Posts Tagged ‘Christianity Today’

A recent example of effective witnessing

March 23, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I preached about witnessing. I shared some advice on the topic from a recent article in Christianity Today. The author, Jerry Root, a long-time associate of Billy Graham, said that when we witness, it’s not a matter of “taking Jesus to someone”; Jesus is already there. We follow Christ’s lead. But doing so still requires preparation. It’s a deliberate action.

For example, when we meet someone, he suggests asking them what he calls “public” questions—non-threatening questions like, “What’s your name?” “Are you from here?” Then we “listen to the answers and find in them the permission to go deeper. Eventually, we connect the gospel at the very point of deep felt need.”

Easy, right?

Well… I suspect for many of us this still seems intimidating—in part because we’ve seen so few examples of people who are doing it, or doing it well.

Last Friday, however, I encountered a living, breathing example of someone doing it well. I had business in Atlanta. While I was there, I went to a favorite coffee shop near Emory to work on my sermon. A couple of tables away from me, two young women were talking. I promise I wasn’t eavesdropping, but one woman’s voice carried across the room.

I overheard her telling the other woman about her experience raising an autistic child. I gathered that she was counseling this young woman, a new mother whose own child had recently been diagnosed with autism.

My ears perked up at one point when she told the young mother that she was a Christian. She volunteered this in relation to some educational choices that she and her husband had made. A few minutes later, she said the following: “I believe that God has made your child perfect, just the way she’s meant to be. And the Lord is going to take care of her—and you—and give you all the love and support and strength you need to be a great mother to her.”

I wanted to jump out of my seat and shout, “Amen!”

Nothing about this conversation felt forced. First, the woman volunteered that she was a Christian. Then, as Dr. Root described in the article I cited above, she waited for “permission to go deeper.” Having found that permission, she spoke from her heart about Jesus and connected the gospel to the young mother’s deeply felt need.

What convicts me about this conversation is how easily this Christian could have remained quiet about her faith. Doesn’t it often seem easier not bring it up?

What would happen if we prayed regularly—daily—for opportunities to bring it up? Who knows what the Holy Spirit might do? Is it possible that this young woman was so accustomed to sharing her faith that it would be harder for her not to bring it up?

Sermon 03-12-17: “Calling All Tax Collectors and Sinners”

March 21, 2017

If you’re a Christian, witnessing should be one of your top priorities in life. If you’re like most Christians, however, it isn’t. As much as I want to say, “Try harder,” that message won’t work. As I say in this sermon, what we need to become more deliberate, more effective witnesses is to fall in love with Jesus—again or for the first time.

Sermon Text: Matthew 9:9-17

Do any of you have an ichthus or fish decal on or near the bumper of your car? I have often said that I wouldn’t have one of those because I’m not a considerate enough driver—or a careful enough driver—to have a symbol of my loyalty to Jesus on the back of my car: I don’t want to cut someone off in traffic and thereby give Jesus a bad name! I don’t want to be a bad witness.

A satirical article in the Babylon Bee purports to have just the answer for Christian drivers like me: a “retractable fish decal.” The article describes a modification kit for your car that allows you, with the press of a button, to hide the fish symbol when you do something wrong while driving. In the article, a spokesperson from LifeWay Christian Resources puts it like this:

“Want to cut someone off, but worried you’ll be a bad witness? Now you can slap the red button on your dashboard and a small panel will rotate on your bumper, hiding the fish from view… Flip people off on the freeway, [drive] down the shoulder [of the interstate] during a traffic jam, all without worrying about marring the good name of Christ.”

The article continues:

The kit ships with several options, such as the ability to instantly replace the Christian fish decal with an atheist “flying spaghetti monster” silhouette or a Coexist sticker, or else the bumper sticker from a competing church in your town or city.

[The spokesperson added:] “Not only will your terrible, aggressive driving not be a bad witness for Christ, but you can also make atheists or any other church or religion you want look bad instead!”

If only that were real! Read the rest of this entry »

Paul is our best interpreter of Jesus

March 15, 2016

I’ll have more to say about Fleming Rutledge’s latest book, about the cross of Christ, when I read it—I just ordered it on Amazon. But I entirely agree with Rutledge’s words from a recent Christianity Today interview.

You think justification is the most radical of ideas. Why?

The great biblical scholar F. F. Bruce was asked what being evangelical meant. He said it means nothing more and nothing less than the justification of the ungodly. I want to make that the centerpiece of my argument wherever I go—the justification of the ungodly.

This differentiates Christian faith from religion in general, because religion in general has as its purpose to create godly people. Godliness is the goal. But twice, Paul refers to the justification of the ungodly, which is the most irreligious thing that’s ever been said. It cuts against religion. We cannot achieve our own godliness. It must be given to us, and it has been given to us in this unrepeatable, world-overturning act of invasion of this satanic-occupied territory by the Son of God himself.

So you don’t believe the Cross is just a declaration of our righteousness.

It’s not an amnesty. This is why I talk about the inadequacy of forgiveness as a theme. God is not going to just forgive sin; he is going to do something about it. The sin, the error, the evil is to be wiped out and erased from memory. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. This calls for a much stronger word than forgiveness. Reginald Fuller, an important New Testament scholar from England, said more than once in my hearing, “Forgiveness is too weak a word.”

Are we mistaken to think that New Testament writers, when they sum up the gospel, often use the word forgiveness to do so?

We have to be careful about that. Luke does that, but Paul does not.

The Gospel of Luke is justifiably beloved. We would be terribly impoverished without it. But at the same time, Paul needs to be the lens through which we read Luke and not the other way around, because Paul is more radical. Luke has, essentially, a gospel of repentance and forgiveness, but Paul conspicuously does not construe the gospel that way.

The horrible death envisioned for the Suffering Servant and the horrific death suffered by Jesus Christ respond to the gravity of sin.

It is not accidental that Paul does not speak of forgiveness or repentance in any significant way. He chooses this other word—justification—which includes within it forgiveness as a Christian quality, a Christian act. It is a Christian act to forgive. That’s clear. But the word repentance, which is definitely missing from Paul, is even more striking. The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us. The truth is the other way around. Repentance is something that God works in us as a consequence of his prevenient grace. I love the word prevenient, “going before.”

Paul interprets the four Gospels for us in a way that we would not have been able to do for ourselves.

By faith alone… or not?

August 7, 2015

As he so often does, and always with a congenial spirit, my friend Tom challenged a point I made in a sermon—this time related to the one I posted yesterday, on Mark 10:13-27. This discussion is important enough to merit a separate post.

In that sermon, I spent time analyzing Jesus’ words to the Rich Young Ruler in verse 18: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

I confess that whenever I’ve preached or taught this text, I’ve mostly ignored this verse. It seemed like a strange diversion. Now I view it crucial to the meaning of the passage. As I said in my sermon:

My point is that Jesus isn’t denying that he’s good; he’s denying the basis on which this young man believes that Jesus is good. See, the young man doesn’t know that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. He believes Jesus is merely human—just like everyone else. But he sees Jesus doing all these good things; he doesn’t see Jesus doing any bad things; and, he senses there’s something different, something holy about Jesus, and he wants to know what it is…

See from this man’s perspective, goodness was about doing and not being. Inheriting eternal life was about what you do and not who you are.

Therefore, Jesus is saying that we cannot be saved through our good works. None of us is good enough. None of us can ever be good enough. It’s only by God’s grace through faith. As I’ve said before, every other religion teaches that if you want to be “saved”—however salvation is defined—you have to do these things. Christianity alone says, “Because you’re saved, you will do these things.”

Tom disagrees. While we can never earn our salvation, he writes, good works are required—the work of repentance, for example. He added:

I submit, however, that being “born again,” while involving a work of God, nonetheless of necessity is going to bring about a “change of character” if it is to be “salvific.” Having faith does mean, I think, that we have to be willing to “change some things” on account of wanting to have God in our lives. “Lovest thou me more than these?”, Jesus asks Peter. “Yes.” “Feed my sheep.” Salvation requires an “exchange” between us and God. “My life for your life.” I want what God has enough to give up what I have to get it. Hence the pearl of great price illustration you mention.

So, what exactly do we have to “give up”? Or “change”? I think this can vary from person to person, along the line of how John answered those who asked him. Sort of, what God “puts his finger” on, just as Jesus did with the ruler. Even doing so is not “good enough” to earn salvation without grace and forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to “do it,” whatever “it” is, to “seal the deal.”

I affirm much of this: Yes, being born again requires repentance. But even this repentance is made possible by God’s grace. Being born again will bring about a change of character such that we will be willing to change. But this character change and this newfound willingness to change is made possible by that same grace. Like Peter, we will want to obey the Lord in whatever he tells us to do. But our obedience is a response to a prior grace: it’s not on account of Peter’s “feeding Christ’s sheep” that Peter was saved.

After all, suppose the Rich Young Ruler had obeyed Jesus and sold all of his possessions. I believe that Jesus was telling the truth: the young man would be saved. But not through the bare act of selling his possessions. Rather, Jesus knew that the man’s act of obedience would signal that this change of heart wrought by the Spirit—this new birth—had taken place.

Again, grace comes first. The good work we do afterwards is a sign of that grace. I think this is consistent even with James’s words about faith being dead apart from works. Works are a sign of salvation; not its cause.

But Tom, ever the bulldog attorney that he is, gave another challenging response: So why am I not a Calvinist? Why don’t I believe in individualistic predestination? At this point, I waved my Arminian flag: we Arminians believe that while prevenient grace makes possible our ability to choose to accept God’s gift of salvation, we still choose.

But if that’s true, he wondered, how is choosing not itself a meritorious work—like, from his perspective, the work of repentance and obedience? Either way, whether he’s right or I’m right, an exchange is taking place: God is giving us something in response to something we do.

Doggone it! Tom is raising the smartest objections to the Arminian side. In fact, I’ve heard Catholics raise similar objections against us Protestants. (Tom is Southern Baptist.)

Nevertheless, I would say the following: this choice we make to receive Christ, while not exactly nothing on our part, isn’t much. Whatever else it is, it shouldn’t be construed as a meritorious work through which we’re saved.

I admit that sounds pretty lame, even to me. To help me out, I’ll quote from author and Christianity Today editor Mark Galli, who, in a different context, wrote the following about our “choice” or assent to be saved.

A man finds himself in the middle of a vast sea, treading water. There is no land in sight, no boat on the horizon. He is hungry and thirsty and rapidly tiring. He’s headed for death. This man may have free will to swim in one direction or another. He may choose to swim or to tread water. But when it comes to the most important thing, he has no choice—he cannot choose to survive. He’s going to drown.

Then along comes a rescue ship. When the ship gets close, it lets out a raft with three men on board. Rowing over to the desperate man, they stretch their arms out over the edge of the raft and grab him. He grabs their arms as they pull him into the boat. They take him on board the ship, give him medical attention, and get him home. The man is saved.

When this man then recounts his story to his family, how will he describe it? Will he say, “Well, the rescuers loved me so much, they pretty much let me decide my fate. And, really, it was my free will that made all the difference.” No, he will describe how utterly hopeless his situation was, how grateful he was to see the rescue ship, how wonderful those three men who pulled him aboard were, how excellent the navigator was to find him, and so on.[†]

Again, while our choice isn’t nothing, it’s not much. And it’s far less, for example, than a rich man giving away his entire fortune! As I told Tom, “From your perspective, I might feel insecure, never quite knowing whether I’d repented thoroughly enough, or ‘done enough’—or done whatever equivalent action that the Lord asked me to do—in order to be saved.”

Even with the inner witness of the Spirit, my tender conscience might still nag me: “Have you done enough?”

Thoughts, anyone?

Mark Galli, God Wins (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2011), 73-74.

Sermon 06-14-15: “Saving Others”

June 24, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

In today’s scripture, Paul applies Jesus’ teaching about divorce to a new situation: new Christian converts who are married to unbelieving spouses. What should they do? In answering this question, Paul speaks to three problems in our contemporary culture all at once: divorce, nominal, or “cultural,” Christianity, and the need for evangelism.

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 7:8-16

Matt Chandler is the pastor of Village Church, a 6,000-member megachurch in Dallas. He and his church were recently subject to some very bad publicity. See, when you join Village Church, you agree to become part of a fellowship that, unlike us Methodists, has very strict membership policies—policies that discipline church members for breaking them. Recently, a member of the church, a newly wed woman named Karen Hinkley, filed for an annulment of her marriage, under Texas law, without consulting the church first. According to church law, she was supposed to have gone through a reconciliation process with her husband, under the guidance of counselors at the church, before getting divorced. Hinkley refused, and the church put her “under discipline,” whatever that means.

matt_chandler

Matt Chandler, pastor of Village Church.

The problem is, Ms. Hinkley had decided to annul her marriage because she had just found out that her husband had been hiding a decade-long habit of viewing child pornography! He admitted to being a pedophile, although he claims he never abused a child. Let’s hope!

Nearly everyone can plainly see that Ms. Hinkley was justified in filing for the annulment, which is why the church got the bad publicity. And Matt Chandler and the church leaders also see that now. They confessed that they made a sinful decision to discipline her, and they apologized. She accepted their apology. Read the rest of this entry »

“For it is by works that you have succeeded, not by gifts”

September 11, 2014
tebow

There is nothing wrong with acknowledging our giftedness.

Last night I began a new Bible study on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It was a lively discussion, with much laughter. After it was over, a parishioner asked me, “How do you know all that stuff?” After pausing for a moment, I said, “It’s a gift, I guess.”

Just saying those words, “It’s a gift,” didn’t feel right, and we both laughed it off. But I would be a hypocrite to answer any other way.

Why? Because I had made reference, just the night before at church council, to this brilliant new Christianity Today column from my favorite young theologian (and pastor), Andrew Wilson. He writes:

Imagine asking two successful people how they managed to accomplish what they have. The first says, “I’m just very gifted.” The second says, “I’ve just worked very hard.” Who sounds more smug?

Our meritocracy—in which people are valued based on ability alone—has conditioned us to consider it arrogant to attribute our accomplishments to God’s gracious gift. For some reason, gift talk sounds elitist. Conversely, we think we’re being humble when we say we worked hard for our success. The gospel polarity of grace versus works, though correctly understood in theory, is capsized in practice: “You succeeded? You must have worked harder than others,” we think. “You didn’t succeed? Try again.”

For it is by works you have succeeded, not by gifts, so that no one can boast. Logical as it may seem, it’s far from the gospel.

Why does believing that we’re gifted seem conceited when, technically, it’s exactly opposite of conceited? When we say we possess a gift, we acknowledge that credit doesn’t belong to us: it belongs to the Gift-Giver. And it’s not like we did anything to earn it because, again, it’s a gift.

I suspect one reason we’re reluctant to say that we’re gifted is because we don’t want to be misunderstood: to say we’re gifted is not to say that we’re more gifted than someone else. When I was ministering in Alpharetta, I would think twice about saying (or even believing) that I’m a gifted preacher because, after all, I’m no Andy Stanley.

But that isn’t the point: to whatever extent we possess a gift, we do so because of God. On this point, Wilson’s words resonate with me. I know what it’s like to play that potentially deadly game of comparing my success to other people’s success—and worrying that I don’t measure up.

I’m preaching to myself here. For years I’ve struggled with envying a friend who is more gifted than I am. He’s a better leader, a more prolific writer, a superior linguist, and a more effective preacher. When I think like a meritocrat, I feel dispirited: He’s a better Christian. He deserves success. When I think like a charismatic, I experience freedom: He’s been given a different gift and doesn’t deserve it any more than I do. Grace—gloriously—brings liberty. What do you have that you did not receive?

I’m anticipating an objection: “Sure, our talents, to some extent, come from God, but don’t we have to do something to develop them?”

When I think of Jesus’ parable of the talents, for instance, I can’t help but answer yes. But mostly what we do is to allow God to do through us. God offers us grace. We receive it. God offers us grace. We receive it. Et cetera.

Regardless, our role in the process, when compared to God’s role, is very small—which is why we acknowledge that it’s a gift.

Erring on the side of grace with Mark Driscoll and Rachel Held Evans

August 4, 2014

One of the commenters on my previous post defended Rachel Held Evans, who drew negative inferences about Mark Driscoll’s character today from comments he posted to a church message board 14 years ago. I wrote the following in response:

The 14-year-old comments are relevant, you say, because they show how deep-seated Driscoll’s problems are, which help us understand why he is unable to change, even though he repeatedly tries to change—or says he does.

In Driscoll’s small defense, however, he has changed—in the sense that he isn’t saying the same things today…

You would counter this by saying, “Ah, but he is saying the same things today, and let me tell you why.” But that can’t be true. If he were saying the same things today, why are these comments noteworthy? What need is there to dredge them up? They offer no new insights. It’s the same old story. In which case, just judge the man by what he says now.

If, however, his 14-year-old comments are actually worse (maybe much worse) than what he says today (the shock value of which is what inspires RHE to blog about them in the first place) then doesn’t it stand to reason that he has changed? At least a little? In which case, isn’t it unfair to bring this old stuff up?

You and RHE can’t have it both ways, can you? He’s changed or he hasn’t. And I think that is Dr. Peoples’s main point too.

Both my commenter and Held Evans believe that Driscoll’s comments reveal how crazy the man is. As I’ve since learned, however, based on what he himself wrote about them in a 2006 book, Driscoll would agree that these comments made him seem that way. He said that his posts “got insane” and that he was “raging like a madman.” He continued: “This season was messy and I sinned and cussed a lot, but God somehow drew a straight line with my crooked Philistine stick. I had a good mission, but some of my tactics were born out of anger and burnout, and I did a lot of harm and damage while attracting a lot of attention.”

Aren’t these the words of someone who is genuinely sorry for his sins? On what basis do we have to doubt his sincerity? He didn’t have to reveal to the world that he was “William Wallace II” in the first place, in which case the 14-year-old comments would have never come to light.

But now they have, and I feel sorry for him. As I said in the comments section of my previous post, if someone published a video of us (or, worse, transcribed our thoughts!) during our worst moments 14 years ago—or five years ago, or last year, or last month—whose life could bear the scrutiny? What would people infer about us? “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

If I believe Driscoll at his worst 14 years ago makes him some kind of monster, how do I know I’m not? How do you know you’re not? Or have we not come to grips with how frighteningly ugly our sin really is?

Regardless, since Held Evans and I both posted on the subject, Driscoll issued a more extensive apology for these comments, which Christianity Today reported.

In his Friday apology, Driscoll noted that, in his 2006 book, he used the forum posts as an example of “something I regretted and an example of a wrong I had learned from.”

“The content of my postings to that discussion board does not reflect how I feel, or how I would conduct myself today,” he told his church members Friday. “Over the past 14 years I have changed, and, by God’s grace, hope to continue to change. I also hope people I have offended and disappointed will forgive me.”

Can we Christians please err on the side of grace?

Sermon 04-06-14: “Warning Against Worldliness”

April 12, 2014

practically_perfect

The metaphor that James uses in v. 4 to describe God’s relationship with us is powerfully intimate: God is our husband and we are his bride. Our worldliness, therefore, is like spiritual adultery: we are cheating on our true Spouse with other lovers. The good news is that God has given us the power to be faithful and overcome the power of sin and the devil.

Sermon Text: James 4:1-12

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

My wife, Lisa, and I first met while we were in college, because Lisa’s mom was working as the children’s minister at the church I attended during college. When we first started dating, Lisa asked if I wanted to go to Six Flags on a particular Saturday afternoon. In addition to riding the rides, she said, there was a singer that was performing in the park that afternoon, so we could see him first and then enjoy the park. HoweverI actually didn’t like this singer—at all. But I really liked Lisa. So of course I said, “Yes, I’d love to do that!”So, I showed up at Lisa’s house on that particular Saturday to pick her up. But Lisa wasn’t there. Her parents explained that she was running an errand, which was taking longer than she expected. But she’d be home soon. So I waited twenty minutes or so. And then when she got home, I had to wait a little while longer for her to get ready.

six_flags01

Lisa’s lateness was not a problem for me, of course, because the later we were to the concert, the better, as far as I was concerned. So as we were on our way to Six Flags, I was looking at the time, and I said, “Oh, I think we’re going to be late for the concert!”And Lisa said, “You know what? We don’t want to go in late. Why don’t we just skip the concert and ride the rides?” Read the rest of this entry »

The Grinch who stole Lent

March 4, 2014

Just in time for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent, Christianity Today editor Mark Galli reminds us what a lousy program for self-improvement Lent really is.

I know, I know… We’re not exactly “giving up something” or fasting in order to improve ourselves: whatever the reason we practice more intense forms of self-discipline during Lent, it’s supposed to have something to do with God, not us. But, good heavens, suppose we do fast one day a week during Lent, or give up chocolate or beer, shouldn’t there be some payoff on the bathroom scale?

As Galli well knows, it’s hard to avoid these sorts of “what’s-in-it-for-me” thoughts during Lent. Besides, there must be some payoff, right?

Maybe not. Galli would say that I tell myself (and my congregation) “white lies” when I extol a couple of so-called “benefits” of Lenten discipline.

As we discipline ourselves in small things (eating sweets), it will inevitably help us discipline ourselves in large things (like being generous to the poor). We get this from Jesus, of course (Luke 16:10), but it’s theinevitably that’s the problem. You see, when picking the small thing for self-discipline, we sometimes fail to recognize that it’s not all that small. We pick it because it plagues us, and has plagued us for years. This means it’s likely to continue to plague us for years to come. And so instead of helping us to move on to loving others, our life energy is spent trying to not eat little pieces of candy.

Fasting doesn’t even necessarily lead us into deeper prayer, which is the big twofer of fasting for some people: We discipline the body while immersing ourselves in prayer. But when I fast, prayer is the last thing I feel like doing. I’m tired, weak, and thinking about food the whole time I’m praying.

So, instead of the small thing helping me become faithful in the big thing, it just makes me focus more and more on the small thing. Fasting just reminds me how little I love God and how seldom I live according to his ways. I believe, but O Lord, help the enormity of my unbelief.

Fasting just reminds me how little I love God and how seldom I live according to his ways.

That’s pretty much my experience—except when I accomplish a fast I feel really good… as in proud of myself. And that brings me back to Galli’s point: I’m reminded how little I love God and how seldom I live according to his ways.

I’ve read Richard Foster on the subject of fasting, in his excellent book Celebration of Discipline, and Foster would nod sympathetically at Galli’s words. He writes about all our temptations to make fasting (which would also apply to its less severe form, “giving something up”) about us. He warns us that it’s not about self-help. He says we don’t even fast in order for God to bestow some blessing on us. He would probably also say that it’s helpful for us to be reminded how little we love God, etc.

But I’ve never heard Foster say anything like what Galli says here:

Here’s the one invaluable thing that Lent teaches: Yes, Martha, you are the undisciplined, self-centered human being you suspected you were. Yes, Frank, you are in many respects a miserable excuse for a human being. Yes, we are sinners, and sinners without hope. When it comes to the really important things—like learning to have faith, hope, and love—we can’t do a blessed thing to improve ourselves. These come as gifts or they don’t come at all.

To me, participating in a Lenten discipline is my chance to do a little play acting. What would it be like to live as if the law were in fact sufficient? How about for 40 days I pretend that I really can improve myself in the sight of God? Let’s see how that works for me.

What I find Lent after Lent after Lent is that Lent is a miserable way to live! This is one reason we’re so glad when Lent is over! If Lent were such a great idea, if it really did make us better Christians, you’d think we’d want to turn Lent into a lifestyle. But no, we don’t want to do that precisely because Lent is an onerous form of existence. It’s the life of duty. Life under law. Life as a death march…

So I end this little essay by grabbing two more pieces of candy, for Ash Wednesday comes tomorrow! It will be time to give myself again to disciplines great and small. I do that partly because, in the end, it is probably better to be a little more disciplined or loving and self-righteous than undisciplined, unloving, and merely lazy. And who knows, by God’s grace, I may lose track of what my left hand is doing!

But I do it mostly to prove once again the impossibility of living up to God and the gracious necessity of being down to earth, of remembering that I am dust and weak and desperately in need of a Savior.

And recalling that I have one.

We observe Lent, including Lenten practices of fasting or giving something up, in order to remind us how sinful we are and desperately we need a Savior.

Amen!

Re-enchanting our world with angels

December 24, 2013
This greeting-card image is not my idea of a heavenly soldier, but she is beautiful!

No, this greeting-card image is not my idea of a heavenly soldier, but she is beautiful!

Christianity Today‘s “Her•Meneutics” blog knocks it out of the park again with this post from Tish Harrison Warren called, “Angels We Ignore on High.” It resonates with me because of my own “conversion” over the past few years to a full-throttled and fully biblical belief in a spiritual realm of angels and demons. Even in the scripture I’ll preach tonight, the classic Christmas Eve text Luke 2:1-20, it’s not those waifish cherubs straight from a Precious Moments nativity set who come to visit the shepherds abiding in the field. Rather, it’s literally an “army” of spiritual beings (usually translated “heavenly host”) who must say, “Fear not,” because they are fearsome.

An army exists to fight. And what are they fighting for? Our very souls.

They’re fighting the battles that Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10-17. Let’s believe in them. Let’s be grateful for them. Let’s even ask God to send them our way when we need them. And by all means, let’s be reminded that, like it or not, we are in a war whose adversaries we often can’t see.

My world has been “re-enchanted”:

A few years ago, I heard an interview with the British theologian John Milbank, where he said, “I believe in all this fantastic stuff. I’m really bitterly opposed to… disenchantment in the modern churches, including I think among most modern evangelicals.”

He told a story about the Nottingham diocese in England, which he described as “a very evangelical diocese.” They had received a request to participate in a radio show about angels. They surveyed their clergy, asking, “Is there anyone around who still believes in angels enough to talk about this?”

Milbank chastised the diocese saying, “Now in my view, this is scandalous. They shouldn’t even be ordained if they can’t give a cogent account of the angelic and its place in the divine economy.” He called for a re-enchantment of the church, that we should believe, confess, embrace, and admit all of Scripture and much of church tradition—even the weird stuff…

Somehow, from the deep recesses of my church upbringing, this belief in angels came bubbling up to the surface. I realized slowly that I was increasingly thinking about angels and that I found them amazing and fierce and faithful. I found great comfort in the belief that there were created beings, like me but not like me, who spent their time worshipping and serving God. I looked into them more in the Bible.

So I’m coming out of the closet: I believe in angels.

Yep. Me too.