September 8, 2016

3 forms of gospel unity

by Jesse Johnson


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Yesterday, I argued that Christians ought to demonstrate practical unity in this presidential election. I laid out three different views of the election (vote Clinton! vote Trump! vote nobody!), and while I obviously don’t agree with all of those views—after all, they contradict one another—none of them can be clearly said to break Christian unity.

What do I mean by “Christian unity”? That the true gospel and doctrines of our faith must transcend pragmatic disagreements over politics. We should have more in common with other believers based on our statements of faith than we do based on our political outlook.  Continue Reading…

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This American presidential election cycle has downsides too numerous to list, but it does offer Christians a few blessings in disguise: namely, it allows us to clarify what kind of unity the church should be expected to demonstrate in regards to politics.

The last election didn’t necessarily lend itself to that discussion. Four years ago we had, in one corner, a man who was obviously pro-abortion and pro-same sex marriage, and in the other corner someone who was not. Concerning religious liberty, this was about as clear-cut of an election as it comes. Of course there were those who said things like, “Christians shouldn’t vote for a Mormon,” but those arguments were flimsy and didn’t lend themselves to substantial ethical thinking.

This election, on the other hand, presents us something much more complicated. We—as Americans—get to choose between a woman who literally had the president of Planned Parenthood speak at her nomination, and a man whose sole political conviction seems to be racial division. We have two serial liars, either one of which would be the richest president the US has ever had, neither of whom made their money ethically. “God bless America,” as they say.   Continue Reading…

There is a story of a very conservative church up in Idaho who was part of a denomination that was turning liberal, and despite the trend the denomination was taking they stood strong in their own convictions.

fire and brimstone preacherSoon after their pastor of many years died they got a group together to decide what kind of pastor they wanted next. They all agreed.  They wanted a fire and brimstone preacher. Excited, they called one of the leaders of their denomination who was in the know of young pastors fresh out of seminary and asked him to send over one who was known for being that kind of preacher. The man shocked at such a request, since there weren’t too many left in the denomination searched far and wide for such a man, and finding him sent him over to the church to become their pastor. He lasted two weeks.

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2 point 0Here’s an idea if you ever decide to play a sadistic but entertaining prank to humble your precocious young nephew. I’m not saying I’ve done it (my sister might read this), but if I did, this is how I would:

Start by supplying him with an innocuous “spot the difference” challenge that he can easily conquer. The two pictures should have several obvious differences. Then you hand him one where the differences are more subtle, and take longer to notice. Then, once his confidence is primed, you raise the stakes with an incentive of a sugary reward, say, one M&M per difference he spots. When he greedily accepts, you hand him two pictures that unbeknown to him are actually identical, and then leave him to stew in his frustration.

Just be sure the photocopy you use is of high quality. In my experience estimation, a determined enough youngster will exploit the minutest discrepancies in the print-quality to garnish his chocolaty bounty.

It doesn’t take a preternatural eye for detail to spot the differences between Israel and the Church. And yet, many Christians ignore the clear distinction in favor of an emphasis on a vague similitude.

Perhaps you’ve heard it phrased this way: “The Church has replaced Israel as the recipient of God’s covenants,” or more bluntly “The Church is the New Israel.”

What I am arguing is that the Church has not replaced Israel and is not the modern day recipient of the blessings made to Israel. Promises made to Israel (e.g. land, cursing such as exile for disobedience, and restoration after repentance), are not now promises to the Church because Israel 1.0 has been replaced by a new Israel 2.0 like an old operating system that gets deleted to make room for a new one.

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Life and DeathThose of you who read the Cripplegate week to week know that over the past few Fridays we’ve been taking a look at 2 Corinthians 4. Three weeks ago, we discovered that the orienting principle for Christian ministry is that there is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the weakness and shame of the New Covenant minister. We have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels.

After stating that orienting principle for ministry in 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul turns to illustrate that principle by means of two paradoxes. The first is that the Christian ministry is marked by power in the midst of weakness (2 Cor 4:8–9). We see the second paradox In verses 10 and 11. True, faithful Christian ministry is also characterized by life in the midst of death. Paul says, we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

These two sentences are parallel to one another; verse 11 simply restates verse 10 in a slightly different way. And together they form a theological interpretation and summary of the four contrasts in verses 8 and 9. Paul summarizes being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down and calls them “the dying of Jesus” and “being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake.” And he summarizes not being crushed, in despair, forsaken, and destroyed as “the life of Jesus.”

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In yesterday’s post, we considered the idea that the ministry is often fertile ground for depression and discouragement. It is possible for strong faith and deep sorrow to co-exist in the regenerate soul. In fact, sorrow is inevitable for the pastor who accurately understands the sinister workings of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It’s not if the world is full of sin’s destruction, but whether or not the church leader sees it and cares with the care of Christ.

It’s no stretch to say that the godly, right-thinking church leader must experience sorrow in the ministry. He does not labor in heaven. Conditions are not heavenly. And though that provides some job security, it also solicits frequent sorrow. He ought not think that bouts with discouragement and depression are always unrighteous. In fact, the righteous response to unrighteousness, within or without, is God-centered sorrow.

At the same time, church leaders cannot use sorrow as license for sin. No circumstance can issue sin a permission slip. And as church leaders, we are called to set the example in godly conduct during seasons of sorrow. Christ in his glory truly is sufficient sustenance during those very normal times.

The purpose of this article is not to offer every solution for ministerial discouragement, but to examine why it is more common than we might think. In the previous post we considered five reasons why sorrow is common for church leaders. The aim is not to grovel in all that is bad, but to be reminded that there are good and righteous reasons behind sorrow’s frequent visit in the spiritually-minded church leader. Here are six additional reasons:

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“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5).

These are not the words of a spiritual infant. They are not the cries of a neophyte believer. This was a spiritual leader, involved in the daily ministry of the word of God to the people of God. Even so, his struggles with sorrow are deep.

It’s no secret: spiritual leaders can battle with depression. The more pastors I talk to, the more common this seems. I’ve worked jobs from lumber mills to heavy construction to engineering to research labs, and I have never encountered sorrow in those like the pastorate. Pastors, if you struggle with sorrow, chances are, things are pretty normal. Christians, chances are, your pastor has, or will have, bouts with soul-sorrow. It’s just normal.

And we need to avoid parochial conclusions when it comes to battles with sorrow. The presence of depression does not always mean the presence of raging sin. Strong saving faith and deep discouragement are often found in the same soul. Ed Welch has rightly said, “It is a myth that faith is always smiling. The truth is that faith often feels like the very ordinary process of dragging one foot in front of the other because we are conscious of God” (Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, 31). Jeremiah had his bouts (Jer. 9:1-2, Lam. 3:48). Elijah probably did too (1 Kings 19:4). Though Paul always rejoiced, he was also sorrowful (2 Cor. 6:10). The great apostle even experienced “great sorrow and unceasing grief” (Rom. 9:2). And Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). Likely he could have been diagnosed with clinical depression by the standards of our modern psychiatrists. Charles Spurgeon said, “No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of heart, for Jesus Christ our Lord once said, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.’ There was no sin in him, and consequently none in his deep depression.”


In fact, it’s reasonable to be concerned at times for the individual who seems constantly giddy. If we were in heaven, that would be understandable. But for the spiritual-minded individual with the mind of Christ, they see the cursed world as it is and care for its good. There is sin within and without. Brokenness within and without. Death within and without. Deception within and without. The world, the flesh, and the devil do their thing. Those with the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit carry the instinctive response of righteousness to unrighteousness, whether within or without. It’s impossible, then, for God’s people to never experience sorrow. Pastor, if you struggle with discouragement, it very well could be due to your love for souls.

A pastor without sorrow may not be sufficiently acquainted with the fallenness of the world. He could be out of touch; perhaps not adequately caring about the destruction all around. We could almost say that seasons of sorrow are inevitable and necessary for biblical pastors.

And to be sure, depression is often due to sin (cf. Ps 32:3-4). We may be harboring things needing confession. We might be craving an idol that we are not getting (cf. 2 Sam. 13:4). Or we may be getting something we are not wanting. A soul check-up is necessary in sorrowful seasons. There is no virtue in discouragement. And seasons of sorrow are no excuse for us to wallow in self-pity or ferment in our bitterness.

But oftentimes, sorrow is just the norm. The purpose here is not to be a Debbie-downer, but to consider why it’s normal for many pastors to battle with discouragement. With that, here are a few reasons why church leaders may experience sorrow:

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Maybe it’s because I am days away from having my first daughter (after 3 sons), but I’ve been shocked by how many godly girls are dating guys who just don’t seem to love the Lord. Guys who seem like their teeth are being pulled when they come to church or you talk about spititual things with them.

For some reason some single women in the church feel like they are better off being married to apathetic believers (or unbelievers?) than being single. While marriage is a huge blessing from God, marriage to an ungodly man is extremely difficult, and could be dangerous not only to potential children and grandchildren but to the church as a whole.

groomMy heart goes out to these girls, who have bought the lie that godly men simply don’t exist, and who believe that they must settle for the first guy who comes along who shows them attention.

The calling to be a wife is great. Women are called to submit to a man in the same way as the church submits to Christ in everything (Eph. 5:22-24). This is why women have to be so careful whom they choose to marry. I’m scared to have a daughter because some overconfident dummy is going to come along some day and try to steal her heart away.  My prayer is that she finds a man worth submitting to.

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In the afterglow of the Rio 2016 Summer Games, I thought I’d reprise this quirky piece of recent Olympic history. The 2012 London Olympics saw a scandalous badminton debacle, which provides an apt metaphor for many Christian lives. Our Lord was fond of these types of real-life snapshots of poor stewardship and its consequence. The New Testament parables are peppered with stewards who weren’t faithful to their assignments (e.g. Luke12:45; Matt 25:26-27).shuttlecock

Here’s a quick recap of the farcical fiasco. At the London games eight of the ladies’ doubles badminton players from China, South Korea, and Indonesia were disqualified for, in the words of the International Olympic Committee’s VP, Craig Reedie, “not using one’s best efforts to win a match.” I love it.

The players had all made it through the elimination round and were apparently attempting to lose their games in the hopes of attaining a more lenient placing in the next round. Can you imagine the spectacle of expert athletes trying to lose to each other? These national superstars (evidently badminton is big in Asia) weren’t simply lagging a little in their enthusiasm, they were all willfully playing terribly.

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Power in the Midst of WeaknessTwo weeks ago, we took a look at the orienting principle for Christian ministry: we have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels. In other words, there is a disproportionate relationship between the glory of the New Covenant message and the glory of the New Covenant messenger. There is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the shame of the New Covenant minister. In the next verses, Paul turns to illustrate this principle by means of two paradoxical truths that characterize the Christian ministry.

And the first of those paradoxes comes in verses 8 and 9. There we learn that the Christian ministry is marked by power in the midst of weakness. He says, we are “in everything afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” In what commentators have called “one of the more powerful rhetorical moments in the Pauline corpus” (Barnett, 233), Paul makes his point by means of four antitheses. In each first word, we see the weakness of the earthen vessel. And in each second word, we see the surpassing greatness of the power of God. Let’s look more closely at each pair.

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