Friday, October 14, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, and the Evangelical Hype

A couple days ago I wrote:
Remember all those predictions that “The Passion of the Christ” would change the world? Yeah, me too. I think everyone remembers them but the people who pronounced them. You’ll remember who they are because they’ll be the same ones saying the same things about “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”
Well, I found out yesterday that on that same day Gene Veith of World Magazine was writing this. Here's a summary: LWW is the next big thing, and oh, by the way, here are some excuses for why "The Passion" didn't meet up to its evangelistic expectations. I wonder what the excuses for LWW will be two years from now.

I appreciate Gene Veith's writing, I like World, and I'm looking forward to this movie. I hope that it's good. I hope that people think about the gospel because of it. But it's not the gospel or even an explicit gospel witness. Let's not pretend that it is.

15 comments:

Dave said...

Amen! This pecualiar trait of evangelicalism seems to be rooted in its misguided apologetic and has made it continually susceptible to the Corinthian problem (1:17-2:5).

The fact that LWW is viewed as a vehicle for the Gospel (or as a witness to the Gospel--whatever that is) is troubling for me. I do not consider it to be a biblical view of the gospel and atonement at all.

Keith said...

As I read Veith's article, I don't see him making excuses for "The Passion". He's just giving the reasons why he thinks LWW will be even better.

Were I to say, "This banana split is even better than that hot fudge sunday." It wouldn't mean that the hot fudge sunday was bad.

I never saw the Passion, so I'm not jumping to its defense. Also, I agree that some churches and individuals acted like it was our first chance to make a huge evangelistic impact on the world. Those folks were silly. Just like the folks in the past who thought that setting up a tent, putting saw dust on the ground, getting a peppy piano player and a boisterous preacher were silly at times.

That said, I would like to defend Veith a bit. It's possible, but I sincerely doubt that Veith ever, in silly fashion, wrote anything that said the Passion would complete our evangelistic task. If you show me a quote, of course, I'll admit I'm wrong.

However, short of a quote, I'll continue to think that Veith would have praised The Passion for showing Hollywood that good movies are better than bad movies -- cinematically and financially.

Keith

Dave said...

Keith,

You seem to be defending Veith at a point which was not attacked. The original post did not claim that Veith said this would complete our evangelistic task, so there is no obligation on Paleo to provide such a quote.

The real point was that LWW is "not the gospel or even an explicit gospel witness." Folks thinking that they need to do some kind of pre-evangelism that is packaged in contemporary cultural form (in this case cinematic) put too much stock in these things.

Keith said...

Dave,

I concede that "Paleo" never used the words "complete our evangelistic task."

However, "Paleo" did write: "Remember all those predictions that 'The Passion of the Christ' would change the world? Yeah, me too."

I was trying to make that point that it is very unlikely that Gene Veith ever claimed "The Passion" would singlehandedly change the world. If he has made such a claim, I'd like to see it.

Additionally, "Paleo" summarized Veith's blog about LWW as follows: "LWW is the next big thing, and oh, by the way, here are some excuses for why 'The Passion' didn't meet up to its evangelistic expectations. I wonder what the excuses for LWW will be two years from now."

I was also trying to point out that I don't think (1)that Veith ever predicted any greater success for "The Passion" than it acheived OR (2)that Veith is now trying to make excuses for "The Passion" meeting up to its evangelistic expectations.

"Paleo" does have an obligation to not bear false witness.

I'm not sure what it would take for you to clasify something an "explicit" gospel witness. However, if the movie is even remotely similar to the original story it will most definitely be a gospel witness -- the central plot of the story revolves around a vicarious atonement.

Of course some people put too much stock in "these things". Just like some people put too much stock in a Billy Sunday or Bob Jones or Billy Graham "crusade". There is no single activity/effort/event that will disciple the nations.

Nevertheless, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable --if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things"(Philippians 4:8). Unless this movie really botches up Lewis' story, it will meet more than one of these criteria.

Again, I am not defending the goofy,"We've all got to see this and take all our unsaved friends to see this and show it in our church or we aren't being faithful," hyperventilating that will take place.

I just think that Gene Veith and Nancy Pearcy aren't that type of bafoon. They are thoughtful and balanced in their efforts to help Christians abandon an unbiblical sacred/secular dichotomy and the privatized/personalized impotent faith that goes with it.

Keith

Ben said...

Keith,

I think you're assuming that I was applying my quote from two days ago specifically to Veith when what I was actually doing was pointing out it didn't take long for folks to start jumping on the "Gospel According to Narnia" bandwagon. I did not suggest that Veith was one of the people who had said that "The Passion" would change the world. He is now saying that LWW may be more effective than TP.

Clearly, we are reading his post in different ways. I read him to say that TP really wasn't as great as some predicted (after all, it didn't change the world), but maybe LWW will be better. You seem to be reading him to say that TP was great, and LWW can be even better! Of course, I get that from the fact that I understand both hot fudge sundaes and banana splits to be good things. Maybe you don't like hot fudge sundaes.

I'm sticking by my summary of Veith. I don't have any reason to believe that he things TP fulfilled its lofty expectations. Frankly, I haven't encountered anyone serious who thinks it did. I read Veith every week, and I believe that he is optimistic about this kind of cultural pursuit having gospel impact. I offer his recent articles on "The Simpsons" and on Christians in Hollywood as exhibits A and B. I think this is a fair way to read his point in his recent post. I may be wrong, but I hardly think you are fair to suggest that I'm bearing false witness.

Finally, doesn't an explicit gospel witness have to include enough information for a person to become a Christian? Wouldn't the content of the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 15 be a bare minimum for an explicit gospel witness? LWW will contain a picture of substitutionary atonement, but the only people who will connect it with the gospel are those who already know it. At best it will provide opportunities for believers to present an explicit gospel witness.

P.S. For the record, I put no stock—zero, zippo, nada—in the crusades of Graham, Sunday, or Jones.

P.P.S. Just for fun, here are some of the predictions for TP. No point here, just reminding everyone.



I have no doubt that the movie will be one of the greatest evangelistic tools in modern day history. I think people will go to it and then flood into the churches seeking to know the deeper implications of this movie. -Ed Young Jr., Pastor, Dallas-Area Fellowship Church

I believe The Passion of The Christ may well be one of the most powerful evangelistic tools of the last 100 years, because you have never seen the story of Jesus portrayed this vividly before. -Greg Laurie, Harvest Crusades

The thing that I'm most excited about is the opportunity it's going to give those of us who preach the cross. -Jack Graham, former President, Southern Baptist Convention

The Passion will stun audiences and create an incredible appetite for people to know more about Jesus. I urge Christians to invite their spiritually seeking friends to see this movie with them. -Lee Strobel, Former Atheist & Author "The Case for Christ" & "The Case for Faith"

This will do for "Jesus" movies what "Saving Private Ryan" did for war pictures. Every Christian MUST go see this movie and hold Mr. Gibson up in prayer. He's going to take a lot of heat for this project, but if we'll support him, this movie could have a profound spiritual effect on millions of people. -Paul Crouch, Jr., Trinity Broadcasting Network

Keith said...

I apologize for whatever part I played in misunderstanding. If what you meant about Veith was only that he was saying TP “wasn’t as great as some predicted,” then I have no major problem with your position, and I retract the suggestion of false witness.

I’m still not sure I see even that point in the blog to which you linked. However, it wouldn’t surprise me for Veith to think or say something like that. Of course, I also think that Veith would have maintained that the oberblown predictions were misguided from the start.

I will readily believe that you did not mean to suggest that Veith was one of the people who said TP would change the world. I thought you were making that very suggestion for this reason: You wrote, “You’ll remember who [predicted TP would change the world] because they’ll be the same ones saying the same things about ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Then you linked to Veith . . . saying the same things about LWW.

Regarding your comment, “I don't have any reason to believe that he thinks TP fulfilled its lofty expectations. Frankly, I haven't encountered anyone serious who thinks it did.” I would ask, “Have you encountered anyone serious who thought overblown triumphalistic predictions were a good idea to begin with?”

Regarding your comment: “I believe that [Veith] is optimistic about this kind of cultural pursuit having gospel impact.” I would agree that Veith is optimistic, but I think there is a difference between biblical optimism and na├»ve triumphalism. I think Veith has the former. Further, I would ask, (1) what do you consider gospel impact? Only individual conversion experiences? And (2) what type or types of pursuit do you think will have gospel impact? Only preaching?

Regarding explicit gospel witness: I meant my comment on that point as an honest question of terminology. What does Dave mean by “explicit” gospel witness? If he means something like you state (clear verbal presentation of the propositional content of I Cor 15), I have no quibble. I expected that he did mean something like you, so you will note that I then proceeded to write that I think the LWW story is a gospel – not an explicit gospel – witness.

That said, I think that there is a need for both explicit and non-explicit gospel witness. I think that Jesus used parables and stories that taught truth in non-explicit ways, and I think that we should too. If God thought best, he could have made the Bible one big systematic theology. Instead he gave us stories.

Finally, I would argue that even today, quite a few Americans already know the gospel story and will immediately see the parallel in Aslan’s death. 200 years ago, an even greater percentage of Americans would have known the gospel story. Why is that? Because some Christians made a cultural impact with the gospel.

P.S. I was not trying to argue that the Billy, Bob, and Billy crusades were fruitless. I think they had goofy adherents just like the cultural impact approach has goofy adherents. Nevertheless, many were converted through their efforts. If you have no use for cultural evangelism or for direct proclamation evangelism, how do you propose we evangelize?

P.P.S. Ed young was goofy to say people would, “flood into the churches.” How does Greg Laurie decide what is “the most powerful evangelistic tool?” Paul Crouch has no authority to tell anyone they “must” do anything not required by God.

Nevertheless, what’s wrong with Jack Graham being excited about the opportunities TP did give him and others to preach the cross? What’s wrong with Lee Strobel urging Christians to invite their spiritually seeking friends to see the movie? And, as much as I hate to admit that Paul Crouch, Jr. is right about anything, was he so far off in saying that TP did for Jesus movies what SPR did for war pictures?

Sincerely,

Keith E. Phillips

Dave said...

Keith,

My basic point is that LWW is not a gospel witness at all, if we establish the meaning of that term from the Bible. It is a fairy tale, and one with skewed theology. Comparisons with the Lord's parables are flawed because: (1) the parables almost exclusively served as illustrations for a teaching point, not as stand alone "witnesses" to something unspoken; and (2) the fact is that the parables are presented in Scripture as being something quite different than the wonderful teaching devices we have made them out to be, cf. Matt 13:10-11.

The real question, in my mind, is whether it is biblical right to use fairy tales as an evangelistic tool? How does this relate to 1 Cor 2:1-5?

As I wrote earlier, I believe it is symptomatic of American Christianity since Finney that we chase after these sensational things that we hope we get enough people's attention so that something great can happen spiritually. And I don't believe that it is a healthy symptom at all.

Keith said...

Dear Dave,

I agree that Finney's legacy is an unhealthy one. In none of my posts did I advocate making some sensational push so that something great can happen spiritually. Furthermore, I don't think Veith would advocate Finneyesqe sensationalism. I'm a presbyterian and he's a lutheran -- not the most sensationalist of denominations.

As far as I Corinthians 2:1-5 goes, Paul cannot mean that the only legitimate behavior for a Christian ever is to say absolutely nothing other than "Jesus Christ has been crucified." He goes on in I Corinthians to write exceptionally well about quite a few other things. Also, in Acts 17 he quotes Athenian poets and discusses theology with Athenian philosophers.

I continue to disagree with you that LWW is not a gospel witness. Your assertion that "LWW is not a gospel witness if we establish the meaning of that term from the Bible," doesn't prove anything. I think I'm defining gospel witness biblically just as you think you are. To get anywhere, we'll have to define and defend our positions.

I am arguing that anything true, beautiful, and good that points to the work of Christ should be considered a witness to the gospel. I'll explain and give Scriptural support below.

Is it your argument that only explicitly verbal/propositional presentations of the information contained in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and other New Testament writings should be considered gospel witness?

To be clear, I do think that an explicit verbal/propositional presentation of that information is important and necessary. Such presentations are definitely gospel witness.

However, I don't think it biblical to maintain that such presentations are the only things that constitute gospel witness.

I think that the Old Testament is a gospel witness (Genesis 3:15, the story of Noah, the story of Abraham and Isaac, the story of Jonah, the sacrificial system, the book of Isaiah, etc. all point to Christ). I think that the creation is a gospel witness (Psalm 19, Romans 1:19-20, etc.). I also think that cultural artifacts can be a gospel witness (Acts 17:22-34).

My main point in this whole debate is that we should be grateful when cultural artifacts of our time serve as this type of witness. I am not arguing for hype, and I am not arguing that preaching and propositional gospel presentations are unnecessary.

Why should we not be happy that a great story, written by a great Christian and reflecting a mature Christian worldview is going to be seen by thousands of people? Would it be better for them to see more pagan propaganda?

Furthermore, I disagree that the parables were mere "illustrations for a teaching point." They were the teaching. Jesus did usually explain them to his disciples but not to everyone (as you noted in Mattew 13:10-11). And, there are times when it appears that he did not explain them at all (Matthew 22:1-14). Nevertheless, they teach, they witness to, the audience Christ intended them to.

Another example would be The Pilgrim's Progress. It is allegorical fiction. Is it a gospel witness? Was it a good thing that most homes in America at one point owned that book? Would it be good for today's American families to own and read it?

If so, then why can't other fictional tales bear witness to the gospel?

Sincerely,
Keith

Dave said...

Keith,

Just a few comments about some things in your most recent post:

(1) I do not say nor imply that you embrace anything of Finney's theology or methodology, nor did I say or imply this about Veith. I was quite clear that my comments were addressed toward evangelicals who place their hopes in sensational, attention-getting efforts like LWW or the Passion or whatever. If I may risk being blunt, it seems that you are too quick to defend yourself; it causes you to miss the point--this has happened to both things that I and Paleo have written. Don't assume that we are saying something more than what we are actually saying.

(2) Similarly, my point in referring to 1 Cor 2:1-5 was the distinction between Paul's approach to ministry and the use of contemporary approaches to speech, etc. He never sought to eliminate the offense of the gospel by making it attractive and marketable. This seems, at least in my mind, completely contrary to the inherent dynamic of enterprises like LWW. I do believe it is fair to ask the question, "How does couching a supposed gospel witness in a fairy tale genre square with Paul's utter commitment to avoid detracting from the display of God's power through the gospel?" I do not say that one can only say "Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

(3) Your appeal to Acts 17 misses the mark in two ways: (a) Paul does not use their pagan idolatry as a witness to the gospel--he confronts it; and (b) you make the assumption that discussing theology with pagan philosophers was something that I was against. The real point is that Paul preached the gospel to them, he didn't tell them a fairy tale.

(4) It seems to me that about anything can be a gospel witness according to your "definition" (which is not really a definition at all--it is a list of things that can be a witness in your view). My point was that the Bible speaks of a witness as a testimony concerning something, and a gospel witness would be somethng testified about that subject. Yes, the OT serves as a witness because Jesus clearly told us that they speak of Him (John 5:39). Since all of the biblical items you referred to are in the OT, they are included in it. I would disagree with you strongly about whether creation is a "gospel" witness--there is no gospel in creation and the texts you cite say nothing about a gospel witness being communicated via creation. I doubt that believe that someone can be saved apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ, so I am sure that you would not see the gospel as being communicated via creation. I already argued against pagan artifacts being a witness--how do they tell us the gospel?

(5) If I may run the risk of being perceived as being a real idiot, I would contend that LWW may be a great literary story, but it is not great theology, and that I cannot agree that the author was a great Christian. Regarding the latter, I will leave that to God to decide, but regarding the former, I do not consider the theology of LWW to be a good representation of what the Bible actually teaches about Christ's atonement and redemption through Him.

(6) Lastly, on what grounds can we call a fairy tale that does not explicitly contain a clear testimony to the person and work of Jesus Christ a gospel witness? We can call it many things, but the fact is that no one who is ignorant of biblical truth will see the gospel in it at all. I suppose if we are willing to just pick through films at our own pleasure finding parallels to biblical truth, that is up to us. But it is not true to say that these parallels are a gospel witness. It might be true that we use them to give a gospel witness, but they themselves are not a witness.

Oh well, I have written longer than I intended.

Dave

Keith said...

Dave,

(1)
If I may risk being blunt, paleo offered a critique of those who make overblown predictions about things like TP and LWW – then linked to Veith. That appeared to imply that Veith made overblown predictions about TP. You say – in response to Veith’s and my positions – that since Finney, American evangelicals chase things like TP and LWW. That appeared to imply that our positions are part of Finney’s heritage.

You and paleo may not have intended to imply what I heard. When paleo clarified his position, I was quick to concede. I will also readily accept that you did not intend to group Veith and me with the Finneyesqe evangelicals. However, I didn’t just assume, for no reason, that you were saying something more than you intended. The point of discussion is to clarify such misunderstandings.

By what appears to be your standard of discourse, I could respond to your most recent post, “I do not say or imply that you said or implied that Veith or I embrace anything of Finney’s theology or methodology.” In fact, it is true that in my last post I did not explicitly “say” that. It is also true that I did not even intend to “imply” that. My intention was to express agreement with you where I could, to comment about Finney the way Paleo had commented about Billy Sunday and friends, and to clarify where I’m coming from. Nevertheless, because of the context and medium of this discussion, I can see how you drew your conclusion. I don’t think it was a bald face assumption – even thought it was a misunderstanding.

(2 &3)
If the true offense of the gospel is removed, there is no gospel. Nevertheless, Paul did attempt to make the gospel attractively understandable and to use that which was known to explain that which was not known. In Act 17:22-23, Paul says, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unkown I am going to proclaim to you.” Paul goes on in verse 28 to quote Greek poetry to them as evangelism, “’For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said. ‘We are his offspring.’” Paul seemed to be happy to find pagan Athenian cultural artifacts to help him explain the offense of the gospel.

How does couching the gospel witness in the context of idolatry and pagan poetry square with Paul’s commiment to avoid detracting from the display of God’s power through the Gospel? He took something most would think worse than a fairy tell – pagan religious works – and used them to preach the gospel.

(4)
I did define gospel witness: “anything true, beautiful, and good that points to the work of Christ should be considered a witness to the gospel.” The list of witnesses were examples from the Bible that I think support the truth of my definition.

I’m glad we agree that the O.T. is gospel witness. Unfortunately, we may still disagree regarding creation. I do actually believe that part of the gospel is c0mmunicated via creation. I don’t believe every part of the historical gospel narrative is communicated – every part of it is not communicated in the O.T. either. Nevertheless, Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens declare God’s glory and display knowledge to all peoples. Romans 1:19-20 tells us that the reason men are without excuse is because “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” – this refers to the sensus divinitatis and/or creation.

(5)
For now, we’ll just have to disagree regarding the greatness of C.S. Lewis. I may be able to agree with you (it depends what you mean precisely) that LWW is not great theology. It is not great theology because it is a work of fiction not theology. However, it is fiction that flows from a Christian worldview, and it does this superbly.

(6)
Perhaps if I say “a witness to the gospel” instead of “gospel witness” my position will be easier for you to see. I think that LWW is a witness to the gospel the way the altar to the unkown god was a witness, the way the heavens are a witness, the way everything true, good, and beautiful is a witness. Those who feel the pull of the true, good, and beautiful will look for its source, and its source is Jesus.

Keith

Ben said...

Keith,

I must confess that I feel out of my league arguing with both you and Dave. There's no quicker way to get me to abandon an argument than to start chucking Latin at me. Nevertheless, I'll think out loud for a second.

I have sympathy with Dave's Finney argumentation. I had not thought of my original post in that way, and I'm not sure I would accuse all who have high hopes for LWW with Finneyistic thinking just yet. Perhaps I should. I certainly have no love for anything Finney.

My line of distinction is that Finney was trying to make a show to advance his gospel. I'm not sure than many evangelicals, particularly Veith, are doing that. I do see some trying to take advantage of a show. My point is not that they are peddling the gospel, but that they have far too high hopes for how far good things in culture will take them. I hope that this makes a shred of sense.

Perhaps I would do better to make my point in relationship to your closing comment, "Those who feel the pull of the true, good, and beautiful will look for its source, and its source is Jesus." This is where we apparently disagree over creation. Certainly the Fall has not extricated all that was true, good, and beautiful. Yet I still believe that the remaining truth, goodness, and beauty is wholly insufficient to point men to the gospel. It is enough to point them to their own depravity and make them aware of their guilt, but it cannot redeem or begin to redeem.

Creation may till their hearts to receive the gospel, but it contains precisely zero gospel content and therefore cannot be a gospel witness except perhaps in the sense of a courtroom "character witness," which testifies to the truthfulness of another witness but is not a witness to the truth itself. My conclusion is that it is a vain hope to think that people who have rejected Creation's testimony to God's veracity will be moved to accept it by a product of 20th and 21st century culture.

I appreciate the discussion.

Keith said...

Dear Paleoevangelical,

I also have sympathy with Dave’s Finney argumentation. Finney’s legacy has been goofy at best and positively harmful at worst. I am just convinced that optimism like Veith’s is not a part of that legacy.

It is difficult to discern exactly who is praising the good he can praise and who is “trying to take advantage of a show.” Because of all the nuances, I’m sure there will continue to be disagreements on this topic among men of good faith.

John Piper to whom you refered earlier, published a little book titled “The Passion of the Christ” with a cover evocative of the movie’s posters. He distributed these books at the time of the movie’s release. Which was he doing?

I don’t have the time to continue this discussion. However, if I did, and you were willing, I think we would only make headway by establishing some distinctions. At minimum, I think that we would need to distinguish between the following:
I. Finney’s heirs – those who think we need to orchestrate spectacle and manipulate emotions in order to “save souls”.
II. Those who accept a biblical “cultural madate” (like most reformed)
III. Those who deny a biblical cultural mandate (like many – not all – fundamentalists)
IV. Those with an optimistic eschatology
V. Those with a pessimistic eschatology
Membership in any one of these groups does not require or guarantee membership in any others. Some out there would agree with I, II, and IV. Others would agree with I, III, and V.

On the other hand, I disagree with I but agree with II and IV. You and Dave disagree with I but agree with III and V (I think). You, Dave, and I all think our positions derive from scripture – even though our positions are different. But, hey, at least we are of one mind regarding I.

I don’t think we are truly that far apart regarding creation. You admit that creation “is enough to point them to their own depravity and make them aware of their guilt.” Is that not the first part of the gospel – recognizing one’s guilt? Why would one bow to a savior if one did not think himself damned? Furthermore, one can only be guilty if there is an authority that has been disobeyed. So, in recognizing his guilt a person is also recognizing the existence of God. I see acceptance of these realities as the beginning of redemption in those being called – those feeling the pull.

Finally, I agree with you that many people will reject God. Nothing will convince them – not creation, not culture, not preaching – nothing. They do not feel the pull. However, those who do feel God’s pull – those whom God is pulling – don’t always begin to feel it in the same place. Some begin to feel it from creation, some from Christian culture, and some from preaching. Preaching (explaining scripture) will be necessary to satisfy their longing, but it is not always that which begins the longing. In Westminster Confession language, God uses secondary causes.

I also appreciate the discussion.

Keith

Ben said...

Keith,

I think some of our disagreement is in our definitions. For example, I do not see "gospel" as including awareness of guilt. General revelation in Romans 1 is not gospel in my thinking, but that text certainly teach that all people are responsible to recognize their guilt. Part of my perspective is that I see gospel in contradistinction to law. Clearly, law does contain the necessary data to make us aware of our inability to meet God's standard of righteousness. You would seem to define gospel more broadly to encompass the whole message of Scripture. My definition is limited to what I understand the word to have meant—good news.

I think your Piper illustration is apples to oranges. Piper was trying to infuse gospel conversation into a broader cultural conversation. He didn't try to create the cultural conversation, and he didn't say that the cultural conversation was gospel. Veith is suggesting that this LWW cultural conversation may have gospel impact on its own regardless of whether propositional biblical truth accompanies it. You seem to concur with Veith, but I don't think that Piper would.

Concerning your Roman numeral analysis, I definitely reject I and II. I'm not sure that III accurately describes me either though. Remember the title and purpose of my original post—"The Uneasy Conscience of a Modern Paleoevangelical." In that post I expressed my uneasiness with both the isolationist fundamentalist approach and the infiltrationist evangelical approach. I think you're actually misrepresenting the fundamentalist approach in III, but you're being too kind, not too harsh. Fundamentalists err not in rejecting the cultural mandated, but in rejecting the gospel mandate. Their isolationism has precluded their ability to impact people. Fundamentalists are not impacting culture because they're not impacting people (which is the gospel call). On the other hand, evangelicals are imbibing culture, not changing it or changing people..

I'm confused by how you phrase IV and V. I think I have a very optimistic eschatology: Christ wins in the end. My pessimism is in what happens before the eschatology kicks into high gear.

Finally, my argument is not that God will not use secondary causes to accomplish His gospel purposes. My point is that we need to engage in the primary causes—explicit gospel witnesses—instead of putting our hopes, energies, and confidences into the secondary causes. That's where I wouldn't yet personally accuse Veith of Finneyism. He's not directly the propagator of the false Finneyistic gospel. He's more like the Reformed fundamentalist who tolerates the Finneyistic fundamentalists in vain hopes that they will do more good than harm

Dave said...

Because this is a dicussion of five points not likely to get me in trouble, I'll offer my two cents: (1) Definitely reject numbers 1-2, 4-5; (2) I see no biblical support for a cultural mandate or that the church has a responsibility to make some kind of cultural impact; (3) I believe it is a misnomer to call my eschatology pessimistic simply because I believe that the Scriptures teach that things will decline toward the end (e.g., 2 Tim 3:13)--confidence that the return of Christ is the real answer to this world's problems is not pessimistic!

Keith said...

Paleo and Dave,

I only have a few minutes to respond . . .

RE: “GOSPEL”
Paleo, I wholeheartedly agree that some of our disagreement is in our definitions.

I understand that your stipulated definition of “gospel” includes only the pleasant part of God’s redeeming plan, and I agree that such a definition is a legitimate use of the word “gospel”.

However, I maintain that my use of “gospel” is legitimate as well. I believe that the “whole message of Scripture” is the message of redemption and, in that sense, is all good news. Of course, the fall and our continuing sin and need for repentance aren’t pleasant or happy parts for us, but they must be acknowledged in order to receive redemption.

Even fundamentalists who use the “Romans Road” to “Present the Gospel” acknowledge this truth. They start with “For all have sinned.” They go on to “The wages of sin is death.” Etc.

Nevertheless, so far our disagreement is merely one of using two different stipulated definitions of the word “gospel.”
When it comes to your perspective of seeing the gospel in contradistinction to the law, however, I think we may have a disagreement that stems from more than terminology.

I think the law is, in a sense, part of the gospel. I believe that the Bible reveals at least three purposes for the law: 1) to restrain evil, 2) to reveal personal guilt, 3) to guide Christian living (You can find the scriptural support under “Of the Law of God” at http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/). All three of these purposes are good. I acknowledge that use number 2 isn’t pleasant to experience. However, uses 1 and 3 seem completely good AND pleasant to me.

Re: PIPER VS. VEITH
I think that Piper and Veith are a lot closer than you do. I think they are both just trying to praise (and in Piper’s case) take advantage of good culture.

I don’t think Veith makes the claim that the “cultural conversation may have gospel impact on its own regardless of whether propositional biblical truth accompanies it.” I think that the whole point of the article you linked to addressed the importance of people “hearing the WORD.” Furthermore, he specifically says, regarding LWW, “This may still need to be unpacked for non-believers and related to Christ in the real world.”

In the big picture, though, it doesn’t really matter if we see this whole Veith/Piper thing from different perspectives. On the other hand, it is important that Christians not abandon cultural pursuits. There will be culture. Our only choice is whether we will season and preserve it or abandon it to the heathen.

RE: “ROMAN NUMERALS”
Paleo, how do you propose that fundamentalists “impact people”? They are already proclaiming the propositional gospel from their pulpits – some do nothing but this every single Sunday morning. If they are to interact with people outside the church, it will be in the context of a culture.

Now, I agree that many evangelicals are “imbibing” not changing culture. However, guys like Lewis have changed culture, and others can today – if they don’t isolate themselves from that part of life.

I meant nothing pejorative by referring to certain types of eschatology as “pessimistic”. All I meant is that some Christians think that the world will continue to get worse until the end comes. Other Christians think that things will stay more or less the same or get better until the end comes. The end is after eschatology.

All Christians believe that Christ wins AT the end. The debate is over (a) what happens UNTIL the end, and (b) HOW does Christ win.

RE: “SECONDARY CAUSES”
The primary cause is the Holy Spirit. Everything else is a secondary cause. The Bible and biblical preaching are the preeminent secondary cause, but not the only secondary cause. No secondary cause will be of any effect without the work of the Holy Spirit. Many will be through his work.

Keith