Now that the media-hyped “doomsday” predictions of Harold Camping have again proven false I have a few thoughts.
- Atheists and skeptics who choose to skewer Christians because of this falsehood will be guilty of an ad hominem fallacy. We’re not all like that. And remember…
- Every worldview has its version of “Doomsday.” Consider atheism, perhaps psychologically the most doom-and-gloom worldview of all (if one would only meditate on it French-existentialist style). Atheist Bertrand Russell may have expressed this best. Russell’s famous atheistic doomsday statement is found in his “A Free Man’s Worship.” Russell writes: “Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.” Russell’s 4 points are: 1) humanity is not a “creation,” therefore having no telos; 2) humanity is a cosmic, random accident; 3) there is no personal existence after death; and 4) “Doomsday” IS coming in the eventual end of this universe. Russell says this is indisputable. And I agree, if the atheist worldview is true.Sprinkle in some Franz Kafka, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus and we have a fairly bleak and doomy situation. Why not put Russell’s statement on the sides of buses for all to see (with a smiley face and “Have a Nice Day”)?
- I think all will have to agree in the reality of a “Doomsday.” To adjudicate between prevailing D-Day claims requires adjudicating between worldviews or noetic frameworks. On that basis I think Russell is wrong. I do not accept his version of Doomsday. But I think every atheist should. We don’t therefore need to make fun at Doomsday theories per se. We can ask: which view of Doomsday do you believe in? But Russellian atheists are, for me, false prophets. I do not expect what they expect. “Expectation” is a function of “worldview,” and I think atheism is false, and that theism is true. My expectations form within the framework of Christian theism. I have been working and writing this out in many ways on this website.
- Every worldview has its prophetic failures. In this regard I think the atheistic “4 Horsemen” (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett) got it wrong. “Religion” is not on the way out, and cannot rationally be seen as the root of all evil. And for me “Zeitgeisters” might be the on-the-fringe bad news-bringing Harold Campings of atheism.
- “Rapture” theory is false. Harold Camping self-admits he is no Bible scholar, and it shows. If you want to see how Christian scholarship interprets Doomsday you would do well to read N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Note again: Wright’s discussion is intra-noetic framework talk. There is: 1) belief in a worldview; and then 2) conversation within the worldview. That’s how it is with all worldviews. And everyone (no one is excluded) has a worldview. If you don’t accept someone else’s worldview you will find their intra-noetic dialogue strange, unbelievable, even funny and worth mocking. Words like “weird,” “normal,” and “wacko” all find their meanings within a worldview.
- FYI, and for what it’s worth: intra-noetically I find less doominess within Christian thesim than atheism. I don’t mean to say that if one is an atheist then they are necesarily more depressed than your average Jesus-follower. But within my worldview there is hope. “Hope” concerns expectation. My life is filled with a blessed sense of expectation that is ever-increasing. It is true that a “Day” is coming. It casts its light upon every “today,” and has become my reason to live.
- Today sceptics will gleefully behold the prohetic wreckage that is Harold Camping and his (in this instance) truly mis-guided followers. What on earth is that about?
One of my birthday gifts was an amazon.com gift card. I purchased two books for my Kindle. One was N.T. Wright’s After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. Wright says: “The central thing that is supposed to happen “after you believe” is the transformation of character.” This is the Galatians 4:19 thing – that Christ be formed in you. Or, as Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:12 – “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This formation, the development of Christ-character in you, is our calling. It happens as we indwell Christ.
What will that look like? It comes from attachment to Christ; therefore it looks like Christ. Christ gives you, forms you, meta-morphs you into one who loves as Christ loves. Wright’s example is that of Sully Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who landed a disabled passenger jet in the Hudson River and saved 155 lives. The character of a pilot had been formed in him. Which means he no longer needed to wear a wristband that asked “What Would a Pilot Do?” (WWPD) Rather, “the skills and ability ran right through him, top to toe.”
Wright: “The key to it all is that the Christian vision of character that has become second nature is precisely all about discovering what it means to be human – human in a way that most of us never imagine.” Regarding what Captain Sullenberger did “virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become “second nature.” Not “first nature,” as though they happened “naturally.” Like an acquired taste, such choices and actions, which started off being practiced with difficulty, ended up being, yes, “second nature.”
For Wright our “first nature” is our subhumanity. The “second nature” Christ wants to form in us is his nature, which is true humanity. Wright’s book develops how this happens.
I love stuff like this, which for me is about my own change. I’ve been invited into a variety of contexts to teach this. So I am quite interested in how Wright is going to package this in his “character transformation” book.
In the Jesus-following life what’s important is that, through you, people meet Jesus. People need Jesus more than they need you. You can be free of the illusion of your indispensibility. This means it’s OK for you to be out of the way, to be unseen. Great things can happen when the spotlight is off you. It’s a matter of discernment. There is a ministry of presence and a ministry of absence. God can work in both if the spotlight stays pointed on him.
When life becomes a matter of making a name for myself the sickness has set in. Self-exaltation and Jesus-glorification do not mix. You can stay underground, behind the scenes, and make a difference. The difference you make for Jesus will be greater if your name gets out of the way. The less your name or my name or anyone’s name is associated with Jesus the better things are and the stronger the Movement becomes.
The underground life is a threat to the dark kingdom. This is because the underground life, the subversive life, is able to get at the root of things. Roots grow underground. On the surface stuff “appears.” “Root,” in Latin, is radix. Our English word “radish” comes from this. So does the word “radical.” A life that is “radical” lives subversively underground where the root of all things lies. The kingdom of darkness fears when Jesus-people start messing with the root system.
Jesus said: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29) The Kingdom of God is like a seed growing secretly. It’s growth is secret because it is underground, out of sight. There is danger lurking underground. Be dangerous for Christ.
Live this life content to be unknown so that Jesus will be known. Don’t water your own self so you can bloom before others. “Influence” doesn’t need to make a personal appearance.
I’m sitting in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, having arrived from four wonderful days in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. This was my third trip to Sioux Falls in the past two years. Linda and I love the people of First Baptist Church and the Sioux Falls Regional Outpouring!
I was joined by my good friends and colleagues Teri, Clay, Lois Jean, Richard, Dick, Norelle, Ed, Ross, and Wayne. Special thanks to Susie and Gerry for your incredible hospitality (Susie gets an ‘A’). And to Shawn for welcoming us.
I enjoyed playing of First B’s worship team (thank you Bob and team). I spoke three times. Here’s a synopsis of what I felt led by God to share.
The calling of every Jesus-follower’s life is “Christ glorified in you, and you in Christ.” This is your raison d’etre. This is Paul’s One Thing: viz., Christ and him crucified. (2 Thessalonians 2)
In 1 Corinthians Paul addresses the Corinthian Jesus-people with this challenge: don’t mess with the Foundation! This is “Temple language.” A “temple” is a place where God dwells, by his presence. In the OT, and until A.D. 70, this meant a physical building. Actually, in A.D. 30, Jesus came into Jerusalem and declared that God’s presence was no longer in the Temple. The religious leaders had shut the door to the kingdom of God (i.e., the rule or reign of God). What people, and we, most needed, was not available, thanks to the legalistic, materialistic, and politicized religious activity. In Jesus we see the prediction of a new “Temple.” Paul spells this out in 1 Corinthians.
The new Temple has a foundation. God used Paul to lay it. This Foundation was: Christ and him crucified. Paul had come with this message, laying it, not physically, but spiritually in the hearts of the new J-followers.
Paul then subcontracted out the Temple construction to people like Apollos. Some of these subcontractors were not building in the right way. They were using cheap, rather than lasting, materials. For example, there was a focus on “great speakers” and “great, rhetorical preachers.” In Greek culture if you could orate profoundly you had great status. Paul asks, “What the heck is going on here! I can’t preach well at all. All I came to you with is the foundational message of ‘Christ crucified,’ accompanied by the power of God.” Paul was, says Ben Witherington, “rhetorically uncouth.” But for Paul, this was more than enough. The Message had intrinsic power and did not need rhetorical embellishment. In fact, rhetorical embellishment misleads people into thinking that God’s power resides in “powerful preaching.” For Paul, one could and even should be a weak vessel, so that God’s power will be even more evident.
Nonetheless, the C-J-followers were turning from being a Movement to an Institution, which means from participators to an audience. What do audiences do best? They watch and critique. That’s what was happening, and it was causing divisions. “I like Apollos best!” “Well, I disagree. I like Cephas best!” Some liked Paul best. Some even said they liked Jesus best of all. Into this Church-as-entertainment culture steps Paul, saying “It’s not about human abilities. It can’t be!”
So Paul says to the subcontractors, “Be careful how you build.” And he reminds them, and the Corinthian Jesus followers, of what God is building. “Don’t you know,” says Paul, “that you are a Temple of the Holy Spirit?” This is truly amazing! God is building a Temple on top of the Foundation, and he’s building it with people. God is building a Temple out of the hearts of people. For what? For him to indwell. God’s Spirit… in you. Christ… in you… the hope of glory. Forget the old and false idea of “church” as a building. Real Church is a People Movement called out by Jesus to follow him on his redemptive Kingdom-mission.
Last night in Sioux Falls I talked about God inhabiting his People-Temple with his powerful presence. Where God is, there is power. This is more certain than If it rains, then the ground gets wet. If God is in the House, power is there. The Greek word for “power,” which Paul uses 40 times in his letters, is dunamis. This is power that is explosive. “Power” – ability to effect change. God, by his power, is a Change Agent. And that is precisely what we need, correct? We need change, and to keep on changing, so that Christ would be formed in us. (Gal. 4:19)
I’ve had trouble with charismatic-pentecostal types in the past. I’ve also had trouble with non-charismatics. I’ve been in “church meetings” where we just started off with a short prayer and then pooled our own finite mental powers to thrash out things like should we get round tables or rectangular tables. I’ve even led meetings like that. Some time ago I realize that is not what I signed up for when I became a Jesus-lover. I signed up to follow. The word “follow” logically implies “movement.” I wanted then, and still want now, to be a follower of a Movement, led by Jesus.
I shared these things last night in Sioux Falls. I concluded with this. There’s one person that I have really, really have issues with. That person was actually in the room last night when I was preaching. Actually, that person was preaching. The person I’ve had the most problems with in my life is me. If I could kick the one person most responsible for my problems I wouldn’t be able to stand up for a week.
A few months ago some film students from the University of Michigan interviewed me for a movie they are making. They asked me the question: “As a pastor and leader in your community, what is the biggest problem you see?” I immediately answered: “The biggest problem I see is: me. If I could be changed into greater Christlikeness my marriage would be better, my family would be better, my church would be better, and my community would have a better chance. But I cannot change myself. Yet I believe, even know, that God is powerful enough to change me.
I invited the people there last evening to come forward, and my visiting friends and I would lay hands on them, bless them, and pray for God’s transforming power to be upon them. It looked to me like everyone responded. They came with joy, with tears, in faith and hope. From my POV it felt like a move of God.
There is spiritual Movement in Sioux Falls today. There is a People Temple inhabited by the Spirit of God. Built by God. God gets all the thanks and glory for this.