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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 22, 2009

Engaging the What? (III)

Is Christianity As We Know It Outmoded?

There are voices today that would have us believe that Christianity has seen better days and that if we’re going to relate to and engage our modern culture, we’re going to have to “do church” a lot differently. This really should not surprise us, since this mentality is traceable and discernible much earlier. This accusation falls under the “Nothing New Under the Sun” accusation.

As we continue to investigate what Herman Bavinck, one of the best Reformed theologians ever, had to say about this, we’re focusing on his discussion of Revelation and Culture, which was included in his book Philosophy of Revelation, but was never delivered at his Stone Lectureship series in the academic year 1908-1909 at Princeton. In his time (1854-1921) Bavinck noted that there were those who suggested that “Christianity has had its day, and can no longer live with our present-day culture.”[1] Why would someone come to such a conclusion? Clearly, there are a wide variety of reasons why (progressive) secularists and philosophers would hold such an opinion, but it is more disconcerting that those who claim to be theologians of the Christian faith would follow suit.

Usually, Bavinck writes, such a “paradigm shift” occurs slowly, almost without perception. That is to say, it is usually a gradual process where what are offered as “legitimate questions” are raised. Whereas the loci of theology may not be attacked as a whole, Bavinck’s concern is that Christians are aware that the “most unkindest” attack of all is in Christology, since this locus is pivotal, essential, and indispensible for our understanding and comprehension of the other loci of theology.

Responding to the cultural despisers of Christianity in his time, Bavinck notes that in “the estimate of the person of Jesus an important change has slowly taken place.”[2] Ironically, that shift in his day has interesting parallels to our time. Influential thinkers such as Ernst Renan (philosopher),[3] Heinrich Holtzmann (theologian),[4] and David F. Strauß (philosopher/theologian)[5] “took indeed a humanitarian view of the life of Jesus.”[6] How can the propositions of these men best be summarized? In the first place, using higher critical methods, these men denuded Christ of his deity. He was not truly the Son of God, but remained “the true, ideal man, who established the pure religion by his word and deed.”[7] To their collective minds, Jesus descried ceremonial worship, purified morals from all legalism, “who as a human man shared in all the pleasures of life, and presented a moral ideal which deserves our admiration and imitation to-day.”[8]

For the discerning and concerned Christian, there is a great deal in what Bavinck just described that is applicable for us today. In the last installment, we asked how much modern Christians are willing to compromise in order to present the gospel to Paul and Patty Pagan (or their good friends, Simon and Sylvia Seeker). This is an essential question for us and our modern culture. There are some who believe that evangelism trumps everything. That is to say, whatever “works” and gets them into the pews is fair game. What they need is a kinder, gentler Christianity; a Christianity without the “rough edges” and unreasonable demands. Schleiermacher knew a lot about this approach and it is alive and well in the 21st century in spades.

A friend and I were discussing economics last Wednesday after our men’s Bible study and he offered that we have just scratched the surface economically regarding how bad this economic downturn is going to be. I concur, especially in light of President Obama’s disastrous proposed “solutions.” If he implements what he’s promised, he will make Herbert Hoover and F.D.R look like fiscal conservatives. I use this illustration to predict that we have yet to see just how bad what we call evangelicalism is going to look down the road. It has not yet reached its spiritual nadir, but it is plummeting fast. With all the unspiritual and unbiblical ballast its carrying now, twenty-four feet per second per second looks like slow-mo.

Hybels has admitted that he blew it, but decided to try emergent theology rather than orthodoxy. Schuller—well, what can you say? God loves you and so do I. Anyone who would call his program the Hour of Power definitely has some ego and spiritual problems. Warren’s theology is awful, but probably not as bad as Osteen’s and better than T.D. Jakes, but that’s not a compliment. Every time I catch snippets of their broadcasts I cannot help but hope that the people sitting there are computer generated. It’s inconceivable to me that people would actually watch that spiritual gruel let alone drive to the actual location and hassle for a parking space to be present. The Church of Christ has lost a generation in the mega-church. For the most part, the attendees at these and other venues are spiritually illiterate with no spiritual legacy to pass on to their children (Ps. 71:17-18).

Enter the emergent church. While the desire for community is both understandable and reasonable, people such as McLaren, Bell, Pagitt, Burke, Miller and others have only substituted one type of spiritual consumerism for another. The bottom line is that as much as they disdain the mega-church, they are serving the same old spiritual gruel. They just walked the chicken through the pot one more time. What do I mean? Allow me to explain.

Bavinck believed that prior to his birth and thereafter “There were those who looked so kindly upon culture that they failed to do justice to the rights and requirements of the Christian confession.”[9] Emergent non-leader leader types have eschewed Bavinck’s premise from the outset. The only creeds that matter or carry any weight are the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. One can only guess why, but that is another story for another time. Once McLaren became the proclaimed darling of the Emergent church movement, he methodologically began to chip away at the Christian faith. He was so cool and hip and said all the right things that the children of the mega-church parents wanted to hear. He pointed out the hypocrisy in the Christian Church—of others, of course; not his own—and the uninitiated, who know nothing of history lapped it up. For those of us who have been around the block a few times, this was a re-run of the late 1960s and early 1970s in the Church. Hypocrisy was a big word then too. While it was raining cats and dogs regarding sexual immorality in society, it began to drizzle in the Church as well and the drizzle turned into a steady rain that morphed into a downpour.

McLaren knew that, so he needed to introduce some elements that the 60s and early 70s lacked. I know, he thought, let’s try some nifty, spiffy labyrinth prayer, breath prayer, and contemplative prayer like the Roman Catholic mystics used to use.[10] He openly admitted his openness to other religions, a thesis that has been worked out into universalism as he progressed (or regressed) in his writings. Claiming to be a Calvinist (Chapter 12), which was one of the funniest chapters in the book, he also claimed, “I am consistently oversympathetic to Roman Catholics, Eastern orthodox, even dreaded liberals, while I keep elbowing my conservative brethren in the ribs in a most annoying—some would say ungenerous—way.” (p. 35.) Just for the record, I wouldn’t call it ungenerous, just uninformed. Also, just for the record, the main annoyance seems to be Bri’s, when conservatives elbow back. He retreats into silence and refuses to answer legitimate questions. In the meantime, the uninitiated, who received no spiritual legacy from pa and ma think this nonsense is the best thing since canned beer.

Once Mr. Birkenstock laid his cards on the table and no one in the emergent camp knee-jerked, he proceeded. The worst was over and now he could simply implement his blueprint because no one in the emergent camp was discerning enough to get it. Gradually, carefully, he made forays into homosexuality, the atonement, and his latest debacle: a nonviolent Second Coming. The pacifists in the Emergent church movement think he’s making some genial statement about war, but what he really means is a Second Coming without judgment. In other words, Bri’s teaching universalism. So we can all stay home and watch our discounted DVDs of Emergents Gone Wild, because we’re all going to make it anyway.

Bri, Wallis, and the other emergents (yes, I know they all don’t think exactly the same way! Ho-hum!) believe that orthodox Christianity has had its day and whereas the mega-church moved in the direction of CEO-esque “pastors,” comfortable auditoria, and entertaining drama and praise bands, the Emergent church movement has substituted labyrinth prayer, mysticism, feel-good community, and uncertainty for the mega-church accoutrements. In reality, it’s a cheap exchange although neither provides much that’s in any sense substantive. The underlying emergent asceticism borrowed from Buddhism is fodder for the Social Gospel views concerning the planet, Mother Earth, global warming, and global poverty, and a garden variety of social ills. These “concerns” are really thinly veiled slams at orthodox Christianity. The Jesus of orthodoxy and his worldview are not, according to the Emergent church and earlier liberals, “suitable for our time and circumstances.”[11] As much as emergents purport to despise the thinking and thought forms of modernism, underlying the emergent program is a Nietzschian logical aristocratic anarchism.[12] What will truly free men is not the stuffy, stale doctrines (gag!) of orthodoxy, but ridding the earth of man-generated Carbon Dioxide. Those who think along these lines are the enlightened and are far superior to those who don’t drive hybrid cars or who don’t believe that wind and solar energy is truly efficient. Oh, yes, they’re also the ones who think ethanol is a bad idea, since it takes a gallon-and-a-half of gasoline to make a gallon of ethanol.

The emergents have long since abandoned an ideational mentality (if they ever possessed one in the first place) and have opted for identification with a sensate mentality. What are those mentalities? It is important to know, for they will continue to play important roles in our further discussions of Bavinck’s chapter on Revelation and Culture. Quite simply, “The ideational mentality sees spiritual truth and values as virtually the only truth and values worthy of the name. God and the divine world are the highest and truest realities; the good is what God wills.”[13] Clearly, the overwhelming majority of emergents have eschewed this notion almost from their inception. What do they substitute then? In the course of their writing and speaking it is evident that they hold to a more sensate idea of theology and life. Brown describes their position this way: “The sensate mentality is the exact opposite of the ideational mentality. It is interested only in those things, usually material in nature, that appeal to or affect the senses.”[14] In subsequent installments, we will develop more specifics regarding these two mentalities and how they function in theology and ethics.

In our next installment, we’ll move on to listen to how Bavinck actually describes the word “culture,” which is a profitable undertaking that few have found important. For example, in the ostensibly PCA magazine byFaith, there has yet to appear a working definition of what culture actually is, although we’re encouraged by its editors and contributors to engage it. Therefore, next time we’ll listen to what Bavinck has to say on this matter—if global warming doesn’t kill us by then, but then with forty-below temperatures in Michigan, maybe there’s not too much to worry about.



[1] Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation, (Henry Dosker; Nicholas Steffens; & Geerhardus Vos [trans.]), (Scarsdale, NY: Westminster Discount Book Service, n.d.), p. 247.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See Evangelisches Kirchen Lexicon, Bd. III, (Heinz Brunoth & Otto Weber [hrsg.]), (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1958), pp. 627-628.

[4] EKL, II, 195-196 & Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, (Kurt Galling [hrsg.]), (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1959), pp. 435-436.

[5] EKL, III, 1172-1173; RGG, VI, 416-417; Helmut Thielicke, Glauben und Denken in der Neuzeit, Die großen Systeme der Theologie und Religionphilosophie, (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1983), pp. 16, 68, 120, 393.

[6] Bavinck, TPR, 247.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 244.

[10] See McLaren’s chapters in A Generous Orthodoxy, “Why I Am Charismatic/Contemplative,” & “Why I Am Mystical/Poetic.”

[11] Ibid., 248.

[12] Ibid., 249.

[13] Harold O.J. Brown, The Sensate Culture, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1996), p. 9.

[14] Ibid.



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25 Comments:

Blogger Randy said...

nice jab on Michigan being 40 below. I'm glad that you recognized perhaps the center of reformed thought on earth. :)

If you didn't have the emerging church to beat on, I wonder - would you actually face the issues of evil?

Does poverty, war, greed, selfishness, nationalism matter?

Was James off his rocker when he said that to love our neighbor was to love God? James doesn't even suggest that it's a secondary calling; he tells us that one equals the other.

While you don't seem to believe in a social gospel, when does loving your neighbor matter?

Remembering James, love for neighbor and love for God go hand in hand.

It's no wonder that Luther and Gleason both dislike the biblical text of James so much.

9:11 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
What did the blog say? What was it about? I did not write on this blog about poverty (I've done that before), war (I've done that before), greed, selfishness, etc.

No, I don't believe the Social Gospel, because it's more social than gospel.

How can you judge that I dislike the book of James? Besides, you can't know anything about it contents for sure, can you?

9:43 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Randy,
Since you are "following the ways of Christ", as you say, can you name the theme of Christ's message? Two gospels name it specifically, so you don't have to read and read and then surmise it.

I ask because of your accusation against Ron. If you follow Christ, you should know the message He preached. It's pertinent to your accusation against Ron.

Let's hear it.

Phil.

7:47 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

Repent & believe. The kingdom of God is at hand.

Is that good enough?


And to answe Ron, how can you be too social when Jesus connects love for neighbor with love for God?

The first & second commandments are tied together in such a way that they can't be divided.

I suspect you don't love James because you don't respect nor love people who disagree with you.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Randy,
That's great. So why do you still accuse Ron for telling folks just that? Christ told the truth. That's all Ron is doing and you're beating about the head and shoulders for it.

Can you give specific evidences for his sin? So far you've given sweeping accusations. For instance, "...you don't respect nor love people who disagree with you."

That's okay, but a general accusation needs specific evidence.
Tell us biblically what part of the biblical definition of love Ron has violated. Or here is another way to go: Define what you mean by "respect", demonstrate from Scripture why that particular type of respect is owed to all people, and then show that Ron doesn't do that.

Phil.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Ron,
You know something? I've come to a conclusion that fits well with what you're uncovering here.

There ain't NOTHIN' new under the sun.

Reading some history-- Schleiermacher, Barth, Kant, and others--it seems like the same pressures that are a constant today were the same then. "The faith will fail if we don't cave to culture." Heresy after heresy have come, gone, and come back under the excuse of meeting the culture, being relevant, hip, yadda, yadda, yadda.......

It's like a theme that runs through history. And as the goats and sheep shake out, it's the goats that chase cultural trends and the silly sheep that follow the Shepherd and look so stupid to all their contemporaries. But it's the sheep who hand the faith to the next generation. (The Emergents will be a one-generation blip--even more so than the liberals. Their demise is IN their message, because it can't be transferred to the next generation.)

It's just something I've been noticing lately. I think it may be a good thing to teach young believers some good old history. That way they will know that the intellectual pressures they feel aren't new and assure them that it's a deceptive thing that will pass, and that it will pay to stay faithful.

Just a thought,
Phil.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

Phil,

When the biblical text was referencing goats and sheep, it wasn't that the sheep were stupid. It was that the goats were unclean.... just some biblial history that we should remember.

And... the emergent types aren't going away anytime soon. The biblical text reminds us that God is faithful to generations. The God of Abraham has been faithful to my family since at least the 1700's. God has been faithful to my grandparents, to my parents, to me, and to my children.

Perhaps we should recognize that the Spirit of God will prevail regardless of our efforts.

While emergents may be going away, so is the republican right...

Hugs & Kisses.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

Randy,

This is all very interesting since you ignored what I asked you (and told you) in the previous meta about the ramifications of "loving God and your neighbor."

Part of loving God means not embracing heresy. Should I conclude that because you embrace the Emergent Church nonsense or at least defend it, that means your love for God is lacking? Since you seem to reject part of his revealed truth, that is a logical conclusion.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Randy,
You said, "... it wasn't that the sheep were stupid..."

That was sarcasm about the mentality of folks like you, actually. Think it through. The sheep win in the sense that their worldview stands, though the culture always regects them. (They are thought of as stupid.) This is a theme of the NT.

As to the Emergents, yes, they can't stay long. The next generation will have to be populated by bringing new converts in and that really won't go that well becausae by then too many folks will be aware of the intellecual problems. Your children will leave the "church" because you can't articulate a good reason for them to stay for four or five practical reasons I can't get into here, but I have a post I will put up in the next few weeks in that regard. In short, you can think of it like this: You will have to convince them to follow a set of teachings, one of which is that teachings aren't important, don't exist, or can't be known. Most will figure that out and laugh up their sleeves.

History bears me out on this, too. The idea of hating hard facts isn't new. But, like A. J. Ayers' linguistic analysis, the poison of the philosophy of the postmodern deconstructionism is in its premise and it's already getting embarrassed in academia for that very reason. The smartest pomo can't give a defense. So suppressing the truth in unrighteousness will have to be reincarnated under another name and governing idealogy. And it, too, will cycle out.

It's cyclical like that because it isn't intellectually sustainable. Its appeal isn't to the cognitive, but to the visceral bent of man away from the knowledge of the holy. Eventually, like the man who says french fries are good for his diet, the truth dawns and he has to change his diet or keep getting fatter. And even if he never figure it out, all his neighbors do.

Phil. PS--Look at this discussion right here. You hate Ron, but really can't defend why with evidence. We've asked you to do so.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

Randy: The God of Abraham has been faithful to my family since at least the 1700's. God has been faithful to my grandparents, to my parents, to me, and to my children.

For some reason, that line just jumped out at me. A very commendable record on the part of our faithful God and Father.

Now, Randy..I just wish you'd demonstrate some true faithfulness to Him and His Word. All of it, not just the warm fuzzies you love so much.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

Here's a piece of biblical text that is pretty reflective of my life on good days: Dear Friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Anyone who loves, loves God. He who does not love, does not love God. This is love, not that we loved God but that he loves us and gave his life for us."

That's from one of the short letters of John. I'll let you find the book and verses.

I'm in no mood to defend today. There is no point; grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

If there is no point to defending, why do you continue to show up here and post your broadsides? As usual, when you get your ears pinned back and backed into a corner, you retire from the field with some sanctimonious nonsense.

I ask you again, Randy. What kind of love are we discussing here? To love God is to love His Word -- all of it -- and obey His commandments. Part of loving one another is admonishing one another in the truth, and all the more so when a brother or sister is going off the rails doctrinally. You can't claim to love God and love mankind when you deny the clear teaching of God's Word, and encourage its denial in others. That is not biblical love.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Sola,
He can't defend or he would.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

I don't know how to talk about God. I don't know how not to talk about God... but I am having Pete Rollins over for dinner on Friday night.

10:46 PM  
Blogger sister said...

Hey, guys. Still lurking.

Well, before today I had never heard of Pete Rollins, so, of course, I googled his name and was directed to his website, peterrollins.net.

There, I was immediately impressed by the commercial appeal, the poetic musings and pretty portraits. Then I found this (among other things):

"You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither high church nor low church, Fox nor CNN, citizen nor alien, capitalist nor communist, gay nor straight, beautiful nor ugly, East nor West, theist nor atheist, Israel nor Palestine, hawk nor dove, American nor Iraqi, married nor divorced, uptown nor downtown, terrorist nor freedom fighter, paedophile nor loving parent, priest nor prophet, fame nor obscurity, Christian nor non-Christian, for all are made one in Christ Jesus."



Rattlesnake, I still find myself disagreeing with the things you write more often than not, but I am grateful to you for starting and continuing this dialog about the "Emergent church".

7:43 AM  
Blogger donsands said...

Modern Reformation Magazine ia focused on culture this month. Some excellent articles there.

This was a great post.

My heart and mind longs for the Holy Scriptures: To read, study, ponder, and be taught the Word of God.

I love Christ, and no less love His Holy Word.

I read, (in DA Carson's book), about an emergent fellow who went on a retreat, and was told to leave his books, and even his Bible at home. For he was going to meet with God. He supposedly did. And yet there's no way that was the Holy Spirit of God. God would never tell someone to leave His Word at home. The devil would. Man does all the time. Put doctrine aside is the mantra, so we can just love each other. That's the subtlties of an angel of light.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

Sister,

Those are indeed nice, poetic, flowery words. There's just one problem. Repentance is left out. Scripture makes it very plain that no one practicing those things will inherit the kingdom of God. Christ came to set people free of sin, not to enable them to keep practicing it.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

One more thing. How is a non-Christian one in Christ Jesus?

6:49 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

Donsands,
Good point about the spirits all these folks listen to. Their not holy. Also, since you brought up the leave-your-Bible thing, did you know that Rick Warren told us in The Purpose Driven Life that we need to stop having Bible study? We need to read his book, but not the Bible. We know enough, he said. Then he tried to larn us good with his books.

Phil.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Phil Perkins said...

they're, not their

11:13 AM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

Hmmm.

Now I am wondering if our friend Randy is a universalist.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
Michigan is hardly the Reformed center on earth. Calvin College is barely evangelical (and I don't mean that as a compliment), let alone Reformed. It was, however, great to see your grandparents make a cameo appearance. It was very germane to the post.

How do you KNOW poverty, greed, and selfishness are wrong? What is love? How do you know? Who is God? How do you know? Even if James says it, are you certain that love for neighbor and love for God go hand in hand?

You can be too social, when you do not define your terms biblically and rush off into some cultural definition of life. The Social Gospel was a classic case in point. It was pure liberalism under the guise of Christianity.

Sister,
Don't feel too bad. I had no idea who Pete Rollins was. I suppose we were supposed to be impressed. Imagine. Dining with Pete Rollins. Made my whole day.

Sola,
Yes, Randy, like old Bri, is a universalist.

Allow me to recommend Mike Horton's new book, "Christless Christianity." It's well written and a very good read.

A cheap capitalistic plug: My book on capital punishment (that's the death penalty for those living in the center of the Reformed world) is due to be released in two weeks. The sequel will be on the Christian and the Second Amendment.

9:28 PM  
Blogger J. R. Miller said...

an excellent post with some wonderful insights that should challenge any thinking person. Thanks.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

Ron,

Careful, now. With those two publications, you're going to have the Rev. Dr. B. keening into the wind and picketing your house.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

So glad that you are all for killing people Ron. I hope your book does well and we start killing more people.

I love how Christians claim to be pro-life but only unborn babies count. Too bad Muslims, the poor, and others will less positions of power don't matter much to you.

Glad you still have the courage to be end the lives of others for their crimes and yet call yourself 'pro-life.'

At least do me the favor of calling yourself anti-abortion because you make a joke your beliefs.

Even to an athiest like me your beliefs are totally screwed up...

9:38 PM  

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