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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. “Thanks Danny. First time commenting?”

    Hey Michael,

    It’s not my first time commenting here. This is my third time in over a year. I do read a lot of the articles and comments made though, and have often recommend this website—especially TTP. I thank God for the kind of ministry he is working within you to do.

  2. Nick, Why do you have to feel that I have to hold the Bible through scientific lenses in order to interpret it? I believe in Genesis as being literal because there are more than enough evidence for that. And you can easily a difference between Genesis and Revelation where the Bible does speak in signs and images. But genesis is very clear, God spoke to Adam, Adam named the animals, Adam named Eve, there is no different interpretation for Genesis. And even if Science went on ahead and proved that Evolution was true, I would still not believe it because Science says so. I would still believe God’s word, because it says so.

    According to science, there cannot be a Virgin Birth, no one can be raised from the dead, so does that mean Jesus did not have a Virgin Birth, and does that mean Jesus did not rise from the dead? No, science is not the Authority, the Bible is and always has been. So I am not going to let science dictate what I should believe (By God’s grace).

    Do you believe in the Resurrection because of scientific evidence? Or through faith? The same way, genesis also requires faith and not scientific proof! So science proving evolution true or wrong will have nothing to do with my belief in the Bible!

  3. @Dave Z, can you please point out to me what faulty assumptions I have made. I would like to know… Also I want to say that I have made a lot of investigations and even logically evolution does not make sense.. I read a lot of science, I read a lot about astronomy, physics and am a big science fan, but still its God’s word above science! I would rather bend science to fit God’s word, rather than bend God’s word to fit science!

  4. Paul: Nick, Why do you have to feel that I have to hold the Bible through scientific lenses in order to interpret it?

    REply: I don’t. Why do you? You’re making a case for Genesis and having it rely on scientific evidence. Why not historical evidence?

    Paul: I believe in Genesis as being literal because there are more than enough evidence for that.

    REply: This is problematic since literal is vague. Literal means the way the author intended it and too many of us think he attended it to be scientific. I don’t. I think he meant it to be functional.

    Paul: And you can easily a difference between Genesis and Revelation where the Bible does speak in signs and images. But genesis is very clear, God spoke to Adam, Adam named the animals, Adam named Eve, there is no different interpretation for Genesis.

    Reply: I think you should consider reading people like John Walton and Henri Blocher. If you say there is no other interpretation, you have a problem. Your interpretation could be right, but there are others. I have no definitive interpretation.

  5. Paul: And even if Science went on ahead and proved that Evolution was true, I would still not believe it because Science says so. I would still believe God’s word, because it says so.

    REply: There is no place for the double theory of truth. If something is true, it is true regardless. There is no bifurcation between reality and the Bible. Are you saying history could demonstrate Jesus did not rise but you would still believe He did?

    Paul: According to science, there cannot be a Virgin Birth, no one can be raised from the dead, so does that mean Jesus did not have a Virgin Birth, and does that mean Jesus did not rise from the dead?

    Reply: No. Science does not say that. Scientists do. A number of scientists hold to miracles and have no problem with it. Read a book about the medievals, such as “God’s Philosophers.” You’re assuming science must be naturalistic. This is highly problematic.

    Paul: No, science is not the Authority, the Bible is and always has been. So I am not going to let science dictate what I should believe (By God’s grace).

    Reply: If something is true, it is true regardless. Do you take this same approach when you go to a doctor, get a mechanic to work on your car, or consider the weather report?

    Paul: Do you believe in the Resurrection because of scientific evidence? Or through faith? The same way, genesis also requires faith and not scientific proof! So science proving evolution true or wrong will have nothing to do with my belief in the Bible!

    Reply: Of course not. How could it change the faith of a fideist? I don’t use scientific evidence for the resurrection. I use historical evidence. Also, I do not use faith. Faith is not a means by which one believes. Faith is active trust in that which has been shown to be reliable. If you think faith is otherwise, go even better! Believe in Genesis without any evidence! That way you’ll have more faith!

  6. Nick. I am not making a case for Genesis using scientific evidence. I just read the scientific evidence and scientific arguments against genesis in order to understand the thinking of those people, I don’t do it in order to support what Genesis says.

    Also Nick, I could read books in which people interpret Genesis in different ways, I agree, but should I ask God to show me what is right or try to figure out what is right by trying to understand the best possible interpretation? I think people depend too much on intelligence and pride themselves too much on their intelligence in how they have figured things out themselves instead of a simple faith in God’s revealed word. I would ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance in understanding God’s word, instead of seeking Men’s interpretations!

  7. Paul: Nick. I am not making a case for Genesis using scientific evidence. I just read the scientific evidence and scientific arguments against genesis in order to understand the thinking of those people, I don’t do it in order to support what Genesis says.

    Reply: Why even do that? You’re still under the impression that Genesis is scientific. I’m not. It’s historical and it’s not a scientific account, but a functional account. Moderns care about the science of an event. Ancients didn’t.

    Paul: Also Nick, I could read books in which people interpret Genesis in different ways, I agree, but should I ask God to show me what is right or try to figure out what is right by trying to understand the best possible interpretation?

    Reply: You should do the latter.

    That’s right. You heard me.

    God is the master. You are the slave as am I. He is the teacher. You are the student as am I. You do not ask the teacher/master to give you the answers. You ask Him for wisdom in finding the answers. Personally, God gave me a brain to evaluate evidence. I intend to use it. You can just sit back and say “God told me this is the interpretation that’s correct.” I can meet someone else who says God told Him the opposite. Why should I believe your experience over His?

    Paul: I think people depend too much on intelligence and pride themselves too much on their intelligence in how they have figured things out themselves instead of a simple faith in God’s revealed word. I would ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance in understanding God’s word, instead of seeking Men’s interpretations!

    Reply: The hubris reaches high in this post. Yes. Because no other great people have studied the Bible before we came along and left their wisdom. Silly me. I won’t bother to see what other Christians have thought! I’m good enough that God will just give me the answers!

    Stances like yours will kill the church in America within a generation.

  8. @Nick

    You quoted ..

    “Of course not. How could it change the faith of a fideist? I don’t use scientific evidence for the resurrection. I use historical evidence. Also, I do not use faith. Faith is not a means by which one believes. Faith is active trust in that which has been shown to be reliable. If you think faith is otherwise, go even better! Believe in Genesis without any evidence! That way you’ll have more faith!”

    If you think you don’t need faith to believe these things, I really don’t know how you interpret the Bible.

    Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

    Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

    So belief in God and Jesus does require faith, not just historical evidence.

  9. Paul, I will not point out your (IMO) false assumptions, but I’d encourage you to examine your statements and look for holes in your thinking. Actually, I already gave one pointer in my last comment – things may not be as simple as you assume. Explore how that applies to your points.

  10. @ Nick you said

    “Stances like yours will kill the church in America within a generation”

    God is the one who sustains his church and it is not my stance which is going to dictate the way the church is moving. So rest assured that God is going to keep his true church even if I’m wrong/have a terrible stance! :)

  11. Thanks Dave Z, I know I’m not all correct, and yes, things are not so simple, so I’ll definitely try and do some more investigation :)

  12. I’m surprised dispensationalism/covenant theology & Cesationalism/Continualism didn’t make the list over some of the others you listed.

  13. Christianity may not rise or fall based on belief in Young Earth Creationism and – Anti Science Fundamentalism, but the faith of many young Christians is being destroyed by both of them

  14. Paul: I’m not sure why you press me about belief in inerrancy, but in fact I do believe. It is a matter of faith, yet we have evidence of its veracity which would stand up in court. (forensic vetting, archeology, etc.)
    Another thing to consider is that “scriptures” are written documents. When it is written, it is fixed as a public record. Yet, many of the truths and stories were held as oral traditions for months, years, even perhaps generations before writing them down. How does our belief in inerrancy hold up to this?
    My point is that inerrancy is not a quality of the document, but of the Spirit which keeps its fidelity to the Author’s intentions. Otherwise, as soon as it is translated into English (for example) it is no longer the verbatim scriptures. But we inherently understand that it is not the written word, but the Spirit which imparts truth. And again, this is a matter ultimately of faith, regardless of the preponderance of evidence in favor of it.

  15. So long as we’re talking about young earth creationism, I would just like to register my belief that YEC is quite possibly a demonic deception that exploits the church’s desire to find God’s truth in the Bible so as to maker her look foolish to the world and thereby weaken her witness.

  16. Regarding Adam and Eve, I don’t see any functional difference between seeing them as two literal people who did exactly what Genesis says compared with seeing them as archetypes of all humanity, illustrating a theological truth that humanity has a sinful nature and has had it since the beginning, depending on our own will, prioritizing ourselves over God, etc. Both scenarios seem quite consistent with later Biblical teaching about the need for Christ, but the more literal scenario just doesn’t make that much sense given what we know from other sources about science and history. God is behind science and history as much as he is behind scripture, so we should expect the truth to be consistent across all areas on knowledge.

  17. Another thought related to Genesis, if you were God and were trying to teach us some abstract theological ideas about yourself and your relationship with us, is a straight-forward literal narrative always the best way to communicate those ideas? Given that parables were one of Jesus’s favorite didactic tools, I would say the answer is no.

  18. Paul: If you think you don’t need faith to believe these things, I really don’t know how you interpret the Bible.

    Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

    Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

    So belief in God and Jesus does require faith, not just historical evidence.

    Reply: Had you paid attention to what I said, you would have known faith is not the means by which one believes. Faith is a result of what one believes. One believes based on evidence. Instead, look at faith in the Handbook of Biblical Social Values edited by Pilch and Malina. My longer writing on this can be found here:

    http://deeperwaters.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/what-does-faith-mean/

    Paul: God is the one who sustains his church and it is not my stance which is going to dictate the way the church is moving. So rest assured that God is going to keep his true church even if I’m wrong/have a terrible stance!

    Reply: Once again, you’re not reading what is said. I said the church in America. The Church universal will never die, but the church in America can. The gospel does not need America. America needs the gospel. Too many Christians today seem to have your kind of attitude. I’m quite thankful the apostles didn’t. If I was told I was doing something that was harmful to the church, I’d want to know. I wouldn’t want to have an attitude of “Well even if I make a mistake, it’s all in the hands of God.” Yes. It is. Still, I want to give Him my best. I want to avoid as many mistakes as possible. I want the gospel to thrive in America and the fundamentalism we’ve tied it to is killing it.

  19. ” I want the gospel to thrive in America and the fundamentalism we’ve tied it to is killing it.”

    Do you really think that you(or fundamentalism) have the power to kill the Gospel?

  20. Michael,

    Your list of items (at least 5 out of 8) would be accurate ONLY if God had not chosen to reveal Himself to us THROUGH HIS WRITTEN WORD.

    Once God chose to speak through his written word, He bound Himself to its integrity , continuity and veracity.

    Therefore the reason that #3 and #6 ARE a “sin quo non” (sic) [it is sine qua non] is exactly because God CHOSE to reveal Himself through His word and his words.

    1 Samuel 3:21 And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh BY THE WORD OF THE LORD.

    Michael- the ONLY reason you can say that the resurrection of Christ is an essential (sine qua non) is because the WORD OF THE LORD told you so.

    In this mythical world where the inerrancy and inspiration of scripture are relegated to non-essentials such as the age of the earth; then the incarnation would be rendered as inconsequential as whether or not Billy Graham wore black socks when he preached.

    God could “make us Christians” via a savior who was not fully God and fully man. THE ONLY REASON YOU THINK THAT THE INCARNATION AND RESURRECTION ARE ESSENTIAL IS YOU HAVE THE WORD OF THE LORD WHO MADE THESE DISTINCTIVES ESSENTIAL.

    Once we realize the #3 and #6 ARE essential, it will follow that #2, #4 and #8 are also essential because THE WORD OF THE LORD directly speaks to these issues: Paul DID write the Pastoral Epistles because he wrote that he did. The flood did cover the earth because he wrote that it did. And God did create all things in 6 days and not via evolution or a big bang because he wrote that He did.

  21. Jeff, your missing my point just like about half of the other commenters. Whose fault? Mine, obviously!

    This has to do with where to start with apologetics, not about how we build our theology that got us there. I don’t need to make someone believe in inspiration and inerrancy in order to put them at the Christian fork in the road. “Resurrection Apologetics” simply attempts to get people to study the historicity of this event just as they would any other event of history. Once they do this, if they are truly open, then they will be compelled to believe. Once this happens, then one can disciple them in these other areas.

  22. Greg, you won’t believe what else we Calvinist do: we evangelize! And if that was not inconsistent enough, we do so in the language of the evangelized. And if THAT were not enough, we try to be persuasive! Crazy stuff man.

  23. Oh, one more thing .. . On a serious note, I am teaching a course on rhetoric. It is really interesting as things change so much in the way people listen. And it is not so much an issue of tolerance or shortened attention span (as so many people like to say in disgust regarding our generation). I am also taking a course on rhetoric at the same time. I have so much to learn.

    However, this is a lost art, no matter if you are Calvinist or Arminian. My basic argument comes primarily through the natural order, yet there are many examples in Scripture. Christ was really great at rhetoric and he was definitely a Calvinist! :-)

  24. Greg,

    “She’s SUPPOSED to look foolish to the world.”

    Yes, but not in the sense of saying things that are almost certainly false, which is the case with YEC. Christians who are more established in their faith (particularly older ones) may not be fazed by the fact that their doctrine of creation flies in the face of the relevant evidence from modern geology, chemistry, astronomy, etc. However, I have a hard time imagining that YEC will remain a significant aspect of evangelical theology for much longer as God continues to engender and sustain the faith of his people in an increasingly information-driven, post-Christian society.

    “There will always be a remnant and always a large visible backslidden church for you to fit right into to.”

    You don’t know me, I try to maintain a close walk with Jesus and remain obedient to whatever I think God’s spirit is telling me. Indeed, he has recently given me victory over certain sexual sins, for which I am very thankful.

  25. CMP,

    “Christ was really great at rhetoric and he was definitely a Calvinist! :-)”

    No, he was a Christian universalist. :-)

  26. Michael,
    Good stuff. I think you’re basically right. On #3, watch out for “Five Views of Inerrancy” published by Zondervan. I’m arguing for a position similar to your own!

  27. Michael, what you did was the right thing, but it was ultimately God’s work to save the people whom you mentioned in your stories. The way you go about it makes me feel like you are saying that they would not have been saved had you chosen to go another way about it. Surely you can’say that they became believers because you acted smartly? It was God’s work and it was because God’s Spirit led you to do the right thing! Sure, these issues about evolution and inerrancy are used to sidetrack talking about the true gospel, and I agree preaching the cross is the true Gospel but ultimately these topics have to be addressed, especially inerrancy and inspiration, Otherwise on what basis are you going to tell a new believer to read their Bible? The Word is what sustains a new believer and if they don’t think it is God’s word, how are they going to hear what God has to say? How is their lives as a believer going to grow without God’s word? No one who thinks that the Bible is not God’s word can continue being a believer.

    Even in the example that you gave, you can clearly see that its not what you said, but what he read that changed his heart! In the other case its the word, preached by you which caused the girl to believe. So for us it all comes back to the written word and, without it there would be no Gospel or salvation.

  28. MK: Do you really think that you(or fundamentalism) have the power to kill the Gospel?

    Reply: What part of “In America” do you not understand? The gospel will always thrive somewhere, but whether it does in America or not does also rely on us. If no one in America does the work of evangelism, the gospel will not thrive. Personally, I want it to thrive here and that means we need to follow the adage of Augustine. Work as if everything depends on us. Pray as if everything depends on God.

  29. Salvation or Christianity?

    Michael, your post would have been much more useful if your subject would have been, “Eight issues that do not determine whether or not you are a Christian.” Since there are so many errors out there being taught I can easily believe that someone may truly give himself to Christ but not believe or understand any or all of these issues.

    However, saying these issues do not make or break Christianity stretches the argument well beyond the breaking point. Yes, some of them, such as belief in an old earth and/or evolution are not complete deal-breakers. However, Christianity would be “broken” without the inspiration and/or inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, and a few other things you mention.

    I feel like you are doing the same thing as Steven Hawking who thinks that because he can imagine a multiverse where one of the infinite universes has laws which allow something to come from nothing – and that universe created ours, there is no need for God. Yes, one can imagine a Christianity without the inspiration/inerrancy of the Bible, no virgin birth, etc. but that doesn’t make it so.

    We must work within the parameters of the Christianity which we have and here there are a number of non-negotiables. Any other type of Christianity wouldn’t work or God would have done it that way (or made it an option).

  30. You lost me with 3 and 6, Mike. I can’t see how you can function as a Christian in the realm of Orthodoxy without the God-breathed nature of scripture at the forefront. All of our “biblical doctrine” stands on those truths.

  31. Do some people here really think that the only way you can show Christ is risen from the dead is if the Bible is Inerrant?

    I wonder how they did it before the NT….

  32. @43…You didn’t answer my question. Try again, please.

  33. Here’s a thought experiment for you, Michael, that might help to bring clarity: since you do in fact affirm the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, if Scripture actually contradicted any of your points or logic, would you retract?

    • Aaron, you will have to flesh that out. Give me an example.

      If Scripture said that salvation was based on a belief in a literal six-day creation, then that would be part of my Gospel message. Same thing with inerrancy. Same thing with the world-wide flood. Same thing with the inspiration of 2 Peter.

      Is that what you mean?

      • Sorry Greg. I trashed your comment to Marv. This post is too important for it to run into an evolution/creation post which goes on for a thousand comments. Plus, it was a bit too polemic to fit the mold of this blog (or do your position any justice).

  34. Michael,
    I’ve got to say that this kind of discussion both fascinates and repulses me all at the same time. It fascinates me in that fine lines and absolute minimums seem to tax my intellectual capacity. I’m not a bright man (no false humility either). And reading other people get down to stuff that I’m constantly trying to work through in my own mind and seeing how they can strip away things with such fluidity and intellectual athleticism really makes me marvel. I feel like a fat short guy with little to no coordination watching an NBA game (btw – the analogy is very close to home).
    But this is what repulses me. This discussions of Christian sine qua non can seem to me nothing more that Christian minimalism, a bunch of us trying to represent the absolute minimal Christianity. But what kind of Christianity is that?
    Can this kind of Christianity really be what Christ means when he tells Nicodemus, “You have to be born again – of water and the Spirit.” Is that essential? Can this kind of sine qua non Christianity be what He meant when He told the wealthy ruler, “Sell all that you have and follow me”? I honestly don’t know. I obviously have an opinion. But I don’t know.

  35. Daniel,

    Did you read the post that follows? I think it will help put some skin on what I am saying here. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2013/03/what-about-evolution-and-errors/

    At the very least, it will help show that I am not presenting a minimalistic Christianity. (I think!)

  36. Daniel. I’m honestly confused. How can it be that what is affirmed is a Christianity where the Son of God walks among us, dies, and rises again, and that is considered minimal?

    Michael. Maybe you should write a post on beliefs that do make or break Christianity.

  37. Nick, I think “sine qua non” questions are specifically formulated to find out what is the absolute “minimum” necessary. Isn’t that by definition minimalistic? I’m certainly not in any way intending to imply that the majesty of the person and work of the Messiah is trivial. But if I understand correctly (and this is not always the case), minimal and trivial are not similar.

  38. @Daniel: Michael is not the first to attempt to define what you call “Christian minimalism, which is really another way of saying “the essentials of Christianity.” Some 60 or so years ago another guy did the same. He called his version “Mere Christianity,” and it’s pretty well respected.

    And he was not the first either, he borrowed the term from a man who wrote in the 17th century.

    And as I mentioned in an earlier comment, Paul kind of did the same in 1 Cor. 15 by prioritizing our beliefs – some are of first importance, others, somewhere further down the list.

  39. Ha! It just occurred to me that the much-loved Mere Christianity does not mention any of the 8 issues CMP listed, with the exception of a brief mention similar to Michael’s point 5, the character witness of Christians.
    As I recall, the summary of that part is that we shouldn’t base too much on it.

    Well, I guess he also mentions number 8, evolution, but only in passing.

    You’re in good company, Michael.

  40. @Dave
    Thanks!

  41. Michael, Yes, I read the other post. Then I read it again. Something stuck out to me (twice).
    I get the “don’t pick fights that are not the gospel” method as an apologetic/evangelistic technique. But “inspiration” did seem to play a part in both of the stories. You used the Scripture. Even when you “set aside all other Christian presuppositions” I don’t think you really did. You still presented from Scripture. When you shared the gospel with your sister’s friend you presented from information you got from Scripture. If you are not working from a Christian presupposition that the Bible is inspired why not use Church fathers or some other source less objectionable? Why reference Scripture at all?

    Also, it seems to me that the same Paul who wrote that Christ died according to the Scriptures also wrote, that those very Scriptures were “inspired” (assuming Paul wrote the pastorals :-)). Wouldn’t the principle of authorial intent lead us to believe that the when Paul wrote “Scripture” in 1 Cor. 15 and included their fulfillment as part of “first things” (whatever that may mean) that he meant the same “Scripture” which he believed to be inspired in 2Timothy 3?

    And as for the issue of minimalism, it seems to me that if you use the argument that “the apostolic church didn’t have it” then you open the door for further contracting. For example the thief on the cross knew nothing of the bodily resurrection of Jesus yet he was explicitly told that he was going to paradise. Do we extrapolate from this that the resurrection of Christ does not make or break his Christianity?
    Sorry sometimes I ramble . . .

  42. Daniel,

    I don’t understand the argument about “minimalism”. However, in this case I call it “essentialism”. In the case of witnessing, skip the non-essentials and get to the essentials as quick as possible.

    You said: “If you are not working from a Christian presupposition that the Bible is inspired why not use Church fathers or some other source less objectionable? Why reference Scripture at all?”

    Because the “Scriptures” in this case are the 27 primary historic documents. I just don’t, in these cases, need to assume they are inspired. But I must use them. However, I certainly DO use the early church fathers, along with much secondary material. Cultural impact material, which is more incedental, is extremely important (do we see the claims impacting the broader culture?).

    Finally, with Paul: his “according to the Scriptures” does not affect this argument unless the purpose was prophecy and connecting it back to the broader plan of God. Once someone is convinced of the resurrection, this is very important. But again, that comes second. What if someone said “according to the Scriptures? I don’t even believe he rose so what do I care about something that did not really happen being ‘according to the Scriptures’?” You see, Paul was saying that as a point of theology, I beleive, not a point of apologetics. As a point of theology, it is indeed essential that we see Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s plan, not some divine anomaly.

    Does that help?

  43. Daniel, CMP,
    In talking with someone recently, they commented that N.T. Wright sometimes footnotes scripture to make the same point that I think Michael is trying to make: that it is a historical document and a primary source, just as others will regard historical writings as having merit, the New Testament documents need to be regarded this way too.

    Sometimes people write off the New Testament documents because they are just “religious literature”; they fail to see that they are also historical documents. They may fail to see that Jesus isn’t just a person from religion either, he is a historical person. The fact of inspiration doesn’t affect the historicity of the documents, they are historical whether or not they are inspired so arguing about inspiration is a non-essential in sharing the gospel.

    Am I communicating what you are saying, Michael?

  44. Sounds right. This is definetly the way that scholars, evangelical or liberal, use the Scriptures in these kind of context.

  45. Few people would argue about the historical significance of the Bible, and a few bold souls of the world might even attest to the historical veracity of It. But divine inspiration is essential if the Gospel has the authority it claims for itself. A mere historical document cannot claim the supernatural claims that the Gospel does without divine authority. Thus, the belief that the Holy Spirit guided the writing of the testimonies, oral traditions, etc. to make our formal writings, approved and authenticated as the Bible.
    An example: Apostle Paul traveled to Jerusalem to validate his gospel with others, to make sure he got it right. This was, as many believe, before he committed it to parchment. So, the message was already there, just the writing down of it had to wait.

  46. I think the entire concept of inspiration has gotten itself kind of sideways in people’s minds. IMO, we have taken theopneustos, God-breathed, and turned it into “God-spoken”. I think that if Paul had intended to say God-spoken, he would have, but that is not what he said.

    The breathing terminology calls up a different image, and if you search scripture, you’ll find that God breathing, or God’s breath, usually relates to him bringing things (and people) to life. And regarding scripture, that concept fits in so nicely with Hebrews 4:12.

    So the power of scripture lies not in it’s own nature, but in the nature of it’s source – God (Isaiah 55:11). God fills scripture with his power, breathing life into it on a continuous basis, not just once way back when it was written. I think that’s the reason scripture can survive translation with it’s power intact.

    We talk about verbal inspiration, saying God gave the very words he wanted us to have, but if that’s the case, how dare we tamper with them by translation? That’s the approach to inspiration that Islam takes (IIUC) and frankly, it seems more locically consistant than ours, if we want to insist on this verbal thing.

  47. Dave Z: I think you hit an important concept: the Word of God is a living word, and as such will “defend” itself against impostors. Scripture says that God inhabits our praises, so why not the very word He breathed to us?

  48. Michael, what I am saying is that Jesus didn’t use His own resurrection in His interaction w/ the thief on the cross. Does that imply in anyway that the resurrection of Jesus is not essential? If we are defining “essential” as the parts of Christianity that get a person to heaven, then it seems that we can trim the resurrection of Christ from that list. But I would never do that. If there is no resurrection than Christianity is broken. In the same way it seems to me that if there is no “inspired Scripture” then Christianity is broken. I know that the argument is “could Christianity exist if God had never inspired Scripture?” But the point is that He did. This is the Christianity that He gave to us and how He gave it to us?

  49. Michael, Also, you said, ” I just don’t, in these cases, need to assume they are inspired.” But the point of my argument/ramble was that you may not need to assume it but you do assume it. You may avoid speaking in overt inspiration terms when talking to someone for whom the concept of “inspiration” is offensive, but you cannot truly stop assume what you do indeed assume to be true. And, yes, I am amazed myself at the tenacity of the text of such an ancient document. It seems to attest to the unique nature of this collection of documents (of course, w/ my presuppositions solidly in place).
    (I had to separate the two comments to stay under the 1000 character limit. I am very much a recovering legalist)

  50. This blog entry was a disappointing post to read. Wrong on so many levels and one day you will come to regret what you have written. Too many today seem to think that the Bible is parseable for essential and non-essential topics. It is as if God was rambling at times so we can excuse ourselves from the conversation. Talk of essential and non-essential is the rationalization of the man who has created a standard from which to judge the deposit of our faith in God’s general and special revelation. In short, man becomes God’s judge and assigns a grade on the two “books” God has written to us. May it never be.

    Patrick
    Founder, Reformed Theology Institute

    Admin Staff and Faculty: The North American Reformed Seminary
    http://www.tnars.net

    Seminary Faculty Needed:
    http://www.tnars.net/about/mentor-information/

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