October 18, 2017

Pit Stop Update : You Don’t Make Me Crazy

Time for a “Pit Stop” update. (We’ll just give that little title to posts referring back to the original post about my Summer ’04 spiritual crisis. I’m not a NASCAR fan, btw, but in baseball we often talk about “fixing the flat,” so I can live with the title.)

I’ll start by saying a huge thanks to all the folks who sent along encouraging notes and comments. It’s great to not be alone in the journey. My mailbox is full of hundreds of notes from people who are dealing with similar emotions and experiences to my own in their churches and faith journeys. It’s probably a good thing we aren’t all in the same room. We’d cry a lot and break some furniture. Still, it feels good to know you people are out there. I won’t say something dumb, like “I’m there for ya, man,” but I will say you’ve encouraged me to persist and not give in to the all too attractive phoniness that plasters over so many of our struggles. Let’s keep it real, ok?

So, this “Update” is entitled “You don’t make me crazy.” Which means…..what?

It means that not all evangelicals drive me crazy. Most, but not all. In my journey to construct an approach to my tottering faith that works for me, I’ve had to consider the thousands of hours spent with preacherly voices that made me nuts. I’m not saying they were wrong or evil or bad, though some were. I’m saying that their effect on me was bad. So I have to be more selective. And fortunately, there are some voices out there that reach me, teach me and leave me better than they found me.

Let me share four of them with you. If things keep going the way they have the last month, these guys may become the only Christians I can listen to and/or read.

No major bibliographies here. You can do the google work yourself. Just names and comments. I’d love to know what you think.

C.S. Lewis. What is it about Jack Lewis that is just so overwhelmingly wholesome and positive for the heart, mind and soul? It’s enough to make me use the word “anointed.” Lewis is never a ranter. He always sounds like he’s thinking, but he also sounds comfortable with small talk. Lewis was absolutely devoid of the need to be dogmatic. He must have been the most mentally healthy man in England. While he wrote and spoke with the conviction that truth was attractive and forceful, he also knew the truth didn’t need the addition of dogmatism or acidic polemicism to be convincing.

His well told stoies, keen wit, just the right amount of mildly rigorous logic and self-depricating asides combined to create near perfect communication of holy things. Lewis didn’t like to preach, and I think the reason was partly that he enjoyed the less intense medium of conversation so much more.

He might keep you in a bar or on a walk talking for hours, but you knew there would be beer, oranges, pipe smoke and most of all, friendship for the duration. He was a man who liked to talk while walking, and it’s hard to walk with a friend and beat them down. Jack Lewis is always good for me, and those who write about him in the same spirit are helpful as well.

Razi Zacharias: In contrast to the laid back Lewis, Ravi is intense. His CMA/Tozer tradition knows about traditional preaching. But Zacharias has travelled enough miles- physically and spiritually- to understand how to talk to the heart of anyone. What impresses me about Ravi is his ability to take the mind seriously without falling for the notion that proving something to the mind really satisfies the heart. I’ve never heard his mount a traditional apologetic answer with anything close to the joy evident in his personal responses to life-experience questions. He’s an apologist of existentialism AND Jesus. Somewhere in the journey back from suicide, the years preaching in Vietnam, the journeys to Muslim countries, the missions to the universities and the open forums with the skeptics, Ravi developed the rare combination of a quick mind and a tender heart.

Not all of Ravi’s books make sense to me. Some of them are probably less than rigorous scholarship. He illustrates more than he outlines. He uses some theological assumptions that I’m not completely comfortable with. I don’t care. He’s thoroughly wonderful for my soul and my mind.

Robert Capon: My wife will say this is the man responsible for all my problems. I must differ. Capon is a theologian of the first order. He thinks in greek and talks in quotes from the the early Church Fathers. He also has a grip on Jesus and the Gospel that surpasses anyone I’ve ever read. He doesn’t care if its logical. He doesn’t care if its orthodox. He doesn’t care if it lines up with everything in scripture. He doesn’t care if you are shocked and offended. Do you understand Jesus and the Gospel? Do you have the spine to really believe what Jesus means without letting anything else Christians are mumbling about matter at all.

Capon is almost a universalist. He persistently uses illustrations that are offensive. He’s clearly an egotist. He repeats himself. He’s over my head and totally wrong at points. I’m sure he’s lost hundreds of friends and had thousands of angry posts sent his way. I’m also sure that if he had ten more lifetimes he would live them all like this one- utterly devoted to the most radical implications of Jesus and the Gospel.

I don’t care what Capon believes on a hundred topics. He’s so right on Jesus and the Gospel, so right on what it means and doesn’t mean to live in the sacrament of unwavering forgiveness and love, so right on where the church is wrong, that reading him is as close as I ever come to euphoria. I cannot read Capon and doubt the existence of God and the truth of the Gospel. It’s contagious.

Be offended. I don’t care. I love this guy.

John Piper: If I were consistent, Piper shouldn’t be on this list. His books are full of things that I don’t entirely believe. He has a tendency to be legalistic and fanatical. His disciples include some people who are scary. He admires people I consider nuts. I don’t think I would want to be around him. He has a bad case of wretched urgency at times.

Still, John Piper is so God-centered, and so God-saturated in his understanding of the faith, that when the dust has settled and you listen to what he’s saying, it’s all joy. Whatever might go against the grain of my Capon induced grace party is outweighed by Piper’s ability to make the God of Jesus and Jonathan Edwards into a delight that fills the soul.

I’m not one of those people who thinks you have to move to Piper’s church to hear real preaching. I’ve probably heard a few hundred of his messages, read most of the books. I could never read another word and still be hugely captivated by the vastness of God. The appeal isn’t the next new thing. It’s the God-intoxicated quality of Piper’s Christian hedonism. It’s the real deal.

He would hate Capon. He loves Lewis. He hangs out with Reformed knuckleheads who don’t appreciate what he’s saying. He preaches to Arminians and Charismatics that would send me running for cover. He’s way too serious. It doesn’t matter. I’m telling you, he’s so good when he’s right that the other stuff doesn’t matter.

Read “The Pleasure of God in Creation.” Read “God’s Passion for His Glory.” Listen to the biographies he does at his pastor’s conferences. You’ll see what I mean. Piper is a mountain climber on the cliffs of God’s majesty, and I love his stories and snapshots.

There are more, and I’ll share them later, but these four men are going to be my constant companions in the years to come. For whatever reason, they are signs along the way that reliably help me find the God I believe in, the Jesus I need to trust and the Gospel I need to live.

If you think I’m missing any names, start a comment thread.

Comments

  1. See, I warned you. Don’t let your kids post comments to your blog.

  2. Shannon says:

    What do you think of Oswald Chambers or Phillip Yancey? Some of my friends really love Chambers’ ‘The Utmost for His Highest’…something about it strikes me as somewhat legalistic, but then again I was reading it at a time when I was dealing with sort of a crisis of faith so perhaps my perception is faulty.

    I really liked Yancey’s ‘The Jesus I Never Knew’…I thought it was interesting to see a different picture of Jesus than the Sunday School version that is taught to kids and continued on.

  3. I will be including Yancey in a future post, along with Brennan Manning.

    Chambers. I used to read him every day. I often like him. He has a poor u.nderstanding of the Gospel, tends towards many of the problems with Pentecostalism, and has too much of a mystical side for me. I do appreciate his emphasis on union with Christ and his personalism. I can read him without harm, but not with much profit either

  4. I noticed the lean toward Pentecostalism too..thus the ‘too legalistic’…

    I wonder…not to be mean but where do they get a lot of their doctrines from? It seems to me as though many have completely ignored much of the Gospels in favor of the Law of Paul and the OT…but that could just be the people I met. I don’t mean to paint everyone with a broad brush but I don’t really understand how someone can claim that they are a better Christian than everyone else, while they do not show much at all of Christ’s love toward others in their actions. I just don’t understand it.

    And I also do not understand the fixation on Revelation and the End-times…have you ever written an essay on that? Can you enlighten me, possibly, on why some people are so excited about (what they see as) the impending doom of much of the world…I understand being happy at the concept of being with God in the future, but what about living in *this* life and trying to make things as good as you can in *this* life? Again, maybe it is just the people I met.

    And I do wonder what happens to people who live very Christ-like lives but simply never heard of Jesus in any meaningful way…

    If you all want to email me, feel free…

  5. http://www.internetmonk.com/pentecostal.html

    I would recommend this essay,which deals with how changes in Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians have effected my relationships with them.

  6. What about the “heavy hitters” of the faith: Augustine, Pascal, Law, Fenelon, a Kempis etc? They aren’t easy to read, but I think its worth the effort. They are a nice antithesis to the soft, mushy stuff that floods the market today.

    If you are looking for some contemporary voices, may I suggest Gary Thomas, John Fischer, and Gerald Sittser? I think they offer the right combination of salt and grace.
    Of course, no one can replace the Holy Spirit, who is the One who leads us into all truth.

  7. What about Dietrich Bonhoeffer? The Cost of Discipleship is amazing.

  8. I enjoy Lewis and Piper as well. Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life did strike me as a little extreme, it seemed to be missing that element of enjoying life and creation because they’re gifts from God — your term “wretched urgency” is a better description than I could give.

    I’m eager to hear your take on Yancey. He’s one of my current favorites, especially with his latest, Rumours.

  9. Currently finding sanity in Os Guinness’s _The Call_, N. T. Wright, and Tim Keller’s sermons.

    There are “scenes” in Piper’s book the Pleasures of God that changed me forever. I totally agree. Lewis, of course. Your tribute was lovely. I will check out those other guys. Thank you for the tips!!! How nice to throw out some lifelines!

  10. What about the charasmatics John Bevere, his Fear of the LORD book is good and his Drawing Near book. Also Rick Warren and Tommy Tenney.

  11. hmm…:?