Friday, October 02, 2009

Our Post-Christian Culture

After years of work in India and service in countless ministry and missionary efforts around the world, Lesslie Newbigin "retired" by settling into a small, struggling church in very rough part of Birmingham, England. He found this last assignment to be his most difficult. He writes: "I have been forced to recognize that the most difficult missionary frontier in the contemporary world is the one of which the Churches have been -- on the whole -- so little conscious, the frontier that divides the world of biblical faith from the world whose values and beliefs are ceaselessly fed into every home on the television screen."
What is most interesting to me is not that Newbigin finds the England of the 1980's to be hard spiritual soil, but that he sees the problem facing contemporary society as an old problem: "Like others I had been accustomed... to speak of England as a secular society. I have now come to realize that I was the easy victim of an illusion from which my reading of the Gospels should have saved me. No room remains empty for long. If God is driven out, the gods come trooping in. England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of a paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church." (Newbigin, An Unfinished Agenda, 249).

I would say that Newbigin's assessment of England in the 1980's is an appropriate fit for America in the early 21st century: we also have become a pagan nation. I am more and more convinced of this not because of what I see on TV and outside of the Church, but because of what I see and experience in the churches of America and with those who profess to be Christians in America. Much of what is called "christianity" is really paganism with a christian mask.

At best, this is immaturity; at worst, it is apostasy. It will only be tragic if, like a child who never develops, the situation remains the same.

The task that lies ahead is for us as Christians, the task mentioned above by Newbigin, needs to be taken seriously and is being tackled by many faithful people today. Every Christian leader must face it and every Christian must embrace it. Those of us who are sitting in the "pews" must be willing to be educated in this faith and have our world view reformed to it. Those of us who are in the "pulpits" of America must be willing to reform our teaching after this great faith. Repentance is required on all accounts: we must live this faith that has been handed down to us, and we must seek to avoid the syncretistic tendency that our forefathers often fell into. We must, above all, ask for grace from the Triune God, that we might glorify Him in our own day.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you to so guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (BCP, p.100)

Monday, September 28, 2009

A quote from Simon Chan's "Liturgical Theology"

"But the question whether the church should be understood as a divine-humanity or as essentially a social organization has less to do with hermeneutics as with one's presunderstanding or worldview. The issue concerns boundary principles by which we seek to make sense of Scripture. If we accept the idea that the church is only a way of organizing ourselves, then all biblical descriptions of the church are likely to be understood as metaphorical descriptions of social realities-- for example, sacraments are nothing but a "memorial" of what Jesus Christ has done for our redemption. But if we believe that the church is a transcendent reality, then we need to probe the biblical descriptions more thoroughly and discover the deeply implications. Give the historical tendency within evangelicalism to accommodate itself to the spirit of the times, what appears to be the "obvious meaning of Scripture" may in fact be a result of implicit acceptance of the reigning "plausibility structure," namely, the secular assumptions of a post-Enlightenment age." (p. 29)

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Church as a Means of Appropriating Salvation

In his work Sin and Salvation, Newbigin lays out a rather typical evangelical understanding of man's need for atonement and the satisfactory propitiation of Christ. However, once he moves on to "how salvation becomes ours," the bishop's reasoning takes a surprising turn. In his biography on Newbigin, Geoffrey Wainwright takes note of this: "Instead of beginning with the inward spiritual act of faith, he reverses the order and starts with the outward and visible fact of the church. Two reasons are given for the switch..." He then goes on to quote Newbigin directly:

"Firstly, it is the order which the reader of the NT finds himself following: the Acts of the Apostles come before the Epistles--the fact of the Church before the clue to its inner life. Secondly, it is the order which the non-Christian has to follow when he comes to Christ. What he sees is a visible congregation in his village. It is that congregation which holds out to him the offer of salvation. Only when he has come within its fellowship does he (usually) come to any deep understanding of its inner source."

This, I believe, has deep implications for the way Christians seek to evangelize their neighbors. All Christians should seek to tell their friends and family about Christ; it is, after all, a matter of love and death and life. Newbigin's observation should guide Christians in this pursuit: only in the context of the life of the Church will anyone know Jesus truly and in a compelling way. We cannot expect our friends to have a true introduction to Jesus Christ without first being introduced to his Church. No doubt, this poses a host of problems, because, as everyone knows, the Church does not often reflect the goodness of her Savior. But, if Newbigin is right, it seems that this difficult way is the way God has chosen to work. Belonging in the fullest sense may not precede believing, but some sort of inclusion and contact must come before any sort of faith can grow.

This is an old lesson, and Bishop Newbigin is echoing the words of one of his predecessors: "He cannot have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother." Of course, nothing true is ever new.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Prayer of Confession

"Forgive my sins, O Lord-- forgive me the sins of my present and the sins of my past, the sins of my soul and the sins of my body; the sins which I have done to please myself, and the sins which I have done to please others. Forgive me my wanton and idle sins, forgive me my serious and deliberate sins, forgive me those sins which I know and those sins which I know not, the sins which I have labored so to hide from others that I have hid them from my own memory. Forgive them, O Lord, forgive them all. Of thy great mercy let me be absolved, and of thy bountiful goodness let me be delivered from the bonds of all that by my frailty I have committed. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen." -- Thomas Wilson, Sacra Privata.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Words, words, words

Theologians, politicians, ad-men and journalists,
like world controllers,
subtly deceive,
murdering words
in academic gulags.

They know not what they do. Good
God, destroy them
before they reach into the souls'
of my children and
cut out the tongues that make us human.

-- a reflection on Hamlet II.ii and Lewis' Abolition of Man

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why is it "good" to help the poor?

I am currently knocking out some reading for a class on Ethics, and I have floating around in my head many fragments of the reading I've done lately. These fragments are being brought in slowly into my worldview, and I don't think I'll ever be the same... at least I hope not. This class has given me a new set of goggles with which I'm looking at the world, and as a result, I'm noticing ethical problems and issues everywhere.

We are a people who make great ethical claims all the time, and I am seeing that though we all know some things are good and other things are not, most of us have only a very vague sense of why this is the case. I'm thinking about three specific things I've seen lately: the presidential press conference last week, every episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," and a documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer I watched last night. All three of these productions had ideas of good, evil, hope and despair. The question I'm most interested in is why the idea-makers behind these three events think these ethical ideas are valid and true. Why is a particular idea 'good'?

Lately, I have been very curious about the ethical base of the people in my city and in my life. I wish I could just stop every person I see on campus or at the store or on the street and ask them: "Do you believe there are things that are essentially good and things that are essentially bad? How do you believe those things? Do you love your family? Why? and why does it matter?" (I know that not all of these questions are ethical in nature.) I just want to get in their heads.

While I can't do that, I can ask you. So, if you're reading this, I'd like to hear your thoughts.
And just so I don't get responses that ramble all over the place, I'd like to narrow the discussion to one particular question. So please post, if you are able:


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Prayer of Dedication

Let all of me be Yours.
Let my aim be love
from a pure heart,
from a clear conscience.
Let my day be sacrificed
to You,
to my wife,
to my family,
to my flock,
    to the poor,
    to the hurting,
to the world.
Let your glory be made known through me:
may I be less,
may You be more.
Let my eyes, hands, ears and feet
be moved by your Spirit,
be clean from sin,
be instruments of your love and redemption.
Let your help, comfort, and discipline come to me
because I am a creature,
because I am weak,
because I am sinful,
because I am yours in Christ,
because You are the only true and living God,
Father, son and Holy Spirit.
Who alone can hear my prayers,
Who alone can help me,
Who alone is full of mercy, 
But who will by no means clear the guilty.
Let your mercy fall on me,
Let Christ's blood clear my guilt
In His Name I pray, Amen.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

"Without love, I am nothing"

When someone asks you what the Christian life is about, does love enter the top three things you mention? I have to confess that very often I have not given love its important place in my life and teaching, and this is simply not biblical.

"The goal of the commandment is love from a pure heart and from a clear conscience and from a genuine faith." (1 Tim 1:5) Paul's instructions and the instructions of all the teachers of the Old Testament have a primary goal in mind: that we might love God and others (Matt 22:34-40). Paul states the goal of his teaching clearly in 1 Tim 1:5, and prays for this goal in Philippians 1:9-11: "And this is my prayer: that your love would abound more and more..." It is important that he does NOT say: "I pray that your Bible knowledge would abound more and more... that your wealth would increase more and more... that you'd feel better more and more..." He prays that God may increase their love. Even in letters where Paul is teaching so much about knowledge and true doctrine, he is careful to say that these things are means by which we adore God more and love more. (Eph 1:15-23; 3:14ff). Knowledge may come, and it should, but love is above it (1 Cor 13:8-13).

But what do we pray for our churches? Do we pray that they may grow in love? Or do we pray that our churches and friends and family may grow in Bible knowledge? in numbers? in health? in success of wealth? or other things. Of course, these are not bad and we should often pray for them... but what place do they have in my prayer life? and how often do we pray for others love to increase? How often to pray for our own love to increase?

What if all the things we prayed for came true? What if God gave all the happiness I've asked of Him, for myself, my family and my church? What if God granted that our churches grew in numbers? What if He granted my prayers to finally understand Him better, to finally be able to put together all these things in Scripture so that I could understand them? What if I became all that I've hoped for: as a man, a husband, a pastor? What if all my family and friends were successful and healthy? What if our churches were the great churches of our communities?

The Lord gives us an answer to these questions:

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, if I deliver up my body to burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Cor 13:1-5).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Demythologizing Idols

It seems that I won't be able to post original material regularly until I finish with seminary, but in the mean time I will pass on the some of the stuff that I am enjoying.

The following talk is a discussion of idol worship from a Christian perspective. Having said that, my non-Christian readers may find it interesting. Dr. Keller discusses, among many things, the idea that an ancient physical god (or idol) is merely a "concretization" or hypostasis of some immaterial thing (knowledge//Athena, money//Artemis, etc.).

For my Christian readers, the benefit of this talk will be self-evident: