Friday, August 24, 2007

Stark Contrasts? The Gospel and the Privileged

Is there hope for the privileged?

Sometimes you hear that the privileged and educated are not open to the gospel. It is almost a truism in some circles that open people are poor, less educated, and rural. When you look around the areas of the world where there are populations of new believers, that mostly appears to be the case. Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom, goes so far as to say that: “By 2050… [the world’s average Christian] …is above all likely to be an extremely poor person...” (1)

Some have been relating to sections of the world’s middle and upper classes for decades without seeing a single person coming to faith in Christ, and few continuing in their faith. This is no small matter since for example in India the upper and middle class is possibly 300 million people strong (roughly the same as the entire population of the United States.)

Some encouragement from the early church.

I’ve recently been reading a book called The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark. Reading Stark’s study of the early church has encouraged me to harbor hope for the urban privileged and educated. The overall thrust of the Bible certainly has a special concern for the poor, but it also states that God loves the whole world. There are instances of God redeeming rulers, priests, tax-collectors, and apparently large privileged urban populations.

Stark argues that a consensus has developed among New Testament historians that the early church was not mainly made up of the poor and uneducated, but rather the early church was based in the middle and upper classes, was relatively privileged, educated and highly urban. He also notes that statistically there is no reason to believe there were any rapid mass movements to the faith happening. The numbers could have been extremely small in the early years and with only very modest growth rate could have reached half the population of the Roman Empire by the middle of the fourth century. Both of these points encouraged me that those relating to the educated middle classes of the world are not wasting their time. And even if there are only small handfuls of Christ-followers in the early decades, this is not very different from how things went in a movement that changed a whole civilization. We needn’t write off the world’s cities, educated and privileged. They seemed to have been on God’s heart in significant ways in the history of His people.


(This was a guest post authorized by the Swooping Crane.)


1. “Companions of Life” []

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Just one acceptable theory of atonement?

Increasingly—or so it seems to me—the penal substitution theory of atonement has become reified as the sole, legitimate theory accepted by “orthodox” Evangelicals. I have seen a number writings that indicate any openness to other theories of atonement is a departure from “biblical” Christianity. This is surprising to me. My theology and history classes indicated that a multiplicity of atonement theories have been propagated by well-known and highly respected theologians. Moreover, Scripture offers up several different word pictures for understanding the death of Jesus.

The fact that the penal substitution theory has become the only “correct” theory of atonement further confounded me as I discovered it to be a later development. In fact, two sources I consulted place its origins in the second millennium of Christian history. Don’t hear me wrong, I’m not saying that the penal substitution theory of atonement is wrong. I concede that there is amble evidence in Scripture to indicate that it is a viable theory. But, is it the only legitimate possibility?

Friday, August 17, 2007

A curious phenomenon

Using “Google Alerts” I come across a variety of blogs. Occasionally, there is a blog that is one of those ultra-conservative, anti-everything blogs. What I find very curious about those blogs is that, inevitably, those are the blogs that don’t have a place for comments. They are so concerned about accountability for heresy and wrong teaching, yet don’t offer their own writings up for critique or reproof. Hmmm…interesting.

Two blogs visited recently are of this nature: Jeremy Green’s and Ken Silva’s . Three things are striking about these blogs. First, their dogmatic views come at you like a bullet train with a steam roller attached to the front. Second, their views come across as uninformed. Their “research” comes only from written literature and then compared with stalwart theology of yester-century. Some of these bloggers need to get out and mingle with lostness for a while. And thirdly, the lack of any feedback loop (as mentioned above). I once had a friend that felt it was his duty to deliver the gospel to people no matter how understandable, and then the recipient is culpable to respond to it. It is as if I can quote John 3:16 to a bunch of people in a language not their own, and I am relieved of my responsibility to share the gospel. Conservatives are going to have to learn how to communicate their views to non-conservatives and be willing to take criticism.

This is not my usual kind of post, but I needed to get it off my chest.