By Nathan Finn, Elder
On September 3rd, Steven Smith, a preaching professor and vice president at Southwestern Seminary, preached a fine sermon in our chapel at Southeastern Seminary. His text was the parable of the seeds in Matthew 13. I would encourage you to watch the sermon online.
In his sermon, Dr. Smith mentioned two types of cynics that we often find in evangelical circles, including among Southern Baptists. He referred to the “Fox News cynics,” most of whom are middle aged and older. These cynics are very worried that American culture is going to hell in a hand-basket and they spend a lot of time complaining about the future of our nation and how that might negatively affect the church. These complaints sometimes dominate Christian conversation in local churches and other contexts.
Dr. Smith also mentioned “hipster cynics,” most of whom are in their 20s and 30s. These cynics believe that their parents (the Fox News crowd) are hopelessly clichéd and blasé and spend a lot of time complaining about the silliness of evangelical culture. These complaints sometimes dominate Christian conversation in local churches and other contexts.
I don’t think the point was that American culture is all peachy or that evangelicalism is totally devoid of kitschiness. Obviously, there is a place for a healthy concern about some of the trends in our nation and a healthy critique of some of evangelicalism’s shortcomings. The problem is when concern gives way to cynicism and we begin to lose sight of the promises of God and the hope of the gospel.
As I was listening to the sermon, I kept thinking that many Christians are at least sometimes tempted toward cynicism. The type of cynicism depends upon a variety of factors, including age, socio-economic status, ethnicity, denominational tradition, etc. As a historical theologian, I can assure you that church historians—like historians in general—are often tempted toward cynicism. One friend of mine (an ethicist) jokes that it must be part of the church historian job description!
Yet, despite widespread temptation, cynicism is never the appropriate response for a follower of Jesus Christ. The reason is simple: there is no such thing as gospel cynicism. The good news gives rise to faith, hope, and love. Cynicism gives rise to doubts, complaints, and divisions. Preaching the gospel to yourself everyday isn’t just about avoiding legalism or license—it’s also about avoiding cynicism. The gospel is too good a news for us to give cynicism any breathing room.
By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor
“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” It is an old proverb, often repeated, and it used to make a simple point: anything worth building is going to take time and extreme patience in order to build it properly. It flies in the face of this age of instant gratification, in which our technology has conditioned us to expect to receive what we’re seeking immediately.
Cellphones keep us in instant contact with any other phone on the face of the earth, and we can even program “speed dial” numbers to cut down the time of dialing the phone number. The Internet is the fastest way to keep in touch with the events of the world, faster even than a cable TV set on CNN. Keep the proper webpage up, and you can know immediately if a tsunami has hit Indonesia, or an economic summit has convened in Europe. Vending machines respond immediately to the proper coinage dropped into the slot. McDonald’s restaurants train us to expect to receive our hot meal in less than five minutes. Walmart automatically times the checkout clerks at their stores to see who is fastest at processing customers, and promotions and other rewards are based on speedy performance.
I even heard not long ago of a certain secular child psychologist offering parenting training to help turn a rebellious teen into a cheerfully compliant one in less than five minutes! I was skeptical, to say the least.
But, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The small village on the Tiber took three centuries to gain ascendancy over the Etruscans and the other tribes in the central Italian peninsula. Then, methodically, Rome’s might grew and grew. The city on the seven hills saw a river of building materials flowing in, and massive building projects began to reach for the sky. The Colosseum took ten years to complete, with an estimated 131,000 cubic yards of travertine stone comprising the outer wall alone.
The eleven aqueducts that supplied the city’s million inhabitants with fresh mountain water year-round took almost five hundred years (!) to complete. Each succeeding emperor had a vision not only for the advance of the empire’s boundaries, but also for the glory of the city of Rome itself. Each one hoped to build mighty structures whose stone faces would proclaim the names of their builders for millennia to come.
In like manner, but for infinitely more glorious and eternal purposes, God desires to build a “city of truth” in the heart of all his adopted children. This city of truth will be erected brick by brick, precept by precept, truth by truth, over years of time spent in his Word and his world.
Theological truths, in all their depth and breadth, take years to develop and take root in the human heart. A mature worldview, steeped in Scripture, rooted in one rightly interpreted text after another, does not spring up overnight. The “City of Truth” erected in the believing heart becomes the increasingly mature worldview by which the Christian understands everything that happens to him in this world, and by which he lives his life. It is unspeakably precious, but as in the case of Rome, the preparation and proper placement of each brick, each dressed stone, each shaped log and crafted bronze and sculpted gemstone of truth by which the glittering “City of Truth” rises from the pages of Scriptures in the heart is not built in a day.
In the Bible, I can think of three key passages of Scripture that refer to a building project as a metaphor for the growth of a Christian’s heart in sanctification. First, in Matthew 7:24, Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Then, in 1 Corinthians 3:10, Paul writes, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.”
And finally, in Ephesians 2:19–21, Paul teaches the church that “You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
In each passage, the ministry of the Word of God is central to this building project. Jesus likens people who hear his words and put them into practice to a wise man building a house on a rock. Paul, in 1 Cor 3, likens his successors in preaching and teaching the word to the people of Corinth as craftsmen who build on the foundation he laid, some building with gold, some with silver, some with costly stones, but others with wood, hay, or straw. In the Eph 2 passage, Paul compares the Ephesian Christians to a spiritual temple erected on the foundation of the Word of God.
I say that all of this “spiritual construction” goes on within our hearts as we take in the pure Word of God. With every quiet time spent immersed in the Word, with every passage of Scripture memorized, with every faithful sermon heard, with every good Christian book read, the Holy Spirit uses your knowledge of language (grammar and vocabulary) to mine out and dress stones of theological truth that will shape the way you view life and live your days.
Your challenge, then, is to accelerate the building project by increasing your hunger for the Word of God.