Tag Archives: christianity

Walk the Talk

I have again been reminded of a way to functionally undermine the authority of the Scriptures. Bible teachers or Christians frequently proclaim their allegiance to the Scripture and its truth yet often only vaguely reference its contents out of context or (worst) (mis-)use the text to suit their own ends; in these moments they demonstrate that all the talk about authority and sufficiency is smoke and mirrors, propaganda, and hypocrisy. I also see people consistently elevate and emphasize secondary material in the text above things of greater importance. Sometimes, wholesale theological fabrications are held in higher esteem than the gospel.

All of this reminded me of an excellent message by David Nelson delivered at SEBTS during convocation a few years ago. His message (“How to Undermine the Authority of Scripture”) gave four ways to functionally undermine the authority of the Bible:

1. Make loud claims about the inerrancy of the Bible and then fail to teach it all.

2. Insist that what is not in the Scripture is in the Scripture.

3. Neglect to teach what is in the Scripture or fail to give it the proper emphasis given by the Bible.

4. Make loud claims of the authority of Scripture and then fail to live a truly Christian way of life.

I would highly recommend listening to the entire message.

The Next Christians: A Hopeful Appraisal of Christianity’s Future

Gabe Lyons, coauthor of the insightful book UnChristian, has written a helpful book entitled The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their blogging for books program.

When it comes to Lyons’ basic premises I think he is right on target. First, any notion of America as a Christian nation is quickly coming to an end. Greg Boyd and others have been banging this drum for some time now. The idea that America is, should be, or ever was a truly Christian nation is essentially over. Second, the loss of Christian America is a (gasp) good thing! With the end of cultural Christianity the gospel is able to flourish in an environment where it can be heralded without the false assumptions and blatant hypocrisy’s of those who claim Christianity but have no resemblance to Christ.

Whether for reasons of misplaced nostalgia or poor historical recollection, there is a tendency for some, as they grow older, to glorify the past and pessimistically evaluate the present. Lyons provides a lot of hope in his description of the state of Christianity. He is able to point out the current struggles of modern evangelicalism while still observing a number of younger evangelicals who are sacrificially and whole-heartedly communicating and demonstrating the love of Christ at home and around the world.

It can be uncomfortable to hear traditions being challenged but in the midst of such challenges is the opportunity to evaluate what the Bible has to say about the gospel, the church, and the mission of God.

Lyons is well-read when it comes to scholars who have studied Christianity and culture. In addition he is particularly well-connected within evangelical circles (though his name-dropping verges on annoying). I felt that Lyons had a great grasp on how to influence culture (e.g., education, media, etc.) but might have been lacking in some areas of Biblical studies. He emphasizes key concepts in the Bible such as redemption, community, and charity. In his emphasis on more relational aspects of proclaiming the gospel he deemphasizes other equally valid Biblical models such as public proclamation of the gospel or vocal opposition to sin.

All-in-all Lyons book is easy to read and provides an optimistic look at younger Christians and the way they can shape culture by proclaiming and living the gospel. Lyons doesn’t say much that is new but his voice is well-respected among younger leaders and, therefore, his influence will be felt. I would still recommend the authors he cites (e.g., Niebuhr, Lewis, Schaeffer, Guinness, Newbigin, Carson) as more comprehensive, thoughtful, erudite, and profound but Lyons serves as an interesting entrance into the discussion of Christianity and culture.

The Benefits of Christendom’s Waning Influence

Some time ago I read a post by Larry Hurtado on the fall of Christendom in Western cultures.

In the Western nations where Christendom once was dominant, it is dominant pretty much no more.  I for one don’t grieve this one bit.  I regard “Christendom” as a morally dubious phenomenon that probably did as much harm to the gospel as it ever did any good.  It consisted more in the promotion of institutional power of churches and church officials.  It may have had some effect in shaping professed public morals, and perhaps even some effect on moral practice.  But I don’t like the idea of any religion being able to exercise social coercion, and I think that religious faiths should live or die solely by their ability to commend themselves to the consciences of people…

So, I find pre-Constantinian Christianity much, much more exciting than what comes later, with much more to say to churches, Christians, and non-Christians too in our modern era in which Christianity is essentially one religious option in a religiously plural world.  If Christians want to figure out how to be authentic and particularly Christian while also negotiating their contributions to the wider society, it’s Christians and texts from the first three centuries that provide the best resources.

This is similarly related to a conversation I had with a fellow pastor at our church. He was telling me how he used to want to live in the South, deep in the buckle of the Bible Belt “Religion Belt.” He was commenting on the change in his attitude over the years. He would rather live somewhere that the gospel and Christianity was not culturally assumed. In a non-Christian environment he could share the joy of the Christ without having to disabuse people of their religious idols.

This is a good reminder for me that the decline of Christianity’s social and political impact is an opportunity to elevate the life-changing, life-saving, power of the gospel.

HT: Alan Knox.

Christianity, Proselytization, and Ginsu Knives

Pastor Tim Piland shared an excellent message from Matthew 28:19-20 this past Sunday at Nansemond River Baptist Church. I love to listen to Pastor Tim share; he is biblical, passionate, and relevant. I like to tell people that he’s 65 going on 20. He has the energy and passion of a young man with the wisdom and wit of a seasoned veteran. I think he has a faint hint of Jimmy Stewart in his voice as well .

In any case, Tim made a comment (I think I’ve heard similar comments before) about sharing the gospel:

The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; it is a relationship to be shared.

I grew up learning all the methods of evangelism (E.E., Romans Road, 4 Spiritual Laws, Steps to Peace with God, F.A.I.T.H., etc.). As I’ve grown (a little) older I’ve found methods to be helpful but often inadequate. Each person is different and, therefore, every time I share my faith it sounds a little different. The content must always be biblical but the method of organization and communication is often ad hoc.

More important than the method, however, is the relationship. We must build relationships with people that can bear the weight of the gospel. The message of sin and salvation is heavy stuff and casual conversations rarely offer the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue. Talking about football and the weather is hardly a natural segue to the magnitude of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Too often fervent evangelists see people as converts to be won. I am reminded of Kevin Roose’s experience at Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University chronicled in the book Unlikely Disciple:

When I told the Liberty students at Thomas Road that I hadn’t accepted Christ as my savior, the entire dynamic of the conversation changed. It began to feel distant and rehearsed, like a pitch for Ginsu knives.

People are unique and interesting and the gospel is not formulaic. Different people have different objections and hangups to the gospel. I know that I value authenticity and honesty much more than a polished presentation.

The Remarkable Story of Josiah Vierra

When a grown man is weeping uncontrollably by himself watching ESPN on his lunch break then you know something unique is happening. Such is the situation I found myself while watching the story of Josiah Vierra. When the doctor cried, I almost lost it. Doctors aren’t supposed to cry. His life just might be a miracle. I also felt there was a lot to learn from Josiah’s understanding of heaven. What is heaven like? Jesus.

Facebook Posts, Romantic Infatuation, and Jesus

I have some friends whose functional savior is romance. They love the emotional porn that is evidenced in popular series such as Twilight. Romantic comedies form their picture of male-female relationships. They write Facebook posts saying that they “can’t live without” such-and-such a person. They give other people the place in their lives reserved only for Jesus. They want so badly to have unconditional love and acceptance from another person. Only God can love completely and unconditionally. Putting that kind of hope in another person will only lead to disappointment. In fact, it’s not fair to the other person. No person can love you like Jesus.

Changing Values of Morality

I’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the declining morals of modern American culture. It is basically assumed that the morals of the ’50s were vastly superior to whatever values still remain. Anecdotal evidence usually cites the terrible entertainment on television (think Jersey Shore instead of Leave it to Beaver) or changing sexual ethics (think premarital sex and homosexuality).

I would like to caution us not to be unnecessarily concerned. First of all, sin is trans-generational. Changing technology and access to information have made certain forms of sin more visible in the wider culture but sin has always existed. People in the ’50s had moral lapses. In fact, a view of morality that focuses merely on externals has to pick and choose what is and is not the essential determiner of right behavior. The ’50s mights seem more upright in regard to conservative views of sexual ethics. However, if the standard has anything to do with institutionalized racism then the ’50s might be seen as significantly worse than today. This all depends on whether external morality is the sole basis for which one wants to judge a culture. If the ’50s are a bad barometer of external morality then the Bible fares much worse (adultery, incest, homosexuality, murder, lying, stealing, etc).

I’ve seen a great deal of positive movement in my generation toward care for the environment, concern for the poor, economic equality. All the while, my friends have maintained a strong commitment to defending the unborn and other “traditional” causes of conservative evangelicalism. In addition, all of the focus on external behavior can easily devolve into outright hypocrisy. My generation is much more concerned with authenticity, humility, and honesty than any pretense of performance or righteous charade.

I suspect there is a bit of historical naïvity and unsubstantiated nostalgia when certain people discuss the past. Whatever the case, external morality misses the point. The gospel realizes that no amount of “good behavior” warrants salvation and that real life change only comes from Jesus Christ. People do not need behavior change, they need to go from spiritual death to spiritual life. Focusing on external behavior is like giving a dead man Tylenol. Standards of external morality will change based on cultural situation, we need a basis for behavior that is rooted in the character of God and not the fashions of the day.

Relevant Mag (Nov/Dec)

It’s been a crazy couple of months. Whitney and I just got back from Harrisonburg where we spent the weekend ministering to high school students from Immanuel Bible Church. We had a lot of fun talking about the book of Jonah and asking tough questions about our own commitment to the call of God.

I think I have a chance to breath in the coming weeks, so I hope to get back on a regular blogging schedule. There are a lot of things to discuss!

I should be able to read the newest issue of Relevant Magazine featuring the epicly bearded Zach Galifianakis on the cover. Beards are clearly a sign of ultimate manliness.

Just browsing through the contents I’m excited to see the feature on Shad (one of my favorite hip-hop artists). I’m over Rob Bell and all of his pseudo-spirituality (“God is the God of the groove. We need rhythm in our time. It gives shape and color and form to all of life.” What does that even mean?!?) but I’ll see what he has to say (or not say) about advent.

The article I am most anticipating is “Deck the Halls (Not Your Family)” by my fellow Greenbrier Christian Academy alumnus, Jesse Carey. His article walks through the art of greeting (hug, handshake, fist bump, cheek kiss) and helps you avoid the passive-aggressive dinner table questions (so, when are you guys gonna have kids?). Most importantly it claims to help you “avoid the Clark Griswold meltdown.”

The Bible as Icon

Beyond doubt, the Bible for many Americans is, as Martin Marty phrases it, an “icon” as well as an object of study. With no American group is this more the case than with evangelicals… Evangelicals, by reputation and self-definition an antiliturgical folk, have nevertheless made a formulaic phrase, “the Bible says” (or its variants, like “my Bible says”), an all but essential part of the sermon. The iconic place of the Bible accounts for the fact that so many evangelicals profess belief in scriptural inerrancy, yet know little about the book’s actual content. It also helps explain why many different bodies of evangelicals continue to insist that they follow “the Bible alone” and are not influenced by historical or cultural conditioning, as they go their mutually exclusive ways in doctrine and practice.

– Mark Noll, Between Faith and Criticism

Watered Down Christianity

I read this the other day on Jim West’s blog.

Christianity would be better of if it had fewer adherents rather than more.  The reason is simple—the Church is the best kind of wine until water gets added.  The more water one mixes with wine, the less wine there really is.  Water down the wine enough and before long there isn’t anything left of it but a little smell.

I often feel the same way.  Being a Christian in name only is not being a Christian at all.  I would much rather spread the gospel with those who see it as good news than those who have grown familiar with the amazing story of Jesus.  There are too many counterfeit Christians who distort the gospel yet they seem to get all the press.