Archive | November, 2010

The Anatomy of Belief (3): Belief Without Conviction

A Guide to Examining the Way We Believe So That What We Believe Will be Secure

I remember being out one night with a friend in Arizona. I was 20-years-old. My friend and I were about the craziest guys in town, with little good reputation to boot. Yet, this guy was worse than me. He had a death wish and swore he would not live past 24. But I loved him very much. This particular night, we were bar hopping, looking for trouble. As was typical for me in those days, I would get drunk and start to talk about Jesus. For better or worse, I was ready to lay it on this guy. This night was his night to get saved if I had anything to say about it. The Holy Spirit would have to work through my slur; we’ll just say I was speaking in tongues. Either way, I was not going to stop until this guy was in the kingdom.

To make a long story short, the guy started the night as an atheist, he ended the night having “believed” in Christ. Now, don’t get too excited, for that is not the direction that this story really goes. Let me make a long story just a bit longer. Here is how it all turned out. After many hours of discussion, I kept telling him, “All you have to do is believe that Christ died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead.” He said, “Michael, I don’t get it. So your saying that all I have to do is believe that Christ died for my sins and I will be saved?” “That is it,” I responded. “So,” he continued, “I don’t have to stop drinking or living the way I do?” “No,” I said, “It is not about that. It is just about belief. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” I could tell that he was a bit confused about this way of believing that I was attempting to get him to commit to. It felt like I was trying to get him to sign on the dotted line. “Fine!” he finally responded with an exhausted laugh, “I believe. Now I’m going to heaven. Can we quit talking about it now” “Yep,” I responded with relief, “You are good.”

What you can probably see is that there was no conviction, but a lot of concession. He just wanted to get me off his back. But at the same time, I think this minimalistic idea of belief, was attractive to him. He was able to “believe” without really believing.

Over the years, nothing changed with this guy, but I wanted to hold on to the idea that he really had an encounter with true Christian belief that day. I simply hoped that it “took.” But years later, when we talked about Christ again, there was no conviction and no concession. It had all vanished.

So far we have talked about the three aspects of faith that must be present:

1. Content: Knowledge

2. Conviction: Persuasion

3. Consent: Trust

My friend’s “faith” is what content and a bit of concession look like without conviction. True faith cannot be present without some degree of real conviction.

Cultural Christian Faith

Notice that there is sufficient content to produce a Christian faith (it raises above the yellow). Notice as well that the consent is present to some degree. However, the big faith meter (representing true faith) is still at zero. Why? Because there is no conviction whatsoever. This type of person is a Christian of convenience.  Continue Reading →

The Anatomy of Belief (2): Belief Without Content

A Guide to Examining the Way We Believe So That What We Believe Will be Secure

A bit over a decade ago, Evangelical pollster and sociologist George Barna concluded, based on numerous surveys, that nearly 40% of the individuals sitting in the pews in Evangelical Churches do not have enough content even to be saved. Christian Smith, the director of the National Study of Youth and Religion and associate chair of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, coined the label “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to describe the religion of America’s youth in his 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. This means that the God that today’s youth is accepting is very different than the God of the Bible. In her fascinating book Almost Christian, Kenda Creasy Dean, associate professor of Princeton Theological Seminary, talks about the faith of America’s youth. In it she says that while 75% of today’s youth claim the name “Christian,” only 8% take their faith seriously. In a chapter provocatively entitled “Mormon Envy” she argues that Mormons are doing a much better job of passing on the content of their faith to their kids. Most Evangelicals, she argues, are more content to hope that the content of their faith will sooner or later be assumed by their children. But this is not happening.

I remember a Peanuts cartoon where Linus is waiting for the Great Pumpkin who is dreadfully late. I think it was Lucy who attempts to comfort him with the words “It does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.”

As well, I recall an AT&T commercial a few years ago where people are standing in lines in downtown New York City holding up signs that said, “I believe.” The scene then goes to a sky rise apartment where a banner is dropped out of a window that says, “I believe.” Then a plane flies by with a banner, “I believe.” Finally, there is a police officer sitting on his horse in the middle of the street with a sign, “I believe.” Then the AT&T logo came on the screen and the commercial was over. I thought to myself, “You believe what?” When I was in Washington DC a few months ago, I saw over the window of Macy’s their new slogan: “Believe.” Believe what?

We live in a culture that loves to talk about faith, belief, and spirituality. But the one common element that we often find is that this belief is going to the prom stag. It is not accompanied by any content.  More often than not, there is nothing to believe in or to believe that. It is just that people believe. No object necessary. It is a virtue to be a “believer” so long as you don’t know what you believe. In fact, if you accompany your belief with an object, your “faith” will quickly become the subject of ridicule and scorn. This is especially the case if the content of your belief necessarily excludes other options. Many think it is best these days to just believe.

We call this postmodernism.

We also live in a time where the basic content of the Christian faith is not being passed on accurately. It is being screened through a filter of political correctness, therapeutic necessity, and seeker sensitivity. It seems we are taking a que from Burger King telling people to “have it your way.” Have God your way!

We call this American individualism and commerce.

With regard to the Christian faith, a content-less faith is not possible. When the Reformers talked about faith, they understood that faith must include substance. One’s faith can only grow to the degree that substantial and definite content is present. Both a lack of content and accuracy can cause one’s faith to be seriously troubled.

Postmodern Faith

Continue Reading →

The Anatomy of Belief (1)

A Guide to Examining the Way We Believe So That What We Believe Will be Secure

The motto here at the Credo House is, “Helping people to believe more accurately and more deeply today than they did yesterday.” I love this motto. It expresses what I aspire to be and how I want to be used.

However, belief is a very complex animal. I think that most of us find this to be the case later in our walk with God. As life’s challenges surface, we begin to open our spiritual chest looking for answers to our wayward thoughts and feelings and find that we are unsure of exactly where the problem lies. The belief that came so easily before starts slipping away. Often it does not necessarily slip away, but changes and nuances itself—kind of like a metamorphosis. Either way, we find that belief is not as black and white as we once thought.

While there is a complexity to belief, there is also a simplicity to it as well. Belief in Christ is so simple that Jesus himself said a child can exercise it (Mark 10:15). There is a “matter-of-factness” that the Bible presents when it comes to belief. Sometimes it seems that one either has it or they don’t.

Getting caught up in its complexities can cause us to throw our hands up in the air and say “What is it worth? I will just wait to see how it all turns out in the end.” But this would amount to making a preliminary decision which the Bible does not support.  In fact, it would be the very antynomy of what it means to believe as a Christian. While faith can be very complex, there are some biblical foundations that are laid that stabilize our understanding and keep us from becoming too discouraged.

In this series, I am going to use this chart that I call the “Belief-O-Meter” to attempt to explain what faith is all about. For many of you, this will serve only to confuse you. I understand this and am willing to take this risk of confusing you for the sake of future stability. For others, I hope that this will ground your thinking and help you to evaluate where in the anatomy of belief your problems might lie.

The Belief-O-Meter

Continue Reading →

Full Gospel Christianity?: A Theology of More II

(by Lisa Robinson)

A while ago, I addressed in A Theology of More a mentality that has a continual quest for greater external manifestations that demonstrates that God is active in the lives of his people, both individually and corporately.  The quest is usually part and parcel of alignment with  Charismatic/Pentecostal theology and the belief that people today should experience the full continuation of gifts, miracles, signs and wonders, etc. similar to what was experienced when the church was first implemented.  I myself,  spent a number of years as a Charismatic.  That means I was a full blown adherent of the continuation of spiritual gifts, believed in the 2nd work of grace known as the baptism in the Spirit and was fully committed to the language used to express what I believed the Charismatic movement offered in terms of reasonable expectation for Christian life, worship and service.

Since that time, I have reverted my position, not because of experience or personal reasons.  But because I began to consider how the book of Acts was read in context of God’s redemptive program outlined in scripture.  It was also because I began to consider the purpose of the gifts in relation to the exaltation of Christ and the edification of the church.  Most significantly, it was because I began to consider how certain gifts were endemic to the foundation that was being laid with the implementation of the church (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 3:10), specifically through the apostolic witness to the revelation of Christ (John 14:26; John 16:13-15; Acts 1:2-8; Hebrews 1:1-3)

Hopefully, I will be writing more about this in a separate post, specifically with respect to the foundation and authority of the apostles.  But for the purposes of this post, I would like my Charismatic friends to understand that there are good and valid reasons that cessationists hold to the position that some gifts were revelatory in nature and foundational to the establishment of the church.  But cessationists believe they are not needed today since the revelation of Christ is complete and transmitted through the apostolic witness which is inscribed with the completed canon.   The signs and wonders as described in Acts are associated with this apostolic witness.  Some believe that the gifts that were revelatory in nature are permanently extinguished while others, including myself,  believe that such gifts are not needed with the completed canon but can be continued in places where Bibles are absent. Cessationists are not putting God in a box, only recognizing the box that is believed God himself created.  Cessationists do not negate the living and active role of the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer and who commands to fill every believer such that His control and influence is experienced.  Nor do most negate the existence of miracles and healing.  I know I certainly don’t and can’t given contemporary evidence, especially in remote parts of the world.

However, the point of this post is not to discuss distinctions in cessationism vs. continuationism, nor to argue about which position is right.  Much ink has been spilled in Michael’s comprehensive series here. My friends over at To Be Continued write extensively on this topic and have addressed some of there concerns with his position.   While I am no longer aligned with the Charismatic/Pentecostal theology I once embraced, I do seek to find common ground and focus on things shared in common.    In fact, I have backed away from challenging the continuatist position by recognizing that if one is edified and experiences Christian growth through the use of some things I do not consider essential for the church today, then who am I to quibble. Continue Reading →

Is Expositional Preaching Really Enough?

I love to preach. Arguably, I love to preach more than I love to teach. Yes, there is a difference. But I am getting ahead of myself . . .

I graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) in 2001 with my ThM. I had a double major in New Testament and in Pastoral Ministries. The pastoral ministries department is concerned with practical hands-on training such as the teaching process, leadership development, and counseling. I even had to take a course in the use of media (which came down to how to create a proper PowerPoint presentation). They were all great courses which I often return to for sage advice.

However, the gem of the pastoral ministries department at DTS was the preaching courses. There were a lot of things to fear at seminary (not the least of which was Dan Wallace’s Advanced Greek Grammar course), but nothing more so than the day you had to give you sermon in front of the students and the professor. After your “masterpiece” was delivered, you had to sit through the critique of students (who were just as green as you) and a professor (who was paid to find out what you did wrong). The professor would share how you fell on your face with the whole class using you as an object lesson! Many of us would pray for the rapture just before the critique began.

Above all else, when you graduated from DTS, you were a man who preached (or a woman who “shared”) the word of God. No, not your own thoughts. Not your weekend story about how camping trips can go bad. Not four illustrations from the Bible about how to have a godly marriage. Not even your conversion story. But you were prepared to “preach the word.” We did not preach from the word. We did simply use the word in our preaching. We did not illustrate using the Bible. We preached the word.

Expositional Preaching vs. Topical Preaching

You have not heard about this debate? Come on . . . Let me introduce you to a debate that rivals the number of dispensations, the five points of Calvinism, and, yea, even the six days of creation.

Expositional preaching: preaching through the word of God, verse by verse.

Topical preaching: using God’s word as a springboard to preach on relevant topics.

(You can see the bias of my training coming through here). Continue Reading →

Great Chart on Denonminations

Jeff Young, a Reclaiming the Mind/Credo House Ministries board member created these as part of his research for our ministry. I thought they were too good not to share. I will share the one on Mega-Churches next.

This first one shows denominations according to a breakdown.

click on image to enlarge