Thursday, January 28, 2016

"Bible-Minded" and "Post-Christian": Statistics from Barna

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;
reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine;
but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate
for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,
and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
2 Timothy 4.2-4

The Word of God must remain central in the church.  It cannot be a treasured relic but, rather, must be seen as a trusted guide for ministry and living.  The Apostle Paul has just been talking about the fact that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching” (2 Timothy 3.16) and he now turns to admonish Timothy to “preach the word.”  Paul even instructs as to how this preaching should function; it should “reprove, rebuke, and exhort.”  This should be preaching that seeks to shape the behavior and heart-attitudes of the people of God.  Paul knows that there will be varying seasons and that the church is ever in danger of losing her desire for the Word of God.  Some will stop wanting the Word and will seek out teachers and teachings that “tickle their ears.” 

We are increasingly living in such a season of the rejection of the Word of God in our culture.  A couple of recent Barna reports evidence this rejection of the Word.  The first report concerns “America’s Most Bible-Minded Cities.”[1] 

Each year, in partnership with American Bible Society, Barna ranks the nation’s top media markets based on their level of Bible engagement.  Individuals who report reading the Bible in a typical week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches are considered to be Bible-minded.  This definition captures action and attitude—those who both engage and esteem the Christian scriptures.  The rankings thus reflect an overall openness or resistance to the Bible in various U.S. cities.

The top ten cities ranked as “Bible-minded” are all in the Southern “Bible Belt.”  Chattanooga, Tenn. was ranked #1 with 52% of its population been seen as “Bible-minded.”  The city ranked last—100—is Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York with 10% of its population being “Bible-minded.”  Phoenix-Prescott ranked 92 with a rating of 16%. 

The second Barna report tracks the increase in those who are “post-Christian” and again Barna lists 117 cities as to their ranking.[2]  Barna looked at 15 different measuring standards and if a person met 60% or more of the factors (nine or more) then were counted as “post-Christian.”[3]  Over the past two years—from 2013 to 2015—the country as a whole experienced a 7% increase in those who qualify as “post-Christian”: 37% to 44%.   

Cities with the lowest percentages of “post-Christian” people were in the south of the country with Augusta-Aiken, Georgia coming in the 117th spot with 14% of its population considered “post-Christian.”  The top spot went to San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, California with a rating of 66%.  Phoenix-Prescott is ranked 26th with a rating of 51% of its population as being “post-Christian.”

Statistics and figures are not destiny but they do let us know the cultural temperature around us.  We live and minister in a city that is increasingly biblically illiterate and “post-Christian.”  We need to take this into account as we speak to non-believers and even to many believers.  We also need to look at our own lives—do we esteem and engage with the Scriptures on a regular basis?  Do we give ourselves to reading, meditating, and obeying the Word of God?  Let us pray together for an unleashing of God’s Word across our city and land—and in our church!  May God in his grace bring many to himself through his Son, Jesus Christ.

[3] The 15 metrics are: 
1.               Do not believe in God
2.               Identify as atheist or agnostic
3.               Disagree that faith is important in their lives
4.               Have not prayed to God (in the last year)
5.               Have never made a commitment to Jesus
6.               Disagree the Bible is accurate
7.               Have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
8.               Have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
9.              Agree that Jesus committed sins
10.          Do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
11.          Have not read the Bible (in the last week)
12.          Have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
13.          Have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
14.          Have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
15.          Do not participate in a house church (in the last year)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Abortion is a Gospel Issue!

Abortion is a Gospel Issue!

Today--Friday January 22nd-- is the 43rd anniversary of the infamous Roe v Wade decision which legalized abortion-on-demand .  Since that time approximately 57 million abortions have been performed.  The abortion issue is not merely a political, social, and human rights issue.  It is also a gospel issue—and those who love the gospel of Jesus should approach this issue with a gospel-centered focus.

The abortion industry gives a false gospel—a message of deception.  Their message is: “The blood of another will bring salvation from my needy condition.”  This is close enough to be believable but so far away as to be diabolical and demonic.  The abortion anti-gospel proclaims a woman’s “right to choose” to “terminate her pregnancy” for her personal reasons and needs.  This anti-gospel focuses on the wrong needy condition as it seeks freedom, comfort, ease, and the end of emotional pain.  It also focuses on the wrong blood—it is not the shed blood of the tiny human in the womb that brings lasting peace and salvation.

The people of Christ speak a different message—a gospel which is truly “good news.”  This true gospel also says that the blood of another will bring salvation from our needy condition.

But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through him.  Romans 5.8-9

In this gospel we see are true needy condition—we are “sinners” and facing the “wrath of God.”  This gospel speaks of the true blood which brings salvation as it speaks of being justified by the blood of Jesus Christ.  We receive this gospel by faith—by trusting in the complete work of Jesus on the cross for us. 

This message of the gospel is also good news for those who have participated in abortion.  Whether it be women who have had abortions, men who have selfishly stood by (or even urged a woman to have an abortion), parents who turned a blind eye or encouraged abortion—judgment and guilt does not have to be the last word for you.  There is hope in the true gospel because the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin.  His blood can “cleanse your conscience” (Hebrews 9.14) and you can know peace with God as you turn to him in faith and repentance.

Abortion is a gospel issue and the church must ever contend against this evil with the true and glorious gospel of Jesus Christ!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Sometimes Things Get Worse Before They Get Better"

Shouldn’t following God be easy?  So we think sometimes.  But God oftentimes has other plans.  Exodus chapter five could be summarized with the quip: “Sometimes things get worse before they get better!

God’s people have been enslaved in Egypt and they are crying out to God for deliverance (Exodus 2.23-25).  God is gracious and announces his sovereign intentions to save his people through Moses.  As Moses comes to the people in Exodus chapter four he states God’s design.  Exodus 4.31 states the people’s response:

So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshipped.

The people’s belief quickly turns sour as they face hardship.  In response to Moses’ initial confrontation with Pharaoh the people of Israel face even harsher conditions in terms of having to make bricks without straw.  When the people learn of this and that is a result of Moses’ interference they quickly turn on Moses: “May the Lord look upon you and judge you, for you have made us odious in Pharaoh’s sight and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us”  (Exodus 5.22).   Even Moses prays a pitiful prayer: “O Lord, why have you brought harm to this people?  Why did you ever send me?”  (Exodus 5.23). 

Don’t we do the same thing?  God has given us precious promises.  Consider this famous passage from Romans 8.28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.

This is easy to believe when everything is good well.  But when life begins to get hard we quickly forget the promises of our kind King.  The Lord is looking for us to trust him—to take him at his word—even when life is hard.   Life may get hard and unbearable at times.  Look to the promises of God in faith.  He has not changed—he is still for you and loves you in Christ Jesus his Son!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Doctrine of Humanity

*Notes from a lesson I did on the doctrine of humanity.

Doctrine of Humanity

1.     Genesis 1 and 2: Implications and applications of being created beings[1]

a.     Humans have no independent existence

                                               i.     Created by the will and design of God

                                              ii.     We are creation of God: Not an outflow of him

1.     Creator/creature distinction à metaphysically distinct

2.     We never cease to be creatures of God

b.     Humans are part of creation: share a kinship with the rest of creation

o   Francis Schaeffer Pollution and the Death of Man:

As a Christian I say, “Who am I?”  Am I only the hydrogen atom, the energy particle extended?  No, I am made in the image of God.  I know who I am.  Yet, on the other hand, when I turn around and face nature, I face something that is like myself.  I, too, am created, just as the animal and the plant and the atom are created.  (p. 30)

Therefore, intellectually and psychologically, I look at these animals, plants, and machines, and as I face them I understand something of the attitude I should have toward them.  I begin to think differently about life.  Nature begins to look different.  I am separated from it, yet related to it.

Notice the phrase “intellectually and psychologically.”  This is a very important distinction.  I can say, “Yes, the tree is a creature like myself.”  But that is not all that is involved.  There ought to be a psychological insight, too.  Psychologically I ought to “feel” a relationship to the tree as my fellow-creature.  It is not simply that we ought to feel a relationship intellectually to the tree, and then turn this into just another argument for apologetics, but that we should realize, and train people in our churches to realize, that on the side of creation and on the side of God’s infinity and our finiteness we really are one with the tree! (p. 31)

Christians, of all people, should not be the destroyers.  We should treat nature with an overwhelming respect.  We may cut down a tree to build a house, or to make a fire to keep the family warm.  But we should not cut down the tree just to cut down the tree.  We may, if necessary, bark the cork tree in order to have the use of the bark.  But what we should not do is to bark the tree simply for the sake of doing so, and let it dry and stand there a dead skeleton in the wind.  To do so is not to treat the tree with integrity.  We have the right to rid our houses of ants; but what we have not the right to do is to forget to honor the ant as God made it, in its rightful place in nature.  When we meet the ant on the sidewalk, we step over him.  He is a creature, like ourselves; not made in the image of God, but equal with man as far as creation is concerned.  The ant and the man are both creatures.  (p. 43)  (The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer--vol. 5 [Crossway, 1982])

c.      Humans are unique in creation à “more to humanity than just creature-hood”

                                               i.     Matthew 6.26; 10.31-- more valuable than birds

                                              ii.     Francis Schaeffer’s diagram

d.     There is kinship among humans-- we should care for humanity as a whole and for those we do not personally know

e.     Humanity is not the highest object in the universe

“His [God’s] glory, not our pleasure and comfort, is the ultimate value.  We must never elevate our respect for humans to the point of virtually worshipping them.”[2]

f.      There are definite limitations upon humanity

                                               i.     Humility due to our finitude

1.     Experience at U of AZ library-- welling up; not able to master one philosopher (Kant) much less all of them

                                              ii.     Only God is inherently eternal à all else dies

g.     Limitation is not inherently bad-- not something to “grow/evolve beyond”

h.     Should accept our own finitude to properly live life

“The fact of our finiteness is clear.  We may, however, be unwilling to accept that fact and to accept our place in the scheme of things as creatures of God who are dependent upon him.  Adam and Eve’s fall consisted at least in part of an aspiration to become like God (Gen. 3:4-6), to know what God knows.  A similar aspiration underlay the fall of the evil angels (Jude 6).  We ought to be willing to let God be God, not seeking to tell him what is right and true, but rather submitting to him and his plan for us.  To pass judgment on God’s deeds would require an infinite knowledge, something that we simply do not have.”[3]

§  Consider God’s speech to Job (ch. 38-41)-- reminds Job of his finitude

i.       Humanity is something wonderful-- “image of God”-- dignity!

                                               i.     It will probably amaze us to realize that when the Creator of the universe wanted to create something “in his image,” something more like himself than all the rest of creation, he made us…We are the culmination of God’s infinitely wise and skillful work of creation.[4]

                                              ii.     Psalm 8-- “a little less than God” (Hebrew = elohim)

2.     Image of God: crucial concept!

a.     Actual phrase “image of God” used infrequently: Gen 1.26-27; 9.6; 1 Corinthians 11.7; James 3.9 (see Gen 5.1 for “likeness” language)

b.     What is the “image of God?”  Was it lost in the Fall?  Do all people share in the “image of God” now—believers and unbelievers?

c.      Some have denied that post-Fall people are in the image of God-- the image has been lost and is only renewed in coming to Christ Jesus

                                               i.     But see: Genesis 9.6 and James 3.9-- post-Fall situations that do not restrict image to believers

d.     Structural and Functional (or, broader and narrower) aspects of image

                                               i.     Structural: “In sum, then, we may say that by the image of God in the broader or structural sense we mean the entire endowment of gifts and capacities that enable man to function as he should in his various relationships and callings.”[5]

1.     Intellectual powers
2.     Moral sensitivity
3.     Capacity for religious worship
4.     Responsibility
5.     Volitional power
6.     Aesthetic sense
7.     Gifts of speech and song
8.     Ability to feel; have emotions

                                              ii.     Functional: “Thus the image of God in the narrower sense means man’s proper functioning in harmony with God’s will for him.”[6]

                                            iii.     Consider two sets of passages

1.     Gen 9.6; James 3.9
2.     Col 3.10; Eph 4.24

If we put these two types of passages together, we conclude that there must be a sense in which fallen man still bears the image of God, but that there must also be a sense in which he no longer bears that image.  Hence the distinction between the broader and narrower aspects of the image is necessary.[7]

                                            iv.     C. John Collins outlines views on the image of God

1.     Resemblance: human beings like God in some aspect(s) such as intellect, moral sense, will, rationality, etc.

2.     Representative: humans commanded by God to rule creation on God’s behalf

3.     Relational: humans as male/female and in community as they manifest the “image of God”

·      Scholars commonly speak as if these categories are mutually exclusive.  My view is that the linguistic and exegetical details favor the idea that “in our image, after our likeness” implies that humans were made with some kind of resemblance to God, which was to enable them to represent God as benevolent rulers, and to find their fulfillment in their relationships with each other and with God.  That is, I have combined all three views,…[8]

e.     Practical implications

                                               i.     How do we view people? 

1.     Example: 8th grade and seeing “Richard”

2.     Race, ethnicity, social standing (poor/rich), disabled (physically/mentally)

a.     Proverbs 22.2 “The rich and the poor have a common bond, the LORD is the maker of them all.”

3.     Created by God to live in relationship—four-fold relationship

4.     Cultural Mandate: Four main tasks

a.     Filling  (Scope of the Culture-making enterprise)-- Genesis 1.28

b.     Ruling  (Goal)-- Genesis 1.28

c.      Cultivate or “tend”; “work” (Mode)-- Genesis 2.15

                                               i.     Hebrew-- abad

                                              ii.     Man is called to “work” the earth in order to uncover the rich potentialities “hidden,” as it were, beneath the earth’s surface.  On the most basic, agricultural level, man cuts into the earth and sows seed, which grows up into plants, which when carefully tended yield fruit in their appointed seasons.  Dig deeper and the earth will yield still more riches: precious stones and gold (Gen. 2:11-12; Job 28); ore which can be smelted to make metals; and basic chemical raw materials which can be synthesized into pigments and dyes for art works, fertilizers to increase crop yields, or rocket fuel to explore God’s vast universe.  Other parts of the creation can be transformed as well: wood can be fashioned into flutes for the praise of God or timbers for building; stones can be dressed and fitted into walls, etc.[9]

d.     Keep (Mode)-- Genesis 2.15

                                               i.     Hebrew-- shamar

                                              ii.     We are to take care of the created order; protection—not exploitation

                                            iii.     See my essay “Habakkuk and God’s Concern for the Environment”[10]

5.     Humanity as God’s image-bearers to rule in the world

“In the ancient East the setting up of the king’s statue was the equivalent to the proclamation of his dominion over the sphere in which the statue was erected (cf. Dan. 3.1, 5f.).  When in the thirteenth century BC the Pharaoh Ramesses II had his image hewn out of rock at the mouth of the nahr el-kelb, on the Mediterranean north of Beirut, the image meant that he was the ruler of this area.  Accordingly, man is set in the midst of creation as God’s statue.  He is evidence that God is Lord of creation; but as God’s steward he also exerts his rule, fulfilling his task not in arbitrary despotism but as a responsible agent.  His rule and his duty to rule are not autonomous; they are copies.”[11]

[1] Primarily from Millard Erickson Christian Theology (3rd ed.), pp. 451-455.
[2] Millard Erickson Christian Theology, 453.
     [3] Millard Erickson Christian Theology, 455.
     [4] Wayne Grudem, Sytematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 449.
     [5] Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1986), 70-71.
     [6] Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 72.
     [7] Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 64.
     [8] C. John Collins. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?  Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Crossway, 2011), p. 94.  See also Herman Hoekema’s discussion of “structural” and “functional” aspects of the image of God in Created in God’s Image (Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1986), pp. 68-73.
     [9] David Bruce Hegeman, Plowing in Hope: Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture (Moscow: Canon Press, 1999), 45.
     [11] Hans Walter Wolff as quoted in Peter J. Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 200.