Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Archive for the ‘Gospel’ Category

Diagnosis, Prescription, Smokescreens, and the Gospel

leave a comment »

Prescription Diagnosis Smokescreens and the Gospel-1

I’ve never been to a doctor who has given me a prescription without first taking my vital signs, asking pertinent questions, and then given a specific diagnosis.  I think sometimes we do prescribe the Gospel before we give a more specific diagnosis in our evangelistic efforts and Gospel conversations.

Gospel Dumptrucks and Hand Grenades

When I was a non-believer I had a few conversations where I certainly felt like the person sharing Jesus with me just wanted me to shut up so they could back their Gospel dump truck on me and verbally unload.  Maybe this has been you before – I know I have been on the giving and receiving ends of these conversations.  How do we weave the Gospel into our conversations such that we aren’t backing up the dumptruck or lobbing a Gospel hand grenade and running?  How can we speak more to the root of the unbelief and less in generalities and/or avoid tangential topics.

Smokescreens and Scuba-Diving

Reformed circles are relatively clear with regards to the essentials of the general Gospel prescription (creation, fall, redemption, consummation).  What seems to be unclear is a road-map of how we get to those conversations and how we do winsomely.

The big thing that seems to be missing in all of our evangelistic and/or apologetic dialogue is basic listening and counseling skills.  From my perspective most objections to the Gospel fit very broadly into one of three categories:  head, heart, or hands.  Of the head (intellectual objections), heart (emotive and idol-based objections), and hands (experiential or hypocritical objections) types of objections to the Gospel – so much of our conversations get stuck in head (ie. problem of evil, NT reliability, existence of God…) or hand (ie. ‘Christians are hypocrites’ [duh!], ‘I had a bad experience’, or ‘look at the Crusades’…) type objections to the Gospel.  From my experience most of these objections are mere smokescreens meant to derail or parry the conversation away from the idols of their own heart – the real source of their unbelief.  For people who have honest (head or hand) questions/objections give them, “honest answers,” as Francis Schaeffer said.  To be helpful in our dialogue we must ask questions that get to the heart of the unbelief.

Scuba-diving is the term we use at our church for the art of asking questions that get to the heart and more root level idols.  Here are some helpful scuba-diving questions:

-What are you looking forward to?

-What does that do (the potential surface or root level idol) for you?

-If you didn’t have to work (be a mom, study…) what would you most rather be doing?

These are all variations on the basic question, “what do you want?”  The answer to the “what do you want” question can sometimes be helpful in diagnosing at least surface level idols (sex, money, laziness).   Sometimes you will be able to connect the dots to more root level idols like comfort, escape, power, and control.  Sometimes you hit brick walls because you lack the rapport or relationship needed to ask some of these questions.  There is an art to scuba-diving where you must re-pressurize every so many feet that you dive and you have to know yourself and your relationship well enough to know how deep you can safely dive.

At the core you are trying to get a better picture of what is more beautiful, compelling, or joyful to them than the Gospel?  What is it that they spend their time, money, and thought-life on?  What do they want?  What the heart wants reveals what the heart worships.  The Gospel has so many metaphors, summaries, themes, aspects, touchpoints, and facets.   Different Gospel analogies, themes, or metaphors (truth, security, fidelity, fear, anxiety, addiction, adoption, justice, grace, suffering, power, freedom…) can speak more winsomely to different idols.  When we take a genuine interest in the other person’s soul we are more prone to ask questions and listen.  Questions increase the depth of the scuba-dive.  When we see with more specificity what the lost person’s heart wants, then we can speak the Gospel more directly to the idol(s).

Affirmation and Deconstruction

Once we have taken a look at the wants/idols of the person we have something like a diagnosis.  Typically, idols are disproportionate manifestations of good things – for example the control idol is the good thing, leadership, absolutized.   Before challenging an idol with the sledgehammer of the Gospel consider affirming the elements of it that were once good.  Paul did this in Athens in Acts 17:22-23

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.  For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

The folks in Athens worshiped the idol of new knowledge.  Paul stroked the idol before he deconstructed the idol.  Earlier in the passage Paul gets chased out of Thessalonica and Berea and heads down to Athens to wait for Silas and Timothy.  While Paul is waiting he goes into diagnosis mode in verse 16:

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.

Paul diagnosed the idols of the city before speaking the Gospel at them.  On a more corporate level, this allowed Paul to affirm the Athenians desire for knowledge before he challenged the inadequacy of their gods.  How ineffectual does your pantheon of other gods have to be to have an unnamed god that covers up the weakness and inability of all the others?

One might argue that the Gospel itself already has a diagnosis in it and you would be correct.  All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.  The kind of diagnosis I have in view here is more specific than it is general.  The common state of mankind is helpful to draw out in Gospel conversation and is a necessary component of the Gospel.  What I have in view here is connecting the Gospel with more specificity to the idols of the heart.  Every idol has a short-run payoff but ultimately all idols over-promise and under-deliver.  Good diagnosis allows us to show how the idol will not satisfy in the long-run and show how the Gospel will.

When diagnosis precedes prescription it helps to bring more precise focus and clarity as to how Christ is better than their surrogate god(s).   May Paul’s prayer for clarity be the same as ours:

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. – Col. 4:3-4

Written by Michael Graham

May 27, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Best Links of the Week

leave a comment »

The End of Church Planting?  Interesting article that isn’t as provocative as the title.  Definitely worth a read and a place at the table for missiological theory of church planting, challenging the dominant paradigm of the entrepreneurial paid pastor/planter.

How to use rewards/frequent-flyer credit cards to create a self-fulfilling profit loop (buy certain gold coins, get rewards/miles, deposit gold in bank, pay off credit card with gold deposited into bank).

Third Millennium Ministries has its own iPhone and Android apps.  The content of ThirdMill is truly top shelf.  I am of the opinion that Third Mill is probably one of the most important ministries of our time and all on a shoestring budget.  If you care at all about the Gospel and the future of the church you ought to donate to them.  I am thankful that there are actually some forward thinking strategists that are creating excellent scalable content capable of penetrating that glaring lack of theological training of pastors worldwide.

The Decline of the Nuclear Family.  Some pretty staggering statistics and commentary on the status of family in the U.S.

Mayim Bialik (Blossom, Amy Farrah Fowler) of Big Bang Theory is actually a PhD and published in Neuroscience (HT: BL)

Mortgage companies are still ‘robo-signing’

Centrist Tom Coburn has an interesting debt proposal – I was definitely not expecting a proposal from one of the ‘Gang of Six’

77 year old Congressman confronts gun wielding intruder

An interesting piece giving some provocative thoughts regarding the Cosmological Argument

There are several layers of awesome to this Pepsi ad (coming from a staunch Coca-Cola fan):

Best Links of the Week

with 3 comments

Click picture for higher resolution image (HT: JT)

Parents, Don’t Dress Your Daughters Like Tramps

Front Porch Hack – Brilliant idea about turning your garage into your front porch for the purpose of creating intentional Gospel inroads into your neighborhood (HT:  JT)

Tax compliance costs $.30 on every taxpayer $1

In order to balance our current budget we would have to tax at the following rates:  Corporate 88%, Highest Income 88%, Middle Bracket 63%, and Lowest 25%.  Some of our precious entitlements have to go, this is insanity.  The sad part is that this would only balance the budget for this year and not even touch the $14,000,000,000,000.00 debt and trillion in compounding annual interest.

S+P says 33% chance they will downgrade U.S. debt from AAA

Mubarak has a heart attack during questioning

Wisconsin man finds live bomb in the wall of his own home

Best University ROI – Glad to see University of Florida yielded a 14.6% ROI.

U.S. Navy tests laser weapon on boat

iPhone keeps log of everywhere you go

You couldn’t pay me enough to do this job:

RC Car powered by soda can rings:

When “Believing the Gospel” Doesn’t Work

leave a comment »

I wanted to re-post something that Chuck DeGroat wrote earlier this week on his blog, The New Exodus.  I think this is a pretty important discussion that needs to happen amongst the New Calvinism.  Reductionism is dangerous and it hurts people.  Legalism is dangerous and it enslaves people.

When “Believing the Gospel” Doesn’t Work

Maybe you’re like the many men and women who I’ve talked to.  Having been through Sonship (a fairly well-known discipleship program in conservative Reformed circles) or having digested the writings of Keller or Powlison or Tripp, your still struggling.  Or, maybe your version of “believing the Gospel” came from a preacher who told you that the answer to your lifetime of guilt was greater “Gospel depth” or deeper “Gospel transformation.”  And so, you searched high and low for that newer and better way, the Gospel way, only to try to believe better and repent better and be less guilty.  And that, too, didn’t amount to much.

Just recently, I was talking to yet another person whose digested all the writings and listened to all the sermons and read all the tweets, and ‘Gospel repenting and believing’ isn’t working.  He went through Sonship.  And each time he talked to his Gospel phone coach, he’d confess his latest idol.  “I’m justifying myself through my attempts to repent better, and repentance is now my idol.  So, I’m repenting of my repentance, but I’m still neck deep in feelings of guilt.  What’s wrong with me?”

“Gospel Tweeting” is the latest phenomenon.  The answer to all our problems is this:  Just believe the Gospel!  If it was that easy. This seems to me to be the newest quick fix, the most recent Christian cliche, and I’m growing weary of it.  I’ve counseled people who’ve done the full Sonship workout only to be more racked with guilt than ever.  They are repenting of their failed repenting and repenting of their failed attempt to confess their failed repenting.  They’re more twisted in guilt than ever.  And the ‘Gospel Twittersphere’ isn’t helping.

This is oversimplified Calvinism.  Period.  It doesn’t take the complexity of sin seriously enough, though it claims to in every way.  It doesn’t take it seriously because it oversimplifies the remedy, leaving troubled and struggling people feeling even worse.  Gospel counselors tell people that their troubles amount to a failure to believe the Gospel.  Freedom is available, we’re told.  Just repent and believe! Over and over, preachers are trying to boil this down to 140 characters on Twitter.  And I think it’s Gospel arrogance.

The problem is that we’re far more complex and psychologically broken that we’re often aware of.  It’s not just “unbelief” that bears down on us.  It’s a whole host of things – neural pathways grooved by years of living a certain way, a “divided heart” that thrives on its habitual polarities, weakness of will, and the extraordinary brokenness manifesting in the systems we inhabit, whether in our families or workplaces or churches.  And if I’m not being pessimistic enough, consider John Calvin’s words:

“But no one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him” (Institutes, 3.6.5 or pp. 1:689)

But the problem extends beyond understanding the complexity.  It’s the cure that is far more difficult.  Having counseled too many men and women who beat themselves up for not growing fast enough by repenting and believing, I’m convinced we do many people a disservice (and harm!) by oversimplifying both the problem and the cure.  Those fearful of modern psychology need to begin listening at this point, because what we’ve found is that growth and maturity isn’t found in a method or a discipline or a repentance exercise.  In fact, growth is harder, longer, more painful, and more puzzling than many of us care to admit.  People who we serve in the church would like microwavable strategies, but the fact is that growth and maturity isn’t microwavable.  It defies programs and methods.  It frustrates the most competent pastor or therapist or spiritual director.  And, it can’t be captured in a tweet, even a well-formed Gospel tweet.

I admire the hearts of my friends out there who attempt to tweet Gospel cures.  They mean well.  Most are pastors, and you know who you are.  And I really do like you a lot.  But, hear me when I say that people are suckers for your 140 word fixes.  Why do you think you get re-tweeted so much?  We’re suckers for remedies and methods.  We love a sound byte.  But I’m asking you to step back and consider the complexity.  Do you really see people growing that quickly in your churches?  Do you really see ‘Gospel transformation’ happening in a “repent and believe” moment?  I’m prone to think that this is where we need a good dose of those old stories, like Pilgrim’s Progress, that highlight the long and difficult journey.  Because most people I know don’t find that the methods work.  Most people I talk to struggle day to day just to believe, just to utter a one word prayer, just to avoid another outburst of anger or another deluge of cynicism. Most people find that it takes a lifetime to believe that they are the prodigal who is lavished with a Father’s prodigious love.

Gospel tweeters:  Relax.  You are far more screwed up than you think.  And your cure is far too simplistic to help.  This journey requires more than a 140 characters of Gospel happy juice.  A big and good God requires a long and difficult Exodus journey for real change to happen.

Best Links of the Week

leave a comment »

Daily Stormtroopers 365

Religion May Become Extinct in Nine Countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland)

In March, U.S. Government spent 8x more than it had coming in

Some interesting rhetoric between Dmitry Medvedez and Vladimir Putin.

Two sets of excellent photographs from the Japanese devastation:  BBC and Boston Globe

Libyans using Western journalists as human shields

Cash for Clunkers 2

Paul Allen takes some shots at Bill Gates and gives some revisionist accounts of the history of Microsoft

Massive publisher Conde Nast got scammed for $8 million by one email

Interesting article in WSJ about feminism and provocative clothing among teenage girls (HT:  Lisi)

The 10 Most Profitable Movies of All-Time

Worthwhile video (HT: Jutty):

Why Nietzsche is Helpful for the Christian

with 5 comments

So, I’ve been chewing on some Nietzsche for the better part of the last 8 months (I mentioned a few things I was struck by here) .  I think Nietzsche is very helpful for Christians and is worth reading/understanding.  There are at least four reasons why this is the case:

First, Nietzsche is helpful because he presents a worldview almost completely antithetical to Christianity.  From my experience, total opposites often have a lot in common and typically this is the case because opposites employ the same categories to divergent conclusions.  Nietzsche takes many of orthodox Christianities’ categories and turns them on their head.  He preaches the opposite of the Sermon on the Mount, encouraging master morality over slave morality.  He preaches that humanity has killed God through our lack of worship of God and as a result there is no such thing as good/evil, right/wrong, or black/white because all of these depended on God for their existence.  He preaches that all that humanity has is power through the assertion of one’s will.

Second, Nietzsche and Christianity have a few common assessments and aims (The Fall, Telos, and Pleasure).  In my opinion, there is definitely a sense of the brokenness of things in Nietzsche’s philosophy.  While not coming from a theistic framework, he sees that humanity needs to rise above its current pitiful state to something higher.  While he might not refer to the ubermensch as redeemer of humanity, it is certainly Nietzsche’s telos for humanity.  Nietzsche and the Christian see very eye-to-eye when it comes to a promotion of life-affirmation (given, from very different angles).  Some may accuse Christianity of being prudish or oppressive but they haven’t read C.S. Lewis on joy, Jonathan Edwards on affection, or John Piper on Christian hedonism.  Both Nietzsche, Lewis, Edwards, and Piper all put forth a very life-affirming, full-bodied, joy-filled, and pleasure-seeking vision of life.

Third, Nietzsche is correct in his assessment that the death of God necessitates nihilism (a rejection of all morality).  For Nietzsche a large portion of his philosophy was devoted to the reevaluation of everything in light of the death of God (particularly morality).  Unlike the New Atheists who want to have their cake and eat it too (atheism with some semblance of morality), Nietzsche obliterates this notion.  Nietzsche rejects all transcendence in light of the death of God, for if God is the only transcendent thing/being in existence, then the death of God also destroys anything transcendent.  The only meta-narrative (for Nietzsche) left is the assertion of power and pleasure in the face of the harsh world.

Fourth, Nietzsche’s worldview is horribly unlivable.  The unlivability of the Nietzschean worldview is probably the greatest critique of his thinking.  I won’t even delve into the fact that Nietzsche spent the last decade of his life severely mentally ill and institutionalized (as this has been abused by Nietzsche’s critics).  It is no great secret that Nietzsche’s most faithful disciple was Michel Foucault.  Foucault was an influential post-structuralist and post-modern thinker who sought to live Nietzsche’s worldview to its logical end.  Power and pleasure were at the center for Foucault and Nietzsche and as such Foucault delved deep into the world of homosexual sadomasochism.  It was not uncommon for Foucault to have 6-12 such encounters in a single night (facilitated by the bath-houses of 70s era Southern California).  He was quite open and would brag about his sexual power and prowess.  He was one of the first public figures to die of AIDS.  He wanted to die in his native Paris and upon his triumphal entry to his city, 2 million people lined either side of the Champs-Élysées.  Those celebrating his return carried posters with Foucault’s motto, “Be Cruel.”

Your thoughts?

Nietzsche vs. Christianity: Part 2

leave a comment »

This lecture is an explanation of the Protestant Christian worldview from Genesis to Revelation.  Audio is available here.

I.  Creation

A.  Ex Nihilo

B.  Out of God’s pleasure

C.  Creation was good

D.  Man made in image of God: male and female

E.  Cultural Mandate

F.  The task given Adam was to make the whole Earth like Eden by:

“numerically and geographically expand God’s image over the face of the

entire Earth”

  1. Covenant of Works (Hosea 6:7)
    1. Adam is Federal Head (Rom. 5:12-21)
    2. Blessings for obedience; curses for disobedience

a.  Blessing – Life

b.  Curse – Death

c.  Divine benevolence, Human loyalty

II.  Fall

  1. Serpent tempts Eve, questions God’s goodness
  2. Adam was there and doesn’t say anything
  3. Curse:
    1. All humanity fell in the Fall because of Adam’s representative nature
    2. All creation fell and feels the frustrating affects of the fall
    3. Proto-Euangelion – Gen. 3:15-20
  4. Seed of the woman vs. Seed of the Serpent

Abel                 Cain

Seth

Enoch               Enoch

Lamech            Lamech

Noah

Shem/Japheth   Ham

Abraham

Isaac                Ishmael

Jacob               Esau

III. Redemption

A.  Covenant of Grace

1.  Noah – establishes stability on the Earth (Gen. 6, 9)

-Baptism:  deliverance from waters of judgment

2.  Abraham – establishes promised offspring who will bless all nations                  (Gen. 12:1-3; 15; 17), (Gal. 3:16)

3.  Moses – establishes law and order above natural law (Ex. 19-24)

-“I will be your God and you will be my people”

4.  David – establishes eternal king/throne (Psalm 89)

5.  Christ – fulfillment of the covenant of grace (Jer. 31; Ezek. 36/37)

B.  Historical Summary

Creation, Fall, Expulsion, Cain/Able, Flood, Babel, Shem

Abraham moves, Abraham/Lot, Abraham/Melchizedek, Abraham Covenant, Abraham buys land in Canaan/Eden

Isaac, Jacob/Esau, Jacob/Israel, 12 Sons, Joseph into Captivity, Famine

400 Year Enslavement/Exile, Moses/Pharaoh, Passover, Egypt to Sinai

Sinai, Law at Sinai – Tabernacle, Priesthood, Purification, Yom Kippur, Feasts:  (Sabbath, Passover, Sabbatical year/Jubilee, Weeks, Tabernacles)

Wilderness Wanderings, Encampment at Canaan, Canaan Conquest/Joshua, Jericho vs. Ai, Land Divided

Judges-Ruth – ‘Everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 17:6)

Eli, Samuel, Rejection of YHWH as king, Saul

David – covenant – line/throne, unification, conquest (iron), Bathsheba

Solomon – Temple, wealth/wisdom, Phoenicians, foreign wives/gods

Divided Kingdom – Rehoboam (S – Judah), Jeroboam (N – Israel/Ephraim)

North – Babsha, Omri, Jehu, Ahab/Jez/Baal vs. Elijah, Jehu, Jehoahaz, Jehoash, Jeroboam II, 3 kings –  Menaham, Pekahiah, Pehah, Hoshea… Assyria/exile

South – Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Manassah, Josiah – Amon/Jeremiah, Jerusalem Sacked – 586

Cyrus’ Decree, Return from Exile, 2nd Temple/Wall (Ezra-Nehemiah),

Late Pre-exilic

-Nahum – God’s wrath on Nineveh

-Zephaniah – The Day of the Lord

-Habakkuk – Resolving questions about God’s justice

-Joel – Day of the Lord is both near AND future

-Lamentations – God as source of both good and hard providence

-Obadiah – pride goes before a fall

Exilic

-Ezekiel – Judgment and restoration of Judah

-Daniel – God’s rule and care for his people

Post-Exilic

-Haggai – setting priorities

-Zechariah – God’s restoration of zion

-Malachi – Honoring God

400 years of silence

C.  Prefigurations

1.  Melchizedek

2.  Angel

3.  Manna

4.  Rock

5.  Tabernacle

6.  3 fold office:  Prophet/Priest/King

D.  Jesus

1.  Virgin birth

2.  Hypostatic Union – God/man

3.  Prophet/Priest/King

4.  Law – civil/ceremonial/civil

5.  Penal Substitution – great exchange – my sin for his righteousness

-New Record

-New Heart

-New World

6.  Death/Resurrection

7.  Ascension

8.  Enthronement – Intercession

IV.  Consummation

1.  Redemption of all of creation

2.  Redemption of the church

3.  Inauguration/Continuation/Consummation

%d bloggers like this: