Saturday, March 23, 2013

Christ and Him Crucified

During this season leading up to Easter, I am preaching a series of messages I am calling "Christ and Him Crucified," drawing from the Apostle Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians, "I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." The first message from this series (March 10, 2013),  "Jesus Christ and Him Crucified" from 1 Cor 1:17-2:2, can be heard here. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Academic Credibility and Biblical Faithfulness

Since the advent of "social media," I have not often posted typical blog articles here. Primarily, this blog is a repository of my sermon manuscripts. Most of what I have to say can be expressed in 140 characters or less, so I often post thoughts on Twitter (@russreaves) or on Facebook (which is a more "private" environment for those whom I know well). But, occasionally I stumble across something that 140 characters can't handle, and which I want to share with a wider audience than my facebook friends, so on rare occasions, I return here to post a lengthier reflection on something, as I am doing today.

A number of years ago, in my undergraduate studies, I had a professor who I am privileged to call a mentor and friend, who expressed something in class one night that I considered to be "outside the bounds" of biblical orthodoxy. When I pressed in on the matter and questioned his statement, providing biblical support for my own position, his response was more honest and candid than I expected. He said, "You know, as much as I would like to believe that, I'm afraid that if I claimed openly to hold that position, I would have no academic credibility." I have never forgotten that statement. That night in class, I became convinced that if I ever had to sacrifice biblical faithfulness to gain academic credibility, I would be in a losing game. Probably that night of class, more than any other singular incident, changed the direction of my "career trajectory." Up until that time, it was my passionate desire to continue my education through doctoral studies and become a professor. That night, I realized that the best place for me to be was likely in the pulpit of a local church, where academic credibility is less of a concern, and where biblical faithfulness is the standard of excellence.

This morning, I began reading Alister McGrath's new biography of C. S. Lewis. Most Christians know C. S. Lewis as the brilliant Christian mind behind such works as Mere Christianity and the sanctified imagination behind The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and The Screwtape Letters. What some Christians do not know, but many in the wider world do know, about C. S. Lewis is that he was a brilliant English Literature scholar who had attained greatness in that field. I did most of my "elective" research in seminary on the life and works of C. S. Lewis, and so there aren't many facts about his life that I haven't encountered somewhere along the way. This morning, I ran across a surprising tidbit of information. McGrath writes: "From 1942 onwards, Lewis struggled to maintain his academic credibility in the light of his more popular works, above all his lighthearted musings on the diabolical world of Screwtape."

Immediately, I had a mental flashback to that evening in class when my professor/mentor/friend said, "You know, as much as I would like to believe that, I'm afraid that if I claimed openly to hold that position, I would have no academic credibility." I think about the number of people who have come to know Christ as a result of Mere Christianity. I think about how Lewis's writings, The Abolition of Man, The Problem of Pain, The Weight of Glory, Screwtape Letters (not to mention The Chronicles of Narnia), and other lesser known writings of Lewis, have spurred me on in my Christian pilgrimage. I think about how Lewis's "meme" of Sehnsucht (the sense of longing for a "Something" that nothing in this world can satisfy) has opened my understanding to almost every human desire I have ever experienced. And as I think about these things, I am so glad that a stellar academic genius chose to sacrifice his academic credibility in exchange for biblical faithfulness.

Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life." (Mark 10:29-30). If the Lord Jesus has promised such a reward to those who forsake such "great" things in life as these, how much more will He compensate those who forsake such fleeting things as "academic credibility"? And surely, outside of the realm of academics, there are a plethora of other occasions in which we are faced daily with the choice to sacrifice our biblical convictions for the esteem of the world. C. S. Lewis shows us by the trajectory of his life and work that the sacrifice is worthwhile to abandon pursuit of the things this world prizes, and cling all the more to Jesus and to the truth of His Word.