Monday, 18 June 2012

Post-modernism in Western Society: "I feel, therefore I am".

The dominant worldview at the present time in England, but also in the Western world is called post-modernism. Post-modernism began around the 1960's as a reaction to the rather arrogant claims of absolute knowledge by the modernists. Modernity reached it's climax, which was the 'age of reason'. One of the quantum shifts was probably from a mindset that confessed "I think, therefore I am" to "I feel, therefore I am".

Absolute facts gave way to the highest authority in post-modernism which is the opinion of the individual. No one person is right, we all have a view and though it is subjective, it must be expressed. All opinions are equally valid, protests the post-modern person. This produces a reaction and disdain of authority, of moral absolutes and political correctness is the order of the day. Tolerance is the new anthem. However, there is a problem. The Achilles' heel of post-modernism is that it is itself extremely intolerant of absolute truth. This leaves post-modernity in a dilemma.

Why is this? The Lord Jesus Christ made absolute claims such as His uniqueness and therefore Jesus is intolerant of the claims of other religions. Jesus Christ said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). The Book of Acts presents a similar view of the early church as we read: 'And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved'. Christian's have often taken on a post-modern world view which is a form of worldliness and it is without people often realising it. Here are some examples of post-modernity.

1. Christian worship becomes an individual experience, often with the aid of Beatles' style music bands to facilitate the desired experience.

2. An in-built resistance to biblical authority structures develops. After all, everyone has an equally valid subjective idea and opinion. People just assume that their interpretation of matters is just as valid as those of a trained pastor, even when they are wrong.

3. Every individual needs to be aware of the advantages but also the dangers of using the internet, because we can find people online and instantly who will agree with us. This could cause us as Christians to simply seek people out who agree with us and we must remember that the internet and private study cannot substitute the church. This may not be a danger directly related to post-modernism but it can be. We all need to be aware of holding private interpretations which do not have a historic or confessional foundation ('Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation', 2 Peter 1:20).

4. In the realm of politics there develops a crisis of conscience because due to evolution and post-modernism there are no right and wrongs. Adultery becomes a life-choice and it is no longer called sin or declared to be wrong. This then contradicts the voice of God in the Ten Commandments.

5. Post-modernism looks down on history. What can history teach us when there is no God controlling things? History becomes a series of random events, and rather antiquated ones at that. Facts do not count, but the personal opinion of the interpreter becomes what really counts.

6. Modern art captures this prevailing thought. A piece of confused seemingly meaningless art is paraded in the world's art galleries and the question becomes: 'What does this art mean to you?'. One person says they can see a political uprising in a Salvadore Dali painting, another says 'I can see a whale', another cries 'It is a balloon'. All are right, because this style of art is intended to create an open-ended response.

7. Reformed confessions are not seen as necessary by Christians who have fallen prey to post-modernism. A post-modern Christian is excited about new ways of doing things and new interpretations of the Bible. Objective truth or the intended meaning of scripture is not the desire of a professing Christian who has been overcome by post-modernism, often unknowingly.

Let us consider how much this prevailing worldview has affected you. How does this impact your view of authority, the authority of the Scriptures, or the authority of God? In what way have you taken on a post-modern worldview without realising it? If you are a Christian, here is a prayer of David that you could pray.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!(Psalm 139:23-24).

Friday, 15 June 2012

Book Review: 'Everyday Church: Mission by Being Good Neighbours' by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester

Everyday Church: Mission by Being Good Neighbours

Tim Chester & Steve Timmis
Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, 2011, 197pp, paperback.
ISBN: 978 1 84474 520 3

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis appear to be carving out a popular brand of the church. However, their vision for ‘gospel communities’ amounts to a radical reshaping of traditional beliefs about the church. This latest printing moves beyond Total Church (2007) by presenting a myriad of more developed proposals for evangelism to be carried out by ‘missional churches’ (10, 51).

Everyday Church has seven chapters, and the Epistle of 1 Peter forms something of a spinal column throughout. It is not intended to be a commentary on 1 Peter, but rather a ‘dialogue with the first letter of Peter’ (11). The initial chapter ‘Life at the Margins’ offers a brisk analysis of the changing face of the UK, one that is a perceived to be a ‘post-Christendom context and culture’ (20-28). They should rightfully gain a sympathetic audience from any Christian who is concerned about the sad state of our nation. An evangelistic fervor shines through, one that is commendable, especially given that ‘70% of the UK population have no intention of attending a church service’ (28). Their analysis though, leads them to unfortunate conclusions which are unsupported by biblical exegesis and which should make people committed to reformed convictions nervous.

Chester and Timmis suggest in Chapter One that ‘Sunday morning in church is the one place where evangelism cannot take place in our generation because the lost are not there’ and that the ‘bedrock of mission will be ordinary life’ (31). The next chapter ‘Everyday Community’ places great stress on the development of gospel communities ‘with a commitment to being a family’, whereby Christians live as part of an ‘everyday community of grace’, which becomes for them, ‘God’s missionary strategy’ (64-6).

‘Everyday Pastoral Care’ (chapter 3) outlines that pastoral care is a community responsibility and that ‘we need to get away from the idea that “a minister” in the sense of an ordained church leader does gospel ministry in the pulpit on Sunday’ (79-80). The authors acknowledge that their suggested approach will mean that ‘we should be ready for mess and indeed welcome it’ (83). Perhaps this anticipated ‘mess’ is what the apostle Paul calls ‘confusion’ (1 Cor. 14:33). Paul suggests a different solution for ‘churches who are at the margins’, as he counsels the elders at Ephesus to ‘care for the church of God’ (Acts 20: 28).

In the remaining chapters, the authors recommend that we should drop our preoccupation with ‘church’ (99); it is the gospel communities where the main action of fellowship, evangelism and encouragement takes place, some of which do not meet on Sunday for worship at all (111, 122). For a book that is supposed to be about the church, there are a number of gaps. There is, for instance, little mention of the centrality of propositional preaching, the sacraments, the Lord’s Day, and the use of the moral law for sanctification. For those readers who desire a completely new approach to the way that we do church, it will be welcome: for those readers who are committed to the historic marks of a true church (preaching, sacraments and discipline), there will be any number of red flags raised.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Puritan Paperback Series

The Banner of Truth have an excellent range of books in their Puritan Paperback Series and I would like to commend these to the readers of this blog. Let me draw your attention to five of them as a kind of 'Puritan starter kit'. Many people in the UK will be thinking of their family holiday and these would provide great holiday reading material.

Thomas Vincent The Shorter Catechism Explained. This gem of a book is known by few and yet is commended as a faithful exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism by a host of Puritan divines. The list includes John Owen, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Brooks and Thomas Watson, to name just four. This book will help Christians to understand the intended meaning of the doctrines covered in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Hugh Binning, Christian Love. This treatise on practical Christian love should thrill the Christian's heart and challenge their way of life.

Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom. For many they have become confused on the place of the law of God for the church or maybe they have fallen into wrong teaching such as the over-emphasis that the Mosaic covenant is primarily a republication of the covenant of works that was given to Adam. This book represents the mainstream theology of the Westminster Assembly by this able Westminster divine. Here is a quote: 'The law sends us to the Gospel for our justification; the Gospel sends us to the law to frame our way of life' (p 11).

John Owen, Communion with God. A majestic classic by Owen.

John Owen, The Mortification of Sin. Some Christians fall into a passive approach to their sanctification, not so John Owen. For those people struggling with habitual sins this could be the exact spiritual medicine that your soul needs.

Enjoy exploring the treasures of British puritanism and pray that we would see a recovery of puritan theology in the UK again.