1 SYNCRETISMThere was a great shift that took place three hundred years after the death of Christ. After three centuries of persecution by the Roman authorities, during which time the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church, Rome issued an Edict of Toleration for the Christian religion. Beyond that, the Emperors started making Christianity the preferred state religion.
This meant that former pagan priests became clergy in the officially sanctioned church. By AD 381, things had so swung the other way that it was now illegal to be a pagan or a heretic, and in that sense religious toleration was no longer allowed in the Empire.
After AD 325, for Christian leaders who were now paid by the Roman state, the issue was not how do we stay alive, but how do we accommodate our pagan neighbors and get them into the church?
1. Baptism became tied to receiving salvation, so infants were sprinkled2. The Lord’s Supper changed from a symbol to a sacrament, imparting saving grace3. Ministry changed from leadership, to layers of bishops and archbishops and cardinals lording it over the membership
Four ideas became prevalent, and true churches (baptistic) fought against them.A. Sacramentalism—religious ceremonies communicate saving graceB. Sacerdotalism—priests have special authority to administer grace through the sacramentsC. Relics—become important in religious ceremonies and are veneratedD. Church government—no longer ruled by the members (congregational rule), pastors of larger churches were elevated as bishops, gaining control over churches surrounding them (the Roman Imperial system of government was adopted by the professing church).
Baptistic groups who attempted to hold true to apostolic doctrine and practice were persecuted and killed for the same reason they were persecuted and killed under the Roman Empire: they were viewed as a danger to the state.
Syncretism is the reshaping of Christian beliefs and practices through cultural accommodation, so they consciously or unconsciously blend with those of the dominant culture. Christianity then loses it distinctive nature and speaks with a voice reflective of its culture. The Christian community tries to make its message and life attractive, alluring, and appealing to those outside the fellowship.
E.g. Two years ago Joel planted an evangelical church. The guiding question forming his strategy was “How can we meet the needs of the people of this community and make this church grow?” Joel developed a core team, launched with an attendance of 300 after six months of planning, and now has an average of 900 people each Sunday. By all appearances he is very successful. However, Joel is inwardly perturbed. He acknowledges his church attracts people because it caters to what people want. The church is more a vendor of goods and services than a community of the kingdom of God. Joel sees how those attending have mixed motives: Attending is their duty, a place to meet people of influence, or where their children receive moral instruction. Church attendance relieves guilt and declares to others (and to self) “I am religious.” A spiritual responsibility has been discharged, so all is well. But observing the worldliness of members leads him to privately ask, “What have I created?”
Syncretism has implications both for modern missions and evangelism, because syncretism occurs when the assumptions of traditional culture are not adequately critiqued based on biblical theology.
Syncretism cannot be defined without understanding contextualization, since the two processes are interrelated.
Definitions emphasizing scripture define contextualization as the translation of biblical meanings into contemporary cultural contexts. So images, metaphors, rituals, and words that are current in the culture are used to replace words in the original text, so as to make the message understandable and impactful.
When the cultural setting is emphasized, it means God’s meaning is sought experientially within the culture using the Bible as a guide. The goal is to find what God is already doing in the culture, rather than communicate God’s eternal message within the cultural context. Evangelicals who believe the Bible is authoritative in life and ministry view this second option as syncretism because scripture is marginalized in the contextualization process.
The rationalization for the need of a contextualizing that results in syncretism runs like this: “My church was born and grew to maturity during the days of Modernity, and reflects Enlightenment thinking. Salvation was understood as steps individuals had to do to be saved; scripture was interpreted as a blue-print or a pattern to be logically followed; and the hermeneutic of “principle, precedent, or necessary inference" formed the basis for how we studied the Bible. Our movement followed the rationalism and debate style of Alexander Campbell (ex-Baptist founder of the Churches of Christ). Therefore our emphasis was on knowing about God and Christianity, rather than relating to Him personally as Father God.”
That is an absolutely acceptable critique of the BBFI. The operative watchword when I was growing up was, “God blesses faithfulness. “By faithfulness meant the idea you were at church-wide visitation knocking on doors every Thursday night at 7:00. Spirituality was determined by how long was your hair, how short was your skirt, whether you went to movies, wore flared-leg pants and wire-rimmed glasses.
But that is actually a critique of a biblical phenomenon we call legalism. And yes, one of the hallmarks of legalism is lack of biblical contextualization because of going to seed on the ideas of ecclesiastical separation, and personal separation as your gauge of spirituality.
All of that was critiqued successfully by Francis Schaefer years ago in his books True Spirituality, and How Shall We then Live? But the tendency today is to1. Throw out personal evangelism because that is viewing salvation as too individualistic2. Throw out showing someone the verses that lead them to Christ, because that is viewed as enlightenment thinking3. Reject the idea the Bible is God’s handbook on the human life, because that view is a result of modernity4. Stop principle-izing the Bible as an answer for human needs because postmodern men and women will not accept that, and instead look for the stories5. Reject sound teaching of doctrine as “knowledge about God” that precludes really knowing him
John MacArthur and others only talk about contextualization negatively because they think it obscures the gospel. Mark Driscoll and others advocate what they call contextualization as the only way to make the gospel relevant to people today.Which is it? Well, when someone argues Paul never contextualized the gospel and so they do not either, it is because they have labeled something they see that they don’t like as contextualization. In other words, they narrow the definition of the term to defining only the thing they are against. Since MacArthur is against Driscoll using salty language or sexual references in the pulpit, he is against all contextualization.
We all have to be careful, because with our emphasis on the Bible as an absolute standard, we have a tendency to ignore places within the Bible itself where it tells us to act in a relativistic or situational way. We forget that the only two absolute things on the earth are God and the word of God. So then we tend to make the husband’s authority over the wife (for example) into an absolute one, when in actual fact, a husband’s headship in his home (or a pastor’s in his church) is relative compared to the authority of Christ and the Bible.
Paul tells the Corinthians: “Judge in yourselves: is it comely for a woman to pray with her head uncovered. “Judge in yourselves means it is culturally relative. It means we may not believe in situation ethics, but Paul did believe in situational head covering. Because when we obey the scriptures and judge in ourselves at KCBT, we find that it makes no difference one way or the other. The fact that you judge in yourselves, instead of judge this strictly according to the scriptures, means there are times we have to contextualize. The debate over those gray areas are the undercard fights on the program.
At a conference in 1963 KristerStendahl, a Lutheran professor at Harvard Divinity School delivered a lecture (later published in a book in 1976) entitled “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.” It was a psychological study of Martin Luther’s interpretation of Paul that had become the foundation of Protestant and Reformed theology. Stendahl said Augustine introduced an “introspective conscience” into the interpretation of Paul’s writings, and Martin Luther followed this error. So he says the typical Lutheran view of Paul does not fit with statements in Paul’s writings.Luther allegedly interpreted Paul as though Paul were writing about issues of later times, instead of the ones he was actually facing. Stendahl said Paul was not up against a legalistic Judaism that taught salvation was to be "merited" or "earned" self-reliantly. Nor were Paul's opponents against faith, grace, and forgiveness. He said Luther was guilty of anachronism, or reading his own problems with the Catholic Church and with his own conscience back into the ancient text. That was a western way of interpreting Paul but not the right one. So we have to go back and re-read Paul, now that we see the psychology of our old way of perceiving him.
Then in 1977 E.P. Sanders published a study mining the literature of rabbinic and second temple Judaism, utilizing the Tannaim (views of rabbinic sages as recorded in the Mishnah 70-200 AD), the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (counterfeit books like the Gospel of Judas or Thomas). He intending to prove, not that Paul has been misunderstood, but that the picture of Judaism painted by Paul’s writings is historically false—not just inaccurate in part, but fundamentally mistaken. That there was actually a commonality between early Christianity and Judaism on the matter of salvation. As a matter of fact, maybe the reason we think otherwise is because of the antisemitic bias we had in the time before the holocaust.Sanders coined a new phrase to describe the character of this first-century Palestinian Judaism: "covenantal nomism." Judaism is not a religion of legalism but of grace, because Jews believed they got into salvation by the grace of election through the covenant (covenantal), but stayed in through the keeping of the law (nomism). People enter the covenant by grace and maintain themselves in it by works. Obedience is the means of maintaining one's status within the covenant. So with its emphasis on divine grace and forgiveness, Judaism was never a religion of legalism.
In 1982, James Dunn, the man who supervised N.T. Wright’s Ph.D. research, gave the Manson Memorial Lecture and titled it “The New Perspective on Paul and the Law.” Dunn and Wright are both Anglican theologians. You can see why they would want to see their own theology in Paul’s writings, because they believe if you are baptized as an infant into the Church of England you have salvation by election. It is totally God’s grace that placed you within the boundary-marker of infant baptism, just like it was God’s grace that placed a Jew inside the boundary marker of the people of God, which was circumcision. And you have to continue to be obedient to the faith in order to come out all right in the end. Dunn and Wright are both considered evangelical scholars.
The NPP is the confusion you end up with when you do not understand a dispensational view of scripture. You see OT salvation for what it is, a mix of faith and works, and you do not rightly divide that from sound doctrine in Paul. So you mix it all up in a bowl, and pretty much come out eating whatever doctrinal stew you were raised on.Presbyterian and Reformed churches are in the greatest turmoil over the NPP because, on one hand it seems to contradict their traditional understanding of salvation by grace, solely through faith. On the other hand, they never did quite know what to do with infant baptism, and this explains it in a way that makes them feel consistent with the OT.
N.T. Wright objects to calling this movement the New Perspective on Paul, because he says each one of them disagrees with the other on some things, so it should really be called New Perspectives. At the bottom line it is really new definitions, because you have to redefine biblical terms in order to get it to stick together.
GOSPEL—When Paul refers to ‘the gospel,’ he is not referring to a system of salvation, nor even to the good news that there now is a way of salvation open to all. ‘The gospel’ is not ‘you can be saved, and here’s how’; the gospel, for Paul, is ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’
RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD—Paul always uses this phrase to denote, not the status God’s people have from him or in his presence, but the righteousness of God himself, which he does not give away. It refers to God’s covenant faithfulness. (Wright gets this definition from an understanding of the Jewish lawcourt.)Wright says he is an evangelical because he believes in substitutionary atonement, but at the same time he denies the doctrine of imputation. God’s righteousness is not given to us; instead, we are simply adjudicated as being righteous by the judge. It is not a word denoting moral character, but simply a declaration of status.
JUDGMENT—there is only a final judgment for everyone and it is according to works, although it is works redefined. Works are now defined as those things produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation.
JUSTIFICATION—Justification occurs twice. First, it is the future positive verdict at the last judgment on a person’s entire life lived in the power of the Spirit. God is faithful to the covenant and gives you a verdict of righteous. Second, justification by faith is the anticipation in the present of that first justification, which will occur in the future. Justification is more about what the boundary markers of the covenant community are, than about a person’s individual standing before God.
Justification is not ‘how someone becomes a Christian.’ It is God’s declaration about the person who has just become a Christian through the event in which one dies with the Messiah and rises to new life with him, anticipating that final resurrection—in other words, through baptism. Baptism is the boundary marker, so it is how you become a Christian, and justification is God’s declaration about you for doing that. Yet, you did get baptized because God in his foreknowledge determined a destiny for you, and you responded to his call by turning from idols to God and making Jesus Christ your Lord. So according to Rom 6, when God looks at the baptized Christian he sees him or her in Christ.The righteousness of God is redefined as God’s covenant faithfulness. Justification is redefined as vindication. Whereas we know the biblical concept is that external righteousness, namely Christ’s righteousness, is imputed to believers, rather than their own faith being reckoned as righteousness.
On the one hand, Sanders so rejects the historical Jesus (including his deity and miracles), that he concludes “very little or virtually nothing” in the gospels is factual. So for him, the gospels do not give an accurate historical record of what Jews believed in the first century. Therefore, he sifts through the self-contradictory statements of the rabbinic sages to come up with something that fits his theory. Second, if Dunn did not rely so heavily on higher criticism of the text, he would accept and believe what he mischaracterizes as the Lutheran interpretation. But as it is, he does not believe Paul even wrote Eph, Col, or the Pastoral Epistles, so he does accept the old perspective. Third, since Tom Wright is not a dispensationalist and does not know how to rightly divide the word, all he sees, even in Paul, is a way to rationalize his own Anglican attachment to infant baptism and theological middle of the road-ism.
Here is why Wright is hailed and applauded by evangelicals: Wright’s books systematically demolish the arguments of the Jesus Seminar, and prove the existence of the historical Jesus as the gospels describe him. He has fought for orthodoxy against Gnostic and skeptical interpretations of the New Testament, and of the bodily resurrection of Christ.But when the belief that “Jesus is Lord and God raised Him from the dead” becomes the badge of covenant membership, the Protestant can sit with the Catholic at the same table of fellowship, and Wright says as much.
Years ago Francis Schaeffer pointed out that what starts in philosophy and spreads to the arts, eventually ends up in theology, before finally hitting popular culture. Here’s how that works.POP CULTURE = Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis pp 62-63.Footnote #58 directs us to NT Wright for the philosophy & theology that led him to that pop culture viewpoint.
THEOLOGY—Wright’s view (Last Word)23: “‘Authority of scripture’ is shorthand for ‘God’s authority exercised somehow through scripture’.”37: “Inspiration is a shorthand way of talking about the belief that by his Spirit God guided the very different writers and editors, so that the books they produced were the books God intended his people to have.”In actual fact, that is canonicity.38: “We find the elusive but powerful idea of God’s ‘word,’ not as a synonym for the written scriptures, but as a strange personal presence.”
PHILOSOPHY—Wright has what is called a cultural-linguistic model of Biblical authority based on a philosopher named Wittgenstein. So for Wright, the central importance of the category of narrative or story stands out as primary. In view of the fact that stories are a “key worldview indicator” and that “a good part of the New Testament consists of stories,” it is therefore important “to consider how stories might carry, or be vehicles for, authority.”
Past mtg presentation 060111
Pastor’s MeetingPop Theology<br />June 1, 2011<br />Setting the Stage for Ministry<br />Alan Shelby<br />