Sunday, October 31, 2010

POTF Blog Of The Week: Bringing the Reformation to Protestantism

The POTF blog of the week has to go to Dr. Gene Edward Veith’s post “Bringing the Reformation to Protestantism” over on his Cranach blog. Martin Luther once said the church is always in need of a reformation. In his post, Dr. Veith lays out but a few points to make the case that Dr. Luther’s point is just as applicable and valid today as it was almost five hundred years ago.

From the post:

The original Reformation, whose anniversary we mark on October 31, began in 1517 as an attempt to bring medieval Catholicism back to the Gospel, the Bible, and Vocation. It has occurred to me that today the various Protestant churches need that same Reformation.

THE GOSPEL. Luther nailed his theses on the church door to challenge the practice of selling indulgences. In effect, people were told to give their money to the church, whereupon they would get to go straight to eternal happiness in Heaven. Today, in many Protestant churches, people are being told to give their money to the church, whereupon they are told that they will get health, wealth, and temporal happiness in this world. But the Prosperity Gospel is not the Gospel!

Neither is the Social Gospel of the liberal mainline Protestants, which construe the Kingdom of Heaven as an earthly utopia. Neither is the Social Gospel of many conservative churches, which construe the Kingdom of Heaven as an American civil religion.

In sophisticated theological circles, both of mainline Protestants and among a surprising number of evangelicals, the Gospel has to do with inclusion, of being accepted into the church community. The “New Perspective on Paul” says that the Apostle did not teach justification by grace through faith apart from the Law, as Protestants used to all agree. Rather, by “Law,” he just meant the setting aside of the Judaic ceremonial law. He was concerned with inclusiveness, of allowing Gentiles to become full members of the church alongside of Jews. Not salvation from the guilt and sin that comes from violating the moral law. Similarly, the business of the church today should be including everybody, not proclaiming a supernatural salvation grounded in redemption from sin.

The actual Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has, through His life, death, and resurrection, atoned for the sins of the world. The Protestantism that has drifted away from this Gospel is in need of Reformation.

THE BIBLE. Medieval Catholicism did believe in the Bible. They just didn’t use it much. Today’s mainline Protestants don’t believe in it at all. Many conservative Protestants believe in it–acknowledging its authority, inerrancy and all–but they have stopped reading it in their services and their sermons sometimes have not a shred of Scripture in them. Instead, the preaching is about self-help, pop psychology, politics, or generic inspiration. Sometimes the message is “believe in yourself” or even “have faith in yourself.”

The Reformers taught that the Word of God is not only authoritative, but a means of Grace. They preached the Law, to bring their listeners to repentance, and then they proclaimed the Gospel of free forgiveness in Christ. In the words of Walther, they preached faith into their listeners’ hearts.

The Protestantism that has drifted away from the Word of God is in need of Reformation.

You can read the rest here.

A blessed Reformation Day ya’ll!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Is Baptism Necessary?

Pastor Jonathon Fisk from over at Worldview Everlasting answers the question “Is Baptism necessary?” in his latest video.

Friday, October 15, 2010

PowerPoint In Church

Dr. Gene Edward Veith over at his Cranach blog had a post up on Monday titled “PowerPoint corrupts absolutely” in which he highlights a critique of PowerPoint by Edward Tufte in the magazine Wired. From the linked article Tufte writes:

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.

Yet slideware -computer programs for presentations -is everywhere: in corporate America, in government bureaucracies, even in our schools. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.

So, Tufte is making a case that PowerPoint is nothing more than a bullet driven commercial sales pitch. As somebody who has had to sit through what seems endless hours of PowerPoint presentations on the exciting world of metrology and measurement uncertainties in relation to mass standards, I couldn’t agree more with Tufte’s assessment that often such presentations are merely a “pushy style (that) seeks to set up a speaker’s dominance over the audience” and rarely is useful in actually conveying information or teaching.

I was actually somewhat surprised that nobody on Dr. Veith’s blog brought up the copious use of PowerPoint in many of today’s churches. Heck, has anyone been to what passes for mission churches lately? Without projectors scrolling the words of Days of Elijah to croon along with the band and/or giving the seekers something pithy to fill in on their sermon outlines, most of these soul willing congregations would be lost as an SED mystic thumbing through a Pauline epistle (trust me, you don’t get more lost than that!).

But is there an actual problem with PowerPoint being used in churches or missions or is the issue one of aesthetics? I would argue the former and not the latter.

For the last ten years consultants and church growth experts have made repeated claims that the church must look as much like the culture as possible so as to attract the unchurched seekers that, we are told, stay away from church because it is foreign to them. What better way to blend into the culture than adopting the basic sales tool of corporate America?

But as Tufte points out in his piece; PowerPoint has little to do with actual teaching or conveying of useful information but rather “PowerPoint’s pushy style seeks to set up a speaker’s dominance over the audience. The speaker, after all, is making power points with bullets to followers.” Tufte goes so far as to suggest that it would be better for children burdened with teachers who insist on using PowerPoint “if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.” Do we think less of churches that should be caring for our immortal souls than we do of schools?

With Scriptural literacy and Biblical understanding at a point in this country that even atheists and agnostics seem to have a better understanding the Christian faith than do Christians, we don’t need to be dumbing anything down but rather we should be ramping up catechetical instruction like nobody’s business. We need to start believing the apostle Paul (I know this will be difficult for the more mystic minded SED employee) when he says in Romans 10:17

So faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Notice that the apostle didn’t say write spiffy pamphlets or slideshows with easy to read bullet points. Faith for us poor miserable sinners comes through the preached word! Believe it, it’s true! If faith came by reading bullet points wouldn’t the new atheists (who know Scripture better that most Christians but choose to reject it as foolishness or mythology) believe this Good News and be saved? Does anybody seriously think that Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins are going to come to faith through a Sunday morning PowerPoint presentation? If not, then why would we expect a dissimilar result when we subject the unchurched seeker to the same? Do we really expect the faithful believer’s faith to be sustained through a PowerPoint presentation? If the answer to that question is yes, I would love to hear someone honestly try to make his or her case from Scripture or the Lutheran Confessions. Really, I would pay some serious coin to hear that apologetic argument.

So just stop with the PowerPoint nonsense in churches folks! No matter what they told you in your church worker’s outreach extension course at Concordia University in Cowsbreath, the sacrament of PowerPoint saves nobody and entertains even fewer. On top of that, such goofiness during a Sunday service only ends up endangering the rescued kittens of a certain slack jawed yokel blogger (see embedded picture to see what’s at stake) and nobody wants that… do they?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Quote of The Week From A Friend On Facebook

Today’s quote of the week is from one of my friends on Facebook:

__________ My Master doesn't pat me on the head and give me treats for obedience-tricks.

I listen to a lot of sermons and hear a goodly number of church leaders who falsely teach their people that our Lord’s gifts are certainly free but we need to do something to tap into the Divine gift registry before we can fully enjoy the benefits of the Christian Life. In other words, God works on the quid pro quo system.

What does this line of thinking usually sound like you ask? When God's grace and His gifts are based on such a system: "if you just believe or if you have enough faith then God will ______ " just fill in the blank. In doing this, these church leaders have turned the Lord of heaven and earth and our Creator and Redeemer into a puppet on a string who dances to whatever tune we want. This is not the picture Scripture paints.

And so we are all perfectly clear, Lutherans are not immune to this false teaching. In fact, when not guided by Scripture and our Confessions, Lutheran excel at latching onto just about any heresy and making it their own. Whether it is evangelism that says we are sending people hell if we don’t change the way we conduct our worship services or mystic prayer practices taught by people who think the apostle Paul is overrated and therefore prefers mystics whose theology Scripture and our Confessions condemn; Lutherans have a unique way of wrapping heresy in enough pious language so as to make it appear orthodox at first glance.

Today’s quote is brilliant in its simplicity and condemns each one of us who thinks we do something so God will pat us on the head. The funny thing is that such thinking normally has us patting God on the head for His trick performed exactly the way we wanted Him to.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reformation Week 2010 On Issues, Etc.

My favorite talk show for the thinking Christian, Issues, Etc., is celebrating reformation week next week with a series of special programming segments and guests. Do yourself a favor and tune in for what looks like a great week of learning and catechesis by some of the most knowledgeable guests available anywhere. If you are not able to tune in live, go to either the on-demand page or iTunes and download the podcasts like I do (believe you me that Todd, Jeff, and Craig love their on-demand listeners and don’t mind at all if you are not able to tune in when they broadcasting live!)

According to the Issues, Etc. support page it looks like the schedule will be as follows:

Monday, October 18
The Doctrine of Justification with Dr. Carl Fickenscher of Concordia Theological Seminary

Tuesday, October 19
The Means of Grace with Pr. Paul McCain of Concordia Publishing House

Wednesday, October 20
The Theology of the Cross with Dr. Scott Murray of Memorial Lutheran-Houston, TX

Thursday, October 21
Vocation & Two Kingdom Theology with Dr. Steven Hein of the Concordia Institute for Christian Studies

Friday, October 22
Worship with Pr. Will Weedon of St. Paul Lutheran Church-Hamel, IL

Like I said, the most knowledgeable guests available anywhere!

Finally, I would encourage everyone to prayerfully consider supporting Issues, Etc. by become a member of the Reformation Club and ask the members of your individual congregations to support Issues, Etc. as part of your mission or outreach budget.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Critical Thinking And The Double Standard Of Acceptable Formal Principles

Some random thoughts on critical thought…

Critical thinking for the Christian is never suspended but rather presupposed.

It is customary and unobjectionable for the agonistic, atheist, or rationalist to bring hypothesis and conjecture to the table in a manner not afforded to anyone who confesses Scripture as being authoritative.

While comprehending the latter, Christians in our western post modern culture are rarely perceptive of the former.

The rationalist is the most dangerous person to the critical thinking Christian as he disguises his unbelief in words that appear to originate or stem from Scripture and in doing so convinces the Christian to terminate true critical thought for false presuppositions.

The critical thinking Christian is in fact rational and does not accept the double standard which necessitates that Scripture be set aside or repudiated solely on the basis that such a book is divinely inspired while equations and theories of men are allowed to advance uncontested.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Serpent In The Rationalist’s Garden of Eden

Today’s Issues. Etc. soundbite of the day comes from Dr. Alister McGrath of Oxford University commenting on religion being the serpent in the rationalist’s Garden of Eden back on October 1, 2010.

I normally wait a week before posting a soundbite but Dr. McGrath’s observation is brilliant and his characterization of the unbeliever’s frustration with religion seducing away what seem to be otherwise intelligent people mirrored my own thinking perfectly when I was an atheist for close to fifteen years.

The entire interview with Dr. McGrath can be listened to here.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Method Is Umm....

Pastor Jonathon Fisk from over at Worldview Everlasting explains Methodism and has a quick look at the center of Lutheranism (which is in Africa and not America or Germany) and what our brothers over there truly need.