Friday, December 12, 2008

The Modern Way

Rhetoric is a powerful tool. Yea, possibly the strongest, most influential weapon man has in his arsenal. Aristotle defined rhetoric as “The faculty of using all the available means of persuasion in a given message.” Others have offered their definitions as well, ranging from, “The art of communicating effectively,”…”The art of enchanting the soul,”…”Communicative deception,”…and so on. For purposes of this essay, we shall regard rhetoric as being the habitual dilemma of man(sic), in which verbal communication strives for the one goal of persuasion. Let us apply our objective epistemologies and critical wit to the field of rhetoric, more specifically, the rhetoric used by the modern evangelical churches, which I will collectively refer to as “The Modern Way,” out of sheer respect for Martin Luther, and his battles against this sense of “New Thinking,” in Erfurt.

The Modern Way uses rhetoric to establish a new look on the Gospel that is neither biblical, nor historical. The story goes like this: “You know you are a sinner, right?…Do you want to go to Heaven?…Repeat these words after me…were you sincere?…then you are SAVED!” Since when is the redemption process dependent upon the sincerity of man’s heart? The bible says the heart is deceitfully wicked. As a Calvinist, and writing this with fellow Reformed Aficionados blowing smoke around the table, I’m sure we are all ready to draw our pistols at Synergistic ideology, but let’s stay on task…Rhetoric is the issue at hand.

Although I side with the Aristotelians that rhetoric does qualify itself as an art—or Tekne—I side with the Platons on the uses, as well as the dangers of rhetoric. The rhetorical style of The Modern Way promises you a better life, with a more submissive wife, a more gentle husband, bigger bank accounts, better friends, and, oh yeah, Eternal Life. The Modern Way encourages, rather, builds, mega-churches and boasts of the numbers who prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer” last service. Please note I do not entirely—“entirely” mind you— question the salvation of those who have prayed such a prayer. However, I stand firm that such a prayer is neither biblical nor representative of true faith with repentance and a turning away from sin. If you yourself experienced conversion in this manner, please note that you were not redeemed because of this prayer and manner but rather in spite of this prayer and manner.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).” The Modern Way, in almost every instance, though not exclusively, has steered clear of pluralism in their rhetoric. There is still one God; and there is still a Narrow Gate. However, the “seeker-friendly” attitude of The Modern Way has distorted, molested, and compromised the holiness of the gospel of Jesus Christ by falling upon the social sciences of Anthropology and Sociology to determine what their church environment, ideology, and appearance should resemble. When did the bible become insufficient in such matters? Paul Washer states, “It is fine for a church to be seeker-friendly when the one they seek is God.” The Modern Way has, and will, do everything in its power to become relevant to the surrounding worldly culture by molding itself to resemble that culture entirely. The promotion of the “Sinner’s Prayer” creates an army of un-redeemed “Christians.” The Modern Way will continue to value the advice given by carnal men on what to transform their church into. Then, they will be forced to continue their carnal nature and appearance to keep an attendance of carnal men, which they have prepared with golden bells for reprobation, and the fire that awaits them.

The rhetoric of The Modern Way’s pulpit promises salvation to all by making a few quick and simple decisions, like jumping through a few evangelical hoops to achieve eternal salvation. We will then march them off to Baptism the next Sunday, and rarely see them again in Church. Many years will pass and they will return, at which point a bold one may witness to this man, to which he will reply, “Oh, I have been there n’ done that. I’m a born-again believer. I have been most of my life.” Mind you that not only the Gate is Narrow, but the Way is Narrow as well, and true conversion is marked by the constant repentance of His children. Jesus’ sheep hear his voice, and they know Him and follow Him (John 10).

My friend, we as Christians are not relevant to our culture by establishing identical views and appearances; we are relevant to our culture because we are absolutely nothing of the sort. Likewise, evangelism does not depend upon a band that resembles MTV; it does not depend upon drawn-out altar calls, or a preacher who believes wearing blue jeans will make people more comfortable in church. Evangelism lies solely and utterly upon the Irresistible Grace of God, and for someone to move and become a child of God, it is not because of any other reason other than the Spirit of God moved in that place, as was ordained before the foundation of the world.
Let us not forget that the Way is Narrow, not only the Gate. Sharpen your brothers and sisters trapped in The Modern Way. Declare war against mindless preaching and worldly values molesting their way into that which is holy. Though it may seem as a mite beating his head against a world of granite; declare war against such things.

The Modern Way’s rhetoric is convenient, appealing, painless. Dear reader, declare war.

18 comments:

Hal Brunson said...

CP,

Welcome to SC.

Most of the readers here declared war a long time ago.

If "the modern way" uses rhetoric, Aristotle would not recognize it as such. Frankly, I wish they did; then at least we would not disdain both their content and method.

J. Matthew Brunson said...

Rhetor,

I enjoyed your post. I think you paint a very accurate portrait of modern churches. I often leave church with a disappointed notion that what I need simply is not there. I do not however, share your, HB's, Shane's, MP's, or Treybur's enthusiasm specifically for Calvinism, and my reasons are as follows. (I doubt this is taking any of the others off guard, as I enjoy talking about Ideas but am typically silent when this topic is approached). I do not believe Man is a bad or hopeless piece of art . . . . . . I believe he is a severely damaged masterpiece. Surely despite his distorted marks of injury, a keen eye can appreciate the beauty and nobility for which he was constructed - I do not believe that these are dead remnants, incapable of being set in motion, but that they, in fact, are set in motion quite frequently by our inherent inspiration to seek God. Calvinist "rhetoric," while a wonderful depiction of God's Grace, declares man as a 100%passive bystander. No doubt, man is a pitifully weak player in the process, but why, as quoted in your post, does Christ command - "Enter" through the narrow gate. Obviously "enter" is an active verb which He is commanding men to perform. Now I'd rather not get into a "this verse says this" and "this verse says that" contest - because this tactic leads nowhere when applied to this topic (and, hehe, because I'm dealing with several biblical scholars). Last idea - if I am drowning, someone pulls up in a boat, reaches down to me, and I reach up to grab his hand - can I still not claim that I have been saved? The "depravity" of man to which calvinists so often refer represents itself in this scenario as a drowning man who spitefully refuses to lift his hand toward his rescuer - no doubt that man is responsible for his own death.

Okay guys, let the storm begin, please don't hold any punches (not that that will be a problem on this blog). And dad, if you feel your blood pressure rising at any time while you're reading this, it's okay with me if you take another motoprolol.

Shane said...

Matt:

I'm sorry that your total depravity prevents you from apprehending the truth of God's grace.

Just kidding.

I only offer this: offers to enter through the gate can only be accepted by vivified man, once regenerated---such commands guide the new creation in what to do.

Additionally, a responsibility doesn't imply ability. For instance, GM is responsible for all of its debt, but it is inable to pay them.

I don't punch with Calvinist fists like a lot of people. Folks will agree or disagree, and the natural state is disagreement until the Spirit changes the person's mind.

TruthMatters said...

Hi Charlie,

I came across this blog post via a "Paul Washer" google search. Just requesting permission to copy this post over to my blog.

If you feel so led, you might want to do a post clarifying what "declaring war" should look like. I fear many readers may misunderstand that as did many of the followers of Luther during his absence after the Diet or Worms.

I will visit often. No soft, sweet smelling, candles, please. :-)

Beau Morgan said...

Matt,

By saying "our inherent inspiration to seek God" would you say that man has any ability (even if as a "pitifully weak player in the process") at all to do that which God requires to be made right with Him?

If so, how then would you defend against the argument that if man, even as a "severely damaged masterpiece" (which I think is a good phrase), gains even .01% in the process and no longer is a "passive bystander," then what logically is to keep man from evolving into being 100% active and no longer needing God to fully impute the righteousness of Christ to him if his own "inherent desire to seek him" can theoretically have the full ability to do that itself? In other words, if man has any ability at all to do that for which he is responsible, then ultimately if you play that idea out to its fullest potential, why would man need a divine Christ (or even a divine Holy Spirit for that matter)?

Also, re your analogy of the man reaching up towards the boat, can a man desire to be saved "reach up" and not be saved already?

Lastly, and only for the sake of trying to make your brain hurt worse than mine, on your phrase "100% passive bystander," consider again the question above worded a bit differently: how can a man who is already saved not desire to "reach up"? (I admit that I lose some of the "physicality" of your analogy with this question for "spirituality's" sake)

Hal Brunson said...

JM,

It's one thing to say that "When I'm drowning some extends to me a hand" whereby I am saved, another thing altogether to say, "I'm drowned already, already dead, lungs full of water, hypothermic, and blue," and THEN Someone extends a hand to me, and not only raises me from the abyss, but also raises me from death."

The Calvnist does not deny vestigial evidence and elements of divine imagery in the human frame; to contrary, he sees them everywhere manifested throughout humanity, in art, politics, basic morality, science, etc., etc.; what the Calvinist does deny is that

salvation = grace + me

but rather

salvation = grace + nothing

Grace is not for drowning men, but for drowned men.

J. Matthew Brunson said...

Hey guys,

points well taken; just so everyone knows, HB told me I was a "confused heretic" on the phone today - we had a good laugh about it - all in good fun. I do know that left to my own devices, I would indeed drown. Therefore, I find no inconsistency with what I believe and your points that man requires divine intervention to become what he is meant to be. I guess what I take issue with, since we're on the topic of rhetoric, is what I feel to be the sometimes incessant focus among certain Calvinists on depravity. I have great admiration for what Dad (HB) refers to as "vestigial remnants and divine imagery" within mankind through not only the aforementioned media of art, philosophy, etc., but also through man's natural inclination to pursue righteousness, and battle against his own fallen nature. Beau, I believe that I do see this inclination in those who may not fit the classic definition of being "saved." A question I pose to you all - based on Beau's rationale that any man's surge toward God, no matter how slight, is evidence that salvation has already occurred - can we then say that any man we witness engaged in a moral act must have in fact received salvation - this seems to me a stretch. Yes, man is incapable of attaining righteousness, but I witness the attempt being made by people of many different backgrounds, religions, etc., and to me that is an encouraging thought.

To "Truth Matters" - thanks for posting.

The Militant Pacifist said...

JMB,

I (MP) lost enthusiasm for “Calvinism” long ago. Please see my earlier post (More on the Christian's Relationship with the State) on this blog where I commented about my “Calvinism.” FYI, I believe that “salvation is of the LORD.” I am not a defender of John Calvin, though I bow to him as my intellectual, philosophical, and theological superior (but “I think also that I have the Spirit of God” [1 Cor 7:40]).

I am empathetic with your anthropology. When I consider man/woman, my mind declares - “beautiful disaster.” Though descriptions of depravity are unsettling, I have yet to encounter even one (description) that (in my opinion) “overstated” the case.

JMB, I am an “eclectic” (in theology, in music, in food, in drink, etc.), so I find it personally offensive when someone tries to “categorize” me (I’m letting you know this because I doubt – based upon my knowledge of your personage – that you were intending to be offensive to me).

In the immediate context of what is under discussion (my meaning is), I appreciate “Calvinistic” soteriology (i.e., TULIP), though I disdain the “reformed”, “covenantalist” system. I believe that those who become convinced “covenantalists” (and, yes, I understand what that means) should follow their convictions and sprinkle (i.e., baptize) their children – i.e., they should “join up” with the Presbys. Life is short – if you really have a conscience, follow it!

Though I must confess that I have learned much more from reading Presby theologians that I have from reading Baptists (except for CHS and HEB), I am conscience-bound to my convictions regarding the radical nature of salvation and the prophetic nature of believers baptism.

It seems to me that a right Christian anthropology is inextricably bound up with “right” Theology (i.e., what would a being have to be like to properly be called “God”).

Anyway (brother), all this to say – when you start listing initials about who believes or embraces this or that – please list my initials

sparingly. I am an “eclectic” and I learned years ago (from a very close friend of yours) to be careful what I “sign”, what I “endorse” and what I dogmatically “profess.” Also, we (you and I) have not spent a lot of time together recently.

Though some think that I am more “wishy-washy” for heeding this counsel (to be sparing in dogmatism), I believe that I am “wiser” – and I covet wisdom.

I crave it. I want it. I pray to God for it.

Grace & Peace to you!

Shane said...

Matt:

Let me address the moral act issue. My Law and Religion professor (an attorney and Seventh Day Adventist preacher, who was a black man from the Virgin Islands, and an AWESOME prof) permitted me to do a presentation on Calvinism for my class. At the end of the presentation I took questions. One question was from a soldier turned law student who asked, "What about the guy who takes a bullet for a comrade? Is there no good in him?"

My answer was to distinguish between total depravity and utter depravity. Total depravity does not mean that man is the worst he can possibly be, but that he does no act for the glory of God, which means that no act he does can be righteous regardless of its morality.

Therefore, a moral act doesn't imply salvation. But confession of sin to the one true God implies that the person's heart was changed immediately prior to such a confession, rather than the confession preceding the change of heart.

There is a reason, I think, that we get "a new heart" and not a fixed old one.

Regardless, the distinction between total and utter depravity is one that may not be made often enough in Calvinist churches. However, Christianity has bigger problems that folk having too low a view of humanity.

J. Matthew Brunson said...

Shane,

it's an interesting distinction between total and utter depravity, as well as between a moral and a righteous act. By your rationale, man is capable of moral acts of his own accord. He is only capable of a righteous act(one that is done for the glory of God), via a complete transformation from his natural state. How then do we define a moral act? Following your distinction, it would seem that a moral act is one that approaches righteousness, but falls short because its underlying motivation is something other than the glorification of God. I believe a moral act is direct evidence of man's pursuit of God. Is this not glorifying to Him? Is that not our very motivation for being moral? Can you further expound on the delineation between your definitions of a moral and a righteous act, because I'm not sure I see a clear distinction?

Hal Brunson said...

JMB,

You said, "don't hold any punches";

OK.

Your first post involves a triple irony and a triple contradiction . . .

First Irony, First Contradiction:

"I often leave church with a disappointed notion that what I need simply is not there" - That emptiness you feel in those churches stems from the very point of view you defend; your position is but a paraphrase of the very theology that leaves you so empty.

Second Irony, Second Contradiction:
I know you disdain mediocrity of every sort: mediocrity of thinking, mediocrity of literature, mediocrity of performance, and apparantly mediocrity of religion; yet, the theological position you defend is in fact one of mediocrity; Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Jimmy Swaggart, John Hagee, and a few historical figures whose tepid thinking has been destroyed by superior biblical scholarship would all say "Amen" to what you have said. You study and admire "high" science and "high "literature, and yet in this case you defend "low" theology; I encourage you to apply the same passion to theology that you have for science and literature, and read high theology (I'll be happy to supply the books); high standards of science and literature are not compatible with low standards of theology.

Third Irony, Third Contradiction:
the philosophical inconsistency of atheism you so eloquently attack in "Atheist Lions" is in fact a direct contradiction of your idea that man possesses "an inherent inspiration to seek God"; you are caught on the horns of a dilemma if you deny to philosophical atheism the achievement of morality and, at the same time, allow theological humanism the possibility of finding God and morality; errant ideas lead to errant conclusions, and theological humanism fares no better in its quest for morality (or God) than does philosophical atheism.

Beau Morgan said...

Matt,

In response to the question you raised, Christianity is not chiefly about morality (ie. "for what the law could not do..."), and this chiefly distinguishes it from any other religion or -ism.

Morality only restrains men;
Salvation only changes men.

One's motivation, which God only really knows, is the difference between evidence of God's common grace (man's conscience) and God's saving grace (the Holy Spirit within man); and admittedly, this is often difficult to distinguish. Interestingly, both have the imprint of God (which is possibly what you admire so much in men trying to do good) but one is only to "restrain" men in the end while the other is to "change" them. (Incidentally, this you admire, this inescapable imprint, was my main point on the "Atheist Sheep" post.)

On the point you bring to mind, I think of Christ's words, "that he that will save his life shall lose it."

Good thing it isn't our job as men to distinguish this in other men (I guess for pastors it is more complicated).

I agree that many Calvinists spend too much time and energy on depravity. Aren't we supposed to be "more than conquerors"?

J. Matthew Brunson said...

HB,

When I see the word "contradiction," i assume you mean an intellectual contradiction . . . . . . if this is the case, your pointing out of "contradiction" after "contradiction is quite a stretch.

Your first point is stated as a fact, whereas it is really your "best guess" about my personal emotional, psychological, and intellectual reasons for feeling disappointed at the time of leaving these modern churches - obviously an overreaching statement from someone who is not even present with me at these times.

Your second point is well-taken, and pretty hilarious (good ol' Jimmy Swaggart always makes me laugh). You are right that I often do not pursue theological studies with the same ferocity as my other studies; I should. However, "ironically," I'm not sure I can find a better definition of "intellectual mediocrity" than a young man (myself in this case) who takes all his father's teaching, his books (which you offer in this case), asks no questions, and swallows his ideologies whole. One thing you have left out, as a scientist, I have the opportunity to see revelations of truth through observing nature. People not in scientific fields are not blessed with the abundant opportunities that I enjoy in this realm. Therefore, my intellectual pursuits of God are more far-reaching than you presume. As for comparing my beliefs to Jimmy Swaggart et. al., well, anyone who knows me, including you, would not take this idea seriously, so I will not respond.

Third point - I think you got me. I need to think about that one some more.

And for the record - I don't feel "empty" as you say, simply frequently disappointed with churches.

Beau Morgan said...

Sorry, one more quick point that might be helpful in dealing with gloomy "Calvinists".

In the "Atheist Sheep" posting, I mentioned the worldview model of Creation--what is man intended to be, Fall--what went wrong, and Redemption--how to make it right again. Depravity (Fall) only accounts for 1/3 of the total picture, so why emphasize it any more or less than that?

To emphasize the depravity of man more than 1/3 of the time, as you would probably agree that many if not all "Calvinists" do, is only to take away from the dignity of man in Creation and the restorative work of Christ on man in Redemption.

In short, it makes for an incomplete picture when depravity is overemphasized since it takes away from the complete work of God.

TruthMatters said...

Hope you don;t mind me giving my 2 cents, for what it's worth:

Among the unregenerate: there is godless morality and godless immorality.

Among the saved: there is godless morality and godless immorality.

Morality and immorality have to do with the old nature and the individuals natural strengths and abilities to “self-will” whether morality makes them feel good about themselves or not. They determine to be “good” or “bad” motivated by how that behavior makes them feel about themselves.

That is why a “morally strong” unregenerate person, who is saved by God’s grace, is often viewed as a “Super Christian” because they don’t struggle with “immoral” behaviors and thus outwardly look more like mature, sanctified believers. In addition, these “morally strong” Christians seem to lack compassion for brothers who have not come from the “I’m a good, loving, kind, sacrificing, moral, person” boot camp that they spent their entire unregenerate life in. I know, I was one of them.

Total depravity has nothing to do with this. Total depravity has to do with the eternal spiritual condition of the soul. As Spurgeon said, You may go to hell as well dressed in the garnishings of morality as in the rags of immorality. It is still the old nature- wash it, and cleanse it, and bind it, and curb it, and bridle it- it is still the old fallen nature,and cannot understand spiritual things.

For what it's worth.

Shane said...

Matt and Hal:

All this Jimmy Swaggert talk has me remembering the Church Lady skit on SNL, where an actor playing Swaggert is on the set bawling, talking about how he let down his church and let down his family, to which the Church Lady responded with, "you let down your pants too, didn't you?"

Shane said...

Matt:

Defining "a moral act" is debatable, I suppose, but as a general proposition I would say that a moral act is any action that conforms God's law, which is written in some sense in the hearts of all. Rom. 1. For instance, a guy who sees a stranded old lady trying to change a tire knows in his heart that it is the "right thing to do" to help the lady change her tire. And if he does help her, that is a moral act. However, it is not a righteous act unless it is done by a person who does all things for God's glory. After all, without faith, say sthe writer of Hebrews, it is impossible to please God.

Therefore, I would disavow the statement that moral acts approach righteosness, because that implies the person committing the moral act is consciously heading toward God, when in fact God has nothing at all to do with the person's act of morality.

This, I think, embodies the church's teaching on total depravity, whereby I aver that each aspect of man is tainted by sin, so that man in his totality is depraved. But he is not as bad as he could be, which would be utter depravity. At the same time, though the law of God is written within, so that right and wrong is generally known, the truth of Christ must be revealed, which I think is borne out by John 17.

And with all do respect, I don't think we can define moral acts as evidence of man seeking after God, because Christ manifestly states that if you seek you'll find. All people commit "moral" acts, therefore all seek, yet few find.

Instead of being evidence of man seeking after God, moral acts are evidence of God's blessings on fallen man.

Hal Brunson said...

Shane,

The Church Lady is my favorite theologian next to Barth; her interview with Jimmy Swaggart and Pat Robertson remains forever in my memory as one of the most profound audio-visual experiences of my life, excepting Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show: and Peter Sellers wherever and whenever he is.

Isn't that special?