Saturday, September 29, 2007

Where's Your Head?

I've been working on my next sermon that I am preaching in two weeks, based on Philippians 3:20-21, to wit: For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

The big idea of the message being that you can tell where your home is at by where your head is at. And for the believer in Christ, our true home and seat of our true citizenship is in heaven, not on earth. We have been, as stated in Colossians 1:13, “rescued from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” And this citizenship is evident by where our mindset is focused. Citizens of the Kingdom of God have their heads and hearts toward heaven as their true home and seat of their true government. True citizens of heaven have a heavenward mindset, in contrast to those who have their minds set on the things of now, the things of this present world. True citizens of heaven have a heavenward view, looking and longing for the return of our King. And true citizens of heaven have a heavenward hope, looking forward to our future glorified state and being in the constant presence of the ultimate Sovereign King. The challenge point being, where's your head at? It's been said that a person can be "so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good." I think this passage tells us that we indeed are to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good, but rather to be heavenly good, God-glorifying, aliens and strangers in this foreign land. Our citizenship should stand out from among the citizens of this far country we are currently in because our heads and hearts are focused on our true home, and our True King.

And as I was continuing to read Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World by David F. Wells, I came across an excerpt from an ancient text that points out just this fact. This excerpt is from the Letter to Diognetus, an anonymous epistle from the 2nd or 3rd century describing the excellencies of Christianity to a pagan. Read this piece of the letter and think on it for a moment.

"For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man's lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are "in the flesh," but they do not live "according to the flesh." They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life. They are treated by the Jews as foreigners and enemies, and are hunted down by the Greeks; and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity."

Such was the testimony of Christians in the first few hundred years of the church. I wonder - is the same true of the church today? Would someone today say the same things about the followers of Jesus Christ in this world, day and age? Do our lives and our words stand out because our mindset and our view and our hope is fixed where our true citizenship and identity lies - in heaven? Where's our head at?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Postmodern Propositions = Oxymoron

While traveling to/from San Francisco last week I spent a lot of time reading David Wells' book Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World. I have to say that this book is the best examination of the causes and effects of modernism, and more importantly postmodernism, that I have come across. Wells does a masterful job of exploring the impacts of these philosophical systems at the grass roots level of our society. Maybe it's because I did so much reading in a short period, but this whole subject of the effects of postmodern philosophy on the people around us in general and the Church specifically has been consuming my mind this past few days. As I read Wells' book I came to understand more clearly that postmodernism is not some strange, alien, academic philosophy that only those that read works from the likes of Derrida and Foucault are embracing. (If you don't know who those guys are, don't feel bad - you just made my point!) No, in reality the tenets of postmodern thought are already the de facto philosophy of most Americans, especially those in the gen X/Y age ranges. The questioning of authority, the rejection of the "big stories" kind of worldviews or metanarratives, the skepticism of objective truth claims, the distrust of logic and rationality, all these and more fundamentals of postmodernism are the stock and trade of our society. They come through our education system, they pervade our corporate cultures, they shape our public and political discourse, they are part and parcel of the media, they are everywhere. Postmodern thought is not so much taught as it is absorbed, bit by bit, insidiously. Of course it's impossible to live as a true postmodern, that would lead to personal anarchy. But there are enough of us that have consciously or unconsciously adopted some or all of the essentials of postmodern thought that for all practical purposes, most people in America (and much of the rest of the world, especially the West) are practicing pomo's.

As I pondered these things and too many more to comment on here, I had to ask myself: "So what?" I mean, OK, so the culture at large is being consumed by a philosophy that inevitably leads to complete loss of meaning and ultimately to nihilism, but that's their problem, right? After all, we true evangelicals know better, we have the objective truth of the revealed Word of God, we understand the right and sanctified use of reason and rationality, we have the doctrines and dogmas down and are safe within our truth-fortified Biblical worldview, right? So what if we are living in a sea of postmoderns? Well, because of precisely that. We are in fact living in a postmodern culture, this is the world and the people that we must interact with every day, this is the dominant thought system of the people that we are called and commissioned to speak the Truth of the Gospel into. And if we don't have a clue as to their presuppositions or their rejection of truth claims as arrogant, if we offer them certainty of eternal life and eternal Truth when the only thing they are certain of is that there can be no certainty, then we will be largely dismissed as irrelevant and "modernist". Which is exactly what is happening.

The other reason why we must seek to understand postmodern thought and influences is to me the more important and dangerous - because it is seeping in the doors of the Church. The postmoderns are not just out there, they are in here, sitting in the pew next to me, teaching your kids Sunday school, writing books that are all over the "Christian" best seller lists, maybe preaching from the pulpit of your church. Subtly, of course, and in most cases absolutely well-intentioned, probably not even realizing the slippery slope of truth dismissal they are on. Contextualizing the gospel to make it "relevant" to postmoderns, as if the temporal culture trumps eternal truths. I firmly believe that this battle for objective truth against the cancerous thought patterns and philosophies of postmodernism is the single biggest challenge that the Church must face now and for the next fifty years. The problem is not the battle against the competing truth claims of other world religions like Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism. Competing truth claims at least have a foundation for debate. Rejection of truth claims as in postmodern thought is a whole other problem. And we are only now just beginning to see the problem.

This was driven home to me in today's Sunday school class, where we are reading through and discussing John MacArthur's The Truth War. MacArthur does a good job of summarizing the basics of postmodernism, and its incompatibility with Biblical Christianity. As we read and discussed these things, it was interesting to me to look at and listen to the responses of the people around the table. All of them intelligent, well-educated, long-time believers in Christ and well versed in the Word. But absolutely clueless that anyone actually thinks like this, that these postmoderns must be somewhere else, on the left and right coasts, a problem far away. That is until one of the ladies in the class began sharing the challenges she and her husband have had with a son that has essentially abandoned the faith he previously professed due to adopting the basic thought patterns of postmodernism. She talked about the utter inability to even have a foundation to communicate with him, that the only "safe" topic they have is football. The effects of postmodern thought are real, and they aren't just "out there." They are impacting real people in real families and real churches in our real world right here.

There are so many more points I want to make, but have not the space or time to do so here. I haven't even touched on the new spirituality that is being birthed out of postmodernism, and the way that many so-called evangelicals are attempting to co-opt and capitalize on that self-driven spirituality by creating the cancerous "conversation" referred to as the Emerging/Emergent Church movement. So here's my recommendation for all of you out there who love Christ and His Church and desire to contend for the truth of His Word: get educated. Read The Truth War. Read D. A. Carson's Becoming Conversant With the Emerging Church. Read Wells' Above All Earthly Pow'rs. Spend some time on a few blogs where these kind of subjects are being discussed. The worst situation to be in during a war is to be in the middle of the battlefield and not even know there's a war on, or worse, that there's an enemy. Don't let that be the situation you find yourself in.

...I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. - Jude 3-4