Posts Tagged ‘the Word of God’
By Maria Kneas
(author of Strength for Tough Times)
David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6)
After fighting the Amalakites, David and his men returned to Ziklag to find that their wives and children had been taken captive by their enemies, and their homes burned. As a result of this tragedy, David’s men turned against him.
And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6)
Immediately after this, there was a radical change in David’s men. Instead of stoning him, they followed him and overtook their enemies. They rescued their families and returned with animals and other plunder.
How could David, who was cornered, and about to be stoned to death, turn around and inspire these angry, grieving, tired men to successfully undertake this?
What brought about such a transformation in David and his men?
We can find some keys in the psalms, which record David’s prayer and worship. They show us how David encouraged himself in the Lord, and how we can do the same.
In Psalm 42, David talked to his soul (his mind, his will, and his emotions):
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. (Psalm 42:5)
The term “cast down” is significant. David was a shepherd. A “cast” sheep is one that is unable to get back up on its legs. If the shepherd doesn’t find the sheep and help it get back on its feet, the sheep will die.
David says that his soul is like a cast sheep. He talks to his soul, telling it to get back up on its feet again, to hope in God, and to praise Him.
In Psalm 103, David tells his soul to bless the Lord. Then he reminds himself about God’s mercy and love and faithfulness:
Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)
At the end of the psalm, he exhorts all of God’s creatures to bless Him:
Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure. Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul. (Psalm 103:20-22)
In Psalm 104, David tells his soul to bless the Lord:
Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. (Psalm 104:1)
After that, he praises God for His might and His greatness. In the process, David reminds himself of reasons for blessing the Lord. Look at some of these reasons, and see why David was so compelled to praise the Lord:
Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain. (verse 2)
Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire. (verse 4)
Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. (verse 5)
He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. (verse 10)
He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. (verse 13)
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man. (verse 14)
The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies. (verse 18)
He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down. (verse 19)
The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. (verse 21)
Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. (verse 30)
In Psalm 116, David tells why he loves the Lord, and he exhorts his soul to be at rest. Then he addresses God, giving some reasons for his gratitude:
Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. (Psalm 116:7-8)
Psalm 146 is another example of David exhorting his soul to praise God:
Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul. While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. (Psalm 146:1-2)
(from Strength for Tough Times by Maria Kneas – encouragement for weary saints)
By Roger Oakland
You may not have heard the term before, but contextual theology is a prominent message from the emerging church. In his book, Models of Contextual Theology(1992), Stephen B. Bevans defines contextual theology as:
…a way of doing theology in which one takes into account: the spirit and message of the gospel; the tradition of the Christian people; the culture in which one is theologizing; and social change in that culture, whether brought about by western technological process or the grass-roots struggle for equality, justice and liberation.1
In other words, the Bible in, and of itself, is not free-standing—other factors (culture, ethnicity, history) must be taken into consideration, and with those factors, the message of the Bible must be adjusted to fit. As one writer puts it, “Contextual theology aims at the humanization of theology.”2 But two questions need to be asked. First, will the contextualizing of Scripture cause such a twisting of its truth that it no longer is the Word of God, and secondly, is Scripture ineffective without this contextualization? To the first, I give a resounding yes! And to the second, an absolute no. The Word of God, which is an inspired work of the living Creator, is far more than any human-inspired book and has been written in such a way that every human being, rich or poor, man or woman, intelligent or challenged will understand the meaning of the Gospel message if it is presented in their native language; and thanks to the tireless work of missionaries for centuries, the Gospel in native languages is becoming a reality in most cultures today.
Dean Flemming is a New Testament teacher at European Nazarene College in Germany and the author of Contextualization in the New Testament. In his book, he defends contextual theology:
Every church in every particular place and time must learn to do theology in a way that makes sense to its audience while challenging it at the deepest level. In fact, some of the most promising conversations about contextualization today (whether they are recognized as such or not) are coming from churches in the West that are discovering new ways of embodying the gospel for an emerging postmodern culture. 3
These “churches in the West” Flemming considers “most promising” are the emerging churches. He would agree with Bevans’ model of theology, but he has an answer to the emerging church’s dilemma. He states:
Many sincere Christians are still suspicious that attempts to contextualize theology and Christian behavior will lead to the compromising of biblical truth … we must look to the New Testament for mentoring in the task of doing theology in our various settings.4
There’s good reason some Christians are suspicious. But it can seem harmless at first because Flemming suggests the answer is in the New Testament, which he believes should be used as a prototype or pattern rather than something for doctrine or theology. New Testament theology is always open for change, he says, but we can learn how to develop this change by studying New Testament stories and characters. The premise Flemming presents of contextualizing Scripture is that since cultures and societies are always changing, the Word must change with it and be conformed to these changes. But I would challenge this. The Bible says the Word is living, active, and powerful:
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
And if the Word is this powerful, then it is stable and eternal as well. God, in His magnificence, is the Author of Scripture, and He surpasses time, culture, and societies. Contextualizing says people and cultures change, and therefore God’s Word must change. But, on the contrary, it’s people who need to change to conform to Scripture. If we really believe that the Bible is God’s Word, this would be clear to see; but if we think to ourselves that the Word is not infallible, not inspired, then contextualization would be the obvious expectation.
While certain parts of the Bible may be read as poetry (as Doug Pagitt and Phyllis Tickle suggest), for indeed the Bible is a beautifully written masterpiece, it is also a living mechanism that is not to be altered—rather it alters the reader’s heart and life. It is much more than putting words around people’s experiences as emergents suggest.
The Bible tells us God is always right; it is man who is so often wrong. When we rely upon human consensus, we will end up with man’s perspective and not God’s revelation. This is a dangerous way to develop one’s spiritual life—the results can lead to terrible deception.
Brian McLaren put it well when he admitted it isn’t just the way the message is presented that emerging church proponents want to change … it’s the message itself they are changing:
It has been fashionable among the innovative [emerging] pastors I know to say, “We’re not changing the message; we’re only changing the medium.” This claim is probably less than honest … in the new church we must realize how medium and message are intertwined. When we change the medium, the message that’s received is changed, however subtly, as well. We might as well get beyond our naïveté or denial about this.5
The Woman at the Well
If you listen to the emergent conversation long enough, you will hear a recurring theme: Christians are wrong to confront unbelievers head on with the Word of God. We should instead lay aside our desire to preach or share the truths from the Word and spend more time developing relationships and friendships with the unchurched (a politically correct name for unsaved). They often use Jesus as an example, saying He did not confront people but always accepted them for who they were.
One example is in Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church. In his chapter titled “The Church Arrogantly Claims All Other Religions are Wrong,” Kimball refers to the story where Jesus is sitting near a well by Himself (the disciples have gone to the nearby town), and he talks to a Samaritan woman. Kimball alters the story by saying:
He [Jesus] stopped and asked questions of the Samaritan woman (John 4) and didn’t just jump in and say, “Samaritans are all wrong.”6
But Kimball is wrong. Jesus did the exact opposite! He didn’t ask her any questions, and He confronted her straight on—something Kimball says (throughout his book) is a terrible thing to do to an unbeliever. Listen to Jesus’ words to the woman:
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
The woman saith unto him, I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. (John 4:21-26)
Kimball largely bases his premise on the reasoning that Christians should not do or say anything that might offend unbelievers, even if that anything is truth and Scripture.
The fact is, Jesus did confront people with the truth, as did His disciples (as well as the Old Testament prophets). And why did He? He told the woman at the well the reason:
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. (John 4:10)
There is no question about it, the Word of God is offensive to the unbeliever just as I Corinthians 1:18 states:
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
And again in II Corinthians 2:15-16, when Paul explains the attitude he encountered when witnessing to unbelievers:
For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life.
If Paul had been adjusting (contextualizing) the Word of God to fit the culture and context of the lives of those he spoke to, he would not have said “the aroma of death leading to death.” He took the spiritual state of these people very seriously, and he had full confidence that God’s Word, unaltered and unchanged, could reach into the heart and soul of any person who would receive Christ by faith. Whether a person is young, mentally challenged, or of a different culture or ethnic group, the Gospel is God’s Gospel, and He made it so that all who receive it by faith will understand His love and forgiveness and have eternal life. . . .
While reaching today’s generation for the cause of Christ is something we as Christians should all desire, we must remember Jesus Christ challenged us to follow Him and be obedient to His Word. Scripture commands us to “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). But the emergents are leading followers in the opposite direction, teaching that the Word of God needs to be conformed to people and cultures instead of allowing it to conform lives through Jesus Christ. Reimagining Christianity allows a dangerous kind of freedom; like cutting the suspension ropes on a hot air balloon, the free fall may be exhilarating but the results catastrophic. (For more information on the emerging church, read Faith Undone by Roger Oakland)
1. Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, Seventh Printing, November 2000, http://www.cca.org.hk/resources/ctc/ctc94-02/1.Yuzon.html), p. 1.
2. Paul L. Lehmann, “Contextual Theology” (Theology Today, Princeton Theological Seminary, 1972, http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/apr1972/v29-1-editorial2.htm).
3. Dean Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p. 14.
4. Ibid, pp. 14-15.
5. Brian McLaren, Church on the Other Side, p. 68.
6. Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus but Not the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), p. 167.
By Maria Kneas
(from Strength for Tough Times)
How can we increase our trust in God? One way is to identify some of the obstacles to trusting so that we can deal with them. We can ask God to: (1) make us aware when we fall into these ways of thinking or reacting, (2) deal with things in our hearts that are fertile ground for these hindrances, and (3) give us practical strategies, and grace, to overcome these problems.
Independence and Self-Reliance
I live in the United States. Our American culture fosters an attitude of independence and self-reliance. It values self-confidence rather than confidence in God. It promotes self-esteem, rather than high esteem for God. (We do have great value, but it is not because of any merits of our own. It is because Jesus Christ loves us so much that He gave His life in order to save us.)
The American ideal is the self-made man who can say, “I did it.” This promotes the attitude that God warned the Israelites against in Deuteronomy 8:10-18. He warned them not to be deceived into thinking that it was their power (or education or brilliance or expertise or hard work) that caused them to succeed.
Sometimes we may have a crisis or danger or an accident or health problems. The result is a “reality check.” All at once, we suddenly remember that we have to depend on God. That’s good. When the crisis is over, we need to keep reminding ourselves of the truth that we have learned instead of allowing ourselves to slip back into our independent, self-reliant, American mindset.
Our school system indoctrinates us with humanist philosophy and assumptions. Even though we know better as Christians, these things can sneak into our thinking, our assumptions, and our responses. We need to become alert to recognize them and to resist them. The Bible tells us to refuse to allow thoughts to remain if they make it difficult for us to know (and therefore trust) God. The Bible says:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
The image is a military one, that of a soldier on guard duty who sees someone and says, “Halt! Who goes there?” Then the soldier makes a decision whether to allow the person to stay or to require the person to leave or to arrest the person.
Humanism exalts itself against the knowledge of God. It tries to make man the center of the universe and the source of salvation, instead of God.
We live in a culture that encourages people to have a victim mentality. For example, I read a newspaper article about Aristide (the former ruler of Haiti), which said that Aristide was a “victim” of an “addiction to power.” A reporter with that kind of attitude could have said the same thing about Adolf Hitler. However, back in Hitler’s day, the public would not have stood for that kind of nonsense.
Some people really have been victimized. I have two friends who were raped when they were young children. They both decided that Jesus is more important to them than what happened to them. And because Jesus told us to forgive, they forgave their rapists. That turned out to be the key to a process of emotional healing. They were healed through prayer, Scripture reading, and obeying the Lord. God’s Word showed them what they needed to know.
Self-pity is related to humanism. It puts our suffering on center stage instead of God. It says that what happened to us is more important than what Jesus Christ did for us. It says that, because of what happened to us, we don’t have to obey Jesus when He tells us to forgive people and to love our enemies. It puts our focus on ourselves instead of on God. This is a form of idolatry.
How can we truly trust God when we are focused on ourselves? When we look at ourselves, our problems look huge. When we look at God—and how great and powerful and loving He is—then we can see that, compared to God, our problems are small.
The key to overcoming self-pity is (1) to repent, and (2) to make a decision to focus on who God is and how much He loves us—instead of focusing on how we feel.
It is also helpful to get our suffering in perspective. Suffering is a normal part of life. Jesus and the apostles often wrote about it. For example, Jesus said:
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. (John 15:19-21)
The Apostle Paul said:
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3-5)
It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13)
Thou therefore endure hardness [hardship], as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3)
And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. (Romans 4:21)
The Book of Acts says that Paul and his companions were:
Confirming [strengthening] the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22, emphasis added)
The Apostle Peter said:
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
The Apostle James said:
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4)
We need to learn to see suffering through the perspective of the Bible instead of the perspective of our humanist, “I have a right to feel good” culture. Then, no matter what we have been through, we will be able to get over it and go on with God. We need to be like the Apostle Paul, who said:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14, emphasis added)
Another hindrance to trusting God is believing (or feeling) that our circumstances are so overwhelming that even God can’t deal with them in a way that will work out for our good. This is actually a form of idolatry. It is saying that our circumstances are more powerful than God is.
In America, our culture is saturated with the assumptions of behavioral psychology. This is a humanistic teaching that denies personal responsibility for our own behavior. It says that we are at the mercy of our circumstances—that what we do is determined by our present circumstances or by what has happened to us in the past (our past circumstances).
This attitude is demonstrated in the movie West Side Story. A gang member says, “I’m depraved on account of I’m deprived.”
The fatal error of behavioral psychology is thinking that circumstances force people to do things. But circumstances don’t have that kind of power. All that they can do is to pressure people into making personal decisions.
If people take the path of least resistance, then they will go in the direction that the behavioral psychologists predict. However, people are capable of making godly decisions, no matter what the circumstances.
People are swimmers—not driftwood. Floating wood follows wherever the current leads. But a swimmer with a goal will swim towards that goal, in spite of the pull of the current.
I knew a young man who was raised in a home where the family was violent and morally depraved. He had no decent role models, he couldn’t read, and he didn’t know anything about God. But he used to watch a TV program called Father Knows Best. As a child, he decided that he wanted to be like the people on that TV show instead of being like the people in his family. When he grew up, he met some Christians, heard the Gospel, and became a Christian.
The martyrs demonstrate that people can make godly decisions in spite of great adversity. Fox’s Book of Martyrs tells of men and woman who went to their deaths praying or singing. They were more focused on God and His people than they were on their impending death. For example, John Huss died singing, and William Tyndale died praying for the people.
The God who gave strength and courage to Huss and Tyndale will do the same for us when we need it.
During World War II, in Holland, many of the Dutch citizens began to resist the Nazi regime when they realized that Jewish people were being persecuted and murdered. To be caught helping to hide Jews, meant either prison or death. Diet Eman was just 19 at this time. She and several of her young friends became part of the Christian non-violent resistance movement in Holland. They helped save the lives of many Jews, but it cost most of Diet’s friends, including her fiancé, their lives. But it was a choice they each made—they did what was right, and they trusted the Lord for the outcome. Of this time period, Diet states:
Sometimes people ask me whether I wish I could skip that whole part of my life, if I could live my life over. I tell them I do not. That part of my life was very, very difficult; I cannot think about it today without crying, even though I never cried much at all for most of that time. But I tell people those years of my life were very special, a time when I was very close to God—so close, in fact, I not only knew that He kept His promises, I actually experienced His faithfulness. (Things We Couldn’t Say, p. 325)
We can trust God—no matter what happens. If we are faced with grief or tragedy or sickness or injustice or war or persecution, we can trust God to be with us and to get us through it. The Apostle Paul said:
Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
And Jesus said:
I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:20)
The Epistle to the Hebrews says:
[F]or he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. (Hebrews 13:5-6)
The Apostle Paul said:
And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. (Romans 4:21)
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
What Are We Thinking About?
When you drive on a country road with ditches, you have to avoid going off the road on both sides. Whether you go too far to the right or to the left, either way, you will wind up in a ditch.
Some things in the Bible come in pairs. One statement helps us avoid the ditch on one side of the road, and the other statement helps us avoid the ditch on the opposite side.
When it comes to what we think about, we need to understand both sets of principles. On the one hand, we need to have enough understanding of evil to be able to deal with it. On the other hand, we need to focus on good things—not bad ones. You can see both of these principles in Scripture.
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices. (2 Corinthians 2:11)
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
So we need to have enough understanding of bad things to be able to avoid getting snared by them, but at the same time we cannot afford to focus on such things. We need to focus on good things (and especially on God and His Word). How can we do that in real life?
We do something similar all the time when we drive. We keep our eyes on the road ahead. But at the same time, we are aware of things to the side of the road, such as a deer or another vehicle that could be a potential driving hazard. Our primary focus is straight ahead (which keeps us safe on the road). However, our peripheral vision takes in other things (so that we are aware of what is going on around us).
Too Much Focus on Ourselves
The Apostle Paul warned about a future time when people would be “lovers of themselves.” This would result in a long list of bad attitudes and destructive behavior. Take a look at this list, and see how many of these things you can see in our society today:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:1-5, emphasis added)
One form that this self focus takes is the emphasis on “self esteem.” According to Scripture, we are valuable, but the reason is based on God—not on ourselves. We are created in God’s image, and Jesus Christ purchased us by His blood. That is what gives us value—not anything that we can boast of having said or done. Here is what the Bible says about our own natural goodness, apart from the grace of God:
And he [Jesus] said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. (Matthew 19:17)
[A]ll our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)
The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
Another form that focusing on ourselves takes is self-condemnation. This is more subtle. Because it talks in negative terms, people can overlook the fact that it is another way of focusing on ourselves instead of focusing on God.
If we have repented of our sins, and God has forgiven them, then why are we still beating ourselves up about it? According to the Bible, the devil is “the accuser” of Christians (Revelation 12:10). Why should we do the devil’s job for him?
The Bible tells us to avoid saying destructive things. It says that our words should “edify” people. That means to build them up, as opposed to tearing them down.
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29, emphasis added)
That includes what we tell ourselves. When we talk to ourselves, we are both the speaker and the hearer.
As Christians, we should focus on the Lord, and on loving and serving our neighbors. Self-condemnation undermines both of those. It gets our focus on ourselves, and makes us the center of attention. It is actually a form of injured pride because it forgets that our value is in God alone.
We need to focus on God rather than on ourselves. We should try to see people (including ourselves) the way that God sees them, and try to live according to biblical principles. The Epistles can be helpful for doing this. They are pastoral letters written to Christians, and they deal with the practical issues of everyday life.
God’s Power and Faithfulness
We live in a world that is morally sliding downhill. But we can be reassured because where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds even more (Romans 5:20).
If we feel weak or inadequate, then we can be strengthened and comforted by the fact that God told Paul:
My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
God doesn’t play favorites. What He did for Paul, He will do for all of His children. We can rest assured that God’s grace really is sufficient for us. When we are weak, He will give us His strength to go on. We can see this same promise in the Epistle of Jude, which says:
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)
God has provided everything that we need in order to overcome every obstacle to trusting Him. The Apostle Peter told us:
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4, emphasis added)
We can begin appropriating these “great and precious promises” right now. And then we can spend the rest of our lives learning how to live by them more and more consistently. It’s a process and an adventure. We can spend a lifetime doing it here on earth and then enjoy the fruits of it for all eternity.
(From Strength for Tough Times by Maria Kneas)
LTRP Note: While some try to insist that the “emerging church” is dead, we say it is alive. That can be proven by all the emergent books pouring off the presses of evangelical publishing houses. While the book below came out seven years ago, its influence continues on, forming (and misinforming) the next generation of “Christian” leaders. If you have children or grandchildren in Christian colleges, most likely they have been, either directly or indirectly, influenced by Tony Jones.
“This is the book to read to get the actual insiders’ view of all things emergent.” -Dan Kimball, author of They Like Jesus but not the Church
“This intelligent and informative book is the only insider story from one of the leading lights of the more progressive wing of the emerging movement, the former national coordinator of Emergent Village.” –
Emerging church leader Tony Jones’ book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, may not come as a shock to those who have already read Jones’ books, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope and The Sacred Way. To those who haven’t read his other books, this one will most likely shock. Either way, The New Christians does provide further insights into the true nature of the emerging church. In The Sacred Way, Jones openly acknowledges his affinity with mysticism. With chapters on labyrinths, stations of the cross, the silence, centering (mantric) prayer, and more, Jones’ leaves no doubt that he embraces eastern-style mystical prayer practices. In An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, he takes it to the next level. The thesis of that book could be described as:
The Kingdom of God is already here on earth, includes all people, all faiths, and in fact is in all people and all of creation and can be felt or realized through mysticism which connects everything together as ONE. (see review
Those who have come to understand mantra meditation know that the usual outcome of going into altered states is a new spiritual consciousness that is open to both panentheism (God in all) and interspirituality (all religions lead to God). 1
In order to have this new spiritual outlook, one’s view of “truth” must be adjusted – Jones’ new book, The New Christians, provides such an outline for this adjustment. A theme of this book could go something this:
Emergents say they believe in truth, but they define it as something that is always changing and being refined, can never be grasped, and enfolds all beliefs, except the ones that insist there is only one truth.
It’s not really any wonder that Jones says this – he credits Brian McLaren as “helping to birth this book” (p. 253). McLaren’s view on truth resonates with the description above.
As is typical with many emerging church books, The New Christians emphatically tries to convince readers that the “church is dead” (p. 4), at least church as we have known it. Jones uses several analogies to describe present day Christianity, such as it being like the nearly-obsolete pay phones, or a dying old growth forest, or compost (rotting vegetables). He says we can almost hear the “death rattle” of “America’s church” (p. 5).
Jones explains that the movement was spawned because a lot of youth pastors had been raised in this dying, superficial Christianity and the emerging church is their way of coming of age. But anyone who has read Roger Oakland’s powerful expose’ on the emerging church (Faith Undone) knows that the movement was actually spawned by big corporate dollars, and it is very likely that these youth pastors’ discontent for traditional Christianity is more the fault of the seminaries they attended rather than their upbringing. Many of the seminaries have been heralding this “new kind of Christianity” for a long time. Incidentally, on page 48, Jones says that those who funded the emerging church through Leadership Network in the 90s weren’t too happy about the direction these young emergents were heading. “The funding for the Young Leaders Network (later to become Emergent),” Jones says, “was about to come to an end.” But this statement is somewhat misleading, giving the impression that the emergents were financially left out in the cold. The publisher for The New Christians (and for many other emergent books) is Jossey Bass, an imprint of a large corporation called Wiley & Sons and a partner with Leadership Network. Between Jossey Bass, Zondervan, Baker Books (Emersion) and Thomas Nelson, the emerging church authors are hardly left to fend for themselves.
In Jones’ efforts to convey to readers that non-emerging Christians do not care about humanity and the earth, he goes into a gory detailed account of a chicken slaughterhouse where chickens are issued an electric shock and then their throats are slit. He says that the typical Christian just doesn’t care about the world’s abuses, tragedies, and woes, and says that when disaster hits, all they care about is whether “victims had invited Jesus into their hearts” (p. 18). Using extreme examples over and over to prove his points, Jones will leave many unsuspecting readers with the notion that up until now Christians have done almost nothing good for this world. And like his cohorts, Tony Campolo and Dan Kimball, who also paint a dismal view of traditional Christianity, Jones believes that the problems of the world are actually caused (at least in large part) by Christians. Jones neglects to admit that when disasters happen throughout the world, Christian-led organizations race to the scenes, often sooner than governmental agencies. While there have certainly been countless occurrences throughout history when those proclaiming to be Christian do fit Jones’ stereotype, he completely (and seemingly intentionally) leaves out the category of true Christianity that has been in existence since the beginning of the church two thousand years ago. A distorted attempt by several of today’s contemplative and emerging leaders would have us believe that true devoted Christians have not existed up until now, until paradigms like Purpose Driven and emerging spirituality came on the scene. This of course, is resulting in a growing hostility and alienation towards biblical Christianity today.
What is even more disturbing about The New Christians is Jones’ attack on truth and the Word of God. Jones insists that it is wrong to accept and believe the Bible to be true without using logic and reasoning. He states:
For the conservative, the sacred text of Christianity is indubitable, established by an internal and circular reasoning: “The Bible claims to be God’s truth, so therefore it’s true.”
Jones emphasizes the role philosophy and reasoning must play in determining whether the Bible is true and God is real. And in fact, he acknowledges how ancient atheist philosophers influenced the early beginnings of the emerging church (p. 43). But in reality, philosophy and reasoning does not bring people to Christ. Most philosophers are atheist or agnostic. The influence of philosophy coupled with the use of mysticism certainly explains why “emergents” are so confused.
Jones’ also believes that the gospel has been dormant throughout most of history, except during specific times when it was able to break through “human institutions.” He states:
And although it [the gospel] has been crusted over for eons, it will inevitably find a time and a fissure, an opportunity to blast through that crust and explode, volcano-like into the atmosphere. (p. 36)
If this were true, then God has failed to keep his gospel alive, or at best has only been able to allow it to come out of dormancy from time to time. Yet we know that there has always been a representation of the true gospel on the earth throughout history.
Ultimately, what one will come away with from Jones’ book is that Jones (and all emergents, he says) believes that truth cannot be pinned down and set in concrete. What is true for today may not be considered truth tomorrow. And he isn’t talking just about negotiable societal and cultural ideologies. He is talking about doctrine too. In fact, that is really the point he wants to get across in this book. Emergents love the Bible, he says, but they are not going to be so arrogant “[t]o assume that our convictions about God are somehow timeless” and to think they are “establishes an imperialistic attitude that has a chilling effect on the honest conversation that’s needed for theology to progress” (p. 114). This progression of theology that Jones speaks of is not limited to areas of theology that are often and legitimately debated by Christian scholars. No; Jones says even the doctrine of atonement cannot be set in stone. He says it is “arrogant and a bit deceptive” (p. 77) to suggest that there can be any one understanding of atonement. He was referencing the difference between a traditional Christian pastor versus Brian McLaren, who has called the doctrine of hell and the Cross “false advertising” for God. 2 Jones states that to “try to freeze one particular articulation of the gospel, to make it timeless and universally applicable, actually does an injustice to the gospel” (p. 96). He says we must “refigure our theology” (p. 104) and that “emergents” are “looking for a Christianity that’s still exploratory” (i.e., theology is flexible – p. 108) and “a gospel that meshes with our own experience of the world” (p. 110). “Theology is not universal, nor is it transcendent” (p. 112), he claims, but it is “temporary” and we “must carry our theologies with an open hand” (p. 114). He adds:
[E]mergents reject metaphors like “pin it down,” “in a nutshell,” “sum it up,” and “boil it down” when speaking of God and God’s Kingdom, for it simply can’t be done (p. 114).
One of those “theologies” Jones refers to is that of homosexuality. He explains: “What I can proclaim with confidence is that in a hundred years, the church will not be debating gay marriage anymore. We will have reached consensus and moved on.” He adds to that: “[E]mergents are pretty humble about the positions we hold today and about the issues that we consider most important” (p. 116).
However, reading Jones’ book is probably not going to help readers get a grasp of just what these positions are. Jones’ is all over the place with his ideas and ultimately says even these ideas are forever changing and being reformed based on the experiential and “comes in all sorts of forms” (p. 160). Quoting Brian McLaren, Jones goes so far as to say that the moment we think we have truth and theology figured out, “we cease being faithful…. The Bible is a companion on the faith journey, not a textbook of proofs” (p. 168).
In the end, Jones leaves his readers with this: “Jesus did not have a ‘statement of faith'” (p. 234). In other words, Jesus was just as vague and unsure about what is truth, atonement, righteousness, the gospel, as are the emergents today. But this is a complete and horrible distortion of Jesus Christ, who did indeed have a statement of faith. In fact, everything He said was a statement of true faith, and He spoke as one knowing exactly what truth is:
For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matthew 7:29)
And He also stated: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13)
Jones says that end-times, last-days thinking Christians “propose the dubious theology that the world is going to get worse and worse and worse until it gets so bad that God has to intervene” (p. 98-99). And like many, such as Tony Campolo, Jones suggests that those who believe in wars, increasing sin, “false teachers,” and “antichrists” are the cause of environmental issues (p. 100). In reality, while it is true that every person in the world who owns a car contributes to pollution, many of the earth’s major environmental problems stem from abuse of land by corrupt governments and profit-hungry corporations (i.e., human sinfulness), not because of Christians who believe what the Bible says about Christ’s return. That’s absurd!
Finally, and not in any way least, Jones makes a case for mysticism when he says that “[E]mergents will use all of the means available to them to quest after this truth we call God.” He says this on the heels of explaining that his wife (a Yoga instructor), has gotten into alternative health. Jones say emergents “quest after God using the tools of the medieval mystics and the ancient monastics (i.e., contemplative prayer)…. some will even be open to sources of truth that are external to traditional [biblical] Christianity, be it philosophy or another religious system (p. 159).” And it is in these other religious systems that Jones and the New Christians find “truth.” He puts it well:
In the aftermath of the myth of objectivity [absolute truth], of fideisims and airtight systems, we’re left to embrace our subjectivity, to revel in it, for it’s only when we accept our own biases that we allow them to be shaped by contrary opinions and biases. One place where this is most poignant is interreligious dialogue” (p. 155).
Fellow cohorts who place their names on The New Christians endorsement include Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Dan Kimball, Jim Wallis, Mark Ostreicher (former head of Youth Specialties), and a number of others who have proven over time that they too have joined the ranks of a spirituality that cannot lead people to Christ but only to confusion and lostness. And it is for this reason we hope that The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontiers will not end up on the library and classroom shelves of Christian colleges and seminaries and certainly not in the youth groups of Christian churches and organizations.
4 Reasons Why Holman Publishers Should Not Have Inserted an Article by a Contemplative Author into Their King James Bibles
Recently, Lighthouse Trails learned that Holman Bible Publishers (the oldest Bible publisher in America) has inserted an article by a strong contemplative proponent into several of their King James Version Bibles (some of which Lighthouse Trails WAS carrying) including: the Ultra Thin Reference Bible, the Pocket-Sized Bible Classic, the Large Print Ultra Thin Bible, and the Personal Reference Bible. The article in the Bibles is titled, “Why You Should Read the King James Bible,” written by the late Calvin Miller (died 2012). This is a major issue, and let us tell you 4 reasons why we believe Holman should not have done this:
1. Calvin Miller is an advocate for contemplative/centering prayer. Ray Yungen discusses Miller in A Time of Departing:
In Into the Depths of God, [Calvin] Miller encourages readers to engage in centering prayer and explains it as a union between man and God:
“Centering is the merger of two ‘selves’—ours and his [God’s]. Centering is union with Christ. It is not a union that eradicates either self but one that heightens both” (p. 107).
Into the Depths of God is an exhortation in contemplative spirituality and is brimming with quotes by Thomas Merton and other contemplatives. Miller speaks of the “wonderful relationship between ecstasy [mystical state] and transcendence [God],” and says that “Ecstasy is meant to increase our desire for heaven” (p. 96) (A Time of Departing, p. 186).
Into the Depths of God is riddled with favorable quotes by and references to a number of contemplative mystics. In addition to Thomas Merton, there is Evelyn Underhill, St. John of the Cross, Esther de Waal, Kathleen Norris, Hildegard of Bingen, Annie Dillard, Bernard of Clairvaux, and St. Anthony (a Desert Father). In Miller’s newer book, The Disciplined Life, Miller again turns to the mystics. Miller also wrote The Path to Celtic Prayer (Celtic spirituality is another avenue through which contemplative is entering the evangelical church).
2. Secondly, Calvin Miller resonates with emergent teacher Marcus Borg. In Miller’s book, The Book of Jesus (2005), Marcus Borg writes an entire chapter for the book. Miller would never include an entire chapter of his own book if it was written by someone he did not resonate with. As Lighthouse Trails has revealed in past articles and books, Marcus Borg denies the tenets of the Christian faith including the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, and His atonement for sin. Roger Oakland discusses Borg in Faith Undone:
Borg explains in his book The God We Never Knew that his views on God, the Bible, and Christianity were transformed while he was in seminary:
“I let go of the notion that the Bible is a divine product. I learned that it is a human cultural product, the product of two ancient communities, biblical Israel and early Christianity. As such, it contained their understandings and affirmations, not statements coming directly or somewhat directly from God. . . . I realized that whatever “divine revelation” and the “inspiration of the Bible” meant (if they meant anything), they did not mean that the Bible was a divine product with divine authority.” (p. 125)
This attitude would certainly explain how Borg could say: “Jesus almost certainly was not born of a virgin, did not think of himself as the Son of God, and did not see his purpose as dying for the sins of the world” (p. 125) (from p. 196, Faith Undone).
There’s no possible way that Calvin Miller could have been familiar with Borg’s writings and not been aware of his blatantly anti-Gospel stance. This is a common problem that Lighthouse Trails has had in the past and continues to have that people we are critical of tend to resonate with those who are blatant in their New Age views, but they themselves appear to be relatively benign to the larger evangelical community (see Beware the Bridgers) (Also see a book review of one of Borg’s books.)
3. As we have shown above, Calvin Miller holds to contemplative persuasions. And yet, these Bibles have an article written by him within their pages. What this will do is point Bible readers to Miller and his writings and possibly even to Marcus Borg and his writings. To have Calvin Miller’s article in a Bible seems to be a terrible dichotomy: i.e., the Bible points people to the Gospel’s message of the Cross and man’s sinful state and need of a Savior while contemplative, as a movement, points people to man’s supposed divinity and diminishes the need for a Savior.
4. In view of Calvin Miller’s contemplative propensities, let’s briefly examine his article in the Holman Bibles, “Why You Should Read the King James Bible.” In the article, he lists three reasons why the KJV should be read: 1) it is the version your parents and grandparents read 2) it has literary and poetic strength and beauty, and 3) there is ease in memorizing verses in the KJV because of its “high literary resonance.” While these reasons all produce merit, the article seems to turn the KJV into more of a poetic book than the Word of God. While Lighthouse Trails is not in the category of what some call King James Only (in that that is the only version someone can get saved through), we do see it as a standard high above many of the Bible versions available today. Thus we have come to trust it more than others. We find it noteworthy of these two things: one, that emerging church figures (such as Phyllis Tickle who suggest it is a lovely book of poetic literature but not an authority in our lives and Tony Jones who minimizes the authority of the Bible as the Word of God) have done much to disregard the Bible as God’s inspired Word, and two, that the Holman Bibles include someone (Miller) who resonates with a man (Borg) who rejects the basic fundamentals of Christianity and Miller himself speaks of the poetic nature of the Bible.
Another Possible Ramification:
There are serious implications and possible ramifications regarding what is going on here. For instance, something many may not have considered: The King James Bible has no copyright on it because of its age. Bluntly put, anyone can do anything they want to that Bible and still call it the King James Bible. As an example, in some of Holman’s editions, they have changed the spelling of some words (e.g., Saviour to Savior). This might not seem like a big deal to some people, but how do we know what a particular publisher is changing and not changing? If they can change the spellings of words, they can also omit or change words and phrases. For instance, they could change or remove references to homosexuality (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:9, Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:27) or to the deity of Christ (e.g., Romans 9:5, Isaiah 40:3 – see more). While we do believe that the Lord will preserve and protect His Word, the “editing” of the Kings James Bible could become a free-for-all to emergent-leaning publishers.
Conclusion: Perhaps it would be a good idea to check inside your own Bibles and ones you are giving as gifts and make sure there are no articles written by contemplative and/or emerging authors. If any reading this feel compelled, here is the contact information for Holman Bible Publishers. If you do contact them, please ask them to remove the article by Calvin Miller in their Bible editions.
Note: Lighthouse Trails has put in two calls into Holman, but we have not yet heard back from anyone regarding this matter. Update: On the afternoon of April 8th, shortly after this article was posted, we received a phone call from someone who works at Holman Publishers. She is going to be passing this article onto the editorial department. We were told that LifeWay Resources is the parent company of B & H (Broadman & Holman).
Holman Bible Publishers
127 9th Avenue N
Nashville, TN 37234-0002
NEW PRINT BOOKLET TRACT: How to Know When the Emerging Church Shows Signs of Emerging Into Your Church
How to Know When the Emerging Church Shows Signs of Emerging Into Your Church, written by Roger Oakland, is our newest Lighthouse Trails Print Booklet Tract. The booklet is 16 pages long and sells for $1.50 for single copies. Quantity discounts are as much as 50% off retail. This booklet is specifically geared toward passing out to those who are involved with contemplative/emerging/seeker friendly churches. Below is the content of the booklet. The book also contains a bonus section titled “Who are the ‘Change Agents’ of the Emerging Church, listing over 50 names to look out for when trying to make sure your church does not go emerging. To order copies of How to Know When the Emerging Church Shows Signs of Emerging Into Your Church, click here.
“How to Know When the Emerging Church Shows Signs of Emerging Into Your Church”
by Roger Oakland
The world is changing. So is the Christian evangelical church. There was a time—not that long ago—when the Bible was considered to be the Word of God by the majority of evangelical Christians. Now that we are well into the third millennium and the post-modern, post-Christian era, the term evangelical can mean almost anything. What has happened? Why is this happening and what is the future for mainstream Christianity?
For the past several years, I have been speaking around the world on current trends that are impacting Christianity. After these presentations, I am approached by Christians who come from many different church backgrounds. Many are expressing their concerns about what is happening in their churches, troubled by the new direction they see their church going. While they may not always be able to discern what is wrong, they know something is wrong and that it needs to be addressed.
Further, many have told me they have attempted to express their concerns with their pastors or church elders. In almost every case, they were told they had a choice to make—get with the new program or get out of the church.
This move towards a reinvented Christianity (one designed to “reach people”) seems to be here for the long haul. It is not just a passing fad. I am often asked by concerned brothers and sisters in Christ to provide an explanation in order to help them understand what they have encountered. They want to know why these changes are underway and what to expect in the future. As well, they want to know what, if anything can be done, to stem this tide. It is for this reason I am writing this commentary—to provide biblical insight regarding the Emerging Church and where it is heading in the future.
The Gospel According to the Scriptures
Throughout church history, various trends have come and gone. While culture changes from place to place, biblical Christianity has always been based upon the central message of the Bible which is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the message never changes.
This gospel message is about who Jesus Christ is, and what He has done. A child can understand the gospel message. This message proclaims that life here on planet earth is finite and that life after death is eternal. The good news is that we can be saved from our sins if we will repent and simply ask for forgiveness and follow Him.
How we respond to the gospel message during the time we have on earth determines where we spend eternity—heaven or hell. Jesus, the Creator of the universe, provided a way and the only way we can spend eternity with Him. It is a matter of making a personal decision whether or not we will accept the plan He has provided.
God’s adversary does not want mankind to understand the simple message. His plan is to deceive the world. If he can blind people from the gospel or convince them that they believe the gospel when indeed they do not, his plan has been successful. Throughout the ages, countless billions have been duped, either rejecting the truth, or believing that they had believed the truth when instead they had been deceived.
The Gospel According to Postmodernism
Times change! However, the gospel must remain the same no matter what else changes. We are now living in the postmodern era. In a sincere attempt to reach the postmodern generation with the gospel, it seems many Christians have become postmodern in their thinking.
Perhaps the term postmodern is new to you. Let’s examine what it means.
First, the modern era was characterized by a time of rational thinking based on factual observation. Many claim the modern era ended in the mid 1900s.
The postmodern mindset moves beyond the rational and the factual to the experiential and the mystical. In other words, in the past it was possible to know right from wrong and black from white. In the postmodern era all things are relative to the beholder. What may be right for you may be wrong for someone else. There is no such thing as absolute truth. The only thing that is absolute is that there is no absolute.
We now live in a time in history that is characterized as postmodern. Professors at universities teach students there is no right or wrong. All things are relative. The gospel message to the postmodern mindset is far too dogmatic and arrogant. They say it is necessary to find a more moderate gospel that can be accepted by the masses.
Many church leaders are now looking for ways to reach the postmodern generation. They believe they can find the appropriate methods to do so without changing the message. However, in their attempt to reach this postmodern generation, they have become postmodern themselves and have changed the message. As the gospel is fixed upon the Scriptures, the gospel cannot change, unless of course it becomes another gospel. I believe this is what is happening in the Emerging Church.
He Didn’t Come
Many have noticed that since the turn of the millennium, their churches have changed positions on Bible prophecy and the Second Coming of Jesus. Many have given up on the return of Jesus. From the ‘60s on there was an excitement about the imminent return of Jesus. The Jesus People were excited about Bible prophecy and could see signs that Jesus would descend from the heavens for His Bride at any moment.
The year 2000 was of particular importance. When Jesus didn’t show up, it seems many were apparently disappointed. “Perhaps Jesus has delayed His coming,” some have said. Others are even taking the position that He may not be coming at all, at least not in the manner we have been taught. They are now convinced that we need to be busy about “building His Kingdom” here on earth by “whatever human effort is required.”
The Gospel of the Kingdom
One of the main indicators that something has changed can be seen in the way the future is perceived. Rather than urgently proclaiming the gospel according to the Scriptures and believing the time to do so is short, the emphasis has now shifted. No longer are “signs of the times” significant. The battle cry is very different. A major emphasis among evangelicals is the idea that the world can be radically improved through social programs.
This concept, while on the surface may sound very good, has some serious biblical implications. According to the Scriptures, there will be no kingdom of God until the King arrives. All the human effort man can muster up will fall short of bringing utopia. In fact, according to the Scriptures, fallen man will lead us further down the road to a society of despair and lawlessness just like it was in the days of Noah.
Thus, this purpose-driven view of establishing global utopia may be a plan, but it is “driven” by humanistic reasoning and not led by the Holy Spirit. While it is of course good to do good unto others, all the goodness that we can do will not be good enough. Pastors and church leaders who get involved in such man-driven programs can usually be identified by certain characteristics:
Sound biblical doctrine is dangerous and divisive, and the experiential (i.e.,mystical) is given a greater role than doctrine.
Bible prophecy is no longer taught and is considered a waste of time.
Israel becomes less and less important and has no biblical significance.
Eventually the promises for Israel are applied to the church and not Israel (Replacement Theology).
Bible study is replaced by studying someone’s book and his methods.
Church health is evaluated on the quantity of people who attend.
The truth of God’s Word becomes less and less important.
God’s Word, especially concepts like hell, sin and repentance, is eventually downplayed so the unbeliever is not offended.
Spiritual Formation and Transformation
Much of what I have described provides the formula for a dumbing-down of Christianity that paves the way for an apostasy that will only intensify in the future. This trend away from the authority of God’s Word to the reinvented form of Christianity has overcome all evangelical denominations like an avalanche. Few Bible teachers saw this avalanche coming. Now that it is underway, few realize it has even happened.
However, there is another big piece to the puzzle that must be identified in order to understand what is emerging in the Emerging Church. While biblical Christianity has been dumbed-down and the light of God’s Word diminished, another avalanche of deception is underway that is equally devastating.
This is best described by the Word of God giving way to experiences that God’s Word forbids. The best way to understand this process is to recall what happened during the Dark Ages when the Bible became the “forbidden book.” Until the Reformers translated the Bible into the language of the common person, the people were in darkness. When the light of God’s Word became available, the gospel according to the Scriptures was once again understood.
This trend, which is underway today, shows us that history is in the process of repeating itself. As the Word of God becomes less and less important, the rise of mystical experiences is alarming and these experiences are being presented to convince the unsuspecting that Christianity is about feeling, touching, smelling and seeing God. The postmodern mindset is the perfect environment for the fostering of what is called “spiritual formation.” This teaching suggests there are various ways and means to get closer to God. Proponents of spiritual formation erroneously teach that anyone can practice these mystical rituals and find God within. Having a relationship with Jesus Christ is not a prerequisite.
These teachings, while actually rooted in ancient wisdom (the occult), were presented to Christendom post-New Testament and not found in the Word of God. The spiritual formation movement is based upon experiences promoted by desert monks and Roman Catholic mystics – these mystics encouraged the use of rituals and practices, that if performed would bring the practitioner closer to God (or come into God’s presence). The premise was that if one went into the silence or sacred space, then the mind was emptied of distractions and the voice of God could be heard. In truth, these hypnotic, mantric style practices were leading these monks into altered states of consciousness. The methods they used are the same that Buddhists and the Hindus use as a means of encountering the spiritual realm. Such methods are dangerous, and are not sanctioned in the Bible—God gives no instruction for this. On the contrary, he warns severely against divination, which is practicing a ritual or method in order to obtain information from a spiritual source. While proponents of spiritual formation (like Richard Foster) say these methods show that the Holy Spirit is doing something new to refresh Christianity, I would suggest that what is happening is not new and is not the Holy Spirit.
The spiritual formation movement is being widely promoted at colleges and seminaries as the latest and the greatest way to become a spiritual leader in these days. These ideas are then being exported from seminaries to churches by graduates who have been primed to take Christianity to a new level of enlightenment.
As well, these contemplative practices are being promoted by emergent leaders such as Brian McLaren, Robert Webber, Dallas Willard and others. Publishers like NavPress, InterVarsity and Zondervan are flooding the market with books promoting contemplative practices based on Eastern mysticism. Pastors and church leaders read these books and then promote the ideas as if they were the scriptural answer to drawing close to God.
Signs the Emerging Church is Emerging
There are specific warning signs that are symptomatic that a church may be headed down the emergent/contemplative road. In some cases a pastor may not be aware that he is on this road nor understand where the road ends up.
Here are some of the warning signs:
Scripture is no longer the ultimate authority as the basis for the Christian faith.
The centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ is being replaced by humanistic methods promoting church growth and a social gospel.
More and more emphasis is being placed on building the kingdom of God now and less and less on the warnings of Scripture about the imminent return of Jesus Christ and a coming judgment in the future.
The teaching that Jesus Christ will rule and reign in a literal millennial period is considered unbiblical and heretical.
The teaching that the church has taken the place of Israel and Israel has no prophetic significance is often embraced.
The teaching that the Book of Revelation does not refer to the future, but instead has been already fulfilled in the past.
An experiential mystical form of Christianity begins to be promoted as a method to reach the postmodern generation.
Ideas are promoted teaching that Christianity needs to be reinvented in order to provide meaning for this generation.
The pastor may implement an idea called “ancient-future” or “vintage Christianity” claiming that in order to take the church forward, we need to go back in church history and find out what experiences were effective to get people to embrace Christianity.
While the authority of the Word of God is undermined, images and sensual experiences are promoted as the key to experiencing and knowing God.
These experiences include icons, candles, incense, liturgy, labyrinths, prayer stations, contemplative prayer, experiencing the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of the Eucharist.
There seems to be a strong emphasis on ecumenism indicating that a bridge is being established that leads in the direction of unity with the Roman Catholic Church.
Some evangelical Protestant leaders are saying that the Reformation went too far. They are reexamining the claims of the “church fathers” saying that communion is more than a symbol and that Jesus actually becomes present in the wafer at communion.
There will be a growing trend towards an ecumenical unity for the cause of world peace claiming the validity of other religions and that there are many ways to God.
Members of churches who question or resist the new changes that the pastor is implementing are reprimanded and usually asked to leave.
What does the Future Hold?
If the Emerging Church continues unfolding at the present pace, mainstream evangelical Christianity will be reinvented and the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures will be considered too narrow and too restrictive. In other words, the narrow way to heaven that Jesus proclaimed will eventually be abandoned for a wider way that embraces pagan experiential practices. I call this reinvented, re-imagined form of Christianity that is unfolding—“Christian Babylonianism.”
This new form of Christianity will replace biblical faith with a faith that says man can establish the kingdom of God here on earth. The Word will continue to become secondary to a system of works driven by experiences.
An ecumenical pattern towards unity with Rome will become more apparent. Those who refuse to embrace this direction will be considered spiritual oddballs that need to be reprimanded.
Those who stand up for biblical faith will be considered the obstructions to the one world spirituality that is promoted as the answer for peace.
The best way to be prepared for what is coming is to gain an understanding of what is happening now. While there are not many who seem to discern the trend underway, there are some. Without the Bible and the Holy Spirit as our guide, the darkness that is coming would be overwhelming. However, the light of God’s Word penetrates the darkness and there are those who are being delivered from deception and see what is taking place.
I am convinced we are seeing apostasy underway, exactly as the Scriptures have forewarned. This means that this current trend is not likely to disappear. We must continue to proclaim the truth in the midst of deception with love. As Paul instructed Timothy:
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Timothy 2: 24–26).
There are still pastors and churches who are dedicated to proclaiming the truth. Find out where they are and support them. If you are in a location where this does not seem to be possible, seek out materials that are available from solid Bible-based Christian ministries and hold Bible studies in your own home.
And keep looking up! Jesus is coming soon.
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (II Timothy 4:1-5)
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