Jack Miller Reflecting on the Relationship of Justification and Sanctification in Union with Christ in the Context of DiscipleshipPosted: June 11, 2016
For example, an able teacher like [Dwight] Pentecost takes the following strange position: “We affirm again that it is possible for a man to be saved without being a disciple of Jesus Christ” (p. 29, Design For Discipleship).
Among the Reformed as well as the Arminian forgiveness and acceptance with God has somehow come across to men as the end of the road and not the beginning. Discipleship has been misconstrued far too often as a second-step addition to salvation, the option reserved for the elite and the ascetic.
Since no human power can overcome these obstacles, you need to have God put his weapons in your hands. The first weapon is the promises of God. You will find that the promises of God will do more for you…
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A good deal of the impetus for the [Leadership] training program came out of dissatisfaction with the seminary/Bible school model of training for service.
The strengths of a seminary/Bible school model are largely intellectual. These strengths include extensive exposure to Scripture, textual criticism, and Greek and Hebrew, sytematic theology, and church history.
The weaknesses are too many ideas and truths given too quickly and sometimes superficially, without a sharp focus on the unifying power of the gospel and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The other critical weaknesses include a minimal interest in prayer and learning to work together as teams.
I do not mean at all to suggest that everyone who attends seminary is tainted with every weakness I shall mention. I am only talking about what is common enough to be said to be virtually typical.
The typical seminary graduate has these serious problems and often does not know he has them:
1. In a formal sense he likely has his doctrines straight. But his thinking about biblical truths lacks sharp focus. Why? Because of lack of understanding of the majesty, power, simplicity, and joy found in the gospel! And because of a failure to apply to himself concretely to the uncompromising demands of God’s holy law and to be broken by the exposure of his radical self-centeredness! Often the graduate is a man who sees himself as a repairer of the walls of the city of God but fails to see that his own walls are broken down.
2. He likely has a pretty hazy idea how his ideas apply to life and has not wrestled seriously with learning to communicate biblical truth with divine clarity, power, and concreteness.
3. He likely will see himself as a corrector of others without being awakened to the supreme importance of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6 that we are to be correcting ourselves first. He may evidence more of the self-protectiveness that goes with pride than the openness that goes with the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit.
4. He may not know how to control his own tongue or how to guide others in controlling theirs. He may have no idea whatsoever about working through conflicts in the church and how to engage in constructive conflict. The idea of spiritual warfare conducted by fervent prayer may well be virtually unknown to him. Why should it not be? Charles Hodge’s large three volumes on Systematics has a section of more than 300 pages on the means of grace, and of these 300 pages only 17 are devoted to prayer, and the quality of these 17 pages is not up to the fine quality of the rest of the volumes! A spiritual disaster for training to have that kind of embalance in a valued text for theological training!
5. He will be typically inexperienced and un-humbled through his working only with students. He will easily assume that the church is mostly a classroom. His ignorance of small group and congregational dynamics will be massive and he will likely have little idea how dangerous this is. Only a few seminary graduates that I have known had any idea that there is such a thing as congregational dynamics.
5. The net effect is that he is likely to be self-protective rather than seeing his whole Christian life as one of a son who constantly engages in repentance, both tasting of its sorrows and its joys.
Against this background, at the beginnings of New Life Church we strongly emphasized the congregation as training ground in prayer, repentance, and witness.
Reflections by Jack Miller in “Training and Mobilization: A New Form of Education.”
Now how will we define faith? I wouldn’t attempt to try at this point to give you a comprehensive definition of faith – in a practical way you could say that faith is to know Jesus Christ, to have trusted in Him, but maybe we ought to work it out in a few more divisions.
A Negative Definition of Faith:
Negatively, let’s say that faith is being silenced by the Person of God. That faith is to be silenced by God.
You’ve gone to church and you’ve heard ministers begin the service “The Lord is in His holy temple and let all the earth keep silence before Him.” And everyone thinks, “That’s a very nice thought”, etc., and they never think about it again.
As a matter of fact, you are hearing a negative definition of faith; knowing that God is, and that everybody and every mouth be silenced before that God. “Be still and know that I am God” – there’s where faith begins, a humbling of the heart before the living God. (2)
And so, in a real sense, faith is to shut your big mouth about your own power, about your own righteousness, about your own self-efforts – it really is to recognize that before God you have nothing to boast of, that you stand there condemned. And so, that is the negative side of faith.
A Positive Definition of Faith:
On the positive side, faith is a surrender of trust to a God whom you are convinced loves you, and has mercy for you. No one is going to have this kind of faith unless he’s convinced that God is for him, that in some way God has promises which invite him to come to God. It’s a surrender, then, of trust – and the Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of this saving faith as accepting, receiving and resting on Christ alone for forgiveness, eternal life, adoption, sonship, etc.
And so what we would say, then, even as we talk about this positive side of faith, listen, being silenced – you don’t have anything to boast about when you do that, do you? And when you surrender, you don’t have anything to boast about either, do you? If you conquered something, you could boast about it – but faith, then, is an act of surrender. It becomes nothing in itself.
And now we speak of “saving faith”, but the faith itself doesn’t save you. It only gives you Christ Who does save you. And so we really must speak carefully – repentance and faith in themselves don’t save anybody. The only thing they do is to turn you about and give you Christ, and Christ saves you.
And many people who really labor to believe and strain themselves and struggle, go about it entirely the wrong way. They think of faith as some kind of attainment, of which afterwards you might have a reason for boasting. But that’s not the power of faith – that’s not what it is at all.
So if faith does nothing in itself, How Then Is Faith So Powerful?
And that brings us to the third thing, that faith has power in it; and in the Bible it’s virtually a synonym – used virtually as a synonym – for the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Why? Because the person who has faith has Jesus Christ. If you have faith – well let me back up a little bit and put it to you in another way.
In the Bible we’re told that with God all things are possible – we’ll all agree that the Bible teaches that, I think. Now did you ever think of how strange it is that we are told by Jesus that all things are possible to him that believes. Do you realiize how staggering that is?
You know, we get into the habit of just reading through the Bible and we’re accustomed to these things, and they have a certain rhythm to them, and we just read right on through them.
Do you realize, then, what a staggering thing it is to say of a man’s faith, that all things are possible to him that believeth. Now the only One of whom you can say that about – that all things are possible – is One whose name is Omnipotence, the Almighty God.
Now [we’re] a very superficial [people], whether we believe it or not, so if we don’t reflect on that – the most amazing thing here – that the person who believes comes into posession of that which is God’s.
And, of course, that’s why salvation is ours — through faith we’re united to Jesus Christ.
[A]nd everything He has becomes ours and all that we have becomes His. And that’s why we’re so rich; for you know the grace of the Lord Jesus, brethren, that though He was rich for your sakes He became poor that you through His poverty, might become rich.
And so, we can put it this way, if you owned Montgomery County [Pennsylvania] you’d be pretty wealthy; if you owned Pennsylvania you’d be even richer than the DuPont’s; but if you could say you owned God, the Lord is your portion, you’re the richest of all.
So to him that has faith, all things are his because he’s in Christ and Christ is in God.
Therefore, when you turn to the Bible, you find that the most astonishing things happen when people believe. . . . And so, what it is, in faith you surrender yourself and then
a mysterious thing happens, you discover you surrender yourself and you get everything. And if you don’t do this you can struggle forever and ever and ever and you try to get rich with your own little handfuls and it all melts away.
So there’s this tremendous power in faith and, as I said, it’s virtually a synonym for the Holy Spirit’s working. It’s simply the man-ward side of that divine working by which God draws sinners to Himself by His sovereign mercy.
Jack Miller, Faith Vs. Magic In The Modern World (unpublished), p. 2-4.
In a lecture on “Approach to Young People thru Justice,” using Romans 1-2, Jack Miller had wonderfully described to his students the sacredness of the human conscience as “God’s watch-dog of the soul” (citing Samuel Rutherford).
Though after the Fall, our twisted consciences would now twist justice — blaming others and God for being unjust while covering and excusing our own injustices — nonetheless, this sacred conscience in man should still be taken seriously and respected in order to maintain liberty. Strategies and methods of manipulation or forcing a person’s conscience should be avoided.
God judges; the law judges. We on the other hand, with our twisted consciences, are poor judges at best.
During a time of question and answer, several interesting questions from the students to what Jack had said surfaced, one of which I’d like to share in this blogpost.
Student’s Question taken from Lecture Transcript:
“If a person makes a confession of Christ and he doesn’t feel saved and you [not Jack, but rhetorically and typically] tell him just believe and the feeling comes later . . .
In listening to you [Jack, talk about respecting the sacredness and liberty of the conscience including feelings], if I am hearing you correctly, one could say [instead of saying “just believe and the feelings will come later” you could also say], “Well, what if you held [something] back,” or “Are you withholding something?” [to account for the “I don’t feel saved.”]
The student’s implied question was this:
“May a person, though making a profession of faith in Christ, since they do not “feel saved,” actually be unsaved, even though they professed faith? Or should we just say what typically has been said, “Just believe and the feelings will follow”?
I commend to you all Jack’s answer for your reflection and consideration.
Here is how Jack answered that student, and his class that night.
“That would be possible, yes. It’s hard to know what is inside of people. You have to have a lot of humility because you can’t look into their hearts. But this has happened to me so many times that my convert turned out not to be converted. I’ve become cautious on this point.
I think the normal . . . for the new life seems to have some abundance.
Now when I could have abundance, I may look through my life and can’t find a thing, you see? You know, my wife can’t . . . You think I’m kidding — but she can’t — and so we can be pretty blind to something that’s wrong with us.
And so it is with the Holy Spirit — much better than your wife or your husband; He’s able to show you what’s wrong.
And most of our sins are pretty obvious to us — it doesn’t take a great genius to figure out that we have pride and unbelief, lust and selfishness.
[For example], If you want people to be free, you’ve got to figure out how are they getting along with their parents?
You know, when you do marriage counseling, one of the things you ask them is what do they think of the other person’s parents, and vice versa, and what do you think of your own parents . . .
You’ll tend to repeat in the marriage relationship whatever you were doing before, so I usually say it doesn’t make all that much difference whether I [Jack Miller] can tell whether you’re saved or not, or even whether you can [tell].
Its important now to get a right relationship with Jesus. And Jesus offers to give that to you. That is the whole point of Jesus standing at the door and knocking . . .
(Here Jack will go on to give many Scripture verses from OT and NT in support of his point) . . .
Jack continues,”You see, the Reformed are so busy refuting the Arminians as to what the passage [Revelation 3:20] meant that we’ve forgotten all about it until we get up and preach our sermons, you know, and show (I suspect I’ve done this myself) the Arminians they didn’t really understand this passage.
[But] we never positively said what it means. What does it mean?
Well it means that there is in the Lord Jesus a wonderful willingness to enter into the present sinners’ lives. He is extremely eager to get inside. That is the whole point there of that tenderness.
He comes on with such sharpness in Revelation 3 — just hitting hard, and then, what do you know, He just goes ahead and says “I’m eager to eat with you.”
And there’s your old conscience “You know I don’t want Him that close.” And yet He wants to come in. . . .
[So] if a [person] doesn’t know whether [they’re] a believer then let them believe and draw near to God and God says, “I will make you My child.”
So you needn’t sit around and worry and worry — is God for me or against me? God is not a liar.
Back in the days when I had more income I used to take my children to dinner upon occasion, and when I took them to dinner I announced that they could have anything on the menu they wanted.
They were always willing to go for the best. They never had a problem. I didn’t say it all the time — just in expansive moods, or occasions, or birthdays or that sort of thing.
Now I found this, if I took a stranger out, back in those more palmier days, and I said to him, “You may choose anything on the menu,” and he looked there, often he wouldn’t believe me. You know, he didn’t want to embarrass me by spending more than my pocket could afford.
It’s the same way with the children of God and the promises of God. God comes and says “The whole menu’s for you.”
See? If you’re a stranger you’re afraid you’re going to embarrass Him because He won’t be able to supply it.
To someone [who is a beloved child] in whom the Spirit is working he receives these things by faith – well he knows that these things are for him and so he receives them.
[Today], don’t be an alien; don’t be worried that much about your sins.
You’re to go to God on the basis of the promises and, that way, you can sort out all the sins you can think of as you come.
And if there’s anything else in you that yet remains, He promises that He will show that to you too.
You may not even want to have Him do it but He promises that He’ll take care of that too.
Taken from lecture transcript (unpublished) entitled “Approach to Young People thru Justice,” p. 10-12, No Date.
Personal Note for Further Explanation:
Blogposts, articles and classroom lectures have their limits. It is part of the nature of language (e.g., you can’t always say everything all the time, say things on top of one another, or continuously qualify yourself attempting to satisfy dissatisfied critics).
As I continue assimilating research for a Biography of Jack Miller, I am struck more and more by Jack’s positive and constructive approach to sharing the gospel effectively in a way that clearly communicates these glorious doctrines of grace that are so central to the Reformed faith.
Just for one example, running throughout Jack’s life and ministry is what he calls “The faith-building character of the gospel.”
That pregnant statement — The faith building character of the gospel — is worth further research on its own merit.
The more I’ve heard, read and continue to think about this statement so core to Jack’s life and ministry practice, the more I smile and sometimes just laugh a bit; at the beauty and simplicity of the way Jack disarmingly says such profound things.
Perhaps if I said it another way, it will be more familiar and even controversial, though it needn’t be.
When Jack refers to the “faith building character of the gospel,” he is saying simply that human faith (and repentance) follows the work of the Spirit in the Gospel.
Let me reverse that and it will probably be more familiar to those more theologically inclined: the Spirit sovereignly regenerates and creates in us faith and repentance.
Jack’s many years of involvement in evangelism and prayer, his faith in a living partnership with the Spirit, his penchant with words deepened from a background in literature, his missionary work, etc. — all were used by God to deepen Jack’s ability to effectively communicate the gospel message in constructive and positive ways.
Jack’s love for Christ and Christ’s mission took the knowing “how” and “that” the gospel is a faith-building message, to actually preaching that gospel, trusting in its faith building character to bear fruit in his life and the lives of others.
Philosophical arguments that would typically follow a statement like “the faith building character of the gospel” — if one took time to think about what Jack is saying — go almost unnoticed by others from non-Reformed or non-Christian backgrounds, who may otherwise stiff-arm the gospel coming near by parroting the time-worn arguments between predestination and free-will.
Even in our Reformed tradition we can read and look over what Jack is saying preferring theological arguments to actual doing evangelism. We have a tendency to hide behind the language of “giftedness” (e.g., Jack has the gift of evangelism) to excuse ourselves from learning how to share the gospel message effectively as foundational to any discipleship.
The remarkable empirical results from Jack entrusting himself to prayer and proclaiming God’s Gospel to Christians and non-Christians around the world are undeniable.
The Spirit of Christ was faithful to regularly light a fire in the basement of countless lives causing them to throw open the doors of their hearts to Christ who they then found had already been there knocking — even while avoiding devolving into that typical abstract philosophical argument about predestination and free-will, though Jack’s entire approach rested upon “the faith building character of the gospel.”
Rather than complaining about the dearth of theological and biblical knowledge in the church (e.g., often making those of us taking doctrine seriously feel superior), Jack sees a great opportunity if we Reformed Christians can learn to communicate the gospel message effectively.
It is not magic! Jack didn’t consider himself an expert in evangelism, prayer or Sonship. And since his approach to the gospel depended upon grace, all the glory belonged to Christ, and Jack simply trusted Christ for the results.
His responsibility was simply:
a) learn himself to pray together and communicate the gospel message effectively,
b) train other Christians to pray and communicate the gospel effectively,
c) in faith, go with them and communicate this gospel they’d been preaching to one another.
You may recognize the now familiar cliche “Preach the gospel to yourself,” parroted by many today with Jack’s understanding of “the faith building character of the gospel.” For Jack, “the gospel is not only a message, it is also a promise.”
The language of “Preach the gospel to yourself,” likely was coined in Sonship parlance by Paul, Jack’s son. However, understanding its practical origins, “Preach the gospel to yourself” was never intended to be limited to a personal mantra.
We glory-craving individualistic Americans can make anything into a “me-ism.”
Rather, before it became a cliche originally “Preach the gospel to yourself,” was actually a practice born out of the Reformed tradition of claiming the promises in prayer.
As you know, in English, “you” can be plural or singular. When you are teaching a group or church, especially pastors and leaders, “Preach the gospel to yourself,” can mean individually, but when you supply a corporate noun, means: “Church, preach the gospel to yourself,” or, if I may take a bit of Liberty with the English, “Pastors, make sure members of your church preach the gospel to one another.”
During a Sonship Week, or on the recordings, Jack will describe what happened when asking preachers, their wives, and leaders to preach the gospel to one another.
The group looked around at each other most uncomfortably without knowing what to do or say, wondering “Does Jack think I’m not a Christian?”
I’ve heard of at least one significant leader who got up and said indignantly, “Why do you want us to do that? We are already Christians.”
Until recently, my only paradigm for Jack doing this was negative: that is, Jack was sort of shaming his listeners so they could repent for being unable to do something so basic as preach the gospel to yourself. The embarrassed leaders would promise themselves to never be caught that way again, (e.g., go home and learn a two-minute elevator presentation of the gospel), and then, returning to their congregations, they could say “Preach the gospel to yourself,” as a sort of new tactic, and watch them feel uncomfortable and guilty too.
While that one possible way of looking at it, the more I immerse myself in Jack’s approach, rather than shaming people (though he could be very bold privately) he is far more positive and constructive.
As I read Jack describing “the faith-building character of the gospel,” his emphasis on claiming the promises in corporate prayer, and the purpose behind creating the “New Life Booklet,” a more positive and constructive explanation consistent with Jack’s approach emerged.
Rather than shaming, Jack really wanted us church leaders to go back and train our people as a church so that every member could effectively communicate the gospel to one another, and to others in the community around them.
This is exactly what happened at New Life Church far before the phrase “preach the gospel to yourself” was colonized in evangelical speak.
In the context of a hospitable Small Groups devoted to praying together, the New Life Booklet was created and used as the discipling material. Let me say that again: the New Life Booklet, a booklet created for evangelism, was used as the discipleship material.
As I understand, small groups gathered, prayed for half the time, and, without shaming, practiced “preaching the gospel yourself” in this group setting.
This is what Jack wanted pastors to get into their local church to corporately “preach the gospel to yourself” so that:
(a) every member can become more and more comfortable with effectively communicating that gospel message clearly and simply, and
(b) to get the church under that “faith-build character of this powerful Gospel of God”; a message through which the life-giving Spirit of Christ loves to work,
c) all with the result that as praying Christians now existentially emboldened in Christ confidence rather than self-confidence, would then prayerfully, expectantly, and humbly preach the same grace they’d received to others.
For Jack, this faith building character of the gospel in partnership with the Spirit accessed through praying and preaching the gospel to one another, would have massive implications for the trajectory and fruitfulness of his life and ministry.
Whereas we tend to separate or, at best, overlap evangelism and discipleship, Jack would see an inseparable and foundational relationship between evangelism, prayer and disciple-making, out of which the widely known Sonship course would find its original purpose in a larger context of missions and evangelism.
To Jack, a separation of evangelism and discipleship; missions from renewal would have been unheard of. In fact, “the heart of disciple-making” for Jack was “the effective communication of the gospel message.”
Consequently, the earliest Sonship training would begin with twelves weeks of extensive training in evangelism and prayer (especially corporate prayer), and weekly evangelistic calls. This training, which included separate times of counseling/mentoring, was followed the “Teams” and “Sonship” track, in which evangelism and prayer would still remain an inseparable foundational feature.
Unfortunately, this order would make what appears to be a subtle unnoticeable change in the early 90’s in a later version of the Leadership Training, and the Sonship track would come to the fore as the overarching theme, eclipsing somewhat the emphasis on evangelism, making way for a bifurcation between evangelism and discipleship; missions and renewal. (This last assertion is more theoretical at this stage needing further research before warranting a more conclusive assertion, with attending conclusions).
In any case, to Jack, in light of the “faith building character of the gospel,” you couldn’t call yourself a disciple, disciple-maker, or perhaps even a follower of Christ if you were not sharing the gospel message in a disciple-making way with others and leading them to become disciple-makers themselves.
But I’ll save more on that for another day! Maybe it will wet your appetite for this research to be concluded and the dissertation written.
Hopefully, in this explanatory note, I’ve said enough and said it in a cryptic enough way that my more Arminian friends who have jettisoned theology (e.g., usually for relationship) will remain somewhat unsuspecting of what Jack is really doing when he speaks of “the faith building character of the gospel.”
I can hear Jack laughing with that Jack Miller laugh, were he to be asked: “Which comes first, God choosing us, or our choosing Him?”
Instead of arguing over causations, choices, and door-openings, like most of us would — Jack kept preaching the gospel — to Christian and non-Christian alike, trusting the power of this gospel and that “Divine Spy in the basement” to empower God’s gospel to save all who believe, including first creating in them that original faith to believe.
Jack wouldn’t spend a bunch time trying to save Arminian’s from their misguided enlightened emphasis on their right to choose (e.g., though he did talk about this as one of the primary problems in our culture today within a teaching context) or free-will.
As they began wondering “Now that I’m saved, what do I do,” Jack kept on preaching the gospel to them as Christians, encouraging them through prayer to keep on receiving from Christ, that unquenchable stream of living water, and this gospel message with others.
As as they (and we) wondered why Jack kept preaching the gospel to them as Christians since they were already saved, Jack continued trusting their growth in this grace that came from outside of them to the One who had started this “faith” work in them to begin with.
At the same time, honestly, I am poking the pig a little; that is poking at those in my own Reformed tradition who would rather enjoy being skeptical and suspicious; Reformed clinicians often entrenched in our theological labs desperately defending an embattled Reformed faith against errors of Enlightment Arminianism, Fundamentalism, Romanticism, Liberalism and Humanism.
While there is an important place to “defend the faith,” I do not want you to miss the party! Open the damn door!
Open the door and enjoy the One who is there knocking: the tenderness, beauty and abundance of this Holy, Sovereign, Majestic, Ascended, Glorified King and Savior Jesus Christ.
He delights in sending His Spirit to interrupt our important studies and activities, to bring us down from our white towers of doctrinal precision, and to eat a banquet feast with us, a table of grace upon grace He Himself has supplied and prepared.
Being right is one my favorite past-times.
Sadly, I can remember a time not too long ago (at least not long enough), fighting over Revelation 3:20 with the co-leader of the Evangelism Explosion Training program at First Baptist.
In front of our other trainers and trainees (which I’m fairly certain numbered above 25) –after we had prayed, preached the gospel to one another, and saw several people come to Christ for the first time, and were filled to overflowing with all the fullness of God — this co-leader and I got into a public dispute over the the question of who really opens the door of our hearts: what comes first, God’s choosing us or our choosing God?
I am deeply ashamed of the damage that I caused to the consciences of so many Christians that night; some of whom did not return.
These people had given a night of their busy week in order to to learn to communicate the gospel effectively, only to have their joy in Christ undermined by us leaders engaging in this ungodly shameful exchange.
Instead of leaving with that normal heavenly sense of abundance and the fullness of joy, we all left the church that night defeated and discouraged.
We had done Satan’s work for him.
Rather than learning to communicate the gospel effectively, we, the leaders, made the gospel message seem inaccessible, and any prospect of communicating it effectively almost unattainable; even while sounding like we were theological experts, though, truthfully, I really didn’t know who or what hell I was talking about.
Please don’t do what I did!
That is not the gospel!
If you have read thus far, here is some great Barney Fife theology: “Stop it! Just stop it right now! Nip it in the bud.”
For a long time, I remained unrepentant over this; even angry at Jesus.
My need to be right, masked by a deeper arrogance and insecurity, which was magnified by a naturally dominating, intense personality combined with my unwillingness to listen and learn (Why would you when your clearly right).
Together, it was a blinding religious totality so impregnable and stubborn, I was reachable only by the Spirit of Christ through the power of the gospel.
Even Jesus was unfit to come in and eat with me until he corrected and cleaned up his theology with respect to free-will and predestination.
At the very least, I thought He should revise and/or clarify Revelation 3:20 with some statements so Arminians wouldn’t continue to evangelizing their error.
And at the time, though hidden to me then, instead of respecting the conscience, my rightness compelled me in the name of truth to lord over their consciences, dominating them with the force of my intensity and charisma to submit to the reality that I was obviously right — and the Bible agreed with me — and my view of the Ordo-Salutis, predestination and free-will.
Now hopefully can you see a little better the importance of taking seriously and respecting the liberty of a person’s conscience?
Thankfully Jesus can work through asses like me!
And thankfully Jesus is still sending the Spirit to spy-out the depths of my own heart!
And I’m still preaching the gospel to myself, and whoever else I can; only now, in light of what Jack is teaching me about “the faith building character of the gospel,” more free to listen and learn to communicate His good news more effectively — to Christian and non-Christian — while leaving the results of this great work of salvation God started in the first place to Him to complete.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).
Years ago in California the congregation that I set out to help plant was located in a neighborhood where many of the people came from Oklahoma.
To a man, they all loved country music. I did not love country music. I didn’t even like it; in fact, I could hardly tolerate it. My problem was much more cultural than I saw. Deep in my mind, I was convinced that country music was, if not actually sinful, at least unbecoming as a musical vehicle in worship.
Therefore with all the ardor of my heart I set out to bring these folks “up” to the worship level of the Trinity hymnal used by my own denomination. I knew there was a cultural barrier between these dear people and myself, and because I loved them I wanted them to cross [that barrier] to me via our beautiful denominational hymnal.
Let me assure you it didn’t happen. The great majority of them went to the independent and Pentecostal churches where the music was natural to their tastes, and those who came to us never really felt at home with the Trinity hymnal, nor with our whole worship.
Only slowly, reluctantly, did I come to see music forms are never sinful in themselves and that country music could be used as a vehicle for presenting the gospel to people who would not otherwise listen.
Let me repeat: the central article of godly wisdom is not to begin where I am culturally and insist that others must pass through my cultural preferences on the way to find Christ.
The only stumbling block that we we want people to face is that of the cross. If they reject that stumbling block, that is their problem. The blame is on them. But I must not impose my cultural values as a barrier between the sinner outside of Christ and Christ.
For me this is a kind of continual self-crucifixion. I have had to learn to appreciate country music, African music, and all sorts of things outside of my own tradition. But as you pray and learn to love people more deeply, you begin to find a place in your heart for their cultural values and sometimes by way of a surprise gift you end up loving what they love.
Jack Miller, Planting New Churches (unpublished), p. 10.
The way up means the end of denial.
However painful it may be especially at the beginning, you are definitely on the way up when you open your eyes to the rough-edged realities of the human predicament.
You live in a world where people die, including those who are precious to you and where your own life span is brief. You often find yourself unable to love those who deeply disappoint you and that you have an amazing ability to disappoint others. Moreover, often we discover that others have no power to change for the better and neither do we.
Limitations! There are so many. But to recognize our frailties is the very beginning of the healing of our minds and often of our bodies.
In other words, our very confusion about life, if used wisely, can help us lose the conceit and self-importance that keep us from loving others with freedom. The way up brings tears of sincere regret. These healing tears are important for our discovery of love.
Yet the way up also brings out the hearty laugh. A laugh of freedom. At some point we must learn to transcend our frailties by laughing at our foolishness. Our pretensions are so vast. Think of our crazy presumptions. We expect to keep a grip on a treasured romance or a life-mastering ambition as in forever. But so many of our dreams fade away into nothingness. And sometimes our dreams are just downright crazy. . . .
So we fall off our pedestals. Down here below, we lose our presumptions, learn to listen, take time to think, and in the darkness we acquire a new honesty about ourselves. We don’t take ourselves so seriously, our opinions become less sacred to us. A new awareness rises to the surface of our thoughts. Instead of a need for control we admit that we have a deep need to receive help from outside ourselves. In my case I eventually said, “I have nothing, and I need everything.”
Jack Miller, Book on Love (unpublished).
In many ways I am a typical American. And we Americans are a busy, very optimistic people. It is one of our great strengths. We are impatient with defeat; we can only think of ourselves as winners. Our confidence seems justified by our history. Until Vietnam and the drug crisis we had never lost a war.
It is no accident that our own L. Frank Baum wrote the optimistic Wizard of Oz tailored to the interests of an American audience. Me? I grew up on it, both the book and the movie. Actually by the time I was in the fourth grade I was in love with Dorothy (Judy Garland) .
Still, the Wizard is one of the most sanitized fairy tales of all time. Louis B. Mayer could turn it into a film that was a box-office bonanza because it is our American fantasy. Good guys beat the bad guys. In the Oz adventure, the only ones who get hurt are forty vicious wolves, swarms of black bees, and two nasty old witches who get exactly what they have coming. None of the good people die or have any long-lasting suffering. Everybody eventually wins, the lion, the scarecrow, the tin-man, and Dorothy.
Such one-sided idealisms have been powerfully reenforced by the securities of the modern world. In the U.S. we have vast resources of food, the world’s best houses, and immense technological expertise. Self-help books by the millions are read assuring us that “tough times don’t last.”
So I entered the hospital on Monday as one more traveler on the yellow brick road. Everyone in the hospital was cheerful and optimistic, and so was I. I did not expect my tough times would last.
When the nurse came into my room on the fifth floor of the hospital that afternoon and introduced herself, I said to her, “If there is any way I can help you, let me know.” Just what I might do to help was a little unclear to me, but I was willing. I was already a very sick man.
Obviously there is no reason to regret being gracious. But I was carrying on life as per usual while standing in the shadow of a life-threatening illness. I think this is denial.
The next day the illusion of well-being was harder to maintain. Right after lunch I was propped up on my hospital bed. Rose Marie and my daughter Keren were with me. Dr. Herrold came in from the hallway and briefly greeted us all.
I then sat up and shifted so as to sit on the edge of the bed. He is a gracious person, but he quickly came to the point. The message was a painful one.
He said, “You have lymphoma.”
Lymphoma? Cancer of the lymph nodes! So that was it!
The Cat-scan revealed that I had a massive tumor in my abdomen, and there was the danger that it’s pressure would shut down my kidneys. Within the space of two days I had moved from being a very active person to a hospital patient struggling to stay alive. It was a lot to take in, and for a long moment I did not know how to process this devastating information. I had lymphoma. That was a fact, an inescapable reality. My first response was simply, “This can’t be happening to me. Life does not work this way for me. I am basically a healthy individual– not a cancer victim!”
Mentally till now I tended to think and act as though my life in this world was permanent. This was the essence of my day dream.
I had been denying my crisis when I needed to be getting ready for it.
But then and there in my “long moment,” I knew I had to take a clear view of things. I had either to jettison my illusions or slip deeper into denial. There was an irony here. That summer a friend of mine had endured the final days of liver cancer, and I had urged him gently not to deny the fact he was dying. Now it was my turn to face the music.
There was a physical crisis; there was now also an emotional/spiritual one.
After Dr. Herrold left, I wrestled with my decision. There was a brief inward convulsion, followed by a fear of becoming completely vulnerable in my relationships with others. Was I surrendering my independence? My dignity? My personal autonomy? My right to make decisions?
This last question was ironic. Because my right to make decisions was what I had already lost! The question was not whether I was going to give up a right, but to admit in some fundamental areas of life you cannot invent your own world by the power of choice.
This was no small revolution. You think the American way: every problem has a solution. If you go bankrupt, start again and work harder. if your marriage fails, adjust to singleness or find a new wife or husband. If you are chronically sick, get another doctor or change your medicine. Make the right choice and you’ll be O.K.
But when you face the prospect of your own death and suspect that you have only a few hours or days to live, your power of choice disappears. What troubles you about death is that for the most part the matter is entirely out of your hands and you must face it absolutely alone. You have a desperate urge to do something, but there is nothing to do but wait all by yourself. As you wait, the words “death” and “irrevocable” seem to be exact synonyms.
I said to myself, “I must not deny my situation any longer. I must unlearn fast.” At that point I gave up my unrealistic assumption that life in this world is forever. I then accepted the truth that this was going to be ‘a rough landing.’”
There is in each of us a sleeping fear of the “great unknown”: death. I could now feel this fear waking up in me. But perhaps harder for me was the thought I would never again see my family and friends. Never again share intimate family life with my wife and children and grandchildren, never again talk and laugh together on holidays in our home in Jenkintown, and never again open my mind to close friends–the loss seemed so very great to me.
But whether I lived or died, I knew a phase of my life was over. I was becoming the sufferer. I must submit to my mortality and not close my eyes to what looked like my impending death.
Don’t misunderstand. I had not surrendered to death or given up on life. Rather, I was simply facing the probability from a medical point of view that my death seemed imminent. Dr. Herrold had explained that the massive tumor was pressing on the vena cava artery and threatening to close it down.
The inescapable fact: only something like a miracle could rescue me from a speedy death.
But now having accepted the medical realities, I was in danger of succumbing to despair and self-pity.
I was no longer on the way to see the Wizard. Instead, I felt like Alice falling into the rabbit hole. There in Wonderland she constantly loses her identity. At one point she eats a small cake and this eating causes her to grow enormously. She weeps in self-pity and her tears form a deep pool. Later when she shrinks to a tiny creature she almost drowns in the pool of her own tears. Like her I was in danger of drowning in my own sorrows.
I had majored in philosophy as an undergraduate and have a Ph.D. in English literature. But there was nothing in the philosophers or poets that helped me on that second day in the hospital.
I especially felt inexpressible aloneness.
When I was twenty years old, I worked for the state forest service in Oregon and went three weeks without seeing a single person. The isolation in the deep, silent forest was powerful. But it couldn’t compare with this new aloneness. This I-am-all- alone feeling was accompanied by a growing sorrow. It was like sorrow for a close relative or friend who has recently died, except in this case I was the one who had died. These were strange, irrational feelings.
But how do you fight back? At first I had no idea how to find strength and hope. I love dialoguing with all kinds of people, especially those who are different from me. You learn so much that way. Still, how do you dialogue with death?
My long moment was over when I simply said to myself, “I cannot handle this.” That was a saving admission. It does not sound like great wisdom. It may sound like the last gasp of a quitter. But I don’t think it was. It simply had the merit of being the truth– painful and scary truth about myself.
This confession of helplessness became the essence of my unlearning. My remaining denial rapidly diminished. In accepting the prospect of the worst, I had discovered something both paradoxical and positive. It was paradoxical because you would not think life worked this way–that you could find strength in the ashes. The positive element? A new learning about what matters in life begins when you freely admit that you do not know what to do in your time of crisis.
My unlearning was over and my learning could begin.
I knew that I was going to be alone as never before, but I now refused to accept isolation as the essence of my life.
I sensed that I could rely on the love of others for me. I could not handle this alone, but maybe, no more than maybe, I sensed I could go down this dark road with help from others. This insight was a sheer gift; I never could have created this new perspective out of my own resources.
Jack Miller, Book on Love (unpublished), No Date.