Theology of Missions

09 May
May 9, 2016

missions

The following is a Theology of Missions paper I wrote recently for a missions class I am taking. It was an interesting challenge; on the one hand, missions is close to my heart and something I enjoy writing about. At the same time, I had to follow some structure guidelines so while it definitely reflects my opinions, with more freedom, and no word count limits (technically, I went over as it is …), it may have turned out slightly different (not in theology, but in format) than what you see here.

THEOLOGY OF MISSIONS

Introduction

A theology of missions is a critical need for any ministry leader, and ultimately, every believer. Every believer is called to live out the Great Commission, a reality too often missed. While missions is often thought of something done by a few in a foreign land, every believer is actually called to be a missionary – some in foreign lands, some in their neighborhoods, communities, schools and workplaces.

Missions in Scripture

The message of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is that of hope and salvation. The gospel message weaves in and out of both the Old and New Testaments, creating one unified narrative through many authors over the centuries that details God’s heart for His lost children, the call to missions. Decades ago, New Tribes Mission learned this lesson first hand. Initially in their mission to reach primitive people groups that had not been contacted before, their goal was simple. To immerse themselves in the tribe, learn the language and culture, and then share the message of Christ. However, they were caught off guard by either the lack of response to the New Testament teachings, or the very lukewarm, loose commitment that did occasionally happen.

They went back to the drawing board and developed a one year curriculum, called Firm Foundations, that takes the students from creation to Christ.[1] Over the course of the year, the narrative is built up from Genesis to the New Testament, laying out the foundations for why a Savior is needed. The change in response was dramatic; listeners finally understood why Christ was necessary! Over the decades this material has been used in people group after people group, including the Manjui tribe of Paraguay that the author of this paper lived with as a teen.

It is no wonder then that the message of missions saturates both the Old and New Testaments. Genesis 3:15 plants the seeds of this theme with the promise of offspring that will wound the serpent, a prophecy pointing to Christ’s arrival and provision of salvation. This was a direct result of the separation between man and God that was caused by Adam and Eve’s sin, sin that could only be healed through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Another clear moment of mission in the Old Testament is found in Genesis 12:1-3, when Abraham is set apart and given his calling. While he was specifically called to be the beginnings of a great nation, it was a setting apart that symbolized Christ one day setting apart His church. Through Abraham’s actions, God promised in verse three that “all peoples on earth will be blessed.” All peoples! Abraham was being commissioned for mission, a mission to reach and bless the world with Christ. Hebrews 11 affirms that it was Abraham’s faith that saved and guided him, not his actions. The same faith that is tied so vitally to the mission of reaching a lost world.

The gospels build on what the Old Testament began, revealing the God’s plan for salvation, and ultimately building up to the Great Commission – the command to spread the word to all the world about Christ and the salvation found in Him, the fulfillment of the promise made to Adam and Eve thousands of years before. From there, the rest of the New Testament gives the believer practical advice on how to live out that calling to worship God and reach the lost.

Christ consistently pointed His followers to the need and our role in being a part of the plan to meet that need. In Matthew 9:38, He told His disciples that “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” Borthwick points out that there is an undercurrent in scripture that mission is an ongoing task, pointing out that “the command we translate as ‘go’ in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15 is actually a participle: ‘as you are going.’”[2]

Mark 6 and Luke 10 both record instances where Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs of two to preach repentance wherever they could be heard. Before they fully understood the reality of who Christ was, before His death and resurrection, Jesus was already sending them out into the world to pave the way for the promise made to Abraham to be fulfilled at long last. Throughout the gospels, the disciples time and again had the misperception that Jesus was a political messiah for the Jews, while Christ demonstrated over and over His love for all people, regardless of nationality, gender or age, and His desire to see people connected to God.

Nature of God and Missions

The nature of God is far greater than this paper can adequately describe. Man has created words in an attempt to describe His nature; holy, omnipotent, omnipresent, sovereign, immutable, love – the list goes far longer. One of the critical aspects of God’s nature is His worthiness of worship. Passages like Isaiah 43:7, Romans 11:36 and Revelation 4:11 all speak of how mankind was created to bring glory to God, to worship Him. At His core, God’s nature demands worship. Meanwhile, mankind’s core purpose is to worship God. Piper said it well when he wrote “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”[3] Driving that point home, he also observed that “The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God.”[4]

Humans were designed to have a relationship with God, given the incredible purpose of bringing glory to Him. This is why Christ’s primary concern was seeing people made right and connected with God. The secondary purpose, why Christ’s closing words before ascending to heaven were the Great Commission, having become right with God, is to in turn help others to be made right and connect with God so that in time all creation will be restored to its purpose of bringing glory to God.

Missions and Theology

“There is no more important question in encountering mission theology than this: How is a solid, biblically based foundation for mission theology constructed?”[5] A theology of missions does not stand in isolation; it is constructed in light of a healthy structure of theology. Theologies of God, humanity, creation, and so on, need to be developed and linked together. Just as God cannot be contained in a few descriptive words, theology needs to be linked to be understood.

Theology of Trinity

The Trinity, while not directly referenced in scripture, is a vital theology, both on its own as well as with regards to missions. “The doctrine of the Trinity is crucial for Christianity. It is concerned with who God is, what He is like, how He works, and how He is to be approached. Moreover, the question of the deity of Jesus Christ, which has historically been a point of great tension, is very much wrapped up with our understanding of the Trinity.”[6]

In understanding the Trinity, believers know both who to worship (God the Father, Son and the Spirit), how God functions, and how He is to be approached. Of particular note in regards to missions is the deity of Christ. Philippians 2:5-11 and Hebrews 1 are two critical passages that affirm the deity of Christ. He was not simply a man. Consequently, His death and resurrection have power for all mankind. His command to mission in the form of the Great Commission, has authority and is relevant to all believers. His approach to mission is an example to both follow and learn from.

Theology of Inerrancy

The authority of scripture to speak into people’s lives is in part based on the theology of inerrancy. This directly impacts the theology of mission as that is shaped by the words of scripture. Why is inerrancy important? The dependability and reliability of scripture is critical both to the integrity of faith, but also to the development of faith practices and theology. The truth of scripture impacts each of the following:

  • Truth of scripture frees from Satan; John 8:32, 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
  • Truth of scripture mediates grace and peace; 2 Peter 1:2.
  • Truth of scripture sanctifies; John 17:17, 2 Peter 1:3-12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
  • Truth of scripture serves love; Philippians 1:9.
  • Truth of scripture protects from error; Ephesians 4:11-15, 2 Peter 3:17-18.
  • Truth of scripture saves; 1 Timothy 4:16, Acts 20:26-27, 2 Thessalonians 2:10.
  • Truth of scripture is the ideal of heaven; 1 Corinthians 13:12.
  • Truth of scripture is approved by God; 2 Timothy 2:15.

If the believers call to mission and support of mission, both locally and globally, is based on scripture, theology of inerrancy is a key part of that call.

Two Themes of Mission Theology

There are a number of themes that are tied to a healthy theology of mission; the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ, contextualization, liberation, justice, mission Dei, and others.[7] Particularly relevant to this paper are the themes of worship and the Great Commission. These two themes drive both the purpose and the scope of missions.

Worship

Piper wrote, “Missions is not first and ultimate; God is. This truth is the lifeblood of missionary inspiration and endurance.”[8] Worship defines the theme behind why missions exists. When confronted with even glimpses of God’s glory, the only natural response is worship. Over and over throughout scripture, both the lost and saved, the demons and angels, always respond the same; they drop to the ground in worship and awe. So many behaviors and disciplines have to be learned, compelled, or practiced. In describing His people, God said in Isaiah 43:7, “I created for my glory … I formed and made.” The drive to worship God should motivate all that we do; “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Our natural response to God is to worship Him, and that ultimately, when we are faced with His glory in eternity, there will be no other response possible. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, worship, or giving glory to God, is tied to all that we do – even activities as mundane as eating and drinking. How we work in our jobs, how we interact with others, how we serve in our neighborhoods and in our churches, all should bring glory to God. Even Piper’s comment describing the motive behind missions bears relevance; the Great Commission, the calling to reach a lost world is ultimately based on the reality that not all creation worships God.

The Great Commission

The Great Commission, Jesus final words to His followers before ascending into heaven, define the task itself and the method; “Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Luke records these final words slightly different in Acts 1:8, conveying the same theme but with some additional insight to the method; “[Jesus said] you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” From these two passages, we get the Great Commission, the command to reach the world. This is done through making disciples; in other words, creating students of Christ who in turn create students of Christ. The scope? It begins locally, spreads nationally, and ultimately reaches the world.

Practical Mission Theology

Theology of mission is primarily lived out in three contexts; the missionary serving away from home, church leadership in their support and example of mission, and the lay believer not in full time ministry.

Missionaries

For many, the traditional missionary defines what missions is. The individual or couple who moves to a different location with the intent of being a witness for Christ to those there. Often times this is accomplished through learning language and culture, building relationships and understanding of the region they are in, and finally as opportunity arises, presenting the message of Christ, planting a church, and eventually moving on once the newly planted body of believers is self-sustaining.

The danger of not having a theology of mission while serving as a missionary is in losing sight of the purpose of missions. A healthy theology guides and directs the missionary, giving them both a plan for action as well as the purpose behind it. It becomes the source of encouragement and endurance as they struggle through the challenges of immersing themselves in a culture not their own, the time and effort it takes to learn languages and preach Christ, and so on.

Church Leadership

One of the roles for leadership in the church is that of equipper. Ephesians 4:12 charges pastors and leaders to equip the congregation for acts of service. This is important when it comes to missions; leadership must have both a theology and plan for missions, as they are in the unique role of facilitating every level of the Great Commissions – locally, nationally and globally.

Leadership should provide opportunities for growth, education, understanding and for living out the call to mission in the local environment and community. While not all are called to full time ministry elsewhere, every church should be raising up and sending some. In addition, they should be challenging the congregation in their giving to support missions at every level of the Great Commission financially. Paul frequently touches on this point; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 8-9, Philippians 4:10-20, and 1 Timothy 6:17-19.

Lay Believers

Finally, lay believers active in the local church live out a healthy theology of mission when they understand that each individual is called to be a missionary in the Great Commission – not just the ones who go to other countries and immerse themselves in other cultures. Believers are “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11) called to reach their Jerusalem for Christ. So often, the church prays for God to move in their communities but fail to recognize that He has already placed His missionaries in every community, school, and workplace. Believers truly worship and serve God when they recognize their vital role in both supporting missionaries abroad through prayer and finances, and serving as missionaries to their community.

Bibliography

Borthwick, Paul. Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3 ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

Moreau, A. Scott, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Encountering Mission). 2 ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015.

Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.

[1] https://answersingenesis.org/gospel/evangelism/firm-foundations-lasting-faith/

[2] Paul Borthwick, Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church?, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 112.

[3] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), Kindle location 547.

[4] Ibid.

[5] A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Encountering Mission), 2 ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), Kindle location 1809.

[6] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3 ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 292.

[7] Moreau, Corwin, McGee, Introducing World Missions, Kindle location 1887.

[8] Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!, Kindle location 594.

Biggest Loser’s Rapid Weight Loss Permanently Affects Metabolism

02 May
May 2, 2016

diet yoyo

New York Time’s just published an article detailing research performed by the National Institutes of Health on former Biggest Loser contestants over the course of a number of years revealing a significant, ongoing permanent slowdown in metabolism resulting in almost inevitable regaining of the weight loss. I have to be honest, the research really helped me understand my own struggles in the decade since my season wrapped. It does not mean it is impossible to keep the weight off, but it does explain why it seems exponentially harder than it should be. It’s actually a relief in some ways to read; not because it’s an excuse, but it helps me understand. It certainly describes my experience. Definitely read the whole article; here was the quote that really jumped out at me:

Researchers knew that just about anyone who deliberately loses weight — even if they start at a normal weight or even underweight — will have a slower metabolism when the diet ends. So they were not surprised to see that “The Biggest Loser” contestants had slow metabolisms when the show ended.

What shocked the researchers was what happened next: As the years went by and the numbers on the scale climbed, the contestants’ metabolisms did not recover. They became even slower, and the pounds kept piling on. It was as if their bodies were intensifying their effort to pull the contestants back to their original weight.

Read the whole article here and let me know what you think!

 

Colonel’s Rules [image]

12 Apr
April 12, 2016

Colonel's 50 rules for public speaking small

I was surprised at the response to yesterday’s post (find it here) listing my high school teacher’s fifty rules for public speaking, so I thought I would upload a scan of the original document. It was far and a way my favorite class in high school; if you have ever seen the movie “Dead Poet’s Society,” then you know what kind of teacher Tom Jenkins III (or as we knew him, the Colonel) was. He passed away a couple years after I graduated, but left quite a legacy.

The class was a trip. We had to do short speeches with no warning on topics of his choosing, we had to prepare speeches, do devotionals, and most importantly, memorize the fifty rules. He would coach us, challenge us, and show no mercy in challenging us to grow as speakers. My favorite part? He would sit in the back of the auditorium (to make sure we were projecting) and if we broke a rule, he would yell out the number (which meant we lost one percentage point)! It was unnerving at first to have him loudly yelling numbers from the back of the room … but probably the thing that prepared me for working with middle schoolers the most! Ha!

Colonel’s Fifty Rules for Public Speaking

11 Apr
April 11, 2016

mic small

Over the years I’ve taken a few public speaking and/or preaching classes; in Bible school, Gordon College, most recently as part of my course of study through Liberty’s seminary. But my all time favorite class? The one I took back in ’92 or ’93 while I was a junior or senior in high school, taught by Tom Jenkins III, or as we all knew him, the Colonel. I loved the class and the way he taught it. He centered it around fifty rules that he put together that we needed to memorize and were graded by; over the years I’ve thought of them often and wished I still had them … and the other week I found my copy going through an old box of papers! Here they are in all of their early nineties glory:

  1. The speaker should always be in the most dominant place in a room.
  2. Never apologize for the speaking situation.
  3. Do not interrupt a group by saying, “May I have your attention, please?”
  4. The most important aspect of public speaking is that there must be a message.
  5. Minimize distractions.
  6. Your voice is your major instrument but you should use all your instruments.
  7. Maximize your assets – first find what they are, and then use them.
  8. Don’t avoid personal illustrations.
  9. Don’t admit any weaknesses; i.e., “I didn’t have enough time,” “I didn’t have enough education.”
  10. Physical rules for delivery:
    1. The outsides of your feet should be even with the outsides of your shoulders.
    2. Back should be relaxed.
    3. Hands should be comfortably by your side.
    4. Head up with eye contact.
    5. Don’t lock your knees.
    6. Put your belt slightly below your navel.
    7. Your weight should be evenly distributed.
  11. Avoid “stupid” truisms.
  12. Don’t violate time limits.
  13. Avoid vocalized pauses at all costs.
  14. Use as few scriptural references as possible and then major on a few words or ideas.
  15. Never say, “I would like to …” Just do it!
  16. “Suit the action to the word and the word to the action.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare.
  17. “Speak the speech … trippingly on the tongue.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare. ARTICULATION!
  18. “Make your deliverance smooth. You must acquire and beget a temperance which gives it smoothness.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare.
  19. “Don’t out Herod Herod.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare. Don’t overplay anything.
  20. When you get finished, quit.
  21. Organization of a speech is the most important factor in planning a speech.
  22. “Nothing comes from nothing.” –King Lear, Shakespeare. Choose a good topic.
  23. Research until you find something interesting.
  24. Information must be valid, pertinent, reliable, and current.
  25. Don’t change topics in the middle of your research.
  26. Audiences have no toleration for bragging. Don’t be the hero of your own story.
  27. Do not say, “thank you,” except when it is expected and when you can mean it!
  28. The show must go on. Nothing should stop you from delivering and/or completing your speech.
  29. Develop a style. It must include articulation, projection, and message.
  30. Don’t be afraid of emotion.
  31. A crowd is comprised of individuals. Initiate strong eye contact with the key individuals.
  32. Eye contact opens doors.
  33. Handle problems while you’re speaking as if they were planned and you enjoy them.
  34. Try not to laugh at your own jokes.
  35. Don’t major on the minors – get organized.
  36. Reading long passages from other people is dull. Don’t use (carry with you) any books other than the Bible.
  37. Spend a lot of time preparing beginnings and endings – make them effective, then stick to what you’ve planned.
  38. Enthusiasm must show.
  39. Learn or practice using ad-lib.
  40. Organization must be apparent. It necessitates an outline and the outline forces organization.
  41. Different types of organization:
    1. Sequential or chronological.
    2. Logical.
    3. Authoritative – scriptural.
    4. Exemplary.
    5. Function.
  42. Quotes and references must be specific. Use quotes especially to goose ending.
  43. Use specific detail and exact numbers.
  44. Every audience is different.
  45. Every audience requires adaptation. Don’t try to adapt the audience to you, but adapt yourself to the audience.
  46. Performance enhances skills more than rehearsal. Practice in front of someone.
  47. Imitation is no substitute for motivation. Feel it. Never be content with imitations.
  48. Plan for overreaction of the audience.
  49. Anticipate every possible reaction from the audience.
  50. The audience is more important than the speaker – you must believe it!

We Are Called to Worship

04 Apr
April 4, 2016

worship

The highest response for the Christian to God, what we were designed to do and will consume our focus when we are fully united with God in Heaven, is to worship. Philippians 2:9-10 says “Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

John Piper wrote, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”¹ The drive to worship God should motivate all that we do; “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Scriptures point time and again to the idea that our natural response to God is to worship Him, and that ultimately, when we are faced with His glory in eternity, there will be no other response possible. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, worship, or giving glory to God, is tied to all that we do – even activities as mundane as eating and drinking. How we work in our jobs, how we interact with others, how we serve in our neighborhoods and in our churches, all should bring glory to God. Even Piper’s comment bears relevance; the Great Commission, the calling to reach a lost world is ultimately based on the reality that not all creation worships God.

The challenge is our flesh and our sin nature; while we are created to worship God, sin has corrupted our nature. Even as imperfect believers, it is easy for us to lose sight of that high calling. Tozer writes, “Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control.”² Yet, this is the opposite of worship – creating a (false) god we can control is worship, but it is worship of our own wisdom instead of the Creator.

Boa asks the question, what if you only had one year to live? How would that shape your priorities?³ In our core, we know the things of the Spirit, of the soul, of the eternal are what truly matter. While busyness routinely draws our attention to the temporal, what truly matters is revealed in times of crisis, of sickness, of death. In those moments we find it easy to focus on the spiritual. The challenge is in learning to have that perspective throughout life, not just in the briefest of moments. As believers, we must recognize the temporary nature of our physical lives, that it is just vapor rapidly disappearing (James 4:14). This perspective is not a dark one, it is instead one filled with hope. Letting go of the temporal things to instead pursue worship of God in all areas of life, to challenge others to that same worship, that is the highest calling and one that gives our lives the meaning and purpose they were designed to have. It gives us a taste of the unfettered, perfect worship we will one day experience in eternity with God our Creator.

—————

1.  Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne, Perspectives On the World Christian Movement: Reader and Study Guide, 4 ed. (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2013), Kindle location 7313.

2.   A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: the Attributes of God, Their Meaning in the Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009), 9.

3.  Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), Kindle location 956.

Praying for Missionaries

29 Mar
March 29, 2016

3-27

During the month of March my church is doing a 31 days of prayer challenge. The other pastors, myself, and some of the key leadership all contributed short devotionals to form a booklet we’ve been giving to our congregation and emailing daily devotionals from. This is one I wrote for last Sunday, the 27th:

Missionaries
1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 (NLT)

But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence. Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith.

Reflection

Paul the Apostle is one of the church’s greatest missionaries. He knew the scriptures, had a confidence in his calling, and saw tremendous results wherever he went. And yet he had troubles, he had suffering. He was blessed to receive these messages of support and love from the churches.

During my family’s time in South America we loved our calling, but there were times when it was difficult being so far from home. We missed family, friends, and a culture that we understood and could navigate with confidence. One of my favorite memories from those years was the day I discovered our mailbox crammed with letters all addressed to me! My youth group back home in the States had showered me with notes of encouragement, tangible reminders of their prayers and thoughts of me even from so far away. In the words of Paul, it gave me new life and encouragement!

Some are called to serve abroad, others are called to serve in the local church, but we are deeply connected and part of our calling here at home is to be both strong in our faith, and to encourage our brothers and sisters called to serve far from home.

Prayer

Lord, we pray for our missionaries serving throughout the world, that they would be encouraged, that they would have new life, and that they would know and feel our support and earnest prayers for them. Please give them the strength and wisdom to continue serving You in this way. Amen.

Praying for Unity

29 Mar
March 29, 2016

3-25

During the month of March my church is doing a 31 days of prayer challenge. The other pastors, myself, and some of the key leadership all contributed short devotionals to form a booklet we’ve been giving to our congregation and emailing daily devotionals from. This is one I wrote for last Friday, the 25th:

Unity
Philippians 1:27 (NLT)

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.

Reflection

It’s amazing when you stop to think about it. The Christian believers in Philippi were experiencing persecution and suffering in a way that we will most likely never fully understand. And yet, over and over throughout his letter to them, Paul drives home the importance of unity. It’s almost as if he is saying, yes, the suffering, the death, the torture – that’s all hard, but the real challenge is putting aside our personal desires and being united!

The easy way out when we disagree, when we are uncomfortable, when we do not get what we want, is to leave. To find a church or other Christians who do line up with us … until they don’t. But on those incredible occasions where a body of believers can truly stand together with one spirit and purpose, it is a thing of beauty! Mother Teresa once said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” God has placed us together for a reason. Our unique gifting and collection of passions combined together in the unity He intends can accomplish great things.

Prayer

Lord, we ask for unity. We ask for the wisdom and ability to put aside differences and focus on the calling You have given us as a church. Amen.

The Landmark Movement

28 Mar
March 28, 2016

History-of-Church

This is a research paper I wrote a couple weeks ago for a Baptist History class I just finished; it’s an interesting moment of history in the Baptist Church in America.

THE LANDMARK MOVEMENT

Introduction

The Landmark Movement was an overreaction to the Campbellite controversy, claiming direct Baptist succession through the ages and an exclusive hold on the church, however the movement was based on faulty assumptions instead of actual historical evidence.

The movement erupted in the Southern Baptist Church in the mid-nineteenth century.[1] While its overall impact in the church had varying degrees of influence, it did not spread to northern churches.[2] It began as an overreaction to another extreme theological view, with leaders that had a penchant for controversy but were powerful communicators and effective at convincing others of their views through print and speaking. However, in their zeal they came to theological conclusions and opinions and then tried to find the supporting evidence rather than examining the evidence and letting it shape their theology. This paper will demonstrate this by briefly explaining the Campbellite controversy, recording the primary influences in forming the Landmark Movement and how they did so, the core beliefs of the Landmark Movement, and the resulting controversy and response from the Southern Baptist Church.

The Campbellite Controversy

Originally from a Presbyterian background, Alexander Campbell and his father, joined the Baptist church in 1812.[3] However, while they accepted immersion, it was not long before they were pushing for reforms in the Baptist church as a whole on issues of Old Testament authority, the nature of saving faith, the role of baptism in salvation, and other core beliefs. In addition, they opposed missionary societies, titles, and salaries for ministers.[4] Essentially, they wanted to remove any human traditions from church and bring it back to a “primitive order.”[5] By this they meant core practices found only in scripture.

Over time, his teachings split the denomination, with hundreds of churches leaving with him to form the Church of Christ denomination.[6] His ideas were able to catch momentum because of the combination of a simple approach to scripture and resentment from churches distant from the main offices of the denomination feeling unrepresented or left out. This was the first major internal division for the Baptist church, out of which provided the groundwork for the Landmark Movement’s values of extreme core Baptist theology and traditions being embraced.[7]

The Landmark Movement

With the trauma of a denominational split and the uncertainty cast on Baptist traditions and heritage, the climate in the aftermath of the Campbellite controversy fostered a search for “ecclesiastical certainty.”[8] This climate was ripe for the extreme forms of Baptist theology that were developed in the Landmark Movement. Ultimately, the goal of the Landmark Movement was to establish the Southern Baptist Church as the one true church.[9]

Leaders in the Movement

There were three main leaders in the formation of the movement, referred to by their followers as the “Great Triumvirate”; James Madison Pendleton, Amos Cooper Dayton, and James R. Graves.[10] Of the three, Graves was the primary voice of the movement, providing the initial spark to its formation, and driving it throughout the years.

James R. Graves

Graves was born in Vermont, was converted at the age of 15 and then baptized in the Baptist church there.[11] While he did not have any formal education, he was hired as a principal for academies in Ohio and Kentucky, and over time demonstrated such a natural talent that a Baptist church in Kentucky licensed him to preach. He committed himself to a self-taught program of study to prepare for the pastorate, covering modern languages and the Bible, and was eventually ordained at the age of 24.[12]

The church he was a part of, and that eventually ordained him, was pastored by Ryland Dillard, a man passionately opposed to the Campbellite teachings and deeply concerned about its spread through his region.[13] From there, Graves moved back to Ohio where he was invited to preach at a church led by what he would later call “a brilliant infidel.” The story goes that with just one sermon, Graves was able to turn the congregation from the Campbellite teaching and would spend the rest of his life committed to protecting others from the Campbellite “infidels.”[14]

From there, Graves moved to Nashville to become a teacher. During that time he also accepted a pastorate, but it was short lived as he became the assistant editor of the Tennessee Baptist in 1846.[15] Two years later, Graves became the editor, a role he would hold for over forty years.[16] Between his influence through the Tennessee Baptist, and his powerful oratory skills, Graves was able to powerfully build momentum and drive the Landmark Movement.

Amos Cooper Dayton

In 1813 Dayton was born in New Jersey to a Presbyterian family, and as such was baptized six months later.[17] He studied medicine in New York City and graduated at 22 years old, however he only practiced medicine for a short period before transitioning to dentistry. During his early twenties, Dayton had a period of doubts, even embracing universalism briefly, but after a severe illness that would impact him the rest of his life, he found himself convinced that “the Bible is of God, and universalism of the Devil.”[18]

Dayton remained a Presbyterian until 1852 when some of the books he was reading finally convinced him of the failings of his current denomination and convinced him to become Baptist. He was baptized and a week later preached his first sermon, eventually becoming ordained in the Baptist church. He began writing for the Tennessee Baptist in 1853 and eventually became an associate editor working with Graves in 1858.[19] While his favorite writing style was fiction, a genre he excelled in, he was most known for the 1858 book Pedobaptist and Campbellite Immersions, in which he powerfully attacked the Campbellite movement and bolstered the credibility of the Landmark Movement.[20]

During his years of association with Graves and his involvement in the Landmark Movement, Dayton was a powerful writer. Because of his connections with the Bible Board where he served first as an agent and then the corresponding secretary, he quickly became known in the Southern Baptist denomination.[21] He eventually became the Southern Baptist Church Sunday School Union president, and then transitioned to the secretary position.[22] Through his prominence, he was positioned well to be part of the trio of leaders in the Landmark Movement.

James Madison Pendleton

Much of Pendleton’s fame came through his crusading to abolish slavery.[23] He was born in 1811 in Virginia, but grew up in Kentucky on a farm. At 26 he took his first pastorate in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he would remain for twenty years. He was known for not just reaching out to the free in his region, but evangelizing the slaves as well. His speaking style was that of reason, not emotionalism, and was an effective communicator with a strong hold on his material.[24] He was powerful in debates, and a strong writer, with each of these skills contributing to his rise in influence. By the 1840’s he was writing for several of the Baptist papers, even ones who disagreed with him but appreciated his ability.

While he never embraced the Landmark Movement to the degree of Graves or Dayton, he did become a compelling advocate for it in the areas he agreed with. His tracts urging Baptist churches to stop participating in pulpit exchanges with non-Baptist churches, and his speaking quickly rose in popularity, causing Graves to reach out to him and begin working together.[25] His greatest influence came through his 1867 book, Church Manual, a guide on Baptist life based on Landmark values, a work that has had a lasting influence in the Southern Baptist Church.[26]

The Landmark Movement’s Tenets

With the Southern Baptist Church still reeling from the Campbellite controversy and its efforts to change the core beliefs of the Baptist church, there was a hunger for the call to a stricter, more defined Baptist theology. Graves led the charge in this, developing much of the Landmark theology, and using his resources and connections through his paper, Dayton, Pendleton, and others to rapidly spread throughout the church, particularly in the Southwest.[27] Most did not think of it as a new movement, but rather a return to what they thought were core Baptist beliefs. However, in actuality, the tenets of Landmarkism were extreme versions of Baptist tradition, loaded with danger for the church.

The name itself, the Landmark Movement, was based on two Old Testament passages; Proverbs 22:28 and Job 24:2, both of which in the King James Version caution against removing the old landmarks set by those who went before.[28] With their intent of preserving historic Baptist practices and theology, the name was a natural one.

Graves wrote in his booklet, Old Landmarkism: What Is It?, that for him the issue began to crystalize on the day his mother and sister were baptized by a pastor who also performed infant baptisms. He wrote of his frustration that over the course of one day, this man baptized believers and infants, immersing some, pouring water over others. He writes, “Those different acts for ‘one baptism’ made an indelible impression,” one that was further magnified by the pastor’s seeming disinterest in the whole process.[29] For years he wrestled with these and other issues he saw as problems in the Baptist church, culminating in him, as editor of the Tennessee Baptist presenting to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1851 these five questions[30]:

1st. Can Baptists, consistently with their principles or the Scriptures, recognize those societies not organized according to the pattern of the Jerusalem church, but possessing different governments, different officers, a different class of members, different ordinances, doctrines and practices, as churches of Christ?

2d. Ought they to be called gospel churches, or churches in a religious sense?

3d. Can we consistently recognize the ministers of such irregular and unscriptural bodies as gospel ministers?

4th. Is it not virtually recognizing them as official ministers to invite them into our pulpits, or by any other act that would or could be construed into such a recognition?

5th. Can we consistently address as brethren those professing Christianity, who not only have not the doctrine of Christ and walk not according to his commandments, but are arrayed in direct and bitter opposition to them?

These questions, and the resulting answers came to be known as the Cotton Grove Resolutions. Ultimately, under Grave’s leadership, the tenets of the Landmark Movement came to be[31]:

  1. Baptist churches are the only true churches in the world. The Landmark Movement was highly exclusive and viewed the Baptist church as the only church bearing all the marks of a true church. As such, they believed that the church Christ founded was a Baptist church, regardless of its name at the time. A further ramification of this belief was the conviction that only Baptist churches have ministers, ordinances, and preaching recognized as authoritative and true in God’s eyes.
  2. The true church is a local, visible institution. Landmarkism rejects the idea of an invisible, or universal church. Each church is to be self-governing under Christ, maintaining its own discipline.
  3. The churches and the kingdom of God are coterminous. According to Graves, “church” and “kingdom” are synonymous terms in the Bible. The true churches together form the kingdom, much like the independent states form the United States of America. One of the ramifications of this belief was that if only Baptist churches are true churches, and the kingdom of God is comprised of Baptist churches, then to be saved, or in the Kingdom, one must be Baptist – a point that Graves did deny was his intent.
  4. There must be no “pulpit affiliation” with non-Baptists. Up until this point, there had been a lot of cross-denominational teamwork and pulpit swaps. Revivals were a popular tool, and often times pastors from different denominations would take turns teaching. However, because Baptist churches were viewed as the only true churches, these preachers from other denominations were viewed as leaders of secular organizations, with unrecognized ordinations, and therefore should not be allowed to have the pulpit in a Baptist church.
  5. Only a church can do churchly acts. This specifically addressed the doctrines and practices surrounding baptism, communion, preaching, and other church traditions. Because Baptist churches were viewed as the only true church, as a result, baptisms, communion, and other practices were no longer recognized as valid from other churches. This even extended to missionaries; the tasks missionaries engaged in were to be exclusively performed by the Baptist church, and as a result proponents of the Landmark Movement attempted to dismantle the foreign missions program.
  6. Baptist churches have always existed in every age by an unbroken historical succession. Graves wrote in his booklet, Old Landmarkism: What Is It?, that while they utterly and complete reject the idea of apostolic succession, they are convinced that the true church, the Baptist church, “has had a continuous existence” since Christ founded it “in the days of John the Baptist.”[32] This was a popular teaching point, because it not only validated the traditional Baptist views and practices, it created a strong sense of superiority and accomplishment.

Controversy

In the late 1850’s, tensions began to explode as Graves continued to push further into the authority and established leadership structures of the Southern Baptist Church. In 1858, Graves established a Southern Baptist Sunday School Union in an attempt to undermine and replace the existing Southern Baptist Publication Society. For some time Graves had criticized the SBPS due to disagreements with its policies, literature, and leadership.[33] Graves’ pastor, Howell, however, disagreed with him and opposed his efforts to take control, triggering a series of personal attacks by Graves at Howell. Over the course of the next year, Graves, and 46 others of his followers, were brought through church discipline and removed from that church.

In 1859, Graves attempted at the Southern Baptist Convention to dismantle the Foreign Mission Board and instead place the control of missions into the individual churches. This created significant tension at the convention, and while the Board was ultimately protected, they did allow for individual churches to run their own missions if that was their conviction.[34] One of the results of this, however, was a growing sense of concern that the Landmark Movement encouraged division and a “rise of denominationalism.”[35] Rather than building the Southern Baptist Church, it was instead distancing them from one another.

In another move that frustrated Graves and his intent to publically confront Howell at the convention, rather than the convention embracing and celebrating Graves’ rise in influence, it instead made Howell the president. While Howell did ultimately step down in an effort to bring unity between the Southern Baptist churches that stood on opposite sides of some of these issues, it was still an undeniable setback to the Landmark Movement.

Between these setbacks, and then the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Landmark Movement lost a lot of its momentum. Tull writes that “the rising tide of Landmarkism was arrested and subdued by the Civil War.”[36] Much of the rebuilding in the church after the war in the Southern states was carried out by Baptists who were not a part of the Landmark movement, further quelling their influence as others rose to prominence. Dayton passed away towards the end of the war in 1865, and Pendleton moved to Pennsylvania that same year where he would spend the rest of his ministry years.[37]

Overall, Southern Baptists had grown tired of the constant controversy stirred up by Graves and the Landmark Movement, and were increasingly frustrated with the frequent attacks against their leaders. With only Graves remaining to spearhead the movement, and his influence no longer what it once was, the momentum was gone. Adding to that, McBeth writes, “As the true nature and spirit of Landmarkism became clearer, it lost much of its appeal.”[38] While all of these factors combined to see the Landmark Movement fade in its presence, its influence has not completely disappeared. Some of the beliefs and attitudes continue to this day in some Southern Baptist Churches, but mostly in the form of a general aloofness and reluctance to work with other denominations, and an unwillingness to recognize “alien” baptisms.[39] For the most part, by the time Graves passed away, almost all recognized the faults in Landmarkism’s tenets, with few being able to hold to more than just portions of the beliefs.

Conclusion

The Landmark Movement was initiated and led by individuals who loved God and desired to pursue His kingdom. They were passionate about scripture, and in light of the Campbellite Controversy, it is clear that there was a hunger for a return to the hallmarks, or landmarks, of Baptist faith. While Dayton and Pendleton each played roles in leading the Landmark Movement, it is clear that their influence was under the leadership of Graves.

At its core, the Landmark Movement was a flawed theological system based on an incorrect approach to theology. Graves arrived at his opinions and beliefs based on Baptist tradition, defined his views and then interpreted scripture based on those ideas. The Baptist church, in the span of history, was still relatively young during his time – yet because of his conviction that it is the one true church, he interpreted the previous 1800 years of church history based on that opinion rather than an appropriate historical approach, interpreting records and scripture through his lens. The correct approach would have been to instead try to place himself in the shoes of the New Testament Christian, understanding their culture, their context, and then interpret scriptures as best he could in the way that they would have.

One has to wonder if Graves, clearly a brilliant man, was in some ways limited in his ability to appropriately approach and handle these topics by the limits of his own education. On the one hand, his talents and ability were recognized early on, but at the same time he created his course of self-guided education. Did he unintentionally leave out areas of study that would have given him a more balanced approach? Or did his accomplishments and intelligence create an overconfidence resulting in an arrogance that not only saw his understanding of the church and scripture as correct, but as the one true understanding? Much like the misguided Pharisees and other religious leaders of the gospels?

In conclusion, it is not surprising that the Movement eventually collapsed on itself. While on a surface level it initially appeared to be a Baptist movement, it did not take long for Christians to recognize the faulty assumptions and flawed logic that undergirded the movement, and ultimately, its diversion from Baptist tradition, much like the Campbellite movement before it.

Bibliography

Askew, Thomas A., and Richard V. Pierard. The American Church Experience: A Concise History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

Early, Joseph Jr. Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008.

Hall, C. W. “When orphans became heirs: J.R. Graves and the Landmark Baptists.” Baptist History and Heritage, 37(1) (2002): 112+.

Howard, Victor B. “James Madison Pendleton: A Southern Crusader Against Slavery”. The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 74.3 (1976): 192–215.

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987.

McBeth, H. Leon. A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 1990.

Patterson, James A. “James Robinson Graves: History in the Service of Ecclesiology.” Baptist History and Heritage 44.1 (2009): 72-83.

Taulman, James E. “The Life and Writings of Amos Cooper Dayton (1813-1865).” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 36-43.

Torbet, Robert G. History of the Baptists. 3 ed. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Pr, 1978.

Tull, James E. “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal.” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 3-18.

Footnotes

[1] Robert G. Torbet, History of the Baptists, 3 ed. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Pr, 1978), 281.

[2] Thomas A. Askew, The American Church Experience: a Concise History (Grand Rapids: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2008), 187.

[3] H. Leon McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 1990), 241.

[4] Ibid.

[5] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987), 375.

[6] McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage, 241.

[7] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 376.

[8] C. W. Hall, “When Orphans Became Heirs: J.R. Graves and the Landmark Baptists,” Baptist History and Heritage, 37(1) (2002): 112.

[9] Ibid.

[10] James E. Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 5.

[11] James A Patterson, “James Robinson Graves: History in the Service of Ecclesiology,” Baptist History and Heritage, 44.1 (2009): 73.

[12] Ibid, 74.

[13] Hall, “When Orphans Became Heirs: J.R. Graves and the Landmark Baptists,” 112.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Patterson, “James Robinson Graves: History in the Service of Ecclesiology,” 74.

[16] Ibid.

[17] James E. Taulman, “The Life and Writings of Amos Cooper Dayton (1813-1865),” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 36.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 5.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Taulman, “The Life and Writings of Amos Cooper Dayton (1813-1865),” 38.

[22] Ibid, 39.

[23] Victor B. Howard, “James Madison Pendleton: A Southern Crusader Against Slavery,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 74.3 (1976): 192.

[24] Ibid, 193.

[25] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 449.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid, 446.

[28] Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 3.

[29] Joseph Early Jr., Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008), 116.

[30] Ibid, 117.

[31] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 450-452.

[32] Early, Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents, 122.

[33] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 456.

[34] Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 13.

[35] Torbet, History of the Baptists, 282.

[36] Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 13.

[37] Ibid, 14.

[38] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 457.

[39] Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 17.

Praying for Church Finances

25 Mar
March 25, 2016

3-23

In preparation for Easter, my church is doing a 31 days of prayer challenge. The other pastors, myself, and some of the key leadership all contributed short devotionals to form a booklet we’ve been giving to our congregation and emailing daily devotionals from. This is one I wrote for last Wednesday, the 23rd:

Church Finances
2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (NLT)

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives
cheerfully.

Reflection

Years ago I attended a rally where evangelist Luis Palau, the Billy Graham of our time, was speaking. When it came time for the offering, he asked everyone to stand, reach forward, take the wallet from the back pocket of the person in front of them, “and give like you have always dreamed of giving!” I loved it!

And isn’t that something we long for? To be able to worship God with our giving without distraction? Without worry? To be generous with what He has given us for His Kingdom? God calls us to give, not because of church heating bills or curriculum needs, but as a way of demonstrating love to Him. When we sacrifice, it reflects a heart of worship. Our joy in giving is seen through a church that is able to meet the needs of our region, to live out the calling God has given each of us as a body both locally and globally.

Prayer

Lord, we pray for the finances of our church. We ask that You would continue to provide the resources needed to fund the ministries to which You have called us. Help us to honor our commitments, continue to grow in our impact, and most importantly, give glory to You with cheerful hearts as we give. Amen.

Postmodernism Apologetics Paper

24 Mar
March 24, 2016

postmodernism small

A paper I wrote a couple weeks ago for my apologetics class on postmodernism and a defense of Christianity …

POSTMODERNISM

Introduction

Postmodernism, the view that all truth is relative, is a widely accepted yet flawed belief system. Lyotard defined postmodernism as “incredulity toward metanarratives.”[1] In other words, incredulity towards the idea of defined reality, history, truth, or beliefs. This paper will demonstrate both the internal and external contradictions with the postmodern belief system, as well as the contrasting ideals of the Christian worldview, ultimately demonstrating Christianity to be the superior worldview.

This will be accomplished by giving an overview of Postmodernism, with observations from some of its respected voices; Derrida, Kant, and Lyotard, as well as contrasting opinions from Christian apologists. Through this examination, it will become apparent that the foundations of Postmodernism, and the question of relativity, ultimately collapse and cannot support the fundamental claims of the worldview, ultimately demonstrating that Christianity is the only option for a functional worldview.

Summary of Postmodernism

James Sire describes postmodernism this way; “No longer is there a single story, a metanarrative (in our terms a worldview), that holds Western culture together.”[2] In generations past, typically each culture had its own metanarrative, but the postmodernism approach changes that to recognize that many people, groups, and cultures have their own narratives, each equal with the others, and none having dominance or greater authority. One of the challenges with postmodernism is defining it; at different times the worldview is defined in different ways. Heath White explains that it is “not a theory or a creed: it is more like an attitude or a way of looking at things.”[3] There are weaknesses and strengths, like most worldviews. The following summary of Postmodernism’s tenets is based on Groothuis’ criteria for worldview evaluation:[4]

  1. Ultimate Reality: With regards to the question of ultimate reality, Kant wrote that “Our age is the age of criticism, to which everything must be subjected. The sacredness of religion, and the authority of legislation, are by many regarded as grounds of exemption from the examination of this tribunal. But, if they are exempted, they become the subjects of just suspicion, and cannot lay claim to sincere respect, which reason accords only to that which has stood the test of a free and public examination.”[5] Everything is open to be questioned, with the recognition that understanding is shaped by culture and context. As such, it is impossible for any one person to be able to claim to have an exclusive hold on reality since they are unable to get past their own social constructions.

Derrida is one of the primary voices of postmodernism, although he labeled himself a deconstructionist. He wrote that “In what one calls the real life of these existences ‘of flesh and bone,’ beyond and behind what one believes can be circumscribed as Rousseau’s text, there has never been anything but writing.”[6] By this he means that each individual interprets reality through their own lens of language.

  1. Source of Morality: Postmodernism claims there is no one source of morality, instead there are endlessly differing interpretations of what morality is. Derrida argues that the pursuit of being ethical in fact makes people irresponsible, a temptation to fall into the fallacy (according to him) of believing there is an absolute.[7] As such, morality is fluid, dependent on culture. Sire suggests that Foucault, perhaps the most radical of the postmodern voices, would claim that “the greatest good is an individual’s freedom to maximize pleasure.”[8]
  2. Nature of Humanity: While humans are born with certain aptitudes or potential, the nature of humanity is socially determined. Taken one step further, there is no such thing as human nature, it is a social construct. Foucault writes,

“To all those who still wish to talk about man, about his reign or his liberation, to all those who still ask themselves questions about what man is in his essence, to all those who wish to take him as their starting-point in their attempts to reach the truth, to all those who, on the other hand, refer all knowledge back to the truths of man himself, to all those who refuse to formalize without anthropologizing, who refuse to mythologize without demystifying, who refuse to think without immediately thinking that it is a man who is thinking, to all these warped and twisted forms of reflection we can answer only with a philosophical laugh – which means, to a certain extent, a silent one.”[9]

  1. Spiritual Liberation Attained By: This type of liberation is acquired by recognizing that there is no one truth, but feeling free to pursue spirituality that gives the individual moral satisfaction. Christian Smith calls this “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a belief system that essentially teaches happiness comes from being a good, moral person.[10] He contends that not only is this a popular approach in general, it has invaded the Christian church to a significant degree as well.
  2. Ultimate Authority: There is no one ultimate authority; much like the impossibility to know an ultimate reality, is impossible to know an ultimate authority. At the same time, the various narratives or belief systems are viewed as attempts at gaining power. While according to postmodernism there is no purely objective knowledge or truth, the collection of knowledge and stories does give power or authority. However, it is considered oppressive if others’ knowledge or metanarratives give them the power; ultimate authority for oneself should reside within the individual based on their own knowledge.[11]
  3. History and the Afterlife: History cannot be fully known as those who recorded it did so through their own culture and biased lens. While it may be possible to be able to have a strong idea of what happened, it cannot be known with certainty because of the cultural bias of those who recorded it. Likewise, because it is impossible to know anything with complete certainty, it is not possible to know for sure if there is an afterlife or what it would be like. In this spirit, Kant writes that all “our knowledge begins with experience,” however, because experience is shaped by other factors, it is limited.[12]

Evaluation of Postmodernism

For the purposes of evaluating postmodernism, the points focused on below are the criteria provided by Groothuis for test and evaluating worldviews. His intent is that they are universally applicable criteria, however some critics feel that the extreme differences between varying worldviews make it impossible to have one set of evaluating criteria.[13]

  1. Does it explains what it ought to explain? This is one of postmodernism’s great weaknesses. Even in researching this paper it was difficult to find a solid definition of the worldview. Many authors stressed its intangible qualities, and constantly shifting definitions. What the proponents of postmodernism do attempt to explain is with the caveat that it could be wrong, and that it is rooted in culture and social constructs that change over time and location. With a value system based in relativity and the lack of absolutes, definitions and explanations become difficult to achieve. White writes, “postmoderns kept the modern distrust of authority but lost their trust in reason and have found nothing to replace it.”[14]
  2. Does it have internal logical consistency? This is a challenge for postmodernism and ultimately, one of the first places critics go to in their attacks. With one of its basic tenets being that truth is relative or not truly knowable, that very belief cannot be considered dependable or true for all. As Sire puts it, “the rejection of all metanarratives is itself a metanarrative.”[15] This is not just a criticism from Christian apologists, the faulty logic is also a reoccurring challenge from secular circles. Their frustration is that postmodern relativism “eliminates universal human rights, contributes to pseudoscience … undermines moral and rational discourse … makes communication between those of differing worldviews impossible, and so on.”[16]
  3. Does it have coherence? Postmodernism is largely consistent in maintaining its value of truth as relative, however, there is little to no coherence in the “truths” that are believed and accepted. With each individual forming their own narrative, contradictions abound. Even within individual belief systems there are often times incoherent combinations of beliefs. Having said that, though, postmodernism does have one strength in particular; an acknowledgement of mankind’s imperfect ability to form truth and reality. While the wide acceptance of relativity has it failings, embedded in that belief is a humble recognition of man’s imperfections.
  4. Does it have intellectual and cultural fecundity? Postmodernism on its surface encourages creativity and productivity as it encourages each person to explore and pursue their truth. However, it has resulted in a spiritual laziness; Christian Smith describes in his descriptions of “moralistic therapeutic deism” notes how half of the religious population in America believe it is okay to mix religious beliefs with little thought to their compatibility.[17] Rather than being the freeing experience expected, accepting all truths as valid strips the world of meaning and value.
  5. Is it simpler to explain? Simpler belief systems are preferable to unnecessarily complex ones. Postmodernism actually comes across initially as simple to explain; truth is relative. It is only as people begin to dive into the ramifications of it that it becomes more complex and contradictory. As previously mentioned, even defining postmodernism has many scholars challenged to do so because of its constantly changing nature. Sire points out that “postmodernism is in flux, as is postmodernism’s take on the significance of human history, including its own history,” and as such even the core people committed to the belief system are in flux as well.[18]

Christian Alternative

Following the same criteria as the previous section, here is an evaluation of the Christian worldview:

  1. Does it explain what it ought to explain? Christianity claims to contain all that is required to pursue it within the scriptures. While there are pieces that are difficult to understand, the core tenets of salvation and pursuit of Christ are able to be explained. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 makes exactly this point, driving home the value that scriptures have been given so that followers of God can be prepared for every opportunity.
  2. Is there internal logical consistency? For a book written over the span of 1500 years, in multiple languages, with dozens of different writers from all walks of life, it is incredible how unified the message of scripture is. While on the surface there may be some contradictions in the scriptures, with further study and understanding of the culture and understandings of those who wrote the scripture the contradictions are able to be removed. McDowell writes that “allegations of error in the Bible are usually based on a failure to recognize basic principles of interpreting ancient literature.”[19]
  3. Does it have coherence? This question is a little more challenging. Abstractly, yes, Christianity has coherence. The belief that God is all powerful and defines truth requires that that reality remain unchanging and unified throughout all of time. As Dr. Smith points out, “Far from being limited to a particular aspect of life, the biblical worldview is comprehensive.”[20] However, as imperfect beings, humans have interpreted the meanings of scriptures in different ways, formed different denominations, wasted resources and energy on infighting and disagreements, all of which contributes to an image of lacking coherence.
  4. Does it have intellectual and cultural fecundity? While postmodernism claims to have achieved this, as previously stated it actually results in spiritual laziness. Christianity, on the other hand, through its admonitions to search out the scriptures, to pursue Christlikeness, to do our best for God’s honor, and to not just blindly accept the teaching of those around us, does an incredible job of challenging its adherents to intellectual and cultural fecundity. Groothuis affirmed the intellectual credibility of the Christian worldview when he wrote, “The universe as a contingent and designed system is best explained by a noncontingent Creator, who depends on nothing outside Himself (Acts 17:25) and who created the universe to operate in various goal-related ways. Living systems presuppose intelligent design and cannot be explained on the basis of merely chance and natural laws.”[21]
  5. Is it simpler to explain? Simpler belief systems are preferable to unnecessarily complex ones. Where at first glance postmodernism seems simple and then upon closer examination is revealed to be complex, Christianity is the opposite. Many look at the churches, their practices and traditions, hear older translations in outdated English, and assume that Christianity must be complex. Instead, on closer examination, Christianity is revealed to be incredibly simple to explain; at its core it is about creation, fall, and redemption.[22]

Defense of Christianity

In a defense of Christianity with regards to the postmodern worldview, a strong starting point is on the issue of truth. While postmoderns claim truth is relative, that there is not a defined metanarrative from which truth comes from, even in so claiming they have contradicted themselves. By virtue of believing that that truth; that all truth is relative, they have embraced a metanarrative that defines and shapes their beliefs. Aristotle once argued that truth relies on a tangible thing; it cannot be based on nothing. He famously wrote, “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true; so that he who says of anything that it is, or that it is not, will say either what is true or what is false; but neither what is nor what is not is said to be or not to be.”[23]

What Aristotle so eloquently communicates is this: a thing is either true or false. It cannot be true for one person, but false for another. Different truths cannot contradict each other, logic requires that one admits conflicting truths reveal at least one, if not both, to be untrue. Postmodernism is correct on one front; man is shaped and influenced by his context, his culture, the bias and lens that have been shaped in his perspective over the course of a lifetime; it is why man only holds pieces of the truth.

If mankind cannot possess a complete truth, who is able to know it? Is it not something that requires the existence of a God? A being perfect and powerful enough to both know and understand all truth? Tied to truth is the issue of objective morals. While relativism would suggest that morals vary from person to person, suggesting ultimately that evil does not exist, in reality this is an easier topic to defend. In his core, man knows good and evil. God claims throughout scripture to have written His law on the heart (Jer. 31:33, Heb. 8:10, Rom. 2:15). This is revealed not in man’s actions, but in his wants; he does not want to be mocked, he does not want to be robbed, he does not want to be attacked, he does not want to be cheated – he does not want these things because in his heart he knows they are wrong and he does not want them to happen to him.

Objective moral values do exist, whether or not individuals are willing to acknowledge them. Groothuis notes the “goodness to deity” argument in his book[24];

  1. If a personal God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore, a personal God exists.

Perhaps mankind’s fascination with, and hunger for, truth is rooted in its creation. Scripture claims that man is “made in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27), and while sin corrupts and renders man imperfect, his desires are still impacted by that holy lineage. Isaiah 65:16 calls God “the God of truth,” a God mankind is designed to be in relationship with, and created in the image of – of course truth is a center point of man’s philosophical discussions. John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Scripture claims to have the exclusive hold on truth; the Christian church is called “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

Moral truth exists, therefore God exists. Since God exists, and both warrants and claims a hold on truth, then the scriptures must be dependable. When Christ claims in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” it must reflect an exclusive reality regarding man’s restoration to his Creator. John 3:16 summarizes how that is accomplished; “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” By placing one’s trust and faith in the saving power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, eternal life and restoration is achievable.

Conclusion

In modern society, postmodernism has natural appeal. The world is more connected than any time in history, with people throughout the planet being connected to and with people of different belief systems and cultural biases to a degree never before seen. Moral relativism paves the way in theory for all these differing backgrounds to coexist without diminishing one another. But as demonstrated in this paper, its foundations quickly collapse under the contradictions and fallacies. Instead, through the very truth postmodernism tries to redefine, it is revealed to be an imperfect worldview and points to a moral truth that ultimately proves the existence of God.

Christianity is not just a superior worldview, it is proven time and again to be the only functional worldview.

Bibliography

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ Pr, 1976.

Derrida, Jacques. The Gift of Death: and, Literature in Secret. 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2008.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: an Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Reissue ed. New York: Vintage, 1994.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: IVP Academic, 2011.

Groothuis, Douglas. Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2000.

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason. Amazon Kindle, 2011.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 1984.

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999.

Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. 5th ed. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.

Smith, C. Fred. Developing a Biblical Worldview: Seeing Things God’s Way. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015.

Smith, Christian, and Melina Lundquist Denton. Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Reprint ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

White, Heath. Postmodernism 101: A First Course for the Curious Christian. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006.

Footnotes

[1] Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: a Report On Knowledge (Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 1984), 24.

[2] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 216.

[3] Heath White, Postmodernism 101: a First Course for the Curious Christian (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 11.

[4] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: a Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP Academic, 2011), Kindle location 721.

[5] Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason (Amazon Kindle, 2011), Kindle location 18.

[6] Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ Pr, 1976), 158.

[7] Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death: and, Literature in Secret, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2008), 62.

[8] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 228.

[9] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: an Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Reissue ed. (New York: Vintage, 1994), 342.

[10] Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Reprint ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), Kindle location 3526.

[11] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 226.

[12] Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason (Amazon Kindle, 2011), Kindle location 447.

[13] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: a Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Kindle location 485.

[14] White, Postmodernism 101, 41.

[15] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 239.

[16] Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2000), 48.

[17] Smith and Denton, Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, 74.

[18] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 229.

[19] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, [Rev., ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 46.

[20] Dr. C. Fred Smith, Developing a Biblical Worldview: Seeing Things God’s Way (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015), Kindle location 115.

[21] Groothuis, Truth Decay, 180.

[22] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: a Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Kindle location 795.

[23] McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 586.

[24] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: a Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Kindle location 3625.