Moreland Offers Much Needed Correctives in Kingdom Triangle

Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power. By J. P. Moreland. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.  2007. 237 pp.

There is a battle for human souls being waged in Western culture and too many Christians are sitting it out.  In his book, Kingdom Triangle, J. P. Moreland calls Christians to get up and enter the fray, becoming equipped in mind, heart, and life.  Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of over twenty books, and premier apologist, Moreland comes to his task with ample credentials and varied experience.  Throughout the work, he maintains one overall project: the kingdom life is thinking well, responding deeply, and acting powerfully through learning from Jesus by means of the Spirit.  This Kingdom life, lived in the context of supernatural Evangelical Protestantism, is required in the revolution against the ravages of naturalism and postmodernism.

Kingdom Triangle is divided into two parts and seven chapters.  Part one (chapters 1-4) assesses the current cultural situation, laying out the impact of scientific naturalism and postmodernism, and challenging the church to respond with an appropriate revolution.  Part two (chapters 5-7) charts a three-fold plan of action for the required revolution.

Despite the damage done to human flourishing by naturalism and postmodernism, humans continue to yearn for and seek out transcendent fulfillment (chapter 1).  The continued yearning for transcendent fulfillment shows that transcendence is part of human nature and that something is hindering its fulfillment.  Western culture, caught in a worldview struggle among scientific naturalism, postmodernism, and ethical monotheism, is a major hindrance.  Scientific naturalism and postmodernism, by questioning the objective meaning that brings thickness and drama, have created a culture that nurtures empty selves, “individualistic, narcissistic, infantile people” (91).  Ethical monotheism, without truth as its foundation, cannot support true thickness and drama.  Neither a subjective, insufficiently dramatic, and non-ethical thin world created by scientific naturalism and postmodernism nor an objective, dramatic, and ethical world created by false belief can compare to the truly thick and dramatic world created by a Judeo-Christian worldview.  Christians have the capacity to lead themselves and the culture into the thick world of the Greatest Story, but it will require deep and careful thought and strong spiritual practices, all working in submission to Christ’s kingdom.

In chapters two and three, Moreland describes naturalism and postmodernism in detail.  The naturalist worldview (chapter 2), with its superficial sensory understanding of the world and generally individualistic decision-making framework, creates a thin world that cannot stand up to the thick world of a God-centered life.  Scientific naturalism, as a theory of knowledge, explains the origin and substance of everything in natural scientific or physical terms.  It considers scientific knowledge to be the only form of knowledge or at least one “vastly superior” to all other forms.  Commitment to scientific knowledge and physicalism compels scientific naturalism to explain creation in purely physical terms and to relegate all other explanations to non-knowledge.  However, such a physicalist view fails, because it cannot explain things like consciousness, color, or beauty, nor can it support notions like free will, value, evil and good, purpose, and morality.

The postmodern worldview (chapter 3), with its denial of objective truth and glorification of perspective, has created a thin world that rejects unifying truth and undermines a culture’s ability to combat falsehood.  By rejecting the correspondence theory of truth, the “rational objectivity of reason,” and direct knowledge of reality, Postmodernism offers a thin alternative to the equally thin worldview of scientific naturalism.

In chapter four, Moreland concludes his assessment of the crisis by tracing five steps from drama to deadness and by challenging Christians to respond to each step.  Current culture defines faith as something outside the realm of knowledge.  Christians must intentionally correct this understanding, for faith concerns knowledge.  Current culture understands the good life in terms of happiness—defined as pleasurable satisfaction.  Christians ought to understand the good life in terms of value- and truth-based human flourishing.  Current culture follows the “minimalist ethics” of “do no harm.”  Christians must follow an ethic of duty and virtue.  Current culture understands freedom in terms of fulfilled desires.  Christians must understand freedom as having “the power to do what one ought to do…[and] to live the way one ought to live.”  Current culture understands tolerance as prohibiting critique.  Christians ought to hold the classical understanding of tolerance that practices critique while valuing respect.

In part two, Moreland charts a way out: the Kingdom triangle.  The first leg of the triangle is the recovery of knowledge (chapter 5).  The church as community and Christians as persons must take action to prioritize properly and strengthen the knowledge of God and his ways, and to proclaim courageously this knowledge as knowledge to a naturalistic, postmodern world that denies its knowledge status.  Moreland makes his case with three lines of evidence: Scripture, an articulation of the kinds of knowledge, and a corrective description of faith.  After an impressive five and a half pages of Scripture passages about knowledge, Moreland discusses three types of knowledge that must be distinguished: acquaintance, propositional, and know-how.  Knowledge by acquaintance is direct, sensory or experiential knowledge.  Propositional knowledge is properly justified true belief.  Know-how is the ability to do something well.

Following his articulation of the kinds of knowledge, Moreland clarifies a biblical understanding of faith, describing two types: “faith in” and “faith that.”  “Faith in” is relational (trust in a person) and “faith that” is propositional (belief in a truth).  What we believe, how strongly we believe it, and how central that belief is to our system of beliefs matter.  Who we trust matters.  Christians can grow in knowledge by taking stock of their knowledge, by making a plan for improvement, by taking risks that test their trust in God, and by reading books that describe God’s miraculous work.

The second leg of the triangle is the renovation of the soul (chapter 6).  The church as community and Christians as persons must take action to integrate properly knowledge and affections, and to encourage one another by publicly rehearsing the truth of kingdom life.  Spiritual disciplines can help integrate knowledge and affections, developing godly ways of thinking, feeling, and acting, by retraining the body to form new habituated ways of being.  Specifically, it requires learning from those who have thought through these issues, meeting with knowledgeable people who can train us, and practicing forms of meditation that intentionally connect emotions and reasoning.

The third leg of the triangle is restoring the Kingdom’s miraculous power (chapter 7).  Evidence of God’s kingdom power is breaking out across the world, especially in non-western nations, and the western church and western Christians must take action to notice God’s actions, learn more about his ways, and daily live by his power and authority.  After describing the range of theological opinion that runs from cessationism (the belief that all miraculous gifts have ceased) to Pentecostal/Charismatic (the belief that miraculous gifts are active today, with special emphasis on tongues), Moreland spends considerable space making a case for supernatural Evangelical Protestantism.  He appeals to the nature of the Kingdom, Jesus’ dependence on the Spirit for his own miraculous ministry, and the growing recognition among cessationists that the traditional understanding lacks clear biblical support.

Moreland’s overall project, calling for Kingdom living in the revolution against the ravages of naturalism and postmodernism, is of critical importance for the church.  The rich descriptions of conflicting worldviews, integrated call to action, and reasoned argument for miraculous ministry contribute wisdom needed to challenge Christian complacency.  Honing in on three key worldview issues—value, purpose, and meaning—Moreland exposes naturalism and postmodernism as insufficient, unable to support human flourishing.  Contrasting this deep insufficiency with the value-rich, purposeful, meaningful, and truly dramatic thick world of Christianity, he provides a much-needed resource to counter the nearly constant and often faulty descriptions offered by culture.  This resource is needed in a Western Church that has too often accepted the culture’s faulty definitions of knowledge and faith and has become more like the compliant child or the crazy uncle than like the Spirit-empowered God-followers that we are.  Moreland’s stark contrast between the emptiness of naturalism-postmodernism and the dramatic thickness of Christianity provides readers with the information and insight needed to transform complacency into courageous action.

The integrated approach to Christian living, combining cognition, affection, and volition, provides a balanced framework on which to live out this courageous action.  Too often in Christian culture, cognition, affection, and volition are out of balance, with one tradition emphasizing one and another tradition emphasizing another.  These imbalances disregard human wholeness and lack the powerful and full-orbed practice humans rightly expect.  Moreland models a balanced, integrated approach to thinking, feeling, and acting that readers would do well to emulate.

The clarification of worldviews and the equipping, integrated plan of action are worth the price of the book, while the reasoned argument for miraculous ministry is a mixed bonus.  Coming from a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at a dispensational, charismatic-skeptical university, Moreland’s argument for, description of, and encouragements concerning supernatural Evangelicalism are both surprising and powerful.  His careful description and evenhanded critique have the power to inspire even the staunchest cessationist to take a second look.  Unfortunately, his argument fails to convince to the level he intends, for while he deftly avoids the twin errors of leaving the Spirit’s work in the first century and seeking spiritual experiences around every corner, his claim that “Evangelical Protestantism of a supernatural kind is the best expression of Christianity available” (14), is weakened by presupposition.

He supports his claim with three pieces of evidence: the gospel of the Kingdom, Jesus’ dependence on the Holy Spirit, and the diminishing support for cessationism.  Each piece of evidence is weakened by interpretations muddled by presupposition.  In his discussion of the gospel of the Kingdom, he cites 1 Corinthians 4:20 to support his claim that miraculous gifts should be common.  Such an interpretation does not take into consideration the context of the verse and the use of its concepts in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  The specific context of the passage is the Spirit’s disciplining of those who place rhetoric above the proclamation and demonstration of God’s truth.  It is not about healing, dreams, and other elements of miraculous ministry.  Further, these same key terms, “word” and “power,” are used similarly in 1 Corinthians 2:4, where they refer specifically to Paul’s troubles with rhetoricians; the contrast is not between speech and non-speech, but between powerless speech and powerful speech.

In support of Christians imitating Jesus’ reliance on the Spirit in his works of power, Moreland cites John 14:12, but in John’s gospel, “works” are not confined to Jesus’ miracles.  They include his teaching.  Moreland’s interpretation of “works” is too narrow and does not sufficiently support his claim that “In imitation of Jesus’ ministry, the church is invited to exercise the miraculous power of the Spirit in the service of the Kingdom” (174).

Finally, the evidence from the abandonment of cessationism is insufficient, for in itself this abandonment says nothing about kind, extent, or frequency of miracles.  If we take the content of Paul’s letters as indicating ministerial concerns in the first century, then much of Christian life was filled with ordinary tasks and ordinary relationships empowered and transformed by an extraordinary God.  Surely, there is a biblical position between “open but cautious” and the “Third Wave.”

While Moreland fails to make a sufficient argument for the Third Wave, Christians from Cessationist to Charismatic must not let this deter their study of this important book.  The worldview descriptions and integrated plan of action are necessary correctives to much of current Christian culture and the argument for miraculous ministry provides welcome insight from a respected and proven Christian scholar.

About Laura

My name is Laura and I am on a journey, pondering the implications of God's glorious design of humanity and integrating every aspects of this design into a description of whole life health.
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