Thursday, June 2, 2011

Directing to Christ 101: The Realist

I can't tell you how many times I have found myself listening to some well-meaning brother spout off what amounts to a bunch of legalism. It's pretty easy to detect, but it sounds good to our ears so it can be pretty hard to refute at times. The problem with pietism is that it has homefield advantage in the blackness of our corrupted, sinful natures. As usual, the temptation is to try to dazzle him with brilliance (and a healthy dose of Luther quotes) to put him in his totally-depraved place. Sadly, I have found that this almost never works. What does work? The Realist.

Approach 2: The Realist

William F. Buckley, Jr. once said, "Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive." The applications for this profound statement are limitless... in this case we're talking about the naive idealism regarding the capability of sinful man in his fallen state. The problem with every legalist is that he thinks people can and should pull off the Law's demands by pulling himself up by his bootstraps.
This approach slaps that idealism with a cold dose of reality... and it is best if you start out in a self-depricating manner so as not to offend to quickly (oh, but you will almost assuredly offend eventually!) The goal of anyone pushing legalism is to motivate the unmotivated. It's a delicate dance of encouragement and threats... which is as painful to watch as it is to participate in. What the Realist does is come in and throw a huge monkey wrench into this delecate legalist machine.
Example: You got invited to some pan-denominational Bible study in which the teacher is taking the "fruit of the spirit" and beating people over the head with it as if it is some kind of sanctification check list. Just looking around the room you can see how distressed people are getting... facial expressions of guilt and frustration mixed in with copious note-taking on strategies for overcoming personal struggles etc... no mention of grace or forgiveness or any words of comfort.
The Execution: I always wait until the "go around the circle and share time" so I don't speak out of turn, but executing The Realist is really easy. State the hard facts. It goes something like this:
"I look at this list of works and I get depressed and frustrated." (Which is true!) "I know, being brutally honest with myself, that I do not do these things at all." (remember: self-depricating at first to soften the blow that is to come.) "I really want to do better, but I know that I am going to leave this study and go and do the same things because I am a horrible sinner and a hypocrite. These tactics work sometimes, but life is messy and these strategies will fail. We shouldn't pretend like they won't. If I had to guess, I'd say that everyone in this room struggles with most of these things on this list on at least a daily basis. We don't love God as we ought and we don't love our neighbors as ourselves. Thank God that Jesus has already done these good works for us! He lived a perfect life in our stead and died a sacrifical death on the cross so that all of our sins would be covered...."
BOOM! We're talking gospel, substitutionary atonement, and both active and passive obdience of Christ now. When you start talking the gospel in this case, you can see the look of relief on people's faces around the table. From this point, you can keep driving home the gospel or, if you are more advanced theologically, you can talk about the proper interpretation of the fruit of the spirit and about how the good works of a Christian are God's works through us and not our works for Him. The "Fruit of the Spirit" example is one that I have personally used, but it can be adapted to any works-righteous sales pitch... cause there are a ton of them out there.
The problem with this tactic is that it can really ruin all of the works-righteous study materials that people paid good money for. I have been asked to not come back to a Bible Study for being disruptive after doing this one. That's a small sacrifice to proclaim the gospel!

Directing to Christ 101: The Kid

Alot of times you find yourself in a conversation with another believer who is... a little... wonky on doctrine and is a little... weak... on the gospel. One is automatically tempted to engage in rhetorical gymnastics and great feats of apologetic magic to teach them properly. Often times, however, the simplest approaches are the best and perhaps the most elegent. Most of the time, people try to defeat someone they think is wrong. In reality, this kind of approach almost never works. What does work is a careful redirection that causes the other party to come to the right answer on their own. This sounds complex, but it's actually alot easier than one would think.
Approach 1: Playing the Kid
Do you know what's really annoying about little kids? They are honest. They haven't figured out the joy that comes with being arrogantly clever and so they just ask questions that are directly on their minds. You know what? Most of the time, these questions are obnoxiously concise and expose the weakness of unsupported opinions.
Example: You have someone talking about the Christian faith but their description of it is totally cross-less. There is no talk of sin or grace, etc. It's all about prosperity junk, or purpose junk, or other nonsense that only adults find important. At some point, the ubiquitous "Lord and Savior" title comes across (probably in some kind of decision for Jesus appeal).
The Execution: You are the kid. Your annoying little radar instantly grabs a hold of the one thing that suddenly interests you and does not fit in to the rest of the boring grown-up conversation. "Savior". There it is. ...and like an annoying little kid, you ruin the flow of the adult's thought by asking the inconvenient question at the right moment.
You say: "Savior? Savior.... from what exactly? What do we need to be saved from?"
Boom! No matter how they answer that one, we are at least on the whole sin, hell, cross issues. Flawless rhetorical redirect from pointless speculation to an actual Biblical truth... easily executed by asking the simple question.
***Another really great kid tactic is judicious use of "Why?", "How?", "Where does it say that?" If someone is making up theology as they go along, make them work for it. If they believe extra-biblical teachings regarding the sacraments... make them prove it by the book. Why should you have to do the work. They are the ones with the outlandish claim. When in doubt, ask probing questions. Most bad theology can't withstand the slightest probing.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

American Idol

I have learned that the preaching office is alot like American Idol:
The overwhelming majority of people who really really really want to go far have no talent at all and are actually painful to listen to.
Would that every seminary had a Simon Cowell conducting evaluations!