Monday, September 27, 2004

Purpose Driven Salvation?

About a year ago a friend gave me a copy of “The Purpose Driven Life.” Soon after that I read about half of it and considered it OK-nothing overly disturbing. There were things I didn’t like about it, but since I had been forced to read “Purpose Driven Church” a couple of times, I wasn’t shocked by what I didn’t like.

Recently, however, I have heard a couple of reports about the video which opens the series and is intended to be played to each home group with unsaved friends and neighbors. To be fair, I have not seen the video, but I have now heard two exact reports about the prayer in the opening clip (one which quoted the clip at length). Warren encourages people to pray a prayer asking God to help them find purpose in their lives. That’s fine. But then after the “amen,” Warren proclaims everyone who just prayed that prayer saved. That worries me. It sounds like people are joining the YMCA more than submitting to the Lordship of the Creator of the universe.

Every time the Gospel was proclaimed by the apostles, not only were there converts, but there was also persecution and commotion. The Enemy protested because he really was loosing people. If you are not loosing people, there is no reason to protest. I hope this kind of “Purpose Driven Salvation” leads to confession of sins and submission to the Lordship of Christ, but if people reach that point after going through this series would it feel like bait and switch? Did they sign up for one thing and get dragged into another? Did they sign up for the 0% financing only to be slapped with the 15% interest a couple of months later?

Extra credit to anyone who can tell us what Screwtape would think.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

A Thought Experiment on the Way to Wales

So, here we go with a little bit of philosophy. I recently ran across this argument and thought experiment in the book, “In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Actions in History.”

For a little bit of background, this argument is in the tradition of a category of arguments sometimes called “arguments from reason” and is intended to buttress the basic idea that we live in a universe where minds and other non-natural properties/agents exist. More specifically, it argues for the inadequacy of Naturalism to account for reason-both the reasoning process and the application of reason to reality.

C.S. Lewis actually brought the argument from reason to the forefront in his book “
Miracles” by stating that the process of reason is itself non-natural, and therefore an indication that nature is not all there is. The following argument and thought experiment is an explication of that basic thought. (The thought experiment belongs to someone else, so be warned- because I have not read his original work what follows it is all my fault.)

Imagine yourself on a train as you see an arrangement of white rocks on the side of a hill which reads, “Welcome to Wales.” At this point we can work with two assumptions. First, we can assume that someone intentionally arranged the white rocks on a hillside adjoining Wales. Given this assumption, we can safely conclude that we are actually entering Wales. We can make this conclusion because we have the conjunction of the message and the belief that it was formed by an intentional, non-deceptive agent.

Secondly we can assume that the rocks are an arrangement of a natural, non-agent directed process (this includes everything from rocks rolling downhill to humans lacking non-natural agency). Given this scenario, we cannot take it to be that we are entering Wales. The rocks could have formed the words in Denmark. No meaning, no conveyance of truth, can be taken from a random assortment of rocks anyway. Additionally, we have lost the conjunction we had in the first assumption. We no longer have a meaningful message produced by a non-deceptive, intentional agent. Even if a human formed the rocks, if we assume Naturalism to be true, the human was simply caused by prior natural causes to form the rocks where they did. In order to convey the true statement, “Welcome to Wales,” the rocks have to be placed in the right place with intent. Only then are we justified in believing the message in the rocks. Additionally, as the argument goes, intent is not a natural property.

This last point, about the human forming the rocks by natural processes, might be a little sticky for some so let me explain a bit. If a human is nothing but a collection of atoms and molecules, the actions engaged in by those molecules can be explained entirely in physical terms. In other words, other molecules and natural processes cause molecules to do things. Given the truth of this, this kind of human arranging rocks on a hillside is no different than a string of dominoes falling. If a hundred topple over and a few in the middle are white, then there is nothing to be made of the white dominoes other than they fell just like the others. There is no rhyme or reason to whether they were the first 7 or numbers 33-45. There is no intent or reason involved with the white dominoes.

The import of this argument and the thought experiment is that reason and truth can only be conveyed if non-natural properties/persons exist. If God does not exist and we do not have minds (non-natural parts to our personhood), then reason and truth cannot exist. The fact that we do reason and do have a grasp of the notion of truth indicates that there is more to the universe than just the natural.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

How The Backslider Got His Groove Back

This list of “15 Reasons To Go To Church” is on a local church’s web site:

Even if you, your friends or your family members are not believers, there is
value in going to church. Want to live longer? Go to church. Want a more
satisfying sex life? Go to church. Here are some facts that are reason enough to
get up on Sunday mornings and hit the pews:
1. Church attendance is the
number-one predictor of marital stability. (Journal of Marriage and the Family,
2. Attending church is helpful in the prevention of cancer, heart
disease, and mental illness. (National Institute of Healthcare Research in
America, June 2000)
3. Teens who attend church are four-times less likely to
commit suicide. (Journal of Chronic Disease, 25)
4. People who attend church
are more likely to remain married and have a better sex-life. (David Larson,
National Institute of Mental Health)
5. Church attendees stay half as long
during hospital stays. (Duke University)
6. Those attending church are
five-times less likely to require antibiotics. (Southern Medical Journal, July
7. There is lower blood pressure among men who attend church versus
those who do not. (Duke University)
8. There's an additional average life
expectancy of seven years. (Demography, May 1999)
9. People attending church
report a 50% higher weekly average family income. (UCLA School of
10. Church-goers have fewer heart attacks than non-church-goers.
(David Larson, National Institute of Mental Health)
11. Those who attend
religious services in their youth have about $11,000 more in yearly income by
their early 30's. (UCLA School of Medicine)
12. Cities with high church
attendance have the lowest crime rates. (Crime, Values and Religion,
13. People attending church are physically healthier and less
depressed. (The American Medical News. 3/4/96)
14. Alcohol abuse is 300% less
for those who attend church. (UCLA School of Medicine)
15. Church attendance
moves the underprivileged out of poverty and into the middle class. (Why
Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability. The
Heritage Foundation)

Many churches the last 20-30 years has become addicted to pragmatism and the model of the pastor as CEO. I read an interview with this pastor a few years ago in Leadership, and he told the magazine that he no longer thinks of himself as a shepherd. He is a rancher now. (Which means, for those not familiar with the administrative world of church growth culture, that he now oversees his close circle of pastors and not the flock at large.)

Pragamtism is addictive because it promises numerical growth, which in turn means increased publicity and influence. But pragmatism is not only a bad philosophy, it has turned into a sin. Laying aside all the statistical problems with the above list, I believe it is wrong to promise people more money, more health, more friends, and more sex if they come to church. I guess Catholic Priests don’t count.

The rise of interest in the Missional model is a good antidote to this kind of blatant and shallow consumerism. Church should no longer promise to be a spiritual Wal-Mart. Pastors should no longer be disconnected from the souls of the flock. (There are plenty of pastors who follow the CEO model who don’t even meet with most of their pastoral staff on a regular basis-only the inner circle team.)

I should quit before I really say something I will regret.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Christian "Music"

Why is a sizeable chunk of Christian Music today so silly and near insipid? I try my best from time to time to keep up with the “hip” and new artists and music, and the stuff that gets radio time gives me a headache. Now, I know that it tends to be the case that the really good stuff almost never sees the light of day on the radio, but the music that does reflects what is selling the best. And what seems to be making it off the shelves is shallow, self-centered devotionalism.

Right now, excluding those few bands which are more than an inch deep, Christian pop music is at its best when it is remaking old Sting and U2 songs. I don’t think many of the popular artists or song writers have really come to grips with their faith. I am almost positive that most of them have not struggled with it at all. Of course, the real possibility remains that even if they had, they are just really bad poets.

Every now and then I think American Christianity needs a few Jobs and Jeremiahs.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Missional Church and Culture-Religious Calendar

Over the past two or so years, I have become intrigued with the idea of a religious/liturgical calendar for a Church year. For many out there, that may seem like an obvious thing to say. However, I have grown up in a Pentecostal tradition that has never really spent time emphasizing the religious “holidays” during the year. The closest we have come is taking a couple of weeks to teach on Pentecost. In contrast to that, I have become interested in attempting to build the yearly rhythm of a church more around the holy days than the traditional, secular holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Someone once said, and I think there is a lot of truth in it, that most evangelicals know more about the “Hallmark” holidays than the holy days of their own faith.

I am especially interested in Children’s curriculum which would reflect some of the teaching sensibilities of a catechism and would revolve around a liturgical calendar, building into the kids a deeper sense of Easter, Pentecost and Christmas than the other holidays.

What does this have to do with a Missional Church model? I think it would provide one of the right kinds of distinguishing characteristics between the Church and the culture at large. It would help to create an atmosphere within the walls of the Church which would glorify God as it simultaneously breaks from pop culture. It would glorify God in that it would help to provide a rhythm to people’s live which would revolve around Him and our discipleship, and it would make an appropriate break from pop culture in that it would provide congregants with a viable and meaningful alternative to the world around them.

I am a believer in the idea that discipleship and sanctification takes a renewing of our minds in such a way that we no longer think and emote the way the world around us wants us too. The only way to begin developing that kind of radical habit is to change the patterns and cycles in our thought processes and day-to-day lives. Augustine once remarked that we are people shaped by our habits, so we should faithfully and rightfully shape those habits. C.S. Lewis, in a similar remark, noted that it sometimes takes deliberate training to build the right patterns and motivations into our lives. The Church should be not only a help in that direction, but a catalyst for it.