A “SMART” CHURCH

Today we have SMART devices. The acronym SMART means Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology. It monitors hard drives and alerts us when there are problems and harmful processes underway. Smart devices, like cell phones, TV’s, cameras, and computers, connect to the internet. We can quickly access information, share it with others, and store it for future use. SMART devices also link with other digital tools through wireless protocols such as Bluetooth.

Suppose, however, we think of SMART technology as a metaphor and apply it to the evangelical church. That church would be highly interconnected and supremely self-aware. It would possess multi-capacity hardware and endless, application potentials. So, let us engage in a little thought experiment and imagine what this might mean.

———–

The SMART church’s self-monitoring analysis and reporting capacity would scrutinize the thought and practice of the church, and warn us quickly of any crisis or inappropriate application. The church would quickly address malpractice and moral failure, such as abuse of power, sexual misconduct, unwise political collaboration, or lack of financial transparency. It would also discern and address fatal doctrinal errors and syncretism with local cultures and worldviews (“viruses”).

The SMART church would connect with its religious history, its social context, and the global Christian community. It would know its past: the creeds, theological development, and key moments in church history. It would link to believers all over the world and learn from them. It would deeply understand the cultural setting in which it resides.

The SMART church would be a place for thinkers. Believers would love God in all dimensions: their heart, their hand, and especially their mind (Mark 12:30). Businessmen, artists, academics, writers, technicians, and scientists would grow in knowledge and wisdom. They would connect their faith and profession. They would discern how to go “into” the world but not become “part of” it. Sermons would be well-prepared and intellectually stimulating for believers and non-believers. The music and lyrics would be thoughtful, other-focused, and multi-cultural. The liturgy would include scripture reading, confession of sin, communion, testimony, and citation of creeds.

The SMART church would function as a learning center whose members possess intellectual curiosity. SMART believers would be readers because of their hunger to learn about God and his world. They would study the Bible and the basic tenants of theology. They would understand human depravity and divine grace. They would view their cultures critically and engage idolatry. They would also design many creative applications for the glory of God and the benefit of mankind.

The SMART church would provide insightful contributions for the common good and public square. SMART Christians would attain positions of influence in society in business, the arts, sciences, politics, law, education, and the media. They would express and model the intellectual plausibility and existential credibility of the Christian faith.

———-

But now, let us return to ecclesiological reality. Sadly, many evangelical churches today are not SMART. They are not often historically, globally, or even contextually interconnected. They are turned inward and tuned out. They are gullible and easily swayed by public opinion and erroneous schemes. They are viewers (of social media, movies, and TV), not readers. They are largely irrelevant intellectually. They are basically self-preservative, continually focused on maintaining outdated infrastructure.

Metaphorically, many churches prefer the old, rotary phone. Their technology cannot connect with the world today. And, sadly, we know what happens with old technology. It goes to the museum or worse—it is thrown into the trash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing God is the Goal of Creation

The hope of future knowledge of God is the purpose and plan of our Creator. One day, the impact of sin upon the mind and heart will be reversed. Our brains, body, and soul will completely serve and honor the Lord. One day, we will reach the finish line.

Why? Because knowing God is the goal of creation and through him to know all things: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14).

Ezekiel associates the restored knowledge of God with future redemption and cosmic renovation. “They shall know that I am the Lord when: I break the bars of their yoke, deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them (36:11). Or, “They shall know that I am the Lord when: the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land” (34:27). At that time God’s people will know with certainty their true identity, for “they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people” (34:30).

In Jeremiah the Lord pledges divine enablement to know him. “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (24:7). More significantly, God proclaims an entirely new relationship with his people based upon a new covenant that enables a universal knowledge of God: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord” (31:33b–34a).

It is essential that the agent of insight, understanding, and knowledge is none other than promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. Isaiah stated that: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (11:1–2)

Finally, the Messiah will fulfill Adam’s broken mandate (Gen 1:28). He will “work and keep” God’s creation (2:15), bringing order, beauty, safety, and purity, and productivity to the entire earth. He lives forever because he gains all knowledge and wisdom from the only authenticated course, God himself. The “last Adam,” Christ (1 Cor 15:45), will not fail as the first Adam or Israel or the church, for he will reject all knowing apart from listening to and obeying God. And, most importantly, all this will be accomplished because (“for”) “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

This is our finish line and the end of our marathon―knowing God.

How to be Intellectually Irrelevant . . . as a Christian

(Or, How not to love God with the mind)

 In order to become intellectually impotent and irrelevant as a follower of Jesus Christ, simply implement at least one of the following attitudes:

Naive attitude: Some are blissfully unaware or ignorant by choice.

Curious but uncommitted: Many want intellectual entertainment, but are unwilling to discipline their minds or submit to programmatic learning.

Committed but undisciplined: Many view learning like a cafeteria and consume what is appealing, rather than what has balance and nutrition.

Intellectual pride: Some think they know enough already or that they know best the path to knowledge.

Independent spirit: Some approach theological education based upon what is interesting or easiest.

Consumer approach: Some “shop” for knowledge, learning formats, and instructors that conform to their “buying” preferences. When study becomes difficult or boring, they take their “business” elsewhere.

Intellectual laziness: Some are not willing to pay the price of learning and self-discipline.

Triviality: Some are conditioned by modern technology and inconsequential chatter through social media, so they are not prepared to read, write, or reflect deeply.

Passivity: Some fulfill the role assigned to them by society — intellectual simplicity, private religiosity, and subjective spirituality.

Sacred-secular dichotomy: Some comply with modern secularism that declares spirituality and worldview are just private and personal and is only useful for Sunday at church.

Social obstacles: Many are distracted by the demands of culture (sports, parties, family).

Anti-intellectualism: Some resist study and reflection because their tradition minimizes the need for theology or thinking.

Fundamentalism: Some resist study due to “separation” from the world and do not interact with culture or worldview.

Capitulation: Some embrace the postmodern narrative and myth of progress — the past is irrelevant, authority is questionable, and every perspective is equally valid.

Spiritual resistance: Some reject or delay theological education because it is a spiritual battle that they are losing.

Credo ut Intellegam

I Believe So That I May Understand                                                                (Credo ut Intellegam)

It is well known that Anselm’s great ontological proof for the existence of God, the Proslogion, was the result of a prolonged process of perplexity and travail. His search resolved in a fit of joy, but only after deep prayer and contemplation. This attitude is evident in chapter 1. Consider these three excerpts:

What shall your servant do, tormented by love for you and yet cast off “far from your face”?; I was made in order to see you, and I have not yet accomplished what I was made for; How wretched man’s lot is when he has lost that for which he was made! Oh how cruel and hard the Fall!

Teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek You if You do not teach me how, nor find You unless You reveal Yourself.

I do not try, Lord, to attain to your lofty heights, because my understanding is in no way equal to it. But I do desire to understand Your truth a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.

Anselm’s maxim, “I believe so that I may understand,” is associated with another expression  “faith seeking understanding.” Both sayings point to the basic role of faith and spirituality. Whatever else human beings are, a thinker, learner, questioner and wonderer, maker and builder, or producer and consumer, the Bible says that he/she is first and foremost a religious being, a worshipper. Why? Because human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, created for relationship with our creator and rulership over his creation. We all reason and act on the basis of our “faith” or worldview, even if we are clueless about our most basic beliefs.

Psalm 36:9 declares: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” For Anselm reasoning was an attempt, though feeble, to know God and understand the world in His “light” or to “think God’s thoughts after Him.” C. S. Lewis put it well: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” I do not claim the faith, piety, or insight of Anselm, but I do seek to “see everything else” on the presumption of my faith.

This website and my blog—including my book—are meager efforts to think about ourselves and the world from the vantage point of the Old and New Testaments.  Whatever I write, post, and dialogue about in this forum the affirmation, “I believe so that I may understand,” serves as my starting point.

 

God Redeems Sinful Thinkers

The Old Testament declares that acquiring the knowledge of God is of paramount importance. Knowing Yahweh Elōhîm is the key to understanding everything in creation, including ourselves. In fact, the knowledge of God is the object of the verbal phrases “shall know,” “might know,” “may know,” and “will know” at least 114 times in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel the expression “know I am the Lord” occurs 80 times.

Understanding what God reveals about himself is akin to gaining a clear view from a very high point. From there one discovers the breath and beauty of the world. One can navigate the terrain better, so to speak, with less effort and danger. In this sense, knowing God is a compass, North Star or everlasting landmark to guide our way. This why John Calvin wrote: “It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.”

But, as we know from the Bible, we are lost intellectually because of sin. We no longer climb the mountain to get a better view. Our minds are marred by Adam and Eve’s sinful folly with the serpent. We struggle with a Trojan’s Horse within, seeking to distort our perception of ourselves and dull our understanding of reality. We are subject to a continual barrage of deviant worldviews from our cultures.

Thank God, however, that he redeems sinful thinkers!

This poem by Michel Quoist as an imaginative depiction of thinking under grace (excerpts). It well expresses the motivation of a thinker who aspires to love God with his mind. This meditation is called “I Would Like To Rise Very High” from his book Prayers (1963).

I would like to rise very high, Lord, above my city, above the world, above time. I would like to purify my gaze, and borrow your eyes.

I would then see the universe, humanity and history, as the Father sees them . . . .

Startled, I will begin to understand, that the great adventure of Love, that started at the creation of the world, continues to unfold before my eyes.

The divine story which, according to your promise, will be completed in glory, only after the resurrection of the flesh, when you will come before the Father saying: “All is accomplished. I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End  . . . .”

Then, falling on my knees, I would admire, O Lord, the great mystery of this world, your world, which in spite of the innumerable snags of sin, remains a long throb of love,
leading towards Love and Life eternal.

I would like to rise very high, Lord, above my city, above the world, above time. I would like to purify my gaze, and borrow your eyes.

Junk Food for the Mind

It is well known that a diet of junk food is not healthy for the body. It promotes obesity and disease. It produces listlessness and passivity.

There is also, I suggest, a kind of junk food for the mind. It, too, produces spiritual sluggishness, ignorance, and anti-intellectualism.

Let me provide an example. A friend of mine, a pastor of many years, decided to leave his pastorate because of ecclesiological pragmatism that stifled spiritual growth. He saw that “success” in the evangelical church merely required four aspects: a concert-feel worship service, simple practical how-to preaching on popular topics using humor with a non-confrontational challenge, a fun-clean-safe children’s ministry, and a similar teen meeting concurrent with the adult service. Another pastoral leader commented: “At one time our church was stronger in teaching and preaching, but the church was almost dead in that period. So, now we prefer to err by just doing, rather than by teaching and not doing.”

Recently however, I listened to another sermon by Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan) that clearly is not spiritual fast food. His sermons provide a great example of the kind of preaching that we lack in many evangelical churches. He avoids the pitfall of spiritual pragmatism or the false dichotomy between theology and ethics, thinking and doing.

Keller’s sermons (and I think the key to his broad impact) is that he teaches before he tells us what to do. (And, he makes it interesting. He doesn’t bore us.)

It seems that most preaching today, on the other hand, is junk food for the mind. It stresses application alone—evangelical pragmatism—and ignores the theology or biblical rationale for the application. The result is often just rules, religion, and legalism; not wisdom and discernment.

Consider 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” Sermons today, I suspect, simply respond to the demand of the congregation: “Just tell us how to do it. Tell us how to love. Be practical. Don’t bore us with teaching that forces us to think or evaluate ourselves or our culture. Don’t explain to us in depth how or why God first loved us as the rationale for how and why we should love others.”

The bottom line, however, is that the church needs biblical teaching not spiritual fast food. Disciples need to learn. They need discipline. They need minds that are literate and fluent with biblical knowledge. The sad truth, though, is that many Christians are bored. They want less instruction and more biblical rationale, more worldview. They need a balanced diet.

To put it another way, ideas have consequences. Think about the right ideas—biblical ideas— and results inevitably follow.

%d bloggers like this: