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April 07, 2008

In my experience there is usually one of the spouses in a marriage that handles the majority of the doctoring and nursing duties. There is one who has the medical knowledge and who knows what to do when a child or spouse is injured or maybe just plain under the weather. There is one who can clean up vomit without having to don a hazmat suit. For my marriage, this person is most definitely Aileen. She is the one who is always the first to notice the signs of sickness in our children. I may think they are acting perfectly normal, but she notices something almost indiscernible and declares that they are in the early stages of a cold or flu. Though I usually protest that nothing is wrong, more often than not time bears out the fact that she is right…again.

Aileen has a remedy for everything. Somehow she has learned how to treat any ailment. Some of these treatments make perfect sense to me; others, well, not so much. One that continues to confuse me is putting a hot cloth on something that is infected. If one of us has some weird skin thing going on, Aileen will put heat on it and insist that this draws the infection to the surface. I remain skeptical, though who am I, really, to challenge her? I looked it up online and the plethora of medical sites out there seem to agree that there is something to this theory. Maybe it is more than an old fable or wives’ tale that has been handed down to her. Heat draws out the infection.

Lone Rangers Are Dead Rangers

I thought of this principle while sitting with the men of my church last Wednesday night. No, none of the men there had a huge blight on his face or anything unsightly like that. We’ve been reading through Josh Harris’ Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is) and came to the chapter dealing with accountability and the kind of friendship that asks the tough questions. We talked together for quite some time about the kind of relationship that allows for deep and probing questions—the kind of relationship that offers a real level of accountability. We soon came to see that almost all of us desire to be in this kind of relationship—one where we can speak with other Christian men and have them both challenge us to put sin aside and preach the gospel to us in those times where we’ve committed that sin yet again. This is not just accountability that focuses on sexual sins, but on all kinds of sin and transgression. But though it seems that all of us felt we could benefit from this kind of relationship, I believe that very few of us actually are.

And this has been my experience and my observation. It’s interesting to me that Christian men are hesitant to seek out this kind of relationship (and here I implicate myself as much as any man). Men want these relationships but very few are actually in them. I’m quite convinced that the main reason, or at least one of the main reasons, is that as men we are convinced that we would be the one who was imposing on others. I’d be glad to talk to a friend if he called me at midnight in the throes of a crisis. But I would never think of calling another if I was the one experiencing crisis. I would be glad to help a friend who truly desired a measure of accountability, but it would not occur to me to impose upon another if I needed accountability. Everyone is busy; why would I want to be a bother? And yet the other men are thinking the same. Maybe it’s time for us to lay aside pride and let other men into our lives.

Applying the Heat

According to Alan Medinger (quoted in Harris’ book) an accountability relationship is “one in which a Christian gives permission to another believer to look into his life for purposes of questioning, challenging, admonishing, advising, encouraging and otherwise providing input in ways that will help the individual live according to the Christian principles they both hold.” These relationships are one in which Christians apply heat to each others lives. They ask tough questions, probing questions, potentially humiliating questions, in order to find evidence of sin. Because we often have trouble seeing the sin in our own lives, we ask others to seek it out on our behalf.

Drawing Out the Infection

Too many accountability relationships end there. They are incomplete, ending with sin or with sympathy. Confession is necessary and we may well sympathize with one another as we discuss sins that are common to all men. But we cannot and must not end there. Instead we must take those sins to the cross. My pastor gave the wise advice Wednesday night that we must be prepared not only to look each other in the eyes to ask about sin, but also to look each other in the eyes and preach Jesus. We need more than confession and sympathy—we need the cross of Jesus Christ; we need the gospel so we can draw out that infection. We need to admonish, challenge, advise and always preach the gospel. As Harris says, “The most important thing we can do for each other when we talk about sin and temptation is to remind each other of God’s provision for our sin—the Cross of Jesus Christ.”

This is the kind of friends, the kind of brothers, we need to be. We need to be brothers who will ask the difficult questions—who will apply the heat—so that we can help one another draw out the infection.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).”

April 06, 2008

You know by now that King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers…or sometimes just because I really like them. You know as well that I inevitably keep them in place for more than a week. No matter. King for a Week is simply a way of introducing my readers to blogs that they may also find interesting and edifying. Every now and again I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my right sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making the readers of this blog aware of other good sites.

This week’s King for a Week is Amy’s Humble Musings. It was rather a surprise to me to realize that I had not honored this blog already. It is, after all, a blog I have been reading for quite some time now and one I enjoy, even if I am not really the primary audience for it. Amy [Scott] is, according to her brief bio, “the mother of five six kids 9 and under, wife to a handsome rocket scientist, and aspiring Proverbs 31 lady.” Her blog, which she has been updating since January of 2005, is a place for her to muse about life, family, homeschooling, the agrarian life, and other things that are of interest to her. I’ve always appreciated Amy’s ability to see and describe what is zany in life. Yet while she can encourage her readers to laugh at and with her, she also shares some valuable lessons about living this Christian life. I always look forward to her updates.

In the coming days (and/or weeks) you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to look around.

April 04, 2008

Scott Lamb is both a friend and a contributor to Discerning Reader. I’m pretty sure he reads even more books than I do and we knew that sooner or later he and I would read the same title at the same time. Sure enough, that happened recently with Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed. Because I had written a review of it, Scott decided to focus instead on the story behind the story, so to speak. He wrote what I found a fascinating article on just how big and how wide this movement really is. I thought you would enjoy it to, so decided to post it here. I do so primarily because I think Scott provides a good warning to us, and particularly so in the final paragraphs. From here on you’ll be reading Scott’s article.


In a nutshell, before reading the book I would have thought the movement was larger and more influential. The metaphor of “ocean” comes to mind. After reading the book, I am given to thinking that the movement is more like a pond, maybe a lake.

That is not a prediction of what the future holds. But this is a book about the present (last 10 years or so), and I am less inclined to think much of the movement after reading Hansen’s work.

I am not shooting the messenger (Hansen) in any way, shape, or form. I read the entire book while leaning on a wall about six feet from my post office box. Then I read it again a day later, again with enjoyment. I really want you to read it too.

I do think there are many recent aspects of the groundswell of Reformed theology that are entirely missed. There are also many foundations of the movement which have been vitally important, but which lack any formal attachment to the Reformed camp. I will come back to these in a later post.

Let me throw some spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.

Spaghetti on the Wall

Are we overly optimistic about what is going on? Are we just having self-referential Calvinist conversations with ourselves? Perhaps you don’t think so?

Well, you are reading a book review about Calvinism…to be posted on Calvinist Tim Challies’ book review web-site…about a book that reports on the rise of young Calvinists like Tim and a bunch of our friends and mentors…and Tim wrote an endorsement for this book on the back cover…and now a review of the book…and he also wrote a book published by the same company as this one…a company that publishes a mountain of books by Calvinist authors mentioned in this book…and since you are a Calvinist you may decide to buy this book and comment on it on your own blog or on Amazon.com…and then we will link to your blog and say, “A Reformed friend of mine who is on staff at Piper’s church wrote a great review of Hansen’s new book”…then some other Calvinist will interview Hansen, himself a Calvinist…then we will all get in our cars and head to a conference where 75% of the folks mentioned in the book will either be preaching or listening (or live-blogging)…

Suddenly, a certain joke about cousins marrying cousins comes to my mind.

Am I saying there is anything wrong with friends and colleagues and pastors networking together or talking about common interests? Absolutely not. I’m just saying that we’d better not read our own press clippings and jump to the wrong conclusions. Is this “new Calvinist” pond little or big? The answer depends on who we hang out with.

On Guard

In our self-referential excitement over the movement toward Calvinism, there are two errors I am afraid we could easily make:

  1. Although we should take joy over the number of folks gaining passion for biblical truth, will we foolishly begin to believe that the majority of Evangelical Christianity is actually making a turn toward solid theological conviction.

  2. Although the numbers do represent individuals who are coming to truth, will the local church itself be changed and challenged and loved? We love our Reformed theology, but will the “young and restless” part only serve to bring out the devilish individualism characterizing so much of American Evangelicalism. We grew up in “typical” churches, and have “escaped” the poor theology, but will we now spend the rest of our lives proving that we are “not the like the church we came from”? Will our mantra be- “Give us books, conferences, audio sermons, and blog-buddies, but keep us far from messy relationships with Arminians in our local church.”

Let me provide a few illustrations of what I am thinking.

How Wide the Influence?

In our Calvinist circles, we get real excited about the 275,000 copies of Desiring God sold. But wait. Hasn’t Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life sold over 24 million copies (as of 2006)? Wow, that is a ratio of 1:100.

Warren is extremely influential (understatement of the year), and that influence is felt directly at the level of the local church - in a very widespread manner across the nation and across the denominational spectrum.

Perhaps we are actually only 1/100th as influential as Warren.

Do you wish those numbers were the opposite? Yeah, so do I. But they aren’t.

How Big Is Ground Zero?

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary gets a lot of attention in Hansen’s book. He calls Louisville “Ground Zero” for Calvinism. An astounding number of ministers are being trained at SBTS. Four thousand students receive theological education by 180+ total faculty. The largest Protestant seminary in the world runs on a budget of less than $40 million dollars (2006).

But consider another number - $95 million. In one year’s time, that is how much money Joyce Meyer fleeced earned through donations and conferences.

When you consider that the $40 million at SBTS comes from the tuition payments of 4,000 students and also from a portion of the offerings of 40,000 SBC churches, it absolutely boggles the mind to consider that a woman who preaches a false gospel can get her hands on twice as much money!

Think about how many individuals it must take to rake in $95 million. These are huge numbers. This is real influence.

SBTS, a.k.a. “Ground Zero for Calvinism”, only has HALF the budget of just ONE prosperity-gospel preaching woman.

A Huge Gathering?

The 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference drew 3,000 men, and probably could have gotten 2,000 more in the door if space was available. I was there. It was great!

But Joel Osteen draws in 10,000 on any given weekend that he takes his show on the road. Speaking of Osteen, if you add up the royalties for every book authored by MacArthur, Sproul, Piper, Mahaney, Begg, Boice, Duncan, etc. - would the total come anywhere near the $12 million advance Joel received for his last book alone? Not a chance.

Does Wal-Mart carry anything by Sproul, Piper, Mahaney? Can you buy a “Chosen by God” board game?

And speaking of publishing, Crossway and a few other faithful companies serve up 80% of what young Calvinists are reading. So, does that mean sound biblical theology is going to prevail among Christian publishers too  What about the other 50-75 Evangelical Publishers Association companies? What percentage of their books can we get real excited about?

Conclusion

Are we reading our own press clippings, and getting worked up in the wrong way?

How ironic it would be if God-centered theology truly caught fire throughout the church, only to come crashing into the brick wall of flesh-boasting about numbers and influence.

How terrible it would be if Calvinist soteriology got branded on the hearts of young people, only to have them choose individualism over God-glorifying commitment and dedication to the local church. Christ did not die on a cross for a conference, campus Bible study, or book publisher. He laid down his life for the church.

As Calvinists who dwell on total depravity, understand that it is fully well possible to receive a rich theological treasure, only to squander it through sin.

However, as Calvinists who well on divine grace and sovereignty, understand that “He who began a good work” can and will continue to purify the bride of Christ by His grace and for His glory.

Let us make sure our passion begins and ends with Soli Deo Gloria, focusing our boast on the cross of Christ alone.

I really enjoyed reading this book and thinking through these issues. Thank you Collin.


Tim here again. I think Scott is on to something here. While we need to continue to bless and praise God for the work He is doing in drawing people to Himself, and especially in those who are young and restless, let’s realize that this movement is, in relation to the rest of those who confess Christ, very small. Let’s always remember that there is still much work to do and that we must not take pride in being part of any movement, even one as exciting as this. We are to boast only in the cross. Let our pride and our joy be in the great work of Christ.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what Scott has written.

April 01, 2008

I sat down today to write the most hilarious April Fool’s post ever. I had thought about it yesterday and was giggling as I thought about all of the possibilities. But somehow, when I sat down and started typing, it just didn’t work. It was really anything but funny. It was going to be a satirical peek at a segment of evangelicalism. It was ripe with possibilities (or is the proper phrase “rife with possibilities”?). But it just didn’t happen. Maybe it’s just too difficult to create humor on command. So then…

˙ɹǝɥʇıǝ ʎuunɟ ʎɹǝʌ ʇ,usɐʍ ʇɐɥʇ ʇnq˙˙˙uʍop ǝpısdn ƃuıɥʇʎɹǝʌǝ ƃuıʇsod ɟo ʇɥƃnoɥʇ ı˙˙˙

As I struggled and eventually gave up, I though of a quote I read just a couple of days ago in The Courage To Be Protestant, the forthcoming [and utterly brilliant] book by David Wells. I think Wells pretty well nailed it for me:

This co-opting of showbiz, this transformation of Christianity into entertainment, is rapidly becoming the norm today, not the exception. Pastor are straining to outdo each other in becoming as chic and slick as any show in Las Vegas.

I pity satirists who might be tempted to try to tweak these segments of the evangelical world. Theirs is a mission impossible. It can no longer be done. No matter how indelicately they might exaggerate, no matter how much they might embellish to make a point, no matter how many descriptions they might offer of the tasteless things that are happening, it will most likely be met with only a yawn and a bored question: “So … ” Nothing seems improbable. None of it, in fact, ever seems exaggerated and none of it seems improper. It has now become impossible to insult some evangelicals. How the Wittenburg Door stays in business, I do not know.

Maybe next year I’ll come up with something. In the meantime, you can content yourself with A Blockbuster Deal or A Theo-Doping Scandal. And you may also wish to read the review of Instructing a Child’s Heart I just posted.

March 27, 2008

You’ve probably seen this video. If not, you’ll want to take six minutes of your life and give it a look. It’s Bob Newhart at his best, really. If you’ve heard his old bits about the discovery of tobacco or the invention of baseball you’ll see that not much has changed over the years. He’s as funny as ever. His stuttering, his naivete—it’s the same as it ever was. It’s brilliant.

In the case of this video, though, every time I see it I can’t help but think he’s just a little bit more than funny—he shares some advice that is surprisingly valuable, even if it is both abrupt and hilarious. I keep the video around and watch it every now and again. I think it’s good for me to do so. Sometimes I think that, as a Christian, I can go looking for cures for sin that are long and involved and a little bit mysterious. I can go to friends or pastors or books for counsel and, like the woman in this video, I’m looking for a cure that I can jot down in a notebook and follow step-by-step. I want something I can do twice a day for ten days and watch the sin magically fall away. I want a five or ten step program. Sometimes such strategies work. Often they do not.

In Mark Driscoll’s book Confessions of a Reformission Rev he shares a late-night conversation with a member of his church. This video reminded me of Driscoll’s tale. The man called him in the middle of the night crying and begging for help because he had committed a certain sexual sin yet again. Though Driscoll’s answer was a tad vulgar I think he essentially gave the guy the right one: Just stop it! His counsel to the man was probably exactly what he needed to hear: shut up, grow up, man up and stop sinning. The guy called his pastor looking for a shoulder to cry on but what he got was a lesson in growing up. I hope it wasn’t lost on him.

Some time ago I spoke to a friend about an ongoing sin in his life and tried to show him that the essence of his problem was this: he hates his sin just a little bit less than he loves it. Sure he wants to stop sinning, but even more he wants to keep sinning. And I think he came to agree. My advice was pretty well what Newhart offered the woman in this video: “Stop it!” Are you fighting sin? I’ll pray for you—really, I will. And I’ll recommend that you memorize some Scriptures, some fighter verses, that will help you battle that sin by bringing to mind the promises of God. But I’ll also challenge you to just stop it and to stop it now. You stop sinning by turning your back on it. You do not sit back and wait for God to change you while you remain in your sin. Rather, you join him in the fight, joining your will with His strength. And together you go to war.

I can memorize Scripture from Genesis to Revelation and I can have the whole world pray for me. But there comes a time when forsaking sin, truly putting it to death, requires a decision of the mind and an act of the will. Sooner or later I need to just stop it. And God can give me the strength to do so.

March 24, 2008

Do you know those times where you have a word or phrase bouncing around your mind for days or weeks at a time? I’ve had one of those recently and I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about it. The phrase is this: “Give your best to your local church.” It is easy, I know, to offer our best to believers other than those in our local churches. There is often affirmation and excitement in ministering elsewhere. Sometimes the local church can seem so drab, so normal in comparison.

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of preaching at Grace Fellowship Church (a.k.a. my church) as part of a series we’re doing on the book of Acts. It is a series that is a refresher course, of sorts, reminding us what the early church was all about. When we understand that Acts is meant to be more than mere history, we see that there is much we can and should learn from the example of the first Christians. I spoke on group evangelism in the early church and discussed the local church in Antioch and their example of sending men on foreign missions. I showed how these men were called by the Spirit, commissioned by the church, and then sent by the church and the Spirit. I focused on the fact that these men were not renegade missionaries, sending themselves to the mission field, but that they were men who were called through and on behalf of a local church.

I began my sermon by reflecting on something that had been of interest to me. The three days prior to preaching I had been in Orlando, Florida for the Ligonier Ministries National Conference. It was, by any measure, a fantastic conference. We were able to hear some exceptional messages by some great preachers. We heard from Sinclair Ferguson, Steve Lawson, C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul. They brought us the Word and brought it with power. I truly enjoyed the conference and benefited from it. Yet even while I sat there with 5,000 other believers, I couldn’t help but note a tiny little voice in my brain (or was it in my heart?) saying, “I’d rather be at Grace.” It is not that there was anything wrong with the conference. Far from it! It’s just that God has built into me and into all believers a heart for the local church. God has done something amazing in building the local church and in grouping us together in these bodies. The longer I stay at Grace and the more I commit myself to her, the more it feels like home. I took just a moment to thank the people in that church for being that local church to me and to my family.

You know, the more I travel and the more I see of the church at large, the more I come to love her—but even stronger, the more I come to love my local church. These local churches, which can be found from one end of the world to the other, truly are the hope for the world. It is to these bodies, more than any other, that God has entrusted His message. And it is through these local bodies that He seems to do His greatest work. These bodies are the most natural context for all manner of Christian ministry.

Like you, I’ve seen pastors who have sacrificed their families and their churches to the altar of ministry. They travel the world speaking at ministry events, all the while missing the opportunities to minister in their community of faith. They become disconnected from the local church, opting instead to minister everywhere else. But I’m convinced that God calls us first to our local congregations and only then to wider ministry. As I’ve traveled and as I’ve seen churches all across North America, I’ve seen like never before the importance of a commitment to a local church. I enjoyed talking to Steve Lawson some time ago and hearing from him that travel and ministry has only caused him to miss preaching at his own church one Sunday in the past year or so. He speaks at many conferences, but always attempts to be home on Saturday so he can minister to his own congregation on Sunday morning. There are many like him—many men who love to minister elsewhere but who mostly love to minister closest to home.

In my younger days I used to go to many Christian concerts and I would often have opportunities to talk with band members. I often noted how many of these men would continually speak of their families. I took this as a good sign! These men had families they loved and it was clear that, though music was what they did for a living, their hearts were with their wives and children at home. They spoke this way deliberately, I’m sure, and did it to guard their hearts. They took every opportunity to share with others about the people they loved. Likewise, many ministers are thrilled by what God is doing in their local congregations. It is always exciting to hear a pastor share the things God has done and to share in his excitement.

Give your best to your local church.” I am still working out the details of all of this in my own life. I am still working on ensuring that my first commitment to Christians is to those within the community where God has placed me. I’ve begun to reevaluate how and when I travel; I’ve begun to reevaluate the things I write about; I’ve begun to ask how I can give my best to the community of faith closest to me. It’s an ongoing process and one I’ve really only just begun.

In a couple of weeks I’ll have the opportunity to preach once more at Grace. This time I will speak about the importance of prayer in the early church and I hope to take as my text the closing verses Acts 4:23-31—that passage that allows us a glimpse into an impromptu prayer meeting in the early days of the church. Peter and John have just been released after interrogation by a religious council and the very moment they are freed they “went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” They went straight from the council to a gathering of the local church and there they prayed for boldness and for success in ministry. Something here caught my eye. Even with my rudimentary Greek I was able to see that the word “friends” was missing from the original text. This is a translation that takes just a little bit of liberty (which, of course, translations often have to do). Almost every translation offers something different here but what the text really seems to say is simply that upon their release “they went to their own.” And what a great phrase that is! No sooner had they been released than they went to their local church, the most natural context for them to minister and to be ministered to, and together they joined their voices in prayer to God. This passage shows the local church in action; the local church doing what they do best; the local church doing what God decreed that they should do.

It’s this kind of commitment I want to have for the local church—a commitment that considers that church my own. And it’s a commitment I’m sure we can learn from the book of Acts.

March 23, 2008

Yesterday I posted a short story by Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock. Well, I thought it would be fun to post one more thing by him before turning to more important matters. The story by Leacock that is usually considered his most humorous is entitled “Arcadian Adventures With the Idle Rich.” As one commenter (who happens to be my mother) posted yesterday, some of the book is “devoted to contrasting an Anglican [Episcopalian] and Presbyterian church—and their respective ministers. Of course, it is a caricature, an absolutely brilliant one…A must- read for Reformed people wanting to laugh at themselves!” Here are two excerpts, one very short and the other a bit longer. If you are Reformed and/or Anglical and/or Presbyterian, you may recognize a caricature of yourself somewhere in here. Enjoy!

* * * * * *

Later on, when Spillikins went into business and into society, the same fate pursued him. He loved, for at least six months, Georgiana McTeague, the niece of the presbyterian minister of St. Osoph’s. He loved her so well that for her sake he temporarily abandoned his pew at St. Asaph’s, which was episcopalian, and listened to fourteen consecutive sermons on hell. But the affair got no further than that. Once or twice, indeed, Spillikins walked home with Georgiana from church and talked about hell with her; and once her uncle asked him into the manse for cold supper after evening service, and they had a long talk about hell all through the meal and upstairs in the sitting-room afterwards. But somehow Spillikins could get no further with it. He read up all he could about hell so as to be able to talk with Georgiana, but in the end it failed: a young minister fresh from college came and preached at St. Osoph’s six special sermons on the absolute certainty of eternal punishment, and he married Miss McTeague as a result of it.

* * * * * *

The church of St. Asaph, more properly call St. Asaph’s in the Fields, stands among the elm trees of Plutoria Avenue opposite the university, its tall spire pointing to the blue sky. Its rector is fond of saying that it seems to him to point, as it were, a warning against the sins of a commercial age. More particularly does he say this in his Lenten services at noonday, when the businessmen sit in front of him in rows, their bald heads uncovered and their faces stamped with contrition as they think of mergers that they should have made, and real estate that they failed to buy for lack of faith.

The ground on which St. Asaph’s stands is worth seven dollars and a half a foot. The mortgagees, as they kneel in prayer in their long frock-coats, feel that they have built upon a rock. It is a beautifully appointed church. There are windows with priceless stained glass that were imported from Normandy, the rector himself swearing out the invoices to save the congregation the grievous burden of the customs duty. There is a pipe organ in the transept that cost ten thousand dollars to install. The debenture-holders, as they join in the morning anthem, love to hear the dulcet notes of the great organ and to reflect that it is as good as new. Just behind the church is St. Asaph’s Sunday School, with a ten-thousand dollar mortgage of its own. And below that again on the side street, is the building of the Young Men’s Guild with a bowling-alley and a swimming-bath deep enough to drown two young men at a time, and a billiard-room with seven tables. It is the rector’s boast that with a Guild House such as that there is no need for any young man of the congregation to frequent a saloon. Nor is there.

And on Sunday mornings, when the great organ plays, and the mortgagees and the bond-holders and the debenture-holders and the Sunday school teachers and the billiard-markers all lift up their voices together, there is emitted from St. Asaph’s a volume of praise that is practically as fine and effective as paid professional work.

St. Asaph’s is episcopal. As a consequence it has in it and about it all those things which go to make up the episcopal church—brass tablets let into its walls, blackbirds singing in its elm trees, parishioners who dine at eight o’clock, and a rector who wears a little crucifix and dances the tango.

On the other hand, there stands upon the same street, not a hundred yards away, the rival church of St. Osoph—presbyterian down to its very foundations in bed-rock, thirty feet below the level of the avenue. It has a short, squat tower—and a low roof, and its narrow windows are glazed with frosted glass. It has dark spruce trees instead of elms, crows instead of blackbirds, and a gloomy minister with a shovel hat who lectures on philosophy on week-days at the university. He loves to think that his congregation are made of the lowly and the meek in spirit, and to reflect that, lowly and meek as they are, there are men among them that could buy out half the congregation of St. Asaph’s.

St. Osoph’s is only presbyterian in a special sense. It is, in fact, too presbyterian to be any longer connected with any other body whatsoever. It seceded some forty years ago from the original body to which it belonged, and later on, with three other churches, it seceded from the group of seceding congregations. Still later it fell into a difference with the three other churches on the question of eternal punishment, the word “eternal” not appearing to the elders of St. Osoph’s to designate a sufficiently long period. The dispute ended in a secession which left the church of St. Osoph practically isolated in a world of sin whose approaching fate it neither denied nor deplored.

In one respect the rival churches of Plutoria Avenue had had a similar history. Each of them had moved up by successive stages from the lower and poorer parts of the city. Forty years ago St. Asaph’s had been nothing more than a little frame church with a tin spire, away in the west of the slums, and St. Osoph’s a square, diminutive building away in the east. But the site of St. Asaph’s had been bought by a brewing company, and the trustees, shrewd men of business, themselves rising into wealth, had rebuilt it right in the track of the advancing tide of a real estate boom. The elders of St. Osoph, quiet men, but illumined by an inner light, had followed suit and moved their church right against the side of an expanding distillery. Thus both the churches, as decade followed decade, made their way up the slope of the City till St. Asaph’s was presently gloriously expropriated by the street railway company, and planted its spire in triumph on Plutoria Avenue itself. But St. Osoph’s followed. With each change of site it moved nearer and nearer to St. Asaph’s. Its elders were shrewd men. With each move of their church they took careful thought in the rebuilding. In the manufacturing district it was built with sixteen windows on each side and was converted at a huge profit into a bicycle factory. On the residential street it was made long and deep and was sold to a moving-picture company without the alteration of so much as a pew. As a last step a syndicate, formed among the members of the congregation themselves, bought ground on Plutoria Avenue, and sublet it to themselves as a site for the church, at a nominal interest of five per cent per annum, payable nominally every three months and secured by a nominal mortgage.

As the two churches moved, their congregations, or at least all that was best of them—such members as were sharing in the rising fortunes of the City—moved also, and now for some six or seven years the two churches and the two congregations had confronted one another among the elm trees of the Avenue opposite to the university.

But at this point the fortunes of the churches had diverged. St. Asaph’s was a brilliant success; St. Osoph’s was a failure. Even its own trustees couldn’t deny it. At a time when St. Asaph’s was not only paying its interest but showing a handsome surplus on everything it undertook, the church of St. Osoph was moving steadily backwards.

There was no doubt, of course, as to the cause. Everybody knew it. It was simply a question of men, and, as everybody said, one had only to compare the two men conducting the churches to see why one succeeded and the other failed.

The Reverend Edward Fareforth Furlong of St. Asaph’s was a man who threw his whole energy into his parish work. The subtleties of theological controversy he left to minds less active than his own. His creed was one of works rather than of words, and whatever he was doing he did it with his whole heart. Whether he was lunching at the Mausoleum Club with one of his church wardens, or playing the flute—which he played as only the episcopal clergy can play it—accompanied on the harp by one of the fairest of the ladies of his choir, or whether he was dancing the new episcopal tango with the younger daughters of the elder parishioners, he threw himself into it with all his might. He could drink tea more gracefully and play tennis better than any clergyman on this side of the Atlantic. He could stand beside the white stone font of St. Asaph’s in his long white surplice holding a white-robed infant, worth half a million dollars, looking as beautifully innocent as the child itself, and drawing from every matron of the congregation with unmarried daughters the despairing cry, “What a pity that he has no children of his own!”

Equally sound was his theology. No man was known to preach shorter sermons or to explain away the book of Genesis more agreeably than the rector of St. Asaph’s; and if he found it necessary to refer to the Deity he did so under the name of Jehovah or Jah, or even Yaweh in a manner calculated not to hurt the sensitiveness of any of the parishioners. People who would shudder at brutal talk of the older fashion about the wrath of God listened with well-bred interest to a sermon on the personal characteristics of Jah. In the same way Mr. Furlong always referred to the devil, not as Satan but as Su or Swa, which took all the sting out of him. Beelzebub he spoke of as Behel-Zawbab, which rendered him perfectly harmless. The Garden of Eden he spoke of as the Paradeisos, which explained it entirely; the flood as the Diluvium, which cleared it up completely; and Jonah he named, after the correct fashion Jon Nah, which put the whole situation (his being swallowed by Baloo or the Great Lizard) on a perfectly satisfactory footing. Hell itself was spoken of as She-ol, and it appeared that it was not a place of burning, but rather of what one might describe as moral torment. This settled She-ol once and for all: nobody minds moral torment. In short, there was nothing in the theological system of Mr. Furlong that need have occasioned in any of his congregation a moment’s discomfort.

There could be no greater contrast with Mr. Fareforth Furlong than the minister of St. Osoph’s, the Rev. Dr. McTeague, who was also honorary professor of philosophy at the university. The one was young, the other was old; the one could dance the other could not; the one moved about at church picnics and lawn teas among a bevy of disciples in pink and blue sashes; the other moped around under the trees of the university campus with blinking eyes that saw nothing and an abstracted mind that had spent fifty years in trying to reconcile Hegel with St. Paul, and was still busy with it. Mr. Furlong went forward with the times; Dr. McTeague slid quietly backwards with the centuries.

Dr. McTeague was a failure, and all his congregation knew it. “He is not up to date,” they said. That was his crowning sin. “He don’t go forward any,” said the business members of the congregation. “That old man believes just exactly the same sort of stuff now that he did forty years ago. What’s more, he preaches it. You can’t run a church that way, can you?”

His trustees had done their best to meet the difficulty. They had offered Dr. McTeague a two-years’ vacation to go and see the Holy Land. He refused; he said he could picture it. They reduced his salary by fifty per cent; he never noticed it. They offered him an assistant; but he shook his head, saying that he didn’t know where he could find a man to do just the work that he was doing. Meantime he mooned about among the trees concocting a mixture of St. Paul with Hegel, three parts to one, for his Sunday sermon, and one part to three for his Monday lecture.

No doubt it was his dual function that was to blame for his failure. And this, perhaps, was the fault of Dr. Boomer, the president of the university. Dr. Boomer, like all university presidents of today, belonged to the presbyterian church; or rather, to state it more correctly, he included presbyterianism within himself. He was of course, a member of the board of management of St. Osoph’s and it was he who had urged, very strongly, the appointment of Dr. McTeague, then senior professor of philosophy, as minister.

A saintly man,” he said, “the very man for the post. If you should ask me whether he is entirely at home as a professor of philosophy on our staff at the university, I should be compelled to say no. We are forced to admit that as a lecturer he does not meet our views. He appears to find it difficult to keep religion out of his teaching. In fact, his lectures are suffused with a rather dangerous attempt at moral teaching which is apt to contaminate our students. But in the Church I should imagine that would be, if anything, an advantage. Indeed, if you were to come to me and say, ‘Boomer, we wish to appoint Dr. McTeague as our minister,’ I should say, quite frankly, ‘Take him.’”

So Dr. McTeague had been appointed. Then, to the surprise of everybody he refused to give up his lectures in philosophy. He said he felt a call to give them. The salary, he said, was of no consequence. He wrote to Mr. Furlong senior (the father of the episcopal rector and honorary treasurer of the Plutoria University) and stated that he proposed to give his lectures for nothing. The trustees of the college protested; they urged that the case might set a dangerous precedent which other professors might follow. While fully admitting that Dr. McTeague’s lectures were well worth giving for nothing, they begged him to reconsider his offer. But he refused; and from that day on, in spite of all offers that he should retire on double his salary, that he should visit the Holy Land, or Syria, or Armenia, where the dreadful massacres of Christians were taking place, Dr. McTeague clung to his post with a tenacity worthy of the best traditions of Scotland. His only internal perplexity was that he didn’t see how, when the time came for him to die, twenty or thirty years hence, they would ever be able to replace him. Such was the situation of the two churches on a certain beautiful morning in June, when an unforeseen event altered entirely the current of their fortunes.

March 22, 2008

As I was writing yesterday’s article I kept thinking of a rather popular short story by Stephen Leacock, a Canadian writer who lived from 1869 to 1944. His most famous book is probably Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, though if you aren’t Canadian you probably haven’t heard of it. You should. Leacock was downright hilarious as evidenced by a few favorite quotes: “Many a man in love with a dimple makes a mistake of marrying the whole girl.” “Each section of the British Isles has its own way of laughing, except Wales, which doesn’t.” “Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.” “Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”

Anyways, here is his story entitled “My Financial Career.” Chances are that if you went to grade school in Canada you’ve read it.


When I go into a bank I get rattled. The clerks rattle me; the wickets rattle me; the sight of the money rattles me; everything rattles me.

The moment I cross the threshold of a bank and attempt to transact business there, I become an irresponsible idiot.

I knew this beforehand, but my salary had been raised to fifty dollars a month and I felt that the bank was the only place for it.

So I shambled in and looked timidly round at the clerks. I had an idea that a person about to open an account must needs consult the manager.

I went up to a wicket marked “Accountant.” The accountant was a tall, cool devil. The very sight of him rattled me. My voice was sepulchral.

Can I see the manager?” I said, and added solemnly, “alone.” I don’t know why I said “alone.”

Certainly,” said the accountant, and fetched him.

The manager was a grave, calm man. I held my fifty-six dollars clutched in a crumpled ball in my pocket.

Are you the manager?” I said. God knows I didn’t doubt it.

Yes,” he said.

Can I see you,” I asked, “alone?” I didn’t want to say “alone” again, but without it the thing seemed self-evident.

The manager looked at me in some alarm. He felt that I had an awful secret to reveal.

Come in here,” he said, and led the way to a private room. He turned the key in the lock.

We are safe from interruption here,” he said; “sit down.” We both sat down and looked at each other. I found no voice to speak.

You are one of Pinkerton’s men, I presume,” he said.

He had gathered from my mysterious manner that I was a detective. I knew what he was thinking, and it made me worse.

No, not from Pinkerton’s,” I said, seeming to imply that I came from a rival agency.

To tell the truth,” I went on, as if I had been prompted to lie about it,” I am not a detective at all. I have come to open an account. I intend to keep all my money in this bank.”

The manager looked relieved but still serious; he concluded now that I was a son of Baron Rothschild or a young Gould.

A large account, I suppose,” he said.

Fairly large,” I whispered. “I propose to deposit fifty-six dollars now and fifty dollars a month regularly.”

The manager got up and opened the door. He called to the accountant.

Mr. Montgomery,” he said unkindly loud, “this gentleman is opening an account, he will deposit fifty-six dollars. Good morning.”

I rose. A big iron door stood open at the side of the room. “Good morning,” I said, and stepped into the safe.

Come out,” said the manager coldly, and showed me the other way.

I went up to the accountant’s wicket and poked the ball of money at him with a quick convulsive movement as if I were doing a conjuring trick.

My face was ghastly pale.

Here,” I said, “deposit it.” The tone of the words seemed to mean, “Let us do this painful thing while the fit is on us.”

He took the money and gave it to another clerk. He made me write the sum on a slip and sign my name in a book. I no longer knew what I was doing. The bank swam before my eyes.

Is it deposited?” I asked in a hollow, vibrating voice.

It is,” said the accountant.

Then I want to draw a cheque.”

My idea was to draw out six dollars of it for present use. Someone gave me a chequebook through a wicket and someone else began telling me how to write it out. The people in the bank had the impression that I was an invalid millionaire. I wrote something on the cheque and thrust it in at the clerk. He looked at it.

What! are you drawing it all out again?” he asked in surprise. Then I realized that I had written fifty-six instead of six. I was too far gone to reason now. I had a feeling that it was impossible to explain the thing. All the clerks had stopped writing to look at me.

Reckless with misery, I made a plunge.

Yes, the whole thing.”

You withdraw your money from the bank?”

Every cent of it.”

Are you not going to deposit any more?” said the clerk, astonished.

Never.”

An idiot hope struck me that they might think something had insulted me while I was writing the cheque and that I had changed my mind. I made a wretched attempt to look like a man with a fearfully quick temper.

The clerk prepared to pay the money.

How will you have it?” he said.

What?”

How will you have it?”

Oh”—I caught his meaning and answered without even trying to think—“in fifties.”

He gave me a fifty-dollar bill.

And the six?” he asked dryly.

In sixes,” I said.

He gave it to me and I rushed out.

As the big door swung behind me I caught the echo of a roar of laughter that went up to the ceiling of the bank. Since then I bank no more. I keep my money in cash in my trousers pocket and my savings in silver dollars in a sock.