Emerging Concerns Part 4 – Role Model

Post-Modern Cycle Role Model As we have looked at postmodern thoughts and how it has influence the church we have laid the foundations of culture and community. We see that in this view culture has given us language and even the very meaning it wishes to ascribe to sounds and words as well as the practices or ways we approach life. Community gives postmodernism way to interpret language and practice a way to re-adapt. How life should work should not be unchangeable in this view. But as these communities arise there must be something that brings continuity and conviction. There must be someone who can bring things together and drive them forward. If not then things will just stay the same.

Why do all anarchists groups have to have a leader? – Ravi Zacharias

Looking for a Hero

You will find these ideas in various forms, however the goal is the same. Something or someone is needed who can make the ideas or enact the ideas from culture and community practically. These new ideas need a leader, a role model, someone pragmatic to drive change. But it must be understood that the concept of a leader, role model or hero in post-modern thought is not the same thing as what we traditionally think of. In post-modern thought what is achieved is more important than how it was achieve.

The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He has no other problem; he thinks only of his actual resources and the possibilities of various choices of action. He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work. To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles. (Alinsky 1972: 24)

He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal conscience has a peculiar conception of ‘personal salvation’; he doesn’t care enough for people to ‘be corrupted’ for them. (Alinsky 1972: 25)

Spread Anarchy - don't tell me what to doThese quotes from Saul Alinsky are a somewhat radical example of post-modern thought and we can see these ideas in the church in “Liberation Theology”.

As the church progressed in the 20th century it looked for ways to appeal to the “unchurched” public. In this “Church Growth Movement” churches adopted methods from the business world which were used in marketing. Some examples would be branding and talk-show style services. These tend to be more stylistic choices, however care must still be taken as styles can come from underlying attitudes and values or lack there of. For example the use of coarse joking or potty humor may entertain the children but can step beyond the bounds of style to a disregard for acceptable decorum and becomes inconsiderate of others senses. The bible says that we should avoid coarse joking (Ephesians 5:4). Some good ideas did proceed from this as the church made its appeal it tried to be more practical with biblical teaching focusing on application and useful systems and methods taken from scripture. The inclusion of methods from behavioral, social and psychological studies furthered this practical focus. The problem is that often it seems that the bible started taking more of a back seat.

The idea is taken further when the church brings in secular business leaders, motivational speakers and other public figures to speak and teach. Some churches will even go so far as to limit the amount of scripture used in services and even remove crosses and other christian symbols from their church even to the extent of limiting the use of Jesus name during services. As churches progress down this path one has to ask, “Do we believe that the Bible, the cross and Jesus are sufficient and compelling?” Jesus chastised the pharisees for “teaching as doctrine the principles of men” and in many ways the church has been doing the same. Sure we can learn things from others outside the church but how much should we be asking the congregation to sift through worldly ideas to find what is useful and biblically acceptable? Apart from the fully devoted child of God living under Jesus Lordship this is often done to appeal to those outside the church. Emergent thought takes it a step further focusing on what can be accomplished through these methods whether or not anything spiritual or moral is sacrificed. It should be clear from scripture that the end doesn’t justify the means. Also the warning from A W Tozer below highlights the problem with this thinking.

How eagerly do we seek the approval of this or that man of worldly reputation. How shamefully do we exploit the converted celebrity. Anyone will do to take away the reproach of obscurity from our publicity-hungry leaders: famous athletes, congressmen, world travelers, rich industrialists; before such we bow with obsequious smiles and honor them in our public meetings and in the religious press. Thus we glorify men to enhance the standing of the Church of God, and the glory of the Prince of Life is made to hang upon the transient fame of a man who shall die. – A W Tozer

Reinventing Christ

The church then moves from looking for heroes to redefining Jesus and His role in the world. You might see John 14:16 “I am the way, the truth and the life” taught as Jesus teaching not that He Himself is the way but that how He lived his life is the way. The picture then that is painted of Jesus focuses on his interactions with people and particularly those that are deemed more compassionate and less confrontational unless of course the confrontation was with leadership. We like to focus on what Jesus accomplished helping others and its impact. There is value in this but the post-modern or emergent view takes this further to the point that it paints Jesus as a hero just like Gandhi or Martin Luther King.

I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them (whoever they are), to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord (A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren, 260, 262, 264).

More value is placed on how Jesus changed the world practically than on how he changes our relationship to the Father and gave us hope for eternity.  The early church placed a priority on holding eternity in high esteem and rather than stepping back from impacting the world this propelled them forward and brought about irresistible change.

You might also see someone question the virgin birth and whether it should have been translated virgin in biblical prophecy. If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin then he was just a man and the objective is the same; to see Jesus as just a man. It is much easier to deal with a hero or activist than it is to deal with the fact that our rebellion was so heinous that the Author of Life Himself had to become a man to make up for our debt.

Jesus was not a moralist who came to make bad people good; Jesus is a savior who came to make dead people alive – Ravi Zacharias

Not only is Christ reinvented as a social hero but the gospel may be redefined. True the bible talks about how God deals with those that never have the opportunity to hear the gospel but the outcome seems somewhat ambiguous. It is probably ambiguous because we are commissioned to go into the world and spread the gospel. But even this idea of spreading the gospel is being questioned. You may hear questions or comments such as, “People can find the way Jesus lived in other religions and remain in that religion”. This is called inclusivism which essentiall states that though we are saved through Jesus Christ as the only way to the father one doesn’t have to have knowledge that it is Jesus they are believing. You can follow the path you are on and believe you are worshiping God XYZ and then find out you were really trusting Jesus in the end, at the final judgement. They are not saved apart from Christ but saved without knowledge of Christ. Another view takes it further and just asks them to see the way Jesus lived and just pull from that as they continue on in their native religion. Again this puts the focus on the way Christ lived and takes it away from the work which He did on the cross. I have heard renowned Christian leaders whom I respect greatly make similar statements. Paul’s talk in Acts 17 at Mars hill should make it clear that the early church taught that other gods where not gods at all and that faith in Jesus was the only way.

In the next article I will bring it all together into the final stage of the post-modern or emergent perspective and take a look at the end of it all. The final article will take a look at post-modern focus on society and society building or in emergent christian movements on uses of the term “kingdom”.

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Emerging Concerns Part 3 – Community

Culture - Community - Motivation/Role Model - Society/Kingdom

In the previous article I addressed the role of Culture in post-modern thinking and how one might encounter it in the church. From the idea of meaning proceeding from or coming from culture, we are left to question meaning and even, what can we really understand . This next stage in post-modern, emergent thinking builds further off this foundation of culture. The cultural setting or backdrop can be seen in the Bible; so what are the implications? Each culture records its history and ideas. We have all read books from other times and places; Don Quixote, or the Iliad to name a few. Often we learn something new; a different way to look at things. The question is, did God meet people where they were at and accommodate their flawed views of the world and how life should be ordered?

Again you will see this in many ways in the church, some more subtle and others more radical. One teacher points to how the bible has been misunderstood and used to justify tragic action and wonders whether the Bible is the best God could do. Another professor compares passages in the Bible to other ancient writings. For example; in Psalms 103:12 we see “as far as the east is from the west”. In an Egyptian hymn, a deity is praised for his judgment, the guilty are assigned to the east and the righteous to the west. When we find thoughts and stories that resemble those in scripture does this mean scripture proceeded from them? Could it be that ancient people having heard oral traditions and through seeking stumbled upon bits and pieces of truth…? Isaiah 9:2 tells us that “the people in darkness have seen a great light”. Did not the Word (the great light) proceed from God informing those stumbling in darkness of the real picture of reality and intentions and created order of God?

While the Bible certainly has an ancient backdrop this becomes gradually overstated making the Bible more and more the product of man and less a work of God. We are then left to wonder what the Bible may mean for us.

The idea that Scripture may mean something different for us is gaining traction. Quite a few modern evangelical teachers and others have built off these questions and propose a progressive approach to understanding the Bible and how it should be applied or even if it should be applied anymore in some cases. They leaned back on these ideas of culture and meaning shedding doubt on the understandability of the Bible.

A college friend of mine commented on how information is now more readily available and searchable so it must be harder for false teaching to gain acceptance and therefore the call in Jude to contend for the faith may not have the same meaning for us. (see my response: In Danger of Being Non-Contenders) It does seem right, so much has changed, can we apply the Bible to ourselves and others as the ancient church did? After all, we have grown up with the ideas of evolution and progress; are we not better now than the cultures that preceded us? After all we have the printing press/copy machine, computers, light bulbs, and nuclear power. We have different social structures than that of biblical times. How then do we decide what to take from the writings of these other times?

Such teachers proposing a progressive approach point to places in the Bible we’re Christians met to make decisions and propose that we need to figure out how to apply the Bible in community. You will run into teachers that talk about the passage where Jesus tells his disciples what they bind here on earth will be bound and what they release will be released in heaven. They may also talk about common practices and views of the time and propose that what the Bible says was being built from traditions outside the Bible. This verse on binding however is misrepresented. A clearer understanding may be seen if we look at the Amplified translation.

Matthew 18:18 Truly I tell you, whatever you forbid and declare to be improper and unlawful on earth must be what is already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit and declare proper and lawful on earth must be what is already permitted in heaven.

Matthew 5:18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away , not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished . 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments , and teaches others to do the same , shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

Certainly there is a place for those that study the Bible, scholars, to meet and discuss what the bible is saying. As we read the Bible we need to consider their guidance. We see this in the AMP bible in which scholars expound upon words. Binding and loosing does not mean we seek how we together want to apply it but we seek it’s real meaning and God’s intention apart from our time and our society and the way it wants to structure itself.  Admittedly there are uncomfortable circumstances and teachings in the Bible, but are we seeking the will of a community or the will of God.  God can speak across time; the question is not can we understand but do we want to understand?

"Wyclif Giving 'The Poor Priests' His Tra...

“Wyclif Giving ‘The Poor Priests’ His Translation of the Bible” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The concepts of personal Bible study and private interpretation are key to the reformation.  In the 14th Century John Wycliffe found that many clergy hadn’t even read the Bible and just taught what they were told.  The church had become a political force sanctioning or influencing wars to keep nations and groups in check as well as a tool to control their populace through the sacraments and fear of loosing eternal life if these were with held.  Much of this was put in place by the church under the over-site and direction of a community of church leaders.   Wycliffe started to teach against the church’s political entanglement, accumulation of wealth, indulgences, and trans-substantiation and was removed from Oxford.  He requested and was granted a small Parish.  But the problems in the church burdened him and while in prayer God reminded him that Greek, the language the New Testament was written in, and Latin, the language it was translated into, were both the language of the people.  The Bible wasn’t written in highfalutin language.  Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and was later put on trial as a heritic.  The trial was interrupted by an uncharacteristic earth quake before the judge was to make a verdict.  God gave His Word to us and it is not so tied to culture and it is meant to be personal; “for I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin”.

Yes, the bible does recognize authority and community oversight and even calls for us to submit our selves to the authority of the community we live in.  While the bible itself tells us that such authorities and community oversight has been put in place by God it doesn’t mean that they are infallible and the bible doesn’t justify a blind following.  For example in the case of Saul God allowed authority to be put in place that was corrupt to enlighten his people to where their faith should have been.  When David called for a census which God was opposed to it was the people that were punished for their blind obedience.  We all have a personal responsibility to the truth and in that the Word of God is quite individualistic.  It was Joshua who said “Choose this day whom you will serve but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord”.

So let me summarize where post-modern and emergent thought leads with regard to community.   The first stage builds upon culture and gradually reduces the Bible to something proceeding from man and the culture at the time.  It may acknowledge God’s influence on the Bible but will over-state the influence of culture on the Bible and understanding the Bible.  From this the second stage is to promote a progressive way of understanding the Bible.  Often the uncomfortable situations in the Bible are highlighted as reasons why we need to reinterpret the Bible.  So essentially in post-modern thought which is founded on humanism and evolution we find ourself in a culture and we take the thought of our current culture as well as the thoughts of past cultures and put them together to evolve the next generation and its culture.  This is done by communities that meet together to consider these thoughts and the predominant (natural selection) community prevails.  This is a far cry from our God who as creator made man in His image and who is the one that is to build, guide and direct us.  If these things are true then scripture should read that a great light entered their world and for us it is no longer a great light but is a dim light from which we can glean a few things.  But scripture says a great light has entered THE world; both our and theirs.

These are just some of the things to watch out for in the Church and Christian academia with regard to culture and community.

See:  Authority and Authorship