A.D. The Degradation Continues

Episode 6 Highlights, in order:

1. Stephen’s mother has a fit as the wrapped body of Stephen is carried through the streets of Jerusalem.

2. Paul shows up at the desert camp of the Christians and preaches against the new movement.

3. Stephen is buried.

4. Caiphas discusses the pain the Jews are experiencing with his father-in-law(?) who wants Caiphas to stop persecuting the Christians.

5. Back to Paul preaching in the Christian camp against the new movement. Peter and Paul face off and argue about prophecy.

6. Paul is invited to sit on the Sanhedrin by Gamaliel(?).

7. Caiphas converses with Herod and gives him a gift, I guess demonstrating the political environment.

8. Paul tells Caiphas wife he has been preaching against the ‘movement’ in the Christian camp.

9. Mary Magdalene sternly counsels Peter in the Camp.

10. Paul asks Caiphas for ‘authority’ to continue preaching against Christianity.

11. Peter and John return to Jerusalem to preach in the city.

12. Paul shows up with ‘authority’ to continue his persecution, Paul and Peter face off again and Christians are arrested by Jewish religious leaders.

13. Pilate and his wife discuss Caiphas and Pilate wonders about the closeness of his wife’s relationship with Caiphas’ wife.

14. Pilate prays to ‘Minerva’ concerning who should be high priest.. Some interesting coin flipping takes place and Caiphas continues as high priest.

15. Paul gets sealed documents authorizing his persecution of the Christians, shows up again in the streets (better dressed), recruits a mob and distributes weapons and armor. They invade Christian homes, beating folks and making arrests. Paul and Peter face off again.

16. Paul and his mob head for the Christian camp. Everyone leaves, but Peter stays. Oil is poured in a trench that encircles the camp, that seems to have been dug for just such an occasion. When Paul & Co are inside the camp Peter sets the oil on fire, glares and shouts at Pauls, and leaves the scene. The end.

In terms of biblically accuracy, this might have been the worst of the lot so far. While it’s true to the biblical account that Paul had papers of authority to persecute Christians, the entire rest of the episode was pretty much ‘filling in the blanks’ left out of the Bible.

Why do I call it ‘The Degradation Continues’? Maybe because this entire series has been an adventure in missing the point of the message of the Gospel. My God and Savior deserves better.

Youth Yoke: The Necessity of Hardship for Young Men

yoke1Hardship comes to us via every avenue of life, from beginning to end. Affliction is no more avoidable than air. And thankfully, Scripture has much to say about it. But one passage that has often redemptively grabbed me is from Lamentations 3.

“It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope.” (Lam 3:27-29). Now, the degree of hardship faced during the time of this verse exceeds what many of us will face. Even so, the verse illustrates a timeless principle on the topic of affliction: it is good for us young men (“young” could refer to under 40ish +/-) to experience a measure of hardship’s yoke.

But why? What is it about us young men such that affliction is particularly profitable? For the most part, it’s simply because we are young. We lack the full seasoning of sanctification. Our spiritual development is many stages from completion. The flesh has undergone less mortification. So, in God’s good sovereignty, affliction’s yoke in youth is a necessity which can move us along in the school of Christ. There’s nothing easy about it. But when our loving God grooms us with hardship, we young men can profit greatly. As a friend and mentor, Ray Mehringer, once said to me, “It’s the ‘ABC’s’ of Christianity: Adversity Builds Character.” And character building is the need of the hour for many of us young men.

Oak-sapling-Quercus-robur-001By God’s grace, some are well-trained in hardship’s academy. For others of us, we may need to simply enter the school or re-take a few classes. For those like me who have often flunked in the school of struggle, here are a few reminders on the necessity of hardship, especially for us younger guys:

  1. Hardship reminds us that God is God.

As young men, we do not naturally gravitate towards respecting that God reigns solo on the throne of the universe. We are natural-born sovereignty contenders.

Further, as young guys, we sometimes glory in beholding what we’re capable of. Things like physical strength, energy, vigor, and the like; we suppose that they are something of cosmic value. Because they helped us bench more, play a sport well, experience a measure of success, that they carry sovereignty. We can accomplish things and get stuff done by our own strength.

Affliction is good, then, because it reminds us that our young-manness exercises no sovereign sway. God is God. And in his love for us, he may hand us hardship so that we cease secret self-admiration and bow low before our sovereign God.

  1. Hardship grows us in the concept of Christ’s lordship.

“Lord.” Generally, the word refers to one who lawfully owns other people as property, someone of supremacy, or one who possessed a right to individually rule over others. A lord was someone to whose requests you did not dare say, “No.” “Lord” is a word that has long-passed out of cultural style because submission is out of style because self-worship is in style. Like a stubborn donkey, our decadence can hardly handle the concept. We are far too awesome and important; we matter too much for lordship. Plus, with the internet and social media, everyone and their words radically boosts their matter-meter. If we look hard enough, everyone can find a place in which we can function as a little-lord. But it’s spiritual smoke and mirrors.

Christ is the Lord. The word appears about 700 times in the New Testament; far more than any other title. And the term, “Lord,” captures in large part our relationship with our loving God. It means that he possesses extraordinary and unrivaled supremacy: he will do things his way at all times in all places with all people. The lordship of Christ is perhaps the most necessary thing to know about Jesus. And hardship serves that knowledge.

Suffering is not a spiritual boot-camp given to us young men so that we can narcissistically prove ourselves. It is a spiritual endowment given to us so that we can submissively humble ourselves. As we embrace it, God grooms us in the concept of lordship.

  1. Hardship reminds us that we are extraordinarily frail in every way.

One of the things we enjoy most about our youth is our not-so-strong strength. We love what we can do. We love what we can do to be known.

Such impulses evidence that, in our brief existence, we may not have had enough encounters with our frailty and God’s power. However, even a brief consideration of God’s creation is convincing. For example, among trillions of other things, Jesus made this thing out in space called a “black hole.” A black hole is so strong that light moving at 186,000 miles per second is not fast or tough enough to evade its grasp. How fast does something have to be moving to evade your grasp?

Yet, if you’ve been stubborn like me, even the daily demonstrations of our weakness and God’s strength in creation are not convincing enough. We need something more. As our perfect Father, God will see to it that we decreasingly operate in a delusional state of personal potency.

He may ordain some physical weakness, sickness, or disease. Now, the presence of illness does not automatically mean God is disciplining us for some form of pride. But in either case, such great difficulties serve redemptive purposes to convince us of our frailty, which drives us to him. Young men need to know that they are frail.

  1. Hardship reminds us that we should not expect Eden-like circumstances in this life.

normalAs I look back, I have many embarrassing moments in my ministry (and certainly more to come). Many of them bloomed from an unseasoned heart, ignorant that life outside of seminary is not edenic. Those first few years of things like ministry mistakes, people leaving the church, coming under slander and scorn; it was a shock to my infantile soul.

Other things like financial hardship, losing jobs, non-ideal housing and family circumstances, not getting to work your dream job, mistreatment at work and in the home; often young men suppose that these are bizarre things between Genesis 2 and Revelation 20. Yet they, and worse, are status quo.

So, one of the great ways we can position ourselves for a stable, fruitful life in Christ is to settle into the fact that life now is the photo-negative of heaven. Too often we unnecessarily compound our own discouragement because we make demands on this world that only heaven will meet.

So then, a measure of hardship reminds us of the ubiquitous thorns and thistles which we like to pretend are non-existent. By God’s grace, we can embrace things like little ministry fruit. That very well could be God’s best for us for where we are spiritually. It very well could be his mercy to withhold that which would lure our corrupt cravings for glory. If we experienced too much success, we could easily become glory thieves.

  1. Hardship reminds us that we are not great.

J.C. Ryle once wrote, “Pride never reigns anywhere so powerfully as in the heart of a young man.” We begin life with excessive-self-inflation syndrome. And in young men, many of us seem to have a bad case of it.

Even in Christian ministry, many of us quietly cling to the buzz of praise and recognition. It’s such a fun high. Some of us, for example, love social media because we can secretly bask in our pseudo-greatness, beholding the retweets, compliments, and flattery. We can make people believe that we are humble, yet still cyber crowd-surf behind the facade.

Young men, stop thinking you are great. You are not. Heaven laments at the loathsome spectacle when any young man meditates on his own mythical greatness.

But in heaven’s mercy, affliction eradicates self-inflation syndrome. Hardship serves to pull us down from the proverbial crowd surfing. Because he loves us, God may pull the praise out from underneath us so that we fall flat on the floor. At that point, we have begun to assume a posture of worship. It’s as Thomas Watson once said: “When God lays men upon their backs, then they look up to heaven.”

  1. Hardship reminds us that our usefulness depends entirely on God’s mercy.

A bit of success in youth is a potential hazard. Temptation can whisper that our might made it happen. We begin to believe the praise. And we look at God’s glory with covetous eyes.

young manIt’s then that affliction can shake us out of the spiritual stupor. John Newton put it this way when he once said to a young pastor, “Many distressing exercises you will probably meet with upon the best supposition to preserve in you a due sense of your own unworthiness and to convince you that your ability, your acceptance, and your usefulness depends upon a power beyond your own.”

God may raise gifted preachers or writers or athletes or engineers or doctors from dirt. In fact, he does it all the time. Clay pots are not indispensable. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7).

  1. Hardship renders us more useful for God.

God has such great purposes for us. He loves us so much that he will settle for nothing less than conforming us daily to the image of the greatest Person in the universe: the Lord Jesus Christ.

But young men often suppose they are quite OK the way they are. So, we are slow to change. We are both blind and resistant to our woeful inadequacy before God to live a life for his glory. And many, if not most, of us possess little usefulness to God until we are older and have weathered many storms.

sanctificationHardship is often God’s chisel with which he bashes away anything on us that does not resemble Christ.

Other seasoned saints have observed this far before us:

Thomas Watson: “God’s smiting his people is like the musician’s striking upon the violin, which makes it put forth melodious sound. How much good comes to the saints by affliction! When they are pounded they send forth their sweetest smell.”

Augustine: “Affliction is God’s flail to thresh off our husks; not to consume, but to refine.”

  1. Hardship fosters perseverance in our lives.

As young men, there is one thing which is a scarcity in us all: perseverance. That is not to say that young men will not persevere. Rather, by virtue of our youth, we have not demonstrated much perseverance.

Especially for us younger guys, by God’s grace, a measure of struggle serves us well by eradicating pride and entitlement and infusing perseverance and humility.

  1. Hardship deepens our love for God’s word.

Since youth usually means less experience with hardship, Bible verses on suffering sometimes remain two-dimensional to many of us young men. We read them, hear them preached, and observe seasoned saints cling to them. But in our spiritual infancy, they are still a bit out of our reach. We’ve yet to put them into practice. And it’s not entirely our fault. We’re just young and inexperienced.

So, affliction charters us into biblical territory which we’ve seen and heard, but yet to thoroughly navigate.

Places like Psalm 119 become frequently visited territory:

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (Ps 119:50).

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Ps 119:67).

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Ps 119:71).

Oftentimes we erroneously say, “He makes the Bible come alive to us.” But the Bible is living (Heb 4:12). Hardship profits us because it makes us come alive to the Bible.

  1. Hardship deepens us in God’s great sustaining grace.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I have personally been frightened at verses like, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12), and, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (Jas 1:2-3). But my fears of those verses reveal a deeper immaturity: I know little about God’s great sustaining grace for his children in trials. Really, it’s a sinful fear of God.

But as he holds our hand through various valleys, we learn an extraordinary lesson. Our weakness doesn’t change much. But, our understanding of his sustaining grace does. The fear of the unknown morphs to a trust in the Known. We learn that our suffering and weakness are not detrimental, but fundamental, to our intimacy with and usefulness for Christ.

We never have a “bring it on” attitude towards affliction. Rather, it is more of, “God, I would never choose this for myself, but as a young guy, I know that this is your good, fatherly care for me. And by your competent, intimate care alone, I will walk through this.”

We learn the priceless truth: “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9).

Many more benefits come from God’s good hand in hardship. We could talk about, for example, how suffering weans us off the world and its vanity, increases our compassion for others in affliction, sets our compass more towards heaven and an eternal perspective, makes us more malleable and calm in the face of other hardship, and reminds us of the far greater sufferings of Christ in propitiating the wrath of God in our place.

Hardship is so helpful for us young men because it convinces us of our radical ordinariness. From the soil of ordinariness blooms a pure worship of, and usefulness for, our extraordinary Savior, Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us bow under the glorious youth yoke that we might be more fully shaped into his image for the good pleasure of our Father.

by Eric Davis

Posted at The Cripplegate

The State of Today’s Evangelicalism

Below is an excerpt from J.I. Packer’s introduction to one of the most important classics of Christian literature, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen. Following the excerpt are links to both Packer’s introduction and Owen’s famous work.

“There is no doubt that Evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference.”

 

J.I.  Packer’s Introduction to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ – John Owen

Does the atheist merely deny that which he knows is true?

Atheists either totally deny the existence of God or they claim they just don’t believe in God, or gods. I have met both types, however there are far fewer professing atheists who tell me that God doesn’t exist than those who merely tell me they just don’t believe in God. When it is suggested that to claim God doesn’t exist necessarily presupposes ‘all knowledge’, thoughtful God deniers will move into the ‘I just don’t believe in God’ camp.

We ask the above question because of what scripture tells us in the New Testament book of Romans, Chapter 1:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity. . . 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Note the following points about men in the above text.

1. Men suppress the truth (by their unrighteousness). (v. 18)

2. They (men) knew God. (v.21)

3. They (men) exchanged the truth about God for a lie. (v.25)

If you read the rest of Romans 1, you will also find out what the results are when men exchange the truth of God for a lie, but those results are not the topic of this post. The point of this post is the original question “Does the atheist merely deny that which he knows is true?” If the answer is ‘yes’, should it inform how we discuss the existence of God with professing atheists? If that’s another ‘yes’, how should it inform our end of the dialogue? What might change in the way we discuss the issue of od’s existence?

Food for thought and discussion.

THEONOMY RESOURCES

Well, I finally listened to the Theonomy Debate between Theonomist Joel McDurmon and Pastor J.D. Hall. It took a bit of time before the audio and video was available online. I downloaded the audio from the American Vision website, but it required me to be already on their mailing list, etc., and going to their store and doing the ‘shopping’ thing. It was a free download consisting of three audio files, two actual debate segments and a Q&A segment. Then I did a little Googling and found both the video and some additional links concerning theonomy that are quite helpful.

Here is a link to the Sola Sisters page. I have already added some of the articles to my theonomy library, which contains both pro and con material.

I also found another interesting Podcast to listen to called “Bible Thumping Wingnut”. The Web page is here. Episodes #t52 (here) is an interview with J.D. Hall and #53 (here) contains reflections on the debate and social media conduct.

Since you are probably wondering my concerns had to do with the connection between theonomy, Christian Reconstructionism and Dominionism.

Enjoy…

Think on These Things Articles – New Calvinism – Part II

New Calvinism – Part II

(Volume 21, Issue 2 March/April 2015)

In the first paper on the subject of New Calvinism we explored some definitions and examined the essential ingredient of the movement which is the co-mingling of Calvinistic theology with at least openness to charismatic practices. I believe this to be the unique and defining characteristic of New Calvinism. It is the one feature that all involved have in common. However, there are other traits that are shared by many of those immersed in the system. To these we will now turn. It should be remembered that those promoting neo-Calvinism are not monolithic in every aspect, and some of the features mentioned below would be true of any number of evangelicals who are neither Calvinistic nor charismatic. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to find these identifying marks embraced by adherents of the movement.

Serious about theology and Christian living

This is the most commendable aspect of the majority of the “young, restless, and Reformed” crowd. All of the leadership, and most of the enthusiasts, are serious students of Scripture and substantial theological works that are concerned with truth. They seek preachers and teachers that deliver solid and thoughtful exegesis. They have little tolerance for sloppy thinking, weak answers and careless preaching. They want to be challenged and they want to be part of the debate, not merely passive consumers. This is a clear improvement over many in the recent past who were content with superficial teaching as long as their “needs” were being met and going to church was light and fun. Many of these young 20 and 30-somethings are reading Spurgeon, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, J. C. Ryle and the Puritans, as well as contemporary authors such as D. A. Carson, John Piper, Michael Horton, John MacArthur and Albert Mohler. Even if we disagree with some of the teachings of such men, this is an important upgrade over those who haven’t read anything deeper than Joel Osteen in their entire lives. If this generation can be guided in the right theological direction and challenged with hermeneutically sound preaching and writings then the future of evangelicalism is looking brighter.

Under this heading, a major emphasis on the gospel is the norm. Preaching the gospel, to others and to ourselves, permeates the New Calvinist’s writings and teachings. If anything negative can be stated about this it would be that the term “gospel” is so widely used that it is difficult at times to determine what is meant. In its broadest form some, like John Piper, have gone so far as to entitle one of his books, God Is the Gospel. But what most are meaning when they encourage focusing on the gospel is that we are to live our lives on the basis of God’s grace. Sinners who have been redeemed by a holy God cannot point to themselves as the means of salvation since there is nothing they can do to win the favor of God. The Lord’s grace is essential to salvation. But many Christians stop at conversion, which is a mistake. Grace is indispensable at every stage of our Christian life. We are not only saved by grace, we also live by grace. We never mature to the point that grace becomes unnecessary. When we sin, we should confess that sin and repent, but our repentance does not win new favor with God, who has flooded us with grace all along. In addition, when we sin we become cognizant afresh that we stand in grace alone. Moreover, our Lord is not stingy with dispensing grace at our time of need. The neo-Calvinists have immersed themselves in grace, and rightly so. Unfortunately, as Paul warned in Romans 6:1, some have taken grace too far. There are those so enamored with grace as to see any emphasis on good works, or even obedience as symptoms of legalism. Some are teaching that the Christian ought not be concerned with growth and maturity, which they say leads to despair, but rather should focus on grace and glory in their weakness and failure. This emphasis has actually led, of late, to some division within the ranks and I will be writing on this issue soon.

The New Calvinists have been active in church planting and other means of spreading the gospel and making disciples. The Acts 29 Network, which is the primary organization devoted to planting like-minded churches, has over 500 churches in 30 countries. It was founded by Mark Driscoll in 1998 who turned over the leadership to Matt Chandler in 2012. According to its website, the stated mission of Acts 29 is to band together churches, which, for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, plant new churches and revitalize dead and dying churches around the world. The network publishes the following core values, which demonstrates not only solid theology but the centrality of the local church.

  1. Gospel centrality in all of life.
  2. The sovereignty of God in saving sinners.
  3. The empowering presence of the Holy Spirit for all of life and ministry.
  4. The fundamental moral and spiritual equality of male and female and to men as responsible servant-leaders in the home and church.
  5. The local church as the primary means by which God chooses to establish his kingdom on earth. [1]

Happily, but surprisingly, the New Calvinists reject equalitarianism and embrace complementarianism, as point four above demonstrates. This is in clear contrast to the seeker-sensitive movement which often sees no difference between the leadership roles of men and women in the home and in the church. Perhaps this is due to leading theologians in the movement such as Wayne Grudem and John Piper who have written extensively defending the traditional biblical understanding of the role of men and women. Nevertheless this is a welcomed emphasis demonstrating both the desire to be scripturally sound and a willingness to resist the political correctness of the culture when convinced of the truthfulness of their position.

I agree with Jeremy Walker who writes in his book, The New Calvinism Considered, “At its best, the new Calvinism is a God-centered movement. Insofar as this is so, we should both recognize it and rejoice because of it.” [2] Unfortunately, as we will see below, we cannot rejoice unreservably on all fronts.

Pragmatism

On the positive side, the New Calvinists are willing to use every means possible to spread the good news and their understanding of theology and the church. Many of their leaders are profound and prolific writers, not just of books and magazine articles but of blogs and websites. The Gospel Coalition is one of the primary means of propagating and discussing their views, even though the blog includes more traditional Reformed theologians and pastors as well. Still many could be identified as New Calvinists if we are using the essential two characteristics of Reformed theology combined with charismatic practices (or at least openness to the continuation of the sign gifts). The founders of The Gospel Coalition, D.A. Carson and Timothy Keller, would both fit this description. Neither man could be described as a traditional charismatic, nor do the charismatic gifts play a major role in their theology or writings. Nevertheless both embrace continuationism, which teaches that all the sign gifts (prophecy, miracles, healings, tongues, etc.) are still active in the body of Christ today. The New Calvinists also spread their views via conferences, especially Together for the Gospel, founded in part by C.J. Mahaney and influenced heavily by Sovereign Grace Ministries, which in turn is perhaps the best known of the New Calvinists organizations.

Yet, like many others in evangelicalism there is a definite undercurrent within the movement that implies that bigger is better. If a church is successful numerically then it must be doing something right. If a man is well-known, popular with the masses, a great communicator and has built a megachurch, he apparently should be followed, even if his doctrines or conduct are questionable. The unspoken (and sometimes spoken, as in the case of Driscoll) idea is that what works trumps what is right. This is certainly not an exclusive problem with the New Calvinists but examples within this circle abound:

  • Take the conduct of Mark Driscoll. From his earliest days of prominence his bullying, anger, abuse of those under his leadership, and his coarse, offensive language, not to mention his explicit, virtually pornographic discussion of sex, has been evident. James 3:13-18 makes it clear that such a man is exhibiting a worldly wisdom which is the opposite of godly wisdom described as “first pure then peaceable…” (v. 17). Nevertheless, until recently he has been all but idolized by tens of thousands of admirers and officially endorsed by the likes of John Piper and Paul Tripp. Why? It would appear that the reason is his success. He has built an empire of sorts: he had a church with numerous campuses spread out over several states; he founded a church planting ministry (Acts 29) which has started over 500 churches, and he is an engaging speaker. In other words he has been successful. When he imploded recently, was booted from Acts 29, resigned his pastorate, and watched as his empire unraveled and collapsed, those who had been his allies pointed to the fact that he had been a loose cannon since the beginning of his ministry. Driscoll did not hide who he was, but those who should be guarding the sheep looked the other way because his methods, as ungodly as some of them were, seemed to work.

  • When James MacDonald decided to legitimize Oneness Pentecostal preacher T. D. Jakes and his non-Trinitarian theology, at the now infamous Elephant Room 2 interview, he and Mark Driscoll in effect lobbed easy questions to Jakes so that he would appear to be in agreement with Trinitarian doctrine while maintaining his Oneness views. Those with doctrinal knowledge concerning this debate saw through Jakes, but MacDonald in effect gave him a pass, virtually declaring Jakes “one of us.” In addition, not one word was mentioned concerning Jakes’s prosperity gospel heresy which has led perhaps millions around the globe toward an unbiblical lifestyle. Why was Jakes afforded such charity? It would appear that he is “too big to fail.” His ministry is among the biggest in the world; could he possibly be wrong?

  • We could move on to John Piper’s endorsement of Rick Warren; Steve Furtick’s mass baptism antics; James MacDonald’s public discipline of elders who dared challenge his leadership style, followed by a public apology some years later for his slanderous actions; and the Sovereign Grace’s and C. J. Mahaney’s cover up of a child abuse scandal. The common denominator seems to be that despite shameful behavior and bad theology, these men and organizations are still being touted as examples to follow because they are successful – what they do seems to work and that is enough for many.

Relevance and missional living

One of the key buzzwords used by a large number of young evangelicals, including the restless and Reformed, is “relevant.” By this is meant that our Christian lives and our churches need to reveal an “authentic” (another buzzword) faith. We need to scratch where people itch. We need to show people that Christ and the gospel are germane to real life. More than that, we need to demonstrate that Christians are real people, with real hurts, pains and problems just like the unsaved. A Christian is not someone who is so different that he cannot relate to unbelievers. The difference Christ has made in our lives is not that we have become perfect or so “holy” that we are weird and unapproachable by the unsaved. In fact, we are like them except that Christ has forgiven us our sins and has become the central focus of our lives.

Much of this philosophy is good, and should be considered seriously. The next step is to learn to relate to unbelievers rather than isolating ourselves from them. The neo-Calvinist believes that we live out this kind of relevancy primarily by being “missional” (yet another buzzword). This word has been so over used and abused that even those who love it sometimes are not sure what it means. Missional usually implies living out a life of love and care for others, serving and ministering in such a way that Christ is glorified in us and people are therefore drawn to Him and His saving grace.

There is much positive to say about living relevant, missional lives. Many serious Christians have developed a bunker mentality in which they hide from unbelievers as much as possible, hoping to protect themselves from bad influences. If they witness at all it is through unnatural methods such as cold-turkey evangelism in which they engage total strangers with the gospel and then retreat to their bunker. While this methodology has been in vogue for years it is artificial and does not allow the unregenerate to see Christ at work in the believer’s life. The missional approach places Christians in the lives of those who need Christ. As we live authentically the idea is that the unsaved will see the transformation that Christ has brought about in our lives and will be drawn to it. Missional is a reversal of isolationism with an occasional foray into “enemy territory.” It is a full engagement in the world in which the unbeliever lives in order to be light and salt to them. This engagement is not purely for evangelism, which is usually viewed as manipulation (this is how the young, restless, and Reformed see so-called “friendship evangelism”). Rather, missional living is involvement with others in order to bless them, whether they come to Christ for salvation or not.

Again, there is much that could be learned from this emphasis on missional and authentic living but before we sign-off on all of this some cautions are in order. Missional living, in which believers are seeking the good of others, has a history of becoming an end in itself. This will be discussed further below when we look closer at social concerns and the gospel. Just as we can go too far by viewing the unsaved as mere targets or prospects for evangelism, we can go too far and see our temporary blessing of their lives as enough. Certainly showing love to our neighbor is an appropriate end in itself. We should not show such love just to maneuver people into position so that we can fire our gospel missiles at them. But on the other hand loving our neighbor could not be more perfectly expressed than by introducing them to the Savior. Blessing the lives of people, bringing happiness, comfort, and meeting their physical or emotional needs are wonderful things, but they are not a fulfillment of the Great Commission which calls for us to make disciples, not just bless people (Matt 28:19-20).

And I find it interesting that even when evangelism is still the focus, in their effort to be relevant some of the New Calvinists turn Arminian, at least in their methodology. As will be demonstrated in the next section, many are on the hunt for new approaches that they believe will connect with the unsaved and will therefore win their hearts for Christ. Even as they would claim to believe that the unregenerate do not seek for God (Rom 3:10-18), and that they consider the gospel foolishness until the Lord opens their eyes and draws them to Himself (1 Cor 1:18), at the same time they have become dependent on new, relevant means by which to help God win sinners. This can lead to compromise of the truth in order to make the gospel appear attractive to the lost. This is the topic we will take up next.

Culturally engaged/worldliness

The idea of being culturally engaged has been around evangelicalism for decades. It was perhaps the defining issue that ultimately separated the fundamentalists and the (called at the time) neo-evangelicals (now evangelicals) in the 1950s. The question on the table was how much accommodation to the culture was necessary to engage it? Since the secular culture in general sees the gospel and biblical Christianity as foolishness, what will we have to do as Christians to get its approval? Fundamentalists eventually chose not to worry about engaging culture and to focus their attention on rescuing people from a Christ-rejecting world. Their churches became an oasis populated by like-minded believers who wanted to worship God, devote themselves to prayer and the Word and be a beacon of spiritual light to what they called “the lost and dying world.” The danger for the fundamentalist was becoming ingrown and losing a passion for the lost, except during specialized evangelistic campaigns and efforts. The danger for the neo-evangelical was losing the biblical purpose of the church and becoming compromised by the very world that they were trying to reach.

Evidence of compromise (not unlike earlier evangelicals experienced) with the young, restless and Reformed movement is readily available, although that evidence can be interpreted a number of ways. What the neo-Calvinists call engaging culture is often termed worldliness by its critics. Here we must define worldliness as the Bible does, not as many conservative Christians do today. Worldliness is not primarily a matter of dos and don’ts, of entertainment preferences or convictions, but a mindset of one who James would say desires to be a friend of the world and its corrupt system of life. In James 4:4 we read, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” While James is addressing a different context we see that coziness with the world system is spiritual adultery. In the context of engaging the culture just how close can we get before we begin to mimic the world rather than engage it for Christ? Said another way, in order for ourselves and our message not to appear foolish to the unregenerate, what are we willing to compromise in doctrine and in practice? Here are a few concerns that are troubling:

  • Openness to evolution: Many believe it is hard to be accepted seriously in our modern era and yet subscribe to some form of a young-earth creation account. If we are to engage culture it seems paramount that we accept evolution, but how do we do so and stay faithful to Scripture? Timothy Keller believes he has found the formula. He is representative of many who acknowledge some form of theistic evolution (in his case it is progressive evolution). In his highly-regarded apologetic volume, The Reason for God, he writes,

    I think Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a “song” about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation. Genesis 2 is an account of how it happened…For the record I think God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory…[quoting David Atkinson], “if ‘evolution’ remains at the level of scientific biological hypothesis, it would seem that there is little reason for conflict between the implications of Christian belief in the Creator and the scientific explorations of the way which–at the level of biology—God has gone about his creating process.” [3]

    Keller is unofficially linked with Bio-Logos, an organization dedicated to the promotion of theistic evolution.

  • Music: When Mark Driscoll started his church, Mars Hill in Seattle, Washington he wanted to be relevant and he wanted his church to grow numerically. In order to do both he realized the power of music to draw the masses. He said, “I envisioned a large church that hosted concerts for non-Christian bands and fans on a phat sound system, embracing the arts…” [4] Virtually any form of music, performed by excellent musicians, regardless of whether they knew Christ, was used to grow the church. At one point the church began to host concerts at an auditorium which, “rarely hosted Christian bands since our main goal was getting non-Christian kids to come to the concerts.”[5] Driscoll is not alone in advocating the use of secular and often ungodly music and musicians in order to draw a crowd. Keller has the same philosophy concerning using unbelievers to minister at church services because of their expertise. He writes,

    First, we use only professional and/or trained musicians for our corporate worship services, and we pay them all…Second, we often include non-Christian musicians in our services who have wonderful gifts and talents…When we invite non-Christians to use their talents in corporate worship, we are simply calling them, along with every creature, to bring their “peculiar honors” and gifts to praise their Creator. [6]

    Many, including myself, would challenge this use of either secular music or unsaved musicians as ministers within the body of Christ. First Corinthians 12 speaks of the Lord giving to the child of God spiritual gifts to minister within the local church, and the Spirit placing each of us within the body of Christ just as He desires (1 Cor 12:7, 11, 18, 24, 28) for the edification of the church. There is no biblical warrant for using unbelievers, or their godless worldview, via music, simply because it professionalizes the presentation or draws a crowd. The ends don’t justify the means.

  • Crudeness and drinking: To the extent that Mark Driscoll has influenced the New Calvinism movement it would appear crudeness and profanity are acceptable to many, apparently as a means of relating to unbelievers and being authentic. In his Confessions of a Reformission Rev, we find Driscoll comfortable with barnyard words (pp. 67, 94, 128, 129, 134), gross descriptions of the effects of the stomach flu (p. 177), sexual innuendos (pp. 59-60, 94-96, 128), and even crude depictions of God such as repeatedly referring to “God the Ghost” (pp. 7, 26, 34, 47, 74). Driscoll’s language is often shocking and he has influenced a horde of followers. It would seem the idea is that cleaner language apparently puts unbelievers off and they feel more comfortable with those who talk like them. Driscoll is an admitted curser (pp. 47, 50, 71, 97, 99, 128, 130). He is even known as “Mark the cussing pastor” in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz (pp. 96-97) and there is no indication in either this book or later in his ministry that Driscoll has reformed his foul language.

    And separation from worldly activities does not fit Driscoll’s missional strategy either. He speaks often of drinking and frequenting bars (e.g. pp. 51, 131, 146), buying lottery tickets (p. 58), admiring and learning from foul-mouthed entertainers such as Chris Rock (pp. 43, 70), stealing a sound system (p. 62) and setting himself up for sexual temptation (which he claims to have resisted) (p. 128).

    It would be wrong to say that all New Calvinists buy into Driscoll’s speech and actions, but Driscoll (until his recent exposure led to being removed from Acts 29’s board and resigning from Mars Hill) has been highly regarded within these circles and has been reported to be the world’s most downloaded and quoted pastor. Yet we should take Peter Master’s critique seriously (Masters is the long-time pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London where Charles Spurgeon ministered), “You cannot have Puritan soteriology without Puritan sanctification. You should not entice people to Calvinistic (or any) preaching by using worldly bait. We hope that young people in this movement will grasp the implications of the doctrines better than their teachers, and come away from the compromises. But there is a looming disaster in promoting this new form of Calvinism.” [7]

  • Theological compromise: Many of the New Calvinistic guides follow the fads of the moment and quote Christian leaders that are popular in the culture, despite errant teachings from these fads and leaders. Tim Keller likes to quote Flannery O’Connor, Malcolm Muggeridge and G. K. Chesterton, all Roman Catholics with heretical understanding concerning many doctrines including the gospel. [8] When someone espouses that salvation is obtained by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (the teaching of Reformed theology), then turns around and quotes favorably from those who deny these very teachings, what are we to make of such things? And when Keller develops his doctrine of hell from the writings of C. S. Lewis, who denied many orthodox teachings of the church [9] instead of the Bible, what are we to think? That these individuals resonate with the masses is undeniable. But when truth is muddled for the sake of relevancy it is a bad trade.

Social concern/gospel

The New Calvinists are quite concerned about social justice, and rightly so. As citizens of this planet we have an obligation to care for the world and the people in it, not only spiritually but physically as well. But many make the mistake of not distinguishing between the mission of individual Christians, as dual citizens of both heaven and earth, and the mandate given to the church as the corporate people of God, which is outlined in the Great Commission. As a result not only can the church lose its unique place in the world as the one institution ordained by God to preach the Word, function as Christ’s body and make disciples, but the gospel itself can be mutated.

Timothy Keller perhaps is the most influential representative of the social agenda approach to ministry within New Calvinists ranks. The official vision statement for the church he pastors, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in New York City, reads:

As a church of Jesus Christ, Redeemer exists to help build a great city for all people through a movement of the gospel that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal to New York City and, through it, to the world. [10]

Keller and Redeemer clearly see the mission of the church as having a social dimension in which the church helps to bring about cultural renewal, social justice, elimination of poverty, and more. And while this has the appearance of benevolence and love, it is lacking any New Testament mandate or warrant for the church. Historically when the church has added solving the world’s social problems to its mandate it has eventually lost its way and the social agenda became its primary ministry. The theologically liberal denominations and institutions stemming from the late 1800s in America are “Exhibit A” proving this thesis. They exchanged their gospel mandate for mercy ministries and ultimately forfeited their uniqueness as the church.

And there is a further concern – confusing the gospel. Drawing from N.T. Wright and the “missional” understanding of Christianity, Keller infuses a social dimension into his gospel definition. Keller’s gospel is more than the good news that Christ has come to reconcile us to God; it is also the call to solve the world’s problems of injustice, poverty and ecological concerns. He quotes N. T. Wright, not Scripture, to support his view:

The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won… If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense—[then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world—news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things—and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all. [11]

Later in The Reason for God, Keller makes clear what he means:

The purpose of Jesus’ coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world…The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world. [12]

Scripture knows nothing of this type of gospel message. Nowhere in the New Testament will you find such a commission given to the people of God. And as E. S. Williams points out, “Of the many works of the Holy Spirit revealed in Scripture, caring for and cultivating the material world for its restoration and purity is not one.”[13] You will, however, find a similar message in the emergent church, N.T. Wright’s “New Perspective on Paul,” and those reviving the old “Social Gospel” agenda.

Williams documents that Keller’s book Generous Justice speaks of and leans on the teachings of Gustavo Gutierrez and his book, A Theology of Liberation. “But he does not tell his readers that Gutierrez was [is] a Dominican priest, widely accepted as the founder of liberation theology”. [14] This should be considered carefully before one follows Keller and others too far down the social justice road as the mission of the church.

As one author writes, “At root,… is a question of how to engage the culture without losing one’s soul. Fundamentalism feared losing its soul and did not engage the culture; evangelicalism feared being different from the culture and is in danger of losing its soul.” [15]

Conclusion

In 2009 Time Magazine published its list of ten ideas changing the world today. Number three on that list was New Calvinism,

If you really want to follow the development of conservative Christianity, track its musical hits. In the early 1900s you might have heard “The Old Rugged Cross,” a celebration of the atonement. By the 1980s you could have shared the Jesus-is-my-buddy intimacy of “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” And today, more and more top songs feature a God who is very big, while we are…well, hark the David Crowder Band: “I am full of earth/ You are heaven’s worth/ I am stained with dirt/ Prone to depravity.” Calvinism is back, and not just musically. [16]

The article goes on to point out it is not traditional Calvinism that is changing the world, but the New Calvinism variety that is being described in this paper. Some of the things I have detailed in this article and the last concerning New Calvinism have been positive. But much is challenging the very definitions of the church, as well as having powerful theological ramifications. We dare not ignore New Calvinism, but as always it is to be examined in the light of Scripture.


[1] http://www.acts29network.org/about/distinctives/

[2] Jeremy Walker, The New Calvinism Considered, a Personal and Pastoral Assessment, (Darlington, England, Evangelical Press 2013), p. 57 (emphasis his).

[3] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, (New York: Dutton, 2008), pp. 94-95.

[4] Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformission Rev., Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), p. 40.

[5] Ibid., p. 126, (cf. pp. 68, 93, 100, 158).

[6] Timothy Keller, “Reformed Worship in the Global City,” in Worship By the Book by D.A. Carson, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 238-239.

[7] As quoted in E. S. Williams, The New Calvinists, Changing the Gospel (London: The Wakeman Trust, 2014), p. 11.

[8] See Keller pp, 38, 177, 186, 197, 227, 230-31, 237-39, 240.

[9] William M. Schweitzer, “A Brimstone-Free Hell” in Engaging With Keller: Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical by Iain D. Campbell and William M. Schweitzer, ed. (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2013), pp. 65-96.

[10] http://www.redeemer.com/learn/about_us/vision_and_values

[11] Timothy Keller, p. 212.

[12] Ibid., p. 223.

[13] E. S. Williams, p.20.

[14] Ibid., p. 21.

[15] John H. Armstrong, General Editor, The Compromised Church, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998), p.27.

[16] http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1884779_1884782_1884760,00.html

Christianity Is Losing in America?

The above title is borrowed from an article I came across yesterday online at American Thinker, with the addition of the question mark. Depending on your definition of ‘Christianity you might agree or disagree with the assertion made in the article. There are some points made that I totally agree with and others I find questionable based on Jesus’ declaration “I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”  (Matthew 16:18b)

I am not sharing my personal opinion for the moment but am interested in what you might think about the article. Here it is”":

Christianity Is Losing in America

By Craig Dunkley

Christianity is under attack in America, and it’s losing.  Meanwhile, the Church is, in general, sitting out the fight and hoping the problem goes away.

Hope is not a strategy.  It’s time to act.

Since its inception, the United States has been a predominantly Christian nation, though open-minded and founded on religious tolerance.  Our sense of personal freedom and tolerance, backed by a thoroughly Judeo-Christian worldview, has contributed mightily to this nation’s greatness.  That worldview, and the Christian faith behind it, is being whittled away by the media, our popular culture, and a newly emboldened “activist atheist” movement.  The pace of that whittling has accelerated over the last decade.

Atheism and “Nones” Rising

Data from the Pew Research Center shows that those who consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated with any religion have been rising as a percentage of the U.S. population.  In 2012, nearly 20% of the public fell into one of those categories, up nearly 5 percentage points over the preceding 5 years.  When focusing on adults under 30, about one third consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated.  Almost exclusively, the gains in these groups reflect losses for Christians, with Christians dropping from 78% to 73% of the population over the same period.  Doubtless, the trend has continued.

Lies and Misinformation

Christianity’s retreat is facilitated by a new breed of authors and “scholars” who have worked hard to undermine the most basic teachings of Christianity.  With the help of a sympathetic media, they’ve captured the public’s imagination.  Their impact has been significant.

For example, from the likes of the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Bart Ehrman, Sam Harris, Reza Aslan, Simcha Jacobovici, and others, we have “learned” that:

  • The New Testament is full of errors and alterations, and we can’t even figure out what the original texts said.
  • Neither Jesus nor his early followers considered him divine.  The whole idea that Jesus is the “Son of God” came about centuries after Jesus’s death.
  • Jesus was actually just a poor, illiterate bumpkin who preached about the end of the world.
  • The early church ruthlessly – and violently – silenced “heretics.” As a result, many valid writings were hidden from people because they were damaging to orthodox Christianity.
  • The whole Jesus story was just a rip-off of other “dying and rising” god myths, common in ancient times.
  • The traditionally accepted authors of the four canonical gospels could not have been the real authors.
  • Christianity has killed and persecuted millions over the centuries, including “pagans,” heretical Christians, and thousands of Muslims during those first acts of Christian imperialism, the Crusades.
  • Archeological discoveries have proven time and again that the Bible is untrustworthy as a work of history.
  • The Bible is riddled with inconsistencies that render it invalid.
  • Christianity encourages scientific illiteracy because it teaches that the Earth is the center of the universe and that it’s just 6,000 years old.
  • Many more “facts” that serve to undermine the faith.

There is one problem common to all of the “facts” mentioned above:  they’re demonstrably wrong, or else they take a tiny bit of truth and distort it beyond all recognition.  For example, the assertion that Jesus was not considered divine until a vote of church leaders at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., an oft-repeated myth, is absurd.   The Council did not debate whether Jesus was divine.  Rather, it debated the nature of his divinity: was he the created Son of God – sort of like an “über-Angel” – or was he a pre-existent being, co-equal with God?  The Council decided, based on scriptural interpretation, that Jesus was the latter.  His basic divinity was never doubted.

In another example, some authors are fond of pointing out uncanny similarities between the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection and the stories of a range of other “dying and rising” gods, such as Mithras, Attis, and Dionysus.  This is done in an effort to paint the Jesus story as just a rip-off of earlier myths.  A closer analysis, however, reveals that most of these alleged similarities were either fabricated or wildly misrepresented.  In a number of cases, such as that of Mithras, some similarities were genuine but were developed long after Jesus’s death by pagan cult members to boost their own movement’s credibility.  In other words, it was Jesus who got ripped off!

For each of the “facts” listed above, there are highly sound, historically accurate rebuttals.  Yet these myths  are repeated ad infinitum by some “scholars,” authors, bloggers, popular media outlets, and ill-informed atheist activists all over this nation.

Their incessant “cut and paste” mentality on the internet has established a strong base of content that is now in the process of fooling many Christians into abandoning their faith, while turning away many otherwise open-minded “seekers.”  A textbook example is the shamefully inaccurate cover story on Christianity, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” published on December 23, 2014 by Newsweek.

In addition, a confident-feeling activist atheist community is working to reinforce the notion that anyone who turns to religion (especially Christianity) is an intellectual weakling who believes in fairy tales.  Consider the latest ad campaign by American Atheists.  The net result of all this is a rising number of people who consider themselves atheist or agnostic.

Churches on the Sidelines

It’s important to note that churches do fantastic work.  Christian charities help people across the globe, Christian missionaries risk life and limb to spread the faith abroad, and churches provide comfort and support to millions.  But churches are not properly equipping their members to combat the lies being spread about their faith.

People raised in church are often taught what the Bible says, and many can recite key passages, chapter and verse.  However, they are not often taught about the specific anti-Christian myths that have been developed, nor are they taught the data-backed responses to them.

In short, churches are not teaching their members enough about Christian apologetics.  This leaves church members unable to respond effectively when their beliefs are challenged.  As a result, they often come to doubt what they’ve been taught, and they are certainly ill-equipped to help “win over” friends or acquaintances who may be seekers “on the fence.”

Younger Christians are the most vulnerable, particularly when heading off to college.  It’s in college that a young Christian is most likely to have his or her beliefs seriously challenged, be it by professors, atheist students, or both.  He must be prepared to deal with this challenge.  This reality was brought home to the author by an e-mail, sent by a friend.   In part, it read:

I know what you mean about faith being challenged.  I grew up in a Christian school where we learned Bible verses and attended chapel every Friday. We were taught ‘truths’ and were expected to absorb them at face value.  It was a good foundation of faith, but it was just faith, and not supported by true ‘knowledge,” if that makes sense…I was completely unprepared to defend my faith when Biblical inconsistencies were pointed out in college.  I signed up for a ‘Religion’ class thinking that I would pass with flying colors because of my years of education.  Surprise.  The first lecture and assignment in the class was about all the discrepancies within the Old Testament.  I had never been taught about the Bible from a historical or factual perspective…

The Need for Apologetics

It’s time for churches to join the fight.  It’s not acceptable to “duck and cover” and wait for this to pass.  It won’t.  Lies and misinformation must be countered with truth and logic in an open and loving way.  Churches must get serious about creating apologetics ministries to educate their members, prepare their youth groups, and spread the word.  Every Christian should understand the attacks that are being launched against the Christian faith, and be prepared to counter them.  Strong apologetics ministries will inoculate Christians against these attacks and equip them to win over those bystanders trying to find their own paths to faith.

These apologetics ministries should also be open and directed toward the general public, inviting open-minded seekers, as well as committed Christians to attend.  These ministries should make ample use of social media and other online resources to maximize their reach.

If Christians do not answer the call now, then even more people will turn away from Christianity because they think it’s not for them…when it might be exactly what they’re seeking in their lives.

Craig Dunkley is a marketing and public relations executive.  He is also founder and editor of Logic & Light, a website dedicated to Christian apologetics.

Why Are So Many Young People Losing Their Faith in College?

It’s something most Christian parents worry about: You send your kids off to college and when they come back, you find they’ve lost their faith. The prospect of this happening is why many parents nudge their kids towards Christian colleges, or at least schools with a strong Christian presence on campus.

But in many ways, the damage has been done long before our children set foot on campus. That’s the message from a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly.

My friend Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation set out to find out why so many young Christians lose their faith in college. He did this by employing a method I don’t recall being used before: He asked them.

The Fixed Point Foundation asked members of the Secular Students Associations on campuses around the nation to tell them about their “journey to unbelief.” Taunton was not only surprised by the level of response but, more importantly, about the stories he and his colleagues heard.

Instead of would-be Richard Dawkins’, the typical respondent was more like Phil, a student Taunton interviewed. Phil had grown up in church; he had even been the president of his youth group. What drove Phil away wasn’t the lure of secular materialism or even Christian moral teaching. And he was specifically upset when his church changed youth pastors.

Whereas his old youth pastor “knew the Bible” and made Phil “feel smart” about his faith even when he didn’t have all the answers, the new youth pastor taught less and played more.

Phil’s loss of faith coincided with his church’s attempt to ingratiate itself to him instead of challenging him. According to Taunton, Phil’s story “was on the whole typical of the stories we would hear from students across the country.”

These kids had attended church but “the mission and message of their churches was vague,” and manifested itself in offering “superficial answers to life’s difficult questions.” The ministers they respected were those “who took the Bible seriously,” not those who sought to entertain them or be their “buddy.”

Taunton also learned that, for many kids, their journey to unbelief was an emotional, not just an intellectual one.

Taunton’s findings are counter-intuitive. Much of what passes for youth ministry these days is driven by a morbid fear of boring our young charges. As a result, a lot of time is spent trying to devise ways to entertain them.

The rest of the time is spent worrying about whether the Christian message will turn kids off. But as Taunton found, young people, like the not-so-young, respect people with conviction—provided they know what they’re talking about.

Taunton talks about his experiences with the late Christopher Hitchens, who, in their debates, refrained from attacking him. When asked why, Hitchens replied, “Because you believe it.”

I don’t know what that says about Hitchens’ other Christian debate partners, but it is a potent reminder that playing down the truth claims of the Christian faith doesn’t work. People don’t believe those they don’t respect.

Here’s something that one of the students told Larry Taunton; he said, “Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.”

Folks, that’s pretty sobering. This puts the ball in our court. Are we living lives that show our children that we actually believe what we say we believe? And here’s another question—do we actually believe it?

__________________________

Online Source

The “Son of God” Movie – Faithful Adaptation?

A recent Newsweek magazine special edition  titled ‘Jesus’ there was an article at the back called:

FAITHFUL ADAPTATION : Two of the church’s most influential voices explain why Son of God is a meaningful benchmark for Christianity’s future..

Here is the article. I have underlined the interviewer questions/statements for clarity :

FAITHFUL ADAPTATION

Two of the church’s most influential voices explain why Son of God is a meaningful benchmark for Christianity’s future.

REV. JOEL OSTEEN

 

Pastor of Lakewood Church, the largest church in America, and the author of several books, including the recent Break Out!

 

What was it like for you to work with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey on Son of God?

 

I was technically a consultant, but I didn’t do much. That’s not my expertise. I felt they could get theologians or experts, so for me it was more about being a friend. . I was just there to support them as part of the Christian community. When I heard what they were doing . . . I was there to be supportive in any way I could.

What kinds of conversations did the three of you have about the way the story was going to be presented? Did you ever debate Scripture versus a good script?

 

I was on board the whole way. I never saw anything that was off base. . . . At one point in Son of God, Jesus walks out to Peter’s little fishing boat, and Jesus says, “We’re going to change the world.” I loved that. Some people might say, “But that’s not in the Bible,” but I said, “Look, guys, you’re making the Bible contemporary.”

Does that attitude also inform the way you minister to your community at Lakewood?

 

I get criticized for it, but people already know what they’re doing wrong. When I look at the congregation, I don’t have the heart to tell these people they’re crewing up. They already came in here and spent their time and energy. I want to tell them God is there for them, that they can overcome addictions, that they can make good decisions. I want to empower them. I don’t think Jesus came to condemn. He lifted people up. People are tired of being told what to do and tired of being talked down to. Of course, there are two sides of it.

 

Because other ministers feel they have a different calling?

 

Exactly. I can see the other side. Some people need to have somebody in their face saying, “You have to straighten up.” But that’s not my job. My role is to celebrate anyone who is doing something good. They don’t have to be like me. I don’t have to agree with them I00 percent. None of us agree 100 percent on everything. We’re in this together. We’re going to see the good in each other, and I think that’s one of the beauties of what Mark and Roma are doing. It’s a tool for us to celebrate who we are.

Lakewood is one of the largest churches in the country. Is it helpful for you to have a film like Son of God, which gives your congregation a common vocabulary or experience?

 

It is harder to have community in a church like ours. The church is very diverse, not only racially but economically. You could have a CEO sitting by somebody who took the bus. But the pros outweigh the cons for me. There are services that have 15,000 people, and it’s very empowering. It’s like a concert. It’s about bringing people together. So we see a movie like Son Of God as a tool; we see it as a way to get together. It’s easy to say, “Let’s go sec a movie.” People think, “I don’t want to go to church, but you know what, I’ll go see a movie.” And that can create a spark on the inside that says, ‘Tm not religious, but maybe I need a relationship with God,” and that’s who we’re trying to reach- not just the church people. Plus, the film is so well done .What I love about Mark and Roma is that they know how to do it right, with that added production value. Son of God is on par with anything you would go to see in the movies.

 

Do you feel Son of God is finally giving the Greatest Story Ever Told the treatment it deserves?

 

It really is. I say this all the time, but Mark and Roma could be doing anything. They have the opportunities, they have the fame, they have the money. These guys have chosen to use their gift, their power and their celebrity to do something great for faith and to bring the Bible to life. That’s why it’s easy to get behind it.

REV. SAMUEL RODRIGUEZ

 

Leader of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council l and author of Path of Miracles

 

Tell me briefly how you got involved with The Bible series and. ultimately, the Son of God film.

 

Roma Downey, Mark Burnett and their team engaged Christian leaders for the sake of The Bible series. The primary purpose was to advise and consent: We said, “Let’s look at the series, some of the segments, the trailer, the script. Is there anything that will cause great angst or consternation within the Bible-believing community?” So I was engaged at the initial stages, and it became a wonderful journey. The Christian worldview via the conduit of popular culture appears marginalized and ridiculed. But now there’s this redemptive opportunity to offer the Bible to a new generation n. It became a visual presentation of the wonderful life-changing narrative that’s stems out of God’s word.

How much course correcting did you do as an adviser?

 

None. Mark and Roma did their due diligence beforehand. For me, as long as the core message and core themes were, without compromise, about love and grace and redemption and taking care of those in need :and changing the world for good, I was covered .And they not only adhered to that, they actually elevated that message through the Bible series and now the Son of God movie.

What does Son of God do differently than The Bible?

 

By focusing on the Jesus narrative exclusively, Son of God takes The Bible and raises and amplifies it on a very powerful scale. There’s a difference between seeing the story through your television and seeing this radical journey of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ on the big screen. And because it’s being released in theaters, it offers an opportunity for fellowship and fraternity ty. It’s a convocation. It invites us to have a conversation about faith, religion and God.

Why do you feel that’s paramount at this point in our history?

 

We have so much confrontation and so many debates taking place in America on a plethora of issues every single day. I ‘m only 44 years of age, but I’ve never seen my nation as divided as I see it now. Son of God says, “Let’s come together and let’s have a conversation. Let’s experience something different, something that’s conciliatory, something that’s redemptive.” And that’s why it’s more than a film to me. It really is a call for gathering.

How significant is it that the film is being released nationally in English and Spanish on the same day?

 

I can’t find the words to describe the significance. It speaks to the hearts of Mark and Roma. The Hispanic-American community is not just a segment or a demographic. It’s the fastest-growing segment of the Christian community. By mid-century, the majority of Christians in America, in both the Catholic and in the Evangelical – Protestant world, will be of Hispanic-American descent, according to Pew research. Mark and Roma picked up on that, they acted proactively, and they’re releasing it in Spanish on the very same day. I commend and applaud them for that.

© 2014 Newsweek LLC

I could probably add a lot of personal comment, but I will only ask a question:

If “Son of God is a meaningful benchmark for Christianity’s future.”, and it just might be, what does that  really mean?

‘Son of God’: Jesus film earnest but bland, reviews say

By Oliver Gettell, LA Times

11:22 AM PST, February 28, 2014

Adapted for the big screen from the History Channel miniseries “The Bible,” the new film “Son of God” is essentially a feature-length recut of the second half of the series, based on the New Testament.

The reedited nature of the movie, which tells the story of Jesus from his birth through his preaching, crucifixion and resurrection, might explain why many film critics are saying “Son of God” feels more like a greatest-hits compilation than a cohesive work.

In a review for The Times, Martin Tsai writes, “to its credit, ‘Son of God’ proves more than a mere watered-down ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ The epic proportions of the miniseries hold up well on the big screen, save for the digitally composed establishing shots of Jerusalem.”

On the other hand, it also has the feel of a “midseason clip show.” Tsai adds, “If ‘The Bible’ was CliffsNotes for the Scriptures, ‘Son of God’ is the cheat sheet. The two-hour film condenses about four hours of what already was hasty television, and it all winds up a little dramatically static.”

The New York Times’ Nicolas Rapold says, “‘Son of God’ runs through the scriptural greatest hits of the Passion with the reliability of a Sunday reader.” He continues, “Jesus looks like a tanned model in robes in the person of the Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado. His scenes pivot on teachable moments buttressed by reaction shots to his coterie, undermining the mysteries of Jesus with the blandness of the filmmaking.”

Rapold concludes, “‘Son of God’ may have hit the mark if part of the goal was to create a portrait flat enough to allow audience members to project their own feelings onto the screen.”

Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle finds the film a bit chintzy, writing, “Jesus of Nazareth’s accent changes frequently,” that “Jerusalem looks as if it was built in a few hours out of balsa wood,” and that there’s “more hair product being used in this movie than in an entire season of ‘Dancing With the Stars.'”

However, “the film does thoroughly succeed in one important regard: offering a coherent, viewer-friendly account of the life of Jesus Christ. The movie flies by despite its 138-minute running time, a holy CliffsNotes that packs in all the greatest hits. Never again will a Sunday school student get lower than a C-minus on this material.”

The Newark Star-Ledger’s Stephen Whitty writes that “‘Son of God,’ unfortunately, is ultimately just a bit of canny recycling,” and “the cuts and compromises show.” What’s more, he says, “there’s little fresh or daring here. As controversial as ‘Passion’ or ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ were, at least they presented very personal visions of this ancient story; whether you felt they were enlightening or blasphemous, they took risks. They dared all. But when it comes to ‘Son of God’ — well, the film is willing. But its spirit is weak.”

And Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post says, “‘Son of God’ is nothing if not sincere, its earnest retelling of Jesus’s life story resembling a gentle, pop-up book version of the New Testament, its text reenacted for maximum reassurance and intellectual ease.”

She ends with an advisory: “To the filmgoers thronging to theaters this weekend: Don’t expect to see a great film, or even a very good one. Whether you discover a meaningful channel with which to continue your walk with the film’s protagonist, however, is strictly between you and your god.”