Thursday, March 25, 2010, 11:00 AM
Just about every evangelical church has lay people positioned as elders and teachers, rarely with formal theological training. Obviously, formal training doesn’t necessarily make one a good teacher, but it gives warrant to the belief that the person has a certain degree of knowledge of what they are trying to teach. But as a teacher, how much more does he or she need to know beyond that of the students? Is it appropriate, as the adult in the room, to be learning along side the students? (This may be an overstatement.) That’s something of a rhetorical question, because my current position on this is that, while teachers don’t need to know everything to the degree of having seminary education, they must have basic familiarity with the concepts whereby they can refresh themselves in further study and can actually lead the students without hampering their learning with on-the-job training. I’m curious what kind of training your churches offer in order to equip each teacher for their particular context.
I recently brought this up to a friend who suggested leadership development whereby teachers can learn to relate with their students and learn about the role of character in their leadership, becoming better teachers as a result. But that escapes the nature of my concern because even if a teacher is equipped at the most basic level, I’m not sure we are doing enough to take them to them further. Has the church made so much out of leadership development that we have neglected the equipping our teachers with the content they need to be truly effective? Not every teacher is a leader, yet the church is inundated with leadership conferences, books, and other materials. Everyone wants to lead and learn how to lead. But who wants to study? With anti-intellectualism rampant in the church, I say few really care to study.
Currently, I have one of the best teaching pastors I have ever known, I am blessed. But I’m unconvinced that Sunday morning is sufficient for equipping teachers for their own work. Whether Sunday school or youth ministry or adult studies, the gambit of information runs from basic Bible knowledge to apologetics and theological understanding. Pastors can’t do it all, and they definitely can’t do it all on Sunday morning, but maybe they could do more in the church if more direct training is required for all engaged in teaching ministry. Unfortunately, so much of teaching has been reduced to nonteaching. What I mean is that women are often not teaching Bible studies, they are facilitating, plopping in a video and asking “how does that verse make you feel?” The same may be said of Sunday school teachers who use prepackaged curriculum and are simply guiding 3rd graders in self-study. Can’t we do better?
The picture I have drawn here may be overly pessimistic. I know many good lay teachers are out there. But I also know a lot of theological incompetence exists, but the training available for non-pastors is limited, especially when the teacher doesn’t quite know what he needs. This is a local church issue and we need to do more than hope lay teachers find iTunesU or read a few interesting blogposts.
Thursday, March 25, 2010, 8:44 AM
I was recently reading Jamie Smith’s review of Francis Beckwith’s book Return to Rome along with Beckwith’s response, and I was reminded of a post I wrote at the time of Beckwith’s departure from the ETS. Since FIRST THINGS is a place where evangelicals and Catholics can come together in conversation, I am going to repost my own thoughts on why swimming the Tiber can be attractive… at least to me anyway.
Thursday, March 11, 2010, 6:01 AM
From the Extreme Theology blog: I’ve been hosting my radio program for almost 2 years. One of the daily features of my program are the sermon reviews. Each week I review 3 to 4 sermons from seeker-driven / purpose-driven churches. I review them in their entirety and am generally mortified and disappointed at the shallow self-help / felt-needs seminars that have replaced true in depth Biblical preaching in so many of these church’s pulpits. After reflecting on the sermons I’ve reviewed from such churches as Saddleback, Willowcreek, Granger, NewSpring, Elevation, Fellowship Church, LCBC, South Hills, Fellowship of the Woodlands, Mosaic, The Orchard, and National Community, I set out to find one question that could tie all these sermons together so that I could identify the common theme in all of them. Here’s the question I came up with:
If I were an unbeliever and I attended these churches and listened to all their sermons week after week, how would I define the term “Christ Follower”?
Here’s the answer I came up with after reviewing the sermons preached at these seeker-driven / purpose-driven churches over the last 24 months:
Read more . . .
Friday, March 5, 2010, 10:35 AM
What is Christian fundamentalism? It is a set of protestant tenets published, in the early 20th century, as a response to the theological liberalism and higher criticism of the 19th century. It is a doctrinal statement and nothing more. These positions include concerns about the virgin birth, inspiration, literal interpretation, German higher criticism, the Holy Spirit, and other expected doctrinal statements. Authors included men like B. B. Warfield, R. A. Torrey, and James M. Gray. Those familiar with these names may recall Warfield among the Princeton Presbyterians, Torrey’s association with the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and both Torrey’s and Gray’s association with Moody Bible Institute.
Fundamentalism began as largely a north-eastern movement, though it did spread west. (Dr. Wenger provides a useful summary of the movement’s beginnings and social attitudes.) It began regionally because of the concentration of liberal theological training in the north-eastern U.S. As a result, the Southern Baptists and other Baptist, and many other evangelical groups, were not part of the movement because they were not in a position to challenge liberal theology. Though many others held to these same tenets, it was the challenge of liberalism which motivated this movement and the publication of the statements.
Fundamentalism is not a call to social action. It is a reaction to the social gospel, yet more to the theology behind it. So, while an AFA staffer recently made a call for the death of a whale, that is not fundamentalism. Secularist paranoia says that this somehow represents fundamentalism.
Sometimes people ask me why we get so worked up about the Religious Right here at Americans United. Fischer’s column, as daft as it is, is a good answer to that question. Here’s a guy who wants to kill (by stoning, yet!) a 12,000-pound whale that he believes is guilty of murder – all because of a blind adherence to his fundamentalist reading of the Bible. (emphasis mine)
History differs with Mr. Boston. (I do sometimes wonder why the term thinktank exists. It appears that many are only in the tank.) Even Wikipedia, while obviously lacking, provides a better definition that he does.
Similar calls for secularization are quite common. But God did not create the church as a democracy and theology is not up for democratic debate. For the church to practice control over its own teachings may be, actually, anti-democratic. There are times when that is a good thing. God is, after, the ultimate theocrat. But for some the paranoia of an impending social theocracy seems a way of life, a way to make a living. (There are half-truth hucksters everywhere.)
Saturday, February 20, 2010, 9:43 PM
Earlier this week, Hunter Baker was the Evangel messenger to announce that Ken Starr will become the next president at Baylor University. Permit me to announce that Philip Graham Ryken will become the eighth president at Wheaton College. The Chairman of the Board of Trustees wrote: “The unanimous vote reflects our deep confidence in Dr. Ryken’s ability to articulate and exemplify the College’s mission, and our conviction that he will provide strong academic and Christ-centered leadership for this new chapter in the life of Wheaton College, as well as in the academy at large.”
I share this “deep confidence.” Dr. Ryken continues the pastor-scholar model of leadership, which promises to guide the College in matters of the heart and the head. As the senior minister at the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Dr. Ryken will uphold evangelical heritage of the College. As a worldwide speaker and teacher, he will preach what philosopher Carl Raschke calls “the joyful inevitability of the coming GloboChrist.”
When I reflected on the eve of the next presidency, I claimed that what matters for the future of Evangelicalism matters for the future of the College: what are we doing to hasten the eschaton? Dr. Ryken has the intellectual and spiritual fitness to equip the heirs of Jonathan Blanchard in this vital task.
Thursday, February 18, 2010, 2:48 PM
I came across a very perceptive and fascinating comment from a young man who has come out of the house church/Emergent church movement into Lutheranism. No, this is not a shamless plug for Lutheranism, but rather, for the purpose of this blog site, it is a fascinating look into what a growing number of younger people are thinking/feeling about much that has been popular, and still is, in American Protestantism. And so you know, Lutheranism is by no means immune to these trends: these things are Tsunamai like waves washing over all of American Christianity, but there are more and more people growing tired of it all and taking another look at the historical roots of Reformational churches.
This is how I came across these remarks. Dr. Gene Edward Veith’s very popular book The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals has been released in a new revised and expanded edition. A comment was posted after Dr. Veith mentioned the book, by a man who identifies himself as Dan. Here is what he had to say:
“There are a few prevalent ideas that are very popular in the house church crowd, and I have fallen prey to them for quite some time. In many ways I am still coming out of all this. I’m going to answer your question about Veith’s book in a very round-a-bout way, stay with me.
“It is extremely couth to question authority and to doubt and challenge tradition in my generation. This comes as no surprise to most of you, but it is somehow embedded in my genes. In my personal observation (which may be very limited), it seems that most folks in my parents’ generation take the pastor’s word for it because they trust his authority. My generation doesn’t do that. You need to prove why I should trust you.
“After reading Frank Viola’s “Pagan Christianity,” I had a lot of questions and plenty of ammo. I went to several local pastors (a few of them LCMS) and none of them could give me an intelligible response to the book. One pastor had read the book and was questioning his own tradition as a result – we were practically in the same boat. The book really set me on a path of rejecting the institutional church for a couple of years, and it caused me to really study church history and how our Christian practices came to be. Unfortunately, it set me on the wrong path, but my studies in church history set me straight (largely due to the fact that my wife is earning an M.A. in Theology, so good church history books are abundant in our house). While Viola and Barna make profound points about some church practices, their church history leaves a lot to be desired. Their “analysis” is a mishmash of outdated secondary sources, out-of-context quotations, unsupported hypotheses, and personal prejudices. Even worse, on those occasions where legitimate experts on the field are cited (i.e., Dom Gregory Dix, Paul F. Bradshaw, Alexander Schmeman) their views are taken so out of context as to have them seemingly ally with the authors when in fact their views are quite the opposite. But no pastors were able to tell me that. I had to do my own research. Sadly, I don’t think most folks who read this book will do the same, nor do many know how.
“Despite having sorted through some of the faulty church history in “Pagan Christianity,” a lot of the ideology still stuck. Especially since it has been continually reinforced by books like “unChristian,” “Reimagining Church,” “Blue Like Jazz,” “Revolution,” “The Untold Story of the New Testament,” etc. In many ways, “Blue Like Jazz” got me started on this whole kick back when I attended Concordia Seward (prior to dropping out and leaving the church altogether). The book is still extremely popular in young adult circles, including in the LCMS.
“Only within the last year or so have I begun to deconstruct the deconstruction, so to speak. I began by reading “Why We’re Not Emergent” and “Why We Love the Church,” both by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Those books helped me realize that “so much that passes for spirituality these days is nothing more than middle class, 20-something coffee culture. If you like jazz, soul patches, earth tone furniture, and lattes, that’s cool. But this culture is no holier than the McNugget, Hi-C, Value City, football culture that most people live in. Why does incarnational ministry usually mean hanging out at Starbucks instead of McDonalds?” (Kevin DeYoung, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2009/01/29/jesus-came-to-save-grimace-and).
“But these books and all my research thus far still only brought me to a point where I essentially could respect the institutional church as a valid form of ministry, but I still thought it was the least effective approach and continued to hold most of my Viola/Barna-inspired prejudices.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010, 9:00 AM
What should we make of the media attention that surrounds viral videos, such as the wedding ceremony in St. Paul, Minnesota, where hip-hop music releases the Dionysiac energy of a bride and groom who groove down the church aisle? Trivia – in a word. What should we make of the buzz that surrounds viral essays, such as Andrew Chignell’s account of what went wrong during the Litfin presidency at Wheaton College? Drama – in a word.
Chignell is no outsider to Wheaton (Class of 1996). Nor am I (Class of 1998). His parents did graduate work at the school. His father taught in the chemistry department for 25 years. And his brothers are alumni. After graduating from the “evangelical Harvard” – an insult if you share Harry Lewis’ view that Harvard offers “excellence without a soul” – Chignell earned his doctorate at an Ivy League (Yale) and then secured a professorship at another one (Cornell). With experience in real and faux Ivy Leagues, he wrote “Whither Wheaton?” for Books & Culture, which was primed to wake up its evangelical readers when the CEO of Christianity Today International – the owner of the magazine – rejected the exposé. SoMa Review, an online journal with a Tillichian appetite for liberal Christianity, welcomed the airing of dirty laundry.
Dramatization was bound to happen when the author committed an entire website to the article with a “story behind the story,” detailing his Herculean fight against the specter of censorship. There is no intrigue here: politics often plays a role in whether an article is published or not published.
Sunday, January 17, 2010, 4:39 PM
Now that we have had a post on the improvement in Dominos’ pizza, I thought I might spice things up a bit here as well. A tad provocative, to be sure, sure to cause some angst in both Roman Catholics and Reformed/Protestant Evangelicals all around, but nonetheless interesting to consider:
“Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Athanasius and Ireneaus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the [First] Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation. For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. And just as the very nature of the Reformed Church emphasizes its strong opposition to the medieval church, so the very nature of the Lutheran Church requires it to go to the farthest possible limit in its insistence on its solidarity and identity with the Catholic Church. It was no mere ecclesiastico-political diplomacy which dictated the emphatic assertion in the Augsburg Confession that the teachings of the Evangelicals were identical with those of the orthodox Catholic Church of all ages, and no more was it romanticism or false conservatism which made our church anxious to retain as much of the old canonical law as possible, and to cling tenaciously to the old forms of worship.”
Hermann Sasse, Here We Stand, pp. 110-11.
Friday, January 8, 2010, 8:54 AM
I’m not a poet. Actually, a more candid statement more accurately state that I’m just about as far removed from being a poet and possessing poetic sensibilities as one might get. When I read prose fiction, I don’t see words … images and a sense of what transpires moves through my consciousness as my eyes and the reading process occurs at an unconscious level. When the story gets slow or I’m hurried by external circumstances, I turn the pages faster and the story picks up. Writing as a result comes very hard for me, as normally I don’t interact with sentence, phrase, and the art of the written word. Thus most of my reading misses and fails to perceive the quality and beauty of the prose. Narrative, yes, that I get, wordcraft not so much.
Similarly modern evangelical movements, especially in the US, are for the most part barking up the wrong tree. All to often they fall back on Pharisaic proclamations declaiming legalist standards regarding behavioural norms. There are indeed scriptural precedents for this. Scripture, for example Jeremiah and the minor prophets, abound in strong declarations of consequences of forgetting and falling away from God. But, for the most part, these same minor prophets are inspired by the Spirit of God and also promise reconciliation and a restoration of the covenant after a period of exile. I might suggest that few of those making those proclamations are in a position to offer the same promises, for they are not speaking as God’s prophets.
It is a Christian dogma that we come to Christ through the action of the Spirit of God working within us, drawing us to Him and to seek his Grace. So, how does that work? What does that action look like? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously remarked that the line between good and evil passes through every human heart, so too one might paraphrase this to offer that another line (perhaps with hook attached) can be found in every human heart, that being the one of the Spirit pointing out God to man. But unlike the more obvious maxim of Mr Solzhenitsyn it might be instructive to spend a moment considering what sort of features God’s hook in my heart looks like and what part in me it might be. (more…)
Tuesday, January 5, 2010, 9:06 AM
The very definition of “evangelical” becomes confused after reading the works of certain writers and theologians. One might be tempted to think that evangelical is to be understood by way of attitudes or sentiments. This represents an error in understanding what it means to be an evangelical.
There is an evangelical attitude. It may not be practiced well by all, but it was clarified by Menno Simons who said that a true evangelical faith is not dormant. It is socially engaged. The evangelical faith is socially active. This can be seen all around us, I the pro-life movement (especially CPCs), the rescue missions, and historically in the anti-slavery movement. But this attitude is not exclusive to evangelicalism. Rome does a fine job in the charity world. The attitude does not set the evangelical apart.
There is an evangelical sentiment. Evangelicals call people to repent from sin. Some do it in the public square. Some do it in revival-style meetings. Some do it in home Bible studies, or from the pulpit. But that again is not exclusively evangelical. Other fellowships also call people to repent from sine.
Can evangelicalism then be reduced to a minimalist and selective attitude about doctrine? That is, are evangelicals simply the primitive theologians of the church? Are they spending their time in the Bible and forgetting the whole history of theological development? Yes, in a way.
The evangelical posits this requirement: To become a Christian is to repent wholly and unreservedly from sin, in a direct and unobstructed relationship with God, on the foundation of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, by faith apart from works. A repentance which is less in scope is not repentance; a repentance which requires the intervention of others is not to God; a repentance to God without Christ is lacking; a repentance which materially adds any human energy is not repentance. This is what it means to become a Christian. That is the foundation of evangelicalism. It sets itself distinct from other groups which refuse these requirements.
One implication of this is that a fellowship which claims Christ may be generally “Christian” but not truly born-from-above Christian. This leaves those who intentionally include the unrepentant under the umbrella of God’s kingdom having a misconception of what it means to be actually in the kingdom as a child of the King. They are deceiving the unrepentant into believing that the church has authority to save them, or at least allow them entrance into purgatory.
Repentance does not require revivalism. No altar call is necessary. The requirement is that repentance be full and complete. This means that one sees Jesus as Lord in all and of all (Romans 10:9, Matthew 7:21). It does not mean that sin is allowed, but only that it is acknowledged, with the believer willing to take responsibility and continue in the acknowledgement of sin (I John 1). Christ is Lord over the scope of the human life (περιπατέω).
Yes, one can find persons of an evangelical faith in the other non-evangelical groups.
Being Protestant does not equate to being evangelical. Not all Protestants departed from the errors of Rome because of their doctrinal errors (e.g., divorce). Historic evangelicalism encompasses both the Reformation and Anabaptist movements with their emphasis on personal faith, personal repentance, direct access to God, and the authority of the Word over the church. Evangelicalism is found in the fellowships and denominations built around this faith. It is this movement that takes it beyond being a conversation on distinctive doctrines.
The evangelical has gone nowhere. But the definition of evangelical seems to be in flux.
Monday, January 4, 2010, 12:56 PM
“… I met so many Christians who felt guilty of doubting, as if doubt was the opposite of faith, and that’s not true. The opposite of faith is unbelief. Doubt is a halfway stage, it’s being of two minds, you half believe and you half don’t believe. Like a spinning coin, it’s going come down one way or the other. Doubt is either going to be resolved and go back to faith or be left unresolved and move on to unbelief.” -Os Guinness
“…always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth”- 2nd Timothy 3:7
“so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”- Ephesians 4:14-15
[Read Part One]
[Read Part Two]
It’s supposed to mean something when the clock strikes twelve on the last turn of the calendar.
Place your birthday, alongside Val Kilmer, on December 31st and it’s easy to learn from a young age the incredible melodramatic flatness that accompanies the human means of celebrating change. Sitting here this bitingly cold Monday morning, I’m trying to remember a year where the addition of one more candle on the cake, or the chiming of a fresh calendar cycle, actually ignited some significant chord within my reflections.
A birthday for me, a birthday for humanity. You’re a year older. The world still exists. Can you feel the enthusiasm?
We want one day to mean something. We want a defining moment where everything gets turned around and, in a Damascus-bright moment, the moment of truth hits us and we are converted to a new and higher way. Some people get that in a particularly dramatic conversion story, or a tender nuptial— yes, there was a wedding in my weekend — but the majority of days proceed just like the one before, and we are left feeling despondent that we don’t feel like we should in this specific moment.
We want articles that we read and the speakers we hear, to do the same thing as the start of a new year, but true change rarely comes with the perfect rhetorical pronouncement or carefully typed paragraph. This final part of the conversation with Guinness isn’t meant to be some sort of capstone to a revolutionary new vision of purpose and action, but rather a moment to stop, evaluate beliefs and ask, “Where do we go from here?”
Hopefully, in the vein of the two verses at the beginning, it’ll be to a place of greater Christ-centered reflection, directed towards the purpose of growth and action
Gay Marriage, Abortion, and the future of the church after the jump
Wednesday, December 30, 2009, 8:00 AM
“…a steadily rising equivalent of the European repudiation of religion climaxing in the new atheist. We have created the monster we dislike, and it’s our fault.” -Os Guinness
[Read: Part One]
My father told me I shouldn’t play poker.
Don’t worry, a striving towards some form of higher morality wasn’t at the heart of this command. Card games weren’t the devil’s playthings or anything in my family, my dad just didn’t want to see me lose consistently. It’s a hard thing to bluff and hold your cards until its time to triumphantly reveal them– patience isn’t always one of my virtues– and when you’ve got a face that fluctuates faster than the colors on a thirteen year old girl’s mood ring, poker may not be the wisest game of choice.
Clumsy intro, I know, but as the comments have started piling up on the first part of this conversation with Guinnesss, it’s been hard for me to not just flip the rest of the text of the interview and put everything out on the table for you to read. Consider this a poorly handled slow play.
Before moving to the new part of the interview, one note on the definition of Evangelicalism that has sparked much of the debate. When you’re trying to understand what Guinness believes about Evangelicalism, I’d encourage you to follow the advice of Rev. Mike and “go re-read the Evangelical Manifesto.”
Guinness tackles new atheism, the emergent church and the greatest theological problem facing the church in this section. Read, think and keep up the lively discussion.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009, 9:11 AM
In a recent post, Nathan Martin shared some interesting observations by Os Guinness about the state of Evangelicalism. It is a thought-provoking post. It made me realize that for all the years I’ve been reading about, and studying, Evangelicalism, self-understanding and self-definition remain, at least as far as I can tell, ever-elusive. What is that? And, for that matter, on this blog site, called, Evangel, do the contributors to this blog site share a common understanding or hold to a common definition of what Evangelicalism is? I’d be very interested to hear what this understanding and definition is.
Mr. Stott, as pointed out by Justin Taylor, has a great essay making an attempt to answer the question. But, I’m still left wondering: what book, or books, could a person point to and say, “Here is the core beliefs of Evangelicals.” Or is such such precision of definition impossible? As a Lutheran, it would be my impression that there are some doctrinal tenets shared in common, but then again would be hard pressed to point to one source for such doctrinal definition, as we Lutherans have it in our Book of Concord.
So, what is Evangelicalism? What does it mean? Where is it found? How is it done?
Monday, December 28, 2009, 3:18 PM
“..for instance in England, there was a vogue for the term, “post-Evangelical.” That’s absolutely ludicrous. If someone is an ex-Evangelical, in other words, they once were an Evangelical, but no longer are, then terrific. At least they’re honest enough to say so, I mean that’s sad, but they’re honest. To be post-Evangelical says nothing. What are they, positively? Are they liberal Christians, catholic Christians, orthodox Christians, neo-Orthodox, what are they? Post-Evangelical just says what they were, it says nothing about they are. All the post-y terms are useless…
“The way I defined (Evangelicalism), it’d be foolish to be past it, you should be back to it. There was a time when Billy Graham came back from the Soviet Union, and the liberal churchmen from the council of churches said that Billy Graham had, “set the clock back 50 years for the church,” and Billy answered, “I wish I had set the church back 2,000 years.” In other words, Evangelicals should always be going back as a close a system as we can, to Jesus.”
When Os Guinness speaks, you don’t want to miss a single word.
Some people clamor for your ear, trying to insert themselves into the forefront of cultural and political discussions but with Guinness, there is none of that hurried move to the “hook.” There is a sense of urgency and importance to each gently-accented thought coming from the 68-year old social critic that demands your careful attention. With a thoughtfully nuanced perspective, rooted deeply in the truths of Christianity and a life well-lived, Guinness has helped to provide a center to the solar system of Christian intellectual and cultural discussion.
This foundational member of the Evangelical Manifesto was gracious enough to talk about what it truly means to be an Evangelical, the future of the church, and why styling oneself a “post-evangelical” is “absolutely ludicrous.”
Tuesday, December 22, 2009, 10:10 AM
Mr Turk makes an interesting point in the conversation about ecumenical conversations, although I’m not entirely sure it’s the point he wants to make. A week or so ago he offered that those of other denominations, specifically the Roman and Easter churches were right with God only if they (accidentally) held to a Evangelical belief/approach to the Gospel. I think this point of view is held far more often by most people in every church/denomination. That is to say that any Christian church X thinks that members of church Y are in the soteriological pink inasmuch as those members in church Y (accidentally) hold to beliefs that are held in church X. That is, Mr Turk as an Evangelical thinks that the Catholic and Orthodox are saved if they hold an Evangelical understanding of the Gospel and those in the Roman hold that the Evangelical and Eastern are likewise correct when and where they (accidentally) hold to the Roman understanding of Gospel. And so on. Now I had been under the impression that I was “above the fray” in this regard. But on reflection, I am not. (more…)
Saturday, December 19, 2009, 8:02 AM
I can’t think of a more foolish attitude I harbor at times than when I look back on previous generations and assume they were ignorant, unenlightened, unaware and totally outside of what I’m thinking and experiencing today. I was reminded of something the British writer G.K. Chesterton wrote in his book Orthodoxy (Chapter 4):
“Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” Chesterton goes on to say: “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”
And here’s the rub. While it is absolutely true that previous generations did not have the same technologies or understanding of “how things work” in their world, is there such a vast difference between 21st century people and those of previous centuries? Are we so far removed we think we can not possibly learn anything from our fathers, grandfathers and ancestors in the past. I’m particularly struck by this when I consider, as I grow older, how my own parents appear ever increasingly wise. The tradition in Asian culture of revering elders has much to commend it. Today, we regard those older than us as people who, obviously, are not as “in touch” with “reality” as we are. And even more so do we view our ancestors as hopelessly irrelevant.
Here’s some concrete examples of where I see the arrogant oligarchy in action over against those who have come before. Christian worship: Why is it that in the past twenty-five years the worship forms that have been used for thousands of years, have come to be regarded as wholly inadequate and must be replaced with forms that have little in common with the historic worship forms of the past? Why do I sometimes assume that nobody can possibly understand how I’m feeling when faced with a difficult situation who is a member of a generation far removed from mine? Why did I, for example, the other day when looking at Starck’s Prayer Book, smile at the fact that there were prayers there to be prayed as a thunderstorm approached and to be prayed after it was over? “Oh, how quaint,” I thought. Then I felt shame, as I considered the fact that dangerous thunderstorms back when there were no safe buildings, or emergency services, or advanced warning, were devastating.
Do you have some examples from your life where you see yourself as part of the arrogant oligarchy? Would you share some by way of comments?
Wednesday, December 16, 2009, 3:07 PM
I commend to you this post by Albert Mohler and heartily concur with his wise assessment of the tragedy of Oral Robert’s ministry:
“In the end, however, Oral Roberts should be measured by his message. Though his claims of visions and healings drew deserved attention, along with both scrutiny and embarrassment, it was the core of his message that is most problematic. In his prime years, Roberts was the most significant agent for prosperity theology of his day. Prosperity theology teaches that God promises his people financial gain and bodily health. It is a false Gospel that turns the Gospel of Christ upside-down. The true Gospel offers forgiveness of sins and leads to a life of discipleship. Following Christ demands poverty more often than wealth, and we are not promised relief from physical ills, injury, sickness, or death. Christians die along with all other mortals, but we are promised the gift of eternal life in Christ. There is tragedy in the sight of the City of Faith turned from a hospital into an office complex. In recent years scandal has erupted at Oral Roberts University, though stability may have been recently regained. Most Americans probably remember Oral Roberts, if at all, through his television ministry of decades past. Others will associate him only with the bizarre — visions of a 900-ft Jesus and the rest. But the greatest tragedy in all this is the perpetuation of prosperity theology, passed on by Oral Roberts to a new generation. I am thankful for every sinner who came to know the Gospel of Christ through the preaching of Oral Roberts, and I heard him preach about salvation in ways that were true and powerful. But I can only lament the prosperity theology that he leaves in his long shadow.”
Monday, December 14, 2009, 9:05 PM
Frank Turk, cf this post, is down on wiggly ecumenism. And in this he is right. But it also seems out that he’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. For there’s an important, and very difficult, first step toward ecumenism that he is not doing very well, especially regarding the East. Different traditions, as part of their growing apart, develop their own terminology. Even where they use the same words, they don’t often have the same meaning. Thus the first step of any ecumenical discussion is to find a common language for communication. This is one thing that one would hope a platform like Evangel and god-blogging in general can accomplish. (more…)
Saturday, December 12, 2009, 5:35 PM
In his current Evangel bio, Frank Turk lists one of his pastimes as “internet mayhem.” As evidenced by the current offense taken to him by Mark Olsen and various commenters at Evangel, he obviously hasn’t lost his spiritual gift in that matter. However, as he read through Olson’s last post, and after reviewing the procession of torches and pitchforks coming for him in that lonely castle on the hill outside town, Frank was surprised to learn that it wasn’t the actual Calvinistic monster that he is which all the haters want to destroy: it’s one they have created themselves out of the dead scraps of their own personal points of view.
In an effort to destroy that monster, and thereby save the internet villagers from themselves and their allegedly well-intention internet vigilantism (because of course: someone on the internet is wrong), the following interview has been provided.
You may be right to lynch Frank in the end, but his message is clear: at least head to the right mad scientist’s lair. and also: fire – good!
Monday, December 7, 2009, 3:35 AM
Just a pointer here to some wise thoughts posted recently by Steve Holmes, at his blog Shored Fragments. Having opined in public previously on the question of what makes evangelical theology evangelical, he reports a recent breakthrough in his own thinking: It’s not so much a set of doctrines that identify the movement, as it is a shared set of decisions about how important those doctrines are.
Holmes says, “The distinctiveness of evangelical theology is not so much its doctrinal content, as its shape. Evangelicals are people who see different things as central, when compared to other Christians.” As evidence, he points to the way a pan-evangelical movement emerged around the end of the eighteenth century, “a calculated and deliberate attempt to put to one side, almost as adiaphora, the then-decisive questions of church order and the doctrines of grace in order to embrace a shared focus on the power of a broad protestant theology to change society for the better.”
Holmes is right. The move from doctrines on the one hand, to decisions about their relative weight on the other, doesn’t get him out of all the necessary fights, of course, since one of the main things Christians disagree about is how much we disagree about. But drawing a circle around those ranking-decisions seems more promising in determining what Holmes calls “the shape” of evangelical thought.
And (one last thing for what was going to be a link-only post) it reminds me a little bit of what J. C. Ryle, the Anglican bishop of Liverpool, said when he tried to identify just exactly what he was fighting for in the Church of England. First he presented a list of the various doctrines which characterized the evangelical side of the Anglican tradition: the supremacy of Scripture, the depth of sin, the importance of the work of Christ, and the necessity of both an inward and outward working of the Holy Spirit. But second, he admitted that many Anglicans who were “outside the Evangelical body, are sound in the main about the five points I have named, if you take them one by one.” What was missing, according to Ryle, was the emphasis:
Propound them separately, as points to be believed, and they would admit them every one. But they do not give them the prominence, position, rank, degree, priority, dignity, and precedence which we do. And this I hold to be a most important difference between us and them. It is the position which we assign to these points, which is one of the grand characteristics of Evangelical theology. We say boldly that they are first, foremost, chief, and principal things in Christianity, and that want of attention to their position mars and spoils the teaching of many well-meaning Churchmen. (Knots Untied (1885), p. 8.)
Again, it’s about that set of core doctrines, but it’s even more about the fact that they are at the core, getting the “prominence, position, rank, degree, priority, dignity, and precedence” that they require. Or, as Ryle goes on to say, somewhat more feistily and less irenically, “a religion to be really “Evangelical” and really good, must be the Gospel, the whole Gospel, and nothing but the Gospel, as Christ prescribed it and expounded it to the Apostles; the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; the terms, the whole terms, and nothing but the terms,—in all their fulness, all their freeness, all their simplicity, all their presentness.”
Tuesday, December 1, 2009, 11:03 AM
The occasion of the Manhattan declaration has given an opportunity for a number of evangelicals, including Evangel’s very own very active Frank Turk, to profess that the primary reason he will not sign is that it was done in concert with Roman Catholics, and apparently even worse than that, with the Eastern Orthodox. Ecumenism is to be anathematized. His point of view, and in fact his very reason for not signing, is not unique but is representative of a number of prominent bloggers and those who self-label as Evangelicals who share his point of view. He writes:
I’ve said it elsewhere, so it should be no surprise when I say it here that I am sure there are Catholics who are saved, and likewise for the occasional Eastern Orthodox you may run into who exercises an Evangelical (large “E” intended) understanding of Jesus and the consequences of Him; but to throw out the wide blanket and just call all of these groups “Christian” in an overly-broad sociological sense, and to call all of them “believers” in the sense required to make the rest of the reasoning in this document is much.
This, to my ears, sounds very Pharisaic. Here we have Mr Turk standing in judgement of the whole of Catholicism and Orthodoxy and finding them wanting … except those few who secretly are “Evangelical.” Well, fortunately (apparently) for me, Mr Turk is not my judge, for I have a Judge already. It seems to me the Gospel has a few things to say about those trying to put themselves in the place of that Judge. (more…)
Sunday, November 29, 2009, 8:52 PM
It’s stupid to even entertain the question. But every time I see it posed, it isn’t for getting people to focus on issues instead of remaining blind devotees to political parties. Intentional or not, it often serves as a way to distract people from important issues that do deserve our attention. “How can we come together as a nation instead of remaining so divided?” The unspoken fallacy occurs when it is stated that Jesus was neither a democrat or a republican. Are we really suppose to believe he wouldn’t have had a view on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, or gay marriage? When the highest moral value of a culture is unity at the expense of principle, there is no real unity and we can wonder if principles ever existed in the first place.
So when people in the pews hear their church leaders espouse this same ideal, that we should be cautious about political partisanship (generously stated), I’m not convinced the people are sophisticated enough to know that they aren’t being (or shouldn’t be) told to abandon positions on issues that are thought out and held up against the light of scripture. I know that many in the church are ill-equipped to think theologically about their personal lives, let alone matters that face our entire culture. So I have to wonder if this lack of distinction between public issues and politics in general even matters if the church is unable to think theologically, if its members are just starting to develop a Christian worldview.
Could the above reflections have any relationship to the fact that of the millions of evangelicals in the U.S., less than of us 200,000 have signed on to the Manhattan Declaration? And many of the signers are likely Roman Catholic.
Thursday, November 26, 2009, 12:31 AM
This is a topic I’ve been reflecting on for awhile now, so while I know it doesn’t fit ideally with the current Thanksgiving motif, I didn’t want to squander these thoughts.
I don’t often navigate in the world of worship ministry, so I have no idea if or to what extent this has been a topic of discussion. However, I am not so sheltered that I am unaware of the debates over contemporary vs. traditional music/worship services. Ok, so by now you’re wondering where I am going…here it is. (more…)
Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 10:47 AM
The question was raised by Jared regarding the significance of Leftist concerns (to me and to this site) and our understanding of what it means to be “evangelical”. If we accept that evangelical theology is the most orthodox, the closest to the teachings of the Word, then it follows that, among other things, we respond to our critics.
The predominant world view today is not the Christian world view. It is Marxism. It shows itself in international affairs (our Wilsonian foreign policy), in national affairs (the many socialist and communist nations), in economic movements (the redistributive efforts of many who might call themselves evangelical), in psychology (i.e., Eric Fromm), in social agendas (the class wars of the social dialectic), and much more. Including the green movement.
Marxism represents Hegel’s godless theodicy as the ugliest which humanity can become. Marxism always leaves death in its wake. Whether Hitler (10M), Stalin (40M), Pol Pot (3M), or Mao (50M) – big numbers – too big to fathom. Still, every day in our country the Left promotes and protects the bloodshed of its continued eugenics program through abortion, euthanasian, and infanticide. We minister in these areas often and effectively, but I suspect lack an historical context for assessing the efforts of these killers.
Marxism provides an opportunity to minister, not only by working to clean up the mess that it leaves behind (the post-enlightenment philosophers were responsible for the deaths of roughly 1 of every 100 people who even lived on the earth in the 20th century), but to confront it as a heresy and present an alternative model (Mt. 5:13-14) for society. But alas, we have few models and the best we can do right now is to confront the heresy and the bloodshed that it leaves behind.
As one early anabaptist put it: True evangelical faith does not lie sleeping. And while we cannot make this a better world for the mere sake of goodness (nor should we try), we can minister in all areas for the advancement and clarification of the gospel against its challengers. Some of the challengers may appear to be mere philosophical entities, but, as Richard Weaver put it, Ideas Have Consequences. And so does silence.
Monday, November 23, 2009, 1:01 AM
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So Joe posted a link to the new Manhattan Declaration which came out late last week, and in the comments it came out that I agree with the morals of the document but think this documents and others like it obscure the Gospel. Collin, my co-blogger here at Evangel, didn’t see what I meant (prolly because I didn’t explain a lick of it), so I’m going to give an apologia for myself here and hope that it makes something like good sense.
The first thing is this: it’s pretty hard to deny the precepts of the “in the image of God” apologetic for the sanctity of life, and the Genesis/Ephesians apologetic for the presuppositional category of marriage standing prior to any legal sanction of the thing. I have myself made both arguments to others in the past as these are broadly-Christian ideas; they are certainly consequences of a “Nicene” christianity (Big “N”, small “c” intended).
But, as a second point, I wonder if the argument for religious liberty here is entirely satisfactory. I think I agree with the conclusion and would in some way renovate the path to get there — because as a Christian, I think all other paths to God lead to God-in-his-wrath and not to God-in-His-eternal-love. The idea that man has an obligation of conscience to follow God as he sees fit comes apart quickly when we understand that man’s conscience (broken as every man’s conscience is) is actually part of the problem with this world. Moreover, everyone who rejects the Son rejects the Father who sent Him. I’m not sure we do anyone any favors by telling them, “well — if that’s what floats your boat …”; I’m pretty sure that is the antithesis of the Gospel.
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