April 30, 2007

Thoroughly "Pro-Life"

"I say the focus on health care is pro-life. We're not just pro-life from conception to birth."
-Richard Land, President of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Comission, as quoted in Christianity Today (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/may/16.21.html)

Evangelicalism is in the midst of growing pains, or maybe better an inner transformation and reformation. What are the important issues of evangelicalsim. The likes of Jim Wallis and James Dobson find themselves at odds over what really are the important things that evangelicals believe and focus on and fight for. Lately, the tension has been seen in issues of the environment.

Another "political" issue has to do with government-sponsored healthcare, particularly for children. The quote above by Richard Land shows that evangelicalism is changing. A more reflective and world-engaging ethic is growing. Pro-life is anti-abortion, but it is and must be so much more. Children languishing in poverty and sickness, adults without homes and basic medicine, these too are pro-life issues. I'm thankful that life is winning out, and am hopeful that it will continue.

April 26, 2007

Philippians: Gospel Living 1

I've been blessed and challenged by the study of Philippians, and today I'm going to begin a series of posts in which we explore the letter and its implications. We start with an overview of the first eight verses.

1. Paul and Timothy. Paul lists Timothy as a co-sender of this letter, but it is eminently clear throughout the letter that this is Paul writing. His voice is very characteristic, but much more than that, he speaks very personally (maybe as personally as anywhere in his correspondence) about his thoughts and feelings, his past experiences, and his plans. He also refers to plans for Timothy a little later in the letter. So Paul is recognizing his coworker here.

2. Notice the little descriptive phrase Paul adds here. “Servants of Christ.” The word is probably best understood in terms of “slaves.” Paul is setting out in the letter to show that Christ is the head and goal, and he is a servant, a slave, one of no value when compared to Christ. (And here, we see an example of how Paul’s main concerns in the letter are already hinted at in the greeting, as being a servant and being humble is a concern he takes up in chapter 2.)

3. All the saints at Philippi, along with the overseers and deacons. Paul is emphasizing here very clearly that this letter is to “all” the people in Philippi, from the leaders of the church down to the very last believer. They are all saints in Christ, and all objects of his affection. And in calling them saints, he reminds them of why they are unified: because of Christ. The only other letters in which Paul addresses “all” are Romans and the letters to Corinth, and all three of those letters deal with problems of unity. So again Paul is tipping his hand right from the start.

4. This letter is addressed to friends. This church was planted on Paul’s second missionary journey, and they are partners with him, having supported him from the first. Even when they were having tough times (see 2 Cor 8), they kept up the commitment to Paul. And when he was in prison, they sent an emissary to him to care for his needs. Paul shows obvious thankfulness and affection for this group. They are clearly close to his heart in a special way. None of his other letters show quite this much genuine affection. It is fitting that this letter focuses on joy, because Paul gets obvious joy from the Philippians, though he is clear that his ultimate joy comes from the progress of the gospel and from God himself.

5. He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it. Paul rejoices because of what the Philippians have done for him and for the gospel. And he rejoices all the more because he knows that it is God that has already worked in and through them and that it is God that will surely complete the work that has been started. In that confidence comes joy. What a great thought to ponder. He who began the work will surely complete it. It is a great promise with regard to our salvation, for God began the work long before we were born, was working in us long before we believed, and will be faithful to finish what he has started. And it applies to all things that God is doing. For he is at work in us and through us, and he will be faithful to complete what he starts.

April 12, 2007

Renewing the Christian Mind: A Review of Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind

J. P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, has written an absolute must-read in his book, Love Your God with All Your Mind Moreland's basic argument is a simple but profound one: modern evangelicalism in the West has become largely anti-intellectual, and has lost much of its cultural power. The church needs to revive Christian intellectualism in order to engage the world and fulfill its vocation.

Moreland starts out by making the argument that since the Enlightenment and the Awakenings, evangelicalism has become largely anti-intellectual. In response to intellectual and cultural assaults from without (philosophical critiques, higher-critical critiques on the Bible, evolution), the church largely withdrew from the arena of ideas. Instead of engaging at an intellectual level, Christians grew suspicious of the whole idea of science or philosophy, and withdrew from the conversation. This has had a number of implications for the church: the misunderstanding of how faith and reason are related, the separation of secular and sacred, a weakening of missions, a largely irrelevant gospel of felt needs, and a lack of blodness in confronting hostile or wrong ideas.

This is the state of the christian mind into which Moreland comes. And his book is basicaly an argument for and proposal toward the deepening and reawakening of the Christian mind. He starts by making a case that Scripture basically mandates the development of the Christian mind. As his title indicates, we love God with our whole beings, and that especially includes the mind. For God is a God with reason (omniscient, wise, etc.), and God created reason. Truth is highly valued in Christianity, for we believe in a God of Truth. So study should be a natural result.
He closes the first part of the book by arguing that transforming the mind (as Romans 12:2 says) is absolutely fundamental to spiritual transformation. For our understanding of God and the world is directly related to our relationship with God and our attitudes toward God, ourselves, and the world around us. He further argues that the mind is an integraded and fundamental part of the soul, and thus its transformation is necessary to any deepening of the soul-life.

In the second part of the book (chs 4 and 5), Moreland starts to point the way forward toward the transformation of the Christian mind. He first begins by describing what he terms the "empty self," a set of values, thoughts, and behaviors that typifies much of the modern American mind. This empty self is inordinately individualistic, infantile (seeking to avoid boredom with amusement), narcissistic, passive, sensate, without interior life, and hurried and busy. This type of self is common in Western society, and in the church as well. So much of what he asserts as the solution to the problem of the Christian mind could be said to be a solution to precisely this problem of empty selves. He then goes on to begin outlining a solution, involving developing skills, abilities, habits, and attitudes that build the mind and push out the emptiness. This includes things as simple as knowing and using proper grammar and as life-long as developing and excercising philosophical powers of reasoning.

Part three of the book is a developing picture of what this new Christian mind can look like. He focuses on the theme of apologetics, asserting that rational defense for the faith is essential to Christian witness. He also demonstrates how the Christian mind should be intimately tied to our vocations. This includes painting a picture of how our faith and knowledge of God can and should permeate all areas of our lives, not just the "sacred" space on Sunday morning.

The final part of Moreland's book is a straight-forward proposal for how church could look different if it truly tried to foster the Christian intellectual life. This includes things as simple as uplifting and comissioning our Christian university and graduate students and professors, and things as straight-forward as broadening and deepening the church library. He also proposes the need for the church to be an education center. Sunday school is one possible point where this could occur, but churches can be creative in how they offer courses, and serious in their content (including readings, discussions, papers, etc.). The sermon is also another important piece. Sermons should be applicable, but they should also be educational, challenging the congregation to think and learn more as the basis for this new attitude or action. And occasionally, sermons should shoot for the upper third of the audience, instead of weekly dumbing down the message so that everyone can follow all of the points. Sermons could also be accompanied by weekly studies, questions to ponder, detailed outlines or additional reading, and bibliographies for further study. Last, he advocates a change in the way the church thinks about "senior pastors." Moreland asserts that this role has become a detriment to the church, as many people see the pastor as the "minister" (that is, the one doing ministry) in the congregation. Instead, he proposes that no one person should preach more than half of the Sundays in a year, and that a group of elders should be the functional and spiritual leaders of the congregation, jointly going before God and leading the congregation. This models to the church an attitude of discipleship, openness to God, and enabling of others to praticipate in ministry.

Moreland has presented a strong, integrated, and absolutely necessary call for a reinvigoration of the evangelical mind. As a rather intellectual person myself, I continually found myself agreeing with him, but I also found strong encouragement to grow much further in a number of areas. Apologetics will especially be an area of study I renew with fresh vigor. All churches and believers need to take the message of this book seriously. Because if we don't foster the evangelical mind, we are giving over "reality" to those who don't believe in God, instead of claiming all truth as God's truth.

April 11, 2007

Leaving Behind Left Behind

Professor Ben Witherington has some great comments on some things that should be left behind us, including the Left Behind series and the attendant predictions about when Christ will return, chochlate statues of Jesus (I hadn't heard anything about this), and the theories about Jesus and the Taploit tomb. Be sure to read through the comments. Readers have some great dialogue with Prof. Witherington about understanding 1 Thessalonians and Mark 13 with regard to "end times." http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/04/lenten-leavings-things-that-should-now.html

How do we understand predictions about the end of the world? One thing seems clear. Though we've been given some "signs" about the end, Jesus said it pretty clearly: we won't know the time. Seems we should always be watchful, but at the same time we should be way less worried about exactly when that should be than about what we're doing in the mean time.