So the u2 show last night was… pretty amazing. There’s a reason they are one of the best bands of our time, and their excellence shone through in every aspect. However, I was a little troubled by Bono’s rhetoric during the show which seemed to imply that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were all valid ways to God.

He never actually said that. He was speaking against war, and taken in their proper context, his words were simply a plea for Christians, Jews, and Muslims to “coexist” in peace (his words). However, for an audience already immersed in pluralism by the popular media and the culture around them, his words had the effect of blurring the lines. I was disappointed.

He redeemed himself by ending the show with “Yahweh” and “40.” At the end of “40”, Bono took off his cross necklace, hung it on the microphone stand, and left a solitary spotlight shining on it as he walked off the stage. It was a clear attempt to leave the show’s focus on Christ. Unfortunately, his earlier words had the effect (to an audience without a proper worldview) of making Jesus one of many instead of the unique Savior of the world.

Here’s the set list they played:

City of Blinding Lights
Vertigo
Elevation
I Will Follow
Still Haven’t Found
Beautiful Day
Original of the Species
Sometimes you Can’t Make it On Your Own
Love and Peace or Else
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet The Blue Sky
Miss Sarajevo
Pride in the Name of Love
Where the Streets have no Name
One

First Encore:
Until the End of the World
Mysterious Ways
With or Without You

Second Encore:
Stuck in a Moment
Crumbs From Your Table
Yahweh
40

Ah, church planting… what an incomparable venture. If you want to be criticized by anyone and everyone, try launching something new. Coram Deo has been attacked by traditionalists for being too conformed to the culture. It has been lambasted by progressives for being too structured and historic. A missional church committed to engaging the culture, yet reciting the Apostle’s Creed and preaching about Chalcedonian Christology… it seems we don’t fit nicely in anyone’s pre-existing boxes.

In some of my preparatory reading for our recent sermons on the Incarnation, I was reading one of the most important books in the history of the church on the topic: De Incarnatione Verbi Dei by Saint Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria from 328 to 373. The copy I own contains a prelude by C.S. Lewis that I have chosen to quote at length below. Lewis’ renowned wit and wisdom in this little introduction is second to none, and yet many of you would never have access to it (because you’re probably not reading Athanasius in your spare time). Lewis’ incomparable literary flair and tongue-in-cheek humor deserve the broadest audience; and his musings are directly applicable to our church-planting situation. Specifically, for those who are put off by our use of creeds and confessions and church history, Lewis has a thoughtful rejoinder:

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to the light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said… The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can only be acquired from the old books.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books… Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

(About how “mere Christianity” unifies the church despite denominationalism): …We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity. I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it. That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age… Once you are well soaked in it, if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience. You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth.

[The current author might insert: you will be thought to be an Emergent-church defender when you are actually quoting Augustine, a postmodernist when you are teaching Van Til, and so forth…]

Driving home in a gentle snowfall tonight, I was listening to the BBC World News report on the global AIDS crisis. I knew the disease had become a worldwide phenomenon in my lifetime. What I didn’t know was that the virus was only discovered 24 years ago. In that short time, it has now spread to affect over 40 million people.

Dealing with a crisis like this is not simple. It will surely take all sorts of education and funding and strategies. But to the commentator I was listening to, America’s strategy is just not tolerable. American foreign policy ties AIDS relief money directly to policies that promote abstinence and sexual fidelity. In other words, we don’t pay people to pass out condoms. We try to promote morally responsible sexual decisions.

The BBC commentator actually paused in mid-diatribe to say, “I’m sorry, the American approach just makes me so angry sometimes.” He was lauding the genius of the British plan to pass out condoms to everyone in the world. Next year, the British government will open the first-ever government-run condom factory to help combat AIDS.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but when 40 million people are dying, you’d think that an abstinence-driven policy would at least be welcomed on the field of debate. But, of course, the problem with such a policy is that it implies a moral code. It subtly states that having sex with anyone and everyone is less desirable (and less healthy) than abstinence or marital fidelity. And a world steeped in relativism cannot abide such narrow-minded thinking.

The British – or at least the Brit I was listening to – think that condom distribution without moral education is the most humane approach to the AIDS crisis. To them, the true humanist is the one who lets people do whatever they want – even if it kills them. Maybe I’m naïve, but humanists are supposed to care about humanity. And when 40 million humans have a terminal disease, it just might be time to take the socio-political “risk” of moral education.

But what do I know? I’m a narrow-minded American Christian.

“God is primary” is the way we say it at Coram Deo. Here’s how AW Tozer says it in his marvelous little work titled The Knowledge of the Holy:

Almighty God, just because He is almighty, needs no support. The picture of a nervous, ingratiating God fawning over men to win their favor is not a pleasant one; yet if we look at the popular conception of God that is precisely what we see… Probably the hardest thought of all for our natural egotism to entertain is that God does not need our help. We commonly represent him as a busy, eager, somewhat frustrated Father hurrying about seeking help to carry out His benevolent plan to bring peace and salvation to the world…

Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of Almighty God. An effective speaker can easily excite pity in his hearers, not only for the heathen but for the God who has tried so hard and so long to save them and has failed for want of support. I fear that thousands of younger persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of.

…It is morally imperative that we purge from our minds [these] ignoble concepts of the Deity and let Him be the God in our minds that He is in the universe. The Christian religion has to do with God and man, but its focal point is God, not man… That God exists for Himself and man for the glory of God is the emphatic teaching of the Bible.

Coram Deo believes that the church must engage culture. Living out this value is designed to keep us from “falling off the horse” in two ways. One way to fall off the horse is to bless the culture’s idolatry, soft-stepping around tough issues and changing the essence of the gospel to make it “palatable” to postmodern ears. The other way is to hold to orthodoxy in a way that ignores or drowns out the questions that the culture is asking. Unfortunately, Christianity at large is guilty of both errors.

Christians usually see the first as a more egregious error – a syncretistic slide toward relativism. But the second may be even worse for the progress of the gospel and the honor of God’s kingdom.

James B. Jordan is as conservative a theologian as they come. For those of you who know your categories, he is a Reformed Presbyterian of the theonomist/reconstructionist bent. So for him to make the statement I’m about to quote is massive in light of his own convictions and the people he generally runs with. I quote Mr. Jordan to point out that engaging the culture is not some radical notion that only church planters talk about. In fact, if Mr. Jordan is correct, it’s our lack of cultural engagement which threatens to doom the church to irrelevance.

Here is what James B. Jordan wrote in a recent article:

“…the Protestant age is coming to an end… The paradigm is exhausted, and the world in which it was worked out no longer exists. We must take all the great gains of the Calvinistic heritage and apply them with an open Bible to the new world in which we are now living. We must be aware that there is far more in the Bible than the Reformation dealt with, and that many of our problems today are addressed by those hitherto unnoticed or undeveloped aspects of the Bible. Those who want to bang the drum for a 450-year old tradition are dooming themselves to irrelevance. Our only concern is to avoid being beat up by them as they thrash about in their death-throes.”

I am a Reformation Christian. If pushed, I’d even be willing to call myself a Calvinist, though I eschew much of the unbiblical and uninformed baggage that comes with that term (usually from those who haven’t studied the primary sources). But Mr. Jordan has hit the nail on the head. Living the heritage of the Reformation doesn’t mean “beating the drum for a 450-year old tradition.” It means taking the great gains of our history and “applying them with an open Bible to the new world in which we are now living.” That’s a great perspective on what it means to engage the culture.