Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics

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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (IX)

Three Interlocking Systems

The uniformed, ill-advised, and un-initiated reader might think that Bri is considering paving his driveway, but in reality, his “three interlocking systems” are aimed at a far larger problem looming on the horizon than just some cracked asphalt. Remember: Bri is attempting to get us to think big thoughts like Jesus did. You have to read carefully and a little between the lines, but Jesus was a charter member of the Sierra Club and the reason he walked on water so much was that he was trying to reduce his carbon footprint. Jesus was keen and astute as these matters go and you would never find him giving a talk to his disciples about global warming on a cold day.

As large and complex as today’s global issues are, Bri firmly believes that we must keep reading and studying. There is one more ingredient that is crucial, essential. Bri kept “talking with knowledgeable friends.”[1] This leaves many of us out, since “knowledgeable friends” translates into “those who agree with Bri.” If you can ever find any of these knowledgeable dudes hanging around the vending machine waiting their turn to get their medicinal marijuana, you need to have a yellow legal pad with you—actually, any color will do, but to be a bona fide follower of the non-leader leader, yellow is the preferred color. Why is that? Well, that way you can sketch out “all kinds of diagrams and flow charts to capture the cause-and-effect interrelationships between problems.”[2] I thought the correct statement was among problems, but Bri’s the English guy and I’m just the theologian.

Even having an authorized Bri yellow legal pad doesn’t solve all your problems. With all that discourse among the knowledgeable friends old Bri found himself caught in “solution deadlock,” which is not a fun place to be. What happens when your knowledgeable friends and yellow legal pad leave you in the lurch? Then you turn to Dr. Leonard Sweet, who is an Emergent church darling. The difference here is that Dr. Sweet isn’t merely knowledgeable, but also brilliant and contagiously thoughtful.[3] That definitely helps. “Len,” as Bri calls Dr. Sweet made a passing comment that opened up the “solution deadlock” and seized Bri’s attention like an alarm buzzer. Here is what opened the bottleneck. Bri thought, “It’s like we’ve created some sort of suicide machine.”[4] He wasn’t alone. Other thoughtful folk had already spoken out stating how some ancient cultures “committed ecological suicide by destroying their own resource base.” He could be on to something here. If you read Daniel carefully—especially Daniel 3—there might be a case to be made for Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace emitting too many toxic gases thereby committing ecological suicide for Babylon. He should have—anachronistically—signed the Kyoto Accord where only privileged countries like China and Russia get to pollute the world.

Bri’s description of what’s happening to our planet was getting a little too scary for me—worse than any nuclear weapons device Doomsday Machine is the current Suicide Machine, which is a carryover from the ecological suicide of past generations and cultures. Thankfully, Bri explains, “Suicide machine is, of course, a metaphor.”[5] Whew! What an enormous relief! What exactly is the metaphoric suicide machine in our midst? According to Bri the words “can serve as a helpful metaphor (among others) for the systems that drive our civilization toward un-health and un-peace.”[6] Such a way of looking at and describing life can point us to how man can and has fouled “up the results of millions of years of evolution.”[7] That’s a powerful assertion. Here is evolution blindly, impersonally moving us forward, pulling us up out of the slime and man steps in and destroys millions of years of evolution. The follower of Jesus according to Evolution has every right to be indignant, especially if he or she knows knowledgeable, brilliant, and contagiously thoughtful people and not those angry and reactionary fundamentalists, stuffy traditionalists, crusading religious imperialists, and overly enthused Bible-waving fanatics.[8] By the way, this is the second time that Bri has mentioned talking to knowledgeable people.[9] If he’s not careful, he just might end up sounding like an elitist snob. He isn’t, of course, because all that he is telling us is born out of a feeling he discovered that he had something worth sharing.[10]

Back to the (Authorized) Yellow Legal Pad

With the suicide metaphor—again, I cannot express how thankful I am that it’s just a metaphor—on the front burner of Bri’s brain—oh, that’s just a metaphor too—he went back to all his (authorized) yellow legal pads that were full of diagrams, flow charts, lists, and other scribblings—with the emphasis on scribbling.[11] In a short while, Bri is going to share some of the products of his expansive legal pad meanderings. I tell you this to forewarn you and to prepare you for some heavy duty graphs and also so that you won’t split your sides laughing as such inane scribblings.

First, however, we must get down to the serious work of describing three subsystems of the supersystem. They are the Prosperity System, the Security System, and the Equity System. You and I have known these in the past under commonly understood names, but when you’re a thoughtful person, you need something a little catchier, a little trendier.

The Prosperity System

This describes what fulfills our desires to thrive and not merely to survive.[12] In other words, the Prosperity System “feeds civilization with the products and services that people want to obtain—or ‘consume’ if you will.”[13] The Prosperity System is comprised of a host of subsystems such as agriculture systems, manufacturing, energy, transportation, education, entertainment, communication systems, and so on. “So on” is a huge category. This is all well and good, but problems and jealousies arise “when some individuals or groups of people have a bigger share of desired products and services than others.”[14]

Communism and Socialism both know a great deal about this problem, but in the millions of years of evolution have not been able to solve it—but they’re working on it! This is an amazing piece of literature former-English-teacher Bri is giving us. He just surreptitiously and in a subtle fashion slipped in the notion of redistribution of wealth and prosperity. He will, in the course of this book return to this concept—repeatedly.

The Security System

“To protect a successful prosperity system from interference, a society develops a security system.”[15] Like the Prosperity System, this one also has a number of subsets or subsystems, such as weapons systems, intelligence systems, border control systems, policing and surveillance systems.[16] These systems are important, but they are also very expensive. That being the case, you’d think that old Bri would be pleased that we have a standing military that will prevent some Islamic jihadist from nuking his Birkenstocks, Starbucks gift card, and yellow legal pads, but being thoughtfully selfless, he is more concerned about the costs associated with the expanding security system.

Hidden within these words also is an agenda. Don’t forget that we’re discussing global issues and how Jesus would handle them and we all know that Jesus was a pacifist, in favor of open borders, anti-gun, and a full-orbed (and robed) revolutionary.

The Equity System

It’s here that Bri begins to spill the beans. He’s opposed to monopolies and it seems that we already have legislation with a view to monopolies. When Microsoft gets too big, for example, the government should mandate breaking it up into even more ineffective ways to build software—you know, platforms that crash every five minutes instead of just once or twice a year. One way that the Equity System thrives is when it “levies taxes to distribute the shared expenses of developing and maintaining all three systems.”[17] It? The only thing “it” can mean in McLaren’s word is “government.” By all stretches of the imagination, the government does a decent job at levying taxes. In fact, it has advanced degrees in that undertaking and to this point, “it” still doesn’t have enough revenues—especially when they continue to spend taxpayer dollars at an alarming rate. To this point, sensible economists have argued that the problem today is not with revenues—which are more than adequate—but rather with government expenditures, which are out of control.

But there is more for “it” to do: “it establishes or protects the press and court systems so they can investigate and report the truth about inequities.”[18] Boy, “it” is going to be busy. “It” establishes the press? Now I’m thinking that “it” must mean Democrat instead of government, because the Dems virtually control the media, with notable exception.

How does “it” protect the court system? Does “it” only appoint judges that meet a certain agenda? For example, does “it” only want judges who are pro-choice? Is protection calculated in whether or not a judge is in favor of open borders and amnesty for illegal aliens? Is it dependent upon affirmative action, pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan, signing the Kyoto Accord, affirming a great deal of the junk science of global warming, or supporting universal health care? At this point, we don’t know. In fact, you’ll search Bri’s ethics book in vain for a sentient, biblical, or common sense answer. It’s all meaningless platitudes and generalities.

But Bri wants to make an important distinction here while he’s discussing the Equity System: Equity does not mean equality. “Equity means fairness and justice, the outcome of wise and virtuous judgment, without prejudice, favoritism, or corruption, but with a human sense of mercy and compassion.”[19] In other words, Bri is opposed to racial quotas like affirmative action and the minimum wage. What? Oh, I’m sorry, I thought he was. I guess I was mistaken. But other than those things he’s all for less government intervention and letting the free market police itself. Right. Even though he hasn’t said it, Bri believes that Jesus was in favor of the social gospel with substantially more emphasis on social than on gospel. We are sixty pages into Bri’s ethics where he announces (non-authoritatively authoritatively that everything must change and that everything must change. I know this is probably silly of me, but this sounds very much like a non-metanarrative metanarrative. Can’t we, don’t we tend to think of a word such as “must” as carrying some sort of authority with it? The second thing that is noteworthy is that we are sixty pages into this quasi-ethical work and there has been no Scripture. Third, the only time that we have encountered the “s” word, sin, is on the lips of other people. Bri doesn’t use it, but, hey, he’s just following Jesus, who rarely said anything about it at all. As a matter of fact, later on old Bri is going to give us a paraphrase on Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount that makes The Message look like a translation.

There’s more weighty material in this section dealing with the Equity System. McLaren writes, “Or we might say that men and women should be paid and treated equally, but then we may agree that a pregnant woman or nursing mother should be given more leniency in regard to time off…”[20] Who is the “we” here? Is “we” synonymous with “it”? One thing is certain. “We” is to be taken “collectively” and it is clear that Bri is not referring here to “We the people…” Like Jim Wallis before him, Bri claims to have no particular political agenda, but then comes down in the left-wing camp on virtually every issue he discusses. Here’s something that needs to be said often: The Christians who carp about other Christians being aligned with right-wing politics ought to take a close look at their left-wing agenda. This is a double-edged sword and it cuts both ways. Unfortunately, the emergents and pomos only want it to cut only one way.

Before we end this installment, I want to share a very ,very helpful chart that Bri shares with his readers. I need to warn you going in that this is a very technical and highly complex graph that is the result of talking to knowledgeable, brilliant, and contagiously thoughtful people. It is the compilation of a number of authorized yellow legal pads chocked full of meaningful and caring “scribblings.” For most, you will not be able to plumb the depths of the profundity of this chart, but, for what it’s worth, It’s the graphic at the beginning of this post. I hope that you can make some sense of it. Bri’s assessment of this piece of technical graphic is that even though “this diagram takes us many steps forward in our journey of seeking to understanding global crises, we still have a long way to go.”[21] The diagram in question is located on page 57 of his new book and I’m sure you’ll agree that just looking at this will be like taking quantum leaps in understanding not only how Jesus was a charter member of the Sierra Club, but also how he was adamantly opposed to drilling in ANWAR.

(For whatever reason, the blog won't pick up the diagram. Trust me, it verges on simpleminded.) Nice. I’m not making this up. Kindergarten classes have put clay ears on bunnies that were more complex that this diagram. As difficult as this is, Bri will explain it all to us shortly without using much Scripture at all and without using the “s” word. But rest assured: Even without Scripture Bri is fully convinced—as fully convinced as a pomo can be, of course—that he is showing us the real, essential Jesus. Parents, make certain your children stay away from this nonsense.

[1] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), p. 50.

[2] Ibid., 50-51.

[3] Ibid., 52.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 53.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 2.

[9] Ibid., 4.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 54.

[12] Ibid., 55.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 56.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 57. Italics mine.

[21] Ibid., 58.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (VII)

Is There a Foundation for Theology?

Recently, we’ve been interacting with John Armstrong, Dan Kimball, and Brian McLaren. Each is slightly different from the other two, but they do have a lot in common. John MacArthur (The Truth War) cites Armstrong saying, “I have been forced, upon deeper reflection about theological method, to give up what I call epistemological certitude.”[1] Armstrong continues, “If there is a foundation in Christian theology, and I believe that there must be, then it is not found in the Church, Scripture, tradition or culture.”[2] Those are highly interesting and telling statements—not to mention chilling statements. It might be helpful for Armstrong to move away from the via negative and tell us what that foundation is and where it might be found. If it is not to be found in the Church, in Scripture, in the Christian tradition, or the culture, many would be interested where it might be. Since Armstrong has moved his church membership to the long-since liberal Reformed Church in America, surely he cannot expect us to believe that the foundation is there.

Dan Kimball believes that the Church is anti-female, homophobic, and that it arrogantly claims that all other religions are wrong. This is just the type of guy you want teaching your family. In order to prove that the Church is homophobic, Dan asked a number of homosexuals if the Church was homophobic. The answer was Yes. What a surprise. To make his point, he lets us listen in on a conversation he had with a young woman, who was filling in for his regular stylist. That’s funny. Bri loves Starbucks and Birkenstocks and Dan has a regular stylist, which is, no doubt, far better than having an irregular stylist. Back when I was cool, hip, cutting edge, and seriously engaging the culture, I had an irregular stylist and it was no fun. Dan asked her if she went to church and she said no because she was gay and the church wouldn’t want her there. Well, that’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard—apart from the fact that Dan actually pays a stylist to give him such a lousy haircut.

He carefully sets up his straw man and then knocks him over. I don’t believe that any thinking and praying Christian would deny entrance to a worship service to a male or female homosexual. It would seem that they would want them to hear the gospel. Simultaneously, they would not want that person to remain a practicing homosexual, because the Bible says that that is a sin. Dan doesn’t like that approach. He’s not certain about what Scripture says about homosexuality nor does he like the word “sin.” The only people that dislike the word sin more are Bill Hybels, Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, and Brian McLaren.

But to understand how impoverished the Emergent church movement is, you need to listen to a heterosexual. I’m not sure where Dan dug “Gary” up, but you get the impression that Gary stays awake at night trying to get his IQ into double digits. Listen to this piece of irrefutable logic from old Gar: “I don’t see anything corruptive or destructive about homosexuality. Jesus was about love, not hate. So homosexuality shouldn’t be something the church hates. It shouldn’t be a religious issue. With all the things wrong in this world, I don’t understand why the church makes such a big deal about homosexuality.”[3] Gary was, no doubt, taught by Dan. It’s funny that Dan has this in response to Gary’s very well thought through ethical statement: “This is the viewpoint of many in emerging generations, who perceive that we fear and hate all homosexuals. Out of all the other things in the world we could focus on—poverty, AIDS, greed, abuse—we make a bigger deal about homosexuality.”[4] While it is patently true that AIDS is not limited to homosexuals it would seem that AIDS might just be considered rather corruptive or destructive. Just what is a “religious” issue?

Some modernist might be out there thinking, Wasn’t Sodom condemned for unnatural sexual sin? Well, of course not. Dan gives us the solution: The sin of Sodom was its lack of hospitality and not helping the poor.[5] (cf. Ezek. 16:48-49.) If you look that text up, it does say that—and more. It lists pride, excess of food, prosperous ease, and not aiding the poor and needy. If Dan had included v. 50 in his explanation we would have read the following: “They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them when I saw it.” If Kimball wants us to believe that lack of hospitality carried with it the epithet of “abomination,” then this is the only place in Scripture where God states that lack of hospitality is an abomination. That Hebrew word occurs in Leviticus 18:22 where it refers to the sin of homosexuality. The same word is used again for the same sin in Leviticus 20:13. In the New Testament, the book of Jude (v. 7) reminds us that Sodom and Gomorrah indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh. So be forewarned! You now see where lack of hospitality will land you! I’m going to throw a big party and invite all the neighbors.

Anyway, Kimball believes—along with a large number of those who call themselves evangelicals—that God loves all people.[6] This is probably why he gets so bent out of shape when there is even a hint that people in other religions aren’t right too. Dan also listened to one pastor preach a sermon on homosexuality, but wasn’t impressed. Why was that? Kimball tells us: “My guess is that’s because the pastor couldn’t tell even one story of actually having any homosexual friends himself, so he viewed them and spoke of them more like someone would talk about an object.” This, friends, is the premise that if you don’t know a homosexual, you cannot possibly interpret Scripture correctly. Unless you’ve cross-dressed or committed bestiality, you cannot possibly tell God’s people what the Word of God teaches on those matters. I wonder if Dan the Sensitive knows any people like that. Here’s the crass answer: You don’t have to live in a garbage can to know that it stinks. I’m not certain that old Moses had any homosexual friends, but he told us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that it was wrong; it was a sin. How many homosexuals did Paul know personally? Kimball’s arguments are about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

But here’s some of the nonsense you can get into. Kimball describes a 21-year-old college girl who began attending his “worship gatherings.”[7] She was a creative musician studying fine art, who was a lesbian. Fine. Kimball began to let her serve in “several ways,” which remain undefined.[8] She also started serving on the “ministry team.” Eventually, she wanted a teaching role. You’d think that her age would have been reason enough to discourage her from any serious teaching position, and if that weren’t sufficient, you could have added the flimsy excuse that she wasn’t a Christian. Here is Kimball’s effeminate explanation: “With anguish and tears, I explained that I couldn’t let her serve in that position. I felt like I was yanking my heart out, and yanking her heart out, and slamming them both on the ground.”[9] It could have been worse. Just think what it would have been if Kimball had lacked hospitality. It would never cross my mind to allow a non-Christian homosexual to teach in my congregation. I’ve known some homosexuals in my life. I’ve helped homosexuals and listened to them as they told me about their struggles, fears, and temptations. I think there are appropriate places for men to cry, but what Kimball described isn’t one of them. Get a grip!

I’ll be brief about other religions. We’re back doing man-on-the-street with Kimball. This time we’re introduced to Duggan, who is Irish. Here was his dad’s approach to religion: “When I was a teenager, my dad gave me several books to read—the Bible, the Koran, the I Ching, some Buddhist writings—so I could be open-minded and discover a spiritual path for myself and understand God more fully.”[10] Right. Duggan’s brains fell out he was so open-minded. This approach by “Dad Duggan” is often viewed as the right and tolerant thing to do. There’s another way of looking at it, however, that is not quite as harsh as the Old Testament lack of hospitality thing, but makes the point. Duggan’s dad cared so little for his son that he was unwilling to take the requisite time to teach his son the values and the virtues that he held near and dear—if he had any principles in the first place. How in the world is some pimply-faced, zit-infested teenager supposed to make heads or tails out of those books? Was anyone around to sit down and talk to Duggan and parent him? Good grief! But Kimball thinks that Duggan is a good person to talk to if you want to understand the emerging culture. Maybe and maybe not.

Anyway, “In Duggan’s home, religion wasn’t really talked about much,”[11] which probably explains why dad just threw some books at his son. Dad was—in some sense—Roman Catholic so he gave him books from other religions. Are you following this? You need to if you’re going to understand emergents. The upshot of such careful and caring child rearing was the following: “Duggan grew to appreciate beauty in all religions and to see truth in all of them. He doesn’t practice any one faith exclusively but sees himself as a spiritual person with Buddhist leanings.”[12] Yep. Duggan is the product of his father’s irresponsibility. But all is not lost. He is a metro-spiritual and I’m willing to bet he practices hospitality just in case the Christian God is the right one. He doesn’t want to end up like Sodom. It’s funny, because all these years I thought sodomite meant something entirely different. Now I know if I don’t share my Twinky I could have fire rained down from heaven on me. Old Open-Minded Dug is in a quandary though. “He doesn’t understand why most Christians can’t see the beauty in other faiths.”[13] Why, all he hears “from Christians is that all other world religions are wrong and going to hell.”[14] Maybe Dan can help him out—but then again, maybe not. Apparently, with all that open-minded, tolerant study Dug did he failed to see the clear, obvious, and blatant contradictions among the world religions. It will come as no surprise that Kimball is ever-understanding. He informs us that “What Duggan’s saying is that Christians come across as naïve and arrogant when they can’t even carry on a conversation about the religions they reject.”[15]

Don’t you see? It’s the Christians fault. Why I’ll bet if we sat down and asked Duggan questions about the Christian faith, he could click off sentient answer after sentient answer. I say this, because old open-minded Dug is rejecting the Christian faith. Remember Penny the lesbian? Kimball trots her out one more time, but this time her subject is not Jesus and homosexuality, but Jesus and other religions. Kimball quotes Penny as saying, “Eastern religions were more attractive to me, because they focused more on being kind to others, loving other people of other spiritual beliefs even if they are different from you, treading lightly, and being humble. I think that was similar to the message of Jesus, ironically, but that’s the opposite of what I experienced from church and Christians.”[16] No, not quite, Penny. Eastern religions were more attractive to you because you are at enmity with God and you are running from him. So by treading lightly, being kind by manmade standards, and loving other metro-sexuals you could enter a works righteousness situation that allowed you to continue to move farther and farther away from the Jesus who said that he was the way, the truth, and the life and that no man came to the Father except through him. You moved farther and farther from the Jesus about whom it is said, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)

Kimball’s solution is that we need to train our churches to understand world faiths.[17] I disagree. Given the sad state of modern evangelicalism, it would seem that we need to train many of our churches to understand the Bible!

Back to Bri

When you left Bri last time he had some global questions simmering in the back of his mind. He’s convinced that we’re living in a suicidal system, and to some degree I might agree with him although I’m convinced that we’re coming at this “suicidal system” from very different points of view. Bri informs us that when he left teaching English to become a pastor he wasn’t contemplating any “deep shifts.” Instead, like most pastors he was looking to make a bundle of money and retire on Maui. He got mugged by reality, however, because sincere spiritual seekers would attend his church and ask him simple questions like, “Did God really wipe out Sodom for being inhospitable” and he didn’t have the correct answer. Obviously, this was before he met Dan Kimball or Penny or Duggan.

It was in the midst of the West’s confidence-mania and uncertainty-phobia that Bri began to see those nasty little destructive framing stories. What ever was to be done? Well, for starters, “we must face the injustices of our past and seek justice for everybody everywhere.”[18] Wow! That’s a tall order. But rest assured: In the course of the book Bri doesn’t tell you how to do that. He just mouths some insipid platitudes so that he sounds concerned and hospitable, but the best he can do is to continue to speak in vagaries and generalities. This was a very freeing chapter in Bri’s life though. It enabled him to turn from a “set of intramural religious arguments” to question what the biggest problems in the world today are and what do the life and teachings of Jesus have to say about the Kyoto Accord?

Why spin your wheels trying to figure out what Scripture says about issues when you have the Copenhagen Consensus and the United Nations? I ask this because this is where Bri takes us. A modernist—you know, someone with a brain—might have expected an exposition of what Jesus had to say about global problems since Jesus was mentioned in the question. But old once-English-teacher-then-silly-pastor-now-enlightened-thoughtful-non-fundamentalist Bri turns us instead to the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs—and this is not a dyslexic reading of Miller Genuine Draft) to make us aware of the world’s top problems that Bri is going to tackle and solve. There are eight: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.[19]

Lists like this from the U.N. are part of the reason I want to send everyone in the U.N. back to their country of origin and turn U.N. headquarters into a night club. At least then it would serve some purpose. Of course, the U.N. can’t accomplish fixing these problems alone. Is this where Jesus comes in? Well, no, but the World Bank’s vice president for Europe, J.F. Rischard, does. That’s helpful. All we need is for a religiously bankrupt Europe to teach us how Jesus would solve the global problems hospitably. What does Rischard’s list look like? Well, it’s closely akin to George Soros’ list. We need to fix global warming, deforestation, peace-keeping, providing education for all, reducing the digital divide, preventing natural disasters, reinventing taxation, updating global financial architecture, stopping the spread of illegal drugs, improving rules for competition, creating protections for intellectual property rights, and the like.

I can hardly stop laughing. Let me cut to the chase. What Bri wants is to return to the liberal social gospel—that was substantially more social than gospel—and to socialism and the welfare state. He envisions a society where the elite tell you how to live because you’re too stupid to know how to do it yourself. And it’s this swill that postmoderns are willing to drink and call it Christianity.

[1] John MacArthur, The Truth War. Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), p. 20.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus but no the Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), p. 150.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 153.

[6] Ibid., 154.

[7] Ibid., 160.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 163.

[11] Ibid., 164.

[12] Ibid. Italics mine.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 165.

[16] Ibid., 166.

[17] Ibid., 176.

[18] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), p. 45.

[19] Ibid., 47.


Monday, January 14, 2008

John Armstrong’s Meddling

John Armstrong’s Meddling--Again!

There are still some things in life I don’t understand. One of them is when people outside of a particular denomination feel that they have to weigh in on certain issues. A case in point is John Armstrong’s blog about the PCA (Jan. 12, 2008; “The PCA Divided Again by the Charges Against Steve Wilkins.”) I’m not certain that it’s all that beneficial for those outside a denomination to express their opinion on a matter, unless it is of a very serious nature. If say, the Southern Baptist Convention denied the Trinity—which they haven’t—then that would be just cause to weigh in on the issue because it would impact the SBC and Christianity in a big way. If, on the other hand, the SBC made a statement on the use of alcohol among Christians—which they have—then I must confess that I don’t feel much compunction to voice my opinion except maybe to say, “I’ll drink to that!”

I preface my remarks this way because it seems that John Armstrong believes he’s the watchdog for the PCA. My rebuttal is: Thanks, John, but I think our denomination can handle it without your help. Moreover, if you are an ardent member of the Reformed Church in America I might suggest that you devote a little time and effort into policing the ills in that denomination. It was bad in Bavinck’s day and the American counterpart hasn’t improved much.

Anyway, just to walk the reader through what Armstrong is complaining about this time, I’m going to cite certain of his comments verbatim and then comment on them in an attempt to set the record straight. He begins this way: “Sadly, some leaders in the Presbyterian Church in America refuse to tolerate what they perceive to be ‘deadly errors.’ I am not suggesting ‘deadly errors’ should be tolerated, not in the least, but let's be honest here. This debate is about whether or not the errors themselves, assuming they are errors, are indeed “deadly.” Additionally, this is about whether or not the person who holds the supposed errors really denies the Westminster Confession of Faith (WSF) or not.”

I’m assuming that WSF stands for Westminster Standards of Faith, but back to the opening salvo. First, why is this situation “sad?” John might not like it, but that hardly qualifies it as “sad.” So at the outset we’re dealing with tendentious language. Without even giving the briefest of outlines as to why the PCA made the decision it did at its last General Assembly in Memphis, John has declared the situation “sad.” That’s sad.

Second, John says that “some” leaders in the PCA refuse to tolerate the unidentified and undefined problem. Here John is very accurate, especially if by “some” you mean more than 80%. When the vote was taken on the floor of the GA, at least 80% of the PCA delegates acted, according to Armstrong, in an intolerant manner.

Third, it is also of interest that Armstrong chose to place the words, “they perceive to be” in bold italics. What in the world is this supposed to mean? Was Armstrong on the floor of the GA? Had he done the requisite research on what was transpiring? Even if he had, could he vote? No. This is a huge slur and slam. 80% + of the delegates thought they knew what they were doing, but no, John, sees that we only perceived a problem in the Federal Vision. Whose perception is important here? Is it only Armstrong’s? Who appointed him to be the watchman over Jerusalem? Why should we pay any attention to what he thinks? He is a member of a denomination (the R.C.A.) that needs to do a lot of housework and he’s out critiquing the P.C.A.? Why don’t you start at home, John? How do we even know what the delegates perceived? Was a survey conducted? Was Armstrong at the GA? I was and I am here to say that the Moderator handled the discussion on the floor of GA in a very orderly, decently and equitable fashion.

But as he has done in the past, Armstrong proceeds to meddle in something that is outside of his church affiliation and to make all kinds of judgments based—on many occasions—on distortion of the facts. Let me provide you with some examples of what I mean. In order to do this, I’m going to use Armstrong’s words. “This debate is about whether or not the errors themselves, assuming they are errors, are indeed ‘deadly.’ Additionally, this is about whether or not the person who holds the supposed errors really denies the Westminster Confession of Faith (WSF) or not. This is an honest debate, in the formal sense, for sure. And Presbyterianism allows elders to have this struggle. (This is a matter for more thought but I seriously doubt that this ‘type’ of presbyterian practice can thrive, and help a groups [sic] of churches grow, in the new century. Clearly, the next generation has no tolerance for it at all. Sadly, many in my generation really love it and thrive on it, preferring rational debates about doctrine to actually dealing with real people in pastoral and missional ways.)” My initial response to this as a P.C.A. pastor is that this is a slap in the face from a man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about—and that is the kind version.

Once again Armstrong has set himself up as the arbiter of what is erroneous and not erroneous. Thanks ever so much, John! We were just stumbling along being intolerant until you came along to enlighten us. Now I am certain that a meticulous, fair arbiter like John has read the entire document from the General Assembly, but it has just slipped his mind to report to the gentle reader that the word “deadly” does not appear in either the Declarations or the Recommendations sections. In the 9 Declarations there is a kind of refrain to explain the unanimous findings of the committee: “…is contrary to the Westminster Standards.” A committee of technical theologians, a professor, and pastors examined the teachings of the Federal Vision and found them contrary to the Westminster Standards. They presented that to the General Assembly; the matter was debated on the floor for quite a while; a vote was taken; and the Declarations and Recommendations carried. So what is the problem? How does this affect Armstrong and why in the world does he feel obliged to weigh in on the matter now? This all went down in June of 2007. Was it a slow news day for Armstrong’s blog?

The GA believed—overwhelmingly—that the Federal Vision positions are contrary to the Westminster Standards. One can only wonder what it means when Armstrong writes, “This is an honest debate, in the formal sense, for sure.” No, it’s quite actual for those of us in the P.C.A., the O.P.C., and the U.R.C. That is why all three of these churches wrote reports, came to similar conclusions, and condemned the Federal Vision. Perhaps Armstrong and N.T. Wright can team up and write a book with the title What Saint Paul Really Says about the Federal Vision.

Then Armstrong—now turned prophetic—offers a piece of information that no one asked for. Dr. Armstrong, this may come as a shock and a blow, but I really don’t care what you think will thrive and help churches grow in the new century. Clearly, the R.C.A. isn’t thriving spiritually and neither are the hip, cutting edge P.C.A. emergent-wannabes. The next generation thankfully is not characterized by Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, Don Miller, or Brian McLaren. There are still some sentient ones in the “next generation,” although they are on the endangered species list. Armstrong obviously has a crystal ball.

The last statement (Sadly, many in my generation really love it and thrive on it, preferring rational debates about doctrine to actually dealing with real people in pastoral and missional ways.) really angers me. Armstrong ought to be ashamed of himself, but he’s too busy defending the indefensible. That’s right, John, everyone who disagrees with you just loves and thrives on holding (and winning—you forgot that slur) rational debate—as opposed to, say, irrational debates. It really cheeses me off that Armstrong—who is so loving and caring; especially to those who agree with him—would make such a stupid statement! I don’t use that word a lot, but in Armstrong’s case I’m willing to make an exception. Is he the only one dealing with real people in pastoral and missional ways? How does he know what we’re doing in our churches? I suppose I should conclude that the people in my congregation are computer generated. Anyone who voted against the Federal Vision is neither pastoral nor missional in Armstrong’s view. Give me a break! I cannot begin to tell you how much I resent what Armstrong said. It is simply unconscionable.

Note Armstrong’s language about those who disagree with him: They are defenders of “strict confession” who approach their rather militant judicial approach. There are few things or people more militant that meddling do-gooders. I mean this is the most disgusting and undocumented rant I’ve read in a while. If by “strict confession” defenders he means that the Intolerant Gang adheres to the Covenant of Works then yes, then we’ll have to change our name to the Militant Intolerant Gang.

Armstrong complains because the P.C.A. followed its Book of Church Order in bringing charges against Steve Wilkins. And your point is John? Do you even know where the R.C.A. Book of Church Order is? Or, just for fun, you might want to consult the Church Order from the Synod of Dordrecht. It says pretty much the same thing. What is your problem? Someone should have sent an overture to the GA saying, “When you discuss this matter, please remember that Steve Wilkins is John Armstrong’s friend.” Steve is a big boy. He’s a theologian. He has chosen his path deliberately and consciously. I would be ashamed to have a man from another church affiliation doing what I am perfectly capable of doing myself—defending my theological position—especially more than half-a-year later and one who doesn’t have a horse in the race. For someone who has no horse in the race, Armstrong has certainly managed to make outlandish, unsubstantiated accusations and vague, general assertions.

This will come as a shock to all but Armstrong left the pastorate in 1992 to counsel. Is this blog supposed to, in any way, pass as counsel? Armstrong wonders how pastors that spend a lot of time on the Internet pastor their flocks. That’s a legitimate question that they/we will all have to answer to God for. But if this is the best counsel Armstrong can offer I suggest finding another job, because this was yet another one of his unsubstantiated blogs taking a shot at the P.C.A. John, why don’t you entertain us with a blog dealing with the many problems in the R.C.A.?


Friday, January 11, 2008

Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (VI)

(Notice the fighter jets on the upper left side polluting the atmosphere. When Bri flies internationally he only uses non-toxic gas emitting airliners. Also, there's a picture of Osama bin Laden on the cover. Apparently, neither Putin nor Castro were available. Bush was out taunting the "insurgents" at Gitmo.)

The Arrogance Factor Increases

Bri is a lot like Dan “the Sensitive One” Kimball, who is a lot like Rob and Kristen Bell, a.k.a. the Confused Couple. What do all of these emergent non-leader leaders have in common? Well, it’s a disdain for many Christians, especially those who don’t share their non-leader leader leading. Chapter 5 of Bri’s new book on Jesus, the global crises, and a Revolution of Hope is entitled, “Second Thoughts Had Come to Stay.” Like Dan the Sensitive, Bri wants us to stop criticizing the young people and to cease asking “What wrong with them?”[1] I’m not certain why we should stop asking that question, since almost every generation has asked it, but Bri believes we should rather ask, “What’s wrong with us?” How does one proceed to this high level of self-examination?

Well, it doesn’t come easily, but if you hang with Bri and the right crowd you’ll eventually get there. As a matter of fact, Bri is willing to share an outline with us of how you journey—I wanted to say “arrive,” but that isn’t cool in the emergent amorphous chit-chat—and come to the correct conclusions. (In the emergent conversation, you don’t ever actually arrive, you simply journey on happily hoping against hope that you’re heading in the right direction, but you’re never really certain—about anything, least of all what Scripture says. Anyway, Bri believes the former question smacks of superficiality. So how do you get beyond being an ignoramus? First, you need to be a thoughtful person and surround yourself with “thoughtful leaders.”[2] These thoughtful folks are a lot better than the clueless dolts that are running the show now and—and this will come as a huge surprise—they tend to think and believe pretty much like old Bri. This is known as openness and toleration. Here’s Bri’s solution: “Then some thoughtful leaders go a little deeper, addressing the need to be relevant to culture and to contextualize their ministry for today’s world.”[3] It seems that even those of us who are superficial and not thoughtful leaders understand that there is a need to be relevant to culture and to—to a greater or lesser degree—contextualize our ministry.

The question is, however: How ought we to be relevant? That question ought to be posed only after we clearly define what the word “relevant” means. What I find missing from Bri’s thoughtful rendition of ministry is where the notion of the “antithesis” or of Christians being “counter-cultural” fits into his scheme of things vis-à-vis our contextualization. I say this, because up to this point, it appears that Bri has simply bought off the secular, politically correct notions of culture. Why, Bri and the gang have not yet bothered to provide us with a working definition of “culture” or given us any breakdown of the differences between high and pop culture. But why worry about that when you have to deal with young people learning about the “dark side of the Christian religion’s track record...the Crusades, witch burnings, colonialism, slavery, the Holocaust, apartheid, environmental irresponsibility, mistreatment of women”?[4] Goodness, I wasn’t aware of the fact that some of these things were the fault of Christians. The Holocaust? I realize that Hitler had his Reichs bishop, Müller, but he was hardly a Christian. In less thoughtful circles this might constitute Christian bashing.

The upshot of Bri’s being a thoughtful leader was that young people started caring about these issues.[5] That helps. To make matters worse, “Too often, they realized, Christians through history have played on the wrong side of these issues.”[6] This type of gross generalization is precisely what plagues the emergent crowd. McLaren is notorious for this type of thing as we shall see as we progress. Granted, Christians have made their share of mistakes, but it’s a stretch to say, for example, that Christians have a dark side of the Christian track record in environmental irresponsibility. In fact, many Christians have spoken out for a long time about the creation mandate of caring for God’s good green earth. Since Bri wants us to ponder global issues, one can only wonder why Bri doesn’t come down hard on China, who has been one of the planet’s worst offenders as far as pollution is concerned.

When Christians did manage to have a “lucid interval” on moral issues, they were, according to Bri effective in creating more heat than light.[7] Bri, in his one-volume pseudo-ethics book has managed to undo the history of Christian involvement with another of his thoughtfulstatements. Most of us un-thoughtful folks thought that the Christian influence in our culture had been positive in restraining sin, but thankfully thoughtful Bri has set the record straight for us.

If you are a thoughtful and reflective Christian leader (apparently, there haven’t been that many prior to Bri and N.T. Wright), you’ll begin to realize that a number of young people today see Christianity as a “failed religion.”[8] Here’s how far off base Bri is: “it (Christianity) has specialized in dealing with ‘spiritual needs’ to the exclusion of physical and social needs.”[9] That is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. There is always room for improvement, but this type of blanket statement might fly with the postmodern emergent crowd (of course, none of us can understand them because they’re so thoughtful and reflective), but someone needs to apprise Mr. Birkenstock that there was life before he left teaching English to be a non-seminarian, non-leader leader. He adds, “It has specialized in people’s destination in the afterlife but has failed to address significant social injustices in this life.”[10] Really? When this country was founded, every hospital, every school, every orphanage, and every university was begun and maintained with Christian money. Today, Christians still do a great deal in terms of the physical and social needs of those within and outside the faith. Where in the world does this man get off making such nonsensical statements?

It’s interesting that Bri and N.T. Wright run parallel on a number of issues. For example, another of Bri’s many criticisms of the faith, of which he’s ostensibly a pastor, is that “Christianity has long since focused “on ‘me’ and ‘my soul’ and ‘my spiritual life’ and ‘my eternal destiny,’ but it has failed to address the dominant societal and global realities of their lifetime: systemic injustice, systemic poverty, systemic ecological crisis, systemic dysfunctions of many kinds.”[11] What might those dominant societal and global realities be and how can Christianity address China’s, Russia’s, North Korea’s, and Iran’s pollution of the planet? Shouldn’t it be patently clear to all that the primary function of the Church is to deal with souls? That doesn’t mean that nothing ever gets done socially, but it also sometimes means that Christianity and local Christian churches don’t run around tooting their horns when they do something. These Bible-thumpers take seriously what Jesus said about your one hand not knowing what the other’s doing. Take the victims of hurricane Katrina. I happen to know that many Christians gave a lot of money, time, and love to the victims of that hurricane. Some are still helping rebuild; and that’s just one instance. These people give of their time and contribute money and thoughtful, reflective Bri only blathers on about systemic dysfunctions of manykinds.

What should be done? If you’re like me, you’re expecting reflective Bri to be explicitly relevant and contextualize this for us lesser lights. Here’s the solution: “Truly good news…would confront systemic injustice, target significant global dysfunctions, and provide hope and resources for making a better world.”[12] Honestly, that sounds like something you’d hear at a Miss America contest, only the contestant would add, “and strive for world peace.” That statement was dripping with so much cheese you could make lasagna with it. What, pray tell, constitutes a “significant global dysfunction”? Who decides? How is it decided? What if someone disagrees? Let’s say that from an ethical standpoint, man-made global warming is considered to be a significant global dysfunction. I’d like to ask a few questions, but before I ask them, I should warn you that I am not among the emergent initiated and would, no doubt, qualify in their book as not very thoughtful because I disagree with them. With that disclaimer here are a few silly questions. First, in discussing global warming, what is the perfect temperature? That is to say, what is the optimal temperature for which we’re striving? Is this to be a universal temperature or does it vary according to the region? If it varies, how do we control it in each region?

Second, what is the average temperature of the earth? At any one time, there are temperature extremes all over the planet. Our oldest granddaughter, who is living with us while attending university out here in Southern California, just returned from Toronto. The day she left it was -25 degrees Celsius. It was in the 70s when she stepped off the plane at LAX. How do we come up with an average, and how do those variations fit in with our desire to slow global warming?

Third, are there potential benefits to global warming? How will we measure our successes or failures? These are all questions I would have expected a thoughtful and reflective man like Bri to answer in his non-leadership ethics book, but we search in vain for any semblance of an answer to any of the non-thoughtful questions I’ve raised. All we get are some silly little graphics. But, hey, maybe that’s the thoughtful, reflective answer. You don’t really need sentient, cogent answers—after all, it’s just a journey—just a few spiffy graphics.

The Story of the Word “Postmodern”

“If you’ve listened to some popular religious broadcasters in recent years, you’ve probably heard simplistic caricatures of the word postmodern.”[13] Bri’s next book—co-authored with N.T. Wright—will be What Postmodernism Really Is. I like the concept of simplistic caricatures because that’s precisely what old Bri has been doing to the Christian faith and to a number of his fellow-brothers and –sisters.

Who rejects or disdains the term postmodern? Why it’s none other than “defenders of the modern Western, colonial version of the Christian religion…”[14] The term postmodernism has left a bad taste in the mouth of these colonialists like other epithets such as secular humanist, New Age, or liberal.[15] But Bri is a stand-up kind of guy. He writes, “We don’t want to reject whatever is good and true in the Christian faith.”[16] How magnanimous of this thoughtful, reflective, non-leader leader! I suppose we’ll first have to discern what is good and true in the Christian faith. We know from the get-go that it’s not the biblical view of homosexuality—both Bri and Dan the Sensitive has clearly manifested that—or the biblical teaching on the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. That’s primitive and obscene. Oh yes, and then we all need to forget the idea of hell even though those who are followers of God according to Jesus—Bri’s words—acknowledge that he spoke more about hell than anyone else in the entire Bible.

So how do we decide what is good and truth in the Christian faith? Here’s Bri’s solution: “But to hold our faith in good conscience, we needed to debug it from the viruses (modern, Western, colonial, imperial, rationalist, reductionist, and other types of viruses) that seem to have invaded its software.”[17] This sounds very much like Bultmann’s program of demythologizing the Bible. If we’re to embrace a “debugged version of the Christian faith” we’ll need to know who, precisely, will present us with this correct version and how we will know that their version—Bri’s version—is the correct one. How do I know that Bri is correct or just being a secular humanist, New Age devotee, or just a liberal? Maybe it’s all of the above.

[1] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), p. 32.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 33.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 34.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 35.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid. Italics mine.