Archive | December, 2009

"If the Bible is Not Inerrant, then Christianity is False" . . . And Other Stupid Statements

Added to my “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” series.

Consider this story (adapted from a true story):

Greg Jones was an evangelical Christian, active in his church, a regular preacher, teacher and served on the elder board. He says that he was addicted to fundamentalism. He slept, ate, and drank the truths of Christianity. After a decade of faithful service to the church, he is now a professing atheist who rejects the naivety of all that he held to so dearly. Why? Well, as he tells the story, he says that he was awakened out of his slumber of fundamentalism through many encounters with “the truth.” Chief among these encounters was when he finally realized that the Bible was “full of errors.” He describes his turn by referencing the discrepancies that he found throughout Scripture and being unable to come to a way to reconcile them. “For years,” he describes, “I was the best at answering the skeptic with regards to any objection that he could levy against the Scriptures. I knew how to reconcile any supposed contradiction. It became like an art form that I was proud of. No matter how difficult the problem, I could find a way out. After a time, I don’t know why, but I began to reflect upon the lengths that I had to go to make it all fit together. I realized that the art of answering the contradictions became a subjective smokescreen that I raised not only to those I was responding to, but also to myself. I had to be honest with myself. John says ‘No one who is born of God sins,’ then turns around and says “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father.” Which one is it? There are literally hundreds of problems like this in Scripture. My answers may have satisfied those I taught, but they no longer satisfied me. Eventually I realized (sadly, I might say) that I had to let go of the inerrancy of Scripture. Once I did that, I had to let go of Christianity all together.”

This description is a common testimony of many who have walked away from the faith. But this blog is not about walking away from the faith per se, but with the danger of the doctrine of inerrancy. When Greg rejected the doctrine of inerrancy because of his inability to reconcile the discrepancies, did this necessarily mean that he had to walk away from the faith? Continue Reading →

"God Comes Before My Wife" . . . And Other Stupid Statements

Here is a question I recieved from someone as a follow-up to my last blog.

Question:

I have a deep love for the lady who I’ve been dating and I’m getting set to pop the question to her. 

I love apologetics. You know that. I love teaching it as well. However, apologetics is not God. It is not the gospel. No one’s ministry is God. I have told my Princess repeatedly that God will always be #1. She must be second place. I must put her before that without putting her before God. How can I teach and defend the gospel if I am not living it? Part of living it means giving my wife the proper place in my world.

So while I’m on that, let me ask you how you make a division. How do you keep up a life of study properly with a life of marriage? I know if I give all of my attention to study, well she’s deprived and that’s not right. On the other hand, if all I do is give her attention, well we don’t eat. I have to do both. I’d like your insight.

Answer:

Let me start by saying that Kristie and I love each other deeply and we are totally committed to each other. However, we have not had a “good” marriage by any stretch. I am not sure I should be saying this. Not because Kristie would not approve, but because it exposes something that causes me a great deal of shame to reveal. I wish that I could say that I had even a typically decent marriage, but I don’t think this is the case.

Kristie and I are worlds apart. Not only in personality, but spiritually as well. Well, let me qualify this some. I am not saying that one of us is super spiritual while the other is a dud, but that we are different. Kristie has never resented my ministry and has, at times, served as an encouragement. But she is not that interested in what I do. Theology is not her thing. The same is true for me with regard to her priorities. Sometimes it feels as if we are like magnets turned the wrong way. Our relationship is, for lack of a better word, clumsy. We have good chemistry in a very real way (which I am so thankful for), but, from a human standpoint, we are not a “match made in heaven.”

There is a lot more that can be said.

I don’t, at this point in my life, have a nice red bow that is coming in the form of a “but…” I am just giving you some of the background so you can understand my answer. If Kristie and I were to allow our relationship to go in a direction that “seems” natural, I think we would drift completely apart, she in her world, and I in mine. I could very easily say to myself that my work and ministry are far more productive than the treadmill of problems that come by way of my marriage. My ministry could easily get separated from my marriage and become the de facto priority of my day (and it sometimes does when I am in one of “those” moods).

However, I would say from experience that if your marriage is not going well, nothing is going well. Your ministry, insights, and everything else will suffer when your wife is not your priority. And if it does not, then that may be an even bigger problem: apathy. Apathy toward your marital relationship. Solution: Redirect all passion to ministry. What a terrible place to be. Understandable, but terrible.

“But, but, I am doing so much good in ministry. I suck at marriage.” I know how it feels, but don’t separate the two. Your marriage is and should always be your first and foremost ministry. Even if it is not as “successful” as your other pursuits, don’t compare them. Before God, you are called to love her and give yourself up for her as Christ did the church, even if you are worlds apart. Christ and the church were worlds apart, too.

(Sheesh…what self-therapy here.) Continue Reading →

How My Passion for Ministry Almost Ended My Marriage

the-hateful-divorce

It was 2000. Or was it 1999? Not sure. My wife and I had been married for three years. Katelynn was two; Kylee was on the way. We lived in a little one bedroom apartment about ten minutes from campus. I was living my dream as I started the four year ThM program at Dallas Seminary (DTS). Kristie was ready to get in and get out, tolerating the time spent away from home in Oklahoma.

It was early on in Dr. Mark Young’s missions class that the epiphany came to me. It was from the Lord, I was sure. My passion for theology, truth, and changing the world were rising every day. Dreams were big, but they were about to get a lot bigger. Mark had been talking about the importance of missions (of course…it was a missions class). Contextualization, culture, redemptive analogies, and the like were all being discussed every day. Our passions were on the rise as Mark told his stories about his time in Poland. He could hardly hold back the tears and neither could we.

The next week he brought up a map. He showed us the break down of the world in relation to the Great Commission. “You are here.” You know how maps are. We were in Dallas. He showed us from there where all DTS grads were serving. I think that they were marked with a pin. There was a high concentration of pins around the Dallas area showing that many DTS grads stayed close. There was also a high concentration of grads in a fifty states. They were everywhere. Oklahoma, California, Nebraska, Washington, New York, Illinois, New Mexico, and every place else in the United States. When we looked beyond the United States, their was no famine for the need of pins. There were only a few, comparatively speaking, in other countries. Mark began to explain how 95% of the graduates from DTS stayed in the United States, while only 5% served abroad. However, as he explained, 95% of the need was in other countries that did not have the Gospel, theological training, or churches. It was alarming and Mark’s passion for missions made the alarm that much louder.

Well I heard the call that day loud and clear. I knew what I was called to do. I was not sure before, but the Lord’s voice was coming through like a megaphone. I was supposed to go overseas. I was supposed to be a missionary!

When I got home, Kristie attempted to probe for the passion and the source of my excitement. I held back some naively thinking it was going to be a surprise. I wanted to walk her through all I had learned and let the excitement build in her as it had in me. I told her everything we had been learning doing my best to work without the pins. I explained to her how much of a famine for the Gospel existed in other parts of the world. Then, when the time was just right, I gave her the “good” news: “We are going to be missionaries!!!”

Let’s just say that the rehearsal in my mind did not mirror the actual events. I thought that Kristie would be excited. I thought that her heart would break for those less fortunate people. I thought that she would hear the Lord’s voice as clearly as I did. But such was not the case. She began to cry . . . and these were not the type of tear I wanted. Continue Reading →

Essentials and Non-Essentials: How to Choose Your Battles Carefully

We talk a lot about this: essentials and non-essentials. In fact, at the Credo House of Theology (our headquarters), right when you walk in the front door you will see written on the wall in Latin the words in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. Translated into English, this means, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This phrase (often wrongly attributed to Augustine) comes from an otherwise obscure German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century named Rupertus Meldenius. It has served as a place holder for a sort of Evangelical Credo (statement of faith). It expresses the idea of orthodoxy and grace. It reminds us that there are essential Christian beliefs and there are non-essentials.

I remember hearing a pastor once say concerning doctrine, “You are either one-hundred percent right or one-hundred percent wrong. There is no in-between and there are no gray areas. God is not confused or unsure. Why should we be?” While this might be true concerning God, for us things are different. For now, we see in a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12).

As well, Paul spoke about those things that are “of first  importance [protois]” (emphasis mine). Christ spoke about straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matt. 23:24) and the “weightier things of the law” (Matt. 23:23).

This is one of the things that (should) distinguish us as Evangelicals. We are those who unite around those things that we believe are the weightiest, the things that are the most important, the essentials, while we (should) give liberty in the non-essentials. I often tell people that there are some things that I believe that I would die for; there are some things that I believe that I would lose an arm for; there are some things that I believe that I would lose a finger for; and then there are some things that I believe that I would not even get a manicure for.

Like in all areas of life, we need to learn to choose our battles carefully. But in order to do this, we must first come to know the difference between essentials and non-essentials.

But (as the criticism goes) it is not that easy to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. I have written on this before. More importantly for now, many Evangelicals have simply never been exposed to this and therefore practice their theology in a much more legalistic way, believing every conviction that they have to be representative of a hill upon which they should die.

Here I want to elaborate upon and expand the discussion a little bit. While we need to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, we also need to recognize that there are different types of essentials. Along with this goes my belief that there are different ways to “break fellowship” based on our beliefs. In other words, not all essentials are equal. Some are essential to the very foundation of Christianity, but some are only essential to a particular denomination or expression. This will require different types of breaks in fellowship.

Let me start with a chart, then I will briefly break it down:

click on chart to enlarge

Essential for salvation: These are the most essential doctrines of all essentials. This includes what every Christian should always be willing to die for. In essence, if someone does not believe the doctrines that are “essential for salvation,” they are not saved. Continue Reading →

Have Michael Patton Come Speak at Your Church or Event

Did you know that Michael Patton is available to come to your church and speak? Michael is a dynamic speaker and is a master at stimulating interest in theology, doctrine, and the need for Christians to engage their mind. He can speak in just about any setting to most any group of people.

Five ways to have Michael come and speak:

1. If you are already offering The Theology Program at your church, Michael is available during the week (except most Mondays and Tuesdays during our semester) to come and teach one of the lessons or even hold a mini seminar covering two or three.

2. If you are thinking about offering The Theology Program, Michael can come and help launch it by giving his three day seminar (Fri night 7-9, Sat 9-11:30, Sunday Sermon) called “An Invitation to Theology”. Its main purpose is to stimulate thought about theology and, on Sat, give a provocative summary of the types of issues that will be covered in The Theology Program. On Sunday, he will preach to the whole congregation on Isa 40, a sermon called “Blind Faith?”, attempting to convince the people of the need to use their minds in their Christian faith.

3. Various one or two day seminars are offered on:

  • The Canon of Scripture: What books belong in the Bible?
  • The Doctrine of the Trinity: A history and defense of the Doctrine of the Trinity
  • The Resurrection of Christ: A defense of the resurrection of Christ
  • The History of the Bible: A combination of the history, transmission, and canonization of Scripture.
  • “Of First Importance”: knowing what to die for in the Christian faith. (Very important today)
  • “Eschatology Across the Spectrum” : An overview of the various view of the end times.
  • “The Theological Process”: How to move from and ancient text to the 21st century.
  • “Postmodernism”: Hopelessness, Suspicion, and Despair – Understanding and engaging postmoderns.

4. Pastor’s education seminars. This was one of Michael’s primary responsibilities at Stonebriar Community Church. Have Michael come and conduct a continuing education seminar for your staff and leaders on one of many hot topics in theology today.

  • God in the Old Testament: Was he a moral monster?
  • Homosexuality and the Bible: How the “Gay Christian” Church advances their agenda.
  • The Destiny of the Unevangelized: What about those who have never heard?
  • The Problem of Evil: How can a good God allow evil and how to speak to your congregation about it.
  • Postmodernism: How to disarm a suspicious culture
  • Teacher training – A two day seminar on how to teach the Bible

5. Have Michael come preach on Sunday.

He is also open to other types of speaking engagements upon request.

Cost: $750 per day plus travel

To find out more or schedule a speaking engagement, contact: lindsey@reclaimingthemind.org

A Brief Primer on the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is certainly one of the greatest apologetic issue that Christians face today. In a postmodern world, people’s questions, objections, and problems with the Christian worldview are usually connected to the reality of evil in the world and their attempts to harmonize this reality with the seemingly contradictory notion of an all-powerful, all-good God. So valid is this issue that Ronald Nash, the late evangelical philosopher, said a few years ago (and I quote him loosely), “It is absurd to reject Christianity for any reason other than the problem of evil.”

We must be careful not to relegate this problem exclusively to the intellectual realm. I think that J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig have it right when they say we must distinguish between the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil (Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 536). The intellectual problem of evil asks, “Is it possible for a good, all-powerful God to exist in a world where evil is present?” The emotional problem of evil asks “Why would God allow such a thing as _______?” See the difference? One question is concerned with the objective coherence of God and evil, the other is concerned with the subjective coherence of God and evil.

While I think the primary issue today is more with the emotional problem of evil, I do believe that the intellectual problem is one that must be faced before the subjective problem can be dealt with with integrity. Therefore, I believe that the two can be distinguished, but should not be separated.

The foundation for both, comes from this syllogism:

1. If God is all powerful (omnipotent) and
2. If God is all good (omnibenevolent)
3. Then His goodness would motivate Him to use His power to eradicate evil.

The intellectual problem of evil is easier to answer since evil’s existence does not, in reality, present a logical contradiction as the syllogism suggests. In other words, the conclusion is not a necessary conclusion, only a possible one. While God could use His power to eradicate evil, His goodness does not necessitate such an act. The following will attempt to explain.

There are three possible defenses to the problem of evil:

1. The free-will defense: Many would say that God cannot create a world where there is true freedom, yet determine all that happens. In other words, being all-powerful does not mean that God can do anything. There are many things that God cannot do. For example, God cannot make a square circle, He cannot make a rock so big that He cannot pick it up, He cannot sin, He cannot commit suicide, and He cannot lie (Titus 1:2). In short, God cannot do anything that is inconsistent with His character and He cannot harmonize logical contradictions (since they are by definition that which are beyond reconciliation). It would be a logical contradiction to say that God can create a world where true freedom exists, yet evil is guaranteed not to exist.

Positives: Continue Reading →

Walid Shoebat Youtube Video on the Mark of the Beast

In a video that’s posted on Youtube and is making the rounds in popular Christian circles, an Arab Christian claims that there are three Arabic words in Revelation 13.18, the passage that speaks about the number of the beast.

Here’s the link to the video: Walid Shoebat – Mark of the Beast

Walid Shoebat claims in this video that the mark of the beast is Islam itself. Certainly, Christians can recognize that Islam denies the deity of Christ, vicarious atonement, and bodily resurrection; for this reason, Islam is a false religion. We can also recognize that there are small groups of Muslims who are radical and would like to destroy Israel and America. But does this make Islam the Antichrist? That’s rather doubtful.

Shoebat’s basis is this: “When I first saw the Codex Vaticanus, I was literally shocked because I could read the text. It was Arabic!  … ‘In the name of Allah.’”

But Shoebat did not read Codex Vaticanus. This codex is the famous fourth-century Greek New Testament (and Old Testament) manuscript that ends at Hebrews 9.13. The material added after Heb 9.13 is all in a much later hand. According to the authoritative Kurzgefasste Liste der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments, 2nd edition (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1994), the supplement (known as codex 1957) was written in the 15th century. What Shoebat saw was not technically Codex Vaticanus but Codex 1957, a text written over a thousand years after Vaticanus.

In his video, he explains how the three Greek letters χξς in Revelation 13.18 are not really Greek at all, but Arabic. On top of the stretch to make the Arabic words fit, there are other severe problems with Shoebat’s claims. As much as some Christians would like for Shoebat’s interpretation to be correct, it fails at many levels. Let’s examine Shoebat’s claims.

1.         Rev 13.18 specifically introduces this symbol as the number of the beast. The word ‘number’ is used three times in this verse. We are thus expecting a number, not a foreign word, to be introduced. Shoebat offers no explanation how ‘number’ can mean anything other than number here.

All he says is that “God is not the author of mysteries… His yoke is easy. God is not interested in gematria. Gematria is a process that was used in witchcraft.” These statements are self-serving, contradictory, and incorrect. To say that God is not the author of mysteries is stunningly naïve. Of course he’s the author of mysteries. “Mystery” is a word that occurs 28 times in the NT. Almost every time it is used in collocation with a positive word: ‘the mystery of godliness,’ ‘the mystery of the gospel,’ ‘the mystery of faith,’ etc. Jesus’ parables were a form of mystery (something that was unknown to the listeners until revelation about the parables was given). Furthermore, if there is Arabic in Rev 13.18, why wouldn’t that qualify as a mystery for most readers? And if no one until Walid Shoebat had properly understood the meaning here, then the text has obviously been a mystery for 1900 years. To say that “[God’s] yoke is easy” is to wrench out of context what Jesus said about what it means to follow him in Matthew 11.29–30: his yoke is easy because it does not burden someone down with legalism. The text has nothing to do with interpretation. Judging by the disparate interpretations of scripture for the several millennia, if an easy yoke means that the interpretation of the text is plain and straightforward at all points, then scripture has created a brutally hard yoke for us. Continue Reading →

Quick Question for You

If you were able to go back in a time machine and witness the tomb of Christ only to find that Christ did not raise from the grave, what would that do to your Christian faith?

Fill out the poll on the right in addition to your answer here.