Words Have Meaning, Or Do They?


Deconstruction _ LEGO PhilosophyWords have meaning. Of course they do, or people would never be able to understand each other. If I say, Thanks for visiting my blog, no one is going to mistakenly think I’m saying you’ve stopped by my home. My blog address is one of my online locations, but it’s not where I reside physically. It doesn’t take any special level of language acumen to understand this.

And yet we are living in a time in which the meaning of language is up for grabs. Postmodern philosophy has played a role in the deconstruction of language.

Here’s a brief summary of what was and what is replacing it:

Western philosophy is in this sense logocentrist, committed to the idea that words are capable of communicating unambiguously meanings that are present in the individuals mind.

Words are capable of communicating unambiguously. Sounds similar to words have meanings.

For the postmodern thinker, however, there’s deconstruction:

deconstruction, a method of textual analysis . . . which by means of a series of highly controversial strategies seeks to reveal the inherent instability and indeterminacy of meaning. . . . Deconstruction is best approached as a form of radical scepticism and antifoundationalism. (quotes from “Postmodernism”)

And why deconstruction?

Postmodernists believe that people are trapped behind something in the attempt to get to the external world. However, for them the wall between people and reality is not composed of sensations as it was for Descartes; rather, it is constituted by one’s community and its linguistic categories and practices. One’s language serves as a sort of distorting and, indeed, creative filter. (from “Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn”)

If language is distorting reality, then it needs to be deconstructed.

And so, we have a culture–Christians and non-Christians alike–that systematically goes about redefining words. I’ll mention some of the hot-button issues by way of illustration, not to make a point about them necessarily, other than to say, deconstruction is effective.

First, the Mormon church has for years effectively deconstructed a number of terms from the Bible: Son of God, Father, atonement, redemption, salvation, and Christian to name a few. The apparent intent is to shake the identification of cult. Rather than trying to deconstruct the meaning of that word, Mormons instead have couched their doctrines in terminology that means something very different to Evangelical Christians than it does to Mormons.

So in the Mormon community “Jesus Christ” refers to a god, not a member of the Trinity.

Words have meanings, until someone deconstructs them.

For centuries now here in the US, marriage has meant “the formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife.” For the last fifteen, twenty years, however, this definition is being deconstructed. Consequently, same-sex relationships now claim marriage, though clearly the traditional definition contradicts the concept.

Other words have undergone a similar deconstruction: the concept of glorifying God, for example, and even the meaning of worship.

Most recently “natural” took a hit in order to explain away Romans 1:26-27. The thinking of the author of a recently published book roughly states that God said in Genesis, it is not good for Man to be alone. God then saw there was not a fitting partner for Man, so He gave him one.

For the gay man, the only fitting partner is another man, so this means what is natural for him is a male partner, not a female partner. Therefore when he is joined in “marriage” to his partner, that is good in the same way that Adam and Eve’s union was good.

Extrapolate that then to the Romans passage and you see that in reality for the gay person, same sex activity actually is what is natural.

I undoubtedly have mangled the explanation, but it serves as a good illustration. According to postmodernism, language takes on meaning from within a culture or community. So within the gay community, “natural” has come to mean the opposite of what it means to the rest of society. Or should I say, what it had meant to the rest of society.

The thing is, words actually do have meaning, so society at large either accepts the deconstruction of marriage and natural and Christian or it rejects those re-definitions.

If it accepts them, then the words will have come to mean a new thing.

Living languages, in fact, do change the meanings of words, so there’s no shock there. But the fact is, this manner of deconstructing language seems to carry with it intention. It would seem there are those who wish to a) destabilize culture and/or b) reverse meanings.

What I find so fascinating in all this is that the Bible told us we’d be right where we are:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Rebutting The Postmodern Philosophy Of Language


Adam_and_Eve019Much of postmodernism stems from an assertion that language shapes the way humans think, but humans, in turn, cannot stand outside of language to investigate it objectively. Thus, language is powerful because it shapes human thought, but it is impoverished because it is unable to serve as a means to examine itself.

Recognizing the power and poverty of language, poststructuralism implies that all knowledge, including its own, must be taken on faith.
How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, Crystal Dowing, p. 126.

Downing asserts that this view of language is Biblical, citing God’s identification of His name to Moses as Yahweh—I AM WHO I AM. “As though in recognition that language molds perception, God communicates a Self that transcends the limitations of any noun referring to a created entity” (p. 127).

Her summation follows:

The power of language to mold, and hence limit, our understanding of God thus implies its poverty. Language cannot capture the essence of God because it is a human, not a divine, creation.

This is wrong on many levels.

First, Man did not create language. Downing’s own assumption destroys this theory–how could a man without language create language if we are molded BY language?

I refer back to the Bible, where God commanded Adam to care for the garden, keep it, cultivate it, refrain from eating of the fruit of a certain tree. Clearly, God initiated this conversation. Language had to be His idea.

He also put Adam in charge of naming the animals BEFORE Eve was created. Adam had no “cultural” reason to name things, yet he did so as a response to God’s command.

Does this mean that Man created language? Not the concept of language, surely. Individual words, yes–in that regard only, Man “creates” language.

Other Scriptural evidences that language is God’s creation include the fact that He named Man. He named Woman. Later in history, He wrote with His finger in stone the commandments He wanted His people to follow. He also specified that He inspired all Scripture–the words that reveal Who He is and what He does.

Secondly, the idea that Man cannot capture the essence of God because of the poverty of language is flawed.

Man cannot capture the essence of God, according to the Bible, because sin separates us from Him. Sin blinds, so we do not see His essence. We do not seek after Him. We are, like Adam, hiding from Him.

Postmodernism promotes the concept that God is hard to find, transcendent and mysterious.

The truth is, He was not any of those things before sin.

God and the people He created walked in the garden and talked together. Adam and Eve weren’t on their faces in fear, weren’t mystified by God’s presence or His essence–no more than a toddler is in the company of his mother, though she is certainly not a person he can fully grasp.

I posit that any poverty of language is a direct result of sin that defaces all creation.

When I was little—second grade, I think—I got in trouble one P. E. period for being too loud. We were right outside the 6th-grade classroom playing kick ball on the asphalt with lines painted for the bases. (Why someone thought this was a good place for little kids to play anything is wrong, so very wrong for so very many reasons! 😦 )

For a competitive, excitable seven-year-old lacking self-control, staying quiet during a close game of kick ball was just too much to ask. My punishment was to miss P. E. the next day.

This was back in the era when no one thought much about leaving kids inside classrooms, so on the day of my punishment, my teacher told me I was not to get up out of my seat, then left with the rest of the class.

Most of them, that is. A little boy was also staying in because he hadn’t finished some work. We talked a bit, and I guess he told me what was stumping him. I was pretty sure I could show him what to do, but there was my teacher’s order, Don’t get up out of your seat.

Ah-ha, a solution presented itself. I wouldn’t get up out of my seat, I would get down. Yep, I got down on my hands and knees and crawled across the room. And yeah, I got busted–lost P. E. for a week, but worse, I was embarrassed, caught in front of the whole class, not just for my disobedience but for lying as I tried to walk the line of literalism. True story.

What does that have to do with the postmodern philosophy of language? If my teacher had been a postmodernist, she might have thought the problem was with language. Perhaps we needed a discourse that would allow us to communicate outside the tower in which our language group had us confined–hers the language of adults, mine of second graders.

Poppycock. I knew exactly what she MEANT by Don’t get up out of your seat. But I didn’t like it. I wanted to find a way around it. I also didn’t want to suffer consequences for going against it. So I, in my mind, manipulated what she said and justified myself to myself by pretending I was not disobeying as long as I didn’t break her mandate in the precise way she stated it.

I am so thankful God gave me a teacher who didn’t let me get away with that. The problem was in my sinful little heart, not in the language my teacher used. Not in my perception of that language.

We cannot speak of God as He really is because we no longer know Him as He really is. Not because of who He is but because of what we became–sinners with a nature that no longer allowed us to relate to Him.

Without Jesus, that’s the state we’re destined for.

However, with Jesus, I now know the Father.

And yet, I see through a glass darkly. One day, even that will change, and I will know in the same way I am known.

That’s something to look forward to! 😀

This article combines two posts from a series on Postmodernism published here in 2006.

Published in: on February 5, 2014 at 6:37 pm  Comments (5)  
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What, Then, Is The Bible?


As I see it, the Bible is at the crux of Christianity. Unfortunately, it has been misused, misinterpreted, whittled away by Higher Critics, and whittled apart by legalists.

Many who do not claim to be Christians declare the Bible to be mythology. One person wrote a comment recently railing about the “66 books that King James assembled,” then proceeded to rip the apostle Paul: “do not take Saul’s word as the ‘Word of GOD’ it is NOT!!” This individual, therefore, is discounting two-thirds of the New Testament.

Still others treat the Bible as a how-to for living. Do this, this, and this and you will have a successful and happy life. For some, the happy life is linked to eternity; for others it is your best life now.

Recently postmodern, emerging church-goers have brought a new set of criticisms. For a summary and my critique, see Rebutting Postmodern Thought. You may also be interested in A Look at Postmodernism—Part 10a and A Look at Postmodernism—Part 10b. Also relevant might be my critique of the postmodern view of God: A Look at Postmodernism—Part 9.

So maybe I shouldn’t write any more today … just let you go read those old posts. 😉 It’s tempting.

But I want to emphasize what I view to be key. The Bible is revelation—not myth nor propositions, though it contains stories (most historical) and laws. As such, it is what God wants us to know. Some of it seems trivial or outdated or inapplicable, so it’s easy to ignore or discount those passages. But appearance is not actuality.

Rather than ignoring the passages that seem to have no relevance, it seems to me to be more important to pray over those diligently. After all, as Christians we have the Holy Spirit who will guide us into truth.

But here’s the key for understanding the Bible: it reveals God—His person, His plan, His work in the world. In other words, it’s not really about us, though it involves us, because His plan includes Salvation and His work includes His sacrifice on our behalf.

In addition, the Bible needs to be seen as a whole. While I might isolate one passage for meditation or memorization, while the Holy Spirit might call to mind a particular verse for my encouragement or admonition, I nevertheless must understand those in light of their context and in light of other verses and passages on the same subject.

I’ve heard analogies used to help people see the Bible—it’s a map, a manual, a love letter, and so on. The truth is, it is unique.

It is God-inspired and God- (not King James 😉 ) collected. He is the author, the interpreter, the major player, the central theme. He gave it to us for our instruction, reproof, correction. From it we can know Him and the power of His resurrection and the gift of His grace.

Without it, we are left to our own wisdom, which amounts to foolishness, and our own understanding, which is clouded by the deception of our hard hearts.

This article is a repost of one by the same title from August 2009

Published in: on July 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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What Postmodernism Gets Right


The Audacious Ride for Visions, painting by Leda Luss Luyken

When I first started examining postmodernism to know how precisely that way of looking at the world differed from what I was used to, my pastor at the time, Dale Burke, said that postmodernism is no more dangerous than modernism — neither one is a Biblical worldview but neither one is all wrong either.

He was right. And yet it seems so much easier to camp on the ways that postmodernism contradicts what I believe rather than affirming the things about this way of thinking that are helpful.

First, postmodernism is essentially a way of looking at the world that stands against the ideals of modernism — things like socially progressive trends; affirming the power of the human being to create, improve, and reshape the environment; and replacing the old with the new to facilitate the advance of science and technology.

One thing that seems true of postmodernism is that science and materialism is no longer the end of all knowledge. Instead, there’s a new awareness that there is spiritual knowledge — influences that can’t be scientifically defined or measured and a world beyond the material that can’t be quantified.

This is a good thing. In some ways it’s a replication of the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the latter being the Jewish sect that didn’t believe in supernatural intervention in the world such as angels or visions or presumably, the Holy Spirit, and certainly not the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

It was the Pharisees that could say when Paul was arrested, Wait a minute; maybe he has seen an angel.

The point is, the refusal to see beyond the material world is a huge barrier to anyone coming to Christ. How do you explain God’s existence to someone who begins the discussion believing that the only viable proofs are material in nature? It’s like saying, Show me love.

Postmodernism reintroduces the spiritual into the conversation. Granted, another part of postmodernism wants to accept all and any spiritual experience as equally valid and true, so it’s still far from a Biblical position, but nevertheless, it seems to me more Pharisees were likely to believe Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road than Sadducees who thought communication with a supernatural being an impossibility.

Something else I think postmodernism has right is validating human experience. Today there’s much more emphasis put on a person’s story, and on story in general. Telling stories as opposed to delineating facts puts the heart back into history. How people feel and how they act as a result is a holistic approach to understanding others.

Of course, postmodernism misses again by thinking that no one can understand another person’s experiences because of the limitations of language and that all experiences, even those that clash, are equally true because they are true for each person in question.

The important thing for the Christian, I believe, is to pay attention to what our culture says and to measure it by the standard of God’s word. How others in society perceive the world matters a great deal.

In many respects, someone like Rob Bell (Love Wins) or Paul Young (The Shack) is doing nothing more than mirroring the thinking of the age. Christians can pooh-pooh those ideas and scorn those books, but we had better understand why so many people listened. Two of those reasons are things postmodernism gets right — stories touch our hearts and the spiritual is real.

Those things are consistent with a Biblical worldview, and it would be wise for us to admonish and teach and evangelize by capitalizing on exactly those things.

Published in: on April 19, 2012 at 6:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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Majesty Replaced By Mystery


Recently, because I wanted to look up something about God’s character, I pulled out my copy of The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer, then decided it was time to re-read that slim volume again. The preface alone was arresting.

Speak to the condition of the hearer, Tozer quotes. The “message must be not only timeless but timely.” He then launches in on the rationale for his book — Christians have a low view of God. (If he thought this back in 1961 when he wrote the book, imagine what he would think today!)

The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking…

The only way to recoup our spiritual losses is to go back to the cause of them and make such corrections as the truth warrants. The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is. (pp 6-7)

Because Tozer started with the remark about the timeliness of the message, I had to ask, is this a timely message for the postmodern generation? What I hear and read most often proclaims God’s mystery, not His majesty. In fact, a quick check using Google search revealed seven times more blog articles discussing God and mystery than God and majesty.

Of course, if those using the term “mystery” actually mean “transcendence” then they’re on the right track. But too often the meaning is, “we cannot know”; God is hidden from us — the great Question Mark, about which we cannot know and should not claim to know.

Except, all throughout Scripture, God declares who He is. Take Exodus 29:46 for example:

They shall know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God.

Or how about Hosea 6:3:

So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.

Then there is Hebrews 8:11 quoting from Jeremiah:

AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, ‘KNOW THE LORD,’ FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM.

Christ, the mediator between God and Man has made this possible.

For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form (Colossian 2:9)

Then we have Jesus’s own statement:

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” (John 14:7)

A mystery, God is not, at least for those who know Jesus Christ.

This contradicts our postmodern culture so the problem now seems to be that we no longer grasp the majesty of God because we no longer believe it is possible to do so. Who could grasp what is shrouded in mystery?

What a subversive lie Satan has introduced. (He’s good at that, being the father of lies). First it undermines the authority of the Bible. If we can’t know because God is mystery, then whoever or whatever claims knowledge of God is suspect. No longer is the believer to give definitive answers, and the one who seeks and keeps seeking is considered wise.

Except this position contradicts Jesus Himself.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matt 7:7-8)

Throughout the Bible, God promises Himself to those who seek Him:

  • But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. (Deut. 4:29)
  • the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. (2 Chron. 15:2b)
  • You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:13)
  • Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8a)

A. W. Tozer took it upon himself to write The Knowledge of the Holy as his timely, timeless message — a way of calling Christians back to an elevated view of God.

It seems to me we have a different timely, timeless message to convey first — that God revealed Himself precisely because He wants to be known. Would Jesus have died otherwise? Would God have sent His Holy Spirit if He didn’t plan for us to have an intimate relationship with Him?

Published in: on March 19, 2012 at 6:43 pm  Comments (7)  
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Hell And The Postmodern Generation


When I was growing up in the middle of the twentieth century, at times I felt out of step with my culture. After all, I and my Christian college classmates helped rescue books from our school library, when across town students in the secular university were burning a nearby bank and sending bomb threats to their library.

As I see it, those beginnings of a cultural divide are nothing compared to what Bible-believing Christians growing up in today’s postmodern culture are going to face. Think about it. Spanking, even among Christian parents, is nearly a thing of the past. School is to be tolerated or, for the bright students, to be used as a means to a good job. It is definitely not a place to develop your ability to think and reason. Fewer and fewer of the postmodern generation attend church, though some are experiencing centering prayer and participating in conversations.

Consequently, a teen growing up with parents who spank, homeschool, and take him to a Bible-believing church, will be an anomaly. More and more, he can expect “the world” to believe differently than he does.

The discussion over Love Wins, Rob Bell’s book that apparently calls into question the doctrine of hell is, I suspect, indicative of how great the divide has become.

There are a number of root issues. For starters, postmodern philosophy does not believe in absolute truth. What’s right for you might not be what’s right for me.

That leads to tolerance, the word of the day. All people and their lifestyles are as acceptable as all others. It’s only OK to hate hateful people. Of course, by hateful people we actually mean people who disagree.

The biggest issue, though, is that postmoderns believe ardently in Man’s goodness. Society, nations, corporations, religion, of course, are all evil, but Man is good.

How then, could this generation possibly believe in hell? They have not experienced just and loving punishment. They have no belief in absolute truth. They discount sin.

As a result, they do not believe anyone (except maybe mass murderers, as long as that doesn’t include abortion doctors) deserves to be shut out of heaven, let alone suffer for eternity. And any God, should he actually exist, who would do such a thing, would be too cruel to have as a god.

Fortunately, they think, since spirituality is something personal and individual, anyone can re-image god according to his own conscience, which by the way, is bound to be a lot nicer than the God of the Old Testament. Jesus, now he’s another story. He’s alright. All those cool myths about him walking on water and stuff — it’s almost like he’s a superhero. And love! That guy had it figured out — love, love, love, and stick it to the religious bunch! We like Jesus!

You see the divide. The Bible contradicts each of these points.

Man is not good, he is sinful.

God is a real person, sovereign and infinite, loving, righteous, just, good, merciful, and true. (And His Son is exactly the same).

Man’s sin is an offense to God because it is rebellion.

The payment for rebellion is death, first physically, then a second “death” that is eternal punishment in a real place we know as hell.

Despite what postmodern thinkers say or believe, these absolutes don’t go away with a wave of the mantra, It might be true for you, but it’s not true for me. True is true. What’s more, God “has granted everything to us pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him.”

Peter wrote that at the beginning of his second letter, but he went on in the next chapter to explain some of that “everything :

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot … then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority … But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong.
– 2 Peter 2:4-13a (emphases added)

What does a long passage about coming judgment have to do with life and godliness? For one thing, it reveals God’s nature. He is a just judge. No one is going to suffer wrong as the wages of doing right.

He also has spelled out as a warning, replete with examples, what the unrighteous will face.

And He has made it clear that there is a way of escape.

Published in: on March 9, 2011 at 7:43 pm  Comments (6)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos, Day 2


For a humorous book, Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos (this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature) generates a lot of thought. Take a look, for example, at D. G. Davidson’s post discussing a question Jesus raised with His disciples, recorded in Luke: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Or Fred Warren’s post with the same verse as its catalyst. Then there’s John Otte’s post that quotes John Calvin AND Martin Luther as part of a discussion about the idols we create.

These discussions are important, helpful, necessary. Too many people in America today, and probably throughout the world, are following a made-up version of Jesus, (I met some professing Christians here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction back in January, you might recall, who were “re-imaging Jesus”) and the sad fact is, there will be a day when the Real Jesus will tell them He never knew them.

Imaginary Jesus is a book that can help us all see our own false ideas about Jesus if we will take a hard look.

Interestingly, the reason Matt Mikalatos’s work is so effective, I believe, is because it counters, by implication, some of the errors in postmodern thought, even as it employs the powerful “tell a story” method of communicating truth favored by that worldview.

For one, Matt assumes that the Real Jesus exists. He is not relative, not Someone to be molded to suit each individual according to his cultural situated-ness. In other words, Jesus has objective reality and truth about Him can be uncovered.

Which leads to the second point. Matt also assumes that the Real Jesus can be found. He is not a mystery that negates relationship. He is not an idea to ponder but a Person to know.

Third, because Jesus is a Person, we don’t need to “deconstruct” Him or the Bible that tells us about Him. Deconstruction either leaves a pile of rubble or requires reconstruction—the “re-imaging” I mentioned earlier—and it is the latter that creates the plethora of imaginary Jesuses Matt exposed in this book.

Along with his own custom-built Jesus, Matt, the character, encountered King James Jesus, Political Power Jesus, 8-Ball Jesus, Peacenik Jesus, TV Jesus, Legalist Jesus, New Age Jesus, Free Will Jesus and any number of others belonging to the SSIJ (Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses). There are even those who people invent for a specific reason and then discard “when they don’t need him anymore.”

But here’s where this exposure of the imaginary led—to relationship:

“These came from different places. Lies you’ve believed.” Daisy [the talking donkey] pointed her snout at Unforgiving Jesus. “Lies that someone told you or you told yorself. Some of them are diabolical, and some are self-inflicted. A few are even well-intentioned. They’re constructs that tell you what Jesus will say or do, how he feels, or what he thinks, without ever having to get to know him.”
– p. 193

A humorous story? Absolutely! It is through the vehicle of story—and a funny one at that—by which Matt, the author, brings us to relevant Truth, challenging in the process some of the key components of postmodern thought.

Please take some time this week to check out what others on the CSFF Blog Tour are saying about Imaginary Jesus (see the list at the end of yesterday’s post).

Special thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for supplying me with a review copy of the book.

Draw Near to God … for What End?


I thought I was done with my posts about emerging thinkers and false teachers, at least for a while, but then a friend of mine passed along an old edition of Christianity Today. In that September 2009 issue was an article entitled “Reveling in the Mystery,” by D. H. Williams.

“Mystery” happens to be one of the things the people who engage in the “emerging conversation” believe (though they also refute the idea that they hold to any set of prescribed tenets.) Interestingly, last October I wrote an article entitled “Transcendence vs. Mystery” to examine some of the emerging ideas about the mystery of God. As I look at it now, I realize I missed some of the main points.

It’s clear to me after reading the CT article that emergent thinkers would have no trouble embracing the transcendence of God. However, in examining Scripture Professor Williams takes the word “mystery” in a verse like I Timothy 3:16 along with the ideas of “ancient writers” like Ambrose of Milan and Gregory of Nyssa, and reaches the conclusion that “God himself is mystery.”

It’s ironic that he uses the scripture he does (especially considering what follows about deceitful spirits):

By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron …

– I Tim. 3:16-4:2 (emphasis mine)

Rather than expounding on the mystery of God, verse 16 seems to be declaring the revelation of God. (This is not uncommon throughout the New Testament. See for example Eph. 3:8-9: “To me [Paul], the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things” [emphasis mine]).

Nevertheless, having reached the conclusion that God is mystery, Professor Williams gives the heart of his premise:

The distance between creature and Creator is not something to be overcome or removed as if it were an obstacle to growth in the Christian life.

I had to do a double-take and read that line over. As I understand Scripture, the “distance between creature and Creator” is most definitely something to overcome or remove. Except we can’t, try as we will.

The point and purpose of the Incarnation was to remove the distance sin had created. (A passage like Psalm 66:18 shows the effect sin has on our relationship with God: “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear”).

Of equal importance, Scripture is filled from beginning to end with references about God’s people drawing near to Him: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8a).

Like so much false teaching, this concept of the mystery of God is not undiluted error. There is a measure of truth.

While God isn’t unknown because Jesus showed us the Father, we have the mind of Christ, and the Holy Spirit lives within each believer, we still look through a darkened glass.

In addition, God is greater than we can grasp. His ways are not our ways, His thoughts, not our thoughts. He is higher than we, without need of our counsel or, for that matter, anything we can give to Him. In other words, He is transcendent.

Rather than making God more inaccessible, however, His transcendence coupled with His incarnation and work of redemption, demonstrate His great love and grace: “Although [Christ Jesus] existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, {and} being made in the likeness of men … He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Phil. 2:6-8.

The God of the universe, Highest of the high, stooped to save me! While He has no need of it, He most definitely wants relationship with those He created in His likeness.

Which leads to the next troubling aspect of Professor Williams’s article. But I’ll have to save that for next time.

– – –

Other passages of Scripture about drawing near to God include the following: Deut. 4:7; II Chron. 15:2; Psalm 34:18, 119:151, 145:18; Lam. 3:57; Zech. 1:3; Mal. 3:7; Heb. 4:16, 7:19, 7:25, 10:1, 10:25.

Attacks on God from Within


Yesterday I mentioned subtle attacks on God (and just a reminder, by “attack” I am referring to that which contradicts or distorts the truth about God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible). From what I see, the subtle version is most prevalent from within the body of professing Christians.

Sadly, it would seem that some identifying with the emerging church, are falling into this category. I almost don’t know where to begin.

Self-described wannabe mystic and prophet Mike Morrell wrote an article, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” last November that illustrates the attack from the inside.

Note: this article is a result of reviewing some sessions from the 2004 Emerging Theological Conversation. The presenting scholar was Walter Brueggemann, and Brian McLaren, Tim Keel, Troy Bronsink were among those hosting dialogues. In other words, these ideas are not exclusive to Mr. Morrell.

While Mr. Brueggemann first advanced the idea that God is getting over his addiction to violence, Mr. Morrell uses Geoff Holsclaw’s summary to explain the position:

“By this he [Brueggemann] means that God used to think violence was a good idea, but then gave up on it. However, like all addicts, He has relapses. Of which the cross is either the final deliverance, or another relapse.”

In today’s society, of course, “violence” has come to mean any use of force. Consequently, God’s judgment—whether on nations or on His Son as He bore the sins of the world—is viewed as violence.

This position negates God’s role as judge, denies the goodness and immutability of His nature, and ignores His plan for the world.

In essence, while claiming to search for the mystery of spirituality (departing from certitude, dying to “answers/desires/scripts”), this position misses the transcendence of God.

On one hand, this view of God reduces him to human proportions, at least emotionally. He grows up, matures, battles to “recover” from how he’s treated man because, apparently, he knows better now. In addition, because we are in a personal relationship with him, that means he must learn from me just as I learn from him.

On the other hand, this view of God strips him of his personhood. Here’s the argument:

But when we’re faced with the disturbing truths that Brueggemann elucidates – God’s irascibility for instance – what do we do?

There are two ways to do handle this. One is the way of definitive, forceful – almost violent – denial that there is (or has ever been) anything troubling in God’s character or actions. It’s the route of trusting God via suppression.

But there is another route – more painful, more adult, more complex – but I think it can still end in deeply-rooted, childlike trust. It’s a path that I’ve learned from many guides over the years … And this is the path: As Grubb proposes a radically panentheistic reading of Holy Writ, there is only One Person in the Universe. (Y’know, like “I Am the Lord your God, there is no Other?”) Creation unfolds inside of God. And within this unfolding, it moves from gross [overt] to subtle to causal. (emphasis mine)

Notice, there is no argument against taking God at His word, just an accusation that to do so requires denial and suppression.

But here’s the conclusion:

I think that I can be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian with a high Christology, and still hold that the Universe is one important aspect of the unfolding of God – and that we are the co-unfolding of God within God.

The panentheism believes nature is God within God or that God is beyond God.

As Jay Michaelson explained it, God is the ocean and all else is the water.

Remember, Mr. Morrell is speaking as someone within the emerging church. He considers himself a Christian—one who looks at Scripture through the eye of a panentheist.

I call this an attack on God.

Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 7:00 am  Comments (301)  
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Transcendence vs. Mystery


I’m listening to recordings of a series of philosophy lectures by R. C. Sproul. Today’s portion brought up the subject of the transcendence of God, a topic of special interest to me since I believe many in the emerging church are confusing “transcendence” with “mystery.”

Some might think the two words are interchangeable, but they aren’t, as Sproul made clear.

What does it mean to say God is transcendent? The idea this word conveys is that God is beyond, above, and different from his creatures. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts, not our thoughts.

Consequently, the only way Man can know God is if He stoops to be know. We cannot reach up to Him because He is beyond our reach, and that, I think, would be true even if sin did prohibit a relationship with Him.

In contrast, the idea of mystery, with it’s roots in Gnosticism, ultimately leads to skepticism. By implication it suggests God can’t be known, at least not with certainty. Thus, the door opens for doubt. Some emerging church advocates embrace doubt; most laud “seeking.”

Since God is mystery, so the emerging advocates say, Man must be content as a seeker. There are no concrete answers because God is Other.

The critical issue here is that the means to knowing God shifts from God’s initiative to Man and his endeavors—his meditation or contemplation or spiritual journey.

The thing “Mystery” does not account for is God’s transcendence. Ironic, isn’t it? Because God is Above and Beyond and Different, yet invested in the creatures He made in His own image, He stooped.

It’s not the way we would do things if we were in charge. We’d likely want to sit on a cushy throne and have the lesser folk clamoring for a bit of our attention.

Not God. He sent messengers, breathed His words through their minds and lives to reveal Himself, then came in person, and finally sent His Spirit to live in the life of each believer.

Belief in the “mystery of God” is an extreme idea that opens the door to skepticism and ultimately an attack on the deity of Christ. Of course, it is a reaction to those who dismiss the transcendence of God—those who consider God to be nothing more than an improved version of Man, and bigger. He’s a good ol’ boy. Or maybe a black mama waiting in a shack.

Amazing that some in the emerging movement seem to believe both extremes.

Published in: on October 15, 2009 at 5:13 pm  Comments (5)  
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