A Brief Word on the Gravity of Preaching


In my reading for a preaching class I am currently taking, I am reading John Piper’s The Supremacy of God in Preaching. I have gained immense insight from this book and it has greatly influenced my theology of preaching. There is one particular passage I wanted to share and briefly comment on.

John Piper writes,

Pastors have absorbed this narrow view of gladness and friendliness and now cultivate it across the land with pulpit demeanor and verbal casualness that make the blood-earnestness of Chalmers and the pervading solemnity of Edwards’s mind unthinkable. The result is a preaching atmosphere and a preaching style plagued by triviality, levity, carelessness, flippancy, and a general spirit that nothing of eternal and infinite proportions is being done or said on Sunday morning (The Supremacy of God in Preaching, 51-52).

I wholeheartedly agree with Piper that preachers should strive for gravity in their preaching. This is because the task at hand is enormously serious. There are eternal implications every Sunday morning and the attitude and approach of the preacher should reflect this. The Word of God should never be handled flippantly.

I think this sentiment from Piper is very insightful and highly prophetic of not only preaching in our day, but what preaching will be like if there is not a Reformation-like resurgence of the Word of God. Pastors are often more concerned with pleasing listeners at the cost of losing the thrust of the message of the Bible. The pastor’s demeanor in the pulpit should reflect the task at hand.

The context of any given passage should determine not only the content of the sermon, but also the approach and demeanor of the pastor in preaching the sermon. And most if not all matters of God are massively serious. Honestly, the task of preaching is far too important to view and approach casually or carelessly.

The aim of the game of preaching is to exalt the glory of God and proclaim the message that he has already given. Faithful exposition of biblical texts cannot afford flippancy. All pastors can be guilty of viewing the task of preaching too lightly, and all pastors can afford to be more conscious of all that is at stake on Sunday mornings. The result will be increased dependency on God and his Word.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Morning Mashup 10/24


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Today’s edition of Morning Mashup features a variety of articles from around the web dealing with everything from how Christians should approach Halloween to the biblical legitimacy of multi-site churches. Also, if you find yourself saying “um” or “uh” a lot during prayer, there is an article here especially for you.


Thinking About Halloween in the Schemes – Mez McConnell tells why he and his family do not celebrate Halloween and why his church planting ministry does not participate in Halloween related events. Though McConnell lives in the UK, his perspective is interesting.

Is Multi-Site a Biblically Sound Model? – Pastor J.D. Greear is in the middle of a series of posts on the legitimacy of the multi-site model for churches. I have enjoyed considering his position and his response to recent criticism from guys like Jonathan Leeman. Greear is convincing, yet I am still not convinced.

Pray Without Filler – Don Whitney on the problem with filling prayers with “um” and “uh.”

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Reformed Theology – Important post on a much-maligned theological system. If you find yourself criticizing Calvinists and Calvinism, check this out.

Leading and Submitting Like Jesus – In marriage, the roles of both husband and wife are to be carried out as the two follow Jesus. Erik Raymond writes, “Jesus is the model and motivation for both leadership and submission.”

Sin is Worse than Hell – “We should not marvel that God burns with wrath against his enemies. Let us marvel, instead, that while we were still enemies, Christ died for us.”

The Danger of an Atheistic Ministry – Casey McCall asks, “What does a ministry look like that submits to the conditions at hand in humble reverence before the all-wise Creator?”

Christ has purchased in his blood that repenting sinners shall be saved. –Thomas Watson

Salvation by Grace Through Faith in Daniel 9


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In his work, The Doctrine of Repentance, Puritan Thomas Watson opens with an epistle to the reader in which he writes, “The two great graces essential to a saint in this life are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven.”

Daniel shows the place of repentance and faith in relation to salvation in Daniel 9. Indeed, by God’s great grace and mercy, repentance and faith in Christ are the means to eternal soaring.

Daniel 9 is largely a prayer from Daniel on behalf of his people. Based on Daniel’s prayer, the people of Israel rebelled against God and disobeyed him because of a lack of repentance and faith. “As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth” (Dan. 9:13).

Repentance and faith, along with a reliance on the truth of God’s word is what leads to obedience. In fact, faith in God’s forgiveness expresses itself in obedience to God. Steinmann writes, “The person who has received God’s forgiveness wants to live the way God’s Word teaches us humans to live. Saving faith in God manifests itself in good works prescribed in the Scriptures” (Daniel, 426).

Obedience to God flows naturally from a heart that repents and trusts Christ. A life that is void of obedience is one that also lacks true repentance and saving faith. So, Daniel cries out what Paul would later declare, that salvation comes by grace through faith, and not by works of the law. And at the same time, this salvation expresses itself in works of obedience. Obedience is the fruit of trust in God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness in Christ. It is never the basis.

In Daniel’s prayer, he admits that Israel had fallen under God’s judgment due to their rejection of God’s mercy and forgiveness. It was a rejection of grace that led to both sin and subsequent judgment.

Daniel then requests God to save his people once again; to forgive his rebellious people for their iniquities (Dan. 9:16). He does this on the basis of the redemptive act of delivering Israel from the hand of Egypt by parting the Red Sea (Dan. 9:15). The act of God in saving Israel from the mightiest army in the world is a perfect example of the way God saves. There is no participation on the part of the people. They do nothing. He does everything. Daniel’s prayer is a demonstration of full reliance on God’s grace and power to forgive. Forgiveness then comes not by the works of Daniel or Israel, but by the grace and will of God.

As Paul would later write to Rome,

What shall we say then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works (Rom. 9:30-32).

Righteousness is credited to sinners by faith in the Christ who became sin for them (2 Cor. 5:21). It is not a product of a life of attempts at obeying God. Obedience doesn’t produce righteousness. Credited righteousness by grace through faith produces obedience.

Daniel teaches us that we fall into sin, rebellion, and disobedience when we fail to repent of our sin, trust God’s forgiveness in Christ, and listen to the word of God (Dan. 9:13). When we pray, we should ask God to save our lost family and friends not because they are worthy and not based on their good deeds or ours, but solely because God’s glory deserves to be praised by all people!

“For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name” (Dan. 9:18-19).

Steinmann sums up the matter well:

God hears the repentant sinner’s prayer because of the merit and atonement of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God keeps his promises most vividly in the ministry of Christ, who fulfilled them all (2 Cor. 1:20). God has redeemed his people through the work of Christ. Through faith alone in Christ alone, believers are credited with his own divine righteousness (Ibid., 427).


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Precious Duality: Serious Theological Education and Practical Ministry


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One of the things I love about being an online theology student is the opportunity it provides me to serve in my home church. I have been an online student at Boyce College for the past two years. Lord willing, I will graduate next May. Due to a plethora of reasons, my wife and I have been unable to move to Louisville, so my entire degree in biblical and theological studies will have been earned online. The greatest blessing this has provided has been the duality of receiving a substantial and significant theological education and the opportunity to actively serve my local church in kids ministry.

Boyce College provides a theological education in the vein of the desires of its namesake. James P. Boyce believed theological education was “a matter of the first importance to the churches of Christ.” Because of this, he desired ministry that was “convictional, rigorous, and accessible.” Even as a lowly online student, my experience has shown me that this is exactly what Boyce College provides.

However, even though I know the serious theological education I am receiving is fueling my service in kids ministry, there are those who believe studying theology cannot coincide with tangible and practical ministry in the local church.

Many people create an unhealthy false dichotomy when it comes to serious theological education and gospel ministry. They say that if one studies theology too deeply or thinks too much about biblical truths, it will cause one to stay locked away in an ivory tower while the people suffer spiritually and physically in the gutter below. I have heard people say, “I don’t see the point in theological education when there is so much ministry to be done.” What do Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, and other theologians have to do with kids ministry, for example? Those who condescend serious theological education simply cannot see how practical ministry can benefit from keeping one’s head in the clouds.

This separation of theological education and practical ministry is not new. German theologian, pastor, and conspirator in an attempt to kill Adolf Hitler, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, was educated at one of the most prominent seminaries of his day; Berlin University. Though he disagreed with many of his liberal and critical professors, he honored their commitment to serious theological study. Bonhoeffer was a deeply serious theology student, who was not content to speak without thinking or allow issues to simply fall to the wayside unsolved. Bonhoeffer was also a loving and faithful pastor. Nearly as soon as he was handed his diploma, he was on a train to Barcelona to pastor. His deep love for theology fueled a deep love for God (or vice versa). This love expressed itself in practical pastoral ministry.

However, when Bonhoeffer decided to travel to America in 1930, he saw something quite different in one theological seminary and many churches. Serious theological education had been abandoned in favor of social involvement. While studying at Union Theological Seminary for recreational purposes (not for a degree), and while attending various American churches, Bonhoeffer observed the unhealthy disconnect between theology and ministry.

There is no theology here…They talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria. The students…are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about. They are unfamiliar with even the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level (quoted in Erica Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet,Spy, 101).

However, despite the lack of theology present at Union and in many of the churches, there was still much ministry going on.

At the instigation of this group, the student body of Union Theological seminary has, over the winter, continually provided food and lodging for thirty unemployed–among them three Germans–and has advised them as well as possible. This has led to considerable personal sacrifice of time and money. It must not, however, be left unmentioned that the theological education of this group is virtually nil, and the self-assurance which lightly makes mock of any specifically theological question is unwarranted and naive (Ibid., 105).

While serious theological study was lost, ministry to the poor was not. So, it would seem that these liberal theologians in the first half of the 20th century and those today who see serious theological education as unnecessary for ministry to exist and even thrive are right. Do I really need to spend hours upon hours studying, watching lectures, reading books written by guys who have long since died in order to minister to kids each Wednesday night? The answer lies in what is lost when theology is forgotten.

When theology is forgotten, the gospel is lost. The gospel of Christ has been passed down to us, essentially because Christian men and women throughout history have seriously studied theology, both formally and informally. This is not to say that if you do not attend seminary or receive some form of formal theological training that you will lose the gospel. However, this is to say that you will lose sight of the gospel if you refuse to think often about its implications. This is why Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand (1 Cor. 15:1, emphasis added). Theology sharpens our understanding of the gospel and all of its implications. This means that theology should always overflow into practical ministry that is gospel-centered.

Clearly, this leads me to conclude two things about the relationship between theology and ministry:

(1) Theology that does not naturally overflow into practical ministry is useless, groundless, and Christless.

(2) Ministry that does not flow from gospel-centered, God-centered, and Bible-centered theology is in vain.

When theology is ignored in favor of ministry, this false dichotomy shows it has no place for the cross. Bonhoeffer wrote of American churches in 1930,

Things are not much different in the church. The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. As long as I’ve been here, I have heard only one sermon in which you could hear something like a genuine proclamation, and that was delivered by a negro (indeed, in general I’m increasingly discovering greater religious power and originality in Negroes). One big question continually attracting my attention in view of these facts is whether one here really can still speak about Christianity…There’s no sense to expect the fruit where the Word really is no longer being preached. But then what becomes of Christianity per se?

In New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life (Ibid., 106).

What a shame. A theological seminary and local churches both speaking much about spirituality and social issues, yet neither proclaiming the cross. Where serious theological education is ignored, the gospel is lost in the muck of “ministry” concerns. Notice how Bonhoeffer characterized these churches:

All these things of course, take place with varying degrees of tactfulness, taste, and seriousness; some churches are basically “charitable” churches; others have primarily a social identity. One cannot avoid the impression, however, that in both cases they have forgotten what the real point is (Ibid., 107).

I am eternally thankful for the existence of Boyce College and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Because of these institutions, the world is being filled with pastors and leaders who are preaching Christ and nothing else! The men and women at Boyce and Southern are ardently raising up men and women to go forth into the world to faithfully serve local churches with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am confident that my time at Boyce has driven me to desire a significant and impactful ministry that never forgets what the real point is.

So, as I grow weary in writing papers, taking tests, and memorizing Hebrew vocabulary, instead of calling it quits to “practically minister” due to the poisonous false dichotomy created by some, I will pour one more cup of coffee and journey into great theological depths in order to never lose sight of the gospel and for the purpose of ministering to God’s people in grace and truth. Because I deeply love Jesus, I study theology and minister to boys and girls. My love for the one fuels my love for the other. And may this precious duality between serious theological study and practical ministry never be severed, so the gospel may go forth.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Morning Mashup 10/22


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In this edition, I have provided a true “mashup.” This is because there is quite a bit of randomness floating around on the web today. Below is everything from tips for better sleep, responding to the unjust subpoenas in Houston, the conversion of an epic theologian, millennials and marriage, reasons you may be neglecting your church, some uncomfortable questions, and much more.


 70 Years Ago Today – On October 22, 1944, J.I. Packer, one of the most influential and important theologians of the 20th century, became a Christian.

Is the Bible Too Complicated for Those Who Struggle to Read? – In ministering to children, I ask and am asked this question often. I found this answer to be helpful.

A Line Has Been Crossed – Eric Metaxas along with the ERLC are calling American pastors to send Bibles and sermons to the Houston Mayor’s office. This is an effort to show that trampling on religious liberty will not be tolerated by the American people. In the words of Metaxas, “If we don’t act on this, we can’t complain when we lose further liberties and eventually we aren’t able to act at all. This is our chance. Whatever voice and liberties we have now, we must use.”

What Millennials Misunderstand About Marriage – Aaron Earls: “Millennials, perhaps more than any other generation, grew up with the reality of broken homes and divorced parents. But in their efforts to avoid those mistakes, they often go in the wrong direction and end up in the same situation.”

Why You May Be Tempted to Neglect Your Church – Tim Challies writes there are two primary reasons you may neglect your church: (1) You forget what you bring, and (2) You forget what you need.

How Should Pastors Deal with Politics in the Pulpit? – Drs. David Prince and Russell Moore discuss how to properly deal with controversial issues and politics in the pulpit.

C.S. Lewis, Public Intellectual – Thomas Kidd of Baylor University reviews Alister McGrath’s biography of C.S. Lewis: “McGrath’s book is a judicious and accessible treatment of Lewis’s remarkable but controversial career.”

The Kingdom of Christ as the Theological Center of Scripture – David Prince: “The theme of the kingdom of God is a good starting point for thinking about the theological center of Scripture. Nevertheless, more can be said for clarity.”

How Can You Really Reach Millennials? – I read a lot about reaching millennials. Most that I read is superficial at best. This is one of the best articles I have read on the subject.

22 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep – Okay, this list is not too shabby.

Some Uncomfortable Questions – Kevin DeYoung: “Have mercy on stupid and sinful people. You and I will be one of them soon enough.”

Grateful joy is a motive that will lead to much more endurance in obedience than fearful compliance. –Tim Keller

Hope and Comfort in the Midst of Persecution


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I have recently been considering how I would respond to intense persecution. In light of the rapid change in the shape of American society and culture, and the public’s view of Christianity, it is likely that persecution of Christians in America will increase before it will decrease. What will this look like? I do not know. But it is entirely within the realm of possibility that Christian churches and leaders will face fines, imprisonments, and maybe more in the future. From time to time I ask myself, “Will I be willing to boldly face increasingly harsher persecution?” Or maybe a better question, “Is there any hope and comfort in the present and future for those facing persecution?”

Reflecting on Daniel’s vision of the goat and the ram in Daniel 8, Lutheran scholar Andrew Steinmann states,

The little horn in Daniel 8, representing Antiochus, who would persecute God’s people during the Greek era, is a foretaste of the greater persecution by the little horn in Daniel 7, representing the Antichrist, who wages war against the saints throughout the church age until Christ returns. By demonstrating how God would deliver his people form Antiochus Epiphanes, the vision in Daniel 8 offers hope to Christians throughout the church age, who must face the Antichrist’s persecution and corruption of the Gospel (Daniel, 390).

With all eschatological (end times) prophecies in Scripture come confusion, debate, and disagreement. However, there are two clear and primary things to draw from the visions found in Daniel 7 and 8.

(1) God’s people will face persecution

In Daniel 7-8, there are visions of harsh persecution that will afflict God’s people. There are mild forms of persecution that all of us experience in one way or another. You may be ridiculed for your faith at work. You may be shunned in various ways in your family. However, some Christians abroad face harsher forms of persecution. People are actually put to death for their faith in many countries. Daniel 8 foretells of a figure who would persecute God’s people during the Greek era. Most conservative scholars see this figure as being fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphranes. And this figure prefigures the Antichrist who will come to persecute God’s people until Christ returns. Persecution is clearly part and parcel of the establishing and fulfilling of the eternal kingdom of God.

(2) God is in control of persecution

The theological truths that communicate hope and comfort to those being persecuted in the vision of Daniel 8 appear to be that, although this passage communicates times of persecution and corruption, God is all knowing and in control of all things, including the persecution of his people.

How does the reality of persecution and the sovereignty of God provide comfort to those who are being persecuted?

Specifically regarding comfort and seeing Daniel as a whole, I think its important to look at the overarching themes of Daniel when communicating the truths in Daniel 8 to those in difficult situations. Mainly, we see that no matter what happens, God is in control and ultimately those who who belong to him will persevere. In Daniel this is portrayed in the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, as well as in the various prophecies about coming persecution from antichrist figures. God sovereignly rescued his people from persecution. Another theme of comfort is that God sets and removes rulers and will ultimately dethrone all earthly rulers to rule his eternal kingdom.

Nevertheless, the message of Daniel 8, and all of Scripture for that matter, is to persevere. Those who endure to the end will be saved (Matt. 24:13). The response of God’s people in the face of persecution must be perseverance. This means that in and through all persecution, we must place our trust and faith in the One who knows all, sees all, and who works all things in his sovereign grace for the good of his people. This sovereign God will one day righteously judge all.

No amount of persecution will stop God’s purposes from coming to pass. God plans all things and he always fulfills what he plans. The persecution led by Antiochus Epiphanes did not prevent the Messiah from coming to redeem humanity. Likewise, the antichrist’s persecution will not be able to stamp out the gospel. His people will persevere through faith. God’s sovereign goodness is our only true hope and comfort in the midst of persecution. Take hope in the fact that God will never leave his people in the midst of the harshest persecution. Take comfort in the fact that God sovereignly works all things, including persecution, for the good of his people and the renown of his name.

In the words of Steinmann, “God’s salvific plans cannot be thwarted” (390).


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Morning Mashup 10/20


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Sunday nights provide me with a unique opportunity. I will without fail be doing four things simultaneously: (1) Shaping up a paper due for class at 11:55 pm, (2) Watching both The Walking Dead and Sunday Night Football, (3) Watching my wife and our dog take a long, long nap, and, finally, (4) Work on the Morning Mashup post for Monday.

This all made for an exceptionally interesting night, especially when Gareth was gnawing on Bob’s leg at the end of TWD. Not sure I have recovered from that yet. But as intrigued as I was throughout the night, I kept this in mind as I prepared this edition of Morning Mashup. I hope you find these articles interesting, encouraging, challenging, informing, edifying, or all the above. But seriously…those Terminus folks are MESSED UP!


Peyton Manning Breaks Brett Favre’s All-Time TD Record – Last night, Peyton Manning set the NFL record for career touchdown passes. He threw four TD passes against the 49ers in an all out shellacking. So, here’s to the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Yeah, I said it.

Hillsong Shifts on Homosexuality – When asked to clarify their stance on homosexuality and gay marriage, Hillsong pastor, Brian Houston, was anything but clear. He essentially gave a non-answer and this article from Andrew Walker shows why evangelicals should be concerned.

Hillsong (kind of) Clarifies Statement on Gay Marriage – While Houston affirms traditionally held Christian views on homosexuality, he remains unclear. I don’t see this statement as invalidating Walker’s above article.

How Boko Haram’s Murders and Kidnappings are Changing Nigeria’s Churches – “Leading Nigerian evangelical says Christians won’t abandon the North.”

Why I’m Not Afraid of Ebola – Inspiring words from a doctor who is a Christian.

One of the Oldest Known Synagogues Seized by ISIS – “Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists not only threaten the current Middle East according to antiquities officials in Iraq and Syria, the terror group threatens to erase 5,000 years of history and relics in upper Mesopotamia, including one of the earliest Jewish synagogues.”

The Better Half: SEC Wives – This brief feature on the lives of the wives of SEC football coaches is unique and interesting. However, there is a saddening effect inherent with their lifestyles.

The Mid-Degree Crisis and Value of Work During Seminary – This was timely in my life. I am a theology student who works. I received much-needed encouragement from Phillip Bethancourt in this post.

Book Review of “The Bible Tells Me So” – Don’t miss this important review of Peter Enns’ controversial book.

Marriage on the Edge of Eternity – Francis Chan: “Eternity changes how we enjoy marriage and everything else in this life. Eternity changes how we love. It would be unloving to get my wife and kids so focused on this life that they are unprepared for the next.”

5 Bad Substitutes for Discipline – Tim Challies: “There is nothing easy about parenting, and nothing easy about the responsibility of training our children in obedience through discipline. Because discipline is unpopular and unpleasant, parents often find themselves looking for substitutes.”

The One Key Component to Good Writing – Barnabas Piper with some helpful advice for all of my fellow writers out there.

As long as we let the Word be our only armor we can look confidently into the future. –Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Book Review: “The Extravagant Fool” by Kevin Adams


_240_360_Book.1198.coverKevin Adams. The Extravagant Fool: A Faith Journey that Begins Where Common Sense Ends (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014) 218 pp. $15.99

American Dream Gone Wrong

What if you lost all of the material possessions you had worked your entire life to obtain? What if the luxurious lifestyle you lived crumbled around you? What if your faith in God was reduced to the size of your bank account that forced you into near homelessness? Kevin Adams was the epitome of business success. He had seemingly endless clients with a business with more work than he could keep up with. He was a multi-millionaire who owned multiple homes and was truly living the American dream until his exuberant world came crashing down with the economic recession of 2008. At the beginning of 2009, Kevin Adams had lost everything.

Summary

The Extravagant Fool is an inspirational story of how one man went from being a worldly fool to a sold-out fool for God. It is a story of God’s provision and how faith in God is more valuable than millions of dollars, multiple homes, and a thriving business. Adams tells his story as a journey from being an ambitious businessman, to a blogger and author seeking to encourage believers and glorify God. Through a beautifully, though sometimes overwhelming, poetic narrative, Adams recounts his journey from casual Christianity to an all-out dependence on God through faith.

With the English Christian leader and founder of countless orphanages, George Mueller, as his example, Adams boldly faced empty bank accounts and no income by relying fully on God’s provision.

Reliance and Intimacy

The greatest strength by far in The Extravagant Fool is the author’s clear and passionate reliance on God. While criticizing all forms of Christian self-help, Adams argues for full reliance on and intimacy with God as the only means worthy and able to get you through the night (95-105). It is clear that Adams was once a Christian who claimed full reliance on God, yet was entirely self-sufficient. However, his financial plunder took him to the depths of his own soul where he found God waiting with a warm embrace. This is especially conveyed in Adams’ discussion of losing the ability to provide for his wife and kids. Many men can testify to the emasculation such a situation brings. However, Adams had an epiphany—one that is crucial to the Christian faith.

After being unable to provide for his family for months and even a couple years, Adams concluded,

“God is weird, but His strange impressions tap at the glass until we’re annoyed enough to look up and begin to truly listen to Him. The counterfeit idea says the dream was just fear over losing my role as provider and protector. But in the context of counting it all joy…was a message that said, ‘Kevin, you were never the provider or protector, so let go already’” (88).

Reflecting on his circumstance to this point, Adams said, “I’d become a man ready to embrace the mystery of my circumstances, but unwilling to let go of everything—a man still white-knuckling his perceived identity, by failing to abdicate his family from a throne meant for a king” (88). Adams clearly relied on God to provide for him and saw each opportunity, whether it be a place to live or a job to work, as a gift from God (182).

Adams also began to see that the more his world eroded around him, his value was found in Christ. He writes, “My value is measured by the price that was paid for me, not by the sweat of my brow or career status—a truth that is easy to say, but hard to accept” (91). This chapter on Adams’ relationship with his wife before and during losing all that he owned is by far the best this book has to offer. His candor and honesty in his journey to accepting biblical truth about him and his circumstance is present on nearly every page and is sobering for the reader.

Theological Concerns

Although The Extravagant Fool is filled with many commendable points, there are a few concerns to keep in mind as you approach this book.

First, there are theological concerns that I would encourage you to approach with caution. Adams seems to communicate faith in God as resulting in material blessing or reward. The more faith Adams exhibits in God, the more God would mysteriously return blessing to his life. Does Adams hold to a Joel Osteen-like prosperity gospel or a Joyce Meyer-like word of faith theology? Or is it an ambiguous rendering of sola fide? He seems to communicate the former in various places:

“The power of God lies not in the size of the seed but in the gigantic potential He’s hidden within it—the Harvard degree in faith that will rise to the top of the industry if we’ll stop attempting to dig our way out and just plant it” (75).

“Daddy, didn’t you say that anything is possible with God if you just believe hard enough?” “Sure, sweet girl. Absolutely” (72, emphasis added).

“My wife and I went to training conferences and were encouraged that our direction was taking a better turn, conferences filled with godly people who believe that abundance is not only okay with God, but his best intention for life on earth—something I wholeheartedly agreed with” (58).

In times of turmoil and suffering, Adams sees God as planning something for his life that can be unleashed by faith, but in the meantime, God “tucks himself just out of sight.” Seeing God’s activity in our suffering like a game of hide-and-seek, Adams says, “We faithfully count with our eyes closed, while He anticipates the ready-or-not moment, only to delight in our search from behind the curtain while his child tiptoes nearby” (76). It appears Adams sees God as drawing intimacy out of us by placing mysteries in our lives. I think Adams interprets God’s relationship with suffering and evil to be one that intends for his children to see a mystery in the suffering and then seek after the answers in him.

However, despite what I see as a forced theological answer to the problem of evil and suffering, I appreciate Adams’ call for intimacy in times when we want to question God. “[G]rowing up means giving logic the cold shoulder and becoming intimate with the One who puts the beans on every table. It requires the willingness of a child and the vision of an adult” (76). Though his theological answers to the relationship between God and suffering is weak, his call to intimacy with God during suffering while honestly seeking answers to difficult questions is spot on.

You will not want to look to Adams for sound theological answers.

A Revelation Problem

Adams believes he receives special revelation from God personally—outside of Scripture. There are many places in the book indicated by italics where Adams recalls God’s special and specific words that he spoke to him either in a dream, prayer, or when he was going about his day. Compare this with the miniscule references to Scripture. This imbalance is alarming and Adam’s expressed theology of revelation and the Bible is flawed.

He also seems to make an unhelpful distinction between God and the Word of God. Adams doesn’t seek, find, or base any answers to his plight in Scripture. Although he makes the claim that the written word of God is “the open door for personal revelation where, for anyone who is willing, God is willing to descend” (142), it seems to me he sees little more value in the Bible. Adams sees the Bible as a means to intimacy with God, but clearly he sees personal revelation as superior (155).

It seems that he desires something more than Scripture. Here are just a few examples of Adams’ preference for personal revelation through dreams and visions over God’s self-revelation in his Word.

“[Dreams] were personal challenges to my faith as delicate as the weight of a fingerprint, yet as powerful as its billion-to-one distinctiveness. And therefore nearly impossible to ignore or rationalize in the way that I’d always done with Scripture” (103).

Adams seems to find most clarity from personal revelation rather than from the Bible. One example of this is when Adams claimed he received special revelation from God in what he called “a note from the King.” After recording that note, Adams commented, “Inspiring, indeed, from His mouth to my ear, yet so lofty a notion that merely reading aloud in solitude inspired my own doubts” (198). For Adams, personal revelation is preferred over God’s revelation in his Word.

There are many places I stand in agreement with Adams, but not in the means to which he came to his conclusions. While he clearly has a desire to be Christ-centered, I would have preferred that he see that this comes by being Bible-centered.

Despite this criticism, there is one section in The Extravagant Fool that, though unbalanced from the rest of the book, is an offering of praise to the Bible. He writes, “[E]very single word, whether in red ink or black, spoken by prophet, king, physician, fisherman, or a collector of taxes, whether from the mouth of Jesus or those inspired by His Spirit, is supernaturally intact…It was either meant for the willing, whether rich or poor, simpleminded or genius, to be trusted completely or not at all” (160).

My question to Adams would then be, “Great! Then why is this not enough?” I am perplexed at his need for further revelation in light of his correct sentiment to trust the Bible “completely or not at all.”

Gospel Absence

Probably the most alarming part of The Extravagant Fool is something that is practically absent—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Granted, Adams mentions the content of the gospel in an email to a tenant who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, calling Jesus “our only hope” (82). However, there is not a gospel-centered framework through which Adams responded to his financial crash. The foolish thing about The Extravagant Fool is that faith is the focus of the book, not Jesus.

Adams speaks of relying on God’s provision and strength in his time of financial desperation, but there are few to no examples of relying on God through Jesus. There is no mention of identification with the suffering of Christ. His story provides ample opportunity to point to the gospel. In fact, I could see great comfort, perhaps the only comfort, coming from the gospel. It is simply alarming that the implications of the cross are absent from this book. I felt the author’s pain while reading, but the comfort he found was not as comforting as I anticipated.

I find little in this book that would help those in similar places of suffering deal with suffering. Adams finds hope in God’s blessing that comes through faith. But as far as dealing with the suffering, Adams failed to communicate if there is any redeeming quality or joy to be found. Ignorance of the gospel and the biblical witness to the glory of God in suffering is a stain on this otherwise inspiring story.

The ultimate question I left this book asking was, “How would an impoverished person feel after reading this book?” Living in poverty, being poor, and not living financially abundant is conveyed as an incredibly negative thing. I may be way off the mark, but at times I felt I was reading a book written by a man influenced by prosperity “gospel” proponents. Adams communicates that God does not want you to suffer and that you can escape it through faith. Are you suffering? Are you poor? Faith leads to blessing. More faith = more blessing. This conclusion and manner of facing suffering is theologically and biblically unhelpful and unwise.

Inspiring Story, Poor Theology

Kevin Adams has a very inspirational story with a few serious deficiencies. Adams hoped his story would “be compelling, real-life evidence that God can be trusted with everything—that He really is that good” (218). He accomplished this goal and there is much to gain from his experience. His journey will cause you to ask the difficult question, “Would I be willing to follow God even if he took away my possessions?” The value of faith is questioned and discovered when adversity strikes. Adams’ intimacy with God is admirable. He made me ask many convicting questions of my own heart.

However, despite some clear strengths, the theological and biblical weaknesses in The Extravagant Fool cause me to encourage you to approach this book with caution. Adams admits he is not a pastor or theologian. However, as a Christian writer, his work must be evaluated against God’s word and proper theology.

As I read this book I was inspired, yet frustrated at the author’s theological errors and preference for personal revelation over the Bible. If you decide to read this great story, read with caution. If you yourself are weak with your theology in the face of suffering, this may not be the best book for you.

Adams is right when he says God wants abundant blessing for you. But this blessing is found ultimately in Christ and may include a life filled with suffering and poverty that does not turn around for earthly gain. Material wealth is a gift from God to be stewarded wisely. There is nothing inherently wrong with having a large income. However, God is glorified in times when God gives and when he takes away (Job 1:21). Adams expresses this and readers will learn from it, yet the theology that grounds it is not strong enough to uphold his claims. Learn from his faith that led to intimacy, but cautiously approach his theological claims.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Radical Faith in the Face of Ruthless Suffering


RH-DanielAndFriendsBeforeKing_09

This semester I am taking a course entitled, “Interpreting Daniel.” It is what you would expect–a verse by verse exegetical examination of the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel is a theologically rich and full book. Truly one semester is not nearly enough time to adequately pursue all of the issues in Daniel.

I wanted to share just one of the many things that have both alarmed and captivated my heart and spurred me to greater faith in Christ. This particular insight came from an unsuspecting place in Daniel.

3Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility,4youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.5The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.6Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.7And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
8But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
–Daniel 1:3-8, ESV

Let’s break down what is going on here. The king of Babylon, who had recently conquered Judah and taken its people into exile, ordered Judah’s finest to be specifically brought to him. He clearly has a desire to assert his self-proclaimed glory by showing his dominance reaches to the heights of Judean society.

The king orders for “youths without blemish” from the Judean nobility to come to the king’s palace to be indoctrinated with the “literature and language of the Chaldeans.” They were ordered to eat specific food and drink specific wine, food and wine that came from the king himself. While this on the surface seems like a walk in the park compared to what the word “captivity” typically connotes, the next few verses highlight the sinister intentions of the king and his ruthless brutality. “And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego” (v. 7).

In years past, I would have thought very little about the brutality of this captivity, and surely would have belittled the significance of the name change. However, after further study it is clear that Daniel’s captivity was indeed as bad as one would assume, maybe worse.

Consider what Daniel and his friends likely endured as a result of exile.

1. Daniel and his friends were torn from their families

These young men were specifically chosen from Judah’s finest, and in the process were ripped away from their families. Being taken into captivity was like the Gestapo storming a Jewish home and dragging mother and daughter into one train car while throwing father and son into another.

2. Daniel and his friends were likely castrated.

The fact that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among the “chief of the eunuchs” seems to indicate that they themselves had been made eunuchs. It was not uncommon for the king of Babylon to castrate men of conquered nations, so it is likely that Daniel and his friends were castrated when they were taken captive.

3. Daniel and his friends were robbed of their identity

Daniel, Hananiah, and Mishael, and Azariah had names that reflected their faith. Their identity was found in being part of the people of the one true and living God. When the king of Babylon brought Daniel and his friends to his palace, he not only had them trained in Chaldean culture, but he also renamed them, not simply because he didn’t like their names, but as an exercise of theological dominance. He renames these four Judean young men after his gods. He is essentially desiring to wipe out their religious affiliation. He wants their to be no semblance of the God of Judah. The king of Babylon had conquered God’s people and now he wanted to show that he had essentially conquered their God. He had no place in Babylon and the king wanted this name change to reflect what he arrogantly felt was a certain reality.

4. Daniel and his friends were teenagers

The king of Babylon called for those who were “youths without blemish.” Based on the historical context, conservative scholars have placed Daniel’s age at the time of being taken into exile at around 14. Daniel and his friends were barely teenagers when they were taken into Babylonian captivity. This is alarming and disgusting to think of fourteen year-olds suffering such cultural and theological dominance, and physical brutality at the hands of one of the most ruthless men on the face of the earth at the time.

So, to this point we are given a picture of four young teenagers who were torn from their families, castrated, culturally and theologically dominated, robbed of their identity, and treated as property by a ruthless king with uninhibited power. Yet, after all of this, we are told that these young boys were resolved to fully devote themselves to God. They remained faithful in the midst of severe persecution, suffering, and abuse in a place where their God was seemingly dominated by a ruthless human king.

If anyone had a reason to doubt God’s goodness it would have been these teenagers. However, Daniel and his friends clearly trusted the sovereignty and goodness God despite their circumstances. They did not “defile themselves” with the king’s food and drink. Even though they would have reasonably been broken down after what they had been through, they demonstrated strength in weakness that only God can provide.

These boys have taught me that our circumstances do not determine our attitudes toward God. God’s self-revelation determines this. God has declared himself to be good and sovereignly faithful to fulfill all of his promises to his people. We trust this because he has said it is so, not because our circumstances may seem to tell us otherwise.

The fact that Daniel unashamedly and boldly trusted God over and over again throughout Daniel after initially suffering such atrocities is truly amazing. I am amazed at his faith. I am amazed at his resolve. I am amazed at his unhindered trust in God. He did not allow his circumstances to dictate his theology. Instead, his theology rooted him in something much greater than his circumstances.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

The Burden of a Preacher and Success of a Sermon


pastor-pulpitTomorrow morning, churches all across America will gather to worship. During these services, pastors will stand before their congregations and deliver sermons. While we have all rightly protested the unconstitutional Caesarism from the mayor of Houston in the subpoenaing of the sermons of five pastors, she isn’t the only one who will be throwing stones at the pastor and his sermon this Sunday.

From the time the pastor steps into the pulpit, behind the lectern, or on the stage until he steps down to close the service, he will likely be under the scrutinizing glares of his congregation. His clothes, overall appearance, introduction, sermon points, choice of passage and message, sermon length, and a host of minuscule details will fall under their microscope. That is, if they are awake!

And to be sure, pastors know this! The weight of the pressure on the shoulders of a preaching pastor week in and week out is enormous. It is so heavy in fact that the pastor forgets how great the load he carries is. He only realizes it when the scrutiny is countered with a refreshing word or act of encouragement.

One of the greatest burdens on the pastor’s shoulders is the burden for ministry success, particularly preaching success. Every time he stands before the congregation to deliver a message, he has holy ambitions ever before him like church growth (both spiritually and numerically) and response to the gospel. The success of a sermon is often measured in the response of the congregation. Did people trust Christ? Did people join the church?

When the pastor invites the congregation to respond to God’s word, whether people stay seated or walk down the aisles often determines whether or not the sermon was “successful” in the minds of many. Even the preacher feels he has devastatingly failed if his people do not respond to the gospel. He may think, “There is obviously nothing deficient in the message itself, so obviously the deficiency must lie in me and my delivery of the message!”

What a burden! This kind of thinking about the success of a sermon produces two unhealthy actions.

1. The pastor will be tempted to force a response from the congregation through guilt trips.

2. The congregation will respond falsely or pretentiously in order to validate the pastor’s sermon.

The problem with these unhealthy actions is that they are not the result of a real or genuine change of heart or adoration of the gospel. Forced response is futile because it does not come from a heart touched and affected by the Holy Spirit. Neither of these actions come from or even need God’s grace.

The good news, though, is that the success of a sermon is NOT determined by the movement of the audience. The success of a sermon is determined by the faithfulness of the pastor to preach the Bible as God’s word. Pastors Derek Prime and Alistair Begg write to fellow pastors, “The best reputation we can have is of faithfulness to Scripture” (On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work, 54).

Pastors and congregants should not view the success of a sermon consisting in the response of the audience. Droves of people respond to some of the worst, anti-gospel false teachings. On the other hand, some of the most faithful gospel messages have produced zero converts on a given Sunday. Which pastor would be considered successful in his preaching? The unfaithful preacher with many responding? Or the faithful preacher with no converts?

When Deitrich Bonhoeffer finished his doctoral work at Berlin University at the end of 1927, he desired to enter the pastorate. He was a gifted theologian and his family urged him to stay in academia as a professor. However, Deitrich had a burning passion to minister to God’s people. Bonhoffer went to Barcelona, Spain in 1928 to serve at a German church. He was an assistant pastor responsible for teaching children and preaching sermons when the senior pastor was out of town. In the summers, Bonhoeffer was given ample opportunity to preach.

One theological principle that Bonhoeffer drew from his experience preaching was the idea of God’s initiating work in revelation. God must reveal himself to us. Otherwise, there would be no way to reach God. He must come to us. Bonhoeffer applied this to his preaching ministry. He wrote,

I have long thought that sermons had a center that, if you hit it, would move anyone or confront them with a decision. I no longer believe that. First of all, a sermon can never grasp the center, but can only itself be grasped by it, by Christ.

–excerpt from Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p. 81

Bonhoeffer realized that despite his theological prowess and brilliance, it meant nothing outside the grace of God. The determinant in the success of a sermon is the grace of God, not the brilliance of the preacher. This means that even when a pastor blows it, either through his poor writing or delivery of a sermon, God may still manifest his glory to his people. On the contrary, the best sermon you will ever preach may not result in even one response if God does not move.

The effectiveness of a sermon is based on God who shows mercy to whom he wills and hardens whom he wills (Rom. 9:18). His grace determines preaching success, not your greatness or weakness as a preacher. The truth of God’s sovereign grace is like a call from the Christ to the preacher, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Pastor, your sermon will never grasp anyone in its own power. However, in the power and grace of God, even your meager attempts to proclaim his excellencies in Christ can be used to draw sinners to the cross.

Church member, your pastor is not a perfect preacher, so put your scalpel down and fill your pastor with refreshing words of encouragement. Let your cry be, “Bring the Book, pastor! Bring the Book!” Respond only as the Spirit moves through the proclaimed word of God. And let all trivialities fall to the wayside.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.