Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Coming Evangelical Collapse


I trust that you all noticed Michael Spenser’s provocative – and brilliant - article in today’s Christian Science Monitor. Not a pretty picture, but spot on in articulating the sorry state of many churches today.

It’s very sad that once solid, Bible-believing churches continue to trade away the very thing that gives them influence in the world – that is, the Gospel of Jesus Christ – for a stab at “influence” from the world’s perspective. They have seemed to embrace the notion that the Gospel is a stumbling block to the Jew, foolishness to the Greek (and, in the words of Kim Riddlebarger, “both to an American”).

Spenser is devastating in his assessment and analysis. His conclusion is both breathtaking and easily foreseen – if one has eyes to look beyond the self-deception so common in inbred corporate systems that Evangelical churches so frequently emulate. Why, he asks, are we on the verge of a collapse of the Evangelical movement? In part, he says (and the emphasis is mine):
“We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.” (Take that, “deeds, not creeds!”)
“We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.” (I’d add that this condition clearly isn’t limited to merely the young people either).
What does he see coming? In part:
“Expect evangelicalism to look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented mega-churches that have defined success. Emphasis will shift from doctrine to relevance, motivation, and personal success – resulting in churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.”
This is the core problem for Evangelical churches – a shift from doctrine to ... well, something else. It always leads to compromise and weakens - even destroys - a church's effectiveness. In their effort to become “relevant” they lose their relevance. When a church compromises on its doctrine and distinctives, it becomes unable and weakened to pass on its truth to the next generation of believers; in fact, it ceases to have anything meaningful to pass on! When a church ceases to defend its own doctrine, for example, it has defaulted on its primary responsibility! Increasingly (if Christianity Today is any indication), churches are afraid to take a stand on even the most basic – core – doctrines because somebody somewhere disagrees. Churches like this may still remain “christian” in the most general (or generous sense), but they are a “church” only in the organizational sense. This is the error that the Mainline denominations made… and the Evangelicals are running after them as fast as possible.

Evangelical churches used to organize around what they believed. Now they organize around what they do. That is a great operating philosophy for a para-church organization, but it has become the philosophy of ministry for local churches!

“Evangelicalism doesn't need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral.” Amen, Michael. I trust, though, that you are wrong when you predict that the “purveyors of the evangelical circus [continue] in fine form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church's problems.” I pray that God will open the eyes of His people to desire beauty and substance of His Word; that God’s people will give up the lie that “we can’t know;” and that men in leadership would be cut to the heart in understanding their responsibility to care for and to feed God’s people with the Word of God.

48 comments:

Indafog said...

Ok, I've read most of your posts over the past day. Ok... sum up for me in 3 short (i repeat short) sentences what your problem is? Does the Church do nothing right? Are you really willing to say that anything short of 5 point Calvinism is heresy? Is worship really evil?

I think in many cases you have over stated your case at best. And other than patting yourself on the back and pissing off those who disagree with you, (again because of your approach not your content) what are you trying to do?

Doulos Christou said...

Welcome Inda - that's quite a challenge, but I'll take it:

1. The Church thankfully does a lot right, but churches don't when they stray from their intended purpose (God's glory) and methodology (God's Word). I've seen a bunch.

2. Funny you should ask that as it's the subject of an upcoming post, but just for now... come on, dude!

3. Worship is never evil, but a lot of what people call "worship" today isn't worship.

I'd respond better to the second paragraph, but you've limited (I repeat limited) my response. I'm betting though that you take issue with me somehow, so I'll wait and see if you can give me something specific.

Indafog said...

No... you sort of took the challenge.

2. Do you or do you not believe anything short of 5 point Calvinism is heresy? I honestly don't mean to sound snide but it is a yes or no question. If there are exceptions say so and we can discuss them.

3. Ok, maybe, ok, I definitely phrased that question poorly. True worship is never evil. That's the easy point. The better question is "Where specifically is worship missing the point?"

Question 2 and question 3 are not unrelated and I promise I am not taking pot shots. I believe the answer to number 2 drives some of your strong opinions on number 3.

As for some of your questions:

When you post publicly you may just have people watching who do not dialogue. This should not surprise you. Though I have some serious questions about the theology you profess my bigger issue is with the tone of your site. As a fellow evangelical I have to say the tone sound angry, bitter, cynical and overall just grumpy about the church and it's theology. It is hard to tell whether your are upset with the "Church" or your church. As I said alot of my complaint is with the attitude the comes across in your posts. Christianity is about joy, hope, forgiveness, mercy, and yes our depravity, but in the end it is good news no matter how you look at it.

However, If I am to have this discussion with integrity I must say that my initial tone was wrong and I apologize.

M

Doulos Christou said...

Hey Inda...

Certainly not surprised at the drive-by. Get lots of 'em! On your questions:

"2. Do you or do you not believe anything short of 5 point Calvinism is heresy? I honestly don't mean to sound snide but it is a yes or no question. If there are exceptions say so and we can discuss them."

No, I don't believe that anything short of 5 point Calvinism is heresy. Not to steal from the upcoming post, but "Calvinism" is increasingly the whipping boy for people who don't want to have any doctrinal distinctions. My issue isn't whether someone is a Calvinist - it's whether they are Biblical. Your comment (which I don't believe is merited by the content of my posts) IS snide as I have never suggested any such thing.

If you've read my posts, you know I see the world through a reformed viewpoint. That means I don't agree with Arminians. My objection, though, is to the current Evangelical thinking which vilifies any form of doctrinal precision... the "deeds, not creeds" mentality. By the way, I trust that you would ask an Arminian if anything short of the 5 points of Arminianism (to which the Synod of Dort responded with what you call the 5 points of Calvinism) is heresy as well. Or are you one of those who thinks the topic doesn't matter?

"Where specifically is worship missing the point?"

True worship is God-centered in its focus and Biblical in its theology. Much of modern church singing is neither. Much of it is man focused and at best vacant in theology. The impact of the entertainment culture is rampant in much of evangelicalism.

"As a fellow evangelical I have to say the tone sound angry, bitter, cynical and overall just grumpy about the church and it's theology. It is hard to tell whether your are upset with the 'Church' or your church."

Well, that may impact your desire to read the blog. Two quick thoughts:

1. You may want to read church history (perhaps starting with the New Testament) on the attitude demonstrated against false teaching in the church. If misrepresenting and distorting God's Truth doesn't get you at least a little angry, I'd say that your heart is in the wrong place.

I may not be doing a great job in presenting the issues, but the truth is that Evangelicalism in America is increasingly leaving its theological roots and framework. For example, here are just a few of the issues which any reader of Christianity Today knows are up for dispute in American Evangelicalism:

*How one comes to faith in Christ
*What the nature of salvation is
*Whether all people will eventually be saved
*What Christ accomplished on the Cross

These issues aren't academic - they represent the HEART of the Gospel itself. And they play out in the life and ministries of local congregations. Contrary - even contradictory - positions are taught even in the same churches... sometimes even in contradiction of their own doctrinal statements. My view is that this is wrong, and ought to be pointed out and rejected.

2. As to whether the focus is the Church general or local, I think I've been pretty clear about that - I've cited specific churches, too, so that indicates something. Much of the material recently was prepared for the college class taught at my local church. So I don't have a hidden agenda... my comments are addressed to where ever the issues exist.

I suspect that you disagree with my assessment, which is the source of your comment about my "tone." I'd suggest though that it's always easier to avoid the substance by focusing on the style. Well, I guess I'd say that "disdain is the emotion shown to an opponent who's argument you can't refute."

The Gospel is always good news, dude. But it's a tragedy what some evangelicals are doing to it. So, if you disagree with my theology or its application - or more importantly if you want to defend the abuses I'm pointing out here - I'm happy to discuss them.

Indafog said...

2. I am sorry you believe it to be a snide question but it is a valid one. Do I believe that the Calvinist/Armenian doctrinal argument is not important? No. I believe it has it's place, but I believe that most of the issues you brought up further down as things up for question are better discusses in other ways. I tend to believe that both Armenianism and Calvinism at their extremes are out of line with Scripture. I tend to think there are elements of truth to both of them even though they seem opposed if not contradictory to each other.

So rather than argue this in terms of "camps" lets start with your questions:

1. How one comes to faith: I realize that this may sound simplistic but lets start here:
Anyone who believes that Christ was the Son of God, Came to earth in flesh, died on the Cross for our sins and rose on the third day. Yes, literal death, and literal resurection. Are we on common ground here?

2. Nature of Salvation is such an odd thing to argue. If you believe the above and "ask Christ into your heart" to put it in Sunday school terms I believe that Salvation is instant and total. I believe the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is instant and permanent as well. I believe in true believers this will manifest itself as a change in behavior. However, I get very cautious when it comes to saying anything along the lines of "you must see change or it was not real". The condition of Mans heart is not for man to judge but for God and God alone. Do we have common ground here?

3. Simple answer is no. Given free choice some will choose to die. Some will choose to live. How that choice is made seems a relatively pointless argument. If God prompted me to make the decision and in his bigness was nice enough to do that, or if I was brought to a point of choice an chose currectly I thank God for bringing me to that point. Do we have common ground here?

4. What did Christ accomplish on the Cross? Simplistic but I believe true... He conquered sin and death by being the perfect Sacrifice that allows a Holy God to accept a fallen people. This was done once, it was complete, and there is no need for anything more than the blood of Christ. Do we have common ground there?

M

Doulos Christou said...

Inda,

I’m not sure that I’m following your line of thinking. Your question to me was this:

“Do you or do you not believe anything short of 5 point Calvinism is heresy?”

I answered no, I don’t. By the way, many people seem to use the labels without understanding them. This leads some to the really silly thinking that their own personal theology is somehow “beyond” those “camps.” Frequently, the same people believe that these “camps” are somehow co-equal and have been competing throughout the last 2000 years or so without any resolution. Thankfully, even a cursory reading of church history clears that nonsense up.

I cited 4 examples of where the Evangelical church is wishy-washy, and increasingly is stepping away from its historical roots (and historic orthodoxy itself). Of course we have common ground on many of the points you raise in response to those issues… but - based on what you said you think about these issues - YOU don’t have common ground with a lot of people who are speaking, writing or otherwise calling themselves Evangelicals.

When a church loses clarity about what the gospel is, it ceases to be a “Christian” church. Today, many Evangelical churches no longer want to be precise and teach what they believe… they want to be fuzzy and vague on doctrine and focus on service. Of course Christian churches serve – but as a result of what they teach, not at the expense of it.

This is why Evangelicalism (nationally and locally) will collapse if it doesn’t return to its primary focus: To proclaim God’s truth about Jesus as found in the Bible. To be precise about it. To call people to understand it. To tell a post-modern, nothing-can-be-known-for-certain culture that it can be understood. So far, it doesn’t look promising in my highly-unscientific sampling for those in the Evangelical tradition. And having spent so much of my life and energy in the movement, you’re right; it does make me “grumpy.” 

Indafog said...

Doulos...
My line of thought is this. Some of what you post seems to indicate that any deviance from Calvinism will lead to the collapse of Evangelical Christianity or more accurately the Evangelical church. Regardless of what you call or don’t call yourself you obviously take 5 point Calvinism very seriously. (By the way I don’t think that’s a bad thing!) You listed 4 areas that you see churches being wishy- washy on and in most cases I see that in some larger mainline denominations these are some serious problems. I did some research on the web and find that the church you go, Glen Ellyn Bible Church, seems to hold pretty solidly on all 4 areas you mentioned. My guess is that they may not hit full 5 point Calvinism but are probably 4 point for all intents and purposes and seem very far from the Armenian theology you seem to disagree with so strongly. So that does make me wonder what has you so riled up? It seems more personal than the “Church Universal” but your personal church seems to be in good shape.
In response to some of what you have said:
Your assumption seems to be that the Evangelical Church can fail. I'm pretty sure you are incorrect on that, but even if it does collapse that will not stop God's plan. (Might even be a good thing! A little revolution now and then is a good thing. Maybe the sick churches will fall and we will be left with a core of healthy churches… One can hope?) Secondly, trying to save the Evangelical church because you have a lot invested in it seems to be bad motivation and may explain your grumpiness.
Back to my original question, though poorly phrased and somewhat confrontational as it was…
What’s your point? So some churches have jumped off the theological short pier… We all know this. This does not surprise anyone that I am aware. From all the stuff I can find on your church it appears to be healthy theologically, though probably not as reformed as you’d like. So I wonder why all the bluster and why you take is so personally? Bad theology is not an offense against Doulos, it is an offense against God and I were going to piss somebody off I’d rather it be you quite frankly! God is quite capable of guiding and taking care of His Church, your Church, and all the other people out there. Relax God is still sovereign even when it comes to theology.

M

Doulos Christou said...

Not sure you're listening, Dude. Sounds like no matter what I say, you're out to have the "Calvinism" argument. I'm just not up for it - it isn't what this blog is about.

Maybe you can point me to a post where I'm saying that's the issue and I'll be happy to interact with you.

On your analysis about whether/why I should be concerned... well, (yawn).

Perhaps you could share with us your research about my church, too. Remember, the internet's not all its cracked up to be.

Indafog said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Indafog said...

Any particular reason you chose to remove my last post???

Indafog said...

I'm listening but you keep dodging the question?

What has you so riled about the "Church"? ALL of the risks you speak of have been risks and problems since the church first began. Why is it that all of the sudden you are afraid that God can't keep it together? So far it sounds like you believe His sheep and his shepherds are wondering so the church will cease to exist in its present form. Nothing new there, read the Bible again, it's one giant story of His steadfastness and our wondering and still His church marches on because He is sovereign.

Doulos, answer me this:

In reading your post it almost feels like you believe that your personal Church and the Church at large are doomed to fail immediately if they don't listen to your point of view? What changed? Why now? As I stated the problems are no different now then before?

Doulos Christou said...

Inda,

Regarding your questions/assertions:

1. “Any particular reason you chose to remove my last post?”

Yes.

2. "What has you so riled about the 'Church'?"

I didn't think I was ducking your question! As the posts you're talking about have a lot of specifics, I guess you are looking for something beyond the current and growing infidelity of Evangelicals from historic orthodoxy which is evidenced so clearly by (among other
things):

(1) The loss of practical confidence in the authority of the Bible - demonstrated by its absence from personal and corporate practice;
(2) Man-centered preaching in the place of "Christ and Him crucified";
(3) The loss of the corporate teaching and sense of the "transcendence of God" - replaced by a distorted message of His "imminence";
(4) The loss of practical ability to distinguish between the converted and the unconverted in mission and message;
(5) The rise of the "felt-need", marketing driven pragmatism - especially in the corporate assembly - which has fueled the "entertainment" culture in "worship"; and
(6) Most foundationally, the Spiritual sickness and death that all of this points towards.

Give all that I’d ask you: Why are you NOT riled up?

3. “ALL of the risks you speak of have been risks and problems since the church first began.”

I don't share your understanding of history... It sounds like you acknowledge the problems and assume that there’s no hope of improvement. But it HASN’T always been this way and, when it has, you might consider reading Church history to see how it’s been addressed. Even more importantly, it doesn't have to STAY this way. You might want to consider how cynical that view sounds, too.

4. “Why is it that all of the sudden you are afraid that God can't keep it together?”

I don’t think the Church “will cease” because the “gates of hell will not prevail against it” according to Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t mourn over the need for repentance and reformation today. And I’m not “afraid” of anything… I’m sad about it because it is wrong.

5. “In reading your post it almost feels like you believe that your personal Church…”

And you keep impugning my posts as attacks on my “personal Church.” Let me assure you, any issues I would have with my own church would have been directly addressed with its leadership (as is appropriate). You’d do that local church a favor not to keep insinuating that this site is some sort of covert attack on that local body. That isn’t fair, and it isn’t true.

6. “…and the Church at large are doomed to fail immediately if they don't listen to your point of view?”

Leaving aside the really pejorative tone of your comment, let me make it clear that NO ONE should listen at all to my point of view. It’s God’s point of view – revealed in the Bible - that I’m concerned about – a view which I really and honestly believe is being neglected and ignored.

On your line of logic, consider today's (3/25/09) post. :-)

Indafog said...

Hah! Today's post does seem most pertinent to our discussion doesn't it. LOL...

Contrary to what you might think I agree with much of what you say. (Surprised???) I have pushed hard and will I will continue to push hard for some answers that I don't think your blog or blogs like them address very well.

First of all in all of the "worry" or "concern" or "sadness" for lack of better terms, God seems to get lost. What I am fighting back against seems to be an inconsistency in the "argument." Again I use that term as I don't have a better one in my limited vocab. (Had to use Wikipedia for your last response! lol)

Here's what I see:

1. There is great concern of the demise of the evangelical church.
2. This demise is drive by OUR wandering from the truth of scripture.
3. You argue that the orthodoxy of the past can help this.
4. Reformed theology (which is the vantage point you write from) puts much emphasis on the sovereignty of God and tends to minimalise our position. (Rightly so by the way!)
5. You mention several things WE can do to help correct this problem.

The inconsistency:

God is all powerful and sovereign and the church is headed to hell in a hand basket.

This can turn into a chicken or the egg discussion but is it not God that is in control of the church? God throughout the OT is guiding our friends the Isrealites through the desert. (I really hope I spelled that on right...) Though God is very present and very visible the Isrealites tend toward really bad decisions. Several times it appears that these decisions would be catastrophic to God's plan, yet God always seems to get things to work out in the end.

My point???? I give you cudos for being a theological watchdog. I think for many of your points you are dead on. Much of what you say gives me pause and I don't always like it but in many of those cases you are right. I fear however that theological watchdogs in general can sometimes loose the forest for the trees. That is my point in asking the question, Why now? I have looked at its history and yes different issues, different solutions but same problem; Humans are not good keepers of orthodox doctrine. We like to wander from God. It's like we have a collective sinful nature...(no doctrine intended here)

However, despite all the problems, despite our wandering, we are still the bride of Christ and He loves us. He loves His Church more than we do. So in all of this let us not forget that God is in control and though there will be consequences to our wandering, the failure of the Church will not be one of them.

Might I make a suggestion? Find some places that are doing it right and highlight them. Your site is depressing, morbid, and very negative. There are two ways of going about watching doctrine and since there are more bad then good that's where we focus, but isn't there some good stuff out there?

As for your personal church... I will leave it alone from here on out... However, comments like the following were not helpful in backing your statement that this is not in someway directed at your home church.

"Perhaps you could share with us your research about my church, too. Remember, the internet's not all its cracked up to be."

The insuation there is that the church website is different then what is preached, teached etc.

MT

Doulos Christou said...

Inda,

I’m grateful to hear that you “agree with much of what [I] have to say.”

I don't think that God lost in my thinking at all… perhaps you confuse the interaction between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. It’s not “either/or” (or a chicken and an egg) – its “both/and.” God is sovereign, and we are responsible. If I were you, I wouldn’t be too comfortable excusing bad behavior or bad theology on the thought that God will work it out in the end. As A.W. Tozer said in his really, really good book The Knowledge of the Holy:
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.”
This is why we “study to show ourselves approved.” It is why we are to “contend earnestly for the faith”. The only way that we make meaningful progress is by “the renewal of our minds.” So keep thinking, Inda... I'm confident that you'll see that the issue isn't Doulos and his opinion/tone, but Jesus Christ and His Truth. That's worth the struggle, and the effort.

So I don’t see the inconsistency you pose.

On your point about statements you’ve read as talking about my church, I guess you can see whatever you want to see. You seem to have me at a little disadvantage as you clearly know me but I don’t know who you are (“MT”?). My comment, though, was intended to poke some fun at your assertion that you “did some research” on my church. I’d suspect that you may have more familiarity with it than you indicated. Besides, while my comments aren’t directed at any church, they are applicable wherever the issue exists.

By the way, you said “The insuation there is that the church website is different then what is preached, teached etc.”

Hummmm...

Anyway, back to the topic at hand: If I’m right in thinking that you know me and/or attend my church, I’d invite you to just give me a call or drop me an email at (nopearlsb4swine@gmail.com). I'll be happy to talk through these things with you… I'll even spring for a cup-o-joe at your favorite coffee place. You know, for people attending the same church, a discussion/debate within the comment section of an insignificant post seems pretty lame. If I knew who you were, I would have done this days ago. Also (as you intimated), perhaps you’re carrying other people’s opinions along with you ... if so, perhaps you should suggest that they speak up for themselves.

Just to say it, I’m not a “theological watchdog.” I’m just a concerned Christian. And there is PLENTY out there to be concerned about and you're not terribly convincing about why I should be silent about what I see. I don't think anyone can accuse me of talking about these issues only in this forum, but you're welcome here as often as Al Gore's Information Superhighway gets you here.

I’ll leave the question of “balance” though to the Lord to whom I’m accountable.

Indafog said...

Just to say it, I’m not a “theological watchdog.” I’m just a concerned Christian. And there is PLENTY out there to be concerned about and you're not terribly convincing about why I should be silent about what I see. I don't think anyone can accuse me of talking about these issues only in this forum, but you're welcome here..."

Oh.. you misunderstand...

1. Theological watchdog is not a bad term... Concerned christian... if you like that term better is fine withe me, but frankly the world needs theological watchdogs... people who will go the extra mile to check on things to make sure things are orthodox and sound are much needed. So there is no, offense meant in that term... It is actually a compliment.

2. Nobody especially me has said that you should be quiet... My last post indicated that I very much appreciate the role you play.

3. No, I doubt you are quiet about your beliefs... just doesn't strike me as your thing... besides that would be inconsistent with your site which is too well thought out to be a "closet" activity...:-)

I think your suspicion that I know more than I lead on has led you to make one bad conclusion so let's clear that up quickly:

I carry my own banner, my own opinions and I speak for no one but myself. A little Google work and I'm pretty sure you'd find me if you need to.

2. I am sorry you don't see the inconsistency and I am sorry that you believe that I am comfortable with things as they are, or just letting sin in the Church or church continue.

That is probably my own fault as I am not gifted with words and thought as you obviously are. However, I will take another shot at it.

1. In our Christian lives as with all aspects of human life we are only responsible for our own behavior. I can't control yours, you can't control mine, I shouldn't take the blame for yours and you should not take the blame for mine. This is a pretty easy concept to say but hard to put into practice.

2. The body of Christ adds a level of responsibility to the above that I do not ignore. That is as a member of a church or The Church either or, we cannot be content to sit by and watch it stray. As part of that body we are responsible for at least our part in it or of it...

That I think constitutes the first part of the issue. We cannot take responsibility for the actions of others, yet as a believer in Christ and a member of His church we do have a responsibility to challenge it when it is wrong, praise it when it is right and be willing to take some of the blame and some of the praise.

Second part:

God is in control. He is in control in the very large sense that He is all powerful, He is Sovereign, Omniscient, etc. God is also in control on a much more personal level. He has a Will for each of us, wants personal relations with each of us, and wants worship from each of us. (These lists are not meant to be exhaustive.)

Here is where the trick comes in my brain... When does our complaining/bringing to light wrongs etc. go from being Theological Watchdog/Concerned Christian to a scared and down trodden Christian simply yelling because that's all we know to do. (Try not to read any negative overtones into that sentence I just didn't have a better sentence in my small vocab.)

I have found it interesting but not surprising that since I have started this conversation with you God has brought before me several articles and some simple TV blurbs here and there showing both sides of the discussion. I think actually there are more people out there that agree with you then you think. But as the article I sent you in CT indicated there are also some scary numbers coming out of surveys of the church.

On a slightly different note but same gist... We have talked much of orthodoxy and history and very large almost impersonal concepts.

Do you see any difficulty in returning to an orthodox stance without losing the personal side of the God/believer relationship.

I know and have known several people that find these two things incongruous. (pulled out a .25 word!) It seems that while they pull back to the more orthodox stance, God seems to get distant and impersonal.

Thoughts???

Doulos... Give me some time to think this thru and we will meet. I am not hiding from you but do need to sort this out slowly. As I said in my second post: If I am to have this conversation with any integrity I must apologize for my tone. Some of what you said pissed me off. (I'm ok with that!) But as I seek truth, which is more important than being right, (Darn it!) I find myself understanding your position, your posture, and your beliefs better.

However, I am not quick on my feet and haven't slept in days trying to catch up on all the things you cover. So off to bed with me.

M T ?

Indafog said...

oh.. one last thing... were you trying to insinuate that I can't spell or type???

LOL

M said...

Ahh, a line of comments that is interesting, but may have gone stale. At the risk of violating netiquette I will post:

On "style vs substance" I submit:

"If I have ... all knowledge, ... but have not love, I am nothing"

(also relevant to deeds vs creeds)

with respect to "watchdog" I submit:

"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, ... and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."

And a thought on what is needed for the Church - we may want non-Christians to beleive that we have something worthwhile. Someone once said:

"by their fruit you will recognize them"

If you asked non-Christians to list our fruit, would they list "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfullness, gentleness, and self-control"?

My impression is that they would not. If they do not, do they perceive us correctly?

Doulos Christou said...

"M" -

If I understand your thoughts correctly, you’re suggesting a couple of things... please tell me if I’m hearing your right):

1. Without love, knowledge is useless. I certainly agree as far as that goes; I'd also add that without knowledge, love is useless, too (Romans 10:2-3). It is this problem that I'm addressing in this post.

If you are suggesting (along with “Inda” above - and I could be wrong about this) that you’re taking issue with “style” (or “deeds”) as opposed to “substance” (or “creeds”) here, I’d welcome some help in understanding your point.

2. You quote the praise of the Bereans (from Acts 17) I would guess favorably in connection with “watchdogs.” If you’re suggesting that all Christians be Berean-like in this characteristic, I certainly agree.

Your thought about “we may want non-Christians to believe that we have something worthwhile” may indicate a fundamental disagreement between us – and a serious error in your thinking. The Bible clearly teaches that non-Christians DON’T think that what we have is worthwhile – its either foolishness or a stumbling block to them (1 Corinthians 1:23).

There is a really silly ministry philosophy circulating in Evangelicalism these days which thinks that you can reach people without offending them. I'm not saying that we should be offensive, but the Truth of sin, judgement and God's means of righteousness is ALWAYS offensive to the mind apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

This site isn’t addressing non-Christians anyway. It is addressing Christians who love other things before (and maybe even in place of) God’s Truth... who are watering down the Gospel and substituting in its place the "felt need" of the unregenerate listener.

I’m not saying that we should be unloving to each other. But it is NOT unloving to say to someone who claims to be a Christian that they are misrepresenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When they do that, they are wrong, dangerous, to be avoided – even cursed (consider Paul’s reaction in Galatians 1:8, or Jude’s reaction in his short book).

Thanks for stopping by - I'll look forward to some clarity from you. But here’s a hypothetical for you, dealing with “fruit” in the life of a believer: If someone in your local church fellowship has offended you, would you think that taking an anonymous shot at the "offender" would be an evidence of the fruit of the spirit, or would it be more appropriate to talk directly to them - face to face - about the issue?

Stephen said...

Interesting discussion, Doulos. I agree with you completely. Not only is love without knowledge useless (per your comment), but it’s the knowledge of God’s word that PRECEDES (and results in) love. True Christian love doesn’t just arise out of a vacuum, but comes from the faith generated by the “renewing of our minds” (per your reference to Romans 12:2). All other acts of “love” (or any other works) that do not come from faith is sin (Rom 14:23).

Some other passages that speak to this are Rom 10:2 (…that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge), Col 3:10 (put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him), and Phl 1:9 (And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment). See also 1 Cor 1:5, Phlm 6, and 2 Peter 1:5.

So when 1 Cor 13 rightly asserts the importance of love, Paul is talking there about a GODLY love. That kind of love is not something we “muster up” within ourselves (as “deeds”). You don’t need Christianity for that kind of “love.” True Christian love is the result of the regenerated heart. And the regenerated heart comes about FIRST through the knowledge of the Gospel; the TRUE Gospel that is rightly preached (“creeds”). It all starts with clear, definitive, and (outside of the work of the Holy Spirit) offensive doctrine, as you pointed out with 1 Cor 1:23.

Doulos Christou said...

Well said Steve!

I'm amazed at how people who are constantly warning against "sacrificing people on the alter of truth" (as if that could happen) so frequently "sacrifice truth on the alter of people"!

Indafog said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Doulos Christou said...

Inda,

Thanks for your message. I'll read it carefully and respond privately - as I believe is appropriate for the nature of some of the issues you raise.

Just so you don't feel singled out, I have a policy of deleting comments that are personal in nature and especially those which "name names" of people not under discussion here. This isn't a blog about a local church.

Thanks!

Durin said...

Doulos,

With respect to "The Bible clearly teaches that non-Christians DON’T think that what we have is worthwhile" it is true that:

"They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you."

though it should be remembered that someone has said:

"In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

and it is even written:

"In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,"

Leaving aside roles in marriage for another thread, consider in this case what the non-Xian is supposed to think and how this is supposed to come about...

wrt your question on "...would it be more appropriate to talk directly to them - face to face - about the issue?"

Why do ask me? (seriously)

Durin said...

Sorry: M = Durin. Sometimes I forget which account I am using.

Doulos Christou said...

M,

I understand your point. I certainly agree that our lives ought to be a testimony to Christ and that we ought to be Christ-like in lifestyle. But that alone isn't enough. We're called to "always be able to give an account of the hope that is within us" as well as to live it out.

Christianity is first and foremost a "belief-system". There are many people (take many Mormons for example) whose lives are loving but, because of what they believe remain headed for Hell under God's wrath.

My call is NOT to ignore our lifestyle but to return to Biblical accuracy in what we profess. The Evangelical movement has strayed a LONG way from this when the issues discussed here are up for debate.

Doulos Christou said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Durin said...

Stephen,

I quite agree that:

"... faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."

I submit that this should not stand alone, but be held with:

"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."

I do not think anyone in this thread was claiming that the love of the believer is generated on its own for:

"We love because he first loved us."

Finally, while mapping out the proper role of knowledge vis-a-vis faith and love, where do you put:

"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."?

Durin said...

Doulos,

So far I have not tried to make "my point", but only to draw attention to scripture that seemed relevant. ;)

I will go ahead and say what I am thinking - I am taking you even more seriously than what you have said. :) Not only is _your_ call to return to Biblical accuracy in what we profess, but I have considered that God may have given you a calling to do so. In that case, _living_ by 1 Cor 13 will be critical for you. I submit that the Spirit of God put in the part about knowledge specifically to warn those that defend knowledge and truth. If we succeed over the course of our lives in moving Evangelicals to closely adhere to Biblical accuracy, but they do not live lives of agape, then we will have failed. Biblical accuracy will then for all practical purposes be disassociated with God, for "God is love". A crazy result. The ultimate message that we would end up giving is that you should avoid the Bible if you want to know God.

(I do not know if you need this idea right now, or if this is just something to keep in mind over the years in the future, or if this has just been a good exercise for me to remember. I also put a fair value in knowing Scripture.)

Doulos Christou said...

M,

You really can't prove your point by pulling verses WAY out of context.

Galatians 5:6 is part of Paul's argument against the Judaizers (who were distorting the Gospel), specifically addressing their claim of the requirement of circumcision.

1 Corinthians 8:1, which you cite, is discussing the problem of the misuse of Christian liberty (specifically, eating meat sacrificed to idols when it caused the weaker brother to stumble). The point being made is that we don't use superior knowledge to trump the importance of community. It certainly does not stand for the proposition that knowledge about God is secondary or doesn't matter.

In both cases, it is a proper understanding of doctrine that Paul is advocating!

You seem to want to draw some kind of distinction between "knowledge" on the one hand and "faith and love" on the other. The entire testimony of the Bible is that you can not separate them.

Proverbs 19:2 says "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way." Further (and in context), Paul rejected the zeal of the Jews specifically on this basis, when he said in Romans 10:2-3 that "...I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. (emphasis added)

I am NOT saying that we should have knowledge without works. Neither is Stephen. You seem to be arguing that works (love) are more important than knowledge. Is that what you are trying to say?

Doulos Christou said...

M,

Your last comment came in while I was writing my thoughts on your comment to Stephen. Boy, I'm confused.

I'll take your warning to heart. I'd ask that you consider the reaction typically given to people who raise issues like this, too.

Well all, I think we've exhausted this comment thread...

Indafog said...

Doulos... Their response is irrelevant... Why leave the out??? They behave badly so what? The warning given still stands it needs no outs based on others behavior.

Doulos Christou said...

M,

I'm not following your last comment... can you help me out?

Durin said...

OK, I'll give it another shot. My last comment had three sections:

1)I do not have a thesis I am trying to prove. The game I am NOT playing is:

“Doulos believes proposition “XYZ” but I believe proposition “ABC”. Ha, this verse will prove him wrong and me right.”

Instead, I have quoted verses that seemed germane to fleshing out the discussion. Some aspects might reinforce what you've said, some implications might contradict what you've said, and some might just round out and give more emphasis to some parts. My objective is to get a full and balanced picture from God's Word, not to prove my pet proposition. (And I do not always know everything that will come out from the verses. One thing I like about Scripture is that it is deep and pondering it often leads to something new.)

2)Part of what does concern me is not just what we do but also how we do it. Filling in all the right bubbles on the doctrine multiple choice test can still lead to failure. Yes, I know that you agree with this if I pose it to you as a matter of theological theory. To repeat what I said in part 1, sometimes the implications of the verses I quote might be to just add more emphasis of focus on something.

3)Final comment was just humility. I do not know if the “gaps that need rounded out” are something that you need to hear right now. If you already excel in living in the way that the verses that I've quoted would indicate, then maybe the only one who's benefited is me since this is useful for me to return to.

To go a little farther with these thoughts, 1 Cor chapter 8 actually packs a lot of things into a few verses. (God is talented that way.) Yes, it deals with how we use our freedom. Something else to notice:

From v4 (“*We* know...” emphasis added) and v7 (“But not everyone knows this.” as well as the way the rest of the chapter talks to the reader) it sounds like Paul is writing to people who have superior knowledge. And the way the latter part of the chapter is written I'm guessing that his audience understands it, and applies it correctly in their reasoning.

What knowledge? Concepts like:

“there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”

It looks to me like they have foundational knowledge, of the type that would be put in creeds. And yet right off the bat in the beginning of the discourse on food sacrificed to idols Paul is warning them on their attitude due to their knowledge. Before he ever gets to the impact of their actions on the community, he talks about the impact of their knowledge on their egos.

At least in my eyes, this seemed like a relevant piece of scripture to ponder and remember that has both theoretical and practical application.

Doulos Christou said...

M/D,

1) Ok

2) Whaa?? "Part of what does concern me is not just what we do but also how we do it." OK, but I'm talking about what we believe.

3) I understand what you are trying to say (I think), but your implication is that there is somehow a danger in "superior knowledge". OK, Paul (and I would agree) - but this isn't my point.

Could you interact with me at all on the point of my post(s), which is about Evangelicalism's decline in orthodoxy? That is my point. There are always other issues to raise, but I wish we could interact on the point I raised.

I'm shutting down comments on this post... if you'd like to discuss this further (and I'd welcome it), let's get together to do so.

Durin said...

Ok. Then what you're saying is that you are not interested in my first post. (Just in case this was confusing, Indafog is a different poster than M/Durin.)

Durin said...

But hey, its your blog. You don't wanna talk about, you don't wanna.

Stephen said...

Durin:

In answer to your question "Finally, while mapping out the proper role of knowledge vis-a-vis faith and love, where do you put:

"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."?

...that verse (1 Cor 8:1) is in the context of food offered to idols. This is not referring to the gospel message and the core doctrinal teaching that transforms lives. In Vs 4, Paul defines the "knowledge" he is referring to, and it has nothing to do with what we are talking about here.

Of course I agree with you that knowledge doesn't stand alone. But it certainly must precede faith, and the love that results from true belief. To quote 1 Cor 8:1 as an indictment of biblical knowledge and doctrine is to completely miss the point, and is a misleading kind of proof-texting. Please don't do that.

If one were to take that verse out of context, one would have to avoid all knowledge for fear of being "puffed up." Clearly not a biblical conclusion. The fact that some Christians do sin by allowing ANY kind of knowledge to lead to pride is not a reason to ignore the teaching of scripture regarding the importance of clear, defining doctrine.

Doulos Christou said...

"Ok. Then what you're saying is that you are not interested in my first post. (Just in case this was confusing, Indafog is a different poster than M/Durin.)I re-read your prior comments (starting with the 1st one at comment 17) and I'm hard-pressed to see how you can reasonably conclude that "I'm not interested."

By the way, Indafog identified himself as "M" pretty early in this exchange (for example, comments 3, 5, 7, etc.) and "M/Durin" posted later. As a matter of fact, "Indafog" specifically identified himself as "M" in the "deleted comment" above. In addition, Inda has responded (in comments above and in emails) to responses I've given to M/Durin in a way that has led me to think I'm talking to one person who attends my local church. If that's the case, I think good communication (and common church membership) calls for inperson discussion rather than a blog-comment conversation.

But assuming I'm wrong about that, I've likely confused comments.

Doulos Christou said...

Stephen,

Well said. It is, of course, knowledge of the Truth that leads to transformation of our lives in the first place!

I do NOT believe that love doesn't matter. On the other hand, it is the result of embracing knowledge of God.

And people who love God want to know Him. They are passionate about representing Him well (by action and by testimony). They are jealous for His character. They even get angry when people misrepresent Him - and especially so when those doing it claim to be His representatives.

Stephen said...

I agree, Doulos. Love of men results from true love of God. And love of God comes from knowledge...knowledge ABOUT the God we love. We cannot love someone we do not know (e.g. in marriage), and the more we know about someone, the more we can really love that person (not some false idea of the person).

The same with God. If we do not know the TRUE God of the Bible, we end up loving a false God. And it is only through the knowledge of God...as COMPLETE a knowledge as possible...that we come to love Him more. And the more complete our knowledge of Him, the more genuine and powerful is our love for others.

This only comes about by the guarding of biblical doctrine...ALL of it. This is why Paul constantly hammers this home in books like Timothy and Titus, because He knows that when we get off the doctrinal path, no matter how much "good" we do for others, only spiritual disaster will follow.

Stephen said...

I agree, Doulos. Love of men results from true love of God. And love of God comes from knowledge...knowledge ABOUT the God we love. We cannot love someone we do not know (e.g. in marriage), and the more we know about someone, the more we can really love that person (not some false idea of the person).

The same with God. If we do not know the TRUE God of the Bible, we end up loving a false God. And it is only through the knowledge of God...as COMPLETE a knowledge as possible...that we come to love Him more. And the more complete our knowledge of Him, the more genuine and powerful is our love for others.

This only comes about by the guarding of biblical doctrine...ALL of it. This is why Paul constantly hammers this home in books like Timothy and Titus, because He knows that when we get off the doctrinal path, no matter how much "good" we do for others, only spiritual disaster will follow.

Indafog said...

Rest assured Wes... M is not me, and I am not M even though that's the beginning of my name. Since you know my name I signed that last message the same way I sign all my messages. Sorry for the confusion.

MTH
Indafog

Durin said...

Yes, sorry for any confusion. It took me awhile to notice that Indafog signed posts as "M". Not the same as M/Durin. (I have two accounts and am not strict on where I post from.)

Durin said...

Stephen,

Regarding your comment "This is not referring to the gospel message and the core doctrinal teaching that transforms lives."

See my comment to Doulos (from Durin) at 10:09 PM. The specific knowledge that is being discussed in the context of that chapter is:

“there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”

This sounds like core doctrinal truth to me.

From the rest of your post I can safely say you do not put "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." into your working out of proper role of knowledge vis-a-vis faith and love as saying that we should not obtain knowledge. Good. No one on this blog has claimed that, which is good since the verse does not say that.

Since that is what you do NOT do with the verse, what DO you do with it?

(That M/Durin guy)

Durin said...

Doulos,

As far your interest, my first post kicked off with "style vs substance" - how we do things. You seem to want to talk about "Evangelicalism's decline in orthodoxy" and "talking about what we believe." I also brought up deeds vs creeds (from your blog article) and "by their fruit you will recognize them".

My emphasis is different from yours. This part seemed to be a little lite in the blog so this is the direction I went. You do not seem to keep wanting to going this area. That's fine. I have no desire to argue over Orthodoxy. (I'm for it.) I'd rather talk about the boundaries on what Orthodoxy can do and the ways that it can be corrupted besides by becoming heresy.

(That M/Durin guy)

Indafog said...

I have to say that I tend to agree with Durin... Arguing Orthodoxy has its limits.

It assumes you can get everyone to agree on what orthodox is. There are Godly people out there that sincerely love and follow Christ that disagree on some points of Orthodoxy. Is the church local or universal only "orthodox" if it agrees with Doulos, Steven, Durin or myself? If I disagree with Durin who's unorthodox? If steven disagrees with Doulos on something, who's unorthodox. Does majority rule? He who yells doctrine the loudest wins? To state that anyone one of us has a "lock" on orthodoxy would be arrogant and wrong. The word Grace comes to mind here. The Bible was not meant to answer all questions just the ones we need. The word faith comes to mind here. God does not describe in great detail how a timeless God interacts with linear time. If He did would we understand it? He does not actually go into great depth on a number of subjects I sometimes wish He had. Some I can think of are:

Creation: Where do dinosaurs fit in anyway?

Time: Ok God created time, gave us free will and maintains sovereignty, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence. How? In linear time those don't appear to fit well.

End Times: Oh...a translation key to Revelation would have been nice as well. Many questions there and, darnit, He held true to Jesus' words in Matthew...

My point is there are some things that we have to say, "I don't know."

Can we live with the unknowns? Is our faith big enough? Is our grace for our brothers big enough to allow them to "not know"? If I state I don't know, or a pastor, or teacher says, "I don't know" are we graceful enough to handle that? Do we have enough faith to let God handle that instead of us?

Calvinism - There are points of Calvinism that I simply look at and go I don't know. I don't see the answer that some theologians and pastors point at. I'm not there yet. May never be. Am I a heretic?

Creationism - I tend to answer that one with an I don't know too. I fall to 7 days because it makes me feel like God is bigger, but do I have an real scriptural evidence for it... not really. So, I fall in the "I don't know" category. Am I a heretic?

Outside the essentials, "Salvation issues" or in my mind the Apostles Creed, I think I don't know is a legitimate answer that should be more readily accepted.

(Yes, there are risks to this. A wondering from doctrine because of "too many I don't knows". The other risk is too many answers that should have been "I don't knows" Making up an answer is not necessarily better than not having one. Risks noted)

2. Orthodoxy is a means not the end. Orthodoxy is a means to understanding God but is not the end of knowing God.

Doulos and I find some disagreement in my next statement:
Doulos has said the "gospel" is not a relationship it is a belief structure. Depending on how you define the term Gospel that may be true, but CHRISTIANITY IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP. The Bible is all about how WE lost relationship with God and HIS seeking to get it back. Yes, Orthodoxy is part of the picture but the whole relationship it does not make.


Indafog

Doulos Christou said...

Durin,

I'd rather talk about the boundaries on what Orthodoxy can do and the ways that it can be corrupted besides by becoming heresy.Orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right behavior) are not at all inconsistent. They do not need “balance” – they can both be pursued fully and, rightly understood, neither diminishes of the other. (It should be obvious that when talking about "orthodoxy" I am not talking about academic knowledge for its own sake, which is ultimately vanity.)

Scripture does establish, though, a sequential priority to the two concepts. This is important to understand, because

1. Orthopraxy will always (and necessarily) follow orthodoxy; and

2. On the other hand, orthopraxy can not exist without orthodoxy.

Said more plainly, the more Biblical your thinking becomes (particularly about God), the more Biblical your life will become. That is, by the way, what Paul is referring to when he calls us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. It underlies the truth in Jesus’ summation of all of the Law and Prophets, and in his priority of identifying which is “the first” commandment.

Inda,

To state that anyone one of us has a "lock" on orthodoxy would be arrogant and wrong.You ask how we are to decide this in light of contrary positions held by sincere believers. We are individually responsible for that ourselves, and the Elders of a local church have responsibility for that corporately. Thankfully, if they study the Scripture God has clearly promised to lead them in this task. Also, while not inerrant, they have a wealth of thinking from the church historic to aid them in this process, identifying prior errors and clarifying positions. Sadly, too often, Elders shirk this responsibility and spend their time doing "deacon" things or acting like a corporate board - the failure on local leadership's part greatly contributes to this problem.

There is also some level of uncertainty, but I take it that you’re not buying my point that the Evangelical church is on a down-grade slide, with more and more “essentials” becoming uncertain and debatable. Prior posts have identified a number of examples of this, and I’m concerned for the reasons stated in my note to Durin above.

To repeat myself: It is arrogant and wrong to call what God has clearly revealed in the Bible as unclear and subject for debate! With history as witness, this is precisely what the Evangelical church (movement and too often local) is doing. I understand that we are all fallible humans, but I think that the general Biblical illiteracy increasingly common in our experience contributes greatly to the uncertainty of what the Bible actually says – and those who don’t learn from the past are destined to repeat it.

Durin, Indafog and Stephen,

I’m thinking we may be all talking past each other on this. FYI, I’m posting something new today (and this comment thread has evolved pretty far from the original post), so I’d invite you to weigh in on the new post. But if you’re interested, I’d welcome your opinion on a particular hypothetical situation that might help illustrate better the concept. If you want to weigh in, email me at nopearlsB4swine@gmail.com.

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