Friday, May 27, 2011

HOW LOVE WINS - Part Three

Illustration #2

This illustration expresses an important perspective on the complex nature of love. In a world where sin and evil are very real, love must express something more than universal tolerance, a softhearted hug or a grandmotherly frown of disapproval. Consider the following statement from Charles Finney as you read the illustration below. “It is impossible that love to the whole should not manifest severity and indignation to the part which rebels against the interests of the whole.”

Imagine having a recurring sore on your leg. It heals but soon returns. Upon visiting a doctor, you are told that it is a manifestation of a very aggressive, fast-growing form of cancer located in your leg. You are then told that if something is not done soon, it will spread into the major organs of your body and you will likely die within three to six months. At this point, the doctor tells you that he has a reputation for being the most loving man in his profession. Therefore, he tells you that he will be very gentle and respond by inflicting little to no pain or discomfort upon your diseased limb. He explains that he will simply place a Band-Aid on the sore, tells you to have a wonderful day and instructs you to come back in one year. Would this gentle, painless treatment be an act of love? We should quickly see that such behavior on his/her part would be overwhelmingly irresponsible. On the other hand, would it not be reasonable to expect that love would lead the doctor to arrange the severe operation of removing the diseased leg in an attempt to prevent the rest of the body from becoming diseased? A doctor motivated by love would not do so because he is mad at the leg or seeking to satisfy his bloodthirsty desires, taking great pleasure in chopping off limbs. This severe procedure is pursued as an act of love for the whole. At times, love demands that we engaged in appropriate, severe treatment of the part that threatens the wellbeing of the whole in order to promote the highest good of the whole.

Love is such a central aspect of the character of God, the kingdom of God and the ministry of the church that we cannot afford to embrace a distorted view of love. Many people rightly struggle with certain severe details revealed in Old Testament text. Such accounts look like the behavior of an emotionally controlled and anger driven being. Often, in response, some reject God and others simply ignore the presence of such accounts. It is the case that the concept of Hell creates similar challenges to our human minds[1]. A well-rounded view of the kindness and severity of love can help put things in their proper place.

"It is impossible that love to the whole should not manifest severity and indignation to the part which rebels against the interests of the whole." These concepts are tremendously important if we are to understand and represent God effectively and if we are to love others the way we are suppose to. We must understand and help others understand that God continually operates in love.


[1] I will offer an illustration regarding Hell in an upcoming entry.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Paul, the Confused Apostle?

How do we become “all things to all men” without becoming useless to God? Unplugging little phrases from Scripture and building upon them can be dangerous. An attempt to honor the immediate context of the specific situation under address and then the larger context of other Scriptural truths (in their context) serves to help us stay within a healthy, productive mode of ministry.

"For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it." (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NASB)

"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 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 12:1-2, NASB)

What Has Inspired This Article?

Admittedly, this article is to provide caution about certain unhealthy extremes some have and others potentially embrace of which we should all be concerned. Every age faces its challenges. For my part, I have come to see a difference between discussing the best way to understand the Biblical text and subjecting the Biblical text to the scrutiny of philosophical, cultural or psychological trends. For the sake of brevity, I will site two things that serve as inspiration for this article. First, there are certain ways of understanding and applying the idea of being all things to all men that lead to becoming conformed to the world, which allows the culture to rewrite Scripture in a sense. Second, I recently heard a young, professing believer respond to the question, “If there is one thing you would like to be remembered as, what would it be?” by answering, “A non-conformist.” This led me to ask the question, “Isn’t God’s goal in our lives to conform us to the image of Christ and His death (Ro.8:29, Phil.3:10)? It is true that we are not to conform to this world, which stands in tension against conforming to the image of Christ but aiming to be a non-conformist does not allow one to give due attention to this tension. We should be able to see that the simple desire to be known as a non-conformist is a shortsighted focus, totally unable to capture a healthy balance regarding this issue. This is an issue of what we are driven by. It is my contention that an extreme view of Paul’s statement about becoming all things to all men not only fails to capture a healthy balance but also encourages certain unhealthy approaches toward ministry that will eventually produce bitter fruit.

Though my goal is not to be negative and merely “tear down”, part of the process of finding balance involves being “negative” and tearing down in preparation for building up as opposed to merely being an end in and of itself. I hope to present a positive, constructive perspective that avoids the bitter fruit, referred to above, from maturing. Consider God’s commission to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:10. “See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

Commending, Cautioning and Considering

I would like to continue by commending all of those who properly recognize the importance of understanding their “mission field” and who have done the necessary homework to gain an appropriate measure of understanding. Along with commending those who gain understanding of the culture within which they “minister”, or which they study, I suggest that there is a fine line between understanding the culture (religion, philosophy, ideology, worldview, etc.) and reflecting or assimilating the culture.

A brief reference to the missionary ministry of William Carey might prove enlightening at this point. Gaining understanding of one’s “mission field” does not equate to conforming to or reflecting the culture when encountering a practice such as sati. Surely, efforts to eliminate such a cultural / religious practice potentially meets with violent resistance from certain sectors of society but being culturally aware and engaged does not justify tolerating practices that are contrary to moral parameters revealed in the Word of God.

As I prepare to consider the two texts around which this article is written, I would like to, again, quote from the apostle Paul as he wrote to the Corinthians on two occasions, “Be imitators (followers, mimic) of me ….” The quotation found in 1 Co.11:1 is, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” To begin with, we have an occasion in which Paul is urging them to follow his example, to do what he is doing, act like he is acting, be what he is being. His doing, acting and being is shaped by his understanding of what it means to follow, imitate or mimic Christ. The following two passages have further instruction about doing, acting and being that broaden the discussion.

All Things, All Men, All Means

“I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” What are we to understand the limits of this concept to be? How is this statement made to the Corinthians, in its context, affected by the statement, “…do not be conformed to this world…,” made to Christians in Rome?” How can we “…imitate me (Paul)…”, “…become all things to all men…” and “…not be conformed to this world…?” Was Paul, by becoming all things, conforming to the world? If so, if we imitate him, will we not become conformed to the world?

What Paul Does Not Mean

Every Wednesday I offer a class to men incarcerated because of legal (and moral) problems associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs. I would love to “win”, “reach” or “save” some (all) of them consistent with the intention Paul expressed to the Corinthians. What then does it mean to become all things to all men in this context? It seems safe to say that Paul’s statement about becoming all things to all men does not require that I be incarcerated for  legal problems associated with drugs and alcohol abuse in order to be fit to engage or connect with this “people group.” To assume such a view would surely be extreme and prove to be counterproductive on a number of levels. Ministering to murderers does not require one to be a murderer nor does ministering and attempting to reach/save basketball players require being a basketball player. All of this represents an, obviously and purposely, extreme view of the statement Paul made. We could continue to create the list – liars, homosexuals, thieves, Muslims, Mormons, politicians, rich people, homeless people, etc. Is it appropriate to intend and work toward the salvation of homosexuals? Surely, we would agree that it is. Does Paul intend that we must become homosexuals in order to do so?  Surely, he does not. It is not my intention to insult anyone’s intelligence by using such an extreme example but we must be aware of the potential for a misinterpretation that moves in the direction of this extreme. Consequently, I would suggest that, avoidance of conformity to the world stands as a modifier to becoming all things to all men.

Similarly, to “win”, “reach” or “save” a particular segment of society does not require that we condone the practice or lifestyle of those in question. Whether we condone (or even accept) someone’s lifestyle must be based on the moral principles communicated through Scriptural revelation. For example, involvement in ministry to the “gay” community would include assisting them in understanding and forsaking this sexual aberration. It is understood as a departure from proper sexual behavior based on information the Designer of mankind communicates about our design, not on personal opinion and preference. In a morally neutral realm such as, for example, ministering to professional athletes, considerations of this sort are not a factor.  As well, we should realize that we do not “win” people simply by accepting them or becoming their friend. This is not what it means to be all things to all men. There is a need for them to turn from that which is the source of their bondage or separation from God and turn to the source of their deliverance. Part of the process necessary for this to happen is proclamation regarding the difference between their current, inappropriate status and the condition God requires for their pardon, deliverance and salvation. A wrong or shortsighted idea of salvation and the mission / ministry of the Christian community, simply assuming that engaging a particular people is our goal, having no further strategy for genuine conversion, will prove unproductive.

We must also consider cultural practices that are not directly addressed in Scripture. Certain internal dispositions and external practices are clearly condemned in God’s word. When dealing with issues that are not spoken of directly, we must learn to identify and apply principles from Scripture. Two comments are in order regarding this idea. First, an imbalanced emphasis on the narrative reading of Scripture can potentially lead to a rejection of the propositional or principle dimension of Scripture. I believe it is best to take a both/and approach as opposed to an either/or approach. We gain much by appreciating the narrative aspect to the Biblical text. It is also true that there are significant propositional teachings and foundational principles in the Biblical text. Second, as we indentify principles, our ultimate goal must be to please God, not appeal to people. This point is of greater importance than might be initially realized. In 1 Thessalonians 2:4 Paul states, "…we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts." Within the context of aiming to please God supremely, Paul sought to be “pleasing” to people in order to win some from conformity to the world to conformity to the likeness of God and the principles of His kingdom. Consequently, Paul expresses this idea in such a statement as, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved." (1 Co.10:31-33, NASB)

Please allow me to emphasize the challenge we are considering. First, try to ruminate upon becoming all things to all people, giving offense to no one. My experience is that what pleases person/group A, offends person/group B. Considering the context of our main text, those offended by eating meat would be upset if one did so while those who concluded it was okay to do so would potentially become upset with one who abstained, considering it hypocritical to abandon one’s freedom under the pressure of “legalists.” Such situations, in real-life, tend to be a “lose-lose” arrangement. Second, consider the difficult balance between pleasing God and being non-offensive to all people. A simple reading of the Gospels or the book of Acts will show that Jesus and the disciples/apostles were often offensive to someone! It is not that they intended to be offensive but it is often the case that practicing moral convictions will produce such a response. Is the answer to this dilemma the abandonment of moral conviction, as is the tendency of some?

Regarding the issue of identifying and applying principles (as suggested above), I will offer two examples. Scripture does not make a direct statement about the appropriate length of a woman’s dress. In the cultural and historical context of Scripture, such a consideration was unnecessary. However, as one resolves to please God supremely, one must take into consideration the importance of Scriptural teaching on being chaste, reverent and modest. This, obviously, is not the “rule-book” approach some look for and, on the other hand, some resist, it is a “principle approach” which involves humility and a willingness to avoid being governed by personal preference and mere self-interest, doing one’s best to operate in wisdom and self-sacrifice for the ultimate purpose of pleasing God and advancing His kingdom. Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 has application to his context/culture and to ours as he writes, “…I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness.” What we see in such a statement and in the main text we currently consider is the need to govern our liberties for the highest good we can identify. Another example is that of drinking alcohol. Scripture does not say, “Drinking alcohol is a sin.” Consider the dilemma. In dealing with those who have legal and moral problems associated with the abuse of alcohol, it would be quite unwise and unloving for me to exercise my liberty to drink wine at dinner because of the influence it would have on the ministry of encouraging their deliverance. My point is simply this; principle, based on Scriptural data, must be our guide. This requires a sincere effort to set aside personal preference and mere self-interest, identify parameters consistent with that which is pleasing to God, taking into consideration cultural factors in light of Scriptural data and acting upon one’s conclusions.

What Does He Mean?

It is often the case that the Biblical truth Christians possess and practice, in word and deed, never benefit those in need because of the distance between the Christian and those in need[1]. Without reservation, I state that as we gain an understanding of our culture we must also find means to engage our culture, our “mission field” – those we aiming to “win” or “save”, to use Paul’s language from the text. However, we must also have safeguards that prevent us from erasing the line of distinction between “us” and “them.” This statement is tantamount to a central concern, increasingly in the form of urgency, that has gripped my mind, not simply in a sterile, “armchair theologian” perspective but as I interact with living beings, especially within the “youth” culture. I believe the spirit of what Paul is communicating in the Corinthian passage is that we need to understand and connect with our “audience.” To reemphasize and contrast the point I made above, we are not to become our audience, we are to find a way to understand what makes them “tick” and gain a hearing associated with personal contact and interaction. To put it into terms that might even push the envelope further, we must be able to relate to our audience, our culture, those we are aiming to “win” without losing sight of their need for God and His truth. We could do a detailed grammatical study of each word and phrase in the aforementioned passage (which is a very good thing to do) but I am certain that we will not arrive at anything that contradicts what I’ve just suggested. In an attitude of love for God and love (love not being a sloppy agape) for our “neighbor” (the people-group in question) we are to govern our liberties based upon a wise and righteous approach designed to engage those in question for the purpose of helping them turn from that which prevents proper relationship with God and turn toward that which restores and delivers. Paul’s point in the passage is that though there is freedom to eat meat sold in the marketplace that had previously been used in pagan religious rituals, abstain from this freedom if it hinders the process of encouraging the Christian conversion or growth of others. This context has nothing to do with engaging in questionable or unacceptable cultural practices in order to gain acceptance by the culture! This passage has nothing to do with rejecting Christian standards because the culture has trouble with them. The instruction in the passage pertains to setting aside that which is acceptable for Christians in order to reach the lost or weak. Please ponder the previous three statements carefully.

As we turn our attention to the passage quoted from the letter to the Romans, we see Paul comparing two possibilities. Of course, we understand that he is addressing slightly different concerns in a slightly different context, which is always important to factor in. However, the point I hope to make is not drastically affected by this consideration. Paul contrasts being conformed to being transformed. The conforming of which he speaks is conformation to “the world.” The transformation of which he speaks is transformation of “the mind.” I suggest that both of these ideas, separately and, particularly, in relation to one another, are pertinent to the issue of our exposure to and influence by “postmodern” philosophy and culture in our current age. “The world” is an overarching term that refers to any and all groups of people that live by and/or encourage a philosophy, ideology, worldview or lifestyle that is inconsistent with the principles (a very important word) of God’s design for life on planet earth. We might recall that John says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world”. There will always be, in every generation, ideas offered by various individuals and groups about fundamental “truths” and the way life on planet earth is to be carried out. “The world” would have reference to ideas contrary to those of the kingdom of God. We could go through a list such as Nihilism, Marxism, humanism, pragmatism, Buddhism, etc. In making such distinction we run the risk of being perceived as and accused of being arrogant and divisive. It is interesting how Paul, in this passage, suggests that we avoid being conformed to the world and successfully “prove” what the will of God is. It is by way of transformation of the mind. It has something to do with the way we think and what we think. Is this statement addressed only to intellectuals, college graduates and university professors? No, it is addressed to “common” people who possess a mind that has been designed in the image of the mind of God. The call is to use our minds in a manner consistent with its design and the Designer. This involves resisting the mental influences that are not “from the Father” (1 Jn.2:16) and filling one’s mind with something we have traditionally called “truth.”

It is quite easy to recognize that Scripture makes many references to truth. Truth plays a very central role in things pertaining to God and His kingdom. I have noticed that some people seem to assume that truth plays no factor in salvation. It seems as though there is often an assumption that correcting one’s relationship with God is one thing and accumulating truth is another thing and they are completely separate and distinct with no overlap. I find such a position hard to reconcile with statements like that in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10 that reads, “And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved." Another passage that has impressed me in this way (though it does not use the word “truth”, it emphasizes the importance of what we teach) is, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:16, NASB)

With the above brief emphasis on truth, it is reasonable to conclude that this is something Satan will target. His means of attack are often counterfeit and if, for example, you are to counterfeit money, you don’t want the end product to look like monopoly money, you want it to be as close to the real thing as possible while not having the value of the genuine. Much Marxist literature sounds quite Christian (which, by the way, is a not a completely dead issue). As we follow the shifts in the trends characteristic of three huge ages (pre-modernism, modernism and postmodernism) I am convinced that a concern we must not take lightly is the inroads “postmodern” philosophers have made when it comes to eroding and discrediting the concept of truth. This is largely in response to certain failures of the modern age but, nonetheless, it becomes a concern because truth is so central to Biblical Christianity. Is it a good thing to understand what the “postmodern” is saying? Yes, but we must proceed with, not only caution but also much wisdom and discernment. I have personally had experiences with professing Christians when a sort of antagonism is launched toward those who speak of truth or of knowing truth and a defense is raised in support of the “postmodern” philosopher.

Conclusion

Becoming all things to all people does not involve abandoning truth, Scriptural principle, moral convictions or Christianity (properly defined). In its context, the phrase refers to modifying one’s freedom in order to remove obstacles that could potentially hinder one’s ability to be a positive influence on those we are aiming to “reach”, “win” or “save”, those who are in one state but need to move beyond that state to another – to help the unconverted become converted and the weak become strong.



[1] As a side-note, I have become aware of the fact that the “us / them” language has become quite offensive to both “us” and “them.” I will return to and address this in due time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

HOW LOVE WINS - Part Two

Illustration #1

The following illustrations are to help clarify the idea that love can be manifest in both “kindness” and “severity”, as expressed in article #1 of this series.

The previous church of which I was pastor met in the gymnasium of a local Christian school. Each Sunday we would arrive early and prepare the empty room for the upcoming church service. Imagine if I were to arrive early, enter the gymnasium and find a five-year-old boy standing in the middle of the room. Realizing I had never seen him before, I concluded that he and his parents were visiting. I, consequently, approached him in a slow, very mild and gentle fashion, cautiously extending my hand to greet him and introduce myself. “Good morning, I’m Pastor Mick. It’s nice to have you here”, I say in a welcoming manner. According to my experience, I find that most people view such behavior as a demonstration of kindness. If, on the other hand, upon seeing this young boy, I were to get as far away from him as the room allows, run toward him as fast as I can and, when six or seven feet away, dive through the air, crashing into him, sending both of us sliding across the floor and into the block wall on the other side of the gym, would you consider this an act of kindness? The answer I generally receive upon asking this question is that this would not fit under the category of kindness. Would you, on the other hand, consider this to be severe? This scenario helps us see that the use of the word “kindness” generally refers to loving, gentle and reasonable behavior while “severity” is thought of as mean, erratic, unreasonable behavior. There is, therefore, a tendency to associate kindness with love while viewing severity with a sense of disdain. This is an error that needs to be avoided. Let me demonstrate by simply changing the scenario. Imagine that it is Monday morning and I am walking down the sidewalk on my way to buy a morning newspaper. As I walk along, I look to my left, across a field that borders the edge of town. Thereupon I see the same young boy standing on a railroad track with his back to an oncoming train. Upon seeing him I turn and begin across the field, slowly approaching him in a very mild and gentle fashion, cautiously extending my hand to greet him. As I get six or seven feet away, the collision between the speeding train and the young boy brings the scene to an end. Would you consider this approach to be and act of kindness? The very behavior previously viewed as an act of love is now seen to be foolish and unloving. On the other hand, given the same situation, what if I were to see this young boy, begin to run toward him as fast as I can and, when six or seven feet away from him, dive through the air, crashing into him, sending both of us sliding across stones, beaten and bruised, to safety. Would you consider this severe behavior to be an act of kindness? Would you consider this an act of love? The obvious point that we need to be sensitive to is that one’s situation or condition impacts whether appropriate, loving treatment can be gentle (in the gymnasium) or whether appropriate, loving treatment needs to be severe (on the train tracks). Too often, na├»ve Christians (and people in general) assume that severe treatment is outside the bounds of love. This can be a deadly mistake. We often force a definition upon the word “love” that is shackled with our extremely limited sense of appropriateness, subjecting Scripture to our magnificent human wisdom as opposed to growing in wisdom through the enlightenment gained through Scripture. The goal of love is the highest good identifiable. To arrive at an understanding of the best end (highest good) and to choose the most appropriate means to promote that end requires wisdom. In a sense, that’s the very definition of wisdom. To live a life of love requires wisdom regarding the choice of that which is truly in the best interest of a person or of people. To simply assume that gentle treatment is always and automatically love is simply wrong. Love will always attempt to be as gentle as possible but will move along the scale toward “severe kindness” as the situation demands. We might say that “kindness” is the rule and “severity” the exception but we also might find that “severity”, though the exception, is more often needed with certain people in certain situations. Though love will not treat others more severely than is necessary, neither will it treat them more gently than is needed. Love, consequently, will discipline from the very same motive it forgives. Charles Finney has said, “It is one of the most shallow of dreams, that the Divine character is all softness and sweetness, in all its manifestations and in all circumstances.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

HOW LOVE WINS

Bell’s book stirred controversy. I’ve not read it and will likely do so, eventually, only out of curiosity. This is not a commentary on Bell or his book. Nevertheless, it has been a longstanding concern of mine that “love”, being a word that describes a foundational dimension of God’s character and the kingdom of God, be defined carefully, seeking to capture the Biblical picture in its fullness. I am of the opinion that Satan will attempt to distort things of such importance and that popular assumptions regarding love are quite deficient. In fact, I observe massive efforts from segments of the Christian community to redefine a great number of aspects regarding Christianity and some of this is based on shallow assumptions about the nature of love. Though we are never above reform and correction, any efforts to reform must be approached with maturity and wisdom or the results will weaken and devastate. The alarm's been sounded, the bell's been rung. Regardless of what Bell sets forth in his best seller, I would like to offer some thoughts about how love wins. I intend to offer a series of short articles that work toward this conclusion.

God is Love (1 John 4:8, 16)

Love is, indeed, the crowning moral characteristic of God. Love is a moral characteristic. It relates to what one does with the natural capacities one possesses. We should understand all of the other moral attributes of God as attributes of love. God intended that love be the crowning characteristic of the human race. This is true because we are created in the image of God. We possess all of the qualities and capacities needed for this to be our crowning characteristic. The practice or demonstration of love depends upon how one uses the qualities and capacities one possesses. The existence (practice or demonstration) of love requires moral freedom. Love cannot be coerced; one must be free to respond to others in love or refuse to do so. Love is not primarily a feeling, it is an intelligent resolve to purpose and pursue the highest good possible. When such a resolve exists, an intelligent evaluation of all factors associated with specific circumstances under address is in order. Love, therefore, is an extremely complex (not simplistic) action in which to engage. God consistently governs Himself and His kingdom by love. God is love.

A challenge we face is to grow in our understanding of love by navigating and combining ideas that are, in a sense, instinctive and data we gather from Scriptural revelation. Everyone has a sense of what love is. However, we must modify and correct our sense according to the revelation that God has given of Himself and of this issue.

Kindness and Severity (Severe Kindness) (Romans 11:22)

Many people have a very ethereal, fairy tale concept of love. The word “love” conjures up images of an encouraging smile, a supportive wink, a pat on the back and a Hallmark card; all positive, soft and sentimental – an all inclusive hug. This is what some refer to as “warm fuzzies” or sloppy agape. This is a very one-sided (if accurate at all) concept of love. Though 1 Jn.4:8 & 16 clearly state that “God is love”, Ro.11:22 says, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God.” This challenges us to understand that there is potentially a “kind” and a “severe” dimension to love. What does this mean and what does it “look” like? In the immediate context of the passage in question, it refers to being “cut off” or “grafted in” to God’s family. Depending on the circumstances and situations under address, love will take on varying degrees of either kindness or severity (what I often refer to as severe kindness). This is an extremely important perspective with which we must cope. Most people have little trouble relating to the “kindness” aspect of love but stumble quite severely over the severe aspect of love. A failure to consider the balance and range this perspective of love involves will lead to a very imbalanced and harmful concept of love in which “cutting off” is inconceivable. Consider the following visual aid.
In any situation addressed, love involves concluding where, in the range of possibilities, one should “fall” on this scale as all conditions are taken into consideration in order to promote the highest possible good. The upcoming article in this series will offer two illustrations intended to provide a degree of clarification to this consideration.
                                                                                                                                                             Severe Kindness

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND – A REVISITATION

Before moving on to the next point (modernisms ahistorical universality), I would like to offer a statement of review and clarification. The consideration of postmodernism, in comparison to modernism, is intended to provide perspective regarding the cultural atmosphere in which our current “search” for truth takes place. I increasingly suspect that postmodernism is actually not post anything, it is more like twistmodernism, just a new twist on old thoughts. In the last two entries, we considered the postmodern reaction to foundationalism (certain beliefs are known because of certain prior beliefs or presuppositions – a way of avoiding infinite regress of thought) and the reliance upon method in one’s research or investigation of reality / truth. In a book entitled, Philosophy Without Foundations: Rethinking Hegal, author William Maker writes, “Because the rejection of foundationalism is conjoined with the claim that knowledge is determined by the context in which the knower is located, antifoundationalism generally can be said to endorse holism, that conception of knowledge according to which truth is defined not in terms of correspondence to objects but as the coherence of claims within the frame of reference defined by the tradition, style of discourse, or set of linguistic or social practices in which the knower is located.” Many things could be said at this point but, wanting to make one simple point I would suggest that this is not ultimately post or anti anything as much as it is a redefinition of the foundation upon which knowledge is built and “truth” is sought. The challenge that arises is that it erodes, denies, or attempts to eliminate other foundations upon which others have built. This has a huge, negative impact when it comes to Biblical Christianity. Certainly, I am not suggesting that cultural considerations are of no importance. Any good hermeneutics instruction will clarify this issue. However, making the cultural consideration the foundation for truth is a HUGE mistake that has HUGE implications and ramifications regarding the Biblical text. In a sense, I am shocked that such great numbers of people would “buy into” this concept as suggested by a handful of contemporary philosophers!

Regarding the issue of reliance upon methodological procedure, we run into a similar idea. Method has not actually been abandoned; there has been the replacement of one method for another method. Postmodernism is not actually post-method, it is only a new method of dealing with (in many cases denying) reality. The question to address is whether it is a better, or even good, method. I would suggest that postmodernism has drawn many unto a foundation that will prove worthy of collapse with methods unable to effectively analyze truth claims (a bold, un-validated claim at this point).

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27, 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 Timothy 3:16-17, 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)