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[263] Evangelism

Piggy-backing on my last blog, “Out Yourself,” let me share some thoughts from Ed Stetzer (https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/december/how-do-you-define-evangelism.html). He makes clear that evangelism involves more than a setting a Godly  example, or engaging an admirable discipleship.

It is communicating the gospel simply, clearly, and directly.

He sagely debunks the silly quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” First, it is a misquote–St. Francis never said it, secondly, it is shabby theology. “You can’t preach the gospel without words any more than you can breathe without air,” says Stetzer.

The Assisi misquote is a much-used copout—a form of cowardice.  It is a lot easier to behave properly than it is to step out and take the risk of rejection involved in telling our friends—no matter how tactfully–their eternal well-being may depend on their making some major changes in the interior of their lives.  You can tell people you are a Christian, but for many secular souls that just means you don’t vote Democrat or are pro-gun or against abortion.

We are wise to assume nothing with respect to others’ knowledge of the gospel, and begin letting them know there is some good news on which they may be missing out.

DC

[261] Holism

In June of 2019, Mark Galli, the beleaguered soon-to-be former editor of Christianity Today, argued passionately against the notion that the purpose of the church is to be “missional, existing for the sake of the world.” If you believe the purpose of the church “is to make the world a better place, why bother with the church, because it is clearly not very effective in this respect.  Better to give oneself to UNICEF or the Democratic Party,” stated Galli.

Then comes the hook.  Galli is talking about mainline (in other words, theologically liberal) churches.  It becomes clear when he states that it is this missional notion that is among the main “reasons for the numerical decline of mainline Christianity.”

Methinks not.

The decline of mainline Christianity is much more about what Galli terms the belief “that it [the church] has to be a place where the world feels comfortable, it has dumbed down the preaching and the worship, so that in many quarters we have ended up with a common-denominator Christianity.”

That is the reason.  The make-the-world-a-better-place mission is a symptom of the mainline drift out of biblical orthodoxy.

And Galli was dead wrong about his larger, missional thinking.

One of the purposes of church, and the Christian college, most definitely is to make the world a better place.  There are two Great Commandments.  One is vertical, the other horizontal, and there is plenty in scripture about the horizontal one.  There are over 400 verses indicating God’s love for the poor, and over 70 affirming his concern for justice.  The church is called to holism—to minister to body, mind, and spirit.  In the city–where most people live–it is imperative that the church minster to the hurting and be a relevant social force in its own community.  Anything short of that has the church offering a stone when people ask for bread.  Anything short of holism—in the church or the Christian college’s understanding of discipleship–falls short of the words and example of Christ. DC

[260] Culture Wars

Sociologist James Davison Hunter popularized the term, culture wars, in his book of the same title. He described the issue of one “rooted in different systems of moral understanding,” something Duane Litfin reviewed in Christianity Today (September, 2019).  This split is not new. It harks back to 1791, when we see two interpretations of the nation, a “providential” (religious) one, and a secular one–a vertical.one grounded in transcendent authority and a horizontal one founded in humanism.  These two views have been jousting for decades on the turf of American institutions–law, government, policies, and education. According to Steven D. Smith, the Supreme Court tipped the balance to the secular side with a series of decisions running from the 1940s on into the 1960s.

That SC tilt worked against the providentialists in the past few decades, as the secularist agenda gained the edge on issues of homosexuality, gender, abortion, marriage, and religious freedom in the courts.  The secularist agenda became the essence of Political Correctness, with those who objected to this secular catechism branded as at best, out of touch, and at worst, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and bigoted.

With things looking bleak for the providentialists, enter Donald Trump.  He willingly supported the providentialist—even evangelical– agenda. Backed in a cultural corner due to the ever more dominating force of secularism, providentialists were faced with a surprising choice: they could either back Trump, despite his less than sterling moral past and often ungracious demeanor, or watch the secular march go unopposed.

And there is where we are today.  We have a powerful and very aggressive secular movement being resisted—at least politically–by of all people, Donald Trump.  God certainly works in mysterious ways.

DC

[259] Why Xian Colleges

Recently, Christianity Today (October 18, 2019) published an article by Kelly Kapic of Covenant College on why we still need Christian Colleges. Kapic notes that despite widespread prosperity there is a strain of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and mental disorders throughout the society.  The author connects this with an absence of vocation—purpose in people’s lives.  Some Christian colleges are on to this.  Grand Canyon University includes “Find Your Purpose” in its marketing.

On a related note, Kapic sees an absence of holism to the faith of many prosperity-chasing Christians, resulting in what he calls “bumper-sticker” Christianity, a faith life largely separated from an engagement with the outside world.

All of this leads to something I feel tops the list for Christian colleges: transmitting a Christian worldview.  By this I mean teaching the student to look at the world—from arts to economics, from history to athletics—through the lenses of faith.

A Christian worldview requires committed, truly Christian scholars, guiding their students toward a mature Christian perspective on all things.  The Christian college is uniquely able to do this.  And it is sorely needed.  I know many Christians who do not have a Christian worldview.  They are alive in their faith but unintentionally live a compartmentalized existence, with their faith—as important as it is–not really permeating all aspects of their lives.  A Christian worldview has no boundaries.  It tints the believer’s view of all of reality as surely as a pair of sunglasses tint one’s physical view.  We need this desperately in a world of false philosophies, one requiring the believer to debate and wrestle with difficult ideal, according to Kapic.

Perhaps most important, the Christian college needs to be up to this task—able to deliver.  It needs to demand nothing less than genuine Christian thinking and expression from its faculty.  The spiritual battle of our times is for the mind.  Having the actual mind of Christ is an ideal, but there is no higher calling than pursuing it.  DC

 

[258] Foolishness

Nearly 20 years ago a George Barna poll found that 70% of churched youth walk away from their faith within one year of attending a secular college or university.  A chilling report.  I cannot imagine that number is any lower today. Recantation of what appeared to be a Christian faith is not uncommon. Bart Campolo, Frankie Schaeffer, Rob Bell, and Aaron Rodgers are contemporary examples. What we have here are cases in which the foolishness of the gospel—which confounds the wise—is swapped out for the wisdom of man’s false teaching.

We need to stop and look at this.  In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul makes no secret of how foolish the gospel looks in the eyes of the unbeliever.  Moreover, throughout scripture we are warned against false teaching.

So what are the takeaways from this 70% finding?  Here are a few.  First, it is a ringing endorsement for Christian higher education. In the secular university, faith is not merely not supported.  It is attacked.  When young people are not intellectually armed to confront sophisticated, carefully-constructed, humanistic counterarguments the gospel indeed looks foolish, rather than the power of God to salvation.

Second, the Christian college must get serious about teaching apologetics and Christian worldview. It simply cannot rest on the comfortable, complacent assumption that students do not lose their faith in a Christian environment.  They do. They lose their faith when they are confronted–through reading or conversation—with secular humanist ideologies, particularly in a vacuum of proactive efforts to defend the validity of Christian truth and a Christian worldview on their own campus. They become no more immune to apostacy than their counterparts attending secular universities.

Third, the church needs to see the danger of this devious, evil enemy, waiting for its children who have been no more deeply educated in their faith than what they learned in Sunday School or catechism classes. We have so many resources now—visual and literary. Churches need to incorporate those that offer a grounding in the validity of scripture and truth of a Christian worldview into their educational curriculum.

Not to do so, would indeed be foolish. DC

[257] Progressive Christianity

Bart Campolo, the apostate son of the renown Tony Campolo, offered a sober warning to those orthodox Christians who want to avoid losing their faith.  He did so by describing his journey out of faith by way of socially progressive Christianity.

“I passed through every stage of heresy,” said the once ordained Campolo. “It starts out with sovereignty going, then biblical authority goes, then I’m a universalist, now I’m marrying gay people. Pretty soon I don’t actually believe Jesus actually rose from the dead in a bodily way.”

He has predicted that as many as 40% of progressive Christians will become atheists in the next ten years.  According to Campolo, it is a “progressive” disease, a domino action in which one doctrine falls after another.  Once a shift out of orthodoxy starts, there is no discernible stopping point.

Says Campolo, “When you get to this ragged edge of Christianity when people say ‘God’ they sort of mean ‘the universe’ and when they say ‘Jesus’ they sort of mean ‘redemption’ – they’re so progressive they don’t actually count on any supernatural stuff to happen, they’ve dialed it down in the same way I did.”

He says he has slipped past “progressive re-vamping” of Christianity and went straight to the logical conclusion that God doesn’t exist. He encourages Progressive Christians to stop pretending God exists in the form of “the universe” or other wishy-washy language, and embrace their unbelief.

There is a world of progressive Christianity out there, filled with podcasts, books, and events aimed at young evangelicals, encouraging them to reassess orthodox evangelical doctrines on hell, sovereignty, biblical infallibility, sexuality etc. There are many “neat, cool, fuzzy” (according to Campolo) leaders to follow, like Rob Bell and Donald Miller.  This is a faith and learning issue, as these progressive efforts are aimed at the educated, thriving in seminaries and mainline Christian colleges.

“Once you start adjusting your theology to match up to the reality you see in front of you,” says Campolo, “it’s an infinite progression.” What Campolo is doing is putting some bright lights of warning on what Matthew 7:13 describes as the broad road leading to destruction. DC

[256] Canadian Churches

A few years ago, a five-year study of growing and shrinking churches in Canada found that conservative churches, with a literal interpretation of scripture, were the ones growing. The distinguishing feature of these churches was their commitment to biblical orthodoxy, not positions on hot-button social issues.

Should anyone be surprised by this?

Forgive my simplism here, but does it not seem logical that churches committed to scripture would grow because they not only accept the bible as truth, but also because scripture is radioactive spiritually, being infused by the Holy Spirit?

The more one studies the validity of scripture with a cold scholarly eye, the more convincing it becomes as the organ for divine truth.  Studies of manuscripts, archaeology, prophecy and even science authenticate the bible.  More important than that, however, are the changed lives—in Canada among other places–that result from a commitment to its message.

[255] Faith Crisis in Xian Colleges

The August 30, online edition of Christianity Today included an article suggesting that doubting one’s faith is “part of the process” for many students at Christian colleges.  It reported a study done by Christian Higher Education showing how common faith struggles are among students at these schools.

“Contemporary leaders at Christian colleges and universities don’t really have to push students to spiritual crisis,” says the article. “They expect students to come to this point in their faith and prepare to help them through it.”  The article also tells of how evangelical missionaries of the past “almost always talked about their college experience as a time of spiritual struggle,” according to historian, Adam Laats.  The big concern is to get students to acknowledge their doubts rather than hide them in guilt.

From there, the discussion moves to how to minister to this population of doubt.  There is much variety among colleges on that front, much of which involves individual or group support.

I have two suggestions for how to do that.

First, in the context of any Christian worldview, confront postmodernist thinking at every point.  The notion that non-material truth is relative, or a function of one’s personal perception, is arguably the single most destructive force facing Christianity.

Second, offer a required course on Christian apologetics.  Much doubt among students is rooted in intellectual challenges to the faith—what Paul calls the wisdom of men vs. the foolishness of the gospel.  We have powerful, intellectually-defensible reasons for why we accept Christianity as truth.  Armed with those reasons, the labels of foolishness and wisdom are quickly reversed. DC

[254] Properity

According to Christianity Today, the prosperity gospel is taught to 40% of evangelical churchgoers.  This heresy is the notion that believers have to do something on their end to gain material rewards from God.  Works not grace.  In short, it makes the money tossed in the collection plate not a tithe or offering, but an investment for which a return is expected.

There are regional and denominational differences with respect to adherence to a prosperity gospel, according to LifeWay Research, that published its findings in 2018, but the very existence of the prosperity heresy is disturbing.  It makes our faith about material gain rather than the glory of God.  It replaces the cost of discipleship with an investment strategy.  It essentially repudiates all of the verses about persecution sprinkled through the New Testament, and all but ignores the very biographies of the apostles—eleven of whom gave their life for the faith, with the twelfth dying in exile.

To the extent that this toxin has found its way in Christian colleges, how does this prepare students for a life of discipleship?  Particularly considering the increasingly secular culture in which they will be living that life.  The gospel is about earning alright.  It is about having earned God’s rage, only to receive his gift of salvation instead.  God owes us nothing but his condemnation.  We owe him everything. That envelope in the collection plate is not a seed planted for an eventual harvest benefiting us, as the grinning, well-dressed, heretical televangelists past and present try to lead us to believe..  It is a symbol of our total indebtedness to him.  DC

[253] Cos and Locals

Many years ago I read an article about college faculty, dividing them into two groups: Cosmopolitans and Locals.  Cosmopolitans were faculty establishing a name for themselves in their discipline through publishing and conference presentations.  The Locals confined their activities to the local college.

This split is sharply evident in Christian colleges.  There is a minority of faculty, Cosmopolitans, that do publishable research—books, articles, and conference presentations.  By doing so, they put themselves and their institutions on the larger academic map.  The majority, however, are Locals.  Often because these colleges are “teaching institutions,” they opt to limit their activities to teaching, committee service, and publishing in non-academic, denominational periodicals, often claiming these endeavors consume all of their time.

This is unfortunate.  Please understand, teaching a worthy priority.  Committee service can make a contribution.  Writing articles in denominational magazines have their place.  But none of these are terribly difficult to do, and they certainly do not establish oneself as a scholar in one’s field.  In fact, they hardly constitute a full-time job.  I know that firsthand.

What is even more unfortunate is that many Christian colleges not only do not encourage cosmopolitan activity, but have faculty that–perhaps out of jealousy—subtly denigrate colleagues who go more widely. I experienced that as well.

In short, in many of these schools you can become a full Professor without having done a shred of research beyond your doctoral dissertation, provided of course that you taught your classes, served on designated committees, and carried out the other pedestrian tasks of your employment.  Conversely, publications and research are generally not highly regarded.  In fact, you may be penalized should your research take you away from campus with any frequency.

Christian colleges need to address this.  Ideally, faculty that do research should have accommodations made in their workload, affording them more time to do scholarship.  At the very least, these institutions need to recognize, encourage, and applaud their Cosmopolitans who are making a mark for Christ in secular academe.  It is the Cosmopolitans who are models of what scholarship really is.  It is they who are preparing their students, by example, to serve Christ in the world. DC

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