Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Relativism (page 1 of 2)

How to React to the Fall of Rome – Part 2

In the previous post we saw that the ancient church’s view of a historical phenomenon (namely, the Roman Empire) shifted dramatically within the space of a few generations, on account of their particular experiences with that empire.

I would suggest that we have seen something somewhat similar take place over the past few generations up until our day–though not with an empire, per se.

I think it is particularly interesting to see how many Christians lament over the end of modernism the way Jerome mourned the fall of Rome. So many of us weep over modernism as if it was a Christian creation, designed for the spread of the gospel–God’s chosen means for reaching the world.

In reality, there is little that is further from the truth. In and of itself modernism was never a friend to the gospel. Secular modernist philosophers and scientists have always used modernism as a means of attacking and discrediting the claims of the Christian faith.

For all the ways that modernism has provided a platform for displaying the truthfulness of Christianity (text criticism, archaeological studies of ancient cities, much of creation science, etc.), it was never a ‘Christian’ view.

The trustworthiness of Christianity in a modern mindset boils down to little more than making a ‘case for Christ’ logically. The trouble is that Christianity, by its very nature, will not fit in these categories.

All that we are as Christians is based on the claim that Jesus Christ was entirely God and entirely man, lived a perfect life fulfilling God’s law, suffered and died to take on the curse of the law for us who receive his righteousness, and that God really did physically and literally raise him from the dead.

But here’s the deal: I can’t prove that to you in a scientific way. I can point to evidences, but that’s all. There is something necessarily personal and experiential (existential?) about the Christian faith. What we believe is not relativism, because our believing does not determine whether something is true or false, but our faith is what saves us.

In other words, it’s something personal, internal, ‘unprovable’ that makes all the difference in the world. That’s what our religion is based on. This is the kind of thing that modernists can’t grasp. They want something to touch, to examine, to test, to prove.

So what then? Do we rejoice over the fall of Rome? Do we rush off to align ourselves with the newest invaders who have come to expose Rome’s weaknesses? Do we embrace all that is postmodernism with open arms?

I suggest that we do what Augustine did. We use this opportunity to look around and evaluate from the perspective of eternity. What about modernism was evil and passing? What was good? What reflected God? How was modernism used for the spread of the kingdom?

And then, we ought to begin asking some careful questions about the ’empire’ that is coming upon us. How can we use its strengths and its weaknesses to further the cause of the kingdom? How does postmodernism provide ways for the gospel to go forth that modernism never would?

In the end we must remember that neither modernism nor postmodernism is ‘God’s perspective.’ These philosophical mindsets are of man, and they will pass. We need to examine the world around us closely so that we can see how to better hope in, trust in, and point to the world that is to come.

On the ‘Inadequacy’ of Language

I’ve often come across (and myself even flirted with) several forms of the notion that language is entirely ‘inadequate’ to describe God. In fact, I still in many ways find this to be true. No language can exhaustively declare the reality, the beauty, the holiness of our Triune God.

What is unfortunate, however, is how often people in our day will take their queues from neo-orthodoxy and give up on propositional language at all to describe God. God becomes one meant to be experienced rather than spoken of.

I have found some observations from Vern S. Poythress on this topic to be quite helpful, so I thought I’d post them for your pondreing as well.

On what basis are we to make judgments about adequacy and inadequacy … ? What could we mean by saying that human language is inadequate to talk about God … ? In what way is it “inadequate”? And what do we expect talk about God … to be like? Our expectations and definitions of “adequacy” … are themselves shot through with values, with preferences, desires, standards, and perhaps disappointments at goals that we set but are not reached. Where do these values come from? If God is Lord, we ought to conform our values to his standards. Hence there is something intrinsically rebellious about negatively evaluating biblical language [for its adequacy as “God talk”].[1]

He continues, pointing out the self-defeating nature of these notions of the uselessness of language to speak of God:

How does the objector obtain the necessary knowledge about God, truth, and cultures in order to make a judgment about the adequacy of language for expressing theology and truth, and for achieving cross-cultural communications? How does he do this when he himself is largely limited by the capabilities of his own language and culture?[2]

So, what can we say to all these things? Is language enough to speak of God sufficiently? Absolutely not. But at the end of the day, I think it’s safest to land where Augustine does, after spending a page of small print describing some of the glorious mysteries of God:

You are my God, my Life, my Holy Delight, but is this enough to say of you? Can any man say enough when he speaks of you? Yet woe betide those who are silent about you!

I may never be able to describe God completely, but may that never stop me from spending every last breath he gives me declaring his goodness and his glory!


[1] Vern S. Poythress, “Adequacy of Language and Accomodation,” in Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible, ed. Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 353.

[2] Ibid., 354.

Denial of Sola Scriptura Leads to Subjectivism

I’ve got a Greek exam tomorrow, and the passage I’m studying tonight is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I couldn’t help but stop to ponder a few things when I got to these verses:

For truly I say to all of you, until heaven and earth pass away, one iota or one dot will not pass away from the Law, until all has come about.

A couple brief points worth noting here. (1) Jesus uses a cool little word play, ‘pass away’, that is often missed in English translations. (2) Jesus uses a really strong negation to indicate that not a single dot on an ‘i’ or cross on a ‘t’ could pass from Scripture until all heaven and earth are done away with.

So what? Well, I got to thinking this: For those who are willing to accept the basic tenets of verbal plenary inspiration and sola Scriptura these verse indicate that the Word of God is perfect, and sufficient for the needs of humanity until the end of the earth.

These verses will do little, however, to convince someone who is not already persuaded of this position. They will simply make snide remarks about the ‘Matthean community’ which produced this text. Some comments might be made about the Matthean variation from Q here or some Jew-pleasing in this Jew-oriented apologetic book. Either way, they will be unconvinced.

That’s fine, I suppose. They see it as circular logic to argue from Scripture that Scripture is authoritative, sufficient, God-breathed, etc. If that’s the line you want to take, fine, but please realize that the beginning and end of this view is subjectivism, if you want to find any good in the Bible at all.

How’s that, you ask? Well, as long as Jesus is talking about social justice or moral virtues most people are fine with him. When he’s speaking up for women and including them in his ministry people today love him.

When he talks about the need for perfect righteousness, or the reality of hell, they hate him. They say he’s been tampered with, adulterated, his words have been changed by the corrupt church seeking to suppress the historical Jesus who was just too much of a rebel for us to handle.

Hoogly. You can say that only if you take the texts that you want to take and reject the ones you want to reject. You can cite all kinds of Gnostic nonsense, text-critical trash, or church conspiracy claptrap, but in reality all you’ve done is import your own desires for what you want Jesus to be on to the text, and then let than determine which texts are ‘authentic.’

The only people who have any hope of discovering Jesus for who he said he was are those who accept Sola Scriptura. Why? Because then it’s not me deciding what issues I really believe Jesus would speak on, or what he would really say about them. I have to let the text speak. I have to honestly do business with the text that exists and somehow let that form my understanding of who Jesus is.

I start with the Bible and end with the Bible. I let it shape and conform my mind’s image of Jesus. To pick and choose verses and chapters from the gospels and the NT epistles which I will adhere to is to conform the Bible to my understanding.

Even worse, it’s to make my God in my own image.

It’s ultimately subjective.

What About Other Religions?

I’ve gone back and forth a bit on this issue, so if you’ve thought about it, I’d love some input. Here’s the question: How much value is there in other world religions? How much time should we spend studying them? When we study them, how should we study them?

Before I went to college, I was of the mindset that there was very little value in getting to know other religions in a meaningful way. For good or for ill, by the time I was done at Heritage, I had come perilously close to being convinced that we needed to know other religions. Buddhists were asking better questions than Christians. Many Muslims are more devout than Christians. World religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, even the Bha’i people, had accumulated great wisdom over the centuries, and Christians would do well to learn from them.

Or would we?

Once out of that environment, I began to realize that there were some serious inconsistencies in the ways that I thought. My good friend Rielly had taught me some about the import of the noetic effects of sin (the effects of sin on the mind). My belief in the doctrine of original sin and mankind’s total inability also seemed to be at odds with finding wonderful positives in godless, man-made religions.

Today I was pondering a little bit more what exactly I believe with regards to elements of truth in other religions, and how we should react to / interact with them, and I got to thinking about the Bible.

Obviously, things are pretty clear in the Old Testament. God was straight-out against his people having anything to do with the godless nations around them. But much of the crowd at my college seemed (if not always with words, then with attitudes and hermeneutics) to dislike this ‘God’ and this ‘ethic’ of the Old Testament and were very happy to proclaim that we have advanced far beyond that type of thing now.

So what about the New Testament?

This is where I got stuck. We have Paul’s interaction with the pagan philosophers on Mars Hill in Acts, which seems to be the thing that everyone seems to appeal to in order to make their point on this topic. Remarkably, everyonse seems to have their own take on his this interaction should impact our interaction with other religions and our apologetics today. I’m wondering: what other New Testament texts do we look to here? What texts have you found helpful?

What about Jesus? Many emerging-types like to claim that they are ‘red letter Christians’, not ‘Paulians’, so we should deal with Christ. They claim that his harsh words were always for the religious hypocrites (Pharisees), never for anyone else. But it seems to me that Jesus would often use the ‘Gentiles’ / ‘nations’ (ie. ‘pagans’) as a negative example. In other words, ‘Don’t worry, because that’s what the pagans do.’ Or, ‘Don’t just love your brother, because that’s what the pagans do.’

Am I wrong? It would appear that Jesus felt free to hold up the false religions as examples of godless ‘morality’, whose standards and thoughts ought to be avoided at all cost. As I said, I’ve gone back and forth on this, so I am open to being wrong again. If you’ve thought about this already, please advise.

The Catchphrase That Can’t…

Much has been made in other places about the cheesy PoMo quasi-evangelical catchphrases such as ‘dialogue’, ‘story’, ‘journey’, ‘romance’, etc. I would like to comment here on the term ‘conversation.’

A ‘conversation’ is apparently when more than one PoMo gathers, and they begin to speak. They pile up one non-descript cliché (see above for some popular choices) on top of another, each describing their own ‘authentic experience’ (their story) which becomes, to each of them, uniquely authoritative for their own journey.

Perhaps the reason why these ones are so quick to devalue language and its inherent meaning is because they simply have chosen to create a dialect of their own, in which each one of the seven (7) words they know becomes entirely defined by its own context (the word’s story??). Interpretation, then (and thus, meaning, as well), is entirely in the ear of the hearer.

No wonder they can connect and have such wonderfully meaningful ‘conversations’… Everyone tells me my own interpretation of their story… which I interpret the way I do because of my own story… how wonderful!

All that, however, is simply by way of introduction. The reason I wanted to write about the term ‘conversation’ is because I feel it has been violated, perhaps worse than the others.

It is often stated that the truly ‘missional’ Christian will not seek to win ‘converts’, but rather to make ‘relationships’ which will lead to truly ‘meaningful’ and ‘mutually beneficial’ conversations. Only mean old moderns want converts. Hip missional Christians know that conversations are much better.

But that is a lie. This catchphrase simply doesn’t work the way they want it to work (which is quite sad, really, because it does sound very pious of them).

The trouble is that conversation is not the goal of a Christian. Conversion of sinners is. While I understand that many emergent types are reacting against the old ‘crusade’ style of evangelism, they are throwing not just the baby, but also the mother, out with the bathwater.

To be a Christian means that I love God. It is to God’s glory to see sinners saved. That’s why he sent his Son… that’s why we’re called to go to every nation and make disciples. We’re not told to go to the ends of the world to stake our share in the marketplace of ideas.

To be a Christian means that I love others. I love because God first loved me. Being saved, I know that it is to the benefit of any man, woman, boy, or girl to be saved. To know Jesus is the most eminently wonderful joy the soul could ever know. Why would I want to deny to someone that I really want them to know the greatest, truest, only absolutely sovereign joy the world will ever know? So that we could ‘have conversation’?

What a joke.

Either you desire sinners to be saved, or you’re not a Christian because you obviously haven’t understood that it’s to the glory of God and for the good of the person for them to be saved!

So one of two things is happening here. Either these wonderfully conversational emergent types are really seeking conversions through conversations (which seems awfully deceptive… why not just say what you mean? Tell them what you really want!) or else they really think that the world has as much to offer them as they have to offer the world.

If the latter is their mindset than I would argue it is true. The world does have as much to offer as they do… which is absolutely zero. Only a heart that has never experienced the true grace and love of God in the forgiveness of Christ and the comfort of the Holy Spirit could ever think that the world has anything to offer them.

Misunderstanding McLaren (or, Conversing About the Journey of a Man and the Interpretation of That Journey)

Justin Taylor did this better back in July. I recommend reading that post over mine.

That being said, I couldn’t help but notice some serious irony the past few days as I’ve been reading. As Taylor noted, it seems that whenever emergent-types are criticized, they respond with (a) “you hurt my feelings,” and / or (b) “you don’t understand us.”

Brian McLaren is no exception.

The article I read yesterday is a case in point. McLaren has been critiqued over and over again. His response: “You don’t understand us.”

Thus, his solution (at least in part) is the article cited above. In that article he “tells his faith story” so that he will let us all see “the real man,” in hopes that we will be able to contextualize his writing and understand what he is trying to communicate.

The irony of it all is simply this: It’s typically the argument of these pomo post-propositional guys that we should employ a reader-oriented hermeneutic (to Scripture and otherwise).

So… in reality, the message isn’t determined by McLaren as he writes, but by us as we read and interpret. Really, then, he’s misunderstood himself, I suppose, if I think he’s said something he doesn’t think he said. Boy, does that suck. Ah well. He’s fallible anyway (aren’t we all?), so who’s to say with certainty that he knew what he wanted to say in the first place?

I guess now he knows how the biblical authors would feel, were they alive to be subjected to the types of interpretations he and his cronies come up with.

A Harmful Humility

You all know her. She’s the beauty queen who, for some reason, won’t admit to being beautiful. Some people think she’s fishing for compliments, others think she’s got self-esteem issues. In reality, false humility is just annoying. If you’ve got no reason to think you’re ugly, why insist on it when the evidence is otherwise? That’s not true humility. True humility would be knowing how to acknowledge the truth of a compliment (based on fact) and accept it gracefully. There’s not much nicer than a person who can take a compliment well.

There’s another person we all know. He’s the guy in your class who insists that he really will fail this test this time, even though everyone knows he’s the smartest guy in the class and he has studied for this for weeks. False humility is true pride in disguise.

Why pretend you’re not beautiful when you are? Why pretend you’re not smart when you are? Is it helpful? No, it just annoys people.

Why do Christians nowadays find it so trendy to say “I don’t know” all the time, when we really do?

The plain truth is that we can know truth, and everyone knows it’s true… so why pretend like we can’t? Is that humility?

Moses was the meekest of all men. Seems to me he was pretty certain about some convictions he had. Jesus was meek. People wanted him lynched several times over before he was finally killed for the drastic truth claims he made. Paul, Peter, John… the list goes on and on. They all claimed to know a truth that was worth suffering for. In fact, Paul said in more than one place that he considered that all the sufferings he went through were not even worthy to be compared with what the Lord has for us. Seems to me he was pretty certain about that.

I wonder how many of the saints in Hebrews 11 would concede that perhaps there was salvation outside of God’s revealed plan of redemption? All those guys and gals were special though. Guys like me should maybe be more humble… maybe I shouldn’t get so excited about the things that I “know” to be true, when really it’s just what I “believe.”

That’s not humility.

If the Bible says it, it is true humility to subject myself to its truth, whether or not I can conceive of a God who is glorified in the damnation of millions. I am just a little guy… so why should I be able to conceive of a God anything like the real God of the Bible, the Creator of the universe, the Great I am, who was and is and is to be?

In humility I stand on the authority of the Word of God and declare that salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name by which we may be saved. In humility I confess that I do not comprehend God, but I comprehend things from his Word. Things like the fact that all are guilty and deserving of hell, but are justified (saved, declared innocent, made righteous) because of his grace, through our faith which came to us freely, as a gift from him.

Humility does not demand that I deny I have received these gifts and others have not. Only a fool tries to deny that he has what he has. Humility demands that I stand in a place of awe and wonder that God could love even a sinner like me. Humility demands that I become a servant like the greatest servant the world has ever known — which includes preaching his gospel like he preached it; hell and all. (Or is humility insisting that maybe God should be gracious like I would be, and give everyone a second chance?)

In fact, humility almost begins to look like the opposite of the “I don’t know” chorus line emanating from so many evangelical and emergent circles these days. I do know, because it has been given to me freely. I was blind, now I see. Only a proud fool would shame the one who gave him sight by suggesting — even for a second — that anyone else could provide that sight.

And while we remain ever so humble, being always careful to never insinuate that the gay guy who lives next to me and the devout Muslim down the street are going to hell, they really, really are.

All in the name of humility…

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