopping malls, and sitcom laugh tracks. We eventually discovered how much the first world borrowed from the second to keep us coming back. This realization in turn led us to be skeptical toward the whole Christian program, as if Jesus were just one more product. Many of us therefore left the faith, while those of us who remained insisted on something more real, more authentic, from our Christian spirituality. Often, this search led us outside the boundaries of conventional churches.

Where Miller’s diagnosis was insightful, many conservative Christians criticized his book on a number of counts, and especially for its postmodern ethos which led to a lack of grounding in the authority of Scripture. Miller often eschews firm answers to matters of life and doctrine and this concerned those who hold up Scripture as a clear and final source of authority. Miller was also critiqued for what many reviewers saw as a weak and man-centered gospel displayed in statements like this one: “I realized, after reading those Gospels, that Jesus didn’t just love me out of principle; He didn’t just love me because it was the right thing to do. Rather, there was something inside me that caused Him to love me.” Finally, many reviewers were concerned with his depiction of Jesus which emphasizes his kindness and gentleness while downplaying his justice and his wrath. Reviewers determined that while this is a Jesus Miller and his readers may want, it was not the Jesus of the whole Bible.

Parenthetically, one of Miller’s most memorable characters was “Mark the Cussing Pastor,” a Seattle-area preacher who was known for his foul mouth. One year later, this preacher—Mark Driscoll—would release a book of his own: The Radical Reformission.

Since the Award

Since Blue Like Jazz, Miller has written several books, including Searching For God Knows What, To Own a Dragon: Reflections On Growing Up Without a Father, and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Today he is Founding Director of The Burnside Writers Collective and hosts semi-annual Storyline conferences which assist people in creating life plans. He also travels widely and speaks at a variety of conferences.

In 2012 a film adaptation of Blue Like Jazz, directed by Steve Taylor, made its way to theaters. The film fared poorly at the hands of reviewers, with fewer than 40% of them reviewing it positively. It earned less than half of its production cost at the box office.

More recently Miller has ignited controversy through his admission that he no longer attends a local church and has found alternative ways to experience God.

A Personal Perspective

Ten years ago the Emerging Church and other expressions of postmodern Christianity were surfacing as significant forces in Christianity. Donald Miller served as a much-loved, widely-respected, but controversial voice. I reviewed his book in 2005, just as it began to hit its stride.

I have long believed that the church growth movement and seeker-sensitive, big-box Christianity spawned a significant kind of rebellion shortly after the dawn of the new millennium. Some gravitated toward postmodern expressions of Christianity and found a voice in Donald Miller and other emerging voices. Many of those who did not gravitate toward postmodernism discovered Reformed expressions of Christianity and found a voice in John Piper and in others like him. In this way Miller’s book was polarizing. While most appreciated the diagnosis, only some took the cure.

Missing Jesus
Click on The Cover To Order From Amazon.Com

Now this is a sweet little book. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I began reading Missing Jesus. The names Charles and Janet Morris were not ones I recognized immediately, though I had heard of their radio program HAVEN Today and think I may have been a guest once. What I found was a book that came like a cold cup of water on a hot day.

The book begins with the premise that sometimes we all feel like we’re missing something. We have put our faith in Christ and we are following him, attempting to live in obedience to him, and yet something still seems to be missing. We’re left wanting more. There are a thousand answers to this more; in fact, most of the Christian books that pour off the printing presses claim to have the answer. But the authors of this book say the answer is remarkably simple: We’re probably missing Jesus. What we need is to be reminded that we are caught up in a great, cosmic drama and what we need is to be reoriented to see that our small story is simply part of this much greater story.

The solution to our longing is not to look within ourselves or not to pursue the easy navel-gazing solutions we may encounter on the psychiatrist’s couch. The solution is to look outside of ourselves, to the Savior.

We’re like the solar system without the sun. The sun is so massive it can hold all the planets in their orbits, but we’re not the sun. We simply don’t have the gravity to hold our lives together even when we expend a lot of effort trying. What we need is the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news that we can look outside ourselves at last because God has provided everything we need in Jesus. God has sent his glorious Son into the world to be everything for us, to be the center of our lives, to draw us into fellowship with the living God. And it’s all by grace.

Unless we hear this news again and again, and unless we allow it to resound in our hearts, we soon grow cold, we lose sight of Jesus.

This book, then, offers many different views of the gospel and its countless benefits. The authors look at the gospel itself, they look at the importance of knowing the greater story that is unfolding around us, they glory in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they revel in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and the communion they can have with the living God, they war against pride and all attempts to steal the glory that is due to God. And on it goes. Through a series of short chapters—11 of them—they offer a sustained look at what Christ has done and how it matters to his people. They draw often from their own lives, both their successes and failures, and they draw deeply from many great Christian writers of days gone by.

If there is something that concerns me in the book it is that it may not stand out among the myriad books around it. But behind the unobtrusive cover and inconspicuous title is a sweet book that offers profound answers to one of life’s most common experiences. If you feel like you’re missing out, or you’re convinced that you’re missing Jesus, get it and read it. You won’t be sorry.

Jesus and his disciples went to the villages near the town of Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “What do people say about me?”The disciples answered, “Some say you are John the Baptist or maybe Elijah. Others say you are one of the prophets.”Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

“You are the Messiah!” Peter replied.

Jesus warned the disciples not to tell anyone about him, and began telling his disciples what would happen to him. He said, “The nation's leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses will make the Son of Man suffer terribly. He will be rejected and killed, but three days later he will rise to life.” Then Jesus explained clearly what he meant.

Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. But when Jesus turned and saw the disciples, he corrected Peter. He said to him, “Satan, get away from me! You are thinking like everyone else and not like God.”

So when the time came, the chief priests and leaders took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.


So how many people go to your church? This is question nearly every pastor faces at just about every conference he attends. I’ve written about the question before but, having spent the week at Together for the Gospel, and having been part of many conversations, it seems like a good time to revisit it. It usually doesn’t take long for a conversation with a pastor to progress to that point. For the pastor this can be a moment of pride or humility, freedom or shame. And somehow it is a question that always seems to come up. And it comes up for those who are not pastors as well; you begin to talk about your church and the other person inevitably asks that same question. So how many people?

I’d like to make the same two-part proposal I made a few years back: Let’s stop asking, “How many people go to your church?” And when someone asks us that question, let’s not feel obliged to give a direct answer.

We all pay lip service to the reality that we cannot necessarily measure the health of a church by its size. We all know that some of the biggest churches in the world are also some of the unhealthiest churches in the world. The history of Christianity has long-since shown that it is not all that difficult to fill a building with unbelievers by just tickling their ears with what they want to hear. We also know that the Lord is sovereign and that he determines how big each church should be and we know that in some areas even a very small church is an absolute triumph of light over darkness. And yet “How big is your church?” is one of the first questions we ask.

Why is this? I don’t know all the reasons but I’d suggest at least two. First, I think our question betrays us and shows that in the back of our minds we equate size and health. Somewhere we make the connection between big and healthy, between big and blessing. We exacerbate the problem when we ask and answer this too-easy question. Second, we just haven’t taken the time and made the effort to form better questions. Instead, we gravitate to the easy one.

I wonder, what would happen if we found better questions to ask and better ways to answer them. Instead of going to the easy question of, “How many people go to your church?” why don’t we ask things like this:

  • How have you seen the Lord working in the lives of the people in your church?
  • What evidences of the Lord’s grace has your church experienced in the last few months?
  • What are you excited about in your church right now?
  • Who are you excited about in your church right now?
  • What has the Lord been teaching you?
  • Who have you been discipling recently? Tell me about some of the future leaders at your church.

When asked, “How many people go to your church?” why don’t we consider answering something like this:

  • As many as the Lord has determined we can care for at this time.
  • Enough that we are actively working toward planting a church.
  • I don’t know, but let me tell you about a few of them…

Now obviously there are times when it is perfectly appropriate to discuss numbers, and especially so when we remember that each number is actual a human being made in God’s image that we have been tasked to care for. My concern isn’t so much that we never ask the numbers question, but that we gravitate away from asking it first.

So tell me what you think. Do you think it would benefit the church to have us migrate away from asking and answering the number question?

John Piper
John Piper

Last week John Piper spoke at Westminster Seminary, and delivered the seventh annual Gaffin Lecture on “The New Calvinism and the New Community: The Doctrines of Grace and the Meaning of Race” (audio and video). That may not sound like the most exciting lecture you’ve ever listened to, but I found some time to listen in today, and found what Piper began with fascinating (especially in light of last week’s Visual History of the New Calvinism). He began by defining what he means by New Calvinism, and to do that he offered twelve defining features of the movement. He was very careful to stress that these are not things that necessarily separate the New Calvinism from traditional Calvinism or make the new better than the old. Rather, these are simply the markers of the New.

Here then, in brief, are John Piper’s 12 features of the New Calvinism.

1. The New Calvinism, in its allegiance to the inerrancy of the Bible, embraces the biblical truths behind the five points of Calvinism (TULIP), while having an aversion to using the acronym (or any other systematic packaging) along with a sometimes-qualified embrace of Limited Atonement. The focus is on Calvinistic soteriology but not to the exclusion or the appreciation of the broader scope of Calvin’s vision.

2. The New Calvinism embraces the sovereignty of God in salvation and all the affairs of life and history, including evil and suffering.

3. The New Calvinism has a strong complementarian flavor (as opposed to egalitarian) with an emphasis on the flourishing of men and women in relationships where men embrace a call to robust, humble, Christ-like servant-leadership.

4. The New Calvinism leans toward being culture-affirming, as opposed to culture-denying, while holding fast to some very culturally-alien positions on issues like same-sex practice and abortion.

5. The New Calvinism embraces the essential place of the local church: it is led mainly by pastors; it has a vibrant church-planting bent; it produces widely-sung worship music; and it exalts the preached Word as central to the work of God both locally and globally.

6. The New Calvinism is aggressively mission-driven, including missional impact on social evils, evangelistic impact on personal networks, and missionary impact on the unreached peoples of the world.

7. The New Calvinism is inter-denominational, with a strong (some would say oxymoronic) Baptistic element.

8. The New Calvinism includes both charismatics and non-charismatics.

9. The New Calvinism places a priority on pietism or piety in the Puritan vein, with an emphasis on the essential role of the affections in Christian living, while esteeming the life of the mind and being very productive in it, and embracing the value of serious scholarship.

10. The New Calvinism is vibrantly engaged in publishing books, and, even more remarkably, in the world of the Internet, with hundreds of energetic bloggers and social media activists, with Twitter as the increasingly-default way of signalling things new and old that should be noticed and read.

11. The New Calvinism is international in scope, multi-ethnic in expression, and culturally-diverse. There is no single geographic, racial, cultural, governing center. There are no officers, no organization, nor any loose affiliation that would encompass the whole. (As an aside, he adds: I would dare say there are outcroppings of this movement that no one in this room has ever heard of.)

12. The New Calvinism is robustly gospel-centered, cross-centered, with dozens of books rolling off the presses coming at the gospel from every conceivable angle and applying it to all areas of life, with a commitment to seeing the historic doctrine of justification finding its fruit in sanctification both personally and communally.

So what do you think? Would you have gone with the same features? Would you have added or skipped any of them?

Answering a Skeptic

Repent CoexistQ: Isn’t God racist, violent, and a tyrant because He told the Israelites to annihilate the Canaanites?

A: Actually the biblical account of what God did to the Canaanites teaches the complete opposite.

First you have to understand God created man-kind, therefore He owns them and has the authority to do with them as He wants. If you were to paint a beautiful picture and then destroy it. Isn’t that your business? No one can accuse you of wrong doing.

Secondly, God’s patience and love is shown that while the Canaanites has sinned against God in horrific ways, child sacrifice, idolatry, sexual sins and murder He gave them centuries to repent and turn from their evil ways. But they choose to live in rebellion to God.

Lastly, it shows that God loves justice and will not allow evil to go un-punished. Remember, the Canaanites had done wicked thing like burning newborn babies to their false god Molach. God used Israel to bring justice to the land and point the remaining people to a right relationship with God that would lead to forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

So you see, the reason we think there is an injustice done here is because we know if God were to execute justice we would be destroyed just like the Canaanites. But God’s patience has allowed us to live this long waiting for you to repent and place your faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t wait.

Bibliographical note:

I am indebted to Charlie H. Campbell for much of the material in this post. I adapted the material for instructional use. – B.R.

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by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Phil back in February 2012. Phil recounted an encounter during a trip overseas that highlights the bankruptcy of “performance art” as a substitute for preaching the Gospel.

As usual, the comments are closed.

This past week I've been thinking a lot about my first visit to Kiev, with John MacArthur, more than 20 years ago. I remember those days clearly. It was late September and early October 1991, exactly 50 years after the Nazis slaughtered 33,771 Jews at a Kiev ravine called Babi Yarand less than two months after the collapse of the Soviet Union. People were hungry—starved—for the gospel.

Since then I have been to some 35 countries on five continents, and I've never seen any culture more eager to listen to the gospel than Ukraine (and the rest of the former Soviet Union) in 1991. The churches I visited were all crowded. A steady stream of recent converts gave their testimonies in every service I attended. Each new believer was brought to the front of the church and encouraged to “repent.” And they did—confessing their sins with heartfelt remorse, and verbally professing their newfound faith in Christ with overflowing joy and enthusiasm. It was amazing and uplifting and deeply convicting to someone like me, who had become somewhat sluggish spiritually with the comforts and refinements (and superficiality) of Western evangelicalism.

Anyway, one of my most vivid memories of Kiev in 1991 was a day we were walking across a public square in downtown Kiev with a bundle of Russian gospel tracts and Scripture booklets. Ukrainian people crowded around us, clamoring to get one. I was caught quite off guard by the suddenness and enthusiasm of people's response. The moment was unforgettable.

But we weren't the only Western Christians in the square that day. There was a group of “gospel clowns” and mimes from some American church, and we inadvertently interrupted their performance, because even the people who had been watching them suddenly ran over to get gospel literature from us as we approached the center of the square. One of the mimes glared at me. And then, breaking character, he said something to me in English. He wanted us to move on so that they could get on with the task of pantomiming the gospel.

To this day it amazes and appalls me that anyone confronted with the openness of Eastern Europeans in the wake of the Soviet collapse would think wordless “performance art” is a better medium for declaring the gospel than straightforward preaching, simple one-on-one witnessing, and plain-language gospel literature. It's like anti-contextualization—culturally insensitive, incomprehensible to the target culture, and tainted with the scent of spiritual jingoism—but I'm certain those mimes believed their method was the very epitome of innovative “relevance.”

And it occurs to me: That reflects precisely how multitudes of American evangelicals still think. They are more enthralled with their clever methodologies and ingenious “contextualizations” than they are with the gospel itself. Honestly, they seem at times to love their own flamboyance far more than they care about lost souls.

A lot of what's called ministry these days is mere spectacle. Authentic apostolic-style gospel ministry is nothing like performance art.

When evangelical megachurches gave up the pulpit for a stage; traded psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for AC/DC tracks; hired vaudevillians instead of pastors; and turned away their ears from the truth to follow fables, they chose a path of apostasy.

The only way back starts with repentance.


Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 31, sermon number 1,836, “First healing and then service.”

“What glory Jesus casts upon common things!”

Would it not be well if many Christian people had some little consideration when they are choosing a house, as to whether it will be convenient for the hearing of the word?

Do you not think that a great many professors look chiefly for every other kind of advantage, and, when they have virtually made their choice, they afterwards enquire into the very secondary item of their nearness to a place where they may worship God, enjoy Christian fellowship, and be useful?

There are some in this congregation who have moved to this part of town to become members of an earnest, prayerful church. Such believers feel that the first consideration in life must be the health of their souls, the benefiting of their children, and their usefulness in promoting the cause of Christ.

When they have made the selection of a house in that way and for that reason, they have found a blessing resting upon them, according to the promise, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Some who have forgotten this rule, and, like Lot, chosen the well-watered plains of Sodom, have lived to rue their choice. Although the house may be commodious, and the position convenient, these advantages will not make up for losing the means of grace and missing opportunities of holy service.

When Mephibosheth lived at Lo-debar, the place of no pasture, David fetched him up to Jerusalem, where he himself delighted to dwell. It would be well for many a limping brother if he made a like change.


Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 32, sermon number 1,900, “Rejoice evermore.”

“Certain religious people are of a restless, excitable turn, and never feel good till they are half out of their minds.” 

You would not wonder if their hair should stand bolt upright, like the quills of the fretful porcupine. They are in such a state of mind that they cry “hallelujah” at anything or nothing, for they feel ready to cry, or shout, or jump, or dance.

I do not condemn their delirium, but I am anxious to know what goes with it. Come hither, friend; let us have a talk. What do you know? What? Is it possible that I offend you the moment I seek a reason for the hope that is in you? Is it so, that you do not know anything of the doctrines of grace? You were never taught anything; the object of the institution which enlisted you is not to teach you, but only to excite you.

It pours boiling water into you, but it does not feed you with milk. That is a miserable business. We like excitement of a proper kind, and we covet earnestly a high and holy joy, but if our rejoicing does not come out of a clear understanding of the things of God, and if there is no truth at the bottom of it, what does it profit us?

Those who rejoice without knowing why can be driven to despair without knowing why; and such persons are likely to be found in a lunatic asylum ere long. The religion of Jesus Christ acts upon truthful, reasonable, logical principles: it is sanctified common sense.

A Christian man should only exhibit a joy which he can justify, and of which he can say, “There is reason for it.” I pray you, take care that you have joy which you may expect to endure for ever, because there is a good solid reason at the back of it.

The excitement of animal enthusiasm will die out like the crackling of thorns under a pot; we desire to have a flame burning on the hearth of our souls which is fed with the fuel of eternal truth, and will therefore burn on for evermore.


My children are growing up fast and, between you and me, they’re growing up a little bit faster than I had expected. My son is thirteen now, just a half school year away from being in high school. I sometimes find myself remembering when I was thirteen, and the kinds of things I awakened to and became interested in. Though I see now that I was only a kid, I was sure that I was all grown up. It’s disquieting at best. Meanwhile my oldest daughter is 11, going on 16. I love her to death, but she too is getting far too old for her own good. There are three kids in our home, but only one of them is still a child.

As my kids grow up, I find that I need to have important but uncomfortable discussions with them. They are unfortunate discussions, but the kind you’ve got to have in a world like ours. I suppose the only thing worse than having those discussions is not having them.

Some time ago we implemented a plan in our home to protect the kids from some of what lurks out there on the Internet. We removed Internet access from some devices, limited it on others, and applied filters that keep tabs on what we are doing online. It has been very smooth from a technological perspective, but a little less so on the interpersonal level.

Recently my son said, “Dad, you’re treating me like I’m addicted to pornography. But I haven’t ever seen it and don’t want to see it!” And he’s right, to some degree. If I’m not treating him like an addict, I am at least treating him like a pre-addict, someone who has the inclination, or who may well have it before long. In this way I think I understand him a little better than he understands himself. Of course our Internet plan is not designed only to protect the children from exposure to pornography, but that is still one of its major purposes.

But his exasperation and hurt feelings gave us opportunity to talk about one of the principles I have found helpful in my own life: When you are at your best, plan for when you are at your worst. I see this as an application of 1 Corinthians 10:12-13: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Right there, in the middle of this discussion about sexual immorality, the power of temptation and the promise in temptation, Paul gives a call to humility: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” This is consistent with what he told the church in Rome: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).

There is a kind of weakness, a kind of vulnerability, that may come when we are convinced of our strength. It is when we are not being tempted, it is when we are standing strong in the Lord’s grace, that we ought to consider the times we will be weak and tempted and eager to sin. We need to assume such times will come and we need to use the moments of strength to put measures in place that will protect us when we are weak. The wise nation builds its defenses in peace time, not once the enemy has invaded its borders; the wise homeowner buys insurance before the big catastrophe, not once the flood has already risen. The wise Christian fights sin even when sin seems distant and dormant.

I do not consider myself particularly prone to the temptation of pornography. I can sit at a computer early in the morning or late at night and not feel any pull to abuse the privilege. Not at this point. And yet, I explained to my son, I treat myself as one who is disposed to the temptation. I do this because I know my own proneness to sin and I do this because I have seen so many men shock themselves and their families by succumbing to the temptation. This is obviously Satan’s major point of attack on men today—old men and young men alike—and it would be folly to assume I’ll never face it. It would be folly not to prepare myself right now while I’m thinking straight. And it would be folly for my boy as well.

I have yet to meet the man who hasn’t been tempted at one time or another. And for this reason I have filtering software and accountability software and, even better, men who ask me good questions about my life. In the end, I explained, I am only holding my son to the standard I use for myself—the standard of a sinful man, wanting desperately to avoid a major fall, and all too aware that in those times I begin to lose my delight in God, I grow in my delight in sin. This, I hope, is the sober judgment the Lord calls us to.