Archive for November, 2013

Spong promotes salvation viruses called ‘offensive’ and ‘anathema’

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Rotavirus (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

When a bishop, clergy person or any church leader plants seeds of a salvation virus, it is a reasonable deduction that there will be a decline in denominational numbers and indications of ‘death’ in a congregation or denomination of that bishop or clergy person.

Spong’s own diagnosis of the virus is called ‘offensive’ and ‘anathema’. Stay tuned for details.

Ex-archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey, pointed in this direction, but he did not lay the blame at the feet of liberal theology. It was reported in the British newspaper, The Telegraph:

The Church of England is “one generation away from extinction”, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.

Lord Carey, 78, said churchgoers should be “ashamed” of themselves for failing to invest more in young people and called for urgent action before its too late.

The outspoken Lord said that unless more was done to attract new worshipers then every one of the 43 CofE dioceses across the world could be wiped out within 25 years.

He also expressed fears that the modern church was too old fashioned and “not the most exciting place to meet new people” (Riley-Smith 2013).

A follow-up article by A N Wilson stated: ‘So what do I make of Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, saying that the Church is only one generation from extinction, its clergy gripped by a “feeling of defeat” and its congregations worn down with “heaviness”? Is he just suffering from peevish-old-man syndrome?’ (Wilson 2013).

His claim was that ‘there are two simple reasons for this, and there is nothing anyone can say that will make these reasons go away’. Those are:

(1) The church’s view on sex and living together, with no sex permitted outside of marriage;

(2) Unbelief in the churches. Wilson stated:

The second reason is a much bigger thing. That is the decline of belief itself. Most people simply cannot subscribe to the traditional creeds. No number of Alpha courses can make people believe that God took human form of a Virgin, or rose from the dead. They simply can’t swallow it. They see no reason, therefore, to listen to a Church that propounds these stories and then presumes to tell them how to behave in the bedroom.

When there was a tradition of church-going, there was more room for unbelief. When a young priest told Archbishop Michael Ramsey that he had lost his faith in God, Ramsey replied, after a long pause: “It doesn’t matter – it doesn’t matter.” You can’t imagine Lord Carey saying that (Wilson 2013).

1.  How would Christians respond to Carey’s views?

Archbishop george carey1.jpg

George Carey (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

I posted links to the above two articles on a large Christian forum[1] and asked for discussion on reasons for the demise of the Church of England (Anglican) and the apologetic issues these raised.

Here are a few grabs from the responses:

6pointblue-small ‘Yes, liberal Christianity is coming to an end. Also, with OBAMA Care, Liberals are coming to an end. Now we can really start preaching the True Gospel. Praise God’.[2]

6pointblue-small ‘We need a more objective stand than liberals take, and a more inclusive acceptance of reality than fundamentalists do, so we can present a unified understanding of reality that we can defend and that has something substantive to offer. Either extreme will undermine our relevance to the world, as well as our own faith’.[3]

6pointblue-small A response to the above post that ‘liberal Christianity is coming to an end’, was: ‘On the contrary, it appears that while political liberalism may be limited, liberal Christianity is spreading and becoming even more brazen and extreme’.[4]

2.  Enter John Shelby Spong

J S Spong (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

My response to the last comment was:[5]

You will need to provide me with statistical documentation that supports your claim.

One of the most damning pieces of evidence against John Shelby Spong’s theologically liberal views is contained in what happened when he was bishop of the Episcopalian Church diocese of Newark, NJ. It is reported in ‘Newark’s Disastrous Decline Under Spong: Post-Mortem of a Bishop’s Tenure’. Here it was reported:

Prior to Spong’s arrival as bishop coadjutor in 1977, the Diocese of Newark, like the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A (ECUSA), was facing a slow but steady decline from its peak membership in the 1960s. After Spong became the bishop in 1979, the rate of decline began to pick up.

Between 1978 and 1999, the number of baptized persons in the diocese fell from 64,323 to 36,340, a loss of 27,983 members in 21 years. That’s a disastrous 43.5% decline. The Episcopal Church, by contrast, saw a decline in the number of baptized persons from 3,057,162 in 1978 to 2,339,133 in 1997, a loss of 718, 499, or a substantial 23.4%, according to the 1998 Church Annual.

The Diocese of Newark under Spong, thus, has declined at a rate 20.1 percentage points higher than the rate for the entire Episcopal Church. This rate of decline is 86% faster than the Episcopal Church, whose losses are considerable in and of themselves.

As any statistician would note, the losses in the Diocese of Newark represent a highly statistically significant variation from the trends within the Episcopal Church. No systematic effort has been made to get at the exact causes that made losses in the diocese so much greater.

Ominously for the future, church members in the diocese are also getting older and there are fewer children in Sunday School. In 1976 there were 10,186 children pupils in Sunday School. In 1999 there were only 4,833, a loss of 5,353. That’s 52.6% decline.

By 1997 the diocese had closed at least 18 parishes or missions which had existed when Spong became bishop. All of these parishes or missions were in urban areas. The details of the closing of these churches was reported by the author in an article in United Voice in 1997 titled “The Diocese of Newark’s Graveyard of Urban Ministry.”

The rate of decline under Spong – already fairly torrid – sharply accelerated after 1995. During the 1980s and early 1990s, there was often a loss of 1,000 members a year. From 1995 to 1998, there was a stunning drop from 44, 246 to 36,597 in only three years, a drop of 7,649 — or more than 2,500 a year.

The rate of membership decline under Spong is disastrous by any reasonable measure. Such a pace of decline cannot continue if the diocese is to survive and if the Episcopal church is to retain more than a marginal presence in northern New Jersey.

What’s the truth about the death of theism? This is but one example of what happens when theological liberalism has taken hold. Church numbers have crashed.

Continuing with the USA Episcopal Church as an example, this recent article, ‘Episcopal Church Task Force Releases Report on Restructuring Plans’ (July 17, 2013), stated.

“Entrenched bureaucracies and dozens of committees or commissions have accumulated over time. This has occurred even as the Episcopal Church has dropped from a high of 3.6 million members in the mid-1960s to 1.9 million members today,” said Walton. “The large amount of money that sustained these structures in the past is long gone, and the church looks very different than it did a generation ago.”

A response to the above information I provided was:

“Statistical evidence” for a cultural trend?

It’s apparent to me that you are approaching this solely in terms of membership figures, whereas I clearly addressed the growing influence and brazenness of liberal theology overall.

While it is true that the denominations already known to be among the more liberal have been losing members recently, my point was that liberal views are becoming more accepted in the remaining churches and also that the liberalism itself is pushing boundaries that would have been thought shocking or outrageous only a few years ago.[6]

Another replied:

6pointblue-small ‘Here’s a site with historical data for the UK: British Religion in Numbers | News about BRIN.ac.uk, and religious data in general .

As I read it, this isn’t an Anglican problem. It affects all Christianity in the UK except Catholics. And Catholic growth is probably immigration, not conversions.

Furthermore, there seems to be an assumption here that unpopularity implies there’s some problem with the Church. What reason is there to believe that? Does the Bible suggest that truth will be popular?[7]

My response was:

The theme I started in this thread was ‘the demise of liberal Christianity’. I was not meaning to convey a concept of ‘unpopularity’, but to try to promote discussion on why liberal Christianity (theological liberalism was my target) is leading to the demise of the CofE in the UK.

This person asked: ‘Does the Bible suggest that truth will be popular?’ The theological liberal could use that same kind of question to point to the demise of liberalism and that the ‘truth’ of liberalism was not popular.

I know that this issue raises lots of possibilities, some of which are:

  • What is liberal Christianity?
  • Does it primarily relate to historical-critical assaults on the Bible?
  • Is it associated with politically correct doctrines on homosexual marriage, equality of men and women in ministry, inclusion of clergy who no longer believe in the Christian faith, etc?
  • Are many evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal churches promoting agendas by which sound doctrine is minimised?
  • How do various denominations define scriptural authority?
  • Etc.[8]

3.  Were they slanted questions?

These types of questions sounded too conservative for Hedrick:

I assume you’re aware that almost all of your questions are inherently slanted.

Are you by chance associated with the conservative assault on Scriptural authority, replacing what Jesus said with conservative traditions?

Surely we can do better than this.[9]

Of course the questions are slanted. I’m an evangelical Christian and I’m asking questions relating to the evangel – the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ:[10]

I provided links to 2 articles and the second one raised the issue of unbelief among the people and clergy in the church. Here we are dealing with theological liberalism or disbelief in the ranks.

The Barna Research organisation in the USA has found that nearly 60% of youth disconnect with the church after age 15.

See Barna’s articles:

How should I reply?[11]

With respect, these are genuine questions that I’m raising about issues in the church.

Neither you nor I comes to this forum with complete objectivity.

Did you not note that your response here to me is inherently slanted? I could ask of you: Are you by any chance associated with the non-conservative stance on scriptural authority and have replaced what Jesus said with non-conservative traditions?

We can do better than this by providing exegesis of the Scriptures (or is that considered too conservative?) to demonstrate our beliefs.

His reply was: ‘No, unbelief has nothing to do with liberal theology, though unbelief in conservative theology certainly does’.[12]There is information to the contrary:

Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), in The Aquila Report, does not agree with you (and neither do I). RTS’s headline was:

What is the Root of Liberal Theology?
Unbelief is the root of Liberal Theology. Never forget, the attacks we are witnessing in our day on our faith are coming from within the visible Church.

Written by Mike Ratliff, Monday, November 18, 2013

4.  The Spong ‘virus’

John Shelby Spong sits at his desk at his New Jersey home on Sept. 12, 2013. The liberal churchman writes longhand with a fountain pen on yellow legal pads. RNS photo by David Gibson

[Photo courtesy Religion News Service (RNS)]

This link from RNS stated, ‘John Shelby Spong sits at his desk at his New Jersey home on Sept. 12, 2013. The liberal churchman writes longhand with a fountain pen on yellow legal pads. RNS photo by David Gibson’

This was a challenge presented to me:

Now you just need to prove that decline was all because of Bishop Spong. In many western countries there was a decline in many mainstream churches while big increases in other places. How much of that decline was due to Spong and how much was a national trend as more people walk away from the church because of poor views put out by the church*? I’m sure some of the decline was because of Spong but certainly not all of it and I dare say not the majority of it.[13]

These are some of the viruses against eternal salvation that Spong has developed and promoted, some of which relate to core Christian doctrines? Examples include:

clip_image002The atonement is an ‘offensive idea’ (Spong 2001:10)

clip_image002[1]‘I am a Christian. I believe that God is real. I call Jesus my Lord. Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being. I believe passionately in God. This God is not identified with doctrines, creeds, and traditions’ (Spong 2001:3, 64, 74).
clip_image002[2]He rejoices that ‘the blinding idolatry of traditional theism [read, supernatural Christianity] has finally departed from my life’ More than that, he proclaims, “Theism is dead, I joyfully proclaim, but God is real” (Spong 2001:74, 77)

clip_image002[3]He’s against evangelism and missionary enterprises, the latter being ‘base-born, rejecting, negative, and yes, I would even say evil’ (2001:178). This redefinition of missions as ‘evil’ is associated with his universalism and theory that ‘we possess neither certainty nor eternal truth’ (Spong 2001:179).

clip_image002[4]‘The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has become anathema and even dangerous in our shrinking world’ (Spong 2001:179).

clip_image002[5]‘There is a strong probability that the story of Joseph of Arimathea was developed to cover the apostles’ pain at the memory of Jesus’ having no one to claim his body and of his death as a common criminal. His body was probably dumped unceremoniously into a common grave, the location of which has never been known-then or now. This fragment in Paul’s sermon in Acts thus rings with startling accuracy….
The empty tomb tradition does not appear to be part of the primitive kerygma. It was attached to the Jerusalem tradition, which I have suggested was quite secondary to the Galilean tradition’ (Spong 1994:225).

clip_image002[6]‘If the resurrection of Jesus cannot be believed by assenting to the fantastic descriptions included in the Gospels, then Christianity is doomed. For that view of resurrection is not believable, and if that is all there is, then Christianity, which depends upon the truth and authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection, also is not believable’ (Spong 1994:238).

clip_image002[7]‘I dismiss heaven as a place of reward, and I dismiss hell as a place of punishment. I find neither definition either believable or appealing’ (Spong 1994:288).

clip_image002[8]‘For Paul there were no empty tombs, no disappearance from the grave of the physical body, no physical resurrection, no physical appearances of a Christ who would eat fish, offer his wounds for inspection, or rise physically into the sky after an appropriate length of time. None of these ideas can be found in reading Paul’ (Spong 1994:51).

clip_image002[9]‘Christianity is not about the divine becoming human so much as it is about the human becoming divine. That is a paradigm shift of the first order’ (Spong 2013).

Therefore, it is not surprising that Spong’s salvific disease led to this kind of spiritual ‘death’ in the Episcopal diocese of Newark NJ when Spong was bishop:

Spong [had] been the Episcopal Bishop of Newark [New Jersey] since 1976. He has presided over one of the most rapid witherings of any diocese in the Episcopal Church [USA]. The most charitable assessment shows that Newark’s parish membership rolls have evaporated by more than 42 percent. Less charitable accounts put the rate at over 50 percent. (Lasley, 1999).

With this kind of salvific disease being spread by Spong, it is a reasonable assumption that this kind of liberal Christianity will lead to the demise of that brand. Of course, Spong’s view is radically different. He wrote:

‘The evidence that God, understood theistically, is dying or is perhaps already dead is overwhelming…. the death of the theistic God was first announced by Friedrich Nietzsche in the nineteenth century…. As this theistic God dies visibly in the very midst of our present civilization…. The old myth of theism has lost its power and its appeal’ (Spong 2001:21, 33, 35).

Spong has nailed it. His interpretation of the supernatural theistic God is that this view is dying and it is an old myth that has lost its power. Is that the truth or not?

5.  Has the supernatural theistic God lost his power?

Bread from God

(image courtesy ChristArt)

What does the evidence demonstrate? James Wellman conducted 300 interviews in a limited survey of carefully selected evangelical and liberal churches in the Pacific Northwest of the USA to try ‘to wrestle with the internecine [mutually destructive] conflicts percolating in the American Protestant landscape’. He ‘could find few liberal churches that were were actually growing, financially or in membership’. He located 12 liberal  congregations to participate in the research, but the criteria were limiting. These had to be liberal congregations that ‘maintained or at least come close to maintaining their membership and financial levels over three years. I also sought out churches that had a sustained a distinct institutional identity led by a stable core of leaders, clergy and lay’.  So this research is based on limited criteria. It is not a random sample of evangelical an liberal churches. He noted that ‘the liberal churches that I chose were dynamic and spiritually rich congregations’, but he had ‘difficulty in discovering vital liberal Protestant churches’ as ‘there were no few thriving liberal churches’ (Wellman 2008:xiii).

His research concluded that,

evangelical entrepreneurial congregations can and do thrive…. At the same time, though with less numerical success, liberal congregations can create vital congregations…. A countervailing factor to growth for liberals is the focus on individualism within their churches. Paradoxically, this emphasis on autonomy both attracts northwesterners to these churches, but also mitigates strong commitments to these groups…. In particular, Episcopal churches have achieved a mix of allowing liberals to ‘think what they want’ while at the same time offering a liturgical experience that is deeply rooted in a tradition…. I am not sure that liberals know they want both a form of tradition and the space of free thought, but in practice this combination allowed for the most vital forms of liberal congregational life.

From my research [in the Pacific Northwest, USA], I saw a bouquet of evangelical churches, large and small, flourishing and ambitious to grow in the future. There are few obvious signs that this will change. I do think that the growth will plateau in the near future, but only time will tell. The libertarian and liberal nature of the region is powerful and enduring…. Liberal religionists in this study have much more in common with those who practice nature religion and in this way liberals are more susceptible to this form of relatively unorganized religion than are evangelicals….

As I’ve mentioned throughout this study, American evangelicals have made significant strides, nationally, in gaining a greater share of the Protestant pie (Wellman 2008:272, 282-283).

What was Wellman’s worldview? He spoke of ‘being a liberal Christian myself’ (Wellman 2008:284).

Works consulted

Lasley, D M 1999. Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian, review of John Shelby Spong’s, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, for Anglican Voice, posted June 2 1999. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.anglicanvoice.org/voice/spong0699.htm. It is no longer available on Anglican Voice, but is available at: http://listserv.virtueonline.org/pipermail/virtueonline_listserv.virtueonline.org/1999-June/000415.html (Accessed 25 November 2013).

Riley-Smith, B 2013. Church of England ‘will be extinct in one generation’, warns ex-archbishop. The Telegraph (online), 18 November. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10457520/Church-of-England-will-be-extinct-in-one-generation-warns-ex-archbishop.html (Accessed 25 November 2013).

Spong, J S 1994. Resurrection myth or reality? A bishop’s search for the origins of Christianity. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Spong, J S 2001. A  new Christianity for a new world: Why traditional faith is dying and how a new faith is being born. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Spong, J S 2013, Gospel of John: What everyone should know about the fourth Gospel. Huffington Post: Religion, The Blog (online), 11 June. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-shelby-spong/gospel-of-john-what-everyone-knows-about-the-fourth-gospel_b_3422026.html?ref=topbar (Accessed 25 November 2013).

Wellman Jr, J K  2008. Evangelical vs. liberal: The clash of Christian cultures in the Pacific Northwest. New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, A N 2013. Lord Carey’s vision for the Church might kill it off. The Telegraph (online), 19 November. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10460230/Lord-Careys-vision-for-the-Church-might-kill-it-off.html (Accessed 25 November 2013).

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Apologetics, ‘Demise of liberal Christianity’, OzSpen #1,21 November 2013. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7788780/ (Accessed 25 November 2013).

[2] Ibid., johnregnier #2.

[3] Ibid., Pervivale #6.

[4] Albion #12, http://www.christianforums.com/t7788780-2/.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen #14.

[6] Ibid., Albion #15.

[7] Ibid., Hedrick #18.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen #19.

[9] Ibid., Henrick #21, http://www.christianforums.com/t7788780-3/.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen #22.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen #23.

[12] Ibid., Hedrick #28.

[13] TheDag #38, http://www.christianforums.com/t7788780-4/.
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 April 2016.

Did Jesus die for the elect or the whole world?

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Crucify

ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

If you’ve ever visited Christian forums on the Internet, you’ll see a regular stream of back and forth between Calvinists and Arminians on the extent of the atonement.

After my engagement in one of these (I’m a convinced Reformed/Classical Arminian), I wrote to a supporter of an Arminian view of the atonement[1] that no matter how many verses OT or NT we muster to show that atonement was unlimited, for the world, for everyone, there is a barrier that cannot be overcome. Those who have a presupposition that requires limited atonement, will constantly make world = part of the world. They will say that world does not mean everyone; everyone = some; all = many; you’re not taking the context into consideration, etc.

I cannot see any way through. When there is a presuppositional bias towards a certain theology, it is very difficult to move, even when evidence to the contrary is presented. This is what this person and I have found in this discussion with Calvinistic limited atonement (particular redemption) advocates.

I think we are wasting our keyboard skills and breath trying to convince limited atonement folks of unlimited atonement as I find that there is a solid rock theological barrier against Christ’s death being the propitiation “also for the sins of the world” (1 John 2:2) and Jesus was to “taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9).

A Calvinist came back with the cynical and inaccurate reply:

Do you realize that if I replaced “limited atonement” with “universal atonement” and “Calvinists” with “Arminian” (and other references), it would make the same argument against you?

Just thought I’d point that out. I’m sure it’s some sort of logical fallacy, though.[2]

Then he took to my idea and made it into his Calvinistic perspective. He wrote:

I think you are wasting your keyboard skills and breath trying to convince unlimited atonement folks of limited atonement as I find that there is a solid rock theological barrier against “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (John 10:14, 15 NASB). Or “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44 NASB).[3]

You might be saying as you read this article: But surely you have the same problem? You could say: You also have a strong, biased view that is as stubborn as the other person’s. That might be true or false.

I can honestly confirm that if there was an absolutely certain scriptural mandate that Jesus only died for the elect, I would be enthusiastically promoting it. However, there are too many Scriptures to counter the Calvinistic doctrine of limited atonement. I have presented some of this evidence above.

I recommend Ron Rhodes outlined reasons for rejecting limited atonement. See his article,The Extent of the Atonement: Limited Atonement Versus Unlimited Atonement’.

Logical fallacy committed

clip_image001

What is a logical fallacy? Dr. Michael C. Labossiere has provided this explanation:[4]

In order to understand what a fallacy is, one must understand what an argument is. Very briefly, an argument consists of one or more premises and one conclusion. A premise is a statement (a sentence that is either true or false) that is offered in support of the claim being made, which is the conclusion (which is also a sentence that is either true or false).

There are two main types of arguments: deductive and inductive. A deductive argument is an argument such that the premises provide (or appear to provide) complete support for the conclusion. An inductive argument is an argument such that the premises provide (or appear to provide) some degree of support (but less than complete support) for the conclusion. If the premises actually provide the required degree of support for the conclusion, then the argument is a good one. A good deductive argument is known as a valid argument and is such that if all its premises are true, then its conclusion must be true. If all the argument is valid and actually has all true premises, then it is known as a sound argument. If it is invalid or has one or more false premises, it will be unsound. A good inductive argument is known as a strong (or “cogent”) inductive argument. It is such that if the premises are true, the conclusion is likely to be true.

A fallacy is, very generally, an error in reasoning. This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts. To be more specific, a fallacy is an “argument” in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support. A deductive fallacy is a deductive argument that is invalid (it is such that it could have all true premises and still have a false conclusion). An inductive fallacy is less formal than a deductive fallacy. They are simply “arguments” which appear to be inductive arguments, but the premises do not provided enough support for the conclusion. In such cases, even if the premises were true, the conclusion would not be more likely to be true.

My response in the online example was:[5]

You have committed another logical fallacy[6] when you try to demonstrate that because Christ died for believers that he did not die for the ungodly (the reprobate, unbelievers, etc).

While the texts you have given demonstrate that Jesus laid down his life for the sheep, I found nothing in your two texts to confirm that Jesus died only and exclusively for those who are believers in the church.

We have examples of how this happens on a human level. I love my friend John whom I have known for 30 years. When I say that I love John, it does not say that I don’t love Monty whom I have known since 1978 and is a close friend.

We know that the NT teaches that God loved the world and gave his one and only Son for it (John 3:16), but the Scriptures also stated that Jesus is ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2). God our Saviour wants all people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9); and Jesus tasted death for everyone (Heb 2:9). It also teaches that he gave his life for the church – the sheep (John 10:15).

Ron2

Ron Rhodes (courtesyReasoning from the Scriptures’)

Ron Rhodes provides further examples:

There are certain Scripture passages that seem very difficult to fit within the framework of limited atonement. For example:

Romans 5:6 says: “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” It doesn’t make much sense to read this as saying that Christ died for the ungodly of the elect.
Romans 5:18 says: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

Regarding this verse, John Calvin says: “He makes this favor common to all, because it is propoundable to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all [i.e., in their experience]; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive Him.”
Regarding the two occurrences of the phrase “all men,” E. H. Gifford comments: “The words all men [in v. 18] must have the same extent in both clauses.”

1 John 2:2 says: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” A natural reading of this verse, without imposing theological presuppositions on it, seems to support unlimited atonement.
Isaiah 53:6 says: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).

This verse doesn’t make sense unless it is read to say that the same “all” that went astray is the “all” for whom the Lord died.
“In the first of these statements, the general apostasy of men is declared; in the second, the particular deviation of each one; in the third, the atoning suffering of the Messiah, which is said to be on behalf of all. As the first ‘all’ is true of all men (and not just of the elect), we judge that the last ‘all’ relates to the same company.”

Theologian Millard Erickson comments: “This passage is especially powerful from a logical standpoint. It is clear that the extent of sin is universal; it is specified that every one of us has sinned. It should also be noticed that the extent of what will be laid on the suffering servant exactly parallels the extent of sin. It is difficult to read this passage and not conclude that just as everyone sins, everyone is also atoned for.”

1 Timothy 4:10 says: “…we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.”

There is a clear distinction here between “all men” and “those who believe.” Erickson notes that “apparently the Savior has done something for all persons, though it is less in degree than what he has done for those who believe.”

In 2 Peter 2:1, it seems that Christ even paid the price of redemption for false teachers who deny Him: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.” Millard Erickson notes that “2 Peter 2:1 seems to point out most clearly that people for whom Christ died may be lost….there is a distinction between those for whom Christ died and those who are finally saved.”

So I don’t fall for the line that Jesus died for the church so he cannot have died for all of humanity. Why? Because what this person online was perpetrating was a misleading logical fallacy that is called a fallacy of ‘biased sample’ or afallacy of confirmation bias’. Jesus’ death for the church and for all of humanity are solid biblical teachings. His teaching on limited atonement denies one of these biblical emphases.

How do you think he would reply to the above about the fallacy of biased sample? His response was simple: ‘And….you still completely missed the point of my post. Hopefully it wasn’t deliberate’.[7]

My reply was:[8]

You have committed a red herring logical fallacy with your response. Your comment did not address the content of my post. In addition there was your committing a fallacy of biased sample in the previous post.

I directly dealt with the content of your post from John’s gospel, dealing with Jesus’ dying for his sheep AND for the whole world, and demonstrated how you committed another fallacy.

You can’t tolerate it when I call you for your use of a fallacy of biased sample. So what do you do? Give me another logical fallacy – a red herring. This is used to divert attention away from the content of my post about the fallacy of biased sample to a topic that he wanted to speak on. But it leaves the charge of his committing the fallacy of biased sample unanswered by this poster.

I asked him when he would quit his use of logical fallacies so that we can have a rational conversation. I am not hopeful that that will happen as he is too committed to his unbiblical doctrine of limited atonement. He is not ready to give that up in his TULIP theology.

Let’s look at some definitions of logical fallacies that this person used:

Fallacy of biased sample

What is the nature of a fallacy of biased sample? The Nizkor Project provided this definition:

Also Known as: Biased Statistics, Loaded Sample, Prejudiced Statistics, Prejudiced Sample, Loaded Statistics, Biased Induction, Biased Generalization

Description of Biased Sample

This fallacy is committed when a person draws a conclusion about a population based on a sample that is biased or prejudiced in some manner.[9]

The example I have been pursuing in this brief article,[10] was of a fellow who wanted to demonstrate that Jesus died only for God’s elect (his sheep, the church) but he excluded the verses that demonstrate that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. His bias is towards limited atonement, so he is determined to pull out verses that support such a view. His approach is one of jeopardy for his view because when it is examined against Scripture, we find two views presented:

(1) Jesus died for his sheep, the church, the elect of God, AND

(2) He died for the sins of the whole world – everyone.

When a fallacy of biased sample is used, it prevents the continuation of a logical discussion between two people.

What about the use of logical fallacies?

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (from Purdue University) made this comment about the use of logical fallacies:

Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others.

I particularly watch for them in my own arguments but also keep an eye open for their use in the writing or conversation of others. I’ve noticed there are far too many of them used on Christian forums and I have called a number of posters for using them. Many do not like this tactic as it catches them out. It shows how they are avoiding engagement with rational arguments in discussions.

However, rational discussions are not possible when people engage in the use of logical fallacies.

There is another parallel fallacy that this person could be using, it is the….

Fallacy of confirmation bias

A related fallacy is:

confirmation bias (similar to observational selection): This refers to a form of selective thinking that focuses on evidence that supports what believers already believe while ignoring evidence that refutes their beliefs. Confirmation bias plays a stronger role when people base their beliefs upon faith, tradition and prejudice. For example, if someone believes in the power of prayer, the believer will notice the few “answered” prayers while ignoring the majority of unanswered prayers (which would indicate that prayer has no more value than random chance at worst or a placebo effect, when applied to health effects, at best).[11]

observational selection (similar to confirmation bias): pointing out favorable circumstances while ignoring the unfavorable. Anyone who goes to Las Vegas gambling casinos will see people winning at the tables and slots. The casino managers make sure to install bells and whistles to announce the victors, while the losers never get mentioned. This may lead one to conclude that the chances of winning appear good while in actually just the reverse holds true.[12]

Another has helpfully described conformation bias:

Confirmation bias is the tendency to favor evidence and information which already supports previously held ideas or beliefs. The human mind will trick itself into protecting currently held beliefs regardless of evidence….

Confirmation bias is comprised of two main behaviors. The first behavior is searching and the second is filtering or appraising.

Searching

When searching for information a person with confirmation bias will actively search for information that supports their currently held belief, think liberals hitting up CNN or conservative only watching Fox. This aspect to confirmation bias is all about  filling up your time with material that reinforces your world view.

Filtering or Appraisal

Alternatively, the mind may also filter out information which contradicts the currently held belief. When appraising multiple pieces of information a person might favor their current belief over contradictory data. In this case picture a liberal rejecting anything they hear from Glenn Beck or a conservative rejecting something they hear from CNN.[13]

So the fallacies of biased sample or confirmation bias are the ones used by this person who was promoting Calvinism’s limited atonement while ignoring the Scriptures that disagreed with this perspective.[14] He seems to have deliberately chosen biblical information to support/confirm his view, to the exclusion of other biblical information that confirms that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world of all people.

Conclusion: Observe how people use logical fallacies

You need to know your product – the name and nature of logical fallacies – to be able to notice them in conversation, particularly in discussion or debate. When you see this happening, I encourage you to calmly and gently draw this to a person’s attention.

Why is it not possible to have a rational conversation with people who use logical fallacies? Simply stated: A logical fallacy is an error in logic so accurate, logical discussion then is impossible.

Norm Geisler & Ron Brooks put this challenge to us:

Of making many fallacies there is no end. For every right way to think there is at least one wrong way. The real shocker is that the wrong ways often sound more persuasive! This is the power of sophism. So as not to be trapped in the persuasive pit of these fallacies, practice in recognizing them is necessary (Geisler & Brooks 1990:115).

I highly recommend the Geisler and Brooks publication (see works consulted) and The Nizkor Project’s online site on ‘Fallacies’.

Works consulted

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

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

Notes:

 


[1] Christian Forums, Soteriology, ‘If faith is a gift from God…’m OzSpen#316, http://www.christianforums.com/t7780352-32/ (Accessed 21 October 2013).

[2] Hammster#342, http://www.christianforums.com/t7780352-35/.

[3] Hammster#408, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7780352-41/#post64342160 (Accessed 21 October 2013).

[4] The Nizkor Project, ‘Fallacies’, available at: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ (Accessed 25 November 2013).

[5] OzSpen#409, ibid.

[6] I received the essence of this idea from Norm Geisler (1999:75).

[7] Hammster#410, http://www.christianforums.com/t7780352-41/.

[8] OzSpen#411, http://www.christianforums.com/t7780352-42/.

[9] The Nizkor Project, ‘Fallacy: Biased Sample’, available at: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/biased-sample.html (Accessed 21 October 2013).

[10] Hammster (see above).

[11] Jim Walker, ‘List of common fallacies’ (online), 2009, available at: http://www.nobeliefs.com/fallacies.htm (Accessed 21 October 2013).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Logic & Critical Thinking 2011, available at: http://logical-critical-thinking.com/human-thoughts/confirmation-bias/ (Accessed 21 October 2013).

[14] Hammster, as above.

 


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.

Charismatic chaos in a Brisbane house church

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

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By Spencer D Gear

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I never thought that I would ever get to the point of saying, ‘I am ashamed to be identified with that church’. But I am embarrassed and ashamed over what I witnessed in a house church in the home of Jack and Joan (not their real names) in a northern Brisbane suburb on Sunday, 3 November 2013. This is how it unfolded.

The house church meeting/gathering starts with a barbecue lunch (all people bring their own meat to barbecue and a salad to share) and my first visit was on Sunday, 20 October 2013. The church meets on a 2-weekly basis. I was recommended to this church by a person who attends a house church in a southern Brisbane suburb. There were a couple of issues in that first meeting that I wanted to raise in the group on 3 November, but I wasn’t able to raise it in the group meeting for reasons I shall now explain.

The issues I wanted to raise were:

(1) Does this group have a statement of faith in order to stop false doctrine from being perpetrated in the group?

(2) In the meeting of 20 October, some people were speaking in tongues out loud for all to hear, but there were no interpretations. This is forbidden in 1 Corinthians 14 and I was a ‘foreigner’ to that group (1 Cor 14:11).

(3) There seemed to be a strong emphasis on tongues. What is this group’s view of the spiritual gifts of tongues and interpretation? Do some believe one has to speak in tongues as evidence of salvation?

For the barbecue lunch, I was sitting at the kitchen table and engaged in conversation with Ken (not his real name). He was an older man (my guess would be that he could be aged about 70 and had been a Christian for about 40 years, based on his testimony. Ken has had a long association with the charismatic movement, especially a couple of smallish Pentecostal-charismatic denominations. I told him that I wanted to raise some matters that emerged from the meeting two weeks ago. He said it was OK to raise them with him as we sat at the table.

As we were talking, a group of people (perhaps about 10) was forming in the lounge room and there was some singing of songs accompanied by guitar and piano. Some louder shouts were beginning to come from that room.

Statement of faith

I told Ken that I wanted to ask if the group had a statement of faith. He said that other charismatic churches with which he had had association had statements of faith but they didn’t have much impact.

I said that a statement of faith was a guide to prevent false doctrine from infiltrating the group from, say, the Mormons wanting us to become gods, JWs who didn’t believe in the deity of Christ, tongues as a requirement for those who are saved (which is a doctrine of the Revival Centres in Australia). He was not aware of one for this house church. He said that he used to accept such a view but not now, since the Holy Spirit had changed the openness with which he ministers and has experiences in the group. He is overcome by the Holy Spirit at times and has all kinds of emotional/spiritual experiences. He would not expect that Jack would accept the need to have a statement of faith.

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Speaking in tongues without interpretation: You are foreigners

I then spoke to Ken about the amount of speaking in tongues in the group 2 weeks’ ago. It seemed to be an overemphasis to me. One person shared that when she spoke in tongues she used three different languages.

I then turned in my Bible to 1 Corinthians 14:9-12,

So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church (ESV, emphasis added).

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I emphasised 1 Cor 14:11 that when there is tongues without interpretation, this is the result: ‘If I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me’. I said that I was a foreigner to what was said in tongues 2 weeks’ ago as I heard the tongues without interpretation and this was not edifying for me. The Scripture says that tongues without interpretation makes many people into foreigners in a group where that happens.

At this point Ken asked if I was a fundamentalist. My response was that I was an evangelical charismatic. On further reflection after the meeting, I concluded that I should have asked him: What do you mean by fundamentalist? I sensed that he had some pejorative understanding. The fundamentalists at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries were those who accepted the fundamentals of the faith regarding the nature of God, Scripture, Christ, salvation, etc. See the article, ‘What is fundamentalism?’ for an understanding of why the original fundamentalists came to be called fundamentalists. This article states, ‘Fundamentalism … is a movement within the church that holds to the essentials of the Christian faith. In modern times the word fundamentalist is often used in a derogatory sense’.

Ken admitted that he knew what I was driving at, but he didn’t agree with my view on I Cor 14:9-12 in which tongues needed interpretation if it was in a group setting. He said that tongues were also a prayer language. I agreed, but said that that needed to be practised in private where nobody else could hear and no interpretation was needed. This is part of my understanding of 1 Corinthians 14:14-19,

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue (ESV).

I said that tongues as practised at home when ‘my spirit prays’, ‘I will pray with my spirit’, and ‘I will sing praise with my spirit’, should be something done in private. However, if it is in public, an interpretation is necessary. I emphasised that if tongues is in a group with 2 or more, interpretation is needed. Otherwise the people would be ‘foreigners’ as they didn’t understand the foreign language and could not be edified. That’s what 1 Corinthians 14:11 teaches.

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Enter an antagonist

In the midst of this conversation, Ken and I were joined by Jack and a younger man in his 20s whom I’ll call Wally (not his real name). Wally became a listener to this conversation and did not participate. So I continued the discussion that Ken and I were having that tongues without interpretation in a group is making people foreigners in the group – foreigners who do not understand the language, the gift of tongues.

Jack’s immediate response was, ‘That’s your interpretation’. I said that I was using grammatical, historical and cultural principles of hermeneutics to reach that conclusion. This is the common method of interpreting any document. I was a foreigner 2 weeks ago because I did not understand what was being said (on the basis of 1 Cor 14:11). He replied: ‘That’s how you felt’. I said it had nothing to do with how I felt. What happened to me was exactly as the Scripture stated: I will be a foreigner to the speaker and that’s exactly what I was. I was a foreigner and it was out of order and ‘all things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40). By this time Jack was raising his voice at me and I was probably raising mine in return. I had to do this to overcome the noise that was coming from the other room – screaming, slapping sounds, and barking by the people who were supposedly under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t sound too holy to me. I could see two people on the floor crawling on their knees, shouting, banging the floor, and barking.

At this point Ken interjected: ‘You probably don’t like what’s going on next door’ (in the adjoining lounge room). I agreed.

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

‘That’s your interpretation’ as a logical fallacy

I thought about this later. What was Jack doing when he would not listen to the plain meaning of what 1 Cor 14:11 was saying in that ‘If I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me’? Jack did not want to deal with the content of this Scripture so he diverted attention by accusing me: ‘That’s your interpretation’.

This is what I should have said (afterthought is often helpful as we consider our experiences): ‘Jack, you have just committed a red herring logical fallacy by diverting attention away from the content of 1 Corinthians 14:11 to another topic – your topic. The issue is that the listener is a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker is a foreigner to the listener if, in a public meeting (which this house church was), tongues is not accompanied by interpretation. By calling attention to my hermeneutics (interpretation), he was diverting attention away from the real issue – the plain meaning of 1 Cor 14:11. I wanted to discuss the failure for the listener to be edified and being treated as a foreigner when the gift of tongues was not accompanied by the gift of interpretation.

What is a red herring logical fallacy? The Nizkor Project explains that ‘a red herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic’.

In this circumstance, Jack tried to divert attention away from tongues without interpretation to accuse me: ‘That’s your interpretation’. What should have been done was to look at what 1 Cor 14:11 was saying and what it meant. What does the text really say? And by application, were the leaders of this house church (Jack and Joan) acting contrary to Scripture by allowing tongues to be spoken for all to hear, but without interpretation? Why were they not correcting what was going on?

At the point Ken said, ‘You probably don’t like what is happening in the other room’, I agreed. It was a shocking loud level of shouting. What were the neighbours thinking was going on? I was disgusted and embarrassed.

Jack jumped in and said that in the 1970s he was living in a town on Queensland’s Darling Downs, Toowoomba being the largest City and commercial centre of this region. He was not living in Toowoomba:

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Map of Queensland (Darling Downs, W of Brisbane, courtesy Wikipedia)

 

He said that he was associated with the charismatic renewal in that town and an Assemblies of God minister in Toowoomba, Aeron Morgan (he pronounced his name Aaron), opposed it and Ken was taking the opportunity to oppose Aeron Morgan in the 3 November conversation I had with him. I told him that I was a personal friend of Aeron Morgan (who is now in the Lord’s presence, having died a few months earlier). I was on the faculty of the Commonwealth Bible College (Assemblies of God of Australia) when it was located at Katoomba NSW, 1977-1980 and Aeron Morgan was principal.

I didn’t say this to Ken (I should have), but I expect the reason why Aeron would have opposed the charismatic chaos of the charismatic movement of the 1970s on the Darling Downs (if it has any resemblance to what I saw on 3 November 2013 in northern Brisbane) was because Aeron was a Pentecostal minister and Bible teacher who knew the Scriptures. He knew that much of what was happening in charismatic meetings was contrary to the instructions of 1 Corinthians 12-14 and other passages, so he would have spoken out against it because it was unbiblical. For a biblical understanding of the gifts of the Spirit, see Aeron Morgan’s book, The biblical testing of teachings and manifestations (2005).

For the Christian Witness Ministries’ memorial tribute to Aeron Morgan after his death, see ‘Home call of Aeron Morgan 1934-2013’.

This is why Aeron would have spoken against what was happening in some charismatic meetings in the 1970s and elsewhere. He wrote:

I am disturbed and distressed by the trends away from the Scriptural position and the more existential climate now apparent on the neo-Pentecostal Church scene. I make an effort to speak to this as a serious concern….

There is observed an increasing readiness to accept all manner of strange teachings and questionable manifestations as being of God, the naïve and mindless validating of all kinds of weird and abnormal phenomena, without the applying of any Biblical test to them. This is most serious and needs addressing urgently (Morgan 2005:39, 45).

AeronMorganHC1

Aeron Morgan (courtesy Christian Witness Ministries)

Aeron wrote of ‘the abnormal conduct of misguided Charismatics’, which is a gentle and mild way to describe the chaotic behaviour that I encountered in that charismatic house church in Brisbane (Morgan 2005:172). He wrote:

It appears that in recent times something of this dubious conduct has taken place where people have witnessed in the meetings certain behaviour with others which has been claimed to be the work of the Holy Spirit, and consequently they in turn have given themselves to ‘manifesting’ in a like manner. It has not been a work of the Holy Spirit, but the result of psychological manipulation, autosuggestion, and in some instances what appears to have been certain hypnotic influence. This is very serious, for it reveals two things:

(a) How easily many people are accepting teachings and practices on the strength of what they are told or witness, without any discernment.

(b) It shows up the serious lack of discernment and judgment of these things by those leaders who profess to be “full of the Holy Ghost”. It can only be described as gross irresponsibility on the part of those who ought to know better. Their failure cannot be excused. It must be condemned. Such persons are not fitted for the role of leadership. Leaders in Christ’s Church are to be “Watchmen”, considering as a divine obligation the spiritual welfare of His people before any personal interest (Morgan 2005:177-178).

Aeron Morgan has rightly pointed out the extremism of the alleged ‘Toronto Blessing’. He drew my attention to an article in Charisma News that reported on the 10th annual ‘Catch the Fire’ conference at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, formerly known as the Toronto Airport Vineyard where the supposed outpouring of the Holy Spirit was ‘marked by unusual physical manifestations among believers’ (Charisma’s language). The report noted that at this 10th anniversary meeting,

“The Toronto Blessing” is a phrase coined by British journalists to describe what movement insiders say is an incredible outpouring of the Holy Spirit marked by unusual physical manifestations among believers. It began in Toronto and quickly spread. TACF senior pastor John Arnott told Charisma that the Catch the Fire conference in 1994 was “catalytic in spreading the fire of God around the world.”

Ministry leaders from all corners of the earth came to that first October conference. “They were shocked by the intensity of what happened to them,” Arnott said. “It launched them into a whole new dimension of ministry.”

Those who came to Catch the Fire 10 Years On hoping to witness or share in similarly shocking experiences weren’t disappointed. Attendees and speakers alike participated enthusiastically in the partylike atmosphere. Countless individuals could be seen jerking spastically, laughing, shaking, weaving drunkenly or falling backward into the arms of catchers (Sommer 2013, emphasis added).[1]

See an example of the ‘Crazy dog man’ behaviour of the Toronto Blessing on YouTube.

With the kind of party-like, unbiblical behaviour happening in the lounge room (which I could see) of that house church on 3 November 2013, I chose to shake Ken’s hand and leave the house. He was not open to reasoning biblically from the Scriptures to address the unbiblical manifestations that were happening in that church.

I sent the first draft of this article to a friend in the USA who was a Pentecostal minister and missionary in a mainline Pentecostal denomination for 18 years. He is no longer with that denomination but continues his Pentecostal manifestations (tongues) in his prayer life. Of my article, he wrote:

I also visited the Toronto church where the so-called ‘Toronto blessing” was going on.

What you described sounds a bit like the events at the Toronto Blessing. I didn’t have a problem with them because, in my opinion, they were not representative of a “normal” church service. In fact, they called it “renewal” by which they meant a renewal of the joy of the “first love” of salvation. (As I understood their meaning.) Some people were acting very strangely but my thoughts were that people come as they are with the baggage they are carrying and God meets them there.

I find this to be an excuse to allow all kinds of disorderly, chaotic happenings in charismatic meetings, but all in the name of ‘renewal’ and ‘blessing’. He did not mention a word about the order of 1 Corinthians 14 and the need that ‘all things should be done decently and in order’ (ESV), or as the New Living Translation puts is, ‘But be sure that everything is done properly and in order’ (I Cor 14:40 NLT), or, ‘ But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way’ (NIV).

In his commentary on 1 Cor 14:40, Pentecostal minister (Assemblies of God, USA) and Greek exegete, Dr Gordon Fee, states that the last clause in verse 40

summarizes the argument of vv. 26-33: ‘Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.’ The word ‘fitting’ [euschemenws] argues again for propriety in the assembly (cf. 11:13); the word ‘orderly’ [taxin] echoes its opposite, ‘disorder,’ from v. 33, and along with that verse strongly implies that the assembly in Corinth was in disarray. The implication of the argument throughout has been that speaking in tongues is the guilty party. With these words, therefore, the argument is brought to a fitting conclusion (Fee 1987:713).

Reflections

As I reflected on what happened on 3 November 2013, these thoughts came to mind:

  1. I am grieved to have been in the presence of a church that resisted biblical order and testing of the charismata (gifts of the Spirit) in action.
  2. I saw and heard the horrific, strange spirit of the alleged Toronto Blessing and the Pensacola Revival, with the screaming, barking and banging of the hands as a supposed Holy Spirit manifestation. In my estimation, it was another spirit in action.
  3. I was seeing an unholy spirit manifesting chaotic behaviour in contrast to the order required from the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14.
  4. It was interesting that Wally, in his 20s, chose to stay and listen to the conversation among Jack, Ken and Spencer, rather than joining in the group chaos in the next room. Why? His language was that he was raised on these kinds of manifestations in the charismatic mainline denominational church he attends and found our conversation more interesting. His church has a strong charismatic influence. What he heard in the next room was nothing strange to him.
  5. I was thinking of what the neighbours would have been thinking with all the noise happening in that house. If this happens every two weeks, couldn’t the neighbours become concerned enough to phone the authorities about the noisy behaviour coming from that house.
  6. There was no way that I could get through to Jack about the unbiblical disorder he was promoting in that house church. The manifestations in that place were contrary to the biblical order required.
  7. Jack seems to be a dominant person in that group. He would not listen as I attempted to expound the Scriptures in a calm manner.
  8. No wonder John MacArthur’s updated Charismatic Chaos book (1993 Zondervan) is now titled, Strange Fire (2013 Thomas Nelson) and MacArthur’s organisation conducted a ‘Strange fire’ conference in the USA. What I heard on 3 November was strange fire from a source that was not holy. For a counter view to John MacArthur’s cessationist ‘strange fire’ promotion, see Roger E Olson, ‘Strange fire fundamentalists and the Holy Spirit’.
  9. I have decided that I will never ever be a part of that kind of church again. It has made me very wary of associating with charismatics – until I know the nature of biblical order/disorder that they practice when the church comes together. Unless they require biblical order in charismatic manifestations from 1 Cor 12-14, I’m not interested in participating.
  10. Jack and Ken do not have their roots firmly down into the practice of biblical Christianity when it comes to the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit. Testing the spirits and practising manifestations according to the biblical limits do not seem to be on their agenda. ‘Anything goes’ is how I describe what happened in that house church on 3 November 2013. I highly recommend Aeron Morgan’s book, The biblical testing of teachings and manifestations (2005).
  11. I have questions about whether these charismatics could find it difficult to know the differences between their experiences of the Spirit and the Mormon’s burning in the bosom to convince the LDS people of the truth of Mormonism. On what grounds could the charismatics be correct in their existential experience and the LDS experience wrong? Consider the LDS teaching which states:
  12. 9:7 ‘Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.9:8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.9:9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me’ (Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-9, emphasis added).

  13. I will not commit the logical fallacy of generalising what happened on 3 November 2013 to all or many charismatic groups. This would be committing the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization. It is ‘also known as: Fallacy of Insufficient Statistics, Fallacy of Insufficient Sample, Leaping to A Conclusion, Hasty Induction’. It is explained: ‘This fallacy is committed when a person draws a conclusion about a population based on a sample that is not large enough…. Since Hasty Generalization is committed when the sample (the observed instances) is too small, it is important to have samples that are large enough when making a generalization. The most reliable way to do this is to take as large a sample as is practical. There are no fixed numbers as to what counts as being large enough’ (The Nizkor Project). To know that there are people within the Pentecostal/charismatic movement that oppose unbiblical manifestations is an encouragement to keep looking for openness to the spiritual gifts where biblical order is maintained. The ministry of the late Aeron Morgan is one such example. Christian Witness Ministries[2]also is supportive of the charismatic gifts in contemporary church gatherings, but within the boundaries set out in 1 Corinthians 12-14.
  14. Aeron Morgan wrote that ‘in the face of increasing activity of false teachers, the proliferation of false teachings, and the “fever” with many for more spectacular and sensational charismatic signs’, we need to be aware of ‘the warnings of Christ Jesus our Lord himself, and of the apostles, as to what will be in these last days’. His exhortation and prayer were: ‘May God preserve us from the false, and grant us a great and genuine move of the Holy Spirit that will be undeniably from above. In our desire to see God at work let us beware [of] the readiness to accept anything that just “appears” to be authentic. Let us apply the tests as outlined [in his book], and be sure that what we approve is truly of the Lord and in accordance with His Word’ (Morgan 2005:255, 257).
  15. I remain convinced that a house church is the best environment in which the genuine charismatic gifts (1 Cor 12-14) can function. In my region, I have not been able to find such a house church.
  16. To expose some of the controversial issues of John MacArthur’s labelling the charismatic phenomena as ‘strange fire’, see the articles:

John F. MacArthur Jr..JPG

John F MacArthur Jr (courtesy Wikipedia)

blue-coil-smChristianity Today article, ‘Understanding the charismatic movement’ (October 18, 2013).

blue-coil-smJohn MacArthur vs. Mark Driscoll: Megachurch pastors clash over charismatic theology’ (Religion News Service, October 18, 2013).

blue-coil-smA Final Appeal to Pastor John MacArthur on the Eve of His ‘Strange Fire’ Conference’ (Charisma News, October 15, 2013).

blue-coil-smTom Schreiner reviews John MacArthur’s book, Strange fire (Thomas Nelson 2013) – The Gospel Coalition.
blue-coil-smJohn MacArthur and Strange Fire’ (Tim Challies, September 26, 2013).
blue-coil-smDave Miller (SBC Voices), ‘“Strange Fire”: John MacArthur is Right…and VERY Wrong’, 18 October 2013.

Conclusions

Although John MacArthur is a cessationist who does not support the continuing gifts of the Spirit of 1 Corinthians 12-14, the titles of his books, Charismatic chaos and Strange fire accurately describe what went on in the charismatic house church meeting I attended on 3 November 2013.

Charismatic commotion and confusion were alive and well at this gathering. It demonstrated a low view of biblical authority where extreme human performance was the guide of what should happen in a charismatic church gathering. More than ever there is a need for the teaching in Aeron Morgan’s book, The biblical testing of teachings and manifestations (2005). For a description and biblical assessment of the gift of prophecy, see Wayne Grudem’s, The gift of prophecy: In the New Testament and today (1988).

Charismatic strange fire is dangerous because it assaults biblical integrity. It exalts experience as a prominent determiner of what is right and wrong when the gifts are manifest in a church gathering. What is the biblical position?

clip_image003 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil (ESV, emphasis added).

clip_image003[1] 1 John 4:1-3, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already (ESV, emphasis added).

clip_image003[2] 1 Corinthians 14:1-12, 29-33, 39-40, Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

6 Now, brothers [and sisters], if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church….

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace….

39 So, my brothers [and sisters], earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order (ESV, emphasis added).

clip_image003[3] 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (ESV, emphasis added).

clip_image003[4] Acts 17:11, Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (ESV).

designRed-small (1) ‘False teaching is a malignancy that corrupts and destroys. False manifestations will lead people astray and cause more damage than [people] might deem possible’.

designRed-small (2) ‘The Scriptural guidelines for testing teachings and manifestations are there for the spiritual blessing and mutual edification of the believers who fellowship in any local church. Our Lord wants the best for His people, to prepare them for that Day when He will appear’.

designRed-small (3) ‘We must be watchful as we see emerging signs of “the apostasy” of these end times (2 Thess 2:1-3), and preserve our “love of the truth”’ [2 Thess 2:10] (Morgan 2005:254, 255-256 ).

Works consulted

Fee, G 1987. First epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce, gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Grudem, W 1988. The gift of prophecy in the New Testament and today.[3] Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications.

Morgan, A 2005. The biblical testing of teachings and manifestations. Spring Lake, MI: Dust & Ashes Publications.

Sommer, L 2013. Around the world in 365 days: Toronto blessing celebrates 10 years. Charisma Magazine (online). Available at: http://www.charismamag.com/spirit/devotionals/around-the-word-in-365-days?view=article&id=1104:toronto-blessing-celebrates-10-years&catid=154 (Accessed 4 November 2013).

Notes:


[1] In Aeron Morgan’s book (2005), he stated that this information came from Charisma News Service (online), 8 January 2004, and that the article was titled, ‘Toronto blessing: Just as anointed after 10 years’. He accessed it on 8 January 2004 at: http://www.charismanews.com/a.php? Article ID=8437 (Morgan 2005:179, n. 132). Such an article is no longer available online at Charisma News and the Sommer (2013) article seems to be an update of the previous article. However, a copy of the 2004 article seems to be that at: http://www.openheaven.com/forums/printer_friendly_posts.asp?TID=494 (Accessed 4 November 2013).

[2] This in no way is meant to state that all teachings on this site are supported by this researcher. For example, I do not support the Received Text (Textus Receptus) as the most reliable Greek NT nor of the King James Version and the New King James Version English translations that are based on this NT text. Also, I am not supportive of the eschatology of dispensational, premillennial, pretribulationism promoted on that site. For views that oppose this perspective, see my articles:

(1) The Greek Text, the KJV, and English translations;

(2) Excuses people make for promoting the King James Version of the Bible,

(3) Does Mark 16:9-20 belong in Scripture?

(4) The King James Version disagreement: Is the Greek text behind the KJV New Testament superior to that used by modern Bible translations?

(5) What is the origin of the pre-tribulation rapture of Christians?

[3] A revised edition is available from Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books 2000. See: http://www.crossway.org/books/the-gift-of-prophecy-in-the-new-testament-and-tpb/ (Accessed 4 November 2013).
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.

Is God eternal and temporal?

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Infinite by algotruneman

By Spencer D Gear

What is God’s relation to time and eternity? Leading conservative theologians give these explanations about the nature of God’s eternity and time:

clip_image002H Orton Wiley: ‘By eternity as an attribute of God, we can mean only that He stands superior to time, free from the temporal distinctions of past and future, and in whose life there can be no succession. This is the sense of those scriptures which speak of the eternity of God, none of which more explicitly set it forth than the reve­lation of the name I AM THAT I AM. From its first declaration made to Moses (Exod. 3: 14) to the final revelation made to St. John in the Apocalypse as that which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Al­mighty (Rev. 1: 8), this name not only declares the Aseity or Self-sufficiency but the Eternity of God’ (Wiley 1940:335).

clip_image002[1]Henry Thiessen stated that the eternity of God means ‘his infinity in relation to time…. He is without beginning or end; that He is free from all succession of time; and that He is the cause of time… That God is eternal is abundantly taught in Scripture…. Eternity for God is one Now’ (Thiessen 1949:122, emphasis in original). Thiessen refers to Gen 21:33; Ps 90:2; 102:27; Isa 57:15 and 1 Tim 6:18.

clip_image002[2]James Montgomery Boice explained that a quality in the name of God that was given to Moses – ‘I AM WHO I AM’ – ‘is everlastingness, perpetuity or eternity. The quality is difficult to put in one word, but it is simply that God is, has always been and will always be, and that he is ever the same in his eternal being’. He explained that ‘this attribute of God is explained everywhere in the Bible’. He referred to Gen 21:33; Ps 90:1-2; Rev 1:8; 4:8; 21:6 and 22:13 (Boice 1986:105).

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Courtesy Open Clip Art Library (Public Domain)

But if you then go onto the Internet where some Bible-based evangelicals are interacting, an interesting mix is found. If you want to encounter some hairy doctrine, try visiting some of the Christian forums on the Internet. There I med Brad who asked:

There seems to be two main views on how God relates to time. Most philosophers today hold to the position that God is Temporal like we are. They say that He operates and responds to events in time successively just as we would. The problem is this means God could not see what has not happened yet because… it has not happened “yet.” The only logical way to know what will happen (without causing it to happen and short circuiting free will) is to somehow experience it. And of course logically if someone has the ability to experience the future and relay it to us, then there must be more to time than only current time. And they must be experiencing time some other way than only temporally.

Some argue that God could just make good predictions on the way things will happen based on His divine observation of the way things are going in the present. Similar to seeing a marble rolling toward the edge of a table and predicting it will fall on the floor. But that isn’t the way Bible prophecy is….

The second view is that God is “Timeless.” The philosophers who view that God is timeless deny God being temporal. In their view God does not exist in or experience time in succession as we do, but rather He exists beyond time. He exists at a non-temporal location called eternity where He experiences all centuries and time at once. An analogy to help us try to even conceive of this would be to take a snapshot picture of every second of my entire life, from birth to death, and arrange them all in one giant frame that I could experience all at once. Of course my eyes and brain would be completely incapable of processing all that at once, but God’s could…..

So you can see how both temporal and timeless views fit scripture on one sense but conflict on another. On the one hand God knew things before the foundation of the world. God can see the future. But on the other hand God called out to Adam asking where he was? He was grieved by man’s sin before the flood. He expressed surprise at Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son. And most importantly, we are clearly taught that God does answer prayer as a result of our asking, something that requires temporality. Contemplating all of this left me with a very mind boggling dilemma.

What are your thoughts?[1]

clip_image005(courtesy clker.com)

The thoughts that rolled in

One poster wrote:Temporal is the life we live in the present, it doesn’t pertain to our spiritual life which is what God judges after death. As for the answering of prayers that is in the hands of God. He may answer them in this life or maybe in the next. But I guarantee, that he will only answers prayers that are within his jurisdiction’.[2]

How do you think Brad would reply to the thought that temporal refers only to this life? He wrote: ‘I was wondering why you don’t believe we will experience temporal time in heaven? John describes his experience there within a temporal frame work. Paul does too. Even the prophet Eziekiel (sic) describes his vision of the throne  of God Temporally’.[3]

He continued:

I didn’t notice this the first time.

So do you see yourself as a Christian Judith?

I only asked because most Christians would say that it is being found in Christ and Him alone that renders one not guilty. You seemed to suggest there is more to it than that.[4]

Judith’s response was: ‘There certainly is, for we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this world’.[5]

Temporal time in heaven?

How should one respond to the concept of experiencing temporal time in heaven? I wrote:[6]

I also do not believe I ‘will experience temporal time in heaven’. I will experience aeviternity [7] in heaven (definition given at the foot of this article).

This is why I don’t believe I’ll experience temporal time in heaven. What is the meaning of ‘temporal’? My Aussie Macquarie Dictionary gives these meanings of ‘temporal’:

  1. ‘of or relating to time.
  2. ‘relating to or concerned with the present life or this world; worldly.
  3. ‘enduring for a time only; temporary; transitory;
  4. Grammar a. ‘of, relating to, or expressing time’ (The Macquarie Dictionary 1997:2180).

The reason why I will not be experiencing temporal time in heaven is because time will be over when I get to glory. I thank God that it will be gone forever. I will be experiencing the aeviternal dimension of my existence in the presence of the trinitarian Lord God. My taking warfarin for heart surgery for over 30 years will have finished. All the aches, pains, conflict, wars and rumours of war will be gone forever. What a day, glorious day, that will be when my Jesus I shall see!

Further replies

Another wrote:

I believe God is timeless. That is I believe “time” is a construct of God for man’s benefit, to mark seasons, measure boundaries and changes.

When God asked Adam, Where are you? It wasn’t because God didn’t know where Adam was, it was a question for Adam to think about….in order for Adam to think about where he was at spiritually, having broken fellowship with God.

God can either be in the temporal for the sake of man, while still living in the eternal timelessness. He is after all omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent.[8]

She went further:

The Lord impressed me with how while I’m down in the situation feeling overwhelmed, God is above in a multitude of dimension, seeing things that I don’t normally see and He sees it all at once and has it within his power to help me navigate through places that I thought were scary…

At that moment my anxiety vanished forever concerning those trials … I saw from a different vantage point.[9]

Here’s another perspective on Brad’s observations and question, from another poster to that forum:

We live in 4 dimensions: height, width, depth, time/space yet science has determined that there could be up to 11 dimensions (however small). God is outside of our 4 dimensions (which would be beyond time/space) and can see all of human history at one time. One example using another person in the same dimensions would be seeing a parade from a helicopter — those on the ground will only see the parade as it goes by but the person looking down would see the total parade at one time….

So, the descriptions you’ve given about God using feeling, answering prayer, is His way of communicating with us on our level but this does not mean that any of what happens on this mortal realm is a surprise to Him. I think God works through time because that is how we live but does He change His mind? I don’t think so. I think He works through circumstances and time to change us to confirm to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

What blows my mind is to consider what our existence will be beyond this realm. Will we still be limited to time after we are raised by God and made “imperishable” (1 Cor 50-54) – or will it time still be a dimension that can be used for God’s purposes? That is, once Christ returns and Heaven is on Earth (Rev 21 & 22), will those in Christ move between time and eternity, like Angels do?

One of my favorite scripture passages is “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11)

I sense both the pull of eternity God has placed in me but also the limitation of this perishable body to understand what He has done, is doing and will do.[10]

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Photos-public-domain.com

Is God both timeless and temporal?

Brad wrote:

I totally agree that God is timeless. But again let me clarify what that term means to most philosiphers (sic). It doesn’t mean that God has experienced an infinite amount of time temporally (in succession). But rather He is experiencing all temporal time from infinity to infinity, all at once in one timeless instant….

As for Him creating time consider this; In Genesis 1:14 God tells us He created the sun, moon, and stars to be “markers” so that man could measure time, but nowhere does He ever tell us exactly when He created time. Time may actually even be an eternal extention (sic) of Himself….

So is it possible that when God said that a thousand years is as one day to Him, or one day can be as a thousand years, that He was saying just that? That He is both timeless and temporal?[11]

To suggest that God is both timeless and temporal is to say that God is a temporal Being. Such a statement is contradictory to Scripture but an oxymoron – a temporal God?? How should I respond to this post? Here it is:[12]

Perhaps you could consider this. There was no need for God to say at any place in Scripture, ‘I created time at such-and-such a time and I stated it in Chapter & Verse’. Why?

Because the very first verse of the Bible should answer that question, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’ (Gen 1:1). From the very first moment God created ex nihilo (out of nothing) the very first thing he made, time began. Time is needed only because there is a creation in which it is to operate.

My proposal is that there is no need for God to state one word about his creating time because that should be understood by us as only creation needs time. At the moment God created the heavens and the earth, time began.
You might like to take a read of these two articles:

 

The unchanging, eternal, timeless God and the temporal

Here’s how I responded to Brad’s opening statement:[13]

clip_image009Thomas Aquinas (courtesy Wikipedia)

Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica (1920), wrote on ‘The eternity of God‘. He said, ‘Eternity is nothing else but God Himself. Hence God is not called eternal, as if He were in any way measured; but the idea of measurement is there taken according to the apprehension of our mind alone…. Eternity truly and properly so called is in God alone, because eternity follows on immutability; as appears from the first article. But God alone is altogether immutable [unchanging]’ (Aquinas 1920:1a.10.2-3).

Norman Geisler has summarised several of Aquinas’s arguments to support his conclusion (Geisler2003:101-103) – unless otherwise stated, the citations are from Geisler:

 

  1. ‘Whatever exists in time can be computed according to its befores and afters. However, a changeless Being has no befores and afters; it is always the same. Consequently, God must be timeless’.
  2. ‘Time is duration characterized by substantial and accidental changes. Substantial changes are changes of substance.  He uses the example of aeviternity [see definition below] (the existence of angels, and the existence of Christian believers in heaven) to demonstrate accidental changes. Accidental changes are those that are changeable. ‘Angels can increase in knowledge by divine infusion, and they have changeableness with regard to choice, intelligence, affections and places’. However, there can be no substantial changes with them – changes of their substance (what they are made of). What is true of angels is also true of elect believers in heaven.
  3. ‘Time is defined as a measurement in terms of befores and afters. God has no before or after, since He is changeless. It follows, then, that He must be timeless, for if he were in time, He could be measured according to a before and an after, which implies change’ (Aquinas 1920:1a.10.6).
  4. ‘Whatever is in time has succession of one state after another. From this Aquinas concluded that whatever is immutable is not temporal. This argument stresses another aspect of time: Whatever is temporal has successive states, one after the other. But as an immutable being God has no changing states, one after another; therefore, God cannot be temporal’.
  5. ‘In brief, total immutability implies eternity [Aquinas 1920:1a.10.2], for whatever changes substantially is in time and can be computed according to befores and afters. Whatever does not change cannot be in time, since it has no different states by which befores and afters can be computed; all are the same – it never changes. Therefore, whatever does not change is not temporal; God is eternal’.
  6. ‘Not only is God eternal, but He alone is eternal [Aquinas 1920:1a.10.3]. The reason for this is that God alone is essentially immutable, since all creatures can cease to exist. But, … eternity necessarily  follows from immutability, and from this, that God alone is essentially eternal’.
  7. Aquinas (1920:1a.10.4) provides these reasons for distinguishing eternity from endless time (in Geisler 2003:102-103):

(1)    ‘Whatever is essentially whole is essentially different from what has parts. Eternity differs from time in this way (eternity is Now; time has now and then); hence, eternity is essentially different from time. In other words, God’s eternity is not divided; it is all present to Him in His eternal Now. So it must be essentially different from time, which comes only a moment at a time’.

(2)    ‘Endless time is not eternity; it is simply more of time. Eternity differs in kind from time; that is, it differs essentially, not merely accidentally, from time. Endless time differs only accidentally from time because it is only an elongation of time. Since endless time is simply time – just more of it – eternity must differ from it essentially. To state it another way, more of the same thing is essentially the same thing; therefore, endless time does not differ essentially from time’.

(3)    ‘An eternal Being cannot change, whereas time involves change by which the measurements of befores and afters can be made. Thus, an eternal Being, such as God is, cannot change. In other words,

(a)    Whatever can be computed according to befores and afters is not eternal.
(b)    Endless time can be computed according to befores and afters.
(c)    Hence, endless time is not the same as eternity’.

‘The eternal is changeless, but what can be computed by its befores and afters has changed. It follows, then, that eternal cannot be endless time. It must be something qualitatively different, not just different in quantity’.

(4)    ‘Aquinas argued that there is a crucial difference in the “now” of time and the “Now” of eternity [Aquinas 1920:1a.10.4, ad. 2). The now of time is movable, but the Now of eternity is not. Eternity is not movable in any way; therefore, the Now of eternity is not the same as the now of time. The eternal Now is unchanging, while the now of time is ever changing. There is only an analogy between time and eternity, not an identity. God’s Now has no past or future; time’s how does’.

clip_image011Dr Norman Geisler, courtesy normangeisler.com

Geisler wrote:

‘Another way to understand the difference between God’s eternity and time is to recognize that time is an accidental change, not a substantial change. A substantial change is a change in what something is; an accidental change is a change in what something has. Aquinas pointed out that time is an accidental change, and only humanity, not God or angels, has accidental change. So only humanity is in time. Angels undergo substantial change (creation), but this does not involve time. The only mode of being that existed before angels began was an eternal mode (God)’

‘A substantial change (for men or angels) is not a change in time, for no substantial change has a before and after in time. eternity is one pole, and time the other. Hence, substantial change for man is a change into or out of time, but not a change in time. God cannot change substantially or accidentally. Since He is a necessary Being, He cannot go out of existence. Since He is a simple Being, He has no accidents. Therefore, God cannot be temporal in any way, since time involves change’ (Geisler 2003:103).

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(Augustine of Hippo, Latin theologian (354-430) – courtesy of Wikipedia)

A beautiful serve from a woman who knows her product

This woman put the challenge to Brad:[14]

Brad (B): I can’t seem to find any philosiphers (sic) who have published a conclusion like Noelle and I have arrived at. That is to say, none of them seem to want to say God is could be both timeless and temporal.

Janet (J): I don’t know why you are consulting philosophers rather than theologians. You can look all you like, but you won’t find any legitimate theologians who posit that God is both temporal AND outside of time because that is a self-contradiction, which cannot possibly be true of God. A God who is a self-contradiction is no god at all. A God who both is limited to time and at the same time outside of time is an insupportable proposition.  What theologians do say, however, is that God is absolutely outside of time but works WITHIN time to accomplish His will, and necessarily so because that is the plane on which we humans live.

B: Would a God who told us not to lie, merely “act” surprised? You can see how a critic might constrew that as deception.

J: Those of us who know God as Truth know He doesn’t “act” at anything.  Are you that critic?

B: So what if God saw the surprise party in advance and could erase that information (temporally) for the purpose of genuinly expressing surprise and thereby relate to us on our level?

J: You are suggesting that an omniscient God can turn His omniscience on and off like a light switch. So He’s omniscient, except when He isn’t? An omniscient God who is sometimes not omniscient is another self-contradiction.  Are you not able to see the absurdity?  Are there any other characteristics of an immutable (go look that up) God that He switches on and off at will?  Why is it important to you that God be surprised by anything?

This was my response to her:[15]

Congratulations on an outstanding post. Thank you for raising the stakes so that we are discussing an orthodox view of God as declared in Scripture.

I would modify one point when you stated:

I don’t know why you are consulting philosophers rather than theologians. You can look all you like, but you won’t find any legitimate theologians who posit that God is both temporal AND outside of time because that is a self-contradiction, which cannot possibly be true of God. A God who is a self-contradiction is no god at all. A God who both is limited to time and at the same time outside of time is an insupportable proposition.[16]

There are a number of liberal theologians who would call themselves ‘legitimate theologians’ who oppose an orthodox position. Here are some statements by liberal existentialist theologian, Paul Tillich (1886-1965), from his Systematic theology (1968). The chapter is on ‘The actuality of God: God as creating and related’ (Tillich 1968:280f). These are a few grabs:

  • ‘The concept of eternity must be protected against two misinterpretations. Eternity is neither timelessness nor the endlessness of time. The meaning of olam in Hebrew and of aiwnes in Greek does not indicate timelessness; rather it means the power of embracing all periods of time. Since time is created in the ground of the divine life, God is essentially related to it. In so far as everything divine transcends the split between potentiality and actuality, the same must be said of time as an element of the divine life’ (Tillich 1968:I.304, emphasis added).
  • ‘Special moments of time are not separated from each other; presence is not swallowed by past and future; yet the eternal keeps the temporal within itself. Eternity is the transcendent unity of the dissected moments of existential time’ (Tillich 1968:I.304, emphasis added).
  • ‘If we call God a living God, we affirm that he includes temporality and with this a relation to the modes of time. Even Plato could not exclude temporality from eternity; he called time the moving image of eternity’ (Tillich 1968:I.305).
  • ‘And eternity is not the endlessness of time. Endless time, correctly called “bad infinity” by Hegel, is the endless reiteration of temporality’ (Tillich 1968:I.305).
  • ‘On the basis of these considerations and the assertion that eternity includes temporality, the question must still be asked: “What is the relation of eternity to the modes of time?” An answer demands the use of the only analogy to eternity found in human experience, that is, the unity of remembered past and anticipated future in an experienced present. Such an analogy implies a symbolic approach to the meaning of eternity. In accord with the predominance of the present in temporal experience, eternity must first be symbolised as an eternal present…. An eternal present is moving from past to future but without ceasing to be present’ (Tillich 1968:I.305-306, emphasis added).
  • ‘A relative although not an absolute openness to the future is the characteristic of eternity’ (Tillich 1968:I.306, emphasis added).
  • ‘God’s eternity is not dependent on the completed past. For God the past is not complete, because through it he creates the future; and, in creating the future, he re-creates the past’ (Tillich 1968:I.306).

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Tillich’s gravestone in the Paul Tillich Park, New Harmony, Indiana (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

As you will appreciate, this is out of the mind of theologian Paul Tillich. In the quotes I have given from these three pages of his systematic theology, not one Scripture is given. Exegetical support was not on the mind of this theological liberal theologian.

However, he was a German refugee and professor at Union Theological Seminary, New York City. His God was the non-theistic ‘ground of being’ with whom a person could have an experiential and existential encounter. So of Tilllich, church historian, Earle Cairns, stated that ‘he dissolved both the Bible and creeds into subjective expressions of human thought to be subjected to historical criticism’ (Cairns 1981:446).

Janet’s response to me included these statements: ‘I have never thought that existentialism lines up in any way with Biblical Christianity, holding as it does, among other things, that that each individual – not society or religion or the God of any religion – is solely responsible for giving meaning to life.  That is about as anti-Biblical as it gets, in my view”.[17]

[18]My response was that I agreed. When people chuck out biblical declarations and replace with existential experience, it leads to any kind of view of Christianity. In my thesis, I’m working through how this happens with the contemporary postmodern deconstructionism that has overcome much of liberal theology. Its outcomes are just as devastating when the reader is the one who determines meaning and not the intent of the original author.
Of Paul Tillich, Janet wrote:

He who wants a salvation which is only visible cannot see the divine child in the manger as he cannot see the divinity of the Man on the Cross and the paradoxical way of all divine acting. Salvation is a child and when it grows up, it is crucified. Only he who can see power under weakness, the whole under fragment, victory under defeat, glory under suffering, innocence under guilt, sanctity under sin, life under death can say: Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.[19]

That’s worthy of thought.  And he did work the Bible into that one![20]

Yes[21], it is worthy of thought, much thought. Tillich, at times, was a strange paradox in some of his views. It was he who wrote:

One should eliminate the term “eternal condemnation” from the theological vocabulary. Instead, one should speak of condemnation as removal from the eternal. This seems to be implied in the term “eternal death,” which certainly cannot mean everlasting death, since death has no duration. The experience of separation from one’s eternity is the state of despair (Tillich 1968:II.90).

He failed to weave a lot of biblical theology into that kind of statement.

What does the Bible say?

clip_image017American family Bible dating to 1859 (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Biblically, God’s eternity is affirmed in Exodus 3:14 when God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’. Jesus confirmed this meaning when he stated, ‘Before Abraham was, “I AM”‘ (John 8:58). Let’s check out a few other Scriptures:

clip_image019 Genesis 21:33, ‘Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God’ (ESV).

clip_image019[1] Psalm 90:2, ‘Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God’.

clip_image019[2] Psalm 102:27, ‘but you [Lord God] are the same, and your years have no end’.

clip_image019[3] Isaiah 57:15, ‘For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite’.

clip_image019[4] John 1:3, ‘All things were made through him [the Word, Jesus], and without him was not any thing made that was made’.

clip_image019[5] John 17:5, ‘And now, Father, glorify me [Jesus] in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed’.

clip_image019[6] 1 Corinthians 2:7, ‘But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory’.

clip_image019[7] Colossians 1:16, [For by him [Jesus, the beloved Son] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him’.

clip_image019[8] 1 Timothy 6:16, ‘who [God] alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen’.

clip_image019[9] 2 Timothy 1:9, ‘who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began’.

clip_image019[10] Titus 1:2, ‘in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began’.

clip_image019[11] Hebrews 1:2, ‘but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world’.

clip_image019[12] Jude 25, ‘to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen’.

clip_image019[13] Revelation 1:8, ‘“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty”’.

clip_image019[14] Revelation 21:6, ‘And he said to me, “It is done! I [God] am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment’.

clip_image019[15] Revelation 22:13, ‘I [God] am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”’.

Norm Geisler has an appropriate summary statement of God’s eternity and creation of time:

God not only created the ages, but He was also before the ages. To be before time and to have made time is not to be in time. Therefore, the Bible teaches that it was not a creation in time, but a creation of time that God accomplished at the beginning. The Creator of time can be no more temporal than the Creator of the contingent can be contingent or the Creator of an effect can be an effect Himself (Geisler 2003:95).

Bill Craig’s understanding is something with which I concur:

If God is timeless, he is also unchanging, but it does not follow that He cannot change. I’d say that He can change and if He were to do so, He would cease to be timeless. And that’s exactly what I think He did. Whether God is timeless or temporal is a contingent property of God, dependent upon His will. What is impossible is changing while remaining timeless. But it seems to me that a timeless being can change and thereby cease to be timeless (Craig, Q & A #37, ‘God and Timelessness‘).

I think that hit the mark. If we are going to speak of God as timeless, we cannot accept that he is a changeable Being. If God changes, he ceases to be timeless – if that is our meaning of timelessness.

What do you and others understand by Bill Craig’s statement that ‘a timeless being can change and thereby cease to be timeless’?

What is our understanding of timelessness? I have a simple definition of timelessness: Timelessness refers to existing outside of time. So the Lord God Almighty is timeless only in the sense that he exists outside of time. His existence outside of time does not impede his interventions into the time realm. It was He who created time.

I recommend the apologetic article, ‘Can a timeless God be personal?‘ [UK Apologetics]

This is a topic that I have not encountered amongst the laity in my part of the world. Are the people in your church interested in this kind of topic of God’s eternity and how He relates to time? I haven’t discussed it in mine. I don’t expect it to have a prominent place in the Bible study I attend this week. Are we concerned about anything of significant interest to the people of God? Is this a place for philosophical meanderings instead of dealing with revealed reality from the Scriptures?

See:

Conclusion

The Scriptures declare God’s eternity, as having no beginning and end, in a number of concise statements:

clip_image021 ‘I AM WHO I AM’;

clip_image021[1] ‘the everlasting God’;

clip_image021[2] ‘from everlasting to everlasting’;

clip_image021[3] ‘your years have no end’;

clip_image021[4] ‘inhabits eternity’;

clip_image021[5] ‘before the world existed’;

clip_image021[6] ‘before the ages’;

clip_image021[7] ‘alone has immortality’;

clip_image021[8] ‘before all time and now and for ever’;

clip_image021[9] ‘I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’.

Therefore, evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, provides an accurate summary of God’s eternity with these words:

God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time’. He explained that ‘sometimes this doctrine is called the doctrine of God’s infinity with respect to time. To be “infinite” is to be unlimited, and this doctrine teaches that time does not limit God or change him in any way (Grudem 1999:76).

With regard to time, Grudem made the following points, supported by Scripture:

  • ‘God is timeless in his own being’;
  • ‘God sees all time equally vividly’;
  • ‘God sees events in time and acts in time’ (Grudem 1999:77-78).

Works consulted

Aquinas, T 1920. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. New Advent, 2nd rev edn, available at: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/index.html (Accessed 2 November 2013).

Boice, J M 1986. Foundations of the Christian faith, rev edn in 1 vol. Downers Grove, Illinois/Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church, rev enl edn. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Geisler, N 2003. Systematic theology: God, creation, vol 2. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Grudem, W 1999. Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. J Purswell (ed). Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

The Macquarie dictionary 3rd ed1997. Delbridge, A; Bernard, J R L; Blair, D; Butler, S; Peters, P & Yallop, C (eds). Sydney, NSW: The Macquarie Library, Macquarie University, Australia.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Tillich, P 1968. Systematic theology, vols 1-3. Digswell Place, Welwyn, Herts: James Nizbet and Company Limited.

Wiley, H O 1940. Christian theology, vol 1 (online). Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Available at Wesley Center Online, http://wesley.nnu.edu/other-theologians/henry-orton-wiley/h-orton-wiley-christian-theology-chapter-14/ (Accessed 2 November 2013).

Notes:


[1] Christian Fellowship Forum, Bible Study & Discipleship, ‘Is God timeless or temporal?’ Brad#1, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=1&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122540 (Accessed 2 November 2013).

[2] Ibid., Judith#1.

[3] Ibid., Brad#3.

[4] Ibid., Brad#4.

[5] Ibid., Judith#5.

[6] Ibid., ozspen#14.

[7] The meaning of ‘aeviternity’ is: ‘In Scholastic philosophy, the aevum (also called aeviternity) is the mode of existence experienced by angels and by the saints in heaven. In some ways, it is a state that logically lies between the eter nity (timelessness) of God and the temporal experience of material beings. It is sometimes referred to as “improper eternity” (Wikipedia).

[8] Christian Fellowship Forum, loc cit., Noelle#6.

[9] Ibid., Noelle#8.

[10] Ibid., Cheryl#7.

[11] Ibid., Brad#10.

[12] Ibid., ozspen#17.

[13] My response to Brad#1 is in ozspen#12, ibid.

[14] Ibid., Janet#13.

[15] Ibid., ozspen#18.

[16] Ibid., Janet#13.

[17] Ibid., Janet#20.

[18] Ibid., ozspen#21.

[19] This citation is from Paul Tillich’s, The new being, chapter 11 (online), available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=375&C=24 (Accessed 4 November 2013).

[20] Christian Fellowship Forum, op cit., Janet#20, emphasis in original.

[21] Ibid., ozspen#21.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 September 2016.