Christianity 201

May 21, 2018

The Unsaved Aren’t Afraid of a Hell They Don’t Believe Exists

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re featuring, for the first time, the writing of Kaleb Tillman who calls his blog The Controversial Christian. Kaleb has an extensive background in Christian music and broadcast media. Click the title below to read this at source.

Can a Fear of Hell Save?

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:6-12‬ (ESV)

Very, very rarely are salvation and hell mentioned in the same sentence in the Bible. Any call to Jesus, you will find, often avoids the subject of hell entirely. Hell is obviously a thing, and it’s obviously what people are being saved from, but it doesn’t seem so important when the apostles are trying to convince people to follow Jesus.

Now think of every evangelist you’ve seen with a sign during a sporting event, or the televangelists who present the gospel, or the hellfire and brimstone preachers of old, or the people that come and preach on your college campus even though everyone is more interested in yelling at them than taking what they say to heart. What do they have in common?

Well, in most cases, their main selling points are either getting to heaven or not going to hell. They appeal to your fear. And, of course, it’s not just them. Plenty of pastors, evangelists and everyday Christians trying to reach out will bring up the idea that if you don’t accept this idea of Jesus, you are going to hell.

But we never see that approach taken from the apostles in the Bible. Jesus will mention hell, but mainly to people who are already following him, or at least people who claim to be religious leaders. Never is that line of logic used to convert someone in the Bible. Why?

Well, because it doesn’t work.

There are some major problems with using the fear of hell to evangelize:

1) The people who actually need the evangelizing don’t believe in hell.

Here lies a major practical problem. We evangelize to people who don’t believe Christianity. That means they don’t believe in God, the Bible or the concept of heaven and hell, or at least not the Christian versions of those things. Tell them your Bible says they’ll go to hell and they laugh. They don’t think hell exists, so they have nothing to be afraid of. This is why it also doesn’t work to tell people who don’t believe in Jesus that they need to stop sleeping around, for instance. They don’t believe in the concept of sin and don’t hold themselves to Christian standards, so why should they? You have to lead them to Jesus BEFORE they’ll accept the rest of the Bible.

2) It’s viewed by non-Christians as intentionally judgmental and offensive.

Yes, Christians are supposed to be extremely difficult to offend, but we can’t apply those standards to non-Christians while we’re evangelizing. Have you ever been in a discussion about, say, Star Wars with someone who has a different opinion on it than you? What if you were talking about how good the prequel movies are and the person you’re discussing with suddenly says “Well, if you like the prequels, you must hate children.” This guy is now attacking your character for seemingly no reason, and you likely won’t respond well.

To a non-Christian, hellfire and brimstone evangelism feels like that. This random person is attacking your lifestyle when he doesn’t even know you. Everything the person is saying may be factually true, but they hear it as an attack only designed to incite anger and start an argument. And when you see someone like that, you don’t want to listen, but you may listen to someone who’s telling you there’s a God who loves you for who you are, which is also true.

3) Fear doesn’t save people.

By far more important than any other reasoning I could give, fear of hell doesn’t work as a path to salvation. As the passage at the top says “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ”

Salvation comes from a knowledge of who Jesus is, what He did and His love for us, along with us giving our love in return. No one has ever been scared into honestly loving someone. “Love me or die” does not usually get actual love in response. People may act better, go to church, read their Bibles, preach, anything out of fear of going to hell, but without love there is still no salvation.

Now, I’m not in favor of changing the Bible to appeal to people. Hell is still there, and we can’t pretend otherwise. If someone we’re speaking to asks about it, we should absolutely tell them the biblical truth. We as Christians should acknowledge it, and we can even use it as motivation to lead the ones we love to Jesus.

But that’s not the pitch. If our goal is for people to understand the gospel so they may accept the salvation of Christ, especially if we only have a short window to do it, then we need to tell them the information that actually matters: God loves you, Jesus died for you, and if you love Him, He will forgive you. If we can convince people of that, they can come to understand the rest in time. Just something to think about.

April 11, 2018

When Did Time Begin?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

NIV Col 1:15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

This topic came into greater focus for me back in 2012, when Wheaton College professor John Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One (and now a number of other “Lost World” books in a series) was a guest on the Phil Vischer Podcast. I wrote about that here at this article.

Another topic, which is of course quite related is studies into what theologians refer to as “the pre-incarnate Christ.” A book I always wanted to read on this topic is Ron Rhodes’ Christ Before the Manger: The Life and Times of the Preincarnate Christ (Baker, 1992). I recently got my hands on a copy and this short introduction turns up in chapter two.

When Did Time Begin?

Related to the issue of the preexistence and eternality of Christ is this question: When did time begin? Scripture is not clear about the relationship between time and eternity. Some prefer to think of eternity as time – a succession of moments – without beginning or ending. However, there are indications in Scripture that time itself may be a created reality, a reality that began when God created the universe.

The book of Hebrews contains some hints regarding the relationship between time and eternity. Hebrews 1:2 tells us that the Father “has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe(italics added). The last part of this verse is rendered more literally from the Greek, “through whom he made the ages.Likewise, Hebrews 11:3 tells us that “by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command” (italics added). This is more literally from the Greek, “By faith we understand that the ages were formed at God’s command.”

Scholars have grappled with what may be meant here by the term “ages.” Lutheran scholar R. C. H. Lenski says the term means “not merely vast periods of time as mere time, but ‘eons’ with all that exists as well as all that transpires in them.” New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce says that “the whole created universe of space and time is meant.” From this verse, theologian John MacArthur concludes that “Jesus Christ is responsible for creating not only the physical earth but also time, space, force, action and matter. The writer of Hebrews does not restrict Christ’s creation to this earth; he shows us that Christ is the Creator of the entire universe and of existence itself. And Christ made it all without effort.”

Church father and philosopher Augustine (A.D. 354-430) held that the universe was not created in time, but that time itself was created along with the universe. Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof agrees, and concludes: “It would not be correct to assume that time was already in existence when God created the world, and that He at some point in that existing time, called ‘the beginning,’ brought forth the universe. The world was created with time rather than in time. Back of the beginning mentioned in Genesis 1:1 lied a beginningless eternity.”

In view of the above, we may conclude that when the apostle John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1), the phrase in the beginning has specific reference to the beginning of time when the universe was created. When the time-space universe came into being, Christ the divine Word was already existing in a loving, intimate relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

(pp 36-37)

February 26, 2018

What We Think About When We Think About God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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This is a much-condensed sample of the full text of chapter one from one of my favorite books recently available, God Has a Name by John Mark Comer (Zondervan). (My review of the book is at this link.) To read the full chapter instead — which I strongly recommend — click the title below.

The God on top of the mountain

by John Mark Comer

The twentieth-century writer A. W. Tozer made a stunning claim: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Really?

The most important thing?

More than our gender or sexuality or ethnicity or family of origin or the town we grew up in or where we went to college or our tax bracket or whether our sport is American football or futbol football?

Absolutely.

Here’s a truth that cuts across the whole of the universe: we become like what we worship.

Tozer went on to write,

“We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God . . . Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes to mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man.”

Put another way, what you think about God will shape your destiny in life…

…Often what we believe about God says more about us than it does about God. Our theology is like a mirror to the soul. It shows us what’s deep inside.

Maybe the truth is that we want a God who is controllable because we want to be God. We want to be the authority on who God is or isn’t and what’s right or wrong, but we want the mask of religion or spirituality to cover up the I-wanna-be-God reality.

The most ancient, primal temptation, going all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden, is to decide for ourselves what God is like, and whether we should live into his vision of human flourishing or come up with our own. All so we “will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

This is why theology is so incredibly important.

The word theology comes from two Greek words—theo, meaning “God,” and logos, meaning “word.” Simply put, theology is a word about God. It’s what comes to mind when we think about God.

It’s not like some of us are into theology and others aren’t. We all have a theology. We all have thoughts and opinions and convictions about God. Good, bad, right, wrong, brilliant, dangerous—we all theologize.

But the problem is that much of what we think about God is simply wrong…

…For Jesus and all the writers of Scripture, the starting point for all theology is the realization that:

we don’t know what God is like, but we can learn.

But to learn, we have to go to the source.

And that means we need revelation. Otherwise we end up with all sorts of erroneous and goofy and untrue and maybe even toxic ideas about God.

By “revelation,” I don’t mean the last book of the Bible or foldout charts from the 1970s about the end of the world. I mean, God himself has to reveal to us what he’s like. He has to pull back the curtain of the universe and let you and me look inside. But here’s the thing: revelation, by definition, is usually a surprise. A twist in the story. A break from the status quo. So when God reveals himself, it’s almost always different from what we expect.

All of which leads us to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai…

…[T]here are climactic moments when the door swings open and we get a brand-new, compelling, and at times terrifying vision of who God is.

Often these moments take place on a mountain.

If you’ve ever read the Bible, you know that the second book is called Exodus. The setting for the book is Israel in the desert, en route from slavery in Egypt to freedom in a new land. But it’s a bumpy ride, to say the least.

At the head of the people of God is the prophet Moses, who has a totally unique relationship with the Creator. We read that God “would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”

In Exodus 33, we get to eavesdrop on a conversation between Moses and God. Moses is asking for God to go with the Israelites every step of the way, and at one point he asks, “Now show me your glory.”

In ancient Hebrew literature like Exodus, to speak of God’s glory was to speak of his presence and beauty. Moses is asking to see God for who he really is. To see God in person.

For Moses, head knowledge isn’t enough. He wants to experience God.

God graciously tells Moses that he can’t see his face or he will die, “for no one may see me and live.” But he’ll do him one better. God tells him, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord [Yahweh], in your presence.”

So God
has a name.

The next morning, Moses gets up early and climbs to the top of Mount Sinai. Then we read one of the most staggering paragraphs in the entire Bible.

“The Lord [Yahweh] came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord [Yahweh]. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord [Yahweh], the Lord [Yahweh], the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’”

This is one of those watershed moments when everything changes. It’s one of the few places in the entire Bible where God describes himself. Where he essentially says, “This is what I’m like.” Think of it as God’s self-disclosure statement, his press release to the world.

Because of that, it’s quite possibly the most quoted passage in the Bible, by the Bible.

The writers of the Bible circle back to this passage over and over and over again. Dozens of times. Moses and David and Jeremiah and Jonah—they quote it and allude to it and pray it and sing it and claim it and complain about it, but above all, they believe it.

This is ground zero for a theology of God.

But what’s striking to me is how very different this passage is from what you would expect.

For those of us who live in the West, we tend to think of God in the categories of philosophy. Pick up a book about God, and it’ll often start with the omnis . . .

  • God is omnipotent (he’s all-powerful).
  • God is omniscient (he’s all-knowing).
  • God is omnipresent (he’s everywhere at once).

And all of that is true. I believe it. But here’s my hang-up: when God describes himself, he doesn’t start with how powerful he is or how he knows everything there is to know or how he’s been around since before time and space and there’s no one else like him in the universe.

That’s all true, but apparently, to God, it’s not the most important thing.

When God describes himself, he starts with his name. Then he talks about what we call character. He’s compassionate and gracious; he’s slow to anger; he’s abounding in love and faithfulness, and on down the list.

Which makes sense. Starting with the omnis is kind of like somebody asking about my wife, and me saying she’s thirty-three years old, five foot one, 120 pounds, black hair, brown eyes, Latin American ancestry . . .

That’s all true, but if you sat there as I was spouting off all these facts about my wife, my guess is that at some point, you would interrupt me and ask, “Yes, but what is she like? Tell me about her. What’s her personality? Is she laid-back or type A? Social or shy? What is she passionate about? What made you fall in love with her? What makes her, her?”

Most of the time, this is how we talk about God—we rattle off a bunch of stuff about God that is true; it’s just not the stuff that makes him, him.

That’s why this passage in Exodus is such a breath of fresh air. It turns out that God is better than any of us could imagine…

 

March 25, 2017

Temptation

As I mentioned yesterday, last March I introduced you to a new online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. This weekend we’ve returned there, sharing two other authors from the site. Click the title below to read today’s article at its source, and then use the navigation bar to check out the rest of the website

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

by Keith Harris

Jesus prayed, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13).  Many would respond that certainly God would never lead us into temptation.  This verse then becomes the more puzzling phrase of this prayer.  Notice a couple of similar texts.  Matthew 26:41 says, Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”   James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:2, 12).  Understanding this request requires a look at the Greek word “pārasmos”.  This word is often translated as trial or test.  This is the same word for temptation.  This word is used in Hebrews 2:18 which says, For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.  The same Greek word (pārasmos) is used of Abraham in Hebrews 11:17, By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…  It is used of Jesus in Matthew 4:1, Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Certainly, temptation is a reality for us all.  To avoid temptation entirely would be to place ourselves above Jesus.  The implication of this verse in Hebrews is that there was benefit in the temptation.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil.  We make a significant distinction between the words, “temptation,” “test,” and “trial”.  Many questions arise in this study.  Was Jesus really tempted to give in or was he strong in his resolve?  Different people come to different conclusions, and for various reasons.  We make a distinct difference that is not easily discerned in the words alone.  But two things are clear in scripture: 1) God does not tempt anyone to do evil, 2) Satan is out to get us by pulling us into evil.

First, God does not tempt us to do that which is contrary to his will.  James says, Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one (James 1:13).  God is not out to get us.  He is not trying to trap us.  He is not sitting on his throne, looking down just waiting for us to mess up so he can zap us.  God desires for us to do his will.  He does not tempt us to do evil.  Second, Satan is out to get us by pulling us into evil.  Peter says, Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Satan is real.  His desire is for us to turn away from God, to disregard the will of God.  And he works diligently to trap us, to cause us to question the will of God, to see the pleasure of sin.  It is Satan who is out to get us, not God.

The truth is, we all have areas of weakness.  We all have those vulnerable spots in our spiritual journey where Satan seeks to penetrate, driving a wedge between us and God.  The request of this prayer is that God keep will us from that place of vulnerability.  We need to learn where we are vulnerable.  Think about a infants soft spot (anterior fontanel).  It’s that place on the top of their head where the bones in the skull have not fully fused, leaving the infant vulnerable to any impact.  Where is your spiritual soft-spot?  Ask the Lord to help you. And don’t go there.

Jesus asked the Father to protect us from the evil one.  “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).  Paul talked about extinguishing the flaming arrows of the evil one in Ephesians 6:16.  Because Satan is alive, active, and often victorious, we fear that we may fall and become his prey.  He sows tares in the wheat field (Matthew 13:28).  He snatches the Word of God out of men’s hearts (Matthew 13:19).  He goes about as a strong lion seeking his prey (1 Peter 5:8).  Paul understood this real and present danger.  Notice what he says in 1 Thessalonians 3:5, For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.”  Some give it as “the evil one” because this word is singular.  Temptation comes from the evil one, and we must constantly be alert.  But thankfully, we are not left to deal with Satan using our own power.  And thankfully, God provides a way out.  Paul teaches us that God provides a way of escape, No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Paul illustrates this passage in writing to the Thessalonians.  Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men.  For not all have faith.  But the Lord is faithful.  He will establish you and guard you against the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3).  We need the help of others as we seek to do the will of God.  We cannot do it alone.  As iron sharpens iron, we sharpen each other.  God has provided a place where no one stands alone – the Church.  And God stands alongside each one of us as we strive to do his will.

  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  (Matthew 6:9-13)

 

 

March 3, 2017

Devotional for 3/3: The Trinity

Someone pointed out the coincidence (if that applies) that a major motion picture about the Trinity is releasing on 3/3. That got me thinking that perhaps we could look back at this topic as it has been discussed here.

In November of 2014 we began with a quote from Tozer:

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

and then continued to look at “who does what.”

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13     By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
        by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
    and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The article continues as a scripture medley worth checking out… continue reading here.

In July, 2013 we looked at the idea of “One What and Three Whos” with this item by C. Michael Patton:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos…

For more on the idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity… continue reading here.

In February of 2011, we offered “The Trinity Collection,” to go-to verses in which all three members of the Godhead are referenced:

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIrV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

That’s pretty much the entire piece… read at source here.

Also in February, 2011, we had a discussion at Thinking Out Loud and noted that

…four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.)

For that article… continue reading here.

Finally, in January of this year, here at C201 we quoted Fred Sanders on Trinitarian Praise:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be, world without end.

The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed).

For more of that article… continue reading here.

February 15, 2017

Flexible Methodology; Fixed Message

For the last few days we’ve been reconnecting with writers with whom it’s been many years — in this case five — since they last appeared at C201. It’s great to go back and find people are being faithful to Bible study and devotion online. Dave Bish at the Blue Fish Project website is one of those. He’s doing a series on Galatians and at the end of this article, we’ll link you to another in the series.

Trampolines and Brick Walls: Don’t flex on the gospel, do flex on everything else to love the church and advance the gospel.

In his 2005 book Velvet Elvis Rob Bell argued that the church has a problem because we think of theology as like a brick wall – rigid and systematic, whereas we should look at our theology as being more of a trampoline – flexible and in which some of the springs can be safely removed. The analogy seems really attractive, though it’s pretty flawed – not least because you could removed more bricks from a wall than springs from a trampoline before everything would fall apart… but beyond that it’s also woefully ignorant.

In writing to Galatians Paul wont have any of this anti-doctrinal faith. He tackle gospel denial and says it’s Father-desertion… he speak of gospel truth and it’s about the Father’s revelation of the Son. It’s life-filled, relational, and write-down-able. And accuracy matters – because it’s curse-worthy to believe a different gospel, and to teach others to hope in something contrary to Christ. Theology is about the knowledge of the Father and his Son by the Spirit – it’s not cold and rigid, but without accuracy we’re not talking about the same God, just a similar one. Or in Galatian language a different gospel that is no gospel at all… a perversion of the gospel.” 

But, some things are flexible and some things aren’t. The gospel can’t be up for grabs, a lot of other stuff must be – at least when it comes to ministry practice.

In Galatians 2 Paul tells one of three stories to his Father-deserting friends that build his case that they should get back to where they began rather than heading off in a different direction. He tells that he went to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel for them (2v5). It’s worth a big detour upstream to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel in Turkey – just as later it’s worth a big detour to to Jerusalem to maintain the unity of the Jew and Gentile churches in Rome.

Though there were false brothers in Galatian – counterfeit-christians – the church itself hadn’t lost the plot and they recognize that God who was at work in Peter… was also at work in Pauland they recognized the grace given…to both Paul and the Jerusalem church. One gospel.

What’s curious is the test for finding out whether Jerusalem is true to the gospel.

  • Paul takes Titus in the expectation that gospel loss would mean he’d be compelled to be circumcised (v3). Meanwhile, in Acts 16v3 (possibly around the same time, depending on how you date Galatians), Paul gets Timothy circumcised so he can take him with him.  To be clear: If the Jerusalem church compels Titus to be circumcised that’s evidence that the gospel has been lost, but when Paul gets Timothy circumcised that’s the gospel advancing.
  • Likewise, in Paul’s next story – Peter stands condemned for putting himself back under food laws, and in effect saying to his Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch that they’re not welcome unless they take on the food laws too. But in Romans 14v21 Paul says it’s best not to eat if that’ll cause problems for your brother or sister from a Jewish background.

Context and motive call for different practices. It’s a recipe for inconsistency but necessary for the inclusion of diverse peoples and for taking the gospel diverse peoples. And it works because, the gospel isn’t a matter of out conformity. Habits, festivals, food laws and bodily markings aren’t the issue. Loving the church and reaching new people require different approaches at different times and in different places. What would we need to flex to ensure that the only obstacle is the gospel?

Paul embodies this by being prepared to become all things to all people to win some… and by his substantial detours – twice to Jerusalem – to demonstrate bond between the Gentile and Jewish churches.

The real mark of the gospel isn’t what we wear, eat or celebrate. It’s the Spirit of the Son indwelling the believer by faith and enacting our adoption. All else is flexible. Sadly churches fall out over loads of things, but a true gospel priority should mean most of those things – important as they are – are matter over which we’re more than happy to flex, to serve other believers and to reach those who aren’t yet believers. Sadly, we tend to hold on to things for the sake of having church how we want it to be.

If I get this then I’ll be radically committed to welcoming any other believer and removing things that are obstacles for their conscience out of the way, and to welcoming those who don’t believe by changing anything at all – apart from the gospel. If I get this I’ll be incredibly flexible and inconsistent in my view of almost everything in church life… though that’ll look messy, I suspect the gospel shines brighter against that messy backdrop.


Continue reading Dave’s writings on Galatians with this article, What’s GOOD in this foreign country?

December 27, 2016

Unconditional Election and Covenant

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV 2 Samuel 9:6 When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honour.

David said, ‘Mephibosheth!’

‘At your service,’ he replied.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ David said to him, ‘for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’

Mephibosheth bowed down and said, ‘What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?’

Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, ‘I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. 10 You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.’ (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)

11 Then Ziba said to the king, ‘Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.’ So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.

Today we’re paying a return visit to Patrick Hawthorne who blogs at Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “home” to view other articles.

God of the Covenant

Over the last couple of years, during the time in which I discovered blogging, I have met some truly wonderful people.  Of those people, a few have unashamedly publicized their following of Calvinistic teachings.  While I greatly disagree with the unconditional election (God choosing who goes to heaven and who goes to hell) and limited atonement (Jesus died only for the Elect) portion of this doctrine, I can understand why many came to believe as they do.

The Church today has become so watered down by a feel good message that many forget that we serve a Mighty God, a sovereign and holy God.  Many have taken the verse, “Let us come boldly before the throne of grace,” to mean they are entitled to waltz before our Heavenly Father like a spoiled brat with a “Give me,” attitude.

Even so, why can I not subscribe to the teaching that God “elects” some to heaven and some to hell?  Why do I not pledge my belief to the idea that God would choose me but not another?  Better yet, how can I honestly believe that God will condemn a baby to hell who has no concept of right or wrong simply because they are not part of the “Elect?”  The answer is simple.  It all comes down to blood covenant.

In a Hebrew blood covenant, as with David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18-20), the terms of the covenant included family members, even those not yet born.  If the family member was not of age to make a determination as to whether or not to remain in the covenant, they were afforded the same protection as those under the covenant.  In other words, they were adopted into the covenant until such age as they could choose for themselves.

Later on, when the child became of age, they had to make the decision of whether or not they desired to remain in the covenant.  The only penalty for not choosing to be part of the covenant would be that they were not afforded the protection and the terms of the covenant.

We see this with the covenant made between David and Jonathan.  After Jonathan died, King David sought Mephibosheth (Jonathan’s son) so that he could fulfill his terms of the covenant. (2 Samuel 9).  David drew Mephibosheth to himself by having his soldiers retrieve him and bring him before the palace.

Once he was before King David, Mephibosheth had a choice to make. He could either accept King David’s offer of salvation (in a sense) and security, or he could deny the offer and suffer the consequences of living in a world where he had no guidance or protection from David.  It was his choice to make.  Had he chosen to walk away, King David would have no choice but to honor his refusal.  It was part of the covenant terms.

Some might think, “That was David but is not God.  Also, that was a covenant made between two men and does not apply to our covenant with God.”  To that I say, “Exactly.”  If David, a man after Gods own heart (Acts 13:22), would make a covenant that would extend to the family, how much more will God’s covenant with mankind, through our Lord Jesus, do likewise in this new and better covenant…The Covenant of Grace.  Be blessed.

October 21, 2016

A Personal Statement of Faith

Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.  (I Peter 3:15 CEB)

Yesterday on the other blog I posted a link to a book review at The Little Friar, the blog of Julius McCarter. Further down the page I noted this statement of faith which I found so very refreshing. The link is in the title below — think about that title for a minute — which I hope you’ll click and read this at source. (If you know Latin, you’ll like the blog tabs.)

for now

Every now and then, I’m asked to produce a personal statement of faith.  I always find statements like that difficult to write, though I’ve written on that before.

But, in an effort to say what I believe, here’s what I’ve put down this morning.  I’m sure it’s incomplete, as all statements of faith must necessarily be.  And I’m sure that, given the varieties of life that will be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, I’ll say it much differently.  Any way …

I believe in one God who created the universe for good, who sustains it in wondrous order, and who calls it to fulfill its purpose in God.

I believe that God created human beings, male and female, in God’s own image, for communion with God and with one another. I believe, therefore, that God, whom we experience as personal, intends authentic personhood and relationship as the highest purpose for human beings.

I believe that the manifestations of God’s active benevolence toward creation are manifold, including:

  • God’s character revealed in the beauty, order, and majesty of the universe;
  • God’s revelation of a moral order, mysteriously the common heritage of all humanity;
  • God’s special relationship with Israel, later to include the Church;
  • God’s unique revelation in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ;
  • God’s steadfast and continual involvement in human affairs to this day.

I believe that, since human beings fail to respond fully to God’s call to live out the purpose for which we were created, and since God is ever faithful to God’s purpose, God has always eagerly forgiven and restored all of his creation. I believe, further, that as the clearest statement of God’s love for creation, God in Christ reconciles the world to God’s self.

I believe that sacred scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, bear trustworthy witness to God’s character, God’s intention for creation, and God’s unshakable determination to effect God’s good purpose, especially as scripture bears testimony to God’s relationship with Israel, with the church, and quintessentially with all creation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

I believe that God calls those who trust God and seek to fulfill God’s will to relate to individuals and to society in ways which reflect God-likeness as taught in the Torah, exhorted in the Prophets, and modeled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ: namely, to demonstrate authentic personhood, to act toward others with steadfast benevolence, and to work for rightness in all spheres of life.

I believe that God, who created for good purpose, who patiently and unwaveringly loves even the most errant with love surpassing that of human mothers and fathers.

I believe that God – who has not left any age or any individual without evidence of that good purpose and faithfulness nor without the testimony of the Word who comes to all as light, life, and truth – will not cease working out that purpose for which God created and to which God calls all.

I believe that my hope for the world, for our lives in it, and for eternity rests on God’s faithfulness shown to all humanity throughout all ages, in particular to Israel and the church, and most especially as evidence in the faithfulness of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

 

 

September 20, 2016

The Disappearance of the Triune God Doctrine

ESV Gen 1:2b And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

For today’s devotional, we went to the blog of one of my former employers, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. To read this at source, and look around at other articles, click the title below. Jonathan Rice is an editor and writer with InterVarsity.

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwisWho Is the Holy Spirit?

When describing God, the language of the Bible is not merely truthful but careful. For instance, biblical descriptions of the Holy Spirit in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek always use a personal pronoun. The Bible never refers to God’s Spirit as an “it,” as if the Spirit is merely an impersonal object.

Such care for language is evident in Genesis 1:2, where the Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) is grammatically feminine. And though in the New Testament, the Greek word for “spirit” (pneuma) is neuter, it is still a personal pronoun, implying that the Holy Spirit not only transcends gender but also possesses personhood. So in contrast to popular notions that speak of God’s Spirit in abstract terms, the Bible speaks most clearly of the Holy Spirit as a personal deity.

An impersonal deity, a mere force of energy, is incapable of loving us. Such an impersonal energy is emotionless, feeling neither joy nor grief about our lives. But in Ephesians 4:30, we read that the Holy Spirit is grieved by our unwholesome talk, among other sins. And in 1 Corinthians 12:11, the Holy Spirit personally determines the distribution of gifts among believers for the common good of the church. In each of these biblical verses, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a thinking, feeling, choosing Being—a true personality.

The personality of the Holy Spirit is typically manifested through actions. The Bible shows the Holy Spirit acts in this world by creating (Genesis 1:2), empowering (Zechariah 4:6), guiding (Romans 8:14), comforting (John 14:26), convicting (John 16:8), teaching (John 16:13), restraining (Isaiah 59:19), and commanding people (Acts 8:29)—all of which require intelligence, emotion, and will. Other Scriptures indicate that the Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), another relational behavior that implies the Spirit is a person.

Regardless of these biblical evidences, some people continue to believe that the Holy Spirit is simply a convenient term to indicate God’s activity. While describing the Holy Spirit as being active is certainly consistent with the biblical revelation of the Spirit’s personality, descriptions such as Comforter, Encourager, Healer, etc., when relied upon alone, are detrimental to our building a sound biblical theology about the nature of God, since any abstract, depersonalizing, reductionist notion of the Holy Spirit undermines the doctrine of the Trinity. So whether one obscures or denies the personhood of the Spirit, the result is the same—the existence of the Trinity is undermined and the personal triune God of biblical Christianity fades away.

Why the Loss of the Doctrine of the Trinity Is a Problem

The disappearance of the doctrine of the personal triune God is a problem, for the personhood of the Holy Spirit is a necessary truth of the whole gospel and should constitute a part of the theological legacy we leave for future generations. But these days the doctrine of the Trinity is again being questioned, though the church has repeatedly through the centuries affirmed the existence of the Trinity and the personhood of the Holy Spirit through historic church councils and creeds.

So just as the Bible is not merely truthful but careful in its use of language, our learning what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit is essential for our careful articulation of the whole gospel.

Today when you hear the Spirit’s gentle voice in your life, listen carefully and ask God to guide your thoughts, words, and actions. Through the person of the Holy Spirit, you can be a living testimony of the gospel and a worker for Christ in this world.


What is Christian doctrine? And do words such as eschatology, sanctification, and atonement really have anything to do with our everyday, going-to-class, working, hanging-out-with-friends lives?

Christian doctrines begin as interpretations of the Bible. Throughout the history of the church, Christians have preserved what they believe the Bible teaches. They form doctrines so that they may remember what other Christians have historically believed about God, humanity, and God’s mission in this world.

These days it’s no less important than in ages past for us to understand Christian doctrine. So we’re offering you brief posts about what Christians have historically believed are the core teachings of the Bible. We hope you find that these historic teachings not only broaden your understanding of Christianity but also deepen your love of God.

August 1, 2016

Did Your Spirit Exist Before Your Soul?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This image was not part of the original article. Click to source.

Note: This image was not part of the original article. Click to source.

This article comes from James Richardson at Apostles-Creed.org and is well-worth our consideration today. If you click the title below, and read the article there, you’ll find links to other items of equal interest. This is longer than most here at C201 — I didn’t want to edit it — so grab your coffee or tea first.

Could a person’s spirit have existed before their soul was created?

I recently received a couple questions from my friend ObeyAllGodCommands which stated,

Hello, James, I was wondering since spirit and soul are different things and a soul is the combination of a body and a spirit then could a person’s spirit have existed before their soul was created? Also, could different people share/ have the same spirit but have different souls? Is any of this possible?

This is a concept that predated the Christian church and is found in Greek philosophy. Below are quotes from the early Church Fathers and the Bible on the doctrine of the “pre-existence of the soul.”

NOTE! It is necessary for me to point out at the beginning that I personally would not divide, break fellowship, condemn or put any effort into arguing for or against the pre-existence of the spirit or soul. I believe it is more important for Christian unity to hold to essential doctrines over non-essential ones.

Could a person’s spirit have existed before their soul was created?

The idea of a pre-existence soul or spirit comes from Greek philosophy. Plato taught this prior to Christianity. It Plato’s dialogue between Socrates and Pheado, he says,

We recall an ancient theory that souls arriving there come from here, and then again that they arrive here and are born here from the dead. If that is true, that the living come back from the dead, then surely our souls must exist there, for they could not come back if they did not exist, and this is a sufficient proof that these things are so if it truly appears that the living never come from any other source than from the dead. If this is not the case we should need another argument. Plato Pheado 70.d

The Christian teaching on the pre-existence of the souls is called “Neoplatonism” or Middle Platonism. Some of the early church Fathers taught the pre-existence of the soul.

The Early Church Fathers and the Pre-existence of the Soul

The main proponent of the doctrine of the pre-existence of the souls is the Church Father Origen. An example of this is found in Origen’s work Origen De Principiis.

But to arrive at a clearer understanding on these matters, we ought first to inquire after this point, whether it is allowable to suppose that they are living and rational beings; then, in the next place, whether their souls came into existence at the same time with their bodies, or seem to be anterior to them.
Origen De Principiis Chapter VII.—On Incorporeal and Corporeal Beings 3

I, for my part, suspect that the spirit was implanted in them from without; but it will be worth while to prove this from Scripture: for it will seem an easy matter to make the assertion on conjectural grounds, while it is more difficult to establish it by the testimony of Scripture. Now it may be established conjecturally as follows. If the soul of a man, which is certainly inferior while it remains the soul of a man, was not formed along with his body, but is proved to have been implanted strictly from without, much more must this be the case with those living beings which are called heavenly.”… “How could his soul and its images be formed along with his body, who, before he was created in the womb, is said to be known to God, and was sanctified by Him before his birth?
Origen De Principiis Chapter VII.—On Incorporeal and Corporeal Beings 4

This view was not widely accepted or taught and was eventually condemned.

The Fifth Ecumenical council

The Fifth Ecumenical council also known as the Second Council of Constantinople condemned the teaching and Anathematized it as heresy.

If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.
The Anathemas Against Origen I

As a whole, Christianity has not accepted the teaching that souls existed prior to the body being created and for the most part condemned such views.

Pre-existence of souls in Old and New Testament

The most important is the fact that there are no references in the Old or New Testament that say anything like souls pre-existing. The only references are about God knowing us before He created us. Typical verses used to support this are:

Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
(Jer 1:5 KJV)
Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Thy book they were all written, The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.
(Psa 139:16 NAS)
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.
(Eph 1:4 NAS)

We do not need to exist prior to God knowing us. God knows that which existed, exists, and will exist in the future. God knew what he was going to create prior to creating it. Creation does not have to exist prior to Him creating it in order for God to know about it. There is no passage in the Bible that teaches a pre-existent soul or reincarnation.

The apocryphal book Book of Wisdom

There is a quote from apocryphal book Book of Wisdom that states a good soul entered into the body.

As a child I was naturally gifted, and a good soul fell to my lot;or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body.
Wisdom of Solomon 8:19–20

This is a major quotation used for the pre-existence of the soul; however, the Book of Wisdom is not accepted as Bible Scripture.

With that said, I personally would not divide, break fellowship, condemn or put any effort into arguing for or against the pre-existence of the spirit or soul. I believe it is more important for unity in essential doctrines over non-essential ones.

Could different people share/have the same spirit but have different souls?

The words “spirit” and “soul” can only be defined in the specific sentence they are used. They sometimes mean the same thing and sometimes they don’t. I explain the differences in the article What is the spirit and the soul in man?. In that article the following points are essential.

  • The Bible uses the word “soul” as a living being or person which is both the body and the spirit.
  • In the Old testament for the word “spirit” is the “life” within the person.
  • A “soul” is a person body and spirit. When the body is killed it loses life or it’s spirit.
  • The word “spirit” is also the mind, desires, and will of the person
  • The New Testament usage of the word “spirit” refers to the metaphysical person like an angel.
  • The word “spirit” also can refer to a person’s attitude or frame of mind.

Christians do share the same Spirit Who is the Holy Spirit; however, we are not the Holy Spirit nor does the Bible teach that our spirit is the same as God.

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.
(1Co 2:11 NAS)

We share the spirit of faith which means we have the mind, desires, and will of the person. This does not mean we share the exact same inner life of a human.

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit (1Co 12:4 KJV)

For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit
(1Co 12:8-9 KJV)

We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak
(2Co 4:13 KJV)

This means that the life we posses at conception a unique, individual spirit that identifies and separates us from one another.

Thou dost hide Thy face, they are dismayed; Thou dost take away their spirit, they expire, And return to their dust. (Psa 104:29 NAS)

So in this sense we share the same spirit (the mind, desires, and will). That just means we should be of one mind and have the mind of Christ. This is not to be confused with the inner life or individual entity of that person. The Bible or Christianity does not teach people can share the same life or entity. If one person dies the other will still live and vise versa. The sharing of the soul or spirit like “the Corsican brothers” concept is pure Science fiction and not founded on Biblical Christianity.

June 17, 2016

Clear as Mud

It’s three verses that critics of the King James Version frequently use to show why we needed — and continue to need — new Bible translations.

For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ.  2 Corinthians 10:12-14 KJV

Did you get all that? Not the stuff of a great Bible study for today, but hopefully it leaves you with some empathy for those who struggle with Bible understanding, even if this is a rather extreme example. Can any of us say that our scriptures are “easily understood?”

All of this leads us to your word for today: “Perspicuity.” Say that ten times!

Instead, you might actually find the Latin easier, Claritas Scripturae means what you think it does, the clarity of scripture.

A bit of context is needed. The doctrine of Claritas Scripturae is a Protestant idea which stands in contrast to the Catholic view that the scriptures are not clear. Rather, the holy writings belong to the realm of mystery and the average person cannot fathom it; the lay-reader can never fully understand it. Instead, someone needs to be the broker of it, the arbiter of it for the rest of us. This could be the clergy class in general, or in a Catholic sense, it refers The Magisterium or what some simply call The Vatican.

The Protestant perspective stands in opposition to this. The gospel is so simple that a little child can understand it, and in fact, that is the only way you can experience salvation:

Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

There is a sense in which this is true. But we also realize that on a personal level, we are extremely grateful for the sermons, the podcasts, the commentaries, the Study Bible notes. Paul appeals to the idea that we need set apart ones or sent ones.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14)

In 2008, blogger Ben Johnson, then a Masters student at Western Seminary, put this far more succinctly than I can in this short blog post:

One of the things that becomes evident when you begin formal Bible study is that you begin to question the protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. Here is what I mean by this. As you begin your ‘formal training’ you begin to acquire what can only be called ‘special knowledge’ (sounds very gnostic). You now know Greek and Hebrew (and for those select few, Aramaic). You know more of the historical backgrounds of the texts (or at least what current scholarship thinks it knows about those backgrounds). You begin to exercise, what your professor tells you is a ‘sound hermeneutic.’ All this is ‘special knowledge’ that the average person in the pew does not have.

Now, imagine yourself in church and people begin asking you questions (they know you’re in seminary after all). You begin to rattle off what you heard in last week’s lecture on the book of Romans, talking about historical background and the Greek root of verbs, and the average person begins to doubt in their own ability to read the Bible themselves.

Here is my problem. The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture came about (at least the Protestant formulation of it) in rebellion against the medieval catholic view that only the church (i.e., non lay-people) could interpret Scripture. When I look at the church today, it seems to me that we have replaced the ‘church’ with the ‘academy.’ If you haven’t written a critical commentary on the Gospel of Mark who are you to interpret it? As I begin to be a true (whatever that means) student of Scripture I find myself utilizing my recently acquired ‘special knowledge’ and finding great insight from it. However, as a Christian and a churchman I have to maintain that the basics of the message are accessible to the average person in the pew given the illumination of the Spirit and the proper amount of study. All that is to stay, I think I still need to confirm the basic idea of the perspicuity of Scripture (to say nothing of post-modern, or reader-oriented hermeneutics) but I’m still working out how.

I really need to repeat Ben’s second-to-last sentence:

I have to maintain that the basics of the message are accessible to the average person in the pew given the illumination of the Spirit and the proper amount of study.

But in his final sentence, he affirms that it’s complicated.

Do you think the average person can process the basics of the gospel, or do they need the help of those better-trained in theology?


Here are some verses from the cutting room floor today!

The LORD our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. (Deuteronomy 29:29 NLT)

Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith– (Romans 16:26-27)

For who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 2:16 HCSB)

All scriptures NIV unless otherwise stated, I think!


Go Deeper: Here’s a scholarly article by D.A. Carson where I first began today’s thoughts.

Note: The title of today’s article was deliberately provocative.

 

 

 

 

 

December 7, 2015

Have I Committed the Unpardonable Sin?

The question of “What is ‘the unpardonable sin?'” comes up often in church life. Many of you reading this have complete peace on this issue and don’t really feel you have anything to worry about, but would be at an absolute loss to explain it to someone who asked you. In part, we really don’t have a view of sin that goes beyond simple definitions, to see it from the point of view of a God who is full of both justice and grace; to see the things that grieve the heart of God.

This article by Patrick Hawthorne came recommended; it’s from his blog Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “home” to view other articles.

Did I Commit the Unpardonable Sin?

The unpardonable sin!  Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit…  We read about it, but do we honestly understand it?  Is the unpardonable sin, a single sin by which there is no forgiveness?  Or is it, in actuality, a collection of sins stemming from an overall attitude, a willful blindness to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit?

The argument might be made, in my case anyways, that if the unpardonable sin were a onetime with no means of forgiveness sin then I should be found guilty.  In my younger and more stupid days, I had quite a few conversations with God in which I questioned His very existence.  In anger, I spoke harsh things to Him; I vilified Him which is exactly what blasphemy means.  Yet, here I am writing to you as a testimony to his His goodness and faithfulness.  Had I committed the unpardonable sin, I feel confident that I would be as the devil, completely void of any feelings of love towards my Heavenly Father.  Even so, what does the Word say about the subject?

In Mark chapter 3 we have the account of Scribes coming out of Jerusalem and confronting Jesus.  Seeing, yet belittling the miracles done before their very eyes, they mocked Jesus claiming that His healing powers were from Beelzebub.  Out of ignorance for their religious views, they made the claim that the power by which Jesus performed the miracles was unclean.  In other words, they likened the Holy Spirit to Satan. Notice the response of Jesus to their ignorance.

“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.”  (Mark 3:28-29)

By mocking Jesus and claiming that the miracles He performed were through the power of the devil, they were in essence mocking the Holy Spirit whom Jesus received real power.  But, did they commit the unpardonable sin? To answer this, look back at verse 29.  Jesus says, “But he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, BUT IS SUBJECT to eternal condemnation.  Jesus did not condemn them at that moment but let them know they were on very shaky grounds if they continued on their current path.

So, what can we make of the unpardonable sin?  Is it a onetime ordeal, or is it a progressive attitude?  It is my personal belief that the unpardonable sin is a progressive attitude whereby the offender grieves the Holy Spirit to such a degree that He forever withdraws His convicting power.  Without His convicting power, there can be neither forgiveness nor repentance.

If you are reading this and have been concerned that you have committed the unpardonable sin, rest assured that you have not.  The mere fact that you are concerned indicates that the Holy Spirit is very active in your life and He is trying to maneuver you to a closer relationship with the Father.  Be blessed.

October 16, 2015

Can a Christian Be Possessed by a Demon?

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. You have received free of charge; give free of charge.
-Matthew 10:8 HCSB

14 And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, 15 and to have authority to cast out the demons.
-Matthew 3:14-15 NASB

If you’re going to read a blog called Christianity 201, you have to expect there are going to be days when we look at issues! This time we’re paying a return visit to Micael Grenholm at the blog Holy Spirit Activism, who responds to today’s somewhat Pentecostal question as only a “charismactivist” (his word) can. Click the title below to read at source.

Can Christians be possessed by demons?

The Assemblies of God (AoG), the biggest Pentecostal denomination in the US, has famously argued that it is impossible for Christians to be possessed; no one who has received the Holy Spirit, they say, can be overtaken by demonic forces. This differs from the view shared by many neo-Pentecostals, charismatics, Catholics as well as many Pentecostals in the majority world (Asia, Africa and Latin America), who all say that Christians might actually become demonized.

When John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, was asked if he believed that Christians could have demons, he provokingly replied “Well yeah, I’ve cast them out of pastors!” His wife Carol wrote in her biography about her husband something like: “When we encountered a demon, we simply cast it out – without checking baptismal records. What else could we do? Wait until they become Hindus and then cast them out?”

Now, AoG-folks and like-minded may object that such allegorical evidence does not mean much compared to arguments from Scripture. Which is generally true, although in this particular case the usual claim concerning extra-Biblical supernatural phenomena – it’s a demonic deception! – is quite counterproductive. But the Bible is always important in theological matters, so let’s have a look. 

In AoG’s position paper on the topic, their arguments can be boiled down to two categories: 1) The Bible never specifically says that Christians are or can be possessed, and 2) The Bible does state that God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13) and that “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4), meaning that because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in born-again believers, demonic possession is impossible.

To 1) I would respond that there are examples of faithful believers in God and Jesus who have some pretty serious problems with demons; the woman who had been disabled by a spirit in 18 years was described by Jesus as “a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years”. Being a child of Abraham is not so much about ethnicity, as it is about faith (Gal 3:7). Jesus clearly stated that his closest disciple Peter was briefly overtaken by Satan (Mt 16:23), and even though Judas clearly wasn’t a very good disciple, I think it’s very reasonable to say that he did join Jesus’ team because he actually wanted to follow Jesus radically, since Satan came and possessed him the same day he betrayed his Lord (Lk 22:3-4).

The 2) argument is even weaker: the same reasoning could be applied to sin with quite absurd consequences. God has rescued us from darkness and His Spirit within us is more powerful than the devil – therefore no Christian can sin. Most Christians would agree that it is true that God has rescued us from darkness and that no evil is within the Holy Spirit while it is equally true that we continuously fail to live up to God’s standards and fall in sin.

There is neither sin nor devils in the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit has not 100% control of us yet – that’s why we sin and that’s why some pastors can be demonized. While Christians won’t have the same amount of total possessions as some witch doctors can have – something that the Wimbers observed – we aren’t totally immune to demons unless we make sure that we are constantly sanctified through prayer and fasting.


Go Deeper: Click the title above to see the comments on this one, including a longer one that Micael really liked that offers some historical background.

October 11, 2015

Christian Cosmology and the Problem of Evil in the World

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. (Psalm 139:7–8, NIV84)

Today we return to visit the blog of John P. Richardson, but his regular readers of his blog in the UK knew him as the Ugley Vicar. Note: This is the middle 40% of a much longer article, you’re encouraged to click the title below to read everything.

Sadly this was the last thing that John posted on the blog.* He passed away later in 2014.

Christian Cosmology; Incarnation and ‘Evil’

Ugley Vicar - John P. RichardsonMorality Matters to Matter
…But why would God ‘uphold’ such a world, where undesirable states and circumstances occur so often? (This is the old ‘Why would a good God create a world of suffering?’ in another guise.)

It would be foolish to think we could answer such questions completely. Nevertheless, the points about the Universe we have considered already may give us some hints.

1. The Universe has a personal origin, being created by a personal deity for himself.

2. At the heart of God’s purposes in creation is the relationship between himself and human beings whom he has created in his image. The world exists ‘for them’ as well as for God.

3. The relationship between God and human beings, however, is flawed and distorted by their inclination to disobey him. Out of this flows sin and evil.

4. The Universe nevertheless continues in its existence moment by moment because it is ‘upheld’ by the personal creator, and yet the creatures who matter most in his creation are separated from him and mired in sin.

We venture to suggest, therefore, that this distorted relationship between God and his creatures impacts his ‘upholding’ of the Universe. What he ‘upholds’ is a Universe inhabited by and, as regards this planet specifically, presided over by creatures who reject him. There is a broken relationship between God and his ‘imaging-creatures’ at the heart of creation. We should not be surprised at the suggestion that this impacts the creation God upholds, so long as that situation persists. As the Apostle Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans:

19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Romans 8:19–21, NIV84)

The picture the Bible gives is that the created world is the way it is because of human sinfulness — in other words, that morality matters to matter. We have a clear indication of this early on when God is recorded speaking to Adam after the latter has disobeyed him:
To Adam he said,

“Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:17, NIV84)

It might seem odd that it is the ground which is cursed rather than Adam because of what the latter has done. Yet if we can posit a relationship between human moral actions and the fabric of creation uphold by the God against whom humanity rebels, this perhaps makes more sense. In any case, the curse on the ground rebounds against Adam and becomes a form of judgement on him as it makes his life more difficult.

Thus we suggest that the physical nature and behavior of the Universe is affected by human behavior because human behavior affects our relationship with the God who upholds that physical universe.

All Will be Redeemed

A Christian cosmology, however, also contains the fundamental principle that all is not lost. Certainly there are profound problems, but they are not without resolution. On the contrary, God has always intended that the problem of sin would be resolved. And as we have seen above in the words of St Paul, this will have cosmological implications: ‘the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay’.

The key to this act of rescue is, in Christian theology, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus Paul again writes,

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19–20, NIV84)

We may wonder why the death of this particular individual should have such massive implications, but the claim of this passage, and of Christian theology in general, is that the being of God interpenetrated the physicality of this person: ‘all his fullness [dwelt] in him’. Thus what happened to this person happened, in a sense, to the creator and upholder of the universe. Moreover, it brought about reconciliation between God and his image-bearing creatures. Given that the outcome of that broken relationship is an hostility between the fabric of the world and the human race and that the ultimate expression of this hostility is God, we should not be surprised that the effecting of reconciliation involves death in particular — both the act of dying, which is the ultimate physical judgement, and the overcoming of death…

[continue reading at the link in the title]


* There’s a background story to how we came to use this today, and learn, more than a year later, of the author’s passing. Click here to read that.

July 16, 2015

Perhaps Today’s Devotional Is One Too Many

We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.  – Matthew 18:3b

Do you ever feel spiritually stuffed? Like someone at an all-you-can-eat banquet table who just wants to try one or two more entrées? Consider today’s thoughts.

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:3

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”   -Luke 18:17

One thing the internet has brought us is so much more knowledge. But it can’t, by itself, bring us more grace. You need both, as Peter reminds us.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.  – 2 Peter 3:18

Common Sense Not NeededToday I had to go to our local equivalent of Home Depot. I am always completely intimidated in that environment. I think I’m going in with a fair bit of confidence, but then they ask, “These are the outside measurements, what are the inside measurements?” The what?

And then someone asked me, “Are you sure this isn’t your own insecurities?” Well, yes maybe.

But the point is that in all this I really felt God saying to me, “You know, you do this to people in your environment.” Maybe you know what I mean. You work in a local church. Or you’re a Christian counselor. Or you’re leading a midweek Bible study in your home. Or you work at a Christian bookstore.

Someone asks you for something, and you’ve got so much knowledge that it just comes spilling out. It’s part of the overflow of your life. But it’s too much for the person you’re dealing with.

And Christianity has done that. Especially in certain circles, trusting God has increasing become an intellectual exercise. Make sure you buy this book. Make sure you listen to that sermon podcast. Make sure you understand that doctrine fully. Make sure you can articulate the basics of this systematic theology.

And Jesus is saying,

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  – Matthew 19:14

All it takes to get ‘in’ is child-like faith. Yes, you will never end finding the intricacies and complexities of God’s word, but all you need, all the basics, you can grasp with the faith of a child, and the intellectual capacity of a child.

…We know her for working in her dad’s watch and jewelry shop, and for the Jewish people her family harbored in “The Hiding Place” on the top floor of their home; but in addition to all that Corrie Ten Boom worked with developmentally challenged people. In the wonderfully titled little book, Common Sense Not Needed, she explains that even these adults and children, despite limited mental abilities, can respond to God.

That should be ever be in our minds; we don’t have to teach people doctrines before they can experience the grace and love of God. Both the first and second testaments let us see the ways of God in narrative form and we can do the same. The theology stuff can wait.


Related (somewhat) is today’s book review of The First Time We Saw Him at Thinking Out Loud.


Image adapted from the cover of Corrie Ten Boom’s book mentioned in today’s devotional.

 

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