Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies and the Call to Suffer for Truth

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Have you ever been afraid to say something that you believed was true?

I recently finished reading Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents and that question was my litmus test about whether his book is exaggerating the challenge that Christians are facing in our current cultural moment. 

Dreher argues that we are making a turn towards soft totalitarianism (in contrast to hard totalitarianism) and that the church is wholly unprepared for what is coming. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s work, Dreher describes a totalitarian society as “one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology” (7).

Survivors of Soviet totalitarianism speak to similarities that they see from their time behind the Iron Curtain and swift changes in the United States today: 

What unnerves those who lived under Soviet communism is this similarity: Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to identify with groups – ethnic, sexual, and otherwise – and to think of Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics amongs these groups. A utopian vision drives these progressives, one that compels them to seek to rewrite history and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice.” (xi)

One of Dreher’s main concerns is a change from old school liberals who could disagree agreeably and contemporary progressive social justice warriors who seek to silence dissent. In his own words:

The contemporary cult of social justice identifies members of certain social groups as victimizers, as scapegoats, and calls for their suppression as a matter of righteousness. In this way, the so-called social justice warriors… who started out as liberals animated by an urgent compassion, end by abandoning authentic liberalism and embracing an aggressive and punitive politics that resembles Bolshevism.” (10)

There may be better ways to engage Dreher’s argument and test the truth of its diagnosis and its prescription. But this was the question that kept coming to the forefront of my mind as I read: Why has it often been so difficult for me to say what I believed in the various places I have been since I started seminary in 2002?

I don’t mean difficult in the way that I assume it is always hard to have difficult and tender conversations. I mean difficult in that there was a social pressure that was so strongly opposed to certain ideas that it felt like to speak them was to take a very real risk of being rejected by the entire community forever for having uttered them.

For some of you reading this, I will seem to you to be exaggerating. Maybe it will help if I offer three of my most vivid memories of my time as a seminary student. 

Before I go any farther, my intention here is not to take a cheap shot at my seminary. I’m not sure my seminary intended to make it hard for me or any other student to speak our convictions. But the truth is I experienced seminary as a place where it was almost impossible to say certain things out loud.

Memory #1:

I am sitting at a round table in the refectory at dinner with a group of peers, all about the same age as me. As I was eating, the conversation turned, again, to topics like politics and social issues, where there was assumed agreement. I don’t remember what exactly was being talked about but all of the sudden it just hit me: These people hate my family and friends I love back home. I’ve been eating with them for months and no one here really knows me. And based on their words, they despise me.

Memory #2:

There was a campus wide protest on behalf of LGBTQ people. The protest was enacted in the form of a day of silence in order to protest the ways that LGBTQ people are silenced every day. You participated in the protest by taping your mouth shut and wearing a sticker that said that you were not going to be speaking at all that day to protest and express solidarity with LGBTQ people. 

Nothing in my previous experience had prepared me for this. I remember thinking that I understood why people who were passionately in favor of the church embracing gay marriage and the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians would work to see change. I actually wanted to listen to arguments for and against the church’s position. 

What jarred me was the feeling that this protest seemed to have been conceived in a way that put the maximum amount of shame on those who were not with them. Simply to speak that day was to reveal oneself as an oppressor, a bigot, a homophobe. From my perspective, the protest was a clear litmus test: you are for us or you are against us and we are going to force you to take sides right now one way or another. 

In my naivete, I remember being confused that the faculty and administration of the school seemed to entirely support the protest even though it undermined the ability to have class discussions in every class taught that day. And it seemed odd to me that in an academic environment you would protest not through careful conversation, logic, and ideas, but by refusing to participate in any discourse at all.

I never felt the same way about seminary after that day.

Memory #3:

I took a course that was a practicum in preaching in my final semester of seminary. At some point during the semester, every student preached a sermon to the rest of the class. I only remember one sermon that was preached that semester. The sermon was memorable for two reasons. First, it was the only time a student in any class I ever took in seminary talked about homosexuality in a way that did not affirm gay marriage or the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. It was the first and only public argument I heard during my three year seminary experience. That made it memorable.

(If this does not seem odd to you, it might help you to know that this was the issue, by far, that was the most controversial and threatening to divide the church when I was in seminary. It is also the reason the church was poised to split this year if the General Conference had not been postponed due to Covid-19. It might also help to know that the official position of the UMC was and still is what can loosely be defined as affirming traditional sexual ethics. So this student was the only person I ever heard who actually spoke publicly in favor of what the church taught, in a place where many students were preparing for ordination in this same church.)

The second reason I remember the sermon is because it was so bad. It was painful to listen to. I remember initially being hopeful that someone had the courage to speak to the plain and consistent prohibition of same sex sexual activity in Scripture. That hope quickly turned to cringing because the preacher failed to show love towards people who struggled with same sex attraction. I don’t remember hearing a word of hope. I don’t remember hearing the gospel. 

This last memory has haunted me the most because it illustrates what happens when dissent and differing viewpoints are stifled in an educational environment. Resentment and anger increase because people who dissent see exactly what is happening and many of them simply go underground. And everyone misses the opportunity to think better and to pursue the truth. This is a problem in general. But it is a crisis in an academic environment. 

Have you ever been afraid to say something that you believed was true?

I’m guessing you have. My experience is that fewer and fewer people are willing to risk anything to stand for the truth. 

Dreher is pessimistic, some might say characteristically pessimistic, here:

Christian resistance on a large scale to the anti-culture has been fruitless, and is likely to be for the foreseeable future. Why? Because the spirit of the therapeutic has conquered the churches as well – even those populated by Christians who identify as conservative. Relatively few contemporary Christians are prepared to suffer for the faith, because the therapeutic society that has formed them denies the purpose of suffering in the first place, and the idea of bearing pain for the sake of truth seems ridiculous.” (13)

Is there any hope here?

Yes. But Dreher does not offer superficial comfort. 

The task of the Christian dissident today is to personally commit herself to live not by lies. How can she do that alone? She needs to draw close to authentic spiritual leadership – clerical, lay, or both – and form small cells of fellow believers with whom she can pray, sing, study Scripture, and read other books important to their mission. With her cell, the dissident discusses the issues and challenges facing them as Christians, especially challenges to their liberties. They…. Identify the challenge, discern together its meaning, then act on their conclusions.” (18-19)

Let me offer one final memory from my time in seminary. It is equally vivid. And, from my perspective, it is entirely hopeful.

Memory #4:

I walked into a classroom with a handful of other people. My heart was racing. I felt scared. I didn’t know if I would be able to talk. I sat down with my lunch. I knew everyone there. But I was as nervous as I have ever been in my entire life. 

I had been invited to join a Wesleyan band meeting, an accountability group where you confess sin in order to experience forgiveness and pray for each other’s healing, and this was my first time to attend.

The person to my left opened us with prayer and went first. After he confessed, someone else reminded him of the promise of Scripture, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”

And then the person on his left went and so on until I was the last one.

I still remember the gift that they had given to me in each trusting me enough to show such vulnerability and honesty before they knew how I would receive it or respond. Their courage enabled me to tell the truth that day. And their love, support, encouragement, and willingness to press in and hold me accountable changed seminary. It changed my life.

Through this group, God began to heal these other memories. 

This group was in many ways like the cell groups that Dreher describes. And it was through the relationships developed in this group that I had conversations about deeply contested ideas and beliefs that I was unable to have in my classes. (Although the first time I reached out to someone to talk about human sexuality, I asked to meet off campus.)

I am not sure if I think Dreher is right in everything that he says in this book. Since much of what he is doing is predicting what is coming, only time will really tell. 

We should all hope that he is wrong.

But as I read the book, I kept remembering all of the times it has felt close to impossible to say something I believed was true or say that something that was being affirmed is not true.

Certainty that one is on the side of justice seems to be replacing careful thinking, nuanced argument, and even the space to ask questions and explore ideas.

Throughout my time in theological education, I have often sought advice from those who have gone before me. Particularly before my tenure review, I was discouraged by how often I was encouraged to keep my head down and not make waves so that I wouldn’t jeopardize tenure. This seems to me to be the kind of practical atheism that far too many American Christians have embraced:

Profess faith in God. But make decisions as if God doesn’t exist and is powerless.

I encourage you to read Live Not by Lies, if nothing else, because it is a bold challenge to such malnourished formation of Christians. He reminds us of a Christian imagination where actual human beings created in the image of God have refused to bow the knee to worship idols. And they have suffered for their faith in very real ways. But above all, their testimony is that they have counted the cost and joyfully taken up their cross and determined to follow Jesus Christ, their Lord and only salvation.

We are desperate for real Christianity, not the cheap imitation we have tolerated for far too long and tried to pervert to our own worldly advantage.

I conclude with a reminder from Jesus himself:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’

Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

– Matthew 16: 21-27


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

John Wesley’s Sermon “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth”: A Brief Summary

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John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 21st sermon in this series. You can expect to see a new post in this series by 10am EST on Tuesday mornings. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth” is the 21st sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 6th of 13 sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon focuses on works of piety, works of mercy, and the Lord’s Prayer. The fact that 13 of the 44 original Standard Sermons focused on the Sermon on the Mount gives an idea of the importance John Wesley placed on Matthew 5-7. Wesley spends so much time on these three chapters of the Bible because he believed they provide essential teaching from Jesus on “the true way to life everlasting, the royal way which leads to the kingdom.”

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

We may observe in general concerning this divine prayer, first, that it contains all we can reasonably or innocently pray for. There is nothing which we have need to ask of God, nothing which we can ask without offending him, which is not included either directly or indirectly in this comprehensive form. Secondly, that it contains all we can reasonably or innocently desire; whatever is for the glory of God, whatever is needful or profitable, not only for ourselves, but for every creature in heaven and earth. And indeed our prayers are the proper test of our desires, nothing being fit to have a place in our desires which is not fit to have a place in our prayers; what we may not pray for, neither should we desire. Thirdly, that it contains all our duty to God and man; whatsoever things are pure and holy, whatsoever God requires of the children of men, whatsoever is acceptable in his sight, whatsoever it is whereby we may profit our neighbour, being expressed or implied therein.” [III.2]


One sentence summary:  

This sermon unpacks Jesus’s teaching on works of mercy and works of piety, with particular focus on the Lord’s Prayer.


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

Therefore when thou dost thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have praise of men. Verily, I say uno you, they have their reward.

But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth: that thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father which seethe in secret, himself shall reward thee openly.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret, he shall reward thee openly.

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as they heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Be not ye therefore like unto them; for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before you ask him.

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father, which are in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

For if ye forgive me their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

– Matthew 6:1-15


Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth”

1. In Matthew 5, Jesus described the impact of Christianity on our thoughts, feelings, and affections.
2. Jesus shows the necessity of purity of intention with regard to both works of piety and works of mercy.

I. Works of Mercy

1. Works of mercy should not be done so that other people see us do them and give us recognition for our works.
2. It is not always wrong for others to witness us doing works of mercy. Jesus tells us not to do works of mercy with the primary purpose of others witnessing us doing them.
3. Don’t be ostentatious when doing good to others. Don’t needlessly draw attention to yourself.
4. When you do good, do it in as secret of a manner as possible.

II. Works of Piety

1. Hypocrisy or insincerity is the first thing we are to guard against in prayer. Don’t say something if you don’t mean it.
2. “Any design but that of promoting the glory of God, and the happiness of men for God’s sake, makes every action, however fair it may appear to men, an abomination unto the Lord.”
3. Use all the privacy you can in private prayer.
4. Do not needlessly repeat yourself.
5. The purpose of praying is “not so much to move God” as to “move ourselves” that we would be ready and willing “to receive the good things he has prepared.”

III. The Lord’s Prayer

1. Jesus gives this prayer as “the model and standard of all our prayers.”
2. This prayer contains all that we “can reasonably or innocently pray for.”
3. The Lord’s Prayer consists of three parts: The first is the preface: “Our Father which art in heaven.”
4. “If he is a Father, then he is good, then he is loving to his children. And here is the first and great reason for prayer. God is willing to bless; let us ask for blessing.”
5. “Our Father” emphasizes that God is the Father of all.
6. “Which art in heaven”: God is over all.
7. “Hallowed be thy name.” This is the first of six petitions that make up the core of the prayer. “In praying that God, or his ‘name’, may ‘be hallowed’ or glorified, we pray that he may be known, such as he is, by all that are capable of knowing him.
8. “Thy kingdom come.” The kingdom comes “to a particular person when he ‘repents and believes the gospel.” This petition is also a prayer for “the coming of his everlasting kingdom, the kingdom of glory in heaven, which is the continuation and perfection of the kingdom of grace on earth.”
9. “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” This is a prayer for “active conformity to the will of God.”
10. This is a prayer that God’s will be done by people “as willingly as the holy angels” and that we would do God’s will continually and perfectly.
11. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The petitions now move from focusing on humanity broadly to our own specific needs. “By ‘bread’ we may understand all things needful, whether for our souls or bodies.”
12. “Give us”: “We claim nothing of right, but only of free mercy.” “This day”: “For we are to take no thought for the morrow.”
13. “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” “Nothing but sin can hinder the bounty of God from flowing forth upon every creature, so this petition naturally follows the former; that all hindrances being removed, we may the more clearly trust in the God of love for every manner of thing which is good.” Forgive means either forgiving a debt or unloosing a chain. “If our debts are forgiven, the chains fall off our hands.”
14. “As we forgive them that trespass against us.” “All our trespasses and sins are forgiven us if we forgive, and as we forgive, others.”
15. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Temptation here means a trial of any kind.
16. “The conclusion of this divine prayer, commonly called the doxology, is a solemn thanksgiving, a compendious acknowledgment of the attributes and works of God.”


Resources:

Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first twenty Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. They aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

Zondervan NRSV Single-Column Reference Bible, Premier Collection: Brand New! [Review]

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Over the past few years, I have noted more than once that the NRSV is one of the least supported translations as far as bindings and formats, particularly premium bindings. That seems to be changing, which is good news for NRSV enthusiasts. The first big step was when Cambridge published a reference edition available in a cowhide binding (reviewed here) and a burgundy goatskin binding, with apocrypha (review of this one coming soon). Both of these Bibles were very well received. Retailing at $320 and $350, respectively, they were also simply too expensive for many people. After the Cambridge NRSV reference edition, Allan released a reference edition, with apocrypha (review of this one coming soon). The success of both of these editions seems to have convinced publishers that the NRSV has a big enough audience that it can support a broader array of options and bindings.

The latest arrival in this growing trend is Zondervan’s NRSV Single-Column Reference Bible, Premier Collection. This Bible is the subject of today’s review. And it is is hot off the press, having been released on September 22, 2020. 

Cover

This Bible comes in a black goatskin edge-lined binding. The goatskin is my favorite leather cover I have seen on a Zondervan or Thomas Nelson Premier Collection Bible, though the NKJV Single-Column Reference Bible I reviewed here is a close second.

The cover feels thick and substantial. The grain strikes a pleasing balance between the smoothest and pebbliest covers I’ve seen. The bands on the spine give the Bible a more substantial and sophisticated feel. I really like the minimal use of text on the spine. There is lots of blank space, while conveying the necessary information.

There is one thing I did not like about the cover out of the box: When I opened the Bible there was a very strong chemical smell. I suspect one of the last things done to this Bible was treating the cover with some kind of polish. It seems to have been done somewhat unevenly. I am not overly concerned about this as I’m pretty confident the smell will go away in time. It does make an unfortunate first impression. If you buy a fine leather Bible, it should smell like leather out of the box, not chemicals.

Layout

As the title reveals, this Bible is a single-column layout with cross references. Zondervan describes this Bible as offering “the ideal combination of readability and elegance. The thick, opaque paper and line-matched single-column layout is now paired with Zondervan’s exclusive NRSV Comfort Print typeface to bring the words into clear focus.”

I like this layout. The references are on the far outside of each page. Textual notes are in the footer. The print quality on this Bible is consistent and very good. The ink seems darker than most Bibles I’ve seen, which helps with readability and show-through. While there is quite a bit of show-through, I have not found it to be distracting. It could be better, but for me it is acceptable. 

Other Features

One of my pet peeves about many NRSV editions is that they paginate the Old and New Testaments separately. I don’t know if this is distinctive of the NRSV, but I disliked it more than I expected in the Cambridge reference edition I reviewed two years ago. (It still bothers me, despite that Bible being one of my all-time favorites.) One of the first things I checked in this Bible was pagination. And Zondervan did not restart page numbering in the New Testament! Well done.

Why do I care about this? I think restarting pagination in the New Testament communicates separation and disconnectedness within the canon of Scripture. The Bible is one book, not two. I am sure there were good reasons for why the NRSV often does this, but it is not a choice I would make. I think Christians need to be taught the importance and significance of the Old Testament and its value for Christians today in every way possible.

I dislike the use of Hebrew Bible or Hebrew Scriptures in reference to the Old Testament for the same reason. For Christians, the Old and New Testaments together are Christian Scripture. Whereas NRSV editions often introduce the Old Testament with “The Hebrew Scriptures commonly called the Old Testament,” Zondervan simply has “The Old Testament” on the page before Genesis. This is another small detail I appreciate.

Zondervan made some surprising choices in the design of this Bible. And I love them! First, the Bible has purple-under-gold art-gilt page edges. This means that if you look at the end of the pages when the Bible is closed the pages look gold (mostly) and if you look at the page edges with the pages opened, the end of the pages look purple. Red-under gold has long been the standard. Zondervan used blue-under-silver in their early NIV Premier Collection and that risk worked well. This one does too. That design choice is nicely complemented with purple, silver, and yellow ribbons. 

Conclusion

I am always grateful to see publishers investing resources in Bibles that are thoughtfully designed, made with materials that are designed to last after thousands of hours of use, and are a pleasure to handle and read.

Zondervan and Thomas Nelson’s entry into premium Bibles has been especially welcomed. I think they have actually succeeded in creating a new category. These Bibles are not quite the same quality as a Schuyler, Allan, or Cambridge Bible. But they are close. And they are typically significantly more affordable. This Bible is available for $170.83 on Amazon.com as of this writing. That is more than $60 and $90 less than the two Cambridge Bibles I previously mentioned. There is a lot of room between the finest and most expensive Bibles and everything else. I am delighted that Zondervan has taken a step in bridging that gap by making exceptional Bibles available to more people.

For preachers in particular, if the NRSV is the version you preach from, I think this would make for a great preaching Bible. The size is very comparable to other preaching Bibles I have seen. And the 10.5 point font will be large enough for most people to comfortably read in the pulpit. 


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Schuyler generously provided a copy of this Bible in exchange for my honest review. Affiliate links used in this post.

John Wesley’s Sermon “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth”: A Brief Summary

John Wesley, Justification by Faith


This is the 20th sermon in this series. You can expect to see a new post in this series by 10am EST on Tuesday mornings. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth” is the 20th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 5th of 13 sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that 13 of the 44 original Standard Sermons focused on the Sermon on the Mount gives an idea of the importance John Wesley placed on Matthew 5-7. Wesley spends so much time on these three chapters of the Bible because he believed they provide essential teaching from Jesus on “the true way to life everlasting, the royal way which leads to the kingdom.”

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

‘There is therefore the closest connection that can be conceived between the law and the gospel. On the one hand the law continually makes way for and points us to the gospel; on the other the gospel continually leads us to a more exact fulfilling of the law. The law, for instance, requires us to love God, to love our neighbor, to be meek, humble, or holy. We feel that we are not sufficient for these things, yea, that ‘with man this is impossible.’ But we see a promise of God to give us that love, and to make us humble, meek, and holy. We lay hold of this gospel, of these glad tidings: it is done unto us according to our faith, and ‘the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us’ through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

We may yet farther observe that every command in Holy Writ is only a covered promise. For by that solemn declaration, ‘This is the covenant I will make after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws in your minds, and write them in your hearts,’ God hath engaged to give whatsoever he commands. Does he command us then to ‘pray without ceasing’? To ‘rejoice evermore’? To be ‘holy as he is holy’? It is enough. He will work in us this very thing. It shall be unto us according to his word. [II.3]


One sentence summary:  

Jesus did not come to abolish the moral law, but law and gospel “agree perfectly well together.”


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For verily I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
– Matthew 5:17-20


Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth”

1. Among other things, Jesus was accused of teaching new things and inventing a new religion.
2. And some might hope that is what he was doing, so that there would be an easier way to heaven. But Jesus makes it clear he is not doing this.

I. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”

1. Jesus did “destroy” the system of temple sacrifices.
2. “But the moral law, contained in the Ten Commandments, and enforced by the prophets, he did not take away.”
3. Jesus came to establish the moral law in its fulness, “to place in a full and clear view whatsoever was dark or obscure therein.”
4. And this is what Jesus does in the previous and subsequent parts of the Sermon on the Mount.

II. “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

1. Wesley engages the Greek to explain the meaning of verse 18: not one commandment in the moral law will be nullified.
2. There is no contradiction between the law and the gospel. “Neither of them supersedes the other, but they agree perfectly well together.”
3. The law prepares us for and points us to the gospel. The gospel leads us to fulfillment of the law. “We may yet farther observe that every command in Holy Writ is only a covered promise.”
4. “Christianity, as it includes the whole moral law of God, both by way of injunction and of promise, if we will hear him, is designed of God to be the last of all his dispensations.”

III. “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

1. Those who despise preaching the moral law reject Jesus’s own teaching.
2. God demands “entire obedience” of the moral law. “If we use propriety of speech there is no such thing as a little sin, every sin being a transgression of the holy and perfect law, and an affront of the great majesty of heaven.”
3. “Whosoever openly breaks any commandment teaches others to do the same… He is a stranger to the kingdom of heaven which is on earth.”
4. Those who are called by God to be teachers are particularly cautioned against breaking the moral law and teaching others to do so lest they become “corrupt both in life and doctrine.”
5.Ministers who live in willful, habitual sin teach laity to sin by their own example. If a pastor does this, they are “the murder-general” of their congregation.
6. Ministers who “neither trouble themselves with outward sin, nor with inward holiness” lead themselves and their flock to “everlasting burnings.”
7. Worst of all are those who argue that Jesus came to abolish the law. They look Jesus in the face and tell him that he did not understand how to deliver his message correctly.
8. The most surprising part is that those who seek to abolish the moral law believe that they are honoring Christ by doing so.
9. It is of crucial importance to preach, “believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt have peace and power together.”

IV. “For verily I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

1. The scribes mentioned so often in the New Testament were “men who made divinity their profession.”
2. Pharisees were a specific group of Jews who “were only distinguished from others by greater strictness of life, by more exactness of conversation.” Many scribes were Pharisees. They are combined here “as the most eminent professors of religion.”
3. The righteousness of a Pharisee consisted of three things. (Luke 18:11-12) First, “I am not as other men are.”
4. Second, “I fast twice in the week.”
5. Third, “I give tithes of all that I possess.”
6. Some Pharisees were hypocrites. But we must not assume that they all were. Hypocrisy is not the defining mark of a Pharisee. The defining mark is that they trusted in their own righteousness and despised others unrighteousness. “Consequently, he was no hypocrite – he was not conscious to himself of any insincerity. He now spoke to God just what he thought, namely, that he was abundantly better than other men.”
7. Before we consider whether our righteousness may surpass that of scribes and Pharisees, “let us examine whether at present we come up to it.” “Do we dare to be singular at all? Do we not rather swim with the stream? Do we not many times dispense with religion and reason together because we would not ‘look particular’? Are we not often more afraid of being out of the fashion than of being out of the way of salvation?” Are we avoiding all outward sin?
8. A Pharisee used all of the means of grace. Do you take reading Scripture, praying, fasting, receiving the Lord’s Supper, participating in corporate worship seriously and practice all of these with discipline?
9. Do we give generously, as the Pharisees did?
10. How does the righteousness of a Christian exceed that of a scribe or Pharisee? First, a Pharisee is very focused on keeping some commandments, but not all. A Christian keeps all of the commandments.
11. A Christian fulfills “the spirit as well as the letter of the law, by inward as well as outward obedience.”
12. If you claim to be a Christian, first, ensure “that thy righteousness fall not short of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. (Here Wesley had keeping the “General Rules” in mind.)
13. “Above all, let they righteousness exceed theirs in the purity and spirituality of it… Let they religion be the religion of the heart.”


Resources:

Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first nineteen Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. They aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

Check Out Firebrand (and the Article I Wrote There)

This morning my essay, “Real Methodism” was published on Firebrand. The article describes my yearning for the rediscovery of real Methodism, not the cheap imitation we have tolerated for far too long.

Here is the beginning of the piece:

Major changes are coming to United Methodism. The denomination has been moving toward division since it was formed in 1968. Indeed, one way to read the history of the Wesleyan movement in the United States is as a history of division.

There is much to lament these days if you are United Methodist. In fact, one of the few things that seems to unite virtually all United Methodists is their common lament and mutual awareness that the denomination is not healthy. I cannot remember the last time I met a United Methodist leader who was proud of the current state of the denomination. And many people, clergy and laity, have left the denomination. It is devastating to see the negative impact the church itself has had on many people’s faith. This isn’t new. But we must never grow numb or calloused to such a devastating failure…

I hope you will check it out! Read the article here.

In addition to letting you know about this piece, I want to encourage you to check out Firebrand. I was honored to be asked to serve on the editorial board. Firebrand is connected to Spirit & Truth, a ministry that just keeps growing and producing fruit.

Firebrand launched on June 1, 2020. And has published some excellent essays over its first four months. Firebrand affirms four core values:

  1. The authority of Scripture

  2. The Nicene-Chalcedonian faith

  3. The Wesleyan tradition

  4. The cultivation of intellectual virtue

In his essay “Why Firebrand,” David F. Watson describes the founding vision for this online publication:

Firebrand is not a place for bilious screeds, sophomoric conspiracy theories, or personal attack. We want to provide something different than any of these: a venue for virtuous public conversations about matters of theology and praxis, all in relation to the historic doctrines and practices of the body of Christ, and particularly the Wesleyan tradition.

Given the goals of Firebrand, it is likely you will not agree with every article they publish. But I hope you will consistently find content that is worth engaging and wrestling with. I hope it helps you think more clearly and carefully about your faith and how to best apply it in such a time as this.

The Wesleyan tradition has been under the radar for too long in American Christianity. In many ways this has been our own fault. We have not offered coherence or conviction. Worse, we have often claimed that the alternatives were virtuous.

I hope to see Firebrand serve the kind of role that First Things or The Gospel Coalition  has been at their very best.

I hope to see careful and faithful thinking from the best thought leaders in the Wesleyan world that seeks to serve and nourish the church.

And they are off to a great start!


For more of my thoughts on the future of Methodism check out:

The one key doctrine we must recover: “The Treasure God Has Entrusted to Methodism

On the importance of getting the details of Methodism right: “Methodism Is in the Details: Moving from Breadth Back to Depth

Five predictions for the future of Methodism: “The Future of American Methodism

Here is the kind of pastor I hope my children have when they are adults: “The Pastor I Hope My Children Will Have


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you.

John Wesley’s Sermon “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth”: A Brief Summary

John Wesley, Justification by Faith


This is the 19th sermon in this series. You can expect to see a new post in this series by 10am EST on Tuesday mornings. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth” is the 19th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 4th of 13 sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that 13 of the 44 original Standard Sermons focused on the Sermon on the Mount gives an idea of the importance John Wesley placed on Matthew 5-7. Wesley spends so much time on these three chapters of the Bible because he believed they provide essential teaching from Jesus on “the true way to life everlasting, the royal way which leads to the kingdom.”

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

‘Ye’ Christians ‘are the light of the world,’ with regard both to your tempers and actions. Your holiness makes you as conspicuous as the sun in the midst of heaven. As ye cannot go out of the world, so neither can ye stay in it without appearing to all mankind. Ye may not flee from men, and while ye are among them it is impossible to hide your lowliness and meekness and those other dispositions whereby ye aspire to be perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Love cannot be hid any more than light; and least of all when it shines forth in action, when ye exercise yourselves in the labour of love, in beneficence of every kind. As well may men think to hide a city as to hide a Christian: yea, as well may they conceal a city set upon a hill as a holy, zealous, active lover of God and man. [II.2]


One sentence summary:  

Christianity is essentially a social religion that is impossible to hide, seeking to either make it private or hide it is to destroy it.


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Ye are the salt of the earth. But if the salt hath lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and trodden under foot of men.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light to all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:13-16


Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth”

1. The beauty of holiness, of the inner heart renewed after the image of God, cannot but strike every eye which God hath opened, every enlightened understanding.
2. The objection to Christianity comes from the doing and the suffering.
3. Many have recommended ceasing from all outward actions and wholly withdrawing from the world.
4. This is not godly wisdom but “wisdom from beneath, this fairest of all the devices wherewith Satan hath ever perverted the right ways of the Lord!”
5. Jesus here sufficiently guards us against this delusion.

I. “Christianity is essentially a social religion, to turn it into a solitary religion is indeed to destroy it.”

1. Christianity cannot subsist at all without society, without living and conversing with other people. This is not to say that it is invalid to withdraw from society at times to converse with God.
2. “Yet such retirement must not swallow up all our time; this would be to destroy, not advance, true religion.”
3. Meekness is an illustration. Trying to practice meekness alone is impossible and the attempt destroys it.
4. Peacemaking or doing of good also illustrate the fundamentally social nature of Christianity.
5. We are also not permitted to limit our conversation and interaction with only good people.
6. If we break off all interaction with the world, we cannot be Christians at all.
7. It is in the very nature of Christians to season whatever is around them.
8. Those who do not impart what they have received as Christians are in a more desperate state than if they had not become Christians.
9. This refers specifically to those who have experienced the new birth and then fall into absolute, total apostasy.

II. Christian faith is impossible to hide and doing so is contrary to the design of its author.

1. Is there a way to keep our faith to ourselves and not offend others?
2. “So long as true religion abides in our hearts it is impossible to conceal it, as well as absolutely contrary to the design of its great author… Your holiness makes you as conspicuous as the sun in the midst of heaven.”
3. People who love darkness rather than light will try to prove that the light in you is darkness.
4. “Whatever religion can be concealed is not Christianity.” The only way to hide the light is by putting it out.
5. “It is the design of God that every Christian should be in an open point of view; that he may give light to all around; that he may visibly express the religion of Jesus Christ.”
6. In every place where God has spoken, there are witnesses who testified to the gospel with their lives and their words.
7. Despite all of this, there are still relentless objections “brought against being social, open, active Christians.”

III. Responding to objections

1. Objection: religion does not lie in outward things but in the heart.
Answer: The root of religion does lie in the heart, it is “the life of God in the soul of man.” But if this root is present, “it cannot but put forth branches.”
2. Objection: Love is all in all.
Answer: The love of God is all in all. But that does not mean love supersedes faith or good works. Love is the fulfilling of the law, not a release from it but constraining us to obey it.
3. Objection: “Does not the Apostle direct us to ‘follow after charity?’
Answer: The Apostle does direct us to follow after charity, but not that alone. He directs us to outward actions.
4. Objection: “God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Answer: Worshipping God in spirit and truth involves glorifying God with our bodies and our spirits.
5. Continued Answer: Contemplation, then, is only one way of worshipping God in spirit and in truth.
6. Objection: “We used outward things many years; and yet they profited nothing.
Answer: You confused the means for the end, supposing that doing outward works was the religion of Jesus or would be accepted in the place of it. “Now use all outward things; but use them with a constant eye to the renewal of your soul in righteousness and true holiness.”
7. Objection: Trying to do good is a waste of energy. What is the point of clothing someone who is about to go to hell?
Answer: 1. You are commanded to feed the hungry and clothe the naked whether they will finally be lost or saved. If you don’t, you are the one whose salvation will be in jeopardy. 2. We are to do everything we can to rescue the perishing, though leaving the results up to God. 3. God builds us up through good works.
8. Objection: We tried to do good and we failed, sometimes making things worse for those to whom we ministered.
Answer: “It is your part to do as you are commanded: the event is in the hand of God.”

IV. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

1. Let your “lowliness of heart, your gentleness and meekness of wisdom; your serious, weighty concern for the things of eternity, and sorrow for the sins and miseries of men; your earnest desire of universal holiness and full happiness in God; your tender goodwill to all mankind, and fervent love to your supreme benefactor” shine before all people.
2. Let your faith be visible so that “all who see your good works may ‘glorify your Father which is in heaven.'”
3. Let this be your one goal or purpose in all things.
4. Go with the sole desire to see people glorify God in you, and go with the power of God, even if you have to stand alone.


Resources:

Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first eighteen Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. They aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

The Beauty and Power of Worshiping Jesus

This season has been so difficult in so many ways. There are times I worry the fabric of society is being rent asunder. Even worse, there are times it seems we are knowingly doing so.

And yet, there have also been times over the past few years when I have experienced God’s presence in indescribably powerful and intimate ways.

And every single one of them has been with other people.


Here is one example of many:

I was invited to preach this weekend at Springdale First United Methodist Church. It was such a blessing to me. All of worship was anointed by the Holy Spirit.

We heard a testimony to the transformation and new depths of love a woman received through a simple commitment to read Scripture daily. And the blessing she experienced by joining with other women to search the Scriptures and pray.

The first song we sang was “Holy Water” by We the Kingdom. If you haven’t heard it, you should stop what you are doing and listen to it. The song is about our desperate need for God’s forgiveness. The song has beautiful imagery, comparing the forgiveness the gospel of Jesus Christ brings to honey on our lips, a symphony in our ears, and holy water on our skin.

The song is just great. And it would have been a blessing to have sung it in worship in any context. But it was all the more amazing because it could not have been more appropriate for the message God had given me on James 5:16.

The Holy Spirit was present in a tangible way. It was so good.  I want to encourage you because this happened even though attendance was much smaller than normal and I was struggling to see how people were responding in mask-covered faces.

And this was the case in all three services. God is so good!


This morning something came into focus this morning I hadn’t quite seen before.

By far the greatest source of unity I have seen over the past five years has come through the public worship of God where people call on the Holy Spirit to come and make his presence known in their midst. There is a movement of worship that is well underway where people are hungry and thirsty for the Lord.

And it is glorious.

I am no longer surprised to look up a worship song online and find that it has millions of views. So many people are hungry to meet with God.

And we meet with God when the church gathers under the common affirmation that Jesus is Lord.

This is a foretaste of heaven. Dividing walls of hostility are broken down. People created in the image of God come together and are united because their eyes are on Jesus and their common worship of Jesus.


Here is John’s vision of heaven:

I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,

‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’

– Revelation 7:9-10

 


Contrast this to what is happening in the world. Division is increasing. People are being canceled and declared irredeemable. There are demands for repentance with no hope of reconciliation and redemption.

The world seems to be demanding repentance and getting division. The Spirit graciously brings unity when people, from any and every background, come together to worship the Lamb.

Christians know the One who promises to freely forgive all who confess and repent of their sins. We can call for repentance because we are absolutely certain that forgiveness will be offered to all who repent by Jesus Christ.

Asking for confession and repentance without hope of forgiveness is cruel. And it is not the way of Jesus.

But Jesus is gentle and kind. And he will forgive all who confess their sin and ask him to forgive and pardon them.

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins – and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

– 1 John 2:1-2

 

There are so many wonderful things about being a Christian. One of my favorites is having absolute confidence that everyone can find forgiveness, pardon, and healing in Christ Jesus.


Here is what hit me today: The community gathered to worship Jesus is the greatest source of unity in the world today. And Covid-19 has been a direct attack on the very gathering of that community.

I am not suggesting that we act like there is no such thing as Covid-19. I am not trying to say that it is not a big deal. And I am not trying to shame you or compare where you church is at to another church.

If you are feeling attacked right now, please reread the last paragraph. This is a hard season. I believe you are doing the best you can. I am for you and your church.

I am saying that Covid-19 is a spiritual attack on the Body of Christ in addition to being a virus that attacks people’s immune systems.

We need to see this for what it is. And we need to do everything that is within our control to find ways to regather the flock that has been scattered.

And we need to commit ourselves in a new and deeper way to reaching out past the people already in our churches out into our communities with the good news of Jesus, the radically life-changing gospel of Jesus.

No one is beyond redemption in the eyes of our Lord. No one has committed a sin which has no hope of forgiveness (even though there may well be consequences from that sin that the person has to live with). There is hope for everyone. The gospel is for everyone.

But we are not in a position to demand that our forgiveness and healing come on our terms. We must submit ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We must open our hands, showing that they are empty, in order to receive what we cannot give ourselves.

We must resist the temptation to turn confession and repentance into an exercise in accusing others and confessing the sins of others. And we must take a long uncomfortable look within and confess our own sins.

I can only confess and repent of what I have done, not what you have.


Worship is bringing a deeper unity to many parts of the Body of Christ. At the same time, the enemy seems to be sowing division. This should not surprise us. Scripture tells us to “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Will we join together and worship the Lamb? Will we join our voices together and say, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’ Or will we choose the path that leads to destruction?

Joining together in worship is where God is bringing forgiveness, healing shame, and breaking chains. Even now. Even in the midst of a pandemic.

Jesus, draw all people to yourself for your glory. Fill us with the Holy Spirit. Glorify your name. Father, give us the grace to say together with one voice, “Jesus is Lord.”


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you.

An Invitation to Repentance Sunday, September 27th

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:14

This summer I was invited to join a group of men who committed to pray together weekly for seven weeks. Gathering with this group was one of the highlights of my summer. When people are willing to invest meaningful time in corporate prayer, God shows up.

Throughout this season, I keep hearing “prayer is the work” echoing in my spirit.

As far as I know, I was the only United Methodist in this gathering. This was a blessing because there was no talk of denominational politics. There was no angst or cynicism about the future of the denomination. And I was given the chance to see what the Lord is up to outside of the UMC. And it was good.

Most of all, it was a blessing to get to hear these leaders’ hearts and pray with them for the world, our nation, and the church.

One of the outcomes of this time of prayer is dedicating a Sunday, September 27th, to specifically repent and pray for revival. Here is the invitation from the Repentance Sunday website:

On Sunday, September 27th, join with thousands of churches throughout America in dedicating time for prayers of repentance and revival during Sunday gathering or a special evening service in your local church. This solemn assembly, carried out by the pastor or elders within a local church, is being called in response to the continued division, destruction and degradation taking place throughout our land. We desire to follow God’s admonition that during severely difficult times, His people repent and return. Only then may we expect Him to hold off judgment or return blessing to the land.

Inspired by Old Testament calls to sacred assemblies, this special day (September 27) marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in the historic Church calendar. This is one of the most sacred days of the year for the Jewish community and an opportunity as the Christian church to practice what Revelation 2 and 3 require, a return to our first love, seeking forgiveness of our personal and corporate sins.

One of the things that is most powerful about repentance is that you can’t do it for anyone else.

It is tempting to confess other people’s sins and point out their need for repentance, perhaps especially right now. This is not a time for vague confession or repentance that is actually accusing others of what they have done wrong. Repentance is when we ourselves turn away from our sin and return to God.

The church’s witness is desperately needed in a culture that increasingly demands constant repentance without hope for forgiveness and reconciliation. We need to remember the promises of Scripture, like 1 John:

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins – and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. – 1 John 2:1-2

If you are a pastor reading this, please consider joining with Christians across the United States, and perhaps well beyond, in leading your church in a time of focused repentance. (And please fill out the brief form on this page so we can all be connected to each other.)

If you do not have authority for your local church’s worship services, consider passing this on to your pastor and inviting them to participate.

Here is why I support this:

Repentance always comes before revival in the history of Christianity.

Revival comes when people’s hearts are broken over their own sin and they cry out to God, confessing their sin, turning away from it, and turning back to God.

Repentance is hard. It takes courage to repent. It take humility. And it is essential for experiencing life in Christ. We do not have the option to come to Jesus on our own terms. We must come to him on his terms. And the offer of salvation is through forgiveness and pardon through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, not our own righteousness.

Repentance is hard. But one of the best things about being a Christian is that you know that true repentance always leads to forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

A church that gets on its knees and repents will be raised up. People will find pardon and peace with God.

Once you repent, it is appropriate to pray for revival.

In 1738 John Wesley began meeting in a small group called a band meeting. They did one key thing each week; they confessed their sins to one another and prayed for healing. John Wesley joined this group before his famous new birth experience at Aldersgate Street on May 24, 1738. This was a crucial beginning of Methodism. It started with confession of sin and repentance. The band meeting was at the heart of the very beginning of the 18th century Methodist revival.

Repentance always precedes revival.

Will you pray with me?


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you.

John Wesley’s Sermon “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third”: A Brief Summary

John Wesley, Justification by Faith


This is the 18th sermon in this series. You can expect to see a new post in this series by 10am EST on Tuesday mornings. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third” is the 18th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 3rd of 13 sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that 13 of the 44 original Standard Sermons focused on the Sermon on the Mount gives an idea of the importance John Wesley placed on Matthew 5-7. Wesley spends so much time on these three chapters of the Bible because he believed they provide essential teaching from Jesus on “the true way to life everlasting, the royal way which leads to the kingdom.”

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

Yet think not that you can always avoid it [persecution], either by this or any other means. If ever that idle imagination steals into your heart, put it to flight by that earnest caution: ‘Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.’ ‘Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’ But will this screen you from persecution? Not unless you have more wisdom than your Master, or more innocence than the Lamb of God.

Neither desire to avoid it, to escape from it wholly; for if you do, you are none of his. If you escape the persecution you escape the blessing, the blessing of those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. If you are not persecuted for righteousness sake you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. ‘If we suffer with him we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will also deny us.’ [III.10]


One sentence summary:  

Wesley unpacks Jesus’s teaching of the blessings of heart purity, peacemaking, and persecution for righteousness.


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” – Matthew 5:8-12


Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third”

I. Blessed are the pure in heart

1. The love of neighbor springs from love of God.
2. The pure in heart are purified through faith in Jesus.
3. People have often been told only to avoid outward impurities.
4. God admits no excuse for retaining anything which is an occasion to impurity.
5. Marriage itself may not be used as pretense to give loose to our desires.
6. God will bless them with clearest communications of his Spirit.
7. The pure in heart do more particularly see God.
8. They see God in his ordinances.
9. No swearing or oaths.
10. The Lord is not forbidding swearing in judgment in truth, by a magistrate.
11. God is in all things is the great lesson.

II. Blessed are the peacemakers

1. Jesus starts with the religion of the heart, now he shifts to what they are to do.
2. Peacemakers refers to all manner of good.
3. They work to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4. Peacemakers do good as far and to as many as possible.
5. They do good to the full extent of their power to the bodies of all people.
6. They rejoice even more if they can do good to the souls of people.
7. Blessed are they who continually are employed in the work of faith and the labor of love.

III. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.

1. Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake.
2. All who live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution.
3. They are persecuted for righteousness sake.
4. They are persecuted by those who don’t know God.
5. Persecution is a medicine to heal grievous backsliding of God’s people.
6. It is rare that persucution leads to death, but it can be expected to lead to loss of your job or friendship.
7. This comes to everyone: people revile and persecute you and say evil against you for Jesus’s sake.
8. The scandal of the cross is not yet ceased.
9. We ought not knowingly bring persecution on ourselves.
10. But also don’t think you can wholly avoid it.
11. Rejoice when persecuted because it unites you to Christ and the saints.
12. Do not let persecution turn you out of the way of meekness and love.
13. Teaching on loving enemies and praying for them. Pray for those who persecute you.

IV. Behold Christianity in its native form, as delivered by its great author!


Resources:

Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first seventeen Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. They aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

The Schuyler Personal Size Quentel Bible: Excellent Layout with More Portability

Fine Bibles and Tradeoffs

The very first fine Bible I got my hands on was the Schuyler Quentel NIV. This Bible seemed too good to be true. When I opened the box, I was greeted with the delightful rich smell of leather. The layout was astounding because it was so readable. At first glance, you might assume that the Bible is so readable because it has no cross references. In double-column Bibles, the references are almost always in a thin column between the two columns of text. The Schuyler Quentel does have cross references, but it removed the references column and placed the references in the footer. You have access to the references when you need them, with a much more clean and readable page. The Quentel is my favorite layout for a double-column reference Bible.

With so much to love about the Schuyler Quentel, there was one thing that disappointed me about it. The Bible just seemed a bit too big or bulky. It felt to me like a Study Bible. (These kinds of critiques are often unfair. A smaller Bible will be critiqued because the pages are too thin and the writing shows through the pages, which is what allows the Bible to be small. Or, it will be critiqued because the font is too small, making it hard to read. And a Bible with a more readable font and thicker pages that don’t show the text on the opposite side of the page as clearly is criticized for being too bulky, when a larger font and thicker pages requires a larger Bible.)

Choosing a fine Bible is, in many ways, about tradeoffs. I am frequently asked by readers to recommend a Bible. And my response is always a question, because there is not one Bible that is straightforwardly perfect. How do you rank the variety of variables in a Bible? Do you have a strong preference for a particular translation? How important is font size (this is an essential factor if you simply cannot read below a particular font size)? Are cross references a requirement? How important are other design choices (such as single column versus double column)? What is your budget? Is there a particular kind of leather that is essential for the cover? Or color?

All of this is to say, as much as I loved the Schuyler Quentel, I couldn’t help feeling like it was just a bit too big.

Enter the Schuyler Personal Size Quentel

Schuyler’s Personal Size Quentel has the exact same layout (as long as you are comparing the same translation) as the Quentel, but in a smaller format. This means that if you compare the NIV Quentel to the NIV Personal Size Quentel the same words are in the same place on the same page. I love this feature, because it means that you get to choose between ease of reading in a large size or portability with a smaller font. (Another advantage is that someone could buy both and have the best of both worlds.)

The folks at Schuyler were kind enough to send me a Personal Size NKJV in black calfskin leather. The Schuyler Quentel I have in NIV is roughly 10” x 6 3/4” x 1 3/4” with the pages being 9.1″ x 6.1”. The Personal Size Quentel I have is roughly 7 3/4” x 5 1/4” x 1 1/4” with the pages being 7” x 4.7″. The Personal Size Quentel is still fairly thick. I really like the way it feels in the hand. I think the balance between page size and thickness is great. The size and feel is similar to reading a mass market paperback book (slightly bigger).

I was excited to get my hands on a calfskin binding because they have one significant advantage over a goatskin binding: they are significantly more affordable. I believe the difference in price is typically $185 for a goatskin edge-lined binding and $120 for a calfskin paste off binding. The difference in price has more to do with the quality of the binding than the quality of the leather. Edge-lined bindings are widely considered to be the most durable, with paste off bindings being less so. (I’ve explained this in more depth in my review of Cambridge’s NRSV Reference edition.)

The calfskin cover is great! It has a very smooth texture. It is noticeably different than a typical goatskin cover, which usually has a more pebbly and textured grain. (Another matter of personal preference in deciding which Bible to buy!) It feels great. Buttery is a word commonly used to describe the feel of a cover like this. The stiffer cover on a smaller Bible designed to take with you may be an advantage in helping protect it. Considering the difference in price, I would choose the calfskin over the goatskin for the Personal Size Quentel.

Another great feature of both the Schuyler Quentel and the Personal Size Quentel is that Schuyler has committed to this format across translations. They have published each format in ESV, NASB, NKJV, and NIV. Availability varies, as Schuyler is one of the most popular producers of fine Bibles and their print runs tend to sell out fairly quickly.

One of the most surprising things to me about the Personal Size Quentel is how readable it is even in the smaller version. Schuyler says the Personal Size Quentel comes in an 8.5 point font size. For comparison, the Quentell is 11 point font.

The two most obvious comparisons of this Bible are the Cambridge Pitt Minion and the Cambridge Clarion. Like the Schuyler Personal Size Quentel, both of these Cambridge Bibles are available in a wide range of translations. The Pitt Minion is the smallest of the three (it is particularly thin in comparison to the Personal Size Quentel and the Clarion.) However, the 6.75 point font in the Pitt Minion is noticeably smaller than that of the Personal Size Quentel. The Clarion has a slightly larger font size and is a single column layout. (For photos of the text and layout, see my reviews of the Pitt Minion and Clarion above.) It is also noticeably thicker than the Personal Size Quentel. When comparing the three for this review, I was surprised at how well the more affordable calfskin stacked up against the significantly more expensive Cambridge Clarion goatskin.

Conclusion

The Schuyler Personal Size Quentel is a fantastic Bible. I’ve spent a lot of time with the Schuyler Quentel I got several years ago. The Personal Size Quentel is what I hoped it would be, particularly as far as my initial sense that the Quentel just felt a bit too big. I am grateful I have both because I would really struggle to choose between them. If forced to choose, I would go with the Personal Size Quentel because I can envision taking it with me when I travel and it is still very readable with my current vision. Highly recommended!


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Schuyler generously provided a copy of this Bible in exchange for my honest review.