Monday, November 26, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
At the recent IMB meeting in Springfield, IL, the board adopted five principles for contextualization. Having mulled over the principles for a few days and having read The Camel carefully multiple times (see series of articles summarized here), I proclaim it an obvious fact to any impartial observer that The Camel is in violation of the new IMB principles.
The first principle is a simple affirmation of the unique nature of the Christian Bible. I believe that the Camel's reliance upon the Qur'an to the near exclusion of the Bible could be construed as violation of principle one, but the Camel does not explicitly violate this first principle. The second principle poses greater problems for the Camel method.
We affirm that there is a biblical precedent for using “bridges” to reach out to others with the Gospel (Acts 17:22-23). The fact that Paul mentioned an aspect of the Athenians’ idolatrous worship was not a tacit approval of their entire religious system. He was merely utilizing a religious element of their setting (an altar to an unknown god) to connect with his hearers and bridge to the truth. Similarly, our personnel may use elements of their host culture’s worldview to bridge to the Gospel. This need not be construed as an embracing of that worldview. It should be noted that Paul not only used their system to connect, he also contrasted elements of it with the truth. Our evangelism must go beyond bridges to present the whole unvarnished truth of the Gospel (1 Corinthains 15:1-4). (HT: SBC Today)
The Camel is long on varnish and short on gospel. It fastidiously avoids the kind of contrast that Paul performed at Athens (see my earlier post on just this subject here). The Camel is just the kind of misapplication of Paul's work in Athens that is explicitly singled out in this principle as faulty.
The Camel is also at odds with the third principle.
We affirm an incarnational approach to missions that is bound by biblical parameters. Following the example of Him who became flesh (John 1:14), it is appropriate that our personnel continue to tailor their ministry to their setting. The Apostle Paul likewise embraced this approach, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22b). We advocate the learning and appropriate utilization of language and culture. Constant vigilance is required lest contextualization degenerate into syncretism (1). Where linguistic categories and cultural mores are deficient, these must be challenged and corrected with biblical truth (2).
Note that footnote two deals with the use of the name "Allah."
For example, the theological construct represented by the term “Allah” in the Qur’anic system is deficient and unacceptable. However, the primary issue is not the term. The same name is used by devout Christians and it represents a sound, scriptural view of God. In fact, historically, the Christian use of “Allah” predates the rise of Islam. The missionary task is to teach who “Allah” truly is in accord with biblical revelation.
This footnote calls for the missionary to "teach who 'Allah' truly is in accord with biblical revelation" as an amplification to the idea that "[deficient linguistic categories and cultural mores] must be challenged and corrected with biblical truth. [emphasis mine]" Yet the precise core of the Camel method—that which makes it what it is—is the great care it takes not to challenge or correct Muslim notions about who Allah is. Rather, the Camel craftily suggests that the New Testament simply gives some additional information (sanctioned by Islam, no less!) to broaden the Muslim's understanding of Allah. The IMB offers a footnote about explaining who Allah is as an explanation of a proper situation calling for challenge and correction of false cultural ideas. To be in conformity with principle three, the Camel must incorporate a direct correction indicating that the Christian "Allah" is not the same as the Muslim Allah.
The fourth principle poses an additional hurdle for the Camel in its present adaptation.
We affirm both the sufficiency and unique nature of biblical revelation (2 Timothy 3:14-17). We deny that any other purported sacred writing is on a par with the Bible. While reference to a target group’s religious writings can be made as a part of bridge-building, care should be exercised not to imply a wholesale acceptance of such. [emphasis mine]
Yet the Camel says "I agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed" (see my post here), encourages the prospective convert to search the Qur'an as confirmation of the gospel message, and nowhere offers the slightest critique of the Qur'an in its authority, content, or any other thing. Surely one can presume that "[exercising care] not to imply a wholesale acceptance of [the Qur'an]," whatever that phrase might mean, means something other than doing absolutely nothing. Yet the Camel method does absolutely nothing to prevent the presumption that the "Isahi Muslim" is totally convinced of Quranic authority—indeed, the philosophical underpinning of the whole method is a presumption that everyone involved will affirm (even if dishonestly) the reliability of the Qur'an. The Camel violates principle four.
Finally, the Camel method is patently in violation of the last principle.
We affirm the need to be ethically sound in our evangelistic methodology (2 Corinthians 4:2). Becoming all things to all men in an incarnational approach does not necessitate an ethical breach. Jesus instructed his disciples to be as “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We are to be wise in our bridge building. We are to be harmless in our integrity as we hold forth the truth ( 3).
Be sure not to miss footnote three.
Integrity requires, for example, that we not imply that a false prophet or a body of religious writings other then the Bible are inspired. There is a level of contextualization that crosses the line of integrity. Our Board has dismissed personnel who have refused counsel and deliberately positioned themselves beyond that line.
I have already demonstrated invincibly that the Camel dishonestly handles the question about what Christians believe about Mohammed (see my previous post here). Given the inclusion of the footnote, I do not see how anyone can come to any conclusion other than that the author of principle five had in front of him The Camel open to page 144 as he was penning this proscription. For anyone to suggest that the Camel might be compatible with principle five is to strain the limits of credulity.
Now that our trustees have given us these sound and godly principles, all that remains to be seen is what they and our IMB staff will do to correct an obviously aberrant missiological strategy in our midst—the Camel method.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
This Veterans Day I will not dilute the embedded video with any more commentary than a heartfelt thanks to our veterans, whatever toll their service has extracted from them. Explicitly, I honor those who have given their lives for the cause of freedom.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Perhaps the most eloquent oratory championing liberal Christianity is Harry Emerson Fosdick's 1922 sermon "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" Fosdick himself is a fascinating character in history—one of the most engaging papers I ever heard in seminars dealt with Fosdick. Tonight I offer for your consideration my reflections upon a recent re-reading of Fosdick's magnum opus.
To keep up, you should really spend a few moments first to read "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" I know that some of you won't bother, but if you don't read the sermon first, don't blame me if you have trouble keeping up within the body of my post.
It strikes me that Fosdick's opening strategy is to contrast "Fundamentalists" with the "evangelical churches." I had forgotten this from my earlier readings of the sermon. Fosdick was writing at a time when liberals were actually willing to own the name. He does unapologetically refer to liberalism within the body of the sermon. But his opening contrast is between "Fundamentalism" and the "evangelical churches," even before he refers to "liberal opinions." I hadn't realized that the roots of the strategy to mask liberalism as evangelicalism went back so far into history.
Liberalism is emphatically convinced that our moment in time is so consequential as to invalidate all that went before it. Consequently, it desperately postulates that Christianity cannot much longer endure except liberals be allowed to make it relevant. It is "the last generation" that has been enlightened to a "great mass of new knowledge." The tailoring of Christianity to update it with the latest fads of thinking is "indispensable to the Christian Church." Indeed, if Christianity is not immediately steeped in liberalism, then it will surely lose the newest generations, for no "man who is worthwhile" could ever be interested in a conservative church. Dr. Mark Dever has spoken recently regarding the link between liberalism and the quest for relevance. Dr. Dever is 100% right. "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" is dripping with panic over the numeric decline that would surely follow the triumph of Fundamentalism. Of course, we who live eight decades after Fosdick preached this sermon know that precipitous decline actually came to those who heeded Fosdick, not to those who remained true to God's Word. Then again, perhaps in Fosdick's estimation most of those people aren't "worthwhile." In contrast, those who deny the virgin birth are people whom the church "needs."
Fosdick complained that the Fundamentalists were wrongly elevating non-essential (dare I say, "tertiary") ideas beyond the gravity that they deserved. The Fundamentalists were "driving in their stakes" around such trivia as the virgin birth of Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, the atonement, and the second-coming of Christ (not in what sequence Christ is coming back, but whether Christ is coming back). According to Fosdick, these things simply were not primary questions of doctrine.
Fosdick's clarion call, mind you, was simply for magnanimity in cooperation among Christian brethren. He was more than willing to cooperate with people who held to such a quaint notion as Christ's propitiatory death on the cross; they just weren't willing to cooperate with him. The sin of the Fundamentalists is their insistence that they "have the right to deny the Christian name to those who differ…on such points." Essentially, Fundamentalists simply aren't "tolerant." Fosdick worried that the Fundamentalist movement was causing problems on the "foreign field," where Fundamentalists were doing damage to the missionary cause.
Of course, Fosdick included the obligatory insinuation that the Fundamentalists are closet papists.
Fosdick closes the sermon by reiterating his two main points: Christians need a "tolerant, liberty-loving church," and Christians need to put aside the "quarreling over little matters" (the atonement, the Bible, the incarnation) in favor of the "main issues of modern Christianity" (the "great needs" of the world for "justice," which perhaps Fosdick could prompt the church to address through some sort of new covenant?)
Fosdick's sermon is poison. If you don't believe me, examine the corpses of "churches" that made a repast of his brew. It kinda makes you want to be careful what you swallow.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Saturday, November 3, 2007
As the Supreme Court considers the concept of the death penalty, and as Christians find reason to contemplate the issue afresh, I find helpful these words from God's Word. Romans 13:4 asserts the relevance of this passage to the issue—Roman soldiers did not employ their swords to spank people with the flat of the blade; the sword was a tool of death. The government "does not bear the sword for nothing." John Wesley's notes on this verse state the matter plainly: "The sword - The instrument of capital punishment, which God authorizes him to inflict." Here Bro. Wesley is right-on-the-money.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord."But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
(Romans 12:14-13:4, NASB)
Furthermore, the government wields the sword as a "minister of God." The executioner as someone "called to ministry"?! Not in the sense that we employ the phrase "called to ministry" these days, but literally, according to the Bible, yes, the executioner is a minister of God in a limited sense. Some will assert that the death penalty is contrary to the will of God. One cannot possess this view without contradicting Romans 13, where we read not only that God is not opposed to capital punishment, but that the state performs this action as an agent of God and in His stead.
Perhaps something of the rationale behind government-sanctioned capital punishment is revealed in this passage as well. There is a reason that I have included in the quotation those verses from Romans 12. Immediately prior to Paul's discourse on governmental punishment, he reminded the Roman believers of Christ's calling upon them to renounce vengeance. We are to "never pay back evil for evil to anyone." This statement is understandable, universal, and absolute. Yet, God does not call upon believers to abandon the hope for justice. Indeed, when we cease to care about justice, we have stepped away from the holiness of God. Vengeance is part of justice. We are not told that vengeance isn't right; we are told that vengeance isn't ours. Rather than taking our own vengeance, we are instructed to "leave room for the wrath of God," knowing that God has promised in His Word, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay."
Summarizing up to this point: We are to get out of the vengeance business entirely, confident not that vengeance is unnecessary, but that God will deal out vengeance served in helpings of His own wrath."
Then, in the very next paragraph, Romans 13:4 tells us that this sword-wielding government is "a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath." God, who has promised to avenge evil in our place, has committed some portion of that task to government. This is the sense in which government is God's minister—God, through the agency of human government, metes out reward to those who do what is right and vengeance to those who do what is wrong. Of course, the ultimate reward and the ultimate retribution occur directly from God's hand in eternity, but some partial measure of justice God has chosen to dispense here and now.
- Vigilante justice is not justice at all. Earthly justice ought only to be rendered by duly authorized institutions of God (parents, government, etc.). Part of the function of penal systems in general and capital punishment in particular is to forestall vigilanteism.
- To the degree that government punishes those who do right or fails to punish those who do wrong, it has deviated from its Divine design. To the degree that it does more than establish justice (within its borders through the policing forces and beyond its borders through the military), it reaches beyond its primary purpose.
- In a democracy, we find ourselves in a situation unaddressed by the book of Romans and the New Testament—Christian believers who also are the government. The Old Testament does, however, address the idea of God's children in the magistracy. In the Old Testament, God expected governmental leaders to punish wrongdoers through the force of the state, including capital punishment.
- Capital punishment is a positive biblical ordinance in both testaments.
- The difference between criminal actions ("The State of Texas v John Doe") and civil actions ("Bart Barber v John Doe") is the difference between Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 6, between Romans 13 and Romans 12, between the state seeking vengeance for the sake of justice and me seeking vengeance for the sake of myself.