Must Christians Change the Method and the Message of the Gospel to Free it from Inculturation?

I want to start the broadcast by talking about the new Christians. In fact, there is a book I just read by Tony Jones called The New Christians, it’s subtitled, “Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier”. What’s interesting to read in this book is a clarion call that not only the methods of Christianity must change but the message of Christianity must change as well. The author goes on to say, “Another way of saying this is that the Christian gospel is always enculturated, it’s always articulated by a certain people, in a certain time, and a certain place. To try to freeze one particular articulation of the gospel to make it timeless to make it timeless and universally applicable, actually does an injustice to the gospel.” This goes to the heart of what emergent is, and how emergent Christians are attempting to chart a course for following Jesus in the postmodern, globalized, pluralized, world of the twenty-first century.

 

So here’s an author who dubs himself a “new Christian,” and is giving us a dispatch from the emergent frontier, saying that not only the method but the message should be under review. In other words, we should review carefully out gospel message, perhaps not be so dogmatic in saying that were saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, because remember the gospel is enculturated, at least from the emergent perspective.

 

I went on and read through this book, and found the author, and perhaps this is characteristic of emergents in general, to be dogmatic almost beyond belief. On page 120, Jones takes on the Rhyme Bible Story Book by Linda Sattgast, a home schooling mom in the Pacific Northwest. Jones does not have many kind words to say about Lind or her book. He repeats one of the rhymes, “God told Joshua, there’s something you should know, it’s all about the city called Jericho. The people there are wicked so I’m giving you their town but you won’t get in till the walls come down.” Now again he dogmatically denounces this rhyme. He says, “Herein lies the problem, when we go to the opening chapters of the book of Joshua in the Bible, there is nothing to indicate that the inhabitants of Jericho are wicked in any way.” Now again, listen to this, this emergent leader says there is nothing to indicate that the inhabitants of Jericho are wicked in any way. He goes on to say, “It’s downright dishonest” talking about Linda Sattgast the home schooling mom in the Pacific Northwest and the Rhyme Bible Story Book, “It’s downright dishonest to impugn the morals and motives of the seemingly innocent residents of Jericho, they were by all accounts just going about their lives in Jericho, when unbeknownst to them, God promised their acreage to the Israelites.” “Their only crime,” writes Tony Jones, “was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” I want to repeat that. “Their only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” And then he even more specifically attacks Sattgast by saying, “Like many modern Christians, she has to blanch at the thought that God wipe out a city of thousands for no good reason.”

 

One wonders if these emergent leaders have ever read thorough the Bible even once. Deuteronomy 12, “The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.’ You must not worship the LORD your God in their way” (vv. 29-31a, NIV). Why, Tony Jones? Why? Were they simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? They weren’t doing anything wrong? Why? “Because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates” (v. 31b, NIV). What are those detestable things the Lord hates? Well, “they…burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” (v. 31c, NIV).

Now going back to what Tony Jones says, “Herein lies the problem, there is nothing to indicate that the inhabitants of Jericho are wicked in any way.” They burned their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. Of course, if you read though the Old Testament, you see that God is longsuffering even in this midst of this kind of objective, unthinkable, evil. “The sin of the Amorites,” says God, “has not reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16, NIV). And so God gives them yet more time to repent. And God tells the Israelites in no uncertain terms if you follow the detestable ways of the pagan nations that are in the land now, then they will be the axe of judgment against you, and the land will vomit you out because I don’t put up with people burning their sons and their daughters in the fire (cf. Lev. 18:24-28). If you look at passages throughout the Bible, they make clear that the ways of the people in the land were detestable to the Lord.

The crime was certainly not being in the wrong place at the wrong time; yet, Tony Jones goes on and says, “A few years ago, I read through the entire Bible in a year with a group of eighteen-year-olds. Upon reading the story of Joshua and Jericho a girl named Carrie said that at this point God seems a lot like Hitler.” What does Tony Jones do? He says he “swallows heart.” And asks her why she says that? And then she explains well God’s going around killing anyone who’s not from His race of people that He likes, exactly like Hitler did. Well, Tony Jones says, “I had to acknowledge Carries gut level impression of this passage, God’s actions at this and other points of the Bible are difficult to abide.”

No they’re not. And to sit in judgment dogmatically on the Almighty, I would say is a very dangerous place to be. This is all part and parcel of not reading the Bible. Talking about the Bible but not reading the Bible. This is what emergents do. They don’t like essential Christian doctrine. They like experiencing the divine. Whether it’s looking at the Grand Canyon or the stars, well of course we should do that, but the only way that you can experience the Divine as the Divine is meant to be experienced is to know the essential Christian doctrines for which the martyrs shed their blood. Why was it that the early Christians were able to turn an empire upside down? Was it because they were the new Christians and they were getting these kinds of dispatches from the emergent frontier? No! It was because they believed that Jesus Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate, He was buried, He rose from the dead, and He ascended into heaven. They knew the creeds and the doctrines well, and they were willing to die for them. They experienced the Divine in such a way that even when they were dying they were smiling because they had lived their lives with eternity in mind. This new kind of Christianity is not Christianity at all; it is the very thing that robs us of the ultimate experience of the Divine.

More Questions and Answers with Hank

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Is God Jealous? and Q&A

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Why Heaven Is for Real is Dangerous, and Q&A

Is God a Moral Monster? with Paul Copan – Part 3