Archive | August, 2013

This Calvinist’s Problem with “Once Saved, Always Saved”

I have often said that it is easier to tell when someone is a true Christian than to tell when they are not. In other words, some people wear their convictions on their sleeve. The power of the Holy Spirit could not be more clearly visible. With these people, their passion, understanding, grace, humility, and faith are clearly evident in everything they do. I know and can state with a great degree of confidence that they trust in Christ and are saved. They are in the race and they are running. For others, however, it is more difficult to tell. They may say they are saved, but I do not have the same degree of confidence. They may be convinced, but I am not. I am not asserting they are not saved. I just don’t know. Some people live in a perpetual state of doubt, failure, and terrible sin. They may be in the race, but they are not running. However, even when they are at their worst, I cannot confidently say that they are not saved any more than I can say that the previous individuals are saved.

Many people contact me, because they are overwhelmed with the fear that they are not saved. They seek assurance from me that God has saved them. My background, training, and tradition all push me to reassure them in the attempt to alleviate their doubts and fears to the end that they are secure in their salvation and can never lose this security. After all, I believe that without security, we have never really embraced the fullness of the Gospel message.

However, there is a flip side to this coin. And it is this other side that I wish to address.

I have someone who I can’t figure out. Conversations with him are always very frustrating. I just want to crack his head open and see what is inside. I want to gaze where only God can see. I want to know if he really knows Christ. My heart says, “I hope!” but my mind says, “I don’t know. I doubt it.”

If you were to look at the life of this friend, you would not suspect that he has ever approached the throne room of God. You would not suspect that he has ever bowed humbly at the cross, understood his own condition, or asked the Lord for mercy. I have never seen him read his Bible, and I have never heard him honor Christ with his words. His life appears to be a never-ending pursuit of what the world has to offer. Moreover, this attitude shows evidence of trying to maintain complete control over his emotional state. Comforting him with spiritual talk is a seemingly futile exercise, especially when I receive a ridiculing gaze and awkward silence when I attempt to discuss the issue with him.

Yet, when push comes to shove, this guy will give me his testimony. Every once in a while he will tell me why I don’t need to be worried about his spiritual condition. He will confidently tell me of the time when he was twelve years old and walked the aisle at Church to accept the Gospel. Once his tale is complete, he has exhausted his ability to have a spiritual conversation and an awkward silence ensues. Continue Reading →

Top 5 Resurrection Myths – #4: The Apostles Stole Christ’s Body

Seminary level course on the Resurrection taught by Gary Habermas: 13 more days to get it at a price you will never see again.  We need your help to make this course a reality.

The next resurrection myth is that the Apostles (or Jesus’ followers) stole Christ’s body. This particular hypothesis has been around longer than any other. The Book of Matthew speaks about this theory as having been created in order for the Jewish leaders to deny the resurrection. They bribed the guards to keep them quiet (which, as an aside, is good evidence that the guards were Roman and not from the temple — otherwise, why would the Jews have to bribe them?):

Mat 28:11-15
Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 “And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.

It is interesting to note that by the time Matthew was written, this theory had been in circulation for nearly 30 years.

However, there are several problems with this theory:

1. The resurrection is evidenced by more than the empty tomb.

One positive about the stolen body theory is that it does well in assuming the empty tomb. This is a basic fact that most scholars, liberal and conservative, accept. Gary Habermas uses this in his “minimal facts” approach where he evidences the resurrection from a few basic facts that the majority of scholars accept.

But this theory fails today for the same reason it failed in the first century: The resurrection is evidenced by much more than the empty tomb. Of course, the empty tomb is a necessary condition for the event, but the appearances and ascension of Christ are also components that form the bedrock of the resurrection testimony. If the Apostles stole the body, how did they animate it to fool those who say they saw him alive? How did they make this body appear to ascend into heaven? How did they get this body to appear to Paul some years later? Continue Reading →

Theology Unplugged: Roman Catholicism – Part 16 – Wrap-Up

Join Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley, JJ Seid and Sam Storms as they wrap-up their series on Roman Catholicism by discussing Icons, Images and Relics.

Theology Unplugged: Video Edition is available for the first time to Credo House Members. You can now listen AND WATCH as Michael, Tim, Sam and JJ dive into issues of theology. Grow in your faith, learn theology, and have a good time. Try Membership risk free! If you don’t love it as much as us you can cancel at any time

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Top 5 Resurrection Myths – #5: Christ Never Really Died

This is a series on objections to the resurrection. It is to promote Gary Habermas’ course on the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus that he will be teaching here at the Credo House. We are attempting to get backing for this course right now. Please help us make this 30 session, seminary level course available to everyone. It will be available as DVD, streaming video, CD, steaming audio, and on the Credo Course App (coming after 6 Credo Courses are completed—early next year). We need your help to make this course a reality.

It is difficult to deal with alternate theories regarding the historicity of Christ’s resurrection. The difficulty lies not in that there are not many out there, but that it is hard to choose which ones pose the most legitimate challenges. One thing is certain: if a prima facie rejection of the possibility of a truly dead person coming back to life through the power of God was not present, then there would be no alternatives to the resurrection of Christ, as the evidence for any of these alternatives is not present. One has to reject the possibility of God raising a person from the dead and then begin to seek explanations that would not otherwise be evident.

The first alternative that I wish to talk about is the “Swoon Theory.” “Swoon” means to faint. This theory proposes that Christ never really died at all. Although not very popular (but, to be truthful, none really have a wide acceptance), this theory was promoted by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln in their 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail (which is primarily known for its use by Dan Brown in his best seller The Da Vinci Code). As well, the theory has been popularized recently among Muslims, who traditionally reject Christ’s death on the cross. It was first proposed by H. E. G. Paulus in The Life of Jesus (1828).

Explanation of the Swoon Theory:

Jesus never really died on the cross. He was either thought dead and taken down, or intentionally taken down before death. He was placed in the tomb for a couple of days, then he regained his strength and presented himself alive to many people, including his Apostles. They were convinced that he had risen from the dead and spread this story, which formed the basis for the Christian message.

Why this must be rejected:

1. The nature of crucifixion.

Christ’s crucifixion was ordered by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. The executioners were not a rogue group of lynchers who attempted to kill a man, but experienced soldiers who employed what was probably the most common form of capital punishment of the day. Crucified men generally died from asphyxiation due to collapsed lungs, but the executioners had a fail-safe to guarantee the death of the victim. In order to speed up the suffocation, they would break the legs of the crucified. In doing so, there was no longer any way for the dying man to use his legs to give his lungs room to breathe. Though one could live days on a cross without dying, once the legs were broken, death came very quickly. Additionally, if there was any uncertainty as to whether the man had perished, there was another way to finalize his death. They would spear the victim in the chest (which we see done to Christ). To say that Christ was still alive after all that is to say that the Roman executioners were incompetent in their job (an idea which does not have any extrabiblical historical support, as Romans were widely believed to have perfected the “art” of crucifixion) and that Mary and Josephus, along with all those involved in the burial, were mistaken in their belief that Christ was dead. This is very difficult to believe with intellectual integrity. Continue Reading →

Six Myths About Sola Scriptura

The Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura is one of the most misunderstood doctrines I know of. The misconceptions come not only from those who repudiate the doctrine (such as Roman Catholics), but also from those who affirm it. Here is a list of some myths regarding sola Scriptura.

1. Sola Scriptura means that Scripture is the only source of spiritual insight.

Spiritual insight can come from any number of sources, both secular and Christian. I remember in 1995, I received quite a bit of spiritual motivation and inspiration from the movie Braveheart. My thoughts and hopes were infiltrated by the idea of a person giving up his life for something bigger than himself. There are many things – songs, wise words, books, and movies (Christian and secular), to name a few – that can be sources of insight and inspiration. Remember, all truth is God’s truth. It does not have to be in the Scriptures to be true.

2. Sola Scriptura means that there are no other authorities in our lives.

We believe that the Scriptures are our final and only infallible authority, but not that they are our only authority. For example, we believe that our pastors and church leaders have authority in our lives. Hebrews 13:7 says that we are to obey our leaders. Wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:2). People are to obey the government (1 Pet. 2:13). Children are to do what their parents say (Eph. 6:1). There can be no excuse like, “Dad, the Bible does not say I have to clean my room, so I choose not to.” Or “Officer, it says nothing specific about running red lights in the Bible.”

As well, tradition (church history) is an authority in our lives. Those who have gone before us in the faith must be respected. Their collective and unified influence creates an authority which, I believe, is second only to Scripture. After all, they had the same Holy Spirit as us, didn’t they? The Holy Spirit does not teach us everything new as individuals, but educates and inspires us in and with those who have gone before us. That is why I love dead theologians!

As I read through John Calvin’s Institutes a couple of years ago, I did so with a fine-toothed comb, underlining every time another source was referenced, especially a source from another church father. One cannot study the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura and come away with the idea that the Reformers ever meant that the Scriptures were our only authority. Ultimate, yes. Only, no.

None of these are our final authority, and if the Scriptures contradict what these authorities say, the Scriptures trump.

3. Sola Scriptura means that if it is not in the Bible, it is not divinely binding.

Romans 1 speaks of the binding authority of the message of creation: “For since the creation of the world, his eternal attributes, divine power and nature have been clearly understood so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). As well, in Romans 2, we are told that our conscience testifies to us about God’s will (Rom. 2:14-16). As Christians, we must be willing to take our cue from all forms of what we call “general revelation”: rationality, moral conscience, and the message of creation all qualify.

Whether it is rationality or the message of creation and the conclusions drawn from it, we cannot turn a blind eye and say that since it is not in the Scripture, it does not make any difference. Continue Reading →

Why I Lack Certainty About Christianity

Belief does not come easy for me. I have a little “unbeliever” who has set up camp in the back of my mind, and he has no idea when, or how, to shut up. He is always questioning everything, from the stories I hear to the beliefs which tie me down emotionally. (I borrowed this idea from Daniel Taylor’s The Skeptical Christian. Taylor is possibly the most profound and honest writer I have ever read.) This unbeliever’s goal is to make me less certain about my beliefs and, in doing so, render me spiritually impotent and sterile. I have found many ways to tame this unbelieving beast, but I have also come to the conclusion that he will never totally shut up.

There are not many things about which I have absolute certainty. What I mean by “certainty” is very important here. I do not mean that there are only a few things about which I am convicted as to their truthfulness. Nor do I mean that there are just a few things I am obligated to evangelize. What I actually mean is that there are very few things about which I have indubitable knowledge of. (Perhaps the use of that word did not help…I just like to say the word “indubitable.”) Indubitability implies that one cannot be wrong. It is akin to infallibility. It is perfect and incorrigible conviction. However, none of us really have access to this type of certainty.

In dealing with doubters over the years, I have found that this reality has been the fountainhead for much anxiety in people’s faith. It is not that a lack of perfect certainty is the cause; rather, the cause is the belief that they are supposed to have perfect certainty. Once people begin to have doubts about their faith (or some aspect thereof), especially those who have grown up in very conservative traditions, many begin to doubt their faith altogether, thinking, “How can I have faith, if I have doubts?” It is not that conservative doctrines themselves are at fault; it is the idea that has been preconditioned into their thinking, that belief always and completely casts away doubt. The solution is very often as simple as convincing individuals that faith and doubt will always exist together, which is okay.

Some people say that they have no doubt at all, and they never have. I have difficulty believing assertions such as this, though I suppose they might be true for a very small number of individuals. However, at this point, I think it would be valuable for us to distinguish between “certainty” and “certitude” (Daniel Taylor introduced me to this concept, but I don’t know if the distinctions he made are embedded in the specific definitions of the terms). “Certainty” is the more objective type of conviction. It is the idea that one cannot be wrong due to conclusion of objective facts and evidence. “Certitude” is an emotional conviction that people have, which does not necessarily require evidence. It is the feeling of certainty, but not certainty itself. Most people I come across, who believe that Christians must be certain about their faith, are really talking about certitude. Certitude is good, but one can have certitude that is wrong. Therefore, people can have a strong level of “certitude” without possessing absolute “certainty” about it.

Let me put it another way: No matter how certain you believe you are about some truth, (assuming that it is true) God is even more certain than you are. Most people are comfortable with this idea. For me to say that God has greater assurance about what is true than you do is without question. Similarly, to say that you and I don’t possess perfect faith is generally acceptable to most of us. This allows you and me the opportunity to grow in our faith, and by doing so, grow in our conviction concerning this faith. Assuming this is the case, our “certainty” is not really certainty, but certitude.

As you must know by now, I like charts. Let me try this (those of you who have been through The Theology Program will be familiar with what follows). It’s called “The Chart of Certainty:”

Chart-of-Certainty Continue Reading →

Should We Abandon Structured Leadership?

(Lisa Robinson)

Increasingly, I am encountering a definition of the priesthood of the believer to mean a rejection of structured leadership in our local assemblies. Because we are priests with direct access to God, we minister to each other and do not need special offices (pastor/elder) that separate clergy from the rest of Christians, aka lay people. I know that many have been hurt by the local church and especially her leaders. I get that some fear any kind of hierarchical structure for for whatever reason. That may contribute to this form of polity.

For clarification, the term was coined by the Reformers to distinguish the direct access believers have to Christ vs. their access to through clergy. This of course was in repudiation to the papists who claimed that they alone provided access contrary to Hebrews 4:14. Through this direct access, we serve as ministers of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:18) and minister to one another (Colossians 3:15-16). In this regard, we don’t need structured leadership to minister to one another.

But I will argue that we do need structured leadership for local church. Now, I’m not framing the discussion in terms of congregationalism because I think this is something different (good article on 9Marks here).  Also, I confess that I hold to a presbyterian polity that is somewhat shaping my thesis. But even so, I’m want to be fair to alternate forms of church structure and acknowledge where there is consistency with Scripture.  I question if this egalitarian type of structure is faithful.

If we think just gathering by itself is sufficient and reject the idea of structured leadership, consider Ephesians 4:4-16. There is one body who is to walk according to its purpose, growing up together in Christ through specific means – “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (vs 11)”

Now there is a diversity of interpretation of the five classifications mentioned.

1) They are offices representing the means through which God has chosen to work through

2) They are gifts representing the means through which God has chosen to work through

3) They refer to specific people that God has chosen to work through

For the sake of brevity, I’ll just provide what I think makes the most sense, which is  definition #1 though I can see some validity for #2. I also think its important to consider prophets and apostles in light of what Paul said earlier in Ephesians 2:20. The very foundation of what Christ built is grounded in the prophetic and apostolic witness, which is transmitted through Scripture. Continue Reading →

Twelve Myths About Arminianism

1. Arminians don’t believe in the sovereignty of God.

Arminians believe very much in the sovereignty of God. To say that God gives people freedom does not necessarily mean that God relinquishes his authority over mankind. To be sovereign does not mean that one always has to be in meticulous control over everything that happens. God, for the Arminian, could shape all human events according to his will, he just chooses not to. This is still sovereignty.

2. Arminians believe that Christians could lose their salvation if they commit a really bad sin.

This is not true. Mainstream Arminianism has traditionally taught that the only way one can forfeit their salvation is through a permanent loss of faith. All sins, no matter how bad, are covered by the cross of Christ. Roman Catholicism is the only mainstream tradition that teaches that really bad sins (“mortal sins”) can cause one to lose their status in heaven.

3. Arminianism is Pelagianism

This is one of the most widely taught misrepresentations, primarily among Calvinists. Pelagianism is the belief that man is born morally neutral. As well, Pelagianism teaches that man’s will is neutral from birth. Therefore, according to Pelagianism, man does not need the grace of God to live according to his will. Arminianism, on the other hand, believes that man is completely dependent upon God’s grace in order to be saved.

4. Arminianism is Semi-Pelagianism

Unlike Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism is the belief that man is born in a state of moral brokenness but, in his natural state, is still able to call upon God for aid. Arminianism, on the other hand (and like Calvinism), does not believe that man can do any good whatsoever outside of God’s intervention. Man, in his natural state, is at enmity with God. It is only the prevenient grace of God that gives man the ability to call on Him for mercy.

Arminians believe in the doctrine of total depravity to the same degree that Calvinists do.

5. Arminians follow a man, Jacob Arminius.

Arminianism represents a system of theology that has roots all the way back to the early church. In fact, it could be easily argued that the earliest Christians after the Apostles were more Arminian than Calvinistic. The designation “Arminianism” is named after Jacob Arminius. Arminius was a Protestant leader who rejected many of the beliefs of the Calvinists of his day, offering an alternative to the prevailing Reformed thought. Continue Reading →