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Friday, 21 September 2012

Problems with Facebook

New Technology is Good
A theology of creation (which we evangelicals don't do well) demands that we view most new technological developments as, in themselves, good. They are a reflection  of the creativity of God (because we are made in his image) and a sign of his goodness (because they do us good).

Radio, TV, Internet, Twitter, iPads and Facebook, are all good.

Of course, in a fallen world, good gifts are twisted to evil ends, but we should not call the good gifts evil themselves for that reason.

Facebook is Good
So facebook is good. Think of all the good that can be done through it. You can keep in contact with friends, let people know what's going on in your life, and for a believer, glorify God through righteous and loving posts.

But in recent weeks I have been pondering two problems with this technology....

The Problem of Omniscience
You and I were never meant to know everything about everyone. This is true even of our closest friends. God alone knows all things, for a very good reason. None of us could handle omniscience. I am not thinking quantity of data, I am thinking sin. The famous American preacher AW Tozer once said about the celebrity culture taking hold in our churches, that if we knew all the thoughts of the man or woman we most admire, we would not even cross the street to greet them! He wasn't arguing for or defending unrighteousness, he was doing a realism check, doing a Paul who said that in him no good thing dwelt. Only God in his infinite mercy and patience can handle every piece of knowledge about his beloved children.

But today people are so unbelievably free about what they write on facebook, their thoughts, their movements, their arguments and so on, that we know people much better than before. (Or do we?, I hear you ask. Because it is quite possible to deceive others and put on a show.)

Add to that question, the fact that knowledge brings responsibility. What if you discover that someone is up to no good? Perhaps facebook opens up our lives to one another. Perhaps it forces admonition upon us in a new way.

In short, the first problem of facebook is, What do I do with this new glut of information about A, B or C?

The Problem of one-dimensional relationships
There is something about flesh and blood which no written text or photo can convey.  We say things with our bodies which we don't express in words. Embodied creations as we are, fullness of communication can't take place without face to face conversations. I can hide pain or embarrassment from you if I communicate merely by text, for example.

If the full revelation of God came through the incarnate flesh and blood Jesus Christ, God is telling us something about how to communicate. True, he has spoken in a book - so words are important - but he has most fully spoken to us in the 3-D flesh and blood person of his Son.

And so we must insist that the only way to fully communicate with another human being is through face to face conversations.

If, therefore, facebook is the only way we communicate to someone, it is wholly inadequate. If it is an additional way, a supplementary way, then it can help.

The fear is that some people might resort, in the comfort of their rooms, to communicate wholly through facebook, which means they will never really know or be known.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

"Gnosticism" old and new

What on earth is gnosticism?
"Gnosis" is Greek for 'knowledge', and gnosticism was an ancient error which said "I have access to some kind of knowledge - often secretive - which gives me a hot line to heaven, which puts me a few rungs of the ladder higher than you, dear brother. If only you knew what I know...."

So, straight up, gnosticism is daughter to spiritual pride, or to put it another way, a son of Satan. Of course, of course, of course, of course, no gnostic will ever put it that way. Has anyone ever come to you and said "I am a proud person?" They will come with feigned humility, "I am an unworthy sinner, but God in his great mercy to a miserable sinner has shown me thus and thus...."

We laugh at the silly tales of early gnosticism. Irenaeus, the second century Christian writer makes an endless list of stupid fables believed by various gnostic sects of his time in his book "Against Heresies". But gnosticism is not merely an ancient error, it's around and alive in the churches today.

Any view which says "I have knowledge which puts me one up on you" is a gnostic error. Any view which says "If you only knew what I knew" is a gnostic heresy.

And there are lots of them around today....

Modern Varieties of Gnosticism
"I know about first century history". This is a big one today, coming through the works of people like NT Wright. It says that unless you are a first-century historian and know all about the social setting of the New Testament you can't possibly understand the New Testament. Poor you. The key to understanding the New Testament is being a first-century historian. 

"I have been to Bible College". This view teaches that going to Bible College puts you one up on the poor plebs in the pews who haven't had that privilege. Somehow your greater knowledge makes you more spiritual, a better interpreter, etc. 

"I know Hebrew thought." Slightly more subtle is the view in some Christian-Jewish circles that teaches that unless you understand Jewishness, Jewish thought, idiom and tradition, you can't really get into the Old Testament. 

"I only use the XYZ translation." Again, more subtle, but all too common. I have secret knowledge which shows me that only my translation is God's Pure Word. Your translation is perverted, and if you only knew the background to your perverted translation (yes they use these extreme words), that I know, you would never open it again, and you would immediately use mine. 

"I get messages from God." God leads me by his Spirit in all I do. Talk about one-up-manship!  You languish, my friend, in the low-country of Scripture, where you hear God's voice indirectly. I have a hotline to heaven. 

"I have been baptised in the Spirit." You are a carnal Christian, having only repented and believed. I have had an experience which takes me far beyond you. (Everyone who repents and believes has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside them - Acts 1:38).

The fundamental error of all forms of gnosticism
The fundamental error of all varieties of gnosticism is sinful spiritual pride. For the Scriptures teach that every believer has been blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3). There are no Class B Christians, we are all Class A. You don't need to have any kind of knowledge apart from Christ to be complete in him, and any extraneous knowledge you may have doesn't put you one up on your brother or sister.

Of course no gnostic has ever spoken in such proud terms for Satan is no fool. He hides the hook of gnosticism inside the bait of  (sham) humility. Pride has to be unmasked. The apostle Paul had to unmask pride like this:

"Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels (weird ancient gnosticism) disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen (read, goes into great detail about what he has read, what she has studied, etc., etc.), and his spiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions." (Colossians 2)

Talk about a balloon popper! This person's mind is not filled with spiritual notions, but idle notions! Some readers of Colossians would have been mad - and so will some readers of this blog. But then comes the coupe de grace, the final chop, the death blow, when Paul says that such a person who thinks he is more in contact with God, is actually disconnected from Jesus!

 "He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body supported and held together by its ligaments grows as God causes it to grow." (Colossians 2)

Gnosticism - all forms of it - belongs to the basic principles of this fallen world, and as such we should be done with it.

How to refute gnosticisms
You may think you have to go into great detail and listen to a gnostic's knowledge / dreams/ whatnots in order to examine their case. But this is wholly unnecessary, time consuming and futile.

All you need to establish is this: Do they think thy have privileged knowledge that most people in the church do not have? A knowledge that puts them in a class apart from the church? Above everyone else, privileged?  (This form of 'aboveness' may come in many forms, but often it results in separation from others.  They won't be able to mix with others, who they now see as beneath them).

Don't worry about the details of the error (historical / visions / translations / etc) - the details are irrelevant.

All you need to tease out is the answer to the forgoing question. Then pray that God will humble them. Don't you humble them, but ask the God who was able to humble a Nebuchadnezzar to bring them to their senses.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Books Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Life is short....
We can't read everything, so every book requires careful selection. You could read all the 'in books'. But if you do, you'll read an awful lot of pages that will be unknown in 2022, let alone 3022, should the Lord tarry....

The pros and cons of the New 
You should read some new books because they deal with live subjects, explain modern findings or apply old truths in new ways. In a very few cases, they do break new ground, for God has more light to shine from his Word. Some of us must also keep up to date with new heresies - which always turn out to be old heresies in new garb, of course.

The disadvantage of new books is that you simply never know if they are worth reading. You can rarely trust a review because you don't know if a mate of the author wrote it; whether one sentence or paragraph so helped the reviewer that he encourages you to buy the book; whether promotional machinery behind the book is the reason it is being reviewed in the first place. An experienced bookworm lamenting the dozens of useless books he'd read over his lifetime, once suggested to me that no-one should write a book till they are over fifty to take advantage of  that wisdom gained by age. (That advice applies, of course, only to books where life experience is required.)

As you can see, this cynical blogger has read one too many of the New Books.....

The pros and cons of Old Books
....don't get me wrong a whole lot of rubbish has been written in the past. And if you randomly buy books of yesteryear you will also waste a whole lot of time.

But one great filter of  Christian literature is time. If a book is still reprinted decades or centuries after it was written, tis a good sign. (Not a sufficient sign, for some publishers only publish old books - but a good sign!)

Actually, although time seems to be the filter, the real filter is the church: over decades and centuries the church sifts out the good from the bad.

The Church, after all is the pillar and ground of truth.

What should one do?
For every new book read three good old ones? Five old ones? Ten old ones? One hundred old ones? Whatever, Just make sure you read lots of old stuff. And of course, make Scripture the first Book on your list and in your heart.

Example 1: Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.
Born in 1628, John Bunyan, a tinker (fixed pots and pans) from near Bedford, England, ended up in prison for preaching "illegally" (if it happened before....). His twelve years in prison were not wasted, because he wrote this great allegory of the Christian life. He imagines a pilgrim on his way to heaven. On his way he meets all kinds of characters,  from Atheist to Talkative, the kinds of characters a believer will meet on their journey. With masterful insight Bunyan explains how these people must be dealt with. Not only does Pilgrim meet people, he passes through experiences of all kinds, from doubt to guilt; once again Bunyan masterfully explains how we work through these problems. The reasons Pilgrim's Progress is still read today, some four centuries after being written, is singular: it is filled with Scripture. That is the reason any Christian book is read years after it is written; it is filled with Scripture Truth. 

Example 2:  "Irenaeus - Against Heresies"
Here's an example of a good old book (don't let the halo stuff put you off, those who publish old Christian books can't seem to resist "catholic" images). Writing somewhere in the second century, we learn many interesting things from this ancient "church father".

First, we learn that there are no new heresies under the sun. The Shack, Love Wins, etc., etc., etc., it's all been touted before. Second, you find yourself amazed at how consistently based on the New Testament such an ancient writer is. Although the canon (the list of 27 books in our New Testament) is not yet 'fixed' all he quotes from and all he recognises as Scripture is what we recognise. Third, you are amazed at the stability of the New Testament Greek Text over 2000 years, because all of his quotes (translated into English for us) are immediately recognisable to us. There are no jarring surprises or shocks, such is the providential oversight of God over the Greek text. Fourth, you are grateful that we live now not then, for the number of errors today are  less (and more easily recognised): 1900 years have enabled truth to become settled orthodoxy. Fifthly, you learn that good old Irenaeus didn't get it all right. How could he?  He suggests in one place that Jesus lived until 50 years old because he had to experience all the seasons of life we experience (and 50 in those days was old age). But, hey, that's a small error (we assume now it is an error).

This old book gave me a renewed confidence in Scripture. That's one of many blessings an old book may give you....

So what old books would I recommend? I sense another blog emerging....