At my first Ph.D. seminar at SBTS, Dr. Pennington shared this prayer from Thomas Aquinas. It is a wonderful example of the humble, eager, Spirit-needing students of God’s word we must be. I’m going to print this out—card stock, nice font—and put it next to my computer.
I’ve received that email, that message, that call. And I’ve talked with other pastors and ministry leaders who are answering the same question.
Maybe you’ve sent your pastor an email asking why they posted what they did about the killing of George Floyd, the protests, the riots, injustice, racism, our President, and more. Nothing wrong with that at all. As long as we are all seeking to learn together, be gracious with one another, not accuse each other, import motives, and dismiss one another, let’s talk. Let’s learn. Let’s get convicted by the Holy Ghost, ruffled by the word of God, and led to green pastures with the Good Shepherd even as we cross through these valleys that reek of death.
It’s heartbreaking to see injustice compounded across our nation by violent protests, violent policing. It is so clear how we desperately need the Prince of Peace.
While looking at our country, we should observe that uproar doesn’t happen in vacuum. There is a reason our nation is here. Centuries of reasons, beginning with the African slave trade. Violent riots are wrong. That’s obvious. But don’t let that keep you from seeing the why.
Why is this happening? Sin. Yes. But go deeper. While it seems some are protesting out of sheer wickedness and an opportunity to do evil, others are protesting from pain.
When an abused child acts out and attacks a classmate, should people just call the kid a thug and give up on him? No, a wise counselor recognizes what’s happening. Sees what’s fueling it all. Seeks justice and healing and vindication for the mistreated boy.
The question that’s before all of us: Do I see what’s happening? Will I seek the welfare of my neighbor? Will I be the same?
One reason why some Christians buy and spread conspiracy theories?
They are bored by the true skandalon of the cross and the tomb. The shock of the gospel doesn’t quite pop the neurons and flame the heart like before. So they settle for digital, emotional, viral mud pies in the slums, yawning at the holiday at the beach.
Spreading theories, articles, and videos feels like they are a part of something BIG. Global. Hidden in plain sight. Powerful. Revealing. Eschatological even.
There’s a dopamine thrill to being an armchair whistleblower. Like video games for fake war, pornography for fake love. I’m showing people what’s real. What a thrill.
If only there was a Kingdom that was BIG. Global. Hidden in plain sight. Powerful. Revealing. And actually eschatological. A Kingdom of real love, blessedness, everlasting joys. Be witnesses of this Kingdom.
Christ be praised. Spread this skandalon far and wide. Hurry. Before YouTube takes it down.
It’s true. More or less.
Now, if you didn’t know, my book, Humble Calvinism, rounds out with an afterword from the Prince of Preachers. I took a few different tidbits from Chuck on Calvinism, knit them together in the womb of Microsoft Word, and an afterward from Spurgeon was born. Kinda fun.
Now, when Kevin Halloran, the brother at Cross-Points Ebooks & Rich Theology Made Accessible, asked if I would write the foreword for a collection of Spurgeon sermons on the Holy Spirit, how could I not return the favor?
Here’s what I wrote:
- Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
- Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
- Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?
- Can I be trusted?
- Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
- Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
- Did the Bible live in me today?
- Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
- Am I enjoying prayer?
- When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
- Do I pray about the money I spend?
- Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
- Do I disobey God in anything?
- Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
- Am I defeated in any part of my life?
- Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
- How do I spend my spare time?
- Am I proud?
- Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
- Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
- Do I grumble or complain constantly?
- Is Christ real to me?
When the Bubonic Plague came to Luther’s town, he addressed it with the punch and pastoral heart we expect from Martin Luther. I’ve bolded the best quote.
This I well know, that if it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness, everybody would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or helper. Everyone would want to be bold and fearless; nobody would flee but everyone would come running. And yet they don’t hear what Christ himself says, “As you did to one of the least, you did it to me” [Matt. 25:40]. When Jesus speaks of the greatest commandment he says, “The other commandment is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” [Matt. 22:39]. There you hear that the command to love your neighbor is equal to the greatest commandment to love God, and that what you do or fail to do for your neighbor means doing the same to God. If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand. Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him, not outwardly but in his word. If you do not wish or care to serve your neighbor you can be sure that if Christ lay there instead you would not do so either and would let him lie there. Those are nothing but illusions on your part which puff you up with vain pride, namely, that you would really serve Christ if he were there in person. Those are nothing but lies; whoever wants to serve Christ in person would surely serve his neighbor as well. This is said as an admonition and encouragement against fear and a disgraceful flight to which the devil would tempt us so that we would disregard God’s command in our dealings with our neighbor and so we would fall into sin on the left hand.
Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.
If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes. By the same reasoning a person might forego eating and drinking, clothing and shelter, and boldly proclaim his faith that if God wanted to preserve him from starvation and cold, he could do so without food and clothing. Actually that would be suicide. It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.
No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above.” See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.
— Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague (1527)
Martin Luther, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. William R. Russell and Timothy F. Lull, Third Edition. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2012), 482–483.
I took the Call to Worship used by Immanuel Nashville that was edited by Ray Ortlund—that I think has roots from 10th Presbyterian Church—and edited a new call for our live stream during the COVID-19 pandemic. Feel free to use it.
Call to Worship
To all who are weary and need rest;
to all who feel alone and want community;
to all who mourn and long for comfort;
to all who feel worthless and wonder if God cares;
to all who fail and desire strength;
to all who worry and want peace;
to all who sin and need a Savior;
to all who hunger and thirst for righteousness;
and to whoever will come—this church offers her welcome in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Kanye West says he’s a born again Christian. He says he’s going to be spreading the gospel. His Sunday Service concerts feature gospel music, reading the Bible, and a sermon from Adam Tyson—a non-celebrity pastor of a normal church in California and a Master’s Seminary alum.
Kanye and Tyson got connected by someone simply inviting Kanye to their church. He came. He listened. They setup a meeting. Kanye shared his testimony, Tyson unpacked different aspects of Christianity to him, and Kanye said he believes and he’s ready to live it out.
Everyone has thoughts about celebrity conversions. Kanye’s profession of faith in Christ is no different in that regard. What I find so encouraging about Kanye’s pursuit of Christ is that he’s being discipled by Tyson, they are having Bible studies, and Tyson says he has seen fruits of repentance and encouraging signs from Kanye.
Augustine would be excited too.
While reading Augustine’s Confessions, it struck me that Augustine would be encouraged to hear of Kanye’s conversion. Augustine would praise God for the news of a celebrity trusting Christ alone.
In Book 8 of Confessions (8.3–9), Augustine tells the conversion story of Victorinus, a “celebrity” teacher. Victorinus was highly regarded in Roman culture. He tutored Senators and other Roman nobility. He used to worship the idols and took part in the cult of Osiris—he was even a defender of them. (Listen to Kanye describe the idols of our culture he used to worship.)
One day, Victorinus told a friend, another Christian, that he believed in Christ. His friend didn’t believe him. “I haven’t seen you at church.” Victorinus said that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. True enough. But Victorinus wasn’t joining the fellowship of believers because he didn’t want to offend his idol-worshipping friends. But then, days later, Victorinus told his friend, “Let’s go to church. I’m ready to be a Christian (to believe it rightly, to live it faithfully).” He went. Professed his faith publicly and got baptized. Victorinus was taught how to live the Christian life and began to live it out. Their friend was “unable to contain himself for joy.” Rome was amazed at what happened. The church responded in joy.
As Victorinus walked up to profess his faith in front of the church, they began to whisper to one another, “Isn’t that Victorinus? Look! It is!” Isn’t that what we did when the headlines filled our social media feeds? “Kanye! Isn’t that Kanye!? It is!”
Augustine writes, “The lips of all rejoiced, ‘Victorinus! Victorinus!’ As soon as they saw him, they suddenly murmured in exaltation and equally suddenly were silent in concentration to hear him. He proclaimed his unfeigned faith with ringing assurance. All of them wanted to clasp him to their hearts, and the hands with which they embraced him were their love and joy” (8.5).
Hasn’t Kanye done the same? Standing before crowds, announcing his faith? Streaming before millions that he is a new follower of Jesus?
Augustine explains why we rejoice differently at the conversion of a celebrity. Heaven and the Church don’t rejoice more over a celebrity than we do a college student getting born again. All are equal in the eyes of God. But there is a different kind of rejoicing. Augustine says:
“The enemy suffers a severer defeat when he is overcome in a man upon whom he has a greater hold and by whose influence he dominates many. Pride in aristocratic nobility enables him to hold sway especially over the upper class, and by their title and authority he dominates many more.”
Satan is hit with a whopper uppercut when someone from the upper class, a celebrity, is converted. Kanye’s influence, like Victorinus’, gives a wide platform to the power of the gospel and that makes us smile deep in our souls.
“Special pleasure, therefore, was felt at the conversion of Victorinus’ heart in which the devil had an impregnable fortress, and of Victorinus’ tongue which he had used as a mighty and sharp dart to destroy many.”
We rejoice at the conversion of a Kanye or any celebrity because it is a particular manifestation of God’s mercy. Hollywood seems impregnable to the gospel. These conversions remind us that it isn’t. Kanye’s old music, like all of our lives before Christ, had themes the devil enjoyed. His new music, like our new lives, will make the devil shriek. That’s why we rejoice:
“Your children had good reason to rejoice the more jubilantly because our king had bound the strong man (Matt. 12:29), and they saw his vessels being snatched away to be cleaned and made fit for your honor to ‘useful to the Lord for every good work’ (2 Tim. 2:21)” (8.9).
If you wonder what to think about Kanye’s conversion, or the next time a celebrity, professes faith in Christ, look to Augustine. Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t get cynical. Get biblical. Rejoice. Be patient. Praise God. Celebrate fruit. Pray for your family members. May Kanye, you, and me, may we all be useful to the Lord, ready for good works.