I used to be an arrogant punk.
Now, I know this comes as a great surprise and shock to the reader, especially those who have only got to know me in the last couple of years. You are thinking to yourself, hey, I know Casey, where does he get off saying he used to be like that? It is hard to believe but true all the same and if you want the phone numbers of my friends in college, my brothers, my parents or generally anyone who knew me when I was in my early twenties, they could confirm in an instant that I tell you no lies.
Back in those days I was really impressed with myself, as funny as that seems now. There was hardly a book on theology I would not put my hands on and devour, much to the chagrin of those who had to spend time with me.
Those poor souls whose unfortunate course collided with mine can attest that I could argue with great delight, proving the predestinating election of God and the preexistence of Christ. I was ready for that wayfaring stranger who was hung on the rocks of theological ignorance and confusion to sound the S.O.S. I was more certain of the supralapsarian argument than I was of my own being.
But then something really really dangerous happened to me. I got a job at a church and I had to start teaching the stuff. Boy, I was ready to shape those nebulous young minds into great theologians who looked to me for advice on how to think themselves out of a crisis of faith that had them doubting any one of the five points of Calvinism. God, as they say, has a sense of humor.
No matter how much effort I expended on growing the youth group, taking them on trips, reaching out to the neighborhood and enlisting the help of the deacon board, I was left with as many seventh and eighth grade girls as could fit into the extended cab of my little Ford Ranger. I would cart them over to the church youth room, which I had self-decorated. Imagine a twenty-one year old theologian’s decorating genius. There was actually a bookcase in the meeting room, just what every kid wants to see in youth group, right?
It really did not take long before I realized my main work there would be in translation. How do you translate the gospel to a bunch of little girls who listen to Brittany Spears (or Lady Gaga if I want to be up-to-date)? What will make sense to a twelve-year old girl whose father (a theologian, nonetheless) is leaving her mother? What will make sense to the others who were raised by an 80-year-old woman (you really cannot make this stuff up)?
One night I was preaching to all of five twelve year old girls and one of their brothers who I was able to rouse out of the house that night. Somehow in the course of my sermon I got to the truly incredible, earth-shattering fact that Jesus is the mediator between us sons of Adam and God. That old familiar glaze crept in over our meeting like a cloud of confusion. I was losing them. Fast.
There is no other way to describe what happened next than the Holy Spirit gave me something to say.
Suddenly, I remembered a commercial I had seen with a lawyer standing up next to a bookshelf, not unlike the stylish one that graced our youth room. This lawyer, I remembered, called himself an advocate. He would work on the client’s behalf and see the lawsuit through to its rightful conclusion. He promised to work day and night to complete the task for the client. I asked if the girls had seen the same commercial. Yes they had.
There it was. We all knew what a mediator looked like, at least one claiming to be one, we just had to see it. Now they could picture somebody advocating for them before the throne of God, working on their behalf until their lives were finished. This Mediator would be on their side and would not sleep until their ultimate good had come to fruition.
What a huge difference it made to speak in language and use images that made sense. From that point on, our times together were filled with these simple, down-to-earth images. Our conversation centered on what the girls needed for their lives, for their comfort and for their salvation. Something else happened that night, though. I became simple.
No longer were my sermons written to impress. No longer did I look out for their mental struggles so much as their crises of faith. No longer did I find it important that they spoke a certain lingo. No longer did I care if they made me look good when they mingled around the adults. No longer did I even care if they told their friends about how awesome youth group was or how smart their teacher was.
Those were the days before I had read any of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, my favorite dead German theologian. His words, nonetheless, were true- and they still are:
There are, therefore, not two spheres, but only the one sphere of the realization of Christ, in which the reality of God and the reality of the world are united.
Nothing matters outside of the reality that is in Jesus Christ. Our academic pursuits are good insofar as we are seeking to make Christ known to our neighbors. Our knowledge is great as long as it can be used to teach the least of these the things that really matter. Our understanding of the Word of God is noble only if we use it to hear his call to love our neighbor as well as our God.
If we are interested in real gospel work we have to be willing to sound simple- and at times, foolish. Nobody wants to hear true things coming from a boorish talking head. The day may come when our friends reach out to us with a distinctly theological problem that needs ironing out but the world is in constant need of the realization of and submission to Jesus.
The problem is that we have to be simple.
 Ethics, 197.