Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Letter to my friend. Reaching the 20 to 30 crowd.

The other day a pastor friend wrote and asked me to respond to his blog about reaching 20 to 30 somethings for Christ. Below was my response.

Hi ___________,

Reaching the twenty or thirty somethings can be somewhat of a daunting task, to be sure. I believe that the American church is facing a “crisis of relevance.” Here are some thoughts I have, and forgive me ahead of time for the lengthy response. I just started writing and many ideas flooded my mind.

I think that your premise is a correct one, namely that the job of the church is to disciple believers. I think the real issue pertains to what kind of church one wants to be. To me, there are four kinds of churches.

First, there is the traditional church. This is the method that the next three methods of doing church that I will address are responding to. In America, people used to simply come to church. There was no reason necessarily to market the church because people went to church on Sunday morning. However, during the 1950’s/60’s there was a move away from church attendance which in turn facilitated the church growth movement. While depending on the denomination, traditions vary given their differing traditions, some things, however, remain constant. Every denomination has a culture, whether it is Baptist, or Methodist, or Pentecostal, some of which may be sacred cows that need to be abandoned that are based merely on tradition.

Second, there is the attractional church. The primary way to get people to come to church is to attract them to the Sunday morning service. This method’s modus operandi is to have programs that attract people to the church (Seeker sensitive churches would be a prime example).This kind of church is highly programmed centered. I am not sure that the attractional method has to be totally abandoned, given that there is something to the fact of making the church attractive to a contemporary audience. One of the pitfalls of this type of church is that the church staff has to put most of their time and energy into administrative duties rather engage in activities that result in missional ministry taking place. While in the contemporary American church administration is important, there should be time allocated by staff to disciple believers. As a result, discipleship is de facto, in my opinion, not taking place. There is just not enough time in the day to disciple people to be missional Christians.

Third, there is the emergent church, which in my opinion if modeled after Brian McCluaren, is a disaster. He repackages old fashioned liberalism with a postmodern outlook. According to McClaren, America is a postmodern nation and the church needs to adjust their ministry methods. I believe he is incorrect in his assessment. William Lane Craig is closer to the truth regarding postmodernism when he says, “Indeed, I think that getting people to believe that we live in a postmodern culture is one of the craftiest deceptions that Satan has yet devised” Postmodernism is unlivable and no one really adheres to it in total. In theory, postmodernism is relativistic and has a disdain for such things as propositional truth (hence the call for narrative preaching). In reality, postmodernism is relativistic in only two areas – religion and ethics. People think either/or in many other areas. In reality, what McClaren is advocating is the abandonment of truth, which is a position that is foreign to biblical Christianity.

The people group that this type seeks to minister to is the 20/30 crowd. I know the church that I attend is composed of largely of this demographic, while at the same time using a method that is antithetical to the emergent methodology. We have found that one does not need to succumb to the emergent ideas to be successful in reaching this group.

Last, there is the missional church, which I think most reflects New Testament Christianity. According to Tim Keller, “A missional church is a church that understands what it is like not to believe.” Its primary focus is not to attract people to the church through programs, but to reach out of the four walls and go get people (I believe some attactional methods are needed though). The ministry philosophy says that ministry, especially evangelism, should take place outside of the four walls, which in principal is antithetical to the attractional model. The missional model seeks to grow the church by building relationships with non-believers. Everyone is considered a missionary. Thus, the Acts concept of missions, namely carrying out the call to missions locally, nationally, cross-culturally, and internationally, is emphasized. Hence missions is much more than what the church does overseas. Everyone is a missionary which results in the idea that everything the church does is missions.

I will finish by adding what I believe to be some hindrances as well as suggestions that may help reach this age group.

(1) For the most part, we don’ know what questions this group are asking which results in irrelevancy. I think we should concern ourselves with the concerns of this age group by giving them biblical answers to their questions. A great way to find out what this age group thinks is to do short informal surveys at coffee shops or where this group hangs out.

(2) Examine church culture. Some of what we call Christian is not biblically based and actually repels this age group from church.

(3) Distance ourselves from political activism. This group has heard their whole lives that America is a racist nation. When they hear Christians say we want to go back to the way it was, there is an idea being reinforced that this is the type of culture that Christianity produces.(The book entitled In Search of Christian America by Noll, Hatch, and Marsden is a must read for every Christian).

(4) We don’t engage with the culture intelligently. I have many students that I teach at the university who reject Christ because of this. This is an unfortunate product of the fundamentalist movement and the Second Great Awakening (though both movements were needed, they both brought with their movement problems that we still deal with today).

(5) Legalism.

(6) Rid ourselves of an us/them mentality. The enemy is Satan not flesh and blood.

(7) Unfortunately, Christians develop their own subculture. Most seminaries reinforce this subculture. As a result, a Christian ghetto is developed.

(8) A need for grace-based discipleship.

Your brother in Christ,


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why are Evangelicals Getting a Bad Rap?

Here in America, Evangelicalism is in decline. Their reputation in our current cultural landscape has been much maligned. It is often the case to find negative stereotypes furthered in the media, politics, and academia depicting Evangelicals as narrow minded, stupid, bigoted, and arrogant. One reason for this is obvious. The stances that evangelicals take are antithetical to an Enlightenment style, secular understanding of the world. But, to state this is the only reason for these attitudes would be a superficial analysis at best.

Why Evangelicals Have a Bad Rap
Another reason for this ominous reputation is the lack of transformation from the lives of too many Christians. This was one of the reasons that the Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi and the atheist philosopher of the 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche rejected Christianity. Gandhi, for example said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Maybe this is the paramount reason why there is so much hostility leveled at Evangelical Christians today. Friedrich Nietzsche echoed this sentiment when he said, “If Christians want me to believe in their redeemer, they need to look more redeemed.” Obviously this was not the only reason for their rejection of Christianity; after all, the human heart is wicked and naturally rebels against the idea of surrendering to God. However, I am sure this reason was significant in their rejection.

Inerrancy of Scripture
Part of the problem, I believe, is that Evangelicals, for the most part, only go so far in their commitment to Scripture. They rightly assert they the Bible is inerrant, (at least as a faith commitment), meaning that the Bible is completely true in all it says. However, as this stance has become more politicized over the years, the meaning of the term too often has been relegated to mean that one is simply not a liberal. In fact, this stance says very little about one’s commitment to God’s Word. The threat made in the earlier part of the twentieth century during the fundamentalist/modernist controversy regarding the modernist’s attack on the Bible has been won.

Sufficiency of Scripture
A fewer number of Evangelicals, however, adhere to the sufficiency of Scripture, and this issue in under attack. In light of the successes of modernity, the Bible has been relegated to mere beliefs, and the real facts are gleaned from secular sources. Enlightenment secularism finds its epistemological source in rationalism. The Reformed epistemologist John Frame “defines rationalism as any attempt to establish the finite human mind as the ultimate standard of truth and falsity. This establishing of the autonomous intellect occurs within the context of rejecting God’s revelation of himself in both nature and the Bible. A rationalist, in this sense, states that the human mind is able to fully and exhaustively explain reality.” This is the modus operandi of the secularist position. Frame goes on to argue that the goal of establishing an autonomous intellect is found throughout the history of non-Christian intellectual pursuits, and too often Christians are being impacted by such thinking.

The result is that fewer and fewer people hold to the belief that the Bible is inerrant but not sufficient. Jeff Noblit of First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Alabama says that the “holding to the inerrancy of Scripture without at least an equal passion and commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture (for all faith and practice) is sheer idolatry. It is a love for a position on the nature of the Bible without a genuine love for the God of the Bible.”[1] One of the hallmarks of the Southern Baptist Convention, a point that I greatly admire, is their hard fought stance on inerrancy. This is a battle that they, for all practical purposes, have won. However, in another way they have lost. Noblit gives further insight in the movement’s shortcomings when he states, “one way to view the inerrancy controversy that it was fought and won in our denomination is that we changed the convention’s mind but did not change the heart.”[2] What is most shocking about this statement is that the Southern Baptist Convention is one of the most committed to God’s Word of all the major Christian denominations. If this is true within the SBC, how much more true is it among the Evangelical church as a whole?

Transformed by Scripture
However, I contend that there needs to be another step in the spiritual lives of Evangelicals if this movement hopes to make a real impact again. What is needed is something more than a commitment to the authority of Scriptures and its relevancy to all of life. This is a minimum requirement. The Bible must go beyond simply information to be believed. It must be seen as the vehicle God uses to change lives. Thus, one must be committed to God’s Word’s transformational purpose as well.

The reason for the lack of transformation in the lives of Evangelicals is, I believe, that the fundamentalist reaction of the early part of the 20th century against liberalism (and it needed to take place) has fostered a love for the truth of God and not necessarily a love for the God of truth. To remedy this situation, there needs to be a deep engagement with God’s Word that results in the transformation of the believer. As the writer of Hebrews makes clear, the Word of God is powerful, and sharper than a two edged sword. God’s word is more than just a revelation where we simply apply the Bible to our lives. According to Eugene Peterson, “These words (the Bible) are intended, whether confrontationally or obliquely, to get inside us, to deal with our souls, to form a life that is congruent with the world that God has created, the salvation that he has enacted, and the community that he has gathered.” Consequently, our commitment to the Bible must go beyond a commitment to inerrancy and sufficiency and also allow the Bible, working in tandem with the Holy Spirit, to transform us as we submit ourselves to the ministry of the Word.

Since transformation is needed, what would be a good plan to adopt to allow transformation to take place in the lives of believers? One must first understand that the Word of God must not just be received by the brain it must also be digested so it can change the heart and nourish the soul. I would even go so far as to say that it is even possible to over emphasize the rational element of Scripture reading at the expense of hearing God through His Word. In approaching the Bible like this, we run the risk of drowning out the voice of the Spirit, not to mention the Bible’s relational aspect. As Jesus warned, “If anyone has ears, let him hear.” Looking at the Bible as just a source for information prevents God from doing a transformational work.

The type of tenacity with which God intends His children to approach God’s Word is beautifully captured by Peterson in his illustration of a dog and a bone. In this illustration, the dog “gnawed, enjoyed and savored his prize”, which was the bone. Similarly, believers should approach God’s Word the same way. Meditate on God’s Word and allow it to “enter our soul as food enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood, and becomes holiness, love, and wisdom.” Digesting God’s word is necessary to nourish the life of the soul. Without it the same things happens to our souls that happens to our bodies when it is not nourished properly. Weakness, sickness, and even death occur. How much more should we nourish our souls with the food that God has given? When we do, real transformation takes place. Evangelicalism must get back to taking seriously God’s Word and letting change them from the inside out.

Works cited

Clendenen, Ray and Brad J. Waggoner, editors. Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2008.
Peterson, Eugene. Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2006

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Myth of Postmodernism

All the rage since the 1990’s regarding cultural analysis has been the birth of postmodernism. Books have been written and sermons have been preached ad nauseam about how Christians can minister effectively in a postmodern culture. The call was to transform the church’s methodology. We were to let go of systematic, expository preaching and replace it with stories if the Church was to be effective; so says the postmodern prophets of the emergent church.

I think that William Lane Craig was right when he said that the idea of a postmodern culture is one of Satan’s most brilliant achievements. The first attempt to dethrone God’s truth took place in the Garden and Satan has attempted similar feats throughout human history.The development of the postmodern myth is yet another attempt.

The stage of history, what we recognize as modernism, is the stage that precedes postmodernism. Modernism finds its genesis in the Enlightenment which carries with it a commitment to objective truth apart from God that could be accessed by reason alone. This commitment is coupled with another commitment, namely an epistemology rooted in science. Therefore, to minister effectively in this culture one had to logically and systmatically proclaim God's truth.

Postmodernism was supposedly a decisive move away from modernism. It was thought by many that the Western world now had adopted a new paradigm that believed that “all apparent realities are only social constructs, as they are subject to change inherent to time and place.” While this might be partly true, it certainly doesn’t tell the whole truth. You see, true postmodernism is philosophically unsustainable. People still have to use things like reason and logic to arrive at conclusions. This is precisely why we must not give in to the call to acquiesce to a relativistic bent. Craig believes that if the Church endorses this “suicidal course of action, the consequences for the church in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality...” (p. 18-19). May we not succumb to the move towards relativism and humbly live out and proclaim God’s truth.

Wikipedia Postmodernism

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Day I Lost My Religion

Religion has a way, interestingly enough, of damning the soul, a truth I learned long ago. I grew up with a very legalistic understanding of Christianity. I still have etched in my memory the times I would answer the altar call at my grandmother’s church in order to regain again the salvation I had lost the week before. The gospel I heard preached was that Jesus saves but it is up to each individual to stay saved by a series of duties as well as the impossible task of remaining sinless. The idea was cultivated in me that if I sinned even once I was lost and destined to @#!*% . This mixed with some unfortunate circumstances pertaining to the birth defects that I inherited, caused me to begin to hate God. The hatred that had been cultivated over those years would not be realized until I received Christ later in life. This hatred seems to be a bit of an oddity in hindsight given the path that God has lead me to. Yet, it was religion that played a major role in causing me to hate God.

Such a perversion of the gospel instilled in me neurotic emotions, bitterness, hatred, and a volcanic anger. Fortunately, though, this is not where the story ends, which is the beautiful thing about the power of the Gospel. Christ, when fully realized, has a way of melting the heart of the hardest hearted jade. To see Jesus dying for my sins is to see the most incredible act of love I know. R. C. Sproll was right when he said, “The sweetest fragrance, the most beautiful aroma that God has ever detected emanating from this planet, was the aroma of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus that was offered once and for all on the cross.” It was at the cross that I was able to let go the condemnation, insecurity, and a warped view of the Creator. This all took place as a result of letting go the salvation by works nonsense, and embrace what the Bible teaches. George Whitfield was shocked at the idea that someone would believe a salvation by works stating, “What! Get to heaven on your own strength? Why, you might as well try to climb to the moon on a rope of sand!” The truth is, is that it is difficult to rest on God’s grace alone given mankind’s propensity to give in to pride and demand that we can save ourselves. As Sproll correctly points out, “we don’t want to live by a heavenly welfare system. We want to earn our own way and atone for our own sins. We like to think that we will go to heaven because we deserve to be there.” This idea must be abandoned for one to have eternal life.

What I came to believe on that night in October 1989 sitting in my grandmother’s family room, was that Jesus Christ died for me and I simply needed to repent of my sin and trust Him completely for salvation. In doing so, I would not have to earn my salvation. As a result of trusting Christ alone, I no longer doubt God’s love for me and I have given up on religion completely. You see religion seeks to reach up to God and try to get God’s approval. Jesus, however, reached down, paid the penalty for my sin, and extended to me his offer of salvation. I didn’t have to be good enough, I just needed to let go of my pride, repent of my sin, and allow Christ to come in my heart. This is how I lost my religion and found Jesus. As a result, today I spend my days not trying earn God’s approval, but enjoying the relationship that I now have with God.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Christianity's Impact in the University

One of the most amazing things has taken place over the last forty to fifty years is the emergence of a Christian presence in Academia as a whole, and in the discipline of philosophy in particular. Philosophers such as Alvin Plantiga, Eleanor Stump, Dallas Willard, and Bob and Marylyn Adams, to name of few, are making major contributions to the discipline of philosophy. They are publishing in first rate journals receiving glowing accolades from their peers. As a matter of fact, Alvin Plantiga, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame led this charge over 40 years ago and his work continues to bear lasting fruit as others assume his mantel. His work is so important because prior to Plantiga, the university was owned by naturalistic thinking. In an article published in 2001 in the journal Philo, an article entitled the Metaphilosphy of Naturalism, Quentin Smith bemoans this fact stating,

By the second half of the twentieth century, universities and colleges had …
become in the main secularized. The standard (if not exceptionless) position
in each field, from physics to psychology, assumed or involved arguments for a
naturalist world-view; departments of theology or religion aimed to understand
the meaning and origins of religious writings, not to develop arguments against
naturalism. Analytic philosophers (in the mainstream of analytic philosophy)
treated theism as an antirealist or non-cognitivist world-view, requiring the
reality, not of a deity, but merely of emotive expressions or certain “forms of
life” (of course there were a few exceptions, e.g., Ewing, Ross, Hartshorne,
etc., but I am discussing the mainstream view).

Yet, as Smith points out, we may be witnessing the “de-secularization of academia.” If the naturalistic epistemology begins to be questioned and properly scrutinized in the university, we well may see a changing of the guard. Being a theist and a scholar could be back in vogue. Of course Smith bewails this fact blaming it on naturalist passivity and not an inadequacy of the naturalistic argument. He states, “Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism, most influenced by Plantinga’s writings, began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians.” Even a greater scare to Smith’s naturalism is what might happen if a naturalistic epistemology is replaced through philosophy, and then this could trickle down to other disciplines as well.

There are other inroads being made at the university level regarding a Christian voice. At Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs (CURA), a group of scholars led by the famed sociologist Peter Burger, undertook a two-year research project on evangelical intellectuals, with a primary focus on the secular academy. According to the study’s coordinators,

American Evangelical Protestants, both in popular American media and even in their own minds, are often reputed for anything and everything but intellectualism. However, this perception fails to account for the development of an increasingly sophisticated, self-assured, and productive class of intellectuals – an emerging “evangelical intelligentsia.” These evangelicals, engaged in intellectual pursuits in a way that is motivated by and informed by their faith, are exercising a growing influence on American academics, culture, law, and public policy.

This anti-theism fostered by naturalistic philosophy was brought about by years of Enlightenment thinking. Enlightenment thinkers wanted to shed themselves of the vestiges that retarded society’s progress such as religion and the monarchy. In doing so they introduced secularization, which, in their thinking, would liberate mankind from such aforementioned tyranny. As this movement really began to get a foothold on American culture, the church reacted by countering secularization with religious fundamentalism. What we know to be the fundamentalist/modernist controversy segued into a full-fledged fundamentalist movement. The theological elements of the fundamentalist movement were needed, but it was their retreat from secular culture that created the cultural chasm. Such Christian cowardliness has had a devastating effect on the cause of Christ. Os Guiness accurately points out that the result of such a retreat has created a situation where “the American people are as religious as the people of India-the most religious country in the world-but that American leadership is often as secular as Sweden, the most secular country in the world.” This fact needs to be changed since it is the leaders, academic and otherwise, who become the decision-makers of society, and in turn do much to shape its views, not to mention create a cultural milieu that shapes cultural.

I felt the brunt of this fundamentalist angst when I began to teach religion at a secular university. Friends and colleagues were actually questioning my Christian commitment by undertaking such a venture. My response to such thinking is to let the isolationist mentality created by American fundamentalism die and replace in its stead, a missional strategy that actually employs biblical evangelism. The anti-intellectualism created by the fundamentalist movement must be replaced by a movement of Evangelical intellectuals who will perform first-rate scholarship and make a real difference as society’s leaders and thinkers working missionally in aspects of life and work for the cause of Christ.