Eric Metaxas: Cultural Elites The Next Unreached People Group

19 01 2012

came across this fantastic article over at Steve’s blog.  

In the last century, many serious Christians have fallen into the trap of striking an anti-elitist attitude, and often an anti-intellectual attitude, too. We can see how this happened; after all, it was the educated elites who, in the late 19th century, undermined the Scriptures, embraced Darwin, and soon thereafter came to champion a social Gospel at the expense of true biblical theology. Many Christians felt themselves besieged and, in reaction, retreated into a kind of defiant, populist stance, one that had its dukes up, as it were, and was often prideful, rather than humble. In this process, many of the most theologically serious Christians abandoned the mainstream culture to the secular elites, who were now alone on the cultural field, with no real opposition. So, of course, the culture got worse, as we have said, and the unchallenged secular ideas of the elites and intellectuals came to dominate more and more, flowering, one might say, in the Sixties, in whose secular and socially liberal “Boomer” shadow we all still live. Which, of course, made serious Christians yet further hostile to the mainstream culture, and certainly to the elites and intellectuals who dominated it.

One result of this hostility to mainstream culture, and to the secular elites who dominated it, is that Christians more and more abandoned “worldly” centers of cultural influence, taking their salt and light with them like peeved children taking their marbles and going home. So the cultural centers like New York City only slid farther into secularism, and farther from the values of the rest of the country. And because of the rise of the media culture in the last fifty years, the influence of these increasingly secular cultural centers only increased. People who thought they could hide in small towns far from places like New York – found that their children were going upstairs to watch their own tv’s, and getting the values of New York and Hollywood elites anyway.

So Christians have become particularly hostile to cultural elites, whose unchallenged ideas were destroying the culture. And we have often behaved as though we somehow had God’s permission to hate these elites, because not only were they especially wicked, but also wealthy and powerful and famous. We have little difficulty bringing the love of the Gospel to exotic people groups, but elites are something else. Whom does Jesus love less? Which deserves hell more? Or is it that, like the Prodigal son’s elder brother, and like Jonah, it is God’s grace that we most fear? Have we seen the Pharisee, and is he us? If that’s true, then it turns out we are sinners, too, in need of God’s grace. Or did we think we could get to heaven simply by not watching HBO?

Go on over and read the whole thing here

John Starke on Defending the Faith to the Mind AND the Heart

11 01 2012

A fine little article from the Gospel Coalition

Christians know that the satisfaction of the gospel surpasses the relief of a consistent syllogism, yet many fail to preach like it. Those who have been transferred from darkness to light are not only guided by reason, but also by “taste.” Their “eyes of the heart” have been given a sense of the breadth and the length and the height and the depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Yet not enough preachers aim at the sniffer to give them the aroma of life.

In the Upper West Side of Manhattan, our church is surrounded by “Bobos” (David Brooks’s famous coinage for the bourgeoisie and bohemians) who are bursting with spiritual aspirations and longing for transcendence. As Brooks says, “They don’t want to forsake pleasures that seem harmless just because some religious authority says so, but they do want to bring out the spiritual implications of everyday life.” Struggles arise inside them between “autonomy and submission, materialism and spirituality.” But—surprise—you don’t only find these folks in New York City. You can find them wherever Trader Joe’s has set up shop.

Giving the same old “evidence that demands a verdict” doesn’t quite cut to the heart when preaching to these skeptics. This isn’t a new observation. Tim Keller and others have long advocated for worldview apologetics—something you can find in The Reason for GodBut can our preaching to skeptics also appeal to their senses—a kind of “sense of the heart” apologetics? It can—indeed, it must. Skeptics who show up in church today are not so much looking for preachers to make sense of the brute facts of life but of their desires and hopes. If you dismiss their questions as juvenile angst, then they will likely feel dismissed and, in turn, will dismiss you.

We shouldn’t feel like we need to invent the wheel, though. This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon—pastors and apologists have recognized this need for centuries. Jonathan Edwards in his preaching and C. S. Lewis in his writing both effectively employed “sense of the heart” apologetics.

read the whole thing here

Schaeffer: Defending the faith for your children’s sake

20 12 2011

The following is an excerpt from Frances Schaeffer’s The God Who is There, found in Vol. I of his complete works.  In the first paragraph, I feel a particular heartache that resonants with many parents in our congregation.  I hope Schaeffer’s words give you some instruction, but also I hope prompts some new questions.  For me the value in Schaeffer’s words are that the Gospel must be communicated to your children in such a way as makes sense in their current cultural framework.  This means parents must learn their children in the same way a missionary must learn the culture he has been sent to and for the same purpose. We will be visiting issues such as this with greater frequency over the coming months…

I find that everywhere I go– both in the United States and in other countries– children of Christians are being lost to historic Christianity.  This is happening not only in small groups in small geographical areas, but everyhwere.  They are being lost because their parents are unable to understand their children, and therefore cannot really help them in their time of need.  This lack of understanding is not only on the part of individual parents, bu toften also of churches, Christian colleges and Christian missions.  Some Christian colleges (and I am not talking of ‘liberal’ colleges) lose many of the best students before they graduate.  We have left the next generation naked in the twentieth century thought by which they are surrounded.

So then, the defense for myself and for those for whom I am responsible, must be a conscious defense.  We cannot assume that because we are Christians in the full biblical sense, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, automatically we shall be free from the influence of what surrouns us.  The Holy Spirit can do what He will, but the Bible does not separate His work from knowledge; nor does the work of the Holy Spirit remove our responsibility as parents, pastors, evangelists, missionaries, or teachers.

Having said that, however, Christian apologetics should never be restircted to guarding against attack.  We have a responsibility to communicate the gospel to our generation.

Christian apologetics is not like living in a castle with the drawbridge up and occasionally tossing a stone over the walls.  It is not to be based on a citadel mentality– sitting inside and saying “You cannot reach me in here.”  If the Christian adopts this attitude, either in theory or in practice, his contacts with those who have accepted twentieth-centrury thought will stop.  Apologetics should not be merely an academic subject, a new kind of scholasticism.  It should be thought out and practiced in the rough and tumble of living contact with the present generation.  Thus, the Christian should not be interested in presenting a nicely balanced system on its own, like some Greek metaphysical systme, but rather in something which has constant contact with reality– the reality of the questions being asked by his own and the next generation.

No one can become a Christian unless he understands what Christianity is saying.  Many pastors, missionaries, and Christian teachers seem to be helpless as they try to speak to the educated people and the mass of people about them.  The do not seem to face the fact that it is our task to speak to our generation; the past has gone, the future is not yet here.  So the positive side of apologetics is the communication of the gospel to the present generations in terms they can understand.

From The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol I pg pg 152-153

Tim Keller at the Veritas Forum at UC Berkley

20 12 2011

One of the big battles facing the future of Christianity in the West is presenting a Gospel message that meets the harsh and legitimate critiques of a culture that has grown up in a shallow evangelicalism.  Tim Keller, particularly in the video below, is a helpful model for how Christians can compassionately and intelligently bear witness to the Gospel in our current context.  The whole video (at 94 min!) is worth your time. 

Blaise Pascal: how would you go about proving the existence of God?

20 12 2011

Perhaps slightly more wearying than the philosophically weak attacks on religion mounted by the “New Atheists” are the equally weak attempts by many Christians to reconcile religious texts to current views on science (click here for an example).  As Pascal points out below, the canonical writers (Biblical authors) never use nature to prove God.  Time and time again the authors of the New Testament focus their attention on one thing to prove the existence of God.  So here’s the question…what was it that they appealed to?

“I wonder at the hardihood with which such persons undertake to talk about God.  In a treatise addressed to infidels (unbelievers) they begin with a chapter proving the existence of God from the works of Nature…this only gives their readers grounds for thinking that the proofs of our religion are very weak…It is a remarkable fact that no canonical (Biblical)  writer has ever used Nature to prove God.”

-Pascal.  Pensees, IV, 242, 243

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