Saturday, December 21, 2013

Real Eschatological Hope declared in the barren wasteland of neo orthodoxyy

"Jesus, the victorious hero,
Conquers every foe,
At the feet of Jesus soon,
The whole world shall bow.
Jesus, glorious, out of night
Leads us onward to the light."

Rev Johann Christoph Blumhardt ( 1804 - 1880 )

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Isaiah 49 The Servant Delivers

Isaiah 49 sermon                             Oct 2014

The Servant Delivers

Read Isaiah 49:1-13
Who is or has been our best Prime Minister ?

Australian Federal Government elections were recently held and we have a new Prime minister.
But who is or has been up there as the best?

What of Edmund Barton our first back then in 1901? Who was instrumental in the writing up of our Constitution? Delivered us from being a Colony.
But who have been Great?

Perhaps standing out in Australia is Robert Menzies who planned well ahead past his days in office to bring about the Snowy Mountains Scheme and planned for water and power for future Australians. Deliverance to a secure future.
I can think of some hard working prime ministers- like Kevin Rudd who even got his own staff a bit off side it is reported because of his grueling work ethic

What about the world’s Greatest Treasurer? Paul Keating! Economic deliverance!
If we go overseas we immediately think of Winston Churchill in England. Who rallied England together to fight Hitler and the Nazis. I am told by someone who nursed him later in life that he was a bit of a grouch but then He had to be strong to do what he did.
Military Deliverance.

Many in hindsight almost think of Neville Chamberlain who was prime minister of England before Churchill as a traitor when he tried to appease Hitler just before the invasion of Poland. Perhaps not so great a prime minister then?
If you go back number of years you have the prime minister who legislated against slavery! Charles Grey. Deliverance from Slavery.

Do you know what Prime Minister means? What the words mean?
Look at the dictionary meaning of prime and how it is used!

Is it no wonder that politicians take prime minister to mean first in rank or quality or importance or authority, chief! That says something about them doesn’t it?
But if you look at those two words prime and minister
            even when prime is first in rank or degree, the second word minister means servant!

            We could paraphrase it “the first to serve”
             Or perhaps number one servant.

In Isaiah 49 we come to the second of Isaiah’s servant songs. The first came in Isaiah 42:1-9, which Sean preached last week, and chapter 49:1-13 is the second,Chapter 50:4-11 is the third and the best known Isaiah 53:13-53:12 is the fourth.
Yet the kind of Servant we find here isn’t anything like our Prime Ministers who rule from strength.
We will see today a bit about this Servant and what this means for Israel and what it means for us today.

But let’s put chapter 49 in context, in chapter 48 we read of a guy who is going to do mighty things for Israel. In a nutshell he is going to bring about political deliverance.
He is a political deliverer!

Some theologians have had a big problem with this guy because back in chapter 44 and 45:1 he is named – and named years before his birth!
And for those theological skeptics who struggle with the supernatural and God     knowing in advance this is a big dilemma
                        so they solve their problem by saying that stuff was written later after the return of the exiles to Israel
                        and so they end up with 2 or even three Isaiah’s writing the book Isaiah.

But we aren’t so dumb are we? After all back in Isaiah 9 & 11 we met Isaiah speaking of God become man to save!
Anyway back in Isaiah 44:28: he is named  - Cyrus. He is God’s Shepherd!

This pagan king of the Persians is God’s Shepherd,
Who will beat the Babylonians
            and rule over the Babylonian empire and so rule over the Jews in Exile in Babylon.

I don’t know if you heard what I just said then for this is truly amazing. God chose a pagan king to deliver his people. He not only chose him but 45:1 God says this pagan, this Cyrus is God’s anointed. A King! A messiah  Wow.
And though he delivers the exiles back to the land of Israel he isn’t the king Isaiah has been speaking of during chapters 1-39.

That was a special king – a child born, who is King – Isaiah 9:6-7. Wonderful Councilor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, He will reign on David’s throne, of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. 
So in the immediate context of chapter 49 of the servant, we hear of Cyrus who will deliver God’s people. He will succeed, there is no question about it. So says God in 48:14-15.

            He is God’s chosen ally,
               He will carry out God’s purpose against Babylon.
           God has called him, brought him and he will succeed in his mission.
            That is what God says.

What a wonderful God we have.
                        One who promises and then fulfills his Word to smallest detail!
But the one we read about in chapter 49, this servant,  is not Cyrus.

Now we are confronted with a different person. He is the servant of the Lord and He speaks just like God does in Isaiah.
            Do you see it there in the very first few words. “Listen to me

            I speak and you listen! Just like in 48:1 44:1
And what’s more this impacts the whole world,
            it isn’t merely for Judah to hear and take notice of,
              it wasn’t just a bit of encouragement for Isaiah himself to hear,
                it’s for all the islands, even the distant nations – it is for all gentiles on this planet.

Here the Servant speaks and so hear what he says about his mission.
The second thing that is significant here is that both these words, listen” and “hear” are the imperfect tense. And that means everyone who reads it  - including us, and those born tomorrow or in a 1000 years, all need to hear this, all need to stop thinking of what they are having for lunch and listen to the Servant!

Verse 1-
Before this servant was born God made mention of his name, and not only that but before he was born the Lord called him!

            It’s not some abstract call as in I have a plan which I have started and I am going to have a servant who is central to it – no – “he is called” means he was already even before birth.
From my birth He - God has made mention of my name
        – Jesus – Luke’s Gospel told God names Him. In Luke 1:31
            the angel told Mary they are to give their child the name Jesus.
                 Because he will save from sin.
           And this name is what Joseph and Mary gave their child as Luke 2:21 states.

Third some have suggested from verse 2 that this servant is a prophet. Yet if we stick with the book of Isaiah and look at chapter 1:20 we see that the sword is an instrument of judgment! And even back there sword and the mouth of the Lord are mentioned together! the point I think Isaiah is getting at is that the servants main instrument of ministry is the Word. He doesn’t come with a sword like Cyrus did. Rather, He speaks.
This is one reason the Servant isn’t Cyrus.
            Cyrus ruled through military might, this servant acts through the spoken word.

And it further says in the shadow of His hand he hid me. Why would the father hide this servant? We see the same notion cropping up in the next verse about God concealing him in His quiver. As a brightly polished arrow God concealed him in his quiver.
What is going on here?

Perhaps that his kingship as mentioned through Isaiah 1-39 esp Isa 9 is concealed.
Better still is to see that until his unveiling

Until the time he began his ministry, when he began preaching and performing miracles, 
his identity is clouded,
     concealed from all.
Then, in verse 4 immediately after telling us this he says “you are my servant Israel in whom I will display my Glory.”

This is a real kick in the teeth for national Israel – they knew God’s covenant with Abraham meant they were to show forth God’s glory to the World to be a light to the nations, but they failed miserably in this over and over again. That reality is confirmed for us in chapter 48:1b. READ it.

            insincerity – “not in truth or righteousness” it’s all a sham.
            And in 48:9 it’s only for God’s own name that he delayed his wrath!

So God is raising up a deliverer,
           a true Servant who will do what Israel the nation had been called to do and failed.
           God does not pussyfoot around,
             He doesn’t say things because like us he likes to hear his own voice.
                  I can’t just pass by the point of this for us Today.
          Today we need to come to grips with this reality.
                Our youth don’t like to be told by their parents that they are disappointed in them.

One of my daughters finds this notion abhorrent.
Yet you need to hear if you are doing the wrong thing,
            I am sure that Miley Cyrus’ father is disappointed in her at the moment!
              And We need to hear it ourselves 
             - that we have disappointed others.
                   It’s not that our parents don’t love us anymore
                     but that our actions are wrong,
                        unrighteous, at times even wicked.

So when we think of where we stand today
          Jesus having died on the Cross for our rebellion,
              and risen again,
                              Then His Words are not to be sniffed at!

Don’t thumb our nose at Jesus – because there are consequences. Just as Israel found out.
But there’s another aspect to what is said here we need to be amazed by.

It says God will give his glory to this Servant.
Rob Corner in our Bible Study when we were doing chapter 42 pointed this out. That back in chapter 42:8 God said he doesn’t give his glory to another, certainly not idols!

And yet here God says of this Servant  ---- I will glorify Him.
           It shouts out to us about the significance and standing of this Servant.
          After all, the expectation is that a servant glorifies his Master, yet here it says God will glorify His Servant.
And as we see from this chapter it should have evoked a question from the Jews over and over again

Who is this servant?
That should be the question these chapters raise in the minds of Isaiah’s hearers,
            As it should arise in our minds.
See how verse 7 of chapter 49 draws us again to ask it. God says “You are my servant Israel”
Just who is this servant?
It is not Cyrus. I think you will agree from what we have seen already in the description of this servant, but it also comes out in vs 5-6 and also in his mission.
It is not Israel the nation – though she was called to be the Servant of the Most High and be a light to the nations.
We need to feel the impact of that,
                        as God’s people, as Israel, heard Isaiah speak of Israel as God’s servant over chapters 40
à 48
            Let me read you a couple
            Turn to 48:20
                  And then again in 44:1
                   And then in 42:19 he speaks of Israel his servant being blind
In 8 chapters à 9 times he reminds Israel they are His servant.
And then in chapter 49 he calls the Servant Israel, and yet it’s clearly not national Israel.
And the servant mentioned here in 49:3 is not the remnant of Israel.
We can see that the servant isn’t national Israel nor the remnant from Verse 5 of chapter 49 – that verse is the clincher. It has to be the Messiah, Jesus, the suffering Servant since he alone is able to bring Jacob back to God, to gather Israel to himself ! 49:5
There is just no way that Israel or a remnant could bring themselves back to God. As someone has said, that’s like trying to lift yourself off the ground by your own shoe lasses.
And the second determinative factor is also mentioned there in verse 6. This servant will bring Salvation to the Gentiles, or as the NKJV says He will be salvation to the Gentiles! This servant is on about Spiritual Deliverance.
So in these verses we have Who the servant is
And at the same time we are told part of his mission.
Now in verse 4 it seems that the servants estimation of the success of that mission,
            the mission to bring Jacob back to God,
                        To gather Israel to Him   à was considered vain. Ineffectual.
But the point Isaiah makes here is that even though from a human point of view,
From that of the servant,
The mission was seen as failure,
Seen from God’s point of view, God’s estimation, its not.
And that is what counts.
What we miss if we read too quickly and don’t study the passage is that even in this verse there is another slap in the face to national Israel.
In verse 4 it speaks of justice ( mishpat ) – where the NIV has the words “due me
But back in Isaiah 40:27-31 Israel, national Israel had the gall to accuse God of disregarding the right or justice of Israel and it was for this reason they had grown faint and lost strength, vs 29,31
But here this servant though having laboured and spent his strength yet he realises his justice is with God, he proclaims his reward is with God.
In other words, there’s no excuses, just trust! 

( 49:4 recalls the complaint of Israel in Isaiah 40:27-31.1 In that text Israel accuses Yahweh of disregarding the "right" or justice (mispa, 40:27) of Israel and for this reason they have grown faint and lost strength (koa, 40:29, 31). In Isaiah 49:4 the prophet-Servant complains to Yahweh, "I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength (koa) for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause (mispa) is with the LORD, and my reward with my God."
In contrast to this self-evaluation, Yahweh is much more positive in his assessment of his Servant. In other words a parallel is being drawn to the nation Israel with this servant Israel. for one, failure at justice is an excuse used for growing faint and “weary” but for the Servant whose labour seems small, yet will he put his trust in God – who declares the Servant has done no small thing and there will be fruit. One trusts ( the Servant ) the other gives and excuse and wander soff to do their own thing! ( national Israel ) GW )

Though in the servants estimation of failure at that time to bring Israel to God, yet
            God goes even further and says I will add to that mission,
                        not only to gather Israel to him
                                    but make Him to be a light for the Gentiles.
            That was part of the nation Israel’s job from Genesis 12 where God declared promises to Abraham. And yet they failed to live up to What God required.
It is in verse 6 we see how different the deliverance of this servant is from Cyrus and Israel. This servant brings salvation to the gentiles. It is spiritual deliverance, not merely deliverance from exile. It is deliverance from sin and separation from God!
The good news of Salvation from sin, through Jesus is to go out to the ends of the earth, to Gentiles, to all the nations.

And we end with this is what the Lord God says vs 7. To his chosen one, the one – and get this, this is prophetic here, it speaks of the messiah’s rejection by the nation Israel. see in verse 7 “to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation”, the nation there has the definite article, signifying that it is speaking of the Jewish nation. It is singular!
He was abhorred by his own nation. God knows it. He knew it.
And it speaks of active hostility, not passive neglect.
What a tragic sad note.
Yet the Scripture by admitting this reveals the knowledge of God that knows everything. And is in control.
There’s so much here, but today we will end at that verse,
So what about the application for us today?

We have seen the application for Isaiah’s hearers and readers,
   For Israel.
    They needed to see deliverance from exile isn’t enough.
       Return to the promised land wasn’t enough.
         They needed salvation,
           They needed sin dealt with,
     and so the point about Isaiah 49 is that they should ask
     Who is this Servant?
And secondly they need to deal with their sin.
So also for us today the application is ?
   What sort of deliverance have we experienced?
     What do I consider Jesus has delivered me from?
     If I think this servant only brought economic deliverance
       Or deliverance from being destitute – from adversity.
         Or deliverance from bad health
          Or deliverance from loneliness.
               From being an outsider, so now I belong to a group.
     Did I become a Christian merely to feel happiness?
       To be delivered from boredom?
What was it for you?
Because IF it wasn’t deliverance from sin and being made right with God the Creator
              THEN if it’s not that, then you won’t bother to live how God says!
            BUT what God says matters!
              Israel learnt that to its detriment!
But a second thing to learn here today is about making excuses for our inaction.
Israel made excuses for not doing as God said, but Isaiah 49 points out the Servant Israel, though he thought his mission had been ineffectual, still He would Trust God.
            My reward is with my God.
              That’s the attitude we need to take.
He calls us to care for one another, pray for one another, to encourage one another,
    To grow in the Lord Jesus Christ,
To be transformed by the renewing of our mind, instead of having our minds filled with television programs we need to fill it with the word of God and that means taking up the bible and really grappling with it.
Let’s Pray

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sermon Notes on Isaiah 37

Isaiah 37 Preaching Outline Notes
1. The historical Context.
Threats from Assyria and from Egypt upon Jerusalem
The Assyrian field commander comes to Jerusalem to get them to surrender. Isa 36.
Notice his invocation in vs 4-10
     a) On whom are you depending? vs 5
     b) Is it on God? Yet Hezekiah removed his high place says the commander. Vs 7. Implying that he was restricting worship.
     c) The field commander claims God has sent Assyria to conquer Jerusalem.- This is a half truth because God in chapter 10:5-6 only said Assyria conquers the nations – that Assyria was used by God for that!
     d) He speaks in Hebrew so that the people hear, not the diplomatic language of Aramaic. He wants the people to hear and rebel. vs 11

2. So what does Hezekiah do?
     a) He repents for Jerusalem. 37:1
     b) He doesn’t act like his father – He trusts God.
     c) He enquires of Isaiah.
     d) He prays vs 1,4,15 ?
Now in 37:6 God will act. Why? Because of whom He is!
     The Assyrians are wrong, their idols are man made!
         He alone is the true God vs 16.
                      Almighty God,
                      Enthroned –King above all nations
                      You are Creator.
Hezekiah pleads with God to be their deliverer.
     So Sennacheribs army of 185,000 odd die in one night.
     As for Jerusalem – She will remain a virgin – undefiled, not “raped” by the Assyrians vs 23.
     This word from God, this truth is guaranteed by a sign – 3 years! vs 30.
             God says I will look after Jerusalem.
             Why? For My sake and the sake of David my Servant. Vs 35.
             Here we see God values His character! He stands by What He says.
             David my Servant. God made specific promises regarding David’s descendants and he will stick by those promises.
So what do we learn here?
     What do we learn from God’s dealing with Israel and the Assyrians?
     What makes Jerusalem so significant?
                Because of all the cities of the world, Jerusalem is His City. His special city.
                Second, because God keeps His promises.
                      There is only one God, Creator, Almighty etc vs 16.
                      He will not be mocked.
                      He will bring to fruition His Promises.
                      He is the one to trust, not the idols of man.
     Hezekiah trusted God in face of overwhelming worldly wisdom to capitulate.
                         When even faced with overwhelming odds, He trusts God’s Word.
N.T illustration of Jesus’ faithfulness.
                      It is to listen to Jesus and obey his Word.
                      Not distort those words.
                          Not add to them like Eve did in Genesis 3.
                          Like the field commander did in Isaiah 36.

Historical side – Notice that though liberal scholars suggest 2 or three writers of Isaiah,  as  37:2 says Isaiah son of Amoz, as in chapter 1.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Global Warming, the Climate and bad arguments

The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday Sept 12 included an article titled 'Climate sceptic puts hand up for science  portfolio' in the new liberal Cabinet.
Western Australian MP Dr Dennis Jensen  who has a Masters degree in Physics and a PhD in material Science questions the scientific consensus that humans are contributing to global warming.

Whether he is right or not, at least he points out that appeals to Authority or appeals to consus are not Scientific at all. They are flawed arguments. what needs to argued is the Scientific evidence.
Who said something is irrelevant, and how many claim something to be true is also. what matters is Scientific reality.

How refreshing

In Christ,

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tactics for Discussing your Christian convictions from Gregory Koukle

Found at Amazon Gregory Koukle's new book Tactics: a game plan for discussing your Christian Convictions.'

A snippet that helps us deal with a common objection by Koukle is as follows

“That’s the part that confuses me. Why is it when I think I’m right, I’m intolerant, but when you think you’re right, you’re just right? What am I missing?”

Of course, you are not missing anything; she is. Her move is simple name-calling.

Labeling you as intolerant is no different than calling you ugly. One is an attack on your looks. The other is an attack on your character. Neither is useful in helping you understand the merits of any idea you may be discussing.

A powerful encouragement
In Christ

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Carson's 'The Gagging of God'

Great insights from Carson 'The Gagging of God.'

Some may have inferred from my previous post that not much is gained from Carson’s ‘The Gagging of God.’ That is just not true. Apart from the fantastic and novel title - the Gagging of God. Which pictures for some the handkerchief stuffed in the mouth of God to prevent him speaking to us – and well, it may just be that on a postmodernistic reading of the bible because the bible on their hermeneutic just ends up being what they want to hear. But really the gagging also picks up Revelation 3 where man’s behavior in the church at Laodicea elicits from God a gagging – and he spews them out of his mouth. But there are other gems in this great tome. On page 467-468 he talks about how a missionary told him of his release from his background of an abusive father which had left him with a distorted view of Father, and found it difficult to give and receive love, especially about feeling the love of Christ, a release which came about by a practice called “rebirthing”. How pastorally sensitive is Carson by affirming he is glad his life is more integrated and then with great insight pointing out that this person has settled for something second best, as best and at worst he has been seduced by idolatry. Boy, those are tough words, but in a context of expressed care for the man. Carson says

My dear brother, all the emotional catharsis. All the tears, all the healing integration, might well have been yours along biblical lines. …. [ sadly] the fact of the matter is that you now associate your emotional release not with the cross, but with rebirthing techniques. You will be less inclined to think of the gospel as that which is the power of God unto salvation. You will think of the gospel as providing some sort of pardon, and rebirthing techniques as providing healing, power, restoration. All the associational links are wrong. They are diverting. They bring you some measure of relief, while distracting you from the cross.” Pg 468-469.
The danger of postmodernism, along with biblical illiteracy are two major dangers facing the present church. But what of the therapeutic understanding where sin and salvation are interpreted in terms of solely healing me and my problems instead of Christ making me right with God? As Carson says “the therapeutic culture, designed to make people feel helped, has taken over.” As the Scriptures remind us, Christ has given us all we need for life and godliness. The ramifications of that, are worth pondering.

In Christ,

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How to reach Postmoderns with the Truth

How to reach postmodernists with the Truth?
For many people these days to talk about reaching postmoderns with the truth is a contradiction in terms, especially for those of a postmodernistic bent. For those who enthuse about postmodernism there is no “Absolute Truth” and yet they are confronted by the fact that Christianity unashamedly proclaims that there is Absolute Truth. There is only one God and only one way to Him as John 14:6 and Acts 4:14 declare.

What is one to do in the face of Postmodernism?

This is the question which all Christians and most importantly pastors have to work through in our present culture. Our task is to consider how we can reach Postmoderns in a biblically faithful and effective manner. By engaging with Vincent McCann’sHow can Christians Proclaim Absolute Truth in a Post Modern World?  and Don Carson’sThe Gagging of God’ we can glean a way forward and not merely offer sound bites that whilst orthodox don’t seriously impact the unbeliever and leave him feeling secure in his own position.
Gregory J. Laughery wrote an article ‘Evangelicalism and Philosophy’ where he considers the lack of Christian interaction with Philosophy and so an understanding of how to converse with those who hold to different worldviews. We do not as Christians despise the intellect, in fact we ought to seek to improve our intellectual prowess in honour of God as much as possible. Though the challenge of our world may be a call to being open minded, as I love to say, this doesn’t mean we are to be empty headed. We must think and ask questions as wisely as possible. Asking the right questions becomes critical when dealing with secular worldviews such as postmodernism. Far too often as I hope to show below Christians jump on the latest bandwagon without critical assessment of the ideas being set forth.                 

This seems to have happened by and large with postmodernism. Too many have been ready to declare postmodernism a worthy reaction against modernism. However it may be better to describe the present mood to rather be supra modernism. With all the suggested epistemological difference there remains really a deep rooted desire to determine one’s own life irrespective of others. After all, the postmodern angst is more against religion and morality than against anything else. The present generation still loves the fruit of certainty delivered by modernism in the areas of Technology and Science with their ipods and ipads and iphones. Moreover, when something serious in life happens and they visit the doctor, they don’t dismiss the doctor’s advice as subjective twaddle but they clutch the script and head for the chemist. The Doctor almost takes over the role of God. This in itself is a good place for further discussion, but for the present let’s assume the postmodern child of modernism as described in the current debate. Whether he is illegitimate we will leave for another time, so let’s just assume for the moment the definition of Carson that postmodernism is a reaction against modernism. Even at this point it seems to me it is only the reaction of a child who hasn’t been raised with boundaries in life and finds out the hard way what this means in reality as he runs kicking and screaming through the community trying to live out his own self-determined rules, and then complaining when they don’t play by his rules.

Reaching the postmodern generation:

Rarely, in the abundance of postmodern literature do we have a consideration of the way the Christian is fruitfully able to reach the postmodern advocate. Vincent McCann’s article is an exception. In ‘How can ChristiansProclaim Absolute Truth in a Post Modern World?’  he deals with the complexities of the issue. I value his fairly succinct overview of the nature of Postmodernism, however at times his solution is not altogether orthodox. Particularly in regard to “experience” as typified in the ”Toronto Blessing” being an inroad to those decrying the certainty of knowledge.[i] 
This lack of certainty is a perspective which not merely infects our culture but is also spreading like leaven within the Church.

After giving a worthy description of Postmodernism McCann rightly says the Church “cannot compromise its proclamation that Jesus is the only way to God.” Secondly he claims there is a bridge that can link Christian belief and the Postmodern outlook because postmodernism includes some “elements of truth”. At this point he is presumably thinking of Postmodernisms rejection of the attitude of the Enlightenment that prevailed in modernism, the attitude that human reason alone is able to be the Arbiter of Truth, that modernistic mood that man has sure foundations for all knowledge and truth. Because McCann sees the Church similarly rejecting this understanding of Reason as the arbiter of Truth he sees a commonality with Postmoderns objections at this point.

Thirdly, he then mentions that one response the Church can take is the addressing of subjectivism, which “leads to a destruction of both intellectual honesty and life itself”. Furthermore McCann suggests there’s agreement between us in the limitations of human knowledge. But I would suggest the reasons underlying this argument and the conclusions derived from them are for unbeliever and believer polar opposites. Christians argue that knowledge and certainty are indeed limited due to our Creatureliness, however since we are created in the image of God we are able to know truly. This is not the case of the unbeliever in his worldview. The unbeliever says involved in the nature of knowledge is the notion that nothing is certain. Certainly we can agree the post Enlightenment attitude was one of over confidence. Amazingly McCann then suggests that ecstatic experiences like the Toronto Blessing may be one avenue to breaking through this negativity towards human reason. A fifth major response is to focus not on expository preaching but rather on “story”, a common suggestion now making the rounds in Christian circles. Lastly the truth the Church believes must be lived out in their lives or else it will fail to impact postmoderns.

What am I to make of this? At least Vincent makes an attempt to address this perplexing issue of reaching postmoderns. Many who write on postmodernism rarely or with clarity address how a Christian can reach the postmodern crowd with the Christian message.

Before reflecting upon Vincent’s approaches to reaching out to postmoderns and suggesting a couple of further approaches it will be of benefit for us to reflect upon his description of postmodernism and interact with it.

Certainly postmodernism is essentially anti-modern, to which as I pointed out above Carson’s helpful description of it is as a mood! Central to postmodernism is the idea that each individual is part of a community and all texts ( and here, even a persons actions are taken to be texts ) are to be interpreted in light of that community. This notion I might point out, has grave implications for hermeneutics, and leads to the rejection of meaning residing in the intentions of the author, and suggests instead that meaning is given to the text by the interpreter. It is exactly at this point that many fail to note the inconsistency of postmodern advocates in that the authors of postmodernism arguments assume the reader will understand their intentions and not read anything into the text. Indeed they tend to get upset when you don’t take what they have written in context and seriously. One idea which is a correlate of this notion of little “t” truth residing in local communities is the view that metanarratives are thus rejected. However, again many fail to see that Postmodernism is a metanarrative itself and it is just as exclusive as Christianity. They make absolute claims such as “all truths are equally valid and there is no universal standpoint which gives one the power to say this is wrong or that is right.”

The reason for Postmoderns decrying metanarratives, is that they are oppressive of minorities such as gays and women. However postmodernism is itself a metanarrative, declaring that this is the way that one should read a text. It seems to me that Postmoderns border on Gnosticism, a bit like Plato’s Philosopher Kings who decree what is right and good for everyone.

What should be raised with postmodern advocates is how they escape the conditioning of the “truth” of one’s group or social context to arrive at such a metanarrative as postmodernism?

Postmoderns when taking the approach of denigrating metanarratives would do well to read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ about making words mean anything and everything. Language, which is how we communicate with others our lofty thoughts and deep feelings becomes nonsense on this approach. Further, they seem to be in the same boat as the adherents to Scientific Positivism which philosophically imploded upon itself when it argued that nothing was true except that which is able to be demonstrated by Science. But this proposition itself was unable to be so demonstrated by Science. This type of nonsense we rightly call a self defeating argument.

And don’t let philosophers dismissively wave this aside saying this objection is only a relatively minor issue. It’s true that it can be an easily voiced argument but it should alert you to the serious problems of the view being proffered.

Still the real and present danger for us is with the postmodern assumption that the meaning of the text resides in the reader. From this assumption a whole new hermeneutical theory is created contrary to hermeneutics as it has been historically understood, and one which undermines biblical hermeneutics in particular.

Let’s see how taking into account the hermeneutics of Postmodernism itself undermines McCann’s suggestion of the fruitfulness for Christians resorting to “story” to proclaim the Gospel message to Postmoderns. Sure Jesus told stories, sure the Gospels in a limited sense are “story” ( they are actually theology, not chronological histories of Jesus’ life and ministry. ) however the postmodern hermeneutic allows him to interpret the story in a way which allows him to continue in his rebellion against God and to remain comfortable in his disobedience, all because he believes that meaning resides in the reader. And he is free to do this with any “story” he hears from the Christian evangelist. The very core of postmodernism undermines any cogent attempt to tell the Gospel to unbelievers who hold to postmodernism  because all meaning resides in the reader / hearer and not in the text. Yet Christianity unashamedly declares the Bible to be God’s Word, His revelation to man, and the meaning of it resides in the intention of the Author, God himself. The antithesis between Christian and postmodern rightly continues because the unbelieving worldview is at odds with the Sovereign Lord of all Creation.

The reality of this is a wakeup call to Preachers succumbing to the postmodern lie that story is the way forward in our current cultural climate. Steven D Degner, a Lutheran who has pondered much of the present Western Culture with amazing insight nonetheless considers story to be one of the ways forward for interacting with postmoderns. Not Ashamed of the Gospel in a Postmodern Age Again my concern with Degner is he doesn’t seem to understand the postmodern’s hermeneutic negates the Biblical message of What God is saying.

Given the above I find some of McCanns suggestions are inadequate and misplaced given the worldview of postmodernism itself.

Before we move on from this, we need to recognise further that the call by some to narrative preaching as the real kicker to reaching postmoderns fails for exactly the same reason. It just does not deal with the postmodern approach that meaning resides in the reader or hearer. They can interpret the narrative to suit themselves and never be challenged with the actual message of the Biblical teaching. Now hear me clearly on this, I am not ignoring or ruling out the work of the Holy Spirit to bring such a person to understanding and repentance, but I take it that Christian’s are also to bring down opposing strongholds and fortresses and make them captive to Christ. We are in a spiritual battle, which God equips us for, yet the battle is also carried out at the intellectual level, so “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” 2 Cor 10:4-5. In love we bring the Truth to bear upon unbelievers and their rebellious worldview so that there is no place to stand, except as Christians will argue, upon the sure Word of God. Certainly it is the Holy Spirit who convicts and brings to repentance. We convert no one, but God has chosen to use us in the endeavour of bringing His Word to unbelievers, and we need to do this wisely and with insight. This is merely seeing what Paul did in Acts 17 as a good model for dealing with unbelievers. Along with the central passage of 1 Peter 3 where we are to offer a defence of the faith in gentleness and respect.

Historically we find many who have lived a life fuelled by emotions and feelings and so are very difficult to reach with the Gospel message, something especially true of those who have drifted out of a Pentecostal environment. But then, those of Paul’s first century had also lived a life of excessive emotionalism and feelings directed in frenzy pagan worship. And Paul does not resort to story in that case but a clear apologetic.  What we hold to as back then is a clear declaration of the Gospel message and the destructive nature of such a pagan lifestyle, and wait to see the Holy Spirit convict the person.

Narrative Preaching - Ref Martin Weber an Adventist? ‘Reaching Postmodern Society’ Outlook September 2006 pg 7 suggests this, but so do many Anglicans and Calvinists.

Does Carson offer us a way to reach postmoderns?

Carson’s great tome, all 640 pages of it, looks at postmodernism and secularism in depth but the nuggets of how to reach postmoderns are hidden to a large extent within its pages. Sure he outlines in chapter 12 on page 494 a way forward for Christians. He lists four ways for us to proclaim the gospel message.

 A) He suggests the intellectual, moral, and existential bankruptcy of our age is to be ‘critiqued’. Here he suggests focusing on the human emptiness that arises from the postmodern worldview. Pg 495.

B) Further our evangelical endeavour must recognise what’s been labelled as the ‘paradigm shift’ in worldviews which has taken place in the West. Then we like Paul must modify our presentation to address that reality. Carson refers to Paul on Mars Hill Acts 17 ( pg 496-501 ) and then Biblical theology pg 501f.

C) The rudiments of the historic gospel must be proclaimed with authority and courtesy.

D)  Lastly, we need to live out the Gospel, not merely give lip service to it.

The overall impression from his book is that its aim is to critique and explain the contours of postmodernism and secondly adhere to his Biblical and Calvinistic theology. These are indeed great aims and I don’t want to denigrate them but I think he fails to deal with those Scriptures that talk about apologetics and also the role of Christians to “destroy fortresses and bring down strongholds” and intellectually and intelligently deal with the unbelievers worldview. At that level Carson is frustrating and light on in giving us a clear response to the postmodernist.

Indeed he seems to not understand the impact of postmodernism on the general culture when he expresses his belief that postmodernism will quickly die out as University scholars see the incoherence of it. But that ignores the “life” such a belief has taken on within our Western Culture. It may be generations before postmodernism warps into another fractured worldview, keeping to the downward spiral of the fruit of a darkened mind. Carson does say we must continue to preach the truth, and in one sense this is perfectly true, in that God’s Spirit is the one who convicts and changes people. But what are we to make of this current framework where postmoderns won’t even discuss evidences for the truth of Christianity, historical or otherwise and their worldview which hermeneutically doesn’t allow for objective truth but rather truth is whatever “the reader” thinks and not the intentions of the author?

Consider again his four suggestions for reaching postmoderns.

A) He suggests the intellectual, moral, and existential bankruptcy of our age is to be ‘critiqued’. Here he suggests focusing on the human emptiness that arises from the postmodern worldview. Pg 495. Carson however speaks in expansive generalities such as “the critique of this age must not be merely intellectual but [speak to] the bankruptcy of the moral, ethical, relational and spiritual dimensions” in a loving manner. Pg 496. Yet we must point out here that we need to seriously and intellectually grapple with the postmodern hermeneutics which controls the unbelievers response to our presentation of the gospel message and the Christian worldview.

B) Further our evangelical endeavour must recognise what’s been labelled as the ‘paradigm shift’ in worldviews which has taken place in the West. Then we like Paul must modify our presentation to address that reality. Carson refers to Paul on Mars Hill Acts 17 ( pg 496-501 ) and then Biblical theology pg 501f. Still as I will point out below, the issue is more than educating biblical illiterates, however true that may be.

C) The rudiments of the historic gospel must be proclaimed with authority and courtesy.  Here on pg 505 Carson alludes to being a herald, however the Christian is to be more than this, he is to be an apologist. 1 Peter 3.
All is not lost for the careful reader however. Hidden in a story in Carson’s work is a further hint of an approach to take with postmodernistic thinking whether it be in the Church or outside. He talks about a Ph’d student who cornered him after teaching on hermeneutics and insisting “that true knowledge is possible, even to finite, culture-bound creatures.” She insisted he was “escaping from the dreaded positivism of the 19th century. Ardently arguing for the new hermeneutic she was not amused when he tongue in cheek said “I see what you are saying, you are using delicious irony to affirm the objectivity of truth”. She responded more heatedly when he said “he was delighted to find someone using irony so cleverly in order to affirm the possibility of objective knowledge.”  She became quite upset as she considered Carson was not taking her words for what she was saying, she then exploded in anger when he said “it’s marvellous that you can add emotion to your irony.”   
It sunk home when he quietly explained “but this is how I am reading you” As he then explained to her, “You are a deconstructionist .. but you expect me to interpret your words aright.” page 102-3. The point is one cannot have it both ways. To espouse a worldview that is self contradictory and self defeating and unliveable leaves a person either open to seriously considering a worldview that is liveable, and consistent and gives an account for truth or to remain intellectually vacuous and left on the futility of  their thinking because of their rebellion against God.

What Carson does there is an example from apologetics of an internal critique of the unbelievers worldview pointing out its internal incoherence and also that in the end it is un-liveable, that it just does not comport with reality.  And then offering an external critique from the Christian worldview. Biblically this is grounded in Proverbs 26 verse 5 that says “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” for an internal critique, and then Proverbs 26 verse 4 “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him” for the external critique where the Christian declares the Christian worldview and Gospel. As Greg Bahnsen points out, this means saying to the unbeliever, ”let’s assume your position – what follows from it? Is it coherent? Is it liveable? Does it agree with reality?” And then after having done this, don’t answer a fool according to his folly means let’s now not accept what you say, but let me now offer you a view that is coherent, that is liveable, that does comport with the way things are! Does my Christian worldview explain why you are the way you are and why such views as you hold flourish even in the face of being incoherent and unliveable.

This approach is sadly lacking in the Church today. We need to take it up with vigour for when our children go off to University they are no longer presented arguments as to why their Christian beliefs are wrong, but merely ridiculed and called intolerant from the perspective of the Postmodern worldview and its assumptions. Our Christian youth are then left confused about the coherence and intellectual foundation of the Christian faith.

We also need to take up this approach ourselves with our work colleagues and friends and family who are unbelievers. They have bought a worldview without considering its cogency or coherence or whether it is indeed liveable.

In the end what postmoderns reject is exactly the stance that Eve took in the Garden of Eden “Has God said?”

You may not like what God has said, and the unbeliever will reject it at his own peril, but we must never ignore what God has said and present it with honesty and clarity so that he may repent and worship his Creator.
We as Christians need to realise that the affliction of the world is a malignant hermeneutics, and indeed the battleground for the next 50 years within the church is hermeneutics, just as we see happening right now,

In Christ

[i]  No doubt this can be attributed to his involvement with the demonic before becoming a Christian. Though not aware of all the details of his release from bondage, I have read his testimony on the blog, and would at this stage just mention that the Gospel message is what is to be used to bring a person into the Kingdom and a Christian can be oppressed but not possessed by demons.