Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"One More Way Than I Deserve"

I am convinced this article was written to initiate a God is in the Details blog post:

Christians: No One Path to Salvation

Amazing! I recently had a conversation at my church about the blind men and the elephant analogy; I had another visit from my neighborhood Jehovah’s Witnesses over the weekend; and then this article crosses my radar on the Yahoo headlines. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I am convicted that God is sequencing the events of my life to allow for fruitful contributions to this blog, which in turn allows for more honor and glory to the name of Jesus Christ. So I humbly submit yet another written perspective over to the Lordship of Christ and ask that He make me decrease and Him increase through this blog and my life in general.

Let’s start with the elephant. On a random note, watch this unimaginable clip of a pride of lions taking down a grown elephant. You heard me. Then go buy and watch the entire Planet Earth video on blu-ray. You won’t regret it.

Yeah, that just happened. Now back to the analogy. First I’ll explain the analogy, and then, with some help, debunk the analogy, because it is just plain silly, even though it at first seems very logical. It goes like this: six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant's body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe. A wise man explains to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned." This resolves the conflict, and is used to illustrate the principle of living in harmony with people who have different belief systems, and that truth can be stated in different ways.

Sounds logical, yes? No. Absolute silliness. Why?

Tim Keller: "This illustration backfires on its users. The story is told from the point of view of someone who is not blind. How could you know that each blind man only sees part of the elephant unless you claim to be able to see the whole elephant? How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?"

Justin Taylor: "Who exactly does the wise man—the one with eyes to see—represent? Why, it’s your friend who is telling you the illustration! Once you see that, the charge of arrogance becomes quite softened—for your friend is implying that the whole world is blind except for him, and that only he is enlightened enough to see reality for what it is and that everyone else is blind and mistaken!"

So, in short, don't let anyone intimidate you into believing that there is no absolute truth. There has to be. Saying there isn't is itself stating absolute truth. Its a philosophical way to think about it, but hopefully helpful. Denying the concept of exclusivity, or absolute truth, in general, will not hold up. And, ultimately, everyone has some exclusive claim for truth that they make, even if it is "there is not absolute truth".

The question, then, as Tim Keller asks, is which exclusive claim can create the most loving, inclusive, reconciling, peaceful behavior, and ultimate hope for mankind? Which exclusive claim leads you to humble yourself before people who don't believe what you believe and are hostile to you? Which exclusive claim provides a hope that is not escape from the current world or our current bodies, but redemption of the world and resurrection of our bodies?

The answer is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The ultimate reality became visible in a man who lived a sinless life, preached and performed sight for the blind, relief for the oppressed, rest for the weary, and life for the dead; was sent to a cross, was killed for those who persecuted him, and rose again conquering sin and death and accomplishing for us reconciliation to the God of the Universe. Christianity just makes more sense than all the rest. And as Mark Driscoll says, "The Bible is not just true. It is really, really helpful." What other exclusive truth claim is that?

Other helpful quotes on the reality and defense of absolute truth and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation:

Ravi Zacharias: "If the human spirit is to survive and every legitimate discipline to find fruitful expression, truth cannot be sacrificed at the altar of pretended tolerance. All religions, plainly and simply, cannot be true. Some beliefs are false, and we know them to be false. So it does no good to put a halo on the notion of tolerance as if everything could be equally true. To deem all beliefs equally true is sheer nonsense for the simple reason that to deny that statement would also, then, be true. But if denial of the statement is also true, then all religions are not true. In the real-life struggles between right and wrong, justice and injustice, life and death, we all realize that truth does matter. Jesus Christ repeatedly talked about the supreme value of truth."

Mark Driscoll: "I'd rather have people offended now and blessed later than encouraged now and kindling forever." In other words, if we believe it is true, the most loving thing to do is defend the truth of the exclusivity of Christ at all costs, rather than nonchalantly let Oprah Winfrey and others deliver deception into homes across American leading people to their eternal destruction. If some get angry, so be it. That is better than the alternative.

I hope this was helpful. If you're confused, just watch the video of the elephant and the pride of lions again. That should clear up your perspective.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The City of Man

I received a record number of comments ( 3 ! ) to my recent post, It’s the Theology, Stupid, and so I thought I would respond with another post to keep the conversation going. I don’t intend to begin a political debate but perhaps a theological one, and if the political implications become the focus for awhile, that is ok. It is an election year.

The general comment I am responding to is this:

“We're certainly called to bring others into our community, but I'm unconvinced of the effectiveness of Christians' attempts to impose Biblical morality on a secular culture."


First of all, please read all the comments so you can be sure alongside me that I am not taking this, or anything, ever, out of context. I hate that. And then second, before I summarize my thoughts, please check out these articles / resources that explain much better than I could some perspective on the dilemma of Christians in secular culture.

Why Secularism Will Not Work - Al Mohler

How to Pick a President - Christianity Today June 2008

Faith in the Halls of Power - Michael Lindsay
- Surprising Candor
- The Evangelical Elite

Culture Shift - Al Mohler

City of God - Augustine of Hippo

The book by Al Mohler, Culture Shift, is probably the most helpful and readable resource on the topic, though City of God is a classic. I won’t be able to cover everything, and so let me just explain some thoughts in a few clarifications:

- I do not believe the President of the United States and an average citizen has the same ability or obligation to “impose” Biblical morality on a secular culture. The average citizen has more.

- I do not like the word “impose” in this context, because probably that is not what any Christians should be doing. But it is certainly better than “ignore”, which is what I am concerned many in our country, even Christians, have a tendency to do.

- I think there can be a difference between lobbying government and living your Biblical values so overtly that through the Holy Spirit you begin to transform the culture in which you are placed (workplace, school, government, sports team, etc.). We have to remember that God is not just redeeming people, but he is establishing a kingdom, which includes community, culture, and a lot more. So we should expect something to happen within our secular culture. Note: There is a lot more I could say about this, so please stay tuned to a post I am working on about the scope of the Gospel, and the potential errors, reductionisms, and distortions that are prevalent on this subject, even within the Church.

- I do not necessarily support efforts to focus Christian ministry entirely on political influence, which some people have unfortunately fallen into, or at least that has become their legacy (Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, even James Dobson). This confuses people as to what is ultimate. I believe God is Sovereign (purpose of this blog) and therefore He is accomplishing His purposes on Earth and in America in many ways: public, private, and in-between. Therefore neither method is absolute, nor expendable.

- I believe social change isn’t possible without soul change. In other words, until people in our culture and around the world are captivated by the transforming power of Jesus Christ, not much ultimate progress will be made in the areas of sanctity of life, care for the poor, traditional marriage, the war on terrorism, etc. But I believe this transformation is obtainable even if not in our lifetime. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. We should not be ashamed of this or just wait patiently for it; especially those of us who have the unique opportunity to speak, live, and reveal this truth without the obvious obstacles of tolerance and sensitivity with which those in the public square may struggle. I think that Michael Lindsay’s analysis of the Evangelical Elite in Faith in the Halls of Power is very interesting and very encouraging to the reality that God is working for His glory in our country from the inside out. Let’s do more of this. This is why ministries to college students, young adults, and youth are so important and effective for the kingdom.

- The Body of the Christ, the Church, is able to change political structures for the glory of God; but it is, and always has been, more effective changing people, who in turn, by the power of the Spirit, transform political structures and an entire culture into the image of Christ and His kingdom. Ultimately, this is probably what the quote I am responding to really meant. I just didn’t want to leave the possibility open of hanging a secular culture out to dry. That is not its destiny.

But I have opened up a can of worms now. How do we do this? How do we “do church” and execute ministry and live life (i.e. participate in politics) in such a way that is glorifying to God, encouraging and beneficial to God’s people, and compelling and life-changing to unbelievers, thus transforming hearts and advancing the kingdom of God? Welcome to God is the Details. I’m working on it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Church in Exile

I am amazed how God connects the things I read, the talks I hear, and the conversations I have into some cohesive theme that He then supernaturally expresses in some way through this blog for the glory of His name and the edification of His people. Or, at least, that is what I like to think is happening. I take no credit for the posts on this blog. If you are a regular on here, I truly hope you notice the connection between a lot of the resources I lead you to: most notably towards a Sovereign God, and towards a very interesting “emerging generation” in which God is moving. That is not a coincidence.

Last night I heard perhaps the most sporadic, but intriguing talk I have ever witnessed at the young adult fellowship at my church. I didn’t think such an off-the-cuff message could ever be packed with so much interesting and helpful perspective on our generation. I mean, no disrespect, this guy was all over the place and couldn’t seem to finish a thought. Yet, it was beneficial. And it was challenging. We need an authoritative command from Jesus thrown in our face every now and then (more now, less then).

The synopsis of his talk, based on “6 questions”:

- Do I continue in the Word?
- Am I unashamed?
- Do I bear fruit?
- Am I concerned with management not ownership?
- Do I love Him above all else?
- Do I take up my cross daily?

and some excellent inquiries from the audience, was that our generation has their work cut out for them. Our parents and grandparents, identified as those who define the modern culture, attempted to use the scientific method to explain everything so there was no uncertainty as to the details of all human experience. That idea was a dismal failure. Now our generation has rebelled against this concept and has trouble believing in anything, let alone is able to explain it. We are “post-modern”, or even “post-post modern”, and have thrown tradition to the wind and sometimes even within the church adamantly reject absolute truth and the reality that Jesus can be the only way to salvation. This creates a problem, not only for the eternal destiny of those who deny such truth, but also for the discipline of those who believe it. In other words, it creates a problem not only for Jesus as Savior, but also Jesus as Lord. And, speaking to a Christian crowd, his main point was that a generation that doesn’t even believe Jesus is God is going to have trouble obeying what Jesus demands of us; i.e. the Ten Commandments, spiritual disciplines, fruits of the spirit, etc. In short, "Jesus has certain demands on your life, but you should know, because of your upbringing, its going to be hard for you be disciplined and obey." Thanks.

Then I read this article by a well-respected authority within Intervarsity, and my mind began to race.

Jim Tebbe - Emerging Generation

Please read this article. It is disturbing at the beginning and deeply encouraging by the end. For the purpose of this blog post, let’s focus on the encouragement.

For those of us who do have saving faith in Jesus Christ, believe in His exclusivity and authority, and live consistently with our profession of faith (albeit still as sinful human beings) the nature of how we fellowship and minister together as “church” is more strategic than it would first appear. We are in “exile”, so to speak, as the opposition around us from our culture is becoming much more outspoken and hostile (Oprah Winfrey, the New Atheists, etc.). And it will be a “landslide” from here, as the speaker at my church so eloquently put it. Nevertheless, we are in a unique position for purification and mobilization that I believe God can and is using for some remarkable and mountain-moving advancements in the kingdom. If you think about the Book of Acts, and the amazing growth and spread of the Gospel and the Church and the name of Jesus that took place in a relatively short period of time, it’s easy to get really excited about what God is willing and able to do within a church that is in exile, facing persecution, less visible, less socially popular, underground, etc.

The example of Willow Creek questioning the megachurch / seeker-sensitive model is very revealing. This major segment of evangelicalism (for lack of a better word) that is big and visible and somewhat socially acceptable (the megachurch) is potentially ineffective for the expansion of the kingdom. Wow. Instead, those within small local congregations, parachurch ministries, and “house churches” are living counter-cultural lives, flying under the radar, unashamedly proclaiming and demonstrating the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and making a difference. This is not to say that the megachurch is altogether ineffective. But it is interesting that there are so many smaller churches, congregations, and ministries that are preaching the Gospel and the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints, living and demonstrating this Gospel and the demands and implications of it, all the while engaging a young, emerging generation, and humbly participating in God's work for His kingdom. And the Lord is adding to their number daily those who are being saved.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Fight Club

I know I’m a dork, but I don’t care. I really enjoy listening to sermons. It is worship to God for me to hear, believe, and apply the absolute truths of Scripture explained by passionate, articulate, bold people. When you get exposed to that type of teaching, it’s hard to get enough. One subject leads you to the next, one teacher leads you to the next, and before you know it you have enough messages to listen to for the rest of your life. It’s great!

I love my iPod and XM Radio and CDs and all the rest, but my time in the car is best used listening to Godly men articulate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Does that make me a dork? If you think so, you should try it yourself, and if God gives you the gift of careful listening, ten bucks says you’ll be hooked.

I’ve posted to the right on this blog that the three most influential pastors in my life and theology so far have been John Piper, Tim Keller, and Andy Stanley. When they preach, Piper pleads with me, Keller reasons with me, and Stanley relates to me in a way that is effective. And knowing these three introduces me to countless others who in a similar but also unique way help me navigate the battle of the Christian life and offer a mentorship of the Word that even though impersonal, is important. I desire for you to have the same navigation and mentorship that not every small group leader or small town pastor can offer. Small group leaders and other pastors are crucial and anointed, and I am in no way saying ditch your church and just listen to sermons online. That would be wrong and contrary to what I believe about the importance of the local church. But in addition to this, I believe the benefit we can gain from listening to and reading gifted teachers from around the globe, dead and alive, is immeasurable.

So with that said here is a sermon that as I burned to a CD and labeled before placing in my car for my trek home from work, I thought to myself, “this CD was blank; and now it could contain an anointed word from the God of the universe for my life and encouragement. Isn’t that cool?” And it pretty much did. It was from the New Attitude Conference 2008 last month.

John Piper – Fighting for Faith with God’s Word

I know not everyone has the time or the interest to listen to sermons on the way home from work (or anytime for that matter). This one is 65 minutes long. But I do have time and interest and I have a blog and you expect to read something on here, so I feel truly called to write about it and encourage you also to seek Christ-centered and Gospel-centered teaching that is helpful, powerful, and relevant to anything that is going on in your life. It beats Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, or Mike and Mike in the morning, who talk about things that may be entertaining or seem important for a time, but are things that will eventually pass away without significance into the abyss of eternity.

Here’s my summary of this message: memorize Scripture. The fight of faith is a fight to treasure Christ above all things, and the Bible is a sword to defend from the arrows that come at us and threaten this in the form of anxiety, despair, lust, greed, complacency, materialism, etc. The devil prowls around like a lion seeking someone to devour. Be on your guard against him, arm yourself with the sword of the Spirit and fight for joy by trusting and acting on the promises of God, and you will be eternally happy.

The Christian life is a fight club; not against each other but against our own sin, the corruptions of the world, and the principalities and powers of this present darkness who would desire to distract us from the Light using mud pies in the slum, when we are offered a holiday at the sea (C.S. Lewis). First rule of fight club is we have to talk about fight club; the importance of it in the Christian life, the danger of not engaging in the battle, and the weapons needed for it, namely the Word of God. We don’t want our brothers and sisters to get knocked down without a fight and face the eternal consequences – we want to live like Hebrews 10 and for more than just middle-class American prosperity, which by itself is a monstrosity both to those who we could be helping, and to ourselves who were created for so much more.