Epistles of Thomas

November 1, 2008

For the love of evidence and/or the love of Christ?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 23:27
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I came across this paragraph in an Emergent Church book that I was reading today:

North American Christianity has agreed to the assumptions of the modern world and has built much of its theology, practice, and ministry models with these assumptions. I feel as though Truth died when we agreed to the modern concept of it. … North American Christianity unknowingly has become empirical, demanding evidence and fact to build faith on. …”

Brad Cecil, “I Told You We Weren’t Crazy!” In Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic. Edited by Mike Yaconelli. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. 178.

The two sections I have replaced with “…” refer to churches’ “meeting people’s needs” and radical individualism: “it’s all about me.” The problem that I have with this statement is that it suggests that faith is not built on evidence and fact when faith, by very definition, implies these two things. The Greek word for faith, “pistis,” refers to having a belief based on something moderns would call evidence, it does not mean blind faith. To use an apropos contemporary example – when you get a loan the willingness of the bank to give you money is not based on blind faith but on collateral and your credit history. These things are pistis – elements of faith. When Paul was a radical Jew persecuting Christians he had all the evidence he needed in order to persecute them. However, Jesus showed up and the evidence that Paul had been persecuting the Son of God was overwhelming. Therefore, he changed his allegiance to faith in Christ. The problem that Postmoderns have with modern Christianity is not that it demands evidence and fact as a foundation to build faith on but that the modern structure has provided its own evidence to the contrary. The foundation may have been solid but the structure was left without windows and doors. The rain got in and mildewed set in. Soon the structure was rotten in many places. It is a solid syllogism with solid premises but the conclusion has been so tainted that many reject the premises out of hand. Postmodernism seeks to build a faith on different facts. Let’s call them the facts of the Spirit – peace, love, joy, self-control, etc. By these things they will know we are Christians. Without these things all the modern empirical facts in the world will not support the structure because people instinctively know that Truth must reflect the Spirit of Truth and where the Spirit is there is faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is Love.

Modern “Roman Road” syllogism:

3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
10: 9-10: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
Therefore, everyone who has prayed the sinners’ prayer and declared that Jesus is Lord and believed that Jesus raised him from the dead is a Christian. There are two options – you have followed the Roman road and you are a Christian or you have not and are not.

This is the Roman Road evangelistic method that I was required to memorise for evangelism class at Bible College not that many years ago. This modern syllogism is usually reduced to just one sentence: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Not surprisingly, the hypermodern emphasis on results and pragmatism reduced Christianity to PRC (pray to receive Christ). I even heard Christians ask people, “Have you PRC?” I had no idea what they meant until I realised what it stood for. The problem is that there is no evidence here. These are just statements and a syllogism can be perfectly valid even if the premises are completely false or nonsensical. All pritoud are blue. Grutd is a pritoud. Therefore Grutd is blue. Premises must be evidence, articles of faith, which are commonly held to be true. The problem with the modern syllogism is that although the premises are valid the conclusion was suspect. There were lots of people who had said “Jesus is Lord” and believed that he had been raised from the dead but they were not acting like Christians. Jesus’ words in Matt 7:21-22: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” James also spoke to this issue in 2:18-20: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” Satan believes that Jesus rose from the dead – he was there to witness it! The failure of PRC to define Christians, backed by oodles of evidence from those who call themselves Christians has convinced many that we need a new Postmodern paradigm based on different premised – different evidence for faith.

Postmodern 1 John Journey syllogism:

1 John 2:5-6: “But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
1 John 2:15: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If you love the world, love for the Father is not in you.
1 John 3:16-18: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
Therefore, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (4:7b-8).

Postmodern Christianity is largely based on this “demanding evidence and fact,” because no evidence is more demanding than a Christ-lived life. No fact can be more compelling than seeing someone die for a fellow Christian.

Jesus summarised the law and the prophets with two commands. The first was to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and souls. The second was to love our neighbour as ourself. Modern Christianity concentrated on demonstrating love for God by proving his existence but forgot about loving its neighbours. Much of postmodernism concentrates on loving its neighbour but forgets about loving God. When we can balance these aspects we will be able to live in the light of John’s conclusion:

“We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols”, whether modern or postmodern.

I dedicate this post to John Poon who inspired me to reflect on postmodernity this week.


1 Comment »

  1. Thomas Magnum Opus (emphatic “Magnum”, less “Opus” – “do you remember T.C.’s Island Hoppers?”) ~ conversated with the “Kneel” this past week “Simul Iustus et Peccator” (props to Martin Luther). Conversion by “information overload” versus “moralistic overkill”, neither an “over-realized” nor an “under-realized” eschatology, but “balanced”? Thank you too for inspiring me to think when tempted to commit “sleep” in class ~ “Your my inspiration! . . . to the end of time” (Peter Cetera, Chicago? ~ I dedicate that song to you)

    Comment by John Poon — November 13, 2008 @ 11:56 | Reply

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