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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.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Engaging the What? (II)

Revelation and Culture

In the academic year 1908/1909, Dr. Herman Bavinck delivered the L. P. Stone Lectures at Princeton.[1] Of the eight lectures, only six were actually delivered. The English translation was performed by Bavinck’s lifelong friend, Geerhardus Vos, as well as Henry Dosker and Nicholas Steffens. We closed our last installment with a deliberate quotation from Bavinck’s lecture on revelation and culture to the effect that those who are enamored of culture or who look at it with a “happy” eye fail to do justice to the rights and requirements of the Christian confession.

This seems to be the malady of a large portion of the Christian Church today. I’ll use Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren as examples. Both have written the equivalent of books on ethics filled with “shoulds” and “oughts.” Simultaneously, their books are virtually void of serious engagement with Scripture on issues such as (just) war, global warming, global poverty (how do you eliminate that when you cannot even eliminate it in your own country and Jesus tells us that the poor will always be with us?), environmentalism, renewable energy, equality, diversity, family, homosexuality, abortion, and the list goes on and on. Wallis and McLaren talk a game that can give the impression that they are deeply concerned (who isn’t?), but offer precious little in terms of real solutions. But it is all so trendy and sounds so hip. It’s a like a number of our PCA church plants and church planters who are hot to trot for engaging the culture. Over at Pressing On I found an interesting thread dated October 8, 2007. The blogger asserts that “The phrase ‘engaging the culture’ has become one of the new buzz phrases of many in the church over the last couple of years.” It still remains a very ill-defined phrase, with notable exception, in the PCA. No one has even nearly approximated what Bavinck described in one lecture.

As often as not, engaging the culture means doing something to get the unchurched into the church service. For the most part, scant time has been devoted to what we mean when we employ the term “engage.” Ostensibly, this is a “flat line” term with only one definition and we all know precisely what that term means—or do we? “Engaging” the culture does sound more intellectual and caring though. It is smoother, more glib than, say, “meshing with” the culture, “fitting in with” the culture, or “interlocking with” the culture. The blog site asked some very good, pertinent questions that to my mind demand answers from all of us. Here is a sampling of some of the provocative questions. First, “Does the method and means by which the gospel truth is shared matter?” In other words, does the Bible give us the wiggle room to use anything in an “evangelicalism trumps everything” motif? Second, when we are talking to Paul and Patty Pagan, “Is the gospel truth watered down or certain parts ignored or deemphasized so that it will be charming and compelling?” If we believe that it is necessary to ignore certain truths of the Bible, which parts of the gospel are unaffected by being watered down? Third, “Is the gospel truth obscured by all the other stuff that is done to engage them?” A decent barometer would be to go to the unchurched that have attended these assemblies and find out how much biblical truth they understand after a year. Fourth, “Is doing church like this really a subtle form of manipulation?” In other words, by engaging the culture by compromising the gospel aren’t we engaging in deception and dishonesty? I would ask a similar question of those PCA churches who refuse to use the word Presbyterian in their name or those who claim to be PCA and the only ultimate resemblance between their way of “doing church” and Presbyterianism is purely coincidental. Doesn’t basic Christian honesty require that we tell our members—eventually—that we are actually Presbyterians? Isn’t there an obligation to teach from Scripture that homosexuality and abortion are condemned by God in the Bible? Are we fearful that once with explain to a member or one who attends our worship services that yes, abortion is wrong because it is murder, but the wonder of Christ’s atoning sacrifice is that his precious shed blood is sufficient to cover the sin of abortion as well?

I don’t know how many of my colleagues open with prayer at civic meetings in their locales. I used to, but I caused much consternation because I insisted on praying in the name of Christ. I was asked not to, but I did it every time. Finally, I was told that if I kept on, I would not be asked back to pray anymore. I was not asked back to pray anymore. If I have scruples about praying in Jesus’ Name at the opening of a city council meeting, why would I hesitate to tell a sinner that a sin is a sin, but the wonders of grace are that in Christ there is rich, bounteous, and plentiful forgiveness?

Bavinck’s belief was that first and foremost Christians are to do justice to the rights and requirements of the Christian confession, which would entail no watering down of the truth. This clearly doesn’t mean that we should “rub it in the face” of the non-believer, but at the same time, we should not sugarcoat the gospel or walk on eggshells around non-believers so that they’ll think we’re nice guys and girls. Without a doubt, we are discussing competing, opposite worldviews and both parties need to acknowledge that in the discussion, engagement. The manner in which a non-believer thinks about God, man, society, truth, knowledge, and ethics is, as often as not, one-hundred-and-eighty degrees out of phase with the Christian life and worldview.

It is more than interesting—and more than coincidental—that the modern purveyors of pacifism bear a striking resemblance to many who preceded them. For example, both black suit, black turtleneck Jim Wallis and old Birkenstock and designer latte Bri sound a lot like Tolstoi, who also constructed a “wholly passive ethics, from the commandment in the sermon on the mount…”[2] This aspect of the Social Gospel is quite in vogue today, especially among some pastors. Some think that pacifism is the default setting for pastors, while others view such a position as the actual loss of manhood. We have lost the concept of the gentleman/warrior in the shuffle. To be a “gentleman” doesn’t mean that you are a dandy, but involves teaching/mentoring other young men and boys that a gentleman’s honor depends on things like getting and staying married to someone of the opposite sex, providing for and protecting one’s family (to the death if necessary), protecting all women and children from harm and aggression whenever it is within your power to do so, being a well-informed patriot, and serving one’s country and the true God of the Bible. It also involves teaching these young men that in a home invasion dialing 911 or having a silly home burglar alarm is probably equivalent to dying at the scene.[3]

In the engagement of culture among many of the postmodern pastors and theologians there is an unspoken belief that the gospel just doesn’t cut it anymore. In Bavinck’s words, these folks are convinced that “Christianity has had its day, and can no longer live with our present-day culture.”[4] Even though these people still speak of Christianity in glowing terms and hold the gospel in high esteem, they remain unconvinced that it is sufficient for modern (or postmodern) man. To their mind, it has to be the Bible plus something. This, of course, is not a new trend, but has its roots in history. Bavinck reminds the reader that after Rationalism had rejected the church doctrine concerning the person of Christ (like Wallis and McLaren implicitly have), “men such as Strauss and Renan, Schenkel and Keim and Holtzmann took indeed a humanitarian view of the life of Jesus (like Wallis and McLaren have—RG).”[5] Such movements in the emergent conversation (thus far, the “conversation” is like sitting on a flight from LA to Amsterdam where cell phone talking was permitted and you were sitting next to someone where you heard only one side of the conversation for 12 hours.) have always had an implicit low view of Scripture. They knew, of course, that if they showed their cards they might—might—lose some of their followers.

Now, however, some of the bold, fresh pieces of emergent humanity like Phyllis Tickle (yes, that’s her real name) are on record predicting the demise of sola Scriptura. Speakers at the Great Emergent Conference stated, “it’s not if sola Scriptura ends but when.” Ms. Tickle has actually written a very thought provoking book entitled The Great Emergence. You’d need to read past the title, because such a title could be taken a number of ways. Actually, I very much appreciate Ms. Tickle’s honesty, because she is saying what I’ve long suspected among the emergent tribe, namely that even though they talk a lot about Scripture, in their actual methodologies they do not like its authority in their lives. It tends to cramp their style. That’s one of the reasons they play so footloose with it.

In her book, Ms. Tickle says this: “Now, some five hundred years later (after the Reformation—RG), even many of the most die-hard Protestants among us have grown suspicious of ‘Scripture and Scripture only.’” She goes on to assert, “We question what the words mean—literally? Metaphorically? Actually?” If Ms. Tickle attended seminary, she got ripped off because obviously no one bothered to teach her basic hermeneutics. One can only wonder what the dear lady does when she comes to a stop sign or tries to buy a can of Campbell’s soup. Literally? Metaphorically? Actually? Ms. Tickle is not very original either. She describes adherence to the principle of sola Scriptura as “the creation of a paper pope.” (p. 47.) Well, no one has ever said that before—except every liberal who didn’t want to bow under the authority of the Word of God. Does the Ticklester actually believe this is new stuff? There really is nothing new under the sun. The Tickle-Meister must have slept through both hermeneutics and Church History. In Bavinck’s day he was pointing out that many predicted the downfall of Christianity precisely because it was outmoded. Now Tickle wants her merry emergents to believe that she has stumbled on to something new and unique.

What is Ms. Tickle’s solution to the paper pope mentality? Here it is: “The new Christianity of the Great Emergence must discover some authority base or delivery system and/or governing agency of its own.” Thank you, Ms. Tickle. Just who will discover this new authority base and how will we know it is authoritative when it’s discovered? Delivery system? You mean like FedEx or UPS? A “governing agency” sounds as it if has popish overtones to me. Will it be a governing agency with teeth or will it just gum you to death? Who will man this governing agency? Tickle? Old Bri? Jim Wallis? Only Ms. Tickle and the initiates into the Great Emergence have a clue what the answer to these questions might be. She is convinced, however, that the sola Scriptura “is now seen as hopelessly outmoded or insufficient.” (p. 151.)

Phyllis needs to get out more and change her friends and drop all the New Age themes like Great Emergence. It will be interesting to watch and see when and how the “new Christianity” will discover what the new authority base will be. I’m interested in why whatever is decided upon will be the real new deal and precisely what this authority base will be. I might be willing to wager that Tickle will set herself up in some kind of position of non-authoritarian authority, given that she is the poster matron for hermeneutical Voraussetzunglosigkeit.[6]

Phyllis Tickle has been a driving force in the Emergent church movement for the longest time. And now we are witnessing what occurs when we tolerate nonsense. The liberals trot out more warmed over liberal drivel and declare it to be new to an ignorant generation. The emergents know nothing theological because, by and large, their parents are the products of Willow Creek, the Crystal Cathedral, Rick Warren, and Joel Osteen. As sad as this all is—and it is sad—there are still pastors out there trying to be mega-church knockoffs or emergent Tickles and this also applies to the PCA. Other churches will need to deal with this spiritual travesty, but the PCA continues to act as if there are cute and valuable sides to the Emergent church movement. Thus far, the emergents have denied sola Scriptura, hell, homosexuality as deviant behavior, penal substitutionary atonement, the central place of abortion as a major problem, and a “violent” Second Coming where the sheep and goats are separated.

Can someone in Atlanta, on the staff of byFaith magazine, or in an emergent-leaning congregation please tell me what is either cute or valuable about this movement? Can someone explain to me why the PCA has not come down hard on this movement? Are we so bogged down in pseudo-toleration that we are afraid to call a spade a spade? Tickle is out aggressively promoting The Great Emergence and byFaith is writing about church plant openings with jazz quartets, pagan art exhibits, and the requisite tastefully done chardonnay and brie. Please gamble responsibly.

[1] Herman Bavinck, Wijsbegeerte der Openbaring, (Kok: Kampen, 1908); E.T.: The Philosophy of Revelation. For these articles, I will naturally use the English translation.

[2] Ibid., 247.

[3] See attorney, Richard Stevens’ excellent little book, Dial 911 and Die, The Shocking Truth about the Police Protection Myth, (Hartford, WI: Mazel Freedom Press, Inc., 1999).

[4] Bavinck, TPR, 247.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Without any presuppositions.



Blogger Phil Perkins said...

The gospel, properly understood never engages the culture. It seeks to subvert it one soul at a time. This is because culture is the expression of sinful minds and souls.

Any culture is simply that part of the world that a particular lives in in time and space. And the world is always our enemy.


3:18 PM  
Blogger donsands said...

"..McLaren talk a game that can give the impression that they are deeply concerned (who isn’t?), but offer precious little in terms of real solutions."

He made a video to support Obama, and helped get him elected. I'm sure Brian would see this as a solution.

This was a terrific post. Very well done. Phyllis Tickle? I've never heard of her. Thanks for mentioning her, it's always helpful.

Lord bless you and your family, and protect your home and hearts. Amen.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

Hmm. You meanthe Miss Tickle in this 1973 show? Somehow, it just fits.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

You asked something and I was rolling it around in my head. You asked, "Can someone explain to me why the PCA has not come down hard on this movement?"

There is a scriptural answer. Intuitively you'll know this is right as soon as you read it, but there are lots of Scripture that backs this up.

The reason we don't deal with false teaching and false teachers is we don't much love God. Deut. 13:1-3 says, "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,' 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

And come to think of it, we must not love each other much if we allow them to drink poison.

Phil Perkins.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

I agree!

9:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Brooks said...

Maybe a second reason why the PCA has not come down hard on the Emergents within may have something to do with being able to include them in their numbers. More numbers equals clout and job security for the bureaucrats in denominations. There are other denominations that are in the same boat.

It is also reminiscent of the down-grade during Spurgeon's time, and the same issues Murray wrote about in his book Evangelicalism Divided.

11:19 PM  
Blogger Morris Brooks said...


I would say that the Gospel, properly and fully presented, does engage the culture. The word engage can also be used to mean confront or to grapple with, much like we would engage the enemy on the battlefield. So yes, we, the church, should engage the culture, but we should engage the culture with the Gospel. We should confront them with the Gospel, the full Gospel, in the fullness of all its power for salvation. In fact, I believe that the Gospel is meant to, Divinely designed to engage and confront the culture. Since it is truth it can do no less.

However, the churches that use the term 'engage the culture' don't confront the culture, but try to cajole the culture.

Think about it. When was the last time you heard Onward Christian Soldiers sung in church?


7:51 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

That sense of "engage" isn't what's often meant. It is often meant to come along side and be friends. This isn't biblical.

And when it is meant confrontationally, it is often used for another unbiblical agenda. D. James Kennedy, the Moral Majority, Focus on the Family, etc. have been colossal failures sapping the church's resources of time and money from our true mission. First, their goal was unbibilical. Changing the culture to make it "more Christian" (II Chron. 7:14) isn't part of the New Covenant. Are we not told that we will always be the minority and hated if we love God?

"And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."--Paul.

Which brings up the second sin in this regard. The motivation is usually selfish, not biblical. For a good example, google Interstate Batteries. Then find the "gospel" presentation that the president of that company made. If you get to the section that gives his account of the formation of his plan and its conception he admits his motivation. He wanted to live in a less evil culture. So, his motivation was his own comfort and comfort for his family. (Then he presented a gospel without repentance whose purpose was salvation from emotional emptiness, not from sin.)

And this is USUALLY the motivation of those who wish to change the culture. ("Usually" is important here.)

Want proof? Just ask anyone active in the Christian right political movement or the liberal religio-political movements (Emergents, Lib-theology, etc.) how much time and energy they spend evangelizing their neighbors and others in their town. You know what the answer will be.

AND if we conservative Christians criticize the liberal religionists for replacing the gospel with a left-wing political agenda, are we better for replacing it with a right-wing agenda? (I'm politically conservative, by the way.)

Third, those who wish to change the culture and spend their energies there are carnal at heart. They actually trust good government and good culture more than they trust the sovereign God.

Perhaps this will help communicate what I'm trying to say: As we see the fall of the West and the US, we need to keep in mind that God isn't biting His lower lip. His plan is going forward. Are we ready to glorify God by suffering?
Or will we only accept cultural and political victory?

God didn't our memo, I guess.

Return to doing what the church ought do. Worship, obey, and love God. Praise Him to others in real evangelism--Ps 145. Accept the fellowship of His suffering--Phil. 3:8 and following.

Philippians 3:8-11 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Did you get that? One of Paul's goals was to be like Christ and suffering.

Then, you said, "In fact, I believe that the Gospel is meant to, Divinely designed to engage and confront the culture. Since it is truth it can do no less."

Jesus disagrees with your logic. He said in the parable of the wheats and tares that evil will continue until the end of the age and only the angels who come in judgment will uproot it. Matthew 13. Will some cultures be won over one soul at a time? Yes, temporarily and in odd, small places. But that isn't the overall plan. And many places will reject the gospel. Jesus told His disciples to leave them and shake the dust off their feet.

So, no. The truth will not triumph in this age. In fact, the end of the age will be a time of worse and worse sin in all cultures.

Consider this question: If the gospel properly understood and preached will overcome evil in this world, why did Jesus fail with the Jews and their culture?
He had the truth and the truth wins, right?

What did He do so wrong?

Then turn to Hebrews 11 and explain why we should look to the example of the martyrs? Obviously they lost the election.

What did they do so wrong?

In fact, the entire book of Hebrews is wrong, since it's theme includes encouragement and perservance of Christians in places of severe persecution. That entire book is in error then.

Think biblically. Don't trust religious bromides, songs, and pop theology. Try to replace unbiblical language (like "engage the culture") with biblical language and thought. Bring every thought into slavery under God.

2 Corinthians 10:5 ...taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Morris Brooks said...


I think you might re-read my post, you are giving me credit for things I did not say. I would not argue with your points about the church's lack of success in political arena or people's selfish agenda for sharing the Gospel (Paul did not seem to mind the motivation as long as the truth was being preached. Phil 1:15-18).

I also did not say that we are guaranteed success. God is in charge of the results, not us. However, it is the pastor's responsibility to preach the word, the gospel, in season and out. The Gospel is the treasure that has been entrusted to faithful men who are to entrust it to other faithful men.

My point is that the issue for the church is the Gospel, which we are to preach unto all the world. It is the Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation, and nothing else..not politics, not social work, not aids prevention etc.
If the church is truly going to engage the culture then we must engage it with the Gospel, for it alone has the power to change men's hearts.


9:28 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

I'll take your point on the assured success. After rereading I was wrong. But the motivation thing isn't something Paul thought wasn't important. I Cor. 3:3, Philemon 1:4.

We HAVE lost lots of biblical language. You actually made that point with your reference to seeing ourselves as warriors in a war. That's biblical language we lost.

We need it back.

After rereading and considering I think you were using the phrase innocently enough, but consider a little recent history, if you'll humor me a bit.

Here's the danger of catch phrases: many aren't biblical. Language guides thought almost like channels and pipes guide flowing water. You can reroute the water, but it takes effort. The Bible speaks of evangelizing individuals, not engaging the culture. Could there be a reason?

Must we insist on unbiblical concepts and make them part of the religion? God has designed His Word perfectly. One can nit-pick, but one has to think God chose words for a reason. Prov. 30:5-6 and Deut. 4:2 forbid adding or subtracting.

Here are some other examples: Spiritual formation in place of sanctification.

Missional in place of evangelistic.

Accept Jesus in place of repent and believe Him.

Don't be preachy in place of go and preach.

Self esteem in place of self denial.

Needs in place of lusts and wants.

Be positive in place of tell the truth.

Self-expression in place of self-control and control of the tongue.

Inspirational in place of true.

Devotions in place of study.

All these dull our understanding, some with grave consequences. They channel our thought life in ways we ought not go. Biblical language was designed by God to make us think right. There can be no improvement--sola scripture--II Tim. 3. If you don't think this sort of thing hasn't damaged us, simply go to an ME (Modern Evangelical) book store and ask for the section on sanctification. Or justification. Or purity. Or regeneration. Or Christian separation. I could go on. You CAN find the sections on Christian yoga and Christian weight loss, though. And if you look through the mags you can find articles on the latest CCM celebrity, glorybeedagod.

"Engage the culture" was a buzz phrase that was once used very much to battle against biblical separation from the false teachers we now so sinfully allow in the church. It was even used innocently by some who battled a separation that wasn't biblical, but the end result of adapting this unbiblical concept and the language that carried it hasn't been good. So--yes, that unbiblical term has been used with great success to ravage the church.

As a result of "engage the culture" and the sort of mentality with which it comes, very few Christians can today explain in a coherent way the biblical practice of separation. I have yet to ever hear anyone articulate the difference between the Old Covenant version of separation and the New Covenant version. I know some can, but I've not heard anyone that I can remember. You can read it in the old guys like Pink, Henry, etc.

That's quite a deficit, I think. An entire doctrine and its practice which marked God's people from Exodus for literally millenia of God's loving care for His bride has been replaced by a clever-sounding phrase.


In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Brooks said...


You have no argument from me.


2:22 PM  
Blogger Randy said...


Your witness is heart warming. Thanks for sharing the love, the kindness, the goodness, and the amazing testimony of the gospel in your life.

I'm so glad you found someone else to whip on now including our new commander-in-chief.

I dare guess that the Spirit of God will protect the bride of Christ regardless of what men choose to do...

Grace & peace in the name of Jesus Christ.

7:16 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

How am I now picking on our President? His name occurs nowhere in the article. What is your problem--apart from being emergent?

7:39 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Thanks for listening. Here are some instances of biblical language which have been redefined with evil results, too:

1. Love now means not hurting anyone's feelings or never disagreeing even if the other is heretical, not fidelity to God's commandments and people.

2. Meditation means imaginative, non-cognitive activity of a mystical nature, not the rational pondering of Scripture, God, and the works of God.

3. Like Jesus means effeminate, not really like Christ actually was in the gospels--a man's man who would tell the truth to anyone, but show mercy and gentleness, as well.

I guess I've been thinking a lot lately about language, huh?


7:38 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

I don't know if you're still monitoring this comment thread, but here's a John MacArthur youtube video that's on point:


8:19 AM  
Blogger Morris Brooks said...




11:28 AM  

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