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Modernism / Postmodernism Archives ~ Aletheia Baptist Ministries Skip to main content

Post Christian

Post Christian by G.E. Veith

Post Christian

by Rick Shrader

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I have read Gene Edward Veith, Jr. since I first learned of postmodernism from his book Postmodern Times in 1994. Veith considers this book to be a follow-up of the previous work. He has also written numerous other books on related subjects. This is a 2020 book and is a great update on the current American situation. Are we “post-Christian?” Vieth says yes and no. We are in the sense that postmodernism has morphed into a time that has taken our country and culture beyond what Christianity has normally been. He writes, “Postmodern Times discussed the sexual revolution in terms of extramarital sex; now the issues are homosexuality, pornography, and sex robots. In the 1990s we were deconstructing literature; in the twenty-first century we are deconstructing marriage. In the 1990s we were constructing ideas; in the twenty-first century we are constructing the human body. In the 1990s we had feminism; in the twenty-first century we have transgenderism; in the twenty-first century we are warned about committing cultural appropriation. Pluralism has given way to identity politics. Relativism has given way to speech codes. Humanism has given way to transhumanism, the union of human beings and machines” (p. 17).

But Veith also contends that, no, we are not entirely “post-Christian.” In various ways Americans (and other worldlings) are retaining older and ancient forms of religions even if they are not Christian. He writes, “So scholars no longer accept the ‘secular hypothesis,’ the assumption that as a society becomes more modern, it becomes less religious. The global religion explosion–which is happening not only among Christians but also among Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus–proves that.   . . This has given rise to a new term that is gaining currency among scholars in multiple fields. It is another post– word. Not postmodern. Not post-Christian. But postsecular. What is emerging or is already upon us is a postsecular culture” (p. 289). In other words, the “nones” and millennials are adopting various forms of pagan cultures and using them in their selfish life-styles–everything from self-help spiritualities to back-to-earth food and medicine to yoga. But, Veith reminds the reader, “Christianity has a high success rate evangelizing the heathen.” But also, “If postsecular non-Christians are ‘spiritual but not religious,’ the church would do well to recover its own heritage of Christian spirituality” (p. 299).

This is a great update to Postmodern Times, and well worth the money and time to read.

 

A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer

by Rick Shrader

“An encouraging thought for the true Christian is that the movement from orthodoxy to liberalism is usually slow, almost too slow to be perceived, where as the movement back to faith is sudden.”

A.W. Tozer, This World:  Playground or Battleground?, p. 97.

 

Loving God with all Your Mind

Loving God with all Your Mind

by Rick Shrader

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I have always enjoyed reading Gene Veith.  He was the first to introduce me to postmodernism back in the early 90s.  Somewhere along the line I missed this 1987, 2003 book.  The sub-title is:  Thinking as a Christian in the Postmodern World.  Veith uses Daniel as his primary example of someone who was forced to live in a culture (Babylon) that was opposed to almost everything he believed and held dear.  He uses that to bring the reader up to date (at least from 2003) on what is happening to thinking and writing in our present day culture.  Veith proposes, “Western thought has deep roots in Christianity and in a biblical worldview.  Even if contemporary scientists reject Christianity, they cannot escape its influence in the very way they think.”  Yet Veith admits that we have come to a point where our thinking is divorced from Biblical thinking.  “Postmodernist ethicists look neither to absolutes, as Christians do, nor to empirical considerations, as the modernists do, but solely to the individual’s choice.  Morality too is relative, a construction either of the culture or of the individual.”  Then he writes, “The prevailing view is that biblical morality is oppressive and that it stands in the way of social change.”  That change must come even at the extermination of opposing points of view.  But Gene Veith is an educator and he believes that the Christian actually has great advantage in the arena of ideas.  “Christianity offers a conceptual framework for affirming both what is natural and what is human.  In the doctrines of Creation and Incarnation, a Christian can find a conceptual basis for valuing and pursuing the whole range of human and natural knowledge.”

 

He is Not Silent

He is Not Silent

by Rick Shrader

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This is a timely book on preaching by Dr. Mohler. I greatly enjoyed it, keeping it close by on my Kindle and going to it in my spare minutes. Mohler takes the reader through the homiletics of preaching but insists that “the only form of authentic preaching is expository preaching.” By this he means that the preacher must explain the text to his hearers or preaching has not taken place. “The heart and soul of expository preaching—of any true Christian preaching—is reading the Word of God and then explaining it to the people so that they understand it.” Mohler also takes contemporary worship to task. “The sacred desk has become an advice center, and the pew has become the therapist’s couch. Psychological and practical concerns have displaced theological exegesis, and the preacher directs his sermon to the congregation’s perceived needs rather than to their need for a Savior.” He continues, “The audacious claim of Christian preaching is that the faithful declaration of the Word of God, spoken through the preacher’s voice, is even more powerful than anything music or image can deliver.

Especially good is his chapter on preaching to a postmodern culture, titled, “Stranger than it Used to Be.” “The rise of postmodernism presents Christians with the undeniable reality that many people simply do not accept the idea that truth is absolute, or even that written texts have a fixed meaning. All claims to truth—especially claims to universally valid truth—are met with suspicion, or worse. This presents the Christian with a changed climate for truth-telling and a genuine intellectual challenge.”

I also appreciated Mohler’s emphasis on the Scripture which we preach being the Word of God. “Does God speak today?” he asks. If we do not realize that God actually is speaking through His Word (as opposed to charismatic chaos) as we preach it, then we ought to stop preaching. In fact, then we ought to stop having church altogether.

 

 

Christianity and Liberalsim

Christianity and Liberalsim

by Rick Shrader

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I reread this classic work on a Kindle version.  Machen first wrote this book in 1921 when his Presbyterian church was experiencing encroaching liberalism.  It was first published in The Princeton Theological Review and was later put in book form.  The book simply moves through the subjects of man, sin, God, Scripture, Salvation, and the Church, in each way showing how Liberalism is not Christianity as much as liberals try to make it so.  Machen’s logical reasoning and clear use of Scripture has ever since made historic Christianity clear and plain.

Machen writes, “Faith is being exalted so high today that men are being satisfied with any kind of faith, just so it is faith.  It makes no difference what is believed, we are told, just so the blessed attitude of faith is there.  The undogmatic faith, it is said, is better than the dogmatic, because it is purer faith—faith less weakened by the alloy of knowledge.”  He also wrote, “The greatest menace to the Christian Church today comes not from the enemies outside, but from the enemies within; it comes from the presence within the Church of a type of faith and practice that is anti-Christian to the core.”  These and others show why a second or third reading of this book is always worthwhile.

 

 

The Vanishing Word

The Vanishing Word

by Rick Shrader

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This is a Focal Point Series book of which Gene Edward Veith, Jr. is the general editor.  The subtitle of the book is “The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World.”  Hunt takes the reader from the world of the Scriptures, given in verbal form, to the Reformation and then to the modern day.  He shows how we have gone from a print society to an image-driven society.  The danger has been, and is today, that idolatry is image driven and today’s culture is totally immersed in image.  Along the way Hunt gives many interesting historical anecdotes about the coming of the new inventions that produced the industrial age and then the information age.  Hunt follows Neil Postman closely and also Veith.  Postman’s books (Amusing Ourselves To Death, Technopoly, etc.) and Gene Veith’s books (Postmodernism Today, Reading Between The Lines, etc.) have been among many that are warning us about the downside of Postmodernism.

“When I said in Chapter One that visual media have the potential to paganize us, I simply meant that in a culture where it is difficult to escape the pervasiveness of images, the devotion that we put into the ritual of watching television, going to the movies, attending rock concerts, or devouring the latest People magazine approaches the same level of devotion that the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans had for their deities.  It meets the same need, and quite remarkably, the images are all too familiar.  The cult of celebrity fills a religious hole dug by modernism.  William Blake once said that all deities reside in the human breast (all but one, of course).  So it was for the Greeks, and so it is for us.  The machines of show business brought the gods back to life.”  (163-164)

 

The Christian Faith in the Modern World

The Christian Faith in the Modern World

by Rick Shrader

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I have found that anything written by J. Gresham Machen is worth reading.  I was browsing a journal about Biblical subjects when I saw a chapter from this book reprinted in that publication.  I immediately found a copy of the book on Amazon and bought it.  It was originally published in 1936 but that publication was a transcribed copy of original radio broadcasts.  As you read it you can feel the difference between Machen’s normal writing and his speaking.  Either way the book does not disappoint. The chapter I first saw in that journal was “Is The Bible the Word of God?”  In it Machen gives one of the best defenses for Biblical preservation from the historical point of view I have seen.  A valid question from the KJV Only point of view is, “Do I have the Word of God in my hand?”  I think that question needs to be answered, and I think it is entirely answerable without taking such an existential leap of faith.  Machen points out how God providentially protected His Word, not by miraculous means as He did with the originals, but by His providential preservation in history and the church.

 

The Gospel and Narrative

The Gospel and Narrative

by Matt Shrader

Long John Silver is a prominent name in the minds of those young (and older) boys who have read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Throughout the entire story young Jim Hawkins struggles with who the real Long John Silver is and how to understand his actions. Is he the affable, generous sea cook, and friend to Jim? Or, is he the merciless thief and murderer who covets Captain Flint’s treasure and will use Jim for his own means? Jim learns that it is dangerous to assume that he understands the person of this one-legged marauder. He also learns, in the end, that the content of Silver’s actions reveal the pirate.

Aletheia has reviewed two recent books by  prominent Emergent Church figures. The first book presented was Rob Bell’s Love Wins (May 2011 issue). The second was Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity (July 2011 issue). These two books do more than hint at a particular assumption they make concerning the nature of doctrine. McLaren gives ample space to the “narrative question.”1 Bell likewise gives much space to this discussion in another book (Velvet Elvis). Bell, though, uses the word “story” in conjunction with his discussion of the Bible and the idea appears throughout Love Wins.2 As in Treasure Island, knowing a key assumption (such as: “He’s a pirate!!!”) lends to a better understanding of actions or “writings.”

The assumption that doctrine needs to be understood according to its “narrative” quality needs closer inspection. “Narrative” is perhaps different than what you may think. Narrative is normally understood as a kind (genre) of literature, the gospels being prime examples. Narrative is also understood, however, by some to be the best ‘descriptor’ of the nature of theology. This is a serious issue because it distorts the very basis and essence of Christianity.

I would like to take a closer look at what is meant by narrative according to “narrative theology.” Narrative theology assumes a different understanding of the nature of doctrine. This discussion will show that this assumption is wrong. The narrative or story description of the gospel and its basis for the Christian life is also wrong at the most fundamental level. Indeed, there are produced different kinds of theological methods which in turn produce different kinds of Christianity.3

 

Narrative:

Appearance and Discussion. Using narrative as a basic understanding of the nature of doctrine has roots in 20th century theological debates about the place of experience in determining truth and doctrine.4 Narrative theologians see themselves as peacemakers between the opposing views of (what they consider to be) the incorrect literalism of orthodoxy and the also incorrect experiential theology of liberal theology.5 The leaders of this type of theology are called neo-liberal or postliberal.6

There are different kinds of narrative theologies, but they all have a similar core approach. Narrative theology attempts to understand theology under the concept of story and storytelling, i.e., the biblical writer is telling the story of his own spiritual interaction with God. This assumes that God is interacting with the world. God’s interaction is itself a story. It is the story, or grand narrative (meta-narrative). Narrative theology may also believe that a religious community also has a story they tell as a part of the grand story. The individual, then, exercises faith by aligning his personal story with God’s story (or his community’s). Basically, when one reads the biblical narrative one must understand that the Bible wants to communicate as “interaction,” and then know God by grasping that inexpressible message of the narrative. Biblical interpretation becomes focused on these larger issues.

The Danger of Narrative. One of the most significant dangers with narrative theology is what it denies. It does not allow for truth or doctrine to be communicated adequately in propositions. Narrative theology applies postmodern thinking (where absolute truth cannot be adequately expressed because of the failings of language) to the language, history, and nature of the Bible.7

The narrative approach to theology stresses that the biblical writers did not necessarily intend to give a reliable historical account. Instead, their intent was to give a record of their own narrative as it fit within the larger narrative of history. The historical events and details (real or not) of Scripture are to be taken only as a part of the framework of the writer. The important aspect of the story/narrative is to show the interaction of the main subject of the story with God. This interaction is most adequately expressed in a story because of the limits of language to produce propositional talk about the divine. What happens is that propositions are downplayed because they feel it is not proper to focus on the details of the story. They may or may not be outright denied, but they are not the primary focus of the storyteller. They are secondary issues. As one critique argues: “Narrative theologians distinguish truth from an historic revelation objectively given in historical acts and also from a propositional revelation objectively given in Scripture.”8

Narrative theology usually stresses the presence of a divine plan, protagonists who represent evil, and ultimately a divine reconciliation. The Christian “symbols” such as creation, fall, redemption, and heaven are employed as referring to corresponding points on the plotline of God’s plan.  To say that we know the specifics of these events oversteps the boundaries of the narrative approach. Sadly, they often deny that the Bible makes black and white assertions about issues such as heaven and eternity.

Narrative theology limits what we can positively know about God from the Bible simply by saying that these issues were not central to the storyteller. The point of the Bible story is to communicate something other than propositions. Truth about God cannot be stated so simply as propositional theology has said. So, what does this mean for the gospel?

 

Biblical Propositions/Assertions and the Gospel Erosion:

The danger with narrative theology has been given in summary form. To answer the question: “So what?” we must understand a little about what propositions are and why they are so important to historic Christianity. Propositions are those times when someone makes a general (or specific) statement about reality. They refer to a knowable truth. I would argue that there are biblical propositions that cannot be reduced to story form.

A prime example is that the Gospel is founded on certain propositional statements about historical events. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 gives us a few of those historical events: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” It is vital for the gospel and for the Christian faith that these are real facts. As Paul goes on to say in verse 17: “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!”

While I believe that there are significant methodological and philosophical deficiencies in the thinking of narrative type theology,9 one can evaluate the narrative system by simply recognizing that it “readily obscures historical fact and clouds the foundations of a stable faith.”10 By arguing that the historical facts are not necessarily reliable and are matters of secondary importance, narrative theology risks losing the foundation of the Christian faith.

The Christian faith relies upon the revelation of God within space and time in a humanly understandable manner (i.e., language). The gospel is absolutely dependent upon the historical reality of the events of Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return communicated in a knowable manner. Christianity believes there is a God who has a relationship with humanity, that humanity has the ability to know God, and that God has revealed Himself.11 Narrative theology is ambiguous at best with regard to the historical truth of these events and their knowability.

How does this transfer to McLaren and Bell? Many puzzle at some of the statements they make when they elaborate on their theology. How can Bell claim that hell is not forever despite some seemingly clear statements from Scripture to the contrary?If we see that he has such a reliance on narrative theology, then his reasoning becomes clear. If he reasons that the overall story/narrative of Scripture affirms that God is loving and gets what he wants, then it follows that the passages on hell are to be understood within this framework.12 They then reason that an eternal hell runs counter to the overriding narrative of the Bible. Therefore, one must assume one either has read/interpreted it incorrectly or realizes that it is not meant to be taken as a propositional statement.

The assumptions within a narrative approach are vitally important in order to understand their Christianity. Not only do the historical events of the gospel become fuzzy, but the demands of the gospel are denied outright many times. Belief about the ultimate is downplayed because knowledge of it is limited. Christianity becomes “big enough, wide enough, and generous enough”13 to include the perspective of just about anybody.

 

Conclusion: 

Narrative as a descriptor of the nature of theology produces a theology that strips away the substance of historic Christian orthodoxy.14 While the product of narrative theology is to be ultimately rejected, there is something to be learned from the interaction. Understanding the identity of someone (human or divine) can be greatly enhanced through narrative because we can see what the person has done. Also, we ought to recognize that the Bible does produce a comprehensive, united narrative of all of history (meta-narrative).15 Christianity, however, affirms that this narrative corresponds to the propositions of the Bible concerning at least God, humanity’s place in the world, and the need for sinners to know Jesus Christ. There is a false and a true meta-narrative. One is not free to choose one’s own meta-narrative because the Bible presents the true meta-narrative through propositional content. The propositions of the gospel demand a decision. While narrative is a legitimate genre of Scripture, this does not mean propositions are not present nor that all of Scripture is narrative.

While the references to narrative by Bell and McLaren may not mean they accept all the points of narrative theology as put forth by men such as Hans Frei, Stanley Hauerwas, or George Lindbeck, it does help to explain why they can ignore so many clear statements of Scripture concerning the gospel and the eternal ramifications of accepting and rejecting it. It does begin to explain how their versions of Christianity are so dissonant from orthodoxy. The assumption to remove or downplay the propositional character of truth and Scripture is significant. And, it is wrong.

 

1.Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 33-66.  Also telling is McLaren’s  specific acceptance of Hans Frei’s work on page 13 and also page 262, endnote 10.

2.Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 40-69.

3.Notice the title of McLaren’s book: A New Kind of Christianity, Rob Bell’s admission of “new understandings of Christian faith” (Velvet Elvis, 14), and Rick Shrader’s title to his Aletheia article  concerning McLaren’s book: “A New Kind of Christianity Liberalism.” 

4.For an introduction to the history and main ideas of narrative theology, see: Stanley J. Grenz & Roger E. Olson, 20th Century Theology (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1992), 271-285. 

5.Cf. George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 1-3; Hans Frei, “Response to ‘Narrative Theology: An Evangelical Appraisal,’” Trinity Journal 8.1 (Spring 1987), 21. 

6.George Hunsinger, “Postliberal Theology,” The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, ed. by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 42-57. 

7.There are a variety of approaches to narrative theology. I am simply trying to focus on some of the main ideas common among them. For an overview of the various approaches, see: Gabriel Fackre, “Narrative Theology: An Overview,” Interpretation 37 no 4 (Oct. 1983), 340-352.

8.Carl F. H. Henry, “Narrative Theology: An Evangelical Appraisal,” Trinity Journal 8. (spring 1987), 12.

9.A few treatments of the possible deficiencies are given in: George Steiner, Real Presences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989); Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture & Hermeneutics (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002), 207-235; and Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

10.Henry, “Narrative Theology,” 13.

11.See the “Possibility of Theology,” in Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: Volume 1 (Allen Park: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009), 9-12. 

12.Bell argues for understanding God’s love in precisely this manner, Love Wins, 95-119.

13.Ibid, 110.

14.Bell’s claim that you can always find somebody in church history who has a certain view (Ibid, 109-110) does not mean that all views are equally legitimate. It is a logical non sequitur. The existence of doctrinal orthodoxy and heresy is another serious debate that Bell  (and McLaren) get dead wrong.

15.Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 93-95.

 

 

A New Kind of Christian

A New Kind of Christian

by Rick Shrader

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Though this book was written in 2001, I wanted to read it first before I read A New Kind of Christianity, which was published in 2010 (same publisher and year as Rob Bell’s Love Wins).  A couple books by McLaren was enough for me but we need to know what those who are denying the faith and the Scriptures are saying.  It is written in a conversational style concerning two friends who are dropping out of the pastorate because of undue pressure from evangelical and conservative believers.  McLaren believes that Christianity has been mistaken for the last 500 years because we have adapted modernistic ways of thinking:  absolutes, truth and error, heaven and hell, two opposites can’t both be right, etc.  Even in 2001 McLaren was saying that heaven and hell are the same place where everyone goes after death.  That place is perfect and without sin.  Those who have understood Christ’s universal atonement (which has already saved every person) will enjoy it (“heaven”) and those who have not will not enjoy it (“hell”), but all will be there anyway.  All religions lead to this place but Christianity leads to it more easily.  Being “saved” becomes unnecessary and even selfish.

 

 

The Highways and Hedges

The Highways and Hedges

by Rick Shrader

I found the joy of the salvation of others.  Oh, the privilege, the blessed privilege, to be used of God to win a soul to Christ, and to see a man or woman being led out of bondage by some act of ours toward them.  To think that God should condescend to allow us to be coworkers with Him.  It is the highest honor we can wear.1

 Such was the compassion of D.L. Moody, a compassion that we have largely lost today!  Jesus anticipated the future evangelizing effort of the church when he described, in a parable, the great supper invitation:  “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be full” (Luke 14:23).

H.A. Ironside said of that early church, “It is a wonderful testimony to the devotion of the early believers that even within one generation after our Lord’s ascension the evangel had been carried throughout the known world.”2 But the commission of our Lord was not finished with that first generation.  As William Carey argued to his hyper-Calvinistic brethren, the Lord’s commission was not finished with the apostles.  If we still baptize and teach in our churches, then we must still preach the gospel to all the world.  We don’t have two-thirds of a Great Commission!3

We have always had to guard against by-passing the hard work of evangelism.  The cults merely indoctrinate people into a system; the Roman church went over the whole world and baptized the nations, not gospel converts; Liberalism sought to redefine the whole world into the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man; similarly, the ECT document (Evangelicals & Catholics Together) invented a sort of “redefinition evangelism” by simply declaring all Catholics saved, supposedly accomplishing by the stroke of a pen what missionaries could not do in 2000 years!  The current climate of emerging churches (especially in the wildly popular writings of Rob Bell and Brian McLaren) has grown so tired of evangelization and seeing the world as “us and them” (i.e. saved and lost) that it has invented a new universalism where all will be saved in the end anyway. So just relax and stop feeling guilty that you are not evangelizing at all.  As John Rylands, Sr. told young William Carey, “If God wants to save the heathen, He’ll do it without your help or mine.”  How we have come full circle from his day to ours!

A.W. Tozer wrote a generation ago,

God’s invitation to men is broad but not unqualified.  The words ‘whosoever will may come’ throw the door open, indeed, but the church is carrying the gospel invitation far beyond its proper bounds, turning it into something more human and less divine than that found in the sacred Scriptures.  What we tend to overlook is that the word ‘whosoever’ never stands by itself.  Always its meaning is modified by the word ‘believe’ or ‘will’ or ‘come.’4

We must not excuse our own fundamental churches from abuses even though we faithfully witness, win souls, and give invitations.  We too have often looked at winning souls as simply obtaining a notch on our gospel gun-belts.  The sinner’s prayer is not a magic formula that only needs repeating with no personal commitment.  If all of the “souls saved” which have been reported in the last fifty years were genuine, America would be saved twice over.  The hindrance this has caused becomes obvious.  One commonly hears, in witnessing to a worldly, uninterested person, “Oh, I did that when I was a kid going to such and such church.”

Whatever the abuses of the gospel have been or the obstacles in the way today, the Word of God stands as a megaphone sending the believing child of God out into the world “that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23).  We need not be discouraged by the slow progress or the faint-heartedness of some or the persecution of others.  L.S. Chafer wrote, “When a soul has received the redemption which is in Christ and is saved, that one is then privileged to suffer with Christ in a compassion for the lost; being prompted, in some measure, by the same divine vision and love, through the presence and power of the indwelling Spirit.”5 This is still our calling today as much as it was to those first century believers.

The world as it was then

Paul affirmed to the Galatians that Christ came into the world “in the fullness of the time” (Gal. 4:4).  Consider what advantages and help God gave to those first Christians.  The Roman roads and sea-ways provided nearly worldwide access to all people groups.  Merrill Tenney wrote, “The rule of Rome over the provinces was greatly facilitated by its excellent system of roads, which, until the recent era of the automobile, were the best that the world had ever seen.”6 In the book of Acts Luke seems almost thrilled to describe his travels with the great apostle as much as a modern traveler would be today.

The Greek language provided crucial understanding for the gospel almost everywhere it went.   Thanks to Alexander’s conquest directed by God’s providence, the Jews and Gentiles alike understood in one language.  William Ramsay wrote that “Greek was the language of all even moderately educated persons,” and that, “Graeco-Roman manners and ideas were being actively disseminated and eagerly assimilated by all active and progressive and thoughtful persons.”7 Conybeare and Howson wrote, “The Greek language had already been prepared as a medium for preserving and transmitting the doctrine; the Roman government was now prepared to help the progress even of that religion which it persecuted.”8

The Diaspora, that great dispersion of the Jews from their homeland, also took the early Jewish Christians to every part of the world.  The Jews established synagogues in most cities and kept the Sabbath and most Mosaic Laws.  This afforded the Jewish believers in those areas a ready pulpit for the gospel.  Philip Schaff described this particular advantage, “Jesus and the apostles availed themselves of this democratic privilege to preach the gospel as fulfillment of the law and the prophets. . . . Paul preached Christ in the synagogues . . .  Which furnished him a pulpit and an audience.”9

Paul used his Roman Citizenship as an access to gospel opportunity.  The provincial system of annexation by conquest gave Roman citizens liberties in areas such as Achaia, Pontus, Cappadocia, Galatia.  “The Romans never interfered with the religious freedom of the subject peoples.”10 Paul often appealed to his Roman citizenship if it helped his purpose of preaching the gospel.

Even the Bema seats of the Roman Empire helped the spread of the gospel.  Paul was helped by Gallio’s Bema judgment in Acts 18:12 when he would have otherwise been beaten and run out of town.  It was Herod’s Bema in Caesarea that allowed Paul to appeal to Caesar and be transported duty-free to Rome so he could fulfill a long-time desire to preach there also (Acts 23:35).  It was Nero’s Bema in Rome that allowed him to preach while in prison waiting for sentencing (Acts 23:11; 25:10).  Even under Rome’s own persecution, the Bema “was to give shelter to the infant church, with opportunity of safe and continued growth.”11

Persecution itself sent the infant church into all parts of the world fulfilling the great commission.  Acts 1:8 outlines Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then the uttermost parts of the earth as the road map for the gospel dissemination.  This becomes the outline for the book of Acts.  Even the apostolic gifts were exercised in this order to help the witness of the apostles.12 Beginning with the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen, the church was forced to spread out in these four areas.  “And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at [1] Jerusalem; and they were scattered abroad throughout the regions of [2] Judea and [3] Samaria” (Acts 8:1).  “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went [4] everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

The divine wisdom of the local church itself was a great advantage for the spread of the gospel.  This simple form of Christian gathering was flexible enough and mobile enough to be practiced in any locale where God’s people were scattered.  It was not only “multi-cultural” in that, by conversion, it was made up of Jews and Gentiles, bond and free, it was also “omni-cultural” in that it could exist in many places and circumstances.  The great Ephesian church began this way.  “But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he [Paul] departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.  And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:9-10).

The World as it is today

God has not left Himself without witness today nor without the availability of the gospel to all people.  Travel today is nearly a miraculous thing compared to world travel throughout history and until just a hundred years ago.  Today’s missionaries can come and go from and to the fields of the world in a matter of hours rather than weeks and months.  In addition  there are amazing internet and satellite communications that allow instant audio and visual communication anywhere in the world.

For centuries English has been the most common language for travel and has allowed an English-speaking traveler to navigate through almost any location.  And now, because of technology, languages are learned quickly and Bible translation is done easier and is therefore traveling  faster to every part of the globe.

American citizenship has helped the gospel go around the world since WWII.  Many missionaries in the 40s and 50s were GIs who went back to the land of their military service.  Yet in most advanced countries, like the United States, the mission field is coming to us.  Immigration, the ease of world travel, and commerce, bring people to our shores that we cannot reach in any other way.

The local church is still God’s divine agency in this dispensation of grace.  By its amazing adaptability, it continues to spread and preach the gospel in all parts of the world.  Though we see the number of volunteers needed to go into all the world and the funds needed to send them waning, the possibilities are still numerous.  Churches at home will trim their appetites if necessary in order to find missionary money.  Bible colleges and seminaries will find ways to operate more leanly in order to continue to train young men and women who are willing to go.  God’s people will see the crisis coming that would result if we do not sacrifice, and they will adjust their lifestyles in order to continue supporting God’s work.

Most of all, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is still the only hope of the world.  It does not need updating nor refining.  It has gone through rough waters before and still stands.  Paul’s anathema upon any who would change it is still in effect today (Gal. 1:8-9).  We are sent to evangelize the world even though we will not be able to convert it.  It is not ours to help the gospel by making it more palatable to those who don’t want it.  Ours is but to offer the great love and forgiveness of Christ.  And “as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).

We are still to go to the highways and hedges of our world.  Wherever our “synagogues” or “temple steps” are today we must go with the good news that Jesus saves.  Let us not forget to shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

O Zion haste, thy mission high fulfilling,

To tell to all the world that God is Light;

That He who made all nations is not willing

One soul should perish, lost in shades of night.

Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious;

Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;

Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious,

And all thou spendest Jesus will repay.

Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace;

Tidings of Jesus, Redemption and release.