Weekend Reads: Distilling God and preaching the gospel
Books | Caleb Nelson
I intensely disliked Phil Madeira. His smugly unctuous self-satisfaction, oddly dissonant with the real guilt and even traces of humility that at times peek through the autobiographical vignettes of God on the Rocks: Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith (Jericho Books, 2013), proved both maddening and compulsively readable. For all his faults, Madeira is real. He can’t stand religious people who would never want to sit and have a beer with Jesus—but acknowledges, almost wistfully, that perhaps Jesus wouldn’t want to share a bottle with Phil Madeira, either. Godliness, or even church attendance, isn’t exactly his strong suit.
Today, Madeira is a late-middle-aged musician in Nashville with two grown daughters, an ex-wife, and a girlfriend he refers to as his “Southern Born Woman.” He was born and raised in Rhode Island, where his father was a Baptist minister. Clearly, Madeira loved his father deeply; he’s more conflicted about his mother, and quite honest about the fact that he and the woman he calls his “grandmonster” mutually despised each other. She could not understand the musical drive that filled her grandson’s soul. He played the drums, and she believed that he was doing it for Satan. At her funeral, Madeira played the blues for his nephews—and for revenge.
His mother was the first woman ever to preach in his father’s church, way back in 1972. Drawing on this legacy, Madeira sometimes refers to God as “the chick upstairs,” but at the same time appears to understand that God is actually masculine. When the liberals talk about the Trinity as “Mother, Child, and Womb,” Madeira asks, “innocently,” what the male counterpart to that last organ would be.
If you are at all irritable, don’t read Madeira unless you agree with him. Whether you agree with him or not, pray for his soul—and your own.
According to Paul Washer, many contemporary preachers speak not to “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” but to “Slightly Dysfunctional Individuals in the Hands of a Mildly Disgruntled Deity.” Washer reminds readers that forgiveness presupposes sin and sin makes God angry in The Gospel’s Power & Message (Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), a series of 26 messages built (mainly but not exclusively) on 1 Corinthians 15, Romans 1, and Romans 3. Like the Puritan preachers of the 17th century, Washer seeks to put the whole system of theology into his weekly sermons—and like them, he sometimes preaches on the same text week after week in order to present different but related truths from systematic theology.
Every human being is born sinful, subject to a pervasive depravity. Washer strongly believes in preaching against sin, not because it harms our fellow creatures, but because it is an offence against the holiness of God. Those who make light of sin make light of God, who is righteously wrathful against sin. But God doesn’t stop there. He made provision to reconcile Himself to wicked human beings: though He was the enemy of sinful men, He chose some of their number to love. He then sent His Son to die the death these deserved and live on their behalf the righteous life they could not live. Those who by faith accept this gift have their sins expunged and the righteousness of Christ credited to their account. God is righteous to punish sin—but through His resurrected Son, He is righteous to save sinners. This, Washer declares, is the truth taught in Romans 3, “the acropolis of the Christian faith.”
The church today is weak, argues Washer, because it is gospel-deprived. The good news is that it can get strong again by preaching the good news.
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