Tuesday, November 03, 2009

good and sin free

Michael Wittmer:

Some postmodern innovators believe that people are basically good and free from serious sin. Likewise, Machen observed that the defining belief of modernity was its “supreme confidence in human goodness.” He wrote that “according to modern liberalism, there is really no such thing as sin. At the very root of the modern liberal movement is the loss of the consciousness of sin.” This absence of sin led Machen to wryly observe that the liberal church “is busily engaged in an absolutely impossible task—she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance.” Machen countered that the gospel must begin with sin, for “Without the consciousness of sin, the whole gospel will seem to be an idle tale.”

Classic stuff ... this is the same as we see today, the postmodern innovators seem more focussed on deconstructing the church than confronting rebel sinners with their need for a savior.

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6 comments:

Geoff Matheson said...

I'm intrigued: which "post-modern innovators" would say that people are "free from serious sin"? That's not a concept I've encountered anywhere in my travels, I'm interested in knowing who would back that concept.

rick said...

In A Heretics Guide to Eternity, pg 63 and 69, Spencer Burke writes that grace is "not conditional on recognizing or renouncing sin," and "it comes to us whether or not we ask for it. We don't have to do something to receive it, nor do we even have to respond to it in some way. It simply comes." In this way "grace is offered to all people, everywhere, regardless of religious affiliation." Now if he held to the doctrine of election, I would get where that was coming from but he is a Universalist and therefore this is misleading at best, heresy as I believe he means it.

He writes on page 64, "Although the link between grace and sin has driven Christianity for centuries, it just doesn't resonate in our culture anymore. It repulses rather than attracts. People are becoming much less inclined to acknowledge themselves as "sinners in need of a Savior." It's not that people view themselves as perfect; it's that the language they use to describe themselves has changed. "Broken," "fragmented," and "lacking wholeness" - these are some of the new ways people describe their spiritual need. What resonates is a sense of disconnection."

On pg 78 of The New Christians, Tony Jones writes, "A generation or two ago, defenses of Christianity that focused on human sinfulness were potent; a common metaphor showed God on one side of a diagram and a stick figure (you) on the other; the chasm between was labeled "Sin," and the only bridge across was in the shape of Jesus' cross. But emergents ask, "What kind of God can't reach across a chasm? Chasms can't stop God!" What do you think he is objecting to here? The point of the original metaphor is that the chasm prevents us from coming to God but it does not stop God from reaching across to us. In the same section of The New Christians, Jones acknowledges that "many emergent Christians will concur that we live in a sinful world, a world of wars and famines and pogroms. But they will be inclined to attribute this sin not to the distance between human beings and God but to the broken relationships that clutter our lives and our world." Jones thinks that the cross is "an act of divine solidarity with the suffering and broken world."

As noted before, as counterbalance to some of the evangelical 'abuses' on the other side, I get it but too much is said that is equally wrong in the opposite direction and nothing is said in support of balance.

I'll quote Wittmer: "Doug Pagitt suggests that Pelagius should not have been excommunicated by the church, for his belief in the inherent goodness of human nature supplies a welcome counterbalance to Augustine's emphasis on our depravity. Pagitt argues that Augustine's belief that "people were born separate from God" fit the Greek understanding of God popular in the Roman Empire. This allowed him to defeat Pelagius's alien, Druid notion that "people were born with the Light of God aflame within them, if even dimly lit." But since neither view is better than the other, Pagitt says that we should seek to learn from both, remembering that "different cultures will have different expressions" of the Christian faith. (in Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches)" In A Christianity Worth Believing Jones goes a step further on pp 120-170 and embraces Plagius.

Are you really saying that among Emergents it is not the popular view that God would not send someone to hell simply because he or she believed the wrong things? And doesn't this rest on a prior assumption that people are already good (or at least not bad enough to deserve damnation)?

I see it in most Emergent writings - and I'm not talking about a Calvinist v. Arminian thing. I am speak of the basic belief that man is born 'broken' rather than as a rebel sinner and that we each 'have God' rather than we each receive a general grace.

Can you point me to an Emergent leader that deals directly with man's sinful nature?

Geoff Matheson said...

"Are you really saying that among Emergents it is not the popular view that God would not send someone to hell simply because he or she believed the wrong things? And doesn't this rest on a prior assumption that people are already good (or at least not bad enough to deserve damnation)?"

While your first question may be correct, I don't think that the second one is. I think that the popularity of the pseudo-universalism you're describing (and I'm not certain it's as widespread as you suggest, but I'm fine to let that lie) is not a belief that as the Burke quote suggests: "grace is offered to all people". Now that's not an understatement of the condition man is in, but instead an over-statement on what the grace of God is and does.

Having said that, Burke isn't someone I'm aware of, other than that I've heard of the book (and heard some "emergent" types panning it). I'd agree with Tony Jones' statement that "the cross is "an act of divine solidarity with the suffering and broken world."" - that's not all I think the cross is about, but I do think it's part of it.

Having said that, I'm not comfortable with this part of Jones' quote: "But they will be inclined to attribute this sin not to the distance between human beings and God but to the broken relationships that clutter our lives and our world."

I am likewise uneducated in the work of Pelagius, so I'm stuck with just the quote: "people were born with the Light of God aflame within them, if even dimly lit." How does this differ from a statement that people are made in the image of God? I think I'd at least on the face of it (with only that quote to go by) suggest that I'd agree that this view is needed to counterbalance the focus of Augustine on the depravity of man.

"Can you point me to an Emergent leader that deals directly with man's sinful nature?" - nope. Not off the top of my head. But that'wasn't what I was disagreeing with in the first place.

rick said...

Geoff - back to the original quote, "Some postmodern innovators believe that people are basically good and free from serious sin." and “Without the consciousness of sin, the whole gospel will seem to be an idle tale.”

I assume you agree with the second statement. I've provided evidence of the first and there are more but I'd like not to be about hunting that down. My request to you is as you read/listen, ask if the teaching is balanced. If so, great. My reading has left me thinking they are lacking fundamental truths.
Some even teach counter.

I get that they are addressing error on the other side but that shouldn't be done at the expense of truth.

Regarding the flame/image analogies ... it depends on what is meant. I contend that man without saving grace is 'bad'. He cannot and will not find his way to God. Depending on who you read, you will find some postmoderns (holding the flame idea) suggesting man is 'good' and we all come (successfully) to God in our own way.

Just think of the quote of Jones. He didn't say that is one aspect. He thinks that's it. Remember, while I agree the 'atonement' aspect has been abused and there is more to the cross than that, these guys have abandoned it altogether. They are in serious danger.

So again, as you read, ask yourself if you find any balance. If you are reading the 'louder voices' in the conversation, you will not generally find it.

Geoff Matheson said...

. I contend that man without saving grace is 'bad'. He cannot and will not find his way to God. Depending on who you read, you will find some postmoderns (holding the flame idea) suggesting man is 'good' and we all come (successfully) to God in our own way.

I'd have to disagree with you - at least in part. I believe that it's a drastic over-simplification to say that humans without grace are "bad" and those who have found Jesus are by implication "good". I'd instead say that all of humanity lives as distorted and broken images of God. Those who have found Christ are in the process of being transformed back into the likeness of their saviour, through the power of the Holy Spirit, a transformation that won't be complete until after death or the return of Christ. And that's what I'm hearing described, because it's not something I could have articulated two or three years ago.

Your comment about Jones' quote strikes me as a fraction nasty. If I say to my wife "you know what I like about you? Your good looks" then she'd have to be in a crappy mood to assume that I didn't like her for her brains too. And I find it remarkable to think that all Tony Jones believes about the cross is held in that quote.

I think you have a very valid critique of some of these guys, and a critique of some fairly defective theology in many cases, but I don't think anybody is helped when you assume the worst.

rick said...

Ok - then we are mostly aligned except you won't find most of the more vocal Emergent voice talking about in balance and in fact they will openly reject the atonement, etc...

The emphasis is on 'brokenness' as opposed to 'sinfulness'. The emphasis is on right living as opposed to right belief. Etc...

In some cases they aren't wrong, just imbalanced. In others, they are wrong. And I'm not trying to assume the worst, I am living with the affect of their faulty approach and it saddens me that (1) they fail and (2) those of us before them have failed.

I'm seeking balance ... and that starts when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, not our brokenness. The former leads us to a savior, the latter leads us to a 'model' or a 'sugar daddy'. My generation failed in that it tried to do the former for the Holy Spirit. That will fail every time.

reftagger