Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Postmodern Gospel (page 2 of 2)

Is Evangelicalism Fundamentally Flawed?

* This is a repost from a while ago, at my old blog. It created good discussion then, so I’m wondering if it will again. I’m also wondering if anyone who participated in the conversation then has changed their opinions since then… to that end, I’ll also repost the original comments so we can see where we’ve all come since that time. *

The Enlightenment. Modernism. Deconstructionism. Postmodernism. Post-postmodernism. What does the Church believe? What are the essentials that do not change and what is culturally relevant?

While it may be an oversimplification, it seems that in a broad stroke, what separates “Evangelicalism” from “Fundamentalism” is how to handle the Enlightenment… and everything post-elightenment, really. Fundamentalism unrelentingly holds fast to the “fundamentals,” without any regard for what the modern sciences have to say about things. “Evangelicals,” on the other hand, are eager to interact with all that advanced human learning can teach us. Rather than writing off evolution by insisting that the Bible teaches a literal 6 day creation, Evangelicals are willing to roll with whatever it is in vogue for scientists. After all, why would we want to remain out of the loop? Does anyone have any respect for the Roman church’s response to poor old Galileo?

In contrast, Fundamentalists could care less what the rest of the world has to say, they insist that since the Bible teaches a literal 6 day creation, we have no need for further inquiry into the matter. Why, they bravely ask, does it even matter what a modern scientist might be able to find, when we have the Bible?

An Evangelical might quickly counter, “What are we afraid of?” All truth is God’s truth! If what we believe is truly true, then there is no truth that can disprove what we believe!

Call me a sceptic or whatever you want (okay, maybe not anything you want), but I see a problem here. I am not, strictly speaking, a Fundamentalist. I think it is a fundamentally wrong assumption for one to hold his beliefs with such little regard for what is demonstable truth. I would be an idiot to believe that pigs can fly when that is simply, patently (and demonstrably) untrue. If I believe something that has no grounding in reality, then it doesn’t matter how hard I believe, I’m still a fool for believing it.

So I can’t ignore what the sciences have to say…

But then why not be Evangelical (if my dichotomy may be allowed to stand for now)? Why not simply engage with all that the world can determine to be true? Without delving too deep into theories on the nature of truth, it must be acknowledged at least in some sense, that much of the “truth” we find empirically is fluid.

For example, not too long ago smoking was not the taboo it has become today. It wasn’t bad for your health, and was socially accepted. Now, however, we have determined that it is horrible for the human body and can cause any number of diseases. A few generations ago, the “truth” about smoking was different. It was knowledge based on a changing and evolving science.

Again, we could look at the different theories that have been held with regard to homosexuality or even alcoholism. What was once known by any number of societies to be “sin” (however that community defined it) has now in many circles become simply a genetic difference. Alcoholism is something that, regrettably, some people will have to deal with because of genes. Homosexuality is something to be celebrated as a normal part of a person’s genetic makeup.

So what do we do with knowledge gained through the sciences? Bill Webb argues that modern science can demonstrate that certain traits once thought to be tied to gender can now be shown to be more from genetic makeup than gender.

Many liberals within the Church of England argue that homo- sexuality is a part of genetic makeup, and can therefore not be wrong. The homosexuality Paul condemned was that of the pagan cultic worship rituals of his day. What Paul condemned was perversion, not personality. This is not to say that either Webb or the Anglicans are right or wrong, but rather to pose the question, what do we do with science?

Do we base doctrine on it? So what if we compromise on the creation issue and argue rather for a “theistic evolution,” but then the evidence tips back the other way again? Do we then turn and argue for a 6 day creation like it was the year 1589 all over again?

What if we could demonstrably prove scientifically that men are actually more gullible than women? Would that mean that we should take 1 Timothy 2 mean that only women should be elders in our churches?

And what if it is in fact proven that homosexuality has nothing to do with genetics, but everything to do with how someone is raised and socialized? Will the Anglican church have an about-face?

Or are our methods of using the “impartial” sciences really quite partial after all? Why is it that CNN reports all the time of skulls being researched which are millions of years old, while at the same time millions of more copies of “A Case For Creation” are sold in Christian bookstores?

If Evangelicals intend to use the modern sciences to inform their interpretation of the Scriptures, ought they not to define better what role these sciences should play? And what do they do when the science “changes”? Does truth change?

If Fundamentalists intend to hold unswervingly the timeless truths of the Bible, how in the world will they gain credibility in a society that is swamped with “facts” that disprove the “fundamentals”?

Is Evangelicalism destined for a future of fluidity–always trying to balance acceptance in scholarly and popular circles with attempts to remain faithful in some sense to the biblical witness?

Is Fundamentalism destined for a demise into infamy as it distances itself from all things relevant with ever-increasing speed?

Is there a middle ground? Is that even what we need? Do we look for further defintion or faster departure from these classical categories of modern Christendom?

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…

Osteen Out in Left–We Must Preach!

This Joel Osteen guy seems to be getting a lot of press. Just to keep abreast of the goings on:

There’s a helpful post on him here.

His own self-help / power of positive thinking / “ministry” page is here.

An insightful review of his “opening night ceremonies” can be found here.

Just in case you ever needed proof of 2 Timothy 4:3-4.

And in reference to this nonsense (Osteen’s comments, not James’), Osteen needs to be warned–like all “loving inclusivists” and “humble emergents” need to be warned–with the warning God gave Ezekiel. We would be wise to preach and to teach with the love Christ modelled. We would be pleasing to God if we were to fulfill our ministries as Paul did. “The whole counsel of God” that Paul declared to the Ephesian elders included hell. Why are we so afraid to present that message now?

If we are ministers of a better covenant (see 2 Cor. 3 or the whole book of Hebrews), how much greater will our condemnation be than Ezekiel’s if we are unfaithful to proclaim to people that they are sinners under the just wrath of a holy God?

How will we escape having their blood on our hands if we don’t preach the reality of sin and hell? How can we call it “love” and “humility” when we are really just too chicken to make a bold proclamation like “I know the way of salvation and others don’t.”

If we can’t make that proclamation without blushing, why even call ourselves Christian?

Fundamental Flaws and Empathy for Evangelicals

My former post seemed to get a bit of response. In it I posed several questions. Not the least of which was, “Is Evangelicalism, as a way of thinking, fundamentally flawed since it seeks to interact with a fluid concept of reality, through which it ultimately must determine truth and interpret Scripture?” But that was compared with Fundamentalism, and it was then asked, “Is Fundamentalism any better? Can one determine truth if he has not engaged all the facts available to him? Can one remain relevant to his culture, his world, his times, if he does not interact with all that those around him know as reality? Can he even know truth if he has not actively engaged falsity, in order to know it as such?”

The responses were variegated in topic and flavour, but seemed to revolve around two main thoughts. One of which was that all “isms” are man-made, and thus are inherently flawed. The second main thought in the responses was one wherein it was questioned whether the Bible should be used as a “science textbook” when that is clearly not what it was originally intended to be. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with the main points and practical results of what the Bible teaches, rather than getting all caught up in the relevance of details that weren’t supposed to be taken as we take them (ie. taking the details of creation in Gen. 1 as a description of the exact chronology of how things occurred, according to modern scientific method)?

The post itself was meant to be leading in its line of questions. Wherein lies truth? How can transient man ever come face to face with eternal reality?

When Augustine was young he developed a love for philosophy by reading Cicero’s “Hortensius.” By this point in his education, Augustine had fallen head over heals for great poetry and prose and fanciful arguments of men over what to believe and what to question… sounds like many of us. When he first came to question these things, he queried his friends, searched his own mind and soul, and finally saw fit to probe holy writ.

He records his experience:

So I made up my mind to examine the holy Scriptures and see what kind of books they were. I discovered something that was at once beyond the understanding of the proud and hidden from the eyes of children. Its gait was humble, but the heights it reached were sublime. It was enfolded in mysteries, and I was not the kind of man to enter into it or bow my head to follow where it led. But these were not the feelings I had when I first read the Scriptures. To me they seemed quite unworthy of comparison with the stately prose of Cicero, because I had too much conceit to accept their simplicity and not enough insight to penetrate their depths. It is surely true that as the child grows these books grow with him. But I was too proud to call myself a child. I was inflated with self-esteem, which made me think myself a great man.

Many a “great man” treats the Word of God in this manner. Evey man who treats God’s word in this manner must indeed be “great,” at least in his own mind–how else could humanity pass judgment on the divine?

I am certain of this, that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” I think this holds true with regards to the work of his Holy Spirit. The Word of God is indeed living and active, and it will not return to him who sent it without accomplishing its intended purpose.

When the Word of God meets a humble and contrite heart, who accepts it as truth truly sent by God, it has indeed found a home. The Spirit of God plants the seed of the word, waters and nourishes it. The grace of God is all the light and energy needed to bring forth a tree of good fruit.

As time goes by, I become more and more convinced that God honours faith and humility. If, in faith, I come as a human, bound in time and space, limited in knowledge and wisdom, to his Word which I regard as holy truth and wholly true, the revelation of the character and nature of the One Eternal Reality against which all else is measured, I will be blessed.

Too many times I have come to the Bible like Augustine, quoted above. I have thought of it and have been ashamed that the book to which I am supposed to cling is “not like Cicero.” It is, in places, not the most beautiful of language. At times it seems downright naive. It is almost always politically incorrect, and quite often it says things that are incredibly difficult to interpret aright.

It is much easier to come up with my own grand thoughts of what God must be like, or could be like, or the nature of reality itself than to read about them in a book multiple-millenia old. And it is old–it has all been heard before. What of new ideas, new thoughts, new perspectives? What about “always reforming” anyway? Shouldn’t that apply to at least our interpretations, if not doctrines of Scripture?

God has honoured and will continue to honour that faith which recognizes his Word as “God-breathed”–that is, from him and above reproach or rebuke, shame or scandal, culture or critique.

He does this in very practical ways. God honours faith by providing proof.

Remember in the Chronicles of Narnia when Lucy saw Aslan so plainly when others could not? Aslan demanded of her that she follow him regardless of what the others thought or did. The others thought she was nuts at best and a pain at worst. But as each one’s faith was added, they were provided with the grace to see that Aslan was there and had been leading them all along.

It is the same thing for the Christian as he reads his Bible. When I read it in faith, trusting that it is God’s truly inspired Word to me, his Spirit bears witness to my heart that what I read is truth. When I read with the faith of a child trusting his Father, he honours that faith and shows me the intangible internal consistency, undeniable connectivity of thought, and the subtle nuances that could be included only if one author had edited the whole.

So what? What does all this have to do with the conversation at hand? How does this relate to the Evangelical / Fundamentalist debate?

Simply this: The Bible is not a science textbook and Evangelicalism, like Fundamentalism and every other “ism” is indeed fundamentally flawed. Science cannot give us the answers we are looking for; it cannot interpret Scripture or give us absolute truth. Science, like the “isms” at hand, is never impartial, nor are our uses of it.

The only source of truth we have is the Word of God. And the Word of God is hard–hard to interpret, hard to understand, hard to apply. Who thought truth would be easy? The only answer we have is to simply choose to believe Scripture.

Ultimately, we must choose to either believe it or disbelieve it. It is a matter of faith. The more faith we place in it, the more we see that it is entirely trustworthy. The more we analyze, deconstruct, apply our criticisms, the more room for Satan to fill our minds with doubt. The Bible testifies to itself like Christ testified to himself, or like God testified to himself to OT Israel. Either believe or disbelief; take it or leave it.

To take the promises of God and wait to see if they hold true for others is to disbelieve. To take Christ and examine him sceptically as he is modelled by Christians is to disbelieve. To take the Word of God and determine whether or not to believe it based on how you see it interacting with culture or science is to disbelieve it.

What I am suggesting is not a return to Fundamentalism, where we do not interact with the culture or science of our day, but rather that we do so with a heart that has already determined that God’s Word is true in what it asserts regardless of what the rest of the world professes to believe. God’s Word is true regardless of any scientific “fact;” though we know that no fact could ever contradict truth. Thus, the fluidity of the reality of the world around us alternatively may testify for or against a truth claim of God’s Word.

Faith demands that I go into my interactions with culture or science with the understanding that what God (as Creator of all) proclaims to be good or bad, right or wrong, truth or fiction, is in fact exactly what he says it is. End of conversation. Regardless of what culture or science attempts to dictate or demand.

In humility we must come to the Word of God and believe it absolutely. To do anything less is to disbelieve completely. The inner testimony of the Holy Spirit to the absolute truth of God’s Word cannot be denied by any who have come in the humility our great God deserves.

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