Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Present Culture of "Neo-Romanticism"


For all of its assurance to liberate men free from their self-imposed ignorance, considered largely the result of the influence of traditional Christianity, the Enlightenment failed to provide a final solution for life. In its rational deconstruction of man and of the universe in order to create a cohesive view of specific topics, the Enlightenment was really an agenda for progress apart from the biblical revelation of God. Problematically, by locking God out of the metaphysical world, and arguing instead for a clockwork universe, so-called enlightened thinkers made God a prisoner to his own set of laws. It took Kant to seek the “der Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbst verschuldeten Unmundigkeit” (“the emergence of man from his self-incurred immaturity”) and to return the metaphysical world to the arena of philosophy and religious discourse. Rococo frivolity was the Enlightenment in denial—a last gasp effort to believe that science and philosophy could replace God and deliver the better life.

Thus, things began to turn slowly to a new vision of things that cultural historians refer to as the period of Romanticism. The nineteenth-century intellectual and cultural movement sought to save the Christian faith and practice that had been had been devalued by the radical theorists of the European Enlightenment. Some men found a lively faith in the Church but most saw the Church as nothing more than a narcotic masking people’s inner pain. Many therefore sought a spiritual path outside organized religion in the way of nature mysticism. In all, as Bernard Reardon has noted, people began again to yearn for the “infinite beyond”—a sentimental longing for the medieval past. Metaphysics had found a place again.

Men of the Romantic age could not tolerate the notion that all knowledge is acquired by reason for this left no room for the ego to explore, actually to create, reality. But indisposed to abandon reason altogether they made room for the human faculty of imagination. Reason ascertains the existence of facts while the imagination discerns the meaning about facts. But the imagination had the upper hand, such that Fichte could say, “All reality is produced purely by the imagination.” The real substance of imagination (for Schleiermacher it is “intuition,” for Freud it is “ego”) is therefore cognitive; but cognitive not only in the empirical sense, but to an even greater extent in the metaphysical meaning. It is through imagination that real knowledge of all things is realized.

Romanticism was thought to indicate the coming end of the enlightened idea of progress and the end of the anti-metaphysical mood in Europe. But unfortunately the new program only served to lead men further away from God. Despite’s Kant’s stress on recovering the numinous realm most men of the period sought the sacred world of salvation in the inner self—the world of feeling and subjectivity. Theirs’ was a search for the infinite in the finite.

The great Romantic poet/painter William Blake captured the Romantic preoccupation with religious introspection.

To see a world in a grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

The obsession with the inner-world of self as a vehicle for recapturing religious sentiment set off a spiritual and psychological evolutionary spiral downward. Just fifteen years after David’s The Battle of the Romans and the Sabines (1799), in which there is not a drop of blood, Francisco Goya eclipsed the austere idealization of the classical past in The Third of May 1808 (1814). The face of the Madrilenos’ martyrs now lying soaked in their own blood spoke for the new attitude in Europe. Belief in the potential of man to advance Europe on the heels of the French Revolution had turned to widespread feeling of helplessness and horror in the face of man’s inhumanity to man.

It is said that gaiety marked the late nineteenth century; indeed, a revived sense of optimism appeared before World War I. Nonetheless, beneath the surface a growing disenchantment continued to gain momentum throughout the West. Though the industrial revolution in both Europe and in America brought scientific and technological progress that made life easier, scores of people were uneasy. The gleeful world of belle epoque (beautiful age) of Paris was more and more suspected as a mere fa├žade hiding people’s quite desperation. The growing loss of hope for the future kicked off a compliment of movements in painting that functioned as a forum for the search for meaning in the face of human forlornness. Ignited by the birth of Romanticism, there was Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Neo-Plasticism, culminating in Cubism around the start of World War I. Unfortunately the story of Modern Art is a quirk of irony. The more men wrestled with the meaning of life the more their center slipped farther into the abyss of meaninglessness.

Very soon after World War 1, Irish poet, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), captured the human concession to hopelessness in The Second Coming.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

By the early twentieth century Munch’s The Scream (1910) became a metaphor for the outlook in the West. Munch had captured man’s greatest fear: not of death but of living. In the end, the bold period of progress promised by the Romantic worldview was not satisfied, just as the promises of progress made by the Enlightenment before it had failed.

Why did Romanticism fail? Why so much despair? The deeper men looked into themselves for meaning and for God, the more they discovered the very ugliness for which Christ died. Having discarded the historical Jesus for an extension of their inner-ego, which they called “God,” they formed a deep pit from which they could not rescue themselves. Forlornness is the unfortunate blow awaiting anyone that dares to gaze into his inner-man without the grace of God.

It has been said many times that the age in which we now live is a continuation of the radical progressives who fueled the Enlightenment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Now in the twenty-first century, we are the progenitors of Romanticism and its blending of reason and imagination. The cultural mood of the West is not conditioned by the atheism championed by Candide but by Johan Gottlob Fichte’s quest for the freeing of the cosmic consciousness.

Many Westerners, including theologians and philosophers, speak of an objective world, but only insofar as it serves as the sphere of the ego’s freedom. The real starting point of modern-day liberalism is not the encyclopedists and the philosophes but the members of the Sturm und Drang.

Contrary to popular held belief Europe is not a culture of postmodern thought, if we are to define “postmodern” as a mindset in direct opposition to religion. Rather, the postmodern mind in Europe is increasingly open to the practice of spirituality on a number of different levels. Europe, and following on its heels, America, may be post-Christian, but they are not post-religious. Far from being secular and anti-religion the future world is one in which hyper-religious movements will flourish.

The difference now, so it is said, is that metaphysics is no longer in vogue. But “biblical” metaphysics were not in vogue during the historic period of nineteenth-century Romanticism. The infinite beyond was a cover for the cosmic ego. Postmodern thinkers who claim no interest in metaphysics are merely Romantics who have now decided to come clean. I call them “Neo-Romantics.” Today, most Christian colleges, universities, and Divinity Schools in both America and Europe encourage a form of Christianity that places the radical ego at the center.

Despite the claim that all theological reflection ought to begin with Jesus of Nazareth, I cannot help but think that some theologians make this claim out of their own individual social, political, and cultural awareness. Today, theological ideas are so unpretentiously expressed in familiar language interwoven with the common biblical vernacular, God-speak, and spiritual insights that the agnostic, radical underpinnings of religious viewpoints are ignored.

If in fact the West (and also Africa and Asia), is not post-religious, but post-Christian, then people are hungry for answers of a religious nature. This means that Protestant theology must do better. The Christian theologian must see this hunger as the urgency of the moment and address it biblically: according to the true hope and promise of cultural and social progress that only Jesus can deliver. But one thing will not work: biblical and theological answers that are cut from the same scrap of cloth that is soaked in the despair of the age, whereby the best we can do is to muster “the courage to be.” The need of the hour is for the Church to take its place in the culture; to take a prophetic stand and to call nations to a “lively hope” (1 Pet. 1:3); to faith and obedience; to a life with Jesus that Paul distills as “faith working itself out through love” (Gal. 5:6).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Athiest Thinks Africa Needs God

TimesOnline December 27, 2008

by Matthew Parris...

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

At 24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.

We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers - in some ways less so - but more open.

This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.

It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man's place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.

I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.

Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds - at the very moment of passing into the new - that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it's there,” he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Need for the Biblical World and Life View to Reform African Culture


I have a new article on The Road From Eden that offers a modest vision for the reform of African culture. Obviously, it offers only a part of what is needed. But check out the article at my website. You can link to it just to the right of this post or go to www.roadfromeden.com It is under Culture/Articles. A partial excerpt from the article is below...

Religious pluralism is endemic to African traditional religion (ATR). It animates the social and cultural conditions not only of African religion but also of many cultural forms throughout the continent. More specifically, religious pluralism is having a direct effect on the ways in which Christianity is understood and practiced in most areas of Africa. It is the worldview of religious pluralism that must be challenged in order for biblical Christianity to emerge and take hold of Africa.

This challenge cannot be addressed by a narrow evangelistic model but by a rigorous biblical theology focused on the teaching of the Christian world and life view. With the firm rooting of biblical theology, the Christian worldview can supplant the prevailing pluralistic worldview of ATR. Adding more converts into a system that is systemically pluralistic in its understanding of life is not helpful.

Contrary to the tenants of religious pluralism (all roads lead to God) there is need for a wholesale renaissance in many African’s thinking that can provide fertile soil for the growth of a true understanding of the uniqueness of Christ and of his salvation and transform African life.

What are the particular ramifications of religious pluralism in African nations struggling to define an African expression of Christianity? How can biblical Christianity address the problem of religious pluralism and help bring true and lasting reformation to Africa? I will address these questions under three headings: 1) The problem of African religious pluralism; 2) The five sources of religious pluralism in Africa; 3) The Christian answer for African religious pluralism.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

John Frame's Festschrift


Speaking the Truth in Love: the Theology of John M. Frame is now available. I must say that it is a true blessing to participate by contributing a chapter to this volume. My contribution is titled, "John Frame's Theology in the Present Cultural Context."

One reason why my involvement is meaningful to me is because there are three people who have influenced my ministry the most over the past 25 years. When I mention the three names, many people are stunned that one of them is John Frame. The other two, by the way, are the late Jack Miller, and Henry Krabbendam.

Now here's a real secret that I rarely tell anyone. Behind all three of these men is yet another figure who has influenced me even more than these; in fact, he did much to guide the thought of the three men mentioned above. He is Cornelius Van Til.

But focusing on the three, I would say that it is John Frame who did the most to fashion the way in which I think about ministry (Dr. Miller helped to put in me a zeal for evangelism and missions, and Dr. Krabbendam shaped the way in which I look for truth in the Bible).

John is not even aware of how he influenced me (of course, if he reads my chapter he may get a hint). It all started when he walked up to a group of us students who were sitting around getting to know each other, and asked, "What are you guys talking about?" One fellow responded, "We're discussing Cornelius Van Til." John said, "Everything Van Til ever said can be boiled down to two ideas: that all men undeniably know the truth. And that the only way to approach them is to pull the rug right out from under them."

I'll never forget that moment. Suddenly, everything came together. Graduating college with a music degree, and with no formal training in theology, made me quite nervous about attending Westminster Theological Seminary. It all seemed so overwhelming. But John's words were the perfect "hat rack" if you will, that helped me to place everything I was being exposed to, and rapidly, in its place.

From that moment, I began to see everything in my theological education in the light of his distilled interpretation of Van Til. Once I graduated seminary, and to this day, everything I have ever done in the ministry--whether preaching, teaching, evangelism, radio broadcasting, and writing, has been guided by the facts that all men know the truth but suppress it in their hearts (Romans 1).

Is it not amazing how just a few words meant in passing can have a lifelong impact on the life of a student? So it is with this recollection that I am more than glad to have participated in the "Fest."


Traditional Wordview Categories

“A biblical Worldview is seeing the world the way God sees it. It is thinking God’s thoughts after him in all areas of life” (Earth Restored, 2002).


As those of you who have read my book Earth Restored know, I do not typically treat the topic of Christian worldview according to philosophical categories, as is typically the case in many Christian colleges. However, this is not to say that we cannot learn a great deal from the traditional categories. The following offers a list of the traditional worldview elements and their implications for our cultural debate, much of which follows the thinking of Ronald Nash.

Epistemology
: “The branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity.”

Secular humanism claims that the basis for knowledge is autonomous reason.

The God Christians believe in is the God who has revealed himself in the Old and New Testaments. The Christian faith is a revealed-religion. Ronald Nash says that Christianity’s “touchstone proposition” is that “Human beings and the universe in which they reside are the creation of the God who has revealed himself in Scripture. The basic presupposition of the Christian world-view is the existence of the God revealed in Scripture.” The foundation of the Christian faith is the authority than the living God, not human speculation and vain autonomy. Carl Henry correctly observes, “All merely human affirmations about God curl into a question mark. We cannot spy out the secrets of God by obtrusive curiosity. …Apart from God's initiative, God’s act, God's revelation, no confident basis exists for God-talk. …If we are authorized to say anything at all about the living God, it is only because of God's initiative and revelation. God's disclosure alone can transform our wavering questions concerning ultimate reality into confident exclamations!”

Metaphysics: “The branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, substance and attribute, fact and value.”

Metaphysics deals with ultimate reality and questions such as “What is the meaning of existence? Of life? Is the existence of the universe a brute fact? Is the universe eternal? Secularism holds there is no ultimate meaning to life beyond the grave.

The Christian response is that God did create the whole universe out of nothing (ex nihilo) and that God is a free and eternal being. Christians affirm that the universe and all that is in it finds its ultimate meaning and purpose in God.

Secular humanism posits evolutionary theory or the earth as a “brute fact.”

Christian worldview understands that God is and that He is the source of all existence. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory most loving gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.”

Anthropology: “The scientific study of the origin, the behavior, and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans.”

The Christian worldview should include a number of important beliefs about human beings. “Are human beings free? Are human beings only bodies or material beings? Do they have a soul? What is the soul and how is it related to the body? Is death the end of personal existence?” Humanism says that man is a “cunning animal.” A product of the lower species.

Quoting William J. Abraham, Nash considers what the Christian worldview believes about human beings. Abraham states: “Human beings are made in the image of God, and their fate depends on their relationship with God...and they will be judged in accordance with how they respond to him. This judgment begins now but finally takes place beyond death in a life to come. Christians furthermore offer a diagnosis of what is wrong with the world. Fundamentally, they say our problems are spiritual: we need to be made anew by God. Human beings have misused their freedom; they are in a state of rebellion against God; they are sinners. These conclusions lead to a set of solutions to this ill. As one might expect, the fundamental solution is again spiritual… [I]n Jesus of Nazareth God has intervened to save and remake mankind. Each individual needs to respond to this and to become part of Christ's body, the church, where they are to grow in grace and become more like Christ. This in turn generates a certain vision of the future. In the coming of Jesus, God has inaugurated his kingdom, but it will be consummated at some unspecified time in the future when Christ returns.” Christianity answers the questions of human origin, purpose and destiny from the Bible. It offers a realistic analysis of human suffering and how man’s fallen condition can be restored.

Ethics: “The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy.”

Christian ethics addresses the questions posed by Francis Shaeffer, “How then shall we live?” Everyday unbelievers appear to live moral lives. But ethics as a worldview factor is more concerned with the basis of our actions and their relationship to God. Further, Christian ethics asks “Are moral laws the same for all human beings? Is morality totally subjective or is there an objective dimension to moral laws that means their truth is independent of our preferences and desires?” Secular humanism bases moral choice in situational ethics or communal deference. We defer our choice to the well-being of others, saying, “If it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s OK.”

The Christian worldview claims why and how one “ought” to live; what conduct is permissible or impermissible. Christians claim that it is God’s good, righteous and holy character revealed in his laws, rules and principles that are the ground for our behavior and even our thoughts. The unbeliever, regardless of how ethical he or she may appear, lives by personal preference, autonomous reason, and cultural convention. It is important to note that everyone has a worldview: some foundation for his or her view of things. Not every worldview, however, reflects God’s truth.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Substitutionary Atonement

"We are drifted so far that some 'evangelicals' can call penal substitution divine child abuse."--William Mackenzie, Director, Christian Focus Publications.

See Full Speech at Desiring God

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Plight of East African Children

I have written a short piece titled, "The Plight of East African Children in the Light of 2 Kings 2:1-7." It appears on my website, www.roadfromeden.com which you can link to on this site.

The piece interacts with several articles in a major Ugandan newspaper called The New Vision, as well as some statistics relevant to the children of Uganda. I read the newspaper while flying from Entebbe to Amsterdam on my way home to the States.

I freely admit that the article does not do justice to the whole of the problem facing the children of East Africa, but it may offer you a brief bit of insight into a root cause of the problem.

I plan on several more such articles dealing with East African culture and society.

Please read it when you get a chance and feel free to offer some feedback.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Have Christians Lost the Culture War on ESPA


The Evangelical Political Scholars Association homepage is this month highlighting my recent presentation at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church: "Have Christians Lost the Culture War?"

EPSA exists to facilitate a professional network of evangelical scholars interested in exploring the questions that underlie political life. You can share your thoughts on my speech by visiting the ESPA website at http://epsa.tkc.edu/

In case you are interested, above is a rendering of John Locke, a bit of a political thinker himself.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Into Africa


I have returned from Kenya and Uganda, where for one week I ministered to a group of pastors in Kenya and a group of Bishops in Uganda. I was traveling with Equipping Pastors International (EPI). Being a cultural historian and theologian of culture, I must say that the experience was personally stimulating and instructive.

There are many aspects of East Africa culture that are worthy of report, issues that I will try to take up in an article or two on my website, www.roadfromeden.com. However, here I will mention just one observations from my trip regarding the cultural situation in this troubled region of the world.

Uganda won its liberty from Great Britain in 1962, followed closely by Kenya in 1963. Liberty is a priceless treasure, but unless individuals and nations know how to handle liberty, it can quickly turn into a prison, manifesting great religious, tribal, and political abuse. Such is the case with these two nations, it seems to me. Being an American, with a decidedly American outlook, I was careful not to present myself to Africans as if I had the answers to their problems. So I spent a great deal of time listening to them and observing.

Time and again, and this is especially the case regarding Uganda, I heard how African culture runs on money. Graft, greed, and malfeasance are the name of the game. You pay to play. These sins are the inevitable result of covetousness, an issue taken up by the 10th Commandment, but also a commandment that sums up the first nine commandments. Lying, stealing, worshiping other gods -- it all boils down to one thing: coveting something that does not belong to you.

Forget what you have heard, that AIDS is "the" national pandemic in Africa. AIDS is a problem to be sure. However, beneath the surface lurks an even deadlier disease. The real pandemic in this beautiful continent, and its many nations, is covetousness: the lust for what people do not have, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to get it. The spiritual problem is the underlying cause of the physical problems that are rife in the nations I was privileged to visit.

The amazing thing about it is that both Kenya and Uganda are rich. The natural resources are there and are plentiful. The work force is there and is plentiful. The God of heaven and earth is there and is plentiful. What do others have worth taking by means of bribe or theft that they cannot earn by their own hard work and with God's abundant blessing? I have never seen a place so capable of natural production yet so marred by bareness and brokenness.














I visited Kibera, Kenya where the third worst slum in the world is to be found. Kibari is 3.3 kilometers in size and is home to 70,000 people! There is no electricity. No decent water. Not even squat latrines. The people place their refuse in plastic bags and hurl them into a field. The ground and the air is rife with plaques of all sorts. I had my picture taken in front of Kibera (see pic above). Moments later, a young boy named Roberto approached me, and shook my hand. He is 10 years old. His pastor standing nearby, said to me, "He has our national pandemic." I asked, "What is that?" He replied, "HIV." I felt it an honor to meet young Roberto, and my prayers are with him.

But I go back to my original thought. How can it be that 70,000 people (and incidentally, about 80 percent of Kenyans live in these terrible conditions), live in slums like this suffering everything from Malaria to AIDS, while it is patently obvious that the resources are available to help, and to help with so many other problems facing the people of East Africa? The U.N is attempting to help. Oxfam is trying. Many organizations are busy. But the problem is that the vast majority of monies that enter these countries meant for the the poor and the destitute go right into the pockets of leaders bent, not on helping their people, but on elicit gain.

So Kenya and Uganda are free. But are they? Hope that East African pastors, political leaders, and more, will understand and teach a simple principle taught many years ago in the Bible: that should we gain our liberty, we ought not to use it as an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). Rather, God makes us free in order that we might serve others, to bear their own burdens (Galatians 6:2).

Join me in prayer for these two nations.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Taste of Heaven?



On Fox news, Shepherd Smith first drew out attention to a new phenomenon, if you choose to call it that, in which people are now eating hamburger, laden with cheese, and whatever, and putting it all between a sliced, Crispy Cream doughnut. Some years ago, it was Aristotle who mentioned the need for "balance" in all things. But the issue is really not one "balance" but of glorifying God in all that we do, in this case, our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

It may appear as a small thing, but to apply the claims of Christ to our ever-dissolving culture, we must not overlook a single thing. Is putting a hamburger between a doughnut (see the video above and you'll gain a better sense of how hedonistically wacko this idea is) too small a thing for a Christian response? We live in a culture of pleasure, and one that is forever discovering news ways to seek it, even in the most cavalier and indeed stupid ways. The hamburger/doughnut combo is the equivalent of skateboarding down a rail-banister. It may be new, thrilling, and in some sense exotic, but in the end dangerous and mindless, insofar as it produces nothing more than a sense of an Art-Nouveau form of sensual pleasure. Even the Epicureans had more sense than this. If Christians are to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, as part of our grand cultural mandate, let's not feel it beneath us to have something constructive to say about something even as far-fetched and ill-advised as a greasy hamburger on an even greasier doughnut.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Unclear Policy Losing Afgan War



It ought to be clear that the Obama Administration is trying to have it both ways. It wants to appear strong in the face of world aggression while placate the far-left. The problem is that war is not a patient game. The realities of what is happening on the ground will not wait until the administration lawyers figure out how to straddle the picket-fence without turning themselves into castrato singers.

Meanwhile, people are dying. This is what happens when armies flinch. We see this pattern time and time again in Scripture. Armies that hesitate lose.

There is a further spiritual truth to glean from all of this -- a teaching point, if you will. One day a man asked Jesus if he could be one of his followers. But the man first wanted to go home to say goodbye to his family. Jesus, sensing the man's conflicted desire to be a true follower, responded, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." There are several good reasons why Jesus replied as he did. But one especially worth noting is that the man who hesitates in enacting the cost of discipleship, will likely hesitate when confronted on the field of spiritual warfare. The Obama administration's foreign policy began conflicted over what is best, and now we are seeing the logical outcome of the this confusion on the field of battle.

The words from a similar parable ought to be considered by every US President. Jesus said, "Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? "Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace" (Luke 14:31-32).

See also http://www.glocktalk.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1125674

By the way, for those who don't know what a castrato singer sounds like, try this.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Ant and the Grasshopper

A new version...a little different from Aesop's

OLD VERSION: The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed.

The grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be responsible for yourself

MODERN VERSION: The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food. America is stunned by the sharp contrast.

How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper and everybody cries when they sing, 'It's Not Easy Being Green.'

Acorn stages a demonstration in front of the ant 's house where the news stations film the group singing, 'We shall overcome.' Rev. Jeremiah Wright then has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.

Nancy Pelosi & Harry Reid exclaim in an interview with Larry King that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Finally, the EEOC drafts the Economic Equity & Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer.

The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the Government Green Czar.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper finishing up the last bits of the ants food while the government house he is in, which just happens to be the ant's old house, crumbles around him because he doesn't maintain it.

The ant has disappeared in the snow.

The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the once peaceful neighborhood.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be careful how you vote in 2010

Monday, September 28, 2009

Recent Survey Indicates Downward Trend Among Churches

The ARIS 2008 survey was carried out during February-November 2008 and collected answers from 54,461 respondents who were questioned in English or Spanish.

The American population self-identifies as predominantly Christian but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian.

• 86% of American adults identified as Christians in 1990 and 76% in 2008.

• The historic Mainline churches and denominations have experienced the steepest declines while the non-denominational Christian identity has been trending upward particularly since 2001.

• The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.

34% of American adults considered themselves “Born Again or Evangelical Christians” in 2008.
The U. S. population continues to show signs of becoming less religious, with one out of every five Americans failing to indicate a religious identity in 2008.

• The “Nones” (no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic) continue to grow, though at a much slower pace than in the 1990s, from 8.2% in 1990, to 14.1% in 2001, to 15.0% in 2008.

• Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.

One sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.

Based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification in 2008, 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unknowable or unsure), and another 12% are deistic (a higher power but no personal God).

America’s religious geography has been transformed since 1990. Religious switching along with Hispanic immigration has significantly changed the religious profile of some states and regions. Between 1990 and 2008, the Catholic population proportion of the New England states fell from 50% to 36% and in New York it fell from 44% to 37%, while it rose in California from 29% to 37% and in Texas from 23% to 32%.

Overall the 1990-2008 ARIS time series shows that changes in religious self-identification in the first decade of the 21st century have been moderate in comparison to the 1990s, which was a period of significant shifts in the religious composition of the United States.

So what do we make of these statistics? While people may be fleeing traditional churches, it also appears that they are not embracing atheism or agnosticism, but still claim to hold to a belief in God. Many of these people apparently find it permissible to worship God as they please without any formalized religious affiliation at all. What are the causes of disaffection from traditional churches? Why do others believe they can worship God and reject any form of church?

In addition to addressing the basic meaning of the born again experience, John Piper addresses these sorts of questions, and the trends in American religious life, in his new book Finally Alive. Among many good arguments, Piper draws on The Barna Research group and some of their questions to draw distinctions.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Are You Sharing Your Faith?

“What is the most important thing that has ever happened to you?” “What is therefore the most important thing you can do for someone else?” Living for what is important is what the Great Commission is all about.

The first and last thing Jesus said to a disciple was to share their faith.

Matt. 4:1 says "And He said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.'" And Matt. 28:18-20 records, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'"

These words apply to all Christians. Nonetheless, statistics reveal that only 2 percent of believers actively share their faith. There is clearly a discrepancy between our public pronouncements regarding the priority of The Great Commission of our Lord and our actions. But “Actions speak louder than words.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Relationship of Genesis 1:28 and 2:25 to Culture

How does the contemporary church derive its responsibility to develop all levels of cuture to the glory of God from an ancient command to rule over the animals? There are three ways.

I. Historical development. Man’s stewardship would eventually lead him from his humble agrarian beginnings to develop all the earth’s resources as a means to advance worldwide civilizations. For example, a man needs to harvest his wheat. But to do so he needs a plow. To make a plow he needs other tools that he makes from the earth’s resources. To help him make his tools he needs workers. To care for his workers he must pay them. His ability to pay them is based largely on economic conditions, which leads him to theorize on the relationship of economics with politics, social ethics, and religion. This leads him to form cultural and educational institutions that seek a synthesis of such ideas.

II. Grammatical relationship. In Gen. 2:15 the Hebrew word translated “cultivate” is ‘awbad’, which means “to work or serve.” The English word “cultivate” comes from the Latin root, colere, meaning cultivator or planter. The Latin root, colere is also the root of the word “culture,” which is a general term that describes the ways and customs of a people-group or civilization. Consequently, the work of the dominion mandate is an all-inclusive concept that extends to every sphere of life.

III. Biblical Theology. Although the Cultural Mandate was given to the first man its scope extends through the covenants God made with his people in the Old and New Testaments. This continuity is seen in the language of the covenants (Gen. 9:1-17; Gen. 12:1-3; Gen. 15:1-17; Gen. 17:1-22, Ex. 19:5; 2 Sam. 23:5; 1 Kings 8) in the Old Testament.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gun Rights

Had a brief email correspondence today with a very old and dear Christian friend who for many years has fought for American's 2nd Amendment rights. The chat jogged my memory of another Christian man who, years ago, quipped to me, "You can't defend gun rights from the Bible. Where is the word 'gun' in the Bible?"

I responded, "Oh it's there. It's called 'liberty.'"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Different Views on Culture Between Paganism and Christianity

Escape from our responsibility to society is not new. 1st and 2nd century paganism held that the material world is bad, but the spiritual world is good. Therefore, many ancients believed that true spirituality was achieved by separation from the material world through knowledge and passage to the new.

Wherever pagan dualism touched people it created shallow indifference to government, marriage, procreation, and and work. Parts of Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Corinthians were written to combat this vile threat.

For Paul, and for the rest of the biblical writers, the difference between first century Christianity and the pagans of their day was not that Christianity affirmed the existence of a spiritual world, but that it affirmed the material world as good and as a viable forum for life and ministry.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama Healthcare

In listening to President Obama's speech on Healthcare last evening, this thought came to mind.

"He who controls your healthcare, controls your body, and he who controls your body, controls you?"

An overstatement? Perhaps a bit. But maybe it can provide a little more food for fodder.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Creation/Redemption

I. There is no escaping the fact that the work of the Son finds its principle expression in the great dual motif of creation/redemption.

A. Creation. While the Father and the Spirit perform important jobs in the creation of the heavens and the earth, John ultimately recognizes the pre-existent Word, the second person of the Triune God, as the Creator.

1. John 1:1-3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being, that has not come into being” Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities –all things have been created through Him and for Him”

B. Redemption. Colossians 1:16, 12-22, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins…And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.”

1. Thus, the Lord of creation is the King of redemption. Biblically, the creation (from which culture is crafted) is no less important in God’s grand scheme than is spiritual experience. Christians are to live “embodied” lives in the concrete world.

II. The Role of Nature in the “Good News.”

A. The ability of creation to serve as metaphor for spiritual truth is replete in scripture.
1. Isa. 40:10. Isaiah’s prophecy of John’s ministry is followed by a reference to the creation that in striking terms is also called to get itself ready for the anticipated arrival of the King. “Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low, and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley” (v. 4).

2. Psalm 42:1-2. The psalmist regularly appeals to the workings of the creation to illustrate a myriad of spiritual truths, including his own need for God. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” Further, God’s Sabbath rest from all His work in creating the heavens and the earth serves as the basis for man’s spiritual rest in Christ alone for salvation (cf. Hebrews 4).

3. Jesus’ ministry. He demonstrates mastery over the creation, making the winds and the seas obey Him at His beckoned command. The message is that just as Jesus can still the storm on the outside, He can still the storm on the inside of the heart of man (cf. Matthew 14:17f).

III. The creation as an object of God’s saving intent.
A.In addition to the shifting movement of the creation serving as vivid metaphor of the living hope enjoyed by God’s people, it is more than that. The creation is also an object of the Messiah’s saving intent.

1. Gen. 1:2, Through the sheer act of creation God redeems the world from darkness, makes life to appear, and causes His temple to dwell in the midst of His creation.

2. In God’s covenant with Noah he pledges never again to destroy the earth with a flood, but to delay judgment by regulating the seasons and preserving life according to his purposes. God does not just covenant with Noah and his family, but also with “every living creature on earth” (9:10). Classic theology calls this covenant the Covenant with Nature or the Universal Covenant. This covenant, though it infers God’s eventual judgment upon the earth in fire, also serves as a redeeming action until the final judgment. Galatians 3:17 modern believers have a share in God’s covenant with Noah’s family.

3. See Romans 8.

4. To this point: These facts assume a mutual response: every part of the creation serves and recognizes the Lord’s redemption while redemption includes every part of the creation. Consequently, the creation/redemption are not parallel themes, but demonstrate one, Divine purpose applied to both the natural and the spiritual realms.

IV. The Cosmic Scope of the Gospel

A. Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities –all things have been created by Him and for Him” (Romans 11:36.

1. Nonetheless, since Adam’s transgression the world at large has been full of people, trends, ideas, and institutions that refuse to acknowledge the Son’s supremacy in everything. The gospel seeks to change that.

2. Colossians 1:19-20, Paul writes, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” Note that Paul does not say that God reconciled only the elect to Himself at the cross, but rather He reconciled “all things” to Himself (see also Ephesians 1:22).

3. People tend to restrict Christ’s death to a payment for the sins of His people at Calvary, but what his blood also purchased is a new creation where all sin, misery, death, and evil will be put asunder. God will renew the lower parts of the creation because Christ paid the price of its redemption. The cross is the fount from which all God’s saving objectives find expression.

4. The comprehensive nature of Christ’s redeeming work directly challenges the narrow perception of the gospel as articulated in the typical, modern-day evangelistic encounter that seeks to tap into people’s dissatisfaction with things generally or life in particular.

B. 1 Corinthians 15. “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand” (15:1).

1. The common evangelical understanding of the gospel focuses on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Paul’s powerful teaching does not end at the resurrection of Christ. Vss. 20-28.

2. New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright, observes of Paul’s gospel presentation, “He [Paul] is emphasizing the universal scope of God’s reconciling purposes; nothing less than a total new creation is envisaged.” Through the remarkable event of the crucifixion all things were delivered over to Christ. It is as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was reconciling the world to Himself.” Because Christ created the cosmos for his purposes and glory his blood supplies nothing less than the foundation for cosmic redemption. It is within Christ’s reconciling purpose for the Universe that the individual finds significance and purpose.

3. Those that claim to minister the gospel yet are loath to apply its meaning to the tangible progression of history simply do not understand the full import of the gospel for all of life.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Are Christians to Submit to Government...Always?

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:1-4).

Paul’s teaching in Romans 13:1-4 regarding Christian submission to government must be seen in light of the whole of the Bible’s teaching. The Bible says that believers are to be in submission to civil government, but also those who govern are to be in submission to God (c.f. Psalm 2, Daniel 4:34-35). No government can say it rose to power on its own (c.f. John 19:11). God has established governing authorities to reward those who do good and to be an “avenger” upon those who do evil. Biblically there is no double standard for good and evil. All nations must honor God’s law or be brought to an end. (Daniel 2:31-35).

The Bible is clear that the magistrate is not free to create and enforce his own arbitrary set of laws to serve his own ignoble ends (c.f. Isaiah 5:20). To do so would be a license for tyranny, something Jesus opposed (c.f. Luke 22:25-26). As a “minister of God,” the civil government is charged with upholding God’s justice, not man’s quest for totalitarian control over others. Nations that throw off God’s law face severe punishment. The blessings and curses that relate to the Law given to Israel apply equally to all nations of the world (c.f. Psalm 82:7).

Therefore, Paul is not giving carte blanche to all governmental actions. Rather, he is pointing to God’s intended design for government. He is mainly concerned with submission to the principle of authority – the function that God has appointed the magistrate to fulfill.

Gary DeMar writes, “Paul is describing what a ruler’s proper function is. The apostle is not making a moral judgment about any particular ruler or political party. Rather, his words describe what civil governments ought to be and ought to do."

The context of Romans 13 reveals that there is no basis to conclude that Paul was encouraging Christians to submit to political oppression. His main concern is submission to the principle of authority as it comes from God.