Wednesday, May 31, 2006
This goes with the last post on being "Seeker Sensitive", it's a short video on how to grow your church check it out, from "Old Truth". Click Here
Melissa mentioned the fact that many churches are becoming imitation shopping malls and contemporary consumeristic culture clones. It is sad but true, I mentioned before that at some churches you can get your oil changed during the service, at multiple others are gimick after gimick to fill pews. I watched a service last week online of a church that is giving away an ipod each week of a certin message series, the one I saw they were shooting T-shirts into the audience (like at a football game) one of which had "Your the winner!" on it for the ipod. Pretty shameful. Anyway the video link and MacArthur sum it up well. For a heavy duty analysis check out David Well's "Above All Earthly Powers".
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
(By John MacArthur)
I have often spoken out against all the pragmatic and "seeker-sensitive" approaches to contemporary worship because they tend to diminish the proper place of preaching and replace it with quasi-spiritual forms of sheer entertainment (music, comedy, drama, and whatnot). Any trend that threatens the centrality of God's Word in our corporate worship is a dangerous trend.
But one of the most disturbing side effects of the seeker-sensitive fad is something I haven't said as much about: When one of the main aims of a ministry philosophy is to keep people entertained, church members inevitably become mere spectators. The architects of the modern megachurches admit that they have deliberately redesigned the worship service in order to make as few demands as possible on the person in the pew. After all, they don't want the "unchurched" to be intimidated by appeals for personal involvement in ministry. That's the very opposite of "seeker sensitivity."
Such thinking is spiritually deadly. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Practically the worst thing any churchgoer can do is be a hearer but not a doer (James 1:22-25). Christ himself pronounced doom on religious people who want to be mere bystanders (Matthew 7:26-27). [More....]
To check out the rest click here.
Monday, May 29, 2006
"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Heb 13:7)
It's memorial day, a day which was created to honor the service of those who were willing to die to defend the United States of America in battle. This day has noble roots. I want to springboard from this and honor those who led me in the faith and really have shaped me in my walk with Jesus Christ. These men are laborers in Christ and I praise God for bringing them into my life to teach me. I'm Presbyterian and we try not to praise men so these guys really mean a lot to me.
After becoming a Christian I attended a discipleship school in Northern California for one year as a student, Dr. Scholl was on staff as one of the leading teachers at the school. I later was on staff with him for almost 2 years. The last two years with Derek were definitely more impactful than the former. As I worked alongside Derek I really got practical lessons on what it looks like to lay your life down for your neighbor. Derek was always going out of his way to help others, this was particularly clear when it seriously messed with his schedule for studies and class preparations. It was funny, because it was a school/Christian community, there was never a dull day, always an unforeseen circumstance to deal with. In such an environment to be am organizer one really practically learns how to live "not my will but Thine". Derek who has labored so long at "the Land" has through refinement and God's grace no doubt really been an example to me of what it means to lay ones life down for others. (Pictured is Derek and the delicate infant Geneva)
The PP is the ministry I was referring to where Derek Scholl taught bible classes. Because there where so many people who I was involved with it's easier to just lump it all together into one. Living in a Christian community I think is precious, you really have to deal with problems and face one another, no hi-bye relationships. Just living at the land my sin would be exposed as I wouldn't want to do certain things and frankly didn't like certain people, but living in community you have to deal with these things, takes you out of your comfort-zone. In such a context Christianity has feet, it gets very practical. I am thankful for all the friends I have from this ministry and have been shaped by all. Of course I naturally remember the people who I worked with there the most: the Cromptons, Curtis and Elena Neph, TODD (man I remember 4 months in an RV on the road with these guys...talk about refining j/k it was a blast) I love these guys and it was so nice to live and learn very practically from each other.
To go way back I remember when Chinua Ford taught a series of classes on apologetics, it was
genuinely impactful on me and spurred a dedicated study in apologetics of my own. Jon Hall also was there way back, Jared and Candice, Scott and Devon. Scott Schulties I remember from the Arcata days was zealous to evangelize and did it so naturally. Anyway there are many more from PP I am forgetting but these guys really had an impact upon my development just by practically living the gospel and having a zeal for Christ and the salvation of sinners. I hope one day I will be blessed to work alongside some of them again.
Dave Sczepanski/ Gospel Outreach :
Dave is the pastor of Eureka CA's "Gospel Outreach" church. I have been so blessed to come to know him and the ministry of G.O. Dave heavily emphasized upon the teachings of Martin Luther and it was through his teachings on justification and law/gospel that I really felt a burden lifted off of me. I was free to be wrong, free to be a sinner, free to be who I am, because it is in Christ alone that my righteousness is found. Don't get me wrong the G.O. message is not antinomian, but the teaching really freed me from a performance sense of right standing with God while urging me to live holy. Also it was G.O. that really stoked a love in me for theology through the study of David Well's "No Place for Truth" at their church.
Hey anybody that knows me knows that John Piper is my most listened to preacher and it is hard to be that and not be a major developer in anyone's life. Piper really more than anyone made me see that God is more to be desired than all that this life can offer. God is the most precious being there is and is infinitely satisfying to the beauty thirsty soul. Piper's "Don't Waste Your Life" sermon/DVD really rocked me and has instilled a passion in me to live for Christ with all my might while I live.
This isn't just a consolation entry, my wife is truly a wonderful God treasurer. Of course her living with me probably has the most first hand views of my sin and she is faithful to call me out and urge me to live holy. I thank the Lord for blessing me with her. Love you Lisa.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Tired cliche phrases that put down theological/doctrinal enterprise and exalt a sort of autonomous personalized "spirituality" are used frequently in evangelicalism. After reading Francis Schaeffer's "Escape from Reason" I find he does an excellent job in catagorizing such attitudes. What it really boils down to in Schaeffers assesment is a giving up on reason, this is why faith is often viewed as an irrational leap which Schaeffer also refutes. (see: "Faith" vs. Faith) Schaeffer does an excellent job displaying the "irrational leap" in numerous areas. An example of this would be Atheistic ethics. There really is no rational reason to live an ethical moral life in an atheistic universe, yet most atheists do so and even defend ethics from an atheistic standpoint. This is simply irrational. In order to maintain morality in an atheistic universe one must make a leap into non-reason, or give up on reason.
Similarly, in an evangelical sense we can see a giving up on reason with blatant statements like "Doctrine divides but Christ unites." In my own experieces in multiple churches I have on numerous occasions been exhorted basically to not worry about doctrine but simply experience God. This is a clear cut leap into non-reason. Trust in mystical experiences forget about seriously studying the bible and its meaning. The obvious problem is that one can have all the "experiences" they want but is it the God of the bible they are worshiping are they worshiping in spirit and truth? C.S. Lewis gave a good analogy of the syntheses of experience and doctrine as he described doctrine to be as a sort of oceanic map. Now a map of the ocean is really useless unless one plans to explore the ocean (experience). Like wise it would be a foolish endeavor for one to set sail from London with Hong Kong for the destination with no map to guide (doctrine).
The exhortations of those who emphasise that we needn't worry about doctrine but have "God encounters" are partly right. However, Christianity is not an irrational mystical religion, it is a rational mystical religion. (By mystical I mean Christians personally experience God) When we divorce reason from our pursuit of God, the scriptures really loose authority. That is the odd thing about much of the emergent Christian spirituality, there are really no direct heresies being taugh. Rather, in the vacuum left by not emphasising biblical/doctrinal teaching, we find that spirituality has become so personalized (subjective) that doctrine (objective) really has little place. Thus, indirectly, sola scriptura is eroded and in its place stands "My personal experiences with God." In such an environment we are now in (see David Well's "No Place for Truth").
To wrap up, in light of Schaeffer's assesment of leaps into non-reason and Well's assesment of the privatization of faith. I think we need to reestablish the fact that we need objective truth. It is this that sets us apart from our postmodern counter parts we as Christians have the truth. It is contained in 66 books. The bible has all the answers modern man lacks. It is by returning to a biblical emphasis in our converstions that we will be culturally relevant because the bible's message speaks to all cultures. Thus instead of mimicing our culture we as Christians should have a message that is counter cultural.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
I am so stoked right now I found out that Desiring God is putting on a conference Sept 29-Oct 1 called "Above all Earthly Powers: Christ and Postmodernism" in Minneapolis. It of course will have Piper but also David Wells, Tim Keller, D.A. Carson and some other guy, its gonna be sooo tight! They have movie trailers for it if you want to check it out click here
Anyway David Well's has a four book series that offers a superb investigation of cultural and evangelical postmodern trends, talking of the current overlap. Because I wandt to give people a taste for Wells (and let you get an idea why I am stoked about this conference) what follows is an interview with Wells on his most recent book "Above all Earthly Powers" with Eerdmans publishers.
1. You open the book with a description of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. How do you see these terror attacks affecting the church in the postmodern world?
David Wells: For a few brief moments, we in the Church were wrenched away from our preoccupations with ourselves, with our own private, therapeutic needs, and we were confronted by an in-your-face act of evil. In fact, we were taken to school by reality! It was a sharp, painful encounter, like discovering, all too late, that one is walking across broken glass with bare feet.
Life in the Church, you see, is mostly about me, about what I find enjoyable, and what I need. Life in the world is often about what is wretchedly wrong, sometimes in ways that are ghastly, as was September 11.
It is hard to know whether evangelical faith was changed in any permanent way by this encounter. I think actually that it was a moment of embarrassing revelation. Surely evangelicals, the people of the Cross, would be those who know something about the reality of evil and God‘s way of conquering it through Christ‘s atonement. Surely, they would be to the fore in trying to explain this event to a bewildered and baffled nation? I wish I could say that light was shed on this tragedy in the numerous sermons I read subsequent to it, but, for the most part, I cannot. With a few exceptions, evangelicals, like everyone else, were left speechless and could only wring their hands. Ours is now a faith which is privately compelling but publicly irrelevant, to quote my friend Os Guinness. That is what I think we actually learn from September 11.
2. One of the things that makes your survey of the rise of postmodernism unique is the way in which you argue that immigration has contributed to the rise of postmodernism in the United States. How do you see this happening?
David Wells: What I have said is that immigration and the postmodern ethos of our time are two of the defining characteristics of this moment. However, the relation between these is many-sided and sometimes antagonistic.
There is no question that the combination of immigration and our media have made religious traditions that once were remote, far away, and even exotic, seem more ordinary and certainly more accessible today. To tap into Hinduism, we do not need to travel to India as so many did in the 1960s, like the Beatles. All we need to do is to look down the street to find some practicing Hindus. There are many in America who, as a result, are now raiding these religions and spiritual practices to build their own personal spiritualities. One of the current buzz words, for example, is ‘Metrospirituality.’ This is a Yuppie movement which is combining Eastern mysticism, from sources like Buddhism and Hinduism, and Western consumerism.
Respecting the environment means buying a hybrid car and respecting one's self means connecting with one's own inner power and they are putting this together in a single spiritual package — Jamba Juice, meditation, kindness, and aromatherapy all rolled into one! This kind of thing no longer seems strange to us because we have become the most religiously diverse nation in the world, with East meeting West in the supermarket, at the gas station, and everywhere on television.
At the same time, many of the immigrants who are coming to America are bringing with them quite traditional moral beliefs and ideas about the family, beliefs which derive from either Protestantism or Catholicism. These beliefs are often at odds with the way postmodern America thinks of family and morality. Will these new arrivals be able to preserve their beliefs or will they become lost in the great postmodern pot which threatens to melt every belief they have?
3. What do you see as the difference between popular postmodernism and academic or intellectual postmodernism?
David Wells: The difference is less in the ideas than in the degree of self-consciousness, and often the clarity, with which they are expressed.
However, there is a myth which needs to be laid to rest here. Intellectuals like to think that they are society's trend-setters, that what they are thinking is where reality is cresting. The result is that when intellectuals write about culture (and who else does?) they are inclined to see their ideas and their own culture as being in a cause-and-effect relation. They are the cause of which it is the effect.
In the modern period, however, this has rarely ever been the case. It is the culture, far more commonly, which gives the ideas their plausibility and which makes them seem inevitable. It is from the culture that ideas gain their traction and it is often because of the culture, when it changes, that they lose their traction. That is why, I believe, the Enlightenment ideology has lasted so long in the West and has become so deeply ensconced in our cultural elites, the gatekeepers, in academia, Hollywood, and many of our newspapers. The modernization of our society made Enlightenment ideas (like secular-humanism) seem inevitable, true, and incontrovertible. When this kind of public, cultural scaffolding began to shake in the 1960s, the ideas came tumbling down, leaving us with a void that the Enlightenment beliefs had once filled in our thinking. So we have come to be postmodern. For some, on one end of the intellectual scale, this is so in very cogent ways and for others, on the other end, it is so in ways that are more unthinking but nevertheless not any less real.
4. Your strong critique of contemporary “seeker-sensitive” styles of worship will come as a surprise to evangelicals who see this kind of worship as necessary to bringing people into the church. What are the greatest dangers of uncritically accepting this kind of worship?
David Wells: You are certainly right that my critique will come as a surprise to many evangelicals because they have come to think that the seeker-sensitive approach is the only game in town. It is also the only thing they know. And certainly it is what has made many churches big and important. These evangelicals also reject the alternative which they think of as being backward, obsolete, traditional, aging, not with-it, failing to reach a new generation, and therefore doomed to inevitable decline and irrelevance. I think these are false alternatives. I offer no brief for failing traditional churches which deserve to fail, but I hold out no hope for all of these trendy players in the church who are going to end up empty-handed. The inescapable fact is that the culture is offering just about everything that one can find in these churches but without all the inconveniences of having to be religious.
This experiment in doing church is already a demonstrable failure. Barna, who is both its architect and its chronicler, has demonstrated its failure. Week-by-week, his polls show that born-againers, so many of whom inhabit churches that are in the sensitive-mode, are biblically illiterate, live no differently from the secular and, in fact, only 9% have anything like a worldview (by which he means the most minimal set of Christian beliefs which inform the way they see life). He predicts that in five years the evangelical movement will be gone. Not even I have gone so far out on that kind of limb! He also predicts that within a few years, 50% of the churches will have melted away. Instead (and Barna thinks this is really great!) people will be following the current cultural mode of being spiritual but not religious, meaning that they will divest themselves even further of doctrinal belief and corporate involvement in a local church. Talk about a recipe for suicide!
Here will be the graveyard of evangelical faith and we are being led, step by step, into it by our oh-so-sensitive, trendy, with-it pastors. Taking us there has made them famous as they have become C.E.O.'s of big church enterprises, but the price of their fame and fortune is the bankruptcy of the faith, not by their overt heterodoxy but by their practice.
The fact is that Christ is not up for sale. His message is not in the marketplace begging for takers. And those pastors who so prostitute themselves will find that the faith they no doubt hold dear has slipped from between their fingers. Here is a paradox that neither the earlier Protestant liberals nor many of our currently sensitive evangelical pastors appear to have grasped: Christian faith which makes absolute truth claims, and demands a commitment which matches this absoluteness, against all cultural odds, thrives; Christian faith which mutes its truth claims in order to fit in, and dilutes the commitment it asks for in order not to be off-putting, is doomed. The issue here is not traditional versus contemporary. The issue is authentic versus inauthentic. It is historic Christian believing versus its remnants, its pale imitations, in the hands of these pragmatists.
5. Are there any benefits to it?
David Wells: Not too many that I can think of.
6. What do you envision a church that's being faithful to the gospel to look like in the twenty-first century?
David Wells: We make a great mistake in thinking that the only thing that counts in the life of a local church is its form. That is, what it looks like and sounds like. Do we have the latest technology? Is our screen big enough? Do we have a food court? Do we meet at times which don‘t get in the way of people enjoying their weekend? Have we eliminated all the things that offend them like pulpits, crosses, hymn books, and pews? Do we have music that is inspirational, contemporary, and makes us feel good? Are our singers professional enough? Is the parking lot larger than we need? Do people leave the church feeling happy like they do when they go back to their hotel rooms from Disneyland? These are all the parts of the gnat with which we are straining while there is a massive camel which we have already swallowed.
So, what is it? The camel is the fact that we have, unbeknownst to us, taken on board ideas that are inimical to biblical faith. What do I mean?
In the West, we are moving ever deeper into a pagan mindset and that mindset is producing our postmodern culture and its public forms. For a church to go along with this set of assumptions in order to get along, and to get along in order to be successful, all too often results in a hybrid which unwittingly embraces pagan elements (such as the way in which the current cultural disposition to be spiritual but not religious is usually being worked out). Is this really what we should be doing? Surely, in what we think and do, in the way we live and act, we should be expressing what the alternative is to our increasingly paganized culture.
The issue is far less what we do (do we have drums and PowerPoint or organs and robes?) than in who we are. In our church, we need to be articulating a worldview that has the triune God at the center, which has truth as its directive and sustenance, and which is fleshed out in a joyously countercultural life wherever a moral and intellectual over-againstness is called for. What this means is that in this church we will remain sinners and never become consumers, we will recover a moral view of life in place of the therapeutic view which our postmodern culture palms off on us, we will devote ourselves to what is enduringly right and will reject all forms of relativism, and we will be asking, not what the church can do for us, but what we can do for Christ in the church and in our broken world.
It is all about substance, not style; all about who we are as people who are owned by Christ, not so much about what it looks and sounds like. It is about turning our backs on the superficial and trendy and turning our lives toward him who is eternal and enduring. The situation today is that if you really want to see what is superficial and trendy, go and find a successful evangelical church. If you want to see the most artful, pandering practitioners of the therapeutic (what Christina Hoff Summers had in mind in her book, ‘One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance’) go and find an evangelical church, almost any one, and you will find it, all out in the front, all quite shameless, as if this is what the apostles had in mind when they thought about the meaning of Christian faith! These things should not be.
Evangelical churches should be the places where we find an alternative way to thinking about our world and living in it, one which in its profundity is a reflection of the God who is incomparable, not a threadbare mimicry of the culture. We should find an understanding of life that is on the same scale, morally and spiritually, as the life we encounter in the workplace and hear about in the evening news. Today, evangelical churches are more often like little pygmies who are living in a land of giants, always trying to get into their game, pretending that they, too, are giants. They are not. The time for pretense is over; reality is now at hand.
7. So, what kind of future do you see for evangelical faith here in America?
David Wells: The fact is that Christianity is fleeing the West; it is only the reason for this of which we may be unsure. That it is so is indisputable, as Philip Jenkins has shown in his book, ‘The Coming Christendom.’ Not only is Christian faith burgeoning outside the developed West, but inside the West it is declining — catastrophically in Europe, less so in America. Christian faith of a biblical kind has found it remarkably difficult to sustain itself in the midst of modernized, postmodern cultures, all of which have, in varying degrees, eviscerated it.
The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. That is a given. But that does not mean that God the Holy Spirit will not seriously move outside the West to build Christ‘s church. Indeed, he is doing so! Unless American evangelicals change their ways and repent of their worldliness, that is exactly what I expect will happen more and more in the future, and we will find that numerically speaking, the evangelical churches will become a shadow of what they once were.
I go to Africa every year because I serve on the board of a Christian foundation which is building orphanages for children, most of whom have been left behind by AIDS. I am always struck by this paradox, if that is what it is. Here in America we have everything, but despite everything we have (Bibles, church buildings, theological education, colleges, money, know-how), the evangelical church is weak and stumbling. In Africa, amidst great poverty and disease, illiteracy and deprivation, rampant independency and woeful alliances with traditional African religions, there is still to be found courage, vibrancy, and a Christian testimony to the truth of God that is striking by Western standards. Let us not forget who saved the Church of England from their pathetic willingness to capitulate to the homosexual agenda. It was the African bishops, not those from America or Europe! God, you know, does not have his hands tied simply because we in America have all the money!
8. How does this book relate to the others in this series — No Place for Truth, God in the Wasteland, and Losing Our Virtue?
David Wells: These three books and my current one are all an outgrowth to a wonderfully generous Pew Charitable Trusts grant which Mark Noll, Cornelius Plantinga, and myself received to explore the question as to why theology has deserted the evangelical church. My book for this project, No Place for Truth, was my answer to that question, and it became the first in a series that I was to write.
It struck me while I was working on that volume that what I was also doing was a bit of ground clearing that resembles what happens in a systematic theology under the general heading of Prologomena. This was a Prologomena, not of a typically theological kind, but one that was more cultural. Here were the things we need to understand about our culture so that our own more specifically theological work will not be swallowed up in cultural habits and, in fact, will speak to it with the kind of relevance that takes its measure on eternity rather than on what is culturally fascinating but nevertheless transient.
I then followed this up by doing the same thing in relation to the doctrine of God in my second book, the human being as created and fallen in the third book, and the person and work of Christ in this, my most recent book. So, what I have been doing is following, in my own rather unconventional way, the kind of sequence that we see in a typical theology: Prologomena, God, human nature, and the person and work of Christ.
In this final volume, I have said that it is the last of the series, though I am going to write a final, final summary volume of all four books next year. Beyond that, what I am thinking I will do is to break out some of the practical themes that now call for more attention. I would like to begin by doing a volume on preaching but it will be quite different from what most books on preaching are like. The most important thing to know about preaching is that it arises legitimately only from God's Word, which is the resource of Truth given to the Church. In the West, the Church is living in a postmodern context in which there is no Truth, only ‘truths;’ no moral norms, only preferences; no Virtues, only values which we then go on to treat in a value-free way.
Preaching, therefore, is the principal way by which God secures our cognitive and behavioral distance from our fallen culture while securing our identity with his moral character and his redemptive purposes. This is something quite different from what we expect to hear today from the plexiglass stands that have taken the place of pulpits in so many evangelical churches. I am right about this, aren't I?
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Faith is often treated as an irrational leap a blind leap. "Leap of faith" is a popular phrase that reflects how we view faith but is this an accurate view of faith? I think not. Francis Schaeffer gives a good illustration to us describing the difference between the faith of the Christian and the irrational view of faith.
Francis Schaeffer "Faith" Versus Faith:
One must analyze the word faith and see that it can mean two completely opposite things.Suppose we are climbing in the Alps and are very high on the bare rock, and suddenly the fog shuts down. The guide turns to us and says that the ice is forming and that there is no hope; before morning we will all freeze to death here on the shoulder of the mountain. Simply to keep warm the guide keeps us moving in the dense fog further out on the shoulder until none of us have any idea where we are.
After an hour or so, someone says to the guide, "Suppose I dropped and hit a ledge ten feet down in the fog. What would happen then?" The guide would say that you might make it until the morning and thus live. So, with absolutely no knowledge or any reason to support his action, one of the group hangs and drops into the fog. This would be one kind of faith, a leap of faith.
Suppose, however, after we have worked out on the shoulder in the midst of the fog and the growing ice on the rock, we had stopped and we heard a voice which said, "You cannot see me, but I know exactly where you are from your voices. I am on another ridge. I have lived in these mountains, man and boy, for over sixty years and I know every foot of them. I assure you that ten feet below you there is a ledge. If you hang and drop, you can make it through the night and I will get you in the morning."
I would not hang and drop at once, but would ask questions to try to ascertain if the man knew what he was talking about and if he was not my enemy. In the Alps, for example, I would ask him his name. If the name he gave me was the name of a family from that part of the mountains, it would count a great deal to me. In the Swiss Alps there are certain family names that indicate mountain families of that area. In my desparate situation, even though time would be running out, I would ask him what to me would be the adequate and sufficient questions, and when I became convinced by his answers, then I would hang and drop.This is faith, but obviously it has no relationship to the other use of the word. As a matter of fact, if one of these is called faith, the other should not be designated by the same word.
The historic Christian faith is not a leap of faith in the post-Kierkegaardian sense because He is not silent, and I am invited to ask the adequate and sufficient questions, not only in regard to details, but also in regard to the existence of the universe and its complexity and in regard to the existence of man. I am invited to ask adequate and sufficient questions and then believe Him and bow before Him metaphysically in knowing that I exist because He made man, and bow before Him morally as needing His provision for me in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of Christ.
(End of Schaeffer's "Faith" versus faith)
Not to be confused I want to add that faith in the genuine sense may have the appearance of irrationality. Take George Mueller for example who though he knew there was no food to give the orphans under his care sat them all down at the mess hall in faith that God would provide the food. Sure enough completely unexpected (in one sense) a delivery of food came so dinner was served as Mueller had faith that it would. This appears irrational, but it was rational because Mueller trusted God as the promise keeper. So there is a "stepping out in faith" that appears irrational (to men) but makes perfect sense.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Another encounter with Mormon's arrived at my doorstep today. Unlike in times past, where I really wanted to zing and blast the Mormons I got a chance to talk with, this time I really just felt bad for these young men. I let them give their spiel and humor me as the said things like "apostasy we know that's a big word". Basically, Mormon theology is kind of a mutant version of Catholicism, where a God ordained priesthood is necessary for salvation which has recently been restored by Joseph Smith.
The real issues:
In the past after reading apologetic write ups on Mormonism I had always wanted to bring up the ridiculousness of a lot of what they believe. Such as the fact that God was begotten of another God and His sexual relations with His Goddess wives and God (our God) resides on the planet Kolob (Yet somehow they can believe this stuff and maintain biblical passages such as "without Him nothing was made that was made"). There are many other bizarre teachings of Mormonism, my point is that these really aren't the issues we need to be addressing these are peripheral matters. (On a side note: This is in part why I am some what disappointed with the quality of apologetics out there, we have hundreds of books on Mormonism all saying the same things and giving people ammo to fire at unorthodox groups while failing to equip people with the ability to understand what issues really matter.) The real issues with Mormonism, Catholicism, Oneness Pentecostals and other groups like them is their diversion from justification by faith alone.
The groups I named above depart from justification by faith alone on nearly identical grounds, they all claim that the sacraments are necessary for salvation and not only that but the sacraments need to be administered by a true priest, one of their groups priests. Apart from the Catholics the case is nearly always made on grounds that the church went apostate after the apostles and has only recently been restored by Mr.X, thus one can now be truly saved because the true priesthood has been reestablished. This pattern has been repeated time and time again by unorthodox groups.
We are under a new covenant, a better covenant, Christ is our eternal priest.
"but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever.' This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever." (Heb 7:22-24)
The book of Hebrews seems problematic for a priesthood view of the channeling of grace, for Christ is the high priest. Another thing to note is that Hebrews repeatedly describes that Christ "Sat down" after His sacrifice at the right hand of the Father. This conveys that because of the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice redemption was completed by Him once and for all. This undermines all priesthood mediums of grace (such as the Catholic view of mass where they "offer a sacrifice" to God through transubstantiation on behalf of the people). What really has gone awry is a failure to grasp the sufficiency of the new covenant. Christ under the new covenant is the High priest to Him we go to confess our sins, to Him we go in times of need, to Him we look for our salvation. Christ alone.
And to go with the priesthood as a necessary medium of grace is the obvious departure from justification by faith in Christ alone.
"And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, " (Rom 4:5)
I go to this verse because all the groups I have described will say they believe in justification by faith, the problem is that there is an "and" that is subtly tacked on. The "and" is usually baptism and various other forms of law such as hair length and dress codes. (side note: Mormons to be full members are required to do 6 months missionary work, their door to door work isn't necessarily out of zeal but adhering to law given to them.) Romans 4:5 wipes away all mingling of works and faith for justification, it clearly teaches justification by faith alone. Now of course the faith that justifies will be followed by works (fruit of the Spirit) but we need to be justified before we will do works glorifying to God. I say this because works done by the unjustified are done to placate God and earn righteousness in His sight are servile, where works done by the already justified are done out of joy and gratitude in all that God is to them.
These are the real issues we need to deal with when talking with unorthodox groups, not the absurdities of their theologies (that's easy and kind of a low blow). Ranting about how stupid it is to pray to saints (although it is a valid issue) is not the center, Catholicism's view of the priesthood and justification is at the center. These are at the center because in these issues is the essence of the gospel.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
In my English composition class we were given the assignment to choose a controversial topic and write 5 successive papers on the issue with the fifth doubling as a presentation. I chose the debate over evolution theory. Now I want to make clear I genuinely am open to accepting evolution as the method which God employed to create life, I just want some evidence. Unfortunately, that sort of stance is not too well received. The main point of my presentation/power point talk was to show that essentially evolution theory is the backbone for the plausibility of an Atheist world view. That being the case there is a lot of bad research that has been done to prop evolution up, to give it credence. I cited a number of past "missing links" for example how Nebraska Man was nothing but a single tooth, a pig's tooth at that, yet was declared the link between man and ape. My point was to show that the philosophical bias' of Atheism have caused men to strive to justify evolution. Because if evolution is true, and life came about purely naturalistically by time+chance then God can justly be ruled out of the picture.
Anyway I have written a bit on that previously see my post "Layin the Smack Down...": http://puritanbob.blogspot.com/2006/03/layin-smack-down-on-evolution-and.html
My point right now is to talk about the response I got, for the most part positive, but of course there was a staunch Atheist in the crowd. In the Q&A time he said "There is like a ridiculous amount of evidence is support of evolution, and no evidence for the existence of God." (good question) I replied "Well I would have to ask 'What evidence are you talking about?'" People make that sort of statement all the time especially in Newspaper articles on ID appealing to some massive stock of evidence for evolution yet rarely give any at all. My point is that this is very often an unsupported claim, a phantom argument about some stock pile of evidence. Of course he didn't respond when I asked what evidence he was referring to.
My simple response to his accusation that there is no evidence for the existence of God was to restate a point already raised in my presentation "How can non-mind create mind?" If atheistic evolution is true than we have results that are creator than the causes. Non-rational producing rational, impersonal producing personal, a-moral producing moral. These are genuine problem for atheists, not for a theist.
This same disgruntled Atheist also on the write up he gave me (supposed to give you direction to strengthen your argument) wrote the following:
"All you did was talk about hoax's and rally for god and how much you like him. There is a ridiculous amount of evidence supporting evolution and none for God's existence or the existence of creationism. Why don't you go door to door and try to change peoples beliefs."
Also in the q&a he said as his last question: "The bible is just a fairy tale"
Good stuff huh? The young man was clearly upset after my presentation, and if what I had to say was really just stupid bantering why would he be so upset? I think Mr. Atheism's reaction only validates my point that evolution is necessary for his world view to exist, he saw his religion under fire and had to defend it. He genuinely couldn't point me to any evidence for evolution when I asked him to although he claims there to be a ridiculous amount out there.
As far as the last accusation labeled "The bible is just a fairy tale." I hear that a lot today from skeptics. The main problem I have with it is that they have come to that conclusion not by studying the bible how it was formed, and its claims, rather they come to that conclusion out of ignorance and an a-priori dogmatic commitment to atheism. It really is sad almost all the atheists I dialogue with have this self image that they are the intellectual pinnacle of humanity, and frankly can be pretty snobbish. Yet, when they start trying to refute Christianity they don't have a clue what they are talking about and have to rely on straw man arguments because they never really took the time to honestly examine the Christian world view before writing it off.
And quite honestly I don't know what seems more fantastic (fairy tale) view (A) which says: Billions of years ago POP! Here's the universe out of nothing, and giant rocks began rotating around this ball of energy that came out of nowhere called the sun. One of those rocks happened to be just the right distance from that ball of energy to sustain life, after millions of years of volcanic eruption (where ever lava came from) it began to rain (Wherever water came from) on the rocks after another indefinable set of millions of years pools formed and slime formed on the pools (how this happened is also left out) and the first bacteria were brought to life. After millions of more years you got life as we now know it.
Or (B) "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." An omniscient and omnipotent eternally existent being designed the universe for His glory.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
One of the things I have been blessed by from my Lutheran brothers is the distinction between law and gospel that is made. Law (not just the old testament) comes in the form of command "do this". Precisely because we do not "do this" the law accuses us of sin, thus condemning us. The hard thing is that for much of my Christian walk I had been taught that to have a "good self image" was necessary to be a strong Christian. I distinctly remember one day when I was giving some serious contemplation to my sin and it seemed like it dawned on me for the first time "I am a bad person." and I began to weep over my wretchedness. My fiance at the time (now wife) tried to console me saying "Oh no your not a bad person!" and she began blubbering with me. We both look back and kind of chuckle now over this incident, because no matter how much positive self esteem techniques may be implemented in churches the fact still catches up that we fall miserably short of not only God's standard but even our own.
Upon being faced with my sinfulness I was at a loss as to how to go about this. Addressing one's personal sin wasn't really hit upon at any of the churches I had currently been attending. All that I knew is that I felt extremely unworthy to be called God's child. What was going on was that the law was doing it's job, convicting me of my sin. Martin Luther wrote well on the law saying:
"It is no small matter then to understand rightly what the law is, and what is the true use and office thereof... we reject not the law and works, as our adversaries do falsely accuse us... we say that the law is good and profitable, but in his own proper use: which is first to bridle civil transgressions, and then to reveal and to increase spiritual transgressions. Wherefore the law is also a light, which sheweth and revealeth, not the grace of God, not righteousness and life; but sin,death, the wrath and judgment of God... the law, when it is in his true sense, doth nothing else but reveal sin, engender wrath, accuse and terrify men, so that it bringeth them to the very brink of desperation. This is the proper use of the law, and here it hath an end, and it ought to go no further." (Luther's Commentary on Galatians)
These heavy blows from the law are not without a purpose for they are intended to drive us to Christ, who alone can relieve our guilty conscience. "For the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ." Christ then becomes the fortress of refuge for the believer from guilt, He is the One to whom we flee when our conscience condemns us. In Christ alone does the believer find relief from the condemnation of the law, not some pop therapeutic mantra. I truly daily need to see my sin, this is why much of the word of God is law (not just the OT). One purpose of much of the bible coming in the form of law is so that in the pure reflection of the word we may be convicted of sin cease from self reliance and cling to Christ as our all.