Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Casper and Jim... continued

Casper says: “Certainty is boring. Certainty is closed off. Certainty is against new information. Certainty is a kind of orthodoxy, really, and it was those kinds of “certainty” moments – when I would hear a pastor or others in a church declare themselves absolutely certain of heaven, God’s existence, truth—that I would get a little riled.” (p.153).

Yet, Casper says that he is certain that the U. S. involvement in Iraq is wrong. “However, if he had been in favor of the war in Iraq, well, we would have had a real hard time being friends, Christian or not.” Jim nails him on this, “That sounds somewhat less-than-open-minded, Casper.” (p.90)

This so much reminds me of hearing Francis Schaefer tell how followers of Jean Paul Sartre bowed their heads down and wept when they heard that Sartre had signed the Manifesto of the 121, a declaration from one hundred twenty one French intellectuals which condemned the French war against the Algerian insurgency. In signing Sartre violated the basic premise of his existentialism, that there are no standards, no morals, that one can only gain authenticity by an act of will.

The pull of existentialism, which has contributed more than one card to the hand of what we now call post-modernism, has been like a magnetic north to twentieth century theology. Coming late to evangelicalism, it holds out hope of some refreshment with its emphasis on becoming an authentic person, but also poses powerful dangers.

One such danger is the dilemma of either an irrational leap of faith, which results in “faith in faith” as Schaefer characterized it, or a smugness of certainty in a system that, once discovered, seems to answer all questions. I would propose that this is a false dilemma.

I think the dilemma is false because I see the Bible presenting a middle ground. God has acted in history, and there are witnesses. Yet, we are called upon to risk our eternal souls on their credibility. In the end, faith is faith, but it is not faith leaping into the unknown, it is faith in a God who truly exists, who truly sent his Son into our world to live, die, rise, ascend and come again. Thus, after the Bible, our most ancient document begins with Credo – I believe, and after that, all the things I believe in.

We truly need to hear a condemnation of smugness in stating our beliefs. We need to be honest that we are beset by doubts and assailed by fears. But, we must also say that our belief is not something that has been made up to make us feel better, but something that can be inquired into and about which an assessment of truth can be made.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Casper, Jim and Barna

Of high interest is Jim & Casper Go to Church, published by Tyndale, 2007, a Barna Imprint. The premise is simple. Casper is an atheist from San Diego and Jim, who runs a ministry titled Off the Map contracts with Casper to visit a number of churches, discuss them, rate them, and produce this book. In spite of the fact that the book essentially supports Barna’s thesis in Revolution, and probably Jim Henderson’s thesis as well, the book produces great insights and profound challenges. Every pastor should read it.

What I like is the Q & A at back.. It seems to be a Q & A with Henderson, but it picked up some of my challenges and thoughts as I read through.

The book caused me to consider the following.

Is the imitation rock concert that we call a worship service, really a worship service? Casper wants to know if Jesus told us to buy those fog machines. I can see that if rock concerts are the culture of today, then we need to worship in that culture. But, has this picked up the same deadness as the Hammond organ worship service of the mid-twentieth century?

More deeply, what is a worship service?

Then, is our preaching nearly as relevant as we think it is? Casper is really difficult to challenge with a sermon. After hearing a sermon he counters with questions relating to overall biblical context and application to life. His critiques make me think more deeply about my sermons, and make me want to do way better.

And, in total resonance with Barna, both Casper and Jim want to deconstruct the church to what my son calls a pre-ecclesiology. Virtually echoing Barna, they want to know if the main mission of Jesus was to establish a church.

In this I hear a faint echo of Kierkegaard’s question: “how in Christendom can one be a Christian?” Is it really what God wanted – that we should all gather every week, sing, take an offering and listen to a sermon – and the Eucharist in some churches? Or was being a disciple intended to be something else? That is the challenge that Barna, and now Casper, are throwing down to us.

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