I am sometimes asked why I focus on the new birth so much. The question can be asked and answered on many different levels, but the foundational answer is that our condition is desperate. Like the Laodiceans (Rev. 3:18), we need to buy refined gold from Jesus, white garments to cover our shame, and eye salve so that we might see that we can’t see anything.
We have all sorts of distractions to help persuade us that our condition is not in fact desperate, but those distractions always amount to some sort of Hezekiah-like “peace and safety in my time.” We tend to measure how the culture is doing by how we are doing, which simply means that we are sentinels who can be bribed and bought off. A rising star who is finally breaking into the conference circuit, for example, and who thinks everything swell for that reason, is like a punter being put in as quarterback late in the fourth quarter, with the score something like 78 to 3. He thinks of it as a personal promotion, for he is now on the field, instead of him being the crowning folly of a general disintegration in the coach’s career.
So we need to come to grips with the fact that in North America, the bride of Christ is a hot mess.
We live in a time when the charismatics need the Spirit, the Reformed need a reformation, and the evangelicals need to be born again. We do not need particular doctrines about the Spirit in the abstract. If we are given the Spirit of reformation, we will get the doctrines we need. We will of course need doctrine that arises from the Scriptures in order to help us understand what the Spirit just did for us. But if the Spirit didn’t actually do anything, then our systematic theologies are nothing but printed kits for organizing smoke. If the Spirit didn’t do anything, then any religious frenzies, conducted under an unauthorized use of His auspices, have all the religious authority of a priest of Baal cutting himself with a knife at a Stones concert.
But if the Spirit is poured out in power, then we will have what future generations will call a great reformation and revival. If He is not poured out, then we are toast. Our situation is desperate.
But, some ask, if He is not poured out, what should we do in the meantime? That is a reasonable question, and we do have to do something. But everything we do should be in the spirit of Elijah arranging wood on the altar, waiting for the fire to fall, and which recognizes the absolute need for the fire to fall. And when you get to the point of that showdown on Mt. Carmel, there is no plan B.
In the meantime, we do not need for the bishop to process up the central aisle, like the biggest crow in the gutter. We do not need another message from Doctrine Man, with ten rivets in each subpoint. We do not need the worship leader to take us through yet one more orgasmic chord progression. We don’t need a doctrine of responsible stewardship and sustainability that worries more about how many times we flush than how many babies we kill. We do not need any more cardboard cut-out celebrity pastors, grinning at us, as smug as all dammit. In short, we don’t need any more of what we currently have. A.W. Tozer once cuttingly observed that if revival means more of what we have now, we most emphatically do not need a revival.
In short, we need the Spirit to be poured out upon us. And when God is pleased to make this happen, the Spirit will do the work He always does, which is that of making men new. He will make them new in the middle of some metrosexual posedown in front of the mirror. He will make them new in the middle of some stupid sermon they are busy preaching, with puffs of dust arising every time a page is turned. He will make them new in the middle of an academic conference on feminist counter-narratives. He will make them new in the middle of renting one more skeezefest on Netflix. He will make them new in the middle of their very last angry outburst against their wives. He will make them new while they are in the middle of yet another eggy Facebook post directed what little faithfulness we have left. The Spirit will interrupt us, and He will make us new. That’s what He does.
When the fire falls, everything worthwhile will be purified further, and will stand. Gold, silver, and gems will remain. But all the things we have made out of pine needles will go up in a sheet of flame — our celebrity conferences, our hair product youth pastors, our liturgical mummeries, our doctrinal gnat-strangling, and our arguments on the road — with Jesus just a couple yards in front of us — about who will be the greatest.
“I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs . . . For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession. The seed also of his servants shall inherit it: and they that love his name shall dwell therein” (Ps. 69:30-31, 35-36).
So why do I write about this so much? Because we live in a valley of dry bones.