Friday, May 23, 2008

sigh. This is not the best way to discuss the Trinity, is it?

It’s a terrible thing that outside of Christ, God is terrible.

Sometimes it won't help you to plead that a quote is taken out of context. This is one of those times. The trouble is that the Father sent the Son and the Spirit was with Him. The entire Trinity worked together for the sake of salvation so that "outside of Christ, God is terrible." has to be explained in terms that account for why God is so terrible if all three persons of the Trinity worked together for the sake of salvation. Does this mean it is terrible that outside of Christ God is terrible and unlovable to non-believers? Okay ... but, duh.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

emergent church not reaching the lost ... but what is the measure of who is being reached?

Found this linked to on the Boar's Head Tavern, which I obviously read quite regularly.

This is interesting to me because while I would be inclined to think emergent/emerging churches may not reach the lost (though Driscoll has described Mars Hill as emerging so I hope he'd be more precise about the terminology because I don't think Mars Hill is emergent but I've heard him describe it as emerging. A few months ago he described Mars Hill as emerging so I don't know why the church is not emerging recently but was a few months ago, unless the real point is that he doesn't care about the meanings of the terms anymore, which is fair enough, really). So, maybe the emergent churches don't reach the lost.

But who are the lost? Do these churches reach people who grew up completely unchurched or the nominally churched? I have met plenty of Christians over the years who were raised in Christian homes, turned on it, feel they were never really Christians, but had the seeds planted for decades. I just can't persuade myself that those people were really unchurched so much as people coming from Christian homes who were brought up to embrace the Gospel but simply didn't. How many adult conversions are of this stripe? They seem to me to be an embrace of childhood faith with the heart and mind of an adult, not necessarily a full-scale missionary interaction with someone who has never heard of Jesus before. In other words, these may not be people who were never Christians in the sense of having never been touched by residual Christendom in a supposedly post-CHristian culture, these were Jack Catholics or Protestants of convenience or filial obligation who simply never took to the faith but eventually came to appreciate it.

The reason I find it hard to treat these people as converts is because of SCripture, ironically. Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is older he will not depart from it. There we are, a biblical explanation for why most people who go to megachurches may not be unchurched people at all. Since I don't see that the church is necessarily ONLY supposed to reach the lost, it has a role in helping to deepen the walk believers already have with Christ the mission of the Church is to be the light of the world and that doesn't always mean GETTING THEM IN, it also means KEEPING THEM IN by reflecting Christ to them.

A term like "post-Christian" is the sort of thing Christians can talk about from the inside but which will seem like nonsense to the atheists and agnostics who grow up seeing "In God We Trust" on money and see TV preachers talking about how we need to get God back in America again. Unbelievers may fairly level the charge at us that when we talk about "post-Christian" culture in America we're not talking about anything so much as the loss of what we felt was a deserved home court advantage. If we view civil religion as an ENEMY of the truth faith then things could be more advantageous for the practice of true Christianity now than at any point in an overly lauded past.

If Fitch wants to make a more cogent argument, couldn't he point out that a church like Mars Hill probably has more people coming in who are ALREADY CHURCHED and already Christians? Probably not? Maybe the stats just aren't available, but the cross section of people I know consists of a spectacular majority who were raised in Christian homes of some kind, some of them may have been raised in Christian homes where they now repudiate that form of Christianity as unorthodox or not really Christian but that's beyond the pale of any statistical verification as far as I can tell.

This is not to knock growth at Mars Hill, as such, but it's a caveat about what gets measured. If you measure church growth in terms of people who were completely unchurched rather than people who were in some way churched perhaps the growth of megachurches is accountable more by virtue of shifting allegiances within Christendom than actual conversions. This is a relatively old observation in terms of sociological work, isn't it?

Per commentary, what if the ratio of the unchurched who join the emergent village is proportionally the same as the number of unchurched who join a megachurch? What if the exodus to the emergents or the megachurches simply reflects standard internecine squabbles we've seen going on in Protestantism for the last three decades? This has been going on long enough that we could probably safely say that a certain percentage of Protestants will convert to Orthodoxy or Catholicism simply to get off the merry-go-round. PErsonally I've got no problem with the merry-go-round because of epistlemological issues but I won't get into that. We'll just say I don't mind being Protestant and won't complain if some people don't embrace it because if they love Christ, that's the important thing.

The idea that in a post-Christian society unbelievers need time to come to a decision, I don't know about that. We don't see the Gospel spreading that slowly in the apostolic era, do we? Or does the apostolic era simply not count?

I would tend to agree that most of what seems to be the emergent church isn't reaching the lost. I just can't shake the feeling that megachurches are not really the alternative, that they aren't really reaching the lost either. Even in a city where statistically the number of professing evangelical Chrstians is amongst the lowest in the land I wonder about the reliability of the statistics. Let me put it this way, if you don't count ANY Methodists or Lutherans because you don't consider them to be Jesus-loving Bible-believing Christians than you skew the entire statistical survey into thinking Seattle is the least-churched city in America and atheists will, not without some grounds, ask, "So what are all these CHURCHES doing in the least-churched city in America?" I mean, it got asked point blank on an old discussion forum hosted by Mars Hill Church. Even though I think the point was purely polemical I can't help but wonder where the stats are. As pundits are fond of pointing out, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

I'll put it this way, I've got friends who are Episcopalians who love the Lord but wouldn't be counted among those who love Jesus and believe the Bible depending on what statistical measurements are being used.

I'm not sure that the megachurch is really reaching the lost as appealing to the apathetic. Appealing to the apathetic is valuable, however, so I would submit that one goal is being oversold in megachurches while the other is potentially undersold by both the megachurch and the emergent village (whatever that is).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

There is no advice to follow better than that which was no followed. ;)

So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

This is for me a little stroll down memory lane. I managed to not do the things that were not done by those who taught me a few things. That might make me a failure. I have a few relatives who understand what this means. Sorry, I'm just being a smart-ass.

obscure sayings

Once there was a city within a city, or maybe it was a home in the heart of the city near a little school by a canal. It's not as though those distinctions matter for the sake of this story, do they? Liberated, free, a methodically capable organization, it aspired to be that home in the heart of the city. It probably still is.

Ten years later, on the other side of the canal, another larger organization desired to be a city within the city, which is more or less the same thing. Why they wanted to be what already was, no one knows but since there is nothing new under the sun it falls to every generation to reinvent the wheel.

At one point in the past, perhaps during a famine?, there was a family that sought grain from a neighboring land. Elimelech went out to seek for grain for his family during a time of famine. Was it famine? Tough to say. Elimelech at any rate identified himself as such and said that his name means "My God is king" and that if he ever actually needed help he'd give God a call. It was around the time of this confession that the plan to create a city inside the city came about and Elimelech announced the plan over the course of a few months.

Years and years ago there was a place overrun with zombies. The zombies aspired to take over the world, or their little part of it, to proclaim their message to anyone who would listen and a few who wouldn't. The zombies were led by someone who wanted them to stop being zombies that would just hurt each other and others but since he himself was a zombie who had helped model zombiehood to them all it was tough to know how the model zombie could show the other zombies how to be zombies who wouldn't do what zombies normally do. Nevertheless, the zombie tried very hard and several prominent zombies are now quite well-behaved, so perhaps the effort was a success. All the same, there was the possibilty, perhaps, that if the model zombie had not modeled bad zombiehood so forcefully he wouldn't have had to find a way to get the other zombies to fall into line and behave better. But then pre-emptive medicine is so very difficult when you're already a zombie!

And perhaps things go further back, to a nation of purring little kittens that had to be rebuked because, by any means possible, they had to be reached by someone who doesn't like cats. Perhaps things go that far back, perhaps the seeds were all there, the seeds of what remain a mystery. Turning cats into dogs is hard to do, especially if a dog person just doesn't like cats even though both dogs and cats come from the same place.

Monday, May 19, 2008

a haircut can make a world of difference

Why did Samson let his hair get cut? Wasn't he asleep? Didn't he notice when he woke up his hair was cut? If he didn't notice the strength of the Lord had left him couldn't he at least notice the hair cut? Why is it that when the Spirit departs we so rarely sense it. Even Saul sensed it and yet Samson didn't. Why? If his hair was cut and he thought he would fight Phillistines like he did before why was he so unaware that now was going to be very different? The Lord didn't just lift the shield from him, He gave him over to his enemies on a silver platter. Was Samson so confident the spirit of the Lord would never depart from him even after selling the farm?

rumors never die, they turn into spam

Removal of T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer and others Pastors Removal of T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer and other Pastors from the ...An organization has been granted a Federal Hearing on the same subject by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Washington , D.C.

Their petition, Number 2493, would ultimately pave the way to stop the reading of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, on the airwaves of America . They got 287,000 signatures to back their stand! If this attempt is successful, all Sunday worship services being broadcast on the radio or by television will be stopped. This group is also campaigning to remove all Christmas programs and Christmas carols from public schools! You as a Christian can help!

We are praying for at least 1 million signatures. This would defeat their effort and show that there are many Christians alive, well and concerned about our country. As Christians, we must unite on this.
Please don't take this lightly. We ignored one lady once and lost prayer in our schools and in o ffices across the nation. Please stand up for your religious freedom and let your voice be heard. Together we can make a difference in our country while creating an opportunity for the lost to know the Lord.

Please, if you don't wish to participate, return this email to whoever sent it to you so they can at least keep this email going or forward it to some one you know who will wish to participate. Dr. Dobson is going on CNBC to urge every Christian to get involved. I hope you will sign and forward to all your family and friends.

Please press forward, CLEAN UP THE MESSAGE, and forward this to everyone youthink should read this. Now, please sign your name at the bottom (you can only add your name after you have pressed 'Forward' or you have cut and pasted the text).

Don't delete any other names, just go to the next number and type your name.Please do not sign jointly, such as Mr. & Mrs., each person should sign his/her own name. Please defeat this organization and keep the right of our freedom of religion.

Aah, this old rotten nugget got revived. Not only has this recent variation of spam gotten debunked by the FCC but also by Focus on the Family.

But guess what, folks? It gets better. The names like Jakes and Meyer come up but the bit of news you may not have heard lately is that if this spam hits you and includes names like Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, or Benny Hinn then the connection you may be sensing is not banning religious broadcasting from the airwaves. That sucking sound is more likely to be this:

Yep, that's right federal investigations of fraud and misappropriation of funds. I suppose some might say "how dare they?" So if you get something like the above, if you feel so inclined, direct the senders to some of the news of the day, like investigations into possible criminal behavior. It's not about stifling freedom of speech or religion, it's about allegations that crimes have been committed by mass-media-using churches. In the late 1980s the scandals were about sex like Baker and Swaggart. This the problems are money and how preachers may feel entitled to help themselves form the abundance they get from the flock. Even if a few of these preachers get shut down the Gospel will not be harmed. I mean, really, how could it be harmed?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, or just the boastful pride of life

Something I am contemplating lately is that at my church there's a tendency to bottom-line sins to the boastful pride of life rather than explore how things are fueled by the lust of the flesh or the lust of the eyes. Just finished a summary on Puritian writings on spiritual warfare and it's interesting that the Puritans don't bottom-line things in that way, despite the fondness of my church's leaders here and there for Puritan writings. The boastful pride of life seems to be described more in terms of the acclaim and prestige that is craved, the unmerited praise and applause of other men, seeking to have glory and renown in the world. In other words, to be considered a person or force to be reckoned with.

I am wondering lately if at my church a failure to distinguish between these categories outlined by the apostle has created problems in our ability to address sin. If the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes are reduced to the boastful pride of life then this reductionist methodology not only eschews millenia of Christian tradition across confessional lines but it does not even retain consistency with the Puritan legacy I have heard praised at the church. The boastful pride of life is most likely to be a temptation for the leaders and not necessarily the led, though this enticement of the flesh and the enemy could come from any quarter to anyone at any level in a flock.

If we are undisciplined with alcohol or sex or food that is obviously a lust of the flesh. If we crave the newest and best this or that then we are coveting, lust of the eyes. It seems a person can be very strict with himself on the lust of the flesh but cave in before the lust of the eyes, coveting things he doesn't need as a sign of status or comfort. But the pride of life is not quite the same as these other two because it seems as though the prize is importance imparted by others, to "be somebody", somebody of formidable account. The lust of the eyes doesn't care if I'm important or not, it's just a matter of my wanting what I think I deserve.

But lust of the eyes and the pride of life can intertwine. If someone wants to have the right things to be respected the two sinful impulses intertwine when godliness with contentment is, as Scripture says, great gain.

Still, it's ever so tempting to blame others before yourself because it's easier to blame someone for making you wish you were, say, married, than to admit you're coveting something. It's easier to blame someone for making you feel inadequate about your knowledge or possessions when if you didn't covet what you don't have you wouldn't mind that you have only what you have.

But to bottom line sin as though it were just one or the other atomizes our nature. We are neither merely flesh nor merely spirit.

What's unfortunate about what at least seems to be a failure to distinguish between the three worldly impulses is that it seems like it wasn't really all that long ago that we went through the Johannine epistles. They are short, simple works the repay continued visitation. I suppose that would stand to reason, since they got canonized. To use a possibly faulty analogy, I sometimes worry that churches and people that fail to distinguish between the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life boil things down to pride and that this is like saying that any time a person coughs it's a sign of a spiritual flu. It might be, but it might be a sign of a cold, or of a much more destructive illness. The cough by itself can't be taken as the only symptom of the spiritual ailment.

To extrapolate a bit, I have found it interesting that we are not really told why Moses was so unwilling to be sent by Yahweh to speak to His people. I have considered that that absence may be there so that when we read Moses' unwillingness to go we read ourselves into his place. Where one guy sees false humility I might see outright stubbornness. The guy who insisted on false humility was so certain about it and so certain that the text backed him up that I began to suspect a certain amount of false humility from him (this was a fellow who, in a completely different on-line context once told me he wanted to actually win a theological argument for once, which to me speaks volumes about why he kept seeing false humility in Moses while I saw Moses as a disobedient bastard who just didn't care if Israel was languishing because he just didn't really want to go).

Which is to say that I really think God provides gaps in the failures of some saints so we can see our failures in them. We don't seem to do this. In fact the book of Job devotes a great chunk of time to people presuming that Job had problems because of his sin and ironically being rebuked by God for not speaking the truth about Him. There comes a point when our reading theological and moral error on to other people may only be a sign of our own failure, not the failure of the other person.

Perhaps, just perhaps, that might be why the apostle writes that we should consider other people as better than ourselves, not because they aren't sinners, but because we may be too quick to impute our own sins to others rather than see them in ourselves.

And coming full circle, it may be easy to read the boastful pride of life on to someone else's life when they may be struggling with the lust of the flesh. Everyone struggles with all three worldly impulses but not all in the same way. I think the gist of the passage is probably to encourage self-diagnosis through prayer, reflection, and study of the Word, not to exclude confession and discussion with brothers and sisters in Christ, obviously.