RESOURCES FOR THE CHURCH
Just finished working through Creation Care by Doug and Jonathan Moo. Overall it's a great book offering a sound biblical theology of the natural order. But there is one very troubling chapter (ch. 10) in which the authors declare that "creation care is part of the gospel." This is just the latest example in a trend among evangelicals to load the gospel with content that does not belong in the gospel proper.
Let's be clear about this: the gospel is the good news of what God has done for us through Christ (see esp. 1 Cor. 15), a message that is received by faith and repentance. The gospel is not an action, or series of actions, that we perform. The gospel is not "do social justice." It is not "do ecological justice." It is not "do economic justice." All of these are important, and all will be concerns of those who have embraced the gospel message. But they do not constitute the gospel itself, in whole or in part.
Here are some of the consequences I see flowing from this evangelical confusion about the gospel:
1. It undermines the core evangelical doctrine of justification by faith alone. How could it be otherwise, when you start saying that intrinsic to the gospel is stuff we must do in addition to a message about Christ that we must receive?
2. It undermines true evangelism. When Christians think that community organizing is "spreading the gospel" and when they think that their nonChristian neighbors and friends are engaged in "gospel work" because they are committed to social, economic, and ecological justice, the actual gospel message is not going to be shared as often as it otherwise would be. The tragedy of this should be evident to all who believe in the realities of death and hell.
3. It saddles Christians with a load of guilt that they don't need to bear. The NT reveals plenty of sins for us to experience true guilt about: pride, malice, envy, greed, etc. Now some evangelicals want to add to that burden feelings of guilt about owning SUVs, not using a bicycle often enough, consuming fast food, drinking bottled water, turning the thermostat up during the winter months, etc. Was this not the error of the Pharisees--burdening the consciences of God's people with a load of extra-biblical rules?
4. It directs much of the Church's finite human and material resources away from Bible translation, church planting, and missions work (where those resources are most needed) and toward economic, environmental, and social causes that are already flooded with volunteers, extremely well-funded, are not directly tied to the biblical mission.
5. It will cause some Christians to believe that their churches are not "preaching the whole gospel" because there are no sermons being preached or activities being organized around economic, environmental, and social causes. The result of this will be conflict between some church members and their church leaders, some unnecessary departures of members from their local churches (on the grounds that their churches "don't care about the whole gospel"), and some public judgments against those good churches (on social media, for example) based on nonbiblical standards.
I thought this was a great article from The New York Times, so I am reproducing it in its entirety here
How Loneliness Is Tearing America ApartWhen people have a hole in their life, they often fill it with angry politics.
By Arthur C. Brooks
Nov. 23, 2018
America is suffering an epidemic of loneliness.
According to a recent large-scale survey from the health care provider Cigna, most Americans suffer from strong feelings of loneliness and a lack of significance in their relationships. Nearly half say they sometimes or always feel alone or “left out.” Thirteen percent of Americans say that zero people know them well. The survey, which charts social isolation using a common measure known as the U.C.L.A. Loneliness Scale, shows that loneliness is worse in each successive generation.
This problem is at the heart of the new book “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal,” by Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska. Mr. Sasse argues that “loneliness is killing us,” citing, among other things, the skyrocketing rates of suicide and overdose deaths in America. This year, 45,000 Americans will take their lives, and more than 70,000 will die from drug overdoses.
Mr. Sasse’s assertion that loneliness is killing us takes on even darker significance in the wake of the mail-bomb campaign against critics of President Trump and the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, both of which were perpetrated by isolated — and apparently very lonely — men. Mr. Sasse’s book was published before these events, but he presciently described what he believes lonely people increasingly do to fill the hole of belonging in their lives: They turn to angry politics.
In the “siloed,” or isolated, worlds of cable television, ideological punditry, campus politics and social media, people find a sense of community in the polarized tribes forming on the left and the right in America. Essentially, people locate their sense of “us” through the contempt peddled about “them” on the other side of the political spectrum.
There is profit to be made here. The “outrage industrial complex” is what I call the industries that accumulate wealth and power by providing this simulacrum of community that people crave — but cannot seem to find in real life.
Why are we becoming so lonely? One reason is the changing nature of work. Work is one of the key sources of friendship and community. Think of your own relationships; surely many of your closest friendships — perhaps even your relationship with your spouse — started in the workplace. Yet the reality of the workplace is rapidly attenuating, as people hop from job to job, and from city to city, as steady work becomes harder to find and the “gig” economy grows.
Mr. Sasse worries even more, however, about a pervasive feeling of homelessness: Too many Americans don’t have a place they think of as home — a “thick” community in which people know and look out for one another and invest in relationships that are not transient. To adopt a phrase coined in Sports Illustrated, one might say we increasingly lack that “hometown gym on a Friday night feeling.”
Mr. Sasse finds this phrase irresistible and warmly relates it to his own life growing up in Fremont, Neb., a town of 26,000 residents. He describes the high school sports events on Friday nights that drew the townspeople together in a common love for their neighbors and community that made most differences — especially political differences — seem trivial. He relates with deep fondness the feelings he experienced, after moving away for a couple of decades for school and work, when he returned to Fremont’s small-town life with his family, and the deep sense of belonging it created.
In what might be called “the social capital of death,” Mr. Sasse charmingly describes the sense of being rooted that it gives him, at a robust and healthy 46, to own a burial plot for himself in Fremont’s local cemetery. A précis of Mr. Sasse’s recommendations to America thus might be this: Go where you get that hometown-gym-on-a-Friday-night feeling, put down roots and make plans to fertilize the soil.
That can be a tricky proposition for many of us. On reading the book, I asked myself where I might get that hometown-gym feeling, where I have natural roots, where I can imagine being buried. No specific place came to mind. I have no Fremont — not even Seattle, my hometown, which is a perfectly nice place, but one I unsentimentally left behind 35 years ago.
All this is particularly germane to my wife and me at the moment, as we prepare to move from Maryland to Massachusetts in the coming months. We fear the loneliness we are sure to feel as we enter a completely new place where neither of us grew up or has ever lived. Is a thick community and the happiness it brings out of reach for rootless cosmopolitans like us?
I recently put these questions to Mr. Sasse. He told me I had it all wrong — that moving back home and going to the gym on Friday aren’t actually the point; rather, the trick is “learning how to intentionally invest in the places where we actually live.” In other words, being a member of a community isn’t about whether I have a Fremont. It isn’t about how I feel about any place I have lived, nor about my fear of isolation in a new city. It is about the neighbor I choose to be in the community I wind up calling my home.
And there lies the challenge to each of us in a country suffering from loneliness and ripped apart by political opportunists seeking to capitalize on that isolation. Each of us can be happier, and America will start to heal, when we become the kind neighbors and generous friends we wish we had.
Arthur C. Brooks (@arthurbrooks) is the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a contributing opinion writer and the host of the podcast “The Arthur Brooks Show.”
A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 24, 2018, on Page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
For those who are interested, my review of Jeff Straub's book, The Making of a Battle Royal: The Rise of Liberalism in Northern Baptist Life was posted on SharperIron this morning. You can view the article and discussion HERE.
Just finished reading my review copy of Scientism and Secularism by Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland. In the book he confronts the philosophy of "scientism," which is, in his words, "the view that the hard sciences alone have the intellectual authority to give us knowledge of reality." And in another place, the belief that "science and its methods provide the only valid route to gaining knowledge and for answering questions, to the exclusion of other methods and disciplines." We see this philosophy all around us. You are witnessing it any time you hear someone speak of a scientific conclusion as "fact" while relegating nonscientific matters (like matters of metaphysics, morality, etc.) to the realm of "personal opinion"--as if true knowledge of nonmaterial things is not possible.
Moreland does a masterful job of dismantling this philosophy. First, he shows how scientism is self-refuting. Think about it: Scientism is a philosophical belief that dismisses the value of philosophy! He then demonstrates the logical priority of philosophy/theology over science by demonstrating that the scientific enterprise is itself based on philosophical beliefs. Before science can even be done, one must first work out a philosophy of science. Toward the end of the book, he discusses the limitations of science. Contra the teachings of scientism, there are five things which science cannot explain (but Theism can):
1. The origin of the universe
2. The fundamental laws of nature
3. The fine-tuning of the universe
4. The origin of consciousness
5. The existence of moral, rational, and aesthetic objective laws and intrinsically valuable properties.
The book will be difficult reading for many, but it is still well worth the effort. I would encourage you to pick up a copy at your earliest convenience.
The following paragraphs come from an essay I recently composed in answer to the question, "what is historical theology?"
In considering the term “historical theology,” the first matter one must confront is the question of whether we are primarily dealing with a historical or a theological discipline. If the discipline is primarily historical, then it ought to be approached as a branch of intellectual history, with the aim being to explain what individuals of the past said, and what they meant by what they said, but no more. The goal would be to gain a good understanding of the past, without “theologizing” about it in the present.
One immediately encounters a difficulty with this perspective, however. In looking at the term “historical theology,” we notice that the word “historical” is being used as an adjective, while “theology” is the noun. The discipline is not called “theological history” but “historical theology.” Therefore, I am inclined to view historical theology primarily as a theological discipline with a historical emphasis, and the historical theologian as just that: a theologian. While historical investigation is inseparable from the historical theologian’s discipline, his main business is to do theology.
Geoffrey Bromiley defines theology this way: It is “the church’s word about God in responsive transmission of the Word of God to the church.” In other words, theology is the contemplation and communication of the message of Sacred Scripture by the church, and for the church. But it is also more than that. Bromiley goes on to say that theology is also “the investigation of the church’s word about God with the intent of testing and achieving its purity and faithfulness as the responsive transmission of God’s Word in changing languages, vocabularies, and intellectual and cultural contexts.” So theology is the contemplation and communication of the message of Sacred Scripture, but it is also the study and analysis of the church’s contemplations of those Scriptures for the purpose of improving and refining her doctrines in the present.
Thus, the true historical theologian is no mere recounter of history, but is an active participant in “the church’s theological enterprise.” When he does his job well, he “shows how the church and its word, moving across centuries and continents, have come from there to here with an ongoing continuity in spite of every discontinuity…[he] offers examples of the ways in which, and the reasons why, the conformity of the church’s word to God’s Word has been achieved or compromised in the different centuries and settings…[and, he]…brings to the church of today a valuable accumulation of enduring insights as well as relevant hints and warnings.”
I would therefore suggest the following definition for historical theology: Historical theology is that branch of Christian theology which serves the church of Christ by investigating the church’s word about God’s Word as it has been expressed through time, so that she might be better equipped to develop a biblically pure and faithful system of doctrine in the present.
 Bromiley, XXVI
 Bromiley, XXVI
 Bromiley, XXVI
This morning I took part in a remarkable roundtable discussion lead by a representative of a major political party. At the table were 3 white evangelical pastors, 4 black evangelical pastors, and representatives of a couple other organizations. The discussion was dominated by the black pastors, who wanted the party leader and the rest of us to understand the challenges facing the black community. Their primary message was that they lack the financial resources they need. We discussed the causes of this problem, which has persisted for decades, and possible ways to solve it. It was a real education for me, and I appreciated so much their willingness to speak honesty and frankly about the issue. A couple of key thoughts: "White churches will spend thousands of dollars to travel to Africa on missions trips, but they do nothing for the struggling African American families and children and churches just a few miles from them. Why?" And, "Our kids are already behind before they even enter school, and then their teachers don't know how to teach/lead them, so they get our kids on medication. So our kids are undereducated, overmedicated, and trapped in the cycle of poverty." And, most interestingly, "The black church is the most important institution in America for African Americans. If you are going to help the black community, you will have to go through the black church." [NOTE: These are only paraphrases, but they capture the concepts discussed]
Battleground Actions Sports is an indoor skate park in the Lakeview Square Mall in Battle Creek. On Tuesdays they offer free admission to anyone who participates in their Bible study from 6-6:30. This past Tuesday, I was invited by the organizers to come and share my testimony with the teens and tell them a bit about my church's youth ministry. About 25 BMX enthusiasts were present. Afterwards, they broke into small groups based on age and gender. I joined one of the groups and participated in a Bible study on the Beatitudes. Here are some of my reflections from the event:
1. The leaders of this skate park are amazing. They are Christians who are using their skate park as a platform for ministry. What a novel idea! I wish we had a thousand more just like them.
2. The needs in our community are great. During the prayer request time, half the kids in my group asked for prayer for protection from bullies at school. One asked for prayer that she wouldn't instigate any fights. So many of the kids coming to this skate park are growing up in difficult circumstances. They, and so many others, need the love and support of the Body of Christ. If you have time to volunteer, I'm sure the organizers would accept your help.
3. I want to go back there again. The opportunity to address unchurched kids on their own turf is a great privilege. I hope I get the opportunity to go back soon!
To my fellow lovers of church history: thought you would be interested to know that Christian History Magazine, published four times per year, offers annual subscriptions for FREE with no strings attached. If you would like to sign up, just click HERE.
I was born in 1983. So it was with great interest that I picked up the newly released book, 1983: Reagan, Andropov, and a World on the Brink by Taylor Downing. The book argues that the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was not the most dangerous point in the Cold War. It was November 1983, when the Western powers were conducting their "Able Archer" military exercise. The Soviet leadership was convinced that the exercise was a pretext for a surprise nuclear attack. In response, the Soviet Union placed its entire nuclear arsenal on the highest level of alert--locking each missile on a specific target, moving nuclear submarines into position, placing bombers onto the ends of runways with engines running and cargo bays fully loaded. Looking back, it's a wonder that Andropov did not push the button.
If you want to know why the Soviets believed this was "it," and how the tensions were finally defused, you need to get the book. It is a well-researched work of history but it advances like a thriller. You will enjoy the read. As I worked through it, I couldn't help but picture myself as an infant in Detroit, Michigan, completely oblivious to the fact that the whole world was resting on a "hair-trigger" (to use one Soviet's analogy). In fact, most of the world didn't know how close we were, as the story didn't become public until a bit later.
The Cold War is over now, but the world remains a dangerous place. In fact, the present world is in some ways even more dangerous. More nations that ever possess these hideous weapons, and some of them could easily fall into the hands of non-state actors. How close are we to another World War? What don't we know right now? The world is a scary place, and it will remain so until the Prince of Peace has taken his throne.