Reasonable Faith in an Uncertain World / J.P. Moreland

This is my transcription of a presentation at Biola University’s kickoff event of one of their Christian Apologetics series. It was held in the main gymnasium on Biola’s campus, was conducted by Craig Hazen, and had as presenters Hugh Hewitt, John Mark Reynolds, and J.P. Moreland, one of the most emminent Christian thinkers on the planet. This is my transcription of excerpts from J.P. Moreland’s presentation.

He covered a number of important subjects. Everything he does has the purpose of showing the dangers of western civilization’s slide into relativism and secularism, and the crucial role Christianity must play in halting the slide. He gives an honest evaluation of where things stand in the battlefield of the cultural wars. His conclusion is that, barring a miracle, Europe is lost for good; and North America is, with some hopeful and some discouraging trends occurring, is right on the balance of recovering or tipping and going the way of Europe.

Fortunately, while the northern hemisphere is rapidly tipping towards relativism, the southern hemisphere is taking the opposite turn. Central and South America are rapidly becoming Christianized, with many Catholics becoming Protestant and many non-believers joining either of them. Similar miracles are happening in Africa, with non-Christians rapidly joining Christianity, with both Catholic and Protestant groups experiencing lightning growth. Even China now has a gigantic and rapidly-growing Christian population, including Protestant underground “house churches” and Catholic churches recognized by the government.

Almost all of the new Christians in the southern hemisphere are in an unfavorable economic condition, but deeply spiritual. Their worship is charismatic, with speaking in tongues, and they believe that the spiritual gifts having been restored make it possible for them to perform healings. A high proportion of the conversions are people who have been healed or had demons cast out by their Christian friends and acquaintances.

Thanks much,
Steve St.Clair
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Reasonable Faith in an Uncertain World
J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot Theological Seminary

It’s so great to have Hugh Hewitt here, isn’t it? God bless you, brother! It’s good to have you here; we’re so honored to have you on our campus.

Thank you for coming; I hope you’ll get something this evening that will help you in your relationship with Christ.

Conflicts in Worldview
A couple of Autumns ago, I was in the Seattle Airport, flying back from speaking for the weekend at a church, and I got a copy of the Seattle Times as I was getting ready to board the airplane. On the way to the sports page, I passed through the editorial page; and the lead editorial, on the front page, covering two thirds of the front page and spilling over into page 3, was an article called “A Divided Nation”. The Editorial went on to claim that America is more divided today than at any time since the Civil War.

He went on to say that the division is not fundamentally political, it’s not fundamentally racial, and it’s not fundamentally economic. He said the core of the division in America is “worldview”

I practically fell out of my chair. It seems that you can hardly get anyone to talk about a worldview except, it seems, in Christian circles. And here it was, in a syndicated column going out to newspapers across America; a focus, finally, on a conflict in worldview that is going on in America; that is really the “Continental Divide” among the American people.

Secularists
The columnist went on to say that on one side of the worldview you have secularists, that do not believe in a knowable God; that do not believe that morality comes from God; do not believe that our sexual orientation and the nature of the family were designed by God according to our nature; and they basically believe that science is the primary authority to reality , indeed the only authority to reality; and that religion is a sort of privatized thing that you make up. According to the columnist, this particular side is led largely by the secular universities, the major media, and Hollywood; and that strikes me as very plausible.

Believers in a Personal God
On the other side are people who believe in a personal God; that we were created by God; that the moral law was given by God and reflects our nature; and that we were put here to serve Him and to serve one another. He noted that the second group is being led by … Evangelical Churches. That is what it said. Talk radio and other settings are important to this side, but primarily this group is led by Evangelical Churches. Look around; does that encourage you or discourage you? We’re kind of a motley crew; and when you look at what we’re up against, it can seem to be pretty daunting.

So I want to ask the question, “How are we doing?” I think there is bad news, there is good news, and there is “I don’t know” news. Let me start with the bad news.

Europe
I think we’ve lost Europe, unless a miracle happens. Europe has become overwhelmingly secular. Remember that when the new Pope took office, he said that his first order of business was to re-evangelize Europe. And God knows it needs it. Europe has become overwhelmingly secular, and the Church is largely dying throughout Europe. There are pockets of awakening, but the Church is not doing particularly well in Europe. That’s the bad news.

Now let me give you some news that is so overwhelming that I doubt that you’ve heard it. In fact I’m sure you haven’t. This is going to encourage your heart like nothing you’ve heard in a long time.

In 2002, Oxford University Press released a book authored by Phillip Jenkins. He is a distinguished professor of History at Penn State University, so he can’t be accused of teaching at a Bible college. The book is called “The Next Christendom”, and in it, he says “The single most important news story of the 20th century was not the rise and fall of communism, was not the emergence of fascism, feminism, or environmentalism. The biggest single news story of the 20th century has been the explosion of Evangelical Christianity since 1980.”

Something is going on that is so overwhelming that, now that I’ve heard the statistics, it takes my breath away.

China
In August, the Washington Times published an article on the explosion of Christianity in China. It said that the Underground Church now has almost two times as many people as the Communist Party in China. The most explosive movement of any kind is the growth of the spread of the gospel among “House Churches” in the underground church in China. (Steve St.Clair’s Note: There are about 10 million members in Catholic and Protestant Churches recognized by the Communist government, and 20 million or more in the underground church. Persecution of the underground churches is very high.)

Africa
A couple of years ago, I read the experience of one ministry in Africa; that, in three years, 32 million people converted to Jesus Christ. And these are not just people putting a check on a comment card. These movements are having social and other sorts of changes in these cultures. (Steve’s notes: Both the Catholic and Evangelical churches are experiencing what can only be described as explosive growth in Africa. Catholics have tripled in the last 25 years, from 55 million to 144 million, and Evangelicals have grown even more rapidly.)

Overall Growth
Listen to this. Church Growth experts claim that in 1970, there were 71 million born-again Christians in the world that were part of churches trying to reach the world for Christ. They have ways of measuring “activist fellowships”, aggressively trying to reach the world for Christ. Do you know how many there were by the year 2000? 707 million! That’s 11 percent of the earth’s population. If this continues, by 2030, church growth experts and missiologists are predicting, everyone of the face of the earth would be Christian (it’s not going to happen, of course, but the explosion of the Church is overwhelming).

Central and South America
At a church planning conference in 1998, representatives of Latin-American countries set a staggering goal of planting 500,000 new churches by 2010. Progress up to 2005 indicated that the target is going to be reached; in fact, five nations have already reached their targets, and are setting bigger objectives. (Steve’s Notes: In the last ten years, Evangelicals have absorbed so many Catholics that they are now 10% of the Christian population. Interestingly, the Catholic Church has not felt the loss, but has also grown rapidly in numbers and in activity. Both churches are flourishing in Latin America.)

Moslem Countries
I got an e-mail today from an adjunct professor at Talbot School of Theology that knows of missions work in Iran. There is one Missions organization in Iran that, in the last five years, has seen 50,000 converts from Islam to Christ. (Steve’s Notes: The converts have been made by missionaries from the underground churches in China, following a program called “Back to Jerusalem”, moving there permanently, taking jobs, and getting close to the people. They are reputedly accompanied by healings in their missionary work.)

Something unbelievable is going on!

Now, Europe is not doing real well. Most of the rest of the world is exploding in a way that has not been seen since Jesus died. This is the biggest expansion of the Church in 2000 years.

How are we doing in America?

America on the Brink
I’m saying … it’s IFFY. The sense I get is that there are some grounds for optimism. There are movements where we are expanding the kingdom and penetrating the culture. We’re making inroads.

But I’m telling you, as I look at our culture (maybe Hugh will speak to this), as I see the culture, I see the jury as still out. I think the thing could go either way. And my sense is that we are at very critical period in the history of the American culture, the role of the Church, and where we are headed. That’s the sense I get.

I don’t see clear thrusts for the Church. I don’t think we’re falling back. I think we are doing a little bit better than treading water. But I’m not interested in treading water; I don’t know about you. I’d like to see us exploding. It’s happening all around the world, and I’d like to see it happening in the United States with greater power and dynamism.

If you agree with me, then what do we need to do about it? How can we recapture something here in America, and learn something from our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world?

I want to give two suggestions.

In 2003, Michael Green re-issued a book called “Evangelism in the Early Church”. It’s probably the best study of how the church evangelized during its first four centuries. In the book, Green said that there were two fundamental things the church did to win the Roman Empire to Christ with such fervency that even today we name our children Peter and Paul and our dogs Caesar and Nero.

Healing and Demonic Deliverance
The first was the power of the Kingdom of God. The early church saw demonic deliverance and they saw healing. They were able to lay hold of God, and they saw their prayers answered. And when you look at what you see happening around the world today, you see an outbreak of healing and an outbreak of supernatural powers in encounters with the devil. The Washington Times article about the growth of the Church in China said the main reason it is growing is because of supernatural healing in the underground church. They cited a case where there was a young woman in a hospital who had a virus of a kind that none of the Chinese doctors had seen before. A Christian went in and prayed for her, she was miraculously healed, and her entire family became Christians.

I would like to see more of the supernatural power of God in our Churches. Now this is not a Charismatic versus non-Charismatic issue, it is a Kingdom of God issue. All of us who are believers have the Spirit of God in us, and I believe we need to redouble our efforts to learn how to lay hold of God in prayer, how to receive His guidance and His direction, and learn how to pray for the sick and confront the devil in power encounters, and I’d like to see more of that. (Steve’s note: It IS a Charismatic versus non-Charismatic issue. The Charismatics (including the Pentacostals and Vineyard fellowship) do healings and speak in tongues, and many of them confront the devil in what is called “Spiritual Warfare”. The Charismatics are also the fastest-growing conservative groups in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.)

There is a second thing I think we need to do, a second thing that Michael Green identified, that I see as equally important. It may, in fact, be the contribution of the western church to our brothers and sisters worldwide. I think, also, that it we will do this, it will help us have more of the power of the Spirit in our churches.

Charles Craft, who is a Missions professor at Fuller Seminary, made the following statement. He said that “In comparison with other societies, Americans are naturalistic, while non-western societies are frequently concerned about the activities of supernatural beings. Though many westerners maintain a vague belief in God, most deny that other supernatural beings even exist. The wide-ranging supernaturalism of most other societies is absent from most of our people. Our attention is on the natural world, with little attention given to the supernatural world.”

A good test for this would be: When you get sick, do you think of going to the doctor first, or praying or receiving healing prayer? It’s a both – and, it’s not an either – or, but I think most of us don’t even think about receiving healing prayer, we just immediately go to the doctor. There’s nothing wrong with going to the doctor. The point I’m making is that it is a both – and, and we have been naturalized in this culture a little bit too much.

Defending the Faith
That leads, then, to the second thing that we need to do.

We need to raise up a generation of men and women who know how to defend the faith, who know what they believe and why they believe it. Green points out that “the early church could OUTTHINK HER CRITICS.” And you have pastors and lay people in local churches who are doing a defense of the faith in their communities, and showing that the Christian Church is true compared to Greek Philosophy and the other ideologies in their culture.

I want to tell you a story about Augustine. He was a member of a cult called Manicheeism before he became a Christian. There was a big Manicheeist teacher coming to his city, and Augustine had a whole lot of questions he wanted to ask. So he waited several months until the speaker came to town. Augustine want to hear him speak. It turned out the guy was a great public orator, but not very deep. Augustine asked him a number of questions, and he had absolutely no answers for him. That was part of the road that caused him to lay aside his Manicheeism.

Contrast that with his experience with two Christian pastors. In the next several years he ran across two believing pastors. One of them made him sit in his living room waiting for several hours because he was studying in his back room. Finally Augustine was granted an audience. These two pastors were able to answer Augustine’s questions, because they had done their homework. It mattered to them to know why they believed what they believed.

You have to understand that: LISTEN TO ME, NOW: IN THE EARLY CHURCH, POWER AND PERSUASION, THE POWER OF GOD’S KINGDOM AND THE ROLE OF THE MIND, WERE BOTH SEEN AS SIDE BY SIDE.

Folks, does there have to be a competition with these? Can’t there be both of them? What I hope to see, in my lifetime, is a renewal of both of these visions in the church in America.

Particularly, my hope tonight is to challenge you, many of you, to come and take the series on apologetics, to learn what you believe, so that you can be a resource in your church.

(Moreland gives a specific example from Intelligent Design, and how to defend it.)

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Filed under LDS Conservative Christian Dialog, Western Civilization

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