The Danger of Triumphalism in the Church


Marcelo Gleiser, a Brazilian physicist and astronomer and currently Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College, won the Templeton Prize for his outstanding contributions to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension”.[1] He is an agnostic, but he isn’t hostile to religion or faith. He maintains an open mind, stating:

“Atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method….

“Atheism is a belief in non-belief. So you categorically deny something you have no evidence against.

“I’ll keep an open mind because I understand that human knowledge is limited.”[2]

In listening to Gleiser recently on a podcast[3], I was reminded of another gentleman I listened to recently. Dr. Soong Chan-Rah, an evangelical professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. On first glance, these two gentlemen might seem like odd companions in my thoughts, but they inspire this blog piece.

Gleiser grew up in Brazil. His mother died when he was 6. He described that her death led him into a dark time in his life. He was Jewish and lived in a conservative Jewish community, but it wasn’t Judaism that led him out of the darkness that threatened to undo him as a young boy. It was science.

Gleiser was drawn by the wonder of science and scientific discovery. His interest in science was sparked by the gift of an autographed photo of Albert Einstein from his uncle. It became his “altar”, and it led him to become fascinated with the “exploration of the mysterious”. He left the darkness of his teenage years with a purposeful decision to engage the mysteries of the world to find answers.

Though Gleiser reveres science, and even speaks of it in terms like an idol, he isn’t hostile to faith, and he is humble enough to make room for the possibility of God and spiritual reality. Hearing him talk about the limits of science and possibilities of faith from “outside the fold” can be instructive. Dr. Soon Chan-Rah doesn’t come from the outside of faith, but he also introduces a perspective that is outside the framework of typical American evangelicalism.

Dr. Chan-Rah didn’t tell his story in the talk I listened to, but he is obviously Asian by descent. I bring that up only because it suggests he has a perspective that isn’t colored wholly by the fabric of western civilization.  I think it is vitally important that we hear from outside perspectives, lest we never question the assumptions we take for granted – the extra-biblical (and maybe unbiblical) influences that creep in with our cultural environment that go unquestioned.

Dr. Chan-Rah spoke about the noticeable influence of lamentations in the Old Testament, and the conspicuous lack of lamentations exhibited in American evangelical culture. For an example, about forty percent (40%) of the Psalms might be characterized as lamentations. Whereas, only about twenty percent (20%) of the songs in modern American hymnals might contain some form of lament, and those songs often go unsung in our church services. As for contemporary Christian music, we might be hard pressed to find more than five (5) songs out of the top one hundred (100) containing any form of lament.

Whether the math is exactly right, the point is clear. We don’t engage in lament in our American evangelical culture to the same degree as reflected in the Scripture. Chan-Rah attributed that cultural characteristic with several things, including the sense of triumphalism that has permeated our culture. That observation is what brings me to write this blog piece. Please allow me to explain.

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When the Trees in the Fields Clap Their Hands

We tend to see the world through modern eyes colored by the Enlightenment, rationalism and reductionism


“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ‘For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.’”
Isaiah 55:10-13 ESV

The language in these verses from Isaiah 55 are figurative. Will the mountains and hills really break forth into singing? Will the trees of the field clap their hands? (What hands do trees have?) But the language conveys a truth: the world was created in response to God and awaits the fulfillment of God’s purposes for which He created it.

Just as the rain and snow produce the intended results of watering the earth, sprouting the seeds that allow the sower to produce bread, God’s word goes out and accomplishes the purposes for which it was intended. This is true from the beginning to the end.

God spoke the world into being. He set the heavens and the earth (the universe) into motion by His word. (2 Peter 3:5) The world came into being in response to God speaking. And the ultimate ends God has purposed will sprout (and have sprouted) into the seed that produces the material from which the sower ultimately accomplishes the end purpose.

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Nothing New Under the Sun

This post is old; but of course, there is nothing new under the sun.

Navigating by Faith

BEIT SHEAN,ISR – JUNE 17: Visitor walks near Pillars in Ancient Beit Shean on June 17 2009. Beit She’an is one of the most ancient sites in Israel: it was first settled 5-6 thousand years ago.

“Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”[1]

This was the explanation for the philosophers wanting to hear what Paul had to say when he was in Athens. They brought him to the Areopagus so they could hear “the new teaching” he was explaining in the synagogues and market places.[2] They wanted to hear what he had to say, presumably, because it was new.

I have a friend who is always looking for a new way of looking at things. He is a very philosophical and thoughtful person, but he thinks he would be bored in heaven (as…

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The Work of Godly Grief Within Us

How we measure up in relation to the barometer of Scripture and what we do with it.


“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) (ESV)

When I read this, I immediately ask myself, “How do I measure up to this standard?” Have I exhibited a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation? I think that’s the natural inclination.

I search myself, my past and present experiences, my behavior and my orientation toward God, and I measure myself on the scale that is presented, not just in this passage, but in any passage. Scripture is not just a prescription; it’s a barometer.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) (ESV)

I felt that active and sharp character of the Bible when I first read it in college, and it is not any less active or sharp in its affect on me today. If I am conscious of the “interaction” of the Scripture in relation to the thoughts and intents of my heart, it provides a third person view, in effect, into my self in relation to God.

Still, I am tempted to think, “How can I measure up?” Regarding the verse above, I am tempted to consider how I can generate a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation. My mindset is, “How can I do that?” or “What does it take to accomplish that?”

As I dive deeper into the verse, though, I begin to see something else. That something else gets to the heart of my relationship with God. It is the heart of the Gospel.

Continue reading “The Work of Godly Grief Within Us”