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Archive for the ‘F & L Insights’ Category

[233] 2nd Commandment

You don’t need me to tell you the Second Great Commandment is love your neighbor as yourself.  What I do want to say is that the church (a) does not seem to understand this commandment, and (b) does not do well in keeping it.

First, let me share a few thoughts on what this imperative entails.  It includes loving one’s family members.  They are one’s closest neighbors.  Judging from the divorce statistics, many of us are really failing here.  And that does not include all the loveless, albeit intact marriages, in addition to all the toxic parent-child relationships.

One’s church family would also be included.  So many churches fail here, as members fight over ecclesiastical turf as if the church belongs to its members rather than Christ—who just happens to be the originator of the Second Great Commandment.  I have real issues with this infraction, having been in too many churches ridden with dissension.

From there we go to the outside, those “without.”  Being a sociologist, I am very concerned with caring for the dispossessed, those mentioned in Matthew 25.  But before we get there, we might want to look at our personal and church families. DC

[231] Culture Lag

Recently I used this space to make the case for a required course in Christian apologetics (defenses of the faith) in Christian colleges.  Since then I ran this idea past the esteemed Christian philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff, perhaps as astute a Christian thinker as anyone in the world.  He concurs with this position, apparently because he—like myself—sees the mind as the battlefield on which current spiritual warfare takes place.

We no longer live in a Christian-friendly culture.  Today’s Western culture is increasingly shaped by secular-progressivism—an organized force aimed at driving religion in general, and Christianity in particular, out of contemporary society.

Hence, sound theology has its place, but it is not the panacea for keeping youth in the kingdom.  Theological divisions typified particularly the first half of the 20th Century, and therefore doctrinal purity became the first priority in educating youth for discipleship.  Those days are gone—permanently.  Today the battle is with secular-progressivism—the notion that provable scientific facts are the only universally acceptable creed.  On the spiritual/philosophical front, secular-progressivism takes the form of postmodernism—the notion that non-material truth is individual in nature.  In other words what is true for me is true only for me.  Not for anyone else.  Therefore, non-material truth does not exist, because “truth” is not universal.  It is customized to the individual.

So much for evangelism.  It is unnecessary because there is no grounded, immutable, spiritual truth to communicate.  It simply does not exist.

It would seem then that courses in apologetics would loom large in importance for Christian educators, the need for such courses being inescapably obvious.  To the extent that they are not so regarded suggests that much of Christian higher education is caught in what sociologists call a “culture lag,” one in which colleges are continuing to focus on matters of past rather than current importance.

Please understand, this is not a call to delete courses in theology from the curriculum.  Indeed doctrinal education remains vital, as it crystallizes one’s Christian beliefs.  The issue is that the secular-progressive, postmodern culture attacks the very validity of any theology.  It attempts to wipe out the acceptance of any spiritual truth before the first doctrine is taught.

We cannot continue to lag behind contemporary culture.  The enemy is well positioned in the 21st Century, and is rapidly gaining ground.  DC

[230] A Must

I have long been beating the drum for a required course in Christian Apologetics in Christian colleges.  I am more convinced than ever that such a course is a must.  You name a biblically-based Christian college and I will show you their courses in theology.  Valuable as they are in spelling out the faith for the theologically uninitiated, these courses often serve as little more than reinforcements of what has been already learned by the many students from Christian families.  Again, these courses do well in presenting the cognitive elements of the faith, but that is not what so many students need.

In a world awash in secularism and postmodernism, students need to have a defense of the faith.  They need, as Peter states (1 Peter 3:15), a ready answer to the forces who will challenge their faith. Christian students really need that because many of them come from environments in which they feared expressing even the slightest doubts as to the truth of Christianity. 

In many Christian homes and churches, children are not educated in the faith.  They are indoctrinated with the faith.  Before they can think for themselves they are taught the faith as if it were as provably true as gravity.  Unfortunately, as these children develop intellectually, their scientific certainty is continually confirmed while their faith often encounters challenges—challenges that create painful doubt.

Many feel they have no place to go with those doubts.  Expressions of doubt and questions that challenge the faith are not very welcome in many churches and Christian homes.  Worse, many young people already feel guilty about even entertaining doubt.

The Christian college is to be a place of education, not indoctrination.  It is a place in which students should learn how to think critically, rather than accept bodies of knowledge without question.  There is no better place for students to investigate the case for their faith than right there.  It is the best place for them to express their doubts and ask their challenging questions without guilt or condemnation.  And find some answers.

Consider the all too common alternative.  It is often a double life, one that looks like one of faith on the surface (going to chapel, following the norms of the Christian college community, and going to church with their family when at home) but actually one of dwindling and ebbing faith.  Once free from the restraints of the Christian community–home and college—the movement out of the life of faith accelerates.  Worship stops, relationships with non-believers (often including marriage) multiply, and that once Covenant child is gone.

I have no idea how many young people could be rescued from this all too common plight had they had a safe place to examine their faith.  I can tell you that place is the Christian college.  DC

[229] Intimidation

Why is the church scared?  Why does it back away and equivocate in the face of secular-progressive attack?

Over the decades, faith and culture are sometimes aligned, sometimes at odds.  Despite all the sins of our nation—from slavery to the exploitation of the poor—for about 200 years the US mainstream culture was loosely aligned with the church through public acceptance of Judeo-Christian values.  In that context, many Christian churches saw themselves charged with being a transformative influence on the mainstream culture, repeatedly calling it back to God.

I don’t see that much anymore.  I see the church trying to avoid polarizing issues of values and lifestyle–and when addressing them–doing so in ways that will minimize push back and disapproval from the larger culture.  Over and over when the secular culture and the church are in a stare-down it is the church that blinks.  It is the church that changes, because it is intimidated.  Instead of cultural transformation (or at least attempts at it) I see intimidation shivering through the church, resulting in backpedaling and compromise on critical matters in hopes of avoiding public ridicule.

So much for the cost of discipleship.

Let me clarify something here.  Prayer, discussion, and study on incendiary issues like those of gender roles, sexual orientation, and abortion have their place.  It was through just such activities that Christians became enlightened with respect to the evils of slavery and segregation.  The Civil Rights Movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., emerged from an examination of the Second Great Commandment.  In short, Christians were spiritually enlightened and through that enlightenment many were changed.

I don’t see that now.  I see the church changing through intimidation, and then trying to reduce the dissonance of these shifts by issuing carefully worded reports and rationales, as if the changes were the result a enlightened Christian worldview rather than fear of mockery, dismissal, and rejection—even discrimination.

We live in enormously complex times, in a world drowning in information and intellectual diversity.  Christians need to be vigilant, open to putting everything on the table for prayer, discussion, and study.  Any change of position on a major issue, however, needs to emerge from these spiritual exercises rather than cowardly attempts to appease an increasingly hostile culture.

Eleven of the twelve apostles who founded the church were martyred, and the twelfth died in exile.  They cared only for divine approval; not at all for human acceptance.   That legacy of courage is not very visible now. DC

[228] Non-spiritual

Faith and learning is arguably more important today than it was a decade, two decades, five decades ago.  The reason is that our culture is increasingly non-spiritual.

By non-spiritual, I am not talking about trust in in science as some final authority here.  As far back as I can remember science has been venerated.  In my youth, commercials regularly presented their products as “scientifically proven.” I am talking about the marginalizing—the making irrelevant—of all things spiritual.  It is as subtle as the serpent in Genesis 3, but over the decades our culture has evolved into one in which a spirit world—angels and devils, for example—is not a part of our consciousness.  For many, even the thought of such spiritual realities is preposterous, a venture into a sort of religious science fiction.

Thinking Christians are surrounded by exactly that mindset.  To the secularist, the notion of a Christian colleague moving from the scientific pursuits of academe, business, or some other professional sphere to a time of prayer is incredulous.  It is a quantum leap from scientific reality to unprovable fantasy.  For the Christian it is seamless.  Science is part of the Creator’s order, so studying that creation in the context of a personal relationship with the Creator is smooth logic.

Prayer may increase in importance for the thinking Christian, as she is living and working in a non-spiritual culture, one which dismisses as fiction the central force in her life.  DC

[227] Consciousness

Why do so many people seem so uninterested in things of faith?  Some time back I dined with Bill, one of my dearest professional friends on one of his trips to Las Vegas.  He asked what was new in my life.  I think he was surprised when I told him that it was the impact of a prayer discipline I was practicing—and still do.  “I’m not interested in that,” Bill said dismissively.  I was startled. Such a cold shutdown was unlike my charming friend, who used to be a practicing Lutheran.

So what is going on here?  I submit that Bill is the product of an era that–due to the carefully orchestrated efforts of secular progressivism–no longer has a “God consciousness.”  The mention of God is unwelcome in our schools; many groups recite the Pledge of Allegiance omitting the “under God” phrase, or do not say the Pledge at all; the national media assiduously avoids reporting on stories of faith and avoids any reference to the God of the scriptures, Yahweh; and sports reporters show their disrespect for our Judeo-Christian tradition by referring flippantly to “the gods of basketball” or some other sport.

The secular progressive movement wants to remove any consciousness of God from our culture.  They want a nation that simply does not put God into its life equation, hoping to spawn new generations that will be functional atheists.  This movement goes back to the Madalyn Murray O’Hair days of the 1960’s and has gathered force ever since.  Its members would be proud of Bill. DC

[226] Prosperity Gospel

The prosperity message qualifies as gospel in that is indeed good news.  Good health, more revenue, and an upward spike in one’s career direction are a good return—a nice payout—for a meager faith investment.

And that is the problem with a prosperity gospel.  It is not about taking up one’s cross, glorifying God, or standing strong amid unanswered prayer—the stuff of discipleship.  It is about self-interest.  It is about “your best life now,” to borrow from the nicely-coiffed Joel Osteen, with the key word being your.  The life of faith, however, is not about us, the creatures.  It is about God, the creator.  Faith is not about what you put into some divine vending machine as you await the size of the payout.  In fact, you may get no material payout at all.  Myriad martyrs, including all but one of the disciples experienced that.  Your payout is a membership in God’s kingdom, the only payout really worth having. DC

[225] #1 Institution

What is the most powerful institution in the world?  The US government?  The UN?  A global business network?

The answer is the church.

That’s right.  The often seemingly puny, hypocritical, impotent, shrinking, divided, irrelevant institution—the church–is #1.  How do we know this?  Is this the result of social research?  Surveys?  Polls?  Membership?

We know this because Jesus said it.  In Matthew 16:19 he states that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church.

And they haven’t.  The Christian church is 2000 years old.  Think about that.  Civilizations, empires, global entities, have come and gone.  The church is still here.  Famous people—Alexander the Great, Julius Cesar, Constantine, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, JFK, Martin Luther King, Elvis, Nelson Mandela, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, and Michael Jackson—dominant figures by any measure—are not only gone, but they have largely faded from memory.

Humanly speaking, what are the chances the church would outlive all these entities and the vivid impact of all these people?

The sportsbooks of Las Vegas would not post a line on that.

Yet the church bells keep ringing.  And they will continue to ring.

Christ said so.  DC

[224] Impact

Despite all the problems with evangelicalism—its frequent self-righteousness, unnecessary divisiveness, and instances of troubling hypocrisy—I find myself more drawn to its camp than the less biblically orthodox churches.

I can state the reason in but a simple word: impact.

Despite our human flaws, all of which show up in our churches, those churches that sincerely attempt to be biblically orthodox pack a wallop.  People enter a relationship with Christ, believers are taught how to be disciples, and one can sense the power of the Holy Spirit in them.

These churches proclaim the foolishness of the gospel, often in less than intellectually sophisticated ways, but that foolishness continues to transform its people.

I do not see spiritual impact in more liberal, mainline denominational churches. I do not see transformed lives. I hear varnished, blurry, let’s-not-offend-anyone sermons, tired rituals, and happy coffee hours. I sense a warm, fuzzy feeling about God among those in attendance, but not one that has much impact on me, or my ability to have impact on the world.

DC

[223] Identity

There is a line in a contemporary Christian song that goes, “I know who I am because of who you are.”

Simple words, but profound.

Identity is a challenge for many. For the believer, the first answer to the “Who am I?” question is that I am a child God.  To understand one’s own self then, begins with an understanding of who God is–the one in whose image we are made.  God has taken much of the difficulty out of this endeavor through the incarnation of his son, the ultimate role model of all time, Jesus Christ.

Reading, studying, reflecting, and following Christ is the first step on the journey toward finding our ideal self—a journey that not only honors God, but is also the way in which we discover who we are. DC

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