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The Impossibility of Classic Protestantism

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Earlier this year R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries released the results of their survey of the views of Americans on God, sin, salvation, heaven and hell, and the Bible, with the tagline “A Poll of Eternal Significance.” The not so subtle implication is that the answers given to the survey questions indicate that most of the participants are in peril of eternal damnation because they are not affirming the correct propositions about the matters above. There is nothing particularly surprising about Ligonier’s tone in the survey since they take pride in identifying themselves as defenders and promoters of the theology of the Protestant Reformers, a theology that rests on the conviction that ultimately orthodoxy (correct teaching or belief) rather than orthopraxy (correct living) is what determines one’s standing before God. Granted, it is a bit more nuanced than that, but, for instance, in classic Protestant theology it is of critical importance that a proper distinction be made between “faith” (a passive confidence in the sufficiency of Jesus’ work rightly understood) and “works” (righteous living). Any understanding of the message of Jesus and the Apostles that departs from the Reformed Protestant definitions is a false gospel, and those who preach it, along with those who believe it, stand condemned according to their reading of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (1:9 – 10). In effect, the eternal destiny of human beings rests on whether or not they sincerely affirm the right ideas. A number of considerations make this a rather dubious proposition. Read more

Silent Sisters or Insidious Interpolation

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textual1The Bibles that we rely on today and often take for granted are the products of centuries of effort by scholars and pseudo-scholars whose work has sometimes helped and at other times hindered the preservation of the original text of the New Testament.

The books and letters that make up the New Testament were written over a period of about 50 years beginning with Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (though some scholars disagree) around 48-49 AD, and the evidence suggests that most were recognized by the church as authoritative soon after they began to circulate. Most of the documents were directed at particular groups of Christians with the intention of addressing a particular issue or issues that were confronting them. Once the texts were read to the intended audience, they were often passed on to other churches (cf. Colossians 4:16) or groups of believers so that they could benefit from them. Many made hand copies of the books and letters in order to allow continued access to the apostolic testimony and wisdom, and then others made copies of those copies which were then copied. This process of hand-copying continued for centuries until the invention of the printing press in 1455. Read more

An Appeal for Peace, Love, and Understanding

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peaceloveunderstanding-1250x12501Scanning some of the posts on social media this morning after the election, I was struck by the vitriol that some progressives hurled at those who voted for Trump, and I was baffled by their astonishment that he had won. Then it occurred to me that the tone of their posts provided at least a partial answer for why they were caught by surprise. The venom unleashed in their posts seems to be accepted by progressives as appropriate for anyone who dares to express opinions contrary to their own. Consequently, many people just kept silent to avoid the ignominy, and their silence was mistakenly interpreted by the progressives as agreement. Read more

There’s a Better (More Difficult) Choice in 2016

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ChBF2_xWUAA7zv9[1]As the Body of Christ, Christians are commissioned to carry-on the mission Jesus inaugurated in Palestine 2,000 years ago, so it only follows that as we chart our course from season to season we should model our work on His example. Jesus lived out his earthly life at a time in Israel’s history that was as contentious and even more perilous to his nation’s fortunes than our own. Rome had been dominating Israel for almost a century when Jesus began his ministry, and the Jewish people were chafing under burdensome taxation, repressive enforcement of Roman law, corrupt and anti-Semitic Roman rulers, and ruthless military occupation. Read more

Sympathy for the Judaizers

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curse_you_light_bulb__by_leif_j-d2zljf4[1]“If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed [anathema].” The Apostle Paul dropped that rhetorical atom bomb early in his Epistle to the Galatians as part of his verbal combat with the Judaizing Christians (probably from the church in Jerusalem) who had gone behind Paul and convinced the Gentile believers that they must keep the Torah (receive circumcision, observe the Sabbath, eat only “clean” foods, etc.) as well as believe in Jesus if they were to participate fully in the new covenant community and enjoy its benefits. To declare someone “anathema” (accursed) was a devastating condemnation. Anathema is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term hêrem meaning “devoted to destruction.” A curse found among the Dead Sea Scrolls captures the force of the curse Paul was pronouncing on his foes: Read more

What is Truth?

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blog-eccehomo[1]Around the year AD 30 a confrontation took place between Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea, and Jesus of Nazareth, a seemingly innocuous Jewish peasant accused by his own leaders of treason against Caesar.  When Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king, Jesus replied, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”  Pilate responded with the question that has occupied men in the ancient world and continues to trouble contemporary philosophers, “What is truth?”  (John 18:37 – 38a) Read more

Maybe Trump is the Man for the Moment

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Happy_Hour_Daily_Specials_Wild_Boar_MN[1]In 1520 as Martin Luther’s protest against the corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church began to gain traction, Pope Leo X published a papal bull entitled Exsurge Domine (“Arise, Lord”) in which he described the intractable German monk as a wild boar loose in God’s vineyard. This image aptly captured the mayhem created by Luther’s teaching as his disciples defied the will of the monolithic Roman Catholic Church leading to a fractious and often violent reordering of the ecclesiastical landscape. Great institutional power structures aren’t easily overthrown, and a certain degree of disorder and uncertainty inevitably follows, but it is possible that a new and in some ways improved order may emerge from the conflagration.  Read more

I’ve Got a Question

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catholic_church_vatican-HD-450x253[1]There is much about the Roman Catholic Church that I admire and find appealing.  The liturgy of the Mass, when properly understood, is potent with scripture and draws all of the senses into worship. The sacred music of the Church like Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus capture the mystery and beauty of the divine in a way that is mesmerizing while the Catholic intellectual tradition is rich, expansive, and ancient having birthed a number of first tier universities (something evangelicalism has not been able to accomplish).  I respect the Church for holding the line against the cultural tide in sexual and reproductive ethics.  The Catholic Church has maintained an unpopular yet unwavering testimony to the sacredness of life in its opposition to abortion and artificial birth control as well as the death penalty.  Read more

The Character of God Reconsidered

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61095524Today I sat in a seminar designed to teach effective principles of communication, and as the presenter explained that poor communication originates with our disordered inner selves, I began to think about the nature and character of God. The thought materialized in my mind that here was a flawed human being who recognized and strove to overcome his dysfunction and who looked at a room full of twisted, messed up people with empathy for their plight.  His inclination was not to think them deserving of annihilation or eternal torment because they are in this condition.  Read more

Seeing Things the (W)right Way?

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When I embracedisbelief-2[1]d Protestant Christianity in my late teens, I was immediately fascinated with the Scriptures and drawn to the study of theology.  The Reformed system of theology found in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) impressed me as robust, fiercely logical, and as far as I could tell, biblical.  Besides, the WCF was the doctrinal standard for the denomination of which I was a member, and so many men and women that I respected affirmed its truthfulness.  Classic Reformed theology is predicated on the idea that the very foundation of God’s relationship with humanity is the covenant of works, a code of law to which God requires humanity to conform.  Read more