Critical Calvinists and Pride (Hughes, Bridges)

Preaching the Word: Sermon on the Mount—The Message of the Kingdom  One thing I’ve noticed over the years is the fact that some Calvinists are also very critical of others.  I know that some people in general are critical by nature, but to me it seems worse when someone who holds to the doctrines of grace is always super critical about others.  Maybe you’ve seen it: these people are always pointing out the flaws in someone’s theology, they’re quick to find fault in someone’s beliefs, they generally don’t give others the benefit of the doubt, and you won’t hear this type of person speak loving or kind words to those with whom they disagree.  To be honest, I sometimes struggle with a critical spirit, so I’m not claiming the higher moral ground here!  My point is that a critical spirit is not a Christian attitude or mentality.  And further, the more we understand the truths of the doctrines of grace, the more our critical spirit should decrease and decline.  Why?  Because the doctrines of grace kill pride and produce humility.

I appreciate how Kent Hughes describes this as he comments on Matthew 7:1-5:

A critical spirit, a judgmental, condemning spirit, is endemic to the human situation. The media, our social relationships, our schooling, and our work situations are immersed in it. And though we often joke about it, experiencing it is most unpleasant. Few things are more exhausting and debilitating than harsh, unloving criticism.

Even sadder, the church of Jesus Christ is itself full of those who make a habit of criticism and condemnation. Some seem to think their critical spirit is a spiritual gift. But the Lord does not agree. In the opening verses of Matthew 7 (the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount), our Lord sets the record straight in no uncertain terms. He tells us how we should relate to our brothers and sisters in this matter of judgmentalism, especially in respect to the fact that we will all undergo a final judgment.

…When a critic discovers faults in another, he feels a malignant satisfaction and always sees the worst possible motives in the other’s actions. The critical spirit is like the carrion fly that buzzes with a sickening hum of satisfaction over sores, preferring corruption to health.

…We see critical spirits all around us—in our media, in our schools, in our social relationships. But it should not be a part of the church. May God purge it from our lives and from our churches. We would each do well to ask ourselves, who have I been critical of this week? Has my focus on their faults blinded me to my own? Then we need to ask God to help us see ourselves as we are. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 227–228.)

Jerry Bridges also wrote well on this when he discussed sins like pride, bitterness, envy, and an unforgiving spirit:

One of the most difficult defilements of spirit to deal with is the critical spirit. A critical spirit has its root in pride. Because of the “plank” of pride in our own eye we are not capable of dealing with the “speck” of need in someone else. We are often like the Pharisee who, completely unconscious of his own need, prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). We are quick to see—and to speak of—the faults of others, but slow to see our own needs. How sweetly we relish the opportunity to speak critically of someone else—even when we are unsure of our facts. We forget that “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” by criticizing one to another is one of the “six things which the Lord hates” (Proverbs 6:16–19).

All of these attitudes—envy, jealousy, bitterness, an unforgiving and retaliatory spirit, and a critical and gossiping spirit—defile us and keep us from being holy before God. They are just as evil as immorality, drunkenness, and debauchery. Therefore, we must work diligently at rooting out these sinful attitudes from our minds. Often we are not even aware our attitudes are sinful. We cloak these defiling thoughts under the guise of justice and righteous indignation. But we need to pray daily for humility and honesty to see these sinful attitudes for what they really are, and then for grace and discipline to root them out of our minds and replace them with thoughts pleasing to God.  Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1978), 122.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Culture’s Bipolar View of Violence

 Our culture has a bipolar view of violence.  On the one hand, we are completely against it.  The media is constantly pointing out all the violence in our culture: rape, shootings, homicides, etc.  Our culture is always speaking against these things and the media highlights them as bad news.

On the other hand, our culture doesn’t mind violence.  Hollywood puts out movies and TV shows full of shootings, rape, and homicides  – and we watch them for entertainment (often paying money to do so).  Video games are produced where the main goal is to shoot and kill as many people as possible – and we buy these games and play them for hours.  We finish a movie or video game like this and we think, “That was cool and entertaining.”  Our culture has a bipolar view of violence: we condemn it and enjoy it.

Scripture, however, isn’t bipolar when it comes to violence:

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. …So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them” (Gen 6:11, 13 NIV).

Psalm 11:5 says that the LORD hates the one who loves violence.  Ezekiel prophesied that disaster would come to Israel because the city (Jerusalem) was full of violence (7:23). There are quite a few references in Scripture that talk about the sin of unjust violence, brutality, and bloodshed.  Commenting on the 6th commandment, the Westminster Larger Catechism says it requires the preserving of life by “just defense thereof against violence” and it forbids unjustly “striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any” (Q/A 135-136).  In a word, Christians should not delight in violence, but take a stand against it.

I appreciate Kent Hughes’ words on violence:

“What the Bible prohibits is the cultivation of a violent heart.  In Scripture’s language, God is opposed to ‘the one who loves violence’ (Ps. 11:5) – those whom ‘violence covers …as a garment’ (Ps. 73:6), and those of whom it is said, ‘the desire of the treacherous is for violence (Prov. 13:2).  The Bible rejects those who glory in violence as did Lamech (Gen. 4:23-24), and Simon and Levi, whose genocidal spree earned them a curse (Gen. 49:5-7)….

“In effect, the Scriptures declare an ominous ‘woe’ to violent hearts that glory in violence and promote it in the world.  There are no beatitudes for the violent.  Only ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’ (Mt. 5:9).”

Hughes later writes about violence in the media and notes a study that said an average child sees around 8,000 murders and 100,000 violent acts on the screen before finishing elementary school – and these numbers more than double for a teen graduating high school.  Hughes speaks a blunt word to Christians: “Woe to those in Christ’s church who passively view it [violence] – who fail to protect their homes and their children from its degenerating effects.  Woe to a church culture in which Christian young people view violence at the same rate as the rest of the culture.”

Even if we think Hughes’ “woes” might be too harsh, I think the point stands.

The above quotes are found in chapter 5 of Kent Hughes’ Set Apart.  (Note: this is a revamp of a blog post from June 2016.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


In the first century, Paul said that Christian women “are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense” (1 Tim. 2:9 HCSB).  Speaking more broadly of sexual purity, all Christians should dress decently and not in a sexually immoral or suggestive way.  Kent Hughes talks about modesty in chapter seven of Set Apart.  His discussion is a good one; I’ll summarize it below.

What Fuels Immodesty Today?

1) The fashion industry.  Early on, Calvin Klein led the way in promoting a drugged-out cocaine chic as pale, skinny adolescent men and women posed in jeans (some with flies unzipped) in various postures of strung-out languor.  Today Abercrombie & Fitch is the leader in marketing lewdness.

2) The body industry.  If anything trumps the fashion industry in promoting immodesty, it’s the body industry.  The body business lives on the promotion of the myth that you cannot be happy without the body you desire.  …All you need to do is buy ‘Men’s Health’ and follow the directions.  And with those abs you’ll have a rich, full life.

3) The beauty industry.  Immodesty is fueled by an inordinate emphasis on the body and on the myth that you can’t be happy in less than a perfect body.  This culturally induced delusion and frustration is further fueled by the fashion industry’s peddling of fashions for skinny models who epitomize the ideal.

4) Sin’s industry.  And then there’s sin’s industry – that is, our own sin’s industriousness in dragging us down into immodesty.  At the heart of our sin is self-love.  We are naturally lovers of self rather than lovers of God.

“These immense pressures serve to marginalize modesty, until finally it is viewed as a quaint sentiment of a bygone day.”

And what are the negative effects of immodesty?

Hughes lists four things.  First, immodesty demystifies and diminishes the mystery of sexuality.  Second, it devalues humans, sexuality, and marriage; people are reduced to objects. Third, it breeds shallowness.  Fourth, immodestly confuses people and makes it difficult to live a chaste life.

“The Christian’s only hope is in Christ and his Holy Word.  And for the man or woman who has been victimized by the propaganda of the body industry, the answer is that you have been created in the image of God, and as such you are a beautiful and unique creation by God – whether tall or short, skinny or unskinny, well-endowed or less endowed, muscular or muscle less.”

The above is a summary of a longer and excellent discussion in chapter seven of Set Apart.  Recommended!

shane lems

Profaning Money

  Kent Hughes’ chapter on materialism and money in Set Apart is a great discussion of Christian stewardship.  In our wealthy Western culture, this is for sure worth thinking about.

“Along with this understanding that our money is not our own, we must give it away joyfully.  Theologian Jacques Ellul says that the only way to defeat the godlike power that money seeks to impose on our lives is to give it away, which he calls profaning it: ‘To profane money, like all other powers, is to take away its sacred character.’  This destroys its power over us.  ‘Giving to God is the act of profanation par excellence,’ says Ellul.  Every time I give, I declare that money does not control me.  Perpetual generosity is a perpetual de-deification of money.”

“This makes great sense, and it cuts through the paralyzing controversies over affluence and individual lifestyle.  Wherever you are on the economic continuum, you need to give generously and regularly.  Generous giving as it relates to your affluence will free you from the bondage of money.  You will be profaning money – declaring that it is not a god in your life.  You can talk until the moon stands still about what is the proper lifestyle for a member of you church, and the result would be a corporate orgy of judgmentalism.  And if we came up with a written description, it would entrench a grace-nullifying legalism.  Paul minced no words with Timothy:”

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,  thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

R. Kent Hughes, Set Apart, p. 33

shane lems

The Fuel and Effects of Immodesty

In Kent Hughes’ excellent book, Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to A Godly Life, he talks about sexual purity and the Christian life (among other things).  One chapter is called “Modesty.”  In this chapter he explains what fuels immodesty and the effects of immodesty.  This is helpful to consider since we live in culture where sexual perversion is becoming the norm.

First, what fuels immodesty?

1) “The fashion industry.  Early on, Calvin Klein led the way in promoting a drugged-out cocaine chic as pale, skinny adolescent men and women posed in jeans (some with flies unzipped) in various postures of strung-out languor.  … It’s particularly hard for young women to find clothing that is stylish and not degrading.  Even sizing has become pernicious – so that what is now labeled ‘large’ is equivalent to what was once ‘small.’”

2) “The Body Industry.  If anything trumps the fashion industry in promoting immodesty, it’s the body industry.  The body business lives on the promotion of the myth that you cannot be happy without the body you desire, and you can have the body you want through diet and exercise. …So today high school and college students are in the midst of an epidemic of anorexia and other sorts of modesty-related disorders.”

3) “The Beauty Industry.  Immodesty is fueled by an inordinate emphasis on the body and on the myth that you can’t be happy in less than a perfect body….  This culturally induced delusion and frustration is further fueled by the fashion industry’s peddling of fashions for skinny models who epitomize the ideal.  …The beauty industry feeds on these insecurities, selling implants, liposuction, plastic surgeries, collagen injections, drugs, and every kind of lipstick, eye shadow, shampoo, dye, emollient, cream, soap, cleanser, enhancer, perfume, conditioner, and exfoliant that the commercial mind can imagine.”

4) “The Sin Industry.  …Our own sin’s industriousness in dragging us down into immodesty.  At the heart of our sin is self-love.  We are naturally lovers of self rather than lovers of God. …Pride fuels immodesty.”

Secondly, Hughes notes the effects of immodesty: it demystifies (it diminishes the beautiful mystery of sexuality), it devalues (it reduces people to objects), it breeds shallowness (it makes people look only upon the surface), it temps (it makes people lust), and it confuses (it leaves people confused about sex and the human body).

This is just a brief summary of a longer discussion.  I highly recommend this book – specifically this chapter.  Near the end of the chapter, Hughes writes this (and I’ll end with it):

“Modesty is the entire church’s responsibility.  We together must create a culture in which modesty flourishes.  There must be a place where women [and men – spl] are safe and accepted for who they are rather than for what they look like. …It must be a place where all learn to clothe themselves with the character of Christ.”

 R. Kent Hughes: Set Apart (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003).

shane lems

The Success Syndrome and the Church

Early in his ministry, Kent Hughes was set on having a successful church and pastoral career.  “To me,” he wrote, “success in the ministry meant growth in attendance.  Ultimate success meant a big, growing church.” “Subconsciously I was evaluating nearly everything from the perspective of how it would affect church growth.”  The crisis of faith came for him when he pastored a church that wasn’t growing by leaps and bounds.

After tears, prayer, discussions with his wife, and a study of scripture, he said this.

“I realized that I had been subtly seduced by the secular thinking that places a number on everything.  Instead of evaluating myself and the ministry from God’s point of view, I was using the world’s standard of qualitative analysis.”

What did he learn?  Quite a bit: “God’s call is to be faithful rather than successful.”  His wife Barbara agreed.

“In our study of the Scriptures, Kent and I had learned that we are not called to success, as the world fancies it, but to faithfulness.”

This is essential for all Christians no matter where and how we are called to serve in the church: our definition of success must come from the Bible not the world.  Instead of judging success by the number of sermon downloads, website hits, people in the pews, and cars in the parking lot, we need to judge it by biblical fidelity.  A biblically successful church is one that preaches the whole counsel of God in and out of season, administers the sacraments faithfully, and lovingly disciplines sinners unto repentance.

For a longer discussion of this important topic, you’ll need to get Hughes’ book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1988).

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

Six Anti-Church Evangelical Trends

 As I mentioned a few weeks back, this is a great book: Set Apart by R. Kent Hughes (and it’s less than $10!).  I liked his section where he gave six anti-church trends among American evangelicals (found in chapter 10).  Here they are.

1) Hitchhiker Christians:  These peole say, “You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills – and I’ll come along for the ride.  But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out.  My thumb is always out for a better ride.”

2) Consumer Christians:  These are “ecclesiastical shoppers [that] attend one church for the preaching, send their children to a second church for its youth program, and go to a third church’s small group.  Their motto is to ask, ‘What’s in it for me?'”  The consumer mentality “encouraged those who have been influenced by it to think naturally in terms of receiving rather than contributing.”

3) Spectator Christians: “Spectator Christianity feeds on the delusion that virtue can come through viewing, much like the football fan who imagines that he ingests strength and daring while watching his favorite pro team.  Spectator sports and spectator Christianity produce the same things – fans who cheer the players on while they themselves are in desperate need of engagement and meaning.”

4) Drive-through Christians: “[These kind of people] get their ‘church fix’ out of the way by attending a weeknight church service or the early service on Sunday morning so that the family can save the bulk of Sunday for the all-important soccer game or recreational trip.  Of course there is an unhappy price extracted over time in the habits and the arteries of a flabby soul – a family that is unfit for the battles of life and has no conception of being Christian soldiers in the great spiritual battle.”

5) Relationless Christians: Despite the Bible’s emphasis on Christians gathering together in love, today some people say “the best church is the one that knows you least and demands the least….  Of course, the apotheosis is the electronic church where Christ’s body can be surveyed by the candid camera and the Word can be heard without responsibility or accountability.”

6) Churchless Worshipers: “The current myth is that a life of worship is possible, even better, apart from the church.  As one person blithely expressed it, ‘For “church” I go to the mall to my favorite coffee place and spend my morning with the Lord.  That is how I worship.’  This is an updated suburban and yuppie version of how to spend Sunday, changed from its rustic forebearer [namely, Emily Dickinson, who said 100 years ago] ‘Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – I keep it staying at Home‘”

I do believe these are accurate (Hughes does describe them with a little more detail – I’ve summarized them).  I have talked to people in my area with similar views of the church.  Hughes does go on to give a nice biblical antidote to these six trends – maybe I’ll list them some other time.  For now, contemplate these six and try to engage them from a biblical perspective so the next time you meet Christians like this you have something loving, biblical, and intelligent to say.

shane lems