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Al Mohler’s New Book

Al Mohler’s latest book, “The Disappearance
of God”, can be ordered HERE
.
From the Publisher:

For centuries the church has taught and guarded the core Christian beliefs that make up the essential foundations of the faith. But in our postmodern age, sloppy teaching and outright lies create rampant confusion, and many Christians are free-falling for ‘feel-good’ theology. We need to know the truth to save ourselves from errors that will derail our faith.

As biblical scholar, author, and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler, writes, “The entire structure of Christian truth is now under attack.” With wit and wisdom he tackles the most important aspects of these modern issues:

Is God changing His mind about sin?
Why is hell off limits for many pastors?
What’s good or bad about the emergent movement?
Have Christians stopped seeing God as God?
Is the social justice movement misguided?
Could the role of beauty be critical to our theology?
Is liberal faith any less destructive than atheism?
Are churches pandering to their members to survive?

In the age-old battle to preserve the foundations of faith, it’s up to a new generation to confront and disarm the contemporary shams and fight for the truth. Dr. Mohler provides the scriptural answers to show you how.

(HT: Todd Pruitt)

Tim Keller on Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture

My thanks to James Grant for this post:

Darryl Dash had the opportunity to interview Tim Keller, author of The Reason for God and the soon to be released The Prodigal God, on the challenges we face as we minister in a post-Christian culture. Dash will post that interview at his blog. To open it, he asked Keller the following question: “You’ve said that we need to change significantly—beyond ordinary approaches like new programs or staff—in order to meet the challenges of a post-Christian culture. What are some of the deeper issues the Church needs to face?” Keller responded with this answer:

The first “deeper” issue is the one that Lloyd-Jones spoke of in his lectures on revivals. He heard people saying, in London in the 1950s, that the solution to the decreasing church attendance and Christian influence in society was better apologetics, more emphasis on church growth or, in the case of the mainline, adapting theology more to the modern mood.

But Lloyd-Jones, of course, believed the need was for spiritual revival. The trouble with naming this is that, unfortunately, in many evangelical circles, especially charismatic ones, “revival” is always said to be the cure-all for our ills. But Lloyd-Jones was thinking of the historic revivals and of a theology of revival of Jonathan Edwards. This means we must, as in all the revivals, recover the gospel of grace.

I agree with Lloyd-Jones on this, but this is a very unpopular view right now in much of the evangelical world. In parts of the Reformed world, Edwards’ view of revival is under attack as individualistic and inimical to the importance of the Church. Oddly, in the emerging church Edwards’ view of revival is unpopular for the same reasons, because of its emphasis on the “individualistic” views of substitutionary atonement, forensic justification and so on.

I think these attacks on (or indifference to) the importance of revival are very wrong. We live in a society in which revival is necessary. As Peter Berger shows in The Heretical Imperative in contemporary pluralistic societies, everyone who believes a faith has to make an individual choice to believe it. There are no longer inherited, authoritative faith traditions. Whether you raise a child Lutheran, Muslim or Baptist the child at some point will have to choose to make the faith of his parents his or her own. In other words, they will have to have a conversion experience.

When revival breaks out through a recovery of the gospel, three things happen:

  1. nominal church members realize they’d never been converted;
  2. sleepy, lethargic Christians are energized and renewed;
  3. outsider non-Christians are attracted into the beautified worship, community and lives of the converted and renewed church members.

That’s how it works. We need it.

The second deeper issue is the relationship of Christ to culture. The old Niebuhr book shows how the Church has never come to consensus on how it should relate to a culture that is sharply non- or anti-Christian. The evangelical Church is bitterly divided into groups that say, either we should change the culture “one heart at a time” by evangelizing individuals, or we should change the culture by penetrating the cultural institutions with Christians operating out of a biblical world-view.

Others say we will only affect the culture if the Church contextualizes—connects to people’s needs and concerns and serves the poor and needy—while still others say we shouldn’t be trying to change culture at all; we should just “be the Church,” because trying to change the culture inevitably corrupts the Church into the image of the culture.

Until we can break through these warring views and factions we are in trouble. Don Carson’s recent book Christ and Culture Revisited is a good starting point because he shows that each approach has a lot of biblical warrant, but each approach, taken as the exclusive one, is seriously imbalanced. I believe the different approaches are actually responding more to other parts of the Christian Church than they are to the world. They are defining themselves as being “not like those Christians over there” and so are falling into what Don calls “reductionisms.”

Don Carson Talks About Culture

Derek Thomas interviews Don Carson:

On the eve of the publication of Don Carson’s new and important book, Christ and Culture Revisited, Derek Thomas caught up with him in an airport somewhere in the far East….

DT:  Congratulations of the publication of Christ and Culture Revisited (Eerdmans, 2008). It obviously bears some link to the classic treatment by H. Richard Niebuhr, a volume I was asked to read at seminary thirty years ago, though it was published more than fifty years ago. Why did you feel it necessary to “Revisit” this book and its theme in 2008?

DC:  Thank You. At one level, the tension between Christ and culture is perennial, and every generation must thoughtfully engage in the discussion. Moreover, the world has become much less North-Atlantic-centered than it was in Niebuhr’s day, especially the Christian world — and these changes require serious reflection. Would Kuyper have developed his gentle version of sphere sovereignty if he has been born in China under Mao? Why are the French and the American versions of the separation of church and state so radically different? Where is the place of suffering in our thinking? Alternatively, in precisely what ways does the Christian have a responsibility to serve as salt and light in a world that is corrupt and dark? What does the Bible say on these and related matters?

As for Niebuhr’s seminal work: the five well-known typologies he advanced (and that have been the basis for discussion in the Anglo-Saxon world for the last half-century) are insufficiently grounded in Scripture. One of the five has little biblical warrant at all. Insofar as the other four have biblical warrant, then if they are treated as alternative models from which one may choose, one is saying that the Bible does not speak univocally on the subject, and one can pick and choose among the assorted “case models” that the Bible offers. It is much more faithful to Scripture to say that behind Niebuhr’s typologies stands a still more comprehensive vision of the relations between Christ and culture that is grounded in a rich biblical theology. That is what I have tried to tease out.

DT: Mark Dever says in a blurb on the cover of the book that “Carson exposes and explodes ‘egregious reductionisms’. It’s one of those phrases which I feel is now going to become part of our vocabulary, but what exactly did he mean when he said this?

DC: Mark, bless his heart, is gently poking fun at my inadequate vocabulary (note his quotation marks!). Point taken. Since he is the one who fastened on this expression, perhaps you should ask him which reductionisms (egregious or otherwise) he felt were best exploded in the book. For better or worse, I suppose I am commonly tempted to question arguments positions that can apparently claim a verse or two for support, or that simply relies on inherited tradition, without wrestling with the massive biblical themes that are relevant to the discussion. In other words, the position itself depends on some sort of “reductionism”: the voice of Scripture is “reduced” to a handful of prooftexts that in fact get the balance of things wrong. Few topics are more susceptible to this sort of error than the tension between Christ and culture, not least because the issues are complicated. I’m sure I’ve tumbled into a few of my own errors in this book, and equally sure that they will be pointed out to me.

DT: You mention several key issues which force us re-evaluate Christ’s role in culture (secularization, democracy, freedom and power). In short compass, can you explain what you mean by this and how this helps us to understand our own (postmodern) culture?

DC: Inevitably, we in the West, not least in America, tend to adopt a host of “givens” that are part of growing up here. Most of us think freedom is a good thing. But is it always a good thing? A friend in Slovakia once told me that only three weeks after the Berlin wall came down, for the first time in his life he saw pornography sold in the street. Was the enhanced freedom an unmitigated “good” thing? I’m not denying it was good in many ways, but some of us have given “freedom” such an iconic value that we fail to see how, in the name of freedom, we may become slaves to sin. Most of us are thankful to God that we live in a democracy. But I have met Christians who live in parts of the world under one form or another of tyranny who are much less daunted by the violent “beast out of the sea” that they face than by the “beast out of the earth,” the danger of deceptive teaching and materialism, that we face in the West: they pray for us that we will escape the tyranny of the seduction of easy, triumphalism, and materialism. Certainly what Paul wrote about the government of his day being appointed by God, he did not have a democracy in mind: what bearing do such differences in the structure of power have on our responsibility as citizens — as citizens of the US, and as citizens of the new Jerusalem?

DT: Why don’t you like the terminology of “redeeming the culture”?

DC: Redemption terminology in the NT is so bound up with Christ’s work for and in the church that to extend it to whatever good we do in the broader world risks a shift in focus. Not for a moment do I want to deny that we are to serve as salt and light, that exiles may be called to do good in the pagan cities where Providence has appointed them to live (Jer 29), that every square foot of this world is under Christ’s universal reign (even though that reign is still being contested), that the nations of the world will bring their “goods” into the Jerusalem that comes down from above. But many of those who speak easily and fluently of redeeming the culture soon focus all their energy shaping fiscal and political policies and the like, and merely assume the gospel. A gospel that is merely assumed, that does no more than perk away in the background while the focus of our attention is on the “redemption” of the culture in which we find ourselves, is lost within a generation or two. At the same time, I worry about Christians who focus their attention so narrowly on getting people “saved” that they care little about doing good to all people, even if especially to the household of God. Getting this right is not easy, and inevitably priorities will shift a little in various parts of the world, under various regimes. Part of the complexity of the discussion, I think, is bound up with what the church as church is responsible for, and what Christians as Christians are responsible for: I have argued that failure to make this distinction tends to lead toward sad conclusions.

DT: What are some key things for young pastors to keep in mind when they are urged to “engage the culture”?

DC:  Know what the gospel is first, comprehensively, accurately, faithfully. Work out from there. Learn to preach to your own people, not to the aggregates set out in books by Barna and Wuthnow (though much can be learned from such books). Whether the “engagement” is part of how you engage people evangelistically, or part of how Christians in your church do good in your own community, keep thinking through what the Bible itself says — and then try, like the men of Issachar, to understand your own times.

DT: Thank you.

Interview with Carson on Christ and Culture

From Justin Taylor:

Derek Thomas recently chatted with D.A. Carson on the topic.

Here are the last two exchanges, questioning the wisdom of the nomenclature “redeeming the culture” and how young pastors should think about “engaging the culture:

DT: Why don’t you like the terminology of “redeeming the culture”?

DC: Redemption terminology in the NT is so bound up with Christ’s work for and in the church that to extend it to whatever good we do in the broader world risks a shift in focus. Not for a moment do I want to deny that we are to serve as salt and light, that exiles may be called to do good in the pagan cities where Providence has appointed them to live (Jer 29), that every square foot of this world is under Christ’s universal reign (even though that reign is still being contested), that the nations of the world will bring their “goods” into the Jerusalem that comes down from above. But many of those who speak easily and fluently of redeeming the culture soon focus all their energy shaping fiscal and political policies and the like, and merely assume the gospel. A gospel that is merely assumed, that does no more than perk away in the background while the focus of our attention is on the “redemption” of the culture in which we find ourselves, is lost within a generation or two. At the same time, I worry about Christians who focus their attention so narrowly on getting people “saved” that they care little about doing good to all people, even if especially to the household of God. Getting this right is not easy, and inevitably priorities will shift a little in various parts of the world, under various regimes. Part of the complexity of the discussion, I think, is bound up with what the church as church is responsible for, and what Christians as Christians are responsible for: I have argued that failure to make this distinction tends to lead toward sad conclusions.

DT: What are some key things for young pastors to keep in mind when they are urged to “engage the culture”?

DC: Know what the gospel is first, comprehensively, accurately, faithfully. Work out from there. Learn to preach to your own people, not to the aggregates set out in books by Barna and Wuthnow (though much can be learned from such books). Whether the “engagement” is part of how you engage people evangelistically, or part of how Christians in your church do good in your own community, keep thinking through what the Bible itself says — and then try, like the men of Issachar, to understand your own times.

The Postmodern Gospel

“The postmodern individual may be the easiest sinner in 200 years to interest in the faith. Yet he is capable of living with contradictions. He can claim to have received Jesus but not believe in his historical existence. He can claim to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture but deny absolute truth. When the gospel is presented as a means of improving self-image, giving us a spiritual and thrilling experience, providing a source for success and fulfillment, or helping us overcome loneliness, we may be speaking the language of the age; however, we have trivialized and distorted the gospel message as to make it meaningless.”

“Perhaps there has never been a time when it has been more vital to present the gospel message clearly and without apology. That Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins and give us his righteousness is the good news, which the sinner must understand. The issue on the table is sin, not felt needs. Our postmodern generation needs to hear that we have offended a holy God and are thus separated from him. If we do not tell them this we are in danger of preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:9).”
-Gary E. Gilley, This Little Church Stayed Home p50-51

(HT: Reformed Voices)

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