Another Heresy: God Is Not A Trinity


Trinity—three persons in one essence. This simple definition of the nature of a Triune God has been part of the Christian faith since the beginning.

As early as Genesis 1, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”

And who was this “Us”? John spells that out in the first chapter of his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then in verse 14, he clarifies the issue: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father.”

Jesus Himself stated clearly, “I and the Father are one,” which is why the Jewish leaders wanted to kill him. His claim, as they clearly understood, was that He was God. In their view this was blasphemy.

Christianity has affirmed this belief in a triune God—a personal God, at that—indivisible, yet individual. The Father is not God made flesh, but He and the Son are one.

Some people claim this concept was invented by someone like Paul or another of the early Church leaders. But who would conceive of the inconceivable? Who could conceive of the inconceivable? Only those to whom the inconceivable has been revealed. Good Jews like Paul would never have come up with such heretical ideas on their own.

If I were going to imagine a god, I’d certainly conjure up one that didn’t come with confusing claims like three-in-oneness.

Some years ago, I read Melody Green’s No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green. Melody, you might know, is the widow of musician Keith Green, a song writer in her own right, and the President and CEO of Last Days Ministries.

In telling Keith’s story, Melody of course weaves her own with his. When she details the spiritual journey they took exploring Christianity, she explains they both had problems with Jesus. Melody has a Jewish background on her mother’s side of the family, and Keith came out of the Christian Science religion.

When they first started investigating Jesus, they were drawn to His teachings. Keith first decided he wanted to follow what Jesus said. But friends told him he still wasn’t a Christian.

Later both he and Melody became convinced that Jesus was God’s Son. But how could He then be God?

So is He?

I used to teach a short unit on the Doctrine of God, including the trinity. Because of this, I began looking at the gospels with that question in mind.

Well, to be honest, I already believed He is God from other passages of Scripture. Colossians 2:9 for example, says, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”

Then there are the John 1 verses I quoted above.

But I began to look for more.

I started with some of the names ascribed to Jesus—they were the same as those given to God: Creator, Savior, Shepherd, King, even I AM.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

The verb Jesus used for I AM, was the same construction God used when He identified Himself to Moses in Exodus.

But I also began to note the attributes of God which Jesus demonstrated.

For example, He was omniscient. Toward the end of His ministry He told his disciples that He would be crucified. He knew Judas was the one who would betray Him. He told Peter he would deny Him—three times, and before the rooster crowed—but also that he would “bounce back.” He knew what Phillip was doing before He came to see Jesus. He knew at various times what the Pharisees were thinking when they were trying to trap Him with their questions. He knew Peter would find a gold coin in the mouth of a fish. There are others.

Jesus also demonstrated omnipotence. He calmed stormy seas, walked on water, healed the blind and lame and leprous, raised the dead, multiplied bread and fish, cast out demons, and forgave sins.

And of course Jesus declared Himself to be one with the Father:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
– John 14:6-9

There’s more, and happily Keith and Melody Green learned the truth in their own study of Scriptures. It’s an important truth, a dividing point, really, separating those who know about Jesus, and may even admire Him, from those who know Him and recognize Him as God Incarnate. It divides Christians from people who say they believe in Jesus but then deny the most fundamental thing He reveals about Himself.

This post is a revised and edited version of two other articles that appeared here in 2008 and 2010.

For more information about the trinity, you might like this short video.

Published in: on June 28, 2019 at 5:36 pm  Comments (4)  
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Extraneous Theology


In a Facebook group to which I belong, another member used the term “extraneous theology.” I might not have given the phrase too much thought except for the fact that it was used in conjunction to a definition of “Christian”—someone who “professes and follows Christ.” All the rest, he went on to say, is “extraneous theology.”

Really?

The discussion began with the question about including books by Mormon writers in a list of titles considered Christian science fiction or fantasy. One person stated that Mormons are not Christians. To which the aforementioned member responded with the professing-and-following-Christ and extraneous-theology comment.

I don’t think the deity of Christ is extraneous. That’s the issue at stake when Christians want to include Mormons among the brethren. Someone else in this same group chided the membership for being overly concerned about who is in “the club.”

I’m not sure which point to answer first!

The Church is not a club. It’s the bride of Christ. All may be included.

The gospel of Matthew records a parable Jesus told of a king who invited people to his son’s wedding feast. Presumably he began by inviting those close to him—neighbors and friends. But they refused to come. So he told his servants to go out into the streets and invite whoever they encountered, “both good and evil.”

Christianity is not an exclusive club—apart from this one thing: Christians accept God’s invitation to His banquet. Well, there’s one other thing.

One of the guests in Jesus’s parable showed up without the proper attire. “A man [was] there who was not dressed in wedding clothes” (Matt. 22:11b). When the king asked him why, he had no answer so he was thrown out. Worse, he was punished.

So, were those who attended the wedding feast a special club? How could that be if everyone was invited? Were the requirements for attending the wedding feast “extraneous”? Hardly. Seems like they were necessary.

In the same way, understanding who Jesus is falls into the necessary category. Mormons understand him to be a created being, the brother of Satan. A number of years ago I did some research on this subject. Here’s what I found regarding Mormon beliefs

About God and Jesus (source for these excerpts, Truthnet.org):

  • “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345)
  • “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangilble as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Spirit has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit…” (Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22)
  • “As man is, God once was: as God is, man may become” (Prophet Lorenzo Snow, quotedin Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, 105-106)
  • Remember that God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome, until He has arrived at the point where He now is” (Apostle Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 1:123)
  • When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one his wives, with him. He helped to make and organized this world. He is Michael, the Archangel, the Ancient of Days! About whom holy men have written and spoken—He is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom we have to do” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 1:50)
  • Jesus is the brother of Satan this is revealed in the Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 4:1-4 and affirmed by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, 13:282)

Let me add a statement from a Mormon site:

Like most Christians, Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Creator of the World. However, Mormons hold the unique belief that God the Father and Jesus Christ are two distinct beings. Mormons believe that God and Jesus Christ are wholly united in their perfect love for us, but that each is a distinct personage with His own perfect, glorified body (see D&C 130:22).

Mormons believe that all men and women ever to be born, including Jesus Christ, lived with God as His spirit children before this life. God wanted each of us to come to earth to gain experience, learn, and grow to become more like Him. But God also knew that His children would all sin, die, and fall short of His glory. We would need a Savior to overcome our sins and imperfections and reconcile us with God. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was chosen to be this Savior long ago during our premortal life with God. We shouted for joy when we were presented with God’s glorious plan for His children (see Job 38:7). [emphaes are mine]

Notice the intro, “like most Christians.” Mormons, or Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ, which is their official name, want very much to be accepted as part of the mainstream of Christianity. They are not. What they believe about Jesus (let alone the concept of our preexistence as “spirit children,” God having a physical body, and much more) shows that they do not agree with what Scripture teaches.

Is the deity of Jesus “extraneous theology”? Clearly not. Why are so many Christians blinded by externals? In truth, Mormons live upright lives. They believe in “family values.” They are good citizens, for the most part (except for the small portion that clings to the original Mormon doctrine about polygamy). They are kind and welcoming and friendly. In all likelihood, Mormons make good neighbors. They certainly have a close-knit community, and they support their writers. But these things do not make them Christians! Beyond these externals lie the false ideas about Jesus.

Perhaps the starting place is for us to learn the difference between extraneous and essential theology. Who Jesus is, is pretty much at the core of Christianity.

Atheist Arguments: Humans Are Animals


Of course humans are animals. We live and breath and do all the things animals do, but Christians believe humans are more. Christians believe God breathed life into us, that by doing so He gave us an eternal soul. Or spirit. It seems there’s some confusion concerning the two. Are they synonymous, does one refer to our personhood, our personality, and the other to our spiritual existence?

It is the latter, the spiritual part of us, that separates us from other animals. For instance, humans pray. Animals have no apparent awareness of God, and do not make any clear appeal to a higher power. Pets might run to their owner if they become frightened, but they might just as often run away and hide. But at no time do animals appear to appeal to a supernatural being for help or deliverance or salvation.

Animals also don’t appear to deal with guilt. Oh, sure, those pets who know their owner is not happy with their behavior, might cower when they are told, No, but this is an instinctual reaction to the displeasure, not guilt for having done what they wanted to do.

I’ve seen cats that kill birds and show no remorse.

The dog I had for twelve years showed great sorrow when I scolded him for taking his food to the carpet and eating it there rather than leaving it in his dish, but he continued to drag it out. It was his instinct to do so. He didn’t know that he was doing anything wrong—just that I was unhappy he was doing it.

Third, animals don’t worship. They have ways of showing when they are happy or irritated, like wagging their tails or hissing or barking or baring their claws or laying their ears back or licking. But worship? Since they have no apparent awareness of the supernatural, they have no apparent desire to express praise or gratitude or awe.

Here’s the thing. If humans are simply a product of evolution and we are nothing more than the most advanced version of life, where did the sense of the supernatural come from? Why do we worship? Why do we deal with guilt? Why do we pray?

Those things are not found in animals. They are found in humans.

I know some will say they are nothing but a creation of our brains. But animals have brains, too. Where is the evidence of an animals’ underdeveloped awareness of the supernatural?

Interestingly enough, the same people that think the supernatural comes from our brains, also think the supernatural isn’t real. So how is that evolution? Wouldn’t our brains develop in such a way that we would be smarter, wiser, better, more capable of coping? How does guilt fit into that paradigm?

Or worship? Certainly the atheist must think spending time with others to give praise to Someone who, they say, doesn’t exist, is not making us smarter or wiser or better or more capable. So how did we become worshiping people?

The point is humans are more than animals. We do have that God-breathed part of us that makes us eternal. Human life, therefore is precious and valuable, and we need to treat it with more care than any other life.

Some scholars speak of a “God-shaped vacuum” inside each of us. No one is quite certain of the origin of the phase, but Augustine, Pascal, C. S. Lewis, and Scripture itself have been credited with the concept, if not the wording.

The Bible clearly does identify us as people with an unquenchable thirst, satisfied only by the Living Water.

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7″37-38)

Lewis described that “empty place” that only God can fill and actually his awareness of it was one of the factors that turned him from atheism to Christianity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity)

The interesting thing to me is that secularists admit the existence of this hole, this vacuum.

We are all searching for something. What that something might be is never really a certainty, but it typically displays itself as a nagging sense of something unfinished or a thing undone that plagues our days and troubles our sleep. It is a restlessness within the human heart described by St. Augustine as “…humanity’s innate desire for the infinite…”

This restlessness is a metaphor for seeking after the infinite, for something larger than ourselves (“The God-shaped Hole” by Michael J Formica, Psychology Today)

Actually the author goes on to say that this “something larger than ourselves” actually is ourselves, but the point for this discussion is the fact that this realization of something beyond is not a made up Christian concept. It’s real and it sets us apart from animals.

We long for . . . more, even when we don’t know what that more is.

Where does that longing come from? Not from animals. The best answer is the one God gave us: He breathed into us life, something our sin has seriously affected so that, as the Psychology Today article went on to say, we try to fill our longings with “things outside of ourselves — objects, money, love, release or our perception of it, sex, drugs, new experiences, whatever is at hand.” And the current craze—us, ourselves.

But the very attempt to fill this “emptiness” shows that it is real, that we have in us a need that spurs us to look for satisfaction. It’s defining. We do what animals don’t do, and that, by deductive reasoning, separates us from animals. We are more. We have an awareness of God. Romans 1 says we do, though we don’t acknowledge Him:

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (v 19)

Humans are animals? Sure we are, but God gave us something animals don’t have. He’s set us apart for relationship with Himself.

Photo by Laurie Gouley from Pexels

Who Is God But The LORD?


Idols were everywhere when David wrote these words from Psalm 18:

As for God, His way is blameless;
The word of the LORD is tried;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God,
The God who girds me with strength
And makes my way blameless?
He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
And sets me upon my high places.

Idols are everywhere today, too, but they come in different guises. Mostly what Americans worship today is the human spirit or human ingenuity or strength within or however it’s phrased. In short, many worship human ability. Consequently, the thinking goes, humans are right to judge God for heinous things like killing off the people in Noah’s day. He should have told the people Himself that a flood was coming. He should have had Noah build a bigger boat. He should have kept the door open so that all the people who came to the realization that this flood business was serious, could get on board. In other words, God, not the people who turned away from Him was at fault for all those deaths.

Because after all a) ignoring God is not a capital offense; and b) everyone deserves a second chance.

So ironic. Ever since Adam sinned, all humans, all life, was under a death sentence. By ignoring God, those people were ignoring the one chance they had for safety. They were turning their backs on the only refuge in the storm that could save them.

And a second chance? They had all those years that Noah was building, building, preaching, and building. They undoubtedly had more chances then a second or a third. The thing about saying no to God—you forget how to say yes. I heard Christopher Hitchens in a debate once and read an interview with him shortly before he died. He clearly stated that he had no intention of making a deathbed conversion, that he didn’t want to spend eternity with a God who would always call the shots.

His view of God was so thoroughly different from David’s.

I find that to be true today. People who believe in God see Him through the lens of His revelation; people who do not believe in Him see Him through the lens that Satan passed on to Eve. Basically the deceiver told her that God wanted to keep all the good things for Himself. He didn’t want her to enjoy the wonderful tasting and pleasant to look upon fruit. More than that, He didn’t want her to have the capacity to judge good and evil, because then she and Adam would be like God. And above all, God didn’t want to share His throne, His glory.

What Satan missed was that no one can share in God’s sovereignty, for the simple reason that no one but God is sovereign. So I can get on the throne and I can claim glory for myself, but that does not make me sovereign.

Because who is God but the LORD?

Published in: on November 7, 2017 at 4:19 pm  Comments Off on Who Is God But The LORD?  
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Morality In Fiction


Reading_Jane_EyreIn response to “Fiction Isn’t Lying”, a number of people, here and at Facebook, said they had experience with people who thought of fiction as a form of lying. Once again I was shocked. The thrust of the article, however, dealt with the Christian’s responsibility to speak truthfully about God in our fiction.

I’ll say again, Christians do not have to speak about God, directly or indirectly, but should we choose to do so, we have an imperative to be truthful. But “truthful” doesn’t mean we must tell all about God. First, it’s not possible to do so, and second, so much theology would overwhelm the story so that it would cease being a story.

I’m convinced that many readers and writers alike stumble over theology in stories because they confuse it with moral teaching. Two years ago I wrote a short series about that issue, and I’m re-posting the concluding article which sums up more completely than the final paragraph in yesterday’s article, what I believe about morality versus theology in fiction. Here is that article:

– – – – –

In my recent brief series, Theology Versus Morality, (Parts 1, 2, and 3), I essentially took a stand for theology in Christian fiction while calling into question the validity of judging a novel by its morality. For example, in part 2 I said,

I tend to think too many Christians put the cart of morality before the horse of theology. In fact we advocate certain behavior without the foundational belief system that can rightly shape a person’s actions.

Later I added

When it comes to fiction, I think there’s a segment of Christian readers who want their brand of morality mirrored in the stories they read. In fact, for some, the morality might be more important than the theology.

I think that position is bad for fiction and bad for Christianity.

Does that mean that morality has no place in fiction? Should we write the story of adultery with nothing but a suggestion that a way of escape exists? That would be truthful to the way the world is and truthful to theology.

But is it sufficient for the needs of society?

I look at western society, and I see a growing cesspool of immorality. We have TV programs with titles like Scandal and Revenge and Betrayal. Others focus on the criminal mind and blood splatters and entries wound, with the intent to show the process of catching those who perpetrate psychotic and cruel behavior.

We have TV news magazines discussing yet another school shooting, one many people forget because “only” three children died.

Last night’s news carried stories of an old man struck down with intent by a hit-and-run driver in a gas station as he walked toward the office to pay for his gas and of a twelve-year-old and his mother living next door to a state senator (i.e., not your usual violent-crime neighbor) who were bound and gagged while a crew of four robbed their home on a Sunday afternoon.

Further, an NBA athlete was celebrated this week as the first openly gay player in any of the four major sports in the US.

Then on Facebook today, one topic of discussion revolves around an article about the growing advocacy for “polyamory” especially by the media. Clearly, if marriage is no longer allowed to be defined as a relationship between a man and a woman, why should it be limited to a single person with another single person, instead of multiples?

There’s more, from the LGBT community successfully advocating here in SoCal for children to pick the bathroom, locker room, gender sports team, based on how they feel, not on their biology, to the new idea for losing weight based on Yoga meditation and fasting during certain phases of the moon.

The muck and mire of the world is thick and growing thicker.

So do Christian novelists simply tag along, showing society as it is, without addressing morality in our stories? Do we write to the edge, and when the edge shifts further from us, scurry along behind in an effort to catch up? Quite honestly, I think that description fits too much Christian fiction.

Many of the strictures that writers complained about are gone. Christian fiction has characters that are divorced, have affairs, drink, see ghosts, see demons—all things that once were considered taboo. But as general market fiction played at the edges, Christian writers begged to be allowed the same latitude.

The problem, as I see it, is that this move toward a reversal of moral constriction is built on the same error as that which established the legalistic mores in the first place—theology does not undergird the view of morality.

Prager-ZachariasInterestingly, apologist Ravi Zacharias, in a discussion Saturday with radio personality Dennis Prager, identified three levels in which philosophy is passed on: (1) argumentation—reason; (2) art—the imagination; (3) “kitchen table conversation”—the daily statements of belief. To influence society, then, Zacharias says we must argue from reason, illustrate in our art, and live out our beliefs. The problem he says, is that we try to do number three without number one and number two.

Exacerbating the problem, I believe is something G. K. Chesterton identified:

Nothing sublimely artistic has ever arisen out of mere art … There must always be a rich moral soil for any artistic growth.

So if society has lost its “rich moral soil,” how is art to illustrate the theology (philosophy) that underpins our beliefs?

In other words, we are in a downward spiral—a morally vacuous society that cannot produce art which will show us how to live morally.

There but for the grace of God are we all.

But God does give a greater grace. He is “opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble,” Scripture says.

So, what if Christian novelists determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified? What if we painted theology into every corner of our art—and won awards doing so? What if we stopped fighting to get cuss words into our stories or stopped counting the number of times the characters say golly or disobey their parents, and started writing to show what God is like, to show His Son, to the best of our ability? What if we gave stories that illustrated the power of forgiveness or love for an enemy, neighbor, or stranger, or for God? What if our stories show what we say we believe?

Wouldn’t that be a step in the process of influencing our society to get out of the morass we are making?

Two Sides To Every Argument


football line of scrimmageArguments have two sides (possibly more), or they wouldn’t be arguments. The thing about two sides (unless you’re talking about two sides to a coin or something analogous) is that they can’t both be right.

We understand this in competition. Two football teams battle it out in the Super Bowl, and only one will be crowned champion at the end of the game. Two speed skaters compete in the Olympics, and they won’t both win the gold medal. (In that instance, with numerous competitors, not all who made the finals will even end up on the medal stand).

Why, then, with the love of sports so high, seemingly worldwide, is it so hard to grasp the concept that competing philosophies can’t both be right?

I look at my life, for example, and marvel at God’s goodness and grace that brought me to a place of belief in Jesus and His work at the cross that reconciled me to my Creator. An atheist undoubtedly would look at my life and say that cultural influences have convinced me of a theist myth, and I’m merely showing my ignorance to hold to it despite the void of scientific proof for God’s existence.

Two sides—God is good and gracious; or culture is determinative, and I am ignorant.

The two are mutually exclusive. Did God choose my cultural influences as part of His plan for me, or did my culture superstitiously manufacture God to explain the unknown, and I am refusing to graduate to the modern (or post-modern) era?

I see the truth and the atheist is blind, or the atheist sees the truth and I am in the dark.

I see the light and the atheist is a fool (the fool has said in his heart, there is no God); or the atheist is insightful, and I am unenlightened.

Who’s to say?

I submit there is only One who knows for sure. God, who transcends the universe, is the only one in position to reveal Himself to Mankind. So did He?

The Bible says so. He chose a people group to show the nations what He was like, sent prophets with messages about His purpose and plans, sent His Son to the earth in the form of a Man, gave His inspired written revelation, put His Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who are reconciled to Him. Does any other religion present such an unrelenting God, willing to go to such extents to reveal Himself to Mankind?

Despite all God has done, however, people today still demand a sign. If God would only make it clearer, if He’d only show Himself.

I wonder why these people think they would believe a new sign if they haven’t believed the ones they already have.

But here’s the point. Western society has adopted a postmodern outlook that elevates tolerance and praises the absence of absolutes—except, of course, for the absolute that says, you must tolerate all and exclude none.

Consequently, Kim Davis, Rowan’s County Clerk, is viewed, not as a person who wants to exercise her religious freedom but as a person who hates. She doesn’t actually have a belief that is contrary to the belief of those who applaud same-sex marriage. Rather, she is intolerant because she wants to exclude a group of people. Such a desire to exclude can’t possibly come from any other reason than hate because in the narrative spun by postmodern philosophy, there are only two positions: tolerance and hate.

Yes, the tolerance-rules faction of society still views arguments as having two sides, though of course they frame the two sides according to their value system.

Some, of course, try to get around this logical conclusion: two opposing ideas can’t both be right.

A seminary professor at a nearby school of theology, who will not be receiving tenure and is therefore leaving, is disappointed that his statements about Jesus “as an idealized human figure” are not sufficient for the school which wants him to articulate that He is also divine.

This professor also came up against another fundamental contrasting position. It seems the school felt “One had to like the idea that we define Christianity by what we believe.”

The topic which brought the differences between the school and this professor to a head was none other than same-sex marriage. He goes on to say that the point of divide was the way he and the school defined integrity:

Integrity is crucial for both of us. I define integrity as being true to the historical critical scholarship and bringing that into theological dialogue with the church. They define integrity as being true to the “Grand Tradition of the Church” and allowing that to guide what we see in and say about history.

You might wonder where the Bible is in all this. The professor makes it clear that from the beginning of his time at the school, the idea of inerrancy was nothing but a shibboleth, a long-standing belief regarded as outmoded and no longer important.

So without an authoritative guide, he concludes, “These are different ways of measuring integrity. Neither is right or wrong. . . Most of all, I am disappointed that we cannot hold these differences in creative tension.”

A truly postmodern view—we should be able to disagree, one thinking same-sex marriage is not consistent with Christianity and the other thinking it is consistent with Christianity, but by holding our views in creative tension, we should continue teaching theology together.

It’s like saying, we’ll hold black and white in creative tension. We’ll hold life and death in creative tension. We’ll hold wet and dry in creative tension.

Because, horrors, we can’t actually say one position is right and the other wrong. To do so would be to express an intolerance, to frame truth as exclusive. I have to say, the man is consistent.

But he ignores the fact that God exists or does not exist, that the Bible is true or is not true, that Jesus Christ came in the flesh or did not come, that He saves sinners or does not save sinners. Diametrically opposed positions really don’t have any creative tension that can hold them together. Two contradictory positions can’t both be right.

Using The Bible Instead Of Believing It


Front_door_(2135742023)

“Sarah, what are you doing?” Carmen stared at her friend as if she were looking at an ET look-alike.

Sarah slid into the front seat of her SUV. “I thought you said you wanted to go to the beach?”

“I do, but you forgot to lock your door. That’s not like you.”

“It is now. I found this cool Bible verse in 2 Timothy that says, ‘He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him.’ I’ve entrusted my house to Him, and this verse promises He will guard it, so I don’t have to lock up any more.”

That little fictitious scenario is an illustration of what I call “using the Bible.” In some cases, there is a grain of truth. God certainly can guard and protect our stuff, for instance. But the particular verse this character quoted has nothing whatsoever to do with God keeping thieves from stealing a TV.

A friend of mine related another fictitious tale, used most often to steer people toward Bible study rather than Bible pick-and-choosing:

A young man decided his life was aimless. He needed help knowing what he should do, so he turned to the Bible. He decided that he’d fan the Bible open and point to a verse. This then would become his life verse. Turning his head, he released a good two-thirds of the pages and stabbed a finger onto the open page. “And Judas hanged himself,” the verse read. The young man gulped. There had to be some mistake. What could God possibly be saying to him? He decided to try again. Once more he closed the Bible, released pages, and pointed to a verse. This time he read, “Go and do thou likewise.”

So what am I saying with these illustrations? Simply this: not only is it possible, but some people actually do, take verses out of context and make them say something other than their clear meaning.

The key here is taking the verses out of context, for surely Sarah correctly quoted a part of 2 Tim. 1:12. Those words alone do say that God will guard what I entrust to Him. However, the context—the rest of the verse, chapter, book, and BOOK, show that God is promising something about our souls and for eternity, not our stuff for the here and now.

Notice, the context of a scripture is the book of the Bible in which it is found but also the Bible itself. The latter is the greater context, the totality of which gives meaning to individual verses, even those that are in apparent contradiction with each other.

2 Timothy indicates that false teaching—the result of taking Scripture out of context and ignoring parts of the Bible—will only increase:

But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
– 2 Timothy 3:13-17 (NASB)

And here I am, quoting verses of Scripture to prove a point. Is this not the very “using” of the Bible I decried above?

Understand, I was not saying a person can’t extrapolate principles from the Bible and apply that propositional truth to daily life. But there are some guidelines in so doing:

    1) The principle should not contradict any clear statement of Scripture.

For example, if some man took the principle, I can do all things through Christ, and used it to justify sleeping with a married woman, he would violate a clear Scriptural injunction.

    2) The principle should be an outgrowth of what the original intended.

This is where things get sticky, I think. How can we know the original intent? Only by studying the context. First the context of the book itself. Who was the author, why was he writing, what was he saying? Although the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture, this did not happen in a vacuum, but in a specific place and in a particular period of time. The words had meaning to the person who wrote them and to the original target audience. It is that meaning that creates a backdrop of understanding by which we may make present-day application.

    3) The principle should not become an exclusive doctrine if scriptures also exist that point to a paradoxical principle.

Here’s where a lot of denominational differences have been created. One denomination finds verses about Topic X that seem to indicate Doctrine A should guide our beliefs. Another denomination finds verses about Topic X that seem to indicate Doctrine B, in opposition to Doctrine A. Which denomination is right? Are some of the verses to be ignored or explained away?
Is the Bible contradictory?

If the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is to be believed as inspired by God, then even the apparently contradictory parts are there for a reason. I reject the either/or arguments and adopt a both/and approach. God put both positions in the Bible, to the point that scholars steeped in the Word can make credible cases for opposing views. I conclude, God is saying both things, though they appear to be contradictory.

This may appear to be illogical, but I don’t think it is, not if we remember who God is. He is three, but one. Came to earth as a man though he did not cease to be God. Is merciful AND just. You get the picture. Not only does paradox exist in God, but He transcends our limitations. If I know Him to be so, then I don’t have to tie up Scripture in a neat doctrinal bow at the expense of some of what He has to say.

Now don’t misunderstand. I think there are doctrines that are clear, without any contradiction, the chief being who Jesus is and why He came and what He accomplished. Those clear statements are the ones that define being a Christian.

The others—the ones that seem paradoxical—still need to be believed. It is in dismissing the ones we don’t like or that clash with others we believe that creates problems. If nothing else, it divides Christians.

This post is a combination of two articles that first appeared here in April 2007.

Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 6:29 pm  Comments Off on Using The Bible Instead Of Believing It  
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Discernment 101 Revisited


About the time you think it’s safe to return to the water, it isn’t. So, too, with reading and going to movies and watching TV. Well, pretty much everything related to culture. Western society has largely spurned its Christian underpinnings, requiring those of us who still cling to the Solid Rock to think carefully about what our minds dwell on lest we also get washed away at sea.

Mormonism is one example of this need. Are they a cult or are they Christian? Another is the murky theology of those who are “progressives” or who identify as “emergent.”

A year and a half ago we had the over-hyped discourse Love Wins by Rob Bell with its ideas that there is no hell and all will eventually make their way into God’s presence in the after life.

Before that we had Paul Young’s controversial, rambling theological discourse disguised as fiction, The Shack, which, among other things, cast aspersions on the Bible and suggested universalism.

Now we’re at the threshold of another similar “story,” complete with media hype. Mr. Young has just released Cross Roads and has begun a book tour, complete with book signings, an appearance on The Today Show, and an interview with People magazine.

Have I read this book or know its theological content? I don’t.

I’m also not aware that Mr. Young has re-examined or changed any of his erroneous beliefs peppered throughout The Shack. Consequently, when we see a book on the horizon that may contain ideas contrary to Scripture (most books) and yet purports to be Christian, we as Bible believing followers of Jesus Christ need to keep in mind some basic principles of discernment.

  • The Bible is the ultimate authority of what is True. We need to examine the things we read and hear and see to determine if they are so or if they come from someone’s fabrication of God and His way.
  • Because someone is friendly and encouraging or is a good speaker or is entertaining or . . . ad infinitum, does not increase the likelihood that they are telling the truth.
  • That someone claims Christ is no guarantee their story will reflect Christ truthfully.
  • Christians are admonished to test the spirits to see if these things are so.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

  • False teaching abounds which should make Christians more alert, not more reclusive.
  • Legalism is not the same thing as discernment.

What are your thoughts about discernment? What else should be included in a list of basic principles to keep in mind if we are to be discerning about our culture?

You might also want to read the first “Discernment 101” post written three years ago.

Demons Have Good Theology


There were many interesting things I could have talked about in connection to The Telling by Mike Duran, this week’s CSFF Blog Tour feature. One of the elements is the portrayal of evil spirits. Interestingly, evil spirits–demons–held a prominent place in Sunday’s sermon by Pastor Mike Erre.

Well, “prominent” might be stretching things. But Pastor Mike showed us an important truth: demons have good theology.

Lots of people rubbing shoulders with Jesus were confused about who He was. John the Baptist boldly declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God only to later send messengers to Jesus to ask if He was the one they were looking for.

The Pharisees, at one point, said He was demon possessed or that He was a Samaritan (not sure which of those two accusations was supposed to be the lowest). One man approached Him as “good teacher” but withdrew the “good” once Jesus pointed out that only God is good. As reported by the disciples, others thought He was one of the prophets raised from the dead.

Only the evil spirits consistently got it right.

Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” (Mark 3:11)

Also see Matthew 8:29, Mark, 1:23-24, Mark 5:7, Luke 4:34, Luke 8:28. Clearly, the demons knew who Jesus was even though the people around Him were confused.

No wonder that James, Jesus’s half-brother, who was present at least part of the time when Jesus was teaching and healing, said in his letter

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)

Impeccable theology and yet all it produced was fear, not obedience. Theirs was not belief unto salvation. For that they’d actually have to bow the knee, or as Peter admonishes, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15a).

Interestingly, Pastor Mike asked us if we believed God is sovereign. Hands all over the place. Then he asked why we worry about money. Someone in my row who I didn’t know mumbled, “Because I have to pay the bills.”

That pretty much summed up the point, I thought. We can say we believe God is in control, but when it comes time to trusting Him, to handing the reins over to Him, to abandoning ourselves to His will and His way … well, I’m the one writing the checks when the bills come due.

I know I’ve quoted this verse before, but I think it says so powerfully what Christians must come to if we are to act on our good theology:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Hab. 3:17-18)

I’m reading in Numbers right now. So often I think how “easy” the people of Israel had it–eating the bread of angels, supplied by God without fail. Except, they didn’t have the Bible to know how the story came out. They actually had to live going to bed wondering if there would be food the next day. I’ve been trying to imagine what that felt like, Saturday through Thursday, week after week.

Especially at the beginning, it took faith, not just a glib philosophical statement that God can do the impossible. For them, their existence hung on their belief. They either trusted or turned around and headed back to Egypt.

I have my Egypts. But I’d rather not be like the demons, filled with good theology that leaves me intimidated and fearful, not trusting and secure. Praise God He is merciful and True.

Published in: on September 27, 2012 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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Enduring Bad Theology


Last week author friend Mike Duran posed this question in a blog post: Can good fiction contain bad theology?

In order to answer, the critical correlative questions would seem to be, what is theology and what is good fiction?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, theology is “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” According to a reviewer Mike quoted in his post, a good story would fit into this statement about art: “Art exists to reveal beauty and truth.” The quote continued by saying that no piece of art could bear the whole weight of the task, meaning that neither all beauty nor all truth will be revealed in one sculpture, one painting, one story.

Does that, then, mean anti-truth is permissible since all truth can’t possibly fit into one story? As I see this issue, not telling the whole truth is not synonymous with “bad theology.”

For example, the truth about God is that He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Oh, but that’s not the whole truth about God. He is much, much, much, much, ad infinitum more. So, is the line I wrote, bad theology?

No. Actually it is good theology. It is truthful.

What defines bad theology, then, is that which is not true about God, His Word, or His work (untruthful “religious belief,” according to the OED).

Must every story contain theology? Every story isn’t about God. Many are about Mankind with no mention of God. And yet, there is theology in those as well.

Since reading Mike’s post, I’ve thought about a number of stories that weren’t Christian–Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl, Lord of the Flies, Fathers and Sons, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, even Gone with the Wind.

Where was God in these stories? In most, He simply wasn’t a factor. Rather, the books revealed something about Mankind, something truthful–aligned with Scripture.

That’s the crux of the issue, I believe. The test for truth needs to be the Bible, the authoritative Word of God.

Oddly enough, Mike asked in his post if the life of David, Jonah, Rahab, Judas, Samson, Peter fully represent sound theology. It seems to me his idea was, No they don’t. On the contrary, I think they absolutely do represent sound theology because in God is kindness and severity, justice and mercy–in other words, not only His response to obedience but also His response to disobedience.

In addition, Man contains God’s image and the sin nature inherited from Adam, a spirit that is willing and flesh that is weak. In short, good theology shows what the Bible shows. It’s truth on the deepest level.

Bad theology, unfortunately, colors our society. Western culture says with increased frequency that Mankind is good, that truth is relative, that God is non-existent, that supernatural power is within each person–all things that contradict the Bible.

Would a story contain bad theology if it showed a character with such beliefs? On the contrary, the bad theology of characters shows what the Bible says is true about people.

In addition, the book needs to be considered as a whole, not broken down into it’s gnat-like elements. For example, someone might say, Good theology is to identify gossip as sin. If a character in a book gossips and doesn’t suffer consequences for that sin, then this book contains bad theology.

Really?

The Apostle Paul got so mad about John Mark leaving in the middle of the first missionary journey that he refused to take him along on the second. He and Barnabas got into an argument over the matter and in fact went their separate ways because of their disagreement. Yet the Bible is completely silent about consequences of Paul and Barnabas’s tiff.

Was God condoning their fight because He didn’t show us the consequences? Looking at Scripture as a whole it’s clear that God wasn’t giving silent permission for Christians to bicker.

Sometimes in fiction what a book is doing is unrelated to particular sins, yet those sins are true to the character and consistent with good theology–the part about the fall of Man. Just like Scripture’s silence about the consequences of Paul and Barnabas’s disagreement, leaving a matter unaddressed in fiction isn’t the same condoning the sin. Nor is it the same as inserting error.

Must readers endure bad theology?

I think the mindset of contemporary western Man is far from a Christian worldview, so bad theology fills most of the stories we see, hear, and read.

Should Christians, then, engage in writing stories with bad theology? Why would we do that? What is to set us apart from the rest of culture if we tell stories that lie about God?

The best thing for readers, of course, is to always test the theology of what’s thrown at us. Is this consistent with what Scripture tells us about the world, about Mankind, about God? Those are the critical questions.

Bad theology is not Jonah disobeying God. Bad theology would be Jonah disobeying God and achieving peace and happiness as a result.

Do we stay away from such books? Wave DO NOT READ warning signs over them? If we do so over books written by Christians, then we must do so over every other book or movie or TV show that clashes with Truth.

The problem isn’t reading or viewing something with bad theology. It’s doing so and not recognizing it. When we read a book that espouses something contrary to Scripture and don’t recognize it as a lie, then we are susceptible to that lie.

Published in: on July 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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