Archive | June, 2014

Fundamentalists, Liberals, and Evangelicals Charted

Tuesday night, at “Coffee and Theology” at the Credo House, I taught what might very well be the most important lesson I have ever taught for “Coffee and Theology.” It was over the necessity of creating a hierarchy of belief, helping people learn to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, cardinal beliefs and non-cardinal beliefs, those things that we should be willing to die for and those things that are less important.

My goal during people’s initial exposure to this subject is not to tell them what the essentials and non-essentials are, but to help them understand that these categories exist in Christianity. Beliefs matter very much in our faith, but not all beliefs matter equally. Part of the discipleship process of any Christian is to begin to work through these differences.

Here is the basic “Concentric Circle of Importance” that I often teach from. I have used it here many times on this blog.



The very center circle represents those issue of the faith that are “of first importance.” Paul spoke in such terms in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. “Of first importance” for Paul was the person and work of Christ. Who Christ is and what he did come before all else.

Instead of filling in this chart with all that I believe fit in each circle (an impossible task to do exhaustively), I want to show this how this chart might look in differing traditions. I hope that the graphs explain themselves without too much controversy. Please understand, I use the words “Fundamentalist” and “Liberal” here more as adjectives than nouns. And it should be obvious that I am using “Evangelical” in an idealize form here. Continue Reading →

Five Views of Tradition’s Role in the Christian Life

“If it ain’t in the Bible, I don’t believe it.” Have you ever heard said that? How about this one: “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” You might have that bumper sticker. Why not? Doesn’t this represent the glory of the Protestant Reformation’s elevation of Scripture to a position of the sole source of authority in the Christian’s life? Don’t these pithy statements represent the best of what it means to adhere to the doctrine of sola Scriptura?

No, they don’t. In fact they unfortunately represent a common misunderstanding of what sola Scriptura means.

Where does one go for authority? In whom do we place our trust? The Church? Tradition? Scripture? The Pope? These represent important questions that are normally not understood outside the perspective of individual traditions.

There are essentially five views that exist in the church today concerning the important issue of authority.

1. Dual-source theory

Belief that Tradition, represented by the magisterial authority of the Roman Catholic Church, is infallible and equal to Scripture as a basis for doctrine; the Church itself is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice since it must define and interpret Scripture and Tradition.

Adherents: Roman Catholics

Notice that there is one complete deposit of faith, given by Christ to the Apostles. This one deposit is transmitted by two sources, written tradition (Scripture) and unwritten tradition. Notice also the dotted line as Scripture moves from the “Age of the Apostles” to the “Age of the Church.” This represents that the Scriptures were not complete in canonized form (all the books were not decided upon) until the forth century. The Roman Catholic church believes itself responsible for the interpretation of both written and unwritten tradition. Because of their belief that the Holy Spirit protects the Roman Catholic church from error, they believe that they are the ultimate and final authority for the Christian. This is why this view is often referred to as sola ecclesia (”the church alone”). Continue Reading →

Do Charismatics Deny Sola Scriptura Due to their View of Prophecy?


While I am not a charismatic, I am around them all the time. In fact, I think that I have more charismatics that work for me than non-charismatics. It’s quite a bit of fun. While I ban the “power of the Spirit” being manifest in speaking in tongues during work hours at the Credo House, I certainly don’t ban the power of the Spirit in anyone’s personal life. Everyone is free to believe whatever they are led to believe in this area here at Credo. We are very open and encouraging of this type of diversity. It has only gotten weird a couple of times. (Maybe I will write about that someday!)

I often tell people that I am the most want-to-be-charismatic non-charismatic they will ever meet. I long for the gifts of the Spirit to be manifested in such a way. To see people healed of serious ailments would be a taste of heaven. But more than anything else, I desire prophecy. I want to hear from God in such a way. I want God to speak directly to my situations. I would love to experience this type of communion with God. It would be so encouraging.

The other day (not at Credo), I had someone chase me down and prophesy over me. I was so excited when they approached. I think it was a husband/wife team. They said that when they saw me, they had a vision from God. It was a vision of me writing checks. “We saw you writing check after check.” I almost thought they had it right (considering how many bills I have to pay!), but they were talking about something else. They saw me giving money all the time to people in need. They talked about how generous I was. Now, as much as I would like to make such a claim, I certainly don’t have anything that would stand out in that area. Normally, my only version of giving significantly is taking a pay cut so Credo can move forward! Then they said that they saw the nations all around me in the form of various people groups, especially those with different languages, I was influencing. Again, they did not have the right person. Yes, this ministry is international, but their description of the type of influence I was having was much different. In the end, I was very deflated. Whatever visions they had of my identity, they either had the wrong person or the wrong spirit talking to them. It was not God talking to me.

As this encounter ended, I found myself attempting to assess my thinking about such things. I was kind to them and, right to wrong, I did not rain on their prophecy by saying they were incorrect in their visions. I just thanked them for their kindness and went my way. But I wondered about their “prophetic” gift and about my view of prophecy in general. In essence, I began to relate this, once again, to my Protestant heritage. Here are some of my thoughts: If charismatics have prophets who can directly speak God’s word, doesn’t this deny the Protestant principle sola Scriptura? If the Bible is the only infallible source of revelation, there cannot be prophets who speak on behalf of God, since their prophecy would also be infallible. If the Bible alone is the ultimate source of revelation, how can there be people today who receive “words from the Lord” which would be, by definition, another ultimate source. After all, God’s word is God’s word. One cannot be truly prophetic, and thus, contingently God’s word, while the other is the true standard. That would make the former simply a matter of opinion. It is either God’s prophetic word, whether written or spoken, or it is not.

Therefore, it is my contention that Charismatics are not truly Protestant as they deny one of the two central doctrines of the Protestant movement, sola Scriptura (the other being sola fide). In fact, they have fallen into the same trap that the old Papists have in the past. They have an authority alongside the Bible that is equal to the Scripture in the Christian life. Continue Reading →