Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thoughts on dispensationalism, the law, and the covenants:the primer (I)

I've spent a lot of time in recent months thinking about the applicability of the Law, its relation to the gospel, and how Christians should think about it in the paradigm of biblical interpretation.  As someone who's heartily Calvinistic, I have great reverence for the men of faith who came before me-- Calvin, Luther, Henry, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Ryle, Berkouwer, Gerstner, and the list goes on and on.

The reformed view of biblical hermeneutics, as passed down by many of these men, has traditionally upheld Covenant Theology as the the proper interpretative framework for understanding Scripture.  Sometime in the 19th century, a competing interpretive framework-- dispensationalism-- became wildly popular among American evangelical and fundamental churches.  To this day, it is the popular theological framework for many Protestant denominations.

At its root, dispensationalism holds that God has revealed or "dispensed" Himself to His people in multiple ways over time, and that there is a distinction between national Israel and the Church when it comes to God's covenant promises.  Covenant theology, on the other hand, holds that all of history can be read through three overarching covenants: the Covenant of Redemption, the Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of Grace.  It also holds that Israel has forfeited the covenant promises as a nation, and that these promises will instead be fulfilled through Christ and His church.

A variant of Covenant Theology that has sprouted over the years is called "New Covenant Theology" (NCT).  NCT is distinguished from Covenantalism through the belief that the Old Testament/Mosaic Law is entirely abrogated with Christ's coming.  Covenant Theologians have traditionally held that the moral law is still applicable while dispensationalists also believe that all law is fulfilled/abrogated with Christ.  Thus, NCT is sometimes criticized as the middle waffler catering to both sides.

There is an abundance of online resources that describe these schools of thought in greater detail, so that's as much as I feel like explaining.  I do want to explain, however, what my thought process is in regards to these two theological frameworks, and what conclusions I've arrived at in determining what is biblical truth.  It should be made abundantly clear that there are godly thinkers on both sides of the issue, and, for the most part, theologians on both sides have historically agreed on the fundamental essentials of the Christian gospel.

I myself do not place myself firmly in one camp or another.  I see degrees of truth and validity in all views, as well as error.  If one were to point a gun at my head and demand that I label my views, I would best describe myself as someone who holds to New Covenant Theology but with a dispensational premillennialist eschatology, views which I will explain in the next post.  But it's also important to note that I am still learning and still very open to correction and thoughtful deliberation over Scripture.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What I hate about seeker-sensitive churches

In his book The Gospel Call & True Conversion, Paul Washer ardently denounces modern evangelicalism, which is saturated with churches preaching seeker-sensitive human-centered messages.  The great tragedy is that many within these churches may not be saved because the congregants want to hear something other than the true gospel.  Apostle Paul warned Timothy that such a phenomenon would be common in his time and in the many generations to take place (2 Tim 4:3).

What I hate about seeker-sensitive churches boils down to one fundamental fact: they deny the gospel.  This may sound like an unjustifiably harsh rebuke, but there is no denying the simple reality that such churches avoid the gospel of Jesus Christ because they either deny it outright, or deny its power to save.  Paul's famous exhortation to the church at Rome makes it succinctly clear that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), and for that he is unashamed. 

In other words, the gospel and the gospel alone is sufficient to save men.  Why?  Because God Himself has authored and perfected the gospel as well as the faith that responds to it (Heb 12:2).  Seeker-sensitive churches avoid preaching the gospel not only because they fear it is insufficient to save, but because they believe that it drives people away.  In some sense, that is true.  Christ's gospel is foreign to the unregenerate heart and convicting enough to drive sinful people away.

But herein lies the problem: seeker-sensitive churches are focused on the end goal of filling their pews, not directing people to true salvation.  So they preach a watered-down patchwork gospel (as good as no gospel) to make up for what they think the true gospel lacks, but it is merely an act to draw congregants, attract TV viewers, and build a corporate reputation.  There is no genuine desire to see their flock saved.

This is a terrifying reality in the modern church-- hordes of so-called pastors, ministers, and Christians denying the gospel and therefore denying Christ.  Such a denial will be met with exclusion from His presence for eternity (Matthew 10:33).  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Millennials and the Church

In the past year, I've seen an assortment of articles detailing Generation Y's relationship to organized religion.  Nearly all of them have the same verdict: Millennials are leaving the Church in droves.  Although there are multiple reasons attributed for the phenomenon, there is a general consensus that Millennials are dissatisfied with church teachings on social issues, and thus are unable to reconcile the popular post-modern worldview with what they perceive to be antiquated religious morals.

I use "popular post-modern worldview" to describe contemporary socio-cultural thinking. While not characterized by one generalized maxim, this worldview is saturated with concepts like social justice, equal rights, humanism, science, and the like.  From a more practical standpoint, we've seen this play out in a variety of co-related movements: reproductive rights, marriage equality, evolutionistic thinking, etc.

The real tragedy here is not so much that Millennials are distancing themselves from the Church*, but that they have already adopted worldviews dramatically inconsistent with the biblical paradigm.  What wholly matters to them is not giving pleasure and glory to God, but rather meeting the needs of humanity.  There is also a prevalence of the fallacious "it's old, so it's wrong" ways of thinking.  For even those who have claimed a limited degree of religious affiliation, God-centeredness has been so relegated to a secondary position that there really is no gospel reality in their lives.

Millennials prone to toss out the totality of the biblical gospel because of disagreement over social implications of scripture reflect the tragedy of the unregenerate heart.  When an individual leaves the church over a social matter like abortion, it is evidence that they were never there to hear the saving and atoning work of Jesus Christ in the first place.  And some Millennials, instead of taking the guilt-ridden path of abandoning religion entirely, are flocking to liberal churches which propagate agendas consistent with their worldviews but are Christian in name only.

It is important to note that the gospel of Christ does not revolve around social matters and is thus not mutually exclusive with them.  In fact, I believe there are biblical commissions to further some areas of social justice (James 1:27).  Furthermore, it would be wrong to assume that the primacy of Christ's work in the gospel is an excuse to renege on our obligations to live out compassion and love for others (Romans 12).

However, it is of utmost importance to uphold fidelity to the scriptures, ensuring that the gospel is not compromised, particularly in light of contemporary secularism.  There seems to be an implication that if churches want Millennials back, then they'll have to tweak a few teachings or abandon certain doctrines.  Yet the Bible is utterly clear that woe be unto churches which take this road of compromise, effectively distorting the true gospel and promoting a false one.

Today, mainstream evangelical Christendom is saturated with churches that either teach aberrant theology (i.e., prosperity gospel, charismatic doctrines) or no theology at all (i.e., Methodist and Episcopalian denominations in particular).  While these churches are vastly different in nature, they both cater to the seeker-sensitive worldviews of its congregants, giving people what they want to hear and tickling their ears (2 Timothy 4:3).

The real question is not what churches should do to gain Millennials back, but how faithful they are in promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Churches must strive to avoid seeking to fill the pews with warm bodies but cold unregenerate hearts.  We should instead be concerned with fidelity to the Word.  God, in His sovereignty, will do the rest.

*The shock aspect of evangelical reaction to the Millennial exodus is also indicative of attendance as a preeminent factor in indicators of church success.  Sound biblical churches should be much less concerned of number of congregants (Millennials or otherwise) and much more concerned about preaching the truth of the gospel.