georges' blog

October 28, 2007

Book Review: Kingdom Triangle

Filed under: Books,Spirituality — kendall @ 7:43 am

J. P. Moreland, Kingdom Triangle, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007. 237pp. Hardcover.

I just finished reading Kingdom Triangle and though the book was at times a difficult read Moreland doesn’t dumb-down the material in the least the critically important message of the book was not lost. Moreland exposes the two primary ideologies that compete with and undermine the Christian worldview in the West: naturalism and post-modernism. He then develops a three pronged strategy the Kingdom triangle for defending and reclaiming New Testament Christianity. Moreland is quoted as saying that this is the most important book he has written yet. I significant statement since he has written numerous books. And several are hugely popular. I would add to his personal evaluation that this book is among the most important books for the Western church in this century and should be read and headed by every pastor in the Western world. I know I said something similar about Greg Boyd’s book, Myth of a Christian Nation, but really both books are fantastic and important reads especially for American Christians.

In the first half of the book, Moreland gives a modest survey of both naturalism and post-modernism. He concludes and I think correctly, that these are the main enemies of the Christian worldview in the Western world. Though many Christians would reject both ideologies outright, Moreland demonstrates how naturalistic and post-modern thinking has infiltrated the church.

Naturalism, in short, is the view that everything has its beginning and end in the physical world; there is nothing outside of the physical world. Unless something can be measured or experienced with the five senses then it is at best unimportant and at worst does not exist. This has tremendous bearing on the subject of knowledge. Essentially, to the naturalist, what can be known is limited to scientific knowledge. Or at least, that scientific knowledge is an “immeasurably superior kind of knowledge.” All other kinds of knowledge are relegated, at best to a second-class form of knowledge and along with it all associated “non-scientific” academic endeavors. Spiritual or metaphysical knowledge is even worse off. For this reason, when experts are needed, Christian theologians and pastors are not consulted. Presumably pastors and Christian theologians have nothing of importance to add to any substantive discussion. What they could contribute is at best speculation and at worst fantasy. Naturalism is, at its heart, atheistic and possesses an agenda to characterize Christianity as irrelevant and Christians as lunatics. Though this agenda is the same for all things spiritual, Christianity seems to take the hardest shots.

The postmodernist, on the other hand, is not so quick to dismiss the metaphysical. Postmodernism attempts to navigate the middle ground by affirming spiritual realities. However, it does so uncritically. Postmodernism at its heart is universalist. It makes no effort to evaluate competing and often conflicting ideologies. It basically says, “What’s true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me.” Scientific knowledge is certain but other “truths” are relative. Postmodernism attempts to affirm spiritual truth but in the end diminishes it. The net result is not all that different than naturalism scientific knowledge is king and spiritual truth is less important or simply unimportant. “What is important to you, well that is fine for you, but I can take it or leave it.”

Moorland proposes three strategies for not just defending a Biblical worldview, but attacking competing worldviews head on. We must reclaim the Christian mind, soul, and spirit. This is the Kingdom Triangle.

In order to reclaim the Christian mind, we must not capitulate to those who would argue that Christian knowledge is of a lesser substance than scientific knowledge. Historical truth is valid. The methods by which we establish what happened in the past are well established. The Christian faith is a historical faith. Our faith is based on facts. Our spiritual knowledge is real knowledge. We should not be bashful about that. Moreover, spiritual people can actually know more than naturalists because in addition to spiritual knowledge all of the scientific fields are open to us. We can know about the world and the universe. We need not be threatened by scientific inquiry. Science, in fact, has its beginning with God. Moreover, we can know God and know about God. We can know things through revelation. This is the difference between what Moreland describes as a thick view of reality and a thin view of reality. Naturalism is thin. What can be known is limited to just scientific knowledge. Similarly post-modernism is thin. There are non-scientific truths, but what is true for you may not be true for everyone it may not be true for anyone but you. So again, non-scientific knowledge is inferior to scientific knowledge, because truth is not absolute. According to postmodernism, what can really be known is also essentially limited to scientific knowledge. Christians can know more than what can be observed with the telescope and the microscope.

The second side of the Kingdom Triangle is the renovation of the Christian soul. By this Moreland means that we must reconnect with God on an emotional level. Moreland observes that Christians have bought the world’s view of what it means to be happy. Happiness is a “pleasurable satisfaction that depends on external circumstances going well for you.” However, Christian happiness is a “life well lived, a life of virtue and character that manifests wisdom, kindness, and goodness. It is the abundant life that Jesus talks about in John 10:10. It does require a sense of well-being, but that is distinct from a sense of pleasurable satisfaction. Moreland offers two approaches to entering into the life of virtue. First is to kill bad habits and develop good habits. Habits, good and bad, reside in our flesh. We must exercise our flesh through discipline in order to train ourselves to walk in virtue. We exercise abstinence disciplines like fasting, frugality, solitude, and sacrifice and we exercise engagement disciplines like prayer, study, worship, and fellowship. There is more to it than that, though. If there weren’t then Christianity would be mere asceticism. We need to train our hearts to discern the Spirit of God. Toward this end, Moreland offers a spiritual exercise. Step 1: Focus your attention on your physical heart muscle. Moreland asserts that when the Bible talks about the heart, it is more than merely symbolic. There is some focus somehow with the soul and emotion that is felt in that part of the body. Sure we know from science that emotion is actually in different parts of the brain, but I would agree with Moreland, that you will not likely make a connection with your emotions by trying to concentrate on your emotional centers of your brain you feel in your heart, in your chest. Step 2: Using the acrostic CFAN, recall a memory emotion associated with the relevant memory and let that emotion dwell and dominate the heart area. CFAN stands for compassion, forgiveness, appreciation, and nonjudgementalism. Recall an instance when you either gave or received love, forgiveness, joy, or acceptance. The important thing is not just to remember the experience, but to feel it. This exercise will help you be more in tune with God’s emotions toward you and through you.

The third side of the Kingdom Triangle requires us to restore God’s Kingdom’s miraculous power. Moreland seasons this chapter with several testimonies of miraculous or supernatural events in recent years. His intention is not to chronicle and support with concrete empirical evidence miracle stories. However, his assertion is that there are more and more such testimonies being reported every day. Rumors and false stories have been always been circulated. However, he asserts that these are increasingly coming from credible witnesses not known for exaggeration. He does not assert that all the stories circulating today can be verified, but where there is smoke there is fire. And there is more smoke than ever before. He make a couple of statements in this chapter that I found mind-blowing. First, he states that “Fewer and fewer Christian scholars hold to cessationism, and it may fairly be called an increasingly marginalized viewpoint.” This he does not say is sure evidence that cessationism is wrong, but he states that one must seriously consider why this viewpoint is losing acceptance among Christian scholars. Secondly he makes reference to a book edited by Daniel Wallace and M. James Sawyer titled Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? Remarkably these cessationist authors criticize the view or at least practice of most cessationists as reactionary against Pentecostals and Charismatics. These authors argue that there is way for cessationists to cultivate a supernatural lifestyle that is biblical and consistent with their Theology. Moreland’s conclusion in this chapter is that all evangelical Christians, regardless of their particular theological persuasion must reconnect with God’s miraculous power and cultivate a greater expectation for the supernatural to occur. He suggests that we need to become naturally supernatural, by which he means that we need to look for ways for God to work through us miraculously as we go about our daily lives.

Again, I was very impressed with this book on a variety of levels. I think Moreland’s case against naturalism and post-modernism and its influence on the church is substantive. I like his recipe for taking these challenges head on. If you are not impressed with his practical steps toward reclaiming a Christian heart, mind, and spirit, come up with your own, but do not take this threat lightly.

February 23, 2007

Book Review: The Myth of a Christian Nation

Filed under: Books — kendall @ 11:44 am

Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. 207pp. Hardcover.

I haven’t even finished reading this book and yet “Wow!” This is one of the heaviest hitting most compelling books I’ve read in a long time. It is the most important book written of late. This book should be read by every mature American Christian. However, it will probably not be and Greg will be anathematized as most dissenters from the status quo are. As the title suggests, Greg attacks the myth of America as a Christian nation head on. He treats the topic comprehensively and passionately. However, it should not be inferred that this is merely a persuasive work. Greg does get emotional at times, but his arguments are solid, substantial, and difficult to refute. His fundamental goal with this book isn’t so much to tear down or criticize America or American Christians, but to exalt Jesus and promote His genuine and beautiful heavenly kingdom. To accomplish this Greg must show that America cannot be considered a Christian nation now or ever in its history. Greg’s essential premise is that since Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, neither America or any other nation can be considered a Christian nation–by definition. However, honorable, noble, and just a nation may be, it will always fall short of Jesus’ vision for the kingdom and can never substitute for it. Jesus had the opportunity to establish an earthly kingdom and rejected that course for the establishment of a beautiful spiritual kingdom. Greg argues that the notion of “taking back America for God” is fundamentally flawed because America cannot be considered to have ever been acting purely Christ-like in its history. America has had a bloody history punctuated by frequent wars. No matter how just these wars may have been, Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies, not kill them. Don’t misunderstand, Greg is not suggesting that America does not have the right to exercise military force in the protection or promotion of its national interests. He does not suggest that a nation subscribe to an isolationist or completely non-military policy. Governments have the “power of the sword” and the responsibilities that go along with it. He is just saying that the power of the sword is fundamentally not like Christ, so when any nation goes to war in the name of Christ this is false, tarnishes the name of Christ, and does substantial harm to the promotion of the Gospel. America’s history of oppression, exploitation, and outright slaughter of Native Americans; slavery, rape, and murder of Africans; and discrimination against other non-whites from colonial times to the present further illustrate that American cannot be considered to adequately represent Christ. Greg gets most emotional as he argues that this earthly vision of America as a Christian nation obfuscates the Gospel of the Kingdom and hinders its advance both in the US and abroad. Two centuries of violence and oppression in the name of American Christianity have hardened untold millions of hearts against the beautiful and attractive Gospel of the Kingdom.

This book helps Christians like myself who are having increasing difficulty defending America’s unchristian history and present unjust and violent foreign policies. It puts solid arguments behind what has been an otherwise uneasiness with the notion of America as Christian nation. It also helps us to maintain a proper focus as American Christians. We should be focusing our efforts on loving and serving people rather than political activism. We should be focused on getting more Americans to be fully Christian rather than trying to get America as a whole to be more Christian. The former transforms individual lives; the latter does not transform lives, and may actually make individuals more resistant to the Gospel. The former will transform the nation as individuals behave more Christ-like and consequently transforms the climate of the nation. The blessings of God have remained on America, not because America is a Christian nation, but simply because there are Christians in America.

More to come when I actually finish the book.

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