Saturday, October 31, 2009

Emergent Church Theology - Where Does One Begin?

One of the most challenging aspects to providing an analysis of the theology that reflects the beliefs of the EC is that a single theological system does not exist within the movement. Theology within the EC is very liquid. The more you try to grasp it, the more is simply passes through your hands. This makes an analysis of such a system extremely difficult. For this reason, I must disclose at the outset, that not every EC proponent agrees with the theological views presented in this discussion. However, I will attempt to treat those theologies that find more widespread adherence among EC proponents than not.

The core doctrines of Christian orthodoxy will be used as the model by which we measure the corresponding views of the EC community. Naturally, the Bible will serve as the sole authority and final standard for determining the truthfulness of the respective theological position. I realize that many EC proponents will reject this approach ‘out of hand’ because it merely pits one interpretation against another in their view. However, it should be pointed out that such reasoning ends in pure agnosticism. If it is true that the best that any of us can ever do is simply arrive at our own subjective truth without having any hope at getting to objective, absolute truth, we are forever lost in a sea of relativism. Objective truth becomes an illusion at which we will never arrive, even if it is does exist. This method for arriving at the truth has never been recognized as Christian, either from the beginning of the church or at any point in the history of the church. If the EC proponents desire to take us back to arguments anchored in Kantian philosophy, the burden to overturn centuries of deeply held religious convictions is squarely on their shoulders. Vern Poythress writes,

“We Submit to God not only our persons but our thoughts. We test our thoughts by submitting them to the standard of who God is and what he thinks. Moreover, we do not find out what God thinks in an arbitrary, willful way that we might choose, by trying to operate autonomously or independently of God. We know God through his revelation of himself in his word.”

It is certainly the case that if a doctrine fails the test of Scripture, obviously it should be abandoned. I know of no one who would argue otherwise outside of those who do not hold to a high view of Scripture. Oddly enough, one of the views that demands analysis is the very view of Scripture endorsed, or not endorsed as the case may be, by the proponents of the EC. The point Dr. Poythress is making is that our knowledge of God comes through revelation. Specifically, it comes through the revelation of Scripture.

Outside of an understanding of the biblical text, our understanding of God is derived from our own individual, personal experiences and rational speculations which are in turn, affected by a sinful nature, and which have no objective basis in reality to draw upon. We are again swimming in a sea of relativism. John Calvin writes,

“OUR wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
Calvin is asserting that our understanding of God and our understanding of man (which is dependent of our understanding of God) are primarily responsible for the integrity and truthfulness of our entire worldview or philosophy of life. Undoubtedly this is true of our theological system as well. Our understanding and knowledge of God is derived through revelation. Therefore, our theological system is also the product of understanding God’s revelation. Frame acknowledges,

“Some people have argued that because our knowledge of God comes through revelation and then through our senses, reason, and imagination, it cannot be a knowledge of God as He really is but only of how He appears to us. In Scripture, reality (God in particular) is known, and our senses, reason, and imagination are not barriers to this knowledge; they do not necessarily distort it. Rather, our senses, reason, and imagination are themselves revelations of God – means that God uses to drive His truth home to us. God is Lord; He will not be shut out of His world.”
All our knowledge of God is the result of revelation. We know God through His revelation in nature or through His revelation in Scripture. The knowledge of God through nature of course is terribly affected by the sin nature. Man knows God, but because he is hostile to God, he suppresses this knowledge of God he has through nature. To arrive at an reliable, trustworthy knowledge of God, two things are required: 1. God must disclose Himself specifically. This He did through the divine revelation in His word. 2. The illumination of the Holy Spirit. Without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, the unregenerate human mind will explicitly suppress God’s revelation in nature as well as twist His revelation in Holy Writ.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hermeneutics to the Glory of God

The Chief End of Man
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says the chief end of man is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 11:36) and to enjoy Him forever. (Ps. 73:25-28) Man, as God's creature, owes everything in his world to God. Adam and Eve were created by God, for God. Ps. 150:6 says, Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord! Robert Duncan Culver writes,
Therefore, since the Scriptures plainly say repeatedly and in various ways that the created order of this planet was designed to bring glory to God and to enhance His reputation, and since mankind was told to populate it, subdue it and rule it as God's vicegerent, each person is not merely personally responsible to express heartfelt acknowledgement of God's glory. [Systematic Theology, pg. 299]
In everything that we do and everything that we are, we are to seek out ways to honor and glorify God. How do we do this? We do this by applying the truth of Scripture to our thinking, our speaking, and our living. Here I want to talk about one aspect of how we apply the truth of Scripture to our thinking. As a reformed Christian, I embrace the biblical doctrine of total depravity. That man's nature has been touched extensively in all parts by sin is taught everywhere in Scripture. How does this fact affect man's intellect? Moreover, how does the fact of depravity affect man's approach to interpreting Scripture? Some would pass over this subject without giving it a second thought. We have been guilty of this in evangelicalism. In the name of scholarship, we allow unregenerate men who did not actually believe the gospel a seat at the table and treat their hermeneutic methodology as if it is just a different approach that we may or may not disagree with. We do this even when the method leads to a wholesale denial of the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. This I believe is not only bad scholarship, but is immoral and represents a fundamental failure on the part of scholars and theologians to hold unbelievers accountable for the basics of possessing a genuine faith. If it is determined that a scholar in fact does not possess genuine faith (because he refuses to believe the gospel), then that scholar must be placed on notice along with the rest of the theological community. To treat an unbelieving scholar as if they are a genuine believer allows deception to take root and grow. Moreover, to allow such persons to enjoy a prominent place in academia or the church is a dereliction of duty.

The Fact of Depravity
Vern Poythress points out our need for a redemptive hermeneutic,
Spiritual sickness infects both scholars and ordinary readers. We need a radical remedy: we need to meet God and know him, as Isaiah did. We need to repent as Isaiah did. [Poythress - The Supremacy of God in Interpretation, pg. 2]
Isaiah required cleansing to receive and give the word of God (Isaiah 6:1-13). How could we be any different? The Bible is a supernatural book containing revelation about God which requires the special illumination of the Spirit in order to be understood. A person who does not exhibit the fruit of genuine faith in the gospel should not be given special standing as one who is qualified to participate in a discussion on the matter of biblical hermeneutics. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 2:12, "Now we have received, not the Spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God." One reason we have the Spirit of God is so that we may be able to understand God's revelation. In fact, Paul goes on to say, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Cor. 2:14) The impact of sin on man's intellect is devastating in terms of understanding God. Man's desire is to pervert the truth about God everywhere he finds it. He cannot understand God's revelation and he is in fact, hostile to it. How could such a man be trusted with a biblical passage? Unregenerate man has a mind that is naturally hostile to God. (Rom. 8:6-8) His mind has been and remains blinded by Satan, the god of this world. (2 Cor. 4:4)

The Impact to Biblical Interpretation
So how does this depravity manifest itself in biblical interpretation? Lets take a look at a very specific example regarding the anti-supernatural bias found in most liberal, rational approaches to hermeneutics. It is presumed by scholars who take this approach that the text of Scripture contains stories about miraculous events that could not possibly have taken place on the ground that they do not take place in our day. Therefore we must deconstruct the text, and contextualize it so that it does not offend the senses of modern, rational humans whose intellects are just too sensitive to believe that such outstanding stories could have literally taken place. What are the consequences to this method and how should we react to those who employ it? Moreover, what should our relationship with these people be? First, such a view destroys the gospel of Christ and leaves Christianity in the ash-heap of superstitions that should have long been abandoned. Paul describes the basics of the gospel in 1 Cor. 15:1-3. Those basics are as follows: 1. That Christ dies for our sins, according to the Scriptures; 2. That He was buried; and 3. That He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. These three accounts of the life of Christ are the gospel of Jesus Christ. To deny any one of them is an explicit denial of the gospel. If you deny the possibility of miracles, you must deny the miracle of the resurrection. Such a denial amounts to simple unbelief. A person who denies the resurrection of Christ is simply not saved. I know what you're thinking. You are thinking that I am guilty of judging. And you would be absolutely correct. I am guilty of judging. But according to 1 Cor. 2:15, there is nothing wrong with judging because Paul says, "He that is spiritual judges all things." What I am not guilty of is the hypocritical judging condemned by Christ in Matt. 7:1. Before you say it isn't your place to judge, perhaps you should look again at 1 Cor. 2:15.  Vern Poythress asks the question,
What basic requirement do we need to meet in order to study the Bible rightly? One thing is needed. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." (Prov. 1:7)
No scholar, regardless of his education, can begin to understand the Scripture correctly without the indwelling Holy Spirit. And this can only take place where there is the presence of genuine faith for it is the Spirit who brings faith to the unregenerate sinner in the first place. So what should we do? We should correct the error when we see it. We should confront unbelief for what it is and not simply treat it as differences in methodology between Christians or scholars. Finally, the Christian or scholar who exhibits this unbelief cannot be treated as if they possess genuine faith once it is determined that they do not. They must understand that you do not personally accept their testimony of Christ because they in essence deny Christ by denying His word. This is not a comfortable thing to do. But Christ never pulled any punches with the religious of His day, nor did His apostles. Why should we be any different? I would be remiss if I did not say that this process must absolutely be bathed in love and humility throughout. We must be loving, humble, but firm and immoveable. It should be kept in mind that I am talking about hermeneutical methodology that leads to the denial of the Christian faith in essence. Great caution and humility must be the order of the day in this area.

Monday, October 19, 2009

All in the Family

The name of God in the NT is predominately, Father. In fact, Paul uses this name for God in every single one of his epistles. Herman Bavinck writes, “The theocratic kingdom known in Israel passes into a kingdom of the Father who is in heaven. Its subjects are at the same time children; its citizens are members of the family. Both law and love, the state and the family, are completely realized in the New Testament relation of God to his people.” [Herman Bavinck – Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation] Add to this fact that those in the church are referred to as brothers to one another in Christ (2 Thess. 3:6). Paul also refers to the church as “those who are of the household of faith.” Paul speaks clearly of the intimate relationship we all have with our Heavenly Father in Romans 8:15 when we says we have received a spirit of adoption and for this reason we can cry out to God, “Abba Father.” James M. Boice says, “The early church fathers, Chrysostom, Theodor of Mopsuestia, and Theodore of Cyrrhus, who came from Antioch, where Aramaic was spoken, and who probably had Aramaic-speaking nurses, unanimously testified that abba was the address of small children to their fathers. So this is what abba really means: daddy.” [James M. Boice: Romans: The Reign of Grace]

It seems quite clear that the New Testament views the members of the body of Christ as members of a family. God is our Father. We are all brothers and sisters to one another. This makes us members of the same spiritual family. As a family we should be relating to one another like a family. In fact, because we are God’s family, we should be setting the example as a church family for our own personal families. But do we do this? Do families come together once or twice a week and then disappear from one another and not communicate to each other for the rest of the week? Do we go weeks, months and years without so much as a simple phone call to see how we, as a family, are doing? Of course we don’t. So why does the family of God do this? Is it because we are too busy. I am a business man when I am not involved in academics, lecturing, and writing. And as a business, my schedule can become quite crowded at times. I remember a discussion I had with my VP years ago as a young business man learning the ropes and feeling overwhelmed. I had failed to give proper attention to an item he deemed important. He listened to my excuse of being very busy and responded with a quote I will never forget. He said, “Ed, people do what they think is important.” Then he proceeded to help me change my thinking about this item and he successfully convinced me to think like him. This item was important and it will be one of those things that will make its way on your completed list every month! This is a truth that applies to every area of life. You do what you think is important.

1 Cor. 14:1 commands us to “Pursue love!” The Greek word pursue is DIOKO and it means “to follow in haste in order to find something.” It is used in 1 Tim. 6:11 where the man of God is told to “pursue righteousness.” It is used in this sense again in Heb. 12:14 where we are told to “pursue peace.” The idea is to run after it until you have apprehended it. In his book, ‘Love or Die,’ Alexander Strauch recalled the story of a friend who had to find a new church because his church closed. He wrote, “All the churches he visited were doctrinally sound churches and some were excellent Bible teaching churches; however, something was missing. The church he chose had both good Bible teaching plus a loving church family of which he could be a part.” [Alexander Strauch: Love or Die] People need to feel like they belong to a body of believers who care about them, who take the time to get to know them, and who are there for them should they need them. This cannot be accomplished by hand-shaking once or twice a week. Strauch goes on to say, “Studying love is exciting, being taught the doctrines of love is enlightening, praying about love is heart moving, and seeing love modeled is motivating, but in the end, we must lovingly obey God and sacrificially serve people. We must be practitioners of love, not theorists. We must be doers of love, not talkers. We must forge a connection between words and actions. What are some things that will help create the right kind of loving, family atmosphere in the church?

 A discipleship program for men and women where more mature believers are drawn close to younger believers, forming strong personal and spiritual bonds.

 Small groups: the church is divided into groups, each with an elder over a group with an assistant or two helping to coordinate

o Contact practices (visitations, emails, calls)

o Bible studies (rotating from house to house by quarter)

o Prayer groups (regular routine for blasting prayer requests within the group)

o Outings (coffee, lunch, dinner, special events)

I realize that we lead busy lives and this may seem like a lot at first glance. And if we are not doing any of the above, perhaps it is quite a drastic change in our routine. There are no rules for how a church should implement such a program. It depends on resources and past routines. It is better to begin with baby steps than it is to try to move things too quickly only to have them fail. In the grand scheme of things, we are the family of God. And as such we are called to love and serve each other selflessly. If we know we are not doing enough, the only solution then is to do more.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How Do We Know Who God Is?

In my last blog, I talked about the delusion of neutrality. Man has a disposition toward God inherited at birth and all his views and opinions about God are seriously influenced by that disposition. Man is not a blank slate just waiting to discover the objective truth about God. He is not a tabula rasa as the rationalist would like to believe. Since what I am actually talking about is our interpretion of the revelation of God that is before us, it is critical that we understand the impact of our relationship with God on how we approach interpreting that evidence. Vern Poythress says, Our relation to God affects interpretation more radically than we might suspect. Every area of life is subtly affected. And every area is affected down to the roots (Poythress - The Supremacy of God in Interpretation). It could not be any other way.

Cornelius Van Til writes, It is, therefore, required of man that he regard himself and his world as wholly revelatory of the presence and requirements of God. It is man’s task to search out the truths about God, about the world and himself in relation to one another. He must seek a “systematic” arrangement of the facts of the universe. But the “system” that he thus tries to form is not the sort of system that the non-Christian is seeking to make for himself. Van Til and Eric H. Sigward, The Works of Cornelius Van Til, 1895-1987, electronic ed. (New York: Labels Army Co., 1997). All knowledge of God is revelatory in nature. If God had not revealed Himself to us in nature and in Scripture, there would be no means of acquiring a reliable and accurate knowledge of Him.

Herman Bavinck says, "All knowledge of God rests on revelation. Though we can never know God in the full richness of his being, he is known to all people through his revelation in creation, the theater of his glory." (Herman Bavinck: Reformed Dogmatics). All men are created with innate knowledge of God. Bavinck said, "It is simply a fact, certainly, that all persons from their earliest youth are conscious of a psychic, spiritual, invisible, world as well as of a physical one. (Herman Bavinck: Reformed Dogmatics). Paul said, "because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them." (Rom. 1:19) To hold a view that says men really, truly don't believe God exists is to contradict the clear teachings of Scripture. Secondly, to assume the Bible is NOT the word of God during a discussion with a skeptic, for the sake of "proving to the Skeptic that God does exist" is not only wrong headed, it is sinful. It is never okay to say, "let's assume for argument sake that Jesus was wrong." I cannot imagine Paul ever engaging in such non-sense.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Delusion of Neutrality

Setting the Stage

We live in an era when the antagonism toward Christianity seems to be reaching levels not witnessed since ancient times. Evolution and atheism have ravaged the gospel claims from without. And today, the church finds herself in the most precarious position of having to defend a gospel that, to a large degree, has been abandoned by many of her members and leaders. I heard a person say recently, "I don't know how to witness to people who don't believe the Bible is the word of God." The grim reality is that no unbeliever really believes the Bible is the word of God. And more than that, the hostility to that very idea is increasing exponentially. This trend places the church in a position of catch-up. For years now the church has focused on social and relational issues. And this has had virtually no impact on its members either. Just look at the divorce rate in the vi sable church. While the church has been distracted by the social and relational issues, she has neglected to instruct her members in the simple defense of the gospel. In fact, she has neglected to lay that basic doctrinal foundation in the lives of those who have come to occupy her seats over the last three or four decades. This has left a gaping hole that we are now feeling the impact of, much like an Army unit feels the impact when it discovers, on the battlefield, that they are firing blanks at the enemy.

A Question of Method

When it comes to Christian Apologetics for the Believer, the question is where do we begin? If one were to survey the materials available on the subject of apologetics, the list would be daunting. There is no question as to the need for Christians to defend the gospel. We must stand up, proclaim with a loud voice, and defend the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ which alone can bring life and redemption to unregenerate men throughout the entire world. But where do we begin in this process? What is the starting point? I would argue that the two most fundamental areas of education necessary to engage in Christian apologetics are 1) Theology Proper; and 2) Anthropology. I am convinced that if you do not understand the nature and being of God, and the nature and being of man, you can never provide a defense of the gospel that fully honors God. Moreover, inconsistencies will emerge in your method that will eventually make shipwreck of your argument when you encounter the right kind of skeptical thinker. This is a well-established fact of history and is documented time and again every time a defense of Christianity is made without a biblical foundation in these two very critical areas of theology. So where does one begin the process of apologetics? They begin with the study of theology. Any attempt to divorce theology from apologetics, or to place apolgetics prior to theology is doomed from the outset. What one believes about the nature and being of God, and the nature and being of man will have far reaching conseqences for one's apologetic.

Theology First

Van Til wrote, "Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life." Fundamental to the Christian philosophy of life is a correct understanding of the being of God. Without this understanding, one does not possess an accurate understanding of Christianity. This understanding is gained by a study of theology proper. Secondly, one cannot provide for a God-honoring vindication of the Christian life and worldview without understanding the true nature of man. Far too often for example, unregenerate man is given too much credit in his natural abilities and his disposition toward God. Such credit often leads to an apologetic approach that most often, and sad to say, completely misses its target. Therefore, a biblically competent view of God and man is necessary before one can engage in the vindcation of the Christian worldview that is found to be faithful to Scripture and honoring to Christ.

Thoughts on Neutrality

The most common approach to vindicating the Christian worldview makes assumptions that land it in hot water from a biblical perpective. The frist assumption is that man possesses enough natural ability to see and understand the most reasoned arguments for the existence of God, and the truth of the gospel, that he can respond favorably. The major underpinning to this approach is the assumption of neutrality. Man is assumed to possess a neutral disposition toward God and evidence and so long as you provide the right evidence in the right order for the existence of God and the truth of the gospel of Christ, man will arrive at the truth of God's existence through his reasoning powers alone, and believe the gospel, placing his faith in Christ. The problem with the approach is that it assumes a sort of tabula rasa in that man is neutral concerning things related to God. However, unregenerate men are NOT neutral concerning the things of God. In fact, man is hostile to God (Rom. 8:7). Unregenerate men do not possess the ability to understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14). Finally, unregenerate men cannot do anything that pleases God because they do not possess such an ability (Rom. 8:8). To add insult to injury, when we assume that men do not really believe God exists, we find ourselves in direct contradiction with Scripture. Scripture expressly teaches that all men know God exists (Rom. 1:18-32). Moreover, evidence does not stand on its own two feet. Evidence is ALWAYS, ALWAYS subject to interpretation. And since the unregenerate man has a hostile disposition toward God, he will never interpret evidence in a way that pleases God because he is unwilling to do so, and even if he were willing, he is unable to do so.

  • Neutrality denies that all knowledge is the result of the revelation of God
  • Neutrality places too much faith in man's power to reason
  • Neutrality underestimates the effects of sin and dismisses man's disposition toward God
  • Neutrality displaces the authority of Scripture as self-attesting
  • Neutrality places God in the docket and man on the bench, forever displacing the self-attesting authoritative nature of Scripture
  • Neutrality is a fully man-centered approach reflecting a lack of faith in the gospel, emphasizing method over truth

See the link below for additional comments:

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