Wednesday, March 30, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - PHILOSOPHICAL NATURALISM

Carson’s sixth point is that the modern age saw an increase of philosophical naturalism. This position assumes that matter, energy, space and time is all there is. Increasingly, it was thought that the study of such would give us answers to age-old human questions. Though this did not immediately result in enmity between Christianity and science, it seems to be linked to an increase in Deism and Atheism. When, finally, Charles Darwin set forth his propositions, a rejection of Theism became, for many, intellectually respectable. That these developments are characteristic of modernism is quite important.

Let us realize that the atmosphere we are raised in influences certain basic assumptions we embrace. Let us also realize, as a bit of a side issue, that an influence is different from a cause. Many people accept elements of naturalism as though there are no alternatives, as though it’s foolish to believe anything else. What needs to be understood is that naturalism has limitations which make it unfit to answer certain questions in certain areas of life. For very good insights about this I refer the reader to the following link: A Matter of Gravity

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - AHISTORICAL UNIVERSALITY

Carson’s fifth point about modernism is that it assumed ahistorical universality. Again, I emphasize that the factors we are currently considering are intended to provide a backdrop for understanding factors about postmodernism as it influences our current age. That modernism assumed ahistorical universality means that the truth it sought was seen as objective and universal. There was variation in the approach taken to arrive at such truth but it was seen as something there to be approached. It wasn’t true because we made it true and it was not altered by our approach or other factors related to history, culture, language, race, etc. That’s not to say that such factors have no influence in one’s approach, but the truth being sought is objective and universal, beyond such factors. It was not assumed that such factors possessed the inherent capacity to prevent one from arriving at the objective, universal truth that was present.

By way of a closing commentary, I must allude to the errant assumption of modernism that such truth is to be discovered by purely human reason and scientific method. This is a contrast between Biblical Theism and modernism. Does the failure to arrive at truth by way of human reason and scientific method justify the conclusion that we are to discard objective, universal truth? How much influence does history, culture, language and race have upon our ability to know the truth? The answer to these questions is extremely important.

Friday, March 25, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - ARRIVING AT TRUTH

Continuing with the observations D. A. Carson makes about the modern age, his fourth point is that it has a focus on method. As we consider these six observations, I think it’s worth noting that it is very often the case that a particular thing, in and of itself, might not be bad or wrong. The problem is (and I’m increasingly convinced that this is where we get ourselves in trouble), once un-tethered from a basic Biblical worldview, we find ourselves placing hope and trust in wrong things, the wrong way, for the wrong reason. This is true in little and big ways. As I’ve said before, our task is to put things in their proper place.

The focus on method characteristic of the modern age assumes the systematic formula of Common foundation + common (agreed upon) methods = knowledge, truth, conclusion. In the academic community, one was to state expectations and assumptions, clarify methods of procedure and produce conclusions. It was often the case that conclusions (good or bad) would be nullified if one’s methods for producing said conclusions were flawed or unacceptable. We can see how this places tremendous trust in method and sets the stage for great expectations from scientific investigation and empiricism.

Returning to the third observation regarding foundationalism, we can see that a change of foundation has a huge impact upon this formula. If the foundation includes God, intelligent design or recognition of reason, the stage is set for one’s methods producing considerably different conclusions than if the foundation excluded the aforementioned. Generally speaking, it is the case that methods will change more often and more easily than will foundations. However, when considering the postmodern age (which is ultimately my intention), we are looking at shifts in the foundation. In the modern age, the error is simply too much trust in human reason, independent of God. Though God was often included, He was often not in His proper place.

I conclude with a caution. It could well be argued that Descartes had good intentions as he attempted to find a way to encourage a common foundation upon which all could agree to proceed. However, minor shifts and “compromises” opened the door to rather unfortunate long-term results. As my ultimate interest relates to advancing the kingdom of God as opposed to advancing scientific or philosophic progress, I am cautiously suspicious that many of the tactics employed by the church in our age to create common ground upon which to engage and reach our postmodern culture will open the door to rather unfortunate long-term results.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chameleon or Muskoxen

In a lecture on the need and appropriate place for apologetics within the Christian church, Dick Keyes cautions believers about two unproductive extremes. He illustrates such extremes by using the behavior of two different animals, the chameleon and the muskoxen. Before expounding upon such behavior and drawing the comparison to the church, I would like to offer an observation pertaining to unhealthy extremes. In the process of finding a healthy, balanced, productive response to engaging the world, as we are to be in the world but not of the world, individuals and corporate bodies (applicable to “movements” also) tend to experience, what I refer to as, the pendulum factor. This is a tendency to swing from one extreme to another extreme in reactionary response to the previous extreme (often involving generational factors). Arriving at that healthy, balanced, productive posture is too often allusive. I have been observing this effect in significant measure in our current emerging church, emerging culture, postmodern Machiavellian atmosphere.

Likely characteristic of mainline churches fearfully responding to the threats of modernity is the Muskoxen Factor. The muskoxen have a distinctive defensive behavior that when the herd is threatened, the bulls and cows will face outward with their horns forward to form a stationary ring or semicircle around the calves. Their intention is obviously to keep intruders out in order to prevent their young from being exposed to danger. This behavior has its place in their environment and a similar reaction might have a proper, limited application within the church. However, for the body of Christ to assume such a posture as the rule, as opposed to the exception, proves unacceptable and unproductive. One difference we might mention that is often characteristic of Christians who assume this defensive position is that they are facing inward, not outward. The swing of the pendulum miraculously turns the muskox into a chameleon! The characteristic of a chameleon that is applicable in this illustration is that it undergoes changes that are generated by its environment, adapting and conforming to the surroundings for assumed benefit. This is the tendency of the postmodern pendulum. This is a swing that is taking a segment of the church on a ride to another, careless and unhealthy extreme.

We are to engage the world. We are to reach the world. We are to transform the world. If we are so busy protecting ourselves from the world that we never engage them we have no hope of bringing needed transformation. If we become like them in order to engage them, we have no hope of transforming them. In fact, the only transformation that we can expect is the one that we experience in becoming like the world. The chameleon approach is often justified with a reference to the Apostle Paul’s statement, “I have become all things to all men.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) Of course, in isolation we can make a lot of passages mean a lot of things that are clearly contrary to or beyond the intention of the writer in question. Could Paul be encouraging the chameleon approach? We must remember that this is the same man who said, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB) We must recognized that the Apostle Paul is the one who “did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20-21, NASB) When distinctions are lost (as with the chameleon approach), understanding of and the need for repentance is also lost. When this is lost, all is lost.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Post Modern and/or Post Christian (Part 2)

Having emphasized the need for a true Christian to love and trust God supremely (all of your heart) and love and trust His written revelation, I would like to add another important “component” to this arrangement. Jesus (remember Him) said, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will behold Me no more; but you will behold Me; because I live, you shall live also. In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.”

“Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us, and not to the world?’”

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.’” (John 14:16-26, NASB)

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, as we exercise responsibility on our level, to read and study the Word of God, the Holy Spirit engages in a ministry designed to teach us and lead us into an understanding of the truth. This could very well be a factor that the average non-Christian deconstructionist has not taken into consideration and of which he/she knows nothing of.

The Word of God is “…inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NASB)

The Spirit of God will “guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13)

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:1-4, NASB)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Post Modern and/or Post Christian

I have been expressing a concern about the impact that the cultural atmosphere of postmodernity is having upon the Christian church. When teaching a series called Elements of Evangelism, I have always emphasized that evangelism is a two-way street. The professing Christian is susceptible to intellectual, cultural and moral influence as they interact with the world around them. Some segments of the church respond to this by avoiding significant engagement with the “world.” This is not the answer. On the other side of this picture, there is the tendency to simply embrace everyone and everything as though there is no difference between the world and the church. There seems to be an assumption that if we only accept others, we’ve made positive headway. Both of these approaches will prove unproductive. It is my concern that we have experienced a homogenization that has had strange results for both our culture and the church. The phrase post Christian is likely the best phrase to describe both our culture and much of what is going on in the church. The strange affect that religious and moral relativism has on our culture is that we can use the word Christian to describe things that are not actually Christian. People need not have as their supreme allegiance a love of God in order to be a Christian. They need not have a resolve that the Bible contains (whether they understand them or not) principles by which we are to structure all aspects of individual and corporate life. Portions of the church increasingly shy away from making clear distinctions between a Christian and non-Christian, what is right and wrong, good and bad. For many churches, this is a central tactic in their church-growth formula. Others have rejected the term Christian because it conveys an unfavorable image in the mind of many. Unfortunately, the image of a Christian that replaces this tarnished image is based more on what our culture will be inclined to accept, not what Scripture communicates. In the process of engaging the culture, the two-way street factor has led to the church being shaped by and reflecting the culture instead of transforming the culture. In some cases, the very idea of evangelism is disdained as arrogant and belittling. Important and appropriate distinctions have been rejected in favor of an inappropriate and misguided view of tolerance that is incapable of transforming lives and improving cultural conditions.

The solution? We are in need of people whose love for and trust in God includes a love for and trust in His written revelation to mankind. We can philosophize and engage in various sociological attempts to expand the church but the greatest need we have is for people who are skilled in the use of Scripture to declare and expound upon the truth that sets people free. The church will only be as effective in its efforts to advance the kingdom of God as it is in effectively speaking the truth in love. This being the case, we can anticipate that truth will suffer attack in every age. The most challenging of these attacks is when the church itself, subtly or blatantly, tosses its own explosives into this battle against truth. In this age, the battlefield is covered by the hovering fog of postmodernism. As the church breaths in the haze and fumes floating across the battlefield becoming saturated by this postmodern mist, the battlefield becomes populated with one large homogenized army that fights against itself or fights against no one at all. Truth is compromised and distinctions are impossible to maintain. As those who embrace the reality that the Bible actually contains truth, we recognize the hermeneutical, exegetical and etymological challenges but we have not conceded to the deconstructionist influence that convinces people that it is not possible to arrive at truth. The solution? A genuine, intelligent commitment to the Living God and to His Living Word that produces greater numbers of capable expositors of Biblical truth in season and out of season.

“‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16, NASB)

Friday, March 18, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - BUILDING ON A FOUNDATION

I have been considering six basic characteristics of modernity as identified by D. A. Carson. As a point of clarification, I must say that by using these basic conclusions by Carson I do not want the reader to assume I agree with his broader theological perspectives. I have, however, found this effort to summarize the modern and postmodern ages is quite impressive and helpful. This being the case I will briefly address the third feature of modernity which is foundationalism, an epistemological approach that assumes certain self-evident beliefs as opposed to engaging in infinite regress or the need to justify every proposition stated. Though Descartes is known for a process which involved doubting everything or refusing to assume anything to be true, he offered, as a first principle upon which all can proceed, the idea that the fact that he doubted and thought proved that he existed (dubito ergo cogito ergo sum, most commonly stated as simply cogito ergo sum). This has become foundational in western, modern thought. Without imbibing a network of complex ideas, my main interest at this point is to emphasize that in the modern age of reasoning there were certain foundational presuppositions from which answers about life were sought. Quoting from Francis Schaeffer in The God Who is There we read, “What were these presuppositions? The basic one was that there really are such things as absolutes. [Modernity or what Schaeffer referred to as the age of reason] accepted the possibility of an absolute in the area of Being (or knowledge), and in the area of morals. Therefore, because they accepted the possibility of absolutes, though people might have disagreed as to what these were, nevertheless they could reason together on the classical basis of antithesis. They took it for granted that if anything was true, the opposite was false. In morality, if one thing was right, its opposite was wrong. This little formula, ‘A is A’ and ‘if you have A, it is not non-A,’ is the first move in classical logic. If you understand the extent to which this no longer holds sway, you will understand our present situation.” Though people might disagree on many things, they operated from the same foundation as they investigated and discussed such things. The shift that eventually moved away from this perspective Schaeffer referred to as “the line of despair.” This will enter into our thoughts about postmodernism when we begin considering its characteristics.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

The second characteristic of the modern age to which Dr. D. A. Carson alludes is that epistemological certainty is both desirable and attainable. In modernism, there is an abiding sense that human beings can and ought to have access to objective truth. The various philosophic structures that modern man has developed are founded on this assumption, that there is objective truth that we can arrive at purely by human reasoning. In the video series, How Should We Then Live, Francis Schaeffer illustrates this by drawing a circle in the sand that is crossed out and replaced by another circle that is crossed out and replaced by another circle, on and on. There are two problems that we should be aware of concerning this issue. First, it is a mistake to start and proceed purely by human reason, unaided by written revelation from the Infinite, Personal Creator. It is not that human reasoning is bad or wrong in and of itself, nor that truth is unattainable; it is simply that without the fixed reference that God, in His love and wisdom provides, man wanders astray too easily. This leads to the second problem which relates to a response that arose due to the failure of arriving at an agreed upon “circle”. Philosophers concluded that reason would not lead us to absolute truth and therefore “abandoned” reason as the pathway to enlightenment. I put abandoned in quotations because man never truly abandoned reason since reason was involved in determining what unreasonable approach we would try next. The aforementioned step produced a wide variety of manifestations both pragmatically and philosophically. This step, as well, contributed to the gradual undoing of the modern age and the rise of the postmodern age. Schaeffer, in the teaching referred to above, speaks of this in terms of The Age of Non Reason and the Age of Fragmentation. In my next entry I will consider the role that foundationalism played in the modern age.

“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18, NASB)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - RAIDERS OF THE LOST CAUSE

In my previous post, I listed six observations that Dr. Don Carson identified about modernity in a lecture on postmodernism. The first of these six is that a modern epistemology begins with the finite “I” as opposed to the pre-modern epistemology that began with the infinite God. Often, this is presented in such a way that it appears to be a very strategic, distinct break from a previous way of thinking. There is good evidence that this shift was much more subtle and much less intended as a rejection of God, Christianity or religion in general. In The Theological Origins of Modernity, Michael Allen Gillespie states, “The argument presented in this book suggests that it is a mistake to imagine that modernity is in its origins and at its core atheistic, antireligious, or even agnostic. Indeed, I will show in what follows that from the very beginning modernity sought not to eliminate religion but to support and develop a new view of religion and its place in human life, and that it did so not out of hostility to religion but in order to sustain certain religious beliefs. As we shall see, modernity is better understood as an attempt to find a new metaphysical/theological answer to the question of the nature and relation of God, man, and the natural world that arose in the late medieval world as a result of a titanic struggle between contradictory elements within Christianity itself.” He goes on to state, “I will argue further that while this metaphysical/theological core of the modern project was concealed over time by the very sciences it produced, it was never far from the surface, and it continues to guide our thinking and action, often in ways we do not perceive or understand.”

Whether or not Gillespie effectively supports his case is up for debate but, personally, I believe there is validity to this perspective. As I see it, the pre-modern perspective that placed God at the center, though this is proper, had other weaknesses that led to the shift in question. Since literature, including the Bible, had limited access to the common person, religious ideas, and therefore faith, took on an increasing air of superstition. Carelessly and foolishly, certain practices were encouraged and embraced that had little or nothing to do with Biblical Christianity. However, for many, these practices began to characterize Christianity. It appears as though the added emphasis on human reason was aimed more at the superstitious elements of religious practice than at the core values and truths of a theistic epistemology. Unfortunately, the imbalance that eventually surfaced pit reason against faith and science against religion. This is an unnecessary and inappropriate imbalance. There is an appropriate relationship between faith and reason and, it is very much the case that science is best founded on a theistic worldview than an atheistic worldview.

I believe it is accurate to say that the epistemology of modernity began with the finite “I” as opposed to the infinite God but I also believe that the original efforts in this change of perspective were not intended to remove, ignore or eliminate God. It was and has proven to be an unfortunate and counterproductive shift. This brings me to a HUGE caution as I evaluate current trends in the church in regard to postmodernity. I am very concerned that many activities and efforts employed among the ranks of the church will prove to be unfortunate and counterproductive. Some of this can be relegated to an immature and thoughtless (or maybe wise in their own eyes) segment of the church but some of it is coming from the intellectual corners. Descartes and Hobbes were huge intellects but it is wrong to assume that intellectuals cannot mislead a generation and a culture. Often, tactics that seem good in the immediate have a terrible backlash.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

Friday, March 11, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - LEARNING ABOUT SHIFTING

The following entries are not designed to be a doctoral thesis, but rather an overview that is intended to aid in our understanding of current cultural trends so we, the church, can navigate tendencies to go astray and prepare to minister effectively to and within the current culture. I will draw from six prevailing characteristics of modernity and the parallels present in postmodernity offered by Dr. Don Carson. Since historical periods blend, overlap and run together, I am not going to attempt to apply specific dates. Neither will I attempt to identify individuals who contributed to shifts that take place.

In order to understand the age in which we live I will refer to basic factors of the pre-modern age, the modern age and the postmodern age. The point of reference, as we consider these ages, will be their basic approach toward epistemology (how we know what we know).

In the pre-modern age, dominate intellectuals operated from the foundation that there is a God who possesses knowledge of all that can be known. As human beings, God created us in such a way that, as He has disclosed His knowledge to us, we are capable of knowing some of what God knows. This disclosure comes through the natural order, written revelation, reason, community, church, etc. Though there was disagreement about how much and what was disclosed, the discussion proceeded from a common epistemological foundation.

It seems that it is generally assumed that this epistemological foundation was determined to be insufficient and strategically discarded but there is good evidence that it did not happen this way. I believe it is important to understand that the way in which the shift from a pre-modern to a modern epistemology took place was as a result of emphasizing the importance of operating from a common foundation. Due, however, to the increased numbers of deists and atheists in the scholastic community who, obviously, could not employ the aforementioned foundation, efforts were made to identify a common foundation from which the theist, deist and atheist could operate. As these efforts were made, a bridge was inadvertently built which led into a significant epistemological shift. The common ground between the theist, deist and atheist was “I”. It appears as though Rene Descartes, a devout Catholic, believed that we could arrive at the same conclusions from either foundation since truth is truth. In order to be inclusive, the foundation was shifted to “I” as expressed in his noted, “I think, therefore I am”. This inadvertently led to a considerable epistemological shift.

Before describing the characteristics of the modern age that emerged, I would like to suggest that certain efforts being made by the church to engage the culture could very likely encourage a further detrimental shift in conjunction with certain postmodern concepts. The problem is not the desire to engage the culture but, rather, potentially careless ways we do so. One final point before I list the six characteristic of the modern age that Don Carson highlights in a lecture on the topic of postmodernism. I believe Christians must be leery of being directly identified by or connected with modernity or postmodernity. Our efforts must be to avoid the trends that weaken our ability to arrive at truth and serve to correct, not identify with, such trends.

Six important characteristics that surfaced as a modern epistemology are as follows:
1. It begins with the finite “I” as opposed to infinite God
2. Epistemological certainty is both desirable and attainable
3. Foundationalism
4. Focus on method
5. The assumption of “a-historical universality”
6. The rise (increase) of philosophical naturalism

In upcoming entries, I will expound upon these six characteristics and then comment on their connection with postmodernity.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - NAVIGATING THE HIGHWAY TO TRUTH (Pr.16:17 & Is.35:8)

I believe all truth, if it be truth, is God’s truth. In reference to moral and natural law, truth is a constant, an absolute. Let’s not confuse this with the use of the word truth as it applies to such things as, “It is true that I made crab bisque on Sunday”, a reference to an experience that became true once it happened. I believe the Bible contains truth about moral principles for individual and corporate life. In our study of Scripture and of nature we might uncover and, therefore, gain an understanding of truth that we previously did not have, but the truth was there as a constant all along. Truth has a multitude of applications but the application does not alter the truth. In other words, truth about justice will apply to the guilty differently than it will to the innocent. Cultures might have different expressions of truth (as well as expressions that have nothing to do with truth) but culture does not create nor does it alter truth. In other words, different cultures might have different wedding traditions but if they express truth about the necessity of commitment and faithfulness within a marriage relationship, they are simply different ways of recognizing and expressing this truth.

I am in favor of dialogue and yet I would caution that we do not assume that having dialogue is an end, in and of itself, that having dialogue makes everything all right. It can be a step in the right direction but it can lead to a step in the wrong direction. If truth is sacrificed to opinion in service of the gods of pluralism and relativism, we have no reason to expect society to experience improvement. If stating that some things are true and some things are false earns one the label of “arrogant”, than shouldn’t it earn the label-giver the label of “arrogant”? One of my most disturbing observations about postmodernity is that the concept of truth is being impacted in a negative way.

I have stated previously that I am cautious of becoming attached to cultural movements and systems. We all have a tendency to move in that direction because it affords parameters that afford us security and comfort. With that disclaimer, allow me to clarify that I recognize that most movements and systems have both strengths and weaknesses. Postmodernism might produce good art but, in my analysis, history will show that it does little to help us arrive at truth. Modernity is not the answer. Biblical Theism is the answer. The caution I would present at this point is that when the “postmodern mind” (yes, there is some degree of generalization in that term) merges with the “Christian mind”, the issue of truth is challenged in such a way that it makes it more difficult than it already is to identify, clarify and present Biblical Theism.

Finally, as I close with a few passages of Scripture, consider how the above ideas about truth reflect upon these passages and our Christianity / spirituality.

“…when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…” (John 16:13, NASB)

“Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32, NASB)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - BALLS AND STRIKES

It was 1999ish when I read The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement, a book edited by David S. Dockery consisting of chapters composed by ten other scholars. I had recognized for quite awhile that, on the level of the “common” Christian, truth was not in high demand. People were concerned with feelings and experiences that aided in feeling good and valuable. Both feelings and experiences are valuable, but without truth as the plumb line for measuring one’s feelings and experiences, the narrow path can become wide very quickly. As I read the aforementioned publication, I began to gain a measure of insight about the trend I had personally observed. I had noticed that Christians wanted instruction on practical matters (not bad in and of itself) but they were not very interested in understanding the truth that was foundational to such practical instruction. The problem with this is that it creates a dependent and easily misguided people. The church is not supposed to produce such people; it is to equip people for the task of advancing the kingdom of God. This concern has been at the center of my interest in understanding the issue of postmodernism (along with other cultural considerations). This trend has blossomed and it continues to do so in many different ways. My concern heightens as I observe vast numbers of churches playing into this demise in the name of engaging and “reaching” our culture. Must we engage our culture? Yes. Are we to “reach” our culture? Yes! However, I would tend to agree with Jock McGregor who observes, in a lecture he calls Postmodernism and Evangelism, that much of this effort ends up reflecting the spirit of the age instead of countering it. It is with this concern that I will provide blog entries about postmodernity.

Before closing with a passage of Scripture, I would like to offer a simple, but helpful, illustration given by Winkie Pratney about the shift that spans the pre-modern, modern and postmodern ages. Imagine an umpire standing behind home plate on a baseball field. As the pitches come in, his task is to call balls and strikes. If he called a pitch a strike and the batter were to argue the call, the pre-modern umpire would simply say, “It’s in the strike zone, it’s a strike and that’s how it is.” The modern umpire would say, “That’s how I saw it.” The postmodern umpire would say, “I call it the way I want to, I decide whether it’s a ball or strike and I feel that was a strike.” The first operated according to a set parameter, an absolute, the second was more sensitive to personal observation, vantage point and empirical evidence while the third was more sensitive to personal feelings and relativistic possibilities.

“If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:3-5, NASB)

“Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.” (2 Timothy 2:14-17, NASB)
THE END..........FOR NOW

Monday, March 07, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - WHAT CAUSED ME TO WRITE THIS?

A quick reminder – my main interest is contributing to the advancement of the kingdom of God. I believe that words like those recorded in Psalm 19:7-11 are actually true. “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” These words convey that the Living God, the Creator and rightful Lord and King of all things is tremendously good and His design for individual and corporate life on planet earth is in the best interest of all. Ideologies that miss this will lead people astray and it is for this reason they must be exposed.

As mentioned, I would like to make a brief comment about determinism and indeterminism, determinism and human freedom. I would like to suggest three categories of determinism – naturalistic determinism, social determinism and theological determinism. Naturalistic determinism suggests that every event in the universe is caused and controlled by natural law, social determinism suggests that human behavior is purely controlled by previous human behavior (this is important when considering Marxism) and theological determinism suggests that every event in the universe is caused and controlled by God. It is common that people carelessly confuse the word “sovereign” with theological determinism. Without going into detail regarding the aforementioned, I would like to suggest that the position one assumes about why things happen as they do must include a significant place for genuine human freedom. We must attempt to avoid extremes. This is neither an absolute form of freedom nor an absence of actually freedom, neither is it an imaginary freedom (as, for example, with certain soft-determinists who say that man is free and God ordains or controls everything). My concern is that determinism will logically lead people to conclude that, “what is, is right” (if the designation “right” has any meaning). There are many political, psychological, theological and sociological “systems” that embrace such fatalism.

Having made the above statement, I offer two thoughts. First, if we are under a system that is purely “cause and effect”, life becomes futile. The reason we are in the condition we are in is due to a chain reaction that is unavoidable and unstoppable. Any “choice” we make to influence or alter anything is simply part of the chain. Things just are and that’s all. In the case of theological determinism, things are just the way God wants them to be. Nothing is a departure from the divine will and plan. Every apparent “evil” is simply part of the plan. This logically leads to a type of resignation that is often confused with or promoted as faith. When we include some genuine dimension of human freedom, we have other alternatives, both regarding the issue of the presence of evil and regarding actions to be taken when defining and addressing evil. Recognizing human freedom is not a statement of pride as some proponents of determinism might suggest. It, on many levels, is an indictment of man (as opposed to God).

Next, and I end with this, this is actually one thread of postmodernity that I can appreciate. The postmodern perspective tends to be dynamic. However, I am not prepared to embrace an entire “system” due to this one thread.

“The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His precepts are sure. They are upheld forever and ever; they are performed in truth and uprightness. He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; holy and awesome is His name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever. " (Psalm 111:7-10, NASB)

Saturday, March 05, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND: Writing About What I Am Going to be Writing About

A few preliminary remarks. There are many reasons why people engage in “intellectual” discourse. My interest is in advancing the kingdom of God. I make no apology for that. I might not be very effective, but that’s my goal.

I recognize Scripture as revelation from the Creator that is intended to provide the human race with accurate information about Him, His kingdom, man, His purposes for man, love, sin, redemption, etc. I, as well, recognize that there are challenges related to interpreting Scripture but reject the spirit of movements such as deconstructionism, which attempt to attack truth at a root level. Along with this, I must say that I make no claim whatsoever and have no delusions about being among the ranks of academia. Though I am not a scholar, I am impressed with, greatly appreciate and make use of good scholarship.

I undertake this series of entries out of concern that when certain ideological threads are woven into a Christian worldview, they diminish the prospect of advancing the kingdom of God. In a book entitled Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, Nancy Pearcey states, “God is not just the Savior of souls, He is also the Lord of creation. One way we acknowledge His Lordship is by interpreting every aspect of creation in the light of His truth. God’s word becomes a set of glasses offering a new perspective on all our thoughts and actions.” This is one quote among many that could be drawn from a wide variety of sources to emphasize that God is concerned about every aspect and dimension of life on planet earth. Saving individual souls is important but so is transforming society.

The well-worn topic of postmodernism will be the focus of early entries. However, I will, in conjunction with this topic offer preliminary thoughts about the issue of determinism and indeterminism, determinism and human freedom. I see this issue to be central to many ideological and theological structures, not only in the discussion of postmodernism. Though we will seek to gain understanding about various ideologies, this is not an end, in and of itself. My goal is to probe how such ideologies challenge the development of a Biblical worldview. I have observed that many people embrace certain counterproductive, if not destructive, ideas in a rather naïve manner while others knowingly imbibe such views. Both have negative results.

“Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.” (2 Ti.2:14-17, NASB)

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Ti.3:16-17, NASB)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - ENTRY 1

There is concern stirring deep in my spirit about a shift that lurks within the shadows of the horizon. The concern assumes a solid presence as it abides within me. Disturbingly, it becomes a nebulous phantom as it travels from my mind, mouth or “pen” to the mind, ears or eyes of the recipient. The shift is evident all around us and takes on many shapes. This concern is not the manifestation of neophobic tendencies. The concern rotates around realizing that changes accompanying this shift will erode our moral footing in catastrophic proportions. Heightening the concern is the fact that speaking of this earns one the label of being “too serious”, “disturbing” or “not a nice guy”. From the mind of God, we have been given a cultural presage in the statement, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink; who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!” (Isaiah 5:20-23, NASB). This shift is indicative of a culture that has dropped and broken its moral compass. More disturbing is the fact that we have done so on purpose. This is not the shattered compass of a bumbling, penitent child. This is a strategically manufactured assault on God and the kingdom of God! This is the tirade of a self-willed humanity insisting on a form of freedom that eliminates the boundaries between good and evil, right and wrong. Allow me to introduce you to Dr. Frankenstein. His cures are infamous.

So, what am I saying? We are overwhelmingly departing from the moral parameters that are characteristic of the design of the Designer. So much so that inability to know or identify such a design is endorsed, not only by atheists and secularists, but also by large numbers of people who associate themselves with the ranks of the “redeemed” (if that’s acceptable terminology). This is due to the influence of deconstructionist thinking. Historically, Christians have based their moral framework upon Biblical revelation. If, however, as the deconstructionist emphasizes, words are incapable of genuinely conveying certainty, we have been seriously compromised. I have observed the influence of deconstructionism on the seminary level. We are under assault from without and from within. The use of spies, moles, undercover agents has historically been an effective ploy of enemy forces. This is characteristic of how our ultimate foe sows destruction (Mt.13:25). As the parable referenced indicates, efforts to address the strategic planting of counterfeits can produce further destruction – devious strategy indeed. My hope, therefore, is to present insights about current (and semi-current) influential movements and trends that, if not corrected, will prove to be counterproductive. I must clarify that this effort to encourage a positive future will require presentations that most people will view as negative. This is, unfortunately, the nature of sounding a warning. I have often presented a teaching based on Ezekiel 3:17-21 about the need to warn the wicked of the destiny to which their path will lead. The upcoming series is such an effort. I am not suggesting that every person who embraces the errors to be addressed are wicked in the most hardcore sense of this word and I am not going to attempt “to go and gather” the tare by naming specific individuals that we must reject. I am going to make an effort to describe certain intellectual and ideological trends and point out the dangers of which we must be aware. Certainly, I will appear to be “too serious”. Nevertheless, allow me to remind you that tare was sown in the field “while men were sleeping”. There are significant portions of the church, the pillar and support of the truth (1 Ti.3:15), preoccupied with “sleeping” (metaphorically speaking). On many levels, we need an awakening. I am not interested in controversy, I am interested in advancing the kingdom of God.

“As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Timothy 1:3-11, NASB)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

SLAYING GIANTS - FINAL ENTRY

The reflections upon 1 Samuel 17 were intended to draw our attention to the fact that, as God calls us to work together with Him to bring His kingdom to earth as it is in heaven, we must recognize, engage and defeat ideological giants that capture our culture and, often, paralyze the church in fear. I hoped to encourage the reader that, though we have not always responded as constructively as we should, the possibility of engaging and defeating the giants in the land is very real. As our account in 1 Samuel 17 reveals, such victories can be accomplished by unlikely heroes who actively engage in such battles, trusting in and receiving power from the Living God.

We live in an age in which many people are simply, and at times desperately, seeking affirmation. Ours is an age in which the tendency for the church is to focus only on positive things. In the process, we often pretend such “giants” do not exist and ignore the responsibility of engaging them, comforting ourselves with the poorly developed assumption that “God has everything under control”. Emphasizing positive things is good if we do not ignore the reality of the negative things that must be addressed. In other words, David faced Goliath as he came to terms with the negative realities associated with the prevailing condition he encountered. The positive message in this account is that victory is available when we proceed in faith, empowered by God, to address the negative realities that are destroying lives and paralyzing the church. Seeking only a positive affirmation while ignoring the existing challenges and responsibilities before us will produce nothing but a happily unproductive religious people. Such an opponent the “giants” will tolerate.

With this in mind, I plan to write short entries in this blog, entitled “Giants in the Land”, that look at the nature of the “giants” were currently face in our culture. I will begin by considering challenges we face from the postmodern mind. In closing, I will state that a tendency I’ve observed in the postmodern mind as it has invaded the ranks of Christianty is to pretend there is no differences between the armies involved in the battle. We will find no victory in this approach.