Archive | June, 2008

In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Three – An Argument for the Dual-Source Theory

In last two posts, I have tried to define the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura. Specifically, I have tried to distinguish it from any theory that allows for or requires two sources of ultimate authority, tradition and Scripture (dual source theory). As well (and just as important), I have attempted to disassociate sola Scriptura from the common misunderstanding that its advocates do not allow for any other authority. This extensive concentration on defining the doctrine is so that it might be properly defended. In other words, I don’t want to defend a doctrine that is mis-defined in the mind of the readers.

Before I move on to a proper defense of sola Scriptura, I want to attempt to defend its primary historical rival, the dual-source theory. I do this so that one might be able to see the full balance of the positions in perspective. In addition, by giving a short defense of why people hold to some form of dual-source theory, one can see the responses that advocates of sola Scriptura would give to such.

Dual-Source Theory

Definition: The Apostle’s teaching is absolutely and ultimately authoritative as a rule for Christian doctrine and practice. This teaching was handed down in two forms: written and unwritten. The written teaching was codified in the Scriptures. The unwritten Tradition—the oral or “living” Tradition—was passed on through the succession of apostles (Apostolic succession) and is equal to Scripture as an authority in the Christian life, being that it came through the same source—the Apostle’s teaching. In the case of the Roman Catholic tradition, the Magisterial authority (Pope and the congregation of bishops) serve as an infallible interpreter, protected by the Holy Spirit, of both the unwritten and written tradition (the third leg of the three leg stool of authority).

Defense of the Dual-Source Theory

1. The Scriptures clearly say that there were many other things that Christ did that were not written down.

Jn. 21:25
“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”

The idea is that the body of revelation given by Christ was not exhausted by the writings of the Apostles. This, at least, evidences that there could have been oral teachings that were passed on and just as authoritative.

2. The New Testament writers clearly speak about the importance of Tradition.

2 Thess. 2:15
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”

Notice the dual sources of the one teaching.

1 Cor. 11:2
“I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you.”

This illustrates that traditions (paradosis) are what is being passed on. At the very least, this should help to take the focus off the way in which a tradition is handed down. In other words, the focus is not on written tradition as sola Scriptura advocates tend to believe.

Jude 1:3
“Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

Notice, the faith was delivered to the “saints.” The “saints” represent a living entity of preservation, not a book, which we know as the Church.

3. Christ gave authority over the Church to the apostles and their successors (apostolic succession). Roman Catholic Only: Peter and his successors were given the ultimate authority in the Church (papacy or the Seat of Rome).

Jn. 20:23
[Christ, speaking to the apostles] “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”

Matt. 18:18
“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.”

This represents the ultimate authority of the Church which has the authority to “bind” and “release.”

Matt. 16:17–19
“And Jesus answered him, ‘You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.”

For the Roman Catholic, this teaches that Peter was given a special and ultimate authority among the Apostles. Therefore, his successors (the Bishop of Rome, the Pope), would naturally carries this same authority.

4. Without the infallible declaration of the Church, there would be no way of knowing what books belong in the canon of Scripture.

In my opinion, this is perhaps the strongest objection to the doctrine of sola Scriptura. The idea here is that if the Scripture is the only infallible authority, then where does it infallibly derive its authority to be Scripture? In other words, there is no list of books that belong in the Scripture (canon) anywhere in inspired Scripture. Therefore, Tradition and/or the Church has to determine or recognize what books are indeed Scripture. If Tradition and/or the Church does not have infallible authority, then it’s pronouncement are fallible—even pronouncements about what books belong in the Bible. Therefore, advocates of sola Scriptura are left with a rather odd confession that they have a fallible canon of infallible books.

5. Without the infallible authority of the Church, the Church would be hopelessly divided on matters of doctrine and morals. This would not be the Church that Christ started.

Of course, as opponents of sola Scriptura would argue, this is indeed the case with the Protestant tradition. The Bible alone is not a sufficient authority to keep unity as is evidenced by the thousands of denominations and disagreements within Protestantism. On the other hand, Christian traditions that advocate some sort of dual-source theory (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox) are united under the living tradition and its regulating force.

Next I will provide a response to this from the sola Scriptura position to these arguments. Please feel free to give any further defense of the dual-source theory if you feel I have left something out.

When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics

I just got word this past Friday that my most recent book When God Goes to Starbucks (Baker Books) has finally been published. As with my other popular-level books in this “series” (including “True for You, But Not for Me,” “That’s Just Your Interpretation,” and “How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong?”), this book deals with more challenging and even controversial topics—ranging from lying to Nazis and being “born gay”/gay marriage to comparing Islamic jihad with the Bible’s holy wars and considering whether Jesus got things wrong about an anticipated early second coming (parousia).

Publishers Weekly had this to say about the book:

“Copan, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, submits an excellent and comprehensive resource to help Christians contend with controversial questions about their faith. Copan writes eloquently and respectfully on social and moral themes: when is lying biblically acceptable? why does a sovereign god demand worship from humanity? how can Christians believe theirs is the only way to heaven? what does God have to say about homosexuality and same-sex marriage? Though each topic is approached with care, Copan does not flinch from a biblical stance and delineates each problem with exemplary thoroughness. Thoughtful readers will find great value in his approach to unpacking Christian slogans as related to truth and reality, worldviews and religious belief systems. He expertly unmasks the problematic ‘personal autonomy’ philosophy that makes “sweeping relativistic claims, but then tacks on absolute, inviolable standards at the end.” Copan’s skillful approach to apologetics provides ample information on hot-topic themes, but some readers may not be up to the challenge of slowly digesting his thought-provoking, weighty explanations.”

Well, there you have it! For your information, the chapter titles are listed below. I hope you’ll check out the book and that it will be a profitable read for you.

Introduction

Part I: Slogans Related to Truth and Reality

1. Why Not Just Look Out for Yourself?
2. Do What You Want—Just as Long as You Don’t Hurt Anyone
3. Is It Okay to Lie to Nazis?

Part II: Slogans Related to Worldviews

4. Why Is God So Arrogant and Egotistical?
5. Miracles Are Unscientific
6. Only Gullible People Believe in Miracles
7. Don’t People from All Religions Experience God?
8. Does the Bible Condemn Loving, Committed Homosexual Relationships?
9. Aren’t People Born Gay?
10. What’s Wrong with Gay Marriage?

Part III: Slogans Related to Christianity

11. How Can the Psalmists Say Such Vindictive, Hateful Things?
12. Aren’t the Bible’s “Holy Wars” Just Like Islamic Jihad? Part One
13. Aren’t the Bible’s “Holy Wars” Just Like Islamic Jihad? Part Two
14. Aren’t the Bible’s “Holy Wars” Just Like Islamic Jihad? Part Three
15. Was Jesus Mistaken about an Early Second Coming? Part One
16. Was Jesus Mistaken about an Early Second Coming? Part Two
17. Why Are Christians So Divided? Why So Many Denominations?

Blomberg’s “Underused Argument for the Resurrection of Christ”

Blomberg writes about what he concludes is an “underused” argument for the resurrection.

“Whatever you think of the logic of Gamaliel’s argument as described in Acts 5 (leave the disciples alone and if the movement is not of God it will go away–but that sure hasn’t worked for Islam!), it’s interesting to apply it to first-century rabble rousers.

The origin of the Zealot movement, rightly or wrongly, is traditionally ascribed to Judas the Galilean who revolted in A.D. 6 and who was decisively squelched by the Romans.  Gamaliel makes reference to him and also to a Theudas, a common name (more than a dozen appear in Josephus alone), so it’s hard to be sure who to equate him with.  Then there’s the Egyptian assassin that Paul is mistaken for by the Roman guard when he is arrested in Jerusalem toward the end of his missionary career (Acts 21-22).

 In fact, Josephus narrates, in various lengths, the accounts of a whole array rebels of various kinds throughout the first century, who all contributed in various ways to the growing Jewish discontent with Rome, the slowly organizing Zealot movement, and ultimately to the ill-fated Jewish war with Rome, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in A.D. 70.

If you want to read a good, in-depth investigation of these folks and their exploits, see Richard Horsley’s Bandits, Prophets, Messiahs.  I love the title.  Several of these rebel leaders were little more than ancient would-be Robin Hood’s but less consistently noble.  Others believed they were Yahweh’s prophets or even Messiahs.  Some gathered large, reasonably organized followings and armies.  Others garnered little more than other riff-raff, criminals and malcontents.  The Judean hill country, like the caves at the base of the cliffs near the shores of Lake Galilee, always offered such groups the opportunity to hideout and try to surprise smaller Roman outposts here and there with nighttime attacks.

But there was one thing they all had in common.  They all lost, sooner or later.  No one ever succeeded in overthrowing the Romans in the first century, not in Israel, not anywhere in the empire.  Indeed, Jewish guerilla warfare was “small peanuts” compared, say, to the ever-serious Parthian threat to the northeast of the borders of the Roman empire and their raids on and incursion into Roman territory that kept a fair number of Roman troops occupied in defense.

More importantly for historical Jesus research, when a Jewish rebel leader was killed, one of only two things ever happened.  Either the movement died out, or the movement’s adherents turned to a new leader, often a family member of the first one, especially a brother or son off the deceased man (a venerable tradition going all the way back to the Maccabean revolt and succession of Hasmonean leaders in the second century B.C).

What never happened, at least as far as we know from any records still in existence, is that the rebel leaders’  followers continued to accept his claim about his identity, or the claims they had made for him.  The concept of a dead messiahs was simply oxymoronic, if not flat out moronic!  Even prophets, though they certainly could be killed (just read the Old Testament, to say nothing of subsequent Jewish tradition), shouldn’t die in battle against the enemy if they had previously “prophesied” victory.

Suddenly, the first generation of Jesus’ followers stands out in dramatic, unprecedented contrast.  Facts no sensible historians will dispute (yes, I know there are a few of the other kind) include: 1) Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate for the charge of being a would-be king (Messiah) of the Jews.  2) The movement of his followers did not die out but grew.  3) They continued to hail him as some kind of king and Messiah.  4) They did not turn to one of his family members or to one of his disciples to be their next prospective Messiah.  James, Jesus’ half-brother and Peter, the leader of the twelve, played prominent roles but never replaced Jesus’ unique roles from his lifetime.  As far as I know, this quartet of facts is unparalleled in ancient Middle Eastern history from any era.

The question then becomes why this unprecedented and implausible chain of events occur[r]ed.  The traditional Christian answer sounds pretty strong even if one wears just a historian’s hat (i.e., bracketing any religious faith or anti-religious bias for a moment).  That answer is that the disciples saw Jesus alive again, not just in a visionary way–that had plenty of precedent (or alleged precedent) to demonstrate that his spirit lived on in some other world.  Rather they believed they had seen him with a real human, though glorified body.  Can anyone think of a more probable explanation of these four facts than this traditional Christian reply?  I can’t.”

What do you all think?

Sovereignty, Suffering, and My Agenda vs. God’s

When Angie (my sister) died, my father started drinking quite a bit. I think he blames himself for her death. All he can think of is that he was supposed to protect her. He was the last person who saw her. She was staying at my parents house and the morning of her disappearance she asked him if he knew where her keys were. I think he said he was busy. She left and was not seen alive again by anyone in the family.

My mom kept my dad in line as she has always done. But now that she has suffered from a mentally and physically debilitating stroke and aneurysm, I just don’t think he knows what to do. He has had three DUIs in the last three years. Not good. But . . . you know what? I don’t know what to say to him. I think he just wants to die and go be with her. I love him very much even though we have never had much of a relationship. I don’t know anything worse than him going to jail. He has too much pride, but I guess things have changed. I don’t really know if he trusts the Lord. I have asked before, but it always seems so strange. I always feel like an 8 year old when I talk to him. I get scared.

Really, when I think of it, I have lost a sister and now have a 57 year old mom whose primary means of communication is singing a handful of songs. But my father . . . He has lost a daughter and now has a wife whose diapers he has to change.

I am sorry dad, if you are reading this. I don’t blame you for your disillusionment with life. I don’t blame you for trying to escape it. I don’t know what to say. I, like you, can’t fix anything. I wish I could. I thought I could. But I can’t.

You know . . . I don’t know how people make it who don’t believe in God’s sovereignty and knowledge of the future. I really don’t. I don’t know what I would do if I thought that God was sitting on the edge of His seat wondering what was going to happen next, cheering us on.

Is God a cheerleader? Or is he a coach? Or maybe a player in the game? I guess that is the question. Let’s just say, in my mind, if He is a cheerleader, He is awfully irrelevant, even if He is a cheerleader who loves me. But since I believe He is calling the shots and He is in control of the “game,” I know that I can make it through this and whatever else comes my way. It’s His program and I trust that He knows what He is doing. He has yet to lie to me. God has never promised me anything that He has gone back on. I dare not put a covenant in His mouth. Confusion is part of my life, but not disillusionment.

God cannot be controlled. I told my sister tonight that he has an agenda and it does not seem to be ours. He is in charge, not me. This is not as bad as it sounds, for my agenda, as nice and comfortable as it might be lacks the perspective of his plan. Sure, if I were God I would fix everything. I would clear out the hospitals, make sure that marriages last, cure depression, and feed the world. Wouldn’t you? But this does not make my agenda superior to God’s. I know that he has a game plan and that suffering is part of this game plan. In this I will rejoice . . . somehow I can. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the game lasts forever.

I know it will all work together for good, I really do, but oh that it would come to a conclusion one way or another. I hope we are in the fourth quarter. Right now, I feel like I am in mourning delayed or mourning denied with my mom. With Angie, it is mourning postponed. But the game will go on.

An Emerging Understanding of Orthodox

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I am thoroughly orthodox. No, not Eastern with a capital “O”, but orthodox meaning that I believe all the right things. Well . . . at least I think I am. But, really, it depends on how one defines “orthodox.” What does it mean to be orthodox?

It would seem that this question is taking center stage in the current theological landscape. I have heard rumors that some prominent leaders in the emerging church are going to be writing on this issue, challenging the traditional thought concerning what it means to be “orthodox”—even more than they have already done. Some in the Emergent church, such as Tony Jones and Brian McLaren, are saying that there may not be such a thing as “orthodox.” Others, like Andrew Jones, seem to suggest that orthodoxy simply should be thought of as “right worship” rather than right teaching. Some of our more fundamentalistic brothers and sisters believe that orthodox means you agree with everything in their particular tradition or denomination. Some Christians even say that “orthodoxy” is a representation of a dynamic confession that has developed throughout church history. Well . . . ahem . . . that would be me.

With this in mind, I have written a short series on this subject. I am going to try to argue that there is such a thing as orthodoxy and it means first and foremost “right teaching” or “right belief.” I am also going to propose that orthodoxy is a progressive representation of truth as it has been revealed and understood throughout history.

Here is the chart that I will use to serve as a visual aid. We will break it down and add to it throughout this series.

Let me start at the beginning.

Notice the dotted line. This represents the division between God’s eternal existence which is static (above the line) and man’s time-bound existence which is dynamic (below the line).

God gave man revelation in a progressive fashion. This is often referred to as “progressive revelation.” This simply means that when Adam and Eve were in the Garden, God did not give them a completed Scripture. For example, Abraham did not know as much as Moses about redemption. He had some basic components, but very few details. The same can be said of David. While he new more than both Abraham and Moses, he did not know as much as Isaiah, and so on.

The canon itself is a dynamic and progressive revealing of truth as God brings about his redemptive purpose with man. The small “t” represents the first installment, if you will, to truth. The “tr” shows how this revelation of truth was progressive through time. As you can see, revelation is completed in the New Testament when the complete truth of God’s revelation has been finalized in the coming of Christ and the writings of the Apostles.

But notice something important. “Truth” is all in lower case below the dotted line, while above the dotted line it is in upper case. This refers to the revelation of truth in contrast to the understanding of truth. While God’s revelation was completed, I believe, at the completion of the New Testament, the understanding of this truth in a canonical whole had just begun. I have more to say about this, but I don’t think it would be beneficial at this point. Just keep this in mind as it serves as an important presumption of my thoughts.

Notice here that while revelation has ceased, our understating of this revelation is developing. Both Catholics and Protestants hold to a theory called “doctrinal development.” While the details of how doctrine develops is much different, the basic confession is the same: doctrine develops from one stage to another. This is because truth itself is better understood as time affords.

If you can think of a seed developing into a tree. Or even better, a baby developing into an adult. The same basic components (DNA) are in the adult as was in the baby, yet the adult has matured through time. The adult has learned and developed into a more articulate and distinct looking human. The same can be said about doctrine. Our understanding, pushed forward through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, has grown.

It is not the “one deposit of faith that was once for all handed over to the saints” that has changed, but it is our understanding of it that has matured.

The capital letters in “truth” begin to arise. Again, this is not because truth itself is changing, but because our understanding of truth is maturing. For example, while the early church believed in the deity of Christ in some sense, they did not know how to articulate this understanding in relation to the Father and the Holy Spirit. As controversies arose, the contrast that the controversies provided helped the church to develop their understanding to a more mature form. This maturation eventually gave forth in the articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity in Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381). That is why we have a capital “T” while the rest remains lower case. As time goes on, the church is forced to wrestle with their understanding concerning many more issues.

The capital letters are not meant to convey that we understand truth to the degree that God understands truth, but that we have come to, what we believe, is a maturation of the faith. Can it mature more, possibly, but this maturation will seldom be antithetical to that which has gone before. In other words, the capital “T” will not change to a “D” or an “N.” I will have to defend this more as we continue our study, but hopefully this is a helpful start.

Finally we have this chart which illustrate how our understanding of “orthodox” is in development along with our illumination to the truth.

The primary argument here is that while our orthodoxy may not be perfect this side of heaven, it, nevertheless, can be an accurate understanding of TRUTH. As Dr. John Hannah would say, “We cannot know God fully, but we can know him truly.” I would say the same for orthodoxy.

I was at a meeting where Brian McLaren said that he believes truth itself is dynamic, changing, and evolving. I am not sure if he still believes this or would continue to articulate it in such a way, but, at least at the time, I was very uncomfortable with his proposition (yes, it was a proposition). Truth does not change.

I am also uncomfortable with the idea that orthodoxy changes. Use the words develop, dynamic, and even evolve, but the word “change” is too strong. It implies an antithetical development of orthodoxy that I don’t think a proper view of history need allow.

Part 2: Six Views of Orthodoxy

Christians have different presuppositions that they bring to their theology. This does not make it right or wrong, but we must understand that the unexamined presupposition is not worth having. Our view of history is no different. It is a presupposition that we bring when asking the question What does it means to be “orthodox”?

There are really six primary views that I find represented in the church today. I am going to try to explain these views using both established and original terminology. I have tried to stay away from certain terms such as “neo-orthodox” and “emerging orthodox” so as not to skew perspectives and stack the deck for or against anyone.

1. aOrthodoxy. Belief that there is no such thing as orthodoxy as a set of “right beliefs” or, at the very least, Christianity should not be defined by our beliefs except in a very minimalistic way. This view of orthodoxy takes a very pessimistic view of the Church’s need and ability to define truth, believing that orthopraxy (”right practice”) is the only thing that should be in focus. This pessimistic approach is influenced by the belief that defining the “boundaries” of Christianity according to beliefs has brought nothing but shame and divisiveness to Christianity. This is illustrated most in the bloodshed of the inquisition, Crusades, and wars among Christians. To be labeled “orthodox” or “unorthodox” to the aOrthodox is an arrogant power play that is oppressive to the cause of Christ. Orthodoxy, therefore, is a contextualized subjective “moving target” that cannot be defined.

Primary Adherents:

Emergent Church (to be distinguished as a subset of the Emerging Church)

Strengths:

  • Sees the importance of orthopraxy.
  • Understands the difficulty of defining Christian orthodoxy.

Weaknesses:

  • Christianity loses any distinction.
  • Follows a self-defeating premise by establishing a new minimalistic orthodoxy of its own.
  • Unjustifiably follows a “guilt by association” premise. Just because others killed in the name of orthodoxy does not mean that those who seek to define orthodoxy will do the same. In fact, most have not.

2. Scriptural Orthodoxy. This is the belief that Scripture alone sets the bounds of orthodoxy without any aid from the historic body of Christ. This should not be mistaken for sola Scriptura—the belief that the Scripture is our final and only infallible authority in matters of faith and practice—but as a radical rejection of any other sources of authority such as the church, tradition, natural revelation, etc. It is often referred to as solo Scriptura or nuda Scriptura. Here, there would not be any authority derived from the body of Christ, historic or contemporary, as an interpretive community that either fallibly or infallibly has the ability to define orthodoxy. Adherents would often be found saying, “No creed but the Bible.”

Primary Adherents:

Fundamentalist Protestants

Strengths:

  • Understands that the Bible is the only infallible source.
  • Causes people to go back to the source (ad fontes).

Weaknesses:

  • Discounts the historic Church as a Spirit illuminated interpreter of the Scriptures that must be respected as a voice (albeit fallible) of God.
  • Creates their own orthodoxy based upon their subjective interpretation. This way there will be many orthodoxies.
  • Often results in cults who deny essential elements of Christian theology that have been held throughout church history.
  • Fails to see that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.

3. Paleo-Orthodoxy. This is the belief that the Christian faith can be found in the early church—namely in the consensual beliefs of the early church. This is a form of “consensual orthodoxy” (consensus fidelium). This search for consensus follows the dictum of Saint Vincent of Lrins: quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus, “that which was believed everywhere, always.” Normally, according to Thomas Oden, who coined the term “paleo-orthodoxy,” this consensual faith can be found in the first five centuries of the Christian church (Oden, Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements), before the “speculative scholasticism” of western Catholicism. The idea of theological progression is normally thought by strict adherents of Paleo-Orthodoxy as a post-enlightenment influenced methodology that should not be followed.

Primary Adherents:

Eastern Orthodoxy, some Evangelicals, and many Emerging Christians (not Emergent as I have defined it in my writings)

Strengths:

  • Looks to the historic body of Christ for orthodoxy.
  • Understands that God’s providential concern for the Church would have established the most important truths early.

Weaknesses:

  • Can elevate the authority of the early church above that of Scripture.
  • Hard to find justifiable reasons to believe that theology cannot develop or mature beyond the first five centuries.

4. Dynamic Orthodoxy. This view of orthodoxy would be highly influenced by a dialectical approach to theological development, believing that orthodoxy is not in any sense static, but dynamically changing as new discoveries are being made. Early views of orthodoxy might be completely overshadowed by new discoveries. This approach has characterized the more liberal theologians, especially in the early twentieth century. Theology, according to dynamic orthodoxy, can change radically in an antithetical way once new discoveries are made through the advancements of human knowledge.

Primary Adherents:

Liberal Christianity

Strengths:

Open to change and advancement.

Weaknesses:

  • Too open to change and advancement.
  • Christianity loses any roots.
  • Often values the credibility of human progress above the credibility of Scripture.

5. Developmental Orthodoxy. This view of orthodoxy is unique to Roman Catholicism, therefore, it must be understood according to the Catholic view of authority. Developmental Orthodoxy sees the fullness of Christian orthodoxy contained in the one deposit of faith given by Christ to the apostles. These Apostles handed this deposit over in two forms of tradition, written and spoken. The written tradition is found in the Scriptures, the spoken is primarily contained in the early church. This tradition is interpreted by the infallible magisterial authorities in the Roman Catholic church. Orthodoxy itself is defined progressively by this authority as situations develop throughout time. According to this theory, it is not as if orthodoxy develops ex nihilo, but only as the situations make necessary. Once orthodoxy has been defined, then Christians are responsible to believe it, even if it was previously obscure or non-existent (e.g. acceptance of the Apocrypha, assumption of Mary, rejection of birth control).

Primary Adherents:

Roman Catholics

Strengths:

  • Can be more definitive about a definition of orthodoxy.
  • Ability to contextualize orthodoxy.
  • Sees value in church history.

Weaknesses:

  • No regulation for abuse in the Magisterium.
  • No justification for an authoritative system of infallibility beyond pragmatism.
  • Elements of newly established orthodoxy that cannot be found in church history is hard to justify.
  • Does not take a consensual approach to orthodoxy which, in the end, positions most members of the Christian faith, living and dead, as unorthodox according to their current definition.

6. Progressive Orthodoxy. This is the belief that the ultimate authority for the Christian faith is found only in the Scriptures (sola Scriptura) and that orthodoxy is a progressive development of the Church’s understanding of the Scriptures. Like paleo-orthodoxy, progressive orthodoxy seeks the consensus of the Church throughout time for the core essential theological issues, finding most of these in the early church expressed in the ecumenical councils. But it also believes that our understanding of these issues can and may mature both through articulation and added perspective. This “maturing” does not amount to any essential change, but only progressive development as theological issues are brought to the table of church history through controversy and exegetical discovery. In other words, once orthodoxy has been established, its antithetical opposite cannot be entertained. Orthodoxy can only be advanced.

Adherents:

Most Evangelicals, Protestant Reformers, some emergers.

Here is the chart that illustrates this view:

Weaknesses:

  • Often hard to define what is the difference is between maturity and change.
  • Who defines when a doctrine has “matured”?

Strengths:

  • It is anchored in the Bible while having a great respect for tradition.
  • Leaves the door open for the Holy Spirit to mature the church’s understanding.
  • Seeks first to define orthodoxy in a consensual way.
  • Leaves room to distinguish between essential elements of orthodoxy and non-essential.

Of the options given above, in my opinion the two that are the most credible are Paleo-Orthodoxy and Progressive Orthodoxy. Both are rooted in the ultimate authority of Scripture and both have a high view of God’s providential care throughout Church history. I appreciate the consensual approach which I think must be present to some degree if one is to have a proper defense of the history of the Church.

In the end, however, I do lean in the direction of the Progressive Orthodox view. I believe that all the essential doctrines of Christianity were established in the early Church, but that their maturation came throughout church history. Some, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, matured earlier than others. Because of this, we find that these enjoy a greater Christian consensus. I put a higher priority on these. Yet I also believe that we need to take seriously others which matured later, even if they do not enjoy the same consensus (i.e. sola fide—which I believe existed in seed form in the early church, but did not develop more fully until the controversy of the sixteenth century.)

The distinction between the orthodoxy established in the early church and the later developing tradition based orthodoxy must be made and reflected upon.

quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus

Part 3: The Maturing of Orthodoxy

My view of what I call “progressive orthodoxy” allows for maturation and development in our understanding of orthodoxy. I will now further explain this position. First, let me restate the definition:

Progressive Orthodoxy: The belief that the ultimate authority for the Christian faith is found only in the Scriptures (sola Scriptura) and that orthodoxy is a progressive development of the Church’s understanding of the Scriptures. Progressive orthodoxy, like paleo-orthodoxy, seeks the consensus of the Church throughout time for the core essential theological issues, finding most of these in the early church expressed in the ecumenical councils. But it also believes that our understanding of these issues can and may mature both through articulation and added perspective. This “maturing” does not amount to any essential change, but only progressive development as theological issues are brought to the table of church history through controversy and exegetical discovery.

Here is how it looks so far:

The question are many at this point. Here are some of them:

  • How does this “maturing” process take place? This is not an easy question to answer for every tradition will claim that their maturation is the correct one.
  • Once a doctrine as “matured” does this mean that it’s mature form is the “new” orthodoxy?
  • What if someone rejects the maturation in favor of its immatured form? Are they still “orthodox” in an immature sense?
  • What if some person, tradition, or institution favors a form that has matured slightly differently? Are they “unorthodox”?

Let me give you some examples:

I believe in doctrine of salvation by faith alone (sole fide). This means that the sole instrumental cause of justification, from a human standpoint, is faith without the addition of any works, including baptism. But this doctrine, as such, was not fully articulated until the time of the Reformation. It was not until then, due to the controversy that arose, that the church was forced to mature in this particular aspect of soteriology (salvation). But I have a problem. The church, until this time, generally accepted some form of works-based justification, whether it be through baptismal regeneration, or the addition of some other good work or participation in the sacraments.

The same thing can be said about my view of the atonement. I believe in what is called the vicarious substitutionary view of the atonement. This means that I believe that Christ served as the substitute for man (or the redeemed), taking their punishment and making it his own while on the cross. Yet this doctrine only existed in seed form until the time of Anselm. Anselm, in the 11th century, introduced the church to the “satisfaction” theory of the atonement. This was more fully developed later by John Calvin. It now goes by the name “substitutionary” or “penal” atonement. What of those who did not believe such before Anselm or Calvin?

For both of these (and others), I have a few options:

1. I could say that before these doctrines were understood and articulated according to my current Protestant understanding, no one was truly saved or, at the very least, orthodox. (Radical Restorationism)

2. I could say that these doctrines did exist before, just in unarticulated form. (Thomas Oden)

3. I could say that these doctrines did exist in the earliest church, but the church became corrupted and lost them to some degree. (Reformers)

4. I could say that their immature state was sufficient for the time, but is now insufficient. (Conservative Progressives)

5. I could say that these developments, while true, don’t really matter with regards to defining orthodoxy. (Emerging)

I am torn by some of these. The only one that I reject outright is #1. I also have some problems with #4. The rest may contain truth. In fact, the answer may lie in a combination of 2-5. It depends on the issue at hand. In other words, I don’t think any one of these comprehensively explains the maturation of orthodoxy for all issues. Some beliefs I believe were held by the early church and later corrupted (e.g. sola Scriptura). Some were just assumed without question and the lack of questioning amounted to their immaturity (e.g. baptismal regeneration). Some, once questioned, did reveal orthodoxy as it should be understood by all (sola fide). Some came into later maturation, but should not have any bearing on historic Christian orthodoxy (Calvinism, dispensationalism, rapture, etc.).

Next, I will try to chart out (you know how I love charts!) the way this would look with respect to Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox orthodoxy.

Part 4: Are Catholics Orthodox

Is the Roman Catholic Church unorthodox?

From the perspective of a Protestant understanding of “orthodoxy,” relations to other traditions can vary. Protestants can be found who believe that any deviation from the developments and articulations found in the Reformation, particularly with regard to justification by faith alone, amounts to abandoning the Gospel completely.

The question is this: Does a denial of sola fide (justification by faith alone) amount to the production of a different Gospel and to what degree?

If a denial of sola fide produces a different Gospel in an absolute sense, then it is, by definition, unorthodox in the most severe way. However, if it deviates from the Gospel causing a distortion of the Gospel, but not a destruction of the Gospel, can it be said to be unorthodox to the degree that the Catholic church is a heretical institution?

Please understand, the question is not whether someone can deny sola fide and be saved. Most Evangelicals would (should?) agree that we are saved by faith alone, not necessarily by our belief or confession in salvation by faith alone.

The question is Can the true Gospel be proclaimed when sola fide is denied or ignored? Is sola fide so central to the Gospel that its neglect or denial amounts to a heterodox Gospel?

Those who answer in the affirmative are going to have to recognize the difficulties with such a stand. If the absence of sola fide from the Gospel represents an absolute destruction of the Gospel, what of the church before the Reformation that had yet to articulate salvation in such a way? I know that Thomas Oden has done much to show that the early church did hold to an unarticulated view of sola fide, and I think he has done a good job of showing that this problem is not as severe as some people make it out to be (see Oden, The Justification Reader). Yet, at the same time, it is hard for me to read through the early church and see this without definite qualifications. We need to recognize that the pre-reformation church, even the pre-Roman Catholic church, did hold to beliefs that would be outside of the orthodoxy produced by a Reformed view of sola fide. For example, the early church held to a primitive belief in baptismal regeneration. As well, we often find the blurring of the lines between justification and sanctification.

Therefore, if we were to say that the Reformation’s restoration, development, and articulation of justification by faith alone was a restoration of that which was completely corrupt beforehand, we will have some issues.

Was the Gospel proclaimed in the sixteenth century for the first time?

Did true and full orthodoxy begin in the mind of Luther and the other magesterial reformers?

I think that there is a more reasonable option here. This option follows the idea of progressive orthodoxy that we have talked about earlier. It allows for corruption of orthodoxy, to some degree, as corruption is a vital part of its evolution to maturity.

Here is the chart from the last post:

Let me now advance my thesis a bit.

With regards to the Roman Catholic understanding of justification, I would see the orthodoxy produced as a distorted orthodoxy. This distortion, while serious, does not amount to an absolute departure from Christianity. In other words, the Gospel can still be found in Roman Catholic orthodoxy, even if the “fullness of the Gospel” is lacking.

Their development (along with that of the Eastern Church) may look like this (please don’t try to dissect all the letters and such; that would be over-analyzing my intentions):

Notice a few things:

Early Church: The early church was orthodox. Some doctrines were developed, matured, and articulated more than others. This is the difference in the capital letters and lower case. Capital represents maturity (e.g. the work of Christ). Lower case represents an orthodox belief, even if it remained immature. The italics represents distorted orthodoxy. In other words, there were certain beliefs in the early church that had the essence of truth, but, because of immaturity, could often misrepresent its later matured form (e.g. the atonement as a ransom to Satan).

Eastern Church: Here, I primarily mean the Eastern Orthodox church. Notice that they are also orthodox. The further developments represented by the “TH” show the progress and maturing of certain doctrines (e.g. person of Christ and the Trinity). The lower case show an undeveloped doctrine (e.g. salvation) and the italics show a distorted understanding (e.g. atonement).

Roman Catholic: Notice here, the difference. Now we have a misspelling of “orthodox.” This represents the additions that the Roman Catholic church brought to the table that, from a Protestant perspective, distorts the Gospel in a more severe way. These additions might include the infallibility of the Pope, Marian dogmas, additions of “mortal” sins, and, a definite articulation of process justification along with an absolute denial of sola fide. The distortions would include sacredotalism, depository of grace, the institutionalized church, and the like. But, as you can see, much of Christian orthodoxy remains in tact in Roman Catholicism. So much, in fact, that from my perspective, it would be wrong to call them “unorthodox” in an absolute sense. They just have a distorted orthodoxy that, when read, can still be seen as orthodox.

Reformed Protestantism: Obviously you will see I believe that Protestantism has the best articulation of orthodoxy, even if it remains imperfect. There are definitely some distortions (possibly ecclesiology) and some areas that need development (we must always leave room for such). But in the end, I believe that this represents the fullest representation of orthodoxy and, hence, the Gospel message.

Back to the question: Does a denial of sola fide (justification by faith alone) amount to the production of a different Gospel and to what degree?

The answer is yes and no. “Yes” in that it amounts to the production of a distorted or undeveloped Gospel, and, in this sense, it is different from the fullness of the Gospel (like that of the Galatian Judizers). “No” in the sense that its denial does not completely destroy the Gospel beyond recognition. For example, I believe that the Mormons have a different Gospel to the degree that orthodoxy is destroyed beyond recognition. If they were on the chart, their orthodoxy would look something like this: “XXoMOXY.” It may have some of the same elements, but it is too different and too distorted to find the truth Gospel (primarily because of the absence of the God-man). The same could be said for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Catholics are different. I don’t believe that Catholics are orthodox to the degree that Protestants or Eastern Orthodox are, but, nonetheless, orthodoxy can be found in their Gospel. They do have the God-man and this means a lot.

Once again, you must remember, this is looking at these things from an Evangelical Protestant perspective. I am an Evangelical Protestant. So don’t give me any cries of “Arrogance!” I don’t believe Evangelicals are perfect, but I do believe we have the fullest articulation of the Gospel. If I did not, then I would go to the tradition that did!

At least, this is where I am at today.

Hopefully, you can now see how my understanding of how progressive orthodoxy can account for the development of doctrine in the face of many difficulties. 

In Search of Biblical Manuscripts: The City Library in Kozani, Greece

Wednesday, June 18, 2008. The day started at 11 am at the Greek Bible Institute in Pikermi, just outside of Athens. Late start because we thought driving to the famed monasteries of Meteora would take four hours. Four of us (Billy Todd, Tim Ricchuiti, Brian Wright, and Dan Wallace) shoehorned ourselves into a tiny car, and took off for the road north. But we were not prepared for what would await us today.

We took the E75 up the east coast of Greece’s mainland. For the most part, a very fine, modern highway. After we had traveled for about 2 & ½ hours, we got an email on Tim Ricchuiti’s cell phone from Jeff Baldwin, the director of the Greek Bible Institute and a former student of mine. Jeff grew up in Greece (his dad, Bill Baldwin, another Dallas Seminary grad, was the founder of the school decades ago) and is completely bilingual. He has many friends in low places (since he’s not Orthodox), but even low places here are sometimes high enough. As I said, we were headed for the monasteries built high up on top of rocks that ascend straight up into the heavens hundred of meters above the town below. We thought we would visit them today, and tomorrow see if we could examine some manuscripts there. The monasteries here have nearly 60 Greek New Testament manuscripts. In centuries past, the only way that people could get to the top of these rocks was to get pulled up on a rope. But once, when a rope broke, the rules changed. Now, there are steps to the heights. A veritable stairway to heaven. Led Zeppelin would be envious. We were eager with anticipation (as much as four Testoterone-laden eggheads can be). But the email from Jeff changed our plans instantly.

For the rest of the story, you’ll have to go to www.bible.org. The link to the essay is here.

In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Two – Martin Luther

Any attempt to defend a position is going to be met with three things: 1) reasoned rebuttal from those who are truly trying to understand yet disagree, 2) antagonistic reaction from those who see your argument as a threat to their favorite position and have an emotional reaction to it, and 3) misguided response from those who misunderstand and misdefine the position that you are attempting to defend.

As part of my continued belief that people (including Protestants) don’t really understand sola Scriptura, in my initial post in this series, I distinguished it from four other views. I had hoped that this would serve to prevent reaction #3, but such was not the case. Nevertheless, here is another chart to help define my position.

In my initial defining I distanced the doctrine from those who would claim that there is more than one infallible authority for the Christian (dual-source theory or sola ecclesia) and those who would claim that the Scripture is the sole authority for the Christian (solo Scriptura or nuda Scriptura). The doctrine of sola Scriptura is the belief that the Scripture is the final and only infallible authority for the Christian. In other words, it is the ultimate authority.

That sola Scriptura utilizes other authorities is evident even in the heat of the Reformation as Martin Luther was called to Worms to give an account of himself. When asked to recant his controversial writings, after sleeping on it, Luther uttered these famous words in response:

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony from scripture or by evident reason—for I confide neither in the Pope nor in a Council alone, since it is certain they have often erred and contradicted themselves—I am held fast by the scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience is held captive by God’s Word, and I neither can nor will revoke anything, seeing it is not safe or right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.“

Notice here that the “testimony of scripture” holds his conscience “captive.” Not only this, but it was the testimony of Scripture “adduced by me.” This is not meant to advocate isolationist interpretation, but to convey the personal responsibility Luther felt to produce his own convictions. But notice that Luther did have respect for the authority of Popes and councils. He says, “I confide neither in Pope or in a Council alone” (emphasis mine). The key is the “alone.” Luther did confide in Popes and councils, but found them insufficient to have a final or independent voice in issues of faith. Why? According to Luther, it is because they can and do err. Tradition, according to Luther, has a subordinate authority to the Scripture, but is an authority nonetheless.

Notice also that “evident reason” is on Luther’s list of authority. Luther understood that reason has an important role to play in the binding of our conscience. In fact, it would seem that reason played a bigger role in Luther’s decision than tradition.

Finally, individual conscience itself plays an authoritative role in our lives. Luther believed that it is not “safe or right to act against conscience.” Whether Luther would have attributed his statements here to the movements of the Holy Spirit upon our conscience or simply define conscience is the product of the adducement of authority is hard to say. What is important is that Luther was referring to individual responsibility.

Now, this one paragraph is certainly not sufficient to pin down Luther’s entire theology of authority—much less the entire reformed perspective—but it does serve to illustrate the founding balance sola Scriptura provides through the interaction of many sources of authority.

Sola Scriptura is more than just a doctrine, but a road to responsibility before man and God. Luther could not in good conscience outsource his theology to any magisterial court, council, or successor to the seat of St. Peter. If he did, his convictions would not be his own. Luther was not into the “copy-and-paste” theology—the kind that had come to be mandated by ecclesiastical authorities of his day. He renewed and fostered a legacy which requires every man to seek for, wrestle with, and discover truth on their own, knowing that we will not be judged under the umbrella of a council, pastor, parent, family, or church, but by our own integrity of heart and mind.

Our beliefs are too precious to require any less. Sola Scriptura represents the legacy of Christ’s first words to two hopeful fisherman, “come and see.”

Greg Eby on Funamentalism, Postmodernism, and The Theology Program

This is a letter from Greg Eby, a student in The Theology Program, to his pastor about The Theology Program.

____________________

Remember the rigid Fundamentalism of the 60’s and early 70’s?  Or, more specifically, do you recall the Baptist Fundamentalism that was prevalent during this particular era of intense cultural upheaval?  I sure do…

The advent of the 60’s introduced us to the Beatles, the hippies, the rock & roll revolution, Viet Nam War protests, promiscuous sex, drug abuse, etc., etc., ad nauseam. 

But, in Fundamentalist circles the 60’s precipitated something altogether different…..”The list.”  Surely you remember “The List.”  While pulpiteers gave lip service to the Age of Grace and extolled the virtue of our freedom from the shackles of the Law, in reality, we found that the Decalogue had simply been supplanted by other unwritten regulations, i.e. “The List.”  

While hair length, dress code, and music were the chief constituents of this unwritten list of stipulations,  this trio was often accompanied by other rules, some of which found their way into church covenants and were therefore codified in written form.  Examples of these included abstinence from the use of playing cards, tobacco, alcohol, and movie theaters.  (By the way, I am neither a smoker nor a drinker.  I plead the 5th with regard to occasional movie going).

It seems that the Church, reeling from the explosion of worldliness in the surrounding culture, reacted by seeking to legislate spirituality.  The lessons of the Old Testament and the failures of the Old Covenant to consistently reform (let alone transform) the children of Israel seemed to have been long forgotten.  As a young person I can personally attest that any mention from the pulpit of a vital, personal relationship with Jesus Christ seemed to pale in significance to the emphasis placed upon “The List.”   It was an age of legalism, and the Gospel was engulfed within the milieu characterized by rules and stipulations.  Consequently, I believe many young people were brought into outward conformity – but remained spiritually stunted inwardly…

Well, lest I seem overly critical of Fundamentalism, let me say that both contemporary Baptists and Protestants owe a debt of gratitude to those Fundamentalists who zealously guarded many essentials of the Christian faith from the encroachment of modernism and liberalism, particularly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Higher critics attacked the authority of Scripture, cast aspersions upon the historicity of Jesus, questioned His deity, and generally sought to disprove the miracles recorded in the Bible… 

It seems that Fundamentalism was faced with fighting a battle on two fronts:  the impingement of higher criticism on the one hand; the exponential growth of worldliness on the other.  I don’t fault Fundamentalism for entering the fray; but, I do decry the fact that many casualties in this war were suffered by young people who were the victims of “friendly fire.”  I was one of those.  Caught up in a distorted gospel of “do’s and don’t’s,” it was easy to succumb to the notion that external conformity was the defining essence of Christianity…  How many young people prayed “the sinners prayer,” embraced outward conformity, and then assumed their fire insurance policy was in full force?

The pervasive legalism in the moral realm was paralleled by pervasive dogmatism in the doctrinal realm.  Fundamentalism, in its “knee jerk” reaction to the excesses of liberalism, became very narrow and rigid in its theology.  Never mind the fact that God gave us a brain capable of critical thinking skills – the very skills exercised by the Bereans when they compared Paul’s preaching to the Old Testament Scriptures.  Of course, by “critical” I don’t mean negative.  I am primarily referring to an individual’sevaluation and assessment of truth claims in light of Scripture and in consultation with other believers within the community of faith. The rigid, over-protective, isolationist mentality of 30 years ago was not conducive to “doing theology outside the box.”  It was, however, conducive to the indoctrination/regurgitation method of “teaching” doctrine.  Consequently, we are faced with a generation of adults who know what they believe, but they are unable to rationally defend their beliefs because they have never critically examined the propositional content upon which they have placed their faith.  They don’t know why they believe…. 

I remember the militant separatists within the GARBC who were so jealous of their pulpit that they were suspicious of any Baptist outside the Association.  And God forbid they should share their platform witha non-Baptist!  Fundamental Baptists had a corner on the truth and felt they must protect their doctrinal integrity at all costs.  This atmosphere was counterproductive to critical thinking and independent Bible study.  It did, however, produce its share of pride and judgmentalism.  This should be no surprise, for judgmentalism is the handmaiden of legalism.

In my view the fundamental problem with Fundamentalism (no pun intended) is not its enthusiastic regard for absolute truth.  (I share that enthusiasm).  The problem is its penchant for viewing all theology in black/white, all or nothing categories.  According to the strict fundamentalist any doctrine deemed worthy of embracing is automatically decreed to be in the “essentials” category and warrants a “10″ on the scale of certainty.  I concede a bit of hyperbole here, but it seems that nothing – short of the identity of the Nephilim in Genesis chapter 6 – is open to debate or discussion…  Howard Hendricks cites a quotation in his book, “Color Outside the Lines” that is most applicable here.

“From the cowardice that dares not face new truth, from the laziness that is contented with half-truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, Good Lord, deliver me.
Amen.” 

Prayer From Kenya

In TTP (The Theology Program) we discuss an assortment of erroneous methods of “doing theology.”  I use the phrase “doing theology” because TTP is a theological methods program – not a catechism.  We extol the virtues of doing exegesis within a historical, grammatical, contextual, and literary framework; of comparing Scripture with Scripture; of extracting timeless principles; of distilling those principles into a theological statement (a timeless truth); and then asking the question, “How does it apply to us today?” not “What does it mean to me?”  The latter question is characteristic of subjective theology and symptomatic of   postmodern epistemology and the manner in which it has infiltrated the Church.  In short, the Bible is not subject to a myriad of meanings superimposed upon it by private interpretation. 

In The Theology Program we discuss the categories of “True Relativity” (consisting in  situations/opinions) versus “True Objectivity” (consisting of the cardinal doctrines essential to historic Christianity but also including those non-essential tenets subject to debate and discussion).

In The Theology Program we ask questions like the following:

  • l What teachings are absolutely essential for an individual to be saved?
  • l What teachings are essential for orthodoxy?
  • l What teachings are important but not essential?
  • l What teachings are not important?
  • l What teachings are open to pure speculation?

The Theology Program rejects the Postmodern View of Truth and posits the        Correspondence View of Truth, “the belief that truth corresponds to objective reality.”  But, having said this, we discourage rigidity of opinion and dogmatism in the classroom.  Lively interaction and discussion in the classroom is encouraged – in fact, it is an integral part of what TTP is all about.  On the other hand, polemics and heated verbal altercations are not permitted.  We recognize that no single individual has a corner on all truth and the study of theology is best done “in community” within the Body of Christ.  My reasons for saying this are the following:

  • l The noeticeffects of sin. Although all redeemed individuals are new creations in Christ, it is intellectually dishonest to disavow the vestigial effects of original sin upon our intellects and reasoning abilities. The remnant of the sin principle in the life of the Christian can impede not only his volition but also his cognitive abilities. I believe this is one of the reasons we often perceive truth “through a glass darkly.” This is also why it is so important for us to renew our minds daily through Scripture reading, prayer, and interaction with other believers.
  • l Although supreme objectivity is always to be our ultimate goal, we all have experiential and emotional baggage that we bring to the study of Scripture. In addition, we all tend to view theology through the lens of our pre-understandings and “folk theology.” In our present state of humanness it is impossible to totally divorce these influences from our understanding of Scripture. This is where, I believe, rigid fundamentalists have been intellectually dishonest. Or perhaps they have just buried their heads in the sand…
  • l The Bible itself is not a systematic theology textbook. Many doctrinal tenets are rather loosely interspersed throughout its pages. It appears that God expects us to use our minds to organize, categorize, and systematize the truths contained within the pages of His Word. We find doctrinal “dots” all across the pages of the Bible, but God expects us to sharpen our own pencils and connect those dots in proper fashion to produce an orderly, coherent theological perspective. [Moreover, we often forget that many of the refined articulations of doctrine taken for granted by evangelicals have evolved over the course of 2000 years of Church history and are the product of many "movers and shakers" who have gone before us. We stand upon the shoulders of the early Church fathers, and other men like Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Though deceased, these men are constituents of the community of faith. Every time we read one of their commentaries or consult one of their works we are "doing theology in community."]
  • l Finally, because we all “see through a glass darkly,” we all bring our own alternative brands of Windex to the “glass” in an effort to perceive truth more clearly. And when we read the labels on each brand of glass cleaner we find that each has a unique blend of ingredients. Some might contain a higher percentage of reason and logic; others, a higher proportion of tradition and experience. The particular mix depends upon the individual. But our purpose is the same, to determine the single objective interpretation of the truth. And this is why it is so important for “iron to sharpen iron.” (By the way, don’t laugh at my Windex analogy. I came up with that on my own and I happen to think it is pretty good J).

Students who are new to The Theology Program are asked to temporarily place their current theological constructs on a shelf.  They are asked to consider some of the most cogent arguments (bothpro and con) of various – and often divergent – theological perspectives prevalent within evangelicalism.  They are asked to ponder the Scriptures supporting and refuting each position.  This is where critical thinking skills come into play.  In addition, they are strongly encouraged to discuss their thoughts withone another as they progress through the curriculum.  This is what “doing theology” is all about.  As the student further develops his own theology, many of the constructs placed on the shelf will be re-integrated into his theological understanding.  Moreover, he will engage in this process with renewed enthusiasm and fervency because the end product is his theology.  It is his because he has appropriated it by conviction.  This is the most exciting aspect of TTP.  At this point the student is in a better position to defend his beliefs and be the “salt” and “light” so desperately needed in our Postmodern society…

Allow me to close this letter by sharing a classroom experience which had a profound impact on my life.  During one of our class sessions I recall a spirited (almost heated) exchange occurring  between two of my fellow TA’s(teaching assistants).  It happened to revolve around some of the finer points of doctrine pertaining to a proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper.  I remember intervening privately in an attempt to resolve the dispute.  I feared their friendship might be in jeopardy.  But what I observed during a subsequent class is what really “blew me away…”  With a complete absence of any pretense or hesitation these two individuals greeted each other in a sincere, warm-hearted fashion.  What I observed was unfeigned, unconditional acceptance.  How could this be?  Shouldn’t they be harboring a grudge or nursing hurt feelings?  I firmly believe they were illustrating what Chuck Swindoll articulates so very well in this quote from his book, “The Grace Awakening.”

One of the marks of maturity is the ability to disagree without being disagreeable.  It takes grace.  In fact, handling disagreements with tact is one of the crowning achievements of grace.

Unfortunately, the older we get the more brittle we become in our reactions, the more tedious and stubborn and fragile.  For some strange reason, this is especially true among evangelical Christians.  You would think that the church would be the one place where we could find tolerance, tact, plenty of room for disagreement, and open discussion.  Not so!  It is a rare delight to come across those in the family of God who have grown old in grace as well as in knowledge. (Emphasis mine).

Dear Pastor, I am wondering if the gist of this letter resonates with you.  Perhaps you have suffered at the hands of fellow fundamentalists because you have dared to be creative and implement innovations in methodology at FBC…..

My object in writing this letter is to be the best possible ambassador for Christ and for Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, and most specifically, The Theology Program (TTP).  The study of theology needn’t be dry, dusty, and stodgy.  In fact, when it properly engages the critical thinking processes of the brain it can revitalize a church and serve as a catalyst for revival!  It has certainly had that impact upon my life.