Saturday, January 26, 2008

Right Angles

A while back, I was talking to someone in a church membership class about our church’s traditional position on women in ministry (complementarian, for those who are into the lingo). When I was challenged on this, I pointed out that the church always has a responsibility to be clear on biblical issues, but particularly when the surrounding culture has abandoned those ideas or is confused about them. I asked, “Can you think of another issue in our culture that is more muddled and unbiblical than gender?” I urged that we need to be at right-angles to the culture when the culture is clearly at odds with biblical teaching. When the would flounders, the church must speak with an authoritative voice.

This isn’t a post on gender issues, it’s a post on Christianity and culture issues. How should we speak to and about a watching world in order to be most honouring to God and most useful in our generation regarding Gospel proclamation?

The contemporary evangelical church is full of “we’ll come along-side, we’re not much different than you” voices. What we need desperately are some prophets; prophets who are willing to stand at right angles to culture – including the contemporary evangelical culture – and say hard things.

I'm thankful that the church has some of those prophetic voices; John Piper, Albert Mohler and Ravi Zacharias spring to mind, as do Mark Driscoll and Doug Wilson. These men are not afraid to stand at right angles to the prevailing winds of mainstream doctrine and thought.

I think it was Chesterton who said that any old dead thing can float downstream, and so much of what is popular today is caught up in the flotsam and jetsam of trendy Western culture (this brings up another value of the prophet: Their messages don't go out of style).

The quote in the post below by David Wells (an excellent prophet for the church, by the way), is a great example of speaking at right angles to the latest trends in the evangelical world. The Kingdom of God is God's! We who love the truth of God's Word ought to be alarmed by those who are teaching the latest brand of "kingdom now" doctrine that is coming largely from the Emergent circles. Brian McLaren's, The Secret Message of Jesus is a good example of this "radical new understanding" (read the first appendix for a defense of this "new" teaching). His essential message is that the church must downplay its emphasis on individual salvation and its focus on Heaven and work to realize the kingdom here and now through social action. In truth, this is a recycled version of the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th Century.

So then, they're saying, "We're going to focus on peace and love and making the world a better place without judging anyone for their religious beliefs." Find the right-angled, prophetic word in that statement. Radical, eh?

If we love truth, we must speak and live at right angles to conventional thinking. Likewise, if we love people, we must tell them the truth about our Holy God, sin, Heaven and Hell. If people are going to hear us, we're going to have to speak up and speak clearly - particularly on the many areas that are fuzzy and confused in popular thinking.

What got me thinking along these lines this morning was a quote that I came across as I was reading my blogs:

"To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures."-- Flannery O’Connor

That's exactly what I'm talking about (and doesn't that remind you of the Old Testament prophets). We must make truth-connections with people - even people in our pews. Before our world goes totally deaf and blind, right-angles must be primary mode of operation for the church in the 21st Century.

May God raise up many more prophetic voices.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

David Wells on the Kingdom of God

I was reminded of this quote by a comment from Ken Davis on the post right below this one - "Why - we might even stop believing that the future of church is up to us!" Right on, Ken (by the way, I wish I could be with you folks this weekend at the conference).

This is a repost of a quote from Dr. Well's book, Above All Earthly Pow'rs that I did a while ago on this blog. When I went looking for this post, I expected that I would find it just a few months ago. It turns out it was way back in March of 2007. Time flies when I'm not blogging.

The arrival of this reign of God was not nationalistically but spiritually focused, which was what caused the consternation among many of Jesus' hearers. Nevertheless, the prophetic vision began to be realized, albeit in an entirely unexpected way, that God would scatter his enemies (Mic. 4:11-13; Is. 13:19; cf. Joel 3:1-17; Zech. 12:1-9), for Satan's forces were being thrown into disarray (Matt. 12:28-29) and they recognized with fear who Jesus was (Mk. 1:24; 5:7-8). The note of judgment which fell on the cities (Lk. 21:20-24; 23:27-31; Matt. 11:20-24) fell decisively on the powers of darkness and Satan's household was plundered (Mk. 3:27).

All of this happened under God's sovereign hand. We can search for the Kingdom of God, pray for it, and look for it, but only God can bring it about (Lk. 23:51; Matt. 6:10, 33; Lk. 12:31). The Kingdom is God's to give and to take away; it is only ours to enter and accept (Matt. 21:43; Lk. 12:32). We can inherit it, possess it, or refuse to enter it, but it is not ours to build and we can never destroy it (Matt. 25:34; Lk. 10:11). We can work for the Kingdom, but we can never act upon it; we can preach it, but it is God's to establish (Matt. 10:7; Lk. 10:9, 12:32). All of this is an expression of the eschatological framework present throughout the New Testament. It has profound ramifications for its doctrines of salvation and the way in which it speaks of hope. God's inbreaking, saving, vanquishing Rule is his from first to last. It has no human analogs, not duplicates, no surrogates, allows of no human synergism. The inbreaking of the "age to come" into the present is accomplished by God alone.

– David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005, p. 214.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Great Divorce

In the spirit of, "The more things change the more they stay the same," consider the following quote from C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce (1946). I particularly thought of the postmodern focus on the Kingdom of God being about what we do and their preference of questions to answers.

“Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?”

“Well, that is a plan. I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances … I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness – and scope for the talent that God has given me – and an atmosphere of free inquiry – in short, all that one means by civilisation and – er – the spiritual life.”

“No,” said the other. “I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.”

“Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way! For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? ‘Prove all things’ … to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.”

- C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, p. 40