July 16, 2007

From the desk of ...

It's Monday morning, and here I am, back at my desk at the U.S. office of Banner of Truth (do I look a little tired?). I was away for the past 7 days in Atlanta, exhibiting at an international Christian retail trade show. Several of you have asked for my thoughts regarding what I saw exhibited there - the cross-lollipops, the Xtreme Jesus figurines, the t-shirts with slogans like "Salvation: So Easy A Caveman Could Do It." Suffice it to say that it left me feeling both sad and challenged. Sad, in that apparently a good chunk of the church is missing something. Can I, or should I be able to integrate such trivialities with the depth of faith and walk with God that I see displayed in "The Valley of Vision" prayers, for example, or the hunger and thirst for righteousness, and for sin to be mortified that John Owen writes about? I can't. But it also challenges me to press on in the mission of this organization. Before I accepted this position, I read Iain Murray's words that I have taken to be our mission - to strengthen the existing church and to facilitate revival. In many places, the church is strong and growing. I see it in my travels as I meet pastors and elders and deacons and missionaries and seminary students and fellow disciples whose hearts have been broken with the realization of their sin and who boast in nothing save the cross of Christ and the grace of God. May the work that we do here further strengthen such faith and deepen such hunger and thirst. But I am challenged by this visual reminder for the need of revival in this land ... to see so many apparently unaware of that which moved a David Brainerd, obsessed a John Owen, energized a Jonathan Edwards, broke a Richard Sibbes, spurred on a Thomas Watson, etc. By giving present-day voices to these men of God, in addition to new works by current authors, my prayer is that we will continue to be instruments of such revivial, even if only in the heart and soul of a few. Join me in this prayer, will you? And may our own lights shine as He enlightens us, so that we too might facilitate such revival in this land.
Grace & peace.
Steve.

11 comments:

Reformed Renegade said...

Yes, I will join you in prayer. Please keep plugging away under God's grace. It is appreciated. I'm always edified by Banner of Truth books. I especialy like anything by Iain Murray. Like the blog, too!

Pastor Michael said...

Steve,

I share your concern about the lack of depth as evidenced by all the kitsch, but as pastor to a number of folk who due to a number of factors (educational attainment, class, or level of faith maturity?) simply cannot fathom Sibbes, Owen and the like, I wonder about the exact nature of the problem. As much as I value these men’s teachings, I struggle mightily to penetrate the prose of their period and the depth of their thinking. For some congregants of mine, "Christianized trinkets" seem to me a genuine attempt to express their love for their savior. And having witnessed their lives, they are by no means shallow in that love, though their articulation of it might seem so.

I’d be interested in your take on this.

Steve Burlew said...

Thanks, Michael. Your comment is well taken. I do understand that some of the "Christianized trinkets" can be used to identify one's self as a believer, open doors for conversation, etc. I was reacting more to certain ones, the cross lollipop being just one example. I struggle with the thought of sucking on a cherry-flavored cross without somehow diminishing, demeaning or showing a lack of reverence for the death that my Savior died.
Regarding the works of the Puritans, their prose, etc., I understand. That is one reason why Banner, while still publishing all 16 volumes of Owen's works, has also published several abridgements of Owen with language that has been made much easier to read. You'll find them in our Puritan Paperback series - "Mortification of Sin," and "Temptation: Resisted & Repulsed," are just two examples. Do you have any of them? If not, email me (steve@banneroftruth.org) and I will send you one. Also, for someone new to the Puritans, starting with someone like John Bunyan might be better than jumping into Owen. I've also known groups (a men's group, for example), to either meet and read together, or read and then come together to discuss. Whatever way, however, even though there clearly is time and effort involved, the treasure to be found is well worth the sweat in getting there.
On this note, I refer to Thomas Watson's, "The Godly Man's Picture," which contains 24 characteristics of a godly man, written in 1666. Watson writes, "If we are prizers of Christ, then we shall not complain at any pains to get him. He who prizes gold will dig for it in the mine: 'My soul followeth hard after God' (Psa. 63:8). Plutarch reports of the Gauls, an ancient people in France, that after they had tasted the sweet wine of the Italian grape, they enquired after the country, and never rested till they had arrived at it. He in whose eye Christ is precious never rests till he has gained him: 'I sought him whom my soul loveth; I held him, and would not let him go' (Song 3:1,4). Test by this! Many say they have Christ in high veneration, but they are not industrious in the use of means to obtain him. If Christ would drop as a ripe fig into their mouth, they could be content to have him, but they will not put themselves to too much trouble to get him. Does he who will not take medicine or exercise prize his health?" So, Michael, while celebrating the people's love for the Savior that is not shallow, we do desire to deepen their knowledge AND love, more and more, as Paul so often wrote, don't we? Does that help?

Greg Bailey said...

Well said, Steve. I think you've hit on just the right response to the show. I'll join you in that prayer.

Greg

Pastor Michael said...

Steve,

Thanks for the thoughtful (and quick!) response.

While I agree concerning the lollipop, I'm not sure desire and effort are what's lacking on the part of the people I had in mind. With reading comprehension insufficient to easily understand even the NIV, I’m not sure simplified versions of the puritans would address the issue I have in mind. Frankly, I’m not sure exactly what I’m describing, but I’ve thought about this analogy: groups of people (I’ve heard them referred to as “clusters”) prefer Velveeta; others prefer Brie. The consumption habits, tastes, and educational attainments of people within one of these clusters are quite similar. I suspect the Velveeta eaters also have “Precious Memories” figurines and if they are Christian, they will purchase Christianized versions of these. And you probably won’t find Owen on their bookshelf—if they have one.

I’m not certain remedial reading would bridge this gap.

Having said that, your point about passion and desire are well taken, the exact point of the Edwards quote that drew your attention to my blog over the weekend.

Again, thanks for the thoughtful and gracious post.

And yes, I would appreciate seeing the Owen paperback--you could send it along with conference information we discussed in our last e-mail.

DavidR said...

An interesting comment thread! Marked by grace and insight all round.

Steve's post reminded me of something. He wrote: "In many places, the church is strong and growing. I see it in my travels.... May the work that we do here further strengthen such faith and deepen such hunger and thirst."

In Andrew Bonar's Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M'Cheyne, he describes how M'Cheyne "used to warn his friends of whatever he apprehended they were in danger from". He gives some examples, and this is the third. M'Cheyne writes to a brother "who had written to him despondingly about his people and the times". M'Cheyne's reply:

"I am sure there never was a time when the Spirit of God was more present in Scotland, and it does not become you to murmur in your tents, but rather to give thanks. Remember, we may grieve the Spirit as truly by not joyfully acknowledging His wonders as by not praying for Him. There is the clearest evidence that God is saving souls in Kilsyth, Dundee, Perth, Collace, Blairgowrie, Strathbogie, Ross-shire, Breadalbane, Kelso, Jedburgh, Ancrum; and surely it becomes us to say, 'I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.' Forgive my presumption; but I fear lest you hurt your own peace and usefulness in not praising God enough for the operation of His hands." (p. 131)

Thank God, he is always doing more than we think he is!

SHALOM, David Reimer
(Edinburgh)

Steve Burlew said...

Indeed, He is, David. Indeed, He is! Thanks. And Michael, I've sent you a copy of "The Mortification of Sin," by John Owen, abridged and made easy to read by Richard Rushing - The Puritan Paperback version from Banner. I would love to have you read it and let me know if such a rendition is a help with what we've been discussing. Thank you, brother.
Steve

DavidR said...

And one more thing... :)

I've been pondering the points that Michael Daily was making. Here's my take on it (FWIW).

Short story: a few years back I was part of a working group on a short conference in Holland. We had a free afternoon and were touring one of Leiden's fine art galleries. I was more-or-less poo-pooing the modern art on display (perhaps I flatter myself in memory: more likely I was openly sneering!).

At some point I fell in with an older Swedish colleague who, it turns out, is a notable artist in his own right. He started explaining some of the modern pieces to me -- or perhaps, friendly type that he is, he was just sharing his views with his neighbour (happened to be me!).

Anyway, bit by bit the pictures began to make sense, have meaning. He was giving me new eyes to see them with.

I wonder if something like that might not also work with some of the Puritans? (Agreed: Bunyan is a much more accessible entry point than Owen!!) (Everyone agrees Owen is difficult!)

Maybe a Wednesday night meeting? or a special series on Sunday nights (once a month? or quarter?) introducing an author's life and a brief snippet of their writings, and their value. A bit like John Piper's "biographies" over the years at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors?

If a few moments conversation in a gallery could turn a Velveeta-craving pleb like me into someone who could at least consider Brie with interest ... maybe through "introductions" a pastor could give his flock "new eyes" (or tastebuds!) to delve into some of the rich depths of Christian literature.

And only to note as I (finally!) close, that Banner has more than just the Puritans in its list! :)

SHALOM, David Reimer

Pastor Michael said...

David,

Thanks for the personal insight; it very much speaks to what I’m talking about.

Interestingly, this angst regarding shallowness is not unique to the world of Christian publishing. There is great debate and pondering in the art world about the popularity of kitsch, with some wildly provocative suggestions (in my opinion at least) about its meaning and causes.

This says to me that aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, whether we’re talking about art or literature, and therefore I’m not surprised to discover a similar dynamic regarding Christians and their reading habits.

That said, I’m not an advocate for the status quo. After all, the Apostle Paul directed our gaze upward, telling us in Philippians 4:8, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.”

So I do think the remedy involves teaching an appreciation for the best, which necessitates someone like your friend in the art gallery showing the way. John Piper has done precisely this for me with Jonathan Edwards, and I’m looking forward to the Owens book.

So Steve, how about you guys commissioning a Sibbes for Dummies? Somebody buys all those black and yellow books.

Michael

Steve Burlew said...

:-)
Sibbes for Dummies. Well? I can "run that up the flagpole," as they say. But since our editor in Edinburgh has been known to visit the blog from time-to-time ... how about it, Jonathan? Does it have potential?
:-)

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