Today is Like Yesterday

The twenty-first century is more  like the first three centuries after Christ than any century between the fourth and  twentieth. The church has been here before.

– Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective by Craig A. Carter, Kindle Edition, Location 299-300

By the way, I would highly recommend this book… Here’s another good quote:

The church must accept its new situation as a minority subculture  within a pluralistic world with grace and quiet confidence.

– Kindle Edition, Location 310

If these asserstions are true, as I believe they are, then what must we do?

If evangelicals are to offer leadership to the church, we must stand in continuity with biblical and historic Christianity, a stance that will provide healing and reconciliation, both inwardly to the church herself and outwardly to the world.

Common Roots (Robert E. Webber) – Kindle Edition, Loc. 953-54

My conviction is that evangelicalism needs revitalizing. Her strong point is her grasp of the central message of the Christian faith and the zeal with which she proclaims it. Her weakness lies in the lack of a truly historic substance of the Christian gospel. Therefore, the urgent necessity of evangelical Christianity is to become a more historic expression of the faith.

Common Roots (Robert E. Webber) Kindle Edition, Loc. 955-57

In Christ

Robert Webber writes in Common Roots,

The most basic definition of the ecclesia in the New Testament is “the people of God in Christ (1 Cor. 1:2).

Several of us have been contemplating the nature of “the church” lately, so I was struck by the two words “in Christ.”

Surely this particular is new; prior to Pentecost no one seemed to realize that the Church was, of necessity, “in Christ.” This revelation, then, identified a body with a new self-understanding of its identity. Surely it was the same body but it undoubtedly had a new awareness of its purpose and character.

Evangelism Old & New

In the old way of witness, we asked the unchurched to believe in Christ, then to come to the church. In the postmodern form of witness we bring people to Christ through the church. The church is the doorway to Christ. For this reason, if we are to be an evangelizing church in today’s world, we must begin with a healthy, vital body of believing, worshiping, discipling, nurturing, and socially active people–a church that is the continuation of the incarnate presence of Jesus in the world–a communal embodiment of what is preached.

– Robert E. Webber, Journey to Jesus

Through Modern Eyes

In modern times the break from the historic Christian substance came when the church began to interpret its faith through modern categories of thought. The shape, then, of dominant Protestant theology, both liberal and conservative as it developed through the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, was neither reformational nor historic, but modern. Consequently, the return to historic Christianity is also a return to reformational Christianity. Since it is in understanding the early church that evangelical Christians are most deficient, we will draw mainly from the early church fathers in this work.

– Robert E. Webber in Common Roots

Summary Rebuttal of Viola’s Pagan Christianity

Ben Witherington has written a lengthy series of rebuttals to Frank Viola’s re-release of his 2002 book Pagan Christianity, this time in conjunction with George Barna and Tyndale House. 

I’m not joking when I said “lengthy”, the entire series of reviews actually comprises 14 blog posts (and covers more than just the book Pagan Christianity), but for those of you looking for a brief summary, I found an excellent paragraph by Witherington in the comments on his last post specific to PC. He does an excellent job of summarizing the basic problem with Viola’s views.

I do understand their [Viola,  Barna, Zens] frustration with some forms of the institutional church. What they do not seem to grasp is that what they are suggesting is certainly not any more Biblical in various regards. It becomes clearer and clearer that if 1 Corinthians wasn’t in our canon, they would have no basis for much of the way that they envision church happening. And they are prepared to ignore the evidence of Jesus teaching his disciples not only things like a particular prayer to repeat, or a particular model of leadership which not only allows for ministerial support, but in fact says quite specifically the minister is worthy of such support, they are guilty of over-exegeting their key texts so that it would appear that spontaneity is what God most wants in worship, and hierarchial leadership was forbidden. This certainly was not the apostle Paul’s view not least because he was the hierarchial leader who was telling them how to conduct their worship and fellowship gatherings– and he expected to be obeyed! 

The Celtic Way of Evangelism

I ran across a new book this morning (new to me, at least) that I can’t wait to read. Here’s what interested me:

The Church, in the Western world, faces populations who are increasingly “secular”—people with no Christian memory, who don’t know what we Christians are talking about. These populations are increasingly “urban”—and out of touch with God’s “natural revelation.” These populations are increasingly “postmodern”; they have graduated from Enlightenment ideology and are more peer driven, feeling driven, and “right-brained” than their forebears. These populations are increasingly “neo-barbarian”; they lack “refinement” or “class,” and their lives are often out of control. These populations are increasingly receptive-exploring worldview options from Astrology to Zen—and are often looking “in all the wrong places” to make sense of their lives and find their soul’s true home.

In the face of this changing Western culture, many Western Church leaders are in denial; they plan and do church as though next year will be 1957. Furthermore, most of the Western Church leaders who are not in denial do not know how to engage the epidemic numbers of secular, postmodern, neo-barbarians outside (and inside) their churches. Moreover, most of the few who do know what to do are intuitive geniuses who cannot teach others what they know (or charismatic leaders who cannot yet be cloned). The mainline Western Churches, Roman Catholic and Protestant, lack both the precedent and the “paradigm” for engaging the West’s emerging mission fields. There is, however, a model upon which Western Christians can draw as they face this daunting new situation. The ancient movement known as Celtic Christianity can show us some ways forward in the twenty-first century. (pg 9, 10)

This book is presented with the naive confidence that, if Western Church leaders are willing to love the Lord of the Harvest with their minds as well as their hearts, and are willing to learn from a once-great movement outside of the Roman paradigm, then Christianity can become contagious once more across North America and Europe in the twenty-first century. (pg 12)

The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again by George G. Hunter III. Abingdon Press, Feb 2000 (144 pgs) ISBN 978-0687085859

Food

Food joyfully shared is the heart of human happiness and well-being, and food shared in the context of prayer and thanksgiving is definitive of both Jewish and Christian thought and practice. For millennia Jewish identity and the Jewish faith have been sustained by the gathering of the household for the Shabbat meal, and for Christians too the central prayer takes the form of a shared meal, the Eucharist.
– Eamon Duffy, Professor of the History of Christianity, University of Cambridge

This quote is from the Foreword to Food in Due Season: Daily table graces for the Christian year by David Goode, a member of the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, published by Canterbury Press.

I highly recommend the book and plan to post several quotes from it over the next couple of days.

The book was available here via Amazon in the US, but I think I may have bought their last copy (even though there is still one advertised). However, if you’re interested, copies may still be purchased through Amazon UK. Also, there is a website for the book: http://www.food-in-due-season.info

Buying Bibles

If you, like me, are a fan of the ESV then there are two websites that you should know about. Together they are the two least expensive places to buy any ESV bible you can think of. Often, they’re significantly less expensive.

The first is evangelicalbible.com. Right now in addition to having great prices, they’re offering free shipping on pre-orders of the ESV Study Bible. Speaking of which, it was pointed out to me after my last post on the ESV Study Bible that the cover art I have such an issue with is just a dust jacket. Whah-lah, problem solved. So I ordered a copy and plan on taking the cover off.

Evangelicalbible.com also happens to be the exclusive US distributor of RL Allan bibles, which are the highest quality bibles currently available anywhere. So if you’re looking to drop some serious cash on a bible of surpassing quality with highland goatskin leather cover, an RL Allan will give you goosebumps.

Check out this nifty graphic from the evangelicalbible.com site:


The other site to know about as they sometimes give evangelicalbible.com a run for their money in terms of having the best price is the Westminster Bookstore. Right now, for example, the single-column, Personal Size Reference Edition (which I highly recommend, by the way), TruTone cover, is $17.99 at Westminster Bookstore and evangelicalbible.com is asking $18.89 for the same edition. However, you may be able to get free shipping from evangelicalbible, so look around carefully at the deals they are currently running.

The Way of Salvation

Well. I began reading a new book a few days ago titled, The Way of Salvation: The Role of Christian Obedience in Justification, by Paul A. Rainbow and published in 2005 by Paternoster Press. (By the way, these guys are publishing some seriously interesting books! There’s another book coming down the pike from them that is a review of the wide spectrum of Messianic theology–I can’t wait to read that.)

Anyway, Dr. Rainbow is a man of significant intestinal fortitude, because he is daring to challenge an idea (sola fide) that has been cherished for centuries. In fact, not just cherished, but waved as the primal evidence of Protestant orthodoxy.

Read his description of his core idea:

“My thesis in a nutshell is that, though the Reformers had Paul on their side in decrying merit before conversion and rightly emphasized that God freely imputes Christ’s righteousness to a believing sinner apart from prior moral efforts, nevertheless they were wrong to exclude ‘evangelical obedience’ (as the Puritans called deeds produced by divine grace in the lives of the redeemed) from having a secondary role in the way of salvation which we tread thereafter. Paul and James alike point to good works as the pathway to God’s approval at the last judgment, and they consider this future moment an integral part of justification itself. For persons to be justified in the full sense, God’s present imputation of righteousness to those who are incorporate in Christ by faith must be legitimized in the end by his approbation of an actual righteousness which he brings about in them during the meantime. While faith is the ultimate condition for both events, deeds are proximately conditional in their own right for the culminating event. My understanding of the grammar and of the implied metaphysics of Scripture requires me to engage sharply with the Reformers over the issue of how Christian obedience relates to justification in eschatalogical perspective. Sola fide is true when it describes how we first enter into a new standing with God, but it oversimplifies the nature of the Christian journey into the coming age, with potentially disastrous effects.” (xvi)

“A fresh look at the doctrine of sola fide is needed for at least three further reasons. Its method violates the rule of the scriptural canon. In substance, stress on faith alone severs justification too cleanly from sanctification. And with regard to its effects in history, the doctrine is dangerous. Since the 1520s, it has proven powerless to check repeated outbreaks of antinomianism (opposition to the teaching of moral law) in churches indebted to the Reformation, resulting in large fringes of congregants today imbued with the heresy that without mortifying sins they can nevertheless rest assured of reaching heaven.” (xvii)

It’s too early for me to be able to evaluate whether I think his over all analysis is correct or not. However, his reading of the effects of antinomianism is dead on. I’m looking forward to finishing this book.

My Calvinism

Charles Simeon, the father of Anglican evangelicalism, was called a Calvinist, but disliked the name and referred to himself, as  “a moderate Calvinist” or “a Bible Christian.” He was born in 1759 and died in 1836. Appointed vicar of Holy Trinity Cambridge at age 23, he also became a fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. His remarkable perseverance at Holy Trinity Cambridge is a story worth reading, and I have often valued the example of his determination to let Christ continue to revise his character–even into old age.

You can read more about Charles Simeon in a biography written by H.C.G. Moule, himself an Anglican of repute, at googlebooks .

The following dialogue recorded between Simeon and well-known Arminian John Wesley is one of my favorite commentaries on Calvinism vs. Arminianism.

[Simeon:] Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

[Wesley:] Yes, I do indeed.

[S:] And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

[W:] Yes, solely through Christ.

[S:] But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

[W:] No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

[S:] Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

[W:] No.

[S:] What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

[W:] Yes, altogether.

[S:] And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

[W:] Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

[S:] Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree. (from H.C.G. Moule. Charles Simeon: Biography of a Sane Saint. London: InterVarsity Press, 1948, pp. 79-80.)

We would do well to likewise find common ground rather than entrenching ourselves in foxholes of peripheral issues.

I should also mention that the 21-volume lifework by Simeon titled Horae Homileticae is available at a fraction of the cost you would pay for the hard copy edition–that is if you can even find it–over at Logos.com.

Piper’s 12 Theses #5

This fulfilling of God’s law in loving others through the Spirit by faith is not a perfect love in this life (Rom. 7:15, 19, 23–25; Phil. 3:12).

Agreed.

By the way, if you’re wondering what these posts are related to you can check out the rest of the pertinent posts at:

Wright, Piper and the Justification Controversy

Fulfilling the Law

Piper’s 12 Theses #1

Piper’s 12 Theses #2