Thursday, June 16, 2005

Christian Counterculture Confusion

I loved Christian Counterculture when it started. It was a wonderful resource, as was it's sister site, The Discerning Reader. It's been well documented that in recent times, the sites have drifted from their strong Reformed base to more dangerous waters, and that all doesn't need repeating. However. when I go to the site today, I see the most recent issue simply seems to reveal the confusion that is lying with the folks around Christian Counterculture.

On the plus side, the new issue has an article by D.A.Carson, adapted form his article in Telling the Truth, on the issue of worldviews and evangelism. Indeed, at the sister site, there is even a pretty positive review of Becoming Conversant with the Emergent, Carson's recent book stonrgly critiquing the Emergent Church movement. The review states:

Don Carson does an outstanding job highlighting the relative strengths and weaknesses of this burgeoning movement, taking note of its varied forms. Those who consider themselves “emerging” would do well to listen to these concerns from a wise older statesmen — particularly his concern that "emergents" strive to be rooted in Scripture and avoid becoming easily enamored with a popular, truncated version of Postmodernism.

All very good. However, the review can't leave it goes on:

At the same time, those already critical of the movement would do well to consider its strengths, especially the desire it has to see the Gospel freed from its cultural accommodation within the conservative establishment — lest we put an unnecessary stumbling-block before younger unbelievers. Conservative (and "Reformed") fellowships need to clean up their own "backyard" before pointing the finger at others' . . . Must reading.

Oh. Things haven't quite changed then at Christian Counterculture. Indeed, as we go to another article, we see they haven't changed much at all.

In the same edition as Carson's article, and the review of his book, another essay leads the bill - Now for Some Good News, by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann. Now, for those who have read Carson's book, they wrecognizenise the name Steve Chalke as someone Carson is highly critical of, and the essay at the site is adapted from his book, The Lost Message of Jesus, the book in which he denies the substitutionary atonement (I've blogged on this before, for those who want to follow up on the issue). While the particular excepert from the book here does not include the denial of the substitutionary atonement, it sets the stage for it. In the article, Chalke and Mann write:

The fact is, however else God may have revealed himself, and in whatever way he interacts with the world he has created, everything is to be tempered, interpreted, understood and seen through the one, primary lens of God's love.

Now I don't deny the importance of God's love - far from it. I am saved as a result of his love, a love greater and more vast than I can ever comprehend though given eternity to try, and from which I can never be separated! But to call it the one, primary lens through which to see God is surely mistaken. As good a case could be made, I would say, to choose God's holiness, for example, as the primary lens, but in reality, we must strive to comprehend God in fullnessness of His Person, and all His attributes, as far as we can in our limited capacity.

Chalke is reacting to what he sees in the preaching of the likes of Jonathan Edwards in his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. He writes:

Preaching like Edwards' has been all too representative of the portrayal of the gospel by the Church over the last few hundred years, and, by implication, of any popular understanding of the message of Jesus. And though today, for the most part, the worst of this ferocious rhetoric is a thing of the past, the residue of such portrayals of the gospel still echo across the world. People still believe that the Christian God is primarily a God of power, law, judgment, hell-fire and damnation. A God whose strapline is probably, "Get in line fast or I'll squash you!"

It's here that the Christian Counterculture editor can't help but jump in. Immediately after that paragraph, we find:

[Editor's Note: Could this be why so much "Reformed" and "Fundamentalist" Christianity exhibits a spiritjudgmentment and harshness, as opposed to a spirit of grace, love, and kindess? I think so.]

So things, it seems, haven't changed at all at Christian Counterculture. ANy opportunity is still taken to bash those of a Reformed persuasion, generally by buildincaricatureture of what Reformed people really believe (or by picking the extreme examples of those calling themselves Reformed). The editorial note is truly telling.

Back to the article, though. Towards the conclusion, we read:

Too often we fall to look at others through the eyes of Jesus. While we have spent centuries arguing over the doctrine of original sin, pouring over the Bible and huge theological tomes to prove the inherent sinfulness of all humankind, we have missed a startling point:

Jesus believed in original goodness!

God declared that all his creation, including humankind, was very good. And it's this original goodness that Jesus seeks out in us. That's not to suggest that Jesus is denying that our relationship with God is in need of reconciliation, but that he is rejecting any idea that we are, somehow, beyond the pale.

To see humanity as inherently evil and steeped in original sin instead of inherently made in God's image and so bathed in original goodness, however hidden it may have become, is a serious mistake. It is this grave error that has dogged the Church in the West for centuries. In the fourth century Augustine developed his influential theology that the material world and everything in it was inherently evil and corrupt. This "fallenness" he said, was like a virus, and in humans was passed on through the act of sexual intercourse and conception. So from the seeds of Augustine's thinking, the doctrine of original sin was born. However, the Eastern Church instead followed the teaching of Irenaeus, who believed that all people were God's imagebearers and though flawed were, as he put it, like flowers in bud — slowly coaxed into full bloom by God's love.

It's hard to know where to start with that. First, no Reformed person denies original goodness in terms of the fact creation of "very good". And no Reformed person believes that anyone is "beyond the pale". The paragraphs are unnecessary, and seem to be painting a picture of those believing in original sin as somehow denying the opportunity of the Gospel to some, which folks like Chalke and Mann are the embrassive, open ones. Further, the doctrine of original sin is not an error, but is testified to clearly in Scripture: I was born and conceived in sin (Ps 51:5); we are "sons of disobedience", by nature "children of wrath" (Eph 2:2,3); the heart is deceitful above all (Jer 17:9); and our sin brings both physical and spiritual death (Rom 5:12; 6:23). And when we look beyond Scripture, experience, of our world and our own lives and hearts, testifies eloquently to the reality of our sinfulness. The denial, however, of original sin, lais the groundwork for Chalke to deny the necessity of a substitutionary atonement.

The article then concludes:

In the words of John Stott, perhaps we in the West "have been dogmatic about what we should be agnostic about and agnostic about what we should be dogmatic over." Jesus could not have been clearer:

What we should be dogmatic about is God's outrageous grace,
his boundless forgiveness and his limitless love.

It is time to get dogmatic about the lost message of Jesus!

Remarkable. Again, of course, noe one would deny we should be dogmatic about God's grace, forgiveness and love. But to imply, as the article leans towards doing, that this is all we should be dogmatic about is ridiculous, not honoring to God's revelation of Himself in His Word, and dismissive of centuries of Christian history. What I find most ironic about the closing paragraphs, however, is that Chalke brings Stott to his cause, and while I have my disagreements with the late theologian (his flirtation with annihilationism was very troubling), if Chalke had read, understood and embraced what Stott clearly wrote of Christ's substitutionary death in his The Cross of Christ, he may have been kept from denying the true Gospel. In reality, however, Chalke has Lost the Message of Jesus.

Anyway, as for Christian Counterculture, they seem as confused as ever, and presenting an inconsistent message at best, with continued digs and misrepresentations of mainstream Reformed thought wherever possible. I hope they change - they started so well, and it's sad to see.


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