Posts in Culture
The Creator God

One of the most obvious tensions believers face with their unbelieving neighbors is our different accounts of humanity's origin. The scientific community (and ancient astronaut theorists) offer different accounts of our "arrival" or evolution, and in so doing they deny the foundational distinction between us and God, namely, that he is the Creator and we are the creatures.  

This tension presents believers with a couple of obstacles:

  1. Christians must be prepared to explain the biblical account of creation: God created all things from nothing and fashioned human beings in His likeness.
  2. Christians must consider how our evangelism ought to be shaped by an utter denial of the Creator God. 

While most Christians have gone around and around with a coworker or friend about the first point, the second point receives much less attention. 

That's why I was delighted to read a section on Paul's evangelism to the pagan societies of ancient Lystra and Athens in Tom Schreiner's New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (142-143). He points out that Paul's evangelistic strategy in communities that denied God's identity as the Creator was far different than his evangelism to the Jews (who affirmed the Old Testament teaching of God as Creator). 

In both cases (found in Acts 14 and 17, respectively) Paul focused on God as the Creator who was the source of life and the One who was uniquely qualified to receive worship. This is significant because, as Schreiner concludes, "Those with a pagan worldview need to be nurtured in the creation theology of the OT in order understand that Jesus is the one who fulfills the promises of the creator God" (143).

Perhaps this is an important thing for us to consider as we proclaim the gospel to people who have astonishingly similar worldviews to the ancient Lystrans or Athenians. Our gospel presentations can no longer assume familiarity with the storyline of Scripture or God as Creator. Instead, we must begin where Paul began, with the Creator God. 

Paleofundamentalism and John's Gospel

Working through 1 John 1 this week I've been reminded of this article (click through to avoid the paywall) written by Robert Gundry way back when. I found it a couple of months ago as I was researching a word that sounds awesome: paleofundamentalism. Initially, I had hoped it would be brand new, a word I could coin and really make my own. Turns out, it's been around a while. But that only speaks to its value as a description of a way of being a Christian in 21st Century America. Fundamentalism, it turns out, hasn't always been a dirty word. The earliest fundamentalists cared more about theological issues than political ones. They adopted a militant, separatist attitude and drew sharp distinctions over things that matter.

Gundry argues that this period of fundamentalism was on to something. Something most evangelicals have forgotten. Drawing on the dichotomies throughout John's Gospel, Gundry was asking, way back in 2001:

Whether we North American evangelicals are fast falling, or have already fallen, into circumstances that call for a reinstatement of John's sectarianism with its masterly, totalizing, but divisive Christology of the Word that speaks truth so incisively that as the Word, Jesus is the truth over against the father of lies, Satan, who has deceived all unbelievers. Extreme? Yes, but there are times for extremes.

If 2001 seemed to indicate that evangelicals were riding a wave of cultural acceptance, 2015 shows us that they'll do anything to stay on it. Whatever social phenomenon comes along, you can expect hip pastors everywhere to walk out on historic Christianity and stay in the mainstream of the cultural river. And even those who aren't are so set on "transforming" culture, they're hardly distinct from it.

Which is why I think we should ask the same things Gundry was asking 14 years ago. You should really read the whole thing. link

Why Machen Loved Mountains And Why We Should Care
machentrial01

Profound thinker. Perceptive teacher. Prolific author. Provacative churchman. These are all appropriate titles for describing the somewhat infamous J. Gresham Machen (July 28, 1881 – January 1, 1937). I could tell you about his vital role in founding a denomination (Orthodox Presbyterian Church), establishing a seminary (Westminster Theological Seminary), or the far reaching impact of some of his works (Christianity and Liberalism). I think you may already know these well-known factoids. But did you know that Machen loved mountains?

But although I am not a mountaineer, I do love the mountains and I have loved them ever since I can remember anything at all. It is about the love of the mountains, rather than about the mountains, that I am venturing to read this little paper today.[1]

 

Can the love of the mountains be conveyed to those who have it not? I am not sure. Perhaps if a man is not born with that love it is almost as hopeless to try to bring it to him as it would be to explain what color is to a blind man or to try to make President Roosevelt understand the Constitution of the United States. But on the whole I do believe that the love of the mountains can at least be cultivated, and if I can do anything whatever toward getting you to cultivate it, the purpose of this little paper will be amply attained.

From there, Machen went on to narrate a particular mountaineering experience he had on the Matterhorn in southern Switzerland. After recounting the difficult ascent to the summit, he divulges his exestential thoughts from the highest height of Europe.

There, in that glorious round spread out before you, that land of Europe, humanity has put forth its best. There it has struggled; there it has fallen; there it has looked upward to God. The history of the race seems to pass before you in an instant of time, concentrated in that fairest of all the lands of the earth. You think of the great men whose memories you love, the men who have struggled there in those countries below you, who have struggled for light and freedom, struggled for beauty, struggled above all for God’s Word [Most likely Luther, Calvin, and others]. And then you think of the present and its decadence and its slavery, and you desire to weep. It is a pathetic thing to contemplate the history of mankind.

I know that there are people who tell us contemptuously that always there are croakers who look always to the past, croakers who think that the good old times are the best. But I for my part refuse to acquiesce in this relativism which refuses to take stock of the times in which we are living. It does seem to me that there can never be any true advance, and above all there can never be any true prayer, unless a man does pause occasionally, as on some mountain vantage ground, to try, at least, to evaluate the age in which he is living. And when I do that, I cannot for the life of me see how any man with even the slightest knowledge of history can help recognizing the fact that we are living in a time of sad decadence—a decadence only thinly disguised by the material achievements of our age, which already are beginning to pall on us like a new toy.

He closes with a lament that crescendos into a hope for the future:

What will be the end of that European civilization, of which I had a survey from my mountain vantage ground—of that European civilization and its daughter in America? What does the future hold in store? Will Luther prove to have lived in vain? Will all the dreams of liberty issue into some vast industrial machine? Will even nature be reduced to standard, as in our country the sweetness of the woods and hills is being destroyed, as I have seen them destroyed in Maine, by the uniformities and artificialities and officialdom of our national parks?…Will some dreadful second law of thermodynamics apply in the spiritual as in the material realm? Will all things in church and state be reduced to one dead level, coming at last to an equilibrium in which all liberty and all high aspirations will be gone? Will that be the end of all humanity’s hopes? I can see no escape from that conclusion in the signs of the times; too inexorable seems to me to be the march of events. No, I can see only one alternative. The alternative is that there is a God—a God who in His own good time will bring forward great men again to do His will, great men to resist the tyranny of experts and lead humanity out again into the realms of light and freedom, great men, above all, who will be messengers of His grace. There is, far above any earthly mountain peak of vision, a God high and lifted up who, though He is infinitely exalted, yet cares for His children among men.

You can read Machen’s full essay here

[1] This paper was originally read before a group of ministers in Philadelphia on November 27, 1933 (emphasis added). ↩