“When I pastored a country church, a farmer didn’t like the sermons I preached on hell. He said, Preach about the meek and lowly Jesus. I said, That’s where I got my information about hell.” – Vance Havner
One of my favorite chapters in Why We’re Not Emergent is the one where Kevin DeYoung examines the modern tendency to soft-peddle the doctrine of eternal punishment. This is not, he says, merely a “liberal” problem – many evangelicals do it, too, “opting instead for a therapeutic God who encourages our self-esteem.”
As a result, God’s wrath and the reality of hell are downplayed, avoided, reinterpreted to suit our sensitive palates, and even outright denied. We’ve all heard people complain about hellfire-and-brimstone preaching; but considering the state of the modern church, one has to wonder how many of those complainers have actually heard a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon. My guess? Not many. If any.
“We need the doctrine of eternal punishment,” observes DeYoung. “Time and time again in the New Testament we find that understanding divine justice is essential to our santification. Believing in God’s judgment actually helps us look more like Jesus. In short, we need the doctrine of the wrath of God.”
And here’s why (pp. 198-200):
“First, we need God’s wrath to keep us honest about evangelism. Paul reasoned with Felix about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment (Acts 24:25). We need to do the same. Without the doctrine of hell, we are prone to get involved in all sorts of important God-honoring things, but neglect the one thing that matters for all eternity, urging sinners to be reconciled to God.
Second, we need God’s wrath in order to forgive our enemies. The reason we can forego repaying evil for evil is because we trust the Lord’s promise to repay the wicked. Paul’s logic is sound. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19 NIV). The only way to look past our deepest hurts and betrayals is to rest assured that every sin against us has been paid for on the cross or will be punished in hell. We don’t need to seek vigilante justice, because God will be our just judge.
Third, we need God’s wrath in order to risk our lives for Jesus’ sake. The radical devotion necessary to suffer for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus comes, in part, from the assurance we have that God will vindicate us in the end. That’s why the martyrs under the throne cry out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Rev 6:10 NIV). They paid the ultimate price for their faith, but their blood-stained cries will be answered one day. Their innocence will be established when God finally judges their persecutors.
“Much of the emergent disdain for preachers is really an uneasiness about authority and control. Discussion, yes. Dialogue, yes. Group discernment, yes. Heralding? Proclamation? Not on this side of modernism. But is it really modernism we are rejecting or something weightier? The decline in preaching goes hand in hand with a lost confidence in the importance of truth claims. Preaching presupposes there is a message that must be proclaimed and believed. The very act of verbal proclamation by one man to God’s people assumes that there is a word from God that can be ascertained, understood, and meaningfully communicated. This is what is being objected to in preaching, not simply the specter of modernism.
I find it disconcerting that Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz is supposed to be the new model for leadership. ‘Rather than being a person with all the answers, who is constantly informed of what’s up and what’s what and where to go, she is herself lost, a seeker, vulnerable, often bewildered,’ writes McLaren. ‘These characteristics would disqualify her from modern leadership. But they serve as her best credentials for leadership in the emergent culture.’ In the emergent church, pastors should move from broadcaster to listener. From warrior-salesman to dancer. From problem solver to quest inspirer. From knower to seeker.
No doubt, there are times when the pastor is facilitator and fellow seeker. But there are also times – every Sunday, in fact – when he must be a herald. And as he ministers among God’s people, he should be able to say, by the grace of God, ‘Follow me as I follow Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1). It sounds humble when Pagitt says he doesn’t want to be his people’s pace car. But aren’t overseers supposed to be above reproach (Titus 1:6), able to instruct in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it (1:9), and in all respects a model of good works (2:7)?”
– Kevin DeYoung, Why We’re Not Emergent (pp. 159-160)
Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen
I finished this only yesterday, and here’s my verdict: WOW. Loved it from start to finish, and couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t read it sooner. Definitely a top contender for best non-fiction book I’ve read this year. The title is slightly misleading, though: this isn’t a book just for parents. Anybody and everybody (with a brain) can benefit from Esolen’s shrewd writing and profound insight.
Bone, Vol. 1: Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith
My interest in graphic novels has grown significantly over the past year, so I’ve been compiling a list of titles to check out. Bone – a massive, critically-acclaimed nine-volume fantasy epic – was at the top of my list. From what I’ve read, it’s sort of like Lord of the Rings with a humorous twist. And I’m already loving the artwork. Unique and eye-catching.
Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough
The story of America’s greatest crime wave and the birth of the FBI. I watched Michael Mann’s film adaption last year and was impressed; so naturally, when I realized it was based on a book, I went snooping – in a good kind of way. My copy should arrive in the mail this morning. Awesome.
Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
“You can be young, passionate about Jesus Christ, surrounded by diversity, engaged in a postmodern world, reared in evangelicalism and not be an emergent Christian. In fact, I want to argue that it would be better if you weren’t.” Of all the books currently on my bookshelf, this is probably the one I’m most excited about.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I’ve heard so much about this book that I figured it was time to give it a read. It’s been recommended by several people I greatly respect, including my Mom. Besides, she wants me to watch the movie with her. I’d best get cracking.
Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke
Another book I can’t wait to dig into. I love Andrew Peterson’s recommendation: “Tony Reinke has made a wise, theological, and edifying case for why words matter. I’ll mention Lit! every time someone asks me why in the world Christians should read fiction – a question that never fails to shock me. Now, instead of snapping, ‘Are you serious?’ and spouting opinions, I’ll just smile and slip them a copy of this book.”
What’s on your bookshelf right now?