Friday, October 12, 2007

My new blog

I started a personal blog here
I've joined the revolution ;)
I will probably still post more formal stuff here, but I'll try to post more just random thoughts on my personal one.

Read More......

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Clarity of Scripture: Three Views


The question of whether or not Scripture is clear is not a new one.1 In fact, it was brought up even before the Word of God existed in written form. The serpent asked Eve, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”2 bringing into question the clarity of God's command.3 It was as if the serpent was saying, “We both know what God said, but do you really know what he meant by what he said?” Within the last decade, this writer has noticed a marked decline in the belief that Scripture is clear, in part because of the post-modern perspective that now exists in America.4 The question is not one that is answered easily, and yet the answer is of utmost importance. For what a person believes concerning the clarity of Scripture will affect every area of his relationship with God. This paper will focus on three historical views concerning the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture. Examining the view of the Roman Catholic Church, then the view of the Emergent Church, the view of Evangelicalism, and ending with a critique of the views and concluding thoughts about this fundamental doctrine.

Clarity and the Roman Catholic Church

First of all, it must be understood that the commonly held belief that the Roman Catholic view is that the Bible cannot be understood is inaccurate. It is true that the Reformers differed greatly from the Catholics, but both held to the belief that the Bible could be understood correctly and is, to some degree or another, clear.5 In fact, one Catholic theologian is explicit in his desire to make sure no one believes that the Roman Catholic Church holds the position that Scripture is completely unclear: “Catholics do not deny that certain basic teachings can be found in Scripture with little difficulty, especially by those who, with a thorough grounding in the principles of Christian religion, follow the analogy of faith.”6

Clarity Based on the Infallibility of the Church

The controversy of how the Catholic Church views the clarity of Scripture centers around how an individual can arrive at the correct understanding. The main premise that the Catholic Church begins with is that heresy exists; therefore God must put something in place in order to preserve the true meaning of Scripture, and to protect it from being twisted and misused.

Biblically, the Catholic Church's view has some merit, for even Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church based his authority on the practice of the church at that time: “But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16). Also, the Catholics refer to Jesus' words to the Pharisees in John 5:39, citing them as an example of the futility of reading Scripture apart from the infallible interpretation of the Church. For they believe that no one can truly understand the Bible, apart from the church because of its complex literal and spiritual senses.7 There is no possible way in their minds for a private reader to satisfactorily “distinguish what is didactic and what is historical, what is fact and what is vision, what is allegorical and what is literal, what is idiomatic and what is grammatical, what is enunciated formally and what occurs obiter, what is only of temporary and what is of lasting obligation”8 That the Bible is inspired only guarantees that what is contained in the Word is true, but an infallible interpretation is the required complement in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, for an individual to come to a correct interpretation.9

Additionally, the Catholic Church leans heavily on their belief that Jesus established infallibly in the line of the popes, beginning with Peter. In their minds it is inherently clear that “the authoritative determination of the meaning of Scripture in matters of faith and morals belongs, according to the arrangement of Christ Himself, to the teaching office of His Church and that, consequently, no one is ever free to depart from the meaning which the Church has always held.”10 The implications of this teaching are far reaching. And in many ways a sense of pride is felt from those of the Catholic religion, for they feel that their institution has saved the “sacred text,” from, “free examination and private judgment.”11

So the Catholic Church holds to a clarity of the inspired Word, but only one that they alone can interpret. Practically, this means that the Bible is not clear to the layperson, and is only clear to the Church whom they believe Christ ordained to be “the infallible interpreter of that inspiration”12

Clarity and the Emergent Church

Because of the fact that the emergent church is a movement that has no central point of authority like the Catholic Church, and because of its relatively new beginnings, it is difficult to discuss exactly what those in the emergent camp believe regarding the clarity of Scripture (even the terms “emergent” and “emerging” have begun to differ in meaning because of disagreements within the movement).13 But there is one voice, within the movement who rises above most others – Brian D. Mclaren, “the de facto spiritual leader for the emerging church.”14

Clarity is Not Important

The main point in the emergent view is that clarity is an over-rated, modernist invention that is no longer needed for this post-modern age, and therefore should be tossed aside to embrace a faith that is “deep enough for mystery,” as well as, “big enough for their own doubts.”15 Arguments weigh in heavy on the fact, just as the Catholics do, that Scripture cannot be clear because there are so many different opinions on its meaning in the world and throughout history. And not only that, but they add that the only reason anyone ever thought Scripture was clear was because of the influence of the enlightenment and modern science, which places a high value on facts and absolute truth.16

Biblically, the emerging camp views sees the four gospel accounts as proof: “the fact that we have four gospels tells us that we’re better off having four different perspectives because there is no one authorized version of the the biblical world, multiple perspectives are a huge advantage.”17 Asking probing questions of orthodoxy such as, “What does it mean to be 'saved'?”18 is viewed as a good thing, and embracing the unknown is considered the highest spiritual ground. One emergent confesses: “I grew up thinking that we've figured out the Bible...that we know what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again.”19

Emergents see the youth of America leaving church, and believe that the problem is that the message of the Word of God has been consumed by modernists within the church. They condemn conservative theologians, and join with Stanley J. Grenz, saying that their opponents have fallen “...into step with the assumption that theology is 'the science of God' based on the Bible.”20 The movement believes that the Gospel needs to be taken out of the hands of modernists and placed into the hands of the postmodernists so that the Gospel can continue to reach the world. “This is not just the same old message with new methods...We're rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life.”21 Clarity is for the modernists–the postmodernist needs no crutch.

The Evangelical View of Clarity

Evangelicals are somewhat diverse in their beliefs regarding the specifics of the clarity of Scripture, but most believe that all of Scripture is clear. One evangelical defines clarity as meaning, “that the Bible can be understood by people through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and that people need to search the Scripture and judge for themselves what it means.”22

Clarity Based on the Witness of Scripture

The main distinguishing point within the Evangelical view of the clarity of Scripture is that they look to Scripture itself to come to their perspective, and they would argue that this doctrine is not one contrived by men, but is one that Scripture itself attests to, although, “not to the point that it cannot be misunderstood or is in every point equally simple and clear.”23

They begin at the beginning with Genesis 1:3, showing that God is a God who speaks, even before the world was created – for creation was spoken into existence. Combating the view that was put forth by Karl Barth, that in Scripture “...fallible men speak the Word of God in fallible human words...”24 Rather, they believe Scripture shows that language is not a fallible human institution but rather a gift from God. Therefore, “If God speaks our words, not just as the incarnate Son but in the address of men and women throughout redemptive history, then these words are suitable medium for revelation.”25

When looking at the transfer of power from Moses to Joshua, Evangelicals see another indication that Scripture is clear, for God assumes that what is contained in the book of the law that he gave to Moses is sufficiently clear and understandable because he commands Joshua to “be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Josh. 1:8).26

Even Jesus, Evangelicals relate, had an expectation that because the Jews had read the Scriptures that they should have recognized him as the Messiah, and some did (Matt. 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31).27 But in observation of what Christ said, just because Scripture is clear, it does not mean that everyone will understand what is written. For though the Pharisees read, they did not rightly understand. Evangelicals refer to Martin Luther when dealing with this problem, who said, “It is true that for many people much remains abstruse; but this is not due to the obscurity of Scripture, but to the blindness or indolence of those who will not take the trouble to look at the very clearest truth.”28 Luther gains this insight from Paul who attributes the veiling of the gospel, not to the unclarity of the message, but to the blinding of the world by Satan (2 Cor. 3:15; 4:3 f.).

Even in the midst of the postmodern thinking of this age, the Evangelical position holds fast to its convictions based on its understanding of Scripture, affirming that “clarity means that the Bible is sufficiently unambiguous in the main for any well-intentioned person with Christian faith to interpret each part with relative adequacy.”29


All the views related in this paper to some degree or another are based upon presuppositions. From a purely critical view, none of the views seem clearly able to articulate its solution to the problem of the existence of multiple interpretations–but perhaps this is because “The Bible is not just another text...The relationship between author and reader (any reader) is different in the case of the Bible to any other text.”30 The topic has immense importance and truly affects every aspect of Christian thought which then flows out into practice. All sides have correctly addressed the issue–problems are easily identified. But when it comes to their solutions there are some difficulties in the mind of this writer.

Critique of the Roman Catholic View

The Roman Catholic Church rests heavily on their belief that Christ set up an infallible tradition through the popes, beginning with Peter. But they fails to articulate exactly why they believe that, at least in their discussions on the clarity of Scripture. Obviously in their minds, papal infallibility takes care of the issue of multiple interpretations, in that multiple interpretations only arise outside the Catholic Church. But what of the inconsistencies within the Catholic church? What of the disagreements throughout the ages popes have had? In the end, the Catholic Church's view does nothing but place the pope as the sole interpreter of Scripture and because it calls him infallible, shoots itself in the foot. They have done what they accused the Reformers of doing, placing the interpretation of Scripture in the hands of individuals – or worse, they have placed it in the hands of one individual: the pope.

Critique of the Emergent Church View

As previously stated, identifying the problem is not difficult, and the Emergent Church sees the problem clearly. But what they fail to see is their conformity to the postmodern system – they fail to critique their own system of thought. They point the finger at Evangelicals saying that they are thoroughly modern, assuming that modernity is evil, yet they think nothing of the fact that they themselves are postmodern. They blindly assume that postmodernism is intrinsically good. Their argument is based heavily on their own cultures critique of Christianity rather than God's critique. Just because people in a postmodern culture do not value clarity, in matters regarding God and his Word, it does not matter what people think, but rather what God thinks. And if we cannot know what God thinks, it is hard to see any value when it comes to trying to have a relationship with him. The Emergent Movement has based their argument on man's ideas and therefore are, in the end, left with nothing – for who is to say that their argument is better than someone else's? Belief in obscurity leaves nothing to believe at all – or at least, leaves no reason to listen to what anyone else says besides oneself. The Emergent Church fails to address the issues in their own system of thought, and because of their assumption that they are right, fail to make a convincing argument.

Critique of the Evangelical View

One of the most significant thoughts of the Evangelical belief on the clarity of Scripture is that of their concept of language as a gift of God. This God-centered view of the world has huge potential in leading one to believe in the intention of God to communicate with his creation and that he would do so in such a way that he would be understood. Their line of thought is seen in Scripture as God assumes that when he speaks, those he speaks to will understand what he has said. There are numerous biblical examples that Evangelicals cite, and firmly hold the majority of the Biblical arguments of the two other positions looked at in this paper. That fact is significant, especially since the subject of the discussion is Scripture, God's Word. Looking at what is actually in Scripture is very useful in coming to an understanding of what God thinks about the clarity of his Word.


While much has been written on the doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture, it seems to this writer that of the works currently available dealing with the issue, there is yet to be one that stands far above all the others. Especially in this day and age, with postmodernism at our door, more effort must be put into defining and clarifying this essential doctrine, in order to scrape away at the current confusion. While the Catholic's have really separated themselves from this argument, because of their basis on the supposed establishment of the infallible pope by Christ, the Emergent Church has not gone so far away from Scripture so as not to have a listening ear. Therefore, more effort should be made to come to a deeper understanding of their views in order to be able to use the light of Scripture to guide them back under the authority of the Word of God by its clarity.

1 G. C Berkouwer, Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1975), 267.

2 All Scripture references taken from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

3 John MacArthur, “Perspicuity of Scripture: The Emergent Approach,” TMSJ 17/2 (Fall 2006): 141.

4 Ibid., 142.

5 Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, 271.

6 Monsignor G. Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology (Westminster, Md: Newman Press, 1955), III:105.

7 Ibid., 100-101.

8 John Henry Newman, “On the Inspiration of Scripture,” The Catholic Tradition, (Wilmington, N.C.: McGrath Pub. Co, 1979), I:257-258.

9 Ibid., 257-258.

10 Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology , III:105-106.

11 Henri Daniel-Rops, What Is the Bible? (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1958), 13.

12 Newman, The Catholic Tradition, I:258.

13 Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006), 22.

14 Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction,” (accessed October 10, 2007).

15 Ibid.

16 “An interview on Christian publis - Brian McLaren,” (accessed October 10, 2007).

17 Eric Hurtgen, “RELEVANT MAGAZINE,” (accessed October 10, 2007).

18 Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique.”

19 Ibid.

20 Stanley J Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology: A Fresh Agenda for the 21st Century (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 65.

21 Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique.”

22 Larry D. Pettegrew, “The Perspicuity of Scripture,” TMSJ 15/2 (Fall 2004): 209.

23 Ibid.

24 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975), II:529.

25 Mark Thompson, A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture (England: Apollos, 2006), 76.

26 Ibid., 96.

27 Ibid., 85.

28 Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus, Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation, trans. E. Gordon Rupp and Philip S Watson (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969), 111.

29 Kevin J Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1998), 315.

30 Thompson, A Clear and Present Word, 135.

Read More......

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I moved

I moved here.

Read More......

Ok, one more.

1 John 2:2 "... and [Christ] Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."

I know that universalism could be argued down from other passages in the NT, but as I ran across this last night, I asked myself why I had never read it so clearly before. At face value, does this passage, in context, advocate universalism? Or at the very least, a moderated universalism?

It literally says, "Christ paid for the sins of the whole world." If the whole world refers only to the remnant from every tongue, tribe and nation, then who is John referring to as "us"? I would think that he is referring to all believers there.

At the very least, Limited Atonement is not compatible with this verse, at face value.

Thoughts? Rebuttals? Papal bans?

Read More......

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I'm on a roll

Ok. Here's another question.

Once you get past primary issues of theology (divinity of Christ, afterlife, etc.) to secondary issues (nature of predestination, filioque clause) where there are many opinions on various issues, I want to know: is it better to have an informed opinion?

Let me explain. We could have some opposing scenarios here.

a) In one instance, I am a rock critic for a magazine. I have spent years and years studying and writing about rock and roll. I have written books on the subject. You tell me that you absolutely love the Journey song "Anyway You Want It". If I tell you, "that song is awful -- it is not a good song," does my experience and knowledge make it true? Well, probably not. I could argue that it is not a good song by some criterion or another, but in the end, because a big part of that song's goodness or badness is not humanly knowable, we are both neither right nor wrong.

b) You have been a carpenter for 30 years. You come over to my house and I start boring you to tears with my story of how I made a birdhouse. I say something like, "the best way to make a birdhouse that will not fall apart is X." You respond and say, "No, actually, in my experience it has been Y. You are an idiot, and your birdhouse will fall apart in a month." In this case, you could be justified, because given your experience, you probably know a lot more about carpentry than I do.

c) I am your boss. We are discussing project plans. We come to a scenario where there are two ways the project could go. You feel that one of them would be much more successful, whereas I, as the boss, decide that the other way is better. We do it my way, because I'm the boss.

Now, in an age (much like Luther's) where mass media and education have made knowledge more broadly distributed than ever before, which of these scenarios best illustrates the desired relationship between ministry staff and laity in churches? Or etc., when a disagreement arises?

We had some people leave our church a few weeks ago, amicably -- but they had one view of Spiritual Gifts, that our church no longer had. Or rather, that our pastor no longer had, really. Situations like this are bound to come up all the time ... so what's the right tack to take? Live and let live, or do you as staff (or as laity) have a responsibility to bring those who disagree with you in line, or part ways? Does an M. Div. or Ph. D., or a career in ministry, really mean that you will always understand the Bible better than those around you? Or is it the privilege of church leadership to decide the direction that others will take?

Read More......

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Response to "Filioque?"

I responded here.

Read More......

The Filioque?

Do you guys know what that word means? I had to look it up. But once I did, I remembered that it was the intellectual reason behind (or in front of?) the political reason for the Great Schism ... the split of the Catholic and Orthodox churches in ... 1054? The basic idea is this: they took issue with the addition of a clause to the Nicene creed: instead of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father, according to the new (in 1054) clause the HS proceeds from the Father and the Son. This guy mentions, and I am surprised I never realized it before, that this is hardly ever an issue that comes up when protestants/evangelicals have issues with the Orthodox church. And yet, because of it's impact on our understanding of the Trinity, it seems like it would be a more significant question than icons or veneration of Mary.

So ... two questions for all you intellectuals out there ...

1) Do you think there's a significant difference between the two Trinity conceptions? I've heard before that the filioque was merely a pretext for the Eastern church to get out from under the domineering thumb of the Bishop of Rome. Is it a straw man, or a real distinction? How would the Eastern perspective change their understanding of the Trinity?

2) According to this guy, the Western conception of the Trinity is rooted in Augustine and is in conflict with "Sola Scriptura". Is this a just accusation? Why or why not? And no fair putting anything like "Augustine was inspired by God" or "The continuum of church history and theology followed ..." in there.

Read More......

Monday, July 30, 2007

On the Death of a Son

Ok, so I started a new blog.

I'm going to try to write on it, and hopefully some people might read it.

I wrote about Josh Conradson's death here.

Read More......

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Poor and Us

We talk about the poor - about the homeless. How do we treat them? Do we give them money when they ask? Should we give them money? I mean, they'll probably miss-use it, and buy drugs or something! And besides, most of the homeless WANT to be homeless - we live in America, if someone wants a job, they can find one if they try hard enough, right?

I've had these reactions before - but the thing I want to ask is this: Are these reactions Biblical? Is it really bad stewardship to straight-up give a homeless person $5?

Jesus said, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42)

So why do we (myself included) not give?

There really isn't much else to do, I think, than to look through the Bible as a whole and see what God says about the poor and how we should interact with them. The list is a bit long, but that fact alone should tell us something.

Here we go:


Commands Regarding the Poor:

Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

Deut. 26:12. When you have finished paying the complete tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied.

Lev. 19:19ff. Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.

Prov. 31:8ff. Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.

Is. 58:66ff. Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Jer. 22:3. Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

Luke 12:33. "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys."

Luke 3:11. And [John the Baptist] would answer and say to them, "Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise."

Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

Blessings God promises to those who care for the poor:

Prov. 22:9 He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.

Jer. 22:16 "Did not your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is that not what it means to know Me?" declares the LORD.

Deut. 15:10. You shall give generously to [your poor brother], and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.

Prov. 19:17. He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.

Jer. 7:5-7. "For, if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever."

Is. 58:10. "And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail."

Luke 14:12-14. "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Luke 12:44. "Sell your possessions and give alms; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Mt. 19:20ff. The young man said to Him, "All these commands I have kept; what am I still lacking?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

Curses promised to those who do not help the needy and/or oppress them:

Ezek. 16:49ff. "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it."

Is. 10:1-3. "Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who continually record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights... Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar?"

Ezek. 22:29,31. "The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice... Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads," declares the Lord GOD.

Jer. 5:28f. "[The wicked] do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. Shall I not punish these people?" declares the LORD. "On such a nation as this, shall I not avenge myself?"

James 5:1-6. Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. ...Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and with you have withheld, cries out against you; and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

Luke 6:24. "But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full."

Luke 16:19-25. "Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.'
But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony...'"


So that's a bit of a picture on what God says about the poor. What do you believe God's heart desires for us? To give? Or to judge the poor because of the fact that they are poor?

Sometimes we might hear the verse: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6) and hear it used to say that we shouldn't give money to someone who will misuse it - but actually in context, Jesus isn't talking about money, He is talking about confronting someone over their sin (right before this verse is the “take the log out of your own eye” passage). Now, I'm not saying that we should blindly give all our money away - because although Jesus did say, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42), He also said, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you” (Matthew 5:29a). So these things must be thought about in order to be understood in the context of the whole of Scripture. And yet - I would say, as American's (and really most everybody else) we fall far from where Christ would have us be in regards to our heart's attitude towards the poor.

If we are Christians - what should characterize our lives in regards to the poor? Well, we should be loving towards them for starters: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Think about God's love for you - when did God love you? When you were a sinner! His love was not based on your actions - rather it was based on Himself! We misuse the gifts God has given to us everyday (and even more so, unbelievers), so why does God keep “casting pearls to swine”? Can we really say that we cannot give money, or food, or shelter to a homeless person because they won't appreciate it or be thankful? Is it really about what the homeless person does with what we give them, or more that we DO something out of love towards them?

There is room for confrontation when it comes to the misuse of gifts - but, as was recently pointed out to me, Jesus never confronted Judas over his habitual stealing from the money bag that he carried for Christ. Jesus knew what Judas was doing, and yet he allowed him to do it. We so quickly condemn others, but is that really Christ-like?

What characterizes the life of a believer in regards to the poor?
Here's some aspects that the Bible highlights:

Prov. 29:7. The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such concern.

1 John 3:17. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

Luke 6:33ff. "And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same."

2 Cor 9:7. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.

Mt. 6:2-4. "When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."

Mt. 6:24. "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money."

1 Tim. 6:10. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.

Gal. 2:9ff. Recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John... gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor-- the very thing I also was eager to do.

Lev. 19:15. "You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly."

Acts 2:44. All those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began to sell their property and possessions, and share them with all, as anyone might have need.

Acts 4:32-35. And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need.

Eph. 4:28. Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.


“For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me.” (Mark 14:7)

The poor will always be with us on this earth - so is it really about making sure they wisely use the money we give them, or the help we offer them? Or is it more that as Christians we should not be able to contain our love and care (both spiritually and physically) for those who are poor in our midst? What glorifies God more? Giving? Or holding on to the very thing that everyone else in this world is holding on to (i.e. money)? We can give freely because we have been freely given all things (Matt. 10:8). Are we lacking anything? Therefore, may God instill in us the “knee-jerk” reaction of love towards the poor, and the outflow of that love seen in our actions towards them in providing and caring for them.

Read More......

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"Why do we go to church?

A lot of people in America go to church. Some more than others. But why do we go to church? What is the purpose? Some people go to church their whole lives, but what have they gained? Some people go to a different church every Sunday, finding it hard to settle down. Many complain, “I don't feel like I'm being fed”, or, “I just don't feel encouraged”, or maybe even, “I just don't fit in there”.

What is church for? What is supposed to be happening when we walk through those doors on Sunday? Are we supposed to get “fed”? Are we supposed to feel “encouraged”? Should we “fit in”?

Personally, ever since I moved down to LA and started going to Grace Community Church, I've been asking myself some of these questions but have failed to really go looking for any substantial answers from God's Word. So here I go, and if you want, you can follow along. This will be in many small parts, but hopefully after not too long some firm answers will be found so that when I go to church, I will be able to be more purposeful in what I do and more prepared, knowing what God desires from His Church and from me.

First off, what is the church? What is a basic definition that we can work off of? If you look up the word in a dictionary, it says something about a building and that it can refer to the whole body of believers if it is capitalized.
But what does the Bible say? In Colossians 1:18 along with verse 24 it states that the church is the body of Christ. And who is the body of Christ? “Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Who? “...those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
So the church is the body of Christ, but what does that mean? It means, that we who are believers are Christ's, we belong to His body. It is not that we are literally His body, but rather the words express a part of the greater reality. We are Christ's body, and that is important - for it tells us who the Church belongs to - we are Christ's. Not just any body, but Christ's body. The focus is not on our independence, or even our dependence on each other, but on our dependence on Christ. Apart from Christ there is no Church, we are “members of Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:15), we are members of the body of Christ. Christ exists without us, but we gain our life from Him. These truths are confirmed in Scripture as we read that God has given Jesus, “to the church as head over all things” (Ephesians 1:22). Christ is the head and is the One from whom “the whole body, supported and knit together through its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2:19). The Church is not equal to Christ, Christ rules over it, and yet there is a beautiful unity. Christ is the source of the life that is given to the body, and therefore, Christ and the body are one.
The outcome of this is that the Church must always look to Christ for its orders, for the head gives the orders. If something does not receive its instructions from the head, it is not considered a functioning part of the body. So it is with the Church.

So what does this all mean? When I walk into church on Sunday, what should I be thinking? What should I be doing? First of all, I must understand that the church is Christ's and not mine, therefore, when I am tempted to criticize or complain I must shut my mouth and first consider if Jesus shares my complaint or if I am acting as though I own the church.
Second, I must do what the Head has commanded, and not give myself orders or order other people to do things that are not in-line with Christ.
Third, I must thank the Lord of the Church for the life He has given, and remember that my strength, my health, and my gifts are not my own.

So there it is, a bit of a slow start, but a start anyway. I believe I will continue later to learn more about our gifts as members of the body of Christ and consider what we as believers are to be a part of in the overall design of the Church. May He teach and guide, and bring us closer to Him, for our joy and for His glory.

(I picked up "The Nature of The Church" by Earl D. Radmacher today at the library and it has helped me tremendously in thinking through these questions).

Read More......

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Real Death Toll is unbelievable.

Suicide kills more people each year than road traffic accidents in most European countries, the World Health Organization is warning. And globally, suicide takes more lives than murder and war put together, says the agency in a call for action.

Obviously, the war we fight is not against flesh and blood!

Read More......

Friday, May 18, 2007

For Those "Without a Testimony"

This is a good word from Augustine for those of us who have grown up in the faith:

There are some who have have been called by you and because they have listened to your voice they have avoided the sins which I here record and confess for them to read. But let them not deride me for having been cured by the same Doctor who preserved them from sickness, or at least from such great sickness as mine. Let them love you just as much, or even more, than I do, for they can see that the same healing hand which rid me of the great fever of my sins protects them from falling sick of the same disease. Confessions, Book II

Read More......

Friday, May 04, 2007

Who is a Christian?

All right Nathan, I'm going to call you out on that one. "Who is a Christian?" is indeed the critical question. What I want to know is ...

- What are the criteria?
- What justifications can you provide for the criteria?
- Which criteria are absolute prerequisites?
- Which criteria are non-essential?

And, further, how exactly does John MacArthur rate higher than Billy Graham, and why? I think the J Mc A school of exclusion is more damaging than Billy Graham's willingness to work with those he disagrees with. Billy Graham draws those who would never enter a church, and provides them with the gospel; MacArthur drives away people who are seeking Christ, for the sake of tradition.

I also want to know, for instance, why Ted Haggard can be a Christian, but Bill Clinton cannot. Both committed similar sins, but both also claim to be members of the church. Does "being a Christian" to evangelicals merely signify membership in the evangelical community? If so, we are in fact much worse than the Catholic zealots of the counter-reformation, who considered those outside the church outside of Christ, because we add hypocrisy to cultural and hierarchical exclusivity.

Read More......

A Critique of Iain H. Murray's Evangelicalism Divided

In the aftermath of Friedrich Schleiermacher, bringing about the idea that “beliefs are not vital to a relationship with God” (p. 9), there was a battle, a battle between the Evangelicals and the rest of the world over defining what a Christian really is. Iain Murry gives his insights into the past fifty years of that battle in his book Evangelicalism Divided. The term “evangelicals” was first widely used in the eighteenth century, as a means to distinguish those pulpits that remained true to the gospel (p. 1). But Iain Murry picks up the story with Billy Graham. While at first Graham seems to hold to Biblical truth, as he gains popularity he quickly changes his tune in order to be appealing to the widest possible audience. Rather than keeping to his words that, “We do not condone nor have fellowship with any form of modernism”, he changed to, “We should be willing to work with all who were willing to work with us” (p. 29). The effects of Graham's changed views were apparent during his London crusade of 1966 when “converts” were referred to non-evangelical churches (p 55). Graham seemed to feel than everyone who was friendly toward him was a Christian, the likes included former Presidents Nixon and Clinton (p. 63). It led to Graham stating, “I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ” (p. 73).

Around the same time the National Evangelical Anglican Congress met in Keel and there the previous evangelical beliefs were disowned. In a show of good will, the congress invited Archbishop Michael Ramsey to give the opening address, and with the ring of Schleiermacher he pointed out to his hearers that experience goes before theology (p. 42). There was a lone voice of reason, that of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, saying, “Here is the great divide. The ecumenical people put fellowship before doctrine. We are evangelicals; we put doctrine before fellowship” (pp. 45-46). But his words were largely misunderstood and rejected, for the front page report on the meeting in the periodical The Christian read, “EVANGELICALS – LEAVE YOUR DENOMINATIONS, Says Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones” (p. 47).

The next major step downhill was in 1994 when several prominent evangelical leaders signed a twenty-five page document entitled: Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium. The basis for the signing was this: “Those who love the Lord must stand together” (p. 223). Although J. I. Packer stated, “I am not and could not become a Roman Catholic” (p. 225) and claims that “the unity which concerns him is 'with individual Roman Catholics who for whatever reason do not self-consciously assent to the precise definitions of the Roman Catholic magisterium'” (pp. 225-226), he later defies his own words by signing a document that states partnership with those who “are conscientiously faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church” (p. 231). But even in this there were those who Murray claims were faithful former evangelical truth, including R. C. Sproul and John MacArthur.

Murray closes the book with some simple observations from the past fifty years of Evangelicalism, showing how easy it is for people to fall into extremes when fighting a foe, and how most of the issues that have led to evangelicalism as we know it to be divided stem from the question, “Who is a Christian?” (p. 299). Also, Murray notes that the “church cannot succeed in the same way in which political parties may succeed” (p. 303), for the church is wholly dependent on supernatural aid, not human wisdom.

Overall I was impressed with Murray's work. Right from the beginning I respected him as a writer because of the way he introduced his topic – looking historically at the reason “Evangelicalism” exists. If there was one thing I would fault him for, it would be on his defense of Martin Lloyd-Jones. Multiple times he tries to show that Dr. Lloyd-Jones was not calling for denominational splits, but even after Murray's explanations of what the Doctor said, I still was not exactly clear what had actually been said. Since so many misunderstood what Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, maybe it was because he was not clear. But, if there is anyone to shed some light on the matter, it would be Murray, being that he was closely associated with Dr. Lloyd-Jones.

Murray's criticisms of men like Graham and Packer are well founded, and well documented – I felt no coercion or bending of facts. The simple truth laid bare before my eyes caused my heart to be saddened. Such great men of the faith, and yet I would almost question their devotion to Christ, in that their understanding of the elementary things of the Gospel is seems to have been darkened. The road to heaven truly is narrow. Murray was very gracious in all his criticisms, doing his best to think the best of the men he criticized, especially when they were those who originally were in the camp of Evangelicalism. Murray is a very insightful author, and communicated well the reasons for the division among evangelicals. And so, “let us entreat the Lord to make us all lively stones fit for his building. Amen!” (p. 318).

Read More......

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Troops on March

We walk up this mountain,
and the dust sticks to our sweat.
Sometimes we
savor the beauty that we glimpse
through the trees.

Read More......

Monday, April 23, 2007

Question about doing good

Can a sinner do anything good by God's standard? How would you go about showing what the Bible speaks of on this matter?

When a non-Christian helps an old lady across the street, that is sin, because it is not done for the glory of God, and therefore is stealing what is rightfully God's.

"We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight. We all wither like a leaf; our sins carry us away like the wind." (Isaiah 64:6)

"Everyone rejects God; they are all morally corrupt. None of them does what is right, not even one!" (Psalm 14:3)

Those who are not saved have no faith in God therefore sin in everything they do: "But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not do so from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin." (Romans 14:23)

"No one is good but God" - Jesus to the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-19).

Read More......

Friday, April 20, 2007

Taking Up Your Cross in the American Suburbs - Terms - Part One

What does it look like to take up your cross in the American Suburbs?

First of all, I think asking ourselves some questions (devised from William MacDonald's "Terms of Discipleship" chapter in his book True Discipleship) will help us discern what a disciple of Christ should look like. These are simple, but sometimes it is good to think on the simple.

Do I love Christ more than anything else?

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple " (Lk. 14:26).

Have I submitted my life to the Lordship of Christ?

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross... " (Mt. 16:24).

Have I chosen to align myself with the shame, persecution, and abuse of my Lord?

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross... " (Mt. 16:24).

Have I spent my life in following Christ?

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mt. 16:24).

Do I love my brothers and sisters in Christ?

"By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn. 13:35).

Is my life characterized by consistent, unquestioning obedience to the Word of God ?

"If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed" (Jn. 8:31).

So what does it look like? I think in many ways it can look very differently. One might be really rich, drive a nice car, and another extremely poor, and not even own a car. But, all, when it comes down to it, come under these terms of discipleship that Jesus laid out.

I think these terms are vague in some ways - let's work to smooth them out. If it interests you, take one or two and go for it. Or, add another term, you think is necessary.

Read More......

Epistemological Context

En re the godtube discussion, I think you guys are talking past each other. Even though that dude is not part of our group, I thought it might be helpful for me to boil down my perspective on this discussion, seeing as it's related to a topic that comes up occasionally on our blog. I'm going to talk mostly about the discussion Nathan's having, because it's more interesting. Here's what I read.

Russ says: Godtube claims to be Christian but is not. Though it may fall in line with conventional ideas of Christian culture, it does not accomplish the true nature of Christianity. But I'm not going to bother to define what the true nature of Christianity is, or how Godtube misses it.

My take: Flamebait. This guy is ranting about how embarrassed he was by this site. He doesn't bother to make any sort of cogent argument, just a general "get out of the closet and engage with the culture" kind of statement. He doesn't intend to prove anything, possibly because he is not himself accustomed to arguing with people that he disagrees with, and is merely stating his opinions as facts.

Nathan says: You say that you can't know what is truly Christian, but I think you can; here's 35 points and a 5000-word quote from an 18th century theologian. With no paragraph breaks. Obviously, you are a crazy postmodern relativist.

My take: You missed his point, I think. His primary statement was that Godtube would probably produce mostly hypocritical religious content; and that if it was to produce true Christian content, it would be more appropriate to disseminate that content into the world, rather than "hide your light under a bushel." His questioning of a person's ability to evaluate the Christian nature of content is a throwaway, more a vote of "No Confidence" in Godtube than an epistemological stance.

Russ says: You claim you can know what is Christian. But it's not that simple, because the Bible doesn't mention Godtube.

My take: He may be saying, "the noumena of Christian truths are not humanly knowable, therefore to apply them to a new context you must take the stance of a person who is merely making educated guesses." Not that he'd say it that way. I don't think he really has put enough thought into it to get to that point, though.

Nathan says: Because humans are fallible, the Bible is the only source of truth. Therefore you are a Buddhist.

My take: If humans are fallible, their interpretation of the Bible is also fallible. The truth is, though, that humans are not 100% fallible. Maybe, like 30%. So a human source of truth might be more fallible due to our limited knowledge: something like 60%. A human interpretation of something absolutely true, though, could be less fallible, depending on the relative fallibility of the particular subject: possibly as low as 15%! So, the Bible is the source of absolute truth. Humans on their own are prone to great fallibility. Humans working in concert with the Bible are still fallible, but the fallibility quotient has been significantly decreased.

Read More......

More on GodTube

In response to this:


I did not mean to suggest that we should not be attempting to discern what is true and what isn’t true. But rather, that this is the task in front of us. And whatever we claim, is exactly that: our claim. When we label things as christian, what we are really saying is that “I think this is inline with my understanding of what it means to follow christ.” I guess the problem is that we all have very different understandings of what that means… which makes using the adjective in a global sense very difficult, and dangerous. But that is just “my claim”.

You said…

"I believe we can know. And I believe the Bible teaches that we can know what is right and what is wrong."

The bible does not mention GodTube, “christian” books, “christian” music, etc. So your ideas of what the Bible’s perspective is on these this are no more valid than mine. The difference is that you are claiming your perspective to be God’s. I am claiming my perspective to be my perspective of God’s perspective. I never said that God approves of my perspective… but it seems you have somehow interpreted it that way.

Note: I removed the text from the Jonathan Edwards quote you referenced. It was quite long. If it is in fact public domain please consider extracting the relevant pieces and referencing where the source can be obtained.




You said, "I guess the problem is that we all have very different understandings of what that means… which makes using the adjective in a global sense very difficult, and dangerous. But that is just “my claim”."

I'm not sure if you read the quote I put by Jonathan Edwards (you are right, it was long, sorry but I felt the whole was needed, and just so you know it is public domain, he wrote it about 200 years ago), if you did, that's fine, if you didn't, that might be why you still have a problem with adjectives or labels. Language is our tool, if we cannot use it, or if we do not allow people to us it, how will we communicate?

You said, "The bible does not mention GodTube, “christian” books, “christian” music, etc. So your ideas of what the Bible’s perspective is on these this are no more valid than mine."

You are right, the Bible doesn't mention these things. So I guess we'll never know will we... If you truly believe what you have just said, you would not have written what you wrote. You are saying that everyone's opinion is worthless (or of equal value making them worthless in the end), because the truth of the matter cannot be found out. If the truth cannot be known, there is absolutely no reason to try and search it out because in the end, you have nothing.

I do not agree with your statement about everyone's opinion being of equal merit - if their opinion is human based, I would agree with you, it is worthless. That really is the problem isn't it, because as humans, our wisdom is as good or as bad as everyone else's, because it is opinion, and men lie as well and are limited in their knowledge. But I want to move us from man's opinions to God's.

You said, "I am claiming my perspective to be my perspective of God’s perspective. I never said that God approves of my perspective… but it seems you have somehow interpreted it that way."

So I ask you, if men can only give a perspective of God's perspective, how can men know if someone is really true or not? I am capable of lying, of misunderstanding, therefore what I say must come from God's Word; truth must originate outside of man, because men cannot be trusted. Truth must come from God if it is to be real.

If no one can know what is true, what is the value in attempting? Buddhists have a perspective on God's perspective. What makes Christianity better, or more true then their opinion? If what you claim is correct, being a Buddhist is just as good as being a Christian and the end result of it all is unknown.

Again, I ask that you interact with the Bible and Jesus' words about truth and the value of the words or thoughts of men. Our ideas have no value and cannot be trusted. But, God has revealed himself to us, and can be known.

"Then Jesus said to those Judeans who had believed him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”" (John 8:31-32)

"We are from God; the person who knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit." (1 John 4:6)

If we claim things on our own authority, we are arrogant. If we claim things on the basis of God's revealed word, that is humility and truth.

"The person who speaks on his own authority desires to receive honor for himself; the one who desires the honor of the one who sent him is a man of integrity, and there is no unrighteousness in him." (John 7:18)

Read More......

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Is Godtube stupid?

This is my response to a post here:

I would be interested to hear what you guys think about that guy's post.


"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." (Philippians 4:8)

"Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately." (2 Timothy 2:15)

"Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect." (Romans 12:2)

What God approves is clearly seen in Scripture. Anyone who says we cannot know, cannot know that we cannot know. By telling us it is wrong to call something Christian because we cannot know what God approves, you are going against your own advice. You act as though God would not approve of GodTube - but who are you?

I believe we can know. And I believe the Bible teaches that we can know what is right and what is wrong.

"But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil." (Hebrews 5:14)

If you cannot discern both good and evil, the Bible says you are not mature. I cannot discern perfectly, but by God's grace I am growing.

You don't use Scripture in your argument. As a Christian, that is a fatal flaw. Who cares what you think? Should people follow you, or God? Why have you so boldly spoken on your own authority? Shouldn't we only believe teaching that comes from God? How can I know what you are saying is true? Men lie, God does not - therefore, in order for something to be trustworthy, it must be from God. Jesus plainly stated this in John 7:

"So Jesus replied, “My teaching is not from me, but from the one who sent me. If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority. The person who speaks on his own authority desires to receive honor for himself; the one who desires the honor of the one who sent him is a man of integrity, and there is no unrighteousness in him." (John 7:16-18)

If what we say is based on our own authority, it cannot be trusted and should be ignored. But, if what we say is based on the authority of God, we should listen and obey. Christ did not speak on his own authority, should we?

On another level, if a person wants to read a book written by a Christian author - how would they find that book if the world adhered to your system? Do you think we should have to wade through everything ourselves and find what is good without being able to label things?

On the question of labels, I think Jonathan Edwards made a good point in calling certain groups of Christians by names. Not exactly the same as what you are suggesting, but I think the same principle applies:

"Many find much fault with calling professing Christians, that differ one from another in some matters of opinion, by distinct names ; especially calling them by the names of particular men, who have distinguished themselves as maintainers and promoters of those opinions: as calling some professing Christians Arminians, from Arminius; others Arians, from Arius; others Socinians, from Socinus, and the like. They think it unjust in itself; as it seems to suppose and suggest, that the persons marked out by these names, received those doctrines which they entertain, out of regard to, and reliance on , those men after whom they are named; as though they made them their rule; in the same manner, as the followers of Christ are called Christians, after his name, whom they regard and depend upon, as their great Head and Rule. Whereas, this is an unjust and groundless imputation on those that go under the forementioned denominations. Thus, say they, there is not the least ground to suppose, that the chief divines, who embrace the scheme of doctrine which is, by many, called Arminianism believe it the more, because Arminius. believed it: and that there is no reason to think any other, than that they sincerely and impartially study the Holy Scriptures, and inquire after the mind of Christ, with as much judgment and sincerity, as any of those that call them by these names; that they seek after truth, and are not careful whether they think exactly as Arminius did; yea, that, in some things, they actually differ from him. This practice is also esteemed actually injurious on this account, that it is supposed naturally to lead the multitude to imagine the difference between persons thus named, and others, to be greater than it is; so great, as if they were another species of beings. And they object against it as arising from an uncharitable, narrow ,contracted spirit; which, they say, commonly inclines persons to confine all that is good to themselves, and their own party, and to make a wide distinction between themselves and others, and stigmatize those that differ from them with odious names. They say, moreover, that the keeping up such a distinction of names, has a direct tendency to uphold distance and disaffection, and keep alive mutual hatred among Christians, who ought all to be united in friendship and charity, though they cannot, in all things, think alike.
I confess, these things are very plausible; and I will not deny, that there are some unhappy consequences of this distinction of names, and that men’s infirmities and evil dispositions often make an ill improvement of it. But yet, I humbly conceive, these objections are carried far beyond reason. The generality of mankind are disposed enough, and a great deal too much, to uncharitableness, and to be censorious and bitter towards those that differ from them in religious opinions: which evil temper of mind will take occasion to exert itself from many things in themselves innocent, useful, and necessary. But yet there is no necessity to suppose, that our thus distinguishing persons of different opinions by different names, arises mainly from an uncharitable spirit. It may arise from the disposition there is in mankind (whom God has distinguished with an ability and inclination for speech) to improve the benefit of language, in the proper use and design of names, given to things of which they have often occasion to speak, which is to enable them to express their ideas with ease and expedition, without being encumbered with an obscure and difficult circumlocution. And our thus distinguishing persons of different opinions in religious matters may not imply any more, than that there is a difference ; a difference of which we find we have often occasion to take notice: and it is always a defect in language, in such cases, to be obliged to make use of a description, instead of a name. Thus we have often occasion to speak of those who are the descendants of the ancient inhabitants of France, in distinction from the descendants of the inhabitants of Spain ; and find the great convenience of those distinguishing words, French and Spaniard ; by which the signification of our minds is quick and easy, and our speech is delivered from the burden of a continual reiteration of diffuse descriptions, with which it must otherwise be embarrassed.
That there is occasion to speak often concerning the difference of those, who in their general scheme of divinity agree with these two noted men, Calvin and Arminius, is what the practice of the latter confesses; who are often, in their discourses and writings, taking notice of the supposed absurd and pernicious opinions of the former sort. And therefore the making use of different names in this case cannot reasonably be objected against, as a thing which must come from so bad a cause as they assign. It is easy to be accounted for, without supposing it to arise from any other source, than the exigence of the case, whereby mankind express those things, which they have frequent occasion to mention, by certain distinguishing names. It is an effect, similar to what we see in cases innumerable, where the cause is not at all blameworthy.
Nevertheless, at first, I had thoughts of carefully avoiding the use of the appellation, Arminian, in this Treatise. But I soon found I should be put to great difficulty by it; and that my discourse would be too much encumbered with circumlocution, instead of a name, which would better express the thing intended. And therefore I must ask the excuse of such as are apt to be offended with things of this nature, that I have so freely used the term Arminian in the following Discourse. I profess it to be without any design to stigmatize persons of any sort with a name of reproach, or at all to make them appear more odious. If, when I had occasion to speak of those divines who are commonly called by this name, I had, instead of styling them Arminians, called them ” these men “ as Dr. Whitby does Calvinistic divines, it probably would not have been taken any better, or thought to show a better temper, or more good manners. I have done as I would be done by, in this matter. However the term Calvinistic is, in these days, among most, a term of greater reproach than the term Arminian ; yet I should not take it at all amiss, to be called a Calvinist, for distinction’s sake: though I utterly disclaim a dependence on calvin., or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them; and cannot justly be charged with believing in every thing just as he taught.
But, lest I should really be an occasion of injury to some persons, I would here give notice, that though I generally speak of that doctrine, concerning free-will and moral agency, which I oppose as an Arminian doctrine; yet I would not be understood as asserting, that every divine or author, whom I have occasion to mention as maintaining that doctrine, was properly an Arminian, or one of that sort which is commonly called by that name. Some of them went far beyond the Arminians ; and I would by no means charge Arminians in general with all the corrupt doctrine which these maintained. Thus, for instance, it would be very injurious, if I should rank Arminian divines, in general, with such authors as Mr. Chubb. I doubt not, many of them have some of his doctrines in abhorrence; though he agrees, for the most part, with Arminians, in his notion of the Freedom of the Will. And, on the other hand, though I suppose this notion to be a leading article in the Arminian scheme, that which, if pursued in its consequences, will truly infer, or naturally lead to all the rest; yet I do not charge all that have held this doctrine, with being Arminians. For whatever may be the consequences of the doctrine really, yet some that hold this doctrine, may not own nor see these consequences; and it would be unjust, in many instances, to charge every author with believing and maintaining all the real consequences of his avowed doctrines. And I desire it may be particularly noted, that though I have occasion, in the following Discourse, often to mention the author of the book, entitled An Essay on the Freedom of the Will, in God and the Creature, as holding that notion of Freedom of Will, which I oppose; yet I do not mean to call him an Arminian : however, in that doctrine he agrees with Arminians, and departs from the current and general opinion of Calvinists. If the author of that Essay be the same as it is commonly ascribed to, he doubtless was not one that ought to bear that name. But however good a divine he was in many respects, yet that particular Arminian doctrine which he maintained, is never the better for being held by such an one: nor is there less need of opposing it on that account, but rather more; as it will be likely to have the more pernicious influence, for being taught by a divine of his name and character; supposing the doctrine to be wrong, and in itself to be of an ill tendency.
I have nothing further to say by way of preface; but only to bespeak the reader’s candour, and calm attention to what I have written. The subject is of such importance, as to demand attention, and the most thorough consideration. Of all kinds of knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves, are the most important. As religion is the great business for which we are created, and on which our happiness depends; and as religion consists in an intercourse between ourselves and our Maker; and so has its foundation in God’s nature and ours, and in the relation that God and we stand in to each other; therefore a true knowledge of both must be needful, in order to true religion. But the knowledge of ourselves consists chiefly in right apprehensions concerning those two chief faculties of our nature, the understanding and will. Both are very important: yet the science of the latter must be confessed to be of greatest moment; inasmuch as all virtue and religion have their seat more immediately in the will, consisting more especially in right acts and habits of this faculty. And the grand question about the Freedom of the Will, is the main point that belongs to the science of the Will. Therefore, I say, the importance of the subject greatly demands the attention of Christians, and especially of divines. But as to my manner of handling the subject, I would be far from presuming to say, that it is such as demands the attention of the reader to what I have written. I am ready to own, that in this matter I depend on the reader’s courtesy. But only thus for I may have some colour for putting in a claim ; that if the reader be disposed to pass his censure on what I have written, I may be fully and patiently heard, and well attended to, before I am condemned. However, this is what I would humbly ask of my readers; together with the prayers of all sincere lovers of truth, that I may have much of that Spirit which Christ promised his disciples, which guides into all truth; and that the blessed and powerful influences of this Spirit would make truth victorious in the world."

Edwards, J. The Works of Jonathan Edwards - Volume 1 (3).

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Because He lives,
Nathan Wells
1 Cor. 15:19

Read More......

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Book Review: The Baptism with the Holy Spirit and the Value of Speaking in Tongues Today by Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts was born in 1918 and is an American leader in the Charismatic movement. He is a televangelist and also started a university that bears his name in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His book The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is basically a defense and explanation of being baptized by the Holy Spirit with an emphasis on the outflowing gift of tongues.

Roberts' theological positions reflect the fact that he is a leader in the Charismatic movement as he tries to prove from the Bible that being baptized with the Holy Spirit takes place after salvation and is accompanied by the gift of speaking in tongues. Using Acts 1:8 he argues that the baptism of the Spirit took place, for the disciples, on the day of Pentecost and should be a normative experience for all believers. Looking into the Greek word dunamis, translated in English as “power”, Roberts claims the word means “dynamite” and proves that “This power of the Holy Ghost is more explosive than the power experienced in salvation” (pp. 6, 9). Because of his understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit being post salvation, being years in his own experience (p. 8), Roberts believes that only after a person has been filled with the Spirit through baptism with the spirit are they able to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16; p. 45). As tongues was the natural evidence of baptism with the Holy Spirit, according to Roberts belief, he claims that the experience of speaking in tongues, “is one of the most revolutionary experiences that can happen to a believer” (p. 15) and is key for “experiencing a new aliveness in Christ” and for having a far more effective witness for Christ (p. 21). Roberts believes instructing believers who are unaware of how the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues works is very beneficial and attempts to do so in his book, instructing believers who have never spoken in tongues with words such as these: “As the welling up comes again to you, open your mouth and submit your tongue to God” (p. 35).

Academically Roberts does a better job in the beginning of the book than at the end. He really seems to be trying to get his ideas from the Word and draw conclusions based on what is in the text. Although his reference to the Greek word dunamis and his claim that it means “dynamite” (pp. 6, 9) cuts negatively into his credibility, being that dynamite didn't exist at the time the New Testament was being written. Roberts' effort to come to his beliefs biblically is commendable, but he seems to contradict this effort at times. Speaking of the process by which he evaluated a certain idea he says, “I immediately began to examine it; first by God's Word, next by the experiences of myself and others” (p. 29). But he seems to ignore this process later when he goes on to build a major argument for how the receive the Holy Spirit by a claiming that Peter's sermon in Acts 2 was “probably an abbreviated form of Peter's sermon” (p. 33), and then goes on to add in details that he feels Peter would have spoken. Beyond this, in a section devoted to explaining what the “gift” that the Paul refers to in 2 Timothy 1:6 was, he has a series of “if” statements and then acts as though he proved his point (pp. 46-47). Logically, his argument does not prove to be very strong.

Personally I was impressed with some of Roberts' statements regarding the priority of the Bible and preaching (p. 20), but overall found most of his arguments hard to buy, being that they were mostly based on experience, not the Word of God. One of the most sobering piece of information Roberts gave this: “Every morning when I waken, the Holy Spirit and I begin the day by praying in tongues” (p. 43). He seems to almost to place himself on the same level of causal power as the Holy Spirit and made me think of the words of Moses, “shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” (Num. 20:10). Roberts seems to be genuine in his desire to know God and in his understanding of his need for a Savior, but it seems that he has let his experience cloud his mind and cause him to interpret the Scripture to fit his own fancies. People can be sincere, and sincerely wrong (a common phrase of Dr. Rosscup one of my professors at TMS).

Read More......