Monday, April 25, 2011

The Two Temptations

We've all been there. We've read a book that dramatically stirred our hearts, or heard a sermon that cut us right to the core. But then we close the book, or we walk out of church... and nothing changes. The first temptation of a moving lesson, book study, retreat, or in-depth Bible study is to nod your head, pat yourself on the back, give each other hugs and just walk away. It's like taking a class- you learn the information, you take the test, and then you perform a data dump thinking you'll never have to use that information again.

Information is taken in is knowledge. Knowledge applied is understanding. Understanding through repeated failure, learning anew each time, becomes wisdom. A simple study leaves us with knowledge, but the Bible calls us to wisdom:

 My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
 turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
 and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
 and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
 then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
 For the LORD gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:1-6)

Yet the source of knowledge from a book is just that, a book. Paper bound and reprinted. Placed on a shelf and sold. Just like a commodity, it is only worth its price if someone is willing to purchase it. How many books sit on the shelves unsold? How much knowledge is being missed out on?

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? [Where is the best selling author?] Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20)

The second temptation is to make the study, the book, or the author more than they are. A friend recently told me, while discussing this book, "we can be tempted to worship the spirituality of someone whose spirituality we admire, rather than the object of their worship." He's right. I didn't want to admit it at the time, but he is absolutely right. As our group wraps up Crazy Love, it might be tempting to worship Francis Chan, or at least worship what he is doing. Of course, the content of the book should leave no doubt who the true object of our worship should be, but it is a temptation nonetheless.

So we have these two conflicting temptations: treat the study like it was nothing, or make the study more than it really was. Like in Greek philosophy, wisdom is found in the middle.

I have no doubt the first temptation is true. The book's website boasts "New York Times Bestseller!" and "Over 1 Million Copies Sold!" but are we seeing the transformation in our churches that Francis talks about? Radical, by David Platt, is another in wave of books by young pastors raising the bar of personal discipleship. Also a bestseller. I could go on and on, and you'd think that with all the books, all the conferences, the availability of YouTube sermons, the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans we'd see something of a transformation. Maybe not to the level of a new Great Awakening or another Reformation, but but I'd hope we'd see more than a few (in the grand scheme) of us bloggers callousing our fingertips writing about it.

At the same time, I know the second temptation is true because I am personally attracted to it. I'm tempted to have stars in my eyes and make Francis Chan into something he is not. I also know this second temptation is true because Francis, himself, sees it. In fact, he sees so much of it that he stepped down from leading the church he founded in-part because people were coming to see him and not to hear the Word of God preached.

So how do we avoid either temptation? First, we need to make sure we're building our personal doctrine on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) As long as that is true, we can read book after book and be assured of our foundation. We can discern the words on the page using the words of Jesus. Second, we need to continue to return to the Bible as the ultimate source of our wisdom. "There is nothing new under the sun," (Ecclesiastes 1:9) So no author can add insight that we cannot already find in Scripture. Third, and this is probably the most important, we need to do something. Both of these temptations lead to inaction. The first temptation obviously so, but the second leads to celebrity worship rather than action as you would expect.

Simple formula really. Build on Christ alone. Continue to rely on the Word. And go do something.

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