Archive for April, 2012

How about a good laugh for Christians!

Monday, April 30th, 2012

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(courtesy of ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

What’s the place of humour in the Christian life?

I’m thinking of that verse in Proverbs,

  • ‘A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones’ (Prov. 17:22 NIV).
  • What about, ‘A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit’ (Prov. 15:13 NIV)?
  • There is a time for every activity under the heavens, including ‘a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance’ (Eccl. 3:4).

Take a read of, ‘What does the Bible say about humor and laughter?’

This might do us good for a very healthy, clean laugh,

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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Who is the Mormon Jesus [1]

Monday, April 30th, 2012

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(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

On Christian Fellowship Forum, Clair, a male Mormon, wrote:

I do know Christ. He is my Savior. He forgives my sins and has rescued me more than once. I love him, and I have come to trust him with my thoughts, problems, failings and hopes. He doesn’t reject me, ever.[2]

But who is the Mormon Jesus who is Clair’s Saviour? Mormon elder, Bernard P. Brockbank, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, stated in, ‘The living Christ’, May 1977, that

it is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There is further evidence of the Mormon’s different Jesus:

In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints “do not believe in the traditional Christ. No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He, together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages.

“Am I Christian? Of course I am. I believe in Christ. I talk of Christ. I pray through Christ. I’m trying to follow Him and live His gospel in my life” (LDS Church News, ‘Crown of gospel is on our heads’, June 20, 1998).

How is the Mormon doctrine of Jesus different from the orthodox Christian view of Jesus as expounded in the Bible? The following are but a few examples of this false doctrine of Christ.

1. How was Jesus conceived?

“When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who was the Father? He is the first of the human family; and when he took a tabernacle (Body), it was begotten by his Father in heaven, after the same manner as the tabernacles of Cain, Abel and the rest of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve; from the

fruits of the earth, the first earthly tabernacles were originated by the Father and son in succession…..Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven” (Journal of Discourses, 1:50-51)

The Bible’s position is: “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit'” (Matt. 1:20).

Thus the Mormon Jesus is different from the biblical Jesus.

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ChristArt

2. Where was Jesus born?

Both OT & NT confirm that Christ, the Messiah, was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4-16, Matt. 2:1-16; John 7:42). But the Mormons teach that Jesus was born in the city of Jerusalem.

In my copy of The Book of Mormon Alma 7:10 reads,

And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.

Again, the Mormon Jesus is different from the biblical Jesus.

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2 John 7, ChristArt

3. Jesus is a spirit child of a heavenly Father and Mother

The Bible declares that Jesus is God: “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)

The LDS Jesus was a spirit child of a heavenly Father and Mother and Jesus had brothers, including Satan.

In this Mormon Gospel Library Lesson, ‘Jesus Christ volunteered to be our Savior’, it summarised this aspect of LDS false doctrine:

1. In the premortal life we were spirit children and lived with our heavenly parents (Hebrews 12:9).

2. Jesus was the firstborn spirit child of Heavenly Father (D&C 93:21) and is the older brother of our spirits.

3. Lucifer, who became Satan, was also a spirit child of Heavenly Father.

4. Heavenly Father called a meeting for all his spirit children. At this meeting he explained his plan for us to become like him. He told us that he wanted us to go to earth to get a physical body. He explained that on earth we would be tested to see if we would keep his commandments.

The Mormon heavenly father was once a human being who “became” God. And all obedient Mormons have the potential to become a god like Jesus and the heavenly Father. We can have spirit children with our eternal wives.

“It is our privilege to so live as to enjoy the spirit of our religion. That is designed to restore us to the presence of the Gods. Gods exist, and we had better strive to be prepared to be one with them” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 7:238)

Lorenzo Snow was the fifth president and prophet of mainstream Mormonism. One of his most famous statements was, ‘As man is, God once was: as God is, man may become’. The mormonwiki site states that ‘this short sentence summarizes the traditional understanding of what Joseph Smith taught in the ‘Sermon in the Grove’ and, most famously, in the ‘King Follett Discourse’ (Part 1; Part 2).

Again, the Mormon Jesus is different from the biblical Jesus.

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ChristArt

See the article of refutation by Bill McKeever, ‘As God Is Man May Be’.

4. Jesus was married

The NT Scriptures do not indicate that Jesus married, but the LDS documents state:

“It will be borne in mind that once on a time, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and on a careful reading of that transaction, it will be discovered that no less a person than Jesus Christ was married on that occasion. If he was never married, his intimacy with Mary and Martha, and the other Mary also whom Jesus loved, must have been highly unbecoming and improper to say the best of it” (Apostle Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 4:259).

The Apostle Orson Hyde also stated:

Jesus was the bridegroom atthe marriage of Cana of Galilee, and he told them what to do.

Now there was actually a marriage; and if Jesus was not the bridegroom on that occasion, please tell who was. If any man can show this, and prove that it was not the Savior of the world, then I will acknowledge I am in error. We say it was Jesus Christ who was married, to be brought into the relation whereby he could see his seed, before he was crucified. (Apostle Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 2:82)

The Mormon Jesus is different from the biblical Jesus.

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ChristArt

5. What about the doctrine of salvation?

Read this statement carefully from the Book of Mormon to get an understanding of the Mormon view of how to obtain salvation:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23).

For Mormons, salvation is ‘by grace’ AND ‘all we can do’.

See these articles:

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How should Bible-believing, evangelical Christians respond?

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ChristArt

No matter how much a Mormon may say that “I do know Christ. He is my Savior. He forgives my sins and has rescued me more than once. I love him, and I have come to trust him,” the LDS evidence affirms that the Mormon Jesus is ANOTHER JESUS.

How am I to respond to a Mormon when he or she proclaims another Jesus? I answer in the same way that Paul taught the Galatians:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV).

Paul’s words are strong words and they must be my words to Clair, the Mormon, “Let him be accursed”. I did not invent these words and this result! To be honest to Jesus and biblical Christianity, I must have the same antidote that Paul, the apostle, gave.

This article provides a brief comparison between Christian doctrine and Mormon doctrine to show that Mormonism is not Christian. So my description of Mormon doctrine being anti-Christian is right on target.[3]

I recommend the article, ‘Who is the “Living Christ” of Mormonism?’ by Mormon Research Ministry. For excellent critiques of Mormon false doctrine, I recommend:

Notes:


[1] ozspen reply to cellisut (a Mormon), Christian Fellowship Forum (CFF), Contentious Brethren, “If you only . . .” #12, available from: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=11&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=118642 (Accessed 7 October 2008). Much of the following I have also made as a reply to cellisut on 30 April 2012, CFF, Bible Study & Discipleship, ‘My hypothesis of the trinity’, #78, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=77&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=121124 (Accessed 30 April 2012).

[2] cellisut, CFF, #4, 5 October 2008, ‘If you only . . .’, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=1&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=118642 (Accessed 30 April 2012).

[3] In another post to me on 29 April 2012, Clair had stated, ‘Spencer, that’s pretty insulting language. Meanwhile, I’m off to attend our church services, to partake the bread and water in remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have been asked to offer the opening prayer today, so I had better be early. If you were here, you could come with me’ (Christian Fellowship Forum, Bible Study & Discipleship, ‘My hypothesis of the trinity’, #77, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?msg=121124.77&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship (Accessed 30 April 2012). I, as ozspen, had stated in #76 of this thread: ‘Because Mormonism wants to be seen as ‘Christian’, but many of its doctrines are anti-Christian, it becomes an effort at redefinition. Or, Mormons want to make their cult doctrines look Christian so the slippery definitions come in’.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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The youth God squad and healing

Friday, April 27th, 2012

clip_image002Courtesy The Australian

By Spencer D Gear

The Australian newspaper (story from the Sunday Mail) reported on ‘Teen God squad Culture Shifters’ miracle cure claims’ (April 15, 2012). The account began:

CHILDREN as young as 13 claim they have instantly healed hundreds of people using the miracle powers of Jesus on Queensland streets.

The Pentecostal group Culture Shifters in Queensland says it has healed people suffering from cancer and multiple sclerosis and is developing a large youth following.

Children from the group have been approaching people at random on the street, prompting alarm from parents and warnings from doctors for the sick to seek medical attention.

“Anyone who has a medical condition should always seek advice from their doctor,” Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Richard Kidd said.

Leaders, aged in their teens and 20s, claim they have also healed an entire football team’s injuries, given hearing to a deaf woman and brought sight to a girl’s blind eye.

What is the verification for this kind of healing? Have the football team’s injuries been checked by a medical practitioner to confirm that the healings are legitimate? What about the healed deaf woman and healed blind eye? How do we know they are valid healings?

The story went on to say that this 160-member group of Culture Shifters is from Christian Outreach Centre, Bridgeman Downs (a northern Brisbane suburb) and is led by Grant Shaw, 27, and his wife, Emma, 23.

It claimed these Culture Shifters were even talking to teens in busy places like the Chermside Shopping Centre.

Some live action

If you want to see these people in action, live, see the report on Today Tonight, ‘Teenage God squad’ (Yahoo!7 News). Viewing these images caused me some concern. It is typical of some of the scenes I have seen in Pentecostal and charismatic churches with people falling and lying spread out on the floor after ‘falling under the Spirit’.

My concerns

Here are some of my concerns:

  1. It is rare for the mass media to report in an accurate and sympathetic manner in most ordinary circumstances with the church. Viewing something as extreme as this is hardly going to attract balanced journalism, in my view.
  2. The mass media can give Christianity a bashing on too many occasions. See ‘Gay rights protest outside Court’s church’; ‘Sometimes. love, even if a gift from Jesus, is not good enough’; ‘Sunday nights with John Cleary: Bishop Shelby Spong’. Therefore, with the Culture Shifters (Teen God squad) there could be a possibility that the media have taken a true event and given some media spin to make it sound like the deluded fanatics are involved in this event.
  3. From the news item and the TV program, there is no way to know if the media are reporting accurately. However,
  4. As a former Assemblies of God minister and Bible college teacher, I can say that I’ve seen some fruit-loopy things happen in the name of being ‘slain in the Spirit’. I have to admit that some of what I’ve seen could have involved another spirit.
  5. I have known a very few people associated with various Christian Outreach Centres and have found them to be reasonable, committed evangelical Christians who love the Lord and are available for the Lord’s ministry through the gifts of the Spirit. They are sane people whose relationship with Jesus is sound.
  6. By the very nature of Pentecostal-charismatic churches, we can expect to see some extreme behaviour – depending on the extent to which the pastors and elders maintain the biblical requirement, ‘But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way’ (1 Cor. 14:40 NIV). We have seen out-there behaviour associated with the alleged Toronto Blessing and the Brownsville Pensacola Outpouring.
  7. However, charismatic manifestations have extended to other churches. An example locally to me is Burpengary Baptist Church (northern Brisbane).

What we need

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ChristArt

Part of the problem, as I see it, is the need for verification of what they are doing in a very secular Australia. I do not find anywhere in Scripture where God promises physical healing to all who are prayed for. The secular media love to report failures. Is doing this on the streets risky and could it give false hope? Also, Today Tonight reported that it has not seen any certificates to verify the healings. This is a valid request.

I believe in the God who can heal, but we must never order him when to do this. He’s the sovereign Lord. What do secular people think when they are prayed for and nothing happens?

This raises another issue. It seems to me that the Scriptures teach that the ministry of healing is to be within the church and not taking it to the secular mainstream. The gifts of healing (1 Cor. 12:9, 28, 30) and praying for the sick, anointing with oil (James 5:14) are church ministries within the church. There are good reasons why the Lord has made it this way in a pastoral, caring environment where there also is further support.

Was healing ever an evangelistic tool after the Lord’s resurrection? I know some will turn to Mark 16:15-18 where proclaiming the Gospel is associated with ‘these signs will accompany those who believe’, including laying hands on the sick and they will recover (v. 18). However, Mark 16:9-20 is not in the earliest Greek manuscripts and some other early Greek NT witnesses that we have. It could have been an insertion that was not in the original documents. However, it does seem to indicate that this was an example of the continuing ministry of the church after the death of the apostles.

To address this textual issue, I commend, ‘Irony in the end: A textual and literary analysis of Mark 16:8’.

Conclusion

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ChristArt

The gifts of the Spirit do continue into the 21st century. See my articles,

We need to take seriously the exhortation of Scripture to ‘weigh carefully’ the content of the gifts of the Spirit. The ‘weigh carefully’ message was particularly related to the gift of prophecy. See my article, ‘1 Corinthians 14:29: Weigh carefully’.

There is no way to know if the healing ministry of the teen God squad of the Culture Shifters is genuine without verification of the reality of healings. There is a danger that a wrong emphasis can be given to secular people when there is prayer for healing and no healing takes place. God’s gift of healing is sovereign and according to his will. See my article, ‘Should God heal all Christians who pray for healing?

Care must be taken to avoid Pentecostal extremes. However, the mass media are not likely to deliver a balanced view of what is happening. Extreme behaviour will attract the media, but balanced treatment can’t be expected from the secular journalists. They have a different agenda. When God heals, it is designed to bring glory and attraction to the Lord.

‘But all things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40 ESV)

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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What’s the place of logic in Christian apologetics?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012
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(image courtesy Baker Books)

I began a thread on Christian Forums, ‘Logic in Christian apologetics’. The response was mostly favourable, but many in favour seemed to drop out of the discussion when there were negative comments like these:

  • You wouldn’t see me as an advocate of logic, it relies on the mind, and that is secondary to the Spirit.
  • Logic will never restore a maimed leg.
  • Logic would fall under the tree of knowledge of good and evil rather than the tree of life, hence why I don’t have a good opinion of it. It is there at times, but it is not part of conforming to the image of His Son.
  • The Bible is filled with ‘illogic’. Peter walking on the water, God dying on the Cross, etc.
  • The use of the Bible doesn’t necessitate logic. It requires faith and proper hermeneutical exegesis. Communicating your findings doesn’t depend on logic, and neither do the other areas you mentioned. It just requires systematic use of the information available, no logic. Logic states, “I think therefore I am”, God states, “I AM”.

What is the role of logic in the use of the Christian mind?

I need to say that I’ve been particularly helped in growing in my faith and use of Christian apologetics by Norman Geisler & Ronald Brooks (1990),   Come, Let Us Reason.

Their definitions of logic are:

(1) “Logic really means putting your thoughts in order” (p. 11), or as a more formal definition,
(2) “Logic is the study of right reason or valid inferences and the attending fallacies, formal and informal” (Geisler & Brooks 1990:12).

If logic is the study of correct reason, what do you think is the place of logic in the Christian faith, and especially in apologetics? What’s the point of even raising logic as a necessary part of Christian apologetics?

I am reminded that the term, ‘theology’ is made up of two NT Greek words: theos = God and logos = word or logic. So we might say that theology is the logic of God, or theology is a rational discourse about God (Geisler & Brooks 1990:15).

Is it possible to have a reasonable discussion on an Internet forum, in a church Bible study, or in proclaiming the Gospel and defending the faith, without the use of correct logic?

How do you see logic, reason, the supernatural God and the use of the Christian mind?

Logical fallacies

One of the areas of logic that I’ve had to give more attention to in pursuing research studies and on Christian forums has been the use of logical fallacies. Some that I have seen in various readings have included:

  • Begging the question, where the conclusion is sneaked into the premises. I note this in my analysis of Jesus Seminar fellow, John Dominic Crossan’s writings. Crossan also uses
  • Special pleading – the evidence supporting only one view is cited and the other is excluded. Crossan does this with his statements like, in quoting ‘secondary literature, I spend no time citing other scholars to show how wrong they are’. Instead, he only quotes those who ‘represent my intellectual debts’ (Crossan 1991:xxxiv).
  • Straw man – drawing a false picture of the other person’s argument;
  • Red herring – evading a question by changing the subject.
  • Ad hominem – argument by character assassination or personal attack. I see this sometimes in the flaming on this forum, but fortunately the moderators are onto this very quickly.
  • Genetic fallacy – something should be rejected because it comes from a bad source. I often see this in evolution vs creationist debates where evolutionist states evidence from the Book of Genesis should be rejected because of those fighting fundies (or conservative evangelicals) who want to interpret it literally and they know nothing about science. Genesis is mythology, anyway!

Liberal theology as a hindrance

What I think causes some Christians to balk at the idea of using logic in communication is what is seen in liberal theology using the historical-critical method where people promote autonomous human reason to arrive at conclusions that are contrary with Scripture.

This shows how humanistic reasoning can be abused, but it does not negate the use of logic in our communication. Those who are opposing the use of logic, are engaging in a self-defeating exercise. This is because they are using logic in the sentences they write to oppose the use of logic.

Many things in Christian exegesis, theology, apologetics, Bible study, etc., can be abused. The abuse of something does not negate its legitimacy when used for the correct purposes. One or 10 faulty Fords (motor vehicles) doesn’t make every Ford junk – I drive a Toyota Camry.

Abuse does not exclude legitimate use.

A responder to one of my posts on Christian Forums gave an excellent perspective on this problem of abuse of logic:

See I have a bit of a different thought on the matter. Imagine a pretty girl who is always told she is ugly. Eventually she comes to believe that even though she is beautiful. Similarly, atheists claim the mantle of logic and reason, telling Christians their beliefs are unfounded and go against logic. So Christians come to hate logic and reason not realizing that they can fight fire with fire and that logic goes both ways. We are that girl and we are not ugly.

To all the Christians out there who are reading this, do not fear logic and reason. Logic and reason is not something to be afraid of, embrace it! Pray for a stronger faith and know that God is on our side.

If getting into the negations of our faith makes you weary, don’t! But for those of us who can and do, do not judge us for it. We are part of the Body Of Christ! Do not forget that.[1]

While the use of reason, including logic, can be abused, it does not denigrate the proper use of logic as defined above.

Does the NT endorse apologetics as a legitimate ministry?

Is there a legitimate Christian ministry of apologetics when the ministry gift of an apologist is not mentioned using the word, apologist, in the New Testament?

I observe that these words do not appear as exact words in the NT: Trinity, substitutionary atonement of Christ and inerrancy of the Bible.[2] However, all three of these doctrines are taught in the Bible. So while we use different English words to describe a doctrine, this does not mean that that doctrine does not appear in the Bible.

The same applies with the ministry of an apologist. In discussion on a Christian Forum, a fellow wrote to me,

And by the way, just so you are aware of it, there is no ministry from The Holy Spirit in the bible called “apologetics.” A lot of people make one up, but it is not a GOD given ministry unto the body of Christ for its edification. This is very apparent in the bible, and I’m quite surprised that you would even make mention of it to me, as if you were doing something for GOD this way.[3]

My reply to him included some of the following brief information.[4] We know that there are five ministry gifts of Christ to the church according to Ephesians 4:11-13,

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (NIV).

Therefore, the gifts of ministry Christ gave to the church are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. There is no mention of apologists here, so does that mean the ministry of Christian apologetics is not valid?

A check of Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon (1957:95) reveals the meanings of apologia, the Greek word for a defence or apologetic. This is what we find:

  • There is a ministry of apologia (apologetics) involved in giving testimony as Paul demonstrated in Acts 22:1. So presenting one’s testimony can involve an apologetic component.
  • Phil. 1:7, 16 demonstrate that the ministry of apologia is involved in defendng the Gospel. So apologetics is a sub-set of the gift of proclaiming the Gospel – evangelism.
  • This is also confirmed in 1 Peter 3:15, the verse that is commonly given as an example of apologetics. If a person is giving an apologia for the hope that he/she has in Christ, then a person is engaging in the ministry of evangelism.

Therefore, the ministry of apologetics is a sub-set of evangelism and could well be an aspect of the continuing gift of apostles. See my article, ‘Are there apostles in the 21st century?

Many of the church fathers in the early days of establishing the Christian church were described as engaging in the ministry as apologists in church planting and teaching. Earle Cairns in his book on church history (Cairns 1996),

During the second and third centuries the church expressed its emerging self-consciousness in a new literary output—the writings of the apologists and the polemicists. Justin Martyr was the greatest of the former group; Irenaeus was the outstanding man of the later group (Cairns 1996:105). [5]

Cairns lists these apologists of the early church:

1. Eastern apologists were Justin Martyr (ca. AD 100-165); Tatian (ca. AD 110-172); Athenagoras (one of his publications was about AD 177); Theophilus of Antioch (converted to Christ about AD 180) (Cairns 1996:106-107).

2. Western apologists included Tertullian (born ca. AD 160); and Minucius Felix (wrote about AD 200) [Cairns 1996:107-109].

Therefore, from a biblical and historical perspective, the ministry of apologetics can be agreed as part of the ministry of apostle or evangelist. In my own ministry as a teacher-preacher, I often use apologetics in explaining aspects of my expositions. Here you will read examples of my expository preaching on 1 Peter.

Recommended books

I highly recommend Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? (Servant Books). Also Harry Blamires, The Post Christian Mind (Servant Books). Os Guinness’s little book has lots of meat, Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think & What to Do About It (I have the British edition by Hodder & Stoughton).

Back in 1972, the late John Stott published a wonderful booklet of 64 pages, Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life (IVP). One of his statements was:

I am not pleading for a dry, humorless, academic Christianity, but for a warm devotion, set on fire by truth. I long for this biblical balance and the avoidance of fanatical extremes. I shall urge that the remedy for an exaggerated view of the intellect is neither to disparage it, nor to neglect it, but to keep it in its God-appointed place, fulfilling its God-appointed role (Stott 1972:11).

Conclusion

We cannot read any document without use of logic. So God, the creator of logic, uses logic is providing us with the God-breathed Scriptures to read. All of God’s good things can be abused and this applies to logic.

It is not illogical to believe in the supernatural God of miracles who provides a book by putting His thoughts in order in Scripture.

The ministry of apologetics is a legitimate Christian ministry that may be subsumed under the gifts of apostle, evangelist and teacher.

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. [6] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Cairns, E E 1996. Christianity through the centuries. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Crossan, J D 1991. The historical Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Geisler, N L & Brooks, R M 1990. Come, let us reason. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Logic in Christian apologetics’, Secondtimearound #37, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7651514-4/ (Accessed 25 April 2012).

[2] See also my article, ‘What is the nature of the Bible’s inspiration?’.

[3] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Logic in Christian apologetics’, ARBITER01 #30. available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7651514-3/ (Accessed 25 April 2012). In this thread I’m OzSpen.

[4] Ibid., #33.

[5] This and the following references are to the 1981 edition of Earle Cairns.

[6] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’, 4th rev and aug ed, 1952 (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 31 May 2016.

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St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing

Monday, April 16th, 2012
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St Augustine of Hippo (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear MA

She was “a woman of the highest social standing in her community,” but disaster had struck. She was dying from a disease that would not respond to any known medical treatment. Two choices were available to her: she could have surgery, or she could accept no treatment. Either way, death was inevitable.

On the advice of an eminent doctor who was a family friend, Innocentia chose to refuse treatment for her breast cancer. But that doctor didn’t realize this godly woman had access to resources he knew nothing of.

In a dream she was told by the Lord to “wait on the women’s side of the baptistry until the first of the newly baptized women would approach, and then ask her to make the sign of Christ on the affected breast.”  She was instantly healed.

The doctor was amazed. His previous examination showed clearly that the tumor was malignant. What special treatment had she received?  He was anxious to hear about the miracle medication.

When he heard her story, his lips and face expressed nothing but contempt, and she was afraid that he was going to begin blaspheming against Christ. The doctor controlled his anger, but sarcastically said, “I had hoped you might have told me something significant.”

Innocentia was shocked by the doctor’s attitude, but her reply was prompt and penetrating: “Well, for Christ to heal a cancer after He raised to life a man four days dead is not, I suppose, particularly significant.”

What makes this testimony of God’s healing power so remarkable is that Innocentia lived in the fifth century when medical science was in its infancy. Anesthetics had not been invented to give to patients before surgery.

Even more profound is the fact that the one who told this story was Augustine, the famous bishop of Hippo in northern Africa and he had believed miracles did not happen in the age in which he lived. This is one of the classic illustrations of the man who dared to change his mind about healing.

Augustine had a Madison Avenue flare. He was “positively angry” that such a great miracle had not been publicized across the city of Carthage. Innocentia had been so silent about the incident that even her closest friends “had heard nothing of the affair.”

Augustine made her tell her story in detail “while her friends, who were there, listened in immense amazement and, when she was done, glorified God.” [1b]  The important question is: What caused Augustine to change his mind about miracles?

A. The doubter becomes a believer

This famous bishop and theologian of the church was a man with a checkered career. Before his Christian conversion he was wild and reckless.  He  indulged  in  drinking, cheating, stealing, and all kinds of illicit sexual activities. To use his own words, he was “a slave to sex rather than a lover of marriage.” [2]

But he was a searcher for truth. At the age of 32 his life was dramatically transformed through an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Augustine became the most important  Christian  writer and preacher of his time. His teachings profoundly affected the church for about a thousand years. “Salvation by grace alone” was the foundation of his ministry, preparing the way for the Protestant reformers in the 1500s.

Like many people today, Augustine had a problem with the supernatural. He knew that the miracles of Jesus were real, but he had doubts about whether they could happen in the day in which he lived. He believed “miracles were not allowed to continue till our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things.” [3]

But about four years before his death he changed his mind: “What I said is not to be interpreted that no miracles are believed to be performed in the name of Christ at the present time. For when I wrote that book, I myself had recently learned that a blind man had been restored to sight in Milan . . . and I knew about some others, so numerous even in these times, that we cannot know about all of them nor enumerate those we know.” [4]

Augustine the doubter once questioned: “Why, you ask, do such miracles not occur now? Because they would not move people, unless they were miraculous; and if they were customary, they would not be miraculous.” [5]

Later he revised that statement: “I meant, however, that such great and numerous miracles no longer take place, not that no miracles occur in our times.” [6]

B.  Why the change?

At the close of one of his most influential writings, The City of God, Augustine tells of a man who was healed of gout; another was instantly cured of paralysis and hernia; evil spirits were driven out of others by prayer. [7] A youth whose eye had been dislocated from its socket and severely damaged, had his sight restored to perfect condition through the prayers of the believers. [8]

A child, dying after being crushed by an ox-drawn cart, was miraculously “returned to consciousness, but showed no sign of the crushing he had suffered.” [9]

The son of Augustine’s neighbor died, “The corpse was laid out; the funeral was arranged; everyone was grieving and sorrowing.” A friend of the family anointed the body with oil. “This was no sooner done than the boy came back to life.” [10]

In his latter years this prominent church leader was witness to, or heard about, demonstrations of God’s supernatural power that were reminiscent of the New Testament church. He had to admit: “If I kept merely to [telling of] miracles of healing and omitted all others. . . I should have to fill several volumes.” [11]

What caused the dramatic turn around in his beliefs? Augustine explains that it came about when “I realized how many miracles were occurring in our own day and which were so like the miracles of old, and how wrong it would be to allow the memory of these marvels of divine power to perish from among our people. It is only two years ago that the keeping of records was begun here in Hippo, and already, at this writing we have nearly seventy attested miracles.” [12]

In spite of initial skepticism, Augustine faced honestly what was happening in his parish. He had to admit that God was at work in the power of the Spirit because of what he saw. To other doubters he recommended: “At least, such people should investigate facts and, if they find them true, should accept them.” [13]

For Augustine, the transformation in his thinking was amazing. “It is a simple fact, then, that there is no lack of miracles even in our day. And the God who works the miracles we read of in the Scripture uses any means and manner He chooses.” [14]

But for Augustine, miracles were not sent primarily by God to relieve pain (although that was a benefit), or to create a spectacle that would attract crowds, or to provide stories that would make a national best-seller. “Miracles have no purpose but to help men believe that Christ is God.” [15] Miracles demonstrate that Jesus Christ is alive and well – they validate the resurrection. He said “the miracles were made known to help men’s faith.” [16]

The miracle that left the most lasting impression on Augustine and his congregation was one that took place in their church one Easter weekend. “It was no more remarkable than others . . . but it was so clear and obvious to everyone that no one who lives here could have failed to see it, or, at least, to hear about it, and certainly no one could ever forget it.”

A brother and sister who were both suffering from convulsive seizures came to town. “Throughout the city they were a spectacle for all to see.”

On Easter morning before the service, the young man was in the crowded church when he fell down as if in a trance. Fear swept across the congregation. But in a moment the fellow stood to his feet and faced the congregation, perfectly normal and well.

The believers erupted in a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord. Many reported the events to Augustine, and there was a striking similarity in all of their stories: the Lord had performed a miracle before their eyes.

Three days later Augustine stood before the congregation with the brother and sister (he was well; she was still trembling with convulsions), and read the young man’s statement of healing.

The sermon that followed was interrupted by loud cries from the woman who was praying in desperation about her condition. God answered her prayer at that moment. She had the same experience as her brother, fell to the floor as if in a trance, but rose to her feet healed.

Augustine described the scene that followed: “Praise to God was shouted so loud that my ears could scarcely stand the din. But, of course, the main point was that, in the hearts of all this clamoring crowd, there burned that faith in Christ for which the martyr Stephen shed his blood.” [17]

C.  Implications

Why is Augustine’s change of mind about healing so significant? First, there are many fine Christians today who believe the biblical-style miracles ceased with the death of the original  twelve apostles. Augustine’s writings clearly disagree with that position.

Second, this famous church leader gives a clear example of what Christian maturity involves. He was flexible enough to change his views when presented with evidence that could not be disputed. Like the apostle Thomas (John 20), his doubt was turned to belief by what he saw.

Third, miracles multiplied in Augustine’s ministry and parish when he was open to such supernatural possibilities. There was little to report about physical healings in his writings when he took the position that miracles were not for his time. God requires people to trust Him for the impossible if the miraculous is to occur.

Christians need to stand firm on biblical principles that never change. But there comes a time when one has to be big enough to admit that a personal interpretation was wrong. Near the end of his life, Augustine revised 93 of his writings and changed “anything that offends me or might offend others.” [18] He had the mettle to admit his mistakes in public and make necessary changes. He dared to change his mind about divine healing.

Notes

[1] This article was originally published as, “The man who dared to change his mind about divine healing,” in the Pentecostal Evangel, September 11, 1983, pp. 18-20.

[1b] Saint Augustine, The City of God, translated by Gerald G. Waigh and Daniel J. Honan, volume 24 in the series, The Fathers of the Church (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), pp. 437, 488.
[2] Mildred Tengborn, “The Saint and His Saintly Mother,” Eternity (January 1983), pp. 46-47.
[3] John A. Mourant, lntroduction to the Philosophy of Saint Augustine: Selected Readings and Commentaries, (University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1964), pp. 64-65. Quoting from Augustine’s “On the True Religion,” chapter 25:47.
[4] Saint Augustine, The Retractions, translated by Sister Mary Inez Bogan, volume 60 in the series, The Fathers of the  Church (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1968), p. 55.
[5] Saint Augustine, “The Advantage of Believing,” in Writings of Saint Augustine, translated by Luaime Meagher, volume 2 in the series, The Fathers of the Church (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1947), p. 438.
[6] Retractions, pp. 61, 62.
[7] City of God, p. 439.
[8] Ibid., p. 441.
[9] Ibid., p. 444.
[10] Ibid., p. 445.
[11] Ibid., p. 445.
[12] Ibid., p. 445.
[13] Ibid., p. 447.
[14] Ibid., p. 447.
[15] Ibid., p. 456.
[16] Saint Augustine, The City of God, an abridged version from the translation by Gerald G. Walsh, Demetrius B. Zema, Grace Monahan, and Daniel J. Honan- Edited, with an introduction, by Vernon J. Bourke (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1958), p. 513.
[17] City of God (as in endnote 1), pp. 448-450.
[18] Retractions, p. xiii.

 

Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 5 May 2016.

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What is the nature of the Bible’s inspiration?

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

clip_image002Courtesy ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

Is the Bible a book that contains errors of history, contradictions of various sorts, and can still be described as the authoritative word of God?

There are heretical groups like the Jesus Seminar that want us to believe that ‘Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him’ (Funk et al 1998:5).

What about John Dominic Crossan’s assessment? (He’s also a fellow of the Jesus Seminar)

What happened after the death and burial of Jesus is told in the last chapters of the four New Testament gospels. On Easter Sunday morning his tomb was found empty, and by Easter Sunday evening Jesus himself had appeared to his closest followers and all was well once again. Friday was hard, Saturday was long, but by Sunday all was resolved. Is this fact or fiction, history or mythology? Do fiction and mythology crowd closely around the end of the story just as they did around its beginning? And if there is fiction or mythology, on what is it based? I have already argued, for instance, that Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fictional and unhistorical. He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals. We can still glimpse what happened before, behind, and despite those fictional overlays precisely by imagining what they were created to hide. What happened on Easter Sunday? Is that the story of one day? Or of several years? Is that the story of all Christians gathered together as a single group in Jerusalem? Or is that the story of but one group among several, maybe of one group who claimed to be the whole?…

The Easter story at the end is, like the Nativity story at the beginning, so engraved on our imagination as factual history rather than fictional mythology. (Crossan 1994:160-161).

If that is your view of the Bible, what is your view of Christ’s death on the cross and his atonement for sins? Crossan takes offense at the substitutionary atonement:

What are his statements about the nature of Christ’s atonement? His view is that blood sacrifice should not include suffering and substitution and should not include ‘substitutionary suffering’. He stated that ‘worst of all, imagine that somebody brought together sacrifice, suffering, and substitution….That theology would be a crime against divinity’. While it is correct to call Jesus’ death a sacrifice, but ‘substitutionary atonement is bad as theoretical Christian theology just as suicidal terrorism is bad as practical Islamic theology. Jesus died because of our sins, or from our sins, but that should never be misread as for our sins’ (Crossan 2007:140).

Crossan’s presuppositions about the atonement

What are the presuppositions that underlie this theology that opposes substitutionary atonement?

On Christian Forums I was discussing the nature of Scripture when I stated that in about 50 years as an evangelical Christian, I’ve come across a few apparent contradictions, but with some further study all of them have been resolved to my satisfaction.

My starting point is that the God of Scriptures tells the truth and I’ve provided this biblical evidence for this in a previous post on this thread. Since God is the God of truth, we will not tell me a lie or present a real contradiction to me. It may be an apparent contradiction in Scripture from my human perspective, but I’ve been able to resolve/harmonise them to my satisfaction.[1]

Pointless exercise

Ebia’s response was:

Because its (sic) a pointless exercise, like worrying about whether the Maths textbook has got their height of the tower of Pisa correct. No – correct that – a worse than pointless exercise. “resolving” the discrepancies ends up devaluing the actual messages of the texts in order to hang on to some inappropriate notion of truth that reflects a particular cultural hang-up.
Sure, one can convince oneself that anything is not a contradiction if one is prepared to go far enough to do it. The question is whether that’s a good idea.[2]

There was a back and forth between us in which there were differences between us of the meaning of biblical authority.

Ebia responded to another of my posts:

‘Because the discrepancies [in Scripture] tend to exist for a reason; they result from the differences in what different authors are trying to say. A best resolving them risks flattening out the accounts and drowning out those messages, at worst it produces a farce like some of the attempts to harmonize the cock-crow/denial accounts or the resurrection morning accounts. And either way it’s a distraction. In no case does it – can it – do anything actually useful. Assuming that the gospels are “God’s word (TM)”, it’s the gospels as written that are that, not some harmonization of them’.[3]

In another she asked:

What do I take from the letter to Timothy? That scripture is a unique gift from God, useful and reliable for teaching,… And in some sense a living thing. That it has authority in the sense Tom Wright talks about.[4]

I was asking for her understanding of the meaning of theopneustos (‘inspiration’ or ‘breathed out by God’) in 2 Tim. 3:16.

How would you respond to her continuing emphases?

  • ‘You’re going around in circles because you are trying to force an answer in terms of a framework that is not one that I or Tom [N T Wright] accept.

I don’t accept that inconsistency in factual detail is an error in texts that aren’t trying to communicate that level of factual detail (see my Maths textbook analogy) and therefore to keep framing the question on those terms is, to me, to misformed (sic) the question’.[5]

  • ‘It takes two to tango. But the reason we are both going around in circles is that the way you keep framing the question fits your worldview assumptions but not mine, instead of being prepared to consider what I actually have to say.
    In particular I don’t share your view that a discrepancy in a factual detail – lets say the name of Joseph’s great-grandfather in the male line – constitutes an error in a meaningful sense.
    Tom Wright leaves out what I would want to leave out because it’s the wrong question to be asking.
    Of course we aren’t going to agree. Is the only point of a conversation to make people agree with you?’[6]
  • ‘You claim it’s a “conflict with the nature of God”. I don’t agree because I don’t see a discrepancy in factual detail to be an “error” if the concern of the text is not accuracy in that detail but something entirely different.
    Your question is “wrong” because it has an underlying assumption about tangential factual details that I don’t share.
    It’s a bit like keeping asking “have you stopped beating your wife yet; yes or no?”’[7]
  • ‘Discrepancies [in Scripture] tend to exist for a reason; they result from the differences in what different authors are trying to say’.

Presuppositions imposed on biblical text

I find it impossible to have a rational discussion with this person and her views on the nature of the origin of the Bible because her presuppositions are based on an imposition on the biblical text. The view of Scripture is not that expounded from the Scriptures themselves. This is my assessment:

(1) If we try to resolve the discrepancies in the text, it ends up devaluing the actual messages of the texts is her statement. Her view is that the message of the Bible can contain discrepancies (i.e. errors), but that doesn’t affect the message. My presupposition is that the God of truth does not tell lies and the original documents of the Bible would not have been given by God to contain errors if he is the God of truth and justice as I’ve attempted to show in this article.

(2) Her view is that an inconsistency in factual detail is not an error in texts. That is a loose view of the authority of Scripture that allows or glosses over errors in factual details in the Bible. Therefore, how do we decide which are the factual errors and which are not? Is the ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) creation of the universe and all that is in it, according to the Genesis record, a factual inconsistency when compared with the theory of evolution? Is the virgin birth of Christ and inconsistency or factually true? I find it better to study the Bible inductively – from the biblical texts. Listen to what the biblical text states. There may be statements that I don’t yet understand with my limited knowledge and there may be apparent inconsistencies, but to date I have not found an alleged discrepancy for which there has not been an adequate explanation provided with study.

(3) According to this poster, the discrepancies are there for a reason and are because different authors are trying to say different things. But, what about the God of truth and what he is overseeing? If he is the God of truth, shouldn’t that guarantee the truth of what he superintends, no matter which author is writing?

(4) I ask you: Is ebia on the correct path when she compares my view of wanting to know if the Bible is an infallible document or not, with ‘like keeping asking “have you stopped beating your wife yet; yes or no?”’ Is the requirement to know the origin of the Bible, whether it is infallible or not, in any way like asking, ‘have you stopped beating your wife yet; yes or no?’ I object strongly to such an interpretation of my views. I find ebia to be promoting a weak view of the Scripture and she is trying to justify her view.

I hope you see that this interchange is important because it helps to uncover the presupposition we both have with regard to the Scripture. Ebia believes that the Bible can make errors in tangential factual details and still be regarded as Scripture. My view is that the God of truth and righteousness will always tell the truth and never lie. What he tells us in Scripture is inerrant in the original manuscripts.

See the articles that follow that I have written, except for the first one:

Apparent contradictions and inerrancy’ by my son, Paul Gear;

The Bible’s support for inerrancy of the originals;

Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

Can you trust the bible? Part 4

I have a copy of the American edition[8] – and have read all of it – of N T Wright’s The Last Word (HarperSanFrancisco 2005). He begins his preface to the American edition with,

Writing a book about the Bible is like building a sandcastle in front of the Matterhorn (p. ix).

He states that the central claim of this book is

that the phrase “authority of Scripture” can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for “the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture” (p. 23, emphasis in original).

Later, under the heading, ‘Inspiration and “the Word of YHWH”‘, he stated

“Inspiration” is a shorthand way of talking about the belief that by his Spirit God guided the very different writers and editors, to that the books they produced were the books God intended his people to have. This is not the subject of the present book, but we should note that some kind of divine inspiration of scripture was taken for granted in most of the ancient Israelite scriptures themselves as well as in the beliefs of the early Christians (p. 37).

He admits that

many of the accusations not merely of diversity but of flat contradiction arise not from historical study proper but from impositions on the texts of categories from which later Western thought (from, for instance, the sixteenth or the nineteenth century (p. 52).

He explains that

‘the Reformers’ sola scriptura slogan was part of their protest against perceived medieval corruptions. Go back to scripture, they insisted, and you will find the once-for-all death of Jesus but not the Mass, justification by faith but not purgatory, the power of God’s word but not that of the pope…. Nothing beyond scripture is to be taught as needing to be believed in order for one to be saved (pp. 71-72, emphasis in original).

He stated that his major conclusion was

that the shorthand phrase “the authority of scripture,” when unpacked, offers a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community” (p. 114, emphasis in original).

He goes on to explain that he has argued in this book that

“the authority of Scripture” is really a shorthand for “the authority of God exercised through scripture”; and God’s authority is not merely his right to control and order the church, but his sovereign power, exercised in an through Jesus and the Spirit, to bring all things in heaven and on earth into subjection to his judging and healing rule. (Ephesians 1 sets this out more spectacularly than most passages.) In other words, if we are to be true, at the deepest level, to what scriptural authority really means, we must understand it like this: God is at work, through scripture (in other words, through the Spirit who is at work as people read, study, teach and preach scripture) to energize, enable and direct the outgoing mission of the church, genuinely anticipating thereby the time when all things will be made new in Christ (p. 138).

However, after reading his book, I find that N. T. Wright is skirting around or avoiding the issue of the nature of the Bible and how it was given in the original documents – infallibility or inerrancy are far from his keyboard, but he does admit that ‘the church clearly can’t live without the Bible’ (p. ix). My question is, ‘What kind of Bible?’ Is it one that includes inaccuracies and contradictions, or as ebia, a supporter of N. T. Wright’s view, states that it does not matter if in factual detail there is an error in the texts?

Wright does include in the preface the statement that he has tried

to face head on the question of how we can speak of the Bible being in some sense “authoritative” when the Bible itself declares that all authority belongs to the one true God, and that this is now embodied in Jesus Himself (p. xi).

But how do we know this book is a reliable and trustworthy document? Did the God of truth, perfection and justice (Deut. 32:4; Ps 19:9; John 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16; Rev 15:3-4; 16:7; 19:1-4) who gave us the Bible, give his revelation in a document that includes errors and contradictions in the original manuscripts?

These questions need to be answered and I do not think that N. T. Wright did that in his book on the authority of Scripture, The Last Word (HarperSanFrancisco 2005).

Major problem of omission

After I wrote the above, I sought out reviews of Wright’s, The Last Word. Theologian John Frame measured my theological pulse when he wrote:

By way of evaluation[9]: So far as I am aware, there is no statement in the book that I simply disagree with. And the book contains some excellent insights about Scripture, on its kingdom context, the canon, and Scripture’s relations with tradition, reason, and experience. Wright also has valuable things to say here about biblical interpretation: on how the New Testament fulfills the Old, and on what a “literal” interpretation ought to mean.

But there is a major problem of omission. If one is to deal seriously with the “Bible wars,” even somehow to transcend them, one must ask whether and how inspiration affects the text of Scripture. Wright defines inspiration by saying that “by his Spirit God guided the very different writers and editors, so that the books they produced were the books God intended his people to have” (37). But the same can be said about the books in my library: that God moved writers, editors, publishers, et al., so that the books in my library are the ones God wants me to have. Nevertheless, there are some horrible books in my library (which I keep for various good reasons). So it is important to ask whether inspiration is simply divine providence, or whether it carries God’s endorsement. Is God, in any sense, the author of inspired books?

Wright doesn’t discuss this question, but Scripture itself does. The Decalogue was the writing of God’s finger (Ex. 31:18). The prophets identified the source of their preaching by the phrase “thus says the Lord.” Jesus attributes David’s words to the Spirit (Matt. 22:43). Paul says that the Old Testament Scriptures were God-breathed, i.e., spoken by God (2 Tim. 3:16). And Paul connects this God-breathed quality with the authority of Scripture, indicating that biblical authority is not only the authority of divine power, but also of divine speech.
Or look at it this way:  “Word of God” in Scripture, is not merely “a strange personal presence, creating, judging, healing, recreating” (38).” It is all of these things, but it is also, obviously, divine speech (as Wright himself recognizes on 34). When God creates, for example, he creates by speech, by commanding the world to exist. Prophecy and Scripture are “word of God,” not only in their power, but also as speech and language: not only power, but also meaning.

Wright is right to say that God’s word, and specifically Scripture, is more than doctrines and commands. But if inspiration confers divine authorship, and if God’s word is true speech, then it becomes very important, within the context of the kingdom narrative, to believe God’s doctrines and to obey God’s commands. Indeed, as Wright notes, the very nature of narrative poses the question of whether the events described “really happened:” that is, what should we believe about them, and how should we act in response. But then narrative itself implies doctrines to be believed and commandments to obey.7
That is what the Bible wars are about. One can believe everything Wright says about the narrative context of biblical authority and still ask responsibly whether the words of Scripture are God’s words to us. Wright’s book does not speak helpfully to this question, nor does it succeed (if this was Wright’s purpose) in persuading us not to ask it. So, like the worship books mentioned earlier, The Last Word does not discuss what is most relevant to the controversy. It proposes a context, but a context is not enough. Two people who accept Wright’s proposal may nevertheless differ radically on the question of whether the Bible is the word of God.

Many of us would like to get away from the debates of the liberal/fundamentalist controversy. But if Scripture is God’s very word, then we cannot be indifferent to its doctrinal and ethical authority, or silent against attacks on that authority. Wright has done some great work in defending the truth of Scripture, and it is evident in the present volume that he has scant regard for the scholarship of enlightenment skeptics like those of the Jesus Seminar. So he has himself entered into the Bible wars. But are these wars merely contests to see who is the better scholar, or is the word of God itself at issue? If the latter, much more must be said and done (Review of N. T. Wright, The Last Word. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005, by John M. Frame).

How did ebia respond to the above?

You’re going around in circles because you are trying to force an answer in terms of a framework that is not one that I or Tom accept.

I don’t accept that in inconsistency in factual detail is an error in texts that aren’t trying to communicate that level of factual detail (see my Maths textbook analogy) and therefore to keep framing the question on those terms is, to me, to misformed the question.[10]

My response is that it is not I who is going around in circles. Ebia seems to like Tom Wright’s perspective where he doesn’t want to admit to the infallibility of Scripture in the original documents, which affirms the origin of Scripture, which is consistent with the nature of the God of truth who does not lie.

John Frame picked that one well. It is what Wright leaves out that is what I consider of critical importance. Is Scripture truthful (infallible) or does it include discrepancies, even in minor factual details?

However, ebia and I are not going to agree on the infallibility of Scripture because our presuppositions are very different.[11]

Works consulted

Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A revolutionary biography. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 2007. God and empire: Jesus against Rome, then and now. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Funk, R W, Hoover, R W & The Jesus Seminar 1993. The five gospels: The search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Notes

[1] OzSpen #89, Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Bible contradictions’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7643378-9/ (Accessed 7 April 2012).

[2] #91 ibid.

[3] #93, ibid.

[4] Ebia #99, ibid, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7643378-10/ (Accessed 7 April 2012).

[5] Ibid. #101.

[6] Ibid, #103.

[7] Ibid. #105.

[8] This information I posted as OzSpen at #100, ibid.

[9] He is reviewing N T Wright 2005. The Last Word. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

[10] Ebia #101, Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Bible contradictions’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7643378-10/ (Accessed 7 April 2012).

[11] Ibid., #102.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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What does historical-critical theology do to the Bible?

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

image

(image courtesy of ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not surprising to hear theological liberals, who deny the authority of Scripture, come out in defence of critics who denigrate the Bible. I encountered this recently on Christian Forums, the largest Christian forum on the www.

A person was commenting about the evidence for Jesus and about that evidence, for sceptics, that is located outside of the Bible.[1] An orthodox Christian wrote:

The only “question marks” come from the higher critics whose sole purpose in life is to deny the Bible as God’s truth. He who has a preconceived agenda has no real interest in the scholarship required to prove or disprove the literature in question. He has already reached his conclusion, and facts just get in the way.[2]

A contributor, who generally has a reputation of posting comments more in line with liberalism than evangelical Christianity, wrote:

I suggest your statement too much of a generalization. The purpose of higher criticism is not to deny the Bible but to gain a better understanding of just what is God’s ‘truth’ by cutting through the smoke and mirrors.[3]

How should we respond to such a view of higher criticism?[4]

Wayseer was building a straw man logical fallacy. He must be living blind-folded to the presuppositional bias against the supernatural of Scripture in the works of much of higher criticism. The purpose and outcome of much of higher criticism has been to deny the authenticity and reliability of the Bible. He has to be blind to what historical critics are doing to make that kind of statement.

Eta Linnemann, a former insider, exposes higher criticism

imageEta Linnemann: 1926-2009 (Wikipedia)

Eta Linnemann (1990:17) was a student of the radical demythologiser, Rudolf Bultmann, as well as the liberals, Ernst Fuchs, Friedrich Gogarten and Gerhard Ebeling. She was baptised, immersed, convinced, indoctrinated in historical criticism. Since she rejected that worldview and its sceptical premises, she has written, Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology.[5] She knows historical criticism from the inside out and these are some of her statements about that discipline of liberal theological scepticism:

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Linnemann’s statements of some presuppositions of higher-critical theology

1. In her chapter 6, “The Study of the Historical-Critical Theology”, she stated that ‘research is conducted ut si Deus non daretur (“as if there were no God”). That means the reality of God is excluded from consideration from the start…. The standard by which all is assessed is not God’s Word but scientific principle’ (Linnemann 1990:84).

2. ‘Underlying the historical-critical approach is a series of prejudgments which are not themselves the result of scientific investigation. They are rather dogmatic premises, statements of faith, whose foundation is the absolutizing of human reason as a controlling apparatus’ (Linnemann 1990:111).

3. ‘Whoever maintains that the Bible can only be made understandable with the methods of critical historiography is putting a thoroughly atheistically conceived science in charge of the treasures of divine revelation…. This atheistic, anti-Christian science is recognized by historical-critical theology as furnishing the only proper access to God’s Word, so everyone who wishes to be regarded as theologically educated should endorse this outlook’ (Linnemann 1990:116).

4. Kummel’s[6] historical-critical statement is that ‘the Bible must be historically investigated as the work of human authors in order to understand its actual meaning’. Linnemann’s assessment of this statement is: ‘That is not first demonstrated; it is, rather, presupposed from the outset. And that is not the private opinion of Kummel; it is, rather, the common assumption of historical-critical theology…. They are not permitted to cross-examine in any meaningful way the assumptions of historical-critical theology’ (1990:118, 119).

5. Kummel, using his historical-critical theology, stated, ‘It is easy to see that it is basically impossible to confront the writings of the New Testament as a man making judgments in research and at the same time as one who hears in faith’ (in Linnemann 1990:122).

6. ‘Since the inspiration of Scripture is not accepted, neither can it be assumed that the individual books of Scripture complement each other’ (Linnemann 1990:86).

7. ‘Since the content of biblical writings is seen as merely the creations of theological writers, any given verse is nothing more than a non-binding, human theological utterance’ (Linnemann 1990:86).

8. ‘The undeclared yet working basic principle of Old Testament and New Testament science is: What the text clearly states can, by no means, be true’ (Linnemann 1990:87).

9. ‘For historical-critical theology, critical reason decides what is reality in the Bible and what cannot be reality; and this decision is made on the basis of the everyday experience accessible to every person. Nothing is accepted as fact unless it is generally held to be possible. That which is spiritual is judged using fleshly criteria. Experiences of God’s children are totally disregarded. Due to the presuppositions that are adopted, critical reason loses sight of the fact that the Lord, our God, the Almighty, reigns’. As for miracles, ‘the theologians write them off as popular religious drivel’ (Linnemann 1990:88, 89).

10. ‘In its own eyes, historical-critical theology wants to lend assistance to the proclamation of the gospel through an interpretation of the Bible that is scientifically reliable and objective. There is, however, a monstrous contradiction between what it says it wants to do, on the one hand, and what it actually does on the other. In the light of all I have already said, it should be patently obvious that the manner in which historical critical theology handles the Bible does not further the proclamation of the gospel, but rather hinders it – in fact, it even prevents it’ (Linnemann 1990:89).

11. ‘But worse yet, it is by no means clear that we are dealing here with an approach that yields objective and scientifically reliable interpretation of the Scripture as it claims. It is simply not true that historical-critical theology has replaced subjective impressions with a well-grounded discovery of the truth through careful weighing of arguments’ (Linnemann 1990:89).

12. ‘If one assumes that the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13) was not spoken by Jesus himself, but rather that it arose in the early church, then one places it in a different context. It gives information, not about Jesus, but about the early church. To analyze it one compares it to what is known of the early church, not to what is known about Jesus’ (Linnemann 1990:93).

13. ‘If one assumes, on the basis of the differences between John’s Gospel and the three other Gospels, that the author of John is not John the disciple of Jesus, then a series of inferences naturally flows: In this case the author himself did not personally experience what he asserts about Jesus. He must have modeled his presentation on earlier sources. This raises the questions about the nature of these earlier documents. And this in turn raises the further question of how John’s Gospel is distinct from the sources it is based upon’ (Linnemann 1990:93).

14. ‘Basic assumptions are placed on the same level as fact, not theory, of course, but certainly in practical application. That is, one makes use of them as if they were facts. Anyone who incorporates these basic assumptions into his thinking is influenced and ultimately changed by them’ (Linnemann 1990:96).

15. For these historical-critical scholars, ‘Christian literature from Bible-believing authors is practically taboo. The productions of some publishers are not taken seriously and cannot be listed in the bibliography of a formal term paper, unless one is prepared to get a lower grade for doing so. The professor is not really familiar with these works either’ (Linnemann 1990:97).

16. As for the prophetic future, for historical-critical scholars, ‘there is no such thing as a knowledge of future things given by God’ (Linnemann 1990:110).

17. Linnemann’s assessment, based on her many years of indoctrination by the historical-critical method, is that Kummel’s compromise solutions do not justify ‘his groundless contention that it is a fact that believing reception of the New Testament message can occur only through the hearing aid of historical-critical theology…. But Kummel subsequently sets forth the thesis once more: “Hence there is no other access to the understanding of the New Testament writings than the method of historical research, which is valid for all antiquity”‘ (Linnemann 1990:122).

18. Linnemann’s assessment of her genuine Christian conversion from the historical-critical liberalism is: ‘I am so grateful that Jesus’ blood has washed away my errors! I was no better; in fact I was worse, and I likewise made such irresponsible statements. And whoever gets involved in historical-critical theology will end up in a similar situation. One can no more be a little historical-critical than a little pregnant’ (Linnemann 1990:123).

19.  Read Eta Linnemann’s testimony of her conversion to Christ after years of dedication to theological liberalism, HERE. See Eta Linnemann’s, ‘Historical-Critical and Evangelical Theology’.

In the midst of this kind of evidence from one who was involved deeply with the historical-critical method, wayseer had the audacity to state: ‘The purpose of higher criticism is not to deny the Bible’.

That is a plainly false statement as any examination of the historical-critical writers will demonstrate. He has a sub-standard understanding of the historical-critical method to conclude that its purpose is not to deny the Bible. My reading of historical-critical writers demonstrates that for many of them the purpose is to deny the authority and integrity of the Bible – BIG TIME.

I’m in the midst of working my way through the presuppositions of the historical-critical ideology of John Dominic Crossan in a doctoral dissertation (so I can’t share them at this stage) but Crossan is but another example of the desire to denigrate the Bible, whether that be by modernistic or postmodernistic presuppositions. An example would be Crossan’s statement (1991:423), the nineteenth century dream of ‘uncommitted, objective, dispassionate historical study’ is ‘a methodological screen’. Instead, he challenges the readers through his method and historical hermeneutics as they presume ‘that there will always be divergent historical Jesuses’ with resultant ‘divergent Christs’. The structure of Christianity, for Crossan, will be, without variation, ‘This is how we see Jesus-then as Christ-now‘ (emphasis in original).

Theological liberalism is inundated with historical-critical presuppositions, thus creating an ideology that tries to destroy the integrity of the Bible.

And have a guess what? When it is promoted in any denomination, it destroys that denomination as a Gospel-presenting church. We see that with much of the Anglican church in Australia (except for the Sydney diocese, some of the Melbourne diocese, and the occasional other evangelical Anglican churches like the one near me in Petrie, Qld).

The ‘cutting through the smoke and mirrors’ (wayseer’s language) of historical-critical methodology, is really the imposing of a secular worldview on the biblical text and making it mean what the critic wants it to mean, and that is generally contrary to the intent of the biblical text.

On the popular level, the theological liberalism promoted by John Shelby Spong, is an example of how he sets about to destroy the Bible – and losing 40,000 people in the Episcopal church diocese when he was bishop of Newark, NJ. See ‘Spong’s deadly Christianity‘.

There are presupposition of the historical-critical method that force historical-critical scholars to eek sources outside of the Bible. This often means a downgrading of the historicity of the NT.

One of the criteria for historicity that these historical scholars like to use is multiple attestation and not single attestation. If it is attested (stated) once only in the NT, that is not good enough for historical veracity for many of these historical scholars. What I’m finding in assessing the methodology of John Dominic Crossan is that he does not maintain this criterion of multiple attestation with complete consistency. There are times when one record of a Jesus’ action is accepted by him.

However, most scholars using a framework of historical criticism that I have assessed, denigrate the Bible and elevate their own (or another scholar’s) human reason as more authoritative than the Bible.

Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, stated:

The aim of the quest [for the historical Jesus] is to set Jesus free. Its purpose is to liberate Jesus from the scriptural and creedal and experiential prisons in which we have incarcerated him (1996:300).

That’s what we are dealing with when we see historical-critical study inflicted on the Scriptures. Funk’s and the Jesus Seminar’s views are more important than the scriptural version of Jesus.
Also see I. H. Marshall’s, ‘Historical criticism’.

Conclusion

The historical-critical method is destructive of biblical Christianity.

The Word of God is homogeneous and unified; it is entirely and totally God’s Word. To classify its various parts according to our own evaluation system is insolence. It is, nevertheless, standard procedure in historical-critical theology to accord different levels of validity to different portions of God’s Word (Linnemann 1990:149).

Works consulted

Crossan, J D 1991. The historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Funk, R W 1996. Honest to Jesus. Rydalmere, NSW: Hodder & Stoughton.

Kummel, W G 1973. The theology of the New Testament. Nashville: Abingdon.

Linnemann, E 1990. Historical criticism of the Bible: Methodology or ideology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.[7]

Linnemann, E 1992. Is there a synoptic problem?: Rethinking the literary dependence of the first three gospels. Tr by R. W. Yarbrough. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Linnemann, E 2001. Biblical criticism on Trial: How scientific is ‘scientific theology’? (online). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, also available (online) at: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=JkOq91KGIGIC&pg=PA207&lpg=PA207&dq=%22Eta+Linnemann+Spurgeon%22&source=bl&ots=n0qieDcBfc&sig=IxX6hhcZfzXtFRhQjosgJE7R1J0&hl=en&ei=BSXnTJjUKcfXcYDd3d0K&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=true (Accessed 20 November 2010).

Notes


[1] ebia #5, 25 March 2012. ‘Did Jesus Really Exist? Proving Jesus without the Bible’, Christian Forums. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7643394/ (Accessed 3 April 2012).

[2] WinbySurrender #9, ibid.

[3] wayseer #10, ibid.

[4] I responded as OzSpen#49, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7643394-5/ (Accessed 3 April 2012). I have rewritten a few phrases to make it in the third person.

[5] See the other writings of Linnemann (1992, 2001).

[6] Linnemann is referring to Kummel (1973). See Linnemann (1990:114,  n. 1).

[7] This book is now published by Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Books, 2001.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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Does God want everyone to receive salvation?

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

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(Courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Christians need to be people of discernment, not only with all of the influences from the secular world of godlessness, but also in the church.

Which of these two statements can be confirmed by the Scriptures?

  • Jesus did not die for the sins of all people in the world. He died only for his predestined people, the elect. An example of such a statement by a theologian would be by Homer C. Hoeksema, ‘It is in this truth of limited atonement[1] that the doctrine of sovereign election (and, in fact, sovereign predestination with its two aspects of election and reprobation) comes into focus’.
  • Jesus’ death on the cross was to make salvation for all the people in the world, i.e. unlimited atonement. This kind of statement is supported by the Society of Evangelical Arminians, ‘We believe that the shed blood of Jesus Christ and his resurrection were provided for the salvation of all people, but are effective only for those who believe’.

So, did Jesus die only for the elect or did he die for the whole world? There is a fairly strong presence of Calvinists and Arminians on the www on Christian forums. Here is one example of an interaction.

Some Calvinists don’t believe that Jesus died for the sins of all the people in the world. However, some Calvinists do believe in unlimited atonement. Here is an example of Skala’s post on Christian Forums when he stated of 2 Peter 3:9:

I don’t think you understand the interpretation.
God is patiently waiting for the elect to be saved, which is why he delay’s (sic) Christ’s return.
God is patient towards YOU (the elect), not willing that any perish, but for all to reach repentance.
You have to read stuff that is not in the verse, into the verse, to get it to say what you are trying to assert.
That God is trying to save everyone, and is trying to get everyone to repent. Suddenly, in your interpretation, the pronoun “you” refers to every single individual in the human race. Even though for the past 9 verses, indeed, the last 2 books (1st and 2nd Peter) it has referred to “God’s elect”.[2]

He[3] doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of English or Greek words in this verse. Second Peter 3:9 states:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (NIV).

He does not understand the meaning of ‘anyone’ and ‘everyone’.

Second Peter 3:9 confirms the truth of 1 Tim. 2:3-4,

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (NIV).

There is not a hint in any of these verses that ‘anyone’, ‘everyone’ and ‘all people’ refers only to the elect. It’s a Calvinistic premise that is imposed on the text. It is not exegeted from the text.

John Calvin wrote of 2 Peter 3:9,

So wonderful is [God’s] love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost (The Second Epistle of Peter, p. 419, emphasis added).

Calvinistic commentator, Simon J. Kistemaker (1986:334) wrote of 2 Peter 2:9,

‘”Not wanting anyone to perish.” Peter is not teaching universalism in this sentence. In his epistle, he clearly states that the false teachers and scoffers are condemned and face destruction (see 2:3; 3:7; Rom. 9:22). Does not God want the false teachers to be saved? Yes, but they disregard God’s patience toward them, they employ their knowledge of Jesus Christ against him, and they willfully reject God’s offer of salvation. They, then, bear full responsibility for their own condemnation.
“[God wants] everyone to come to repentance.” God provides time for man to repent, but repentance is an act that man must perform’

These two Calvinistic commentators do not agree with Skala. There is not a word in the statement or in the context to support his invented statement that ‘God is patiently waiting for the elect to be saved, which is why he delay’s (sic) Christ’s return’.[4]

This is an utterly false statement. The verse does NOT state that and both Calvin & Kistemaker agree with my understanding and disagree with his imposition on the text.

Skala was engaging in eisegesis[5] of the text by placing his meaning onto the text and not engaging in exegesis,[6] getting the meaning out of the text.

References:

Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Notes:


[1] By ‘limited atonement’ is meant ‘the teaching held in Reformed (Calvinist) circles of Christianity which states that Jesus bore only the sins of the elect, and not that of every individual who ever lived’ (CARM, ‘limited atonement’, available at: http://carm.org/dictionary-limited-atonement [Accessed 3 April 2012]).

[2] Skala #132, 3 April 2012, Christian Forums, ‘Jesus teaches TULIP’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7642873-14/#post60169337 (Accessed 3 April 2012).

[3] The following was my response to him as OzSpen#133, ibid.

[4] Cited above.

[5] ‘Eisegesis is when a person interprets and reads information into the text that is not there’ (CARM, ‘Eisegesis’, CARM, available at: http://carm.org/dictionary-eisegesis [Accessed 3 April 2012]).

[6] ‘Exegesis is when a person interprets a text based solely on what it says. That is, he extracts out of the text what is there as opposed to reading into it what is not there’, CARM, available at: http://carm.org/dictionary-exegesis (Accessed 3 April 2012).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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