Book Review: The Call – By Os Guinness

Os Guiness The Call.png

Letter TThis book has been sitting on my shelf for about three or four years. I had expected it to be rather trite and boring fluff. I was glad to have been proven wrong.

Every person has the desire to know that they are fulfilling their purpose in life; The Call, as the subtitle suggests, is about finding and fulfilling that central purpose. ‘Calling’ – in the context used by Guinness – is the specific purpose for which we were created: “calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service” (p4). It is in this calling, this purpose, that we find our identities.

Once the foundational idea of calling and its importance is laid Guinness proceeds to unpack the various aspects of calling: our primary calling is as followers of Christ, our secondary calling is to live, think, speak, and act for God as our sovereign. It is this secondary calling which – according to Guinness – comprises our specific ‘vocation’ (a teacher, lawyer, construction worker, etc), what Guinness calls “our personal answer to God’s address” (p31).

When viewed through this lens our calling gives us meaning, meaning which mere work or a mere job cannot. Despite referring to lines of work as ‘secondary callings’, Guinness pushes back against equating work with vocation, noting that “slowly such words as work, trade, employment, and occupation came to be used interchangeably with calling and vocation… The original demand that each Christian should have a calling was boiled down to the demand that each citizen should have a job” (p40). Guinness chief issue seems to be that secondary callings took center stage over the primary calling [to follow Christ]. He thereby seeks to counter the Protestant distortion of making the secondary calling primary and the Catholic distortion of confining calling only to the clergy.

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“The Bible was WRONG”… or Not; Religious Illiteracy in West Reaches New Low

Drouais Caananite Woman

Letter IImagine for a moment being told that your history book is wrong because archaeologists digging in Georgia have discovered evidence that the United States previously allowed slavery. You would rightly scratch your head, because anybody who knows anything about U.S. history knows that slavery has always been one of its defining features. A similar scenario recently played out in headlines across the web.

As background, the above painting is an oil on canvas by the eighteenth century French painter Jean-Germain Drouais. It currently hangs at the Louvre in Paris and is entitled ‘The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ.’

For anyone who’s been paying attention to the recent headlines this painting should come as quite a shock. Sources from USA Today to The Telegraph and Science and Daily Mail all rushed to the presses in recent weeks to report that “The Bible was WRONG,” “DNA vs the Bible,“The Bible got in wrong,” “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim,” “Was The Bible Wrong?,” amongst others.

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Sacred & Secular: How Should Christians Interact With the World?

vocationLetter IIn his classic work Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton asks whether one can “hate [the world] enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?”In this quote Chesterton – likely much to his chagrin – expresses something more in line with the reformer Martin Luther, setting Christ and culture in a paradoxical tension.

As sociologist James Davison Hunter has noted in the past, there is a tension between the church and the world that should not be minimized; there must be both affirmation and antithesis. According to Hunter, Christians can engage in world-building, but this is not kingdom-building (and it will not evolve into the kingdom this side of heaven). This affirmation is balanced with a constructive subversion of the negative aspects of the world. Hunter’s vision boils down to a doctrine of vocation – of being faithfully present in the world.

There is a danger when taking this approach of dichotomizing life into the sacred and the secular and thereby forcing the Christian faith wholly into the private realm. A proper doctrine of vocation should not result in a separation of the sacred from the secular, but of that which glorifies God from that which doesn’t.

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What Evangelicals Can Learn From Rob Bell (and why they hate him)

holmesbellLetter MMy new favorite podcast – along with Mere Fidelity and The Partially Examined Life – is Pete HolmesYou Made It Weird. It’s an absolutely fabulous podcast, where comedian Pete Holmes just sits down and talks with a guest for two or three hours (usually on the topics of comedy, relationships, and God).

A few years ago he had an episode with Rob Bell, and it got me to thinking about what makes Mr. Bell so likable and helpful to so many. There is a message that Bell is sending that many identify with, and it’s a message that the evangelical community – so often the target of his critique – can and should learn from.

Mr. Bell is offering a valid critique of evangelicalism that evangelicals shouldn’t ignore. He is identifying some real problems in some traditional forms of Christianity. There is no shame or compromise in admitting that, because agreeing that the problems are real doesn’t mean evangelicals also have to agree with all of Bell’s solution to those problems.

By and large, evangelicals can learn from Bell’s exploration of the problems, but it’s his solutions to them that make them hate him (and in turn, make them ignore an otherwise valid critique).

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Book Review: The Man Who Was Thursday – By G.K. Chesterton

 

Chesterton Man Who Was Thursday.pngletter-oOver the past few years I’ve read almost every work written by Chesterton. This book, however, stands above the others as having been my first glimpse into his paradoxical yet brilliant mind. I was first exposed to it in a video-game, Deus Ex, which coincidentally turns out to be one of the greatest video-games ever created – whether or not this was in part because portions of this text were included in it perhaps we’ll never know…

Written in 1908, The Man Who Was Thursday is a book which is difficult to pin down, though it has stood the test of time and remains one of Chesterton’s most famous works. Not only is it hard to pin down now, but it was hard to for critics to pin down back then as well, and even Chesterton in his autobiography keeps from completely explaining what exactly is going on. It’s part espionage, part mystery, part allegory and part philosophy on the state of man. At less than 200 pages it’s certainly worth the time it takes to read it.

The story revolves around the man Gabriel Syme as he is recruited into a new sect of Scotland Yard, a group who believe that “the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher,” and thus seek to infiltrate the Council of Days, the intellectual dynamiters who would reek anarchy upon the nation. At the center of this council is the ominous and ambiguous Sunday, a leviathan of a man who seems to posses an unclear and yet overwhelming power of being. It is a story that is at once compelling and comic, surreal and yet touching on the heart of the human condition. It has a pattern of predictability and yet still manages to keep to the reader guessing though to the puzzling end.

The only thing left worth stating are Chesterton’s own words on the book, though to get a true idea of his vision one must of course read the book: “So far as the story had any sense in it, it was meant to begin with the picture of the world at its worst and to work towards the suggestion that the picture was no so black as it was already painted…. I was trying vaguely to found a new optimism, not on the maximum but the minimum of good. I did not so much mind the pessimist who complained that there was so little good. But I was furious, even to slaying, with the pessimist who asked what was the good of good.”

Memorable Quotes:

“…burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them. They accept the central ideal of man; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.”

“No one has any experience,” said the other, “of the Battle of Armageddon.”

“But I am really unfit-“

“You are willing, that is enough,” said the unknown.

“Well, really,” said Syme, ” I don’t know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test.”

“I do,” said the other-“martyrs. I am condemning you to death. Good day.”

“Yes,” he said in a voice indescribable, “you are right. I am afraid of him. Therefore I swear by God that I will seek out this man whom I fear until I find him, and strike him in the mouth. If heaven were his throne and the earth his footstool, I swear I would pull him down.”

“How?” asked the staring Professor. “Why?”

“Because I am afraid of him,” said Syme; “and no man should leave in the universe anything of which he is afraid.”

Specific Criticisms

If you wanted to criticize something about this book there are two big points you could use. The first is the repetition of similar twists, resulting in a predictable pattern of events once you notice what’s going on. The second is that the ending of the book, and thus the book as a whole, is very hard to make sense of.

On the first, while there is this element of repetition to the book I don’t necessarily view it as a bad thing. It’s like using a trope or a cliche, it’s only bad if you use it poorly. Chesterton doesn’t use pattern poorly, but instead uses it to give an overall flow and form to the novel, similar to the bass-line in music. It is somewhat predictable, but that’s not what it’s about, it’s about everything that’s going on around it and where that pattern leads.

On the second, there’s not much I can say about this, especially without just giving away the ending. Hopefully the commentary given by Chesterton helps in resolving that.

Scripture in Context: Second Temple Judaism

Second Temple Judaism.pngLetter TThe ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus did not happen in a vacuum, but rather they were set in various historical and political contexts.

The primary time period which helped develop the context in which John the Baptist and Jesus lived was the period between the 5th Century BC – this period saw many developments that would influence their lives and the world in which they lived.

Return from Exile

One of the great events which helped develop this context was the return from exile of the Jewish people in the 5th Century BC, an exile that they had been put into by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. With Babylon’s defeat to Persia, they were allowed to return, which meant that John the Baptist and Jesus were ministering to a Jewish population in the Jewish homeland.

The Jews having been allowed to return to their homeland introduces a variety of factors that would have influenced and provided context for these ministries. For one, when the Jews had been taken by Babylon, the Babylonians had destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. With the return from exile the Jews are able to begin rebuilding their temple, around which the pre-exile Jewish religion was based.

The rebuilding of this temple meant that the Jewish religion once again had a center, a center which gave Jesus could then use as a place of teaching; this rebuilding also brought back the symbolic sacrifice which foreshadowed Christ.

Hellenization

Apart from the return from exile and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, other great influences on the context include the Hellenization of the Mediterranean world, which was followed by the Roman period.

Both of these helped to move the worldview of the time from a more communal view to a more individualistic view (something also accomplished by the lack of temple sacrifice during the exile period, when the Jewish people gathered in synagogues rather than the temple and had to turn to study and prayer as a way of exercising their piety).

This ‘modernization’ of the world introduced the Jewish world to new peoples and ideas and to languages which were widespread (something that would in turn allow for the message of accepting Gentiles to be more practical). As interpreted by G.K. Chesterton in his book The Everlasting Man, this meeting of ideas between the Jewish people and the Greek/Roman people saw the bringing together of the pinnacle of human religion – Judaism – and the pinnacle of human philosophy – the Greeks – in order to set the perfect stage for the pinnacle of history: Christ, who would complete and surpass both.

Maccabean Revolts

Finally, the Jewish revolts – such as that under the Mattathias during the 160s BC (which wold come to be called the Maccabean revolt) – strengthened the Jewish expectation of a political messiah, an expectation which Jesus would be able to then subvert.

John the Baptist and Jesus entered a world which was filled with turmoil on the one hand, but which finally had regained some of the structure of the older Judaism, and which had begun to be exposed to the greatest human philosophies of the time – all of which worked together to create the context into which the messiah would enter.

As has been noted, the political turmoil – and especially the Maccabean revolts and the ideas of the Zealots (a Jewish group which wished to rebel against the Roman empire) – caused many within the Jewish community to believe that the Messiah was to be a political leader; indeed, the titles ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’ signifies the ‘anointed one’, which can refer to the Jewish offices of a prophet, priest, and king.

Along with this kingly aspect, one may also look to the title ‘Son of God’ and compare it to the way in which the heir to the Roman ruler was referred to in the same way, also giving some political undertones.

Yet Jesus was meant to be much more than a political figure, and ultimately his mission was not a political one.

Jesus did not promote any rebellion against the government of his day, indeed, quite the opposite (Matthew 22:20-22 – “render unto Caesar what is Caesars”).

Rather, Jesus’ message was spiritual and incarnational, that of God entering the world to save his people – not from the evils of mundane rulers, but from the evils of the spiritual rulers (Satan) and from the evils within their own hearts.

Book Review: The Everlasting Man – By G.K. Chesterton

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Letter WWith such a well-beloved author as C.S. Lewis positing this book as one of the great contributors to his conversion to Christianity one can’t help but give into the curiosity to delve into the mind of Chesterton.

During the early Twentieth Century four of the biggest writers were H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton; the latter two often engaging in debates with the former. As was noted with Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy, it was written in a format parodying that of one of Wells’ essays.

In continuing the bout, The Everlasting Man is Chesterton’s answer to a book written by Wells entitled The Outline of History (which was possibly plagiarized anyway). Chesterton’s issue with Wells’ book was the minuscule role given to Christianity in the history of the world and thus he set out his own outline, that of The Everlasting Man (Hilaire Belloc’s book The Great Heresies similarly attempts to portray religion’s impact on history).

The book is divided into two parts: the first a discussion of man and the second a discussion of Christ and the church. Chesterton begins his text in a discussion of the anthropology of his time, specifically as it had begun to analyze primitive man [in relation to evolutionist theory]. This discussion is amusing and insightful; the ideas concerning the gulf between man and the animals, and his refutations concerning evolution, are quite good. One such quip involves art, stating: “A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.”

Following this discussion of science and anthropology Chesterton takes a step backwards, to discussing the mythology and philosophy of the pagans, how they grew into their golden age, became all that man could be on it’s own, and yet the never combined into a universal system. These two quotations serve well to sum up the section: “Simple secularists still talk as if the Church had introduced a sort of schism between reason and religion. The truth is that the Church was actually the first thing that ever tried to combine reason and religion… Polytheism, or that aspect of paganism, was never to the pagan what Catholicism is to the Catholic. It was never a view of the universe satisfying all sides of life; a complete and complex truth with something to say about everything.”

By the time he gets to the second section of his book the central theme has emerged, a theme standing in great contrast to the of Wells, the theme of history being centered around Christianity. Calvary was the crux of history, producing something completely unique to itself, something incomparable to everything that was or came afterward.

Again I’ll offer two quotations which convey well the ideas presented: “To compare the Christian and Confucian religions is like comparing a theist with an English squire or asking whether a man is a believer in immortality or a hundred-per-cent American. Confucianism may be a civilization but it is not a religion… In truth the Church is too unique to prove herself unique. For most popular and easy proof is by parallel and here there is no parallel… Nobody understands the nature of the Church, or the ringing note of the creed descending from antiquity, who does not realize that the whole world once very nearly died of broad-mindedness and the brotherhood of all religions.”

Christianity is a thing unique amongst itself which served to bring life to a mankind which had exhausted it’s own resources, the pinnacle of which is placed in the high mythology and philosophy of Greece and Rome. The church has faced many trials and even died, but as Chesterton notes it has as its head a figure who knows the way out of the grave.

While this is a fairly short read I don’t recommend it as a first step into reading Chesterton, for that I’d recommend Orthodoxy or one of his novels (such as The Man Who Was Thursday). Still, The Everlasting Man is a brilliantly written text which will serve to challenge any readers perception of history, specifically the place of Christ in it.

Memorable Quotes:

[As with Orthodoxy this book is filled to the brim with memorable quotes, here are a few of my favorites…]

-“If man cannot pray he is gagged; if he cannot kneel be is in irons.”

-“When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the Church is right. The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”

-“In other words, whatever else is true it is not true that the controversy has been altered by time. Whatever else is true, it is emphatically not true that the ideas of Jesus of Nazareth were suitable to his time, but are no longer suitable to our time. Exactly how suitable they were to his time is perhaps suggested in the end of his story.”

-“Now that purity was preserved by dogmatic definitions and exclusions. It could not possibly have been preserved by anything else…. If the Church had not insisted on theology, it would have melted into a mad mythology of the mystics, yet further removed from reason or even from rationalism; and, above all, yet further removed from life and from the love of life.”

-“It was supposed to have been withered up at last in the dry light of the Age of Reason; it was supposed to have disappeared ultimately in the earthquake of the Age of Revolution. Science explained it away; and it was still there. History disinterred it in the past; and it appeared suddenly in the future. To-day it stands once more in our path; and even as we watch it, it grows.”

Specific Criticisms

I don’t have many criticisms of this book. One, as I noted above, is that it’s not the most accessible of his writings and therefore I wouldn’t recommend it as a first book to read by him. That’s not to say that it’s difficult reading, simply that it’s much easier reading once you’re used to his style.

Another minor criticism is the way in which the author casually references philosophers, classic authors and his own contemporaries, as if the reader should simply be aware of all these individuals and their ideas. One can generally get the idea of the text without being familiar with them but it still causes the writing to be more dense and less accessible to audiences not living during Chesterton’s time.

Lastly, I’m not sure what’s up with the landscape on the cover pictured above, it looks more suitable to one of Tolkien’s books than this one, but I digress…

The Art of Christian Leadership

ChristianLeadership.pngLetter TThere are no shortage of books on the topic of leadership. Indeed, pointing out this fact is the first thing that most books on leadership seem to do. These books also point out that there is a crisis of leadership in the world today, such as having traded true leadership for celebrity. 

In order to discuss a philosophy of Christian leadership, we first need a working definition of leadership. A precise definition might be stated as such: Christian leadership is the dialogic art of influencing others toward God’s agenda. In order to make clear what is meant by the definition it will be necessary to unpack in turn each aspect of what is being stated.

Leadership and Others, A Dialogue Concerning God’s Agenda

In unpacking our definition we must first assess the players involved. In this definition two actors may be assumed outright, the leaders and the “others.” The first thing to unpack is that the art is made up of leaders influencing “others.” Christian leadership is not confined merely to influencing Christians. Our Christianity seeps into every aspect of our lives, our interactions with Christians and non-Christians, and these interactions include those instances of leadership over both groups. Christian leadership does not vary depending on which group the individual is working with.

Along with the leaders and the others that the leader is influencing, there is also God. This  is important for establishing the dynamic of the relationship between the leaders and those being led, because it is this aspect of the definition which introduces the servant-leadership aspect of the art.

Some books on the topic of leadership state that the leader is merely influencing the followers to achieve a defined mission; others specify that it is influence to achieve a common goal. In the first instance the influence toward a “defined mission” could place the goals, vision, and mission of the leader over and above those of the followers. In the second instance influence toward a “common goal” could still face the risk of placing some sort of merely human goal as the primary thing to be achieved. That God is also an actor indicates that neither the leader – nor even the group – is the thing of primary importance; it is God’s agenda that takes the central focus.

Again, this focus on God’s agenda introduces the servant-leadership aspect of the art. The chief implication of this is that the leader is a servant, yet this servant-hood is not first and foremost to the group. Primarily, the leader is a servant of God.

In being a servant of God two primary things may be assumed, a love of God and a love of neighbor, the latter of which indicates that the servant-leader will have a love for those that he or she is leading. Since the leader has a love for those that he or she is leading they will act in such a way towards their followers that exemplifies that fact.

This means that the Christian leader will not abuse or exploit their followers, and if they have been placed in a position of authority they will not abuse that position out of love for those who they are leading and the One they serve. Indeed, the leader will act knowing that they will someday be required to give an account to God of their actions.

When God is the one being served the individual loses all authority when they abuse their power and use it in a wrong way; as G.K. Chesterton points out, one “cannot have a shred of authority if he merely has the power to do it and not the right to do it.” Chesterton’s point here is rooted in the truth that authority is something given from God, and therefore one cannot do anything in authority unless one is right in doing it; what one is ‘right’ in doing is derived from God and his agenda.

The art of leadership involve the three actors of the leader, the others, and God. This relationship is one of a God-derived love, and furthermore it is a dialogue.

This dialogic aspect is the final key dynamic of the leader-followers relationship. The leader is not merely influencing others towards God’s agenda, but they are doing so while in dialogue with those they are leading.

Leadership is not a one way conversation; the only time in which that sort of leadership is feasible is when the leader is receiving direct revelation from God. In lieu of that, the leader must converse with those he or she is leading. One of these implications is that the leader must have an idea of where his people are. The leader is operating within a given context and with a certain group of people and the leader must be aware of what God is already doing in that place so that he or she may avoid merely trying impose an alien change to the direction of a group without knowing where or why they were headed where they were. Leaders therefore need to ask themselves what kind of situation those they are leading are facing. The Christian leader is one who invites discussion and constructive feedback from those that he or she is working with.

Finally, the Christian leader does not lead in such a way as to make themselves indispensable. Rather, the leader leads in such a way as to produce more leaders, echoing the command to go out and make disciples. As Henry Blackaby asserts “one of the most tragic mistakes leaders commit is to make themselves indispensable.”

God’s Agenda: Vocation and Calling in Leadership

God’s agenda is a central facet of Christian leadership, which gives it a close relationship to the ideas of vocation and calling. This aspect of Christian leadership is generally seen as being of utmost importance, as William Willimon puts it:

Faithful pastors must have a vivid sense of vocation, a sense of being summoned by God to do his work. The work that pastors do is too demanding to do it for any other reason than the conviction that one is called to do this work, that God wants you to do it.

With such a strong emphasis the need for a sense of vocation is certainly seen as strong.

Here Willimon is referring specifically to the context of pastors, and those within the Christian community vary on whether they apply the language of vocation and calling to professions outside of the pastorate.

Along with Martin Luther, we can extend the language of vocation and calling to areas outside of the pastoral ministry. However, also along with Luther, it would be incorrect to view this sense of calling and vocation as a calling to a specific area of either Christian ministry or secular work.

A mediating position would be that which is sometimes deemed the “wisdom” approach to the will of God as opposed to the “specific-will” approach.

We are called to pursue God’s will, where God’s will is not defined as some specific action but as the pursuit of righteousness.

As Luther’s view has been summarized, “Christian vocation is not finally about production… it is about the neighbor, about giving oneself to the other in love and service in the glorious freedom of the gospel.”

In this understanding of calling and the will of God, Luther would be in disagreement with those such as Willimon and Blackaby, who assert a specific calling to a specific position. In Luther’s understanding our calling and our vocation is to serve our neighbors and in so doing to lead in a righteous manner and to righteous ends.

Biblical-theological Framework

The Biblical and theological frameworks of leadership have been touched on throughout the discussion above, yet it is helpful to lay them out in a more straightforward manner. There are three key theological themes that provide a framework for the above practice of leadership: the state of man, the call to righteousness, and the sovereignty of God.

The State of Man

In discerning how to lead people you must know where people are at.

From Scripture we may observe that the state of man is fallenness; man is sinful, and man is also loved by God and made in his image. This serves as a vital theological foundation for leadership because man as created by God yet fallen is one of the key basis for the servant aspect of leadership, for the love that the leader has for those under his or her care.

Because man is made in the image of God we must love those who are in our care. Yet while man is made in the image of God, he is also fallen, and we must realize this as we are working with people. Realizing this fallen aspect of mankind keeps the leader aware of the imperfection of the system he or she is working in, and furthermore it keeps them humble, knowing that they themselves are imperfect. Knowing that these imperfections are in place the leader can expect failure, but because of the hope that is in Christ and the sovereignty of God, he or she may trust that their failure will not be fruitless.

The Call to Righteousness

While mankind is fallen, he has been called to righteousness. On the one hand this a plea for the gospel, yet it the key to leadership that has been already discussed in terms of calling and vocation, that Christian leadership is the dialogic art of influencing others toward righteous ends.  

It is this aspect of Christian leadership which allows it to not merely be confined to Christian ministry, for any leader can conduct their affairs such that they lead towards a righteous end.

A Christian business leader can exercise that call to righteousness by managing his employees in a Godly manner, not taking advantage of them. At the same time the Christian business leader can also influence others toward righteous ends by leading his company toward fair dealings with other companies and by engaging in business practices which do not exploit the system. A Christian military leader may lead a righteous life in fulfillment of that call, and then influence his troops towards righteousness by serving as an example of righteousness, and by making tactical decisions in accordance with a just-war theory. A Christian political leader may again serve as an example, and may influence others toward righteous ends by pursuing policies which would glorify God.

Finally, a Christian minister is called likewise to be that example, and may influence his congregation towards righteous ends, spurning them towards evangelism in general or towards any specific program that would glorify God; yet, the minister in this case does not pursue the specific program because God wills that specific program, but because it is a program that is in accord with glorifying God.

The Sovereignty of God

The sovereignty of God is immense importance for a framework of leadership. Perhaps the greatest benefit the sovereignty of God has for the leader is in its ability to let them trust in the perfect plan of God and the fact that all things will work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Because the leader has this trust he or she may be confident than even in their own personal failure – or even the failure of their projects or their group – that God will still bring good out of those failures.

Nothing is ever a total failure; because God is sovereign some benefit will always come out of those actions which are done with the aim of pursuing righteousness.

It is the sovereignty of God which assures the leader that he will be held accountable for his actions as a leader. This accountability is what will help keep the leader from acting improperly in his position. It will both motivate the leader to put their entire heart into the work, knowing that it glorifies God, and also keeps them in the fear of the Lord, knowing that he will hold them responsible for the way they have used their leadership.

As has been stated, Christian leadership is is the dialogic art of influencing others toward righteous ends. These righteous ends are synonymous with the agenda of God, for God’s agenda is that his people pursue righteousness.

The Christian leader, thus, is one who influences whatever group he or she oversees in such a way that upholds Christian values; the Christian leader will lead in a righteous manner, and will make sure that the goals being pursued are ones through which God can be glorified, if for no other reason than that the job was done well in service to the neighbor. In this system the leader is capable of setting the specific agenda through dialogue with the group, so long as that specific agenda coincides with the general agenda God has of pursuing righteousness.

This is a system of leadership that may be applied to any sort of leadership in any context, for any action may be done in such a manner so as to bring glory to God.

Book Review: Christianity & Liberalism – By J. Gresham Machen

machen xnty and liberalism.pngletter-c.pngChristianity & Liberalism is what might be rightly called the pinnacle of the Christian defence for orthodoxy. The landscape in which the book falls into is one of increasing religious Liberalism, a movement which overtook Christianity in the years following the Enlightenment up through the early Twentieth Century (and even into the present) in the form of the German Higher Criticism. Liberalism in this context can properly be understood as that thing which tries “to remove from Christianity everything that could possibly be objected to in the name of science.” This plays out as a denial of the historicity of the Biblical accounts (namely, the incarnation/resurrection), of the Trinity, the virgin birth, miracles and anything else which may appear illogical to scientific scrutiny; it is this which Machen argues against.

The text is an expansion of an earlier address delivered by Machen – ‘Liberalism or Christianity’ – which can also be read in essay form at White Horse Inn.

In his defense of Christianity Machen focuses on demonstrating the dichotomy present between traditional and liberal sects, such as their opposing views of the relationship between God and man, of Scripture, of the person Jesus Christ and of salvation. Where Christianity makes God the creator and the author of Salvation through a historical event in the death of Christ, Liberalism creates a works-centered religion in which man is essentially good and must simply follow Christ as his example. As Machen puts it: “Liberalism regards [Christ] as an Example and Guide; Christianity, as a Savior; liberalism makes Him an example for faith; Christianity, the object of faith.”

Machen seeks to show that Christianity and Liberalism are indeed two different religions, with the latter simply feeding off of the former, trying to pass itself off as orthodoxy through use of equivocation in traditional terms. Machen confronts this dishonesty which he sees in liberal Christian leaders, noting how “By the equivocal use of traditional phrases, by the representation of differences of opinion as though they were only differences about the interpretations of the Bible, entrance into the Church was secured for those who are hostile to the very foundations of the faith.” The book concludes in addressing what it is that Christians and churches need to do in order to combat the growing trend throughout the congregations and leadership positions. This is mostly through higher standards of church leadership and discernment amongst church offices, but chiefly through a revival of Christian education both in the home and in the churches (as in essence, ignorance breeds heresy).

The text not only serves to demonstrate the sharp contrast between Liberalism and Christianity and what happens when one places the authority of man over the authority of the Scripture, but is also on its own a wonderful outline of just what orthodox Christianity looks like – afterall, one of the best way to define what you believe is to contrast it with what you don’t believe. Furthermore, the text serves to show the religious climate in the early Twentieth Century when Machen wrote, but is just as applicable today as it was then. The postmodern movement has picked up many of the liberal tendencies in it’s disdain for defined doctrines or truth, it’s trust in faith as faith (regardless of what it’s in), it’s pluralism, and it’s focus on the man for salvation over Christ.

This is quite simply one of the best books on Christianity that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, regardless of category.

Memorable Quotes:

-“But if the Christian faith is based upon truth, then it is not the faith which saves the Christian but the object of that faith. And the object of the faith is Christ. Faith, then, according to the Christian view, means simply receiving a gift. To have faith in Christ means to cease trying to win God’s favor by one’s own character; the man who believes in Christ simply accepts the sacrifice which Christ offered on Calvary. The result of such faith is a new life and all good works; but the salvation itself is an absolutely free gift of God.”

-“In such times of crisis, God has always saved the Church. But He has always saved it not by theological pacifists, but by sturdy contenders for the truth.”

-“According to the fundamental principle, language is truthful, not when the meaning attached to the words by the speaker, but when the meaning intended to be produced in the mind of the particular person addressed, is in accordance with the facts.”

-“Narrowness does not consist in definite devotion to certain convictions or in definite rejection of others. But the narrow man is the man who rejects the other man’s convictions without first endeavoring to understand them, the man who makes no effort to look at things from the other man’s point of view.”

[Honestly, this is one of those books that’s so full of excellent quotes that I could fill page upon page with just that.]

Specific Criticisms

If there is something to critique about this text I’m not sure I’m skilled enough to be able to say what it is. There is nothing that I could say I disagree with, nor can I even propose to critique his style or some aspect of his presentation – the text is eloquent and yet simple, touching the root of every matter that he comes across.

One possible point of contention is that the address in putting so striking of a dichotomy between Christianity and Liberalism as schools of thought, it may fail to account for that dichotomy not transferring directly over into the churches – that is, while traditional and liberalized Christianity may be opposites, the majority of people in the churches fall into a an oblivious middle group which fail to see the relevance of such things. Granted, while most of the book is directed towards what church leaders need to do to combat the issue Machen does point out that the most important thing which needs to be done is a renewal of Christian education: “The rejection of Christianity is due to various causes. But a very potent cause is simple ignorance. In countless cases, Christianity is rejected simply because men have not the slightest notion of what Christianity is.”

While this does address that one of the main problems is with that oblivious middle group being so oblivious, and says that the remedy is naturally for them to stop being so oblivious, there is little to be practically drawn from this. Sure, churches which are already in agreement with Machen’s thesis would increase their focus on teaching orthodoxy, but this does very little for the rest of the churches. Those opposing Machen’s thesis are naturally going to ignore it, while the oblivious middle group is still just has hopelessly lost as before – afterall, one can’t pull oneself out of oblivion, they’ll just continue on as ignorant as before because they’re unlikely to hear or even recognize Machen’s call to renewal. This is likely why Machen seems to focus on a sort of ‘trickle down’ effect, as it is only through properly educating the leaders that one may properly educate the masses if the masses have no will to educate themselves, or even a notion that they might need to.

Thus I think in the end it is the title and the marketing of the book that I would critique. While it seems to be directed towards scholars it is easy to read and thus would do fine in the general populace – (like with the book Orthodoxy by Chesterton), Christianity & Liberalism simply isn’t something that’s going to attract the attention of the oblivious middle. If you want to use a trickle down effect it’s fine, but if you want to hit gut of the Christian populace it’s just poor showmanship, one needs to get down on their level without compromising the message.

Rereading the Faith for Today – Gnostic Tendencies and Defending Against Them

 

Princeton.pngLetter IIn his book The Everlasting Man G.K. Chesterton asserts that “the whole world once very nearly died of broadmindedness and the brotherhood of all religions.”

Chesterton is here referencing the way the early church had to deal with their contemporary culture attempting to bring all religions into one accord; the solution as Chesterton presents it was to formulate a creed, to define the Christian faith against those who pushed for mere assimilation.

One of the groups which Chesterton has in mind here are the early Gnostics. Although early Christianity was able to overcome the threat of Gnosticism in its day there is a perpetual tendency to re-interpret the faith, a perpetual tendency for sinful man to read the faith in a way congenial to his own culture. The failure of one attempt, such as the rationalistic Christianity of the Enlightenment, is followed by another, the Gnosticizing relativism of our present day.

When the the stars of cultural tendencies in which people re-read the faith align -as they have done today – the result in something akin to ancient Gnosticism.

This perpetual tendency to re-interpret the faith thus gives the appearance of an ongoing gnostic tendency plaguing the church throughout its history. As Nicholas Perrin puts it “The battle between orthodoxy and Gnosticism isn’t over yet and probably won’t be any time soon.”

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