Apologetics in post-modernity

1 01 2009

One of the statements made by Andy Stanley at the Catalyst Conference this fall keeps ringing in my head: “If you are over 45 years old, you aren’t going to have any good ideas. It’s your job to recognize the good ideas.” I take a statement like this as a challenge not another nail in the coffin for those of us in this age group. The challenge is to not submit to the comfort of just “doing church” but to press forward – learn new things and engage in new ways.

Well, Andy Stanley’s statement rang again today when I read a series of questions that John H. Armstrong used in a graudate class in apologetics he taught last month at Wheaton College. I think these are the type of questions that can really help us move toward engagement – they provide a good map about what we need to be learning and applying. John Armstrong credits these questions to Newbigin’s book Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship:

1. What are the questions that the postmodern person asks that were not asked 25 years ago?

2. What specific influence does Hinduism have upon the “new-age” movement in the West?

3. How can we speak about apologetics in a way that makes it accessible to ordinary people?

4. How do we approach the issue of evil with unbelievers?

5. Does conservative and fundamentalist Christianity actually pose a major problem for serious apologetics in today’s world and if so how do we deal with this problem?

6. Do Marxism and radical Islam have anything in common and if so how do we address these problems?

7. How do we respond to the “So What?” responses of many postmodern hearers?

8. Does our commitment to seeking justice and mercy in society act as a form of apologetics and if so how can we do this better?

9. How do we change every sphere of society?

10. In what ways is the Christian faith “public truth” as Newbigin cogently argues?

11. Is the community of Christ our greatest apologetic and if so what does unity and John 17 have to do with this in actual practice?

The Fine Line

18 12 2008

thefineline2Reaching people is less about knowing the answers and more about relating to the questions. But living out how to relate well to people in the world – how to be in the world but not of the world – is tricky.

We have a sense there are lines that should not be crossed but I find those lines much more clear in theory than reality- at least in the reality of loving people in need.

Kary Oberbrunner’s new book The Fine Line went on sale this week and based upon the reviews I’ve seen is quite helpful at shining some light on this oft murky matter. Below is a short intro video for the book:

The real theological questions

23 10 2008

David Fitch had a post Tuesday that provides a crystal clear example of the feeling many of us are experiencing… “just when I learned all the answers they changed all the questions.” His illustration is a real world experience from a person taking an intro to theology course who rewrote a series of standard questions from that course:

Intro to Theology Course Questions:

ECCLESIOLOGY: How does your church compare to the purpose and pattern of the Early Church?
SOTERIOLOGY: A person from a Roman Catholic background asks you why you don’t pray to the Virgin Mary. How would you answer that person?
SANCTIFICATION: In your desire to become Christ-like, what quality of God’s character do you need the most?
THEOLOGY: What do you consider to be the greatest of God’s attributes and why?
ANTHROPOLOGY: A new Christian, who is concerned for his unsaved family members, asks you where his deceased grandfather, who never heard the gospel, is in eternity. How would you answer him?

Student’s Rewrite of the Questions:

ECCLESIOLOGY: I don’t need church. Organized religion really bothers me – I’d rather just go for a walk in the woods and meet with God there.
SOTERIOLOGY: The whole idea of only one way to God is ridiculous. It’s so arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way. I’ve met a whole lot of people who are kinder and more compassionate than the Christians I’ve met. Those people seem more in touch with God.
SANCTIFICATION: God loves me unconditionally. I know there are some issues I need to deal with eventually, but don’t throw this legalism on me and give me a code of rules I’m supposed to live by. That’s not the kind of God I want to serve.
THEOLOGY: Jesus dying on the cross is so bloody and violent. How am I supposed to believe that a God who kills his own son in cold blood would love me?
ANTHROPOLOGY: Christianity is all about men. God is a man, Jesus is a man, pastors are men, etc. How do I, as a woman, fit into a faith that seems to be all about men?

What if church was a way of life?

8 09 2008





Liquid church?  Networked church?  What are you talking about!?  Typically this is the reaction many of us have – especially those of us who have been part of the church in North American for more than a few years.  The thought of church possibly being something quite different just isn’t plausible – especially if what we have been doing “works.”  May I suggest these concepts are foreign because we have no alternate experience and/or we are so busy with what we know we don’t take the time to imagine or even investigate alternatives that may “work” so much better.

So what does a networked or liquid church look like?  The good news is that there are many examples of liquid/networked chruches.  The bad news (for us moderns that want to systematize everything) is that they are not models but ways of life.  Adullam in Denver, Colorado, is one such way of life.  Here is their story of beginning followed by a description of who they are – they use the term “village”:

Adullam’s story:

“Adullam began without a name and without plans to start a church. Hugh & Cheryl Halter and Matt and Maren Smay moved to Denver in 2003, after leaving their respective church plants to centralize their ministry of missional church plant training. They work with a missions agency called Church Resource Ministries and have spent the last four years training leaders in how to be “missionaries” in North America. While traveling and training around the country under the name “missio” they simply lived what they taught. The focus of our training is that you don’t begin with a structure or a church strategy; you begin with people. The missional flow is to engage culture, form community, and then structure congregation as people naturally draw together for God’s purposes in their city.

“The first year we simply lived out the gospel in our neighborhoods and it began to draw a group of people from our local Starbucks and began discussing what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. As time passed this group began to grow and eventually we had to acknowledge that we were “church.” Hugh & Matt still lead Missio and spend most of their time training leaders. You can find out about Missio at www.missio.us. Adullam is not where we go to church. Adullam is our life, our friends, and the people we are on mission with. We can honestly say, that we’ve become church by trying not to do church.” Read the rest of this entry »

The church in liminality

16 07 2008

The guys at Biblical Seminary are working well with the paradigm shifts and how those shifts impact and provide opportunities for the church.  The seminary president, Dave Dunbar, has written several easily digested articles that are available on their web site.  I thought this one titled What’s Different About Missional was a good representation and entry point:

To be evangelistic is to be committed to and involved with the proclamation of the gospel (the evangel). For many of us the gospel is primarily a verbal message focused on what God has done and will yet do in Jesus Christ to reconcile fallen humanity to himself. The form in which this message came to us was shaped by Scripture, by the Protestant reformers (especially Martin Luther), and by the revivalism of the 19th century. It was often a brief summary of the good news (the “Romans Road,” “The Four Spiritual Laws,” “Steps to Peace with God,” etc.) combined with a strong appeal to “trust Christ” or “accept Jesus as your personal Savior.”

There is no denying that many people (including me) came to a deep and abiding faith by this approach. But we should also recognize that those who are reached in this way are normally people who have been prepared for the message. Like me they may have grown up in a Christian home and, though they may not be church attenders, they at least have a “Christian memory.” By this I mean that they have acquired a basic stock of Christian truths that they embrace, even if they have never come to a place of personal commitment. A brief, focused presentation of the gospel is often very effective with people at this level of spiritual preparedness.

What the missional movement recognizes is that the percentage of the general population in America who now fit the above profile is rapidly shrinking. As I mentioned in my last article, our culture is increasingly post-Christian and biased against the gospel. So what should we do? Is the answer simply to be “faithful,” i.e., to say, “Just keep doing what worked before, and trust God for the results”? The problem with this answer is the assumption that “what worked before” was a comprehensive and biblically sufficient presentation of the gospel–one that doesn’t need to be examined or modified.

But this assumption is being challenged in some of the missional literature, and I find it a healthy challenge.  Consider these two lines of discussion:

Read the rest of this entry »

Being there

3 06 2008