Hurt by Chap Clark

Have any of you read “Hurt” by Chap Clark? Our youth minister has highly recommended that I read this book and has laid out the premise of it for me. Then I was speaking with another youth minister who also mentioned this book and how powerful it is in understanding today’s adolescent culture. From what I understand this is a book of qualitative social research into the lives of today’s youth. It is a genuine attempt to try to understand them and their differences from their successors. One of the things the youth ministers are saying is that there is a wide cultural gap between today’s teens and when the rest of us were teens, even those in their late 20s/early 30s. The danger is to assume their life is like ours was and that their needs are the same as ours. So we keep aiming at a culture that no longer exists and end up being ineffective.

I am looking forward to reading this book. Have any of you read this, what did you think?

Postmodernism and the Death of Political Parties

I think the two party system will be dead in twenty years and replaced by something that better reflects the worldview of today’s Americans. There are several characteristics of our culture that lead me to that conclusion:

  1. Postmoderns aren’t concerned for clear-cut and well defined groups that have to fit a particular mold. They are more into things being on a continuum without clear-cut divisions and distinctions like political parties.
  2. Postmoderns aren’t as brand loyal as previous generations. Past generations would be a democrat or republican because that is what their family always had been. People are growing out of that mentality.
  3. The Republicans vs. the Democrats almost seems like an arbitrary and dated method for doing things.
  4. Postmoderns are open to a scrapping things that don’t make sense and replacing them with things that seem to fit better here and now.

There are more things that weigh into this but I think these are the main three and it all has me thinking the two party system will be gone within a generation and something that is on a continuum of thoughts and views is put in to replace it. We will always have conservatism and liberalism but I wonder how this will show up in the political system in the next 50 years as people get less and less concerned with us vs. them and more concerned with where this country is headed in the mix of the global community. The two party system just seems to aim too small and I think it will be breathing its last in the next twenty years.

What do you think?

The Information to Transformation Shift

I really enjoy consuming information. Missy is always asking me how I know about all kinds of random things. Usually I don’t know how or why I know about it, I just do. On the flip side I have a hard remembering conversations. Missy will ask me what someone said about something. She wants to hear what they said. She wants to know how a conversation went and what happened. All I remember was if they agreed, if they were happy about it or upset about it. I just remember the gist of it. She wants to experience the conversation. That is something I need to work on.

One thing I have learned in my hunger for information is that gathering up and remembering information for the sake of storing it all up in my brain is pretty useless. It is only worthwhile if it leads to transformation. You have probably heard this point dozens of times in the last few years because this point is a cultural reaction to the modern mindset (which I grew up with). People want change. People want experience. People don’t want information for information’s sake because people have finally learned that having all the right information and all the right views doesn’t always make someone a better person, a better Christian or automatically draw someone closer to God. There are plenty of no good people who know their Bible backwards and forwards…it never made the journey from the head to their heart.

It is a challenge to learn what someone with a different worldview values. A large number of ministers and elders are from the modern perspective. It is important our “modern” elders and ministers understand that people want information to take us somewhere and if we don’t assist them in that in our preaching and teaching they won’t be interested. But if we learn to assist people in taking information (scripture) and making application that leads to transformation people will be hungry for it. The good news is that is what God has wanted us to do all along!

The Problem With Culturally Defined Truth

A few things that were once considered culturally acceptable by various groups:

  • Slavery
  • The Crusades
  • Killing infants by exposure (leaving them to die)
  • Murdering Jews
  • Segregation

The list could go a lot further than that but the point is, at some point in time there were large groups of people found these things socially and morally acceptable. If you are going to take moral relativism to its ultimate end you would have to contend that all these things, even though they are detestable behaviors to us, were perfectly morally acceptable to them because what is true for us may not have been true for them. At the end of the day subjective truth fails. It is possible to be fully convinced of something and be wrong. That is easier to see in others from past decades and centuries than it is to see in ourselves.

We have our own list of things today that are viewed as socially acceptable, “our truth”, that hopefully one day people will look back on and see as barbaric practices. Abortion is #1 on that list. Can you imagine some kid 200 years from now asking his dad if Americans really did kill 45 million of their own babies (dwarfing the 11-17 million killed in the holocaust). Not just murderous, hate-filled people…but every day folks just like you and I giving permission for their babies to be killed before they were born. But if moral relativism prevails we just continue to delude ourselves into thinking bad is good and good is bad.

Culturally defined, subjective truth, just doesn’t work out in the real world. I understand why people find it so appealing but the reality is in the end it will fail to do a better job than the objective truth it set out to replace.

What Was the Colossian Heresy and What Can We Learn from it?

In comments on the last post Philip mentioned Milton Jones’ interpretation of the Colossian heresy as something comparable to post-modernism. I have a great level of respect for Milton Jones. I haven’t read his book (that Philip linked to in his comment) but I did think this would be an interesting point to respond to in a post rather than a comment. In January I started writing curriculum on the prison letters of Paul. I really believe it is important to understand the occasion of an epistle if we are going to spend time teaching it and discussing it. So I really wrestled with the Colossian heresy for a while. After sitting at the feet of everyone from N.T. Wright to Benny Three Sticks and Peter O’Brian via their excellent commentaries, here was my take on the Colossian heresy from my Prison Letters of Paul small group curriculum,

“The Jews believed angels were involved in giving the law (Gal 3:19 for instance). It seems false teachers had come in and said that it was necessary to please these angels, principalities and powers if God was to hear their prayers (see 2:16-23). In order to please them they were taught to follow strict dietary (2:21)and holiness guidelines as well as the observance of special days (2:16). Paul is teaching them that such teachings are false and that Christ is still supreme with full authority over everything in creation that they don’t need to lean on such hollow and deceptive teachings (1:15ff, 2:8).”

I can’t say with certainty that I have it all right but that is the best I can come up with thanks to borrowing from a few scholars I highly respect and trying to put these pieces together in my own mind. It seems more appropriate to me to read their Jewish worldview into the text rather than to read a 21st century worldview into it. It makes more sense that Paul would be referencing things from their culture and not ours. Application can certainly still be made and the parallels connected appropriately to teach us something today about our own world. But as for interpreting what the actual heresy was we have to be careful to read the text from the right direction and not interpret it in light of the first “hollow and deceptive” teaching that we can think of in the world we live in.

If this interpretation of the heresy is correct, how do we make application in our world today? First, we have to listen to what Paul did say about the truth concerning Christ because Paul believed that if we have the truth we won’t be led astray by false teachings (Col 2:8-15). Postmodernism in and of itself is not a false teaching, as some have claimed. It is a worldview. It can lead to false teaching but it can also lead to some very profound insights regarding our faith. We cannot let our worldview “kidnap” (Col 2:8) us by leading us away from Christ and to something claimed superior or more sufficient than Christ. If we allow any worldview to do that we are in grave danger. That can happen with postmodernism but it can happen with any worldview, even modernism. You can get so caught up in figuring everything else, from the modern perspective, that you fail to see a need for Christ in your life. That is Paul’s point in the next verses (Col 2:9-10). The Gospel doesn’t need anything more to make it sufficient to bring us life and godliness because Christ is head over all things. In Col 2:11-15 Paul lays out all that Christ has done for us. When we read through that great list we should realize that our worldview must draw us closer to God and not further away from Him.

PS – If you don’t read Philip’s blog you should have a look. He is a great friend and a very insightful guy.

What to Expect in the Future of the Church

Here are a couple of things I think will be the topics of discussion in coming years. Feel free in the comments to agree, disagree, or add your own.

Evangelism of the unchurched rather than reaching those in denominations. There will be a shift from debating those from different Christian groups to reaching people who have never been to church a day in their lives. As our country becomes more and more religiously diverse and increasingly post-Christian we will find that the way we approach evangelism will have to shift. You can no longer assume people have a basic knowledge of the Bible, a belief that God exists, or a respect for the authority of scripture. Because of that our Bible studies will look a lot different than having a study with someone who is from another Christian group.

We will need a renewed commitment in bringing people to Christ rather than bringing people to this church or that church. Our conversions will be more Christ-centered and less doctrinal centered. Doctrines are important and should be taught but first things need to be kept first and other things can be taught as people mature and grow in their faith.

This also means we will have to get back to the basics. People aren’t going to seek out fine tuned doctrines. They are going to seek out Jesus and we have to be ready to have a conversation with them about the story of the Gospel and how their life can plug in to that story.

A need for narrative over deductive logic and reasoning. As post-modernism increases people will need to connect with the story (as mentioned above). We will have to re-familiarize ourselves with the story and be able to tell the story of how God has been working to save his people from the beginning of time until today. Too often we go from Genesis straight to Jesus and miss out on how unified the Bible really is in the ongoing telling of the story.

Worship will take on increased importance and a re-centering on giving God praise. People are becoming more and more experiential and we will begin seeing more variety in how we express our worship to God. There is already a renewed interest in the psalms and a higher frequency of praise songs today than in recent years. Worship is central to the lives of our young people and as they age and become leaders in the church I think we will be in for some interesting time when it comes to worship. Sunday mornings are moving from the “buffer system” of using songs to space out the scripture reading, prayers, sermon, and Lord’s supper. The songs will be seen with renewed significance for what they have to offer God through worship. This may result in the death of four part harmony (sorry Keith!) for many but the most important thing is not the style of the singing but the motivation of the heart.

Leadership will become less and less centrally defined. With the explosion of the small group movement and the pastoral care that is taking place in group fellowship we will find our leadership base becoming broader. This is not diminshing the role of elders as shepherds. It is a both/and situation where people start taking on more of a personal accountability for the well-being of other Christians. Why? Because as the world becomes less and less Christian we are going to understand our need for one another once again.

I think we are heading into a world that resembles the first century in many ways – Christians in the minority, Christians persecuted for their faith, Christians that are misunderstood and stand out from the world…because of that I think the words of the New Testament are going to be read and appreciated with new ears as our situation more and more closely resembles theirs. It is hard to read books like 1 Peter or Revelation in the proper context when 95% of the people around are Christians. It is quite another thing to read it when you feel like you are undergoing persecution yourself.

What would you add?

Wake Up Call on Evangelism

I am starting to see a parallel between the last 100+ years of evangelism and Acts 1:8. In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells his disciples that they will be witnesses in Jerusalem – Judea – Samaria – and the ends of the earth. The last 100 or so years of church growth has been a lot from conversions from one denomination to another. Many have equated Bible study and evangelism with talking to a Baptist, Mormon, Methodist, etc and trying to get them to become another type of Christian. In other words we are converting people who already believe in Jesus to believe this or that set of doctrines.

When the Gospel first went out there were people who were insiders and had a clue that a messiah was supposed to come (Jews who lived primarily in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria) and those who didn’t have a clue about the messiah, Jehovah God, etc (Gentiles – the “ends of the earth” type people). The apostles were eventually sent to both.

Acts 1-7 Jerusalem and Judea
Acts 8 Samaria
Acts 10+ Ends of the earth

My contention is that we have gotten really good as reaching the Jerusalem’s and Judea’s – those comfortable places where people and culture are a lot like we are. As a whole we have not done as well reaching out to those uncomfortable “ends of the earth” people whose the culture is very different than ours and who don’t really trust us on the front end. We like our insider places because in Christian circles we are comfortable and we find some level of trust and respect and people who think God is real and the Bible has authority. We are not as comfortable among those who hold a different worldview than we do and who don’t come to the discussion with the same conception of God and scripture and church and spirituality as we do.

The solution is not to fix this problem “over there” by sending missionaries. All of a sudden the ends of the earth have come to us. We have to become missionaries to our culture. As Alan Howell said in a previous comment that we have to learn our culture and contextualize the message of Jesus Christ to them. As any good missionaries spends time learning a culture in order to reach it we have to do the same.

The church today is sitting right in the middle of Acts 10. We have spun our wheels in Jerusalem and Judea for a long time bickering about this and that with the insiders. It is time we go outside the walls onto the mission field that is right next door and down the street and in our neighborhoods. Right now we are like Peter who has a vision that there is more to come and that we are going to have to be a little, if not a lot uncomfortable if we are going to reach out to those who are not like us. God has already sent Cornelius’ men and they are knocking at the door. Will we answer? Will we move from Acts 1-9 to Acts 10-28? You cannot reach the ends of the earth by sitting at home in your easy chair. It takes action and an acceptance of responsibility in the mission of God. Will you answer the call?

Still Wrapping My Modern Head Around Post-Modernism

Here is a nice little summary statement that I came up with in trying to wrap my tiny brain around post-modernism:

Modern – want to know it is right before they can feel a part of it.

Post-modern – want to feel a part before they can know it is right.

Any thoughts?

Ripening Issues in the Church of Christ – Alienated Older People

This is the last of the Ripening Issues in the CofC series. This is one that I am most worried about because the other issues all load into this one. There is pretty close biblical parallel that can help us handle this issue. For many years people thought Paul wrote Romans as a general layout of his theology. That would make Romans pretty exceptional because most of Paul’s letters are written to address problems and issues (that is called being an occasional letter). A new theory has developed that links a very specific occasion to the writing of Romans. Roman emperor Claudius ruled Rome from 41 to 54 AD. During his reign he issued a number of edicts including a prescription of “Yew juice” for snake bite (Suetonius #16) but also, and most importantly, an edict in 49 that Suetonius records as follows, “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [probably a misunderstanding of Christ], he expelled them from Rome.” (Suetoinus 25.4). Acts 18:1-2 also makes mention of this edict as to why Priscilla and Aquilla left Rome. To make a long story short, when Claudius died the edict was void and the Jews were able to return to Rome.

There was one small problem. Jewish Christians would have presumably been Christians longer than Gentile Christians in Rome and had previously had more leadership experience in the church than the younger Gentile Christians. We presume that when the Christian Jews left Rome younger Gentile Christians stepped up into leadership roles and led these congregations/house churches for roughly 5 years until Claudius died and the Jews returned to Rome. When the Jewish Christians got back they may have expected church to be “life as usual” but instead found Gentile Christians occupying “their” places of leadership. [I really am going some place with this trust me]. Paul’s occasion for writing Romans (which is probably dated in 57 AD) was that 3 years after the churches were reunited with the returning Jews they were still fighting and quarreling amongst themselves.

Dealing with Cultural Differences:

Here is my point, Paul is writing to a church that is struggling with cultural issues and leadership issues that stem from disagreements between younger and older Christians who are from totally different worlds/backgrounds. I think that is a fairly good parallel between what is about to happen in our churches as the younger people, who as Rex pointed out, are coming at it from a totally different background and perspective engage the older Christians in dialogue about how the church is going to operate, what the worship should be like, how much we are serving our community, outreach, etc. If the older members stonewall we are going to have a tremendous backlash and an exodus from the church. If the younger people push forward with no concern or deference from the older members there is going to be a tremendous amount of alienation as the older people will no longer recognize the church the spent their whole lives supporting and being a part of.

Paul’s Advice:

What advice did Paul give the Roman churches? He gave them an equal lashing until he felt both sides realized that as different as they may seem they are actually more alike than they realized. It all boiled down to 3:21-24,27-31 “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ JesusWhere, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” Old or young faith is the same. Old or young our need for forgiveness is the same because we are all alike in sin and all alike in righteousness. As a famous wrestler used to say, “And that’s the bottom line.” This culture or that culture, Jew or Gentile, modern or post modern he is the God of us all because through faith in Jesus Christ he brings justification to both.

An older member might say, “But Paul doesn’t that mean in doing so we might nullify the law?” = “Doesn’t that mean to give deference to these young upstarts mean we are throwing away everything we have lived for up to this point?” Paul’s answer is just the opposite – he says to live in one accord with them is to live more closely in line for everything you have ever lived for up to this point. To be in one accord between the older and the younger means we are being more fully who God made us to be – people who are mutual submissive to each other who understand we do have differences and are still willing to worship and commune with others even though we will never agree on everything.

As this issue looms larger and larger let’s begin by never forgetting who we and our similarities in Christ. When we start from that position it will make the dialogue that much easier because we realize that even though we may differ on some of the “how to’s” the mission and identity of both generations is really the saem.

Ripening Issues in the Church of Christ – a la carte Christianity

This is the fourth is a series of five issues facing the church of Christ. For those of you out there who read this blog who are not from the church of Christ thank you for being patient with me. I also wanted to say that this post will have more to say to you than some of the previous ones because this is a much broader issue in Christendom and is not isolated to the church of Christ. A la carte Christianity is when someone decides to mix key tenets and methodology from a variety of religions and roll it all up into one. It is like taking a religious menu and picking a little of this religion and a little of that until you come up with the mix that suits you the best. They want a little of this denomination plus the best of that one. They want to take components of Buddhism or Hinduism and mix that with teachings of Christianity and come up with a “Designer religion.” The basis of this comes from the view that says truth is to be found everywhere and where you find it, claim it (not dissimilar to some of Rob Bell’s material). This can range anywhere from pretty mundane (like Randy Harris trying to learn to pray and meditate more effectively from Buddhists) to outright dangerous (adopting New Age methodologies and systems). This methodology puts self because our choices and tastes become the standard for what we do and how we worship rather than what God has had to say about it.

Postmodern thinking is really giving an impetus to this model of religion. When you throw out foundations and absolutes, anything goes. This can be very much like syncretism, which God criticized and punished his people in the Old Testament for doing. They would mix Baal worship in with Yahweh worship. They would mix festivals and holy days and offerings together from the worship of Baal and Asherah. God didn’t care too much for that and he punished them with exile for it. The whole book of Leviticus was written to teach people that God is approached on His terms and through His methods and not just made up based on what seems good to us.

We will be facing this issue more and more and I think it is important that we raise an awareness of it so we can recognize what it is and why it is happening.