Christ and Culture Update: Session #1

Thank You!

Thanks to all who came out to the class last night! I must say that nothing went like I thought it would. I actually had a specific game plan when I came in and then I discovered that what was needed was kind of a broad introductory discussion driving home the importance of what we will be doing this short semester.

I also noticed that many of you have checked out the blogs. This one went from 12 hits to over a hundred hits since class time. I hope you will read the articles and make comments in between class sessions.

My Take Away

I feel like we struck the right balance in our discussion. We talked a good bit about the onslaught of “gay Christianity” which was important to do for a couple of reasons. First, it happens to be the fastest moving breach of orthodoxy facing the believing Church today. Second, in principle, it represents all of the varied principles we will deal with in other issues as well. But, just to be clear, this class is not about homosexuality.

More importantly, we discussed the need for the believing Church to be full of power and to demonstrate genuine love to the people in our culture, remembering that people who are lost and struggling with sin and bondage are not our enemies. There are those in the culture who have made themselves enemies of the cross, but even they are being held captive under the sway of the real enemy which is Satan. The point was also well made that as we talk about these things, but more importantly as we pray, we must realize we move into the enemy’s camp and so we should be wise and stay in pray and in the Word.

Expectations

In the end, I hope that as a result of attending this class you become more informed about where we are in the Church and the culture and that you will take your place “on the wall” so to speak and discover how God wants to use you in these last hours.

For Next Week

Please read Intro to an Ethics of Christ and Culture, Heresy: What is it?, and Old Time Tolerance and Intolerance. They are not long. If you would like to share your thoughts on these subjects, make a comment!

See you next week!

 

 

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Heresy: What is it? (Revised 4/24/13)

Filippino Lippi - Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas...
Filippino Lippi – Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas over the Heretics (detail) – WGA13118 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From a Christian standpoint, heresy is “any teaching rejected by the Christian community as contrary to Scripture and . . . to orthodox doctrine. The term heresy is generally reserved for any belief that claims to be Christian and scriptural but has been rejected by the church as sub-Christian or anti-scriptural.”1

When we talk about heresy, we are not referring to atheism because atheism does not make its claim from within Christianity. We are also not talking about schism, which refers to division or faction within Christian fellowship or the sowing of discord among the brethren (both of which can happen as a result of heresy), but does not in and of itself have false doctrine as its root. As for heresy, Origen, the early church father said: “Heretics all begin by believing, and afterwards depart from the road of faith and the truth of the church’s teaching.”2

What makes heresy such an evil is that it comes from within the body of true believers from someone who had been viewed as a true believer. According to Pelikan:

“The presupposition of those works [the writings of the Ancient Church orthodox theologians against heresies] was that the primitive deposit of Christian truth had been given by Christ to the apostles and by them in turn to the succession of orthodox bishops and teachers, while the heretics were those who forsook this succession and departed from this deposit.”3

For Irenaeus, heresy was a deviation from the standard of sound doctrine. Augustine ultimately defined “heretics as those who ‘in holding false opinions regarding God, do injury to the faith itself.’”4

A.W. Tozer wrote:

“Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. . . . So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.

“Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.

“The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him—and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past.”5

NOTES

1 Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki, Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 58.

2  Origen, Exposition of the Song of Solomon, 3.4, quoted by Jaroslav Pelikan in The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1, ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971) page 69.

3 Pelikan, page 69. I think one of the things that makes heresy difficult to deal with is that it can seep into the Church so subtly and, since it comes from people within the body, it comes from people we likely esteem! As to the idea of the “succession of Bishops” etc., a case can be made that it was the onslaught of heresy that helped to hasten the Church’s catholicity, forcing it to solidify its continuity with Christ and the apostles thereby closing the door on heresy. So, apostolic succession becomes a byword and ultimately even a mechanism of control.

4 Pelikan, page 69, quoting Augustine in On Faith and the Creed and On Heresies.

5 A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), page 4.

 

Intro to an Ethics of Christ and Culture

Ethics, Christian Ethics, and an Ethics of Christ and Culture

Simply put, the study of ethics concerns itself with the human pursuit of “the good.”1 It deals with questions having to do with how people should behave and asks, “What is the good life for man?”2 The subject and study of Christ and culture is the study of ethics, though not simply Christian ethics, limited only to those who profess Christ, but rather an ethics that speaks of Christ intersecting with culture; a theory of ethics that envisions culture as Christ would order it.

Admittedly, some have expressed animosity towards the idea of Christian ethics for at least a couple of reasons. First, the many examples where atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity such as “[the] crusades, the Inquisition, the conquest of the Americas, religious wars, the Galileo affair, defenses of slavery and patriarchy.”3 Second, because Christians are perceived as not caring about the natural world and the common interests of mankind. In fact, some would say “Jesus imperils culture.”4 An ethics of Christ and culture wants to decisively address the questions that arise in the human pursuit of “the good.” It wants to define what “the good life” is for humanity.

The “Enduring Problem”

Niebuhr referred to the problem of human culture as the “enduring problem.”5 And while the Church, as representatives of Christ, would like to lead the culture, there are several reasons according to Niebuhr why the culture is suspicious of an ethics of Christ and culture.

First, he reported that the culture perceives that “Christians are animated by a contempt for present existence and by confidence in immortality.”6

It is not an attitude which can be ascribed to defective discipleship while the Master is exculpated, since his statements about anxiety for food and drink . . . the unimportance of treasures on earth . . . the fear of those who can take away life [see Matthew 6; 10:28] . . . as well as his [Jesus’] rejection in life and death of temporal power [Matthew 4] all point to Jesus as the source of His followers’ convictions . . . . It is a baffling attitude, because it mates what seems like contempt for present existence with great concern for existing men, because it is not frightened by the prospect of doom on all man’s works, because it is not despairing but confident. Christianity seems to threaten culture at this point not because it prophecies that of all human achievements not one stone will be left on another but because Christ enables men to regard this disaster with a certain equanimity, directs their hopes toward another world, and so seems to deprive them of motivation to engage in the ceaseless labor of conserving a massive but insecure social heritage.

The second reason, according to Niebuhr, for cultural contempt towards an ethics of Christ and culture is the accusation that Jesus

induces men to rely on the grace of God instead of summoning them to human achievement. What would have happened to the Romans, asks Celsus in effect, if they had followed the command to trust in God alone? Would they not have been left like the Jews, without a patch of ground to call their own, and would they not have been hunted down as criminals, like the Christians?7

This approach to life flies in the face of an ethics that relies on human effort.

The third reason given by Niebuhr is that “Christ and his church . . . are intolerant.” Niebuhr prophetically describes this accusation as “the disapproval with which unbelief meets conviction.” The problem in Rome was not that Christians worshipped a new God in Jesus Christ, but that they claimed to possess an exclusive divine knowledge and would not bow to Caesar when it was required. Niebuhr wrote:

The Christ who will not worship Satan to gain the world’s kingdoms is followed by Christians who will worship only Christ in unity with the Lord whom he serves. And this is intolerable to all defenders of society who are content that many gods should be worshiped if only Democracy or America or Germany or the Empire receives its due, religious homage [today read: the Church yielding to the state in our present milieu of separation between Church and state].

Niebuhr mentions other aspects of Christianity that are abhorrent to the culture: Christ’s view of forgiveness, the requirements found in the Sermon on the Mount, the exaltation of the lowly, and the “unavailability of Christ’s wisdom to the wise and prudent, its attainability by the simple and by babes.”

In the end, the problem is between the two authoritative poles of Christ and culture and that Christians appeal to and follow Christ’s authority and want others to as well. Indeed, Jesus imperils culture.

Notes

1 Dr. Stephen Long, Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2010).

2 Popkin, Stroll, Philosophy Made Simple (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1993).

3 Long, page 1.

4 H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, (New York: Harper & Row, 1951) 4.

5 Ibid., page 1ff.

6 Ibid., Niebuhr quoting Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 5. The following quotes come from this same source: Niebuhr Chapter One The Enduring Problem.

7 Niebuhr is quoting Origen here: Contra Celsus, VIII, lxix (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p 666).

The Christ and Culture Initiative

ccithink

By Scott Fowler

Christ and Culture

Last year I read H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic text, Christ and Culture. For years I had been meaning to read it but, truthfully, it is not the easiest read. But last year, it came alive! Not so much because of Niebuhr’s insights1 but because it so eloquently raises the question: What is to be done about the problem of Christ and culture?2 The question is profoundly important and constantly addressed—either consciously or subconsciously—by Christians and non-Christians alike; by religious and non-religious persons alike; by pop stars and prominent atheists, by actors and professors, by scientists and, of course, preachers of every ilk. My concern for the believing Church and an American culture increasingly hostile towards it,3 prompts my entry into this fray.

And so, for some time now, my question has been, Who do we look to for…

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Old Time Tolerance and Intolerance

English: Title page of "A Dictionary of t...
English: Title page of “A Dictionary of the English Language,” written by Noah Webster. Image courtesy of the Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Scott Fowler

What Webster Thought

What is tolerance? In 1828 it meant “the power or capacity of enduring; or the act of enduring”1 as it still does today. For the sake of clarity, let’s call that kind of tolerance personal. That is, the act of enduring some undesirable hardship, etc. But in 1828 it also meant,

The allowance of that which is not wholly approved; to suffer to be or to be done without prohibition or hinderance [sic]; to allow or permit negatively, by not preventing; not to restrain; as, to tolerate opinions or practices.2

Let’s call this kind of tolerance social tolerance. Interestingly, the concept of social tolerance carried with it the idea that the one being tolerant had a right to do otherwise but had deigned to allow that which was “not wholly approved.”3 For example, we have all heard of Kings or Queens in the past who did not tolerate religions other than his or her own. We are also aware of nations today where religious plurality is outlawed. These are situations where, because of political power, a sovereign or a government has the power to enforce an intolerant stance against the freedom of religion. Imagine then, where such power exists, if the King or Queen or ruling party decided to tolerate other religions even though they themselves oppose those religions. That’s old-style social tolerance that “does not prevent.”

According to the 1828 Noah Webster dictionary, where there is the absence of such a power like an opposing sovereign state, etc., ,

 . . . there can be no tolerance, in the strict sense of the word, for one religious denomination has as good a right as another to the free enjoyment of its creed and worship.

So, in Noah Webster’s day, tolerance only made sense in a scenario where the acceptable standard was being challenged by some other standard or viewpoint,4 and the exercise of tolerance meant to allow and not prevent.

Looking at it from the negative, the definition of intolerance in Webster’s time meant,

Not enduring difference of opinion or worship; refusing to tolerate others in the enjoyment of their opinions, rights and worship. . . . Want of toleration; the not enduring at all or not suffering to exist without persecution; . . .5

The refusal to be tolerant meant you ultimately chose to prevent the undesired act or opinion. If tolerate meant to allow, or at the very least, not to prevent, then obviously if you were intolerant you did something to prevent or to disallow the abhorrent or disagreeable act or opinion, possibly even to the point of persecution.

Taken together, the old view of social tolerance and intolerance simply meant that you either graciously allowed an opposing opinion or you tried to prevent it. If you allowed it you were exercising tolerance. If you did not allow it, but sought to prevent it through force, etc., you were intolerant. But there was no sense that those who were being tolerant were relinquishing their standards or their beliefs. They were simply refraining from forcing others to comply with their viewpoints.

Modern Tolerance and Intolerance

Today, the concepts of social tolerance and intolerance are politically, socially, and emotionally charged. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines tolerance in the following way,

The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others; leeway for variation from a standard; the capacity to endure hardship or pain; to allow without prohibiting or opposing; permit; to recognize and respect (the rights, beliefs, or practices of others); to put up with; tolerance with respect to the actions and beliefs of others; official recognition of the rights of individuals and groups to hold dissenting opinions, especially on religion.6

The negative, intolerant, means,

Not tolerant, especially: unwilling to tolerate differences in opinions, practices, or beliefs, especially religious beliefs; opposed to the inclusion or participation of those different from oneself, especially those of a different racial, ethnic, or social background; unable or unwilling to endure or support.7

So, in general, to be socially tolerant is to allow other opinions and behaviors to exist at the very least by not preventing them. To be socially intolerant is to not be able to tolerate those same things. While the two different eras have many similarities, there is a decidedly different tone in the language used to communicate the meanings. In the 1828 Webster’s, the language suggests a restraining from acting badly to those who hold opinions that stray from the norm. The modern language nuances the meaning to reflect an acceptance or inclusiveness in those who are tolerant and a bias or prejudice in those who are not.

Revisioning Social Tolerance

D.A. Carson, in his book, The Intolerance of Tolerance, finds the distinction to be even more emphatic:

When we turn to Encarta’s treatment of the corresponding noun “tolerance,” however, a subtle change appears:

“1. ACCEPTANCE OF DIFFERENT VIEWS the accepting of the differing views of other people, e.g., in religious or political matters, and fairness toward the people who hold these different views.

This shift from “accepting the existence of different views” to “acceptance of different views,” from recognizing other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people, is subtle in form, but massive in substance.8

At present, those who speak the loudest on behalf of the culture are asking for wholesale acceptance of its views on homosexuality, abortion, evolution, etc. Not simply an agreed upon restraint, but an embrace and celebration of its deviant views. Further, it regards any dissenting voice as bigotry and hate speech!

What Christianity demonstrates (when not being hijacked by groups like Westboro Baptist church or others who use the gospel to bludgeon the lost) is a willingness to restrain itself from persecuting those who hold deviating beliefs (which we have no right to do), but not a willingness to remain silent about them.9 For this reason, the believing Church can never satisfy the culture’s cry for tolerance. To do so would mean to deny the truth of God in Christ Jesus.

So, the culture is asking for what we cannot deliver and for something the culture itself does not understand.

The New Tolerance

Social tolerance for the Church has everything to do with truth. Social tolerance for modern-day culture is not about truth but about acceptance. For that reason the following statement about tolerance would be completely unacceptable.

Social tolerance should allow, even create, a safe zone where all claims to truth can be safely and fairly considered in an atmosphere of intellectual honesty until such a time that the truth becomes clear. Once that happens, all other claims to truth that contradict revealed truth become intolerable or at least fall into the category of things that are tolerated in the personal sense of the word.

NOTES

1 Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828).

2 Ibid., see tolerate, tolerated, tolerating, and toleration.

3 Ibid., see entry under the word toleration.

4 This is a significant point. Whereas during the time of Christendom the Church would have been the norm, offering tolerance to those who did not agree with it, I think we now see the culture with its postmodern “values” with the upper hand in position of deciding what to tolerate.

5 Ibid., see intolerance, intolerant.

6 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2006, Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

7 Ibid.

8 D.A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: Eeerdman’s, 2012), 3.

9 Of course, when we disagree with the culture it is perceived as persecution because our present society views any dissenting view or negative report to be hate and persecution.

Welcome to the Christ and Culture Update!

By Scott Fowler

This blog was specially prepared to support the Christ and Culture Update class which happens on Wednesday nights at 7:30 pm at the Smithtown Gospel TabernacleThe class serves several purposes. 

Introduction

Vast swaths of the moral fabric of the Church and the culture are being ripped away on a daily basis. Unfortunately, it is typical for evangelicals to be twenty years or more behind the times when it comes to being aware of paradigmatic changes taking place in the Church and the culture at large. The Christ and Culture Update class and blog is designed to help educate the Church in the area of Christian ethics known as Christ and culture.

Christ and Culture: Definitional

The class serves as a format to educate the believing Church concerning its need to be aware of the issues that arise where Christ and culture intersect. An important “primer” on the subject is Niebuhr‘s classic text, Christ and Culture. Niebuhr suggests five ways in which the Church has assayed to address the “problem of human culture,” which can be seen as postures the Church has taken in reference to secular culture. They are Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ transforming culture. The discussion of these approaches or postures serves to get the conversation started but by no means suggests that these five represent an exhaustive list. Many since Niebuhr’s time have undertaken this area of thought, which is really Christian ethics, but in reality, Niebuhr himself points out, the problem of human culture and what the Church is to do about it is one that has endured since the Church began.

Tolerance

One of the principles constantly being haggled over at precise places where the Church and the culture intersect is tolerance. What current cultures refers to as tolerance and intolerance is vastly different from what the Church understands those concepts to be. For the believing Church, the heart of tolerance involves a commitment to truth. Daily new examples of the culture’s “intolerance of tolerance” come to light. So, this section of the class’s curricula is reserved for the discussion and defining of tolerance.

The Heresy Pantheon

The true and believing Church is being assaulted in unprecedented ways by those whom we thought were part of us but who are now calling the Church into heresy. These individuals show no hesitation or remorse when it comes to pushing their agendas. What they do, they do publicly. The heresy pantheon is a catalogue of the names and doctrines of those who demonstrate this modus operandi.

Current Events

Of course, the best way to get a handle on what is actually happening in the areas where Christ and culture intersect is to observe in real-time actual current events. The four particular “intersections” of Christ and culture where much is hanging in the balance today are evolution, homosexuality, abortion, and atheism.