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Archive for October 2009

Introduction to Apologetics… Part 1

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Paul

Paul, The First Apologist

I think there are two main barriers to people consistently sharing their faith, fear of man and lack of knowledge.  We will do a series of blog posts to introduce the different schools of Christian apologetics.

[Christian] Apologetics means quite simply a defense of the Christian faith.  Broadly speaking, we can use the sports metaphor of offense and defense to categorize the different schools of apologetics (recognizing that all schools have both offensive and defensive elements).

DEFENSIVE – broadly speaking, defensive arguments appeal to reason

Classical Apologetics:  Classical apologetics focuses on the rational basis of the Christian faith.  It establishes this through several rational arguments for the existence of God (Cosmological, Teleological, and Ontological), and evidences for the reliability of the Bible and miracles.

Evidential Apologetics:   In one way, evidential apologetics is a subset of classical apologetics, but in the last century has grown to be a stand alone school.  It emphasizes the rational evidences for Christianity, namely, miracles, fulfilled Biblical prophecies, and how our world is incredibly fine-tuned (Teleological Argument aka Argument from Design).

OFFENSIVE – broadly speaking, offensive arguments point to the necessary foundations that precede and make sense of reason

Presuppositional Apologetics:  Presuppositional apologetics presupposes the existence of God and the truth of the Scriptures.  Presuppositional apologetics seeks not to defend Christianity with rational evidences but rather attacks the false assumptions (presuppositions) of the unbeliever.  Say, a non-believer believes that man is inherently good and does not believe in God or His Word… all the evidences in the world will do no good until his incorrect and inconsistent presuppositions are exposed.  It also challenges whether rational arguments are any good at all being that all the reason in the world will do no good unless God regenerates their heart.

Pascal:  Pascal challenges whether we can reason ourselves into heaven, being that the path to the Kingdom must pass through the heart.  For Pascal, ‘the heart has reasons of which the mind knows nothing of.’  For Pascal, faith and reason go together, but ultimately it is evidences that confirm the faith and not the evidences that lead to faith.

If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural. If we offend the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous.

Alvin Plantinga (Reformed Epistemology):  Plantinga argues that belief in God is a properly basic belief and therefore requires no justification.  He has also defended Christianity against the problem of evil and put forth a modal logic version of ontological argument.

Just for kicks, here is a video of evidentialist William Lane Craig, cross-pollinating a bit, employing some presuppositional tools against scientific naturalism:

Next, we shall take a deeper look at each of the different schools and assess their relative strengths and weaknesses…

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Summarizing Quote

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Regarding evangelicalism’s history…

The churches withdrew from intellectual encounters with the secular world, gave up the idea that religion is part of the whole life of intellectual experience, and often abandoned the field of rational studies on the assumption that they were the natural province of science alone.  – Richard Hofstadter in Nancy Pearcey’s, Total Truth

Written by Michael Graham

October 28, 2009 at 10:13 am

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 7

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Neocalvinism

Neocalvinism

It is easier to write about the past than to predict the future. Evangelicalism is quite broad today, perhaps so broad as to question the veracity of its use as a technical term.  Regardless of whether evangelicalism remains the technical term to describe conservative Protestants, I shall try to look at some potential future (and semi-present) trends.

Networks of churches will be more common:  Groups of churches, organized either locally/geographically and/or doctrinally, will be more common.  Organizations like Acts29 will be a more attractive option for new churches planted over against denominations.

Multi-site:  the multi-site movement is where one church has multiple campuses and the main pastor’s sermon is broadcast/simulcast to the other sites.  I think we will see a movement here towards multi-sites that are geographically distant from the original site – this leads to…

Branding:  I can envision some multi-site groups with a nationally (or internationally) recognizable pastor seeking to do multi-site in other cities across the country.   Instead of one self-identifying with being, “Southern Baptist,” one might identify with going to “Superstar Pastor, Chicago” or “Superstar Pastor, Memphis.”

Church Planting:  The church planting movement will continue to grow.  As liberal churches continue to bleed, there will continue to be a need for church planting.

Denominational decline and growth:  Denominations that fail to adhere to orthodox beliefs will decline heavily.  I am sure some denominations will go unorthodox on a variety of theological issues.  I can imagine social theological issues like abortion, homosexuality, and bioethics being some gateways to denominational error.  Denominations that adhere to orthodox faith and seek balance of reaching their city and the world will grow.

Liturgy:  There will be a growth in people who want more of God’s transcendence in the service in reaction over against the more entertainment and pop oriented worship.

Consumerism, Megachurch, and Smaller Local Churches:  Consumerism has failed the church – ie. the church with the great ______ program(s).  It makes for lousy discipleship and many people thinking they are legitimate believers when they are not.  I think that there will be a decline in the megachurch movement.  Megachurches will not go away because there will always be those drawn to a more anonymous worship experience and consumerism will always infiltrate evangelicalism on some level.  However, I think people many (not all) will trend away from the megachurch, preferring real community.  I think this will be in reaction to the great irony of globalization – as the world gets smaller and closer, it becomes more fractured and less communal.  This will be a driving factor for many to leave the anonymous megachurch and go to a place where they can know and have friendship with real people.

Missional Church Movement:  Time will tell if the missional church movement overemphasizes the local mission, an equal and opposite reaction to the imbalance of evangelicalism towards defining mission as unreached or international only.  My guess is that the missional church will seek some balance and develop a positive identity that does not require a defunct evangelism as a host in order to survive (ie. post-modernity needing modernity).

Open Source and Kingdom Mentality:  The redeeming principles of the open source movement that began in computer science will be applied and used well to resource the global body of Christ.  Ministries like Third Millenium Ministries who collaborate across denominational lines and give away all their content for free will be more common (see also Desiring God Ministries).  This will happen as technology is utilized to make edifying data more and more available instaneously – combined with visionary kingdom minded people seek to ensure that the worldwide church is well resourced.

Neo-Calvinism (I am not sure how to define it, but try some of these links- 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5):  Neo-calvinism will continue to grow… whether as a reaction against something else (megachurch, anti-intellectualism, Dispensationalism, irrelevance, or unmissionality) or positively as an embracing of something substantive.

I fear that the internet era of podcasts and videocasts, people’s expectations of their unknown and unsung local pastors could become unrealistic.  This fuels my concern over the already existing issue of celebrity and may lead to the aforementioned highly problematic branding.  I wonder if the great contribution of the non-denominational world will ultimately be de facto denominations that have all their weaknesses without all their strengths.

How things will play out will depend on the actions/reactions of evangelicalism to multiculturalism, mobility, globality, pluralism, re-urbanization, technology, capitalism, democritization, and dualism.  This concludes our look at the past, present, and future of evangelicalism as I see it.

2x 50 Most Interesting Wikipedia Articles

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I am going to be gone til Monday, so I thought I would give you a serious educational time waster (I cannot remember where I came across this, so I cannot give credit).  Post in the comments your favorites…

1. Marree Man
2. War Plan Red
3. Vela Incident
4. Tybee Bomb
5. United States Numbered Highways
6. Wow! Signal
7. Tube Bar Prank Calls
8. Kola Superdeep Borehole
9. Back to the Future Timeline
10. Year Without a Summer
11. K Foundation Burn a Million Quid
12. Sokal Affair
13. Blue Peacock
14. Veerappan
15. Person From Porlock
16. Eternal Flame
17. U.S. Color-Coded War Plans
18. The Wedge (Border)
19. Mohave Phone Booth
20. Stanislav Petrov
21. Valery Sablin
22. The Man on the Clapham Omnibus
23. Special Atomic Demolition Munition
24. Piracy in the Strait of Malacca
25. Prometheus (tree)
26. Zone of Alienation
27. Fan Death
28. Outlawries Bill
29. Raymond Robinson (Green Man)
30. Scoville Scale
31. Kardashev Scale
32. Larry Walters
33. Joshua A. Norton
34. Fabergé egg
35. Issei Sagawa
36. Joseph Jagger
37. Traumatic Insemination
38. James Joseph Dresnok
39. Blaise Pascal
40. Jim Corbett (Hunter)
41. Just-World Phenomenon
42. Nicholas Bourbaki
43. Humanzee
44. Old Man of the Lake
45. Alexamenos Graffito
46. Fairy Chess Piece
47. Michael Fagan Incident
48. ETAOIN SHRDLU
49. Palomares Hydrogen Bomb Incident
50. As Slow as Possible

1. Anthropodermic bibliopegy
2. Elm Farm Ollie
3. EURion constellation
4. (the) Demon core
5. Pole of inaccessibility
6. Globster
7. Hoba meteorite
8. Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic
9. GRB 971214
10. “Resolute” desk
11. Candace Newmaker
12. Cryptomnesia
13. Hans Island
14. Harrowing of Hell
15. Semantic satiation
16. Dempster Highway
17. Dalton Highway
18. Paul Felix Armand-Delille
19. Herschel Island
20. Stone spheres of Costa Rica
21. Paternoster
22. Self-immolation
23. Narco submarine
24. Louis Slotin
25. Language deprivation experiments
26. London Stone
27. Cité Soleil
28. Blood chit
29. Parsley Massacre
30. Ribbon Creek Incident
31. Art intervention
32. Impostor
33. Bata LoBagola
34. Cheating at the Paralympic Games
35. David Hempleman-Adams
36. The Kafka Machine
37. Park Young Seok
38. Houston Riot (1917)
39. Albert Pierrepoint
40. Discoveries of human feet on British Columbia beaches, 2007–2008
41. Taman Shud Case
42. Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?
43. First flying machine
44. Defeat in Detail
45. Peppered moth evolution
46. Resource holding potential
47. Saint Dismas
48. Target girl
49. Longevity myths
50. SL-1

Written by Michael Graham

October 21, 2009 at 3:15 pm

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Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 6

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Our brief look backward at the roots of evangelism has brought us to the last two decades. I think like almost any period in history there are encouraging and discouraging elements… reason for optimism and reason for pessimism.  For me, the last two decades have been more of a cause for optimism than pessimism.

The main cause for optimism is growth of the Reformed side of evangelicalism, combined with the weakening of the evangelical populist side that had dominated conservative Protestantism for most the 20th century.

There are several factors that have contributed to the weakening of the populist group.  First, the populist group had grown to borrow heavily from the culture-at-large, namely, from consumerism and from the methodology and structure of the corporate (capitalist) business world.  The paradigm of the 150-300 person local church became a thing of the past and the megachurch with slick production, smooth communication, and programs for kids of all ages.  Pastors became de facto CEOs.  Attendees were/could be anonymous.  Community was based on affinity groups based on generation or interest.  Upon first glance, it appears to be what the culture wanted…  Diet Jesus:  little/no accountability (or church discipline), worship where that draws attention away from self, preaching that is heavy on story and light on the challenging words of the Bible.  I am painting a rather pessimistic picture of the megachurch movement here, but I think in many examples it is more than fair.  In my view, this kind of church model cannot be sustained and will either die a slow death or ultimately implode.

Is it bad to pray against classical Dispensationalism?

End Times Charts!

Another factor contributing to the weakening of evangelical populism is the death of classical Dispensationalism.  When Y2K came and uneventfully passed it was the final nail in the coffin of classical Dispensationalism.  Surprise, surprise, God doesn’t follow the Gregorian calendar or your end-times charts.  Between no seminary teaching classical Dispensationalism anymore and Y2K this led people to start thinking differently about the millenia and drinking from different wells, reading a bit more broadly.

I think real Christians want real preaching of the Bible, with real community, and to make a real impact where God has them.  I think this desire has led to a large scale movement away from evangelical populism towards churches with

John Piper

John Piper

expository preaching, church discipline, historic confessions, and smaller size.  These churches are almost unilaterally Reformed in their lineage.  I think the resurgence in Reformed theology is primarily not a Presbyterian movement (that is nothing to diminish the real growth here), but predominantly Baptist.  This is due in large part to the influence of John Piper, Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, and several others.  The Baptists have their roots in the Puritans who had deep roots in Reformed Theology.  This resurgence is not without its weaknesses and we shall talk about this later.

One of the more nefarious aspects of evangelicalism in the 20th century was the neglect of the everyday mission field of America.  We have already explored why evangelicals receded from cultural engagement as a equal and opposite reaction against the imbalances of the Social Gospel.  However, evangelicals were equally imbalanced in not engaging the culture with words and deeds.  In the last twenty years we have seen a resurgence in churches caring for the cities that they live in by seeing them as a mission field.  I think the missional church movement has been by-and-large very positive (minus the more radical emergent church voices).

Thrice

Thrice

There has been a resurgence in Christians making diverse solid music, see:  Thrice, Cool Hand Luke, Blindside, Appleseed Cast, Denison Marrs, Reach Records, Reformed Rap, Sufjan Stevens, and Mineral.  In addition there has been a resurgence of Christians making good art, across multiple mediums, see:  Makoto Fujimura, Marilynne Robinson (also here), and Darren Doane.  There has been a resurgence in Christians in academia:  Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Rodney Stark, Dallas Willard, Phillip Johnson and James Davison Hunter.

This concludes our look at the past of evangelicalism… up next, we will at some potential future trends.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 5

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Evangelical Populist Game Plan

Evangelical Populist Game Plan

Protestantism split in two, and the Fundamentalist branched morphed into evangelicalism in the mid-to-late 20th century. Broadly speaking, evangelicalism has always been a mixture of two sub-groups:  populist and reformed.

The populist group is comprised mainly of the groups who were largely supportive of the revivalist practices of the Great Awakenings.  The populist evangelicals would include broadly speaking most Baptists, Dispensationalists (large overlap with Baptists), and other difficult to categorize groups like Focus on the Family, Liberty University, DL Moody (the person and the institution), Billy Graham, the Christian Right and Campus Crusade for Christ and other Parachurch ministries.

The Reformed group was much smaller, comprised mainly of conservative Presbyterian denominations and a handful of Particular/Reformed Baptists. The Reformed group was rather quiet during this period.  The Presbyterians were by-and-large dealing with internal conflicts resulting from some sub-groups going liberal (see this chart to look at the history).

The evangelical populist group had more of an outward impact, but not necessarily for the better.  The populist group abandoned cultural transformation in academia, the arts, media, and other realms, yet embraced involvement in the political arena.  Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, Robert Grant’s founded Christian voice, Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition, and James Dobson threw his weight around with Focus on the Family.   The net result was the broad formation of the Christian Right.  At first glance, it seems strange that the evangelical populists would elect to disengage from all but one cultural arena.  However, the premises behind the strategy are simple:

1.  America has always been a Christian nation with a manifest destiny

2.  Influence flows from top down

3.  Politics is at the top of American culture and exerts the most power over the culture

4.  America has a clear cultural center and that center is politics

5.  Politics is the horse that pulls the cart of American culture

6.  Because politics is influential and drives culture, and politics lies at the center of American culture… Politics is the best investment for cultural engagement for evangelical influence.

There are other reasons also for this engagement, for example, Dispensationalisms’ influence strongly encourages Zionism, which inherently involves political engagement.  The problem with the evangelical populist’s game plan is that most (or some would argue, all) of its premises are incorrect.  In my estimation, influence is always a both/and combination of power exerted top-down and individuals working grassroots bottom-up.  In my estimation, America has no coherent cultural center, instead rather hundreds of overlapping sub-cultures of varying sizes and influences.  In my estimation, politics follows the culture, not vice versa.  The evangelical populist political gameplan was steeped in modernistic assumptions about culture combined with a Nietzschean view of power.  Further, I am not sure who has been exerting influence over who, the Christian Right or the GOP?

Up next, a look at the last two decades and the resurgence of the Reformed group within evangelicalism…

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 4b

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Suburbanization:  Evangelicalism's Physical Cultural Sequestering

Suburbanization: Evangelicalism's Physical Cultural Sequestering

So, Protestantism tore in two:  liberal and fundamentalist.

We must consider the affects of denying inerrancy on how we view the story of the Bible.  Recall that higher criticism read the Bible through rationalistic eyes.   The net result was the demythologization of the Bible.  Demythologization means exactly what it looks like – taking the supernatural and mythological elements out of the text.  So, liberal Protestants recast Jesus as a  more charitable/moral, kinder, gentler and better way to be human – rather than the substitionary sacrifice to save sinners from the wrath of God and an eternity in hell.  Jesus is boiled down to the moral teaching of the Sermon on the Mount.  The concept of the Kingdom of God is not salvific but merely social in nature.  For the deconstructed liberals, Jesus’ mission statement was something to the effect of:  I came to make society better by showing an unselfish way of living.  Jesus’ vision statement would be something like:  By showing a better way to live, people will follow my example and gradually make the world a better place.

The tragic thing about the liberal social gospel is that there is truth to be found, the problem is that the truths are imbalanced by a lack of their necessary counterweights.  The reality is that the Gospel is both salvific and social in nature.  When God’s people take the Gospel to a new place, God’s rule/reign/authority comes along with it.  Where God’s rule/reign/authority is manifest, His blessing is also manifest.  That blessing is not full, final, and complete in the manner that it will be at the Second Coming of Christ – but it is present.  Unfortunately, the early fundamentalists did not fully embrace this consequence of the Gospel.

What happened was simple… the fundamentalists saw that the liberals were embracing and engaging culture because they had bought into a merely social gospel.  Hence, the fundamentalists reacted against the liberal engaging of culture and they decided they would disengage from culture and sequester themselves.  The core issue was the fundamentalists did not develop a positive identity, rather they defined themselves anegativa (the not-liberals and hence not-socially-engaged).  Fundamentalism became a negative term and eventually conservative Christians grew to self-identify as being “evangelicals” to avoid the negative connotations of the pejorative title of fundamentalist.  Recall that most evangelicals were already highly anti-intellectual at this point (with the notable exception of the Reformed Old Presbyterian folk), so a movement to disengage further from culture was devastating.  Conservative Christians receded from the world of academia, art, media, and other American cultural institutions.  A cursory look at the history of American Universities during this same period (first half of the 20th century) will show a rapid de-Christianization and the beginnings of secularization.  The receding of the conservative Christians from cultural interaction combined with the suburbanization and white flight of the mid-20th century created a huge void of Christian witness in America, particularly in city centers, the hub of cultural life.

Evangelicals have decried how godless/liberal our schools, Universities, media, art… etc. have become and are upset with urban decay.  The problem with this is that we are substantially culpable.  If only the Gospel brings God’s blessing on a society, and the people who still hold fast to that Gospel completely disconnect from society, we can only expect serious moral, intellectual, and social decay to follow.

Next, we shall look at the methodology of mid-late 20th century evangelicalism…

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