Archive for the ‘Christianity and Culture’ Category

I referred to a question a few days ago that Mark Driscoll asked in his book, Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers to Timely Questions, ultimately everybody answers the question of who Jesus is and responds in kind.

There is so much conjecture and opinion.  SocietyVS – a regular visitor to this blog said:

I see Jesus as the Christ – Messiah – at the right hand of God in His court – but not God.

A new friend, Steve, responded:

So what do you do with Isaiah?

He said some interesting things about the Messiah:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

And what do you do with John?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1)

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14)

If the Bible is any good at all, the conclusion is inescapable.

What does Jesus have to say about Himself.  A walk through the Gospels we can see that Jesus claims to be God in numerous ways.  Driscoll mentions ten.  I am going to list the first five in this post.

1.  Jesus said He came down from Heaven.

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me, (John 6:38, ESV).

If you read John 6:41-66 you will see that this comment got Him into trouble with the Pharisees, and confounded his own disciples.

2.  Jesus said He was more than just a good man.

A lot of people will say that Jesus is a good teacher and that He (they wouldn’t capitalize he) was a good man.  They tried saying this back in His day as well.

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone, (Mark 10:17-18, ESV).

Jesus healed on the Sabbath and that really infuriated the Pharisees.  He also called God his Father and that also put Him on their “bad” list.

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God, (John 5:18, ESV).

3. Jesus said He is the Son of Man.

Jesus uses this title around 80 times in all four Gospels.  This is a title that we see in the book of Daniel.

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed, (Daniel 7:13-14, NIV).

This passage indicates that he isn’t human.  He is given messianic dominion and authority.  This person is worshiped.  David speaks of this person is Psalm 110.

The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

The Lord sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

4.  Jesus performed miracles.

Driscoll states, “Jesus was a great leader and teacher, but his ministry also included the miraculous – one line of evidence that he was in fact God and more than just another spiritually enlightened person,” (pg. 20).  Jesus says to those challenging Him to view these miracles as evidence.

Do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”  Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands, (John 10:36-39, ESV).

Nearly forty specific miracles are mentioned in the New Testament and nearly a third of the Gospel of Mark deals with His miracles.

5.  Jesus said He is God.

Many cults wrongly deny Jesus’ divinity.  But Scripture clearly illustrate how Jesus said he is God.  His hearers understood his claim.

But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”  And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”  And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need?  You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death, (Mark 14:61-64, ESV).

Also we see in John 8.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple, (John 8:58-59, ESV).

When Jesus names himself “I am,” he was declaring himself to be the same God who revealed himself by the title “I AM”.  In John 10 we see that the Pharisees wanted to stone him for blasphemy.  Why?  Because they understood Jesus was saying that He was God.

So before we make up our minds and say that Jesus isn’t God we really have to closely examine what He said about Himself.  I hope that you will do just that and check out the next post.

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I know there are people from a variety of backgrounds who read this blog.  I just started reading Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers to Timely Questions by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears.  In it Mark, in the opening chapter, asks some great questions that every single person on the globe must answer for themselves.

Who exactly is Jesus?  Is he a good man or God, the half-brother of Lucifer or a prophet, liar or truth-teller, therapist or communist, stand-up comic or just my uber-fly, holy homeboy?

What say you?  Please leave a comment.

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A couple of weeks ago (I don’t seem to be very punctual with doing series posts) I posted on chapter 1 of Kingdom Triangle: Recovering the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power by J.P. Moreland.

Now we look at Chapter 2, “The Naturalist Story” as we go on in this series.


Moreland states right in the beginning:

It is sometimes said that Western culture is living off the borrowed capital of a Judeo-Christian worldview and the loan is past due.

He states that there are two reasons why it is important that followers of Christ realize that this statement is true.

One reason is that people will not look for a reason to satisfy the debt until they realize they are in debt.  People will not embrace the way of Jesus, Moreland contends, if we allow culture to be dominated by elements which reduce following Christ to something that is done in private only.  What is needed?

… a Christian community filled with disciples with eyes to see where the ideas of culture are moving, how they impact the cause of the gospel, and how we can bring a Christian worldview to bear on them.  A good place to start developing those eyes is getting a vision of the intellectual debt our culture owes to a Christian worldview.

Moreland also goes on to say that Christ followers need more courage in the public square and to be confident that what we offer is true, reasonable (our faith should be reasonable, not irrational) and critical for the issues that are front and center in our culture.  Moreland also states that when we understand how powerful and pervasive a Christian worldview is, Christians can gain confidence that is attractive.  It is that type of confidence that is needed to bring honor to Jesus.

Moreland explores the worldview of scientific naturalism (or naturalism for short) – it includes three key elements.

  1. a theory of the nature and limits of knowledge.
  2. the Grand story, a creation story about how everything came into existence, a story described in natural scientifc terms with a central role given to the atomic theory of matter and evolutionary biology.
  3. a physicalist view of reality, according to which everything that exists is either physical or else it depends necessarily on the physical for its emergence and continued existence.

Naturalist epistemology basically believes that whatever exists should be knowable by third-person scientific means.  Scientific knowledge is either the only kind of knowledge out there or it is vastly superior to any other forms of knowledge.  It is the scientific epistemology of naturalism that is pervasive in the university, the public schools, and the media.

This epistemology makes its mark in the origins debate.  Most who hold to the scientific epistemology of naturalism believe that the physical cosmos is all there is, was, or ever will be.  They believe this because they believe it is their “creation” story that has the backing of science.  You can see the backlash of this belief with the Theory of Intelligent Design, which is automatically labeled “religion masquerading as science.”

This leads then to the naturalist’s view of reality

The picture of reality that results from this creation story (which is, in turn, the only story alleged to have the support of scientific ways of knowing) is physicalism: The physical, material cosmos is all ther is, was, or ever will be.  Everything exists is either physical or can be show to emerge of necessity from the physical when it is in a suitably complex arrangement.  The naturalist view of reality is either reductionist ore eliminativist: What you cannot reduce to (identify with) the physical you must eliminate, pretend that it does not exist.

This view doesn’t adequately account for the world as it currently is though.  It doesn’t explain consciousness, it doesn’t explain secondary qualities (like colors, smells, tastes, sounds, & textures).  It also doesn’t explain goodness, rightness, beauty, and intellectual properties.  It doesn’t even account for the conditions for our existence. 

Naturalism ultimately doesn’t explain the meaning of life, and that essentially makes it a thin worldview.  Because with out meaning there can be no drama.  Naturalism fails to give a “rich, objective meaning to life that can be known and realized in our lives” as a result of not measuring up to the following factors.

  1. It lacks free will to ground responsibility, creativity, praise, and blame.  Freedom is incompatible with one’s actions are being determined factors that are outside their control.
  2. It lacks the ability to grasp that real intrinsic value that can be known and factored into our lives.
  3. It lacks the ability to acknowledge the reality of evil, provide an explanation of its origin, and offer hope that it is ultimately redeemed and defeated.
  4. It cannot affirm that human beings have equally intrinsic value simply as such.
  5. It leaves no room for teleology (things that happen for a purpose or future goal) and a purpose in the cosmos relevant to human life.
  6. It lacks a satisfying answer to the question, “Why should I be moral?”

Naturalism and the five crucial questions:

  1. What is real?  It implies that the physical world is all there is.
  2. What are the nature and limits of knowledge?  It occurs only within the bounds of our senses and the scientific method.
  3. Who is well off?  What is the good life?  The good life is whatever you freely choose for yourself, like a life of social recognition and success (which is likely financial, academic or artistic success).
  4. Who is a really good person? A really good person is one who is true to his or her own ideals and is tolerant of others.
  5. How does one become a really good person?  Hardly any advice given on how to become a good person.

Comparing this to the worldview of Jesus, Moreland claims:

In light of these five questions, naturalism is exposed as the shallow, destructive fraud that it really is.  By contrast, the worldview of Jesus provides deep, satisfying true answers to these questions.  For Jesus, the basic reality is the Triune God and his wonderful Kingdom.  We have knowledge of a wide variety of things, including theological and ethical knowledge.  The well-off person is anyone who is alive in the Kingdom of God, irrespective of his or her life’s circumstances.  The good person is the one who is pervaded with agape love and who manifests the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Gal. 5:22-23).  The way to become a good person is to enlist as an apprentice of Jesus in Kingdom living.

According to Moreland, the way of Jesus in comparison with naturalism is “the only game in town!”  What do you think?

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Something I’ve noticed lately has got me thinking… why is it that a lot of Christians I know tend to gravitate to contemporary selections when it comes to extra-biblical reading?  That is if they read.  Many don’t read anything beyond fiction.  I’ve taken the opposite extreme, I tend only to read non-fiction books that are ministry, apologetics or theology related.

This is a trend I’ve seen among pastors as well.  Youth pastors tend to be the worst culprits.  There isn’t anything wrong with reading new stuff, but I tend to think that if that is all of the reading we do we are not balanced.

Also a trend I’ve seen with pastors, and youth pastors in particular, is loading up on ministry “how to” books.  Again, nothing wrong with that, but balance is they key as well.  Also I’ve noticed with many Christians a lack of desire to tread deep in theological waters.  When I see that same trend in pastors & youth pastors I am fearful.

It bothers me when I see some in ministry being shaped theologically by Rob Bell, Brian McClaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Shane Claiborne, and Tony Campolo.  I wonder if they have read Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Knox, and Huss.  Even perhaps some later theologians (some alive, some with the Lord) like Jonathan Edwards, James Boice, Wayne Grudem, Millard Erickson, John Stott, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, R.C. Sproul, and many others.

The results of this from what I can see have been: theologically shallow sermons, biblically illiterate churches, confused worldviews, and a  trend to exegete the Bible based on culture rather than exegeting the culture with the Bible.

Evangelicals, by and large, don’t tend to think theologically about different positions they hold or beliefs that they have.  Recent surveys have shown that the majority of Evangelicals don’t even think Christianly.  The result being that many times in our beliefs and behavior we don’t really look that much different than the world we should desire to influence.

What do you think?  Am I off base or am I on to something?  I’d love to read your comments.

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I agree with it… so I signed it.


The introduction from the website:

An Evangelical Manifesto is an open declaration of who Evangelicals are and what they stand for. It has been drafted and published by a representative group of Evangelical leaders who do not claim to speak for all Evangelicals, but who invite all other Evangelicals to stand with them and help clarify what Evangelical means in light of “confusions within and the consternation without” the movement. As the Manifesto states, the signers are not out to attack or exclude anyone, but to rally and to call for reform.

As an open declaration, An Evangelical Manifesto addresses not only Evangelicals and other Christians but other American citizens and people of all other faiths in America, including those who say they have no faith. It therefore stands as an example of how different faith communities may address each other in public life, without any compromise of their own faith but with a clear commitment to the common good of the societies in which we all live together.

For those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform—an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life, and so rededicate ourselves to the high calling of being Evangelical followers of Jesus Christ.

Check out the website.

Read the entire 20 page document here.

Sign it here.

Tell your friends about it here.

HT: Matt Proctor

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Today I want to begin a series of posts dealing with Kingdom Triangle by J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.  The three points of the triangle are: Recover the Christian mind, renovate the soul, and restore the Spirit’s power.

Chapter 1 is entitled “The Hunger for Drama in a Thin World”


Chapter one is about our desire for drama.  We like it.  We crave it.  We desire it.  We’ll do much to have it.  Often times we fall short.  It fuels our passion for great movies, good novels and exciting sporting events (or… artsy stuff too I suppose).  We watch, read and attend, but then go back to a life that quite frankly seems boring and dull.  J.P. Moreland writes:

It is precisely this convergence of two factors – a persistent hunger for drama and a feeling of boredom with our own lives – that creates and addiction to dramatic stories, media-driven celebrities, sports, or other vicarious substitutes for our own authentic drama.  This tells us two things: We were made for greatness, but there is something about our culture that undermines both its intelligibility and achievement, (pg. 21).

Herein lies the problem – we live in what Moreland describes as a “sensate” culture in the West.  This is where people only “believe in the reality of the physical universe capable of being experienced with the five senses.”

Contrast that with an “ideational” culture which embraces not only the sensory world, but goes further and accepts the idea that an extra-empirical, immaterial reality can be know as well.  This would consist of spiritual and abstract things.

Out of this sensate culture comes the rejection of any empirical knowledge not gained by “hard sciences”.  Non-empirical claims are regulated to the level of private feelings.

Moreland also notes that there is a three-way struggle between three prevalent worldviews: ethical monotheism, postmodernism, and scientific naturalism.

Scientific naturalism takes the view that the physical cosmos studied by science is all there is.  It has two basic components – a view of reality and a view of how we know things.  Postmodernism represents a form of cultural relativism about such things as reality, truth, reason, value, linguistic meaning, and the self.  To someone who holds a postmodern view there is no such thing as objective reality.  Under the influence of naturalistic and postmodern ideals, Moreland contends, many people no longer believe that there is any meaning to life that can be known.

The pursuit of happiness becomes the focus of life, but people who live this way, who live for happiness become “empty selves.”  A question lingers when the focus is on this pursuit.  Where’s the larger purpose?  Drama is lacking.  This leads to what Moreland calls, “a thin world,” a world where there is no objective value, purpose or meaning.

The implications of this world according to Moreland are:

  • Nothing is important enough to rise above the level of custom.
  • Absent of objective and ultimate meaning and purpose and value there can be no real drama in a thin world.
  • No objective difference between Mother Teresa and someone who devotes his life to being the best male prostitute he can be.

In contrast, a thick world is a world in which there is such a thing as objective values, purpose and meaning.  In this world some things matter and others don’t.  Some things are right and others are wrong.

There is one worldview that is true and therefore superior to all others – thick or thin – and it provides the only hope of living in a thick world, I’m speaking of a Judeo-Christian worldview – more specifically, the worldview of mere Christianity, (pg. 29).

Moreland contends the centers of power in Western culture and dominated by naturalism and postmodernism, they can not sustain the drama necessary for their own work to have the meaning they so desperately desire.  Western culture lacks the resources necessary to diagnose and properly solve the serious spiritual, economic, political, and moral problems of the age.

In a thin world, religions is not the sort of thing that can be true.  Religion is merely a cultural, social phenomenon to be analyzed by sociologists.

So understood, religion is a hobby to be subsumed under the demands of secular democracy, not something to be taken seriously, (pg. 31).

Moreland claims that the only way the we can break free of the confines of a thin world and experience the riches of the only thick world that is true is to reject naturalism and postmodernism in favor of the perspective of the Kingdom of God and the worldview of Jesus Christ and Scripture, (pg. 32).

There are five questions that Moreland states should be put to any worldview:

  • What is real?
  • What are the nature and limits and knowledge?
  • Who is well-off?  What is the good life?
  • Who is a really good person?
  • How does one become a really good person?

Some Thoughts

We can see the reality of the worldview battle when we look at the origins of life debate – proponents of evolution dismiss the theory of intelligent design saying it lacks “hard sciences”.

I also have seen the reality of “empty selves” with kids that I have worked with in detention.  The pursuit of happiness, of immediate gratification, has left kids shallow, empty.  It is often at that time where they realize that there has to be more to life than this endless pursuit.  That was true of me when I was in college and realized there had to be more to life than what I was experiencing.  It was then I started looking into the claims of Jesus Christ.

Your Turn

Why do you think we crave drama?  Do you agree or disagree with Moreland when he says that true drama is impossible in a thin world?  Why?  How would you answer the five worldview questions in light of your worldview?

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Though more along the lines of what not to do… Thabiti Anyabwile looks at Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s latest controversial comments and shared some very important lessons for pastors to learn from Rev. Wright’s shameful conduct on the public stage.

It’s a cautionary tale for us younger pastors. Here’s a man that’s served the same congregation over thirty years, who has no doubt learned many things in that time. He’s perhaps forgotten more than I know. And yet, when he is supposed to be retired and out of the public light, seems so taken with himself and his view of the world that he’d beat the sheep rather than feed them and risk overturning perhaps the most significant bid for the presidency in American history.

The lessons are legion. Here are five from my perspective:

1. Feed the sheep, feed the sheep, feed the sheep. For the sake of argument, even if Obama was wrong in his Philadelphia comments where Wright was concerned, the appropriate response from the pastor isn’t a series of interviews but Galatians 6:1-2, gently pulling the erring brother aside. Insofar as Wright still regarded himself as the stronger brother and Obama’s pastor, he was obligated to bear with the weak (Rom. 14:1; 15:1-3) and to teach with all patience (2 Tim. 4:2). This, no doubt, is easier said than done when we’re feeling personally attacked. But our call to heal and lead the sheep trumps our “right” to self-defense.

2. Be willing to suffer reproach for doing good. Wright sees himself as a servant of the marginalized and oppressed, a role he asserts Jesus assumed. If he really believed that, he should willingly and joyfully suffer for doing good (1 Pet. 2:20-24; 3:13-17). To this we are called. While I think Wright’s theological and political commitments are wrong-headed, his life illustrates for me the importance of my being willing to suffer for what I think is right–the Lord, the gospel and the sheep.

3. Think carefully about a separation of church and state principle in my own ministry and public comments on public issues. This, I think, is a serious weakness in some quarters of American Christianity, with social gospels on the left and the right. Wright interprets the critical comments in response to his sermons as an attack on the black church. The comments fueling all of this were pretty clearly political comments, not gospel, Christian, or church-related comments. That he doesn’t see the distinction is quite alarming. Now he is in the public square assuming that his detractors at the least don’t understand the entire black church and at worst are anti-black church. Whenever or if ever I am called to speak on some public issue, I need to do the hard work of knowing where the Bible stops speaking, where my opinion begins, and where either state concerns are over-running more fundamental biblical concerns or vice-versa.

4. Seek counsel before speaking. That hardly needs any elaboration, except to say that on stages as large as this, and on a thousand smaller ones, we either help the cause of Christ by speaking well or hinder it by speaking poorly. “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Surely we should count the costs before waging war, seek counsel before advancing plans. And beyond seeking counsel, heeding it. I can’t imagine that any godly persons advised Wright to make these appearances, or they did that Wright kept their counsel. A good rule of thumb I learned in a different context: if you seek someone’s counsel and you decide to do something other than what they counsel, at least make yourself accountable to the counselor and the counsel by advising the counselor that (a) you’re going to do something different than what was counseled, (b) the reasons why, and (b) before you act.

5. Pray and war against pride. I don’t want to judge Wright. I don’t know the man’s heart or motives in all of this. But it looks like the same kind of pride that lurks in my heart, seeking to control the assessments I make of myself, my own importance and influence, and my reaction to situations and people who don’t think more highly of me than they do themselves. It’s been said a lot. And most of us have read or heard C.J. and others on the dangers of pride. But is it not ever with us? Does it not always threaten us, our relationships, and even our ministries? Had Wright never said a word in his own defense, many people would have judged his life of ministry on a wider set of factors, some favorable and some not. But now, it seems pride may have ruined a reputation after the public ministry was completed. It can do as much and more damage in all of our lives.

Be sure to read the whole post.  I appreciate the wisdom and humility shared in his post.

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