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Archive for the ‘F & L Insights’ Category

[238] College Names

In a recent blog, I talked about the trend of churches to drop their denominational affiliations from their name in hopes of making those churches more appealing to seekers.  Christian colleges rarely change their names.  Some have names that make clear their denominational identity.  Notre Dame, Calvin College, Pacific Lutheran, and California Baptist come to mind.  Others have never incorporated their affiliations into their name.  Boston College, Grand Canyon University, Spring Arbor, Wheaton, and Gordon College are examples.

The issue for colleges is different from churches.  People go to churches—once, twice, fifteen times—and then can stay or move on without consequence.  It costs money to go to a college, a lot of money.  There is also an indelible academic record involved once a class is taken.  The issue for the colleges is exactly the opposite from that of the churches.  Christian colleges need to make clear their spiritual identities.  Students need to know what decision they are making when they choose a Christian college, and perhaps more important, they should get what they are paying for.

Here is where we run into other problems.  There are three types of Christian colleges.  First, there is the pseudo-Christian college, one that goes to the marketplace wearing the Christian label in hopes of attracting students from Christian families, all the while being little more than secular institutions that do not challenge Christian faith among their students and faculty.

Second, there is the biblically sound institution that falls short of teaching a Christian worldview in the classroom.  The chapel program is solid, bible studies and spiritual growth opportunities abound, and faith statements are required from the faculty, but the actual instruction in the classroom is almost indistinguishable from that in the nearby state university.

Finally, there are those that make their Christian identity known, and attempt to integrate the faith into every aspect of its existence, particularly the classroom.  These are the ones that offer a truly Christian education.  DC

[237] Church Names

Over the past decade we have seen more and more churches drop the denominational label from their church name, a trend about which G. Shane Morris of BreakPoint has written.  Instead of Alexander Methodist Church we are likely to see Alexander Community Church.  Community is a nice, soft word that seems among the most popular of substitutive choices.  There is range here, when it comes to names, with some rebrands choosing names running from Dream City and Destiny City Church to Submerge Church and The Foundry.

You can make an argument on both sides of this trend.  On the plus side, denominationalism has for decades been receding in importance.  Much of it has its roots in the doctrinal controversies of nearly a century ago, a time in which church attendance was common and the culture was more Christian friendly.  We live in a more hostile social environment now, filled with biblically illiterate people, who desperately need to meet Christ in a transforming way, long before they concern themselves with matters like infant baptism.  In short, being Methodist, Lutheran, or even Baptist may send a more line-drawing, theologically focused message, one that casts a narrow net in a time in which we need to welcome the masses of unchurched into a healthy experience with Christ.

On the other side, there is concern that the church is caving in to secular culture, trying not only to shed the tag of intolerance (what is more warm and fuzzy than community?) but perhaps their very beliefs as well.  Here the concern is that the church is cowering in the face of a culture that has little use for what is termed absolute truth.

According to the available research, the jury is out on whether this naming trend works.  There is a near even split on its effectiveness as a marketing tool.  I like it–though I stop a bit short of The Foundry–as I do not want what are traditional styles and minor theological nuances standing in the way of a person’s comfort in entering the church.  What is important, however, is that the message from the pulpit is biblically centered.  One that speaks truth, irrespective of that truth’s level of acceptance in contemporary culture.  Without that truth the church may as well be a foundry. DC

[236] Spiritual

I don’t like the word spiritual.  It has to be among the most postmodern words in the English language. It connotes a non-material reality, but nothing more.

What makes it postmodern is that to be merely spiritual requires no commitment to truth.  Furthermore, it is highly individual.  What is spiritual to the Muslim is substantially different from that of the Christian, the Hindu, or the non-religious mystic, and all are equally acceptable.

Nonetheless, it is “in” to be spiritual in contemporary society.  It is a bit like being creative—a good additive to other personal characteristics.  It is a trait that suggests open-mindedness, leaving one open to a possible spirit world, should there be one out there.

But that is as far as it goes.  No spirit world is defined and no real truth is affirmed.

It is all an individual phenomenon, and one person’s spirituality is as good as another’s.

That single doctrine–that one person’s spirituality is as good as any other’s—makes the contemporary concept of being spiritual so lethal.  It superficially conveys openness and tolerance, while subtly being wholly closed and militantly intolerant to the notion of spiritual truth, and especially the notion that there is one spiritual truth for everyone.

In 1 Corinthians 15:19 Paul tells us that if Christ was not raised from the dead we are of all people most miserable.  In brief, he is telling us that our very life is founded on that fact, that truth.

Paul is saying all of spirituality is encompassed in Christ.  For everyone.


[235] Light

The world is dark without hope.  It is dark without Christ.

If there is one word that describes the secular and Christian celebration of Christmas it would be light.  People drive into downtown areas of cities to see the Christmas lights.  We light the Christmas tree.  Neighbors with outside Christmas decorations have their lawns flooded with light.

The Christmas star is about light.

Too often it stops there, even for believers.  We get halted looking and enjoying all that light.  We are not realizing that light is a symbol of something much greater.  That Christ is the light in a dark world.  That is why we celebrate his birth with all that light.

God entered the world by saying, “Let there be light.”  It all started with light.

He redeems the world the same way, by sending the light of Christ.

I encourage you to think of that the next time you enjoy the Christmas lights.  They will be brighter than ever.  DC

[234] Murder & Grace

A dear friend called me yesterday and told me his twin granddaughters’ mother had been murdered.

She was 33.

A product of a Christian college, she had been doing the wrong things with the wrong person at the wrong time.

There are myriad reactions one can have to such news.  The one that stood out to me was grace.

It would be easy to moralize about the behavior of the young woman—the context of her murder–but I was struck with thought that the only reason the same did not happen to so many of us in youthful, often reckless times is God’s grace.

I mentioned the incident to a close friend who responded with the same thought.

The only thing that separated this woman’s plight from that of so many of the rest of us sinners is God’s protective grace.  It is a grace that is present even when we are not living according to his will.  It is grace that is especially present at those times.  DC

[233] Thanksgiving

Consider the origin of Thanksgiving in the US.  The pilgrims were so overwhelmed with their blessings they felt compelled to continue the English tradition of Thanksgiving.   This amid the loss of loved ones en route to the New World, conflicts with Native-Americans, illnesses ending in death, short life spans, elevated infant mortality rates, and hosts of other dangers particular to that era.

We have far more reasons to give thanks today than those pilgrims did 400 years ago.

But I don’t think we are as thankful.  And I’m talking about Christians here.  We seem to live in a subliminal atmosphere of entitlement.  Meals should be tasty, cars should not break down, and cellphones should work.  We should be able to keep our jobs, illness should not strike us or those we love, and our churches should serve our needs.

In reality, we are not entitled to anything—not food, not cars, not cellphones, not employment security, not extended health, not the service of the church.  Those are blessings.  Gifts the pilgrims could not have imagined.  When we remove the illusion of entitlement we see as the pilgrims did, a gracious God in a fallen world.  We become thankful—and yes, happy.  Happy Thanksgiving. DC

[232] 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

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