Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Is Evangelicalism Fundamentally Flawed?

* This is a repost from a while ago, at my old blog. It created good discussion then, so I'm wondering if it will again. I'm also wondering if anyone who participated in the conversation then has changed their opinions since then... to that end, I'll also repost the original comments so we can see where we've all come since that time. *

The Enlightenment. Modernism. Deconstructionism. Postmodernism. Post-postmodernism. What does the Church believe? What are the essentials that do not change and what is culturally relevant?

While it may be an oversimplification, it seems that in a broad stroke, what separates “Evangelicalism” from “Fundamentalism” is how to handle the Enlightenment… and everything post-elightenment, really. Fundamentalism unrelentingly holds fast to the “fundamentals,” without any regard for what the modern sciences have to say about things. “Evangelicals,” on the other hand, are eager to interact with all that advanced human learning can teach us. Rather than writing off evolution by insisting that the Bible teaches a literal 6 day creation, Evangelicals are willing to roll with whatever it is in vogue for scientists. After all, why would we want to remain out of the loop? Does anyone have any respect for the Roman church’s response to poor old Galileo?

In contrast, Fundamentalists could care less what the rest of the world has to say, they insist that since the Bible teaches a literal 6 day creation, we have no need for further inquiry into the matter. Why, they bravely ask, does it even matter what a modern scientist might be able to find, when we have the Bible?

An Evangelical might quickly counter, “What are we afraid of?” All truth is God’s truth! If what we believe is truly true, then there is no truth that can disprove what we believe!

Call me a sceptic or whatever you want (okay, maybe not anything you want), but I see a problem here. I am not, strictly speaking, a Fundamentalist. I think it is a fundamentally wrong assumption for one to hold his beliefs with such little regard for what is demonstable truth. I would be an idiot to believe that pigs can fly when that is simply, patently (and demonstrably) untrue. If I believe something that has no grounding in reality, then it doesn’t matter how hard I believe, I’m still a fool for believing it.

So I can’t ignore what the sciences have to say…

But then why not be Evangelical (if my dichotomy may be allowed to stand for now)? Why not simply engage with all that the world can determine to be true? Without delving too deep into theories on the nature of truth, it must be acknowledged at least in some sense, that much of the “truth” we find empirically is fluid.

For example, not too long ago smoking was not the taboo it has become today. It wasn’t bad for your health, and was socially accepted. Now, however, we have determined that it is horrible for the human body and can cause any number of diseases. A few generations ago, the “truth” about smoking was different. It was knowledge based on a changing and evolving science.

Again, we could look at the different theories that have been held with regard to homosexuality or even alcoholism. What was once known by any number of societies to be “sin” (however that community defined it) has now in many circles become simply a genetic difference. Alcoholism is something that, regrettably, some people will have to deal with because of genes. Homosexuality is something to be celebrated as a normal part of a person’s genetic makeup.

So what do we do with knowledge gained through the sciences? Bill Webb argues that modern science can demonstrate that certain traits once thought to be tied to gender can now be shown to be more from genetic makeup than gender.

Many liberals within the Church of England argue that homo- sexuality is a part of genetic makeup, and can therefore not be wrong. The homosexuality Paul condemned was that of the pagan cultic worship rituals of his day. What Paul condemned was perversion, not personality. This is not to say that either Webb or the Anglicans are right or wrong, but rather to pose the question, what do we do with science?

Do we base doctrine on it? So what if we compromise on the creation issue and argue rather for a “theistic evolution,” but then the evidence tips back the other way again? Do we then turn and argue for a 6 day creation like it was the year 1589 all over again?

What if we could demonstrably prove scientifically that men are actually more gullible than women? Would that mean that we should take 1 Timothy 2 mean that only women should be elders in our churches?

And what if it is in fact proven that homosexuality has nothing to do with genetics, but everything to do with how someone is raised and socialized? Will the Anglican church have an about-face?

Or are our methods of using the “impartial” sciences really quite partial after all? Why is it that CNN reports all the time of skulls being researched which are millions of years old, while at the same time millions of more copies of “A Case For Creation” are sold in Christian bookstores?

If Evangelicals intend to use the modern sciences to inform their interpretation of the Scriptures, ought they not to define better what role these sciences should play? And what do they do when the science “changes”? Does truth change?

If Fundamentalists intend to hold unswervingly the timeless truths of the Bible, how in the world will they gain credibility in a society that is swamped with “facts” that disprove the “fundamentals”?

Is Evangelicalism destined for a future of fluidity–always trying to balance acceptance in scholarly and popular circles with attempts to remain faithful in some sense to the biblical witness?

Is Fundamentalism destined for a demise into infamy as it distances itself from all things relevant with ever-increasing speed?

Is there a middle ground? Is that even what we need? Do we look for further defintion or faster departure from these classical categories of modern Christendom?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Shrewd as Serpents?

Please understand that I know the whole Augustinian / Pelagian (Calvinism / Arminianism) debate has been running its course for 16 centuries or so now, so I don't intend to solve it here. That being said, I'm a little frustrated this evening at the "non-logic" employed by many Christians when it comes to working through these thoughts.

Augustine (and subsequently Calvin, Luther, Edwards, et al.) taught the freedom of the will. This surprises many, but it's true. The will is free to choose whatever it should so desire. The biblical picture, however, is that the unregenerate heart will always choose evil; hence the "bondage of the will" (ie. it can only choose evil, therefore, it knows nothing of true freedom). God's grace, according to Augustine, is his active changing of our hearts, so that we delight in him above all else, so that we freely choose him over everything else (thus God is, to Augustine, his sovereign joy) and every other false pleasure.

I believe firmly that this is a concept firmly rooted in the biblical portrait of man and God's redemptive work and would be prepared to argue that at length. That's not what I'm hoping to discuss here, however.

My problem is when I get into discussions like one I had recently with a brother (whom I love dearly) who refuses to acknowledge God's sovereign grace for patently unbiblical reasons. He made no attempt to argue from Scripture, exept to cite a single verse from 1 Tim 2 without rooting his argument in context. He then based his whole theology of grace around the idea that he created from that one verse. His argument went something like this:

1. God elects some to salvation.
2. This necessarily implies that he has willfully, actively chosen to create some, make them sinful, and send them to hell.
3. This is unacceptable.
4. Therefore, God does not elect unto salvation.

The problem, of course, with this syllogism is that 2 does not follow from 1.

The problem in the grander scheme of things, however, is that he has worked himself into a tough corner when it comes to actually dealing with the biblical texts which clearly delineate God's electing in salvation. What does one do with Ephesians 1 when he has already decided in his mind that God's greatest desire is for every single person to be saved?

The simple fact of the matter is that the Bible places the blame for the damnation of sinners on sinners. Out of a fallen race of humanity, God elects a people unto salvation. God is responsible for salvation, because his grace has to change our hearts so that we can delight in him. God is not responsible for the damnation of a sinner, that sinner chose what he desired.

Some may well ask "how can God judge me when he didn't elect me?" To that we'd have to answer with Paul, "Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?" Or with Moses, "The revealed things belong to man, but the hidden things belong to God." Or with Isaiah, "His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are his thoughts above our thoughts and his ways above our ways."

It frustrates me to no end how Christians are willing to take certain things by faith, but then when the Bible doesn't answer every question they have, they reject what the Bible does teach for their own ideas of what it should teach.

Deal with the text and let that frame your thoughts and questions. Be willing to submit to whatever it teaches... it is the word of God. Be willing to accept "foolishness" when it presents itself. This type of humility usually leads to the greatest insights of wisdom.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Assume I know nothing...

... and you'll probably be right!

It's just hit me lately that a big part of mentoring is knowing what to share. This semester I'm taking a course in pastoral theology and another one on prayer. Needless to say, they're both very straight-forward, hands-on type courses. We spend time walking through the Scriptures and the professors take time to apply the principles to our lives in very practical ways...

Basically we're learning things that you would probably assume we could figure out. But we haven't. Dr Haykin noted today that he can't recall ever hearing a pastor openly questioned about his prayer life in an ordination council, or when he speaks of his call to ministry. There is great danger in assuming.

So... what did we talk about? In pastoral theology, kerux began by teaching us about how to set up and run your study, schedule your time, file your notes, etc., etc. In prayer, we talked about physical posture (for one thing) and how important it is and what precedent there is for prayer-posture in Scripture.

Things like this seem so mundane that they generally don't get taught. I can't remember ever hearing someone say that their mentor sat with them and talked about how to setup a day-timer and how to make it effective. These are things that take 10 minutes to learn about from someone else, or 10 years to figure out on your own (with who knows how many dumb mistakes along the way).

And then there's sex. Now that's something you'd think people would know about, but as Tim Challies has pointed out recently (see Tim's comments after the post) even in our sex-crazed society, there is still much godly, practical wisdom that needs to be passed on in our churches if we are to glorify Christ by delighting in God-pleasing sex.

So... what's the point? When you're mentoring, think about the things you'd never think to talk about. Don't be afraid to go over the mundane things that you figured out on your own... these are often the most valuable, practical lessons that can be learned in a mentoring relationship. And if you're the one being mentored, just keep your eyes open. Learn to watch carefully so you'll pick up from osmosis things that no-one would ever think to stop and teach.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Well... he's done it again

For anyone who has ever read Brian McLaren... funny stuff indeed.

that is not my blog: Be afraid. Be very afraid…

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

May I have an autograph, please?

Today in Greek class at TBS we got to talking about text-criticism because we're learning to use the apparatus in our Greek NT. Anyway, as he always does, the Cowboy got me thinking. The question was raised about the earliest extant NT manuscripts, and whether there are any remaining autographs or not. Of course the answer is no, and as Clint said, it displays the wisdom of God. We'd probably end up worshipping the pieces of paper themselves, if such a thing was in existence. In his wisdom, God has decreed that he would remove this temptation from our lives.

Of course, the seeming "down-side" of this is that there's no hard case to be made for the argument that the Bible remains in tact, exactly as it was written. As text-criticism has shown, there are some tough questions to be asked in places of the Greek NT as we have it.

But this is really not a down-side at all. In fact, I don't know why we'd find it the least bit surprising. As with all things of any importance, God desires and requires faith. Think about it: his existence, creation of the world, the historicity of the OT narratives and genealogies, the written records of Jesus' life and teachings, his death and resurrection, the salvation message, the promise of coming again in judgment... everything of any importance is always designed so that we must have faith.

That's the way God works. Always has been, always will be; or at least until the consummation of all things when faith shall be made sight.

And so it is with the text of the Greek NT, and really, the formation of the canon as a whole. God has provided evidence (just like the creation, resurrection, etc.), but he has also provided what seems to be "counter-evidence".

Don't be ashamed of a "foolishly conservative" faith. Don't be tempted to think that when you struggle with doubt over issues like this it's because you don't know enough... chances are, you just need more faith. After all, Christ himself, in his very person was "a stumbling stone" and "foolishness." Wisdom is justified by all her children, and God will shame the wisdom of this world.

Did you make any New Year's Resolutions?

Do you want to borrow some? Ah, satire... how I love thee.

If you want a chuckle, check out Call me Ishmael's "that is not my blog." In particular, this post on New Year's Resolutions is very funny.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Are you more just than God?

In our Bible-reading, my wife and I read three psalms each week in order to be in the Psalms all year. So, at the end of three weeks, we've finished the first nine psalms. There are too many benefits to always reading the Psalms to list here, but one of them is that you start to pick up on themes. What was David consistently praying about? How did he pray? What are the images of God that he keeps coming back to over and over again. I don't think biblical worship ended at Psalm 150, but I do believe this helps us orient ourselves with God's desire for our worship.

One theme that I've noticed over and over again in the Psalms is that David is a man consumed with God: his causes and his glory. He loves his God more than he loves himself--even more than he loves other men! Sometimes I wonder if we haven't subconsciously inverted the greatest two commandments. It seems to me that's why so many Christians struggle with the problem of evil, or the concept of eternal punishment, or God's righteousness which involves him working all things to his own glory.

We don't see how that is God loving us or others, so we can't get by it. And we have Scripture to back us up: God is love, after all, and merciful and gracious. And we're commanded to love our neigbour as ourself, so we struggle with this tension in God.

The problem, as I've said, is that we invert the commandments. The first commandment is to love God. Above all else. That means that I love all that he loves. That means that I love to see his causes and his purposes accomplished. That means that I love to see his righteousness displayed. I love what he determines is best.

In short, it means I trust him. When he declares that he is doing something, I know that it must be good because he is good. When God says he will condemn the unjust and unbelieving, I rejoice, because that is his purpose and it is good. Because of his righteousness, he has said this will be, and that it will be to his glory.

I may not understand, but I trust... because I love him. To eternally lament over those lost to judgment is to mourn over something God has deemed righteous; my heart would not be in line with his eternal purposes. To secretly hope that God will do something other than what he has revealed in his word is to think that I am somehow more just than God and my desires are more righteous than his. That is not loving God first. That's loving me and my fellow man before God.

Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail;
Let the nations be judged before you!
Put them in fear, O LORD!
Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Allen "Breaks the Back" of Emergent Morality

Gay activist Chad Allen, star of "The End of the Spear" (soon-to-be-released) was on Larry King Live the other night with Al Mohler and others. The topic of discussion was "gay love" (as brought up by the film "Brokeback Mountain") and "gay marriage" (in the United States). Mohler was fantastic, as always, and very biblically-centred.

But it wasn't him that caught my attention. It was Chad Allen.

And it wasn't because Mr Allen is a brilliant man or a wonderful orator or anything like that. He didn't have anything particularly insightful to say that hasn't been said before. But what struck me this time was his profession of faith--what that faith looks like, how it is defined, and how it effects his morality.

Here are some excerpts from the transcript:
  • My parents, they had a hard time. We're friends again, we have a wonderful family relationship. But I have to say, if they're going to speak about absolute transcendent truth, I need to tell you, I know absolute transcendent truth.

    I have a deep relationship with God and my understanding. It's very powerful, and it's taken its own shape and form. And I am very much at peace in the knowledge that in my heart God created this beautiful expression of my love.

    Listen, Larry, we are going to be different, we're going to disagree on the details of this and we probably always will.

  • [I judge how it's right for me to live my life...] By the standard that I judge all of my actions. These days I judge all of my actions by my relationship with God of my understanding. It is a deep-founded, faith-based belief in God based upon the work that I've done growing up as a Catholic boy and then reaching out to Buddhism philosophy, to Hindu philosophy, to Native American beliefs and finally as I got through my course with addiction and alcoholism and finding a higher power that worked for me.

    You know, I had to sit down with that same God today and say, "Do you want me to go on this show? Do you want me to speak the things that are in my heart? And if not, I'm happy not to go. Do you want me to make this movie?" It's the same God that I go to for every decision.
Here's the question that I kept coming back to, over and over again: How would the emergent movement respond to this man, while remaining faithful to the Bible's standards for morals and marriage?

He has had a genuine experience. He claims his grasp of absolute truth is real. His faith is existential. He talks to "God" and knows what "God" wants him to do.

Somehow the emergent church which was designed to speak so well to our culture has unwittingly left itself unarmed when it comes to morality. This is why, I can only hope, that the end of emergent will be sooner rather than later, because it can not work pragmatically, which exposes its faulty theological and epistemological roots.

[HT: Challies.com]

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Frame's Generous Orthodoxy

There is considerable overlap between McLaren’s concerns and mine. I too would like to see less doctrinal wrangling in the church and more love. Like McLaren, I think it’s important to learn from traditions other than our own (43-67) and in controversy to be both more winsome to those who disagree with us and harder on ourselves. I like McLaren’s way of putting it, that in theological dialogue we have the unfortunate tendency to compare our opponents’ worst with our best (136, 140). And I have argued, like McLaren (105-114), for a missional concept of the church...

So begins John Frame's review of Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy. You can read the rest of it here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Commentary on the State of the American Church

Some quick analysis for whatever commentary it's worth... here are some quick counts from this list of most influential "Christians" in America:

From para-church ministries: 26
Associated with mega-churches: 17
Actual pastors: 16 (out of 50 most influential!!!)
Charismatic (health & wealth): 10
Career in politics: 5
From emergent circles: 5
Women leaders: 5
From the Graham family: 3
Medical / psychiatric doctors: 3
Cardinals: 1
Popes: 1
Presidents of the United States: 1

What does all that say about the state of "the world's largest evangelical bastion"??

[HT: Between Two Worlds and Ruminations by the Lake]

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Christians and Their Cars

You are what you drive?
... because Bradley asked for it ...

Here's how to tell the type of Christian you meet, by the car they drive. (Obviously this is completely in jest... my poor attempt at humour.)

The official car of Emergent. This one was a no-brainer. Maybe it's because of the whole enviro-friendly thing, or maybe it's the anti-western / north-american mentality. Either way, those emerging types do like their echoes.

The official car of the middle-class, conservative church family. Okay, okay, so it's not technically even a car. But if you're going to haul around those 2.3 children from your middle-class home to soccer practice, the Montana is a must.

The official van of the Dutch / Christian Reformed. Because when your children number a baker's dozen, there just really aren't that many options.

The official car of the seminary student. Students in beat-up, old cars. How cliché.

I tried to think of more, but that's all I could come up with off the top of my head. Any more suggestions?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

More on the Authentic Church

Check out Paul W. Martin's "Weighing in the Word" this week for followup to my recent post on the authentic church.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Only because I couldn't refrain...

Normally I leave the political blogging up to people like my friends Shameer, tomgee, or Ian, who know what they're talking about. Tonight I couldn't resist, though. Paul Martin (not to be confused with Paul W. Martin) is a dangerous, dangerous man.

While watching the leaders' debate tonight, one issue that stuck out to me in particular was the issue of the charter and the notwithstanding clause. Now, come down wherever you will on the issue of whether or not marriage is a "right" that can be defined by anyone, the notwithstanding clause is of fundamental importance when it comes to our democracy. The ones making the decisions on the legislation and governance of this country must be elected officials in order for there to be any semblence of accountability (not that we've had that recently either though).

If the final decision on issues of morality lies always in the hands of appointed judges and courts rather than elected officials, what hope is there for the people to ever change their country? All other issues aside, I think it is absolutely essential to vote Conservative this election, if for no other reason than to protect the ability of the people to determine the morals and standards that our country should be ruled by. To vote in the Liberals again is to chart a very dangerous course for our country's future.

If we, as Christians, don't demand accountability for the moral decisions of our leadership... who do we think will??

Sunday, January 08, 2006

"The Authentic Church"

Kerux has been preaching a new-year's mini-series on "the Authentic Church" from Acts 2.42-47 (you can hear this morning's sermon--#2 in the series--here). This has been particularly insightful in light of so much of the debate spurred on by those of emergent persuasion on what counts as "authenticity."

The Authentic Christian Church is one which is characterised by:

1. Devotion to doctrine.
2. Devotion to fellowship.
3. Devotion to the Lord's Supper.
4. Devotion to prayer.
5. Devotion to personal spirituality.
6. Devotion to evangelism.

While there were several points that struck me during the messages, there was one thing that I couldn't get away from: The church is people.

If the church is to be authentic, the people must be authentic. The church can only be as devoted to anything as the people that make up the church are. That's why so many churches today are Program-Driven® and inauthentic.

The program drums up some sense of purpose ("let's do this together"). People go at it like kids with their toys on Christmas morning. The problem is, of course, that the excitement was in the program, not in the gospel itself. And when the week after Boxing Day comes, the Christmas toys are just as boring as last year's... and so off to a new church they go, always looking for the next big evangelical fad.

So... emergent people are sick of inauthenticity? No more than me. And to be honest, I think they sound rather arrogant when they go around boasting about how they are the ones sick of inauthenticity.

But the answer is not experience-driven church. The answer is to become an authentic Christian, who is devoted to all these things, so that I can influence others around me. As they become devoted to these things, the gospel spreads. Then what have you got? Without even knowing it, you've got an "authentic church": rooted in delight in God, to the glory of God.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Way too pumped!

Well, Reese Roper, probably my favourite still-living lyricist, is still making music. Now, this is not news to anyone at all in touch with the Christian "pop-culture," I suppose, who probably already knew this. But it was news to me because I live in Canada and I don't usually shop in Christian bookstores.

Anyhow, I've listened to the stuff... awesome, as usual from Reese, thought not quite braveSaintSaturn standards. The new band is called "Roper" and their website is here. Their bio is fascinating. Really.