Archive | Out on a limb

Concerning My Laments (Something I Really Need to Say)

broken-pot

Sometimes, after I write a blog post I find people who get the wrong idea. Ever so, often I have to bring my staff at the Credo House together to explain something to them about myself. Then, they get worried. Many of the constituents of Credo House also get worried. My doctor even called me in to his office after reading a post last year. It is all very understandable to me. It is difficult for me to see the looks on people’s face . . . those looks of concern coupled with their inability to do anything about the situation is often followed by a distancing of themselves from me, or the ministry. Others come in with all the answers. They know exactly what is wrong with me; and, it is normally some sin which, somehow, they are able to discern.

I get it. I get why people sometimes think I am about to lose it.

“Staff,” I begin the meeting ever so often (especially when there are new people), “I want you to understand something about me and this ministry. I reserve the right to write on the blog some things that are very atypical and unconventional for someone like me who is the leader of a ministry such as this. You will often see things on the blog that I write about myself which make it look as if I am completely falling apart. . . .” I go on to explain what I am going to explain now.

I just got a message from someone who does not like the way I use this blog sometimes. Here is what he/she said:

Okay Michael you’re entitled to be, “messed up”, as you say. Now what? What are you going to do? Your problem is highly psychological in nature. Are you willing to see a competent therapist? Are you willing to face that the issue may lie within? Or will you only lament? I want you well for the record, but using your ministry and blog for long laments and people patting you on the back telling you how brave you are for revealing your inner anguish isn’t going to resolve your ongoing sadness, depression or melancholy.

My response, whether you agree or not, is important for people to hear:

[Unnamed Person], you may not believe this, but these laments are truly helpful to a great number of people, and have been for quite some time.

I think you probably ought to try to understand this in a way not dissimilar from the approach David or Jeremiah [most of what they wrote were laments about their pain made public] wrote. By the way, you sound (and believe me, I do understand) as if you would likely chastise them for what they wrote. If not, why [chastise me]? Continue Reading →

"Belief is No Good Without Practice" . . . and Other Stupid Statements

It was in my expository preaching course that I learned it. It was driven into my teaching psyche and intended to become a part of my basic presupposed knowledge of ministry. Without it, all your preparation would be in vain. Lacking this, your message will fail to do what God actually intended it to do.

It is the message for a new generation. It is something emergers know and they know that they know it. It is what  I hear on blogs, read in books, and a continued favorite among those who are despondently depressed and shamed when surrounded by “fundamentalists.” It is pridefully stated as if this epiphany is going to miraculously wake a sleeping Evangelical culture of John MacArthur and John Piper groupies.

What is it?

“Belief is no good without practice.” Wake up and smell the manna!

Sounds reasonable doesn’t it. Let’s put it another way.

“Belief is not the end, it is a means to an end. The end is doing not believing.”

In preaching, it goes like this:

“If you don’t have a way in which people can apply the lesson to their lives today, you have not really done anything.”

Another:

“Introduction. Body. Three points of application.”

A friend said it the other day. We visited a church led by a young seeker-friendly preacher. After the lesson he said, “Now I really liked that sermon.” “Why?,” I asked. “Because it has so much application,” he responded. “That is what I need—application.”

The idea here is that belief, in and of itself, is not the end game that God has for us. God primarily wants us to be active in our practice. Good works, being nicer to people, acting out our love, giving to the poor, self-sacrifice, not cheating on tax-returns, avoiding certain web-sites, bringing home flowers to your wife, forgiving your father, protecting the unborn, knowing when to set down the beer, taking your daughter out on a date, remembering to say “I love you” (don’t just suppose they know), and trading your Hummer for a Honda. These are all things I can do today. This is what we need. Right?

emergentos moschos skubula

(Excuse the French). Nice translation: “What a load.” Continue Reading →

Is Natural Revelation Also God’s Word?

Is natural revelation God’s word? Or does Scripture only qualify for such a title? In other words, when nature speaks clearly about something can we say that this represents the voice of God to the same degree as Scripture?

Natural revelation is God’s communication through creation. It is seen in the vast expanse of the universe and in the minute details of the human cell. It is found in the very consciousness of humanity and in our capacity for rational and analytic thought. Nature tells us much about the attributes and character of God. While, without the Scriptures we would lack an understanding of God’s ultimate plan of redemption and Christian living, we would still have quite a bit of theological understanding.

Paul tells the Romans:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1: 18-20)

Notice a few things:

1. “Revealed from heaven . . . being understood through what has been made.” This is what can be know about God without the Scriptures. It is God’s revelation through creation.

2. Against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. This tells us that natural revelation is evident to all. This is sometimes referred to as “general revelation” because it has a general audience that is not limited to a particular people, nation, or time.

3. God has shown it to them. This tells us it is from God. God is the author of this revelation.

4. Invisible attributes . . . eternal power and divine nature. This lets us know that we can understand many of the characteristics of God through natural revelation. His “eternal power” (aidios autou dunamis) has to do with not only ultimate power and ability, but the necessity of its eternality. His divine nature (theiotes) speaks of his divinity, or the nature that divinity necessary must encompass, including attributes and characteristics.

5. They have been clearly seen. The word for “clearly” (kathoratai) is in the present indicative telling us that this is an ongoing occurrence. The word carries the idea of inward perception coming from our reasoning, not simply seeing with the eye. BADG suggests this translation:”God’s invisible attributes are perceived with the eye of reason in the things that have been made.” In other words, natural revelation is evidently evident!

6. They are without excuse. This is very important to understand. The word here for “without excuse” (anapologetous) has a judicial feel to it. Josephus uses the word in the sense of being “without a defense.” Dio Chrysostom uses this to describe Alexander’s aid to Homer saying that he will not let Homer go “undefended.” This verse is telling us that these characteristics of God are so clear that people are left without a defense of any sort for unbelief.

About natural revelation’s voice, the Psalmist writes:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

In other words, both these passages teach that we are held accountable for hearing through creation the authoritative voice of God. So much so that we will be without excuse if we ignore what it has to say.

Now, we are evangelicals and biblicists, so we have to make Scripture more authoritative than creation, right? But the problem is How can God’s word (Scripture) be more authoritative than God’s word (creation)? If they are both God’s word speaking with His voice, then they both have the same authority, right?

Some may say, “Yes, but what about Sola Scriptura?” Don’t we believe that the Scriptures are the final and only infallible norm in matters of faith and practice? But this assumes that we have interpreted the Scripture correctly, which is, many times, a rather large assumption. However, creation is the same isn’t it? If we interpret its voice correctly, doesn’t it carry the same authority? This is the key question that I think we need to wrestle with.

Here are some implications:

The acknowledgment of the validity of Natural theology. Natural theology (the theology derived from natural revelation) becomes a primary source of study in which Christians need to engage more often. While natural theology is not emphasized in many of the more fundementalistic Protestant circles, this has not always been the case. Great philosophers and theologians of the past have seen the importance letting God’s voice come through creation. Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover,” Justin Martyrs “God of the Philosophers,” Anselm’s “Necessary Being,” Aquinas’ “Five Proofs,” and John Calvin’s “sensus divinitatis“ all evidence an understanding of the authority of creation’s voice. We need acknowledge and engage in the study of God’s voice through creation with more confidence.

Issues of faith and science become less dichotomized. Once we recognize that science is simply the interpretation of God’s “book of nature,” it will no longer be seen as a threat. The scientist can give valuable information to the theologian in the same way the exegete does. Seeming conflict will no longer present the dilemma of having to choose which source is more authoritative, but which source speaks to the issue more clearly. Rhetoric between the ones who study human origins from God’s word in Scripture and those who study God’s word in creation will tamed. Both sides will see that we are ultimately on the same team, even if we may sometimes interpret each source of God’s voice differently.

Current issues about the nature of God will be put into perspective. Open theists who claim that the Bible never speaks about certain attributes of God held to by traditional theists such as asiety, immutability, and necessary eternality can recognize that even if Scripture did not speak of such things (which I do not concede), nature does have an authoritative voice to contribute. This means that philosophy and science do matter. This means that the old adage “If it is not in the Bible, I don’t believe it” is not only irresponsible, but unbiblical! If nature says that God must be an Unmoved Mover, the Necessary Being, the Uncaused Cause, or the creator of time, then we must incorporate this into our theology, even if the Bible did not speak on it.

What I am not saying (just so I don’t have to deal with misconceptions)

  • I am not saying that natural revelation is sufficient for salvation. I don’t believe it is. Natural revelation does not present the Gospel.
  • I am not saying that Scripture is not as important as we once thought. Without the Scriptures we would not know about God’s plan of redemption. As well, Scripture speaks much more clearly in most areas of faith and practice. Its interpretation is not as difficult and, because of this, its message is more exhaustive and louder.
  • I am not saying that Sola Scritura is not correct. Sola Scriptura has to do with special revelation, God’s mediating voice through human agencies, not natural revelation. Otherwise, what do we do with Romans 1 and Psalm 19? How would we say that God’s word is more authoritative than God’s word? Scripture is the final and only infallible authority in the sense that no human institution or authority can rise to its level.

In the end, I propose that natural revelation is just as much God’s word as Scripture (AHhhh!). Both have to be interpreted and both speak to different areas. Most importantly, both are authoritative and should be taken seriously. We will be without excuse if we close our ears to the voice of either.

Is Natural Revelation Also God’s Word?

Is natural revelation God’s word? Or does Scripture only qualify for such a title? In other words, when nature speaks clearly about something can we say that this represents the voice of God to the same degree as Scripture?

Natural revelation is God’s communication through creation. It is seen in the vast expanse of the universe and in the minute details of the human cell. It is found in the very consciousness of humanity and in our capacity for rational and analytic thought. Nature tells us much about the attributes and character of God. While, without the Scriptures we would lack an understanding of God’s ultimate plan of redemption and Christian living, we would still have quite a bit of theological understanding.

  Continue Reading →

The Danger of Inerrancy

Considering the Inerrancy series that we are broadcasting here on the blog from TUP, I thought that I would follow it up with this post.

Greg Jones was an evangelical Christian, active in his church, a regular preacher, teacher and served on the elder board. He says that he was “addicted” to fundamentalism. He slept, ate, and drank the truths of Christianity. After a decade of faithful service to the church, he is now a professing atheist who rejects the “naivety” of all that he held to so dearly. Why? Well, as he tells the story, he says that he was awakened out of his slumber of fundamentalism through many encounters with “the truth.” Chief among these encounters was when he finally realized that the Bible was “full of errors.” Continue Reading →

Would Christ have died had he not been killed? (2)

In a previous post I put this question forward: Would Christ have died had he not been killed? The question is brought about by our pondering upon Christ’s identification with humanity and humanity’s identification with sin and death. Since Christ did not sin, and death is a result of sin, then wouldn’t it be systematic to believe that Christ would have lived forever in his unresurrected body had He not been 1) killed or 2) relinquished His spirit from His body? Continue Reading →

Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain: What Does it Really Mean?


What does it mean to use the Lord’s name in vain? This is a question that might seem self-evident to most people in western society. Whether you are religious or not, you would not even hesitate with your answer, “It means to say G-D.” I am sure that there are more people that can answer this than there are who can list the ten commandments, name the Gospels, or tell you the difference between the New Testament and the Old Testament. With all the talk about cursing pastors and the evolution of swearing going on in the blogsphere, I thought that I would try to contribute once more to this discussion by asking the question “What does it really mean to take the Lord’s name in vain?”

Continue Reading →