Modern Pensées

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Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Protestantism

Love Wins and the Jabez Effect

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I hesitate to even write this brief diatribe as it is probably self-defeating to my central thesis.

Eleven years ago a book swept through evangelicalism like wildfire, Bruce Wilkinson’s, “The Prayer of Jabez.”  You probably have two or three copies of it somewhere in your home, perhaps on your D-List portion of your bookshelf or propping up the wobbly leg of your washing machine.  Multnomah Publishers love targeting easily marketable groups within evangelicalism, usually parachurch ministries, who have members that are peppered across a large cross-section of evangelicalism.  At that time, I recall tons of folks reading the book within Campus Crusade for Christ and my local church at the time.  The book had reached and crossed several tipping points.

I have a half-baked thesis that the reason Jabez reached those tipping points was because a large subset of those reading the book, were reading it with the primary goal of dissecting it for content. In short, when a book gets a wide read, principally for people looking to respond or react to the text rather than for the enjoyment of the book itself, I call this the Jabez Effect.  Some other books perhaps fall under this category – The Shack, and The Da Vinci Code (when read by those within evangelicalism).

I think reading/writing about some of these books can be a slippery slope at times.  On the one hand, they need responded to but sometimes the unintended consequence of gaining traction and publicity results.  Remember the old advertising mantra, “no publicity is bad publicity.”

Hence, I will not be reading Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins.”  I haven’t read any of his other books and I won’t be reading this one.  Plenty of people way more thoughtful than I will weigh in on this and I just don’t have the time to read and respond to some rehashed and dumbed down Schleiermacher/Tillich.  Reading such things makes me bored and angry (and yes, more angry than this diatribe).

I don’t know how to solve the potential paradox of responding/not-responding to books like this.  I am not sure if I can really come up with a rubric for who needs to engage and when it is wise for them and/or myself to engage in these matters.

I wonder how many books Bell will sell on the merit of the negative reaction from the blogosphere, and neo-calvinist detractors.

(But hey, in case you do read it, make sure to click through my link so I can get my 3% or whatever from amazon)

 

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Best Links of the Week

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Incredible story of a geological statistician who figured out the algorithm of winning certain lottery scratch off tickets.

Apparently a higher up Google executive, turned spokesperson for Egyptian opposition group is now missing.  Strange.

Microsoft scandal of Bing copying Google’s search results.

An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties: The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel

The Arab Revolution and Western Decline

Excellent piece by Doug Wilson entitled, “Gravitron Fairies

Christianity Today on the debate of Bible translation how far to go in contextualization into Arabic

U.S. gives secrets about British Trident class nuclear submarines in order to secure nuclear arms deal with Russia.

Kevin DeYoung makes a brief yet cogent case that the principle difference between Liberal Protestants, Evangelical Protestants, and Roman Catholics is their view of Scripture.

91 year old man and his 82 year old wife successfully stand against a robber in their home.  These kinds of folks amaze me… the kind of folks that made this country great.  We need more like them.

Online Universities are future of education says Bill Gates.

A Typical Day of Air Traffic:

Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

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No Place for Truth by David Wells

These books represent the best analysis on the present status and recent history of evangelicalism.  This list is meant to be informative and not to be alarmist or disconcerting.  I think the classic Dicken’s line, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times‘ will apply the Christ’s church til He return.  It is implicit also in this list that works commending a Christian worldview, like Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, are must reads.  I have also omitted more esoteric debates including books on open theism, federal vision, new perspectives on paul… etc.  The purpose of this list is zoomed out than those specific issues.

1.  No Place for Truth by David Wells  [e, p, s]

How modernity crept in and screwed up evangelicalism.  Absolute classic.

2.  The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll  [y, l, e, p, s]

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that it is so scarce and scant.  You may also want to read Os Guinness’ Fit Bodies Fat Minds, addressing evangelicalism’s intellectual laziness and preoccupation with the temporary.

3.  The Democritization of American Christianity by Nathan Hatch  [e, p, s]

Fascinating analysis of the democritization of Christianity in America.  His historical analysis is keen and well-researched.

4.  Christianity and Liberalism by J. Greshem Machen  [e, p, s]

This classic work delineates the liberalism of the early 20th century as being a completely other faith than the historic orthodox Christian faith.  86 years later it is still relevant.

5.  God in the Wasteland by David Wells  [e, p, s]

Wells continues where he left off in No Place for Truth, by challenging evidenced consumerism in evangelicalism.

6.  The Courage to Be Protestant by David Wells  [e, p, s]

The title is a play on Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be.  Tillich’s work was a classic in early 20th century Protestant liberalism.  Wells draws connections between the emergent movement as really being a form of rehashed 20th century era liberalism.  Wells is also scathing on the level and abuse of marketing in modern evangelicalism.  As far as Wells goes, his Above All Earthly Pow’rs s also a worthwhile read:  in terms of analysis Pow’rs is to post-modernity what No Place for Truth was to modernity.

7.  The New Shape of World Christianity:  How American Experience Reflects Global Faith by Mark Noll  [e, p, s]

I am surprised by the lack of press for this book.  Noll examines the history of Christianity in America and draws parallels in key growth areas (Southern hemisphere and the East).  Noll is actually rather positive amid the torrent of bad press on what American Christians are exporting.  This is an important work because we are good to be reminded that American evangelicalism is not the height of church history.  Further, the church is Christ’s and she will prevail.  I think Noll has his fingers on the pulse of what is going on and what is next, we would be wise to listen to what he has to say.

8.  Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism by George Marsden  [e, p, s]

This is a must read if you seek to understand our history.  Also an important work is Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.

9.  Reclaiming the Center:  Confronting Evangelical Accomodation to Postmodern Times by Various Authors  [y, l, e, p, s]

Various heavyweights chime in on the necessity of remaining faithful to the preaching of the Word and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If you like this work, I suggest also Os Guinness’, Prophetic Untimeliness:  Challenging the Idol of Relevance.

10.  Christless Christianity by Michael Horton  [y, l, e, p, s]

This books has caused a bit of a stir.  You can read John Frame’s book review here.  I have yet to read the book, but I thought it a worthwhile mention to engage in present dialogue over the status of the Gospel in evangelicalism.  From what I gather, Horton has guys like Joel Osteen in view when he speaks of a Christianity without Christ.

11.  Young, Restless, and Reformed by Colin Hansen  [y, l, e, p, s]

This book is an important first look at the growing demographic of young Reformed folk.  This is an area that needs further analysis and hopefully a good work will come soon.

12.  Respectable Sins:  Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges  [y, l, e, p, s]

Bridges is 100% right when he highlights several sins that evangelicals strangely tolerate:  gossip, anger, pride, jealousy, anxiety, and selfishness to name a few.

13.  Why Johnny Can’t Preach:  The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon  [e, p, s]

Gordon applies Marshall McLuhan’s keen insights to shed light on the dearth of serious bible teaching in evangelicalism.

14.  Confessions of a Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll  [y, l, e, p, s]

I think Mark Driscoll is a very important voice in evangelicalism, moreso than many of my fellow Reformed brethren.  This book is a humorous yet insightful look into the story of the planting of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  There are many lessons weaved into the narrative that are wise and memorable.

15.  Why We’re Not Emergent:  From Two Guys That Should Be and Why We Love the Church:  In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck  [y, l, e, p, s]

The first book is a solid book on the emergent church.  I also wanted to end this list with on a positive note with Why We Love the Church.  Many times we can get so bogged down in self-criticism that we forget to praise God for all the truly good things he is doing in and through the church in America.

What we need is always adherence to the same three things:  orthodoxy, orthopathos, and orthopraxis.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 9: Balance

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"Because the deck of life is always shifting..."

Because the deck of life is always shifting balance can be nothing more than momentary synchronicity.  (Richard Pratt)

Balance is something that evangelicals know very little of.  We were birthed as a reaction against liberalism.  In doing so, much of the conservative theology and philosophy of ministry were an equal and opposite reaction against liberalism.  For much of fundamentalism-turned-evangelicalism’s existence, we defined ourselves anegativa against liberalism, rather than forming a positive definition from Scripture alone.  In many ways, early evangelicalism required liberalism to exist, in order for it to exist.

Moving forward, here are 9 (non-comprehensive) areas where evangelicals ought to seek balance:

1.  Words and Deeds

Some churches like to show the gospel, some like to preach the gospel – we should do birth.  The lost should see and hear Christ preached.

2.  Evangelism and Discipleship

Jesus called us to make disciples and this includes evangelism.  Jesus modeled evangelism as a part of his disipleship.  In many cases, Jesus sent out his disciples before him.  These two things go together.  When we do not model how to share our faith, we cannot expect that our disciples will ever multiply themselves.

3.  Boldness and Clarity

Boldness corresponds to preaching the gospel.  Clarity corresponds to showing the gospel in relationship.  Paul did both.

4.  Immanence and Transcendence

Immanence emphasizes God’s nearness.  Transcendence emphasizes God’s bigness and incomprehensibility.  Both are true and both need to be reflected in our personal and corporate worship.  Some like to emphasize God’s immanence at the expense of his transcendence (Pentecostalism).  Some like to emphasize God’s transcendence at the cost of his immanence (Liturgical).  We need to help people see both and not just pander to one or the other.  Who cares about the form of worship style if God is presented in both his immanence and transcendence.

5.  Preservation and Adaptation

We need to honor the vast tradition of the history of the church – preservation.  We need to innovate to adapt to the language of the culture (obviously, without over-contextualizing).

6.  Individual and Communal

We are saved as individuals.  We are called out to a community.  We are not saved by merely being in the church while we are called out to a church.

7.  “Already/Now” and “Not Yet”

Christ has already risen from the dead; Christ has not yet returned.  We stand between two worlds and must yearn for the one to come, while seeking to affect change on the one we reside.

8.  Reaching-up and Reaching-in and Reaching-out

Reaching-up is the vertical ministry of our relationship with God.  Reaching-in is the horizontal and inward ministry of those in our church.  Reaching-out is the horizontal outward ministry to the world.  If we fail to do any one of these, we have been deficient as a church.

9.  Orthodoxy and Orthopathos and Orthopraxis

All of the previous balances can be summarized in this final one.  Right belief, Right emotion, Right practice.  Balance is critical here.  If we are seeking sound doctrine it ought to produce right practice and right emotion.  If we are seeking right emotion it ought to produce right belief and right practice.  If we are seeking right practice it ought to produce right doctrine and right belief.

What balances would you add?

Moving forward, balance is critical.  Up next, we will look at some summarizing thoughts regarding evangelicalism in the future.

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

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Friedrich Schleiermacher

Friedrich Schleiermacher

Ideas have consequences.

Essentially the ideas of two German men split American Protestants in two:  Friedrich Schleiermacher and Ferdinand Baur.  Schleiermacher started exploring something called Higher Criticism*.  Higher criticism is a kind of literary analysis that seeks to figure out the origins of a text.  Specifically, higher criticism looks at who wrote a text, to audience whom the text was written for, and the time the text was composed.   Higher criticism as applied to the Bible has its roots in rationalism.  In rationalism, reason alone is the source of knowledge… hence, the rationalists ultimately reject Scripture.  They reject Scripture because they see things in the Scripture that do not seem to fit their rational framework.  Baur comes on the scene after Schleiermacher, influenced by both Schleiermacher and Hegel.  Baur was the leader of the Tübingen school of theology at the University of Tübingen.  Baur and the Tübingen school of theology were  highly influential in the 19th century.  These ideas eventually crossed the Atlantic and Protestants were divided on how to handle the criticism of the Bible.

One cannot underestimate the impact of the thoughts of these isolated German nerds.  American Protestants split in two over higher criticism.  At issue was whether the Scriptures were without error or inerrant.  Half of Protestants followed the critics denying the inerrancy of Scripture and formed the liberal half of Protestantism called Mainline Protestantism (United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church, American Baptist Church, United Church of Christ, and Disciples of Christ… and a number of smaller denominations).  In reaction against the liberal Protestants, the other half of Protestants formed the conservative branch, at that time called, Fundamentalists.  The fundamentalists were influenced by the writings of the conservative Old Princeton theologians reacted stating five fundamental positions:  1.  Inerrancy of Scripture   2.  Virgin birth of Christ   3.  Christ’s death as atonement for sin   4.  Bodily resurrection of Jesus  5.  Historical reality of Christ’s miracles.  One can see how reading the Bible rationally, like a science textbook, would lead one to doubt miracles like virgin birth, penal substitution, and resurrection of the dead, leading one to conclude that the Bible had error.

Next we will continue to look at the split of Protestantism and its monumental impact on evangelicalism today…

*Eichhorn and Spinoza are also critical in the establishment of Higher Criticism.  But if we mention them, then we have to mention the influence of Kant on Schleiermacher and Hegel on Baur.  We can go on ad infinitum talking about the influence of Hume on Kant.  I am obviously being selective here.

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