Archive | August, 2009

A Need for Higher Learning – Part II

As a follow up to my last post O Teacher Where Art Thou, I came across this audio clip (located at the bottom of this post) that in my opinion, demonstrates why pastors and teachers need some type of formalized training in an objective learning environment.  It is not enough to just know what Scripture says but to know what Scripture means, to understand historical and cultural background, the genres of Bible books, sound exegesis, and correlation of passages to the complete witness of God’s written revelation.   I also am a strong advocate for any teaching pastor to have a good working knowledge of the original languages.

Sadly, based on this church’s doctrinal statement, this pastor rejects any type of formalized training.  How many people is he influencing concerning their faith?  And he is only one of many.  How many believers have an incorrect or inconsistent understanding of what God has communicated through His word because men and women insist on speaking authoritatively regarding God’s word but resist education to measure their own understanding?

Another Illustration of the Trinity

Another step to bringing clarity to the issue of what the Trinity is not.

This has to do with the essence of God. When we talk about God’s essence, we are speaking of the “stuff” that God is made up of (not made of!). It is often referred to in philosophical language as the “ontos” of God. In the fourth century, at the Council of Nicea, this was referred to as the “ousia” as Christ was declared to be of the same ouisa (homo-ousia), rather than sharing an essence that is merely like or similar to the Father. Christ shares in the exact same ousia, ontos, essence, or “stuff” as the father.

It is important to note that this sharing is an absolute unity (God is one), so as to avoid the temptation to divide the same ontos into three parts. In other words, this is not what the Trinity is:

trinity-wrong 

Notice the difference from what I posted yesterday.

trinity-right

See the difference? I cannot overstate how important this is. The first chart is tritheism. The second is Trinitarianism.

"The Trinity is Like 3-in-1 Shampoo". . . And Other Stupid Statements

Alternate title: “Trinitarian Heresy 101”

“The doctrine of the Trinity is like an egg: three parts, one thing.” Ever heard that? How about this, “The doctrine of the Trinity is like a three leaf clover: three leaves, one clover.” Or how about THIS, “The doctrine of the Trinity is like water: three forms (ice, steam, liquid) one substance.” But the greatest I ever heard was by a guy in one of my classes. He said that he thought that the Trinity was like 3-in-1 shampoo: three activities, one substance.”

Stupid statements. Creative, but stupid. Don’t use them. Any of them. Ever.

Explanation coming… Hang with me.

Last week I taught a group of kids about the doctrine of the Trinity here at the Credo House as part of our Theology for Kids series. The ages were anywhere from 7 to 13. Though I regularly teach this subject to adults, this was the first time that I taught the doctrine of the Trinity to kids. I was surprised that it went well. It is confusing enough for adults, how much more for kids?

Teaching the Trinity, I have found, is more about giving basic principles of what it is and then shooting down illustrations about what it is not. Proper Trinitarianism is about a delicate balance between the unity and diversity in the Godhead. Christians believe in one God, i.e., one essence, who eternally exists in three separate persons, all of whom are equal.

We often employ illustrations that help us to make the ineffable, effable, the abstract, concrete. But when it comes to the nature of God, especially with regard to the Doctrine of the Trinity, illustrations should only be used to show what the Trinity is not.

Let me list the three major heresies or departures from orthodoxy with regard to the Trinity:

1. Modalism: The belief that God is one God who shows himself in three different ways, sometimes as the Father, sometimes the Son, and sometimes the Holy Spirit. It describes God in purely functional terms. When he is saving the world on the cross, he is called Jesus. When he is convicting the world of sin, he is called Holy Spirit, and when he is creating the world, he is called Father. The error here is that this is contrary to what we believe: one God who eternally exists in three persons, not modes of functionality. It is not one God with three names, but one God in three persons.

2. Tritheism: The belief that we have three Gods, all who share a similar nature, but not the exact same nature. In this, the nature of God is either distinguished or divided, which destroys the unity of God. We don’t believe in three persons who share in a species called “God,” but three persons who share in an identical, united nature. Continue Reading →

Tom Schreiner on the Millennium . . . and So Much More

I have always been a great fan of Dr. Tom Schreiner. He is an outstanding Bible commentator and New Testament theologian. But more than this he is balanced and has a good understanding of not only the issues, but the significance of the issues.

In this audio from a sermon that he preached a few weeks ago on Rev. 20, he demonstrates this balance through his comments during his exposition of Revelation 20 and the millennium. He candidly shows how he is not studying to tote any traditional banner. Notice that he reveals that during this particular study, he changed his position from that of a Amillennialist to that of one who believes the millennium is yet future. As interesting as this is to me, as I am a premillennialist, this is not what struck me most. It is the way he speaks about how you and I are to prioritize doctrine and hold those things that are not clearly revealed loosely and humbly. What a champion he is of mine.

Listen closely.

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O Teacher Where Art Thou?: A Case for Legitimate Higher Learning

In Michael’s recent posts on what does it take to be in ministry, I noticed that one area that tends to get push back is the issue of seminary and why it would be necessary for ministry leaders, especially pastors and teachers.   After all, the pastor/teacher is called by God and charged with ‘preaching the word’, as Paul tells Timothy.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that some opinions actually oppose higher learning on the basis that it might actually detract from some way, on a pure and spiritual learning of Scripture.

I think you would be hard pressed to find any pastor that says they do not teach the Bible.  Just about every Christian church I have run across has touted one thing, that they teach the Bible.  Or rather their platform is founded on Biblical truth.  What is suggested, I think, with this statement is that because a pastor or teacher uses the Bible then truth is presented and thus the commission to ‘preach the word’ is fulfilled to lead the congregants into truth.

For this reason, it is cited that education is not necessary only the call and the ability to teach.  But I think a closer look at Paul’s instruction to Titus bear a closer scrutiny.  Concerning the overseer/elder he says,

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it”. (Titus 1:9 NIV)

Whoa!  Notice that the instruction is not just to teach Scripture.  But the teacher/elder must faithfully transmit a message.   What is the message that has been taught?  Is it just as simple as picking up our Bibles?  I believe this verse speaks to 3 important criteria that necessitate the need for higher education.  Also, while this instruction is directed towards the overseer/elder, I think it is generally applicable to anyone who dares to teach others in the Christian faith.

1) Teaching the message: I think it is significant to note that the church we read about in the NT in Acts and as the recipients of the apostle’s letters had only the Old Testament Scripture and the circulation of some of the inspired writings that would eventually be recognized as Scripture.  The apostolic witness was key in this new faith because this was indeed the trustworthy message.  One of the criticism’s of higher education is that the apostles never went to seminary.  But they did not need to go.   They received the trustworthy message firsthand.  Additionally, the writers of the New Testament were those whom God breathed out His word.  They were part of the company of holy men that Peter speaks about in 2 Peter 1:20-21 and recognized that they were indeed writing the very word of God (1 Thessalonians 4:15).

2) Exhorting in sound doctrine: I find it interesting when I hear the argument that doctrine can be placed above Scripture.  All doctrine is is a truth statement about faith that is derived from Scripture.  But the apostolic message originated over 2,000 years ago.  It has gone through 2,000 years of changes and challenges.  It’s not that the message has changed but the interpretation and practice has and most certainly influenced by socio-political culture and shifts in eccesiological paradigms.  What we know today did not just occur in a vacuum and has been shaped significantly by these varying influences.  This has not all been a bad thing.  For as Christian doctrine has been challenged, the church has responded through ecumenical councils and confessions to refine what Scripture is indeed saying. Continue Reading →

The Galileo Incident: A Clash of Faith and Science?

The past few weeks I’ve been teaching an adult Sunday school class on the relationship between the Christian faith and science. We’ve reviewed what the Genesis text says—and what it doesn’t say. We’ve also noted how two twentieth-century discoveries—the universe’s beginning at the Big Bang and the universe’s astonishing fine-tuning for life—offer dramatic support for God’s existence. In the midst of some discussion, Jim spoke up in class: “A friend of mine at work recently gave a lecture on Galileo. He’s been telling us in the office that Galileo disproved the Bible.” One thing led to another, and last week Jim, another work colleague, and I had lunch at the Cheesecake Factory with Al (whom we affectionately call “Alileo”).

Al, a lawyer, has done quite a bit of research on his hero, Galileo (1564-1642). Al told us lots of interesting behind-the-scenes facts about Galileo as well as his historic significance. As the discussion went on, I pointed out that Galileo was no enemy of Scripture. He said that the Scriptures and science, when properly understood, will not conflict with each other. God’s self-revelation in the “books” of nature and Scripture—God’s works and God’s Word—will be harmonious. He wrote of this conviction in a letter to the Grand Duchess Christina in 1615:

I think that in disputes about natural phenomena one must begin not with the authority of scriptural passages but with sensory experience and necessary demonstrations. For the Holy Scripture and nature derive equally from the godhead, the former as the dictation of the Holy Spirit and the latter as the most obedient executrix of God’s orders; moreover, to accommodate the understanding of common people it is appropriate for Scripture to say many things that are different (in appearance and in regard to the literal meaning of the words) from the absolute truth…. I do not think that one has to believe that the same God who has given us senses, language, and intellect would want to set aside the use of these and give us by other means the information we can acquire with them, so that we would deny our senses and reason even in the case of those physical conclusions which are placed before our eyes and intellect by our sensory experiences or by necessary demonstration.

In the same letter he affirmed: “the holy Bible can never speak untruth—whenever its true meaning is understood.”

Incidentally, long before Galileo, Augustine (whom Galileo quotes in this letter) wrote along these lines in The Literal Meaning of Genesis (1.42-43):

it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn….If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

I mentioned how Genesis 1-2, the latter chapters of Job, and Psalm 104 (a creation psalm) doesn’t speak with scientific precision, but often creates certain pictures or images for us without giving the technical details. For example, Genesis 1 speaks of the greater and lesser lights, but this doesn’t mean that there aren’t larger bodies in space. The Scriptures often use phenomenological language—the way things appear to us—just as meteorologists speak of “sunrise” and “sunset.” Continue Reading →

“One White Lie Will Send You to Hell For All Eternity” . . . and other stupid statments

Repost from the great crash 0f 08

I have heard this since I was a very young Christian. It seemed somewhat reasonable as it was explained to me by pastors in sermons and by Christians as they explained the seriousness of sin. Their theology goes something like this:

All sin is so bad that even the smallest of sins deserves eternal punishment in hell. It does not matter if it is losing your temper at a lousy referee, not sharing your Icee, or speeding 36 in a 35, every sin deserves eternal torment in Hell. Why? Although it may seem unreasonable to us (as depraved as we are), it is fitting for a perfectly holy God who cannot be in the sight of sin, no matter how insignificant this sin might seem to us. In fact, there is no sin that is insignificant to God. Because He is infinitely holy, beyond our understanding, all sin is infinitely offensive to Him. Therefore, the punishment for all sin must be infinite.

I have to be very careful here since I am going against what has become the popular evangelical way to present the Gospel, but I don’t believe this is true. Not only do I not buy it, I think this, like the idea that all sins are equal in the sight of God, is damaging to the character of God, the significance of the cross, and I believe it trivializes sin. Let me explain.

First off, I don’t know of a passage in the Bible that would suggest such a radical view. It would seem that people make this conclusion this way:

Premise 1: Hell is eternal
Premise 2: All people that go there are there for eternity
Premise 3: Not all people have committed the same number or the same degree of sins
Conclusion: All sin, no matter how small, will send someone to hell for all eternity

The fallacy here is that this syllogism is a non-sequitur (the conclusion does not follow from the premises). Could it be that people are in Hell for all eternity based upon who they are rather than what they have done?

Think about this. Many of us believe that Christ’s atonement was penal substitution. This means that it was a legal trade. God counted the sufferings of Christ and that which transpired on the Cross as payment for our sins, each and every one. Therefore, we believe that Christ took the punishment that we deserved. But there is a problem. We are saying that we deserve eternal Hell for one single sin, no matter how small. I don’t know about you, but I have committed enough sins to give me more than my share of life sentences. I have committed sins of the”insignificant” variety (I speed everyday) and significant variety (no description necessary!). So, if Christ were only to take my penalty and if I deserve thousands upon thousands of eternities in hell, why didn’t Christ spend at least one eternity in Hell? Why is it that he was off the Cross in six hours, payment made in full? Combine my sentence with your sentence. Then combine ours with the cumulative sentences of all believers of all time. Yet Christ only suffers for a short time? How do we explain this?

You may say to me that I cannot imagine the intensity of suffering that Christ endured while he was on the cross. You may say that the mysterious transaction that took place was worse than eternity in Hell. I would give you the first, but I will have to motivate you to reconsider the second. Think about it. Do you really believe that the person who has been in hell for 27 billion years with 27 billion more times infinity would not look to the sufferings of Christ and say, “You know what? Christ’s six hours of suffering was bad. It is indeed legendary. But I would trade what I am going through any day for six hours, no matter how horrifying it would be.” You see, what makes hell so bad is not simply the intensity of suffering, but the duration. Christ did not suffer eternally, so there must be something more to this substitution idea and there must be something more to sin. Continue Reading →