Sunday, June 26, 2022

Living in Step with the Spirit: How to Know the Will of God


"It was Christmas Eve 1875 and Ira Sankey was traveling on a Delaware River steamboat when he was recognized by some of the passengers. His picture had been in the newspaper because he was the song leader for the famous evangelist D.L. Moody. They asked him to sing one of his own hymns, but Sankey demurred, saying that he preferred to sing William B. Bradbury's hymn, "Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us." As he sang, one of the stanzas began, "We are Thine; do Thou befriend us. Be the Guardian of our way." When he finished, a man stepped from the shadows and asked, "Did you ever serve in the Union Army?" "Yes," Mr. Sankey answered, "in the spring of 1860." Can you remember if you were doing picket duty on a bright, moonlit night in 1862?" "Yes," Mr. Sankey answered, very much surprised. "So did I, but I was serving in the Confederate army. When I saw you standing at your post, I thought to myself, 'That fellow will never get away alive.' I raised my musket and took aim. I was standing in the shadow, completely concealed, while the full light of the moon was falling upon you. At that instant, just as a moment ago, you raised your eyes to heaven and began to sing...'Let him sing his song to the end,' I said to myself, 'I can shoot him afterwards. He's my victim at all events, and my bullet cannot miss him.' But the song you sang then was the song you sang just now. I heard the words perfectly: 'We are Thine; do Thou befriend us. Be the Guardian of our way.' Those words stirred up many memories. I began to think of my childhood and my God-fearing mother. She had many times sung that song to me. When you had finished your song, it was impossible for me to take aim again. I thought, 'The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty.' And my arm of its own accord dropped limp at my side."
-K Hughes, Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome, Tyndale, 1988, p. 69.

It reminds me of how many times I nearly died in the past, and yet God kept me alive, he preserved my life, because he knew he had called me by name to his service. And for many of you today, God has guided you through a thousand different troubles and difficulties to bring you to this place today.

That is who our God is, he is a redeeming God. He preserves our lives so we may bring him glory.

Today our topic is living life in step with the Holy Spirit.

Our scripture today is from Galatians 5:16-26 (NLT) which says, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.”

If we are truly Christians today, we are led practically by the Holy Spirit. The holy Spirit is God himself living inside of us and showing us the way to go through life. He guides our decisions. He convicts us of sin. He encourages us when we are troubled. And he reveals God’s will to us.

So to walk in step with the Holy Spirit is to live out the will of God. To walk in step with the Spirit we must have a deep relationship with God. Then we can know God’s will.

Romans 12:2 (ESV) give us a good hint. It states "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

The will of God can be understood as something we can discern. The scriptures urge us to "test" to discover what the will of God is.

It also says in Ephesians 5:17 (ESV), "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."

The Holy Spirit within will reveal God’s will to us for our lives. That is clear. We can know God’s will. We may not know all the details. But we can know God’s will for us.

Hebrews 10:36 (ESV) For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

As Hebrews 10:36 says, we have great need of endurance. To do the will of God means to endure the journey of faith in Christ, one day at a time. It's not always easy. But with God, all things are possible.

What do we say about a man or woman who is an inspiration to us in their dedicated faith? For me, I would say that person is one who is led by the Spirit of God.

Similarly Romans 8:24 (NIV) says "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God."

The will of God seems to be linked to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

John 14:26 says "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."

For all followers of Jesus Christ, those who have truly been reborn and embrace the new life... the will of God is that we obey God. The will of God is that we incorporate the teachings of the Bible intently upon our souls, until we think in biblical terms and live in biblical terms. The will of God is that followers of Jesus Christ be led by the Spirit given by Christ.

How can we be lead by the Spirit?

1. We listen for the leading of the Spirit.

2. We pray to the Lord for guidance.

3. We study the scriptures.

4. We love God and our neighbors.

5. We share the gospel.


That is how we follow the Spirit.

The will of God for the non-believer is simple: Come to Christ for life. Call on Jesus for life.

The will of God encompasses many areas... justification, sanctification, and perseverance. The will of God the Father is that we first come to Jesus Christ. His death on the cross is something called "penal substitutionary atonement." We believe and know, that Jesus Christ took the penalty for our sins on the cross. He paid the price that we should've endured. God's will is that we come to his son for life and accept that offering. Second, God's will is our sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we grow into a flourishing follower of Jesus being made into a better and better person in measures of selflessness, love, caring for the poor, serving the needs of others, and sharing the gospel with the unsaved.



The Parable of the Faithful Servant: Watchfulness in a time of Spiritual Warfare


In an article from The New Yorker, Captain Donna Kohout, thirty-two, Dillon, Colorado. Letter to members of the Dillon Community Church. April, 2003. “I’m still praising God for the opportunity to spend five months in the Middle East both to serve in the largest conflict of our day and to witness the wonders He was working at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, where I lived. I don’t know how to describe the feeling that there was a spiritual element to what we were doing…

I wish I could describe the feeling of flying across what we called the T.E. (Tigris-Euphrates) Line in the months prior to “Night 1” of Operation Iraqi Freedom (O.I.F.). The T.E. Line, which marks the edge of the settled area, is just south of the Euphrates River. South of the line is barren desert… …One clear day, I looked down at the rich greens of the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates and pondered over the fact that these were the Tigris and Euphrates that I’d learned about in church and school my whole life. Genesis describes the Garden of Eden standing at the headwaters of four rivers, two of which are the Tigris and Euphrates. That places the Garden just north of Basra, within sight of where I flew almost daily.

In O.I.F., I flew only nights, except for the occasional late-evening or sunrise flight. At night a person can see every bullet and missile launched, near and far away, with the aid of night-vision goggles. Thankfully, most of what the Iraqis shot was unguided and too small to reach the altitudes at which we fly. However, it is still nothing shy of a miracle that given the sheer number of airplanes in the sky, they didn’t shoot down a single fighter, bomber, or tanker with all the projectiles they launched over those three weeks. Praise God for the safety He has provided so many of us over the last several months…”

Another soldier, Captain Ryan Kelly, wrote in an email to his mother, from Kuwait, in 2003,

“The worst thing here is not the searing heat or the cold nights. It’s the waiting. Waiting for the wind to quit blowing and the sand to quit grinding against your skin. Waiting for a moment of privacy in a tent packed with seventy other men, in a camp packed with seven hundred other tents, in a base packed with fifteen thousand soldiers, all looking for a clean place to go to the bathroom. . . . Waiting for the bone-rattling coughs from dust finer than powdered sugar to stop attacking the lungs. Waiting for the generals to order the battalion to move north, toward Tikrit, where others—Iraqis—are also waiting: waiting for us. . . .”

Captain Ryan Kelly, thirty-six, Denver, Colorado. E-mail to his mother, from Camp Buehring, Kuwait. December, 2003.

Source: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/06/12/soldiers-stories

The perspectives of these two soldiers from wars of the past remind me of our duty as Christians to serve God faithfully in times of good and in times of ill.

A soldier on guard, on patrol, has to be watchful, and quiet. They are serious. Early in the morning they’ve carefully put on their uniform. They’ve tightened their belt to fit their waist. Their uniform is clean and pressed. Their boots are polished and tied tight to their feet. They put on their knee pads, their field load carrying vest, a quartz size canteen of water, MREs which are ready to eat meals, a compass, a bayonet, sometimes a first aid kit, and of course their pistol side arm, bullet proof vests, night vision goggles, an M4 rifle, and extra ammunition. Often all of this equipment weighs 60-100 lbs.

But they are ready for combat, ready to fit for their lives everyday.

It should be similar with us as Christians. We should be ready for spiritual battle each day. We should make sure we have all of our spiritual armor on.

Memorize the armor of God. Write it down, and pray it every morning, and as you do, you’ll start to remember, yes first the head, the helmet of salvation, then the body, the breastplate of righteousness, then the belt, the belt of truth, then the shoes, the shoes of the readiness of the gospel of peace, then the shield of faith, then the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. In this world of growing evil, and of growing hope, we must be ready for battle on a daily basis.

We have to be ready for battle. And our enemy is clever and crafty. Often times I will get bad news, or some sort of controversy or drama will strike right when I’m at my weakest. When we’re tired after a long week, or when we’re up late at night and very tired, or awake early in the morning and kind of crabby, then the enemy strikes. So we have to be ready day and night for the spiritual battle taking place in our lives and in the world.

Which brings us to our parable for today, which is the parable of the faithful servant. And I think you’ll see this parable is similar to the parable of the ten virgins, in fact, in one of the gospels, Matthew, this parable comes right before the parable of the ten virgins.

The parable of the faithful servants shows up in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But we’re going to focus on Luke’s depiction of it, which tends to give us the most detail.

I’d like to break it into two parts, so let’s first take a this section of it from Luke 12: "Let your waist be dressed and your lamps burning. Be like men watching for their lord, when he returns from the marriage feast; that, when he comes and knocks, they may immediately open to him. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord will find watching when he comes. Most certainly I tell you, that he will dress himself, and make them recline, and will come and serve them. They will be blessed if he comes in the second or third watch, and finds them so. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore be ready also, for the Son of Man is coming in an hour that you don't expect him."

So our question of reflection today is: “Are you a watchful Christian?”

Notice how it mentions being dressed and ready. Other translations say “girded up” and if you look on screen, you’ll see how soldiers and travelers would “gird up their loins” to be “ready” in ancient times for combat or danger.


But to understand the meaning of this parable, in Matthew’s gospel when talking about this parable it prefaces the parable by saying, Matthew 24:37-44 “"37 As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 38 For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah boarded the ark. 39 They didn’t know[r] until the flood came and swept them all away. So this is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be: 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day[s] your Lord is coming.” — Luke 12:35-40 (WEB)

As in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of Jesus. The days of Noah were a time of infinite evil. Everything was thoroughly wicked. There was adultery, there was fornication, there was homosexuality, there was child sacrifice, and no one even bothered to worry about God, and so they just went about their business, marrying, buying things, living life, and it will be the same when Jesus returns, so much so, that people will be doing their work, in fields, and at tables, at businesses and family gatherings, and one will be taken by the Lord, and the other left standing there shocked. Many believe this refers to a rapture of the church, before the time of the great tribulation.

So we see the theme of this parable is about diligent watchfulness. We must be on guard. Why does Jesus remind us of this? Because it’s easy to get complacent. It’s easy to begin to settle down, and live for ourselves. It’s easy to drift away from church, and start to skip our Bible reading time, and skip our prayer time, we start to drift and coast, and get lazy, and Jesus warns us, hey hold on, you need to be a watchful servant.

Then in the second half of the parable, Peter asks a question.

“Peter said to him, "Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everybody?”

The Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the right times? Blessed is that servant whom his lord will find doing so when he comes. Truly I tell you, that he will set him over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, 'My lord delays his coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken, then the lord of that servant will come in a day when he isn't expecting him, and in an hour that he doesn't know, and will cut him in two, and place his portion with the unfaithful. That servant, who knew his lord's will, and didn't prepare, nor do what he wanted, will be beaten with many stripes, but he who didn't know, and did things worthy of stripes, will be beaten with few stripes. To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.” — Luke 12:41-48 (WEB)

Jesus seems to indicate to Peter that he is specifically telling this parable to his disciples, you might say, to his teachers. To his pastors. To his leaders. Why would we think that? He mentions “giving his household their portions of food at the right times.” For us as pastors and teachers our job is to make sure there is spiritual food ready for you to eat. Delicious, meat and potatoes, desserts, snacks, and so on.

We’re told that for those who have had much entrusted to them, much will be required, so if God entrusted me to be your pastor, I’ve been entrusted with a lot, so a lot will be required of me. That’s kind of nerve wracking isn’t it?

Yet Jesus also seems to indicate that those who aren’t specifically leaders, but are Christians, are still accountable for that which they are given as well. For many of us, we have wealth, we have technology, we have influence, and we are accountable to use those things wisely for God’s glory.

We’re given two qualifications by Jesus here, as far as how to obey this parable. We’re told we need to be faithful and wise. To be faithful Jesus indicates means “to do what he wanted” to live the way the master commanded while he was away. And “to be prepared” that would be the wise part, to be wisely ready at any moment for the masters return.

The parable pictures a master who has gone away to a wedding, and the servants are up late waiting for his return. Obviously someone coming from a wedding would probably come home late, and it pictures this closed door, with the servants waiting, fully dressed in their service uniforms, with a towel ready, some oil ready, a basin ready to wash the masters feet and they are just watching that door like hawks, ready at the first sound of a knock to open up and care for the master after his journey home. As time passes, maybe they go clean in the kitchen, they check the livestock pens, they make sure the candles are lit, and the bedroom is clean, but always they have an ear aimed toward the front door, so they can drop everything and run to serve the master when he returns.

And that is how we should live as Christian heroes, Christian warriors, Christian soldiers, covered in the full armor of God, at work, sharing the gospel with our friends and neighbors, loving others, meeting peoples needs, teaching truth, being salt and light to society, but always with an ear toward the door, an eye toward the return of Jesus Christ, hopefully awaiting when that day will come.

We also see here, the severity of God, the fact that God is a just judge. Should he find his people have gotten lazy, and they are double-minded, and they have gone off into sins, and are living compromised lives, getting drunk, sleeping around, stealing, lying, cheating, and aren’t being watchful, he says, he will cut them in two, some translations say cut them into pieces, and give them the same inheritance as the ungodly. So he will send them off to outer darkness. Don’t get lazy brothers and sisters, stick with it, I’ve seen it many times, people are on fire for God, but after a few years, they get tired of it, they drift off, back into the world, and go back to their old lives. And I pray they repent before Jesus returns, because this is serious stuff. Be watchful.

Yet in the parable we see the beautiful humility of Christ as well. We get something really beautiful in this parable, it says, “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord will find watching when he comes. Most certainly I tell you, that he will dress himself, and make them recline, and will come and serve them.”

To a middle eastern audience, this would be absolutely shocking. Servants, slaves, in the household, were not regarded as important. Yet Jesus tells us, that when he returns, and claims us, you might say, raptures us, one is taken, one is left, guess what, we get this picture of Jesus saying alright, my beloved child, sit down comfortably, and let me serve you at the table, let me wash your feet, let me get you something to eat. This is just shocking.

But Jesus is saying that when he returns, and claims his church, and brings us to heaven, for this heavenly banquet, called the marriage supper of the lamb, he tells us, that he will have us sit at tables, and he will serve us. That is just incredibly beautiful. It shows God’s incredible love for us. We are always his servants. He is our Lord. But for this brief moment of celebration, it seems that Jesus will serve a meal to us, just as he washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper, so this will be our marriage supper of the lamb. Isn’t that beautiful? Hallelujah.

Friday, June 24, 2022

The New Fluid Orthodoxy: The New Religion emerging from the Vacuum of Relativism


In the book of Daniel we’re reminded that the power and spread of information would increase across the face of the Earth (Daniel 12:4 NIV). Today we find ourselves in the vast spread of information, ideas, concepts, opinions, philosophies, conspiracies, propaganda, and everything in between. 

One might hope with the spread of so much information across the globe through the printing press, the radio, the television, and the internet, that Christ might become central in all things. But this is not the case. The evil heart of man spreads many lies and falsities in the world, by the millions and billions of clicks and views. 

The fragmentation of worldview in western society grew from the seeds of Darwin’s Origin of Species, which gave birth to worldviews like naturalism, nihilism, humanism, and post-modernism, and out of these ideologies, many new and disparate ideologies have developed, mixed and remixing themselves among many cultures and people groups, to the point that one might expect to find 9 billion individuals across the planet all under their own fig trees, with their own self-made religion, entirely unique from one another. So one might expect nearly infinite possibilities when examining the endless spread of philosophies, ideas, and concepts of various worldviews, cults, sects, interest groups, and fan clubs across the United States and indeed across the world. Expansive it is, but endless it is not. And we shall attempt to evaluate some of the key perspectives at work today.

The landscape of modern culture is one of constant change and adjustment in regard to worldview, fueled by dozens of different factors, from news stories to pop culture to church communities to blog posts online to friends to the public education system to government policies and political movements, every single person seems to examine the landscape of thought and ideas from various angles, and each seem to approach the many options as if they were gathered around a buffet, picking and choosing which items they feel best suits them, adding to an ever growing eclectic mishmash of different ideas and philosophies pulled from all sorts of different places, from college textbooks to graffiti scrolled on subway walls to Facebook posts and gossip with friends and family. As information spread ever increases and screen times increases with it, more and more ideas seem to flow into the public consciousness, and more and more sects and subsects and cults and groups and clubs and religions and philosophies all seem to burst forth like odd shrubs and flowers from each flower box, every flower box unique to each individual, based on what they’ve selected, or based on what propaganda has been placed in their path, for them to consume. In all this gathering of thoughts and ideas into billions of new remixed views and counterviews, we as Christians stand in grave danger and also with great opportunity, either to be lost in the endless noise, or to speak up clearly of a timeless objective absolute truth which offers a way out of the hall of mirrors that is picking and choosing based on feeling, instead to lead the confused masses to a living God who is infinite, offering difficult truth, yet pure loving mercy beyond anything they can imagine.

Remixed culture quickly went from being something expressed individually to something increasingly built into every form and function of society in the west. We now find ourselves surrounded and swimming in the effects and reinforced values of remixed culture. But how do these effects play themselves out? And what general worldviews make up remixed culture?

Remixed culture in the west is largely based around personal preference, consumerist indulgence, self-gratification, religious fluidity, multiple truths/philosophies, multiple pathways to God, and intuitional religion (religion based on personal experience). So we will examine some of these subsets within consumerist spiritualist culture, but we will also see how increasingly, there are shared perspectives, where reality is determined by a sort of communal consensus. Many of these worldviews have begun to glob together into a larger overarching consensus-built narrative on reality, life, and the universe.

I would like to outline eleven of the key worldviews of the millennial remixed mindset of modern society, and then examine a twelfth worldview that seems to be the destination that each of the others is proceeding toward. These worldviews are scientism, moral therapeutic deism, sexual maximalism, wellness movement, progressive Christianity, political activism, hobby culture, religious cults, universalism, internet/outrage culture, new age movement, and the new (fluid) doctrinism.

First, we consider the worldview of scientism. Scientism is the opinion that science and the scientific method are the best or only objective means by which people should determine normative and epistemological values. Scientism flows very naturally from naturalism and appears as a common religious expression in the world today. Young people regard scientists as the new ministers of the modern age, trusting only those things that have studies to back them up, and only ideas and concepts stated by those carrying many degrees and doctorates. The saints of this religious expression include personalities like Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sam Harris, and others. According to Pew Research, in 2020 approximately 40% of the population of the USA had a great deal of trust in (medical) scientists, but that number dropped by 2022 to 29% showing a steep erosion of trust in that particular field of the sciences. But in regard to general trust in the scientific community, in 2018 44% of Americans had a great deal of trust in scientists overall. All this tells us that scientists in labcoats have a great deal of influence in our society.

In consumerist millennial culture, where truth is relative, and personal preference is king, one finds much uncertainty. For a certain subset of remixed culture, they seek refuge in the warm embrace of the certainties of the scientific method, research, development, technology, and the pronouncements of cultural elites. It’s encouraging to consider the possibility of ministry to this group because at least on the surface it would appear they may be willing to listen to reason and evidence in regard to God’s existence, manuscripts of the Bible, and the historical Jesus.

Second, we consider moral therapeutic deism. Moral therapeutic deism is a form of watered down and sanitized Christianity that removes the various concepts within biblical Christianity that offend or disturb modern sensibilities. It finds a reasonable place in the hearts of some of modern remixed culture who are looking for the certainties of biblical Christianity without the harsher pronouncements of the scriptures on sin, judgment, wrath, and hell. This worldview provides the certainty of heaven for all but the worst of history, the comfort of self and experience driven truth, and the rejection of all forms of judgment or condemnation. It’s at least somewhat promising to note that people are still willing to believe in God and heaven. But a milquetoast version must be corrected with the timeless truth of God’s scriptures. The road back is shorter for these groups at least, who are willing to believe in a personal God.

The wellness movement, an exceedingly common find in public education, medical healthcare, social sciences, and psychology, is an expression of humanism which seeks the maximal benefit for the individual through a wholistic approach to self-care. Self-care and self-flourishing are the ultimate in wellness culture. Wellness culture and consumerism are natural bedfellows, both valuing the individual above all, the value of products and services rendered by society to help the individual, and showcasing a self-directed guide to life, in which the internal instinct, the intuitive is the guide to all things. Wellness is to me a very stripped down and sanitized form of spiritualism from a naturalistic viewpoint, that only the physical really matters, while also recognizing at least an ancillary need for some sort of spirituality. At least in that way there is an open door to tolerance and even encouragement toward a Christian footing for spiritual truth.

Next, we consider progressive Christianity. In the 1950s and 1960s mainline Protestantism was the consensus viewpoint of much of the United States world (Burton, 2020, p. 52). But by the late 1960s and early 1970s mainline Protestantism had declined drastically, with evangelicalism subsequently growing rapidly to overshadow the movement. In the present-day remnants of mainline Protestantism, which dropped from a cultural majority, to as of 2017 only 10% of the American public, we find the new progressive Christianity. But what is progressive Christianity? According to ProgressiveChristianity.org (2012) the key tenants of the faith include viewing Jesus as a source of experiencing a sacred and unified oneness, Jesus as one of many ways to God, inclusive community that accepts all people, behavior as an expression of belief, questions as more important than absolutes, the importance of social justice, the importance of climate change activism, and the value of compassionate love. One can easily see that these beliefs fit with consumerist remixed culture in the world today.

When evaluating progressive Christianity I really see a sort of politicized Christianity married to liberalism and social justice ideology. Biblical truth comes in as secondary to the prevailing viewpoints of culture, Hollywood, social elites, and political powers. There is a great hunger in progressive Christianity for justice. That in itself is an open door to help these individuals embrace the true Jesus Christ of the Bible. But it also poses a greater challenge, because progressives tend to view evangelical Christianity as abusive to minorities, hateful to the LGBTQ community, judgmental toward differing perspectives, and teachers of a mean-spirited gospel. The challenge will be to help progressives to see the beauty of Jesus Christ, his deep love, but also his divine accountability and justice.

Next, we consider political activism. One of the increasingly important religions of remixed culture is political activism. Politics has always played an important role in the lives of Americans in the west. But more and more we see a political polarization that is more than simply political, it is religious in its expression. People have increasingly learned to hate their political rivals. They’ve learned to view perspective as moral and their opponents perspective as fundamentally wicked or evil. Political leaders opinions are taken and repeated. News media and social media magnify the conversation outward. People on both sides of the aisle view their leading personalities as arbiters of truth. If something is not seen on CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, the NY Times or the Washington Post, it simply can’t be trusted. Similarly, if something is not articulated by Fox News, the Wallstreet Journal, the Daily Wire, Newsmax, Breitbart News, the Blaze, the Daily Caller or other such sources, it simply can’t be trusted. The political becomes religious, in that the worldview of either the conservative narrative or the leftist narrative takes on preeminence in the mind. The world is viewed from the perspective first of the political ideology. I would suggest that these are probably the two fastest growing religions in the west today, leftism and conservatism. Once again, I believe this rise in political activism and even extremism poses both an opportunity and a danger. When people are excited about important topics of political concern, this can quickly translate into a worldview conversation and a conversation about the value of Jesus Christ. The danger can be in political activists taking the message of Jesus Christ and using it for their own ends. There is also a danger in either conservatism or leftist merging with Christianity, in which case you get a hybrid of both, which after being fully formed, is no longer biblical Christianity.

Increasingly hobby culture is becoming more than just a subset of one’s life, but much more so, it is becoming a place through which people find value and meaning. Increasingly we see people forming into hobby groups that have their own unique expressions of lore, history, meaning, truth, destiny, and purpose. People of like-minded interests gather in groups and “do life together” through their hobbies and interests. Some examples of hobby interest groups would be Harry Potter, Bike riding, Star Wars, Zumba, PC gamers, Medieval jousting, Motorcycling, Nerd culture, Sports groups, Wicca clubs, Technology interest groups, political interest groups, activism interest groups, herbal vitamins, foods and diet, farming and crop management, theological interest groups, heavy metal musicians, sexual activity groups, and hundreds of other expressions of hobby culture. Hobby culture is one thing when it is kept within the lenses of an interest in the context of other beliefs and philosophies, but hobby culture becomes religious/philosophical/worldview in nature when it begins to help the individual fundamentally define life, nature, humanity, future, past, and present. Often times when involved in church plants I have wondered, are we really reaching into all the necessary people groups? At one point I was part of a Christian death metal church plant called “The Edge” which attempted to reach death metal rockers in the city. Imagine all the expressions of Christian community that could come out of targeting hobby-based subcultures. Many have done this already, such as ministries like the Christian motorcyclists association, Geeks under Grace, The Christian Apologetics Alliance, Christian metal bands, and many others.

From the perspectives of free love and sexual liberation that developed in the 1960s and 1970s, comes what today could be called sexual maximalism or sexual ultimism. This is the concept that romantic and sexual expression is the ultimate and highest level of physical, emotional, and even spiritual expression available to humanity. From the ballads of bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Radiohead and dozens of other contemporary bands, we find romance and sexuality expressed as the ultimate for human experience. Sexuality is spiritual it is the highest level and purpose of life. Along with sexual maximalism one can see how sexual/gender identity have taken center stage for young people. Young people today often see their sexual preferences or gender identity as the basic fundamental reality of who they are. They are fundamentally a sexual being expressing themselves ultimately in sexual ways. Once can see how this ties back to evolutionary biology, naturalism and humanism. If the physical is the only real thing, then sexuality quickly becomes the ultimate high and expression of human flourishing. Many in the gender nonconforming hierarchy of today, and the LGBTQ community find their base identity in their sexual desires and beliefs. This is a fundamentally religious/spiritual view of sexuality as the ultimate human experience.

The opportunity for ministry to those who are sexually focused is in the bankruptcy of sex as the ultimate or identity for the individual. Ultimately sex and romance fails utterly as a basis for the meaning of life and true fulfillment. When those things fail to satisfy, we have to be there as Christians to point the lost to Jesus Christ who shows a way out of sexual addiction, and a firm foundation for identity. Where sexual identity failed as a foundation for meaning, Jesus Christ’s free gift of eternal life, and adoption to the family of God provides a clear basis for value, meaning, and truth.

Next we consider religious cults. In the midst of the confusion of the 1800s and 1900s in regard to truth and meaning, many cults sprang up, like Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, Witchcraft, Satanism, the Branch Davidians, and many others active in the USA today. These cults are characterized by a requirement of strict devotion to those who partake in the cult. They are characterized often by extreme or dangerous viewpoints. These cults really grew up out of the cultural confusion in regard to truth and meaning in the USA. Today though their memberships are a vast minority in the grand scheme of the country, still they pose an option to remixed cultural consumerism, as a refuge from the meaninglessness of relativism. Mormons currently make up approximately 6.5 million Americans, as of 2018 (World Atlas). According to the NY Times, there are approximately 1.3 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the USA. Though a small percentage of the population, cults remain at least somewhat influential in the United States, and makes up a small but important part of remixed culture. There is an opportunity for ministry as always, to guide the hurting away from abusive cults and toward the liberty and hope found in Jesus Christ. The body of Christ can be a loving, gentle, healing influence to those who have been used and manipulated by cults.

Internet culture is a beast of it’s own unique nature, and for many over time it has become more than a preoccupation or obsession, but a worldview. One could point in particular to the outrage culture prevalent on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and in particular Twitter. Mobs of users rifle through the tweet histories of famous individuals, seeing if they can find any evidence that the person may be racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, or hateful. And upon finding evidence, they post the information publicly, and a mob gathers to begin verbally attacking the individual. A new sort of group ethos forms around certain key issues, mainly related to racism, social justice, women’s rights, climate change, and various selective topics of public discussion. And those who disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy are attacked, denounced, and cancelled. Many times these individuals lose their jobs, and face ostracism from society. It seems, from the philosophical relativism of post-modernism, married to humanism, political activism, and social justice, a new orthodoxy has formed, in which a new set of communal values is set forward as that which must be believed and agreed upon without question. But more on this later, as internet/outrage culture is only one piece of this picture.

In any case, there is a great opportunity for Christian ministry on social media. In a atmosphere where no forgiveness is allowed and only justice without mercy is being delivered, Christians can bring forth the beauty of God’s grace. Grace offers total forgiveness in Christ Jesus for all our wrongs of the past. Suddenly, the outrage mob may be confronted with a powerful love that makes the hate in their hearts melt away.

Next, we consider universalism. Universalism brings in various different elements, from post-modern relativism to Greek philosophy, to eastern pantheism, to synergistic thinking, and all these form into a new religion in which all religions are equally true, and all roads from Buddhism to Judaism to Taoism to Christianity and Hinduism all lead to the same summit, to the same universal all-inclusive religion. This is exceedingly appealing for a remixed culture that views all perspectives as equally valid to the individual. But to scientism and humanism it may appear as simple madness which violates the law of non-contradiction. And given universalism’s lack of firm foundations and clear ethics, it may pass the way of liberal mainline Protestantism. In the hazy mix of various religions and ideas all being equally true, it can be difficult for Christians to find a footing on which to proclaim Jesus Christ as the exclusive and only way to God the Father. Universalism is so nebulous, it may be difficult to bring forth biblical truth, however, through prayer, and expressions of the unique power found in the Christian gospel, one can see through the vapid feel good philosophy of universalism to the timeless truth of the word of God.

Similar to universalism, yet also radically different, is the new age movement. The new age movement is I believe one of the furthest edges of the descent of man away from theism and out into the milieu of self. At last, humanity has gone all the way from Adam and Eve in the garden loving God, through the swamps of deism, naturalism, nihilism, and humanism, and now all the way back to the moment of the deception, when Satan said to them, “you will be as gods” (Gen 3:5 NIV). In the new age religion, humanity is deified. Humans become gods. Many thoughts from humanism and evolution are brought in, but with a hopeful tone, that humanity is evolving, becoming better and better, and humanity is developing new technologies, and new consciousness is taking place, and new paradigms are shifting, and a new age of prosperity and technology and space exploration and deification is coming. Humanity will soon evolve into the next phase of existence, where humans will have control over space and time and entire solar systems, and nothing will be impossible for humanity. These are the pronouncements of those of the new age persuasion. To quote one of the leading thinkers in the new age movement, Jean Houston: “It’s almost as if the species (humanity) were taking a quantum leap into a whole new way of being” (Sire, 2020, p. 160). Important thinkers of the new age movement include people like Deepak Chopra, Oprah Winfrey, Eckhart Tolle, Sylvia Celeste Browne, and others.

The new age movement is probably most dangerous in that appeals to the worst angels of human nature, the desire for self to be the center of all things, the desire to be like god, the desire for power, and so on. But it becomes doubly dangerous because it marries itself with evolutionary concepts, progressive ideology of societal development, and a very hopeful utopian view of the future.

At one time before I knew Jesus Christ and had become a follower of the Way, I practiced as a new ager for several years. I read many of the prominent books of the new age movement. I practiced things like walking meditation, transcendental meditation, clearing of the mind, even astral projection, and communing with spirits. The chink in the armor of the new age movement is that when all of the nice sounding ideas are stripped away, there is no power behind it. When I sit alone and attempt to manipulate the universe to my whim as if I were a god, nothing happens, because I am not a god. And so, as we Christians reach out to the new age community, we can help these people see that there is real power in Jesus Christ, there is really someone on the other end of the telephone when calling upon Jesus. In the past at least for me, there had always been nothing, or worse, dark entities on the other end.

Lastly, I would like to propose a concept I call the new fluid doctrinism, or the fluid orthodoxy. I believe every one of these remixed worldviews will inevitably lead to this concept. Every one of these concepts leaves a vacuum in the place of morality and meaning. And we each long and hunger for these things. As remixed culture has taken hold of society and reshaped it, we increasingly see a group consensus forming, in which the majority defines and redefines base concepts of culture and civilization.

So we find a new fluid doctrinism, in the place of nebulous concepts like universalism or the sorrow of nihilism, or the incoherence of scientism, filling the void is a new orthodoxy of beliefs. There was a vacuum for a time in the place of objective morality, and slowly over time we see in it’s place, a new structure of societal viewpoints. These viewpoints are increasingly formed by a group consensus of prevailing cultural elites, political commentators, media personalities, wealthy individuals and so on. Thus we see emerging on the public scene in the place of theism’s doctrines, a whole new set of doctrines. These are the fluid (ever-changing) doctrines of the new philosophy. Some of it’s views are as follows: LGBTQ is always good, climate change is the chief danger of the world, Christians are suspect and dangerous bigots, gender is a social construct, science is to be trusted and valued above all other disciplines, religion is always suspect, government is oppressive, yet government wielded by us will solve all problems, and all those who disagree with us must be destroyed. On and on the list goes of prevailing moral perspectives, of what one might call political correctness, but perhaps more so, worldview correctness, or religious correctness. In the place of relativism and relative beliefs and morals, a new doctrinal system is forming, that seeks to force itself on all others, and will tolerate no dissent. I believe that this new doctrinism married with various elements of the new age and universalism, may in the end be the vehicle through which the anti-Christ will ride into the world, to take total dominance over humanity.

As always, we as Christians find ourselves with dangers and opportunities in this new dynamic. First, is the danger that should this new worldview gain preeminence, Christians will find themselves increasingly marginalized, persecuted, and even physically in danger. Second, is the great opportunity in this. In such a totalitarian worldview that offers no ability to dissent or disagree, many will quickly become disillusioned with it, and we as Christians must be there to show them the way of love, mercy, grace, service, and self-sacrificing love in the biblical Christian worldview. That may yet be our calling, even to offer up our very lives for the love of Christ, in the next ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years. Lord, help us all.

References
The 8 points of Progressive Christianity. ProgressiveChristianity.org. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2022, from https://progressivechristianity.org/the-8-points/

Burton, T. I. (2020). Strange rites: New religions for a godless world. Public Affairs, Hachette Book Group.

Funk, C., & Kennedy, B. (2020, August 27). Public confidence in scientists has remained stable for decades. Pew Research Center. Retrieved June 11, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/08/27/public-confidence-in-scientists-has-remained-stable-for-decades/

Geisler, N. L. (1983). Is man the measure?: An evaluation of contemporary humanism. Baker Book House.

Kennedy, B., Tyson, A., & Funk, C. (2022, February 15). Americans' trust in scientists, other groups declines. Pew Research Center Science & Society. Retrieved June 11, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2022/02/15/americans-trust-in-scientists-other-groups-declines/

Omondi, S. (2020, November 9). Mormon population by State. WorldAtlas. Retrieved June 11, 2022, from https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/mormon-population-by-state.html

Searcey, D. (2020, April 19). 'people would be so receptive right now, and we can't knock on doors.'. The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/19/us/politics/coronavirus-jehovahs-witnesses.html

Sire, J. W. (2020). The universe next door: A basic worldview catalog (Sixth Edition). IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Three Madmen: Humanism, Individualism, and Postmodernism



On a face examination one might assume when considering humanism, individualism and post-modernism that one is examining nearly the same thing, however there are unique distinctions between each of these philosophies. They are however in my view, at least flowers growing from the same tree, naturalism, bubbling up from the soil of a purposeless universe careening toward infinite darkness. We will examine the dynamics between these worldviews, how they have affected society in the west, and how these worldviews express themselves today.

Humanism appears to me to be an attempt to return to the certainties of modernism. It also takes some thought from existentialism, in attempting to claim the value of humanity as something found in self referencing. Humanism looks to science, art, and morality to define existence and the person. The individual is very important in humanism. Humanism when it first came about was an attempt to find certainty, morality, justice, flourishing, optimism, and hope without the need for a God. It had positive and negative effects on society. But humanism lacks a logical consistency for morality, truth, and justice. The goal was human flourishing through reason and science, but what flourishing could arise from a universe without meaning? Once God was ejected from the equation, nothing could fill that gap, which led to other worldviews. Next, we consider a worldview very similar to humanism, individualism.

Individualism is very common in western thought. Individualism is the idea that the individual has a right to personal liberty and justice in law. The person has free will and the right to make choices for themselves apart from oppressive groups. Individualism saw the person as the hope, as the one who could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and achieve anything they put their mind to. Individualism valued hard work and freedom of thought. It reacted against communism and socialism and group-centered ideas even in religion by placing the sovereignty of the individual above any group, ideology, or religious perspective. One of the most well-known proponents would be Ayn Rand, though she molded many of the ideas of individualism with other philosophies like humanism which she called “objectivism.” Individualism, similar to humanism attempts to find human meaning, truth, justice, morality, flourishing, and future by referencing back toward the self, the individual, much like existentialism, but fails to find any logically consistent footing for meaning or value in a purposeless universe. Each of these two worldviews must borrow basic constructs from the theistic universe, like purpose, human value, objective morality, ontological hope, and a future worth living for beyond the grave. Next, we consider post-modernism.

Post-modernism despairs of any universal standard for justice (Sire, 2020, p. 219). It views truth as relative, there is no truth essentially, truth is just a construct of communities making use of language (Sire, 2020, p. 219). But when a post-modernist makes use of language, the goal is often deconstruction, to pull it apart and prove it to be without meaning (Sire, 2020, p. 219). Any metanarratives, or constructs of thoughts to define the meaning of life, history, and humanity are viewed as veiled power plays. Any metanarrative should generally be viewed as fundamentally oppressive. Morality is based on social utility, but the society is essentially free to define what a positive utility might be, and base it on just about anything (Sire, 2020, p. 217). One could say post-modernism is pragmatic in regard to morality and societal functioning, at least within the limited lense of what post-modernism allows. Post-modernist you might say is one of the most honest out workings of naturalism. If all is reduceable to the physical and biological, if there is no God, and no spiritual world, and if the universe is a giant accident, then post-modernism is probably the best description of that universe.

Once having examined all three of these worldviews, humanism, individualism and post-modernism, along with naturalism, nihilism, and existentialism, I must admit, I find myself believing I am dealing with a room of pathologicals in some asylum who are desperately attempting with breathless fury, and in endless writing of pages by the thousands, playing philosophical and ideological words game, desperately attempting to find some sort of meaning or purpose or morality in a fictional universe they’ve created and painted on the walls of the sanitarium, where there is no God. And as they sit around discussing the worldviews that flow from this delusional assumption of an accidental universe, they are driven increasingly mad as they realize the madness that must flow from this model of a purposeless universe. But for some reason, they must refuse the God hypothesis, so they sit around crafting new worldviews, and worldviews out of those worldviews that become increasingly desperate, miserable, empty, and pointless, until they reach post-modernism, or nihilism, and realize, this purposeless universe, does indeed leave us without purpose, and now we are doomed. And as they see the false worldviews they’ve created destroying society in their asylum, they refuse to the very end to consider the fact that perhaps if they would dare believe the universe does have meaning, found in a personal God, suddenly, all their problems of meaninglessness, amorality, and dark despair would be solved in a moment, because at last, they would see beyond the walls of their asylum to the universe as it actually is: directed by a loving God of justice.

So, how have these ideologies effected the development of society in the west? Well, I think Frederick Nietzsche said it well in his parable of the madman: (1882) 

“What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” 

These ideologies of humanism, individualism, and post-modernism require us to deify man. Man must become the measure, the judge, the creator, the destroyer, and the perfecter of all things. Nothing short will do for these ideologies, to piece themselves together. These worldviews grew out of the enlightenment, though some preceded it in various ways, it was all codified in the enlightenment. They are all connected to the American revolution as well in various ways. They are connected deeply with Darwin’s Origin of Species. But at their roots they all draw from the statement made by the serpent in Genesis: “Did God really say…?” (Gen 3:1) and again “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5). The best way for Satan, the serpent, in his work in the world today, to lead man astray is to convince man that there is no god. And once found in that universe, man goes quite mad, just like Nietzsche’s madman, running from here to there, demanding to know how God had been killed. The simple answer was, God had not been killed, and he was indeed quite mad. But not crazy. No. He was not crazy. He was angry. He was angry with God. Angry with God for making him. Angry with God for withholding the fruit of the forbidden tree, and that anger had manifested in the way an angry child reacts to the dad he despises: You no longer exist. And I shall go do whatever I please. That is what is really going on here. And the effects on society over the ages have been unsurprisingly quite destructive.

So then, how does this bizarre conjugation of worldviews express itself in our society today? As far as humanism is concerned, you can see it play out in the entire course of a human’s life in the United States. The goal is personal peace and affluence. The goal is human flourishing, which is the goal of humanism. What makes up the track of an average human’s life? Play as a kid. Attend public education and learn the various disciplines of human life, science, English, math, and history. Develop relationships. Connect with family. After high school attend college or trade school, then marry and find a good job. Have children. Influence society with your values. Gain wealth and prestige. Show the world you matter. Eventually retire. Die surrounded by your children. What is missing? God is missing. Religious faith is missing. Morality is missing. Truth is missing. But this is the base mindset of most Americans in the country from what I can tell. Knowledge, Relationships, Wealth, Family, all equate to human flourishing, but they must become capitalized, they must become more than what they are. But they can’t ever be the base meaning of life. Yet in humanism that is how they are treated. Sadly, we live humanism every day and most of us don’t even realize it. Many in our churches though claiming belief in Christ, actually practically live out a humanism worldview.

Individualism’s present-day impact is also extremely far reaching, and hard to notice unless we’re looking directly at it. It’s similar with humanism as we saw, we don’t even realize we’re doing it, because we’ve been indoctrinated into it, it’s so endemic to society. Though we do have the base family structure in the United States, the country is wildly individualistic, and becoming more so over time. Even the family loyalties and structures found in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, really no longer exist in the present day. Every decision a person makes after leaving the home is based on individual preference from the products they purchase to the person they choose to date or marry. Within capitalism and democratic republics we see a lot of the benefits of individualism, free choice, small businesses, varieties to choose from, individual freedom and so on, but we also see the negatives in the loneliness of technological isolation, the disconnect and separation from family as persons move further and further apart, and the lack of unifying values that hold a society together.

Finally we see the effects of post-modernism show themselves in areas like art, philosophy, politics, gender, government, and lifestyle. If art is just personal preference, if it has no reference then why not just smear mud on a canvas and call it art? If everything is relative, and truth doesn’t exist, why not redefine society to fit our personal desires? Why not get married and divorced ten times if commitments don’t matter and we base things on how we feel in the moment? Why not attempt to destroy our political opponents if their perspective is based on an oppressive metanarrative? Why not add new genders, and more every day, why can’t a man become a woman and a woman become a man? Why can’t two men get married? Why can’t two women get married? Why can’t five women marry one man? Or five men marry one woman? Or in the future, why not allow a child to be in a sexual relationship with an adult if both parties consent? And we see the increasing immorality of the society, the crime, the hatred, the sexual immorality, the gambling, the drug use, the human trafficking, school shootings, and all these infinitely multiplying societal ills, but the question must again be asked: If man is the measure, all truth is relative, and personal preference the only moral guide, why not engage in all this and more? That is the impact that these ideologies have on modern society, and I’m certain we’ve only seen the beginning. The question may soon become: How long can a society survive when based on infinitely multiplying broken worldviews and ideologies? That is the question. And the only answer I can think of is: 

Only Jesus Christ of Nazareth re-introduced to a broken world, through the hands and feet of His church, can turn this ship around, and win a lost world to a glorious future hope, a future hope so mysterious, glorious, and wonderful that none can truly fathom it.

So, in conclusion, essentially, I would equate humanism, individualism, and post-modernism as three men in a mental hospital, desperately attempting to make sense of a world without God, a world and universe that does not exist. So, they go increasingly mad, destroying the mental hospital (our world) with their mad ideologies, each of them increasingly incoherent, cynical, and apocalyptically bankrupt. Jesus Christ is the helpful psychologist, pleading with these three men to embrace the simple truth that God is real. This truth drives them mad, so they climb into cardboard boxes in which they paint on the walls “nothing matters” and “empty void” as Jesus pleads with them from the other side of their boxes to receive his grace, love, and forgiveness, reaching his loving hand within their boxes, which they swat away with terror. Will they ever climb from their boxes and humbly receive Christ, and see the universe as it really is? Will they ever be free from beyond the mental hospital walls? Only time will tell. But, if they do indeed reject this help, after death, they may yet find the universe they were always looking for, where nothing matters, and there is no future… that place being hell.

References

Geisler, N. L. (1983). Is man the measure?: An evaluation of contemporary humanism. Baker Book House.

Kelley, D. (2010, June 14). What is objectivism?, the Atlas Society: Ayn Rand, objectivism, Atlas shrugged. The Atlas Society | Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Atlas Shrugged. Retrieved May 29, 2022, from https://www.atlassociety.org/post/what-is-objectivism

Sire, J. W. (2020). The universe next door: A basic worldview catalog (Sixth Edition). IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press.

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