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Eight Issues that Do NOT Make or Break Christianity

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Please note, there is quite a bit of misunderstanding about what I am trying to say in this post. I have written a very illustrative post to help clarify some of this. It can be found here. So if you are thinking about coming to hang me, please read the follow-up first to make sure you don’t tie the noose for nothing.

I realize that posts such as these have the potential to create quite a bit of heat and get me in a lot of trouble. As well, I don’t really want to be seen as one who is always trying to unsettle things. I like to be settled, and in a very pastoral way, I like to settle others. However, in Christianity, both for our personal faith and our public witness, we need to speak with the emphasis necessary to carry our faith truly. It is my argument that often – far too often – conservative Christians become identified with issues that, while important, do not make or break our faith. This creates extremely volatile situations (from a human perspective) as believers’ faith ends up having a foundation which consists of one of these non-foundational issues. When and if these issues are significantly challenged, our faith becomes unstable. I have seen too many people who walk away from the faith due to their trust in some non-essential issue coming unglued. That is why I write this post. Whether you agree with me or not, I hope this discussion will cause you to think deeply about what issues create the bedrock of our (and your) faith.

Here is a list of what I believe to be eight issues that do not make or break our faith:

1 . Young Earth Creationism

There are many people who spend an enormous amount of money holding seminars, building museums, and creating curricula attempting to educate people on the importance and evidence for a six-thousand (give or take) year-old earth. There is certainly nothing wrong (in my opinion) with holding to and defending such a view. The problem comes when those who hold to this view teach that to deny a literal six-day creation is to deny the Gospel (or close to it). There is simply no sustainable reason to believe that one’s interpretation about the early chapters of Genesis determines his or her status before God.

2. The authorship of the Pastoral Epistles

This is an interesting one. I suppose that the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are among the most controversial books in the Bible with respect to their authorship. For various reasons, many do not believe that Paul wrote these letters. While I do believe a sustained argument can and should be made for the inclusion of these in the canon, whether or not Paul wrote these letters does not affect the truthfulness of the Christian faith. While these letters are extremely valuable for issues of personal integrity and ecclesiology, the essence of the Christian faith remains intact without them. This goes for 2 Peter as well – by far the most contested book in the New Testament. William Barclay, author of the Daily Bible Study Series (as far as I know, still the best selling commentary set of all time), did not accept Petrine authorship of Second Peter. While I disagree (like Calvin, I believe that Peter was behind the letter, though he did not directly write it) this did not in any way disqualify Barclay from being a Christian and a committed servant of God.

3. The inerrancy of Scripture

This is a tough one. It is not tough because I have my doubts about it. It is tough because I know how important the doctrine of inerrancy is to so many of my friends and heroes of the faith. Many people believe that a denial of inerrancy (the belief that the Bible is without any errors in the original manuscripts – not the translations!) amounts to a denial of the faith. However, this is nearly impossible to defend. While I believe in and strongly defend the doctrine of inerrancy, a denial of this doctrine is not a test of one’s status before God. I might even go further and say that even if the Bible does have some historical or scientific inaccuracies, this does not mean that Christianity is false. Christianity is based on the historicity of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, not whether or not its chroniclers messed up on a detail or two. All biographers and writers of history err, but this does not mean that we discount their value or discredit their entire testimony. The classic illustration of this is the sinking of the Titanic. When we look to the historical records, we find that the eyewitnesses who survived that night were divided as to how the Titanic went down. Half said it broke in two and went down, while the other half said it went down intact. Someone is wrong. However, no historian would say that the Titanic must not have gone down at all simply because there is a discrepancy in the details.

Ironically, this is exactly what happens to many who study the Bible. Charles Darwin tells about how his faith was initially dislodged due to discrepancies in the Scriptures. Bart Ehrman goes in the same direction. But, like with the Titanic, just because one may be convinced that one author disagrees with another about some details, this does not mean that both authors are wrong or that the main events (Christ’s birth, teaching, sinless life, death on a cross, resurrection, etc.) did not happen. This is about the last thing that the historian would suppose. Therefore, while I believe in the doctrine of inerrancy, it does not make or break Christianity.

4. Whether the flood covered entire earth

This is not unlike the previous entry about Young Earth creationism. There is quite a bit of debate about the “global” flood described in Genesis 6. Some believe that the entire earth was covered with water. Others believe it was a local flood, isolated in Mesopotamia. Some even believe that the whole event did not really take place and is not meant to be taken literally. These believe that the story itself is a polemic against other gods and other flood stories, essentially saying in a parabolic way that God is in charge, not your other gods. Whichever view one takes, this does not affect Christianity. If we were somehow able to prove that a flood was or was not global, this neither adds to nor takes away from the truthfulness of Christianity.

5. The character witness of Christians

I have spoken about this before, but it is important to realize that Christianity is not dependent on the character witness of its followers. Many claim to reject Christianity because of the character of the Christians they know. Whether it is the Crusades, the Inquisition, evil Popes, or the hypocrisy of people in their local church, building a foundation of faith upon the character witness of sinners is not only a mistake, but leads to an ill-founded faith. Christianity’s truthfulness has nothing to do with how Christians act. It is about the historical event of the resurrection of Christ. Ghandi’s statement, “If it weren’t for Christians, I’d be a Christian” is simply not true. One does not become a Christian by trusting in the character of Christians; one becomes a Christian by trusting in Christ. Of course, a Christian’s witness (i.e., gaining an audience) is tied to their character, but Christ’s reality is not dependent on our witness.

6. The inspiration of Scripture

This is connected to inerrancy, but takes it a step further just for the sake of getting me in hotter water! My statement is this: the Bible does not have to be inspired for Christianity to be true. Before you jump all over me, think of it this way: Did God have to give us the Bible in order to be God? Of course not. If he never gave us any written testimony of himself, he would still be God. There was nothing that obligated God to this form of revelation (or any form at all!). Christ could have come and lived a perfect life, gained representation, died on the cross, rose from the grave, and never had it recorded in the Scriptures. How would we know about the Gospel? I don’t know. Maybe angels, maybe word of mouth, maybe direct revelation, or maybe not at all. The point is that God did not have to inspire any books in order for him to be who he is and do what he did. The Bible does not make Christianity true; the Bible simply records true Christianity through inspired words and thoughts.

7. The unity of Christianity

Many people stress quite a bit about the unity of the church. While I understand why this is important, the unity of the church is not a test to the truthfulness of the cross. There are thousands of denominations and many traditions within the Christian faith. It is important to note that all of orthodox Christianity has always been united on many things. There is a certain perspicuity (clarity) to the Scripture which has brought about this universal unity. We call this the regula fide or the canon veritas. It is simply an expression of orthodox belief, arguing that there are certain beliefs shared by all Christians, everywhere, at every point in history. There are too many things to list, but in essence we all agree on the person and work of Christ. But there are also many things that Christians disagree about. Historically, many of these things have been called the adiaphora or “things indifferent.” Many act as if this disunity in the church somehow warrants disbelief in Christ. However, like the others, the unity of the church is not the foundation of the Church. The cross and the resurrection are.

8. The theory of evolution

Unfortunately, many Christians believe that the theory of evolution is somehow an anti-Christian theory invented by Satan to destroy Christianity. Many believe that if evolution is true, Christianity is not. This is not true. While I don’t accept the theory of evolution, there is no reason that God could not have used some sort of evolutionary process to create the world. Yes, it will take some reworking of one’s interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, but, as many good Christians have demonstrated, it is very possible to be a Christian evolutionist. Evolution is not a make or break issue for Christianity.

(I had two more that may have gotten me burned at the stake. Luckily I have run past my per-post character limit!)

I hope you understand the spirit of this post. In the end, my argument is that our focus should be on the person and work of Christ. In essence, if the resurrection of Christ happened, Christianity is true. If it did not, Christianity is not true. This is why I call myself a “resurrection apologist.” When I am defending my faith to myself and others, ninety-nine percent of the time, this is where I camp. It is not that these other issues are not important or worthy of debate and discussion. It is not as if these other issues don’t have implications. However, none of them make or break our faith. Therefore, we should adjust our thinking and our witness accordingly.

I am comforted to know that I am not really saying something too original here. Paul seems to whistle the same tune.

1 Cor. 15:1
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.

If this creates some conversation, please let the rules of this blog guide you.

214 Responses to “Eight Issues that Do NOT Make or Break Christianity”

  1. I’m going to guess that #9 or #10 was soteriology (broadly speaking), since William Barclay was neither an Arminian nor a Calvinist (or was both at the same time rather), but a Christian universalist. {g}

  2. Francis Szarejko March 19, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    So, are you some kind of heretic? Don’t you know that we are to be separated by these kind of inconsequential matters?

    Truly, and excellent post that couldn’t be more on target. Great work!

  3. William Timmers March 19, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    GREAT POST! That is why we need to know the mind of Post-Modernism Skeptics and figure out how to reach those souls for Jesus Christ.

  4. Thank you for this Michael!

  5. asker of tough questions March 19, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    Since the resurrection is a sine qua non, none of these 8 actually deal with Christology. So do you think there is anything “incidental” and non-essential about Christology? The sinlessness of Jesus? The virgin birth?

    If inerrancy and inspiration of scripture are non-essential, then what if the accounts in Matthew & Luke about Jesus’ birth are not reliable? What if, for example, Jesus was the natural-born, oldest son of Mary & Joseph (who were married)? There’s a good chance that the readers of Mark and John (not to mention Paul himself in Gal 4:4) assumed that to be the case, at least outside of Matthew & Luke, the rest of the NT makes no hint of Jesus having a virgin birth or it being essential to the faith. And even within those 2 gospels, it’s only mentioned in the opening two chapters and never hinted at again in the 20+ chapters that make up the rest of each of those books.

    So just curious. Do you think belief in the virgin birth, something that is important to christology is necessary for salvation?

    • Asker,

      No. I don’t believe the virgin birth is tied so closely with person and work of Christ that it qualifies. Important? Definitely. But frankly we don’t know exactly why Jesus had to be born of a Virgin. We THINK that it has to do with his association with original sin and guilt, but we don’t know. And had Matt and Luke left out this bit of info, the Gospel would remain as it is. Now, if you are asking why Jesus HAD to be born of a virgin, you are asking the wrong man. We can find that out in glory.

      Does that help?

  6. asker of tough questions March 20, 2013 at 12:15 am

    Thanks, Michael. For myself, I wonder if we should make a distinction between those that don’t know about the virgin birth (such as the readers of Mark), and those that do but deny it. Seems to be two different things.

    The point of my question was to feel out where do we draw the line between essentials & non-essentials. I know you blogged about that subject a while back and vaguely remember a few of the points you made and issues you raised. But to me, the 8 things you mentioned here seemed to be no-brainers (or at least they should be even though they’re not to some) since I think the line marking the essentials is somewhere in the area of Christology since the core of the gospel really is about Christ. But where exactly is that line? And what does it include or not include?

    Thanks again.

  7. Yeah, you are right. I write about this issue all the time.

    These are no brainers, huh? Well, I wish they were. Unfortunately, there are many who don’t see these as non-salvific.

    You could be right about the distinction between those who are ignorant and those who deny.

  8. Thank you, CMP.
    I think the one I had most contention with was number 5. Namely because the character of Christians seem intimately connected with the work of Christ. As you quoted Paul, without the resurrection, Christians are “yet in their sins”, but they shouldn’t be by the death of Christ. (edit: by in their sins I mean without the power of sin broken)… Though perhaps this point has the most attestation in scripture.
    I’ll give this whole post and the principles more thought as I’ve been wondering about some of these things recently… Though I am interested, what are the two that you did not list?

  9. Michael,
    It seems to me that you need to flesh out what you mean by “Christianity.” Are you asking what it necessary for someone to believe, and still experience salvation? Is yes, then salvation from what? Maybe you say salvation by the death and resurrection of Jesus. How do we know that salvation is possible only through the work of Jesus? It seems to me that if the Bible is not inspired (a word from God,) then the Christianity we are left with would not be the Christianity of the Bible, which claims to be based on an inspired testimony. This testimony includes interpretations that are connected with the historical events (forgiveness, atonement, etc.). I would say that if there is no authoritative testimony (inspiration), then we have no classic Christianity. This does not necessarily mean the testimony is innerant.

  10. In reading your 8 issues, I think you are making excuses to allow for false beliefs to be accepted by the church and christians.

    You are also very general, enough so, as to hide your own beliefs while appearing to be Christian. No real Christian can accept evolution and denying the global flood does affect Christianity.

    I think you fail to think through the ramifications of your statements.

  11. asker of tough questions March 20, 2013 at 8:24 am

    I didn’t want to use the term “no-brainers” in my initial comment because I didn’t want it to sound condescending towards your blog post, and I hope it didn’t come across that way. I simply meant that for the reasons you laid out, there should not be much debate at all for these 8 regarding salvation, even though they are to some, and that’s why it has to be said (or blogged). But defining the essentials in Christology is a much, much tougher question to ask. Keep up the great blogging.

  12. It seems to me you’re saying that many of these aren’t “essential” because, with or without them, the historical fact of God existing and Jesus rising from the dead are still reality.

    Well then what is essential? Could someone not believe in Jesus? Because after all, just because they don’t believe that or if a church doesn’t preach it, He still really existed right?

    It seems to me that the “essentials” of Christianity aren’t those issues on which the faith *actually* stands or falls. Because then, like you said, the only *truly* essential thing is the historical resurrection of Jesus (and by implication, the expiation and propitiation of sin).

    Rather, the essentials of Christianity are those things that mark out and delineate our faith from others. If you believe in evolution, the big bang, and believe the Bible is neither inerrant nor inspired, you may call yourself a Christian all day long, but in reality you’re something else, because so much of what we believe rests on those things.

    If you take away those foundations, the house that we call Christianity is incredibly unstable and can collapse into something else. (I mean “you” in a general sense, not you personally).

  13. Very interested in your last 2. I promise to lock up all matches and lighters before reading :)

  14. Dear Mr. Sith and Dr. Tee,
    As one who sees some legitimacy in what Michael is saying, I wanted to offer a few thoughts.

    Mr. Sith, I’m not sure that Christianity hinges that much on the issues as you suggest. Once when I was questioning what “the Word of God” was, I saw that if I had written the same things Matthew or Paul had, it would not be the Word of God while what Paul and Matthew wrote would be. This made me wonder if our idea of the “word of God” should be something more. If I were to write the things Paul wrote, it could still be a testimony to the truth. I think in part that is Michael’s point. The “inspiration” isn’t what makes the things true. The matters are true without the “inspiration”. Now, we hold that the Spirit did lead the authors just as the Holy Spirit spoke through David; but Michael’s point seems to be the one I made before, the statement can be true without the Spirit’s inspiration.

    Dr. Tee,
    Even until yesterday, I was largely ignorant of Evolution’s claims until yesterday. As a result, I saw clearly how some such as Bruce Waltke said it was necessary to acknowledge the claims to a degree. Obviously neither Waltke or Michael would say the exclusion of God were permissible. I also acknowledge there are difficulties with the Young Earth theory and the Global Flood in light of the Biblical Witness itself, so that I’ve held different positions because of the Biblical Witness more than anything else. Michael’s point is that the range of the flood does not invalidate what Jesus did, nor does the age of the earth.

  15. The number 3 (Inerrancy of Scripture) and 6 (The inspiration of Scripture) are key aspects to true faith. I’m very sure that if these are denied then it is really difficult to be a true Christian. If one has this view of scripture, then that person is going to buy into a lot of lies in his entire life and if he/she is not corrected, then there is enough reason to doubt their faith. And if you look closely, all the other points which you have mentioned seem irrelevant to you because you are okay with points 3 and 6. You can see how your view of inerrancy has watered down your own views on other important topics. I mean, there is no reason to doubt the flood unless you believe that the scripture is in error. You don’t believe in theory of evolution unless the truth of scripture matters. Why should we believe what men say more than what God reveals in his Word? Remember that Jesus’s defense against the Devil was only the scripture (even though he himself was God). That itself should make us understand the importance of believing in the power of scripture and that belief is not going to come to anyone who thinks that the scripture can be in error!

    Joseph Smith wrote the book of Mormon because he believed that the scriptures were with error. So if you believe that the innerancy of scripture is inconsequential, you will also have to deny that fact that so many heretics have been formed just because they believed that. The Mormon church with its entire beliefs exist today because they can argue that the scripture is not fully true. So when Christians reduce the inerrancy of scripture as to being non important we are going the way of the Downgrade controversy and secularism which is very dangerous!

  16. Austin-

    “the essentials of Christianity are those things that mark out and delineate our faith from others. If you believe in evolution, the big bang, and believe the Bible is neither inerrant nor inspired, you may call yourself a Christian all day long, but in reality you’re something else, because so much of what we believe rests on those things.”

    Those things mark out our faith from others? I thought who Jesus was, what He did, how we love one another, etc…” was what marked out our faith. Our faith does not rest on our view of evolution, the Big Bang, etc… Now, those things may cause us to tweak or adjust some of our theology, but not regarding the essentials. A person can believe in evolution, and still hold the essentials of the faith, and still have a marked out faith.

    Likewise, you seem to be combining how our faith is expressed with the essentials (such as the resurrection).

  17. Label me an old school ignorant idiot. While a person coming to Christ will not encounter all of these issues it does seem that your attempt to capitulate to the academic culture lowers the bar for people in the faith. Inspiration and inerrancy when properly understood have huge consequences if not true. Does a believer need to be able to answer every detail in these doctrines? Not at all. But to communicate to the world that Christians are jettisoning (my take) large parts of the faith will not endear them to Jesus. I appreciate this ministry but posts like this leave me wondering about the direction of Credo House.

    Don

  18. This issue has to do with what creates the sin quo non (“without which not”) of Christianity.

    For example, if Balam’s donkey never spoke, Christianity would still be true. If Christ never told the parable of the minas, Christianity would still be true. If 1 Cor were never written, Christianity would still be true. If John made a mistake in how many angels were at the tomb, Christianity would still be true. If God used evolution to create the world, Christianity would still be true. If God never inspired any Scripture, Christianity would still be true. If Christ did not rise from the grave, Christianity would not be true. If Christ did not become incarnate, Christianity would not be true.

    It is an issue of apologetics, not necessarily determining who is saved and who is not.

  19. I think many of you may be associating this too closely with the post on essentials and non-essentials. Think of it this way: when you are trying to convince an atheist about Christianity, what should we focus on? THE issue that makes or breaks the faith.

  20. Michael,
    Again, it is difficult to know what you are talking about when you use the word “Christianity.” What do you mean when you use the word Christianity?

  21. Asker,

    I knew that. I did not take it as condescending. I wish they were all no-brainers.

  22. I’m keeping the final two close to my heart, reserving the right to post again on this subject.

  23. Michael,
    I might focus on the evidence for the historical Jesus and the evidence for the resurrection but this is not the gospel. The gospel (1 Cor. 15) also includes interpretation of the events. These interpretations (forgiveness of sins, eternal life, etc.) are not negotiable and they depend on the Bible’s claim to be God’s interpretation of the events. A person who met the historical Jesus and was present at his resurrection would not be necessarily be a Christian. It seems to me that he (she) must believe the divine interpretation of these events.

  24. This may be an interesting and useful discussion to have amongst ourselves, but in reality if I were talking with an atheist I would never be willing to compromise on these things.

    However we may equivocate on what “essential” means, as mentioned in this very post atheists don’t need an excuse to reject Christ. So to compromise on the pillars of the belief (whether or not they’re “essential”) in the hopes that it will be more likely to convince an atheist is disingenuous and destructive to our own cause.

    If I were an atheist and a Christian friend tried to convince me that what he believes is true yet doesn’t hold fast to the hallmarks of the faith, I would question what he believes and why he believes it. He would appear to me to be confused and ignorant and certainly not an effective apologist for the faith.

  25. Michael, You raise some good questions about what are the essential beliefs for a person to be considered a Christian. I just don’t think that a person can be a Christian without holding to some form of inspiration because the gospel message includes some truths that are not discernible from history alone.

  26. Let me try to further clarify (as I fear I may be getting in trouble for the wrong thing!):

    If Christ had not died as a substitution for our sins to satiate the wrath of the Father, Christianity would not be true. (Which, as a consequence, is what makes the resurrection so central—it evidences the Father’s satisfaction).

    On a completely different issue from this post, if someone holds to a ransom to Satan theory rattan than a vicarious substitution theory (like Augustine), they are wrong but they can still be saved.

    The second has to do with the necessary epistemology of salvation, the first has to do with the necessary ontology of the Gospel.

    See the difference?

  27. Micheal,
    I think I understand the issue, but still find it hard to see how a person can be a Christian (which you admit includes certain truths known only through the Bible) and still deny that the Bible is in any sense inspired. I know that you are not claiming that your list is of no importance. You are asking what is necessary for a person claim saving faith. Again, I am saying that believing certain events happened will not do it. We must also submit to the inspired interpretation of these events.

  28. So the emperor is wearing no clothes? An interesting notion. However, naked or not, he is still the emperor.

    Everything you say flows from #6, or at least in the excellent way you have presented the issue there.

    We Christians are notorious for majoring on minor points. For example we fought a pointless biological evolution battle (and some are still tilting at that windmill), but allowed the Trojan horse of Social Darwinism to enter the gates of church and society with hardly any notice.

  29. I see what you’re trying to do. You’re dealing with what really *is* regardless of what we may *think* about what really *is.* I understand it and appreciate it.

    Like you mentioned in a previous post, a guy who had once believed in inerrancy realized he no longer did and walked away from the faith because of it. Your point in that post, and here too if I’m not mistaken, is that in *reality* he didn’t *have* to walk away from the faith because he could no longer believe in inerrancy. The person and work of Christ didn’t change one iota because his views on a particular doctrine changed. I get all that.

    However, when the rubber hits the road, at least in this particular case, the perception is often as important as the reality. The fact remains that he did, in fact, actually walk away from the faith because one of the key tenets of Christianity was compromised.

    So I see what your point is, but at the same time, it seems like at best a null and moot argument (because yes, that which is objectively true will never change- got it), and at worst a very very dangerous one because it can lead the weaker brothers into a crisis of faith (if what I’ve always believed to be true may not be true, then what is?).

  30. Bill,

    “You are asking what is necessary for a person claim saving faith.”

    No I am not. I am claiming that there are issues that make or break the Gospel. What you are talking about is the previous post.

  31. Michael, you mentioned

    “For example, if Balam’s donkey never spoke, Christianity would still be true. If Christ never told the parable of the minas, Christianity would still be true. If 1 Cor were never written, Christianity would still be true. If John made a mistake in how many angels were at the tomb, Christianity would still be true. If God used evolution to create the world, Christianity would still be true. If God never inspired any Scripture, Christianity would still be true. If Christ did not rise from the grave, Christianity would not be true. If Christ did not become incarnate, Christianity would not be true.”

    But Michael, God put Balam’s donkey in the Bible, God put the parables in the bible, we as Christians believe that the entire Bible is God’s spoken word. If you mention that if the only thing important was Christ’s resurrection, and you are ready to say that all these other incidents in the Bible don’t really matter, you are putting more fuel into people who think that parts of the Bible like Leviticus or the OT where God punishes entire cities are really not important. You are giving an excuse for people to skip parts of the Bible and read only parts which they think are important or makes sense. That, in essence is asking people to read only the parts of the Bible which they think are relevant. That means that a person who is committing adultery can skip the part which convicts him of his sin and only concentrate on the part which says that Christ saves from sin. When unbelievers ask questions about God’s judgement, one can be a skeptic because he feels he does not need to believe God as a judge! Can’t you see the danger of doing that? You are giving an excuse to people who want to believe in the Bible selectively and already most Christians are doing that. Is there anyone who is not going to go the way of secularism and stand up for the entire truth of God?? Don’t you see that even the first sin was about doubting the whole word…

  32. How can a man become a Christian without the word of God, it is impossible!! So if faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God, then faith comes by the word of God and doubting the word, cannot lead to faith!!

  33. Lots of people became Christians before the NT. before the Apostles wrote it, people were traveling all over telling people about who Christ is and what he did without the Bible. Rome was evangelized by non-apostles who just went and told people about the Gospel.

    Other ways that God COULD have done it: angels, only unwritten tradition, donkeys, or direct encounters.

  34. I thought the discussion was about what creates “the bedrock of our (and your) faith.” I stand by my point that without some belief in inspiration (God has given us a divine interpretation of the Christ event) we have no faith. If you are merely claiming that the resurrection is the grounding for the gospel proclamation (not the doctrines of creation, inspiration, etc.), then you are saying nothing controversial.

  35. Michael,
    How do you know they became Christians? You are assuming some standard by which you distinguish Christian from non-christian. For the early Christians (prior to the NT) this standard was the apostolic gospel (oral). This oral tradition was passed on and written (NT). No persons experience outweighed the revelation given through the apostles. At least this was the view of those who set out to refute the Gnostics (Irenaeus), who argued on the basis of experience alone.

  36. CMP –

    I agree with you. I think that the most essential truth to Christianity is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, because if that has not happened then our faith is indeed worthless. And none of these things you mentioned in this post affects that at all since they are all essentially theological constructs. What distinguishes Christianity from other religions is the fact that it is not rooted in theological or philosophical constructs, but in a historical event! It seems that this is often obscured by our theology and we lose sight of the Gospel [didn’t we accuse those heinous Roman Catholics of doing the same thing… :)].

    If Inspiration or Inerrancy were somehow proven to be false I think that it would certainly mean the death of Protestantism because we would have to locate infallibility somewhere else, but Christianity would still stand. While it certainly wouldn’t mean that what the Bible says is false it would mean that we couldn’t trust it to be infallible. We would certainly have to rework our theology, but not our faith.

    Our faith is (or should be) in Christ and his atoning work, not in our theology, epistemology, etc. Theology is not the faith, Christ’s redemptive work is the faith. Theology can fail and the faith will still go on, but if Christ’s work failed then the faith cannot go on.

  37. Scripture existed before the New Testament and was understood to be the inspired, authoritative, inerrant word of God (2 Tim 3:16 [referring to the OT]). They absolutely used Scripture as a tool of evangelism (Acts 17:11, Luke 1:2) because after all, it’s these OT scriptures that point to Christ.

  38. @SRQTom you commented “Christ’s redemptive work is the faith”.

    How did you come to know about Christ’s redemptive work? And if you don’t believe in inerrancy / inspiration, why should you even believe in Christ’s redemptive work? Because it can be a story conjured up by some literary genius much greater than Shakespeare?

    The basis of knowing Christ’s redemptive work is the scripture alone! And denying the truth of the scriptures is denying the work of Christ, because it is the scriptures that reveal Christ’s work and God’s plan of salvation!

  39. SRQTom,

    Exactly!!

    Except, I don’t think it would mean the death of Protestantism as we don’t necessarily have to have infallibility. Or we could just all become charismatic!

  40. Michael, you are a brave man. I admire that. I also agree with you on each point.

    It seems some readers have trouble with the idea that some beliefs or doctrines are more important than others, but Paul himself specifically lists that which is of first importance, which, by definition, means other things are less important.

    I can’t help but think that if it were not for the insistance on inerrancy, Ehrman or Darwin might have remained in the faith. It’s only because they had been taught that there cannot be a single discrepancy that they were so disillusioned when they thought they found one.

  41. The only historical account of Christ rising from the grave is in the Bible. If we deny that it is inspired and thus inerrant, then what authoritative evidence do we have for the resurrection? Why would we pick the Gospels out and say “well the bits about Jesus rising from the grave are true but other things…well it doesn’t matter.”

  42. Excellent post, and a much needed reminder to Christians about what is really important in our faith!

    Related to the issue of unity, I think that it is generally easier to convince people that we don’t need to agree about some of these points which are ultimately very academic and unrelated to how we live our lives on a daily basis, such as the age of the earth and whether there was a global flood. It’s much harder, but, in my view, just as important (maybe more important) that we be willing to accept that people on both sides of other divisive issues can still be Christians.

    The example I have in mind is homosexuality. There are good arguments that Christianity says modern homosexual relationships are sinful. There are also good arguments that Christianity says modern homosexual relationships are not sinful. Most people weigh in very strongly on one side or the other, and we’re each pretty convinced we’re right and the other side is wrong, with scriptural backing, etc. There are many Christians who say “If you are gay, you cannot be a Christian, and you will go to hell.” Assuming for sake of argument that homosexuality is unambiguously sinful, that still leaves us with the fact that everyone in the church is a sinner will continue to sin until the day we day. Christ didn’t say that the unforgivable sin was homosexuality, he said it was not believing in him. But many Christians will alienate gay people, stigmatize and discriminate against them, be unwelcoming toward them, sometimes stand in picket lines telling them how much God hates them. This should never be the case! We have to accept that somebody can be wrong and still be a Christian, and we also have to acknowledge that *our side* might be wrong (we can explain why we think we’re right, where we’re coming from, why we believe what we believe, etc., but we have to agree we aren’t perfect). What really matters is Christ! The rest is all details.

  43. The Christ +, folks can certainly be saved, too.

    But then those who must add something to the finished work of Christ on the Cross (such as Popes, historic episcopacy, inerrant Bibles, good works, feelings of being saved, etc.)…really aren’t free. Almost, maybe…but not quite there.

  44. I agree Dave. Even as a Calvinist, I agree. We need to take responsibility for the things we put in italics.

  45. Carrie, why would the Gospels have to be inspired and/or inerrant to be true?

  46. @Paul T:
    Let’s imagine that the only scripture we have is Luke’s gospel, and let’s say it was not a result of inspiration, but did reflect accurate investigation, and was correct regarding the events of Jesus’ life, would the Christian faith be valid?

  47. Here goes my controversial statement, the proclamation that Jesus was raised from the dead (as a purely historical event) is not the gospel (See 1 Cor. 15).
    “the gospel I preached” (vs.1),” Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures” (vs.3), that he that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (vs. 4). . .”

    The event of the resurrection always required interpretation such as; Christ died for our sins, God accepted his offering on our behalf, etc. How do we know these things? We believe that God has told us through his divine spokesmen. Even an angel’s testimony can not dispute the testimony of the an apostle (Gal. 1).

  48. Michael,
    Why would the gospels have to be inspired? The answer is that they make claims about God’s interpretation of salvation history. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us,” Christ died for our sins” and such. If they are true, then they would have to be inspired because they make truth claims about God’s actions that go beyond historical events. I find it hard to believe that a person living in first century Jewish culture (with the OT background) would imagine that you could have documents that claimed to represent God’s point of view that were true but not inspired. I would also argue that this is not what happened. This is why we have a canon which the early Christians sought to distinguish from good books that had helpful christian writings and the inspired books.

  49. Bill Smith wrote:

    I find it hard to believe that a person living in first century Jewish culture (with the OT background) would imagine that you could have documents that claimed to represent God’s point of view that were true but not inspired.

    Based on that statement, can you explain what category the book of Enoch, quoted by Jude, falls into? According to your statement, if Jude thought it was true enough to quote, he also thought it was inspired. If inspired, why is it not in our canon?

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