Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Blasphemy Challenge

I just saw a report on Nightline about a group of atheists issuing the "Blasphemy Challenge." Basically, they are trying to get as many people as they can to post videos of themselves saying "I deny the existence of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit." One clip that the report showed had a girl end her video clip by waving at the camera and sarcastically saying "See you in Hell!" Read the story here.

I can't say that I'm surprised by this, but I am tremendously saddened. They reported that 9% of Americans identify themselves as atheist. Apparently, their blasphemy is compelling enough to warrant a major network news magazine to do a feature story on them.

The man and his wife who issued the "challenge" angered me, not because of their atheism, but because of their brash, dismissive, angry, and elitist attitude. Even if I am irrational in my belief (as the atheist claims), there is a civil way to correct me, and this couple's way is is not it. Then again, if there is no God, what basis do I have for demanding civility? I imagine a conversation with this couple may go something like this:
  • Why be civil/kind to others? Because it is the right thing to do.
  • Why is it the right thing to do? Because it is how I would want to be treated.
  • Why should I treat others the way I want to be treated? Because a peaceful world is created by practicing the golden rule.
  • Why should I be concerned about a peaceful world? Because life is more enjoyable/comfortable when there is peace.
  • Why is enjoyment/comfort in life important? Come on ... why?
My point: If there is no God, there is no end to the argument. There is no standard of morality that people can rationally be held to. Everyone's understanding of morality is just as valid as the next guy's.

I remember learning once about the war crimes trials after World War II in Nuremberg. If I remember correctly, the Nazis' defense was that they committed no wrong. They did not violate any law, for their actions were in perfect accord with the law to which they were accountable. Their actions may have violated American or British law, but they were not under American or British law. Therefore they did something wrong. This is cultural relativism; (culture determines morality). They were found guilty and sentenced. But the court didn't even try to convict them of violating a law of MAN. The verdict was that they were guilty of violating a law that transcends geographical and political boundaries. A higher law. What law was that? No international law existed at the time that would have condemned them! Friends, the Nazis were convicted based on the fact that they violated the moral law of GOD! The court was careful not to name or attempt to define God. But do not be fooled, the Nazis were condemned because the court recognized that, at the foundation of all morals is something/someone transcendent.

If there is no God, then we have no basis on which to declare the Nazi's guilty of moral wrong! We have no basis on which to declare the thief, the liar, the murderer, or the rapist guilty of moral wrong either. They simply operate on the basis of individual relativism (aka moral subjectivism), which says that each individual determines his own morality. Moral subjectivism and cultural relativism are just different expressions of the same old, irrational argument which the Nazis used in a failed attempt to defend themselves at Nuremberg.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Post of the Week

This post came from Mike Cope's blog on January 23. It was my favorite piece of reading this week. I highly recommend his blog.

Is There Any Hope For Western Christianity?

Can the West be re-evangelized? Only if we unlearn our default ethnocentric assumptions about “real” Christianity (our own) and unlearn our blindness to the ways Western Christianity is infected by cultural idolatry. It may be more blessed to give than to receive, but it is often harder to receive than to give. That reverses the polarity of patron and client and makes us uncomfortably aware that what Jesus said to the Laodicean church might apply to us in the West: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).

Want to read more? You can find it here. This excellent piece by Christopher Wright would be an excellent discussion starter for any Bible class, small group, or leaders’ retreat. (Thanks, Jim, for telling me about it!)

Here’s another paragraph to whet your appetite:

So another piece of unlearning we must do is breaking the habit of using the term mission field to refer to everywhere else in the world except our home country in the West. The language of home and mission field is still used by many churches and agencies, but it fundamentally misrepresents reality. Not only does it perpetuate a patronizing view of the rest of the world as always being on the receiving end of our missionary largesse, but it also fails to recognize the maturity of churches in many other lands.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

My Spiritual History

I wrote this a while back to accompany resumes that I send out in search of my next full-time ministry.
The best way I can summarize my spiritual history is “continuing.” I am a work in progress (aren’t we all?) and I’m curious to see how the story unfolds. God began working on me on September 15, 1977, when I was born into a Christian home. My parents taught me to love and serve God above all else. They taught me, both by example and instruction, to be actively involved in the life of a local church. They encouraged me to live according to my faith, regardless of the consequences. The spiritual strengths I possess today are largely the result of parents that raised me “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

In the course of my upbringing, my family served in congregations from varying ends of the philosophical/theological spectrum. My earliest years were spent in churches that were progressive. In these churches I learned the importance of relationships and grace in Christian living. My high school and college years were spent in churches that were more traditional. I learned from these brethren the importance of conviction and Bible study.

As a child, I was immersed following a week of church camp when I was on a “spiritual high.” However, I had very little understanding of what I was doing. Later in my life, just prior to my senior year in high school, I went through a period of reflection on some of the moral departures that my life had taken. I also began to reflect on my earlier decision to be immersed. After much prayer, study, meditation, and counsel, I made for the first time a conscious decision to make Christ my Lord. Now with an understanding of baptism’s significance, I was immersed by my father. God did another wonderful thing in my life later that same year, when I finally summoned the nerve to ask on a date the woman who would become my wife 3 years later, Alissa.

As I survey the past, it is clear to me that God used a youth minister in my earlier years and several aspiring preachers in my high school years to lead me to full-time vocational ministry. Following the advice of church leaders, I enrolled at Brown Trail School of Preaching in 1996 to prepare myself for ministry. At Brown Trail, I learned a lot about the Bible and Bible study, but the meat of my education in ministry would come later, when I was “in the field.” Many of the convictions which I developed during my study at Brown Trail were based more on the status and rhetorical skills of my instructors than on personal study and reflection. Nevertheless, I graduated from Brown Trail with the confidence that I was now prepared for ministry.

After preaching school, I decided to begin work on my bachelor’s degree. So I returned home and began studies at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) in San Marcos, Texas. During that time, God blessed me with an opportunity to work as a ministry intern with the campus ministry there.

This work as an intern fueled my desire to enter into full-time ministry, so after one semester I accepted a position working with the youth at a church in Tyler, Texas. Just a few months later, I started an entirely new and exciting chapter in my life as Alissa and I were married. With all the changes happening so fast it didn’t take long for me to realize how much more effective I could be with some more ministry instruction. So while filling that position, I completed a bachelor’s degree in Bible/Ministry through a distance learning program offered by Southern Christian University. Even while recognizing the need to sharpen my ministry skills, I welcomed this time as a way for me to gain invaluable practical experience in the field while I worked diligently to expand my professional ministry skills in class.

After graduating from SCU, I decided I wanted to do graduate work in Fort Worth at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I found a small church of about 30-35 people who were mostly senior citizens in Joshua, a town about 30 minutes south of Fort Worth that was looking for a preacher. I was able to serve at the Joshua congregation while completing 63 hours of graduate study. My three years in Joshua were a significant turning point for me. It was during this time that our daughter, Abbie, was born. It was also during this time that I began to really think through Biblical principles on my own. I was forced to look at things from a different perspective by going to a Baptist school. I had never even considered other perspectives, and doing so opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. Bible study became an adventure in self-discovery and, for the first time ever, an intimate conversation with God.

Unable to finish my degree because of a tragedy that ended in the death of my brother, I returned home to the campus ministry that I had been an intern at several years previously. Unfortunately, the ministry had been weakened significantly. I came to lead the ministry through a revitalization. Having reached the point where the ministry was stable and healthy, and having evolved in my understanding of Scripture, I felt it best to leave that beloved ministry.

Various considerations related to my family combined with a desire to reflect on and clarify my calling to vocational ministry have prompted me to take a brief sabbatical from full-time ministry. During this time, God has blessed me with the opportunity to work with troubled and neglected teens through a non-profit organization in Austin. This exposure has given me a valuable reminder of the struggles that many in the world face – struggles that often go unnoticed in the sheltered environment of church work. Shortly after beginning this work, I was approached by a group of elders at the church that my family and I attend. They were interested in using me on a part-time, temporary basis to supplement the work of their full-time minister.
This opportunity to work in ministry part-time has increasingly rekindled the fire in my soul to make vocational ministry my life’s work.

My spiritual growth has been the result of a supportive family, strong church families that molded me, a wife that supports me and encourages me to continue moving with spiritual vigor on the journey of faith, and a daughter that puts it all in perspective. But above of all else, I owe my spiritual growth to God. Working through events and relationships in my life, His providential hand has led me on the most exciting and fruitful endeavor that I could have ever imagined.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Politics, Politics, Politics

I am more jaded about politics than about anything else I can think of. I have no confidence and no trust in any politician.

I used to have slightly more trust in the Republicans than the Democrats, but Dubya and his cronies have ruined that for me by utterly failing at virtually everything that has traditionally been considered Republican -- small government, fiscal responsibility, strong defense. They succeeded at none of those. Spend, spend, spend used to be the Democrat's motto. Looks like it caught on! And if anyone would have stood on principle and actually done something of substance to curb illegal immigration, you would think it would have been the Republicans. But nope! No one seems want to deal with that either -- except the American people! The only thing that the Republicans seem to have done a decent job at is pro-life issues (although we won't know for sure until we can look back on his court nominees). And I won't even start on the war!

How nice it would be if I could turn to the Democrats! Unfortunately, they are socialists in sheep's clothing who, while emphasizing tolerance for every intolerable class under the sun, will institutionalize more and more intolerance for the public expression of Christian ideas! While I appreciate their stated concern for the marginalized of society, I disagree with the entitlement/hand-out policies that come from them (and more recently from the Republicans, too). The one thing I think they would do a pretty good job on is environmental issues. While they are often manipulated by radical environmental groups, any policy changes that could come about would probably be things that good stewards should do any way. But the party that champions all things anti-life and pro-alternative lifestyle (translation: immoral lifestyle) is a party that I'm not very comfortable supporting.

So how will I vote? Who knows. I am intrigued by the Libertarian Party, although their pro-abortion stance bothers me greatly. But this sounds pretty good:
"Libertarians believe that you have the right to live your life as you wish, without the government interfering -- as long as you don’t violate the rights of others. Politically, this means Libertarians favor rolling back the size and cost of government, and eliminating laws that stifle the economy and control people’s personal choices" (from www.lp.org)

And I think that, since they are not in power, they probably haven't lost their integrity and they still actually operate on principle. Maybe that's just wishful thinking.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Assault & Social Politics

An incident happened today at work that made me think. In the middle of my class, one of the kids had a disagreement with another adult in the class. Within about two minutes it went from the kid asking to go use the restroom to the kid literally attacking the adult, tackling her on top of two other students. Thirty minutes later, five other adults finally got the kid to let go of the adult's hair and escorted her out of the room. As I drove home, I reflected on what had happened. Two themes kept recurring:
  1. Personal responsibility. What a poorly behaved kid! She needs to learn how to control those emotions! There is no excuse for that kind of behavior!
  2. Empathy. How sad! What combination of horrible events could have happened in that kid's life to prompt such reactions to things? What could have happened to make someone so fragile that a denied trip to the bathroom is enough to break him/her?
I think there's some truth in each of these ways of looking at an event like this one.

As I continued to let my mind wander about these things, my thoughts shifted to politics. Don't these two views typify the conflict between conservatives and liberals in politics? While conservatives typically emphasize the personal responsibility line of thought, liberals tend to view societal issues empathetically. That's why, when talking about the poor and disadvantaged, conservatives tend to encourage them to pick themselves up by their boot straps while liberals typically look for problems within society that explain why these individuals are disadvantaged.

Maybe that's why they can't ever agree. Because, like my experience at work today, the truth upon which social policy should be based is not found in either viewpoint alone. To borrow from Rich Atchley, this is a both/and issue, not an either/or one.

Truth is often found in the joining of ideas rather than in their division. The failure of modern politics to realize this is a big part of why I find myself increasingly jaded about modern politics.
That reminds me, I got my DVDs of Rick Atchley's "The Both/And Church" in the mail today! I look forward to viewing them again. If anyone wants to borrow them, let me know.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

From Movement to Institution: Can We Rekindle the Zeal?

Below is an interesting excerpt from The Quest for Understandable Hermeneutics by Hal Hougey (Manna Books, 1997, pp. 11-13), a wonderful book written a decade ago.
Movements usually begin as revolutionary attempts to abolish the traditions and correct the mistakes of the past. First generation revolutionaries generally have strong convictions and are committed to their task. Their zeal provides the impetus that results in effecting the changes they believe need to take place.

However, it is the nature of movements to change over time. The sons of the revolutionaries are more complacent. After all, their parents solved the problems and effected the changes; not to worry -- all is well in Zion. So the movement settles into comfortable complacency. New customs and traditions develop, and become resistant to change. The movement becomes a tradition-bound Institution again.

At this point one or both of two reactions usually occur: (1) The descendants of the revolutionaries continue to sink into passivity and complacency until the original fervor is gone, or (2) A new generation of revolutionaries arises, determined to overthrow the entrenched and stifling traditions of their fathers. Thus, the process repeats itself.

The Restoration Movement was just such a religious revolution when it began. Today, however, the grandchildren are restive and feel the need for change. Old issues must be reexamined. New issues have arisen which previous generations did not address, because there had been no perceived need. Out of this will ultimately come a new orthodoxy. What it will be is too early to tell.

Both the older and the younger generations are committed to the authority of the Scriptures. Customs may be changed; truth may not. But the younger generation, quite properly, cannot uncritically accept the conclusion of the past; the Bible needs to be studied and applied by every generation. What new issues are stressed will be determined by those who follow us.

Perhaps our greatest danger in such a crisis is pride and stubbornness. On the one hand some may rigidly resist change in areas of customs and expediency. This would probably lead to a stubborn and demanding call for change, even in areas where the Scriptures have plainly spoken. Stubbornness begets stubbornness. But patience, forbearance, understanding, generosity, and flexibility are needed in times like these. If we refuse to adjust, the children will leave for friendlier fellowships and their parents will be left to attend the wake and bury the remains.

Churches of Christ are at such a crisis point as we have described. The "Boston movement" churches should serve as a warning. They see mainline churches of Christ as lacking in evangelistic zeal and headed into oblivion. We admire their evangelistic zeal, but deeply deplore the cultic mind-control and life-control they maintain over their members.

On the other hand, the classic protest against change is, "Well, maybe the change you propose is OK, but I am afraid of where it may lead." If this statement has any validity, we would have to give up eating, since it might lead to gluttony. Dignifying this argument by giving it any weight whatever will change the church into a Museum of the Status Quo. The response to this objection is this: If we are committed to the authority of the Bible, change will lead only to following the Bible more closely; if we are not committed to the authority of the Bible, it will make little difference anyway.

We believe the most serious mistake we can make is to fail to respond positively to the cries for reform. If we refuse to accommodate in customs and traditions, and to reexamine carefully our hermeneutical framework, we are destined to sink into the quicksand of complacency, and die. Or, we can experience a new birth of freedom and zeal to proclaim the Good News of the Risen Savior to a dying world. The natural tendency to resist change can be our worst enemy.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Funny Friday!

OK. I don't know how many of you are fans of Scrubs, but last night they had an episode that was a musical. I probably laughed harder at that episode than I have at any single episode of TV ever! It was sheer greatness. So, for those of you who missed it, I present two little numbers. I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry.

First, "Everything Come Down To Poo"

Second, "Guy Love."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fear in Soul-Winning

Is the idea of evangelism/soul-winning scary to you? It is to most, and I have often wondered why. For starters, it involves stepping out of our comfort zones and being intentional about things, but many things in life have those same requirements that we don't get scared about the way we do about evangelism! Is it a weak faith? Is it a lack of knowledge and, therefore, confidence? Is it our politically correct culture making us shrink back from anything that might make someone else uncomfortable? To all of these I anser Yes! We fear evangelism for all of these reasons! But it goes deeper, often to the core of our theology. At least it did with me. Let me illustrate how I was taught to "do" evangelism.

Christian meets Generic Person (GP). Christian's first task is to determine whether GP is going to Heaven or Hell. If Christian determines that GP is going to Heaven, Christian then make sure that GP is going there the "right" way. If Christian determines that GP is going to Hell, then Christian must convince Generic Person of his/her condemned state. Once GP is convinced that he/she is going to Hell, Christian tells him/her how to get to Heaven. Christian doesn't waste too much time talking about Jesus, because the important thing is that GP understand the 5 steps to salvation: hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. Christian will need to be prepared to convince GP that what (s)he heard at that "other" church wasn't really the gospel, that his/her faith was not genuine, that his/her repentance didn't actually take place, that his/her confession was meaningless, and that his/her baptism was ineffective. How does Christian know these things? Because Christian knows the name of that "other" church, and it's not the same as Christian's church. That means that, in spite of GP's previous belief that (s)he loved Jesus and wanted to serve Him only, (s)he stood at the doorway to Hell while God watched to see if (s)he could figure it all out in time!

I was not taught this method using that language, but I was certainly taught this method! While many errors can be found in this approach, it is really not that internally inconsistent. Where it fails, however, is at the beginning:
"Christian's first task is to determine whether Generic Person is going to Heaven or Hell."

I have come to realize that this is NEVER Christian's task! It is God's and God's alone! When I find myself sitting on the throne of judgment, I am playing God. Needless to say, this is a role that I am both unworthy and incapable of filling.

Could it be that the fear many feel in living evangelistic lives comes from an internal discomfort with taking this Divine role? This discomfort is rarely perceived because we are surrounded by others placing themselves in that role. So we THINK we are afraid of living evangelistic lives when we are ACTUALLY afraid of playing a role that we are wholly unequipped to play and that is rightfully and singularly God's!

So how do we live evangelistic lives that will win souls as the Great Commission tasks us? By treating everyone equally. By entering EVERY relationship committed to both help and be helped by it. Commit to helping each person you know ONE STEP closer to Christ. Commit to finding something in them to bless your own life. If the person is an atheist, agnostic, pagan, universalist, legalist, liberal, or faithful Christian, he/she STILL needs to take ONE STEP closer to Christ! Growth in/towards Christ has no end in this life.

In approaching life this way, ALL relationships become INTENTIONAL; souls WILL naturally be won in the process; and both sides of the relationship are growing closer to Him! And God stays on His throne of judgment, complete with His eternal love, grace, and justice.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Back to School & Christian Music

Back in 2004, I took a leave of absence from my master's level studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary so that I could begin my work with college students in San Marcos. When I took the leave of absence, I had the full intention of returning to school the following semester. Fast forward a couple of years and I still haven't finished. I've taken 63 hours of graduate level classes and have nothing to show for it. And all I lack is my thesis.

Until Friday, I thought for various reasons that finishing that degree was not possible. But then Friday I heard back from the dean's office. Not only are they going to let me finish my master's degree, but they are going to let me simply pick up where I left off! In other words -- all I need to do is finish my thesis! I have a second chance that I didn't think I would get!

So I'm officially a grad student again! And, to be honest, that terrifies me! One of the reasons that I put off finishing so long was because I lost a lot of the passion I once had for the academic/scholarly side of Bible study. I was more interested in my family and my ministry to devote the time necessary to scholarly study. None of that has changed. So I can't help but wonder -- will I have the commitment and dedication necessary to finish this thing once and for all?

On the other hand, I realize that there are tremendous benefits to finishing this degree. It will open doors to me that would not otherwise be available. It would no longer be on the top five list of things I regret in life. And, quite frankly, I would be proud of it.

So there you have it. I'm a student again. If you can't find me, you might try one of the theological libraries in Austin.`

In all seriousness, keep this in your prayers, as it will require some sacrifices for me and my family. I'm dreadfully excited!
On another note, I am interested in exploring the Christian music scene. I have never really given this genre a chance, due in large part to a legalistic view of instrumental praise. However, I now want to see if there are some Christian artists out there that I could add to my music library. I recently discovered Derek Webb's album, Mockingbird, which I loved. Before you make recommendations, let me tell you what I'm NOT interested in.
  • Shallow songs about skipping through fields with Jesus, or anything similar.
  • Songs that simply repeat a variation of "Praise God" a million times.
I AM interested in artists that are honest about the struggles and triumphs of life, but express them from a faith perspective.

So let me have it ... what suggestions do you have? I'll leave you with a sampling of some of the greatness that is Derek Webb. This is a song called "A New Law." I liked the summary accompanying this video on YouTube:
Many Christians are more comfortable following artificial religious laws rather than enjoying the freedom that Christ provided in his resurrection. Christ came to give us freedom, yet many of us live as slaves, blinded to the beauty of our Christian liberty, unable to see past our 'new laws'. Music by Derek Webb.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Jeffys

In the spirit of the approaching Emmy awards, I present a random collection of awards that i will humbly call The Jeffys. They cannot be denied because the results have been tabulated based on the infallible standard of my personal opinion.
  • Most Meaningful Series of Lessons: Rick Atchley's three part series on "The Both/And Church." Alissa and I are both still feeling absolutely liberated after hearing these lessons. If you haven't viewed them yet and have grown up in the Churches of Christ, you owe it to yourself to view them.
  • Best Single Night of Prime-Time Television: Thursday nights on NBC. My Name Is Earl gets funnier with each episode. The Office is on the way to being possibly the greatest sitcom ever. Scrubs is a historical top five sitcom, and ER is still high quality TV, although its not what it used to be, and the blatant and forced political preaching gets annoying. I mean, come on! That's just not fair to the rest of the TV world!
  • Most Frustrating Football Team Loyalties: Tie between Aggies and Cowboys. Unfortunately, I am a fan of both.
  • Best Movie That I've Seen This Year: Apocalypto. I don't get to see many movies anymore (having a 3 year old kind of affects your pop culture awareness). However, once again I found myself blown away by every aspect of a Mel Gibson film. Gory, yes. Distasteful, absolutely not.
  • Most Ironic Celebrity Duel: Donald Trump vs. Rosie O'Donnell. These two arguing over who is a better moral authority is the definition of the pot calling the kettle black. Its almost like when Republicans and Democrats argue over who is more honest!
  • Most Difficult Decision: Following your passion vs. Standing by a commitment. I've been struggling seriously with this recently. I believe its the most difficult decision I've ever made. How do you discern God's voice in the midst of that?
  • Best of the Best: Alissa. A wife that supports me when I offer what turns out to be a chaotic existence; who is open to my growth and eager to participate in it; who is willing to sacrifice herself for the good of our family. How can you adequately show gratitude for that?
There you have it -- the first edition of the Jeffys.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Both/And Church

I have never cried as the result of a Bible class or sermon, but then again, it is only on a very rare occasion that I cry at all. However, I am closer to crying right now than I ever have been at the end of a Bible lesson. The cause: three lessons by Rick Atchley that were powerful, biblical, and most of all for me, CONVICTING. Each lesson is just under an hour, so you'll need to set aside some time for them. But it will be time well spent!

Visit the following link and you'll see audio and video links at the bottom of the page.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Ideal Church? (3)

Anglican made some thoughtful comments that I would like to reflect on ...

I don't pretend to have anywhere near as much knowledge of church history as Anglican does. However, I wonder if sometimes we notice the uniformity in the Catholic traditions and ignore their diversity while noticing the diversity within the "Bible only" traditions and ignore their uniformity.

As I see it, the Catholic traditions are certainly more uniform in the areas that are most readily apparent (i.e. liturgy, worship, etc.), but there are still many differences in such areas that are not as quickly noticeable (i.e. church polity, the definition and role of saints, clergy eligibility, etc.)

Are there as many differences in the Catholic churches as there are in Bible churches? I don't know. Probably not. However, I think the "Bible church" traditions may SEEM more divided because the areas wherein they are divergent are the most readily apparent areas (i.e. worship, liturgy, etc.) But we must keep in mind that most of these Bible churches view these areas as being matters of preference rather than matters of doctrine(COCs notwithstanding).

So the apparent uniformity of the Catholic churches does not necessarily indicate unity and the apparent differneces in the Bible churches don't necessarily indicate division.

Perhaps God uses each "brand" of Christianity to appeal to the various personalities and sensitivities within humanity. After all, some are individualistic. They find the Bible church emphasis on personal conviction derived from personal Bible study appealing, so they latch on to that emphasis and the churches wherein it is most readily found.

On the other hand, some have personalities that are more drawn to the idea of community. They are drawn to the Catholic churches' emphasis on community understanding of scripture. This is made even more appealing when the community that they are drawn to includes the historical community.

There is a beautiful tension between the equally valid biblical principles of personal and community understanding of scripture. While not mutually exclusive, they compliment each other in such a way that people with a variety of different personal preferences are able to find a community with like values.

Am I advocating unity in diversity? I think I am! I don't know how far to take these thoughts. Is each hermeneutical approach equally valid? I'm not sure, but I believe there is some truth behind each approach. Perhaps the unifying truth that should be focused on more is the Lordship of Christ.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Ideal Church? (2)

What if the New Testament church is not to be viewed as the ideal to be restored, but the immature foundation in whom God would continue to work through history? What are the implications if this is true?

It seems to me that our view of church history would no longer be merely informative and educational. Rather, it would now have some normative effect. I have always been taught that the writings and development of historical Christianity can be understood as interesting academic exercises. But those developments and writings are not to be considered as having any normative value.

You see, the hermeneutics of my heritage begin with the assumption of restorationism's validity. If we see historical developments in Christianity that are inconsistent with our restoration hermeneutics, we conclude that those developments are departures from God's way. But we never question our starting point. Is restorationism, in fact, valid?

Could the New Testament be the record of the laying of a sure foundation upon which the Christian movement was built? And then the record of history tells of the continued development of that movement? Perhaps, but at least difficulties arise in my mind related to this possibility:
  • History tells the story not of a unified voice within the Christian movement, but of vastly divergent voices. So it would seem that an effort to understand the life, practice, and teaching of Christianity in the light of church history would just as much an interpretive process as is restoration hermeneutics. Some traditions which place a higher normative value on the historical record attempt to determine either majority or consensus historical views as a way to find God's voice amidst the divergent historical voices. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that discerning a majority or consensus voice is a task that can be often accomplished. In fact, I wonder if it can be done at all.
  • Furthermore, God has never limited himself to working only through majority or consensus. How do we know if the minimal voices of history are God's voice instead of the dominant ones?
  • Finally, if history is to be viewed as God's continued work and thus carrying normative value, how are we to view reform movements within history. As a part of history, it would seem that they may be God's prophetic voices at that time in history calling his people back to faithfulness. However, their messages were often contrary to historical developments. This would seem to equate to God's prophetic voice rebuking God's historical voice! We can't have that, now can we?
Give me your feedback. Are my points valid? Am I missing something? How do you reconcile these things in your mind? I'll eagerly await your comments.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Ideal Church?

How do we know that the New Testament church is the ideal for which we should strive? This is the restoration plea upon which the Stone-Campbell movement was based. However, I have lately been questioning (NOT denying, just questioning) it. My thinking goes something like this:

If God is sovereign over history, and if He has been/is active in his church, then wouldn't the development of Christianity over time be t the result of His divine guidance rather than a departure from it? Seems to make sense to me.

Once again, I do not denying the validity of the Restoration plea. I do, however, questioning it. I have been raised a restorationist and my theology is still framed by restoration ideas. I see in the church of the New Testament much purity and unity (although far from perfect in both of those areas) which is absent in modern-day Christianity. I see much strength in the argument that the New Testament church was being guided directly by the divine inspiration of the apostles.

But much of the New Testament is written in generalities. There is a beautiful vagueness to Scripture that opens its teachings to a certain degree of interpretation. There are some specifics described in the Scriptures about the New Testament church's practice, liturgy, etc. However, there are far fewer of these specifics than one would think if a blueprint were intended. And these specifics mostly speak only of one congregation without implying or stating universal application in the apostolic church.

Once again, I do NOT deny the validity of restorationism, at least not yet. But I'm free to question it, aren't I? I guess that probably depends on who you ask.

Your feedback is coveted. Also, please refer this blog to as many others as you think might be interested. The more feedback we share together, the more we will be able to grow together.