Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Postmodernism (page 1 of 2)

Is It Arrogant to Preach Exclusivism?

Bryan Chapell offers this important and instructive insight into whether it is more arrogant to preach the exlusivity of Christ, or to not preach the exclusivity of Christ. The criteria for whether the real arrogance is in preaching or not preaching, he argues, is whether or not the proclamation is true.

Proclaiming the message of eternal salvation in Christ alone unquestionably evidences undiluted arrogance, gross insensitivity, and religious bigotry—unless the message is true. Then, proclamation of the only true hope is the most important and loving message that a person can communicate, and failure to do so evidences incomparable callousness, gross negligence, and reli­gious selfishness. The determination of whether evan­gelical preachers who proclaim salvation through Christ alone are guilty of religious bigotry or are admirable for religious altruism hinges entirely on the question of the truth of their message. That question Jesus answers with clarity: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The apostles faithfully maintain this mes­sage: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

May God give us preachers grace to humbly continue in the pattern that has been set for us.

——

Quote taken from Scott M. Gibson, ed., Preaching to a Shifting Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 66.

What’s Important to Canadians?

A recent Angus Reid study has revealed some interesting (even if not surprising) things about what Canadians value. Here are a few highlights.

96 per cent of respondents say having enough free time to do what they want is very important or moderately important to them. Achieving career success (89%), volunteering (74%) and having children (72%) are also high on the scale of accomplishments. 

Following their religious beliefs (46%), being wealthy (53%) and tying the knot (55%) are not valued as highly by Canadians across the nation.

More men (58%) than women (53%) view marriage as an important part of life.

What to make of this? There are lots of things that could be said, but I’ll leave it at this for now: There is a profound irony here.

The trendy emergent crowd says that evangelicals are out of touch, fighting yesterday’s battles about things like marriage, feminism, and other family issues. Yet, these seem to be the very areas where our culture needs to be challenged and corrected.

The ironic twist is completed when we notice that most of the excitement in the emerging crowd is directed to issues like social justice (with a high emphasis on volunteering), not being a religious zealot, and fighting against the drive to be rich. Yet, none of these seem to be out of line with what secular people in Canada already think.

While the conservative evangelicals are accused of being out of touch, the hip emerging crowd preaches what the culture wants to hear–and what they already believe. Why would we expect anything else?

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry. 

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.

How to React to the Fall of Rome – Part 1

Looking over my notes today from my early church history course, I noticed something interesting. It’s nothing new or profound, but it caught my attention anyway. The church’s response to the fall of Rome was weird, in many ways.

I think it’s necessary to lay some background before we move on.

From the founding of Christianity (Pentecost somewhere around 33AD) to 64AD the Christian church enjoyed religious protection, since it was seen by Rome as a Jewish sect. When Rome burnt in 64AD, however, Nero needed someone to blame and so he blamed the Christians.

Nero’s actions set the precedent for persecution of Christians that would last the next few hundred years. Rome was ruled by pagans who hated Christians. From the heart of Rome all the way up to places like Gaul (southern France) Christians were persecuted.

It is important to note that throughout this time period, Christians saw the hand of Satan at work in the Roman Empire, as both he and they sought to destroy Christ’s church.

Skipping ahead a few centuries, we find that in 312AD a Roman Emperor (Constantine) becomes a Christian. This is part of a monumental shift for the way Christianity and Rome came to relate. Though (contrary to popular belief) Constantine did not legislate Christianity, he did legally protect Christians from persecution.

As Christianity gained favour with the upper segments of society (it’s popular to like what the emperor likes), Rome grew in favour with the Christians as well.

Within a few generations, it seems, Christians had forgotten that Rome had for so long killed and persecuted their forefathers in the faith. Now Rome was a friend to them, and they could see it as nothing else.

This is seen nowhere more clearly than in Jerome’s reaction to the fall of Rome. In his writings, he laments the fall of the Roman empire, citing Scriptures originally speaking of Jerusalem, and now using them in reference to Rome! Christians like him wept and lamented that this ‘Christian’ empire could fall.

This is a far cry from the view of Christians who had lived only a few generations before him, who saw Satan at work through the Roman empire.

How could this shift have happened?

It happened because Christians like Jerome were so consumed with what they could see in their own time, that they lost sight of what the scriptures truly do say about kingdoms, empires, and earthly regimes.

Just as a side note, in closing, it must be noted that my personal hero, Augustine, did not fall prey to such a short view. In response to Jerome, Augustine would write letters to him, admonishing him to look past Rome to the City that will never fall. Likewise, against the pagans who said that the fall of Rome meant the fall (and failure!) of Christianity, Augustine wrote the City of God which functions as a theodicy and an apologetic to the philosophers of his day.

What does all this have to do with us and how we view history today, as it unfolds? That’s for another post.

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.

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 Abandonment of Christian Atonement

Christians never cease to amaze me. In our contemporary ‘conversation’ we find people rejecting the idea of penal substitution, the imputation of righteousness, justification by grace alone, through faith alone, etc., etc., etc.

The thing that really bothers me about this is the arrogance with which such historic Christian doctrines are tossed aside in such a cavalier manner. We are told that these ideas of God being ‘angry’ and desiring to make his Son pay the ‘punishment’ as a ‘substitute’ to give us a ‘forensic’, ‘legal’ righteous standing before God are western, modern, and un-nuanced. We are told that for hundreds of years we’ve been reading the New Testament through the eyes of Luther, rather than first-century Judaism.

Bogus.

Below is an excerpt from the Epistle to Diognetus, written in the second-century AD, one of the earliest extant apologies for the Christian faith outside of the New Testament. In this section the author discusses the nature of the atonement, as taught in the New Testament. What this is an attempt to show is that the abandonement of penal substitutionary atonement which accomplishes justification (including the imputation of righteousness) by grace alone through faith alone is not just an abandonment of modern, western Christianity, but is an abandonment of historic, biblical Christianity at its very core.

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But when our iniquity was fulfilled and it had been made fully manifest that its reward of punishment and death was awaited, and the season came which God had appointed to manifest henceforth His own goodness and power (O the exceeding kindness and love of God!), He did not hate us or repel us or remember our misdeeds, but was long-suffering, bore with us, Himself in mercy took on Him our sins, Himself gave up His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for the wicked, the innocent for the guilty, “the just for the unjust”, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for mortals. For what else could cover our sins but his righteousness? In whom was it possible for us, wicked and impious as we were, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O the sweet exchange, O work of God beyond all searching out, O blessings past our expectation, that the wickedness of many should be hidden in one righteous Man and the righteousness of the One should justify many wicked!


— Taken from The Epistle to Diognetus, IX.2-5. The is one of the earliest extant apologies for the Christian faith, written in the second century ad, within decades of the death of the apostle John.

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