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The last few days have been filled with a lot of ministry events which delayed my time blogging the reminder of our series on “Missions, Culture and Being Biblical.”  So I’m glad to be back with this short post (unrelated to our series however) that was prompted by someone asking me about this New York Times’ Opinion piece about how Darwinism supposedly destroy God.  This is my email back to the young college student in our church.

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Sister in Christ,

1.) “Teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry without molecules, or physics without mass and energy.”
Response: I do think this presupposes evolution is true and again I think the essay never argues for the evolution but assume it. In basic reasoning class rememebr that just because you assert something it does not mean you proved it.

2.) “The twofold demolition begins by defeating what modern creationists call the argument from complexity. This once seemed persuasive, best known from William Paley’s 19th-century claim that, just as the existence of a complex structure like a watch demands the existence of a watchmaker, the existence of complex organisms requires a supernatural creator.”
Response: To begin with I want to make clear that I’m not a fan of a bare argument from design and complexity (that is, when one present the argument without being conscious of the audeince’s presupposition and philosophy of evidence) nevertheless I think it is unfortunate that the writer talks about modern creationists’ argument from complexity but then failed to present the current form of the argument but instead present the older form by William Paley (what I call the simple design argument). By the way, Paley’s argument from 1802. The current form is actually argument from IRREDUCIBLE COMPLEXITY and is not the same as the simple design argument in that it focuses on the variable for all the mechanism and it’s configuartion together for any design to work and what the probability of that would be (which by the way would be very unlikely that certain order in nature is the result of mere randomness).

3.) “Since Darwin, however, we have come to understand that an entirely natural and undirected process, namely random variation plus natural selection, contains all that is needed to generate extraordinary levels of non-randomness. Living things are indeed wonderfully complex, but altogether within the range of a statistically powerful, entirely mechanical phenomenon.”
Response: Again I think this is just waving the hand when the writer mentioned this to dismiss the argument from irreducible complexity.

4.) “Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism.”
Response: First off, while I think this might be a bit beyond your scope at this time but there’s a philosophical problem of naturalism (as opposed to the belief of the supernatural) that the writer does not take into account that is a vast subject in the area of philosophy, to include philosophy of science. I think any work by Alvin Plantinga might be a good place to go for further reading. Secondly he presents us a problem when he laments that humans have no supernatural structures within us (whatever that is, he does not identify). I think to expect supernatural structures within us at the biological level (which by a secular paradigm is the sphere of the natural) is to commit a categorical fallacy (an example of such a fallacy is when we ask if the musical note c exist, how come we don’t see the color of it).

5.) “Adding to religion’s current intellectual instability is a third consequence of evolutionary insights: a powerful critique of theodicy, the scholarly effort to reconcile belief in an omnipresent, omni-benevolent God with the fact of unmerited suffering.”
Response: Here the author is no longer doing science but dabbling with amateur philosophy when he starts invoking the problem of evil (what in philosophical parlance is called theodicy). I don’t think he realize that an atheistic darwinian worldview brings more problem than it solves with the question about evil. Remember his conclusion: “The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.” If the world is an amoral universe, then we cannot even say evil exists; and if evil does not exists in the first place, then we have no problem of evil against God at all to employ against theism. I don’t have time to flesh this out in details at three in the morning, but I would even add that good and evil presupposes a standard that can only be explained by God.

Can I Really Trust the Bible Cooper

This is a book that is part of the Questions Christians Ask Series. Previously I have only read one work in this series, “Is God Anti-Gay?” and I thought it was the best compassionate and biblical work I have seen addressing those who have same sex attraction. This book on whether one can trust the Bible is also very good. Over five chapters the author Barry Cooper answers three important questions: (1) Does the Bible claim to be God’s Word? (2) Does the Bible seem to be God’s Word? (3) and does the Bible prove to be God’s Word? Cooper devotes two chapters to the first question, two more chapters to the second question and one chapter to the third question.
One thing I really like about the book is how the author is conscious of nonbelievers and young believers in the faith that would be reading his book. For instance, I appreciate Cooper explaining what verses are and the history of the Bible being divided into chapters and verses. There are helpful small excursuses throughout the book answering questions such as “What’s inside the Bible?” and “Aren’t some of the stories from Jesus’ life just legends and later additions?”
I also think that Cooper does a great job packing this small book with many illustrations that are helpful in supporting his explanation. For instance, in explaining why he begins with the question of what does the Bible claims about itself he gives the illustration of two individuals on vacation talking about the identity of someone they just saw and how it would not make be rational if these two individuals only engage in speculation but never bother to ask the person at all. Likewise it would also be unwise to speculate on what is the characteristic and identity of the Bible if we never look at the Bible’s own claim of itself. In considering the remarkable unity in the flow of redemptive history, Cooper gave this short illustration: “What if multiple authors had each written a single page of this little book you’re holding? What if each author wrote in different genres, in different centuries and in different countries, with no ‘master plan’ for them to consult? What is the likelihood that it would make any sense at all?” (38). Concerning multiple Bible versions, Cooper also made this point: “Jus because there are 15 different English translations of Dante’s Divine Comedy, it doesn’t mean we can’t know what Dante meant” (56). Another good one: “The person who never wants the Bible to be hard is like the person who goes to the gym and never want to sweat” (74).
In reviewing this book I must also state my bias as someone who subscribe to Presuppositional apologetics. I am somewhat weary of works by naïve evidentialists who does not give much room for God’s Word to be self-evidencing and who up share evidences without conscious consideration of one’s philosophy of evidence. I was glad that this is not one of those works. I was surprised to see the author in several instances quote from John Frame (a plus!). In particular I was impressed with how Cooper dealt with the objection that an argument for the Bible as God’s Word is circular: Cooper would ask a question that would reveal the interlocutor’s own circular authority and Cooper also noted the nature of any ultimate authority would begin with itself or otherwise if it appeal to another authority, than that new authority is the ultimate authority. It is good to see a book of this size be conscious of the issue of ultimate authority!
In terms of constructive criticism, I wished Cooper could have gone through more Messianic prophecies that was fulfilled in Scripture. Cooper did mention Isaiah 53 and Micah 5:2. But I think Cooper accomplished a lot in 81 pages.
I highly recommend this book.
NOTE: I received this book for free from the publisher The Good Book Company through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest opinion. The thoughts and words are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

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I believe that when it comes to missions, the primary responsibility and focus ought to be the sharing of the Gospel and from there the importance of discipleship and church planting.

Nevertheless I do see a place with helping with physical needs.  I think it is helpful to distinguish between relief and transformational development.  I think Christians that are involve with any help overseas with meeting physical needs must not forget to put the Gospel first.  I also think it would be good for Christians involved with overseas work that care for people’s physical need to know good economics that eventually help people in the long run rather than be short-sighted in one’s goal that end up enabling a problem, create artificial unhealthy dependence, etc.

Here are 4 distinction between relief and development:

1.) Relief is the effort of Christians to help victims in an emergency situation such as war, famine and other disaster. Transformational development is the effort of Christian to help reach people for God by helping with what appears to be problems that have become routine.

2.) While similar to point one, we can also make the distinction that relief is often for the short run while transformational development is more long term.

3.) Relief focuses on what outsiders can do to help victims whereas transformational development focus on what people within a group can do to help themselves and their community.

4.) Relief often involves giving direct aid and resources to the people whereas transformational development is seen as helping people at the larger structural level with focus on economic growth and political advocacy.

john-piper

Our series on “Missions, Culture and Being Biblical” have featured some articles written against the Insider Movement and if you need a short summary of the problem in video form here is a short video by John Piper responding to the Insider Movement:

Even thought it was two years ago it is still good and have been shared around on Twitter again this month.  Speaking of twitter, in light of our series you might also want to check out our Twitter @Domainfortruth where we are tweeting and re-tweeting other resources against the Insider Movement.

 

In the middle of our series on “Missions, Culture and Being Biblical” I thought it was good to post this review of a book on sharing the Gospel. Conquer Your Fear, Share Your Faith Evangelism Made Easy

This is a good book for readers who need an introduction to biblical evangelism.  Those who are familiar with Ray Comfort’s book “The Way of the Master” will not find anything radically new in this book but it is a book I still recommend to refresh one’s evangelism method if you subscribe to “the Way of the Master.”  This work features different chapters going back and forth between the author Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort.  The law of God is described and explained as to why it is a powerful tool in evangelism.  Both authors’ joy for sharing the Gospel will leap out of the pages and hopefully will stir the reader to witness.  I appreciate the practical tips and pointers throughout the book.  In particular, the book changed one of the tactics of my evangelism where in the past I use to ask people “Have you ever told a lie?” but now I ask people “In your life time, how many lies do you think you have told?” as a practical way of making someone think more about the severity of their sins with lying; I find the authors’ advice to be helpful because it avoid the hurdle that some people have that a few lies are no big deal.  I also appreciated the personal stories that Cameron and Comfort shared in the book and some of them are stories I haven’t heard of before.  I enjoyed hearing Kirk Cameron’s story of how he came to faith—and also how he discovered the Way of the Master and meeting up with Ray.  I also enjoyed the account of both authors having a meal with Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade and them talking about biblical evangelism towards the end of Bright’s life—and how Bright affirmed the authors concern for a clear Gospel presentation that’s biblical.  It is a good book that I would highly recommend both to veteran evangelists and those new to sharing their faith.  I appreciated also that this book is not just about open air preaching and sharing to strangers—the book also discussed about sharing to family.

Introduction

Our series on “Mission, Culture and Being Biblical” have noted that some of the problems with contemporary missions philosophy such as that of the Insider Movement is the result of bad theology.  Specifically we have seen instances of a defective theology of false religion, sin and the church.  Added to this is also a defective understanding of the relationship between the Bible and Culture.

What is culture?

What is culture and how do missiologists define it?  It is not an easy thing to define and missiologists do acknowledge this.  For instance Lloyd Kwast, a former chairman of the Department of Missions at Talbot Seminary once said

There is probably no more comprehensive word in the English language than the word ‘culture,’ or no more complex a field of study than cultural anthropology.  Yet, a thorough understanding of the meaning of culture is prerequisite to any effective communication of God’s good news to a different people group” (Kwast, 397)

The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, a group made up of 33 individuals with theological, anthropological, linguistic and missional background has admitted in their Willowbank Report that

Culture is a term which is not easily susceptible to definition” (Lausanne Committee, 507).

In working towards understanding what culture is, Kwast finds it helpful to see culture as having several layers that addresses certain questions (see the image below):

Lloyd Kwast culture

I do find Kwast conceptual understanding to be helpful and especially insightful is that the core of a culture is one’s worldview.  Those familiar with Presuppositional apologetics will definitely see how apologetics will intersect with culture (a given for most) and also missions (this is by implication, given that missions deals with unreach people group with the barrier of culture).

Dr. Charles Kraft is an important figure who co-wrote a 1979 paper on a new way to reach Muslims that set the trajectory for the Insider Movement.  He describe culture in the following manner:

The term culture is the label anthropologists give to the structured customs and underlying worldview assumptions which govern people’s lives.  Culture (including worldview) is a people’s way of life, their design for living, their way of coping with their biological, physical and social enviornment.  It consist of learned, patterened assumptions (Worldview), concepts and behavior, plus the resulting artifacts (material culture)” (Kraft, 401).

I also appreciate 

What are the possible relationships between the Bible and Culture?

Bible believing missionaries are to share the truth of the Bible to those who do not know Him that is situated in another culture.  But what is the proper relationship between the Bible and culture? These are the  possibilities:

  1. The Bible has nothing to say about culture
  2. The Bible is against everything in culture
  3. The Bible is for everything in culture
  4. The Bible is for and against different parts of culture

What model of Bible relationship to Culture should Christians Embrace?

Bible believing Christians should hold to the fourth view of the relationship between the Bible and culture: The Bible is for and against different parts of one’s culture.

The problem with the first view (the Bible has nothing to say about culture) is that since culture is something that man has made then God has the progative as the Creator of man to pronounce approval or condemnation upon man’s cultural endeavor.  Recall that the definition of culture given by Kwast and Kraft who both identify that the core or deepest layer of culture is one’s worldview.  One’s worldview is inherently religious (or anti-religious) in the sense that religion has been defined by Tillich as one’s ultimate commitment.  Thus, Henry Van Til was onto something when decades ago he said that culture is one’s religion externalized.  If culture is man’s religious expression then the Bible have jurisdiction over culture since it has jurisdiction over “religious” matters.

The problem with the second view (the Bible is against everything in culture) is that culture isn’t wrong in of itself.  God’s Word does prescribe to His people answers to the different levels of questions that a culture is composed of: What is real?  What is true?  What is Good or Best?  What is done? (see Kwast’s picture above).

God is not totally against culture in of itself as evident from God’s cultural mandate in Genesis 1:26-28:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the [a]sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the [b]sky and over every living thing that [c]moves on the earth.”

Even after the Fall has taken place God reiterated the cultural mandate in Genesis 9:7.  The God of the Bible also has not categorically condemn the material side of culture per se; rather He even empowered men by the Spirit of God to do craft work as in Exodus 31:1-6.

The problem with the third view (the Bible is for everything in culture) is that since culture involves the participation of man, man who is thoroughly sinful (Romans 3:23) will inevitably bring his corruption to his cultural activity.  We should therefore not be surprised to see manifestation of man’s depravity and wickedness in every culture.

It is the third view that both the missiologists and the critics of contemporary unbiblical missiologists wishes to address but from two different starting points.

The Concern OF Contemporary Missiologists: Equivocating A Missionary’s Culture with what’s Biblical

Most contemporary missiologists are concerned that people from missionary sending church naively assume that their culture = what’s Biblical.

Concerning culture, Charles Kraft notes the problem one has of being epistemologically conscious of what is merely one’s own culture versus transcendent universal truth:

We are totally submerged in it, relating to it much as a fish relates to water.  And we are usually as unconscious of it as a fish must be of the water or as we usually are of the air we breathe.” (Kraft, 402).

Unfortunately we don’t really notice our own culture until we are exposed to another culture.  And if one is not aware of one’s own culture by being aware of another culture we face the following danger:

We have continually reverted to the assumption that becoming Christian means becoming like us culturally” (Kraft, 400).

The Concern FOR Contemporary Missiologists: Letting an Unreached Culture go against what’s Biblical

A missionary or missiologist can become so cautious of everything in one’s original culture that they then end up spending all their time and energy discerning against it while failing to have the same level of scrutiny for the culture of the unreached people group.  Or one can be so zealous to see the lost come to know Christ that one then pragmatically use the vehicle of the recipients’ culture without as much discernment as they should be having.  In both instances, one can let the culture of the unreached people people group become practically more authoritative than the Bible in one’s philosophy of missions.  When this happen we see the problem of unbiblical compromises or worst: syncretism.

The Solution:

David Hesselgrave’ Three Culture Model is a helpful paradigm in thinking about the solution:

3culture missions

What Hesselgrave don’t want is the arrow with broken line between the missionary culture being transmitted to the respondent culture as Gospel truth.  Instead Hesselgrave is right to note that missionaries must go back to the Bible (arrow from missionary culture pointing to “Bible Culture”) and know it really well which the missionary then brings the “Bible Culture” to the unreached people group in their culture (arrow from “Bible Culture pointing to “Respondent Culture”).

I would add another arrow to the picture: there needs to be an arrow from the respondent culture pointing back to “Bible Culture” to convey the need for the unreached people group to go back to the Bibles themselves and see that it is taught in Scripture.  We see the Biblical support for this idea in Acts 17:11 when it talks about the Bereans that Paul was trying to reach:

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Essentially what we need more of is the Bible!  In order to avoid either the senders’ culture or the culture of the unreached people group interfering with the Gospel message and biblical evangelistic method we need to know more deeply the Bible.  We need to be faithful to it and trust that it is true when it talks about the human condition and the hope of sinners.  We must not lean on our own understanding and think we are wiser than the writers of Scripture just because our day and age has become more sophisticated in cultural anthropology.

We must not forget 1 Corinthians 1:18:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who [m]are perishing, but to us who[n]are being saved it is the power of God.

Bibliography

Hesselgrave, David. 2009. The Role of Culture in Communication.  Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 425-429.

Kwast, Lloyd. 2009. Understanding Culture. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 397-399.

Kraft, Charles. 2009. CUlture, Worldview and Contextualization. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 400-406.

Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.  2009. The Willowbank Report.  Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 506-528.

davegarner

One of the leading Reformed Christian scholar responding to the Insider Movement is David Garner, a professor from the Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS).

He was the chairman for the three year study committee on the Insider Movement for his denomination, the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA).

He has written a five part series over at his blog with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals that must not be missed.  It took him several months but he completed at the end of last month!

The following are the links to his articles:

Stay In or Come Out

Old Trumps New or New Trumps Old?

Who am I and Who Says?

Missions: The Kingdom of Christ or the Church?

Church, Stay Out of Missions!

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