What Does the Church Look Like in 2012?

One of the things I love about our particular church is that we are always talking about reaching the unreached… reaching deeper into the community of Auburn and Opelika trying to find ways to bring the Gospel to those who haven’t heard the Good News (a command throughout the New Testament I might add).

One of the ways we do that is once a month the entire staff gets together and walks through the various issues that are the church. Yesterday we discussed the “status quo” of doing church in our culture today and the above image was one page of my notebook where I took notes as we all discussed the topic. I love being a part of these discussions and talking about what the church body looks like in 2012. Since my job is generally on the administrative side of ministry and not that of a pastor, (sometimes it’s hard to remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:27-28, the Church needs everyone’s gifts and talents to reach the unreached) but God’s church needs everyone to be involved, not just staff members and volunteers, but everyone.

Will Our Generation Respond to Scripture?

In one of John Piper’s books I’m just finishing up called Jesus: The Only Way to God – Must You Hear the Gospel to Be Saved? he makes this conclusion for the church today.

The question for the church in every generation is: Will we submit gladly to the Scriptures? Will we devote ourselves to understanding them truly, valuing them supremely (under God himself), applying them properly, obeying them wholeheartedly, and speaking them courageously and publicly?

I think this is a great challenge for the American church today. We have built a culture around consumerism church instead of our worship services being a joyous celebration of what God has done the previous week. This is the status quo of “church” is something that takes place for one hour on Sunday morning where we get to hear some good music and an encouraging 17 minute message.

If we truly believe Paul’s words in Romans 10:13-17, then we have a great responsibility to reach at least those unreached people in our immediate community and then beyond.

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Do We Continue to “Sit and Soak”

Question is, how will this play out in our churches in 2012? How does the “sit and soak” mentality of the American church leave Romans 10 unfulfilled (among many other verses as well), and how will we reach those people right here in our own community? Fulfilling the status quo is the most comfortable thing to do, but it’s not very productive for reaching new people for Christ.

The church today should not be about a specific building, or a specific cultural group, or time frame, or a set format. Yes, scripture, orthodoxy, sound doctrine, and at some level, traditions of the early church, are very important and should be a strong foundation, but buildings, times, formats, and everything that goes along with all that, should not be a barrier to those seeking to know the Lord.

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt

After months of looking at “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream” by David Platt, i finally decided i had to go ahead and read this book. Having read and studied several books and/or articles that discuss the concepts and failings of what we call the “American Dream”, I already had my own opinion about the topic, but still think it’s a worthy topic today. Radical ended up not really being focused so much on the American Dream as it was to focus away from the concept.

Whether we acknowledge it or not we are probably influenced by this concept in one way or another, and much of the time it tends to be a self-focused concept, how do I maximize my 401k, get that house, car, computer, whatever. Radical attempted to remove that self-focused concept and replace it with a global evangelistic focus that Jesus calls for in Matthew 28.

The book is a compilation of a sermon series given by the pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, Dr. David Platt, after he returned from several international missional type trips a few years ago. i have read a few other reviews that have also suggested listening to the complete sermon series in addition to reading the book. Many have said it takes the book even deeper, so eventually I hope to listen to those as well. After a longer introduction period of a few chapters, Platt goes through seven truths, which are the premise for the text and lead to Platt’s conclusion, and eventually to his call to action. The truth statements come from this evaluating proclamation…

If people are dying and going to hell without ever even knowing there is a gospel, then we clearly have no time to waste our lives on an American dream.

The Seven Truth’s of Radical:

  • TRUTH 1 : All People Have Knowledge of God
  • TRUTH 2 : All People Reject God
  • TRUTH 3 : All People are Guilty Before God
  • TRUTH 4 : All People are Condemned for Rejecting God
  • TRUTH 5 : God Has Made a Way of Salvation For the Lost
  • TRUTH 6 : People Cannot Come to God Apart From Faith in Christ
  • TRUTH 7 : Christ Commands the Church to Make the Gospel Known to All Peoples

With each explained in detail, Radical proceeds into the final call to action with, what I read as the ultimate conclusion of the text.

…that means there is only one potential breakdown in this progression [of truths] —when servants of God do not preach the gospel to all peoples

This leads into Platt’s call to action. A one year plan, in five steps (or points), that intend to bring the believer into closer alignment to the truths in the Gospel message instead of continuing on a path towards the elusive American Dream.

Concluding Critique About Radical

For those with an evangelical background Radical will be a hard but familiar call to constantly evaluate our lives against the truths of the Gospel. Not only does it cause us to examine our lives more closely but it gives specific, tangible examples (or points) which are easy to evaluate, like reading the bible completely in one year (either you did or you didn’t).

Some may see this as works, or a process or program, but I don’t believe that is Platt’s message to believers at all. The Gospel is a call to live a radical life unlike that of the world, and Radical confirms this. It isn’t about a program to do this or that, it is about a life changed, and living a lifestyle for God not for self.

For those with a more liberal theology, or those who view some sermons as annoying guilt trips, Radical will probably be seen more as another radical pastor calling on people to give up all their worldly possessions, give them to the “poor” and go somewhere overseas to spread Christianity (which actually is in the bible too, but no doubt some will find it annoying to say the least). While they will appreciate the social consciousness aspect to Radical’s call, some will see it as an “evils of riches” guilt trip.

It is not a book that is going to answer all the questions, but it will stretch the believer into thinking beyond ourselves and the small boxes we tent to live in, especially here in the United States. Some questions that came to mind were:

  • How much is enough?
  • What can we live without for the sake of the Gospel?
  • Where do we spend our time and is it worth our time?
  • What do we see in ourselves when examining our life against scripture?
  • What will we do with the five action items in Radical?

It is always interesting to see if a book stands the test of time. One way I look at the effectiveness of a book is how well does the author make their arguments, and will the book survive the initial pop culture publication. In other words, does the author make convincing enough arguments to make the book either (1) entertaining, (2) does it make you change or examine the way you think, or (3) does it even change your actions and how you live. In short, does the book shape you in some way or form.

Since I rarely read books for their entertainment value, I hope for one of the latter points, and that is where Radical lands. It made me think, it changed the way I do a few things, and it caused me to take a hard look at my long term calling. I would highly recommend Radical to anyone who has a teachable spirit and is willing to take a new look at old ways of doing Christianity beyond Sunday morning.

A Look at the Correspondence Theory of Truth

After recent comments on my blog lately I once again was reminded how so many people in this world are actually seeking a reality of their own making, not the real truths that are actually real. This post-modern time we live in lends itself more and more to an absolute void of real objective truth and more to the relative nature of truth, which means truth is really just what you make it out to be. So below is part of how we studied “truth” in seminary, with something called the Correspondence Theory of Truth, which is almost better illustrated by the graphic above. If this doesn’t interest you then please head over to The Fillmer Photo Daily blog where I post mostly pictures (and few words), there is always something new to see there as well.

The Correspondence Theory of Truth is actually a tiny little worldly example at the bottom of this post so we have something to compare to what really is the way we get to Biblical truth, but you get the idea.

How Do We Arrive at What is True

This isn’t something new to us, even though we love to think it is with all our modern computer equipment and knowledge. Ling before we appeared, Pilate asked Jesus the rhetorical question, “What is Truth?”

Truth appears to be a property, that is an aspect of certain statements. 2+2=4 is obviously true. 7×5=15 is obviously not. Giraffes have long necks is obviously true. Hippos have red spots is not. The question though for the Correspondence Theory of Truth is, what is truth a property? In this case, there are three candidates: Truth is a property of sentences. Truth is a property of statements. Truth is a property of propositions.

What’s the difference between these?
A sentence is a group of written words, that contain a subject and a verb.
A statement is the occasion of the use of a sentence by someone.
A proposition is what is asserted when a statement is made, the content of the statement.

One may assert the same proposition with two different statements:

  1. George is a fine fellow who can be trusted.
  2. Mr. Shannon is a man of integrity who can be relied upon.

Both statements are about George Shannon, and both are true because they assert the same proposition.

One may use the same sentence to assert two different propositions:

  1. This is really cool!
  2. This is really cool!

In this instance the same sentence refers once to a dish of ice cream and then to a new car.

We also speak of beliefs as being true or false. Beliefs are basically propositions. They may be stated in sentences. Again the same belief may be stated in different sentences stating the same proposition:

Christ died for our sins.

  • Jesus Saves.
  • We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Every truth may be represented as a proposition. Don’t be misled by those (postmodernists) who speak of “non-propositional truth.” If it is a truth it may be stated in a proposition—that is as a sentence which expresses the truth. Some thinkers see truth as a property of representations, linguistic representations or mental ones. They are mistaken. Others see truth as a property of propositions which are represented or expressed in thought or speech.

The best known theory of truth is the Correspondence theory of truth goes something like this:  Whether what is said about the world is true or not depends on how the world is. In other words, a proposition is true if it corresponds to the way things really are.

Let’s label a proposition with the letter P. P may stand for any proposition you want. Under the correspondence theory of truth, P is true if two conditions are met:

  1. It is a fact that P
  2. The proposition corresponds to that fact.

For each true proposition, there must be a fact.

The association of truth with fact entails the association of words with world. In other words, it is possible to use words in ways that accurately describe the way the world is, even if some this this is impossible. This is absolutely essential if the proposition “The Bible is the Word of God” is to have any meaning at all. Conservative, Bible-believing Christians assert that the Bible gives, in words, an accurate, inerrant, description of the way the world is, of what has happened, and of what will happen. The sentences in the Bible, understood in context, accurately portray reality. That is, the propositions expressed in the Bible correspond to the way the world really is.

The Correspondence theory of Truth

This is the “scientific” definition, which serves less of a purpose here but it does have an important place.

The coherence theory of truth states the following: A statement is true if it coheres with other statements. The test of truth is internal. The system of statements one makes must cohere, must be consistent. If one proposition in a group is not consistent with the others, we know that the whole system is not true.

Propositions are truth-bearers. Those who hold to the coherence theory say that truth cannot consist in the relationship between truth-bearers and that which is not a truth bearer (such as a fact). Here is a problem with the theory already. It divorces truth from facts. Truth, these theorists say, consists in the relationship which truth-bearers have to one another. This may be a relation of mutual support among a set of beliefs or non-contradiction between them, or they may together support an overall concept..

We should point out that this theory leads to a relativism, since contradictory systems may be internally consistent. Moral relativists say that there is no external morality, nothing for moral statements to correspond to. If a moral standard makes sense to you that is all that we need.

Religious pluralists—those who believe that all religions are equally valid, that all of them lead to God, depend on the coherence theory of truth. Since all the different religions make sense in terms of their own system, then all are equally true. (It may be argued, however, that not all religions are even coherent within their own system, but this is another matter.

The important thing for us to remember is that the coherence theory separates “truth” from “facts” and seeks only internal consistency. Postmodernists like this theory.

Is the coherence theory of truth useless then for Christians? Not at all. God is consistent and rational. He has created a consistent world for us to live in. Coherence is helpful to us as a negative test—no set of propositions can be true if there is a contradiction within them. The truth will always be internally consistent. By itself, however, that is not enough. True propositions must be consistent with other true propositions, and together, all true propositions must correspond to the way the world is.

Some who defend the Christian faith do so on the basis that the Bible offers a coherent view of reality, and that it corresponds to the world as we actually live in it. No other religion or philosophy offers the same kind of benefit. Even coherent philosophies break down when we try to actually live by them. They just don’t correspond to the way the world really is. Francis Schaefer (The God Who is There) defends the truth of Christianity on this basis.

In conclusion the graph at the top really says it all. There actually are truths in this world, but they are surrounded by false propositions and we only gain knowledge when our beliefs overlap the truth.

Reflections on Religious Pluralism in our Culture

Truth is something that is a main theme around my blog and encompasses much of what I write about as well. Truth, or lack of it, can take many forms and many arguments, but there is an ultimate truth, or deception of the ultimate truth prevailing in our society today about salvation. This ultimately goes to answer the question, “is Jesus the only way of Salvation?” There are basically three options recognized by theologians today. Only one of them is found in the Bible, that of Exclusivism, the other two are heretical.

The two main heresies about salvation that run pervasively throughout our culture, are those terms referred to as Pluralism and Inclusivism. Below is a quick explanation of all three, then a brief reflection on the heresy called Pluralism (I will individually address the other two in posts at a later date).

Brief Explanation of Exclusivism

Exclusivism (when dealing with Salvation) is that eternal salvation of the soul found only through faith in Jesus Christ. Only those who are called and have trusted Christ are saved. They are declared to be right with God, and all their sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. No one, who does not trust in Jesus Christ has any hope of salvation, but may only expect to be judged and condemned to everlasting Hell.

Brief Explanation of Pluralism

Pluralism can be defined as saying “all religions lead to God”, at least all of the higher ones, for they are all in touch with the same spiritual realities. Each religion merely describes these realities differently. Thus, anyone who follows any of the “higher” religions may be assured that he really is in touch with God. This is the position of many Americans today. It is the unofficial position of most television networks and programs being produced, and is represented as the only morally sound position in many venues of public life.

Since this is so prevailing it needs no further explanation, but here are a couple of examples: “We [Muslims, Jews, and Christians] all worship the same God.” as said by Walter Abdur Ra’uf Declerck (quoted in The Fort Worth Star Telegram, Oct. 25, 2003). You can find quotes like this in hundreds of places all over local or national media, and the Internet is overrun with the same sentiment.

One of the leading voices in theological circles is from John Hick, a British Theologian who gives a very good example of this type of thought process.

The great religious traditions are to be regarded as alternative [salvational] “spaces” within which, or “ways” along which, men and women can find salvation/liberation/enlightenment/fulfillment.. . . The great world traditions have in fact all proved to be realms within which, or routes along which people are enabled to advance in the transition from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness. . . . Accordingly, by attending to other traditions than one’s own, one may become aware of other aspects or dimensions of the Real, and of other possibilities of response to the Real. . .

Brief Explanation of Inclusivism

This, in some sense, is more damaging to the ultimate truth, giving someone a false sense of their eternal salvation when it just doesn’t follow what Christ teaches in scripture. Satan’s best work sometimes can be seen taking truth and falsity and mixing them together into a lethal combination of false doctrine and incorrect theology. The danger here is that this comes from so far inside “the church” that many people are led astray.

Inclusivism says that Jesus is the only Savior, but He will save some who have never trusted Him. We can affirm that Salvation is only in Christ, without affirming the need to tell others about Him as they need not have faith in Him anyway. This is the position of some Catholics, who believe that other religions are more or less able to save depending on how similar they are to Catholicism. Thus, other denominations, and religions which teach that there is one God, or those which teach a high view of ethics will lead their followers to salvation. This is the view of many mainline denominations, and most theologians today as well.

An example is seen in the Catholic Theologian Karl Rahner when he says:

It is. . . quite possible to suppose that there are supernatural, grace-filled elements in non-Christian religions.. . . A lawful religion. . . can be regarded on thye whole as a positive means of gaining the right relationship to God and thus for the attaining of salvation. . . The member of an extra-Christian religion. . . [is] an anonymous Christian.

Reflections on Religious Pluralism

Pluralism as described by John Hick, is now the mainstream of most media outlets and continues to invade our daily life, even in the church.  My personal experience with a pluralistic worldview has been mostly limited to the current media forms of our culture like the Internet, satellite broadcasting, and social networking entities, but more and more you can see this view prevailing in our government as well.  One can now see how easily a person can make the transition from the Truth of an exclusivist worldview, to being more inclusivistic, and then to pluralistic without perhaps knowing the transition has taken place.

Many who carry a pluralistic worldview today are not even aware that this is indeed the worldview that consumes their life, but it is the worldview that engulfs their life.  Just the fact that we live in a society where this view prevails puts many, if not most, of us in some type of pluralistic camp.  Author Ronald H. Nash wrote an excellent book on this topic titled Is Jesus the Only Savior? At the end of his section on pluralism Nash quotes John Hick from Jesus and the World Religions with the following propositions:

“If Jesus was literally God incarnate, and if it is by his death alone that men can be saved, and by their response to him alone that they can appropriate that salvation, then the only doorway to eternal life is Christian faith.  It would follow from this that the large majority of the human race so far have not been saved.”[1]

And Nash concludes the section on pluralism by saying

If I am a Christian exclusivist and discover after death that Hick’s version of pluralism really is true, I will have lost nothing except Hick’s good will during the life.  But if I am a pluralist and it turns out that Christian exclusivism is true, then the consequences for me will be very serious.

These two statements are fundamental to the pluralism argument today and the last statement shows how deficient pluralism can be.  In the media, where I have my personal experience with pluralism, I contend, is where most people in our culture have such a problem with an exclusivistic worldview when Hick says, “it would follow… a majority of the human race have not been saved. “

The media views what is or is not fair in two ways.  One, what is socially fair to all (they insist and desire that all roads lead to the same God), and two, how some said worldview of fair effects the profit margin of the product or service they are selling (if they don’t say all roads lead to the same God, or wide is the road to salvation, they will immediately exclude some potential sales to those who don’t agree, which we have said is most in the world today).  Exclusivism in the media’s eyes is not fair to all; therefore they will always tend to push their efforts to the pluralistic worldview.

A pluralistic worldview can be discussed or defended when dealing with a person or group one on one, but when dealing with an entity as large as a new media outlet or a prime time network program where pluralism is so ingrained in the essence of the production, you can not simply converse about Matthew 7:13-14.  In the case of the media, your only recourse in the end may be to refer to what drives the business, and that is profit (for the most part).  The sometimes not-so-simple task of refusing to do business with the group or funding them in any way would be one way of removing yourself from their pluralistic worldview, although it may not make a substantial difference.  Another way, as could be the case when dealing with the government, is to voice your argument to the appropriate person.

Unfortunately, Hick’s view that eventually all human beings will ultimately be saved from Hitler to Stalin and everyone in between is the prevailing view of our culture, even among Believers, and changing their mind will mean changing their hearts to see the saving grace of God Himself.

[1] Ronald H. Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savoir (Grand Rapids, MI: Zonervan Publishing, 1994), 69-92.

Reasons Why Apologetics is Important in Ministry Today

In this particular article I was asked to choose the three most important reasons for including apologetics in my own personal ministry.  The answer is the following post.  Originally published on May 13, 2009 and republished for this blog on June 4, 2010. Although it is very important to understand the differences between religions like Jews, Christians, and Muslims (which is what the Coexist campaign seems to be trying to do), it is more important to me as a follower of Christ to understand our own reasons behind what we believe.

The three most important reasons for including apologetics as a part of my ministry, and to me any ministry, are personal truth, cultural relativism, and discipleship.  More specifically, apologetics, to my ministry and to me is:

  1. For personal truth: To know the salvation I seek and trust is the actual Truth.  To know why I believe what I believe to be true and not just to believe because I feel It to be true.
  2. Cultural relativism: To be able to defend the perceived truths of our highly relativistic culture, as we are commanded by scripture, in being able to lead others to a relationship with Christ and to do this through truth in scripture, knowledge, and love, not through a blended Christian worldview of the truth as we know it.
  3. Discipleship: To eventually be able to disciple, mentor, or lead other Believers to the truth in scripture so as not to be deceived by a cultural blending of Christian truths and worldviews.

For many years after I became a Christian I went through the motions of being a Christian.  Not questioning the truth but accepting all known teachings from others as truth without understanding why.  Taking a more apathetic approach to the truth of Christian philosophy, I became a lazy Christian believing the truth as truth, but not ever testing or seeking out the truth beyond an emotional basis.  Similar to how it is said in No Doubt About It, “He is real to me. …So I cannot doubt His existence, and you don’t need to prove it to me”.[1]

I took God as self-evident, and although no one in more than 15 years as a Christian introduced me to an apologetic view of my faith, I didn’t need one either.  Just because I hold God and Jesus as self-evident doesn’t mean everyone else does, and if I don’t have an apologetic understanding of my own faith, how can I effectively explain it to someone else.

It seems our understanding of truth in our culture today is relative.  This may be a trend that started in America many centuries ago, but in the age of information everything seems to be on an accelerated course.  Our society is constantly bombarded with inaccurate statements, reports, other media and information of all kinds and it seems goes unchecked.  Unchecked so much so that one person can look at a door, call it red, another call it blue, and both agree the contradiction is true.  Mis-information is bad, but one of Satan’s best weapons is to blend truth and falsities into one and make people believe it to be truth and fact without question.

According to Kinnaman in UnChristian, most outsiders see Christians as too hypocritical, too antihomosexual, too sheltered, too political, too judgmental[2] and most of what the outsiders perceive to be true about Christians is a blending of truth according to what scripture says and truth according to what our culture says is true.  For these reasons, apologetics plays an important role in cultural relativism.

To be a disciple of Jesus is something as Believers we all strive towards as we grow and mature in our walk in Christianity.  To become a disciple, Jesus poured truth into the original 12 during his ministry so they could in turn do the same to others when Jesus was physically absent.  At any point in a Believers life they will be pouring into some other Believer, or will be poured into by a Believer, or possibly both at the same time.  To achieve this we can and should follow the example Jesus gave during his ministry on earth and be ready to learn, and teach apologetically when called.

[1] Winfried Corduan, No Doubt About It: the Case for Christianity, 1st Edition (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997). 45.

[2] David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Unchristian : what a new generation really thinks about Christianity… and why it matters, 1st Edition (Baker Books, 2007).

I Can’t Afford a Kindle, iPad, or eBook Reader?

I love this excuse for not having a Kindle or some type of eBook reader at this point. A better excuse would be that “I don’t want an eBook reader”, that would at least make a more intelligent argument, at least for those of us who live in the United States. The price of a Kindle is now down to $114 (with coupon). I have found that a majority of Kindle books, whether you read them on the iPad, iPhone, Android, Kindle, or on your free desktop app, are often 50-75% cheaper than paper.

That means if you read… books… at all… any particular device you choose will pay for itself within time. Take the percentage savings on current books. If you buy 10 books at regular paperback price, say $14.99 to $19.99 (I am talking about new releases here), they often will have a Kindle book on sale for $4.99 to $6.99, especially if you pre-order. That is a savings of $10 per book or $100. So if you read more than 10 books a year (I understand many people at this point don’t) you will have your Kindle paid for by the time you hit the 11th book?

It’s simple math. The more you read, the more you will save in the price of books. Perhaps if you only read 1 or 2 books a year buying a Kindle or iPad won’t save you any money, but don’t tell me you “can’t afford” to buy a Kindle or iPad like all those “rich” people. If you live in this country that’s like saying you can’t afford a washing machine or a dish washer. It’s simple economics. If you read, you will spend more money on paper books than the price of the eBook reader itself. Just tell me you don’t want one, or you have moral issues with the digital consumerism, or you don’t want to partake in the evil of Apple, or something, but don’t tell me you can’t afford to buy one if you are an avid book reader, that’s just an excuse.

3 Monastic Principles of Pachomius for Today

The pursuit of the monastic lifestyle was something that was key to Christianity, and is something that is still relevant to our day and culture. These monks originally started out as hermits who sought the solitude of a cave or the desert in order to have a closer relationship with God but to also remove themselves from the corruptions of the church. Often these first monks were more interested in living a simple life than education or any worldly possession.

By the time of Pachomius around A.D. 320 there were so many hermits living in the desert and caves that Pachomius said we can do this together in one community of hermits (about 100 at the time) with rules to guide our life [as monks], and he started a monastery. As we know from the time of St. Francis, more and more monasteries were being formed and they would eventually have to seek out the Pope for approval of their “Rule”. For the Pachomius monastery, he determined that they would have three rules for living. First, poverty, designed to break the chains that bound people to their possessions, second chastity, to cure you of the sin of lust there would be no contact with the opposite sex, and three obedience, to overcome the self will of the mind. In other words, simplicity of living was the call for a monk.

Present Day Principles for us Non-Monks

Most subsequent monasteries would have their own Rule, which each resident was to follow, and many were adjustments to the original three Pachomius had made back in A.D. 320. If we look at these three principles for non-monastic life in modern 21st century life, we can see that they still apply, much like scripture written two thousand years ago still applies to our lives today.

Vow of Poverty

First, poverty (as a means of obtaining a status of being poor) is something in the 21st century that is almost impossible for one to truly attain, if living in American. Even the poorest citizens of our country have more possessions and benefits from modern times than any other country or time in history. The world (and America) of course has not be able to “rid” society of poor, and Jesus even said that we would always have the poor among us (Matt 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8), so even though it goes against everything that is capitalism, there are many things we can gain from applying this principle in our lives today.

We have made being poor like a disease, where the cure is to buy more stuff, collect more possessions, and generally consume more and more. Of course one can be materially rich and spiritually poor and they don’t have a correlation with each other. We cannot obtain spiritual riches by physical possessions and we cannot generally obtain material possessions if we are poor by means of becoming spiritually rich (though there are what seem to be obvious exceptions to this, I would suggest that materials means obtained via a spiritual source does not increase the spiritual richness of your life).

Choosing a life that is guarded to the consumerism and materialism of our culture is important. Every possession is an expression of our witness to others and we can’t (and probably shouldn’t) always explain in great detail why we have or don’t have this or that, we either do or don’t, and that is the instantaneous judgment of society. To understand this is principle is to make our witness as effective as possible to those we influence the most, consciously or unconsciously.

Vow of Chastity

Second was that of chastity. If you watch the news much it doesn’t take long to see that there are those who are still fighting [to remove] the chastity of today’s Priest (thought they weren’t always celibate). This principle is more than saying Catholic clergy should not marry, it deals with one of the most accepted and destructive forces in our 21st century lives today, lust.

The word lust appears over 30 times in modern translations and James puts it this way: “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:15) For Pachomius to deal with this most dangerous of sins he attempted to remove all temptations from his monastery, but one of the biggest issues with lust is that it is an internal sin, committed in the heart of those who Believe against God Himself.

Today these temptations are a way of life. This is how we sell products to consumers, it consumes the Internet, it is all over the news, and evidence of its destruction is everywhere. Is this relevant today and how does this principle help us since we are not all going to just choose not to be married (nor does the Bible tell us not to marry)? It is probably the most relevant of moral issues today. Ignoring lust is a victory for Sin. Understanding our own weaknesses is important. We can look at lust as something that will not sneak up on us, something that we can defeat and overcome; not of our own accord but only with God’s help can we master lust.

Vow of Obedience

Obedience is something else that is talked about throughout scripture, and one of the three Pachomius felt was most important in living a pure life devoted to Jesus. This principle was primarily to fend off ourselves from ourselves, to overcome the self-will of the mind.

Where is obedience in our culture today, does it even still exist? Pachomius wanted his monks to be obedient to the monastery, knowing that, although they (we) might not understand everything but in being committed to obedience they would in turn be obedient to the One who saves (Romans 6:16).

Obedience is another tough principle today when we are dominated and controlled by no one but ourselves. We are (basically) free to live how we want, choose the career we want, live, eat, sleep, and travel any way we want. This may not be the case in North Korea but here in America we can basically be obedient to our self-interests without regards to the betterment of society as a whole. Scripture tells us this is no way to think or live and although we may think we don’t affect anyone but ourselves, inevitably our actions of obedience or disobedience often affect an unknown chain reaction of people, for positive or negative.

Why Jim Morrison and the Bible are Still Consumed

Jim Morrison Hotel

I love the music that comes from the mid to late 1960’s to mid 1970’s in the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd and many more.  It was at the very height of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and a time of great growth and pain in our country and the world.  The music of that time was filled with passion… to the point of death in many cases.  It was psychedelic, spiritual, religious, real.  It was a world that I can only read about from the perspective of history.

The other day while Deb and I were driving over to Georgia (see Welcome to Our Living Room // Friday Feet) we were listening to an iPod playlist and Peace Frog by The Doors came on and we started talking about what the song meant.  Not at all an uncommon conversation between us when we listen to music together in the car.  Deborah’s first reaction was who can fully know what any of Morrison’s songs meant and then it hit me, this is exactly why we still study the Bible today.  People still listen to and marvel over Jim Morrison’s music because it isn’t simplistic and easy to figure out.  You can just listen to it but you have to dig deep to understand the meaning of some of The Doors songs.  That’s what makes their music great and part of history, you can listen to one of his songs over and over and still not grasp its full meaning.

I know this may be a big stretch to some who don’t care for The Doors music, but there is no denying that Jim Morrison is one of the all time greatest song writers and muscians in pop history, so if that is the case, how much greater are the riches provided for us in scripture?  This may be totally off in left field to compare Jim Morrison’s works to a body of 66 books of God’s glory, but that is how my mind is able to wrap around the unimaginable hugeness that is the Bible.

Scholars for centuries have examined every letter, every translation, every Greek, Hebrew, and Latin meaning and yet, there is still more to be discovered.  It is 66 books together that were written so that a child could understand and comprehend and a Biblical scholar could spend a life getting to know and still not fully grasp its greatness.  To gain a better understanding, you have to dig in deeper.

Anyone can listen to Peace Frog but do you understand it from a casual listen?  Go listen to the song or read the lyrics.  What do you think it means?  You can come up with a guess but there is far more to the song than just one listen can gather, not to mention the actual guitar work or all the history that goes into a piece of work like this.  Without explanation or some research, grasping its full meaning may be difficult (especially while you are driving around in your car in 2009, a long time after 1970).

Like scripture and poems that tell a story, you can casually read through them and get a brief understanding.  Some of the parables Jesus told were not the easiest to comprehend without some research into the culture of the time or history that surrounded the time.  If it was all so easy and simple to understand I doubt people woud disect each chapter word for word centuries after it was written.

Peace Frog was originally called Abortion Stories, changed by guitarist Robby Krieger, and the lyrics came from poems Morrison wrote (he wrote several books of poetry along with his music).  One of the more well known lines of the song comes from his childhood.

Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding
Ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile eggshell mind

This seems to be tied to a bad car crash Morrison witnessed when he was 4 years old while on vacation with his parents. (Jim claims that the souls of those people [killed in the car crash] combined with him at that point on some level.)  Morrison accounted it this way in An American Prayer, a work of poetry and music released years after his death in 1971:

Me and my mother and father and a grandmother and a grandfather were driving through the desert, at dawn, and a truck load of Indian workers had either hit another car, or just I don’t know what happened but there were Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding to death.”

“So the car pulls up and stops. That was the first time I tasted fear. I musta’ been about four €” like a child is like a flower, his head is floating in the breeze, man.

Some of the song could be related to the race riots of the late 1960’s when The Doors were at their height or possibly the demonstrations of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, both of which happened around the same time as the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, and Robert F. Kennedy on June 5/6 (shot on the 5th and died on the 6th).

There’s blood on the streets, it’s up to my knee
She came
Blood on the streets in the town of Chicago

“Blood in the streets of New Haven” looks like it came from when Morrison was arrested after taunting Police during a concert in 1967.  When he was arrested a riot ensued in the arena and poured out into the streets of New Haven.

This is just one song by Morrison. He was said to be an intelligent and capable student drawn to the study of literature, poetry, religion, philosophy and psychology and of course went on to have a successful career as an American singer, songwriter, poet, writer and film maker after graduating from UCLA.  But, even when Morrison was alive and people could actually ask him what a song meant you couldn’t figure out how his mind worked, only he could (and that might be a stretch).


That was a mere mortal man who died at age 27.  As great as he was, how much greater can a collection of 66 books of law, history, poetry, and prophecy be than that?  I know, kind of a strange analogy but how can you get your mind around something so O-mazing and huge as the Word of God.  Relate it to something comprehendible in our own time and space.

In the days of the old testament and even when Jesus taught his disciples he often spoke about things beyond their comprehension and understanding and to help them understand he related the stories to things, places, and people they all knew so they could start to grasp the meaning.  How do you describe something like the beauty of the Garden of Eden or Heaven or a “new heaven and new earth”?  In this life we can’t fully grasp His greatness but we have been given a lot of material to study in the mean time.

And let him who hears say
Who ever is thirsty, let him come
and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life
Yes, I am coming soon.

Separating Our Lives Between Life and Faith in God

faith and culture whiteboard

That is the basic question of this blog post. Why do we tend to separate the faith part of our lives and everything else? This doesn’t have to be real deep but I would suggest that there are some good reasons for doing so. If you don’t read any farther than this, just go to the comments below and answer the question posed in the title.

I started looking at the two main blogs I author, a faith blog (called Damascus), and one called My Life in LA (now combined into this one blog), and started thinking about how and why we often separate or put up barriers in our life between our Christian beliefs and faith, and our secular or culturally driven part of our life. This is not a new discussion, just comes up from time to time and I thought this time I would write it down.

We All Live Our Faith and Cultural Life Differently

If you say you don’t, I would love to hear from you, because I think if we take an honest look at ourselves, we all do this in one form or another. We try not to, and we try to keep our beliefs alive in everything we do, not just on Sunday morning, but it isn’t always easy. It isn’t always easy because we, for the most part, live in the society and culture of our time. Most of us don’t live in a closet.

We can’t escape it, if we are alive and breathing, most of us have a cell phone, or an Internet connection, or cable TV, or a car, or a washer/dryer, or own an iPod and listen to Coldplay, or all the other things that we tend to collect by being alive in this world today. Notice the arrows on the top of the whiteboard.  We do exchange these from one to the other, but we also put God in the square box too.

The Stuff We Collect, Does It Help?

Does all this stuff help our faith or hurt it, or does it even matter? There are several sects of society you can look at and see them living without the modern conveniences we have created, like the Amish, Buddhists, Monks, or even parts of Islam and Orthodox Jews.

My wife and I work part time at a thrift store and the sheer volume to “stuff” that we see come through the building is just mind boggling. All the things that were nice and expensive in its day, now discarded as useless and worthless to someone (a new found treasure for others). I often look at how much goes the way of the dumpster and I am amazed at what a consuming society we are now.

My Reasons Why We Separate Our Faith Life

I am sure everyone could have 100’s reasons or answers to this question, but I thought I would just write a few down. I actually think in some ways, it is not a bad thing to separate our faith based lives and our cultural lives. Take my reasons for doing so on my two blogs. I separated the subjects on my blogs basically in faith, and non-faith posts. The non-faith based blog is about my life, so why wouldn’t it include my faith? With blogs at least, you are writing to a specific audience.

Although you do want one to cross over into the other, the people reading this blog probably don’t want to read about photography and farm equipment, or where I am doing my next photo shoot. Likewise, the people interested specifically in photography do not want to read my “Jesus posts” (as a friend of mine recently put it), but either can make the choice to go from one to the other.

Does this mean my heart for the Lord is not in my other blog, certainly not. That is the key, even if we are engaged in a culturally relevant church group, or a college football game, examine where your heart is, that is what is important to the Lord, not how we draw lines in our visible or public life.

A Quick Top Ten of Separating Faith and Culture

  1. We separate our live out of convenience for ourselves
  2. We want to fit in to our society
  3. We don’t think about it and just go with the flow
  4. We separate on purpose for reasons we deem important
  5. Money (because money is always on the list)
  6. To reach people across the faith isle
  7. Our friends who are not Believers
  8. Stuff (all the things we collect)
  9. Embarrassment (not wanting to look like a Jesus freak)
  10. Government or power requirement

I put in that last one because we still have to recognize that there are part of our world today that still do not want people of faith to be able to express themselves. The Summer Olympics in Beijing China are a good example. The Catholic church is allowed, under specific rules, but that is about it. North Korea, parts of Africa, and other hot spots around the world require people to separate their faith from their culture.

And yes, I would even argue here in the United States we are required to separate our faith from our society. Not in an oppressive manner at all, but through the separation of church and state, parts of our culture in the U.S. today require a parting of the ways.

That is certainly not an all inclusive list, or a comprehensive look at the issue, but some quick thoughts for a Saturday morning. So how do you separate your life?

The Dying Faith of the Youth of Our Country

I came across an article today called Faith No More, by Relevant Magazine, which talks about the dying faith of the twentysomething’s or the college age crowd.

After reading the article I was amazed at how similar the discussion was to a book I just started reading called The Integrity of the Church, A Study of New Testament Concepts Interpreted Through Christian History into our Era of Rapid Social Change (yes, that’s a mouthful), by E. Glenn Hinson. Although the title is a mouthful it is a fascinating read, so far.

At first glance, this book, published in 1978, would seem from the title to be one to rail about the evils of rock-n-roll or something like that. But as I went through the first chapter I was quite interested to find that the church at that time was dealing with large groups of people leaving the faith, much like the article written by Relevant in June 2008. I love reading books from a specific time period. It really gives you insight into what was going on at the time, especially with the church body. A section in the first chapter titled Growing Individualism had this to say:

Consciousness III is affecting the churches in several ways. First, as in the era of the Renaissance, it is adding to the moral confusion of the times, for it undermines established norms and systems for making moral judgments. Each person does what is right in his or her own eyes, his or her own thing.

[second] … the individual decides about his or her own beliefs. He/she does not submit them to peers within the church. If the group tries to to dictate, the individual simply drops out…

[third] …raises questions about how we go about forming congregations and communities, and indeed even whether we sould try to form them.

Of how far we have come from the mid-70’s…. right? This change that Hinson is talking about has long since occurred and we are a society of individuals now. He partially blames technology in the first chapter but probably couldn’t have imagined its impact as we know it today. I think we are now coming around to where we can connect, as individuals, through technology, but the church needs to be a part of that. The conclusion at the end of this chapter was very interesting and talks about the need for the church to be flexible.

…the church should not change merely for the sake of changing, but neither should it lock itself into outmoded patterns of the past. At one and the same time it should stive to conserve its identity while engaging in its missions in and to the world with adaptability or flexibility.

This can be done if we will keep our point of reference who we are and what we are to do as the church… Christianity seems particularly well suited to mett the challenge of rapid social change… but God is directing what is only a mixed and incomplete version of his purpose toward some ultimate goal.

Things always do seem to come back around, but I find many churches today unwilling to change much like in the mid 1970’s. The twentysomething’s want to connect, with people they understand. People like they know in college, not a service, of a set routine developed in the 50’s that they don’t understand. It was very interesting to me how relevant a book written in the 1970’s was to an article written a few days ago. We always try to think our issues in our day are “new”. The issues are the same, how do we connect with the people of today for Christ. The date that has changed, not God or his message.

If you have time, go and read the article by Relevant Magazine linked at the top and come back here and share some of your thoughts. A continuation of this post will be made in the coming weeks or months.