Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dekker's "Thr3e" - Pelagianism Alive and Well

I have to admit it: I'm a junky for the psycho-thrillers. Movies, that is, not books. I can tell you that watching "The Ring" in 2002 marked a coming of age for me and my movie-going experiences. So, when a friend told me about this Christian fellow, Ted Dekker, whose novel was made into a nail-biting thriller, I was intrigued.

The movie, Thr3e, was released in 2006. I recently had the opportunity to watch the film with friends on home video. Not that I'm a movie critic (nor is this blog devoted to such content), but I will tell you that from a purely entertainment standpoint, it's well worth the view. Low-budget, for sure, but behind the lackluster cinematography and screenplay, the plot alone is enough to keep one's attention. I have no doubt the book is equally worthy.

But, while the film is entertaining, the undertones presented by an outspoken Christian author are cause for viewer discretion to be advised. As the plot unfolds, we find seminary student Kevin Parson entangled in classic predicaments which force him to face his own sins and deepest secrets. Meanwhile, Parson is struggling to complete his doctoral thesis--a work on the nature of evil within man--which contains the theological message that viewers (whether aware of it or not) are asked to believe based on the story presented.

What the student, Parson, posits in his thesis soon becomes the reality of his life. (Warning: if you haven't watched the film and plan to, what follows may be a spoiler for you). The three main characters--Parson, his warm-hearted friend Sam, and the evil antagonist Slater--are eventually exposed as mere alter-egos of the skitzophrenic Parson. In the dramatic scene where the mystery is revealed, Parson's thesis is cited regarding the three (hence the title) natures that he argues every man contains: the evil, the good, and the moral creature struggling in between.

Had I not known of the author's professed faith, I would not have given the plot a second thought. It cannot be overlooked, however, that the Christian author Tim Dekker is offering his audience more than just an exciting plot. He is offering a statement on philosophy with deep theological implications.

Is man really entangled in such an epic battle? Are we torn within ourselves between the good nature and the evil? Scripture, church fathers, and historic doctrine all say no--and I humbly submit that I, too, deny an ounce of "good" in unredeemed Man. Man, outside of the redemption which comes through Christ, is not torn at all. There is no struggle. There is no epic battle of moral disposition. Man is, and has been since the fall, full of sin. "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12).

Though Pelagius' heresy was identified and condemned at its outset in the 4th century, his teaching has permeated the Church, both pre and post reformation. Not only so, but his notions of a morally-torn man struggling against and capable to overcome evil has been the tune of countless religions in every culture throughout history. Indeed, the Spirit's work in the world is not merely to reveal Christ as perfect and good, it is also to convict men that they, contrary to popular belief, are quite the opposite.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who do you think you are?

A little over 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson penned a statement (amid a much longer document) that stated his belief that all men are created equal. 55 other men put their signatures on the document, affirming that they, too, believed this and the accompanying statements that it supported. Do you know what was so equal about these 55 men? They were all white males who owned black people because they didn't see them as equal--which meant, in turn, they didn't see them as men.

The problem with the perspective of our founding fathers was not their self-image. They knew they were white. They knew they were males. The problem was the inherent value that they placed on these qualities.

In the last few verses of Galatians 3, we find Paul charging something very similar. His opponents, the judaisers, were not incorrect in their self assessment. They were indeed Jews. They were indeed freemen. They were indeed male. And, as an interesting tidbit of historical context, those three attributes comprised a common prayer for the Jewish member of a synagogue in the 1st century--not unlike (though not identical to) the haughty prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18.

The Judaisers were not wrong, however, in that they were Jews. They were male. They were freemen. They were wrong, however, in the ultimate relevance of these facts to the matter of their own righteousness.

However, this topic burrows far deeper into the theological and doctrinal realms than mere social justice and racial equality. In the verses that follow, the first 7 verses of Galatians 4, Paul goes on to describe exactly what sort of equal playing field "we"--both Jews and Gentiles--are all on. Paul describes all of God's sons as once being children, and as children, likened to slaves. Under the guide of masters, children are held prisoner to the most basic of rules--such as the Law.

But Christ, born of a woman under the Law, redeemed us. The language is very reminiscent of Exodus 13, where firstborn sons belong to God and must be killed, that is unless redeemed by the blood of a spotless lamb. So, then, having been redeemed in similar fashion we are spared from death and reinstated our "full rights" as sons--nay, even heirs, as if to say firstborn sons. As a deposit of this inheritance--since, after all, we are sons--God sent the Spirit of His Son.

So, up to this point you may be thinking that all this amount to the very familiar doctrine of the atonement. Where does all that "burrowing far deeper into the theological and doctrinal realms" come from? Well, ask yourself this. In the description Paul gives in this text, is there ever a moment when we are not children, even before we are redeemed and given full rights as sons? As Paul teaches his readers the right view of their humble beginnings with God, he is sure to remind them that God foreknew them and redeemed them with purpose.

Moreover, the spirit of the sonship is not just a deposit. He is not just sent to help us live as heirs. He is not just sent to give us special powers and supernatural abilities as God's children. No, it is the Spirit Himself who actually cries "abba, Father." The Spirit is not sent to those who believe, it is sent to those to believe.

So, who do you think you are? Are you the religiously pious overly confident in your own righteousness. Are you the spiritually insightful one who found God and pursued Him with all your might? Are you the loving soul mimicking Christ as you try to bring Heaven to earth? Or, are you the child, born a child of God, redeemed by His son, and even given the very Spirit by which you cry out to your Father?

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Friday, June 19, 2009

He Stinketh: My Thoughts on Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis

A bit harsh, I know, but the joke was too easy. I'm the type of guy that cannot resist an open opportunity at humor. He left himself wide open for it, though. If you've ever read his book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith you would undoubtedly remember the sappy application drawn from Martha's comment on her four-day dead brother Lazarus, "He stinketh" (Luke 11:39 KJV). Bell's reaction to this two-word phrase is uncomfortable at best. By uncomfortable, I don't mean theologically awry, I mean that to read it made me feel so awkward just hearing his words in my head that I would have preferred to get a wet kiss from my great aunt than to continue on in the chapter. What "stinketh" in you, Rob Bell? Let's start with your exegesis and go from there.

But, as I mentioned, it's more the humor afforded by the situation that I'm enthralled with, not necessarily a hatred of the book. I have, in fact, a love-hate relationship with this book and with Rob Bell's theology. I have enjoyed his communication style, his illustrative ability, and many of the contextual insight's he's offered, which often came as just tangents rather than main points. Although, given the "hate" side which I'm about to describe, I do intend to check his sources before holding to tightly to the facts he's presented.

So, that said, would I recommend this book to others? To be honest, probably not. So, is Nick just jumping on the bandwagon with all the other staunch traditionalists and defenders of orthodox doctrine? I hope not, but I have to ask... what's so wrong with orthodoxy? If you've read with interest Velvet Elvis and came away with a sentiment of disgust for the "old" way of the reformers and for the guard dogs of doctrine in conservative academia today--then you've proven my point. That being the likely reaction of readers is precisely why I would not recommend this book.

Bell seems to introduce a notion that our theology and doctrine are ever changing, evolving, and being reinvented by each generation into something better and more applicable to life. It's a notion that, by the way, wreaks of open theism and a distinctly Darwinian understanding of progression.

As evidence for his views, Bell offers Jesus. Who else? In His sermon on the mount, He repeatedly said "You have heard it said... but I tell you..." repealing the traditions and--according to Bell--evolving theology. The conclusion, then, is that we are to likewise be "binding and loosing," as he calls it, in an ever-changing exploration of theology.

The failure point of this conclusion is that Jesus was not taking part of a linear process of morphing theology. He was opening blind eyes to see anew the beauty and truth in the dry, old scriptures of such practitioners of orthodoxy as Moses and David, which their teachers and pharisees had so ignorantly missed. Jesus was not spurring on some evolutionary process by which we improve our relationship with God, He was rectifying a wrong understanding of God with timeless scripture penned by men long forgotten.

What I caution readers of Bell and other emergent leaders like him is this: to accept these teachers' charge to "re-examine" scripture and take a fresh approach to theology is indeed encouraged... so long as you don't begin with the demand that this "fresh" exploration cannot possibly lead to the same conclusions that it once led Edwards, or Calvin, or Augustine, or Paul. It is pure arrogance, born of Darwinian mindset, that tells us we are at a pinnacle of truth today which was unattainable in generations past.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me

In many traditions, the first and second commandment are lumped together. It is as though the command to have no other gods is one in the same as the command against idol fashioning and worship of created images. But is it? Is there not a fundamental difference between method of worship and belief structure about God?

I think it is no accident that God delivered his first commandment, distinct from the second but undeniably related, at the beginning of his Law. Whereas the second commandment, and all that follow, are related to orthopraxy--the correct practice of following God--the first commandment is very plainly orthodoxy--the correct belief system that under girds all moral truth and orthopraxy itself.

God says in His first command: You shall have no other gods before me. His command is not of worship. It's not of action--either required or prohibited. It is one of theology. In this command we see that we cannot believe whatever we wish to believe about God.

It was not acceptable to believe God was one of many regional ba'als. Israel could not believe that God was one with nature and nature one with God (pantheism). The people identified by His covenant could not hold to a belief that God was in an epic battle of good vs. evil (such as a yin and yang).

No. In this commandment we learn that we are not free to simply believe what we want to believe about God in the false hope that there are no practical repercussion. As soon as Israel forgot their theology, sin resulted. At Peor. Throughout Judges. In Jeroboam's sin. All throughout scripture, the failure to recognize God as the one true God and the God that He declares Himself to be ultimately leads to sin.

So, who do you declare God to be? Do we have other gods before our God? Do we believe that we can have the god of money, of love, of luck, or of capitalism and not affect our practice of faith?

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Friday, May 22, 2009

John Calvin - Man of the Millenium

I'm starting a new book--a gift from my mother-in-law who is in every way familiar with my Calvinist bent--that is a biography on the great reformer's life. John Calvin: Man of the Millennium is a biography by Dr. Phillip Vollmer designed, as the cover tells me, to be a "family read-along." However, as I read it, I'm rather glad I don't have my family at my feet listening along.

Already about 100 pages into the book, there is nothing disgraceful or deplorable about the book that I should denounce it. However, I haven't found much to praise either, except for Vollmer's fond adoration of Calvin and very apparent respect for the works of his life. In general, as most biographies are, I suppose, the book is valuable largely for one such as myself who is totally unstudied in Calvin's life, but don't look to it for a riveting read.

That's right! Shocked? As one who has developed a theology that even I must admit is distinctly Calvinist, taught it in the church, and argued vehemently for God's sovereignty on this very blog, I am markedly unfamiliar with Calvin himself. This fact, by the way, is why I commonly cause eyebrows to raise by saying, "well, I guess most would call me Calvinist, but I don't use that term." Not that I'm decidedly against it, just that I'm not always sure what is meant by the term in the mind of the one applying it to me and I suppose I should be sure that I know what is meant first, too.

I've already determined that one of my next reads will have to be Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. And, by now, you might ask yourself what in the world I have read. Well, Romans... a lot :-) Not to mention the 65 other canonical books that accompany it. In a previous post, The Layman's Library, you'll notice most of my study includes reference material, commentaries, and of course, audio learning from BiblicalTraining.org.

All in all, I look forward to enjoying the relaxed pace this weekend of reading my book and escaping work for three days. I do look forward to what I'll learn from it. However, I'm fully aware that as Monday winds down I'll be good and ready for an MP3 lecture on Old Testament Theology, or at least a heated theological debate.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

The Religion and Relationship of the Atonement

As I think about the people I've talked to, heard speak, or read their writings on Christ's atoning works, I realize that there are distinctly two approaches to the cross, and most of us are dominated in our thinking by one or the other. Even when we hear one perspective dripping all over a message, we may filter it through our lens on the cross and apply totally different points. Neither perspective is wrong, and neither is fully right, but they're two sides to the same coin.

First, there is the religious thinker. Theologically minded and committed to analyzing doctrinal nuances, the religious thinker is quick to identify the liturgical beauty of Christ's death. Typically this is flows from a modern mindset, very scientific and ordered. We see definite links being built between the sacrificial requirements and Christ's death. We find significance in the semantics of God's holiness, righteousness, justification, imputation, propitiation, etc. The religious thinker is able to explain the unquestionable validity of our justification by faith according to the religious codes that God Himself has established. And he's right.

Next, however, is the relational thinker. Emotionally guided and driven by the reality and impact of God's love, the emotional thinker finds solace in the wonderful act of mercy and grace that God bestowed on us in order to adopt us as His children. Typically this flows from a post-modern mindset, very compassionate and socially minded. We see emphasis placed on the suffering of Christ, the magnificent sacrifice of God to send His only son, and the heart-melting love story that the Gospel narrative unfolds. The relational thinker finds it impossible to contain his passionate response of love to the Father who first loved us. And he's right.

I've heard it said that "Christianity is not about religion." That's a relational (post-modern) fallacy. As our society swings more and more toward an outright hatred of religion and absolutes, I want to emphasize that Christ died to satisfy the very absolute realities that God had set up in His religious Law delivered through Moses. The substitutionary and sacrificial aspects of the atonement are meaningless without the context of the Law.

Yet, the power of the Gospel doesn't end there. In fact, we must remember why the Law itself was ever bestowed upon Israel, "it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers" (Deut. 7:8, emphasis mine). God is not bashful of the fact that He wants to relate to men and women at the deepest level of emotion. He shares His emotions with us in His word—love, joy, anger, and sadness. There is deep emotion and desire for relationship (note, His desire is not a need born out of weakness as the human desire often is) that surrounds Christ's atoning death. Without the expiation and reconciliation that comes through the cross, the religious context of the atonement is also meaningless.

Doctrine is nothing without grace, and grace is nothing without doctrine.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Exegetical Fallacies: D.A. Carson's Passion for Truth

I recently received this book as a gift. Three pages into the first chapter I thought (with tongue in cheek), "I hope my students never read this." Carson's straight talk about the common exegetical fallacies (and, take heart, he does mean common) will make any teacher of the word swallow hard. But, for the teacher of scripture who seeks to honor God, I would consider this a "must read."

First, as Carson points out, exegetical fallacies happen in all facets of doctrinal realms. Calvinists are no more immune than Arminians. Baptists no more immune than Presbyterians. As we struggle to understand the grammar, vocabulary, and syntax of two ancient languages, the margin for error is great. However, the cost of error is even greater.

Exegetical fallacy can mean the difference between a trial from God and a temptation from God. It can be the difference between a virgin birth and the pregnancy of a young woman. It can be the difference between giving God the glory He is due and defaming His name with exegetical fallacy.

The stakes are high. Doctrinal wars and the wide dispersion of Christian denominations create increasing skepticism in the world today. And yet, for those of us passionate about seeing truth proclaimed, certain debates are worth the effort. If you, however, seek the wisdom and illumination in Scripture to both know that line—that threshold of the utmost theological importance—as well as the side on which you stand, I highly recommend D.A. Carson's "Exegetical Fallacies."

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Christ the Mediator: the Westminster Confession of Faith

In my continued study of the Person and Work of Christ, I come to this—perhaps the most comprehensive and clear description of the Hypostatic Union:
"The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. " (Westminster Confession of Faith, VIII.II)

Where do I begin! Well, I suppose I'll begin by saying, "no, I'm not a Presbyterian." That said, I do respect the work of the learned men of England from 1646, but that should not implicate me in agreement with their every statement. Which ones with which I differ is a topic for another time.

Let's begin with the first clause. I have spent the past three weeks writing about Christ's deity and the implications of Christ's deity. However, in this first clause of the confession's statement about Christ and the hypostatic union, we see clearly the cost of taking on human nature: infirmities. Not merely servanthood, but a weakness not worth comparing with God's omnipotence. Not merely sickness, but mortality. He did not, however, take on the sinful nature that is the weakest part of us all. How?

Christ's link to Adam was broken. Being made of the substance of Mary, He was not conceived of Adam (Joseph). Whether you believe in seminal or federal original sin (or have no decided position), one thing is certain: sin is passed on via the male of our species, a necessary contributor to each new person... except for Christ.

Finally, at the heart of the Hypostatic Union, these two natures were joined "without conversion, composition, or confusion." Without conversion: neither nature was modified to fit the other. Without composition: the natures did not combine in such a way so as to compose a new nature. Without confusion: the two natures did not blend together, each taking attributes of the other. Jesus was both fully God and fully Man.

So, what does this mean for us? In short, it means that when we read that we were called to emulate Christ, we should first understand that we were called to emulate God. However, the truth does not end there. See, it was not until the New Testament, when God was revealed in the flesh as Christ, the Son, that He commanded His followers to imitate Himself. We aren't called to the impossible task of imitating the Almighty God the Father, but the prototypical man Jesus Christ. In imitating Jesus, we reflect God's glory on earth as He did. Jesus lived His life as a man—learning as we do, feeling as we do, and even tempted as we do—and yet was without sin, the exact representation of the Glory of God (Heb. 1:3). That is a model we can follow if we face life as Christ did—a student of the scriptures, devoted in prayer, and submitted to God's will.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Person and Work of Christ

Over the past few weeks, I have been traveling around the Midwest, visiting various family members to celebrate Christmas together (which explains the long break since my last post, sorry). In between driving, dinners, and Christmas cantatas, I spent several hours preparing for my next class: The Person and Work of Christ. Coupling this study with the message of the Christmas season has been a true joy.

The Son, 2nd person of the Trinity, came into human flesh. In his lecture on the Apostles Creed topic "suffered under Pontius Pilate," Dr. Albert Mohler described that not only did Jesus suffer on the cross, but His very incarnation was suffered for our sake. For God to become Man is a sacrifice that we should not quickly forget. Mohler went on to say that many people have died martyrs, but only one was born one: Jesus Christ.

But, as is fitting given the setting of this holiday season, we will start this Sunday, the first class of the series, at the beginning. However, praise God that Jesus' beginning was not in the manger. No, in fact, John makes it very clear in John 1 that Jesus was not created (begotten of the Father, yes, but not created by Him). Instead, quite the opposite: "Through him all things were made" (John 1:3).

From His eternal existence to His deity, humanity, roles, atonement, and future works... we will study over the coming nine weeks the Person and Work of Christ, the Son of God. As we study the single most scrutinized and publicly defamed character of world History, I hope that we may honor God in this course by holding "firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught," and that as a result those taking the course will be emboldened to "refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9). To recount a previous question posted on this blog by anonymous, I pray that I my split these doctrinal hairs responsibly and in accordance with God's word.

(Audio mp3 lectures will be posted weekly here.)

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mars Hill's Narrative Theology - What's Missing in This Story?

First, let me start by clarifying something that confused me from the beginning. We're not talking about the Mars Hill of Seattle, WA where Mark Driscoll preaches. When my uncle first approached me asking, "What do you think about this 'Mars Hill' thing?" I immediately thought of Driscoll's church in Seattle.

No, instead, this is Mars Hill Bible church of Grandville, MI where Pastor Rob Bell has championed his statement of Narrative Theology, coupled with the New Exodus teaching, with great popularity (an estimated 10,000+ weekly attendance). My question is this: What's missing in this "story?"

As I first began to read their statement of Narrative Theology, I was admittedly pleased. The narrative approach to developing theology and doctrine is quite fond to me. In fact, many might say that my first book, Thy Kingdom Come: A Prayer of Victory, was itself an expression of Narrative Theology. Obviously I don't think that the approach is altogether without merit. For a more in-depth look at the topic of Narrative Theology at large, I recommend this answer by Ra McLaughlin (though I've not explored any of the other claims that may be found at that URL).

So, what IS missing in Rob Bell's story? What left me—at the end of just one single PDF page—writhing in my desk chair? Allow me to offer a surface-level critique of this increasingly popular statement of faith, and then I invite you, the reader, to share your own take on the matter. Perhaps some of you have more first-hand experience that may shed light.
  1. The statement is devoid of any affirmation to the Substitutionary Atonement of Christ. The statement, found in paragraph 6 of the aforementioned statement of Narrative Theology, reads: "His path of suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection has brought hope to all creation. Jesus is our only hope for bringing peace and reconciliation between God and humans." It seems that this is just strong enough to preclude anyone from holding only to the Exemplary Atonement theory, but it (and the entire narrative as I read it) is devoid of the concept of wrath, atonement, death as penalty for sin, etc.
  2. My second critique was a little less obvious and it took me a while to find this. Read the document again, if you can, through the eyes of a total non-believer. Do you see how the plural first-person "we" would include you, the non-believing reader, in the narrative? I have no confirmation that Rob Bell preaches, or even holds this position, but this theological statement is extremely friendly to the Universalist.

In summary, I must conclude that this statement of theology is unique in it's ability to say so much while affirming nothing at all. The purpose—in my opinion—of a doctrinal statement should be to guard sound doctrine and affirm that false doctrines are not propagated at your church. By Mars Hill Bible Church's statement, what could be refuted? Universalism? No. Legalism? No. Pelagianism? No. Yikes!

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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Last Days - Warning Passages & Eternal Security

Today's post comes in response to a recent question on AskScripture.com where Anonymous writes (gross misspellings corrected):

"[I am] Trying to prepare a sermon for the body of our local church. I feel that [we're] living in what the Bible calls the last days before the coming of lord Jesus Christ. [I am] looking for some Biblical answers that show that many will fall from [their] faith in these days. To show them that this is a very bad thing to do, and [their] salvation is nothing to be playing around with.
Where do I begin. Let's start with basic hermeneutic principle: "I feel that..." followed by "I am looking for Biblical answers that show..." will always yield the answers you seek, but it may not be the answers that the Bible gives. Let me rephrase: if you enter into a study of Scripture with a foregone conclusion in mind and seek only to find the scriptural evidence to build your case, you will succeed in finding what you want to find, but that does not necessarily mean that you found truth.

However, we must all acknowledge that we do this to some degree. Covenant Theologians assume certain facts about Old Testament prophesy. Evangelicals de-emphasize the gospels and emphasize Paul. And Calvinists assume softer interpretations of the word "world" as well as the many warning passages, of which our anonymous inquisitor is expressly interested in.

Lucky for anonymous, I'm not a Calvinist... [clears throat] I'm just reformed [grin].

First, in regards to the present day being the last days. I'm not very certain about that. I do not claim to be an expert on eschatology, but there are several descriptions of the "last days" in scripture, even signs that they are near, and we haven't seen all of them come true. One of my friends and colleagues once commented that for at least 200 years, every generation has believed theirs to be the last. My wife's great grandfather recently passed away, yet right up until the day of his death he was so certain these were the last days that he swore that he would be taken in the rapture. Was the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD the abomination that causes desolation? It's not so cut-and-dry.

However, that wasn't really the basis of anonymous' question, and if he would like to preach a sermon with that assumption in mind, I would not fault him in the least. The more troubling assumption I see is that many will fall from their faith (that's nearly verbatim, but slightly skewed) and that this is an event that the presumably saved members of anonymous' congregation will do via "playing around" with their justified status before God.

Let's look at the text in question here, Matthew 24:9-25. In describing the events, Jesus toggles between specific you's and general many's. In verse 4, He warns His disciples specifically about deceptive prophets. But in verse 5, it is an ambiguous group that is misled by them. Again in verses 6 and 9, Jesus gives specific predictions of what will happen to "you," His followers. The warning of falling away in verse 10, then, is once again generic.

What does it mean that many will fall away, or as the NIV puts it "abandon the faith?" Just as Christ, the stumbling stone, caused many Jews to disbelieve, so will the turmoil and seemingly unjust cruelty cause many to abandon any hope in Yaweh, the god of Israel. But there is no evidence in the text that tells us these who fall away are the elect, having been justified through faith by Christ's blood, now abandoning their own salvation.

On the contrary, Jesus actually speaks some comfort to His followers. He declares that these deceiving prophets will try, "to deceive even the elect—if that were possible." Through my lens of interpretation I assume the unspoken truth here to be that it is indeed not possible. Jesus continues saying, "See, I have told you ahead of time," as though these warnings would be used to prevent His elect from being fooled.

So, anonymous, how would I preach this sermon if I were you? Do not use fear of damnation as a deterrent for sin. Instead, challenge the body of believers to "make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 2:10). Sure to whom? To God? Certainly not. If you fear the certainty of your eternal security, prove it to yourself by living out the life that only the Spirit can enable. Then, you can face tribulation and even death in the last days with confidence in:
"an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:4-5; emphasis mine).

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why are evangelicals so hair-splitting about doctrine?

This post comes in response to a question posted on AskScripture.com where anonymous writes: "Why are evangelicals so hair-splitting about doctrine?"

My first reaction was "oh great, a liberal trying to instigate," but I've been inclined to give our friend Mr. Anonymous the benefit of the doubt, especially in view of the fact that he/she certainly would be right to say that God desires unity, not dissension. As passionate as I can be about certain debates, I myself must make the conscious effort to realize I will always have more in common with the most liberal of my brothers and sisters in Christ than with the most conservative and moral non-believers.

So, to get to the question, then, why are evangelicals (and fundamentalists) so hair-splitting about doctrinal positions in light of the clear commands to "agree with one another so that there may be no divisions" (1 Cor. 1:10)? Have some men simply come under the sin of pride and fascination with quarrels? Perhaps some have. But it is important to understand that the pursuit of agreement must be held in balance with the pursuit of sound doctrine that we see in Paul's pastoral epistles (i.e. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). A theistic world view teaches us that there is absolute right and absolute wrong. I believe many good-willed Christians are genuinely pursuing God's glory as they adamantly defy those who, in their opinions, do injustice to His revelation.

While it could be called "hair-splitting" for Christians to debate over scriptural inerrancy, God's sovereignty, baptismal traditions or any of the countless debated topics, it could also be crucial. It all depends on your perspective. For an example, let's assume that God told His people through a prophet that He got a 1600 (perfect score) on his SAT's. What if I heard it wrong and told everyone, "He's pretty bright, you know, a 1500 isn't bad." That's not giving God all the glory He deserves. What's worse could be, "Well, He said He did, but the original transcript got lost when He moved out of his dorm, so all we have is a photocopy. But hey, it's not really important. All that matters is He loves you." Obviously that's not all that really matters because He took the time to tell you He got a 1600.

We should all share a common passion for God's glory. For anyone who has come to especially revere God for a particular attribute or who has found great purpose in serving God according to a particular doctrine, the way a hair gets split could be the difference between ultimate glory and lesser glory. If we can all share a mutual desire for the same cause, namely His glory, we can more respectfully approach our differences. Personally, however, I am more dedicated to the glory of God than to my peace with fellow man, although I do not believe the two must be mutually exclusive.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Does it matter what we believe?

Does it matter what we believe? Are there fundamental theological truths that are essential to what it means to be a Christian? And, if so, why do we have to write out an official statement that details what we believe in? Aren't we Christians who believe in the Bible?

Indeed, we are. But as such, we as the Church have a great burden to carry out Paul's charge to "encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9). So how do we define what is "sound doctrine" and what we must "refute?"

Our church and the larger group of Evangelical Free Churches of which we are a part, has a 12 point Statement of Faith that was adopted 58 years ago. Over the past four years, it has been reviewed and a new proposal is on the table to make some changes.

Pastor Tom will meet with us this Sunday to discuss the background of this proposal and share the details as well as take questions and hear your thoughts. I encourage you to visit http://www.efca.org/about/doctrine/ to see the existing statement and come ready to learn the reasons and call to make modifications.

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