An Emmanuel Apologetic-part 2

Apologetics Beyond Individualism

The other type of Christian apologetic that we’ve seen in the modern era is this: some Christians felt that, as individuals, we are called to tell people about our personal experience with Christ.

Instead of reacting to the modern infatuation with Reason by trying to provide a Christian counter-argument based also on Reason, these Christians relied instead on proclaiming a personal relationship with Jesus. For these Christians, religious experience is their apologetic. Each individual is to be a light for Christ to their friends, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances, telling them about how they too can have that personal relationship with Christ. The stand of these Christians is, “You can’t argue anybody into the Kingdom!"

Since evangelicals had allowed the Gospel to become very individualistic, we can understand the emphasis on personal religious experience as the thrust of their testimony. Evangelism focused on the invitation to an individual to invite Jesus into his or her heart. Not much was said about community life, except that once you have that personal relationship with Christ, you need to worship and serve in a Bible-believing church body.

Since there was such an emphasis on individual piety and personal religious experience, the interpretation of 1 Peter 3:15 (“always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you”), had to do with how I explain my personal, individual experience with Christ. The only apologetic needed is our personal testimony. Apologetics was individual-on-individual, as we sing, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine."

However, an Emmanuel Apologetic is an apologetic of “God with Us.” Our “light” is not meant to be simply individualistic, but as a community of believers shining light in a dark world through our good deeds in order to bring the goodness of God’s Kingdom into the lives of those around us.

Jesus tells his disciples,

“You (plural) are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your (plural) light shine before men, that they may see your (plural) good deeds and praise your (plural) Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

The plural pronouns say it all.

Reading that passage in light of John 8:12, where Jesus proclaimed, “I am the light of the world” gives us great insight into an Emmanuel Apologetic. You see, when God is with us, light shines in the darkness.

It was true at the incarnation, and it is true when we are living as the incarnate body of Christ—as the apologetic community shining light in the darkness of this present world.

Next: Emmanuel: The God Who Is Increasingly With Us

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An Emmanuel Apologetic - Part 1

Apologetics Beyond Reason

In a postmodern culture, it seems to me that we need to emphasize a “God With Us” Apologetic. In this series of posts, I’m going to explore what an Emmanuel Apologetic may look like for emerging Christian ministries in the 21st Century.

In the modern era, evangelical apologetics were of two types:

The first type was of the Reason/Rationality sort—as in “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” The word “apologetic” is from the Greek word apologia, translated either as “answer” or “defense” in English translations. In 1 Peter 3:15, we are instructed to “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” Unfortunately, modernism stripped apologia from its context here in Peter’s letter and made it mean “a rational defense based on logic for all things Christian.” The NIV tells us to give a “reason” (as opposed to "an account), feeding into our modernist mindset that we must give reasoned arguments. There is a whole genre of Christian books that are “apologetics,” or “ready defense” books, written by philosophy of religion specialists who offer “reasonable arguments defending the faith.” Christians gobble these up hoping to accomplish three things:

  1. They have a passion to arm themselves with Christian rational arguments for their faith in order to counter the arguments for heretical teachings that distort Christianity or the theologies of other religions.
  2. They want to be ready when they have to defend why they believe certain doctrines that they believe as Christians, like the resurrection, miracles, or even the existence of God.
  3. They want to shore up their own belief, in order to be assured that their faith is not just pie-in-the sky beliefism, but also rests of the firm foundation of rationality.

But look again at the context of 1 Peter 3:15. The “answer” or “defense” that one is told to be prepared to give is to those who ask us Christians why we live in such hope. What this presupposes is that the Christian community is living in such a radical and conspicuous way in the midst of those who do not yet know Christ that these people are either genuinely wondering why we have such a hopeful lifestyle or they are suspicious that we are just play-acting it. Most often it will be the latter. Many will mock a Christian community of do-gooders (they will “speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ” v. 16), but we must follow Christ as our Lord (v. 15a), and willingly suffer for the good done for people as Christ did (3:18, 4:1).

So the “defense” is not so much a "reasoned argument" but an “account” (not a “reason” as in the NIV—but a logos, as it is in the Greek: a “word”) of why we have hope. We are told here to tell our story. We're not told to provide a list of reasoned propositions, but to give an account. We are to tell our story of encounter with Christ, transformation in our faith, and why we are so radically living in such a different manner—spreading hope to those around us. While I believe that some people, if they have cognitive roadblocks to faith, may still need to have things explained to them in rational ways, the main biblical apologetic has always been an Emmanuel Apologetic—an apologetic that displays God to people by living among people as a community of hope.

Next post: The second type of modernistic evangelical apologetic.

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Scot McKnight Takes on Emergent Criticism

I've blogged about this back on the 19th. I said that I was frustrated by James MacDonald and his wafer-thin caricature of the Emerging Church on the Leadership Journal blog, "Out of Ur".

Well, Scot McKnight is frustrated too.
Read his penetrating analysis of MacDonald's points at Jesus Creed.


Strict Constructionist Hypocrisy about Harriet Miers

"People ask me why I picked Harriet Miers," Bush said in response to a reporter's question at an Oval Office appearance with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. "They want to know Harriet Miers's background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. And part of Harriet Miers's life is her religion."
The issue was stoked by James C. Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, who recounted on a radio show taped Tuesday and aired yesterday that Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove raised religion in a private conversation to assure him of Miers's conservative bona fides. According to Dobson, Rove told him two days before Bush announced the nomination "that Harriet Miers is an evangelical Christian [and] that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life."

-The Washington Post

"Jay Sekulow, counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said on Pat Robertson's television show that the Miers nomination was 'a big opportunity for those of us who have a conviction, that share an evangelical faith in Christianity, to see someone with our positions put on the court.'"
-E. J. Dionne Jr.

“no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
United States Constitution, Article VI, Paragraph 3


One thing I can't stand is hypocrisy, especially within Christian circles.

I hear many Christians advocating a "strict constructionist" view of the Constitution, a view advocated by Robert Bork that seeks to read the Constitution as a static document and therefore "limit judicial interpretation to the meanings of the actual words and phrases used in law, and not on other sources or inferences" (Wikipedia). Strict Constructionists believe that since the Constitution does not specifically mention a right to privacy, recent Supreme Court decisions that have established the right to privacy as a basic human right (based on the 9th Amendment and amendments in the Bill of Rights, such as the 3rd, the 4th's search and seizure limits, and the 5th's self- incrimination limit) are fallacious. The Court's establishment of the right to privacy has resulted in several controversial Supreme Court rulings, including those dealing with contraception (the Griswold and Eisenstadt cases), interracial marriage (the Loving case), and abortion (Roe v. Wade).

So, here's the hypocricy: Why is it that the White House and James Dobson, two advocates of strict constructionists on the Supreme Court, are so willing to NOT strictly interpret the 6th Article of the Consitution ("no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States")?


Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us

The emerging generation is fed up with plastic presentations of Jesus and impersonal propositions that one must believe in order to be “in.” They are in search of a more holistic gospel: one that both reflects the overall story presented in the Bible and also one that allows us to experience God in day-to-day life.

In his new book, Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us, Scot McKnight presents us with the biblical story of God’s grace in such a way that we can authentically live it out in true community.

You won’t find some re-hashed narrow presentation of arguments and mere propositions in this book. What you will find is the more holistic story of God’s embracing grace to restore us to our original design as His image-bearers. And it is presented by a biblical scholar who knows the story (as well as the propositions), and who has the gift to explain this grand story in terms that we can understand and experience in the reality of our daily lives.

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Another Conservative Pastor Speaks Against Emerging Church

I'm kind of getting sick of this.

Yet another conservative evangelical has decided to talk negatively about the Emerging Church without taking the time to actually know what he's talking about. The three points that James MacDonald (pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois) makes at the Leadership Journal Blog are so wafer-thin and such a caricature of the Emerging Church that it just frustrates the tar out of me.

At that blog, I went into detail as to why I found his criticism rather wanting.

Check it out yourself. What do you think?



Talkin’ with Tony Jones about Postmodern Ministry

Sunday night, in cooperation with the Open Door's BJ Woodworth (an innovative emerging church pastor in Pittsburgh), I hosted a dialogue meeting with Tony Jones of Emergent-US.

What a great night! About 50 people piled into a room and (after enjoying the delicious “finger foods” that Leslie Thyberg provided) had a rousing discussion with Tony about postmodernism, church, truth, foundationalism, and theology. In attendance were a number of CCO campus ministers, members of three emerging churches is Pittsburgh (Open Door, Three Nails, and Hot Metal Bridge), and many others who were interested in the topic. Holly Zaher, another leader in Emergent was in attendance. She is involved with Three Nails.

A couple highlights:
The Postmodern Turn. Tony explained that in the modern age (beginning with what is commonly called the “Enlightenment”), we became over-confident in rationality. We trusted in human reason in order to bring about equality in the human race. But then the middle of the 20th Century (especially the Nazi death camps) proved this hope to be false. People needed to rethink everything in light of Auschwitz—philosophy, literature, art, and even theology were all affected. The trust in scientific rationalism came to an end, and we realized that people do indeed seek to obtain and keep power through all means possible. The postmodern turn is the realization that humans use word-games to gain or keep power, basing their claims on precarious foundations.

Seminary Education. Tony hopes that a new seminary education will emerge that will replace the Germanic research university model of education and the "theological encyclopedia" division of studies (biblical studies/systematic theology/church history/practical theology) that we now have. He also wants to see seminary education done at the local level—as students are doing ministry and immediately applying their education in the transformation of the world and the lives of the people to whom they minister.



Starbucks' Cafe Estima

I just bought some of Starbuck's latest blend--Cafe Estima.

It is their new Fair-Trade Certified coffee, and (unlike the Fair-Trade coffee they used to have) it is very good. And it is priced the same as their House Blend.

Read more about the introduction of this coffee here.

Fair-Trade Coffee is starting to take off; it is not any longer just the "in thing" on progressive college campuses and trendy espresso coffee shops. Christians have caught on to this as well. At Kent State, our CCO staffer, Nicole Poston leads our Service-Learning Team and takes students on encounters to learn from our brothers and sisters in Honduras, raising awareness about injustice. She has been one of the most outspoken advocates for Fair-Trade Coffees to be served on campus.

Other religious advocates of fair trade include Lutheran World Relief's Fair Trade Coffee Project, and the Presbyterian Coffee Project of the Presbyterian Church (USA).



Emerging in Pittsburgh Meeting This Sunday

The numbers are increasing for an open dialogue meeting with Tony Jones of Emergent-US.

WHERE: The Open Door (801 N. Negley Ave. in the Union Project, Pittsburgh)

WHEN: Sunday night, October 16th at 8:00 PM (after the Open Door's 6:00 Worship Gathering)

Among the attendees will be college ministers from the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) and leaders from area emerging churches.

To sign up, go to this previous post and leave a comment (and check out who else will be there)!



$1 a minute, and worth every cent

Last Sunday in “Oasis” (the small group community that meets in my home), we watched an incredible 13-minute video, NOOMA® Trees from Rob Bell.

For those who are not familiar with the Emerging Church, Rob Bell is the pastor of one of the first “emerging mega-churches,” Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. He has released this series (called NOOMA) of 13-minute videos that retail for $12.99. That’s about a buck a minute…which seems like a lot, but I must tell you—“Trees” is worth every cent.

While speaking, he plants two trees in the city. He explains, as he plants the first tree, that in Genesis there was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and that at the beginning of the story, God gives us choice.

God says, ‘You can live how you want to live, or you can live how I created you to live.’ It’s almost as if God says, ‘It’s your choice.’ ...It’s still our choice.”

Then he goes to his right and begins digging a hole for a second tree. And he tells us about Revelation.

We’re told that we’ll actively participate with God in taking care of the world that we find ourselves in. It says there’ll be peace with each other, that there’ll be peace and harmony with God, and in the middle of it all will be a tree.

If that’s how it ends, and Genesis is how it begins, then we have to ask the question, ‘Do we live between the trees?’”

But if we live "between the trees," Bell asks, is the only purpose for life to “hope and wait” for the future?

Hoping and waiting? Is that it? Are we just hanging around until some future date when something great happens and then we kind of get on from there? I need a God who is now. I need a God who teaches me how to live now. I need a faith that’s about today; that helps me understand the world that I live in today, the world that you and I know as here and now and the place—earth—that we call home. I need to know how to live here and find meaning and purpose today. This is my understanding of Jesus’ message.”

And then he explains a misperception of some religious people about the reason for having faith in God in this life:

Now, some people see faith like a ticket. It’s like, if you believe the right things and if you nod your head at the right times then, when you leave, you get to go to a better place. And so, essentially, faith becomes a bit like fire insurance: It’s like a guarantee that something bad won’t happen to me one day. So this life is like a waiting room for the next place, and there becomes no real point to this life except for getting people to believe like I do and convincing them that they need to be like me and we’ll all go to the same place. What ends up happening is that people are just hanging out, and waiting. But what good is a faith that doesn’t have anything to do with today and the world that we find ourselves in now?”

Bell then proclaims the gospel of the Kingdom of God! (YESS!!!)--that Jesus teaches his followers to live as a force for good in the world, to work with God to overcome evil with good, to work as people of peace and justice, for mercy and grace.

Followers of Jesus are people who are committed to partnering with God to make this world, the world that we live in, the kind of place that God originally intended it to be.”

Do yourself a favor and purchase and watch (and re-watch) NOOMA Trees.


On Politics: SOME Evangelicals get it!

Harold Netland, Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Intercultural Studies at my alta mater, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, wrote a letter to the editors of Christianity Today that appeared in the September 2005. It was a response to CT’s editorial in the July issue, "Worship as Higher Politics." Netland’s insights come from years as a missionary to Japan and his extensive research that has brought us such thoughtful books as Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth and Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith.

Here’s what he had to say:

I have become increasingly alarmed at the uncritical nationalism of American evangelicalism and the Christian Right’s infatuation with power politics. We expect Christians in other nations to honor the lordship of Jesus Christ over national, social, cultural, or political loyalties. They rightly expect us to do the same. More important, Christ demands that we do so. The integrity of Christian witness globally is compromised by the fatuous identification of the Christian faith with American nationalism and a particular political agenda.

Yes, some evangelicals seem to get it!

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Alcohol and Redemption

Steve McCoy at Reformissionary has an excellent post (you MUST read the comments too!) on Alcohol, Abstention and Redemption.

It's a follow-up on an earlier post in which Steve and many other Southern Baptists wrestle with Albert Mohler's stand that SBCers should be teetotalers.

Here's a quote:

If we are working out our salvation through being redeemed and redeeming, then our response to cultural abuses is not to abstain but to redeem. That not only pushes us to maturity by teaching us how to eat, drink, and have sex to the glory of God (though it won't come easy), but it is also a witness to the world that God redeems. The pervert throws away the pornography (abuse) and learns to love sex with his wife (redemption). The glutton refuses to order a 5 piece fried chicken and fries meal (abuse) and learns to order a salad with light dressing instead (redemption). The alcohol abuser stops drinking until drunk (abuse) and learns to stop after a beer or two (redemption).


UPDATE: Check out the excellent quote Steve offers from CS Lewis on Abstinence.

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Letting our theology trump the “literal interpretation” of the text

I recently heard a local evangelical preacher speak on Daniel chapter 4. It generally was a good message, focusing in on Nebuchadnezzar’s pride—and the extreme measures God used to humble him.

But there was one moment that I found perplexing. At verse 27, the Bible reads that Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar this:

“Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

At this point, the pastor read out loud only this part: “Renounce your sins by doing what is right,” and then he stopped. He came out from behind the pulpit and explained that (and I paraphrase here), “we, at this church, believe that you are not saved by what you do. One of the largest churches in the world has made the gospel a matter of doing certain things to be right with God, and we find that the Bible tells us that we are made right with God only by having faith in Jesus Christ.”

Then the rest of the preacher’s message interpreted the Nebuchadnezzar story as a man who needed to become humble and renounce his pride by accepting God as Lord instead of relying on his own “majesty” as King. Nebuchadnezzar needed to repent from his pride.

Now, I do think that Nebuchadnezzar’s sin was one of arrogance and pride, but that is not all—it was an arrogance and pride rooted in his power and prosperity. And I found that the sermon did not stress the actually meaning of this text: Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.” That is what the text says!

Is this a case where our theology trumps the “literal interpretation” of the text? It seems to me that the purpose of this text being in our Bibles is to teach us that power and wealth corrupts—and that if we are to humbly acknowledge Yahweh as Lord, then we MUST (no ifs, ands, or buts) do what is right—and that is to “be kind to the oppressed.”

A follower of God (i.e. a Christian) cannot claim to be so if he or she is rich and powerful and is also willingly part of a system that is wicked in the oppression of people. King Nebuchadnezzar is re-granted his prosperity only when he renounced his pride and decided to change his systems of making the rich richer and the powerful more powerful.

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Emerging Multi-Ethnic Ministry

I just attended and spoke at an initial meeting of Christian college students at the University of Akron who have felt the call from God to multiethnic ministry. The CCO’s ministry at Akron is predominantly black, and the church in which I once interned in Akron (The Chapel) has a predominantly white attendance in its college ministry. Also present at the meeting was Impact, another African-American group on campus.

What a wonderful thing to see:
College students, by their own initiative, seeking to join together in order to be the united Body of Christ!

I warned them: If you are really serious about this (and not just doing it superficially-by having a pot-luck once a year or a joint worship time once a year), if you are really wanting to create authentic friendships across this racial divide and join together to change the racialization in our culture, expect to be radically changed!!

Racialization is a huge issue in our culture, and the Emerging Church, if it is truly Kingdom-based, will face the issue straight-on. I previously posted on the issue as a response to my reading Emerson and Smith's crucial book, Divided by Faith.

Scot McKnight has offered a wonderful series of posts ("The Church, Embracing Grace, and Racism") at his blog, Jesus Creed. Check out the series here.