Thursday, September 11, 2014

Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man

ATAULCOVERWEB

eBook and paperback - available at amazon.com - For more information go to: ataul.thearmoury.org

2 Timothy 3:1,4: "In the last days...men will be...lovers of hedonism [φιλήδονοι]..."

For centuries, the world of professing Christendom has faced countless contests regarding the nature of God's justice and love, as well as the doctrines of Heaven and Hell. Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, is just another illustration of this reality. The entire protest revolving around Bell's book was fairly dramatic, however, it produced more smoke and heat than productive light. Despite the loud complaints leveled against the controversial author of Love Wins, what he unveiled in his book should have produced little surprise. There is a very important and untold story behind the whole Bell debate that must be passed on for the sake of future generations. The mystery and oddity of this conflict has revealed a systemic problem - one that is much greater than the premature protests surrounding Rob Bell. Altar to an Unknown Love addresses the untold story which stands behind the scenes of Bell's particular views of theology. What the reader may find surprising is that Bell's teachings are remarkably familiar, and have even been promoted, whether directly or indirectly, by some of Bell's loudest critics. All of this points to a great opportunity for the church in the present day. The conflict surrounding Rob Bell actually supplies an opportunity to rediscover our need to go back to the Scriptures themselves, rather than to the teachings and traditions of men. This is an opportunity for the church to rediscover the priority of Sola Scriptura, now, and for the generations to come.

Review by Iain Murray:


Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C. S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man Michael John Beasley (www.thearmouryminstries.org): Lightning Source, Milton Keynes, 2011, 146pp, £6.50/$10.49

The last year has seen major controversy in the United States over Rob Bell’s Love Wins, A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived. Interest in that book is now passing, but before it does so, Michael Beasley believes there is a wider issue that ought to be addressed. Bell’s thinking, he notes, has been condemned by evangelicals who are, at the same time, professed admirers of authors from whom Bell has drawn, namely, George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis. Beasley challenges the consistency of this procedure, and if his book is taken seriously—as it deserves to be—it must promote more controversy, for MacDonald and Lewis are widely respected figures. Lewis is virtually an icon of American evangelicalism; on one occasion the readers of Christianity Today rated him as the most influential writer in their lives. But the only dependable foundation for Christian belief is missing in Lewis. He does not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, with the result that his conclusions are a conglomerate of Bible, imagination, and philosophy. Does the absence of that foundation matter when it comes to understanding the love of God—the subject with which Beasley’s book is primarily concerned? From Acts 17, the Athenians’ worship ‘To An Unknown God’, Beasley shows that the saving knowledge of God is only known by divine revelation. Lost man is as ignorant of that knowledge as were the Athenians. Yet, instead of starting with Scripture, Lewis believed that a consideration of love in man can help us to understand love in God. A major part of Altar to an Unknown Love is a refutation of this error. The love to be found in unregenerate man is self-love— love centering around the pursuit of pleasure, and identified by the Greeks (and by Lewis) as eros. But the love of God (never called eros in the NT) is altogether different, and is unknown until a person is born of God (1 John 4:7-10). ‘Those who do not know God cannot know his love’ (p. 52). ‘Without understanding the nature of his love . . . we are left with nothing but our own shifting sands of human affection’ (p. 39).

A reconstructed presentation of the love of God—to be found in all the authors Beasley is critiquing— produces teaching which carries no offence to the natural man. What is more offensive to the natural man than truth concerning the justice of God and his wrath against sin? But that offence is eliminated by the subjective, man-centered teaching here reviewed. The love of God is such, it is said, that it requires him to respect human freedom, and that freedom should control how we think of heaven and hell. ‘The damned’, wrote Lewis’ publisher of The Great Divorce (Macmillan Publishing, 1976), ‘are under no obligation to return to hell. They can stay on in heaven if they wish—if they are willing to forgo their most precious sins’ (p. 86). Or as Lewis said, ‘The doors of hell are locked on the inside’ (p. 89n). ‘We get what we want’, says Bell. ‘God is that loving. If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option . . . God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins’ (pp. 85, 122). So it is not justice but love that takes anyone to hell. The divine love, which is claimed to be subordinate to human freedom, leads to men being given what they want. Heaven and hell revolve around man, not God (p. 81).

This thinking does not simply take away the offence of biblical truth; ultimately it takes away the gospel itself. For if God’s determination to judge and punish sin is no part of his character, then a substitutionary atonement ceases to be a part of the Christian message. It is not accidental that none of the authors Beasley is examining believed that in the shedding of his blood Christ was bearing the penalty of sin. The author points out correctly that C. S. Lewis did not belong to evangelical circles in Britain in his lifetime. To our mind he proves the case that Lewis is now so widely acceptable in American evangelicalism because non-biblical ideas are not being recognized for what they are. Artistry in writing, effective story-telling, with a mixture of ‘disconnected scriptural references and thoughts’, are able to achieve wide success in a day when discrimination has given way to popular appeal. These are all characteristics of the writings of Bell, Lewis, and MacDonald. This is not to say that all they wrote is equally deserving of condemnation. Beasley’s strictures on Bell’s Love Wins are rightly the most severe (pp. 114-15). Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, now produced on film by Disney for the millions, is not in the same category, but when ‘more and more preachers are eager to cite Lewis in support of their theological positions’ the warning contained in this book is not unfounded. It raises issues of fundamental importance.

Michael Beasley, a science graduate of California State University, and of the Master’s Seminary, has served in pastoral ministry since 1994. We are impressed and thankful for the character of his writings. His valuable book, Indeed, has Paul Really Said? A Critique of N.T.Wright’s Teaching on Justification, has already been reviewed in these columns.

Iain H. Murray


For more information about this book, go to: ataul.thearmoury.org.
For more information about The Armoury Ministries, go to:
www.thearmouryministries.org

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the book: Altar to an Unknown Love from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Victoria Osteen and “Christian Hedonism”

Victoria Osteen’s dark moment of honesty before a watching world has generated much buzz and discussion lately. However, one must wonder why there is so much surprise in this – she has simply admitted to the very core of her theology. Her version of “Christianity” is an idolatrous cauldron of hedonistic pleasure. In her world, self reigns supreme – and the name of Christ is simply a nametag that she attaches in an attempt to provide cover for her heresy. Those who didn’t already know of the Osteen’s theology either haven’t been paying attention, or perhaps they have never heard of the bizarre spectacle of their “ministry.”

Simply put, what Victoria Osteen proudly proffered before a watching world should have provoked little surprise. However, what should capture the attention of the church is the response given by John Piper’s desiring God ministry:

Whoever generated this tweet (whether it was John Piper himself or one of his assistants) has managed to give half credit to that which is pure idolatry, and this is no small problem. While I am glad that people are offended by Victoria Osteen’s proud declaration, I fear that those same masses will overlook and ignore the above, disturbing tweet. Nothing that Victoria said made any biblical sense seeing that her worldview is rooted in hedonism – and God is pleased with none of it. But it is this notion of hedonism in Osteen’s comments that led me to predict that there might be some form of private or public affirmation from those who advocate the contrived doctrine of “Christian Hedonism.” When the above affirmation was placed in the public forum, I was sad, but not surprised. Because of this, I want to share a few thoughts and warnings about this disturbing admission from those at Desiring God:

Firstly, I have no desire to disparage any sound teaching others have garnered from men like John Piper. The profound truth is that God, in His infinite wisdom, uses frail and fallible men to communicate His infallible word. This is true for myself and for any other messenger of God's word. When Piper focuses on the Gospel, he is quite solid; however, his repeated attempts to infuse the contrivance of "Christian Hedonism" into his teachings is deeply problematic. In his book, Desiring God, Piper tries to justify using the salacious term, hedonism, as an expression of Christian worship.[1] In his earlier years in the ministry, he credited C.S. Lewis for this idea more directly, but over the years he has attempted to justify it through various other means. In his book, Desiring God, Appendix 4 – Why Call It Christian Hedonism?, Piper issues a strenuous attempt to justify his use of this expression in six different ways:

1. Through a definition supplied by Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

2. Through another definition as supplied in The Encyclopedia of Philosphy.

3. Through C.S. Lewis’ statement (among others): “You notice that I am drawing no distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasures. But why should I? The line is almost impossible to draw and what use would it be if one succeeded in drawing it? If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline.”

4. By reason that the term “Hedonism” has an “arresting and jolting effect.”

5. He cites Jesus’ mention of coming as a “thief” in the night (Matt. 24:43-44), among other texts, as justification of using scandalous terms in a godly context.

6. He argues that he is able to sanctify, for godly purposes, the term Hedonism by affixing it with the name Christian.

These are all interesting arguments, but the reader should notice that they are rooted in C.S. Lewis, philosophy, and human reasoning more than anything else. As for his attempt to supply scriptural justification for “Christian Hedonism,” perhaps another man could just as well begin advocating “Christian Lust,” “Christian Fornication,” or “Christian (fill in the blank with any corruption here_____)” based upon the same reasoning. Frankly speaking, this is all reckless thinking and continues to be propagated through many today who insist on speaking of Christian faith in sensual, salacious terms. Within this same appendix (Appendix 4), Piper strangely admits that his actions run contrary to the counsel of wise men like J.C. Ryle – who strongly advises against the use of “uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification,” but then proceeds to justify his use of the term hedonism which, scripturally speaking, depicts grotesque self-satisfaction (lust, autonomous delight, similar to eros) as a means of conveying Christian affections.

The problem that Piper has, for himself and for those whom he has influenced over the years, is that his construct of thought has no scriptural basis whatsoever – no matter how hard he tries to justify it. His use of salacious language has produced various forms of spiritual offspring such as Mark Driscoll (Time magazine has called him the cursing pastor) and Ann Vosscamp (who speaks of intimacy with God in very sensual language – see Gary Gilley’s review of One Thousand Gifts here). Whatever his motives, he is begetting a generation of individuals who now believe that the sine qua non of Christian affections is desire, rather than agape love. I could agree with this if it were biblical, but it is not. The Bible never uses “hedonism” as an expression of godly affections because selfish, autonomous delight is at the heart of such a term, whereas epithumea (desire) can be used of godly desire, but is never emphasized on equal footing with agape love. However, agape love is repeatedly given supremacy over every affection mentioned in Scripture. I always like to illustrate the point by encouraging men to drop the word “love” when speaking to their wives. Instead of saying – “I love you” – try saying “I desire you.” This may last for a little while, however, over time your spouse will wonder what has happened to you – and what has happened to the nature of your relationship. Of course a man desires his wife – but he does so out of his relational bond of love with her. The problem of using “hedonism” is that the notion of a relationship is utterly obliterated, as evidenced by the Bible’s use of the term. Mr. Piper may be able to find alternate meanings to the term hedonism in more contemporary works, but the problem remains: he is using this biblical word in an unbiblical way. Additionally, the problem with using the term desire as a near substitute for love is that this procedure denigrates the relational understanding which is intrinsic in the concept of genuine agape love. If everything is about desire and joy, to the diminishment of love, then we end up with a heap of confusion about Christian motives. Thus, out of such confusion, the managers of the Desiring God Twitter account are able to give half credit for Victoria Osteen’s bizarre and idolatrous drivel about going to church for your own, autonomous joy. However, if we were better rooted in the biblical motive of love, then such confusion would be blown away.

If we refuse to be anchored by the language of Scripture, then we will drift into the dangerous waters of human reasoning – perhaps even giving half-credit to heretics. But when it comes to love versus hedonism, the Scriptures are quite clear. God has many attributes (Holiness, wrath, righteousness etc…) – but of all of His attributes, there are very few that have been elevated to the status of this predicate adjective construct: God is love. One thing He is not is hedonism (selfish, autonomous delight) – such a contrivance as this is unscriptural and borders on blasphemy.

Let us be guilty of emphasizing what Scripture emphasizes. I have no desire to diminish the concept of our desire for God or out joy in Him – what I do hope to qualify is that these affections can only be understood properly within the context of our love for Him, seeing that He first loved us – 1 John 4:19.

This is what God hath said – and it is good.

For more on the subject of “Christian Hedonism” and C.S. Lewis, as well as the biblical terms - agape, eros, and hedonism:

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the book: Altar to an Unknown Love from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

********************************
A brief Follow-up:

Some have queried about my interaction (or lack thereof) with the linked article by Chad Ashby, and I wanted to clarify matters relevant to this. For those in doubt, it should be self-evident that I read the linked article since I refer to the specific notion of giving “half” credit to VO, a metric supplied by the article rather than the tweet. However, my article has more to do with my longstanding experiences with the followers of John Piper and those who gladly claim the title “Christian Hedonist.” The core point being made in the article is this: what Victoria Osteen said isn’t mostly wrong, it was completely wrong and disgraceful. Like any other cult, her every word is infected with the corruption of false teaching. Her “God” is a false god; her “joy” is a false joy; her concept of “worship” is false, etc. The linked article was too confused to address directly[2] – my focus was on the legacy of “Christian Hedonism” and the related, yet bizarre notion of trying to harvest edible chunks from the theological sputum coming from Victoria Osteen (Yes, that’s strong language, but please see Proverbs 26:11). As well, the thought of directing others to such a quest is disturbing at best. Concerning anyone’s objections to my description of the word Hedonism, please note that the philosophical and theological ether that surrounded this term in the 1st century is a subject that exceeds the full focus of my article (it is a lengthy subject that I only partially deal with in my book), but it is impossible to appreciate this term’s history without first understanding the philosophical realm from which it evolved. To learn this, a general knowledge of Greek mythology is needed, replete with an understanding of Hesiod’s teaching on the primordial forces of CHAOS, Gaius, Eros, and Tartarus, along with the various descendants including Hedone. The mythological history of this word (Hedone – hedonism) continued into the 1st century, bearing the idea of lust, autonomous desire, and sensuality/salaciousness (as I stated in my article). The lexical scope of this term is still a broader discussion, but my reference to it comports with the scriptural connotation (Romans 1:24, 1 Peter 4:2, 2 Timothy 4:3, James 1:14, 4:2-3, 2 Peter 3:3, Jude 16, 18, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14). A serious lexical analysis of this important term should remind any student of the Bible that when Christ, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude employed this term, they were not doing so in deference to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or The Encyclopedia of Philosophy; instead, they were employing a term that was well known to the audience of the day – and they knew quite well that such a term was rooted in the notion of sinful, wicked desire. I would encourage the reader to search this matter out and to remember that our allegiance must be to God and to every jot and tittle of His word above anything else.

Once again, Chad Ashby and Desiring God Ministries are entirely free to give half (or partial) credit to the heresy of Victoria Osteen; but this is where we part company – I can offer no credit to a heretic whatsoever. In over twenty years of pastoral ministry, “Christian Hedonism” has been a discussion that has come to my doorstep time and again, but I can assure you that it is not something that I have chosen so seek out for personal entertainment or amusement. Christians need to take these questions and discussions seriously without engaging in crass mockery. The prevalence of “Christian Hedonism” in the modern day, which is a Lewisian construct to the core, will continue to make it so that pastors will have to take a stand on this issue – one way or the other.


[1] See – Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man, page 64, footnote #91.

[2] Chad Ashby – “I think we hate what Mrs. Osteen had to say more because it hit a little too close to home.” (Q. Really? This hits close to home? For whom does this “hit home?”). Chad Ashby - “You know, Victoria Osteen was about half right. She was trying (and failing) to articulate half the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: ‘What its [sic] the chief end of man?’” (Q. Does Chad Ashby really know what VO was “trying” to do such that he can assign half-credit to her?) From: “Was Victoria Osteen Really that Off Base?”

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Bitter-Sweet Lessons of Divine Providence

mjbatwhbcnowredeemerbiblechurchLast month I stumbled upon some sad and difficult news, the likes of which I will not describe in detail, but will only say that it involves a church in the northern Midwest. I heard about this news via a Christian podcast which aired shortly after the crisis in question. When I heard this news, I couldn’t help but to recall to mind several memories concerning one of the most difficult experiences that I have gone through in the ministry. The memories and experiences that I will share will be nameless recollections from the past. To be frank they are difficult memories and past anxieties that I have entrusted to God, lest my own heart be corrupted with a root of bitterness. Yet, these distant memories also bear forth a bounty of important life lessons. Whenever I do think of them, I am immediately drawn to the reflection of God’s kind and faithful tutelage of my soul. Thus, these memories supply helpful goads and warnings as I continue to grow as a Christian, a husband, a father and a pastor. This is the way of God's beautiful providence: the most bitter experiences in life supply an abundance of teaching concerning our great need for Christ; for His wisdom; for His grace; for his love and tender mercies. Therefore, what I share with the reader is given with the design to pass along important life lessons that the Lord continues to teach me as a bankrupt sinner, devoid of wisdom apart from His Word. There may be those who will read what follows and be familiar with the details which lie behind my generic recollections. If this is the experience of the reader, then please know that my only design is to pass along the life lessons that God has ordained for his people – for me; for you; for every member of His church.

When I was in the earliest years of ministry I was serving in a church whose spiritual beginnings came from the hyper-grace teacher: R.B. Thieme. At the time, I was too inexperienced to comprehend what this meant, but I eventually discovered that the seeds planted by this man, and others like him,[1] established problematic roots in the church – and those roots ran very deep. To varying degrees, men like Thieme champion a notion of grace which maligns the precious truths of the Lord’s sovereignty, mankind’s total depravity, God’s irresistible grace, His unconditional election, particular redemption, and most notably - the doctrine of the perseverance of the Saints. Along with these problematic influences in the church, there was a strong thread of “Evangelical Feminism” – a pernicious doctrine that continues to grow with unmitigated acceleration within the professing world of Evangelicalism.[2] Now I should note at this point that, after being a pastor for over 20 years, I would never enter into such an environment like this again. However, as a young pastor, energetic, optimistic, and naïve, it was my desire to teach the word with the hope that many could be persuaded by the clarity of God’s word on these important matters. Yet, in this first pastorate of mine, I began to discover some of the stark realities of pastoral ministry. What I soon discovered is that individuals who disagree with a church’s leadership will soon reveal their true character, for better or for worse. The number of conflicts that I had to face during this season of ministry are too numerous to articulate here, but in just one example I recall having to travel to California with my wife and young children in order to perform my first funeral service in my life - for my father. My wife had just had a miscarriage and so our family was having to face the reality of death in many different ways. The most difficult aspect of the funeral services that I had to perform for my father centered on the fact that he never made a profession of faith in Christ. Not only did I oversee his funeral, but I had to attend to the affairs of his dwindled estate. All of this proved to be exhausting for all of us as a family, both physically and emotionally.

Upon our return home, I was welcomed with a petition demanding my resignation, signed by several devotees of hyper-grace teaching.

Experiences like these can be crushing, especially to a young pastor; however, in God’s good providence these difficult years began to teach me, in a strange and inverted way, the importance of my role as a shepherd in my home first, for an essential reason: every trial that a pastor faces should bring him back to an inspection of his soul, his dealings with his family, and his dealings with the church – in that order. I began to realize that how I responded to these trials before God and men had the potential of blessing or burdening my wife and children. In fact, I should say that any trial has a way of reminding any man why it is that he needs to be a strong leader in his home as a means of protection from all external conflicts from the world and even the church. For this, I am thankful for God’s sweet providences, though they seemed quite bitter at the time. For five and a half years the Lord delivered a steady stream of such experiences as we navigated our way through various conflicts involving theology proper, harmartiology, soteriology, ecclesiology, the institution of marriage, the family, and the roles of men and women. Every conflict that I had to face brought me to my knees before God, forcing me to reflect on my attitude, conduct, and demeanor before the flock of my household – before any other consideration of my broader ministry to the church. In short, the Lord was teaching me the simple but often overlooked lesson of 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

1 Timothy 3:4–5: 4 He [the overseer – v. 1] must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)…

They say that sometimes big things come in small packages, and with this very thought I would suggest that one of the biggest lessons of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is packaged within Paul’s parenthetical comment: (“…but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?”). I believe that Paul’s lesson on the overseer’s home supplies an important nucleus for all that surrounds it. You see, a man’s singular devotion to his wife, his temperance, prudence, respectability, hospitality, ability to teach, sobriety, self-control, gentleness, peacefulness, and monetary self-restraint are best tested and seen within the crucible of the home before they are tested and seen anywhere else. God does not call shepherds to role-playing or stage-acting; He calls them to the substance of godly leadership in the home as the unimpeachable evidence of his qualifications to lead in Christ’s church. Because of this, the family should be seen as the veritable canary in the coalmine, signifying either the spiritual health or illness of the man who fills the office of overseer. What I began to discover amidst these early trials of my ministry is that the Lord was refining me in ways that I could never have before imagined.

This is the stuff of refinement that no Seminary degree can impart.

It is for this reason that I fully believe that genuine overseers are not created by manmade programs, rather, it is God who sovereignly calls overseers to such an office such that their conduct and character will become evident within a watching church – in God’s time. Such a process as this reminds God’s people that it is God who builds His church, not men, and that the overseer who is truly called by God will be in public what he is in the private. The following 6 principles began to crystalize for me:

1. The Principal Focus of a Pastor’s Leadership: Paul tells us that a genuine overseer must be one who manages his own household [ἰδίου οἴκου] well. This statement points to the principal focus of the overseer – his own [ἰδίου] household. Thus, before an overseer can shepherd other households within the church, his own household must be his first ministry above all. Should he fail here, he fails everywhere. As already stated, his family is the veritable canary in the coalmine signifying either the spiritual health or illness of the pastor.

2. The Nature of His Leadership: Paul reminds us that the overseer/pastor is one who manages his household well. The word manage [προϊστάμενον] literally means “standing before others,” denoting a clear and decisive leadership/management. This concept is important and harmonizes well with Ephesians 5:23, where all husbands are commanded to lead their households because the husband is the “head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.” Taken together, these verses obliterate the contemporary mythology of co-leadership between husbands and wives in the home. Many churches actually believe and teach such co-leadership in the present day, however, biblically speaking, the wife is the helper to her husband according to the creation ordinance (Genesis 2:18), but not a co-leader (Ephesians 5:22-6:4, 1 Timothy 2:9-15). Decades of feminism in the world have influenced the modern church in such a way that these principles are nearly lost – to the demise of many. However, a man who loves his wife is the one who, in the imitation of Christ, will supply a decisive leadership which provides a haven of protection for her and the children. As an example of this principle of loving leadership, God’s covenant of grace with Abraham reveals an important kernel of truth: “For I have chosen him, so that he may command [H. yatzawe] his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” Genesis 18:19. This verb, command - yatzawe/tzawa comes from the root word mitzwa (commandment) and is correctly translated as “command” in the NASB. Whatever else the reader might think or assume about the nature of Abraham’s calling of leadership, it was rooted in a clear and decisive management based upon the “way of the Lord.” Abraham was not called to delegate this responsibility to others; nor was he allowed to neglect it or even share it with his wife Sarah; instead, it was Abraham’s responsibility before God alone. In the end, if a man does not lead his household in this manner, he is not qualified to shepherd the flock of God.

3. His Pedagogy in the Home: According to Scripture, a godly husband must seek the sanctification of his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33) and his children (Ephesians 6:4) by means of the ministry of the word. This principle establishes the importance of regular worship in the home (i.e., family devotions/worship). However, spiritual indifference leads men to the neglect of such duties, but love for Christ drives a man to such privileges with great joy. In homes where such a pedagogy of love takes place, one will find the fruit of peace and joy. However, wherever such a pedagogy is weak or absent, uncertainty, sorrow, fear, depression, anxiety, discontentment, provocation, and anger will fester and grow. The overseer must manifest this important duty of family worship for the sake of his own household as well as for the sake of other men who watch his example. As Thomas Manton has said: “A family is the seminary of church and state; and if children be not well principled there, all miscarrieth: a fault in the first concoction is not mended in the second; if youth be bred ill in the family, they prove ill in church and commonwealth. By family discipline, officers are trained up for the Church, (1 Timothy 3:4). Upon all these considerations how careful should ministers and parents be to train up young ones whilst they are yet pliable, and, like wax, capable of any form and impression in the knowledge and fear of God.” Simply put, a man is not “apt to teach” if he is not leading and teaching his wife and children in the home first and foremost.

4. The Importance of Hospitality: Paul’s mention of hospitality in 1 Timothy 3:2 isn’t a quaint notion of social etiquette, but has to do with the quality of loving those who are outside of his household. Such a ministry reveals his care for, and generosity with, others in his broader community. However, hospitality is also important because it supplies a means by which the shepherd can interact with, and be visible before, others within the church. Paul’s instruction about hospitality should bring to mind Peter’s important command in 1 Peter 5:2-3: “[shepherd the flock of God among you…] nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” The words, proving to be examples [τύποι γινόμενοι], speak of the overseer’s perpetual transformation[3] as seen and witnessed by the people. Thus, a pastor is not a fixed, motionless statue, but is a living, breathing human being who is being transformed by the power of God’s grace such that his life is one that is becoming a greater example to the people who watch him. Despite his flaws as a human being, he, his wife, and children are all growing in wisdom and grace – and the open act of hospitality avails such progress to a church that is called to emulate such an example. Again, hospitality is more than social etiquette – it is the ministry through which sheep can see their shepherd and his family in a very real way.

5. The Centrality of Love: Interestingly, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is devoid of any explicit mention of love; however, the notion of love is implicitly revealed in every qualification. First, I say this because, as the foremost commandment is indeed foremost in every dimension of life (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Mark 12:28-31), so it is with every qualification disclosed for the overseer seeing that love must govern everything in the pastor’s relationship with God and men. Second, a careful perusal of 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 reveals that most of the character qualities of the overseer are repeated in this quintessential section on love. Moreover, the overseer’s leadership in his home must reflect that of Christ’s loving leadership of the church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25). An overseer’s loving devotion and fidelity towards his wife formulates the basis for his capacity to lead his household well, and all of this establishes the requisite foundation of his leadership of Christ’s church, for “if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” Though an explicit mention of love is nowhere to be found in the text of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, it is everywhere by means of the whole counsel of God’s word and is central to everything.

6. The Extent of these Qualifications: As a final point of observation, Paul’s list of qualifications for overseers in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is to be applied to all overseers – without exception. Though this may seem to be too simplistic an observation for our discussion, it is not. From the beginning of my ministry to the present, I have often encountered a kind of culture of relativity within the church, especially as it relates to elder qualifications. Within such a culture, “staff” pastors are expected to conform to the standards for overseers (at best), while “non-staff” pastors can shirk such standards at will. Such thinking is both unsupportable and disturbing. Though it is recognized that those elders who are primarily focused on public preaching and teaching are to be mindful of James’ warnings concerning teachers (James 3:1), such a notion in no way mitigates the biblical qualifications for “non-staff” elders. Elders who frequent the pulpit as well as those who do not should all be invested in pursuing the elder qualifications stipulated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4 - because none of these texts establish any distinction among those who teach frequently versus those who teach with less frequency. The standards for overseers are not just for those with a seminary degree, or for those who readily fill the pulpit, but they apply to all who bear the title and office of overseer; and a conscientious pastor should seek the application of these standards among all overseers within the church so that he might be surrounded with the kind of accountability that he truly needs for the sake of his life, doctrine, and ministry overall. The removal or avoidance of these standards is spiritually dangerous to the pastor and the entire church.

This is just a small summary of lessons that deeply impacted my life and ministry during these times of testing. Though the pressures around me seemed to be overwhelming at times, the reality was that God was crushing me in order to formulate a valuable faith and conviction that cannot be acquired in the academy. What I did not realize at the time is that these seemingly obvious principles would prove to be deeply controversial. The more I became convinced of the central importance of the overseer’s need to exemplify a godly household in his ministry, the more controversy I faced. Though these principles should not be controversial within Christ’s body, I do maintain that the encroachment of feminism within the visible church supplies a veiled yet virulent opponent to such standards.

So what exactly happened during these trying years of ministry? How does this story end? Well, I won’t divulge all of the details (for there are too many), but the ebb and flow of this season of ministry came to a head when I was eventually accused of having standards for marriage and family that were “too high.” Please note, this was not an accusation of being unbiblical or of failing morally; instead, I was given the cryptic charge of having standards that were too high. At the outset, I was both disturbed and concerned over such charges. The reality is that, should I ever exceed what is written, I would clearly be in the wrong. In such a case as this I would gladly be shown my fault by Scripture, however, this never took place. Instead, I fear that behind these cryptic accusations was the veiled confession:

“We want lower standards.”

I must say to the reader that this is a fearful confession for any church. All of us must recognize that our standards fall short of God’s – daily, but this is to be expected. Isaiah 55:9 reminds us that our ways are exceedingly low, and God’s standards are always higher than ours: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” The solution to this is not found in the pursuit of standards that are lower than what God prescribes; instead, we must seek out His high standards in our continual pursuit of growth, knowing that we will never achieve perfection in this life - until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). In the day of His return, we will be like Him and will be brought into conformity with His image. Until then, we are to reach out for God’s high and holy standard until our last breath, knowing that our sanctification in this life is progressive until the end. This is what I must seek as a Christian; as a husband; a father; and an undershepherd, and it is what I should call others to seek for Christ’s sake and ultimate glory. However, I fear that modern Christendom has divested itself of the high standards of God’s word in exchange for a lesser standard. It seems that many today are looking for a pastor who can become the next power broker in the market of “bigger is better”- Christianity. Simple, quiet, faithful devotion to the ministry of the word is out; market-driven big-religion is the new fad. Though Paul commands us to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands,” the world scoffs at this as primitive, puritanical, culturally irrelevant and that which will never “trend” on Twitter.

So be it.

As believers we should cherish the priceless robe of “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3), rather than craving the world’s festal garments. Though such worldly clothing is ornate and eye-catching, it never endures. In all of this, I close by thanking the Lord for His precious lessons to me. Within the crucible of these trials, the Lord refined me and led me to understand my need to grow further as a Christian; to grow as a husband; a father; a pastor; and a heavenly citizen within this fallen world. Without the protective safeguards of God’s high standards, I fear that I would fail in the ministry by shrinking back to a lesser standard rooted in my own wisdom and strength rather than His. In God’s good providence it was through these years that I began to preach and write on the subject of marriage and family, which eventually supplied the foundation for my book, The First Institution.[4] As a result of my work on this book, I came to discover that, if anything, my standards needed to be raised further by the truths of God’s word. In all of this, I am deeply thankful to the Lord for His faithful tutelage in my life such that I can look back on such trials and see the tender providence of my faithful Shepherd.

To Him be the glory forever…


[1] Specifically, the most prominent influences within the church came from R.B. Thieme, Zane Hodges, and George Meizinger.

[2] The reader should note that, throughout my ministry I have maintained that feminism is the indirect product of effeminism – that is, men who are unwilling to “act like men” 1 Corinthians 16:13. Wherever men create a vacuum of leadership (in the home or in the church) they create an indirect incentive for women to take their place. Thus, my concern over the prevalence of feminism in the modern era is not about women, primarily, but is centered on the preponderance of men who are failing to lead in the manner that God has called them.

[3] [G. γινόμενοι] – This present middle participle speaks of perpetual transformation of an individual’s nature and character. Perhaps a better translation would be “becoming examples” which clearly denotes the continued, progressive nature of the pastor’s mature as witnessed and imitated by others in the church.

[4] The First Institution: A Theological and Practical Guide for the Reformation of God's Institution of Marriage and Family [Hardback: ISBN-13: 978-1935358008].