Tag Archive: Ephesians

Gauging the modern and postmodern trends

Brad Kallenberg begins Live to Tell with the sweeping question: What does evangelism look like in a postmodern age?  First, however, he must ask, “What does it mean to say that we live in a “postmodern” era?”  “What exactly is postmodernism?”  Kallenberg admits that he is not sure of the answers to such questions.  As a working definition he defines persons under the age of 25 as the primary demographic of the postmodern era in which we live.

Kallenberg’s discussion of evangelism in the postmodern age begins with his identification of three strands of modern philosophy.  First, he argues that in modern philosophical thinking “the individual is always prior to and more significant than any larger group of which he or she is a part” (16).  Conglomerates are nothing more than the sum of their parts.  Second, he claims that modern philosophy posits that the primary use of language is to paint a picture of the world.  The language of modernism provides nothing more than a neutral description.  Third, modern philosophical thought holds that one’s beliefs are nothing but assertions about the way things really are.  We subject our beliefs to rigorous testing and if they pass modern science and thought they become knowledge, or reality.

Are these modern notions still operating in today’s postmodern world?  Kallenberg believes they are quickly becoming antiquated.  He prefers his three “new,” or postmodern, takes on the three aging modern notions.  First, he refutes the modern emphasis on the individual over the communal.  He believes that vital properties emerge at the communal, or group, level that cannot be reduced to those operating at the level of the individual.  This new group structure utilizes a top-down influence.  For Kallenberg, the result of this postmodern notion is that “faithfulness in evangelism must simultaneously attend to both the group and the individual” (21).

Second, Kallenberg challenges the modern view of language as neutrally descriptive.  Instead, he believes that language is the means by which we think.  Language doesn’t refer to, or correspond to, or depict some nonlinguistic reality.  Our language – the words we use – depict a concrete reality.  Even more, the learning of a language is a social enterprise.  Language learning happens within a community in a way that trains the language users in a communal mode of living.

Finally, Kallenberg suggests that one’s beliefs are more than ‘tested knowledge.’  Beliefs are social and experiential.  The beliefs we hold about our world form an interlocking set that we share with the rest of our community.  Typically these sets of beliefs are resilient and resist change.

For Kallenberg, evangelism today must speak into these tenets of the postmodern framework.  Evangelism must involve both an individual and a group.  Outreach must attend to the important role of language.  Evangelism must speak into the belief sets of individuals and communities.

Kallenberg’s opening chapter sets the stage for the evangelistic discussions he wishes to foster.   Not feeling adequately schooled in “modern” and “postmodern” thinking (if anyone truly is!) I accept Kallenberg’s analysis of the trend of thought.  He seems right that individualism, devaluation of words and language, and an emphasis on the scientific method guide most philosophical, sociological, and psychological discussions today.  However, I hope that in that coming chapters Kallenberg pushes his thought beyond bland philosophical language.  I hope he unpacks the theological implications of such thought that are relevant to evangelism and mission.

For example, when Kallenberg writes of the postmodern emphasis on the top-down nature of influence in the community my mind immediately jumps to Paul’s words about Christ as the head of the Church: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Eph. 1.22-23).  How does the “Church as the Body of Christ with Christ as it’s head” impact evangelism and mission?  Such scriptural references or language is absent in Kallenberg’s opening analysis.

This is the first review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age


Is “Salvation by grace through faith” unique to Christianity?

In chapter six Tennent prompts a discussion a seminary student would love.  He enticingly asks, “Is the Christian emphasis on grace dramatically different from other religions’ doctrines?”  Is grace a universally understood and accepted idea?  Immediately, Calvin and Arminius or Presbyterians and Methodists come to mind.  Tennent, however, points to a similar debate happening within branches of Hinduism (Vadagalais and Tengalais).  Also, Tennent highlights the Japanese Jodu Shin Shu (True Pure Land); a stream of Mahayana Buddhism Karl Barth called “Japanese Protestantism” (137).

True Pure Land emerged in 13th century AD by the Buddhist reformer Shinran Shonin.  This “Japanese Protestantism,” Tennent claims, parallels the soteriological claims made by so many Western Christians.  Shinran recognizes the helplessness of the human condition and humanity’s desperate cry for grace.  However, while a doctrine of “salvation by grace through faith” does exist in Buddhism, it is an incomplete Christian understanding of the phrase according to Tennent.

Does this conclusion mean Christians have the market cornered on grace, faith, and salvation?  Tennent allows for the possibility that True Pure Land is in total error.  Perhaps the void of Christ and God’s redemptive acts in grace-filled non-Christian religions negates the whole of their existence.  Yet, in that case are we to shun all of it?  Could we not still acknowledge that the True Pure Land is an example of the truth that God “has not left himself without testimony?” (Acts 14.17).  Tennent concludes that the lesson we should learn from Shinran is to expect doctrines of grace in other religions, and not be surprised by them” (158).

Chapter six left me a little disappointed.  Tennent failed to offer many definitive or insightful statements.  Many questions remained unanswered.  What if we find grace in other religions?  Is that an avenue to talk about the grace of Christ?  Do we settle to know that “grace” is to be found apparent from the Christian witness?  What is the source of the other grace?  My hopes for chapter six were not met, and I finished the chapter with more confusion than clarity.

This is the sixth review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.

Ephesians 5:15-20 – Words for the wise

“Live wisely,” Paul exhorts.  “Not foolishly or drunk on wine, but wisely filled with the Spirit.”  Wisdom.  To be wise.  We don’t talk much of wisdom in our world.  We speak of being smart, intelligent, and successful.  Wisdom is something we relegate to past generations.  Yet, though we don’t think of it often, I suspect it is a virtue we all wish to possess.  In our rush to gain wisdom we often bow down at the altar of television sages such as Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, and Homer Simpson.

However, Scripture informs us that the world’s wisdom pales in comparison to God’s wisdom.  As Paul writes to the Corinthians, God has made foolish the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:20).  God calls us to be wise in God’s own ways.  The Psalmist proclaims: “God looks down from heaven to see if there are any who are wise, who seek God” (Ps. 53:2). Godly wisdom is to seek God.  To be wise is to seek God.  To be wise it to kneel at the altar of the Almighty, to seek and “know what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 5:17).

Note for our students heading off to college (and others going back to school):  Proverbs 2:4 says to “seek wisdom as silver.”  It doesn’t say, “seek silver.”  The world, your professors, and many around you will tell you to seek silver, seek wealth and riches.  Education, for many, is the pursuit of silver.  But God’s Word offers a righteous alternative: seek wisdom.  Seek God.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – Paul’s ‘rules’ for a new life

Ephesus Library
Ephesus Library

Paul offers bold words, and calls for a bold and daring way of life. Ephesus was a major place of travel and commerce. The city was home to the Temple of Artemis. Antony and Cleopatra wintered there several times. Ephesus was decidedly pagan. Yet, to those Christians gathered there Paul invites, or calls, them to a different way of living. Paul urges that a life of integrity, compassion, and love is the Christian way.

Paul’s words resound as boldly today as they did then. The Letter to the Ephesians calls today’s Christians to a bold way of living, a way of living that is distinctly different than the world around us. When the world validates lying, Christians are called to speak truthfully. When anger and hate reign, Christians stand as witnesses to compassion and love. As gossip and slander become the norm, Christians remember that true conversation should build up one another. Christians are ones who stand on God’s side.  They are those whose loving and compassionate lives offer a bold witness in a desperate world.

Are we taking every opportunity to tell the world we’re on God’s side? Does how we spend our time, energy, and money show to the world that we live on God’s side? Paul calls all Christians to be “imitators of God.” Paul might ask: Do our lives imitate the world…or do our lives imitate God?

Lectionary, July 26

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for use in the United Methodist Church (UMC) this week:

2 Samuel 11:1-15

Psalm 14

Ephesians 3:14-21

John 6:1-21

Lectionary, March 22

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for use in the United Methodist Church (UMC) this week:

Numbers 21:4-9

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Ephesians 2:1-10

John 3:14-21

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for this week:

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for this week:

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Psalm 100

Ephesians 1:15-23

Matthew 25:31-46

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