Take Heed What you Read

An appropriate follow up to the post Christian Nominalism and the Christian Bookstore:

By Arthur W. Pink 

“Take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:24): the word “hear” obviously includes what is read, for that which is written or printed is addressed to the ears of our intellect. Few people today realize the urgent need for “taking heed” unto what they read. Just as the natural food which is eaten either helps or hinders the body—so the mental food we receive either benefits or injures the mind, and that, in turn, affects the heart. Just as it is harmful to listen to the rubbish and poison which is being served from the great majority of present-day pulpits—so it is exceedingly injurious to the soul to read most of what is now being published. “Take heed what you hear” and read! But let us seek to be more specific.

The only thing which is really worth calling “religion” is the life of God in the soul-commenced, carried on, and consummated solely by the Holy Spirit. Hence, whatever does not bear the impress of the Spirit’s unction, should be rejected by the Christian: for not only can unctionless messages do us no good—but what proceeds not from the Spirit—is of the flesh. Here, then, is the test which God’s children ought to apply unto all they hear, and here is the balance in which they should weigh all that they read. True, there are varying degrees of the Spirit’s unction. As it is in the natural so it is in the spiritual—there will be a varying amount of wetness from the faintest moisture of dew—as compared to the copious shower. As there had to be “salt” in every sacrifice (Lev. 2:13), so every discourse or article proceeding from the Spirit’s aid, is “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). But O how very much today is devoid of spiritual savor and flavor!

Some of God’s dear people may suppose that it would be presumptuous to set themselves up as judges of what they hear or read—but that is a serious mistake, being both a false humility, and a shirking of duty. The Apostle rebuked the Hebrews because their senses (spiritual faculties) were not developed so as to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:13). With as much reason, might it be termed pride for anyone to pass judgment upon the groceries or meats purchased from the stores. Others may ask, “But how are simple and unlearned souls to distinguish between the different religious publications of the day?” Very simply: in sampling your natural food how do you determine whether or not it be seasoned? By your natural taste, of course. So it is spiritually: the “new man” has a palate too! If the God of creation has given us natural palates for the purpose of distinguishing between wholesome and unwholesome food, the God of grace has furnished His people with a capacity, a spiritual sense, to distinguish between nutritious and unwholesome soul food.

“Just as the mouth tastes food—the ear tests the words it hears” (Job 34:3). Does yours, my reader? Are you as careful about what you take into your mind—as what you take into your stomach? You certainly ought to be, for the former is even more important than the latter. If you eat some material food which is injurious, you can take a purgative and get rid of the same; but if you have devoured mental food which is injurious, it stays with you! “The ear tests the words it hears.” Again, we ask, Does yours, dear reader? Are you learning to distinguish between “letter” and “spirit;” between the “form” and the “power;” between that which is of the earth and that which is from Heaven; between that which is lifeless and unctionless and that which is instinct with the breath of God? If the answer is ‘No’, then you are greatly the loser.

How many of God’s dear children listen to the automaton “letter” preachers of today, and yet find nothing suited to the needs of their poor souls! And how many are subscribing for one magazine after another, hoping to find that which will the better furnish them to fight the good fight of faith—only to be disappointed? What they hear and what they read does not penetrate and grip—it has no power—it neither breaks down nor lifts up—it produces neither godly sorrow nor godly joy. The messages they hear or read, fall upon their ear like an idle or twice-told tale—it completely fails to reach their case or minister to their needs. They are no better off after hearing a hundred such “sermons” or reading through a hundred such periodicals, than they were at the beginning! They are no farther from the world—and no nearer unto God!

It is often a long time before God’s children are able to account for this. They blame themselves; they are exceedingly loath to say, “This message is not of God.” They are afraid to act in the spiritual, as they do in the natural, and condemn and discard that which is worthless. While they feel a lack of power in the sermons they hear, or the articles they read, and while their souls steadily get dried up like a potsherd—they are slow to realize that this is the inevitable effect of the unctionless preaching they listen to, or the unctionless literature they read; and that such dryness and leanness of soul is inevitable—by their association with unhumbled and empty professors. But in due time God opens their eyes, and they see through the flimsy veil and discover that both the sermons they hear, and the literature they read—are only the product of a dead profession!

Ah, it is a great thing when once the Holy Spirit teaches a soul—that it is power which is lacking from the lifeless preaching and lifeless articles of dead professors. It is power which the renewed soul seeks—a message which has power to search his conscience, to pierce him to the quick, to write it upon his heart; a message which has power to bring him to his knees in broken-hearted confession to God; a message which has power to make him feel that he is “vile”; a message which has power to drive him to Christ, for the binding up of his wounds, for Him to pour in “oil and wine,” and send him on his way rejoicing. Yes, what the renewed soul longs for (though at first he knows it not) is that Divine message which comes to him “not simply with words—but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction!” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

Sooner or later, every Christian comes to value “power,” and to count as worthless, whatever lacks it. It is by Divine power, that he is taught in his own soul, by which he is made to feel acutely his sinnership, his carnality, his beggarliness. It is Divine power working in his heart—the same power which brought Christ again from the dead (Eph. 1:19, 20)—which draws his affections unto things above and makes his soul pant after God “as the deer pants after the water brooks” (Psalm 42:1). It is this Divine power working in him which reveals to his burdened spirit the Throne of Grace, and causes him to implore mercy and to seek grace “to help in time of need.” It is this Divine power working in him, which makes him cry “Make me walk along the path of Your commands—for there I find delight” (Psalm 119:35).

Those who are partakers of this Divine power (and they are few in number) can never be satisfied with a powerless ministry, either oral or written.

“Those who live according to the flesh—have their minds set on what the flesh desires,” (Romans 8:5). They are charmed with oratorical eloquence, catchy sayings, witty allusions, and amusing illustrations. On just such “husks”, do the religious “swine” feed!

But the penitent prodigal can find no nutriment therein! Men “of the world”—and they may be graduates from some “Bible Institute” or possessors of a diploma from some Bible Seminary, now styling themselves “preachers of the Gospel”—will speak of the things of the world and “the world hears them” (1 John 4:5). But those who are seeking to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling” obtain no help therefrom, yes, they perceive clearly that such sermons and periodicals are “broken cisterns, which can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).

“Take heed what you hear” and read! More than forty years ago the saintly Adolph Saphir wrote, “I think the fewer books we read—the better. It is like times of cholera, when we should only drink filtered water.” What would he say if he were on earth today and glanced over the deadly poison sent forth by the heterodox, and the lifeless rubbish put out by the orthodox? Christian reader, if you value the health of your soul, cease hearing and quit reading all that is lifeless, unctionless, powerless, no matter what prominent or popular name be attached thereto. Life is too short to waste valuable time on that which does not profit. Ninety-nine out of every hundred of the religious books, booklets, and magazines now being published, are not worth the paper on which they are printed!

To turn away from the lifeless preachers and publishers of the day—may involve a real cross. Your motives will be misconstrued, your words perverted, and your actions misinterpreted. The sharp arrows of false report will be directed against you. You will be called proud and self-righteous, because you refuse to fellowship empty professors. You will be termed censorious and bitter—if you condemn in plain speech—the subtle delusions of Satan. You will be dubbed narrow-minded and uncharitable, because you refuse to join in singing the praises of the “great” and “popular” men of the day. More and more, you will be made to painfully realize—that the path which leads unto eternal life is “narrow” and that FEW there are who find it. May the Lord be pleased to grant unto each of us—the hearing ear and obedient heart! “Take heed what you hear” and read!

 

Nominal Christianity and the Christian Bookstore

 

You may have heard the news recently that Family Christian Bookstores are closing their doors and liquidating their merchandise.  By the time I’ve gotten around to publishing this post, the liquidation sale is nearly over.

It’s fascinating to me that a “Christian” bookstore would be venturesome enough to locate in malls and shopping plazas across America.  After 85 years in business, to date they operated 240 stores in 36 states and employed more than 3000 people, self-billed as “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise”.

Several reasons for closing may be obvious, like a lot of major brick and mortar retailers, they are simply suffering at the hand of online shopping, unable to compete with the selection and pricing of major online book companies such as Amazon and even Christianbook.com.  This I grant is a very real possibility.

But there may in fact be another reason for the sharp decline in the demand for “Christian-themed” merchandise, one that can be directly correlated with the changing landscape of American Christianity, i.e. Western Christendom.

If you’ve ever set foot in a Family Christian Bookstore, you know that their target audience is not the theologically astute or discerning mind.  I know I may be stepping on toes here, but their store markets everything from Christian jewelry to wall art to all things Christian if it has a cross or an Ichthus.  Their book of 2017 is Jesus Always by the cautionary Sarah Young and you’re far more likely to find the works of T.D. Jakes on their shelves than John Owen.

I get it.  Largely believers want to read or buy things for encouragement and don’t really know where to turn, so stores and merchandise like this have their appeal.  I’ve been there, done that.  This isn’t to entirely denigrate their store or to kick them while they are down.  They’re in the merchandising/marketing business so obviously they’re going to cater to what people are interested in purchasing.  Which brings us back to a speculative reason why they are closing.

It’s no secret that the religious landscape in America is quickly changing.  What used to be dominated by Christian nominalism, i.e. Christians in name only, is quickly becoming dominated by the Religious Nones, i.e. those who claim no religious identity or affiliation.  They can’t necessarily be described as agnostic, as there is a certain level of syncretism with other religions and secularism in their beliefs.

In the 1980’s – 2000’s Christian nominalism lived in an incubator.  The Religious Right was asserting political and cultural power, televangelists dominated T.V. programming, and Christian bookstores were flooding the market on the backs of the downtown and suburban mall phenomenon.  It’s speculative, but perhaps reasonable to conclude that the seeds of Christian nominalism may have been sown decades prior in the fundamentalist vs. liberalism debate of the early 1900’s.  Nevertheless it became very popular, fashionable, and dare I say financially lucrative to associate with Christianity, largely identified as Evangelicalism or for the sake of historic continuity, that which falls under the umbrella of Christendom.

Fast forward to 2017 and the Christian nominalist has given birth (literally in most cases) to the Religious Nones, those who saw no real power in the faux faith of their nominalist parents; were never really exposed to the Gospel; have not properly understood the majesty of Christ nor the sinfulness of their sin; and have largely been inoculated to the Gospel because of the disingenuous form of it to which they were exposed.

This is the landscape in which Family Christian Bookstores now finds themselves.  Peddling nominally Christian books to a nominally Christian audience that no longer exists.  This is most probably the reason for their demise.

But their closing isn’t merely about the loss of a giant Christian merchandise seller, as though the Kingdom of Christ has now given up ground to the enemy.  There is more to be gleaned here.  What can we conclude, generally speaking, from this observation of the relationship between the Christian retail market and the changing religious landscape of the United States?  Primarily, I think we may observe that there is a sifting underway, particularly in this country.  It is a sifting of all things Evangelical.  All things Christian in name only.  And this will ultimately further the collapse of Evangelicalism.

This was something I mentioned on this blog in March 2009 in the posts: The Coming Evangelical Collapse and Survey shows a Falling Way.  As I’ve revisited those posts and the articles linked in them, it’s remarkable how it is all unfolding before our eyes.  In the coming weeks, I’m hoping to interact some with those posts, particularly the predictions made by the late Michael Spencer in his own post “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” which I linked to 8 years ago this month.

 

 

The Logic of the Resurrection

 

It should probably come as no surprise that one of the leading parallels between the relationship of followers of Christ and the world is a preponderance of anti-intellectualism.  It is a common human condition.  We simply do not want to think.  From our ever-increasing entertainment choices, to social media, to a desire to “veg-out”, to how we approach the Scriptures, believers are hemorrhaging from a failure to engage the mind in any semblance of coherent thought.

I’ve faced these battles in Bible studies from those who no longer attend because they want their “daily bread” and do not desire to have their thoughts challenged or informed by Scripture, to those who are not interested in a “head knowledge” study, but prefer more to discuss relationships and peel back layers of feelings.  In fact, one could actually make the argument that the chief reason why Christendom is a mile wide and an inch deep is due mainly to anti-intellectualism, though certainly other factors have had influence as well.

However, this does  not describe the burden that Scripture places on followers of Christ.  The mind is central to the Christian faith.  We are to love the Lord with all of our mind, renew our mind, set our mind on things above, set our mind on the Spirit, and serve the law of God with our mind, among other noteworthy passages.

Keep in “mind” that I am NOT saying believers need to be super-smart, have high IQ’s, or have advanced degrees in theology.  We need only remember that exactly none of our Lord’s disciples had any theological training prior to their calling.  They were mostly humble fisherman (and other ignoble professions) yet they spent three years learning at the feet of their Master.

What I am saying is that the mental capacity that we have been given, whatever that may be on an individual level, should be fully devoted to God and labor in understanding and applying the Scriptures.  A lazy, anti-intellectual mind is antithetical to Christ.

With this long introduction out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the 15th chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians and look at his divinely inspired appeal to the mind as the third and final proof of the resurrection.  Recall that in a prior post we introduced Proofs 1-3  and saw that first and foundation was the Authority of Scriptures, followed by the eyewitness experience of those who witnessed the risen Christ.  Here we’ll expand on the third proof, namely the Logic of the Believer’s Resurrection found in 1 Cor. 15:12-19

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

This may be somewhat difficult to follow, but let’s exercise our minds and attempt to follow the line of thought being communicated.

The apostle uses no less than six IF/THEN statements of logic and summarily includes at least nine consequences for denying the resurrection.  First, we must note the basis for the logical argument of the bodily resurrection of believers is rooted in the bodily resurrection of Christ and, as we have seen, is supported both by Scripture and eyewitnesses.

That established, we find the following statements of logic in our passage:

1. IF Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead
(THEN) how can some of you say there is no resurrection

2. IF there is no resurrection of the dead
THEN not even Christ has been raised.

3. IF Christ has not been raised
THEN our preaching is in vain
And your faith is in vain

4. IF the dead are not raised
(THEN) not even Christ has been raised

5. IF Christ has not been raised
(THEN) your faith is futile
And you are still in your sins
THEN those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have    perished

6. IF in Christ we have hope in this life only
(THEN) we are of all people to be most pitied

We can summarize this argument by looking at the consequences of denying the bodily resurrection, an error that the Corinthians had apparently fallen into in one form or another

Consequences of Denying the Bodily Resurrection

  1. Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead
  2. The Apostolic preaching is in vain
  3. Believers (Corinthian) faith is in vain
  4. Misrepresentation of God; God is a liar
  5. Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead
  6. Believers (Corinthian) faith is futile
  7. Believers (Corinthian) are still in their sins
  8. The dead in Christ has perished; i.e. annihilationism
  9. Believers (and Apostles) are most to be pitied.

The Apostle’s point through this argument is just how nonsensical it is to deny the bodily resurrection of believers.  By stating this in the form of a logical argument, he creates a divinely inspired, airtight argument that appeals to the mind of the believer to THINK.

Think about the resurrection of Christ and its implications, particularly that of the bodily resurrection and the hope that it gives believers. Think about what it is that you believe and why.  Think about all the promises of God that hinge first on Christ’s own resurrection and then on the resurrection of His people.  Think about how the resurrection brings final deliverance from sin.  Think about those who have gone before us that now enjoy the presence of the risen Lord and anticipate the resurrection of the their bodies to glory.  Think on these things.

The mind set on Christ is never a mind wasted.

Ephesians 4:15 "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ"