Sunday, December 04, 2005

Female Chauvinist Pigs - Ariel Levy on 'raunch culture'

Young women are expressing their sexuality more overtly, and outrageously, than ever. But in her hotly debated new book, US feminist author Ariel Levy argues that this is not liberation, it's a betrayal. She takes us on an eye-opening tour of 'raunch culture'

Read the complette article at The Independent (UK).

If that link fails, the article is archived here. [WARNING: Mature language and descriptions of sexual situations.]

If we are going to reach the culture, we have to know the culture. Consider for a moment what the liberating power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has to say to this culture, which seems only to find "liberation" in self degradation and depravity.
17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:17-24).

Monday, September 12, 2005

When is a Crescent not just a Crescent?


Credit: Zombie


The multiculturalism that acts as a screen for "Islamophilia" hit a new low today with the unveiling of the winning design for a memorial for the victims of Flight 93, to be erected in the fields near Shanksville, Pa., where the 40 brave passengers of Flight 93 made sure their plane went down on September 11, 2001, rather than let terrorists turn it into a weapon to be used against other innocent human beings.

Blogger Michelle Malkin told her readers: "Tons of you are stunned, outraged, and sickened by the new Flight 93 Memorial, the 'Crescent of Embrace.' I called the architect responsible for the redesign, Paul Murdoch of Los Angeles, yesterday for comment. He did not return my call, but he did speak with the Johnstown, Pa., Tribune Democrat, as quoted in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

Neither Murdoch nor his supporters see any problem with the red crescent wrapped around the crash site near Shanksville, Pa., where 40 innocent people were murdered at the hands of Islamic terrorists:

"This is not about any religion per se," Murdoch said in a telephone interview with the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown. "It's a spiritual space, and a sacred place, but it's open to anyone."
The word "crescent," he said, was used as a generic architectural term for a curved line.

Oh really. I am sure if they had tried designing the memorial in the shape of a Cross and calling it “the Cross of Embrace” the ACLU would have been jumping all over this. See also here and here. The same people who are blinded by political correctness when it comes to Islam are also incredibly ignorant of it. The crescent is every bit as much a symbol of Islam (think "Ramadan," lunar month, etc.) as the Cross is of Christianity.

Well, in one way, having a memorial to the victims of Flight 93 that reminds the viewer of Islam may be ironically appropriate. It was, after all, in the name of that religion that 40 victims were sacrificed one bright September morning.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Dubious Heroics of Doubt

From the July 2005 issue of New Directions magazine comes the following column, entitled "Last Chronicle", dealing with a phenomenon that longtime Episcopalians/Anglicans and other mainliners have experienced: the "heroic" posturing of skeptics in clerical garb and the "prophetic" pronouncments of unregenerate agnostics on ecclesiastical payrolls.
Last Chronicle

You will have met him or (just as probably) her. S/he is a clergy person whose only theological certainty concerns the heroic dignity of doubt. Volunteer an orthodox opinion – that the tomb was empty, the conception was virginal, the gospels are reliable – and you will be told that you simply have not faced up to all the problems and difficulties involved.

Dare to suggest that it was precisely in considering those difficulties and problems that you reached your present firm opinion, and you will unleash a tirade which degenerates into a reading list.

You will ask yourself, as always, in the quiet aftermath of such a fruitless encounter, just why doubt is so much more heroic than faith. We live, do we not, in an age which has canonized uncertainty and divinized relativism? What in heaven’s name is heroic about adopting the majority position? It might be right; it is hardly glamorous.

But the fact is that the more exalted the churchperson, the more likely s/he is to adopt this curious position. Think of all the books with titles like ‘A Bishop Rethinks…’ Recall the media posturings of David Jenkins (who was a class act) and the ridiculous website of Jack Spong (who emphatically is not). (See also this website.)

You will eventually conclude, I suspect, that you are the fall guy. The heroic doubter would sink into oblivion were it not for the orthodox like you. You are the darkness against which the jewel shines. Doubt can only be portrayed as heroic if there are still enough believers to sustain it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Fatherhood of God (Part 1)

Why do Christians call God Father? There are those who would say that using masculine language for God is only the result of a patriarchal conception of God that we need to move beyond. But the significance of calling God Father goes much deeper than that. It is worth noting that no other religion calls God Father. Even in Old Testament Judaism, they never addressed God as Father. They might say metaphorically, that God is like a Father. But they never called God “Father” in the way that Jesus does.

Jesus brings something entirely new to the realm of human existence. He calls God "Father," because God is his Father, and he teaches his disciples, “When you pray, pray like this: “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Jesus could not call God “mother,” because he had a mother, and she wasn’t God. As we are “in Christ”—that powerful reality that the Apostle Paul deals with again and again in the New Testament—as we are in Christ, his Father becomes our Father.

But I hear the objection, “What about those who have had bad relationships with their fathers or who have had abusive fathers? It isn’t helpful for them to think of God as Father.” The problem is that naming God according to our conception of what is helpful relegates God to the level of a human construct. We don’t think of God as Father because it is a helpful analogy. We call God Father, because it is a reality—indeed the most precious reality that human beings can know&mdashthat if we are in Christ, his Father becomes our Father.

Those who may have had hurtful relationships with their earthly fathers can find healing and fulfillment in the true and perfect fatherhood of God. God's love and care for us, through Christ, is a precious and powerful truth of which we must not lose sight amid the changing religious landscape that surrounds us.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Could it happen in the US?

Ed Vitagliano, writing on Crosswalk.com, speaks of the almost overnight collapse of mainline Christianity in Britain. But could it happen in the U.S.? Vitagliano points to the warning signs and also talks about "Let the People Speak," a survey of 14,000 Britons, revealing why they thought the moral breakdown in Britain was occuring, why people were turning away from the Church, what the Church should be doing about it, and what they personally look for in a church. Read the article here. What they say the Church needs to do to recapture people's hearts and minds will amaze you--and it is not what mainline church leaders in the U.S. want to hear.

If the link to the article on Crosswalk doesn't work, the article is also archived here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Quantum Unbelief

I suppose many of us have heard Easter sermons like this before--sermons that seek to make us feel better about the idea of the resurrection, while at the same time undercutting the reality of Jesus' empty tomb.

Such is the case with Michael Ingham, the current Bishop of New Westminster (Vancouver area)in the Anglican Church of Canada, who published his Easter Message for 2005. You can read the sermon on the Diocesan Website. His message looks at the impact of the “new physics” on theology, and concludes that Easter can no longer be viewed as “something understandable” but rather must be seen as a “divine uncertainty principle inserted into our world.”

A physicist in Bishop Ingham's diocese takes the Bishop to task for his bad science (and even worse theology) in one of the best pieces on science and Christianity I have read in a long time. Read it here.

Many thanks to Nashotah House senior John Jordan for pointing out this piece!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Is Jesus the only savior?

FAITH
By RICHARD N. OSTLING
Associated Press Writer

The World Council of Churches recently was host to 130 representatives from 10 world faiths for major talks on interreligious relations. The WCC, which encompasses 340 mainline Protestant and Orthodox denominations, considers this a "core issue."

At the session, WCC chief executive Samuel Kobia, a Kenya Methodist, proposed new definitions for words including "conversion" and "missions."

"If there is anything that we need to convert, it is the mentality of people to become true human persons," Kobia said. "Our common missionary vocation is to transform the world to be truly human, to recover our common humanity."

More directly, Muslim political scientist Reba Raouf Ezzat from Egypt said religions must enter a "post-conversion" era, forsaking proselytism.

Yet Islam is so intent on absolute truth that it deems defections to other faiths intolerable. Some Muslim nations make conversion punishable by death, others treat it as a less severe crime, and private vigilantes sometimes punish converts.

Christianity's toughest issue, perhaps, is addressed in "Is Jesus the Only Savior?" (Eerdmans) by James R. Edwards. He answers with an emphatic yes.

Though a clergyman in a WCC member, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and theology chairman at Presbyterian Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash., Edwards wasn't the sort invited to the conference. In his denomination, 1,300 congregations have joined a movement that insists "Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all and the way of salvation."

This belief also is endorsed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- in "Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions" (Ignatius). The pope asserts that Christianity "from its very origin and in its essential nature" has embraced Peter's biblical proclamation about Jesus:

"There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Edwards acknowledges the traditional teaching is unpopular and that many would "breathe more easily" if Jesus were simply "a savior" instead of "the savior of the world" and claiming uniqueness that "seems to many people, Christians or otherwise, foolish and perhaps even blasphemous." But he argues in detail that the New Testament requires one savior, then addresses questions this raises:

Isn't this belief outdated in today's complex "global village"?

Edwards says early Christianity faced a similarly complex "collage of mystery cults, personality cults, vestigial forms of classical Greek philosophy, polytheism, imperial cults and nascent forms of Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism."

Doesn't an exclusive savior threaten world peace?

He believes that, properly understood, the biblical teaching about the one God providing the only savior for everyone is a means of uniting humanity and bringing peace.

How should Christians view other religions?

Edwards contends that the sentimental idea that all religions are similar paths is simply wrong. The great religions agree on many moral duties, he says, but disagree about God, salvation, eternal life, the problems of existence and how to overcome them. "The statement that all religions are basically the same is usually heard from people who are not adherents of any religion."

What about Judaism?

Edwards rejects both the idea that Christianity has supplanted its sister faith and the concept, often heard at interfaith dialogues, that the two faiths are equal covenants of salvation. Instead, he believes that "Judaism continues to play a role in God's abiding urpose" but ultimately Jesus is the savior for Jews as well as Gentiles.

How can people believe in a savior from sin in a "postmodern" era when people no longer have a firm sense of truth, or right and wrong, or sin?

This is Edwards' chief worry. He insists on biblical grounds that all people are sinners guilty of real infractions against God, facing the peril of eternal separation from God, who is absolutely true and good, and thus in need of a savior. For that reason, he asserts that worldwide evangelism remains Christianity's unaltered task.

Edwards publicity: Is Jesus the Only Savior?

WCC interfaith meeting: www.oikoumene.org/interreligious.html

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Faith that Triumphs (Hebrews 11:39-12:3)

The Letter to the Hebrews is my favorite New Testament epistle. It could almost be called the Gospel to the Hebrews because of the way in which it relates the good news of the coming of Jesus Christ to everything of significance in the Old Testament. Hebrews chapter 11 gives us that wonderful list of the saints of old who accomplished great things by faith and those who suffered and endured great things by their faith. And the chapter ends with these words (verses 39-40):
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised (emphasis mine). God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Let's consider four things we see in this text:

(1) What was the content of saving faith in the Old Testament? What is there about the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Rahab and all the rest of these Old Testament figures that would cause the Holy Spirit to inspire a New Testament writer to extol them as heroes of the faith?

(2) Faith is an attitude of the heart. There is a way of saying yes to God, so that, even though you don’t know the details of God’s plan, when the plan is fulfilled, you aren’t surprised, you aren’t disappointed; you are thankful.

(3) The Scriptures are not teaching a form of universalism. Just because these people were saved without explicit knowledge of a baby in a manger and a man on a Cross doesn’t mean that they were saved apart from that life and death of Jesus. The passage from Hebrews makes it clear: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” In their looking forward by faith, they were included in God’s covenant and made to be recipients of the promises even though the promises would not be fulfilled until the coming of Jesus.

(4) Now if all these people could be saved looking forward to the vague outline of the promises of God, how much more are we without excuse who can see it all very clearly in the rear-view mirror?

So, as we begin Hebrews 12, the writer brings the train of thought right on home to us. Since we can see so clearly what Jesus has done, it should:
(1) inspire us to throw off everything that hinders us.
(2) free us to throw off the sin that so easily entangles. (Those who have wrestled with some sin over which it seems impossible to get the victory know that this is no small thing—but, God’s covenant promise—fulfilled in Jesus’ sinless life, atoning death, and life-giving resurrection have the power—if we have the faith—to break the sin that so easily entangles.)
(3) empower us to run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Just as when the Letter to the Hebrews was written, so today we face circumstances and situations that discourage and depress us and keep us from being all that God wants us to be and accomplishing what he intends us to do. And so Hebrews 12:1-3 gives us some encouragement:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Finally, in light of the example of Jesus set before us, the writer admonishes us in verse 3: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that (however heavy the burden, however strong the hindrances, however long the race) you will not grow weary and lose heart."
(This exposition forms a continuation of a look at The Letter to the Hebrews begun in the post entitled A Faith for All Seasons.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Microsoft Under Fire For Censoring China Blogs

This item may seem like a departure for a blog that usually focuses on the Gospel and efforts to proclaim it in our world. But I have mentioned in previous posts attacks by the Chinese government on Christians, particularly those who attempt to share their faith.

Now, according to an article in Computer World, Microsoft and other providers of internet services in China are helping the government there to censor news and blog discussions pertaining to the most basic issues of human rights:

"Putting itself in the middle of a major Web controversy, Microsoft acknowledged that its new MSN China Internet venture is censoring words such as "freedom," "democracy" and "human rights" on its free online journals."

Does this include censorship of religious ideas? Another article indicates that it does.

The article went on to add, "China represents the world's second-largest Internet market with 94 million users at the end of 2004, a number expected to rise to 134 million by the end of this year, according to official data."

If the concept of human rights is to have any sort of universally understood meaning, we cannot allow U.S. companies doing business in China to hide behind claims that they are simply abiding by the "laws, regulations and norms of each country" in which they operate, lest the denial of freedoms there lead to the erosion of freedoms everywhere.

You can contact any of these companies via their websites. Write and let them know you care: Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon.com, InterActiveCorp, Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, Websense Inc.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A New Exodus? Americans are Exiting Liberal Churches

Last week, I posted an article from Britain about the numerical decline in mainline Christian denominations and the contrast with churches that are energetic and growing (How to Get the Punters in the Pews, Monday, June 6, 2005). Now comes this column by Southern Baptist Seminary President, Albert Mohler, with news of a book documenting an outright exodus from liberal mainline churches in the U.S. When will they (we) learn?

A New Exodus? Americans are Exiting Liberal Churches
by Albert Mohler
The Christian Post

"We have figured out your problem. You're the only one here who believes in God." That statement, addressed to a young seminarian, introduces Dave Shiflett's new book, Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity. The book is an important contribution, and Shiflett offers compelling evidence that liberal Christianity is fast imploding upon itself....
"Americans are vacating progressive pews and flocking to churches that offer more traditional versions of Christianity," Shiflett asserts. This author is not subtle, and he gets right to the point: "Most people go to church to get something they cannot get elsewhere. This consuming public--people who already believe, or who are attempting to believe, who want their children to believe--go to church to learn about the mysterious Truth on which the Christian religion is built. They want the Good News, not the minister's political views or intellectual coaching. The latter creates sprawling vacancies in the pews. Indeed, those empty pews can be considered the earthly reward for abandoning heaven, traditionally understood...."

...Citing a study published in 2000 by the Glenmary Research Center, Shiflett reports that the Presbyterian Church USA declined by 11.6 percent over the previous decade, while the United Methodist Church lost "only" 6.7 percent and the Episcopal Church lost 5.3 percent. The United Church of Christ was abandoned by 14.8 percent of its members, while the American Baptist Churches USA were reduced by 5.7 percent.

On the other side of the theological divide, most conservative denominations are growing. The conservative Presbyterian Church in America [PCA] grew 42.4 percent in the same decade that the more liberal Presbyterian denomination lost 11.6 percent of its members. Other conservative denominations experiencing significant growth included the Christian Missionary Alliance (21.8 percent), the Evangelical Free Church (57.2 percent), the Assemblies of God (18.5 percent), and the Southern Baptist Convention (five percent).

As quoted in Exodus, Glenmary director Ken Sanchagrin told the New York Times that he was "astounded to see that by and large the growing churches are those that we ordinarily call conservative. And when I looked at those that were declining, most were moderate or liberal churches. And the more liberal the denomination, by most people's definition, the more they were losing...."

Read the whole story.

The column is also available on VirtueOnline, and I have archived a copy here.

Monday, June 13, 2005

"We Want God"

Did you hear about the ACLU objecting to plans by Harris County officials in Texas to name a new park after the late Pope John Paul II? According to the Houston Chronicle, the ACLU believes it is inappropriate to name a park after a religious leader. Now let me get this straight: No matter how significant a world leader someone has been, the ACLU says he cannot honored with a public monument if he happens to have been a member of the clergy??? It seems to me that this constitutes discrimination based on one's occupation, which is illegal, and discrimination against someone based on his religion, which is also illegal. But let's face it: these days the ACLU seems to exist for no other reason than to attack Christians and Christianity.

"We Want God"

Communists tried eradicating Christianity in Poland. All that changed after a historic visit by John Paul II, after he had been Pope only eight months. I was unaware of this significant event until I read a powerful and eloquent appreciation of John Paul II's legacy, written by Peggy Noonan. If you want to see a picture of John Paul II's true greatness and discover an amazing piece of history, read this article and enjoy. If the link above to the article on Opinion Journal doesn't work, you can also access the article here.

As the people of Poland said to the Communists, so the people of the United States need to let the ACLU know, "We Want God!"

Sunday, June 05, 2005

How to get the punters in the pews

From the UK comes this advice on church growth:

How to get the punters in the pews

Colin Sedgwick
Saturday June 4, 2005
The Guardian


Can anything halt the numerical decline going on presently in most mainline Christian denominations? Whenever this question is asked, one obvious clue to an answer seems to get missed. It is a fact that in every part of the country - in cities, towns, villages - there are churches that are cheerfully bucking the trend.

Very likely, there is a church near you which is energetic and growing. It could belong to any denomination; but who cares that much about denominations these days? Would it not make sense for those concerned about numerical decline to have a good look at these churches?

Generalisations are dangerous, but they are likely to have several things in common. For one thing, these churches tend to lay stress on the Bible as both authoritative and relevant - something that needs to be engaged with, not simply read and then left. This results in down-to-earth, intelligible preaching which contains a message worth hearing (even if you disagree with it) and a challenge worth considering (it is better to be offended than bored). There is meat, substance.

These churches emphasise the business of prayer as a central aspect of both personal and church life. They offer midweek prayer groups, and encourage extemporary, as well as set, prayers. Very likely, gatherings for prayer will be stressed as the most important weekly event.

These churches take seriously the business of penetrating their neighbourhood with social activities, such as toddler clubs, youth clubs, old people's groups, evangelistic courses, leafleting, door-knocking, specially arranged "seeker-friendly" services. In short, they are not so arrogant as to assume they have a divine right to exist.

These churches make a real effort to ensure that what goes on in their public gatherings is clearly explained, so the outsider is not made to feel excluded or foolish. He, or she, is told when it is appropriate to stand or to kneel, on what page a Bible passage or prayer may be found, precisely how communion is administered and who is welcome to receive it - not to mention basic things like where to find the toilets or who to deliver the children to for Sunday school.

Children are taken seriously. They are not there on sufferance, shushed into stillness at the slightest wriggle. There may well be a slot in the service when attention is given directly to them and interactive participation encouraged; even if not, they are catered for in separate groups by qualified adults.

Teenagers, likewise, are welcomed and made to feel part of what is going on. They are given the opportunity to contribute to the life of the church by, say, bringing in their musical talents. Account is taken of their tastes when services are put together - there is no insistence on a single musical idiom, so old hymns and modern worship songs can sit happily side by side. There is no tyranny of the organ, nor of the guitar, come to that.

The artificial distinction between "sacred" and "secular" is not recognised. You can wear your Sunday best if you like, but there is no obligation to do so; this is a meeting with God, not a fashion parade, and he looks in people's hearts and not on their exteriors. So jeans and jumpers are fine. Clergy will very likely be dressed informally to emphasise the priestly nature of the whole congregation.

In short, churches that buck the trend see themselves as communities, or families, not simply as buildings where people gather for an hour and then leave to go back into "normal" life. God is taken seriously but not solemnly; worshippers are participants, not spectators; there is silence, but also noise and laughter; there is structure, but also informality.

Churches like this take time to grow and build. Changes have to be embraced, traditions set aside, prejudices exposed. But with patience, prayer, love and goodwill the transformation can take place.

• Colin Sedgwick is pastor of the Lindsay Park Baptist church, Kenton, Middlesex

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A Faith for All Seasons

32And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—38the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:32-40, NIV)

In these few verses from Hebrews we see five very important points about faith:

1. Through our faith God can and does work miracles and acts of providence to bring practical earthly help and deliverance to his people.

The preceding verses in Hebrews 11 tell is some of the miracles that were accomplished by faith: dividing of the Red Sea (vs 29), the fall of the walls of Jericho (vs 30), shutting of the mouths of lions when Daniel was in the lions' den (vs 33), and the quenching of fire by Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego when they walked through Nebuchadnezzar's furnace (vs 34). All these are what we usually call miracles. God breaks into the normal way things work and, in an extraordinary way, makes them work differently. And in every case here the people of God were helped or rescued from danger or death.

The first point is that God can and does work through faith to do miracles and acts of providence to bring practical, earthly help and deliverance to his people. Here's the second point.

2. God does not always work miracles and acts of providence for our deliverance from suffering; sometimes by faith God sustains his people through sufferings.

Another way to put it would be to say that having true faith in God is no guarantee of comfort and security in this life. Now it is absolutely crucial for you to see that the miseries God's people sustained in verses 35-38 come by faith, not because of unbelief. We see this in two ways. First, in verse 33, notice that the list begins with ". . . who by faith conquered kingdoms . . . etc.," and without a break continues into all the miseries of verses 35-38. Other people, still living by faith "were tortured . . . and others experienced mockings and scourgings, etc." All this misery is received and endured by faith.

In other words the suffering and misery and destitution and torture of God's people in verses 35-38 are not owing to God's disapproval. Rather God's approval is resting on them because of their faith. The miseries and sufferings were endured, not diminished, by faith. From the first two points the third follows.

3. Having faith is not the ultimate determining factor in whether you suffer or escape, God is—God's sovereign will and wisdom and love.

To me this is immensely comforting. It is a great relief to know that there is a higher explanation for my pain or my pleasure than whether I have enough faith. Would it not be horrible to have to believe that on top of all your suffering you had to add this: it must be because I lack faith.

And so we do not look into the face of the dying and say, or imply: "If you had faith, you would live." We will say, rather, "Trust in God, because whether you live by faith or die by faith God will take care of those who trust in him. To live is Christ, and to die is gain."

And ultimately, it is God, and not we, who decides when and how we die. He has his purposes. They are hidden from us. And having faith means we trust in God anyway and know he is good. Which leads to point four.

4. The common feature of the faith that escapes suffering and the faith that endures suffering is this: both of them involve believing that God himself is better than what life can give to you now, and better than what death can take from you later.

In other words, faith is utterly in love with all that God will be for us beyond the grave. Faith loves God more than life. Faith loves God more than family. Faith loves God more than job or retirement plans or ministry or writing books or building the dream house or making the first million. Faith says, "Whether God handles me tenderly or gives me over to suffering, I love him. He is my reward (11:6), the builder of the city I long for (11:10), the treasure beyond the riches of Egypt (11:26), and the possession that surpasses all others and abides for ever (10:34)." This leads to one final point.

5. Those who love God more than life and suffer willingly—awaiting something better than what this earth can offer—are God's great gifts to the world.

Look at verse 37 and 38, ". . . they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute [no promise of shopping sprees or cool clothes], afflicted, ill-treated—men [people] of whom the world was not worthy—wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground." What does it mean that the world was not worthy of these obscure, destitute, unsightly, seemingly-cursed people? What does that mean - the world was not worthy of them? It means they were a gift to the world (just as God gave his Son Jesus to the world) and the world does not deserve it.

Many things in this life are utterly opposite from the way they seem. And here is one of them. When the precious children of God are permitted to suffer and be rejected and mistreated and go destitute, afflicted and ill-treated, God is giving a gift to the world. He is gracing the world. He is shedding his love abroad in the world. Because in those who suffer and die in the unshakable assurance of hope in God, the world is given a message and a picture: "The Lord himself is better than life. Turn, therefore, and believe."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

On a Christian Mission to the Top

A number of affluent evangelicals are directing their attention and money at some of the tallest citadels of the secular elite: Ivy League universities. Three years ago a group of evangelical Ivy League alumni formed the Christian Union, an organization intended to "reclaim the Ivy League for Christ," according to its fund-raising materials, and to "shape the hearts and minds of many thousands who graduate from these schools and who become the elites in other American cultural institutions."

Read more at On a Christian Mission to the Top (NY Times, registration may be required). If you can't reach the article via that link, click here for the full article (text only).

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Whither Expository Preaching?

In Content & Context: The Books & Culture Weblog Nathan Bierma writes the following:

WHITHER EXPOSITORY PREACHING?
Someone asked me recently why my wife and I switched churches. "We prefer sermons, not personal essays," I replied. Of course, personalizing potentially rote lectures is essential to good preaching. But over-personalizing is plaguing preaching today, writes Alastair Begg in Preaching for God's Glory. Begg spoke last month at a conference at Covenant Seminary called "Salt in Our Preaching: Back To Basics," and his book was excerpted recently at byFaith Online.

Begg has three basic explanations for the disappearance of expository preaching (and since I was raised on three-point sermons, this approach works for me). First, the church is losing confidence in Scripture; chalk it up to postmodernism and Baby Boomer's distrust of authority. Second, preachers are placing the political allegiances and psychological needs of their congregation ahead of theology. Third, there are few role models for good expository preaching.

My wife and I were schooled on the systematic sermons of the Reformed tradition, so we know the opposite problem Begg identifies: preaching that is "lifeless" and "thoroughly boring." "I never cease to be amazed," Begg says, "by the ingenuity of those who are capable of taking the powerful, life-changing text of Scripture and communicating it with all the passion of someone reading aloud from the Yellow Pages!"

But somewhere between the Yellow Pages and Dr. Phil-type pep talks lies the kind of preaching Gustaf Wingren speaks of, as Begg quotes him: "The passage itself is the voice, the speech of God; the preacher is the mouth and the lips, and the congregation . . . the ear in which the voice sounds." Begg's essay inspires and worshipers to seek this kind of harmony.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

He ascended into heaven…

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:9-10).
Where is heaven?  Do you ever stop to think about it?  The Book of Acts tells us that Jesus ascended into heaven.  But where is heaven?

A friend of mine recently reminded me of a little chapel in Walsingham, England, that depicts the Ascension of Christ.  The ceiling of the chapel is painted like the sky with clouds, and sticking out of one of the clouds on the ceiling you can see a pair of feet!

However much we may believe in the Ascension of Christ, illustrations like this chapel ceiling seem quaint and make us laugh.  Skeptics, however, respond to such depictions by dismissing the reality of the Ascension altogether.  Liberal Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, in his article, “A Call for a New Reformation,” says, “The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.”

Similarly, the late Church of England Bishop, John A.T. Robinson said that because of astronomy and space travel we know that heaven and God aren’t “out there;” the place to look for God and heaven is “within.”  Robinson even cites Luke 17:21, “the kingdom of God is within you," in support of his view.  Well, of course, in context, the kingdom of God is at work in us and through us.  But the tendency of Robinson’s view is toward a pantheism which says that the only place God and heaven are to be found is within the creation and within us.

Cardinal John Henry Newman had a different view, which, to my mind, captures the truth quite well.  Commenting on the biblical passages where Jesus says the kingdom of God is “at hand,” Newman says that the kingdom runs alongside our world and is ever near it, and that someday, when we least expect it, our world will resolve itself into the kingdom of God.

Remember that Newman wrote this 100 years before scientists (and science fiction writers) started telling us about “parallel universes.”  Is the kingdom of God a parallel dimension to our own existence?  Perhaps it is.  That is why there may well be unseen angels hovering around us at this very moment.

Of course it entirely sensible that, for the disciples sake and for ours, Jesus is seen ascending into heaven.  For Jesus simply to have disappeared or faded away would have represented dissolution or annihilation.  Jesus ascends to show us he is going to a place—a place from which he will return—a place that is higher, better than where we are.

So where is heaven?  Is it “out there, somewhere?”  Is it above, below, within, or along side us?  The best answer we have concerning heaven is the promise of Jesus:
In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3).
Heaven is God the Father’s house—the place where Jesus is and where we will someday be with him.  And if heaven is the place where Jesus is, then—wherever it may be—it will be perfect.
 

Monday, April 25, 2005

Arrogance or Grace?

John 14:1-6

1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In an online discussion group to which I belong, someone posted a message yesterday stating that “orthodox is an arrogant word.” In a sense I know what the person meant, because we have all seen orthodoxy used in an arrogant way—as a club to beat someone who disagrees with us over the head, or as a way of making ourselves out to be better than someone else.

But orthodoxy literally means “right praise” or “right belief.” Without some standard—some way—of knowing what is right belief, how do we know if what we believe is the truth or a lie? Only in matters of religion do we take this view—that it is somehow arrogant to say what is right belief and what is not. Scientists are not free to change the value of Pi or the Law of Gravity depending on how they feel about it. The notion that matters of religion are any different admits a kind of agnosticism: It assumes that we cannot know the truth. Therefore anyone who claims to know the truth is being arrogant.

Sociologists have noted two trends that have increasingly dominated western society since the 1960’s. The first is radical individualism. The second is radical egalitarianism. Radical individualism says that “I am free to believe what I want to believe.” And radical egalitarianism says, “No one else has the authority to tell me any differently.”

By that standard, John 14:6 contains the most arrogant statement in the New Testament: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” My most recent sermon at a conference in the Diocese of Albany a few weeks ago was on a similarly politically incorrect text: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12). What are we to think about these statements that speak of the uniqueness and exclusivity of the Gospel message?

It is important to note the context of Jesus’ statement: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus is giving his disciples (and all who believe in Him) this assurance: “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

To which Thomas responds: Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” And Jesus gives him the only roadmap he will need to enter Jesus’ promised heavenly reward: “I AM the way.”

And, lest we fail by taking our eyes off Jesus and looking to that which cannot save us, he guides us, like the Great Shepherd that he is, and gently points us to the straight path: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

It is also important to note when this conversation between Jesus and the disciples occurs. (And remember that the original text had no chapter and verse divisions.) Jesus has just predicted that Judas would betray him to death and that before the rooster crowed the next morning, Peter, the chief of the apostles, would deny him three times. Then, with no change—same setting, same conversation—Jesus says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

When we fail Jesus, betray, and deny him: He says the same to us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me… I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you may be also.”

And when we say, “But Lord, we do not know the way,” He assures us: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is not the statement of arrogance. This is the statement of God’s true LOVE and GRACE.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Liberal push (continued) and theological worldviews

Finally, my dialogue on the crisis in the Episcopal Church (see previous posts)concluded with this observation that those on both sides of the current issues hold divergent and irreconcilable theological worldviews:

Regarding my characterization of the polarities of radical, feminist and liberation theologies vis a vis historic evangelical and catholic theologies: The central thrust of my argument is that (1) the lesbigay agenda has gone hand in hand with efforts at reimaging God because both proceed from a theological basis that is in stark contrast to historic catholic and evangelical theologies; and that (2)we are finding it impossible to achieve reconciliation or accommodation because our difference is not merely about sexual behavior but because we have different theological worldviews. Feminist and liberation theologies represent one polarity that is in contrast to historic catholic and evangelical theologies, but that is not the only polarity that exists.

When I speak of historic catholic and evangelical theologies, I am speaking of the central stream of Christian though that comes to us through patristic and conciliar efforts at determining Christian doctrine and that continues to be maintained in that stream of theology that is generally regarded as orthodox. Its theological method could be said to be represented by the canon of St. Vincent of Lerins who defined true catholicity as that which has been believed "ubique, semper, et ab omnibus—everywhere, from antiquity, and by all."

The Councils of the early Church arrived at true catholicity by applying this methodology. The Reformers (and their Evangelical successors) were essentially applying this same Vincentian methodology (whether they acknowledged it or not) in stripping away the accretions of medieval Roman dogma to get back to the "faith once delivered to the saints." This is why I have often said that the Reformers (including our Anglican forebears) were not rejecting true catholicity, they were trying to recover it. That is why, even today, there is no disagreement between orthodox Catholic and Evangelical theologians as to the central tenets of Christianity or Christian moral teaching.

While I cited feminist and liberation theologies as one polarity that stands in contrast to this historic, orthodox stream, it would be accurate to say that there is an array of contemporary theologies that do so. Paul Tillich, whom you cite, is regarded by many scholars as being dependent on a philosophical idealism that implied Pantheism and an impersonal deity. He also maintained that myth or symbol is humankind's only way of grasping cognitively the meaning and structure of reality—God, the "Ground of Being." Many who have followed Tillich have applied all of this very subjectively in "re-personalizing" or "re-imaging" God according to their own perceived needs. Others, like Bp. Spong, have gone in a different direction, rejecting personal Theism altogether.)

When you mention that "feminist theologians rejoice in a broad range of images... as the Psalmists, themselves, did similar rejoicing—with many of the same images," the problem is that some of the images are selected "out of context," and used to construct images of God that are markedly different (sometimes to an idolatrous extent) from the picture of God that one gets from the canon of Scripture as a whole.

Finally, let me answer the question that is central to what you are saying: "Can people whose theological understanding comes from a combination of recent Biblical scholarship and the experience of those previously excluded from the church's life co-exist with people who adhere to ancient theologies formed and articulated by old men?" Your question implies that "ancient theologies" are necessarily wrong and that all recent biblical scholarship lines up on your side.

Recent biblical scholarship includes N.T. Wright, Luke Timothy Johnson, Richard Hays, Edith Humphrey, Christopher Seitz, Marianne Meye Thompson, and Raymond Brown; not just Marcus Borg and the other members of the Jesus Seminar. Recent theological scholarship includes Alistair McGrath, John Webster, Tom Oden, and Colin Gunton; not just Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Rosemary Ruether and Carter Heyward.

(Incidentally, Gunton's 1992 Oxford Bampton lectures, published as The One, The Three And The Many: God, Creation And The Culture Of Modernity, deals quite powerfully with the root causes of our theological divide to which I am referring.) There is lively and active scholarship going on in evangelical and Catholic circles (as documented in Tom Oden's Rebirth of Orthodoxy, HarperCollins, 2003), so it simply won't do to pretend that all modern scholarship supports the theological and moral revisions we are witnessing.

When you put the question the way you do—that the historic Christian faith is "ancient theologies formed and articulated by old men," it helps to demonstrate quite clearly that what is going on in the Episcopal Church today is the outright rejection of Christian orthodoxy—and that, I fear, is the chief aspect of the irreconcilable differences we are facing.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Liberal push (continued)

My liberal correspondent (see message, dated April 14, 2005) responded to my citation of the Lambeth Conference of 1998, which in Resolution 1.10, "reject[ed] homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture" by saying "Integrity (the Episcopal Church's homosexual lobby) has worked for years to change the biblical interpretation of the scriptures used to discriminate against homosexuals." This effort at changing the interpretation of Scripture is at the root of our disagreement--which is a major disagreement because it is a divergence of theological worldviews.

By the way, Louie Crew (the founder of Integrity) does a fine job of documenting the push I am talking about in his article "Changing the Church." In the very first sentence of the article, Louie touches on the real heart of the matter dividing Anglicans from each other when he mentions that "women and lesbigays have organized to promote a more egalitarian and inclusive spirituality." Now egalitarian and inclusive are fine words; but what they stand for in this case is a spirituality that includes the efforts at changing the interpretation of Scripture, and it also includes the various efforts aimed at "reimaging God," which goes hand in hand with the effort to legitimize same sex relationships as a part of radical, feminist and liberation theologies. Here I am using "radical," not pejoratively, but in its literal sense of "at the root." Those who embrace these theologies are bent on redefining Christianity at the root.

The issue is not merely one of sex or sexual behavior or expression. The issues of sexuality only serve as occasions for discovering how deep our theological differences really are. Another contributor to this list made the point quite well in her message with the subject, 'the myth of common prayer' (March 14, 2005) when she says: "Not only do we have different ways of interpreting scripture, here's the truth of it, straight away: We do not worship the same images of God." She hits it right on the head: Lex orandi, lex credendi--the law of prayer is the law of belief. We pray differently and so we believe differently. Just wait until we try to draft a new Prayer Book, and all this will become painfully apparent.

So the question is not whether Anglicans who are divided on issues of sexuality can achieve reconciliation or accommodate each other. It is whether people who pray to different images of God can co-exist in the same Church. Can people whose theological understanding comes from radical feminist and liberation theologies co-exist with people who adhere to historic evangelical and catholic theologies?

Finally, you ask the crucial question: "...is this issue big enough to destroy the Episcopal Church?" I think that is a question history is going to have to answer. I certainly don't advocate the destruction of the Episcopal Church, but I also don't see any way of reconciling two such disparate theological worldviews. The solution, if it is not to involve theological compromise, will have to involve political compromise, such as, but not limited to: (1) allowing the rest of the Communion to adjudicate which position they recognize as "Anglican," (2) some sort of amicable divorce that respects both sides enough to include division of the property, pension fund, trust funds, and other assets, or (3) a form of alternative episcopal oversight that is deemed adequate by those who are requesting it and not merely by those who are allowing it (or, more to the point, NOT allowing it). And here I think Bishop Duncan is to be commended. If those on the liberal side had been as generous as Bishop Duncan has been in allowing DEPO (Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight—alternative bishops for congregations in crisis), we wouldn't be watching the disintegration that is happening in many places.

One thing on which we all agree: Pray for the Church!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Liberal push and the Crisis in the Episcopal Church

From a recent exchange on a listserv discussing the present crisis in the Episcopal Church, a liberal critic of those who are upholding the historic Christian position wrote:

"The liberal side has been willing for years to live in disagreement which is a sort of compromise. Now when a single vote goes against the conservatives they go crying to the conservatives in the Anglican Communion to try and get their own way rather than to continue to live in disagreement."

Actually, the liberal side has been undermining and trying by every possible means to change the teaching of the Church for many years. Concerning ordination of homosexually active persons, the 1979 General Convention resolved that ordination of homosexuals was "not appropriate." Nevertheless, it was already occurring in a lawless fashion, seen perhaps most conspicuously in Bp. Paul Moore's ordination of Ellen Barrett in 1977. Twenty bishops (and, later 19 others) signed an opposition statement to the action of General Convention, saying that "we cannot accept these recommendations or implement them in our diocese insofar as they relate or give unqualified expression to Recommendation Three [forbidding ordination of lesbians and gays]." Consequently, Integrity could later claim that at least 50 open gays and lesbians had been ordained to the priesthood by 1991.

The Lambeth Conference of 1998, Resolution 1.10 "reject[ed] homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture" and stated that "[This conference] cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions." Yet the ECUSA continued undeterred.

My liberal correspondent then continued:

"And is it such a huge issue to have one openly gay bishop?"

To the extent that it signifies rejection of a nearly 2000 year old understanding of Christian sexual morality, yes, it is a huge issue.

But my liberal friend continues:

"I believe it is the conservatives that are out to destroy the church and nothing you can say will make me think other wise. They have made no constructive offers and have reject[ed] every attempt by the liberals to accommodate them."

Can anyone help me understand what this fellow means by "rejecting every attempt by the liberals to accommodate them?" I haven't seen attempts by the liberals at accommodation, just a relentless push in one direction.

Episcopal bishops, at their latest meeting, agreed not to give consents to any new bishops until GC 2006, nor to authorize any public rites for the blessing of same sex unions, nor to bless any such unions, at least until the General Convention of 2006. Nevertheless, some bishops since then have said they cannot direct clergy in their dioceses to refrain from blessing same sex unions. So the bishops will quit; but their clergy, who are far more likely to perform such services anyway, can go right ahead. The push continues.

Couple all of this with refusals of DEPO [providing alternative oversight to congregations that are in conflict with their bishops over these issues] and inhibition and deposition (i.e, defrocking) of clergy, which conveniently does not require a trial, for "abandonment of the Communion of this Church"--when the clergy in question had no intention of going anywhere else--and you begin to get a picture of why conservatives don't believe anything has been done to effect reconciliation or to accommodate them. (See, in particular, the website of the six orthodox Episcopal priests in Connecticut who are being persecuted by their bishop. If anyone can point out this grand effort at reconciliation or accommodation of conservatives, I'd be glad to hear about it.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

For us and for our salvation...

Today, Easter Sunday, of all days, I ran across the following statement in a theological forum:

"Substitutionary sacrifice, however, is neither Catholic nor catholic tradition. It was enshrined in popular piety by a tradition of preachers, long before Mel Gibson, who discovered how easy it was to preach and to use in a manipulative way."

In contrast to this erroneous assertion, The Catholic Encyclopedia, in the article on "Sacrifice" (See Part III, Christian Sacrifice), contains the following statement:

(1) The Dogma of the Sacrifice of the Cross
The universal conviction of Christianity was expressed by the Synod of Ephesus (431), when it declared that the Incarnate Logos "offered Himself to God the Father for us for an odour of sweetness" (in Denzinger-Bannwart, "Enchiridion," n. 122), a dogma explicitly confirmed by the Council of Trent (Sess. XXII. cap. i-ii; can. ii-iv). The dogma is indeed nothing else than a clear echo of Holy Writ and tradition. If all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and especially the bloody sacrifice, were so many types of the bloody sacrifice of the Cross (Cf. Heb., viii-x), and if the idea of vicarious atonement was present in the Mosaic bloody sacrifices, it follows immediately that the death on the Cross, as the antitype, must possess the character of a vicarious sacrifice of atonement. A striking confirmation of this reasoning is found in the pericope of Isaias concerning God's "just servant," wherein three truths are clearly expressed:

(a) the substitution of the innocent Messias for guilty mankind;
(b) the deliverance of the guilty from sin and punishment through the suffering of the Messias;
(c) the manner of this suffering and satisfaction through the bloody death on the Cross (cf. Is., liii, 4 sqq.).


Further, The Catholic Encyclopedia's article on "Atonement" contains this statement:

The Catholic doctrine on this subject [Atonement] is set forth in the sixth Session of the Council of Trent, chapter ii. Having shown the insufficiency of Nature, and of Mosaic Law the Council continues:
"Whence it came to pass, that the Heavenly Father, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (II Cor., 1, 3), when that blessed fullness of the time was come (Gal., iv, 4) sent unto men Jesus Christ, His own Son who had been, both before the Law and during the time of the Law, to many of the holy fathers announced and promised, that He might both redeem the Jews, who were under the Law and that the Gentiles who followed not after justice might attain to justice and that all men might receive the adoption of sons. Him God had proposed as a propitiator, through faith in His blood (Rom., iii, 25), for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world (I John ii, 2)."

More than twelve centuries before this, the same dogma was proclaimed in the words of the Nicene Creed, "who for us men and for our salvation, came down, took flesh, was made man; and suffered."


Thus, according to this statement, the words of the Creed "for us and for our salvation" are implicitly substitutionary.

It is noteworthy that this understanding is entirely consistent with that expressed by evangelical author John Stott who writes:

When we review so much Old Testament material (the shedding and sprinkling of blood, the sin offering, the Passover, the meaning of 'sin-bearing', the scapegoat and Isaiah 53), and consider its New Testament application to the death of Christ, we are obliged to conclude that the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice. Christ died for us. Christ died instead of us.


Regarding satisfaction and substitution, Stott writes:

We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ which does not have at its centre the principle of 'satisfaction through substitution', indeed divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution.
The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one which tricked and trapped him; nor an exact equivalent, a *quid pro quo* to satisfy a code of honour or technical point of law; nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above him from which he could not otherwise escape; nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father; nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father; nor an action of the Father which bypassed Christ as Mediator.

Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his only Son flesh, sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character. The theological words 'satisfaction' and 'substitution' need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they cannot in any circumstances be given
up.

--From "The Cross of Christ" (Leicester and Downers Grove: IVP, 1986), p. 159.


Thus, between faithful Catholics and Evangelicals there is substantial agreement, because the doctrine of the Atonement is one on which all orthodox Christians have agreed from antiquity.

Dissent from the idea of substitutionary atonement has come from the Socinians, an anti-Trinitarian, heretical sect, who rejected the notion of vicarious suffering and satisfaction as inconsistent with God's justice and mercy. In their eyes the work of Christ consisted simply in His teaching by word and example.

The Socinians held that:

  • that there was no Trinity,
  • that Christ was not consubstantial with the Father and Holy Spirit,
  • that He was not conceived of the Holy Spirit, but begotten by St. Joseph, and
  • that His Death and Passion were not undergone to bring about our redemption


Views similar to those of the Socinians have been seen also in the work of liberal theologians such as Horace Bushnell (1802-1876), Albrect Ritschl (1822–1889), and their modern-day descendents. Indeed, among liberals there is, at best, a professed agnosticism regarding the effect of Christ's atonement. At worst, there exists an outright denial of the biblical witness to the precious truth that "Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit..." (I Peter 3:18). (I'll say more about the Atonement in a future post.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What Really Happened at the Anglican Primates Meeting

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED INSIDE DROMANTINE

By Archbishop Gregory Venables

THE ASSUMPTIONS of the natural evolution of society towards liberalism in the West have proceeded for decades relatively unchecked. From the rise of the Enlightenment, when values and beliefs began to be viewed with more skepticism, there have been few challenges to the slide.

The strengths of enlightenment went awry, and were lost, as momentum gathered and influential social and religious philosophers assumed they knew better than previous generations. The result has been moral chaos, and a large portion of the Church that has nothing to offer.

By contrast, the gospel runs counter to the culture. It always has, but something more resonant with the values and assumptions of society has made its way into the halls of influence in Western Churches. The foundational Christian message - "This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be believed, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" - has been replaced by other messages of unchallenging
acceptance and uncritical licence to pursue any lifestyle. Living (yet historic) faith has been on a collision course with the unbounded message of liberalism for more than a century.

Wonderfully, Evangelical and Catholic Christians in the Western industrial nations have been energized by the commitment, zeal and sacrifice of those from the Two-Thirds World, who come from cultures in which evangelism and mission are current passions rather than just historic ones.

So we arrived in Northern Ireland at the Dromantine, a Roman Catholic centre for African mission. The Archbishop of Canterbury set the stage for us to hear from God, instead of just each other, by beginning with spiritual retreat and Bible reflection. In the periods of silence, many of us were keenly aware of God's presence, as well as of the prayers of millions of people around the world.

Dr. Williams also set the stage for us to own and organise our agenda.

The difference from previous meetings was profound. One seasoned non-Western Primate remarked how wonderful it was to meet without "being dominated by Western arrogance."

The atmosphere allowed for respectful forthright discussion, which led to the unmistakable realization by all of us that the Anglican Communion had reached the point of irreconcilable differences. While painful and terrifying, it was an important passage, without which we would probably not have had the will to address the crisis adequately.

Pivotal in the discussion was the fact that those who were pressing the same-sex agenda were willing to speak with a clarity that had not been present at any of our previous deliberations. North American confidence came across to many Primates as presumptuous, and even arrogant.

The dynamic was so powerful that it overcame the cultural reticence of some of the Two-Thirds World Primates to speak clearly.

IN A MOMENT of time, at a pause in the conversation, it became obvious that the overwhelming majority of the Primates (who represent the clear majority of Anglicans around the world) were not willing to assimilate the innovations pressed by the United States and Canada into the teaching of the Communion. On the contrary, historic biblical faith was clearly going to emerge from the meeting as the conviction of the vast majority. The question was whether the Communion would remain intact or shatter.

At that point, two critical pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

First, the suggestion was made for ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada to withdraw voluntarily, while considering formally whether or not to conform to agreed Anglican teaching, as expressed in the historic interpretation of the scriptures and the Lambeth Conference.

The second piece was the realization by the North Americans of the gravity of the situation. Having ignored every previous voice of disagreement, it was a great mercy that they were able to embrace the clarity of the situation.

One might ask what prompted the last shift. That it was a response to the Holy Spirit is clearly tempting to suggest, but far more so is the undeniable and inescapable reality that there was no other option open.

One indication of this was the refusal of a significant number of our colleagues even to attend the daily celebrations of the Eucharist, a decision that was implemented only after much prayer and pain.

As one brother Primate said to me: "Since we are not in communion as Anglicans, I cannot give those who do not believe the simple truth of the Bible as revealed the impression that all is well, and that it's just a matter of opinion."

THE CLARITY of the communique is undeniable, notwithstanding the graceful terminology and loving restraint evident throughout. Sadly, the revisionist agenda is sufficiently hard-faced to deny it and the atmosphere that accompanied its preparation.

So what will happen? ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada will have to repent and conform their teaching and practice to historic and biblical faith, in order to have the broken relationship restored. If they fail to do so, the separation that is gracefully modeled in the communique will become stark and formal.

Any thought that the passage of time will soften the resolve of the majority is unfounded. To do so would be a rejection of our core values. It would be a rejection of the gospel itself, and a denial of the price that Jesus paid on our behalf.

--The Most Revd is Presiding Bishop (Primate) of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Demographics are Destiny

As the Rev. Kevin Martin has often said, “demographics are destiny.”1 One of the demographic facts we have to face is the prospect of a clergy shortage as many clergy retire in the not too distant future.2 That is both an enormous problem and a great opportunity as seminaries seek to train the clergy to fill the vacancies.

However there are other demographics of which we need to be aware. Chief among these is the fact that our churches are not growing.

In 1965, the Episcopal Church reached its highest recorded membership: 3.6 million members (a 100 percent growth from 1930). Episcopalians constituted 1.9 percent of the U.S. population. From 1930 to 1965, even though the population grew, membership in the Episcopal Church grew faster than the population. However, from 1965 until today, the membership of the Episcopal Church and our percentage of the population have both declined. In fact, our percentage of the U.S. population (what business people would call our “market share”) has fallen during this time faster than our membership.3

While the average age of a person in the United States is estimated to be 34.6 years old, the average age of an Episcopalian is estimated to be 57 years old.4 A church that isn’t growing and where the average person is 57 years of age can expect to see roughly half of its membership die in the next 18 years. Further, since 60% of Episcopal congregations have a membership of 100 or less,5 how many of these congregations will remain viable with the loss of half their membership? The loss of members whose churches have closed, and who will not find their way into other Episcopal congregations, will most likely accelerate the overall rate of membership decline.

These statistics point to the need for a radical rethinking of our approach to evangelism and congregational development. Nashotah House does an exceptional job of providing a quality theological education and a practical grounding for ministry. Our objective today must be to do more to equip our graduates to serve in a Church that faces these challenges.

It would be easy to look at these statistics and lose heart. I believe we are called to look at these statistics and take heart! Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2). Our response to a shrinking church must not be to reduce the number vocations for ministry but to increase the number. Our ministry cannot be limited to our congregations when “the fields are ready for harvest.” We must not judge the size of our ordained ministry by the size of our Church but by the size of the field to be evangelized—and not only our Lord’s command, but a simple look at the world around us, tells us that the harvest to be reaped is huge.

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Notes

1. Kevin Martin, “The End of the Protestant Era,” The Vital Church Newsletter, September 17, 2004. http://www.vitalchurchministries.org/newsletter/269.aspx

2. Matthew J. Price, “Will There Be a Clergy Shortage?—Analysis and Predictions For Uncertain Times.” Church Pension Group, 2002.
http://download.cpg.org/home/publications/pdf/
clergy_shortage_report.pdf


3. Kevin Martin, “The Future of the Episcopal Church: A Hard Look at the Numbers,” The Vital Church Newsletter, March 3, 2004. http://www.vitalchurchministries.org/Newsletter/186.aspx

4. Charles N. Fulton III , “2020 Challenges and Opportunities,” Congregational Builder Newsletter, February 2001. http://www.ecbf.org/arch11.html

5. C. Kirk Hadaway (Director of Research, The Episcopal Church Center) “Congregation Size and Church Growth in the Episcopal Church” http://www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/
CDR_ChurchSizeandChurchGrowth.pdf

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Dalit Oppression and the Clay Cup™

The term Dalit is an ancient Marathi (a West Indian language) word that may be defined as “ground” or “broken in pieces” It refers to people who have been broken, or ground down by those above them in a deliberate and active way. As a result, Dalit usually refers to the portion of the Indian population falling outside of the Indian caste society; those who are traditionally know as the “outcaste” or “untouchables.”

Clay cups are commonly used by establishments in India and are provided exclusively for the Dalits. The purpose is to destroy the cup after each use so that no upper caste customer will ever use it and risk “contamination by a Dalit’s uncleanness.” Dalit Freedom Network has chosen the clay cup as a visual representation of the Dalits’ brokenness and oppression. These cups are made by the Dalit community outside of Hyderabad, India.

Use your cup as a reminder to pray for the Dalits!

· Have one in your home!
· Have one in your workplace!
· Have one in your car!
· Give one to your friend or child!

Click here for more information on Dalit Freedom.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Generation X and the Turn to Christian Orthodoxy

Journalist Colleen Carroll on a Surprising Trend

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 29, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The growth of evangelical "mega-churches" has long been a focus of media attention.

Much less noted has been the embrace of traditional Christianity by Generation X and the rejection of the religious and cultural values of that generation's parents, the baby boomers.

A Gen-X journalist, Colleen Carroll, set about to document this trend. The result was a highly acclaimed book, "The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy" (Loyola Press).

Carroll described the phenomenon of "the new faithful" in an interview with ZENIT.

Q: How did you ever launch upon this project of finding out about "the new faithful"?

Carroll: I first saw signs of the trend toward orthodoxy in the mid-1990s, when I was a student at Marquette University. The students there were not necessarily of the "new faithful" mold, but they also defied the "cynical slacker" stereotype of Generation X. Many had an almost visceral attraction to God, the Church, and self-sacrifice.

Later, as a young newspaper journalist, I continued to see a disparity between media portrayals of my generation and the young adults that I saw all around me. Not all young adults are attracted to orthodoxy, but a growing number are seeking truth and embracing a demanding practice of their faith.

Their stories were not being told in the mainstream media, and many religion experts seemed to be tone deaf to their voices. So, with the help of a grant from the Phillips Foundation and a book contract from Loyola Press, I set out to explore this trend and tell their stories.

Q: Is this "new faithful" phenomenon a part of the new springtime in the Church?

Carroll: Yes, I believe the new faithful are at the heart of the Church's new springtime and are a driving force behind the new evangelization. I interviewed a mix of young Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians for "The New Faithful."

The Catholics I interviewed certainly stand at the forefront of renewal in the Catholic Church. They are committed to spreading the Gospel -- a commitment instilled in many of them by their hero, Pope John Paul II.

Q: Who are the new faithful? Did they have any previous religious background?

Carroll: As I mentioned earlier, the New faithful come from denominations across the Christian spectrum, though most are Catholics or evangelicals. They range in age from about 18 to 35. They are united by firm, personal, life-changing commitments to Jesus Christ.

Their religious backgrounds vary. Many grew up in secular homes or fallen-away Catholic homes. Many others were raised in evangelical or mainline Protestant churches or Catholic parishes. Nearly all of them faced a reckoning in young adulthood that forced them to decide if they would make following Christ the central concern of their lives or not.

These young adults have chosen to take Christianity seriously, and have decided that embracing Christian orthodoxy is the way to do that. Their faith commitments have led them to make countercultural decisions about everything from who and how they date to which careers they pursue and which political causes they embrace.

Q: Your title suggests that the new faithful are embracing Christian orthodoxy. Does that mean Catholicism?

Carroll: The orthodoxy embraced by "The New Faithful" is a small "o" orthodoxy that encompasses more than one denomination. Many, many Catholics have embraced an orthodox practice of their faith, and my book focuses a great deal of attention on them. But this trend crosses denominational borders.

To draw boundaries for this book, I borrowed a definition from G.K. Chesterton, who said orthodoxy means "the Apostles' Creed, as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed." Or, as one young man told me, "orthodoxy means you can say the Apostles' Creed without crossing your fingers behind your back."

Q: Are the new faithful receiving good catechesis? From where are they receiving such teaching?

Carroll: Yes and no. Most of the New faithful, particularly the Catholics in this group, did not receive good catechesis as children. Many were raised by parents who did not know or teach the faith. Many others attended Catholic schools and parishes where they learned "God is love" -- and little else.

These twenty- and thirty-something Catholics grew up in the years after Vatican II, when the American Church was still struggling to make sense of the changes. They suffered the effects of a religious education crisis, and many never learned even the most elementary Christian teachings.

The good news: Many young adults have taken it upon themselves to learn the faith and study Church teaching, by forming parish groups to study Scripture, the Catechism, or the teachings of the Holy Father. And many have benefited from the new boom in Catholic apologetics materials and the rise of such popular apologists as Scott Hahn.

The Catholic apologetics craze -- driven in large part by the catechetical demands of this generation -- reflects the deep and widespread hunger for truth among today's young Catholics.

Q: What aspects of Catholicism did the new faithful feel drawn to? Why have they chosen the Church or Christian orthodoxy rather than the New Age spiritualities the Church recently addressed?

Carroll: The New faithful Catholics are drawn to precisely those aspects of Catholicism that repelled many of their baby boomer elders. They love Church tradition and history. They relish devotions like the rosary, and they line up for confession in droves. They are committed to eucharistic adoration and evangelization. And they love the Pope -- not simply because they admire his personality, but because they admire his commitment to defending the truth in season and out of season.

These young Catholics grew up in a society saturated with moral relativism and dominated by the idea that they should "do whatever feels good." They see orthodoxy as a fresh alternative to those values, an oasis of truth and stability in a world gone mad.

While many of their elders criticize Church teaching as rigid or retrograde, these young adults love the Church's time-honored teachings and countercultural stands. To them, it is New Age spirituality -- not orthodox Catholicism -- that's empty, boring, and yesterday's news.

Q: What factors within the culture and the larger society do you think gave rise to the new faithful?

Carroll: The rise of the new faithful is partly the result of a pendulum swing. Many of these young adults are the sons and daughters of the hippies, children of the flower children. These young adults think that authority and tradition make more sense than free love and no-fault divorce.

Many suffered ill consequences from baby boomer experimentation in morality and religion, and they want their own children to experience a more stable life. They crave stability for themselves, as well. But sociology only gets us so far in this analysis. In the end, each of these young adults tells a story far richer, and far more complex, than the story of the pendulum swing.

I met doctors, lawyers, Hollywood writers, and cloistered nuns who told me amazing conversion stories, stories of faith and hope and a love that reached out and grabbed them when they least expected to find God.

For a Christian, the only way to understand those stories is to take these young adults at their word, and judge God by his works, and see this as the amazing grace of the Holy Spirit being poured out on a generation once considered lost.

Q: Do you have any sociological data to back up your findings? How widespread is this phenomenon of the new faithful and why is it largely found among young, educated, professional people?

Carroll: The book overflows with statistics -- from the Gallup poll that shows a growing number of teen-agers identifying themselves as "religious" instead of "spiritual but not religious," to the UCLA freshmen poll that shows approval for abortion and casual sex dropping year after year. This trend has not swept over the entire generation, of course.

The new faithful still constitute a fairly modest segment of the population. But their influence extends well beyond their numbers because so many of these new faithful are educated professionals with a disproportionate amount of cultural influence.

They are rising stars in politics, the arts, the entertainment industry, in medicine and law and journalism. They are the sort of bright, culturally engaged young adults that their peers tend to follow. And they are uniting -- across denominational lines, in many cases -- to bring the Gospel to every realm of American life that they touch.

Q: Do you see this phenomenon continuing for the foreseeable future?

Carroll: This phenomenon is on the rise, and for the reasons mentioned above, it has considerable room to grow and serious staying power.

As this movement grows, the new faithful will be tempted to fall into extremes of either isolation from the culture or capitulation to it. Both extremes could undermine this movement and hamper the spread of the Gospel by these believers. Those who want to be "salt and light" in the world will have to keep those dangers in mind, and strive to be "in the world, but not of the world."

Q: How has the secular media responded to your findings? Has your book received much attention outside of Christian media?

Carroll: The secular media has given this book a good deal of attention, which has been gratifying. "The New Faithful" has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, Washington Post, National Review, PBS, Canada's National Post, and dozens of other regional newspapers and secular radio outlets.

Many secular journalists still struggle to understand this trend: It's counterintuitive for those who assume religion is on the wane and orthodoxy is on life support.

But to their credit, a fair number of baby boomer journalists in the secular media have been willing to consider that the excesses of their generation may have made today's young adults reluctant to follow in their footsteps, and attracted those young adults to orthodoxy.