Eschatology and the Planet of the Apes

Views on the End Times are a dime a dozen, but it’s probably safe to assume you’ve never seen eschatology taught like this before! Russell Moore, Dean of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains why he opened this semester of his class on the Doctrine of the Last Things by showing a clip from The Planet of the Apes.

I’ve got to say that I love the idea of merging doctrinal teaching with cultural apologetics. It helps people understand that theology is absolutely relevant in our daily lives. Whether we undertake a serious study of theology or not, the fact remains that we are developing a personal set of beliefs from somewhere, whether it’s intentional or not. This is even more important on a subject like eschatology that tends to be either taught poorly or avoided altogether.

From Moore:

But eschatology and discipleship in the church is kind of like sex education in the home. Just because you don’t talk about sex with your kids doesn’t mean they will grow up ignorant of sex. It means they’ll hear about sex from somewhere else.

Just because you don’t preach and teach about the Christian vision of the future, that doesn’t mean your church is void of eschatology. It means your church is picking up an eschatology from somewhere else, sometimes from the local cineplex.

Read the rest here.

T.D. Jakes and the Elephant in the Room

I know that most readers of my blog don’t keep up with every theological controversy in contemporary evangelicalism. Lord knows we have enough of them! However, there is an important conversation going on right now, with the potential to have far-reaching consequences.

Here’s the CliffsNotes version:

Last year, a Chicago pastor named James McDonald hosted a conference called “The Elephant Room“, intended to model grace in disagreement by arranging a series of moderated discussions between influential pastors. These pastors (James McDonald, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Greg Laurie, Perry Noble, and Steven Furtick) represented a wide spectrum of contemporary evangelicalism; while they largely were united on the essential doctrines of orthodox theology, they differed significantly in their methods and presentation of the Gospel. While there was some controversy involved, this conference was, by and large, seen as positive. Here is a good example of the type of discussions that took place:

The level of controversy was elevated for this year’s Elephant Room. When news broke that T.D. Jakes had been invited to participate, it stirred up a lot of criticism due to his association with Oneness Pentecostalism and his teaching of modalism (a heretical doctrine that denies the Trinity). Mark Dever, who had been announced as a speaker, backed out rather than participate in a conversation in which each man on stage would be assumed to be a brother. Pastors on all sides of the issue have weighed in over the last few months, ultimately leading to James McDonald’s resignation from the Gospel Coalition.

At the conference last week, T.D. Jakes gave at least a token affirmation of the orthodox understanding of the Trinity, but was not challenged on his “Word of Faith” preaching. Though McDonald and Driscoll embraced him as a brother, many were unconvinced.

Rather than adding my own thoughts to the fray (other than to simply concur with those who remain to be convinced that Jakes has repented from his false teaching), allow me to just point you to some of the responses which I feel are most measured, to save you the trouble of wading through much that has been published which is unhelpful. This ongoing discussion will be interesting to watch. Prosperity preaching is rampant in American churches, and I believe that Christians have a responsibility to be aware of the challenges to the Gospel and be able to address those challenges with Truth and grace.

  • Grace and Truth Beyond the Elephant Room — Trevin Wax attended and live-blogged the conference. All of his notes are worth reading, but this is his summary at the conclusion of the event. His conclusion is spot on: “We need charity and clarity. But civility is not a love-fest. We will disagree – strongly at times. Why? Because theology matters. The stakes are high. Bad theology hurts people.”
  • Bishop Jakes, 2nd Decisions, and Coming Home — James McDonald’s own wrap-up.
  • Reflections on James McDonald, TD Jakes, and the Trinity — Some of Mark Driscoll’s thoughts, including a lot of excellent teaching to help understand modalism and the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • The Elephant in the Room — An excellent article from Voddie Baucham, who turned down an invitation to ER2 because of Jakes, but planned to participate in a men’s conference at McDonald’s church scheduled for this past weekend. Because of  comments he made publicly criticizing Jakes and ER2, MacDonald challenged him upon his arrival in Chicago, and they agreed it was not a good idea to speak at the men’s conference.
  • Theological Sleight of Hand at the Elephant Room — Chris Rosebraugh (who was threatened with arrest upon his arrival at the ER2 conference) outlines exactly what Jakes said, and why many consider that an insufficient recantation of his previous positions.
  • The Problem With T.D. Jakes Goes Beyond Modalism — Here’s a local pastor’s take on the controversy. Jeff Wright is pastor of Midway Baptist Church in Cookeville.

Book Review: Saving Leonardo

“Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning” by Nancy Pearcey

True wisdom consists in seeing every field of knowledge through the lens of God’s truth — government, science, economics, business, and the arts.

Though we’re not even halfway through 2011 yet, I have a pretty good feeling this will end up being my favorite book of the year. A book on apologetics, culture, and philosophy that spends a lot of time focused on art, music, and literature is right up my alley! I actually finished reading it a couple months ago, but my brain was so full it took me a long time to process everything to be able to write a review. It’s still a daunting task, but hopefully I can at least give you enough of a taste of what Pearcey offers in this book to make you want to read it… because you really should!

“Saving Leonardo” is broken down into two Parts, though the second makes up the bulk of the book. Part 1 (“The Threat of Global Secularism”) shows the extent to which our culture has been co-opted by secularist thinking. Nearly everyone has a worldview that has been affected to some degree by secularism.

Far from being a conservative “fearmongerer”, or attacking an abstract secular “boogeyman”, Nancy Pearcey is very deliberate and nuanced in her description of what secularism is, and how and why it is so pervasive in our culture. The primary way in which secular thinking works its way even into the worldviews of most Christians is through the “fact/value dichotomy”. Pearcey builds off the work of Francis Schaeffer (under whom she studied at L’Abri), who described a “two-story concept of truth”. In this conception, “the lower story consists of scientific facts, which are held to be empirically testable and universally valid. The upper story (‘values’) includes things like morality, theology, and aesthetics, which are now regarded as subjective and culturally relative” (p. 26).

As Pearcey points out, “this dichotomy has grown so pervasive that most people do not even realize they hold it” (p. 27). This dichotomy is in direct contradiction to the biblical concept of truth, which is that all of creation is ordered by a transcendent, holy God who has given us objective, knowable truth that encompasses both facts AND values. The dominant thinking today, however, is that the realms of science (“facts”) and religion (“values”) have very little to do with one another. This could not be further from the truth!

Unfortunately, Christianity has bought into this false dichotomy over time, and has therefore largely withdrawn from (or in some cases succumbed to) the culture-at-large. Christians have very little influence or credibility in the sciences, and are no longer creating art, music, and literature (the building blocks of culture that shape our worldviews more than anything else) that impact society outside of Christian circles. This abrogation of the church’s responsibility as a culture-making institution has led to rampant secularism in our schools, our media, our politics, and even (to a growing extent) our churches.

For this reason, we find ourselves living in a time and place in which we are “metaphysically lost”. The concept of Total Truth (the title of Pearcey’s first book) is so far removed from our culture’s understanding that we are hardly even able to engage in the discussion. Christians who have unconsciously bought into dualistic thinking are unable to form logical arguments for why things like abortion and euthanasia are morally wrong. As she points out, “people do not just need rules, they need reasons” (p. 69). She closes out Part 1 with this challenge (to which I give a hearty “Amen!”):

It’s time for the church to regroup, rethink, and recast its strategy for social and political engagement. Christians must learn to engage the secular worldviews that drive the public debate. They must learn to articulate a worldview rationale for biblical morality. And most importantly, they must back up their message with authentic living before a watching world.” (p. 69)

Part 2 (“Two Paths to Secularism”) seeks to equip Christians with an understanding of exactly how we got where we are, and with the hope that real change in our society IS possible… though not using the tactics to which conservative Christians have resorted for generations. She does this by tracing the development of secular dualism by exploring the work of several “change agents”: philosophers, artists, composers, authors, theologians, scientists, politicians, and others who have shaped the course of history.

Those familiar with Francis Schaeffer’s work (especially How Should We Then Live?) will recognize the method of cultural analysis Pearcey uses to determine the significance of a particular cultural artifact, though her work is far more expansive in this regard. After a “crash course on art and worldview”, she dives into the meat of the book, tracing the “two paths to secularism”. These are two philosophical streams, each of which focused on one side of the facts/values dichotomy. The “Enlightenment Heritage” (Materialism) laid claim to the realm of empirical facts, while the “Romantic Heritage” (Idealism) wanted to protect the realm of values. Each of these streams of thought has had several tributaries — there is much variety within the two traditions — but they have developed roughly in parallel, with thinkers from each side of the divide reacting against the other.

The problem is that, while there are elements of truth within both realms, it is an error to focus on one to the exclusion of the other. Throughout history, Christians have found themselves on both sides of this split. To give you an idea of the scope of Pearcey’s investigation, I refer you to the following promotional video, in which the author names several of the genres and individuals presented in the book:

In the end, Pearcey encourages Christians to fully engage in cultural creation and debate. We should approach culture with discernment (which requires first and foremost a solid grounding in the Word of God), holding fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21) wherever we find it. Armed with God-given spiritual discernment and a “compassion for those who are trapped by destructive ideas“, the church is to become a living work of art, conveying the drama and excitement of the gospel to the world around us in word and deed. After all,

Ideas are very difficult to accept if they are solely abstract and theoretical. We need to see them lived out practically — made visible and tangible… we need a ‘plausibility structure,’ which means a social structure that renders an idea more plausible and believable. And what is the plausibility structure for the gospel? The church, the corporate life of the Christian community.” (p. 276)

There is so much more that could be said, but your time would be much better spent reading this book! I’ll warn you: This is a very large book (though it’s beautiful illustrations and full-color renditions of referenced artwork make it a joy to read, and offset the large amounts of text in a visually appealing way) that will take a long time to read, and even longer to process. Though Pearcey’s writing style is quite accessible, you’ll have to think a LOT. You’ll be challenged to reconsider preconceived notions, even if you don’t agree with every one of the author’s conclusions. In short, reading this book takes work, but it is absolutely worth it! Buy it here.

Jehovah’s Witnessing

I want to ask for your prayers for a certain situation. Twice now, a man from the Jehovah’s Witnesses has visited our house. He says he’ll be back again, and I hope he does. Please pray with me for his salvation, and for Laurie and I to be able to witness effectively to him.

Jehovah’s Witnesses can be particularly difficult to share the gospel with. They are so indoctrinated, and they tend to back out of discussions once they realize they’re dealing with someone who knows the Bible or who asks questions they can’t answer. This has happened twice already.

The first time he came, I was not home, but Laurie talked with him on the porch for about 45 minutes, with him doing most of the talking. Once she began asking him questions, though, he said, “I perceive you are someone who is familiar with the Bible…” (go Laurie!), and told her he’d return sometime when he could speak with her husband.

Today I chatted with him, again letting him do most of the talking, but answering as best I could the questions he was asking. I could tell that one of my answers was not what he expected, because his smile disappeared and he began to shift his weight uneasily. “Your opinion is in the minority,” he said. “That’s a very uncommon answer.” (The question dealt with the End Times, and he probably doesn’t have much experience speaking with a non-dispensational Christian around these parts.)

He quickly made an excuse about it being cold, and wanting to come back again soon, and then he was gone. He did give us a copy of “What Does the Bible Really Teach”, which is the same book he gave Laurie. I’ve been reading through it and taking notes, writing down questions I want to ask him next time.

The key to witnessing to JW’s is to be respectful and to challenge their thinking using their own material; they believe that all Christians are apostate, and that our Bibles are not accurately translated, so they would discount anything I might say using my own Bible.

Like I said, I really do hope he comes back, and that we can begin a dialogue through which God might open his eyes to the real Truth of the gospel. He is very deceived, and it makes me sad.

Book Review: Christianity and Liberalism

“Christianity and Liberalism” by J. Gresham Machen

Today, when most Americans consider the word “liberalism”, we think of a political philosophy or party. In the late 19th and into the early 20th century, however, there was a movement within the Protestant church known as Liberalism. While this religious movement does have some commonalities with political liberalism (a basic belief in man’s goodness and a strong humanitarian ethic, for instance), in their particulars they are really two very different things. It is religious Liberalism which Machen addresses in this book, which was written in 1923.

The main thrust of the Protestant Liberalism movement was a supposed focus on the work and teaching of Jesus, without holding to any dogmatic theological distinctions. In other words, liberals believed that Jesus was the highest moral example for men to follow, and that we should do what he did: Care for the poor, promote peace, and preach a message of love. Doing these things, says the liberal, promotes the betterment of society, but does not require any belief in the supernatural. The Bible is treated as a moral guidebook, but is not the inerrant Word of God. The Biblical claims of Jesus’ virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, and bodily resurrection from the dead are regarded with skepticism, but are ultimately seen as unimportant relative to the practical application of Jesus’ teachings.

Machen’s main premise is that Liberalism is completely antithetical to Christianity. He then proceeds to lay out an incredible defense of orthodox Protestantism, comparing it at each point with the Liberalism that had gained so much popularity in the churches of that time.

He begins the discussion with an overview of why doctrine is so important, and why inerrancy is non-negotiable to anyone who claims to be a Christian. After all, if the Bible is not true, we have no basis for believing anything about Jesus. If it is true, then we must believe everything it says about Him. Furthermore, the liberal’s claim to hold only to Jesus’ words and deeds is inconsistent with their denial of the supernatural, because Jesus made several indisputable claims to deity (as well as to the authority of Scripture). Essentially, Machen is making C.S. Lewis’ trilemma argument (“Liar, Lunatic, or Lord”) twenty years before the publication of Mere Christianity.

Machen then contrasts Christianity and Liberalism in the areas of several doctrines critical to Christian belief:

  • Our understanding of who God is
  • Man’s relationship with God and standing before Him
  • The person and work of Christ
  • What salvation is and the means by which man may attain it
  • The role of the Church

Because the liberal teaching in these areas is mutually exclusive with the traditional, orthodox positions held by the Church for nearly 2,000 years (and, more importantly, given to us in God’s Word), Machen proposes that, for the sake of intellectual honesty, liberals ought to stop referring to themselves as “Christians”, and instead join or create a different religious sect that more closely aligns with their beliefs. The Christian Church was founded on certain principles, and it is dishonest to represent the Church when one does not hold to those principles. Here’s a useful analogy from the book to illustrate this point:

At the foundation of the life of every corporation is the incorporation paper, in which the objects of the corporation are set forth. Other objects may be vastly more desirable than those objects, but if the directors use the name and the resources of the corporation to pursue the other objects they are acting ultra vires of the corporation. So it is with Christianity. It is perfectly conceivable that the originators of the Christian movement had no right to legislate for subsequent generations; but at any rate they did have an inalienable right to legislate for all generations that should choose to bear the name of “Christian”.

Even more than eight decades ago, “intolerance” was a common buzzword, and a common objection to this claim of exclusivity. Machen counters this objection:

Involuntary organizations ought to be tolerant, but voluntary organizations, so far as the fundamental purpose of their existence is concerned, must be intolerant or else cease to exist.

An example of an involuntary organization is the State. Most Americans, for instance, are naturalized citizens because we were born here. Our Constitution guarantees certain liberties which require tolerance. I am free to worship as a Christian in large part because others are equally free to worship as they choose. But if I were to claim to be a Muslim (a “voluntary organization”), I would have no right to claim as a Muslim that Jesus Christ is God’s son, and that He died for my sins so that I could be adopted as God’s son and a co-heir with Christ. Muslims would be rightly intolerant of that claim, because it is contrary to their core beliefs. But of course I would never do this, and Machen suggests that Liberals extend the same courtesy to Christians. He provides a good secular example of this as well:

Suppose in a political campaign in America there be formed a Democratic club for the purpose of furthering the cause of the Democratic party. Suppose there are certain other citizens who are opposed to the tenets of the Democratic club and in opposition desire to support the Republican party. What is the honest way for them to accomplish their purpose? Plainly it is simply the formation of a Republican club which shall carry on a propaganda in favor of Republican principles. But suppose, instead of pursuing this simple course of action, the advocates of Republican principles should conceive the notion of making a declaration of conformity to Democratic principles, thus gaining an entrance into the Democratic club and finally turning its resources into an anti-Democratic propaganda. That plan might be ingenious. But is it honest? Yet it is just exactly such a plan which is adopted by advocates of a non-doctrinal religion who by subscription to a creed gain an entrance into the teaching ministry of doctrinal or evangelical churches.

The reasons liberals are unwilling to make such a break from the Christian Church are many, but one of the primary motivations is a desire to gain control of the considerable resources of evangelical churches and use them for the advancement of liberal aims. Machen issues a call for conservative Christians to uphold the Truth of the real Gospel and to stand up against the advancement of Liberalism in the Church. This is done in four ways: (1) Encouraging those evangelists and apologists who are engaged in the intellectual and spiritual struggle; (2) set a higher standard of qualifications of candidates for ministry; (3) preach the Cross of Christ at all times, to all people, in all situations; and (4) bring about a renewal of Christian education, beginning in the home.

This book is possibly even more relevant now than it was in 1923. If it weren’t for the language used, one wouldn’t know this wasn’t written last week. Liberalism is alive and well in the Church today, though it goes by many other names now. Modernism has given way to postmodernism, but the struggle is still the same. Satan has no need to introduce new lies when the old ones are working better than ever. Read it. You won’t regret it.

Buy it here. Or, since it is in the public domain, you can read it online for free. As for me, I always prefer the feel of a real book in my hands…

Book Review: Beyond Opinion

“Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend”, by Ravi Zacharias, et al.

Considering that Norman Geisler, one of the best known Christian apologists in the world, called this the “best book of its kind in print”, I knew I had to read it! Zacharias one of the greatest Christian apologists who has ever lived, and the staff of his organization (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) is absolutely phenomenal. This volume is essentially a handbook for the equipping of “everyday Christians” to defend our faith against all manner of questions that may rise against it.

A total of 12 authors, most of whom are affiliated with RZIM, contributed to the writing of this book, each writing within his or her own field of expertise. After a great introduction by RZ himself (“An Apologetic for Apologetics”) explaining why it is important to have an intellectual understanding of our faith, the book is divided into three sections. The first identifies specific questions raised by postmodernism, atheism, youth, Islam, Eastern religions, and science. The second addresses “the questions behind the questions”; basically, the sort of ultimate questions that everyone must answer, regardless of their stated beliefs, such as having an answer for the existence of evil and suffering. The final section deals with the equipping of the Church, offering practical solutions for studying and internalizing the questions we’ll face and the answers we must give, as well as how to persevere in the face of the inevitable doubts and persecution that will confront those who take a stand for their faith.

This is a large book, but is very accessible to the reader. I would consider it a must-have for the personal library of every believer! Buy it here.