Archive for the ‘False Teaching’ Category

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Here are eight symptoms of false teaching:

1. There is an undeniable zeal in some teachers of error. Their “earnestness” makes many people think they must be right.

2. There is a great appearance of learning and theological knowledge. Many think that such clever and intellectual men must surely be safe to listen to.

3. There is a general tendency to completely free and independent thinking today. Many like to prove their independence of judgment by believing the newest ideas, which are nothing but novelties.

4. There is a wide-spread desire to appear kind, loving, and open-minded. Many seem half-ashamed to say that anybody can be wrong or is a false teacher.

5. There is always a portion of half-truth taught by modern false teachers. They are always using scriptural words and phrases, but with unscriptural meaning.

6. There is a public craving for a more sensational and entertaining worship. People are impatient with the more inward and invisible work of God within the hearts of men.

7. There is a superficial readiness all around to believe anyone who talks cleverly, lovingly and earnestly, forgetting that Satan often masquerades himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

8. There is a wide-spread ignorance among professing Christians. Every heretic who speaks well is surely believed, and anyone who doubts him is called narrow-minded and unloving.

~ Bishop J.C. Ryle

All these are especially symptomatic of our times. They have tremendous relevance for the church today. They tend to make the assaults of false doctrine today especially dangerous and make it even more important to say loudly, “Do not be carried away with strange doctrine!”

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What are the elements of a Christian worldview?

Christianity teaches a set of beliefs that form the basics of our worldview.

Following is a list of some of the elements that make up the Christian worldview:

An absolute God exists

If an absolute God exists, then it means that God is self-sufficient and lacks nothing. If God is self-sufficient, then he needs no external cause for his existence. This would mean he is eternal. If he is eternal then he does not change.

God created the universe

If God created the universe, then he is all-powerful — since it obviously takes a great deal of power to create the universe. This would also mean that God is separate from creation and not a part of the created order. From the previous point where we see that God is absolute and unchanging, we could see that God’s nature would be reflected in the created order. As a painter leaves a part of himself on the canvas, so God reveals himself in creation. Creation is, therefore, ordered, predictable, and dependable. This would mean that when Christians look into creation, they would expect to find a predictable, regular, and testable world.

God created humanity in His image.

This means that God, who is rational and intelligent, has impressed his image upon the hearts and soul of human beings. Therefore, people can be rational and turn their attention towards the world and since they believe that the universe reflects God’s creative nature, they can have confidence to look into creation and expect order. They can also expect that since they are made in the image of God, they have the ability to unlock the secrets of the universe. In addition, if man is created in God’s image, then all people are worthy of respect and honor. This would also mean that when a new life formed in the womb, it is human from the time of conception. Therefore, abortion would be wrong. Furthermore, if we are created in God’s image, then we did not evolve from lower primates. This would mean that we have purpose and are not merely the result of random development through evolution that is, supposedly, guided by natural selection. Natural selection works on the theory of survival of the fittest and this could have a very harmful effect on society if “survival of the fittest” is transferred into a moral principle. It would justify oppressing the weak and helpless.

God gave man dominion over creation.

This means that all aspects of the created order on earth are to be governed by man according to how God has revealed himself and his will for us in the Bible. Therefore, politics, medicine, art, ecology, society, economics, exploration, philosophy, mathematics, education, etc. all fall under the domain of human responsibility and should be considered realms for man to control — under the wisdom and direction of God’s revelation, the Bible (more on that below).

Humanity is fallen

The Fall of humanity through our ancient father Adam, tells us that at the heart of every one of us is a predisposition toward sin. Sin is rebellion against God and, therefore, it is a rebellion against what is good. Sin has not only affected man’s soul and body, but it has also affected his mind. Therefore, the Christian worldview would say that even man’s best reasoning is touched by sin and cannot be perfect. Furthermore, since man is sinful and his heart’s intentions are predisposed towards wickedness, we conclude that those in power are highly susceptible to corruption. Therefore, governmental systems should be developed with Christian principles in mind to help guard against that. In fact, Christianity influenced the development of the Constitution and American government. Our founding fathers developed the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government that are there to exercise a system of checks and balances over each other. Why? Because of The Fall, man has a tendency to gravitate towards corruption.

Jesus is humanity’s only hope for redemption

Because man is fallen, he is in need of rescue from God’s righteous condemnation — which is eternal damnation. Also, since he is fallen, there is no way he can redeem himself. Therefore, Jesus, who is God in flesh, died for us and rose from the dead. We receive his righteousness and forgiveness by faith. This basic theological truth means that Christians should then preach that good news of redemption in Christ to all the world. Therefore, one of the most basic Christian principles is promoting Jesus as the means by which we are made right with God.

The Holy Scriptures (The Bible) are the Word of God

Of course, I have already mentioned the Bible, but the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God. From the Bible we derive the truths by which we govern our lives. It is from the Bible that we learn about God himself, his created order, the Trinity, redemption, about sin, salvation, hope, and what is morally correct. The Bible reveals the will of God for mankind, for the family, for raising children, for proper behavior in society, etc. It is from the Bible that we can learn the direct will of God.

God Provides for His creation

It is from the Bible that we learn of God’s loving provision for us. We know that God lets the sun and rainfall down upon both the good and the bad. We know that God causes the crops to grow and cattle to multiply. We know that though we live in a fallen world, God has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. Therefore, we can rely on God’s provision for us and should have confidence that he will continue to provide for our needs. Therefore, you can see that there are basic principles that form the Christian worldview. There are more, but the above eight items are representative of Christianity’s perspective and truth and how it influences belief and action.

Narcissism, Social Media, and the Church

A definition of narcissism: The inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.

“The true destination for most of our online endeavors really are the new media equivalent of the biblical statues that were presented as deities. These digital shrines {idols} that we create to ourselves.” ~ from Confessions of a Narcissist, by Mitch Joel

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“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” Matthew 23:25 (NIV)

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” Romans 2:6-8 (ESV)

“You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” James 5:5 (ESV)

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (NIV)

“What kind of impact could Christians have if we were more interested in helping a world in pain than in how good we look  to our digital friends? How can we {the church} redeem our online presence without becoming weird, obnoxious or confrontational?” (Shraeder & Hendricks, pp. 170-171)

References:

Schrader, T., Hendricks, K. (Eds.). (2011). Outspoken: conversations on church communication. Los Angeles, CA.   Center for Church Communication.

Does Social Media Make Us Narcissistic? Retrieved from: http://brandongaille.com/does-social-media-make-us-     narcissistic/

 

The Promise-Driven Life

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Christ lived the purpose-driven life so that we would inherit his righteousness through faith and be promise-driven people in a purpose-driven world.

What are you driven by? The last time I was sick, it was a Saturday and I flipped on the TV for an extraordinary long time. The whole day was exercise equipment, how to become real-estate rich with no money down, and Suze Orman gave me her steps to financial security. As much as we all make sport of this sort of thing, it attracts us. That’s because we are “wired” for law: tell me what to do and I’ll get it done. That is not just the American spirit, but it is human nature. God’s law is inborn, in our conscience, part of our moral makeup. The average person on the street will tell you that the role of churches and other religious institutions is to provide moral instruction-practical suggestions for successful living for the spirit, just as Suze Orman and Jake are there to help us out with our banking and bodies.

Even human imperatives can be enormously effective at laying out a course of action. If I am sufficiently motivated, a good diet-and-exercise plan can help. I’ve never even come close to being credited with any financial planning wisdom, but even I can recognize that if I follow half of what Suze says, I’ll be a much better steward. (I bought the video. Don’t ever leave your credit card within reach if you spend a Saturday watching TV. I nearly bought three separate gyms and a few things for my wife.) Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura don’t even have to be Christians to provide good, commonsense instruction in daily affairs. At least in terms of raw, general principles, non-Christians have law down. When Christians talk law (“How to … “), non-Christians know that we’re speaking their language. I guess that is why such preaching and teaching dominates in the church today, since “law” (however watered down) is perceived as relevant. However, it is only when we encounter God’s law in its full strength that we are knocked off our horse. Instead of being in charge, answering with Israel and Mount Sinai, “All this we will do!”, we find ourselves in the hot seat, the charade exposed, the spin unmasked. Church shouldn’t be a place where the old self is revived for another week, but where it is killed and buried and the new self is created in the likeness of Christ.

Even as Christians, the law (in its third use) can direct us, but it cannot drive us, except to either despair or self-righteousness. Christians are not purpose-driven, but promise-driven. Purposes are all about law. To be sure, at least in Christian discourse, some promises may be mentioned, but they are usually dangled as the carrot for fulfilling the conditions that have been laid out. If you did that with the real Ten Commandments-something like, “Do this and you shall live” (Lev. 25:18), people would catch on: “That’s legalism!” But the therapeutic version (easy-listening law) flies under the radar: “Hey, here are a few helpful principles based on God’s instruction manual that will help you get victory in your life.” Although Rick Warren’s phenomenal best-seller, The Purpose-Driven Life, for example, differs from the usual pattern of self-help books by insisting that we were created for God and his glory, it offers Fifteen Principles-all of which are imperatives (commands, or rather, suggestions) that promise a life of victory for those who follow them. That, I would suggest, confuses law and gospel. And that eventually leaves resentment of God, not delight, in its wake.

The fact that purposes are about law does not make them wrong. We need purposes! Nobody can live without goals. Yet purposes and goals are always something to be reached, to be achieved and be attained by us. They require tactics and strategies. All of this is fine as long as we realize that they are law, not gospel: commands and promises are both necessary, but they do different things.

Law tells us what we should do, whether we’re faced with the wrath of God (full-strength law) or by the fear of not reaching our full potential (the watered-down version). God’s promise, by contrast, creates true faith, which creates true works. The church father Augustine defined sin as being “curved in” on ourselves. While imperatives (including purposes) tend by themselves to make us more “curved in” on ourselves (either self-confidence or self-despair), only God’s promise can drive us out of ourselves and our own programs for acceptance before ourselves, other people, and God. While the Christian life according to scripture is purpose-directed, it is promise-driven. Both of our passages-Genesis 15 and Romans 4-bring this point home powerfully.

Wrestling with the Promise (Genesis 15)

Even after his military victory and the remarkable event of being offered bread and wine with a blessing from Melchizedek, Abram’s greatest problem is that he has no heir, no one to carry on the calling that God has given him. His world, as he sees it anyway, is bleak. “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great'” (Gen. 15:1). Abram and Sarai had been called out of the barrenness of moon-worship in the city of Ur by God’s powerful Word, which created faith in the promise (12:1). There is the reward of the land of Canaan, but ultimately the whole earth (“father of many nations”), of which the land of Canaan will serve as a type. The New Testament even tells us that Abraham himself was looking through the earthly promise as a type to its heavenly reality (Heb. 11:10, 13-16).

Notice in this opening address, it is sheer promise. This covenant is not like the one that God made with Adam or with Israel, which made the promise conditional on their future obedience. It was a gift to be received, not a task to be undertaken. God simply declares, “I am your shield. Your reward shall be great.” This is what ancient Near Eastern lawyers would have called a “royal grant.”

Yet Abram wonders, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezar of Damascus? … You have given me no son, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir” (vv. 2-3). The empirical facts of the case-what Abram sees, appear to be overwhelming evidence against the testimony of the promise. Nevertheless, God counters again with the promise, offering the innumerable stars as a sign of the teeming offspring who will come from his loins. “And [Abram] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (vv. 5-6). Abram’s response is not one of blind optimism or positive thinking. Abram finds himself believing.

Faith does not create; it receives. It does not make the invisible visible or the future present or hope reality. It receives that which is already given. Grace precedes faith. It is not finally accepting the goodness of the world, or my own goodness, but receiving God’s goodness toward me in spite of the way things really are with me and with the world. Further, there is no way around the forensic or legal character of this Hebrew verb, “declared.” It is chashav, referring to a courtroom judgment, not a process. There Abram stood, wicked and helpless, and yet at the same time-by virtue solely of the promise declared to him, received by faith, was declared righteous. Commenting on this passage, Calvin reminds us, “In all ages, Satan has laboured at nothing more assiduously than to extinguish, or to smother, the gratuitous justification of faith, which is here expressly asserted.” Justification is at the core of the divine paradox: How can I have the assurance that I am accepted before God as righteous when I continue in sin? I see my life. Nevertheless, by pronouncing Abraham just, Abram is just. The promise makes it so. If we can get this right in our understanding of justification, it will radically alter every other aspect of our relationship with God.

Abram goes on to ask how he can know that God will give him the land and God responds in this vision by passing through the severed halves of animals (a treaty-making event of calling down judgment in case of violation) alone (vv. 12-21), foreshadowing the cross of Christ. As Paul would later attest in Galatians 3:19-20, specifically referring to this covenant with Abraham, no covenant could be more firmly anchored in God and his promise rather than in the faithfulness of the human partner than one that God swears by himself.

The preaching of the promise created justifying faith and this sign and seal now confirms and ratifies it. No wonder question 62 of the Heidelberg Catechism confesses, “The Holy Spirit creates it [faith] in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.” Out of his confession of faith, Abram now continues his pilgrimage not on the basis of his physical vigor or Sarai’s fertility, but on the sole basis of the Word (again, in anticipation of his greater Son in his temptation). We will either rely on the visible realities we see or the invisible realities we hear preached to us, but we cannot rely on both. Unbelief is unavoidable: either we will doubt the credibility of the divine word in the face of life’s realities or we will doubt the credibility of this world’s so-called “givens” in the face of the divine promise. Faith ignores statistics. The world says we have to save ourselves (and it), offering countless strategies of striving, while the Word slays us in our self-conceit and raises us up together with Christ. God’s promise creates a new world out of darkness and void, fertile pastures of fruit-bearing trees out of the infertile soil of unbelief and ungodliness. This covenant is not a call to claim a future he can control, but to receive a future that God has spoken into being. Sarai’s infertile womb is the canvas upon which God will paint a new creation. And they both get renamed. The promise gives them a new identity.

The Fulfillment of the Promise (Romans 4:13-25)

These passages from Genesis 15-17 form the backdrop for much of Paul’s teaching. Israel had confused the promise-covenant made with Abraham and the law-covenant that Israel made with Yahweh at Sinai. Nobody can be justified by means of a law-covenant, Paul insists, but only on the basis of a promise-covenant. So Paul brings Abraham to the witness stand as an example to us, not chiefly as someone whose holiness we can emulate (have you read the story?), but primarily as someone for whom the promise worked even though he didn’t. If Abraham could not be justified by his own righteousness, how can the rest of us who claim Abraham as our forefather?

Paul is contrasting law-logic with promise-logic. The law is not the problem, but we are, and the law simply points that out. We know the law by nature; nobody has to teach at least its rudimentary principles to us (Rom. 1 and 2). When we turn to our common sense, reason, experience, or what we see in order to determine our relationship to God, it is always the law that has the last word. Law-logic is entirely appropriate for those created in God’s image, designed and equipped to reflect God’s righteousness in every way, but it says nothing about how law-breakers can be saved from its judgment.

In Romans 3:21-26, Paul announces that law-logic can only announce the righteousness that God is and which therefore condemns us who have failed to conform to it. Then we arrive at chapter 4. The question that throws law and promise into a sharp contrast is this: How does one obtain the inheritance of the heavenly rest? The barrier between Jew and Gentile is broken down not merely because the laws of ethnic separation are set aside but because law as a principle was never intended to be the way of inheriting the Abrahamic promise. “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works” (vv. 5-6).

If we read Romans 4 in the light of Paul’s argument in Romans 10, the contrast is even clearer: law-logic ascends to bring Christ down or up from the grave, while gospel-logic receives Christ as he descends to us in the preaching of the gospel. Because the law is innate (in creation) and the gospel is a surprising announcement (after the fall), climbing, ascending, attaining, doing whatever “ten steps” or following whatever “fifteen principles” is natural to us. It is not natural for us, like Abraham, to simply receive a promise, the hearing of which creates faith (Rom. 10:17). But God is never closer to us, says Paul, than when Christ is being preached to us (v. 8). Law-logic strives for what it sees and can possess; promise-logic sits down and listens to the covenant attorney reading the last will and testament, legally enacting the bequest.

Back to chapter 4, then, where Paul uses the same phrase-“through the righteousness of faith” (v. 13) that he will use in chapter 10, where he contrasts the law-logic of our ascent (“go get it”) with the promise-logic of God’s descent (“God gave it to you”). So when it comes to how we are justified-that is, set right before God and made heirs of all the gifts that he has for us, Law and Promise represent antithetical means of inheritance. We know the difference between a contract (“I’ll do this if you do that”) and a bequest (“I hereby leave my estate to … “). That’s the difference here between employees and heirs (v. 4). Christ’s active obedience is the basis and his death is the legal event that distributes the royal estate to all of his beneficiaries. God doesn’t just give us more good advice and exhortation, but the most amazing news in the world: “But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness” (v. 5).

The contrast is either/or again in verse 14: “For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect.” It’s not just that faith is also necessary, but that faith and obedience are absolutely antithetical as means of attaining that which the promise promises. The last part of the sentence (v. 15) reads, “because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” It is the law that exposes our sin and makes it utterly sinful, counting our wrongs not as “mistakes,” “self-expression,” “foibles,” or even “not being all that we could be,” but as a wicked transgression of God’s explicit command. The law speaks and the old self dies. The law cannot create faith because it tells us what is to be done. It can only announce what we have not done. The promise, by contrast, tells us what has been done by someone else. That is why it brings life.

Then in verse 16 Paul says, “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure toall the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” See the logic of the promise? Paul will add one more pearl to the string later.

It is important to recognize that God’s promises are not simply a pledge of a future reality, but bring about that reality in the present. We see this clearly in the way Paul talks about the law doing certain things and the promise doing certain things. In verse 14 of our passage he says, “For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of noeffect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” The promise (or gospel) preached creates faith, just as the law actually brought about our condemnation. The law not only warns us of God’s coming wrath, it “brings about wrath,” just as the judge’s act of sentencing a criminal actually effects the criminal’s condemnation.

Throughout Scripture we are taught that God’s Word is effectual: it brings about whatever God speaks, whether in creation, providence, or redemption. God’s speech is “active and living,” Scripture says. The law is successful in condemning, driving us to despair of ourselves, to seek salvation outside ourselves. The gospel is successful in giving us faith to receive Christ and all his benefits. The gospel doesn’t just talk about a world that might come to be if we all just got our act together; it creates a new world where no capacity existed, and that is exactly the language that Paul uses in verses 17 to 22. God creates death and life by speaking.

This is why Paul returns again to the example of Abraham and Sarah as the construction site of a new creation, produced by the promise. Here is the logic: “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all of his descendants,” both Jew and Gentile (v 16). He adds, “As it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’-in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (v. 17). Just as God spoke the world into existence without any contribution from the creation itself, God speaks a new world of salvation into being. And just as Abraham is declared righteous by this proclamation then and there, Paul observes, he was declared then and there “father of many nations” despite all appearances to the contrary. “Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be'” (v. 18). God’s saying makes it so. Salvation comes, then, not by doing certain things but by hearing certain things and embracing them by faith, which is itself created by the Spirit through the preaching of the promise. Not all parts of the Word give life, as Paul says later in chapter 7 (v. 10): “And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.” If Paul were not a transgressor, the law would pronounce him just, but as it is, it can only bring death. The promise, by contrast, brings life-out of nothing.

This is the scandal of justification: How can God declare us righteous if we are not inherently righteous? Isn’t this a legal fiction? Doesn’t it make God a liar? But that’s like saying God cannot say, “Let there be light” unless there is a sun to give it. God himself creates the conditions necessary for the existence of his work. When he says, “Let there be light!”, the sun exists. When he says, “Let this ungodly person be righteous,” “this barren woman be pregnant,” “this faithless person embrace my Word,” it is so. When we really understand justification, we really understand how God works with us in every aspect of our lives before him. Christ lived the purpose-driven life so that we would inherit his righteousness through faith and be promise-driven people in a purpose-driven world. He did gain the everlasting inheritance by obedience to everything God commanded, driven by the purpose of fulfilling the law for us, in perfect love of God and neighbor.

Relinquishing hope in the ordinary powers of human nature, he was given genuine hope in God for the first time. The future was now God’s future, not his own. He didn’t have to work it all out, plot and plan, scheme to bring about the inheritance (as he had done before). Thus, because of the power of the promise, not his own goals or resolve, Abraham could turn his eyes away from “his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Rom. 4:19). “He did not waver,” again, not because of any inherent virtue of his faith, but because he “was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (v. 21). In other words, it was because of the object of faith, not the act of faith itself that Abraham could stand firm.

As anticipated above, Paul adds here another pearl in the chain of the promise-logic: If the inheritance comes by faith in the promise and not in the works of the law, then faith gives all “glory to God” (v. 20). Faith gives no glory to self, even to our act of faith. It is directed entirely to God and his promise. Faith is strong only to the extent that the promise is strong. Abraham knew that God could perform what he had promised. “And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness'” (v. 22).

Conclusion: What Really Drives You?

In the concluding verses of this remarkable chapter (vv. 23-25, and the first verse of chapter 5), Paul writes,

Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not only for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification. Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

Faith is defiance. Abraham’s faith defied every possibility that he saw, in favor of the “impossible” word that he heard. This is why “faith comes by hearing … that is, the word of faith which we preach” (Rom. 10:17). To trust in God is to distrust every other promise-maker. The world makes a lot of promises: “Try this product and you’ll be ….” Constantly buying into new fads or makeovers as so many fig leaves to hide the seriousness of our condition, we hand ourselves over to marketers who persuade us that we can attain salvation, however we define that. Even the church can become a place where people get the idea that they exist merely to usher in the kingdom by serving on committees and being involved in a thousand programs. We have a lot of purposes, a lot of goals-some of them noble. Desperate to save ourselves and our kids from everything but the wrath of God, we fail to realize that, however watered down, these are all nothing but law rather than promise. Eventually, we will become burned out on good advice. What we need is good news.

The Covenantal Summons

When God Gathers His People in Worship

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What are we doing on the Lord’s day, especially when we are gathered as God’s people in church? How do we understand Christian growth and discipleship-as chiefly corporate or individual, as nourished by the preached Word and the divinely instituted Sacraments or by self-approved “means of grace”? Would an outsider coming into our worship services be immediately impressed with the centrality of preaching, baptism, and the supper, or would he or she be more likely to notice the importance given to performance?

All of these questions were at the heart of the Reformation debate as part and parcel of recovering the Gospel. But they are just as acute in our day, when we have sought a bewildering array of means of grace. This article will focus on the nature of worship as a service of covenant renewal.

The Biblical Story of Redemption

Our non-Reformed readers will hardly be surprised to learn that I would begin a brief biblical sketch of worship with the covenant. But no one can doubt that this is central to the biblical story of redemption. Even after the fall, God promised Eve a son who would crush the serpent’s head, and although Cain murdered Abel, God provided another son, Seth. While Cain’s descendants were building their own proud city of rebellion (Gen. 4:15-24), “Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD” (v. 26). Thus, the two cities-cult (i.e., worship) and culture, fully integrated in creation, were now divided and pursued two separate ends through distinct means. Jesus’ warning that the world will hate his disciples and Paul’s contrast between the wisdom of this world (works-righteousness) and the wisdom of God (the righteousness which comes by faith) are not borne out of any hostility toward the world per se. Rather, it is the world in its sinful rebellion that the biblical writers have in mind.

After calling Abram out of Ur, God commanded a ritual sacrifice as a way of making the covenant. (In fact, the Hebrew word for covenant, berith, comes from the verb, “to cut.”) In ancient Near Eastern politics and law, a suzerain (i.e., great king or emperor) would enter into a treaty with a vassal (i.e., the king or ruler of a smaller territory) by cutting various animals in half. Then, walking together between the halves, both partners agreed to perform all of the conditions of the treaty with the following sanction: If I should be unfaithful for my part, may the same end befall me as has befallen these animals. In Genesis 15, when God makes his covenant with Abraham and his descendants, this ancient Near Eastern treaty is the pattern:

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other…. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nations they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions…. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram…. (v. 8-18)

Two sorts of things are promised by God in this covenant: a holy land (Canaan) and everlasting life. What especially distinguishes this suzerainty treaty is the fact that although God and Abram are covenant partners, the Lord (appearing as a smoking firepot with a blazing torch) walks alone through this path, placing on his own head all of the sanctions and assuming on his own shoulders the curses which he himself has imposed, should the treaty be violated by either party. Then in chapter 17 there is another cutting ceremony:

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you … I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you…. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (v. 3-12)

This ceremony signified the cutting away of uncleanness, especially of original sin that is passed on from Adam through every subsequent father. But here, instead of the knife being plunged into the body to bring down the curses of the transgressors (yes, even fresh from the womb we are in this class), it instead is used to cut away the sin so that the recipient may live.

Eventually, God’s promise was fulfilled: Israel did inherit the land. As mentioned previously, God promised a holy land and everlasting life. As becomes clearer with the progress of redemption, the land was (like Adam’s enjoyment of Eden) dependent on works-the obedience of the Israelites. The Mosaic covenant, with its ceremonial and civil as well as moral laws, promised blessing for obedience and judgment for disobedience. Once again, God would fight for his people and give them a new Eden, a land flowing with milk and honey. God would be present among his people in the temple as long as they were righteous.

But (also like Adam) Israel failed and in its rebellion violated the treaty with the great king, provoking God to enact the sanctions of this works covenant. The lush garden of God became a wasteland of thorns and thistles, as God removed his kingdom back up into heaven, the children of Israel being carted off to Babylonian exile. After these years of exile, a remnant returned to rebuild Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah report this remarkable event and the tragic infidelity and infighting that went along with it. Despite human sinfulness, under Nehemiah’s leadership the remnant rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple which God’s evacuation had left desolate and ransacked by invaders. The poor were cared for. But the centerpiece of this event appears when the Torah is rediscovered for a generation of Israelites that had never read or heard the Scriptures read except perhaps from their grandparents’ memory:

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion…. Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. (Neh. 8:1-6)

Even during their exile the Israelites were reminded by Jeremiah’s prophecy of the divine promise-not to restore ethnic Israelites to the geopolitical territory of Palestine as God’s kingdom on earth, but to save a remnant from both Israel and the nations of the world. Although the Mosaic covenant had been thoroughly violated, God, you will recall, was still carrying the entire burden for the Abrahamic covenant of grace. Thus, again and again in the prophets we read, “Not for your sakes, but for the sake of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…. ” So through Jeremiah God declares,

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people…. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34)

This new covenant “will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers” under Moses, says the Lord, but will be an everlasting and unbreakable covenant. It will be based not on the national election of Israel, but on the eternal election of individuals whom the Son redeemed: “and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9). The Sabbath rest which Israel forfeited in the Holy Land because of disobedience is now freely given to sinners, Jew and Gentile. Even Joshua, Moses’ lieutenant who led the Israelites into the land, was looking for a greater land, a more excellent kingdom, with a firm and unshakable foundation: “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his” (Heb. 4:8). Thus, the New Testament Gospel is identical to that which Abraham believed when he was credited with the perfect righteousness of Christ through faith alone, apart from works (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 9:8; and Gal. 3:6-14). This is not the Mosaic covenant, an administration based on our faithfulness, but theAbrahamic covenant, an administration of God’s faithfulness and grace.

The Covenant Renewal Ceremony

It is in this context that we talk about the “covenant renewal ceremony,” then, which is how Reformed folk often talk about the worship service. Whenever we gather for Word and Sacrament, it is because we have been summoned. That is what “church” means: ekklesia, “called out.” It is not a voluntary society of those who come together regularly with the chief concern to share, to build community, to enjoy fellowship, and so forth. Rather, it is a society of those who have been chosen, redeemed, called, justified, and are being sanctified until one day they will finally be glorified in heaven. We gather each Lord’s day not merely out of habit or social custom, but because God has chosen this day as a foretaste of the everlasting Sabbath day that will be enjoyed fully at the marriage supper of the Lamb. God has called us out of the world: that is why we gather.

We also gather to receive God’s gifts. And this is where the emphasis falls-or should fall. Throughout the Scriptures, the service is seen chiefly as God’s action. The one who brought us up out of the land of Egypt and made us his people takes the initiative in salvation and throughout the Christian life. The shadows of Christ in the Mosaic covenant, especially the detailed legislation for the sacrifices, are fulfilled in the advent of the Messiah. Therefore, we do not worship in an earthly sanctuary, but in the heavenly sanctuary where we are seated with Christ in heavenly places. Hence, Jesus’ statement to the Samaritan woman in John 4:23-24. Like the smoking firepot with a blazing torch, God walks down the middle of the aisle assuming the judgment his own justice requires and his own mercy satisfies. He circumcises our hearts, with the baptismal font prominently centered. He creates faith in our heart from the preaching and confirms us in this faith through the Sacraments. (1)

As in all covenants, there are two parts to the covenant of grace. God speaks and delivers; we respond in faith and repentance. And yet this faith and repentance is not “our part” in this covenant in the sense of providing some of the grounds for our participation in it. God even grants faith and repentance. And yet God does call us to respond, to grow in grace, and to persevere to the end. The triumphant indicative concerning God’s action in Christ establishes a safe foundation on which to stand as we meet the divine imperatives. That’s why worship is “dialogical”: God speaks and we respond. That is the form that we find in the Psalms: God’s wondrous works in creation, preservation, judgment, and redemption are extolled; it is only then that it makes sense to respond, whether in confession, praise, thanksgiving, lament, or whatever else might be appropriate to the divine activity that is announced. Unlike the Psalms themselves, many of the hymns and praise choruses of the last century and a half have become increasingly human-centered. Even with praise choruses that paraphrase a psalm, the response section of the text is often torn from the indicative section proclaiming who God is and what he has done. Thus, the focus of worship seems to be on what we are doing, how we are feeling, and how we intend to respond: “I just want to praise you”; “We will lift you up”; “Let’s just praise the Lord”; “I am joyful,” etc. But this is to separate the law from the Gospel, the imperative from the indicative, and to make at least the singing part of the service predominantly the former rather than the latter.

If worship is a covenant renewal ceremony, the service must reflect the divine initiative in the covenant itself. There must be response-and there will be response, if there is something to which we are inclined to respond. God meets his people in Christ as the Holy Spirit works through the liturgy, the preaching, and the Sacraments. It is the person and work of this Triune God that must be front and center, as this God actually confronts us just as he did in the assembly when Ezra read God’s Word. It is the Word, not Israel’s response to the Word, that is central in that account, and yet the report does not fail to inform us that “all the people listened attentively” (v. 3) and, later, that they even “lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!” followed by bowing down “with their faces to the ground” as they wept because of their sense of their own sinfulness and God’s amazing grace (vv. 5-6, 9).

No wonder, then, that at Pentecost a similar event occurs. Peter addressed the crowd in Jerusalem, announcing the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 and that despite the people’s culpability in crucifying Jesus, God had all along planned to save his people through the death and resurrection of the Savior. He drew on the Psalms as well to make the point that Jesus is the “seed of the woman,” the “Son of David,” the one promised to Abraham in whom all the nations would be blessed. Out of this preaching the new covenant church was established. And what was the pattern of this weekly covenant renewal ceremony? “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

It is a new and better covenant, with Christ himself rather than Moses as its mediator. The Lord’s Supper is neither a mere memorial of Christ’s death nor a resacrificing of Christ (as if we preferred the shadows of Moses to the reality in Christ), but is a participation in the very body and blood of Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 10:16). “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” we read in the words of institution. No wonder the writer who so strongly urges believers to recognize the superiority of the new covenant to the old also charges us not to give up the covenant renewal ceremony which God enacts each Lord’s day:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:19-25)

 

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Darkness At Noon: The Commission of a Post-Compliant Church

As the late Allan Bloom noted, a mind resolutely determined to be absolutely open is
often, in actuality, quite closed. The closing of the postmodern mind will present a
challenge for the church in this post-Christian age. Swirling worldviews and a
reflexive relativism come together to form a mentality often closed to all substantive truth
claims. Gathering clouds of darkness and the eclipse of truth present the believing church
with a great challenge – will we surrender in a spirit of cultural compliance?
We must recognize that the church has been compliant for far too long, and if we are
effectively to challenge the prevailing worldview of postmodern culture, the church must
become a post-compliant people. What will it take for Christians in this generation to be
awakened out of complacency and compliance? If we are complacent in this culture, if we are
compliant in the face of its demands and expectations, then there will be no preaching of the
gospel. There will be no authentic church. There will be no authentic Christian witness. We
will withdraw into our Christian cave, and we will cower there. We will not witness, we will
not work–we will simply retreat.

A recent debate between Robert Audi and Nicholas Wolterstorff is very revealing. In a book
entitled Religion in the Public Square, Robert Audi takes the secular argument–which is the
prevalent position in the academy–and argues that Christians have no right to make
Christian arguments in the public square. It is fine for Christians to make arguments, he says;
they just cannot show up as Christians. Following in the work of the philosopher John Rawls,
Audi goes so far as to say that when we enter the public square, we must bring with us a
purely secular rationale. In other words, any argument we make must be essentially and
purely secular, and such arguments are to be motivated by secular concerns alone. They
cannot even be spiritually motivated.

Think about what this means on the issue of homosexuality and homosexual marriage, to
take just one example. I believe historians will one day point to this issue as the catalyst for a
great and lamentable cultural revolution in America. The world will be categorically different
the moment homosexual marriage is normalized in this country. Then we will find out how
many Christians there are. We will find out how many churches there are. Who is going to
recognize these same-sex unions? Who is going to solemnize these same-sex unions? Not the
faithful church of the Lord Jesus Christ! Any church that would normalize and celebrate
what Scripture condemns has set itself in direct opposition to revelation, reason, and the
witness of the martyrs. Those who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel did not do so in a
spirit of cultural compliance.

Think for a moment about this issue of same-sex marriage in the context of Audi’s secular
rationale. I was in Washington recently and heard a presentation in which a very wellinformed
person–one of the nation’s leading researchers on the issues of the day, said,
“Look, we have to understand that we are not going to be able to bring God into the same-sex
marriage debate. We are not going to be able to use spiritual and biblical arguments, so you
Christian people are just going to have to understand that.” I was up next to speak, so I said in
response, “Here is everything I know about marriage apart from God – nothing of binding
significance. Now that that is out of the way, I can tell you that everything I know about
marriage, everything I know about sex, everything I know about gender, everything I know
about homosexuality, I know from the Word of God. That is all I know. That is all I can know,
and I am not going to not talk about it. And if we lose this battle while preaching the
Scriptures, then brothers and sisters, we lose gloriously!”

There are many who will say that what must be pressed in this debate over same-sex
marriage are the deleterious social effects of undermining marriage – and leave all
theologically-based arguments out of the picture. That argument, however, is not only
wrong in principle, it is a pragmatic failure. We will never get anywhere with that, because
the people driving the movement for normalizing homosexuality really aren’t primarily
concerned about those issues. A culture that will compromise itself into accepting
homosexual marriage will never really be convinced by such arguments. In the final analysis,
all we have is the authority of the Word of God. We Christians are the world’s most eccentric
people in a postmodern age. We are committed to a faith that is structured by a book that is
two thousand years old. Beyond eccentric, we are increasingly seen as dangerous. A people
who live by the light of an ancient book – and who dare to call it the very Word of God – will
look exceedingly dangerous to the prevailing worldviews of this age.

The entire biblical truth claim is under assault in today’s culture. We see the tightening grip
in the tenacity of all this onslaught. We see a culture that increasingly loves darkness rather
than the light. We can see the logic of the culture, and we can see that the church has been
compliant too long. Thus, when we turn to Hebrews chapter 12, we are confronted with an
exhortation that instructs is that the reality must be different for us. The prophet Joel warned
of that apocalyptic day of judgment that is coming–a day when the sun will turn to darkness
and the moon will be turned to blood. In Hebrews 12, we are confronted with another
warning of judgment–this time addressed to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The writer
of Hebrews writes of two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. One represents the
covenant of old, and the other represents the New Covenant in Christ. Sinai represents
thunder and shaking and fear; Zion represents the festive joy of the people of God in the
work of Christ, in the Kingdom of the Redeemer.

In this passage, we are also told of a shaking that is about to come. In Hebrews 12:26, the
author quotes from the prophet Haggai in chapter 2, verses 6-7: “For thus says the Lord of
hosts: ‘Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and
the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in,
and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.’” Then the writer of Hebrews picks
up by saying. “This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken–
that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may
remain.” (Hebrews 12:27)

We are now in a time of shaking, and there is more shaking yet to come. As we read the book
of Hebrews, this too is pointing towards an eschatological shaking and sifting. But just as in
Joel, there is both an eschatological and a present application. There is a shaking now
happening in this generation, and this shaking will be followed by more and more violent
shaking yet. We are about to see what remains and what falls. In this time of shifting and
sifting and shaking, we are going to be tested, and we are going to find out what we are made
of.

Look at Hebrews 12:28: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be
shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God
is a consuming fire.” Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Yes,
there is a whole lot of shaking going on! But there is one kingdom that cannot be shaken,
and that is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What does that kingdom look like? It is certainly a kingdom of victory, but it is sometimes a
victory that doesn’t look to observers like victory. Look at Hebrews 11:32: “And what more
shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and
Samuel and the prophets–who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice,
obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the
edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign
armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured,
refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered
mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were
sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats,
destitute, afflicted, mistreated–of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in
deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:32-38)

I think it is fair to say that to the casual, outside observer, this picture does not look much like
victory. But in the eyes of faith, it doesn’t get any more victorious than what this passage
declares. We don’t get to choose our times. We don’t get to choose our challenges. We didn’t
choose to live in a post-Christian age. We didn’t choose to confront the postmodern mind,
but this is where we are, and it is time that we become a post-compliant church. While all is
shaking and shaken around us, the one thing that cannot be shaken is the kingdom of our
Lord Jesus Christ, and this kingdom is visible in His church.

In a post-Christian age, confronted with the challenge of the postmodern mind, the Church
of the Lord Jesus Christ is called to be a post-compliant people. Anything less is just another
form of spiritual surrender.

~ by Dr. R. Albert Mohler

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

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Darkness At Noon: The Closing of the Postmodern Mind

The prophet Joel spoke of a day when the sun would be turned to darkness, and the
moon to blood. This picture–besides giving us a glimpse of that terrible, coming
Day of the Lord in judgment–is also a graphic picture of our own times. Even today,
in the gathering clouds of our culture, we see darkness at noon.

One of the central realities of this darkness is the dawning of a post-Christian culture – and a
central reality of our emerging culture is the closing of the postmodern mind. Something is
happening to the worldview, the mentality, and the consciousness of this age. If we listen
closely, we can hear something like the closing of a steel door — a solemn, cataclysmic
slamming of a door. We have been watching the postmodern mind in its development, and it
is now well developed. Not only do we see the themes of postmodernity taking hold of the
larger culture, but we understand the challenge this pattern of thinking poses to Christian
truth and Christian truth-telling. Tolerance is perverted into a radical secularism that is
anything but tolerant. There is little openness to truth, and growing hostility to truth claims.
Indeed, the postmodern mind has a fanatical, if selective, dedication to moral relativism, and
an understanding that truth has no objective or absolute basis whatsoever.

The late French philosopher Jacques Derrida shaped the postmodern mind by arguing that
the author of a text is effectively dead in terms of establishing the text’s meaning. One of the
fathers of literary deconstructionism, his concept of “the death of the author” exerts a
powerful influence on the culture at large. Derrida’s basically nihilistic philosophy suggested
that texts mean nothing in themselves. In other words, it is the reader who comes to the text
with meaning and determines what will be found within the text. The author is dead, Derrida
proclaimed, and can no longer dictate by his totalitarian authority what the text means.
Even before Derrida’s death, new debates about deconstructionism arose in the academy.
More significantly, these nihilistic philosophies have already filtered down into popular
culture. Even now, for example, many of our judges are practicing deconstructionists, seeing
the law not as what it was or what it was intended to be, but rather as a tool they can use for
their own agenda of social engineering. In the elite institutions of American academia,
deconstructionism is the order of the day. The text means what the professor says it means,
and it eventually means whatever each student would have it to mean. The reader reigns
supreme.

Unfortunately, deconstructionism has also found its way into many pulpits, sometimes in a
hard, ideological form, but more often in a soft and seductive form. In the hard form of
undiluted liberalism, it is simply the idea that this text, the Bible, may be a privileged text, but
the authors are dead. Thus, it is now up to us to decide what it should mean, so we can turn
the text on its head. And we can do so in the name of liberation, and freedom from
oppression. We are no longer bound to the oppressive truth of the text because we can now
twist the text to mean something it has never been understood to mean in the past – even the
opposite of what the words and grammatical structure would seem to mean. In so doing,
postmoderns seek to liberate themselves by deconstructing the text. After all, all the authors
are dead.

Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that such a hermeneutic must also assume that the
divine Author is dead. In its softer, subtler form, we find deconstructionism among some
who would never consider themselves liberals, and who would even claim to have what they
would characterize as a high view of Scripture. Yet when they encounter the text, they also
deconstruct it. The biblical text, they argue, has to be understood in terms of our modern
understanding. Modern psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and cultural studies have
something to bring to the interpretation of the text, they argue, something to tell us which
the human authors of Scripture missed. In other words, one may start with what it said, but
now we ourselves can decide what it means.

In both its hard and soft forms, deconstructionism has filtered down to the popular culture,
even to those who never heard of Jacques Derrida but have been nonetheless infected with
this postmodern mentality and this subtle form of subversive relativism and subjectivism.
You can hear Derrida in the discourse of adolescents in the mall. You can hear it in the
conversation on the nightly news.

The closing of the postmodern mind is the opposite of what postmodernism claimed to be its
aspiration. Postmodernism claimed that this new postmodern age–with the end of
modernity, the demise of scientific objectivity, and the openness to new forms and
understandings of truth–would lead to an opening of the mind. But as is always the case, the
totalitarian opening of the mind always ends with the radical closing of the mind. There is
nothing less tolerant than the modern ethos of tolerance. There is nothing less open than
the modern idea of open-mindedness. In the darkening sky and the gathering clouds, we see
the haunting closure of this supposedly open mind.

Sociologist Peter Berger reminds us that every single individual operates on the basis of
plausibility structures — certain frameworks of thought that are necessary for our
understanding of the world. For years, Berger and others have been telling us that the
plausibility structures of most Americans have little, if anything, to do with biblical
Christianity. The way most persons think about the world, the way they envision beauty, the
way they conceive love, the way they understand authority and marriage and structure and
principle and truth, all of these things are now basically secular in form. Not only so, but in
recent years we have witnessed the acceleration of this secularism into something that is
deeply dark, and increasingly nihilistic. What Karl Marx once promised would happen seems
to be coming to fulfillment–all that is solid melts into air. In the world of postmodernism, all
institutions are plastic, and all principles are liquid. We can reshape anything. Nothing is
given. Nothing is objective.

We can take the family, for example, and we can melt it down and make it something else. In
fact, we can turn it into an infinite number of liquid arrangements. We can take any
institution, be it government or church, or marriage, or family, and we can make of it what
we will. All principles are liquid, too. We can simply pour them out in a different way. Since
there is nothing really there anyway, we can reconfigure any principle according to our
desires. So we will reshape our entire worldview. We will shape our new philosophy. We will
be humanity come of age, and we will do this in the name of liberation and tolerance and
diversity–and open-mindedness. George Orwell never saw it so clearly, yet this is where we
live. Openness becomes closedness. Freedom becomes bondage, and tolerance becomes
intolerance.

The closing of the postmodern mind is not a pretty sight, nor is it friendly to human rights
and human dignity. We can look to Europe, where the post-Christian age is already
coalescing into a system of laws and a pattern of culture. Sweden, for example, already has
imprisoned a Pentecostal pastor, Ake Green, for preaching a sermon in which he spoke of
the sinfulness of homosexuality. He was recently acquitted of that “crime” by Sweden’s
highest court, but the fact remains that he was arrested and convicted by a lower court – and
the law remains in effect. Across much of Western Europe there is legislation in which it is
can be considered a crime to speak of the sinfulness of any sexual lifestyle, and of
homosexuality in particular.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, there are now official protocols for killing children and
infants in hospitals. Euthanasia has advanced to the point that, in the Netherlands, the
largest medical school in the country just reported that 31 percent of pediatricians have
admitted to killing babies, and 45 percent of neonatologists have admitted to euthanizing
infants–even without informing the parents that that is what happened to their child. And all
this is done, of course, in the name of health, even in the name of compassion. Then along
comes the Christian to say “We have a message about the dignity and sanctity of life,” and he
is told to be quiet. We can say, “Well, that is Europe. That is a post-Christian future that is an
ocean away.”

But even in the United States, we see all this coming together, and the clinched fist of a
closed postmodern mind is increasingly evident. In 1995, for instance, a U.S. District Court
judge in the state of Texas ruled against school prayer, afraid that some teenagers might in
the course of their graduation ceremony actually mention the name of Jesus, or mention the
name of God. When he handed down the ruling, the judge warned teenagers in the state of
Texas, saying, “If any of you shall mention the name of Jesus or God, or any other deity, you
will rue the day that you were born and will spend up to half a year in the Galveston jail.” That
is not Arthur Koestler warning in Darkness at Noon of the Soviet Union in 1941. It is the United
States of America in 1995. Legal observers may argue that this judge’s comments were not
indicative of a universal trend, but is this truly reassuring?

In the state of California, those who would be foster parents are now required to pledge that
they will say nothing that is in any way opposed to homosexuality or to any chosen sexual
lifestyle. Effectively, that means that Christians can no longer be foster parents in the state of
California. What a switch in ten years! Ten years ago, homosexual couples could not be foster
parents in the state of California. Now it is the Christians – who would raise their children as
Christians – who cannot be foster parents in that state.

A recently published book by Sam Harris entitled The End of Faith even claimed that faith
itself is a form of terrorism, and that the United States can no longer afford its long cherished
ideal of religions toleration and religious liberty. According to Harris, religious liberty is
simply too dangerous in a world like this.

We need to take notice of these developments in order that we might understand the
challenge we are about to face, because I fear that as evangelical Christians, we tend to swing
like a pendulum between a naive optimism and a wrongful pessimism. In reality, we have no
right to be either optimistic or pessimistic. To be either optimistic or pessimistic is to be
deluded, and in some sense to deny the sovereignty of God. We cannot be pessimistic because
Scripture tells us we are to be a people of hope. Of course, that does not mean that we are a
naive and ignorant people of hope who close our eyes to the reality around us. No, we find a
hope in something that is far more secure than anything this culture can secure.
But, on the other hand, we cannot be optimistic, either. Optimism is the message sent down
from public relations. Optimism is the happy face that tells us with a chipper voice that
everything is all right. Well, it is not all right, and everything will not be well, not in this age
or in this life. We have no right to be optimistic, but we have no right not to be hopeful.
Evangelicals, sometimes demonstrating a nearly breathtaking naivete, swing between these
pendulum extremes of pessimism and optimism, when Scripture calls us to reality. Be soberminded,
we are told. Gird up the loins of your thinking. Be ready, be alert, be watchful. Be a
watchman on the wall. Have your eyes open. Be ready for action. This is our calling as
Christians, even as the darkness gathers. We are to be the community of the open-eyed, the
intellectually alert, the broken-hearted, and the resolutely hopeful. Pulling that off will take
more than wishful thinking.

~ by Dr. R. Albert Mohler

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.