Archive for the 'Heresies' Category

Heresy or not: First-born of creation

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

File:People burned as heretics.jpg

(people burned as heretics, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)

15 He [God the Father’s beloved Son[1] – Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For by[2] him 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. 17And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

1. The Controversy

There’s a highly contentious and controversial phrase in this passage about the Son, Jesus Christ. He is:

3d-red-star‘the firstborn of all creation’ (v 15).

For us as English speakers, what immediately comes to your mind when you hear the word, ‘firstborn’?

3d-red-star I think of the first child born in my family. He was conceived in a sexual union between mother and father and he was then born as the first child of the family

We must get rid of that idea when we are dealing with this phrase that Jesus is ‘the firstborn of all creation’.

There was a heresy that emerged in the Christian church in the fourth century that devastated the church and part of its teaching was a wrong view of the meaning of Jesus being ‘the firstborn of all creation’.

This false teaching is known as …

2. The heresy of Arianism

Arius portré.jpg(image of Arius, courtesy Wikipedia)

What is a heresy?

In NT Greek, the term from which we get the English, ‘heresy’ is hairesis. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon (1957:23) states that hairesis means ‘sect, party, school’. It was used of the Sadducees in Acts 5:17; of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5; of the Christians in Acts 24:5. It is used of a heretical sect or those with destructive opinions in 2 Peter 2:1 (‘destructive heresies’ ESV, NIV). This latter verse uses ‘haireseis (plural) of destruction’.

The Oxford dictionary gives these meanings of heresy:

(a) ‘Belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine’;

(b) ‘Opinion profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted’ (Oxford dictionaries 2016. s v heresy).[3]

From the NT, we see the term, heresy, being used to mean what Paul called strange doctrines, different doctrine, doctrines of demons, and every wind of doctrine (I Timothy 1:3; 4:1; 6:3; Ephesians 4:14). This is in contrast to sound doctrine, our doctrine, the doctrine conforming to godliness, and the doctrine of God (I Timothy 4:6; 6:1,3; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10).

For much of this analysis on Arianism, I’m indebted to systematic theologian, Wayne Grudem (1994:243-245).

Arianism is a heresy that was taught by Arius, a presbyter (church elder) of Alexandria in northern Africa, on the Mediterranean coast of what is Egypt today. Today it’s a bustling sea port on the left bank of the Nile River. Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, it is understood that Christianity was brought to this city by the evangelist, Mark. In 2006, it had a population of 4.1 million people and about 80% of Egypt’s exports and imports come through it. It’s the 2nd largest city in Egypt. In the first century (based on a papyrus from AD 32), it had a population of between 500,000 and 1 million.[4]

But that’s not what made it famous in the 4th century. Church historian, Earle Cairns, stated that it unfolded like this: In about 318 or 319, the bishop of Alexandria, Alexander by name, preached to his presbyters on the topic of ‘The Great Mystery of the Trinity in Unity’. One of his presbyters and an ascetic scholar and popular preacher, Arius, attacked that sermon because he thought it failed to support a distinction between the persons in the Godhead. Arius wanted to avoid polytheism and its understanding of many gods, but in opposing Bishop Alexander, he ‘took a position that did injustice to the true deity of Christ’. The issue related to the nature of salvation. ‘Could Christ save [human beings] if He were a demigod, less than true God, and of a similar or different essence from the Father as Eusebius of Nicomedia and Arius respectively asserted? [I use ‘essence’ in the sense of the substance or being of God.] Eusebius of Nicomedia is not to be confused with the distinguished early church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea. Just what was Jesus’ relationship to the Father? (Cairns 1981:133-134).

Arius put Alexandria on the map with views that were condemned by the Council of Nicea that met in Nicea (near Istanbul, Turkey) in AD 325. Arius died in AD 336. Istanbul was formerly called Constantinople.

clip_image001(map courtesy YouTube)

Arius’s teachings included the following (based on Grudem 1994:243-244):

  • God the Son, Jesus, was at one point created by God the Father;
  • Before that creation, the Son did not exist; neither did the Holy Spirit. Only God the Father existed.
  • The Son was a created heavenly being who existed before the rest of creation and he is greater than all of the rest of creation.
  • BUT … he was not equal with God the Father in all of his attributes.
  • It could be said that he was ‘like the Father’ or even ‘similar to the Father’ in nature. But he most definitely could not be ‘of the same nature’ as the Father.
  • The Arians relied heavily on texts that stated that Christ was God’s ‘only begotten’ Son (e.g. John 1:14; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). What does ‘begotten’ mean? It’s an old-fashioned adjective that means something is generated by procreation – by being fathered. So it means to father or produce an offspring.[5] To ‘beget’, according to the Oxford dictionary means ‘(Especially of a man) bring (a child) into existence by the process of reproduction’ (2016. s v beget).[6]
  • That is what got them into theological trouble. They reasoned like this: If Christ is begotten by God the Father, he is conceived by God.
  • Then they turned to a verse like Col 1:15, ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation’. Therefore, ‘first-born’ implies that the Son was brought into existence by the Father. If that were true of the Son, it was also true for the Holy Spirit as well. Both were created beings.

Arius and the Arians met a formidable foe in Athanasius, who lived from about AD 295-373. He was only a young man when he became embroiled in refuting this heretical doctrine. His name is associated with the orthodox view.

His wealthy parents had provided for his theological education in the famous catechetical school of Alexandria. His work De Incarnatione[7] presented his idea of the doctrine of Christ. At the council [of Nicea] this young man, slightly over thirty, insisted that Christ had existed from all eternity with the Father and was of the same essence (homoousios) as the Father, though He was a distinct personality. He insisted on these things because he believed that if Christ were less than he had stated Him to be, He could not be the Savior of [human beings] (Cairns 1981:134).

Athanasius contended that the question of people’s eternal salvation was dependent on the relationship between the Father and the Son. ‘He held that Christ was coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial [i.e. of the same substance] with the Father, and for these views he suffered exile five times’. However, Athanasius was promoting the orthodox biblical view (Cairns 1981:134).

2.1 Who are the modern day Arians?

They include:

gold-button Jehovah’s Witnesses;

gold-button Locally to where I live in an outer, northern Brisbane suburb, Qld., Australia, there is another active, but small, group of Arians known as the Christadelphians. The Maranatha retirement village on Anzac Ave, Kallangur, Qld 4503[8] is operated as an aged care facility by the Christadelphians.

2.1.1 Jehovah’s Witnesses

(photo of worship at a JW Kingdom Hall, courtesy Wikipedia)

This cult uses Rev. 3:14, where Jesus calls himself ‘the beginning of God’s creation’ to promote a heretical doctrine. According to their publication, Should You Believe in the Trinity?[10] they state that

the Bible plainly states that in his prehuman existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as angels were spirit beings created by God. Neither the angels nor Jesus had existed before their creation.

Jesus, in his prehuman existence, was ‘the first-born of all creation’. (Colossians 1:15 NJB). He was ‘the beginning of God’s creation’. (Revelation 3:14, RS Catholic edition)…. Jesus was created by God as the beginning of God’s invisible creations.[11]

But Rev 3:14 does not mean that Jesus was the first being created. Why? The same word for ‘beginning’ (Gk. arche) is used by Jesus when he says that he is ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13). In that verse, ‘beginning’ is a synonym for “Alpha” and ‘first’.

We also have God the Father saying of himself, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 1:8). In both cases, to be ‘the Alpha’ or ‘the beginning’ means to be the one who was there before anything else existed.

The word does not state or imply that Jesus, the Son, was a created being who was begotten by God or that there was a time when he began to be. This is because both the Father and the Son have always been ‘the Alpha and the Omega’ and ‘the beginning and the end’, since they have existed eternally.

The NIV translates Rev. 3:14 with a different emphasis, ‘the ruler of God’s creation’. Remember that the NIV is a dynamic equivalence translation that gives meaning-for-meaning and not word-for-word translation. The NIV for Rev. 3:14 is an acceptable alternative for arche: see the same meaning in Luke 12:11 and Titus 3:1.

See the article by Ryan Turner, ‘Arianism and Its Influence Today’.[12]

2.2 These texts do not support the Arian position

Grudem puts it this way:

Colossians 1:15, which calls Christ “the first-born of all creation,” is better understood to mean that Christ has the rights or privileges of the “first-born”—that is, according to biblical usage and custom, the right of leadership or authority in the family for one’s generation. (Note Heb. 12:16 where Esau is said to have sold his “first-born status” or “birthright”—the Greek word protokia is cognate[13] to the term protokos, “first-born” in Col. 1:15.) So Colossians 1:15 means that Christ has the privileges of authority and rule, the privileges belonging to the “first-born,” but with respect to the whole creation. The NIV translates it helpfully, “the firstborn over all creation” (Grudem 1994:243-244).

2.2.1 Christ the ‘only begotten Son’

What about the texts that say that Christ was God’s ‘only begotten Son’? The early church was convinced that there were many texts that supported Christ as being fully and completely God so they concluded that ‘only begotten’ did not mean ‘created’ and that is how they put it in the Nicene Creed of 325. It affirmed that Christ was ‘begotten, not made’. This is what the first version of the Creed stated:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (homoousion) with the Father.[14]

This was reaffirmed at the Council of Constantinople in 381. But a phrase, ‘before all ages’ was added after ‘begotten of the Father’, so that people would understand that this ‘begetting’ was eternal. There was no point in time when Jesus’ begetting was happening. It was eternally true.

Grudem’s view was that ‘the nature of that ‘begetting’ has never been defined very clearly, other than to say that it has to do with the relationship between the Father and the Son, and that in some sense the Father has eternally had a primacy in that relationship’ (Grudem 1994:244).

3. Conclusion

The phrase ‘firstborn of all creation’ (Col 1:15 ESV) led to the heretical interpretation by the Arians that Jesus was a being created by God the Father who existed before the rest of creation, but he was not equal with God. They relied on texts which emphasised ‘firstborn’ and ‘only begotten’ to describe the origin of Jesus.

In this short exposition, it was shown that ‘firstborn of all creation’ means that Jesus has the rights or privileges of the family’s firstborn but it means that Christ has the privileges and authority of the firstborn in regard to all of creation. Thus he is ‘the firstborn over all of creation’ (NIV). However, he is not a created being but has existed eternally.

To speak of Christ as the ‘only begotten Son’ does not mean that he was begotten as a creation of the Father but that he was fully and completely God, of one substance with the Father. While ‘begetting’ has not been defined clearly from a biblical understanding of the text, it deals with the relationship of the Father and the Son, and the Father in some sense has eternally had a priority in the relationship with the Son (and the Holy Spirit).

Modern promoters of the heresy of Arianism include the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians.

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (4th ed). London: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition to Zondervan Publishing House).

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

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Notes


[1] The context is vv 13-14 which identifies the Father God (v. 13) and ‘his beloved Son’ (v. 14).

[2] Footnote, ‘That is, by means of; or ini.

[3] Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/heresy (Accessed 12 May 2016). Throughout this document I’ll use ‘s v’ as an acronym for the Latin ‘sub verba’, i.e. under the word. When I write ‘ s v heresy’, it means that you need to go to the reference in the resource to obtain the meaning (here it is Oxford dictionaries online) and check the word, ‘heresy’. S v is used primarily for dictionary and encyclopaedia entries.

[4] This is based on information from Catholic Encyclopedia (1907. s v Alexandria); Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Alexandria, Egypt); Wikipedia (2016. s v Alexandria).

[5] This definition is from ‘begotten’, vocabulary.com, available at: http://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/begotten (Accessed 18 March 2014).

[6] Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/beget (Accessed 12 May 2016).

[7] An English translation of this document is available as, ‘On the Incarnation of the Word’ at New Advent (online). Available at: http://newadvent.org/fathers/2802.htm (Accessed 12 May 2016).

[8] It is at 1582 Anzac Ave., Kallangur, Qld 4503. Details at: http://www.chomes.com.au/facilities/maranatha (Accessed 12 May 2016).

[10] Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1989, p. 14. This booklet was previously available online by the Watch Tower, but it has been removed. Another source, The Snarky Apologist INFO blog, has provided this booklet online at: http://thesnarkyapologist.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/should-you-believe-in-trinity-booklet.html (Accessed 19 March 2014). I located an abbreviated edition of the JW article at: https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/g201308/trinity/ (Accessed 12 May 2016).

[11] Ibid., p. 14.

[12] CARM (online). Available at: https://carm.org/arianism-and-its-influence-today (Accessed 12 May 2016).

[13] ‘Cognate’ is used in linguistics to mean, ‘(Of a word) having the same linguistic derivation as another (e.g. English father, German Vater, Latin pater)’ [Oxford dictionaries online 2016. s v cognate].

[14] In Grudem (1994:244). Grudem noted that ‘this is the original form of the Nicene Creed, but it was later modified by the Council of Constantinople in 381 and there took the form that is commonly called the “Nicene Creed” by churches today. This text is taken from Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983 reprint of 1931 edition), 1:28-29’ (Grudem 1994:244, n. 25).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 June 2016.

Jesus’ work not finished, says Roman Catholic

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

(courtesy clker)

By Spencer D Gear

Was Jesus’ work on the cross to accomplish salvation completed then or not? Or does it have do be done over and over in some sort of way?

A person wrote on a Christian forum, ‘I believe that when Jesus said, “It is finished.” He was referring to his work of paying the penalty for our sins. That means, everything has been paid. It’s up to us to accept the free gift of salvation by faith’.[1]

A Roman Catholic responds

This response confirmed that a Roman Catholic has a very different view of the finished work of Christ on the cross than a Protestant. His response to the above was:

And you would be wrong, sir.

What happened at the exact instant that Jesus expired? The veil of the Temple was torn in two, exposing the Holiest of All. That was the place that the Old Covenant was renewed every year by the presentation of the Yom Kippur sacrifice by the high priest (Lev. 16).

When the veil of the Temple was ripped apart, it exposed the Holiest of All, making it unfit to ever use again for Yom Kippur. “It is finished” has to do with the Old Covenant. THAT is what Jesus was talking about, not your personal sins.

Yes, as the Lamb of God, Jesus is the Sacrifice for our sins. But the idea that He paid “once and forever” and it is all done is heresy. Every time you sin, you have to present that Sacrifice to God to renew your covenant relationship with Him. He has not paid for all your sins in advance of you committing them, and certainly they are not paid for if you refuse to repent and find sin so attractive that you stay in it.[2]

Three evangelical exegetes disagree with the Roman Catholic

My response[3] was that three leading evangelical commentators disagree with him.

John 19:30 states, ‘When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit’ ESV).

This is how three evangelical scholars respond to the meaning of ‘It is finished’ in their commentaries:
cubed-redmatteLeon Morris stated:

‘In the Greek this is one word, ?????????? [tetelestai], which is another of John’s ambiguous terms. It could mean that Jesus’ life was finished. This is part of the meaning, but it is highly improbable that it is the whole meaning. More important is the truth that Jesus’ work was finished. He came to do God’s work, and this meant dying on the cross for the world’s salvation. This mighty work of redemption has now reached its consummation. It is finished’ (Morris 1971:815, n. 73).

cubed-redmatte D. A. Carson‘s understanding was:

In the Greek text, the cry itself is one word, tetelestai (cf. notes on v. 28). As an English translation, It is finished captures only part of the meaning, the part that focuses on completion. Jesus’ work was done. But this is no cry of defeat; nor is it merely an announcement of imminent death… The verb teleo from which this form derives denotes the carrying out of a task, and in religious contexts bears the overtone of fulfilling one’s religious obligations. Accordingly, in the light of the impending cross, Jesus could earlier cry, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing (teleiosas; i.e. by accomplishing) the work you gave me to do’ (17:4). ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them eis telos‘—not only ‘to the end’ but to the full extent mandated by his mission. And so, on the brink of death, Jesus cries out, It is accomplished! (Carson 1991:621, emphasis in original).

cubed-redmatte R. C. H. Lenski wrote:

‘It is finished!’  tetelestai, exactly as in v. 28, the perfect [tense] of a completed state, denotes an action brought to its termination, it is like a line that ends in a point ———————• Jesus speaks this word to his Father. He makes his report to the father who sent him. Uttered with a loud voice, it is also intended for all men to hear. Recorded now in Scripture, it still rings out to  all the world. Since the whole passion and death of Jesus were intended for us, why set up the contention that this conclusion is intended only for him and not also for us? The verb has no subject. What is it that is here brought to an end? Some think that Jesus has in mind his suffering, which, of course, in a way is true and quite obvious. But this cry cannot mean that Jesus is thinking only of himself and is glad that his pain now ceases. Some think of the ancient prophecies and their fulfillment, which, of course, in a way is also true (v. 28). This is better than the previous view, yet it still is indefinite, and other prophecies are still unfulfilled, namely the resurrection and the exaltation. Many are satisfied to say that the work or task of Jesus is concluded, or even that no further duty holds Jesus to life; this is equally indefinite. A word so important cannot be explained by so general an interpretation. The death of Jesus finishes His redemptive work, the work of reconciliation and atonement. This specific work is now brought to a close. The Lamb of God has made His great sacrifice for the world. It is this that is now done. Our great Substitute has paid the great price of ransom, paid it to the uttermost farthing. ‘It is finished’ indeed! Others will yet preach and teach, and Jesus will work through them; as the Kong on David’s throne his regal work will continue forever; but the redemptive shedding of His blood, done once for all, is finished and stands as finished forever. Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26; Rom. 6:10 (Lenski 1943:1309).

Jesus’ death as ‘once for all’ a heresy

As indicated above, the Roman Catholic stated that ‘the idea that He paid “once and forever” and it is all done is heresy. Every time you sin, you have to present that Sacrifice to God to renew your covenant relationship with Him’.[4]

Let’s check out a couple of Scriptures to see if the RC is on target or is simply perpetrating his own human-made theology. Two verses come to mind:

Hebrews 9:26-28,

24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (ESV).

This is extremely clear:

  • Christ appeared in the presence of God himself;
  • Jesus did not offer himself repeatedly as the high priest did when he entered the high places every year with blood other than his own;
  • Jesus did not suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world;
  • Jesus’ sacrifice at the end of the ages was to put away sin by His own sacrifice;
  • Christ has been offered ONCE to bear the sins of many;
  • When Jesus appears a second time, it will not be to deal with sin.

But there is more in 1 Peter 3:18, ‘For Christ also suffered[5] once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit’ (ESV).

Conclusion

So the idea that Jesus paid for sin, ‘once and forever’, is not heresy, but it is orthodox, biblical Christianity. Scripture affirms it.

Bible New Testament Christ Carrying the Cross El Greco

(courtesy public domain)

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (assigned by Augsburg Fortress).

Morris, L 1971. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Notes


[1] biblestudyresources#51, 23 July 2014, Christian Forums, Salvation (Soteriology), ‘What Christians must do to keep their salvation’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7828815-6/ (Accessed 23 July 2014).

[2] Ibid., Light of the East#54, emphasis added.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#56.

[4] Ibid., Light of the East#54, emphasis added.

[5] Some manuscripts have ‘died’.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.

Damning evidence against theological liberalism

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

By Spencer D Gear

J Gresham Machen wrote this book in 1923, Christianity & Liberalism (New York: Macmillan). It is now in the public domain. An html version is HERE.

(image courtesy Eerdmans)

He wrote:

In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called “modernism” or “liberalism.” Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter, in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as “liberalism” is regarded as “liberal” only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts. And indeed the movement is so various in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism–that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity. The word “naturalism” is here used in a sense somewhat different from its philosophical meaning. In this non-philosophical sense it describes with fair accuracy the real root of what is called, by what may turn out to be a degradation of an originally noble word, “liberal” religion (Machen 1923:4-5).

If it was bad then, imagine what it is like in the early 21st century?

What are the differences in belief between orthodox Christianity and liberal Christianity? How do we define ‘orthodox Christianity’ and ‘liberal Christianity’?

The orthodox, evangelical Christianity with which I am associated can be defined according to the Statement of Faith of the National Association of Evangelicals:

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

The liberal Christianity to which I refer can be defined according to ‘This we believe’ of the Progressive Christian Network (PCN) in Britain. The development of this credo was explained:

Gradually the focus of discussion changed. The statements in the Nicene Creed do not make any reference to the implications for us as followers of Jesus, they are historic statements to meet the particular need of the time when they are created … but for all of us, it was the commitment to follow Jesus which was paramount. It was agreed that we all regarded ourselves as “followers of Jesus whose life expressed something utterly profound and took to the limit the idea that power is not all important, that expressed the values of love, peace and justice.” We are all “committed to the way of Jesus which we find worthwhile and which takes us nearer to the underlying sacredness …. To God” and therein is mystery.

This is a developing, possible statement of faith or credo of progressive, liberal Christian faith by the Progressive Christian Network (Britain). It states:

    We are committed to:

  • being Jesus’ followers
  • imitating / living Jesus’ values
  • valuing Jesus’ example
  • sharing Jesus’ way to deity
  • trusting life’s ultimate goodness, sacredness and purpose.

The National Council of Churches (USA) has a liberal Christian statement of faith that lacks the essential theological specifics, just like the PCN’s credo. The NCC’s statement of faith it:

The National Council of Churches is a community of Christian communions, which, in response to the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures, confess Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, as Savior and Lord.

These communions covenant with one another to manifest ever more fully the unity of the Church.

Relying upon the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the communions come together as the Council in common mission, serving in all creation to the glory of God.

Both of these affirmations of theological liberalism don’t want to get into the specifics of the nature of God, human beings, sin, salvation, and Jesus Christ. Nebulous is the way to go!

Enter John Shelby Spong

Bishop John Shelby Spong portrait 2006.png

(photo courtesy Wikipedia)

One of the most damning pieces of evidence against John Shelby Spong’s theologically liberal views are what happened when he was bishop of the Episcopalian Church, Newark, NJ. It is reported inNewark’s Disastrous Decline Under Spong: Post-Mortem of a Bishop’s Tenure’.[1] 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? Wherever theological liberalism has taken hold, church numbers have declined. Frank Pastore put it this way: ‘We’ve all witnessed the plummeting attendance of liberal mainline denominations for decades’ (‘The National Council of Churches should have died’).

An example would be the USA Episcopal Church. This recent article, ‘Episcopal Church Task Force Releases Report on Restructuring Plans(July 17, 2013).

“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.”

What’s the evidence for Church growth & decline?

Missions Jump

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Go to Christian forums on the Internet and you can find those who are promoting theological liberalism and want to put down anything that seems to be of a conservative Christian persuasion. Here are samples:

In my research on church growth or decline, I found these helpful statistics on church growth and decline:

As these links indicate statistically and generally, conservative, evangelical Protestants and conservative Roman Catholics around the world are growing in numbers while liberal Christian denominations are diminishing in size. The statistics are in and they are not applauding theological liberalism. Conservative, orthodox Christianity is on the upswing (generally) while liberalism is on the decline.

Frank Pastore’s assessment of the theologically liberal National Council of Churches (USA) was:

So much for the ‘church’ part of the National Council. These liberal groups really are putting their money where their mouth(piece) is, right onto the lips of the NCC.

The next time you hear or read the words “National Council of Churches”, remember they don’t represent the people in the pews, they represent the liberal foundations and organizations that are keeping them on life support.

The market had shouted. The NCC should have died.

Notes:


[1] This is referring to retired Episcopal bishop, John Shelby Spong. See his website HERE. See also:

(1) Bonhoeffer versus John Shelby Spong;

(2) John Shelby Spong: Anglican Nightmare;

(3) Spong, the Measure of All Things;

(4) Bishop Spong, the Theological Criminal: The Virtual Atheism of John Shelby Spong;

(5) Spong Kong Phooey: Why Spong’s “Christianity” is already dead;

(6) What’s Wrong With (Former) Bishop Spong? Rethinking the Scholarship of John Shelby Spong;

(7) Things John Shelby Spong Thinks He Knows About the Gospel of John;

(8) The bishop who was not.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 March 2017.

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.

Is Jesus a God and not the God?

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Spencer D Gear

Colored in Cross

ChristArt

It is common among some cults that they do not acknowledge Jesus Christ’s deity as being God. It was promoted in the early days of the Christian church by Arians. Two contemporary examples of an Arian philosophy would be the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Christadelphians.

The Jehovah’s Witness view of John 1:1

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

I first encountered this quote when a Jehovah’s Witness was in my house sharing his views and when I challenged him, he leapt from the seat and left his trusty trouble shooting manual behind. This is called, Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985:212-213). However, it is now available online:

Does John 1:1 prove that Jesus is God?

John 1:1, RS: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [also KJ, JB, Dy, Kx, NAB].” NE reads “what God was, the Word was.” Mo says “the Logos was divine.” AT and Sd tell us “the Word was divine.” The interlinear rendering of ED is “a god was the Word.” NW reads “the Word was a god”; NTIV uses the same wording.

What is it that these translators are seeing in the Greek text that moves some of them to refrain from saying “the Word was God”? The definite article (the) appears before the first occurrence of the·os? (God) but not before the second. The articular (when the article appears) construction of the noun points to an identity, a personality, whereas a singular anarthrous (without the article) predicate noun before the verb (as the sentence is constructed in Greek) points to a quality about someone. So the text is not saying that the Word (Jesus) was the same as the God with whom he was but, rather, that the Word was godlike, divine, a god. (See 1984 Reference edition of NW, p. 1579.)

What did the apostle John mean when he wrote John 1:1? Did he mean that Jesus is himself God or perhaps that Jesus is one God with the Father? In the same chapter, John 1 verse 18, John wrote: “No one [“no man,” KJ, Dy] has ever seen God; the only Son [“the only-begotten god,” NW], who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (RS) Had any human seen Jesus Christ, the Son? Of course! So, then, was John saying that Jesus was God? Obviously not. Toward the end of his Gospel, John summarized matters, saying: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, [not God, but] the Son of God.”—John 20:31, RS (Watchtower Online Library: Jesus Christ n d)

That is very clear. The JW view is that John 1:1 does not teach the deity of Christ but that Jesus is ‘a god’. John was teaching that Jesus was obviously not God. That’s JW false teaching, as we will see below.

Denial of Jesus’ deity by the Christadelphians

Christadelphian Hall in Bath, United Kingdom (Courtesy Wikipedia)

In an article, “Why was Jesus Christ?” the Christadelphians wrote:

These New Testament Scriptures make it clear that the teaching of the Old and New Testaments is entirely consistent. Throughout the Bible the message is that God is One, not three persons in one Godhead….

For us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live (1 Corinthians 8:6);

There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… (1 Timothy 2:5);

Keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He (God) will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honour and everlasting power. Amen (1 Timothy 6:14-16).

Notice how careful Scripture is at all times to distinguish between the Father and the Son. God is the source and originator of everything. He dwells in unapproachable light and has never been seen by any mortal. Jesus is His Son and came into existence when he was born of the virgin Mary by the power of God – the Holy Spirit. He is described as “the man Christ Jesus” (Ipswich Christadelphians n d).

So there you have it. Jesus is not God; he is the man Christ Jesus and there is no Trinity. That’s Christadelphian false teaching as the following biblical data will demonstrate.

Pushing Arianism on an evangelical forum

 

What is Arianism? Matt Slick of CARM summarised this heretical view promoted by some in the early church:

Arianism developed around 320, in Alexandria Egypt concerning the person of Christ and is named after Arius of Alexandar (sic).[1]  For his doctrinal teaching he was exiled to Illyria in 325 after the first ecumenical council at Nicaea condemned his teaching as heresy.  It was the greatest of heresies within the early church that developed a significant following.  Some say, it almost took over the church.

Arius taught that only God the Father was eternal and too pure and infinite to appear on the earth.  Therefore, God produced Christ the Son out of nothing as the first and greatest creation.  The Son is then the one who created the universe.  Because the Son relationship of the Son to the Father is not one of nature, it is, therefore, adoptive.   God adopted Christ as the Son.  Though Christ was a creation, because of his great position and authority, he was to be worshipped and even looked upon as God.  Some Arians even held that the Holy Spirit was the first and greatest creation of the Son.

At Jesus‘ incarnation, the Arians asserted that the divine quality of the Son, the Logos, took the place of the human and spiritual aspect of Jesus, thereby denying the full and complete incarnation of God the Son, second person of the Trinity.

In asserting that Christ the Son, as a created thing, was to be worshipped, the Arians were advocating idolatry (Slick n d).

However, even on an evangelical forum on the Internet, this kind of teaching emerged through the deceptiveness of a person wanting to push his Arian epistemology that denies the deity of Jesus Christ. A person wrote:

The word was a God but not Almighty God that is the difference.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God.
They missed the A out, it’s obvious to any one reading that line of scripture’
Almighty God did not come in the flesh, it was his only begotten son that came, that’s why just before his death Jesus prayed to his Father and said let your will be done not mine.
Then when he was being put to death he said My God! My God! why have you forsaken me.
So there is no Controversy about that Jesus is not his Father God Almighty.
Your treating Jesus if he was some sort of Con-man, play acting, how disrespectful is that.
I am sorry to the board if I am not allowed to discuss it on this forum, but it’s very important as lives are at stake.
[2]

A person responded: ‘This is false. The (sic) is no justification to add an “a” so the John 1:1 says “…the word was a god.” It’s just not in the original. Also, there is no difference between “Almighty God” and “God”’.[3]

How does one respond to someone who claims that Jesus is not God? Earlier in the thread, this promoter of Arian, anti-deity of Jesus, stated,

What did the apostle John mean when he wrote John 1:1?
He said the word was God but not Almighty God, did he?
Did he mean that Jesus is himself God or perhaps that Jesus is one God with the Father?
In the same chapter, verse 18, John wrote: “No one [“no man,” KJ, Dy] has ever seen God; the only Son [“the only-begotten god,” NW], who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (RS)
Had any human seen Jesus Christ, the Son?
Of course! So, then, was John saying that Jesus was God?
Obviously not.
[4]

My response was:[5]

If one does not understand the nuances of Greek grammar, there will be a translation of John 1:1 like that in the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which reads, ‘In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with god, and the Word was a god‘ (NWT, John 1:1, emphasis added).

To the person unfamiliar with Greek grammar, this looks like a reasonable translation as the Greek for ‘and the Word was a god’ (NWT) in the Greek is kai theos en ho logos (transliteration of the Greek). You will notice that theos is not ho theos. Therefore, to the untrained eye it could be translated ‘and a God was the Word’ or ‘the word was a god’.

However, The Granville Sharp Rule of Greek grammar refutes this JW translation. In English, if we want to indicate the predicate nominative after the verb to be, it is indicated by its place in the sentence – after the verb. That is not so in Greek as word order does not indicate meaning. Conjugation and declension of words determine their places and meaning in a sentence. [In my part of the English-speaking world, what is called the predicate nominative of a sentence in the USA is called the complement of a sentence.]
The Granville Sharp Rule means that to help us determine which is the subject of a sentence and which is the predicate nominative, the definite article is dropped before the noun that is the predicate nominative – when the verb to be is used in the sentence.

So in this section of John 1:1 we have, kai theos [predicate nominative] en ho logos [subject]. Therefore, based on correct Greek grammar, the translation is: ‘And the Word was God’ or to emphasise this, we could correctly translate as, ‘The Word was the God’.

Thus, the JW translation has not taken into consideration how one identifies the predicate nominative from the subject nominative of a sentence using the verb ‘to be’. The link to the fuller explanation I have given above of the Granville Sharp Rule provides other NT Greek examples of its use.

To the JW, Arian promoter, I responded:

You make this kind of statement that Jesus, the Word, is only a God because you are ignorant of the Greek grammar. When you don’t understand the Granville Sharp Rule of Greek grammar, you will come to your ungrammatical kind of JW translation that ‘the word was a God’. See my fuller explanation above.

You call yourself ‘kingdomfirst’. Are you a member or are you promoting the Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower view of the non-deity of Jesus Christ?

Your knowledge of Greek grammar is deficient. That’s what causes you to mistranslate John 1:1 as ‘the Word was a God’.[6]

What biblical evidence is there to affirm Jesus as God?

See:

clip_image002 Sue Bohlin,Jesus claims to be God’;

clip_image002[1] Matt Slick, ‘Jesus is God’;

clip_image002[2] Norman Geisler, ‘The uniqueness of Jesus Christ’;

clip_image002[3] Matt Slick,Bible verses that show Jesus is Divine’;

clip_image002[4] Bill Pratt, ‘Did Jesus’s Disciples Think He Was God? Part 1’;

clip_image002[5] Bill Pratt,Did Jesus’s Disciples Think He was God? Part 2’;

clip_image002[6] Matt Perman,How can Jesus be God and man?

clip_image002[7]Spencer Gear,Was Jesus omniscient while on earth?

The Nicene Creed rejects Arianism and promotes orthodox Christianity. It states:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten (gennethenta), not made, being of one substance (homoousion consubstantialem) with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost. And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not (en pote hote ouk en), or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion51—all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them (Wikisource 2013).

Works consulted

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

Ipswich Christadelphians n d. Who was Jesus Christ? (online). Available at: http://www.ipswichchristadelphians.info/index.php/component/content/article/13-minute-meditations/105-120819a (Accessed 4 October 2013). This is Ipswich in the United Kingdom.

Reasoning from the Scriptures 1985. Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.

Slick, M n d. Arianism (online). CARM, available at: http://carm.org/arianism (Accessed 4 October 2013).

Watchtower Online Library n d. Jesus Christ (online). Available at: http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1101989240 (Accessed 4 October 2013).

Notes:


[1] Arius was a presbyter to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, in AD 318 or 319 and Alexander ‘preached to his presbyters on “The Great Mystery of the Trinity in Unity.” One of the presbyters, Arius, an ascetic scholar and popular preacher, attacked the sermon because he believed that it failed to uphold a distinction among the persons in the Godhead. In his desire to avoid a polytheistic conception of God, Arius took a position that did injustice to the true deity of Christ’. The orthodox view promoted by Athanasius and others was that ‘Christ had existed from all eternity with the Father and was of the same essence (homoousios) as the Father, although He was a distinct personality…. Christ was coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial with the Father’. This wasaffirmed at the Council of Nicea in 325 (Cairns 1981:133-134).

[2] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘The Holy Trinity’, kingdomfirst#136, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7775663-14/ (Accessed 4 October 2013, emphasis in original). I suspect that this person is a Jehovah’s Witness or a person of similarArian belief who is promoting his views. This seems to be inferred by his statement above, ‘I am sorry to the board if I am not allowed to discuss it on this forum, but it’s very important as lives are at stake’. By 5 October 2013, this post had been removed from this Christian Forums; thread because, I expect, of kingdomfirst’s violation of the Statement of Faith of Christian Forums’ website, which affirms the content of the Nicene Creed (his post was not able to be accessed 5 October 2013).

[3] TomZzyzx #142, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7775663-14/ (Accessed 4 October 2013). However, because kingdomfirst’s posts have been removed, some of the other links to his posts, including my own as OzSpen, could have been removed from the thread.

[4] This is part of what kingdomfirst#120, ibid, wrote.

[5] OzSpen#146, ibid.

[6] OzSpen#147, ibid.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.

Was Jesus a hermaphrodite? Did Jesus have both male and female sex organs?

Friday, March 16th, 2012

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(image courtesy www.naij.com)

By Spencer D Gear

You might ask: What weird questions you ask? Are you serious? Yes, I am, because of what follows.

It is becoming predictable how depraved liberal theology can become in desecrating who Jesus Christ is. But this one must come close to the top of the list of false teachings. Take a read of this article in The Telegraph [UK] in which a feminist theologian at Manchester University, Susannah Cornwall, claims that “Jesus may have been a hermaphrodite, claims academic“. A hermaphrodite has both male and female sex organs.

I had better define theological liberalism first. How better to do that than to incorporate its definition from one of the prominent opponents of liberalism, Dr. J. Gresham Machen from Christianity & Liberalism (1923:2):

This modern non-redemptive religion is called “modernism” or “liberalism.” Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as “liberalism” is regarded as “liberal” only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts. And indeed the movement is so varied in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is rooted in naturalism – that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (emphasis added).

These are some of Cornwall’s points from The Telegraph:

  • It is ‘simply a best guess’ that Jesus was male;
  • In her blog she states that she specialised in ‘research and writing in feminist theology, sexuality, gender, embodiment, ethics and other fun things like that’.
  • In her paper, ‘Intersex & Ontology, A Response to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision’, she promotes the view there is no certainty that Jesus did NOT have an intersex condition, with both male and female organs.
  • She makes the outlandish statement that “It is not possible to assert with any degree of certainty that Jesus was male as we now define maleness”. Has she been reading Minnie Mouse comics instead of the Bible?
  • We cannot know if Jesus had a body that appeared externally to be male, but he might have “hidden” female physical features. This proposal is that Jesus could have been a hermaphrodite.

Are sons male or female?

There is not a single piece of evidence in the New Testament to support Susannah Cornwall’s claim that Jesus was not male. Speculation by liberalism is classical fare. It demonstrates that Cornwall does not take any notice of what the New Testament states.

The birth of Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son” (Matthew 1:23). Sons are male, but that seems to escape Cornwall’s academic abilities. Jesus step-father, Joseph, had no intercourse with Mary “she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:25). Sons are male.

I’ll just about die of theological heart-failure when I hear liberals like Cornwall take the Bible seriously. The evidence is right before her, but she doesn’t seem to have any qualms about inventing her false teaching.

In an extraordinary paper she stated:

“There is no way of knowing for sure that Jesus did not have one of the intersex conditions which would give him a body which appeared externally to be unremarkably male, but which might nonetheless have had some “hidden” female physical features”.[1]

Dr Cornwall argues that the fact that Jesus is not recorded to have had children made his gender status “even more uncertain”.

She continues: “We cannot know for sure that Jesus was male – since we do not have a body to examine and analyse – it can only be that Jesus’ masculine gender role, rather than his male sex, is having to bear the weight of all this authority.”

Let’s check some further evidence. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, the devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God…” (Matt. 4:6). He did not describe him as the daughter or hermaphrodite of God.

What was the purpose of John’s Gospel?

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).

Dr Cornwall, are you blind or are you pushing your own agenda that is contrary to what the Scriptures state? You are imposing on the Scripture your presuppositional uncertainty of Jesus’ masculine gender. The Bible is unequivocal. Jesus is the Son. He is a male. There is no doubt about it as we see also that….

New Testament Greek uses the male pronoun to refer to Jesus

image

In a follow-up, brief article to refute Cornwall’s theology, Rev. Dr. Peter Mullen[2] wrote:

The gospels were written in Greek and they always use the male pronoun to refer to Jesus. Not once do they use the equally available feminine or neuter pronouns. So the gospel writers seem to have assumed that Jesus was a man. And if masculinity is recognised by particular characteristics, there is a pretty huge pile of circumstantial evidence. In the infancy stories, Jesus is referred to as a male child. On his ritual pilgrimage to the temple when he was twelve, he is described as a boy. So can we hazard the suggestion that he grew up to become a man? I don’t think they had sex change operations in first century Galilee….

No irreverence meant, but I think if Jesus were in Manchester today and could read Dr Cornwall’s thesis, he would laugh out loud.[3]

Was Jesus circumcised as a male or female?

Luke 2:21-24 states:

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. 22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.

Notice these features from this passage in Luke 2:

1. Jesus’ human parents were having this child circumcised eight days after birth. Was the child a male, female or hermaphrodite? This was the Jewish tradition that is articulated in Genesis 17:12-14 and Leviticus 12:2-3. These verses from the Law of Moses, the Pentateuch, confirm that Jewish circumcision was only for a male child.

2. This circumcision is confirmed by Luke 2 to be following the ‘Law of Moses’, which is ‘the Law of the Lord’, and was applied to male babies.

Dr. Cornwall’s argument for Jesus as a possible hermaphrodite is again found wanting. She’s into practising her liberal, feminist invention.

The inventions of liberal theology

C. S. Lewis once wrote:

All theology of the liberal type involves at some point—and often involves throughout—the claim that the real behavior and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by His followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only be modern scholars. The idea that any man or writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous.[4]

In an interview with J. I. Packer when he was teaching at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada, he said that he expected congregations in The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, which are

being fed on liberal theology will continue to wither on the vine as they have done for the last half century. Liberal theology, without the gospel, proves to be the smell of death rather than of life.[5]

While Common Cause[6] is a minority group today that is committed to orthodox doctrine in the Anglican Church of North America, Packer expects that will change ‘as liberal churches get smaller and smaller and become in turn a minority’.

Dr. Susannah Cornwall is an example of a liberal, feminist theologian who invents things about Jesus. This kind of thinking kills churches and denomination. She is promoting a false doctrine of Christology and is therefore defending heresy.

Conclusion

Paul, the apostle, instructed Titus that false teachers ‘must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain’ (Titus 1:11).

This is the instruction that must be given to false teachers such as Susannah Cornwall. They must be exposed and silenced. It is not a GUESS that Jesus was a male. It is an invented false teaching by Dr. Cornwall. The biblical evidence is that Jesus is a male, a son.

I refer you to my article, ‘Is liberal theology heresy?

Notes:


[1] Cited in the article by John Bingham, ‘Jesus may have been hermaphrodite, claims academic’, The Telegraph, 2 March 2012, available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9116974/Jesus-may-have-been-a-hermaphrodite-claims-academic.html (Accessed 16 March 2012).

[2] This article stated this about the Dr who wrote the article: The Rev Dr Peter Mullen is a priest of the Church of England and former Rector of St Michael, Cornhill and St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the City of London. He has written for many publications including the Wall Street Journal’.

[3] Peter Mullin 2012. Jesus was a man: look at the evidence, Dr. Cornwall, The Telegraph [UK], 2 March. Available at: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/petermullen/100141058/jesus-was-a-man-look-at-the-evidence-dr-cornwall/ (Accessed 16 March 2012).

[4] C. S. Lewis 1981. ‘Modern theology and biblical criticism’, now titled, ‘Fern-seed and elephants’, available at: http://orthodox-web.tripod.com/papers/fern_seed.html (Accessed 16 March 2012).

[5] David Virtue 2008. ‘Liberal theology without the gospel has the smell of death: J. I. Packer’, 25 January. Virtueonline, available at: http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=7564#.T2K2UHnwqnK (Accessed 16 March 2012).

[6] Anglican Churches from four states in the USA form ‘Common Cause’, which is ‘committed to working together for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. “We are united in Biblical truth and love of the Anglican worship tradition and are striving to improve relationships with faithful Anglicans worldwide”’. Available from VirtueOnline at: http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/print.php?storyid=4087 (Accessed 16 March 2012).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 May 2016.

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The Rhema Barb and Its Poison: The Rhema vs. Logos Controversy

Monday, January 16th, 2012

By Spencer D Gear

John Dawson, as Director of Youth with a Mission, wrote Taking Our Cities for God, in which he stated: “There is always the release of God’s power when we declare out loud His word.  The Greek word rhema is the biblical term for the specific personal communication of God with His children here and now.  This is different from the logos, which refers to the already revealed word recorded in Scripture.” [2]   Is this really the case?

Kenneth E Hagin (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

The name, rhema, is particularly associated with the ministry of the late Kenneth Hagin Sr. (died 2003). The doctrine of “rhema,” as proclaimed by the Hyper-Faith Movement, claims that “you can have what you say” or “how to write your own ticket with God” (the language of Kenneth Hagin Sr.) [3]  if you will only confess it.  So, health, wealth and many other outcomes are based on a confession of the “rhema” in one’s life.  “Name It and Claim It” theology is based on this understanding of “rhema.”  Can this distinction of rhema be sustained by a study of the New Testament? 

These statements have developed a doctrine of the spoken word, known as, “rhematology,” or “positive confession.”  It stresses the power of one’s thoughts and words in affecting reality in a person’s life. 

It is common, particularly in Pentecostal and charismatic circles, to try to distinguish between the two Greek words that are translated, “Word, ” in the New Testament – rhema and logos. The point made is that rhema is “often a word spoken for a particular occasion.”  It is God’s word for you in your present situation. 

This is seen at the popular level in Dr. Paul Choo’s article on the Spirit-filled life and victorious faith: “Logos refers to the whole revelation of God (e.g.. John 17:17). Rhema (which is found in Rom. 10:17) refers to a part of God’s Word, i.e. a specific promise.” [4] A search on the www revealed that this was a common theme: “‘Rhema’ means ‘spoken word’, and ‘Logos’ means ‘written word.'” [5]

It is claimed that “the logos is universal while rhema is particular.  The logos is objective, while the rhema is subjective.  The logos is eternal, while the rhema is contemporary.” [6]   However, when we examine the biblical evidence, the differences between rhema and logos cannot be sustained.

Both rhema and logos for spoken word

(image courtesy ClipArtHut)

Both rhema and logos are used in situations where the “spoken word” is indicated.  In Luke 5:5, Peter’s words to Jesus were, “But at your word [rhema] I will let down the nets” (ESV). [7]   On the other hand, it is said of the nobleman whose son was healed by Jesus, that “the man believed the word [logos] that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way” (John 4:50).

Some want to conclude that rhema is never applied to the person of Christ.  In Matt. 4:4, Jesus stated, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word [rhema] that comes from the mouth of God.”  Another example is the use of rhema in verses such as Matt. 27:14, where Jesus was on trial before his crucifixion: “But he gave him no answer [rhema], not even to a single charge”

When Peter denied the Lord, he “remembered the saying [rhema] of Jesus.”  As already indicated, Luke 5:5 says, “But at your word [rhema] I will let down the nets.”  Luke 7:1 is a telling example: Speaking of Jesus, it states:  “After he had finished all his sayings [rhemata, the plural of rhema] in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.”  Therefore, the honest interpreter of the New Testament must conclude that it is incorrect to say that rhema is never applied to the person of Christ.

Peter, in his epistle, used both rhema and logos without thinking that there was any difference in meaning.  He said that we are born again “through the living and abiding word [logos] of God” (I Peter 1:23).  Two verses later, Peter writes that “the word [rhema] of the Lord remains forever” (v. 25).

Korean Pentecostal leader, Paul Yonggi Cho, maintained that we as Christians “can link our spirit’s fourth dimension to the fourth dimension of the Holy Father—the Creator of the universe—we can have all the more dominion over circumstances.”  The Holy Spirit causes this through dreams, visions, and visualisation.  By the latter we “incubate our future” and “hatch the results.”  This happens through our speaking that rhema word that “releases Christ.”   How does one receive this rhema?  According to Cho, it is a “specific word to a specific person in a specific situation” and is attained by “waiting upon the Lord.” [8]

“If rhema is supposed to be a spoken word and logos the written word, Paul [the apostle] apparently did not recognize that distinction.  When talking about the gifts of the word of wisdom and the word of  knowledge, he used logos rather than rhema (1 Corinthians 12:8).  It seems that rhema would have been more appropriate if the distinction which some make is valid.” [9]

Logos and rhema are synonymous words in Greek

Two passages that seem to be referring to the same action, use rhema and logos interchangeably.  Jesus said, “Already you are clean because of the word [logos] that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).  When Paul spoke about Christ sanctifying and cleansing the church, he indicated that Christ “might sanctify her [the church], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word [rhema]” (Eph. 5:26).

This is further illustrated in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint (LXX), the translation which was completed about 250 BC.  The first two verses of Jeremiah read: “The word [rhema] of God which came to Jeremiah” (v. 1) and “the word [logos] of God which came to him” (v. 2). [10] It is clear that even as far back as the third century before Christ, rhema and logos were used interchangeably.

For NT Greek buffs, this technical information confirms that rhema and logos are synonyms.  If we examine the Greek verb forms of these two words we find:

“In the present tense, the verb form of logos is lego.  But other tenses for this verb contain the stem used in rhema (ero, eireka, eiremai, errethen).  It is an irregular Greek verb.  The present tense (I say) and the logos use the same stem, but most other tenses use the stem from which rhema is derived.” [11]

The Englishman’s Greek-English Concordance [12] lists every mention of the words, rhema and logos in the New Testament.  An examination of these will clearly show that the contemporary distinctions between rhema and logos do not hold up under careful investigation.

(image courtesy sharefaith.com)

What can we conclude?  The evidence does not point to any kind of difference of  meaning between rhema and logos.  They “are very close synonyms, and we must not force on them a distinction in meaning.  Often a change is made from one word to the other simply to give literary variety.” [13]

David Watson gave a helpful summary of the evidence for rhema vs. logos. [14]  His conclusion supports the evidence above:

“In no New Testament dictionary or Greek lexicon of any substance can the claimed distinction between the two words be found….  The massive weight of evidence shows that there is no clear distinction to be made between logos and rhema in the Scriptures.  Thus the two far-reaching inferences mentioned above are based on a false premise.” [15]

I endorse Anthony Palma’s practical conclusion:

“This matter is of more than academic significance.  Among some who promote this distinction in meaning, a danger exists that the so-called spoken or contemporary word will be esteemed more highly than the Scriptures.  But the principle given in 1 Corinthians 14:29 is that all messages must be evaluated, and the only sure basis for evaluation is the written Word of God.”[16]

This wrong-headed doctrine of rhema has had some materialistic and threatening outworking in ministries such as that of Paula White on a Benny Hinn Telethon, LeSEA Network, April 16, 2004.  In her promotion of the alleged meaning of rhema, she proclaimed, “Now, get up and go to the phone!  When God begins to speak to you dial that number on your screen.  Don’t you miss this moment!  If you miss your moment you miss your miracle!….  He’s [God’s] giving you a Rhema Word right now….  The God that I serve is speaking to you right now!”  She proclaimed that “God is looking for somebody to believe that this is a Rhema Word.”[17]

The contemporary confusion in understanding of rhema and logos is “a reminder that a little ‘knowledge’ is a dangerous thing.” [18]  How many more people are going to be hurt and misled by the false rhema doctrine of a “special word for an occasion” that comes with a barb like that of Paula White, in this same Benny Hinn Telethon.  She gave this threatening message: “You will die!  You will die unless you go to the phone and do what God says to do.” [19]

Conclusion

What difference does it make?  When preachers with a high public profile or ordinary believers proclaim that sickness can be healed when a person experiences God’s rhema [special word for the occasion], and it doesn’t happen, some people are left disillusioned with the Christian faith because their God has not met His obligations.  One other alternative is that these people are accused of not having enough faith or having the wrong kind of faith.  For the ill, this is a particularly cruel accusation — their God did not come to the party OR their faith is sub-standard.  These are the people who need God’s encouragement and not condemnation. 

The real issue does not amount to a wrong kind of faith but it is the promotion of a theology of health and wealth that is a false doctrine.  These preachers and teachers need to be exposed for what they are – false teachers!

Based on an examination of the biblical material, we can conclude that the differences between rhema and logos promoted by some prominent preachers in the charismatic movement, cannot be sustained.

They promote a false distinction between rhema and logos and are thus false teachers.

Endnotes:

[2]  John Dawson 1989, Taking Our Cities for God, Word Publishing, Milton Keynes, England, p. 197.

[3] Hagin Sr., K. E. 1979. How to Write Your Own Ticket with God, Kenneth Hagin Ministries, Tulsa, OK.

[4]  Pastor Dr. Paul Choo, preached at Gospel Light Christian Church, Singapore, 10 December 2000,”The Spirit-Filled Life I – Faith Is the Victory,”available from: http://www.glcc-online.com/sermons/sglcc0012101.htm [Accessed 4 May 2005].

[5]  From Arthur Chiang, “The Power of Words”, 17 September 2004, Free Community Church, available from: http://www.freecomchurch.org/05-170904.htm [Accessed 4 May 2005].  Jason Clark wrote of “logos being the entirety, like a full-sized sword; and rhema, a small portion” in “What Do You Think About Preaching?”, available from: http://emergent.typepad.com/jasonclark/2005/03/what_do_you_thi.html [Accessed 4 May 2005].

[6]  For a critique of this popular view, see Anthony D. Palma, “Word…Word,” Advance, May 1977, p. 27.  Palma alerted me to the distinction between rhema and logos in this article from this  Assemblies of God (USA) magazine, Advance.  Much of the following information is based on Palma’s article.

[7]  Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version 2001, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois.

[8]  Paul Yonggi Cho 1979, The Fourth Dimension: The Key to Putting Your Faith to Work for a Successful Life, Logos, Plainfield, NJ, pp. 41, 44, 81,91, 97-100.  For an assessment of Cho’s theology of the Holy Spirit, see Simon K.H. Chan 2004, “The Pneumatology of Paul Yonggi Cho,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies (7:1), pp. 79-99, available from: http://www.apts.edu/ajps/04-1/04-1-SimonChan.pdf [Accessed 4 May 2005].

[9]  Palma, p. 27.

[10]  Please note that these are literal translations from the Septuagint and are not following modern English translations of Jeremiah1:1-2, such as the ESV.

[11]  Palma, p. 27.

[12]  For example, Jay P. Green, Sr. 1976, The New Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament, Associated Publishers & Authors, Wilmington, Delaware, p. 4483.

[13]  Palma, p. 27.
[14]  David Watson 1982, Called & Committed: World-Changing Discipleship, Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois,
pp. 110-112.

[15]  Watson, p. 111.
[16]  Palma, p. 27.
[17]  Cited in “Paula White,” available from: http://www.myfortress.org/paulawhite.html [4 May 2004].
[18]  Watson, p. 112.

[19]  Paula White, Forgotten Word Ministries, available from: http://www.forgottenword.org/white.html [12 January 2007].

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 April 2016.

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Double faults and not aces: Margaret Court

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

The falsehood of ‘blab it and grab it’ theology

By Spencer D Gear

The cover story in New Life Christian newspaper (Melbourne, Australia), “Tennis great aces crowd” (King & Woodall 2004:1), should have come with a warning.  The headline should have read, “Tennis great also serves faults, even double faults, to the crowd.”  It was stated that Margaret Court, former international tennis player, was “the only tennis player in the world, male or female, ever to win 64 major tournaments and [was] the founder of Victory Life Centre, a Western Australian [Perth] church with an average Sunday attendance of 1300 people” (p. 1).  No matter what the size of her congregation, I have grave concerns about the content of some of her theology.

Margaret Court 1964.jpg
Margaret Court AO MBE in 1964
(Courtesy Wikipedia)

Based on this article, it is stated that Margaret Court gave a great testimony about her Christian life and ministry at the 21st Melbourne Prayer Breakfast, Melbourne Convention Centre, 7am 29 October 2004.  However, it was served up with some spiritual poison.  I am referring to these statements: “I have learned the power of words.  God created the world with words.  He framed it in words.  We need to teach our young ones to speak in a way that shapes their destiny” (King & Woodall 2004:2).

I have spoken with Christians in the charismatic movement who have been devastated by this teaching.  They have sought prosperity in following this formula of visualisation and making positive affirmations, but it left them devastated – and still in poverty.  Others go around confessing their healing, but the sickness continues.  I find this to be cruel Christianity.  It promises much, but has a habit of not delivering all of the time.

This is known as positive confession, promoted by a segment of charismatic Christianity known as the Faith Movement.  The Watchman Fellowship (2000) defines positive confession as: “the belief that if a believer speaks ‘spiritual’ or ‘faith-filled’ words then he [or she] can have what he [or she] says.”  Kenneth E. Hagin Sr. (who died in 2003 at the age of 86) advocated it with these kinds of statements [2] :

3d-red-star-small“Did you ever stop to think about having faith in your own faith?  Evidently God had faith in His faith, because He spoke words of faith and they came to pass. . .  In other words, having faith in your words is having faith in your faith.  That’s what you’ve got to learn to do to get things from God: Have faith in your faith” (Hagin 1980a:4-5).

3d-red-star-small Hebrews 4:14 states, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to  the faith we profess” (NIV)  Hagin uses this verse to claim that “you are what you say” (Hagin 1974: 86-87).

3d-red-star-small  “Don’t pray it; say it” (Hagin 1979b:78).
3d-red-star-small  “Your lips . . . can make you a victor or keep you a captive” (Hagin 1974:91).
3d-red-star-small  “What I confess, I possess” (Hagin  1974:93).
3d-red-star-small  Hagin uses Rom. 10:8 to justify his belief that “believing with the heart and saying it with the mouth . . . creates reality” (1974:89).

3d-red-star-small  “If you are defeated, you are defeated with your own lips” (Hagin 1980b:10).
3d-red-star-small  If a believer states, “According to God’s word ‘I’m healed'” and then says, ‘Yes, I’ve got heart symptoms,” the latter confession will nullify the result of the first confession (Hagin 1980c,:90, 138).

3d-red-star-small Hagin uses Prov. 6:2 to justify this statement: “The reason so many are defeated is that they have a negative confession” (Hagin 1974:90-91).

3d-red-star-small “Every time you confess . . . your weakness and your disease, you are openly confessing that the Word of God is not true” (1974:118).  Since he began following this procedure, Hagin claims that he has not had a headache since 1933 (Hagin 1979a:6).

Margaret Court’s teaching was stated by Hagin in this way, “The kind of faith that spoke the universe into existence is dealt to our hearts” (Hagin  1980d:74). It seems as though Hagin got his teaching from E. W. Kenyon who stated, “What I confess, I possess” (Kenyon 1970:98; Hagin 1974:92; see McConnell 1988, for an assessment).

This kind of teaching is found in other leaders of the Faith Movement:

3d-red-star-small Kenneth Copeland:

“Confession is a powerful word. It’s a Bible word that means far more than just an affirmation of something.

Romans 10:10 says, “For with the heart man believeth…and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

In other words, confession brings possession. It brings possession of everything God has promised us in His Word. It brings salvation, healing, protection, prosperity and so on.
That’s why, when we confess our faith, we’re not simply affirming something positive we want in our lives. We’re staking our claim on what is already ours according to God’s Word.
In light of that, our responsibility is to go to the Word, find scripture that covers whatever we’re believing God for, and then stand in faith on the truth of that Word. If it’s something not promised in the Word, we have no business confessing it” (Copeland 2007).

3d-red-star-smallJoyce Meyer: “We must realize and understand the power carried by our thoughts and words.  They are so powerful that they can bring either blessings or curses into our lives, depending on their nature.  Our thoughts and words are like the rudder of a ship — they may seem small, but they affect the very direction of our lives” (Meyer 2004).
3d-red-star-smallCharles Capps has written a book titled, The Tongue: A Creative Force (original edition 1976; rev 2012).
3d-red-star-smallFred Price said, “When I first got saved they didn’t tell me I could do anything. What they told me to do was that whenever I prayed I should always say, ‘The will of the Lord be done.,’ Now, doesn’t that sound humble? It does. Sounds like humility, it’s really stupidity. I mean, you know, really, we insult God. 1 mean, we really do insult our Heavenly Father. We do; we really insult Him without even realizing it. If you have to say, If it be thy will or’ Thy will be done’-if you have to say that, then you’re calling God a fool because he’s the One that fold us to ask. . .  If God’s gonna give me what He wants me to have, then it doesn’t matter what I ask. I’m only gonna get what God wants me to have. So that’s an insult to God’s intelligence” (Price 1990).

I was alerted to the dangers of “name it and claim it” or “blab it and grab it” theology a number of years ago by a friend who became a Christian after many years as an occult practitioner.  Her question to me was: “Why are these Pentecostal Christians using the same kind of technique I used in witchcraft?”

In David Conway’s book, Magic: An Occult Primer, he wrote:

“Unseparable from magical speculation about words is the theory of vibrations, which supposes that certain sounds have a powerful acoustic impact on both the spiritual and astral worlds. Like the spiritual world and astral plane can in some circumstances be affected by sound, so that verbal magic may be said to derive its power not only from the idea contained in certain words, but from the peculiar vibrations these words create when spoken” (Conway 1972:74-75).

Many teachers in the Faith Movement would justifiably deny any association with psychic and occult powers in their doctrines of prosperity and healing, but the origins of this technique are found in witchcraft.  Also read Mary Baker Eddy of Christian Science.  She has a similar kind of false teaching.

I am concerned about this heretical teaching for these reasons:

button, flashing, ac1009 I understand it is idolatry because it promotes faith in a god of metaphysics and not the Lord God of the universe, as revealed in the Christian Scriptures. The problem relates to the fact that biblical language for God is used, but the theology taught is that of metaphysics.
button, flashing, ac1009[1] God is sovereign and does not obey human laws.  Psalm 115:3 (NIV) states, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him”.  See also Dan. 4:34-35 and Eph. 1:11.

button, flashing, ac1009[2] The Almighty God is a person and not a principle.  If we speak of the “force of faith” (Kenneth Copeland 2012), it sounds more like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars who manipulated the “good side of the force” with mind control.

button, flashing, ac1009[3] Exodus. 20:7 (NIV) states, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”  The “force of faith” seems to me to be taking the Lord’s name in vain.

button, flashing, ac1009[4] Human beings are creatures and not the Creator.  Who are we to create healing and prosperity through the words we speak? That is the responsibility of the sovereign Lord God.
button, flashing, ac1009[5] A. W. Tozer wrote that “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us….  The gravest question before the Church is always God Himself”  (Tozer 1961:1).  Positive confession exalts human beings with the “creative powers” of the word of faith.  It’s a poor view of the nature of God, claiming that we can manipulate God by the words we speak.  Back in 1988 when Dan McConnell wrote his critique of the Faith Movement he made a sound assessment: “Creation is from the Father; through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit.  Man is a creature and no creature in the Bible is ever accorded creative powers: no man, no angel, no devil, no animal” (McConnell 1988:145).

button, flashing, ac1009[6] Faith theology in its positive confession twists the relationship between God’s Word and His will.  The universe is not held together by spiritual  laws, but by God Himself (see Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17).  The Word of God is not an independent force that manipulates God

button, flashing, ac1009[7] Faith theology is based on an erroneous translation of Mark 11:22 by translating it as a subjective genitive: “Have the faith of God” (‘The God Kind of Faith’, Kenneth E. Hagin).  New Testament Greek scholar, C.E.B. Cranfield, has called this translation as a subjective genitive, “have the sort of faith God has,” a “monstrosity of exegesis” (Cranfield 1959:361).  “Have faith in God,” an objective genitive, is the correct translation.  God is not granting godhood to us (i.e. have the faith of God) but we are exhorted to have faith in the person of God Himself.  Renowned Greek scholar of the 20th century, A. T. Robertson, agrees that the translation ought to be, “Have faith in God.”  He refers us to other examples in Gal. 2:26; Rom. 3:22, 26 (Robertson 1930:361).

In speaking of the context of Mark 11:23, Kenneth E. Hagin stated, “You can have what you say” (1974:117).  See also Hagin (1979a:3; 1980a:3-4).


Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, Australia (public domain)

I have so much appreciated Margaret Court’s feats on the tennis court and I don’t find it a pleasant task having to expose this false teaching, but the Scriptures call upon us to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15 NIV).

Some will not like the fact that I have mentioned names when exposing false doctrine, but that is exactly what Paul did to Peter in Galatians 2:11 (NIV), “When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong”.  Consider other examples of Paul’s correction of people by naming them: I Tim. 1:20 (NIV), “Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” and 2 Tim. 4:14 (NIV), “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.”  What did the apostle John do with somebody who publicly taught false doctrine?  “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church” (3 John 1:9-10 NIV).  We have had these examples in writing for about 2000 years.

These verses confirm F. F. Bruce’s wise counsel: “Since the offence was public, the rebuke had also to be public” (Bruce 1982:132).

Positive confession is a spiritual cancer in the body of Christ and we dare not present it as an ace when it is a fault.

It has been promoted openly; it needs to be exposed in public as well.

For further refutations of the positive confession and the prosperity false teaching, see:

References:

Bruce, F. F. 1982, New International Greek Testament Commentary on Galatians, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Capps, C. 1976, The Tongue: A Creative Force, Harrison House Publishers, Tulsa, OK..

Conway, D 1972. Magic: An Occult Primer.  New York: E P Dutton.

Copeland, K 2007. Tame Your Tongue and Set Your Course By Kenneth Copeland. Available at: http://christianebuymarketplace.blogspot.com.au/2007/11/tame-your-tongue-and-set-your-course-by.html (Accessed 13 January 2016).

Cranfield, C. E. B. 1958, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, Cambridge University Press, London.

Hagin Sr., K. E. 1974, Bible Faith Study Course, Kenneth Hagin Ministries, Tulsa, OK.

Hagin Sr., K. E. 1979a, Words, Kenneth Hagin Ministries, Tulsa, OK.

Hagin Sr., K. E. 1979b, What To Do When Faith Seems Weak and Victory Lost, Kenneth Hagin Ministries, Tulsa, OK.

Hagin Sr., K. E. 1980a, Having Faith in Your Faith, Kenneth Hagin Ministries, Tulsa, OK.

Hagin Sr., K. E. 1980b, You Can Have What You Say, Kenneth Hagin Ministries, Tulsa, OK.

Hagin Sr., K. E. 1980c, The Name of Jesus, Kenneth Hagin Ministries, Tulsa, OK.

Hagin Sr., K. E. 1980d, New Thresholds of Faith, Kenneth Hagin Ministries, Tulsa, OK

Hanegraaff, H. 1993, Christianity in Crisis, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon.

Kenyon, 1970, The Hidden Man (5th ed), Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society, Lynwood, WA.

King, A. & Woodall, H. 2004, ‘Tennis great aces crowd’, New Life, 11 November 2004, pp. 1-2. Now available at: http://www.marketplaceconnections.com/archive/2004/mpb_2004.htm (Accessed 24 May 2015).

McConnell, D. R. 1988, A Different Gospel, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts.

Meyer, J. 2004, ‘The mouth has a mind of its own’, Available from: http://www.joycemeyer.org/cgi-bin/msoft/msoft.cgi [18 November 2004]. Now available at: www.joycemeyer.org/articles/ea.aspx?article=the_mouth_has_a_mind_of_its_own (Accessed 24 May 2015).

Price, F. 1990, ‘Ever Increasing Faith’ television programme on TBN November 16 ,1990, cited in ”I have what I think and say I have’, Let Us Reason Ministries, Available from: http://www.letusreason.org/Wf8.htm [18 November 2004].

Robertson, A. T. 1930, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 1, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee.

Simpson, S. 1999, ‘Dear Saint, Don’t believe what they say!  Rebuttal to the Believer’s Voice of Victory, “Q&A” section, October 1999’. Available at: http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/vov.html [18 November 2004].

Tozer, A. W. 1961, The Knowledge of the Holy, Harper & Row, Publishers, San Francisco.

Warrington, K. 2000, ‘Healing and Kenneth Hagin’, Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 119-138, Available at: http://www.apts.edu/aeimages/file/ajps_pdf/00-1-kwarrington.pdf (Accessed 13 January 2016).

The Watchman Fellowship 2000, ‘Positive confession’, The Watchman Expositor, vol. 10, no. 3, 1993, Available from: http://watchman.org/reltop/posconf.htm [18 November 2004].

Endnotes

2.  Most of these quotes were accessed through Warrington (2000) and McConnell (1988).  See especially McConnell’s chapter, “The Doctrine of Faith” (1988:134 ff).

Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at date:  13 January 2016.

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John Shelby Spong and the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia)

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

John Shelby Spong 2006 (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

When I read Merrill Kitchen’s [2] favourable article towards ex-Bishop Spong, in “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong” [3], I wondered if Kitchen and I were reading the same author. This is only one view by a leader within the Churches of Christ in Australia, but she is in a position of influence — the principal of a theological college of influence in Melbourne, Australia.

I thought I had read an adequate sample of Spong’s views in Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Born of a Woman, Resurrection Myth or Reality?, and his latest which he claims will be his last — Spong’s swan song — A New Christianity for a New World. [4] But I was not ready for the sanitised version of Spong in this article. [5]

This is the Spong who rejects fundamental doctrines of the faith, yet Kitchen gave him the honoured status of being “clearly a believer but one who refuses to toe the ecclesiastical line when doctrine and tradition inhibit spiritual growth.” She claims Spong is calling us back to “a New Testament Church style and proclamation.” [6] Really?

A. The nature of Spongian religion

Kitchen rightly asks, “So what does Spong believe?” Yes, he believes the things that Kitchen raised in the article, but he believes much more that tell us what kind of a believer he really is and what his new style of church will look like in the future.

Will it be like the New Testament church (e.g. the Book of Acts and the Epistles) or more like Spong’s own brand of religion? To arrive at her sympathetic understanding of Spong, Kitchen has forgotten to tell us about some of the fundamentals of the faith that have been rejected or redefined by Spong. He sees his “task of seeking to redefine Jesus” as something that he does not take “easily or lightly.” [7]

1.    How is the faith redefined?

He claims he is a Christian, believes God is real and calls Jesus his Lord. Yet he does not define God as a supernatural being. In fact, for him, “Theism is dead, I joyfully proclaim, but God is real.” [8] By theism, he means supernatural Christianity. He believes passionately in God, but this God is not identified with doctrines, creeds, and traditions. [9]

For prayer, he proposes “substitute words” that have been identified down through the centuries “with the mystical disciplines of spiritual development — words such as meditation and contemplation” that will include “centering prayer” and breathing exercises. [10]

He’s against evangelism and missionary enterprises, the latter being “base-born, rejecting, negative, and yes, I would even say evil.” [11] This shocking redefinition of missions as “evil” is associated with his universalism and theory that “we possess neither certainty nor eternal truth.” [12]

 

2. The characteristics of Spong’s new brand of Christianity

The fundamentals are gone. What would cause him to come to conclusions that are so contrary to historic, classical Christianity? He’s all for life and love because they “transcend all boundaries” but

“Exclusive religious propaganda can no longer be sustained. 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.” [13]His assumptions are driving his theological agenda: God is not a personal being; he throws out Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. There is no literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead nor a literal star or virgin birth — that’s mythology! There’s no ascension of Jesus Christ and there will be no Second Coming of Christ.

Christ did not found a church. We are not born sinful. The fall into sin by Adam and Eve is mythical. Women are not less human and less holy than men (I agree!). Homosexuals are not morally depraved; the Bible is not the literal word of God and certainly is not inspired. Forget about absolute Christian ethics because “time makes ancient good uncouth.” [14] The colour of one’s skin or ethnic background does not constitute grounds for making one superior or inferior (I agree!).

He repudiates baptism and the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. “Since the diagnosis (sinful human nature) was wrong, the prescribed cure (atonement) cannot be right.” Since the fall into sin is a wrong diagnosis, baptism “to wash away the effects of a fall into sin that never occurred is inappropriate.” As for the Eucharist, this “reenactment of a sacrifice . . . becomes theological nonsense.” [15]

The supernatural is out. There will be no singing of praises to a theistic deity: “I treat the language of worship like I treat the language of love. It is primitive, excessive, flowery, poetic, evocative. No one really believes it literally.” [16] There will be his ill-defined, mystical “God-experience”. We could do that in a mosque, temple, synagogue, holy place, or ecclesia (his preferred word). There will be no confessing our sins to a “parental judge.” [17] There will be no literalised faith story. It will “never claim that it already possesses truth by divine revelation.” [18]

3. The church of tomorrow

As for the church of tomorrow, will it be a return to the New Testament church style as Kitchen suggests? Hardly!

The ecclesia of the future will be a place for “Catholic and Protestant, orthodox and heretic, liberal and evangelical, Jew and Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu” and where worship of this “god” will not be “bounded by our formulas, our creeds, our doctrines, our liturgies, or even our Bible, but still real, infinitely real.” [19] God is not a personal being, not even the highest being but the one he experiences as “the Ground and Source of All Being and therefore the presence that calls me to step beyond every boundary.” [20] This is a rejuvenated liberalism of Paul Tillich.

This new community, the ecclesia, “must be able to allow God and Satan to come together in each of us. It must allow light and darkness to be united. It must bind good and evil into one. It must unite Christ with Anti-Christ, Jesus with Judas, male with female, heterosexual with homosexual.” [21]

This is a church built in cloud cuckoo land – out of the minds of Spong and his friends! It is beyond radical. It is blasphemous!

B. Spong and evangelicals

Spong has a particular aversion to evangelical, Bible-believing Christianity (he calls it fundamentalism). He is not interested in “confronting or challenging those conservative, fundamentalist elements of Christianity that are so prevalent today. Why? He believes they will “die of their own irrelevance” as they cling “to attitudes of the past that are simply withering on the vine.” [22]

He goes to great lengths in denigrating traditional, evangelical Christianity, even to the point of making blasphemous statements such as these: “I am free of the God who was deemed to be incomplete unless constantly receiving our endless praises; the God who required that we acknowledge ourselves as born in sin and therefore as helpless; the God who seemed to delight in punishing sinners; the God who, we were told, gloried in our childlike, groveling dependency. Worshiping that theistic God did not allow us to grow into the new humanity.” [23]

In spite of these blasphemous statements about the Almighty God, Kitchen wants to give him this kind of credit: “. . . He is far from being an atheist and is certainly more than a philosophical humanist. . . Spong’s faith is firmly bonded to the person of Jesus.” [24] But which Jesus? Paul, the Apostle, warned of the one who “comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received” (2 Cor. 11:4, English Standard Version). It is evident from the writings of Spong that he wants nothing to do with the New Testament picture of Jesus Christ, yet Kitchen lauds him as “clearly a believer.” [25] Both Kitchen and Spong have redefined believers, if this is the case.

Spong does not want to deal with conservative, fundamentalist Christianity, and believes that it has no application to life today. He comments that “nowhere is this better seen than when one observes how the word Christian is used in our contemporary world.” [26] This is the pot calling the kettle black! It is Spong who has demolished the Bible’s definition of a Christian.

Among Spong’s 205 items in the bibliography of his latest book, [27] it is not surprising that there is not one that refutes his views or presents a scholarly evangelical perspective. I looked for Don Carson, William Lane Craig, Ben Witherington III., N. T. Wright, J. P. Moreland, Ravi Zacharias, Australia’s Paul Barnett, and other leading defenders of the evangelical faith., but they were absent.

His theological supporters from the Jesus Seminar and other liberals are everywhere – John Crossan, Marcus Borg, Robert Funk, Michael Goulder, John Hick, John A. T. Robinson, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Don Cupitt. Spongism is one-eyed religion that is intolerant of opposing views, especially those of the “fundamentalists” (evangelicals).

C.    Emptying or growing churches? Spongian religion has a killer instinct.

One of the most damning pieces of evidence against Spong’s views are that the facts do not stack up concerning the demise of supernatural Christianity. What’s the truth about the death of theism? Wherever theological liberalism has taken hold, church numbers have crashed. Based on The Episcopal Church Annual (USA), membership of that dominantly theological liberal denomination, fell from a high of 3.6 million baptised Episcopalians in 1965, to 2.3 million in 1997– a loss of fully one-third of its membership. [28] The average Sunday attendance in the year 1998 was 843,213. [29] Two years later (the year 2000), it had further declined to 839,760. [30] “Mainline [church] membership is down (by nearly 6 million members) since 1965” in the USA. [31]

It is no wonder that the Newark Diocese of the Episcopal Church is talking about the need for church growth. [31a]

Church growth around the world

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett), world-wide“around 17 million people become church members each year through conversion, and some 7 million leave the church.” This leaves an annual net growth of approximately 10 million people. We would love to see more, but this is hard evidence against Spong’s death of theism. [32]

There are some other strong indicators that Jesus is alive and well and the church is growing. In the Ukraine, in the past three years, some 70 new house churches have been planted in Crimea, most in places previously without a church. [33]

In the city of Xinjiang, China, there were 20-30 small churches with about 300 believers in 1994. Through courage, vision and the Lord’s direction, five couples have been used to enable rapid growth. Over a period of three years, the growth has been so strong that there are now almost 500 churches with about 100,000 members in four districts. This growth has so concerned the Government that it has infiltrated the churches, persecuted the believers, and gone on television, accusing the groups of being a cult. [34]

During the last 10 years of the “Decade of Harvest” among the Nigerian Assemblies of God in Africa, there has been extraordinary growth. The church has not only gained 1.2 million new members, but also ordained 5,026 new pastors and planted 4,044 new churches in Nigeria. The emphasis on reaching previously unreached people groups led to 75 churches being planted in areas previously untouched by Christianity. [35]

World-wide, the Pentecostal movement has grown from no adherents in 1906 to approximately 500 million today. Yet Spong has the audacity to say that “Christianity as we have known it increasingly displays signs of rigor mortis.” [36]

There certainly are areas where the Christian church is showing significant decline, especially in the Western world. About 100 years ago, Wales experienced a heaven-sent revival. The proportion of the total Welsh population attending church has declined from 14.6% in 1982 to 8.7% in 1995. [37]

God’s church is being persecuted around the world, but is showing growth internationally. Spong’s thesis is dead in the water. It is his ideology, a la John A. T. Robinson, radical theological liberalism, that kills churches.

The Episcopalians of Spong’s diocese voted with their feet while he was bishop. One report said that

“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.” [38]

When we throw out the Scriptures as the standard for theology, where do we go for answers? Here we have a new kind of religion, out of the minds of Spong himself and his friends. Yet Spong thinks his views are the future of faith, a new Christianity for a new world! Welcome to Spongism, “Christianity” with a killer instinct. He is searching “for that elusive truth of God that lies beneath the literal words of that sacred text.” [39] When the up-front words are too offensive to the human mind, instead of reading and interpreting them as any other piece of literature, you invent your own approach. Here, Spong wants to find the meaning behind the text. We shall see that this type of interpretation leads him to accept many things that are politically correct in our secular society — out with the supernatural, no heaven or hell in the afterlife, acceptance of homosexuality, etc.

Yet, Spong is so blind that he cannot admit what his brand of Christianity does to churches:

“Only those whom the traditionalists mistakenly call liberals carry within themselves the seeds of renewal and future life for the religious traditions of yesterday. A title more proper than ‘liberal’ might well be ‘open’ or ‘realist.'” [40]

D.    Is Spongian religion the future of the church?

I have written at length providing some of the evidence, because Kitchen’s article does not give an accurate picture of John Shelby Spong’s world-view. He is not “the future of the church” as the article’s title indicates. His brand of Christianity has a track record – the death of congregations. On Spong’s recent visit to Australia, the then Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, Peter Hollingworth (who at the time of writing this article was Australia’s Governor-General), prevented his speaking in Brisbane Anglican Churches. Instead, the Uniting Church (a merger of Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches) accepted him as a speaker.

Paul warned the Corinthians: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Spong is preaching another Jesus to that of the Scriptures. His writings tell us what kind of a believer he is and what kind of a church he wants to see developed in the future. He is not a believer in the Jesus of the Scriptures, nor is his church one aligned with the New Testament.

The Spongian Jesus is not the real Jesus of the New Testament.

1.    Theology does matter

Based on her article, what are the elements of Spongian theology that are part of this new style of church? “Spong is calling people back to a New Testament style of proclamation, which is not a new idea for the movement we call Churches of Christ.” [41] What is a new idea, however, is a prominent representative of a formerly evangelical denomination in Victoria, supporting the heretical teachings of John Shelby Spong.

This is the principal of the Churches of Christ theological college in the state of Victoria, Australia, identifying Spong’s “New Testament style of proclamation” with the Churches of Christ movement. “Is [Spong] a “contemporary heretic who must be silenced” or “does he offer hope to a struggling Church in a post-Christian age?” [42] The tone of Kitchen’s article infers that Spong is offering hope to the church, even the Churches of Christ in Victoria.

    What kind of hope is this?

2.    Spong’s theology and the Churches of Christ

Spong’s theology offers the Churches of Christ (Australia) and any person or denomination the following views: [43]

  • Re-envisioning our concepts of God:
  • God is “a presence at the heart of life, available to everyone and not as the special possession of a religious institution”;
  • God is not an ancient deity who is “distant, apart and above the lives of a sinful humanity”;
  • God is not “the kind of supernatural being who engages in instant gratification, magical wizardry and capricious favouritism”;
  • God is “to be seen and experienced as intimately present in all creation” [Note: This sounds more like monism/Hinduism, than Christianity, to me!]; God’s identity “is revealed when barriers are broken and community is formed”;
  • God’s identity “is revealed when barriers are broken and community is formed”;
  • God is not “a record keeping deity before whom I will appear at the day of judgment to have my eternal destination announced. . . My heart will never worship what my mind has rejected.”
  • Spong has “his doubts about the process of resurrection [of Jesus],” according to Kitchen. Doubts? Hardly!

Spong is straight forward about his views on resurrection. Speaking of the resurrection of Jesus, he wrote:

“It is easy to identify the legendary elements of the resurrection narratives. Angels who descend in earthquakes, speak, and roll back stones; tombs that are empty; apparitions that appear and disappear; rich men who make graves available; thieves who comment from their crosses of pain — these are legends all. Sacred legends, I might add, but legends nonetheless. . . What happened that gave birth to the legendary details [in the New Testament records] that gathered around the moment of Easter? Why did they gather? Hundreds of millions of people have lived and died on this earth — some of them famous, powerful people — and no similar legends gathered around them. Why this one man, at this time, in this place? . . .“The primacy of Galilee [and not Jerusalem for the crucifixion and resurrection] means that all of the appearance narratives that purport to be the physical manifestations of the dead body that somehow was enabled to be revivified and to walk out of a tomb are also legends and myths that cannot be literalized. The risen Jesus did not literally eat fish in Jerusalem. Thomas did not touch the physical wounds. Resurrection may mean many things, but these details are not literally a part of that reality. To affirm Galilee as the primary locale in the experience of Easter is a radical step, but it is nonetheless a step that the Bible itself seems to acknowledge” [44]

This new style of church will mean a re-evaluation of what it means to be the Church. It will

  • not be hierarchical;
  • be honest in its worship;
  • be focussed on real life and not an escape from reality;
  • recognise God’s journeying presence;
  • have a commitment to communality;
  • acknowledge that all who gather at the Lord’s table are ministers and need to function as such [Note: I agree. But why should it be limited to those who gather for the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper? “All are ministers” should apply to all Christian believers. See I Cor. 14:26.];
  • “be a celebration of life in all its complexity.”
  • “rejoice in Scripture, but not be bound by ancient ‘cultic or cultural limitations'”

[Note: How can this church follow Spong in its rejoicing in Scripture when “the biblical texts themselves” have “proved to be quite untrustworthy”? [45]  This must be the mystical God-experience of Spong’s invention that is unrelated to what the text says directly. To understand what Spong is getting at, he speaks of John’s Gospel as “the least literal and the most accurate. . . Literalize John and you will lose this Gospel. For that which is literalized becomes nonsense, while truth that is approached through sign and symbol becomes the very doorway into God.” [46] It’s amazing what conclusions are reached when one throws out the Bible and makes up his own “sign and symbol” religion! What are the limits?].

  • There will be “a mystery and wonder that exceeds the dogmatic assertions of religious formulations.”
  • But “Spong’s faith is firmly bonded to the person of Jesus,” says Kitchen. This Jesus “was a God experience of the reality of that Ground of Being.” Spong claims that “Christpower, written as one word, has become for me a way to describe the Christ life that is the gift of the Spirit, the mark of membership in the Christian community.” [47]

Spong’s own words tell us how deeply he is committed to the value of experience, rather than to the content of the propositional revelation of the Word of God:

“Behind the narrative [of Scripture] is an unnarrated proclamation. Behind the proclamation is an intense life-giving experience. The task of Bible study is to lead believers into truth, a truth that is never captured in mere words but a truth that is real, a truth that when experienced erupts within us in expanding ways, calling us simultaneously deeper and deeper into life, and not coincidentally, deeper and deeper into God. . .“Human life alone could not produce that which we have experienced in Jesus Christ. He is of God, so the Christmas story points to truth, but the words used to describe or capture that truth are not themselves true in any literal sense.” [48]

[Note: This is the existential Christ of theological liberals such as Paul Tillich, John A. T. Robinson, Rudolf Bultmann, etc. It is a redefined Jesus who is radically different to the Jesus of the New Testament.]

  • This new kind of church includes a belief in life after death, but it is an eternity “that lies beyond the limits of my human finitude and in which I can participate.” Elsewhere, Spong is more specific. After five years of study on life after death, this study:
  • “seemed to lead me to no final conclusions. . . I still do not know what to say or how to express my convictions on this subject except with a consuming vagueness.” [49]
  • “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.” [50]
  • If this kind of theology still makes Spong “clearly a believer,” according to Kitchen, what kind of a believer is he? What will believers in this new style church be like?;
  • Spong “refuses to toe the ecclesiastical line when doctrine and tradition inhibit spiritual growth, or deny the reality of human experience, or discriminate against any person.” [51]

E.    Conclusion

Spongian religion is out of the mind of Spong and his theological ilk. His statements about heaven and hell, in rejecting the orthodox doctrines, are testimony to this fact: “I find neither definition either believable or appealing.” [52] It does not matter what the authoritative Word of God states, it must be “believable and appealing” to Spong for him to accept it. In this writer’s view, this represents theological arrogance and autonomy.

When you invent your own religion, there is no need to listen to the text of Scripture. Therefore, Spongian theology and its counterparts (Tillich, J.A.T. Robinson, Bonhoeffer) can assert:

    1.    “There was no biologically literal virgin birth, no miraculous overcoming of barrenness in the birth of John the Baptist, no angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary, no deaf muteness, no angelic chorus that peopled the heavens to announce Jesus’ birth to hillside shepherds, no journey to Bethlehem, no presentation or purification in Jerusalem, and no childhood temple story.” [53]

2.    Paul, the man from Tarsus, was “a rigidly controlled gay male, I believe, [who] taught the Christian church what the love of God means and what, therefore, Christ means as God’s agent.” [54]

3.    Rationalistic, humanistic, existential views are promoted. The Bible is myth. [55] The mythology of Mark’s Gospel is superseded by today’s knowledge. “We understand what causes wind and wave, epilepsy and deaf muteness in ways that involve no appeal to supernatural forces.” [56]

4.    There’s no need for the supernatural in our modern world. Spong’s language is, “Theism is dead.” [57] But this kind of statement is not original with Spong; it is found in his mentor and friend, John A. T. Robinson [58], who wrote about “the end of theism.” [59] Paul Tillich had spoken of three kinds of theism, one [60] of which “must be transcended because it is irrelevant” and another kind [61] “must be transcended because it is wrong. It is bad theology.” [62]

5.    Autonomous humanistic godlessness reigns. In the preface to his latest book, Spong highlights, thus supporting, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “God would have us know that we must live as those who manage our lives without God. . . Go is weak and powerless in the world.” [63]

6.    The Bible’s authors are out of date: “They are not in touch with emerging contemporary knowledge.” [64]

7.    If you don’t like what the literal words are saying, make up your own and than claim they are the truth. That’s what Spong has done with the birth narratives of Jesus: “My purpose here [with the birth story] is to see the truth to which these narratives point. Birth narratives tell us nothing about the birth of the person who is featured in those narratives. They do tell us a great deal, however, about the adult life of the one whose birth is being narrated.” [65]

Who said so? Spong did. Reinterpretation according to Spong’s own meaning is the order of the day for his theological inventions. Pity help me if I read his book with the same disdain for literal interpretation.

Since theology matters, Kitchen’s views in support of Spong, if promoted and accepted, will spell the demise of the Churches of Christ if her views are widely accepted. We know it from Spong’s own track record and the record of theological liberalism world-wide.

Pray for the Churches of Christ, Victoria, to return to biblical Christianity!

Endnotes:

2. Merrill Kitchen is the principal of the Churches of Christ Theological College, Mulgrave, Vic., Australia.

3. Merrill Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” The Australian Christian, 28 November 2001, p. 17. This article appeared in the “Theology Matters” feature of the magazine. The Australian Christian is an official Churches of Christ magazine in Australia.

4. John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

5. For ease of reference, I will refer only to his latest book (ibid.), but similar beliefs are documented in his other books that I have read.

6. Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

7. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 130.

8. Ibid., p. 77.

9. See ibid., pp. 3, 64, 74.

10. Ibid., p. 193.

11. Ibid., p. 178.

12. Ibid., p. 179.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., pp. 2, 6. Elsewhere, Spong writes: “In time the virgin birth account will join Adam and Eve and the story of the cosmic ascension as clearly recognized mythological elements in our faith tradition whose purpose was not to describe a literal event but to capture the transcendent dimensions of God in the earthbound words and concepts of first-century human beings” (John Shelby Spong, Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, p. 45).

15. Ibid., p. 124.

16. Ibid., p. 204.

17. Ibid., p. 206.

18. Ibid., p. 214.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid., pp. 59-60.

21. Ibid., p. 167.

22. Ibid., p. 12.

23. Ibid., p. 75.

24. Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

25. Ibid.

26. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 12.

27. A New Christianity for a New World.

28. These figures of decline are based on Louie Crew, “Charting the Episcopal Church. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/chartecusa.html, p. 9 (A4 size, printed).

29. Rev. Dr. Leslie P. Fairfield, “Modernist Decline and Biblical Renewal: The Episcopal Church from 1870-2000,” American Anglican Council website, posted January 24, 2001. Retrieved on October 15, 2001, from http://www.americananglican.org/Issues/Issues.dfm?ID-91.  On 6 May 2007, it was available from: http://www.strategicnetwork.org/index.php?loc=kb&view=v&id=3486&fto=1081&

30. Louie Crew, “Growth and Decline in ECUSA Attendance, 1991-2000.” Retrieved on 6 May 2007, from:http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/growthdecline90-00.html. The Episcopalian Church USA has shown “30 years of membership decline and over a million members lost” [The Institute on Religion and Democracy, “Episcopal Action.” Retrieved on 6 May 2007 from: http://www.ird-renew.org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=308889.  See also, “Charting the Episcopal Church,” Louie Crew. Retrieved on June 6, 2004, from http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/chartecusa.html.

31. Robert Wuthnow, “Still Toeing the Mainline,” retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.beliefnet.com/story/31/story_3171_1.html. This article states that, “More than 20 million Americans still hold membership in mainline churches. The largest mainline denominations are the United Methodist Church, with 8.7 million members; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with 5.2 million members; the Presbyterian Church (USA), with 2.6 million members; the Episcopal Church, with 2.5 million members; and the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ, each with 1.5 million members.”

31a. The 2003 Diocesan Conference on Church Growth, October 24-25, 2003 – Xavier Center, Convent Station, NJ, retrieved from: http://www.dioceseofnewark.org/churchgrowth/  [26th December 2003]

32. “10M new converts, 32M Christian children per year,” [Source: Justin Long, Assoc. Editor of World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett)]. World-wide statistics plus news from Bulgaria, Chile, Brazil, DAWN Fridayfax 1998 #04. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/1998/dawn9804.html.

33. “Ukraine: 70 new house churches in the Crimea,” DAWN Fridayfax 2001 #24, News from Germany, Ukraine and China. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2001/dawn24.html.

34. “China: 100,000 new believers in Xinjiang in 3 years,” DAWN Fridayfax 2001 #24, News from Germany, Ukraine and China. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2001/dawn24.html.

35. “Nigeria: Assemblies of God plant 4,044 new churches in 10 years,” DAWN Fridayfax 2001#3. Retrieved on November 14, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2001/dawn03.html. The source is the AoG news, 3 January 2001.

36. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 8.

37. “Wales: Church decline generally but slight increase for Anglicans,” Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), 7 March 1997. Retrieved on November 3, 2001, from www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/acnsarchive/acns1100/acns1153.html. The report went on to say that “the Church in Wales congregations (Anglicans) report that there has been a slight increase in the size of their congregations in the last five years [i.e.. prior to 1997]. The report also found that Churches identifying themselves as Anglo-Catholic or Broad, or Charismatic were growing the most.”

38. “Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian,” D. Marty Lasley, review of John Shelby Spong’s, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, for Anglican Voice, posted June 2 1999. Retrieved on 6 May 2007 from: http://listserv.episcopalian.org/wa.exe?A2=ind9906&L=virtuosity&H=1&P=272 (this link was no longer available in Oct 2013, but it is available at: http://listserv.virtueonline.org/pipermail/virtueonline_listserv.virtueonline.org/1999-June/000415.html  (Accessed 15 October 2013).

39. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, pp. x, xi.

40. Spong, Born of a Woman, p. 176.

41. Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17 (emphasis added).

42. Ibid.

43. These are based on Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

44. John Shelby Spong, Resurrection Myth or Reality? A Bishop’s Search for the Origins of Christianity. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, pp. 233, 235-236.

45. Ibid., p. 235.

46. John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, p. 207.

47. Ibid., ch. 13, n4, p. 253.

48. Ibid., p. 225.

49. Spong, Resurrection Myth or Reality, p. 287.

50. Ibid., p. 288.

51. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes in the bullet points above are from Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

52. Spong, Resurrection Myth or Reality?, p. 288.

53. Spong, Born of a Woman, pp. 157-158.

54. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 125.

55. John A. T. Robinson speaks the same kind of language about “the Genesis stories of the Creation and Fall were representations of the deepest truths about man and the universe in the form of myth rather than history, and were non the less valid for that” (Honest to God. London: SCM Press Ltd, 1963, p. 33). Rudolf Bultmann, the demythologiser of the Bible, took a similar line: “There is nothing specifically Christian in the mythical view of the world as such. It is simply the cosmology of a pre-scientific age” (Kerygma and Myth, vol. 1, p. 3, in Robinson, ibid., p. 34).

56. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 143.

57. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 77.

58. Spong writes that one of the tasks of his book “is to move forward the work begun in the last century by a man who was my mentor and my friend. His name was John Arthur Thomas Robinson” (ibid., p. x).

59. Robinson, Honest to God, p. 39.

60. This is the theism of “the unspecified affirmation of God” (Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1952, p. 182).

61. This is “theological theism. . . It usually develops the so-called arguments for the ‘existence’ of God” (ibid., p. 184). Elsewhere, Tillich rejects the existence of the God proclaimed by orthodoxy: “Ordinary theism has made God a heavenly, completely perfect person who resides above the world and mankind. The protest of atheism against such a highest person is correct. There is no evidence for his existence, nor is he a matter of ultimate concern. . .” (Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1. Digswell Place: James Nisbet & Co Ltd, 1968, p. 271).

62. Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, p. 184.

63. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, dated July 16, 1944. A fuller quote reads: “God would have us know that we must live as those who manage our lives without God. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. . . Before God and with God we live without God. . . Go is weak and powerless in the world and that is precisely the way, the only way in which he is with us to help us.” (in Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. ix).

64. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 9.

65. Ibid., p. 215.

Do you want life or death in the church?

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Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.

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Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?[1]

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

3 Wooden Crosses

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

1.    Introduction

I have two stories to tell. The first is factually, really true, true! It happened. At the end of this article, hopefully you will understand why I emphasised that this story is factually, true truth. Here’s the true story.

Recently I was talking with a fellow Christian who was devastated by a TV program that he had seen. This show featured some scholars who claimed that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were myth and could not be trusted as historical documents. My friend was deeply troubled and in a trembling voice said, “I am shocked. My faith has been shaken to the core. I am numb in disbelief. These were scholars speaking and I knew nothing about this. As a Christian, have I been living a fantasy all this time? Is this Christian stuff all a game? Should I eat, drink and be merry? Drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll here I come.”

The second story is fantasy; it’s a myth, but true, nonetheless. Hopefully, you’ll realise the significance of that statement at the end of the article. It goes like this:

My own fantasy is to enter a hall and find high ceilings, lovely chandeliers, walls lined with bookshelves, wines in the alcove, hors d’oeuvres by the windows, and a wide table down the middle of the room with the Bible sitting on it. And there we are, all of us, walking around, sitting at the table, and talking about what we should do with that book. Some rules are in order. Everyone has been invited. Christians have not been excluded, but they are not the ones in charge. All of us are there, and all of our knowledge and expertise is also on the table. There are historians of religion, cultural anthropologists, and political scientists but also politicians, CEOs, and those who work in foreign affairs. The ethnic communities of (any Australian community [3]) are all well represented, as are women, the disenfranchised, the disabled, and all the voiceless who have recently come to speech. Merchants are there, and workers, and the airline pilots. Everyone is present, and everyone gets to talk and ask questions. No one has a corner on what the Bible says. We blow our whistles if anyone starts to pout or preach. What we are trying to figure out is why we thought the Bible so important, whether it is so important, how it has influenced our culture, what we think of the story, whether we should laugh or cry at the “ending,”how it fits or does not fit our current situation, and whether the story should be revised in keeping with our vision of a just sustainable, festive, and multicultural world. Wouldn’t that be something? [4]

This fantasy is the vision that comes from scholar, Burton Mack, with similar views to those of the Jesus Seminar Fellows. His vision is the challenge that faces Christians who believe the Bible to be the Word of God, inspired by God, and a revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Saviour.

[See Appendix B for an outline summary of this section]

2.    My presuppositions

  • I believe the personal God exists;
  • He is the God who created this world, including human beings;
  • He is the God who speaks through general revelation (nature) and special revelation;
  • I approach the Bible as I read any other document of history that is not fiction: I listen to what it says and subject it to the normal rules of understanding any historical document.

Are the criteria of authenticity worthwhile as guides for determining historicity? [11]

D. A. Carson objects: “The criteria that have been established to distinguish between redaction and tradition are for the most part so imprecise as to be not much more than silly” [11a].  I agree, but here they are:

Multiple attestation or forms: This is “information or teaching that appears in more than one of the gospel sources”[12]

  • of Palestinian environment or language. The Greek text of a portion of the gospels seems to reflect a fairly literal translation of a Semitic original or it describes events/concepts distinctive of first century Palestine.[13]
  • of dissimilarity:  “Where the gospels’ portrait of Jesus differs from the typical perspectives both of ancient Jewish belief and of early Christianity, then one may be sure of having authentic Jesus tradition. Because Jesus seemed to stand out so much from his contemporaries and because his first followers so easily deviated from his very demanding requirements, this criterion has appealed to many as most helpful.”[14]

D. A. Carson objects strongly to the criterion of dissimilarity, calling it “the worst of these [criteria]” because

    An authentic teaching of Jesus (it is argued) is one that can be paralleled neither in the early church nor in surrounding Judaism.  This criterion has been ruthlessly shredded in several essays. But it is still defended in some circles.  At best it might produce what is idiosyncratic about jesus’ teaching but it cannot possibly produce what is characteristic about it.  Is any method more than silly that requires that a historical person say something like what is said around him, and that, granted he is the most influential person of all time, so little influence his followers that no thought of theirs may legitimately be traced to him – even when those same followers deliberately make the connection . . ?
         The criterion is hopelessly inadequate for the task assigned it.  Worse, there is an irresistible temptation to reconstruct the teaching of Jesus on the basis of this select material, and the result cannot possibly be other than a massive distortion.
        The criterion of dissimilarity is doubly ridiculous when placed alongside the criterion of coherence.  Unbounded subjectivity [2] must be the result.  Moreover, the other criteria for distinguishing redaction from tradition do not fare much better.[14a]

 

  • of coherence: “Whatever fits well with material authenticated by one of the other three criteria may also be accepted.”[15]

It is, therefore, questionable whether these criteria are of any value since they are created by scholars, many of whom are resistant to the canonical Gospels, and are not developed by deductive reasoning from the biblical text.  I am reluctant to use them because they seem to come with too many trappings linked to the negatives of redaction criticism.  Therefore, this paper does not employ them.

3. The Publicity Machine

There is a new breed of Bible bashers in the world today. These scholars have been in the closets of academic institutions. But no more. They are taking their message to the world through the popular mass media — newspapers, magazines, television, radio, writing their own books at a popular level. They have their message of tearing into the Bible in
Time[16], Newsweek and Life magazines, U.S. News and World Report and newspapers around the world.[17] This version of Jesus was on the front pages of Time and Newsweek magazines, and U.S. News & World Report at Easter time 1996.[18]

The publicity in Australia has been a trickle, but in the U.S., it has become a deluge. It may get that way in Australia, following the SBS TV series during 1999, “From Jesus to Christ.” Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar spoke at the United College (of the Uniting Church), North Parramatta [Sydney, Australia], September 1998.

There was a public forum at St Francis (Anglican) Theological College, Milton, Brisbane, on December 9, 1998, involving Dr Greg Jenks of the Jesus Seminar (of the Drayton Anglican parish, Toowoomba, Qld., Australia), and Dr Paul Barnett, Anglican bishop of North Sydney, defending the orthodox view. The Seminar was titled, “Behind and Beyond the Jesus Seminar: Implications for Christian Discipleship.”  Dr Paul Barnett [18a] is author of the recently revised, Is the New Testament History? As of 2012, Dr. Jenks was on the faculty of St Francis Theological College, Brisbane.

This is a new kind of missionary group that has become very active. These preachers and academics are Bible-bashers of a different kind. As one Christian writer and defender of the faith said, they practice evangelism in reverse… they don’t want you to commit your life to the Christ of the Gospels; they want you to surrender that commitment. And they claim to have history, science and scholarship on their side. They promote themselves under the banner of The Jesus Seminar.[19]

Luke Timothy Johnson has some strong things to say against the Seminar. He is not known as an evangelical (but a Roman Catholic, former Benedictine monk and priest before becoming a biblical scholar)[20], Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA.[21], a school not known for its conservative, evangelical views. He says that he wrote his book, The Real Jesus, “to blow the whistle on a form of scholarship I consider misguided and misleading.”[22] Johnson admits, however, that “those whose work I have challenged have not faltered for a moment in their pursuits.”[23] Part of this is related to the mass media frenzy that they have created.

These are some of the newspaper headlines these scholars have grabbed:[24]

  • “Scholars Say Jesus Was Often Misquoted.”[25]
  • “Jesus Didn’t Claim to Be Messiah, Scholars Say.”[26]
  • “Lord’s Prayer Not Jesus’s, Scholars Say.”[27]
  • “Jesus Never Predicted His Return, Scholars Say.”[28]
  • “Jesus Didn’t Promise to Return, Bible Scholars Group Says.”[29]

These samples could be repeated many times over, especially in the USA.[30]

These kinds of headlines do two things: First, they are negatively referring to the traditional Jesus of the Gospels; Second, scholars do this debunking.[31]

When I ask, “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?” I am challenging the presuppositions and conclusions of Jesus Seminar Fellows and people of like mind. These are Bible Bashers of a different kind: these are people, mostly scholars, who do not want to take the Bible at face value. When the Bible speaks of supernatural things, it can’t possibly be dealing with historical things. Burton Mack, not of the Jesus Seminar, but with views that are similar, says that the Gospels in our New Testament “are also products of mythic imagination” and one of the “interesting question[s]” for him is “why the gospels are so hard for moderns to recognize as myth.”[32]

Robert Funk, as cofounder of the Jesus Seminar, tells us of one aim: “We want to liberate Jesus. The only Jesus most people know is the mythic one. They don’t want the real Jesus, they want the one they can worship. The cultic Jesus.”[33]

There is not a word in the Bible, Old or New Testament, to say that what they contain is myth. These scholars are distorting the Bible’s message; in my opinion, they have become Bible bashers of a new kind.

They claim the Gospels are myth, but that doesn’t matter. You can accept the Jesus of faith in this story, so Christ’s not rising literally from the dead is no bother. He can live in your spirit without that historical stuff back there 2,000 years ago.

There was a public forum at St Francis (Anglican) Theological College, Brisbane, on December 9, 1998, involving Dr Greg Jenks of the Jesus Seminar (of the Drayton Anglican parish, Toowoomba), and Dr Paul Barnett, Anglican bishop of North Sydney, defending the orthodox view. The Seminar was titled, “Behind and Beyond the Jesus Seminar: Implications for Christian Discipleship.” In a letter to the editor in the Anglican newspaper from the Brisbane Diocese, Focus, which promoted this forum, Greg Jenks lets us into the methodology he adopts. He disparaged those who make “the mistake of taking the Bible literally.”[34]

What does the Jesus Seminar think of its critics? According to The Five Gospels, they come from the “skeptical left wing” and the “fundamentalist right.”[35] Yet, evangelical scholar, Dr. Don Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Chicago (Deerfield, IL.) describes the Seminar in terms of “left wing ideology” that is anti supernatural and engages in circular reasoning.[36] An extremely strong response against the Seminar has come from Howard Clark Kee, “a critical scholar with an international reputation.”[37] He declared that the Seminar was “an academic disgrace.”[38]

What I found very interesting was the scholars’ response to a request to have a discussion on TV in the USA with two evangelicals. Ravi Zacharias, one of the foremost defenders of the faith in the world, “was approached by a major news network [in the USA] to respond to these writings” [of the Jesus Seminar scholars]. Ravi

Suggested that they schedule a discussion between some of these liberal critics, and Don Carson [another leading evangelical scholar] and [Ravi Zacharias]. The network representatives reported back to [Ravi] that they had spent an hour trying to persuade one of the best known authors to agree to even a preliminary dialogue on the program. But the liberal scholar refused, saying he would not go on [the TV program] with an evangelical.[39]What is this saying about the Jesus Seminar’s ability or desire to defend its position publicly against people who are likely to issue a substantial challenge to their conclusions? I would have thought that scholars who were sure of their position and wanted as much mass media exposure as possible, would jump at a TV discussion on a prominent news channel.

If you don’t understand your Bible; if you are not convinced that the Bible consists of solid, historical, reliable documents, you will be hit for a sixer by these theologically liberal scholars who want to “educate the masses” about the REAL Jesus, who we will find, is ANOTHER Jesus. He’s not the Jesus I have come to believe from the Bible and from my personal relationship with him.

Time magazine says, “The scholars are coming out of the closet.”[40] Dr. Julian Hill, a Jesus Seminar participant, says that the Seminar was intended to deal with

“the enormous gap between scholars and the public… Most of the public really doesn’t know what scholars do. They are religiously illiterate.” The intention of the Seminar’s controversial findings, he said, “Is not a deliberate attempt to get at the church; it’s a contribution to religious literacy.”[41]The “Jesus Seminar” is a group of self-described scholars who have determined Jesus probably only said 20%[42] of the quotes attributed to him by Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.[43]

4. The Jesus Seminar Approach

“The Seminar employed colored beads dropped into voting boxes in order to permit all members to vote in secret. Beads and boxes turned out to be a fortunate choice for both Fellows and an interested public.”[44]They colour-coded the words of Jesus. About 150 scholars voted on Jesus’ words as red, pink, grey, or black:

This is what they decided. There were two options given:[45]

Option 1:

“red: I would include this item unequivocally in the database for determining who Jesus was.

“pink: I would include this item with reservations (or modifications) in the database.

“gray: I would not include this item in the database, but I might make use of some of the
content in determining who Jesus was.

“black: I would not include this item in the primary database.

Option 2:

“red: Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it.

“pink: Jesus probably said something like this.

“gray: Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.

“black: Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.”[46]”

One member [of the Seminar] suggested this unofficial but helpful interpretation of the colors:”red: That’s Jesus!

“pink: Sure sounds like Jesus.

“gray: Well, maybe.

“black: There’s been some mistake.”[47]

The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar explained their process:

“Fellows of the Seminar voted, using colored beads to indicate the degree of authenticity of Jesus’ words. Dropping colored beads into a box became the trademark of the Seminar and the brunt of attack for many elitist academic critics who deplored the public face of the Seminar.”[48]These scholars say they want “to separate the Jesus of the creeds [the Jesus of faith] from the historical Jesus.”[49] “The scholars concluded that 82 percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels were not actually spoken by him.”[50]

The only words in the gospel of Mark that are supposed to be authentic are Mark 12 v.17, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” None of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. chapters 5-7) was accepted. Only two words of the Lord’s Prayer were accepted, Our Father.” Nothing in the gospel of John was approved. But the scholars gave credibility to an “apocryphal book of sayings credited to someone named Thomas and used it to confirm or deny Jesus’ words.”[51]

What is even more startling is that the thesis of Funk and Hoover’s book, The Five Gospels, is based on comparing a book, The Gospel of Thomas, that is not credible as a source, with the Bible. It would be like judging the content of the Bible by a Christian novel or some heretical Christian writing.

Courtesy RZIM

One of the world’s leading defenders of the Christian faith, Ravi Zacharias describes the Gospel of Thomas as:

“A brief text found in the 1940s in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, a fragment that has been called the Gospel of Thomas, written in Coptic sometime around the second century. The authors take this small [document] in its random thoughts and with that[,] attacked the biblical gospels as a construct of some people trying to make Jesus what he was not. The methodology they employed is an affront [an insult] to respectable scholarship. One of the ironies of their argument is that the very assumptions they bring to test the authenticity of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would utterly destroy the validity of this so-called Gospel of Thomas before doing any damage to the gospels.”[52]Evangelical scholar, Dr. D. A. (Don) Carson, put it concisely: “The Gospel of Thomas is neither the gospel nor is it by Thomas.” This view is “supported by many scholars, both liberal and conservative. What we have, therefore, gaining the attention of the media is a fringe and radical element.

Courtesy Gospel of Thomas Collection

Don Carson’s view is that “they want their own canon [of Scripture].”[53]  When you put the false canon beside the genuine canon, the false is hard to defend. But it’s the false canon that is gaining the media attention.

God’s authentic, reliable Word determines both history and faith. When the Jesus Seminar has invented fiction to suit themselves, they have made truth appear stranger than fiction.

5. Presuppositions of the Jesus Seminar:[54]

The Jesus Seminar laid its foundation on what the Fellows called “the Seven Pillars of Scholarly Wisdom.”[55] They wanted to view the historical Jesus “through the new lens of historical reason and research rather than through the perspective of theology and traditional creedal formulations.”[56]

These are the seven pillars:

  • First, a “distinction between the historical Jesus, to be uncovered by historical excavation, and the Christ of faith encapsulated in the first creeds [of the early church].”[57]
  • Second, “recognizing the synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark & Luke] as much closer to the historical Jesus than the Fourth Gospel [of John].”[58]
  • Third, “The recognition of the Gospel of Mark as prior to Matthew and Luke, and the basis for them both.”[59]
  • Fourth, “The identification of the hypothetical source Q [from the German Quelle, meaning ‘source’] as the recognition of the ‘double tradition’ — the material Matthew and Luke have in common beyond their dependence on Mark.”[60]
  • Fifth, “The liberation of the non-eschatological Jesus of the aphorisms and parables from Schweitzer’s eschatological Jesus.”[61]
  • Sixth, “Recognition of the fundamental contrast between the oral culture (in which Jesus was at home) and a print culture (like our own).”[62] Which means: the Real Jesus “will be found in those fragments of tradition that bear the imprint or orality: short, provocative, memorable, oft-repeated phrases, sentences and stories.”[63] So, forget about the supernatural.
  • Seventh,

“That supports the edifice of contemporary gospel scholarship is the reversal that has taken place regarding who bears the burden of proof. It was once assumed that scholars had to prove that details in the synoptic gospels were not historical…. The current assumption is more nearly the opposite..: the gospels are now assumed to be narratives in which the memory of Jesus is embellished by mythic elements that express the church’s faith in him, and by plausible fictions that enhance the telling of the gospel story for first century listeners who knew about divine men and miracle workers firsthand.”[64]They warn with this “final general rule of evidence: ‘Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you.”[65]Everyone approaches the Bible with a set of assumptions. Many of the Jesus Seminar’s fiercest critics are evangelical Christians who assume that biblical writings are accurate descriptions of historical events; that the writings are inerrantand were inspired by God (God-breathed).

The Seminar starts with a totally opposite set of fundamental beliefs. Most of its fellows would agree with these statements:

  • Jesus’ message was passed by an oral tradition between 30 and 50 CE; only in the 50s were the first writings made.
  • God did not uniquely inspire the Christian Scriptures; they were composed by men (and perhaps one woman) who promoted their own beliefs, and those of the specific Christian tradition that they belonged to.
  • Beliefs about Jesus and traditions changed and developed extensively between the time of Jesus’ execution and the writing of the first canonical gospel (Mark) circa 70 CE.
  • The authors of the Gospels were not eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus, in spite of claims to the contrary.
  • In the 4th century CE, the Christian church selected those books for the New Testament canon which:
  • Expressed ideas supportive of the church’s developing theology, and/or
  • were widely accepted and used throughout Christendom.
  • Selection was not necessarily based on historical accuracy.
  • The Jesus Seminar also regards noncanonical writings as worthy of study. These include:
  • The Gospel of Thomas (a gnostic document of 2nd cent.).
  • The Didache (a.k.a. “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles“), a very early Christian instructional manual.
  • Other supposed gospels, other epistles, etc.
  • A tiny, surviving fragment of the Gospel of John has been dated to about 125 CE. But the earliest copies of an entire book from the Christian Scriptures date from about 200 CE. No two are identical. Thus, we can never know precisely what the original copy of any of the books said.
  • The five most important Gospels that are studied (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Thomas) were written by unknown authors, probably with names different than are traditionally assigned.
  • R. W. Funk and the other authors of the book, The Five Gospels[66] wrote: “The Gospels are now assumed to be narratives in which the memory of Jesus is embellished by mythic elements that express the church’s faith in him, and by plausible fictions that enhance the telling of the gospel story for first century listeners who knew about divine men and miracle workers firsthand.“[67]
  • Many, if not most, of the miracles described in the Gospels did not actually occur. There was no virgin birth no walking on water, no feeding of thousands with a few fish and loaves. Jesus did not bring Lazarus back to life. Jesus’ bodily resurrection, walking through walls, transfiguration, ascension into heaven, etc. are myths. There are no such entities as indwelling demons. Jesus probably healed mental and physical illnesses in the same way that religious healers work today.

Marcus Borg of the Jesus Seminar makes it very clear what he means by myth and he wants us to see that it is different from a fairy tale in his understanding. He says:

In short, a myth is a story about God and us. As such, myths can be both true and powerful, even though they are symbolic narratives and not straightforward historical reports. Though not literally true, they can be really true; though not factually true.The stories of Jesus’ birth are myths in this sense. Along with most mainline scholars, I do not think these stories report what happened. The virginal conceptions, the star, the wise men, the birth in Bethlehem where there was no room in the inn, and so forth are not facts of history. But I think these stories are powerfully true. . .

The stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection contain a mixture of historical memory and mythical narration. The stories of Jesus’ execution are closer to history than the birth stories; he really was crucified under Pontius Pilate around the year 30. . .

But as the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection are told, the authors of the New Testament make use of a number of symbolic motifs to suggest its religious significance [a motif is a main element, idea, feature, etc.(68)].”[69]

So what are these symbolic ideas that myths represent? Borg says that the death and resurrection of Jesus represent “the defeat of the principalities and powers, all those forces of bondage that enslave us.” They can also be “understood as a symbol and embodiment of the path of return to God: we die to an old way of being in order to be born into a new way of being.”[70]

“What happens when the story of Jesus a whole is framed by the stories of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter. The story as whole – the completed Christian story – becomes a story about God and us, a myth about God and us… This does not mean, of course, that the historical Jesus was God… The canonical Jesus [the Jesus in the Bible canon of Scripture] discloses what Jesus became in the experience and life of early Christian communities.

“We do not need to choose between [the historical Jesus or the canonical Jesus]… Both disclose what God is like.”[71]

Do you hear what he is saying?

  • The actual birth and resurrection of Jesus are symbols. They didn’t actually happen in history;
  • But that doesn’t matter as they represent our relationship with God.
  • What you read in the Bible (especially the Gospels) about Jesus, is what they early Christian communities wrote back into the Bible. It has noting to do with historical fact. The Gospels are the creation of the Christian church, not that of eyewitnesses who saw and heard Jesus.
  • This is an assertion by these people, not demonstrated from the Gospels or the writings of the early church leaders. This is modern fiction by critical scholars.

6. Questioning their Assumptions?[72]

One of the most important questions you can ask of any point of view (a question almost never asked by the media) is this: Why do they believe it? This allows us to determine whether the reasons lead properly to the conclusions.

Everyone has a starting point. The place the Jesus Seminar begins is carefully concealed from the public at large, but it’s the most critical issue. Why do they claim there is no evidence, say, for the bodily resurrection of Jesus? That is a key question.

Their reasoning goes something like this: It’s impossible for the Gospels to be historically accurate, because they record things that simply can’t happen, like dead people coming alive again and food multiplying  —  miracles don’t happen. We live in a closed universe of natural order, with God (if there is a God) locked out of the system. If miracles can’t happen, then the reports in the New Testament must be fabrications. Therefore, the Gospels are not reliable historical documents.

Further, if miracles can’t happen, then prophecy (a kind of miraculous knowledge) can’t happen. The Gospels report that Jesus prophesied the fall of Jerusalem. Therefore, they could not have been written early, but after the invasion of Titus of Rome in 70 A.D. In addition, eyewitnesses could not have written them, as the early church Fathers claimed.[73]

Notice that the Jesus Seminar doesn’t start with historical evidence; it starts with presuppositions, assumptions that it makes no attempt to prove. This is not history; it’s philosophy, specifically, the philosophy of naturalism.

Robert Funk and the Seminar admit as much: “The gospels are now assumed to be narratives in which the memory of Jesus is embellished by mythic elements that express the church’s faith in him, and by plausible fictions that enhance the telling of the gospel story for first century listeners. . .”[74]

The mass media report that the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar are based on scientific, historical analysis: the resurrection didn’t happen; the miracles are myths; there is no authentic prophecy in the Bible; the Gospels were written long after the events took place; they were not written by eyewitnesses; the testimony of the early church Fathers can’t be trusted.

This is misleading because the Jesus Seminar doesn’t conclude that the Gospels are inaccurate. That’s where they begin before they’ve looked at one single shred of actual historical evidence. When you start with your conclusions, you’re cheating. You haven’t proved anything at all.

These are people with a mission. Robert Funk, the Seminar’s founder, says, “It is time for us [scholars] to quit the library and study and speak up. . . The Jesus Seminar is a clarion call to enlightenment. It is for those who prefer facts to fancies, history to histrionics, science to superstition.”[75]

This is a strong challenge to evangelicals, depicted here as preferring nice stories to accurate history. Sometimes the best defence is knowing the right questions to ask. These are the ones you need to ask when the Jesus Seminar hits the newsstands.

  • Why are their conclusions their assumptions? That’s cheating!
  • Why don’t they treat the Gospels like any other historical document, or even the Bundaberg News-Mail (my local newspaper) or The Courier-Mail (Brisbane), and leave the burden of proof with the document: Innocent until proven guilty?

7. Who Are the Scholars?

Jesus Seminar describes its start this way:

‘Convened in 1985 by Robert W. Funk the Jesus Seminar has become a lightning rod for international debate about the “historical Jesus” – that is, the real facts about the person to whom various Christian gospels refer. The Seminar’s on-going project has been to evaluate the historical significance of every shred of evidence about Jesus from antiquity (about 30-200 CE). Over the past fifteen years more than 100 scholars from North America & beyond have participated in its semi-annual meetings.”[76]Journalists frequently refer to the 74 “scholars” of the Jesus Seminaras representing the mainstream of biblical scholarship. Being a bona fide scholar, though, means more than just having a higher degree. Generally, a scholar is one who demonstrates a mastery of his discipline and who makes an academic contribution to his field’.[77]

John Dominic Crossan (Courtesy Wikipedia)

By this definition, only fourteen members of the Seminar qualify, including scholars like John Dominic Crossan (pictured at left) and Marcus Borg. Twenty others are recognizable names in the field. One quarter of the group, though, comprises complete unknowns (one is a movie producer), and half of them come from a cluster of three ultra-liberal theological schools: Harvard, Claremont, and Vanderbilt.

Clearly, the Jesus Seminar cannot be viewed as a relevant cross section of academic opinion. This doesn’t mean that their conclusions are false; it means theirs is only one voice of many, viewed even by liberal scholars as suspect and on the extreme fringe. Dr. Gregory Boyd has written a substantial refutation of the Jesus Seminar’s view of Jesus.[78] His view is that “the Jesus Seminar represents an extremely small number of radical-fringe scholars who are on the far, far left wing of New Testament thinking. It does not represent mainstream scholarship.”[79]

Luke Johnson says that it is “a small, self-selected association of academics.”[80] “This is not responsible, or even critical, scholarship. It is a self-indulgent charade.”[81]

Professor Richard Hays of Duke University (North Carolina) reviewed the book, The Five Gospels, and said that “the case argued by this book would not stand up in any court… Nor does it represent a fair picture of the current state of research on this problem.”[82]

8. What Does the Jesus Seminar Believe?

The Jesus Seminar meets twice a year to dissect biblical passages. Their goal: separate historical fact from mythology. So far, they have rejected as myth the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the virgin birth, all Gospel miracles, and a full 82% of the teachings normally attributed to Jesus — all dismissed as legendary additions with no historical foundation.

An article in the L.A. Times entitled, “Scholars Cite Lack of Resurrection Evidence,” also carried this subtitle: “Controversial Jesus Seminar evaluates New Testament, but members affirm that event’s religious significance does not hinge on the historical record.”[83]

According to this piece, there are two things the Jesus Seminar has to say about the resurrection of Jesus.

First, it never happened. There’s no historical evidence for it.

Second, it doesn’t matter. Christians can still celebrate Easter with its symbolic message of hope and new life.

Robert Funk calls Jesus a “secular sage who satirized the pious and championed the poor.” He then adds, “Jesus was perhaps the first stand-up Jewish comic. Starting a new religion would have been the farthest thing from his mind.”

Isn’t that an odd thing to say about Jesus? Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. He didn’t work miracles. He didn’t give us the greatest teaching in the world. Instead, He was a stand-up comic, according to the founder of the Jesus Seminar.

9. Does Their Bias Make Them Open-minded or Closed-minded?

I agree with philosopher J.P. Moreland that Christian scholars have a point of view, like everyone else. The Christian’s bias should not inform his or her conclusions the same way biases inform the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar.

Because people like Robert Funk start with what he calls the “scientific” view that there can be no miracles, their bias arbitrarily eliminates options before the game even gets started. Funk must conclude the Gospels have been tampered with because his philosophy demands it. He can’t consider any evidence for a resurrection because he’s closed his mind to the possibility of miracles.

A Christian is not hindered in this way. The Christian believes in the laws of nature, but is also open to the possibility of God’s intervention. Both are consistent with his worldview. This means he can be faithful to the evidence, unhindered by a metaphysical view that automatically eliminates supernatural options before even viewing the evidence.

The bias of true Christians broadens their categories, making them more open-minded . The believer has a greater chance of discovering truth, because he/she can follow the evidence wherever it leads. The bias of the Jesus Seminar, on the other hand, makes it close-minded and dogmatic. It must also be noted that some evangelicals can also be close-minded as well.

Newspaper articles cast the issue in the opposite way, though. One mentions a dean of a prominent Baptist seminary who says the Seminar’s work is driving a wedge between faith and history among Christians.

What is unfortunate about this representation is that it pits the “historical” and “scientific” analysis of the Jesus Seminar against those poor sods who rely only on “faith.” And since the facts of history are sabotaging the faith of some, Christians are now upset. It’s as if they were saying, “Please don’t tell me these things and confuse me with the facts. It might weaken my faith.” This casts believers as nincompoops, obscurantists who want to cling to fantasy.

But that isn’t the way it is at all. The conclusions of the Jesus Seminar don’t represent facts. Rather, their point of view and research methods are deeply flawed because of their prior commitment to a philosophic position that is already hostile to the events described in the text of the Gospels. It isn’t an issue of historical fact versus religious faith. The facts are actually on the side of the resurrection, not on the side of the wishful thinking of the Jesus Seminar.

10. Are the Gospels reliable history or are they mythic?

The so-called “search for the historic Jesus” is over one hundred years old. Virtually nothing discovered during that time undermines the Gospel accounts. There is no “new evidence” supporting the idea that the miracle-working Son of God was the result of a myth inserted in the Gospel records over a long period of time. To the contrary, recent discoveries have given more credibility to the content of the Gospels themselves. This is why the trend in the last 20 years has been for liberal scholars to become more conservative in their views on the reliability of the Gospels, not less.

Recent finds in archaeology, for example, show us that funerals were conducted differently in Galilee than in Jerusalem, consistent with the details in the Gospels. A person fabricating a story generations after the fact would not know this because of the devastation in Galilee by the Romans in 70 A.D.

This doesn’t prove that Jesus rose from the dead, but it’s one of a number of things that have been discovered over time that point to the accurate detail of the Gospel accounts. This gives substance to the claim that the writers were eyewitnesses at the time of the events, OR associates of eyewitnesses.

We know the Apostle Paul died during the Neronian persecution of A.D. 64. Paul was still alive at the close of Acts, so Acts must have been written sometime before A.D. 64. Acts was a continuation of Luke’s Gospel, which must have been written earlier still. The book of Mark predates Luke, even by the Jesus Seminar’s reckoning. This pushes Mark’s Gospel into the 50s, just over twenty years after the crucifixion.

It is undisputed that Paul wrote Romans in the mid-50s, yet he proclaims Jesus as the resurrected Son of God in the opening lines of that epistle. Galatians, another uncontested Pauline epistle of the mid-50s, records Paul’s interaction with the principal disciples (Peter and James) at least 14 years earlier (Gal 1:18, cf. 2:1).

The Jesus Seminar claims that the humble sage of Nazareth was transformed into a wonder-working Son of God in the late first and early second century. The epistles, though, record a high Christology within 10 to 20 years of the crucifixion. That simply is not enough time for myth and legend to take hold, especially when so many were still alive to contradict the alleged errors.

There is no good reason to assume the Gospels were fabricated or seriously distorted in the retelling. Time and again the New Testament writers claim to be eyewitnesses to the facts. They give abundant geographic and cultural details not available to writers of the next century. We also now know that it was the habit of Jewish disciples to memorise entire discourses of their rabbi’s teaching.

There’s so much misinformation abroad about accuracy and trustworthiness of  the Bible.  But there’s another problem.

11. Would you follow a mythical Jesus who engaged in symbolic ways of how God and people should relate? Would you follow a Jesus who said he would rise again in three days, did just that, but then you discovered it was only a mythical way of showing darkness vs. light?

Even the members of the Jesus Seminar admit that Jesus was executed on a Roman Cross. But why was He killed? Who would follow this deconstructed Jesus? Who would care if He lived or died?

Leading Jesus scholar John Meier notes that a Jesus who “spent his time spinning parables and Japanese koans . . . or a bland Jesus who simply told people to look at the lilies of the field . . . would threaten no one, just as the university professors who create him threaten no one.”[84]

In Jesus Under Fire , J.P. Moreland sums up what the Jesus Seminar is asking us to believe based on nothing more than the strength of their philosophical assumptions:

“It requires the assumption that someone, about a generation removed from the events in question, radically transformed the authentic information about Jesus that was circulating at that time, superimposed a body of material four times as large, fabricated almost entirely out of whole cloth, while the church suffered sufficient collective amnesia to accept the transformation as legitimate.”[85]

12. What about the resurrection factor? Does it matter?

The Jesus Seminar wants us to believe that nothing meaningful is surrendered as a result of their analysis. Even though the resurrection is false, they say, it still has significance because of the story it tells.

The Apostle Paul disagreed. “If Christ has not been raised,” he wrote, “your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”[86]

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, but instead was buried in a shallow grave and later dug up and eaten by dogs, as Robert Funk asserts, then Christians have nothing to celebrate. Rather, they should be pitied, according to Paul. Pretty stories not grounded in fact save no one. Only a risen Saviour can defeat death.

I’m with Paul. I pity the Jesus Seminar Fellows who think that we can hold on to some kind of vain, empty, religious confidence when all the facts of history go against us. If that’s true, then you and the Jesus Seminar and I are all still in our sins. That’s not something to celebrate on Easter.

As for me, I’m going to stand with Paul. I’m going to stand with Jesus. I’m going to stand with the resurrection.

13. An Approach to Refuting the Jesus Seminar

          A. You must become a reader

You must develop an understanding of the content of the debate. Read several books on the subject (enemies and friends).

B. Response to: “You Can’t Trust the Gospels. They’re Unreliable” [87]

  • “Without assuming that the Gospels are ‘holy books’ or ‘inerrant,’ they can be shown to be reliable for historical purposes” [see Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ].
  • “Ask the person who rejects the Gospels’ historical reliability, ‘On what basis do you reject their general accuracy?’ If someone favors an unorthodox ‘Gospel’ of Jesus (such as Thomas) over the canonical Gospels, ask why.
  • “If the New Testament is textually flawed, then so is every other work of antiquity. To the contrary, these manuscripts are quite reliable.
  • “Typically, we assume historical documents are reliable unless we have good reason to doubt them. Why should this procedure be reversed — making biblical texts false until proven true?”[88]
  • See my 4 articles, ‘Can you trust the Bible?

C.   Refuting, “Jesus’ Followers Invented the Stories and Sayings of Jesus” [89]

  • Because one writes with an evangelistic, theological or apologetic purpose does not mean the writing is unreliable, e.g.. Read the passion and zeal of writings of Holocaust survivors;
  • “Early Christians didn’t read back into Jesus’ teachings their own issues:

1.    Many of the controversial issues in the epistles are not even mentioned in the Gospels (e.g.. circumcision, tongues, eating meat offered to idols, women in ministry);

2.    Matthew, Mark and Luke offer a portrait of Jesus within one generation of his death.

3.    The Book of Acts was possibly written before Paul’s death about A.D. 64, so the book of Luke was written even earlier;

4.    First century Jews were concerned about accurately preserving tradition;

5.    The Gospels’ simplicity does not reflect a fabrication, .e.g. the women witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection despite their lower status in society, Jesus’ baptism by John, Christ’s ignorance of the time of his second coming, his not doing miracles in some places;

6.    Why invent so many miracles stories, when most Jews expected a political deliverer as Messiah, not a wonder-worker?[90]

 

Suggested Reading

A.    Refuting the Jesus Seminar:

Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament History? (rev.) (Aquila Press, Sydney South, Australia, 2003).

Paul W. Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (Apollos/Inter-Varsity Press U.K., 1997).

Paul Barnett, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity (InterVarsity Press, USA, 1999).

Paul Barnett, The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years (After Jesus, vol 1) (Eerdmans, USA, 2005).

Paul Barnett, Paul: Missionary of Jesus (After Jesus, vol 2) (Eerdmans, USA, 2008).

Paul Barnett, Finding the Historical Christ (After Jesus, vol 3) (Eerdmans, USA, 2009).

John Blanchard, Will the real JESUS please stand up? (Durham, England, Evangelical Press, 1989).

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Inter-Varsity Press, UK, 1987).

Darrell L. Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus: A guide to Sources and Methods (Baker Academic, 2002).

—————-, Jesus According to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2002 — for students.

Gregory A. Boyd, Jesus Under Siege (Victor Books, 1995) — for laity.

——————, Cynic, Sage or Son of God. (Victor Books, 1995).

F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Inter-Varsity Press, UK, 1960).

Paul Copan, “True For You, But Not For Me”: Deflating the Slogans That Leave Christians Speechless (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1998).

Paul Copan (ed.) Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? (debate between William Lane Craig, Christian defender of the faith, and John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar) [Baker Books, 1998].

Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996).

Gregory Koukl, “The Jesus Seminar Under Fire” (based on his radio show, “Stand to Reason,”) at: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5380 (retrieved 13 August 2006).

Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Zondervan, 1998).

————, The Case for Faith (Zondervan, 2000).

Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire (Zondervan, 1995).

Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest (InterVarsity, USA, 1997.

Ravi Zacharias 1994, “They Want Their Own Canon,” from the web site, “Just thinking” (Winter 1994), available at: http://www.gospelcom.net/rzim/noindex/jtprint1.php3?jtcode=JT94WRZ  (retrieved 29 March 2004).

B.    Promoting the Jesus Seminar’s Agenda:

Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus AGAIN for the First Time (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994).

—————, The God We Never Knew (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997).

John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991).

———————–, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994).

———————–, The Essential Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994).

———————–, Who Killed Jesus? (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995).

———————–, The Birth of Christianity (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998).

———————–, A Long Way from Tipperary: A Memoir (HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels. (Macmillan, 1993).

Lloyd Geering [from New Zealand], “How Did Jesus Become God — and Why?” Available at:
http://www.westarinstitute.org/Periodicals/4R_Articles/Jesus_to_God/jesus_to_god.html (retrieved on 29 March 2005).

Jesus Seminar Forum: http://virtualreligion.net/forum/ (retrieved 29 March 2005).

Jesus Seminar Website: http://www.westarinstitute.org/Jesus_Seminar/jesus_seminar.html (retrieved on 13 May 2000)

Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins (HarperSanFrancisco, 1993)

—————-, Who Wrote the New Testament? (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995).

B. A. Robinson, “The ‘Jesus Seminar'”, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm  (retrieved 13 May 2000).

Appendix A

Conclusions of the Jesus Seminar[91]

Most Fellows of the Jesus Seminar would probably agree with the following conclusions:

  • The 4 canonical gospels were written chronologically in the order: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John over the interval from about 70 to 110 CE.
  • The Gospel of Mark and there were two independent sources which the authors  used as the basis of their gospels. Both Matthew and Luke also incorporated material from their own sources.
  • The Gospel of Thomas was discovered in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. It was part of a Gnostic Christian library which was apparently buried during a time of persecution of the Gnostics by Pauline Christians. It contains 73 sayings that are duplicates of those found in the canonical Gospels. It also has 65 sayings (or parts of sayings) that are unique. However, some of these scholars could see GThom as a writing independent of the Gospels.
  • The Gospel of John represents a religious tradition that is independent from the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke). They differ so much that either John or the Synoptic Gospels must be largely abandoned in the quest for an understanding of Jesus’ actual sayings and acts. The Jesus Seminar has largely rejected John.
  • Many of Jesus’ followers had previously followed John the Baptist.
  • Jesus rarely spoke of himself in the first person. The many “I am” statements in John originated from the Gospel author, not from Jesus.
  • Jesus did not claim to be Messiah.
  • Jesus is not claim to be God.
  • Jesus did not believe that his execution was necessary in order for those who trust in him as Lord and Saviour would be saved from eternal damnation.
  • Jesus believed that the Kingdom of God had already arrived in 1st century Palestine and was visible in the way that he and his followers treated each other. On the other hand, John the Baptist and Paul viewed the Kingdom as coming at a time in their future, sometime in the 1st century.
  • Jesus probably talked to his followers and preached in Aramaic. The books in the Christian Scriptures are written in Greek. Thus, even those parts of the Gospels that Jesus is believed to have said, are actually translations into Greek of his original words.
  • About 18% of the sayings of Jesus recorded in the 4 canonical Gospels and Thomas rated a red or pink rating (Jesus definitely or probably said it). The remaining passages attributed to Jesus were actually created by the Gospel writers.
  • In Mark, only one saying (Mark 12:14) was given a red rating; many are pink.

Matthew contains many sayings of Jesus which have been rated red or pink. But all of the words attributed to Jesus from the description of the last judgement in Chapter 25 until the end of the Gospel, were rated black (i.e. definitely not said by Jesus).

Luke also contains many pink and red ratings. But all of the sayings attributed to Jesus from his comment that the earth will pass into oblivion within a generation (Luke 21:32) to the end of the Gospel are all rated black.

The Gospel of John was unique among the canonical Gospels: none of the words attributed to Jesus were rated red. There was only one pink passage. One was gray (Jesus did not say this, but it contains ideas similar to his). The vast majority of sayings were rated black.

Appendix B

FOR Power Point use[5]

“We want to liberate Jesus. The only Jesus most people know is the mythic one. They don’t want the real Jesus; they want the one they can worship. The cultic Jesus.”[6]

“The narrative gospels are also products of mythic imagination. Jesus is now confronted… with the more interesting question of the reasons why the gospels are so hard for moderns to recognize as myth.[7]

“Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him.”[8]

“The authors [from the Jesus Seminar] seem to have looked into the well of history searching for Jesus and seen their own reflection.”[9]

“What actually and historically happened to the body of Jesus can best be judged from watching how later Christian accounts slowly but steadily increased the reverential dignity of their burial accounts. His body left on the cross or in a shallow grave barely covered with dirt and stones, the dogs were waiting.”[10]

 

Endnotes:

1. This article was written with considerable assistance from Gregory Koukl, “The Jesus Seminar Under Fire” (based on his radio show, “Stand to Reason,”), at:  http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5380 retrieved 13 August, 2006, “Stand to Reason” at P.O. Box 6568, San Pedro, CA 90734, Email: info@str.org, retrieved from www.str.org (Accessed 13 August 2006).
2. In 2011, I retired as a family and general counsellor and counselling manager, after working the last 17 years full-time in the counselling field in Australia. I am ordained with the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination, Australia and completed my research PhD in New Testament (University of Pretoria, South Africa) in 2015, with a focus on a dimension of historical Jesus studies.
3. The original said, “Los Angeles County.”
4. Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995, 310, emphasis added. Although Mack is not a member of the Jesus Seminar, his theological views are harmonious with that of the Seminar.
5. Interview of Robert Funk, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, with Mary Rourke, “Cross Examination,” Los Angeles Times, 24 February 1994, E1, E5, in Wilkins and Moreland, 2.
6. Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993, 250.
7. Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company (A Polebridge Press Book), 1993, 5.
8. Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest (new expanded edition). Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press, 1997, 9. This was referring to Albert Schweitzer’s comment that he had come to the conclusion that most of these fresh attempts to say what we could really know about the historical Jesus actually told us more about their authors than about the person they sought to describe. The authors seem to have looked into the well of history searching for Jesus and seen their own reflection” (Witherington, 9).
9. John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, 154.
10. Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987, 247.
11. Ibid.
11a. D. A. Carson, “Redaction criticism: On the legitimacy and illegitimacy of a literary tool,” in D. A. Carson. and J. D. Woodbridge (eds). Scripture and Truth.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1992, 125.
12. Blomberg, p. 247.
13. Ibid., emphasis added.
14. Ibid., 248.
14a Carson, “Redaction criticism,” 125.
15. e.g.. Richard N. Ostling, “Jesus Christ, Plain and Simple,” Time, 10 January 1994, 38, in Gregory A. Boyd, Jesus Under Siege. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1985, 137.
16. Boyd, ibid., 12.
17. According to Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, vii.
18. Gregory Koukl of the organisation, “Stand to Reason” and the transcript, “The Jesus Seminar Under Fire,” 1995, 1, emphasis added [29 March 2005].
18a.  Paul Barnett 2003, Is the New Testament History? (rev.), Aquila Press, Sydney South, Australia.
19. Luke Timothy Johnson, rear cover.
20. According to the university’s web page, the school was started by the Methodist Church.
21. Johnson, vii.
22. Ibid.
23. The following newspaper headlines are from Johnson, 20.
24. San Francisco Chronicle, 9 March 1987.
25. San Francisco Chronicle, 18 October, 1987.
26. Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 15 October 1988.
27. Atlanta Constitution, 5 March 1989.
28. Los Angeles Times, 5 March 1989.
29. See Johnson, 20.
30. Based on ibid.
31. Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993, 250.
32. Interview with Mary Rourke, “Cross Examination,” Los Angeles Times, 24 February 1994, E1, E5, in Wilkins and Moreland, 2.
33. “Biblical tyranny?” letter by Fr Greg Jenks, St Matthew’s, Drayton, in “Opinion,” Focus [the Anglican newspaper distributed in Queensland], December 1998, p. 4.
34. Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company (A Polebridge Press Book), 1993, 5. I was alerted to this in Johnson, 22.
35. U.S. News & World Report, 1 July 1991, in Johnson, 18.
36. Johnson, 18. I am an Australian family relationships’ counselling manager, doctoral student in biblical studies, an active Christian apologist, and may be contacted at: PO Box 3107, Hervey Bay 4655, Australia.
37. In a letter to the Los Angeles Times, 30 March, 1991; see also U.S. News & World Report, 1 July, 1991, in Johnson 18.
38. Ravi Zacharias, “They Want Their Own Canon,” from the web site, “Just thinking,” Available from: http://www.rzim.org/publications/jttran.php?seqid=17 (Accessed 3 April 2003), emphasis added.
39. Ostling, 38.
40. A. Ernst-Ulrich Franzen, “Seminar Examines Jesus’ Words,” Milwaukee Sentinel, 11 December 1993, 8A, in Boyd, Jesus Under Siege, 15.
41. According to the Jesus Seminar, it is 18%. Available at:  http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm, (Accessed 13 May 2000); Copyright 1998, 1999, originally written: 1998, July 5; Latest update: 1999, Dec. 8; Author: B.A. Robinson
42. Koukl.
43. Funk, et al., 36.
44. Ibid.
45. Ibid.
46. Ibid.
47. Ibid., 36-37.
48. Ibid., 34.
49. Donald A. Wells, Ph.D., “The Many Quests for the Historical Jesus,” in the website column, “From the Pulpit,” www.mind.net/rvuuf/pages/quests.htm. This essay was originally developed and delivered as a Sunday Service presentation for the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ashland, Oregon, on June 23, 1996, 2.
50. Ibid., 3.
51. The above information from ibid., 3-4.
52. Ravi Zacharias, “They Want Their Own Canon,” from the web site, “Just thinking,” Available from: http://www.rzim.org/publications/jttran.php?seqid=17 (Accessed 3 April 2003), emphasis added.
53. Ibid. emphasis added.
54. Unless otherwise stated, these assumptions are taken from http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm, (Accessed 13 May 2000).  Copyright 1998, 1999; Originally written: 1998, July 5; Latest update: 1999, Dec. 8; Author: B.A. Robinson.  The author is a supporter of these assumptions.
55. Funk, et al., 2.
56. Ibid.
57. Ibid., 3.
58. Ibid.
59. Ibid.
60. Ibid.
61. Ibid., 4.
62. Ibid.
63. Ibid.
64. Ibid., 4-5.
65. Ibid., 5.
66. Funk et al.
67. Ibid., 4-5.
68. Noah Webster, Webster’s new Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language (unabridged). Collins World, 1978, p. 1173.
69. Marcus J. Borg, The God I Never Knew. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, 102.
70. Ibid.
71. Ibid., 102-104.
72. This is based on Gregory Koukl.
73. Papias, about A.D. 125 said that “Mark had carefully and accurately recorded Peter’s eyewitness observations.” Irenaeus, writing about A.D. 180 said that:

“Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue. . . Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter… Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living in Ephesus in Asia” [Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.4, in Lee Strobel,The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House 1998, p. 24).

74. Funk, et al., 5, emphasis added.
75. Robert Funk & Mahlon H. Smith, The Gospel of Mark, Red Letter Edition. Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1991, pp. xvi- xvii.
76. Jesus Seminar Forum: http://virtualreligion.net/forum/ (Accessed 13 May 2000).
77. A partial list of scholars who have participated or are presently involved with the Jesus Seminar can be found at: http://westarinstitute.org/Fellows/fellows.html (Accessed 13 May 2000).
78. Gregory A. Boyd, Cynic, Sage or Son of God. Wheaton, Illinois: A Bridgepoint Book (Victor Books), 1995.
79. Interview with Gregory Boyd in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998, 114.
80. Johnson, 1.
81. Ibid., 26.
82. “The Corrected Jesus,” First Things, May 1994, 43-48, in Johnson, 26.
83. Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1995, in Koukl.
84. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus , vol. 1 New York: Doubleday, 1991, 177, quoted in Wilkins & Moreland, 21.
85. Wilkins and Moreland, 22.
86. 1 Corinthians 15:17-19.
87. From Paul Copan, “True for You, But Not for Me.” Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1998, 99.
88. See a more detailed explanation in ibid., ch. 15.
89. Ibid., 105-106.
90. See a more detailed explanation in ibid., ch. 16.
91. http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm, retrieved 13 May 2000; Copyright 1998, 1999, originally written: 1998, July 5; Latest update: 1999, Dec. 8; Author: B.A. Robinson.
Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at 7 October 2015.