According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Determinism or Human Freedom?

I came across this short discussion on determinism v. human freedom and liked it enough to place it on this web blog. By and by I hope to come across a fuller discussion of these topics but for now it's complexity can show us the kind of dilemma or paradoxes we can get when each side argues their viewpoints very well.

I like it too because it is relevant to Rob Bell's book Love Wins to which I've included several positive reviews of by Sean Peters and Mason Slater who are not necessarily troubled with its refreshing digest of  modern day Reformed theology's message. Mostly because they, as I, deem Bell's book to be primarily written about who God is as a God who loves us, rather than a treatise on his brand of universalism.

For me, knowing Rob a bit better than those outside of these discussion circles, I assume his loose weave of universalistic issues perhaps intended reader provocation coupled with market-savvy "hot button" issues. And yet to me, as to others, Bell is not espousing any new forms of universalism. His interest is in God's love as it reacts to Reform/Evangelic rhetoric. At least that's my take.

And so, I hope to someday add a topic on the four views of pluralistic universalism that we may all read and digest as I come across a good synopsis of it. Feel free to make your recommendations as well. We certainly will have ample enough blog space to put a couple select overviews of our choosing.

skinhead

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tony Jones, Greg Boyd respond to Rob Bell
by Scot McKnight
March 25, 2011


Tony Jones calls into question Rob Bell’s belief in human freedom. Rob’s idea is often called libertarian free will, and for Rob’s title — love wins — to work, it requires that God grants humans the freedom to choose to do what they want, turn to God or turn into themselves. Tony Jones contends for a more deterministic mindset and less human freedom.

Here’s the question: Are we, are all humans, free to choose God? And does Rob Bell’s theory of freedom require a de-determinizing of the human condition after death?

This is from Tony (link above):

I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve watched the videos and I’ve read reviews, and I read a post this week by Greg Boyd which attempted to show the logical inconsistencies of moral determinism.

Greg’s post is entirely theological in its reasoning. He does not seem to take into account sociological or anthropological rationale. And neither does Rob Bell when, in interviews, he repeatedly insists on human freedom. In fact, Rob’s commitment to total human freedom, even after death, seems thoroughgoing.

This is called “rational actor theory” by social theorists, and it posits that human beings are free and conscious actors who independently determine their behavior. Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith, for example, subscribes to a version of this theory (see his books, Moral Believing Animals and What Is a Person?).

I am not. I subscribe to a type of post-Marxist theory called “post-structuralism.” We are, each of us, bound up in structures and super-structures of sociality that determine and even dictate a large percentage of our behavior. In fact, much of our lives are spent in the self-deluded state that we’re choosing what we do. We don’t actually have much freedom at all, and our choices in life are strikingly limited.

Rob has been talking a lot about freedom, stating that love requires freedom and using anecdotes that corroborate that. How could a God who gives us so much freedom, Rob asks, not give us unlimited choices for heaven over hell?

But how much freedom do you really have? You weren’t free to choose the family into which you were born, or the society in which you were reared. By the time you’d reached late adolescence and your moral and religious proclivities were set, you’d had virtually no freedom.

Further, Rob’s claims of near absolute human freedom betray his status as a human being of enormous privilege. I doubt that a woman living in rural Afghanistan or a man living in the slums of Juarez experience much freedom.

If our lives are, as I suspect, largely dictated by unseen social structures, it may not have much to do with our eternal destinies, but it does seem to undermine Rob’s primary thesis.

But Greg Boyd supports Rob Bell’s theory of human freedom.

The Incoherence of Ordained Morality. I would argue that the association of moral responsibility and free will is not only deeply intuitive, as the article suggests, it is also logically necessary. That is, I would argue that denying the association of moral responsibility and free will results in incoherence. For example, when a Calvinist asserts something like: “God ordains that Satan does evil in such a way that God remains morally holy for ordaining Satan to do evil while Satan becomes morally evil for doing what the all-holy God ordained him to do,” I submit they are asserting something that is beyond counter-intuitive; it is utterly incoherent. For a concept to have meaning it must have some rooting in our experience, at least by analogy. A concept for which there is no analogy in our experience is a vacuous concept. Yet, after decades of asking, I have yet to find anyone who can provide an analogy by which we might give meaning to the concept of an agent being morally responsible for what God ordained them to do. (I develop this argument at length in response to Paul Helseth in Four Views of Divine Providence).

Determinism is Self-Refuting. If free will is an illusion and everything is predetermined, then the ultimate cause of why a person believes that free will is an illusion and everything is predetermined is that they were predetermined to do so. But it’s hard to see how a belief can be considered “true” or “false” when it is, ultimately, simply a predetermined event. The snow falling outside my window right now is due to the fact that preexisting conditions determined it to be so. But we wouldn’t say that the snowfall is “true” or “false.”

Refuting Determinism By Action. You know what a person truly believes by how they act more than by what they say, for we often think we believe something when in fact we don’t. (E.g. the husband who convinces himself he loves his wife even though he mistreats her, cheats on her, etc.). On this basis I’d like to suggest that everyone who “deliberates” believes in free will, even if they think they do not, for its impossible to deliberate without acting on the conviction that the decision is up to you to resolve.

For example, I am this moment deliberating about what to work on when I finish this blog. Should I work on a peace essay for a book collection that is due at the end of this week or should I finish reading a book by Andrew Sullivan that I started two days ago? As I weigh the pros and cons of both possibilities, I cannot help but manifest my conviction that I genuinely could opt for either one of these alternatives and that it is up to me to decide which I will choose. In other words, I reveal a deep rooted conviction that I am free as I deliberate, and the same holds true for every deliberation anyone engages in. There simply is no other way to deliberate.

People may sincerely think they believe in determinism, but they act otherwise, and must act otherwise, every time they deliberate. The great American philosopher Charles Pierce argued that a belief that cannot be consistently acted on cannot be true. If he’s right about this – and I believe he is – then determinism must be false.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *


My Observations

I find that Tony Jones has a better argument than Greg Boyd. Boyd has basically refused acknowledgment of Moral Determinism's larger scope and essay and consequently has fulfilled its premise by continuing on his own path of determinism while thinking that he is "free." A loose concept at best. However, since God rules and his image is one of freedom than I can believe that despite my lot in life, my fate, and my fate-filled directions in life, that yet in the midst of all that can I break loose enough to capture some glimmer (or more) of freedom. This then changes the concept of "fate" to "divine direction, liberty, choice" when God becomes the care taker of our lives. So then, deterministically, freedom can function within its "fated" superstructures, and ultimately, based upon God's own Personage, that freedom can be ultimate and break those superstructures. Whether or not it can be found in this life seems largely based upon human effort, circumstance or environment. But I think that with God actively involved in our lives through prayer and our obedience it is more possible than when God is not involved with our lives through prayer and disobedience.

R.E. Slater
February 8, 2012


Why Rob Bell is(n't) a Universalist

http://newwaystheology.blogspot.com/2011/03/rob-bell-isnt-universalist-review-of.html

A Review of Love Wins
by Mason Slater
March 23, 2011

I suppose I’ll start where the controversy centered. Is Rob Bell teaching universalism in Love Wins?

Yes.

Or, maybe not.

It sort of depends actually. It seems we decided before hand that Rob must of course be addressing universalism one way or the other, but I don’t think he’s interested in doing that.

So Love Wins then becomes something of a theological Rorschach test.

If you want to read it as promoting universalism you can certainly find ideas and arguments which lead in that direction. If you’re looking for nuances which can frame his argument as being for something besides universalism (like inexclusivism) you can find that as well. Because Love Wins isn’t really about universalism.

Instead Rob is interested in provoking a larger conversation about how we understand heaven and hell, and how that understanding shapes the way we live out our faith today.

Much of the early section of the book is an argument for seeing our hope not as disembodied bliss, but as a new restored creation in which heaven comes to earth and God dwells with us - as seen at the end of Revelation. It certainly has a Bell-like flair, but for the most part the content here is quite familiar to anyone who has read Wittmer’s Heaven Is a Place on Earth or Wright’s Surprised by Hope.

Though never stated directly I think much of his later wrestling with hell has to do with this model of new heaven and new earth. If heaven is a ethereal realm in the clouds where we engage in an eternal church service, then our traditional understanding of hell fits right in as the counterpart. But, if heaven is conceived of as new creation, a future this-worldly life with God which also breaks into the present in all sorts of ways, what does that do to our image of hell?

This impulse, coupled with a pastoral instinct and a new perspective impulse to read passages as radically context bound (including hell/Gehenna passages) leads to a reimagining of what the biblical picture of hell might be.

It also leads to a reimagining of who might be there.

And this is, for many, the controversial part. Because we’ve seen recently that saying heaven will be full of surprises and might just include more people than we’ve been taught is deeply offensive to a number of Christians.

I understand why to a point I suppose, it’s not what most of us have been taught, it doesn’t fit with our theological constructs, and so it challenges us at a level of identity not merely intellect.

Still, it’s saddening to see how many people are angry at the idea that more people could be saved in the end then they had assumed. Disagreeing with it is one thing (I personally wouldn’t go as far with it as Rob seems willing to go, and like any book there were arguments I'd push back on), but why would we act as if we don’t even want it to be true?

I suppose that’s part of the point of Love Wins, Rob is attempting to articulate a better story than the one we’ve been told. I don’t always agree with his retelling, but he’s right to challenge the story we’ve been given because it is often deeply unbiblical and incredibly destructive.

By the end of the book we see that the reason Rob is(n’t) a universalist and the reason that the strongest reaction against him has come from the neo-Calvinist crowd are one and the same. Human freedom. Rob puts a high priority on freedom being an essential part of real love. If God loves us and we choose hell he will let us have it (very C.S. Lewis-esq) but to Rob that isn’t the last word.

Drawing on a number of biblical passages, and some East Orthodox theology, Rob makes the suggestion which allows many to read universalism into the text. What if death isn’t our last chance?

It’s a good question really, and one the Bible isn’t nearly as clear on as we’d like to think. The idea that God wants to save you now, but if you die before you are saved He instantly stops loving you is distasteful to say the least, and more importantly not very fitting to the story we’ve been told about this God.

And this is why people assume if you follow the conclusions Bell comes to it ends in universalism. If we are always given more chances to repent, eventually wouldn't everyone repent? I actually think that no, many wouldn’t (and I think Rob can see this as well in many points in the book) but it certainly is enough to cause some heads to turn.

In a recent interview with CNN Bell stated “I never set out to be controversial, I don’t think it’s a goal that God honors. I don’t think it’s a noble goal.” I think he’s being honest there. Rob has a massive church, numerous best-selling books, the Nooma videos, it’s not like he needs (or seems to want) more attention. In fact, early in Velvet Elvis, he shares a story of how difficult it was for him to process the success of Mars Hill and that he almost left when it became a phenomenon.

Rob no doubt knew that he’d get this sort of reaction from certain figures in the church, but I don’t believe he was attempting too.

This book will cost him. Yes it will end up on the New York Times bestseller list, but in the process he will lose relationships, lose the respect of many evangelicals, lose a hearing with a large part of the church.

Apparently, knowing what would be lost, Rob decided to go forward with this book anyways. Already suspect to many, Rob had to know he would only get one shot and decided to use it on this. Because he thinks opening up the conversation is worth the personal repercussions.

So if these are questions you’ve wrestled with, I’d recommend Love Wins as a starting place, a way of putting it all on the table. However, once you start reconstructing what you do believe about heaven and hell I wouldn’t rely on Bell alone, there are better resources (which I know he'd readily admit). Personally N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope would still be first on my list.

Love Wins is classic Rob Bell. So in that sense, it’s the sort of thing you’d like if you like that sort of thing. Personally I thought it was an excellent read, a provocative bit of theologizing, and a good start to a conversation which we need to be having. It's not the last word, but it's a good first word, and I think that's what Rob intended.

Tim Keller - Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age

Brimstone for the broad-minded.


by Tim Keller
October 1, 1997


The young man in my office was impeccably dressed and articulate. He was an Ivy League MBA, successful in the financial world, and had lived in three countries before age 30. Raised in a family with only the loosest connections to a mainline church, he had little understanding of Christianity.

I was therefore gratified to learn of his intense spiritual interest, recently piqued as he attended our church. He said he was ready to embrace the gospel. But there was a final obstacle.

"You've said that if we do not believe in Christ," he said, "we are lost and condemned. I'm sorry, I just cannot buy that. I work with some fine people who are Muslim, Jewish, or agnostic. I cannot believe they are going to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus. In fact, I cannot reconcile the very idea of hell with a loving God—even if he is holy too."

This young man expressed what may be the main objection contemporary secular people make to the Christian message. (A close second, in my experience, is the problem of suffering and evil.) Moderns reject the idea of final judgment and hell.

Thus, it's tempting to avoid such topics in our preaching. But neglecting the unpleasant doctrines of the historic faith will bring about counter-intuitive consequences. There is an ecological balance to scriptural truth that must not be disturbed.

If an area is rid of its predatory or undesirable animals, the balance of that environment may be so upset that the desirable plants and animals are lost—through overbreeding with a limited food supply. The nasty predator that was eliminated actually kept in balance the number of other animals and plants necessary to that particular ecosystem. In the same way, if we play down "bad" or harsh doctrines within the historic Christian faith, we will find, to our shock, that we have gutted all our pleasant and comfortable beliefs, too.

The loss of the doctrine of hell and judgment and the holiness of God does irreparable damage to our deepest comforts—our understanding of God's grace and love and of our human dignity and value to him. To preach the good news, we must preach the bad.

But in this age of tolerance, how?

How to preach hell to traditionalists

Before preaching on the subject of hell, I must recognize that today, a congregation is made up of two groups: traditionalists and postmoderns. The two hear the message of hell completely differently.

People from traditional cultures and mindsets tend to have (a) a belief in God, and (b) a strong sense of moral absolutes and the obligation to be good. These people tend to be older, from strong Catholic or religious Jewish backgrounds, from conservative evangelical/Pentecostal Protestant backgrounds, from the southern U. S., and first-generation immigrants from non-European countries.

The way to show traditional persons their need for the gospel is by saying, "Your sin separates you from God! You can't be righteous enough for him." Imperfection is the duty-worshiper's horror. Traditionalists are motivated toward God by the idea of punishment in hell. They sense the seriousness of sin.

But traditionalists may respond to the gospel only out of fear of hell, unless I show them Jesus experienced not only pain in general on the cross but hell in particular. This must be held up until they are attracted to Christ for the beauty of the costly love of what he did. To the traditional person, hell must be preached as the only way to know how much Christ loved you.
________________________________________
If we play down harsh doctrines,
we will gut our pleasant and
comfortable beliefs too.
________________________________________

Here is one way I have preached this:

"Unless we come to grips with this terrible doctrine, we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him, he was experiencing hell itself.

"If a mild acquaintance denounces you and rejects you—that hurts. If a good friend does the same—the hurt's far worse. However, if your spouse walks out on you, saying, 'I never want to see you again,' that is far more devastating still. The longer, deeper, and more intimate the relationship, the more torturous is any separation.

"But the Son's relationship with the Father was beginning-less and infinitely greater than the most intimate and passionate human relationship. When Jesus was cut off from God, he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. And he did it voluntarily, for us."

How to preach hell to postmoderns

In contrast to the traditionalist, the postmodern person is hostile to the very idea of hell. People with more secular and postmodern mindsets tend to have (a) only a vague belief in the divine, if at all, and (b) little sense of moral absolutes, but rather a sense they need to be true to their dreams. They tend to be younger, from nominal Catholic or non-religious Jewish backgrounds, from liberal mainline Protestant backgrounds, from the western and northeastern U. S., and Europeans.

When preaching hell to people of this mindset, I've found I must make four arguments.

1. Sin is slavery. I do not define sin as just breaking the rules, but also as "making something besides God our ultimate value and worth." These good things, which become gods, will drive us relentlessly, enslaving us mentally and spiritually, even to hell forever if we let them.

I say, "You are actually being religious, though you don't know it—you are trying to find salvation through worshiping things that end up controlling you in a destructive way." Slavery is the choice-worshiper's horror.

C. S. Lewis's depictions of hell are important for postmodern people. In The Great Divorce, Lewis describes a busload of people from hell who come to the outskirts of heaven. There they are urged to leave behind the sins that have trapped them in hell. The descriptions Lewis makes of people in hell are so striking because we recognize the denial and self-delusion of substance addictions. When addicted to alcohol, we are miserable, but we blame others and pity ourselves; we do not take responsibility for our behavior nor see the roots of our problem.

Lewis writes, "Hell … begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps even criticizing it…. You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine."

Modern people struggle with the idea of God thinking up punishments to inflict on disobedient people. When sin is seen as slavery, and hell as the freely chosen, eternal skid row of the universe, hell becomes much more comprehensible.

Here is an example from a recent sermon of how I try to explain this:

"First, sin separates us from the presence of God (Isa. 59:2), which is the source of all joy (Ps. 16:11), love, wisdom, or good thing of any sort (James 1:17)….

"Second, to understand hell we must understand sin as slavery. Romans 1:21-25 tells us that we were built to live for God supremely, but instead we live for love, work, achievement, or morality to give us meaning and worth. Thus every person, religious or not, is worshiping something—idols, pseudo-saviors—to get their worth. But these things enslave us with guilt (if we fail to attain them) or anger (if someone blocks them from us) or fear (if they are threatened) or drivenness (since we must have them). Guilt, anger, and fear are like fire that destroys us. Sin is worshiping anything but Jesus—and the wages of sin is slavery."

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis's bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their relentless delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Gen. 3:4-5), but their choice has really ruined their human greatness. Hell is, as Lewis says, "the greatest monument to human freedom."

2. Hell is less exclusive than so-called tolerance. Nothing is more characteristic of the modern mindset than the statement: "I think Christ is fine, but I believe a devout Muslim or Buddhist or even a good atheist will certainly find God." A slightly different version is: "I don't think God would send a person who lives a good life to hell just for holding the wrong belief." This approach is seen as more inclusive.

In preaching about hell, then, I need to counter this argument:

"The universal religion of humankind is: We develop a good record and give it to God, and then he owes us. The gospel is: God develops a good record and gives it to us, then we owe him (Rom. 1:17). In short, to say a good person, not just Christians, can find God is to say good works are enough to find God.

"You can believe that faith in Christ is not necessary or you can believe that we are saved by grace, but you cannot believe in both at once.

"So the apparently inclusive approach is really quite exclusive. It says, 'The good people can find God, and the bad people do not.'

"But what about us moral failures? We are excluded.

"The gospel says, 'The people who know they aren't good can find God, and the people who think they are good do not.'

"Then what about non-Christians, all of whom must, by definition, believe their moral efforts help them reach God? They are excluded.

"So both approaches are exclusive, but the gospel's is the more inclusive exclusivity. It says joyfully, 'It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done. It doesn't matter if you've been at the gates of hell. You can be welcomed and embraced fully and instantly through Christ.' "

3. Christianity's view of hell is more personal than the alternative view. Fairly often, I meet people who say, "I have a personal relationship with a loving God, and yet I don't believe in Jesus Christ at all."

"Why?" I ask.

They reply, "My God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin."

But then a question remains: "What did it cost this kind of God to love us and embrace us? What did he endure in order to receive us? Where did this God agonize, cry out? Where were his nails and thorns?"

The only answer is: "I don't think that was necessary."

How ironic. In our effort to make God more loving, we have made God less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all. The worship of a God like this will be impersonal, cognitive, ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder. We would not sing to such a being, "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."

The postmodern "sensitive" approach to the subject of hell is actually quite impersonal. It says, "It doesn't matter if you believe in the person of Christ, as long as you follow his example."

But to say that is to say the essence of religion is intellectual and ethical, not personal. If any good person can find God, then the essential core of religion is understanding and following the rules.

When preaching about hell, I try to show how impersonal this view is:

"To say that any good person can find God is to create a religion without tears, without experience, without contact.
________________________________________
Hell is the freely
chosen, eternal skid
row of the universe.
________________________________________

"The gospel certainly is not less than the understanding of truths and principles, but it is infinitely more. The essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and weeping and rejoicing and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and calls that 'the core of true salvation.' "

4. There is no love without wrath. What rankles people is the idea of judgment and the wrath of God: "I can't believe in a God who sends people to suffer eternally. What kind of loving God is filled with wrath?"

So in preaching about hell, we must explain that a wrathless God cannot be a loving God. Here's how I tried to do that in one sermon:

"People ask, 'What kind of loving God is filled with wrath?' But any loving person is often filled with wrath. In Hope Has Its Reasons, Becky Pippert writes, 'Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it…. Anger isn't the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.'

"Pippert then quotes E. H. Gifford, 'Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.'

"She concludes: 'If I, a flawed narcissistic sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone's condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God's wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.' "

A God like this

Following a recent sermon on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the post-service question-and-answer session was packed with more than the usual number of attenders. The questions and comments focused on the subject of eternal judgment.

My heart sank when a young college student said, "I've gone to church all my life, but I don't think I can believe in a God like this." Her tone was more sad than defiant, but her willingness to stay and talk showed that her mind was open.

Usually all the questions are pitched to me, and I respond as best I can. But on this occasion people began answering one another.

An older businesswoman said, "Well, I'm not much of a churchgoer, and I'm in some shock now. I always disliked the very idea of hell, but I never thought about it as a measure of what God was willing to endure in order to love me."

Then a mature Christian made a connection with a sermon a month ago on Jesus at Lazarus' tomb in John 11. "The text tells us that Jesus wept," he said, "yet he was also extremely angry at evil. That's helped me. He is not just an angry God or a weeping, loving God—he's both. He doesn't only judge evil, but he also takes the hell and judgment himself for us on the cross."

The second woman nodded, "Yes. I always thought hell told me about how angry God was with us, but I didn't know it also told me about how much he was willing to suffer and weep for us. I never knew how much hell told me about Jesus' love. It's very moving."

It is only because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus' proclamation of grace and love are so brilliant and astounding.

Tim Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
________________________________________
Copyright © 1997 by the author or Christianity Today Internatinal/Leadership Journal.
Winter 1997, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Page 42

The Godless Generation?

http://brandonmouser.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/the-godless-generation/
by Brandon Mouser in Original Content
Posted: December 23, 2010
Tags: ‘Millennials’ Least Religious Group in American History, Charisma Magazine, Jennifer LeClaire, Jess Rainer, Millennials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation, Scott Harvey, Thom Rainer

Today, my dear friend Scott Harvey posted a link to an article in Charisma Magazine titled ‘Millennials’ Least Religious Group in American History.

In this short article, Jennifer LeClaire, points out some observations made by Thom Rainer and his son, Jess Rainer, in a new book entitled Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation.

These points include:

• Although Millennials still say they are “spiritual,” this group is the least religious generation in American history. Only 13 percent of Millennials considered any type of spirituality to be important in their lives. In fact, most Millennials don’t think about religion at all.

• Millennials are marrying much later, if at all. In 1970, about 44 percent of 18- to 25-year- old boomers were married. Today, only 15 percent of Millennials in that age group are married.

• Although 84 percent of Millennials say job success is important to them, they are not workaholics. They want to have fun with their co-workers on the job, and they see the need for balance between work and life.

• Although this generation distrusts politicians, they are motivated by a strong, centralized federal government. They expect the federal government to be a solution to many social problems, such as universal health care and retirement.

I admit that, although I do have this book, I have not read it. (imagine that!) I personally do not have any qualms with these observation. However, the question that comes to mind after reading this article is this:

What is so unappealing about faith in Christ to Millenials, or to anyone for that matter?

Or perhaps a better worded question/observation would be this:

Those proclaiming faith Christ started with just a few people in the far corner of the Roman Empire and exploded to over 1 million people out of an estimated population of 181 million in about 100 years; 200 years later, over 6 million. And so on.

What was it about this message of Jesus that was so compelling, to those people, as to experience increases like that over such a relatively short period of time?

Are we missing something? Is the compelling Jesus message somehow different today than its original? What is it about the Christian message that is so uninviting to this living generation?
-------------------------------------
http://www.buildingchurchleaders.com/articles/2010/fivemajortrends.html?start=1
Five Major Trends for Churches in America
by Thom Rainer
Posted: August 03, 2010
Identify the trends that will shape future ministry opportunities.
Church Central
Topics: Community impact, Congregational care, Generational differences, Growth, Members, Spiritual care, Trends
Filters: Elder, Generational ministry, Pastor, Pastoral care, Seniors ministry, Spiritual director, Young adults ministry
References: None

Discerning future trends can be difficult if not risky. If we miss a trend, we risk missing opportunities because we had our resources directed elsewhere.

I am thus careful when I do trend projections. I am especially careful when I am projecting trends that will have a direct impact on the churches in America.

The Basis for the Trends

The trends that follow were not created in a vacuum. Most the information is based on studies we have done at LifeWay Research. But much of this research provides us information and facts about today's realities. It does not offer certitude for future trends.

The process is analogous to weather forecasting. We can see all the ingredients that will likely cause a specific outcome. But those factors can change, so we can never say that we are 100 percent certain.

Five Major Trends

Because most of the research that is the basis for these trends was related to American demographics, we must not extend the projections beyond our nation's borders. Nevertheless, it is possible that some of the research could have implications beyond American churches.

1. Our nation will see the emergence of the largest generational mission field in over a century. According to our current research, the Millennial generation—those born between 1980 and 2000—will have a very low Christian representation. Our estimates now are that only 15 percent are Christian. With a huge population of nearly 80 million, that means that nearly 70 million young people are not Christians.

2. The dominant attitude of this huge generation toward Christianity will be largely indifferent. Only 13 percent of the Millennials rank any type of spiritual matter as important to their lives. They are not angry at churches and Christians. They simply ignore us because they do not deem us as meaningful or relevant.

3. Senior adult ministries in churches will experience steep declines. As the large Baby Boomer generation moves into their older years, they will resist any suggestion that they are senior adults, no matter how senior they may be. Unfortunately, many churches are slow to adapt to new realities. If they do senior adult ministry the way they've always done it, it will be headed for failure.

4. The large Boomer generation will become more receptive to the gospel. Our data is anecdotal for now, but we are seeing indications that the Boomers may actually become more interested in spiritual matters in general, and Christianity specifically. If so, this trend will be counter to other trends, where adults tend to become less receptive to the gospel as they age. The Baby Boomers have tried it all and found no joy. They may likely turn to the hope of the gospel.

5. Family will be a key value for both of the large generations. For the Millennials, family is their most important value. Nearly 8 out of 10 Millennials ranked family as the important issue in their lives. They told us that they had healthy relationships with their parents who, for the most part, are Baby Boomers. Some churches say they are family friendly, but few actually demonstrate that value. Churches that reach both of these generations will make significant changes to become the type of churches that foster healthy family relationships.

The Opportunity to Respond

We believe these trends may indeed become reality. They admittedly do focus only on two generations, but these two groups are the largest two generations in America's history. They cannot be ignored.

Trend projecting is a meaningless exercise if it fails to engender action. Ultimately each local church must determine where God is leading the congregation. In the case of the five trends noted here, the opportunities seem significant. May the response of Christians and churches be nothing less than radical obedience.

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. © 2010 ChurchCentral.com

Between Traditional and Emerging

http://www.buildingchurchleaders.com/articles/2010/traditionalemerging.html
Finding a third way.
Interview with Jim Belcher, April 6, 2010

Topics: Culture, Emergent, Generational differences, Postmodernism, Relevance, Trends, Vision
Filters: Emergent ministry, Generational ministry, Pastor, Worship

Jim Belcher's recent book Deep Church has garnered a lot of attention in ministry circles. For 2009 it was even named Best Book for the Leader's Outer Life by our sister magazine Leadership journal. BuildingChurchLeaders.com editor Drew Dyck spoke with Belcher about his book and what it means for churches.

The subtitle of your book is "Finding a third way between traditional and emergent." Can you explain that?

I wanted to compare traditional and emerging, and then explore a third way. That approach really took the pressure off. It took me out of the critic role, and allowed me to be the bystander while those two sides duke it out a little bit. But then I wanted to come in and say, "Well, okay, let's calm down. I like you both. But let me introduce a different way." I just thought that was a much more disarming way of doing it.

I think we need a new plan for the church, a new solution. But the only way I was going to get both sides to listen is if I did this. And I think that's what's happened. Even those on the emergent side, which would put them the farthest away from the traditional, even those guys, they disagree but they're not ticked off at me.

Could you describe for our readers what you mean by deep church?

The term actually comes from C.S. Lewis. He's trying to describe the kind of church that he envisions. He uses two phrases. One is "deep church," and the other is "mere Christian." Of course, the "mere Christian" part goes on to be famous because the publisher takes that and puts it on the book title that's still a bestseller. But the "deep church" term is not as well known, even though he was using "deep church" synonymously with mere Christian.

I needed to lay out where we could be unified before we talked about our disagreements. Lewis is a great place to go because he helps define mere Christianity. So Lewis has that great passage where he says, Mere Christianity is like the corridor of a house where we all are in the corridor together and then we go into our distinct rooms and we sit around a fireplace or we sit in our comfy chairs and we discuss and we talk and we have great fellowship, kind of amongst those who share our persuasion or our particular view. But when we're done with that, we might even go into someone else's room and enjoy the conversation. I can go in and listen to Wesleyans or Nazarenes or Pentecostals or Anabaptists or whatever. In a similar way, those from other traditions can come in and hear more about what's happening in the Reformed tradition. However, at the end of the day, we leave those rooms, and we head back into the corridor where we all share the common creeds of the faith, the Apostle's and Nicaean creeds, those core beliefs that unify us. Not only do I want us to move towards the deep church, but I want us to agree, really, on what unifies us before we talk about particulars.

What are some of the things you think that traditional churches can learn from emerging churches, and the other way around?

One of the things you recognize when you read emerging writers is they have a passion for the church, for missions, and to reach the world. They're really evangelists at heart. They want to move out, and they get frustrated with the traditional church because it tends to get stuck in bureaucracy or administration or tied up with institutional matters. Traditional churches can forget about the need for the church to move out in mission and to move out organically into the world.

These emerging writers have an incredibly strong passion and I think we can learn from that. I mean, even when I read guys that are in the organic part of the church, you know, the Neil Coles of the world, I have lots of differences but at the same time I love their passion for evangelism and their passion to reach the lost, their passion to engage the culture. And the traditional church could often use more of that.

Now, on the other side, what can the emerging church learn? Well, I think the traditional church has been rooted in history. Christopher Hall, who is the chancellor at Eastern University, often says that the Holy Spirit has a history, and we look at that history through how God has dealt with the church. And I think that the emerging brothers and sisters need to see that and appreciate that connection to the history of how God has worked in the church.

What do you see as the future of the emerging church?

I don't have a crystal ball, but I think they've gone through a time where they've been a little chastened through some of the pushback, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Pushback is healthy. So I think they've been forced to think more deeply about the history of the church and its traditions. I think they've been forced to reassess, for instance, postmodernism. I think some of them jumped on the bandwagon a little too quickly with that. I talk about this with Tony Jones in my book. I think there's things that we can learn about postmodernism and how it helped us dismantle the Enlightenment, but it doesn't often provide the way to rebuild once something has been dismantled. And I think they're starting to move away from looking to postmodernism and looking back into the Scriptures and saying, "This is where we've got to look to in order to do that rebuilding."

What are the demographics of your church?

We're in Newport Beach, and Newport Beach is 92% Caucasian in its population, but I think we are much more diverse than that. But our goal as far as age groups is to be four-generation. It came out of a targeted homogenous ministry that was one age group, the 20-somethings, and really felt like we were missing out on having the wisdom of all the generations. So our goal is to put together a worship service that actually can hold all four generations in the worship service, where they feel like they're engaging and they're worshipping together. So we've got little children all the way up to people up into their 80s worshipping together. And it's tough. Because there are times where the younger people want to go, maybe, more contemporary, more contextualized; there's older folks who bristle at that and just want the hymns done straight. But we try and find a balance. We find that the hymns in particular really transcend the generations. I have my three-year-old learning a hymn and walking around the house singing it with the same gusto as an 85-year-old person. To me, that's amazing to see the music transcend the generations.

I've talked to church growth experts who say that you cannot have two generations in one service. They say that you have to go to a two-service system or find some way to separate them. So how do you respond to that?

Well, if numerical growth is the only thing that you're looking for, then that's probably right. But if you're really looking for deep church, where the body of Christ stays together and is a covenant family the way it is in the Scriptures, I would rather do it together, and not grow as quickly but actually have more depth. If the goal is to keep reaching more people, I'm all for that, but just go ahead and plant more churches. So our goal is to keep planting, whether it's more sites or more churches in our denomination, and let the churches stay small so that we can keep the four generations together. In the past I did 20-something ministry and it grew and it grew and it was wonderful. I'm not saying God wasn't using it, but it lacked what I think having four generations together brings.

You write that traditional can be "profoundly relevant." How do you back up that claim? What would you say to pastors who might be leading a traditional church but have a nagging fear that the church needs to get all slick and flashy to attract younger people?

The deeper we sink our roots actually into the past, into the history of the Holy Spirit, the history of the church, the more we actually become profoundly relevant for today. Sometimes when we're just chasing cultural newness or trendiness or wanting to reach the culture on the cutting edge, we actually lose our relevance. I'm not saying that's wrong, but if we do it without being really deeply rooted in the history of the church, we are no longer relevant to anybody. We lose our salt, we lose our light. It's when we're deeply rooted in the past that we actually can connect to the future in a way that always stays relevant.

I don't think you have to be slick to attract the younger people, but I do think you need to be authentic. But it's not about being trendy. It's about really making sure that the gospel and the traditions are contextualized and communicated to this younger generation. I think they're hungry for rootedness in tradition. They've grown up in such rootless cultures and churches that they're looking for some of this, but it still has to be done in a way that they can hear and doesn't feel like it's 500 years old. So in our church, we've got a historical liturgy, but it's communicated in a way that's fresh and relevant. We've got music that can be 1,000 years old, but it's communicated and the instrumentation is done in a way that feels right up to date. So they experience the old and the new at the same time. You still have to wrestle with being missional in this culture while not sacrificing the depths of the past.

I imagine that's always a balancing act.

Yeah, it's something you have to constantly reassess. We keep doing that, even at Redeemer, and we're only eight years old. We have to keep asking ourselves whether we're staying rooted in the past while being good missionaries in the culture, all while remaining faithful to the gospel. And sometimes we have to make adjustments. We're always reassessing the life of the church. If not, we tend to go in one of the two directions, either to tradition and getting stuck in the past, or we move so far to the future that we lose the distinctiveness of who we are as the people of God.

—Drew Dyck; © 2010 Christianity Today International/BuildingChurchLeaders.com

A Covenant Statement of Membership

A Covenant Statement of Membership
 by Lockerbie UMC, Indianapolis, IN
Act justly, Love mercy, Walk humbly
Rule of Life: God, Self, Church, World


Here is a refreshing sample of a covenant membership agreement of “serving the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness” in a new and fresh way. Maybe a covenant like this would help all of our members take their vows a little more seriously.


Prayers

• We will be in conversation with God through prayer.

• We will pray privately utilizing diverse spiritual disciplines (reflective reading of Scripture and other
   spiritual texts, fasting, journaling and contemplation etc.).

• We will pray with our faith community for God’s church (confession, in worship, intercession, song etc.) 

• We will pray for our neighbors and for creation.


Presence

• We will be present to God, chasing after God’s heart with authenticity and vulnerability.

• We will be present to ourselves, seeking wellness for our minds, hearts, souls, and bodies.

• We will be present to our faith community, engaging in worship, fellowship and mission.

• We will be present to our neighbors and creation, paying attention to their needs.


Gifts

• We will recognize that all gifts come from God, giving thanks appropriately.

• We will honor and care for the gift of our bodies, developing practices that support and sustain our wellness.

• We will share our gifts with our faith community, practicing generosity with our material resources, spiritual gifts, talents and abilities, and valuing the gift of each voice within the community as we seek to discern God’s will.

• We will honor the gifts of our neighbors and creation, practicing ecologically responsible living, striving for simplicity, and sharing our resources.


Service

• We will partner in building God's dream of justice, mercy, and discipleship, striving for a world filled with peace, love, and laughter.

• We will practice regular Sabbath, renewing ourselves to live more fully.

• We will set aside selfish ambition and individualism to care for one another, taking responsibility for the health of the faith community and practicing mutual accountability within a covenant group.

• We will care for our neighbors and creation.


Witness

• We will embrace the creative, redeeming, and sustaining God, inviting others to share in God’s transforming love.

• We will seek to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

• We will study our ancient scriptures, church history, and Wesleyan tradition, seeking to understand their historical, political, and cultural context so that we may live more fully as the prophetic voice of Jesus the Christ.

• We will seek to resist evil and injustice, pursuing peace and justice with our neighbors and creation and practicing radical hospitality and reconciliation (racial, gender, cultural, faith, etc.).

I commit to this rule of life and to the well-being of this faith community, out of gratitude to God who forgives, heals, and makes all things new. May my life be a blessing within and beyond God’s church, for the transformation of the world.


Member Signiture

_____________________________________ ___________________________________
Name/Date Witness