Tuesday, July 31, 2018

But, shouldn't we just preach the simple gospel? (Isn't anything else "beyond" that a mere distraction or needless complication?)

The captioned question reflects a fairly common mindset in the church, in turn echoing a trend in the wider community that dismisses anything that seems to be complicated or which uses "big words" etc.

However, while yes we do need to be clear and speak in terms that are familiar to our audience, it is also true that: the simplistic, simpleton standard fails the plumbline tests of both scripture and experience distilled as sound history.

For one, while actual lemmings do not naturally suicidally blindly march off cliff edges -- the notorious Disney movies actually forced the poor creatures off the cliffs -- people are all too prone to suicidal, demonic mass delusion:

If you do not believe me, ponder this Nazi era -- that's living memory! -- poster that blasphemously mocks the descent of the Spirit on Christ at his baptism, and shows an army of the deluded marching behind the demonic false would-be political messiah Hitler and his deadly flag of the twisted, broken cross:

Ponder the parallels to typical portrayals of the descent of the Spirit as a dove (not a demonic, bomber-bird) at Jesus' baptism:

. . . and tremble.

Let me sum up in the history principle: the lessons of sound history were paid for with blood and tears; those who ignore, neglect, forget or reject them doom themselves to pay the same coin over and over and over again.

A word to the wise.

The key problem here, is just that: wisdom. For, we have too often lost focus on what the scriptures teach about the importance of wisdom. For example:
 Prov 1:The proverbs (truths obscurely expressed, maxims) of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 To know [skillful and godly] wisdom and instruction;
To discern and comprehend the words of understanding and insight,
3 To receive instruction in wise behavior and the discipline of wise thoughtfulness,
Righteousness, justice, and integrity;
4 That prudence (good judgment, astute common sense) may be given to the naive or inexperienced [who are easily misled],
And knowledge and discretion (intelligent discernment) to the youth,
5 The wise will hear and increase their learning,
And the person of understanding will acquire wise counsel and the skill [to steer his course wisely and lead others to the truth],
6 To understand a proverb and a figure [of speech] or an enigma with its interpretation,
And the words of the wise and their riddles [that require reflection].
7 The [reverent] fear of the Lord [that is, worshiping Him and regarding Him as truly awesome] is the beginning and the preeminent part of knowledge [its starting point and its essence];
But arrogant [a]fools despise [skillful and godly] wisdom and instruction and self-discipline. [AMP]

Notice, the very proverbs are an art form of compressed, distilled lessons that pose a deliberate challenge to the simplistic and ignorant. Make the effort, ponder, seek counsel, study, heed -- or fail as a simpleton or fool or outright reprobate sold on the ways and counsels of evil.

 Instantly, the notion that everything in Scripture -- or indeed everything worth learning or paying attention and heed to -- will be easy and simple evaporates.

Where, if you are going to take the scriptures seriously, you will have to ponder a level-two question: why would God so often resort to a testing, challenging approach to instruction in a world full of "ordinary" -- "simple" -- people?

(Perhaps, because a key lesson is that what seems obvious or appealing may well not be true, right, just, sound or prudent. Like unto this, that which gives sound insight on a world that is full of difficult challenges as a rule will not be simplistic or obvious.)
 A little later in the same chapter, Solomon powerfully personifies wisdom as Sophia [--> Greek for wisdom] and gives a telling warning about failing the wisdom test:
Prov 1:20 [b]Wisdom shouts in the street,
She raises her voice in the markets;
21 She calls out at the head of the noisy streets [where large crowds gather];
At the entrance of the city gates she speaks her words:
22 “How long, O naive ones [you who are easily misled (--> the "simple")], will you love being simple-minded and undiscerning?
How long will scoffers [who ridicule and deride] delight in scoffing,
How long will fools [who obstinately mock truth] hate knowledge?
23 “If you will turn and pay attention to my rebuke,
Behold, I [Wisdom] will pour out my spirit on you;
I will make my words known to you.

24 “Because I called and you refused [to answer],
I stretched out my hand and no one has paid attention [to my offer];
25 And you treated all my counsel as nothing
And would not accept my reprimand,
26 I also will laugh at your disaster;
I will mock when your dread and panic come,
27 When your dread and panic come like a storm,
And your disaster comes like a whirlwind,
When anxiety and distress come upon you [as retribution].

28 “Then they will call upon me (Wisdom), but I will not answer;
They will seek me eagerly but they will not find me,
29 Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the Lord [that is, obeying Him with reverence and awe-filled respect],
30 They would not accept my counsel,
And they spurned all my rebuke.

31 “Therefore they shall eat of the fruit of their own [wicked] way
And be satiated with [the penalty of] their own devices.
32 “For the turning away of the [c]naive will kill them,
And the careless ease of [self-righteous] fools will destroy them.
33 “But whoever listens to me (Wisdom) will live securely and in confident trust
And will be at ease, without fear or dread of evil.” [AMP]
Why such a harsh, taunting tone, as though Sophia -- wisdom personified -- were angry and lashing out by gloating over the ruin of those who would not listen to her. As in, "I told you so."

The answer is, that we must recognise that the above is a personification, a figure of speech. Where, instruction and counsel are available. But if one fails to heed it and indulges instead a march of folly, disaster looms and it will then be too late to escape the consequences of going over a cliff.

Unfortunately, too many -- for various reasons -- are disinclined to heed such wisdom. And they will mock correction or even questioning as they join the march heading over the edge of a cliff.

To hammer this home, let me circle back to a key illustration I have used in consultations on strategic change:

Let me add, a compounding factor: the crooked yardstick effect. If we make a crooked yardstick our standard for what is straight, upright and accurate then what is genuinely so can never pass the required test of matching crookedness. 

That's how you get to the terrible point Jesus warned us of in John 8:

Jn 8:43 Why do you misunderstand what I am saying? It is because [your spiritual ears are deaf and] you are unable to hear [the truth of] My word. 

  44 You are of your father the devil, and it is your will to practice the desires [which are characteristic] of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks what is natural to him, for he is a liar and the father of lies and half-truths. 

  45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me [and continue in your unbelief]. [AMP]

In short, we can reach a point where BECAUSE what we are told is true, and cannot conform to our favourite crooked yardstick, we will misunderstand and reject it. This describes the depraved, debased, reprobate mind.

The only answer to the crooked yardstick is that we bring up a plumbline to it, which is undeniably straight and upright. But in my experience, there are some who are so deceived that they will even reject or try to distract attention from or will studiously, pointedly ignore the undeniably true or the self-evident. 

There is a peculiar growing horror when we see such a case, but believe me they exist.

And of course, this gives telling force to a famous -- and famously terrible text (yes, men of the Apostasy Tour sponsored by an Embassy, there are indeed "texts of terror" in the scriptures that speak to us in grim warning) -- in Amos:
Amos 7:Thus He showed me [a vision], and behold, the Lord was standing by a vertical wall with a plumb line in His hand [to determine if the wall was straight or if it needed to be destroyed]. The Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
“Behold, I am setting a plumb line [as a standard]
Among My people Israel [showing the defectiveness of the nation, requiring judgment].
I shall not spare them any longer. [The door of mercy is shut.]
9 “And the [idolatrous] high places of Isaac (Israel) will be devastated and deserted,
And the sanctuaries of Israel will be in ruins.
Then I shall rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword [and destroy the monarchy].” [AMP]

Now for a further shocker: Jesus used the same Sophia approach, though he shifted genre to parables. So, we see how -- having just given the parable of the sower, seed and soils, he explained:
Matt 13:10 Then the disciples came to Him and asked, “Why do You speak to the crowds in parables?”

  11 Jesus replied to them, “To you it has been granted to know the [b]mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 For whoever has [spiritual wisdom because he is receptive to God’s word], to him more will be given, and he will be richly and abundantly supplied; but whoever does not have [spiritual wisdom because he has devalued God’s word], even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 This is the reason I speak to the crowds in parables: because while [having the power of] seeing they do not see, and while [having the power of] hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand and grasp [spiritual things].

  14 In them the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
You will hear and keep on hearing, but never understand;
And you will look and keep on looking, but never comprehend;
15 For this nation’s heart has grown hard,
And with their ears they hardly hear,
And they have [tightly] closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart, and turn [to Me]
And I would heal them [spiritually].’
 16 But blessed [spiritually aware, and favored by God] are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 I assure you and most solemnly say to you, many prophets and righteous men [who were honorable and in right standing with God] longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. [AMP]
This then throws light on a remark by Peter about Paul's writings (and about the other scriptures) in  2 Peter:
 2 Peter 3:14 So, beloved . . . be diligent and make every effort to be found by Him [at His return] spotless and blameless, in peace [that is, inwardly calm with a sense of spiritual well-being and confidence, having lived a life of obedience to Him].

  15 And consider the patience of our Lord [His delay in judging and avenging wrongs] as salvation [that is, allowing time for more to be saved]; just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him [by God], 16 speaking about these things as he does in all of his letters. In which there are some things that are difficult to understand, which the untaught and unstable [who have fallen into error] twist and misinterpret, just as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 

  17 Therefore, [let me warn you] beloved, knowing these things beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of [c]unprincipled men [who distort doctrine] and fall from your own steadfastness [of mind, knowledge, truth, and faith], 18 but grow [spiritually mature] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [AMP]
 In short, while some things in the scriptures are simple, others are more challenging and require serious moral and intellectual effort to understand much less work out in life. And indeed, that is reflected in say the Nicene Creed (much less, the Athanasian Creed).

In that light, it seems to be an error to so stress "simplicity" that the priority of wisdom and willingness to face, tackle and work through more challenging aspects of the gospel and wider teachings of the scripture are undermined.

Perhaps, Hebrews should instruct us in this regard:
Heb 5:11 Concerning this [things about Melchizedek etc.]  we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull and sluggish in [your spiritual] hearing and disinclined to listen. 

  12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers [because of the time you have had to learn these truths], you actually need someone to teach you again the elementary principles of God’s word [from the beginning], and you have come to be continually in need of milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is [doctrinally inexperienced and] unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a spiritual infant.

  14 But solid food is for the [spiritually] mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between what is morally good and what is evil. [AMP]
The Author directly continues in one of the most challenging passages in the NT:
Heb 6:1 Therefore let us get past the elementary stage in the teachings about the Christ, advancing on to maturity and perfection and spiritual completeness, [doing this] without laying again a foundation of
repentance from dead works and of
faith toward God, of
teaching about [baptisms]),
the laying on of hands,
the resurrection of the dead, and
eternal judgment.
[These are all important matters in which you should have been proficient long ago.]

  And we will do this [that is, proceed to maturity], if God permits.

  For [it is impossible to restore to repentance] those who have once been enlightened [spiritually] and who have [a]tasted and consciously experienced the heavenly gift and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted and consciously experienced the good word of God and the powers of the age (world) to come, [b]and then have fallen away—it is impossible to bring them back again to repentance, since they again nail the Son of God on the cross [for as far as they are concerned, they are treating the death of Christ as if they were not saved by it], and are holding Him up again to public disgrace.

  For soil that drinks the rain which often falls on it and produces crops useful to those for whose benefit it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God; but if it persistently produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
But, beloved, even though we speak to you in this way, [c]we are convinced of better things concerning you, and of things that accompany salvation.
10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown for His name in ministering to [the needs of] the saints (God’s people), as you do. 11 And we desire for each one of you to show the same diligence [all the way through] so as to realize and enjoy the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you will not be [spiritually] sluggish, but [will instead be] imitators of those who through faith [lean on God with absolute trust and confidence in Him and in His power] and by patient endurance [even when suffering] are [now] inheriting the promises. [AMP]
So, the simple gospel is not so simple in all aspects, once we move beyond say just listing the four key facts of 1 Cor 15:
1 Cor 15:1 Now brothers and sisters, let me remind you [once again] of the good news [of salvation] which I preached to you, which you welcomed and accepted and on which you stand [by faith].

  By this faith you are saved [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, and set apart for His purpose], if you hold firmly to the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain [just superficially and without complete commitment].
For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received,
that Christ died for our sins according to [that which] the Scriptures [foretold], and 

that He was buried, and

 that He was [bodily] raised on the third day according to [that which] the Scriptures [foretold], and 

that He appeared

 . . .  to Cephas (Peter), then to the [a]Twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, the majority of whom are still alive, but some have fallen asleep [in death]. Then He was seen by James, then by all the apostles, and last of all, as to one [b]untimely (prematurely, traumatically) born, He appeared to me also . . . .   

  11 So whether it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed and trusted in and relied on with confidence. [AMP]
Already, we see that we need to shift focus to the call to ever-increasing transformation of heart, mind and life through godly, scriptural wisdom. Wisdom which starts with the force of the six principles outlined in Heb 6:1 - 2. Again illustrating:

So, already, we see that the simplistic approach is not good enough, indeed if Prov 1 is to be taken seriously, refusal to grow in godly wisdom and linked resistance to instruction are sinful. Yes, we must start where we are but we must also determine to "move on to perfection."

Now, we call another witness, one of those things which are hard to understand written by the apostle Paul:
Rom 1:18 For [God does not overlook sin and] the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who in their wickedness suppress and stifle the truth, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them [in their inner consciousness], for God made it evident to them.

  20 For ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through His workmanship [all His creation, the wonderful things that He has made], so that they [who fail to believe and trust in Him] are without excuse and without defense. 

  21 For even though [d]they knew God [as the Creator], they did not [e]honor Him as God or give thanks [for His wondrous creation]. On the contrary, they became worthless in their thinking [godless, with pointless reasonings, and silly speculations], and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God for [f]an image [worthless idols] in the shape of mortal man and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles. [AMP]
We thus see that there is a clear doctrine of systematic suppression of truth leading to creating cultures that turn from God to substitutes that contribute to en-darkening rather than enlightening. Indeed, 2,000 years ago, we could see deceit-surrounded images in pagan temples supported by state-enforced myths:

Sometimes, we must ask a provocative question, c 2018, given what is taught in class-rooms, textbooks, on TV, in museums etc. Namely, are we again caught up in established myths dressed up in lab coats? 

Certainly, that is what noted Scientist Richard Lewontin inadvertently hints at in a notorious cat-out-of-the-bag remark:
. . . to put a correct [--> Just who here presume to cornering the market on truth and so demand authority to impose?] view of the universe into people's heads
[==> as in, "we" the radically secularist elites have cornered the market on truth, warrant and knowledge, making "our" "consensus" the yardstick of truth . . . where of course "view" is patently short for WORLDVIEW . . . and linked cultural agenda . . . ]
we must first get an incorrect view out [--> as in, if you disagree with "us" of the secularist elite you are wrong, irrational and so dangerous you must be stopped, even at the price of manipulative indoctrination of hoi polloi] . . . the problem is to get them [= hoi polloi] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world [-->; "explanations of the world" is yet another synonym for WORLDVIEWS; the despised "demon[ic]" "supernatural" being of course an index of animus towards ethical theism and particularly the Judaeo-Christian faith tradition], the demons that exist only in their imaginations,
[ --> as in, to think in terms of ethical theism is to be delusional, justifying "our" elitist and establishment-controlling interventions of power to "fix" the widespread mental disease]
and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth
[--> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]
. . . . To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists [--> "we" are the dominant elites], it is self-evident
[--> actually, science and its knowledge claims are plainly not immediately and necessarily true on pain of absurdity, to one who understands them; this is another logical error, begging the question , confused for real self-evidence; whereby a claim shows itself not just true but true on pain of patent absurdity if one tries to deny it . . . and in fact it is evolutionary materialism that is readily shown to be self-refuting]
that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality [ = all of reality to the evolutionary materialist], and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test [--> i.e. an assertion that tellingly reveals a hostile mindset, not a warranted claim] . . . . It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us [= the evolutionary materialist establishment] to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [--> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [--> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door . . . [--> irreconcilable hostility to ethical theism, already caricatured as believing delusionally in imaginary demons]. [Lewontin, Billions and billions of Demons, NYRB Jan 1997,cf. here. And, if you imagine this is "quote-mined" I invite you to read the fuller annotated citation here.]
So, let me put on the table a challenging image:

Next, let us ask what happens predictably if we were to try to preach the "simple" gospel to those who have been indoctrinated as just described. Will they not be likely to dismiss it as ill-informed religious noise? Indeed, do not some teach that those who disagree with evolutionary materialism are "ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked"? 

This brings us right back to where we started yesterday:

In short, if we are to communicate the gospel in a challenging context such as we face, we have to understand how worldviews and agendas can become established and institutionalised in a community

This means that, even though there may be some errors or differences to be discussed, we must not allow that to lead us to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  As fair comment, the generic seven mountains model is a useful way to "map" key influences in a community, opening the door to prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership (and thus helping people to even simply hear and take seriously what the gospel is saying):

Wisdom like that is a main thing, so let us value and seek it together. 

And yes, I am coming back to a theme because I believe there is a stronghold of error in our churches (especially the evangelical ones in the broad sense) that must be corrected.

Trouble on mountain no 1, with implications for mountains 2 and 3.

Let's agree to set it right.

Again, DV, more to follow. END