Depression and Common Grace

Depression and Common Grace

By Jared C. Wilson

help-depressionA few years ago I had a book published called Gospel Wakefulness. It is a very important book to me, as it came out of the second most important event of my life, second only to my conversion — the moment when the gospel became realer than real. And this happened out of a great personal disaster. I won’t rehash my testimony here; many of my readers are familiar with it. But it was important for me to include in this book a chapter on Depression. That may seem like an odd choice for a book about exulting in the grace of God with joy unspeakable and full of glory, but I wasn’t interested in applying the gospel to the happy-go-lucky. And this book out of all my books, and this chapter out of all my chapters, has prompted the most messages of appreciation. I trust it is helpful.

Below is an excerpt from this chapter, a portion that covers God’s gracious provision of ordinary “helps,” and a gracious encouragement to those hurting who are often further hurt by well-meaning churchfolk who inappropriately spiritualize such afflictions.

The first thing we may say about the bigness of Jesus is that he is big enough to help us in many ordinary means. Many Christians have adopted the unfortunate posture of Job’s friends, adding more discouragement to those discouraged in depression by urging them not to seek help except via spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study. These are certainly the most important prescriptions for any of us!

The fuller truth, however, is that while Jesus is enough, his enough-ness may be manifested in our getting help from material means. These too are gifts from God, provided through the common graces of scientific research, academic study, pastoral giftedness, analytic method, and modern medicine.

What I mean is this: talk to a trained counselor and take the meds if they are needed. When it comes to medication, at the very least, don’t not take it out of fear of distrust of Jesus. Antidepressants may or may not help you, but discuss the options with your doctor, preferably after conferring with a clinical psychologist who is also a Christian, and if you decide they are not for you, don’t decide so because you think to take them is to deny Jesus’s ability to heal.

Yes, Jesus is enough, but it must really be Jesus, not some invoking of the idea of Jesus, some platitude involving Jesus’s name, some hollow encouragement via cheap cliché. One question I’d ask those who’d suggest that those on medication for depression or anxiety should ditch the pills and just “trust Jesus” is if they’ve ever been to the doctor for anything, taken medicine for anything. Do they wear glasses or contact lenses? Why? Isn’t Jesus enough? (Do you drive a car? Why doesn’t Jesus beam you to work?)

I’m being silly, but I really am not trying to be reductive. The problem with “Jesus should be enough” in response to the question, “should Christians take anti-depressants?” is that the Jesus in view in the assertion is disembodied. He is an idea, a concept. I don’t think Christians can say with any integrity, “Jesus is enough,” without attempting to do what Jesus did to “be Jesus” for people, which frequently included meeting their physical and emotional needs. The gospel truth of “Jesus is enough” doesn’t have some vague, ethereal, unincarnated spiritual meaning.

That we have medicine to help us heal physically and psychologically is a gift from Jesus, just as salvation from sins is a gift from Jesus. Of course, if I had to take one over the other, I would take pain now and heaven later, but that’s theoretical, and thankfully I don’t often have to choose one or the other.

And it certainly isn’t the gospel of Jesus to heap guilt on people who need medical help to be healthy people. Jesus may heal any of us without ordinary means—and I do believe he heals today by purely Spiritual means, what most of us would call a miracle—but this kind of healing is not normative. And that’s all right. Medicine is not a mandate for the depressed person. But neither is it off limits. It can be, properly prescribed and taken, a gift of common grace. Likewise, seeking help from a pastoral counselor or Christian psychologist is nothing to be ashamed of.

– from Gospel Wakefulness (Crossway, 2011)

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The Impact of an “Average” Committed Christian

Are you worried because you don’t seem to be an incredibly “gifted” Christian?  Do you dismiss what the Lord has given you because you see yourself as “just a ‘one talent’ Christian”?  Rather than be anxious or envious or complacent, be committed to what the Lord has entrusted to you as a member of His body.  Be encouraged because the Lord can do amazing things through we “average” committed Christians.  Just look at the impact of Simon Prevette:

Simon Prevette

By Jason Helopoulos

You aren’t incredibly gifted? Well, welcome to the club of the “average.” Most of us dwell there. As an encouragement, let me introduce you to Simon Prevette. He is a man you have never heard of, but he is a man you should know.

The first church I had the honor of laboring at was a medium-size church in rural North Carolina. As has been my practice at every church I have attended or served, I spent the first six months seeking out the oldest members of the congregation. I have found that there are few things more important than knowing the history of the church to which you belong.

In my conversations with the older individuals (in their seventies and eighties) of the church, I kept hearing a particular name: Simon Prevette. Every older man in the congregation seemed to be unable to tell the history of the church without mentioning Simon. At first I thought Simon must have been one of the early pastors. However, that was far from the case. Everyone said the same things about Simon: he was small in stature, had a humble demeanor, was reticent to speak in public, often served behind the scenes, and was a very “ordinary” layman.

Though Simon was not the type of man people would point to as an incredibly gifted leader, he had a lasting impact upon the church that surpassed even the most gifted pastors this church had enjoyed over its history. How did Simon do this? In a very “average” way.  On Sundays, the young boys of the church were invited to Simon’s house for afternoon walks. And as they walked through the woods, he would talk to them about trees, plants, birds, and…Christ. He did so in an unassuming manner. There was no weekly agenda, no plotting, and no preaching; just an older man spending time with young boys and allowing the Lord to work in His seemingly simple ways for profound ends. These now seventy-year old men all pointed to Simon Prevette as one, if not the key, instrument used by the Lord to draw them to saving faith.

I am thankful for high-talent men—those nine and ten talent individuals. However let’s be honest, most of us are at best, gifted with average talents. Our prayers don’t move mountains, revivals haven’t erupted from our evangelism efforts, and crowds aren’t flocking to hear us teach or preach. And yet, some of the greatest fruit born for the sake of the Kingdom stems from the labors of seemingly average-talent men and women. The Lord often uses the humblest of men in the most significant ways.

On one Sunday before the morning service began and during the announcements, I decided to demonstrate this very thing to the congregation. I asked everyone in the room who could say Simon Prevette was instrumental in their coming to saving faith to stand. These eight to ten older men of the congregation stood. I then asked everyone to look at these men, who many had known as their elders when they were children and young adults, and asked those who could say one of these men had been instrumental in the Lord drawing them to saving faith to stand. At this point, one-third of the room was now on its feet. Then came the incredible picture that I will never forget. I asked everyone to look at these individuals and to stand if any of these individuals had been used by the Lord in drawing them to saving faith. In a congregation which numbered around four hundred on that Sunday morning, there were maybe forty people left sitting.

Simon Prevette was by all accounts an average talent man, but the Lord used him in a mighty way. You don’t have to have ten talents. You don’t have to have nine. You just have to be faithful with what the Lord has given you. He can do mighty things with weak vessels.

I never met Simon. He had entered glory far ahead of my coming to the church. Yet, he has sat on my shoulder for over ten years as a faithful example and encouragement to me. The church could use a lot more men and women like Simon—saints who are just faithful where they are at, faithful with what they have been given, and content that God receive the glory.

The Sex Lives of Unmarried “Evangelicals”

Relevant magazine reported that 80% of unmarried evangelicals have had sex.  A newer survey reports that 56% of unmarried evangelicals have never had sex.  Both targeted the same age group: 18-29 years old.  Which survey is correct?  

According to Relevant, using the National Campaign survey, evangelicals have premarital sex “as much (or more) than non-Christians.”  The newer survey, done by Grey Matter, tells a very different story.   Relevant‘s survey says that “evangelical” Christians aged 18-29 don’t actually believe or live out their faith when it comes to the physical and sexual aspects of life.  The Grey Matter survey demonstrates the majority of “evangelical” Christians aged 18-29 truly live out their faith, even in the face of sociopolitical pressures to normalize fornication.  The difference is drastic, especially in light of the Scripture’s consistent call to live out our faith and the truth of the Bible through our words and deeds.  Again, which survey is correct?

Christianity Today took a look at the two surveys, asked which was right, and concluded, “Probably both, depending on how you define evangelical.”

So, how did the two surveys define ‘evangelical’?  National Campaign simply asked the respondent if they considered themselves a “born-again Christian, evangelical, or fundamentalist.”  In other words, Relevant used a survey that really had no definition of ‘evangelical’ from which they drew their alarming statistics.  Grey Matter, on the other hand, defined ‘evangelical’ based upon the qualifications of those who “attend church at least monthly, and hold traditional evangelical beliefs on salvation, the Bible, evangelism, and active faith.”  The Grey Matter survey actually had a definition, and the results regarding sexual activity differed greatly from those who take the name “evangelical” but don’t believe or live out the definition.

As Christianity Today puts it “In other words, if you call yourself and evangelical but don’t go to church or hold evangelical beliefs, you’re also unlikely to remain chaste.”

Do you consider yourself an evangelical?  Do you fit the definition as laid out by Grey Matter?  How do you handle the struggles to live out what you claim to believe, if you call yourself an evangelical Christian?

Christianity Today lays out a chart (below) in The Sex Lives of Unmarried Evangelicals that lays out more differences between the two surveys.

CT survey

Christians on Santa Claus

There is little doubt that Christmas has been heavily commercialized.  Target and Walmart make fortunes selling manger scenes, plastic Christmas trees, candy, stocking stuffers, and Santa decor.  But what are Christians to do about the topic of Santa Claus? Some fully embrace the holiday figure, others demonize Santa.  The latter have some rather humorous reasons.  Here are some of the funniest anti-Santa reasons I have heard:

1. “Santa” is just “Satan” with the letters rearranged.
2. Santa wears “demon red” clothing.
3. Lucas (Claus rearranged) is short of Lucifer.
4. Santa tells us to “be good for goodness sake” rather than believe in Jesus.
5. Claus means “hoof claws” in Old English.

Humor (and nut job anti-Santa propaganda) aside, what do Christians tell their children about Santa?  Some argue to go with the flow because there is no harm in kids believing in Santa while they are really young.  Besides, why ruin their fun?  Others counter that to tell children that Santa exists is to lie to our children (the extremists go on to demonize Santa).  Still others argue that we can “redeem” Santa Claus.

One pastor, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Seattle, wrote about the last option in the Washington Post.  The article What We Tell Our Kids About Santa explains this position:

‘Tis the season . . . for parents to decide if they will tell the truth about Santa.

When it comes to cultural issues like Santa, Christians have three options: (1) we can reject it, (2) we can receive it, or (3) we can redeem it.

Since Santa is so pervasive in our culture, it is nearly impossible to simply reject Santa as part of our annual cultural landscape. Still, as parents we don’t feel we can simply receive the entire story of Santa because there is a lot of myth built on top of a true story.

Redeeming Santa

So, as the parents of five children, Grace and I have taken the third position to redeem Santa. We tell our kids that he was a real person who did live a long time ago. We also explain how people dress up as Santa and pretend to be him for fun, kind of like how young children like to dress up as pirates, princesses, superheroes, and a host of other people, real and imaginary. We explain how, in addition to the actual story of Santa, a lot of other stories have been added (e.g., flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, delivering presents to every child in one night) so that Santa is a combination of true and make-believe stories.

We do not, however, demonize Santa. Dressing up, having fun, and using the imagination God gave can be an act of holy worship and is something that, frankly, a lot of adults need to learn from children.

What we are concerned about, though, is lying to our children. We teach them that they can always trust us because we will tell them the truth and not lie to them. Conversely, we ask that they be honest with us and never lie. Since we also teach our children that Jesus is a real person who did perform real miracles, our fear is that if we teach them fanciful, make-believe stories as truth, it could erode confidence in our truthfulness where it really matters. So, we distinguish between lies, secrets, surprises, and pretend for our kids. We ask them not to tell lies or keep secrets, but do teach them that some surprises (like gift-giving) and pretending (like dressing up) can be fun and should be encouraged. We tell them the truth and encourage them to have fun watching Christmas shows on television and even sitting on Santa’s lap for a holiday photo if they so desire. For parents of younger children wanting them to learn the real story of Santa Claus the Veggie Tales movie Saint Nicholas is a good choice.

The Truth about Santa Claus

The larger-than-life myths surrounding Santa Claus actually emanate from the very real person of Saint Nicholas. It is difficult to know the exact details of his life with certainty, as the ancient records are sparse, but the various pieces can be put together as a mosaic of his life.

A Gift-Giver

Nicholas was born in the third century in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey. He was born into an affluent family, but his parents died tragically when he was quite young. His parents had raised him to be a devout Christian, which led him to spend his great inheritance on helping the poor, especially children. He was known to frequently give gifts to children, sometimes even hanging socks filled with treats and presents.

Perhaps his most famous act of kindness was helping three sisters. Because their family was too poor to pay for their wedding dowry, three young Christian women were facing a life of prostitution until Nicholas paid their dowry, thereby saving them from a horrible life of sexual slavery.

A Bishop and Saint

Nicholas grew to be a well-loved Christian leader and was eventually voted the Bishop of Myra, a port city that the apostle Paul had previously visited (Acts 27:5-6). Nicholas reportedly also traveled to the legendary Council of Nicaea, where he helped defend the deity of Jesus Christ in A.D. 325.

Following his death on December 6, 343, he was canonized as a saint. The anniversary of his death became the St. Nicholas holiday when gifts were given in his memory. He remained a very popular saint among Catholic and Orthodox Christians, with some two thousand churches named after him. The holiday in his honor eventually merged with Christmas, since they were celebrated within weeks of one another.

Misnomer

During the Reformation, however, Nicholas fell out of favor with Protestants, who did not approve of canonizing certain people as saints and venerating them with holidays. His holiday was not celebrated in any Protestant country except Holland, where his legend as Sinterklass lived on. In Germany, Martin Luther replaced him with the Christ child as the object of holiday celebration, or, in German, Christkindl. Over time, the celebration of the Christ child was simply pronounced Kris Kringle and oddly became just another name for Santa Claus.

Folklore

The legends about Santa Claus are most likely a compilation of other folklore. For example, there was a myth in Nicholas’ day that a demon was entering people’s homes to terrorize children and that Nicholas cast it out of a home. This myth may explain why it was eventually believed that he came down people’s chimneys.

Also, there was a Siberian myth (near the North Pole) that a holy man, or shaman, entered people’s homes through their chimneys to leave them mushrooms as gifts. According to the legend, he would hang them in front of the fire to dry. Reindeer would reportedly eat them and become intoxicated. This may have started the myth that the reindeer could fly, as it was believed that the shaman could also fly. This myth may have merged with the Santa Claus myth, and if so, explains him traveling from the North Pole to slide down chimneys and leave presents on fireplace mantles before flying away with reindeer.

These stories of Santa Claus were first brought to America by Dutch immigrants. In the early twentieth century, stores began having Santa Claus present for children during the Christmas season. Children also began sending letters to the North Pole as the legends surrounding an otherwise simple Christian man grew.

In sum, Saint Nick was a wonderful man who loved and served Jesus faithfully. So, we gladly include him in our Christmas traditions to remind us of what it looks like for someone to live a life of devotion to Jesus as God. Our kids thank us for being both honest and fun, which we think is what Jesus wants.

Whole Bible Whole Christian

The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.
-A.W. Tozer

Justification by Theology?

Have you ever run into a Christian and within the first few sentences you feel them probing for your “brand” of theology?  Or they find a way to flash their theology badge to see if you are on the same “team”?  Nor am I talking about the primary issues of the faith (the Person & work of Christ, the inerrancy of the Bible, etc), but the secondary and “open handed” (to borrow a phrase from Mark Driscoll) areas of theology.  The person who seems to seek for ways to disagree or show how intelligent they are by bludgeoning you with their systematic theology.

Now, I am not against a studying the Bible and getting a solid basis in theology. But when we focus on theology to divide or feel superior to other Christians who are orthodox in the primary items of the faith, there is a big problem.  There is a blog from the Resurgence that speaks well about this issue called Justification by Theology:

Our enemy has many weapons in his arsenal.

In ancient times, Satan deceived God’s people to prize their knowledge of the Scriptures more than the One behind them. Today, he lures God’s people to fall more in love with their theological system than their Savior…

To be clear, I am for careful study, theological reflection, and sound doctrinal teaching throughout the church. But let me also caution us in defining ourselves by what we believe—not in a historically “confessional” sense, but in an I’m better than you because I’m [name your “theological tribe”] and you’re not sense.

How we know this is happening:

  • If there is a disagreement, we defend Calvinism [or Arminianism or Dispensationalism or whatever “ism”] before we seek unity in the Gospel.
  • When asked to describe our theology, we define ourselves as a [brand of faith/denomination/non-denomination] more quickly than as a Christian.
  • And perhaps the worst of all…when our hearts are more captivated by the points of TULIP [or the 5 points of Arminianism or whatever “high peak truth” you hold dear] than with the person and work of Jesus.

We know this is wrong and damaging, so why do we do it?

One word: Pride.

I believe this manifests itself in two ways:

All of us want to be known for something.

Serial killers for their killing, athletes for their athletics, and theologians for their theology. When we perceive ourselves as anything of any degree, we feel that we have a right to be known to that degree. When we aren’t, we fight to make sure we are not overlooked.

We like thinking we have God and the Bible figured out and captured in a tidy little system.

It makes us feel strong and in control. But there isn’t a single person writing or reading this post who is right about everything we believe. It is impossible to capture everything about God in any theological system.

We would be well-served to know and live these truths in humility. You see it. You feel it. You, like me, want to change. What do we do?

1. Repent of our theological idolatry.

While theology is a great thing, it is not an ultimate thing. It is a means to an end to know God and make him known. In what ways have you made it an ultimate thing? Confess them to God. Claim gospel promises. Ask God to help you not make a means an end.

2. Believe the gospel is enough.

We are justified in our theology, not by our theology. Pray, study, be faithful; but at the end of the day, rest in the fact that it is Jesus’ blood that covers our sins, not how doctrinally savvy we are. Occasionally, take a break from the “big ideas” and go back to the simple gospel truths of Scripture to encourage your heart in who Jesus is, what he has done for us, and who we are in him.

3. Be on guard in the future.

1 Cor. 8:1 tells us that knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Those of us who are more theologically minded need to keep this verse close at hand, especially when we study. We need to consistently engage the humility of Christ seen in Philippians 2 to keep us balanced. If we don’t, we may be in danger of becoming just another angry theologian with a big brain and a small heart.

How are you justifying yourself by your theology?

An Overly Personal Jesus

“I am very spiritual in my own way. Let me make it clear, though—I am a Christian. Jesus is who saved me. He’s what keeps me full and whole. But everyone is entitled to what they believe and what keeps them full. Hopefully, I can influence people and help them follow the same path I am on, but it is not my job to tell people what they are doing wrong.” -Singer & Actress Miley Cyrus

The following is not intended to be a “Miley Cyrus bashing session” but rather a commentary on the mentality expressed by Cyrus that is held by many people in the world today.  A worldview that claims to hold a Christian worldview (and I am not doubting that Miley has sincere saving faith in Jesus Christ) and yet has slipped into religious pluralism – a clearly non-Christian proposition.

Those who have had a saving faith in Jesus Christ at one point in their life and then because of some reason have slipped into a pluralistic worldview may be suffering from an “overly personal Jesus”. A Jesus who is here to provide personal satisfaction and make a person feel “full and whole”. Jesus did not incarnate, die, and rise again just to make us feel good. He died as a sacrifice for sin to restore our relationship with God but also so that He would have the first place in all things, and that His people together as the church would testify, praise, worship, and glorify Him.

Does Jesus make a person full and whole? Yes. Does He claim to be just one of several options that makes a person full and whole? Absolutely not. Only God can truly make a person full and whole and Jesus clearly claims & backs up the claims to be the only way to God & God Himself.  While the sentiment of not wanting to tell other people that what they are trying in order to become full and whole is wrong may sound noble, it is in reality both cruel and irresponsible. Cruel because you are allowing and even encouraging others to go down paths that you know are ultimately not fulfilling and do not lead to salvation.  Irresponsible because Christians have been commissioned by our Savior to tell others about Him and how to obtain salvation.