More “Christian” Atheism: Michael Horton’s “Are Churches Secularizing America?”

19 12 2011

Several years ago, a mainline theologian told me of his experience at an evangelical megachurch. He was visiting his children and grandchildren during spring break and then Easter Sunday arrived. Nothing visibly suggested that it was a Christian service, but this distinguished theologian tried to reign in his judgments. There was no greeting from God or sense that this was God’s gathering. The songs were almost exclusively about us, our feelings, and our intentions to worship, obey, and love; but it was not clear whom they were talking about or why. He concluded, “Well, evangelicals don’t really have a liturgy. They put all of the content into the sermon, so I’ll wait.”

His patience, however, was not rewarded. Although it was Easter, the message (with no clear text) was on how Jesus gives us the strength to overcome our obstacles. Lacking even a benediction, this theologian left discouraged. He had come to an evangelical church at Easter and instead of meeting God and the announcement of a real victory over sin and death by Jesus Christ, he encountered other Christians who were being given fellowship and instructions for making their own “Easter” come true in their life.

Pressed with leading questions by his son-in-law as to his reaction to the service (like, “Did it touch your heart?”), the theologian broke his silence: “I assume you’re trying to ‘evangelize’ me right now,” he said. “But there was no ‘gospel’ anywhere in that service that might convert me if I were unconverted.” He concluded, “Not even in the most liberal churches I’ve been in was the service so devoid of Christ and the gospel. It’s like ‘God who?’” Read the rest of this entry »





Tim Keller: The Dogmatic Nature of Relativistic Thought

19 12 2011

About every other week, I confront popular pluralist notions that have become a large part of the way Americans think. For example, pluralists contend that no one religion can know the fullness of spiritual truth, therefore all religions are valid. But while it is good to acknowledge our limitations, this statement is itself a strong assertion about the nature of spiritual truth. A common analogy is often cited to get the point across which I am sure you have heard — several blind men trying to describe an elephant. One feels the tail and reports that an elephant is thin like a snake. Another feels a leg and claims it is thick like a tree. Another touches its side and reports the elephant is a wall. This is supposed to represent how the various religions only understand part of God, while no one can truly see the whole picture. To claim full knowledge of God, pluralists contend, is arrogance. When I occasionally describe this parable, and I can almost see the people nodding their heads in agreement.

But then I remind the hearers that the only way this parable makes any sense, however, is if the person telling the story has seen the whole elephant. Therefore, the minute one says, ‘All religions only see part of the truth,’ you are claiming the very knowledge you say no one else has. And they are demonstrating the same spiritual arrogance they so often accuse Christians of. In other words, to say all is relative, is itself a truth statement but dangerous because it uses smoke and mirrors to make itself sound more tolerant than the rest. Most folks who hold this view think they are more enlightened than those who hold to absolutes when in fact they are really just as strong in their belief system as everyone else. I do not think most of these folks are purposefully using trickery or bad motives. This is because they seem to have even convinced themselves of the “truth” of their position, even though they claim “truth” does not exist or at least can’t be known. Ironic isn’t it? The position is intellectually inconsistent. (Tim Keller)

In its pure form Pluralism is a fact. It’s not an opinion or a belief or a religion. In other words, not every one believes the same things. We live in a society that’s very diverse, not just ethnically, but also religiously. But when pluralism starts to become a philosophy, when it starts to become a religious dogma, then it becomes a different animal. And that’s what I want to call relativism — or religious relativism, philosophical pluralism. It goes by different names but that is the dogmatic religious assertion that all religions are basically the same, that no one knows the truth about God. And no one can know the ultimate truth about God in a way that invalidates other peoples’ religious opinions and the belief that it’s arrogant to say that you have the truth religiously and it is arrogant to try to persuade other people to believe what you believe religiously. That’s relativism, philosophical pluralism. And I would say that’s the default belief of most people you run into in our city.– whether they’re religious or not, most people think about religion that way.

Here is what I want to urge on you and try to unpack in several ways. And that is that relativism is itself a religious belief. It is a dogma. Relativism is. It has affirmations and denials and a missionary force. One of the affirmations of relativism is that God is ultimately unknowable. No one can know the truth about God. But how do one know that to be true? This assumes an ultimate understanding of spiritual reality. All religions are ultimately the same. All religions are following a path to God. It doesn’t matter how you believe, it matters how you live. Do you see this? Those are religious statements. Those are matters of religious beliefs, dogma. Doctrines! If people say, “No, I’m not religious. I’m saying you can’t know. I’m saying, Nobody can know the truth about God. I’m not claiming that I’ve got a corner on it.” But if you look at it closely, the statements of religious relativism are every bit as dogmatic as the statements of the Koran or the Bible. It’s a religious dogma.

read it all here





Tim Keller: The Gospel into the 21st Century

19 12 2011

I started a conversation with a friend and thoughtful Christian on how the church engages culture.  I’m posting these to get our thoughts moving.  The author of this article, Tim Keller is a reformed Christian who is engaging culture quite well while holding to orthodox Christian distinctives.  I will post all four parts in time.

We are entering a globalized, urbanized, and post-secular world. This means that we are going to be more like the Roman Empire than anything seen in centuries.

First, it is a globalized world again. The triumph of Rome’s power created the Pax Romana and an unprecedented mobility of people, capital, and ideas. Cities became multi-ethnic and international in unprecedented ways. So today, cities link as much if not more to the rest of the world than they do to their own geographically connected countries. Saskia Sassen in The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo makes the case that increasingly the residents of these cities are more like one another than they are like other residents of their own country.

Second, it is therefore an urbanized world again. In the Greco-Roman world during the height of the Roman empire, individual nation-states were weak, and large cities (Rome, Corinth, Ephesus) operated virtually as independent city-states. Cities, not national governments, ruled the world. Today, technology and mobility are again weakening the control nation states have on their own territory. It is becoming impossible to control the flow of information or capital in and out of countries. Multi-national corporations operate out of major cities but do not submit to or serve the interests of any country. Corporate and creative elites, who Pico Iyer calls ‘Nowhereians,’ live in several cities at once, rather than in any particular country. Everywhere we see the growth both in power and size of major cities.

Third, it is a fragmented, pluralistic world again. For centuries-cultures and nations had much more widespread consensus about basic questions of truth, morality, and the nature of God and ultimate reality. Now, as in the Roman world, there will again be multiple vital religious faith communities and options in every society. We will have traditional, secular, and pagan world-views living side by side. Why? a) Globalization- the mobility mentioned above. b) Disillusionment with the Enlightenment in the West. For nearly 100 years the elites of Europe and North America were fairly uniformly ‘secular’-skeptical about any religion or spirituality at all. But the old idea that unaided human reason and science would solve the world’s ills and answer the heart’s big questions finally is seen as dead end. We are entering a truly ‘post-secular,’ pagan- pluralistic era much more like Rome. Most interesting is the fact that the number of orthodox Christians in philosophy departments in this country has gone from 0% to nearly 25% in just 30 years. This means that for the first time in 80 years there is ‘intellectual space’ for Christians to do scholarship, art, and other cultural production. This is big news for center cities like NYC and LA.

No matter what their world was like, Christians have gone back to the book of Acts for centuries to learn ministry practice. But we have now a double reason to do so. Our world has become much more like the world of the Mediterranean world of the 1st century. If we want to see how to spread the gospel in the 21st century-the book of Acts has not been more directly and simply applicable to our situation in 2,000 years. There are two features of ministry strategy in the book of Acts that are crucial in our own world and time. New Testament ministry strategy was- Church-multiplying (Acts 14) and Gospel-centered (Acts 15).

read the whole thing here





Tim Keller: The Dogmatism of Religious Relativism

19 12 2011

There’s nothing here that Leslie Newbiggin didn’t say fifty years ago. But Keller has an easy manner about him that makes him compelling to his audiences. If you’ve never been introduced to the points below the the religious dogmatism of relativism, then you should slow down and take it in.

About every other week, I confront popular pluralist notions that have become a large part of the way Americans think. For example, pluralists contend that no one religion can know the fullness of spiritual truth, therefore all religions are valid. But while it is good to acknowledge our limitations, this statement is itself a strong assertion about the nature of spiritual truth. A common analogy is often cited to get the point across which I am sure you have heard — several blind men trying to describe an elephant. One feels the tail and reports that an elephant is thin like a snake. Another feels a leg and claims it is thick like a tree. Another touches its side and reports the elephant is a wall. This is supposed to represent how the various religions only understand part of God, while no one can truly see the whole picture. To claim full knowledge of God, pluralists contend, is arrogance. When I occasionally describe this parable, and I can almost see the people nodding their heads in agreement.

But then I remind the hearers that the only way this parable makes any sense, however, is if the person telling the story has seen the whole elephant. Therefore, the minute one says, ‘All religions only see part of the truth,’ you are claiming the very knowledge you say no one else has. And they are demonstrating the same spiritual arrogance they so often accuse Christians of. In other words, to say all is relative, is itself a truth statement but dangerous because it uses smoke and mirrors to make itself sound more tolerant than the rest. Most folks who hold this view think they are more enlightened than those who hold to absolutes when in fact they are really just as strong in their belief system as everyone else. I do not think most of these folks are purposefully using trickery or bad motives. This is because they seem to have even convinced themselves of the “truth” of their position, even though they claim “truth” does not exist or at least can’t be known. Ironic isn’t it? The position is intellectually inconsistent.

In its pure form Pluralism is a fact. It’s not an opinion or a belief or a religion. In other words, not every one believes the same things. We live in a society that’s very diverse, not just ethnically, but also religiously. But when pluralism starts to become a philosophy, when it starts to become a religious dogma, then it becomes a different animal. And that’s what I want to call relativism — or religious relativism, philosophical pluralism. It goes by different names but that is the dogmatic religious assertion that all religions are basically the same, that no one knows the truth about God. And no one can know the ultimate truth about God in a way that invalidates other peoples’ religious opinions and the belief that it’s arrogant to say that you have the truth religiously and it is arrogant to try to persuade other people to believe what you believe religiously. That’s relativism, philosophical pluralism. And I would say that’s the default belief of most people you run into in our city.– whether they’re religious or not, most people think about religion that way.

Here is what I want to urge on you and try to unpack in several ways. And that is that relativism is itself a religious belief. It is a dogma. Relativism is. It has affirmations and denials and a missionary force. One of the affirmations of relativism is that God is ultimately unknowable. No one can know the truth about God. But how do one know that to be true? This assumes an ultimate understanding of spiritual reality. All religions are ultimately the same. All religions are following a path to God. It doesn’t matter how you believe, it matters how you live. Do you see this? Those are religious statements. Those are matters of religious beliefs, dogma. Doctrines! If people say, “No, I’m not religious. I’m saying you can’t know. I’m saying, Nobody can know the truth about God. I’m not claiming that I’ve got a corner on it.” But if you look at it closely, the statements of religious relativism are every bit as dogmatic as the statements of the Koran or the Bible. It’s a religious dogma.

read the rest here





J. Gresham Machen’s Testimony Before the House and Senate Committees on the Proposed Department of Education (1926)

19 12 2011

Machen was the New Testament professor at Princeton and founder of Westminster Theological Seminary. Machen’s testimony before the House and Senate committees is terribly thought provoking. Note how he attacks the presuppositions behind the creation of the department and note his critique of the stated goals of the department. Also noteworthy is the type of person that Machen believes educating people after this fashion will produce. In short, he believes it will produce a “reduced” (my words) person, who is unable to exceed the appearance of things but strives to simplify and reduce everything to categories.  As a committed and thoughtful Christian, Machen foresaw the effects that reductionistic  (and ultimately atheistic) philosophies would have on impressionable students.  Read it carefully.

It is for the latter reason that I am opposed to the bill which forms the subject of this hearing. The purpose of the bill is made explicit in the revised form of it which has been offered by Senator Means, in which it is expressly said that the department of public education, with the assistance of the advisory board to be created, shall attempt to develop a more uniform and efficient system of public common school education. The department of education, according to that bill, is to promote uniformity in education. That uniformity in education under central control it seems to me is the worst fate into which any country can fall. That purpose I think is implicit also in the other form of the bill, and it is because that is the very purpose of the bill that I am opposed to it….

The principle of this bill, and the principle of all the advocates of it, is that standardization in education is a good thing. I do not think a person can read the literature of advocates of measures of this sort without seeing that that is taken almost without argument as a matter of course, that standardization in education is a good thing. Now, I am perfectly ready to admit that standardization in some spheres is a good thing. It is a good thing in the making of Ford cars; but just because it is a good thing in the making of Ford cars it is a bad thing in the making of human beings, for the reason that a Ford car is a machine and a human being is a person. But a great many educators today deny the distinction between the two, and that is the gist of the whole matter. The persons to whom I refer are those who hold the theory that the human race has now got behind the scenes, that it has got at the secrets of human behavior, that it has pulled off the trappings with which human actors formerly moved upon the scene of life, and has discovered that art and poetry and beauty and morality are delusions, and that mechanism really rules all. I think it is very interesting to observe how widespread that theory is in the education of the present day.

Sometimes the theory is held consciously. But the theory is much more operative because it is being put into operation by people who have not the slightest notion of what the ultimate source of its introduction into the sphere of education is. In this sphere we find an absolute refutation of the notion that philosophy has no effect upon life. On the contrary, a false philosophy, a false view of what life is, is made operative in the world today in the sphere of education through great hosts of teachers who have not the slightest notion of what the ultimate meaning is of the methods that they are putting into effect all the time.

For my part, I cannot bring myself to think, with these persons, that the lower things in human life are the only things that remain, and that all the higher things are delusions; and so I do not adhere to this theory. And for that reason I do not believe that we ought to adopt this principle of standardization in education, which is writ so large in this bill; because standardization, it seems to me, destroys the personal character of human life.

read it all here





Santa, Fairy Tales, C.S. Lewis, and Pre-Evangelism

19 12 2011

 The author’s logic is the type that makes me squirm while simultaneously perking my interest.  At the end of the day, I like it…I think

I suspect that fairy tales and Santa Claus do prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale, the one Lewis believed was ingrained in our being. New research from the Université de Montréal and the University of Ottawa indicates that children aren’t overly troubled upon learning that Santa is a myth. But the researchers remained puzzled because while children eventually abandon Santa, they keep believing in God. Lewis would say this is because God is real, but Mr. Dawkins fears it is the lasting damage of fairy tales. While Mr. Dawkins stands ironically alongside Puritans in his readiness to ban fairy tales, Christian apologists like Lewis and Chesterton embraced them, precisely because to embrace Christian dogma is to embrace the extrarational.

Today’s Christian apologists, by contrast, seek to reason their way to God by means of archaeological finds, anthropological examinations and scientific argumentation. That’s all well and good, but it seems to miss a fundamental point illuminated by Chesterton, which is that, ultimately, belief in God is belief in mystery.

read it all here