Archive for December, 2021

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution - Trueman, Carl R; Dreher, Rod (foreword by) - 9781433556333

I actually finished reading Carl Trueman’s important work The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self before my vacation. I didn’t have time to review the final section before heading out of town. So here we are a month or so later. It isn’t as fresh in my mind, but here we go anyway.

The final section is entitled Triumphs of the Revolution. His focus is the effects of the revolution of the self on western culture, particularly the United States. It is less philosophical. In each chapter he focuses on one aspect and how the revolution progressed, often through court cases.

This is not as intellectually stimulating as earlier sections. It can be downright discouraging to see the advancement of sin and selfishness under the guise of freedom for the self. That’s not his goal, but it is a reality to grapple with, similar to needing to face life “under the sun” in Ecclesiastes. You should tremble because of their effect on you, and lament the destruction of others.

The Triumph of the Erotic: Pornography

Sex pervades every corner of life. Just yesterday CNN was talking about school librarians pushing back against the grassroots move to get inappropriate books out of school libraries. They turn concerned parents into the enemy of freedom. This isn’t about the public library or local bookstore. It’s about what should be available to kids in school. Sexually explicit material is not educational. This is particularly true when the books include sexually explicit drawings like some of these books do.

Sex pervades the news. When I was a kids the ads for the Combat Zone establishments (strip clubs) were in the sports page of the Boston Globe. Now there are click bait and salacious stories on every news sight. Most ads on TV use sex to sell anything from drugs to toothpaste.

Trueman argues that this took place, not in academia, but through surrealism (art) and the increasing acceptance of pornography.

He begins with Oscar Wilde who fostered gay culture. Other authors that were considered legitmate (not dime store novels) focused on sex and dealt with censorship of their novels. He notes that Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce credits surrealism with the rise of eroticism. Artists like Salvadore Dali moved it from intellectualism to the common man. In surrealism, “the nature of the self and of identity was central.” It sought to give expression to the unconscious. The unconscious is the bedrock of our identity.

Here I was a bit lost or in disagreement. The idea is that in our dreams we can be who we want to be. I don’t think we choose our dreams. They do reflect our subconscious but that isn’t necessarily who I want to be. It seems an unchosen identity.

Either way, dreams fill surrealistic art that moved from the art gallery to popular culture in movies (like Spellbound). The subconscious is expressed to be our guide to truth. Thanks to Freud that subconscious is seen to be fixated on sex. Apparently he never got past adolescence.

Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism exalted the Marquis de Sade as a hero because his sexual behavior was “free from any control by reason, aesthetics, or morals.” Eroticism is the glorification of sex without regard to moral or aesthetic boundaries. If art (via Marx) is supposed to change the world, surrealism made it sexual. It wanted to overthrow Christianity and its limiting morality. The battle against Christianity was fought through the sexual revolution and art was a primary means.

PLAYBOY MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1976 Jimmy Carter Patti McGuire Cinema Misty Rowe  - $17.50 | PicClick
The Jimmy Carter cover

Hugh Hefner brought pornography mainstream with Playboy. It’s soft-core pictures seem tame and almost artistic today in light of how far things have been taken. It isn’t just Pornhub, but the popularity of shows like Game of Thrones with sexually explicit scenes that break moral boundaries in addition to premarital sex and adultery.

Hefner did this by including having more than pictures of naked women. They interviewed people of consequence: politicians, celebrities, musicians, authors etc.). It helped your brand to be interviewed in Playboy. The objectification of women seemed secondary, minimal. It promoted a lifestyle of enlightened, thoughtful hedonism. Hefner himself became a cultural icon and eventually had a mainstream show about life with his girlfriends. Soon porn stars like Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy were household names.

“Porn is now the norm.”

Christianity views pornography as inciting lust and furthering sexual violence against women. It distorts our expectations of sex and the human body. It is connected with human trafficking. Some “progressive Christians” like Nadia Bolz-Weber argue for “ethically sourced pornography” as though the sin is only in the trafficking.

Trueman then brings in the shifts in feminist thought. Old school feminists viewed it as part of the male domination of women. They opposed pornography. Some of the “newer” feminists like Camille Paglia are pro-pornography thinking this liberates women who participate or watch it. The question has become whether or not you like it, finding it helpful.

One of the big problems is that “pornography detaches sex from real bodily encounter” and relationship. John Mayer famously noted that pornography was easier than relationships: you don’t have to care about anyone else’s needs, wants, feeling and acceptance.

The future looks scary indeed as the pornography industry is always on the cutting edge of technology. Trueman refers to a report called Our Sexual Future with Robots. There is also the specter of virtual reality (I’d recommend the Black Mirror episode on this but it is explicit). Sex has indeed become cheap in our culture thanks to the “revolution”.

The Triumph of the Therapeutic

In his discussion of the triumph of the therapeutic, Trueman points to gay marriage. The road to cultural and moral acceptance focuses on the therapeutic. It culminates in the Obergefell v. Hodges decision but the cultural trajectory had been set in previous, unrelated cases. For instance we see this in the Planned Parenthood of Southern PA v. Casey case:

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under the compulsion of the State.”

Former Gov. Cuomo celebrating a law expanding abortion

Apparently science, that great idol of progressives with regard to Covid, is irrelevant in the issue of abortion. Additionally, my thoughts on the matter have no sway over others. Each must decide them for themselves and are free to act on them as long as the baby is still in the womb (mostly in some states).

Lawrence v. Texas overthrew an earlier precedent that upheld sodomy laws. It legitimized homosexual sex in the process. In his dissent, Scalia noted that the Court could not be swayed by popular opinion but was to rule on law. The belief that some sexual behaviors were moral and some were not was a bedrock of jurisprudence. He would add a foreboding note: “This reasoning leaves on pretty shaky grounds state laws limiting marriage to opposite sex couples.”

The idea is that society needs legalized abortion to make women happy. The laws should not restrict immoral behavior but permit people to be happy. Therefore if homosexual behavior makes people happy it should be permitted. Soon the argument would be transferred to marriage.

United States v. Windsor (2013) concerned the Defense of Marriage Act signed by Bill Clinton. It was claimed that DOMA exempted same-sex marriages from the definition of marriage. Obama’s Department of Justice chose not to defend the government from the lawsuit, and the Court narrowly decided to overturn the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. The majority then cast aspersion upon opponents of gay marriage by denying any rational basis to the view: it was all animus. Trueman notes that we have emotivism being used to disparage adherents of traditional views of marriage. These cases affirmed expressive individualism. This culminated in the Obergefell decision.

“A first premise of the Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy … the right to marriage is fundamental … A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education. … Fourth and finally, this Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order.”

The Court destroyed the traditions and social order in the process. Expressive individualism and our need to affirm everyone else’s self expression won. Children stopped being protected by marriage laws with the advancement of No-Fault Divorce (one of Reagan’s greatest regrets).

Singer thinks he is no more valuable than this sheep. (credit: The New Yorker)

Trueman then spends time looking at Peter Singer’s ethics. He views the fetus as a human being, for instance, but not a person. His ethics are about personhood, a rather elusive idea. Before a baby is a person it may be killed by the parent’s choice. And after you stop being a person (by virtue of mental infirmity) you too could be killed. Personhood is tied to viability (ability to survive on your own)which includes rational choice or consciousness. Singer puts forth the theory of speciesism. His views on abortion are pragmatic and therapeutic.

Trueman then shifts to the attacks on the freedom of speech because some speech hinders expressive individualism. Emotivism is used to characterize such speech as driven by fear and hate instead of solid moral reasoning. Rather than affirm free speech to avoid totalitarianism, expressive individualism fosters totalitarianism to protect their “rights” at the expense of others.

As I wrote at the bottom of a page, “they want dignity as sinners, not as image bearers.” That is a huge difference.

The Triumph of the T

I’ve been listening to The Kinks for the last few days. Trueman begins this chapter with a quote from “Lola”, one of their most recognizable hits. Written in the 70’s, this and movies like Dog Day Afternoon and athletes like Rene Richards show that transgenderism isn’t new. But in recent years the numbers of people with gender disphoria and identifying as transgender has skyrocketed.

Trueman identifies the “odd nature of the LGBTQ+ coalition”. Gays and Lesbians, for instance, are radically different in terms of how they are experienced, and the social behavior of the groups. Later Rosaria Butterfield will note that “lesbians eschew penetration, gay men engage in reckless and dangerous penetration.” He notes that to be accepted in the workplace, a lesbian frequently has to act and dress like a heterosexual woman and be attractive to men. The homosexual male has no such need to be attractive to women. There is clearly a very different power dynamic at play.

The T and Q differ from the L and G in that the former deny a fixed nature of gender which is actually assumed by the latter. Feminists like J.K. Rowling want to defend the genuine feminine experience from men who want to become women. She has drawn ire from many but seems to have the cache to not be cancelled, completely.

Trueman focuses on two seminal events in the quest to legitimize homosexuality. The first is the Stonewall riots in 1969, and the other is the AIDS crisis. The first solidified political activism by homosexuals. The AIDS crisis helped people to see them as sympathetic victims with a little help from Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen. With the focus on identity instead of behavior, they were dying for who they were, not risky behavior or coming into contact with the virus in other ways. I found it odd that the role of Dr. Fauci was not discussed in the AIDS crisis since that was when he first rose to prominence.

The big moment for the transgender movement is when Bruce Jenner declared to Diane Sawyer that he was now Caitlyn. Soon we got the bathroom policy debates and the vilification of North Carolina. For acceptance, the focus is necessarily one the psychological instead of the physical. “Biological and cultural amnesia must be the order of the day.” This psychological aspect is seen in Jenner’s statement:

“Bruce [was] always telling a lie. He’s lived a lie his whole life about who he is. And I can’t do that any longer. … For all intents and purposes, I am a woman. … And that very hard for Bruce Jenner to say. Cuz why? I don’t want to disappoint people.”

Jenner was still using masculine pronouns, oddly. But the focus is on “living a lie”, a lie he maintained for years because he didn’t want to disappoint people who viewed him as an Olympic and national hero. This is expressive individualism.

Trueman relies on correspondence with Rosaria Butterfield about the uneasy alliance. Before her conversion, Rosaria was a professor of queer theory and activist for queer causes. Transgenders were not accepted by queers until it was politically expedient. Additionally, “women who want to become transgender men usurp male privilege and turn their backs on women’s empowerment, men who want to become transgender women deny the male privilege that has been their invisible birth right and steal false identifications with victimhood.”

This is not theoretical for me. I have a relative who recently decided he now wants to be known as Amelia. I asked about sexual orientation since there has been a shift in gender. I wonder if this is an example of what I’m beginning call “woke guilt” (I don’t think anyone has used that, but I could be wrong). It is the need to avoid being associated with an oppressor group, so men can become women to join the victims instead of the evil oppressor.

These are unstable alliances. Biological women often feel robbed as transgender women take their places in politics, and beat them in sports competitions. The categories are increasingly unstable as well. Women as a category includes menstruating and non-menstruating (by biology, not time or providence) people. But now some men menstruate.

“If I am whatever I think I am and if my inward sense of psychological well-being is my only moral imperative, then the imposition of external, prior, or static categories is nothing other than an act of imperialism, an attempt to restrict my freedom or to make me inauthentic. … In this context, transgenderism is merely the latest iteration of self-creation that becomes necessary in the wake of decreation.”

The death-work in The Life of Brian has become an all too familiar reality.

The Yogyakarta Principles want to formally legalize these principles. Victimhood is the presenting reason for these legal standards that have a snowball’s chance in nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. The first they psychologized sexual orientation to include any number of orientations based on your attractions at any given time. They separated gender from sex. Gender is assigned, rather than recognized, at birth since there is now no objective standard for gender. All of this results in arbitrary views that are granted objective status that must be enforced. Metaphysics is dead, and we have killed it.

“First, while few if any would disagree that all persons should be equal before the law, the close connection of personhood with self-determined sexual identity renders personhood so subjective and plastic that the results in terms of formulating and applying the law would seem vulnerable to precisely the same subjectivity and plasticity.”

Reflections on the Triumphs of the Revolution

“Life in the world of the expressive individual now involves the public performance of what were once considered the more shameful elements of private character.”

We haven’t felt the full effect of these changes, yet. Trueman states that “transgenderism is set to change everything, from notions of privacy to the very language that ordinary people use in their day-to-day lives. The revolution of the self is now the revelation of us all. The modern social imaginary ensures that.” This unstable metaphysics cannot endure long, and the cultures that buy into this will collapse.

Concluding Unscientific Prologue

Trueman offers some concluding thoughts. He offers this book as neither “a lament (n)or a polemic.” Each has its place. We need to remember, as a Church, that we are exiles (1 Peter and Hebrews 11-13). It will often feel like we don’t belong here, and this revolution drives that point home.

Trueman admits that the book is “a provisional, imperfect, and incomplete narrative.” He’s not sure how it will end. He knows the book isn’t exhaustive and free from flaws. He wants this to serve as a prologue to future discussions, not the final word.

The hard fact is that while we are uncomfortable with some aspects of the revolution, we are also part of the revolution. We can’t avoid it. We are like the frog in the kettle.

Trueman notes that our situation is very different from 1500 Europe. We choose to be Christians in a way they didn’t/couldn’t. To be born then and there was to be part of the Church of Rome. Soon you could choose to be Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist etc. but still Christian. We are expressive individuals, but recognize that some expressions are sinful and reject them. There are ways that expressive individualism affirm the inherent dignity of the individual that prior generations did not. This is a step forward. The problem is detaching this from any sacred order.

He notes that we are entering The Brave New World. The emotivism and deathworks make ethical and political discussions heated and dangerous. There is far too much heat and not enough light. The common ground from which one can make their case no longer seems to exist.

“Our social imaginaries as Christians are often too little different from that of the culture around us. We can easily slip into using categories that are actually misleading and that militate against clarity on key issues.”

The Church can’t treat people’s desires as imaginary. It must address them in a thorough manner, rather than a reductionistic one. We are to speak not simply of sin, but also sanctification and serving people with those struggles. These are the people who will end up finding the revolution unsatisfying and come to Christ with all the baggage the revolution produces.

Additionally, we will have to wade into the the #MeToo movement and be honest about sexual harassment and assault within our institutions. We’ve seen the beginning of this as the truth about men like Ravi Zacharias and Bill Hybels have come to light. We will live in a world with gay marriage for the foreseeable future. We should find a way to honor the commitments people outside the church make to one another, even as we maintain a subculture of biblical marriage. We will have to sort out what to do with same sex couples with kids who come to Christ.

All this should drive us to the Scriptures to better understand and apply them. It isn’t compassionate to deny biblical truth. We need to grapple with the reality of original sin and the implications of that corruption. We also need to have a high view of the body, not just the soul. As an increasingly margin religious group we exist in a pluralist society, just like the early church. Christianity is no longer assumed but a choice. That may cause us to draw the ire of the authorities. But that may also garner the attention of those looking for hope. We’ll see.

My Final Thoughts

Trueman has written an important and needed book. It isn’t for everyone. I found this to be not only an important read, but a fascinating one. This book still takes time, perseverance and effort which are in seemingly short supply in our day. It is well worth taking that time. I’m glad I did. I hope many more will, but I am a realist (I think) in recognizing that this is beyond many Christians. Hopefully it will trickle down through those who read it in blogs like this, sermons, personal conversations and more.

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“Ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse you of competitiveness, comparing yourself to others, self-exalting bragging, and self-condemning whining, and you will discover gifts that you never dreamed you had.” Jack Miller

Many of us struggle with a spirit of competitiveness. This is not about competing in a sport or game. I am competitive in that sense. I play to win. My wife isn’t competitive at all. She feels no urge to win a board game, for instance.

Jack isn’t concerned about whether or not you want to win at a game of basketball. The spirit of competitiveness is when being competitive is a defining characteristic. This is what set Michael Jordan apart from others: he had to win at everything. He could never just enjoy a game of golf. He had to win, or, more importantly, better than you. The same was true for cards, ping pong, tiddlywinks etc. This is the danger Jack Miller is pointing out because it destroys community, friendships and as a function of pride opposes God (and is opposed by Him). This competitive ruins marriages, churches and workplaces. It is a corrosive power, like relational acid. Eventually you don’t want to be with that person since they suck all the joy out of life.

The same can be said about those who are always comparing themselves to others, bragging or whining. They are more familiar to us, but competitiveness as a fault isn’t. We recognize  that to compare yourself to others once in a awhile is not bad. You have to in some instances. To be proud of an accomplishment is not bad. To complain or put yourself down isn’t a big deal. Until that is what you do most of the time. It is the same with being competitive. It’s okay to want to win a game. It is not okay to have to be the best at everything. It’s not okay to always be bragging on yourself or your accomplishments. It’s not okay to be a whiner or full of self-condemnation. When the instance becomes the ordinary or normal status, you’ve got a problem.

Competitiveness can show up in needing to make more money than your peers. It isn’t about meeting your family’s need, it is about being better at selling, programing computers or whatever you do for money. It can show up in always trying to outdo another person. In the silly movie Deck the Halls, two neighbors compete to have the best Christmas displays in their neighborhood. The new neighbor, played by Danny DeVito, moves in on the long-time resident’s (played by Matthew Broderick) turf. He notes, “that’s MY thing” and he’s not giving it up no matter how ridiculous the competition gets. The men become enemies and the neighborhood is nearly destroyed. The comedy is based on an extreme example of an ordinary problem.

Such competitiveness refuses to recognize and appreciate the gifts and abilities of others. You feel the compulsive need to outdo the other as we see in the song Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better in the play Annie, Get Your Gun. Such competitiveness refuses to acknowledge the worth and value of others in your life. You can’t celebrate them but must crush them.

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Repentance: A Daring Call to Real Surrender Miller, C. John cover image

In 1972, Jack Miller’s daughter Barbara announced she was leaving the faith, and the church. She was weary of the strict moral code and wanted to do her own thing. When you are a pastor, this can be difficult to deal with. One of the things that Jack and Rose Marie did was form a prayer group when eventually became New Life Church. One of the things Jack did was study repentance which resulted in the book Repentance & 20th Century Man, published in 1975. It was revised in 1980, and my copy was copyrighted 1998. It has since been retitled simply Repentance.

While this book includes plenty of theology, it is meant to be a practical and heart-penetrating book. Jack is not simply aiming for the head but also the heart.

In his introductory note to the reader you can see the cross chart in written form. Christians can be taken up with evasion, pretense and the reliance on good works to address post-conversion sins. He admits that many Christians have not been instructed how to come to Christ to deal with their guilt and sin.

He points to conversations with his friend and Ugandan pastor Kefa Sempangi about a revival there in 1938. The people were openly confessing their sins. Jack longed to see repentance as a key factor in our churches, and for a revival as a result.

“Do not attempt to confess and forsake your old ways apart from the love of God manifested in a crucified Lord. Instead, look to the risen Savior who intercedes at the Father’s right hand for you.”

Repentance: The Foundation of Life

The unrepentant heart is to be fear. It is cold, hard and proud. God opposes, or fights against, the proud.

On the other hand, He loves the contrite of heart. He binds up the broken hearted. He is near to them and dwells to them. Here in the age of the Spirit, it is also the age of repentance. Repentance was frequently part of the message of the of the Apostolic church. Faith and repentance are linked together by Jesus and the Apostles. Satan seeks to separate them so we become separated (so to speak) from the Spirit. We become self-reliant and quench the Spirit rather than living Spirit-filled lives.

Like the Pharisees, we tend to delight in our knowledge and reputation more than in the Lord Himself. We become ignorant of the sins we commit. The fountain of life seems dried up. Repentance clears the channel so the water can flow so we live lives of gospel joy and obedience.

Repentance and Its Counterfeit

In this chapter Miller puts penance in his sights. It is a satanic counterfeit of repentance. It is not found only in Roman Catholicism but many a Protestant in name can rely on penance.

The first problem is that penance is about what we do. It is a function of our pride that thinks we can fix our sin problem. It seeks to merit grace. We find this theological formulation among the Pharisees, Roman Catholicism and the Latter Day Saints. It can be common among Protestants as well. It is rooted in a gross misunderstanding of grace.

As sinners, we still deal with indwelling sin. This means that all we do is tainted by sin. Indwelling sin can also blind us to our sin, and need for grace.

Penance also focuses on what we see and feel in ourselves. Its sorrow is a worldly sorrow focused on consequences instead of the sinfulness of our sin. He refers to Mark Twain (and will return to Twain’s autobiography), and the descent into self-pity. We try to rid ourselves of the self-pity without separating ourselves from the sin it produces.

Repentance leaves us powerless and under the power of sin. This is because the sinner trusts in himself. We see Peter wanting Jesus to depart from him because he was a sinner. Authentic disciples are bold and are enthusiastic for the things of God. And God!

We should not confuse conviction of sin with salvation. We should experience conviction of sin, but in salvation those experiencing it turn to Christ. Salvation is found in turning to Christ in true faith and repentance when the Spirit brings conviction of sin. This means that when we seek to restore a brother or sister, we point to Christ the Mediator and God’s promises of grace to the repentant.

Penance also looks for human priests rather than Christ our Great High Priest. It may not be an ordained priest, but someone who speaks works of absolution to us. This can be a pastor or elder, parent, spouse or trusted friend. It is usually someone we invest with spiritual power over us. Because they are not turning to Christ, they are still in their sin.

Repentance: What Is True Repentance?

We are not to defend ourselves, like Adam when he’s found hiding in the bushes. We are to fire our defense attorney to become beggars of grace from the hand of a merciful God. Sin doesn’t cease to be sin because it is committed by a Christian. We sin against a greater light and are held more accountable.

The Bible repeatedly calls us to repentance. We not to think of a weak Jesus begging us to turn around. He is the exalted Lord, though gentle and humble, that invites and commands us to repent. We see Miller develop his ideas of “Lordship evangelism” which should not be confused with Lordship salvation. It is similar to what we find in Calvin and Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ: Christ cannot be torn asunder. We can’t simply come to a Savior, we also find a Lord. This is implied in repentance.

Miller also develops the distinction between branch sins (those we see) and the root sins or idols of the heart. The branch sins get their power from the root sins. His example is laziness (branch) which is often a manifestation of our pride. We think we deserve rest and comfort. Others should work, it is beneath us. Christ saves us to the uttermost, not simply the branch sins.

One error common in our churches is people trusting in doctrine rather than Christ. We believe the doctrine of justification, but we must believe in Christ to be actually be justified. True repentance includes sorrow for sin but is actually turning to Christ in light of an apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ.

Repentance and the Spirit-filled Life

 It was during this time of Jack’s life that he was learning about life in the Spirit. Here he ties that life with repentance. This is not about emotional highs, but living in dependence upon the Living Lord. We can rest in previous emotional experiences and/or continually seek new emotional experiences.

The repentant person has looked at themselves honestly and confessed the pride and unbelief that remains. This enables them to see more clearly the pride and unbelief of others. The sign of the Spirit’s presence is love, not emotional highs.

Jack delves into John 14 and the connection between love, obedience and deeper fellowship. The Puritans distinguished between union (unchanging) and communion (dynamic). The Spirit produces love which expresses itself in obedience in which we experience greater communion: the presence of God. The Father delights to fellowship with His children, especially when they trust, rest and walk in His ways.

“The more that you know that you are stained to the bone with selfish impulses, the more that you see how you hold out against the will of the Lord, the more you go to Christ as a thirsty sinner who finds deeper cleansing, more life, and greater joy through the Spirit.”

Repentance and the Carnal Christian

Miller address the erroneous doctrine of the carnal Christian. He asserts that such a notion is based on a misunderstanding of Scripture, in particular 1 Corinthians 3. All Christians have received the Spirit. There is no “second blessing”. Paul wanted the Corinthians to live in light of that reality. They were living as if they were still carnal. They were backslidden, unrepentant. They were not a lower or different class of Christian. They needed to repent.

“The scandal is that they have become a contradiction in terms: they are spiritual men who are living as though they are not possessed of the Spirit.”

He returns to a definition of repentance as “man’s coming undone in respect to all human righteousness, followed by his going outside himself in faith to Christ alone for salvation.” Christ rules, and our disobedience to His rule necessitates the cross.

One problem that is common is that people insist that rebellious friends and relatives are Christians. They may call them carnal, but Christians. They don’t need a pep talk, but to hear the gospel and its call to repent. He returns to his understanding of Galatians: the Spirit produces faith and godly character, the unbelief produces self-effort and the works of the flesh. We must recognize the difference between the old man and new man in Christ, and preach the gospel for either justification or sanctification in light of that.

Repentance – God’s Mercy

Repentance is grounded in God’s mercy. God stirs us to repentance by His kindness. Sin, Miller offers, despises God and His glory. It also blinds us to His mercy. Repentance turns from our pride and unbelief. Repentance overthrows our idols.

Repentance and Counseling

Your repentance is necessary to being an effective counselor. Effective counselors will call people to repentance (but not just that).

“The impulsive, undisciplined person feels guilty because the disordered character of his life has destroyed the basis for self-respect.”

People often move through the external world to avoid dealing with their inner world. Like Adam people try to hide, deny and blame-shift. Sinful people suspect that God is out to ruin their fun, rather than protect them.

Jack often pointed people to Isaiah 53, Galatians, and/or John’s Gospel. He wants them to see Jesus as the One who gives life, and sin as that which steals life. Their problem is not simply a particular sin, but unbelief. Repentance is turning away from that unbelief and turning to Christ to receive life from Him.

He returns to the sins of the Christian. Repentance, and the blood of the Christ, is the only solution. Too many try to punish themselves as though they were responsible to save themselves. Miller keeps stressing that true repentance is a turning to Christ.

Keep in mind that he wrote this after Barbara turned away from Christ and her family. This began a long conflict. Jack began to realize that the difference between mouth righteousness and heart righteousness was often at play. Children grow weary of the words that don’t match the heart. Marriages are also ruined through a lack of repentance from either domineering or capitulating men, or wives who must get their own way. When parents don’t know how to deal with their sin, they can’t help their kids deal with theirs.

“For the gospel enables the new man to face his own sins squarely, confess them, and forsake them.”

Repentance and Sharing Christ

Lastly, Miller focuses on the connection between repentance and evangelism.

People who haven’t turned from their pride in repentance either don’t evangelize, period, or push it off on the professionals. Many put it off until they “know more”, as though the gospel was Ph.D. level. They are too strong in themselves to witness. Strong in themselves they often don’t want to get involved with sinners. They seek to protect themselves rather than rescue others.

Repentance ends in joy in the Spirit. It results in power through the Spirit. It frees you to pray, to express your weakness and be honest with your sin so that evangelism takes place. Such a person is not angered by sinners, but recognizes his own sin such that he points them to Jesus for salvation.

Jesus came to save sinners; to see and save the lost. He sends us to continue that work. We’ve been granted a ministry of reconciliation. We have not received a ministry of condemnation. But if we are not repentant people, we will focus on building walls and pointing out sins rather than pointing to Christ.

Summing Up:

This short book covers a number of topics but keeps returning to repentance as a turning from sin and to Christ. Miller keeps bringing us to Jesus and the cross. He presses in, and we can learn from this. We can also ask if we are repenting or expressing worldly sorrow? This book makes a good give away volume.

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Here is the second part of my interactive review of Michael Graham’s “critical biography” of C. John (Jack) Miller, one of the key figures of the 20th century as a pastor, evangelist, professor, missionary and author. I hope you take the time to read Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller.

Cheer Up! God’s Spirit Works In Your Weakness

Cheer Up!: The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller - Graham, Michael A - 9781629957210

Jack learned that weakness was a good thing, and his pride and self-reliance were not. This awareness of his weakness set the stage for a time of fruitful, pioneering ministry for Jack. But the changes in his approach to ministry still needed to be applied to family life to a greater degree.

During a summer vacation in Europe, they spent time at L’Abri and were struck by how much prayer took place there. He realized that pride kept him from prayer. He realized that pride keeps people and congregations from prayer. He connected that to the collapse of his ministry & joy in Christ. Jack saw that weakness was not to be feared but was the occasion for prayer which God used as a means for fruitful ministry. As he studied by the Mediterranean he saw the important place of God’s promises to our prayer. He also saw the ministry of the Spirit strengthening the weak who lay hold of those promises. Here exactly is where many churches fail. I am convinced this is why the first church I pastored closed: I couldn’t get people to pray corporately. This was connected to a lack of personal witnessing.

““When I pray and do evangelism, I have laid hold of God’s own … method [of salvation],” Jack wrote. Therefore, he concluded elsewhere, “we must get down to knee-work””

When Jack returned home he continued his study of prayer, promises and the out-pouring of the Spirit. He became a functional Trinitarian rather than neglecting the Spirit. Edmund Clowney helped him see these connections more clearly. Like Paul he wanted to boast in his weakness instead of fleeing weakness. American Christians seem to fear weakness, and expressing their very real weakness. Our denomination struggles with pride: we value success, not struggle. We hide our weaknesses. This can be seen in comments about not needing to learn from other denominations. We think we have it all together.

Repentance: A Daring Call to Real Surrender Miller, C. John cover image

In evangelism, he realized he invited people to the Lord Jesus Christ. Evangelism is relational, and he began to add “Lordship evangelism” to the mix. We can see this in his book Repentance (formerly Repentance & the 20th Century Man). We cannot tear Christ asunder. He was influenced in this view by a paragraph in Bavinck which unmasks false religions as sin and calls people to a knowledge of the true God. Jack sought to approach people as a fellow sinner rather than an angry Christian. We should be humble as forgiven people. We speak as repentant people, not those who have arrived (the last chapter of Repentance is all about this).

Jack experienced a new freedom in evangelism, and ministry. He was free to confess his sins, leading people as the repenter-in-chief. The danger can be that others are content to let you confess your sin as though they don’t also need to do this. As pastor, I can often feel that I’m the only one who seems to own their sin in conflict.

In 1972 Rose Marie experienced a series of health problems. He knew that he should leave either the Chapel or WTS to have more time to care for her. Shaeffer advised him to remain at WTS in order to influence a generation of pastors. He resigned from Mechanicsville Chapel. A few months later his daughter Barbara announced she was leaving the faith. This resulted in an expanded paper on repentance which would become Repentance & the 20th Century Man. It also resulted in a prayer group meeting in his home in Jenkintown.

Those prayer meetings began considering a church where the unconverted could hear about Jesus and be called to faith. By February 1973, 48 people met in the Miller home for the first meeting of what would become New Life Church. They met at 4:30 in the afternoon. Soon they met in the local library. Despite expanding to two services, they needed a larger facility. They moved to the YMCA in 1974 and would be there until 1981.

One main emphasis for New Life was prayer, and prayer meetings could last 3 or 4 hours. People were encouraged to invite non-Christians. John Julien, son of the OPC elder who provided airfare, lived with the Millers during this time frame. As a WTS student, he noted it was essentially a never-ending prayer meeting at the house.

Jack began to speak of “preaching the gospel to yourself.” This practice was not original to him though the language seems to be. Martyn Lloyd-Jones encouraged people to talk to themselves instead of listening to themselves. The Puritans talked of claiming the promises.

Jack’s theology of evangelism which included relationships, Lordship and weakness now incorporated hospitality. This did not mean it could only take place in the home, but that home was a good place to further friendship and express love. This didn’t mean easy. It was often messy. Dealing with sin and misunderstandings in light of the gospel is one way to make the gospel visible and relevant. There was also an assault on a host. Graham includes a shocking example of this with Gwen. After spending time living with the Millers she began to plan their murder. Before carrying out a plan she confessed this to them and experienced the reality of forgiveness. She saw her sinfulness in wanting to kill the only people who’d given her consistent love.

Despite the numerous and often dramatic conversions, Jack learned all was not well at home. So good at listening to others, Rose Marie declared that Jack didn’t listen to her. Jack began to develop his listening skills with her. When he asked again, she had the same answer. He realized his sin problem was deeper than he thought. But so was hers. She looked to him as something of a savior. Her struggle deepened. In 1975 he was granted a sabbatical to caravan in Ireland and Europe. Rose Marie began to learn what Jack had learned earlier about regular repentance and reliant prayer.

Back at New Life Jack had help from Ron Lutz, a WTS intern who became an associate pastor, and Dick Kaufmann. These men complemented one another, and Jack, to form a great team.

Cheer Up! Justification Is By Faith Alone, Even in the Twentieth Century

The growth of New Life Church contributed to a theological controversy that occupied Jack, WTS and the OPC for seven years (1976-1983). This chapter is one of the best resources to understand the controversy. The Trinity Foundation material was not helpful to me. Graham reflects Jack’s concerns, but doesn’t vilify Shepherd. Neither did Jack. Graham also notes that at points, Jack agreed with Norman Shepherd.

Shepherd taught systematic theology at Westminster. He was concerned about “easy believism” in general and what he perceived was happening at New Life. His concerns were similar to later concerns about Sonship (which I find generally unfounded) that the emphasis is so much on justification that sanctification is neglected.

As is common, to address one extreme Shepherd went to a different or opposite extreme rather than re-establishing the gospel. Shepherd began to stress the necessity of works for salvation. How you express that matters. Confessionally, they are necessary evidence of justification but never the basis for justification. It is common to speak of having been saved (justification), being saved (sanctification) and will be saved (glorification). Shepherd expressed the ideas of having been justified, being justified and will be justified. His views seem to lay the foundation for Piper’s “final justification” which includes works, and the Federal Vision (as much as I can understand the FV).

Shepherd believed Jack expressed a Lutheran law-gospel distinction (the WCF expresses such a distinction), while Jack believed that Shepherd overly stressed the continuity of the covenant such that he lost sight of the newness of the covenant under Christ, particularly the outpouring of the Spirit. It was a controversy that tore at the fabric of Westminster’s faculty and board, and then the OPC. This controversy is one reason the PCA turned down the OPC’s inquiry into uniting along with the RPCES. The PCA and RPCES would unite in 1982.

It did result in Shepherd being removed from the faculty after years of debate. It did drive Jack deeper into the Scriptures, Confessions and theologians like Calvin, Vos and more. Sadly his unpublished paper “Justification by Faith in the 20th Century” remains unpublished and isn’t an appendix to this book. Similar to the Marrow Controversy, we should learn that “easy believism” and various forms of “Lordship salvation” are twin sins whose answer is always the gospel rather than pushing the opposite error.

Jack lamented the damage to God’s glory and faculty relationships. In a letter to Gaffin he wrote “I’m left totally downcast at our inability to work through these matters in a gospel manner.” I find his comments in a letter to Norman Shepherd pertinent to the PCA’s current struggles.

“On some points I am closer to you than brothers like Arthur [Kuschke] and Palmer [Robertson]. On the basic issue I think I am further away from you than they … The conflict simply cannot go on in this form simply because it undermines the clarity of the gospel and confuses the faith of us all. … My purpose is only that you might understand that your style at times was not one of reconciliation and mutual love. … It must be greatly offensive to the Lord to see us defending the gospel in a manner that puts us at a distance from one another… The whole matter makes me sick at heart. I see little honor for Christ in what has happened, and no victors, only mutual shamefacedness.”

Theological precision is important, but love is more important. We aren’t discussing vastly different theological systems, but are down in the finest of points. These are not departures from the gospel, but seem to be about how best to minister to others in a culture more like Corinth than the one we grew up in many decades ago.

Cheer Up! God’s Kingdom Is More Wonderful Than You Ever Imagined

A friendship with an African pastor opened the door to ministry in Africa and the formation of World Harvest Mission (now named Serge). WHM would spread to Ireland, Spain and other nations.

That pastor was Kefa Sempangi, who initially met Edmund Clowney at the home of Hans Rookmaaker in 1973. He led a Pentecostal church in Uganda and wanted more trained pastors in his home country. Shortly after Idi Amin took control, Sempangi and his family fled for their lives and he ended up at Westminster. Attending New Life, he became a friend Jack’s who introduced him to Reformed Theology.

New Life began sending some missionaries to refugee camps in Kenya. New Life was a pioneer of short-terms missions as they sent teams to Africa and Ireland. When they were able to go back into Uganda it was still scary. Any sermon could be your last in light of all the armed and angry people. The level of poverty they experienced was also shocking. Rose Marie, in particular, struggled with this. Jack expressed that she was living like an orphan, as if an all-powerful and good God wasn’t her Father. Jack’s weakness and cultural sensitivity opened many doors and hearts. Numerous churches were planted, and people converted.

During this period, Barbara divorced her husband. Their conflict with her “beat the stuffing” out of them. Jack slowly began to apply what he’d learned with others to this relationship: repenting of his failures as a father. He expressed his love for her, which angered her but eventually broke her. She and her new husband Angelo would convert to Christianity in 1980.

In 1982, mission creep led to frustrations between the PCU and NLC. This led to the formation of World Harvest Mission with a clearer vision and mission. In 1983, Rose Marie confronted Jack about his two mistresses: the PCU and NLC. She expressed the need for him to cherish and nurture her (Eph. 5) like he did them. Growth in one area does not guarantee growth in all. We can also fall into the same traps a few times. Jack’s pioneering spirit expressed its downside in his marriage. Living on the cutting end of life is not good for your marriage. At the same time a financial misunderstanding led to a break between the PCU and WHM. The day before leaving Uganda after contentious meetings, Jack suffered a major heart attack. His weakness would deepen. The conflict would be put on hold.

Outgrowing the Ingrown Church

In light of this, John Julien was tabbed to plant a New Life church in Philadelphia (he would serve until he retired in 2020). Other changes at New Life became necessary. In the midst of this the AIDS crisis emerged in the States. Jack had seen AIDS in Africa and was far more compassionate than most evangelical leaders. During his recuperation he wrote Outgrowing the In-grown Church.

“We must become the community of the forgiven and forgiving, not the community of the frightened.”

Training manuals for New Life and World Harvest continued to be updated. Paul Miller developed the course to cover prayer, evangelism and discipleship. It had four modules, as Paul describes them “In Sonship you learn about God’s love for you. In Discipleship you learn to communicate that with another Christian. In Evangelism you learn to communicate the gospel with non-Christians, and in Teams you do that with a group of Christians.” So, you have the foundation of Sonship.

Jack taught a Sonship course in St. Louis in 1986. President Kooistra of Covenant Theological Seminary invited him to speak on campus. Kooistra wanted to establish a theology and practice of grace, concerned about a form of Reformed fundamentalism that used theological strictness to continually whittle the church down (and denomination). He saw this as a response to liberalism (here we see the opposite reaction being another departure from the gospel, again). Jack kept pointing him to the gospel of grace as the answer and hope for the denomination.

Learning this I can see why some so despise Covenant Theological Seminary. They want CTS to be theologically strict. This is all part of the Subscriptionist debate in the PCA. This on-going tension seems to be playing a part in the recent controversies.  Theological agreement in the minutest point take precedence over our calling to “seek and save the lost” and partake in the ministry of reconciliation rather than one of condemnation. In Repentance, Jack speaks of loving the Confession more than the Christ of whom the Confession speaks. Some prize theology more than Christ and His church and end up damaging the church through a lack of love.

Cheer Up! Come On, Let’s Die Together! It’s a Great Way To Come To Life

Graham looks at the last few years of Jack’s life as he continued to struggle with health issues. This also saw the growth of the Sonship movement along with criticism from unlikely sources.

I’m not sure the doctrine of justification was neglected in the PCA, but certainly the doctrine of adoption was. You could say justification is neglected as a present reality. Sonship was intended to not simply be theoretical, but designed to help people live out biblical theology, as well as communicate it. It focused on a life of repentance.

Jack perceived resistance in the OPC. In his opinion, too many pastors focused on the sins and failings of others and not their own, nor the denominations. They were in-grown. He began to think that NLC and WHM were a better fit for the PCA than the OPC.

For instance, after his first pastorate in Hopewell Tim Keller worshiped at NLC for 5 years while teaching at WTS. He’d been asked to find a good candidate to plant a church in Manhattan, NY and ended up going himself. He would bring what he learned at NLC to this PCA church plant.

Additionally, the PCA’s Mission to the World used Sonship to train its missionaries. The failed union between the PCA and OPC weighed on Jack as well. The PCU asked Jack how the denominations could work together in Uganda but not in America. After the Shepherd Controversy ended, the PCA extended another offer to the OPC in 1984. This time the OPC, in a 1986 GA vote, rejected the union.

Many thought the denominations nearly identical. There is more to it than theology (as the tensions in the PCA today reveal). There are also considerations of culture and methodology (applied theology). In these regards the OPC is very different from the PCA (and the ARP, RPCNA etc.). In these terms, NLC and WHM fit much better in the PCA.

What happened is odd in that NLC would move into the PCA in 1990. It took so long as the leaders were aware that their departure, as the largest congregation, could have huge ramifications. WHM would remain distinct, and eventually old friend Paul Kooistra would end the use of Sonship for training. The issue seemed to be more about some of the disciplers/trainers than the program. Our Pharisaical hearts can even be legalistic about grace, and some MTW missionaries expressed this concern.

With Jack’s declining health, he followed the advice of many to resign from NLC and work only with WHM in late 1990. There was a financial issue to address. He had to adjust to the additional oversight provided by a board, particularly as a man who had a pioneer spirit. As he health continued to decline due to a series of mini-strokes he focused more on prayer. He wrote A Faith Worth Sharing in 1996.

“It is hard to see it as a perfect plan if you don’t know how much God loves you, because hard things happen to all of us.”

A Faith Worth Sharing: A Lifetime of Conversations About Christ

He continued to travel to speak in the U.S. and Europe. On the day before a scheduled trip home from Spain in April of 1996 he experienced more angina. When they performed surgery on him they discovered that the damage to his heart from the earlier heart attack and his chemotherapy had damaged too much of his heart. It was only a matter of time, and family members rushed to Spain to say their good-byes. Jack was only 67 when he died.

After his death, criticism of Sonship came from some unexpected sources. One was Jay Adams, who had served with Jack for years on the practical theology faculty of WTS. They had been friends which made the personal tone Adams used particularly painful for the Miller family. The word used as Graham discusses this is “psychological”. Perhaps the old word used by the Puritans would be more appropriate: experiential. Sonship pushed you to experience or appropriate grace, not discuss it in the abstract (like a good Presbyterian). Much of the criticism seems focused here. When one uses shorthand too much it can become too much like magic. Kooistra spoke of grace becoming a power word (like gospel-centered would be later), as though simply talking about grace was the answer instead of seeking grace in Jesus Christ by faith.

Graham speaks to the legacy of Jack Miller, which really can’t be well accounted in this life. In terms of institutions you do see his fingerprints on WTS as well as Covenant Theological Seminary (via Kooistra) and Reformed Theological Seminary (as many WTS grads taught there). His impact on pastors, missionaries  and lay people can’t be added up. We will ultimately only be able to behold the fruit in heaven.

Graham did call this a critical biography. He shows us Jack’s development (which includes struggles and sin) as a person, pastor and professor. He shows us Jack’s failings as a father and husband. But those failings were not the end of the story. Graham shows his repentance and gradual transformation. While Jack was worse than he knew, Jesus was greater than Jack could ever imagine. Jack’s pride, self-reliance and insecurity would not get the final word. And neither will yours. This biography offers hope to the struggling pastor, father, husband, elder, missionary, lay person because it shows us that Jesus uses flawed people who embrace their flaws and trust in Christ.

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Jack Miller has been one of the Christian leaders in the background of my life since he came to RTS Orlando to speak on repentance in the 1990’s. My wife and I benefited from Sonship shortly after we were married in 2002. I’ve given away his book The Heart of the Servant Leader to officers, and his devotional to officers and graduates. I’ve used Gospel Transformation for discipleship.

I am not alone. When it comes to the topic of grace, leaders and authors like Tim Keller, Joni Earekson Tada, Jerry Bridges, David Powlison and so many more point to Jack Miller as influential in their lives. He was a pastor, missionary, evangelist, seminary professor who could be summed up as pioneer.

Cheer Up!: The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller - Graham, Michael A - 9781629957210

In Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller, Michael A. Graham communicates Jack’s background, struggles, triumphs and legacy. While Graham’s respect for Miller shines through, this is not hagiography. We see some of Jack’s warts (post-conversion). He is a real man who struggled with sin and found strength in Christ through the Spirit. We also see how the struggles shaped not only his theological emphases, but his approach to ministry.

If your joy is gone, this is a great book to read. If you have a disconnect between your theology and practice, this is a great book to read. If your ministry is going well but family life is not so well, this is a great book to read. It is about how God graciously works in those He loves to bring them where He longs for them to be.

Cheer Up! What Happened to All Your Joy?

Graham’s introduction is appropriate for my own state of mind. Well, the title is. He explains why this is a “critical biography”, as well as his own connections to Jack and Rose Marie. Sonship played a key role in his conversion, and helped save his marriage. During a PhD seminar led by Daniel Akin, Graham notes that the man who influenced the authors of many of the books they were reading was Jack Miller. Dr. Akin was not familiar with Miller and remarked that Graham needed to write a biography on Miller. Graham’s dissertation was a critical biography which has been adapted to become this book. He notes that the gospel was the soundtrack of Jack’s life. When the gospel isn’t the soundtrack (if we change the channel for a while as we are prone to do) we lose our joy. We will discover the times when Jack’s life turned to a minor key, and he struggled. But those struggles opened him to realize the greatness of grace in a new way. This is how God works in our lives. Sometimes it is needful for our us to struggle, even fail, so our weakness reveals His strength, our foolishness His wisdom, our sinfulness His mercy.

“While Jack’s sin patterns do not define him, they grew out of real areas of sin that Jack took seriously and often wept over.”

Cheer Up! God’s Grace Is Far Greater than You ever Dared Hope

The first chapter traces Jack’s family background, marked by tragedy, up to his conversion to Christ as a young man. His early childhood in Oregon was not easy but taught him an independent, self-reliant spirit that was both a blessing and a curse.

I used the word pioneer for a reason. Both sets of his grandparents were pioneers who crossed the Northwest Passage and settled in Oregon. They knew prosperity and poverty. His father was a game hunter, guide and bred hunting dogs. He had a reputation as one of the best in the state.

When Jack was 2 in 1930, his father was pressured by a relative to go on a hunting trip. He was accidentally killed on that trip. Jack was “fathered” by his older brother Leo.

Nearly destitute, Jack’s mother re-married but Al was an abuser. Jack, being the youngest, endured a reign of verbal and physical terror that stopped only when Leo threatened Al if he ever laid a hand on Jack again. Fearing life under Al’s roof, a teenaged Jack moved in with his sister in San Francisco. We begin to see why the doctrine of adoption became such an emphasis for Jack as a result of his difficult childhood. We also see the pioneering spirit as he would return in the summers to work in the national parks.

Jack grew up in a nominal Christian family and church that didn’t seem helpful in processing the pain of his life. At the age of 12 he declared himself an atheist. When he moved to San Francisco, he finished high school, got his machinist certification and worked in the shipyard. Ella Mae, had come to Christ, attended First Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Jack began to attend as well but studied the Bible to argue with the people there. Additional members of his family were converted. In 1945, Jack “converted”. He later called this outward, behavioral change rather than true conversion. Leo’s death, 2 weeks before his discharge from the military in 1945, devastated Jack. He dropped out to college and returned to Oregon for three years.

In 1948 he read Machen’s The Christian View of Man. This was his first exposure to the doctrine of predestination. He hated it! Since Machen referenced Ephesians 1, Jack read it. The Spirit opened Jack’s eyes and for the first time he understood the treasonous nature of sin- to play the part of God. He also finally understood something of who God was. Jack was truly converted to Christ, not simply to “religion”. Jack found a new joy, a stubborn joy. Jack also returned to San Francisco and college.

As a new Christian, Jack learned to share his faith. As a college student he didn’t earn much money. He stayed in a boarding house, eventually becoming the cook. There he interacted with ordinary, sometimes hard men. He also shared his faith with them. He learned about relational evangelism: building trust over time so people can see the authenticity of the message.

“The people you encounter daily are the ones Jesus wants you to share the gospel with. But make sure that you are understanding and loving the gospel more each day yourself or you will not be able to love and understand the friends at your ‘breakfast table.’”

Jack also saw the power of the church in evangelism. Another boarder, Gus, was an atheist. Jack had been unable to convince him of the truth of Christianity. But Gus accepted an invitation of a gathering at First OPC. There Gus saw the love of Christians for one another. The relationship led to community and that helped lead Gus to faith. As Jack continued to share his faith with Bill, the owner of the boarding house he saw in real life the sovereign nature of grace. Evangelism is ultimately about what God does, not what we do.

Cheer Up! You Are Far Worse Than You Think

The second chapter covers his life as a new Christian along the long and winding road to ministry which saw early success. That success came at a cost, and soon Jack’s joy was gone and he was on the brink of giving up.

In early 1949, Jack was teaching a class at First OPC when he noticed a young lady who taught another class. Her name was Rose Marie. He began their relationship by trying to convince her that dispensationalism was erroneous. When he returned to Oregon for the summer to work for the National Park Service, he would write her letters. Those letters were all about doctrine.

Rose Marie came from a Lutheran family that lost their money in the stock market crash of 1929. When Rose Marie was 13, she prevented her mother from committing suicide, and it wouldn’t be the last time. Her first fiancé broke off the engagement when he realized marrying her included marrying into an impoverished family with a suicidal mother and developmentally disabled sister to help care for. When Jack proposed, she wanted him to embrace her role as part-time caretaker for the family. Jack was convinced of two things at this time: that he would marry her and that he would go to Westminster Theological Seminary to study under Van Til.

Self-reliant Jack carried the financial burden of the family himself. While completing his undergraduate degree he worked at the school cafeteria. They lived in a boarding house. In the summer they would return to Oregon to his job with the National Park Service, and when not reading books he’d teach her to shoot.

As their family expanded, God continued to provide. First it was a friend at church who owned a rent-controlled home they lived in for $25/month while he continued his studies in philosophy. At the time that Jack graduated and Paul was born, the home was no longer rent-controlled and God provided a 3-bedroom apartment through another friend from church for $30/month.

Before he graduated God began to address Jack’s fear of man. A professor, Alfred Fisk, was known to attack and undermine the faith of conservative Christian students. When he turned his attention to Jack, Jack’s response was rooted in Machen’s book. Fisk, noting the influence of his old Princeton professor, decided to leave Jack alone. Later Fisk would share an exchange he had with Machen, and Jack invited him to come to Christ. Jack realized Fisk was trusting in his reason. It was this encounter that convinced Jack to attend WTS and study under Cornelius Van Til.

First OPC supported this move and provided monthly money for food. Ruling Elder Jack Julien, a friend of mine, provided the Millers with the airfare to get to Philadelphia. Knowing his friendship with Jack I provided him with a copy of this book. Little did I realize that he would make an appearance (as would his son).

Unfortunately Philadelphia was difficult on their health. There were financial problems. After two harsh winters, they moved back west before Jack completed his degree.

Jack got a job teaching at a school in Ripon associated with the CRC. The financial stress began to bother Rose Marie. It probably didn’t help that the Dutch community was fairly closed to outsiders like the Millers, resulting in relational isolation for the stay-at-home mom. They also lived in a two-bedroom house near the jail, which was not an enviable location. Jack, the pioneer, wanted to apply Dooyeweerdian philosophy to literature, which did not thrill the headmaster. To supplement their income, Jack worked part-time for WTS doing fund raising in California. He also worked with a core group in Modesto to begin morning and evening worship. People in the OPC and WTS viewed him as a rising star and made offers, including leaving his family in CA to finish in Philadelphia before returning to church work in CA. He considered teaching in a seminary once he got his doctorate, and was enrolled to begin in the fall of 1958.

In early 1959 he and another elder were appointed to a church mission in Stockton, CA. Since he did not have his degree, his ordination was “irregular”. His friend Rousas Rushdoony moderated the installation service. Jack was still teaching at Ripon. His time was divided by many projects, and Rose Marie grew increasingly angry and felt guilty. Jack also lost his joy in Stockton. He decided to study philosophy at the University of the Pacific rather than Cal-Berkley since they offered a stipend. As a result he resigned from teaching in Ripon. Two years later he resigned from Bethany OPC to work in a think tank. His time there was also marked by disappointments and changes.

In 1964 Edmund Clowney presented the offer for Jack to return to Philadelphia to finish his degree at WTS and join the faculty when he finished his PhD. Jack completed his qualifying exams at University of the Pacific, and traveled to Philadelphia to find housing suitable for his family and Rose Marie’s side of the family. He rented a home in Jenkintown and got a job with the OPC’s The Mark Magazine. Jack was struck by how ingrown the local OPC churches were.

In 1965 he transferred his credentials to Philadelphia and became stated supply for Mechanicsville Chapel (useless trivia, the first wedding I officiated was in Mechanicsville, PA), a small independent church that hadn’t had a pastor for a few years. He developed the Chapel into a preaching station for students. He finished his own WTS degree in 1965, began to teaching at WTS in 1966 and defended his dissertation in 1968. Jack would remain a professor in the practical theology department until 1982.

Jack was there during two eras at Westminster. He was present for the end of the “early Westminster” period, which Clowney described at having a closed fist. The battle with liberalism that led to the formation of WTS marked this period. The “middle Westminster” period was one of marked by internal struggles. Graham provides a brief history of WTS for those who aren’t as familiar with the institution. Both Van Til and Jack preached and practiced evangelism, often doing street preaching together in the 60’s and 70’s.

Early on Jack struggled personally, spiritually. He later would say he was working out his salvation in his own strength. His theology of grace was not yet applied to ministry. He was insecure. While things went well in ministry, they were not well at home as some of the kids felt forgotten. His pride was producing an angry and critical spirit.

Jack, feeling driven, talked to Francis Schaeffer, D. James Kennedy, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Donald McGavran and Albert Martin about effective ministry and ministers. He found four common features: clear and relevant gospel messages, availability to people to preach to them where they worked and lived, taking risks and being in vulnerable positions, and commitment to prayer. The last seemed the hardest for Jack at the time. As he spoke with these men, it was for them as well. God would work to bring Jack to his knees in prayer.

In 1966 Jack recruited William Edgar to work in New Hope with a model based on L’Abri. New Hope was an artsy community, and Jack and William spoke about art. Early enthusiasm waned, the Edgars were under great financial stress and he felt in over his head. After 6 months the ministry collapsed, Jack blamed Edgar, and Edgar returned to Connecticut. Edgar was deeply wounded by Jack’s accusations. Jack slipped into a depression. It got to the point in May of 1970 that he offered his resignation at both the Chapel and WTS. He informed Rose Marie that he was without any jobs.

Jack now had time to pray, and cry. Here’s how Graham puts it:

“As he prayed, he realized how much he “had been crippled by [his] liking to be liked.”. He had entered into what Richard Lovelace called “an unconscious conspiracy” between this desire to be liked and applauded and the desire of his congregation to remain comfortable and undisturbed. In such a scenario, Lovelace said “pastors are permitted to become ministerial superstars. Their pride is fed … and their congregations are permitted to remain herds of sheep in which each one has cheerfully turned to his own way.””

Jack realized neither he nor the congregations had lives of faith and repentance. He expected them to change, but not to change himself. He had to face his need for approval. Realizing this, not the Chapel or WTS, was the problem he agreed to return to both. For reasons not explained he couldn’t express his repentance to Edgar for two decades. It waited until Edgar was hired as a professor of apologetics in 1989. But Jack’s approach to ministry, and life (!) was changed after his crisis in 1970.

I suspect Jack’s experience is all too common. The subject of the “unconscious conspiracy” may require another post. The fear of man, showing up as the approval of man, marks many ministries and ministers.

Since my interactive review is so long, I will pick up in Part 2 (as you might have figured out by the title).

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