When the Sleep of Jonah Is Not Passive but Abusive (Part 2)

Victor Chininin Buele

We are in the middle of a series of reflections about a certain counterfeit of Reformed preaching, of expository preaching, that causes great harm to the flock of Christ. So far, I have alluded to the Church of Christ as being sound asleep in the safest part of a ship that is in the sea in the middle of a storm of mythical proportions. Abuse is a storm that destroys sheep, precious sheep made in the image of God, and tosses them to the depths of the sea. Part of the argument is that for Jonah to be sound asleep like that, his conscience had to be hardened to such an extent that the eternal destiny of the people of Nineveh became something so repugnant to him that he would purposefully purchase a ticket to the end of the known world to avoid the call to preach to them because maybe, just maybe God could grant them mercy and repentance (and that is precisely just what God did).

In the previous article, the first mark of this counterfeit was explored: Preaching that breeds doubt in yourself and in everyone else but complete confidence in the mediator preaching.

The task today is to explore the second mark.

Counterfeit Preaching Teaches that Silence Is Grace and that Grace Is Silence

This one is pervasive. And it thrives in the uneasiness we feel at our desire to avoid sin and be respectable, God-honoring people who love our neighbor as ourselves. Let me dissect it.

This feels honorable. And we have plenty of words from the Bible to back up our action and inaction.

The book of Proverbs is a great source of wisdom, but if it’s twisted, it can be a great weapon for silencing. There are gems in God’s Word such as these: “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Prov. 11:13), ” Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler” (Prov. 20:19), or “Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret” (Prov. 25:9). I don’t use the word gems sarcastically. This is wisdom–God’s wisdom. No if’s, but’s, or objections.

We saw in the last installment how the teaching that the heart is deceitful can be taken past its limits in saying and believing that all that comes from the heart of the person must be suspect, completely neglecting the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. This second mark builds on top of that. That is, when the person is rightly questioning or asking what his instinct is, it goes and adds secrecy to it. And because the words used to silence come from the Bible, straight from the Bible, they have great power.

This hermeneutic will say, “What is slander? God’s Word defines slander as the revealing of secrets. The Christian, God’s Word says, will keep a thing covered.” “What do we do with the slanderer? We must not associate with them. They’ll just publish anything you tell them, that’s what God’s Word says.” “You must argue your case with your neighbor himself, and not reveal another’s secret. Don’t talk to others. God’s Word says that. They are speaking evil.”

And here is the thing.

The Word does say that.

And it doesn’t.

A key factor is the nature of the secret we are being asked to keep. The other key factor is whose authority is it to deal with the situation, if appropriate.

The Lord Jesus asked people to keep secrets. Just one example. “And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, ‘See that no one knows about it.’ But they went away and spread his fame through all that district” (Matthew 9:30–31 ESV). Did Jesus commit some impropriety that he was coercing people to be silent about? No. Was he protecting the appearance of godliness in front of a people? No.

It was not yet time for these miracles to be proclaimed from the rooftops.

And the people couldn’t be quiet anyway. Redeemed people don’t keep their sin quiet. Forgiven people tell you all about it because it magnifies their Savior. Freedom cries out from the rooftops. It gets rid of any obstacles that keep them from climbing up there to shout about the grace of Christ in redeeming them and freeing them from their slavery to sin.

This is very important. Jesus never took advantage of Proverbs to silence opposition or to silence those who were asking questions or to dismiss correction and the call to repentance (he never sinned).

And we now live on the other side of the Great Commission. So, we don’t have a reason to keep quiet about the fact that Jesus is the Christ. In fact, it is our full time responsibility to tell every creature that Christ is Lord and to disciple them by teaching them to obey all that Jesus taught.

There are matters of confidence and discretion, and we would agree with the writer of Proverbs, that one must be able to keep a confidence and honor the person who trusted us for advice or counseling. This is part of living in community. In this way, we are guardians of stories. There are things that we will hear that we will be wise to keep in confidence. Two friends tells you they have cancer, and they haven’t shared with anyone yet. They truly need prayer. Pray. People will be making decisions that are not public yet. Yet, these are not sins we are asked to keep but confidences.

The problem comes when we equate a confidence with covering up unrepentant sin. Usually, forgiven sin is not something that goes in a vault. It comes up–as an example, as a testimony, as a praise, as a warning, as a challenge, as an admonishment. And not all stories can be kept secret. When we are told we are guardians of stories or of reputations in order to keep things quiet that shouldn’t be secret, beware of manipulation at work. There are matters that concern law enforcement. There are matters that concern the local church. There are matters that concern spouses that have been sinned against. There are matters that concern elderships. There are matters that concern the general public. There are matters that concern parents.

John Stott wrote a wonderful book Confess Your Sins that wrestles in part with the nuances of public confession. I would commend that to you for your edification. In the case of matters that reach advanced levels of church discipline, he wrote, “It is the local church which has been sinned against; it is the local church to which public confession must be made; and it is the local church which must take responsibility to administer discipline and to use its God-given authority to bind and to loose.” The abuse stories we see coming to light publicly these days show ecclesiastical systems where the local church was not involved in these matters. As a matter of fact, a mark of honor, or of fear, was to not involve them, to handle things in committees, or elderships, or in secret. Once, a saint who heard of a matter of abuse simply asked another saint, “But, did you talk to the regional director of the denomination?” And she walked away in peace. Stott’s point is essential and scriptural: this saint was sinned against as a part of the local church, but she believed this lie that her silence is grace. Reconciliation can’t really occur unless we are honest about the extent of our sins and repent of them fully. There was teaching she believes that led to this response.

The height of manipulation in this preaching is that grace is equated with silence. One day, I was in a Bible study. The teacher announced his text and started reading it. Every single attendee opened to said text and heard the dissonance between the words our eyes were seeing and the words the teacher was reading. It didn’t match up.

Yet no one said anything.

We all assumed it was grace to assume we were all wrong and not the teacher! There was absolutely no reason to be quiet about this. Somebody could have asked, “What are you reading?” Somebody could have said, “You are reading the wrong text.” Somebody could have even made a joke out of it. But, this is in the air we breath. We assume that it is us. It is our fault. That it is somehow better to be the one wrong; after all, we can recite 1 Corinthians 13. That is how abuse thrives. We think we give grace to the abuser, but we cover the abuse.

We think we give the benefit of the doubt. But we forget there is no such thing as neutrality. To be pro-something is to be against something else. Relativism breaks. And we all know it. We try to see things in the best possible light. Until we no longer can do so with a clean conscience. And then, the speech gets labeled as gossip and slander. Not because it is false but because it is uttered. Are we surprised that so many end up sharing with the mainstream media or with social media when we, the saints, those sinned against, those with a responsibility to disciple, love, and care for the sheep, chose to be silent and, more than that, went on to believe false narratives that painted the one coming forward in the worst possible light as we accused them of painting the accused in the worst possible light? I am convinced that people go public when there is no more recourse.

Do not read this wrong: it may be grace to be silent. Deuteronomy 17/Mathew 18 call us to make a diligent inquiry, to not admit charges without reliable witnesses. But once things are clear, and the right jurisdiction is identified (whether it’s a person who’s been sinned against, or abused, or a spouse that has been lied to, or the other elders, or the body of the church, or law enforcement), we can’t use grace as an excuse for inaction.

Jesus had a lot to say. And here is the thing with secrets: they are the canary in the mine. They speak volumes about the heart.

When the Sleep of Jonah Is Not Passive but Abusive (Part 1)

Victor Chininin Buele

This third installment of this series will focus on a certain counterfeit of Reformed teaching and preaching that creates and fosters cultures of shame and abuse, of self-protection and inward focus. And not just within the church but within the homes of those who sit under such teaching. In the first post of the series, I argued that the sleep of Jonah was in part the result of a hardened heart that was actually able to be sound asleep in the midst of a storm of unprecedented proportions. Abuse in the church is a storm that continues mostly undeterred. In the last post, preaching from the sleep of Jonah is what I described as the dangers of a certain counterfeit of Reformed teaching and preaching that lacks specificity and tangible application, that showcases brilliant application that is about somebody else, or about a group that is to be excluded, or it asks us to turn our eyes outwardly to others and away from our own need for Christ, or overemphasizes grace or law, or trivializes our sin (everybody sins, we are imperfect, all pastors fall short of 1 Timothy 3/Titus 1). And just in case you think this is about finger pointing, fully aware that when I do so, three fingers point at myself, the last post features the analysis of a critical sermon I preached. This is not only about somebody else.

The communication of such things, of course, is hardly ever explicit. That would be flat out heresy that nobody in these elderships, or boards of deacons, or congregations could ever affirm explicitly. It is all subtle. I have come more and more to appreciate the title of David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen’s book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.

This preaching is subtle. I do not know if the people preaching these sermons are that evil. They could be. And some must be. I do not know if they just believe their own tales. They just might. Or maybe they are that good at faking sincerity and transparency. Or something along in the spectrum. Diane Langberg’s writing has helped me break free from the intellectual desire to try to understand these preachers. If Satan is the father of lies, which is true, we cannot possibly expect to make complete and perfect sense out of a worldview of lies, built upon lies, and sustained by lies.

I cried when I heard one of my pastors preach late last year. It had been rainwater in a long walk through the desert. My daughter knew. She just knew. This was different. When a seven-year-old who does not profess Christ hears and knows and articulates the difference, that’s something that caught my spiritual and intellectual curiosity.

I’m going to make four points about this counterfeit of real, Reformed preaching, though far more could and must be said.

This kind of preaching: (1) breeds doubt in yourself and in everyone else but complete confidence in the mediator preaching, (2) teaches that silence is grace and that grace is silence, (3) demonizes doubt and challenge, and (4) praises and commends homes that reflect this culture.

This installment focuses on the first characteristic of this reprehensible counterfeit.

Counterfeit Preaching Breeds the Wrong Kinds of Doubt and Confidence

A key element of this preaching that sounds so biblical and commendable is the breeding of doubt. There is a Scripture for that: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV).

A frame of reference gets built upon this that grows and grows over time: I must doubt myself. If I’m thinking x, I must account for the fact that my heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. And this line of thinking gets plenty of traction because that is precisely what we must do in Christ. In Reformed preaching, this is consistent cognitively with the doctrine of the radical depravity of humankind. We know experientially that we are not inherently good; otherwise, there would be no need for so much money and efforts and work spent in trying to persuade ourselves that we are good.

So, you get a group of people who are aware of their sinfulness and proclivity towards sin. And they may even be fully committed in an Owen-like sense to kill sin before it kills them. You add the admonition to not trust the heart. There is no “follow your heart” philosophies here. It sounds right.

But over time, doubt is planted: You are unreliable. Your reasoning is unreliable. Your interpretation of your reading is unreliable. Your understanding of Scripture is unreliable. Your emotions are unreliable. Your gut feelings are unreliable. Your motives are suspect. Your affections are unreliable.

And not just in particular circumstances but always. Your first instinct is going to be to assume you are wrong. And being wrong is taken to mean that you are sinning.

This completely ignores a critical point: while the Christian has not been fully glorified yet, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer already. Yes, the believer can sin, have sinful emotions, foul reasoning, sinful reactions. Absolutely. The heart must be tested. But is it always sinful? Not always! Not every thought, deed, impression, or emotion of the believer is to be considered unreliable. Radical depravity does not mean that everything I do is depraved. Even if I were not a believer. God restrains the worst of all of us through His common grace.

This also ignores another critical point, equally important: the believer has Spirit-empowered understanding of God’s clear, true, unchanging, unimpeachable Word. We can check our thoughts, emotions, reasoning, impressions, or gut feelings against the Scriptures. If I have a suspicion that something is not right, I must go to the Scriptures, in prayer, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to my community, check with my fellow brothers and sisters, ask questions, keep asking, keep going back to the Word.

This preaching thrives because we are golden calf makers. We will make an idol out of anything. God’s good blessings turn into our counterfeit gods all the time. Gifted communicators are no exception.

At some point, cultures where I am always assumed to be wrong and sinful will need to have one way to discern the voice of God. And the gifted communicator becomes our man, our north, our hope, our ruler, our mediator, our golden calf. We want it easy: We want to know what God says about this or that. And we doubt our ability to come up with God’s answers on our own. Should I move? Should I marry this girl? Should I buy this house or rent? Should I move to a country in the 10/40 window? Should I eat at KC Joe’s? Should I shop at Target or not? Should I wear a mask or not? Should I vote for Trump or for Biden?

And when the gifted communicator seems to be right most of the time, we make a beeline past the Scriptures and straight to him. Because he is almost always right, I will just go ask him.

And our doubt becomes full confidence in the mediator.

In my former denomination there is a practice of congregational participation, and there is a microphone open for it during the service. Because the denomination is continuationist (it believes in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our day), it is assumed that from time to time, the Holy Spirit will impress upon somebody in the congregation the gift of a word of encouragement (or prophecy since this was once called the prophecy mic and still may be in some local churches). The catch is that somehow there has to be a sifting of what’s from the Spirit and what’s not from the Spirit. And the senior pastor is usually the one who hears the impression/prophecy first and then allows or disallows the participation. Since we are golden calf makers, it becomes very easy to equate this gatekeeper with the mediator. And we start assuming that because this person said something was right, it is. Or worse yet, it is from God.

I say that to illustrate the extreme example of something that happens far more subtly in other local churches. You may not have a participation mic, or you may believe certain gifts ceased with the apostles, but pastors get questions all the time–people come and present “theoretical” scenarios or sometimes will even own up that it is from them sometimes. People come and ask us how far is too far in a relationship before marriage, or about a certain ethical dilemma, or if they should move in together (after they’ve done it), or about their addictions and secrets, or about the morality of their choices or purchases. They know that their choice was/is sinful, but what they want (what we want, I should say) is to get the “man of God” to tell us that we are in the up and up. That we are accepted. That we are justified. Even if we won’t stop doing what we want to do.

To tidy up: this first mark, so to speak, of the counterfeit preaching that leads to abuse is this:

We end up mistrusting everything that comes from us but trusting completely everything that comes from the gifted communicator. We end up doubting the work of the Holy Spirit of God in our life, but trusting it completely and unquestionably in the life of somebody who may not be indwelled by the Spirit at all.

Does this sound to you like a straw man argument? I’m sure it could. Especially if you are deep in the middle of it. And if in your situation it is not extreme (yet) but are just somewhere along the spectrum, it still doesn’t make it right. This is not to caricaturize anyone, but this is to help the church see these areas where we are vulnerable. We try to uphold right doctrine, but wolves can thrive inside precisely because of this commitment to the doctrine of the radical depravity of man.

That is, yes, our hearts can lead us astray and our thoughts are not only not always right but can be sinful. We must be aware of that. Jeremiah 17:6 is true. I must be aware of my propensity to sin. I must be aware of the part of my nature that is still prone to wander to sin. But this does not mean I must doubt everything: every thought, every emotion, every impression, every gut feeling, every concern, every joy, every affirmation I want to give to somebody.

For that we have the Holy Spirit. Trust in God, pray boldly, search the Scriptures, dialog with your church family inside and outside of the local church. Remember that the Spirit dwells in you and is transforming you daily. Remember that you have a Spirit-empowered understanding of God’s Word that is actually renewing your mind daily. And you are not alone. He placed you in a family with other brothers and sisters in Christ, and your family transcends the four walls of a church building or a given neighborhood or city.

Preaching the Sleep of Jonah

Victor Chininin Buele

The last post argued that the sleep of Jonah in chapter 1 was in part the result of a hardened heart that was actually able to be sound asleep in the midst of a storm of unprecedented proportions. It left the reader with the question: Are we asleep? Who has God called you to reach that you would rather, and literally, see burn in hell?

Today I want to try to wake up the Reformed preacher from the sleep of Jonah.

One very challenging question I have been considering for the better part of three years is this–how can it be that the resurgence of “Reformed” preaching has not decreased, but perhaps even increased, abuse inside of the church?

I had thought this was a problem of antinomianism, that is, in its most comically tragic form, a “let’s do whatever we please because we are saved” attitude. I figured legalism was far from it because legalism would be such a strict outward observance of Biblical principles (even if the heart is not engaged or willing or delighting in God) that it could not possibly be part of the equation. Sinclair Ferguson cleared that up for me in The Whole Christ showing that both antinomianism and legalism have the same root: a belief in the lie of Eden that God is not good, he is not loving, he cannot be trusted, and he is not for us. Some choose to go super strict about it–I will not even touch the tree so that I won’t be able to eat the fruit if I don’t touch it! Some choose to go super liberal about it and say, “What’s wrong about it? Go eat all the fruit you can. What’s the worst that can happen? Diabetes? Nah! There’s grace/insuline for that!”

One of the first reasons I started to ponder this question was because I had the task to restart the exposition of the book of Luke at a church that had gone through the horror of seeing her senior pastor’s sin of sexual immorality exposed. I needed to pick up the exposition in Luke 17:11-37. So I went and read Luke 1-17, but I also went and listened to the last sermon that was preached in the series and a few others.

I had preached at that church a few months earlier a sermon about the law from the book of James. I remember that the pastor cleaned up after me, so to speak, and took off the edge I purposely left hanging in there. He added grace and gospel to my message. It’s not that I didn’t preach the gospel or that I didn’t speak about grace. But the text was about the law, so there was a certain edge there that was unfortunately flattened. I told my wife about it. I felt frustrated that my point was undone, but it was not my church. Life moved on. I didn’t really ask why!

So, there I was, listening to the man’s sermons. Expository sermons. In the Reformed world, we place a big emphasis on expository preaching–preaching “straight” from the Bible where the message of the sermon is the message of the text. We even go through long series going through the same book of the Bible, verse by verse, to not miss anything. If there is a subject I normally wouldn’t want to talk about, preaching this way will force me to deal with it and not skip it. In theory, there is no way for this to fail. The preacher is to submit to the Word, find its authorial intent (divine and human), find a way to communicate it effectively and apply it faithfully.

This man preached almost 17 chapters of Luke while living in gross sin. And a number of other books prior to that.

How did this happen?

I noticed that the sermons didn’t have skin in them. The applications didn’t get to the heart. Yet, they sounded like terrific expositions of Scripture. I do not recall finding any technical exegetical errors or excursions into La La Land. I could see how a people could listen to years of that and walk away every Sunday being absolutely thankful to God for the sermon and feeling edified. I do not recall hearing of any conversions at the church from the preaching, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were. The Bible shines through as it is living and active, and it is not restrained by the sin of the mouthpiece.

But that doesn’t give us an excuse to not ask anything or, worse yet, to make this key mistake of justifying gross sin or explaining it away because of what we perceive to be the fruit of a ministry or the gifts of the minister.

These sermons did not get to the hard confrontation of calling the human being, made in the image of God, to own his sin, to name it, to reject it fully, to turn from it specifically and completely, and to live for God. In the condition of this man’s heart, there is no way in the world he could have asked these kinds of questions without being laid bare himself at the pulpit. So, he didn’t. And every Sunday, things got worse. And the church, who called him to minister to them, was asleep. Asleep comfortably in the sleep of Jonah.

When application is about somebody else, or it asks us to turn our eyes outwardly to others and away from our own need for Christ, or overemphasizes grace or law (that is, it asks us to believe the lie of Eden that God is not good, trustworthy, and loving), or trivializes our sin (everybody sins, we are imperfect, all pastors fall short of 1 Timothy 3/Titus 1), we need to pay attention. Not to the application, though. Something is wrong. Ask questions. Pray boldly. Speak frankly. Fear God and not man.

Preaching like this is a counterfeit. Allow me to illustrate:

The title of my sermon restarting the Luke series was “In the Midst of You”, and I made three larger points, three signs of the Kingdom: (1) The Kingdom enters a time of complacency and ingratitude, (2) the Kingdom brings in the outsider and shows some of the insiders to have been false sons, and (3) the Kingdom means the end of the law for righteousness. My application, very much guilty of the same style of preaching that I am describing, was this: (1) be thankful, (2) seek to identify God’s miraculous power as you go about your daily life, and (3) guard your heart against relying on the law for your righteousness.

Abstract. Abstract. Abstract.

Can you see how you could have walked away from my sermon (which in essence was no different than the previous sermon by the man preaching while living in sin) and be thankful for the teaching and inspired by the application? And yet, my application does almost nothing for you.

It doesn’t confront you with anything. Be thankful! Great. Does it actually confront my lack of thankfulness? Am I complacent and ungrateful? What specific event or presence or lack of a gift from God showed me to be unthankful or complacent? What sin is behind my response? What am I doing to hide it? This application has a point–thankfulness is the antidote to complacency. But the complacency has to be exposed and understood, confronted and challenged. I have to let the text confront me and call me to repentance. And repent! There is a way this application sounds right but does absolutely nothing for my soul. I can write down “Be thankful” in my notes and maybe say an extra prayer before a meal throughout the week but let it do nothing more in my heart. Sin loves to hide there.

Seek to identify God’s miraculous power as you go about your daily life sounds wise and deep, practical and life-changing. I even quoted Chesterton for good effect. It lacks specificity again. It does very little. And in reading the text again, I think the connection between the exegesis and this application is very thin–there was a miracle in the text; therefore, appreciate miracles.

And then, this exhortation to guard the heart against relying on the law for your righteousness also falls short. The congregation was about to start fleshing out the consequences of sexual sin that hid for a long time in their midst. It was hidden. Lies had to be told and believed. Deception took a root in people’s lives. And this application completely missed the point in light of that. A person hiding gross sin was reminded that no person can save himself by doing the right works of the law and by not doing what the law forbids. Hear: GRACE! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to translate this exhortation to: “I may be indulging in ungodly sexual pleasure, hiding it from my wife, hiding it from the men who are supposedly walking with me, but I’m good because Scripture says there is no one righteous, not even one. Praise Jesus for His grace for such a wretch as me!” This sermon completely missed the point of the text for this people in that particular day in those particular circumstances.

Preaching like this allows sin to hide and thrive. It doesn’t call us to do anything. It redefines repentance and results in such a rejection of any application that requires costly obedience and honest discipleship, that anyone who calls you to repentance turns into a Pharisee, and we know what Jesus had to say to the Pharisees! So, you can continue to walk down the wide, open road of sin, whistling and singing Amazing Grace, even receiving praise for your sermons and receiving praise from the sermons for your sinful behavior. Not explicitly, of course. That would be heretical. And when the mouthpiece in the pulpit is the one hiding the sin, manipulation and spiritual maneuvers can be very hard to identify. It is the water in which you swim.

I saw in the Twitter world something last week that summarizes the point very well: “Want to know if you have a healthy pastor? Disagree with them.”

Try it sometime, Biblically of course, it may expose what needs to be exposed.

Fellow preachers–we must repent of preaching that hides and empowers abuse. These are misrepresentations of the character of God who compassionately sent His Son Jesus to die for all our sins, past, present, and future and raised Him up from the dead to sit at His right hand and intercede for us, who sent us the Spirit that we may have life and live out the good works prepared beforehand by Him. They do not edify the sheep.

This is preaching from the sleep of Jonah. We are fast asleep in the deep, safe recesses of a study in the middle of a church that is trying to weather a storm of cosmic proportions. Wake up, fellow Jonah. Who has God called you to reach that you would rather, and literally, see burn in hell? It may look like having to get ahold of yourself, own your sin, repent of it publicly, and let somebody else preach. It may look like having to turn back on your fear of losing the congregation or not be liked by them and actually give them real and concrete applications that will help them kill sin and delight in Jesus.

Next time, I will venture a bit into another flavor of preaching from the sleep of Jonah that redefines respect and submission in ways that foster and empower abuse to be perpetuated and never opposed.

The Sleep of Jonah

Victor Chininin Buele

Thanks to the saints of the Congregación Cristiana Dios es Amor in Loja, Ecuador, I had the opportunity to prepare to study the book of Jonah with them through Zoom. A musician somewhat recently wrote in a song, “Zoom, zoom, se activó la colmena” (Zoom, zoom, the hive was activated) and speaks to the truth that one of the ways in which these times of Zoom have uniquely shown the goodness and the power of God is in activating a powerful force for the gospel not limited to physical buildings that may have been sitting empty. The gospel proclamation is advancing. The hive was activated indeed.

One of the good effects of studying the book of Jonah with the saints in Loja was that we were able to see the sovereign purpose of God in a story that is often the target and source of jokes in our secularized days. Interacting with one astute sister in the study one night, we were fleshing out the following line of reasoning from Jonah, chapter 1:

Essentially, these experienced seafarers were staring in the eye of something like nothing they’ve ever seen before. And they had seen plenty of storms in their lives. Clearly, something greater than themselves had brought this upon the sea and their ship and was threatening their very lives. This was not normal. In this display of pluralism, everybody worshiping their own gods in their own ways, they are all trying their best to appease them. Nothing works. The storm does not relent. Their fear led them to worship, to begging to their gods. These false gods proved false and failed. So, they took matters into their own hands and started throwing everything off the ship–better to starve than to die! But the ship was still going down. Death is certainly ahead. Fear is rampant.

And there is good old Jonah. Sleeping. “Fast asleep” (5).

In the study, she then asked something along these lines: Do you mean to say that God has brought about this pandemic of global proportions, like nothing we or any doctor has ever seen before, in a time of rampant pluralism, secularism, and atheism, and that we may be asleep? And that the unbelievers may actually be more engaged in calling out to their gods than us, the Christian children of God?

Are we asleep?

From the text what we do know is that Jonah was asleep, fast asleep, in the inner part of the ship that was in the worst of a storm of mythical proportions (5).

What could be the possible intended effect that the author of the book of Jonah has for us as we read the story? How are we to think about this? What are we to feel? What’s going on here?

We see in the text that God calls Jonah to rise up and go to Nineveh, a great and sinful city that Jonah has no desire to see saved. For all he cares, he wants them to perish without any opportunity to repent. His emotions and actions testify to that. So, what did he do? He got up and went not just in the other direction, but he paid the fare to go to Tarshish, the end of the known world in the other direction. He wanted to go as far as possible from those who needed to hear God’s call to repent.

The mariners want to know who is to blame for this because something greater than themselves is at play, so they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. They asked him to identify himself. His first response was that he was a Hebrew. This may be a clue that Jonah was seeing his identity as primarily national and ethnic. Secondly, he described himself as one who fears the LORD, the God of heaven. At that point, these experts in pluralism and the equal validity of all their false gods, “knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them” (10). They were even afraid to throw him overboard because they feared the LORD counting his death upon them and not rescuing them out of the storm. “They called out to the LORD, ‘O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you” (14).

The pagans were far more eager to obey the LORD than the prophet of the LORD was. The pagan pluralists were far more fearful of the LORD than the one who self-described as one who fears the LORD.

I heard a sermon not so long ago where the preacher reflected on Jonah choosing to rather sleep than to face the storm. Yes, we are in the realm of speculation. After all, we are looking at narrative not synthesized doctrine.

Yet, I don’t think from the look we have taken together at chapter 1 of this story, that this is the point. From the text, we don’t get a real answer as to the heart of Jonah. We are left with a lot of questions. We don’t know if he truly repented, or if that repentance was genuine. We could take 2:8-9 as a potential sign of repentance, but then we have his anger and exceedingly great displeasure in 4:1 at the compassion of the Lord Yahweh.

I think what we are seeing here is somebody whose original disobedience from the LORD came from deep passion against the people of Nineveh. I can almost hear him say, “I rather watch them burn in hell…” When we choose to disobey God, we are hardening our heart. We are starting to bring in the bricks and concrete to build up a wall. We know how Americans feel about walls, right? Some of the ones who want them built to keep others out don’t realize the walls they’ve themselves built around their hearts to block what God calls them to do, and some of those who don’t want them built to keep others out don’t realize that they’ve themselves been building walls around their hearts to keep God out. We can sound so righteous in both camps! Meanwhile, the wall of bricks around the heart keeps getting built. Higher and higher.

Jonah’s actions show us this. He cares a lot about the Ninevites. It’s not that he doesn’t care for them. He cares so much about them that he will go to the end of the world to avoid preaching to them, to avoid caring for them, to avoid loving them. And loving here requires a sharp rebuke. God is not telling him to go give them an encouraging, Hallmark card. God is calling him to “call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (2). One could imagine that somebody who despises the Ninevites would want to go and let it rip… But it is not so. Jonah knows that God is merciful. So, as far as he is concerned, and as far as it involves him, he will not even crack the door so that light maybe, maybe could come in. God had not guaranteed compassion upon Nineveh to Jonah. But Jonah knows that God is able to save, and that in His love and mercy, He can save anyone.

The sleep of Jonah, therefore, I propose, is the sleep of a man who has seared his conscience through hate and disobedience to such an extent that he does not care about the eternal future of the Ninevites, about their earthly good, about his ship sinking, about the storm raging. It is not that he doesn’t want to face the storm. It’s that he believes that he is sleeping in safety behind the hard wall he built around his heart. Even as the storm rages and destroys outside. He is fast asleep. Every sinful choice added a brick to the wall. It is not like Jonah just happened to be at the sea port and happened to pay the fare to the end of the world. You know how it works. You start driving by that forbidden place, you circle around, you drive away, you come back, you make an excuse to be nearby, you start lingering, you park, you turn off your location on the phone, you get cash, and then you do it. You built a wall around the heart, step by step, action by action.

Are we asleep? Who has God called you to reach that you would rather, and literally, see burn in hell?

We may not know where Jonah’s story ended. But you have a say on where your story ends. You have the choice to get up and go.

Do you want to be the one who hardened his heart against the one to whom God called you to love and show compassion?

Wake up. It’s time.

Who Is Chloe?

Victor Chininin Buele

We are cherry pickers by nature. Those cherries are always there, topping the pretty cake. And there we go, grabbing them, one and then another and then another. I do it. You do it. We all do it. We are prey for our own confirmation bias. We want to believe what we already believe. To step out of the line is uncomfortable at best.

But we don’t have that luxury with the Scriptures. That’s why we are to examine them constantly. And that’s more than daily, and that’s more than our verse of the day approach or our text from Sunday’s sermon approach. We have to be soaking in Scripture: whole books, whole chapters, reading fast, reading slow, focusing on one of the human authors, focusing on a verse, focusing on a paragraph, focusing on a genre. There are many ways we must read the text: microreading, macroreading, reading it for fun, reading it for comfort, reading it to learn, reading its history, reading it to learn its themes, reading it to summarize the history of redemption, sing it, pray it, argue with it.

I have spent months in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Why? Because Paul does this really strange thing there. He refers to a filthy people who would not pass anyone’s Christianity smell test, much like us Christians today, as brothers. The question has bothered me for all these months: why would Paul call them brothers? Over twenty times, Paul addresses them directly as brothers:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

1 CORINTHIANS 1:10 (ESV)

If you want to talk about a corrupt church, the Corinthians will provide the perfect illustration: divisions, quarrelling, boasting, sexual immorality that would have made the pagans blush, drunkenness while saying they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper “at church,” idolatry of all kinds.

Andrew Naselli says of chapter 3 the following, “Based on the way the Corinthians were acting, Paul could not address them as who they actually were. Although they were people who had the Spirit, they were acting “as” or “like” people not having the Spirit because people having the Spirit characteristically live in a certain way.” He quotes Gordon Fee, “His ultimate point is: ‘Stop it! People of the Spirit must simply stop behaving the way you are.'”

Over the course of the last several months, there is one section of 1 Corinthians that has often been quoted at me:

I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

1 CORINTHIANS 6:5-8 (ESV)

And that’s where I’ve lived for the last several months.

Let’s summarize what it is that gets communicated in various degrees of implicit and explicit communication: a good Christian should much rather get abused inside of the church and keep his mouth shut than to take this great dishonor and discredit to the name of Christ and His church before an unbelieving world. And, we must handle everything in house. That’s the God-honoring thing to do!

So, now, read the text with those presuppositions, and there it is: it would be, then, easily read that to speak of that which happens within the church before unbelievers (and mind you, we are not talking about petty offenses or things we are called in the Word to overlook in grace) would not be a good thing to do. And you can take some creative license with other texts, and you have a recipe for gossip and slander allegations that you are compelled to ignore. As a matter of fact, to ignore them is the godly thing to do!

But, I’ve asked for months before the Lord, is that what the text says?

It most definitely does not.

First of all, the Corinthian church was very corrupt in her sin, and that included her leadership. Right before the reminder of the institution of the Lord’s Supper by Jesus Himself, Paul writes this to these brothers:

For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

1 CORINTHIANS 11:18–22 (ESV)

Somebody was watching this. Her name is Chloe. And her people, whatever that means, took it up to Paul. Paul was not the pastor of the Corinthian church. He was not gathering with the Corinthians at Corinth. This was definitely going outside of the local church.

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.

1 CORINTHIANS 1:11 (ESV)

Tom Schreiner says, “He discloses that he heard about the divisions and strife from those associated with Chloe, which may designate ‘ business associates, business agents, or slaves acting on her behalf.’ We wish we had more details about how Paul received the report, but nothing more is said about it. Perhaps Chloe’s people travelled from Corinth to Ephesus and communicated with Paul. It is also possible that Stephanas and friends (16:17) were the means by which the information that came from Chloe was communicated to Paul.”

Anthony Thiselton says, “Whether or not Chloe had church connections, probably her agents belonged to the church at Ephesus and had regular links with the church at Corinth. On their last return to Ephesus, as Fee vividly expresses it, they gave Paul an ‘earful’ about the state of the church at Corinth. ‘The mention of Chloe’s people gives credence to the report received by Paul. The report was not hearsay.'”

We don’t know who Chloe is. We don’t have certainty about who her people were. Schreiner and Thiselton offer some food for thought, but we don’t need them to get to the point of the text. The text is there, and that’s what we were given.

Either a church member or a group of church members were unable to effect change at Corinth. We don’t know what they did or did not do, what they tried to do or what they failed to do. We don’t know anything in detail. We don’t know if they filed charges, to use modern polity language, and they were dismissed, ignored, or blatantly rejected. But what we do know is that the message had to get from Corinth to Ephesus, from the heat of the struggle at Corinth to Paul. It was a cry for help. And the message arrived to Paul.

First Corinthians is the response of Paul to what he heard.

Chloe is not berated by Paul for taking her business before unbelievers. Thiselton thinks that perhaps Chloe did not have church connections (does that mean that perhaps she was not a Christian but some of her people were?) Regardless, the thing is that the Corinthian sin had public implications that could not have just been contained within the fences of the local church. Their bad witness was having public impact. The Christian lives in a glass display case, I like to often say. People from all kinds of backgrounds walk to our store, to put it that way, every day and notice whether we live what we proclaim. Do we love? Do we represent Christ? Are we the salt of the earth, the city on a hill?

A whole book of the Bible is written because the matter was reported, not gossiped to Paul, nor were they false allegations, that is, slander. The matter required the apostle’s correction. And you have 16 chapters of how Paul handled a dispute of that kind. The gospel is preached. Appeals are made; entreating is the way. Parakaleo is expected of those who have the Paraclete–those who can entreat do so because they have the Spirit in them. Truth is presented. Bad doctrine and practice is discussed in the light.

To this day, the reputation of the Corinthian church is marred by these actions. And we don’t know to what degree they repented or not. But we do know what was Paul’s response to this heinous sin. And as he was imitating Christ, we are to imitate him in this.

In the Old Covenant, that is before Christ came, lived a perfect life, died a brutal death on the cross for all my sins–past, present, and future, and rose again to be raised at the right hand of the Father, the people were given the following instruction:

“If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

DEUTERONOMY 17:2–7 (ESV)

Before you freak out about the stoning, remember that’s what Christ took on the cross for you if you repent. His death is because of that. He took the stoning. Freak out now, but unto repentance. You can receive peace and reconciliation through His blood, shed for you at the cross.

In the Old Covenant, this was the means by which they kept the holiness, the sanctity, of the people of God. Evil sin was to be purged radically from their midst. In no uncertain terms. But because of that, they needed to be incredibly careful to not be swayed by appearances. They were called to inquire very diligently. And the witnesses needed to be very diligent. There is no, “You told Paul, Chloe, so we are not going to talk about this matter of the dude sleeping with his father’s wife. Until you repent of being naughty and telling on us, to Paul, there is no possible door to repentance. Don’t ever come back here.”

How much more should the church of Christ, redeemed and being redeemed now, be all the more diligent to purge the evil from her midst. No sacred cows. No preference. No hiding anything in us either. Sin must be constantly killed as any good reader of John Owen would say–“Cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

The Christian’s repentance, not afraid of shame or consequences, not afraid of appearances or implications, is a key witness unto salvation to a world that has found a way to minimize sin to such an extent that everyone can pretend with a straight face that sin is laughable, praiseworthy, admirable, and worthy of pursuit. May it not be so in the church of Christ.

When we minimize sin (https://chininin.com/2020/10/25/it-is-not-character-flaws/), let us not be surprised that we end up protecting the wrong honor and reputation, and not the honor and the reputation of the King of Kings. Don’t be swayed to think that you can protect the church. The church is Christ’s to protect, and His promise is sure: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

So, whoever Chloe may have been, if her people would not have carried this awful report to Paul, what would have happened?

Will you be like Chloe’s people or will you sit there, quote that one verse to placate your fear (I would know it–I’ve done it), and sit under abuse, sit under corruption, thinking you are doing the right thing by protecting the honor and reputation of an institution or a human? Or your own?

Yes, by all means, honor your elders, follow the polity, challenge things, ask questions, raise challenges, be gracious, be humble, listen, respond, correct. But if the thing is a swamp, not to quote the President, you may have to follow Christ and be like Chloe’s people. Do not be afraid. God put a whole book in the Bible to remind you He is with you, and nothing will ultimately defeat the advance of His precious gospel for His glory and our good.

Spread the Faith: Lessons from my Church Homelessness

Victor Chininin Buele

The President-elect has been saying that his grandmother would not tell him to keep the faith but to spread it. Now, I’m not advocating for spreading the President-elect’s faith, of course, but he managed to get inside of my thinking with that phrase.

We are multipliers. That’s our nature. The blessing at the creation, reported in Genesis, was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. There is so much to do! There is work to be done excellently, classes to be taught, bread to be baked, women to be rescued, children to be raised, a nation to be saved. We cannot possibly do it all.

I have been homeless, from an ecclesiastical point of view, so to speak, for a bit. I’ve learned a lot.

Multiplication is unavoidable. The question is what are we multiplying?

We will multiply, but if what we are multiplying is the wrong kind of leaven, the whole thing will be bad. That is, it is not just about spreading the faith but about what kind of faith it is that we are spreading.

We become what we worship. I’ve been saying that phrase a lot as I’ve been preparing a class about worship that I’m teaching. Greg Beale came up with it, of course, to summarize the biblical teaching about idolatry. I didn’t make it up myself.

So, what have I learned? Churches become what is sown in them. If you sow self-preservation, they become ingrown monuments to self-preservation. If you sow sacrificial giving, you get to watch a couple depart the comfort of a rising career in Kansas City to go serve in the east where they will very likely face severe persecution for daring to bring the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.

We now know what it feels like to “date” the church as the now-not-a-Christian Josh Harris plastered in a little book once. We know what it is like to walk in and to have literally no one notice that you exist. We know what it is like to have severe reservations about something and not know how to get out. We know what it is like to raise concerns and have them shut down. We know what it is like to have your children ask you why they heard a gospel different than the one they themselves can read in their Bibles. We know what it is like to have children ask legitimate questions you have no good answer for whatsoever.

We now hope we can see the overlooked, not ignore the red flags, not fear the appearance of conflict, not confuse boldness with harshness, not confuse questions with an anti-church mentality, not disregard questions asked whether they seem thoughtful to us or not, not avoid the difficult conversations that sorrow and pain bring about.

We long to see Jesus Christ magnified in Kansas City, disciples growing and thriving, multiplying the good news of Jesus, not a message that kind of, sort of looks like him if you twist your head 63 degrees to the right, put on 3D glasses, squint real hard, and step up a ladder to see.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Christ has come. There’s work to do.

Like I heard many times coming out of that TV screen, “get busy living, or get busy dying.”

The Absolute Truth that There Is No Absolute Truth

Víctor Chininin Buele

In case you are not familiar with my usual points: I do not support Vice President Biden. I will not call President Trump’s lack of observable fruit of repentance moral flaws. I do not believe it is morally neutral to think that secularism and scientism are not religions. And true freedom of religion and speech, not to say common sense, love, and compassion, are there to help us better our arguments and lives by being challenged where we need to be challenged and grow. That is, we can’t just call any and everyone the worst human being on earth for holding a divergent position than our own.

With that said, there is hardly anything to celebrate in America this weekend. The last four years brought plenty of devastation, and the next four years will also bring plenty of devastation.

This is a season of judgment, of living the results of what we have sown. We cannot possibly walk out of this one smelling like roses. We have been injecting young minds throughout the nation and the globe with the idea that there is no such thing as truth. Only to have this brilliant observation, the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth, proven to be worthless in front of our very eyes as we have seen lie after lie play out in our very own handheld screens. The President and the media, the not-the-mainstream-media media, the establishment and the opposition, the Republicans and the Democrats have asked us to not believe what we see, hear, and think. We have asked ourselves not to believe what we see, hear, and think. We have killed our consciences.

At the end of the story, we don’t like the challenge of truth because it exposes us. Every claim has an answer.

We are a highly pragmatic society. We prop up little gods because we want what we want, and they promise to give it to us faster, sooner, and better than the other god. Both parties have grossly overlooked obvious sin in the lives of the candidates. Both are liars. It is documented that Vice President Biden lied about his education. It is not fake videos. It actually happened, and he could not become president back then because of that. But today, it has been washed away and not by repentance. I need not waste my time writing about President Trump in this department as they are sites live right now showing statistics about this. And frustrated fact checkers showing their homework to the country, jumping up and down, trying it in bold, red letters, catchy videos without even beginning to make a dent. It just doesn’t register, like when the five year old boy tries desperately to show his mom that he can jump from the roof down to the bushes without breaking a bone. Watch me, mom! Watch, watch, watch! Or I may actually have to jump…

We hate direct questions because we can’t fudge with them. When we take down the lies we tell ourselves to justify the things that we do, we know we have been exposed, so we work feverishly to keep the covers on, no matter what the cost may be. We are expert lawyers at making poor excuses sound like sophisticated legal, scientific, and irrefutable arguments.

Murder becomes a euphemism. Immorality becomes flaw. Fornication and betrayal become an affair. Lawlessness becomes peaceful protesting. Lying becomes hyperbole. Abuse becomes tone. Prejudice becomes inclusiveness of all but that kind over there, those ones are evil. Sin becomes tolerance. Tolerance becomes permissiveness. Racism permeates our hearts.

We want the right to not be told we are wrong. We want the right to not hear the truth that we are sinners in desperate need of grace. We want the right to not have to amend our ways. We demand change in the streets, but we abhor it for our own hearts.

I had a physics teacher who used to say, “Cadets, you love to play and wallow in the mud of your youthful arrogance.” That’s us. Please, let us live in here. It’s nice. This is not mud, how dare you, bigot, to say this is mud? Go to the priest on the internet, perhaps wearing a white coat, who will show you the chemical composition of this material I’m wallowing in to be gold. Yes, the finest gold, the best gold, tremendous gold. Sad!

Reading Isaiah 1 this morning was difficult. I have absolute confidence in the absolute truth that God is in the business of redeeming a sinful but repentant people to Christlikeness. But to repent, we have to hear both the bad news and the good news. Yes, it is worse than you admit it is. You are worse than you want to show. But Jesus Christ came into the world for you, to live the perfect life you can never live, to make atonement for your sins, all of them, the vilest, the Trump-like ones even. Because you know when you look at yourself in the mirror, the orange color is there in your skin, too. What you hate in him, you desperately try to hide in you. And it is vile. That’s why the cross is so vile. It was an abomination. The Son of God became an abomination because we are a walking abominations, and for Him to be just, truly just, not Brett Kavanaugh kind of just or Sonia Sotomayor kind of just, He must also be the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. He died and rose again. Unbelievable as it sounds, test the evidence, run it through the principles of historiography. But ultimately, He must give eyes to see and ears to hear. There is hope, true hope, glorious hope, eternal hope of a better country, of a better patria. Turn. Now. Turn. You don’t have to believe the lies of the flesh, the world, and the devil. You can know truth, and you can have life and life abundantly that transcends the feeble circumstances that surround us.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Isaiah 1:16-18

It Is Not Character Flaws!

Víctor Chininin Buele

Why waste our collective time, writing and reading, if I know already that you won’t change your mind? Precisely because of that. And that matters because language matters. And because the gospel message, through language, is the only thing that will regenerate your mind.

Iosif Brodsky knows a bit about language since he was strongly urged to emigrate from the Soviet Union basically for being a poet, a free thinker. He once said, “You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.

There is something going on that has been bothering me during this entire election cycle. It’s been going on for years, though.

I keep reading things like these:

“Evangelicals in general who support Donald Trump recognize, that he has character flaws.

“All of us are human, and none of us are without sin, Trump is human like the rest of us.

“I will vote for the policies I believe most accurately represent God’s will for human flourishing. I will not make a big show of it or make apologies for my chosen candidate’s character flaws.”

I could quote many more, and you may have just made similar statements. Granting all the context and nuance that these and other statements may offer, they magically transform sin into flaw. A line of reasoning is advocated that (1) all human beings sin, (2) Trump is a human just like the rest of us, and (3) at that point the necessary conclusion that Trump sins is not quite articulated but left in the air, hanging, unresolved yet implied. Logic fills the void. So, the need for explaining it away is needed. The air is then filled with a much more respectable-sounding word: flawed. And that is something we can all relate to easily. So, next! I am flawed, you are flawed. “We are a happy family!/With a great big hug/And a kiss from me to you/Won’t you say [you’re flawed], too?” Enough, Barney!

The obvious yet unfortunately necessary disclaimer: This is not an anti President Trump only tirade or a pro Biden motivational speech. I can do the same exercise with Vice President Biden or with Victor Chininin Buele. My point here is to use the caricature in front of us to illustrate something critical. And Trump makes for such a poignant illustration. He is us on steroids, naked and shamelessly unashamed, out in the open, and twitted at crazy hours.

The point is that there is absolutely nothing false about the biblical truth that all human beings sin (Romans 1-3). If this were not true, there would be absolutely no need for the gospel, and with there would be no need for Jesus Christ. Simple fact. What this truth is not, when we rightly understand the gospel, is an excuse to sin flagrantly. And since my wife always prefers that I would stick to biblical terms and descriptions of sin, let me rephrase: This simple fact that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God is not an excuse to live unrepentantly in sin.

We don’t need a lot to illustrate the need for justification. First, we go and do something super dumb, like watch a bad movie, buy something stupid, say something embarrassing, you name it. We immediately rush to find a way to explain it to ourselves. (Actually, we say, it was a great movie, a smart investment preparing for the future, the needed word that needed to be said).

This is a deep part of our sinful, fallen nature. Once we have found a way to deceive ourselves that wrong is right, bad is good and even desirable, we become evangelists because we desperately need others to affirm what we’ve done, approve of us, and close the cycle. We start telling others how wonderful that terrible movie was. Because we can’t just own it. We start telling others to go buy the product because we can’t face it that we made a mistake. Because we do this for relatively simple stuff like hoarding toilet paper during a global pandemic, for example, we don’t pay much attention to this sequence of self-justification and self-deceit.

And that is where I want you to hear the language.

This is how we allow sin in our lives. We tell ourselves it cannot possibly be a big deal because both everyone else sins and others, like Trump, for example, sin way more than us, or their sin is worse than ours. This is how we self-justify our walk away from the pursuit of holiness. We’ve taken our eyes off of Jesus and His Word and have diverted it instead to excuse-making. And in that simple line of argument with ourselves, we’ve deemed our sin to not be a sin. And as it becomes systemic and permanent in our hearts and lives, well, we just associate our identity with it—we are flawed! The societal expectation to require others to love us just as we are (that is, without calling us to repentance and change) comes in, and there we are: self-justified in our self-described flaws but needing to run to any and every instrument of self-medication possible to quiet a guilty conscience. Because we know that when the night comes, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we see, that’s when we know we’ve sinned. We can’t hide anymore from God. And even if we over medicate and fall asleep deadening our conscience, sooner or later, we wake up.

And that is also how we allow wolves into our churches. We are pragmatic. We are sinners, and yet we want to see change. We want to see the gospel at work. We want results. We want to see lives changed. But we get mixed up. The world’s definition of success gets into us as we trade the concept of sin in our personal lives for the more palatable idea of flaws or mistakes. Then, this infiltrates the church. We are far more likely to overlook sin when things look just like we want them. Or even trending up to look just like we want them. Actually, the promise of something is far more entangling than getting the thing itself. Especially if we are constantly persuaded that the goal is just over here, almost within reach. We can see that promised land, y’all!

And wolves come in, walk on the red carpet we set to welcome them, eat our food, drink our beer, come into our homes, get to know us and our sins and our secrets. They set shop in our church, get paid by us, give us what we want to hear and see. We see their anger, sure, their wrath, their immorality, their covetousness, their lusts, their greed. We see what John Piper highlighted as the New Testament sins of “unrepentant sexual immorality (porneia), unrepentant boastfulness (alazoneia), unrepentant vulgarity (aischrologia), unrepentant factiousness (dichostasiai), and the like,” but we explain them away. We lie and say to ourselves and then to others when we become evangelists for our guy that we are all sinners just like Pastor Steve up there. He is so vulnerable and raw, honest and transparent! He struggles like I do! We are all flawed and say silly things from time to time… It’s just the tone. Our man, he gets results! That’s what we say.

Never underestimate the things you will say and do to justify your own sin. The Word is true—the wages of sin is death. Devastation follows sin.

So, let’s watch our language, shall we? If we don’t call out sin without euphemisms, we will never be able to repent of it. And without repentance, there is no regeneration. No regeneration means no renewal.

Is that what we want to leave behind? Lives consumed by selfishness? Churches consumed by wolves? A nation consumed by sin?

The Road to Incarnational Politics

Victor Chininin Buele

I keep getting asked a flavor of this question–what am I supposed to do with all of these issues related to the election? Last week, I started some more general thoughts regarding an earlier question about a distortion of the two-kingdoms view of theology here: https://chininin.com/2020/09/19/our-place/. Essentially, what is our place as Christians in politics? God is sovereign, and we are responsible. We cannot force change. The gospel is not coercive. We vote, but we know that our vote cannot ultimately change the hearts of a nation. We advocate for more just laws, but we know that ultimately a nation will legalize what it worships. We need regeneration before any revolution.

What I want to do here is to take up an additional path of discussion about the enthusiastic support of a party platform this side of eternity. Especially the current platforms. To do that, I want to discuss incarnational politics. I cannot see how we can be enthusiastic about either one of the two platforms as Christians. We really are in a season where our status as sojourners and exiles is blatantly clear. If we are feeling too at home in a red hat or a blue shirt, something is out of balance. John Stott always taught me in his writings and public communications that the Christian was going to be too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals. I do not see us acting as sojourners in such a situation in this election cycle.

We are political beings. We have convictions. We have very strong convictions. And we live in a pluralistic society where our neighbors have very different convictions than we do. Algorithms serve us and our neighbors with different views of the world and reality, different pages and experts. We live in a massive cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias sociological experiment.

The essence of incarnational politics is this–Christ came into the world to save sinners. I know of no worse sinner than I because I do know the darkness, depth, and stain of my own sin. I hear myself always, and I know what I do, don’t do, and do without all my heart. Christ became like I am in every way except one: sin. He went through the similar human experience of emotions, convictions, disappointments, insults, conflicts, temptations. The big difference and hope for me is that he did not sin. In the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m daily being transformed into someone who sins less and less and less as I’m transformed into the image of Christ, yet still sins. Christ came, he became like us but without the sin, and he did not set himself on a mission to impose beliefs on us, to use magical powers to force us to comply to his divine will. He brought what Craig Blomberg calls contagious holiness. He encountered sinners and loved them. He had compassion. And they were changed. Never to be the same again. There ought to be no one more welcoming than the Christian. Our message is the best news of happiness to the world. We don’t have a monopoly over it. It was freely given, and much is expected out of us in getting it out.

Do we do that in our politics? Do we actually love the other person? Do we know her? Do we know why she goes to a certain march? Do we know why he feels isolated and left behind by the world? Do we know why he falls for QAnon ideas? Do we know why she is passionate about the Second Amendment? Do we know whether she is tired of being thought of as somebody who is becoming a liberal?

Do we know the person? When we don’t, we are not showing love. We are caricaturizing. We don’t like caricatures of us. But we dish them out easily.

Take this matter of immigration, for example. I have major conflicts of conscience. I know that ALDI can sell me strawberries for 1.99 every once in a while because there are people who look like me who pick them up under almost-slavery conditions, exposed to chemicals I would not put anywhere near my children while they are compensated less than what I would dare to make at my job. We have policies that wink at those who cross the border as if saying, “If we catch you, we’ll put you through hell, but if we don’t, please clean our toilets, pick up our fruit, make our burgers.” We thus encourage parents to endanger their children to cross the desert and the river, and yet these parents are responsible for making these choices. Not every immigrant is fleeing dangerous conditions. Some just want, like I once did, to come and become rich. Our asylum laws are awful, and we put children in cages separated from their parents. Do the Democrats have an actual solution for this? They do not. Do the Republicans? Absolutely not. Why do people not realize that building the wall will eventually result in the rising cost of our cheap food? Why do people not realize that if we don’t do something about bringing people out of hiding they will only live in a cycle of poverty and darkness. Amnesty sends an awful message, but tons of families live under a lot of stress and fear. The church doesn’t ask them about certain sins–as if we were saying it’s OK to use a stolen SSN to get a job. We aren’t watching for the ultimate spiritual wellbeing of these souls, of these humans. Immigration is far more complicated than a bumper sticker. And it’s only getting worse.

Take abortion. It is the dismemberment of children. It is as simple as that, but it is also a lot more complicated than that. I cannot possibly persuade you that this is murder. But it is. Have you read Defenders of the Unborn? That is a really good work of history showing us how we got to the current polarization. What was life like before Roe v. Wade? Democrats cared about the rights of the baby and the mother! What!! Yet, we seem to agree about the inherent value of every human life lost to COVID-19. Every life outside of the womb seems to matter, well, except when you talk about wearing masks. I get so frustrated with arguments that America is a totalitarian state. Have you ever been in a coup d’état in Bangkok? That is a very different thing. Have you ever been in a lockdown in Latin America? I hate to say it, but you really don’t know what you are talking about. America has institutions that as crazy as they may seem today, bending to the will of a polarizing figure, are still constitutionally accountable and liable for watching over each other.

We could go on and on. We disagree on a lot. I get it. But do you know me? Do you know why? Do you care to know why?

We can’t build a future together if we demonize the other, if we turn everything into a test of left or right orthodoxy. We need to know that some of these issues need to go through some sort of triage. We don’t have enough time to sort through all the massive waste dump that social media and the mainstream media dump on our lap. I have to confess, I was happy to only think about Molina’s 2000th hit yesterday rather than to research about the forced sterilizations of women at the southern border.

But we cannot lose the prophetic edge to speak truth to power and to not give up in doing good. Have you read Amos lately? If the man behind the Resolute Desk calls himself a Christian to pander my vote, you better believe that I’m going to call him to account by the standards that he claims to confess. Where is the fruit? I’ve been looking and looking, and time and time again I fail to see the fruit of repentance. Does that mean that I must vote for the other guy or for him? Abortion matters a lot because it’s tied to the gods of this age and nation. There is a way in which the exaltation of abortion is tied to all kinds of fundamental aspects of American life. It matters greatly. Am I a “single issue” voter? No. Why? Because I’m tired of the Democratic party pandering to African Americans, Latino/as, the LGBTQ community. I’m tired of the Republican party pandering to “evangelical” Christians and gun rights advocates. Nothing changes. Welfare increases under both red and blue administrations. There is a really neat little book about that if you are curious. I am tired of a system that consistently produces more of the same. Why are we content voting for the “lesser” of two evils? That means we know and acknowledge that both are terrible choices.

I am more than a caricature. I care about life inside the womb and outside of it. I want people to have the best opportunities to hear the gospel and live the best life possible in this earth. I want to see people live life in freedom and with true joy. I can’t achieve that only with politics, but I can’t see that by ignoring politics or by demonizing the other side or by ignoring the other side.

We all want to change the world, don’t we? We know that living incarnationally is critical. Because we can be fully known and yet loved. I can love you even as I try to show you why x or y subject can lead down a path that will not benefit either one of us. In the process, I will learn what drives you, and we will be better for it. Yes, there are horrendous ideas out there. But will we ever see them if we create for ourselves echo chambers designed to only echo the things we want to hear. Take one another seriously. And please, this is not a post where I throw out the Bible, its inerrancy, efficacy, authority, and sufficiency. I am not on the road to Liberaland. I am a son of God. Trying to do his will, trying to live with an honorable conduct in this strange age where I live.

Let’s talk, OK? Jesus did. He wept.

Our Place

Victor Chininin Buele

What is our place as Christians in this world? The Bible gives us what seems to be at times contradicting instructions, and it is easy to see that many have given up on Scripture because of what they perceive as contradictions. We are told that the kingdom of God is here (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 17:21), and we are clearly also told, “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’” (John 18:36 ESV). We, Christians, live in a paradox. We are to think in paradoxes. Our minds will always be stretched through paradox. Not contradiction but paradox. So, what is our place here?

We are citizens of an earthly nation and citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20). We have responsibilities in both realms. We are to be the best citizens here and serve as leaven in this realm for the kingdom of heaven. Peter in his first letter, chapter 2, addresses the Christians as those who were not a people but now are a people, those who are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” And the purpose of all of that is “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (9). We’ve been reconciled to God and made part of His kingdom (now and in its future consummation) in order to be an evangelistic light. We’ve been saved to proclaim. After taking Hosea’s “not a people” theme and turning it into “now you are God’s people,” Peter urges the sojourners and exiles (how he refers to the Christians) to “abstain from the passions of the flesh” and “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak of you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

The Christian is then called to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” Verses 13 and 14 issue a heavy command to these resident aliens in Asia Minor. They are to “be subject (submit yourselves, NASB) for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme (a king, NASB), or to governors as sent by him (2:13-14 ESV).” The task is great: obedience and submission are required of the believer to every human institution. It doesn’t narrow it down just to the king/emperor, and it doesn’t narrow it down to governors. The reason for the submission is not shown to be the worthiness or the righteousness of the human institution. The sojourners and exiles are not asked to be subject to every human institution because of the institution’s own righteousness or goodness. It also does not say to be subject to every human institution because of self-interest, i.e., what the exile can receive from submission to the human institution. Instead, Peter centers the rationale for the submission on the Lord alone. These believers are asked to submit to the human institutions for the Lord’s sake.

Defining what Peter means by every human institution is marked by the context. Peter uses the word κτίσει, creation/creature. Peter refers to human creatures, that the submission is to be to “every human creature,” literally speaking. The context that follows this helps clarify this command. Peter highlights the emperor/king, governors, servant/master relationships, wives/husbands, Shepherd/undershepherds/flock of God. Then, Peter is not telling any of us to submit blindly to any and every institution created by men, especially not on the basis of worthiness or goodness or self-interest. He is also not telling us to submit to every person. He is also not making a case for slavery, for blind following, for subservience. He is making a call to honor the Lord in all relationships and spheres of our lives. The exiles will glorify God by deriving every aspect of their relationships from God, for the Lord’s sake.

With this said, there are three things to evaluate: the nature of the Christian’s involvement, the limits of the Christian’s involvement, and the nature of change.

Some commentaries indicate that it is possible that the sojourners in 1 Peter were originally all living in Rome but were deported and spread throughout Asia Minor after their conversion. If that is the case, the call to submit to such a government is even more difficult. The command to display an honorable conduct towards evangelism is one issued to those under an authority that would be, to say the least, very difficult to submit to. So, we engage trying to be the best citizens that we can, letting the fruit of our regeneration and conversion spread through our actions and involvement throughout the society. A little leaven can do much for the whole nation. The gospel is leaven. If we hide and don’t engage, then we surrender critical ground. The gospel is not imposition, though, so we cannot force our beliefs on anyone. We are not to be cultural warriors in the caricaturesque sense of the word. We are to keep our conduct honorable. We live for Christ here, all our life. We live in a glass case. Everyone is watching us and measuring our witness with our actions or lack of action. There should be no one more committed to the pursuit of justice, beauty, truth, and order than the Christian citizen of a nation.

But there are limits to our engagement. Ultimately we will not be able to decisively persuade a godless culture without regeneration. There can be no revolution without reformation. We cannot persuade a single person about Jesus Christ being the Son of God who came into the world to live a perfect life and die a brutal death in our place for all our sins before rising up again and ascending to the throne of the Father where he intercedes for us even now as he makes all things new. We just can’t. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the heart, mind, soul, to give eyes, ears, and soft hearts to take in the message we proclaim. Because of that, we can’t persuade somebody to display the fruit of repentance, the fruit of the Spirit from mere human persuasion. We can’t ultimately persuade anyone that abortion is murder and ought to be obliterated from our land. We can’t ultimately persuade anyone about a host of moral issues that are the outworking of the gospel. People need eyes to see given from God and they need our witness so that they can respond to God’s call.

And that is also the final point, the nature of change is that we cannot force change. We fully depend on God for that, but we must obey God also. He is sovereign, and we are responsible. We vote, but we know that our vote cannot change the hearts of a nation. We advocate for more just laws, but we know that ultimately a nation will legalize what it worships. We seek to root out corruption in worldly systems, but we know that when true repentance comes, the change will be mind blowing and a testimony to the power of God. We run for office, if it’s our call, remembering that men like Wilberforce fought to bring about impossible change. He was accused of preaching the gospel to the “savages” while he was trying to root out the slave trade from England.

The former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper, notably said that there is not one square inch over the whole realm of this world over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry out, “Mine!”

The Kingdom is at hand, in our midst, but also not of this world. So, we live in this tension. We are sojourners and aliens. We are citizens. We don’t truly have a home in this world, but, as my friend Mike Bull says, “We must not be so heavenly-minded that we retreat from
the world nor so earthly-minded that we are disqualified from God’s blessing”