Blog Archive: 2017

Blog List: 2017

91.  1/1/17:  Impossible People
92. 1/15/17: Reality Matters: Van Til’s Apologetic Part 2
93. 2/1/17: Mentoring Up
94. 2/15/17: A Rumor of Angels
95. 3/1/17: On the Education of Children
96. 3/15/17: The Virtues of Skepticism – Mitch Stokes on Apologetics
97. 4/1/17: Where the Conflict Lies
98. 4/15/17: Undeniable

 

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91. Impossible People
January 1, 2017

”I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.  And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black.  The Enemy is fast becoming very strong.  His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening.  We shall be hard put to it.  We shall be very hard put to it, even if it were not for this dreadful chance.”

frodo-and-gandalfWhy is the ground so hard, so stony?  Or perhaps we’re past that already.  The great revivals of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries may well correspond to seed falling on good ground . . . much seed falling on much good ground.  The Wesley and Whitefield revivals in Britain and America, the explosion of Baptist churches in Virginia and the Carolinas, the Baptist and Methodist camp meetings and circuit riding preachers, the Finney revivals, the urban prayer meetings before the outbreak of the Civil War, the battlefield revivals during the war among both Union and Confederate troops, the Moody revivals in America and Britain, the explosion of missionary societies, the European revivals with James Stewart before the outbreak of WW2, the northern logging camp revivals throughout the first half of the 20th century . . . yes, much good ground and many seed sowers, not just the ‘notable’ preachers who get biographies written about them, but multitudes of unnamed ‘little’ evangelists, simply born again men and women who faithfully sought souls and preached the Gospel, finding many hearing ears.

Let’s work backward through the parable of the seed and the sower, but forward in time.  American evangelicalism in the 20th century prospered – materially – and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choked the word, which has been unfruitful . . . spiritually.  Yes, many churches have been built, including the megachurches of the last two decades, but the ‘Christians’ look much like the worldlings, their leaders deliberately using worldly marketing and entertainment techniques to build their ‘ministries,’ which are anything but.  As in the parable, unfruitfulness means lostness.  No life change, no holiness, little Bible knowledge, no burden or practice of personal evangelism by the ‘laity’ . . . means no salvation.

Dwight L. Moody

Dwight L. Moody

Moving forward, although there is much overlap (the parable applies throughout history, all four types represented at every given time), the stony soil allows the occasional seed to spring up briefly, but with no root, and so it withers away.  In the absence of real persecution, a false convert may profess a shallow faith for a lifetime, with no purifying test, going through the ‘Christian’ motions, which his culture permits.  Multitudes may attend their megachurches and make considerable noise on Sunday.  Noise must mean the kingdom of God is present and multiplying.

Yet I think that we, today, are mostly in the final stage, the beginning of the parable.  America is the way side and what little seed is scattered finds not even stony soil, but hard packed clay, and Satan’s devils snatch it up before it can possibly take root.  Most Americans, even evangelicals, do not recognize the Gospel of salvation.  Ask a random evangelical churchgoer if she is saved and, if so, how, and you are likely to get a strange answer.  Ask for evidence and you’re likely to get no answer.  (“I go to church on Sunday” doesn’t count.)

Why is it like this?  Is it possible to go back to a time when most Americans had a measure of respect for Biblical Christianity, or at least understood something of the difference between a Christian and a secular worldview?  I note that the IFB crowd (Independent Fundamental Baptist) continue to promote their scheduled revival meetings and a culture of revivalism.  I visited an IFB church a few years ago right after they had concluded a ‘revival meeting.’  I asked one of the old deacons what had changed, including whether the membership now had a zeal to reach out to the lost.  He was nonplussed.  That’s a question that isn’t asked, I gathered.  He mentioned that there was another revival meeting scheduled six months down the road.  I asked if that was because the recent one hadn’t worked.  No answer.

Os Guinness

Os Guinness

I recently read a book by Os Guinness, Impossible People:  Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization.  His analysis of where we are in the culture wars and how we got this way is relevant to how we, we little individual Christians, can live in the world but be not of the world, and how we can reach out to a lost world with some insight regarding the soul-destroying pressures they face, pressures different in quantity and quality than ever before in human history.

Caveat:  Guinness has some blind spots.  Who doesn’t?  He tends to see all of Christendom as Christianity, and so apparently has little discernment regarding lost tares among saved wheat.  He also has a Roman Catholic view of history, and so laments the centuries long Inquisition and other persecutions of the RCC as if ‘we Christians’ are culpable.  He therefore doesn’t see ‘The Trail of Blood,’ the ever present stream of Bible believers through the ages that prospered spiritually while suffering physically at the hands of the RCC.  From a proper Biblical and historical point of view, the RCC and much of the Protestantism that is its illegitimate offspring, is part of the ‘other team,’ which also includes atheism, Islam, the cults, etc.

Nevertheless Guinness, who apparently has a basic evangelical embrace of the Gospel of salvation by faith in Christ, and an understanding that discipleship occurs at the level of the individual believer – which is clearly why he writes the book – has useful insights.  My recommendation, as always, is to pluck the choicest food from the smorgasbord and leave behind what is less savory.

Guinness’ primary theme is that modernity so overwhelms the individual, particularly in the West, that he has become immune or oblivious to the Gospel more so than at any time in world history.  Modernity  includes not only the anti-Biblical philosophies of modernism and postmodernism, but also the modern environment of media, infrastructure, transportation, and the pressures of marketing, over-connectedness via social media, and the modern stresses on career and family.  As some say, “everyone is everywhere” in this age.  Everyone is beset by everything and by every idea that pops up anywhere in the world.

The recent American election season is notable for how politics has become the national religion, to non-Christians and Christians alike.  Media reporters and pundits are the rabble rousing prophets and priests, contending for politicians who aspire to be the pagan gods of this age.  Does anyone, even the most fervent evangelicals, care what God thinks about the mess America has become?  If your favorite politicians win, do you see God smiling on this nation?  The author selects some historic quotes that speak to the tendency of man, when he excludes God, to make politics the center of our lives.

”Man must . . . venerate the state as a secular deity.” – Georg Hegel

 “Man is free only if he owes his existence to himself . . . Philosophy makes no secret of it.  Prometheus’ admission ‘I hate all gods’ is its own admission, its own motto against all gods, heavenly and earthly, who do not acknowledge the consciousness of man as the supreme divinity.” – Karl Marx

 “One who is himself a god needs no religion; he is divine in himself.  He must not bow his head . . . The more man lives in his artificial man-made reality amongst man’s structures and machinery, the more strongly he receives the impression that he is the creator of his own existence.” – Emil Brunner

There is irony in that last thought.  Most young people who revel in their tech prowess . . . using cell phone apps . . . don’t actually know how cell phones or networks actually work.  Supermarket checkout clerks couldn’t tell you how the laser diode in their hand works.  Most IT professionals don’t really understand the hardware or the software that makes the internet work.  Not to mention, that most people who drive cars couldn’t describe the thermodynamics of an internal combustion engine.  Self-deceit abounds.  A tiny, tiny minority actually design and build the ‘stuff’ of modernity, cleverly enough so that multitudes can use it transparently.  Yet the multitudes see this technological age as a reason to overthrow the wisdom of the ages, especially Biblical wisdom.  And so we have thousands of abortions daily, over fifty sexual identities to choose from (at last count), broken marriages, hatred between racial groups and political groups, increasing violence in the streets, terrorism on the increase, and no hint of solutions for any of it.

”Judgment in history falls heaviest on those who come to think themselves gods, who fly in the face of Providence and history, who put their trust in man-made systems and worship the work of their own hands, and who say that the strength of their own right arm gave them the victory.”  — Herbert Butterfield

The starkest conflict in the West is between militant atheism / secularism / humanism / evolutionism . . . and Christianity.  Although atheists are still a minority in America, they dominate academia, education, and news and entertainment media.  At times, however, some admit the bleakness of their worldview . . .

Deadly fables taught to our children

Deadly fables taught to our children

”Is there anything more terrifying than the destruction of the world?  Yeah, the knowledge that it doesn’t matter one way or the other – that it’s all random, radiating aimlessly out of nothing and eventually vanishing forever.” – Woody Allen

”We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power.  Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever before.  Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one.  We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction.  Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods, who don’t know what they want?” – Yuval Noah Harari

Yet secularist ideas infest our culture, hammering the consciousness from infancy to old age, deceiving multitudes who despise such old-fashioned ideas as a God who both judges and redeems, but also intimidating Christians into quietness and timidity lest they dare to swim against the flow.

Guinness’ term Impossible People refers not to the masses going with the flow, but to those Christians who stand against the pressures.  During the Roman Empire’s prime, Pliny the Younger advised Emperor Trajan that Christians should be executed solely for their tenacity and intransigence.  “Whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished.”

Could American evangelicals be so accused?  Silly question.  Guinness:  “Only rarely in Christian history has the lordship of Jesus in the West been treated as more pliable or has Christian revisionism been more brazen, Christian interpretations of the Bible more self-serving, Christian preaching more soft, Christian behavior more lax, Christian compromise more common, Christian defections from the faith more casual, and Christian rationales for such slippage more spurious and shameless.”  Where are the impossible people?  When Jesus returns, will He find faith on Earth?

The world that Christians once knew has gone . . . and gone forever.  Among the many pressures, we are immersed in an incessant pluralism of pagan ideas and behaviors.  Pagan?  The Adversary is working hard to return the West to the paganism of the pre-Christian world.  Consider the ‘triumphs’ of societal change in the mainstreaming of sexual permissiveness, fornication, adultery, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia.  The ancient Romans would see our culture as perfectly normal.  The early churches preached against such paganism, calling it sin and calling for repentance.  Paganism lost its dominant hold, but it’s back.

In more recent history, the communities that saw conversions and revival upon the visits of Whitefield or Finney or Moody may have been sinfully wicked, but there was a quiet not possible in today’s world, a quiet because everyone was local, not everywhere via media, a quiet in which reflection and conviction could take hold, a quiet in which a seed could take root and go deep.  To some degree this cultural quiet persisted in the West until the 1950s, but no more.  Yet I see in IFB publications a desperate hope to return to the 1950s, which you can observe quite readily if you visit an old-fashioned IFB church.  The evangelicals, on the other hand, hold hands eagerly with the world, embracing its music and its fashions and its alleged nonjudgmental ‘tolerance’ to attract worldlings without confronting them on sin, judgment, repentance, and the consequential fruits of the new birth.

The 1950s - The good old days?

The 1950s – The good old days?

No, the old cultural Christian consensus is gone forever.  We live in a historically old, but somehow freshly pagan culture, and the truly born again Bible-believing Christian is going to stand alone, or at most with very few compatriots.

In the political sphere we see the misunderstanding of the conservatives.  There, too, we aren’t going back to the 1950s.  Yet conservatives act and preach and punditize on the defensive, as if there is something to hold onto.  No, the culture is pagan.  The government is pagan, the schools are run by pagans, as is education from K to grad school,  along with the news and entertainment media.  There is nothing to conserve!!  Go on offense!  There is nothing to defend!  And so with Gospel preaching.  Go on offense.  The pagan philosophies of our age that destroy babies in the womb and refuse to recognize the differences between a man and a woman, are not in touch with reality.  Point that out.  The consequences of pagan worldviews – whether atheistic anti-God or pantheistic ‘god is everywhere’ or ‘we’re all gods’ – are all around us.  Just pick some dysfunction in society.  It’s built on a pagan lie.

But we humans can choose to be atheists or Buddhists or Mormons or even Calvinists who insist that no one has any choice at all.  Guinness observes that God created man with a capacity for freedom, freedom even to defy his Creator, and talented enough to destroy each other and the planet we live on.  He quotes physicist Paul Davies, “Truly we should be lords of the universe.”  Millennials seem particularly afflicted by this conceit, yet I have yet to meet one who is so lord-like as to give up sleep for a week, or food or air, or the necessity of bowel function.  In truth, we humans are not lord-like at all.

We’re more like rats in a rat race.  Guinness:  “We now live in a world of speed, stuff, and stress and under the relentless tyranny of the ‘urgent now.’”  Ambition and greed drive the young lords and lordettes of our culture, who become slaves to time juggling and multitasking, “all Darwinians now, living under the daily threat of ‘the survival of the fastest.’”

There is no time to think, not to mention reflect, in a modern world that “requires more careful discernment than any previous age faced by Christians in history.”  The urgency of ambition and the immense variety of distractions (new apps every day!) protect the lost from any consideration of the Gospel . . . not to say that there are hardly any Christians at all who try to share the Biblical Gospel.  The Adversary has succeeded brilliantly, discrediting Biblical truth via media before our children even hit school age, and from then on it’s continual indoctrination in evolution, self-esteem, and the pluralism of sexual licentiousness and a vast array of modernist and post-modernist ideologies.

Guinness sees global connectivity . . . “we can now see everything in the world as it happens and we can now reach almost anywhere and everywhere in twenty-four hours” . . . as a challenge that Christians should take on.  “We must raise our game, too,” he exhorts, so “the Christian community can stretch around the world more extensively and effectively.”  He’s wrong about that.  That’s mega-church and mega-ministry thinking.  New Testament evangelism and discipleship is designed for the 1-2-1.  Western evangelical and fundamentalist culture has excluded the 1-2-1 in favor of superstar leaders and megabuck facilities.  Guinness cites – favorably – the example of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California, which is the stereotypical example of how to make multitudes of false converts, exalt the megastars, and get in bed with the world.

Rick Warren's megachurch

Rick Warren’s megachurch

As Guinness affirms later, “Jesus’ stamp of authority is the final word for Christians who would follow Jesus faithfully.”  Why not take Jesus’ words to heart across the board and provoke individual Christians to be individual evangelists and individual disciple-makers, making the small fellowship the core of Christian experience and the mission of that fellowship the Great Commission?  No, modernity infects evangelicalism with lust for bigger, better, snazzier, funnier, louder shows, facilities, and activities.  The world looks at this and sees just another competitor for attention, time, and money . . . and consequently never encounters the Gospel eyeball-to-eyeball.

‘Church’ and ‘faith’ are merely members of a “dizzying array of choices.”  “From breakfast cereals to restaurants and cuisines to sexual identities and temptations to possible sexual arrangements of all types to self-help techniques and philosophies of life, we are offered an infinite array of choices, and the focus is always on choice as choosing rather than choice as the content of what is chosen.  Just choose.  Simply choose.  Experiment.  Try it out for yourself . . . Choosing is all that matters.  Truth, goodness, and authority are irrelevant . . . you are the sovereign chooser . . . until all choices seem the same and each one shrivels into insignficance.”

Whatever.  The hardest thing in 1-2-1 evangelism is provoking the lost fellow to care.  I can get many to agree intellectually on the issues of sin, judgment, etc.  But his life in modernity dulls his care.  Whatever.  So the Christian – the evangelist – dare not pussyfoot around, try to sneak up on someone, try to win him winsomely to himself.  No, no, no.  Just give it to him straight.  Show him that – at least – YOU CARE!!  Don’t just show him quiet compassion.  Show him some passion.  Is there anything else under the sun worthy of any passion in comparison with the Gospel?  The stakes are infinite, right?  Make sure he knows this before you leave him . . . and leave him with tracts that punch.

Guinness sees liberalism – unbelief – in Protestant denominations and in emergent evangelicalism as institutional suicide.  As an example, he quotes a well-known Christian marketing consultant (!):  “It is also critical that we keep in mind a fundamental principle of Christian communication:  the audience, not the message, is sovereign.”  Is it any wonder that churches should be filled with lost people, one heartbeat from Hell?  If the audience is sovereign, they will demand that their ears be tickled.  If not, there are competitors down the street who will be glad to do so.

I see one aspect of this tragedy as I search (quite actively) for Christians who would be interested in learning to do 121 evangelism.  There are some truly born again believers in gelly churches.  But they’ve been slurped up by that passive ear-tickling culture, assured that they are already ‘good Christians’ because they show up, shut up, and pay up, and their leaders, when asked (and I’ve asked), actually despise what they call ‘confrontational evangelism . . . We don’t do that around here.’  Rather, invite your neighbors to church, to events, so our superstar clergy can dazzle them with the unique spiritual gifts that God (apparently) doles out only to such super saints.

1-2-1 evangelism on the street

1-2-1 evangelism on the street

Evangelicals want to get along with the world.  They identify with Lot, who enjoyed the benefits of living in the affluent burb of Sodom, working his way up to a leadership position.  Under pressure, however, when Lot tried to stand up for something, his worldly peers despised him and his own family didn’t take him seriously.  21st century America needs more like John the Baptist.  You won’t find any in evangelical churches, or even IFB churches – IFB ‘prophets’ talk big within the walls of their temples, but you won’t find them on the street.  For one thing, just look up the addresses of a sampling of IFB churches.  You’ll find them in the burbs, not in the inner city.

Why is this the toughest generation ever?  Modernism has always been around – anti-God, anti-Bible philosophies buttressed by evolution.  It’s still pervasive, of course.  Post-modernism goes a step further and may snidely admit, “Ok, that may be true for you but not for me, so . . . whatever.”  But modernity doesn’t even bother with the issue.  Whether it’s the pressure of modern life or the distractions readily available, there’s just no time or energy for thinking the deep thoughts.  The evangelist has to fight hard to grab attention.  This is possible, but it’s not for wimps.  If you’re not bold, you’ve got to emulate boldness, at least.  If you do get a convert, modernity will fight discipleship every moment.

Guinness sees the spiritual war behind the scenes.  The successful wicked politician isn’t energized entirely by himself.  Scripture is clear about the demonic powers and principalities who motivate the relentlessness that we see in the enemy’s camp.  Have you noticed that conservatives and Christians aren’t as relentless as their adversaries?  Yet Christians have available a much greater power, the Holy Spirit, who also commands twice as many angels as there are demons.  But God gives us the responsibility to seek His power.  He gives us awesome responsibility along with spectacular freedom of choice.  If we just muddle along, we lose.  Salvation is secure for the true believer, but the battle for the souls of our relatives, neighbors, and all others in our community rages on.  We can let others go to Hell without a warning or we can try.  When we swap stories around camp fires during the Millennium, I want to have something to talk about.  Don’t you?

Guinness has some optimism left.  “It will not be easy to recover the gigantic scale of the biblical view.”  But he falls short of proposing battle tactics.  In the evangelical world, it’s all about big churches and bigshot leaders, speakers, and authors.  The multitudes of ‘laymen’ and ‘laywomen’ are there to fund the programs and, if they’re really motivated, to stay informed by reading the latest books and going to conferences.  But New Testament evangelism has always been 121.  Who is pushing that?

It must be done eyeball-to-eyeball.  We have the right message which matches the reality of human life on this Earth.  There is no other message of hope.  False religions offer false hope, in one way or another denying sin and its consequences and painting a bogus picture of who God is and what eternity holds . . . and who we are in relation to God.  The Biblical worldview matches reality at every point.  We can point that out.  Atheism means life is meaningless.  The atheistic world of protons, neutrons, electrons, and forces is small, knowing nothing of love, justice, meaning, hope, and beauty.  People are just clods of dirt in the worldview of the atheistic scientist.  But in truth, human beings are free agents with mind and will and conscience and hopes and dreams.  God’s world is infinitely large and varied with an eternal future.  Hope matters.  Point that out.

Christians must disciple their own children.  The established churches won’t help.  Their programs just eat up time and energy and distract from what you need to do . . . teach them truth and how to contend.  By the time she is 18 years old, if a Christian girl has contended 121 with a thousand or several thousand unbelievers, sharing the Gospel and refuting their silly objections, she will find no intellectual or philosophical surprises in college life and beyond.  How many parents are training their children in the Great Commission, to face the ‘best’ the world and its Adversary has to offer?  Don’t just ‘stand.’  Go!

Guinness agrees with my point, but doesn’t envision the battle plan.  “The modern church still includes too many nominal Christians, and . . . we are seeing a growing biblical illiteracy in the church today.”  Any individual Christian family can fix this for themselves and can be helpful to any other family who is interested.  Study.  Pray.  Share the Gospel.  Contend.  Encourage.  Repeat.  Otherwise, the children of the nominals will become nones, the fastest growing demographic segment in American religious life.

If all around you continue down the broad road of complacency, don’t go along.  Don’t join.  Don’t give money.  Don’t go along to get along. Be a John the Baptist.  Be Bunyan’s ‘Christian’ who wouldn’t quit.  Be impossible.  Yes, be lonely.  But it’ll be all right.  There’s a better country farther along the narrow road.

  • drdave@truthreallymatters.com


92. Reality Matters: Van Til’s Apologetic Part 2
January 15, 2017

Both Parts 1 and 2 are now found in the Evangelism section of this site. Click on . . .

Van Til’s Apologetic Parts 1 and 2


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93. Mentoring Up
February 1, 2017

This blog is now in the Discipleship section. Click on . . .

Mentoring Up


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94. A Rumor of Angels
February 15, 2017

In German folklore a young fellow once lived who was distressed that he never seemed to feel horror like his compatriots did at times, and so he subjected himself to all sorts of gruesome experiences in an attempt to evoke such feelings. Modern man seems to have the opposite goal of unlearning any conceivable metaphysical terror. The secularization of society generates an abhorrence of the supernatural, the demise of God applauded by all who despise thoughts of Hell beneath and Heaven above. (Consider the timeless and unreasonable popularity of John Lennon’s song Imagine, long after its release in 1971.)

So suggests Peter L. Berger, author of A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural, a short book published in 1969. I thought it might be interesting to visit the perspective of someone who, fifty years ago, was in the midst of violent societal upheavals, a sociologist who wondered what the next few decades would hold. Nearly fifty years later, we can evaluate whether the trends he saw would grow or diminish.

Peter Berger

Peter Berger

Berger was a Professor of Sociology at Rutgers U. when he wrote the book. He has the refreshing capacity to see his own field’s limitations: “. . . enough has been said to justify the suspicion that sociology is the dismal science par excellence of our time, an intrinsically debunking discipline that should be most congenial to nihilists, cynics, and other fit subjects for police surveillance. Both theological and political conservatives have long suspected just this, and their aversion to sociology is based on a strong instinct for survival. I am not interested at the moment in pursuing the question of whether sociology should, in a well-run society, be forbidden as a corruption of the young and as inimical to good order.” Amen and amen.

Nevertheless, working from within his dismal community, Berger, as a professing Christian observing society’s theological trends, affirms that “theology must begin and end with the question of truth.” And truth is the issue of our day, a day of vicious ideological conflicts in politics, culture, and religion, conflicts driven by worldviews, all of which lay claim on truth . . . yet truth is and always has been narrow and jealous (in the best possible sense).

Berger observed that traditional religious beliefs in America had become empty of meaning, not just in the general population, but among many churchgoers. In the last 50 years this trend has only accelerated, “the supernatural as a meaningful reality is absent or remote from the horizons of everyday life of large numbers . . . who seem to manage to get along without it quite well.” Typical evangelical church life has been driven by seeker-sensitive, market-driven methods, producing the megachurch phenomenon of the last two decades, and has little relation to the supernatural . . . in my opinion.

Bill Hybels on stage at his megachurch

Bill Hybels on stage at his megachurch

In 2005 when we moved from the hinterlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Rockford, Illinois, I discovered that the largest and fasting growing ‘church’ in the area was a Bill Hybels spinoff, which promoted itself as “a new way to do church.” The “new way” featured a rock and roll ‘worship team,’ theater seats in a large darkened auditorium, a casually dressed winsome speaker, and a series of monotonous low-rent ‘praise songs.’ They couldn’t use that promotion for long, however. Everyone ‘does church’ that way now. When my wife and I do ‘field trips’ to small evangelical churches, we see the same pattern, writ small. We spent a couple of hours with one such pastor, who regaled us with his desire to follow the Hybels pattern to climb the megachurch heights like others have done. He had no interest in the nuts and bolts evangelism and discipleship that we suggested could be of help. And so his small congregation, perhaps 80 on Sunday morning, mostly middle-aged and elderly folks, spent a million dollars on a new auditorium and sound equipment, to compete with all the other megachurch wannabes in the area. It was sadly amusing to us that when one traditional hymn was sung at the end of the service, suddenly the room was filled with the enthusiastic voices of all the people, especially the older folks who have been robbed of the joy of singing serious hymns with adult content and substantive melody.

Berger calls them a cognitive minority, the remnant of serious believers in a secularized culture, those who have a worldview significantly different from that of the majority culture. I was asked recently why so few in America get truly born again today and why so few of the truly born again are interested in spiritual growth – on the Biblical pattern – which requires the opposite of the passive experiences of modern church culture. I’m convinced that the answer is that the ‘churches’ have slurped up both categories. The occasional lost fellow who is searching for meaning and ‘gives God a chance,’ finds an evangelical church that entertains him, strokes his ego, and gives him false assurance that if he becomes a nominal ‘Jesus follower,’ he’ll be good to go . . . his life doesn’t need to change and he can make better choices to spruce up his marriage, his business, and his habits. The truly born again fellow gets slurped up, too, perhaps sitting right next to the lost fellow in their theater seats, and is assured that if he ‘shows up, shuts up, and pays up,’ that he is a solid American Christian . . . especially if he is one of the small cadre that shows up once a quarter on a Saturday morning to box up lunches for the homeless or sweep up the leaves of the elderly. (You might check out my Blog #3 in the 2013 archive to go deeper on this.)

Berger applies his principles across the board to evangelicalism, traditional Protestantism, and even Roman Catholicism. I’ll restrict myself to what I see as applications to evangelicalism. He observes that life for the cognitive minority is uncomfortable, not so much because of repression or intolerance, although that is on the increase for actual Christians in America today, but because the majority refuses to accept the minority’s beliefs as knowledge. If evolution is factual knowledge, you see, then creation is myth. As an intransigent member of the minority, I know that the reverse is true, of course.

The minority viewpoint is therefore on the defensive, which I observe throughout evangelicalism (and fundamentalism, too). Playing defense is annoying, though. It’s much more fun to play offense and score points. In this ‘game’ however, offense is the Great Commission. Evangelicals despise what one local megachurch pastor terms confrontational evangelism, which simply means walking up to someone, striking up a conversation, and sharing the Gospel with him. Even more horrible, apparently, is handing a Gospel tract to a lost individual in the hope he might read it and think about his lost spiritual condition. Horrors! So old school! No, we must entice them to our rocking worship service and win them through the winsomeness of our most winsome stage performers so they can be winsome too!

Berger sees the cognitive minority as continually buffeted by social and psychological pressures, socialized, in the evangelical application, to passivity and timidity. The ever-dwindling minority who, when they dare, work to emulate the prophets of old, like Isaiah: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins,” are marginalized and even shunned. Berger sees the result as a theological crisis, because the Biblical pattern is so despised and so rarely represented that it loses plausibility. You can literally go ‘oh-for-ten-thousand’ in offering the Gospel via tracts and 121 witness, regarding a life-altering response. Overseas, this is not the case. I am encouraged by many accounts of the Gospel taking hold and spreading where Western secularization has not taken hold.

PassoverBerger saw that secularization produced a crisis in Judaism similar to that in Christianity. Many would say that Judaism is a matter of practice, rather than driven by ideology. “The practice is, however, rooted in a specific cognitive universe without which it is threatened with meaninglessness.” Without the supernatural, what is Passover really all about? The original Passover, of course, was entirely invested in the supernatural. Berger suggests that despite all sorts of traditions and loyalties, both in Judaism and Christianity, apart from the supernatural, religious practice “takes on the character of religious history. People may like museums, but they are reluctant to live in them.” I note that modern evangelicalism has detached itself even from traditions, ever morphing to chase the latest market-driven ploy. Consider how many churches in the last several years have publicly trumpeted a series on sexuality. Hey, that will bring the crowds in, they figure. But then you’ve got to top that the following week.

The cognitive minority has a couple of basic choices in its response to secularization. It can go along to get along, showing the world that we’re not really any different from ‘everybody else.’ That’s what the evangelicals have been doing since Berger’s time. But accommodation, Berger points out, leads to cognitive contamination. “The crucial question then is, ‘Who is the stronger party?’” The world is, of course. The Biblical truth is that believers will always be in the position of remnant.

The alternative choice for the cognitive minority is to stick to its guns, “supernaturalism and all, and the world (literally or otherwise) be damned.” That’s what the fundamentalists do. Visit a lot of IFB churches and it’s like taking a time machine to the 1950s. Sticking to your guns is easier if you establish a culture of ‘us vs. them,’ a fairly closed culture, emphasizing 2 Cor 6:14-18 almost every week. Now, the doctrine of separation from the world that Paul teaches is just right . . . of course. But the fundamentalists distort and diminish the principle by a focus on such trivial matters as haircuts and suits / ties, and insistence on Old Testament temple tithing to build their own temple facilities and fund the salaries of their own priests . . . yes, the ‘pastors’ in IFB churches function very much as a priestly class with special access to God.

1950s - the good old days?

1950s – the good old days?

Berger notes that the opposite of cultural defiance is surrender and various denominations have done just that, buying into theological liberalism. Unitarians, along with many Episcopalians, United Methodists, and others have focused themselves entirely on ‘this-worldliness’, in order to be relevant, and expending money and energy on various give-away programs, whether shoes for orphans or cheeseburgers for the homeless. The evangelicals are following closely behind. Every evangelical church we’ve visited in the last few years focuses most of its outreach toward the bottom 0.1% of the economic bell curve. This outreach is almost exclusively physical (clothes, food, etc.). If the Gospel is in mind at all, it apparently gets transmitted by osmosis. What about the remaining 99.9% of the community? To Hell with them . . . literally. I’m not cussing. That is the actual consequence of the abandonment of the Great Commission by American churches.

I must point out, as I’ve done on occasion before, that the charitable programs of these churches amount to a small fraction of 1% of their resources. Facilities and salaries come first and take the lion’s share. And few . . . few indeed . . . of evangelical church members are brow-beaten into giving anything close to 10% of their income. (If they did, facilities and staffs would grow hugely.) For the ‘laity’, big houses, big cars, and big screens come first. It’s amazing that such little contributions fool American Christians into thinking they are doing great things for God. If temporal charity is the mission, why not sell the buildings, let the pastoral staff get real jobs, and put your money where your mouth is? Build city-wide house church networks, just like the 1st century Christians did! Furthermore, by today’s evangelical philosophy, the ‘best’ Christians who serve God the ‘most’ will be those that have enormous incomes and donate much. How can a blue collar worker compete at all, spiritually, with someone who is making six or seven figures? My point is that the ‘system’ makes no Biblical sense. It is hypocritical and internally inconsistent.

homeless ministryBerger believed that the challenge to Biblical faith from the physical sciences is far less dangerous than that of the human sciences. He is underwhelmed by those of us who stand on a literal Genesis, for example. The main threats he saw are from historical scholarship and psychology.

Secular historical scholarship, beginning in the 19th century, worked hard to chip away at Biblical texts, turning history into myth and legend and narrative, refusing to see the complementarity of the Gospel accounts; rather, insisting that differences necessitate contradictions. When you’re committed to an anti-Biblical secularism, that’s the mindset. I’ll add that the modern versions of the Bible are sourced from such philosophy, continually re-sorting which Hebrew and Greek texts to use, and employing mushy translation approaches to produce the vast array of English Bibles in use today. It’s such a mess that most evangelical churches discourage people from bringing a Bible to their services. The ‘preacher’ will be using whatever combination of versions he finds useful to fit his message, anyway.

Psychology deepens the challenge, ‘explaining’ why people need religion. Freud, for example, asserted that religion is a gigantic projection of human needs and desires. The combination of secular history and psychology work to utterly destroy theology in “a veritable vortex of relativizations.” No absolutes, no foundations, no doctrines . . . everything is relative except the firm pronouncements of scholars and psychologists.

Sociology is built on history and psychology and, when applied to building the modern church, does its destructive work well. Berger considers a minister who wants to find out how well he’s doing, so he distributes a survey. Responses indicate that most of his people don’t seem to have heard his preaching at all. They agree and disagree with things he’s never said. He’s disturbed and conducts more research. Some of the people have views that have little to do with what he or his church teach. Others think that he’s just providing some moral instruction for the children, while he thinks he’s proclaiming the Gospel. While he wants to impact the congregation’s social and political views, many want him to stay away from that and merely edify their family life.

Berger reports (in the 1960s) that “a good deal of the work in the sociology of religion begins as market research undertaken on behalf of religious organizations.” This is precisely what has contributed to the modern megachurch movement. ‘Churches’ have been built on market research and do, indeed prosper . . . in numbers, in income, in prestige, in fabulous facilities. What does all this have to do with the Great Commission and the New Testament pattern for the churches . . . a pattern designed by God? Nothing.

Once a successful movement gets rolling along, one of the fundamental propositions of the sociology of knowledge takes over – Group Think! We tend to obtain our notions and views about the world from others around us. The more pervasive the notions, the more plausible they are. Powerful psychological pressures are brought to bear by ‘the group’ to encourage us to conform. It’s a nonlinear process. Standing against the flow is no fun at all, unless you’re a contrarian, perhaps. Maybe that’s my problem.

Berger does a brief review of modern theological history. He sees Protestant liberalism growing in the 19th century, up until World War 1, driven by secular anthropology (evolution). The mood was driven by confidence in the rationality and perfectibility of man. The horrors of the war ended this optimism and brought aspects of utopian liberalism into disrepute, although the basic premises persist today.

Vietnam war protestThe 1960s featured some theologians who promoted a moral mood of “Enjoy, enjoy!” in sync with the hippie rebellion of the Vietnam war years. Simultaneously, Jean Paul Sartre (atheist, existentialist) encouraged commitment to world transformation via revolution. I see both of these elements in evangelicalism today, in the feel-good passive experiences of church life and the micro-commitment to social justice programs. (Micro? Yes, when you allocate less than 1% of your resources.)

Berger decries such “mood theologies” that come and go with cultural trends. Unfortunately, he doesn’t see the simplicity of basing theology and practice on the Bible. Too easy! He thinks a solution can be found by discovering signals of transcendence within life’s experiences. These are phenomena within our ‘natural reality’ that appear to point beyond that reality. That’s ok, in my view. I would suggest such signals as the obvious design of the nanotechnology of life, the fossil record that shows distinct kinds, the awesome sedimentary rock record as evidence of the Genesis Flood, the ancient prophecies that point to the restoration of Israel, and the incredible and timeless practicality of Biblical instruction for marriage, child-raising, and conducting business.

Berger suggests some others. Man’s fundamental trust in reality, in order, is perfectly consistent with the God of the Bible. This is an appropriate presuppositionalist argument, of course. Liberalism / atheism cannot rise above philosophical chaos . . . if we only ‘think’ and act via materialistic brain chemistry, then reason and logic are missing. Berger: “To assert it (that reality is ‘in order’) is itself an act of faith . . . In this fundamental sense, every ordering gesture is a signal of transcendence.”

Such ‘ordering gestures’ include the establishment of a household through marriage, which speaks to commitment, investment, hope, and purpose for living. Note how the Adversary so viciously attacks this institution in modern times. Another is the reassurance by a mother to her child who wakes up fearful in the night hours. When mom says, “Don’t be afraid – everything is in order, everything is all right,” is she lying? In the Christian worldview, she isn’t. In atheism, she is. In atheism, “The final truth would be not love but terror, not light but darkness. The nightmare of chaos, not the transitory safety of order, would be the final reality of the human situation. For, in the end, we must all find ourselves in darkness, alone with the night that will swallow us up.” Genuine reassurance, love, hope . . . exist only in God’s reality. If, as according to Freud, such faith is a childish fantasy to grow out of, then what’s the point? Life is tough and then you die. Deal with it.

Berger insists that the parental role is not based on a loving lie, but is a witness to the reality of man’s situation under God. Indeed, parents must model God’s love, God’s laws, God’s justice, and God’s promises to their children. Dad, mom, if you don’t teach your kids the moral law and the consequences for breaking it, how will they learn of sin and judgment and their need for the Savior?

Interestingly, Berger sees play as transcendent. “Joy is play’s intention.” In a game the rules of reality are suspended. In a football game, for example, what a linebacker can do to a running back would not be socially acceptable in other circumstances! That’s not the Golden Rule! In play we suspend reality for a time. It’s as if we’re “stepping not only from one chronology into another, but from time into eternity . . . When adults play with genuine joy, they momentarily regain the deathlessness of childhood.”

hopscotchBerger observes that when little girls play hopscotch in the park, they are absorbed in their game, separated from the world, which has effectively ceased to exist. I have noticed myself, in meetings where Christians take joy in fellowship, it’s as if the world’s troubles have been suspended, no sickness, no debt, no pain . . . can’t we just stay here and not go back to that world where trouble happens? In Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian arrives at the lodge named ‘Beautiful’ and enjoys sweet fellowship with the young ladies Prudence, Piety, and Charity. The picture is a perfect type of the (ideal) New Testament church, wherein we find safety, fellowship, encouragement, and restoration before we hit the dangerous road yet again.

Play goes too far for many, however. Professional athletes become commentators, trying to live their entire lives in ‘play.’ Fans invest untold time and emotional energy in watching others ‘play.’ How foolish.

Berger properly sees “man’s unconquerable propensity to hope for the future” as a transcendent signal. Our existence is always tied to future plans and hopes and fears. We work to get to the weekend and to get to retirement so we can ‘play.’ We court to find a spouse to get married to have kids to teach them to do the same for their future. But what is hope but a God-given drive to find Him? Without a hope for resurrection there is no hope at all.

Another transcendent indicator is the argument from damnation. Berger notes that moral outrage is the only adequate response for certain offenses. He discusses the Nazi war criminals as cases in point, Adolf Eichmann in particular, who was a principal actor in the Holocaust. Berger: “There are certain deeds that cry out to Heaven. These deeds are not only an outrage to our moral sense, they seem to violate a fundamental awareness of the constitution of our humanity. In this way, these deeds are not only evil, but monstrously evil.” Without God and absolute morality, though, what is a heinous act against another but merely molecules in collision? Berger: “Deeds that cry out to Heaven also cry out for Hell.” Yes. In reality, in the Biblical worldview, the persecuted have assurance that justice will be done, that God will weigh every thought, word, and deed and deliver judgment righteously . . . for the redeemed, that was completed at the Cross. For others, Judgment lies ahead. Paul’s 1st epistle to the Thessalonians is an assurance to a persecuted church. The passage on the rapture in chapter 4 is specifically offered for hope. Hope is real, but only in God’s creation.

Adolf Eichmann

Adolf Eichmann

Berger has definite views on apologetics, prefering an inductive or evidential approach as opposed to a deductive, presuppositional approach. As I’ve explained in other blogs, I would disagree with him on this. In fact he proposes a weak version of evidentialism, repudiating the approach of inerrancy and evidences concerning the historical veracity of the New Testament documents. Rather, he wants people to look at the Gospel accounts as a simply human record, but search through the human experiences there recorded to find discoveries of transcendent truth. Blah! That leads simply to the mysticism of today’s emergent movement. You can’t get to any definite answers . . . you wind up standing on sinking sand.

What I like is his desire for open dialogue, to put different religious systems on the table for examination. For example, he believes that attempts to blend Christianity and Buddhism are based on ignorance, because these are contradictory systems. Berger advises protagonists of different worldviews to be open and clear about their systems so that the undecided can examine their options. Such dialogue was more common in Berger’s time. In my own lifetime I’ve seen a huge shift from open discussion and polite debate to a refusal to engage, with post-modernist anger erupting at anyone who would dare to make declarative statements. People get locked into whatever wacky worldview slurps them up in their youth, and henceforth despise discussion. This is not universal, of course, but in the West it is the trend. I’ve experienced it in my own efforts in 121 evangelism over the last 40 years. Berger affirms that the search for truth should be paramount, especially in dialogue concerning ultimate issues. I love such dialogues, but they are harder to find today.

street evangelismIn the author’s concluding remarks he hopes that consideration of signals of transcendence will lead to a rediscovery of the supernatural and, accordingly, victory over triviality. Modern culture is nothing if not consumed with the trivial. The issues of Life, Death, Heaven, and Hell must grip the mind and heart of anyone who is not overcome by apathy, which is why I ask that question when I offer a tract to someone . . . “It’s about the big issues – Life, Death, Heaven, Hell – do you ever think about the big stuff?” Happily, I often get a serious answer to this question, even from a complete stranger I met just ten seconds before. So there is hope if you can provoke someone to simply pause for a moment and transcend the trivial. Try it this week. Give someone a chance.

  • drdave@truthreallymatters.com


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95. On the Education of Children
March 1, 2017

This blog is now found in the Discipleship section of this site. Click on . . .

On the Education of Children


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96. The Virtues of Skepticism – Mitch Stokes on Apologetics
March 15, 2017

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Mitch Stokes on Apologetics


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97. Where the Conflict Lies
April 1, 2017

This blog is now found in the Evangelism section of this site.
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Where the Conflict Lies

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98. Undeniable
April 15, 2017

This blog is now found in the Educational Notes of the Short Course in Creation / Evolution.
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Undeniable Design


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