Posted on Thursday, August 23, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Every society has a “culture” or set of shared beliefs, values, and practices which provides a common approach to understanding and dealing with the larger questions of life. “Where do we come from? What do our lives mean? What is most important in life?” The way those questions are answered will give shape to a people’s culture. Tim Keller observes that culture shapes:
· the way we treat the material world,
· the way we relate the individuals to the group and family,
· the way groups and classes relate to one another,
· the way we handle sex, money, and power,
· the way we make decisions and set priorities, and the way we regard death, time, art, government, and physical space.

It seems that there are an endless parade of people and groups seeking to influence culture. Artists, politicians, environmentalists, preachers, and scientists are all trying to conform the culture to their values. When we consider that these cultural influencers are often times seeking contradictory ends, the confusion and chaos that results should not be surprising.

The church has struggled for generations to understand how they should be influencing culture. At various times among various groups of Christians the approaches have included such things as achieving political power, gaining material wealth, monasticism, conservatism, liberalism, involvement in the arts, serving the poor, mass and personal evangelism, slick marketing, mega-churches, home churches, etc. The reason why some of these means have been at cross purposes is because Christians have not been able to agree about how, exactly, Christ intends to impact culture.

It ought to be acknowledged that there has never been a truly “Christian culture.” This-worldly Christian utopianism is just as misguided as communist utopianism. However, Christians ought to be keenly interested in seeing the culture reflect more of God’s love, justice, holiness, grace, and life-giving power. The Bible’s plot line gives us the meta-narrative we need in understanding and seeking Christ-centered cultural transformation:
1) Creation – God created a perfect and harmonious world.
2) Ruin – Through man’s rebellion against God the world has fallen into a state of brokenness. As a result, nothing is as it should be. Injustice, immorality, and death are all results of this brokenness.
3) Redemption – God has purposed to redeem His world and His people through the sacrificial death and victorious resurrection of His beloved Son.
4) New Creation – Eventually God will restore His world and His people to the state of perfection for which they were created.

God’s redemptive purposes are larger than the salvation of individual sinners. The end toward which God is moving is New Creation. In His perfect time God will redeem all that has been lost due to the fall. God will create a new world (heaven) where His glory is man’s highest treasure. It will be a world where peace, justice, and mercy will have the final say over strife, injustice, and hate. The means by which this victory was sealed was the death and resurrection of Jesus. Since God sacrificed his beloved Son for this purpose then Christians who live in the days before the consummation of the new creation should seek to impact the culture with the justice, love, and mercy of God.

How does this happen? How should this happen in our own community?

1. Christians must not isolate themselves. Christians have to go where the people are. This may mean moving to more densely populated areas of the city. It may mean moving to less “churched” areas of the city. Christ impacts culture through Christians. We are Christ’s ambassadors but how will we represent Him if we are not engaged in a meaningful way with those who do not know Him?

Let us ask ourselves four questions:
a) Where do I live? Christians probably need to live in close proximity with other people. This may mean less security and less privacy but it will almost certainly mean more impact. We must see our homes as arenas for gospel ministry.
b) Where do I work? See your vocation as a means for advancing the gospel.
c) Where do I contribute? Are you working for the good of the community? Are you engaged in service, the arts, local ministries, etc?
d) Where do I recreate and relax? Begin to see your health club, golf club, coffee shop, swimming pool, front yard, etc as a place to engage people with the gospel.

2. Christians must be a counter-culture rather than a sub-culture. Christians have become skilled at constructing their own ghettos. We build our own book stores, make our own potpourri pots, produce our own “art,” make our own movies, and separate into our own groups. This is a sub-culture. It is a way of registering our complaints about all the things we oppose. It is a good way to escape from culture but will fail to impact the culture. And while it is important to stand against what is wrong, Christians must be known for more than simply what we oppose.

To be a counter-culture means that we offer to the world an entirely new way to live. Jesus told his disciples that they were a city set upon a hill (Matt. 5:14-17) whose lives would show forth the goodness and glory of God. Tim Keller writes, “We Christians are called to be an alternate city within every earthly city, an alternate human culture within every human culture, to show how sex, money, and power can be used in non-destructive ways; to show how classes and races who cannot get along outside of Christ can get along in Him; and to show how it is possible to produce art that brings hope rather than despair or titillation.”

3. Christians must be committed to the good of their community. When the church is healthiest she is actively working for the good of the surrounding community. Christians do not demand power and influence. They follow the way of their Master who shunned political power in favor of servant-hood.

The historian Rodney Stark has helped to explain why Christianity spread so widely in the urban areas during its first few centuries:
“To cities filled with homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as real hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with widows and orphans, Christianity offered a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity…I am not saying the misery of the ancient world caused the advent of Christianity…people had been enduring for centuries without the aid of Christian theology or social structures. I am arguing that once Christianity did appear, its superior capacity for meeting human problems soon became evident and played a major role in its ultimate triumph…for what Christianity offered was not simply a new urban movement, but a new culture.”

4. Christians must see their work as a sacred vocation. One of the great achievements of the Protestant Reformers and the 17th century Puritans was the recovery of the idea that all work is sacred. In other words, all work, whether preaching or washing dishes is sacred if done for the glory of God. The false dichotomy separating “secular” from “sacred” work, which still persists, effectively keeps many Christians from seeing their vocation as an arena in which they can engage the culture with the Gospel.

Christians must approach their work with a commitment to integrity and honesty. They must be willing to work hard as a means to bless their employer/employees and to honor their Creator. Christians need to know how to think "Christianly” about the world around them. This will lead to a better grasp of God’s common grace displayed in the daily and “ordinary” events of life including their work.

Posted on Wednesday, August 22, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Tom Ascol over at Founders has some great thoughts on a recent study by the AP and MTV on young people and happiness (Young People).

Posted on Wednesday, August 22, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

This is a helpful series of posts dealing specifically with Richard Dawkins spurious attacks on theism (::: christianthinker.net :::). Atheism is growing more popular because of the acceptance of poor arguments, illogic, and flat out distortions of the truth. Christians had better be equiped to respond.

Posted on Wednesday, August 22, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded by men who were true theologians. However, with the dawning of the 20th century and the passing of those early founders the theological precision of the SBC began to dull. Southern Baptists became known for bloviating and politicking as much as or more than theology.

However, I am encouraged by a resurgence in rich theological discourse in the life of the SBC. There is still plenty of politicking going on. Some of our pastors and elected leadership seem to know no other way. But something fresh seems to be emerging. At the 2006 annual meeting of the SBC Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary and Paige Patterson of Southwestern Baptist Seminary held a public discussion on Calvinism. It was respectful and affirming. Many of us were thrilled by the simple fact that a theological discussion was actually occurring at the SBC.

This week I began reading A Theology for the Church edited by Daniel Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Seminary. Why I believe this to be significant is that it is a systematic theology written by Southern Baptist theologians. Many of us feared that Southern Baptist theology died with Carl F.H. Henry. But now, men like Drs. Akin, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, David Dockery, Mark Dever, Timothy George, and Thomas Schreiner are making significant contributions to the various fields of theology and biblical studies.

Don’t misunderstand there have always been good theologians and biblical scholars in Southern Baptist life. The problem is that theology was pushed to the periphery of Southern Baptist discourse. Politicians and king makers from both the right and the left seemed to be the most prominent and influential men in the denomination. Now, however, that may be changing. There is a generation of Southern Baptist pastors that are more influenced by theologians and expositors than power-brokers.

More evidence of this trend is seen in a conference being held in November at the Ridgecrest Conference Center (Southern Baptists and Calvinism) and organized by Southeastern Seminary and Founders Ministry. Let us pray that robust but loving theological discourse becomes the norm among Southern Baptists.

Posted on Wednesday, August 22, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Monergism has a link to a list of questions (Top Ten List) that Dr. James White would pose to anyone considering converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism.

Posted on Tuesday, August 21, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

I have linked to a great article (Scriptorium Daily) at Scriptrorium that uses the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes as evidence that the link between the medium and the message is much stronger than some think. I have believed for some time that the old addage from the church growth movement that you can change the method as much as you like without altering the message is simply not true.

Posted on Tuesday, August 21, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The church must never move beyond the Gospel. It seems odd that a church could “lose” the Gospel but it is more common than we dare imagine. So much of the preaching and worship of the church is focused ultimately on what we can do rather than on what God has already done in Christ. Much of Christian spirituality is driven by achieving subjective mystical experiences rather than resting in the objective reality of the accomplished work of Christ. When this happens we begin to embrace, albeit unknowingly, a religious program of self-salvation. D.A. Carson writes:
"Many have commented on the fact that the church in the western world is going through a time of remarkable fragmentation. This fragmentation extends to our understanding of the gospel. For some Christians, “the gospel” is a narrow set of teachings about Jesus and his death and resurrection which, rightly believed, tip people into the kingdom. After that, real discipleship and personal transformation begin, but none of that is integrally related to “the gospel.” This is a far cry from the dominant New Testament emphasis that understands “the gospel” to be the embracing category that holds much of the Bible together, and takes Christians from lostness and alienation from God all the way through conversion and discipleship to the consummation, to resurrection bodies, and to the new heaven and the new earth."

To be Gospel-driven means that the Gospel will be our central message, the narrative of our lives, our motive for ministry, and our power in evangelism and missions. In this sense, we never move past the Gospel. Part of the genius of the Gospel is that it operates on two levels of reality. It is the simple message of salvation: Jesus died for sinners and rose victorious over the grave. It is also the deepest of deep truths. Who can fathom the mysteries of grace that caused the Son of God to become a curse in the place of sinners?

Therefore, the Gospel is a reality that drives the people of God. The Gospel will drive our worship. Our singing, preaching, and practice of the ordinances (Lord’s Supper & Baptism) are all shaped primarily by the cross. The themes of serving, sacrifice, and humility that are inherent to the Gospel will drive our fellowship. The call to repent and believe in Jesus Christ will drive us to the world to declare the good news of salvation. The promise of God’s coming new creation where love, holiness, and justice reign will drive us to engage the culture in such a way as to give people a foretaste of these kingdom realities.

Tim Keller of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church points our three ways that the Gospel gives us freedom to move into our culture:
1. The Gospel makes us humble
The Gospel requires radial humility. It requires that we give up on all notions that we can save ourselves or even help ourselves spiritually. It requires total dependence upon God. People defined by the Gospel are used to receiving. In this sense, the Gospel guards us from arrogance and gives us the freedom to say, “I have much to learn.”

There is much we can learn from culture. More specifically, there is much we can learn from lost people. We are not their Savior, Christ is. We are their servants. If we listen well we can learn the best ways to serve them and embody the saving service of Jesus.

2. The Gospel makes us confident.
To be humble is not the equivalent of lacking confidence. The Gospel allows us to say, “I have much to give.” We need not fear that we are like salesmen seeking to move a product that few people really want or need. The Gospel is news. It is the announcement of what Jesus Christ did to bring sinners to God. It is the best news in the universe. It is relevant to every age, every race, and every culture. Every man, woman, and child needs to hear the Gospel.

3. The Gospel makes us courageous.
It is not uncommon to fear the prospect of moving closer to the surrounding culture for the purpose of making the Gospel known. But there is a courage that the Gospel imparts that enables us to say, “I have nothing to fear.” Paul’s attitude is instructive. His perspective on his life is that he lived to declare the Gospel and would therefore be given as many days for that purpose as God determines. But if he departed this life then, as far as he was concerned: “that is better by far.” The Gospel does not make us irresponsible but it does not allow the idolizing of safety and security.

A Gospel-driven church will offer a radical alternative to any culture the world produces:
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding sexuality. The world has perverted and twisted sexuality. On one hand, libertines exploit and idolize sex. On the other hand certain moralists have given the idea that there is something inherently wrong with sex. The church understands that sexuality is a good gift from God to be experienced within the blessed relationship between husband and wife. For the Christian, sex becomes an expression of love where giving is magnified over taking; mutual joy over selfish demands. Because so many people have been harmed by the fallen condition of our world the church must be prepared to surround them with a compassion and community shaped by the Gospel.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding marriage and family. Christians understand that marriage is a reflection of God’s covenant love and loyalty toward His people. They are committed to teaching God’s ways to their children. The church also affirms the goodness of singleness. Some are called to be single for a time and others for life. Whether God calls His children to marriage or singleness He does so purposefully for the sake of displaying His goodness and sufficiency.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding money and possessions. Christians are committed to generosity with all of their resources. They strive to ensure that there are “no needy among them” (Acts 4:34). The Gospel frees us from both asceticism and materialism. Christians who have been blessed with much or comparatively little will seek to use their money, their home, and their time for the benefit of others. They can give freely because they have come to know that Christ is sufficient and does not need to be augmented by material goods.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding power and status. The world craves power and status. Power is seen as having an advantage over others. Status is enjoyed by being an object of envy. The Gospel turns these worldly values inside out. Power is displayed through weakness and status is achieved by being the servant of all.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding social connections. The world is divided along racial, economic, political, and generational lines. The church fails when it reinforces those divisions. A Gospel-driven church consistently seeks to bridge man-made barriers between people. The Gospel heals racial strife and creates a community where godly older men and women mentor those who are younger. People will neither be despised nor envied because of their economic situation. When conflicts arise, as they surely will, a Gospel-Driven church actively pursues reconciliation as defined in Scripture.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative to social action. In the world, social action becomes corrupted by political agendas from both the left and the right. The church is not a social services organization. However, it clear from Scripture that the church will be judged in part by how they treated the poor among them. There are churches today that do an excellent job of caring for poor people but are no longer faithful to God’s Word. There are other churches that are meticulously careful regarding doctrine but do little to meet the needs of the poor and lonely. The task for the Gospel-driven church is actively engage the needs of the poor without being co-opted by liberal doctrine and political agendas. On the other hand, the Gospel-driven church will watch their doctrine closely without being political bed-fellows with those on the right. The Gospel-driven church is wholly owned by Jesus Christ and cares only about His agenda and priorities.

The Gospel changes us. The Gospel-driven church says, “Because we have been forgiven, we will be forgiving. Because we have been shown mercy, we too will show mercy. Because we have been taken out of captivity, we will lead captives to freedom.” In this way, the Gospel becomes both our central message and the controlling motif for our lives. John Ensor writes in his book The Great Work of the Gospel, “Recipients of the gospel become servants of the gospel.” He continues:
“Servanthood is a way of life among the forgiven…We began as guilty sinners, living empty lives, and through the sanctifying power of His Spirit and belief in the truth, God washes, heals, molds, and spurs us on to a place where we wake up every day of our lives with the highest of all purposes for getting out of bed. We serve the living God...
“The great work takes the hostile and turns them into partners in the ministry of the gospel…It is not the Spirit of grace that for so many has made comfort and retirement the end of Christian faith; it is the Spirit of the age gone unchallenged. When grace is at work and on the move, cross-bearing in hard places, fed by the secret spring of joy in a better world yet to be realized, is found in its wake.”

Posted on Monday, August 20, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Because I am often asked about the Emergent Movement I thought I would link to this book review of Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy (A Generous Orthodoxy). McLaren, the most influential of those within the Emergent Movement is often times coy about what he really believes. In this particular book he shows more of his cards than he has in the past. The results are sad.

Posted on Monday, August 20, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

More on the athiestic evangelism of Richard Dawkins from the fellas at Triablogue (Godlessness goes kitsch).

Posted on Monday, August 20, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

In an article in the July/August issue of “Touchstone” Magazine, James Harrison describes a recent visit to a Mosque in Detroit, Michigan. Harrison, a Baptist pastor from New York, was struck by the variety of people in the mosque that day. He called it a “true rainbow coalition.” Many, he writes, were “Middle Eastern” in appearance. But there were many others who were not. He writes, “Americans of European ancestry, or who were European-born, sharing something akin to my Irish complexion, knelt beside African Americans, North Africans, Persians, and Arabs of various stripes.”

One of the worshipers caught pastor Harrison’s eyes particularly. “He appeared to be in his early twenties and as American as apple pie.” So, after the service, Harrison approached the young, pale-faced Muslim convert. He asked him what it was about Islam that would cause him to convert. Interestingly, the reason was not about theology.
“I grew up in church. My parents took us to Sunday school every week. They even went to church themselves, on and off. And what I remember about church is that no matter where I went, everyone was just like me. As I grew older, I noticed, too, that people who were not like me all had their own churches, as well.
“Islam is different,” he said. “I’m sure you noticed that. It’s the first thing I noticed when I began to investigate Islam. And that’s what prompted my conversion. If Islam can accomplish that, it’s something that I can commit myself to.”

That is a profound observation. The churches I have been a part of have, in most cases, been just like me. And the reason is simple. I am most comfortable around people who are like me. This is true for most of us. And that fact was not lost on the architects of the church growth movement in the later half of the 20th century. One of the first principles discovered in the “science” of church growth is that churches grow best when structured along lines of homogeneity. In fact, “homogeneous groups” became official language for the church growth movement.

People are attracted to people like themselves. In contrast, people are not comfortable around people who are not like them. It became an easy equation. If you desire your church to grow, then target a specific group. Interestingly, it seems that most pastors want to target rich, white, suburbanites. I don’t know of very many pastors who feel called to plant churches in poor “black” neighborhoods. I know of many churches that moved from the city to the suburbs. But I know of no churches that moved from the suburbs to the city. North Dallas and Suburban Atlanta are far more attractive church planting fields than are Compton or Detroit.

Harrison writes, “When we allow our comfort to cage us in when we should be reaching out, we refuse to be and to do that which Christ has commanded, and our comfort has become a less obvious kind of sin.” He points out that early in American history many denominations came to be defined along lines of national origin: Swedish Baptists, Dutch Reformed, etc. However, these nationalistic designations did not reflect well the barrier breaking character of the Gospel. “Eventually, many came to see this desire for comfort as a hindrance to the mission of the church.”

I do not believe that the push for homogeneity among the church growth experts is racist or bigoted. It is, I believe, simple pragmatism. The leaders in the church growth movement were not prophets. They were marketers. They understood what people wanted. Therefore, the conclusion was that if the church would simply supply consumers (George Barna’s language) with what they wanted then the church would grow. One of the things people want from a church is comfort. And one of the things that makes most people uncomfortable is being around people who are different from them. The conclusion was simple. Create churches for people just like me. This could be done, we have been promised, without compromising the message. But is this true? I believe not.

Harrison continues:
“The idea seems to be that if we can be more like the culture, or like a specific subset of the culture, the people will be comfortable with us. If they are comfortable with us, we’ll be able to convince them that not only are we just like them, but Jesus is just like them, too. And if they think Jesus is just like them, maybe they’ll want to follow him. Why they would want to follow someone who is just like them, however, remains a mystery…
“But what makes the Gospel unique is the way in which Jesus is not like us. I don’t need someone who is just like me. I’m sinful. I need someone holy. I’m human. I need someone divine. I cannot stand under the wrath of God. I need someone who has stood there in my place. I cannot raise myself from death to life. I need someone who can raise me up because he himself has been raised…
“[T]his emphasis on similarity is not a good thing for the church. It runs counter to the biblical ideal of what the church is to be, and also counter to the biblical example of what the church is to accomplish before a watching world.
“In the New Testament, whenever a problem of cultural or racial division arose within the church, the solution to the problem was not separation into compatible social or racial groups. The solution was to foster ever-increasing union around the gospel and its implications…
“The church is to be an earthly representative, imperfect though it is, of the heavenly glory, in which men from every tongue and tribe and nation are gathered together, worshipping the One who sits on the throne, and the Lamb.”