I confess I don’t keep up very well with the evangelical left and its culture-lapping delight in all things morally degenerate. So I’m rather late getting into the discussion of Perry Noble and his ignoble attempt to catch Mark Driscoll’s mantle before it reaches the ground. Way back in December of last year, Noble preached a sermon on the 10 Commandments (except that in his sermon they weren’t commandments, but promises), which he has since distilled into blog entry (you can safely go here; unlike his sermons, his blog is rated “G”).
In Noble’s recasting of the Decalogue we find that the 3rd command becomes “You can trust in a name that is above every name,” paving the way for profanity-laced rhetoric that is divinely sanctioned (actually God gave Noble’s sermon directly to him, so he really didn’t need corroboration, but I guess it helps). Other reinterpretations include the 1st command—“You do not have to live in constant disappointment anymore”; the 4th command—“You can rest”; the 5th command—“Your family does not have to fall apart”; the 6th command—“You do not have to live in a constant state of anger because you will be motivated by love and not hate”; the 8th command: “I will provide”; and so forth.
Noble’s words of assurance and delight relieve the itching ears of a great many fans parishioners each week (27,158 pairs of ears to be exact, with 2,946 freshly baptized sets in 2012 alone), vaulting his church to #1 among Southern Baptist Churches last year. And despite the concern of some of his fellow-SBC brethren, Noble doesn’t really need to offer a genuine mea culpa, because, as he informs us in the opening salvo of his January 9th “apology,” “I did this sermon on the Ten Commandments once and everyone loved it… :-)”
And therein lies the problem. Noble is preaching sermons that offer no tether to Scripture and Christian theology, but only a new 21st century version of “wise and persuasive words” that shock and delight his hearers (1 Cor 2:1ff). Such is the bane of Christianity today. And speaking of Christianity Today (the magazine) we find the final word going to those who approve of such garbage. Writing an op. ed. piece on the controversy, Mark Woods writes,
The mindset [of Noble’s critics] puts adherence to a theological purity and doctrinal correctness defined by a particular sub-tribe of evangelical Protestants before anything else. But here’s the thing: that’s not what I want from a sermon. I want someone with flair and imagination, someone who’ll take risks and go off-piste. I want someone who’ll speak without notes and enter into an emotional and dramatic relationship with the congregation. I don’t mind if they aren’t “right” about something. I have a Bible, I can read it myself. Because I don’t believe that preaching and Bible teaching are the same thing.
Indeed, you can have what you want. But if there is any Scripture that can rightly be turned to address this situation, I would suggest reading Matthew 18:9, replacing the word eye with ear.
I grew up with a semi-Calvinistic understanding of salvation. I knew that people were dead in sins and that dead people don’t do anything. But I did not understand much of how salvation actually worked.
When I first heard someone teach on the effectual call (also poorly described as irresistible grace) I balked at it. It didn’t seem to match up with my conception of salvation and my experience of life. When the gospel was preached, it seemed that the Spirit was working generally in people’s hearts, and they either responded to that work or rejected it. But that was all that was happening.
While in graduate school, I took a class on Romans. When studying through Romans 8—specifically verses 28–30—I became convinced that the effectual call was a biblical teaching.
After dealing primarily with justification in chapters 1–4 of Romans, Paul moves on to discuss the hope of the believer in chapters 5-8. He assures the believers in Rome that they no longer have to face God’s wrath. However, they will still face difficulty in this life. In the familiar teaching in 8:28, Paul assures them that God is working in all the tribulations that they face (and every other part of their life) for their good. He is working His purpose out in their lives.
But how can the Roman Christians know that God is working things out for their good? To assure them, Paul gives a list of five verbs showing the certainty of their salvation in verses 29–30. (NOTE: It is important to keep in mind that Paul is not providing a full teaching of soteriology here but is offering teaching to support his argument that God is working out His purpose in the lives of believers.)
The first verb in the chain is “foreknow.” This is probably the most controversial verb in the passage. The basic and most common meaning deals with prescience—knowledge of the future. If that is the meaning here, Paul would simply be stating that God knows people beforehand. Since it is obvious that God knows people beforehand (every person ever born), those who argue that the word only means prescience typically state that there is something specific about the believer that God knows. Often they supply an object such as “God knew who would repent” or “God knew who would believe.” God’s election then is based on His previous knowledge of who would choose Him. This understanding has some difficulties. The objects of God’s knowledge are the persons themselves, not something about them (i.e., not “what He did foreknow about the person” but “whom He did foreknow.”) This view also contradicts Pauline thinking. God’s choosing of believers is not based on their actions (their decision to repent and believe), but on God’s mercy and grace (e.g., Rom 9:11–16.)
Although the most common meaning of “foreknow” in Greek literature speaks of prescience, it is more often used in the New Testament to indicate a previous relationship or choice (Rom 11:2; 1 Pet 1:20; Acts 2:23; 1 Pet 1:2). This follows the Old Testament usage of “know,” which was more influential in Paul’s thinking than Greek usage. The term speaks of a special affection or selection (Ps 1:6; 144:3; Hos 13:5; Amos 3:2). Paul does not say that God foreknows everyone in this passage, but only believers. He obviously does know every person beforehand, but He only enters into a relationship and sets His love upon believers (cf. Matt 7:23).
The second verb of the chain is “predestined.” Paul places more emphasis on this verb than any of the others. He temporarily leaves the list of verbs to discuss predestination at more length. After God has set his affection on His people, He then determines their end. The end of believers is conformity to Christ’s image. Ultimately this is speaking of the final redemption, when the believer is given a new body like Christ’s. However, that does not preclude a reference to the present life. God is even now working in believers to make them more like His Son. He uses the trials that they face to help them grow in conformity to Christ.
Paul resumes his chain of verbs with “called” in verse 30. This is the point when God’s eternal choice becomes a historical reality. This call is not the universal call of the gospel offered to all men—the only kind of call I used to consider. Rather, it is an effectual call that guarantees salvation. Why? Because all of those called are also justified. Paul’s point in providing these verbs is to show that every individual believer goes all the way to glorification. If someone can be called but reject that call (and thus not be justified), Paul’s argument falls flat. Thus, there is a call from God that will certainly issue in justification. In other words, there is a call that is effective in bringing people to salvation. (That does not mean that man has no responsibility. Again, Paul is not giving a complete teaching on salvation. Rather he is showing the surety of God’s accomplishing His purpose.)
As was already mentioned, the ones “called” are next “justified.” Paul dealt with this topic at length earlier in the epistle. In salvation God declares the sinner to be just because of the righteousness of Christ. He now regards the believer as righteous.
In the final link of the chain, the believer is “glorified.” It is intriguing that Paul views this as already complete, although elsewhere it is clear that glorification is a future act. The certainty of this glorification is so great that Paul can state it as if it were already done. This fits well in his argument: if God’s purpose will surely be accomplished—including his purpose in calling—glorification is as good as done.
In our last post we appealed to John 17 to show that a properly ordered witness for Christ must avoid the two poles of (1) being both in the world and of the world, hoping the gospel will advance wordlessly through personal intimacy alone (Christ of culture) and (2) being neither in the world nor of the world, hoping the gospel will advance through remote belligerence alone (Christ against culture).
If the reader is familiar with H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, he will recognize two of Niebuhr’s five approaches, adapted here for my purposes. Niebuhr actually proposes three intermediate approaches, but I will select just one for further consideration: Christ and culture in paradox. (Note: I am using these categories somewhat differently than Niebuhr does, but I think they are helpful enough to be repurposed.)
In the paradox model, the Christian lives in two realms—as a citizen of the present, earthly/civic realm, and as a prospective citizen of heaven. In both these realms, Christ rules the believer’s activities, but in very different ways. In the earthly/civic realm, Christ rules indirectly through the dominion mandate by which everyman may, by submitting to God’s sovereign lordship over Creation, effectively rule over all that God has made as his vice-regents on earth. We do so by cultivating common/moral virtue, the sciences (Gen 1:28–31), and civic structures (Gen 9:6); by stewarding divinely granted “property” (whether material/physical, intellectual/ideological, ethical, etc.); and by obeying the second great commandment of loving neighbor as self (Matt 22:39). Specifically, this takes the form of being the very best possible citizens, workers, spouses, parents, students, and neighbors in the natural realm and under divinely imposed natural law. This is the duty of every person, and we should encourage/expect every person around us (regenerate and unregenerate alike), being fellow-image-bearers, to aspire to these selfsame goals. This is the duty of all image-bearers.
The believer’s goal in living this way is not only or even primarily to woo people into the second or heavenly/ecclesiastical realm (where Christ rules through shepherds in covenanted communities bound by the regulating principles of a comprehensive and inspired canon). Both Paul and Peter, however, suggest that by living in this way, even “without words,” we will routinely encounter opportunities for the Gospel (Titus 2:1–10; 1 Pet 3:1; etc.)—and we should be ever looking for these. By setting Christ apart as Lord we will invariably stimulate people to ask us the reason for the hope that lies within (1 Pet 3:15). And the Christian Gospel is our answer, delivered from the standpoint of a clear conscience and in a context of mutual respect earned by “good behavior” (v. 16).
So if a believer should find himself working, say, in a public school setting, the approach would not be unregulated Gospel declaration (which will get one fired) or withdrawal to engage in remote denunciations of that “wicked and irremediable public school system” (the Christ against culture approach). Nor should the believer simply seek to “blend in” with the sterile, non-theistic worldview that usually prevails in this setting—and, frankly, in almost every civic setting (the Christ of culture approach). Instead, the believer should view himself as an agent of common grace, moral virtue, and neighborliness, humbly and proactively being the best citizen, steward, worker, and ethical mentor that he possibly can be with God as his witness. The believer need not continually announce his faith, but neither will he be able to conceal it; indeed, in very short order, he will be asked to offer a reason for why he is the way that he is. And the Gospel will have its day.
As circumstances allow, this approach can also countenance a more assertive face—after all, if unbelievers can ask believers reasons for the hope that lies within, the believer can freely inquire about the reasons for the unbeliever’s hopelessness too! And by doing this, we can gently push open doors to the hopeful introduction of the Christian Gospel.
In either case, though, a paradox/antithesis will emerge. It must emerge. Believers and unbelievers all live in the very same world, but they have radically different worldviews that cannot long remain a secret. And it is the Christian’s role to deliberately enter this common world determined not to “become like the fool” (Prov 26:4), but instead to invite and answer the fool’s inquiries (Prov 26:5) with gentleness and respect (1 Pet 3:15) so as to introduce them to God.
I work in an almost exclusively Christian environment. With the exception of a few brief encounters with folks delivering packages, reading the gas meter, and such, my whole workday is spent with believers. I’m not the best person, I admit, to speak of sharing Christ in the workplace. Recent changes in my family’s situations, however, have left me thinking very hard about the topic, and I feel enormous pressure to offer them timely advice before their fresh opportunities deteriorate (as they so often do) into situations where opportunities for the Gospel have been effectively crushed.
In my experience, there are two major poles to avoid when answering this question. The first I’ll call the Christian Conquest approach. In this approach everyone around me is the enemy of Christ, and my sole purpose is do battle with them until they submit to Christ. To this end, I wear my Christianity on my sleeve: I post Bible verses all over my cubicle wall, hand out tracts liberally, tell everyone around me and especially under me that they must be born again, and start evangelistic conversations in any place and at any time. If a friendly group of co-workers asks me to come to the office party and share a few beers, I say, “No way! I don’t drink and unless I absolutely have to, I avoid anybody who drinks because I’m a CHRISTIAN! Don’t ask me to hang out with you until you repent and join me at church.”
There’s a tiny part of me that admires a person like this, because he is willing to endure ridicule and social ostracism in order to make Christ known. And at the end of the day, so long as the Gospel is proclaimed, God sometimes uses this approach to save people. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best approach. Here’s why:
- It’s unethical. If you’re being paid to make widgets and you decide to stop making widgets in order to share the gospel on company time, you are stealing from your employer, and that’s wrong. Just because the success of the Gospel is the Church’s highest mission does not mean that evangelism automatically trumps all of the believer’s other responsibilities (Titus 2:9).
- It’s ineffective. Of course, just because something is ineffective does not make it wrong, but some things are ineffective because they are demonstrably wrong. And being a bad worker, and obnoxious person, or a hater crushes legitimate opportunities for the gospel (see, e.g., Matt 5:16; Titus 2:1–10; 1 Pet 3:1, 13–17). If your whole office regards you as snobbish and obnoxious, you are not being a good witness, no matter how many Bible verses are pasted on your wall (electronic wall or cubicle wall, it makes no difference).
- It’s contrary to the essence of the Gospel. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God,” of course (1 John 2:15–17), and this must be remembered, but somehow that truth must be harmonized with the requirement to be the “friend of sinners” and even to “eat with them” (Matt 9:10ff; 11:19; etc.). Whatever our relationship to unbelievers is to be, it most emphatically is not hostility! We hate their corrupt garb, yes, but all the while we must show mercy (Jude 23).
- It’s sometimes even illegal. If you are being paid to do civic services or provide civic instruction in the civic arena, and you decide to offer religious services/instruction instead, you just might be fired. And if you do, it won’t be because you’re suffering for Jesus; it will be because you didn’t do your job. More on this in my next post.
- This goes to a deeper philosophical issue: this approach doesn’t have a good handle on what it means to live in God’s two “kingdoms.” Some things we do in life as members of human society, as image-bearers living out the dominion mandate; other things we do as members of local Christian societies, as ambassadors living out the Great Commission. And while these spheres don’t conflict, neither can we conflate them.
The second pole I’ll call the Christian Synthesis approach. Everyone around me is a victim of sin, and my goal is to relate with them until I start to rub off on them. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share Christ, but that’s pretty awkward and off-putting, so I’ll be slow and subtle about it—so slow and so subtle that somehow it never happens. If a friendly group of co-workers asks me to come to the office party and share a few beers, I’ll go, but avoid getting tipsy by using some sort of lame medical excuse (or maybe I’ll blame the overbearing wife—that will get a good laugh and make me look relevant). If the topic of religion happens to come up, I’ll take them to an event at a relational, relevant church and hope the preacher gives a friendly, low-key Gospel message so I don’t have to do it. Realistically, though, it’s quite possible that religion will never come up in conversation—I might age out without anybody even knowing that I’m a Christian. Oh well, I tried.
The strength of this approach is that it takes seriously the expectations that Christians be the “friend of sinners” and even to “eat with them.” But there’s no antithesis—nothing at all that “sets Christ apart as Lord” or compels unbelievers to “ask the reason for the hope that I have” (1 Pet 3:15). It exemplifies Carson’s complaint that “to the degree that…Christianity has assimilated itself to the dominant ethos, reasons for anyone joining it are harder to come by” (Christ & Culture Revisited, 118) and suggests to thoughtful minds that there is no difference at all between unbelievers and believers save that believers are sinners saved by grace—an oft-repeated but savage lie. Instead it is a kind of “relational evangelism” that has never progresses past the “relationship.” And without a propositional Gospel, no matter how relational, it isn’t evangelism.
It seems to me that all believers are drawn to one of these two poles, and while my descriptions may be extreme, we all trend one way or the other. Some of us see the Christian’s role as standing against world. Some of us see the Christian’s role as being a part of the world. The truth is somewhere in between: Christ wants us—in fact he prays for us—to be in the world but not of it (John 17:15–16), a very delicate balance that can sometimes prove elusive. We’ll look at what this might look like in part 2 of this post.
The DBTS 2015 summer school schedule is now available. Each class meets Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon for two weeks (no classes on Monday). There are three sessions of summer school: May 19-29, June 2-12, and June 16-26. Here are the classes:
- May 19–29 — Haggai & Malachi: English Bible
- June 2–12 — Evangelical Theology
- June 16–26 — 2 Thessalonians: Greek Exegesis
For additional information please contact the seminary at (800) 866-0111 or email@example.com.
Valentine’s Day is this weekend (in case you have not been out of your house in weeks and missed all of the promotional reminders to show your love by spending money).
In honor of this one day of love each year, I’d like to consider what love really is. A variety of different movies, television shows, novels, and songs discuss the question of true love (a.k.a. twue wuv). We are told that true love is powerful, it overcomes obstacles, it must never be thwarted, and a whole host of other platitudes. But what makes love true love? What is the essence of love?
The apostle John discusses love extensively, especially in his first epistle. 1 John 4:10 is particularly helpful at understanding the essence of love, because here John tells us “in this is love.” Thus, John is helping us to know what is at the heart of love.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:1).
This verse highlights at least four characteristics of true love.
True love is supernatural. John begins, as he often does, by offering a negative example to explain his point. True love is not defined by our love for God. Our love for God may be genuine, but it is also natural. God is the most lovely being, so the failure to love God is strange–the only reason we would not love God is if our desires are out of order due to sin.
True love is not understood by our love for God but by God’s love for us. The problem is that we tend to think we are likeable people. Why wouldn’t God love us? But that’s because we forget who God is and what we are. God is infinitely holy, while we are wicked sinners. While God is lovely, we are rebellious enemies of God. God showed his kindness in creating us and giving us life, and we responded by spitting in his face and openly violating His good will. That’s what makes true love so amazing–God loved people as unlovely as us!
This kind of love—the kind of love that isn’t only offered to those who love us or attract us—does not happen on its own. That’s why John can say that the one who truly loves has been born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7). True love is shown in the church when people who would normally have nothing to do with each other love each other.
True love is active. God did not simply feel love in His heart or express it in words. He demonstrated it in action. He sent His Son. He proved His love for us by moving toward us.
We place a lot of emphasis on expressing love through our words. The one who loves deepest is able to express that love through lofty rhetoric (e.g., the speech at the end of a Rom-Com where a person confesses his/her undying love). We can’t get enough of creative proposals and wedding ceremonies. But true love is not found in a card, speech, or show. It’s found in the day-to-day, mundane choices and actions of the loving person.
True love is sacrificial. The way John states God’s action it almost seems simple—God sent His Son. But John’s readers would have understood how significant that action actually was. Jesus, the most glorious being who possessed this glory from all eternity humbled Himself by becoming human. But as great as His sacrifice of becoming human was, He went even further and sacrificed His very life for us. There is no greater love than giving your life—and God did this for His enemies!
We want to think of ourselves as loving people, but as soon as a relationship becomes inconvenient we are not sure we want to stay in it. We love often because of what the person gives us. At most we want an equal exchange, where we get as much as we give. But true love is willing to lose in the exchange. It gives without expecting to receive.
True love is redemptive. Jesus sacrifice was a propitiation for our sins. It satisfied God’s wrath against us as sinners by paying the penalty we deserved. God’s love did not lead Him to simply affirm us as who we were—sinners. It led him to work for our transformation from sinners to saints.
This may be the area where our culture is most confused about love. We think true love means never judging. But true love doesn’t only accept people as they are. True love cares for people where they are while also wanting to see them become better than what they currently are. And the greatest way to love is to urge people to find redemption in Jesus Christ.
A few months ago Bill Combs and I released a pair of blog posts that raised ire among some of our readers relative to the debate concerning divine sovereignty and human freedom. One of the barriers to fruitful dialogue that emerged in the ensuing discussion was one of definition—a failure to define historical positions in ways mutually acceptable to all participants in the debate. This failure has the potential to lead first to equivocation, then misrepresentation, followed by ad hominem attack, and even charges of heresy. This is unfortunate.
The following is a faithful attempt not (1) to debate the question or (2) to attach labels to people who don’t like to be labeled. Rather, it is an attempt to faithfully describe six key positions using historical descriptions (though not necessarily labels) that proponents of each position (whether historical or modern) can embrace:
- A Pelagian is one who believes that man needs no assistance to come to God. By his own unaided power any man can avoid the pitfalls that ensnared Adam and generate all the faith and action necessary to follow Christ’s superior example and so be accepted by God. This belief was condemned as heresy at the 15th Council of Carthage in A.D. 418. This position is rare among evangelicals, and the label should not be assigned lightly.
- A Semi-Pelagian is one who believes that every man, though weakened by the Fall, yet retains the ability, based on the power of choice granted him in the imago dei, to make a divinely unaided and a priori contribution of faith leading to his own justification. Any divine grace offered thereafter is truly grace, but grace of an a posteriori nature. This belief was condemned as heresy at the Second Council of Orange in A.D. 529.
NOTE: The term semi-Pelagian is unknown in antiquity, first appearing formally as a pejorative label for the 16th-century teachings of Luis de Molina, or what is sometimes known as Molinism—teachings that generally (though not perfectly) resemble the ancient position condemned at Orange. Some have suggested that the label Massilianism (a term that reflects the geographic center of the more ancient position) is more accurate, but it has not caught on. The result is a real historical position with definite modern representatives, but one with no label other than a pejorative that modern proponents of the position do not accept. This is a conundrum with no clear resolution; still, any suggestion that the historical position is imaginary because of the absence of a mutually agreeable label is unacceptable. The historical position described above does exist today, irrespective of the elusiveness of a label. The term should not be used, however (as it often is), in a historically inaccurate way to discredit those who hold to the Arminian position.
- An Arminian is one who believes that man, though rendered totally depraved by the Fall, receives from God the non-efficacious power of alternative choice via prevenient grace either (1) at birth or (2) through the hearing of the Gospel. Thus aided by God, any man may, without compulsion, either reject or embrace Christ. If a man chooses to embrace Christ, this faith event triggers additional divine graces (the anachronistic grace of election based on God’s prior knowledge of the faith event, and the subsequent graces of justification and sanctification).
NOTE: Arminianism has never uniformly taught that the believer may lose his salvation. Instead, the question remains an open one, both historically (see the words of Arminius himself and the Five Articles of the Remonstrance) and also today (see the doctrinal standards of the modern-day Society for Evangelical Arminians and the representative words of Roger Olson, arguably the foremost Arminian of our day). All this goes to suggest that the question of eternal security should not be treated as a defining issue for the position here described. To do so without qualification is to introduce a red herring.
- A Moderate Calvinist is one who believes that all men are rendered totally depraved by the Fall, but that God, in accordance with his pre-temporal and unconditional electing decree, issues efficacious grace to his elect alone so that they may then exercise faith unto a regeneration and justification that can never be forfeited.
- A Full or Historic Calvinist is one who believes that all men are rendered totally depraved by the Fall, but that God, in accordance with his pre-temporal and unconditional electing decree, efficaciously regenerates his elect, creating “new creatures” who gladly exercise faith unto a justification that can never be forfeited.
NOTE: Calvinism has never uniformly taught a definite or “limited” atonement. The question remains an open one that has long been the topic of intramural debate among Calvinists (see, e.g., the historical canons of Dordt and this recent contribution to the debate). Again, all this goes to suggest that the extent of the atonement should not be treated as a defining issue in describing the Calvinist position.
- A Hyper-Calvinist is one that holds to the immediately preceding position, but teaches additionally that (1) believers have no responsibility to indiscriminately call the lost to repent and believe in Christ for salvation and/or that (2) unbelievers have no duty to repent and believe in Christ for salvation.
NOTE: Few believers ascribe to the label hyper-Calvinist; like the label semi-Pelagian, it is uniformly pejorative. However, it is a historical position with modern proponents: the position cannot be rendered imaginary due to the elusiveness of a label. The term should not be used, however (as it often is), in a historically inaccurate way to discredit those who hold to the Calvinist position.
Conclusion: The question whether a modern position may be logically crafted so as to present a viable via media or whether elements of these historical positions may be so combined as to offer a viable hybrid position will be graciously left open today. What is hoped, however, is that the historical parameters of the debate have been faithfully delineated.
“Almighty God, our heavenly Father, seeing that since antiquity it has always pleased you to extend your grace toward your people, as perverse and rebellious as they were; and that you have never ceased to exhort them to repentance, but have always taken them by your hand through your prophets; grant us also your grace today, that your same Word may resound in our ears; and, if at first we should not profit from your holy teaching as we ought; nonetheless, do not reject us; but by your Spirit subdue and so reign over our minds and affections, that being truly humbled and brought low, we give you the glory that your majesty is due; so that being clothed by your love and fatherly favor, we may submit ourselves totally to you, while at the same time embracing that goodness which you have provided and offered us in our Lord Jesus; that we might never doubt again that you alone are our Father, until that day that we rejoice in your heavenly promise, which has been acquired for us by the blood of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen” (John Calvin, Sermons on the Book of Micah, 48).
The 2015 William R. Rice Lectures are scheduled for March 18, 2015. The lectures will begin at 8:30 a.m. and conclude at noon, followed by a complimentary lunch. This year’s lecturer is Dr. Deepak Reju and the topic is “On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church.” This is a timely and important subject that will strengthen our churches and better equip us to shepherd wisely and effectively. Dr. Reju has written a very helpful book by the same title, and we are pleased to offer a free copy of it to those who serve in pastoral ministry and register by March 1, 2015.
Raised in New Jersey, Deepak Reju serves as an associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. His pastoral responsibilities include oversight of the biblical counseling and family ministries at CHBC. A George Washington University graduate, he also holds the M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Deepak and his wife, Sarah, have five children, Zachariah, Lydia, Eden, Noelle, and Abraham.
Please make plans to join us on March 18 for an encouraging, edifying morning of learning and fellowship. Please register here for the lectures by March 10.”
If you notice the header of this blog, you will see a tab marked “Journal,” which if selected will take you to the web page for our seminary journal. Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal began in 1996 and is published annually in the fall of the year. At the web page you will find the table of contents for all the back issues as well as free pdfs for all articles prior to 2011.
Here are links to a few of the articles from 1998–2000 that you may find of interest:
When Justin Taylor released a blog entry last Wednesday defending a non-literal use of days in Genesis 1, and thus suggesting at least the possibility that the universe is quite ancient, both Ben Edwards and I sat down, without consulting, to write responses. While identical in ideology, our approaches were different enough, I think to merit posting both. Below, then, is a point-by-point answer to Taylor’s major arguments followed by my own counterargument in favor of 24-hour days.
Taylor’s article begins with five alleged premises/presuppositions (appearing below in bold font style) of young-earth creationists (YECs). These I will address briefly:
- Genesis 1:1 is not the actual act of creation but rather a summary of or title over Genesis 1:2–2:3. Mostly False. While some YECs see Genesis 1:1 as a summary for the whole chapter, most do not. Instead, we see Genesis 1:1 as a description of the very first “actual event of creation,” ex nihilo, of the original raw materials of the universe. This event happened, we argue on Day 1, with vv. 3ff functioning as a detail of God’s manipulation of those materials. Indeed, a quick summary of YEC materials will divulge that the summary/titular view of Genesis 1:1–2 is held in contempt by a great many YECs because of its association with the old Gap Theory.
- The creation week of Genesis 1:2–2:3 is referring to the act of creation itself. True. But it seems to me that the burden of proof here rests with those who say that the creation week of Genesis 1:2–2:3 is not “referring to the act of creation itself.”
- Each “day” (Heb. yom) of the creation week is referring to a 24-hour period of time (reinforced by the statement in Exodus 20:11). True, and see below for a defense of this claim. Each of the ten uses of yom in Genesis 1 (though not each use of yom in the OT) fits the qualifications detailed below for a literal day.
- An old-earth geology would necessarily entail macroevolution, hominids, and animal death before the Fall—each of which contradicts what Scripture tells us. Mostly true. In theory one could hold to geological evolution without biological or human evolution, but this is rare. The critical concerns for the YEC are (1) that any old-earth geology model that uses evolutionary explanations of the fossil record contained in the geological strata to suggest animal death before the fall contradicts what Scripture tells us (Gen 1:31; Rom 8:18–22); and (2) that any suggestion of hominid death before the fall is not merely troubling, but catastrophic to the Christian faith (Rom 5).
- The approximate age of the earth can be reconstructed backward from the genealogical time-markers in Genesis. True. And I appreciate the qualifier “approximate,” because it is very important to a lot of us.
The article then turns to Taylor’s five reasons (again in bold) why the days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily literal. I will now address these in order.
- Genesis 1:1 Describes the Actual Act of Creation Out of Nothing and Is Not a Title or a Summary.
Agreed. As a YEC, I like this statement very much. But I would add an important qualification: Genesis 1:1 tells us that this actual act of creation occurred in the opening moments of Day 1 of the creation week and out of nothing. Verse two (commencing with an explanatory waw) then details the original appearance of those materials, and the rest of the chapter (with nearly every verse introduced by a waw consecutive, the standard marker of narrative sequence) detailing the divine manipulation of those raw materials into the universe as we know it.
Which brings me then to several objections to Taylor’s fuller explanation:
(1) That the verb “created” in Genesis 1:1 is in the perfect tense is very true. That “when a perfect verb is used at the beginning of a unit in Hebrew narrative, it usually functions to describe an event that precedes the main storyline” is less defensible. The perfect tense is by far the most common tense used in Hebrew and as such carries very little exegetical freight (think the aorist in Greek). Having said this, the likeliest explanation of the verb is that it details an event that is actually part of the biblical story line, not an undefined precedent to the storyline that stands temporally outside of it. See below.
(2) I also disagree that Genesis 1:3–2:3 represents a “highly patterned structure of forming and filling” (informed readers will recognize here the language of the highly inventive “framework theory” popular today). Instead, this chapter is, in terms of its linguistic features, a very mundane and simply structured piece of Hebrew narrative not unlike most of the rest of the book. All the syntactical and rhetorical features of this chapter point routinely to a narrative sequence of consecutive days—days that must necessarily occur in immediate succession for the very survival of the unfolding universe.
- The Earth, Darkness, and Water Are Created Before “The First Day.”
Building on his assumption, above, that Genesis 1:1–2 details the background to the creative week, Taylor’s article now clearly asserts that light, darkness, earth, and water existed before the creation week (and apparently a long time before, in order to accommodate the assured results of science). However, if, as I have argued in point (1), Genesis 1:1–2 details the actual creation of the unformed and unfilled materials that occurred on Day 1, this argument fails.
Who is right? Well, Exodus 20:11 gives us a very clear answer: “In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” There could be no plainer rebuttal of Taylor’s affirmation: the heavens and the earth and the seas were not created “before the first day,” but rather on one of those six days, viz., the first.
Taylor’s arguments that (1) light existed before the celestial beings and (2) reached earth immediately are thorny ones for which YECs do not have a unified answer, but few see these as serious problems. In answer to the first problem some YECs argue a temporary light source or light sourced in God himself. Ultimately the debate is incidental. After all, God hears without ears and sees without eyes, so it is not hard for us to extrapolate light without a sun. In answer to the second problem some suggest that God created with apparent age and others that the speed of light has slowed since the creation week. Again, however, this is an intramural and incidental debate. God is a supernatural God who makes bread appear instantly without growing the grain, milling it, or baking it; likewise, making mature light is not difficult for our supernatural and omnipotent God.
- The Seventh Day Is Not 24 Hours Long
Sure it is. Miles Van Pelt’s comments aside, it would appear that the argument from Exodus 20:11 is unassailable. The Israelites were to work six ordinary days and rest for one ordinary day, just as God created in six ordinary days and rested for one ordinary day—one that started at evening Friday and ended the same time on the following day. That the original Sabbath, by analogy, points to a greater rest for the people of God (Heb 10, etc.) in no way suggests that the Sabbath template itself was itself a “greater day.” Admittedly, there is no “evening-morning” clause used of the seventh day in Genesis 2, but there is no syntactical reason forthcoming to believe that it was anything other than an ordinary day.
- The “Day” of Genesis 2:4 Cannot Be 24 Hours Long.
True. And you’ll not find a YEC who affirms otherwise. Some will be astonished by this, no doubt, but we young-earth creations really have noticed Genesis 2:4 before today, and our answer is long-standing and well developed—if only our detractors cared to read rather than assume our arguments. The YEC argument is not an unqualified affirmation that the word yom always refers to a 24-hour day. If one of us were to make such an argument, then our old-earth brothers would have good reason to snicker. But we don’t say this. And so I beg the old-earth community to have the integrity to stop rehearsing this silly strawman as though it were a legitimate argument.
The qualified argument that YECs use is instead this: The Hebrew word yom, when cast in the singular and as a non-compound grammatical structure (as it does hundreds of times in the Hebrew OT), has uniform reference to a 24-hour day.
We fully appreciate the fact that the semantic range of yom exceeds literal 24-hour days, and that Genesis 2:4 offers syntactical features that point to a broader use of yom. This in no way threatens the young-earth argument.
- The Explanation of Genesis 2:5–7 More Than an Ordinary Calendar Day
Genesis 2:5–7 is a difficult passage with many options for interpretation, as all versed in the discussion will admit. However, the unabated series of waw consecutives in a Toledot genre seems to cast some doubt on Futado’s understanding of this pericope as a “topical” reenactment of Genesis 1. Instead, a very good case can (and has) been made that these verses offer a narrative detailing the establishment specifically of the Garden of Eden, and not of the earth generally (see McCabe).
This brings me, finally, to five positive arguments why we ought to think of the days of Genesis 1 as literal, several of them distilled from the material above:
- The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because when one examines the many other singular uses of yom in a non-compound grammatical structure throughout the OT, the idea of a literal day is nearly universal.
- The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because they are accompanied by ordinals (first, second, third, etc.). Of the more than 150 uses of yom with an ordinal in the rest of the Hebrew OT, just one (Hos 6:2) refers to something other than a literal day.
- The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because of the use of the qualifier “evening and morning” throughout Genesis 1. It seems to go without saying that while literal days have mornings and evenings, figurative days do not.
- The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because anything other than literal days renders the comparison with Exodus 20:11 a matter of equivocation. Israel worked six literal days and rested for one literal day. God created for six literal days and rested for one literal day. The idea of God creating via a six-point framework and then resting eternally does not seen to offer much of a precedent for Israel’s seven-day workweek.
- Finally, and more historical/theological than exegetical in nature, the days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because this has been the overwhelmingly majority plain reading of the text throughout church history—at least until it came into conflict with the “assured results of modern science.” The old-earth idea of non-literal days is without serious doubt a product not of grammatical-historical exegesis but of the accommodation of the Bible to the assured results of modern science as independent, norming factors in biblical interpretation. Old-earth creationism is at its heart a blunt denial, I would argue, of the Bible as the norma Normans non normata.
Of course, we must deal with one last objection. There are noble figures in church history that expressed doubt about the literal nature of the Genesis 1 days (though, interestingly, Taylor cited just one who lived prior to the modern period). Augustine is Taylor’s lone exception, and while others might admittedly be cited, Augustine remains a favorite go-to source for old-earth creationists. I’d like to challenge this, not because I doubt the old-earth account of what Augustine believed, but because his argument is fueled neither by exegesis nor modernist principles, but by theology. Specifically, he doubted that that an infinite God would ever need to work for six days to accomplish anything (much less rest), and suggested that these were instances of anthropomorphic condescension: God created his universe instantaneously, but cast the event in the anthropomorphic language of the passage of time for the understanding of finite humans. IOW, while Augustine and Machen both doubted that the days Genesis 1 were to be understood as literal, the basis of their respective arguments is worlds apart, diminishing their value as parallel sources.
I’ve noted before the challenge of determining the importance of doctrines. One issue often debated by current Christians is the significance of young earth creationism (YEC). Under the impression that advocates of YEC place too much weight on the issue, many evangelicals push back by minimizing the issue. A recent example comes from Justin Taylor (one of the better and more prolific Christian bloggers today). Using his post as a basis for discussion, I’d like to address four underlying arguments in Taylor’s post that relate to doctrinal significance.
Direct Statement of Scripture or Deduction
Taylor begins his post by arguing that “the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth,” contrary to what YEC proponents supposedly imply or claim. Instead, YEC “is a deduction from a combination of beliefs.” Taylor then offers 5 beliefs that supposedly are used to build the case for YEC. Without fully addressing the accuracy of his five points (e.g., the first is not held by many YEC adherents), I’d like to focus on Taylor’s purpose for mentioning this: “These five points may all be true, but I think it’s helpful to understand that the question ‘how old is the earth?’ is not something directly answered in Scripture but rather deduced from these and other points.” In other words, people should not hold too dogmatically to YEC since it is not a direct statement of Scripture but a matter of deduction.
At first we might be inclined to agree to this argument. After all, our logical deductions may be incorrect, whereas the direct statements of Scripture are never incorrect! But upon further reflection we can see the flaw in this argument. Many doctrines that we hold dogmatically are not directly stated in Scripture but are deductions from a combination of ideas. For example, John Frame points out the doctrine of the Trinity is the combination of these assertions: “(1) God is one. (2) God is three. (3) The three persons are each fully God. (4) Each of the persons is distinct from the others. (5) The three are related to one another eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (Systematic Theology, Kindle location 11773). The hypostatic union (relationship of Christ’s two natures), sola scriptura, and other key doctrines are also the result of biblical deduction rather than direct statement, including another doctrine Taylor mentions several times in his post—the doctrine of inerrancy (e.g., the whole Bible is inspired/breathed-out by God, and God cannot speak falsely or make an error, therefore the whole Bible is without error). This does not mean that YEC is on the same level as the doctrines of Trinity or the person of Jesus Christ, but it does mean it’s not automatically excluded from that level of significance because it lacks a direct statement from Scripture. (If it were a series of deductions drawn from other deductions things would be different).
Taylor goes on to offer another “surprising” bit of information: “some of the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation [literal days].” Ironically, after arguing against the idea that the idea of 6 literal days did not lose favor until after Darwin, Taylor supports his point by quoting from 4 of 5 theologians who came after Darwin (5 of 6, if you include his reference to Warfield who, despite what Taylor seems to believe, came after Darwin). Why mention what other Christians have believed? One reason is that the importance of a doctrine is connected to its historical position among Christians. If the church has historically recognized something as true and important we should be extremely careful with modifying or denying it, while if the church has historically been divided on an issue we should be careful about being overly dogmatic about it. Thus, Taylor’s argument is that the fact of biblical Christians denying or downplaying YEC shows it should not be overemphasized.
Yet two matters are worth noting. The first is that YEC is favored by history, especially among those who seek a literal understanding of the Bible. Apart from earlier Christians (and Jewish rabbis) who favored allegorical interpretations of the Bible, six-day creation and a young earth was the dominant position among early Christians and especially among the reformers until the 19th century. So the importance of YEC is actually strengthened by a proper understanding of its historical position.
Second, the matter of whether or not a Bible-believing Christian held a certain position may include the fallacy of begging the question—i.e., it assumes the doctrine is not important, so that a denial of the doctrine does not raise the question as to whether or not someone is a Bible-believing Christian. For example, opponents of YEC often cite Origen as not holding to YEC as evidence that Christians have differed on this matter. Yet Origen also denied orthodox positions on other matters, including denying the biblical doctrine of hell. Was Rob Bell right to point to Origen’s denial of hell to argue that his denial of hell was within the bounds of historic Christianity? Is Peter Enns a “stalwart of the faith” even though he denies inerrancy, making inerrancy not that significant? The fact that someone in history who claimed to be a Christian and was right on some areas of doctrine held a position does not in itself mean the position does not affect orthodoxy. (NOTE: I’m not trying to equate Machen, Henry, or the others Taylor mentioned with Origen and Enns. I’m simply pointing out the tension this line of argumentation raises.)
Another reason Taylor mentions that “the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation [literal days]” is because he wants to emphasize that their failure to embrace a literal 6-day interpretation did not lead them to heresy. “In some segments of the church, I fear that we’ve built an exegetical ‘fence around the Torah,’ fearful that if we question any aspect of young-earth dogmatics we have opened the gate to liberalism. The defenders of inerrancy above show that this is not the case.” Taylor highlights this fact because one way of determining the significance of a doctrine is to determine what impact its denial has on other key doctrines. As I’ve pointed out before, denying the bodily resurrection of believers effectively denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, which demonstrates the significance of the bodily resurrection of believers. If one can deny YEC without undermining inerrancy then perhaps YEC is not that significant.
Again, however, the matter is more complex than Taylor implies. We don’t always recognize the implications of our beliefs, which leads us to be inconsistent in the positions we hold. It is possible for someone to deny A and hold to B, even if denying A logically denies B (e.g., the above example where the Corinthians denied the bodily resurrection while affirming Christ’s bodily resurrection). So those who deny YEC and affirm inerrancy may actually be inconsistent—perhaps they don’t see how their denial of YEC undermines inerrancy.
I’m not (right now) arguing that denying YEC undermines inerrancy (see Mohler address that concern here), nor am I questioning the allegiance to inerrancy of the men Taylor mentions (as a general rule, it’s best not to condemn people for the implications of their position if they explicitly deny those implications). I’m simply pointing out that the fact that someone holds to inerrancy while not affirming YEC does not in itself demonstrate that YEC is therefore not significant (anymore than the fact that someone holds to inerrancy while not affirming complementarianism means it is not significant).
Opposing “Biblical Reasons”
The bulk of Taylor’s post offers 5 “biblical reasons to doubt young-earth exegesis.” I won’t address the arguments themselves (the first, as I already briefly noted, is irrelevant, and the rest more or less follow the framework theory ably critiqued by McCabe here and here). Rather I want to consider the underlying argument: because there are biblical reasons to doubt this position, we should not be too dogmatic about it. This raises the question of clarity in considering doctrinal significance. Whenever we are deliberating about doctrinal matters, we must keep ourselves rooted in the text, as Taylor notes: “[our] passion for sola Scriptura provides us with the humility and willingness to go back to the text again to see if these things are so.” That means we have to evaluate appeals to the Bible that are offered in opposition to our position.
But the presence of opposing “biblical” arguments does not necessitate doctrinal indifference. Most heresies have some sort of “biblical” argument supporting them—including appeals to Matt 16:18 to support the papacy or to John 10:16 to support the Book of Mormon. In other words, not every biblical argument is sound.
For example, I remember a discussion I had with some folks about a prominent evangelical theologian (who affirmed inerrancy) who defended his support of a speaker who denied inerrancy by appealing to the speaker’s interpretation of 2 Tim 3:16 as meaning “every Scripture that is inspired by God is also profitable”—a possible exegesis of the passage. Since the speaker came to his position in light of his exegesis we should not fault him. In the discussion of how to respond to this argument, one of the better responses given was this: the speaker may claim that is what 2 Tim 3:16 means, but he is wrong. The proper exegesis of the passage recognizes that Paul is claiming that all Scripture is inspired by God, so the speaker should be held to account for his flawed understanding of Scripture. We should not minimize inerrancy because of other people’s wrong exegesis.
I’m not saying that Taylor’s arguments are as bad as the ones I used for examples, but if his arguments are not as exegetically and theologically sound as those for YEC (as I think McCabe’s articles above demonstrate) then they should not lead Christians to be less dogmatic about their position.
To summarize: when considering doctrinal significance, we should take into account the four issues Taylor raises. While none of them are sufficient in themselves to determine how important a doctrine is, in combination they can help us work towards an answer. As you’ve probably picked up through my discussion, after considering YEC in light of these four areas, I feel no impetus to doubt the creation days were 24 hour periods. Though there is no direct statement of Scripture, there are direct logical/theological deductions from Scripture that support it. It was the historic position of believers, especially of those more committed to a normal (as opposed to allegorical) hermeneutic. There are some significant implications for denying YEC, and it matches with the best exegesis of the relevant passages. So, while I don’t think denying YEC means a person is not a believer (and, despite accusations to the contrary, I am not aware of any serious YEC proponent who does), I do think it is a significant doctrine that merits bold and firm affirmation and propagation.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the myth of unchurched Christians. Unfortunately the reality is that there are a good number of professing Christians who either shy away from church membership or avoid church attendance altogether. The problem of professing Christians who neglect church involvement is sadly not a myth.
There are a number of excuses that such professing believers give for their lack of church involvement. Here are three that I’ve heard:
- “I’ve been hurt by a previous church (or church leader).”
Sadly, this reason is often grounded in reality. Many people have been emotionally torn up by the actions of other people. Churches are full of sinners—hopefully, redeemed sinners, but sinners nonetheless. It should come as no surprise that sinners sin, and although all sin is ultimately against God, human sin often has harmful consequences in the lives of people who have been sinned against. But someone’s sin against you is not a good excuse for you to sin against God by ignoring his plan for this dispensation which is for his people to identify with a local church.
- “The church is full of hypocrites.”
Yes, local churches contain people who live hypocritically. To some extent, every person that acknowledges the lordship of Christ but continues to sin is acting hypocritically. This was a problem in the first century, and it remains a problem in the twenty-first as well. As long as believers possess a sin nature, they will sin against their Lord and Savior, and such sin runs contrary to their profession. However, this isn’t a good reason for avoiding the church, for few things could be more hypocritical than professing to love Christ while refusing to identify with his people in a local expression of the body of Christ.
- “I can worship God better on my own.”
Some professing believers speak of being “churchfree” or “satellite Christians.” They feel that because they can approach God directly through Christ, they do not need to be connected to a local church. In fact, some profess that their relationship with God has actually improved by walking away from the church. But if God’s plan for this age involves his people assembling together for worship, fellowship, and mutual accountability, then it doesn’t ultimately matter how one feels. The quality of one’s worship is not completely separate from affections or “feelings,” but feelings cannot override commands. One cannot worship God better by ignoring his instructions and the model that is pretty clearly laid out in the NT.
Sometimes these three excuses are used together, as if one could build a cumulative case for why he or she doesn’t need to be connected to a local church body. I’ve provided only the simplest replies to these excuses. Here are a few NT passages so-called unchurched Christians must wrestle with if they wish to continue excusing their lack of local church involvement:
Acts 16:5: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”
1 Corinthians 5:2, 4–5, and 12–13: “Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?… So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan…. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”
1 Timothy 3:14–15: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”
Hebrews 10:24–25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Hebrews 13:7, 17, and 24: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…. Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account…. Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people.”
See also Acts 15:41; 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Cor 4:17; 1 Cor 7:17; 2 Cor 8:1–24; Gal 1:2; 1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5–9; Jas 5:14; and 1 Pet 5:1–4 among others.
At long last, we are pleased to announce that a new multiple views book, Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement is now available. It has been an adventure and a wonderful learning experience working alongside Andy Naselli and the three major contributors (Carl Trueman, John Hammett, and Grant Osborne) to produce this work. I have high hopes that this book will be immediately useful not only for the academy, but for the church as well.
From the Foreword:
One can scarcely think of a question debated more passionately than the one addressed in our little book. Some of our readers can even now reflect on some acerbic quarrel about the extent of Christ’s atonement in which Christian restraint was wanting. So when we first floated a project that deliberately convened participants with conflicting perspectives on this topic, we wondered fleetingly whether the project might be a dreadful one. Our fears proved unwarranted as grace prevailed. The project proved to be a delightful one.
Our original band of three essayists morphed a bit over the course of time, and ended finally as a band of four. Carl Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, brought his sprightly voice to the debate as champion of a definite atonement. Grant Osborne, long-time Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, crafted an initial essay in defense of a general atonement, then, after some serious health difficulties, handed the baton to his colleague at TEDS, Tom McCall, Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, who capably contributed responses to the other two positions. John Hammett, Professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, rounded out the group with an apology for the multiple intentions view of Christ’s atonement.
Over the past several years we have had several posts about a papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Mark discovered several years ago that preliminarily dates from the 1st century A.D. This would make it the earliest copy of the New Testament known to exist and the only one from the 1st century. It was supposed to have been published in 2013.
Now there is some new information from Dr. Craig Evans. He claims the papyrus fragment had been dated by various methods to be earlier than A.D. 90. and will be published in 2015. You can read about it here.
As the world becomes more global, the increasing awareness of and interaction with different religions combined with a change in the conception of truth has caused a reevaluation of Christian missions. Questions about the propriety of conversion, methods for evangelism, and the goal of missions have been debated for over a hundred years. Writing closer to the start of these debates (1938), The Dutch Reformed theologian and missionary Hendrik Kraemer offers his clear and forceful opinion on the necessity of Christian missions for the world in The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World. (The following quotations are from the third edition, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1969).
Kraemer begins by describing the state of affairs at the time of his writing and the difficulties it posed for the world at large and the church in particular. The beginning of post-modernism was shaking much of the West, while the East was still reeling from its collision with the West. The Church was continuing to wrestle with how it should function as only a part of society rather than as the center. After noting these realities, Kraemer defends the importance of Christian missions and the need for conversion in the midst of this confusion: “The starting-point of missions is the divine commission to proclaim the Lordship of Christ over all life; and therefore a return to the pristine enthusiasm for evangelism and a new vision of what this implies in word and deed in the present and complicated world are needed” (60).
If Christians are to work towards the conversion of adherents of other religions, how should they view those religions? It is common today for professing Christians to view other religions as either equally valid paths to God or partial paths to be complemented by Christianity. Kraemer, though addressing the second mindset more directly, offers his unqualified denial of those options. Christianity is not fundamentally similar to other religions but is sui generis—in a category of its own. Religions are “the various efforts of man to apprehend the totality of existence, often stirring in their sublimity and as often pathetic or revolting in their ineffectiveness” (111). Christianity is not the pinnacle or culmination of these efforts because these efforts are not pointing to Christ to begin with.
The Cross and its real meaning—reconciliation as God’s initiative and act—is antagonistic to all human religious aspirations and ends, for the tendency of all human religious striving is to possess or conquer God, to realize our divine nature (theosis). Christ is not the fulfillment of this but the uncovering of its self-assertive nature; and at the same time the re-birth to a completely opposite condition, namely, the fellowship of reconciliation with God (123).
This understanding of non-Christian religions reveals the continuing necessity of conversion but removes the sting of the charges of arrogance and superiority leveled against evangelism. If Christianity is the culmination of human religion, then the Christian missionary has the missing puzzle pieces others have lacked—strongly implying their inability to grasp them prior to the missionary offering his superior perception. But if Christianity is a completely different understanding revealed by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the missionary is in no state of superiority. Rather, he is an individual who has been graced with the truth of God and now humbly and fearfully works to bring this revelation to others.
This understanding of Christianity’s place in relationship to other religions also addresses the question of “points of contact.” Often, missionaries look for beliefs or practices in other religions that they can utilize to bring Christian belief and practice into a particular culture. Kraemer finds this practice dubious. First, because religions are a unified set of beliefs and practices, so no individual belief or practice can be separated from the whole.
Every religion is a living, indivisible unity. Every part of it—a dogma, a rite, a myth, an institution, a cult, is so vitally related to the whole that it can never be understood in its real function, significance and tendency, as these occur in the reality of life, without keeping constantly in mind the vast and living unity of existential apprehension in which this part moves and has its being (135).
Second, since religion is by nature an outgrowth of man’s rebellion against God, a better approach to other religions is an emphasis on the points of difference rather than similarity. “In light of the dialectical situations of all religious life and of all religions…points of contact in the real deep sense of the word can only be found by antithesis” (139). Kraemer proceeds to provide an overview of other main religions as they are found in various parts of the world and demonstrates this antithesis.
Is missions work then simply a rational persuasion highlighting the confrontation between the revelation of Christ and other religions while trusting the power of the Spirit? No, Kraemer does note a human element of contact—the missionary himself. The missionary must be aware of how the people think, believe, and live in order to best demonstrate his sincere concern for those he wants to embrace Christ. “Only a genuine and continuous interest in the people as they are creates real points of contact, because man everywhere intuitively knows that, only when his actual being is the object of human interest and love, is he looked upon in actual fact, and not theoretically, as a fellow-man” (140).
Though Kraemer’s denial of points of contact may need to be nuanced in some way, his focus on antithesis is a helpful reminder of the uniqueness of Christianity. God is not revealing Himself through the different religions around the world. He has revealed himself generally through creation and specifically through Jesus Christ and His Word. Thus, the only way for people to know God is through someone verbally communicating to them that gracious revelation found in Jesus Christ.
From time to time I’ve met professing Christians who for one reason or another claim that they do not need to be part of a local church. In most cases, they seem to believe that because God has placed them in the universal Church, they can worship God just fine apart from a local body of believers. I’d like to suggest that such a view is not only mistaken but is also harmful to the unchurched person and dishonoring to God.
Everywhere one looks in the NT, one sees believers actively participating in a local body. In fact, the NT knows nothing of a perpetually disconnected Christian. The apostle Paul says roughly as much about healthy unchurched Christians as he does about minotaurs, unicorns, and leprechauns. From the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, everywhere the NT assumes that those who profess faith in Christ in this dispensation are part of a local body of believers. Much of the NT was originally written to specific local churches and addressed questions about how the local church should conduct itself. The professing believer who attempts to live apart from a local church will not be able to obey a significant portion of the NT (1 Tim 3:15). Although I’m thankful for access to good books and sermons produced by believers all over the world, it is first and foremost within the context of a local church that believers are to be instructed in the Word and exhorted by fellow believers (Eph 4:11–13; 1 Tim 4:11–16; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 3:1–2). Those who profess Christ but remain disconnected from a local church need to realize that they have turned away from one of God’s clearly intended means of spiritual growth: the leadership and fellowship of a local assembly.
More importantly, those believers who choose to live apart from a local church dishonor the head of the Church. Both the Church universal and the church localized are God’s idea, not man’s (Matt 16:18; Acts 2:41–47). God’s Word never depicts local church involvement as optional for the believer. And God certainly didn’t intend for there to be two kinds of Christians, those who worship him within a local church and those who just do their own thing. Those who profess to follow Christ while remaining disconnected from a local church are really saying that they know better than God.
The local church is one of God’s gifts to his people. It is a means by which they can be taught, encouraged, and exhorted to follow Christ. And ultimately, local church involvement is an essential part of a genuine Christian profession. Apart from such involvement, the profession itself can only be incomplete and highly suspect.
As a conservative instructor at a conservative school, I occasionally meet with surprise that I use and love my NIV Bible. Classed by most as coming from the “functionally equivalent” school of Bible translation, the NIV has long been viewed with skepticism by many in the fundamentalist community, and has fallen on hard times among conservative evangelicals as well, picking up critics like John Piper, Leland Ryken, and others.
I’ll frankly concede up front that the publishers of the NIV have not helped themselves in the past decade by being a bit “stealthy” (the whole TNIV fiasco) and more culturally driven, at times, than is prudent; still, I remain sympathetic to the idea of the functional equivalency theory of translation. My primary sympathies derive not from the fact that functionally equivalent translations are simpler or easier to read (though they often are), but because I am convinced that this theory has the potential to produce the very most accurate translations—more accurate sometimes even than formal or literal translation theories. And as an inerrantist, I am extremely interested in accurate translation.
A few years back, the late Rod Decker published an exceptional article on this topic that confirmed me in this understanding, and I’d like to take a few moments to honor his memory by rehearsing a few of his arguments (mixed together with some commentary of my own):
(1) Functional equivalency theory most successfully accounts for idioms (not that formal equivalency has no answer to this problem, but its answer is simply to say these are exceptions to the normal rules of word-for-word translation).
(2) Functional equivalency theory most successfully accounts for the extremes of highly paratactic languages (enormously long strings of independent clauses connected by “and,” such as is common in Hebrew) and highly hypotactic languages (enormously long strings of dependent clauses connected by a variety of logical connecting devices, such as is common in Greek). Of course, this sometimes leaves functionally equivalent translations in the unenviable position of not including “all the words” (drawing ire, for instance, from John Piper in this video clip), but it also explains why this is sometimes warranted, viz., because transitions of thought and speech are often not identical when one language is converted to another.
(3) Functional equivalency theory most successfully accounts for the problem of non-SVO languages (subject-verb-object) without producing translations that sound faintly like Yoda is reading the Bible.
(4) Functional equivalency theory most successfully accounts for the problem of non-corresponding vocabulary sets between transmitter and receiver languages without opting for arcane or antiquated terms that average readers cannot recognize.
(5) Functional equivalency theory most successfully accounts for the principle that the basic unit of propositional thought is not properly the word, but the clause/sentence.
My point here today is not to criticize formal equivalency in Bible translation or to wish that literal translations will “ride into the sunset” to disappear forever (as Piper did of the NIV). As many have pointed out, those who are familiar with Greek and Hebrew can often “see” the original languages bleeding through formal equivalency translations, making it easier to reconstruct the original and interpret it. For this reason I use formal equivalency translations regularly and with great profit, and promote their use particularly among those with advanced linguistic skills.
Nor have I found that using translations other than my functionally equivalent favorites to be a barrier to preaching or a danger to readers. The differences between formal and functional translations are not great, much less insuperable, but they are real, and I believe that a valid defense of functional equivalency may still be made despite the growing aggregate of arguments against it.
If you notice the header of this blog, you will see a tab marked “Journal,” which if selected will take you to the web page for our seminary journal. Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal began in 1996 and is published annually in the fall of the year. At the web page you will find the table of contents for all the back issues as well as free pdfs for all articles prior to 2011.
Here are links to a few of the articles from 1996–1997 that you may find of interest:
Last month Ryan Kelly and Kevin DeYoung posted an essay on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) blog (that originally appeared in the spring 2014 issue of Affinity) defending the existence of interdenominational or extra-ecclesial partnerships. Though the essay addresses a few different examples of these kinds of partnerships, the main focus is on TGC. After a quick historical look (that, oddly, focuses primarily on state-sponsored efforts) they briefly discuss Together for the Gospel before providing a quick synopsis of TGC and then attempt to answer several criticisms that have been leveled against TGC. Whether or not they are successful at understanding and answering these criticisms is not under consideration here. Instead, I’d like to consider an interesting statement about TGC and Dispensationalists.
In the midst of defending TGC against the charge of being either too narrow and exclusive or too broad or ambiguous in its doctrinal stance, they discuss the nature of TGC’s Founding Documents:
“TGC circumscribes certain doctrinal positions and not others, because some are central to the preaching of the gospel (for example, penal substitution, the uniqueness of Christ, eternality of hell); some differences evince deep hermeneutical differences, and are practically necessary for something like a preaching conference (complementarianism); and some so affect our understanding of God’s glory and grace that they must be made explicit (Reformed soteriology)….TGC’s Confessional Statement falls within the broader Reformed tradition, and, as noted earlier, it is particular regarding monergistic soteriology, complementarianism, inerrancy, a historical Adam, and double imputation in justification; yet it is unspecific as to eschatology, church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like. The Foundational Documents could not be fully embraced by hard-line dispensationalists, Lutherans, emergents, or mainline liberals. However, among the council there are Presbyterian, Reformed, Episcopalian/Anglican, Baptist, Free Church, and nondenominational, all of which must agree with what is contained in the Foundation Documents. At a little more than 2,300 words, the confessional statement is not aiming for the kind of doctrinal specificity found in the Westminster Confession of Faith or The Second Helvetic Confession. The points of doctrinal specificity in TGC’s documents are intentional, as are the areas of silence.”
Though I’m not certain what they mean by “hard-line dispensationalists,” I find the listing of four categories of “Christians” who could not fully embrace the Foundational Documents interesting: “hard-line dispensationalists, Lutherans, emergents, or mainline liberals.” The latter two would not be able to embrace the documents because they do not affirm things like inerrancy, penal substitution, the uniqueness of Christ, etc. In other words, they could not be part of TGC because they effectively deny the gospel. I’m not certain why Lutherans would be excluded (perhaps this is a reference to the controversy of the Lutheran view of sanctification espoused by former TGC blogger Tullian Tchividjian), but it seems odd that they and “hard-line dispensationalists” would be excluded along with those who have practically rejected the gospel.
So why would “hard-line dispensationalists” be excluded? Dispensationalism has no distinct teaching on areas related to “monergistic soteriology, complementarianism, inerrancy, a historical Adam, and double imputation in justification.” Many Dispensationalists—from a variety of flavors of Dispensationalism—would affirm all of those things. Where Dispensationalism offers a unique understanding in theology centers first of all in ecclesiology (e.g., what is the church, when did it start, what is its relationship to Israel) and secondarily in eschatology (e.g., when will the rapture occur, what is the nature of the kingdom, etc.) Those two areas seem to be matters where these authors claim TGC has remained silent: “[TGC’s confession] is unspecific as to eschatology, church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like.”
Why are “hard-line dispensationalists” excluded then? My guess is that, despite Kelly and DeYoung’s claims, TGC has taken a stand on eschatology. As Kevin Bauder has noted, most traditional dispensationalists (perhaps this is what is meant by “hard-line”) do not believe that the kingdom has been inaugurated, while TGC’s Founding Documents explicitly claim that it has.
My question: why include a specific statement on the kingdom of God in the confessional statement but not specific statements on things like “church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like”? Where does an inaugurated form of the kingdom fit in their explanation for what doctrinal specifics are included? Is it “central to the preaching of the gospel”? Is it a difference that “evince[s] deep hermeneutical differences, and [is] practically necessary for something like a preaching conference (complementarianism)”? Does it “so affect our understanding of God’s glory and grace that [it] must be made explicit”? I don’t see how it fits in any of those areas. So why include a statement in a confession designed to unite believers around the gospel that excludes a large number of believers who fully embrace the gospel?