When I was a boy, Mom would often say two things to me, and she said them often. The first thing she said was, “It won’t matter 100 years from now.” Indeed that is true. One hundred years from now it won’t matter if we led a small ministry or a large one, whether we lived in a nice house or a rented one-room apartment, whether we drove a new car or an old jalopy, whether we got our clothes from Macy’s or Goodwill (where Mom got hers). What matters 100 years from now is whether we loved Jesus and loved the people Jesus called us to.
The second thing she said was, “Georgie (my family name), when we stand before Jesus He will not ask us if we have been successful, but if we have been faithful.” Of course, in retrospect, I realize the Lord wants us also to be fruitful as well as faithful; but it is my parents’ focus on faithfulness that informs my life to this day. I have been more successful than they if you examine success by metrics, but they were exceedingly faithful in spite of what seemingly was a lack of success.
Category Archives: Enrichment Journal
Every day, it seems, scientists uncover new wonders — both large and small — in our world. These wonders redound to God’s glory, for He created them all. And among those wonders, surely the human mind ranks high. Aside from the angels, only humans are able to perceive God’s handiwork and praise Him for it.
Yet many humans do not. Instead, they “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18). Consequently, “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). By they, of course, I mean we. Ingratitude for God’s gracious gifts mars every human heart.
Because creation is wonderful and the human heart wicked, I am ambivalent about science.
On the one hand, I benefit from advances in science. For example, I use Enbrel — a TNF inhibitor drug — to treat my ankylosing spondylitis. My iPhone, iPad, and laptop are indispensable tools in my work and my graduate studies. Their apps and programs make use of complex mathematical algorithms to produce, store, and communicate information. Energy efficient air conditioning and heating keeps me and my family cool in the summer and warm in the winter, at low cost. I could go on with more examples, but you get the point: Science has its benefits.
On the other hand, advances in science seem to portend retreats in faith. A 2009 Pew Forum poll of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that “scientists are roughly half as likely as the general public to believe in God or a higher power.” According to David Kinnaman, 25 percent of “18- to 29-year olds who have a Christian background” indicate that the belief, “Christianity is antiscience,” is “completely or most true of me.”
I don’t believe Christianity is antiscience. How can God’s Word and His world contradict one another? But many people — including many Pentecostals — believe Christianity is antiscience. How, then, should we as Christians live between the benefits of science and the challenges it seems to pose to our faith?
First, we must be filled with the Spirit. One of Pentecostalism’s greatest strengths is its empirical quality. For us, God is not a concept we ponder or a historical Actor whose past deeds are interesting to archive (though pondering Him is wonderful and recounting His past deeds is encouraging). Rather, God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is a living Person who invites us into fellowship with Him, changes our character at deep levels, and empowers us supernaturally to speak and to act on His behalf. Our experience is evidence — proof, even — of the realities our faith lays hold of. Perhaps that is why Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” If you find your faith questioned by science or anything else, the answer always begins with a prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit, I need You.”
A focus on Pentecostalism’s empirical quality does not mean that arguments are unimportant. We are people of the Spirit, yes, but we are also people of the Word. Jesus Christ is the Logos of God (John 1:1–3,14), His Word, Reason, and Logic. If science or anything else challenges our faith, we must mount a tough-minded apologetic. Paul’s ministry is exemplary in this regard: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Since God exists, any scientific or philosophical argument that denies He exists is a bad argument, and we should be able to demonstrate this through close reasoning. Paul did not merely evangelize the lost, he reasoned, explained, and proved Christ’s vicarious death and victorious resurrection to them (Acts 17:2,3).
Third, we must interpret both Scripture and nature humbly. Scripture and nature are God’s self-revelation (Romans 1:20; 2 Timothy 3:16). Theology is primarily our interpretation of God’s revelation in Scripture, while science is primarily our interpretation of God’s revelation in nature. God is infinite, we are “the grass [that] withers and the flowers [that] fall” (1 Peter 1:24). God is all knowing, “we know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). God is all good, our “heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Given the distance between God’s perfection and our imperfection, we need to interpret both His Word and His world humbly, always ready to learn more about Him through them.
A new baptism in the Holy Spirit, confidence in the truth of Jesus Christ, and humility in the light of our limitations is a Pentecostal way forward through the challenges that science seems to pose to faith, even as we enjoy the many benefits it confers.
In a February 12, 2002, press conference, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made the following statement: “[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know.”
Rumsfeld was answering a question about the apparent lack of evidence connecting Saddam Hussein’s government and terrorist organizations seeking weapons of mass destruction. But his remark applies to the knowledge problems leaders face in any organization, including the church. And they suggest certain virtues that all leaders, including ministers, need to develop.
Start with Rumsfeld’s first two categories: known knowns and known unknowns. The older I get, the more I realize how ignorant I am in most areas but how knowledgeable I am in a few. Career specialization is the reason for this lopsided ratio of ignorance and knowledge. I have been a vocational minister for half of my life and all but 2 years of my professional career. Consequently, I have the knowledge base and skill set necessary for vocational ministry. Had I chosen or been called to a different profession when I was 21, no doubt I would have a very different knowledge base and skill set.
When you know what you know and do not know, it helps you develop appropriate virtues. In the case of known knowns, confidence, and in the case of known unknowns, teachability. In 2007, I transitioned from associate pastor at a megachurch to senior pastor of a turnaround church. I was not afraid of the new task of preaching weekly because my previous ministry experience had prepared me for it. I approached the pulpit with confidence. But I had never led a board meeting or annual business meeting, never been responsible for formulating the entire budget for the church (as opposed to my department’s budget), and never done a thousand other things that senior pastors routinely do. I was unconfident, but I was teachable. And I benefited from mentors both inside and outside the church who were willing to share their knowledge and skills with me. Had I approached my known unknowns with confidence, rather than teachability, the growth of the church would have been stifled by my ignorance (and pride).
The real problem in ministry — or leadership generally — is how we respond to unknown unknowns. Consider the Early Church. It was entirely Jewish. Then Jesus Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on Gentile God-fearers without their being circumcised, keeping kosher, or observing Sabbath. The Early Church did not know how to respond to this novel situation, which they had not even imagined would happen.
When you experience unknown unknowns, two extreme responses are common: resistance and ditching. In the Early Church, Judaizers resisted the law-free gospel and clung to the necessity of the ceremonial law, while antinomians went to the opposite extreme and ditched the moral law along with the ceremonial one. The proper response, as articulated by Paul? Flexibility. Paul flexed with the new wind of the Spirit blowing among the Gentiles without being uprooted from Scripture’s foundational “law of love.” In the crazy, rapidly changing times in which we live, ministers similarly need to know what can change and what must remain the same.
To Rumsfeld’s three knowledge problems, philosopher Slavoj Žižek adds a fourth — unknown knowns, “the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.” Žižek was writing about what happened at Abu Ghraib.
Sometimes we ministers overlook and even justify sin in our churches. We do not confront the abusive dad because he is chairman of the board. We give the gossipy woman a pass because she does so much for missions. We take out loans for building campaigns but do not have money in our benevolence accounts. Repentance is the only appropriate response, and we ministers should lead the way.
Confidence when we know what we know. Teachability when we know what we do not know. Flexibility when we experience unknown unknowns. And repentance in the face of unknown knowns. These are the knowledge problems we ministers face, and the virtues we need to develop.
1. http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2636. Accessed 18 January 2012.
2. http://www.lacan.com/zizekrumsfeld.htm. Accessed 18 January 2012.