I cannot compete with the vast onslaught of blog heavyweights who have all, it seems, trained their guns on last week’s SCOTUS decision. But I’d like to chip away at one question that seems to be less than fully addressed, viz., the precise nature of government’s role in this question and what our expectation of government should be as we pick up the pieces and move forward.
Most Christians recognize that the government is at times too heavy-handed and at times too laissez-faire in fulfilling their God-given role. But we don’t always draw our lines at the same place, because we don’t agree on a standard by which those judgments are made. Let’s look at the following scenario, involving two situations on which there is fairly broad agreement among believers:The Offense Violation of the first and greatest command to love God exclusively Violation of the sixth command to not murder The Theocratically Mandated Response Purge the offender from the land with up to and including capital authority (Exod 22:20; 34:10–16; Deut 6:14–15; 7:1–6; 13:6–11) Purge the offender from the land with up to and including capital authority (Exod 21:12, etc.) The Church’s Anticipated Response Remove the offender from the Church but tolerate him in civil society (Matt 18:15–18), praying that the State will fulfill its mandate to… Remove the offender from the Church but tolerate him in civil society to the degree required by the State, praying that the State will fulfill its mandate to… Government’s Anticipated Response Establish a society where those who embrace this command and those who reject this command can live together with mutual respect and toleration (1 Tim 2:2) Punish the offender with up to and including capital authority (Gen 9:6; Rom 13:4)
In the Mosaic economy, the first and sixth commands are treated more-or-less the same: the Jewish collective were to remove violators of both commands alike from society with expulsive or capital force. But with the dissolution of that economy and arrival of the New Testament arrangement and its separation of powers (Caesar and Church—Matt 22:21), surprising changes occur, especially when we get to the role of human government. The government is to take a rather ambivalent approach to violations of the “first and greatest commandment,” assuming at best the role of civil peacekeeper, but is to move swiftly and savagely to address violations of the sixth and not-the-greatest commandment. How do we explain this?
More than one answer emerges, but in the end, most Christians agree that the church deals with spiritual matters and the State with civil matters. Specifically, the church is to address ALL sins within its own membership/community, but has no jurisdiction beyond the removal of offenders from the spiritual community. The State, on the other hand, has no jurisdiction within the spiritual community, but has the power to crush all crime deleterious to the civic or common good, ensuring, in Calvin’s terms, that “humanity be maintained among men.” Their ethical fount is not so much the whole Christian paradosis (the error of theonomy) but the canon of natural law.
Following the preceding, it seems that the State can err in two primary ways: (1) it can fall short of its appointed role by disregarding natural law and thereby failing to maintain a stable and civil society marked by mutual toleration (the libertine error) and (2) it can exceed its appointed role by imposing some parochial ethic (whether Muslim, Christian, radical atheist, etc.) upon broad society and thereby expressing intolerance toward any who conscientiously object to that parochial ethic (the totalitarian error).
So what do we do with the hot question of homosexual marriage? Are we dealing here with a “first-and-greatest commandment” issue or with a “sixth commandment” issue? Is this a spiritual question to be addressed strictly within the ecclesiastical community or is it also a natural-law question that must be taken up by the civil community? What should our government be doing coram deo? And what should Christians do with these answers?
First, I believe that Scripture and nature itself identify the homosexual marriage question as a civil question. Homosexual marriage is not just a question of parochial codes and personal preferences/orientations, but also a question with civil import: the widespread promotion and even acceptance of this practice is unnatural, and will inevitably destabilize civil society (Rom 1:26–27). As such, it is inappropriate for the state to take a laissez-faire approach to homosexual marriage. To do so is to commit the first error detailed above. Marriage is a question of civil import and for the government to advocate for a libertine approach is for the government to be irresponsible and to act in a way contrary to the nation’s own best interests. As a response, all devotees of natural law, believers and unbelievers alike, and irrespective of ecclesiastical commitments, should work together as citizens and humans (1) for the reversal of this terrible error (however unlikely that may be) and, failing that, (2) for the stabilization of civil society generally.
Second, irrespective of our opinions on the previous question, we should all agree that the primary Christian hope for human government is “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim 2:2). We want a stable society in which opportunities for the Gospel abound. To this end, Christian churches should begin to pray earnestly for the triumph of religious tolerance. This is precisely what Paul tells us to do. We should pray for and petition our rulers to both tolerate us and command society to tolerate us. What Christians should not do is to demand that our government privilege our views on the ground that they are Christian views (error #2 above). Such an approach is not only demonstrably wrong, but, pragmatically speaking, will also hasten and intensify the persecution that is creeping toward us. This is my greatest fear at present in the political posturing that is ongoing.
Third, we should take the legal and practical steps appropriate and necessary to avoid civil conflict beyond what is unavoidable. However disparate our views may be on the co- part of “co-belligerence,” we all need to agree that belligerence is the wrong attitude for the church to adopt—both biblically and practically. Instead we need to adopt a gentle and deferential spirit in our appeals for tolerance and liberty. This has long been the way of God’s people and we need to return to it. This is not to say that we need to be approving of societal sin, but it will never do to be intolerant of people from whom we are begging tolerance for the sake of the Gospel.
En lo Esencial Unidad, En lo Dudoso Libertad, En Todo Caridad o Amor / Unity in Necessary Things; Liberty in Doubtful Things; Charity in All Things
Recientemente las palabras diversidad, tolerancia y racismo se han convertido en temas centrales de nuestra sociedad. Muchos sucesos a nivel nacional, local y personal me han hecho reflexionar acerca de la importancia que como seguidores de Cristo tenemos para aportar luz a una sociedad que enfrenta realidades a las que en ocasiones no sabe cómo responder. También he notado que algunos cristianos están confundidos acerca de lo que es realmente importante y esencial en nuestra fe y qué es lo secundario en lo que podemos aceptar diferencias con gracia y amor. Es necesario que en estos tiempos podamos claramente hablar la verdad en amor a todos los que nos rodean para poder ser buenos embajadores de Cristo ...
Here are some words of exhortation that have special application to the events and conditions of our present tumultuous age:
... But whence, in this eventful day, can we draw the principles of caution, prudence and wisdom, if not from the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And can we with diligence seek these principles, and with confidence exercise them, unless we have firm faith in the truth of our Holy Religion?
The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the California Science Center offers a historic opportunity to see artifacts and manuscripts from what is arguably the most significant archaeological discovery of the twentieth century. The Dead Sea Scrolls are precious to Jews and Christians of all backgrounds because of what they contribute to our understanding of textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, the beliefs and practices of ancient Judaism and the cultural background of the New Testament.
“Love is love.” That slogan has popped up countless times in our nation’s dialogue in recent days. It’s part of an effort to shape the hearts and minds of Americans on social issues. It’s simple, succinct, and catchy. It has some appeal, especially to people who value “love” as a supreme good, a sentiment that trumps all other considerations. The problem is it’s just not true.
Our society is confused about love, and this slogan does nothing to minimize this confusion. What exactly does it mean to say “love is love”? On its face it is a statement of identity, equating two things, e.g., a car is an automobile. So it might mean that all loves are the same. I love my wife. I also love pizza. If “love is love” then I would be saying that my relationship to my wife is identical to my relationship to pizza. I may not be the most romantic person in the world, but even I could guess that my wife would not be pleased if I told her, “You know that I love you because I act, think, and feel toward you in the same way that I do toward pizza.” (I haven’t seen that sentiment portrayed in a Hallmark card either!) My love for my wife may have a few similarities with my love for pizza, but they are nowhere close to identical. One love is not like the other.
Most of us recognize that the slogan is not trying to communicate that all loves are identical—even if it is what it says. It’s at least narrowed down to people. Love for different people is ultimately the same. But even here there are distinctions in loves. I love my friends, but I do not love them exactly like I love my sons. And my love for my sons is different from my love for my wife.
Most people seem to be using the phrase to refer to a kind of love that is sexual in nature. The phrase is stating that no kind of sexual love is any different from another. People are wrong to view some sexual love as inappropriate, for who are we to say one kind is better than another? “Love is love.”
But almost all the people trumpeting this slogan do not really believe it. Some people love their siblings sexually. Is that love identical to other loves? Suppose a man sexually loves his wife and he sexually loves his mistress. Should his wife say “who am I to condemn him, because ‘love is love’”? Some 40 year old men sexually love 12 year old boys. Is that love the same as every other? Love is love?
You may be upset that I would mention some of the above examples. “Those are not the same thing, and it’s wrong to compare them.” But if they are not the same thing, and it is not legitimate to compare them, then not all love is love. “But those examples are not examples of love.” In making that objection, you have done exactly what our slogan “love is love” is telling us we cannot do. You have made a judgment about a sexual love that says it does not belong in the same category as others. You have said “this love is not love.” The moment you begin to limit love in some way—by saying it needs to be non-incestuous, or between only two people, or only between consenting adults—you have set up a definition by which we are now forced to determine that some loves are love and others are not.
So who gets to decide what loves are in bounds and what loves are not? I certainly would not claim to be a proper judge for these matters. Who could have the wisdom, compassion, knowledge, and insight to distinguish legitimate loves from illegitimate ones? Only God can do that.
What is love? The Bible consistently points to God’s love for humans as the supreme example of love (e.g., 1 Jn 4:10). One particularly relevant passage is in Ephesians 5:25-27.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Here, Paul holds up Christ’s love for the church as the greatest example of the kind of love husbands are to have for their wives. I’d like to highlight one aspect of that love: true love is a holy love. Christ died for the church to make her holy.
Any love that wants to make a valid claim to be love must be holy. If a love does not move the other person toward holiness it is not love. So a young man who pressures a young lady to sleep with him before they are married does not really love her. He may say that he does, and both of them may think that he does, but he is ultimately more concerned for his own gratification than he is for her well-being. The man who loves his wife and mistress may think he really loves them both, but he actually loves neither. True love will never violate God’s standards. No matter how much someone thinks they love a person, if they are helping them down a path contrary to what is holy they do not really love them.
Why does all of this matter? What business is it of anyone’s to care about anyone else’s love? First, as I already noted, almost everyone cares to some degree, or we would be working to abolish laws against pedophilia. But it also matters because true love is far better than any false loves.
Suppose you had a friend who told you he found some great steak that he wants to enjoy. He takes you behind some restaurant and pulls some rancid, rotting hunk of meat out of the dumpster. You tell him, “Don’t eat that! Let’s go inside the restaurant and get some real steak.” He replies sharply, “Who are you to tell me what steak to eat. Steak is steak!” Would you say, “Well, it’s not hurting me for him to eat that meat, so I shouldn’t say anything”? Wouldn’t you want to see your friend give up the supposed steak that very well could poison him and instead experience the satisfaction and nourishment of a nice, well-cooked steak?
In reality, we have all gone after the rotten piece of steak. We have acted as if bad things were good things and good things were ultimate things. Our loves are twisted, and we have run down a path that leads to our own destruction. God has graciously warned us, but we have all rejected His warnings. Because we have pursued our own wrong desires, we are incurably sick, spiritually dead, and hopelessly lost.
But God really loves us. He came to us when we were completely unlovable and gave of Himself to save us. He sucked the poison into Himself and offered us real nourishment in its place. He died for what we did so that we might live for Him. He calls us to turn from our path of destruction and trust in Him for life.
God loves us enough that He wants what is really best for us. He knows which loves are real and which are counterfeit. He does not want us to settle for something that seems like love when it is really not. His love moves us to holiness, where we find eternal pleasure in Him. There is no greater joy and satisfaction than knowing and experiencing His love, and loving others in the way He has called us to love. How do we know which love is love? God’s love is love!
Although I talk about many controversial topics in my classes, I receive no greater pushback from students than when I talk about the need for church discipline in churches today. We spend a class period introducing the topic, discussing various reasons why Americans do not like it, how to go about practicing all stages of church discipline, and reflecting on some difficult cases. The main point I want them to take away from the discussion and the assignment is to see how church discipline can be helpful for spiritual formation and encourage them to develop relationships in which their friends feel free to rebuke them over sin. For the assignment (see details below) I have them read a chapter on confession from our textbook on spiritual formation (Joanne Jung’s Knowing Grace), reflect on the practice of church discipline, and meet with a trusted friend or mentor to practice confession.
I am excited. While I would not choose this direction for our country or our culture, and though I lament the very real harm that this Supreme Court decision will do in millions of lives, I also believe that a sovereign God rules supreme in human affairs and He is at work making of the nations a heritage for His Son. The Triune God has not called an emergency session and will not be announcing a strategy of response to the latest development. He is working all things—even and especially this—to His glory for our good.
Because of this Supreme Court ruling Christians who have contented themselves with a nebulous theology and a generic commitment to the parts of the Bible they deem palatable will now be pressed to probe the Scriptures and their own presuppositions like never before. Congregations who have survived on a cultural predisposition toward churches are about to discover what it means to thrive on Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ. Believers who have worked to keep their faith separate from the rest of their lives will discover that they can no longer be secret disciples because they are going to be asked bluntly and sometimes with great hostility.
Two exhilarating possibilities emerge: revival among believers and a greater gospel impact beyond our walls. Think about it like this: has the church in the United States ever had a more advantageous time to stand in stark contrast to the world, to distinguish itself from the prevailing understanding of morality, to present a true counter-culture, to model the gospel? When we had greater numbers and political influence the world thought our great concern was with numbers and political influence. If we profess Christ and stand on the Word when it costs us dearly, however, then even our detractors and persecutors will see that it’s not about us, but about our Savior.
I anticipate that the churches who stand firmly and lovingly on the Word of God, who focus on the gospel of Christ and preach the necessity of genuine faith and repentance for salvation, are about to experience an indisputable and authentic movement of God’s Spirit. The Christ-modeled balance between an unyielding commitment to the Word and a lavish love of people will offer the world something that they desperately need but cannot find anywhere else.
People are no more lost now than they have ever been, and Jesus is no less Lord now than He will ever be. We dare not cower in our churches as though God has lost anything. The only decision handed down that matters is that the gates of hell cannot prevail against His church!
The first marriage was between a perfect man and a perfect woman. The last marriage will be between a glorified man, the Lord Jesus, and his sanctified bride, the church. Between those two weddings, humanity has marred and defaced the institution of marriage in many ways, including this new way. But the Lord Jesus will have the last say. Until then, I am doing all I can to make my marriage reflect the love of Christ for his church and to share the gospel of grace with everyone. No handwringing, no fear, no hatred, no bitterness. Just love of the Lord Jesus, of the truth, of my wife, of the Lord’s church, and of my neighbor–ALL of my neighbors. Though something in our culture has definitely changed, everything in the Word of God remained the same. I rest in that.
It may seem like we’ve hit the bottom. By God’s grace, we are about to discover there’s a Rock down there.
Dear Dr. Craig, thank you for your great work at Reasonable Faith. My question is one borne from a sense of sadness and resentment towards God for His seemingly indifferent attitude to my pain. I have struggled for years with bad eyesight and floaters in my eyes, (especially my left eye), and it really does affect my daily activities like reading and writing etc. I have been praying almost constantly for healing and restoration but have been met with a devastating silence.
I happen to know that you yourself suffer from a muscular problem, and would like to hear your personal journey through that. Can you relate to my problems? Have you ever asked God to heal you? Did you feel bitter when He did not? How did you continue believing in His goodness and love? ...
by Kirk Spencer
It’s been an interesting week. The confederate flag was removed across the country and the N-Word was spoken by the president of the country.
It reminds us that symbols and words are like living things. They change. Usage and perceptions alters their meaning over time. And so, if a flag comes to represent racism in America, it is time to lower it and put it in a museum with a card (which no one will read) telling what it meant “back-in-the-day.” And, if words become offensive, don’t say them. For instance, I agree with our president; it is “not polite to say (the N-word) in public…” Now he didn’t say “the N-word.” He said the actual word itself in the same sentence in which he said that saying this word—the one which he is actually saying—is not polite to say. Our president was correct in pointing out the impoliteness of the N-word (though not in actually using it in telling us this).
Our president was also correct in saying a few sentences later that “societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.” Changing such signifiers as words or symbols, might make our society more polite, but it will not change us, not significantly, not really. Such earthly things do not touch our hearts. And, it is not only a matter of time either. No matter how long it’s given, society will not save itself. Even ages of enlightenment, with all the appropriate symbolic and semantic etiquette, will not, and cannot, ever save us from slurring our way into oblivion.
Our salvation is not a matter of racial, social or cultural evolution or renewal. It is a matter of rebirth. The deepest earthly problems do not have an earthly solution. It is not about becoming better, but becoming other. In our wildness the Son of Man must be lifted up and through belief in Him we escape darkness and find life. It is the greatest expression of God’s love for the world… not to condemn it, but to save it. For we are condemned already in our own earthly darkness. Heaven’s light, through belief in Jesus Christ can change the world. Faith in Christ can change the world not just overnight… but in a moment. As the contagion of hate is spreading, and words and symbols are changing, in a courtroom in South Carolina, families face the one who shot to death those they loved… and these grieving families are forgiving him, praying for him and they are invited him to find a life transforming faith in their Savior, Jesus Christ. They invited him to find God’s grace—the grace that makes such amazing forgiveness possible. 
Forgiveness means giving up power—the power of hatred and anger, which is a fire that destroys. Unforgiveness is a poison we drink thinking it will kill the one we cannot forgive.
 Actually not the confederate flag but the battle flag of northern Virginia during the Civil War.
As we learn emotions from Jesus, not only does our blood start to boil (see Part 2) and our stomachs turn (see Part 3), he also shows our hearts how to beat with real joy. There is a stereotype floating around which says that Jesus and the faith he represents are about cold-hearted duty, doing the right thing at the expense of our happiness. There are enough grim-faced moralistic systems out that brandish the name of “Christianity” to keep the stereotype alive. But they have more in common with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant than with the kingdom of Jesus. The day after he stormed the Temple, Jesus returns to the same Temple courts to announce that his kingdom is like a big party, and everyone is invited; not a boarding school, not a boot camp, not a prison chain gang, but a party.
Trying to come up with 5 of my favorite apologetics books is like asking me to name my 5 favorite moments as a University of Kentucky sports fan. 1998 National Championship? Yes, but 1996 was a lot fun too. 2012 Title team? Ok, but beating #1 LSU in football was right at the top as well (yes, I’m one of those strange folks thatloves Kentucky football). Mardi Gras Miracle? That was amazing. 1992 against Duke? GET BEHIND ME SATAN!
Naturally I’m going to leave off something that two weeks from now that will, in the words of Gob Bluth, make me say, “COME ON!” but to the best of my ability I offer my 5 favorite apologetics books, in no particular order. The following are my 5 favorite,not the 5 most seminal works of apologetics. That would be a demonstrably different list. Take these as you wish:
1. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
This work is, for me, very personal. I had a huge faith crisis in college and Lewis provided a lifeboat for me in a way that, frankly, saved me from abandoning the faith. Certainly, it has its issues (what work doesn’t?). But the enduring quality of the work shows its fruits. To this day I can still place it in the hand of a seeking unbeliever and he’s intrigued by Lewis. That speaks volumes.
2. The Reason for God by Tim Keller
In many ways, this is Mere Christianity 2.0. Keller tackles some of the toughest questions Christians face in addition to giving reasons for the faith once delivered to all the saints. The section where he explores the nature of doubt—and why both the Christian and skeptic must wrestle with it—was very helpful. If you can get your hands on the DVD they made as a companion for this, do it. It’s also really informative.
3. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by Douglas Groothius
This sucker is massive. But it is also very, very good. Groothius, like a season apologist and writer, works through preliminary discussions, the case for Theism, and her objections. It is comprehensive while being accessible. That is not easily done.
4. A History of Apologetics by Avery Cardinal Dulles
This is a sweeping history of apologetics, spanning the new testament to the 20th century. It is very well written, succinct, and covers the necessary material needed to give an overview of apologetics. While Dulles is Roman Catholic, he covers the most significant Protestants.
5. How (Not) To Be Secular by James K. A. Smith
I’ve tried—and failed—on three occasions to slog through Taylor’s A Secular Age. I read Smith’s book (which is more of a guide than a commentary) and immediately knew this was going to be a work I would return to time and again. I have read it twice, and suspect I’ll read it again very soon. The book is more than just about Taylor’s work, it’s about what it means to witness in a secular age. It is a two way conversation in a sense. The questions asked, says Smith, teach us how to engage a secular age, but it also shows us where Christians may believe just like “exclusive humanists” (read: secularists). It is a book for both Christians and non-Christians alike. That’s a good book.
This post originally appeared at the Lifeway Church Leaders blog.
On May 25, 1805 the Christian church lost one of its ablest and most-remembered defenders. William Paley—Anglican minister, professor, and author—is permanently associated with the analogy of a watchmaker and the God of personal theism. He wrote that “the contrivances of nature . . . are not less evidently mechanical, not less evidently contrivances, not less accommodated to their end or suited to their office, than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity” (Natural Theology, 1802). Paley mined the riches of biology for samples of such contrivance. In his day, the state of scientific knowledge in the field of biology permitted comparatively easy inference to the appearance of teleology in the natural world. Critics today forget this. The “demise” of Paley’s design argument for the existence of God is credited especially to a development that was to happen some 60 years later—the emergence of the new theory of evolution, beginning with the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859) ...
I wanted to ask you a question as someone who is simply curious about Christianity.
Can you explain what I consider to be the two "W"s of life under your God. These are work and worship ...
Having laid out in the previous several posts what I believe may be commended as “received laws of language,” I would like to close this series with a practical look at a pair of difficult passages that stretch the limits of the discussion: Matthew’s use of fulfillment language in 2:15 and 16–18 in citing Hosea 11:1 and Jeremiah 31:15, respectively. Note the following:Hosea 11:1—When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son (cf. Exod 4:22–23). Matthew 2:15—[Joseph stayed in Egypt] until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Jeremiah 31:15—This is what the LORD says [of the exiled Israelite community]: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” Matthew 2:16–18—Herod…gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under…. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
The tension in both instances is that Matthew appeals to descriptive, historical texts (which ordinarily cannot be “fulfilled”) and appears to assign them a predictive function that does not manifest clearly in the original rendering. Below are four approaches that exegetes have used in their analysis of Matthew’s Gospel. Note that I am not offering a comprehensive list of all possible solutions to the tension here raised, but rather four approaches to the tension:
- The first approach is to read both texts literally and conclude that Matthew is a careless researcher guilty of making egregious citation errors. This is what I’ll call the modernist approach.
- A second approach reads both texts charitably but concludes that the two OT texts in view are not to be seen as literal genres. That is, they are not instances of historie but geschichte, and for this reason are legitimate subjects of etiological manipulation/resignification as the ecclesiastical community develops over time. This is what I will call, for simplicity’s sake, the postmodern approach (though it technically predates postmodernism as a system).
- A third approach avoids the specter of biblical errancy in the preceding options by proposing a new hermeneutical approach: it reads the OT text according to a unique model that is not and cannot be used with any other piece of literature. Specifically, while adherents admit that the two OT passages are instances of accurate, normal, rearward-looking history, they propose that God is using Matthew to progressively divulge a metanarrative imbedded into the OT, known originally and completely only to the divine author, that connects two OT events (exodus and exile) organically with the Bible’s grand Christological or redemptive plot. In this way the reader is now able to fully appreciate these OT texts, thus “fulfilling” or exhausting their divinely-intended meaning. Later revelation is always the definitive court of appeal for interpreting earlier texts, and “literal” OT readings held prior to the arrival of the NT are sometimes flat, incomplete, or even wrong, and can therefore “fall away.” This is my attempt to faithfully represent the typological approach.
Disclaimer: The range of typological approaches circulating today makes it impossible for me to offer a description that satisfies all who self-identify with the model, but I make the attempt anyway, with entirely charitable intent. I apologize to all who take umbrage with my description and welcome correctives.
- A fourth approach attempts to salvage inerrancy not by proposing a new hermeneutical approach, but by suggesting one or more exegetical solutions. For instance, I would argue (with Dyer, Toussaint, and others) that the Greek term πληρόω (to fulfill) has a semantic range broader than that carried by the modern English term “fulfill,” and can reference not only completed prophecy, but also something as mundane as an analogy made after the fact. While this approach denies us the tingle of intrigue and inscrutability that the previous approach offers, its strength is the tacit priority it places on the ordinary laws of language. It assumes that OT meaning is plain-in-itself and (as is the case with every “normal” use of language) that its own local context is the definitive court of appeal for interpretation. It does not deny that a grand biblical metanarrative exists, but affirms instead that this unifying center is to be discovered by ordinary rather than mysterious means. This is what I would call the “literal” approach.
Obviously much more could be said (and has been said) about these texts, but it is hoped that the previous is adequate to identify the basic approaches to the problem that are in circulation today. I also hope that it commends the last approach (often associated with dispensationalism) as a more hermeneutically credible one (i.e., more faithful to the received laws of language) than the typological approach that in the ascendancy today.
Before launching into his own biography of A. B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, A. W. Tozer reflects a bit on what kind of person makes the best biographer. As one who enjoys reading biographies, I appreciate the wisdom in Tozer’s words and offer them to all of you who have benefitted and grown as a result of reading the stories of others’ lives and journeys. So who is the best person to write a biography, and who probably shouldn’t write a biography?
If we peer underneath Jesus’ table-flipping rage at the Temple (explored in Part 2), we find a still deeper emotion to reflect. Matthew’s account tells us that immediately after protesting the poor-oppressing, God-mocking Temple system, “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them" (Matthew 21:14). What a beautiful moment. In it we see that Jesus was outraged not in spite of His care for people but precisely because of it. The very people marginalized and trampled under the religious power structure are brought into the spotlight and elevated by Jesus. (He has a way of doing that.) He didn’t take anything from them or treat them like chumps in a captive market. He gave them vision and sound bodies. He treated them like the intrinsically valuable human beings they each were—and all for free.
Editors Note: The following excerpt is from Brian Croft’s chapter titled “Clear the Runway: Preparing Your Church for Revitalization” in A Guide to Church Revitalization. This new title from SBTS Press is available for download Monday, June 15, 2015.
It was a cold Wednesday evening when I walked into this struggling church. A young, eager pastor greeted me at the door of the meeting room and introduced me to the committee. They were a friendly group, but timid. Most were older pillars of the church. All were white. The committee had formed because the church realized that something was not right. They needed a change, but weren’t sure what that was. They knew the church was broken, but didn’t know how to fix it. I had been invited to this first of what would be numerous meetings of a church revitalization committee. My role was to help prepare them to walk through whatever revitalization would look like for them.
The first thing this group needed to do was honestly assess where the church was in its current state. Not what it once was, not what they wished it was, but a realistic and accurate appraisal of where the church was right then and how it got there. I presented five areas to help them think clearly through the process of evaluation. Evaluating these five areas are crucial to every congregation if it is to navigate the revitalization process well.Authority
The first question I asked in that committee meeting was, “Who’s in charge?” Let me be clear on what I am asking. I am not asking who the bylaws say is in charge. I am not asking who moderates the business meetings or leads the deacons meetings. I am asking, “Who has the greatest influence in the church?” To whom do church members go when decisions need to be made? To whom do church members listen the most? Just because a pastor gets paid a full-time salary and preaches every week doesn’t make him the man in charge. You must determine where the authority in the church really lies. Only then can you compare your answer to Scripture’s answer.
The Bible is clear about who is in charge: Jesus Christ. Scripture calls him the chief shepherd (1 Pet 5:4). His authority is mediated to us through his Word. If a church willingly submits to the authority of Christ, there is no confusion about where the final word lies. Once during a deacons’ meeting, I had to confront a deacon about non-attendance at church. When he pointedly asked me where in the Bible it says we have to be at church, I replied: “Hebrews 10:25, ‘Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.’” That ended the discussion. Only a church’s commitment to the authority of Christ has the power to do that.Leadership
The question tied to this area asks, “Whom do I follow?” It is essential to identify the leaders in the church. Southern Baptist churches have experienced an epidemic of short pastorates. One consequence of this tragedy is an environment in which church members have to assume roles of leadership spawned by the vacuum of pastoral leadership when there is no pastor. To be clear, the problem is not with filling roles of leadership during the absence of a pastor, but with what happens to those roles once there is a pastor.
The revolving-door cycle of short-term pastorates creates a breeding ground in which churches, too frequently burned, come to distrust the pastoral office and allow others to usurp leadership roles. Every church must realistically consider who the church is truly following. Only then can a more biblical paradigm be taught and pursued. That pattern consists of the two biblical offices of the church: pas- tors and deacons. Faithfulness to the biblical paradigm involves having not only the offices, but a proper understanding of them as well. This means teaching what are the qualifications of pastors and deacons and what are the proper roles of each (1 Tim 3:1-13; 1 Pet 5:1-4; Titus 1:5-9; Heb 13:17).
Read more by downloading A Guide to Church Revitalization, released Monday, June 15, 2015.
A little over fifty years ago, Carl Bangs lamented that Jacob Arminius (1559/60–1609) had been consistently misunderstood and misrepresented by both friend and foe alike (Bangs, “Arminius and the Reformation,” Church History 30 : 155–56). Some thirty years later, Richard Muller identified Arminius as “one of the most neglected of the major Protestant theologians” (Muller, God, Creation and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius, ix). And as recently as 1999, Roger Olson described Arminius as “one of the most unfairly neglected and grossly misunderstood theologians in the story of Christian theology” (Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, 455). Apparently, Arminius has received a bad rap of some four centuries’ duration.
In the past ten years or so, however, the study of Arminius has been making a bit of a comeback. A number of substantial works on his life and thought have been published by people who have been largely in sympathy with his theology. One of the most helpful works in this regard has been W. Stephen Gunter’s book Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments (Baylor Univ. Press, 2012). Gunter’s work is particularly significant in that it provides the first English translation of Arminius’s Declaration of Sentiments made directly from the Dutch text. Arminius’s Declaration was originally produced in response to accusations that had been lodged against him and was delivered orally by Arminius before the States of Holland at The Hague on October 30, 1608. In this document, Arminius mentions a number of important theological topics, but the bulk of the work is spent discussing his understanding of predestination which was especially under attack at that time. Here’s one of his most significant statements about predestination in the Declaration:
This decree [to save or condemn certain persons] has its foundation in divine foreknowledge, through which God has known from all eternity those individuals who through the established means of his prevenient grace would come to faith and believe, and through his subsequent sustaining grace would persevere in the faith. Likewise, in divine foreknowledge, God knew those who would not believe and persevere (Gunter, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments, 135).
If one wants to correctly understand Arminius and avoid the charges made by Bangs, Olson, and others, reading Arminius himself is essential,* and Gunter’s work is a good place to begin. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the main contours of Arminius’s theological distinctives, he was a significant theologian whose heirs have been many, and for that reason, he is worth understanding.
*I say this not out of sympathy with Arminius’s major theological contributions (with which I largely disagree) but simply because it is true.
Dear William Lane Craig,
I am a philosophically unsympathetic fan of yours. I very much admire your philosophical learning, your rhetorical skills and your ingenuity in defense of your faith; at the same time, I reject both your faith itself and the apologetic project at the center of your work in philosophy. I'm sure this is a combination you're already familiar with.
What interests me at the moment is something in your recent podcast on Tim Maudlin and the fine tuning argument, and I hope you don't mind considering these short comments ...
In my early years of ministry I was involved in several church planting efforts. I had embraced the axiom, “It is easier to give birth than to raise the dead.” I still believe in church planting and am a passionate proponent of starting new churches. But if 80-85% of the churches in America are plateauing or declining, then we not only must focus on church planting but also on church revitalization. I have much to learn about church revitalization, but I have discovered a few truths over the years.
First, church revitalization is kingdom work. While church planting receives much focus today (and rightly so!), church revitalization is no less kingdom work than church planting. Christ loves His church. He loves all of His church; not just the healthy parts, but also the sick parts. Christ loves churches that need revitalization – and we should love what Christ loves.
Related: Earn your Master of Divinity degree in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry
Second, church revitalization begins with personal revitalization. We too easily can make excuses for ourselves and our churches, can’t we? We have too little parking, a bad location, poor signage, and an archaic sound system. We convince ourselves that if only we had what other churches have, we would be at the top of the growth curve!
Puritan pastor Richard Baxter, in his classic work on pastoral ministry, The Reformed Pastor, notes the God-given sequence in Acts 20:28: “take heed to yourself, AND THEN to the flock of God.” Church revitalization begins with personal revitalization. Where do we as church leaders need a fresh touch from God? Where do we need to repent and pursue God in a new way?
Third, church revitalization is hard work. It involves God’s inspiration but our perspiration. The adage is true, it is easier to give birth than to raise the dead. If church revitalization were easy, everyone would be doing it! If it were easy, 80-85 percent of our churches would not be plateauing or declining. Why is it hard work? In part, it is because we face the opposition of the world, the flesh and the devil. This poem highlights the reality we face in church life:
To dwell above with saints we love,
That will be grace and glory.
But to live below, with folks we know,
Now that’s a different story!
Revitalization is hard work, because church revitalization is really people revitalization. While outdated buildings might need a fresh coat of paint, redecorating is not revitalization.
Fourth, church revitalization demands persistence. It is a process, not an event. It takes time. Events can help facilitate the process, but they can’t circumvent the process. Revitalization is a process, not a program. There is not a “one size that fits all.” Lest we think that we are alone in our revitalization struggles, have you ever considered that out of the seven churches referenced in Revelation, four needed revitalization? Church revitalization demands persistence.
Fifth, church revitalization requires God’s blessing. It is a spiritual work! Revitalization is a supernatural work, and therefore needs supernatural power to make it happen. Only God brings revival and revitalization. The observation of G. Campbell Morgan applies, “We cannot cause the wind of the Spirit to blow, but we can set our sails to catch the wind when it does blow.” We need to employ the God-ordained means of prayer, preaching the Word, and sharing the gospel in our revitalization efforts.
Paul’s exhortation in I Corinthians 15:58 is a good reminder for those involved in church revitalization: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that your work is NOT in vain in the Lord.”