May 25, 2005

Pagan Roots?

I'm writing this in response to some reactions to my review of James White's The King James Only Controversy over at Blogcritics. Most of the comments on the review have little to do with the actual subject of the book (the controversy over modern translations of the Bible), but rather toiuch on the roots of Christianity itself. more...

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May 18, 2005

Pomo? Not Me

Just read this over at Credenda/Agenda. I don't always agree with the folks over there, but I kinda like this one:

more...

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April 10, 2005

Modern Man and Galatians

Cruising though the pages of The Sacred Sandwich (which has been on the left-side links for a while now), I ran across this article in their archives.

It's funny, but aren't we really like that? Don over at Locusts and Wild Honey recently critiqued one of Joel Osteen's sermons. I won't rehash what he said (though I agree with him) -- go there and read if you want the straight story. Read the comments, too, and compare them with the satire at The Sacred Sandwich.

It's frightening when real life so closely mirrors satire. I think that's why satire is so important. And that's why I like satire.

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April 04, 2005

On Death and Dying

What a pleasant topic, huh? But with recent events, it has been on my mind a bit lately.

Contrast the two recent deaths for a moment. Terri Shiavo, for years on death's door. She's suffered, she's been through therapy and been withdrawn from therapy. What did she want? Who really knows -- from what I saw, it didn't really matter. It was about what everyone else wanted, simply because she didn't really make her wishes known to enough people, and in an official way.

John Paul II, the Pope. Leader of millions (billions?) of Catholics around the world. His health has been fading for the past few years, and some people had expected him to step down and retire. He wouldn't. He wanted to spend his last years doing what God called him to do -- what his heart's desire was.

That's all any of us really want, isn't it? In the words of a Steve Taylor song, it's better off to burn out than to melt away. I think ultimately people were upset about Terri's death because she, like so many of us, didn't get to burn out. She lived her last years in agony, and never had the opportunity to do things that she probably wanted to do. We cling to hope.

Christians don't fear death. We aren't all that eager for it, either, but we don't fear it. Death not the end; it's the end of the beginning. But this life is sacred. It is a gift from God to us, and we need to make the most of it. We need to be busy.

We cling to life because we see how much more we need to do. We cling to life because we want to accomplish more -- whether it's for God, in the case of Christians, or for ourselves. We celebrate the life of the Pope because he burned out -- he was active until he absolutely couldn't be active any more, and then he died. He are angered at the death of Terri Shiavo because we feel that she was robbed of something -- we want her life to have been more, because we want that for ourselves. We want our lives to have mattered.


And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
(Heb 9:27-28 ESV)

We all die. In the end, it's not how we die that matters, but how we lived -- and Who we lived for.

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April 02, 2005

Why I Read and Use the ESV

{Tip o' the hat to Adrian Warnock}

This article/essay/message from John Piper sums up my feelings pretty well. I still often use the King James or New King James when preaching, simply because that is what most, if not all, of the people I am speaking to are using. In my personal study, I use the ESV almost exclusively -- I also will use the NASB and my MacArthur NKJV Study Bible, but the ESV is my main resource when I'm studying. If I was the pastor of a church, the pew Bibles would be ESV.

I'm not anti-NIV. I'm not anti-KJV (though I've been accused of hating the KJV by some on the Fundamentalist Forums. I understand enough of the history of the English translations of the Bible to know that the ESV is simply part of the entire process -- a process that the KJV actually started. It's a process of discovery -- of learning new things about the ancient languages, finding texts and evaluating their reliability, and then using this new knowledge to make the Scriptures clearer to Christians.

As I said, I'm not anti-NIV, but it's never been my favorite translation. It's not a totally dynamic equivalence translation -- I'd put it at about a 5 on a 10-point scale (1 is total dynamic equivalence, 10 is total literal translation). {Incidentally, it's hard to find a site that gives a decent definition of DE. A LOT of what I found when trying to find that link were places that think Gail Ripplinger is a good Bible scholar!} A 1 would be translations like The Message, while a 10 would be an intralinear Bible.

My Bible preferences would fall between an 8 and 9. I want something readable, but something that is faithful to the original wording and intent. Takes more study effort with that kind of Bible, since they often don't interpret idioms for you -- you have to do that yourself. But it's worth it.

I also agree with Piper that some paraphrasing or interpreting will always be necessary in translating the Bible. My goal is to find the translation that does this as little as possible, and I think the ESV does that well.

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January 18, 2005

A Nation of Religious Illiterates

This is a soap-box issue for me, as an educator and a Christian. And there are no easy answers, and no really nice way to say it, so I'll just be blunt:

Americans -- both Christians and nonChristians -- are woefully ignorant of the Bible.

Non-Christians at least have an excuse -- it's not their holy book, after all. It's like asking Christians about something in the Koran or the Talmud. With the impact that religion has on our society, though, I think it would be a good idea for everyone to know what each religion teaches, and a little bit of the basics of each. Non-believers don't have that, and it causes a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings between people.

And the Supreme Court agrees with me.

In a majority opinion in a 1963 church-state case (Abington v. Schempp), Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark wrote, "It might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion ... and its relationship to the advance of civilization." If so, the education of nearly every public school student in the nation is woefully inadequate.
from the Tallahasee Democrat
In public education, the emphasis should be on comparing religions, and examining the contributions of each faith to American society. How many people are aware of the role that American Baptists played in the establishing of freedom of religion? They played a huge role, because in colonial America the Baptists were the ones being thrown in jail for their beliefs (including accusations of child abuse, for refusing to baptize infants). Not many know even the most basic facts of the influence of religion on our nation (both good AND bad), and we should not ignore these contributions because of a fear of lawsuits. Facts are facts, and should be taught.

I think, though, that before we can expect the average man on the street to learn the basics of our faith, we need to learn them. I've quoted Barna surveys before, detailing how many Americans consider themselves Christians and how many of them believe things that are contrary to the Bible. Ask a group of high school students in your church if the book of Hezekiah is in the Old or New Testament (hint -- it's in neither. The "books" of Hosanna and Jubilations are also good ones to use). Discipleship is seriously lacking in many of our churches -- and yet we expect the world, and the mainstream media in particular, to get facts right about matters of religion and faith.

What is the answer? I think that, to start with, we need to return to teaching and preaching the Bible, rather than offering motivational speaches and calling them sermons. Many churches are doing this already, but many many more are not. Bible study used to be something that was enjoyed and encouraged -- now it's a duty that we "have to do" if we expect God to do anything for us. Read some of the writings of the early Puritans, and think about this: they were written to average people, with average educations. The difference is that these people studied the Bible, and discussed it daily, like we discuss sports or TV programs.

I think we'd be amazed at the change in our churches, and in our society, if we returned to sincere, devoted study of Scripture, both in church and at home.

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January 04, 2005

Faith and Reason addendum

I wanted to make sure everyone saw this, so I created a new post rather than editing the one below.

If you are interested in this subject, you HAVE to read this at The Evangelical Outpost. Do it now. Outstanding post that I wish I had written.

That's all.

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Faith and Reason 3: Augustine

In Part 2, we talked about Tertullian, and his contention that faith and philosophy don't mix. This is a position that has been used and abused by Christians down through the ages, and we looked at what Tertullian might have meant.

Now, I want to take a look at another early theologian and philosopher, Augustine. Augustine wanted a faith that was consistant with reason, and he went in a LOT of directions to try and find one. He started off in Manicheanism, an early dualistic belief that taught two conflicting gods -- one good and one evil. In the ancient world, this religion held quite a bit of prestige, and Augustine was reluctant to abandon it completely. Finally, he realized that he couldn't ignore his doubts about this belief system, and embraced skepticism. He quickly saw some of the problems with this system, especially after reading neo-Platonist writings, and so he became a neo-Platonist for a time. Finally, through the influence fo Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, Augustine embraced Christianity. (The Catholic Encyclopedia has a good, short biography of Augustine here).

Augustine didn't see any conflict between faith and reason. Faith and trust are synonynmous to Augustine, and it's clear that there is a LOT of knoweldge that we have based on our trust of some other source. I know that the capital of England is London, and I know that London Bridge is there, but I've never been to Enlgand. I have to have faith in my sources of information on England to have any idea what England is like. Augustine defined faith, then, as knowledge that is gained without our own personal experience.

Reason, then, is knowledge that is gained through our experience. If I know that something is hot because I touch it, or because I see the steam from it, that is reason. If I know something is hot because I see someone else burn themselves on it, it's faith.

Faith and reason are like the two blades on a pair of scissors. Our knowledge comes from the interaction of both faith and reason, just as scissors cut something by using both blades. Faith is not something that only involves religious belief -- it is integral to any system of knowledge. Augustine expressed it this way: Credo ut intelligam -- I believe that I may understand.

I tend to be Augustinian. I don't think that faith means setting reason aside -- I think that faith and reason must be paired together to gain any real understanding of the world around us. We exercise faith all the time; religious faith is simply one aspect of the faith that we all have in facts that we have not experienced. We cannot experience everything that we know -- history is a perfect example of this -- so we have to exercise faith that our sources are correct.

But how can we be sure that even our reason is reliable? People are imperfect, after all. How can we rely on our reason to be accurate? How can we be sure that the reason of those we trust is accurate? Augustine had an answer for that, as well, which has been called his illumination theorywhich I'll discuss in the next installment of this series.

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December 15, 2004

Faith and Reason 2: Tertullian

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What have heretics to do with Christians?

This is the attitude of a LOT of modern people. What has reason (Athens, the ancient seat of reason and philosophy) to do with faith (Jerusalem, the center of Christian belief)? Most would agree with Tertullian -- nothing at all.

Tertullian had a good reason to give up on a 'reasonable' approach to Christianity. The Greek and Roman philosophers were pagans, after all. The Roman emperor was the one putting Christians to death. He wanted to move Christianity as far as possible from their influence. He was really one of the first to proclaim sola Scriptura -- Scripture alone, without the philosophy and logic. He went so far as to say that because the crucifixion and resurrection were absurd -- the idea that God would come to earth, die, and then rise from the dead is so illogical -- that it must be believed. Tertullian rejected the notion that faith must be understood -- he felt that if it was understood, it was not real faith.

Tertullian was inconsistent, though. He used Greek ideas of philosophy and logic in his arguments and disputations. In his Apology, he expects the Roman authorities to treat Christians the same way that they treat other "criminals" (since that is what Christians were considered at the time). He portrays the Roman condemnation of Christians as unreasonable because it is based in ignorance (Book I of Ad Nationes.)

It seems that we have misunderstood Tertullian's reluctance to mix faith and reason. He should not be considered anti-intellectual -- rather, he is trying to keep overtly pagan influences out of the Church. His major opponent was the heretic Marcion, whose theology was heavily influenced by Greek dualistic ideas.

Unfortunately, there are many who have decided that 'pagan influences' have infiltrated higher education today. This hasn't been helped by the influence of liberal theology in seminary education -- many young men have entered seminaries full of a desire to preach and teach the Gospel of Christ, only to have their faith shattered by professors who don't really believe what they are being paid to teach. In many cases, we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater -- to get away from bad schools and bad theology, we have abandoned the scholarly realm. Mark Noll has a LOT to say about this in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (a review of which will shortly be up here). As we continue with this series, we will see that faith and reason are not incompatible at all, and that in many cases, Athens and Jerusalem have a lot in common.


The next installment of this series will concern Augustine, and his idea of faith seeking understanding.
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December 10, 2004

Faith and Reason, part 1: An Overview

{This is part one of a multi-part series about Faith and Reason, and the various ways that Christians have tried to reconcile the two.}

There seems to be an attitude among many people today that Christianity -- especially modern Christianity -- is anti-Enlightenment, and anti-intellectual in general. In a recent article , the Asheville Citizen-Times talks about the evangelical Christian goal of repealing the Enlightenment.

Many of us remember the Age of Enlightenment for opening the way to science and technology. It did so by separating the realms of faith and reason and giving preference to reason where conflicts arose between the two.

I'm not sure that the Enlightenment did that, exactly. I think the Enlightenment started the trend toward replacing faith in God with faith in human reason. It was about finding something different to place faith in, rather than separating faith from reason. In fact, the Enlightenment often tried to bring reason INTO matters of faith -- especially when it came to Biblical interpretation methods. The Enlightenment gave rise to the "historical-critical" model of study, which led to the rise of religious liberalism throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

This isn't the place to critique historical-critical hermeneutics, or religious modernism (I'll do that later, though). The point is that the Enlightenment and religious faith were far more intertwined than most people want to admit.

Christians have historically believed that faith and reason went hand in hand. As far back as Tertullian, we've been trying to figure out exactly how they fit together, and we've wavered between saying that they didn't at all (Tertullian) to saying that they were essential to each other (Augustine). And we are still debating this among ourselves, so how can we even begin to think about explaining to others what we think about the subject?

The definition given above sounds a lot like what Francis Schaeffer talks about -- the idea that faith and reason are separate, and cannot tell us anything about each other. Science can tell us all baout how things work, and why things work the way they do, and how to make things work better, but it cannot tell us about God. Faith can tell us all about God, and the supernatural, but it can't tell us anything about the material world -- including how it came to be. I'd agree with Schaeffer that this idea is NOT a working worldview, for a LOT of reasons, which I will address later on in another section.

What I want to do in this series is look at the various ways we've tried to reconcile the two seemingly opposing forces -- faith and reason. In the end, I'll talk about why it's important, and how Christianity can be looked at as a rational worldview. In the next part, I'll take a look at the early Church, and how Tertullian tried to reconcile faith and reason -- and why so many Christians today would agree with him today.

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December 01, 2004

Free Will, part 2

I've talked about the various types of free will before. In this post, I'm going to discuss the different perspectives on how free will and divine sovereignty coincide.

Some people think they don't. If we have free will, then God really cannot know what the future holds, whether ten years from now, or ten minutes. God rolls the dice and takes a chance. He's got a better chance at being right than we do, but He still only has a chance. He could be wrong, he could be surprised. He is often disappointed. But He's still God.

That, in a nutshell, is open theism. God makes mistakes, and learns from us. We control our destiny, and God is just along for the ride. I'm working on a post where I look at the various Scripture passages that open theises typically use to support their view, and I'll post that later on. For right now, I'll say that I really don't think that this is the omnipotent, omniscient God that the Bible shows us.

If we hold to libertarian free will, though, open theism is not that big of a stretch, philosophically. We can always do things differently, so our actions influence God's knowledge and planning. Some people have adopted a different view, which is called Molinism.

Molinism essentially teaches that God has 'middle knowledge' -- that He knows things based on His creative action (free knoweldge), based on 'the way things have to be' (natural knowledge, things that are necessarilly true and not dependant on anything), and based on His absolute knowledge of all possible actions that His created beings can take (middle knowledge). This is a very complex system (I just finished writing a 15 page paper on it for philosophy, which I will post somewhere later on) -- suffice it to say that it involves God knowing absolutely everything that we could possibly do, not just what we actually do. His knowledge of the future is tied to this middle knowledge.

I am a compatibilist: I think that our freedom is based in God's will and our character/personality. We are therefore free, but not absolutely free. In His sovereignty, God knows what choices we will make -- based on either the situation we are in, or His understanding of how we will react to a situation, or simply because He knows how He will act in the situation and thus knows its outcome. This is similar to middle knowledge, but is based ultimately in God's creative act -- either in His creation of us and our personalities, His shaping of the situation around us, or His special act in creation. (This ended up being the thesis of the paper I just mentioned -- that the idea of middle knoweldge is correct, but it is not separate from God's free knowledge -- what He knows because of His actions. Here is an article by someone who agrees with me. There is an excellent one in the recent Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society that says essentially the same thing).

Sovereignty and free will is not an issue for compatibilists. Our free will is always exercised under the supervision of God, and He works through our actions. Because His will is always accomplished, He is in control of the circumstances, even though we are exercising our freedom. Libertarian free will implies a God who is always having to guess to stay one step ahead of HIs creation, or at the very least a God who really doesn't know everything.

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November 24, 2004

Free Will, part 1

There has been a lot of discussion in the Reformed neighborhood of the Christian blogosphere on the subject of free will, or the lack thereof. I'm writing my philosophy paper on an aspect of the free will/sovereignty discussion (which I'll talk more about later on, probably), so I figured I'd weigh in.

First, if you want to take a look at what has already been written, check out these links:

  1. Jollyblogger on Free Will and Total Depravity (part of his series on TULIP)
  2. Parableman on Calvinism and Free Will.
  3. Pruit Communications, where Terry talks about his own Free Will Journey.
  4. Rebecca Writes about Isaiah 10.
  5. And Adrian Warnock promises us that There is No Such Thing as "Free Will."

The first thing I want to do is talk about the two definitions of free will. Most Arminians will advocate libertarian free will, which simply says that for every decision we make, we are always capable of doing the anything other than what we've done. For example -- this morning, I had eggs and toast for breakfast. Under libertarian free will, I could have just as easilly had steak and eggs, or poached eggs, or Corn Flakes. There is nothing that coerces us or forces us to do anything -- it's all up to us.

I see a couple of problems with this -- I don't know how to fix poached eggs, and my wife isn't home to fix them for me, so there's one option I'm not free to take. We have no steak, so there goes another option. We have Corn Flakes, but I like mine with milk, and we're out of milk (yes, it's grocery day!), so there goes that option. Doesn't sound like my will is very free, does it? Sounds like there are external factors that influence my decisions. Adrian mentions that even the laws of physics constrain our free will -- I can't climb to the top of my house and decide to fly, can I?

Most people don't believe in total, fatalistic determinism -- the idea that God has determined our every move, and that we are simly robots programmed to do what He tells us in every instance. Obviously, if we did that, God would take the heat for every evil act done on earth, because we're only robots performing according to our operating system that He designed and programmed. So there has to be another option.

Most Calvinists I know (and a LOT of people who don't consider themselves Calvinists) believe in compatibilistic free will. This holds that our will is free to the extent that we are given some choice, but not total choice. My breakfast decision was limited to the food on hand, and what I can cook. My college selection was based on what I could afford and who would let me in. I had the choice of several options for breakfast, and several options for college, but I was not free in the libertarian sense of the word. My free will had to be compatible with the influences on my life, both external and internal.

This sounds like determinism to a lot of people, especially once you factor God into the equation. An omnipotent God can manipulate things in our lives so that the circumstances and resources point us to only one option. I've been wanting eggs for a while now, and this morning was the opportunity that I had to fix them. The deck was stacked against me choosing anything else -- and that, some would say isn't a free choice. I would say that I was behaving in a manner that is compatible or consistant with my personality and situation.

There are some free acts that aren't possible in some situations -- that doesn't mean that we are any less free. That means that we do not have total control of our destinies: that, ultimately, we are slaves to something, whether that is our environment, our psycological makeup, or even God and His will. Our decisions are dependant on something, and that violates the definition of libertarian free will.

Coming soon in Part 2 -- how do we reconcile free will and divine sovereignty? Good question.

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November 21, 2004

Does Western Christendom Still Believe in God?

I need to define my terms first, because I'm using the word 'Christendom' in a different way than I usually do. I'm going to use Christendom to describe Western society in general, assuming (I think correctly) that much of Western culture, especially it's morality, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I started thinking about this topic on Thursday in my Intro to Philosophy class, as we discussed Nietzsche's The Madman and it's claim that God is dead. I'll start by letting the text speak for itself:


Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"---As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?---Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us---for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto."

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars---and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"


As of 2002, 85% of all Americans considered themselves to be Christians, according to the data at the Barna group. 87% of Americans say that they believe that God created the world. Only 69% believe that God is all-powerfule, all-knowing, etc. But clearly, there is a majority of people who claim to have some type of faith in God, most of them considering themselves Christian. But what kind of God do they really believe in?

  • 54% believe that being good enough gets someone into heaven. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
  • 60% say that Satan is not a real being, but the personification of evil. And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.(Luke 10:18 ESV)
  • Only 20% have volunteered time to help out a church. Only 25% volunteer time to help a non-church-based nonprofit organization. And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'(Matthew 25:40 ESV)

We aren't consistant. We pay lip service to God, and deny Him by the way we live our lives. We're like the people in Nietzsce's parable: we are shocked when someone actually comes out and says there is no God, or that He is dead, but we live so that people cannot see Him through us. We lament the fact that our society has no moral base, that in essence God is dead, but we ignore the fact that we are the ones who killed Him, through our apparant unbelief.

We get upset about the risque commercials airing before Monday Night Football. What do we expect from a fallen society? What do we expect, when we have by and large abandoned popular culture, choosing to live in our Christian ghettos -- listening to our Christian music, reading our Christian fiction, watching TV on our Christian satelite channels. We rarely engage anyone who is not a Christian, and when we do, we find we have nothing to say. We cannot relate to them at all, on any level.

We have bought into the lie that faith should have no impact on our lives outside of the church building. We've also bought into a false notion of what the Christian life really is. We've forgotten that living the Christian life is more than "giving Jesus a try." It's more than becoming Jesus' best friend. Jesus really has become our "homeboy" -- He's one of the gang, He fits in. He doesn't tell us to change our lives. He doesn't tell us what to believe -- matters of religion are personal things. He doesn't expect us to make an impact on society.

We need to rediscover a faith that impacts every aspect of our lives, a faith that makes it impossible to live contrary to our beliefs. We need to recover a belief in a Savior who commanded us to go and make disciples.




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November 09, 2004

Sola Scriptura and Tradition

I'm hoping right back on this horse -- I think that our idea of Scripture is vital to the future of the Church, and I think there are a LOT of misunderstandings concerning the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

Of course, a lot of great information was available in the League of Reformed Bloggers carnival, Post Tenebras Lux. There is a wealth of information on the Net, too -- both good and bad. But I have to clarify this little issue.

Where does sola Scriptura stand on tradition? And specifically, how do we deal with this verse: "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter." 2 Thes. 2:15 (ESV)

First, sola Scriptura does not ignore tradition. It does not mean that we ONLY accept what the Bible says, and avoid anything it doesn't talk about. I've said this before, but I still get people asking about it. Someone posted a comment at Jollyblogger, commenting on the carnival, that essentially was this verse and a rant about the Reformation. People still don't get it.

Tradition is important. But tradition does not trump Scripture. When Scripture does speak, we cannot follow a tradition that contradicts it. The verse from 2 Thessalonians teaches us that we need to listen to what we're taught, whether we read it or are taught it orally. That's all it says. But Paul teaches, just as clearly, that we are to test any teaching that we hear with the Word of God. That's what the Bereans did, when they encountered Paul's teaching -- and they saw that what he was saying was true. It didn't contradict Scripture.


Sola Scripture doesn't say anything about rejecting tradition. Anyone who has any knowledge of the Reformers knows that both Luther and Calvin quoted from the patristic writings. They didn't reject history, or historic teachings. They DID reject those teachings that they felt contradicted Scriptural teaching -- and that is what we must do today.

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October 31, 2004

95 Theses

Everyone knows what today is -- Reformation Day. The day good little Christians go door to door, nailing tracts to the front of their neighbor's houses.

Ok, not really -- and I've just about run that joke to death this year -- but today is one of those pivotal moments in history. The Reformation has made an impact on every aspect of society -- not just religion.

I really don't have much new to add to the discussion. So I'm going to check out the old blogroll, and show you all the Ref. Day posts that everyone else has made today. You can find the theses at Phil Johnson's place.


  • Matt Hall points out that Luther probably wasn't looking for a direct conflict with Rome -- he most likely wanted some dialog on the subject of the theses. He also recommends a couple of books on the Reformation for further reading.
  • Tim at Challies Dot Com talks about the lack of awareness among many evangelical churches that today is Reformation Day -- or at least the lack of commemoration. I know that it wasn't mentioned at our church this morning, and there are probably a lot of non-Lutheran churches that pass by the day altogether. I agree with Tim -- this needs to change. We don't have to agree with all of Luther's theology to be thankful that he had the courage to stick with his convictions.
  • Sundays at Rebecca Writes are neat anyway -- there's always a sermon and a hymn, but this week is special.
  • Semicolon has A Mighty Fortress posted as well, and makes a great point about politics and Christians.

And y'know -- those are the only posts I found on it today -- even on the League of Reformed Bloggers list. Maybe Tim's right. If I missed yours, let me know, and I'll make up for it by giving you a post all to yourself.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 04:38 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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October 13, 2004

What IS Sola Scriptura, Anyway??

If there is one thing that I am tired of hearing from people it's this:

Sola Scriptura is inconsistant. You SAY that the Bible is your only authority, but that teaching isn't even in the Bible! You Protestants are idiots/morons/heretics/insult-of-the-day.
The sad thing is, people who should know better even perpetuate the misunderstanding of what sola scriptura is.


Sola Scriptura is the teaching that the Bible is the final authority. It is the only thing that is ultimately authoritative -- that is, it is the final authority in matters of faith and practice. This actually ties into the idea of inspiration and inerrancy. IF we believe that the Bible is inspired (breathed out) by God, then it carries with it the authority of God -- it's teachings are God's teachings, because what it says is what God said. IF that is true, then Scripture is the final authority, just as if God Himself were speaking -- because He is.

Protestants do not deny tradition. Luther and Calvin quoted from Augustine extensively. Calvin quoted from Bernard of Clairveux. Both used patristic texts. The difference is that Luther and Calvin both tested these early fathers against Scripture. If they contradict Scripture, they are wrong. If you want to find out about the early Fathers being wrong, do a study on Peter Abelard. (If anyone knows of an available edition of Sic et Non, let me know. I REALLY want to get one.)

Protestants also do not deny that Scripture must be interpreted correctly. Baptists teach that the believer is responsible for their spiritual health (priesthood of the believer), but we stress (or we SHOULD stress) the need for a correct foundation for interpreting Scripture. That entails study -- including the study of historical theology. We want to know what has been believed before -- but we judge all belief in the light of Scripture.

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October 06, 2004

Is Inerrancy Important?

From the 1689 London Baptist Confession:

1._____ The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
( 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Isaiah 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20; Romans 1:19-21; Romans 2:14,15; Psalms 19:1-3; Hebrews 1:1; Proverbs 22:19-21; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:19,20 )
So, is it important that Scriptures are inerrant? After all, the word doesn't show up at all in this confession.

The word infallible means: "Incapable of erring". That is actually MORE than just inerrant. Inerrant says that the Bible doesn't contain errors. I can write a report that is inerrant, as long as I do my research carefully and make sure that someone else proofreads it. Infallible, which shows up in pretty much every major confession in early Protestant history, says that the Bible is not capable of making a mistake. I can't write an infallible paper -- anything I write is capable of being mistaken, whether it actually is or not.

But is it important that Scripture contains no error? Yes, because if we find any error in it, how can we be certain that we have caught them all? What I'm trying to say is that if there's one error that we know of, how can we be certain that the things we believe in Scriptures aren't actually errors? If we cannot trust that God has given us a reliable, error-free book, how can we base something as important as our eternal destiny on anything that is in that book?

Some would say experience. We have to experience God, and we can do that through the Bible. How can we know what we are experiencing if we cannot trust the medium we are experiencing it through? Without a Bible that I can trust, how do I even know that Christ really has risen from the dead? I cannot experience that historical event -- unless someone is hiding a time machine that they haven't mentioned before. I can only know about that event through the historical record. If the Bible is not trustworthy, I have no reliable record to turn to.

If I have to trust experience, how do I judge what is a good experience? Experience is subjective, so I can't judge based on what others have experienced. How can I tell what I am encountering, without a reliable guide to show me? How do I discern that it is the Holy Spirit guiding me into knowledge if I have no guidelines to show me what the Holy Spirit's job is?

I know people who sincerely believe that they are being led by God in directions that are contradictory to the Scriptures. Is their religious experience any less valid than mine? Is mine any less valid than theirs, for relying on the Bible rather than on experience? Does it even matter, as long as we each have a meaningful religious experience?

Experiential revelation, that is, revelation based solely on personal experience or encounter, can be very meaningful and life changing. But if it contradicts the Scripture, how do we know what the source of that experience is? God is not the only spiritual being in existence, after all. Satan is a great deceiver, and our perceptions are not always the most reliable ways of gaining information, even about the physical world. Objective rvelation is a must, if we are to seriously contend that Christianity is God's Truth.

If we are to take seriously the Reformation idea of sola Scriptura, we have to believe that the scriptura is without error, and is totally trustworth.


This is the first of (probably) several posts about the idea of inerrancy, infallibility, authority, etc. of Scripture. I'll end up talking about what sola scriptura actually means, vs. what people think it means, theories of inerrancy, and maybe even a little translation theory and the original autographs. yeah, I'm being ambitious. I figure it will make up for the weenie posts I've had here recently.

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September 29, 2004

This is What Jesus Meant!!

A book review in the Houston Chronicle really gave me a boost. The book is writen by a screenwriter who made a movie about growing up Fundamentalist. He spent three years with a Baptist congregation in Massachusetts, learning about their faith. He went to Bible studies, played with their kids, attended every service (something many Christians don't even do!).

The guy was a liberal, pure 100% (says so even in the review). Talk about incompatible lifestyles. Did the church go nuts trying to "win him for Jesus"?

Nope. They loved him.

Ault became aware of what he calls "the caring power of the congregation" when both his grant money for the film and his savings ran out and he had to stand in line for unemployment benefits. During this period the Valentis and others insisted that lunch or dinner was their treat, one church member tried to find a job in his insulation company for Ault, and yet another member left work one day with tools to fix Ault's car.
And the result?
to his great surprise he [Ault] found himself "turning more and more toward God" as a result of his years at Shawmut River Baptist Church. While he didn't become a born-again fundamentalist, he did start going to church and became a Christian.
Doesn't say what kind of church, and i'm sure there are some right liberal ones there to choose from, but the point is this:
They made a difference in his life. They cared. And now, if he isn't in an evangelical church, at least he's more receptive to the Gospel than he was when he started. Some sow, some water, some harvest -- and God grants the increase. Seems like I read that somewhere before ...

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They Will Know We Are Christians ..... How, Exactly?

From Alertnet:

JERUSALEM, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Fistfights broke out on Monday at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre between Christian sects that jealously guard their hold on sections of the shrine built on the traditional site of Jesus's crucifixion.

"There was lots of hitting going on. Police were hit, monks were hit ... there were people with bloodied faces," said Aviad Sar Shalom, an Israeli tour guide who witnessed the fight.

The tussle between Franciscans and Greek and Russian Orthodox clerics erupted during a procession through the church on Holy Cross Day marking the fourth century discovery of the cross which some faithful believe was used in the Crucifixion.

A Greek Orthodox cleric said Franciscans had left open the door to their chapel in what was taken as a show of disrespect.
So, in other words, this whole thing started because someone left the door open.

And we wonder why people don't take us seriously. Forget What Would Jesus Do -- what would He SAY? Or would he stand there, shaking His head in disappointment that, even after almost 2,000 years, we still don't get it.

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September 22, 2004

Creeds and Christianity

There's an interesting article here about Christian private schools in Australia, and how many times the religion aspect is forgotten, or downplayed. I was going to write about THAT, and how it is happening in the US as well, until I read this sentence.

"[W]e would sing our way through the limited repertoire of hymns, and recite the incomprehensible Nicene Creed."

Now, this is the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't find that all that difficult to understand -- certainly nnot incomprehensible.

I'm finding more and more, especially among Evangelicals, a resistance to creeds. "No creed but the Bible!" they shout -- not realizing that THAT is, in fact, a creed of sorts. Every Baptist church 've ever been a member of has had a creed -- of course, they called it a Statement of Faith, or their Articles of Faith, or something like that. Never a creed.

Even in the early days of the Baptist church in America, they had "Confessions", not "Creeds". Why?

Maybe the word creed, with it's Latin derivation, reminded too many of the Roman Church that had persecuted them -- though for Baptists, it was more often their fellow Protestant Anglicans who were doing the persecuting. Maybe a general fear of appearing Romish, or Popish, or whatever other -ish they were frightened of.

But maybe it's because they recognized that Christianity isn't just about believing (credo means to believe, after all). Maybe they saw that believing was only part of the equation. Didn't Jesus say that "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. "(Mat 10:32 KJV)? Maybe these early Baptists and Presbyterians and Congregationalists were on to something. Maybe it isn't enough to affirm that we believe something -- maybe we need to make sure we confess it as well.

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