Wednesday, September 28, 2005

ID and Church/State Reflections by William F. Buckley Jr.


The always fascinating Buckley writes this article in response to both the ID controversy in the courts and a recent brouhaha at Dartmouth College concerning the breaking of the Ultimate Social Taboo-the name of Jesus in a public speech. Espeically noteable is his useage of "morganatic" near the end of the article.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Links Sans Context 9/27/05

Dangerous Idea deals well with the age-old quandary, "Can God make a stone too big for Him to move?" This kind of question is popular with sophmoric Sunday School teachers-here is your rebuttal ammunition.

Vanguard Church Blog - Bob Robinson is dealing with Postmodernism and the Church in a thoughtful and indepth way in his series. Here is the latest installment on listening to margenalized voices.

Out In the Sticks - Steve deals very well with an unfortunately popular book: Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets.

Culture Watch: Constructive Curmudgeon - This is a great example of apologetic interaction.

Eidos - It is great to see a conservative philosopher address the topic of demons and angels.

Apologia Christi - The do us a service by providing a link to an interview with William Lane Craig on apologetics.

Wheat and Chaff - Helps us think more about idolatry and our American lives.

Kenny Pearce has a very thoughtful and well-informed post on the issue of ID in public schools.

Intelligent Design Now In Court

As I am sure many of you already know a court battle has begun regarding the exposure of Intelligent Design in public classrooms. The issues presented in this AP article caused me to reflect on a couple of things.

First, there really is pressure from the general scientific world (read-“pre-theoretically committed metaphysically naturalistic scientific world”) to make the latest form of Darwinism a state mandated scientific position. Is there another field of public school education in which there is a single dogma mandated by school boards, courts, state and federal governments? Is there another field in which the state has taken sides, forced a position, and created this kind of teaching structure?

Secondly, the evolution position is working at winning the debate by framing the issue in a false and deleterious manner. Anytime you read a piece on this issue, you will read some form of this quote from this article:

Eight families sued, saying that the district policy in effect promotes the Bible's view of creation, violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

Ironically, the policy, as represented in the article, says nothing about Christianity, Creationism, or religion. The way the debate is being framed in the public square seems to be, “True Evolution against Blind-Faith Religion.” That framing stacks the deck before anyone gets a chance to weigh the actual merits. An old but quite genius tactic, actually.

Thirdly, I continue to be surprised by the public reasoning employed by ID’s opponents. Sure, there are those who genuinely deal with ID’s scientific and philosophical merits, but the public face of ID’s detractors is more akin to the historical arguments in favor of racial or gender discrimination: if we allow another point of view into the public eye, the way things have always been might change. Deep. Here it is from a witness for the evolutionary case:

The statement read to Dover students states in part, "Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered." Miller said the words are "tremendously damaging," falsely undermining the scientific status of evolution.

So, apparently what “scientific status” means to Miller is, “can never change or be challenged.” Forget ID. What about the Cambrian Explosion versus gradual, cross-species mutation? The statement included in the above paragraph would allow for theoretical changes within evolutionary theory, whereas the reply by the evolutionist would not.

Miller had this to add in response to a question about science and absolute truth:

"We don't regard any scientific theory as the absolute truth," Miller responded.

If Miller believes Darwinism cannot be challenged as “new evidence is discovered,” it would seem it is pretty absolutely true.

Fourthly, I am disappointed at the context of the case itself. I find the way ID is being presented in this particular school district rather silly. From the article:

Dover is believed to be the nation's first school system to mandate students be exposed to the intelligent design concept. Its policy requires school administrators to read a brief statement before classes on evolution that says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps." It refers students to an intelligent-design textbook for more information.

What is that intended to do? A statement, not even by a teacher, that refers students to another textbook is a pretty pointless context for both ID and the lawsuit against ID. If the school district was ready to implement some form of scientific free-inquiry, this is a pretty shallow attempt. Additionally, if evolutionists wanted to attack the current leading candidate for World’s Worst Nemesis, religion in public schools, this is a pretty trite context.

Right Reason, a great clearing house for many Christian Philosophers, links to an online debate involving Francis Beckwith regarding the legality of teaching ID in public schools.

Many more thoughts and links at Wittingshire.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Consequences of Consequentialism

This latest article from Colson, Machiavellian Morality, is a great set of thoughts on “ends justifies the means” morality. Though the setting of the article is the revelation of “deep throat,” the point is that believing justified ends warrant all means leads down a serious path of moral vapidity and relativism.

But this form of moral reasoning is commonly accepted in our cultural climate today. People get outraged at one political party, for instance, and don’t have the moral vision to be angered at “their” party for doing the same things. As long as the ends are right (so-and-so is in power), then the means have been automatically justified. I have been talking about Consequentialism in my Ethics class, and this is one of the classic moral blunders committed by a system that puts all its evaluative weight on consequences.

Take Mill’s argument for Utilitarianism for example. His basic argument might be summarized in this way:

P1: All actions are taken for some end.
P2: If an act is for the sake of some particular end, then the act is justified to the extent that the end is justified.
C: All acts are justified to the extent that their ends are justified.

So in Mill’s system, this justifies all actions that promote the end of “the greatest good for the greatest number.” A resulting problem, though, is that we can lie, steal, cheat and kill in order to make more people happy because the moral evaluation of an action is entirely wrapped up in its consequences. As long as "happiness" results, the acts that got us there are justified.

Sound rather academic and removed from the things you, the Average Bloke, encounter? How about, “it’s not wrong as long as nobody is getting hurt”? How many moral vices are justified with this kind of reasoning?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Satellite Churches and Spiritual Fruit

Prompted by a comment by Wayne M, I would like to try and think through a couple more issues related to satellite churches.

Wayne wonders out loud if Paul was a pastor of a mega-church with many satellite campuses. I am not so sure there is an analogy here. First, Paul wasn’t a pastor of any particular church. Some may argue that he had a special tie to Antioch, but that was only as a missionary sent with their blessing and support. Paul never considered himself “the pastor” of any particular church, and as we read in places like 1 Corinthians, he noted the equal, if not greater, influence of other ministers and apostles. Additionally, Paul did not expand his ministry with an eye to keeping himself “on the big screen.” He constantly mentored and released other ministers and left them in churches longer than he could stay so they could shepherd the flock. I am not so sure that mega-churches with satellite campuses are after the same goal.

Wayne then goes on to ask important questions based on the notion of looking at the fruit being produced. I have not complained about satellite churches using the argument that they don’t facilitate evangelization. But I have complained about their facilitation of discipleship.

Is it possible for a seeker to enter the doors of a satellite congregation, accept Christ as Lord through a prayer lead via video screen, and then live their new life in Christ for years without ever having contact with a pastor, and live every week through a cold media medium? What will they have learned about the Incarnation? That Christ is as real as their TV? It is these kinds of considerations that make me shiver a bit.

So, to answer one of Wayne’s specific questions, I am not so sure good fruit is produced. People have complained for years about the fruit of itinerate evangelists who blow through town, never make contact with people or churches, and count decision cards. How is a satellite church significantly different? It seems to me their primary purpose, when all is said and done, is to keep on counting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Provocations and Pantings: Franchising Church

Provocations and Pantings: Franchising Church: The Latest Greatest Trend of the Megachurch Movement

I ran across this thorough and thoughtful post on satellite churches just last night doing a search on the great new tool-Google Blog Search If you are weighing the options and trying to analyze the trend, this post is definitely worth a gander.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Satellite Churches-Two Thumbs Down

It is official. I have decided the concept of the satellite church is simply a bad one. Every possible benefit I can come up with for a satellite situation could be fulfilled in a healthy “mothering” situation in which the mother church freely and generously gives of itself to the plated church. All that can be done in a planting scenario-without the egotism.

Let me go through some of the possible benefits of the satellite situation beginning with the concept of a small and young church benefiting from the resources and ministry of the mega-church.

In a typical satellite scenario, the mega-church has either hired or acquired volunteer workers to fill each needed position. A mega-church could do that for a plant just as easily. For instance, most satellite churches have live worship most if not all weekends, and what is stopping the mega-church from blessing a church plant with the same thing?

A satellite is able to partake in any large events promoted and sponsored by the mega-church. The same thing could happen if the mothering church is willing to keep a healthy and involved relationship with the church plant. What is there to stop cooperation between churches?

Most satellite campuses hire a pastor or a handful of pastors to oversee the local church community. So why not bless a new church with the immeasurable blessing of a staff? Many senior pastors may be concerned that if they set up a senior pastor in a new church they will not be good speakers. Why not either groom a protégé or take a chance on God’s calling in someone else’s life?

Pastors of mega-churches may be concerned that the DNA of their church will not be translated properly into another community if they relinquish control. Why not let a community and its pastors shape the personality of the church plant with the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

By the way, the answer to each paragraph’s concluding question is the same: EGO.

Review of "No Holds Barred"

Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.

No Holds Barred: Wrestling With God in Prayer

This book by Mark D. Roberts is a wonderful guide to praying through the Psalms. Through each chapter, Roberts adeptly addresses different issues raised through the Psalms and how to fold them into your prayer life. Among the many things he addresses are prayers of confession, worship, praise, and silence, and each topic is addressed with personal and pastoral sensitivity.

A growing topic of emphasis in evangelical circles in the last decade or so has been personal and corporate spiritual formation. Although this book does not label itself as being in that tradition, I think it can fit very neatly and usefully into anyone’s quest for personal spiritual growth. Each chapter concludes with a short suggestion on how to implement the Psalms into a prayer life both corporately and personally, and the final chapter contains several helpful and guiding questions relevant for each section.

I have personally benefited from this work, not just in my quest to deepen my prayer life, but in my appreciation for the Psalms as well. No Holds Barred would make a great resource for personal enrichment as well as a great text for a small group wanting to take this kind of journey together.

I would like to thank Mark for a copy of the book.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

United Methodist Church and Religious Pluralism?

UMC Diversity
Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.
I caught this commercial while watching the news last night, and I was a little shocked. To see the commercial, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the “I Believe” ad. My wife comes from a Methodist background, and this ad made her stomach turn.

I say a little shocked because I am not overwhelmingly shocked that the United Methodist Church seems to be selling out as an orthodox denomination, but I was a little shocked that this particular ad was so pluralist and relativist.

On one level I know it “plays well” to have a line in an ad describing your church that goes like this: “I am in no position to judge other people,” but is it right? Of course it isn’t. And this isn’t the kind of thing Christ spoke of in Matthew 7. Given the rest of the ad, it is raw relativistic pluralism about religion and the pursuit of God.

Has the UMC as a denomination gone over the edge of orthodoxy to an official position of religious pluralism? Have they given up on any kind of Christocentric particularism? Is Wesley weeping in heaven?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Satellite Church: More Thoughts On Cultural Captivity

Continuing some thoughts on satellite church campuses, I have run across a few other reactions to the same article and people’s personal experiences with them that I find very instructive.

The first is a comment by Bob Robinson in which he states, “Satellite churches are in danger of making the Sunday worship event so central to ecclesiology that they miss becoming a transformative kingdom community.” This highlights a few crucial issues about why we do church the way we do it.

Are we trying to focus people’s spiritual lives around the experience they receive on the weekend? Even if that is not our intent, it is the inevitable result of a format that is so heavily focused on the concert-like event of a popular and well-funded church? I believe that we help engender consumerism in our adherents when we think our services and pulpit ministers so important that we feel the need to franchise them and keep other communities of differing flavors from evolving. We can ask the question then, looking at how we spend out time and money, what is the difference between where we “worship” and where we buy socks? There is no need for personal involvement or transformation when I purchase socks at the cheapest and best-stocked store or when I choose to “worship” and the latest and greatest fad in evangelical churches.

Should we not rather be focusing people’s spiritual lives on living every breath in the life of Christ? If that is the case, then the focus of our weekend services may change drastically, and might I say, our pastor’s sense of self-importance will be knocked down a few notches. Try as I might to be charitable to this phenomena, I can’t get over the visceral reaction that satellite campuses are inherently prideful. If a large and relatively wealthy church is concerned about another community’s spiritual need, why not plant a church?

The second set of comments comes from the inimitable Dr. Groothuis at The Constructive Curmudgeon. A couple of his comments:

We should unmask the controlling presupposition at work here—functional rationalism. The idea is to create products that can be efficiently reproduced according to a standard model in multiple locations. This works well for mass-market behemoths such as McDonald's, but should we then embrace McChurch, McPastor, or (heaven help us) McGod?

Moreover, these electronically mediated services must be calibrated to the minute if not the second. Hence, the obeisance to the idol of Chronos. What of the serendipitous work of the Holy Spirit wrought through the personal encounter of a pastor with his or her flock?

His first worry is “functional rationalism.” What I think he is concerned with may be colloquially stated as, “you cannot argue with success!” If it works for mega-corporations, it must work for mega-churches, and most importantly, if it makes us bigger it must be theologically and ecclesiologically acceptable. That is a huge leap in logic, but one that is taken way too often in evangelicalism.

The second concern noted above also strikes at the heart of the issue-where does God fit in? What if one congregation needs to be involved in worship longer than the other? What if a pastor senses his “live” audience requires more time on a certain point, but cannot do so because of the time constraints placed on him due to the narcissism of satellite campuses? Does it then become impossible for a pastor to be faithful to the active work of the Holy Spirit in a service when he or she cannot actually interact with the broadcast audience or the “live” congregation? I might think so.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Satellite Church Campuses: The Next Great Model, Or The Latest In Consumer Capitulation?

One of the growing trends in the evangelical world today is the satellite campus. When a church grows too much for its surroundings, or it feels it needs to expand in some significant way but cannot build, it may decide to start a cloned campus of itself.

I want to thank Steve for the link to the story in Christianity Today and his thoughts on the matter. He addresses what is an interesting twist in this trend-what of small rural areas that may not be able to hire a pastor? Would it be beneficial for them if they were part of a satellite campus network? I encourage you to visit his post.

For the uninitiated, a satellite church is a second (or third, fourth…) campus under the auspices of a single church in which the services are a mixture of live and video feed worship and/or sermon. The satellite campus serves another part of a community, but maintains the name, the character and the senior pastor of the main campus. The CT story notes that the Willow Creek satellite campuses are made to look and feel as much like the main campus as possible-like a franchise. The pastor there overseeing the satellite campuses notes:

Even the parking lot directors wear the same orange jackets—so that when people drive up, they immediately feel like they are at Willow. [Jim] Tomberlin says, "We do the same things same way you would do at Starbucks or a McDonald's or a brand name that works."

So what are we to make of this trend? As a church planter, I must admit a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to the whole thing. Isn’t a satellite church a little self-centered? Isn’t it a bit too much of an extension of a pastor’s or pastoral staff’s ego? What you find with most churches with satellite campuses is that they are large-up into the tens of thousands many times. Is it really all that hard to plant a sovereign church with all those resources and let them grow in a community themselves? Wouldn’t a church plant be better able to know and meet the needs of a specific community better than a video feed from across town?

Many satellite churches, and the ones mentioned in the article, try to meet those challenges by having pastors who oversee the ministry of the satellite campus and are physically there much the same way a typical pastoral staff would be at the main campus.

After reading the article and reflecting a bit, I have to say that I see some potential positives to this trend.

First, as noted by Steve, there may be ways to make this useful to churches and communities that cannot support a full-time pastor, or who have a hard time finding pastors who will stay for more than a couple of years. Steve also notes, though, that this situation has serious drawbacks as well such as the lack of connection between the “pastor” and the church and the relevance of the pulpit ministry. But if those can be overcome, is there a way to extend the ministry of a large church with many resources to a community that cannot enjoy some of those perks?

Secondly, there simply are things a large church can provide that small churches cannot. I have ministered in both, and see advantages in both sizes, and the advantages in a large church have a lot to do with budget.

Jim Tomberlin notes in the CT article that they have found that if parishioners drive more than 30 minutes to church, they are less likely to be involved or to invite friends. So the satellite, for them, helps to mitigate those problems. If they can drive 10 minutes to the “same” church, they are much more likely to invite friends and be involved. Not a bad result.

But there are other critiques that may go deeper than the results of involvement and franchised convenience. This post is getting long, so those will be developed later…

What are your reactions to this phenomena?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

"Yes" Theology: Is That All We Can Say? - The Inadequacy of "Yes" Theology

This is a good, short article on the necessary task of saying "no" to certain theological positions; saying "yes" necessarily means we say "no" to other postions. If you are a reader of this blog, you are well aware that I am concerned for a sizeable chunk of contemporary evangelicalism-I am worried it is becoming too comfortable with saying "yes" to the exclusion of saying "no." It feels good to assent and dialogue (with very little of a definable goal), and it hurts to say "no." After all, some people will be left carrying the lable of "wrong" if we do so.

The author writes:
Few issues portend so much for the future of the church, because none carries so much potential to fly in the face of the spirit of the age. I speak of the infatuation with pluralism and inclusivism and certain brands of multiculturalism; the belief in the egalitarianism of opinions and feelings—that it is not only wrong, but rude and bigoted to this that some people's ideas and feelings may not be as good or as valid as others. It's the "Who's to Say?" syndrome: Who's to say what is right? The answer is everyone, or no one, or both. Whatever. It's cool.

In response to the accusation that "no" is a narrow response:
But its narrowness is the narrowness of the birth canal, or of a path between two precipices...

Another great religious leader once said something about narrow gates and broad paths.