Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Other Men's Brains

I thought maybe it would be helpful to you to know who I consider to be the most important Evangelicals in our day. That is, the people I take the most seriously as I read and study the Bible, trust in Christ alone, and walk by the Spirit through the joys and struggles of the Christian life. These people are not Jesus, and they cannot die for my sins. Always remind me of this. But they are important, because I believe God is using them in unique ways to bring glory to His name and people into His presence. As Charles Spurgeon says, “The man who never reads will never be read. The man who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own.”

The names below represent, in my opinion, and based on my exposure, the most intelligent, biblical, relevant, and understandable voices in the Evangelical world. They are not important in the sense that they are necessary, as if God needs anyone. They are not important in the sense that they are influential only, for there are many influential people who are influencing others in very negative ways. I believe them to be important in the sense that they are uniquely gifted, placed, and willing to be used by God in very positive ways in our time, and to mobilize others to do the same. This is not an exhaustive list, which is to say it does not include everyone who could be described with one of the four adjectives I chose. But it is a complete list, for me, which is to say that after extensive reading and listening I do not expect to find anyone else who would “top” the importance of these names as it relates to the honoring of God, communication of the Gospel, and loving of people in our culture today.

I, of course, could be wrong, but for purposes of clarity and brevity, this list represents, in general, the people I first default to for wisdom from a Christian perspective, and whose endorsements I take the most seriously on the back of a book cover. Even if you have never heard of any of these people, I hope that this list and this post can still be helpful to you as you consider Scripture, engage the culture with the Gospel and the love of Christ, struggle through growth in godliness, and in the process look to experienced voices for perspective and guidance. I could list the names that when I see on a book cover I put it right back on the shelf, or names I would warn you to avoid like the plague, but that doesn’t serve much of a purpose except to judge where it is not my place. If you stick to some combination of the people below, and perhaps men and women who these people endorse, with your head and heart constantly glued to the Bible, I do not worry that you will be led astray. The link on their name takes you to a website that most completely directs you to their ministry contributions. For clarification, all of these people are still with us on earth. The amount and weight of the names I could mention of people who are no longer with us would be huge. That is another post, perhaps.

YOUNG, RESTLESS, REFORMED, AND MISSIONAL

Matt Chandler – proclaiming the Gospel in suffering
Mark Driscoll – provocative for Jesus and for the church
Ed Stetzer – ubiquitous and faithfully missional
Kevin DeYoung – unapologetically traditional for the glory of God
Tim Challies – effective communicator and translator of culture
Justin Taylor – blogger extraordinaire

This list represents men who I believe God is preparing to be the most important names in Evangelical Christianity in our generation. This list of names, if any of the lists I include, could grow. Hopefully. For example, I would love to be able to put an overseas missionary or radical defender of the poor, who is also biblically orthodox and gospel-centered, on this list. But these names will do for now.

They are young in the sense that they are in their 30s and 40s. They are restless in the sense that they do not assume the Gospel will be clear, the Bible will be understood, people will be transformed, or the Great Commission will be fulfilled, without some serious, selfless, sacrificial service. They are Reformed in the sense that they hold to the doctrines of grace and tenets of historical Reformed theology, as believed since the days of the Church fathers, initially articulated in this way in the time of Martin Luther, later clarified in the time of John Calvin, and passionately and humbly defended in our time by those most interested in the glory of God. These tenets are: sola scriptura (Scripture alone), sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola Christus (Christ alone), and soli deo gloria (glory of God alone). Contrary to popular belief, “Reformed theology” is not first and foremost about predestination; though it does hold to that teaching. It is first and foremost about the authority of Scripture, the glory of God, and justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

You will notice that all the men on the lists below are not by definition “Reformed”, nor need they be. While I consider myself Reformed, I am not so na├»ve as to think that those of different theological convictions are less intelligent, biblical, relevant, or understandable. But I do more quickly follow those that share my own specific interpretations of God, Jesus, the Bible, the Cross, and the nature and fruits of our salvation. And I see the names above as the most significant because of their humility, boldness, compassion, and effectiveness in ministry, which may or may not be directly related to their theological convictions.

Finally, these men are missional in the sense that they understand the church to be on mission for God and the context in which the Great Commission will be fulfilled and the Kingdom of God will be represented, and eventually realized, in our fallen world. And they understand that this requires careful, creative, and faithful contextualization to our culture of the promises and commands from Jesus in the Bible.

SEASONED BUT FRESH

John Piper – passionately God-centered and bible-saturated
Tim Keller – unmatched intelligence, master at Gospel application, urban ministry expert
Andy Stanley – everyday pastor and equipper of leaders with unique wisdom and influence
Albert Mohler – Gospel-centered voice for intelligent Christian conversation
Rick Warren – brilliant communicator and uncompromising pragmatist
D.A. Carson – pastor-like scholar
John MacArthur – faithful bible expositor
Ligon Duncan – soldier for historic evangelicalism
Mark Dever - qualified representative of the marks of a healthy church
Scot McKnight – Christ-centered, rational voice in the Emerging Church
Andy Crouch - culture-interpreter and culture-maker
Steve Saint - authoritative figure for missions and suffering

Definitely follow the link on these names to expose you to ministries and resources and perspective that are way beyond what I could ever do justice to in a blog post. But here is my simply summary as it applies to me:

John Piper pleads with me, and has driven me to not waste my life, to confidently deal with sin, and to trust in the risen Christ, and has reminded me to maintain an eternal perspective in everything.

Tim Keller reasons with me, squashes my doubts, overcomes my intellectual snobbery, and humbles me by his compassion, boldness, and sacrificial lifestyle.

Andy Stanley relates to me, and through his calm and collected storytelling of Jesus' life and ministry, he cuts to the core of my longings and desires, and equips me to communicate in similar ways to others.

Albert Mohler translates for me the confusing and unpredictable events and developments in our culture, and does so with an unflinching commitment to the Bible and the Gospel.

Rick Warren encourages me, speaks simple profundity into my life, and gives me purpose and clarity in service within the context of the nature and character of God.

D.A. Carson teaches me, and blows my mind with biblical insight that is good for the soul.

John MacArthur preaches to me, and expounds the text of the Bible with remarkable and enjoyable detail, and always takes me back to Jesus and the Cross, where I belong.

Ligon Duncan reminds me of the service and words of anointed men in the Church who came long before us who deeply loved God, the Gospel, and other people.

Mark Dever articulates for me the marks of a healthy church and helps me filter through a lot of the confusion and trendiness in forms of church today.

Scot McKnight exposes me to thoughts and ideas that are new, different, and sometimes dangerous, and does so cautiously and in a way that is challenging and Christ-centered.

Andy Crouch shows me the difference that Christians can make in our culture and invites me to participate.

Steve Saint inspires me by his perspective on suffering, his experience in missions, and his humility and wisdom. I met him in 2006, and although we didn't have time to chat, he told me that when we get to heaven he wants to hear my story.

IN THEIR TWILIGHT

J.I. Packer - most trusted Evangelical statesmen and theologian of our time
Billy Graham – leading Evangelist of the 20th century
John Stott – celibate, Evangelical Anglican pastor with far-reaching legacy
Elisabeth Elliot – former missionary and enduring model of love, forgiveness, passion, and purity

Saying I can't do these men (and woman) justice in a blog post is a grave understatement. So if nothing else, here are the names, and I'll trust God with the rest.

J.I. Packer's most famous work, Knowing God, has become the staple for Evangelical theology and apologetics. My personal experience with J.I. Packer is hearing his testimony of falling into deep despair at the teaching that perfection was obtainable in this life, and his rescue from this through the writings of John Owen. I shouldn't be thankful for someone exposing me to John Owen because of the energy and brain power required to read such a man. But I am anyway, because from Owen, and indirectly from Packer, I have drawn immeasurably closer to God at the realization that those who are truly saved will persevere to the end, and only those who persevere to the end were ever truly saved.

Billy Graham cannot possibly be left off of a list like this. His contribution to evangelicalism is unmatched. His boldness in sharing the faith, and his ubiquitous nature in Christianity and American history, while maintaining congeniality, but never compromising his convictions, is simply unbelievable. And glorious.

John Stott is a rare breed in that he is an Evangelical in the Anglican Communion. I grew up in the Episcopal Church in America, and after accepting Christ in an Evangelical parachurch organization in college, Stott's very existence is exciting to me. His classic work on the atonement, The Cross of Christ, sets him above almost all contemporary scholars on the most important doctrine of the Christian faith. His contributions to ministry and church life are paramount, and will endure.

The first book I read as a Christian in college was Through Gates of Splendor, by Elisabeth Elliot. I was attracted to this book for two reasons: first, it was a story, and appeared from the title and synopsis to be exciting and like a movie, and probably wouldn't be questioned by my fraternity brothers like some generic Christian living book would; and second, the author shared my last name (though spelled differently). I came to find out it was more than a story, and the impact it had on my faith from the outset cannot be put into words. Elisabeth Elliot has that effect on people because of her story and her experience in suffering and with forgiveness. Her enduring model of love, passion and purity is an example that will forever show Jesus in a very special and profound way to all who encounter her life.

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