Archive | Prolegomena

The Emptiness of Reason


I am an emotional guy. I can’t believe I can say that so easily. Four years ago I could not have admitted to this. In fact, four years ago, I may not (ahem . . .) have been so in touch with my softer side. Now I realize just how much emotions control me. I can cry at the drop of a hat, music can take me wherever it desires, and I feed off the emotions of others (both good and bad) much more than ever. I wake up each morning and the first thing I do is take an assessment of where I am emotionally (and you thought I was going to say “pray”).

Having come to terms with this, I have had to do a lot of backtracking. Much of this involves a reassessment of my life and who I am, how I process things, and how I believe. Yes, I said “how” I believe, not “what” I believe. The what of my belief is the same. While I am somewhat comfortable saying I have stumbled many times, fallen flat on my face a few, and have a whole new set of spiritual limps and scars to show people, my faith is in-tact. In fact, though I may not look it, these things have only served to strengthen my faith a great deal.

I used to believe that all problems could be solved by reason. I think I prided myself in my intellectual vigor. I don’t think I have ever been that smart, but I loved the vigor, the questions, and the way reason could give me so much confidence in my life and faith.

Dealing with Doubters Before

In the past, when I dealt with those who doubt, I would go straight to the arguments. Reason, intellect, and syllogisms. With these I would (or so I thought) easily dismantle any foe who had the audacity to carry a flag of unbelief. Then, I would pat the sad Christian on the head and say, “See how ridiculous your doubting is? Now go and doubt no more.”

Visiting the School of Doubt Myself

Since then, at some time in the past, without my consent, I was enrolled in the school of doubt myself. I don’t know where it came from or why it was my new instructor, but I thought I knew how to get rid of it. “Ha! Are you kidding? You don’t want me as a student. I am in the business of converting your former pupils.” But, for some reason, my arguments, reason, and intellect proved ineffective in expelling me from this school. At this time, I could not overcome my doubt with reason. It was not as if the arguments were not strong enough, it was that my emotions stood in the way. My “feelings” were in control. As I struggled to get back to my former level of confidence (as that was my goal), I found that this confidence was fueled by something other than my intellect. I discovered that my emotions were so much more powerful than my reason. 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 →

Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously

I remember, many years ago, talking with a friend of mine about another friend. There was something about this guy that we did not like, but we could not put a finger on it. We knew this: He made us uncomfortable. He made things stuffy. We really did not know what to say when he was around. Time with him was always awkward. We would have to walk on eggshells for fear of saying the wrong thing. The wrong thing would always cause the conversation to go in a totally unexpected way. Finally, we figured it out. He took himself too seriously.

Since last week, I have been in a conversation with a guy who thinks differently than I do on many theological issues. On paper, I would think we would not get along at all. But such is not the case. Though we differ – passionately – in many ways, we are having the best time in this long-distance fellowship! Why? Because this guy knows how to lighten things up in order for conversation to take place. He is very wise. He intentionally does not take himself too seriously on pivotal points. He lightens the conversation when it begins to become burdensome. He recognizes it is not about him or what I think of him. Continue Reading →

Fourteen Characteristics of Theological Legalism

Without question, one of the most disturbing trends in the world of theology is that, far too often, grace is eclipsed by theological legalism.

Twice today I encountered this in its most blatant forms by two very different types of people. Both were very passionate about theology and both, undoubtedly, believe that their attitude toward me or my teaching is justified and honoring to the Lord. However, I believe both of these men sacrificed the major issue – grace – in defense of minor issues in theology.

The first, whose name I will not share as he is undoubtedly well-known to most of you, caught me very much off guard (and it is not really easy to catch me off guard, as I receive dozens of “hate” emails every day from those who believe it is their job to put me back on the path of theological correctness). This man, a significant figure in the world of reformation theology, does not believe I take theology seriously enough. Of course, his reasons come (I imagine) from the fact that I don’t agree with him. And obviously, if I took theology seriously, I would agree with him! Ironically, this lack of grace often comes from those who believe most strongly in the reformed “doctrines of grace.” But this man sent me one of the most ungracious emails I have ever received. And, yes, it did hurt my feelings. But more than that, sensing that this man’s criticism of me comes from his general disdain for the “heresy” of Evangelical Calvinism – it discouraged me that someone who believes he is so right theologically could be so graceless personally.

The second came from a Fundamentalist who was quite disturbed that I would suggest that Catholics could be saved. To be fair, I remember in the mid-nineties when Billy Graham suggested the same on national television. I was so angry and confused. I could not believe that Billy Graham would be so theologically inept as to make such a suggestion. In order for me to retain the belief that Billy Graham was saved, I had to convince myself that he had just gone senile in his old age. But this came from someone who has been a believer for quite some time and is a leader in his local church. This one statement (“Catholics can be saved”) has served to disqualify me and all of my teachings. To him, I will forever be one of the many who has compromised my faith for the glory of acceptance among men. Continue Reading →

The Father, Son, and the Holy Bible

The problem with many Evangelicals is that we can come dangerously close to worshiping the Bible. As Evangelical theologian James Sawyer once said in jest, we worship the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Bible.

Now, by this I do not mean we actually set the Bible up in a shrine in our house, throw it away if it ever touches the floor, or put our hand on it when swearing an oath. Of course we are above that, right? What I think people like James Sawyer are talking about is that we put our Bibliology (study of the Bible) ahead of Christology (study of Christ), Pneumentology (study of the Holy Spirit), and Paterology (study of the Father). We hold the Bible in such high esteem that firm adherence to an Evangelical Bibliology (verbal plenary inspiration, inerrancy, and authorial intent hermeneutics) becomes the unashamed anchor to the Gospel. But, eventually, it can (and often does) become the Gospel itself. One may be perfectly orthodox in every area about which the Bible speaks (deeply believing in the deity and Lordship of Christ, the sinfulness of man, and Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection), but if they are not perfectly orthodox about the Bible, to many of us evangelicals, they are not orthodox at all.

Now, let me cease with the self-deprecation for a moment. When straw men are not being built against us (and when we are acting our age!), a high view of Scripture is easy to justify. For example, for many years the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) had only one point in their doctrinal statement that members had to sign every year—inerrancy. And, in my estimation, this was not a bad thing. After all, where do we get our high Christology? The Bible. Where do we get our high view of God? The Bible. Where do we get the Gospel? The Bible. So, in our best moments, we will condemn anything that smells of idolatry concerning the Scriptures. We know that the Bible is not the fourth member of the Trinity. The Bible is not actually alive, but it does accurately reflect the movements of a living God.

How does this translate into our witness? When we are sharing Christ with someone, I have never heard anyone require that they invite the Bible into their heart (although, to be fair, asking Jesus into their heart might cause some problems too!). At baptismal confessions in the early church, there was a renouncing of Satan, but no renouncing of those who deny inerrancy. There was a confession of Christ as Lord, but no confession of Paul as the author of the Pastorals. There was a symbolic burial of our old life but no burial of old books you used to read besides the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the early church had a low view of Scripture. Far from it. I even believe that they held to a seed form of inerrancy. What I am saying is that one’s bibliology was not an essential component of the Gospel. Continue Reading →

Eight Issues that Do NOT Make or Break Christianity


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 Continue Reading →

How Protestants Can Justify the Doctrinal Development of the Reformation

How can Protestants justify a belief in the doctrine of justification by faith alone, when it was “invented” in the sixteenth century?

How can we believe in substitutionary atonement, when we know that Anselm first planted the seeds of this idea in the Middle Ages?

The answer is the same with every tradition of Christianity. We all go through “development” in understanding, articulating and shaping our thoughts through examination and controversy. This chart is meant to help express how Protestants often view the development of doctrine.

PLEASE NOTE: this is in no way attempting to be prophetic.

click on graphic to enlarge

It is very important to realize that the deposit of the truth (represented by the DNA) does not change. However, it does mature. For example, when we talk about justification by faith alone, we may notice this maturation. It is not as if justification, prior to the maturation that occurred at the Reformation, used to be by something else. It has always been by faith alone. Everyone has always seen the necessity of faith. Everyone has also seen that true faith produces works. However, our understanding of the relationship between the two matured at the time of the Reformation due to some significant abuses of the Middle Ages. The DNA (the Biblical witness) never changed in essence, it just was matured and better articulated through controversy. Continue Reading →