I have loved the series The Chronicles of Narnia every since I was in about the fourth or fifth grade. A friend of mine had The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe at the beginning of the summer and was bragging about it and I decided that I just had to have it. I went away for the summer and when I came back my friend was gone—moved out of state—but my Mom had somehow found a complete set of the Chronicles in hardback for me. I had lost a friend but I had gained something new: a love of books and reading that I had never had before.
I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the theology and things C.S. Lewis seems to write about in his books but there is no doubt that his writings have marked me in a way that is hard to explain. One of the things I recall reading was a comment in The Screwtape Letters. The older demon is writing to the younger and is droning on in the way older folks do. He says in the letter something about the church eternal “terrible as an army with banners” and how he hoped that the church body never really realized this itself. That image has stuck with me through all these years. I imagine a great army armed and mounted and ready for battle. Only most are asleep or wandering or picking flowers—rather like a three-year old division soccer team when they’ve taken the field. There are a few who know what’s going on but for the most part those on the field are just getting in the way.
How is it, I wonder, that we have fallen so far from what we once were. How is it that we have become this weak, pitiful thing—the church eternal, shining and powerful, but fat and content to sit and be rather than to do?
I am still reading Mark DeVine’s excellent book Bonhoeffer Speaks Today: Following Jesus At All Costs (which is available from Amazon.) It is a challenging and illuminating read for those of us who have suffered through the last fifteen or twenty years of the effects of the teachings of Henry Blackaby, Bill Hybels and Willow Creek and, most recently, Rick Warren. DeVine’s book, though not explicitly aimed at these men and their teachings, lays them open like a chop butterflied for the grill.
Here’s the most current slap upside the head. On p.61 begins a section entitled Paralysis in which Mark DeVine takes apart the popular Evangelical idea of divine guidance or nudges or leadership—any of a whole category of events that are required for a believer to have peace about a certain event in their lives. No eyerolling here, if we’re Southern Baptists or a member of any other group nominally labeled evangelical then we’re speaking the same language. On p.62 in that section he writes:
“Yet the will of God for so many today who are caught up in the quest for ongoing guidance seems comparatively murky and elusive, does it not?—almost as though God were playing hide-and-seek with his own children on matters of paramount importance to both them and him.”
Earlier in the section he speculates about how we wait on affirmation or a peace about decisions. I’ve been stuck in this dilemma and its no fun. What do you do when you get no peace what do you do when there is no nudge? Are we just not spiritual enough? Ugly concept though it is, the children of God are often guilty of just such an accusation. Is there a sin in the way? Are we just not paying attention? One the things I remember from one of my eight week stints in Experiencing God is this: God confirms things he wants you to do—yet somehow this isn’t new revelation. So what do you do, DeVine speculates, when there isn’t guidance?
“The result for many” he continues:
“…is a kind of paralysis. While surrounded by frequent claims of guidance and divine leadership by others, these “dull” brothers and sisters are left to pray harder and wait. But what if God requires no waiting from them? What if God is pleased to have them make decisions, not disregarding the character and will of God revealed in Holy Scripture (God forbid!), but also without needing to claim God’s specific and extra-biblical sanction where he has not required it. Is not the burden of decision making in this life heavy enough without taking on more hurdles to jump than God’s good plan intended in this respect?”
Go ahead and stick me firmly in the dull category. Does that leave my salvation in question? I mean that’s the implication of this piece of pentacostalism and yet we have picked it up and run with it in the Southern Baptist Church. If I have not this proof that I am saved perhaps I should work on that? I can’t help but think of the folks Dr. MacArthur talks about in his book Charismatic Chaos in which he gives a gracious, though pointed treatment of the movement. They know that speaking in tongues is expected from someone who is genuinely saved so they begin to speak in tongues. They make it up to fit in, to confirm the idea that they’re saved. The idea that we each get new revelation from God each day to deal with problems or to get blessings is straight out of that same charis-matick playbook but we have lapped it right up. But what if God requires no waiting from them? My God, what a liberating concept; that God has revealed all we need in his Book, the Bible. That in that Book are the bounds in which we must run for him and there is nothing inside those boundaries that is off limits. Just to run and to win for Christ! To fight the good fight, to finish the race, to keep the faith—can we attain to these things wagging our shallow evangelical knock off of new revelation?
I don’t believe so. In fact I think it is just this reliance on these divine leadings that has led us so far from what we are to be about. That business for which the Apostle Paul continually found himself in trouble, presenting men perfect in Christ Jesus is our task as Christians. To Go and Make and Baptize: And he is with us. Sound familiar? It is only by the Word of God that we can do these things. We are sinners saved by grace, bought with a price and set free to serve the Lord. Isn’t about time we started doing just that?