Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sermon Podcast

At the request of my wife who can't always hear me when I preach, I've decided to record my sermons and publish them as a podcast. You can click the link at the top left page of this blog in order to go to my page. Hope you enjoy it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Who's Afraid of the Emergent Church?

God is dead. So the famed Nihilistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said. In the wake of God’s death, many men tried to replace Him with various atheistic philosophies of life - and failed. When God died, we lost our sense of right and wrong and no longer knew up from down, or if there really even is an up or down. We became unchained from objective truth and were left floating aimlessly in subjective space. The twentieth century man adapted this into his worldview and soon postmodernism would embrace this lostness as the truth of reality. Ask any student today how they determine right and wrong, and they will most likely tell you something to the effect of ‘I do what’s best for me.’ Our culture has embraced the postmodern(1) mindset(2), and because of this no longer view religious or ethical truth to be knowable. Religious truth is found in whatever makes me feel good, and ethical truth is found only in what makes me happy. The natural question for us as Christians to ask is, ‘how do we have conversation with people who do not believe in objective truth?’ More commonly put like this, ‘how do we present the gospel to our culture?’
This question is a perfectly normal question for us to ask, and we are by no means putting our faith in jeopardy by asking it. A whole group of people have been asking this question now for nearly 20 years. They’re known as the emerging church. This loosely-knit group of Christians have been seeking to answer this question and have done so in different ways. The answer usually comes down to format and church structure, but occasionally goes further. There is another group of people, however, who call themselves the Emergent Church, and they have taken the questions and answers to another level.(3) If one listens to the questions being asked in by the Emergent people, you’ll find questions which touch on the very nature and heart of Christianity itself. It’s good to ask the questions, but if the answers are not Biblically sound and/or objectively true, then there is a problem.
There are a number of things that are taking place right now in the movement which really touch a nerve. I will mention four of them. The first is the embrace of postmodernism; the second is the loose view of Scripture; the third is the de-spiritualization of the gospel of Christ; and the fourth is an all-inclusivism in the Church, which looks a lot like universalism.
The first and obvious point of discussion is the embrace of postmodernism by the Emergent Church. When you listen to their conferences and read the books that are put out by Emergent authours, you get a firm sense of a deep-seated postmodern worldview. The reason this is a problem is that the postmodern worldview is entirely antagonistic to the Biblical worldview. The postmodern motto is that there is no objective truth; Christ says ‘I am the truth;’ postmodernism says that ethics and moral statements are grounded in the individual; God is declared to be just, righteous, holy, etc. in an objective way; postmodernism states that religious truth is unknowable; God declares ‘I AM,’ Paul’s whole goal of life was to ‘know Christ;’(4) postmodernism says that moral truth is unknowable; the Bible tells us to be righteous and holy, assuming that we know what it means to be righteous and holy. There simply is no way to define Christianity in terms of postmodernism. God challenges false gods in Isaiah chapter 41 to present their case and show that they are truly gods. He tells them to tell of the future things and of the past things to show their divine nature. He appeals to argumentation and evidence to show His divine character. When Christ shows Himself to Thomas after the resurrection, He invites Thomas to touch the wounds so that he might believe. Paul appeals to the resurrection which occurred in real time and space, in history, to show the truth of Christianity in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. We lose these things by trying to define Christianity in a postmodern way. The Bible is not a postmodern book, nor is Christianity a postmodern religion. By jettisoning our ability to reason with people, we lose the foundation on which our faith was built. In a postmodern context, Christianity is just one of many ways in which people can find religious satisfaction; just one competing narrative in a sea of religious narratives. Faith is shut up to an arbitrary leap instead of being grounded in truth. Francis Schaeffer commented on this problem many years ago in his book The God Who Is There. He said:

The problem which confronts us as we approach modern man today is not how we are to change Christian teaching in order to make it more palatable, for to do that would mean throwing away any chance of giving the real answer to man in despair; rather, it is the problem of how to communicate the gospel so that it is understood.(5)

The proper response for us is not to redefine the gospel, but to understand how to communicate the gospel to a generation which does not believe in the objective reality of religious and ethical truth. As Kierkegaard said, ‘It is not the truth that is in need of men, but men who are in need of the truth.’(6) The Bible tells us simply that ‘the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing...’(7) The message of Christianity will always sound ridiculous to the majority of unbelievers, but we are not to change the message to become more palatable to people, nor are we to stop preaching it because not many people are believing in it. We do a great disservice to the truth of the gospel by ripping the foundation out from under it.
The second point that I would like to talk about follows implicitly from the acceptance of postmodernism. Within the postmodern context, words do not have meaning in and of themselves, but derive their meaning from the hearer. In other words, the meaning of a sentence lies not in the originator’s intention, but in the hearer’s interpretation. This just rings false from the beginning. Perhaps the best way to understand where this idea leaves us is through an illustration. I was at a bar one night and happened to get into a little conversation with a fellow from Norway who had proclaimed his love of sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll. I took the opportunity to inquire about his worldview and quickly found out that he paid homage to the god of randomness. He waxed eloquently about how everything was random and how there is no objective truth. He was thoroughly postmodern. When he told me that words had no meaning and that meaning was entirely dependent on the hearer, I stopped him and asked him if I could punch him in the face. When he said no, I told him that he had understood properly the message I was communicating. I had, in fact asked him if I could punch him in the face. He understood exactly what I was asking, but the meaning did not lay in what he interpreted but in what I had said. I had effectively communicated my intent to him, and he was able to respond to me in a way I understood. If words had no meaning apart from the recipient’s understanding of them, then I simply could have punched him in the face after he said ‘no,’ and simply explained that I thought his no meant yes.
Words and ideas are not dependent on the listener for their meaning. The meaning comes from the originator. Communication occurs when the listener properly understands. How does this relate to the Emergent Church? It relates at precisely the heart of Christianity - our understanding of the Bible. If meaning is entirely dependent on the hearer’s understanding, then the message of the Bible is entirely subject to our interpretation. This is in fact what some in the Emergent Church are teaching. Brian McLaren states:

Our interpretations reveal less about God or the Bible than they do about ourselves. They reveal what we want to defend, what we want to attack, what we want to ignore, what we're unwilling to question.(8)
The Bible has a message to it, and that message is not subject to our interpretation. Rather we are to allow the Bible to dictate the way we live our lives. We believe it to be the Word of God, and therefore the meaning lies not in what we think about it, but in what God has intended to say. By adopting an improper hermeneutic,(9) they have opened the door wide open for all kinds of heresy and misunderstandings about God - and they are rampant in the Emergent conversation.
Finally I’d like to talk about the de-spiritualization of the gospel of Christ.(10) Martin Luther said ‘There is a need for a social gospel to supplement the gospel of individual salvation… Only a 'dry as dust' religion prompts a minister to extol the glories of heaven while ignoring the social conditions that cause men an earthly hell.’(11) He was well aware that the gospel is something that moves men to have compassion on their neighbours. The Emergent Church often blast the Christian world for their inactivity on social issues. They are strong at this point in recognizing that we as Christians should be doing all that we can to help those around us. There have been those in the Church who have pushed for social issues in the past, and there have been those in the Church who have quietly done their own thing to help those around them. People like William Wilberforce and George Muller. While I agree heartily with Emergent on this point, I disagree with the lengths to which they take it. When you listen to them speak and read their books, they focus intently on these issues, and seem to belittle the spiritual reasons why Jesus came. When Christ came he always talked about the issues of the heart. Repentance is always talked about in association with Christ. When the Apostles began to preach, they didn’t preach about bringing in the kingdom of Christ, but about changing the conditions of men’s hearts through their repentance and acceptance of Christ as their Saviour.
Finally I’d like to deal with the seeming universalism which is being accepted within Emergent. There are two types of this that I’d like to deal with. The first is the universal welcome of people to take part in church of Doug Pagitt, and the second is the seeming universal salvation of Brian McLaren. In his presentation which was put out on the Emergent Village’s podcast, Mr. Pagitt talks about how he wants to see his church shaped by unbelievers. He says that the church has always had their theology shaped by unbelievers. Yes and no. What he’s referring to, I believe, is the idea that most of the early theological thinkers were responding to heretics who were writing against Christianity, and so by way of reaction the unbeliever’s are indirectly involved in the shaping of the church’s theology. However I would like to point out that they were never in the church. This view of the church is severely misguided and mistakes at its foundation what a church is. He talks about the church as being a ‘cauldron of theological imagination and participation.’ While I do think that he’s right that the church should be a place for theological imagination and participation, he is gravely mistaken that this is the primary role of the church. The primary role of the church is to be a place of worship to the Lord God by those who believe in Him through His Son Jesus Christ. Unbelievers are not meant to be a part of our community of worship, as Pagitt says.
Then there’s McLaren who makes ambiguous statements about Christianity and leave you wondering whether or not he really is a follower of Christ.

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.(12)

What this means is anyone’s guess. It sounds suspiciously close to religious pluralism. The very idea that you can follow Christ while maintaining your worship practices in another religion is in stark contrast to Christ’s call to deny oneself and follow Him. By denying ourselves, Christ is calling us to abandon our former way of life and to follow Him in the way in which He prescribed. He talks about the church. He gave authority to the Apostles. The Holy Spirit through the books of the New Testament gave detailed instructions as to how the church is to function. Yet somehow McLaren seems to think that God is simply pleased with a church that is socially active.
The cries of Emergent ring loud and clear, and they seem to have abandoned the true teachings of the New Testament, but make it palatable by insisting that they are truly following Christ. Christ says that many people will claim to have known Him and followed Him, but He will say to them that He never knew them. If the Emergent Church continues in the path that they seem to be happily trekking down, their idea of Christ will eventually become nothing more than the Christ of the individual - each of us make up our own picture of Him. Jesus of Nazareth was a real man who walked this earth in real time and in real history. He made real commands for us to follow. God really meant what He said through the writers of the New (and Old) Testaments. We cannot simply amputate large portions of Scripture from understanding of who Christ is. He has called us to do certain things, and while the Emergent Church is correct in some of their condemnation of the Church in general, they have literally thrown the baby out with the bath water.(13) We cannot undermine the spiritual message of Christ. He called for repentance and rebirth. As Ravi Zacharias said, Christ came not ‘to make bad people good, but to make dead people live.’ The Emergent Church has taken a wrong turn in their understanding of Christianity and of Jesus and they are unintentionally deceiving others with their false doctrines. Christianity is not postmodern. Christianity is not social justice alone. Christianity is primarily spiritual, because, as we believe, the spiritual relationship with God has the most important impact on our behaviour. Do we need to be actively involved in our communities? Yes. Do we need to throw out all orthodox doctrines in order to do that? No. In the final analysis, the Emergent Church is an empty shell bearing the name ‘Christian,’ Severed from truth, it is a futile attempt to shut Christianity apart from the rest of life, and seems to be aimed at social activism rather than meeting the needs of the human heart.

1 Postmodernism is hard to define, but it usually consists of a rejection of absolute truth of any kind (relativism), the idea that words themselves have no meaning (deconstructionism), and a rejection of classical logic.
2 Or so they think. William Lane Craig makes a terrific argument that the idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth in his book Reasonable Faith.
3 Because the topic is so broad and the Emergent Church themselves so loose in organization and structure, I’m going to try and avoid sweeping statements and give specific examples of areas of concern.
4 Philippians 3:8
5 Schaeffer, Francis A.; The God Who is There; p.145
6 Kierkegaard, Soren; Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing; p.144
7 1 Corinthians 1:18
8 McLaren, Brian; A New Kind of Christian; p.50
9 A hermeneutic is a method of interpretation.
10 Unfortunately I lost my sheet of paper with quotes on it, so I won’t spend much time on this issue as I can’t cite them on this point.
11 King, Martin Luther; Unofficial Autobiography; p.179
12 McLaren, Brian; A Generous Orthodoxy, pp. 260, 262, 264
13 Rob Bell in his book ‘Velvet Elvis,’ claims that you don’t have to believe in the virgin birth in order to experience Christianity. He claims that various doctrines taught in the Bible need not be true and are not vital to the Christian faith.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ready to Talk - #1 Apologetics

In my 20 some years of being a Christian, one thing that I’ve learned about myself is that the way I think about the world around me seems to be entirely different from the rest of society. Outside of the Church it’s very hard for me to find someone who looks at things with the same perspective that I do. In my younger years I was confronted on every side with people who wanted to change my worldview. They wanted to erase from my mind the rather naive notion that a God exists, and they especially wanted to erase from my life the high standard of moral values that I held. I had high school teachers debate me in class, trying to make a fool out of my ‘simple-minded belief’ in the words of the Bible. My English teacher told my parents outright that she thought it was her job to educate me out of Christianity. My science teacher used to prey on my yet developing mind with ‘foolproof’ arguments against the legitimacy of the Bible as the Word of God, and with a presentation of the blatant contradictions within the text which proved its errancy. I attribute the escape from the attacks of my youth to the grace of God and the prayers of faithful men and women. But there are some who are not so lucky.
I had a mentor growing up who was an active leader of the youth group. He seemed to know so much about the Bible and theology. He was able to counsel me, and he readily shared his faith with people around him. I looked up to him in my youth, and looked to his example to spur myself on to studying the Word of God. I admired his strength of faith. When I was 17, this young man only a few years older than myself renounced Christianity and said that the Bible was utter foolishness. That rocked my world. It turned out that he couldn’t get past an argument presented to him about the problem of evil.
When I went to college, I had the privilege of taking a course in what is known as ‘Apologetics.’ Apologetics, simply put, is the study of the defence of the faith. The word is taken from 1 Peter 3:15 which says: but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.(1) The word translated defence in this passage is the Greek word απολογια (ah-poh-loh-gee-ah) which literally means a speech of defence.(2)
Therefore when we speak of apologetics, we’re referring to the fact that something is being defended. The term itself is not strictly for use of defence of the Christian faith. There can be apologists of Atheism, Judaism, Islam, or any other system of thought that can be defended. For the purposes of this article (and this periodical), we will use the term Apologetics to refer strictly to the defence of the Christian faith. One final thought in defining the term - when we speak of the defence of the Christian faith, we’re talking about giving rational justification or warrant for Christian faith. Therefore while a great defence for the Christian faith is a life lived well for the glory of God, it is not what we’re talking about when we speak of Apologetics. Apologetics deals with rational arguments for the truth of Christian doctrine.
As we should all be well aware of, the primary goal of the Christian is not to be able to defend the Bible, and to be able to give solid arguments for the truth of the Christian faith. The primary goal of the Christian is to know Christ (Phil. 1:21) and as we see from this verse in 1 Peter, to sanctify Him as Lord in our hearts. So the study of Apologetics should take second place in the life of the Christian. First and foremost the Christian should know what the Bible teaches, and he should be diligent in fostering a rich spiritual communion with our most Holy God. That being said, it is the belief of this author that the study of Apologetics is an important practice for the Christian to undertake, and that doing so not only strengthens his faith, but allows him to talk more intelligently with those who don’t believe. As G.K. Chesterton said, ‘ It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced.’(3)
I’ve noticed that in my conversations with people, I have a difficult time articulating why certain things are so, because my Christianity is the funnel through which I see everything. To the Christian it’s just obvious that God exists. The Psalmist writes that ‘the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.’(4)
It’s easy for us to see that God exists because we don’t have the stumbling blocks in front of us that atheists have. Most Unbeliever’s have honest questions which need to be addressed honestly before they will be receptive to the Gospel.
That is the overall aim of this periodical. It is the purpose of this periodical to discuss Apologetics, to provide arguments for Christian doctrine, to consider common and popular arguments against Christian doctrine, and to address the difficulty of presenting the Gospel to postmodern man, as well as the culture we find ourselves in, with the goal of enabling us to share our faith effectively. Through our study of Apologetics, we will hopefully be encouraged by the philosophy of our faith, and by the evidences given through philosophy, science, and other sources.

(1) quoted from the New American Standard Bible, 1995
(2) BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 3rd Edition, Chicago:The University of Chicago Press, 2000. 117
(3) Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy, Nashville:Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2000. 239
(4) Psalm 19:1, quoted from the New American Standard Bible, 1995
Psalm 19 is a key text in developing the Cosmological argument for the existence of God, which will be covered later

Praise God / Upcoming Things

Well, to my one reader I'd like to say I'm sorry it's been so long since I've last posted. I've been terribly busy. I had my wedding ceremony on May 31, spent my honeymoon in a private resort in the Philippines, and have been getting used to married life.

I'd like to begin this post by saying praise the Lord for He is good. Last night a friend of Eunji's came to believe in Christ for his salvation at our weekly Bible study. His name is 병준(Byung-joon). I'm so thankful to God that He chose to use Eunji and I to be a part in this brother's salvation.

I've been thinking about so much in the last couple of months and having great conversations with people lately that I've decided that I'm going to write and publish a few posts concerning topics which I feel are important and necessary for me to address. In the next couple of weeks look for posts on the following topics: 1) the fallacies of the postmodern worldview and a discourse on it's being embraced in the vehicle of the Emerging Church; 2) clarifications of the doctrine of the Trinity; and 3) the idea of 'following our dreams'

I hope you enjoy reading these essays/ponderings. I plan to write/publish them within the next 3 weeks. For now I'll leave you with an article I wrote for a journal that we've begun to publish at my church here in Busan.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Official Explanations

Because so many people were wondering, I've decided to finally write and clarify my current situation. There has been much confusion as to whether or not I'm married, who I married, when I got married, why I got married, etc. I truly do apologize to those of you who are close to me, and who I have left in the dark concerning my life, with the excuse of being busy. As C.S. Lewis said "Be sure it is not for nothing that (God) has knit our hearts so closely to time and place - to one friend rather than another and one shire more than all the land." God has put you in my life to be my friends, family, teachers and mentors, and since He has been so gracious to allow me the privilege of having you as such, it is not my desire to spurn you and isolate you from me. I humbly apologize to any of you who have felt that I do not value you or the role you have played (and continue to play) in my life. Every person who I have ever met, even in passing, has had an impact on my development. I can only hope that you will know that you have affected me, and that your life has not gone unnoticed. Our actions mean more than we think, and the small choices we make every day make more impact in this world than we may ever realize. Humble gratitudes aside, I should get to the meat of this blog...

Last year I came to the realization that I had found the girl whom I would marry. I was deeply in love with a God-fearing woman named 박은지 (Eunji Park), and felt that I could not live without this woman in my life. Knowing that I would marry her, we began to discuss when we would get married. We decided that we would get married in the Fall of 2008, or in early 2009. However, as time went on, we really felt that we wanted to get married earlier (me in particular). The only reason we were going to wait until Fall 08 or early 09 was because of finances, but when we started seriously looking at the finances we decided that we could probably get married as early as May. So that's what we decided on. We booked the wedding hall and started ourselves on the path of planning a wedding. (On a side note, I'd like to make a small note about the difficulty in booking a wedding hall here. We booked it almost 6 months in advance, and it was the only available date anywhere near what we wanted.)

I had been looking to go home in early February and buy a ring to 'officially' propose to Eunji. However, as we got closer to the time, we began noticing some hiccups in the timing. I had applied and been accepted to a program that places English teachers in the public school system here in Korea. I had also been posted in Busan, which was important as this is where we'll be living (I've made a promise to Eunji that I would work in whatever city in Korea she wants to live in for the time that we spend in Korea before moving to the States to start studying for a Master's Degree. She's working in Busan at the Cambodian Consulate.). My new job demanded that I be in Korea during the last week of February, and I would be finishing my previous job in the middle of February. Contiguously, Eunji would be moving out of her place and looking for a new place to live from the 1st of March. This presented a housing problem for us. My work provided me with a one-room studio apartment or a housing allowance. I couldn't change from one to the other during the contract, though. There was no way that we were going to both live in an apartment the size of most people's bathrooms, and since we had to find a place for us to live in to start off our lives together, there was no way for her to find a place to live in for only 3 months. Aside from that there was also the problem of us becoming legally married. In Korea you cannot do the wedding license at the ceremony (for couples of differing nationality); it has to be done at the consulate or the embassy. Eunji works 6 days a week and I work 5. The consular is rarely at the Canadian consulate in Busan, and the Embassy is in Seoul, 3 hours away by bullet train. We weren't sure when we would be able to get legally married. All of these things working together on our minds presenting us with a problem, made us think that we wouldn't be able to get married in May after all.

Then Eunji told me that she would be able to go to Seoul on February 15th. So we decided that was going to be the day we got married. We also found a great place for us to be able to move into on February 29th. Everything worked out. We went to Seoul and were legally married on February 15th, 2008. There were no rings, no 'official' proposals, no ceremonies, just document giving, stamping, and receiving, and then we were back on the train to Busan that same night. Happenstantially (I love making up words), the first week of our marriage were spent with me living at my friend Will Copico's apartment followed by us living in different cities for the second week as I had to be in Daejeon for the orientation of my new program. Needless to say (funny that we say that right before we say something), the first two weeks of our marriage were rough. Now I've been living in the bliss (or difficulties depending on how you look at life) of being a newlywed. We have been adjusting to each other and I've been finding out just how much I put myself above other people. Who would have thought that to love your wife like Christ loved the church would be a difficult ideal to attain to? I found out soon enough.

Now my parents are here and we're anticipating our official ceremony, where we declare before everyone that we are committed to one another and are following the will of God in our lives by allowing HIm to join us together to serve Him. We have added to the stress of adjusting to our new lives together the stress of planning a wedding, trying to accent two cultures in a most sacred ceremony. We're really looking forward to seeing those of you who can make it there on May 31st to see us declare our love and commitment to each other publicly. For those of you who cannot make it, your presence will be greatly missed, and my heart will contain a certain amount of sadness and grief at the absence of those whom I cherish dearly. With every true thing in life, there must be a balance. Without sadness we would not know joy. It follows naturally then that in our time of greatest joy, our hearts will be aching for those whom we miss.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

May 31st, 2008

I'm getting married.....

. . . . . . to this girl
. . . ... ...... .. |
. . . . . .. ...... |
. . . . . .. ...... |
. . . . . .. ...... \/

(the one in the glasses)