Monday, June 23, 2008

Jesus in China

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune ran a fascinating and extensive cover story on the rapid rise of evangelical Christianity in China and how it's reshaping the officially atheist nation. According to some estimates, the mostly underground church consists of approximately 70 million members. The article is a preview of a joint project of the Trib and PBS' FRONTLINE/World called "Jesus in China" which airs tomorrow night at 9 p.m. ET. The program is momentous in that it includes interviews with numerous church leaders and members publicly declaring their faith for the first time. In a related story, the LA Times reports on China's booming business of Bible production.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tim Keller Talks Apologetics and Evangelism with CT

Some friends and I had the pleasure of attending Tim Keller's Veritas Forum lecture at Northwestern University, part of his The Reason for God book tour. While he was in town he sat down with Christianity Today assistant editor Susan Wunderink. You can read the interview here.

Since my last two posts have dealt with marketing approaches to evangelism, I took particular note of what Keller sees as a major flaw in this way of thinking:
Marketing is about felt needs. You find the need and then you say Christianity will meet that need. You have to adapt to people's questions. And if people are asking a question, you want to show how Jesus is the answer. But at a certain point, you have to go past their question to the other things that Christianity says. Otherwise you're just scratching where they itch. So marketing is showing how Christianity meets the need, and I think the gospel is showing how Christianity is the truth.

C. S. Lewis says somewhere not to believe in Christianity because it's relevant or exciting or personally satisfying. Believe it because it's true. And if it's true, it eventually will be relevant, exciting, and personally satisfying. But there will be many times when it's not relevant, exciting, and personally satisfying. To be a Christian is going to be very, very hard. So unless you come to it simply because it's really the truth, you really won't live the Christian life, and you won't get to the excitement and to the relevance and all that other stuff.
And here's a nugget for emergents and other skeptics concerning the role of rationality in leading people to faith:
Perhaps there was a day in which Christians thought that you evangelized largely through intellectual argument, but now I hear people saying, "No, it's all personal. If you're going to win people to Christ you just have to be authentic. You have to just reach out to them personally. You can't do the rational." In other words, Christians are saying the rational isn't part of evangelism. The fact is, people are rational. They do have questions. You have to answer those questions.  Don't get the impression that I think that the rational aspect takes you all the way there. But there's too much emphasis on just the personal now.  Maybe you know I'm a 57-year-old man. You'd say, "Of course you'd say that." But I'm knee deep in 20-somethings. So it's not like I don't know how people are today.

The Two Obamas

New York Times columnist David Brooks explains the problem with dismissing Barack Obama as just another naive liberal:
God, Republicans are saps. They think that they’re running against some academic liberal who wouldn’t wear flag pins on his lapel, whose wife isn’t proud of America and who went to some liberationist church wherethe pastor damned his own country. They think they’re running against some na├»ve university-town dreamer, the second coming of Adlai Stevenson.
But as recent weeks have made clear, Barack Obama is the most split-personality politician in the country today. On the one hand, there is Dr. Barack, the high-minded, Niebuhr-quoting speechifier who spent this past winter thrilling the Scarlett Johansson set and feeling the fierce urgency of now. But then on the other side, there’s Fast Eddie Obama, the promise-breaking, tough-minded Chicago pol who’d throw you under the truck for votes.  This guy is the whole Chicago package: an idealistic, lakefront liberal fronting a sharp-elbowed machine operator. He’s the only politician of our lifetime who is underestimated because he’s too intelligent. He speaks so calmly and polysyllabically that people fail to appreciate the Machiavellian ambition inside.
Read the whole thing.

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An Ironic Side Effect of Toning Down Hard Truths

Here's something related to my previous post. Ligon Duncan points to the following thoughts from John Piper (he doesn't note the source) on how diluting biblical truth for the sake of winning unbelievers may actually harm the faith of those already in Christ:
. . . softening hard truth for evangelism in public undermines truth for the waffling believer in private. 
I think in general this is what cultural adapters fail to realize: making the truth more palatable for unbelievers to help them make a step toward orthodoxy serves even more (it seems historically) to help loosely orthodox people feel how unpalatable orthodoxy is and move away from it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Christian Euphemisms

In the interest of clear communication, Christians should carefully consider whether the vocabulary we use in declaring the gospel helps or hinders its furtherance. Contextualization of this sort is commendable. However, sometimes our selection of terms is driven not so much by a desire to facilitate understanding as by a desire to diminish the offense inherent in the message of the cross. After all, warning unbelievers about entering a "Christless eternity" isn't nearly as harsh-sounding as warnings about "hell" and thus the use of such euphemistic language might give us a longer hearing with people who would otherwise be turned off. Of course, it doesn't occur to us that the thought of an eternity without Christ is actually appealing to those who now hate him and have no desire for him.

The use of such toned-down language is not restricted to our conversations with non-Christians. Even when talking with each other we can resort to the use of euphemisms that dilute the concentration of biblical truths. I've always considered the phrase "unchurched" to describe the unconverted to be an example of such. The familiar term can easily give the false impression that a person's most fundamental problem is that he or she has not been properly socialized in church life. Likewise, it can give those who have never repented and trusted in Christ yet who regularly participate in church activities (i.e., the "churched"), a false security.

David Wells in his latest volume, The Courage to Be Protestant, critiques the premises and methods of the church growth and seeker-sensitive movements, noting how the words we use are products of the paradigm that is functionally authoritative:

We need look no further than the way those involved in this experiment speak of the unconverted. In virtually all church-marketing literature, non-Christians are no longer unconverted, or unsaved, or those not-yet-reconicled-to-the-Father, or those who have not come to faith, or those who are outside of Christ. No, they are simply the unchurched. Those who were once the unconverted have become the unchurched. This spares us the embarrassment of uttering theological truth. And that is the tip-off that something is amiss here. What is amiss is that the Christianity being peddled is not about theological truth (p. 45).

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Anthony Carter on Reformed Theology and the Black Experience

In an interview with byFaith Magazine, Anthony Carter, author of Being Black and Reformed and editor of the forthcoming Bringing the Reformation to the African-American Church, explains why Reformed theology and the African-American experience are inherently complementary.
In God’s providence, He is working all things out for good for His people. And African-Americans experientially see this as true, as they have experienced trials and tribulations and historic oppression. They take comfort and solace in the fact that God is sovereign and working things out for good.

So Reformed teaching and the African-American experience is quite compatible. In fact, Reformed teaching best helps us interpret the African-American experience. There is a sovereign God who is just and merciful who is working all things together for good.

But the challenge is that African-Americans are not exposed to Reformed theology, so they see it as antithetical.