Wednesday, December 30, 2009

D.A. Carson on the Emergent Church -2-

Well I've made some more progress in the Carson book, he displays some significantly worthwhile insights into the outlook of leading writer Brian McLaren especially. One of Carson's points, without giving too much away, is that the emergent church employs a 'flat' critique of modernism. But it does so without normally acknowledging the benefits of modernism. While Carson doesn't go quite this far, what I liked too coming off of that and the Carson long quotes of others is the realization that no culture is itself holy. Pre-modernism, modernism, postmodernism; all have/will be full of good aspects and not so good aspects. This balance is worth taking into account no matter where one comes down on it. At times Carson seems a bit modern, I'll admit, but at other times he seems somewhat postmodern. Especially when he recoils to the useful (although typical) missions influence on us and our healthy self-critique idea. He mentions that one a couple of times as a positive of looking beyond our own culture. Perhaps this is a strength of Carson, he is open to more than just what he holds culturally.
One thing that Carson hasn't used, but I suspect would be useful is the obvious use of absolute principles of postmodern church ideals to wield against non-postmodern churches. That is to say, postmoderns get on a high bench to look down upon the poor moderns, but not only in attitude but judging in principle. These principles are taken as established fact (something that Carson mentions in vague passing, but rightly mentions at least). While some of the emergent/postmodern critiques are valid I agree (though not all of them), this at least doesn't fit well with McLaren's core points on avoiding absolutism. McLaren said one concern was absolutism has caused all of these bad old things in history, so it must be wrong. But cleverly, Carson comes along at this point to offer pre-modern bad old things in history. Ironically, it is a lot of the pre-modern church structure/image/thinking that post moderns want to rehabilitate Carson says. And this is combined with the positives of modernism, like medical care today, etc. Interesting stuff. I'll definitely have to read other viewpoints to see how this all fits, but I am more or less writing out of excitement that the Carson book has really started to engage after the first few chapters. I suspect it will get better as I continue reading.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

D.A. Carson on the Emergent Church

I don't have much time invested in my past honestly with reading on the 'Emergent Church.' I know of the leaders in that movement and have heard some of their messages online. I've been to churches that have elements which are really similar in substantial ways, but which still hold to truth being something we can know absolutely (yes, they were thriving even though they believed in absolute truth, they were very blessed of the Lord; I do by the way also believe in absolute truth). But I'm trying to get more familiar over the break with the whole discussion in general. D.A. Carson has a book on 'Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.' I understand emergent churches aren't all the same, and Carson states that flatly about 20 or 30 times in the first few chapters. I feel like he overstates this fact a couple times too many. I understand why he does some repetition, people are so prone to misunderstanding one another at times that it takes restatement to avoid claiming errors. It'll be interesting to see what all the rest of the work has in store. I'll refrain from sharing much more now until I'm done with this book. Just thought I'd share about some holiday reading. I'm interested for the moment in how Carson talks about epistemology. I'm open to suggested reading besides the obvious like Carson and McLaren, on the topic.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Culture Shift

One of the more interesting shifts in baby names is away from using so called 'Christian' names. One website even offers a prediction of names in 2019. It is at this link here:

They don't look like they have much Bible influence in 10 years if the guesses there are correct. This is probably fairly accurate in general, something of a trend is here. It is of course possible that our culture has just grown tired of using biblical names, but that seems too complex as a main explanation of why the trend has come about. And this ignores the fact that many names in the Bible are barely used in recent history, but could be if people were interested in the material.

The simplest explanation is normally best. And the most straightforward explanation is people don't read their Bibles, even if they do go to church, and don't turn to it likewise to name their child. And most people don't even go to church, they stay at home and watch television. Therefore, to use a cultural phrase: Out of sight out of mind.

There is another possible reason even among 'church goers.' As messages grow less Bible oriented, even those in the church probably don't come across many texts, or aren't encouraged to do so (some incidental evidence of this would be the surveys in 2007-2009 that megachurches are doing, where they find few people actually read the Bible in their ranks). Therefore they don't come across many options on Bible names, even if they profess the Bible is the main influence on their life. We might imagine on a typical week a message with ways to improve your workout or how to have a happier workplace may not touch on many biblical names beyond the obvious (Paul, John, Jesus, James, Peter, Mary, Anna, Hannah, Rebecca). And probably such messages will reuse predictable 'go to' texts once per year. The result might be that people listening also go to reuseable texts, and if there is anything to growing tired of typical Bible names, then people will look elsewhere.

The truth is I'm not sure of all the reasons why biblical names aren't used as much. But I thought I'd share some speculation, based on broader cultural trends.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Miles McPherson's Do Something!: Make Your Life Count

Do Something! is an interesting read. I wanted to review it online here, sharing my own opinion. I read this book for my work, so as to be an encouraged leader of our local church. The book sports endorsements by popular level writers or personalities. I once heard a teacher say you can tell a book by its endorsements. That's not a bad thing, just a statement of fact. When you see Lee Strobel as the lead recommender, you know it's not going to be very deep. But I wasn't looking for a super deep read. I just want to give my perspective going into this.

The book is very useful in my view, as an encouragement to get into the community or be at church in a serving way. That is the main thrust as you would expect. There are great application points at the end of each chapter, which vary between personal application at home, in your closet in prayer, to public community action. The book is not political as such, but more along the lines of social action for Christ.

Miles uses stories drawn from a variety of places, from people's health struggles (probably the most common prayer request in any Christian church, including his Rock Church in San Diego) on to military experiences. Generally, the stories are the kind that make you sad or concerned. Drug addiction, pornography addictions, people with cancer, people fighting and dying in foreign countries in an army. So it isn't a 'pick me up' except that in each case the author uses Scripture passages, sermonettes, to offer how God can get a person's perspective back on Him. I really enjoyed this. They aren't too long, most of them are bringing a passage to bear on real life. They break up the stories in the chapters. The whole book is organized around a plan of points, beginning with "P" words. I won't reveal them, since that is the author's perogative, and you can read it. Suffice it to say, that while I focused on them up front, I didn't notice them throughout helping me to organize what I read. But maybe it did for others.

I do believe anyone who reads this book will be challenged to a deeper quiet time / spiritual focus on God; beyong 30 second tidbits. And for a book to be used of God to convict greater times with God is a very good thing. In that sense I recommend the book very much.

My concerns however, are with the level of the theology. I feel like this book would be good evangelistically, don't get me wrong, that isn't bad. But I mean with the evangelistic presentation; there are some doctrinal question marks or errors I noticed. Most were not persistent, but a few were. Beyond these few I really liked the book, but I'll point them out so you may be made aware spiritually if you are a reader.

It's generally better to withhold judgment on theological points until you are well into a book and can see how terms are being used, picking up on the author's language.

1. He seems to hold to a belief that if you pray to recieve Jesus Christ (in his case from some hippies in a dollar store type place, ex page 149), then you can not live it after and still be genuine in that profession. In his case, he accepts Jesus allegedly then goes and does hard core drugs. Not to mention other life dominating issues, like pride. But then he rightly and properly later on in the book says he knows there must be fruit for a profession to be real. It seems that the time he really was saved was later in his life, as he lays out on page 149, when he realized that drug use wasn't the best way to go; Christ should be Lord instead. It seems like a clear cut salvation experience. While no one is sinless in this life, it is not clear to me that an outward praying of a prayer early in life means much if the heart and mind are not changed to obey God in repentance. Romans 6:1-2 says are we to continue in sin, knowing grace will abound? Paul says no way, not possible. How would it even be possible Paul says by the Spirit, for someone who is dead to sin to still live in it? (Lifestyle of sin). He goes on to talk about our newness of life, and walking in it. So Miles is holding to a popular Christian culture belief that someone can pray a prayer when they are young, live like hell for years on end, and still be saved. I don't think he holds this strongly, because he sort of soft peddles away from it later in the book by saying deeds must be there if a profession is genuine. But the whole 'both / and' thing left me confused. It seems that Miles is saved, and that it was this second realization when he got saved.

2. Patripassionism? I'm not sure exactly if that is what I'm reading on page 187. There is a prayer to God, saying He suffered on the cross. Of course, in Christian theology both the Father and Son and Spirit are God. But usually in the New Testament useage, God refers to the Father when it is alone by itself without clarification (most cases). Miles' prayer is on this page that God suffered on the cross, which is the point of confusion itself. I just found myself wanting clarification, is it the Father he is addresssing (Miles) when he gives this prayer (as we are commanded to normally pray to the Father, Matthew 6:9-13 is the reference). If it is the Father Miles meant, then he slipped into the doctrinal error of Patripassionism briefly when he said that God walked into the pain of the cross. I didn't see this error a lot in the book, so I'll stop here. But we affirm as Christians that rather the Son suffered on the cross, that is correct doctrine.

3. There are several places in the book where Miles thinks that God has appeared to him personally, like in his bedroom. While I'm not one who is opposed to thinking that God could appear to someone today, it would not be a theology I would want to endorse in the exact way that Miles says it. For there is again Trinitarian confusion; and this one keeps popping up in the book. What he says is that the Holy Spirit is an Invisible Man. Like a human figure whose face he cannot see who appeared. He then is urging people in the book to ask the Invisible Man, the Holy Spirit for His help. My problem with this is that the Holy Spirit to my knowledge does not appear anywhere in the Bible as a man or human figure. In fact, the Spirit appears in the form of a dove. But never as a human. And the title invisible man is never used of the Spirit in the Bible. It just caught me as strange, that Miles would not refer instead to the Son who did appear bodily or in a human form in the Old and New Testaments.... And so I just have doubts about the tightness of the view of the Trinity at his church and in his book, given the play loose with image thing. The book the Shack is notorious for this on a far worse scale than Miles ever gets to. But one has to be careful about playing too lose with biblical metaphors. There are a lot of wrong metaphors for instance that more liberal Presbyterians and Baptists use to insert worldly philosophy into churches through this back door method. I don't think Miles is doing this in any sophisticated way, but it makes me wonder about who he reads to get his Trinitarian theology and why they are ascribing metaphors God never uses for Himself in the Bible to God. I would just want to be far more cautious than Miles feels he needs to be. This is a gentle rebuke. And it is also a gentle rebuke of Baker Books, the publisher, that they didn't recommend an edit or refuse to publish it without more clarity.

4. This next one keeps popping up in churches, and I suspect it is because Christians are often guilty of reading through the Law of Moses at 100 mph, with the exception of a study in Genesis, or perhaps Exodus from time to time. It is the mistaken notion that God only wanted blood sacrifices. It is true, and hear me, that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins; per what the Bible says clearly in Hebrew 9:22. This is fulfilled in what Christ Jesus did voluntarily going to the cross and dying for our sins, per His Father's will. However, blanket statements about God only accepting sacrifices if they were blood ones is mistaken. It is true that Cain was rejected with his fruit of the ground. And Abel's was accepted, and it happened to be a blood sacrifice. However, no where does it say Cain was rejected because specifically it was not a blood sacrifice. It only says God was not pleased. We ought to assume that Cain brought sort of the leftovers or easy to obtain things, which showed his heart really wasn't into God that much. This was the problem, and it is why Cain so easily turns into a massive sinner by murdering his brother. He wasn't far from that to begin with spiritually. Abel's sacrifice was of the firstlings it says in the Bible, which means Abel brought the best. It is the fact that Cain brought leftovers that was not acceptable to God. Much like today people come to worship God in church if it is convenient, if it isn't too costly to worship God; God is offended at their arrogance, just like Cain's. Miles wrongly interprets this on page 196. I am not trying to be too hard on him, though, as I hear this mistake all the time among pastors; who ought to read more carefully. God clearly, since His Word is timeless, accepted non blood sacrifice for sins in the Mossaic Law, Leviticus 5:11 being one example enough to blow away Miles' point. The non blood sacrifice was for those who could not afford to (not because of laziness or greed but income level) bring a large animal or even two pigeons. They brought flour instead as an offering, that is to say grain. But it was fine flour, not the last fruits of produce, but the best. That is what Miles and many pastors in Baptist, non-denominationl denominations miss out on. Of course, the Law never actually could permanently remove sins. But neither could Cain or Abel's sacrifices. Nor does God killing an animal to make fur clothes for Adam and Eve prove that God would only take animal sacrifices or preferred them. In fact, the Son of God is the only One who could come take away our sins. It is virtually meaningless then to go on a long speal in a book, Sunday School, or the pulpit about Cain having brought only vegetables. The point of the text is that he brought low quality, grade D, vegetables, rather than something fine; rather than the first fruits.

That's enough now, it's time to get on with other things. May this profit someone who is thinking over their reading.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Homeless Ministry

Over the past few years our church family has come across a number of persons who are struggling with transitions. They are near homelessness or homeless often before they seek help in a normal case. Perhaps pride or lack of knowledge of options lets things dwindle and dwindle until there 'seem' to be no options left. By God's mercy, we have been able to help arrange places to stay, or see a solution for that time to make the situation rendered fixed, or refer to a place that may help. Like most evangelical churches, we seek to provide various options to meet needs between shelter/clothing/food/financial support. These are always necessary for church family members. For those who aren't part of the church family, decisions are made based on benevolence support *beyond* the previous commitment.
In my opinion, some of the most challenging persons to minister to are those who struggle with drug addiction. This is difficult because everything serves the addiction, if cash is given, the person will always be tempted to use that to trade in for drugs. What has happened in their life to get them to the point, as they respond wrongly, continues: lies, using people (whoever, even their own children as sympthathy to get drug money), and lack of clear thinking about a holistic view of their life, plague someone who is not consumed with Christ Jesus as first and foremost, but rather with their own thing. They have to find comfort in that drug of choice, so they think. Rather a lasting solution and hope would be in the living Savior Jesus. He is the only person who can change someone needing to seek help from drugs so as to escape homelessness. I have heard of a number of people in and out of drug rehab facilities in the county or state, and not much ever seems to change; they are 'clean' for months, and then they are back in the addiciton. In my opinion, these are the saddest instances, when you can help someone only physically for a time, but they refuse to turn to the One who can through His personal presence in their lives make real changes that affect the situation permanently.

Homelessness is a real challenge in our area, and I am exploring the issue in more depth. With the economic downturn, a lot of 'services sector' people have been showing up for help. Particularly, construction people. I don't expect this to change as the building / construction area is facing a lot of Baby Boomers retiring who do not need an even more expensive house, or an even larger garage, or a excesses like vacation homes. Less construction work means there is going to be a lot of transitioning going on, and some homelessness as a result for set times; sad to say.

Scripture commands us to look out for those who are of faith. We must do this or our message is no message at all. There is also the witness in the world aspect of caring for those who are hurting in society at large. This too is important.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Institute for Creation Research

My wife and I had a chance to visit the local conference put on by First Dallas and the Institute for Creation Research. It was a very informative short conference. The first and last 'lecture' were worldview matters by Henry Morris, III. And in between those were 'lectures/talks' on the complexity of life. That was apparently the last conference of its type called "Demand the Evidence" for 2009. However, for anyone curious about such issues, or willing to explore the matter of God's creation and His fingerprints on it; you can sign for the ones they will no doubt have in 2010. I would recommend brining some money for their bookstore, as there are good ICR and also Answers in Genesis authored books. I also understand they will ship them back to you if you don't want to carry them around the conference. The main message of this one seemed to be: the evidence is interpreted by God's Word, here are solid explanations of how these things cannot be explained by the contemporary evolutionary explanations, and so boldly speak out about the facts among those you know and in your family. Well worth how much we paid to attend for the quality of speakers and the information countering the prevailing winds of popularity.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Intelligent Design Conference

There is a great opportunity to learn more about the Intelligent Design movement with Institute for Creation Research associated persons coming up this weekend. First Baptist Dallas has the conference hosted there. Students get a discount. At the least, it will be an opportunity to deepen the dialogue on the important matter of creation theology....

Friday, November 6, 2009

Systematic Theology - Providence

When it comes to theology, after the doctrine of God, Scripture and the Trinity; there is a place to raise the question of how do we define (as Christians) the doctrine of Divine Providence? There are varied definitions in place in denominations and churches, but orthdox Christians must affirm at least: that God is actively involved with His creation. We do not serve a deistic 'god' who has left things alone; no longer interacting with the universe. We serve a personal God who has revealed in history His plan and person and work. There is also the question of does God continually create (as I understand at least now J Edwards America's famed preacher held and another figure I believe by the name Keim today in Europe's theology scene)? Or is He preserving what He has already created, preserving what was and the processes that arrange properties and forms (currently popular Baptist / Bible church theologian favorite W. Grudem, or recently popular Baptist author / theologian M. Erickson)? Does anyone want to comment on their view of Providence within the evangelical Christian world? I have in the past held the continual creation view, however, at present it seems to me at least the biblical evidence is with preservation. But I would love to talk to some at church in our 'training union' of sorts what you think or online as well. Colossians 1:17.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Question for Readers on Simon the Sorcerer in Luke's Book of Acts

This week I was studying, for another reason, the issue of Simon's response in the Book of Acts chapter 8. It struck me that Simon the Sorcerer, after seemingly following the 'Way,' then makes a crazy offer to Peter to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit; when he saw this was given by laying on of hands at that juncture. Now here's the question part:

There is a theological position some hold that is called 'theonomy.' A theonomist generally holds that the Old Testament Law is applicable to Civil Law today. They don't think we are Israel or anything like that, as I understand them (and I'm open to correction on this). But they do want the examples of the penalities to have fair informative roles in decisions today. So if Simon is a sorcerer, and he seems to believe, and then offers this thing that sounds blasphemous, to buy the Holy Spirit gift; would a theonomist argue that Simon would have rightly been condemned under a death penalty of some sort equivalent to, but different than stoning per Leviticus 20:26-27 (Cf also Rev 21:8 future tense, not in our age)? Or can we see Simon as yet an example of how the OT Civil Law should not apply in the post-temple age we live in as New Covenant believers? (Though admittedly they were in a transition time) Any thoughts on this unusual theological question?

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Self-Attesting Christ of Scripture--Worthy of Worship

When it comes to the world, it is not comfortable to be a person lacking a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sure there are things that bring joy or sadness to anyone. But lasting joy and abundant life here and hereafter are in Christ Jesus alone. It is the God who has spoken to us in His Son that Scripture reveals; and that changes us. Christ Jesus changes us as we learn that He loves sinners who are willing to heed His call. Christ Jesus changes us when we know that He has deep compassion for the hurting, the downcast, the sin strapped and the guilt ridden conscience to be set free. It is my sincere hope that anyone reading this will take a challenge, read the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of John; get acquainted with the Son of God who so willingly came and laid down His life so that we might live; along with Him, as we unite our trust to Him alone.