Credible Faith

Some Autobiographical Reflections, Part 2

Some additional thoughts of reflection, shared in January 2013 email newsletter.

Text Publication: January 2013

Author(s): Paul Larson

In Part 1 of these reflections, I shared about my youthful and silent aversion to the lifestyle of middle-class churchgoers whose lives seemed inconsistent with the gospel. In fairness to many such persons, I feel that I must defend them against skepticism of my younger self, a task that leads me in to further auto-biographical reflections, these ones about how my thinking matured. Novels are not necessarily arguments, and neither necessarily are biographies. They are stories, and stories need not have a point. Whether these reflections have a point I leave to the reader.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

-1 Cor. 1:20-31

One of the more famous works in economics, and of Frédéric Bastiat himself, is as splendidly simple in title as it is clear in thought. Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas. What one sees, and what one does not see. Bastiat's point in economics is that one must take account not only of the immediate effects of some action, but also of other effects that, though not so immediately connected, do still follow on from the action. It is a lesson valuable not only for economics, but for Christians too. As a youth, I had my share of Christian reading, including some of C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, a work known far and wide by many believers. Many people have been impacted by Lewis' work, and his writing has been greatly used. That is what is seen. But I am not so sure that Christians generally perceive as well what is not seen. What if Lewis had never been converted? It would be at least partly understandable were someone to point to the multitudes of people who been impacted through his writing and simply subtract many of them from the church.

But how true is this, if at all? Had Lewis never existed, there would still be plenty of books that express in one form or another some of the same arguments. Are we to think that it really was in Lewis' skill with words, not with the substance of what he said, that made the difference? "Ah yes," one might say, "of course it was his substance, but it was not only the substance....it was the combination of the substance of his message and such skill, and what a rare combination it was. How we could use another Lewis!" I don't deny that the Christian community could use another Lewis, but at the same time, neither do I deny that it could use a thousand different men of varying skill or ability if they are faithful in the place God has assigned to them. If I were to write a book that was distributed to every household in America, maybe something similar would be said about me, but that is not to say that another man's book is not vastly superior to mine. It means that the marketing program for my book was better. One marathon runner might beat five others by less than a few seconds, and for that he would receive wide acclaim. And were he to beat those same five runners in race after race, yet still by less than a few seconds, those runners would remain in his shadow. But for a race exceeding twenty-six miles, it would be odd to think that the champion marathoner is vastly superior in running ability in comparison to the other five. It is popular for Lewis' Mere Christianity to win out when one believer recommends a book to an unbelieving friend, and while this may prove that Lewis' work is for some believers the marathon runner who usually wins, I don't see that it proves that he does so by anything more than a few seconds.

My doubt goes deeper than this, though. It is a doubt about whether Lewis really wins. What brings a man to bow his knee in repentance and confession to God? He must believe that God exists, and surely Lewis argues well for that. He does, but such argument, says the apostle Paul, was unnecessary (Rom. 1:18-21). Man knows that God is there. And yet Lewis, and even some apologists, and still I, will present arguments for his existence. Why? I speak not for them, but to me it seems like a kleptocratic servant accosted before peers by a friend, unsure if his theft from the master has been found out. The friend knows what happened, and drops one hint after another until the pile of them is so large that the facade of innocence fades in front of his peers and the fear of his master's judgment grows large. In this respect, apologetics serves as much a social function as an epistemological one. It was common to remark of Steve Jobs that he could produce a reality distortion field, to speak about his ability to create a bubble in which the world looked different. It is my opinion that the successful apologist creates a social dedistortion field, where there is a collective loss of social acceptability of disbelief. In one-on-one interactions, or in mob situations, the sinner may turn to hostility when confronted with the good news. In the one case, there is not a third party before whom the sinner would feel shamed, if God himself is not included. With a mob, if it is evident that many others feel the same revulsion to a speaker's message, individuals may be carried along with the mob and by their own revulsion. But in the polite deference of a crowd to a speaker, and the attendant uncertainty of what people are thinking, it may be that the reasoning of an apologist causes people to feel socially exposed in the weakness of their rejection of God. He creates a field of dedistortion.

But there are many sinners who do come to faith through reading Lewis. Has he not won in such cases? It is common for me to go to Subway at least almost every day here in Edinburgh. When asked about his reading, one Subway employee said that he was reading from Darwin's origin of species and Dawkins' The God Delusion. Why was he reading from those works? Why was he not reading Lewis? I don't know, but it is worth noting that often people don't come to Lewis or some author whose writing leads them to Christianity without some prior impetus. God often works in some way even before a sinner knows of Lewis. The direction has already shifted. The ball had started rolling. The outdoorsman has already started across the river on a path of protruding rocks, and Lewis is one rock among others. It is a fault to place on a pedestal an apologist and his writing, as if it were the norm not to have antecedents to conversion. In this, the evangelist, and his admirer, would do well to remember that the soil has often been planted beforehand. He comes and reaps a harvest, but harvests are reaped where seed was sown.

The implication of the hint-dropper is that Lewis and any self-proclaimed apologist are not knights in shining armor coming to dispel helpless victims of their ignorance. It is not only ignorance that ails them. It is their own sin, and Lewis cannot change their heart. God can. It is God who works in men to will and to act according to his good pleasure (Eph. 1:9; Mt. 15:13-14; 16:19; 18:18-19). If Paul plants and Apollos waters, it is God who makes things grow (1 Cor. 3:5-7). None of this is to deny that God acted in history, that many sinners are ignorant of much of what Jesus said and did, and that the evangelist may therefore exchange good news for historical ignorance. Faith comes through hearing (Rom. 10:17), but not only through it. God himself must work. Maybe the suspicion that Lewis has not really won can find some sympathy by asking what effectiveness, if any, he would have had he set out to defend some other view of the world. Would he really be so convincing then? It is the message that makes the man, not the reverse. We are drawn to Aslan because he reminds us of Christ, not in virtue of his being the creation of Lewis. In fact Aslan was not Lewis' creation. The reverse is true. Aslan created Lewis, and Lewis paid him the compliment of writing Aslan into his story.

Scores of young men will read and attempt to imitate Lewis' writing. He was gifted with words. But even among youth grounded in God's word, it can be tempting to think that such a gift set him apart. So comes forth vain attempts to weave together turbid platitudes in search for similar renown, vain because such spinning of sanctified sophisms siphons off the power of the gospel. Had Lewis never existed some other person or persons would have served a role adequately. Lewis would not be what he was were it not for having the Christ to portray as Aslan, or the message and inspiration of his God. Lewis is not the good news. God is. Lewis appears to have made a big impact because people have turned to him for their reading, but his lasting fame begins where God's message starts. And that is a message whose substance, whose power, can be articulated by many others not so eloquent with words. He piggybacks on the great and marvelous God that he professed to serve, and would not have crossed so many miles of fame and recognition were it not for the heavenly horse which bore him along. Let us remember this, as an example to ward us away from putting confidence in men. God's kingdom hinges upon no man save the man Jesus Christ, and were Lewis to have never been born, that man would have had his standard picked up and carried by other hands.

I had shared in an earlier letter about some of the loss of my critical view towards the lifestyle of religious denizens of the middle class. This may have been one step towards the loss of much of that view. My opinion of Lewis and other great men was much higher than now. A skepticism has set in, not primarily because of finding some great and previously unknown fault in them, but because I am not convinced that one what one does not see, what the world would have been had they not existed, is drastically different in many respects. Their power was in their message, and the message would have continued on in other company without them. This affects how I view my future ministry. If God's work succeeds not because of my skill with words, nor my intelligence, but because of the content of the message, capable of expression in different ways, then, even if we admire the literary skill of a Lewis, the oratory of a Whitefield or Spurgeon, or the reasoning of a Finney, we should be careful not to think too highly of the kingdom importance of these things. They were given by a God who knows how limited they really are, and who cares not so much for them as he does the holiness of a man's life. If I formerly thought that there were celebrities of Christian history, and were so because of skill with words or their oratory or some other gift, then I have left Hollywood. Its classes of Christians is not more than a memory, and a yearning, if there was one, to be an A-list star has died. If I previously thought far less of the family life than I do now, partly this may have been due to the high place such things occupied in my thinking. A candle held up to the sun might seem small, but against the black of night, it has a sort of boisterous brilliance. If I formerly had a very high view of the evangelist and his oratory, or the apologist and his acumen, could it be that when their sun set, and set for good, I saw the candle in the dark?

If so, it was not only the sun setting that brought me to where I am. The stars also fell from the sky. Some may recall the story of Ted Haggard, who was a well-known preacher and president of the National Association of Evangelicals (or some evangelical organization), but in his personal life he was engaged in gross sin. Think of that. How many people thought of him as a great guy when in reality he was wicked? Image and reality. Perception and truth. They do not always agree. The itinerant evangelist is characterized by his brevity. He comes and he goes. The TV preacher is marked by his distance. You see what is presented on TV. You don't see him in his personal life. Some might say that these men do good, that they are spreading the good news, the historical good news, what happened around two thousand years ago, news that one is not born knowing and needs to learn. True. But they are not necessary. One of my favorite passages has been and will be from Luke 19, where Jesus says that if children did not cry out, stones or rocks would. It would be amazing to see a stone shouting. Even more astonishing would be to see a rock give a sermon. If all preachers died on a Saturday, God could do pulpit duty with rocks. Or if he were not so inclined, he might choose to imitate his method with Paul, though I think a Damascus road experience for every person on earth could cause an unusually high number of traffic jams. If we are used as messengers, it is not because God is otherwise unable to tell people about himself verbally. But then what are preachers? Not necessary. Well, then, should they preach? Of course! The great commission aside for the moment, what sports fanatic will not exult when his team wins the world series? What lover does not gush about his beloved? And one knows that an activity in which another has been and is engaged is morally wrong and illegal, would he not admonish the other to refrain? I see no difference between this and the evangelist. Even if they have not read the Bible, men know that they are sinners and deserve punishment for their sin, and the evangelist counsels repentance. But that is not all he does. He, like the lover of his beloved, like the fan of his team, he shares good news, news that this repentance can be accepted because God has provided atonement, news that God has loved wicked men, that his love makes men lovable, his faithfulness them faithful.

But maybe this would be thought hasty. Who would believe God if his rocks said that he had the power to make saints of sinners? Might not the same skepticism towards others be applied to God? To the student of the Word, God is truthful, but what about ones for whom the Word is simply the word of men? If God's word is silenced, maybe he does need messengers. Maybe he needs people who give their own testimony about his power to change lives. Even this, though, might not be enough. Men lie. Forsaking concern for truth, they even learn to use religious jargon to line their pockets or put up a show. Not all men are this way, but some are. And even some who seem genuine might enlarge the truth to make their own God, or themselves, look better. How does one know where truth ends and propaganda begins? I don't claim that close relationships can eliminate all doubt about hypocrisy. Even husbands or wives have been able to show one face to their spouse and another outside the home. But being in relationship with someone has a way of dispelling doubt, giving a skeptic the opportunity to see with his own eyes the reality of God's work in a person's life. Watching a televangelist does not answer the question whether he genuinely loves others with near the certainty that knowing him as a friend does.

If the image I had of an apologist and evangelist needed further deflating, or a needed upgrade to my view of the family was in order, here it could be found. God's love through his children is seen in relationships. Relationships require time, and the traveling evangelist is notable for how little time he gives to those to whom he speaks. The man devoted to his family is marked by how much time he gives to his family. I don't deny that the evangelist's words themselves can be an act of love, but the world knows that words can disagree with actions, and that it is easier to speak of good things than live them. Even if his message of God's love was powerful to change, and could be demonstrated in pointing to the cross, the very fact that an itinerant evangelist gives so little time to so many places means that his ability to show people in his own life the love for which they longed was limited. If the evangelist says that God's love as seen in the cross can change men, and yet if the unbeliever knows no one in whom he sees that truth lived out, it may be harder for the unbeliever to come to faith.

My plan post-PhD was that I would have a base of donors, and the thinking was that with so much accomplished and so much preparation, I would have a much better shot at raising enough money to support a family and do ministry. But one could ask, given what I shared about my attitude when I was younger towards the comfortable middle-class lifestyle, what I would do if I were to get married and later find the financial demands of a family too large for my fundraising income. Would I be willing to take the risk of marriage and family taking me away from the pursuit of "ministry"? Upfront, pre-marriage, I do not think that I would commit to a woman knowing that marrying her would certainly prevent me from doing some ministry that I would want to do. But marriage does usually lead to family, and fulfilling my role as a husband and father would require in many instances that I put family above "ministry". That is how it should be. A man who does not make his family his first and most-important ministry in order to do "ministry" to those outside the family would be rightfully considered a hypocrite. Family must come above ministry, though it may not always be clear what that means in practice. Am I willing to do that? If you were to ask me in some of the time I was a teenager or in my early twenties, at times I might have indicated not to count on me getting married. But people do change, and though my teenage self would have been much quicker to look at churchgoers living a comfortable, middle-class American life with suspicion, I have come to appreciate much more the good that a typical middle-class churchgoer does in the world, and in that I've come to see that, were I to limit my evangelistic activity for a family, it would not necessarily mean that I was abandoning my commitment to the Lord's work. It could mean that I was exchanging one form of service for another, giving up the possibility of doing one good thing so that I could do another.

Part of this may have come from a better appreciate of why I am the way I am. To some extent that is a mystery, but I can say that I would have been different if I were not given so many blessings and advantages as a child and in my youth. I did not experience the parental turmoil that scars some children. I grew up in safe areas, and for much of my youth had the fun of sports and of playing in the woods or swimming in the lake or playing outside. Mom home-schooled me when I was very young, which was a huge blessing. There is an aphorism that says this or something like it, that a child is more likely to find something of a father in God if he finds something of God in his father. I had a father who was there for me and listened and who was there at sports games and soccer tournaments. I was in an environment where I was loved and nurtured and given opportunity, allowed to pursue intellectual or other interests while other youth worked. I was able to pursue what I did because of my very blessed situation. What is true of me was to an extent true for many conservatively minded scholars in Biblical studies, and of many great pastors, and of other leaders in society. Godly parents who invested in their children account for many of the current leaders of the church or of society, and the same will be true for the next generation. If I were to condemn people who work much, provide well for their family, and spend much of their time focusing on their family, how much would I be condemning the well that nourished me and so many others who in their Christian faith are seeking to be or already are leaders and witnesses for Christ in one area of society or another?

Does this mean that every parent who invests time in a child and attempts to guide that child towards a sustained commitment and devotion to the Lord will succeed? No. On one level, though certainly not all, this may be a good thing. It pushes the parent to face the question whether he will truly love the child, and not merely pamper him to have some benefit for himself. It is a taste of how God feels, he who reached out to his own children in love and was rejected, and yet did so again and again.Will we love like God? Perhaps it is quite obvious to some who are already parents, but if parenting is a test of whether we will extend love when it is not returned, having a family can be a step towards sanctification. Devotion to family may limit one's accomplishments and result in being more like God. But if he cares more for who we are than our exploits, would thisnot be a greater accomplishment?

Selfless love, the love of God, the love parents are called to imitate, such an ideal played into my aversion to family. To me, people got married because they wanted sex, or a family, or a partner. Why get married? If the reason is merely these things, and if the consequence was constraints that kept one from substantive ministry, this smacked to me of myopic self-interest, if not selfishness. Why opt for the satisfaction of one's own desires when self-denial could mean fruitful ministry that blesses other people? Was it not self-denial for the benefit of others that brought the Savior into the world, the Savior whose attitude we are called to imitate? Against this was held up my ideal of an itinerant evangelist. He comes in and ministers to people, leaves, and then will not see many of them again. He serves. Others benefit. And he does not get much in return. In this situation, what temptation would there be to love oneself? It is a picture, like Paul, of being poured out like a drink offering (Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6), and in this, I felt it could be commended by God. Such thinking even extended to a years-long intentional adoption of an other-focused behavior in my conversations with other people. If I put the focus on an other person in a conversation, asking them questions and listening while saying little or nothing about myself, then they would be or feel loved. If most of my conversation was about sports, someone would conclude that sports were important to me. What one talks about indicates what one values. With this reasoning, I figured that if I shifted the focus of a conversation to the other, the message would be that my interlocutor is as important to me as myself, or more.

Though exactly when I pulled away from my conversation policy I don't remember, my views of relationship began to change after I finished my first master's degree. My undergraduate years were spent in Central, IL, in the sphere of much of my family, a familial cocoon where the comfort and relational security of my youth was extended through my undergraduate years and the completion of my Master's degree. But then I moved to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which is north of Chicago and hours from home. I worked and was doing school, but without the physical closeness and without some of the family contact that I formerly had in Central, IL. It was a taste of what other people experience. It was taste of only a small part of what children in broken homes experience, and others who did not have the richness of family that I had, but even in this deprivation I changed. I did not have much time for relationship given my job and my schoolwork, but I desired a partner, even to the point of -hopping being a means of searching for a mate. Breaking out of the relational comfort of my family's orbit prompted me to seek a replacement. That caused me to wonder about who I was. Was I a go-getter who could be solely credited for his successes, someone who made his own way, strong, independent, and free? How much was my strength, my success, my drive, a result of the situation in which I was raised? I heartily affirm the sufficiency of Christ. Since leaving home, he has proved himself to me again and again, and has been a rock on which I have stood in long hours and isolation. But I have a much greater respect for how much I am who I am because of from whom and from where I came. If I desire more than that people merely confess Christ as Savior, if I want the next generation to have leaders who are strong, whole, loving, confident, articulate, intelligent, trained, and committed wholeheartedly to the cause of Christ, then the Christian community needs the type of people who in my younger days would have been looked at with some suspicion, those middle-class churchgoers who provide for and focus on their families.

It is not only that such churchgoers are needed for the future health of the Christian community. I also saw that it is the usual characteristic of love to redound to itself. If I put marriage, family, and the attendant benefits in contrast to an image of an itinerant evangelist receiving little or no benefit from many of those to whom he ministers, both sides of the contrast have an element of distortion. In his A Defence of Rash Vows, G. K. Chesterton has this.

"The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words--'free-love'--as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-flavoured grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants."

It is the nature of love to bind itself. Is not an aspect of God's own love his great and amazing faithfulness, a faithfulness that stretches across time, extending even to men who time and again are unfaithful? Love binds and perseveres, and if the result is that an enemy gives up his weapons and joins his adversary in song and meal, shall this fuel a skepticism about the sincerity of the lover? If God's goodness impels us to imitate and love him, is the resulting bond now a tool to suspect an ulterior and self-interested motive? Such skepticism can make lonely even a man surrounded by angels. Men may desire sex, or a family or partner. But to reduce marriage to this is to insult what marriage ought to be, to deny that sex may also be, not just satisfaction of physical desire, but also the fulfillment of giving oneself for another, to think that children are accessories to a better life and not also objects of self-sacrifice. I looked at other's choices to marry as a fulfillment of personal desire, and that in contrast to denial for the sake of the gospel. But if I ever used this as a means of placing myself above others, it was in ignorance or denial of the fact that marriage is also a calling of self-sacrifice, a calling to give one's life for a spouse, and, if the Lord grants, for children. The choice was not marriage or ministry. The choice was ministry of proclamation or ministry of family. Both ministries are to other(s), and neither ensures absence of selfishness. I could be an itinerant evangelist and selfish, or a family man and loving. The vocation does not determine the heart. None of this means that the path I took was not the right one to take for me, given the knowledge and interests and passions that I had, but it does discourage a simple equation between others' choice to marry and their lacking a full commitment to and love for the Lord and other people.

This brings us to the question about my own life. I have spent years in pursuit of preparing myself to be a responsible and trained advocate of the gospel. I earned a degree in music performance and studied music theory and composition. I earned a BS and MS in accounting, and became a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Internal Auditor, in addition to passing exams for other professional certifications (CFE, CMA, CFM) for which, unlike the CPA and CIA, I never obtained enough work experience to qualify. I obtained a Master of Divinity degree and an MA in philosophy of religion. If the Lord wills, this year I would finish a PhD in New Testament. By later this year, I also planned to have completed my goal of having done a word-for-word presentation from memory of at least almost all of every book of the New Testament. All this, and still I can ask about finances. Would I be willing to marry if the resulting commitments could lead me away from a ministry of proclamation? If I were to say no, one might respond to me and ask what precedent I would be setting by such an answer. If I, qualified as I am, would not be willing to take such a risk, what would I say to many others who have a desire for marriage and also for ministry? Am I suggesting that they should put aside marriage for ministry, as if the two were opposed? I think this would be going too far as a response. I am not suggesting that others do what I do. If the apostle Paul could go through as many hardships and as much work and toil as he did for the gospel, does that mean that other people must do so, that they must imitate his life in this respect? I don't see that it does. What I do does not necessarily need to be a model for what others do.

The better question to ask is whether, having come as far as I have, I feel compelled in my own life to avoid marriage for ministry. Were times different, I would say that I don't have the same concern, that I have confidence that I would be able to do both. But times are not different, and I don't know what to think. On one level, I don't have concern that I would be forced to choose between ministry and marriage. Of course there is such a choice in the sense that spending time with my family would mean that I'm not doing ministry somewhere "out there". But if I minister less to others outside of the home because of marriage and family, that does not prevent me from ministering at all outside the home. "Well...yes, Paul," one might say, "but what if you can't raise enough money and need to go find some job that does not give you much time for ministry outside the home? What then?" I could respond that this would not prevent me from doing many of the things that I would like to do. I would still be able to do ministry on weekends. I could continue with scripture presentations at churches, and that would open up doors for me to minister in other ways at churches. I would also still be able to teach at some seminary or institution of higher education. Many schools have evening and/or night courses; I could simply go from my day job to the place where I would be teaching a class. While I would not have near the scholarly output I would like to have, I also think that much of what I would say would have already been said in books or articles already written. I don't have to be a star of the scholarly world, or of the ministry world.

But there is one thing that a Monday to Friday, nine to five job would greatly discourage. I would not have the time and availability that I would like for itinerant evangelistic work, and that, to me, matters. I do not say that I like Paul have a special commission from heaven to preach the gospel. But that is the work I want for my life, and I am torn. I desire marriage, and yet the massive debt of the US government, wicked leaders in power, and other factors leave me unsettled and uncertain. The fiscal future of my country is dark and bleak, and I do not know what shall come. At the same time, I know that the right woman could be both a source of joy amid dark times and a great help in ministry, empowering me and enabling my work to bear even more fruit. What shall I do? Oh, what comfort it would be if I knew that God's hand was guiding my life, that amidst my frailty, my concern with worldly things, and my fallenness, he, like a master of chess, would graciously guide me to a useful place in his plan! Does he use men who sin and are discouraged? Will he grant a man his desire to preach the gospel far and wide, and to have a partner and family? When Obama and others have wreaked their havoc on my country, will there be enough to sustain a dream and a home?

The clash between my desire for gospel ministry and my desire for marriage is made more vexing by the consideration that being the husband and head of a family, even if it compels me to take some better paying position in order to better provide for a family, is a noble endeavor. If marriage and family are as I described above, then leaving evangelistic work to better provide would be an example of my own self-sacrifice, a way to love my wife and children. If God's power is seen in relationships, then it is in marriage and family where one finds two of the best places for his power to be displayed. If I want God to be glorified through me, and if it is in relationship where that often happens, would it be foolish to denigrate marriage and family? If so, what about my desire to reach those who have not heard the gospel with the good news? I am torn between the freedom to embrace God's gift of marriage, and the concern that such an embrace might cause me to die to the personal ambition of reaching the lost with the gospel. I say personal ambition because there is no command from God that I must forsake marriage for the evangelistic career I desire. In many cases, marriage has been what propelled a man further towards achieving his dream of ministry, and that makes the uncertainty worse. Am I writing a modern tragedy, where my willful privation intended to ensure a dream becoming reality is the very thing that keeps the dream from happening, in addition to making life less rich? Also, though I can tolerate a life diligently devoted to writing, reading, study, and scripture memory work, there is mechanical lifelessness to the routine. I get joy from being an uncle, and would delight in raising up a child (for much of the time, at least...even good parents find themselves in situations where filial conflict is necessary but undertaken with a sober heart). In the sterile staleness of his studies, the single scholar has not staked his ground on some part of this world with a solemn pledge to defend it and protect it and love it. For that he has not the thrill of the household Alamo, no pledge to spur him out of hiding to confront the forces that war against his family. He has not the thrill of the scared but courageous warrior, whose duty trumps his fear in charging out of the trench. But what if, in his singleness, he is like the emaciated mother whose bread is passed on to her child, depriving herself of others? The one knows the thrill of war, but at least with comrades on either shoulder. The other has no enemy to see. Or more properly, her enemy is absence itself, a prolonged deprivation chosen for her child. The martyr dies once, and his struggle is over. The ascetic dies daily, and wakes to another day of denial. I want marriage, but I count even that as something that I am willing to give up if only by that I will fulfill the aspirations to serve the Lord that the Lord himself has allowed to grow in my heart. He does not require it of me, and I do not know what to do, because the desire to have a partner and serve him alongside her is so strong, and I concede that marriage done right is one of the greatest gifts and blessings God has given to man, possibly even enabling man much more than if he were alone.

To speak as I have I fear risks encouraging the notion that singleness is a curse, a scourge, something in which man is less than he could be, but I do not want to detract from the sufficiency of Christ. The Christian's husband is ultimately Christ, and what he will be in glory can be tasted on earth. Singleness is a gift, and one that can be used for ill or good. My own desires and the vexing vagaries of life may at times bring me to longing for a partner, but with Christ such a feeling may be mixed with joy and hope, and a contentment that only his beloved have. That is with Christ, but I do not always come to him as I should. And if you are to pray for me in the days to come, I ask that you pray that I go to him in such times. But I ask more. Susceptible as I am to physical beauty, I am capable of ignoring a woman's spiritual maturity, a lack of full self-denying imitation of Christ, or a casual apathy to his Word, and settling for a muted Christian commitment in exchange for beauty. Pray that I do no such thing. How many women there are who have denied themselves marriage because they refused to relax their standards, women who have longed for a husband and yet put their devotion to Christ first, resulting in years, and for some even decades, of desire unfulfilled. I would count it as one of the greatest achievements of my life were I to make the same choice if that was what God had in store for me. Even were my life never to know marriage, it would still be a standing testimony to them that there is at least one man who put who a woman is over what she is, even if that meant the loss of marriage. In that I would honor the institution of marriage for the high calling that it is.

Who is that woman? She is a woman taken by God's love, convinced of the fallenness and sinfulness of the world and even of her own sin, and sure about its need for a savior who provides atonement. She has an attitude that, like her savior, is willing to discomfort herself and go to great lengths in service to and love for others. She believes that what is spiritual is more important what is physical, and that men and women are in greater need of having their souls saved from sin than their bodies saved from discomfort, disease, or death. She believes what God has revealed in his Word, and grounds herself so much in it that she knows what it says and submits herself to it even when tempted to ignore it. She reflects Christ in her life. She desires truth in her life, in what she says and how she lives, even when it inconveniences her or calls her to repentance. She views marriage, and sex, as a means to greater understanding and knowledge of God, and motherhood as a call primarily to be Christ to her children in hope that they become Christ to others. She makes Christ the standard by which she judges and thinks about her words and actions. I ask that you pray that God has such a woman for me.

Still more needs to be said about my change of view towards middle-class churchgoers in light of a much better appreciation of how important other parts of the body of humanity, and of the body of Christ, are. For much of society, it may sound cliché to say that we are inter-dependent and connected, but a truism is still true, cliché or not. I have been able to devote so much time to Biblical studies and philosophy because of the division of labor that occurs within society. Someone needs to prepare the food at Subway so that when I go there once at least almost every day, there is good and healthy food that I can get in a short time. Some people need to be in the clothing business, such that I would need only to make a quick trip to some store to snatch up a piece of clothing. Having to make my own clothes would leave a lot less time for Bible study.

Moving specifically to the world of the body of believers, I would not be in the place I am today financially were it not for the generosity of many donors. The same goes for many others, including pastors, who do receive money from those who come to their church. But we cannot all go into full-time church or itinerant ministry. It's not workable. There's not enough money to go around. One must be the head, another the mouth, another the legs. Shall I bite the hand that feeds? Will I denounce the air I breathe? Not only is it not workable that every believer be in full-time church or itinerant ministry; it is not desirable. The world needs true believers in many fields, in jobs high and low. Witness may be verbal, but often its power is seen in actions. If those in the workplace are not given many opportunities to share their faith in the humming and bustle of worklife, they may yet do a great amount of good through how they live and faithfulness and diligence with which they carry out their work. Not every unbeliever is going to come to church, and even an evangelist hangs on the whim of those willing to come. Those who go into the workplace have opportunities that would never be given the evangelist, and they have them because of being in the workplace.

I have written these auto-biographical reflections after receiving input that people desired to hear more about me in my emails. They were not thinking just of a two-part reflection such as I have now provided. They were thinking of an ongoing, greater openness about my personal life. I understand there being a desire for something more personal, but I also feel that a greater and a regular focus on myself could dampen a message about Christ when I do speak of him. I can assure you that I am a sinner, and that in my own life I need Christ as others do, that I have my own idiosyncracies and inadequacies. It is better for me, it is better for you, that if I speak, I speak of Christ and magnify his love and mercy and power. It is such mercy and love that to the ashamed and guilty sinner give encouragement that he may repent and be embraced. It is that power that comforts the downtrodden with the assurance that evil men, scarcity, and disease are themselves subject to a master. God is the source of life, and spiritual. We are not. He redeems men from sin and its power. We do not. If I am to have a public platform, then for your benefit and mine, let me focus on Him and not myself. These auto-biographical reflections are at least partly in response to the input I received, but with them I do not wish to encourage a cult of celebrity in which those in ministry engage in the confessions of a publicly projected counseling session. That may gain sympathy for one's problems from others, but the solution to such problems remains the same. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. To those who repent, he offers forgiveness and comfort and hope of eternal life with him. For those who do not, they will have to give account to him who will judge the living and the dead (1 Pet. 4:5).

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