Is the Bible only true, because it says it is?

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Recently member’s of the Mormon faith came to my door, encouraging me to read from the book of Mormon. I explained that I was a Christian and believed God’s complete word was recorded in the Bible. They argued that the BoM was “another testament of Jesus Christ” and that I should give it a try. They gave me their testimony, that they felt the truth of this book “in their gut” and explained that the God would reveal the truth of it to me as well through a “burning in the bosom” if I would but give it a try. Do we propagate our Bible in the same way?  Do we believe it is true because of a feeling of indigestion? Continue reading

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Historical Theology

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I have been reading Greg Allison’s Historical Theology and refreshing my mind on some of the early thinking of the Church on the Scriptures.

Beyond the topics themselves, revelation, canonicity, inspiration, inerrancy, and the authority and clarity of Scripture (all fascinating discussions), what has struck me most is consensus. These subjects were not much under debate, as the NT authors, early Fathers, Nicene and Post Nicene thinkers and early medieval writers all shared a high view of Scripture (as a collection of 66 canonical books) verbally inspired by God and so without error, intended to speak clearly and be understood as truth and the final authority in all that it addressed.

For about 1300 years the church spoke with one voice on these issues, and then a shift occurred resulting in the Roman Apostasy and the rise of the Reformation. Rome began to argue for two sources of authority, Scripture and Church authority. This was largely rooted in an attack on the clarity and authority of the written Word.

Among the Protestant, these doctrines were essential and once again largely agreed upon, until really the 19th century, when liberal humanism challenged the historic consensus. They largely attacked the authority of the Scripture. But due to critical theories of inspiration, canonicity etc., they also made an assault on the clarity of Scripture. Evangelicalism arose to counter this rooted in a return to a high view of Scripture.

Today, even the evangelical church is only partially aligned with church history on these subjects. The Charismatic wing of the Church elevates two sources of authority, personal and Scriptural revelation, often effective an attack on the authority and clarity of Scripture.

Evangelical Academics now often apply a two authority approach again, this time with secular science and the Scripture sitting on equal footing. This is considered necessary, because the Bible is not seen as clear enough or Authoritative in matters if history and science.

“The early church,” Allison demonstrates, “was united in its conviction that nothing could be considered true unless it could be demonstrated from the Bible” (144). However “as the third millennium of the Church begins, evangelicals are faced with an important debate about the sufficiency of Scripture” (161). Will we apostacize, or reform?

The Bible – Before and After Conversion

Maybe you’ve reflected on your faith before. You remember at a certain time in your life you turned to God from sin to serve the living and true God. These twin themes that intertwine the Scripture, repentance and faith, truly became yours. Ever since then you’ve considered yourself a person “of faith.” Now, when you read passages in the Bible that talk about repentance and faith, you remember fondly of your conversion and hope for others to experience the same. When Jesus calls out, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28), you think of your non-believing friend who needs to hear these words. This kind of thinking is right, nostalgic and perfectly flawed.

Scripture is God’s revelation to humanity no matter what side of the cross one is on. When God calls out for us to believe and repent, he expects us too! Just because we are now believers, we have no excuse to forgo seeing this passages as “for us.” Our entire life should be marked by trust and repentance. These are not one time acts that ‘get us into heaven’ but are a sustained characteristic that we manifest. We are called to a life of faith and confession. Continue reading

Worshipping like Eve and Cain (?)

If Genesis 4 tells us anything, it tells us that sin disrupts worship of God. While God created humanity to bless them (Gen 1:28) and live out God’s image (Gen 1:26–27), sin peeled away this blessing, and the curse came (Gen 3:14–19). Ironically, Adam and Eve wanted to be like God by eating of the tree (3:5), though they were like God in his image already (1:26–27). Tragically, they were barred from God’s presence because tried to be like God — the likeness they already shared via his image. Worship was disrupted.

In Genesis 4, we learn how the sinfulness of sin marred the worshipfulness of worship. Both Even and Cain show us how pride and hate wreck havoc on service to God; still, God is faithful when we are faithless. So Eve trusts in Yahweh’s promises, while Cain repents. I am aware that this might be a hard sell — but I believe the text leads us to this conclusion without having to spiritualize the text or simply read it as “ancient history” with no present relevance today. Continue reading

Inerrancy What is it?

It may be that the church, since the reformation, has risen and fallen directly in proportion to our embrace or rejection of the doctrine of inerrancy. Charles Spurgeon has written of the crises in his day:

The Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction, and the resurrection into a myth, and yet these enemies of our faith expect us to call them brethren, and maintain a confederacy with them! (Another Word about the Downgrade).

When I began talking about whether the evangelical doctrine of Inerrancy was in error (link), I quickly came to see that I was not the only person talking about this issue, right now. Answers in Genesis has recently tacked this very question (link). I also received the following excellent link giving testimonies to and definitions of inerrancy (link).

John Gerstner has written: “Bible Inerrancy (or the doctrine that “what the Bible says God says”) has been under relentless attack since the Bible was written, but never more so than today” (link).

I have become even more convinced of the centrality of this doctrine as I studied evangelicalism from the 1870’s through the present and I hope in the next few blogs I post to help my fellow evangelicals to become reacquainted with the importance and the current urgency of our grappling with this issue. Is it really worth fighting over inerrancy? Read a “sneak-peak” of thursday’s post below.

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Already And Not Yet

If the title of this post means nothing to you, that’s ok. But I want you to know that you should know what this means. Why? Because like the explosive force of a ball rocketing off a bat, already and not yet theology has launched across evangelical churches.

In short, already-not-yet (ANY) claims that biblical promises are fulfilled in the present age yet are consummated (finally fulfilled) in a future age. For example, the kingdom is present today in our heart (or in the church, etc) but will have a super fulfillment when Jesus returns. Continue reading

Spiritualize Your Bible Reading!(?)

ImageOrigen (185–254 A.D.) believed that behind the literal meaning of Scripture lay the spiritual meaning. Both edified the soul but the latter was deeper and better truth for the believer.

According to Origen, he is simply following the tradition of Jesus and the apostles. For example, Deuteronomy 25:4 meant to Paul that pastors should receive income for their work. In fact, Paul makes this very point in 1 Corinthians 9:9–10, even saying that Deuteronomy 25:4 “was written for our sake.” The “our” being first century Christians in Corinth (cf. Origen, On First Principles, 6).

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Are you smarter than a PhD?

It is shocking to think about what happens when we take biblical background assumptions for granted. No matter how intelligent we are, or how sincere we are, it is critical that we pay close attention to the exact words of Scripture. What do I mean? Consider the following example.

A little over a hundred years ago, a Mesopotamian scholar argued that the Summerian culture creates lists of kings in groups of 10. He then suggested that the biblical accounts of Genesis 5 and 10 were built upon this pattern, and consequently were not chronological lists.

This led 19th and 20th century liberal scholarship to attack the reliability of scripture.

Now, here is the crazy part. Sincere evangelical scholars of noted intelligence defended the attack by assume the liberal position (specifically that the genealogies were non linear, as not chronological.). They argued that as Matthew made lists of selective genealogies in Matthew chapter one, the author of Genesis was simply following normal practices of Summerian culture when making a selective genealogy, therefore Genesis could still be trusted. We simply must recognize it had no intention of providing chronology.

This has come to be the foundation of evangelical old earth arguments.

Now here is the fun part. PhD scholars developed these theories. They are truly intelligent men. Do you think you are smarter than a PhD?

Read Genesis 5 and Genesis 11, “How many names are listed in the two genealogies?”

Why Scripture Must Guide Our Hunt For the Will of God

Amongst the most common questions I get as a pastor, I can’t think of any that top questions about knowing the will of God. What bothers me the most however, is when people have become confused and befuddled by misguided advice.

In our previous posts, we looked at how the Scripture expects the will of God to be obvious to the believer (link). Then we looked at the very practical perspective that we need to grow in this, as in everything else in the Christian life (link). Now we want to consider some of the hazards that can get us off course as we mature in understanding God’s desires and directions for our lives and decision. In a key text on the will of God, Jesus warns that there is a danger of being “led astray” by wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:14-20). We are all susceptible to various “wolfish” thoughts. There are several “wolfish” thoughts regarding God’s floating around the church world. Here is a small selection of some popular, but misleading thinking about God’s Will:

Wolfish Thought One: God’s Will, it is thought, should be understood as a form of enlightenment, where in a sort of Buddhist reality, we become one with Ultimate reality and see everything as it really it is. From this vantage point, we understand why A leads to B and not C. We know exactly where to go. This is seen in Star Wars, were one must simply follow the flow of the force, and he will always be right were he needs to be.

Wolfish Thought Two: God’s Will is also though to be a form of mysticism, where a sort of Pagan omen system is followed. Believers look for signs in all sorts of events and conversations. Like ancient Roman generals watching the direction of a flying Eagle to determine the direction of attack, believers look for the “waves” of what God is doing in the world and try to jump in.

Wolfish Thought Three: God’s Will, it is also often thought is a revelation, where a spirit guide view of God is espoused. Believers are looking for “a still small voice” or “a dream” or a “word of prophecy” through which to learn God’s will.

We all know the Bible has illustrations of God leading and speaking in various different ways. A sovereign God can communicate however he wishes. But that is the point, he communicates however he wishes, not as we wish. We also know that many people have experiences they have interpreted as the leading of God. Certainly these experiences may originiate with God, or on the other hand they may not.

How can one know the validity of any human experience? For example, if one follows the path of Wolfish Thought One, and seeks by their feelings to be guided to the “right thing” how can they know that the feeling is not indigestion? If one follows path Two and assumes God “closes one door and opens another” through some experience, how do they know that it is not Satan, putting a door between them and God’s will? If one follows path three, how does one know it is not Satan, disguised as an “angel of light” deceiving him?

The answer is, that we must measure all our experienced against what we know God has said. We must measure all experiences by the Scripture. We know that through the Scriptures God speaks to us. The Scriptures are the words of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16). By heeding the Scriptures, the believer is made: “competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). This must surely include the Will of God, to which we are called, since this is the basic distinction that marks a Christian apart from an unbeliever. So, what do the Scriptures, that is to say, what does God’s own testimony say concerning His Will? Look for part four soon (also see our earlier posts, part one, and part two, part three).

Defining God’s Image

A good blog post argues against a good opponent. In this case, culture at large opposes the present position—both Christian and non-Christian. The view espoused here is biblical, but not normally called Christian. The view espoused here is correct, but not commonly accepted. The point is not to argue against some obscure scholar, but to address a largely unaddressed issue in the Western world: that is, how the image of God informs our work, leisure and play.

The Image of God

One must define the image of God because people image God on earth. To do so, one must look to the Biblical data. Genesis 1:26–28 speaks directly about the image God. The ESV translates thus:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, / in the image of God he created him; /male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Two problems emerge from this text. Defining the image of God is a problem because the text does not explain how the original couple were created in the image of God, but just that they were created in the image God. Also, the two words “image” and “likeness” need to be defined, especially with regard to just what their prepositions signify (i.e. “in” and “after,” respectively).

Today we will answer the first problem: how to define the image of God by looking at three basic views on God’s image in humanity?

Three Views on The Image of God

Three rational explanations on the image of God follow. The referential view claims people are divine-like. The worst expression of this position believes people are made in the physical image of God. The better expressions of this view see something in humanity that resembles God. Collins calls this the traditional view. This view suffers from being too ambiguous; but it has merit in that something does resemble God in humans.

The representational view moves from defining the image in terms of “is” to “does.” In other words, it speaks less about being God and more about acting like God. In Genesis 1:28, God commands a blessing upon humanity, providing precedent for this view: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” The terms “subdue” and “have dominion” over the earth signify a regal role people play in their environment.

The biggest problem with this position is that the bible never equates God’s image with the function of subduing and exercising dominion. God commands it, and it is in a context where the image of God receives focus. However, the text does not describe God’s image as such. The best one can say is that God’s image relates to humanity’s ability to subdue and have dominion over the earth, since no other creature has that ability. Yet this view fails to convince fully.

The relational view teaches communion between God, man and woman is the image of God. The image is relationships. Genesis 1:27 focuses on the creation of both man and woman in the image of God, giving credence to this view. However, this view fails to sate because the text does not explicitly state this connection is the image of God. However, the relational view makes a valid case that relationships make up the image of God.

All three views share truth, but not one view fully explains what the image of God is. When rightly understood, the image of God will greatly inform one’s understanding of life, work, leisure and play. One hint as to the true meaning of the “image of God” comes in the prepositions preceding the terms used (i.e. “in our image, after our likeness”).

Next week, we’ll take a look at how these two little prepositions “in” and “after” shape our views on God’s image. Until Then!