Entries Tagged 'Postmodernism' ↓
June 7th, 2010 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Personal, Postmodernism
The benefits of the Internet are obvious and indisputable.
The costs of the Internet, on the other hand, are far less obvious to many and, I would suspect, far more likely to be disputed.
I would imagine most would grant that at least one of the costs is the kind of dodgy activity and degrading content the web puts within all our reach, not least our children. Thanks to the Internet, for example, everyone of us is only a single mouse click away from exposure to content that is, if not illegal, at least morally degrading.
But there are other costs as well. Costs that come not from the content itself, but from the kind of medium the Internet is, and the kind of mental habits (or lack of them) it encourages and impedes.
An increasing number of thoughtful, technologically-saavy people are sounding this note. One is Nicholas Carr, in a forthcoming book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
He’s expressed the gist of his cautions and concerns in a CNN article. Here are a few paragraphs:
As we rush around the web gathering little pieces of information, we seem to be training our brains to be quick but superficial.
Only a curmudgeon would deny the many benefits that our computers and electronic networks have brought us. The internet and related technologies have made it much easier to stay in touch with friends and family members, to discover interesting and useful information, to express ourselves, and to collaborate with others.
Since the World Wide Web was invented two decades ago, we have been celebrating these benefits — and rightly so. But we’ve been paying much less attention to the negative consequences of our online lives.
The time has come for us to take a more balanced view of the net, looking at its costs as well as its benefits. That’s particularly true when it comes to educating our children. Sticking a kid in front of a computer screen is probably not the best way encourage the development of a strong, creative, and supple mind.
Of course, there’s no going back to pre-Internet days. Nor, it must be said, would one want to – given all the benefits of the Internet. But precisely because of this we would do well as individuals and families and communities and a culture to reflect more soberly and critically on the negative impact of this double-edged sword.
A balanced view is what we need. For only then will we be able to use this tool with wisdom and thus to use it to promote rather than undermine human flourishing.
June 6th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology
As you may know, the term ‘missional’ has become something of a buzzword. It’s a neologism I personally quite like; it’s the adjectival form of the noun ‘mission’ and thus serves as a catchword for a certain way of both being and living in the world vis-à-vis the non-Christian society around us.
There’s a lot talk these days about being more missional. But in my experience these conversations tend, frankly, to focus more on form than substance. All too often I find myself left with the impression that being missional has more to do with lighting candles, playing cool music, growing a soul-patch, preaching in jeans, and generally being just a bit edgy – than it does with living a life that is “self-controlled, upright and godly,” as Titus would have us (2:12).
I’m sensitive to not overstating my case, so let me ask: When was the last time anyone attended a conference for ‘missional’ churches and church leaders and discovered there that the key to missional outreach is the renunciation of sin and the full-throttled pursuit of holiness?
Yet, as I read Titus, here’s the irony. According to Titus, the most effective missional and congregational outreach is a corporate devotion to good works. As New Testament scholar Gordon Fee has rightly observed, the letter of Titus is thoroughly evangelistic in its thrust: throughout this letter Paul encourages behavior that will be attractive to the world; thus good works are for the sake of outsiders.
So while I’m on board with the need to be more missional – that is, to take seriously the cultural chasm that has developed between contemporary forms of Christianity and the surrounding post-Christian culture – I’m nevertheless increasingly convinced that the most effective prescription for being and becoming truly missional in any recognizably New Testament sense is to cultivate zeal for good works within the life of the church of Jesus Christ. Zeal for good works is as missional as it gets.
Our study in the book of Titus will, then, help us as a congregation learn how better to do that most missional of things: “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:10). So that the gospel of God looks more attractive and beautiful and winsome and ultimately compelling to outsiders.
June 4th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Personal, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology
The second reason why we need to hear the message of Titus is because we as evangelical Christians desperately need to close the credibility gap.
I trust everyone is aware of the fact that evangelicals have what one might call a ‘public relations’ problem, a problem with our image, with how we’re perceived. The recent study by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons entitled, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, has underscored this point sufficiently enough. As you are doubtless aware, the word on the street is that evangelicals are hypocrites. And, of course, in some cases, as I think we would all agree, the charge of hypocrisy is entirely (albeit regrettably) justified.
However, let me say plainly that I don’t believe our chief problem is hypocrisy. Rather, it’s credibility. At least my experience has been that for the vast majority of us evangelicals, our problem isn’t that we say one thing and then knowingly do another (i.e., hypocrisy). Instead, it’s that we say one thing and then unwittingly fail to let that shape the rest of our life; thus, we create a credibility gap between our professed convictions and our actual practice.
To use a metaphor: we don’t have a heart problem, but a circulation problem. It’s not that our heart isn’t pumping blood as it ought; it’s just that the blood doesn’t seem consistently to reach the extremities of our daily lives. Hence, our credibility problem. For we leave outsiders who observe our lives with that niggling question in their mind: “Do they really believe what they’re preaching, since it doesn’t really seem to penetrate the practicalities of their daily life? It’s as if they’re peddling a soda they themselves don’t really enjoy drinking?”
Despite the air of cynicism toward religion that pervades our culture, people are nevertheless surprisingly willing to give credit to a person who actually lives by his or her convictions, almost regardless of what those convictions are! In this day and age of virtual-this and virtual-that, where everything is accessible, but nothing is real, we’re increasingly hungry for just that: something real, something authentic, something credible, something – indeed, someone – believable, someone who actually practices his or her own convictions.
Here’s where the book of Titus comes in. For it is written to help the believers on the island of Crete, and the church of Jesus Christ ever after, to address this issue of credibility in the eyes of outsiders. For the burden of the argument of the book is that we are to devote ourselves to good works for the sake of outsiders, in order to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:10) and thus commend the gospel in and through a life of holiness and godliness and gospel-centered consistency.
June 3rd, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology
At Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, where I serve as the pastor, we have recently begun a sermon series on that seldom-preached New Testament epistle, Titus. (Incidentally, I asked for a show of hands of who has ever heard a sermon series on Titus and don’t recall seeing any!).
In this and the following two posts I would like to mention several reasons why we need a series on Titus.
The first is our need to make-up for what I will call a discipleship deficit. It has become a well-worn cliché to describe North American Christianity, in particular, evangelicalism, as a mile wide and an inch deep. That is a rather unflattering way of acknowledging that even though forms of evangelical Christianity are widespread in American cultural and society, the actual depth and substance of our lives is rather thin. Although we’ve been good at winning converts, we’ve not been so good at making disciples. We can fill big churches, but we struggle to grow godly men and women. This is what I mean by our discipleship deficit.
For years Dallas Willard has been emphasizing this very point. In fact, listen to what he says in an article written in 1980 for Christianity Today (included in his Spirit of the Disciplines):
For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of begin a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship.
He then concludes:
So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional.
Why is this? There are doubtless a variety of reasons: some social, some cultural, some historical. But, ultimately, I believe the reason for our discipleship deficit is theological: too many preachers and Bible teachers have taught a truncated gospel, one that fails to draw any real link between faith and obedience, or between grace and good works. Again, I think Dallas Willard nails it when he writes: “Obedience and training in obedience form no intelligible doctrinal or practical unity with the salvation presented in recent versions of the gospel.” The effect is that we can “believe” the gospel but not live like Christians, or “trust Jesus” even though it has very little impact on our life.
The book of Titus, and I hope and trust this sermon series on Titus, will help redress this discipleship deficit by reminding us that the gospel is fully orbed and to embrace grace is to be transformed, necessarily and inevitably, into a doer of good works. For that is what grace does: trains us to renounce a life of sin and seek a life of righteousness (Titus 2:11-14).
Willard, Spirit of Disciplines
, p. 258.
Willard, Spirit of Disciplines
, p. 259.
Willard, Spirit of Disciplines,
p. 259 (emphasis added).
January 22nd, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Postmodernism, Theology
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
Without in any way diminishing the truth of the gospel to an unbelieving world, we must work hard to commend the beauty of the gospel. For the gospel offers a compelling way of living, not just a compelling way of thinking, because it is rooted in a beautifully compelling person, Jesus Christ. Beauty and truth – balancing these is the key to winsome gospel outreach, especially in postmodern times when beauty is often more appealing than truth.
December 15th, 2008 — Church, Outreach, Postmodernism, Sermons
This Christmas season at Calvary we’ve wanted to listen to what others are saying about what Christmas means to them. So we hung a banner on the north side of the church, facing Lake Street, and have invited people to go to a specially-designed website (christmassurvey.com) to tell us what it means to them.
Here are just a few of the several dozen responses we’ve received:
“Christmas means celebrating the birth of Christ through giving gifts, just as God gave us the gift of his son. It also means time with family and good food!”
“A time of rebirth, hope and joy.”
“What Christmas means: busyness, shopping, parties, spending too much money, decorating, baking, extra stress, spending time with family which almost always results in a huge fight on or around Christmas. This has been true of the Christmas season pretty much my entire life. What I desire Christmas to mean: Jesus- that He is enough for me. That every other activity associated with Christmas always keeps Jesus first.”
“I’m afraid I’ve become a bit of a Scrooge over the years when it comes to Christmas. It is extremely commercialized and media hyped. By the time Christmas actually arrives I’m so sick of the advertising, the crowds of shoppers (myself included), the waste of money, the stress, and the religions trying to force their own ideas of what Christmas is that I just shut myself in the kitchen and cook all day. It’s a good job I enjoy cooking so much. I also dislike the feeling of obligation that I have to family and friends to either visit them or welcome them into my home. It’s not that I don’t like them or don’t want to see them, it’s just that I don’t want to be obliged to see them. It takes some of the pleasure of seeing them away. I know, I’m a Scrooge. Bah! Humbug.”
Several weeks ago we began our sermon series listening to what Mary had to say about Christmas. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary said in response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she will bear a son, “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). From these words of the mother of Jesus we learn that Christmas is a time to serve.
Two weeks ago we looked at what the angels said at Christmas from that famous passage in Luke 2. “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14), was what they said – or rather, what they sang. And that was the lesson learned: the angels taught us that Christmas is a time for singing and for celebrating the wonder of the Incarnation: God become man in Christ Jesus.
This past Sunday we turned our attention to another set of characters in the Christmas story: the shepherds. They’re perhaps the most unlikely characters to appear in the story of Christ’s birth. Angels we would expect. Joseph and Mary we would obviously expect. Pious and expectant Israelites like Simeon and the prophetess, Anna, we would expect. But a lowly band of working-class Palestinian shepherds! This we don’t expect, not least as those to whom the birth of the child Jesus is first reported!
What did the shepherds say at Christmas? “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (Luke 2:15). So we learn from the shepherds that Christmas is a time to see: a time to see “this thing that has happened,” the Word made flesh, the gift of the God-man, Christ Jesus.
Won’t you join us next Sunday as we continue in our series, What Does Christmas Mean to You? We’ll be taking a look at Simeon, who said, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29). For Simeon, Christmas is a time to . . .
November 20th, 2008 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Personal, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology, Worship
At Calvary Memorial Church, we’ve been reflecting for the past several weeks on Paul’s prayer that the Colossians live a “fully pleasing” life (Col. 1:9-14). Many of us were struck by the fact that for Paul the leading aspect of a fully pleasing life is . . . good works. Paul prays that the Colossians would be “bearing fruit in every good work” (1:10).
But what might this look like in concrete, doable terms for you and me? Well, you can read about one great example (involving some Calvary folks!) in this week’s Wednesday Journal, in a piece by Abigail Cramton’s entitled, “Pouring Love, Breaking Through: Tutoring on Chicago’s West Side Benefits Tutors and Students.” As the tag-line suggests, Ms. Cramton highlights the mutual blessing and benefit of serving others through tutoring.
Her encouraging and thoughtful piece, in turn, got me to thinking about not only what bearing fruit in every good work might look, but why bearing fruit in every good work is commanded and commended in the Bible. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Good words adorn doctrine. Doctrine, or truth, is a beautiful thing, even when naked. But what’s even more beautiful is doctrine, or truth, dressed-up, as it were, in a life of good works, conviction clothed in good deeds while tutoring somewhere on the West Side. That’s why obedience is commanded and commended: “so that in every way [we] will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).
- Good works encourage others to think highly of who God is. Good works point – ultimately not to themselves or to the doer, but to the One who enables and receives them. So we are told by Jesus to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Good works are beams of light that radiate out from a magnificent Source.
- Good works enliven one’s own life of faith. Ms. Cramton’s article contains a wonderful line in which she points out that the tutors she featured in her article “serve out of a conviction of faith and believe that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive.” This is an allusion to one of the only statements of Jesus outside the Gospels; it’s found in Acts 20:35, where a follower of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, says that when he was with a church in the ancient city of Ephesus, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” More blessed to give than to receive? A truly stunning and even paradoxical thought: the one who gives actually receives more than the one who receives. And yet that’s precisely the mystery – almost, you might say, the magic – of obeying and serving in Jesus’ name: it enlivens one’s own life and faith. One finds that in the act of giving, one receive far more.
- Good works meet real needs. Of course, good works are designed not only to showcase the greatness of God or enliven the faith and life of the one who does them; they’re also designed to meet real, practical, concrete needs in our communities. Which is itself a good in itself.
- Good works will be met with a real reward. One of the more terrifying and yet terrific passages in all the Bible is Matthew 25. In that chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus paints a rather sobering picture of when he will one day return to earth to judge humankind according to their good works – according to whether they have fed the hungry, given a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and needy, cared for the sick, visited the oppressed and suffering (25:34-40). And as that passage makes clear, as do innumerable other passages in both the Old and New Testaments, these good works will be met with a very real reward: the kingdom itself. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (25:34).
So may we continue to abounded in every good work, for the good of our communities, the good of our souls, and the glory of God.
November 17th, 2008 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology, Worship
Have you ever heard of a Leyden jar? Originally invented in 1745 by Pieter van Musschenbroek at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands, it was a device used to build and store static electricity. You can find the following description (with pictures) at the Sparkmuseum website:
A Leyden jar consists of a glass jar with an outer and inner metal coating covering the bottom and sides nearly to the neck. A brass rod terminating in an external knob passes through a wooden stopper and is connected to the inner coating by a loose chain. When an electrical charge is applied to the external knob, positive and negative charges accumulate from the two metal coatings respectively, but they are unable to discharge due to the glass between them. The result is that the charges will hold each other in equilibrium until a discharge path is provided. Leyden jars were first used to store electricity in experiments, and later as a condenser in early wireless equipment.
Why do I bring this up? Because it provides greater color to an already wonderfully colorful quote from one of my favorites, Charles Spurgeon, who had this to say about churches serving as Leyden jars.
It should be our ambition, in the power of the Holy Ghost, to work the entire church into a fine missionary condition, to make it like a Leyden jar charged to the full with divine electricity, so that whatever comes into contact with it shall feel its power (Lectures, p. 191).
The challenge, of course, is to understand, first, how to build a charge within a congregation, that is, how to preach and lead and serve and pray so that the church does indeed become filled with divine electricity; and then, secondly, how to to provide appropriate discharge paths so that this divine electricity might flow out of our life together and into the surrounding neighborhoods and beyond.
November 13th, 2008 — Ministry, Personal, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology
Am I unChristian? It’s a question I’ve been mulling over recently, especially in light of some recent reading I’ve been doing in a book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons entitled, Unchristian. The subtitle clues you in to where the book is headed: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. What the authors have provided is the results of extensive polling research of perceptions of Christianity by ‘outsiders,’ those who do not identify themselves as Christian.
Through their research, they identify six broad themes or common points of skepticism raised by outsiders (here I’m quoting from pages 29-30):
- Hypocritical. Outsiders consider us hypocritical – saying one thing and doing another – and they are skeptical of our morally superior attitudes. They say Christians pretend to be something unreal, conveying a polished image that is not accurate. Christians think that the church is only a place for virtuous and morally pure people.
- Too focused on getting converts. Outsiders wonder if we genuinely care about them. They feel like targets rather than people. They question our motives when we try to help them ‘get saved,’ despite the fact that many of them have already ‘tried’ Jesus and experience church before.
- Antihomosexual. Outsiders say that Christians are bigoted and show disdain for gays and lesbians. They say Christians are fixated on curing homosexuals and on leveraging political solutions against them.
- Sheltered. Christians are thought of as old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality. Outsiders say we do not respond to reality in appropriately complex ways, preferring simplistic solutions and answers.
- Too political. Another common perception of Christians is that we are overly motivated by a political agenda, that we promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues. Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers.
- Judgmental. Outsiders think of Christians as quick to judge others. They say we are not honest about our attitudes and perspectives about other people. They doubt that we really love people as we say we do.
As they note earlier in the book:
“Our research shows that many of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults, have little trust in the Christian faith, and [little] esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading among outsiders” (p. 11).
Unfortunately, however, this is not just the sketch outsiders would provide; many young adults within the church would provide the same sketch.
“Among young adults who participate regularly in a Christian church, many share some of the same negative perceptions as outsiders. For instance, four out of five young churchgoers say that Christianity is antihomosexual; half describe it as judgmental, too involved in politics, hypocritical, and confusing; one-third believe their faith is old-fashioned and out of touch with reality; and one quarter of young Christians believe it is boring and insensitive to others. These are significant proportions of young people in Christian churches who raise objections to the motivation, attitudes, and image of modern Christianity” (p. 34, emphasis original).
This is all pretty sobering stuff, isn’t it?
My response, as a self-identifying Christian?
- Repentance – turning away from attitudes and actions that might unnecessarily perpetuate negative perceptions that detract from the beauty and truth of the Gospel.
- Prayer – praying that God would indeed so fill me with a knowledge of his saving will in Christ Jesus that I would in turn “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that [I] may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [me] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:10-12).
- Courage – courage to continue to bear witness to the “grace and truth” of the Gospel (John 1:17), courage to “declare the praises of him who called [me] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9), courage to continue to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4), courage to go “outside the camp, bearing the disgrace [Jesus] bore” (Hebrews 13:13).
October 6th, 2008 — Postmodernism, Sermons
A few have asked for the quotes related to postmodernism from yesterday’s sermon entitled, “Grace and Peace,” from Colossians 1:1-2. My first point was that “peace is the purpose of Colossians.” My third point was that “peace is the achievement of grace.” My second point – intended to demonstrate the relevance of the first and third points – was that “peace is the longing of these postmodern times.”
I sought to illustrate this second point, that peace is the longing of these postmodern times, by pointing to two examples: that of the consummate postmodern person, on the one hand, and the consummate postmodern community, on the other.
The first, the postmodern person, comes from one of the more provocative and influential American philosophers, Richard Rorty, Professor of Humanities at the University of Virginia. In the introduction to his Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty sketches a figure he calls the “liberal ironist,” or what I referred to as the consummate postmodern person. Rorty explains:
I borrow my definition of ‘liberal’ from Judith Shklar, who says that liberals are the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing we do. I use ‘ironist’ to name the sort of person who faces up to the contingency of his or her own most central beliefs and desires – someone sufficiently historicist and nominalist to have abandoned the idea that those central beliefs and desires refer back to something beyond the reach of time and chance. Liberal ironists are people who include among these ungroundable desires their own hope that suffering will be diminished, that the humiliation of human beings by other human beings may cease” (p. xv).
In trying to identify a second example, that of the consummate postmodern community, I didn’t have very far to look. In fact, I only had to go as far as the Village of Oak Park website, where I then downloaded the community’s Diversity Statement. Here are the relevant paragraphs (the entirety of which can be found at: http://www.oak-park.us/public/pdfs/2003%20diversity%20statement.pdf):
The people of Oak Park choose this community, not just as a place to live, but as a way of life. Oak Park has committed itself to equality not only because it is legal, but because it is right; not only because equality is ethical, but because it is desirable for us and our children. Ours is a dynamic community that encourages the contributions of all citizens, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital and/or familial status, mental and/or physical impairment and/or disability, military status, economic class, political affiliation, or any of the other distinguishing characteristics that all too often divide people in society.
Oak Park’s proud tradition of citizen involvement and accessible local government challenge us to show others how such a community can embrace change while still respecting and preserving the best of the past. Creating a mutually respectful, multicultural environment does not happen on its own; it must be intentional. Our goal is for people of widely differing backgrounds to do more than live next to one another. Through interaction, we believe we can reconcile the apparent paradox of appreciating and even celebrating our differences while at the same time developing consensus on a shared vision for the future. Oak Park recognizes that a free, open, and inclusive community is achieved through full and broad participation of all its citizenry. We believe the best decisions are made when everyone is represented in decision-making and power is shared collectively.
Now, in neither of these examples do you hear the language of peace. Yet you certainly feel the longing for peace in both, don’t you?
Finally, let me conclude with a few observations.
- First, we won’t understand these postmodern times in which we live unless we come to terms with this underlying longing for peace, which, in my view, drives the whole outlook.
- Second, as Christians we must not scorn or despise, much less mock, postmodern expressions of a longing for peace, whether in the form of a bumper-sticker or an anti-war march, since a longing for peace should be our longing too.
- Third, as Christians we should let the “peace of Christ” (Col. 3:15) so shape our lives, both individually and corporately, that it becomes evident to all that only in the Gospel can one find the peace we all long for.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1:19-20).
Listen to this sermon from October 5, 2008