Yesterday morning in church we sang a song I knew from the album “Songs For The Cross Centered Life” but had never had the privilege of singing during a worship service. The song was “I Come By The Blood” by Steve and Vikki Cook. It is quite a recent song, but one whose expression of theology is easily equal to many of the old hymns. It proves, as do many of the songs recorded on the albums released by Sovereign Grace Music, that modern music can be as full of meaning and depth as songs that were written long before. Here are the lyrics:
You are the perfect and righteous God whose presence bears no sin
You bid me come to Your Holy place, how can I enter in
When Your presence bears no sin
Through Him who poured out His life for me, the atoning Lamb of God
Through Him and His work alone, I boldly come
The chorus has some wonderful lyrics, but all I heard or understood was this:
Bold bold bold bold bold, bold bold bold bold bold
Bold bold bold bold bold bold bold bold bold bold
Bold bold bold bold bold bold bold bold bold bold
Bold bold bold bold bold bold bold bold bold bold bold bold
Bold bold bold.
To be honest, I heard little of the rest of the song. I was just overwhelmed by that one word: bold. I was moved almost to tears. No, let’s be honest. I was moved to tears by that simple word. I stopped singing and just thanked and praised God for the boldness He gives. I stopped and thanked Jesus for the boldness He won for me through His sacrifice. It was a blessed moment.
I think the significance of the moment was brought about, at least in part, by what I experienced the previous evening. Brian McLaren had been in town the night before. Having read many of his books and having invested a fair amount of time in studying what he teaches, both as a Christian author and as an apparently reluctant leader in this strange
movement conversation known as emergent, I thought it would be both interesting and useful to hear him speak. The event was held in Richview Baptist Church and the setting was informal. McLaren sat in the front of the auditorium with the audience arrayed around him, grouped around small tables. It was a small gathering of probably only forty or fifty people which made it a good setting to ask questions and to hear from McLaren in a reasonably “safe” environment. I asked no questions, choosing instead just to listen.
McLaren, as we have come to expect, never really answered a question. At one point one of the men in attendance, who clearly had a great deal of respect for McLaren, asked him whether this was natural or whether it was deliberate and something he had had to work at to perfect. McLaren, in as lucid an answer as we got all night, responded that it is something he does deliberatly. I have no doubt that this is the case, but unfortunately, I found it exceedingly frustrating, though certainly not surprising. One might expect that, when attending a Question and Answer session, one might hear some answers. But this was not, unfortunately, the case. Instead, we were subjected to long, rambling discourses that seemed to do anything but address the actual question.
Of course while McLaren was not always lucid in answering questions, in a sense he answered questions simply by not answering. He made statements throughout. In fact, he made a statement by not bringing a Bible with him to the event. And really there did not appear to be any Bibles at the event (and, conspicuous by its absense, was any type of prayer). When asked questions, there was only one occasion where McLaren referred to Scripture as the foundation for his answer, and even then he took a verse far out of context (in an attempt to show that God is, essentially, unknowable). I do not recall a single time that he answered a question by recommending a verse or passage of Scripture. While he widely quoted or recommended the works of other authors and mystics, he did not seem to show any real knowledge of the Bible or trust in and affection for Scripture. For an evening led by a man who is considered one of the world’s most important and influential evangelical leaders, it was certainly surprising that Scripture played no role.
Throughout the evening, boldness was absent. The faith of the emergents, the postmodern faith, is a faith that is devoid of boldness before God. It is timid, angry, tentative, questioning. It is not a faith of assurance and boldness. It emphasizes the unknowability of God more than what God has revealed to us about Himself. The faith McLaren commends is a faith that always questions, always doubts. It seems that the only faith McLaren hates is the faith of a person who knows what he believes and is convicted by Scripture and by plain reason that what God has revealed is truth–true truth. As others have observed, the real enemy of the Emerging Church is conservative, biblical Protestantism. McLaren will commend anything or anybody, it seems, except those who have a faith built upon the truths revealed in the New Testament epistles.
I think that last sentence is important. It struck me while driving home from church yesterday afternoon. McLaren mentioned at one point how many times he has studied and read the gospels since he professed Christ many years ago. But when he spoke of the book of Romans, he did so without the same reverence. When I examined the evening and pieced it together with what McLaren has revealed of himself in his books I was led to conclude something that startled me. Brian McLaren loves the red letters of the Bible, but hates the black. The red letters so easily support the type of Christianity he is attempting to build and promote, but the black interfere. He can reconcile Jesus with his faith, but he is stopped short by Paul. Brian McLaren loves Jesus, but does he love God in the same way?
This postmodern faith, a faith that seeks to emulate Jesus but without the explanation and application taught by Paul and the other apostles, has no certainty, no boldness. This was brewing in my mind as I reflected on the evening. It was brewing in my mind as I drove to church on Sunday morning. And it brought tears to my eyes on Sunday morning as I worshipped and thanked God for the boldness He provides and makes available to those within whom He has done His work.
“…Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.” (Ephesians 3:12)
Jesus Christ gives boldness to His people. It is not a rash and arrogant boldness that takes refuge in our own intellectual capacities, but a boldness that what God reveals of Himself through Scripture is real and right and true and knowable. It is a confidence that we, simple human beings, can know and understand God. This is what Paul celebrates in the final verses of Romans 11. Having spent 11 chapters discussing the greatness of God, he bursts forth in a song of praise for all that God has revealed of Himself. “Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” This is an expression of wonder for all God has chosen to reveal about Himself to mere sinful, hate-filled human beings. It is an expression not of timidity but of boldness! Not of tenativeness, but of confidence!
We can share in this expression of praise, and so should we, for knowledge of God is a gift of God. Confidence is our privilege, boldness our birthright. We can know God and we can have confidence in what we know, as long as it accords with the words of Scripture–not merely the red words, but the black words too.