Paul Washer is a preacher. I hear about him seemingly everywhere. Many hail him as the latest in a long line prophetic preachers who are going to change the world with their powerful voice by calling the church to reform. He is hailed as being extremely orthodox, although others have pointed out some inconsistencies (see, A Message Charles Finney Would Have Love; Calminianism) in his teaching. He is venerated as a powerful voice amongst Reformed Evangelicals. He is a compelling speaker. I came across this little segment just this evening at Reformed Voices:
“You see young men listen to me, there is a reformation going on in this country. There is a real reformation. I’m not talking about the church growth six flags over Jesus entertainment type of reformation or revival. I’m not talking about the media charismatic type of revival. But I travel all over this country, I travel all over the world, I visit many universities and I am seeing quite an amazing thing, that even in secular universities when I go there to speak, I see 100-150 young men and women reading Edwards and Spurgeon and more importantly the Apostle Paul and reading him rightly. There is a reformation occurring. And God has done it, and He will do it.”
I don’t mean to be a wet blanket to Mr Washer’s enthusiasm and conviction, but what?!? This paragraph is absolutely meaningless and I am surprised that the normally carefully written Reformed Voices blog even posted it.
First, what does ‘reading Edwards and Spurgeon’ have to do with ‘real reformation’? All that tells me is that there are a group of people in the world who have done nothing to acclimate themselves to the year 2008. Oh sure, Spurgeon and Edwards said some wonderfully Biblical and profoundly powerful things in their day, many of which are still, amazingly, relevant. But is Mr Washer really saying that in order for God to do ‘it’ (reformation) all he requires is for the church to start reading the works of Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon? This is naive at best; myopic at worst. This takes the burden off of every preacher to do the real work of study and places it squarely in the laps of several hundred year old men. Easy enough for me! Furthermore, this tells me that there is a group of people who think that current day authors and theologians and preacher have discovered nothing new, nothing better, and have nothing fresh to say about the way we do church in 2008 America. Or, that these kids have college professors who are making them read those authors.
Second, what, only 100-150 out of all the people he sees in his ‘worldwide’ and ‘countrywide’ travels are getting this reformation going and, furthermore, not because God’s Holy Spirit has taken hold of them with a conviction for justice, compassion for the poor, love of Messiah, and creativity in ministry–but because they are reading the tired, verbose writings of Edwards and Spurgeon? Seriously? Is that all it takes, because if it is, I’m going to Amazon or Christian Classics Ethereal Library in the morning and downloading a copy of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and preach that instead of preaching a long-winded sermon from Mark and Luke’s Gospel. In fact, I’ll just photocopy some Spurgeon and pass it out to the congregation and sit back and enjoy the morning. No point in doing the hard work of study for myself when Spurgeon and Edwards have it all worked out for us now is there?*
Third, while I am glad there are young men and women reading Paul ‘correctly’ I have to confess that I am a bit confused. (Unless Mr Washer means people are reading Paul Washer correctly, and then I understand perfectly. 🙂 ) Still, here’s my point. Paul the apostle wrote, what, 13 of the books of the Bible. There are 66 books. That means Paul did not write 53 of them. So, my question is, are these 100-150 young men and women around the world also reading Isaiah correctly? What about Leviticus? What about Malachi? What about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? How about the Psalms? What about reading the Bible Jesus read? There’s a great big Bible to be read and thinking that we need only read 13 of the books is rather, well, insulting. And ‘correctly’? Well who makes that judgment? If by correctly he means ‘in a Calvin’ sort of way then I know a whole host of people who will contend they are reading Paul, actually, incorrectly. If by correctly he means ‘in a pre-millenial’ sort of way then I know even more people who will contend they are reading incorrectly. If he means ‘in a Church of Christ a-cappella’ sort of way, then others will contend they are reading it wrongly. If in an ‘Amish’ sort of way, again others. If by correctly he means ‘in a Catholic’ sort of way…well, you get the picture.
NT Wright said it this way, “The Bible is there to enable God’s people to be equipped to do God’s work in God’s world, not to give them an excuse to sit back smugly, knowing they possess all God’s truth” (Simply Christian, 184) He also wrote, “Listening to God’s voice in scripture doesn’t put us in the position of having infallible opinions. It puts us where it put Jesus himself: in possession of a vocation, whether for a lifetime or for the next minute. Vocations are fragile, and are tested in performance. That’s what it’s like to live at the intersection of heaven and earth.” (Simply Christian, 189)
Look, I understand perfectly well what Mr Washer is saying and trying to get across, but the fact of the matter is, the majority of Churches in America already hold to a ‘correct’ reading of Paul. What Mr Washer has done is, at least judging by this quote, look at a few radical cases and assume that is the norm for every church that he is not preaching in, to, or at. There are so many orthodox teachers and preachers it isn’t even funny, Bible Colleges are filled to the brim with orthodoxy. There are blogs, websites, Evangelical Associations, magazines, journals, bookstores, publishing houses. I mean the list possibly might never end. What orthodoxy are we lacking? What orthodoxy needs reformed? I defy this notion that the church needs to be constantly reforming because this assumes that the church can be reformed simply by changing our doctrines around every so often–as long as those doctrines go backward, achingly, several hundred years to John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Spurgeon. It’s not doctrines that must change in the church, it is the people of God who must change. And people will not be changed, necessarily, by reading Edwards or Spurgeon. I think this call for constant reformation is simply a way to keep the people calling for constant reformation employed thus enabling them to avoid the hard work of being involved in the broken, hurting, lives of the sick, poor, and lost. Endless debate; beginningless service.
I contend: The church is not lacking in orthodoxy. The church is lacking in orthopraxy. The church, Mr Washer, knows too much for its own good. We can recite the catechisms, the confessions, the creeds. We can tell you about TULIP and Arminian theology. We have whole systems of theology. Countless books are published daily on orthodox subjects. It’s neverending. We can spout off a hundred different millenialisms. The church has even developed several different atonement theories–all based on Scripture (perhaps Paul) no less! We know ‘books of the Bible, John 3:16, we’ve got the biggest King James you’ve ever seen’ (to paraphrase an old Amy Grant song called, Fat Little Baby.) We are not lacking in outrage at those so-called media churches and clown preachers. We are not lacking in materials to study or copies of the Scripture Mr Washer. But I’ll say this loudly for all to hear, for any who will listen: If the Church wants true, biblical, radical reformation we must learn how to love. “I’m not talking about the six flags over Jesus entertainment type of love or love. I’m not talking about the media charismatic type of love.” I’m talking about hardcore, radical, love your enemies and those who hate you kind of love. I’m talking about ‘getting your hands dirty’ kind of love. I’m talking about loving the least of the least, the lowest of the low, the unloveliest of the unlovely.
I would be more impressed if those 100-150 young people, sitting around reading Edwards and Spurgeon, took Edwards and Spurgeon to heart and instead went outside the library or the dorm room, and loved someone in the Name of Jesus. Maybe they are! If they are, that should be Mr Washer’s message. How did I hear it said the other day? Oh, yes: We must not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good; and we must not be so earthly minded that we are of no heavenly good. Would that the world heard we were more interested in justice, mercy, compassion, and love than we were in the writings of dead theologians.
Here’s what Isaiah said about Judah’s orthodoxy:
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right!
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.
They said all the right things, believed all the right things, practiced all the right religious things, and offered up as much sacrifice as they could. Still they were empty and God judged them harshly. Why? Because they did not practice what they preached; they didn’t know how to love. They didn’t love. They loved neither God nor neighbor. In fact, Isaiah begins by pointing out their lack of God-centeredness and goes on to point out how this led to the inevitable destruction of their neighbors and untold suffering and eventual exile. In other words, it’s possible to love people without loving God, but it’s impossible to love God without loving people. Mr Washer: We do not need Edwards and Spurgeon, great, honest, and orthodox as they may be. We need to learn how to love: Our neighbors, our enemies, one another, those who hate us, and God himself.
Mr Washer needs to ‘get out of Paul’ for a day or two and get into Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then again, it is much easier I suppose to stand and rattle off doctrine. It’s much hard to be confronted with the radical Jesus of Nazareth. Much easier to preach unassailable doctrines than it is to be vulnerable to infection, disease, broken hearts, weakness, etc., etc., etc. I suppose.
Soli Deo Gloria!
*(Please notice that my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek. Or, for the brave among you, read with utter and complete sarcastic tone of mind.)
PS–This is not an ‘attack’ on Paul Washer so please do not characterize it as such. This is an examination of his words and their clarity. I am trying to get at the root of what he means and whether or not what he says is viable. I don’t have the context for this quote. I only have this quote as the snippet of a much larger sermon preached by Mr Washer. This snippet, as I noted above, was posted at Reformed Voices.