Archive for the Category »biblical studies «

What Is The Church “Selling” With The Gospel?

Where in the Bible does God tell us to pray a prayer to ask Jesus into our heart?

I don’t find it either…

You would think that something so vital to the gospel that the church preaches would be there, apparent for all to see. What are we “advertising” to a world of people? What are all the revival rallies and evangelism efforts seeking to get people to “buy”? If the problem is that humanity is separated from God by our sin and will therefore be separated from God for eternity, what must we do to be saved?

Before my fellow Christians start throwing things, let’s go to 3 passages that get us the closest I have seen to “praying a prayer to ask Jesus in our hearts” and then consider a proposal as I briefly share some of my experience.

Acts 2.37-39 “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.””

This comes after a powerful sermon preached by Peter. People are convicted, they want to respond and Peter tells them to repent & be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, and the Holy Spirit will be given to them.

Acts 16.29-34
“And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”

This time we see a jailer who is about to loose his career when he thinks all the prisoners have escaped, so he is ready to kill himself on his sword. Paul and Silas assure him that all the prisoners are there and he is so relieved that his life is spared he asks how to respond. He is told to “faith in the Lord Jesus”. I love it that later that night they are all sitting around the dinner table rejoicing that the jailer believed in God…why, because he was ALIVE, he didn’t kill himself and his family was joyful.

Romans 10.9-11,
“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” …13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” “

Here we have a command to say with our mouth, and faith in our heart that the resurrection of Jesus happened. Then it ends with a statement assuring that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Now, as I said, these are the 3 that, in my opinion, get us the closest to what we hear so often of “pray to receive Christ” or “pray to ask Jesus into your heart”. My point is not so much about whether we should encourage/lead someone in a prayer to receive Jesus, but I do have concern about what that person has been told or thinks he/she is doing?

Ok…I’m going to push the “pause” button here for today. My recent posts have been lengthy and some weighty, but more importantly, before I further develop what I am thinking, I would love to hear from the readers on what I have said thus far. Tomorrow, I will publish my developing thoughts and experience.

Two parting questions –
Where else does the Bible instruct us on praying a prayer to be saved?
How is the presentation of the message of the church heard concerning how someone must be saved?

What Difference Does Truth (however you define it) Make?

This is the testimony of one anti-theist:

We are reconciled to living only once, except through our children, for whom we are perfectly happy to notice that we must make way, and room. We speculate that it is at least possible that, once people accepted the fact of their short and struggling lives, they might behave better toward each other and not worse. We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true – that religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow.
-(Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything; 2007, p5,6)

Hitchens not only gives testimony to his belief structure/philosophy but in the same breath gives a broad backhand to the faith of Christianity. Similarly, consider the words of one Christian turned agnostic, Charles Templeton:

The record of the Christian church is a checkered one. Over twenty centuries it has done immeasurable good…But the church has seldom been at its best. Too often it has been a negative influence. Too often it has stood in the way of progress…
And despite the fact that Jesus enjoined his followers to love one another, most don’t, each believing that only they have seen the true light of the Gospel and that all the others are in error.
-(Charles Templeton, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith, 1996; p127,129)

And I could go on and on quoting those who have rejected or walked away from Christian faith.
As always, there is another side of the “coin”. Consider the words of those, still philosophically opposed to the Christian faith, who have a different testimony:

[William H.] Lecky spent his life advancing the cause of rationalism, attacking Christianity, and the supernatural. Yet read what Lecky has to say about Christ and Christianity: “It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all of the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hears of men with an impassioned love, has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions, and has been not only the highest pattern of virtue, but also the strongest incentive to its practice, and has exercised so deep an influence that it may truly be said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all of the dispositions of philosophers and exhortations of moralists.” (D. James Kennedy, Skeptics Answered, 1997; p91)

Thomas Huxley / Image from Wikipedia

I have always been strongly in favor of secular education, in the sense of education without theology. But I must confess that I have been no less seriously perplexed to know by what practical measures the religious feeling, which is the essential basis of conduct, was to be kept up in the present utterly chaotic state of opinion on these matters without the use of the Bible. The pagan moralists lack life and color, take the Bible as a whole, make the severest deductions which bare criticism can dictate, and there still remains a vast residuum of moral beauty and grandeur. By the study of what other book could children be so much humanized and made to feel that each figure in that vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary space in the interval between two eternities and earns the blessing of curse of all time, according to its efforts to do good and evil?
(Thomas Huxley, quoted from D. James Kenedy, Skeptics Answered, 1997 ; p94)

My point is not, “see look at what these people said, you must believe now.” I point out these testimonies to state that I believe the primary cause of one’s loosing or rejecting faith is because of this very reason…what difference has their experience with faith/religion made. What is this person’s experience with their own faith or the life of another person who is of the Christian faith? This is not the argument of pragmatism, “if it works, then its true”, but rather a call to Christians to be who we say we are (not claiming perfection) and to live as one who is being transformed by the truths we seek to defend, and thereby transforming our communities. In my theology, sin is sin, and it is harmful to the person committing it and to his/her community (possibly extending to the global community). It is sin if it is committed by an atheist, a theist, or a Christian. However, Christians have at times hid behind “absolute truth” to either justify or escape their own sin.

Too often appeals to the objective truth of the gospel have served as a means for the church to evade its responsibility to live faithfully before the world. In short, Christians insisted that the gospel was objectively true regardless of how we lived. The paradigm I am advocating frankly admits that all truth claims require for their widespread acceptance the testimony of trusted and thereby authorized witnesses. This is as true for the truth claims of science as it is for those of the church.
-(Philip D. Kenneson,”There’s No Such Thing as Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing, Too.” Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World. Edited by Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995; p166)

I don’t think it will do us any good to objectively prove God’s existence (which I am not sure you can do nor can you prove God’s non-existence) or prove the Bible is absolute truth and live no different than those who reject such notions. The good news is that all humanity can admit his/her failings, be forgiven of those, be enabled to reorder life around the revealed character of God through Christ (faith), and seek to love others as they have been loved by God.

Recycled or New Epistemology?

Yesterday, Greg asked the following question in his comment, “Some say Paul experienced a Post-Modern audience…so are there really only two epistomologies repackaged over and over again?”Recycle Earth

I do see strong similarities to the culture Paul faced and our current post-modern culture, and I felt drawn to agree that it seems humanity is only re-packaging the same patterns of thought in different skins, however I think upon closer review I must acknowledge a growth of human thought patterns which reaches to the past, assimilates it through what we have learned and lived and applies it in fresh new ways to a different set of cultural questions, assumptions, and problems. The post-modern epistemology is specifically POST-modern because it is a reaction/response to the modern. And the modern epistemology came about through the Enlightenment and thinkers such as Locke, Descartes, Kant, and others.

But before I continue in recent philosophy and developing theories, let me affirm that truth is something very important in scripture. Take a few passages as examples (emphases mine):

Jesus came “full of grace and truth” (John 1.14)
Jesus prayed for his followers, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17.17)
Jesus promised the Spirit of God to come, “he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14.16,17)
Jesus claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14.6)
Paul writes that truth can be suppressed by wickedness, “…by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1.18)
He further indicts humanity for worshiping a lie, “because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie…” (Romans 1.25)
Christians are told to test the spirits, “By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1 John 4.6)

And we could go on and on. This is nowhere near an exhaustive study on the uses of truth in the Bible. A quick search shows that in the ESV Bible the English word is used 141 times.

Rene Descartes

Image from Wikipedia

However, if we did a full study, we must acknowledge that we read the word “truth” with a perspective that is uniquely different than those before us who said or wrote those statements. Our concept of truth has been dramatically shaped by “Descartes’s theory of mind as mental process and Kant’s notion of philosophy as the tribunal of pure reason [which] helped produce many of the dichotomies that now appear self-evident: object/subject; realism/idealism; knowledge/opinion; fact/value; reason/faith; rational/irrational; public/private.” (Philip D. Kenneson) In a fascinating thesis, Kenneson, continues to evaluate the concept of objective truth which we have come to accept and attempt to defend:

Within such a view of knowledge, truth (or Truth) is not so much a concept as it is an entity “out there” in the world, waiting to be discovered; Truth is merely the word for the way the world really is which we are trying to picture or mirror with our knowledge. When human beings discover this Truth, picture it faithfully in their minds and mirror it accurately in their language, we say that they have genuine knowledge. Moreover, such knowledge is “objectively true” when its status as true does not ultimately depend on the testimony of any person or group of persons. Indeed, the whole point of claiming that something is “objectively true” is to say that any person, unhindered by the clouds of unreason and the prejudices of self-interest, would come to the same conclusion. (Philip D. Kenneson,”There’s No Such Thing as Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing, Too.” Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World. Edited by Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995; pp. 157)

So is there another way or is our only option to categorize everyone as either an objectivist or relativist? Has the attempt to defend the faith according objective truth with modern constructs contributed to individuals disconnecting faith and “real life”? I would love to read some of your thoughts/reactions.

Trust me, I am going somewhere with this…and I’ll leave you with the quote below to whet your thoughts (there’s a mixed metaphor) for tomorrow’s conversation continuation:

Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard in a coffee-house, an oil sketch by Christian Olavius, 1843 (Image from Wikipedia)

“There is something missing in my life, and it has to do with my need to understand what I must do, not what I must know – except, of course, that a certain amount of knowledge is presupposed in every action. I need to understand my purpose in life, to see what God wants me to do, and this means that I must find a truth which is true for me, that I must find that Idea for which I can live and die.” (Søren Kierkegaard “An Entry from the Journal of the Young Kierkegaard”, quoted in Truth Decay by Douglas Groothuis, p10-11)

Pursuing Truth or Rational Conclusions?

Which is more dangerous to the message of Jesus Christ (or to society), modern or postmodern approach to the truth? Are we in a pursuit of Truth or rational construction of knowledge?

I’m not sure I could say that one or the other epistemology is more dangerous than the other, as there are great dangers in both approaches to knowledge and truth. I can say, however, that like it or not, we are in the times of postmodernity (some say even something beyond it) and there is great danger in not adapting and growing in science or faith. (for more on this in the scientific realm see the works of Thomas Kuhn)

“Postmodernism poses certain dangers. Nevertheless, it would be ironic – indeed, it would be tragic – if evangelicals ended up as the last defenders of the now dying modernity. To reach people in the new post modern context, we must set ourselves to the task of deciphering the implications of postmodernism for the gospel.” (Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, p 10)

I have set myself to the task because I believe the gospel (good news for all peoples) is important, life-transforming, and transcends human trends or systems of thought. I believe that through the postmodern structure, one can actually strengthen the concept of Truth and bring some people back into the conversation who have dismissed the biblical faith as implausible. I think postmodernity is bringing “reason” to question more than it is bringing “truth” to question. It seems the modern thought structures gave human “reason” a sacred place of ultimate proof. Christian faith has an opportunity to grow stronger.

“Ironically, [Christians] who denounce postmodernism imply that Christian dogma cannot withstand rough handling, betraying perhaps a subconscious fear that the structure of Christianity might prove flimsy or false. Postmodernism, however, has exposed the flaws not of Christianity but of modernism, arguing that the modernist line of thought – which disdained Christianity – is “out of true.” Modernism therefore lasted only three hundred years, while Christian orthodoxy has stayed true for over two thousand years.” (Crystal L. Downing, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith; p229-230)

It is interesting to take a look back to a time before modern epistemology and read the words of one of the great theologians and see how he thought. Martin Luther certainly had some choice words to say about reason as he lived in the pre-enlightenment era and was possibly resisting the encroachment of new ways of thinking:

Martin Luther

Image from Wikipedia

“Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”
—Martin Luther, Works, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148.

“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
—Martin Luther, Table Talks in 1569.

(quotes used from: Joshua Sowin’s blog)

Don’t get me wrong, I think human reason is a great tool, and I certainly wouldn’t go to the conclusions that seem to come from Luther’s words (perhaps even they are misunderstood out of original context). Reason is a very strong tool and necessary for science, faith and the rest of life. I believe we have a rational faith, that we can “prove,” through reason, many beliefs/doctrines, and can arrive at a strong historicity of the biblical texts we read today, but there must be room for something more, for supernatural, for mystery, for the unknown and unreasoned. There are things that we don’t yet know and some things we won’t know. We must be on the pursuit of truth through all disciplines.

On either side of this conversation we can get out of balance and be over taken by hubris attitudes, thus solidifying the divide and continuing the disconnection of some between faith and life. I believe that the recently deceased, outspoken author and self described antitheist, Chrsitopher Hitchens, is a person who took the enlightenment/modern epistemology to its logical end. You can hear both his huberistic disdain for faith/god andhis search for truth through human reason alone (along with a hint of postmodern openmindedness).

Christopher Hitchens

“Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold our convictions dogmatically…but we shall resolve [our disagreements] by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication…

One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody…had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance, and other infantile needs). Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion…
All attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason are consigned to failure and ridicule for precisely these reasons.”
-(Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything; 2007, p64,65)

I leave you with those thoughts for today…more of Hitchens, Truth, and Christianity to come in the following days.

Truth (what is it?)

Dare I go here this early in this series?? I wasn’t planning on going here this early, but Elliot’s well thought/written comment yesterday as well as parts of others’ comments have begun to address the topic of truth. With this being such an important topic in postmodern epistemology, I think it is actually best to talk about truth early in this series.

Now, Jason had a very good word in his comment that I need to emphasize before writing on this topic. FEAR. Appropriate word from Jason as this emotion/reaction often clouds our thinking and responses to what could otherwise be great conversations. Please don’t respond with fear as you read this post.

Image from Getty Images

For the Christians reading this, you must hear me say – I believe the Bible is Truth, every word of it (specifically in its original language), I believe that God inspired the biblical authors so that we humans can know God through knowing truth, and I believe that we have reliable English (and many other languages) translations by which we can study and know truth. (I am not going into the nuances of inerrancy or infallibility for this post, but rather am concerned with some philosophical approaches to truth in our postmodern cultures)

For those who are not of the Christian faith, you must hear me say – I hold my beliefs with firmness and with humility. I am very committed to what I believe as an individual, a husband, a father, a pastor, and one who is on mission to extend God’s grace to all peoples of the earth. Along with that, I am willing to discover truth in all of God’s creation in all disciplines of humanity. I would love to hear from all perspectives in this conversation.

I am an evangelical Christian and recognize that this evangelicalism was born out of the Enlightenment era and world view. However I was born in 1972 just as postmodernism was taking over (at least in America) our culture in mainstream thought. Over the years (especially in the last 7) I have read much and considered this epistemological struggle crucial to forwarding the message of Jesus Christ into the world now and the future. I believe that for Christians to continue to talk about truth as we have in the past (enlightenment/modern) will only cause more to walk away from their faith with the conclusion that faith has no bearing to their “real” life. To give some definition to what I am talking about, let me mention a paragraph from the work of Stanley Grenz:A Primer On Postmodernism by Stanley J Grenz

“The Enlightenment perspective assumes that knowledge is not only certain (and hence rational) but also objective. The assumption of objectivity leads the modernist to claim access to dispassionate knowledge. Modern knowers profess to be more than merely conditioned participants in the world they observe: they claim to be able to view the world as unconditioned observers – that is, to survey the world from a vantage point outside the flux of history” (Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, Eerdmans, 1996 p4)

All of us, in our pursuit of truth MUST acknowledge that none of us stand outside of a vantage point or bias, but we all come from a certain context and bring that context to our observations and interpretations. Now some would quickly say that the Bible is God’s revealed truth and God stands outside of time/history so it is unconditioned truth. This is valid to a point, however God chose to use human authors who are in time/history through which to reveal his eternal Truth. I believe even the fact that there are 4 perspectives (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus included in the canon of inspiration points to the multiperspectival dimension of truth. The four gospel perspectives all point to and are records of the same Truth but from different viewpoints. This is where humility must enter into our truth claims as Christians or any other discipline. Let’s back away from theology for just a bit and consider this in the field of science.

In Jason’s comment yesterday he linked a great and witty article about scientists’ new fascinating work with neutrinos possibly traveling faster than the speed of light thus potentially messing with Einstein’s theory of relativity. In this article, the author pointed to the dynamic nature of the discipline of science:

“The whole point of a scientific theory is that it is there to be shot down – to be shown to be false by new experimental evidence, or to be replaced with a better, more accurate theory that explains more.”

Now don’t throw stones yet 😉 I am not saying that the doctrines of Christianity are merely theories to be shot down or shown false. In science we have “laws” and “theories”, both of which can be challenged and overturned (we do live in the

Image from NASA

age where Pluto lost its planethood, a process in which Pluto didn’t change, but our understanding of it did) I believe that in theology we have some things that are “laws” that through the years and rigors of theology we can hold onto very strongly, allowing our core person and communities to be shaped by them. We also have “theories” (I’m even uncomfortable using that word in conjunction with doctrines) which in our best efforts express truth as we know it. We can trust these “theories” (beliefs), we can live life with confidence around these beliefs, but we continue to learn and grow as people created in God’s image (my bias) who are intelligent and seeking to know a God who can be known. And it is possible that through further studies, new evidences, additional experiments, different applications, etc. we come to better, more accurate explanations. (This is the task of theology after all)

Now, I think I have said enough for today and enough to process in some thoughtful commenting. Tomorrow, I shall continue with some about rationalism in the postmodern epistemology and more.

Science, Faith, and Leaving Christianity (Part 1)

50-75% of teenagers who attended church leave their faith as a young adult! The stats vary in different reports, but any of the stats are alarming. In one study the Barna research group reported that “Overall…nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.” (Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church)

This is a troubling number as I have spent the last 20 years working with teenagers in the context of a church. It is those stories of young adults walking away from their faith that sadden me the most. Through reading and talking with others, I have come to believe that most of the time a large contributor to their apostasy is the church or people in the church. It seems that although the church has done so much good over the years (another post to come on this in a few days) we have been in a defensive posture in modern and postmodern times. Many have characterized the church as people who are against ________ (you fill in the blank) rather than what we are for. Sadly, if I can make a general observation, this is the attitude of the Pharisees, the most criticized group of people in the records of Jesus’ life on earth.

One such area that we (the church) have been historically against is science. In fact in the aforementioned article by the Barna Group, it is reported to be reason number 3 in the top six reasons young Christians leave the church. “…[T]he research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.”

It is this aspect of science and faith that I would like to discuss first. In this “anti” position the church has stood in for a long time and in a strong way against science. Nicolaus Copernicus image from WikipediaThere are many illustrations of this in history, but most notably are Nicolaus Copernicus’ development of the heliocentric theory, proposing that the earth is not the center of the universe, but rather moves around the sun. Even more known is the conflict this developed into between the church and Galileo Galilei for the support of heliocentrism. “In 1633 Galileo was convicted of grave suspicion of heresy for ‘following the position of Copernicus, which is Galileo on Wikipediacontrary to the true sense and authority of Holy Scripture,’and was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.” (Catholic Church and Science) Although there was a process of the church stepping back from this decree against this scientific theory (become proven in reality), it wasn’t until 200 years later (1835) that all traces of this ban were gone.

What was the central issue in this controversy? Scripture. Heliocentrism was refuted because what the Bible “said”. However, one must now see that it wasn’t what the Bible said, but what was the accepted interpretation of what was written in the Bible. This brings us back to the point of the relationship between faith and science. And at the center of this in today’s world is what has become known as the creation-evolution debate. Most polemically this debate is between those who state that the Bible (Genesis 1&2) says God created the earth in 6 literal days by His spoken word and those who say the earth was formed over billions of years beginning with a cosmic explosion of very dense matter.

Now my purpose here is not to state what I believe on origins and give all evidence to support/defend it. (To acknowledge my bias I do believe that what we know of as life and the earth we live on has its origin in God and is written about in God inspired scripture) My purpose is however, to engage Christians with the possibility that we can fully embrace the sciences and be completely true to scripture! In fact, I believe that our faith can be enriched by the sciences! In addition, my purpose is to engage with those who have rejected faith for science in such a way as to create conversations of understanding.

Recently, through a friend and former pastor, I came across an organization seeking to do just what I described, create space for conversation between faith, science and culture. The Colossian Forum created the following video (well worth 8 minutes of your time) to highlight their organization’s purpose and mandate; something I believe is desperately needed.

More Light, Less Heat from The Colossian Forum on Vimeo.

Over the next ten days I am going to be publishing several articles related to the Christian faith in our current postmodern context.

(full disclosure…this is fulfilling an assignment in a seminary class as well as a desire of mine to be blogging more often and interacting with what I am learning)

I would enjoy receiving and interacting with any and all comments you might have regarding my posts. I certainly can’t have any conversations if this is only one-way communication.

Quote from The Colossian Forum

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