8/31/2005

Christians are where they are needed

I was greatly encouraged to read in Newsweek the list that The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is suggesting we donate money to in order to provide disaster relief for hurricane victims.

75% of them are Christian organizations!

Way to go, brothers and sisters! Christ is incarnate in the body of believers caring for the hurting.

8/29/2005

N.T. Wright on "The Christian Challenge in the Postmodern World"

Check it out!

Here is the transcript from N.T. Wright's Lecture at this year's Church Leaders' Forum at Seattle Pacific University.

It's in downloadable pdf format.

What’s coming next at VanguardChurch: Exploring Appropriate Christian Responses to Postmodernity

I’ve been commenting over at Every Thought Captive, Phil Steiger’s excellent blog on Christianity, apologetics, and philosophy (see "Metanarratives, Postmodernism and Christianity" and "What is a Christian to do?"). His stand on postmodernity is “there is no room for postmodern philosophy in the Christian worldview.”

I differed with him on that stand. We’ve been going back and forth about this, because I think that many good thinking Christians (of which Phil is one, I believe) are not giving any credence to postmodern philosophy because of their presupposition that all things postmodern are contrary to a Christian World View. In my comments, I’ve cited Tom Wright, Stan Grenz, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Brian Walsh, and Scot McKnight as possible models as to how Christians can engage with the postmodern ideas.

To add to that list, I’ve begun reading a book I purchased this summer, Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views. The book is edited by Myron Penner and features essays by R. Douglas Geivatt and R. Scott Smith (who are more pessimistic), James K.A. Smith, John R. Franke and Merold Westphal (who are more favorable), and Kevin J. Vanhoozer (who takes a mediating position).

The blogs you’ll be reading from me in the next few weeks will be interacting with what I read in this book. I jumped into it with Kevin Vanhoozer’s essay because I have so much enjoyed what I’ve read by him and what others have said in response to his work. He is one of the brightest new theologians of the 21st Century.

Index of this series: Toward a Proper Christian Response to Postmodernity

8/25/2005

New at VanguardChurch.com


I've been adding new material to the main website.

A new section, "Doing College Ministry in a Postmodern Context" has been added to the "Emerging Church" page. This is a resource for those of us trying to reach the emerging generation on college campuses.

A whole new page, "Christian Higher Education and Scholarship" includes articles by Scot McKnight, Brian Walsh and others.

New tools for spiritual growth have been added to the "Spiritual Formation" page, including Bible studies on the Kingdom of God and the Gospel.

My new Bible study, "Created for Glory" is finally published on the "Spiritual Formation" page.

More on Pat Robertson

The best comment and background information on Pat Robertson's rediculous comments (both now and from the past) and what key evangelicals have said about it (and what some key leaders and groups have failed to say about it, i.e., Ted Haggard, the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council, and the Christian Coalition ) is found at

Christianity Today's Weblog

8/24/2005

Pat Robertson: The Syncretism of Right-Wing Politics with Christianity

The Judeo-Christian Scriptures are constantly warning us against syncretism, when aspects of one religion are assimilated into another thus changing the purity of the original faith. The Old Testament warned the Jews of not allowing the neighboring religions to blend with their following of Yahweh. A hallmark of Greek Hellenism was syncretism, and the Jews before and during Jesus’ time were constantly battling the urge to blend the political aspirations of Hellenism with Judaism. Jesus and his followers warned that syncretism is just another form of idolatry. Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

One of the biggest problems in American Christianity is syncretism. We evangelical Christians have allowed the “American Dream” to blend into our Christian faith—so that now Jesus is a means to the end of prosperity and our consumerist “pursuit of happiness.” All one needs to do is look at the titles of many of the best-selling Christian books to see what we believe the Christian faith is all about (Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen is a run-away best-seller).

Another major form of syncretism in American Christianity is in our allowing the politics of the Right to blend into our Christian faith. Most Christians I know cannot differentiate between the politics of Rush Limbaugh and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is fueled by the very conservative political agenda of leading evangelicals like James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, and Tim and Beverly LaHaye. And it shows itself the ugliest when those on the more radical side of this syncretism that’s called the “Religious Right” (i.e., the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons of the world) say outrageous things that show how this syncretistic religion warps Christianity so that it no longer reflects the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The most recent incident: Pat Robertson (on The 700 Club), while commenting on what the United States should do with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, said, “You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it…It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop.” (see BBC news story here)

With statements like this, I can understand why many non-Christians are suspicious of evangelicals that we are the American version of the Taliban. But know this: It is not the pure religion of Jesus Christ speaking here—it is a syncretism of Christianity with American capitalism (because of the oil interests in Venezuela) and extreme right-wing politics (because of Chavez’ leftist agenda). This syncretism has taken Robertson “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition” so much that he is no longer following Jesus Christ—it is no longer Christianity.

What’s sad is that he does not even know it. What’s sadder is that many of his viewers don’t know it either.

8/23/2005

Evangelicalism’s Anti-Darwinism Warps Our Environmental Concern

It still is incredible to me that many evangelicals are not warm to the the issue of Global Warming.

Even though the head of the National Association of Evangelicals and about 100 other evangelical leaders issued a statement declaring that global warming is real and the result of mankind's actions, even though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced four volumes (1000 pages each) of evidence, even though the Co-Chair of the IPCC is Sir John Houghton, an evangelical Christian, even though the research involved thousands of scientists world wide, even though they concluded that "most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities," and even though Houghton tells us that "No assessments on any other scientific topic have been so thoroughly researched and reviewed," many American Christians are still skeptical. In fact, Focus on the Family (the loudest voice in American evangelicalism’s “Radio Orthodoxy”) calls all this evidence “liberal junk science.” (see article at Agape Press).

Why?

In a commentary in the current issue of Christianity Today ("Environmental Wager"), Andy Crouch writes,
The…battle between evolutionism and Christian faith has had countless unfortunate consequences…But perhaps no result of the creation-evolution stalemate is as potentially disastrous as the way it has stymied courageous action on climate change."

This makes a lot of sense. We Americans have lived through the Scopes Trial and we are in the midst of battles in certain states over whether or not our schools’ science curriculums should exclusively teach Darwinism.

It makes sense that the ugly history of the battle for origins between science and the Christian faith is now costing us in the battle for our future.

In a lecture at Cambridge in 2002, Houghton said,
[Global Warming] is a problem that is well downstream; many of us will not be much affected ourselves but it is going to affect our children and our grandchildren. We are bound to ask, therefore, questions about the sort of relationship we should have to the earth that is our home and to the rest of Creation with whom we share the earth. Let me suggest that a helpful picture of this relationship can be found in the early chapters of the Judaeo-Christian scriptures. Humans were placed in a garden to care for it. We are encouraged to see ourselves as gardeners of the earth…Christians and other religious people believe that we've been put on the earth to look after it. Creation is not just important to us, we believe also it is important to God and that the rest of creation has an importance of its own: for these reasons we should be good gardeners. But in many ways we are not being good gardeners."

This is not just good environmentalism, it is good theology.

8/22/2005

The Professor as Scholar

Scot McKnight has honored my website with another gem directed at those in Christian academic scholarship. It's a lecture he gave at North Park University, about the "Professor as Scholar." Since one day I hope to be both, it is of particular interest to me.

A quote:
Scholarship is not about “winning”, about “fame”, or about climbing to the top; most won’t know and many don’t care; it is about expression, about a dialogue, about pursuit of truth, about our own development as humans, and about contributing to the Great Conversation of the Mind – from diverse, but nonetheless fully conscious, Christian points of view.

The full lecture is at re-integrate.org, click here.

8/12/2005

Brian McLaren on Left-Right Politics

I am saddened by the polarities that have arisen in the United States. When the Left and the Right demonize the other side and refuse to engage in conversation, we all lose. When those in the church read and listen to only one side of any issue, then we are not being wise. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22). I’m seeing a very disturbing trend: people on the Right are exclusively buying right-leaning magazines, reading right-wing columnists, listening to right-wing radio, and watching Fox News. People on the Left are exclusively buying left-leaning magazines, reading left-wing columnists, listening to left-leaning radio, and watching left-leaning news. We surround ourselves with “yes-men” who simply affirm what we already want to believe. We are not being challenged to think in new ways, to find moderating positions, to seek the truth in love. And worse, we convince ourselves that the one-sided position is the godly position. We are not listening to “many advisers,” and therefore we lack good counsel.

I just received the latest issue of Sojourners (Jim Wallis’ magazine on faith, culture, and politics). The cover story is called “A Bridge Far Enough? How would Jesus address the issues of our day?” by Brian McLaren (read it here). Readers of my blog and website know how highly I think of Brian McLaren, one of the principal voices in the “emerging church conversation,” and one of the leaders of Emergent.

Following the lead of the Apostle Paul, who became “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22) and who tells us that God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation”(2 Cor 5:18), McLaren writes in this article about how Christians are called to “build bridges” to connect people of opposing polarities in our contentious political climate in the United States.

He identifies four bridges: (1) The Religious Right and the Secular Left; (2) The Religious Right and the Religious Left; (3) The Secular Right and the Religious Left; and (4) The Secular Right and the Secular Left. He writes, “So, for starters, if we want to be communication bridge people, we need to realize that there aren’t just two kinds of people out there, or one kind of polarization. Becoming all things to all people doesn’t simply mean becoming two things to two kinds of people.”

Then he gives seven pointers for bridge-building conversation, based on the principle that “We must teach what Jesus taught in the manner that Jesus taught it.” (1) We must stop answering questions that are framed badly; (2)We must start raising new questions and issues that need to be raised; (3) We must answer questions with questions; (4) We must go cleverly deeper; (5) We must agree with people whenever we can; (6) We must speak through action, not just words; (7) We must tell stories.

How great would it be if Christians were the ones who did not feed INTO the polarization of American politics but were the RECONCILERS of American politics?

8/10/2005

How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong

In an essay in this month’s Harper’s Magazine (“The Christian Paradox: How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong”—read an excerpt here), Bill McKibben offers an analysis of evangelical Christianity in America. McKibben is best known as an liberal environmentalist, and has been published in Mother Jones and environmental magazines a lot. He is also a follower of Jesus Christ, and has been published in The Christian Century, Sojourners, and Christianity Today.

This particular article in Harper’s is very good. While at times he concentrates too much on specific “end-timers” and lumps some good authors in with the self-centered writings of the likes of Joel Osteen, he has a number of excellent observations. One of his main points that I really appreciated was the wrong-headedness of how we evangelicals have practiced the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

McKibben writes,
“American churches, by and large, have done a pretty good job of loving the neighbor in the next pew. A pastor can spend all Sunday talking about the Rapture Index, but if his congregation is thriving you can be assured he’s spending the other six days visiting people in the hospital, counseling couples, and sitting up with grieving widows. All this human connection is important. But if the theology makes it harder to love the neighbor a little farther away—particularly the poor and the weak—then it’s a problem. And the dominant theologies of the moment do just that. They undercut Jesus, muffle his hard words, deaden his call, and in the end silence him. In fact, the soft-focus consumer gospel of the suburban mega-churches is a perfect match for the emergent conservative economic notions about personal responsibility instead of collective action.”

I have been blogging about this for some time: The syncretism of American individualism with Biblical Christianity makes for a truncated gospel. The contemporary theology of many evangelicals is an individualistic gospel (it’s mainly about me and Jesus, it’s about my personal well-being, it’s about my need for self-fulfillment). Many modern mega-churches (though not all) have grown large because they cater to the consumeristic tendencies of American evangelicals--offering more about making life good for ourselves than the difficult work of loving those other than ourselves. This focus on the individual often negates the doctrines of community and kingdom. This focus on individual solutions to problems often negates many collective approaches to systemic problems in our world.

The Christian Right has latched onto this individualistic gospel to the point that anybody who attempts to take Jesus’ teachings to heart—with systemic solutions to the problems like helping the poor, for example, are labeled “liberal” and scoffed at.

See Ron Sider’s book, Good News & Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel for a more kingdom-based gospel.

8/09/2005

Imagining Atomic Bombs

This last Saturday, the 60th anniversary of the first atomic bomb drop on Japan, I was at The National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

I stood under the legendary aircraft, the Bockscar, the B29 that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki 60 years ago today (August 9, 1945, 11:02 AM, Nagasaki time). As I stood under its belly, reaching up to touch the underside of this massive airplane, I tried to imagine flying over the ocean and then over the Japanese homes on the way to Nagasaki. I imagined the bomb, “Fat Boy,” unloading from the bomb bay and dropping behind me.

The Air Force museum does not tell of the fatalities, only that the bomb ended a war that promised to continue to be very bloody and cost many, many lives. Japan surrendered three days after the bombing, ending World War II.

An estimated 65,000 men, women, and children were killed and tens of thousands injured at Nagasaki to add to the 130,000 that died from the nuclear attack on Hiroshima.

I stood there for a while, in my world of imagination, until I realized that I was in the way of some people trying to take a family picture in front of the plane. The Japanese family lined up and smiled…the camera flashed, and the family said something to each other in Japanese. I watched in stunned silence. It seemed almost surreal.

8/04/2005

8/02/2005

WRF's Comment Magazine features the CCO

The Work Research Foundation is a Canadian organization whose mission is "to influence people to a Christian view of work and public life." They seek to explore and unfold the dignity of work, the meaning of economics, and the structures of civil society, in the context of underlying patterns created by God.

The WRF's academic journal is called "COMMENT."
This month, Gideon Strauss offers a very favorable article entitled "Building Institutions - The Coalition for Christian Outreach"

He writes,
"The CCO is unique among campus ministries...the CCO led the way in insisting thirty years ago that Christian discipleship has implications for the studies of students, and for their everyday working lives after they graduate - implications that start with a personal faith life marked by devotional depth and discipline, but that ripples out into every corner of life, and into the very structures of society..."

The Kingdom of God: The Christian’s Participation in the Battle of “Empires”

This is the part 2 of 2 (see below for part 1)

The biblical picture of the Christian life shows us participating in the battle between Kingdoms. We, as Christians, are identified with the deliverer (Christ) in His conquest over the dark kingdom of Satan. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines “Empire” as “Imperial or imperialistic sovereignty, domination, or control.” In light of this definition, we need to see ministry as our participating in the battle in which the “Empire of God” is subverting the “Empires of Satan” as they are manifested in our day in their imperialistic domination or control over the hearts of people and in the evil social structures that control people.

What are the “evil empires” that vie for the hearts of the 21st Century generation?

Walsh and Keesmaat make a very strong argument that consumerism (including the dark side of such things as capitalism / materialism / globalization / commoditization) is an evil empire that has people today in bondage. “A society directed by the consumerist imperatives of global capitalism is driven by images with a vengeance. And these images—purveyed especially through that quintessential image-producing medium, television—must change constantly in order to create and sustain an insatiable desire for more consumer goods and reach the ultimate goal of economic abundance.” (Colossians Remixed, p. 84).

Another systemic empire that Christ seeks to subvert through his people is racism. Michael Emerson and Christian Smith make the case that social structures in American society have sustained a racialized culture that dominates and subjugates African Americans. This empire is not being overthrown by the Kingdom of God because white evangelicals (in their propensity to focus on individual sin rather than societal sin) are unconsciously missing the issues of systemic racism. (Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000])

Another empire that imprisons the human heart today is the desire for power or prestige. Many in our culture have bought the lie that life is mostly about gaining powerful and prestigious careers.

Yet another empire to which people are in bondage is the empire of individualism. The self-serving ideas of individualism / self-actualization / self-esteem have sovereignty in our culture’s consciousness. We live in a society of increasing solitude, where community is fabricated, where friendships are rare, and where the ultimate goal is individual satisfaction. Stan Grenz has issued a clarion call that the Kingdom of God announced by Christ is a call to create a community.

Another evil empire that is binding people revolves around wrong notions of sexuality—today’s American society promotes an ever-increasing sexual dominion over our thoughts and attitudes.

Technology, as great as it is, can be an empire that vies for the hearts of people.

The Kingdom of God has come to overthrow these kingdoms. Jesus is setting both individual hearts and the culture free. I see my ministry to college students as bringing the good news of the Kingdom to those who are in the bondage of these kingdoms.

Can you think of other “kingdoms” that Jesus’ Kingdom of God can subvert and overthrow?

8/01/2005

Kingdom of God: Victory and Liberation

My last post offered a pdf article on my website from Scot McKnight on the Kingdom of God (see previous post, below). Today, I thought I’d add my two cents on the idea of what the “Kingdom of God” means.

Jesus saw his mission as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises that God would liberate his people through the coming Messiah. As George Eldon Ladd wrote, “The strongest statement is Matthew 12:28: ‘But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.’” (A Theology of the New Testament, p. 63) The power that Jesus displayed in his exorcizing of demons showed that he had command as the King to deliver people from the bondage of another, evil kingdom—the kingdom of Light was overthrowing the kingdom of darkness.

This is drawn out in the next verse: “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.” (Matthew 12:29). In other words, King Jesus’ invasion of the dominion of Satan entails the process of binding Satan of his powers.

Ladd’s insights are helpful: “Instead of waiting until the end of the age to reveal his kingly power and destroy satanic evil, Jesus declares that God has acted in his kingly power to curb the power of Satan. In other words, God’s Kingdom in Jesus’ teaching has a twofold manifestation: at the end of the age to destroy Satan, and in Jesus’ mission to bind Satan. Before Satan’s final destruction, people may be delivered from his power. ‘Binding’ is of course a metaphor and designates in some real sense a victory over Satan so that his power is curbed.” (A Theology of the New Testament, p. 64).

It is like the often used military metaphor: The decisive battle in a World War II was D-Day. The war was won and the tide of battle was turned before the actual gaining of the victory. V-Day came later. The Jesus event—his incarnation, death, and resurrection—was the initial defeat of satanic power in the decisive battle, D-Day. V-Day will take place at the Parousia.

This was also the message of Paul. In his epistle to the Colossians, he wrote, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he (Christ) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15). In the words of Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, “Here is the classic paradox in Paul’s thought. Christ has already defeated the powers, but his reconciling rule has not yet been fully established in history.” (Colossians Remixed, [Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2004], p. 155)

Tomorrow: Practical ideas about how God's Kingdom is overthrowing/subverting the evil kingdoms found in this world.