Posts Tagged Gospel

Functional Universalism: Do We Really Believe What We’re Saying?

The Rob Bell controversy has yielded several important lessons, but David Platt offers one of the best in a new video on the dangers of functional universalism in the Christian church (as opposed to intellectual universalism).

Using Northern India as an example — a country comprised mostly of Hindus, Muslisms, and Buddhists —  Platt challenges us to consider whether we really believe that the 597 million non-Christians therein are really going to hell. By asking whether we really believe it, he means to ask whether we are really doing something about it. 

Watch the video here (HT):

For Platt, the distinction between the intellectual issue and the functional one is as follows (though there can certainly be plenty of overlap):

If we believe that everyone is going to be ok in the end — if we embrace universalism, however it is cloaked — then we’re free to live our lives however we want, to sit back as easygoing Christians in comfortable churches. Because in the end, all of these masses are going to be ok. They’re going to be fine.

However, if we believe that people around around us — 597 million people in Northern India, 6,000+ people groups who have never even heard the Gospel — if we believe that they are going to an eternal hell without Read the rest of this entry »

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The Magic of Industrialization: Washing Machines, Productivity, and the Gospel

Hans Rosling recently gave a TED talk on the immense productivity that has come with industrialization (HT). To demonstrate such benefits, Rosling centers his discussion around the washing machine, a tool most Westerners simply take for granted.

Watch the video here:

Although Rosling puts significant emphasis on the silliness and hypocrisy that permeates the green movement, he concludes his talk by pointing back to the productivity factor. When products assume tasks for us — particularly labor- and time-intensive tasks — we are free to pursue other endeavors.

In the case of Rosling’s mother, the washing machine gave her time to go to the library, teach herself English, and inspire a love for scholarship in her son. Such stories should prompt all of us to think critically about Read the rest of this entry »

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Ecumenical Babel: Economic Ideology and the Church

Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness, Jordan BallorWhen we survey today’s global economic environment, there are few observations that all of us can agree on.

Here’s a start:

  • Gigantic transnational corporations are out of control, exploiting their workers and rendering consumers and governments powerless to their manipulative forces.
  • Venerable local cultures, along with their esteemed mom-and-pop shops, are under attack, besieged by an ever-homogenizing monster, eager to suck away their uniqueness and transplant it with Western saliva.
  • Economic globalization — the root of such evils — is fattening the pockets of the rich, emptying the pockets of the poor, and threatening earth’s most vital life support systems in the process.

On the whole, modern-day capitalism and free trade have resulted in rampant greed and moral depravity, leading society to sacrifice its most vulnerable members on an altar of economic neoliberalism.

Oh, and when I say that all of us can agree on this, I mean all of us Christians.

I wish I could say that the above rant was constructed from articles in the Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, or The New Republic. Unfortunately, it was compiled from ideas found in the recent proclamations of three major ecumenical organizations: the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). (Yes, I did have a bit of fun with them.)

The problem, of course, is that all of us don’t agree — a point not lost on theologian Jordan Ballor, author of the new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

For Ballor, the ecumenical movement has become far too narrow in its ideological underpinnings and far too politicized in its public stances. Although its role should be focused on fostering church unity around a set of grounded beliefs, the movement’s overt participation in Read the rest of this entry »

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The Knowledge Crisis: Pursuing Truth in a Postmodern Age

In a previous post, I used John Piper’s 2010 Desiring God Conference as a launching point for asking whether Christianity has properly engaged intellectualism. The conference took place a few weeks ago and Piper has a new book out by the same name, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. Although I was unable to attend the conference, I have been catching up online, and I encourage you to do the same.

Speakers included Rick Warren, R.C. Sproul, Thabiti Anyabwile, Albert Mohler, Francis Chan, and, of course, John Piper. I enjoyed each session thoroughly, but Mohler’s talk was perhaps my favorite, titled, “The Way the World Thinks: Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Marketplace.”

You can watch it here:

Mohler’s primary goal is to simply get Christians thinking about thinking, but more specifically, he calls us to grasp the difference between a “regenerate mind” and an “unregenerate mind.” Additionally, Mohler believes that we need to fully understand the “mind of the age” in order to preach the Gospel effectively.

He structures his argument around what he calls a “knowledge crisis” — a struggle that has engaged humanity since the Fall of Man. As far as what kind of crisis this is, and how we are supposed to overcome it, thinks the fundamental problem is that “we suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (pointing specifically to Romans 1).

Indeed, although overall human knowledge has come a long way since the Fall, we are still largely presumptuous about Read the rest of this entry »

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Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom Now, Apocalypse Later

Heaven Misplaced: Christ's Kingdom on Earth by Douglas WilsonWhen we think of the End Times we usually think of earthquakes, floods, and nuclear explosions. From the hyper rants of Jack Van Impe to the silly scenes of Left Behind, evangelical culture has bombarded us with images of an apocalypse that is devastating and widespread — one that will be preceded by a big, cruel magic trick.

Small pockets of Christians will vanish across the globe, disappearing from busy streets, bustling malls and crowded airplanes. News anchors and political pundits will be left speechless, unaware that they are representatives of a world full of no-good sinners, left hopelessly to self-destruct under the grip of a soon-to-rise anti-Christ. The minority of good folks will be gone and everyone else will be doomed to hell.

But what if we’ve got it wrong? What if the events leading up to the Second Coming aren’t as grim as we suspect? There will almost certainly be a tribulation period filled with conflict, but before that happens, what if those busy streets are overwhelmingly Christian instead of overwhelmingly heathen? Yes, the above storyline often accepts that the Gospel will be proclaimed throughout the world, but what if most of the world will actually receive it?

It is this question that Douglas Wilson explores in his recent book, Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.

His answer? Before anyone goes to the Kingdom, the Kingdom is going to come to us — and with force.

As Wilson says:

[T]he striking thing about the Second Coming is that it will be the culmination of what is happening right here, right now. The new humanity is going to be finally and completely formed and born, but it is this world that is pregnant with that glory. The relief will be great, but it will be relief from the travail of this world.

For Wilson, our planet is simply one of the “colonies of heaven,” meaning that we are not to see ourselves as a “feeder town” for our colonizing power, as we so often do. Pointing to Paul’s metaphor of “citizenship” to the colonized Philippians, Wilson makes it clear that “the mother country feeds the Read the rest of this entry »

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The Ultimate Exchange Rate: Real Value in a Material World

The Parable of the TalentsIt’s easy for us economist types to get caught up in earthly measurements of value — partly because it’s fun, but mostly because it’s important.

Even more important, however, is the pursuit of real value in heavenly terms. When it comes to this, we all struggle with getting the earthly “exchange rate” down, and as long as sin is around, we always will.

But Jesus gives us a pretty clear image of what it might ultimately look like in these back-to-back examples.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

In other words, no matter how much we have accumulated in our own lives, whether it’s wealth, skills, prestige, or status, none of it matches up to the value of a life transformed and saved through Christ.

But how do we purchase such a life? How do we make this ultimate trade-in?

The first and most important answer is that we can’t — Jesus already paid the ultimate price through his blood, which pays for our entrance into the “kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son.” It is only through this propitiation that we can be saved.

But there is still this central notion throughout the Gospel of obedience, which Jesus often illuminates by talking about trade. The question rises: If the ultimate price is already paid, what is left to trade in? What are we Read the rest of this entry »

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Materialism vs. Christianity: The American Dream, the Megachurch, and the Gospel

Lakewood Church, Houston, TXI have only recently heard of David Platt, but from what I have read, I am thoroughly intrigued.

Platt has a new book out called Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, in which he accuses the American church of manipulating Christianity to fit its consumeristic culture.

If you can’t tell already, Platt’s core criticisms are particularly relevant to the issues discussed on this blog, and thus I am looking forward to reading and reviewing his book in the near future. In the meantime, however, David Brooks has offered a thought-provoking introduction to Platt’s ideas, which I think is worthy of response.

On the whole, it seems that Platt’s main criticism has to do with materialism: American Christians have become wrapped up in wealth creation and individualistic pursuits and have in the process confused their worship of Christ with a worship of themselves.

Platt’s primary targets? Brooks explains.

Target #1: The Modern American Church

Platt’s first target is the megachurch itself. Americans have built themselves multimillion-dollar worship palaces, he argues. These have become like corporations, competing for market share by offering social centers, child-care programs, first-class entertainment and comfortable, consumer Christianity.

Jesus, Platt notes, made it hard on his followers. He created a minichurch, not a mega one. Today, however, building budgets dwarf charitable budgets, and Jesus is portrayed as a genial suburban dude.

Target #2: The American Dream

Next, Platt takes aim at the American dream. When Europeans first settled this continent, they saw the natural abundance and came to two conclusions: that God’s plan for humanity could be realized here, and that they could get really rich while helping Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil Is in the Details: The Confusing Void in Glenn Beck’s Crusade

Glenn Beck at Restoring Honor rallyI was finally able to watch the now-notorious Glenn Beck event, and although it helped illuminate many of the mistruths floating around the media, I have to say that it accomplished little else.

In other words, it was easy to tell what the event wasn’t trying to do (divide, aggravate, etc.), but as far as the precise goal and direction it did hope to advance, I was left confused and bewildered.

I’ve heard people use many labels to describe the rally, from patriotic to jingoistic, revolutionary to reactionary, virtuous to dangerous, but as much as I want to label Beck’s event as being one thing or another, it’s extremely difficult to do so.

Let’s start with the more aggressive misperceptions.

First off, many in the “anti-Beck” crowd have missed the point. These are the folks who claim Beck is insensitive, inflammatory, and dangerous. They like to point to “extreme” things Beck has said and will go to great lengths to prove his “evil” intentions. Most of these reactions stem from a fundamental disagreement with his general political positions. When it comes to the recent rally, these anti-Beck polemicists revealed their hysteria adequately, particularly by their widely disseminated assumption that the event was going to be a divisive hate-fest.

Dave Weigel writes about this over at Slate:

The Democrats who pre-butted Beck’s rally by predicting an overtly political hateananny were played for suckers. They didn’t pay attention to Beck’s “Founder Fridays” episodes on Fox, his high-selling speaking tour, or his schmaltzy children’s book The Christmas Sweater. It’s not his blackboard that makes him popular. It’s the total package he sells: membership in a corny, righteous, Mormonism-approved-by-John Hagee cultural family.

Indeed, I would guess that most liberals would breathe sighs of relief if they were to actually listen to Beck’s speech. It was extremely light on specifics — even as far as “orthodox” conservative thought goes. It’s true that Beck will occasionally steer his audience to Read the rest of this entry »

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The Last Dregs of Christendom: Islam vs. Postmodernism

Twilight of Islam and Christianity

Douglas Wilson recently posted a great critique of a speech given by Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the threat of Islamic fundamentalism (read “The Last Dregs of Christendom”). The speech itself is well worth listening to, but Wilson directs his critique at one specific piece, namely Gingrich’s claim that our struggle with Islam is primarily about preserving “Western values.”

“So?” Wilson asks. “Who cares about that?”

Such indifference to Western values is bound to perplex a few readers. What about the Enlightenment? Scientific progress? Democracy? Capitalism? What do you mean, “so what”?

The West certainly has plenty to offer in the realm of societal order, economic efficiency, and overall justice — and these are fine things to preserve — but when we’re talking about a serious and persuasive religious ideology (i.e. a spiritual force), engaging a struggle in the name of Western values is a bit risky, if not futile.

As Wilson says:

Western values only have value if they are a coded way of referring to something else. And that something else cannot be another horizontal fact, like representative government, or womens’ rights, or anything like that. That just pushes the question back a step. Why should we prefer those? And if we say that Western values simply means “our values,” then why should those outrank “their values”? In the ebb and flow of Darwinian struggle, ours sometimes loses to theirs.

In other words:

“Western values” as an appeal works only if it is a coded references to Christendom, and that only works if Christ is still there. Anything else is Read the rest of this entry »

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Spontaneous Order and the Gospel: Avoiding the Chicken-McNugget Church

TED Talks recently posted a lecture on the origins of Chinese food by reporter Jennifer 8. Lee.

In the video, Lee explores how Chinese food has emerged across the world, from America to Italy to Japan. In each case, Chinese food has been altered according to the local tastes of the given culture.

Watch the video here:

I came across the video from a post by Jeffrey Tucker, who offered his reaction with this simple headline: “The Spontaneous Order of ‘Chinese Food.’”

Tucker is referring to the Hayekian notion of spontaneous order, which proposes that human ingenuity and creativity — when left alone by centralized forces — will lead to a much more efficient and specialized economy than any central planner could imagine.

Although Hayek is not mentioned explicitly in the video, it’s easy to see where Tucker sees the connection.

As Lee says in the video:

We [can] think of McDonald’s as sort of the Microsoft of the culinary dining experience. We can think of Chinese restaurants perhaps as Linux — sort of an open-source thing…where ideas from one person can be copied and propagate across an entire system. Where there can be specialized versions of Chinese food depending on the region.

As an example, Lee compares McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets with General Tso’s Chicken. Where Chicken McNuggets were centrally planned, researched, and rolled out to consumers nationwide, General Tso’s Chicken spread across Read the rest of this entry »

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