Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review: The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism


Carl Henry wrote The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism in 1947 offering a clarion call to his generation. He called the evangelical[1] church to believe once again in the inexpressible power of the Gospel.

Because of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many liberal churches had ceased proclaiming the Gospel. On the other side, Bible-believing churches were failing to engage the world with a demonstration of the Gospel. Whether it was a fear of reflecting liberal Christianity’s Social Gospel or fear of overemphasizing realized eschatology in a world destined for judgment (i.e.. Classic Dispensational theology fallout), the church lost its voice across the country. Notably, Henry agreed that a measure of despair is natural when Christians proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel. Not all who hear the Gospel proclaimed will believe. Not every effort of undoing justice will prevail. And yet Henry warns,

It should be emphasized that this despair over the present world order grows…not out of any lack of confidence in the ability of the supernaturalistic Gospel. Rather, it issues from the fact the Scriptures…hold forth no hope for the conversion of the whole world and center upon the second coming of Christ as crucial for the introduction of a [fully-realized] divine kingdom. The despair over the present age, then is grounded in the anticipated lack of response to the redemptive Gospel [in all of life], rather than in any inherent defect in the message itself.[2]

In sum, not all our efforts will seemingly succeed, but this is not because the God of the Gospel is impotent. We err wide of the mark if we doubt the power of the Gospel for the redemption of any person’s life or any situation’s plight.

Some implications:

1) We must continue to preach to everyone the message of a bloody, sinless Savior dying to save sinful, bad, hell-bound people. This truth does not make anyone comfortable, but it just might lead them into the Savior's hands. Charles Spurgeon notes that the fiercer the storm, the more hefty the anchor must be. The storm over our heads is the eternal judgment of God. We are dead men and dead women. No hope apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ. He is the only anchor that will hold in the end. We must turn from all false anchors and all false Saviors. This is our only message. This is our Hope.

2) We must not give way to fatigue or surrender regarding any moral issue. We must defend the rights of the poor, the alien, and the weak. We must fight against the sexual revolution that has only freed people to pursue death, emptiness, and judgment. We must uphold marriage as a beautiful institution since the dawning of creation for the procreation of children, the betterment of society, and the only proper place to express sexuality. We must continue to defend the rights of the unborn.

Not everyone will believe in Christ...not every injustice will be undone...but one day all will be made right. Christ will come. All who didn't joyfully bow the knee and confess Christ as Lord, will bow in horror. Every injustice will be undone and every tear wiped way. Until then, we are told to not give up, our labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

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[1] The terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” were interchangeable in 1947.
[2] Carl F.H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947, reprint 2003), 17-18.

Other quotes:

"The futility of trying to win all does not mean that it is futile to try and win some areas of influence and life." (76)
"Surely Christianity ought not to oppose any needed social reform. It ought, indeed, to be in the forefront of reformative attack. And it ought, if it has a historical consciousness, to press its attack on a redemption foundation, convinced that every other foundation for the betterment, because of inherent weakness, cannot sustain itself." (77)
"The evangelical task primarily is the preaching of the Gospel, in the interest of individual regeneration by the supernatural grace of God, in such a way that divine redemption can be recognized as the best solution of our problems, individual and social. This produces within history, through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, a divine society that transcends national and international lines. The corporate testimony of believers, in their purity of life, should provide for the world an example of the divine dynamic to overcome evils in every realm. The social problems of our day are much more complex than in apostolic times, but they do not on that account differ in principle. When the twentieth century church begins to "out-live" its environment as the first century church outreached its pagan neighbors, the modern mind, too, will stop casting about for other solutions." (88-89)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Church's Mission and Politics - Chris Wright


I like how Christopher Wright (Mission of God, 311-312) talks about the political nature of the early Christian church:

"But the early Christian community was not marked solely by its affirmation of a claim [Jesus is Lord] that subverted the political pretension of the empire. It was also a radically prophetic community, for they sought to live out within the present old order of the world the truths and values of the in-breaking new order of the kingdom of God. This new community, consciously shaped by the eschatological outpouring of God's Spirit, chose to express their spiritual unity through as much economic equality as they could achieve, so that none need be poor within their midst. They were taught by the apostles, who insisted that a primary duty of Christians was not just to witness and evangelize but do 'do good' (as Paul urges seven times in one tiny letter to Titus) and to be models of practical love in a world full of hatred. They were to be good citizens and pay their taxes, but also to recall that God's mandate to the state authorities (who are 'servants of God') was to do justice, punish wickedness and reward goodness (Rom 13:1-7). They accepted that political authorities were there by God's appointment, but they would not have forgotten the words of the prophets, who declared that governments that perverted justice stood under God's ultimate judgment (e.g., Jer 22:1-5). And they were reminded, in true prophetic style, by James not only that faith without practical action of love and justice is dead but also that it was till part of the apostolic duty of the church (as much as the prophetic duty of old) to denounce in no uncertain terms the oppressive practices of unscrupulous employers who feed their obscene luxury on the tears of those they exploit (James 2:14-17; 5:1-6). No, the early Christians, with all their unbounded evangelistic energy, were not lacking in awareness of the radical implications of their faith for the political, social, and economic world around them."

Friday, June 01, 2012

Books Finished in May 2012

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (First time read; I see why people encourage reading it, but I also think it's usefulness will lag in the years to come. He mentions lots of people not alive today by name. These ideas are repeated every generation or so, but these names of the late 19th century have been forgotten.)
Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien (I try to reread the Lord of the Rings every few years or so; always excellent. Glad to be onto Two Towers; this could be my favorite book of the three.)
Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (another book worth rereading every few years)