Sunday, October 30, 2005

Word and Spirit in Reformed and Puritan Theology

The conflict between the Reformers and Roman Catholicism

The Roman Catholic Church taught that the laity should not be allowed to read the Bible. Only the Pope and the priests and officers of the Church could interpret the Word of God. The official Catholic interpretation of Scripture is called the Magesterium. The Catholic Church elevated its traditions to the level of Scripture. It held that there were seven sacraments, not two. It taught that the faithful should pray to Mary and the saints. It offered indulgences for sale for the forgiveness of sin.

The Protestant Reformers rejected all that. Luther saw that the basis for Christian truth is the Bible only. Tradition is valuable. The Reformers often quoted from Augustine and the other Church fathers. But the Bible alone is authoritative. When Luther was urged to retract his criticisms of the Catholic Church at the Diet of Worms, he said, “My conscience is bound by the Word of God. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”

The Genevan Reformation developed along the same lines:

First we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as rule of faith and religion, without mixing with it any other thing which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God, and without wishing to accept for our spiritual government any other doctrine than what is conveyed to us by the same Word without addition or diminution, according to the command of our Lord. (Genevan Confession)

The Bible, God’s infallible word, is sufficient for Christian teaching and living. It is the final the authority in all matters of controversy.

Evangelical Protestant Churches give central place to the Bible. Luther translated the Scriptures into German to give the Bible back to the people. Tyndale and other did this for the English-speaking world. Bishop William Morgan translated the Bible into Welsh in 1588. Evangelical Protestantism is a reading religion. The Reformation gave birth to a literary culture as people voraciously read the Bible and helpful spiritual books. Today’s emphasis on universal literacy is a fruit of the Reformation.

The Reformation calls us back to the Bible. We must test everything “by the word and the testimony” of Scripture. We must continue to be in conflict with Rome over the vital issue of the authority of the Bible.

The Reformers and the Radical Mystics

But it was not just against Rome that the Reformers had to contend for “sola scriptura”. Some elements within the so-called “Radical Reformation” began to prefer their inner “spiritual revelations” to the Word of God.

A radical like Sebastian Franck held that the Bible is a dead letter and full of contradictions. He pointed people to the life-giving inner Word. The “Spiritualist” Radicals exalted the Spirit over the Word and this led to an unbiblical mysticism.

The British 17th Century Quakers were heirs of the 16th Century European radicals. They held that, while the Bible is the word of God, it is the inner light of the Spirit that really matters.

George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement once listened to a sermon on 2 Peter 1:19. The preacher taught is people that, ‘the Scriptures were the touchstone and judge by which they were to try all doctrines, religions and opinions’. Fox immediately expressed his disagreement with the preacher and cried out, ‘Oh no, it is not the Scriptures…but the Holy Spirit, by which the holy men of God gave forth the Scriptures, whereby opinions, religions and judgements were to be tried; for it led into all Truth, and so gave the knowledge of the Truth.’

You note the way in which Fox set the Spirit against the Word. This led to all kinds of bizarre behaviour. Quakers would “feel led of the Spirit” to go naked as a sign, much to the outrage of society. Richard Sale said of Fox, ‘Praises, praises, eternal praises to thee forevermore, who was and is and is to come, who is god over all, blessed forever.’ What unbiblical blasphemy!

The most shocking example of extreme Quaker conduct was when James Nayler rode into Bristol in 1656, consciously re-enacting Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. His followers hailed him as ‘Jesus’ and cried ‘Hosanna’ and ‘holy, holy, holy Lord God of Israel!’

When we set the Spirit against his inspired Word we leave ourselves open to such fanatical delusions. We are counselled to “test the Spirits whether they are of God” 1 John 4:1-2. The Holy Spirit will always glorify Jesus and point us to him as the Word made flesh for our salvation. Christ said of the Spirit, “He will glorify me, for he will take of what is mine and declare it to you.” John 16:15.

The Puritans battled against the traditionalism of Rome and Anglicanism on the one hand and against the mysticism of the Quakers on the other. They defined themselves as “sola Scriptura” over and against both of these positions:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. [Emphasis added]. (Baptist 1689 Confession, Chapter 1:6.)

This teaching has obvious relevance for today’s scene. The extremes of behaviour associated with the recent “Toronto Blessing” movement are redolent of 17th Century Quakerism. We must not pit the Spirit against his Word. He speaks today though the Book he inspired. The Spirit will never contradict his Word and since the closure of the New Testament cannon, he will not add to it either. We need the Spirit to enlighten our minds to understand the Truth. But illumination is not the same as revelation.

We must be very careful and circumspect about claiming that “the Lord told me this or that”. While not denying that the Lord does sometimes speak to us and prompt us in unusual ways – it is in the Bible that we hear his voice speaking clearly to us each time we read it. We may not claim the “The Spirit told me to do so and so” if what we are being told to do is plain against the teaching of Scripture. We must look to the Book to guide us. We should not wait for mystical impressions to tell us what to do, but learn to think and act wisely and Biblically.

The Reformers and Puritans held Word and Spirit together in fine balance. We have a lot to learn from their deep theological wisdom today.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Jesus is the Son of God with Power

Paul begins his Epistle to the Romans with a summary statement of the gospel he wished to proclaim in Rome:
The gospel of God…concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead. (Romans 1:3& 4.)

Paul sets before us the broken symmetry of the life Jesus Christ who was “born according to the flesh” and “declared to be the Son of God with power”. The great transitional event in these two phases of the history of Jesus Christ is his resurrection from the dead.

For Paul “flesh” is synonymous with human life in a fallen world. To be born “according to the flesh” is to be born weak. God sent his Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3). To be sure, Jesus Christ “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Yet he came as flesh, without the trappings of kingly majesty.

But this man, Jesus Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power”. This, at any rate is how the New King James Version translates the text. Scholars are divided on how exactly we are to translate the participle “declared” in question. In usage elsewhere in the New Testament, the verb can mean to “delineate” or “demarcate”. This meaning is apparent when regional boundaries or borders are described, “in the regions of…” (Matthew 4:13), (8:34.) In this sense, Jesus was “marked out” or “delineated” as the Son of God.

Another use of the verb is “to determine” in God’s purpose (Luke 22:22), (Acts 2:23). The word is also used to describe Jesus being appointed or ordained by God as judge of all mankind, (10:43), (17:31).

But if we take the word here to mean “appointed”, in what meaningful sense could Jesus Christ be “appointed” as the Son of God? Orthodox Christology has always insisted that Jesus Christ ever was the Son of God. Our text itself suggests that it was “his Son” that was “born according to the flesh”. Paul, in Galatians 4:4 certainly believed in the pre-existence of Jesus as the Son of God, “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman”. He did not become God’s Son at birth, it was as God’s Son he was sent to be born.

Evangelical expositors will want to avoid any suggestion that Jesus became the Son of God at his resurrection. This would be to fall into the heresy of adoptionism – the notion that Jesus was adopted as God’s Son, rather than being God’s Son from eternity.

Because of this difficulty, with Jesus being “appointed” as the Son of God by his resurrection, some scholars prefer the translation that Jesus was “declared or “marked out” to be the Son of God”. Dr. Robert Reymond argues for this point of view (Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Nelson, 1998, p. 240-245). He takes the words “in power” as qualifying the participle “declared” or “marked out”. Jesus was thus “powerfully marked out as the Son of God …by the resurrection of the dead.” (Reymond, 1998: 242.) Reymond, understands the phrase “by the Spirit of holiness” to mean Jesus’ divine nature, that stands contrast to his human nature as “flesh”. Thus Reymond, paraphrases the text, “who was powerfully marked out as the Son of God in accordance with his divine nature by his resurrection from the dead.” (Reymond, 1998: 243.)

But is this necessarily the best interpretation of the text? Reymond has avoided any suggestion that Christ became the Son of God by his resurrection. But his exegesis is not shared by other Reformed scholars who prefer the translation that “Jesus…was appointed [not simply marked out as] the Son of God with power ...”

At least as far back as Geerhardus Vos, conservative scholars have argued that, “The reference is not [as Reymond suggests] to two coexisting states in the make-up of the Saviour - his divine and human natures - but to two successive stages in his life.” (Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, P & R, 1930, p. 155.) The contrast in the text is between Jesus Christ being born according to the flesh by incarnation and appointed the Son of God with power by resurrection. The words “with power” qualify the new resurrected state of the “Son of God”. In the flesh, Jesus was the Son of God in weakness, but after his resurrection he was appointed the Son of God with power.

The apostle is dealing with some particular event in the history of the Son of God incarnate by which he was instated in a position of sovereignty and invested with power, an event which in respect of investiture with power surpassed everything that could be ascribed to him in his incarnate state. (John Murray, Romans, Eerdmans, 1987, p. 11.)

The “spirit of holiness” need not be taken to mean the Son’s divine nature as Reymond suggests. Paul’s intention is not to reflect on the relative natures, divine and human than constitute the person of the Son of God. He is describing the Son’s incarnate state before and after his resurrection from the dead. “Spirit of holiness” is a unique designation of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. However, as Barrett points out, it was a common way of referring to the Holy Spirit in Hebrew and Aramaic writing. (C. K. Barrett, Paul, Geofferey Chapman, 1994, p. 24.) If, as Barrett suggests, Paul is using a pre-existing creedal formula here, this unusual way of describing the Spirit makes perfect sense.

Murray comments,

Thus when we come back to the expression “according to the Spirit of holiness”, our inference is that it refers to that stage of pneumatic endowment upon which Jesus entered through his resurrection. (Murray, 1987: 11.)

Post-resurrection, the incarnate life of the Son of God was transformed and endued with new power by the Spirit. Paul can write that, “The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45.) Christ was conceived by the Spirit according to his human nature and endued with the Spirit at his baptism. But on his resurrection, the Son was lifted to an unprecedented plane of Holy Spirit dynamism. The time of incarnated weakness is over. Jesus is now the Son of God with power.

This interpretation, that Jesus was appointed as the Son of God with power by his resurrection, avoids the danger of adoptionist Christology, while doing justice to the meaning of the text.

It was because Jesus Christ was God’s Son and the messianic seed of David, born according to the flesh, who did for sinners, that he was appointed the Son of God with power. “He was raised because of what he was. He did not become Son by being raised: he was raised because he was Son.” (Donald McLeod, The Person of Christ, IVP, 1998, p. 91.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Has Steve Chalke Lost the Message of Jesus?

"Cosmic Child Abuse"?
In The Lost Message of Jesus, Chalke controversially claimed that the teaching that Christ bore the penalty for sin on the cross is tantamount to,

‘child abuse – a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.’
(p. 182 The Lost Message of Jesus, 2003, Zondervan)

It is not my intention in this meeting to discuss Chalke’s, The Lost Message of Jesus as a whole. I simply want to examine his view of the atonement. On his Oasis Trust website, Chalke responds to critics of his understanding of the death of Christ in an article entitled Redeeming the Cross – The Lost Message of Jesus and the Cross of Christ here .

In this article, Chalke claims that the penal-substitutionary model of the atonement – that Christ died bearing the penalty for his people’s sin a product of Reformation teaching refined by 19th Century American Theologian Charles Hodge. Hodge is the real Theological bogey man for Chalke. He blames him for popularising the penal substitutionary view of the cross that he finds so objectionable. But what does Hodge actually say? Does he present us with a caricature of the cross in his teaching?

After discussing the Old Testament sacrifices, Hodge draws this conclusion about the cross:

the Scriptures in declaring that Christ was a sacrifice intend to teach that He was the substitute for sinners, that He bore their guilt, suffered the penalty of the law in their stead and thereby reconciled them to God.
(Systematic Theology Abridged p.382)

Here, Hodge gives us an excellent, pithy definition of the classic Evangelical Protestant understanding of the cross of Jesus. Have Evangelicals like the Reformers and Hodge really misunderstood the cross as Chalke claims?

We find the same emphasis in John Calvin.

The sinner was estranged from God by sin, an heir of wrath, exposed to the curse of eternal death, excluded from all hope of salvation…in fine, doomed to horrible destruction….then Christ interposed, took the punishment upon himself, and bore what by the just judgement of God was impending over sinners; with his own blood [Christ] removed the sins that rendered [us] hateful to God…and duly appeased the wrath of God the Father.
(Institutes of the Christian Religion Book II 16:2)

The Wrath of God and the Love of God
What Chalke really objects to is the Biblical teaching on the wrath of God.

wouldn’t’t it be inconsistent for God to warn us not to be angry with each other and yet burn with wrath himself, or tell us to ‘love our enemies’ when he obviously couldn’t’t quite bring himself to do the same without demanding massive appeasement?

He goes on to say,

If the cross has anything to do with penal substitution then Jesus teaching becomes a divine case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. I, for one, believe that God practices what he preaches!

But God does punish sin. That is why we die. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23.) The Bible speaks clearly and unashamedly of God’s wrath and anger. Psalm 7:11 – 13. Jesus spoke of hell fire Mark 9:43-48. The wicked will be punished for their sinful rebellion against God Revelation 14:9-11. Paul wrote of God’s wrath and judgement too Romans 1:18, 2:5. God’s wrath is not irrational anger that simply gives vent to some kind of divine frustration. It is his holy and just reaction to all that is sinful.

Why did God send his Son to die on a cross? Why did he put him through the agonies of crucifixion and put Jesus through such hell that he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). The Biblical answer is: Because God loved those who had sinned against him and provoked his just wrath. For Chalke this constitutes “a massive contradiction.” He cannot see how God can love those with whom he is also angry. But this is what the Bible does continually, John 3:16, Romans 5: 8&9

Now we come to the heart of the matter. What does the Biblical word “propitiation” mean? In the New Testament, the word is found in Luke 18:13, Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 & 4:10. A good definition would be: To propitiate means to avert wrath. Chalke sees this as a pre-Christian notion that smacks more of paganism than Biblical teaching. The pagans viewed their gods as wrathful and unpredictable. But the god’s favour could be won by a sacrificial gift. The Biblical doctrine of propitiation does not imply that an implacably angry Father had to be made to love sinners by the Son who bore his wrath and judgment.

John Stott reflects on the relation between God’s love and propitiation:

It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God himself in the person of his Son who died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it in his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us. Here is no crudity here to evoke our ridicule, only the profundity of love to evoke our worship.
(John Stott The Cross of Christ p.175)

Ransom to Satan?
So, what does Chalke actually make of the atonement? He quotes Origen with approval:

To whom did he give his life as a ransom for many? Assuredly not to God, could it then be to the Evil One? For he was holding fast until the ransom should be given him, even the life of Jesus; being deceived with the idea that he could have dominion over it and not seeing that he could not bear the torture in retaining it.’

This theory of the atonement involves God in deception. Gregory of Nyssa, another of Chalke’s favourite early Theologians openly acknowledged this. Gregory developed the idea that man, by sin had sold himself to the devil and was therefore Satan’s lawful possession. God proposed to buy human beings back by giving his Son to Satan as the price of setting us free. But God tricked the devil. He did not get Jesus in return for man - Jesus got him and defeated him.

Gregory uses the metaphor of fishing to expound his view: The devil swallowed the bait of Christ’s flesh, not realising that his flesh concealed the hook of his deity. Satan did not quite get what he bargained for. When he “bit” on Christ’s humanity he found himself defeated by his deity.

There is an element of deception involved in this scheme. God pulled a fast one. But this is alright according to Gregory of Nyssa,

By the reasonable rule of justice, he who practiced deception receives in return that very treatment….He who first deceived man by the bait of sensual pleasure is himself deceived by [Christ’s] human form.
(Cited in The True Image P.E. Hughes p. 345)

Chalke repudiates the Biblical teaching of penal substitution for this reason:

Thus, what we believe about the cross (and therefore God’s character) fundamentally shapes our statements about, and attitude to, the world and wider society.

But, in Steve Chalke’s preferred teaching on the atonement, God practiced deception on a cosmic scale. What does that say about our attitudes to society? Is it OK to deceive others is the outcome is for the best? Are pious “white lies” justified as long as we have a noble end in view? (2 Corinthians 4:3.) What of Titus 1:2? God is constitutionally incapable of lies and deception. He cannot lie - even to the devil.

Penal substitution holds together God’s majestic holiness, the integrity of his justice and the wonder of his love for his enemies. This provides us with a robust model of how we should relate to one another in love and justice.

Conclusion
Steve Chalke has lost the true message of Jesus. Without the penal, substitutionary death of Christ we have no gospel to proclaim.

I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which you also received in which you stand, by which you are also saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 emphasis added.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Faith, Reason and Resurrection

The New Testament affirms that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a fact of history. The resurrection of Christ is therefore a legitimate subject for historical scrutiny. The New Testament documents are to be examined and evidences for Jesus’ resurrection evaluated and tested.

But Christ’s resurrection was no ordinary historical event. The cause of his resurrection lies outside the normal historical process. We cannot discuss the resurrection of Jesus as we would discuss, for example the Premiership of Winston Churchill during World War II. Documentary records exist for both these episodes in history. The Bible insists that God upholds and directs the Universe in general and that he is involved in the historical process. The rise and fall of politicians is in his hands (Proverbs 21:1) he also determines the outcome of military campaigns (21:31). We can perhaps trace God’s providential hand in the events of World War II in terms of the Biblical worldview. But Christ’s resurrection was a direct act of God. He did not use human agents to accomplish his purpose in this instance. There is no secondary historical cause for Christ’s resurrection. “God raised him up on the third day and showed him openly” (Acts 10:40). How can we investigate a direct act of God?

In the usual historical sense, we cannot prove that Jesus rose from the dead. No one witnessed the event itself. We have the evidence of his empty tomb and resurrection appearances, but they, in themselves will not convince anybody to believe in the resurrection of Christ. We can prove that Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 10th May 1940 (Churchill Roy Jenkins, Pan 2002:p586). But it takes faith to believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus had to appear to his forlorn disciples to convince them that he was alive. He “opened their understanding” so that they could comprehend that his death and resurrection were the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. (Luke 24:45-49.) The witness of the Holy Spirit to the testimony of Scripture and God-given faith are the necessary preconditions for a person to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Apart from this no amount of evidentialist arguments will effect faith in Jesus’ resurrection.

If I can deal with Borg (quoted below) and other Liberal scholars here: A persons’ attitude to the New Testament claims that Jesus rose from the dead, says a lot about his or her underlying worldview. If we see the world through the spectacles of the Enlightenment, the resurrection of Jesus does not make sense and “could not have happened”. According to Enlightenment assumptions, the historical process is closed to outside intervention. When such a rationalist worldview is married with Biblical scholarship, the resurrection of Jesus becomes a “spiritual” event that has meaning in the consciousness of Christians then and now. But Jesus cannot have actually risen from the dead. The historical basis for Christ’s resurrection is ruled out of consideration from the start and the New Testament documents are then deconstructed to fit in with rationalist presuppositions.

This is very much Borg’s approach,

My position is that experiences of the risen Christ as a continuing presence generated the claim that “Jesus is Lord” and the statement that “God raised Jesus from the dead” and the story of the empty tomb may well have been generated by those experiences.
(The Meaning of Jesus N.T. Wright & Marcus Borg, SPCK, 1999:p137.)

But should Christian Theology be determined by the sceptical outlook of the Enlightenment? It is here that the resurrection of Jesus as an historical fact impacts on the whole issue of Christian epistemology. Tom Wright writes,

Grasping the nettle – proposing as an historical statement, that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty because his body had been transformed into a new mode of physicality – will of course evoke howls of protest from those for whom the closed world of Enlightenment theory renders any such thing impossible from the start. But if Christianity is only going to be allowed to rent an apartment in the Enlightenment’s housing scheme, and on its terms, we are to borrow Paul’s phrase, of all people to be pitied – especially as the Enlightenment itself is rumoured to be bankrupt and to be facing serious charges of fraud. (Wright & Borg, 1999:124.)

Christian Theology should be based on Biblical presuppositions. A Christian Theology that has no room for the resurrection of Jesus must answer Paul’s question to King Agrippa, “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8.)

Incitement to Religious Hatred

The UK Government is currently trying to push its Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill though the House of Lords. I believe that this legislation is misconceived and that it undermines the time-honoured British right of free speech.
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I believe that people of all faiths and none should live together peaceably in our society. Those who incite others to attack or persecute people because of their beliefs already fall foul of laws that forbid the incitement of criminal activity. That is right and good.

My concern is that the proposed a new offence of Incitement to Religious Hatred may be used to clamp down on legitimate inter-faith discussion. I am a Christian Minister. I therefore have certain beliefs with which people of other faiths would strongly disagree. That is their right in a free society. My belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only way to God, carries with it implicit criticism of other faiths. I wish to be able to discuss the claims of the Christian faith in a friendly and robust way with those of other faiths. I also want to be able, as part of my preaching and teaching ministry, to show why Christianity, not some other form of belief system is the true faith. This is something that Christian preachers have been able to do for centuries in this country. The threat of legal action may curb our precious and hard-won right of free speech.

Where such legislation has been passed in other countries, for example in Australia, a pastor was found guilty of "religious vilification" for exposing the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. Do we really want people of differing faith groups reporting each other to the police because their beliefs have been criticised by others? That would make for more friction between faiths, making the proposed legislation counter-productive.

Cults, sects and extremists may use the new legislation to silence criticism of their beliefs and practices. Investigative journalism and accurate news reporting may therefore be compromised by "incitement to religious hatred" legislation. A Christian organisation like the Barnabas Fund highlights the plight of persecuted Christians in the Islamic world. Could their reporting be construed as “Islamophobic” and lead to legal action?

Similar concerns have been expressed not only by Christians, but people of other faiths, secular journalists and even comedians. The “incitement to religious hatred” law may be well-meaning, but in my view, it is a misguided and unnecessary piece of legislation.
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This Bill was debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday 11th October. Most Peers spoke against the legislation. The Bill will now be scrutinised and perhaps amended by special Lord's committees. For more details about this legislation and what we can do to combat it, see http://www.religioushatredlaw.info/

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The worst of all possible worlds

The Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales recently published a document entitled The Gift of Scripture. They warn against the dangers of a "fundamentalist" approach to the Bible and warn that, "We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision". The Bishops reject the creation account of Genesis 1 & 2 in favour of evolutionary science.
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Historically Rome has placed Church tradition on a par with Scripture. Doctrines like purgatory and the immaculate conception of Mary are not found in the Bible. But they are accepted at Catholic doctrine on the basis of tradition. In practice, Rome places its traditions above Scripture and the Bible is relegated to a second-rate Theological authority.
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With the Gift of Scripture, scientific theories are given greater authority than the Bible. This stance is not new to Catholicism. Galileo was persecuted by Rome, not because he denied the teaching of Scripture. What he rejected was the cosmology of Aristotle. Catholic scholastic theology elevated the Greek Philosopher to a place of almost unquestionable authority. The Bible was interpreted to fit in with Aristotle's view of the Universe. The Bishops are now making the same mistake as they reject the plain teaching of Scripture for the theory of evolution. At a time when evolution is being questioned by many scientists, this is no time to be deconstructing the Bible to fit in with Darwinism.
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Rome has smothered the Bible with its unbiblical traditions. She has also caved in to the Enlightenment by rejecting the historical and scientific accuracy of Scripture. This, surely is the worst of all possible worlds.
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While on the subject of a wooden, fundamentalist approach to Scripture, let us remember that the most crass Theological literalism lies at the very heart of Catholic teaching. When Jesus said "This is my body" and "this is my blood" (Matthew 26:26 & 28), did he really mean that the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper literally became his body and blood? Even the most wooden-headed of Fundamentalists can see that Jesus was speaking symbolically at that point! Evangelical and Reformed expositors of Scripture have always insisted that Biblical metaphors be taken as metaphors, parables as parables, historical narratives as reliable historical narratives and doctrinal propisitions as doctrinal propositions. I plead "not guilty" to the charge of of an unthinkingly literalistic understanding of the Bible.
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What we need to do is accept the gift of Scripture as God's infallible word and live in the light of its teaching. Now that would be the best of all possible worlds!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Where is the Emerging Conversation leading?

D.A. Carson's latest book "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church" (Zondervan 2005) is a careful critique of the Emerging Church movement. This self-styled "conversation" is an attempt to do Church for the postmodern world. The trouble is the the postmodern world is allergic to absolute truth and this causes something of a problem for Bible-believing Christians. Jesus himself was not shy about making dogmatic and absolute claims about himself. He said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except though me." (John 14:6.)
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Carson recognizes that the movement has its strengths. But he worries that Emergent thinkers have underestimated the threat that the postmodern worldview poses to Biblical Christianity. Throughout the book Carson interacts with leading Emergent thinkers, especially Brian McLaren from the US and Steve Chalke of the UK. After analyzing their views, Carson writes, "I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chakle have largely abandoned the gospel." (p. 186.) The book concludes with a consideration of relevant Biblical texts and an exposition of 2 Peter chapter 1.
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Carson is at his perceptive and trenchant best in this book. He writes with the care of a scholar and the passion of a preacher. "Becoming Conversant..." is a must-read for anyone wanting to get to grips with Emergent thinking.
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I am left pondering the question, "What shall it profit a man if he gains the postmodern world and loses his soul?"

Bible Soundbites

The UK Guardian Newspaper asked its readers to summarize the Bible in 100 words. Much of the comment was scurrilous and mocking. I submitted two entries. One was an attempt to sum up the message of the Bible in a brief soundbite. The other was an ironic summary of the "Secularist bible".

A summary of the Bible

The Bible reveals a God of love, power and purity, the creator of all things. Human beings were made in the image of God, but rebelled against Him by breaking his command. This brought sin, death and suffering into the Universe. God's Son, Jesus came to deal with sin. To put us right with God, He became man and died for us. God then raised him from the grave and exalted him to heaven. All people will give an account of their lives to God. To enjoy eternal life and avoid condemnation, we must trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

A summary of the secularist "bible".

In the beginning there was nothing. Then lots of random stuff happened. Why? Who cares! As if by magic, randomly produced simple organisms, decided to become more complex and interesting. Eventually fish, reptiles, birds and mammals just happened. Why? Who cares! Then human beings randomly happened. What's the point in that? We started as nothing, life means nothing then we go back to being nothing. If human life means nothing, then love means nothing, neither does truth or other good stuff. Ah well, who cares? Let us eat (until we get obese), drink (until we drop) and be meaningless for tomorrow we die! Fair summary?