07 August 2010

The international audience, cultural influences, and a note regarding the validity and trustworthiness of the Scripture.

So far I'm amazed at the volume of traffic reaching this website. In just a couple of months, this site has gone from just a few visits a day up to over a hundred on some. I wondered if anyone would read it all. Writing on these subjects has helped me by finally after many years putting some of these things down on paper (so to speak). I'm so glad to find out I'm not alone. There are other people committed to the Christ of Scripture who also have grave concerns regarding what has happened to the Church in history and how traditions and systems have been elevated above the Divine Word.




There are people reading articles from literally all over the world. Africa is the only continent that has not brought any readers yet. I hope that will change.



For years I have been concerned about a specifically American or even Western version of the gospel and Christianity going out all over the world. As I've written, it seems so often when I read books or articles, listen or watch reports, the Christianity I hear about in other parts of the world has been specifically tied in with western cultural values. Though somewhat unavoidable, I hope for the churches outside the West to escape some of the problems that plague us, while they still have a chance. I'm very disappointed when I see people from other countries echoing Americanism. I expressed this in my post 'Propaganda Indeed,' where we find a man from Bulgaria writing on American Vision and promoting a distinctly and completely American theological agenda. Bizarre. Why would they fall for it? It's like all the Mormons in Europe. How could people fall for something so obviously American, so clearly provincial in nature? As we say in America, out of the frying pan and into the fire!



A few additional examples....



I was recently telling a friend about an old book written by an American missionary in China. There were some nice old photos and one was of Chinese children in China, parading down the street in early-20th century Western clothing, prominently displaying an American flag. The caption read something about look how clean and orderly Christianity and the gospel has made them.



This is evil. There is no other word for it. A total perversion of the Kingdom of God. I realize it's not that blatant today, but I don't think we've moved too far from that. And it wouldn't just be in 3rd world countries. It's not just about cultural values concerning clothing and standard of living. It's much bigger than that. It's teaching Christianity as a culture with specific ideas and values regarding culture. As Christians we all have to turn our backs on certain aspects of any culture we live in. But one of the beauties of the Gospel is that in can function in any context. People don't have become Americans or Western to be saved. The extreme of this kind of culture-Christianity is what you found in South Africa. We have Sacralism-based racism here as well, but thankfully it was not allowed to go to the extremes it did there. Though it was certainly bad enough.



Another example....



I recall years ago attending a mid-week Chapel service in the United Kingdom. Chapel is differentiated from 'Church' which means the Anglican state-Church. The non-Anglican, non-conformists go to 'Chapel' services. It was in a small village and they did not have a regular preacher. In lieu of a speaker they were going to listen to a cassette tape. I was shocked to suddenly hear an Alabama drawl teaching Dispensationalism. Good night, I thought, has the American influence grown so strong? There are plenty of good preachers and churches in the United Kingdom, and some will be aware Dispensationalism has its origins there as well among the Plymouth Brethren. But who can dispute the American influence on Evangelicalism all around the world? No offense to anyone from the South. That wasn't my point. It was just surprising to hear something so blatantly American in use in another country. Certainly we have many Britons in the American Church as well, but what struck me was the 'dependence' of this Chapel on ideas flowing from the Christian Empire which had replaced their own.



Or, I think of examples in Austria and other places in Central Europe where American missionaries have brought in puppet shows, praise teams, and all the other contemporary seeker trappings. I have to ask, would these converts in Italy, Croatia or Slovakia by reading their Bibles ever even think up such things? Would it ever occur to them to make use of such innovations? Where are they getting these ideas?



Some might ask, what's wrong with those things? That will be another post sometime. I'll deal with it sooner rather than later if someone wants me to. But the issue is....the sufficiency of Scripture. Do we believe God's Word is enough....or do we need to add to it, help it, or enhance it? Can we innovate in how we approach God or has He indeed given us what we need to know in order to approach Him. Has He given us what we need to know in order to preach the gospel? It makes me want to cry to think of people walking down the street in a little town in Carinthia and seeing the advert poster for a 'Puppet Show' at the local Evangelical Church. These missionaries have a chance to reach these people and this is what they give them?



These are all examples of what I believe to be a cultural version of Christianity, a Sacralism infecting believers in other lands.



Of course in their contexts they will have their own issues to deal with as well.



Most of the visitors to Proto-Protestantism have been from the United States, but a fair number are from overseas. This is not terrible surprising since it is American Christians who will be the most offended by some of the ideas expressed here. I've received some very encouraging emails. I hope eventually there will be some fruitful discussion. I like to be challenged, and though the 'comments' can often degenerate on weblogs, I've been to many where there are good and helpful exchanges. As I share interactive 'dialogs' in some of these posts, I hope some of the readers will interact and others (me included) can learn something. I am especially curious for the thoughts of some of international readers. I thirst to know more about the Christian context in other parts of the world.



The American church spends a lot of time talking about missions and news related to missions in other parts of the world, but it always seems like it's news they want to hear. And once again, depending on the country, it is often tied in with a specifically Americo-centric view of geo-politics. Often in the past when listening to missionaries or hearing reports about missionary work in other countries, I feel like I'm getting a White House briefing from a Republican administration. Maybe some of you will know what I mean?



Anyway, it occurred to me that some visiting here will be interested but unsure regarding many of the terms and concepts. I've started a glossary but it will take quite some time to build it up. As I've also said, if there's a term anyone thinks needs to be defined or expanded upon, let me know and I'll add it. I'm working on some right now, with some other posts, as well as a few other projects. I'm trying desperately to get a book published. It's fiction, but very much related to these topics which are near and dear to my heart.



I was on another site, and a person asked specifically about the Bible. To what extent is it accurate, literal, and can we have faith in Christ without believing it all? A lot of people wrestle with portions of the Old Testament and with a God who seems to be sometimes very cruel and to encourage violence. How can we make sense of these things?



After thinking about it a few days, I thought maybe sine visit this site have similar questions? I'm assuming the validity of Scripture, it's inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency. But why?





Here's the text from my post. I hope some here will benefit from it.



A different take, one you heard before, but maybe not this way.



Hello,

I guess I'll offer an opinion somewhat different than the others being expressed here.

I would say the core of the issue and its solution all centers around the person of Jesus Christ. What do we do with Him? Was He the I AM as He claimed to be? Was He indeed God in the flesh? The Pharisees clearly understood what He was claiming and saying.

If Jesus was not Divine, then either He was the greatest fraud in history and ought to be utterly rejected.

Or, if his disciples hijacked his teaching and Paul perverted Christ's doctrines, then Christianity as a system is certainly a sham, and at the very least Christ's purpose and vision was a failure.

I would argue He was Divine, and His words were preserved. If God can send His son to die on the cross to atone for sins He certainly can preserve His Word. If God does not communicate by Special Revelation than we are left with agnosticism or pantheism. Christianity must be rejected.

Jesus Christ affirmed the validity of the Old Testament on numerous occasions. Now there are those who will stumble at certain points due to the arguments of scholars, but be assured there are strong counter arguments.

As far as the New Testament, Jesus promised in John 14.26 the Holy Spirit would enable the Apostles to remember His words. The New Testament epistles are accepted because we believe the Apostles were Divinely inspired as they wrote those works.

There are logical arguments for these positions. Are they ultimately verifiable in terms of scientific criteria? No. But the metaphysical questions we're dealing with are not verifiable in the same way we would verify something scientifically. The methodology cannot be the same. Nevertheless the Bible is a unique set of documents unlike any other and even many sceptics will acknowledge that. There are many apparent contradictions...it can at times be a difficult book. But about 99% of the contradictions are apparent and easily resolved.

This is where faith comes in. Who was Jesus Christ? If we believe His testimony, his Person and Work, the other issues concerning the Bible are resolved.

Paul taught in 2 Tim 3.16 the Bible is sufficient for the life of the Christian and the life of the Church and thus is our ultimate authority. It is not merely historical documents full of cultural synthesis and errors, but words written by men reflecting their personalities and style, but also the Divine Inspired Word of God. There's a tension there. This of course is where many stumble, but if I don't believe the Bible to be authoratative, then Christianity has nothing to stand on.

The tale of Church History is largely one of apostasy. I think the Bible itself teaches this. The nature of the Kingdom is misunderstood and perverted. Despite the mostly horrific history of the Church.....largely under the umbrella of what I would call Constantinianism...my faith stands because I believe the Bible is the Word of God and God's wisdom is not apprehendable by fallen man. God is glorified through weakness. By being persecuted and slaughtered we are more than conquerors.

There are others who might raise the issue of the formation of the New Testament canon, that is how we got the books we have and when they were recognized as Scripture.

Now regarding the issue of all the awful things in the Old Testament, this has been a stumbling point for many. The problem is, all has to be viewed under the backdrop of sin. When Adam fell all of humanity was cast under curse and darkness. Adam acted as the Covenant-head for all of humanity. People may not like this notion, but that's what the Scripture's teach. Because of Adam's sin all of humanity has been corrupted, we are all born with a sinful nature, and all of us are deserving of eternal punishment.

That's why the New Testament refers to Christ as the Second Adam. He came to establish a new people, a people with a new covenant-head...Christ Himself. He was human, the 2nd Adam, a proper priest/representative for his people, but He was also God Himself, for only God could keep the law, live a life without sin and accomplish the word. This demonstates the astounding love God has for us. He kept His promise and Christ came and humbled himself, lived on this earth without sin and died an unjust death.....all according to the Divine plan. It was done because God would reconcile a people to Himself.

These people are redeemed from the curse. Their sins are forgiven and just as important, they are reconciled to God. We can enter into fellowship with Him, know Him, commune with Him. And He communicates to us through the Word He has given.

Because of sin we understand the entire world is condemned. That's why the demands of the gospel are repent and believe. Fallen man refuses to repent or even acknowledge his sin. So in reality all the horrific things that man has done in history, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, ....we all deserve it and much more. It's not very pleasing to our pride. The New Testament calls the gospel an offense, indeed it is. We are left with nothing. This is the wonder of Grace.

The Scriptures teach all the horrible things that happen are pictures, anticipations, and sometimes types of the coming Judgment. When the Jews under Joshua conquered Canaan, this was a typological picture of the 2nd Coming of Christ. This is what awaits the world if it does not repent. And yes, all will be destroyed, this world will be burned up as 2 Peter says. God will create a new heavens and a new earth. We will have new bodies free from sin. It will be like Eden once more...but better.

Some have called this Intrusion Ethics. The Second Coming, the Parousia intrudes into time and space...and God uses typologically His people as agents of His wrath.

Evangelicals err greatly when they refer to such passages and try to apply them to a modern un-covenanted nation like the United States. The only Holy nation today is the Church of Jesus Christ. The only intrusion, the only wrath the Church shows....is excommunication. This too is a picture of the coming Judgment, but merely a spiritual one.

It's not that God is unfair or unjust. We all deserve as much. It's the justice we all deserve. God can administer when and where He will. It would be much the same with the Asian Tsunami. God governs the universe, and the Tsunami was of course part of His Providence. He willed it. Was it awful?...absolutely. An awesome picture of the coming Judgment. As Jesus said, Repent or you shall all likewise perish. You, me, all of us deserved to die in the Tsunami. God has shown mercy and grace...those who survived or were not there still have time to repent.

God can be just....in punishing sin. The Kingdom of Heaven is the Holy Realm, sin cannot enter there. Only those who sins are forgiven, paid for, can enter in. This is the good news of the Gospel. Our sins are taken away not by our works, but by His grace.

God can be non-just.....by showing this mercy and grace. We don't deserve it. In another sense, he doesn't lay aside his Justice....the sins are paid for...by Christ. The non-just part is that He appropriates the righteousness of Christ and His work...to us. It's awesome to consider. How does He do it? We are told to believe...to trust in Him.

But he can never be unjust. The punishments of the Old Testament are not injustice.

Everything has to be understood in light of sin and curse...even the Covenant he made with Israel...it was a Covenant for a nation typologically (symbolically) picturing the coming Kingdom...but it was definitely in the context of the second millennium before Christ, the ancient Near East. That covenant was fulfilled and is now gone as Hebrews teaches us.

The Bible gives us the truth, warts and all. Great saints like David sinned terribly. The world is an ugly place, that's why Grace is so amazing.

For us today, we understand The Kingdom of God is a spiritual Realm. Christ's work is accomplished...we live in the Already but non-yet. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, our hearts are there, we lay up our treasures there so to speak. We are pilgrims here, straddling the temporal and eternal realms. We are united with Christ, we are in Him.

We need to utterly reject all attempts to make the Kingdom a geo-political concept. Throughout the history of the Church, the enemies of Christ have attempted this and largely succeeded. The New Testament warns us repeatedly of this. So often the Christianity people hate....is not the Christianity of the Bible, but rather a construct called Constantinianism or what Verduin called Sacralism. It is a corruption of the Kingdom of God.

I know there are many here who will dismiss what I've written....and that's fine. I'm thankful for the opportunity to speak and I hope someone might benefit and consider these things. Some will call me some kind of fundamentalist, not a label I like, but I try whenever I can to undo some of the damage done by the false representatives of Christianity...the Pat Robertsons, Dobsons, and Falwells. They pervert the message, corrupt the Kingdom, and in reality by combining the Gospel with America teach another religion. It has happened over and over again throughout history in the various contexts.

Who was Jesus Christ? That's the core issue for me. If He wasn't who He said He was, then no, the Bible is just the words of men. And to be honest at that point, I don't know why anyone would bother with Christianity. It would be empty and worthless.

Thanks,

John A.

2 comments:

Cal said...

I have some differences in your presentation, and different focuses, but that's all well. However I suppose one thought is:

Why isn't the New Testament or any part of Scriptures 100% in textual purity? If GOD wanted us with something perfect as such why would He leave it up to man? I think there is a misunderstanding of Scripture by many (not saying you or anyone in particular) to treat it in a Koranic fashion of being stunned and writing mechanically whatever was dictated.

I like viewing the Scriptures itself as a shadow of Christ. It is wholly the product of men and wholly the product of God. Men wrote poetry, or history and it contained in and of itself the thread of Salvation.

We're not told to trust in any book from Heaven, but the Man of Heaven. I think there is a purpose Scripture is not "perfect", anything outside of God is not perfect. Scriptures are to point us to Jesus, but not to become an idol in and of themselves. The accusation of bibliolatry is cast around by those who don't take the Scriptures seriously, but it has their place. You put too much emphasis on the dead reading of words, it kills. Paul said so and I think he has the experience, this is what the Pharisees did.

Now I can be taken wrong and be told I don't value the Scriptures. I do, this is how I know of my King. He speaks to me through the Gospels according to the four writers, and the Epistles (aka. the traditions of the Apostles).

Scriptures teach us so much of being apart of the Kingdom. But interpretation has been a hook to make so much heresy. All it takes is reading a certain phrase into a certain conversation and somehow Peter becomes Prince of the Apostles, and his "successors" wear three-tiered crowns and sit on golden thrones. Or for this blog specifically, reading in certain inferences into, say having Divine Right of Kings to do as they want. Translators have been known to be influenced by politics and other motives to right certain phrasings into copes of Scriptures we have.

Can we ever lose the message? May it never be! But it shifts our hope onto the Christ Jesus that by knowing His face, we will be able to discern when corruption is afoot in His Scriptures.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing.

I don't hold to a mechanical inspiration. The Scriptures are both the work of God and man, and though the apostles left their imprint through personal notes, style etc...the words are inspired and the very Word of God.

It's about authority. I agree we are to trust in the Man from heaven. But how do we know Him that we might trust in Him?

He's made a way for us to do that.

I guess what I'm battling is....the loose views of the Bible many 'Bible-believing' Evangelicals actually hold. They don't really believe in Sola Scriptura though they profess it.

But I'm also rejecting the almost childish hyper-literalistic way many Fundamentalists read their Bible. They often miss the big picture, the themes and development that help us to interpret the typology etc... Consequently many if not most of them have grossly misunderstood the New Testament and then by necessity butcher the Old.

I have no problem with being labelled a bibliolater...because I don't see how we can know God and the Lord Jesus Christ apart from those words. Experience is not absent, but without Scripture to interpret it...we get into big trouble.

That said, again, some Fundamentalists get stuck with that label and in that case they get hung up on grammar and words....they often miss the forest through the trees.

Your next to last paragraph is insightful. Interpretation is huge! That's why we must be careful and establish the principles that help us figure out what we're doing. As has been seen in some of the interactions at this blog...some of the other comments etc...there are many (some of the Bible teachers!) who have never even really thought about it.

Scary.

Thanks again. I'm not sure if I answered your concerns. We may simply differ a little on the issue.

Protoprotestant