January 28, 2007 Commentary:
"Distracted from the Truth"
Formally orthodox, churches can become increasingly pulled into the rip tide of niche marketing, moralism, political hobby horses, pragmatism, and entertainment, when it comes to actual practice - what they actually do on Sunday and on various other times of the week. They don't even have to deny the truth; it's just not important - or, at least, determinative. People are no longer thinking through or living out the faith they profess, but are becoming addicted to propaganda and hype. Now at this stage the gospel is assumed: "Of course we believe that God is holy and we are sinful, and that Christ alone is the basis for our salvation...Of course it's all by grace...But the really interesting (or important) thing now is to make the Bible relevant to our lives and culture." The generation that assumes the gospel is no longer really driven by it, and the next generation leaves for college and never darkens the door of the church again. That's the subject of this edition of the White Horse Inn as we continue our theme for 2007, "A Time for Truth."
January 21, 2007 Commentary:
"Has God Really Said?"
The drift of a church, or of a nominally religious culture, begins far more subtly than outright denial. It's fascinating, in fact, to see how frequently human unfaithfulness to the truth follows that pattern we see in that original fall into sin recorded in Genesis 3. Satan tempts Eve with subtlety. Before he directly denies the truth, the serpent distorts it and distracts Eve from it. First, he questions whether Eve really heard God right: "Has God really said?" Then he slips in an addition to God's command: "Has God really said you must not eat of any of the trees in the garden?" His goal was to make God look like a cosmic tyrant, placing Adam and Eve in this lush orchard and then prohibiting their enjoyment of its fruit. Eve counters, "No, just the one in the middle of the garden." So far so good, but then she adds that they weren't to eat it or touch it, although there's nothing about touching it in God's command. Just a few words here and there make all the difference in the world. That's what's called isogesis. Unlike exegesis, which is reading out what is said in discourse, isogesis reads into it. Already human beings show themselves adept at playing fast and loose with God's Word. But finally the serpent goes for the jugular: "You surely will not die," he says, "for God knows that the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." In other words, you'll no longer have to rely on God's word; you'll have direct, absolute, and autonomous knowledge on your own. You'll be in charge. God's just trying to hold you down. But before outright denials of truth come, there are the distortions of the truth. And that's our subject in this edition of the White Horse Inn.
January 14, 2007 Commentary:
"Truth & Arrogance"
Of course, religious pluralism - that is, the view that all religions are equally valid has always been a huge obstacle for Christianity; that's nothing new or especially postmodern... Christians were sent to the lions not because they thought Jesus was a great example or boost to their self-esteem or useful life coach; in fact, Rome was a very tolerant culture. When it came to gods, the more the merrier. One of the emperors has even been said to have placed a statue of Jesus in his private chapel of idols. If the gods of the Christians contributed to the patriotism, civic morality, and cultural cohesion of the empire, there wouldn't have been any problem. But what really got the Christians in hot water - and still does today around the world - is the claim that Jesus Christ is not a way, but the way; not a truth, but the truth; not only a useful lifestyle but the life.
But isn't this the height of arrogance? Isn't this exactly what causes wars around the world and suspicion between neighbors? That's certainly how it's been heard by the Caesars who persecuted the church through the ages, and it's not surprising in an age when so often politics, the coercive arm of the state, is confused with religious truth claims. It's also the common assumption in our culture in North America today. Is the Christian claim to truth, when not wedded to coercive force, is the Christian claim to truth itself arrogant? That's our topic in this edition of the White Horse Inn.
January 7, 2007 Commentary:
"A Time for Truth"
We're kicking off a new series for 2007. We're calling it "A Time for Truth." It's been over a decade now since David Wells, a theological statesman of the evangelical movement wrote his book, No Place for Truth. Not given over to over-statement, Wells' first critique of the evangelical movement, of which he has played such an enormous and positive role, made a lot of people shift in their seats. It helped galvanize efforts to help provide a common witness, strengthened the hands of faithful laborers in pastoral ministry and on the mission field, but by and large the movement he critiques goes on as if the book had never been written. About the same time, a book that I edited, Power Religion: The Selling Out of Evangelicalism, carried the same message, with contributions from J.I. Packer, Charles Colson, R.C. Sproul, James Boice, and other evangelical leaders. And again, there were a lot of reviews and a few discussions, but the book didn't appear to radically alter the landscape. And then, a little later, Drs. Boice, Wells, and I drafted the Cambridge Declaration and put together a meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to discuss these issues. Again, despite the fact that this event was attended by a hundred Christian leaders from a variety of denominations and the writer was thought to be sympathetic toward our effort, evangelicalism's leading new periodical described it as an example of tribalism, with the potential for dividing rather than uniting the movement.
All of this has reminded me that God has promised to work through his church, not through movements - even big ones like Evangelicalism. And there are certainly encouraging signs in those churches. We regularly hear from pastors who have changed their entire approach to ministry with truth, rather than fads and market research as their norm. But when we look at the big picture, things don't look very encouraging. Philip Jenkins, critically acclaimed study titled The Next Christendom, told us what we already knew: While Christianity is declining in the West, it is exploding in Africa and Asia. However, it's for the most part, Pentacostalism - even an extreme version of it, known as the "prosperity gospel" that is sweeping the two-thirds world.
Meanwhile, back at home, even churches that are formally committed to the ecumenical creeds and Reformation confessions are losing their confidence in truth to change lives. Once again, we hear tired calls for deeds, not creeds; life, not doctrine. Proposition increasingly gives way to propaganda, truth to technique, theology to therapy, and covenantal nurture through preaching and sacrament to niche demographics through market segmentation and obsessing over the next new thing. If traditionalists became senile, forgetting the great truths that drive Christian faith and practice, their children, the Boomers, became silly, turning church into an eternal youth group, and their children, many of whom are identified by the label "Emergent" are struggling quite understandably to find something more significant than Evangelicalism to belong to.
Last year, our focus at the White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation was the "Romans Revolution," based on Paul's famous letter. This year we're announcing a new theme, "A Time for Truth." This month, we'll be laying out a case for truth in our time. In the coming months, we'll be using the so-called "solas" as our rubric. What are the solas", - or, to be precise - solae? The Latin for "only," sola, became the qualifier that made all the difference in the Reformation.
The medieval church believed in Scripture, of course, but the reformers insisted that Scripture alone was sufficient for determining what we believe, how we worship, and how we live as God's redeemed people in the world. "Sola Scriptura," Scripture alone, as the source of Christian faith and life.
The medieval church believed in grace, but it was the reformers' insistence that salvation was by grace alone, that provoked the controversy. "Sola gratia," grace alone, as the way of salvation.
No medieval priest or theologian would have denied the necessity of faith for justification. But the Reformation's controversial claim was that we're justified by God through faith alone. "Sola fide," justification by grace alone through faith alone.
Most importantly, the reformers emphasized that Christ was not only necessary, but that it is his person and work alone that serves as the basis for our relationship with God. "Solo Christo," in Christ alone we find God a forgiving father rather than a terrifying judge.
Since we're saved by God's grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the only proper response is soli Deo Gloria: to God alone be glory. The truth of Scripture can't be reduced to a few slogans, of course, but these solas at least point us in the right direction. You know, whenever I lose my keys - which is all too often - I find that I have to retrace my steps. And that's exactly what we're hoping to do in this series. Of course every era is a time for truth, and there has never been a "golden age" of church history; every generation has had to constantly struggle with its own willingness to embrace the offense of the cross and be a place for truth in a world of spin. By the end of 2007, we hope you'll be significantly strengthened in your own faith, knowing what you believe and why you believe it, so that you can be a more vital witness right where you are.