Somebody else's 2005 Book Awards

Coming next week, I will be posting my annual "Top 5 Books I Read This Past Year."

In the meantime, I want to give the heads-up to everyone that Byron Borger, perhaps the best-read man I've ever met, has written his "Hearts & Minds Best Books Awards 2005."

If you love books (I mean, really, really, REALLY love books), do yourself a favor and read this annotated bibliography arranged by category--what Byron believes are the best books of 2005 .

His ultimate winners?

Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology by Eugene Peterson and Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity by Lauren Winner.

He's easily read a jillion more books than I did in 2005; I've only read a handful of this huge list. But now I have another very insightful list of great books to buy...

...Great! That's ALL I NEED! Buying too many books is one of my vices. (That Byron!! He knows that in writing this article he's going to get more of my business!! ...Sly dog...)

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Faith and Ethics

This coming semester, I will be teaching the capstone class at Malone College (reserved for juniors and seniors, with prerequisites in Bible and Philosophy), THEO 410, Faith and Personal Ethics.

It’s been challenging and exciting as I develop the syllabus, select textbooks and extra readings, and do a lot of my own study from the vast array of viewpoints that are available as to how to tackle such an important topic.

The framework I’ve got for the course is this:
2 ½ weeks — study of the various theories of creating an ethic. The text for this section of the course will be Steve Wilkins, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics: An Introduction to Theories of Right & Wrong. Wilkins uses the concept of “bumper stickers” as a way to help students understand differing philosophical approaches to ethics (like “Look out for number one” for Ethical Egoism and “It’s your duty” for Kantian ethics).

5 weeks — study of a Christian approach to creating an ethic. The main text for this section will be Paul Marshall’s Heaven is Not My Home: Living in the NOW of God’s Creation. In this part of the class, I will seek to try to help the students understand “Worldview.” Marshall clearly teaches the Christian narrative of Creation-Fall-Redemption, and then shows how every aspect of what we do now in this life has great significance (as opposed to the current neo-gnoticism in evangelicalism that teaches that all that ultimately matters is getting into heaven and off this earth as opposed to the neo-gnoticism in much of today's evangelicalism that teaches that the ultimate matter of the gospel is getting people into heaven and off this earth). We will also study and analyze a Christian’s proper relationship with Culture. This will be particularly fun in that we will not only look at Niebuhr’s categories, but will also attempt to create a proper ethical approach for a postmodern world. Much of the Christian texts available for students are written from a modernist mindset, so this will be a fun challenge (though Hauerwas, MacIntyre, and Grenz approach an ethic appropriate for postmodern times).

6 weeks — discussions on particular contemporary ethical issues. For this part of the class, I’m using David Clark and Robert Rakestraw’s book, Readings in Christian Ethics, which covers just about every issue in our society. The book offers at least four differing viewpoints through essays and book excerpts from leading Christian thinkers. The students will be making group presentations as they grapple with how to apply their emerging ethical framework to these issues.

Along the way, I will have them read stuff from Walsh and Middleton's Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View, Mike Whitmer's Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God, Dennis Hollinger's Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World, Stan Grenz's The Moral Quest: Foundations of Christian Ethics, Scot McKnight's Embracing Grace, Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart, as well as many other articles from the web and that I've put on reserve in the library.


Review of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"

I was going to write a review of the Narnia movie, but Rick Bennett's review captured much of my own thoughts. So, I offer it to you.

I have mixed feeling about the film. I will once again show my contrarian streak by not walking lock step with the evangelicaldom leadership in uncritical praise (i.e. The Passion response). However, unlike The Passion, at least the hype did not muddle the entertainment value and message of Narnia. I would highly recommend this film to anyone wanting a highly entertaining romp made for children and young teens, one that clearly communicates the powerful redemptive message of Christ.

First of all, there are some weaknesses in this film...

1. We live in a Post-Lord of the Rings world and this film suffers for it. It is also not at a Harry Potter level either, at least in pure entertainment value, suspense, thrills and special effects. While they were not planned to be as intense at LOTR, there was a level of intensity in the 1st 3 Harry Potters (all PG) which this film could have used. It could have been poor pacing or a slavish devotion to the original book, but this film will be compared to the others. It falls well below the LOTR trilogy and the 3rd Harry Potter. I will not bore you with details that could have been better.

2. Unlike LOTR, this is a family movie and in it must be remembered by every adult expecting action. As I intimated, it is slow at times, yet it does not take that time for character and plot development. I disagree strongly with the BP writer I mentioned yesterday. To fully understand the importance of much of the plot one needs to read the book. There is an underlying sweetness and childlikeness which is disconcerting when juxtaposed against the treachery, blood thirst, sacrifice, violence and mystery of much of the film.

3. While majestic, Aslan does suffer when compared to his description in the book and the imagination of a reader, but this is common. It is impossible to fully do justice to his character. An animated film (PIXAR) would be the only shot, because everyone is computer generated (or a real lion which is an impossibility). In this film he is definitely good, but also a bit tame at times.

4. This is huge-Not enough story development, i.e. understanding what the Turkish delights do to Edmund's psyche; the heroic transformation of the children and their distinct personalities, the importance of the battle and build up to the climactic scene (this is one place it suffers greatly when compared to LOTR). The film lacks suspense and an understanding of whom Aslan is.

5. Like Harry Potter and LOTR, this film needed at least 2.5 hours or even 3 for full development. It is always a compliment to tell a filmmaker, take 30 more minutes (I cannot imagine telling a pastor that).

However, even as Aslan can never reach the epic proportions of the child's imagination, he is still a wonder to behold (I only wish we could have had commercials that only hinted at him, but did not show him). Liam Neeson has the grandeur and tenderness in his voice to give us a lion that is not tame, but good.

As blasphemous as it might be to say this, the film improves on the book in one area. The death/ resurrection scenes (and the fear of the main characters and Aslan's army between these two events) is better than the book. I always felt The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had one glaring weakness, which was the resurrection. It happens to quick, with not enough grief or time for the toll of Aslan's death to sink in. This weakens the resurrection and its importance. However, in the film they focus a bit more on the death and time before the resurrection, which gives understated power to Aslan's rebirth and last minute heroics.

This reminds me of one reason I like this film much more than The Passion of the Christ. The resurrection is given more than 20 seconds of screen time. I hated that about the Passion (I mean, really hated it). Here we have a Christ figure that does more than suffer and die. He defeats death and its minions. We have a more complete view of the atonement (the death of the innocent in place of the guilty AND the resurrection which defeats death- CHRISTUS VICTOR). This alone powerfully shown makes the movie worth the price of admission.


Christmas and American Christianity’s War in Iraq

Christmas is the time of year when we are reminded of why Christ came into the world in the first place. We sing songs like Ed­mund H. Sears’ “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” with lyrics as wonderful as these:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife

The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

Did you catch those important lyrics? On that original Christmas, the angels sing a song, a song that dates back to the Prophets. It is the song of Peace. After two thousand years of wrong, the song is sang. And yet, sadly, man at war with man does not hear this love song. The Christmas Carol pleads with us, "Hush the noise of war, you men of strife, so you can hear the angels’ song!!"

In this Christmas season, many American Christians are unquestioningly backing their country’s war in Iraq. I know that this is a very complicated issue, and that the implications of “pulling out too early” are grave. That’s not my point here. My point is simply this: Christmas is the celebration of the arrival of the Prince of Peace, and we Christians need to begin there in our discussions about this war instead of beginning with blind patriotism, partisan politics, and manipulative rhetoric that we must “support our troops.”

Look again at that wonderful Christmas passage in Isaiah:

“In that day of peace, battle gear will no longer be issued. Never again will uniforms be bloodstained by war. All such equipment will be burned. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!” (Isaiah 9:5-7, NLT)

I’m not sure that many American Christians have read that passage in its fuller context. We love the titles of Jesus found in verse 6, but we fail to read the verses surrounding it, which highlight that “battle gear will no longer be issued. Never again will uniforms be bloodstained by war. All such equipment will be burned… His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end.”

Some will say that these are verses reserved for the future, that those are “eschatological verses.” I say look again at the words of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (-Jesus, quoted in Matthew 5:9, NIV)

He tells us that if we are truly his followers that we are to do as He would do. I contend that the eschaton began with that first Christmas; we Christians are an eschatological people, cooperating with God in redeeming the world "in the here and now." Peacemaking is not some future endeavor. It is God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

I wonder if many American Christians have meditated on the implications of Mathew 5:9. If I want to be called a “Child of God,” then I had better be a Christian who seeks to make peace. With this as our starting point in discussions about the war in Iraq, we can move toward doing what God wants us to do.

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Mohler questions the "Happy Holidays" battle

I was very encouraged by this:

Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has questioned the current battle over saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" (at about 15 minutes into the radio show).

He says,

"I think that there is the danger that if we push this agenda too hard, and if we press it in the wrong way, we can look like, well, we are really just one special interest group among other special interest groups just out to make sure we get our slice of the pie and the cultural attention...

...I'm just afraid that if we fight not only the legal battles (which I think we must fight), but if we start writing nasty letters to department stores and all the rest just because they don't communicate this the way we want them to communicate it, I wonder if that is the most effective witness for Christ. I guess that's the thing. I fear Christians with an angry face claiming that this is about 'our rights,' when it's not about the courthouse square, and it's not about what's happening at church, and it's not about our right to proclaim the gospel, but it's about what others should say about Christmas. I guess that's where I'm seeing some danger signs on our side. I really don't expect America's retailers to be evangelists. I guess that's the bottom line."


You Might Work for the CCO If:

My friend Michele McClendon, who heads up our CCO ministry at the University of Akron, came up with this hilarious list.

You Might Work for the CCO If:

  • You like to kick it with college students.
  • You carry a Nalgene water bottle. You drink a LOT of water.
  • You drink Fair Trade coffee.
  • You have a passion for social justice.
  • In the winter you wear socks with your hiking sandals.
  • You own more books than anything.
  • John Perkins is your hero.
  • If you’re a single female, you’ve kicked around the notion of marrying Donald Miller.
  • You live simply.
  • Blue Like Jazz tops off your list of favorite books.
  • All roads lead to Jubilee.
  • If you’re a female, you don’t wear makeup; if you’re a male, your hair is longer than your wife’s.
  • If you have children, you "co-parent" with your spouse.
  • "All of life redeemed" means something to you.
  • You recycle. Everything.
  • You frequently use the word “Sabbath” and like to read books about it.
  • For two-day staff seminars you carry only the bare essentials in a small backpack, and still have room left over for the books you PM’d from Hearts and Minds. Ah, life is good.
  • You love nature and you feel pretty darn close to God in it.
  • In the winter you wear jackets with no sleeves.
  • You don’t care about fashion.
  • You live in community with other C.C.O. folks.
  • You are “intentional” about this, that or the other. You like that word a lot.
  • Your family is still waiting for you to get a "real" job.


Resources on C. S. Lewis and Narnia

Christianity Today has compiled many articles that they've done over the years (including the items in their current issue's cover story, "C. S. Lewis Superstar: How a reserved British intellectual with a checkered pedigree became a rock star for evangelicals" at a page on their website.

Sections include:

  • C.S. Lewis Superstar
  • Exploring C.S. Lewis
  • Books on Lewis
  • Lewis during War
  • The Marketing of Lewis
  • Articles from Books & Culture
  • Articles from Christian History & Biography


What is the Function of Scripture?

Over at Jesus Creed, Scot McKight has a recent post on NT Wright's latest book (The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture --don't buy it from Amazon, though--buy it from Hearts & Minds, and tell them Bob sent you!).

Anyway, Scot gives this statement about Wright's thesis:

When Wright comes to sum up his entire argument, on p. 114, he says this:
The authority of Scripture is “a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community.” Thus, the “authority of Scripture” is put into action in the Church’s missional operations.
Scripture, he says, is more than a record of revelation and was never simply about imparting information — it is God’s word to redeem his people as God works out his plan for the entire created order.

I am reading an excellent book about living the Christian life entitled Heaven Is Not My Home: Learning to Live in God's Creation by Paul Marshall. I love this book!! Here is a gem of a quote on the function of Scripture in a believer's life:

“God’s word is a ‘lamp to my feet and a light for my path’ (Ps. 119:105)...The purpose of a lamp is not to illuminate itself but other things. Similarly, apart from its revelation of God, God’s Word is meant to be a light on creation, helping us to see properly the world that God has made…God’s Word is more than a light; it is a light on a path. It illuminates the way before us. If we walk at night we do not stare at our flashlight. Nor do we point it at the sky or at our feet. Rather, we point it forward and down, hitting the ground about six feet ahead. We shine it on the path before us because we want to see where we are going. In the same way, as we study the Scripture we need to shine them on the questions that lie before us on our pilgrimage. We need to study God’s Word but also God’s world; we study the world in the light of God’s Word. We need to study not only Isaiah but also industry. Not only Philemon but also politics. Not only Acts but arts. It is not for us to choose between knowing the Bible or the world; we need to know the world biblically.”

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James Dobson Misses the Point (Again)

For the last decade, I’ve become a critic of evangelicalism’s most influential leader, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. It started back when I was editing my seminary’s newspaper. John Woodbridge, a professor at Trinity that I had grown to respect, wrote a 1995 cover story for Christianity Today imploring Christians not to use war rhetoric while engaging American culture. Woodbridge made the excellent point that when Christian leaders like Dobson say that they are fighting “culture wars,” they are actually hurting Christian missional work in today’s American culture. Dobson responded to Woodbridge in the next issue, insisting that he was carrying on the mandate to be a “Christian soldier,” marching off to war against anti-Christian ideologies. In my editorial, I wrote, “James Dobson Misses the Point.”

In the decade since I wrote that, I’ve watched Dobson miss the point time and time again. He seems to fight culture battles that are misguided at best and harmful to the Christian mission at worse.

His latest crusade in his culture wars came this week: He is opposing retail merchants saying “Happy Holidays.” On this last week’s Focus on the Family radio program, the guest discussed with Dobson “how the insidious effort to remove Christ from Christmas is part of the grander scheme to remove God from the public square” and how this is part of “Corporate America's attack on the family.”

Come, on…Is saying “Happy Holidays” really an “insidious effort to remove Christ from Christmas”?

Again, Dobson misses the point.

Having cashiers say “Merry Christmas” at retail stores will not make Christmas any more Christian. In my opinion, perhaps cashiers should be saying “Happy Holidays,” because very little about consumerism has to do with the meaning of Christmas.

In fact, I contend that consumerism is one of the top cancers for evangelical Christianity in today’s America. American Christians have participated in and are equally to blame for how consumerism has taken over the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Instead of spending so much time, energy and money on fighting against retailers saying “Happy Holidays,” maybe we should spend it more on creating a body of believers who would be so Kingdom-minded and so counter-cultural that they would recognize how they’re voracious appetites for consumer goods is corroding their spiritual lives.

And, maybe, instead of being a bunch of angry Christians demanding that people say “Merry Christmas,” we should joyfully proclaim the Good News that God came in the flesh in order to free us from such truly insidious powers such as consumerism and materialism.

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Today is World AIDS Day


World Relief: An estimated 40.3 million people worldwide are infected with the AIDS virus, up from 37.5 million in 2003, the latest UN AIDS Epidemic Update states.

Relevant Magazine: Every three seconds, another person dies.

Bono's American Prayer: The world's biggest rock star tours the heartland, talking more openly about his faith as he recruits Christians in the fight against AIDS in Africa.

DATA: Bringing people and organizations from all around the world together to stop the spread of AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa.

Engage HIV/AIDS: HIV/AIDS is causing suffering and despair throughout the world. We can simply change the channel and ignore the reality of the situation, or we can do something about it.

Purpose Driven in Rwanda: Rick Warren says when his wife finally told him God was calling her to the front lines of ministry against HIV/AIDS in Africa, he responded, saying, "That's great, honey. I'm going to support you. It's not my vision." "But nothing is as strong as pillow talk," he added. "God used my wife to grab my heart."



“Don’t Be Evil”

The New York Times’ Dan Mitchell reports,
IN 2001, about a dozen of Google's founding employees sat in a conference room trying to come up with a set of corporate values. After a while, one of them, an engineer, Paul Buchheit, said everything they were saying could be summed up by a simple phrase: "Don't Be Evil."
The phrase stuck, and it became Google's informal motto.
Creating one is easy, of course. Living up to it is a little harder, especially when your company becomes as large and ubiquitous as Google. For most of its short history, all was well, but recently complaints have piled up, reaching a peak this month as Google unveiled yet more products. Long considered the David to Microsoft's Goliath, Google is increasingly being thought of as a Goliath itself…
All over the Web, anti-Google sentiment is on the rise.”

This raises some questions for Christians in an increasingly globalized capitalistic world.

  • Is it simply a matter of course that all corporations become evil?
  • If not, how can we help corporations not be evil?
  • If so, how can we limit the evil that corporations inflict upon society?
  • And if corporations naturally have this struggle with being evil, then should Christians do all they can to limit corporations’ rights to “personhood” that they have been granted under the 14th Amendment?

See the debate on corporate rights at PBS’ NOW from earlier this year.

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Look! Up in the Sky! It's... the Messiah!

Watching the teaser-trailer for the upcoming movie, Superman Returns, you gets the sense you've heard this story even before comics were invented...

Superman's father is heard speaking to his son:

"Even though you've been raised as a human being, you're not one of them.

They can be a great people, Kal-El; they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way.

For this reason above all—their capacity for good—I have sent them you, my Only Son."


Have the Hurricanes Slipped from Your Mind?

I just received this e-mail from Joel Daniel Harris, a friend who is currently working as a volunteer with the Red Cross in New Orleans. The images he paints with his words are haunting.


Late yesterday I got a call from the warehouse that my team would have today off because the warehouse is running so low on product. After informing my team (who were disappointed, as I was), I managed to get a car from the Red Cross to have for the rest of yesterday and all day today. With my new wheels (a sporty little Pontiac GrandAm), a good night of rest (I got to sleep in until 6:30!), and a desire for some alone time, I took off this morning to travel east into Mississippi, another area where the hurricane caused massive devastation.

It is overwhelming.

I do not have a camera and so did not take pictures. Part of this is out of respect for the people. There was an eery feeling to today...akin to being a tourist...except of destruction. But I wanted to be able to really understand the terror of what happened here and communicate it to you. And so I use words, because our imaginations paint better pictures than 3 x 5 prints.

I passed a car lot full of cars. Except on a closer look you realized they were covered in a gray filth that marks all vehicles that were under the floodwaters. The entire lot had been flooded...above the top of every car. And they sat there...quiet and still.

Further down the road, I'm surrounded by a broken forest. The trees were bent and busted up...maybe if I tilted the world 45 degrees it would have felt a bit more straight and proper.

It's a Sunday afternoon and the stores are closed. Not because it's a Sunday but because they haven't been open in months. Mile after mile of storefronts line the roads on either side of me...and maybe one in ten is open.

The most reliable signs are found everywhere with red spray paint. On walls, on cardboard, on broken down vehicles or rubble. Signs saying "we're open" or the house number or marking the date that they were inspected after the hurricane.

At one point I'm forced to turn around and find another route because the bridge is washed out. A full-fledge highway bridge. I can see the concrete pylons sticking up out of the water...the road is gone.

Lining either side of the road are pile after pile of debris. Trash, refrigerators, siding, trees...anything and everything you can think of. Many of the piles are 8 or 10 feet high. At points I feel as if I'm driving down a walled-in road.

Along Rt 90, marked as a "scenic drive" route, I see the worst destruction I've ever seen anywhere. House after house...except the houses are gone. Driveways, foundations, and concrete or brick patio steps leading up to...nothing. The entire house is gone...sometimes lying in pieces around the foundation, sometimes washed further ashore to where I can't even see it.

I come across a house that's gutted...the frame still mostly stands, but it's like a giant doll house after the kids have grown. No walls, and totally gutted. Further down the road I see a Walmart. Again the entire fram of the store is still standing, but the walls equal to the first story have been totally washed away. I stare through and see the woods in the background. Nothing is left in the store...just torn walls and frame.

And this is nearly three months after the hurricane came through. Nearly three months later, recovery is barely begun in these parts.

A van sits squashed in a ditch on the side of the road. Bent and beaten, only half of it is visible as the other half is sunk in the ditch. It's been there since the hurricane. Scrawled across the top, in giant, red, spray-painted letters:

"Please Don't Loot...It's All We Have Left."

Joel Daniel

Talkin’ Postmodernity at other Blogs

I’ve been commenting at other blogs about postmodernity lately.

Over at Every Thought Captive, Phil Steiger takes on Myron Penner’s post on Postmodern Apologetics at the blog-book, A New Kind of Conversation. I interact with him on things like the role of Reason in our apologetic, false dichotomies, and whether or not the modern philosophical paradigm has lead to evils. Phil is thoughtful and our disussions are always very good.

Over at that book-blog (A New Kind of Conversation), I’ve submitted my “Emmanuel Apologetic” as comments to that Myron Penner post on apologetics. Someone not yet convinced of the authenticity of postmodern philosophy named “Al” has taken some of my thoughts to task, which I appreciate. So, we've been dialoguing back and forth.

Here’s an excerpt:

Al Sunday, November 20, 2005 09:50 AM
RE:An Emmanuel Apologetic

Can anyone help me from an Emmanuel Apologetic or Postmodern Evangelical perspective to address the following three current apologetic issues:

1. The Jesus Seminar and Dan Brown's "DaVinci Code." Both of these have captured the allegiance of millions of enthusiasts in our midst who are fleeing from Christian communities with their very unorthodox view of Jesus, including my niece an nephew.

2. The naturalist materialism that has sucha firm grip on our educational and scientific establishments that they seem to be uterly unwilling to consider any evidence that suggest intelligent design in the cosmos and the biosphere.

3. The anti-heterosexist crusade that seeks to ban from public education, media government, and anywhere in the public square all expressions of preference for heterosexual marriage. My grand-kids are being taught this in books and class in public school.

How do Emmanuel Apologetics or Postmodern Evangelical perspectives address these current issues in our midst?


Bob Robinson Sunday, November 20, 2005 12:05 PM [11.13]
RE:An Emmanuel Apologetic


To the Jesus Seminar and DaVinci Code apologists, I’d say that of course there are reasoned arguments that clearly refute them. But our intellectual and reasoned arguments mean little to nothing if we are not displaying the true Jesus before them as a community of believers. To merely have “better arguments” reduces the situation to bantering and who has better debating skills. But to have a kerygma that projects “this is the real Christ-—compassion and love and a resurrection life filled with hope” gives credence to our reasoned statements that simply cannot be argued with. I submit that the reason Crossan and Brown get a hearing is because the Christian community has done such a poor job in being Emmanuel in this world. The plausibility of their counter to Christianity exists because the Christian “God With Us” witness has been so implausible (it has been so poorly lived out).

To the naturalist/materialist that cannot accept an intelligent designer, we simply dismiss them as too modern and unable to accept the mysterious and supernatural. Modern Darwinist theory will die under the weight of postmodernity, since it is so dependent on naturalist/materialist causes. Darwinism is the epitome of modern thought—the idea that we can arrive at “Truth” through objective science. It does not allow for a “subject” to exist that cannot be examined objectively, that is, a Creator who made the world out of his love. This "Truth" cannot be found through objective science alone; it is found in the story He reveals to us (both in the Scriptures and in the very Creation we study). When we counter with nothing more than another scientific debate, appealing to “Reason” instead of the wonder of the story, then it again is reduced to bantering and who has better debating skills. Not that we cannot appeal to the wonder of the design in Creation, but that cannot be the primary apologetic; it is the secondary apologetic.

To the "anti-heterosexist crusaders," we must live out a loving marital heterosexual life that shows that traditional marriage models true love more than any other kind of “love” that people presume exists. Any other argument without that primary proclamation sounds hallow. By the way, we evangelicals have done a VERY POOR job of doing this, since our divorce rate is as high, if not higher, than the general public. No wonder people scoff at our attempts to tell them that God’s preference is heterosexuality, since we have not portrayed a very good “Emmanuel Apologetic” in that regard!

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Martin Luther: Emerging?

One of the hallmarks of postmodernity is its suspicion of Reason as the final arbiter of the “Truth.” Christians in the Emerging Movement (which is heavily engaged in the postmodern turn) are sympathetic to this skepticism of Reason. As we see it, if Rationality (or “Reasoned Arguments”) is placed as the ultimate authority in our finding truth, then we had better look at who is on the throne: it is no longer God, it is Reason. Rationality needs to find its place somewhere below, and God and the story of his interaction with humanity needs to be placed above.

This is not a new way of thinking. It was Martin Luther who first distinguished between the magisterial and ministerial roles for Reason. What postmodern Christians (those in the emerging church conversation) are reacting against is the increasing magisterial role that Reason has gained over the last century. Much of Western Christianity has allowed a syncretism to occur in which Reason has blended with faith. We are reacting against a Christianity that seeks to legitimize the faith by way of Reason, which places the faith under Reason as its magistrate. In many modern churches, Reason stands over and above the gospel, acting as judge so as to legitimate the gospel. This is what Martin Luther was warning against.

The ministerial role of Reason, however, makes it the “handmaid of theology.” Reason is merely one of the tools we have at our disposal to understand our faith. Postmodernity is a reaction against the ideology that Reason and Science would give rise to a moral society. They are skeptical of Reason because, in the Modern age, it has been shown to be such a bad magistrate of what is true. When Reason is placed in the magisterial position as the final arbiter of truth, the results have been disastrous. Look at the holocausts of the 40's and 50's. Germany was the pinnacle of reasoned ideology, the ultimate enlightenment civilization. The gas chambers were a scientifically sound and reasoned way to bring the solution to those “genetically deficient Jews.” America was the world leader in scientific progress. Scientific objectivity and reasoned argument brought about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These events showed the moral deficiency of objective rational thought and gave rise to postmodernity. These events made philosophers begin to question the entire enlightenment ideology of "objective” reason.

I, as an “emerging Christian,” affirm this. I am simply seeking to place Reason back in its ministerial role. Call me a postmodern Martin Luther.

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Postmodern Apologetics

Myron Penner, at the book-blog, A New Kind of Conversation, offers this insight into how the apostles should be the model for a postmodern apologetic:

"Paul never tires of pointing out that apostles and prophets, unlike modern philosophers, do not predicate their authority on clever arguments, logical coherence, rhetorical brilliance, or anything like the modern conception of human reason, but on the divine source of their message. It is not so much that the apostle cannot or even will not engage in rhetorical brilliance or philosophical and logical argumentation—as St. Paul is certainly capable and often does; it is rather that the apostle does not base the authority of his or her message on his or her own intellectual resources. The apostle’s primary mode of address is, then, kerygma, proclamation or preaching, and any argumentation is a secondary discourse designed to facilitate the primary one."

This is right: Modernity placed authority in Reason as a reaction against the Authorities of Pre-modernism (the church and the king). Postmodern Christianity recognizes the fallacy of placing authority in Reason. It seeks to submit, rather, to the authority of the story of Scripture and in the story of the Holy Spirit's working in the Christian community.

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Church break follows gay vote

You knew this was coming...

Church Break Follows Gay Vote
Four area parishes split off from U.S. Episcopal Church. Bishop to address issue today
By Colette M. Jenkins
Beacon Journal religion writer

More than two years after the Episcopal Church's debate over homosexuality, four Northeast Ohio congregations have voted to split from the national church and the Diocese of Ohio. The four parishes -- St. Luke's in Fairlawn, Church of the Holy Spirit in Akron, St. Barnabas in Bay Village and St. Anne's in the Fields of Madison -- voted Sunday to break with the Episcopal Church USA and affiliate with the Diocese of Bolivia in the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. The South American diocese is based in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and led by Bishop Frank Lyon... The four Ohio parishes--with about 1,300 active members--decided to leave the U.S. church and the local diocese because of "divergent understandings of the authority of scripture and traditional Christian teaching," according to a news release.

It seems to me that the news release quote concisely tells us the key to why this split is happening. It is not so much "the gay issue," but a more underlying issue: These parishes are correct in their assessment that the Episcopal Church has decided that something else trumps the Scriptures.

The Emerging Church must learn from this sad situation. As long as we remain tied directly to Scripture, then we will be okay. But as soon as we say that other things can trump Scripture, then we will be moving beyond what it means to be Christian.

This is not to say that there has to be conformity to any particular interpretation of Scripture, for the emerging church embraces conversation about how we understand the revelation of the Bible. This conversation is a very good thing; our understanding of varying interpretations of the Bible helps to stem parochialism and divisions in the Body of Christ.

What I've seen is this: The best in the emerging church movement are seeking to authentically engage Scripture. But I have also seen a "take it or leave it" attitude with the Bible in some "EC" circles, which is a shame.



Scot McKnight on the Emerging Church

In case you've been missing it, Scot McKnight has very quickly become a leading critical voice in the emerging church movement. He comes into the "emerging conversation" from the outside and from academia, lending fresh insights as he engages this new movement. He entered the fray as a foil to D. A. Carson's critique of Brian McLaren and the Emerging Church. It seems that recently he has been interviewed more on the Emerging Church movement than anybody outside Brian McLaren (check out the 2-part story PBS did on the EC).

After about seven months of deep engagement with the EC, Scot recently offered a four-part explanation of what he understands of the movement. Below is a summary of what was said in those posts. I strongly recommend you follow the links and read the posts in full.

What is the Emerging Church? Praxis

The Emerging Movement is a summons or an invitation for the Church to live like followers of Jesus in everything they say, do, and think. The Emerging Movement seeks to model that in its emphasis on relationships as the core of the work of God in the world today. One of the reasons so many are frustrated with the Emerging Movement’s definition is found here: it is a movement concerned with praxis and not simply theology. If the older fashion was to define others by their theology, the Emerging Movement wants to be defined by its behavior. This is a dramatic challenge to the Church.

What is the Emerging Church? Protest

First, it protests too much tom-fakery in traditional churches.
Second, it denounces the divisions in the Church.
Third, it sees cock-sure certainty as a cancer.
Fourth, it refuses to separate action from articulation. If the older evangelical generation found doctrinal statements the chief way of setting up boundaries, the Emerging Movement wants to see one’s articulation expressed by one’s action.
Fifth, it wants individualism absorbed into incorporation: that is, the Emerging Movement encourages personal redemption but solo-Christianity is not what Jesus wants. He wants to form communities of faith not individual Christians.
Sixth, the Emerging Movement’s mindset is against marketing the gospel.
Seventh, the Emerging Movement despises the idea that Church is what takes place on Sunday Morning...the work of the Church is what occurs during the week as the local community of faith performs the gospel.
Eighth, the Emerging Movement rejects the hierarchy and pyramid structure of many churches. Authority is in God — Father, Son, Spirit — and not in the pastor or the elders or the board of deacons.
Ninth, the social gospel cannot be separated from the spiritual gospel. The Emerging Movement combines the Liberal social gospel with the Evangelical spiritual gospel and comes up with something that is neither Liberal nor Evangelical.
Tenth, the Emerging Movement wants to be Worldly. Not in the Johannine sense or in the Pauline sense, but in the Kingdom sense: it knows that God is working to restore the entire creation into an expression of his glory and so it summons everyone to participate in the grant work of God to restore and redeem.

What is the Emerging Church? Postmodernity
Those in the Emerging Movement who are postmodernists are not radical postmodernists — that is, they are not “hard” postmodernists. (Hard postmodernists deny any truth whatsoever.) Some Emerging Christians are “soft” postmodernists, and some aren’t even that: they may be critical realists or they may be soft foundationalists. I am pleading with the critics of the Emerging Movement to accept that not all Emerging folks are hard or even soft postmodernists. To equate Emerging folk with postmodernism and to say that postmodernists deny truth so therefore the Emerging folk deny truth is unfair, libelous, and scandalous to how Christians ought to operate with one another...
...only God is Absolute Truth and all our articulations of truth partake, to one degree or another, in that Truth but our articulations do not strike home as as full grasp of Absolute Truth. Only God is Absolute Truth and only God can genuinely know Absolute Truth. All our knowledge is tinged. To assign Absolute Truth to God alone does not ruin our confidence, it just means that our confidence is in God.

What is the Emerging Church? Pro-Aplenty
First, the EM is pro-missional in thrust. The term “missional” is a favorite among many in the EM because it goes beyond the older Christian terms like “mission” and “missionary,” and because it is being defined holistically. To be missional means to embrace a holistic gospel – it is for the whole person (heart, soul, mind, and strength), for the whole society (politics, economy, culture, environment), and for the whole world. Missional avoids the constant bantering between Evangelicals and Liberals over social justice and evangelism, and it avoids the 20th Century political theorists regular diatribes against colonialism. Just what that “mission” is also quite clear for the EM if rarely defined in detail: the mission is the Kingdom of God as taught by Jesus...
Second, the EM is pro-Jesus. (Reformational) theology is often abstract, systematic, and rooted in logic and reason. The EM wants to root its theology, which is more practical than it is theoretical, in the incarnate life of Jesus himself. It wants a theology that is shaped by personhood and relationship rather than just rationality and systemic thinking. (Let’s not use simplistic dichotomies; instead, this is an issue of emphasis.)
Third, the EM is pro-Church. It is not ecumenical in the classical sense of the Ecumenical Movement, which was set on a course of finding a doctrinal basis among sets of Christians who could not agree, but in the sense of being missionally focused. Because it is missionally focused, it finds it much easier to cooperate with other Christians with a similar missional focus and to cooperate with other Christians because its own theological agendas are less central...It is also pro-Church in that the Church is designed to be a community. Here again, the EM reminds one of the Anabaptists or the Jesus movement of the 60s and 70s, where Christian communities grew out of a radical commitment to the Church as a community.
Fourth, the EM is pro-culture. The EM tends to celebrate the demise of metanarratives, finding in this demise the opportunity for “micro”narratives of local communities to given a hearing...Some EM thinkers toy with agreeing and not agreeing with this understanding of postmodernity and suggest that the Christian faith is one such “metanarrative” that can’t be proven true. Well, there is something dangerous and something healthy in such a claim. It is dangerous if it means Christian faith is just a preference rather than the truth, but it is healthy if it means (as many Christian theologians think it does) that Christians have to accept their fallenness and their limited grasp of truth and live with less than certainty on many issues.
Finally, the EM is pro-sensory worship. This is perhaps one of the most notable features that many know about. It may be a direct influence of Dan Kimball, in his Emerging Worship, or the influence of Robert Webber, but many in the EM form and shape worship services (“gatherings” to use their term) in order to foster sensory experience in worship...Why? Because it is believed that both the human is a whole (heart, soul, mind, and body) and the postmodern world resonates with full-form experiences. Here again the missional focus is prominent as is the coming into contact with the ancient traditions of the Church.


I offer this synopsis for those who read VanguardChurch but are still unconvinced that the emerging church is a good thing. Again, I strongly encourage everyone to read Scot's posts on the Emerging Church movement at Jesus Creed.


An Emmanuel Apologetic-part 4

God with Us in the Incarnational Christian Community
(Final Part of a Four-Part Series)
Jesus, the literal “God with Us” (or "Emmanuel") in the flesh, has revealed God to us by his life, death, and resurrection. Paul tells us that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15); John was in awe of this, saying, “no one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18).

That is Emmanuel! God with us! He walked with those 1st Century disciples, teaching them, doing miracles, showing love and compassion. He died sacrificially for the sins of the world. He resurrected and ascended, assuring them of a new life in Him.

But here we are in the 21st Century, far removed from that time and place. Sure, God was with them, but is God with us?
Jesus told his disciples that they would receive “another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you (John 14:16-17). God the Son and God the Father sent God the Holy Spirit into our lives to indwell us with “the Spirit of truth.”

Jesus was the incarnation of God—making God known. He was “the truth” in person. If that is the case, and if his "Spirit of truth" indwells today's "body of Christ," then the Church is today’s incarnation of God—meant to make God known in the same way. An Emmanuel Apologetic is the authentic display of the incarnation of God in the flesh—the Holy Spirit indwelling his people today.

“Truth” is not merely some reasoned argument, “Truth,” according to the Bible, is embodied in the flesh—it is only “Truth” when it is incarnate. Jesus was the “Truth” because he was there in front of them, in the flesh, making God known. Today’s local Christian faith communities display “Truth” not in merely having rational arguments, but by yielding to the Holy Spirit and authentically making God known.

And today’s local Christian faith communities must live out this truth in anticipation of the next phase of Emmanuel (see the previous post in this series.) Our community experience of love, worship, and service is to provide a preview of what Eternity will look like—the time when the fullness of “God With Us” will be finally experienced. In our eternal future as believers, we are told in Revelation 21:3 that God will be with his people. Today's church is the incarnational and eschatological People of God.

Whereas modern Christian apologetics sought to renounce non-Christian worldviews, religions, and ideas by way of rational argument, an Emmanuel Apologetic seeks to live as the incarnation of God to the people around us, creating anticipation for what it will be like in fullness to have God with us, so that they can genuinely say of this Christian community, “That is God with us.”

The enfleshed God in his people is what proves the credibility and believability of Jesus Christ. It is the Emmanuel Apologetic.

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Part 1: Apologetics Beyond Reason
Part 2: Apologetics Beyond Individualism
Part 3: The God Who Is Increasingly With Us


Updated Scot McKnight Detailed Analysis of Carson

Christian Cryder over at See Life Differently did us a favor.

He pointed out that the links were outdated for my summary of Scot McKnight's series on DA Carson's book, Becoming Conversant with the Emergening Church.

Scot moved off of Blogger and is now doing WordPress, so the old links are dead. Thanks to the hard work that Christian did, I easily updated the links here at VanguardChurch.

Go to: Scot McKnight Detailed Analysis of DA Carson's Book



James Dobson, Bully

If you missed it, Dr. James Dobson had Wayne Grudem on his "Focus on the Family" program for two days (here and here for mp3s of the two shows) blasting the TNIV as inaccurate and capitulating to culture.

This is why I no longer like James Dobson. He is certainly entitled to his opinion (I disagree with the Left when they belittle him as not having any sound political opinions) . But he has become so powerful in the Christian media world that he needs to be wise with such power.

How could he, in good conscience, bring Wayne Grudem on for a two day diatribe on the TNIV when he knows that there are good Christian scholars and Christian leaders who back the TNIV? Stan Gundry, Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Zondervan, has responded to James Dobson's latest attack on the TNIV Bible (hat tip to Scot McKnight). I think Gundry makes a great point: Dobson, by virtue of his large listenership, should have presented both sides of the story.

But, in Dobson form, once he has formed an opinion, he determines that all of evangelicalism must conform to it. All other opinions must be squashed. My eyes were opened to this back in April 2002. In the same issue of Christianity Today, the editorials featured two seemingly unrelated issues: (1) "Why the TNIV Draws Ire", and (2) "Enough Bullying" about the ousting of National Religious Broadcasters President Wayne Pederson for suggesting that Christian media should be less identified as the “Religious Right.”

Both editorials mentioned “bullying”–and for anyone familiar with either story, it was clear who the primary bully was: James Dobson.

When a Christian leader takes advantage of his power to become a “bully,” I say its time to face that bully and pull him down.

I’m sorry for Wayne Grudem. (Full disclosure: Dr. Grudem was one of my favorite professors in seminary). He is obviously not media-saavy enough to know that he was a pawn in the hand of a bully. Wayne was given an opportunity to present his side of the argument through a large media avenue (who would not jump on that?). But in doing so, he was used by Dobson to present only Dobson’s side…and the listening audience of Focus on the Family had no real indication that there is a legitimate other side.

That’s bullying again.


Toward a Postmodern Metanarrative

Toward a Proper Christian Response to Postmodernity – 9

While a major part of postmodernity is the famous idea popularized from a Lyotard quote, that we must have "an incredulity toward metanarratives," Jamie Smith has shown that what Lyotard was saying was that we must have incredulity of metanarratives that seek to legitimate themselves with rational, objective "Reason."

Therefore, I am going to attempt to present a postmodern Christian metanarrative. How can I do this? Because I contend that the Christian faith is not a matter of "Reason" but a matter of a theological drama. And since it is a theological drama (that is, since the major player in the drama is God), it has to be a "metanarrative." In fact, if it is indeed the theological drama of God, from God, and by God, it is the only metanarrative worth believing.

A Postmodern Christian Metanarrative looks something like this, in outline form:

A. Here we find humanity situated the way we were supposed to be—with each other, with the creation, and with God.
B. Communication was readily understood (until the serpent twisted communication for the first time)—so there were no equivocations, no language barriers, no selfish subtexts for what was said, no word-games.
C. We were truly known and loved—before God and fellow humans we were “naked and not ashamed.”
D. We each reflected the image of God in our diversity—thus there was a unity in diversity, with each reflecting the glory of God uniquely yet interdependently with others.

A. There is a “turn to the subject”—our lives became focused on ourselves.
B. This turn causes a distrust in what’s “out there” in reality, all that really matters ultimately is how it effects “me.”
C. There is an attempt to “master” rather than “serve” everyone and everything.
D. Language is twisted to mean something other than what was intended due to our sense of twisted self-importance.
E. Language becomes arbitrary and self-serving.
F. Languages become confounded due to our selfish desire to reach the divine on our personal, selfish terms (this is what the Tower of Babel story teaches us).
G. In order to describe an ever-increasing complexity of reality, we sense the need for a varieity of “vocabularies” (ways of describing reality) in order to grasp all these varying aspects of the complexities.
H. While in the original Creation humanity was situated the way we were supposed to be, the Fall situates us in a chaotic state of affairs:

  1. With each other—selfishness, the rise of ideologies and “isms,” the ever-increasing “will to power,” the rise of metanarratives that are thrust on foreign cultures and cause strife, discord, and even wars, a disunity of communities (the penchant to “hate the other,” rather than to “embrace diversity.”).
  2. With Creation—some see themselves above the creation to exploit it; others see themselves under creation as just a ‘rational animal.’ All do not see correctly our ethical place in creation correctly.
  3. With God—the rise of self as God, our smaller stories replace God’s metanarrative of redemption, we deny the “Fall” and embrace the myth of progress.

A. The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us (John 1:14)
The eternal has entered our situatedness in a specific time and place in history in the person of Jesus Christ.

  1. Since we are “fallen,” we need the “Word” to come into our situatedness in a way that makes sense to us—the incarnation is exactly that.
  2. The quadraphonic witness of the Gospels provide different voices of the same reality so that we can rightly interpret the Christ Event.
  3. The meaning of the Christ Event is presented in a plurality of themes, speaking into our limited ability to understand because of our limited linguistics and fallen situatedness ( i.e., Penal Substitutionary Atonement [for a legal language], Christus Victor [for a liberation language], Redemption [for an economic language], etc.)
  4. “Truth” is a person, not a concept or an objective proposition. Jesus proclaims himself as “the Truth,” and we approach truth only when we approach Jesus in his personhood.

B. The Spirit is Bequeathed Upon the People (Pentecost)

  1. Absolute Truth of God (that is, fully knowing God) cannot be understood on this side of eternity (1 Cor 13:12). However, Christ has inaugurated the age of the Holy Spirit in which a reality outside ourselves is able to increasingly break the bonds of the fall.
  2. This “Already-Not Yet” of our current existence makes for an increasing ability to truly understand and know God, others, and the creation, but not yet fully.

C. The Christian’s Work in the “Already-Not Yet” of Our Present Existence

  1. To understand truth through both reason and imagination. Reason has had its time in the spotlight; it is time to reinvigorate the imagination through the arts, through new ideas, through opening our eyes to what God can and wants to do today.
  2. To promote unity in diversity (the “catholicity” of the church) in order to stem parochialism. The way to limit a local community’s attempt at power-grabs over other groups is to nip insular “isms” in the bud by creating dialogical interaction between faith communities.
  3. To seek clearer understanding of how others articulate their faith through renouncing Babel and embracing Pentecost. The power of the Spirit can give us the ability to understand others even though they speak “other languages.” (That is, people articulate concepts and ideas in different ways. God wants us to hear these with ears wide open to understand them and maybe even embrace them instead of insisting that our faith community’s articulation of the faith is the only legitimate way to do so.) We need to embrace the plurality of languages and interpretations of revelation since they are actually needed to understand the complexity of reality.
  4. To embrace the theological drama that the apostles have handed down to us as a gift from God given to us from outside our smaller communities yet appropriate for all communities.
  5. To accept that “truth” will only be ultimately known in Christ at the eschaton. We now know God as if we are looking at him through a heavily tinted window. But there will come a time when we will fully know God, just as he fully knows.

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

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An Interesting Discussion on "Emmanuel Apologetic" Over at Reformissionary

Steve McCoy posted a quote from the 1st part of the series on an "Emmanuel Apologetic" over at his excellent blog, reformissionary.

So far, we have 17 comments there and counting.

Especially interesting is that the majority of commentors had positive interaction with the quote, but one person, David, isn't buying it. The dialogue between David and me has been helpful for my clarifying what I mean by an "Emmanuel Apologetic."

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An Emmanuel Apologetic-part 3

The God Who Is Increasingly With Us

Emmanuel means, "God with us." And the God revealed in the Bible is a God who continually and increasingly comes to us and makes his dwelling among us.

In the Garden, God was with Adam and Eve, walking with them in the cool of the day. But God was not always with them, he would come and go. The pattern was set: Our God is a God who comes to us and is “with us.”

In the Exodus wanderings, God guided the Israelites in the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, and dwelt among them in the Tabernacle. God was with them, but over there, inside that tent, where only Moses could meet with God.

In the Promised Land, God was with the nation of Israel. Where? Over there in Jerusalem in the Holy of Holies inside the Temple. God was always “with us” over there, permanently indwelling the Temple, where the High Priest could enter as the intermediary.

In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Jesus was the visible glorious God become flesh, actually living with us. He is the “Emmanuel”—the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel”—which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matt. 1:23). His ministry in the flesh lasted for a time, but then he was killed, resurrected, and then ascended back to the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realms.

But “another counselor” was sent to be with us: The Holy Spirit. He indwells those who experience the birth from above, guiding and empowering those who are called to be the Kingdom Community on earth, bringing about God’s intentions on earth as they are done in heaven. The Spirit’s fruit manifests in the people who will yield to his leading. God is “with us:” in us as individuals and in us as the corporate body of believers. Yet, this relationship is still not yet perfect, for God’s empowerment and leading through the indwelling Spirit is still limited by our personal and corporate struggle against our fallen natures.

The perfection of Emmanuel comes when God creates the New Heaven and New Earth, and God comes to this place where we are and proclaims, “Now the dwelling of God is with people, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). It is at that moment that the fullness of “God With Us” will be experienced for the first time and our hope of living forever immersed in knowing God more and more with each passing moment will be realized.

Next: What it looks like to be the Incarnational Christian Community in today's Age of the Holy Spirit.

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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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