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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, March 12, 2009

Engaging the What? (VIII)

What the Church Needs Now Is…?

The modern Church is floundering around badly and seems willing to accept any new trend or fad as long as it has nothing to do with historic Christianity, doctrine, or expository preaching. Thankfully, there are notable exceptions to the spiritual malaise that a number of churches are involved in, but their intractability to return to what has served the Church well for centuries defies comprehension. It is almost as if they have wandered so far from the traditional path that they cannot or will not find their way back. Mike Horton’s new book, Christless Christianity, provides an excellent outline for just how bad it is in “our time.”[1] This is not to say that the Church has not experienced tough times in the past, where spirituality was at low ebb, but you really do have to wonder how low the Church can sink.

There does come a time when you have to at least consider how many who call themselves Christians, but are not in possession of even the most rudimentary understanding of the Christian faith, who live like pagans, and generally manifest a pagan ethic are truly saved. But it’s precisely into this environment that many encourage their congregations to get out there and engage (the) culture. As I have mentioned a couple of times, far too few who recommend engaging culture provide the congregant with a reliable roadmap or blueprint of how cultural engagement should take place or what it should look like. Is cultural engagement really just a matter of what feels good or right or are there prerequisites before venturing out into the abyss?

In the last two installments, we took a look peek at what Herman Bavinck called the “circles of culture”[2] and noted that much too little attention is devoted to the more mundane aspects of culture. We tend to concentrate more on the arts, which is a fun thing to do, but surely culture is more than the arts. Man’s production and distribution of material goods has not been addressed by many telling their folks to engage culture; neither has agriculture, industry, nor trade—not to mention economics. It’s more appealing and less tedious to apply ourselves to aesthetics while chatting gaily and sipping on our Chardonnay.

When I was younger—much younger—Dionne Warwick sang, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Okay, we know what the world needs, but what is it that the modern Church needs now more than anything else? From the days of the advent of the mega-church, leading into the current Emergent church movement debacle a plethora of gimmicks and fads have been tried. They all remind us of bottle rockets: They take off with panache and a great deal of fanfare, rocketing quickly into the air, promising to deliver whatever you’ve been missing in your life. As quickly as they launch almost, they fizzle or give off a “pop!” They all purport to know how to “do church” or how to bring the lost into the fold. There are projects, programs, purpose-driven lives, or bricks with your name on them that will line some ridiculous pathway. Remember the prayer of Jabez? What function did that fad accomplish except to make Bruce Wilkerson laugh all the way to the bank as “the faithful” purchased his book, coffee mugs, trinkets, and other worthless commodities? We tried the prayer of Jabez and nothing changed for us spiritually. (Most were probably just hoping for the material gain that Bruce Wilkerson promised if you recited Jabez’s prayer (Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep from harm so that it might not bring me pain!)

Mr. Wilkerson never took the time to explain how Jabez fit into redemptive history or if there were anything messianic about his words. But, you see, this is precisely what the modern Church doesn’t want to hear. A quick prayer that will—more or less, guarantee “expanded boundaries” (with a little help from Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae) and a better stock portfolio—cause us to prosper without putting forth too much effort is what modern Christianity thrives on. Joel Osteen promises a kinder, gentler sort of legalism and the Emergent church movement encourages us in burying our guilt in solving climate change (it’s your fault that your carbon footprint is so big! Has anyone actually seen a carbon footprint? Does it look like Big Foot’s?), global poverty, or, in Michael Moore’s case, global obesity. When Bill Hybels—similar to Dr. Spock of child rearing fame—announced that the Willow Creek experiment had bombed, what did he do? Any reasonable person would have turned to Scripture and charted a new, better, divine path for his congregants, but Mr. Hybels is far too slick and packaged for such a tawdry approach. He invited the Emergent church movement non-leader leaders in to do his spring youth conference. As the cartoon figures in the Guinness beer commercial put it: Brilliant! Simply brilliant!”

Bavinck contends that there was a struggle waged against Christianity in his day by culture.[3] Rather than wanting to hear the voice of the Christian faith in a pluralistic society, culture aimed at “a theoretically proclaimed and practically applied autonomy and anarchy…”[4] This striving of culture places it on a collision course with Christianity. Why is that? Bavinck explains, “For Christianity comes into collision with such an autonomy, as does every religion. It asserts all possible freedom and independence for man, for it teaches his creation after the image and likeness of God; but it maintains at the same time that man is a creature, and thus can never become or be absolutely independent; it joins him to God, and binds him to his word and will.”[5]

In his exposition and explanation of the relationship of God’s revelation and culture, Bavinck warns of an antagonism and prejudice against Christianity by cultured (or uncultured) despisers. While not wanting to place a stumbling block before the unchurched, the modern Church has abandoned the gospel, all the while wanting so desperately to be “missional.” What does it mean to be “missional” if we never present the stumbling block of the cross? Or, what does it mean to be “missional” if we are constantly compromising the central focus of the gospel message? For, as Bavinck says, “It is supernaturalism, which in point of fact forms the point of controversy between Christianity and…modern culture.”[6]

But, asks the 21st century Christian, isn’t it possible to “soft peddle” these aspects of the Christian faith? After all, we don’t want to offend our secular counterparts. Bavinck believes that there must be a presuppositional confrontation between the secularists and Christians because “The Christian religion cannot abandon this supernaturalism without annihilating itself.”[7] To the modern Christian’s mind, accommodation is not the same as self-inflicted annihilation. But it is precisely the accommodation that ends up being the problem. How does one decide what we’re prepared to jettison for the sake of accommodation and what is non-negotiable? This is an especially trenchant question in light of the horrible lack of knowledge about the faith among a lion’s share of Christianity that sees little, if anything, wrong with Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels, or Robert Schuller’s theology, just to mention a few. In fact, TBN airs so many goofy shows, it’s little wonder that the secularists think Christians are nuts, charlatans, and hucksters.

We are still trying to learn from our 21st century advocates of engaging culture precisely what it means, specifically and concretely, to engage it. How do we or can we know if we have (effectively) engaged culture? What types of things ought to be done and said? Is engaging culture the same as evangelism? More? Less? What? In order to be an effective youth leader, do I need to have listened to all the CDs of the Red Hot Chili Peppers? (One form of good torture at Gitmo would be to require the detainees [read: terrorists who want to kill us and rip our spinal cords out] to listen to loud music featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers 24/7.) Or, to be an effective youth leader do I need to be conversant with the confessions and catechisms of my church (if your church doesn’t have one, go out and get one ASAP. I suggest the Westminster Shorter Catechism or the Heidelberg Catechism) and desire to aid the parents in producing godly offspring (Mal. 2:15)?

When the Reformed churches were looking for direction, purpose, and true spirituality, they turned to the creeds of Christendom as well as to a “combined effort” in structuring the Heidelberg Catechism. Today, many scoff at the creeds and the catechisms. (Their motto is: Deeds, not creeds.) And I’m not only talking about liberal theologians and pastors here. The PCA has its share of pastors who question the validity of this kind of teaching. They prefer to entertain and make it more “fun.” Their gimmicks are designed to put the “fun” back in “fundamentalism.” As we noted last time, church historian, Willem van ‘t Spijker believes that catechisms in general and the Heidelberg Catechism in particular (used by his church) play “an important role in educating the church.”[8] Precisely. This is an excellent place to start, especially in our time. The modern Church is in dire need of being educated about real Christianity. This might cause a type of “Scottish Revival” where many hangers-on beat feet out of the Exits, but that could be a good thing as well, separating Ersatz Christians from the real deal.

Simultaneously, the modern Church does not need to become navel gazers either and van ‘t Spijker is convinced that that will not be the case. In grounding Christians in the truth of biblical confessions, “The primary objective was to prevent the collapse of church and society as a consequence of people’s sinful nature.”[9] Bingo. This is almost as paradoxical as supply-side economics. Unfortunately, most modern Christians are theological Keynesians: they want to try all the wrong things when the right thing to do is staring them right in the face every time they open Scripture. What modern Christians no longer realize is that the “eternal youth” of, say, the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism is precisely what Christians need today.

For anyone who is not embarrassed by either the Bible or our confessional and catechetical standards, they understand that they owe their “vitality and lasting relevance not least to the plan and method of its treatment of the catechetical material.”[10] In both the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism, convinced and committed preachers joined hands with Christian academia to govern doctrine and preaching. Preaching! Not story telling or cutesy anecdotes, but God-fearing, Christ-centered, and Spirit-filled and –anointed expository preaching of the whole counsel of God.

There is no comfort from philosophy or postmodernism; there is no comfort from culture. Only Christ’s Church possesses, by grace, true comfort in the face of radical corruption, total depravity and, as someone once called death, “that immutable law.” What the world needs today is not more brie, but divine truth in the face of sin and death, in the forgiveness of real sins and eternal life. As Willem van ‘t Spijker puts it, “Our heart demands something that does not vanish with death. Only the church offers us something that never perishes.”[11] You can go anywhere in society any time and find a way to be entertained. God has placed eternity in man’s heart (Eccl. 3:11) and all the art exhibits in the world will not satisfy him. It’s the Church’s place to present man with what God has placed in man’s heart.

[1] Mike Horton, Christless Christianity, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008).

[2] Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation, (Henry Dosker; Nicholas Steffens; & Geerhardus Vos [trans.]), (Scarsdale, NY: Westminster Discount Book Service, n.d.), p. 250.

[3] Ibid., 254.

[4] Ibid. Emphasis added.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Willem van ‘t Spijker, (ed.), The Church’s Book of Comfort, (Gerrit Bilkes, [trans.]), (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009), p. 92.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 97.

[11] Ibid., 101.



Blogger randy buist said...

How is one to love our enemy even if they want to rip our spinal chord out? What does the biblical text demand of us?

10:58 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

How is one to love one's enemy if you discover him raping your wife in your home?

10:32 AM  
Blogger Jhonsun said...

What would you do? Throw your hands up in the air and say, "Jesus take the wheel!"? I too am concerned about your lack of a spine.

Why would an Emergent care about what the biblical text demands or be so arrogant as to claim to know what those demands are? Do you think that the Bible is inerrant & infallible or something? You're not suggesting that there is actually some way of objectively interpreting it's teachings so that they mean the same thing for you as they do for me are you?

If not, how do you know which teachings of scripture are the ones you are supposed to follow and which teachings are fallible & errant? Why would you assume that loving your enemy was something that you necessarily had to follow or had even interpreted the meaning of that scriptural command correctly?

1:32 AM  
Blogger randy buist said...

Guess what? I do believe the biblical text to be infallible.

There are lots of things I don't know, but I know we are told to love or neighbors as ourselves. We are told that the entire ways of God for humans are based upon a love for God & a love for other humans.

When we begin by wanting to kill, defend, protect OUR things, then we are not living into the gospel message.

Unfortunately, the gospel message is more difficult than living the American dream and sprinkling a bit of gospel over the top of it.

6:01 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Who said anything about wanting to kill? You ascribe motives to people that they don't have, but I'm certain it's all in the name of emergent "love," whatever that is.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Jhonsun said...

It's your example Randy that puts you right into the middle of a violent act being committed against you or a loved one - whatever came before then or whatever you could have done to prevent it. Based on your uncertain reply I suppose you should just go ahead and hand over your spine. Why should you be so concerned about defending it? Perhaps you should give him "two tunics" or "walk two miles", not really understanding that the lesson of scripture there is not an endorsement of spineless pacifism, but simply that we shouldn't seek revenge. That doesn't rule out self-defense and self-defense is not selfish or unloving. If it were, one might expect God to have sanctioned it in the Law. Instead, by God's law such a person would be considered to be innocent.

How exactly to you interpret "Thou shalt not steal"? Doesn't that necessarily imply that God cares about defending your property? Are you wiser than God? If you believe that all defense of life and property is "selfishness" then you are way out of step with the God of scripture. Or maybe you should just be more specific.

You're willing to acknowledge the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture in general but you seem unwilling to apply that view in any specific way. Far from any focused exposition of infallible scripture, you refer vaguely to "ways" that are based on God's love. Who disputes that? It's specifics that you leave out, knowing that the more narrowly you define these "ways" (inerrancy or no) you are moving closer and closer to the certainty which you cannot stomach. You act like you have certainty with your broad, sweeping, judgmental, and self-righteous declarations, but you wouldn't dare codify them in any detail. No, that would be too doctrinal. Your real views remain internal, undefined, and uncertain except in moments of deep existential bias - ever-shifting based on your limited perception and understanding of the situation, rather than being guided by any rigorous and expositional knowledge of Scripture (that you've been able to demonstrate anyway). That is your replacement for an objective standard of interpretation of Holy Scripture that God deemed was sufficient for us (2 Tim. 3:15,16) and gave to us in the form of a book. He gave us a mind and He fully expects us to have the ability to interpret His Word objectively.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Jim W said...

So what are you going to do, Randy? I presume you love your family. Does loving the persons who are doing their best to hurt/kill your family mean that your family dies? You have to make a choice, here. Your family or the vicious animals who want to hurt them? It is possible to actually love the person(s) hurting you while defending those closest to you. This is not a subtle nuance, it is plain truth which even an emergent should be able to see. It involves a concept called minimum force. You use the least amount of force necessary to protect yourself. In other words, you don't use a nuke on a kid in worn out sneakers who wants an easy buck. Same reason the police try to use TASERs in place of guns. It is possible, Randy. Loving ones enemies doesn't mean being a doormat at the expense of your loved ones. That would mean that your loved ones maybe really aren't so loved after all...

2:10 PM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

Randy's purpose in posting here is not to really engage Scripture or doctrinal arguments. He is here solely to taunt Dr. Gleason, and doesn't seem to realize that his taunts only illustrate the very things Dr. Gleason often writes regarding Emergents and their philosophy.

Should the really awful happen and American society plunges into chaos, it is people like poor Randy that the rest of us will have to defend. It would be the loving thing to do, you know. :)

2:20 PM  
Blogger randy buist said...

I own five guns, one 9 mm handgun, and there aren't too many people who can outshoot me... I believe that I'll be o.k. if necessary. :)

It just seems that the beginning point shouldn't be 'dare they come after me..."

5:25 PM  
Blogger randy buist said...


I have no idea how to love our enemies when we are pushed to the wall. I do know that it isn't optional though. It is NEVER optional.

The second this becomes optional we disregard the entire gospel message. There is no need to talk about 'truth' if we don't want to realize this isn't optional.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

Would American troops have been guilty of sin during World War II because they took out German and Japanese troops?

Would I be guilty of not loving an enemy if I were to shoot dead someone who was about to harm a child?

Let's make it personal to me. If I were to shoot someone in self defense if they invaded my home -- all the while not necessarily having any hostility from the heart toward said individual -- perhaps that would be the most loving thing to do in that I would be keeping my invader from committing an even worse sin, thereby causing him to receive less stripes in Hell.

See, we can play games with this subject endlessly. The point is that "loving my neighbor" does not require some of the conclusions you appear to be drawing.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Jhonsun said...

I own five guns, one 9 mm handgun, and there aren't too many people who can outshoot me... I believe that I'll be o.k. if necessary. :)

It just seems that the beginning point shouldn't be 'dare they come after me..."

It's not a question of your gun ownership or your ability Randy, but your willingness to defend yourself and not see it as unbiblical or selfish somehow. From what you say, sounds like you would. But why ask the question in the first place then?

When our enemies push us against the wall, then I suppose the time for trying to figure out how things led to that point is over and the immediate priority is to defend yourself. Loving our enemy is not optional but if it's a question of someone breaking into your home or doing something unspeakable to you or loved ones, I recommend doing what you have to to stop it. First things first. Figure it out later.

Hopefully, upon reflection you will find that you didn't do anything wrong that provoked it. Even if you did do something wrong to provoke an attack, that doesn't negate your need to defend your life but that other matter has to be dealt with when you can.

I say that because "'dare they come after me..."?, if I am reading that right, sounds like you are talking about U.S. foreign policy. That's a whole separate issue. It doesn't have much to do with what Ron wrote on the subject of evangelical attempts to "engage culture" (except for the Gitmo reference, which was beside the point) so maybe that's more of a personal discussion between you and he best done by email or when Ron is writing about the subject.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Jim W said...

So, what is your point, Randy? You claim to own guns and be able to use them, but at the same time you condemn anyone who is willing to use guns (force) to protect themselves and their families. Maybe you are the epitome of the old joke about testicles on a priest?? (sorry to all if that is too rude. After reading Team Pyro and it's last article about coarse language, I may well be overstepping). Be that as it may, since you apparently aren't willing to use said guns-want to sell 'em? They're no use to you.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

You have what I call an "absolute" view of life, which neither God has nor does the Bible teach it. God put his enemies to death and Scripture clearly teaches that there is nothing wrong with self-defense. You might want to dust off your Heidelberg Cat. and look at the Westminster Standards--along with virtually every creed from the Reformation that teaches us that defending ourselves and our loved ones is a good thing.
For the life of me, I don't know who is supplying batteries for your crystal ball whereby you ascribe all kinds of motives to others, but you need to get it fixed--quickly!

4:06 PM  
Blogger donsands said...

Another well written post.

I think the pulpits are the problem. People follow those who lead. If the Leaders are not loving the Scriptures, even Leviticus, and Obadiah, then these pastors, elders, and leaders are not really leading.

God really likes His Word, which is His truth, every book, every paragraph, and every word.

Also, along with the Scriptures as the treasure of the heart, along with Christ Himself goes without saying really, the pastors, elders, and leaders of the Body of Christ need to be praying. Perhaps hours a day would be good.

I'm reading David Brainerd's journal, and it's amazing how this man prayed. If the pastors today would pray only half the way this man did I think the Lord, who is the Spirit, if He hears the prayer of His pastors would do great things indeed. Greater than we could ever imagine.

The history of Christianity has shown us this in many examples.

6:33 AM  
Blogger randy buist said...

so, my point was never addressed except by me. how do you love your enemies? Jesus tells us to doo so; so it isn't optional.

or is the entire biblical text optioonal? IF you can't love your enemies, you have nothing to preach... no gospel to tell... no God to worship.

So, how are we to love our enemies?

11:24 PM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

Why don't you instruct us, Randy? How are we to love our enemies?

9:03 AM  
Blogger donsands said...

"So, how are we to love our enemies?"

I prayed for Osama Bin Laden that God would have mercy on Him, and that he would come to Christ, and ask for mercy.
I also prayed that God would bring this murderous wicked man to justice, and for him to pay for his dispicable crimes. Amen.

6:11 AM  
Blogger randy buist said...

ya know, I'll ask it again. How are we to love our enemies?

In reality, we don't even like to entertain the question. In reality, we leave it to our nation's courts and armies to answer this question.

Perhaps Jesus wasn't asking this of nations nor armies? It seems we are to ask this question of ourselves.

I've received only nonsense in response. The biblical text demans more than sarcasm.

Ironically, an emergent guy who supposedly doesn't honor the biblical text isn't getting much of an answer.

Is this the best we can do to answer this question?

11:44 PM  
Blogger sister said...


You've probably seen me around here enough by now to know that I always try to be objective in these discussions.

Solameanie and donsands have both provided excellent answers to the question you asked, in the context that it was asked.

While Jesus requires us to "Love thy neighbour" he certainly doesn't go so far as to define "love" as "facilitating your enemy's crimes against humanity".

Last weekend, I paid my respects at the repatriation of a fallen friend, who was killed by terrorists in Afghanistan. From Tenton to Toronto, and from Toronto to his hometown, people were lined up to show their gratitude for his sacrifice on highway overpasses, city streets, and almost every intersection that his procession passed through.

As I saw the tears on the faces of the women and children who came to wave goodbye and show their support, I realized that they weren't only crying for the loss of a young man cut down in the prime of his life, but they also cried because they lost another layer of protection: protection from evil men who would harm them.

When we love our enemies by laying down our weapons, who will show love to the helpless that would otherwise be harmed? Jesus requires that we love them, too, doesn't he? But there are evil men who have pledged their lives to seeing them destroyed? How do you reconcile "Love", then?

Sometimes, the most loving thing to do is to put a bullet in the bad man's brain. Don't you think?

9:12 AM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

And I asked you to tell me how YOU think we ought to love our enemies. That's not sarcasm. I really want to know how you think it ought to be done. I am actually being rather Hebraic in doing that. You asked a question, so I answered you with a question.

You've been pretty consistent in attacking Dr. Gleason and the rest of us in how we approach biblical truth, and in general accusing us of a lack of love, AND very seldom actually engaging the biblical text or argument at hand in whatever post happens to be under discussion. So I don't know that anyone owes you an answer until you start providing some.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Solameanie said...


I wish I could recall the exact quote, but what you said there was very similar to something C.S. Lewis wrote in one of his books when asked about whether killing someone would be the loving thing to do. I'll have to try and find that quote now.

9:17 AM  
Blogger donsands said...

"I've received only nonsense in response."

It's nonsense to pray that the Lord would have mercy and bless those who hate me? Or perhaps the nonsense is to pray that the Lord would bring a murerer to justice, and have him pay for his wickedness?

You're strange randy.

So you don't pray for your enemies, huh?
I like what Sola asked, how then do you love your enemy?

And I appreciate what sister has shared as well.

12:26 PM  

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