Consumed by Consumerism

Coming out of the Christmas season and looking at the statements for our credit card purchases for the last month, Christians must ask ourselves where we have invested. Jesus told us,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

The key to understanding this is that Jesus says “for yourselves.” If Jesus spoke these words in 21st Century America, what would he have said?

At the risk of presumption, I think he would have seen the way consumerism has defined our existence in the United States and said, “Don’t let the marketers suck you into thinking that you must have all that they are advertising to you. Invest not in things that have planned obsolescence and that feed your discontent for what you already have. Rather, invest in things that have eternal significance, that do not go obsolete and you will not feel the need to replace when the newest model comes out.”

Amongst the banality of commercials that seek to tell us we should buy things we don’t actually need, I’ve been struck by Toyota’s new ads, showing people destroying their perfectly good cars so that they can buy new ones. It’s meant to be outrageous and funny, but in the joke is the hint of reality. We go to the mall looking to replace things we already own with stuff we really don’t need.

Having my undergrad degree in Marketing, I understand what’s happening here: Marketers are attempting (and succeeding) to create demand for things we don’t need or don’t really want. They get us to covet things like a new iPod, plasma screen TV, or Lexus, and we start to really believe that we deserve these things.

As Benjamin Barber, author of Consumed, recently said on Bill Moyers Journal, “Capitalism needs us to buy things way beyond the scope of our needs and wants to stay in business…That's the bottom line. Capitalism is no longer manufacturing goods to meet real needs and human wants. It’s manufacturing needs to sell us all the goods it's got to produce.”

Some Christians have seen this corruption of Capitalism and have swung the pendulum over into an almost Marxist Christian view that demonizes private property, business for profit, and free market trade. This is not what I’m advocating here (see Michael Kruse’s excellent insights on Capitalism and Christianity here).

What I am saying is that I believe Jesus wants us to not be consumed by consumerism. He wants us to be wise with our purchases. He wants us to do the hard work of looking at ourselves in the mirror in order to see if we have succumbed to the temptations of our consumerist culture.

Interestingly, Jesus does not tell me that where my hearts is, that is where I will put my money. Instead he flips that around: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, I had better watch what I spend my money on, look at what I buy and what I own, see what’s on my Master Card statement. There’s my treasure.

Frightening stuff.

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FCC Changes Broadcast-Newspaper Owner Ban

WASHINGTON (AP)— The Federal Communications Commission in a party-line, 3-2 vote, agreed Tuesday to overturn a 32-year-old ban and allow broadcasters in the nation's 20 largest media markets to also own a newspaper.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was joined by his two Republican colleagues in favor of the proposal, while the commission's two Democrats voted against it.

Martin pushed the vote through despite intense pressure from House and Senate members on Capitol Hill to delay it. The chairman, however, has the support of the White House, which has pledged to turn back any congressional action that seeks to undo the agency vote.

This is a tragic day for American society, and a justice issue for Christians to pray about and to act on. Today’s FCC decision overturned rules designed to support diversity of opinion and competition among news suppliers.

The number of media corporations that dominate our media has shrunk over the past 25 years from 50 to a very few elite conglomerates. Nearly 70 percent of the basic service channels on cable are owned by only a few companies like Comcast, Viacom, AOL Time Warner, Disney, General Electric, and the News Corporation. A significant number of the nearly 300 national television programming networks are owned by just 14 companies. Eighty percent of the country's daily papers are now owned by conglomerates.

The last time the FCC, led by another Republican (Michael K. Powell), attempted to relax the media ownership rules, they lost a major court challenge. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia concluded that the commission had failed to adequately justify the new rules, especially in light of overwhelming public outcry not to go through with the change.

Today’s FCC, chaired by Republican Kevin Martin, went through the motions of having public hearings before this latest decision, though it was very clear that Martin was not truly interested in hearing the public’s opinion. His mind was so made up in spite of public outcry that he wrote an Op/Ed piece for The New York Times last month before the final hearing in Seattle.

Seattle Congressman Jay Inslee, a member of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications looked at Martin in a recent congressional hearing and said, “When you have 1,000 people staying till 1:00 at night on a Friday, on the next Tuesday morning in The New York Times we see an op-ed by the chairman saying that he's going to propose rules that would basically ignore the testimony of these hundreds of people in Seattle the Friday before. Now, that troubles me because apparently, this is an op-ed that I can't believe wasn't written before this testimony was even listened to, and my folks in Seattle believe that they were treated like a bunch of chumps out in there that they had the FCC come out, fake like you're listening to them, and the deal was already done.”

The congressional leaders in both the House and Senate were stunned that the FCC would go ahead with the decision today in spite of the opposition from both Republican and Democrats.

In fact, senators from the two parties, Democrat Byron Dorgan and Republican Trent Lott, introduced legislation in November to halt the FCC’s decision to ease media ownership rules.

"We believe localism and diversity of media ownership is vital in a democracy," Senator Dorgan said. "Our bill recognizes the importance of a wide range of media owners and local content, and requires a process that does not rush past those concerns to open the gates for even more consolidation of media ownership. We believe there is value to local ownership in the media."

"Communities count on getting their local news from their locally-owned television stations and weekly and daily newspapers," Senator Lott said. "They know 'locally-owned' means they're invested in their communities and care about their well-being. If the FCC won't do their job to keep East and West coast media conglomerates from pushing out these local voices, then there is a role for the Congress to play."

In Martin’s New York Times op/ed, he proclaimed that we must allow newspaper corporations to buy television stations or radio stations in markets in which they already own newspapers, warning that “if we don’t act to improve the health of the newspaper industry, we will see newspapers wither and die.”

While it is true that newspaper circulation and profits are down, newspaper corporations still generate profit margins that are greater than Fortune 500 corporations. Also, according to Scarborough Research, “When online readers are considered, the story of newspaper readership for many papers transforms from one of slow and steady decline to one of vibrancy and growth.”

It is an injustice that the FCC's Martin has placed the media conglomerates' interest in profit above that of the public interest.

Let’s pray for justice in media ownership. We need mass media that is free to report the news unencumbered by the eye of corporate big money and free from a homogenized view of just a few conglomerates. Diversity of opinion and news-media competition are essential for the public to have a truly free press.

For a helpful in-depth report on this issue, see this video from Bill Moyers:

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Sorry for the Quiet Blog

Things have been very busy and hectic in the ministry, so I have not been able to blog like I like.

But there are a lot of ideas perculating in my head...
...especially as I read and as I think about how we are to incanate the gospel and live out "Emmanuel Apologetics."

Saw Rob Bell's "The Gods Aren't Angry" Tour the other night, and it was very good. There was certainly some room for critique (I did not agree with his every point), but as I looked at the audience and listened to the message as Bell told the sweeping story of how the God revealed in the Bible is different from the ancient religions, I just thought, "Thank God for Rob Bell."

He is connecting with a new generation of people with the Gospel of God's love.


World AIDS Day - This Saturday

Every year on December 1, people from around the world spend the day learning about AIDS and encouraging the millions of people suffering from it.

I am a member of The Chapel in Akron, where I lead an incarnational community. My friend Joel Daniel Harris, on staff at The Chapel (and on Associate Staff with the CCO) has designed an incredible interactive website, ChapelAIDS.org. It is a "tool to expand your own knowledge, a resource to pass on to others, and a reminder to spend time in prayer and in practical support of those who face AIDS daily."

In each section of this site you'll find some relevant information, images that provide the personal context, a prayer point, and a variety of resources and links.

I HIGHLY recommend you check it out. It really is an excellent way to prepare for this Saturday.

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YIKES! Do I really write so pompously?

This has been going around the blogs - Sivin Kit had it, and then Scot McKnight, which was followed by Michael Kruse.

You type in your URL and it tells you what reading level your blog is.

Can this really be true?
cash advance

This time, the ball bounces the Browns way

I've been a life-long Cleveland Browns fan.

And the last time the Browns won a title was the year I was born (1964).

It is very difficult being a Browns fan. It seems that there is some divine reason the Browns are not allowed to win big games. It seems that the ball always bounces the other way.

But this time. Oh, this time.

Against the hated Ravens (the former Browns!), Phil Dawson's 51-yard field goal to send the game into overtime bounced off the upright, caromed off the curved pole that holds up the field goal post, and inextricably flew backwards and landed in the end zone.

The officials under the filed goal looked at each other inquisitively, and Field Judge Jim Saracino signaled that it was no good. But Back Judge Keith Ferguson said that he thought he saw it hit the post behind the cross bar and insisted on this to Referee Pete Morelli.

Meanwhile, I'm at home yelling at the TV that the field goal was good. "It hit the post behind the cross bar!! It's gooooood!!"

And after watching the replays, there was no doubt. Good. And, even though field goals are not reviewable with replay, the Referee proclaimed that it was indeed good.


And then Victory.

This time, the ball bounced the Browns way.


Pat Robertson Backs Giuliani

WASHINGTON (Associated Press) — Televangelist Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, endorsed Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday.

"It is my pleasure to announce my support for America's Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, a proven leader who is not afraid of what lies ahead and who will cast a hopeful vision for all Americans," Robertson said during a news conference with Giuliani in Washington.

The former New York mayor backs abortion rights and gay rights, positions that put him in conflict with conservative GOP orthodoxy, and has been trying to persuade evangelical conservatives like Robertson to overlook their differences on those issues.

Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post’s “The Fix” writes,

While Robertson has been heavily courted by a number of presidential candidates -- most notably Mitt Romney -- in recent months, he decided to cast his lot with Giuliani in order to counter a movement among some evangelicals to support a third party candidate if the former New York City Mayor becomes the Republican nominee.

"I thought it was important for me to make it clear that Rudy Giuliani is more than acceptable to people of faith," said Robertson. "Given the fractured nature of the process, I thought it was time to solidify around one candidate."

He insisted that while some on the "fringe" of the social conservative movement may see Giuliani as an unacceptable nominee, the "core know better."

Robertson said although he and Giuliani disagree on social issues, those disagreements "pale into insignificance" when measured against the import of the fight against global terrorism and radical Islam. "We need a man who sees clearly how to deal with that issue," said Robertson.

The Wall Street Journal reports,

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that white voters who identified themselves as evangelicals are divided evenly among Mr. Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee came in fourth.

Recent endorsements underscore the divide. On Tuesday, conservative activist Paul Weyrich, another influential religious-right leader, said he backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination. But Mr. Weyrich made it clear his motivation is to keep the nomination from going to Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Romney faces opposition from some Christian conservatives wary of his Mormon faith. But that didn't stop Bob Jones III, head of the evangelical Bob Jones University in South Carolina, from endorsing Mr. Romney in October.
This election is forcing the evangelical community to decide whether it is more important to choose a candidate who shares their views or someone who can beat Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York…

…Other influential conservative leaders, including James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, have declined to pick a candidate but he has made it clear he opposes a Giuliani nomination. In an online column in May, Mr. Dobson said backing an abortion-rights supporter like Mr. Giuliani would violate "my conscience and my moral convictions."

His moderate stances on immigration and a cash-strapped campaign have worked against Mr. Huckabee -- a Baptist minister with a record against gay marriage and abortion -- with conservative activists. Questions about electability might explain why Mr. Thompson, who is positioning himself as the only true conservative candidate with a 100% voting record against abortion, has yet to receive a significant endorsement from the evangelical community.

I find it interesting (and quite disturbing) that it was on Pat Robertson’s TV show "The 700 Club," two days after 9/11, that Jerry Falwell blamed the attack on "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians," and Pat Robertson said, "Well, I totally concur."

Writing about evangelicals and their confusion as to who to endorse among the Republicans, David D. Kirkpatrick in The New York Times Magazine recently wrote,

The current Republican front-runner in national polls, Rudolph W. Giuliani, could hardly be less like their kind of guy: twice divorced, thrice married, estranged from his children and church and a supporter of legalized abortion and gay rights. Alarmed at the continued strength of his candidacy, (Focus on the Family’s James) Dobson and a group of about 50 evangelical Christian leaders agreed last month to back a third party if Giuliani becomes the Republican nominee. But polls show that Giuliani is the most popular candidate among white evangelical voters. He has the support, so far, of a plurality if not a majority of conservative Christians. If Giuliani captures the nomination despite the threat of an evangelical revolt, it will be a long time before Republican strategists pay attention to the demands of conservative Christian leaders again. And if the Democrats capitalize on the current demoralization to capture a larger share of evangelical votes, the credibility damage could be just as severe.

It certainly is an interesting time in politics for us evangelicals. What do you think?

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CCO Wins Top Rating at Charity Navigator

Charity Navigator is "America's premier independent charity evaluator" and "works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of America's largest charities."

Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator has become the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. They offer an unbiased, objective, numbers-based rating system to assess the financial health of over 5,000 of America's best-known charities.

Charity Navigator's rating system examines two broad areas of a charity's financial health -- how responsibly it functions day to day as well as how well positioned it is to sustain its programs over time. Each charity is then awarded an overall rating, ranging from zero to four stars.

As most of you know, I am an Area Director for the CCO, a campus ministry that partners with churches, colleges and other organizations to develop men and women who live out their Christian faith in every area of life.

has been awarded a FOUR-STAR rating.


Death by Blog Boredom

I've been "tagged" by Scott Berkhimer at his excellent blog, Theopraxis. He was tagged by the best Christian economist that blogs, Michael Kruse, who was tagged by David Ker of Lingamish.

The "meme" is meant to discover "five little-known treasures of the blogosphere" in order to put to death our blog boredom.

Follow the above links to discover these bloggers' suggestions.

Here are mine:
And here's one (for a shameless plug) that has a wealth of information that not nearly enough of my readers check out:

For those of you I listed, consider yourself tagged if you wish to join in. Let us know what five blogs you think are worthy of more people checking out!


"Campus Ministry Resources" Launches Today

The CCO has launched a new website today filled with a wealth of ideas on:
  • evangelism
  • discipleship
  • engaging and shaping the world
  • leadership development
  • multi-ethnic ministry
  • event ideas
  • group ice-breakers
  • Bible studies
  • speakers for campus fellowships
  • helpful articles

Check it out at campusministry.com

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Using Appreciative Inquiry to Discern Structure and Direction

Most evangelistic tools start with the theological grid that begins with the Fall and ends with Redemption. This is what Mike Metzger, of The Clapham Institute calls a “Two Chapter Gospel.” It leaves out chapter one (Creation) and chapter four (Restoration or Consummation). Appreciative Inquiry Evangelism seeks to discern, through positive conversation, those two missing chapters in a person’s life.

In order to honor the fullness of the “Four Chapter Gospel,” our evangelism needs to move beyond a truncated gospel proclamation of just Fall and Salvation. Our gospel is larger than that, so our evangelism needs to be larger than that as well. We must include all four chapters of God’s story of Recreation. Those chapters are:

Creation: God created all things and called them “very good.” This created cosmos, therefore, has a creational structure or order to it. This is the Shalom peace that God originally intended. Cornelius Plantinga writes that Shalom is “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight…Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” (Not the Way it’s Supposed to Be, Eerdmans, 1995, p. 10) Our evangelism must start here: exploring with people how they understand how things ought to be, helping a person discern their creational image-bearing goodness hidden in the fallenness of their depravity, affirming that God has created them as special human beings with much to offer.

Fall: We now all experience the perversion, pollution, and disintegration of Shalom due to humanity’s rebellion against the intended purposes of God. Because of the Fall, the creational structure or order of all things has been redirected in “a sinful deviation from that structural ordinance” (Albert Wolters, Creation Regained, Eerdmans, 1985, 2005 p. 88). Our evangelism must help a person understand and own their own culpability in this perversion of God’s intended purposes for his creation.

Redemption: In God’s grace, he has determined to redeem human beings, in order to restore the entire cosmos. God’s grace is restoring all of nature, “renewing conformity to God’s creational order” (Wolters, p. 88). Therefore the redemption of people must be seen as the central part of God’s intention to redeem all of creation. Our evangelism often conveys that God wants to save people from the created structure, when in fact God wants to save people from the perverse deviation of God’s structural order. He also wants to create a people who will be instrumental in redirecting this sinful deviation toward his intended purposes. As we read in Colossians,

15 He (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)

Our evangelism, then, must not be about promises of escape from this earthly experience into some heavenly bliss. It must be about joining in with God’s intended purposes for his creation. God is calling a people to be his redemptive agents in the world today.

Restoration: We all know how transformative it is to have a clear vision of the way things can be. This is true of evangelism as well. Part of our call to reach people is to call them into the hope of the eschatological future God holds for us all. As we see the way things will be, it calls us to, as much as we possibly can, bring that future into the present in small and large ways. Our evangelistic message of hope, therefore, is not a spiritual life divorced of the material world around us (as Greek Platonist philosophy would have us believe), but the message of hope for this created world, the world that God called “very good” will be restored, and we will have a place in it.

Therefore, our Appreciative Inquiries with people will help them discern “structure” (that is, the way things were meant to be, “Shalom”) and “direction” (the way things have been perverted, polluted, or disintegrated). But it does not end there. We ask people to join in God’s “redirection” (that is, the redemption of all things back on the course God intends for them) and we help them envision a world where everything is the way God intends it to be.

As Albert Wolters writes, “What was formed in creation has been historically deformed by sin and must be reformed in Christ.” (Creation Regained, Eerdmans, p. 91). We are inviting people into the reformation of all things.

More on Appreciative Inquiry Evangelism:

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CBS News on Evangelicals and the Vote for President

Check it out by following this link:
The GOP might lose its lock on evangelical voters as issues like gay marriage and abortion fall in priority to global poverty and climate change. Katie Couric reports.

The text of the CBS poll can be found here.

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How Movies Should Have Ended

How Star Wars IV: A New Hope Should Have Ended

How Superman Should Have Ended

How Lord of the Rings Should Have Ended

How Spider-Man 3 Should Have Ended


"On Further Review..."

In my last post on John MacArthur's book critiquing the Emerging Church (MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate), I ended up doing to MacArthur what he does to the Emerging Church.

MacArthur makes too sweeping of statements, applying Jude's statement about false teachers in Jude 4 ("For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord) to Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Stan Grenz, John Franke, John Armstrong, Chris Seay, and Donald Miller - calling them "apostates." This is a brazen way to disagree with people - to accuse them of denying Jesus Christ and condemning them to damnation. This kind of careless accusation breaks the ninth commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor."

However, in my zeal to show this and to help people see that MacArthur's category of "apostate" is too wide and too nebulous, I sought to show that his dispensational theology would fit his own categories of an "apostate."

Lewis Sperry Chafer, one of the key formational dispensationalists some 100 years ago famously said,
“The dispensationalist believes that through the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes: one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved which is Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly people and heavenly objectives involved, which is Christianity.”

As Mark Noll wrote in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,
"The supernaturalism of dispensationalism... lacked a sufficient place for the natural realm and tended toward a kind of gnosticism in its communication of truth." (p. 132)
What I was trying to articulate is this: Since gnosticism is not a Christian teaching, and since MacArthur is a dispensationalist, his accusation that the Emerging Church is apostate opens himself up to that same false accusation. His category of "apostate" is so nebulous, that the great Lewis Sperry Chafer can be called one.

However, I was not clear that MacArthur's brand of dispensationalism is more developed and nuanced than Chafer's. Therefore, my point was lost. Just as it is not right to make sweeping statements about a broad group based on the views of one or two people in that group, it is not right to make sweeping statements about a single person based on their identifying as being a part of a broader group. So, I apologize.

However, my point still remains: When we brazenly call people apostates, we had better be unequivocal about what exactly that apostasy is, identifying specific actions of those being accused and specifically pointing to the Bible to show where these actions are clearly condemned. MacArthur, famous for his meticulous exposition of Scripture, freely applies the exacting standard of Jude to the Emerging Church without proving it is the case (except to say, falsely, that they reject "truth").

If we were to use MacArthur's nebulous application of Jude 4, we could level the accusation of apostasy against just about anyone.

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MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate

John MacArthur versus the Emerging Church - 5
Review of The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception

I’d like to juxtapose three statements by John MacArthur in order to show that, while MacArthur is quick to label other Christians “false teachers” and “apostate,” these labels can just as easily be leveled unfairly at MacArthur.

Statement #1:
“What we are called to defend is no less than ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’ Jude is speaking of apostolic doctrine (Acts 2:42) – objective Christian truth – the faith, as delivered from Jesus through the agency of the Holy Spirit by the apostles to the church…Jude speaks of ‘the faith’ as a complete body of truth already delivered – so there is no need to seek additional revelation or to embellish the substance of ‘the faith’ in any way. Our task is simply to interpret, understand, publish, and defend the truth God has once and for all delivered to the church. That is what the Truth War is ultimately all about.” (p. 75)

So, MacArthur is saying that Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Stan Grenz, John Franke, John Armstrong, Donald Miller, and Chris Seay are all guilty of embellishing the substance of the faith in some way. They are not being loyal to the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.”

Let’s take this criterion and apply it to John MacArthur. MacArthur is a Dispensationalist, a form of theology that originated in the late 1800s with John Nelson Darby in England and in moved to the United States in the early 1900s when C. I. Scofield began teaching it. Don't miss this: Dispensationalism’s interpretation of the Bible is very novel, less than 150 years old. Dispensationalism insists that God deals with Israel and the Church differently through a dispensational grid and that this grid determines how we must interpret every passage of the Bible so that we can determine whether the passage is referring to Israel or the Church. It insists that the Church must be raptured away from the earth into its heavenly existence so that God can finish His plan for Israel in its earthly existence.

I repeat: This theology is new. It is not the same theological understanding that “was once for all delivered to the saints.” It grew out of a admittedly individualistic interpretation of the Bible (the Dispensationalists insisted that they were reading the Bible literally and letting the Bible alone determine their theology, with little regard for the history of interpretation).

So, using MacArthur’s criterion of whether someone is "seeking additional revelation or embellishing the substance of the faith in any way," Dispensationalists could be included. Now, I’m not saying that Dispensationalists should be included, just that MacArthur fits his own criterion for an apostate. Before he labels others as “false teachers” he had better know that, in doing so, he opens himself up to that same label.

Statement #2:
“Every form of gnosticism starts with the notion that truth is a secret known only by a select few elevated, enlightened minds. (Hence the name, from gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge.)…Another dominant variety of gnosticism (know as Docetism) taught that all manifestations of Jesus’ human nature – including His physical body (and hence His crucifixion and resurrection) – were only illusions. God could not really have come to earth in the true material form of authentic human flesh, the Docetists said, because matter itself is evil.” (pp. 89, 92)

Again, if we take this criterion and apply it to MacArthur’s theology, we see that he opens himself up to the same criticism. He talks about Gnostics in general and Docetists in particular, as if those in the Emerging Church are guilty of these heresies. However, it has been largely acknowledged that it is Dispensational theology that is the main culprit of gnosticism in the United States.

  • Dispensationalism stresses the hope of heaven over the hope of the redeemed earth.
  • Dispensationalism stresses the hope of a “rapture” over the hope of a resurrected physical life.
  • Dispensationalism stresses the importance of saving people from the earthly existence and inviting them into a spiritual, heavenly existence.
  • MacArthur’s own books on Heaven are filled with hints toward gnostic ideas that matter itself is evil; that true “glory” is when we move out of the fleshly existence and into the spiritual existence.

So, before MacArthur accuses others of being “false teachers” and “apostates,” he had better know that he opens himself up to the same accusations.

Statement #3:
“Truth (the simple truth of the gospel, to be specific) is necessary for salvation …(Romans 10:13-14). Scripture is clear about this: there is no hope of salvation apart from hearing and believing the truth about Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:21). That is why nothing is more destructive than false religion. Mere ignorance is devastating enough: ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’ (Hosea 4:6). But gospel-corrupting apostasy is the most sinister of all evils.” (pp. 119-120)

In light of MacArthur’s earlier warning against gnosticism, he had better be careful here. Remember that on page 89 of his book, MacArthur wrote, “Every form of gnosticism starts with the notion that truth is a secret known only by a select few elevated, enlightened minds. (Hence the name, from gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge.)”

One signature motif throughout MacArthur’s book is that he continually insists that what saves you is the knowledge of the truth. This, again, is a form of gnosticism: it teaches that Christians have a secret knowledge (gnosis) and that people are saved from this earthly existence by believing the knowledge that we can explain to them.
  • For MacArthur, evangelism is explaining what he knows is the truth to others.
  • For MacArthur, salvation is when someone accepts and knows this truth.
  • Therefore, according to MacArthur, the key to Christian ministry is the proclamation of specific truths, so that people will hear these truths, accept these truths, in order that they too will be “in the know.”

MacArthur is quick to point out that Jesus is truth incarnate, and that we need a personal relationship with Christ in order to be saved. THIS is the gospel. I wish he said this more often in the book.

However, the way he elevates “knowledge” as the key to salvation over and over again in this book opens him up to the accusation that he is the one that is hedging toward the apostasy of gnosticism, for it is not a secret knowledge of the truth that saves, it is a relationship with Christ that saves.

If MacArthur wants to point fingers at other teachers and accuse them of apostasy, MacArthur had better be ready for some of the same treatment in turn.

This is the basic problem with this book. MacArthur is seeking to label people "apostates" when they do not, in fact, fit the description. The proof is in that MacArthur himself fits his own description!

The Entire Series:
1: John MacArthur’s Post-Enlightenment Philosophical Understanding of “Truth”
2: Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God?
3: Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?
4: Straw Men – The Emerging Church is Filled with Hard Postmodernists
5: MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate

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Josh McDowell – “I’m Sick of McLaren and Bell Putting Me in the Modernist Camp.”

I ate lunch with Josh McDowell today. Some ministry leaders in Northeast Ohio got together to hear him talk about how we can reach young people in a post-Christian culture.

Now that I am in college ministry, I found it interesting to be sitting beside a legend in college outreach. I was at a table with Josh and five other people, eating turkey sandwiches and discussing college outreach ministry for about twenty minutes. This is the first time I met the man, and I was wondering what to expect. Being from the Emerging Church persuasion, I had some preconceptions of what he would say and what take he’d have on postmodernism.

After we ate together, he spoke to the larger group gathered for this luncheon. I was suspicious at first that he’d take the normal older-generation approach to “Truth” (as modeled by John MacArthur in my current series of posts on MacArthur’s book, The Truth War.)

McDowell started out calling for a belief in “Absolute Truth,” which he said he’d rather call “Universal Truth,” which he defines as “a truth that exists outside ourselves, one that is true for all people, for all times, for all places.”

I thought, “Oh boy, here we go again…He’s going to go on a tirade about how we have to fight for ‘Absolute Truth’.” He cited statistics where an astonishing 91% of “Born Again” Christians say that there is “no such thing as absolute truth.” This frightening statistic got the group of about 80 pastors and Christian leaders harrumphing in disgust. At this point of his presentation, I was skeptical of McDowell’s grasp of what the real issues are in the postmodern turn. But I held on, seeing how he will develop this and what solutions he would seek to offer.

McDowell then explained “how we got here,” with a quick review of history, from the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution to Darwinism, explaining that instead of God being the source of truth, nature and science had taken God’s place as that source. “Hmm,” I thought, “He’s pretty tough on Modernism. That’s good.”

He never said the word “Post-modernism,” preferring instead the phrase, “The Cosmic Shift.” He explained that we have experienced a shift in our epistemology. This shift is characterized by how the new generation processes truth. The older generation saw truth as something to discover, but the younger generation sees truth as something to create. The older generation said, “If it is true, it will work”; the younger generation says, “If it works, it is true.” In other words, the younger generation bases their idea of the true based on experience; they don't believe in things that have, in their minds, proven not to produce good results.

He then shot with two barrels at the pastors in the room. He said that the number one reason young people are leaving the church is because of the hypocrisy they see in the church. “It doesn’t matter how good your preaching is,” he said (I’m paraphrasing), “It matters more how that Dad you’re preaching to loves his kid at home. The kids need to have people in their lives that are actually living their faith.”

He said that Behavior comes from Values and that Values come from Beliefs. But at the base of all this is Relationships. So his first mandate to today’s ministries is “loving, intimate connections with our kids.” He said that the Bible says that we must have both “truth” and “love,” or we are not being Christian, citing these verses:

“For I am constantly aware of your unfailing love, and I have lived according to your truth.” (Ps. 26:2, NLT)

“Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth…for your love for me is very great.” (Ps. 86:11, 13)

“…speaking the truth in love…” (Eph 4:15, NAS)

“Unfailing love and truth have met together.” (Ps. 85:10)

McDowell pleaded with these Christian leaders that ministry to the young generation needs to bring together “unfailing love” and “truth.” He insisted that it’s not just about being sure of the truth, it’s also about lovingly showing it to people.

And then he said, “I’m sick of McLaren and Bell putting me in the modernist camp. I am anything but a modernist.”

He proclaimed that he was advocating a “Relational Apologetics” and that “all truth is through relationships.”

I was amazed. At first I thought McDowell would advocate a mere reasoned apologetics and a fight for the concept of propositional truth. While he certainly insisted on the concept of "Absolute Truth" and believed that the younger generation's rejection of this concept was a deeply troubling thing, he was not arguing for churches to fight the battle to make this generation believe in this concept. Instead, he was arguing for churches to create opportunities for young people to have genuine relationships with Christians so that they can experience what its like to live out their Christian convictions in real-life situations.

He was arguing for incarnational apologetics (what I’ve called “Emmanuel Apologetics”)!

To my surprise, I have more in common with Josh McDowell than I thought!

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Straw Men – The Emerging Church is Filled with Hard Postmodernists

John MacArthur versus the Emerging Church - 4
Review of The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception

MacArthur places a spotlight on Stan Grenz and John Franke’s book (Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context) as well as John Armstrong’s acceptance of the Grenz/Franke view (which irritates MacArthur because Armstrong had once been a strong ally of MacArthur, willing to write polemics in the fight for traditional Calvinist Theology). However, the spotlight only shines where MacArthur wants it to shine, in order to keep what these men believe in the shadows.

“Armstrong, Grenz, Franke, and the Emerging postmodernists have blurred the line between certainty and omniscience. They seem to presume that if we cannot know everything perfectly, we really cannot know anything with any degree of certainty…The fact that our knowledge grows fuller and deeper—and we all therefore change our minds about some things as we gain more and more light—doesn’t mean that everything we know is uncertain, outdated, or in need of an overhaul every few years.” (pp. 21-22)

MacArthur’s presumption is that the Emerging Church is filled with hard postmodernists.

But this is simply not true.

Most of us are either chastened foundationalists or soft postmodernists. We know that it is impossible to separate the "Subject" (the one seeking to "know") from the "Object" (that which we are seeking to "know"). Humans are limited and fallible, which affects everything in our epistemology. Everything we know, and everything that we can say about what we know, is to one degree or another limited and influenced by who we are, what we think, how we communicate, and what we want to be true. In other words, we agree with classic Christian theology that says that since we are fallen human beings, our minds’ ability to think correctly is deeply flawed. This is known as the noetic effect of sin. We are in need of God’s grace so we can “know God” in truth.

So, the question I raise is this: Why does MacArthur insist that the Emerging Church is full of hard postmodernists? Is it because if he builds a straw man out of the Emerging Church by labeling them hard postmodernists, he can easily burn them down?

He too easily dismisses these author's own insistence that Scripture is the normative authority for doctrine and practice. Why? I suspect that it is because it is easier to write a polemic against somebody if you paint them as terrible boogy-men than if you deal honestly with what they really say.

The Entire Series:
1: John MacArthur’s Post-Enlightenment Philosophical Understanding of “Truth”
2: Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God?
3: Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?
4: Straw Men – The Emerging Church is Filled with Hard Postmodernists
5: MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate

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Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?

John MacArthur versus the Emerging Church - 3
Review of
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception

The title of John MacArthur’s book should give us a clue to its major premise.
  • God has revealed to us the truth.
  • Postmodernism denies truth.
  • Therefore, postmodernism denies God’s revelation.
First, MacArthur defines truth.
“So what is truth? Here is a simple definition drawn from what the Bible teaches: truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Even more to the point: truth is the self-expression of God. (p. 2)

Few, if any, Christians would find anything in that definition to argue with. I think that even most of those in the Emerging Church conversation could go along with that definition.

MacArthur then defines postmodernism.
“Postmodernism in general is marked by a tendency to dismiss the possibility of any sure and settled knowledge of the truth. Postmodernism suggests that if objective truth exists, it cannot be known objectively or with any degree of certainty.” (pp. 10-11)
Here’s where we should pause and ask, Does MacArthur correctly identify the key characteristic of Postmodernism?

I’d say, no. There is a lot more going on in Postmodern thought than simple rejection of truth and certainty. MacArthur offers just a shallow assessment of the Postmodern crisis.

Postmodernism has more to do with the limits of language and those in power using "word games" to manipulate the marginalized than it does with the simple rejection of a settled knowledge of truth and certainty.
  • It recognizes that when people groups claim for themselves that they have a settled, certain knowledge of truth, they seek to force that onto others – often resulting in violence against the ones not in power. One just needs to look at the history of the Church to see this is true even in the body of Christ - where different sects in the Church, from Rome to Geneva, have killed in the name of truth.
  • It recognizes that those who have claimed such settled, certain knowledge of truth have often changed that truth over time. The issue is not the simple rejection of truth; the issue is the arrogant certainty that people have about their truth claims. Again, we snicker at Rome's Magisterium as it has changed its teachings over the centuries but we Protestants have seen so many manifestations of 'truth' in our developing theologies that we cannot possibly say that we've arrived at a settled and certain understanding of truth and have any integrity.
  • It also recognizes that Modernity deified Reason and the scientific method, resulting in people groups using these tools to legitimate their truth claims at the expense of others. The Church in Modernity had embraced these as well, seeking to prove the truth of our doctrines by way of logic.

Postmodernism’s incredulity to truth claims and certainty has a deeper root that MacArthur never seeks to understand. His simplistic assessment of Postmodernism only goes as deep as “the attack on propositional truth is the natural and necessary outworking of postmodernism’s general distrust of logic, distaste for certainty, and dislike for clarity. To maintain the ambiguity and pliability of ‘truth’ necessary for the postmodern perspective, clear and definitive propositions must be discounted as a means of expressing truth.” (P. 16)

That is intriguing rhetoric, but it offers little deep analysis of the postmodern turn.

The Entire Series:
1: John MacArthur’s Post-Enlightenment Philosophical Understanding of “Truth”
2: Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God?
3: Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?
4: Straw Men – The Emerging Church is Filled with Hard Postmodernists
5: MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate

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If You Could See Me Now in Heaven

Bad Theology About Heaven

Kim Noblitt’s song, “If You Could See Me Now” is a new standard at funerals. Seeking comfort in the wake of a loved one’s passing, many Christians are finding it in the words of the chorus.

If you could see me now,
I'm walking streets of gold.

If you could see me now,
I'm standing strong and whole.

If you could see me now,
You'd know I've seen His face.

If you could see me now,
You'd know the pain is erased.

You wouldn't want me to ever leave this place,
If you could only see me now.

North American Christianity has taught for the last Century that the ultimate destination of the Christian life is to pass on to heaven, a spiritual place where the streets are made of gold, where we are healed of our sicknesses, where pain is erased, and where we finally come face to face with our loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In our grief of the loss of a loved one, we are assured that this person is in a better place, and would sing to us, “You wouldn't want me to ever leave this place.”

While Noblitt’s song brings comfort to those who grieve, it gets only part of the biblical story right.

It is certainly true that when a believer passes from this life, he or she comes into the presence of the Lord. As the Apostle Paul wrote,

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.” (Phil. 1:21-23)

It must also be true that upon death, the pain and suffering that leads to death is erased.

But here’s what we need to get straight: Christianity is a faith that proclaims the hope of resurrection. Redemption in Christ is not just for the immaterial part of us (what is often called the “soul”), but also the material part of us – our bodies.

In other words, the ultimate destination for Christians is not when we die and go off to be with Jesus. Our ultimate destination is when our bodies are redeemed, set free from the ravages of sin. The redemption of our bodies will only occur when Christ returns and raises our bodies from the dead.

We wait eagerly for “the redemption of our bodies…for in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:23-24).

This hope of redemption is a physical thing – our material bodies and this material world. For not only are we, in our bodies, subject to the frustration of decay, the whole creation is as well. But the great Christian hope is that when our bodies are reunited with our souls and our bodies are resurrected imperishable (1 Cor 15:42), the “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21).

In other words, this world will be redeemed, made new (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1), for the purpose of our inhabiting it for all eternity. Our ultimate destination is not the heavenly existence we might experience after death, but the eternity of the “New Heavens and New Earth.” So, our loved one would not sing, “You wouldn't want me to ever leave this place.” They would probably sing, “This is great to be with Jesus now, but I really look forward to my ultimate hope - my body being resurrected so that I can dwell in the presence of God for all eternity, just like it was always meant to be.”

We will be “standing strong and whole” only after the resurrection, when our bodies will be glorified for eternal existence. The song gets a little confused here: Noblitt has wrote lyrics about the time when our souls are separated from our bodies. However, this is not the “End State” for the believer; it is what theologians call the “Intermediate State.” It is a temporary place.

As Mike Wittmer writes, “The Christian hope is that our departure from this world is just the first leg of a journey that is round-trip. We will not remain forever with God in heaven, for God will bring heaven down to us.” (Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God, p. 17)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

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Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God?

John MacArthur versus the Emerging Church - 2
Review of The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception

In the opening paragraphs of his book on the Emerging Church, John MacArthur cites an article in Christianity Today that included a profile of Rob and Kristen Bell.

MacArthur writes, “One dominant theme pervades the whole article: in the Emerging Church movement, truth (to whatever degree such a concept is even recognized) is assumed to be inherently hazy, indistinct, and uncertain—perhaps even ultimately unknowable…The idea that the Christian message should be kept pliable and ambiguous seems attractive to young people who are in tune with the culture and in love with the spirit of the age and can’t stand to have authoritative biblical truth applied with precision as a corrective to worldly lifestyles, unholy minds, and ungodly behavior. And the poison of this perspective is being increasingly injected into the evangelical church body.” (pp. x, xi)

This is a bold charge against Rob Bell and other voices in the Emerging Church movement.

People reading that should hear alarms sounding. MacArthur is purposely saying that Bell is a heretic—advocating a hazy, indistinct conception of truth that comes from an insidious desire to advocate worldly lifestyles, unholy minds, and ungodly behaviors.

John MacArthur equates those who espouse ideas associated with the “Emerging Church” to the false teachers about which Jude writes who secretly infiltrated the First Century Christian community. As Jude fought a truth war in his day, MacArthur is calling for a new truth war in our day. According to MacArthur, Jude 4 is contending for “truth” as the basis for faith. MacArthur promises his readers that he will apply this verse to today by discussing “why Jude’s warning is particularly applicable for the times in which we live.”( pp. xxv-xxvi).

Don’t miss this: MacArthur is stating that Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and anyone else who would embrace what they teach and pass them along in today’s churches are “certain men who have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for condemnation.” They are not really seeking to be faithful to the biblical faith but are “ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.


Does Rob Bell really fit this description?

In just a quick survey of Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, I found at least ten “truth claims” that Bell makes. Bell is very interested in getting to the truth.

Here’s one reference:
“God is the ultimate reality. There is nothing more beyond God.
Jesus at one point claimed to be ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ Jesus was not making claims about one religion being better than all other religions. That completely misses the point, the depth, the truth. Rather, he was telling those who were following him that his way is the way to the depth of reality.” (Velvet Elvis, p. 21, emphasis added)

Here’s another:
“I remember the first time I was truly in awe of God. I was caught up for the first time in my life of something so massive and loving and transcendent and…true. Something I was sure could be trusted.” (Velvet Elvis, p, 72, emphasis added)

It is certain that Bell calls into question a modernistic love for dogmatic confidence, but it is also certain that Bell is on a quest for truth.

It is certain that MacArthur is guilty of calling a brother in Christ, a fellow pastor who proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ, something that he is not - a godless man, condemned by God.

The Entire Series:
1: John MacArthur’s Post-Enlightenment Philosophical Understanding of “Truth”
2: Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God?
3: Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?
4: Straw Men – The Emerging Church is Filled with Hard Postmodernists
5: MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate

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John MacArthur’s Post-Enlightenment Philosophical Understanding of “Truth”

John MacArthur versus the Emerging Church - 1
Review of The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception

John MacArthur’s latest book seeks to take up the battle against those he claims have crept into the contemporary church as Christian teachers, but are actually denying the truth of Jesus Christ.

In his Introduction, MacArthur writes, “Scripture describes all authentic Christians as those who know the truth and have been liberated by it (John 8:32). They believe it with a whole heart (2 Thessalonians 2:13). They obey the truth through the Spirit of God (1 Peter 1:22). And they have received a fervent love for the truth through the gracious work of God in their hearts (2 Thessalonians 2:10)…Clearly, the existence of absolute truth and its inseparable relationship to the person of God is the most essential tenet of all truly biblical Christianity. Speaking plainly, if you are one of those who questions whether truth is really important, please don’t call your belief system ‘Christianity,’ because that is not what it is. A biblical perspective of truth also entails the recognition that ultimate truth is an objective reality. Truth exists outside of us and remains the same regardless of how we may perceive it.” (pp. xix-xx).

The presumption that MacArthur makes is that these biblical authors had the same conception of “truth” that the post-enlightened MacArthur has. My question to MacArthur is this: Would pre-Enlightenment biblical writers think of truth as “an objective reality?" Or, would they rather think of "truth" as something that they have seen and experienced?

This is the subtle nuance that we must understand if we are going to understand MacArthur’s point-of-view. It is a matter of how we define “truth.” MacArthur defines it in a philosophical manner that reflects his modernist, post-Enlightenment mindset. Truth is objective reality; something we can know through objective scientific observation that can be articulated with words that correspond to that objective reality. Above all, “truth” is that which is irrefutable and foundational to everything else. These irrefutable statements are the foundation upon which everything else we know can be based. For the modernist post-Enlightenment mind, without this kind of “truth,” our whole world would unravel into chaotic anarchy.

So, when MacArthur reads the texts he cites above, he reads “truth” as that which conveys objective, irrefutable reality, i.e., as foundational propositions that explain what is real.

What if, however, we defined “truth” in these passages in a way that a pre-modern Christian would, without all the baggage of Enlightenment philosophy? What if “truth,” according to the pre-modern mind, was simpler than all that? It could simply be that which explained experiences as they really happened, and it would be less tied to propositional statements and more tied to relational witness. "Truth," to the pre-Enlightenment mind, was probably less about statements that they would irrefutably base their lives upon and more about people and experiences.

For instance, in John 8:31-32 (cited above in the quote from MacArthur's book), Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” To MacArthur's modern enlightenment mind, the truth of the teachings is what sets you free. But what if these pre-moderns understood the “truth” that sets people free not just as Jesus’ teachings (as if his teachings, in and of themselves, can set people free) but as the very person of Jesus—that Jesus is the one who sets people free? For MacArthur, the teachings of Jesus have power, in and of themselves, because they are truth statements. This is no small distinction: Does a "teaching" have inherent power to set anybody free? Or is it the person of Jesus that sets people free? MacArthur's modernist approach to "truth" disconnects the person of Jesus from his teachings.

I contend that the pre-modern would have understood that the "truth" that sets people free as Jesus himself. In fact, later in the Gospel of John, Jesus indeed calls himself “the truth” (John 14:6). Jesus' teachings are not some objective truth devoid of the relational aspect of Jesus himself. Jesus' teachings do not exist in a vacuum. Without Emmanuel (God with us) conveying truth in person, the teachings cannot set people free.

This is where the confusion rests: MacArthur is upset that Emerging Church types are calling into question modernist conceptions of “truth.” MacArthur presumes that what this means is that the basis for faith, that is "truth" (the claims that Jesus is who he really is, did what he really did, and offers salvation to the world because of this), is being attacked.

This is a major misunderstanding by MacArthur. Just because we don’t buy the Enlightenment conception of “truth” does not mean that we deny a pre-Enlightenment conception of “truth.” MacArthur fears that those in the Emerging Church are completely rejecting the idea of “truth,” but this simply is not the case. What we are questioning is the modernist philosophical faith in knowing absolute truth as the basis of everything in life, especially things of faith.

For MacArthur, one must know truth in order to have faith. I would say that one must have faith in order to know truth.

The Entire Series:
1: John MacArthur’s Post-Enlightenment Philosophical Understanding of “Truth”
2: Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God?
3: Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?
4: Straw Men – The Emerging Church is Filled with Hard Postmodernists
5: MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate

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Akron/Canton Emergent Cohort Oct 12

October’s meeting of the Akron/Canton Emergent Cohort is going to be on the usual 2nd Friday of the month, which is the 12th.

The time is the same (8:00 PM) but the place has changed. We will meet at the Bennigan’s near Belden Village Mall (426 Dressler Rd NW, Canton, OH 44718 - see map).

Here is a blog post I wrote that we will be discussing:

Metanarrative Power-Grabs that Result in Violence

Akron/Canton Emergent Cohort blog

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Modern Apologetics: For Outreach or for Christian Edification?

When I first came to faith in Jesus Christ, one of the first books I read was C.S. Lewis’ classic book, Mere Christianity. Lewis became an instant hero. His clear, logically reasoned defense of the Christian faith helped ground me, helped me be confident that the leap of faith that I had just plunged into was not just dumb belief, but was also something that made sense. I was so grateful to Lewis.

In my first church experience, we talked a lot about the reasoned proofs for the faith. We quoted Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict; we bought books by Norman Geisler.

When I went to seminary, there was a department dedicated to the “Philosophy of Religion.” I had friends who majored in that, hoping to be the next Ravi Zacharias. Apologetics was a required course for my Master of Divinity, and I remember furiously taking notes in that class so that I could later equip people to defend their faith.

My first ministry was as a pastor for adult ministries in a church of about 600 people. I initiated a ministry to the college students in our church, recruiting some young men and women to lead worship and I preached a series called, “Prepared to Answer,” with messages that defended that God exists, why the Bible is inerrant, that Jesus was resurrected, that Darwinism is wrong, and how evil and a good God can be explained. In doing this series, I was reading deeply the heady writings of William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland. My thinking was that Christian college students needed to be “Prepared to Answer” since it is especially on secular college campuses that Christians had better be ready to make a defense for what they believe.

One of the worst feelings to have is to feel like an idiot. We fear that people will scoff at us who believe in Jesus Christ as if we have no brains. We want to prove them wrong. We want to know what we believe and why we believe it, as Paul Little instructs in his books. We want to show people, especially those who are in our educational institutions, that we can reason and debate with the best. Our faith is not idiotic. It is a “Reasonable Faith,” as William Lane Craig’s book calls it.

And my goal, as a pastor trying to equip Christians to do evangelism well in a secular world, was to help them have confidence that, in a world that demeaned Christians as unthinking people, they could have credible ways to defend the faith against the atheists who will inevitably attack them.

The problem was, most of us rarely meet anybody that we can actually use these arguments against.

What all these defenses of the faith actually accomplished, more than anything else, was to shore up our own belief system. We became assured that what we took on faith was not “just” something that people could believe based on faith, that people could also come to the reasoned conclusion that it was true.

It was almost as if having faith was not enough. Faith needed to be reasoned, it had to be able to be defended logically, or else it was invalid.

Faith without validation by way of reason was baseless, illogical, and therefore was open to the accusation of being downright stupid.

Why did we need reasoned arguments to ground our faith? It was because we were steeped in a modern cultural context.

Myron Penner writes,

"Modernity is often labeled as the Age of Science, or as the Age of Reason, but I would like to add one more moniker: Modernity is also the Age of Apologetics. In modernity, traditional forms of authority (viz. Church and State) are rejected and human reason is re-imagined as universal and objective so that it can fill the authority vacuum. In other words, it is to Reason (as universal and objective) that one must look in modernity for the authority and legitimacy of one’s beliefs and actions (and one must do it for oneself!)...

It is little wonder, then, that Christians found it necessary to take up the arms of modern rationality and defend themselves. In short, in response to the attacks on Christian belief from modern philosophy, modern evangelical Christians developed a “scientific” apologetic, modeled after the philosophical method and rigor of modern analytic philosophy, which attempted to establish the universal rationality of Christian belief using the same “objective” and “presuppositionless” premises required by modern empirical science." (A New Kind of Conversation)

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