Reimagine Humility

Bethany Jenkins gives us a window into the path to true humility (thanks to our southern correspondent):

To live out the fullness of our liberty, though, we must get rid of our arrogant, controlling, slow-to-hear, quick-to-speak, know-it-all spirits. In a 1995 sermon titled “Growth Through Hearing Truth,” Tim Keller highlights three characteristics of a proud heart:

A proud heart argues for every one of its convictions because it can’t distinguish between major and minor points. Instead, it says: “Any belief—because it’s mine—is a major belief.”
A proud heart either enjoys or avoids confronting, but never confronts with tears.
A proud heart is unhappy with life and, instead of receiving it as a gift, always gripes about how things are going.

The opposite of a proud and angry heart is humility, not self-control. And it’s our internal postures—not our external circumstances—that determine our happiness.

But why doesn’t humility involve submitting to God’s revealed will? Jenkins’ lesson in humility stemmed from a difficult encounter at the check-out line — wait for it — on Sunday:

On Sunday afternoon, in the checkout line at the grocery store, I put a man on trial. He made no argument and offered no defense, but I judged him guilty.

I went there to pick up three things—fruit, deli meat, and club soda. When I got to the only open line, there was just one man ahead of me. This is going to be quick, I assumed.

After the cashier started ringing up his items, though, he decided it was a good time to ask where the premade guacamole was. “Aisle 5,” she said. Then he left his place in line to find it.

When he returned a few minutes later, the cashier had finished scanning his items and customers had started lining up, but his hands were empty. He hadn’t found the guacamole. “It’s on aisle 7,” another store employee said. “On the bottom shelf.” The man again went to search.

Five minutes later, with eight customers now in line, he finally checked out. And I was annoyed. Why did he wait and ask the cashier? Why didn’t he ask someone else before he got in line? How could he inconvenience the rest of us like this? The only reasonable answer, I concluded, was that he was rude, incompetent, and narcissistic.

As I walked home, though, I wondered why my heart went so easily to judgment and anger, not to grace and mercy. Why did I spend so much time mentally logging the reasons he was guilty, not the reasons he might need grace? Why did my time need so much defending?

I know it’s easy to throw the Reformed Protestant penalty flag on this one and emerge as the righteous one who keeps the law, though actually keeping the Lord’s Day holy is difficult and sometimes means having to go without food items for one day that you forgot to pick up on Saturday, not to mention trying not think about “worldly employments and recreations” on Sunday. In the heat of the pennant race, avoiding baseball scores until Monday morning is one thing, but not thinking about the game being played is a whole other layer of sanctity. It’s also easy to take a shot at the Gospel Allies who promote sanctification and a holistic gospel but then publish a piece that so flagrantly acknowledges conduct that would have gotten any Christian for almost 1950 years in trouble with his session or priest. Can’t the Allies at least acknowledge a diversity of views on the Lord’s Day and walk circumspectly around it? If I get flack for talking about The Wire, can’t Jenkins get push back for breaking the Fourth Commandment? (And what exactly is Tim Keller teaching Jenkins?)

But aside from the letter of the law or even ignoring a law, might the means of grace be a way to learn the humility that Jenkins thought she found? What if sanctifying the Lord’s Day is in fact a means of grace? And what if submitting to God’s law is a way to say not my but your will be done, not my convenience because I didn’t order my week but your teaching on how order our lives in this world? What if the piety that the pietists seek is right there before them in the not so hip or urban ways of Reformed Protestantism — two services on the Lord’s Day regulated by and filled with Scripture, catechesis, family visitation, family worship, and not doing worldly things on Sunday? Imagine how much humility that gospel coalition might yield.


73 thoughts on “Reimagine Humility

  1. But the subjective matters of the heart and “my” sanctification are so much more likely to produce engaging content for the New Calvinist media complex than the dry and dusty matters of the First Table. And where’s the snark and edge we associate with the Big Apple? Isn’t traipsing around New York with your heart on your sleeve a recipe for disaster, Sunday shopping or no? I thought they were the smart set, though if the study linked below is right Old Life is a Mensa society and the transformers are a bunch of dolts.


  2. cw, oh come on. These New Cals are yokels come to the Big Apple and overawed by the big buildings and Times Square. They don’t act like they’ve been in a city before.


  3. Maybe humulity is always measured by how we react to both God and people. We can say that we are submitting to God’s Word, at least our interpretation of it, but when that submission causes us to act like the pharisee from the parable of the two men praying, then we have no humility.


  4. “What if sanctifying the Lord’s Day is in fact a means of grace? And what if submitting to God’s law is a way to say not my but your will be done, not my convenience because I didn’t order my week but your teaching on how order our lives in this world? ”

    Yes, this. The thing that gets me isn’t so much that some dissent from this ideal, but actively work against it. Like singing Psalms…it is not even in the mix.


  5. DG: Jenkins’ lesson in humility stemmed from a difficult encounter at the check-out line — wait for it — on Sunday

    well, one thing we can say is at least she learned a lesson on ‘Sunday’, something TVD’s been suspicious about for quite some time based on interactions here; hmm, maybe that’s what it is – he’s AFRAID to go to church, that it’s expected results are displayed here.
    🙂 (smiley face added for you cw – for an appearance as a slightly less humorless shrew. did it work?)

    you know I gotta send verses for today: Prov 21:2-4


  6. All fair enough, but I’m left wondering why it seems like one cannot be annoyed by Mr. Guacamole. Patience is a virtue, but like bravery doesn’t mean not being scared, doesn’t patience inherently allow us our rightful annoyance? I mean, the piety that comes across in this isn’t just a fly over traditional Christian practices but also traditional Christian parceling out of the virtues.


  7. “As I walked home, though, I wondered why my heart went so easily to judgment and anger, not to grace and mercy. Why did I spend so much time mentally logging the reasons he was guilty, not the reasons he might need grace? Why did my time need so much defending?”

    So the right-minded, reflective Bethany walks home thinking he was a man deprived of grace who was in need of her grace and mercy. Cuz guacamole.

    What are they teaching up there in the city?


  8. cw l’unificateur: Ali, I’d ask who it is you have the bigger crush on — me or Muddy — but let’s just preserve the mystery, OK?

    no, you can ask. right now it’s a tie – and my love is conditional; so I love you because you are l’unificateur (though I know not what of) and I love Muddy because he is l’prophet (though I know not what about)

    and because I love you: here: for you (even though it’s not Sunday)

    Matthew 5:16


  9. One year I forgot to set the clock ahead or back and found I was 30 miles from home with an hour to kill until the next service. The parking lot was full at the mega church I was then attending.

    So I went to a huge bookstore and waited patiently for five minutes behind a young man and woman who were goofing around with the only search computer.

    When I asked if they were almost done he told me to go and blank myself. I don’t know how I managed not to clean his clock right there on the spot. Had to be a better way to spend an hour on a Sunday.


  10. Keller would teach that righteous anger exists and one had better determine what they are defending in anger and what the opposition is and if the equation is justified.

    An adult should realise that a public grocery store will result in delays unforeseen.


  11. The idea of the Guacamole Prophet has its appeal but I just don’t feel the prophetic stirrings.


  12. I have to agree with Zrim. I’m annoyed at the Guac turd and I wasn’t even there. Virtual annoyance. I don’t feel bad about it either. My grocery store virtue is on display everytime I don’t send the fat lady into the canned tomatoes for being fat and therefore an impediment both in her selection speed and the inordinate amount of space she takes up in the aisle. Righteous indignation. Nobody is an Island even if they’re built like one.


  13. Chortlyn, the excuse making never ends. Just a hint, if you’re actually looking to have some success and not merely justify your adjusted for american bodies waist size( modern 32 is actually a traditional 36), try rooting your body image in the mirror not the gospel. But, if you really wanna get after WWJD, try the 40 days and 40 nights diet.


  14. Yes, Z is actually right. So I’ve revised my strategy, and I know just what I’d do. Exactly 3 seconds after the beginning of the search, I would have said “really?” But no eye contact. That seems like an appropriate level of guacamole shaming.


  15. Mine’s a passive-aggressive style. I’d just take Mr. Guac’s picture. I’ve done it before in the self-check out for the guy who wants to write the machine a check or feed it a fistful of coins. It makes the offender nervous. And it gives Mrs. Z a chuckle, which is what really counts.


  16. I’m a naturally patient person. There are wonderful people who are not naturally patient. What’s the bigger sin — to get a little miffed at a moron and move on or to glow seraphically as you contemplate how holy you are and how much progress you’ve made?


  17. Hey, I gotta spend my loose change somewhere. But, your PA style would just make me deposit them one at a time and look at you between each deposit.


  18. As an eeevangelical-surfer at OL, I have to say that your occasional posts on TKNY and TGC – and associated comments by the crew here –make lots of good points. I find myself saying ‘ouch’, and, wonder how/why D.A. Carson (an esteemed scholar of depth) doesn’t exercise more editorial oversight over some of the fu-fu stuff that gets posted at TGC. If nothing else, OL posts on the eeee-world inspire the highest levels of scathing wit/humor in the comments section, for which I’m deeply indebted.


  19. Maybe I’m just typical male problem-solver, but couldn’t she have just changed to a shorter line?

    And this: I went there to pick up three things—fruit, deli meat, and club soda.

    No wine for Sunday dinner? Just club soda? Because teetotalling is super-pious n’ stuff! But the 4th commandment? Hey now, don’t get all legalistic on me!


  20. Agreed, the means of grace is the only way to remain in the truth of the faith and learn humility H.L Mencken: “The truth that survives is simply the lie that is pleasantest to believe” Apostle Paul was a sharp sword not a bag of feathers.


  21. George – Admittedly, it’s an inference. And if I’m wrong, then I change my comment to, “Leave it to the the Gospel Allies to ruin perfectly good scotch with club soda.”


  22. Body image articles? All TGC needs now is an overbearing Code of Conduct to enforce gender language and safe spaces.


  23. Publius – might not’ve been “perfectly good” scotch, though. Might’ve been some rot-gut like Cutty Sark or Cato.


  24. An occasional laugh at the expense of the eeee-world is great tonic for the RCC debate hamster wheel on the other thread…..


  25. George – True, but I’m still thinking it wasn’t for scotch at all.

    Petros – I can’t even look at that thread anymore. The only thing that interests me on that side of the Tiber is the pasta. Here at OL I’m way more interested in The Gospel Allies® and their subsidiaries, joint ventures, and trading partners.


  26. Sorry, but Bethany Jenkins is TGC’s affirmative action then. Her columns just aren’t very good. But it matters not: she’s a Reformed Girl!


  27. Come on. This is easy peasy puddin pie. Kissed the girls and made them cry.
    If you are a RC you went Sat. night because the pope said it’s OK.
    (Hey if you are Roman Catholic it’s always all about Rome.)
    So then you got plenty of time to stand in line.
    What’s the problem?
    It couldn’t be that the TGC are practical antinomians like the RC and make it up as they go along could it?
    Nah, that would never happen.

    Joe M, that is a sexist comment.


  28. cw – From Scott Sauls:

    Influential voices in Scott’s life include Tim Keller, CS Lewis, Leslie Newbigin, Soong Chan Rah, Jonathan Edwards, Johnny Cash, Joni Eareckson Tada, Miroslav Volf, Paul Tripp, Ann Voskamp, Martin Luther King, Jr., Marva Dawn, and NT Wright.

    Really? NT Wright? Why am I not surprised?

    And you’ll note that though the church where he serves is a PCA church that they don’t affirm the Westminster Standards.

    Serious question: Is that normal in the PCA?


  29. More from

    If you decide that CPC is not the church for you…
    While we would love for you to be part of the CPC church family, we know it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. God’s kingdom is much larger than any single denomination or church! If for whatever reason you decide that CPC is not the church for you, there are many other good churches we could recommend. Here are some to consider:

    List of Nashville Area PCA Churches

    Some Other Nashville Area Churches:

    Brentwood Baptist Church
    Church of the City
    Church of the Redeemer Anglican
    Crosspoint Church
    Grace Chapel
    Grace Community Church
    Harvest Bible Chapel
    Immanuel Church
    Saint Bartholomew’s Church
    Saint George’s Episcopal Church
    The Village Chapel

    Hey – there’s nothing distinctive or important about what we believe so just find someone with a better band if that’s what you want! Vanilla? Chocolate? Black raspberry ripple? They’re all good!!! Maybe you’d like something with a Saturday service or you’d like to stream the service to your iPad while you’re at brunch! We’re missional!

    Oy vey.


  30. Pubs, Keller imported Sauls from the EPC several years ago, trained him at Redeemer, then declared him the greatest thing since organic, hand-kneaded, sliced bread when he released him to Nashvegas a couple of years ago. Inasmuch as the Keller Way and the PCA way are one in the same…


  31. cw: worried about the second commandment

    the sin of idolatry is ultimately a sin of the heart. An idol is anything we depend upon to meet the deep needs of the heart—love, security, worth, or significance. When we seek to find identity and security in something besides God, we have made it an idol.

    This commandment also contains a warning for future generations. God is saying that, if we don’t deal with idolatry in our generation, we will pass it down to our children and to their children. Children learn to handle life by watching their parents.


  32. …the greatest thing since organic, hand-kneaded, sliced bread

    Now Gluten Free!

    It’s almost impossible to parody hipster pastors. Don’t they see that?

    And doesn’t the PCA theoretically require subscription to the Westminster Standards?


  33. Ali – The 2nd commandment is also exactly what it say on it’s face:


    Q. 107. Which is the second commandment?
    A. The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

    Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?
    A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.

    Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?
    A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.


  34. Pubs, every PCA officer has taken vows concerning the Westminster standards. Most PCA church websites allude to Westminster, or include or link to them. Not all do. Sometimes it takes great effort to determine that the church is part of a denomination at all.


  35. Publius: ‘standards’

    well , anyway, one thing, it seems there is at least an admission there is a ‘standard’, which can be kinda confusing around here sometimes 

    Phil 3: 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.


  36. But this would never happen if she was shopping at Whole Foods. Because that’s what living in The City is all about. But then, Whole Foods doesn’t sell “deli meat.” Or maybe they do. My ignorance betrays me.


  37. “I can’t even look at that thread anymore. The only thing that interests me on that side of the Tiber is the pasta. Here at OL I’m way more interested in The Gospel Allies® and their subsidiaries, joint ventures, and trading partners.”

    Ya, less Rome more eeeeeevangelicalism. Besides, nobody ever wins over the Internet.

    Then again, Amazon said DG is working on a book about Rome. Maybe this is how he processes his feelings.

    Also, for what it’s worth, my PCA church breaks the 2nd commandment all the time, but it’s cool because it’s edgy.

    Though right now my current church is ECO. ‘Aaaaay.


  38. From the Scott Saul article:

    “(I need) the cultural intelligence of Soong Chan Rah”

    Identity politics are never intelligent and white people should stop feeling bad for what their ancestors have done. As a Cuban, I enjoy the innovation known as meatloaf.


  39. Ali, I find identity in my familial roots and security in locked doors. Am I idolizing my family, locks and bolts? Your brand of hyper-spirituality seems a lot like Bethany’s, where being human is wrong.


  40. Zrim: Ali, I find identity in my familial roots and security in locked doors. Am I idolizing my family, locks and bolts?

    Sounds like you think we don’t need to worry about idolatry in this country–if so, please open your eyes; and while they are are open, you should look up what the Lord says about idolatry and what He thinks and feels about it.

    Zrim say:Your brand of hyper-spirituality seems a lot like Bethany’s, where being human is wrong.

    I’ve always wondered what one means when they say ‘hyper-spiritual’. Just sorta seems like an affront to the Lord since He is hyper-spiritual.


  41. Times change. “Paradise” was racy for its time; today, it’s like a John Bunyan morality play. Can you believe the woman insisted upon marriage? Even then poetic justice prevailed.

    And when the feeling came upon me
    Like a tidal wave
    I started swearing to my god
    And on my mother’s grave
    That I would love you to the end of time
    I swore I would love you to the end of time

    So now I’m praying for the end of time
    To hurry up and arrive
    ‘Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you
    I don’t think that I can really survive
    I’ll never break my promise or forget my vow
    But God only knows what I can do right now
    I’m praying for the end of time
    It’s all I can do (ooh, ooh)
    I’m praying for the end of time
    So I can end my time with you
    …When it was long ago and it was far away
    It was so much better than it is today.

    They could use this for sex ed the way they use car crashes for drivers ed.


  42. Ali, if you knew how distinguish between Creator and creature it wouldn’t be such a puzzle.

    If by hyper-spiritual you mean that God “…is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute…most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth…has all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made, nor deriving any glory from them…He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and has most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleases…His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them,” then agreed. But it’s a bad term. Divine is better.

    And the creature is none of that. It is hyper-spiritual to suggest the creature should deny his creatureliness and be like God, that is, if God is all these things. If so, then the affront is yours.


  43. aw cw and mud ,too,. can’t tell for positive, though I have a suspicion – is it that my conditional love is just never going to be able to be reciprocated by your conditional love? what if it could be really, really conditional? :)
    speaking of conditionally and mud’s poem, glad the second part is not God’s poem, though it ought be … yet the LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because of YOU but because the LORD loved you and He always keeps His oaths

    Zrim: Ali, if you knew how distinguish between Creator and creature it wouldn’t be such a puzzle.

    I’m pretty sure you know, I know, Zrim. Isn’t it just that the term ‘hyper-spiritual’ is conveniently pulled out of the accusation drawer often when one quotes verses such as Eph 5:18 or Eph 3:19 or 2 Cor3:18
    and anyway, SOMEONE has to balance you guys out, right? :)


  44. I think I’m officially the proverbial frog boiled in the pot. The PCA isn’t recognizable to me even since just ’94. I guess the southern conservatives are why we aren’t the EPC yet, but even that group mainly coalesces around cultural conservatism, six day creation and gender distinctions elevated to the level of gospel fidelity. If I follow my RC paradigm of money and vocations, outside of possibly some founding southern churches, the PCA will be the EPC within a decade. You now have going on at least two decades of seminary graduates steeped in the Redeemer model and I haven’t seen a confessional church plant in our presbytery EVER. Most of the plants, besides not acknowledging their confessional commitments, largely bypass even the presbyterian identification in their church title. But here’s the overlooked aspect, the hipster church plant model has a built in economic incentive that guarantees it will dominate. I’m sure there are, but I haven’t seen a church plant with a brand new planter making less than six figures and those that aren’t are STARTING somewhere within spitting distance of it. That’s Starting. Add to that a model that provides for an associate or assistant pastor, an administrative clerk-pastor-pastorette, a worship leader and eventually an executive pastor(whatever that is) and I now have a model that employs at least three seminary grads and the requisite support positions for that leadership. How do you roll that back? It’s no longer a theological discussion/commitment, it’s a ‘my wife, family, mortgage, lifestyle’ commitment. All of that requires butts in the pew and then doing what’s necessary to keep them there and happy. Now, the PCA is going to double down with a progressive seminary like Redeemer?! I think this fight in the PCA between the different factions is pretty well over. The ‘progressives’ have won.


  45. Sean, 1994. Is it coincidence that that’s the year that TKNY started to work his magic. Ever since many in the PCA have thought urban churches were the wave of the future all the while not noting that Redeemer NYC was comprised largely of Korean-Americans in grad school and starting careers. Have those folks rode TKNY’s success to the six-figure pastor salaries?

    I don’t think so.


  46. Zrim, I agree that there are oases. In fact, I think all you can really focus on is how your local church is conducting itself. Unfortunately, that’s not so much a commitment to a decentralized presbyterian form of church governance as it is an act of self-preservation. All the while hoping to stay off the radar of some ambitious elders in the presbytery who might have designs on your pastorate and building.


  47. sean,

    Everything you describe is what I’ve seen firsthand. Absent significant numerical growth that is typically unusual for confessional churches and requires tactics at odds with the confessional standards, I don’t know how it is sustainable over the long term if, within the first year, a church plant suddenly has 5 or 6 people “on staff.” Frankly, this whole thing baffles me, but then again I come out of the old-school Dutch Reformed world where the Presbyterian structure was taken seriously.


  48. This church staff inflation thing also diminishes the proper role of elders. And we often see deacon(ing person)s as the tip of the sphere in the Redeemer model of outreach-marketing, furher diminishing the elder role. I often wonder in my misonygistic way what the long-term effect on presby churches might be of staffs where paid women outnumber paid men. Oh, wait….PCUSA. Happy Monday. And don’t forget, Festivus is right around the corner.


  49. cw: I often wonder in my misonygistic way what the long-term effect on presby churches might be of staffs where paid women outnumber paid men. Oh, wait….PCUSA.

    Well, maybe all is not lost, cw. If DG says this, -When All Means Some: DG:The Bible didn’t answer questions that we are asking. Should I change my gender? -maybe the solution could be that those women you mention above could gender-reassign-themselves and all would be ok once again with some.


  50. CW – Redeemer and it’s ilk are just playing semantics. They put women in the role of deacons and elders and just change their title to give an appearance of propriety. It’s smarmy. Are they trying to play everyone else for idiots or do they not realize it themselves?

    Will have to bring this up during the Airing of Grievances if TKNY invites me to his Festivus table. (not likely)


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