The Dancing Puritan

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Time To Kiss

Recently I read a post, The "15 Second Kiss" Experiment, by Ryan Frederick. Frederick got my attention! One of the challenges in marriage is time. This is especially true when there is a house full of children and a boatload of responsibilities. We have often laughed at Jimmy Stewart's line (as George Bailey) in Its a Wonderful Life. When George is having his nervous breakdown he asks, "Why do we have to have all of these children anyway?"

I am sure that you are like my wife Lori and me. We love, treasure, and thank God for our children. But, lets be honest, children require a lot of time and attention. Along with the runny noses, broken hearts, and interesting experiments that our children attempt; there are bills to pay, lawns to mow, clothes to fold, and a job to maintain. You know the story.

Who has time to kiss for 15 seconds? As Frederick points out 15 seconds is not that long of a time, except when you are kissing. He writes:

We burn 15 seconds all the time without thinking about it. We sit on our phones, daydream, work around the house, you name it – 15 seconds is a short amount of time for most tasks. However, when you’re kissing and consciously timing it, 15 seconds seems to be longer. And that’s a good thing!

Snap your finger while counting to 15. Imagine kissing that entire 15 seconds in the midst of your day. Yes, I mean times other than when the bedroom door is closed: 15 seconds before leaving for the office. 15 seconds when getting home from work. 15 seconds on Saturday before lunch. 15 seconds before leaving for church on Sunday.

15 seconds is just long enough to require a cease-fire from all other activities (bills, laundry, diaper changes) and to look into the eyes of your spouse, inch closer, connect the lips, and savor a kiss.

Why will accepting Frederick's 15-second kiss challenge be helpful? Think about it. How often do you race past your spouse in a given day? How often do you just rub shoulders, without much thought, because you are running to the next house-emergency? The person who you pass by is running on fumes, and desperately in need of affection. Studies show, and people often testify, that kissing is one of the most intimate acts of affection in the treasure-chest of intimacy.

Lori and I often find it difficult to have an uninterrupted minute of conversation in the midst of the steady current of life that keeps sweeping us downstream. Decisions are made on the fly as breathlessly we deal with the next issue, engage the next project, and race to the next event. We often struggle to engage one another in substantive ways. The reality is, the raging river is not going to slow down and the current will keep on moving. However, we can choose to get out of the river, take the next exit, find a quiet refuge, and kiss. Even 15 seconds might take some planning, but it will be well worth it.

It is possible to live alone even in marriage. Not being alone is more than occupying the same house, sleeping in the same bed, and riding in the same vehicle to church on Sunday. "Two are better than one," means more than being in geographical proximity to another person. It means inter-connectivity, interlocked arms, heart-to-heart, mind-to-mind, and lips-to-lips connectivity. To not be alone in marriage requires the sun to stand still on occasion, at least for a few seconds. It requires collapsing into the arms of your spouse, holding, touching, talking, and kissing.

Perhaps 15 seconds will prime the heart, cultivate desires, and push this issue of connectivity to the point of making some plans that include face-to-face time with your spouse.

George: What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon, Mary.
Mary: I'll take it. Then what?
George: Well, then you could swallow it, and it'd all dissolve, see? And the moonbeams' shoot out of your fingers and your toes, and the ends of your hair... Am I talking too much?
Old Man: Yes! Why don't you kiss her instead of talking her to death?
George: How's that?
Old Man: Why don't you kiss her instead of talking her to death?
George: Want me to kiss her, huh?      It's a Wonderful Life (Quote Here

So, you ask, "Do you want me to kiss her?" That's right. Better than giving her the moon, give her the sort of kiss that may make her daydream like Solomon's girl. She said, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth" (Song of Solomon 1:1).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sing me a Love Song

What is the best song on your play list?  For Solomon it was a song that celebrated the joys of marital/romantic/erotic love (Song of Solomon 1:1).

There are no celebratory songs, poems, or positive instructions in Scripture concerning erotic same-sex relationships. The celebratory, joyful, musical, and instructive words of Scripture are reserved for that male/female union, established by God, in the Garden of Eden. For the married couple (Adam and Eve) their relationship with one another would surpass their relationships with all others (parents, children, animals).

Marriage, from the beginning, was designed to be a unique, exclusive, and priority companionship between a man and a woman for a lifetime. Marriage is a "bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh" kind of relationship.

Yet, as Genesis chapter three makes clear, marriage is fallen and in need of redemption. The redemption of marriage is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The best song on Solomon's I-Pod is one that honors God in his provision of romantic-erotic-marital love.  When God made Eve, Adam said, "at last." He had looked around at all of the livestock, birds, and beasts--but there was "not found a helper fit for him" (Genesis 2:20). But when God made Eve, Adam said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh . . ." (23).

The best song in Solomon's collection celebrates God's gift of man and woman in a leave-and-cleave relationship, designed for intimacy. From Genesis chapter three forward, marriage is fallen and in need of redemption. However, redemption is supplied through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now marriage can positively display the love of Christ for his people.

Solomon knew the impact of sin and the challenges of relationships (Ecclesiastes 2:8, 7:25ff, Proverbs 1-7). He saw death as a bitter experience but even worse than death is the woman whose heart and hands are one big trap. The man who pleases God escapes the trap but the fool walks right in and the net is pulled (Ecclesiastes 7:25ff, Proverbs 1-7).  Solomon traces the problems of male/female relationships all the way back to Genesis. He writes, "See, this alone I found, that God made man upright but they have sought out many schemes" (7:28).

Even the best of marriages is wrought with problems. Since the fall folks have been scheming many things, resulting in much trouble.

In Song of Solomon we are shown the more excellent way; the closest thing post-fall to the pre-fall situation. With the whole of Scripture we know that, through Christ, a joyful marriage is not only expected, but also possible.

One of the great remedies to a culture, that is increasingly hostile to biblical marriage, is a godly man and a godly woman who are intoxicated with one another because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So with that, Solomon's song opens with these words, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth"(1:1).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Joy is a Big Deal

Joy is a big deal. Why? Joy indicates that we know, trust, and look to the Lord. God gives good gifts of food, drink, work, and children. Life and all of its accompaniments are gifts from him. What are we to do about gifts? Gifts are to be received and enjoyed. When they are, the gift-giver is honored. God is honored when we receive his gifts and enjoy them as an expression of our faith in God, and our joy in him.

Think about it like this: Not to enjoy, money, sleep, marriage, food, drink, work, possessions, honor, and children is a "grievous evil." It is a sin. Joyless living dishonors the giver of life. Such a dishonoring life is a discontented life. The joyless person receives but is never satisfied. He says things such as,  "The sunset could have been more beautiful. The food could have been more seasoned. My job should be more interesting. My church should be more _________." The joyless person receives sunshine, rain, green beans, and the smile of a child, but he is never satisfied.

The godly person is just the opposite. He rejoices in the Lord and is constantly learning at the school of contentment. In fact, he is content when the cupboard is bare or the tank is full. He is content because he knows that God is good and that God delights to provide for his children.

If having joy is the key thing of this life, how can joy be tapped into? 

Look! We need to look to God as the kind, generous, lovely Caretaker of his people. We are not on a search for gifts, but for God and for joy. We are charged in Scripture to "find joy." 

Herein is an essential principle. If you look for joy in people or gifts then you will be sorely disappointed, dissatisfied, disillusioned, and depressed. Such a search is like trying to catch the wind. Why? God has built into everything incapacity to provide what only he can provide. 

Only God can provide joy. He has designed people, money, honor, and possessions with an inability to provide what we need. The reason is that we are to have no other gods before the one true God. Only God can satisfy because only God is supremely satisfying.  If we try to suck joy out of cars, boats, vacations, and grandchildren--we will come back with parched lips every time. Why? People and things are not designed to give joy. They are designed to be enjoyed. There is a not-so-subtle difference. 

Gifts are an expression of love from God. He is the one who delights to give good gifts to his children and who, in fact, gives his children the entire universe for their enjoyment. The universe is not given for their joy but for their enjoyment.

God wants us to seek him first, foremost, and only. As we seek him, he supplies our needs and more. The gifts reflect his love. We are to receive his gifts and glorify God.  Only God satisfies. We are to taste him, smell him, savor him, and learn what it means to enjoy him forever.

Do you see why the absence of joy in eating and drinking is such a big deal? It says that God cannot be trusted, that he is not good. That is a grievous evil. To delight in God by enjoying his gifts, indicates that we are committed to the highest good.

Reflections above are from Ecclesiastes, Philippians and other passages of Scripture.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Occupied With Joy

Whether you are rich or poor, you can choose one of two ways to live. Some people live out their lives in a miserly fashion and they are like the man in Ecclesiastes 5:17 who "eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger." The isolated and lonely man lives out his days filled with anxiety, bad health as a result of his worry, and dies as an angry old man. What a sad picture.

The lonely old man in Ecclesiastes is one who looked for meaning in all of the wrong places. He sought meaning in a self-centered pursuit of money and possessions. He gained it all but lost a lot of sleep (12), gained a lot of manipulative associates, paid more taxes, and heaped to himself multiplied worries.

The reality is that one does not have to be rich in order to be lonely, anxious, sick, and angry. Any person, rich or poor, that is disconnected from a relationship with God, and is absent of any real friends, is in the same condition. He may die with a smile on his face but if you scratch the surface, you will find multiplied sorrows.

What are you reaching for?

A second way to live is to be occupied with joy (5:20). This person does not have time to fret, worry, and waste his life away with sleepless nights. Why? He is too busy enjoying the precious and brief life that God has given him. He imagines, that God might be pleased to grant him 77 years of life and, therefore, he values each second as sacred. He decides to live instead of growing angry and bitter.

This man recognizes that God is the giver of good gifts and that those gifts are to be received with joy.  He also knows that joy does not come from gifts but from God. God purposefully created within all gifts an inability to satisfy. Why? So that upon receiving his gifts we would have to turn back to him for the capacity to enjoy those gifts. There is no joy apart from God.

You see, we glorify God by receiving his gifts with thanksgiving and depending on him to give the capacity to enjoy the gifts that he has given.

Can you imagine being so occupied with joy that your joy-occupation gives an answer for the reality of your faith? That is the life of the person who knows God and enjoys him first and foremost.

Two ways to live. You can choose to leave God out of your busy life. Or you can choose to be anchored deep in his generous character, bath deeply in his sweet grace, receive his good gifts, and live a happy life right now as you anticipate the glories that await you in heaven.

Your choice.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries. Visit him on Facebook.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Define and Declare: A Call to Faithful Gospel Preaching and Witnessing

Photo from The Christian Index

Dr. Johnny Hunt (pastor, First Baptist Church Woodstock, GA) is well known for his evangelistic zeal and his warm and generous heart. Earlier this week he spoke at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary chapel service. Dr. Steve Lemke, provost of the seminary, posted a quote from Hunt's chapel message:
I've never seen a generation so focused on defining the Gospel, but so uninterested in sharing it.
I have not had the opportunity to read the transcript from the sermon but I do find the quote compelling. My guess is that pastor Hunt may have been referring to the discussion/debate within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over soteriology. I would not be surprised if many folks on both sides of the soteriological discussion have been "so focused on defining the Gospel" that they have failed to share the Gospel faithfully.

That being said, the Gospel must be defined before it can be declared. What is the gospel that is to be declared?
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, . . ." (I Corinthians 15:3-4).
Paul delivered what he had received. What he had received was a specific and defined message.

Jude writes in his short letter:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Notice that Jude writes of "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." He is referring to a specific and well-defined body of truth. Jude's message was not a fuzzy declaration about a general Christ.

As Christians we are to be specific in our proclamation.  The faith that we profess and proclaim is referred to as "the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42). It is essential that we communicate an accurate gospel.
But if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:8).
We must never be content to ascend to our ivory towers or descend to our musty basements because we are enamored with theological precision to the neglect of faithfully obeying Scripture. We must also never charge out into a lost world proclaiming a generic and biblically undefined Jesus. Definition is necessary to declaration.  I know that Dr. Hunt would agree.

If you are reading this and imagine that I am criticizing pastor Hunt, nothing could be further from the truth. His statement is convicting, thought provoking, and challenging. When he served as president of the SBC (2008-10) he served faithfully and as a godly statesman. In recent years he has consistently demonstrated a graciousness and respect for people on both sides of the soteriological debate within the SBC. His example is one worthy of imitation.  We should hear the challenge evident in his statement:

I've never seen a generation so focused on defining the Gospel, but so uninterested in sharing it.

Amen! Let us never be guilty of stroking our theological beards while a lost world sprints to hell. Yet in the name of action let us not be found unfaithful by declaring an unclear message. There are far too many people proclaiming a Jesus that is but a faint resemblance of the biblical Christ.  It is really both/and isn't it. We must go to the study, allow our hearts to be saturated with the biblical gospel, come to grips with "the faith that was once for all delivered," get our hearts hot with a passion for Christ, and then go into the world and proclaim the "gospel of the glory of the blessed God" (I Timothy 1:11). We can do no less. The gospel is a sacred trust. Definitions are vital in our preaching and witnessing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Pastor's Home and Work

A few thoughts about the pastor's home and work...

Susannah Spurgeon includes, in C. H. Spurgeon's Autobiography, the following notes, to "show what an abundant reward of loving approval was bestowed on me for merely doing what it was my duty to do."

My Own Dear One,--None, know how grateful I am to God for you. In all I have ever done for Him, you have a large share, for in making me so happy you have fitted me for service. Not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you. I have served the Lord far more, and never less, for your sweet companionship. The Lord God Almighty bless you now and forever!
Think of the love which gave me that dear lady for a wife, and made her such a wife; to me, the ideal wife, and, as I believe, without exaggeration or love-flourishing; the precise form in which God would make a woman for such a man as I am, if He designed her to be the greatest of all earthly blessings to him and in some sense a spiritual blessing, too, for in that also am I richly profited by you, though you would not believe it. I will leave this 'good matter' ere the paper is covered; but not till I have sent you as many kisses as there are waves on the sea (C.H. Spurgeon, 1871).

The call of a pastor's wife is, in large part, the call to cultivate a joyful home that will provide fertile ground for her husband's happiness. C.H. Spurgeon wrote to Susannah, "Not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you." It was her "sweet companionship" that God used to help to make him the great man that we honor.

C.H. saw Susannah as a love-gift from God. He believed that God had fashioned her "for such a man as I am."

The pastor, amidst all of his many duties, must be faithful to love and appreciate his wife. He is to embrace her as a blessing to his work, tell her often how much he appreciates her, and enjoy her "sweet companionship." He is to rejoice that she is the ideal gift from God to him and he is to unashamedly communicate his affection for her.

Many a pastor's marriage falls apart. Seeds of destruction are sown when the husband fails to acknowledge, love, and display affection to his wife. The marriage is undermined when the wife does not cultivate a happy home in which her husband might be restored amidst the challenges of his work.

If you are a pastor, pray for your wife. Receive her as a good gift from God. Shower her with evidences of your love and appreciation for her.

If you are a pastor's wife, pray for your husband. Join him in his work by your sweet companionship and through cultivating a happy home for him to enjoy with you.

To all, pray for your pastor and his family. He is thankful to be called into such a work. However, the trials are many. You want your pastor to do his work " . . . with joy and not with groaning, for that would be no advantage to you" (Hebrews 13:17b).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The New Spirituality

This material below is adapted from a paper that I presented for a class at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Links to the sources that I reflected on (by David Wells, Michael Horton, and Peter Jones) are below.

Michael Horton
David Wells
Peter R. Jones

The Preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes, “ . . . there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9 ESV). That verse is applicable to theological and philosophical error. Error has been raising its ugly head ever since the Serpent tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It comes repackaged for every generation and is wrapped in colorful ribbon. Though there are differences in the kinds of error and the way that they are described, there are fundamental similarities.

One of the points that Michael Horton, Peter R. Jones, and David F. Wells all make concerns the lack of regard for a God “outside of us” (Horton). Horton made the observation that the new spirituality is reflected in the idea that there is no need for an external God or for an external source of authority. What is valued is an “intuitive, direct, or immediate knowledge set against the historically mediated form of knowledge” (Horton).  This perspective is very different from the New Testament writers, the Church Fathers, and the Protestant Reformers. They believed in an external and absolute authority found in God and the Bible.

The adherents of the new spirituality are not interested in external constraints or absolute authority. Their focus is self-centered and inward. David Wells calls the new spirituality “The Invisible Religion” and points out its inward rather than outward nature. He cites a survey that indicates “56% of Americans who say that in life’s crisis they look to themselves for answers rather than to an outside presence like God (as he has been traditionally understood).”

Each of the articles, in one way or another, demonstrates that what is often referred to as spirituality is, in essence, a mixture of various philosophical beliefs. It would be inaccurate to call the beliefs a “system” because anything smacking of systematics is recoiled against. Horton quotes Curtis White:

We would prefer to be left alone, warmed by our beliefs-that-make-no-sense, whether they are the quotidian platitudes of ordinary Americans, the magical thinking of evangelicals, the mystical thinking of New Age Gnostics, the teary-eyed patriotism of social conservatives, or the perfervid loyalty of the rich to their free-market Mammon. We are thus the congregation of the Church of the Infinitely Fractured, splendidly alone together. And apparently that's how we like it. Our pluralism of belief says both to ourselves and to others, 'Keep your distance.' And yet isn't this all strangely familiar? Aren't these all the false gods that Isaiah and Jeremiah confronted, the cults of the 'hot air gods'? The gods that couldn't scare birds from a cucumber patch? Belief of every kind and cult, self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement of every degree, all flourish. And yet God is abandoned. (4)
I often hear professing Christians expounding what is, in essence, a hodgepodge of religious speak that is blended and called Christianity. It is not that unusual to find, in one person, mystical, patriotic, evangelical, and politically conservative ideas all blended into a loaf of what is presumed to be Christian faith. The lack of discernment is staggering.

The blending of various religious thought is a problem in many churches and among numerous Christians. Some of this blended thought has come via popular books such as The Shack by William P. Young and Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. In The Jesus Calling the author imagines Jesus speaking directly to individuals. She creates the words that Jesus uses. She seems to believe that the words she writes are actually the words of Jesus.

Tim Challies gives a thought provoking review of The Shack and deals with the issue of revelation. Challies writes:
There are few doctrines more important to Christian living than this one—understanding how it is that God chooses to communicate with human beings. Though the Bible teaches that Scripture is the “norming norm,” many Christians give precedence to other supposed forms of revelation, and particularly promptings, leadings and “still, small voices.” Sure enough, such an emphasis is seen clearly in The Shack. How will we hear from God in day-to-day life (away from the miraculous shack)? “You will learn to hear my thoughts in yours,” says Sarayu. “Of course you will make mistakes; everybody makes mistakes, but you will begin to better recognize my voice as we continue to grow our relationship.” And where will we find the Spirit? “You might see me in a piece of art, or music, or silence, or through people, or in Creation, or in your joy and sorrow. My ability to communicate is limitless, living and transforming, and it will always be tuned to Papa’s goodness and love. And you will hear and see me in the Bible in fresh ways. Just don’t look for rules and principles; look for relationship—a way of coming to be with us.” (Tim Challies:
Herein is the problem of modern-day spirituality that is divorced from foundational Scriptural teaching. When spirituality is not tethered to the Bible then it flies in the wind like a kite that has no one holding the string. For a time the kite may seem to be happily free from the controls of its owner. However, it is not long before the kite comes crashing down. When spirituality is detached from God as revealed in Scripture then, though it may seem unencumbered and free, it is in reality headed for a certain crash.

Horton writes:
In the American Religion, as in ancient Gnosticism, there is almost no sense of God's difference from us-in other words, his majesty, sovereignty, self-existence, and holiness. God is my buddy or my inmost experience, or the power-source for living my best life now. God is not strange (i.e., holy)-and is certainly not a judge. He does not evoke fear, awe, or a sense of terrifying and disorienting beauty. Furthermore, all the focus on making atonement through a bloody sacrifice seems crude and unspiritual to Gnostics when, after all, the point of salvation is to escape the physical realm. All of this is too "Jewish," according to Gnostics from Marcion to Schleiermacher to the "Re-Imagining Conference" of mainline Protestant leaders (especially radical feminists) who explicitly appealed to Gnosticism in their screeds against "men hanging on crosses with blood dripping and all that gory stuff." The god of Gnosticism is not the one before whom Isaiah said, "Woe to me, for I am undone!" or Peter said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." To borrow a nice phrase from William Placher, it represents "the domestication of transcendence." God is no longer a problem for us.
One way that Horton’s analysis shows up in “the American Religion” is in the area of “Christian” music. A cursory listen to a popular Christian radio station will reveal a lack of emphasis on the “majesty, sovereignty, self-existence, and holiness” of God.

The same is too often true in Christian writing. With a plethora of self-help books on the shelves of Christian bookstores, titles that focus on the character of God are at a minimum. As I write this paper, two of the bestselling titles include: Breakout by Joel Osteen and Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. Breakout promises to give readers “5 Keys to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life.” It is not unusual to find popular titles that are focused more on extra-biblical experiences than they are on the clear teaching of the Bible. One such example is Heaven is For Real. The website, has this description of the book:
Heaven Is for Real is the true story of a four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who experienced heaven during emergency surgery. He talked about looking down to see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear. In heaven, Colton met his miscarried sister whom no one ever had told him about and his great-grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born. He shared impossible-to-know details about each. Colton went on to describe the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how “reaaally big” God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit “shoots down power” from heaven to help us.
The first problem with the description of Heaven is For Real is that it claims to be a true story. How does one know that it is a true story? The adherent to the new spirituality might surmise that it is true because the four-year old boy “experienced heaven during emergency surgery.” There is no objective standard of truth, just the testimony of a four-year old during surgery. There is no mention of Scripture in this description. The young boy, Colton, was able to see his surgery as it was happening. He was able to meet “his miscarried sister whom no one had told him about and his great-grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born.” The confirming evidence of the trustworthiness of Colton’s story is that he was able to describe things about his miscarried sister and his great-grandfather that no one had ever told him about. The entire travel-to-heaven story is believed to be true because a boy had an experience and told stories about dead relatives that he had never met. Now, that is a fascinating story. And perhaps the boy had some sort of experience. Perhaps he had a vision/dream and perhaps in that vision/dream he did see an image of his late great-grandfather. We simply do not know, nor can we know. Yet a testimony is believed because it testifies of an experience. Experience trumps objective truth.

The problems with such a story are evident. The story serves as an illustration of spirituality in our modern age. People are encouraged to look within themselves for answers. The old forms of worship (creed, catechisms, confessions, liturgies) are jettisoned for more personal experiences with God.
David Wells writes, “It is quite apparent that the new spirituality is practicing what has become one of the norms of the postmodern world, that is—the belief that each person must be allowed one’s own private space within which one has the freedom to define reality for oneself and set one’s own rules.”

Michael Horton notes:
While Luther, Calvin, and their heirs sought to reform the church, the more radical Protestant movements have often seen the church as an obstacle to the individual's personal relationship with God. (Evangelical George Barna, a guru of the church growth movement, has recently written three books arguing that the era of the local church is over, soon to be replaced by Internet resources for personal piety.) Where the Reformers pointed to the external ministry of the church, centering on Word and sacrament, as the place where God promised to meet his people, "enthusiasm" was suspicious of everything external. Similarly, Quakers gave up the formal ministry, including preaching and sacrament, in favor of group sharing of personal revelations. Even when evangelicals retain these public means appointed by Christ, they often become assimilated to self-expression and techniques for self-trans-formation: means of our experience and activity more than God's means of grace. Ultimately, it's what I do alone with God that matters, not what God does for me together with his covenant people through public, earthly, material means that he has appointed.
The way ahead begins by looking back to biblical teaching on authority. The Bible is to be the Christian’s “only rule of faith and practice.” Yet the Bible is proclaimed in the context of community. That community is the church. As Horton reminds us, Luther and Calvin focused on church reform. They saw external structures not as an enemy but as the will of God. They looked to the “Word and sacrament, as the place where God promised to meet his people.” The errant spirituality of their day “was suspicious of everything external.”


The new spirituality is similar to the old spirituality in many ways. Both are overly reflective, suspicious of external forms, enamored with experience, and untethered from objective truth. It is common in the modern church to encounter God via experience rather than preaching. Music, drama, and various kinds of entertainment have encroached upon the preaching ministry at many churches. Experience rules as objective truth is subjected to the whims of congregants.

The way ahead for the Christian includes a reaffirmation of the Bible as the infallible revelation of God. God, the author of Scripture, is the one to whom every Christian must bow. His honor and his will reign supreme. Biblical preaching must be returned to the pulpit and be joined by God-centered congregational singing. Biblical theology must be stationed at the doors of the church as a protector from the new spirituality. Christians must be encouraged to read, study, learn, meditate upon, and apply the Bible. They must learn discernment. Objective truth must inform subjective experiences. This is not to dismiss the subjective or remove emotions from congregational worship. It is to ground the affections, inform the emotions, and set the heart to singing. The result is a freedom that is wise, godly, and can fly protected because it is tethered to truth.