Archive for June, 2006

Don’t emerge just yet: a postscript

Jerry, please indulge me but I think this needs to be heard and not buried in the comment section. I think the following insight is a wise and helpful reminder that “reaching out” through evangelism does not require a wholesale reappraisal to be effective. Thank you for your leadership and insight. He said:

“The “failures” in evangelism are glaring, yet, I think, misdiagnosed. The apparent ineffectiveness is almost always attributed to the lack of gospel fervor or soul-compassion. Emergents are quick to claim this because they equate their culture-friendly posture with true “outreach”. The very word “outreach”, however, demands not only taking the gospel “out” to the lost, but also offering what will actually “reach” them (Romans 1:16). Friendship along common pagan grounds will never reach anyone, and very often has the opposite result of corrupting the “evangelist”. Wayne Watson once wrote, “There’s a fine line between taking bed with a lost man, and being consumed by his way while reaching out in love…temptation’s right at your door…guard what you’re thinkin’ of, for it’s a fine line”.”

“Furthermore, no honest Christian would deny that evangelicalism is diseased in this regard, but are such maladies the cause or merely symptoms of a more insidious degeneration? Where does the wholesale lack of gospel fervor come from? Do Christians suddenly lose their compassion for lost souls? I believe the root-problem is deeper. Whenever the transcendence and supernatural power of the gospel is traded for any one of a number of man-centered manipulations the cancer is effectively injected into the bloodstream. Gospel-fervor cannot feed on the impotent scraps of finiteness, nor is compassion for the souls of men poured out where there is no fear of judgment. The church’s true sickness is her endless crafting and idolatrous worship of “new and improved gospels”! The call for reform is desperately needed, but we must use the scalpel of scripture alone if we’re ever to return to true gospel passion. Radical change is needed, but not the surface innovations and rearranging suggested by those whose gospel is already vacuous. We need churches that, with contrite heart, “tremble at His word” and beseech the Lord of the harvest to send workers bearing His fruit!”

Don’t emerge just yet: part two

So why is the church so awash in a sea of culture-assessments and postmodern analyses to find out “what we’re doing wrong”? One reason, I believe, is the rapid rise of evil in an historically conservative culture which always spawns a desperate counter-attack to preserve all that is treasured and familiar. In other words, the evangelical church has simply not been content with dwindling numbers, strained budgets, increased persecution, academic ridicule, and cultural marginalization. But this is precisely when the temptation to compromise is at its zenith. Instead of seeing such circumstances as “normal” (though not acceptable) in a declining culture of rebellion against God (millenniums of human history demonstrate this), we’ve made an idol out of “the impact we used to have”, gone back to the drawing board of ministry, redefined the purpose of the church, and congratulated ourselves for our new crowds, pragmatically-gotten budgets, and fad-focused hype. Unfortunately, this new generation of ministry “architects” is too sufficiently disconnected from historical ecclesiology and theology to have any idea what they’ve crafted. They are truly a “generation who knows not Joseph”. Who determined that we were doing something wrong? How was it determined? “The church is old-fashioned and out-dated” some will argue. OK, update your illustrations, modernize some of the churches great hymnology, write new songs, use technology, aggressively evangelize, let your presence be known, etc. I agree that these methodologies aren’t really the issue. But if everything about the worship of God’s people is “up for grabs” and dispensable simply because the culture seems more disinterested than ever, then the emerging church is not a “church” at all, but just another paradigm shift among pagans—a new way of “feeling” like they spiritually and morally matter in this life.

Another reason for this sprint toward “a new kind of church” is the disappearance of the universal necessity of the cross. When ministry becomes an attempt to subjectively “touch” the hearts of individuals rather than bring them face to face with their actual condition and ultimate need, the necessity of the cross is eliminated! Sin is no longer the result of natural corruption but the unfortunate outcome of limited knowledge, unfulfilled expectations, and overwhelming odds. Today’s average postmodern “reachable” is therefore not looking for a savior but a sympathizer who understands their plight from their vantage point. They don’t want a God whose friendship is conditioned upon obeying another master but a supplier who meets them at their desire. Professions of “faith” are merely pledges to join a less stringent religious group whose god demands nothing. Guilt from sin is more of an unfortunate inconvenience in an otherwise deserving, worthy, and loveable life. If a gospel is offered in these “churches”, it is often reduced to an acknowledgment that the historical Jesus “died for sinners”, while the new “convert” retains his/her sense of significant wholeness, allowing God to make him/her feel more deserving, worthy, and loveable. Trusting in the Holy Spirit to regenerate by means of His truth quickly becomes a forgotten essential. David Wells was poignant when he said, “The church [has adopted] strategies that…it is hoped, will make up for the apparent insufficiency of the word and ensure more success in the culture.” Furthermore, if human beings are not thoroughly corrupt and in dire straits with a holy God one wonders why God made such a big deal of Jesus’ death at all. Such a horrific bloodletting for the unavoidable mistakes of otherwise good people? Whatever for?

If today’s “purpose-wars” tell us anything, it’s that we must let God define the postmodern heart and the means to “reach them”. I don’t believe today’s postmodernist truly values anything but themselves. Indeed, that’s what makes them postmodern, believing in no objective reality or meaning outside of the one they create. Reaching their ears with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ is our most awesome privilege and responsibility! But reaching their hearts with the gospel’s life-giving power is God’s sovereign joy. I long to see God move mightily in the hearts of sinners, but I shudder to think that some might find today’s “emerging authenticity” more attractive than truth. In fact, until they face the truth on God’s terms and stop haranguing about what they think the church ought to offer, they can never know saving grace. We should not be surprised that our culture is in a rapid declension away from truth, clarity, logic, and true meaning (2 Tim. 3-4). We must trust implicitly in the saving power of God to regenerate hearts—A work He has not ceased to do as He builds His hell-defying church. If we lose the battle here, we are no different than those who consider the preaching of the gospel as “foolishness”.

Was Jesus an expository preacher?

In his The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures: The Biblical Period, Hughes Oliphant Old makes the following points that Jesus was not only the model for preaching but was indeed an expository preacher. What do you think?

“If we are truly to understand Christian preaching, we must see Jesus Christ as its center. First we must see Jesus as the fulfillment of generations of preaching and teaching that went before him, and second we must see Jesus as the type, or perhaps prototype, of generations of preaching that have followed him. He is both the pattern of preaching and the gospel to be preached. We preachers make sense only when we are understood as continuing the ministry of our Master” (p. 8).

“…Jesus was himself an expository preacher, as the Gospels make clear at several points. To be sure, we get only a few brief glimpses of the preaching of Jesus in the Gospels, but those brief glimpses show him explaining the text of Scripture as the classic expositors have done before and after him” (p.10).

Don’t emerge just yet: part one

“To Impact the culture, we must change the way we do ministry”! We here it declared in every modern church growth book and mega-conference. The guru’s of this recent push are convinced that the present generation of young people have special needs and new values. They tell us that today’s youth are no longer reached by the aging evangelical approach of yesterday, but should be allowed to weigh in on what’s truly important for cultural impact. We are being told that our youth culture now highly esteems qualities like authenticity, credibility, and character more than the trappings of ‘religion’. Is this true? Should we begin a thorough demolition of all that has gone before that we might raise up ministries of “authenticity”? I agree that such values may still be generally attractive to many, but no student of the postmodern culture (especially the youth pop-culture) could genuinely conclude that young people truly “value” or even understand character qualities such as authenticity or credibility.

What is “authenticity” anyway? Postmoderns differ greatly here, and many of them speak of it in terms that sound more like they value “non-judgmentalism” and “freedom of expression without scrutiny” (what they deem “the trappings of religion”). I’ve raised four children, all who’ve grown up in a postmodern, youth pop-culture kind of age. They’ve been in a pastor’s home all their lives and had to forge a genuine faith of their own just like every true believer. Authenticity (i.e. true genuineness) is not at a premium in the student culture around them. What their unsaved peers value most (at least those who do the most complaining about today’s church culture) is their own opinion and personal right to call it “truth” and have it validated. Anyone who disagrees is viewed as judgmental and unable to be “authentic”. Furthermore, does today’s average postmodern really value credibility? If so, why are their lives so rife with hypocrisy? If I claim to value credibility and find fault with a religion that seems out of touch and hypocritical, yet I make no attempt to model the quality I “value”, am I not the greater hypocrite? If an unsaved postmodern attends our ministry looking for “credibility”, becomes uncomfortable with our ministry “culture”, and concludes that we’ve missed it, have we “failed to reach them”? Should we adjust the worship of our God to become “credible” by their definition? Or could it be that what they mean by “credibility” is really a church’s “willingness to adopt cultural norms and embrace other lifestyles indiscriminately”?

I find that when postmoderns speak about how the 21st century church ought to “emerge”, they camp on two major themes: Their disillusionment over the hypocrisy of the evangelical church (sadly, a legitimate complaint), and the urgent need to jettison every vestige of Christian heritage in favor of what they deem “cutting edge” and therefore “relevant”. Moreover, they tend to use the above as an excuse to justify their new ideas instead of offering sound biblical proof as to why the church ought to morph as they suggest. I speak with unsaved college students (who are curious and like to debate the issues) all the time, and what is clear from our interaction is that they value worldliness, autonomy, and the fewest scruples possible, all the while sensing the emptiness of these things. Whenever talk of biblical credibility and character arises they are suddenly in a dilemma. Their conscience bears them witness that the truth is being spoken, but a rebellious heart and sinful habits drown it out. Is this the time to ask them in what context or in what way they prefer to hear these things? A lost man doesn’t even know how to make sense of all the converging desires within him, much less what he really needs. That’s why the scriptures are so thorough on the convicting work of the Spirit. Before the Spirit’s drawing, I had all kinds of religious notions but no clue as to real spiritual realities (holiness, sin, judgment, saving grace, the Church, etc.). No postmodern can ever “determine” what kind of church can “reach” his/her culture, and to believe they can is like asking a fish to describe its surroundings and expecting it to mention the water!

What was I thinking?

Now that I have seriously lowered the level of discourse on this otherwise distinguished blog with what one called my “beer in the rear chicken” post, I will try to redeem this space with some more thoughtful entries. Nevertheless, I hope the point of said post was not lost on everyone.

Since all the contributors here are preachers, we find that our first love (gasp) is not blogging. Therefore we do not sit all day behind a computer screen surfing the blog wave hoping to catch a big one. Some of us (no all of us) are weighed down at the moment with funerals, weddings, counseling, doctoral work, mission trips, family life and weekly preaching duties. We love it and would not change it for a cushy IT job where blog opinions really matter. Whatever happens here is just the debris from our various ministries and we hope it helps a few others in the process.

On that note, I will pick up where I left off on “general revelation” in about another week. However, in the mean time, Jerry Wragg will be posting a series on the “emergent youth culture” which will probably bring a few lurkers out of hiding and knot-up a few turbans in the process. Have a great week!

Weekend Fun: Resolution #5 Chicken

I love to grill out and this is one the coolest creations I have enjoyed. In light of recent events, I have renamed this recipe my “resolution #5 chicken”.

Says who?

Not a few bloggers have wondered (loudly at times) why The Together for the Gospel group would include a statement about manhood and womanhood in their now famous “Affirmations and Denials”. Is it true that they are simply making the fence smaller so only a few select chosen ones may enter? I don’t think this is the case at all. Those men who crafted the statement have clearly shown (also here) that the issue is over the authority of Scripture without which there is no objective basis for the gospel. I noticed an insight into this from Derek Thomas on another matter. I think what he is scratching at is relevant to the point the T4G guys are making. Thomas writes:

There is a direct hermeneutical line from the denial of Jesus’ maleness as central to his incarnational imaging of his Father in heaven and the trend for egalitarianism. Both deny creational order as expressive of the divine image. As worldwide Anglicanism engages in public displays of extravagant death throes, Dr Rowan Williams will be working hard to keep the fragmenting body together. Will the American Church be invited to Lambeth in 2008? Can the Anglican communion define heresy and on what basis? Clearly, the basis is no longer the Scriptures. Withdrawal over “sexual preference” other than on the basis of divine revelation will inevitably be deemed bigotry and bad taste.

Watch your language!

What do the following phrases have in common? Find out here and here.

  • Rainbow of Promise, our Ark of Salvation, and our Dove of Peace
  • Speaker, Word, and Breath
  • Overflowing Font, Living Water, Flowing River
  • Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child, and Life-giving Womb
  • Sun, Light, and Burning Ray
  • Giver, Gift, and Giving
  • Rock, Redeemer, Friend

“New Truth” is not God’s Truth: Part Two

One popular approach to the pursuit of “truth” and discovery is to examine the findings of man through what is often called “general revelation.” As we have pointed out here before, some believe that such an approach will triumph a new reformation whereby the church will become more enlightened and accepting of newer positions on issues such as homosexuality. While a rigorous debate over the biblical teaching of homosexuality has been raging for some time there is a more fundamental area that has been largely ignored. Many proponents of this new way have made the claim that discoveries being observed under the sphere of general revelation should be considered truth on par with the Truth of special revelation (i.e., the Scriptures of the OT & NT). This understanding has not been limited to more progressive views of the authority of Scripture but has been largely embraced by evangelicals on many fronts who would otherwise claim an assent to inerrancy.

We should not deny that general revelation exists. However, it is important that we understand the nature and limitations of this general revelation. There are many today who are asking the question that Pilate asked before Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Sadly, just like Pilate, many of those who are asking the question have not waited for the answer. Worse still, they have sought answers to their questions from broken cisterns which carry only muddy water at best. The remainder of this post will focus on the audience of general revelation while subsequent posts will examine the content of this information and mankind’s response to it.

General revelation is called such because it consists of information that is universally made known to all people in all places at all times. There is no limit to the audience of general revelation because such knowledge is constant (cf. Psalm 19:2) and such knowledge is persistent in its reach to the ends of the earth (cf. Psalm 19:4). This means that there are no specialists who observe things that others do not (i.e., there are no secret or special insights required to see it). Not only is this true because of what is seen under the heavens in creation but because of how mankind is created. The Apostle Paul tells us that general revelation is self-evident within every human being (Rom. 1:19). Man and woman are created in the image of God and therefore bear in some way a conscious imprint of the Triune God that is inescapable (yes, even for the God-denying pagan).

So general revelation is exactly what its name entails, it is “general” information indiscriminately revealed to all creation without bias and without limitation in regards to its audience. For some to maintain that they have special insight or perspective that they have gleaned from general revelation has less in common with the Biblical teaching and more in common with ancient forms of Gnosticism. Furthermore, any “discoveries” made by man must be held up to the light of God’s special revelation and not seen for their supposed uniqueness but for their confirmation that sin and struggle are all common to man (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). Robert Thomas helps us to summarize this distinction with these concluding thoughts:

“….information and discoveries originating in secular fields do not belong in the category of God’s revealed truth. They therefore have no basis for a ranking alongside God’s special revelation. They may appear to be beneficial to one or another generation and thereby earn at least temporarily the designation of truth, but they must always be tentative because they lack the certitude and authority of God’s revealed truth. They are not on a plane with the body of truth in the Bible and are therefore unworthy of being integrated with it” (Robert Thomas, “General Revelation and Biblical Hermeneutics,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, Volume 9, 1:14-15).

“New Truth” is not God’s Truth: Part One

As we reported here yesterday, there is a debate that is raging within some denominational circles about homosexuality. The basis of the argument has degenerated to the axiom that “all truth is God’s Truth” therefore newer and more enlightened discoveries should have precedence over older and more “outdated” forms of understanding (e.g. the Bible).

The argument goes something like this (which can be seen in Bishop Griswold’s quote from the previous post): Since we are more enlightened being armed with more education and research concerning the inner workings of man’s psyche and physical well-being then we should eschew old ideas of biblical anthropology in exchange for a more biological understanding. The result being that God made a person such and such a way therefore any attempts to change such is a lack of love and an affront to the imago dei. Even N.T. Wright has reasoned that a decision concerning sexuality in the church should be left up to a “consensus”.

This argument while largely taking place outside of evangelical circles nevertheless reveals a fundamental weakness in many evangelicals’ notions of truth and the sufficiency of Scripture. I know many evangelical who look at passages like Psalm 19 and walk away thinking that God has revealed Himself in creation in such a way that general revelation provides us with something that the Bible does not. If you find it hard to believe that evangelicals would embrace such a perspective then I would invite you to visit the “counseling” department of most evangelical seminaries. When you’re done there visit the biology lectures of evangelical colleges. After you’ve listened to their lectures, visit the psychology, sociology, anthropology or physical science departments. Better yet let some of the leading evangelical scholars in this area speak for themselves:

“All truth is certainly God’s truth. The doctrine of general revelation provides warrant for going beyond the propositional revelation of Scripture into the secular world of scientific study expecting to find true and useable concepts” (Crabb, Effective Biblical Counseling, 36).

“The evangelical church has a great opportunity to combine the special revelation of God’s Word with the general revelation studied by the psychological sciences and professions. The end result of this integration can be a broader (and deeper) view of human life” (Narramore, “Perspectives on Integration,” 17).

“My knowledge of special revelation—the Bible—would have been combined with my knowledge of general revelation—what God has taught me about his world through my study of psychology, physiology, counseling, rehabilitation, and other fields” (Collins, “An Integration View,” 117).

“Just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust, so too does truth, by the process that theologians call God’s common grace. Romans 1 speaks of God even revealing central truths about his nature to unbelievers (v. 19). … If we understand God’s counsel to be truth, we will be committed to pursuing truth wherever we find it. And we sometimes find it in the careful and insightful writings of unbelievers” (Jones and Butman, Modern Psychotherapies, 27-28).

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