Friday, March 28, 2014
According to a new Barna Study, 2 in 10 adults under 30 believe that Church Attendance is important. Of course, professors, pastors, psychologists, and academic professionals are intensely curious why this is the case and what we can do to fix it. I have an idea myself, but I will save that for the end of this short blog.
The first reason is that Millenials are starting at a lower baseline for church participation than previous generations. (Thanks mom and dad). If the parents don't go, I suppose the kids won't go either. So what! Is that the real issue? I am skeptical.
Another reason is that apparently Millenials are about having fun. And if you have a job, then fun is usually to be had on Friday and Saturday nights. So, if I stay out until 2am on Sunday morning getting ripped, it is very difficult to get up and get to church the next morning. Even making "online service" is tough under those circumstances.
Another reason Millenials avoid church attendance is that they are afraid the church might criticize their lifestyle. You think? What ever gave you that impression? We would never criticize young people for staying out partying, getting drunk out of their minds and probably fornicating until the wee hours of the morning. We love you. We respect your privacy. You can be a Christian and do whatever makes you happy! NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Still, another reason is that some Millenials had very entertaining, I mean energetic youth groups and many churches just can't compete, I mean compare. This is such a valid reason for not attending church.
Finally, Millennials are all about individual authority and individual decision-making. They do not, in any way, shape, or form, need an institution like the church making decisions for them. They will make their own decisions on everything, including what it means to be a Christian, whether or not the church is even relevant any longer, if the Bible is believable or worth reading, and what kind of God exists and precisely the kind of Person Jesus Christ was in His earthly existence.
Biola University dean of spiritual development (really??) thinks the Millennials have a really high standard and are just too immature to see that imperfections are always going to be part of the church. Since the church doesn't meet their high standards, I suppose they just stay away. To be honest, this statement makes very little sense to me in light of the rambunctious, drunken, pleasure-seeking, independent person described in the Barna report.
Why do Millennials believe that church attendance, at least 8 out of 10 of them, is not important? The answer is really quite complex. It could take me several paragraphs to get through the various psychological complexities involved in the answer. And then, it could take several more for me to tease out a solution to the problem. So, here we go. The reason anyone believes that church attendance is not important is because they do not know or love God. They do not care about Scripture. They do not give two cents about the teachings of Jesus Christ, His Apostles, or the Prophets of God.
Sure, there are sorry excuses for churches out there just as there are sorry excuses for Christians, pastors, seminaries and the like. There is no denying that. But that is NOT why we are intimately involved in the community of faith, the body of Christ. We are not involved in the body because there are entertaining programs, perfect pastors, and wildly talented music ministries. We are not involved in the body because all the members are perfect, always kind and gracious, and wildly attentive when we are hurting. Sometimes they are none of those things…sometimes.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. (Heb. 10:23-27)
If you do not like church attendance and you have no interest or desire in being part of the community of faith, the body of Christ, then I suggest your problem is with Jesus Christ, not the church. We can do all the surveys we like. A survey asks the sinner why they don't like coming to church. Do we really think the sinner is going to place the blame on themselves? Church is boring, or I don't have time, or they are hypocrites, or the pastor is too arrogant, or their views are just way outdated. The list will continue so long as there are sinners to give excuses. What I want to know is why we trouble ourselves with the nonsense of surveys like this to begin with. If you want to know why people don't go to church, read Scripture. Scripture tells you why. Perhaps that is the problem. We simply don't believe Scripture. It can't be that simple. Once again, we came back to believing Scripture or trusting in the ingenuity and creativeness of our own abilities. Hey Millennials, God created you in His image. He has every right to be acknowledged as Lord. Even though you rebelled, as we all did, He sent His Son to bear the wrath of the God we all offended. Repent! All those who believe, who place their trust in Christ will have eternal life.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
One of the most vexing problems in philosophy concerns the problem of what appears to be a highly structured universe and the seemingly undeniable fact of human freedom. For centuries philosophers have struggled with this problem without much progress. The problem arises from the fact that we have conflicting beliefs about two different states of affairs. First, we are confronted with what seems to be the unavoidable fact of human morality. From the standpoint of experience, it seems abundantly clear that humans are morally responsible for their acts. The view that some acts are praiseworthy while others stand self-condemned seemingly needs no defense. Who among us does not condemn the atrocities of Auschwitz? Indeed, is there is any among us that did not praise the captain of the US Airways flight when he landed it safely on the Hudson River without loss of a single life.
However, we are also confronted with the fact that seemingly every event in the universe is the consequent of some antecedent cause. Halverson writes, "It seems self evident to many people, for example, that every event has a cause." The fact of universal determinism and the fact of human responsibility seem to create an insurmountable dilemma for philosophers. It is a dilemma for which the solution remains contested to this day. Philosophy has generally suggested three alternatives as a solution to this problem. The task of the Christian is to examine these three alternatives in the light of Scripture. To be more precise, the task of this project is to examine the three alternatives offered by philosophy in light of the biblical doctrine of predestination. The question I shall offer is this: do any of the three alternatives proffered by philosophers in this project cohere with the biblical doctrine of predestination?
The three positions are Hard Determinism, Libertarianism, and Compatibilism. I will treat these three positions in the order I have listed them above. Following an explanation of each view, I will provide a brief explanation of divine predestination as taught in Scripture.
Hard Determinism makes the argument that the freedom that is a condition of moral responsibility is not compatible with universal determinism. Since it is true that universal determinism is the nature of the case, then it only follows that humans are not free in the sense that is required to render us morally responsible. The logical outworking of Hard Determinism then is that human beings are not morally responsible. Since every event, to include human behavior, is the consequent of some antecedent cause, it follows that humans do not possess the freedom necessary to be morally responsible.
Libertarianism, on the other hand, contends that the freedom that is a condition of moral responsibility is not compatible with universal determinism. Moreover, it is clear that humans do in fact possess this freedom. Therefore, universal determinism is false. This view is probably the most common view among non-philosophers. Frankly, it is most common in all likelihood because most people simply fail to reflect on the issues involved in the question.
A third view is the view known as Compatibilism. This view is also called soft-determinism. This view is the view of most philosophers. Philosophical Compatibilism affirms that the freedom that is a condition of moral responsibility is compatible with universal determinism. Therefore, we may be morally responsible even if determinism is the case. What must be understood about soft determinism is that it is no less a deterministic system than hard determinism. The difference lies in how each view defines human freedom. The question now to which we turn is whether or not any of these views comport with Christian doctrine, specifically, the doctrine of predestination.
The biblical doctrine of predestination teaches that God has predetermined whatsoever comes to past. No event has ever occurred that God did not decree. The Apostle Paul teaches us that God is always, continually, working all things according to the counsel of His will. (Eph. 1:11) In fact, there is nothing that happens that God has not ordained it to happen from eternity past. Every event to have ever taken place in the history of humanity has only taken place because the sovereign God of the universe decreed it to take place. At the same time, Christian doctrine affirms without hesitation that human beings are morally responsible for their actions even though God decreed their actions in eternity past.
Hard Determinism contradicts the clear teachings of Scripture in regard to human responsibility. Paul tells us that humanity is morally culpable for its immoral behavior and is without an excuse. (Rom. 1:20) In addition, Paul informs us that human beings are created in the image of God and know intuitively that they are morally culpable for their behavior. (Gal. 2:14-16)
Libertarianism fares no better than Hard Determinism. Scripture teaches that human beings are enslaved to their sin nature. Their will is bound by their innate desire to engage in various lusts, lies, murders, drunkenness, and various other sinful passions. Paul describes the condition of men as being held captive by Satan to do his will. The human will is not an island unto itself. The human wills to do what the mind thinks is best or desires most. The human will has a causal relationship with desire. In addition, human desire has a causal relation with human nature. Christian doctrine teaches that men are not free from God's divine decree. Judas, it was said by Christ, would have been better off had he not been born. Pharaoh did exactly what God determined he would do. Peter explains in Acts 4:28 that even the rulers that murdered Jesus did so by the predetermined counsel of God. And yet, these men would be held responsible for their actions. So then, Libertarianism is not consistent with the biblical doctrine of predestination.
Finally, we must ask if philosophical Compatibilism can do better than its alternatives. While philosophical Compatibilism may come closer to cohering with biblical predestination, it still falls short. The main problem with philosophical Compatibilism is in its affirmation of universal determinism. This view is contrary to Christian theism in that it holds that the universe is governed by impersonal natural laws operating in law-like fashion. Hence, this explains why we see such regularity in the universe. There is no room in Christian theism for impersonal laws of nature operating in and of themselves. Scripture everywhere teaches that God upholds the universe and all that is in it by the power of His Word. A better alternative to philosophical Compatibilism is theological Compatibilism. But that is a subject for a different day.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
For years liberal theology, the academy, and a plethora of movements in the Christian community have managed to shift the focus of the Christian church from simple biblical truths and godly living to a variety of other issues. Christians have been distracted by psychology, social justice, politics, dominion thinking, seekers, emergents, the restless, and philosophy, just to name a few. We have been busy feeling good about ourselves, thinking of God in the same vein as we think of our fallen, wicked, materialistic daddy, repositioning sin, learning how not to trust the bible, increasing the age of the earth, doing away with hell, redefining marriage, and even reducing Jesus to just an amazing man, but a man nonetheless. We have been diligently destroying every shred of orthodoxy ever discovered across the history of Christianity. To inherit a tradition is simply naïve, unpopular, and rather boring. In the process of all this, we have lost our way and become nothing more than just one more social network among thousands of social networks. We are not a counter-culture movement at all. Rather, we want as much of the culture as we can possibly get our hands on. One of the first things I learned, as a new Christian in the late 70s was that God is holy and so too are His followers. To be a Christian in that day was to live a holy life. Gone are the days when Christians speak about holiness with that kind of soberness and conviction. But there is this book, called the Bible. The Bible still talks to us about holiness with absolute soberness, and conviction and if we know what is good for us; we will listen.
There is an antinomianism in modern Christianity that could come from no other source than the devil himself. It is the duty of every Christian, pastor, elder, and professor to recognize this thinking and do something about it. Does the NT really speak to us about love, about social justice, about not being judgmental, about being accepting and tolerant of all views and lifestyles? There is nothing remotely resembling the message that some people claim is the message of the ancient NT writers in first-century Christianity.
For example, in Gal. 5:19-21, Paul lists a number of behaviors that he finds completely unacceptable and off-limits for any Christian. He places sexual immorality at the top of his list. This not only includes sex outside of biblical marriage, but gay sex as well. Yet I read an article today about the numbers of Christian women who claim to love Christ but are reading or have read the 50 Shades of Grey pornography. The contradiction is obvious. At the end of this list, Paul informs the Galatian Christians that the ones practicing these things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Again, in his writings to the Corinthian Christians, Paul constructs another list of forbidden practices. At 1 Cor. 6:9, Paul in his rebuke of the practice of taking fellow Christians to court informs the Corinthians that unrighteous people will not inherit the Kingdom of God. He then adds; neither fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, and, homosexuals. In addition he lists such sins as drunkenness, and covetousness. He then says, such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God. Contrast this Christian teaching with the modern claims of supposed Christians. Entire denominations are ordaining homosexual men to lead their churches. Others are marrying homosexual couples without apology. Of course some scholars attempt to take the basic Christian teaching on holiness and make it much more complex than it is. Satan has filled their arrogant noodles with all sorts of conjecture and speculation about how nothing could ever be as simple as the Bible, at face value, seems to teach that it is.
The basic problem is found in how modern Christians view sin. J.C. Ryle, in his work on Holiness, wrote, "The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it, such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are words and names which convey no meaning to the mind." [J.C. Ryle, Holiness, 1] Our view of sin must change if we are to understand the nature of what it means to be a Christian. We have not joined some religious social club. Something extraordinary and radical has taken place in our lives. We were dead in trespasses and sin but now we are alive unto God.
Peter provides some very sober words regarding how Christians must conduct their lives. First, Christians are to prepare their minds for action. The Christian mind is their greatest weapon in their fight not only against temptation to lust, lie, cheat, and steal, it is their greatest tool for honoring God. The significance of the mind cannot be overstated in Christian life. When we think poorly about behavior, we sin. When we think poorly about God, we commit heresy. When we think poorly about Scripture, we are deceived. When we think autonomously, we are idolaters. Holiness is rooted in the mind as much as it is expressed everywhere else in the human person. The mind that was blind is now made to see, not only the light of truth, but how that light should produce good thoughts, good deeds, and good thinking in the life of the Christian.
Next, Peter tells his audience not to be conformed to the former lusts of the flesh. This is a common theme throughout the NT. Lusts were as prevalent then as they are today. The Christian is given the charge to discipline those things out of his or her life. Peter says we are to keep sober. The idea to be in charge of one's thought processes, even to not think in an irrational way. Why are we to do these things? Peter says, because it is written, "You shall be holy for I am holy." In other words, we are to be like God.
Jesus said, "He who does not take up his cross daily and follow me is not worthy of me." (Matt. 10:38) One blogger, convinced that Christians should not judge the world wrote that if we just love the world they way Jesus did, they would come running to Christianity. This blogger surely does not understand the nature of sin. Jesus preached repentance from sin. Jesus said He came to bring division. Jesus said the world stands already condemned. And the world did not come running to Him. They butchered Him upon a cross in the most humiliating execution at their disposal. The life of the Christian is a life of holiness. It is a life of self-denial. Paul said, I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me! And the life I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2:20) Christian, your life is not your own. You have been bought with a price. It is hid with Christ in God. Act like it.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
A survey of philosophy and of human experience strongly indicates that human beings desire the consequences of God without accepting the truth of divine reality. One has to look no farther than the plethora of ethical constructs in the various worldviews in order to understand what I mean. Some philosophers reduce ethics to two basic types: teleological and deontological. The former view focuses on the production of a particular result (pragmatic) while the latter focuses its attention on inherent duty or obligation (rule). It is clear that the fuss over ethics in our world isn't going away any time soon.
Why is it that human beings have such an irresistible attraction to ethics? There are a number of answers offered up to this question, most of which offer little more than fodder for philosophical squabble. Perhaps the question comes down to the highest good that is to be sought in human experience. Hedonism would argue that pleasure is the highest good. Moreover, it is the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest amount of people that humans ought to seek. But one cannot help sensing the arbitrariness in this point of view. What is pleasurable for one may not be pleasurable for another. Who defines pleasure? One person contends that the fine arts produce the kind of pleasure humans ought to seek while another counters that sexual pleasure is the type of pleasure humans ought to seek. On and on we could go about how humans ought to seek this or that kind of pleasure. The disagreement has raged for centuries and it shows no signs of letting up today.
Another view, rational eudemonism claims that the highest good consists in the exercise of the highest human faculty, which is of course, reason. The highest good consists of disciplining the lower appetites and bringing them under the control of human reason. It is sad to say but a large percentage of professing Christians fit this category even though they label their system "Christian."
Yet, another view holds that there isn't one intrinsic good we ought to seek but rather we should seek to maximize all pleasures of all types whenever and wherever possible. In other words, there is intrinsic good in pleasure, in knowledge, in virtue and other areas as well. Ethical pluralism seeks to maximize all the possible areas of highest good rather than isolate a particular one. In other words, the highest good is the highest good we can glean from each of the areas of human experience. However, we cannot help but wonder what makes anything intrinsically good? Still, we seem to be confronted with the charge of arbitrariness. Who says what good is and who says what is good?
"Ethical theories not only aim to prioritize moral principles; they aim to tell us the meaning of moral terms, concepts, and principles." [Cowan/Spiegel, The Love of Wisdom, 324] What we have examined thus far begs the question of what exactly makes good, well, good. Where does the concept "good" enter the human experience? Why does it even matter? But matter it obviously does. There is no denying that goodness matters, at least not for the sane person as far as it goes.
Morality serves a very real purpose in life. It anchors meaning, provides order and structure, and preserves the species. Is it then the mechanism of evolutionary processes solely intended to aid the survival of the species? Somehow, we seem to know that there is more to morality or ethical theory than just the survival of the species. We don't derive nearly the same kind of satisfaction from eating dinner as we do when we do the right thing especially when doing the right thing was not the easiest thing to do. Yet, we must eat if we are to survive as a species. There is something fascinating and mysterious about morality that philosophers and scientists have yet to solve. Why have these specialists not been able to solve the riddle that is morality? I suggest it is because they have been looking for answers in all the wrong places. Typical.
Before we can answer the mystery of morality, we must answer the question of the summum bonum, or the highest good. What is the highest human good? "The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God, and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person." (Ecc. 12:13) The conclusion or sum of all of life is for every person to fear God and to keep His commandments. It is in these words that not only do we see the highest good of humanity but also the very anchor of divine and hence, human morality.
The consequence of God is seen in the ethical theories that humanity grapples with day in and day out. We are confronted with the fact of morality no less than our own existence. Just as light stands in our path each and every day, so too does the fact of morality. It refuses to shrink into the shadows and even though its details have been twisted and contorted beyond recognition in some cases, its principle, like the Sun in desert sky, refuses to hide. The awareness of right and wrong, morality and immorality exists everywhere humans exist. Every philosophical system known to man fails to overcome the obstacle of arbitrariness where ethical systems are concerned. There is one and only one worldview that accounts for morality. That system is Christian theism.
The argument for morality from Christian theism is simply that if there is morality, then God exists: there is no God; therefore, there is no morality. But there is morality. Therefore, God must exist. In other words, God is the necessary precondition for the experience of human morality. Apart from God, human morality is not just arbitrary; it is unintelligible. But humanity wants the consequent of God's existence, namely morality, without the truth of God's existence.
If humanity wants the consequent of God's existence in the form of morality, then it will also have to eventually face the consequences of rejecting His truth. Either way, humanity will eventually come face to face with both the truth of God's existence and the consequences of that existence, whether it wants to or not. And that existence shines as brightly as ever in the person of Jesus Christ as revealed to us all in the pages of Sacred Scripture.