A Taste of Greece

Late Monday night I returned from a five-day trip to Athens, Greece with Darren Carlson, the president of Training Leaders International. We went to find out what’s going on with the migrant church in the city and discover what, if any, ways TLI can serve the evangelicals in the city.

In no particular order, here are some things I took away from the trip.

first-greek-evangelical-church-athensGreeks Bearing Gifts

  • Although most people estimate there are 25,000 evangelicals in Greece, the number is probably closer to about 15,000. Which means there are about as many evangelicals in my city of McKinney, TX as there are in all of Greece. Great commission alert.
  • The refugee crisis has created a unique situation for the evangelical churches in the city. On average, 4,000-5,000 refugees are currently arriving in Athens each day (the city function like a major way station for these people into the EU). Those churches and ministries seeking to serve the migrants are facing the great challenge named, “Incredibly fluid.” Rather than staying many months in the city, provided evangelicals for an opportunity to evangelize and disciple, these refugees are in and out in just a few days.
  • Ministry to the Persians in Athens seems uniquely blessed of God at this time.
  • Pastor Giotis Kantartzis is the real deal. He’s the pastor of First Evangelical Greek Church in Athens and I’ve heard him called, “The Tim Keller of the Balkans.” The description seems most appropriate to me.
  • We must thank God often for the unknown missionaries doing God’s work among the nations. We met with one missionary whose missionary career reads like a CIA novel—seriously. He’s known spies, threats, and death for many years.
  • Unity among the missionaries and churches is something we should pray for. It’s easy for each ministry to be innately skeptical of all others.
  • Living in a urban European environment never attracted me when I used to travel all the time for soccer. It still doesn’t.
  • The walk up to Mars Hill and the Acropolis is much more a hike than you’d think. I have new perspective on Acts 17:16-34.
  • Gyros are awesome.
  • Encouraging pastors is a most noble and necessary task. How tempting it is for gospel ministers in Athens to look at their flock (usually only a few dozen people, who don’t stay in the city long) and fall into despair. Pray for them to know the comfort of Christ.
  • If my observation is true, it seems children are kept to a minimum in the average Greek family. I was reminded afresh how Christians all over the world need to rediscover, with wisdom of course, the joy of Genesis 1:28.

To Greece We Go


This morning I head out for a brief trip to Athens, Greece with Darren Carlson, the president of Training Leaders International. We go to do research on the migrant church movement and connect with churches ministering to refugees in Athens. If you think about it, pray for us.

Lord willing, I’ll be back next week.

Silent for a Time


The blog is going silent for time. Between family responsibilities, pastoral duties, and PhD deadlines I’ve had to make a decision: let the blog go silent for a while or let my time daily personal time with God get pinched. I’ve chosen the former. Lord willing, the blog will resume its usual ruminations on ordinary ministry sometime in July.

Mainline Influence on Evangelicalism

20th Century Spirituality

Just as Catholicism influenced the spirituality of mainline Protestants in the 20th century, so too did mainline Protestants influence evangelical spirituality. The influences are many, but this essay will focus on the spiritual formation movement, increasing openness to the miraculous gifts, egalitarianism, and homosexuality.

The Spiritual Formation Movement

For most of the 20th century evangelicals had never heard of the phrase “spiritual formation.” Yet, by the turn of the century “spiritual formation” was a buzzword in evangelical denominations and networks. Many seminaries today not only offer spiritual formation classes, but even have departments of spiritual formation. What is it? Spiritual formation speaks of the shaping process by which a person’s spirituality is shaped, and is thus uniquely concerned with the dynamic means by which one grows in Christlikeness. Its main proponents are luminaries such as Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Eugene Peterson.

Mainline versions of spiritual formation often meant experimenting with a diverse array of practices. In the late 1900s mainline retreats for spiritual formation would adapt themes from medieval mystics and have workshops on the Labyrinth or Enneagram. Some spiritual formation proponents even encouraged Buddhist techniques to help spiritual growth. In a Christianity Today article from 2002 entitled, “Three Temptations of Spiritual Formation,” Evan Howard writes, “One popular retreat and spiritual [formation] training center in my region offers common meals, massage, inner healing, evening prayer, in-depth dream work, daily Eucharist, and “mandala explorations.” Mandalas (artistic, usually circular, designs) appear in a few religious traditions—in Native American designs, in Gothic rose windows, and especially in Tibetan practices.” It seemed as though much of the spiritual formation in the mainline was indeed “spiritual,” but hardly “Christian.”

Much of the evangelical adaptation of spiritual formation picks up on time-tested, ordinary means for growth in Christlikeness. Foster, in his Celebration of Discipline, provides a chapter each on the following disciplines:  mediation, [contemplative] prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. The mainline influence is particularly seen is in how some evangelicals stress greatly intuitive and individualistic notions of spirituality. Yet, whereas the mainline feels no great need to tether this intuitiveness to Scripture, many evangelical teachers of spiritual formation seek to submit the intuitive pursuits to Scripture and not neglect the reality of sin and the need for a Savior. Spiritual formation is thus not something done to simply promote spirituality, but something done to pursue godliness, as revealed in God’s Word.

The Third Wave

Quite possibly the greatest effect mainline Protestant spirituality brought to evangelicalism is “The Third Wave” movement. It was at the beginning of the 20th century that Pentecostalism began and quickly found a place in American—if not evangelical—life. Charles Parham taught that the baptism of the Spirit was subsequent to conversion and was evidenced by speaking in tongues. His young disciple William Seymour would eventually take the Pentecostal doctrine to Los Angeles where, in 1906, a revival broke out. This revival lasted for roughly nine years and led to the rapid growth of the Pentecostalism in America. Yet, for most of the first half of the twentieth century Pentecostalism found little respect among mainline denominations and thus had little effect on Protestantism as a whole. This began to change when Dennis Bennett—an Episcopalian priest in Van Nuys, California—claimed to have been given the gift of tongues. This event was a watershed moment for Pentecostalism. It eventually led to many Catholics and mainline Protestants to become “Charismatic” in their orientation. While Pentecostals teach a subsequent Spirit baptism leading to the gift of tongues, Charismatics accept a “baptism in the spirit” by faith without accompanying manifestations while later seeking to “yield to tongues,” not as “initial evidence” but as one of the authenticating gifts of the Spirit. Throughout much of the 1960s and 1970s, a Charismatic renewal swept through the mainline denominations and moved the continuation of all spiritual gifts to the forefront of much evangelical thought.

The great adaptation of mainline Charismatic renewal practices began to broadly happen in the 1980s. Peter Wagner, of Fuller Theological Seminary, coined the term Third Wave, saying, “The first wave was the Pentecostal movement, the second wave was the Charismatic movement, and now the third wave is joining them.” Third Wave adherents thus made it clear that while they were the natural succession to Pentecostal and Charismatic practice, they were distinct. What made the Third Wave proponents different from Pentecostals and Charismatics was they did not teach a subsequent baptism of the Spirit to conversion, but they did believe in the continuation of all miraculous gifts. A believer was baptized in the Spirit upon conversion and all gifts were to be pursued, but not all gifts would be received.

Third Wave belief and practice was typified by the Vineyard Movement, which went through astonishing growth under John Wimber in the mid-1980s–late-1990s. The movement was characterized by signs and wonders and swept up many notable evangelicals including Dallas Theological Seminary professor Jack Deere, as well as theologian Wayne Grudem, and Sam Storms. Another prominent evangelical Third Wave movement is Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Perhaps the greatest example of evangelicalism’s fascination with and adaptation of The Third Wave is John Piper. One can read Piper articles and sermons circa 1990 to see a pastor intrigued with John Wimber, while simultaneously being unsure of his teaching. At Lausane II in Manila Piper spent much time learning from Jack Hayford and John Wimber. In 1990 Piper took fifty-eight leaders and members from his church to investigate Wimber’s ministry further at The Vineyard’s “Holiness Unto the Lord” conference. Piper came back to Bethlehem Baptist Church with a series of “Kudos & Cautions” for Vineyard and Wimber. As one pays attention to Piper’s ministry, his public fascination with The Third Wave has diminished even if his Third Wave sympathies remain.

Piper appears emblematic of a large swath of evangelicals in our time, Christians who are open to all miraculous gifts, yet don’t pursue or practice all gifts with zeal. In many ways, it seems as though the rising evangelicals today are something of a “Fourth Wave,” which can be quantified in the statement, “Open to all spiritual gifts, but cautious in the use of all spiritual gifts.”

Egalitarianism & Homosexuality

Towards the end of the 20th century many mainline Protestant denominations reflected the larger culture’s changing attitudes towards the role of women and homosexuality. It became increasingly common for mainline denominations to ordain women to pastoral ministry and in time many would ordain a homosexual to gospel ministry. In the late 1980s evangelicals reacted to this growing change with the publication of The Danver’s Statement in 1989. From this public statement of complementarianism The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood began to lead the charge for a “regrounding” of evangelicalism on the Bible’s teaching on gender roles and sexuality.

The evangelical seminaries bear testimony to the war that raged during this time over egalitarianism and complementarianism. Many evangelical seminaries (Fuller Theological Seminary being among the most prominent) had faculty members that were either openly confessing egalitarianism or either on the way to egalitarianism. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is probably the most visible seminary to go through an internal—yet, still quite public—battle over the matter and come out on the complementarian side.

It must be noted that many egalitarians would consider themselves evangelicals. They believe, from Scripture, that women can be ordained to the ministry but still hold to the inerrancy of Scripture and the urgent need for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Other evangelicals believe complementarianism to be “a gospel issue,” and thus egalitarianism is incompatible with a pure gospel.

In mainline Protestantism we saw many denominations confessing egalitarianism soon confess openness towards homosexual practice and in our time this is the greatest place of mainline influence on evangelicalism. Just as the matter of homosexuality seems to be the current dividing line in our broader culture, it seems to be the next dividing line of spirituality among moderates and conservatives alike.

Historical Appreciation

A final evidence of the mainline’s influence on evangelical spirituality can be seen in the unabashed appreciation of mainline figures like Deitrich Bonhoeffer and C.S. Lewis. In 2010 Eric Metaxas published Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Metaxas’ book was something of a sweeping and sensational publication in our country, shooting up the bestseller lists and even paving the way for Metaxas to speak before President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast. It’s success was a great indication of how many evangelical Christians are influenced by a mainline Protestant from Germany.

C.S. Lewis also continues to occupy a large plage in evangelical life. In 2013 Desiring God devoted their national conference to the theme “The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis.” In addition to his Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis’ books The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and The Problem of Pain have exerted a large influence on the life and faith of evangelicals.

Going Silent . . . Again

I’m back at The Institution (SBTS) this week for a PhD seminar on 20th Century Spirituality with Dr. Nathan Finn. Due to twelve hour days in liberal spirituality and various weighty matters at IDC, the blog will go silent this week. I hope to return next Monday.

A Theological Journey

Yesterday I wrote briefly about the theological enigma that is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Today I continue with an overview of his theological journey, particularly as it relates to the development of convictions that would eventually give rise to his two bestsellers: The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.

“I Heard the Gospel Preached in the Negro Churches”

In the spring of 1930 Bonhoeffer received an invitation from Henry Sloane Coffin, president of Union Theological Seminary in NYC, to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship. Ever the traveler, Bonhoeffer readily applied. In September he boarded the SS Columbia for and set sail for the United States.

Charles Marsh says, “In 1930 Union Theological Seminary was the proud flagship institution of liberal Protestant theology in America.”[1] Yet, Bonhoeffer quickly found the seminary—and American theology on the whole—wanting. He said, “The students . . . are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about. They are not familiar with even the most basic questions.” Everyone “just blabs away so frightfully.” His conclusion? “There is no theology here.”

The congregations of New York also came under Bonhoeffer’s ire. He visited many of the well-known Protestant congregations, including Harry Emerson Fosdick’s Riverside Church, and never heard of our crucified Christ. “In New York, they preach about virtually everything,” Bonhoeffer said, “except . . . the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[2]

Before his arrival in September 1930, “Bonhoeffer had never had a conversation with a person of color.”[3] Bonhoeffer had been made aware of the “American dilemma,” but it wasn’t until a fellow student invited him to attend a Sunday-morning church service in Harlem that Bonhoeffer not only encountered African-American spirituality, but also “had any experience of American preaching and worship that seemed to him authentic and vital.”[4] Bonhoeffer became a frequent attender at Abyssinian Baptist Church and met with a group of “Negro boys each week,” he said of what he understood as “one of my most important experiences in America.” Bonhoeffer cherished the exuberance and seriousness of what he had at Abyssinian. After the spring semester of ’31 Bonhoeffer and a few friends jumped into a secondhand Oldsmobile for Mexico. More than just wanting to visit the next country south, Bonhoeffer wanted to get a real-life sense of life for blacks in the south—during the time of sharp segregation and Depression-era poverty.

Marsh says,

When, on June 20, 1931 Bonhoeffer embarked on his return to Germany, it was with a new perspective on his vocation as theologian and pastor. He was ready at last to put away childish things, foremost his professional ambitions, and begin to search the Christian and Jewish traditions for peacemaking, dissent, and civil courage. The technical terminology faded steadily from his writings, giving way to a language more direct and expressive of lived faith . . . ‘It is the problem of concreteness that at present so occupies me,’ he wrote upon his return to Berlin—this from the young theologian who ten months earlier had found American pragmatism such an affront to Germanic exactitude.[5]

So Bonhoeffer arrives in the fall of 1931 a changed theologian to a rapidly changing Germany.

The Prophet Returns Home

Capitalizing on the failed Weimar Republic, rising inflation, and enduring humiliation from the Versailles Treaty Hitler’s Nazi party was beginning to make loud rumblings in German politics. While Bonhoeffer was in America the Nazis had become the second-largest party in the Reichstag. Less than a year after Bonhoeffer returned the Nazis had become the largest party and almost 18-months after he began his lecturing at the university Hitler was in total control as a result of the Enabling Act.

Alarmed by the German Christian church’s appeasement of and cowering to the Nazi’s Aryan-supremacy worldview Bonhoeffer found himself function as something like a prophet crying out in the wilderness, warning against the heinous trajectory of destruction on which the Nazis were moving. During this time Bonhoeffer would publish and lecture on topics that would prove to be foundational to Discipleship and Life Together:

  • Lectures on “The Nature of the Church (1932)
  • Article on “The Church and the Jewish Question” (April 1933)
  • Lectures on Christology (Summer 1933)

In the fall of 1933 Bonhoeffer helped to organize the Pastors’ Emergency League (and the subsequent Confessing Church and Barmen Declaration) due to the mainline Lutheran church of his youth rapidly deteriorating beyond repair. The prophetic cry of costly grace thus now fully had its audience. Yet, there is another vital development in Bonhoeffer for our grasping, particularly, the milieu of Life Together and Bonhoeffer’s focus on the Sermon on the Mount in Discipleship.

A New Monasticism

In October of 1933 Bonhoeffer began a pastorate for two German-speaking congregations in London. While in England he made a point to visit as many alternative seminaries, peace centers, and monasteries as he could. Why? He had come to see The Sermon on the Mount as having an inalterably integral part of Christian spirituality. He a letter to his older brother during the London period Bonhoeffer said,

I think I am right to say that true inner clarity and honesty will come only by starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. In it alone is the force that can blow all this hocus-pocus sky-high . . . The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with its former self but proposes a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather the people together and do this.[6]

And so he did. At the urging of a council of the Confessing Church, convened in February of 1935, Bonhoeffer would take leave from his London obligations to set up a theological seminary for the Confessing Church.

Painting on a Blank Canvas

Often thought of as a covert religious institution, the seminary—ultimately located in Finkenwalde—operated for almost half its time without state opposition. It was at Finkenwalde that Bonhoeffer not only enjoyed the most blissful years of his life, it was also an opportunity for him to paint onto a blank spiritual canvas the myriad of convictions regarding spirituality he had amassed over the previous six years.[7]

“As an experiment in Protestant monasticism—at its root, something of a contradiction in terms, Luther’s teaching having closed far more monasteries than it founded—Finkenwalde needed to square the self-abnegation of the cloister with the individual freedom implicit in the Reformation view of Christian community.”[8] Bonhoeffer attempted to manage this great tension by thoroughly regulating most of each day, while simultaneously allowing for students to come and go from the seminary as they pleased. It was a tension not without many complaints, some students often referred to Bonhoeffer as “Der Fuhrer,” but on the whole it was a time of great growth and joy for the group.

The joy of Finkenwalde came to an end in mid-October 1937, but the seminary proved to be the ultimate context for Bonhoeffer’s most enduring works in American evangelicalism: Discipleship and Life Together. In November 1937 Bonhoeffer published Discipleship (the German title is “Nachfolge,” an imperative better translated “Follow Me”),[9] and in 1939 Life Together, with Prayerbook of the Bible following in 1940.


[1] Marsh, 103.

[2] Marsh, 111.

[3] Marsh, 115.

[4] Marsh, 115.

[5] Marsh, 134.

[6] Marsh, 217. Bonhoeffer would later say to Sutz, when thinking about the ecclesiastical division in Germany, “Perhaps this may amaze you, [but] it is my belief that the Sermon on the Mount will be the deciding word on this who affair” (Marsh, 226).

[7] Marsh concurs, “Finkenwalde ultimately existed as the canvas on which he aspired to render his personal ideal of a Christian community. (240)

[8] Marsh, 237.

[9] The English translation, The Cost of Discipleship, originally appeared in 1948.

A Theological Enigma

My first exposure to Dietrich Bonhoeffer came when, as a twenty-two year old student pastor, I picked up a copy of The Cost of Discipleship on sale for $3 at a local Christian bookstore. I found Bonheoffer’s prophetic-like earnestness utterly transfixing and his fervor for following Christ totally convincing. Discipleship was something like spiritual accelerant on the fire of holy-love for Christ. Eventually the book found a cherished place in my study, but a somewhat forgotten place in my life. That was until 2010 and the arrival of Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

A Counterfeit Hijacking?

Metaxas’ book was something of a sweeping and sensational publication in our country, shooting up the bestseller lists and even paving the way for Metaxas to speak before President Obama—and quite humorously so—at the National Prayer Breakfast.   Believe it or not, up until this point I knew next to nothing about Bonhoeffer’s labor against the Nazis and as an armchair historian of World War II I quickly became absorbed in Bonhoeffer’s covert affairs. I greatly enjoyed the book and so upon completion I proceeded to see if scholars and reviewers enjoyed it as much as I did. Suffice it to say, I was rather stunned to see articles like “Metaxas’ Counterfeit Bonhoeffer”[1] and “Hijacking Bonhoeffer”[2] denouncing the book as “a Bonhoeffer suited to the evangelical taste.” Victoria Barnett, the editor of the English edition of Bonhoeffer’s Works, called Metaxas’s portrayal of Bonhoeffer’s theology “a terrible simplification and at times misrepresentation.”

A Theological Enigma

This was altogether alarming. My scratching of the Bonhoeffer surface and correlative conversations had led me to believe Bonhoeffer was just another chip of the Evangelical Block. So, with the assistance of a theological mentor, I began to dabble in Bonhoeffer’s doctrinal convictions and what I found was something of a theological enigma; a teacher who could garner evangelical praise in one breath and scorn in the next.

For example in his 1932-1933 lectures eventually published as Creation and Fall Bonhoeffer says, “The Bible is nothing but the book upon which the Church stands or falls.”[3] That’s a thoroughly evangelical statement. Yet, in the same book, when commenting on Genesis 1:6-10 Bonhoeffer writes, “Here we have before us the ancient world picture in all its scientific naivete.”[4] And, just a paragraph later, the German giant says, The idea of verbal inspiration will not do.[5]

All this from the man who would in the next 5-6 years would offer Discipleship and Life Together as enduring gifts to the church; works that have perpetuated profound Christ-centered and Bible-saturated spirituality.

To understand why Bonhoeffer has no small fans among both liberals and conservatives, we need to get our minds around the historical and theological context of Bonhoeffer’s thought.

A Child of German Liberalism

Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906 “into a family of prodigiously talented humanists.”[6] His father Karl was a doctor who had little interest in religion, while his mother Paula dutifully took Dietrich and his six siblings to Lutheran services. It was clear from an early age that Dietrich possessed great intellectual (as well as musical and physical) talents. Not long after his older brother died on a World War I battlefield thirteen-year-old Dietrich announced that he would become a theologian. Bonhoeffer’s older brother were flummoxed with this plan, saying to the budding professor, “Look at the church. A more paltry institution one can hardly imagine.” To which Dietrich responded, “In that case, I shall reform it!”

In 1924 Bonhoeffer began his theological studies at Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Berlin. Founded in 1809 by the Friedrich Schleiermacher—“The Father of Christian Liberalism”—the university boasted an unrivaled faculty of Adolph von Harnack, Karl Holl, and Reinhold Seeburg. It is important to note that it was here at university Bonhoeffer immersed himself in the philosophical and theological convictions of Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, and another theologian who’d just burst on the scene: Karl Barth. Bonhoeffer would correspond with Barth for the rest of his life.

At university Bonhoeffer discovered a particular passion (initially derived from Holl) for the nature of “duty transformed into joy.”[7] He would go on to write a paper entitled, “Joy in Primitive Christianity” on the “shared joy” (synchairein) in Paul’s writings. Bonhoeffer’s interest in the shared joy of Christian community led to his 1927 doctoral dissertation, a 380-page manuscript called Sanctorum Communio (“The Communion of the Saints”), with the daunting subtitle: “A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church.” Bonhoeffer claimed that Christ exists as community. Charles Marsh says of Bonhoeffer at this point, “His themes highlighted the uniqueness of his emerging vision and anticipated his life’s work. Christ, community, and conreteness—these were the key words.”

After a short pastorate in Barcelona Bonhoeffer published his Habilitationsschrift (qualifying thesis), entitled “Act and Being: Transcendental Philosophy and Ontology in Systematic Theology.” Upon its successful completion, and meeting a few other academic requirements, Bonhoeffer began to lecture in theology.

So it was at the age of twenty-four, with two dissertations in hand, Bonhoeffer stood on the threshold of a bright academic career in German theological education. He was rooted Kantian philosophy—yet still independent in his formulation, expressing deep affinity for Barth’s burgeoning neo-orthodoxy, concerned with the construction of Christian community, and cherishing rigorous reflection on doctrine. Over the next couple of years two particular experiences would indelibly shape the course of Bonhoeffer’s theological and ministerial trajectory.

The first of which was a sojourn to America. That sojourn we will look at tomorrow.


[1] Richard Weikart, “Metaxas’ Counterfeit Bonhoeffer,” https://www.csustan.edu/history/metaxass-counterfeit-bonhoeffer

[2] Clifford Gree, “Hijacking Bonhoeffer,” http://www.christiancentury.org/reviews/2010-09/hijacking-bonhoeffer

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall & Temptation (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1997), 10.

[4] Ibid, 30.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Marsh, 4.

[7] Ibid, 44.

A Retreat

In Quest of Rest

The blog is going silent for the rest of the week as I’m on a retreat with some other brothers in ministry. My time of rich pastoral fellowship will be interspersed with studious dives into Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Eusebius of Caesarea—it’s crunch time for a few doctoral seminars. See you next week.

In Memory

Wake Up

For Don

Over the last two years I’ve counted it a supreme privilege to know Don Phillips as his pastor, friend, and brother in Christ. To know Don was to know a man who could inject joy and laughter into any situation with effortless ease. It was to know a man so filled with a welcoming spirit that after just a few conversations you’d feel as though he was a life-long friend. It was to know a man passionate about his wife, children, grandchildren, and the happiness of games like golf. Yet, I stand here today to say that over and above all those things, to know Don was to know a soul changed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

What I want to think about with you is exactly how that change came about in Don’s life.

An Amazing Awakening

One of Don’s favorite hymns was “Amazing Grace.” As many of you know, that first verse says, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me.” If you saw Don sing those lines you would have likely seen him beating his fist on his heart in that moment. It was as though he was preaching to himself, “Oh, my soul don’t forget this. That you were a wretch saved by amazing grace.” What I want you to see today is a truth Don showed with his life—that God’s amazing grace is always awakening grace.

As we just heard in the song a few minutes ago, a great anthem in Don’s life was, “Wake Up.” It’s no mere theme derived from pop culture, it is an anthem Scripture shouts forth with fervency and mercy. One place in particular that comes to mind is Ephesians 5:14 which says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

I see in this text two truths about God’s awakening, truths in which Don Phillips lived with great delight.

Awakening grace is sovereign grace. Earlier in Ephesians 2 the apostle Paul said we are all dead in trespasses and sins, by nature we are children of wrath. “But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Spiritually dead people can’t breathe life into themselves. Spiritually dead people don’t even know they are lost. Such deadness is only overcome by a sovereign God who cries out in love and mercy, “Wake up, O sleeper and arise from the dead.”

Do you know how God woke Don up? It all started when a telemarketing evangelist from Campus Crusade for Christ called his house during a football game. Don said, “Leave me alone, I don’t believe in God anyway.” Don told me it was as though God said to him in that moment, “I won’t let you got that far son.” And so God woke him up—through telemarketing evangelism! Awakening grace is sovereign grace.

Awakening grace is satisfying grace. “Awake, O sleeper, and Christ will shine on you.” In the sweep of Ephesians 5 we find that the light of Christ is a light more satisfying than anything sin and this world can offer. In Ephesians 3 Paul says there are unsearchable riches to be found in the shining, awakening grace of Christ. Don knew what the world had to offer, for years he tasted of its finest feast. And when Christ shined on him he found a satisfaction in Jesus infinitely superior to anything this world or sin has. And he fought—oh, how he fought hard!—to be satisfied in Christ alone.

Just two months ago, at our church’s monthly men’s gathering, Don spoke of this fight for joy in Jesus with his typical passion and boldness. If you looked close enough in that moment what you saw in his eye was the joy of God’s sovereign and satisfying grace. God woke Don up, only by His sovereign grace, so that Don might enjoy His supremely satisfying grace.

Blunt Tenderness

There’s another reason why I find Ephesians 5:14 emblematic of Don Phillips: it’s blunt in its tenderness. “You who are dead, wake up and behold the glory of Christ!” Don was nothing if not blunt. But as you well know, there was such tenderness in his bluntness. He longed to be, and I think he was, an ambassador of Christ who went about each week with blunt tenderness, calling people to “wake up!” Are you dead in sin? Don’s life calls forth God’s word to you, “Wake up and rise from the dead.” Is there somewhere in your life where you are feeling dead spiritually? Don’s life cries out, “Wake up o sleeper, and the light of Christ will shine on you.”

Finally Alive and Free

I find in in this text unusual comfort for those of us who mourn the loss of our dear brother, and it’s this: Don is now staring at the everlasting, shining glory of God in the face of Christ. He is finally and perfectly alive to Christ. He fought the good fight and finished his race, all the while keeping his faith. Seeing the Lord Jesus is his prize.

There is a verse of “Amazing Grace” that goes unsung by many, but we can rest assured this day it is a song of truth for our brother:

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

So let us mourn with hope, let us grieve with faith, for he is has sailed behind the veil of heaven, to endless joy and peace. He is finally, perfectly awake in God’s heavenly presence.

To our God be the glory forever and ever, amen.

To Your Superior

Church Unity

A couple months ago I read A.G. Sertillanges’ brilliant work, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods and I found no shortage of takeaways. The one quote that’s yet to leave me has rather profound application to the pastoral landscape in America.

In the preface Sertillanges writes,

We are often taken in by the way in which the masters speak of one another. They attack one another unmercifully, but they are fully conscious of one another’s value, and they attack often unintentionally.

Yet it remains true that general progress needs peace and co-operation, and that it is greatly hindered by pettiness of mind. In the face of others’ superiority, there is only one honorable attitude: to be glad of it, and then it becomes our own joy, our own good fortune

In an evangelical culture where it’s commonplace to poke theological and philosophical holes in “superior” pastors and preachers, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we purposed to “be glad” of their superiority.

Might not that simple exhortation be a powerful means of “maintaining the spirit of unity in the bond of peace?”