• Is the Old Testament History or Story?

    There seems to be a growing kind of scholarship that is seeping into the minds of our students at Bible College. This is the kind of scholarship that sees the biblical text primarily as a story. Seeing the Old Testament as story is a good thing in some respects because it helps us see the whole story of the Bible and not see the Bible as a collection of little stories that we can atomize. Also, seeing the Bible as story is that helps us see the wonderful literary geniuses that wrote the books of the Old and New Testaments.

    But one of the things that is sometimes pushed in reading the OT as story is a “historyless” reading of the OT.  That is that the OT narratives themselves are contain truth but their connection to history is somewhat vague at best or at worst they shouldn’t be considered as history because that is an error of genre. We need to see the texts as story and therefore the writer of the narrative may have embellished facts or added in narratives that may not have happened but contain “truth” in the sense that the narrative is saying something that is true i.e. that God is powerful. To hold onto this “historyless” reading of the story of the Old Testament one must in the end jettison any idea of Biblical inerrancy.

    This sounds like theological liberalism as described by the Liberal theologian Stephen Sykes:

    Liberalism in theology is that mood or cast of mind which is prepared to accept that some discovery of reason may count against the authority of that traditional affirmation in the body of Christian Theology….. For many protestant Christians the most momentous step of theological liberalism is taken when they deny the traditionally accepted belief in the inerrancy of scripture.

     

    Stephen Sykes, Christian Theology Today, 12

    But the proponents of reading the Old Testament as a “historyless” story say that Sykes has got it wrong and we who hold to the inerrancy of scripture of have got it wrong. They aren’t denying the historicity of scripture they are merely seeing that God accomodates himself to us as he speaks through the scriptures by sometimes using human errors or establishments or myth to help us get at what is true. To do anything else would be to have an Apollinarian or a Docetic view of scripture.

    Apollinarianism and Doceticism  are both  early church heresies about the nature of Jesus  They both denied that he was fully man and said in some fashion that he was only God. If we don’t read the Bible in the way our interlocutors have outlined above we are  accused denying the humanity of Scripture. Now for a bible college student the last thing you want to be is a heretic so when an lecturer says something like this you quickly jump to his position because the last thing you want to be is a heretic even if they get to wear cool glasses like Rob Bell.

    But this whole idea that if you hold to a traditional doctrine of scripture where you affirm innerancy you are an Apollinarian or Docetic heretic is just plain stupid. Firstly, the Apollinarian or Docetic heresies are about the person of Jesus and to use them to talk about scripture is a bad category mistake  Secondly, to my knowledge those who held to the  Apollinariius and Docetic heresies never spoke to the doctrine of scripture because the early church (except for the heretic Marcion) held to the full authority and the inerrancy (even if using that word is a bit anachronistic) of the scriptures. Therefore, to my knowledge, even the heretics who held to apollinarianism or doctism would have problems with the view of reading the Old Testament outlined above. And finally, this view is stupid because in the end it is not an argument but a bullying tactic. It is akin to calling someone a name where the content of that name is totally unsubstantiated. is it right to call people names and put them in boxes? Yes as long as the name fits but in this case it clearly doesn’t and therefore it is just bullying.

    But what about the argument that God accommodates himself to us in scripture? Hans are you denying that? No way am I denying that! There is a good way of talking about God accommodating himself to us. I can find no better example of good accommodation than Calvin:

    “Indeed, that they dared abuse certain testimonies of Scripture was due to base ignorance; just as the error itself sprang from execrable madness. The Anthropomorphites, also, who imagined a corporeal God from the fact that Scripture often ascribes to him a mouth, ears, eyes, hands, and feet, are easily refuted. For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to “lisp” in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness.”

    John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, , 1.13.1.

    Most doctrines have an ugly sister (or brother if you want) and the doctrine of accommodation has one too. This is the Socinian view of accommodation  The Socinian view of accommodation is where God stoops to use erroneous conceptions of humans as vehicles for divine communication. Or in other words God uses human errors or establishments or myth to help us get at what is true. What is the difference in the Socinus’ view of accommodation and Calvin’s view? Calvin appealed to accommodation to reconcile apparent contradictions in scripture, Socinus accepted the contradictions and used accommodation to explain why and how they happened. These two men we see two ways of using the historical doctrine of accommodation. Calvin’s orthodox view uses accommodation to hold to the integrity of the scriptures. Socnius’ view uses accomodation  to undermine the scriptures. (This section is heavily indebted to ““The Peril of a ‘Historyless’ Systematic Theology” By Graham Cole  in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?)

    If you are being taught to see the Scriptures as story in a way that is undercutting the historicity of the scriptures by saying things didn’t happen as they are in scripture or something similar to this be wary. This kind of teaching comes about every few decades and ultimately it is not the generation that hears this teaching that suffers but the ensuing generations that suffer as the line of what is correct gets moved further and further to the left of biblical orthodoxy. (On this point see “‘Intellectual Respectability’ and Scripture” in Iain Murray’s book  Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000.)

    The view of scripture I have confronted in this blog is taught by Godly men who think they are doing the right thing. They are kind, fun to be around and some of the guys who teach this I would consider my friends. But ultimately their view of the scriptures is out of line with traditional orthodoxy and should be rejected. The future of the preaching of the gospel is at stake.

    If you want to read further on these issues read the book that I think should be required reading by everyone at Bible College called  Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? edited by  James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary.

    You may also like:

    Inerrancy and the Character of God

    Deny inerrancy and you will kill your church

    The Enemy is within Part 4: The decline in the Doctrine of Scripture

     

     

  • How to Preach a Great Sermon on Mission

    Preaching on college mission is a huge privilege and responsibility. Think about it, this may be the one time this year that a person at the church you are going on mission to brings a non christian friend or family member to the event you are speaking at. What a privilege! What a responsibility! What an opportunity!
    In my experience, mission sermons either go over great or fail miserably. So if you are preaching on mission here are some things I would suggest you do:
    1. Preach from one of the gospels. The mission sermons that I have seen fail were the ones that were preached from an obscure part of the Bible. These sermons were usually a rehash of a sermon from church or a sermon based exegetical essay the person had just done for college. If you are thinking or saying something like “I think I make this passage/ sermon be evangelistic” you are better off starting again and choose an easy passage where you can preach the gospel easily to a non Christian. Remember you are there to preach the gospel not show how you can preach the gospel from a obscure text and impress everyone.
    2. Preach the text! If you are preaching from a passage that emphasizes the divinity of Jesus preach about the divinity of Jesus! If the passage talks about Jesus death preach Jesus death! The two mistakes that I have seen here are: 1. Trying to say everything you can about Jesus. You don’t have to say everything about Jesus for it to be evangelistic. Preach Jesus as he is revealed in the text and trust God. 2. Trying to preach an aspect if the gospel that is not clearly in the text. I once heard a guy spend most of the sermon talking about penal substitution from the story of Jesus calming the storm which is a story that is clearly about faith in Jesus who has power over sin and death. Now is it wrong to mention penal substitution when you preach this text? Not at all but we are there to preach what the text emphasizes and leave the rest up to God.
    3. Know your audience.  If you are preaching to blue collar workers you are going to have to preach differently than if you are preaching to a group of uni students. The mission sermons that I have heard  that nailed it were ones where the preacher knew who he/she was talking to so well and who worked hard to communicate to them at their level. This is hard work but it is work that is eternally worth it!
    What would you add to this list?
    You may also like:
  • Baptism: My story

    I wrote last week a post entitled “Why I am not an Anglican” and one of the reasons I wasn’t an Anglican was that I disagreed with Infant baptism.

    The question was posed “How does a person who grew up in an Anglican church and went to an Anglican theological college wind up practicing believers baptism and not infant baptism?” Well as always there is a story behind every belief and my one follows…

    As already stated, when I became a Christian at 14 I went to an Anglican church and needless to say this church baptised children. But they baptised the children of unbelievers and this troubled me. I heard the parent of some children say they were Christians and they would raise this child to know and love Jesus when we all knew they weren’t going to keep these promises. When I asked about this I was told that it is the parent’s choice to make these promises and keep them and that is it a great chance to evangelise the parents by telling them about Jesus in the baptism class. This made me uneasy even though I did see people come to know Jesus through this process.

    I honestly didn’t give baptism much thought until I hit theological college. I was going to an Anglican college where baptism wasn’t mentioned all that much.  When I was in College a decided to make use of the amazing library at the college, I did this by picking a topic (e.g. gender, scripture etc.) and reading for an hour a day on that topic till I came to a position on it. Needless to say one of the topics I investigated was baptism.

    When I read stuff by Baptists I was struck by how much exegesis they did. They seemed to be constrained by the text and then go to theology. When I read people defending infant baptism I saw that they were very shallow on exegesis and then were very heavy on arguing from theology why infant baptism was legit.

    As I hope the next few blogs make clear I found the arguments of infant Baptists unconvincing. I wanted to be a pastor who was on about the text. I wanted who I baptised not be driven by anything but the text and so I found myself convinced that we should baptise Believers and not infants. I also found that my Baptist brothers had better theological arguments as well.

    I want to lay out my theology of baptism and so here is what I will be blogging about over the next few days:

    Blog 1: Baptism: My story

    Blog 2: Baptism: The Gospels

    Blog 3: Baptism: Luke and Acts

    Blog 4: Baptism: The Epistles

    Blog 5: Baptism: The covenant

     

    I hope that we all can get to know what God would have us do as we consider this very important issue.

     

  • The Enemy is Within part 2: The Threat of Neo-Orthodoxy

    One of the main theologians we were told interact with at the theological college that I went to was Karl Barth. For those that don’t know who Karl Barth is he was a German theologian who many think was the most influential theologian in the 20th century. He was a man who was trying to escape the trappings of theological liberalism of the 19th century. At the centre of his theology was a christocentricism that meant Christ was the starting, middle and end of all theological talk. Of late he is lauded by Evangelicals because of his disdain towards theological liberalism but I think we need to think hard before we put him on the side of the angels.

    Before we get into why Barth is dangerous I have to admit that I have only read about 1000 pages of his Church Dogmatics. Because of this, I have been told that I have not read enough to have an informed opinion on Barth. Therefore I am no specialist on Barth but I can see there are huge issues with his theology. That being said because of space I will outline two aspects of his theology where, in my opinion, he is significantly amiss.

    The first issue I see is his Doctrine of Scripture. Here are some quotes taken from Church Dogmatics Book 1, 2.

    But the vulnerability of the bible, i.e. its capacity for error, also extends to its religious or theological content.”

    “To the bold postulate, that if their (writers of the bible) word is to be the Word of God they must be inerrant in every word, we oppose the even bolder assertion that according to the scriptural witness about man, which applies to them too, they can be at fault in any word, and have been at fault in every word, and yet according to the same scriptural witness, being justified and sanctified by grace alone, they still have spoken the Word of God in their fallible and erring human word.”

    Barth is clear, the Bible is in some sense the word of God but it contains errors and these errors could be historical in nature and could even extend to the theological realm. Therefore, how are we to know what the Bible writers got right and wrong about history and God? Barth is in error here because, as Evangelicals, we believe that when God speaks through his word he speaks the truth (2 Timothy 3:16-17). A denial of inerrancy or a claim that the bible is mistaken is first and foremost an attack on the ability of God to speak the truth clearly and secondly it is an attack on the Bible.

    The second issue I see in Barth is his view on the atonement.  To be clear, even though he caricatures penal substitutionary atonement at some points in book two of his dogmatics I think he actually subscribes to it. For example:

    The Son of God fulfilled righteous judgement on us men by himself taking our place as man and in our place undergoing the judgement under which he had passed.” (Church Dogmatics2,1)

    It is a great thing that he subscribes to penal substitutionary atonement. But I think he considers the atonement to be efficient for all people whether they have belief or not. In layman’s terms, Barth seems to say at some points that through the cross all people are forgiven of their sin not just those who believe. For example:

    “This human action and suffering has to be represented and understood as the action and, therefore, the passion of God himself, which in its historical singularity not only has a great general significance for the men of all times and places, but by which their situation has been objectively and decisively changed, whether they are aware of it or not.” (Church Dogmatics book  4, 1)

    Coupled with his view on predestination where he holds that “predestination consists positively of election but does not include reprobation (ie. punishment) ” (Church Dogmatics book 2, 2) We can see that there are strains of universalism in his view of the atonement. That is the atonement makes everyone right with God regardless of their belief in Jesus or lack thereof. This negates what the Bible says about hell and judgement. Now to be fair, Barth, because he wants to emphasize the freedom of God, does hold out that people will be judged and sent to hell. But how do his view on the atonement fit with the freedom of God? This is unclear.

    If you are finding Barth confusing it is because he is! It is interesting to read what different people say about him because sometimes it can seem like I am reading critiques of two different theologians. This is where I see Barth’s influence being its most dangerous. Because it seems that those who are very into Barth take on his way of communicating. It is this push and pull, this yes and yet no, way of communicating that runs through all his theology and his disciples theology that makes both him and his disciples unclear and ultimately irrelevant for the person in the pew.

    When I was at college I was told by some  of my lecturers that Barth was “Evangelical” and that he “got the New testament right” and that he was “one of a number of guys who we should base our theology on”. Coming out of college I have seen many of my brothers and sisters influenced significantly by Barth and because of the problems outlined above, and many others, I think the influence of neo- orthodoxy on some of the current crop of young Sydney ministers is a threat to the gospel in Sydney.

  • You should only go into ministry if…….

    When I was at Bible College I had this conversation too many times:

    Me: Why did you choose to go into ministry?

    Person: Well I wasn’t really thinking about it all and then my (insert ministry worker here) tapped me on the shoulder and said I should think about it. So I went to (insert Christian conference here) and they encouraged me to do (insert apprenticeship name here) and now I am here.

    Me: How did you meet your wife/ husband?

    Person: Well I really didn’t like anyone and so my (insert ministry worker here) tapped me on the shoulder and said I should think about my spouse and so I did. So he asked me out/I asked her out at (insert Christian conference here) and to make a long story short we are here.

    Me: Why did you buy that shirt?

    Person:  Well I really didn’t like it and but my (insert ministry worker here) tapped me on the shoulder….

    The first two interactions were based on real conversations I had with people at Bible college. The third one was a joke (obviously).

    I know of a guy who was at Bible college got depressed and hit the eject switch and went back to working a normal job, which he loved. He then felt guilty because he wasn’t in ministry so he went back to Bible College. I pray that it all works out for him….

    I think there is a big push in Sydney to go into fulltime paid ministry. This push is based on godly motives (i.e. more workers for the harvest) but I see a lot of people being guilted into ministry not being led into it by the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

    Please only go into ministry if all of the following are true

    1. Your spouse or future spouse is cool with it. This is a no brainer. If your spouse or your fiancée is not cool with it don’t go into it. Love your family over yourself and take a normal job and serve your butt off at your local church

    2. Ministry captures your imagination. What I mean by this is that you want to do it. That you think of your perfect future and fulltime paid ministry looms large in it. You think that if you got to the end of your life and didn’t go into ministry you would regret it.

    3. People have seen ministry gifts in your life. If people haven’t seen gifts in your life or people have discouraged you from ministry please listen to them. They love you and are saying the hard things to you out of love. If people have encouraged you in your gifts and they have been encouraged by your gifts this is a good sign.

    4. You are not going into because you are angry with your pastor. I have heard too many pastors say they got into because they could do a better job than their pastor or that they had a point to prove. If this is you don’t go into ministry until this attitude is checked at the door.

    The world needs more gospel workers but we need ones who are truly called by God into ministry.

    What do you think?

     

     

     

  • How to come out of Bible College a normal human being

    Something weird happens to a lot of people when they are at Bible College, I call it Biblecollegeitis. You know if you have Biblecollegeitis if any of the following are true:

    • When someone asks you about the origin (The State of Origin) you think they were talking about the heretic Origen and reply “Yeah I don’t like him he was a heretic.”
    • You think that the most interesting aspect of 24 is Jack Bauer’s utilitarianism not the fact that he kills a bunch of people and saves the world from nuclear destruction.
    • You act like being right is always more important than relationships.
    • Your vocabulary rivals that of Don Carson’s.
    • You think if people haven’t read the book you have just finished they are obviously not as well read or as intelligent as you.
    • You think you need to correct everyone on everything or have an opinion on everything.
    • You would rather read a profound book than a faithful book.
    • You believe in your heart that the people at your church don’t really know how to run a church, manage their lives, raise their kids or even think and that is why they need someone with a Bible college degree telling them how to do these things.
    • You have used the word fructify in a sentence in the last two weeks.
    • You think Barth is a great evangelical theologian who got the Bible right when in reality he was a liberal who confuses the gospel.

    If this is you, don’t worry help is here. I didn’t want to be this kind of guy coming out of Bible College. I wasn’t entirely successful at coming out Bible college a normal person and I have had people at my church lovingly knock a few edges off me. But here are some things that I did through Bible College that helped me be semi normal when I finished.

    1. I had loads of non Christian friends. I think I had more non Christian friends than I did Christian friends. This was great because I was in touch with the people I wanted to lead to Jesus. I heard where they were at, I prayed for them, I laughed with them, I cried with them. I worked my butt off to not be enveloped by the Christian ghetto that was my Bible college. (By the way I love the college I went to and wouldn’t trade my time there for the world!) When was the last time you hung out with a non Christian?
    2. I had my sermons critiqued by lay people. Here are some of the things that were said about my preaching. “You didn’t understand us”, “You didn’t connect with us”, “that was a Lazy way to make that point!” “What the hell was that all about?!?” This did hurt but what it made me do was understand the people at church and seek to craft my sermons to communicate to them. When was the last time you got feedback from a lay person about your sermons?
    3. I tried to listen to people’s lives. I went out to lunch with the 40 year old single woman and the man who was in his third marriage and the wife of the unbelieving husband and many others as well. My time with them was not just about what I could do for them (although I hope I helped them by pointing them to Jesus and his gospel) my time with them was about hearing their stories. Hearing how hard it was to be divorced, hearing how hard it was to be single for the last 20 years, hearing how hard it was to have your kids walk away from Jesus because they are following their unbelieving father.  I listened and I found that I knew a lot about theology but these guys could teach me so much about applying that theology. I realised that when it came to life I was a baby and these people were veterans. I just listened and learnt.
    4. I had normal fun. I played Bball, I did gigs, I saw movies and musicals and bands. I tried to have a normal life and tried to know what was happening in the real world.
    5. I had Christian friends who laughed and joked a lot. My saving grace in college sometimes was my friends at college. We ripped each other off constantly, we laughed at each other, we laughed at the stupid parts of Christian culture. We laughed and laughed and laughed. We made sure we took Jesus seriously and but not ourselves.

    The question is not whether or not you will be a perfect preacher or a great theologian or pastor when you come out of college, the real question is will you be a person who is able to relate to people, who is able to be approachable, who loves people and who comes across as loving, a person who truly believes the Bible but will be able to lovingly share your beliefs with your church or youth group. Will you be that person when you are handed your degree?