Tag: Jesus

Coronavirus and The Death of Individualism

When this is over, and it will eventually be, perhaps we will have been reminded that what really matters is each other.

Jonathan David Faulkner

As a student of 19th Century Church History at Mercersburg I have little patience for Princeton, as a human being a struggle with Twitter because of how negative it has become. Yet, yesterday both of these combined to surprise me. This time in the form of a Tweet from Princeton Professor Kate Bowler about how the Coronavirus marks the end of individualism

I could write an entire article on how entertaining it is for someone who has studied the “Common sense” theology that Princeton was born into to hear someone from Princeton claiming the end of Individualism, but that is not the point of this article. What is the point is to explore what that means for society going forward.

Lifeway Research, Barna and Pew have all marked an increase in anxiety and its contributors in both Millenials and Gen Z compared to the other two living generations (Baby Boomers and Gen X) who make up much of the population. That means that isolation, depression and loneliness are all on the rise among people 15-35 and as a result we are suffering more anxiety because we have a much weaker social network to fall back upon. Instead we have one that, for all its claims to be social, is increasingly proving to be fake and in fact, toxic, to our mental heath (Social Media). Social Media creates the illusion of togetherness and interconnectedness but does not fulfil either human need. Jean M. Twenge has warned us about the effect Social Media is having both on us and our kids as the pressure to present a perfectly curated world based on your personal preferences overwhelms them.

Individualism, especially the radical American brand that was handed down to us and expanded upon from the time of the Enlightenment says that the individual is prime, and nothing should interfere with the individuals personal autonomy. That translates to an attitude that “no one is going to tell me what to do and as long as it feels good to me, I am going to do it.” If you are on Twitter today you know that this very attitude is being blamed for why the virus is spreading at the alarming rate that it is in the United States. We all saw the videos of college kids partying in Florida and then saw the new report that most of those kids have tested positive for the virus. The idea that “I am young and invincible” is one that has affected every youth, but individualism says: “I am going to do what feels good, consequences be damned.” Individualism fuels our other impulses, consumerism, stuff will make the individual feel secure, identitarianism, personal identity is the path to harmony and perfect happiness, hedonism, I want to do what makes me happiest and most fulfilled. These all look to the self as the greatest authority, again, the individual is prime.

Yet we have seen recently a rise in strong group think the extremes of the right and the left. Tribalism is our word for it, and though incompatible with individualism, it makes the same claim as individualism, the self of group is primary, and no one can tell the tribe what to think or to think differently. I remember sitting in a meeting with one of my professors for a “Readings and Research” course on Jonathan Edwards and Charles Chauncy’s debate over revivalism. Revivalism being a key contributor to the spread of individualism in America. I remember telling her that individualism is breaking down, but that tribalism is as well, leading to some kind of primalism that is purely emotionally driven which corresponds with the breakdown in language and increased isolation caused by Social Media. This observation came after an article in The Guardian about the use of Emoji’s in communication and the idea that we had reverted back to Hieroglyphs on tablets with glowing screens. The relationship between individualism and tribalism is thus that they both reject dependence on the other, in the case of individualism, prizing personal autonomy and in the case of tribalism, prizing group autonomy. It is the same idea, applied to two extremes.

Both individualism and Tribalism are dangerous to the public health and well-being of a society because they both reject anything other than what they have accepted as personal truth. This operative principle of relativism means that doing anything that does not see to the wellbeing of the central idea or person is evil is extremely destructive both to society and to the individual in general or persons involved. Believe it or not, this is how cults operate, loyalty to the leader or central idea is absolute and if one diverges from that then they are punished by the group. Think Westboro Baptist or Jonestown, they often seem like great places to be, but if you step out of line you become public enemy number one. Yet we have embraced both mediums unquestionably and are going to long pay the price for our obstinance.

If you do not believe me, look at this week’s debate over the stimulus package. Everyone is trying to get a piece of pie for their constituency, their tribe, and the result is ultimately an abandonment of the American People. Meanwhile Lobbyists want what is best for them, a juicy bonus from their employers, and so they bend the ear of their allies on the hill. That is not how a representative republic is meant to work and we are learning that the tribal mantra “America First” does not actually mean “Americans First.” We should be ashamed of ourselves. Individualism and Tribalism, two extremes, predicated on the same utilitarian principle. Do what is best for me and forget everyone else. Who cares if someone dies, they are not part of me or my group, I have nothing to do with them and they have nothing to do with me? How perfectly Stalinite of us saying “one death is a tragedy but a million is a statistic.”

Yet, as a Christian I know that this is not how the world is meant to be ordered. As a Historian I know this ordering of the world is abnormal when compared to the strong group societies that are still much of the world today. As a Pastor who believes what the Bible says is true (I should not teach it otherwise) I have a responsibility to teach my congregation that Jesus gave His life so that we could live a life that was radically different from the world around us. For the Christian, self-seeking is unprofitable and unuseful (Titus 3:1-11) and leads to fights and quarrels and schism. Self-seeking leaves us self-condemned while living the Christian Life that we can only live because God made it possible through Jesus Christ, should make us work for the benefit of one another. That includes those who think differently than we do, those who the world would naturally label our “enemies.” The Christian Life is meant to be lived for the benefit of our neighbors, not for the benefit of ourselves. We have received out reward and it is well beyond what we could ever gain on this Earth (i.e Eternal Life).

In times of crisis then, we should not look to ourselves, but looking to the good of one another and to the world that does not know Christ. I work just as hard for the benefit and shalom of my neighbor who is unsaved as I do for the saved neighbor. I do this not because I am obligated too, but because I am grateful for that Christ as done for me what I could not do myself. This does not mean there is not an inward quality to Christianity, we are commanded to work out our salvation, but that is also done in the context of our relationship with God and with others. The Churchman John Williamson Nevin, in his writing on the Two-Party System in the days leading up to the Civil War says this: “This does not mean there is not room for individual opinion, but that individual opinion must be brought into the group and be examined by all to see if it aligns with the word of God and the teachings of the Church.” Christians believe in an absolute truth, but we should be gracious in how we live and apply that truth because God has been gracious to us. We confess essential doctrines, but we also confess personal conscious and 1 Corinthians 10 tells us that there are some things that are left up to the personal conscious of the individual, but that considerations of conscious should take into account the conscious of another. If such and such an activity will be harmful to my neighbor, I will abstain from that activity in their company.

Both individualism and tribalism advance the individual conscious over the good of the people around us. Both make the individual conscious a self-contained god that declares its independence from every other god around it and is superior to everyone else’s god. Thus, no one is superior and no one’s individual truth is absolute. I am also under no obligation to do anything for my neighbor because my neighbor is my enemy. I have excused myself from doing anything for anyone, the self is my god and people better not play in my canned goods or challenge the high place I have built for myself. This has to be an exhausting way to live, but our culture has adopted it as normal, even voted it into office at the state and national levels.

The Coronavirus and COVID-19 challenge this mentality. I know last week I posted a piece about the need for more helpers, but that was because I wanted to see more of the few positive things I was seeing (I need to adjust my algorithm because my wife was seeing nothing but positive stories while all my headlines were about hoarding and toilet paper). I have seen how many of us have laid down our self-contained gods and self-worship to reach out to the other. We are self-quarantining because we understand how easy it is to transmit this virus and how deadly it is for older and vulnerable groups. We are adjusting store hours so that elderly men and women can go to the store without fear. People are baking bread so that their elderly neighbors who cannot get to the store can have bread. Yes, there are people hoarding, but there are a growing number of people who seem to be breaking from our usual American individualist way of life for the sake of helping others. They seem to be realizing that the benefit of helping one another far outweighs the benefit of helping themselves alone. In the words of Mr. Spock, “the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the one or the few.” I can only hope that this trend continues, and individualism does die a quick death. This may be optimistic; we may go back to business as usual in June or July when this thing finally ends. But I can dream right?

Think about it this way:

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

The Problem with Christian Celebrity

Athletes and Hollywood Christians are strategically placed for the Gospel, but we cannot and should not act as if they’re testimony means we are free to do whatever we want.

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Let me say this up front, I hate the idea of Christian Celebrity and I hate the culture we have created around celebrity Christian’s. Believe it or not though it is not the idolatry that it often ends up in, though I am no fan of that, nor is it the pedestal just below idolization that gets me, though again I am no fan of that either. It is the fact that those are the people often referred to when Christians talk about those who live out their faith even though they have no frame of reference other than one comment made to the media. Someone does not have to demonstrate with their lives they are a Christian, all they have to do is say something, even if that thing is tan gently orthodox and biblical and Christians flock to them like moths to a lamp. Mention the name of Jesus and your guaranteed to have 1000 new twitter followers overnight, even if your exegesis and application are extremely questionable.

You all know what I am talking about, you were all alive when Tim Tebow (congrats on your recent marriage by the way Tim), was playing for the Denver Broncos. I can remember people praising him for painting John 3:16 on his face before the game and for what became known universally as “tebowing” praying after he scored a TD. I can remember college girls fawning over him because he was such a good and godly man who did not smoke drink or chew or go with girls who did. He was held up as the archetype for what a Christian should be and in fact, he was, if your archetype of Christianity is the classic conservative “nice Christian boy” who epitomizes purity culture and who never upsets people.

Now, before you accuse me of being disrespectful, let me say that I have a great deal of respect for those who live out their faith in the public square. It is extremely difficult to stand up for your faith in our modern context and Tebow has paid a price for it. I also have a great deal of respect for Tim Tebow as a person, his special prom nights for children with disabilities is a truly gospel-oriented mission that gives dignity to kids who do not get to experience that dignity within the public-school system. I do have a problem with the culture he represents, but no problem with him personally. The problem is with the celebrity status and idolization that occurred because Tim Tebow stood up for His faith in the public square. Tim’s life is attractive for the Gospel, the Christian Celebrity that rose around him, hindered it. I felt the same way about Kurt Cousins recent comments after losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the Playoffs, something my own Packers did the very next week. I appreciate the words that he said, “win or lose, God is on the throne” what disturbs me are the people who raised the concert of praises and allowed the cycle of idolization continue. Again, Cousin’s life may attractive (I do not know enough about him to say) for the Gospel, but that kind of idolization hinders it.

We do the same thing to Politicians, all someone has to do is signal solidarity with Christianity and boom, Christians will flock to unquestioning support for them. Even if upon further examination we find that person is not a believer, or at least not living like one, but only used the manicure to secure a section of the voting base. This is the playing card that we have been watching play out before us in the political arena for the last 30 years, coming to fruition in the worst possible way with the 2016 election. We become uncritical followers of men seeking political power we risk allowing ourselves to be led astray from the Gospel principles found in the Word of God and the moral high ground we have always vigorously defended. I have beat a dead horse with this one, but I will say it again, we cannot insist on certain moral characteristics and then turn around and vote for someone who does not fit those characteristics. Regardless of what may be promised or what we may gain, better to lose the whole world then to forfeit our souls eh? Unfortunately, it looks as though we have chosen to forefeet our souls.

But that is the problem I see, we are not just forfeiting our souls, we are forfeiting our souls in the case of politics, but we are all too often forfeiting our witnesses by outsourcing them to the Christian Celebrity. We seem to think that the person who professes faith on TV or after the football game is going to be what stems the tide of secularism and reinvigorates the witness of Christ around the world. The problem is secular people and younger Christians do one of two things with the athlete/politicians/Hollywood type professes their faith. They either scoff at it because their experience with Christians they interact with daily do not live out what they claim to believe or they applaud it once and move on, getting back to the business of living out their robust faith. They either do not see it as sincere, or they ignore it all together. No one is reached, in fact, it seems that the opposite is happening, people tune it out because the Christians they know are no different than they are.

Celebrity among Christians seems to have become an excuse for not living out the gospel at home before all men. We think because they have testified to Christ we do not have to. It is a convenient way of outsourcing our own responsibility to communicate the Gospel in word and life. We seem to think that so long as (Insert name here) is working out his or her salvation with fear and trembling we are excused from it. Or that the Great Commission is for missionaries and pastors and we just go to church and fellowship and that’s the extent of our Christian Life. The Great Commission becomes “The Great Omission” to use Thom Rainer’s term even if your part of the 48% of Christians who know what the Great Commission is (Lifeway 2019). “Go into all the world and Make Disciples of all nations” apparently does not mean our own, or it does so long as we do not have to do it. “Put off the old self…and put on the new self” (Col 3:6-10) is all well and good and long as we do not have to do it. As long (so and so) is being a light to the world, do I really have to be?

I am being a bit snarky here, but if you look at all the data that has come out over the last 50 years as the Church as declined, this is the picture it paints. Now, there are some areas of the country where this is impossible, I think of our New England Brothers and Sisters who, in most places, have realized that living in a Post-Christian society requires Christians to largely abandon their whimsical, pie in the sky Christianity defined by Consumerism and attractionalism and return to a biblically oriented Christian Faith. I am inspired by the Church Planting movement in my own denomination that has been reaching communities with the Gospel by not being afraid to those whom the traditional Church in America has abandoned by making it a sin for a person of faith to even enter those places. Given the changes in our culture we can no longer afford to sit back and hide in our holy huddles thinking that will bring people back to us. Young people are not returning to church when they get older, even those who have a deep faith in Jesus, they remain in exile and disconnected. We can no longer make assumptions that allow us the convenience of ease and allow us to debate peripheral issues. We can either live out the Gospel or we can die, those are the only two options before us as persecution increases and we continue to be forced out of the public square. We do not have the luxury of outsourcing our witness to another, to celebrities. You want to see young people to return to churches? Take your own faith seriously.

I am serious, this is what I cannot stand about Christian Celebrity Culture, we seem to think that it has excused us from living out our own faith in our own portion of the public square. We think that if we do not sin and go to church, we are fine. The result is a lot of people who have relationships with the church, but no discernable relationship with eh Church. We have a lot of people that can proof-text their personal opinions (see last week’s piece) but have no biblical literacy or knowledge of the Bible beyond those defenses of their philosophical viewpoints. We also have a lot of people to look for the pastor to simply affirm their preconceived notions and if the pastor challenges those notions even in the slightest they get angry and make threats and bully people into agreeing with them.

The problem with all of this is God didn’t leave his Church here so that we could outsource our witness and gather around us people who would confirm our biases. Though we are promised in scripture that will happen. He left His church here to be a family and one that went out and witnessed to the world by showing the benefits and blessings of having a relationship with God. A Church then that does not love God, love people (inside and outside its walls) and make Disciples should not expect God’s blessings to follow them. In fact, they should expect the opposite since they have set themselves in opposition to God by their obstinate refusal to live out His commands. The culture pressures on the Church are moving us back in this direction in some parts of the country, but there are some places where resistance to any change back towards historic biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxy, not the canned conservative Americanized version that Billy Graham called: “An inch deep and a mile wide.”

If we want to see the church grow, especially in the alienated small towns throughout the Midwest and South, then the church needs to step up and be the third place of society it was in the first and second century. We do not have the luxury of debates in the public square over philosophies and ideologies that are loosely biblical, if that. And we certainly do not have the luxury at pointing to the latest Celebrity who put his faith into words and expressed it on public television as though their witness excuses us from our own. The secular world is reading our scriptures and calling us out on how poorly we live them out day to day. This is a difficult reality to accept, but Jesus was serious when He gave His commands and applied them all His people. Not just the Apostles, but to everyone who believed in Him.

Pastors, this starts with us, we need to stand up against these kinds of behaviors and take whatever it costs us knowing that we answer to Christ for how we handled His word and taught His people. We need to be willing to not just preach the Gospel but live out the Gospel and demonstrate the blessings of a relationship with Christ to our congregation. We can do this, even if it costs us calls and comfort because we are promised that God will take care of us and we can lean on those promises no matter what. We can also know that God is pleased when we do what He has commanded us to do even when it means people will be furious with us. We need to hold our congregations accountable to the full word of God, everything in their, not just their preferred theological construct. We also need to be willing to answer question, maintaining an open door for people come to ask us when we preach about those passages that challenge our preconceived notions. Not everyone will take you up on that, you will still have people angry with you, but both you and they have to stand before God and give account for how you lived out the Word of God. Be bold, stand firm and remember the one who has your back is greater than this world.

And the next time someone points out the Christian words or witness of a celebrity ask them how they are living out their faith in their community first, reaching people for the Gospel through loving God, loving people and making Disciples. Ask them how they are living out the Great Commission and how that celebrity’s faith may inspire them to live out more boldly the new life in Christ. IF we continue to be afraid to encourage our congregations to live out the Gospel, we will continue this trajectory we are on, and its not good.

To the lay person, please recognize that Jesus words do not just apply to your pastor or the Christian celebrity, but also to you. That you are going to be held accountable for what you did with what you did with the Word of God and how you treated one another, and those God has placed as under shepherds to lead you. Outsourcing your witness will lead to your destruction, not salvation, and if you do not believe me, read the book of Matthew. It would also be prudent for you to start questioning whom you are following instead of swearing undying loyalty to someone who contradicts the bible you claim as the source of your reasoning. Start reading the bible, the whole bible, and do what you can to learn about the bible and the world it was written into. Does that change how we apply it in the modern context? Well, it just might, but that is okay.

Now may the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob embolden you to live out His Holy Word in word and deed with humility and gratitude for that awesome work that was done in Christ.

 

\Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Your Pastor in the Age of the Coronavirus

I am saddened by the often-vitriolic responses to pastors who have moved their churches to Livestreams or canceled altogether. Would you consider something with me?

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

To the Church Universal in an age of uncertainty.

Church, in an age of irresponsibility, let me start by reminding you that your pastor has been placed as an under shepherd to care for you. We are will stand before God one day and be asked how we carried out that mission and call on our lives, we will be held accountable for how we honored and cared for you. There are not enough pastors who take this reality seriously, but I assure you, this is not one of them. You are precious to God and because of the love God has for you, we love you as well.

It is for this reason that we are or should be taking the Coronavirus seriously. It is for this reason and for theological reasons that we listen to what the government, state and federal, it is for this reason I am home today trying to make and develop plans for my congregation, many of whom are within the age range listed as “Vulnerable Persons” according to the CDC. These are not plans we are making lightly or because we want time off. We are not looking at this as an out from our responsibility, if anything, situations like this are reminders of our responsibility to you as our congregants. The problem with this virus is not that it does not kill the same amount of people as the Flu, the problem with this virus is how easily it is to spread and that it is killing the most vulnerable members of our society. People, made in the image of God, whom we are responsible for caring for and considering. Roman’s 13:1-5 also means we have to listen to what the government is telling us to do and take it seriously when making decisions.

Yet, I have seen too many of my fellow pastors raked over the coals for either canceling and going to a live stream, or not canceling. I myself had two fake Facebook profiles shame me because our congregation met even though our state had not yet dropped the level of restrictions on meetings below 100. The fact is, these have been difficult decisions to make and for the sake of your pastor I want to encourage you to come along side them, remember that, like you, they are only human. We are thinking through and processing a lot of information, as are our elected officials and your public leaders in general all in the name of what is best for our health and well-being and added to that for us Pastors is the Spiritual health and well-being of our congregations.

Please, please, please, work with us, walk with us, talk with us. We love you and are charged with doing what is best for you and we are called to be vigilant and discerning in all cases. We also need you to help us care for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember that we are members one to another and that the body functioning properly depends on everyone. Now is not a time to panic, but a time to turn and seek the Lord and to intercede on behalf of one another and our communities. We should be voices of peace, but we should also be voices of wisdom and discernment in these tumultuous days. Christ left the Church here for times such as these and we need to work together for the Shalom of our communities.

Please be patient with us and ask how you can help, we need each other more than ever.

In Christ

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

A Letter On Viruses, Extremes and Social Media.

Christians are not to be a people of fear, when we go to extremes, we only perpetuate fears and divisions. Yet that is not the path God has laid out for us to follow, even on Social Media.

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Dear….Everyone.

I must admit, as a pastor, my heart is troubled. Not because there is a virus spreading through the nation as we speak but because of how I have seen Christians old and young taking extreme positions and politicized positions on Social Media and in the public square. Yes, the COVID – 19 is a major concern and it should be taken seriously, but that is all we really need to say about it, beyond that we begin to grant Credence to extremes and that is exactly what is happening all over my social media. In fact, after posting this article this afternoon Facebook may be deleted from my phone altogether. It has been a frustrated two or three weeks as we watch people destroy each other with opinions. We are all tired and were already, as a culture, more stressed and anxious than we ever have been in the history of our nation (except for the time leading up to the Civil War). This virus is not helping and is not making things better. Yet neither is the media, by catering to extremes. On one hand you have those who want to downplay what is happening and on the other you have those who are overhyping and overeating. I do agree with one commentator who purportedly said that “The media should be held responsible for the current state of our understanding (or lack thereof) of this virus and the situation.” The media has been taking extreme sides and even politicizing this issue well beyond the limits of what the media should be, on principle, doing.

That being said, we should hold them accountable by refusing to consume what they are feeding us, by ratings dropping, not by the government. We have to remember that we have contributed to this, our mentality as a culture has been: “entertain us” and applied to media we end up with news outlets as entertainment outlets, not as news outlets. We asked for sensationalization and we participated in the politicization of everything. The media in its present state is not so much an enemy of the people as it is a creation of the people. That includes us as Christians who have been playing the sensationalization game since the 1980’s. As with most things in the West, as Tom Holland points out in his book “Dominion” it was Christians who did it first.

Our extremes are also reflections of our own internal fears and anxieties. We are in a time of unprecedent quantities of both of those positions and they have only been bred by the increasing isolation and alienation caused by the internet age and the current state of our politics. These are things that Christians should have been speaking into when they began, instead, we ourselves have adopted a posture of fear and antipathy towards one another fueled by the anonymity of the Social Media Sphere. The beauty of Social Media is that it gives us the freedom of self-expression about all that we share convictions about. The problem with Social Media is that it gives us the freedom of self-expression about all that we share convictions about. Christians have never really addressed Social Media, some of us have tried to use it as a means of outreach and some have used it as a gathering place for the exchange of ideas. But I am part of groups where we have extreme guidelines about what we can and cannot say and how we can and cannot respond to our siblings in Christ. They seem like an unnecessary burden, just apply biblical ethics and morality to social media posting, but what seems obvious is not always obvious. The result has been that I have seen a lot of Christians either downplaying the virus or overreacting to it. Both extremes are born out of the very fear that we as Christians should be in full throat rejection of. These are the very times in History when the Church was at its best, but if you survey social media, we are far from at our best. We have to remember that this virus is affecting men and women made in the image of God, and though it has a low kill rate compared to other viruses that have affected us in the past, it is still a serious threat to the most vulnerable members of our society and we should do what we can to stop its spread so that those we love are not directly affected. If we, as a people, confess a pro-life ethic, we need to live that pro-life ethic by working to end something that threatens any life of any kind regardless of the effect it has on us. For that we need to act on biblical wisdom rather than on the worlds fear and we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern between which is which.

Christians, how are we not tired of this? How do we not see the toll our capitulation to fear of the world is having on both our own mental health and on our witness as Christians. As Christians in times of high anxiety we are called to do one thing, trust in God. Think of Paul in Prison as he wrote his letter to the Philippians. He was not worried about his chains; he was not concerned about the consequences of his actions. Disgraced, beaten and isolated he wrote these words: “ Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4:4-9). In the age of the Coronavirus it seems Christians in the general population have largely done the opposite. Even though many of the current teachers of the faith have warned us again and again against a fearful reaction because we are the people of the Word.

No, now is not the time to be afraid, now is the time to be a blessing to our communities and neighborhoods. Just like Abraham’s descendants were to “Bless the earth” (Gen 12:3). Now is our time to work for the shalom of our city (Jeremiah 29:7). Now is the time for us to, out of love for God, love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 26:34-40). Now is not the time to break off our relationship with God, but to lean further and deeper into it because we have the hope of the promised resurrection. Now is not the time for partisan politics within the church, but for us to work to “maintain the spirit of peace and the bond of love” (Phil 3:1-5). I am tired of seeing Christians, most of whom have been in Christ longer than I have been alive, acting out of fear instead of standing on the Holy and never changing Word of God. We need to stand firm on and lean into the relationship we have with God in Jesus Christ our Lord and remember His words in Matthew 6:25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Enough for the day is its own trouble.”

As someone at the Gospel Coalition said: “Fear is not our way and Panic is not our friend.” This has been completely blown out of proportion, but it has also been extremely underestimated and downplayed. A middle way is preferred, take it seriously, but do not believe everything you hear and do not resort to or spread fear and division over this and please, please, please stop politicizing this. Human lives are not politics, they are human lives, created in the image of God meant for the purposes of God.

Sincerely,

A sad and tired pastor.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

The Eucharist and the Homily

The Debate over what is central to Christian Worship is an old one, but it may be based on the false dichotomizing of traditions that were meant to be co-equal.

Jonathan Faulkner

What is central to the Worship Service? That was the question that Francis Chan addressed in a recent video sermon that made the social media rounds last week and sparked debates across platforms. I haunt various Facebook theology groups including a lay group based on discussing the ideas in Chan’s book Letters to the Church so I have had a chance to see the multiplicity of perspectives argue back and forth on the content of this video and the claim Chan made that for “1500 years it was the Lord’s Supper that was central to Christian Worship and not the Pulpit.” I have enjoyed watching Chan take this journey since he stepped down from Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley CA and thought there was a lot of good in “Letter’s to the Church” even if Chan went too far in some of his conclusions. I would never consider myself part of the Emerging Church” movement which emphasizes a “burn it all down” approach to the organized and institutional protestant Church that has more in common with the Roman Catholic Church on 1517 than the Church as described in Acts. But as a serious historian and serious student of the scriptures alike, I recognize that Scripture was meant to be applied and the example set for us by the early Christians was meant to be our universal model and can be applied to an institutional church with great care and dedication.

Chan’s assertion however, that: “for 1500 years the Lord’s Supper was central to Christian Worship, not the pulpit.” Actually, fails the sniff test of the very passage his argument in Letters to the Church hinges on, Acts 2:42-47. Not to mention that this is a Roman Catholic revision of History that makes Peter the first Pope of Rome and over emphasizes some parts of the activities of the early Christians that should be held in equilibrium with others. Holding to the doctrine of historic development: The idea that the Holy Spirit guided the development of the Early Church and is still working to lead the development of the church in modern times. It would seem blasphemous that the Spirit would hold up the practice of the supper above the preached word. It would make more sense that because the early Church seemed to have held them in tandem that the Holy Spirit would hold them in tandem. That is, we cannot over emphasize one or under emphasize another. To do so is to create a false dichotomy that only confuses new believers and creates “sides” and parties.

Chan is right in that the Protestant Church has often neglected the supper in favor of the preached word and nothing more. It bothers me when I hear Christians say that they do not want to have Communion more than 3 times a year because they do not want to become numb to what it means. When the early Christians daily partook of the bread and wine, yet many protestants are hard pressed to do so once a month and once a week is absolutely out of the question. The opposite was true of the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the reformation. The Eucharist was done every week and the preached word was just sort of thrown in there for five or ten minutes. Martin Luther’s concern grew out of finding a people starving for the very word of God and bread of life (most of the peasant class were not allowed to take full communion either). That is one of the reasons the preached word became so central to the reformation alongside the Eucharist, the masses were literally spiritually starving. Similar to Jesus when He looked out on the crowds and: “Had compassion on them because they were harassed, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The Eucharist was still important, as evidenced by the vigorous debates over the elements and various views of the Supper. That is, until the next generation of protestants began to over emphasize the preached word over and even at times against the Eucharist.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the initial distortion occurred within the Roman Catholic Liturgy. It is less of an intentional change and more of a gradual transformation as the liturgy developed. The Formal Principle of Protestantism; that is the authority of the Word of God, was a corrective to the authority and abuses of the church that had neglected the authority of the Word under infallible Popes, some of whom had no ecclesiological training whatsoever and had no business leading in any church. If the word of God was authoritative, then the tradition had to answer to it and even be dictated by it and whatever was not biblical, such as the sale of indulgences, had to go. We baptize because scripture commands us to baptize, whether as sign and seal of covenant or believers’ confession of faith, we baptize. We partake of the body and blood of Christ because Jesus and the Apostles instructed us to. We greet one another because the Ancient Christians greeted one another, us with a handshake and them with a Holy kiss. The sacraments are part of the tradition, they answer to and are dictated by scripture and we should be wary of neglecting them, but we should also be wary of neglecting the preached word. Both are essential and both are central, they are not at odds, and for 900 years they were side by side with one another in near perfect harmony.

If Chan believes the Roman Catholic Argument that the Eucharist was central for 1500 years and emphasized over the preached word. Then he should go read the works of Cyril, Irenaeus, Tertullian and other church father’s who devoted a great deal of time to the preached word but also consistently and constantly observed the Eucharist. Men and women who quite obviously believed both were central to Christian Worship and both were important. Afterall, how can one define Apostolic Succession as the passing down of the teachings of the Apostles, without expounding on and expositing the teachings of the Apostles. The idea that the Popes were the succession to the Apostles is a later development of the Papacy, not the belief of the Early Christians. The early Christians were simultaneously devoted to the teachings of the Apostles and the breaking of bread. Not to the Apostles themselves, but their teaching which was exposition on the Old Testament and on the life, words and actions of Christ and from which came instructions concerning the breaking of the bread which was the body and blood of Christ.

This was a daily activity, not a casual weekend hour long get together with some loosely theological songs and a nice message meant to make us feel good about ourselves. The teachings and example of Jesus were held up to them and kept ever before them, not just in memorial but as participation in the divine life and divine family they had been adopted into through Christ. When someone came to Christ they were expected to learn about the things of Christ, not some proof-texted man driven philosophy, but the teachings of the God-Man himself.

The Sacrament and the Word should not be separated, nor should one be emphasized over and against the other. They are essential practices of the Church that have existed from the beginning of the Body and they should both hold a central place in our worship alongside the singing of praises to God. We should not longer tolerate their neglect or create spaces where both are not present and central. We need to reject the false dichotomy in favor of the biblical witness.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

The Tale of Two Speeches

One Speech and One Sermon, two different perspectives on the Church in America, One from the President of the United States, One from the President of a prominent Evangelical Seminary, who is correct?

Jonathan Faulkner

I just spent the last half-hour listening to the president’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Like many, I am tired of the insults and put downs that have become common place within these speeches and so I would not normally have watched it, but since the President tends to talk up his accomplishments and since he was before one of his primary bases, Evangelical Christians, it seemed logical to expect to see much of the same in this speech. Guess what? I was not disappointed. Listening to the speech made it sound like Christianity was alive and well and he even used the word “Thriving” to describe what was happening. A similar word was used by Pew and Lifeway when they did their research on the ever-marginalized Churches in New England, Churches that are no longer sitting at the forefront of social influence and power and are increasingly further from those centers. The President also made mention of how he has done more for Christians than any other political leader in the nation’s history and one could infer “Since Constantine.” Still, between the self-endorsement and the attacks on political enemies one saw what the second speech reiterated over and over again.

The Second speech, which was actually a sermon on Psalm 85 by the new president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Dr. Scott Sunquist from GCTS Spring Convocation which served as my wife and I’s spiritual nourishment and preaching as we sat at home Sunday Morning waiting out the snow storm that canceled our own service. The sermon opened with one poignant and heart-wrenching line: “The Church in the United States of America is sick, Evangelicalism is sick, brothers and sisters, we are sick.” He then went on to paint the grim picture, combining for us all the statistics on church-decline all the reasons the people in our pews are so anxious, but at the end of that he gave us hope, he showed us the way back to health, his solution? Reach out to God and ask Him for restoration. I know this is likely the first time some of you have heard of this sermon so please go and take a listen before you continue reading.

I said above that the presidents remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast proved, in many ways what Dr. Sunquist said in his sermon, I will get back to that in a second. First, I want to ask the question that I asked in the tagline on this post because these are two very different views of the state of the Church in the United States of America. There is no compatibility here, either the Church is doing amazing and things are great, or we are sick and in need of a biblical restoration. The question we have to ask here is “What is the truth?” Is one of these men passing around false information meant to make himself look better in the eyes of a constituency? Or are they both way off base and the truth is somewhere in the middle? Many of us would like to believe the president, as a Pastor that would take a load off my mind. I would like to say that Christianity is thriving here in the United States of America. I would love to be able to stand before my congregation and say that all their fears are for not, we are in great shape.

However, I cannot ignore what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears. I cannot ignore what the cultural exegetes tell me, those people whose job it is to know exactly what the state of the church in America is like. I cannot help but think about Peter Bienart’s article in the Atlantic in 2017 that talked about “America’s Empty Church Problem” or the pianist at my church who lamented about a town where all the churches are either museums or condo’s or homes now (that was a town in Wisconsin no less). I think of what Barna Group calls: “the rise of the none’s” and what David Kinnamen calls: “the dropout problem” where young Christians who leave the church are not coming back and many are abandoning their faith altogether and the heartbreaking reasons why this is so. I think of the increasingly close entanglement between cultural evangelicalism and Political Power and the promise that all these things I mentioned above are no longer true, even though they are. I think of Dr. Peter Kuzmic who told the church we attended in Hamilton in 2019 that the president of the United States was: “Absolutely hindering missions work all over the world because of Evangelicals association with him in American Politics.” I see and read all of this, I hear the way people in my town talk about the people on the other side of the isle, people who are otherwise perfectly kind men and women who treat bitterly their political rivals. I cannot help but think that Dr. Sunquist is right, that we are in need of restoration. We have violated what Philip Schaff defined as the definition of Religious Freedom in the United States: “It is a Free Church in a Free State, or a self-supporting and self-governing Christianity independent but in friendly relation to the Civil Government.” That the very people who once wrote into their founding confessional documents like the Saybrook Confession that Christian Magistrates could not “proselytize” are now looking to the government to do just that.

Yes, Dr. Sunquist is correct, we are sick, and the president is incorrect, we are not barreling towards a brighter day, we are headed for our own destruction. Yet, I would be a fool to not look at the positive things that are happening in Christianity. The article by Peter Beinart I mentioned above does point out that one affect of our current situation in American Religion is that cultural Christianity is declining and biblical Christianity, which at the time was apolitical, is on the rise. According to a 2018 article in the Washington Post: “Conservative churches” which would better be defined as “Bible Believing” are growing while Liberal churches are dying on the vine. It is also true that 4 Million people between the age of 20-35 classify as what Barna calls “Resilient Disciples” that churches in the places where they are not longer the dominate power structure and where Power Religion is mocked and the church marginalized are laying down their denominational hard lines and embracing a biblical definition and the biblical example of the Church. In short, the Church is reforming, and though this time around there is not a one pivotal figure who has walked up and nailed 95 thesis on the Cathedral doors, there are many spirit led men and women who have found a more ancient voice, the voice of the Holy Scriptures. This new Reformation is taking place around our dinner tables and our fellowship times, at Theology on Tap and in Post-Sermon Q&A sessions. It is active and extremely organic, at times to a fault. Jesus is once again eating with the sinners and the tax collectors and the religious pharisees are once again condemning Him. It is true in Church History and it will prove true again, anytime the church aligns itself with the halls of power it never ends well for the church. Further, anytime we lose our power and influence it forces us back to a time when we had to live out what we believe rather than speak from a place of assumed authority. As Schaff predicted in The Principle of Protestantism, the cultural sects are dying off or reforming and rejoining the main body. Sectarianism has proven untenable.

Now, back to a point I made earlier, I said that the President’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast points to the truth of what Dr. Sunquist said about our sickness. If you listen to the president’s speech, he does exactly what James 3:9-12 tells us not to: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olive, or a grapevine bear fig? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” In almost the same breath the president of the United States both cursed and attacked his enemies, those who he saw as working against him, and then praised God and even, at points, touted his own accomplishments as being from God. It may also surprise you to find that the general way of speaking, by the president, or tweeting, by the president, tends towards cursing man more so than it does to praising God. This is a sign of how sick we have become; we have propped up and praised a man who is in direct violation of the commands and text of scripture, and not only James 3:9-11. We have embraced a man who regularly participates in “course joking” who has openly admitted to sexual immorality a man who, at the National Prayer Breakfast, openly and brazenly admitted to hating someone who is very possibly his sister in Christ and accusing that sister of making false claims about her own religious practice. His harboring of anger and hatred puts him direct violation of Jesus own commands in Matthew 5:27. If this is not proof of illness, I am not sure what is. We claim the bible is authoritative, we claim that scripture is the means by which we are to live through the Holy Spirit, but then we do not live it out in our own lives and ignore it when it is convenient or expedient.

We are quickly coming to a point of no return, will we pray the prayer of Dr. Sunquist, “Restore us oh God.” Or will we continue to whore after the god of political power and influence? Will we continue to ignore scripture in favor of our preferences and our safety? Or will we repent and remember that it was not Christians in power that brought the Roman Empire to its knees, but a Church under persecution? IF we continue this line of pursuit, we put ourselves in danger of increasing persecution (some places this has already begun). Or we can return to the intention in Schaff’s definition above, two separate and free entities with only a friendly relation unless that government is openly apposed to Christianity. We may not be able, at this point, to back to what Schaff described as: “The relationship of church and state in the United States secures full liberty of religious thought, speech and action within the limits of the public peace and order. It makes persecution impossible. Religion and liberty are inseparable. Religion is voluntary and cannot, and aught not, be enforced.” I fear we are passed the point of a return to this vision and continued attempts to use the government to proselytize we will only face increased persecution.

This is why the president was wrong and Scott Sunquist right, all that is happening that is good in the church right now is actually in spite of what the president is doing or not doing for the church. His own speech and actions, violation of the biblical text which we claim is sacred, and so on and so forth are proofs to Dr. Sunquist point. Further, As David French pointed out our propensity to make excuses for him and to justify his behavior is even more damning and destructive. As we have seen countless times, in the attack on Russell Moore, in attacks on Mark Galli and in too many other cases to admit, we have violated Biblical teaching and done damage to our Gospel witness in a world that already wanted nothing to do with God. We are certain not in the favor of all the people (Acts 2:42-47). Just the opposite, we have taken the offensiveness of the Gospel (you cannot save yourself) and added our own offensiveness to it by not turning to God, but to man, to save us. We should be quick to repent before it leads to our destruction.

Bibliography

Bornman, Adam S. 2011. Church, Sacrament and American Theology: The Social and Political Dimensions of John Williamson Nevin’s Theology of Incarnation. Eugene : WFPF & Stock Publishing .

Fea, John. 2019. Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump . Grand Rapids : Eardhman’s Publishing .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “Antichrist: Or the Spirit of Sect and Schism (1848) .” In The Mercersburg Theology Series Vol Vi: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Tome One: The Ecclesiological Writings of John Williamson Nevin (1844-1850) , by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 160-245. Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “The Church .” In One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, John Nevin’s Writings on Ecclesiology (1844-1849) Tome One: The Mercersburg Theology Study Series Colum Five, by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 144-159. Eugene : WFPF and Stock .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “Thoughts on the Church .” In The Mercersburg Study Series Vol VII: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Tome Two: John Williamson Nevin’s Ecclesiological Writings (1851-1858, by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 131-152. Eugene : WfPF and Stock .

Philip Schaff, . 1964. “The Principle of Protestantism .” In The Lancaster Theology Series on the Mercersburg Theology V: VI , by J.W. Nevin, Ed Bard Thompson Philip Schaff, 48-219. Philidelphia : United Church Press.

Schaff, Philip. 1888. Church and State in the United States or The American Idea of Religous Liberty and its practical Effects . New York : Charle Scribner & Sons .

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Bring Back the Creatives

David Kinnaman notes that many “exiles” who have left the church are creatives who felt their gifts are unwanted in the Church. Yet we lose something valuable when we lose their unique, Spirit guided insights.

Jonathan Faulkner

How many of you know that I am singer/songwriter? Yes, many of you know that I have a picture at the end of each article of me from a few years ago holding Rose my Electric Guitar after a Chapel service at Gordon-Conwell. But did you know I have written over 300 songs and performed over 100 shows made up of primarily my own music. While I was working for AltRockLive CMG I would even talk to artists like Kiros and The Classic Crime about my own music, got to sit down with Matt Bronleewe and somewhere have an email exchange between us with critiques about my own music. There was a time when, before John Walk and the Opened Eyes and the “Land of the Living EP” I was seriously pursuing a music career. When I got to Graduate School, I put that dream on hold except for the occasional John Walk concert with the guys. I was in the process of recording another EP when life just got to busy, and I gave up the pursuit altogether. On top of that I was starting to feel a little tension between my music and what I sensed those in the church wanted me to play. I lead worship at Chapel a few times with my unique folk-rock blend (and Crowder songs), then was never asked to lead again until my fourth year when I volunteered and the day I was asked to lead something with my schedule or the new baby, I can’t remember, kept me from doing so (though I played drums and guitars multiple times).

The message was becoming clear, your music is great for Broadway Market in Sterling, or the Youth Group Lock-In at the Baptist Church or even the open Mic at that bar in Wichita. It works wonderfully for entertainment during the Seminaries big clam festival and the yearly Kalos Talent Night (which I organized one year) but your music is not ‘church music’ so until you learn to play Chris Tomlin or “Mighty to Save” we will see you later. I understood, or at least I thought I did, I was different from the Hillsong types that seemed to be the ones leading worship with their droning keyboards and questionable theology were what was in and I should conform or stop trying.

Louis Cranach’s depiction of the Reformation, showing the Catholic Priests tending a dusty and dead garden compared to the living garden of Martin Luther.

Okay, it was not that bad, and to be fair, the worship at the seminary became something so much more than that by the time I graduated. I suppose I am not even bitter; I have never claimed to write or sing church-music but prefer Downhere’s self-description of “Ministry-Music.” That is, I write songs that are designed to minister to people in the moment they are in. I write songs to express my own longing for Christ and to process with my brothers and sisters the pain of reconstruction and healing. If someone hears one of my songs and knows they are not alone in what they are experiencing or that they can be pointed to Christ through one of the songs I wrote, I consider it a service to Christ. I have experienced a lot of hurt and joy in my life and the outlet of songwriting has allowed me the grace of processing with God and others. I have also had the blessing of hearing those stories of the few people who have been impacted by the music because God used it to minister to them. That is a humbling thing, and now that I am not playing as much, or if I am it is someone else’s material, I do not get to hear those things as much.

I have been thinking about this because I just finished reading Andrew Peterson’s new book “Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling and the Mystery of Making” and because of it I am deeply aware of the way I have allowed myself to put aside a part of myself that God has put deep within me, that is part of my created personhood in Christ and an essential part at that. I have also been reminded of a central ideas within the David Kinnaman book “You Lost Me” which states that Exiles (of which I would be one were I not a Pastor) are exiles because they have felt the church has stifled a part of the way God has made them. Creatives, like myself, have been told there is a way to do these things like worship or art or novel writing and any diversion from what is often strict, and rigid is seen as an annoyance, or worse, rebellion. The status quo is prized above all else, even above God’s calling on the community, and if one violates that status quo it is demanded they either fall back into place or leave. The result has been that creatives have either left the church and the faith all together like the award-winning worship artist Michael Gunger now agnostic. Or they seek out other avenues to use the expression of creativity God has built into them outside the church which usually involves leaving the church altogether. Their faith is remaining intact, but their relationship with the body of Christ is severed on a relational level because they have been told they do not belong there.

I know Andrew Peterson necessarily has no qualms with the praise craze of the 2000’s but CCM lost something when it happened and continues to lack something because it is gone. For instance, I am listening to Caedmon’s Call right now, at one point they, Andrew Peterson, Rich Mullins, Jars of Clay and others were the standard bearers of Christian Music. The music was intricate and beautiful, and the lyrics had a lot to say. The closest equivalent to them in the 2000’s upward was Casting Crowns who succeeded despite what the rest of the industry was doing. I started listening to heavier Christian Music in High School precisely because the CCM that adorned our car radio had almost (Casting Crowns and Tenth Avenue North being the exception) nothing to say to what my friends and I were experiencing and “positive and encouraging” did nothing when a friend took their life to suicide or when I was struggling with suicide after my brain injury in 2015.

I know this sounds incredibly selfish, but what BARNA research has shown us is that many people my age feel as though the institutional church and its products (like CCM) do not speak to what they are experiencing in a way that draws them to Jesus or addresses relative issues that are important to them in any meaningful way. When they need answers to questions, CCM has given them a gentle pat on the back and given them the power of positive thinking over and instead of the Gospel. This is why one of my criteria for reviewing an album at ARLCMG was the relevance to cultural issues. It is also why one of my top five albums of the last decade was KB’s “Today We Rebel” because it addressed topics people our age were concerned about, mainly justice and how the Bible tells us we should pursue it in obedience to God, not man-made laws.

Perhaps ironically, what has happened in the church is captured perfecting in a CCM song, namely, Casting Crowns “City on a Hill” which in the first verse says this: “Have you heard of the city on the hill, said one old man to the other, it was shining bright and it would be shining still, but they all started turning on each other, you see the poets thought the dancers were shallow, and the soldiers thought the poets were weak, the Elders saw the young ones as foolish, and the rich man never heard the poor man speak.” I have a hard time imagining a more accurate poetic description of church culture in North America than those lines, and they haunt me as I pastor in a ministry where I am the youngest adult there most Sundays. If I had a penny for everything, I have had someone grumble to me about my generation only to follow it up with: “but not you, you’re obviously an exception.” I can tell you that hurts, and so do the facebook posts about millennials based on stereotypes that are not true. Of course, I do not want to turn around and do the same thing to them by using the equally disrespectful cultural phrase that has gained popularity in the last several months, “okay boomer” because that only perpetuates the divide and returns the animus inherent in these debates.

What Andrew Peterson has done in his book though is to remind us what C.S. Lewis did a generation ago, that we as Christians are called to create and to do so with the Gospel in mind. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and when we do that the entire body is edified and encouraged in Christ, through what God is doing through creatives. Though he never quotes the Casting Crowns song, you can hear in the chapters of the book the second bridge: “It is the rhythm of the dancers, That gives the poets life, It is the spirit of the poets, That gives the soldiers strength to fight, It is fire of the young ones, It is the wisdom of the old, It is the story of the poor man, That’s needing to be told.” One thing that Peterson hits one, perhaps without knowing it, is that we are literally all connected as the lyrics quoted above remind us. Everyone in the body of Christ needs everyone else and needs to be “devoted to one another in family love, showing preference for one another” (Romans 12:10 translation and italics mine).

Last night at Men’s bible study we talked about what it means to do exactly what the verse above states. We talked about how a better translation of Philadelphia in scripture than brotherly love would be “Family love” or “Christian family.” The word, which appears 220 times from Acts to 2nd Peter literally means: “Love for those of the same womb.” The Christian then is not a lone, wondering soul trying to figure out his discipleship on his or her own, but a brother and sister in love and in fellowship and communion with other members of the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. This isn’t just community as we know it in the modern day, but a remaking from a person to a people who all share the same spiritual parentage, God the Father who has adopted us through Christ (Gal 4:4-8). I like what Joseph Hellerman says then in “When the Church Was a Family,” that we should, so much as copyright allows, sing our worship songs using corporate pronouns like “we” and “us” instead of “I” and “me.” This would better foster a sense of family over and against the radical individualism we love so much and which may not survive another generation anyway, at least not in the church.

I have been a part of what can happen when the church does this, it was the hallmark of my last two years of seminary. I saw what can happen when we think of each other as brothers and sisters instead of just the people we go to church with. What I did not mention before is that even though I did not lead worship, many of the other super creative and talented people in our community did and it was awesome what the Lord did with it. I think of my brother Brandon who introduced his own songs into worship, something I had tried to do two years prior only to not be asked to lead again. I think of my sister Tiffany whose passionate piano playing and vocal style was a cry to God that vocalized what our hearts were feeling. Outside of Chapel I think of Neil and Tyler and Frank and Gerald, the amazing musicians who made up John Walk & The Opened Eyes. From day one of making music together we just used our gifting on our instruments and voices to make music for the glory of God. As a side note, those four are the best musicians I have ever worked with, and I am unlikely to work with better. I think of the girl whose name I do not recall, who painted a picture on stage of what the Chapel speaker was describing, her way of worshiping and praising God for His death and resurrection. I think of my friend John, a seminary employee, who wrote poetry and would recite it at Kalos (I encourage you to read it, click here). My friend Mark who used his significant theological and philosophical powers to bear on issues in our culture in hopes of having a theological discussion on how we might address them biblically. I think of Dr. Adams whose “Story Theology” shapes my spiritual formation and devotional life to this day. Dr. Singleton whose creative means of lecturing mean I will not forget his stories or his wisdom (Nor will I forget Neil’s impression of him).

Artists rendition of The Battle of Milvan Bridge where Constantine claimed heaven opened and he accepted the Christian God.

Without these men and women and so many more our family at the seminary would not have thrived in the way that it was by the time we graduated. I pray that not only do those things continue, but they find greater traction and draw in more and more people. But also that this might be an example to the church in the United States on how to live as a family that uses the “ingrained desire to follow our creator in creating,” as C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity. I create music because my creator created everything and like Him, because I am made in His image and reflect Him. If I suppress that creativity because it is not kosher in the evangelical church culture, then I am denying something which God put within me to do. If I tell God I will use one gift He has given me, the preaching gift, but not the other gift, the musical gift, then I am not functioning in my full capacity. If I tell the artist that they are not allowed to draw or paint and donate those items to the church to be displayed, I am stifling their ability to use their gift for the edification of the family of God. If I tell the poet that poetry is only for the worship song writer or hymn writer, then I am not allowing them to fulfill their full calling within the body that is meant to build up the body. God is not the God of the status quo and we should be endlessly grateful for that reality. We should be ashamed that there are Christian Communities are popping up outside the church for creatives because they have been told they have no place in the church.

Yet just a cursory glance at musicians would show us that the majority of Christian Music is not the mainstream praise craze stuff that feels skin-deep and even fake at times. But is the deep, faith infused, beauty-oriented music of the margins. If you look at art, (in every medium) you find a renewed interest in theological art that depicts scripture and its stories. If you look at poetry, there is a renewed interest in poetry modeled after the psalms with their many styles and ideas. What is happening on the margins, though in need of some guardrails in places, is quite deep, quite biblical and quite good, and there is a lot of it out there encompassing just about every style, genre and theme you can imagine. Not only do these young men and women point to a brighter day for the church, they also are restoring something to Christianity that has been missing in this depth since Cranach painted his famous painting of the reformation. I even picked up my guitar the other day, which has not been used to write since I wrote the song “Type A” in 2015 and wrote a song based on what I have been studying about the Church as a Family of God bound up in and devoted to one another in that love that only exists in the family of God. Not one of those happy-clappy “God loves you” songs, but a deep lament over what has been lost by making the church just another institution that we attend, not the family of God and a prayer that we would be called back to that. It felt good, other than sermons, which are an artform all their own, I had not crafted much of anything since I graduated from Seminary and The Opened Eyes all went our separate ways.

Community has been another area the church has struggled, but it is something that our artists tend to be good at. I have rarely met anyone who likes to create and keep that creation to themselves. Like Andrew Peterson and the Rabbit Room, we want to share with one another. That was the premise behind the band at Seminary, God has gifted us with talent on different instruments (and these guys were seriously good) and so let’s use those gifts for God’s Glory to make music to encourage the flock. When we were all exhausted because Seminary, life and kids were piling up, we knew we could gather to play music or go grab a drink at THE FARM or Fibber McGee’s to unwind. We also knew we had other friends, brothers and sisters in Christ who we could take with us and who would encourage us as we encouraged them. This type of community built on mutual love and encouragement was something we were worried we would not find when we moved to Iowa. God, however, had other plans as my first week there we met another couple just a few years older than us who we instantly connected with and then a chance meeting at the park between my wife and another young mom would spark another friendship and that those two couples were already friends. The first six to eight months of pastoral ministry, usually known as the Honeymoon period, can be the loneliest for a new pastor and family, and though they have been lonely, the loneliness has been lessened a great deal by what have becoming monthly gathering at one another’s homes built on an understanding that we are brothers and sisters in Christ living in mutual love and encouragement.

Both these families are farm families and I think farmers are the greatest artists of all. Think about it, you would not be able to look down from an airplane in the summer and see that patchwork of yellows and greens without the farmers who plant the seed and tend the crops. God uses them to magnify the beauty of His earth, especially when you drive by a golden Kansas wheat field right before harvest, or the deep green on an Iowa bean field right before it turns brown and is ready for harvest. The farmer becomes the instrument through which God paints His landscapes, making them the greatest artists of all. I know this is probably a really mushy thought, and I promise I am not just trying to curry favor with our new friends, I really do think that way, as one who has flown in and out of Wichita many times in my adult life, and have wondered at the beauty of the fields.

I say all of this to say this: We need to bring back our creatives as a church and create space for them to create whatever the Holy Spirit guides them to create. There is still room for theological guardrails, because they have to exist, but we should drop all lot of the manmade junk that has determined what is and what is not Church music. I love the organ, I do not want to get ride of it, but I also love guitar, violin, drums, clarinet and banjo. I love the old hymns but there is a lot of new hymnody that is just as deep if not deeper than some of what we consider deep in our churches today. I want to have a space where I can create what God has given me to create and in such a way that I can ask the hard questions and even try to answer the hard questions. And I do not just want this for myself, I want it for my brothers and sisters who love the Lord as deeply as I do but do not think they have any place in the church because their creative expression is not “normal” within the walls of the church.

Religious Art is one of the ways Historians learn about the people of the past. I fear our lack of it will speak volumes to the archaeologist who exhume the remains of our buildings. That thought saddens me, so much so that I want to fling open the doors and tell my creative brothers and sisters to come in and dwell with me on the deep things of scripture and God and then by the Power of the Holy Spirit create together wherever God leads us. I want to see Achdenbuilds lining the walls and hear every kind of instrument reverberate off them, I want us to do what the early church did and use whatever we had before us for the glory of GOD and I want everyone who can in on it.

 

The Altar in an Ethiopian Coptic Church, one of the oldest Churches in the world.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Our Culture of Proof Texting

Complimentarianism and Egalitarianism both require proof-texting to make their points, reading their own ideas back into the text whose writers would not recognize them. Both sides fail to address the proof-text for the others arguments and so a stalemate ensues and the church remains divided.

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

As a budding Historian of the Church in America in the 19th Century I get to study all the various debates that raged through that century. I also get to study the origins of those debates either in the enlightenment or in eighteenth century revivalism. Wrapped up in the radical individualism of western culture they end up dividing and splitting the church into fragments. Instead of engaging other ideas, writers would just dismiss the argument and attack the person making the argument. This was the case in the debate between Jonathan Edwards and Charles Chauncy during the First Great Awakening and between Charles Finney and Charles Hodge during the second. Or in the debate between Mercersburg and Princeton, though the Mercersburg Theologians do a better job than most actually addressing their opponent’s arguments theologically rather than just tossing insults back and forth. John Williamson Nevin understood that personal opinion and preferences were no basis for an entire theological system. Adam S. Borneman in his book “Church, Sacrament and American Culture” notes that: “Nevin was not anti-individual. Proper reason and proper religion, however, only took place when the individual submitted their own subjective reason to universal, objective reason. Private judgment, if it remained private, was not sound judgment. In order for it to be rational and accurate in its interpretation of the outside world, it was necessary for such judgment to show “itself to be truly general.” In other words, there was room for opinions within the Church, but those opinions should not be the basis for private, individual theologies that you then chose to associate only with like minded individuals. To both Nevin and Schaff Party Spirit was a worst enemy to the church than Roman Catholicism, a point I agree with them on. The result of all these debates, and what is still true today, is that both sides present railroad arguments that either dehumanize their opponents or make them into some identarian boogeyman. Like the gentlemen who said to me once in a theological forum concerning the interpretation of 1st Timothy 2&3. When confronted with Gordon Fee’s insistence that you cannot interpret 2$3 outside of chapter 1 and the cultural issues going on at Ephesus, he said: “Fee is tainted by Feminism, we cannot listen to him.” Fee, one of the preeminent biblical scholars of our time and likely one of the more conservative, was dismissed because of the boogeyman of feminism. In our 21st century context we are still inundated with the debates like this, we still practice party-spirit.

Here is the thing though, if you look at the basis for most of these debates, they center around one or two and sometimes three passages that rely only on a plain reading of the English text without any critical thought. Basically, these opinions get blown up into essential doctrines based on building an entire philosophical framework based on dealing with a text in a complete vacuum, wrestling it away from its cultural, literary, historical backgrounds and at the expense of the consideration of the full biblical council about the topic at hand. Some translators, like in the case of the ESV’s, have even admitted to making lexical decisions on difficult passages based on their preferred theological framework. This approach to scripture is dishonest, but at least consistent with the dictates of both modernism and fundamentalism (another debate from the 20th century). Reject the full council of scripture in favor of a personal opinion that is built on one passage that in the Greek is actually not as black and white as the English text makes it. The result is that we come to the philosophical system before we come to the truth of scripture and then we pigeonhole the text into that philosophical system. Thus we create a culture of proof-texting based on nothing more than two or three texts (sometimes only one) in the English rendering and claim those opinions are infallible. As I said in last week’s article, we love to read those opinions uncritically back into the text, the fallacy of Presentism.

The most hot-button issue where this happens is in the debate between complementarianism and egalitarian debates of the 20th and now 21st century. Both systems can trace their roots back to the nineteenth century and both sides practice this kind of proof-texting to make their point. Complementarians love 1st Timothy 2:11-15 and 3:1-13 with Titus 1:5 and a passage in Corinthians as the basis for their arguments and Egalitarians love to use passages like Romans 16:1-8, Matthew 28:1-15, and passages in Acts to make their point. Both are convinced they are right, both are built on proof-texting, both refuses to answer questions asked by the other. The closest thing to reconciliation between the two parties is Gordon Fee’s “Complementarian without hierarchy” but even this falls short because like the other two it requires proof texting and a though slightly larger, limited view of scripture. I have even heard it said that: “The Bible preaches complementarianism/egalitarianism” and absurd claim because scripture knows nothing of either philosophy and does not serve the purpose of preaching to anything other than Jesus Christ and His saving work through his death and resurrection for the Glory of God. Being first an ABC and then a CCCC Pastor I have had to study this issue in depth, I minister regularly with both men and women and associate with churches that have women pastors, women deacons, women Elders and so on and so forth. The second-highest ranking person on my denominations board is a woman and when we were securing the Board for 10:31 we explored thoroughly the debate and the scriptures associated with both sides. I also attended seminary with extremely qualified women who know the scriptures better than many men I know. The Pricilla’s to our Aquilla’s if you will. Because of this I have worked hard to study both the book of 1st Timothy and the role of women in the early church. I have talked to scholars on both sides of this debate and delved as deep as possible into the ancient world of Ephesus to learn what was really happening in the Ephesian Church that Paul might do a basic reset of the church. Because of this I have concluded through thorough study and teaching on this subject, just a few things. 1. It is dishonest to interpret 1st Timothy 2&3 in a vacuum that neglects chapter 1 and dishonest to deal with any passage in that way, 2. That there is a very specific cultural reason Paul gives for his words in those two passages and that has to be considered. 3. Women were not exceptions within the leadership of the Early Church, but regularly worked alongside men as Deacons and Elders, with even one serving as an Apostle. And 4. Both sides of the debate are wrong because they are predicated on proof-texting and ignore sound biblical theology making systematic theology impossible, doing damage to the text, dividing the Church into factions, are based not in the texts themselves but man made philosophy and have been used to justify all kind of heresy and mistreatment of others.

Now, I am not saying there no room for dissent on this issue, but if we cannot disagree without being disagreeable, to use a phrase from one of my mentors, then we have already failed. There is also a deep hypocrisy behind telling someone that the English text says: “Husband of one wife” while you yell at them and berate and threaten them to put you in violation of the rest of the text as a church leader. In that moment you cease to be “Above reproach” or “Sober-Minded” and you certainly are not in good standing with all the people. This again is the problem with this type of hunt and peck individualistic theology, apply what you want and leave the rest, even if what you apply makes you a hypocrite in another area.

So, what do we do with these ideas? It is important to remember that the world the bible was written into know nothing of these ideas. For complementarians then, I want you to consider passages like Romans 16. The text is clear there that Pheobe was a Deacon or Minister in the Church in Conchrene and that Junia (not junias, no self-respecting Roman would name their son after a goddess), who was “Premiant/well-known among the apostles.” Or Pricillia and Aquilla who were foundational for the founding of the Church in Corinth and who the ordering of the way in which they are addressed would imply Pricilla had some greater role in the church than her husband. They are even credited with having taught Apollos. They should also consider later evidence of women serving in the church such as John Chryssosotem who refers to his older sister Matilda as “The Teacher.” Consider that the book of 1st Timothy is not as black and white in the original Greek as many would like to make it, that there is actually ambiguity and confusion to this day among translators and scholars because the language is not as cut and dry as our English text makes it. It is possible Paul built this ambiguity in chapter 3 on purpose so that once the women learned quietly as the Jewish School boys and Catechumens were required to do they could lead again, in short, once their witnesses were restored, following how they had been destroyed by participating in the Cult of Artemis and the eve cult that may have been present because of it, and they knew the scriptures well, they could minister again. If the historical data we are starting to learn more about yearly is what happened, then we must consider it in interpreting the text. One might even look up N.T Wright’s arguments on this point and his translation of the passage which brings out the cultural nuances of the words used in 2:11-15. This is not a rewriting of scripture, but a translation that is built upon a deeper understanding of how the culture of that time would have interpreted the words. Also consider the implication of Jesus first instructions after raising from the dead was to instruct the women to literally preach and proclaim his resurrection to His brothers. Apply the same criterion for interpreting these passages in Ephesians that get used for this argument as well.

To Egalitarians, consider the texts in 1st Timothy, that there are standards for those who serve within the rank and file of God’s family. And those standards mean that not just anyone can teach and lead within the Church. There must be a standard and that standard cannot be built on man-made agendas, philosophy and criterion but on the Word of God. There is nothing wrong with desiring leadership within the church, as we have seen there is lots of biblical precedence, but that leadership comes with a requirement that starts with “Above Reproach” and includes being able to rightly divide the word of truth. The pastoral calling is a high one and it has been disgraced by too many preachers both men and women who have failed to maintain the integrity of the office and the integrity of biblical interpretation. One should not enter this calling lightly and those who do should consider both the internal and external call of God to make sure this is what God is calling them too. If we all did this there would be a lot less of us in the calling today. Women and Men both called to the ministry must be students of the Word of God and learn all they can about it if they are going to teach it. They must guard against dealing with a text in a vacuum and seek to become good and solid biblical theologians before they are good and solid Systematic Theologians.

Neither side then should ever Lord it over the other and demand the other should shut-up or “go home.” That is neither respectful nor consistent with how the Bible teaches we are to interact with one another as Brothers and Sisters. Instead, each side should mutually submit to the other, making allowances for the others viewpoint and considering the others arguments and doing so in a manner that does not cause further division, oppress the other or harm the advance of the Gospel. Too much of our discourse from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries are marked by this kind of toxic sectarian discourse that we are now carrying forward into the 21st century. In doing so we have continued to do damage to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and hinder its spread because Christians have lived and acted offensively in the name of the Gospel. The message we bear is offensive enough in our hyper-individualistic society, it ill-behooves us to live in such a way that is a stench as well. The early Church lived a life that was attractive to the outsider and they had favor with all the people (Acts 2:47), knowing how offensive their message was. Yet the way they lived attracted people from the lowest and highest strata of society and made them a family defined as members, one to another (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, 12:14=26). Both sides of this issues should work to “Maintain the bond of peace and the spirit of unity” (Ephesians 4:1-5) which means we cannot angrily shout each other down and work hard to eviscerate the other in comment sections.

Finally, let me address you from the other side of my calling, the pastoral side, not as a Church Historian who studies these debates, but as an under shepherd of the Christ. Through the Holy Spirit you are Brothers and Sisters, Heirs and Co-Hers with one another and with Christ. You are not individuals existing in a vacuum, the way you act, the way you treat one another in debates like this reflect the attitudes of your heart towards you brothers and sisters and have consequences and affects on your brothers and sisters. I have been deeply, deeply hurt by brothers and sisters on both sides of this debate because in their mind this is an essential issue. But no theological or philosophical position, held corporately or individually should ever be held over your brother or sister in Christ in a manner that denies them the love of Christ, the compassion of the Body or the dignity they inhabit by being made in the image of God. There is a time and place to contend for biblical orthodoxy but that orthodoxy cannot be divorced from orthopraxy and must be rooted in the full council of the authoritative Word of God, Holy Scripture, Old and New Testament, Genesis to Revelation, not the ideologies, philosophies or opinions of man. This requires us to lay aside our confirmation biases and approach one another with a spirit of listening and understanding. We must work to be biblical peace makers, not body dividers.

Consider too that we are entering a cultural moment in the South and Midwest that the East and West Coast churches have already experienced and had to respond to. One where we no longer have the luxury of these debates, when we will need all hands-on deck and devoted to Holy Scripture if we are going to survive it with our distinct Christian Identity, rooted in scripture, intact. Those who have doubled down on these positions on both sides, have made fools of themselves and made fools of the church in the public square. We are no longer in a place where we can afford our comfort and those churches which want to maintain the status quo of American Individualism and theologies based on individual opinion and built on two or three verses of scripture are dying and will die. If Jesus were walking among us today would he look at us who claim to be His children and say: “You wicked and unbelieving generation, how long must I endure you” (Matthew 17:17) or will we all hear: “Well done my good and faithful servant.” As much as many of us would like to hear the latter, I fear it will be the former that we would hear. Our hope is not in man, its not in rooted in Western Individualism or modern Western philosophy or any construct of Man, but on Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior and the Gospel which He has left us. The only way to restore the Church in America is through a return to the Holy Word of God and a rejection of the man-made ideas that are causing our death.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Why Didn’t the Awakenings Bring About an End to Slavery?

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

It seems like a harmless enough question, although I should know by now that there is no such thing when discussing reconciliation and American History. When Pastor Bryan Lorritts asked it I felt myself rouse for a fight. After all, I am a historian of that time period and though I have spent the better part of Seminary studying 19th Century Eucharistic Reformed theology (Mercersburg) I have read everything we have in print by Jonathan Edwards and wrote a major paper on the debate between Edwards and Charles Chauncy over the First Great Awakening and traced out how that particular controversy began a series of controversies, divisions and fights that culminated in the Fundamentalist / Modernist controversy of the early 20th century. I am currently preparing to write my thesis on the controversy between Mercersburg and Princeton, the sectarians and the Revivalist in the 1840’s. So, when Pastor Bryan asked the question: “Were the Great Awakenings real revivals because they did not bring about an end to slavery?” I was more than ready to answer yes and bring the full authority of my historical knowledge with me, but then I thought about it and though my answer is still yes, it is a yes with a caveat.

Before I go on I have to establish some historical guidelines before talking about this subject. There is a tendency in the modern study of history to commit the fallacy of Present ism; present ism is reading our own cultural attitudes and actions back into history while making no effort to understand how the people of that time period thought or acted. The famous musical Hamilton would be a case of present ism, though because it is a creative art and not a major history paper I have no problem with their presentation. The other thing I want to do is acknowledge my bias, In school I learned a white-washed history of this time period, as I did in college and for years I brought that bias to my study of historical figures. The result was a one-sided view of historical figures, it was not until I read George Marsden’s book on Jonathan Edwards that I knew he owned slaves. So this question and seeking to answer it requires me to do what I claimed to do when I first presented my theory of method for studying Church History, examining every angle of a topic to answer the question.

Because the fact remains, Jonathan Edwards owned slaves, by every account he treated them well: “As part of the family”[1] as one historian puts it, but that does not and will never justify owning another human being, that is indefensible. Inconsistently though, had his family and the powers that were in the Massachusetts colony had listened to Edwards when he insisted on treating the Indians with respect and dignity we likely would have avoided the escalation of fighting in the French and Indian War. His contemporary and fellow Awakening Preaching George Whitefield also had a troubled history with slavery. He had preached and written an anti-slavery pamphlet in Virginia but was told that no one would come to hear him preach if he published it. Shortly after that he worked to convince the governor of Georgia to adopt slavery so he could build his orphanage, a task that he was successful at.

Anyone who is familiar with the story of the Hymn Amazing Grace knows that John Henry Newman was a slave trader who later repented and was the wise council behind the young parliamentarian William Wilberforce who fought for and succeeded at passing the abolition of the English slave trade. In the states the revivalist Charles G. Finney fought for abolition twenty years before the Civil War though he speaks in the same bigoted language of many of his 19th century contemporaries (the only place I have not found it is in the Mercersburg Theologians, one of whom was a German who had theological issues with slavery, the same kind we wish others would have formed).

 

The Awakenings were incredible things, especially if you read Edwards accounts of them or the accounts of the revivals led by Finney or the later tent revivals led by D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. In all three Awakenings men and women and children came to faith in droves, and those in first would sit for upwards of 3 hours to learn what they were getting themselves into. But even after slavery was abolished, during the Civil Rights years and the Graham Crusades left the late Billy Graham lamenting that he wished he had done more to advance the cause of Civil Rights.

The church during the Awakenings and Civil War grew divided on this issue, especially as the Abolitionists grew stronger and won the abolition of slavery in the North. As Lincoln moved forward to prevent the spread of Slavery into new territory succession began and the divide between the churches grew. On January 4th, 1861 Henry Ward Beecher stood in his pulpit in Plymouth New York and called Slavery: “The most alarming and most fertile cause of national sin.” Meanwhile, in the south James Henley Thornwell, a preacher in South Carolina asserted that slavery was a: “Good and merciful way of organizing labor which providence has given us.”

A revival may be defined as: A move of the Spirit of God, directed by God, working towards the outward and inward transformation of the individual or group through drawing them to God or through their own personal decision. Because this outward change is lost in the third Awakening (it was an awakening focused on the inward change) many, myself included, do not consider it a legitimate awakening. But since the other two still did not abolish slavery, was it a legitimate awakening?

As I said earlier, I do believe it was, in fact, I agree with Edwards that an Awakening is an Awakening if it produces outward fruit and in the case of the First and Second Awakenings it is hard to deny that there was some form of outward fruit. Even Charles Chauncey, who was hostile to the New Lights admitted in Seasonable Thoughts on the Sate of Religion in New England that fruits were evident in some who had been “so affected.” In Religious Affections Edwards asserts that the only true mark of an inward work of the Spirit was “the fruit of such a work.” As C.S. Lewis would say two hundred years later in his lectures on Christianity, the evidence was not that nice men became nicer, but that “new men become new.” One had to show they were truly transformed and redeemed. One of the issues that John Williamson Nevin would raise in the 19th century with Finney’s “Anxious Bench” is that it forced “disingenuous conversions.” Though Finney would be the flagbearer for revivalists for a century even to the point of a redaction of his social theology.

The trouble was that there was a concerted and conscious effort to oust any social theology that upset the “Status quo” or was “Outside Accepted Christian Doctrine.” That meant that those who redacted Finney’s works removed any mention of the abolition of Slavery. Thankfully Garth Rosel has restored these manuscripts for us and we can learn more about Finney’s social theology than ever before. At the time though, the accepted thought patterns of the day in America were bigoted and maintained an order of Racism. It would take something catastrophic to dismantle that system of thought.

I do however, think that God was working against the evil of slavery, working to dismantle that system and that is why we had two Awakenings and then a Civil War. The spirit was working to change the lives, inward and outward, of the people and that should have naturally brought about a hatred of and contempt for the institution of slavery. The issue is that those systems of thought were so ingrained that even when the Spirit turned Finney against Slavery, his bigotry remained.

David French made an interesting point in a national review article recently when he said that: “of all the worlds history of slavery, the west was the only part of the world to look at this institutional and call it the evil it was.” Even so, as the Spirit of God tried to move us in that direction through two Awakenings and then the terrors of the Civil War, instead of letting Him complete the work and bring reconciliation, which Grant and Lee wanted not just between North and South but between Whites and Blacks, the church, especially in the south, upheld and supported Jim Crow and segregation, some of whom were my own distance relatives. There are still those who call themselves Christians who continue to espouse bigoted thought and support racist systems. Men like Jerry Falwell Jr. fail to realize that the Church, the people in the pews on Sunday are, according to sociologist Peter Beinart is “Less likely to be racist, bigoted or misogynistic their unchurched counterparts.  The Church today is also integrating racially and socio-economically, the latter of which is not happening in communities that are racially integrating. But this is three-hundred years after Edwards wrote “On Revivals” and almost 200 years since the Civil War and is an extremely new development in Church History as we look to be entering an ecumenical age of the Church.

I think the Revivals were legitimate, I think they were genuine awakenings. The people living in their time largely considered them to be and it would be dishonest for us to tell them they were wrong because we have the perspective of three hundred plus years. However, I think they were incomplete and that the spirit was working against slavery but because people of that time were so enculturated to think in the terms of their time. The entire system of thought was corrupted and needed to be completely torn down. I think one of the reasons we ended in Civil War is because the Spirit was doing that work against Slavery and a war was the only thing that might tear down that system…and even that did not. In the church we are moving towards a total rejection of that system of thought, towards what I would consider a more biblical view with a definition of humanity rooted in the Imago Dei and a call to treat all with deference and love.

Part of the reason for this is that the institutional church, as a whole, has lost the position of power it enjoyed during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries respectively in America (and since Constantine in Rome). Secularization has made it possible for people in some parts of the country to be ignorant of the location of church buildings. Church Leaders recently released a poll that found that 95% of unchurch people polled had never met a Christian. On top of that, the narrative pre and post-election of the current president has been extremely unfavorable to Christians as well as painted an extremely inaccurate picture of American Christianity. The lack of Churches added to the diversifying of neighborhoods and small towns means we are worshiping with brothers and sisters from many ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, though, if you ask the spokes people chosen by the Media to represent Christianity, or who serve on the president’s advisory board, they are unaware of the current trends in the Church. If they would talk to their people, they would find a very different Church then the one they think they are representing.

The problem has been that each event that has meant to be catalytic has only shaken the foundations of the system of thought. It has taken the election of our current president for many of us to realize just how divided we have become and had been. I know, I know, research tells us that people are more comfortable in homogenous groups. But we are moving well beyond a time when homogeneity will be the expected norm and likely will become the exception as communities and churches integrate. Therefore, we must be willing to listen and respond with compassion and, if need be, repentance, in the hopes of healing broken relationships between ethnic groups. After reconciling us to God, as I said in last week’s article, God works to reconcile us to one another, and we have been stubborn and even indignant in allowing God to do that.

I think the Spirit has been working at this reconciling work for a long time. First working to get rid of the institution of Slavery, then working to change the hearts and minds of the people during the Civil Rights Era and now through drawing us together in our communities and churches. I also think this has taken so long because man is despairingly depraved and has fought against such a change on nearly every front. Now, secular culture, though aimlessly so, is fighting for reconciliation, though it is an incomplete one without Christ. We should have been and can be, leading in this area and leading by example.

Maybe that’s what the spirit intends?

I hope we’re open to it…

I Am.

 

 

[1] This may have just been an attempt to paint Edwards in a favorable light, though Marsden makes this same point and even acknowledges that Edwards freed the first slave he bought and had many free men in his congregation at Northampton.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Teaching Apologetics: The Importance

By Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Last week I read a viral post about why we need to get back to teaching Apologetics and Catechism. Needless to say I agree, adding to that, teaching the theology behind the Liturgy as well as adopting a strong Sacramental Theology that has largely lacked in Protestanism since the Puritan writer of the 18th century (but more on that later). The article was in response to a Pew Study on the reasons young people were leaving the church. Both articles are very good and I recommend following the links below.

For my own personal experience I have a good brother in Christ who is against the teaching of Apologetics because he sees it as man reaching for God instead of God reaching for man. I took Apologetics in undergrad and consider myself a Cumulative Case Apologist because I have the ability to call on multiple sources. I tend to agree with Dr. Gordon Fee and William Laine Craig. The word of God testifies and proves its own claims of truth (Presupposition or Classical Apologetics) but why not draw on all the other sources available (Cumulative Case).

For my part I have also been surprised about how little those who do leave the church actually know (in-spite of boisterous claims to the contrary). Whether it is those who simply subscribe to Deism or become Militant Atheists and those in the church who practice Liberal Theology who espouse the “Religion is divisive dogma.” None of them truly know enough about Scripture to even make the charges they are making against God or against His Covenant People as described in the Old Testament.

I suppose it is no surprise that most who turn away from the faith so militantly came out of Fundamentalist, Dispensational Churches which teach that we can know the things of God and go farther than any Puritan would dream in cheapening Sacrificial Theology. But who lean heavily on presupposition and a literal interpretation. Not that Presupposing Scripture is true is a bad thing, indeed every apologist must presuppose that what he is teaching is true, but reading everything in scripture literally leads to crazy things like the Creation Museum in Cincinnati.

Without understanding the historical situation, I have heard people say “God wants us to kill off 1/3 of the planet.” Without understanding the purposes of certain laws people have accused God of things such as Misogyny and Murder. The arguments are all completely illogical and based in complete emotion. From people who spend most of their time posting hateful memes aimed at a God they do not believe in.

Had they been taught Apologetics, especially Cumulative Case, which relies on Historical Data & Philosophy working with Scripture. If you understand that the land Israel was inheriting was full of people who for three generations (Abraham, Isaac & Jacob) had seen God’s blessing on those He’d set apart and not repented of things like Child Sacrifice, Misogyny, blood-letting rituals and many other practices that had little regard for the sanctity of life. A culture that made even the Romans (who practiced Pedophia) blush with shame. In fact, the Romans destroyed Carthage in 146 B.C, finally putting an end to the Canaanite Culture that Israel was supposed to put an end to long before.

Failing also to consider that woman in Canaanite culture were little more than property and could be treated and disposed of however the men liked to. A woman who was raped in Canaan was now considered worthless and would be tossed out into the street (Judges 19 gives us an example of Israel adopting Canaanite attitudes towards women). So when God instructs in the law that a rapist should pay the father a bride price and take her as his bride God is assigning value to the woman and forcing the man to take responsibility for his actions. Making it an act of mercy and extremely countercultural to a world that would kill the woman for being impure because of the man’s actions. Woman have value and are protected under the law and under the New Covenant, holding a special place in God’s Heart and Jesus Ministry. Hence, within Christian Faith: “There is no Jew or Greek, Male or Female” (Gal. 3:28) and Husbands are commanded to: “love your wives, and do not deal harshly with them” (Col 3:19) and “Love your wives as Christ loves the Church” (Eph 5:23).

Another problem with those who espouse these beliefs is that they try to say; “If you really believe the things in the law you should practice them today.” Let’s be honest, there are better ways to deal with crimes like Rape today, we have prisons, something that did not exist in Canaan (remember, Joseph was thrown into a pit, Gen 37:24). We also have laws that dictate certain punishments for rapists or those caught holding slaves or murders or whatever crime you want to name. When the system works (unfortunately there have been examples in the media lately where rapists have been let slide for ludicrous reasons), those people are held accountable for their actions.

Honestly, Militant Atheists sound like those who advocate for Theonomy, and would feel at home under the teachings of Paul Tilich and Ian Murray who believe Mosaic Law should be taught and kept in modern societies. A Reconstructionist idea that rejects the reformed ideas that the Civil and Sacrificial laws are fulfilled in Christ and are no longer applicable in today’s society. The Civil law does teach us there is a way to live with people (with respect and dignity, taking responsibility for wrong actions) but we have better ways of dealing with crimes like Rape and Murder. Granted, a do think a Rapist should be made to account for his crimes, make a sincere apology and maybe even be forced to make reparations to the girl and her family, but all of this as part of sentencing which should include substantial (15-20 years) jail time.

Note: Christians still follow the 10 Commandments as Jesus upholds and even expands them beyond external expression to inward, spiritual life only attainable through a life lived in the Holy Spirit as laid out in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and by Paul in Romans1-10

I can explain all this to you, I can bring you this logical and reasonable argument because I have studied the context by which Scripture was speaking into. God, though outside of time and not constrained by time, was writing into a specific culture through divine inspiration of men like Moses (Old Testament) and Paul (New Testament). It is reasonable to assume that there are things in the law that are counter to that culture and are not normative to our culture (the Maiyans were the last major world culture to practice mass child sacrifice, which again, made Pagan Rome blush).

This is also why we need to have intellectuals in our churches teaching our children Catechism and preparing them to respond to the arguments that people will bring against God and against them. Solid men and women of faith who can hear the arguments of those insolently apposed to Christian Faith and respond in a way that is rational and respectful. Who know, not just about the bible and about the God of the bible, as the fundamentalists think they do, but the specific situations and goings-on of the time periods. Not experts, but those who devoted themselves to studying scripture all considering all that must be considered to truly understand that which is being said.

Then we need them to teach our children to do the same, so that the great legacy of faith may continue through the next generation and beyond.

 

Original Articles:

Apologists, Catechist, theologians, Wake up!

Why young people are leaving the Church

 

Historical Sources:

Encyclopedia Britannica

Encyclopedia of the Bible

The Complete New Testament Dictionary of Theology

Notes from Old Testament Survey by Dr. Carol Kaminski

“Killing Jesus” by Bill O’Rielly

 

Biblical Text:

English Standard Version 1988

Greek-English Lexicon & Side-By-Side Translation

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry