Writing Faithful Sermons Faster: Discussion with Ryan Huguley

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It was the day after Thanksgiving in 2017, and we were in San Diego, where my wife Rosemary is from. The next day, Saturday, we were driving back to Colorado, so I could make it back for church on Sunday, which meant that I had one day to prepare my sermon for that Sunday.

Rosemary and the kids decided to go to the zoo, which gave me 12 hours to prepare. At this point, I usually spent 20-25 hours preparing each sermon, so this was a daunting task.

8 Hours or Less: Writing faithful sermons faster by [Huguley, Ryan]

After they left our AirBnB for the day, I was scrolling Instagram (instead of studying!), and came across a post of someone holding a copy of the book: 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster by Ryan Huguley.

I immediately did the math in my head: If this book could really help me do what the title claimed, then that would give me 3.5 hours to read the book, and 8 hours to write my sermon! I purchased the book on Amazon, read it, wrote my sermon, and made it back to Colorado on time for church that Sunday. That sermon can be found here: 5 Solas: Soli Deo Gloria (Colossians 3:16-24)

Since that time, I have implemented Ryan’s process, and shared about my growth in this area at the Expositors Collective training weekends.

Related post: How Much Time Should a Pastor Spend Preparing a Sermon?

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Ryan over Zoom about doing ministry in Salt Lake City, his method for sermon preparation, and what advice he has for those who teach and preach.

The recording of that conversation was just released on the Expositors Collective Podcast. You can listen to it here: Expositors Collective Podcast: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster – Ryan Huguley, or click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Check it out, and I’d love to hear your feedback on in the comments!

Where Does Our Sense of Morality Come From?

Is morality something that people intuitively know, or is it something we need to be told or instructed about?

Why is it that what is considered moral changes over time in different societies?

Pastor Mike and I discuss these questions in this week’s Sermon Extra video, in which we look at 1 Timothy 1:8-9: “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners”

The book we reference about people who considered murder and lying to not be wrong and treachery to be a virtue is Peace Child by Don Richardson, which I highly recommend.

We also discuss the question of how much of a Christian’s self-understanding should be determined by the recognition of their sinfulness versus their having been redeemed by Jesus.

Augustine on Ambition

Should Christians be “ambitious”? Is “ambition” the opposite of humility?

Augustine of Hippo, the African bishop from the 4th and 5th Century has a take on ambition which might surprise you.

The Opposite of Ambition is Not Humility

According to Augustine, “the opposite of ambition is not humility, it is sloth, passivity, timidity, and complacency.”

We sometimes like to comfort ourselves by imagining that the ambitious are prideful and arrogant so that those of us who never wish and never aspire, who never launch out into the deep, get to wear the moralizing mantle of humility, but this is just a thin cover for a lack of courage, even laziness.

James K.A. Smith, On the Road with Saint Augustine

Interestingly, Augustine’s view on ambition is that “playing it safe” and not taking risks is not actually an expression of humility like many may assume, but is often based in pride and a fear of other people thinking less of you if you were to fail.

In James K.A. Smith‘s recent book, On the Road with Saint Augustine, he tells the story of Augustine’s journey from provincial North Africa to Carthage, and from there to Rome and Milan, originally as a rhetoric teacher, not as a priest. It was Augustine’s ambition which originally led him from his birthplace to these places, but in Milan his friendship with Ambrose, bishop of Milan, changed his life and led him to pursue a relationship with God which led to him stepping into vocational ministry for the rest of his life.

See also: Book Review: On the Road with Saint Augustine

Smith argues that Augustine never stopped being ambition after giving his life to the Lord. What changed was his goal, the aim of his ambition.

The Ultimate Ambition

According to Smith, the Augustinian question when it comes to ambition is: “Whom and what do I love when I am being ambitious?”

The goal, he would argue, is not to be devoid of ambition, but rather to live a life which has “friendship with God” as its supreme ambition.

This is the only ambition, Smith points out, which comes with a guarantee of success and ultimate security! (“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8)

Solomon and the True End of Ambition

Augustine challenges us to ask, What if buried in your ambition to succeed in business, academics, sports, and other pursuits, is a desire for something else, something more – which is found in God himself?

Currently at White Fields we are studying through the life of Solomon in 1 Kings. Solomon was an ambitious person; he asked God for wisdom so that he could govern the nation well, and he succeeded both in making the nation wealthy and powerful, but also in becoming wealthy and powerful himself.

In the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells the story of his ambition; he acquired many lovers, much money, incredible power, extensive knowledge, as well as exotic animals, parties and entertainment. And yet, in the end, he found all of it to be empty and ultimately unfulfilling. None of it did for him what he had expected it would.

In the end, Solomon comes to the realization that buried in his ambition was ultimately the desire for God himself, and what could only God can give.

Solomon’s conclusion at the end of Ecclesiastes is a cliff-hanger, because Solomon says that the chief end of humanity is to keep God’s commandments (in order to be in relationship with Him). The only problem of course, is that Solomon failed to keep God’s commandments — and so have we! What is needed therefore, is one who can reconcile us to God by somehow bridging the gap created by our shortcomings and sins. The good news of the gospel is that this person has come, and his name is Jesus!

Because of Jesus, our ambition can find its ultimate desire, and can be redirected into areas which are secure and eternally meaningful: relationship with God, and participation in His mission to bring the truth of his love and grace to the world!

May God help us to avoid the false humility which is based in fear and pride, and be ambitious for Him!

Reader Questions: Book Recommendation on Marital Intimacy & Responding to Christian Perfectionism

There is a feature here on the site where you can Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

Here are some recent questions that came in:

Book Recommendation on Marital Intimacy

Is there a book or message series you can recommend to help rebuild sexual intimacy in marriage?

I’m sure there are other resources out there, but the one I am familiar with and can recommend is Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage

Responding to Christian Perfectionism

I have a Christian forum at my place of employment. One employee regularly posts statements in line with a ‘sinless perfection’ doctrine and encourages others to listen to Jesse Peterson (which I know nothing about.)  

Essentially, this employee constantly insists that if we are still sinning we are hypocrites and is adamant we shouldn’t listen to others or read the Bible but should just ‘know’ God, we should ‘just be’ (insert confused emoji here), and sin is hate, the only way to receive eternal life is to forgive. I dismiss his theology – he makes no sense – and despite support from the Word of God, he continues his posts – because he doesn’t value the word of God.  

Do you have any thoughts on how I can redirect his skewed theology, while helping the other members of this group also dismiss this line of thinking?

One way to respond might be to point out how this kind of theology has been dismissed and rejected by Christians throughout history. John Wesley, for example, who taught a form of Christian perfectionism at one point (unsurprisingly, when he was younger), later changed his position on the topic.

My guess is that other people on the site probably see the wackiness of what he’s writing and aren’t swayed by it. A smart, simple response will be gladly received by most people in the group therefore, but don’t let the group get focused on responding to everything he says. Don’t let the squeaky wheel get all the grease, in other words. You’ve got bigger fish to fry. Sorry for piling on the idioms!

The most compelling Biblical arguments against Christian perfectionism I can think of are:

  • Romans 7
  • 1 John
  • 1 Timothy 1:15

Martin Luther famously stated that the Christian is Justus et pecator (both righteous and a sinner). We have been declared righteous in Jesus; his righteousness has been accounted to us by grace through faith – and yet, we still sin.

When the Bible talks about salvation, it is important to note that it speaks of it in comprehensive terms: it says that we have been saved (past tense), we are being saved (present continuous tense), and we will be saved (future tense).

We have been saved (think: “It is finished”) from the penalty of sin by what Jesus did for us in the past. We are being saved (sanctification) from the power of sin as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” and yet “it is God who works in you to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). And we will be saved, in the future, from the very presence of sin, when Jesus comes and saves us from the very presence of sin.

Romans 7

In Romans 7 Paul speaks about his experience of struggling with sin. Some in the Christian perfectionist circles will claim that Paul is writing about his life before his conversion, but that argument doesn’t hold much water because Paul speaks about his sin in the present tense.

1 John

In 1 John, John says things like, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8). 1 John is a favorite book, by the way, of Christian perfectionism advocates, because of its black-and-white language about righteousness, obedience, and sin. However, it is important to note that John is talking about a pattern of life, not about individual sins.

It’s about what you practice. Think about things you practice, and why you practice them: you practice the guitar, you practice your golf swing. Why? So you can do them better. A person who practices sin habitually and willfully truly needs to ask the question of if they are actually in the faith at all.

In Christ, we have become “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17). A sheep and a pig are two different creations. They both might fall in the mud on occasion, but the pig lives for the mud. The mud is what the pig dreams about, and the goal of its life is to get in that mud! A sheep, on the other hand, might fall in the mud, but that’s not where it wants to be. This is the essence of John’s point about sin and righteous living in 1 John.

I wrote something recently related to 1 John and the topic of Christian perfectionism. Check it out here.

1 Timothy 1:15

In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul says: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

If you read through Paul’s descriptions of himself as he progressed in life and in relationship with Jesus, you’ll notice this:

  1. In Philippians 3, he wrote that according to the law, he was blameless.
  2. Later on, in 1 Corinthians 15:9, he describes himself as “the least of all the Apostles”
  3. Even later on in life, in 1 Timothy 1:15, he describes himself as the chief of all sinners.

As Paul progressed through life, he did not become more and more enamored with himself, but he actually saw himself as more and more of a sinner – yet one who was loved by God and a recipient of His grace.

The reason for this is because, the closer you get to God, the more you become aware of your shortcomings, much like how: the more light there is in the bathroom, the more clearly you see your blemishes in the mirror – and like how, the older you get and the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

The point is not that Christian maturity means thinking less and less of yourself, but that as you become more aware of your flaws, you are more thrilled by the grace and love of God as you realize more and more how much you need it!

The Danger of Christian Perfectionism

The great danger of Christian perfectionism theology is that it places an unbearable burden on a person, and it leads to either pride or despair.

If you tell someone that if they are really in the faith that they won’t sin anymore, then when they are doing well, and not falling into temptation, they will be puffed up with pride and look down on those whom they observe sinning. Conversely, when they (inevitably) do commit some sin, they will immediately be forced to question their own salvation, and if they are even saved at all.

The good news of the gospel is that our salvation is the work of God! It is based on what He did for you, not on the things that you do or don’t do. Even if you slip, the good news of the gospel is that He is holding onto your hand, and He won’t let you go!

Submit a Question or Topic

Thanks for these questions. If you have a question or topic, fill out this form: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic

Book Review: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?

Sam Allbery is an Anglican pastor from Maidenhead, England, who also works with Ravi Zacharias International Ministry (RZIM)Cedarville University, and writes for The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of books, including Is God Anti-Gay?, and 7 Myths about Singleness.

I was introduced to Sam last year when he spoke at the Calvary Global Network conference. See: Sam Allbery on Sexual Ethics and Moral Intuition

One thing that is worth knowing about Sam is that by his own admonition, he has only ever had romantic desires and sexual attraction to other men, yet he has chosen to live a celibate life of devotion to God.

When I saw that Sam’s latest book “Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?,” was being released, I preordered a copy. Upon my return from my recent trip to Europe, I was happy to see that the book had arrived while I was away, and I used the first week of my quarantine to read it from cover to cover.

The Supreme Human Right?

Sam begins his book by answering the question in the title of the book:

Just fifteen years ago Christians like me, who follow the teaching of the Bible, would have been thought of as old-fashioned for holding to the traditional Christian understanding of sex being exclusively for marriage, but now, increasingly, we are thought of as being dangerous to society.

Who we sleep with is seen as a supreme human right. Anything that seems to constrain our choice in this area is somehow viewed as an existential threat.

God cares who we sleep with because he cares deeply about the people who are doing the sleeping. He cares because sex was his idea, not ours. He cares because misusing sex can profoundly hurt and damage. He cares because he regards us as worthy of his care.

Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?, pp. 9-10

Honoring Sacred Space

One of Allberry’s key points of argument is to show that the Bible does not take a low view of sex, seeing it as something dirty and unholy, but just the opposite: it takes a much higher view of our physical bodies and what we do with them than the secular world does, describing them as “temples” (1 Corinthians 6:19) and therefore sacred space.

It is precisely because of this high view of the physical body that God cares so much about sex, insisting that this powerful thing be used in the right ways, lest it cause pain and destruction.

He points out that when Jesus says that for a man to look lustfully at a woman is to break the commandment against adultery, Jesus is declaring that the sexuality of the person being looked at is precious and valuable: an integrity that deserves to be honored, and must not be violated, even in the privacy of another person’s mind, and to do so is to wrong that person.

Jesus’ teaching reflects something we see throughout the whole Bible: how we treat one another sexually matters a great deal to God.

Any sexual assault is a violation of sacred space.

The pain of sexual assault is not the pain of a grazed knee but the trauma of holy space being desecrated. Maybe our bodies are less like playthings and more like temples.

pp. 19, 20, 30

The reason our bodies matter so much is because of the Imago Dei (the Image of God) with which we are endowed uniquely as human beings. It is for this reason that we believe that all human life, regardless of physical ability or disability, income or education level, is equal in value.

There is something sacred about human life.

We [all] know that human life matters in a unique way. When someone treats a pet life a human, we think it a bit odd. But when someone treats a human being like an animal, we know deep down that it is terribly wrong.

When we fawn over a baby, we’re not coldly observing a mere organism. We’re beholding one who bears divine finger prints. And because a human being is the sacred product of sex, the sexual process by which that person is made is also sacred.

p. 35

Holy Fire

Sam Allberry describes the power of sex with the metaphor of fire: where you do it matters. In the fireplace of a house it can create heat and light which brings warmth and life. Lighting one elsewhere can be dangerous, destructive, and life-threatening. The context matters.

Furthermore, he points out that the purpose of sex is unification and giving. To use it in a way which does not serve these purposes is to take it out of the life-giving context.

Not Just Physical

God cares who we sleep with because God cares about us as people. Sex deeply affects the whole person: physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

When someone is sexually assaulted or when someone is sexually betrayed, it is not just their body that is attacked; they as a person are violated.

p. 51

Redemption

One of Sam Allberry’s emphases in this book is that while he wants to explain the biblical and theological reasoning behind the Bible’s sexual ethics, he also wants to communicate the Bible’s message of redemption for those who have fallen short.

He points out that not only are all of us sinners, all of us are sexual sinners – and the promise of the gospel is forgiveness, redemption, and new life in Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

This book is short, informative, and engaging. It answers several very commonly asked questions, which are only going to be asked more and more in the years to come, including questions about LGBTQ and co-habitation. Everyone would do well to educate themselves on the answers to these questions, and this book by Sam Allberry is an excellent resource for doing so.

Book Review: On the Road with Saint Augustine

A few years ago my thinking was shaped about the process of spiritual formation by James K.A. Smith‘s book, “Desiring the Kingdom.” In it, he explains the role that “liturgies,” not only ecclesial, but personal and “secular” liturgies play in that formation.

For more on that book and its ideas, see: Why Go to Church If You Already Know It All? Here’s Why

In “Desiring the Kingdom“, and Smith’s related book You Are What You Love, it is clear that he has been highly influenced by Augustine, particularly Augustine’s “Confessions”. The idea of sin as “disordered loves” is particularly Augustinian, as is much of what Smith says about formation, namely that idolatry is more “caught” than “taught”, i.e. idolatry is less of a conscious decision as much as a learned disposition. not so much conscious decisions to believe falsehood, and more like learned dispositions, which is why people’s idolatries often reflect their environments. Since we “practice our way into idolatry,” we need to “practice our way into freedom,” through liberating practices which direct our loves.

I was surprised and excited a few months ago when I saw that Smith was featured in an episode of the Art of Manliness podcast, in which he clearly articulated the Christian hope of the gospel while talking about his new book: “On the Road with Saint Augustine“.

In this book, Smith not only details his travels to retrace some of the footsteps of Augustine, who was originally from North Africa, but came to Italy seeking success and influence in the civic realm, only to have the course of his life changed by meeting Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan. As a result, Augustine later returned to North Africa where he became a bishop and influential Christian thinker, whose writings played a large part in the Reformation.

Augustine: the Father of Existentialism

Smith’s main point, however, is not to write a biography of Augustine, or a memoir of his travels, but to explain that Augustine is actually the father of modern existentialist thinking.

From Jean-Paul Sartre to Albert Camus to Jack Kerouac, modern and post-modern existentialists who often describe life as “a journey” or “the road”, whether knowingly or unwittingly, got this idea from Augustine who articulated existentialist ideas and used the terminology of life as “a journey” and “the road” way back in the 4th Century.

The great difference, of course, which Smith is eager to point out, is that whereas the modern and post-modern existentialists (like Kerouac in his novel “On the Road”) like to describe “the road” as “home”, and assert that there is no ultimate destination to which the road is leading (i.e. it is only the journey itself which matters, not the destination) – this is not at all what Augustine taught or believed. Augustine asserted that life is a journey with a destination, and it is only in light of this destination that there can be joy and purpose in the journey. Augustine taught that there is indeed a true “home” which awaits us, the “home” that all of us long for and the search for which underlies all of our pursuits and endeavors; thus, “the road” itself is not “home”, and if we expect it to be, our lives will miss the purpose, meaning and significance they are meant to have.

Why you hated the ending of Lost

If you were one of the many people frustrated by the ending of the show Lost a few years back, here’s why it was so frustrating: the ending of Lost was the epitome of post-modern existentialist thinking, which says that it is the only thing that matters in the end is not getting all of your questions answered or understanding the meaning of things, but only the enjoyment of the journey.

The ending scene in which all of the characters come together in the future and hug each other, without answering the many unanswered questions that were posed on and with the island, is meant to communicate the idea that, with these characters, the viewers of the show had enjoyed 6 years of excitement, mystery, and community. These things, the ending insinuated, were the reward and the ultimate purpose, not having all the questions answered.

The ending of Lost was famously frustrating for dedicated viewers. Why? Because built into us (existentially!) is the understanding that there must be a destination, there must by a purpose, there must be a “home” – and that all of our seeking is not actually in vain, but our lives do have a purpose and what we long for does indeed exist.

This is the promise of the entire Bible – from Genesis all the way through Revelation. It is through Jesus Christ that God has provided the way “home” – and it is through Him that we will truly experience the meaning of our existence. This is what Augustine articulated so clearly and compellingly, and yet the modern and post-modern existentialists, while taking elements and motifs of his teachings, missed the ultimate point of both what Augustine taught and life itself.

Summary

In this book, Smith helpfully disseminates some core elements of Augustine’s teachings and connects them to the modern person’s hopes, fears, and dreams in a way that is helpful and hopeful, as he points us to Jesus as the answer to the great riddles.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I hope you will too!

You Are What You Do: and Six Other Lies About Work, Life, & Love, by Daniel Im

I recently finished reading Daniel Im’s latest book You Are What You Do: and Six Other Lies About Work, Life, & Love.

I have enjoyed Daniel’s work with Ed Stetzer on the New Churches podcast and the book Planting Missional Churches.

I also read Daniel’s first book, No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that Will Transform Your Ministry, and gleaned some great principles from it, particularly the concept of moving from “the sage on the stage” to “the guide on the side.”

For more on that, see:

7 Lies

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In Daniel’s latest book, he explores 7 lies; commonly held beliefs regarding identity, value, and self-worth:

  • You are what you do
  • You are what you experience
  • You are who you know
  • You are what you know
  • You are what you own
  • You are who you raise
  • You are your past

Believing each of these lies will lead to disfunction, disappointment, emptiness, pain, and regret – Daniel says.

In the book, Daniel is very candid about his own struggles with these lies. His stories are so personal, that they draw you in and not only make for compelling reading material, but they help you understand that these are not just abstract ideas for Daniel, they are things about which he has deep, personal knowledge and experience.

Perhaps most compelling of all is the story of him taking a job at a mega-church in Seoul, South Korea, from which he was later fired. He shows the courage to honestly explore his true motivations for taking the job, and why he struggled so much with getting fired and then struggling to find a job upon returning home to Canada.

Using and Fear

These are issues that I can relate to myself. I recently shared at a pastors conference about a time when I was a new pastor, my wife and I had planted a church in Eger, Hungary – and I realized that I wasn’t just doing ministry and serving people, but I was using ministry and using people as a way to affirm myself and build my own sense of identity and self-worth: that I was a pastor, a church planter, and a missionary. However, at the same time I was motivated by fear, because if my ministry didn’t pan out, then I stood to lose not only my job but my entire identity and sense of self-worth!

For more on this, check out: Identity Issues: Function, Labels, Sin & Jesus – which includes a video in which Mike and I discuss times in our lives when we’ve struggled with matters of identity, function, and labels, and how we have discovered the only true, stable, and fulfilling source of identity and self-worth in Jesus.

You Can’t Just Rid Yourself of Lies, You Must Replace Lies with the Truth

There were points in this book where I wondered, “Okay, Daniel is making a great case for why these things don’t fulfill, but is he going to point us to what will fulfill and satisfy?”

And of course, he did. He perfectly wrapped up the issue in the final chapter of the book, and this quote is a good summary of his point:

There is a sense of freedom in knowing what and who you are not. But ridding yourself of these seven lies won’t fill you – it’ll just empty you. Unless you replace these lies with the truth of who you really are, you’ll just find another set of lies – even stronger and more destructive – to replace these with. (p. 172)

In Conclusion…

Daniel Im’s latest book is relevant and timely. It’s the kind of book I wish I would have read as a young man getting a start on life. I would highly recommend it for young adults.

However, this isn’t only a book for young adults, as no one in the world today is immune to these lies. This is a book for everyone.

Here is the one piece of advice I would give in regard to this book: make sure to read all the way to the end. The book is written as a unified whole, rather than a series of stand-alone chapters; there is one big thought and thesis to this book, and if you stop reading before the end, you will miss it.

I congratulate Daniel on writing this book. I hope it will get into the hands of many people and be used by God to not only set them free from lies, but to find the security and freedom of “being found in Christ.”

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him. (Philippians 3:7-9)

Book Review: The Bible Made Impossible

Recently I finished reading The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith.

Content

When approaching the book, it is important to note that Smith is neither an evangelical nor has he been trained as an academic theologian. He is a sociologist and a professor at Notre Dame University; his writing is scholarly and well-informed, but his purpose is writing this book is to critique a certain tendency which he perceives to be a problem amongst evangelicals. This problem is something he calls “biblicism” – which is basically making the Bible the end-all, be-all source of not only theology, but practical living (including things such as diet, finance, etc.).

Smith’s biggest contention is that biblicism leads to “pervasive interpretive pluralism,” which basically means that the Bible can be used to justify several positions which may stand in conflict to one another.

He then asserts that “biblicists” are using the Bible in a way it was never intended to be used, and suggests instead that the Bible should be read through a Christological hermeneutic lens, i.e. that the Bible exists not to be a handbook for everything in life, but for the sole purpose of pointing us to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While the Christological hermeneutic might seem quite obvious, Smith goes on to state that as a result of this Christo-centric view of Scripture, we therefore do not need to consider all parts of Scripture as equally inspired by God, nor applicable to the modern person. Thus, whatever is written in the New Testament, for example, such as household codes and practical rules for life, does not need to be heeded by the modern person in so much as it does not point to Christ and the saving work of God through Him.

Ultimately, Christian Smith’s biggest assertion is that Jesus himself, rather than the Bible, is what should be considered the “rule of faith,” i.e. the measuring rod by which all things are judged. What is important about his point is that he says that texts and words of the Bible itself should be judged by this rule (Jesus Christ himself), and those parts set aside, which do not align with this “rule.”

Finally, Smith closes the book with a lengthy epilogue in which he complains about those who have not agreed with his claims.

Critique

I agree with Christian Smith’s assertion that some people look to the Bible to be something which God never intended it to be (e.g. “The Daniel Diet” or as a guide for investment practices), and I believe he rightly disassembles the views underlying these practices. However, where the Bible does speak to practical issues of life, it would be foolish to write those off as uninspired, or pick-and-choose based on some arbitrary sense of what you perceive to be really about Jesus.

While Smith repeatedly asserts that “pervasive interpretive pluralism” is a problem, he gives insufficient rationale for why it is a problem. Simply repeating something loudly is not a convincing argument. He fails to explain why it is a problem that the Bible can be interpreted in multiple ways using theological and canonical reasoning.

I would argue that the Bible was inspired by God with a degree of ambiguity on certain topics by design! On the most important topics (primary theological issues), the Bible speaks without ambiguity, but on secondary issues, there is often, what I believe to be an intended ability and possibility for pluralistic interpretations. The purpose of this? As Smith rightly says: the Bible is not intended to be handbook, or a manual for life, as much as something which trains us how to think and act in a dynamic relationship with God. It is designed in such a way that we must continually be reading it and studying it, as well as engaging with others, as to its interpretation and application for one’s contemporary setting and circumstances. This is by no means to say that there is an infinite horizon of possibilities of interpretation; there are certainly boundaries for interpretation which are defined within the Scriptures themselves (canonical reasoning), but within these boundaries, sometimes there can be multiple options for interpretation and application – and I believe this is by design, and is not the problem which Smith claims it is.

See also: Is There Only One Correct Way to Interpret a Given Passage of Scripture?

The Key Issue

Where I disagree most with Christian Smith is in regard to what constitutes the “rule of faith.” His claim that Jesus is the rule of faith might sound nice at the outset, but it is wrought with difficulties.

First of all, who defines who Jesus is? How do we know who Jesus is, what He is about, or what He thinks or stands for? Those things are passed down for us through tradition, but guess how: through the canon of Scripture! It is through Scripture, which is the recorded, preserved, and affirmed record of apostolic tradition, that we know anything about Jesus.

Furthermore, and very importantly: the Scriptures of the Bible were the “rule of faith” that was used by the church fathers in determining doctrine at the great ecumenical councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon.

Conclusion

The Bible Made Impossible was a roller-coaster ride. Some of Smith’s points are excellent, and deserve attention by Christians today, whereas some of his other points seemed either half-baked or completely misguided.

I’m glad I read it, but I would only recommend it to those with a keen ability to “spit out the seeds” and think critically and question what might seem at face-value to be a convincing argument.

Keystone Habits and Christianity

Image result for keystone in an arch

In his book, The Power of HabitCharles Duhigg talks about something researchers call “keystone habits.”

According to Duhigg, keystone habits are “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”

Like the keystone in an arch, these habits have a synergistic effect that overflows into other areas of your life.

Exercise is a well-known keystone habit. When people start exercising, it has an affect on many other areas of their lives, including patience and productivity.

Having dinner as a family is another keystone habit which has outsized beneficial effects in areas such as children’s emotional control and performance at school. [1]

Keystone Spiritual Habits

What about spiritual habits and disciplines? Are there any keystone habits when it comes to Christianity? There most certainly are, in fact – most of the spiritual disciplines that are taught in the Bible would qualify as keystone habits, which have effects which overflow into other areas of your life.

See also: The Role of Habits in Transformation & Inputs and Outputs for Growth and Maturity

Giving

For example, giving, both in generosity towards others and to support the work of God through the church, is a spiritual discipline. One pastor I know used to explain tithing and financial giving like this:

“Tithing isn’t God’s way of raising money, it’s God’s way of raising kids.”

His point was that when God calls us to give, it’s not because He needs money, but because we need to benefit from the practice of giving away 10% or more of our money.

Giving/tithing/generosity is a keystone habit; it shapes the way you live in other areas of your life. It shapes the way you think about what you possess, and the purpose of your life. Since money is literally effort and time made tangible, you are making a choice to spend your life on things other than yourself: on other people, and on furthering the work of God.

Jesus told us that where your treasure is, your heart will be also. This is true: if you give towards someone or something, you will be much more interested and invested in what happens, rather than if you did not have any skin in the game.

Another pastor explained it like this: when you give, you are making a conscious choice not to let your money or possessions possess you. You are choosing to love people and use money, rather than love money and use people. You are deciding that you will not let money set its claws into your heart.

Prayer

According to an article about these studies in Psychology Today, praying makes you nicer, more forgiving, more trusting, and offsets the negative health effects of stress. Prayer has also been shown to boost self-control.

Bible Reading

In his book, Your Future Self Will Thank You, Drew Dyke cites a study on spiritual growth which surveyed more than 250,000 people in 1,000 churches. Their conclusion was that nothing has a greater impact on spiritual growth than engagement with Scripture. Their research showed that Bible-engagement is the single most spiritually catalytic activity a person can engage in.

Church Attendance

A 2016 Harvard study found that frequent church attendance actually lowers the likelihood of death over a 20 year period 😮. Studies show that churchgoers are less prone to mental illness, report higher levels of happiness, and have better sex lives.  Students who attend church regularly have higher GPAs on average and are less likely to live in poverty. [2]

See: “After 12 Years Of Quarterly Church Attendance, Parents Shocked By Daughter’s Lack Of Faith” – from the Babylon Bee

Before it was cool…

Basically, the Bible has been teaching “keystone habits” since before it was cool. What we have now is a large body of research which explains how and why these practices are so effective in shaping us our lives, leading to greater well-being all around.

May we, by God’s strength that he gives us, apply these habits in our lives, for His glory, and our good.

The Least Popular Fruit of the Spirit

apple tree

In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

I would venture to say that all of these fruits are very popular today, with one exception: the last one – “self-control.”

Jesus told his disciples that a tree is known by its fruit, i.e.: the way to identify what kind of “tree” (or person) someone is, is by looking at the outward evidences that their life produces. And self-control made the short-list of evidential fruits.

John Stott on Why Self-Control is Essential to Loving Others

“Why do I say that love is balanced by self-control? Because love is self-giving, and self-giving and self-control are complementary, the one to the other. How can we give ourselves in love until we’ve learned to control ourselves? Our self has to be mastered before it can be offered in the service of others.” – John Stott, “A Vision for Holiness”

Self-Control Requires Some Effort on Our Part

Colossians 1:29 describes human effort and divine power working together: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he (Jesus) powerfully works within me”

In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul tells us that we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, but then tells us that it is God who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Drew Dyke, in his book, Your Future Self Will Thank You, describes how God’s power and our effort work together to produce fruit in our lives:

Sanctification is like sailing. Sailors can’t move without the wind, but that doesn’t mean they kick up their feet on the deck and wait to start moving. They’re tying knots, adjusting sails, turning the rudder—all while making sure the boom doesn’t swing across the deck and smack them in the head. Sailing is hardly a passive enterprise—but it’s completely dependent upon the wind. In a similar way, we’re completely dependent on God’s Spirit to make progress. But we’re not passive. Our effort works with God’s power to move us forward.

How to Bring Glory to God

In John 15:8, in the same passage where Jesus tells his disciples that the way to bear fruit is by abiding in Him (and He in them) – Jesus then says this: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit”

Why should we care about spiritual disciplines and spiritual development? Why should we care about being fruitful? Because it brings glory to God – and this is the very reason we exist! It’s what we were made for!

May the Spirit of God move in us that we would produce the fruit of self-control, and may we be those who work with all the energy that God supplies in order to bear much good fruit that brings God glory!

For more on this subject, see: The Role of Habits in Transformation