It is because preaching is not exposition only but communication, not just the exegesis of a text but the conveying of a God-given message to living people who need to hear it.John Stott
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.
Glenn Beck is a regular topic of discussion on this blog (see here and here). My reservations about Beck are numerous (both political, ideological, historical, and theological). Recently, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally has gained much attention. Some have lauded Beck for showing courage to stand for America’s “founding values” and others have cautioned evangelicals to be careful with whom they partner (at this point the essay by Russell Moore is genuinely helpful). Not only has Moore weighed in but Doug Wilson and Scot McKnight have offered some commentary on the situation.
One denominational side note that I found disappointing was the alliance of Richard Land (president of SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) with Beck as part of his multi-faith “black-robed regiment.”
Outside of Moore, Robert Parham has proven to be the most helpful. He not only provides insightful commentary about the dangers of civil religion and generic, theistic alliances, he does so with ample quotations from the actual event in question (“Restoring Honor” on August 28, 2010).
Fox News host Glenn Beck muddled biblical references with fragments of America history, recreating a pottage of civil religion that says America has a divine destiny and claiming that a national revival is beginning…
Beck said, “We can disagree on politics. We can disagree on so much. These men and women don’t agree on fundamentals. They don’t agree on everything that every church teaches. What they do agree on is that God is the answer.
It is insightful to note that the definitions of god provided by these various clerics are so broad that god is probably not even a sufficiently meaningful category. Whose God?
No amount of Bible reading, sermons masquerading as prayers and Christian hymns can cover up Beck’s civil religion that slides back and forth between the Bible and nationalism, between authentic faith and patriotic religion.
He treats the “American scripture”—such as the Gettysburg Address—as if it bears the same revelatory weight as Christian Scripture.
What is important to Beck is belief in God—God generically—not a specific understanding of God revealed in the Biblical witness, but God who appears in nature and from which one draws universal truths.
Not surprisingly, Beck only uses the Bible to point toward the idea of a God-generic…
I sometimes wonder why Christians feel the need to undermine scientific inquiry. Science, when functioning genuinely as science, is a beneficial means of solving problems.
Believers are appalled when non-believers caricature the group because of the mistakes of a few. I, for one, bristle at the notion that all Christians are mindless, superstitious, stooges. However, I am aware that some Christians are likely thoughtless and ignorant about their beliefs and the reasons for those beliefs. Is Christianity, therefore, an irrational myth created to assuage personal guilt and provide non-existent security? Of course not. It would be truly hypocritical (i.e., not Christ-like), then, to judge science by the faults of a few (or even many) scientist.
Science functions particularly well when playing by its own rules; coming to tentative conclusions based on observations and reproducible results. Science is clearly a tool and not an absolute truth. When science attempts to make truth claims that require faith rather than evidence, it has overstepped its bounds. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, however, one must be careful to distinguish bad science from all science. In the same way, a believer must distinguish bad theology from all theology.
The scientists have given [man] the impression that there is nothing he cannot know, and false propagandists have told him that there is nothing he cannot have.
— Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences
The irony is that those American churches that protest most vocally against the teaching of Darwinism in their schools are often, in their public policies, supporting a kind of economic Darwinism, the survival of the fittest in world markets and military power.
— N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope
My entire life I have heard the incongruous phrase “Judeo-Christian.” People talk about Judeo-Christian ethics, values, political views, etc…
I would like to propose a banishment to this phrase. Obviously there is some overlap between modern-day Judaism and contemporary Christianity. However, there is no Biblical basis for the distinction and reunion of Judaism and Christianity.
First, Christianity is a term applied to Christ-followers by non-believers. Second, Jesus (and Paul, for that matter) saw themselves as completely within the Biblical (read: Israelite) tradition. Gentiles are actually joined to the promises of God which He made to the Israelites. Paul also makes it clear that ethnicity is not the determination of genuine ‘Jewishness.’ The Biblical definition of Jewishness (according to the Hebrew Prophets and the New Testament Apostles) involves consecration by the Spirit of God (i.e., spiritual circumcision).
Back to my main point: Scriptures (Hebrew and Greek… and Aramaic) are clear that ethnicity, tradition, and morality are not the basis of one’s relationship to God. God relates to all people on the basis of their faith in Him. The term “Judeo-Christian” is confusing because it strips the gospel (i.e., the saving work of Jesus) from behavior. “Judeo-Christian” outreach relates on the lowest common denominator of behavior. I believe Christians should work for the good of all people, but ‘good’ behavior will not get me closer to God but is (rather) a demonstration of the grace that God has show toward me in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Many of our North American churches seem to have everything — culturally relevant outreach, attractive facilities, and a broad range of programs to match any and every lifestyle. Add to this the experience of dynamic speakers, professional-quality music, and inviting small groups. How could those who are most active in these churches be stagnant and dissatisfied?
There’s nothing wrong with top-quality facilities, creative programs, and a genuine sense of community. But the fundamental question is, “What message are we sharing in our community and within our walls through our programs?” I believe its our substance, not our structure, that is leaving so many stagnant and dissatisfied. A church may have polished programs, well-trained staff, and dynamic speakers.
But content is what people walk away with.
(Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel)
As you may or may not know, my wife loves weddings. She loves making someone’s wedding day beautiful and memorable. Recently she told me about a trick some people use to save money on the wedding cake. For those particularly concerned with a beautiful and ornate cake sometimes decorate Styrofoam or cardboard with fondant and decorative sugar flowers. This is all well and good because during the serving of the cake the wait staff takes the cake in the kitchen and swaps it with a pre-cut bargain priced cake. No one ever has to know.
Not a big deal when it comes to wedding cake but a very big deal when it comes to a church! My concern is that many Christians and churches have become more concerned with the look of the church rather than the substance. When someone goes to cut into our proverbial cake, all they find is a piece of cardboard.
In Christian Smith’s national study on the religious beliefs of young adults he found that most young Americans subscribe to a form of “moralistic, therapeutic deism” or (as I like to call it) “be good, feel good, believe-in-God-as-a-concept” religion. While no one has an excuse before God, the self-help and behavior-focused teaching in most churches leaves little room for revelation-based, gospel-centered, sacrificial relationship with Jesus.
Most people have as their central goal to be happy and feel good. Many pastors cater to their audience rather than oppose this self-centered form of idolatry. The gospel cannot be stripped of a call to “come and die.”