Archive | September, 2009

The Forgotten Gospel of the End Times

One theologian has said that there are two extremes when it comes to studying eschatology (the doctrine of the end times): Eschatomania and Eschatophobia.

Eschatomaniacs talk about nothing else but the end times. With charts in hand they are ready to give the “Gospel of the end times” to whoever will listen. Their “Gospel,” however, is primarily concerned with issues of the Millennium, the timing of the Rapture, the details of the Tribulation, and the Anti-Christ.

Eschatophobics are a product—a reactionary product—of Eschatomaniacs. Because of the emphasis that many would place on the end times, believing that it is all there is, Eschatophobics shy away from any discussions, commitments, or teaching on the end times. It is seen as “unacademic” and counterproductive to the Gospel.

I believe that both of these extremes are unhealthy for the church and are taking their toll on Evangelical theology. I think that issues of eschatology are being relegated to second-class citizens of theology.

As of today, the score is eschatophobia 10, eschatomania 3. Point eschatophobia. Even at Dallas Theological Seminary, the bastion of dispensational theology, the issues are not discussed much. At least that is how it had become when I was there. The respectable positions are in the New and Old Testament and historic theology departments. Not many people are sought to chair the theology department because of their stature in the area of eschatology. It is simply not in vogue anymore. It is the forgotten Gospel of the End Times.

There are several reasons for this, justified or not.

1. Weary of the eschatology debate. Not unlike issues with creationism, the issue of Eschatology has been smothered over the last century. Theologians have fought far too much over the details of the end times and people are tired of being divided. We are living in a century that is seeking to mend old wounds and let theological bygones be bygones (for better or for worse). Many are attempting to live by the dictum “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity”‘ the dictum, though, is playing out this way, “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, silence . . .” Continue Reading →

Needs of Reclaiming the Mind Update

UPDATE: Actually, this is due tomorrow. I was off one day.

I want to thank all those who have been coming to our side at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries by responding to the blog post posted yesterday (copied below). Thus far, we have raised $3000 of the $21,000. You all are wonderful.

Please be in prayer for us as the full amount was due today. Pray that we act wisely and responsibily. I know the times are tough for everyone and we know that none of it is outside of God’s hands.

__________________________

You know how much I hate to use the blog to ask for funding, but I must. . . I will keep it short and to the point.

Reclaiming the Mind Ministries is in immediate need of $20,000. We got behind this summer and everything is due by tomorrow. This need is very serious.

For those of you who don’t know, Parchment and Pen is the blog of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, a 501c3 not-for-profit ministry devoted to theological education.

You can donate here.

If you have any questions, please let me know at michaelp at reclaimingthemind.org.

"All Sins are Equal in God's Sight" . . . And Other Stupid Statements

Added to the “and other stupid statements series.”

During my ordination, one of the questions that I was asked by a seminary professor was “Are all sins equal in the sight of God?” I hesitated. Not because I did not have a strong opinion on this, but because I was not sure what the answer was that he was looking for. Are all sins equal in the sight of God? My ordination may have depended on the answer.

It is very common within popular evangelicalism to answer this question in the affirmative. This was one of the main assumptions in a book that I just recommended last week. Most find this theological concept very appealing and accept it, I am afraid to say, without doing much homework.

I think this tendency to assume that all sins are equal in the sight of God comes by means of three influences.

1) A reaction by Protestants against the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal sins (sins that kill justifying grace) and venial sin (sins of a lesser nature that do not kill justifying grace).

2) A tendency within our evangelistic church culture to express common ground with unbelievers—i.e., if all sins are equal in God’s sight, then your sin is not worse than any other. This way we are not coming across as judgmental or condescending.

3) Some biblical passages that have been interpreted in such a way (discussed below).

I don’t believe, however, that all sin is equal in God’s sight. I do believe that telling people that it is does serious damage to people’s understanding of the character of God and of the seriousness of certain sins. There are many reasons for this, but let me start with a reductio ad absurdum and them move to a biblical argument.

I often ask people who say that all sin is equal in the sight of God if they live according to their theology. Think about this. If all sin is really equal in the sight of God, and one really believes this, then God’s consternation and anger will be equal for whatever sin we commit. Equally important is the fact that our relational disposition before God should suffer equally from the conviction of the Holy Spirit for all sins. Most Christians understand what it means to have a conscience weighed down by unrepentant sin. But this weighing down normally only comes from those sins that we perceive to be more severe. If it is true, however, that all sin is equal in the sight of God and one actually lived according to that theology, then they should be just as troubled spiritually and just as repentant before God when they break the speed limit as when they commit adultery. After all, breaking the speed limit, even by 1 mph, is breaking the law and breaking the law is sin (Rom 13).

But nobody does this. We all see speeding down the road as water under the bridge of God. Apparently our conscience bears witness that it is not as bad as other things, even if we confess differently. Either that or the ability for our theology to actually affect the way we believe and think is non-functional in this situation. Continue Reading →

"The Bible Says it, therefore it's True" . . . And Other Stupid Statements

Just because the Bible says something, this does not make it true. We follow the Bible in what it teaches, but not everything it records is intended to be teaching in the proper sense. Our goal as Christians is to be good interpreters of the Bible, being able to discern when something is being taught or when something is being told.

Here are five ways that we can mistakenly believe that the Bible is teaching truth or principles when it is not.

1. Some parts of the Bible are incidental to the bigger picture, not intending to teach any principle.

Be careful that you don’t try to find a principle in every passage. Not every verse or chapter of the Bible has an “application” in the traditional sense. For example, the chronologies of Matthew and Luke are not intending to teach a principle in and of themselves. They are simply attempting to give necessary background material so that Christ as the Messiah can be substantiated.

2. You have to distinguish between prescriptive and descriptive passages.

This is related to the previous and is especially relevant to narrative books such as Acts. We must be very careful with narratives since their primary purpose is to tell a story that is relevant to the bigger picture of redemption, not to give us prescriptive commands to live by. For example, in Acts chapter 1 we are told that the Apostles “cast lots” to discover who God wanted to replace Judas among the twelve. This is not giving principles on how to elect a pastor! It is simply saying this is what happened, nothing more, nothing less.

Another example (although not narrative) appears in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Paul tells Timothy to “bring him his cloak” (2 Tim 4:13). There is no abiding theological principle saying that Christians are to bring people coats! It is simply teaching us that Paul asked Timothy to bring him his cloak. Paul was cold! Nothing profound. Continue Reading →

Repealing Abolition

 (I thought I’d include something of a different nature on my blog—a sermon I preached on Christian slavery.)

Galatians 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

A lot of you may be familiar with the Andy Griffith Show. In one episode (“Andy Learns about America”), Mayberry’s Sheriff Andy Taylor is at the breakfast table talking to his son Opie about his history lessons.   Barney Fife, the inept, bumbling deputy, drops by.  Once he hears the topic of conversation, with great bravado, he announces that history was his best subject. 

 Andy is surprised. Barney challenges him to ask him anything. So Andy, with a twinkle in his eye, asks Barney to tell Opie what the Emancipation Proclamation is.

Of course, Barney is a history bluff, not a history buff

After hemming and hawing, Barney (rather awkwardly) says, “Are you kiddin’? Everyone one knows that.”

Andy: Then why don’t you tell us?

Barney: You’re kiddin’.  It’s one of the most famous proclamations in history.”

Andy: “I know.”

 After asking Opie and Aunt Bea for help, Barney finally says, “The Emancipation Proclamation was a proclamation’ is what it was”

Andy then asks: “What was it about?”

Barney rather impatiently responds: “It was about Emancipation! What do you think it was about? ‘What was it about’! Use your head, man! It’s common knowledge. There was these folks. And how else was they gonna’ get themselves emancipated, unless there was a proclamation. So they got themselves a proclamation, and they called it ‘The Emancipation Proclamation.’

Andy: “Yep,”

 Barney: “Yeah, I’m surprised at you for not knowing that, Andy! And I’ll tell you something else. I’m even more surprised that you think I don’t know about the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Andy: “We’re still waiting for you to tell us about it.”

Barney: Well, if you’re gonna’ get so smart-alecky about it, maybe I’m not even gonna’ tell ya’.”

Of course, the Emancipation Proclamation was the declaration by Abraham Lincoln that, effective 1 January 1863, “all persons held as slaves” within the rebel states “shall be then, thenceforth and forever free.”  Those who were abolitionists during that era wanted slavery to disappear.  So when I talk about “repealing abolition,” you might think this is a mistake.   Maybe you think I really mean “Repealing Prohibition,” which took place in 1933 after the thirteen-year government ban on alcohol.  Or perhaps you think I must really mean, “Promoting Abolition”—attempting as Christians to abolish oppression and even slavery in certain Muslim countries (like the Sudan, where Christians are literally enslaved).  And much could be said about this important topic, but that’s for another time. (Incidentally, I’m presently finishing a book that deals with a number of ethical challenges in the Old Testament—including slavery.) 

“Repealing Abolition,” I’m not talking about literally repealing of Lincoln’s strategic Emancipation Proclamation.  Rather, I want to encourage us to think in categories alien to our culture (which emphasizes rights and freedom—not responsibilities), but so familiar to biblical authors—that we are slaves of Christ and of one another.  If Jesus is Lord (kyrios) over each of our lives, this entails that I am his slave (doulos).  And if I am part of the body of Christ, I belong to you; I am to serve you in love.  Christian communities like ours should be slave communities. We are to be living out Scripture’s “reciprocal commands”—the one another commands in the New Testament (love one another, serve one another, accept one another, honor one another, etc.). 

 Sometimes we’ll talk of Christians as real “servants of the Lord”; we don’t use the term “slaves.”  Some biblical scholars have noted that many Bible translations have been too timid in their translation of doulos (“slave”) or syndoulos (“fellow slave”).  They tend to obscure the ancient significance of this term by translating it “servant” (or “bond-servant”) or “fellow servant” rather than the more appropriate term of subordination and ownership, “slave” or “fellow slave,” so well known in the first century. 

 Slaves belong to someone else, but servants can quit if they want to. If a slave master didn’t let you go, you had no hope.  That puts things in perspective. What would it do for our churches, for our homes, our schools if we thought of ourselves as slaves of Christ and one another?  Let’s repeal abolition and get back to slavery!  The Communist Manifesto says, “Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.” But for the Christian recognizes that we will be enslaved to one master or another. We are slaves by nature; we must serve one master or the other. As Christians, we express our slavery by saying, “Not my will but yours be done.” When we say, “Jesus is Lord,” we are saying, “I am his slave.”  So instead of throwing off our chains, we must think about putting them on—talk about political incorrectness!       

Let me first review important categories of slavery for Christians. Second, I’ll look at the context of Galatians 5:13. Third, I’ll address how we can apply this passage within the own Christian community.

I. CHRISTIAN SLAVERY (AND FREEDOM) IN SCRIPTURE:  Let’s look at the following passages (using the doul– word group). We’ll look at four particular categories or dimensions of slavery and freedom.

A. We’re FREE (from spiritual death, bondage to sin, Satan, etc.) in Christ.

  • John 8:32, 36: and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
  • Rom. 8:21: For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
  • Gal. 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
  • Gal. 4:7: Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
  • Gal. 5:31: So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman (cp. “slavery: v. 25), but of the free woman. Continue Reading →

Going for the Gold: Ecunemical Olympics and Historic Preservation

The other day I was joking around on Facebook, noting that the problem with hermeneutical gymnastics is the unstable landings.  Jugulum, a frequent poster here, commented about judges holding up score cards during sermons.  Very tongue-in-cheek!  But it did get me thinking: What if delivering Christian truth were like an Olympics competition, where the presentation of the Christian message would be judged by a diverse body of reviewers from various traditions to merit qualification?

I used to faithfully watch figure skating in the Olympics (since in my younger years I actually tried to do it).  Now granted there is some subjectivity to judging, even under the new rules implemented in 2004.  But judges are astute enough to recognize IF the skater is performing the required elements and IF they are performing them well.  Why? Because the judges are asked to rate the performance of the skater based on a set of established criteria that is historically defined.  Each element is examined and judged according to how well each technical aspect of the sport was performed based on the established standard.    There are no substitutions: if a double axle is required, the skater cannot substitute a toe loop for it.  The judges will know what an axle is supposed to look like.  If a program is supposed to have a minimum number of elements, the skater must perform those minimum number of elements.  Otherwise, skaters can be disqualified from competition for performing insufficient elements.

Now, I certainly am not suggesting that Christianity become a competition.  But I am thinking, What if anyone wishing to hang their shingle out, purporting to be Christian, had to meet a recognized criteria of the essential Christian message: a stamp of approval, if you will, that authenticates legitimacy?   What if a panel of reviewers existed consisting of members who have tested the historic confession of the faith that was once for all handed down, as Jude declares in his epistle (Jude 3)?  I don’t think it would be feasible to hold up score cards during sermons and other discipleship activities.  But individual reports could be provided with specific critiques, and there would be a minimal score necessary based on the cumulative scores of the judges.

I think this would crack down on some of the messages out there that claim to represent Christianity but, measured against the test, fail.  There are a lot of relatively “new” ideas about what Christianity is and means for someone who follows Christ.  I would think the promoters of unique ideas would want to authenticate their message with more than just big crowds.  I would think they would want to go for the gold, if you will.   But if persons espousing heretical teaching care more about promoting their ideas than for the message of Christ and refuse such evaluation, then, as the saying goes, res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself).

This actually was the work of the ecumenical councils.  Speaking specifically of Nicea, Constantinople and Chalcedon, a group of church leaders were asked to evaluate the merits of various charges for the defense of historic orthodoxy.  These men were knowledgeable about the core historic message based on God’s self-disclosure in Christ and therefore had grounds for effective examination.  I think this was a tremendously good thing.  Regardless of whatever political maneuverings existed, the evaluative process authenticated the faith that Jude speaks of, that which declares THIS is what Christianity is and THIS is what Christianity is not.  The collective good of this process was to weed out heresy and defend the Christian faith.  Even though the councils were formed in reaction to charges, how much better would a proactive process be?   But, to be clear, I am not promoting watch-dogging.

Now I do realize that 2000 years of church history has produced such a splintering in traditions that it would seem inconceivable for alignment across traditions.  Nevertheless, there is a core message that I believe all can agree on concerning the faith.  Just as Olympics judges have style preference and will rate their individual scores accordingly, so the scores of the Eastern Orthodox judges would not be the same as the Protestant evangelical judges.  But the collective score would produce the proof of the pudding.

So would this idea work?  I am not sure.  It may be that the fracturing has become so severe that confinement within each tradition may be necessary.  The hermeneutical deviations alone raise doubt.  I realize it would be tricky even to defend evangelicalism.   I suppose this was the attempt of the Manifesto, which Michael recently wrote about, and why it failed.  I applaud efforts to provide definition to an evangelical confession – based on a sound hermeneutical approach to Biblical theology – that establishes a base minimum of what defines evangelicalism, as well as historical preservation.  Again, the point is the merit of rigorous evaluation and for established standards that guard against infiltration of distorted or even destructive ideas.

I do think, however, that without a standard rooted in historic orthodoxy, the floor is open and subject to overly creative ideas.  I also believe an evaluative process does much to preserve that which has been believed everywhere by all.

I have the sense that many today would consider methods of evaluation or criteria establishment somehow intrusive and deem them contradictory to the love and unity so foundational to Christian belief.   The historic ecumenical councils are vilified as man-induced criteria established for political preservation.  But what would have happened had the ecumenical councils not have been formed in defense of the true Christology, without which, our love, hope, and unity would be in vain?

The Other Best Bible Software


Being in the industry I am in, I get asked a lot of theological questions. Why does God allow bad things to happen? How do we know what books belong in the Bible? What is the difference between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholicism? What is the best version of the Bible?

But over the last few years, one question has arisen almost as much as these:                                                                           

What is the best Bible study software?

Now that is a good question! And one you need to have an answer for.

I answer that question just like I answer the question about Bible versions:

“What are you using it for?”

Last month I wrote about a Bible study software called Bibleworks. This time I want to talk about the only other real option that is out there, Logos Bible Study Software. I have been a Logos user since the late nineties. I have been through every upgrade and greatly anticipated every title that they release.

Logos is a platform that supports a digital library. The primary glory of Logos is how many titles they have available. They are the standard. They are the Microsoft of Bible study software. It is that simple. No one can compare.

Some of the things that I use Logos for:

Commentaries and Reference Library: I have basically quit buying DVDs because I can just get all of my movies on Amazon.com and use my Roku player to watch them. That way I don’t have to worry about losing them or worry that they get scratched. Well, it is the same thing with Logos and my commentary and reference library. I don’t buy the paper version any more. I only get them on Logos. That way I never have to worry about them. As well, it is such a blessing to be able to pull up a passage of Scripture and have dozens of commentaries available at the click of the mouse. Yes, there are many books that you would not want to read digitally. At least I don’t like to read digitally. But when it comes to reference works, you need a quick and easy way to reference them efficiently. Logos is the way to go. Continue Reading →