Archive for the Category »Post-modernity «

Born and Born-Again

When my wife and I were having our first child, we determined that it was pretty important to make sure that she and our daughter were provided for if I were to die unexpectedly, so we researched the options and I took out my first life insurance policy. I set it to withdraw the monthly premiums automatically from my bank account and don’t think about it any more. The only time I thought about it was when I changed my bank account and received a letter from the company to make sure the premiums continued to get paid. I am concerned that this is a similar story to how many experience “praying to receive Jesus.”

We saw yesterday that the word “believe” is the central instruction on being “saved” from our condition of separation from our eternal creator. So, what is it to “believe”? It seems that in our times it is mostly understood as “think the right thoughts” or “know the right information” or “agree with a set of expressed truths”. But this is not what it is primarily about. “Believe” in the Bible comes from the verb form of the word for “faith”, but our English language doesn’t have a verb form of faith. To believe something is faithing. Active faith is belief. Certainly one must know something about the specific truth to believe it, but it is not merely knowing something, it is acting on our knowing. These actions can be big or small, but it is active.

The most concise chapter in the Bible about faith is Hebrews 11. Read how it begins: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people…” and the whole chapter goes on to list action after action of people believing.

It is the orientation of one’s life and actions around the person of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and forgiveness of our sins. By the way, I think this is why baptism is mentioned so many times (though not always) with “believe”, it is active faith, a public proclamation. In an excellent, and exhaustive work on faith, Paul Tillich expresses this even more emphatically:

“Faith as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality. It happens in the center of the personal life and includes all its elements. Faith is the most centered act of the human mind. It is not a movement of a special section or a special function of man’s total being. They all are united in the act of faith. But faith is not the sum total of their impacts. It transcends every special impact as well as the totality of them and it has itself a decisive impact on each of them.” (Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith, 1957 ; p4-5)

Secondly, the Bible doesn’t instruct us to just say a prayer to receive Jesus and we are done. I have been wondering if people walk away from Christianity because they did the prayer thing and it has no further impact on their life. Like a life insurance policy, just make sure the premium gets taken out of the “bank” once a week by going to church (or at least twice a month). To be fair, I admit that this isn’t the teaching of most churches, but it has become too familiar in the action (belief) of peoples’ lives in American Christianity.

Furthermore, I am even more concerned about this in Christian believers’ households because the angst of many parents until their child “prays to receive Christ”, after which they stop the continual teaching, mentoring, and encouraging their child because “now they are ‘IN’ for eternity”. I celebrate BIG TIME when a child expresses faith in Christ, in fact one of my nieces took that step on Christmas Eve! But let’s treat re-birth (born-again concept from John 3.16) in the same way we treat birth. Could you image, parents give birth to their baby and then just let life happen, because now their born? Life wouldn’t “happen” very long and these parents would be in jail shortly after the baby’s life ends. After birth, we nurture new life, we continue this in such a way until they are able to live independently. This is a strong burden of mine after 18 years of working with teenagers, many of whom give a testimony of praying to receive Christ at a young age and yet are no different than their peers who have never had such an experience. Believers, we must disciple our children in a continual conversion process and a series of commitments at various life stages and crises.

It is reported that one of the greatest influencers of converts in recent history, Billy Graham, said, “Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ” (multiple internet sites attribute this saying to Graham, but I was unable to find any source citation) It is important to emphasize both an instantaneous conversion (although many times imperceptible) as well as an ongoing transformation.

Tomorrow I will bring this series to a close with an additional part of this point and a then bring it back around to where I started 9 days ago.




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?

Truth in Advertising and the Gospel

So in light of this conversation about experience with truth claims being an evidence of actual truth, let me comment some about our cultural experience with advertising and what I believe to be its effects on the Christian gospel.

I think advertising has been around since the beginning of creation…the creation account describes the first “ad campaign”. You might naturally begin at Genesis 3 to say that Satan put on the first ad campaign, but I would go before that.

But first let’s consider the 6 phases of the Hierarchy of Effects model of advertising (as described on Wikipedia):

Get Fat Advertising

An 1985 advertisement for a weight gain product (Image from Wikipedia)

  1. Awareness
  2. Knowledge
  3. Liking
  4. Preference
  5. Conviction
  6. Purchase

Now, In Genesis 2, the expanded story of creation goes into some details about the interaction between God and creation. God created Adam and then made the statement, “It is not good that the man should be alone…”(v18). “Awareness.” Then God tasked Adam to name all the animals who were in pairs…Adam noticed something missing(v19-20). “Knowledge.” Following this, God did a little surgery, created woman, woke Adam up and presented her to him(v21-22). “Liking” Adam definitely liked what he saw, didn’t have many options to express a “preference”, quickly formed a “conviction” and made the “purchase” (v23-25).

It seems that the very first ad campaign was centered around a woman; makes sense that most modern day ad campaigns are centered around the woman too 🙂

But from there the next ad was based on a deception, an illegitimate way to fulfill a legitimate desire (Genesis 3. 1-7). So advertising is not a new invention. But advertising in modern history is unique and prolific. Our economy is dependent upon advertising. “Yankelovich, a market research firm, estimates that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today.” (NY Times article, Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad, 2007) And in modern times, it has become out of control with deception:

James Laver, a British historian, broadly described advertising during the 19th century—a time when companies made outrageous claims which could not be proved, and with practically no regulation—as follows:

“Advertising is as old as Humanity: indeed, much older; for what are the flaunting colours of the flowers but so many invitations to the bees to come and “buy our product.” Advertising might be defined as any device which first arrests the attention of the passer-by and then induces him to accept a mutually advantageous exchange.”

In other words, advertising may be described as a mechanism for 1) getting the attention of an individual and then, 2) persuading that individual to engage in some kind of action—ultimately, to buy some type of service or product.
-David from

So we are constantly bombarded with messages from all sources and means seeking to persuade us to engage in some kind of action based on a certain proposed truth. Of course we are supposed to be protected by laws that seek to govern the truth of advertising in our society (that’s why we get the “fast talkers” at the end of car and drug commercials who are telling “the fine print” they are legally required to say). But all of us have bought into something that promised but didn’t deliver. And today’s marketing is even more powerful (keeping up with the culture), because it sells you a feeling, mostly through telling a story or convincing you of an alternate reality than you know…which conveniently can be achieved through their product/service.

Therefore, companies are selling “the good life”, offering you to “have it your way”, or selling “guaranteed joy”

Now think about how the gospel has been presented over the years…as a bill of goods based on truth to change your life and give you a different reality (even for eternity). But what about those that it doesn’t “work” for or the “product” testimony about it not “working” for someone else? Just today one of my coworkers gave me a stack of Keurig cups for my coffee maker in my office. I love my Keurig coffee maker and have had it for almost a year now, no problems. He just got one and it quickly broke. He returned it and donated the coffee to me! (of course I’m going to share, come on by) He deemed that the coffee maker isn’t worth the hassle. Now I am simplifying his experience for the illustration, and over-simplifying it to apply to the gospel, but this is how we operate. Religion/faith is not working for me, or someone else I know, so it’s not a product I am going to use.

So how are we preaching the gospel and what promises are we making…do we need some fast talkers after our sermons to give the disclosure statements 🙂

I jest, but tomorrow I want to continue on this theme to look at our presentation of the truth in what we call the good news…

Let me know your thoughts on truth in advertising.

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)

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 (part2)

“84% of Christian 18- to 29-year-olds admit that they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests. For example, young adults who are interested in creative or science-oriented careers often disconnect from their faith or from the church. On the creative side, this includes young musicians, artists, writers, designers, and actors. On the science-oriented side, young engineers, medical students, and science and math majors frequently struggle to see how the Bible relates to their life’s calling.” (Top Trends of 2011: Millennials Rethink Christianity)

It is alarming that young adults “have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests.” Unfortunately, I think (unscientifically) we could bump that age range up a decade or so and still be in the 70% range of American Christians identifying with that statement from The Barna Group.

image from Getty Images

This great disconnect isn’t something that has happened overnight and I believe that a key factor is the way that Christians have approached science. The logic that says, “Science tells me ________, but the Bible tells me _______, so science can’t be right” is just as dangerous as the other way around. The danger is just as potent because in both cases we are not dealing with simple raw data. Science is founded on examining empirical data, but how much of what “science says” has gone far beyond the data to drawing further conclusions, theories or interpretations of the data?

In response to yesterday’s post, my friend Dave, gave a strong comment from his experience in support of young earth and this being strengthened as he looked at the evidences during college. He made a statement that I would like to comment on further: “I believe the Bible is a tool to help us understand science…not the other way around.” I agree with the heart of his comment, but want to take a few steps back to examine and distinguish how I would arrive at a statement like this.

First, I believe that there are two types of revealed data about origins, life, the universe, God, etc. One is general revelation and can be found in the world/universe around, including people. This is commonly referred to as nature or the natural world. The other is specific or special revelation which I believe is the writings in the scriptures of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament. (Now some will disagree with the existence of any special revelation or with what is included in that special revelation, but that could be a topic of a further post) The key to this is that BOTH general and specific revelation consist of raw data that must be observed, interpreted, and applied. In that process we all bring certain presupposition and bias.

So science is the observation, interpretation, and application of general revelation (nature).

And faith is the observation, interpretation, and application of specific revelation (scripture).

Academic Books

Image from Getty Images

But these two disciplines are not isolated and one cannot reject the other and remain whole. The Hebrew poet was inspired to write,

“The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.” (Psalm 89.11)

What we observe from what God has created will coincide with God’s special revelation. So then it comes down to interpretation from both directions.

I believe the problem has occurred and will continue to occur when there is an interpretation or application that is concluded in either that doesn’t seem to work with or, more severely, is in contradiction with the other. At this point of disagreement it is important to go back to each area of discipline and observe more, re-interpret (if applicable), and re-apply in both areas. When we do this, I am confident that science and faith can work together and not only “get along” but strengthen each other. But if either discipline digs in and says “I’m right” without reexamination, then we end up with an embarrassing Galileo situation.

So then I can say that the Bible is a tool to help us understand science AND science (general revelation) can be used as a tool to help us interpret the Bible.

Further, this philosophical approach will help Christians (young and old) have a greater understanding of how the Bible informs their career, professional interests, and life calling AND how their life calling helps them and others have a greater understanding of the scriptures. We need individuals of faith to be in all fields of academia to enrich our understanding of both God’s special revelation and general revelation. A person in the field of medicine can be greatly enriched by his/her faith in fundamental respect for life and purpose of creating a better life medically. A gifted writer has greater purpose in writing when biblical faith is present to not only write true or inspiring stories, but words that serve a purpose greater than himself/herself.  There is no career path that is untouchable by the individual’s faith.

Now this post has mostly been in the theoretical realm, so I leave it to you to comment with support or disagreement and possibly bring up some specific applications or questions.

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