Saturday, August 11, 2012
Graphic Storytelling At Its Finest - all art by Goseki Kojima
Friday, August 10, 2012
On a recent trip to Durham, North Carolina, I was asked, "What do you make of all the evangelicals converting to Roman Catholicism?" What immediately came to mind was two recent and well-known conversions of evangelical scholars: Christian Smith, sociologist at Notre Dame, and Francis Beckwith, who at one time was president of the Evangelical Theological Society. Other well-known conversions to Catholicism in my generation—by men whose writings have been important in my intellectual growth—include the late Richard John Neuhaus and Robert Wilken (not from evangelicalism as such, but from Lutheranism).But his argument about why Evangelicalism will win out in the end seems to be a but evangelical:
These are not minds to trifle with! We're talking about men who were and are at the top of their intellectual games, in sociology, theology, and church history. And none of their motives are to be questioned. When it comes to momentous conversions, we usually don't know our own deepest motives. These are often discovered only long after the fact, or maybe never (at least not until we find ourselves in the presence of our Lord—Ah, so that's what I was doing!).
What I can comment on is the tug of Catholicism on the evangelical heart. Because it is a tug that I must admit has pulled at me and many close friends. But there are tugs and there are tugs. Some tugs come from the Holy Spirit, and these naturally are not to be criticized! But other tugs deserve a little scrutiny.
Like the longing for authority. One of the most frustrating things about being Protestant, and especially evangelical, is that there is really no place to turn when you are ready to end a conversation on a controversial point. There is no authority figure or institution that can silence heterodoxy. No one has your back—well, except the Holy Spirit (we'll come back to this in a moment). The more Protestants there are, the more churches and theologies are birthed. As soon as we say, "The Christian church believes …" we hear someone say, "Well, I'm a Christian, and I don't believe that!" To be an evangelical used to mean one stood for certain theological convictions—penal substitution, inerrancy, and so forth—but now many evangelicals take delight in defining themselves over and against one of these formerly cardinal doctrines, while insisting on the right to be called evangelicals.Note that by this premise he assume that the "tug" is for personal certainty and to win arguments. That sort of self-centered view pretty well defines Evangelicalism, and is largely the problem.
So, we understand the pull of the Catholic magisterium. We'd love to be able to say, "The church believes X," and then back it up with a papal encyclical. We want "evangelical" to have clear and firm boundaries, so that when someone says they believe something outside of those boundaries, we can tell them definitively and assuredly that they are no longer evangelicals. We're tired of arguing, of having to prove our point through the careful examination of Scripture and patient deliberation. Frankly, we've given up depending on prayer to change hearts and minds. We want to be able to say, "The church teaches …" or "The Holy Father says …" or "All biblical scholars believe …" in a way that separates the sheep from the goats.
Christian maturity moves us past self in to selflessness. Evangelicalism sorely lacks in such selflessness. Evangelicalism is a fine introduction to faith, but then what? That's the attraction to Catholicism - there is a "then what."
Galli is not entirely wrong though, there are problems in Catholicism too, but they are not devoid of the Spirit where we are not - that's just a bit harsh. It is even harsh to assume institutions squelch the Spirit - people do that an they can accomplish it with or without institutions.
There is good reason to look beyond Evangelicalism - very good reason. There is also good reason to look past Catholicism. So maybe instead of choosing and arguing about who is better, we should learn from each other.
Thursday, August 09, 2012
At The Center of Worship
For the last several days, I have been reflecting upon Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yesterday, I talked about how hard it can be to pray “Thy will be done.” Yet, through his example, Jesus shows us how essential this prayer is and he encourages us to surrender our will to that of our Heavenly Father.If you were to ask me to state one singe reason to prefer "traditional worship" to "contemporary worship" Mark has just put his finger on it.
Jesus also demonstrates the soul of worship. When we envision worship, chances are we think of celebratory singing or of people gathering to hear the Word of God proclaimed. To be sure, celebration and preaching are vital elements of worship. But they are not the soul, the center, the heart of worship. Rather, when you peel back the various expressions of worship to get to the core, you find surrender and submission.
Worship is not about us expressing, it is about God and us submitting to God. Merely in the act of chaanging the worship serevice to suit ourselves we change the focus of to ourselves instead of to God. The question in worship is not "What please men and women so they will come" but "What please God and teaches us to submit."
Liturgy and sacrament are about submission. When we make the "comfortable" we make them submit to us. This should be taught, and when taught, I think people will get it.
Related Tags: Illuminated Scripture
Wednesday, August 08, 2012
Yeah, What Is It For?
In at least these three places, then, Paul argues that one of the primary goals of what we call “corporate worship” is to edify the whole church. In the assembly, we should do all things in order to build one another up. We sing to address God, yes, but also to teach and admonish one another.That says volumes about the so-called "worship wars." If you are having to shun, hurt, or disregard some in order to "move the church forward," are you in fact edifying God's people? If you are "bringing them in through the front door" at the expense of those that have been sitting in the pew for decades - or serving in the choir or some other activity that must be cast aside for the sake of modernization are you edifying those people?
This is not to say that edification is more important than worship, as if the two are in competition. But it does mean that even those corporate activities in which we address God directly—singing praises, giving thanks—should have an explicitly horizontal focus as well.
Singing is for teaching. Praise is for instruction. Adoration is for admonishing.
What does this mean for church leaders who are responsible for planning and leading corporate worship? For one, it means that one of the main grids through which you should filter everything in the service is, “Does this edify God’s people?” It’s a question we can use to help ourselves and our members understand what “worship” is.
Continually I learn about one simple fact, church is not about what we do nearly so much as how we do it. If we honor God and each other - that's winsome. Might not supply explosive growth, but steady growth and steady maturity.
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Right Idea - Wrong Words
Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!Mark writes:
This does not mean we shouldn’t try to understand God, however. He has given us the capacity to think. He has revealed himself to us in many ways, most of all in the Word incarnate and the Word inscribed. Yet the more we understand God, the more we realize just how much he is beyond our understanding. Thus theology, rightly engaged, does not allow us to trap God in our little boxes, to diminish God by our limited conceptions. Rather, true theology leads us to worship, as we bow before the greatness of God. If you’ve ever stood on the rim of a giant canyon, you’ve experienced something like the wonder of Romans 11:33. You’re awestruck over the depth of the canyon, and realize that you’ll never be able to take in its grandeur. The more you gaze at it, the more you appreciate its details, and the more you are overwhelmed by its glory. So it is with God and his inscrutable nature. [emphasis added]"True theology leads us to worship." Those are great words, and yet they scared me - Why? Simple, because of what the word "worship" has come to men in the popular vernacular. The meaning that Mark, I am certain has in mind, for "worship" means to humbly know that God is our king. But what "worship" so often means in this day and age is a form of uplifting self expression in which we acknowledge there is a God. The former is about God, the latter is about us - and that is a problem.
That problem is expressed most directly in the caution Mark provides, that studying theology often has us put God into "little boxes." If it is about us, then God fits where we want Him to, instead of rules all.
The road to worship is traveled not on our knees, not on the music of the electric guitar. Worship does in fact fill God with glory, but only when we have been emptied. Mark is so right here, but I think in light of modern practice and though he needs to rephrase - "True theology drives us to our knees, and on those knees we enter into worship."
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Why They Go
I am struck by the fact that there are limits to what a tool like these studies can accomplish. Short multiple choice answers to deep, complex and very personal questions are a bit of a blunt instrument. For example, young people leaving church may have nothing to do with church at all and everything to do with parents. How do you "correct" a study for that? - no mention.
But if you read all the data and looks for simple trends, it seems obvious to me. Kids are entertained, kids are kept busy, kids are sent to camp, kids are taught lessons, but they are NOT FORMED. Processed like cars on an assembly line the are never formed into people who have Christ at their soul.
They leave church because they know that either 1) there is a lot more to this Christian thing than they're getting, or 2) the whole thing is a self-perpetuating lie.
The answer to that cannot be found in a study or a programmed into a group. The answer to that is love, expressed often and in a deeply personal fashion.
Monday, August 06, 2012
Misunderstanding Other Religion
Non-Christian religions are sovereignly directed, variegated and dynamic human idolatrous distortions of divine revelation behind which evidence demonic deception.You know, sometimes language is everything. Read carefully, this seems to indicate that non-Christian religions point to Jesus too. But who is going to read it carefully when the first paragraph is loaded with words like "idolatrous distortions" and "demonic deception." Most people are going to stop right there and they are going to start holding exorcisms and melting down altar pieces.
Being antithetically against yet practically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ’subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, is this the language of love? Is our goal to bring such people into Christ's kingdom or to make sure they rot is hell? I don't know about conversations you have had, but as a general rule "Did you know you have been deceived by demons?" is usually a conversation stopper, not starter.
And then finally, we come to the question of what is "non-Christian." When the Apostle Paul tells us we will "know then by their fruits," what do you do with a case of good fruit, bad theology, or vice-versa for that matter? How are you going to decide who is demonically deceived and who is just misguided?