Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Brothers, We Are Not Theologians

Theologian could be a dirty word. There isn't an office for learning, understanding, and sharing the teachings of the Bible - it's just a basic Christian role. Whether you are an evangelist who convinces others of the faith, an apologist who defends/establishes the claims of the faith, or a pastor who helps other people live out their faith (we call it 'shepherding'), all Christians are called to examine the Bible and share what it says. Even those who are "theologians" end up taking on one of these other roles anyways.

Vocab Check: 'Thē-ə-ˈLō-Jən'
Theology is just the study of God from the Bible, and theologians are people who do this kind of study. So, really, theologians are just people who learn about God from the Scriptures. That's something that all of us should be doing (2 Peter 1:19), not just a few men with a title. And, if everybody is doing the work of these theologians, then in effect nobody is one. The role becomes meaningless if all the kids are doing it.

Explainer With Authority vs. Messenger Boy
There are all kinds of well-known thinkers who have explained the Bible, and I have some favourites among that group: Aquinas, Calvin, Warfield, Henry and Carson are just some of the names that come off the top of my head. But, like Soren Kierkegaard pointed out in The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle, there is a difference between genius and authority, and these men have plenty of genius but do not have any authority. (Which is why I don't quote them often.) They are at best well-informed conversation partners. The real authority goes to the Biblical writers themselves. Theologians are messenger boys, learning and passing on the message of the authoritative writers of the Bible.

Evangelists, Apologists, and Preachers, Oh My!
Let's say that every Christian fits one of three roles: an evangelist, an apologist, or a pastor. The evangelist wants everyone to believe in Jesus and become a Christian. The apologist wants to defend the beliefs of Christianity and establish them as a fact. The pastor wants to guide those under his care to 'work out their faith in awe [fear] and reverence [trembling]' (Philippians 2.12). It is at least the duty of every Christian to major in one of these three areas:

ALL Christians are told to give a defense for their faith, like Apologists (1 Peter 3.15).
ALL Christians are told to make disciples, like Evangelists (Matthew 28.19).
ALL Christians are told to encourage others in faith their, like Pastors (Hebrews 10.24).

When someone does these things full time, they get a title. Often a 'theologian' does one of these three things with his work, and so his title should really be 'Pastor,' or 'Evangelist,' or 'Apologist.'

These roles of evangelist, apologist, and preacher are common to all of us, and all require a little bit of theologian-work. An apologist needs to understand the teachings of the Bible before he defends them; an evangelist does too; so does a pastoral person who encourages people to grow in their faith. So we can't see this as something a highly specialized thinker does. This has to be our work too.

Brothers, We Are Not Theologians
Like the title says, we are not theologians. There are none. The work of interpreting the Bible is not something done by old, wise, authoritative men in well-lit studies; it is the role of every Christian person. God has spoken through his Word, and we are to listen to Him through it.

So if someone comes up to you and says, 'you talk about the Bible; you're a theologian at heart,' just smile and tell them - 'no, just a Christian.' Let them ask you what they mean!


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ye Hole-Ridden Goode Book

More Christians than I care to admit are giving up on the Bible. Tired of taking the time to wrestle with apparent contradictions, many are just beating a retreat. Thousands and millions of Jesus-loving people think that it's more of a cop-out to believe the Bible in the face of apparent contradictions and inaccuracies, than it is to actually research those seeming problems and attempt to resolve them: In the gentlest way that I know how, I'd like to make the case that Christians must believe that the Bible doesn't make mistakes of any kind.

A Book Wrapped In A Bow: Why the Bible Matters
Evangelical Christians are not Bible worshipers, but we love and defend the Bible because God speaks to us through it. It teaches us how to relate to God. The Bible is a gift to us, it proves to believers like me that God is not distant, is not indifferent; that instead of standing back and remaining shrouded in mystery, He gave us a book so we could know about what He's like, what he made us to be like, what the spiritual world around us is all about, and how sinful people like you and me can be reconciled to our holy Creator. Without the Bible, we don't just lose a set of doctrinal beliefs. We lose contact with our heavenly Father. We lose His generous, freely given, all-important magnificent voice. There is no devotion to God without trust in the Bible.

The Meaning of 'Does Not Make Mistakes'
When people like me say that the Bible doesn't make mistakes, we have a pretty nuanced definition of 'doesn't make mistakes.' We don't mean that the Bible is always precise: just like we don't question the accuracy of The Weather Network when it lists the times of a day's sunrise and sunset even though the sun technically neither rises nor sets, nor do we balk if someone tells you she lives five miles away when she in fact lives 4.875 miles away, we allow for things like round numbers and figures of speech. We also don't mean that copies or translations of the Bible are without mistakes. Luckily, we also have scores of ancient copies of the Bible and can usually tell when one says something different than the rest of them do. When Evangelicals say that the Bible doesn't make mistakes, we mean that the Bible is without factual error or contradiction in its original copies. For more, check out the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

What's Historical Truth Got to Do, Got to Do With It
Joshua of Nazareth (Jesus)* once asked a man, 'If I have told you earthly things and you don't believe Me, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?' (John 3.12). He had a point. Why would you accept the Bible's take on things like the nature of God, or what heaven is like, or how to be saved, (which can't be verified independently) if you can't trust it on earthly things like basic history, or keeping its story straight and not contradicting itself (which can be verified independently)? I haven't relied on BBC foreign correspondence since this post where Jack Layton [the federal Opposition Leader] was described as also being Toronto's deputy mayor, and [Industry Minister] Tony Clement was mistakenly named as a journalist for the Globe and Mail. These kinds of mistakes make their reporting doubtful. In the same way, mistakes about history and repeated inconsistencies would make it doubtful that the Bible has anything reliable to say about God, either. I won't hold the Bible to a lesser standard than what I would hold a news source to.

Taking the Messiah's Word on The Word
Joshua the Messiah (AKA Jesus) also preached and believed that the Bible doesn't make mistakes or contradict itself. If you'll hover your mouse over Scripture references in blue, you'll find that Joshua believed what the Bible said about historical figures like Abraham (John 8.56), King David and Abiathar the High Priest (Mark 2.25-26), Jonah (Luke 11.32), Isaiah (Matthew 15.7-8), and Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4.27). He also believed the Bible about historical events like the events of the Exodus (Mark 12.26) and the wilderness wanderings (John 3:14), as well as the repentance of Ninevah (Luke 11.32), Noah's Flood (Matthew 24.37-38), and the creation of man (Matthew 19.4-5,8).

Joshua of Nazareth also quoted Moses' writings as the words of God in Matthew 19.4-5, crediting God with saying something that Moses actually wrote. Joshua/Jesus teaches us that all the words of the Bible, no matter the human author, should be seen as the words of God. To call the Bible contradictory and error-filled is to say that God can't make up His mind and needs to brush up on His history - maybe an appropriate view for Atheist polemicists Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens to take, but not for a Christian to hold to.

Why Giving Up Is Copping Out
I'll admit that keeping up with all the supposed contradictions in the Bible can be overwhelming; so many Atheist, Muslim, and other voices are out there shouting out new Bible contradictions or historical inaccuracies every day that doubts will understandably arise. After the first few rounds of battling off these arguments against the Bible, it easily occurs to Christians that there are too many seeming contradictions in the Bible for it to really be true - even if all of the discrepancies can be explained away somehow, the sheer number of them is too staggering to just ignore. It begins to feel like you're copping out and refusing to confront reality by holding to a view like, 'The Bible Makes No Mistakes,' with all these supposed contradictions flying around.

But giving up on the Bible out of sheer weariness is also a cop-out. Unless you've found a bona fide historical inaccuracy or contradiction in the Bible that just couldn't be worked out -however tenuously- even after a long period of research and prayer, you're just arriving at a new position without having bothered to do your homework. If you started out believing the Bible makes no mistakes, no matter what inaccuracies or problems showed up, and then moved to this position [that the Bible makes mistakes] because you felt overwhelmed with questions, you're still just as intellectually lazy as you were before, aren't you? I'm no fan of either position. But I think people who give up on the Bible think they've got things a little more together on an intellectual level, and they haven't.

So here's what I would call us to: Believe, as Jesus believed, that the Bible makes no mistakes. Accept it as the amazing gift from God that it is. Read it constantly, study it thoroughly, wrestle with it continually. But don't give up on it. Don't hold it to a lower standard than you would hold the newspaper to and then claim that you still believe what it says about spiritual matters. That's inconsistent - it's also copping out, in a way.

Here are some links to check out:

What They're Saying 26.05.11

Trevin Wax Interviews the CEO of Covenant Eyes (An Anti-P0rn Program)
'Pornography is an insidious sin that eats away at the heart of our marriages, objectifies women, disqualifies men from ministry, and draws our eyes from the beauty of Christ. We should take every precaution to guard ourselves and our families against the onslaught of sexual temptation that comes through the internet. '
Mike Cosper Reflects on Gender and the TV Show Mad Men
"Our current sense of discontent can lead us to imagine that the past had it right. But while the sexual revolution and radical feminism have eroded much from the home and the family, the cure is not to applaud a return to the values of the 50s and 60s. We watch these shows, where power is centered around men and where women are eager to please, and we laugh along like we're in on the joke. such conservatism is no solution to the gender problems that plague us."
Kevin DeYoung Share Some Thoughts on Patriotism
'I love to hear the national anthem and "God Bless America" and "My Country, Tis of Thee," but not in church where the nations gather to worship the King of all peoples. I love to see the presentation of colors and salute our veterans, but these would be better at the Memorial Day parade or during a time of remembrance at the cemetary. Earthly worship should reflect the on-going worship in heaven. And while there are many Americans singing glorious songs to Jesus there, they are not singing songs about the glories of America.'
Scot McKnight on Universalism, Jeff Cook, and Mark Galli
'Mark Galli, senior managing editor at Christianity Today, responds today to Jeff Cook’s post yesterday. Mark has written a book that will be out shortly that responds to Rob Bell with the title God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins.'
Tim Challies Takes A Second Look At Whether Beauty Is Misogyny
'It is an interesting question: Does God want a woman to seek to remain attractive to her husband even while she grows older? Is there any significance to her doing this, or not doing this? Evans believes that emphasizing physical beauty, even as a woman ages (or perhaps especially as a woman ages) points to a new kind of misogyny. But after long reflection, I am not convinced. Hear me out here.'

Correction: In an earlier version of this post, I took issue with Scot McKnight giving too much space on his blog to universalists - those who argue that Hell doesn't last forever. On this basis, I suggested that Scot McKnight might also be a closet universalist. Reader Nathan Wall has generously corrected me here; I have corrected the mistake. Sorry.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Baby, You Were Born This Way: The Depravity Inside of All of Us

Lady Gaga's message in Born This Way is 'you were born like this - so there is nothing wrong; celebrate it!' But what if things aren't that sweet and simple?

Right up front, this isn't a post about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender lifestyles (which is mainly what Gaga is singing about in her song); we're talking about the entire human condition. When it comes to sin, wickedness, and depravity, we were born this way. This is who we are. (1) But that's a problem; despite what Gaga says, that's nothing to celebrate. (2) The solution isn't to feel better about our sin and say I'm on the right track; it's to be born again - Christian parlance for putting your faith in the Messiah and letting God change you, letting Him fix what is broken in you from the inside out.

The Children of Chernobyl: Born Broken
It was the second-last day of an event called Youth Quake when the prayer request came out. Someone had given birth to a child -a beautiful baby girl- but she was born a dangerous heart defect: some kind of hole in the heart which would require multiple surgeries. What were we asked to pray for? For the little girl's recovery. She was born this way, but no one wanted her to stay that way. Lady Gaga is no philosopher (and it shows) but I wonder whether her philosophy would have held up in this little girl's case: was her heart defect not a problem, because this is just how the little girl was born? Of course not. So if being born with a heart defect doesn't make the heart defect awesome, why should the deep stuff inside of us that makes us who we are, our sexual orientation, our natural tendencies, the evil in our hearts, be any different than that heart defect? We should be open to the possibility that we were born wrong.

From author and blogger Donald Miller:
"I have on my desktop a picture of a boy named Sasha. Sasha is one of the children of Chernobyl, a young boy born after the disaster that happened when the core at a nuclear facility in Russia melted and leaked... he is gripping with a tiny arm the side of a crib. His other hand is flailing upward toward his ear, his head and shoulders the only portion of his body not mutated... As terrible as it is to compare Sasha to ourselves, I have to go there. I have to say that you and I were not supposed to be this way... our souls are born distorted, I'm convinced of it."
This Queen's Motivational Drag
Back to Lady Gaga, her whole song is self-esteem, 'you are awesome,' motivational speech. Can I just point out that inside, all of us know this sort of talk isn't true? On some level I think we know that we were born broken. That's why we feel like we need to listen to this sort of thing so often: not because we need constant reminding, but because it isn't true and we know it, and as soon as we stop hearing it we become painfully aware of the reality: we are not superstars. There is a lot of ugly in us. And it's a real problem. We legitimately know something is wrong with us. So we want constant reassurance. Besides, the motivational speeches that tell us to have more self esteem aren't really giving us much of a solution: holding your head high and being proud and flaunting your problem doesn't change that you have a problem.

From 'Born This Way' to 'Born Again'
So here is a different solution. We were born sinful, corrupt, and broken. But we were created with righteousness, holiness, and value. In the beginning, God said 'Let us create mankind in Our image,' (Genesis 1.26) and just like that, people came into existence for the first time. All of our culture and sexuality and ethics were part of what made us this perfect, visible, walking picture of what our invisible God must be like. We were supposed to stand in His place as kings over the entire world (Genesis 1.28). Those who spend a lot of time thinking about this sort of thing claim that we are supposed to be kind of like a mirror that reflects the sun: God made us to reflect His character to a world that couldn't see Him (God is a spirit and has no physical form; see John 4.24).

So the goal is to get from here, born corrupt and broken, back to the original state of mankind. The only solution is to be born again, to believe in Joshua the Messiah (Jesus) and to come to Him, letting God change you from the inside out, letting Him fix the brokenness and corruptness inside of you. As St. Paul once wrote:
"Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." -Ephesians 4.24
We can't do this alone, but God can change us (John 15.5 HCSB). That's something a little more meaningful than letting Lady Gaga tell us to be proud because we were born this way; it's admitting that something isn't right and that we need help to change. And it's admitting that, if we're willing to ask, there is a God who loves us and has the power to make us new again.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Sky Isn't Falling: Thoughts On the (Not) End of the World

May 21st is here, and the world isn't over. Family Radio president and genuine whacko-'prophet' Harold Camping was wrong: the rapture hasn't come. So what now?

Disclaimer: Predict At Your Own Risk
Except for Noah's prediction of the Flood in Genesis 7, all other predictions of the world's end have (so far) been proven embarrassing and false - and there have been a lot of them. The Canadian National Post had an article in it last week documenting some of the more memorable failed predictions of the apocalypse: William Miller in 1843, Pat Robertson in 1982, the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1914, 1915, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, and 1994, and by two separate groups on May 4th, 2011. (For those who click on that last link, these groups were covered at the end of that article.) Harold Camping is on that list twice, both for his failed prophecy today his last armageddon prophecy from 1994.

Reaction: One Born Every Minute; Sensitivity
Corrupt old hucksters used to say that 'there is one born every minute,' meaning that there are enough foolish people in the world that you could get ahead by just manipulating folks about anything - from gaining followers for your own scientology-ish cult, to selling faulty automobiles to unscrupulous buyers. Those hucksters were right! And on Sunday, a lot of Harold Camping's followers will find out that they have been manipulated or duped. We should respond with sensitivity.

Here are some wise words from blogger Eric Landry:

'We must be very careful about how we respond. Will we join our friends at the “Rapture Parties” that are planned for pubs and living rooms around the nation? Will we laugh at those who have spent the last several months of their lives dedicated to a true but untimely belief? What will we say on Saturday night or Sunday morning?

History teaches us that previous generations caught up in eschatological fervor often fell away from Christ when their deeply held beliefs about the end of the world didn’t pan out. While Camping must answer for his false teaching at the end of the age, Reformational Christians are facing a pastoral problem come Sunday morning: how can we apply the salve of the Gospel to the wounded sheep who will be wandering aimlessly, having discovered that what they thought was true (so true they were willing to upend their lives over it) was not? If this isn’t true, they might reason, then what other deeply held beliefs and convictions and doctrines and hopes might not be true?'

Lesson: Beware of Sketchy Teachers
The End Times aren't the only area of teaching where people get manipulated. In Pentecostal churches people get dubious prophecies given to them all the time , on everything from life direction, to money, to doctrine - for a time, a good section of Pentecostals preached against the Trinity, and many still hold that believing in Jesus will make you rich and healthy. From the health and wealth 'gospel,' to the Rob Bell book on Hell, to some newer teachings about how Christians get saved, to a dozen different moral teachings on family and sexuality, there are a lot of more subtle false teachings being thrown around. Most of us don't have the benefit of finding out that we've been lied when 2012 is finally over and done with; unless we get some discernment, we'll never find out that we've been fooled until it's too late. The lesson? Just because you didn't believe Mr. Camping about today's rapture date doesn't mean you're out of trouble just yet. We need to be aware of all kinds of false teachers, not just the cooky end-of-the-world types.

The Christian Hope of John's Apocalypse
All of that said... the world is going to end some day. Scientifically our orbit will fail, or an environmental catastrophe will hit, or if that doesn't happen a meteor will finally crash into our planet and kill us all. Failing that, the universe will expand beyond its limit and collapse in on itself. In the Christian faith, we know that the world will end - but Joshua of Nazareth (Jesus) said that 'we know not the day nor the hour,' as He is recorded as saying in Mark 13.32, so we have generally kept ourselves from making predictions. But we still hope and work out our faith in light of the fact that our Messiah, our God, will come one day to judge both the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4.1). And this is what we desire, isn't it? That our lives aren't going to be lost in the grand, never-ceasing winds of history? That everything will come to a climax, where the world's events will have meant something - that history is working its way towards some magnificent conclusion? This is 'our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Joshua the Messiah, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works' (Titus 2.13-14).

For those familiar with Revelation 21.1, the undated prediction of the end of the world from John's Apocalypse, this is the Christian hope. All unproven dates for the end of the world aside, this is our great hope. Don't give up on it just because of a few embarrassing crackpots. Don't. This is our blessed hope.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Called to Be Anything But Christians

SEAN - Church ministries call us to be better at lots of things, just not (usually) at being better Christians or at understanding the faith. We need to do much more.

I hope I'm not the only one who notices how, er, shallow some local church ministries have become. I'm serious. Go to most niche meetings -those geared towards men, women, or young adults- and the teaching there is pretty lean. Even if it's called a Bible study, 90% of the time the book people are studying is not actually something that is part of the Bible at all. My church was recently doing a 'Bible Study' through an Erwin Lutzer book - I'm still trying to find the Book of Lutzer in my ESV table of contents, but to no avail. It's just really awful. Our churches are shallow.

So we need a solution.

First, we can be a little more vocal in asking for some depth. It might be that our pastors only ever hear from people who don't want to go deeper in their faith; so we can be a positive force in saying, hey, there are some of us who really have this desire to do something significant with our meetings. Bring on the study of whole books of the Bible. Let's have evangelism classes. Help us advocate for the Gospel in our community.

Second, we can be the solution and do some things ourselves. Maybe the church doesn't have room for a more in-depth, discipleship based group. So those of us who are concerned about that sort of thing can group together and start our own meetings in our own homes. Sometimes the best thing to do is to stop complaining and actually be part of the solution.

Third, we can be thirsty for more. Maybe the problem is also something that we struggle with ourselves; we'd like to go deeper, but our church isn't giving us any direction. In that case, maybe the thing to do is to listen to podcasts from great teachers like Mark Driscoll or John Piper, or go through the Bible one book at a time using one of the commentaries at found here, or start learning how to explain Jesus to non-Christians using something like LeeStrobel.com.

Look, this post could be about all the reasons why most of our church programs don't measure up. But that's a familiar theme. The real point is that, if that's the case, we should do something. So do something. That's today's call from this little Voice in the internet wilderness.


Update: Drew Dyck just wrote a good article about how this affects youth groups; it is available now on Christianity Today's blog: click here to read it. Here is an excerpt from the end of his post:

"Perhaps we've settled for entertaining rather than developing followers of Jesus.

Of course there's nothing wrong with pizza and video games. The real problem is when they displace spiritual formation and teaching the Bible. And ultimately that's the greatest danger of being overly reliant on an entertainment model. It's not just that we can't compete with the world's amusements. It's not only that we get locked into a cycle of serving up ever-increasing measures of fun. Rather it's that we're distracted from doing the real work of youth ministry—fostering robust faith.

Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, liked to say, "It's a sin to bore a kid with the gospel." A generation later, that philosophy morphed into an entertainment based gospel that has actually produced entertainment numbness and an avoidance of the gospel's harder teachings. Somehow we thought we could sweeten the gospel message for young people to make it easier for them to swallow, but it turns out that they're choking on our concoction."

-Drew Dyck, The Red Bull Gospel