Category Archives: Worldview
Book Review: Greg Forster’s “Joy For The World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It
Renewing Your Vision for Cultural Change
Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig
As a Senior Pastor one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced over the years is how to keep and shepherd a flock in holiness and influence the world without being contaminated by it at the same time. Tim Keller is a pastor who has been able to do both. Tim writes the forward to this book and his own churches vision statement is as follows: “We at Redeemer Church (Manhattan, New York) seek to build a great city for all people through a gospel movement that brings about personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal in New York City and the world.”
What Dr. Forster does in this book is show how this type of vision is desperately needed in the Western Church today. He shows historically how churches in Europe and America were once the primary influencers in culture and how that now they are more influenced by the culture than influencing culture. Forster’s knowledge of history and theology allows him to make penetrating insights into how Christianity has lost ground in influencing society, and yet offers hope in how to turn this paradigm around.
According to Forster the “exilic challenge of the Israelites in Babylon is the permanent state of the New Testament church. If so, we should consider the Lord’s instructions to His people during the Babylonian Exile: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). Forster uses this passage as a stepping stone to develop the idea of “whole-life” discipleship which encompasses the walls inside and outside of our churches. He forges practical ways and examples to penetrate our communities with the gospel in the context of our families, workplace, educationally, socially, and politically.
In the final analysis Forster has written a book that is especially helpful for Christians and Churches that have become “ingrown”, “inward-focused,” “isolated,” and “self-absorbed.” He gleans principles from the Bible and the Reformation that are particularly helpful in getting the Church back on track in the balancing act that is theologically deep and practically relevant. I highly recommend this book for pastors, lay-leaders, and Christians of all stripes that seek to become ambassadors for Christ who make a difference in our communities and in our world for our joy and God’s glory.
Church Growth—First Things First
When all is said and done, the church-growth movement will stand or fall by one question: In implementing its vision of church growth, is the church of Christ primarily guided and shaped by its own character and calling—or by considerations and circumstances alien to itself? Or, to put the question differently, is the church of Christ a social reality truly shaped by a theological cause, namely the Word and Spirit of God?
Behind this question lies the fact that the church of God only “lets God be God,” and is only the church, and is free when she lives and thrives finally by God’s truths and God’s resources. If the church makes anything else the principle of her existence, Christians risk living unauthorized lives of faith, exercising unauthorized ministries, and proclaiming an unauthorized Gospel.
Yet, that is precisely the temptation modernity gives to us—the very brilliance and power of its tools and insights mean that eventually, there is no need to let God be God. In fact, there is no need for God at all in order to achieve measurable success. Modernity creates the illusion that when God commanded us not to live by bread alone but by every word that comes from His mouth, He was not aware of the twentieth century. The very success of modernity undercuts the authority and driving power of faith until religion becomes merely religious rhetoric, or organizational growth without spiritual reality.
In light of this, it is curious that the church-growth movement’s use of modernity is one of its most prominent but least examined features. Modernity poses the greatest problem for the church-growth movement— because it appears to be no problem at all. It is most dangerous at its best—not its worst—when its benefits and blessings are unarguable. No civilization in history has amplified the temptation of living “by bread alone” with such power and variety and to such effect. In today’s convenient, climate-controlled spiritual world created by the managerial and therapeutic revolutions, nothing is easier than living apart from God.
One Christian advertising agent, who represented both the Coca-Cola Corporation and engineered the “I Found It” campaign, stated the point brazenly: “Back in Jerusalem where the church started, God performed a miracle there on the day of Pentecost. They didn’t have the benefits of buttons and media, so God had to do a little supernatural work there. But today, with our technology, we have available to us the opportunity to create the same kind of interest in a secular society.”
This warning should not be confused with the superspiritual fallacy that flatters the church as being purely spiritual and theological, turning up its nose at all lesser, “unspiritual” insights or techniques. That error is simply the opposite extreme. Just as Christians are flesh and blood as well as spirit, so the church of Christ is in the business of pews, parking lots, and planning committees as well as prayer and preaching.
There is, therefore, a place for the latest scientific study on parking lots. But we are told by church-growth gurus that “the No. 1 rule of church growth is that a church will never get bigger than its parking lot.”
No. 1? Above growth in faith? Before growth in the Word and Spirit? God forbid. For the church of Christ, the latest sociological study never has more than a low-level place—even in a “freeway fellowship” culture such as California. What truly matters after the accumulated wisdom of modernity has been put to good use is that the real character of the church remains to be demonstrated, the real growth of the church remains to be seen. Otherwise we fall foul of the charge leveled by rock star Michael Been of The Call: “Everything that goes on in every major corporation goes on inside the church, except as a sideline the church teaches religion.”
If Jesus Christ is true, the church is more than just another human institution. He alone is her head. He is her sole source and single goal. His grace uniquely is her effective principle. What moves her is not finally interchangeable with the dynamics of even the closest of sister institutions. When the best of modern insights and tools are in full swing, there should always be a remainder, an irreducible character that is more than the sum of all the human, the natural, and the organizational.
Hans Kung writes: “Given that Jesus Christ is the head of the church and hence the origin and goal of its growth, growth is only possible in obedience to its head. If the church is disobedient to its head and His Word, it cannot grow however busy and active it may seem to be; it can only wither. Its development, no matter how spectacular, will prove basically misdirected; its progress, no matter how grandiose, will prove ultimately a disastrous retrogression. The valid movements in the church are those that are set in motion by God’s grace.”
The notion of the remainder, the irreducible, the noninterchangeable, and the unquantifiable is fundamental to grace and to the church. The church of Christ is more than spiritual and theological, but never less. Only when first things are truly first, over even the best and most attractive of second things, will the church be free of idols, free to let God be God, free to be herself, and free to experience the growth that matters.
© Tabletalk magazine
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: email@example.com. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
Owen Strachan with Tim Keller
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Manhattan pastor Tim Keller for Christianity Today. The interview was about Keller’s new book Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (Dutton, Nov. 2013). It’s a book that would be marvelous to read whether for one’s own edification or for the purposes of discipleship or evangelism. If you’re in college ministry, and in particular ministry to thoughtful students on a secular college campus, this book will be very valuable.
In the course of my free-ranging conversation with Keller, we touched on some matters that were not directly related to the book and thus weren’t included in the CT interview. I was helped and heartened by Keller’s characteristically winsome, gracious, and convictional thoughts on these topics, and I’m glad to share them.
Keller on quoting cultural authorities in his preaching to “bring people along”:
The only reason to do so is if you’re in an Acts 17 setting. In Acts 13, Paul goes to a synagogue and expounds the Bible. But these are people who trust the Bible…so Paul does a very simple exposition. In Acts 17, Paul’s talking to people with no faith. There’s disagreement over how much he’s quoting, but he quotes poets and pagan authors and makes a more common appeal to natural reason, as it were.
What I try to do since I have people in a spectrum—people who don’t trust the Bible at all or people who trust it a lot—so what I do is expound Scripture, and then I add sources where people agree. I’m not basing my authority on Dylan Thomas, but when I’m able to bring in someone that the broader culture really trusts, it helps the people who doubt biblical authority to see how the Bible is true.
If I was speaking in a Mars Hill situation, I might give a topical talk like Paul did. So most of my preaching is somewhere in the middle. I’m supplementing my points to make it a little easier for the skeptic to accept my point. I’m trying to bring people along; I want the person to come with me. In the earlier parts of my sermon I’m trying to fortify—this psychologist says that, and so on. But at the end, I’m bringing in Jesus as the solution to the problem, and I’m not using those sources anymore.
Keller on how the church should speak to the issue of homosexuality:
You always want to speak in the most disarming way, but still be very truthful. Both disarming and truthful. I’m not sure most of us speak in that way—trying to be both. Ed Clowney, former President of Westminster Theological Seminary, said this many years ago: We tend to say we preach the Bible, but you tend to preach the answers to the questions you’ve posed to the Bible. Whether you know it or not, you read the Bible with certain questions. A Korean might have a question in mind when he reads that an African wouldn’t have. Right now our culture asks certain questions and we can’t help but respond to them. We do that in the most disarming way, but to some degree we can’t ignore the culture’s questions. We need to give biblical answers to the culture’s questions. You don’t give them the answers they want, you give them the answers they need. You can’t be a responsible pastor if you don’t.
If we are going to shepherd and teach, we must give the most disarming and truthful answers.
Keller on how the church should handle the shift to transgender identity in the broader culture:
Jerome Kagan in The Atlantic has talked about how we’re all wired—there are three basic ways to deal with threats. Some run, some fight, some stop and get philosophical. You find this insight in neurochemistry—across 36 cultures, these instincts are wired into us. These are very much who we are. In only a small percentage of the threatening situations is our habitual approach the right one. The worst thing parents can do is listen to the culture when it says, “Let your child be who that child is. Don’t try to change him.” Kagan says that’s the worst thing you can do. Children need to be pulled out of their natural instincts. Parents need to intervene and not let their natures run them. Doing so is a form of child neglect.
I’ve never forgotten that with the transgender question. We’re told we can only affirm [this identity] today. The lack of wisdom in this response will become more evident over time. We’re now a radical individualistic culture. If you do anything against it, you’re sacrilegious. I think we’ll see 20 years of mistakes, and then we’ll realize it wasn’t a good idea.
Keller on the state of the complementarian movement:
The arguments are pretty well made now. At this point, complementarians need to get our own house in order and show that our families and churches are thriving places. That’s more important than anything right now….Kathy and I are very committed to saying that Christians are committed to complementarianism.
Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2014/06/tim-keller-on-mars-hill-preaching-homosexuality-and-transgender-identity/#ixzz34R1n4Myf
By Kevin DeYoung
So you’ve become convinced that the Bible supports gay marriage. You’ve studied the issue, read some books, looked at the relevant Bible passages and concluded that Scripture does not prohibit same-sex intercourse so long as it takes place in the context of a loving, monogamous, lifelong covenanted relationship. You still love Jesus. You still believe the Bible. In fact, you would argue that it’s because you love Jesus and because you believe the Bible that you now embrace gay marriage as a God-sanctioned good.
As far as you are concerned, you haven’t rejected your evangelical faith. You haven’t turned your back on God. You haven’t become a moral relativist. You’ve never suggested anything goes when it comes to sexual behavior. In most things, you tend to be quite conservative. You affirm the family, and you believe in the permanence of marriage. But now you’ve simply come to the conclusion that two men or two women should be able to enter into the institution of marriage–both as a legal right and as a biblically faithful expression of one’s sexuality.
Setting aside the issue of biblical interpretation for the moment, let me ask five questions.
1. On what basis do you still insist that marriage must be monogamous?
Presumably, you do not see any normative significance in God creating the first human pair male and female (Gen. 2:23-25; Matt. 19:4-6). Paul’s language about each man having his own wife and each woman her own husband cannot be taken too literally without falling back into the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage (1 Cor. 7:2). The two coming together as one so they might produce godly offspring doesn’t work with gay marriage either (Mal. 2:15). So why monogamy? Jesus never spoke explicitly against polygamy. The New Testament writers only knew of exploitative polygamy, the kind tied to conquest, greed, and subjugation. If they had known of voluntary, committed, loving polyamorous relationships, who’s to think they wouldn’t have approved?
These aren’t merely rhetorical questions. The issue is legitimate: if 3 or 13 or 30 people really love each other, why shouldn’t they have a right to be married? And for that matter, why not a brother and a sister, or two sisters, or a mother and son, or father and son, or any other combination of two or more persons who love each other. Once we’ve accepted the logic that for love to be validated it must be expressed sexually and that those engaged in consensual sexual activity cannot be denied the “right” of marriage, we have opened a Pandora’s box of marital permutations that cannot be shut.
2. Will you maintain the same biblical sexual ethic in the church now that you think the church should solemnize gay marriages?
After assailing the conservative church for ignoring the issue of divorce, will you exercise church discipline when gay marriages fall apart? Will you preach abstinence before marriage for all single persons, no matter their orientation? If nothing has really changed except that you now understand the Bible to be approving of same-sex intercourse in committed lifelong relationships,we should expect loud voices in the near future denouncing the infidelity rampant in homosexual relationships. Surely, those who support gay marriage out of “evangelical” principles, will be quick to find fault with the notion that the male-male marriages most likely to survive are those with a flexible understanding that other partners may come and go. According to one study researched and written by two homosexual authors, of 156 homosexual couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity, and of the hundred that had been together for more than five years, none had remained faithful (cited by Satinover, 55). In the rush to support committed, lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships, it’s worth asking whether those supporters–especially the Christians among them–will, in fact, insist on a lifelong, monogamous commitment.
3. Are you prepared to say moms and dads are interchangeable?
It is a safe assumption that those in favor of gay marriage are likely to support gay and lesbian couples adopting children or giving birth to children through artificial insemination. What is sanctioned, therefore, is a family unit where children grow up de facto without one birth parent. This means not simply that some children, through the unfortunate circumstances of life, may grow up with a mom and dad, but that the church will positively bless and encourage the family type that will deprive children of either a mother or a father. So are mothers indispensable? Is another dad the same as a mom? No matter how many decent, capable homosexual couples we may know, are we confident that as a general rule there is nothing significant to be gained by growing up with a mother and a father?
4. What will you say about anal intercourse?
The answer is probably “nothing.” But if you feel strongly about the dangers of tobacco or fuss over the negative affects of carbs, cholesterol, gmo’s, sugar, gluten, trans fats, and hydrogenated soybean oil may have on your health, how can you not speak out about the serious risks associated with male-male intercourse. How is it loving to celebrate what we know to be a singularly unhealthy lifestyle? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the risk of anal cancer increases 4000 percent among those who engage in anal intercourse. Anal sex increases the risk of a long list of health problems, including “rectal prolapse, perforation that can go septic, chlamydia, cyrptosporidosis, giardiasis, genital herpes, genital warts, isosporiasis, microsporidiosis, gonorrhea, viral hepatitis B and C, and syphilis” (quoted in Reilly, 55). And this is to say nothing of the higher rates of HIV and other health concerns with disproportionate affects on the homosexual community.
5. How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?
Christians misread their Bibles all the time. The church must always be reformed according to the word of God. Sometimes biblical truth rests with a small minority. Sometimes the truth is buried in relative obscurity for generations. But when we must believe that the Bible has been misunderstood by virtually every Christian in every part of the world for the last two thousand years, it ought to give us pause. From the Jewish world in the Old and New Testaments to the early church to the Middle Ages to the Reformation and into the 20th century, the church has understood the Bible to teach that engaging in homosexuality activity was among the worst sins a person could commit. As the late Louis Crompton, a gay man and pioneer in queer studies, explained:
Some interpreters, seeking to mitigate Paul’s harshness, have read the passage [in Romans 1] as condemning not homosexuals generally but only heterosexual men and women who experimented with homosexuality. According to this interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstances. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any Jew or early Christian. (Homosexuality and Civilization, 114).