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Our Bible Is The Word Of God (part 1)

Our Bible Is The Word Of God (part 1)

by Rick Shrader

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This world is no friend of grace and it is no friend of the Book that brings us grace.  As the centuries have come and gone it seems that all controversies over the Christian belief in God, in Christ, in salvation, eventually come back to the reliability of our Bible.  Surely such will be the case as we approach the end of the age.  Already we can feel the animosity and antipathy from the world when we speak of the Word of God, or speak as though we were speaking for God Himself, as Peter admonished us, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).  The unbeliever chafes at the idea that someone might actually have the very Word and therefore the very authority of God to tell him of his soul’s destiny.

Many have said, in effect, that the Bible is something in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim.  Rabbi Eleazer’s words are often quoted,

If all the seas were of ink, and all ponds planted with reeds, if the sky and the earth were parchments and if all human beings practiced the art of writing—they would not exhaust the Torah I have learned, just as the Torah itself would not be diminished any more than the sea by the water removed by a paint brush dipped in it.1

Perhaps that was the inspiration for one of the most beautiful verses of hymnody,

Could we with ink the oceans fill,

and were the skies of parchment made;

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

and every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above

would drain the ocean dry;

nor could the scroll contain the whole,

tho’ stretched from sky to sky.2

 

It is enough that we face all the forces of Satan in this world against the Bible without having to face disagreement and controversy from within Christianity.  We must first read the Bible.  Statistics abound which point to the fact that Christians who say they believe the Bible is the very Word of God spend precious little time reading it.  We must also believe it.  The present age demands that we have confidence in this Book as we face such critical unbelief.  We must also understand what we read and believe about this Book, that though it was given by inspiration once years ago, and though it has been handled by human hands over the centuries, it remains the Word of God spread over the whole globe, translated in scores of languages, and preached by faithful men in all cultures.

We have a revealed Bible

When we speak of biblical revelation we mean that God has made known to us things which we could not have otherwise known.  Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians,  “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.  But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).  If God is the God of Whom the Bible speaks, then such revelation is not only possible but probable and necessary.

Revelation is usually divided into two areas:  general and special (or non-miraculous and miraculous).  General revelation refers to  how God has made Himself known in nature.  “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1); “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). Though nature does not delineate the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ it does reveal enough about God to leave man without excuse.

A second area of general revelation is man’s conscience.  Conscience isn’t a complete revelation either, but it is God’s witness to us about things we should know.  “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:  Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom. 2:14-15).

When speaking of Scripture, however, we usually speak of special or miraculous revelation.  We understand that God has revealed Himself to humans many times throughout history.  We only know some of what God spoke to Adam when they walked in the garden.  The same could be said for Enoch who walked with God, or any of the prophets who wrote some of the things they heard from God.  Miracles, dreams, visions, and the like were also various means of revelation, as the book of Hebrews begins, “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1, NKJV).

There were two magnificent and final ways in which God revealed Himself.  The writer of Hebrews continues to say, “but has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (1:2).  The incarnation of God in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ was the greatest revelation of God to man.  “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18).  When the disciple Thomas asked Jesus to show him the Father Jesus answered, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (John 14:9).  This incarnation happened only once.  Jesus resurrected and ascended back into heaven with the same fleshly existence which He gained by His journey to earth.  His post-resurrection appearances only showed the truth of His incarnation.

The other great and final way God revealed Himself was through Scripture.  As we will see next, inspiration was also a one-time event, that is, though it was accomplished over a fifteen hundred year span, it is finished and no more inspiration has happened since John finished the book of Revelation.  This was indeed a miraculous revelation, as 1 Cor. 2:9-10 above shows.  To claim that God again opened the gift of inspired written revelation would be as serious an error as claiming that the Son of God was again incarnated.  Neither revelation had to happen twice for either one to be authoritative, final, and a powerful truth that transforms lives throughout the rest of history.  Jude called Scripture, “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

We have an inspired Bible

Paul wrote,  “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  The claim of having the only book in the history of the world that is completely without error and therefore completely truthful does not sit well with this postmodern, deconstructive culture.  Yet that is exactly what we do claim.  The miraculous writing of the Scriptures was as perfect in every detail as the incarnation of the Son of God.

It is common to use the words “plenary” and “verbal” to describe the process of inspiration.  “All Scripture” is inspired, the apostle said.  That is, it is “God-breathed.”  God made man a living soul when He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7).  “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Psa. 33:6).  So God created the Scripture when He breathed into them by His Holy Spirit the very words He wanted on the paper.  This process happened sixty-six times so that they were all, “plenarily,” inspired yet making up only one Book with inspiration extended to all its parts.  J. Gresham Machen described the process of various writers with various talents and vocabulary as many musicians blending their various instruments together into one great harmonious song.3

That the Bible was inspired in a plenary fashion speaks to its broadness.  The Bible was also inspired in a verbal fashion which speaks to its narrowness.  Verbal, of course, means pertaining to the very words.  The word “scripture “ comes from the word graphe, which means writing, or the marks on the page.  David declared that “the words of the LORD are pure words” (Psa. 12:6).  The mind of God could not be made clear to us merely by thoughts.  W.H. Griffith Thomas said, “Surely inspiration cannot mean an uninspired account of inspired thoughts.”4  He also quoted Abraham Kuyper as asking if we can have music without notes, or math without numbers?  Neither can we have a meaningful inspiration that does not pertain to the words.

This process of inspiration was for the purpose of giving us the Word of God.  When that process was complete the miracle of inspiration ceased.  That’s why Jude said it was “once for all” given to us (Jude 3), and why Paul called it a “perfect” thing (1 Cor. 13:8-13) which when it came, incomplete things would be finished.

Rolland McCune offers three reasons why inspiration pertained only to the original documents or autographs.  First, God’s direct involvement with the text was only with the originals, seen in various texts which state that God spoke by the mouth of a certain author (Acts 1:16; 4:25; 28:25).  Second, the Bible’s various warnings about adding or subtracting from the text “presuppose” that only the originals were guaranteed from error and not subsequent copies.  Third, there are warnings about corrupting the meaning of a text because that would not properly represent the text as originally written (Mk. 7:9; 2 Cor. 4:2; 3:5-6).  “Therefore,” McCune says, “to tamper with meaning one must corrupt the original revelation’s words, presupposing again the complete, uncorrupted state of the original.”5

We have a canonized Bible

When we say this we mean that the “canon” is complete, i.e., the number of books God intended to have in the Bible are all in the Bible and none others.  We can’t expect the unbelieving world to accept this concept either because it would take an unmistakable, providential work of God to put together such a book.  They would rather believe that the Bible was an invention of man from beginning to end.  To them, some men with an agenda made the Bible with these 66 books and eliminated books that would have contradicted their purpose.  To this end, every generation throughout the church age has resurrected this old canard in an attempt to discredit the Bible.  Dan Brown’s make-believe book, The Davinci Code, is built upon the theory that the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ was fabricated by the established church, and if they would have allowed other books into the Bible they would have to admit that Jesus had a child by Mary Magdalene who carried on the secret bloodline.  It is always interesting to see unbelievers opt for the most fantastic things so long as they don’t have to believe the Bible.

It is for the above reason that W.H. Griffith Thomas says, “The Bible is not an authorized collection of books, but a collection of authorized books.”6  He means that the canon was not made by men but was recognized by men to be from God.  This field has been studied, critiqued, investigated, attacked, and vindicated as much as any field of study.  Therefore, good men write about it from a variety of profitable ways.  Almost all speak of the tests that were applied to the Biblical books.  Ryrie uses authority, uniqueness, and acceptance by the church.7  Geisler and Nix ask, were the books authoritative, prophetic, authentic, and dynamic?8  Thomas says, “The basis of our acceptance of the New Testament is what is called in technical language, ‘Apostolicity’; because the books came either from Apostolic authors, or through Apostolic sanction.’  Our view of the Old Testament [also] corresponds to this.”9

We can also place the process of canonization into different stages.  The first stage would be the self-authentication stage, i.e., when the books were being written and recognized by the church.  Ryrie says, “The books were canonical the moment they were written.  It was not necessary to wait until various councils could examine the books to determine if they were acceptable or not.  Their canonicity was inherent within them, since they came from God.”10  That’s why Paul could begin the book of Galatians by saying, “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1).

To Timothy Paul says, “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.  And, the laborer is worthy of his reward” (1 Tim. 5:18).  It is significant to note that Paul quotes Moses from Deut. 25:4 and also Jesus (and therefore Luke) from Luke 10:7.  Before the whole New Testament was even completely written, Paul calls the words of Jesus and the writing of Luke, “Scripture.”  In another example of self-authentication, Luke 11:51 says, “From the blood of Abel, unto the blood of Zechariah, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.”  The blood of Abel is recorded in the first book of the Old Testament (Genesis 4), and the blood of Zechariah is recorded in the last book of the (Jewish) Old Testament (2 Chronicles 24).  In this way Jesus was including all of our 39 books of the Old Testament in the canon.

The second stage of canonicity would be debating authentication, or the time after the first century when the church affirmed our 66 books to be the canon of the Bible.  Of this Ryrie says, “People and councils only recognized and acknowledged what is true because of the intrinsic inspiration of the books as they were written.  No Bible book became canonical by action of some church council.”11  This stage of the canon was complete by the council of Carthage in 397 A.D.  There seems to be no serious question about the canon after this time.

The third stage could be called ongoing authentication.  Throughout the history of the church, no other books have been able to lay any serious claim to authenticity.  From Carthage forward books were categorized as homologoumena (accepted by all); pseudepigrapha (rejected by all); antilegomena (disputed by some); and apocrypha (accepted by some).12  But in all of this, only our present canon remain as the 66 books of the Bible.

Geisler and Nix summarize by writing that “the vast majority of the New Testament books were never disputed from the beginning.  Of the books originally recognized as inspired but later questioned, all of them came to full and final acceptance by the universal church.”13

This article will be finished in the next issue as we talk about preservation, translation, and interpretation.

 

Notes:

1. I have this quote even from the French skeptic Jacques Derrida in his Grammatology (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997) p. 16.

2. Frederick M. Lehman, The Love of God, verse 3.

3. J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1947) 53.

4. W.H. Griffith Thomas, How We Got Our Bible (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1926) 89.

5. Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, vol. I (Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2008) 94-96.

6. Thomas, 25.

7. Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton:  Victor Books, 1987) chapter 15.

8. Norman Geisler & William Nix, From God To Us (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1974) chapter 6.

9. Thomas, 22-23.

10. Ryrie, 105.

11. Ryrie, 105.

12. See Geisler & Nix, chapter 10, for a thorough discussion of these terms.

13. Geisler & Nix, 125.

 

 

The Baptist Name

The Baptist Name

by Rick Shrader

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This originally appeared in the May/June issue of The Baptist Preacher with the title, “Why we won’t take the name ‘Baptist’ off our church.”

There is no denying we live in a generation that disdains labels. To assert any belief with a personal label is to be intolerant and insensitive to those who disagree. The modernist used to simply disagree and was willing to fight about it. The postmodernist says no one should be so dogmatic to say they are right and others are wrong. This is a change from our forefathers, says Bruce Shelley, “The first, now traditional, form of the Christian community in America emphasized denominations. The term for this new arrangement, denomination, comes from the Latin word nomen, meaning ‘to name.’ A denomination, then, is an association of congregations under a special ‘name’ with similar basic beliefs, similar goals in their mission to America.”1

With that positive and historic attitude toward church names, popular singer Steve Green disagrees. In the song “Let the Walls Come Down,” he sings, “Walls designed by Satan in the twilight of the ages, now stand as great divisions all across the world today; walls not born of governments nor strife amid the nations, but walls within our churches and between denominations; stones of tried tradition carved in fear and laid in pride, become a dismal prison to those withering inside; let the walls come down, let the walls come down.” Though these words are not historically accurate, they have become a convenient theology for many of today’s churches and only add fuel to an unnecessary fire.

Some say that they have been offended by unguarded and even unloving statements from some Baptist brethren. I don’t doubt these offenses nor the fact of these statements. However, I don’t see them changing their family name when someone proves to be a nut in the family tree. And I think the analogy is valid. Others say that the lost are offended by the name Baptist and it becomes a stumblingblock to them. But how far are we willing to follow this acquiescence? We could conceivably end up disallowing all speech except the literal reading of the biblical text. Anything else would be human interpretation and may give offense. Others point out the ignorance of our generation and the problem of laying this baggage on their brittle minds. Yet, that is why the schools have not taught Johnny to read. It would be an unkind difficulty to put upon the first-grader.

I have to agree with Spurgeon when he says, “I am unable to sympathize with a man who says he has no creed, because I believe him to be in the wrong by his own showing. He ought to have a creed. What is equally certain, he has a creed—he must have one, even though he repudiates the notion . . . The objection to a creed is a very pleasant way of concealing objection to discipline, and a desire for latitudinarianism. What is wished for is a Union which will, like Noah’s Ark, afford shelter both for the clean and for the unclean, for creeping things and winged fowls.”2 I am not ridiculing nor belittling my friends who have dropped their denominational name. I have been asked my opinion and I am saying I strongly disagree with them. I think the trade-off will pay very poor dividends.

Without trying to defend Baptist history in this short space nor delineating my agreement with its historic doctrines (doctrine being the first factor listed in Acts 2:42), I wish to give some reasons for retaining the name Baptist, especially in our generation.

1. Denominational names (I mean, of course, the one which describes you) are not divisive but unifying because they are up front and honest.

My grandparent’s generation knew what they believed, were honest enough to put it out front on a sign, thanked the Methodists for being honest enough to do the same and all went about their business as good citizens and neighbors. Don’t we today call that being open and genuine? It was the knowledge and forthrightness of their convictions that brought them together. It is today’s ignorance and lack of conviction that separates Christians. J. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “The fatal blight on modern Protestantism is not its plurality of denominations, and the WCC is wasting our time laboring that dreary blunder.”3

2. The willingness to discard the name Baptist is due more to a loathing of tradition than to a concern for the unchurched.

If this generation really doesn’t know what the name means, then what’s the problem? If they are that ignorant then it doesn’t matter to them what the name is. Evidently, it matters more to someone already there. G.K. Chesterton called tradition the democracy of the dead.4 It is allowing past generations a say in our present decisions. Jaraslov Pelikan of Yale University said, “Traditionalism may be the dead faith of the living, but tradition is the living faith of the dead.”5 Perhaps we have become more attached to the ethics of this generation than any other generation.

3. If these denominational names fade away, others like them will take their place.

We already see this happening with names like “Bible Church,” “Vineyard,” etc. Churches will gravitate to others of like faith and wear their labels. So what’s wrong with keeping the ones we have? Besides, any study of postmodernism will tell us that it was the moderns who discarded old labels, the postmoderns are into restoring. The name-changing fad may already be out of date! One postmodern writes, “The idea that all groups have a right to speak for themselves, in their own voice, and have that voice accepted as authentic and legitimate is essential to the pluralistic stance of postmodernism.”6

4. The recognition of our doctrine is still the most important testimony we have.

Our doctrine is our conviction about truth, and a denominational title is still a legitimate identification. We are to “stand fast in sound doctrine.” I know we can have correct doctrine without a label, but why? In 1966, Addison Leitch wrote, “But suppose we accept the ‘freedom from definition’ principle. After all, the important thing is to be a Christian, not a Presbyterian. Very well, a Protestant or a Romanist Christian? Will not the attitude that refuses to draw lines between Presbyterians and Baptists or between Protestants and Romanists eventually blur the distinctions between Christians and Buddhists and Moslems?”7

One Baptist wrote in the early 1800s, “From these remarks it will be perceived that while the subjects and mode of baptism is the external ground of difference between Baptists and others, that difference involves a great principle; and the primary question is not, shall infants be baptized? But, whether God’s Word or tradition shall be our guide.”8 I don’t mind wearing a title that indicates that commitment.

5. I’m more concerned with not saying enough with the name Baptist than fearing I have said too much.

I am constantly looking for ways at our church to inform the visitor of what we believe and how we practice. We used to be able to let new people come right into our membership with little or no orientation. But today people will join with little regard for our belief and practice, and we must be as careful as possible. I am not interested in discarding one more way of getting this accomplished. And, if someone mistakenly thinks that doctrine is stuffy and boring, it is our biblical duty to change that thinking (1 Tim 4:12-16). Chesterton said, “This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.”9

C.S. Lewis said of his loyalty to his own church, “I found that it was the only way of flying your flag.”10 I have lowered the flag on the pole enough for this “untoward generation.” It has made me uncomfortable in almost every area of life outside my own home. I have simply drawn the line at the name of my church. They can’t have it too.

In a recent reprint of a Vance Havner article, I read and identified with these words, “The church began to degenerate, as Augustine tells us, when holy days were merged with holidays to please the influx of new pagan members. Today we have moved from the catacombs to the colosseum and revised our standards to suit a generation of pleasure-lovers who do not love God.”11 I think we’ve gone far enough.

Notes:  (This was originally an article without formal notes.  Updated footnotes are coming)
1. Bruce Shelley, The Consumer Church ( ) 59-60.
2. Quoted by John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1993) Appendix 1.
3. J. Sidlow Baxter, Rethinking Our Priorities ( ) 29.
4. G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1994) 47.
5. Quoted by Bruce Shelley, 72.
6. David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity ( ) 48.
7. Quoted by Kenneth Myers in Power Religion, Horton, Michael. Ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992) 49.
8. John Adams, Baptists: Thorough Reformers ( ) 64.
9. G.K. Chesterton, 106.
10. C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994) 61.
11. Vance Havner,

 

Postmodernism

Postmodernism

by Rick Shrader

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This complete paper appeared in the Spring 1999 edition of The Journal of Ministry & Theology, Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, PA.

 

When Charles Dickens wrote The Tale of Two Cities depicting the French Revolution, he began with the words, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Now at the end of that modern period, we may again repeat the words of Dickens. We are glad for the decline in modern and atheistic thought, but a greater foe is approaching on the horizon. While defending the doctrine of faith to our generation, James R. White asks, “Now a new tidal wave, called by the scholars postmodernity, is sweeping across Western thought, undermining the very idea of absolute truth. What should be the response of the Christian church in the face of these waves of philosophical attack?” (The Roman Catholic Controversy, p. 9).

This paper is an attempt to answer that question as well as define Postmodernism in our generation. In an interview, Dennis McCallum responded, “A simple definition of postmodernism is the belief that truth is not discovered, but created. . . No one has more to lose from postmodernism epistemology than Christians.” (focal Point Magazine, Spring, 1997, p. 5).  By the very nature of postmodernism, Christian churches may be falling into this mode without even realizing it. If the modern era has indeed ended, as most think, then we are now postmoderns and the question only remains as to whether we will be postmodernists.

The story is told of three umpires representing the three ages of human history. The first, representing the pre-modern age says, “Three strikes and you’re out and I call ‘em the way they are.” The second umpire, representing the modern age says, “Three strikes and you’re out and I call ‘em the way I see ‘em.” The third umpire, representing the postmodern age says, “Three strikes and you’re out, and they ain’t nothin’ til I call em.” As we look at the approach of postmodernism, this outlook will become all too clear. Truth doesn’t exist except as the individual wants it to exist. As a matter of fact, he can create his own truth.

From the classroom to the television and even to the churches, institutions are asking the audience what they think truth should be and what it should look like, and then marketing their products to the whims of the world. This is the first time in Western Civilization that people are asking not to know and are being obliged by their society. The symbol of this age could easily be the bungee cord. It is a free-fall into nothingness just for the sake of doing it. We had better stop and check if the cord is really hooked to anything solid.

Section 1

The History Of Postmodernism

The Pre-Modern Era

The Time Frame

What most of us learned as “Western Civilization” is the study of the western world before and including the advent of modernism.  Since modernism began in the 16th century with the Enlightenment, brought on by the French Revolution, pre-modernism is that long period of history that led through the Dark Ages, the Reformation and up to the 1700’s.

The Philosophical Foundation

This pre-modern or “classical” era was a mixed bag of beliefs and cultures. Gene Edward Veith, Jr. has included three elements:1

Mythological Paganism was the belief in the supernatural, although it was usually polytheistic.  Most of the mythological traditions contained moralistic stories about the battles of good versus evil.  The good, as defined in the story, almost always triumphed.

Classical Rationalism was the extension of Greek thought and philosophy.  Socrates drank the hemlock as a protest against the mythological worldview.  He reasoned that there must be one supreme God behind all of history.  Plato developed his classical idealism, that the world’s particulars come from the transcendent ideals in the mind of God.  Aristotle argued for first causes and that all causes must be traced back to one supreme First Cause.

Though this era fell far short of Christian belief, it allowed the mind to investigate the world without ruling out the possibility of God.  On Mars Hill, Paul began at this point and introduced them to the truth about God that only divine revelation could bring.

Biblical Theism was the influence of Christianity on the rational mind of the pre-modern era.  Sometimes Christianity brought classical rationalism to its logical conclusion and sometimes Rationalism influenced Christianity too much.  Augustine may have drawn too much on Plato, Aquinas too much on Aristotle.  During the Middle Ages there was a mixture of European pagan culture with Christianity that obscured the gospel message of God’s revelation.  It was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that Christianity returned to its roots.  Whereas “Renaissance humanism rediscovered and reasserted the Greeks; the Reformation rediscovered and reasserted the Bible.”2

Basic Assumptions

For all of its faults, the classical and middle ages carried with it certain assumptions that were rarely challenged:

1.     There is a God (even if it is the god of paganism).

2.     Good and evil exist as present realities which affect our lives.

3.     Man is a sinful creature and sin must be accounted for.

4.     Nature was created by a Creator.

5.     Man is autonomous in the created world.

The Modern Era

The Beginning

Since the terms “modern” and “postmodern” refer to time, it is necessary to set some sort of start and stop for each period.  Thomas Oden says, “By postmodern, we mean the course of actual history following the death of modernity.  By modernity we mean the period, the ideology, and the malaise of the time from 1789 to 1989, from the Bastille to the Berlin Wall.”3  Veith adds,

“The French Revolution exemplifies the triumph of the Enlightenment.  With the destruction of the Bastille, the prison in which the monarchy jailed its political prisoners, the pre-modern world with its feudal loyalties and spiritual hierarchies was guillotined.  The revolutionaries exalted the Rights of Man.  They dismissed Christianity as a relic of the past.  During the course of the revolution, they installed the Goddess of Reason in Notre Dame Cathedral.  In the modern period, human reason would take the place of God, solving all human problems and remaking society along the line of scientific, rational truth.”4

The French Revolution and the Enlightenment meant the beginning of the age of reason.  All supernatural now became superstition.  Man became the highest rational being and the master of his own fate.

The Progression

English Deism became prominent in the 1600s.  Deism denied the possibility of the supernatural.  They did not deny the existence of God but believed rather that God had begun all that exists and then stepped back and let it run without the intrusion of the miraculous.

French Skepticism grew out of the Enlightenment in the 1700s.  As men such as Voltaire turned science into a god, the supernatural was no longer needed.  Science could explain everything and there were no limits as to how far scientific man could lift himself.  The world could now be explained totally by rational laws.

German Rationalism took over the Reformation country in the 1800s.  The German contribution to modernism was to relegate the scriptures to the level of human writings.  The Bible became a totally human book and all supernatural elements were discovered to be human manipulations and compilations of various authors (e.g. JEDP documentary theory).

American Liberalism came across the ocean in the 1900s.  The Enlightenment had come to America as full-blown liberalism.  The existence of God was denied outright, the Bible was not believed to be a divine book and the possibility of miracles was ridiculed.

Basic Assumptions

The assumptions of the old pre-modern age became exactly reversed:

1.     The world as a closed system–All could be explained from cause and effect within the system.

2.     Utilitarian morality–Stealing is wrong but only because it interferes with the balance of economics–Slavery is right because it has economic benefits.

3.     Evolution and natural selection–Nature is self-contained and man is the highest product of the survival of the fittest.

4.     Rationalism and materialism–Only the senses contain “reality.”  “Logical positivism” becomes the law of scientific investigation:  If we cannot see God, he does not exist.

5.     Social sciences and socialism–Marx’s dialectical materialism eradicated individual rights for the sake of the community.

The Postmodern Era

The Beginnings

Carl Henry wrote, “The intensity of ‘anti-modern sentiment’ is seen in the widening use of the term ‘postmodern’ to signal a sweeping move beyond all the intellectual past—ancient, medieval, or modern—into a supposedly new era.”5 The sweeping changes, however, have not come overnight.  Veith presents two precursors from within modernism that have been protesting and setting the stage for a hundred years.6

First.  In reaction to the anti-spiritual and mathematical attitude of the Enlightenment humanism, Romanticism brought back an appreciation for the human and spiritual.  Although God is usually only seen as a “life force” and man is often seen as “one with nature,” “The romantics believed that God is close at hand and intimately involved in the physical world.”7 Romanticism, however, paved the way for today’s postmodern view of life and the world.

Some evangelical believers challenged the romantic worldview, especially in the field of art and literature.  Francis Schaeffer was the best known voice.  In 1968 he wrote Escape From Reason and The God Who Is There.  In 1970 he first published The Church At The End of the 20th Century.  In 1974 he wrote How Should We Then Live? His friend and colleague, H.R. Rookmaaker of the Free University of Amsterdam in 1970 wrote Modern Art and the Death of a Culture.  Even then Rookmaaker wrote, “Perhaps a new culture is growing that can come into being only when the old civilization is completely destroyed.  But if things continue the way they do the new culture will be neither humanist nor Christian.”8

Second.  In reaction to the Enlightenment materialism with its cold humanism and calculating evolution, Existentialism proposed that perhaps there really is no meaning to life.  Individuals create their own meaning for themselves through relativism (wrongly supposed to come from Einstein) that made truth to be truth only if it is relative to one’s situation (“situation ethics” was today’s result).  Today’s “Pro-Choice” movement capitalizes on this now entrenched belief.  Schaeffer wrote that “The only accurate way to describe this [post-Christian] view is that it is a form of neo-orthodox existential theology.”9 Gene Veith proposes, “Existentialism is the philosophical basis for postmodernism.”10

The Predictions

By the end of WW II and with the prosperity of the 1950’s, the stage was set for full-blown rebellion against the old modernism.  Though the winds of change had been blowing for quite a while, a new generation (raised on Freudian psychology, television and Dr. Spock) was ready to have it their way.  In the 1940’s Sir Arnold Toynbee suggested that societies, sooner or later, suffer a certain “schism of the soul.”11

In 1949, George Orwell wrote 1984 in which he predicted America would be taken over by a “Big Brother” from without who would set up a totalitarian oppression.  It didn’t happen.  In fact, the only Big Brother candidate (Russia) collapsed a few years after 1984.  In 1932, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in which he predicted that the day would come when no totalitarian regime would be necessary because we would collapse from within, in apathetic stupor.  Truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.  Huxley is proving to be right.

In a commencement address, John Silber, President of Boston University, referred to a 75 year old speech by Lord Moulton, an English Judge, entitled “Law and Manners.”12 Moulton divided human actions into three domains.  On one side is law, where we are forced to act a certain way.  On the other side is free choice, where we have complete freedom to act as we please.  In the middle is the domain he called manners.  When the middle ground shrinks into nonexistence, either law will take over or chaos.  Silber was proposing that law lost out in the 1960’s and chaos began its reign.

In 1947, C.S. Lewis objected to new textbooks that were being introduced into English schools.  His response to the new direction of education became his book, The Abolition Of Man.  The first chapter is called, “Men Without Chests.”  He could foresee the day when we would train students with powerful heads, full of information.  We would also develop students with visceral appetites beyond our comprehension.  What is missing is the area in between—the chest!  He says, “The head rules the belly through the chest. . . . In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function.”13 Postmodern man is truly a man with a powerful supply of information, an enormous appetite for lust and selfishness, but possessing no heart, no moral compass to direct the head or stomach.

The Starting Date

Since the postmodern era refers primarily to time, there must have been a starting point where modernism died and postmodernism began.  All would agree that the 1960’s was a great catalyst, if not the turning point itself.  Students began questioning the fruits of modernism; social constructions had not brought internal happiness; the Vietnam War epitomized the evils of capitalism, technology and American democracy.  1968 was known as “The year of the student revolution” when many universities were shut down due to student takeovers.

Veith says,

According to Charles Jencks, the end of modernism and the beginning of postmodernism took place at 3:32 P.M. on July 15, 1972.  At that moment the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis, a pinnacle of modernist architecture, was blown up.  Though a prize-winning exemplar of high technology, modernistic aesthetics, and functional design, the project was so impersonal and depressing, so crime-ridden and impossible to patrol, that it was uninhabitable.

The demolition of the Pruitt-Igloe development is a paradigm for postmodernism.  The modern worldview constructs rationally designed systems in which human beings find it impossible to live.  This paradigm applies not so much to housing projects as to philosophical systems and ways of life.14

We have already noted that Thomas Oden places the beginning of postmodernism at the fall of Communism in 1989, a neat 200 years after the Fall of Bastille, beginning the French Revolution in 1789.  He says, “If modernity is a period characterized by a worldview which is now concluding, then whatever it is that comes next in time can plausibly be called postmodernity.  We are pointing not to an ideological program, but rather to a simple succession—what comes next after modernity.”15

Basic Assumptions

1.     Truth and error are no longer relevant terms.  Truth has only been constructed by what someone wrote.  We create our own truth in our own situation.

2.     Culture has become the garden for growing truth.  Whereas culture used to conform to accepted standards of truth, now truth conforms to accepted group culture.

3.     Language must be deconstructed from its oppressive cultural overtones to a non-standard flow of amoral values.

4.     Western Civilization, with its Christian culture, must be discarded and Afro-centricity, with its polytheism and paganism must be reaffirmed.

5.     History has become unknowable since language is meaningless.  The present and the future, both virtual worlds, are the only realities there are.

Conclusion

Whatever time we set for the beginning of postmodernism, it is evident that we are living in a different world than modernism.  All around we see the erosion of truth, morality, commitment, accountability and even realism.  The arts have come to the point of the ridiculous; television deconstructs historical fact and then reconstructs it in the way we want it to be; music has become nonsensical and violent; science is no longer based on evidence but on fantasy; and worst of all, churches are capitulating to a market-driven mentality that mirrors the “truth is what you want it to be” mentality.

Os Guinness concludes,

Yet vague, slippery, and confusing though the term may be, postmodernism is too important to be discarded casually.  For what it gropes to describe is central to the character of our time.  ‘Postmodernism,’ whatever it is, is a term reaching out to describe the outline of a vanishing ‘modern,’ whatever it is.  Both terms are critical for followers of Christ who seek to act, think, and know the world in which we live.16

Section II

The Expressions Of Postmodernism

The Postmodern Culture

If we understand where postmodernism is coming from and where it is going we will begin to see its expressions in every area of our culture.  In 1984, the year of Orwell’s prediction, Francis Schaeffer stated, “Finally, we must not forget that the world is on fire.  We are not only losing the church, but our entire culture as well.  We live in a post-Christian world which is under the judgment of God.”17 Ravi Zacharias, himself Indian born, observed, “What’s happening in the West with the emergence of postmodernism is only what has been in much of Asia for centuries but under different banners.”18 It is the postmodernist himself who wants to convince us that culture is neutral and has no moral connotations.  But that is because a non-Christian culture does not believe in morality, at least to the extent that anything we do, think, say or observe has anything to do with right and wrong.  Morality is relegated to the spiritual level which can only be highly personal and certainly not judged by our actions.  Gene Veith comments, “For all its talk about culture, postmodernism lacks culture since the traditions, beliefs and morals that define culture are all disabled.”19

An Attack On Truth

Perhaps the most identifying mark of postmodernism is its flat denial of the possibility of truth.  With its roots in existentialism, postmodernism maintains that truth is created by a social group for its own purposes and then forced on others in order to manipulate and suppress them.  Postmodernism’s main objective, therefore, is to “deconstruct” this build up of language and society (i.e. “culture”) and liberate the oppressed from the oppressors.  Tim Keller writes, “In this view, all ‘truths’ and ‘facts’ are now in quotation marks.  Claims of objective truth are really just a cover-up for a power play.  Those who claim to have a story true for all are really just trying to get power for their group over other groups”20

The modernist attack on Christianity was to try and prove that the claims of Christianity were false by verifiable (usually “scientific”) standards.  The postmodernist attack is quite different.  David Dockery explains:

Postmodernists would critique Christianity by claiming that Christians think they have the only truth.  The claims of Christianity are rejected because of the appeal to absolute truth.  Absolute truth claims will be dismissed by the postmodernist for being “intolerant” –trying to force one’s beliefs onto other people.  Postmodernists have genuinely given up on the idea of absolute truth.21

Of course, the age-old response to such skewed thinking is, “How can you say absolutely that there is no absolute truth?”   Postmodernists do not care about the apparent contradiction.  The oppressive attitude has been disabled and that is all that matters. A typical statement by a “Repressed Memory Therapist” reveals this agenda, “I don’t care if it’s true.  What actually happened is irrelevant to me.”22 One wonders how such “therapy” could ever help anyone.

The Loss of Identity

If modernism proclaimed the death of God, postmodernism proclaims the death of self.  As strange as that may sound to the remnants of a modernistic society who were born and bred on rugged individualism and humanism, this must be understood if postmodernism is to be understood.

Gene Veith describes the progression of thinking that leads to this loss.

The postmodern mind-set can have a devastating impact on the human personality.  If there are no absolutes, if truth is relative, then there can be no stability, no meaning in life.  If reality is socially constructed, then moral guidelines are only masks for oppressive power and individual identity is an illusion.23

The role-models for such culture become the homeless who choose to live on the streets instead of in shelters; the cyberpunks who live inside a computer in a virtual world where they really do not exist;  the city gangs where identity is lost and rules of society are discarded; or the grunge kids who (while coming from wealthy enough families to afford nice clothing) wear the uniform of the “group” and lose their individual identity.

Francis Schaeffer describes this phenomenon taking place years ago,

This rather reminds me of young people whom we worked with at Berkeley and other universities, including certain Christian colleges, and those who came to us in large numbers with packs on their backs at L’Abri in the 1960s.  They were rebels.  They knew they were, for they wore the rebel’s mark—the worn-out blue jeans.  But they did not seem to notice that the blue jeans had become the mark of accommodation—that indeed, everyone was in blue jeans.24

As we will see, the postmodern person tears away at every foundation that would give him identity.  He would even object to my using “him” in the previous sentence as a preconceived way of oppressing and manipulating women.  The genders are therefore removed and another layer of identity is gone from their world.

The Loss Of Centrality

The loss of identity leads to, and goes hand in hand with, the loss of man’s place in the universe.  Modernism took God from His place as the center of the universe and replaced Him with man himself.  But postmodernism will not allow man to be in that place either.  Zacharias notes, “To the secularist, the Bible cannot be the Word of God, for to grant even that theoretical possibility would be an admission of the supernatural.  That concession by the postmodern person sold out to a naturalistic view of reality would be tantamount to the surrender of his or her world-view of a voiceless universe.”25 Man is rather seen as existing for no designed reason, floating on “the third rock from the sun,” himself a collection of atoms that has no more right to exist than the rock itself.

As a matter of fact, the rock has more right to exist.  Veith, in reviewing Charles Olson’s 1950’s “new non-anthropocentric poetry,” (that man is like any other object in the universe)  points out that this loss of centrality in the world has given rise to both environmentalism and political radicalism.26 Animal rights activists continue to insist that animals have as much right, if not more, (because they are void of oppressive agendas) to space on this rock as humans.  Political activists work to destroy western capitalism which has been responsible for social manipulation and class warfare.

Os Guinness uses Madonna as an example of

“cultural cannibalism practiced today in the name of postmodernism. . . She is the ultimate spin doctor to her own PR, the consummate orchestrator of her own controlled, ever-changing, ever-commercial images.  Call her shameless, call her cheap, call her what you like.  There is no limit to what she will say, do, wear, mock, promote, degrade—all to draw attention to herself and sell her soul along with her latest image and product.”27

This type of meaningless, amoral display is characteristic of a person who sees no sense or meaning to the universe.  She is merely part of aimless existence.  It is all nonsense.  That is why a born and bred postmodernist has no standard of conduct except what is expedient.  Cal Thomas relates that R.C. Sproul said to him that the president’s view of law “echoes the definition of pornography—the test is contemporary community standards, not a transcendent, objective standard.”28 When there is no center and purpose to the world in which we live, there is no standard reason for any behavior.

The Rise Of Metafiction

Postmodernists and postmodern critics use the prefix “meta” to describe postmodernism’s use of cultural tools.  “Metanarratives” are narratives about narratives, or modern man’s ability to write history by building their own ideas on their own previous ideas.  Metafiction is the postmodern cultural phenomenon of “image being everything.”  Fiction is built upon fiction, image upon image, until no one can tell the real from the unreal which is precisely what postmodern writers and producers want.

Television and theater are the supreme postmodern art forms using Metafiction.  Beer commercials begin with a dying man on an island but end with a lively party of dancing girls and cold beer.  A movie begins in an Iowa corn field but eventually has the viewer believing that baseball players from long ago can walk from unreality into reality and play ball.  Your television screen begins with a serious drama but is interrupted by a pink bunny crossing the screen while the narrator says, “still going.”  Michael Jordan actually plays basketball with the Loony Tunes characters while they teach him the advantages of stretch moves impossible in the “people world.”  These are sometimes called “magical realism” or “super realism.”  In either case, they blur the distinction between real and unreal.

The rise of docudramas carries this trend over into news, history and biography.  The film can claim to be based on a real life story but create the details to be what we suppose they might be, or exactly what the audience wants to see.  Did Kennedy really have an affair with Marilyn Monroe?  The audience wants to believe he did and that is the way the movie portrays it.  The fact of the matter may be forever lost in obscurity.  The point is, however, that postmoderns don’t care to know beyond the surface.  It doesn’t matter to them what really happened.  Building fiction upon fiction fits into their worldview much better than fact.

The Postmodern Language

Language is a most important tool to the postmodern person.  Reality resides on the surface of things, and language is a surface tool that “spins” the events in a way that will be best suited for the situation.  For example:

In chapter 6 of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll revealed the philosophical acumen of Humpty Dumpty when he wrote,

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be the master—that’s all . . . When I make a word do a lot of work . . . I always pay it extra.”29

Deconstructionism

To the postmodern, all meaning is socially constructed and must be deconstructed.  Hidden in the text is the agenda of the author.  This agenda has been forced upon society throughout the modern and pre-modern ages.  People today think and act the way they do because of this manipulation of the language by oppressors.

In an interesting book on the comparisons of Nazi fascism to fascism today, Gene Veith writes,

A common theme in postmodernist criticism is “the dissolution of the self”—claiming that the individual is a “fiction,” a creation of bourgeois ideology.  Postmodernists “deconstruct the subject” by attempting to show that human consciousness itself is constituted by social forces and structures of power as embodied in language.  The self cannot escape the “prison-house of language,” through which the culture encodes itself and determines the very structure of what one is able to think.30

Though postmodernists believe that “the world is a text,” and that all of our cultural norms have been designed for us by oppressors, written language is especially suspect.  Your vocabulary has been taught to you by someone else.  The meaning of the words you use have been given to those words by societal forces.  When you write them down on paper, you are writing current meaning upon previous meaning upon older meaning and thus creating “metanarratives.”  Carl Henry notes, “Not only is all meaning held to be subjectively bound up with the knower rather than with text, but words are declared to have still other words as their only referent.  Texts are declared to be intrinsically incapable of conveying truth about some objective reality.31 It is the postmodernist’s purpose, therefore, not to read the language for dictionary meanings, but to discover the biases and oppressive purposes of the writer.

The Hermeneutics of Suspicion

Since metanarratives are full of overtures, deconstructing language takes a special purposed hermeneutic.  We have heard it so long that we have become too used to it.  If the Declaration of Independence declares “all men to be created equal,” it thus excludes women and since Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, it is no doubt a white, European male power play over the rest of society.  Since the Bible uses the masculine pronoun in referring to God the Father, the Bible is merely a history of a male-dominated religion that must be rejected if we care anything about women.

Veith adds some more specifics,

Deconstructionists even analyze the metaphors inherent in scientific language.  To speak of “natural laws” is to use a political metaphor; scientists who formulate “laws” are attempting to impose human political power on the natural order.  Even technical theories, such as the “master molecule theory of DNA functioning,” contain a gender bias (“master” is a male term).  When scientists speak of “unveiling the mystery of the ocean” or “penetrating the secrets of nature,” they are using sexual metaphors—undressing and raping the natural order, which is always conceived in feminine terms.  The so-called scientific objectivity and all of Western science’s technological achievements are “texts” that mask the male desire to subjugate, exploit, and sexually abuse “Mother Nature.”32

In the words of Roger Lundin, “Words are indeed in the saddle and ride mankind.  You pick up the language of contemporary pragmatism, thinking of it as a net to cast across the waters for a great catch; you find, instead, that you get hopelessly entangled in its never-ending web of words.”33

Using Postmodern Literature

Pragmatists such as George Barna merely “go with the flow” of postmodern language and literature.  In an article advocating leaving expository preaching for story-telling, Barna says, “Busters are non-linear, comfortable with contradiction, and inclined to view all religions as equally valid.  The nice thing about telling stories is that no one can say your story isn’t true.”34 Of course, then neither can anyone say your story is true!

Postmodern evangelical literature has flooded the Christian bookstore shelves.  “Christian Fiction” is another way of saying that the story is constructed in a way that the audience will like.  Stories about angels and demons abound in the area of “magical realism.”  Commenting on Latin American authors, Veith notes, “This style, heavily indebted to the popular spirituality of Latin American Catholicism, can be exhilarating in the hands of a master storyteller such as Marquez.  It may well be a method of raising spiritual issues.  Its effect, though, is to blur the distinction between truth and fictionality.”35 Albert Mohler comments, “Thus, the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ is now fully in this evangelical tent.”36 It may be standing in the pulpit of fundamental churches as well.

Postmodern Art and Architecture

In 1970, Francis Schaeffer wrote, “In art museums throughout the world, the viewers are at the mercy of the artists.  People, even children, who go through the art galleries are being manipulated whether they know it or not.”37 The modern art of 1970 can’t compare to the postmodern art of the 90s.  If Dante’s seventh circle of Hell is reserved for those who have sinned against art, surely the postmodern artist will find a place there.

Pre-modern Art

During the Middle Ages, most art was “representational” art.  The picture itself was the important thing.  The artist was concerned that the picture on the canvas represented what he saw with the naked eye.  In a fascinating book on art, Veith writes, “At its best, the Middle Ages produced great Christian art, reconciling form and content, integrating artistry and faith.”38 Of Rembrandt’s portrait, Family Group, Veith says, “Rembrandt has drawn a Christian family, not only in its appearance but in its meaning.”39 Such was the purpose of real art.

Modern Art

During the modern period, art became “Impressionistic” and “Abstract.”  Rather than the picture being the important thing, the artist became the important thing.  In a humanist frame of mind, the artist must find the true art within himself.  Art is not what the naked eye sees out there, it is what the artist “feels” inside himself as he expresses his genius on canvas.  No longer can the artist be bound to the rules of the natural world, staying within the lines and matching colors.  The rules must be broken and the modern artist broke all of them.  Schaeffer makes the same case for modern music and literature.40

In 1970, H.R. Rookmaaker, personal friend and consultant of Francis Schaeffer, wrote, “Modern art in its more consistent forms puts a question-mark against all values and principles.  Its anarchist aims of achieving complete human freedom turn all laws and norms into frustrating and deadening prison walls; the only way to deal with them is to destroy them.”41 In destroying the walls (“rules”) of the pre-modern era, modern art left man to himself and the coming of postmodernism.

Postmodern Art

Whereas pre-modern art was representational and modern art was abstract, postmodern art intends to “shock.”  Rather than the picture or the artist being important, the audience becomes the important factor.  Because the world is a “text” and we create our own reality, the only value of an artist’s work is the reaction created in the audience.

Veith says,

The implication is revealing—the standard of shock replaces the standard of beauty.  Concepts such as beauty, order, and meaning are being challenged by the new aesthetic theories in favor of ugliness, randomness, and irrationalism.  The purpose is not to give the audience pleasure, but to assault them with a “decentering” experience.  Art becomes defined as “whatever an artist does.”  As a result, the work of art becomes less important than the artist, a view which encourages posturing, egotism, and self-indulgence instead of artistic excellence.42

In the name of art, we have endured cows being spray-painted so that when they walk about, art is created; King Kong Balloons tied to the Empire State Building; toilets on display in the middle of a stage.  The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) once awarded $20,000 for a work called “The Kiss” in which a pathologist sawed a human head in half, turned the two halves facing each other to resemble a kiss.  And, of course, it gets worse and more vulgar from here.

“Performance Art” is designed to reduce the human to the lowest level and to strip him of any dignity and design.  The more dehumanizing the experience is for the audience, the more successful postmodern art has become.  MTV-style productions are intended to be ugly, violent and nonsensical.  The technological production is far more important than the music.  Rap music is disjointed, animalistic and violent as well.  George Will wrote, “There is an abundance of fine art if you declare that fine art is anything that anyone calling himself an artist calls fine art. . . If I call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog got?  Five? No, because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”43 And that is what the postmodernist rejects.

Postmodern Architecture

The pre-modern age was an age of representation, as we have said.  John Stackhouse writes, “Christians throughout history, therefore, have wisely paid attention to the erection of structures that would convey a particular message to the community.  Medieval cathedrals spoke eloquently of the devotion of princes, clergy and townspeople to God—and to civic and personal pride.”44 This was not only true of high church traditions but “even Baptists [constructed] church buildings that asserted the moral status of Christianity in an increasingly materialistic culture.”45

Just as modernism changed other areas of art, modern man was typified also by his architecture of steel, glass, skyscrapers, order, industrial looks.  America’s cities at this time are a testimony to modernism as sleek, efficient buildings stretch to the sky and overshadow older, more ornate buildings representing an older age.  Even Christian structures have used modern architecture to find their place in society.  Stackhouse says, “Oral Roberts University and Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral dramatically exemplify a different approach, declaring in their ‘space-age’ architecture of sharp-angled steel, concrete and glass that they are at America’s sophisticated cutting edge.”46

The postmodernist rejects the architecture both of pre-modernism and modernism.  He sees both expressions as those of power and oppression.  As Schaeffer wrote, “He is the man who, about 1960, gave birth to the happenings, and then beyond this the environments. . . In the happenings you are put as it were within the picture.”47 By our time, Schaeffer has proved to be right.  Postmodernists bring man into the building and surround him with facades.  Theme Parks are typical places where we are surrounded by something that looks like another time and place, and yet it is untrue, we are not really there.  Shopping malls often create a certain theme and invite us to walk within this miniature virtual world for a short time.  Even restaurants now must bring us into Mexico to eat Mexican food, or to Italy to eat Italian food.  We enjoy the escape and the attention given to detail, but most of all we enjoy playing with the unrealistic situation.

Postmodern architecture also attacks the patron by exposing contradictions.  By walking inside a building you are likely to see trees, shrubs, gardens and those things that should be outside.  This is a purposed promotion of the environment as the better place to be.

Just as the atrium brings the outside inside, many postmodernist buildings bring the inside outside.  Structural framework such as beams and ventilation ducts may appear on the surface for everyone to see.  An example is the Pompideau Center in Paris, built in 1977.  Support beams, tie rods, and the plumbing appear to be on the outside of the building, painted in bright, garish colors.  The inner workings of the building are visible behind a thin skin of transparent glass.  An escalator snakes along the exterior of the building.  It is as if the building were turned inside out.  The effect is unsettling, like looking at a man but seeing only his insides—his lungs, blood vessels, and red guts.48

This is precisely the postmodern point.  The world is a contradiction and there is no truth, pattern or law that must be followed.  In fact, to follow a pattern is to submit to the manipulation of societal programmers.  Therefore, man is brought into a contradictory, confusing world that is designed to destroy old myths.

Interestingly, postmoderns enjoy refurbishing old structures.  Many older sections of town are revitalized into efficiently working structures.  Old barns, churches, and warehouses are kept intact on the outside and brought up to date on the inside.  Of course, the bathrooms and kitchens are not restored but rather are modernized.  Eclecticism works well for the postmodern because it shows the randomness of man’s life and the lack of priority for any given ethic.

Churches are having to ask themselves how far they can go to accommodate the postmodern thinkers.  Many progressive churches purposely avoid structures that look like traditional churches.  Some take surveys of people to see what they want and what they would like if they came inside.  This is far removed from the older, pre-modern structures purposely designed in the shape of a cross with its “nave” crossed by its “transept.”  When sinners came in, like it or not, they were brought into the “cross” for worship.  Windows were often elevated so the worshiper had to look up for light.  In the postmodern world of art and architecture, there is no meaning and therefore “form” which implies “meaning” is discouraged.

As believers we know that the church is not the structure.  But are we gaining or losing by giving up on good art and architecture?  God commanded the tabernacle to be built for “glory” and “beauty” (Exodus 28:2).  We ought to strive to have the best of both meaning that honors the truth of God, as well as form that lifts our thoughts to the Creator.

Postmodern  Technology

Orwell predicted that by 1984 we would be controlled by computers as a child is controlled by his “Big Brother.”  In 1996 a computer called “Big Blue” tried to control world champion chess player, Garry Kasparov.  Kasparov said that he was playing to “help defend our dignity.”49 Kasparov may have won the chess match (because he could “think” and the computer could not) but the computer may be winning the war!

Definition

Technological wonders such as television, movie theaters, videos and computers have become realities and no state of existence typifies postmodernism better than “virtual reality.”  It is a state of being informed but disconnected; of power without the difficulties of confronting others face to face.  Leonard Payton wrote of technological wonders that they are “made by people who tend not to know one another for people they do not know at all and will probably never meet.”50 Indeed, to a postmodernist, “all reality is virtual reality.”51 Since our existence has no meaning and we are not connected to history or its values by any binding truths, no one can be quite certain where reality and non-reality start and stop.  Francis Schaeffer wrote, “If one has no basis on which to judge, then reality falls apart, fantasy is indistinguishable from reality; there is no value for the human individual, and right and wrong have no meaning.”52 Technology can be a blessing or a curse.  In this regard it is becoming a curse.

Neil Postman has called this technological control, “Technopoly–The submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology.”53 Groothuis, in the same vein as Postman, laments the takeover of our society by such a valueless medium, “When information is conveyed through cyberspace, the medium shapes the message, the messenger, and the receiver.  It shapes the entire culture.”54 A key ingredient is not only the blurring of the fact with the fiction, but the participation by the computer user in this virtual world.  Today, one can actually participate (of course, only virtually) in sporting events, world-wide field trips, and even in virtual eroticism.  In such a world, the viewer is at the mercy of a world created by a technician who probably has only your pocket book in his own mind.  This sort of “power” wielded over the helpless souls of society hasn’t seemed to alarm postmodern activists.

The End Of Writing

Throughout the pre-modern and the modern eras, the print medium was the standard tool for conveying ideas.  God gave us his Bible in print because print is permanent, precise, and is a type of communication that allows one the time and contemplation to grasp its meaning.  Sven Birkerts noted, “Print communication requires the active engagement of the reader’s attention, for reading is fundamentally an act of translation . . . The physical arrangements of print are in accord with our traditional sense of history.”55 This “typographical mind” has been the medium that educated us, allowed us communication with God, gave us the great classic literature of the world, and taught the postmoderns to think.

The 20th century, however, has seen the print medium give way to faster, more titillating and easier forms of communication.  When Samuel Morse first sent a message by electrical impulse from Washington to Baltimore, the information age was born.  Postman says, “The telegraph removed space as an inevitable constraint on the movement of information, and, for the first time, transportation and communication were disengaged from each other.”56 From that point on, information has been removed from its context, and the observer no longer has to be a partaker of the events.  Our “real” world is isolated and separated from the “world over there.”

Technology has played into the hands of postmodernism.  Virtual reality “deconstructs” the “text” not only of written history but also of life itself.  Groothuis writes, “The character of the computer screen, the strange powers of word processing, and the almost ubiquitous Internet tend to reinforce certain postmodernist themes that may undermine Christian sensibilities and a biblical worldview.”57

Virtual Community

We all lament the loss of community as our world moves from the rural life of our grandparents to the urban life of our kids.  We live inside fences, automobiles, garages with electric openers (and closers), cubed work areas, and many other “cocooning” influences.  We are told that the information super highway is our ticket out.  But is it?  David Wells observes, “Our computers are starting to talk to us while our neighbors are becoming more distant and anonymous.”58 Groothuis says, “The notion of community tends to erode under the conditions of postmodernity.  A common social practice called ‘cocooning’ isolates individuals from others by keeping them safe and snug in front of their home entertainment centers and computer screens.”59

Within the computer, on the internet, these individuals who have withdrawn from the real world, are exploring virtual worlds where they can be someone else, do not have to live by anyone’s rules, can experience realms that are otherwise forbidden to them.  Chat rooms become excuses for conversation.  Of course, none of the rules of face-to-face manners and deportment apply, and one can walk away with anonymity and without consequence.  For all of its hype, the “community” created by technology is no community at all.

The Christian Challenge

Believers have always tried to use the medium available to reach the lost world.  Whether radio, television or the computer, we have tried to proclaim a message.  In the postmodernist’s virtual world of technology, certain obvious cautions must be taken.  J. Gresham Machen, in the early fight against Liberalism, reminded us that Christianity must remain based on something that really happened.

“It must certainly be admitted, then, that Christianity does depend upon something that happened; our religion must be abandoned altogether unless at a definite point in history Jesus died as a propitiation for the sins of men.  Christianity is certainly dependent upon history.”60

We cannot present Christ and His atoning work as if it were one of many “virtual” options.  The postmodernist can “accept” Christianity or reject it without ever considering its “reality.”  To him, there would be no contradiction in accepting more than one if not many religions.  Today, we hear of many “faiths” any one of which becomes truth for the one accepting it.

The questions of reaching postmodernists with technology are more serious than simple questions of methodology.  Postman, a believer who teaches at New York University among a postmodern culture writes,

This is serious business, which is why we learn nothing when educators ask, Will students learn mathematics better by computers than by textbooks?  Or when businessmen ask, Through which medium can we sell more products?  Or when preachers ask, Can we reach more people through television than through radio?  Or when politicians ask, How effective are messages sent through different media?  Such questions have an immediate, practical value to those who ask them, but they are diversionary.  They direct our attention away from the serious social, intellectual, and institutional crises that new media foster.61

A.W. Tozer, years ago, sounded a similar warning when he saw the beginnings of postmodern thinking in a technological age,

Failure to see this is the cause of a very serious breakdown in modern evangelicalism. . . We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action.  A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals.  We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. . . The tragic results of this spirit are all about us.62

If we are to “become all things to all men,” it will take more than keeping up with the postmodern Jones’.  It will take asking ourselves how they think about what they see.  It will take a willingness on our part to present the gospel as true, regardless of how that disturbs a comfortable, unrealistic, virtual world.

Conclusion

The challenge to Christians living in postmodern times is enormous.  If ever we face the danger of the frog in the slowly boiling pot, it is today.  Gene Veith warns, “The end of the modern era opens up genuine opportunities for Biblical Christianity.  However, instead of squarely facing the postmodern condition, many Christians succumb to the postmodernism plaguing the rest of the culture.”63 The pragmatism of the new age is more accessible than ever before.  With people demanding technological marvel, it is easier than ever before for the church to deliver.  And the rewards are immediate and congratulatory.  But as we look at 20th (and 21st) century Christianity, we must ask ourselves if we are holding our link in the historical chain of our faith.  Is our life-changing message still changing lives?

Os Guinness summarizes well,

But perhaps postmodernism’s main challenge to the church is to our central mission as Christians:  following Christ and making him Lord in all of life.  The church cannot become simply another customer center that offers designer religion and catalogue spirituality to the hoppers and shoppers of the modern world.  Followers of Christ are custodians of the faith passed on down the running centuries.  Never must we allow anyone outside or inside the church to become cannibals who devour the truth and meaning of this priceless heritage of faith.  Letting the church be the church and the gospel be the gospel is integral to letting God be God.64

Section III

The Apologetics For Postmodernism

The most important question for any Christian to face is how to reach his own generation.  We understand that the only really important question is the eternal question and understanding our culture has always been a key to reaching the culture.   Douglas Groothuis wrote, “Our souls reflect our worlds and our worlds reflect our souls.  One who aspires to understand the nature of the soul ought, then, to be an auditor of culture.”65 But there have always been disagreements over the appropriate ways to reach each generation in their own culture.

It is easy to ignore the changes in culture and refuse to “become all things to all men” but it is also easy to become what the culture is in order to reach it.  Franky Schaeffer, in 1981, lamented the over-reaction by the new Christian left in reaching this new generation:

Today, we still have this kind of utilitarianism.  However, to complicate matters there is a new breed of utilitarianism, which has come about largely through those who (often for correct reasons) have rebelled against the materialistic consumer-oriented utilitarian activity for activity’s sake position of the church.

Unfortunately, those who have rebelled have latched on to another nineteenth-century phenomenon and have been infiltrated by it and just as damaged as those they have rebelled against.66

It seems to this author that either extreme is wrong.  Nothing is compromised by learning about the culture in which one lives, nor by trying to think like they think.  We cannot retreat out of the world to win the world.  But while learning about our culture, we must not adopt the philosophy and life-style that is contrary to God.  Retreat is wrong and capitulation is wrong, but infiltration with confrontation must be accomplished.

There are four areas in which the Christian must keep the right balance in a postmodern age.

Truth and Reality

The Apostle Paul tells us that we must have “our loins girt about with truth” (Eph 6:14).  God’s Word is filled with the importance of standing for truth as a testimony to God in the world.  We are to “buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov 23:23), that is, we must give everything we have to get it and once we have it, we must not give it up for any price.  The reason for this emphasis on truth in God’s Word is that lying, or being contrary to what is true, is a denial of God’s reality.  We are told that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2) and in fact it would be impossible for such a thing to happen (Heb 6:18).  God’s very nature is truth and our very ministry is “For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever” (2 John 2).  God’s world was a perfectly truthful world until Satan introduced an element that is contrary to God’s nature—a lie (John 8:44).  Man’s selfish nature is inclined to agree with the lies of Satan in opposition to the truth of God.  This opposition may manifest itself in false claims, actions that are contrary to God’s will, thoughts that arise out of a selfish heart, immoral actions contrary to God’s holy character, breaking the laws of the land or any number of “lies.”  The believer simply cannot agree with a lie whether by word or deed.  Such a thing is sin for him because it is contrary to God and the way He made the world.

As our study has shown, never in the history of Christianity has truth been more under attack, not just the truthfulness of certain biblical propositions, but the very existence of truth as a possibility.  Without the possibility of truth, the postmodern man sees no reality in history or science.  Francis Schaeffer, some years ago wrote, “History as history has always presented problems, but as the concept of the possibility of true truth has been lost, the erosion of the line between history and the fantasy the writer wishes to use as history for his own purposes is more and more successful as a tool of manipulation.”67 Believers must not give in to this same manipulation.  Ron Mayers points out, “The individual who says he is a Christian, but does not live like a Christian, actually gives the lie to his own testimony.  Unfortunately, unbelievers interpret this contradiction as an indication of the absence of truth in the claims of Christianity.”68

In reaching the postmodern whether by words and actions or by worship styles and homiletics, Christians must show the reality of God and His hand in this world by displaying an unswerving loyalty to truth.  One recent article lamented, in the onslaught of attacks on truth, that “the church in North America is not answering postmodernists effectively, and we are losing ground so rapidly that many church leaders are ready to join the new postmodern consensus.”69 Such capitulation must never take place.

We must be careful of evangelistic stealth ministries.  If we are trying to draw the postmodern into our churches by presenting the things he likes (music, style, language, technology, etc) while at the same time hiding fundamental Christian practices (prayer, communion, baptism, self-denial, piety), it will backfire on us.  It is not that the postmodern will be turned off by this.  That is the bedrock of his world.  There is no absolute truth and all practices are to be individually selected according to each person’s likes and dislikes.  In an ironic way, Christian ministries that cater to the postmodern’s likes and dislikes, are actually agreeing that Christianity can be taken or left as each individual (or generation) pleases.  These people will stay around as long as it benefits them to do so.

Worship and Immanence

To the postmodern, worship is mere technological symbolism over substance.  We have discovered that in his world the symbols are the substance.  Groothuis writes, “The image is everything because the essence has become unknown and unknowable.”70 Because he sees reality and truth as being constructed at the moment, worship need not go beyond the worship act.  This amounts to worshiping worship.  The more “real” the worship service seems, the less a postmodern person needs or wants anything beyond that.  Some years ago, Vance Havner quoted Newton D. Baker as saying, “The effect of modern inventions has been to immeasurably increase the difficulty of deliberation and contemplation about large and important issues.”71 I believe it was Hitler who was the first to mesmerize audiences with multi-media presentations which made the individual forget his personal struggles and become caught up in the emotion of the moment.

We must proclaim God as transcendent—but not too transcendent.  His ways are not our ways and He is above the limitations of the world.  But He is not so far away that we cannot know Him.  And we must proclaim God as immanent—but not too immanent.  He condescends to men of low estate.  But He is not the world itself, nor the music, nor the emotion of a worship service.  We are not converted by “getting in touch” with the immanent.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “Until a certain spiritual level has been reached, the promise of immortality will always operate as a bribe which vitiates the whole religion and infinitely inflames those very self-regards which religion must cut down and uproot.”72 We must be very careful not to give the sinner what he wants, but rather what he needs.  And usually, in the spiritual realm, what a sinner needs is not at all what he wants.  Pascal wrote centuries ago, “They imagine that such a conversion consists in a worship of God conducted, as they picture it, like some exchange or conversation.”73

Perhaps no word has grown up in our worship services like the word “community.”  Active churches are seeking community among attendees in order to draw them into the “group” and thereby seek a commitment from them.  The fellowship of believers cannot be minimized in the New Testament nor in our churches.  But understanding the postmodern man, we must be careful how the newcomer sees the group relationship.  Francis Schaeffer, a sage of sorts concerning the coming postmodern era, in 1971 warned:

Now we are ready to start talking about the community.  I would stress again, however, that a person does not come into relationship with God when he enters the Christian community, whether it is a local church or any other form of community.  As I have said, the liberals have gone on to promote other concepts of community.  They teach that the only way you can be in relationship to God is when you are in a group.  The modern concept is that you enter into community; in this community there is horizontal relationship; in these small I-Thou relationships you can hope that there is a big I-Thou relationship.

This is not the Christian teaching.  There is no such thing as a Christian community unless it is made up of individuals who are already Christians through the work of Christ.  One can talk about Christian community until one is green, but there will be no Christian community except on the basis of a personal relationship with the personal God through Christ.74

It would be abnormal if Christians did not want to reach the present generation in any way they could.  But because we are also of this postmodern age, we must ask the sobering question:  Are we changing our worship style because it is what will reach the lost?  Or are we changing our worship style because it is what we like?  The early church reached the lost by doing what God wanted them to do in order to worship Him.

Culture and Moral Law

We are coming dangerously close to believing that culture is morally neutral.  Most definitions, however, will necessarily include some word like “expression” or “achievement” to describe the thing called culture.  We ought to remember that the root of culture is “cult.”  It is a society, or at least the norms of a society, that have been formulated by the members of that cult.  That is why John Leo can decry the absence of truth by saying, “This casualness in popular culture is reinforced by trends in the intellectual world which hold that truth is socially constructed and doesn’t exist in the real world.”75 That is why gangs develop strict codes concerning the clothing they wear, language they use and attitudes they must have, because their cult has necessarily created its own culture.  The moral value of such culture is abundantly expressed in the mores developed by the people of that culture.

Culture is the spirit of the age.  It can be a healthy spirit expressed by believers, but because it is the expression of human beings, it is usually a sinful spirit.  The New Testament combines the word “world” (kosmos) with the word “age” (aion) to give us this picture.  We are not to be conformed to the “aion” (Rom 12:2); when we were lost, we walked according to the “aion” of this “world” (Eph 2:2); Demas forsook Paul, having loved “this present aion” or actually, this “now age” (2 Tim 4:10).  We walk in this world, the “kosmos,” because we are creatures here, but we do not walk by its spirit, the “aion.” Peter said we should not be “fashioning ourselves” (1 Pet 1:14) to this world by our selfish desires.

Many secular culture-watchers have argued for postmodernism’s affect on the culture in a moral way.  Steven Connor, professor of English at Birkbeck College, London University writes, “In popular culture as elsewhere, the postmodern condition is not a set of symptons that are simply present in a body of sociological and textual evidence, but a complex effect of the relationship between social practice and the theory that organizes, interprets and legitimates its forms.”76 Edward O. Wilson writes, “If these premises are correct, it follows that one culture is as good as any other in the expression of truth and morality, each in its own special way.”77

Sadly, it is the churches that have been slow to realize and admit that current culture cannot be adapted and used in any way it chooses.  While church leaders have ignored the moral implications of popular culture, other Christian leaders have had to sound the warning.  Ravi Zacharias writes, “History is replete with examples of unscrutinized cultural trends that were uncritically accepted yet brought about dramatic changes of national import . . . Cultures have a purpose, and in the whirlwind of possibilities that confront society, reason dictates that we find justification for the way we think and why we think, beyond chance existence.”78 David Wells writes, “Culture, then, is the outward discipline in which inherited meanings and morality, beliefs and ways of behaving are preserved.  It is that collectively assumed scheme of understanding that defines both what is normal and what meanings we should attach to public behavior.”79 David Chilton, writing about liberal Christian revolutionaries, says, “Revolution is a religious faith.  All men, created in the image of God, are fundamentally religious: all cultural activity is essentially an outgrowth of man’s religious position; for our life and thought are exercised either in obedience to, or rebellion against, God.”80

Though culture is often ignored by unwary believers as having moral significance, the postmodern attaches meaning to almost everything he does as well as to what the church does.  Veith reminds us, “Every cultural artifact is thus construed as a ‘text.’ That is, every human creation is analogous to language.  To use a postmodernist slogan, ‘The world is a text.’  Governments, worldviews, technologies, histories, scientific theories, social customs, and religions are all essentially linguistic constructs.”81 We were better instructed by Robinson Crusoe, watching the cannibals devour their comrades and saying, “whose barbarous customs, were their own disaster, being in them a token indeed of God’s having left them, with the other nations of that part of the world, to such stupidity and to such inhuman courses.”82 We should be so observant of the spirit of our own age.

Normally we react to the situation which we have observed firsthand, especially if we have grown uncomfortable with obvious inconsistencies.  Douglas McLachlan responds to cultural abuses from conservatives:

Fundamentalists have tended to limit the application of Christian truth to personal life styles while failing to see its application to the great cultural issues of our day.    There are occasions when we will have to turn our attention away from such things as hem lines and hair lengths (and there is a place for dealing with modesty in both dress and grooming—Paul and Peter did!) and to focus on such issues as encroaching secularism, avaricious materialism, pervasive evolutionism and defiant feminism.83

In the conservative church-growth scene, however, many are sounding alarms against those who see no difficulty in bringing today’s culture into the church.  William H. Willimon says, “In leaning over to speak to the modern world, I fear we may have fallen in.”84 John MacArthur writes, “The culture around us has declared war on all standards, and the church is unwittingly following suit. . . . It is, once again, a capitulation to the relativism of an existential culture.”85 Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Furthermore, if we acquiesce, we will no longer be the redeeming salt for our culture—a culture which is committed to the concept that both morals and laws are only a matter of cultural orientation, of statistical averages. . . If our reflex action is always accommodation regardless of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.”86 Groothuis adds, “It is no coincidence that those churches that most readily incorporate elements of contemporary culture into their worship services are also least likely to appreciate the need to confront and to transform contemporary culture according to biblical truth.”87

William Bennett, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and Secretary of Education, as well as the author of many books dealing with culture, writes, “My worry is that people are not unsettled enough; I don’t think we are angry enough.  We have become inured to the cultural rot that is settling in.  Like Paulina, we are getting used to it, even though it is not a good thing to get used to.”88 Perhaps we have lost our zeal for God and gained a zeal for the success that cultural relationships brings.

In 1941, Vance Havner wrote these timely words:

There was Demas, who forsook Paul, having loved this present world.  Doubtless he had started out in dead earnest, maybe with plenty of fire, but the pull of the old life and the charm of the world were too much for him.  Think not, however, of Demas merely as the sort lured away today by dances and movies.  Certainly all that belongs to this present world, but we are in danger of restricting “worldliness” to a few pet evils, forgetting that what is in mind here is the age in which Demas lived.  The spirit of the times got him, and he got into the tempo of it, was carried away with the surge of it.89

Repentance and Faith

A.W. Tozer wrote, “To the question, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ we must learn the correct answer.  To fail here is not to gamble with our souls; it is to guarantee eternal banishment from the face of God.  Here we must be right or be finally lost.”90 This must be our bottom line with the postmodern man.  Here we cannot be content to have learned what it takes to gather people together week after week, to have been culturally savvy enough to attract attention, or to have been well-liked and accepted by our generation.  The postmodern man can follow every demand we make of him, even pray whatever we ask him to pray, and in his mind simply be adding Christianity to the file of other practical self-helps.

If we are truly interested in being “culturally relevant” in the most important thing, we will study our generation to find out how we can bring them to repentance and faith.  If all we are doing is winning their approval we have failed.  It is not success for a Christian simply to “build a church” or “gather a crowd.”   Years ago J. Gresham Machen wrote:

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.91

The postmodernist may be the easiest sinner to invite to faith that we have seen in two hundred years!  The problem will be whether we can know if that faith is the biblical faith of the New Testament.

To begin with, we must remember that the postmodern man doesn’t regard history as having actually taken place.  As Craig says, “Indeed, it is not clear whether there really is such a thing as the past on a thoroughgoing post-modernist view.”92 Or as Benjamin Woolley writes, “Artificial reality is the authentic postmodern condition, and virtual reality its definitive technological expression . . . . The artificial is the authentic.”93 This is why we are evangelizing on thin ice when we turn our church services into technological playlands for the postmodern’s sake, and then ask him to respond to a real, historical message.  It is existentialism, not Christianity, that talks much about faith but admits we cannot know the historical facts behind the faith.

Connor, in a chapter on postmodern performance, argues that the medium is what is real to a postmodernist, and the message behind the medium has no urgency or reality after the medium is finished.  He writes:

Sound and image are simultaneous with the ‘real’ music that is being performed (although, of course, in the case of most contemporary music the ‘original’ sound is usually itself only an amplified derivation from an initiating signal), even if it remains obvious that what is most real about the event is precisely the fact that it is being projected as mass experience . . . .  In the case of the ‘live’ performance, the desire for originality is a secondary effect of various forms of reproduction.  The intense ‘reality’ of the performance is not something that lies behind the particulars of the setting, the technology and the audience; its reality consists in all of that apparatus of representation.94

The critical point for the presentation of Christianity is that the message of salvation must be believed as historically true regardless of the quality of the medium.  If Adam and Eve did not live, then perhaps we have no real sin for which to repent.  If Jesus Christ did not live, die and resurrect as the Bible says, then there is no Christian message.  Of all the world’s religion, Christianity is the only one that depends solely on a historical miracle being a fact!  Machen wrote, “Salvation does depend upon what happened long ago, but the event of long ago has effects that continue until today.”95 The postmodern man is in a precarious position of denying, or at least doubting, everything in the past and yet still claiming to have faith.  He tells the Christian to “get real” but has bought into the notion (i.e. “Minimalism”) that nothing is real outside of his own mind.

For this man, everything is a “text” which tells him the usability of what he is seeing.  To dress like him, talk like him, play his music and recreate his world inside the church (or even inside the individual Christian life), may well be telling him that the church’s message is no more “real” than his own, individualized message.  This doesn’t mean he won’t like it or commit to it:  it means that he never buys it as really real.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul was concerned that when lost people came in the church, they might see the same kind of emotional displays that they saw in their pagan temples and simply add their Christian experience to their pagan experiences.  “But,” he writes, “if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (1 Cor 14:24-25).  We ought to be concerned when the postmodern man comes into our services and is as comfortable there as he is in his own world.

John Knox wrote, “The man, I say, that understands and knows his own corrupt nature and God’s severe judgment, most gladly will receive the free redemption offered by Christ Jesus, which is the only victory that overthrows Satan and his power.”96 We have to trust the power of the gospel message and the work of the Holy Spirit enough to believe that when a man is uncomfortable and feels out of place in church, though he may be far from his world, he is close to the kingdom of God.  This is the path of conviction down which everyone must come if he is to come to Christ.  Yet, to feel uncomfortable is the epitome of wrong for the postmodern man.  Truth does not matter, but protecting one’s space matters most.  The gospel appeal, therefore, is a delicate moment for the postmodernist.

When Machen wrote in 1923, he was writing to the modern man and his social and liberal tendencies.  This excerpt, however, may still be exactly our problem reaching the postmodern man.

The fundamental fault of the modern Church is that she is busily engaged in an absolutely impossible task—she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance.  Modern preachers are trying to bring men into the Church without requiring them to relinquish their pride; they are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin.  The preacher gets up into the pulpit, opens the Bible, and addresses the congregation somewhat as follows:  ‘You people are very good,’ he says; ‘you respond to every appeal that looks toward the welfare of the community. Now we have in the Bible—especially in the life of Jesus—something so good that we believe it is good enough even for you good people.’  Such is modern preaching.  But it is entirely futile.  Even our Lord did not call the righteous to repentance, and probably we shall be no more successful than He.97

We must not find ourselves agreeing with the postmodern man.  Our stewardship is to preach the wonderful grace of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  No generation has been promised that such a task would be easy or popular.  But the call to ministry is a call to the proclamation of truth and to believe that what God asks us to give is exactly what our generation needs.

Conclusion

We are all asked to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).  It may be easier to recognize error than to find a way to combat it.  The churches of Jesus Christ must search the Scriptures for truth and then give it out without violating sacred principles.  There will always be room for variation as we take the gospel to the people where we live.  The concern in this section has been that we do not think we are reaching the postmodern man just because we attract him.  The success syndrome may be harder to fight with this generation than ever before simply because this generation can and will follow anything with little or no real commitment.  There must be a telling reason why our churches are as large and active as any time in recent history and yet the commitment levels of those making professions of faith are so low.

When we stand before Christ we will be asked to give account of “how” we built on the foundation, not “how much.”  Our stewardship is to proclaim what our King has given us to proclaim.  It is an awesome task and sometimes we feel inadequate.  But the rewards for faithful service will be worth it all.

The apologist, C.S. Lewis, once finished an argument this way.

One last word.  I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist.  No doctrine of that Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate.  For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result, when you go away from that debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar.  That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the Reality—from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself.  That also is why we need one another’s continual help—oremus pro invice

 


[1] Gene Edward Veith, Jr. Postmodern Times (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 29.

[2] Ibid., 31.

[3] Thomas Oden, “The Death Of Modernity” The Challenge of Postmodernism (Wheaton: BridgePoint Books, 1995), 20.

[4] Veith, Postmodern Times, 27.

[5] Carl F.H. Henry, The Challenge of Postmodernism (Wheaton: BridgePoint Books, 1995), 34.

[6] Veith, Postmodern Times, 35.

[7] Ibid.

[8] H.R. Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 170.

[9] Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1992), 49.

[10] Veith, Postmodern Times, 38.

[11] Toynbee, A Study Of History, Quoted by Veith, Postmodern Times, 44.

[12] John Silber, “Will Our Media Moguls Do The Right Thing?”, AFA Journal, September 1995, 16.

[13] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition Of Man (New York: MacMillan Pub. Co., 1955), 34-35.

[14] Veith, Postmodern Times, 39.

[15] Oden, “The Death Of Modernity,” The Challenge Of Postmodernism, 25.

[16] Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1994), 102.

[17] Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, 90.

[18] Interview with Ravi Zacharias, “Reaching the Happy Thinking Pagan: How Can We Present the Christian   Message to Postmodern People?” Leadership Magazine, Spring 1995, 23.

[19] Veith, Postmodern Times, 86.

[20] Tim Keller, “Preaching Morality in an Amoral Age” Christianity Today, Inc./Leadership Journal, copyright 1996.  Downloaded from AOL, 1/24/96.

[21] David Dockery, “Preface” The Challenge of Postmodernism, 14.

[22] Quoted by John Leo, “True Lies vs. Total Recall” U.S. News & World Report, August 7, 1995.

[23] Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 72.

[24] Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, 98-99.

[25] Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil (Dallas:  Word Publishing, 1996), 53.

[26] Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 74.

[27] Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, 102-103.

[28] Cal Thomas, “The Gospel According to Bill Should Not Fool Anyone” Ft. Collins Coloradoan, nd.

[29] John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Protestants & Catholics: Do They Now Agree? (Eugene: Harvest House, 1995), 113.

[30] Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Modern Fascism (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1993), 37.

[31] Carl F.H. Henry, “Postmodernism: The New Spectre?” The Challenge Of Postmodernism, 36.

[32] Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 56.

[33] Roger Lundin, “The Pragmatics of Postmodernism” Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World Phillip, TimothyR. And Okholm, Dennis L., Ed. (Downer’s Grove:  InterVarsity Press, 1995), 32.

[34] Quoted by Steve Rabey, “This Is Not Your Boomer’s Generation” Leadership, Fall 1996, 17.

[35] Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 132.

[36] Albert Mohler, “Evangelical: What’s in a Name?”  The Coming Evangelical Crisis, John H. Armstrong, Ed. (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1996), 38.

[37] Francis Schaeffer, The Church At The End Of The 20th Century (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 91.

[38] Gene Edward Veith, Jr. State Of The Arts (Wheaton:  Crossway Books, 1991), 54.

[39] Ibid., 60.

[40] In Schaeffer’s book, The God Who Is There, he shows how all of the “fine arts” drop below “the line of despair.”  Just as modern art broke all of the rules of representation on canvass, modern music broke all of the rules of structure and composition.  This was modern man expressing himself as the highest form of evolution, not able to be bound by any laws.

[41] H.R. Rookmaaker, 161.

[42] Veith, The State Of The Arts, 21.

[43] George Will, “The Shocking Bourgeoisie” The Morning After (New York: MacMillan, 1986), 55.

[44] John G. Stackhouse, Jr., “From Architecture To Argument,” Christian Apologetics in a Postmodern World, 40.

[45] Ibid, 41.

[46] Ibid

[47] Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1968), 35.

[48] Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 117.

[49] Quoted by Robert Wright, “Can Machines Think?” Time Magazine, March 25, 1996.

[50] Leonard Payton, “How Shall We Then Sing,” The Coming Evangelical Crisis, 198.

[51] Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 61.

[52] Francis Schaeffer, The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 50.

[53] Neil Postman, Technopoly (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 52.

[54] Douglas Groothuis, The Soul In Cyberspace (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 53.

[55] Quoted by Douglas Groothuis, Ibid., 54.

[56] Neil Postman, Technopoly, 67.

[57] Groothuis, The Soul In Cyberspace, 65.

[58] Quoted by Groothuis, Ibid., 125.

[59] Ibid., 122.

[60] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity And Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 121.

[61] Neil Postman, Technopoly, 18-19.

[62] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit Of God (Harrisburg: Christian Publications, 1958), 69.

[63] Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 209.

[64] Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, 110.

[65] Douglas Groothuis, The Soul In CyberSpace, 23.

[66] Franky Schaeffer, Addicted To Mediocrity (Wheaton:  Crossway Books, 1993), 69.

[67] Francis Schaeffer, The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century,  89.

[68] Ron Mayers, Balanced Apologetics (Grand Rapids:  Kregel, 1984), 58.

[69] Jim Leffel and Dennis McCallum, “The Postmodern Challenge: facing the spirit of the age,” Christian Research Journal, Fall 1996, 35.

[70] Groothuis, The Soul in Cyberspace, 16.

[71] Quoted by Vance Havner, Rest Awhile (New York: Revell, 1941), 11.

[72] C.S. Lewis, God In The Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 130.

[73] Blaise Pascal, Pensees (New York: Penquin, 1966) 27/378, 137.

[74] Francis Schaeffer, The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 54-55.

[75] John Leo, “This column is mostly true,” U.S. News & World Report, December 16, 1996, 17.

[76] Steven Connor, Postmodernist Culture (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 1997) 205.

[77] Edward O. Wilson, “Back From Chaos,” The Atlantic Monthly, March, 1998, 58.

[78] Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil, 17.

[79] Quoted by David Doran, “Market-Driven Ministry: Blessing or Curse?” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, Fall 1996, 212.

[80] David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators (Tyler:  ICE, 1985) 3.

[81] Veith, Postmodern Times, 52.

[82] Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (Chicago:  Moody)  209.

[83] Douglas McLachlan, Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism (Independence, MO: AACS, 1993) 18.

[84] William H. Willimon, “This Culture Is Overrated” Christianity Today, May 19, 1997, 27.

[85] John MacArthur, Reckless Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 45.

[86] Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, 64.

[87] Douglas Groothuis, Christianity That Counts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 81.

[88] William Bennett, “Redeeming Our Time,” Imprimis, Hillsdale College, November 1995, 3.

[89] Vance Havner, Rest Awhile (New York:  Revell, 1941), 46.

[90] A.W. Tozer, The Best Of A.W. Tozer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 100.

[91] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Eerdman’s, 1977), 141.

[92] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 167.

[93] Quoted by Douglas Groothuis, The Soul In CyberSpace, 27.

[94] Connor, 174-175.

[95] Machen, 71.

[96] John Knox, “On the First Temptation of Christ,” Orations, Mayo Hazeltine, Ed., 1349.

[97] Machen, 68.

 

Worshippers Who Also Come To Church

Worshippers Who Also Come To Church

by Rick Shrader

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I have often said to the people I pastor, “We do not come together to worship; we are worshipers who come together.”  Though we use the vernacular “coming to worship” to mean “coming to church,” we must have a better understanding of where and how the real worship is taking place.  We know these things, but by losing the battle of definitions we may be losing the important thing: the ability to worship biblically.

A.W. Tozer wrote, “If you cannot worship the Lord in the midst of your responsibilities on Monday, it is not very likely that you were worshiping on Sunday.”1 The German hymn goes, “Alike at work and prayer, to Jesus I repair, May Jesus Christ be praised!”  The familiar point being that we cannot say and perform one thing on Sunday in church, while living another thing throughout the week, and call our Sunday attitude “worship.”  It was at best performance and yet, ironically, performance is what is being advocated today with the attitude of “coming together to worship.”

Our general lack of perspective in worship is our deficiency in understanding the function of our High Priest in Hebrews 8-10 and the heavenly worship service in which He is officiating every minute of every day!  Sunday-only performances  (perhaps “Sunday Matinee” would be a good description) in contemporary worship services are not helping us regain reality in worship, they are, rather, taking us further into formalism and sacramentalism than ever thought possible.

I believe that in a subtle and alarming way, contemporary worship is taking us further back to Old Testament Judaism and even Romanism than it is bringing us to New Testament worship!  By thinking that we are the active ones in worship, that we must become priests or “facilitators” of worship, we are rushing into the presence of God without the real High Priest, the Daysman, the Mediator, who is over the House of God, and who only can lead us in worship, interceding for us by His own blood before a holy God.

William Newell is right when he reminds his readers that the “new and living way” is more of a contrast to the old,  than a fulfillment of it.

If you do not go to the Cross and get deliverance from all ‘religion,’ and find yourself in the presence of God, with all claims met, these Levitical things will have a subtle hold upon you, like the Cross on top of a Romish cathedral—while the ‘Word of the Cross’ (1 Cor. 1.18), the ‘power of God’ which sets people free, is wholly unknown to the monstrous pagan system.  In the Levitical things, you are to see the contrast to what you now enjoy, not the very example of it.2

Where the old formalism became itself the priesthood and performed the worship for the people by sacrament, liturgy and icons, the new formalism (i.e. contemporary worship) is performing the same function with its worship leaders, crafted service structure, and technological shows that require nothing of the attendees in knowledge, belief or practice.

This criticism of contemporary worship should not seem extreme or unfair.  It will be admitted that there is every degree of participation in this new formalism, but the gurus of the movement are making no excuses for what they are trying to accomplish.  Barry Liesch3 argues that “Our entire worship culture is in transition.  We are becoming, in some respects, more Hebraic” (p. 150).  Also, “When leitourgia involves a large group, more vision, more planning, more drama, more mystery, more symbolism are required” (p. 173).  Liesch argues for giving “worship” more priority over preaching, “An increasing number of writers, theologians, and researchers of worship are taking the view that worship should receive priority over teaching, evangelism and fellowship” (p. 157).  He even uses Kierkegaard (the father of Neo-Orthodoxy) as an example to promote worship as performance with God as the audience and “prompters” (read: “worship leaders”) as coaches, rather than God as the coach (p. 123).

Robert Webber4 criticizes the break from Catholicism as a step backward in worship, transubstantiation and the Eucharist being far better symbols than what traditional churches have used (p. 136).  He advocates using the Book of Common Prayer (p. 138) and describes a service at Tyndale Theological Seminary in which the students celebrated the Eucharist by carrying the bread and wine down the isle above their heads to singing which may “explode in praise and thanksgiving and may experience the healing touch of the Holy Spirit” (p. 134-5).

In an online article about the Catholic Lenten season titled, “Get Lent: Protestants do the Sober Season,” Andrew Santella writes, “So, maybe it’s not that surprising that more Protestants are now dipping into the well of Catholic ritual and devotions.  In that sense, Lent may be part of a trend:  Check out [another site] which recasts Catholic devotional beads for Protestant use by eliminating those troublesome Hail Marys. . . .  But our shared affection of late for some of the old ways of worship represents a small victory for mystery, ritual, and awe.”5 More sobering is to see our Fundamental churches doing the same things.

My point in this is that rather than being worshipers all the time, the emphasis now is that we can come together and be led by worship leaders into God’s presence with all the emotion and symbolism that the liturgical churches ever had!  Having accomplished this in an hour or two, the attendee is now sufficiently spiritual to make it through the week until the next worship experience.  The contemporary approach to “worship” is facilitating this error, not combating it.  Rather than our worship being based on the church’s understanding and doctrine it is based on the unbeliever’s idea of what he wants church to be.  This could never coincide with Hebrews 8-10.

We have a High Priest over the House of God!  This is what Hebrews 10:21 says.  We only can participate in what the New Testament calls “worship” if we have come unto God by Him (7:25); if our evil conscience has been purged by His own blood (9:14); and we have been perfected forever through His once-for-all offering for sin (10:10).  It is He who has done and is doing any action that propitiates God (9:24-28), none of our actions nor the sacrifices of animals being acceptable in His sight (10:2-4).

Christian worship is, therefore, our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father, in his vicarious life of worship and intercession.  It is our response to our Father for all that he has done for us in Christ.  It is our self-offering in body, mind and spirit, in response to the one true offering made for us in Christ, our response of gratitude to God’s grace, our sharing by grace in the heavenly intercession of Christ.6

Newell wrote it this way,

Yes, we need a Priest, and we have a Priest, thank God, a Great Priest over the house of God (vs. 21).  Let us mark, however, that we do not serve Him as Priest: He serves us.  We are not directed to come to Him as Priest, but to God’s throne of grace, relying on Christ’s shed blood, and having Him as Great Priest over the house of God.7

Hebrews 10:21, where the presence of our High Priest is declared, is followed by the “Let us” patch.  Seeing that this arrangement is true for us, we are invited to do three things.  I submit that these are samples8 of the believer’s true “worship,” that worship not being a “performance” whereby we “come into the presence of God,” but a cognitive recognition that we are always in the presence of God!  Even when we were dead in sins, [He] hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:5-6).

We are worshipers who are sprinkled and washed.

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (22).  Homer Kent describes this twofold process which makes us continual worshipers before His presence,

Just as the Old Testament priest entered the divine presence by the sprinkling of blood and by virtue of bathing his flesh with water, so the Christian believer may confidently exercise his approach to God on the basis of a heart purified judicially by the blood of Christ and with a life that is cleansed from defilement by the Word of God (Eph. 5:25, 26).9

We are worshipers who are waiting and confident.

And let us hold fast the profession of our [hope] without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised) (23).  Our continual worship should always be in light of His soon return.  Paul commended the patience of hope of the Thessalonians and that they were ready to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come (1 Thes. 1:3, 10).  F. F. Bruce wrote, “Each successive Christian generation is called upon to live as the generation of the end-time, if it is to live as a Christian generation.”10 Our worship is also involved in Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Tit. 2:13).

We are worshipers who are considering and assembling.

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much more, as ye see the day approaching (24-25).  A vital part of our continual worship is to think about how we can stimulate our fellow believers to love and good works.  We cannot do this by forsaking them but by assembling with them as often as the church meets.  In this way we are truly worshipers who come together and the activity we do there is merely a continuation of our worship!

And so . . .

Let us do one more thing.  Should we not put aside the “obvious lie” that is such a part of the superficial world around us?—the gestures, the mechanical voices, the artificial scenery, the rolling of the eyes and the hypocritical motions.  Why should we be any different singing, praying, reading and listening than we are at any other time?  Let’s be real!  And let’s not fall back into the ritualism that has stolen our faith.

Notes:
1.A.W. Tozer, Whatever Happened To Worship (Camp Hill: Christian Publication, 1985) 122.
2. William Newell, Hebrews (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1947) 280.
3.Barry Liesch, The New Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001).
4 Robert Webber, Planning Blended Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998).
5. Slate Magazine (www.slate.com, 2/28/06).
6. James B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1996) 15.
7. Newell, 348.
8. All of Christian activity on earth is worship before God.  Christ and the Holy Spirit are representing it before God for us.  Hebrews 13:13-16 shows that with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
9. Honer Kent, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1979) 200.
10. F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) 256.

 

A Case For The Traditional Church

A Case For The Traditional Church

by Rick Shrader

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A student was once asked whether ignorance or apathy was worse, to which he answered, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”  Within the last few months I have visited a “non-traditional” church, watched a promotional video from another “non-traditional” church, and read web sites from other “non-traditional” churches (not to mention various articles, books, etc.). My observation is that the “virtues” of the non-traditional church are usually manifestly accepted while the “vices” of the traditional are quickly believed without experience or investigation.

The common argument of the non-traditionalists seems to be that lost people don’t like traditional churches. For this reason traditional churches are no longer effective in reaching the lost.  Unless church is exciting and enticing, the unchurched are not convinced of its usefulness or truthfulness.

Well, a tornado may cause a lot of excitement, but is not very effective for the farmer’s purpose.  In my experiences, non-traditional churches are often popular with the wrong people and can easily be filled for the wrong reasons.

I am using the description “non-traditional” because I want to defend the “traditional” church from general accusations.  I could use the terms progressive, or contemporary as well.  All of these terms have their denotations, but their connotations are well known to most church attenders.  In all of the defenses of the non-traditional churches, “traditional” seems to be fair game for blame, accusation, ridicule and the like.  I have spent a number of issues in this paper defending the traditional (I would also say normal) church from such accusations.  I am not defending the High-Church denominational traditionalism, in which countless souls never heard the gospel, but rather the traditional local church that generations have known and loved and where they came to Christ.

Without doubt, the traditional church is a struggle for the lost or backslidden person.  His mind and heart are not on the things of God, and there is no reason why he would enjoy what spirit-filled Christians enjoy.  The normal church service is so different from what he experiences daily in the world that he must be convicted and led by the Holy Spirit to want to stay around.  The singing is Christ-centered; the teaching is authoritative; the praying is humbling and the conversation is spiritual!  Why would a lost person want to remain there?

D.L. Moody once wrote, “But, some say, if we take the standard and lift it up high, it will drive away a great many members from our churches.  I believe it, and I think the quicker they are gone the better.”1 Today, we do not understand what Moody meant by such a statement.  It was not a lack of concern, but a burden for the lost that we have seldom seen that made Moody say such a thing—a burden we desperately need again.

Churches adopt certain patterns because they believe those patterns conform to biblical standards and therefore allow the Spirit of God to change people.  Here are five characteristics of traditional churches that have been patterned from biblical conviction.

Anchored in Providence

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle (2 Thes 2:15).  The local churches have a two thousand year history drawn from a two thousand year-old Bible.  They have songs born from spirit-led hearts that have satisfied the souls of believers for hundreds of years.  They have built buildings, sent missionaries, suffered persecution, sat reverently under the teaching of God’s Word, observed the ordinances with Godly fear and passed on their faith to others with rejoicing.

When T.S. Eliot said that “a religion requires not only a body of [ministers] who know what they are doing, but a body of worshippers who know what is being done,”2 he could have been speaking of any generation of believers.  But few church-shoppers today even care what a church believes much less how they practice and are not much concerned with making a commitment to those things!  They seem to think, “A rolling stone gathers no moss!”  Yes, and the stone is dead, carried about by the current while the moss is alive and clinging to the immoveable foundation.

Traditional churches help people get their feet on solid, immoveable ground.  They help people look back and anchor themselves to a truthful history while encouraging them to look beyond the present to a heavenly reward. C.S. Lewis referred to his own atheistic past as “‘chronological snobbery,’ the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.”3 In such a time as the present, we cannot afford to disconnect our churches from their own Christian history.

Forward with its Message

Traditional churches do not use stealth tactics to lure people into their services.  That is more cultic than evangelistic.  Paul’s prayer for Philemon was, That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus (Phile 6).  The most effective means for gospel witness is to “acknowledge” the “good thing” we have that the world does not have.  Too often churches are busy trying to win themselves to the world rather than winning the world to Christ.

Os Guinness wrote, “The very reason why penny loafers speak better to other penny loafers than to Air Jordans and wingtips is the reason why a penny-loafer gospel will never be the whole counsel of God.”4 It is not our business to convince the world that they should like us, or that they will enjoy our worship, or that Christianity will fit their busy life-style.  God desires to change them and change them drastically!  And the way He wants to do this is by believers displaying their faith in a visible, unapologetic manner.

Traditional churches do what they do because they believe that is what God wants them to do, not because they think that is what the world is looking for.  Jean-Paul Sartre once criticized Christianity by saying, “I did not recognize in the fashionable God who was taught me, Him who was waiting for my soul.  I needed a Creator; I was given a big businessman!”5 A Japanese businessman similarly said, “Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man.  Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager.”6 What the world needs to meet are Christians who are going about worship because God is there, not because they are there!

Separated from the World

Though everyone feels his view of biblical separation is biblical, traditional churches have made this a priority because they know it reflects God’s character. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (2 Cor 17-18).  This command is still in the Old and New Testaments of our Bible!

Yes, traditional churches have their hypocrites but hypocrisy is hypocrisy.  It always imitates the real thing.  The Apostle John wrote, Love not the world, neither the things in the world (1 Jn 2:15), and said of false teachers in the church, They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them (1 Jn 4:5).  Jesus said, Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets (Lk 6:26).

We will not win the world by loving everything about the world and affirming that to the world.  G.C. Morgan wrote, “I am often told today—told seriously—that what the Church of God needs in order to succeed is to catch the spirit of the age.  I reply that the Church of God only succeeds in proportion as she corrects the spirit of the age.”7 The primary reason for separation from the world is the Lord’s command to be holy because He is holy.  The next reason is so that being holy, we might be filled with the Spirit of God and have power for witnessing and preaching.

Available to its People

Contrary to what many are saying, traditional churches are more available to people for teaching, fellowship, discipling and worship than non-traditional churches.  We still have Sunday School (Bible study) graded for all ages, Sunday night services and Wednesday night prayer and Bible study, and all of these with fully staffed child-care!  These are not times when people merely “go through the motions.” They are well prepared, taught by qualified teachers, done in comfortable (and neutral!) settings and, most of all, this all takes place when and where the brethren have agreed to meet.

I, for one, am not buying the tired old line that Christians, because they happen to be teens, college age, or busy professionals, cannot come to where the saints are when they should.  They do everything else they want to!  John wrote, They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us (1 Jn 2:19).  Why don’t professing Christians love the brethren enough to meet with them?  Because they have more pressing needs?  John the apostle didn’t buy that excuse.  He called it not loving the brethren!

Traditional churches offer services for all believers, regardless of age, race or status.  I find that they offer more time to be with the brethren than any other kind of church.  These churches, rather than catering to exclusive attitudes, honor the elderly who have no one to visit with or care for them; accept families who can use some help with their kids for an hour; encourage the young people to broaden their social horizons; don’t target specialized groups of people; and promote body unity for all of the church.

Insistent on Results

Traditional churches expect sinners to change when they come to Christ and are comfortable showing that change in the church service.  They expect the gospel and the Holy Spirit to change a person immediately upon placing his/her faith in Jesus Christ.  Invitations are still given with that end in mind.  They are not willing to change that doctrine to a more gradual view of conversion.   Too often today, the sinners are simply being called righteous, rather than being called to repentance.  Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Cor 5:17).

The reason most surveys show that unbelievers (or “unchurched”) do not like traditional churches is that something is being asked of them: some effort, some struggle, some patience, even some blessed quietness.  For all of the talk of traditional churches being unwilling to change, the fact is, they have changed—when they believed—and it is the critics who are unwilling to give up their own life-style and change into the image of Christ.

And So . . .

Traditional churches are what they are.  It is not a show or a stage where anyone performs for anyone else.  It is plain people, forgiven in Christ, doing what they would be doing whether you or I or a complete stranger were or were not there.

Notes:
1. D.L. Moody, Spiritual Power (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997) 120.
2. T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: HB, 1949) 96.
3. C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955) 207.
4. Os Guinness, Dining With The Devil (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993) 28.
5. Quoted by A.W. Tozer, Whatever Happened To Worship? (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publishers, 1985) 10.
6. Guinness, 49.
7. G.C. Morgan, Commentary on Matthew, 179.

 

Why Won’t Those Older Chistians Change?

Why Won’t Those Older Chistians Change?

by Rick Shrader

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In the current debate over change, we seldom have the patience or the interest to listen to our elders.  It has become tragic to hear of a generation of Christians who have come to the Lord out of their sinful past, given their money over their life-time to their church, raised their kids in their church, only to have their church taken away from them in one leadership change and themselves asked to sit quietly on the sidelines.  The biblical admonitions to learn from our elders as well as to respect them, takes a back seat to the need for growth and innovation.

No older saint I know is advocating unnecessary blindness.  Most of our seniors realize that there will be a time when their reasoning powers as well as their physical powers wane.  Most I know welcome the younger families and are glad for their vitality and participation.  But this is often taken advantage of by younger Christians who do not have a full perspective of the history that preceded them.

Christianity is not unique in its respect for gray hair.  Most healthy civilizations as well as most religions have long traditions of giving honor to their elders, usually men and women.  But for the Christian, from the fifth commandment to honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee (Ex 20:12), to Paul’s admonitions to rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father . . . and let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor . . .and even against an elder receive not an accusation but before two or three witnesses (1 Tim 5:1, 17, 19), respect, patience and recognition have always been the Christian ethic toward older saints.

Our fault in this area comes for a number of reasons.  One reason may be a younger generation’s inability to listen and learn. Ralph Waldo Emerson once retorted,  “The secret of a true scholar?  In every man there is something wherein I may learn of him; and in that I am his pupil.”1 Will Rogers said the greatest compliment you could pay to a person is to ask a question and then listen to his response.  Our generation seems to have little time to listen.

Another reason may be a modern notion that what is changing is always better than what remains the same.  Norman Geisler recently wrote concerning modern notions of God,

It is difficult to understand how we can know that everything is relative and changing.  How could anyone be sure that something is changing without having some unchanging measure to measure the change?  And if everything is changing, then there could not be the standard or measure by which we could measure the change.2

When we ask our elders to sit on the sidelines of ministry, we may be removing landmarks that we cannot do without!  Those eyes have seen things that others have not.  They have seen spiritual victories and defeats caused by repeating truths and errors over many years.  Just because the body is wrinkled and the clothes are an older style does not mean the wisdom inside is somehow less.  It may mean the very opposite.  Paul warned the Corinthians, For which cause we faint not; but though the outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).    I have often said at funerals that some saints grow so much throughout their Christian life that finally their spirit cannot fit inside the body any longer and God graciously lets them leave!  Some of the wisest words of biblical characters are the ones just before death:  Moses to Joshua; Elijah to Elisha; Paul to Timothy.  We would do well to listen to the wisdom of saints in this “prime” of their life also.

Still, when it comes to accomplishing our personal goals and creating our personal visions, the elders are often obstacles in the way of progress.  When I hear critical statements about older saints being reluctant to change, it is easy to identify a number of false assumptions made about the thinking of our elders.

Old Age Means Ignorance

The assumption is that older Christians have no good reason for refusing change, or have never thought through the consequences of not changing.  Typical of our generation, we think that any change is better than no change and therefore it is senseless to resist.  G.K. Chesterton described it,

Modern men are not familiar with the rational arguments for tradition, but they are familiar, and almost wearily familiar with the rational arguments for change . . . . The language which comes most readily to everyone’s mind is the language of innovation; but it is a language that is rather exercised than examined.3

Thomas á Kempis described his Lord’s thought of him as, “unless thou stand steadfast in Me, thou mayest change, but not better thyself.”4 It could be that many seniors know the consequences of proposed changes far better than younger people and are also willing to stand their ground out of conviction and love for the ministry.  It is near-sightedness for younger adults, because the seniors say it in older terminology while wearing older (and far less expensive) styles, to interpret such conviction as old-age senility.

Old Age Means Compliance

This assumption is that because some saints are older they should automatically give in to younger desires.  Youth is always thought to be better.  Older folks are there to pay the bills, staff the menial chores and stay off the platform unless they are willing to act like youth.  Whatever the younger generation desires, they have always insisted on and gotten.  Walt Whitman once described it as, “Open up all your values and let her go–swing, whirl with the rest—you will soon get under such momentum you can’t stop if you would.”5 Perhaps the elders among us realize that.

The great sixteenth century British parliamentarian, William Wilberforce observed in his own day and culture,

At length, old age has made its advances.  Now, if ever, we would expect it would be high time to make eternal things the great object of attention.  No such thing! It is now required of them to be good-natured and indulgent to the frailties and follies of youth, remembering that when they were young they gave themselves up to the same practices.

How opposite this is to that dread of sin which is the sure characteristic of the true Christian.  Such a dread causes him to look back upon the vices of his own youthful days with shame and sorrow.6

Old Age Means Neutrality

The cry of today’s cultural changers is that all changes of “style” are morally neutral. It should not matter to the older folks that the church now looks different, sounds different and has been “styled down” to an easy, casual atmosphere that is comfortable for any level of spirituality.  Are we to think that folks who have been under the sound of the Word for decades have no sensitivity to grieving the Spirit?  Is it possible that younger saints may not yet have this sensitivity?

Wilberforce finished his statement by saying, “Then instead of conceding to young people to be wild and thoughtless—a privilege of their age and circumstances(!)—he is prompted to warn them against what has proved to him to be a matter of such bitter reflection.”7 But this decision to resist what others consider to be harmless, will bring impatient accusations quickly on one’s own head.  To disagree is to say the other is wrong.  And we know how youth love to be told they are wrong!

Old Age Means Surrender

The final straw for many older saints is to be told that they won’t and can’t change.  The irony behind this accusation is two-fold.  On the one hand, we forget that they did change!  Years ago they repented of an old life in sin and became new creatures in Christ!  They quit going where they used to go and talking like they used to talk.  They gave up old habits and even changed the way they looked to more reflect their new found spiritual life.  They started giving sacrificially to start new churches, build buildings and send missionaries.  To say that these folks won’t change is to deny their very testimony for Christ.

On the other hand, the irony deepens when it is finally seen that the younger people coming to the church are the ones that don’t change!  They want the church to be like they already are: same music, same casualness, same impulsiveness with no change of life-style outside the church.  Chesterton said, “The modern man found the church too simple exactly where modern life is too complex;  he found the church too gorgeous exactly where modern life is too dingy.”8 And when such is the case, who has had to do the changing?  In our age, I dare say, not the younger people!

When I read George Barna deriding older saints for not always changing at the drop of a hat (or should we say ball cap?), I said to myself, “Good!”  He wrote, “Most older adults are not about to accept the new ways of experiencing and learning about God.  In fact, there is not much that most of them will change in terms of values, perceptions, and behaviors at this advanced state of their life.”7 Perhaps that is because they already have changed and are waiting for another generation to do the same!

And So . . .

We really owe a debt of gratitude to the elders among us for fighting a good fight and finishing their course well.  I pray they are not too offended by today’s immaturity.  As one writer said, “The charge of hypocrisy is the unintended compliment that vice pays to virture.”9 I know they know that!

Notes:
1. Quoted by Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (Garden City, NY:  Garden City Pub, 1927)  4.
2. Norman Geisler, Creating God in the Image of Man (Minneapolis: Bethany Books, 1997) 66.
3. Quoted by Michael Aeschliman, The Restitution of Man (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 8.
4. Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1980) 190.
5. Quoted by William Strauss & Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning (New York: Broadway Books, 1997) 146.
6. William Wilberforce, Real Christianity (Minneapolis:  Bethany Books, 1997) 116-117.
7. Wilberforce, 117.
8. G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Wheaton:  Harold Shaw, 1994) 96.
9. Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996) 112.

 

Is There An Alternative Point Of View?

Is There An Alternative Point Of View?

by Rick Shrader

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(To The Traditional vs Progressive Debate)

An ancient saint once said, “It is equally wrong and stupid to censure what is commendable, and to commend what is censurable.”1 G.K. Chesterton once argued against a false premise by stating, “It was not two ways of finding the same truth; it was an untruthful way of pretending that there are two truths.”2 That is what I often think after hearing or reading comparisons of today’s ministry philosophies.

Should we be traditional or progressive in our ministry?  Are these two ways of approaching “how we do church” mutually exclusive, two sides of the same coin, or are they even choices at all when trying to be biblical in church ministry?  I think we have become, like the world around us, champions of the definition!  That is, we spend more time arguing to make the definitions of those buzz words fit what we already do, than evaluating our ministry in light of Scripture and changing to fit it.

None of us wants to be seen as anti-traditional because we realize we have an historical faith that is filled with traditional teaching.  Yet none of us wants to be seen as non-progressive because that would mean we are not visionary and up-to-date with today’s culture.  So it seems that good people from both points of view go out of their way to convince us that they are really both.

On the one hand

To be “traditional” ought to mean that we realize the value of our history, a history that is rooted in the historical person and work of Christ.  Christians are still doing what Christians have always been doing:  praying constantly, studying an old book, singing scriptural songs, witnessing of the resurrection of Christ.  It has not historically included unswerving loyalty to one Bible translation, nor only one expression of modesty as opposed to others just as modest. Those things are more ritual than traditional and, as James Draper wrote, “There is nothing wrong with ritual as long as we understand that ritual is like a telescope—not something to look at, but something to look through.”3

Regardless of its difficulties, I am more inclined to be called a traditionalist today than a “progressive.”  It seems to me that those who have misused the definition of “traditional,” have done so out of a positive desire to honor Christ and a willingness to be identified, not with the world but with Him.  I can live with that and argue with these fellow believers about definitions.

On the other hand

To be “progressive” ought to mean that we see clearly where a lost culture is going and we take the steps outlined in Scripture to speak to it regardless of the consequences.  That would be truly progressive in the biblical sense.  Though I believe most progressives truly love souls and desire to see them saved, many, I am afraid, simply do what the Apostle John warns us about apostates:  They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world hears them. (1 Jn 4:5).  To do such a thing is to love the world and its praises more than the praise of God.  Much of today’s “progressiveness” becomes simply worldliness.  It is not, like its “traditional” counterpart, willing to be despised by the world.  In fact, many “progressives” see that as an error to be avoided at all costs even though it is the clear biblical teaching such as when Peter writes, If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you:  on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified (1 Pet 4:14).  Such an approach wins us to the world, but is misguided at winning the world to Christ.

A Dilemma

It is not the purpose of this article to simply criticize the traditional and the progressive approaches, though, as I have stated, I believe they both have their faults.  I do not question the evangelistic sincerity of either.  Nor do I doubt that spokesmen for either approach could produce verses to support their point of view.  I do believe, however that too often we read our perspective into the Bible, seeing wording that supports our preconceived ideas and thus merely confirm what we already think.  We all know this is a fatal flaw of anyone’s Bible study, including, of course, mine.

In my own circle of Christian friends, many of whom are ministers and instructors, I have, for a number of years, been left in “no-man’s-land” when it comes to whole-heartedly supporting either of these two sides.  I have felt that neither is what I read clearly in the Scripture, nor what I see is the need of the lost world.  On numerous occasions I have been unable to say “Shibboleth” (see Judges 12:6) as was requested of me in order to have the blessing of participation in either side.  This was all of God, at least for my account.  It drove me back to the Scripture for my help and my foundation (aren’t you glad I didn’t use the tired misnomer “vision” at that place?).

I think sometimes we have to lose any hope in man’s blessing, which all of us by nature wants, in order to find help solely in God.  It is my own opinion that far too many Christian leaders are desperately desiring far too much approval by their peers.  But the Apostle admonishes,  For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise (2 Cor 10:12).

An Alternative

From the Gospels to the book of Acts and the Epistles to the church letters of Revelation, I find an overwhelming call in the Scripture for sacrifice:  sacrifice of our wills, our life’s possessions, things, and even our own life; sacrifice to the point of danger to the body whether by harm or ridicule; sacrifice of the praise of men in this life for the praise of our Savior in the next life.  This is biblical patience.  We are called to give of ourselves in this life; to wait for our rewards; to live an inward life of contentment though the outward man is perishing day by day.

We are living sacrifices, having no ability of our own toward our outcome.  We are stewards of God, entrusted with divine instruction for the household of God.  We are heralds of the gospel, having no right to embellish or bargain with the message from the King.  We are earthen vessels, made to be broken and disposed.  We are priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices to God.  We are sheep and branches and lively stones and a host of other analogies that make us totally dependent on the Lord for any usefulness we may have.

Personally, I have not found this type of thinking in services where participants shout, wave hankies or black Bibles and brag about how tough they are; nor have I found it in services of loud, unsettling music accompanied by casualness, shallowness and bragging about how accepting of everything they are.  Rather, Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29).

A Biblical Model

This “sacrificial” model of New Testament ministry is seen in virtually all Bible writers.  One of my favorite passages is Second Corinthians, especially from chapter 3 to chapter 6.  Paul’s own ministry is put forth as an example against the false apostles who “commend themselves.”  Paul, on the other hand, is always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body (4:10).  He is an “earthen vessel” (4:7); bearing the “light affliction” (4:17) of this life; ready to be “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” (5:8); an “ambassador for Christ” (5:20) who proclaims a message of reconciliation of the sinner before a holy God.

This ministry must not be “blamed,” Paul says in chapter 6.  Therefore, in order not to “give offense in any thing” and to “approve ourselves as the ministers of God,” we must enter into a three-fold approach to a sacrificial ministry.  I say “three-fold” due to the various cases of the prepositions used in verses 4-10.4

I am proposing that we are sacrificial servants . . .

In Propitiatory Relationships

The believer finds himself in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, etc.  Paul was the example of evangelism that often resulted in antipathy with the world.  I call these “propitiatory” because the sinner is taking out his anger at our Lord through the believers.  Just as sinners crucified Jesus because His perfect life aggravated their sinful soul, so His servants are to speak of Him to sinners and enter into the same persecutions brought on by their guilty consciences.

Is this not the “fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death?”  Yes!  And it is this that brings to our evangelism the “power of His resurrection” (Phil 3:10).  It is when Jesus is lifted up in the way of a cross, that all men are drawn to Him.  The evangelist must be willing to enter this frame of mind if he is to minister.  Suffering for our Lord is primarily to be rejected and resisted, even hurt, by the sinner for Christ’s sake.  Paul knew this fellowship well.  He also knew the power of such preaching.

By Passive Responses

How did our Lord and His Apostles respond in such circumstances?  By pureness, by longsuffering, by kindness, etc.  Peter says of our Lord, Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:  Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously (1 Pet 2:22-23).  Should those who represent Him respond any differently?

The effectiveness of our witness does not come through human instincts.  We are preservationists by human nature.  We would protect, strike back and defend ourselves when others attack us.  But the true minister does not because his Lord did not.  If the kernel of wheat dies, it will produce more wheat than can be imagined!

As Perceived Realities

How was Paul perceived by those who persecuted him compared to what Paul really was?  As unknown, yet well-known; as dying, and behold we live; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, etc. Just as sinners perceived Jesus to be different than what He actually was, so His servants are to be perceived differently by the world than what they really are in Christ.

Aren’t people more concerned with how they are perceived by others than with anything?  That is why true evangelism is so difficult.  It truly takes a dying to self, a willingness to be seen in a bad light in order to be effective.  The believer knows, of course, the way God really sees him and is content.

And So . . .

The Corinthians were poor evangelists because their own selfishness restricted the power of their witness (vss 11-13).  They could not bring themselves to such sacrificial action.  They were unequally yoked to the world (vss 14-16) to the point that God Himself could not be as a Father to them (vs 18).

It is spiritual near-sightedness to preserve our image before the world and lose them, rather than concede our image in order to win them.

Notes:
1. Gorgias, “The Encomium on Helen,”  Orations: Homer To Mckinley, Vol I (New York: Collier, 1902) 49.
2. G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas (New York: Image Books, 1956) 93.
3. James Draper, Jr., Colossians: A Portrait of Christ (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1982) 8.
4. All Greek texts agree in the prepositions used.  The A.V. does the best job of dividing the en into locative and instrumental cases in vss 4-7.  Other versions follow the word for word translation of en being “in” (usually taken as locative) where the A.V. recognizes how en can be instrumental as well.  Lenski says, “This en differs from the en found with the preceding plurals which = ‘in the midst of’ the experience of tribulations, etc.  The present eight en = ‘in connection with’ purity, etc.”

 

Culture: The Incarnation Of Our Religion

Culture: The Incarnation Of Our Religion

by Rick Shrader

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There may be no more important word in today’s Christian vocabulary than “culture.” R.C. Sproul wrote, “Adjusting to the customs and worldview of one’s environment is one of the strongest pressures people experience. To be ‘out of it’ culturally is often considered the nadir of social achievement.”1 Everything has to be relevant to the culture from tennis shoes to worship styles. It would be difficult to find a discussion group or seminar on ministry today without interacting with the word “culture.”

Cullen Murphy, writing in The Atlantic Monthly, notes that we used to regard nature as something that was to be held in awe, and culture as something we could control and modify. Now we hold “The culture” in awe and treat nature as something we can control for our own purposes. He then comments, “‘The culture’ is today the more fearsome realm, or at any rate the more convenient scapegoat, and the notion that we have only limited influence over it appears to be widespread.”2

This obvious flip-flop of priorities has both degraded the natural realm, which ought to remain the domain of spiritual wonder, and exalted the cultural realm to a god-like status that can only be obeyed but not controlled. Politicians make campaign promises to control the environment but Hollywood defers its ability to curb profanity and violence.

We would do well to remember that the root of culture is the “cult” or the society formed by the mores of the people involved. Francis Schaeffer once wrote, “We of the West may not be brainwashed by our State, but we are brainwashed by our culture.”3 We have let culture form us rather than we forming our culture. In an atheistic society that would not be considered bad. There, beliefs and values are relative and are only formed as a result of what people naturally do. But in a Christian society (whether that be a single life, a family, a church or a nation) the opposite is true. Belief comes first and then forms and controls the values as well as the actions. The result is nothing less than culture.

In short, as the title to this article suggests, culture is the result of our beliefs. T.S. Eliot, in a book called Christianity and Culture, wrote, “We may go further and ask whether what we call the culture, and what we call the religion, of a people are not different aspects of the same thing: the culture being, essentially the incarnation (so to speak) of the religion of a people.”4 A professor at our university (CSU) wrote in our local paper, “Religion defines our relationship to the world around us. It is intriguing how important religion is to our culture, family and value systems.”5 Because this is true, I would suggest at least three logical imperatives that follow.

We cannot separate belief and culture

As we have seen, culture on any level, is an outgrowth of what we believe. God holds us all responsible for our actions because those actions have been thought of in a person’s mind and then acted out. So the scriptures can say, as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he (Prov 23:7); doing the will of God from the heart (Eph 6:6); They do always err in their heart (Heb 3:10). Perhaps the closest biblical word is “custom” (eqos) as when the Philippians complained that Paul and Silas taught customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans (Ac 16:21). Earle Cairns noted that Luther preached that culture must follow consistently from faith. He writes, “Above all, he [Luther] awakened his day to the fact that culture was not merely a matter of reason, but of regeneration by faith in Christ.”6

Today, no one wants to be responsible for his own actions, yet he wants to be free from anyone telling him how he ought to think. Actions have been totally divorced from scrutiny and often with the silly mantra, “don’t impose your moral standards on me!” That is silly because it is itself an imposition of the moral standard that no one’s thinking outside oneself shall have any bearing on how one acts. But the statement immediately strikes a thinking person as wrong because we know intuitively that all of us are bound to act in such a way that is determined by our moral belief. If one lies, he has somehow figured out in his head why saying what he said is justified. His moral imperative may have been self-preservation, or prejudice or any number of reasons, all of which he believes took precedent the moment he “lied.” The person who tells the truth has also acted on principles that he believes.

It has been my experience in reading that many non-Christians are recognizing this principle faster than Christians. Too many Christians believe “The culture” (notice how the definite article grants the word status) is only to be discovered and modeled and has nothing to do with religious or moral values. Consider the contrast from David Dickens (not a professing believer), Professor of Sociology at UNLV, “Thus culture historically has been fused with religion. The axial principle of contemporary culture, however, is the expression and remaking of the self in order to attain self-realization and self-fulfillment, which implies the denial of all limits or boundaries to experience.”7 No doubt, whatever you believe you will act out in some way.

We cannot separate faith and works

Though we may be more familiar with this language, perhaps it will help to consider it in light of what has already been said. It is simply inevitable that you will live in accordance with what you believe. The reason a lost man cannot live a Christian life (to any biblical consistency) is because he really does not believe what Christians believe. Sooner or later he has to go back to being consistent with his own thoughts. One commentator has written, “For the real business of life is not so much to get things done in any way, as to diffuse a right spirit among men, and get them to do things well.”8

It ought to be a subject of early Sunday School that when we come to Christ we change from an old life to a new life. And if, as believers, we lapse into the old way of life, we have chosen a way that is inconsistent with what we now believe. Demas loved this present “age” (aiwna) but his thinking had become wrong-headed. G.K. Chesterton correctly observed, “The moment we care for anything deeply, the world (that is, all the other miscellaneous interests) becomes our enemy.”9

If we continue to hold culture as inviolable we will continue to worship at its altar by our works. But if we realize that we are not to do so, indeed do not have to, we will live consistently with our faith regardless of the customs and cultures of the people around us.

We cannot separate worship and evangelism

Sometimes this is termed “message and methods” or “belief and methodology.” I call it “worship” because that is what we are doing when we consciously live before God in spirit and truth (Jn 4:24). Worship is our cognitive belief system, our always walking before God in an unseen faith (2 Cor 5:7). I call it “evangelism” because that is the living out of our faith to the rest of the world, to every person in every circumstance. If our worship constitutes our religion, then evangelism constitutes our culture. In every action we are affecting our world and creating a culture that is positive or negative for the gospel’s sake (1 Cor 9:23).

I have always been concerned when Christians speak of their worship, message or belief as something that is unchangeable but speak of their evangelism, methods or methodology as always changing. In fact, it ought to be the very opposite. My belief has to be compared to and corrected by the Word of God. I should be constantly honing my thinking (which is my true belief system) to God’s standard. But my methodology ought to (and it will) simply follow in obvious consistency behind my belief. I smile with Os Guinness when he wrote, “A well-known proponent states, ‘I don’t deal with theology. I’m simply a methodologist’—as if his theology were thereby guaranteed to remain critical and his methodology neutral.”10

It would be inconsistent (hence hypocritical) of me to act in a way that does not follow from my belief. It would be inconsistent to evangelize in a way that contradicts my worship. It would be inconsistent to use a method that is not parallel to my message. I concur with the concern of older writers who were alarmed when they saw the dichotomy of message and methods that was current. A.W. Tozer, for example, in the 50s wrote, “’The message is the same, only the method changes,’ say the advocates of compromise.”11 L.S. Chafer, in the 20s wrote, “It may be conceded that genuine results are sometimes obtained even where misleading methods are employed; but there by be great harm done as well.”12 D.L. Moody, in the 1800s wrote, “But, some say, if we take the standard and lift it up high, it will drive away a great many members from our churches. I believe it, and I think the quicker they are gone the better.”13

Now I am aware that the rebuttal to this point of view would focus on the ridiculously obvious such as the color of shirts or the type of organ. Such is to miss the point. John MacArthur said, “I do believe we can be innovative and creative in how we present the gospel, but we have to be careful to harmonize our methods with the profound spiritual truth we are trying to convey.”14 The Bible doesn’t ask us to use gospel stealth tactics, luring unbelievers with something that is contrary to our faith, and then revealing a non sequitur for a belief system. Rather, as Paul admonished Philemon, That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus (Phile 6).

Notes:
1. R.C. Sproul, Willing To Believe (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997) 16.
2. Cullen Murphy, “The Culture Did It,” The Atlantic Monthly, December 2000, 18.
3. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1998) 159.
4. T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1949) 101.
5. Robert Theodoratus, Coloradoan, 5/1/2000.
6. Earle Cairns, Christianity Through The Centuries (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977) 322.
7. David Dickens, “North American Theories of Postmodern Culture,” Postmodernism and Social Inquiry (New York: The Guilford Press, 1994) 79.
8. W.G. Blaikie, “Second Samuel,” The Expositor’s Bible (New York: Funk & Wagnels, 1900) 290.
9. G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000) 22.
10. Os Guinness, Dining With The Devil (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1993) 26.
11.  A.W. Tozer, Worship and Entertainment (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1997) 166.
12. L.S. Chafer, True Evangelism (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Assoc., 1929) 13.
13. D.L. Moody, Spiritual Power (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997) 120.
14. John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1993) 85.

 

Trusting In Trust

Trusting In Trust

by Rick Shrader

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In exalting faith, we are not immediately putting ourselves in contradiction to modern thought.  Indeed faith is being exalted very high by men of the most modern type.  But what kind of faith?  There emerges the difference of opinion. 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.         J. Gresham Machen, 19231

Almost two years ago I wrote an article entitled “Worshiping Worship.”  I thought it was time to write a follow-up on worship, so I pulled my “worship” file and perused the entries of the last two years.  It has become a huge file with men of varied stripe offering comment and observation.  Fundamentalists and Evangelicals especially have been justifiably critical of the irreverence in today’s “worship style.”  But I’ve noticed (as many others) that there is a mirror issue in worshiping worship and that is trusting in trust or faith.  An Easter article in our local paper was titled, “Many experience rebirth of faith at Easter time.”  It seems a man was returning from his faith in the “material world” to a “sense of freedom and comfort” in his Catholic church.  He said, “It’s not a change in belief but a change in the method of adoration.”2  The troubling fact is that such a faith has no object.  Faith becomes its own object!  It is faith in the ability to have faith which, of course, is not faith but works.

When the ECT document appeared in 1994, the only good news was that the issue of saving faith was pushed to center stage.  Sadly, many who call themselves “evangelical” have lost the distinctive of their name by proposing that the “good news” is that salvation is in one’s content of faith rather than in one’s  object of faith.  But I would also suggest that Fundamentalists have often been as guilty in proposing that salvation is in one’s confession of faith.  That, as well, is a trust in trust rather than in Christ.  It seems to me that both errors can pack the pews with pious pretenders.

The New Testament furnishes us not only with examples of genuine faith, but with examples of unsaving faith.  John 2:23-25 shows us a group of people who “believed” in the content of Jesus’ message but John makes it clear that they were not regenerated (James reminds us that the devils “believe” in this way).  Acts 8:13-24 shows us a man, Simon, who “believed” and was baptized but, it turned out, his public confession was not enough to bring him salvation.  On the other hand, Hebrews 4:3 speaks of “We which have believed” and have entered into rest.  Alexander Maclaren commented, “He does not mean, ‘we which acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the Savior of the world,’ but we who, acknowledging, let our hearts go out to Him in trust, and our wills bow down before Him in obedience and submission.”3

When I say that saving faith is not in the content alone I mean that it takes more than just believing that the facts are true regarding Jesus Christ to get saved.  When I say that saving faith is not in the confession alone I mean that it takes more than just mouthing some words about Jesus Christ to get saved.  The liturgical churches have often been guilty of the former and the non-liturgical churches have often been guilty of the latter.   One error creates an evangelism where faith, or trust, is in the ability to understand while the other is in the ability to say so.

One biblical (and historic) way of defining saving faith is by using the three Latin words notitia, assensus and fiducia.  The Baptist theologian, Augustus Strong, reminded us of these in his 1907 Systematic Theology.4 Recently, R.C. Sproul has defended saving faith against the ECT agenda by using these words. 5 I find the three-fold (four, counting confession) definition in the New Testament.

Notitia means knowledge.  One must hear of Jesus Christ before he will ever be saved.  Faith cannot come before “hearing” (Rom 10:17).   Heb 11:13 describes the saints as “having seen them afar off” i.e. the promises which told of salvation.  Obviously, no one can believe if they do not know that salvation is available.

Assensus means to give assent to something or agree.  After one hears the message, he may or may not agree as to its validity.  Many have never believed that the gospel story is actually true.  Heb 11:13 (in KJV & TR) reads, “and were persuaded.”  Rev. 1:3 has, “Blessed is he that readeth (notitia) and they that hear (assensus).”  In 1 Cor 14:25 Paul said that prophecy was better than tongues because then someone can interpret and give the meaning so that a visitor may be “convinced of all” that is said.

Fiducia is trust or what Strong calls the “voluntary element.”  Heb 11:13 says that they “embraced” the message of salvation which they had “seen” and were “persuaded of.”  J.O. Buswell, in his Systematic Theology, stresses at length what he calls this “cognitive element” of faith.6 This is not just a hearing of the gospel and is more than just admitting that the gospel story is true.  It is to realize that Jesus Christ can be your Savior and for you to want that more than anything else.  (Note: This is where repentance comes in this progression.  Paul, in 1 Cor 14:25, says that at this point the man will “fall down on his face.”  The Thessalonians, in 1 Th 1:9, “turned to God from idols.”) Sproul speaks of this moment as a change in “perceived value.”7 Now, for the first time, the sinner sees Christ as something to be desired and to grasp with his whole heart.

The Bible adds one more concept to these three and that is confession.  Heb 11:13 says that at this point “they confessed.”  Rom 10:10 (a passage that deserves a fresh study) says that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto (“because of”) salvation.”  Obviously there are no magic formulas for saving faith.  Confession is just that, a public display of what the heart secretly has believed.  If the belief is real, the confession will definitely follow.

True saving faith takes place when a sinner has exercised fiducia.  After having learned of Christ and become convinced that His claims are true, he is willing to give up anything and pay any price to have Him.  When this kind of faith takes place, confession will not only follow but will be impossible to silence; invitations will not have to rely on trickery; lordship will not be a problem;  godly living and separation from the world will come naturally because a selfish nature has been overcome by a new nature in love with Christ.

Why does Peter (2 Pet 1: 5-7) tell us to “add to your faith virtue?”  Because a person who has true faith wants, first and foremost, to please the One with whom he has fallen in love.  This simple obedience is virtue.  Why does he then say to add “to virtue knowledge?”  Because now this person wants to know what he should do to produce such virtue.  And the progression continues through agape love.

If you think I am suggesting that a real problem in Christendom today is not that we are becoming too exclusive of all “faiths,” but rather that we have become too inclusive of any partial expression of faith, you happen to be right.  And could this not be a vital reason why we see so many saying they have faith but having no interest in virtue?  And because there is no virtue, there is little interest in knowledge?

This unsaving kind of faith is simply a trust in trust, a faith in faith but it does not have Jesus Christ as the lovely object and desire of reception.  I don’t know how widely this may be the case in our churches but it must cause us some concern.  A.W. Tozer wrote, “To the question ‘what must I do to be saved?’ we must learn the correct answer.  To fail here is not to gamble with our souls; it is to guarantee eternal banishment from the face of God.  Here we must be right or be finally lost.”8

 

Notes:
1. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Pub. Co., 1923) 141.
2. Fort Collins Coloradoan, April 3, 1994.
3. Alexander Maclaren, Exposition of Holy Scripture Vol. 10 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Pub. Co., 1959) 304.
4. Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1907) 836-844.
5. R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995) p. 75-88.
6. J. Oliver Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980) II,175-186.
7. Sproul, p. 86.
8. A.W. Tozer, The Best of A.W. Tozer (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1978) 100.

 

Worshiping Worship

Worshiping Worship

by Rick Shrader

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We who defend Christianity find ourselves constantly opposed not by the irreligion of our hearers but by their real religion. Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalised spirituality to which we can all flow, and you will command friendly interest. But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character.

C. S. Lewis, Miracles

It was Napoleon Bonaparte who said, ‘‘If Socrates would enter the room we should rise and do him honor. But if Jesus Christ came into the room we should fall down on our knees and worship Him.’’  Perhaps it is for that reason that we often find ourselves entirely uncomfortable in many of our fundamental or evangelical ‘‘worship’’ services today. A. W. Tozer wrote (in God Tells the Man Who Cares), ‘‘In the majority of our meetings there is scarcely a trace of reverent thought, no recognition of the unity of the body, little sense of the divine Presence, no moment of stillness, no solemnity, no wonder, no holy fear.’’ I think if Jesus Christ entered the sanctuary of most churches today He would get a standing ovation. It would be an atrocity!

But as soon as this lack of reverence is mentioned we hear the pleadings of the defense mounting. In reality, they say, we have recovered worship. We have opened new doors for the expression of the spirit and created new ways in which to meet the needs of each participant.  Our singing is made easier by electronic power so that it takes the least effort possible to ‘‘make a joyful noise.’’ As a matter of fact, any average person can now be ‘‘special music.’’ We have lessened the difference between the view inside and outside the sanctuary so that one may enter without realizing he has come to church. The times of services are shorter and much more convenient, the attire is totally unassuming and the message is tailor-made for the lowest common denominator. And to seal the defense, we have only to observe how comfortable the average person is and how good he feels being in our services which is evidenced by the numbers on the attendance board (‘‘I object!’’ Sustained. Scratch that last remark.).

Some time ago, I heard that a music professor in a SBC seminary had studied contemporary church services and concluded that, in his opinion, most congregations were ‘‘worshiping worship rather than worshiping God.’’ When I heard that (from one who was in his class) I thought to myself, that’s it! That’s the description of what I have experienced. In a worshiping worship service, everything is in the right place, carefully orchestrated, moments of wide-eyed laughter mixed with moments of closed-eyed sobbing, each mood change perfectly timed by the chorus leader to lead one moment to the next. But when it is finished, though you have stepped off a worshiping roller coaster, you are the same as before. But at least you are out in time to catch the kick-off (‘‘I object!’’ Sustained.)

I am simply saying that to many people today it does not matter what the doctrine of the church is, what the church covenant may or may not ask, what the words of the music may actually say or even what the preacher preaches.  If the mood is right and the feeling is good then the head can take a rest.  And someone reading this right now may ask, “What’s wrong with that?”  Because, then, worship is only for the worshiper’s sake, not for God.  In that case we have no object to our worship other than ourselves.  We become our only audience and we hope that God will find a way to enjoy it.

Paul told the Athenians in Acts 17 that they were ‘‘ignorantly’’ worshiping. They were worshiping! They were as sincere as any people could be. But they weren’t worshiping God. The same is true of the woman with the spirit of divination in Acts 16 who followed Paul for three days crying, ‘‘These are the men of the Most High God who show us the way of salvation.’’ A truer act of worship could not be had but she was not worshiping God and Paul cast a demon out of her. She was a pagan involved in Zeus worship originating at the oracle at Delphi. Pagans worship worship! They make statues out of wood and stone and devise more elaborate services than Benny Hinn could dream of in a life-time. And people are moved to tears. And offerings (‘‘Objection!’’ I withdraw the remark.)

Modern pagans usually center their worship on happiness. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the son of a Unitarian minister and a product of literature’s enlightened period, said, ‘‘the happiest man he is who learns from nature the lesson of worship.’’ Similarly, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, ‘‘Do not forget that even as ‘to work is to worship’ so to be cheery is to worship also, and to be happy is the first step to being pious.’’ I say that these two, though literary giants, were content and happy to worship worship, but they were far from worshiping God. A speaker today, however, will impress more modern men by quoting Emerson and Stevenson than, by contrast, John Milton who, two centuries prior, wrote for a ‘‘fit audience, though few.’’    Gene Veith, writing about our post-modern age said, ‘‘When writers (or speakers!) give their readers exactly what they want, the readers are seldom enriched. They hear only what they already know; their prejudices are confirmed, their weaknesses pandered to. The audience is entertained, but not challenged nor instructed. This is the weakness of so much postmodernist fiction. It may be scintillating, but it is ultimately trivial.’’ But worshiping worship worshipers are happy in this modern triviality. Tozer wrote, ‘‘The Bible was written in tears and to tears it will yield its best treasures. God has nothing to say to the frivolous man.’’ He is not listening anyway, he is too busy worshiping.

It is unfortunate that the word ‘‘orthodox’’ has gained a negative connotation in regard to our services. Almost every time the word is used to describe a modern service it is with the prefix ‘‘un.’’  The style is ‘‘unorthodox.’’ The music is ‘‘unorthodox.’’ The message is ‘‘unorthodox.’’ But the word ‘‘orthodox’’ simply means ‘‘correct praise.’’ Jesus insisted that we must worship God in orthodoxy, in ‘‘spirit and truth.’’ It was because they had learned this lesson well that Jesus’ followers insisted that they must ‘‘please God rather than man’’ when faced with worship (‘‘objection!” Overruled!).