Posts belonging to Category Theology



Nightline Face-Off: Does Satan Exist?

“Does Satan really exist?” That is the topic for the third Nightline Face-Off. Dan Harris moderated the debate which airs March 26, 2009 on ABC.

On one side of the debate is Deepak Chopra, famous philosopher and author of “Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment” and Bishop Carlton Pearson, author of “The Gospel of Inclusion.” They will argue that Satan does not exist … On the other side will be Pastor Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Church and Annie Lobert, founder of the international Christian ministry “Hookers for Jesus,” who will argue that the devil does exist, and has made a personal impact on their lives.

You can also watch the debate online here. The Mars Hill Blog has more information at: 8 Things to Know About Nightline’s Satan Debate.

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Abecedarians

I learned a new word yesterday over at the Theological Word of the Day website: “Abecedarians.”

A 16th century German sect of Anabaptists led by Nicholas Storch who believed that all knowledge, even knowledge of the alphabet, prevents people from a true knowledge of God. Abecedarians believed that God would provide all necessary understanding through divine means such as visions and ecstatic experiences. According to them, all theology and “academic” learning amounted to an idolatrous abandonment of the Christian faith. Their name, Abecedarians, comes from their denial of the ABCs.

Sing with me: “Now I know my ABC’s, I guess God will not speak with me.”

The Bible is to Theology as Creation is to Science

I found the following diagram helpful in understanding the tensions that sometimes exist between science and Biblical faith.

Bible:theology::Creation:Science
                            Bible:theology :: Creation:science
              (The Bible is to theology as creation is to science)

The diagram distinguishes between: 1) Scripture and theology, and 2) creation and science. Scripture is God’s Word and therefore free from error. The physical creation is God’s work and therefore will never be in conflict with God’s word. However, theology is man’s study of Scripture, just as science is man’s study of creation. As such, theology and science are both susceptible to error and can be in conflict with each other.

Thus when science and theology conflict, we should not rush to judgment about which side is wrong. Rather we should continue to test our theology against the evidence of Scripture and our science against the evidence of the physical world. When we get our theology and science correct, there will be no conflict between the two.

I like this model because it affirms:
    1) the truth of God’s word,
    2) the order of God’s world, and
    3) the value of both theological and scientific endeavor.

Note: The diagram comes from David Heddle, associate professor of physics at Christopher Newport University. Heddle is currently teaching a Sunday School class on science and faith at Grace Baptist Chapel in Hampton, VA. He is posting his weekly notes online at GBC Sunday School. You can find an outline of the series here.

Related post: God’s Providence and Scientific Investigation

An Evangelical Manifesto

The document, An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment, was released this morning at the National Press Club.

An Evangelical Manifesto is an open declaration of who Evangelicals are and what they stand for. It has been drafted and published by a representative group of Evangelical leaders who do not claim to speak for all Evangelicals, but who invite all other Evangelicals to stand with them and help clarify what Evangelical means in light of “confusions within and the consternation without” the movement. As the Manifesto states, the signers are not out to attack or exclude anyone, but to rally and to call for reform.

As an open declaration, An Evangelical Manifesto addresses not only Evangelicals and other Christians but other American citizens and people of all other faiths in America, including those who say they have no faith. It therefore stands as an example of how different faith communities may address each other in public life, without any compromise of their own faith but with a clear commitment to the common good of the societies in which we all live together.

For those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform—an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life, and so rededicate ourselves to the high calling of being Evangelical followers of Jesus Christ.

The manifesto was charter signed by more than 70 evangelical leaders.
You can:

Al Mohler on Theological Triage

Albert Mohler describes the process of theological triage in part two of his article: The Pastor as Theologian.

The pastor must learn to discern different levels of theological importance. First-order doctrines are those that are fundamental and essential to the Christian faith. The pastor’s theological instincts should seize upon any compromise on doctrines such as the full deity and humanity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of atonement, and essentials such as justification by faith alone. Where such doctrines are compromised, the Christian faith falls. When a pastor hears an assertion that Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead is not a necessary doctrine, he must respond with a theological instinct that is based in the fact that such a denial is tantamount to a rejection of the Gospel itself.

Second-order doctrines are those which are essential to church life and necessary for the ordering of the local church, but which, in themselves, do not define the Gospel. That is to say, one may detect an error in a doctrine at this level and still acknowledge that the person in error remains a believing Christian. Nevertheless, such doctrines are directly related to how the church is organized and its ministry is fulfilled. Doctrines found at this level include those most closely related to ecclesiology and the architecture of theological systems. Calvinists and Arminians may disagree concerning a number of vital and urgently important doctrines–or, at the very least, the best way to understand and express these doctrines. Yet, both can acknowledge each other as genuine Christians. At the same time, these differences can become so acute that it is difficult to function together in the local congregation over such an expansive theological difference.

Third-order doctrines are those which may be the ground for fruitful theological discussion and debate, but which do not threaten the fellowship of the local congregation or the denomination. Christians who agree on an entire range of theological issues and doctrines may disagree over matters related to the timing and sequence of events related to Christ’s return. Yet, such ecclesiastical debates, while understood to be deeply important because of their biblical nature and connection to the Gospel, do not constitute a ground for separation among believing Christians.

I find this three-fold distinction helpful. How about you?

April Book Sale at Westminster

I just got the Westminster Bookstore April eNewsletter, and they have some great books on sale. Here are four titles worth checking out. (And no, I am not sharing this list just because my birthday is in two weeks.)

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Hardcover), by Tim Keller; List Price: $24.95; Westminster Bookstore: $13.72 – 45% Off

Why is there suffering in the world? How could a loving God send people to Hell? Why isn’t Christianity more inclusive? Shouldn’t the Christian God be a god of love? How can one religion be “right” and the rest “wrong”? Why have so many wars been fought in the name of God? These are just a few of the questions even ardent believers wrestle with today. In this book, Tim Keller uses literature, philosophy, real-life conversations and reasoning, and even pop culture to explain how faith in a Christian God is a soundly rational belief, held by thoughtful people of intellectual integrity with a deep compassion for those who truly want to know the truth.

The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Hardcover), by David F. Wells; List Price: $25.00; Westminster Bookstore: $16.00 – 36% Off

Wells argues that the historic, classical evangelicalism is one marked by doctrinal seriousness, as opposed to the new movements of the marketing church and the emergent church. He energetically confronts the marketing communities and what he terms their “sermons-from-a-barstool and parking lots and apres-worship Starbucks stands.” He also takes issue with the most popular evangelical movement in recent years – the emergent church. Emergents are postmodern and postconservative and postfoundational, embracing a less absolute, understanding of the authority of Scripture than Wells maintains is required.

Christ and Culture Revisited (Hardcover), by D. A. Carson; List Price: $24.00; Westminster Bookstore: $15.84 – 34% Off

Called to live in the world, but not to be of it, Christians must maintain a balancing act that becomes more precarious the further our culture departs from its Judeo-Christian roots. How should members of the church interact with such a culture, especially as deeply enmeshed as most of us have become?

D. A. Carson applies his masterful touch to this problem. He begins by exploring the classic typology of H. Richard Niebuhr and his five options for understanding culture. Carson proposes that these disparate options are in reality one still larger vision. Using the Bible’s own story line and the categories of biblical theology, he attempts to work out what that unifying vision is.

In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement (Paperback), by J. I. Packer and Mark Dever; List Price: $16.99; Westminster Bookstore: $11.21 – 34% Off

Combines three classic articles by Packer—””The Heart of the Gospel”; his Tyndale Biblical Theology Lecture, “What Did the Cross Achieve”; and his introductory essay to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ—with Dever’s recent article, “Nothing but the Blood.” An important anthology that reaffirms the classic doctrine of substitutionary atonement and counters the ongoing attacks against it.

Philosophy Lessons from the Movie Groundhog Day

Michael P. Foley has a great article in Touchstone Magazine exploring some of the philosophical aspects of the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Ranging from Nietzsche to Machiavelli and Aristotle to Augustine, Foley examines the movie from the vantage point of both philosophy and theology. Here is my favorite excerpt:

Throughout the movie, the groundhog seems to function as Phil’s nonhuman doppelganger. Both are weathermen and they share the same name. Phil suspects a link but wrongly concludes that as long as Phil the groundhog sees his shadow, he will be doomed to relive February 2nd. (This initiates a tragicomic incident in which he kills himself and the groundhog.) But what we eventually come to realize is that it is not Phil the groundhog’s shadow that proves crucial, it is Phil the man’s. As long as Phil wakes up in the morning and sees his shadow, there will be for him more winter, more of the same. But if he awakes without a shadow, he will be given spring, new life.

What is Phil Connors’s “shadow”? It is his vices, his bad habits and sinful ways that detract from and diminish his God-given goodness. The equation of shadow with vice is apposite, since both are, in St. Augustine’s terms, a privation: Shadows are a privation of light, and evil and vice are a privation of the good. Significantly, when one of the townies hears Phil Connors’s name, he teases him with the admonition, “Watch out for your shadow there, pal!” And significantly, the townie’s name is Gus—short, of course, for Augustine.

Great stuff! If you enjoy this movie, definitely check the whole article out.

                           

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Beliefnet Debate: Are Mormons Christian?

Are Mormons Christian? Beliefnet is currently hosting a debate on this question between Albert Mohler (president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Mormon novelist Orson Scott Card. Here is an excerpt from Mohler’s most recent exchange with Card.

“Are Mormons ‘Christians’ as defined by traditional Christian orthodoxy?” . . . With the question structured that way, the answer is clear and unassailable – Mormonism is not Christianity.

When the question is framed this way, Mr. Card and I actually agree, as his essay makes clear. In his words, “I am also happy to agree with him [Mohler] that when one compares our understanding of the nature of God and Christ, we categorically disagree with almost every statement in the ‘historic creeds and doctrinal affirmations’ he refers to.”

Mr. Card would prefer that the question be put differently . . . If I were a Mormon I would share that concern and would try to define Christianity in some way other than traditional Christian orthodoxy. The reason is simple – traditional Christian orthodoxy and Mormon theology are utterly incompatible . . .

Mormonism uses the language of Christian theology and makes many references to Christ . . . But Christianity has never been defined in terms of merely thinking well of Jesus. Mormonism claims to affirm the New Testament teachings about Jesus, but actually presents a very different Jesus from the onset. A reading of Mormonism’s authoritative documents makes this clear . . .

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” as Mormonism is officially known, claims to be the only true church. As stated in the Doctrine and Covenants [1:30], Mormonism is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” According to Mormon teaching, the church was corrupted after the death of the apostles and became the “Church of the Devil.” Mormonism then claims that the true church was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith in the 1820s. This restored church was, Mormon theology claims, given the keys to the kingdom and the authority of the only true priesthood . . .

Mr. Card may complain that traditional Christianity defines the faith in a way that rejects Mormonism. Fair enough. But Mormonism rejects historic Christianity as it makes its own central claim – to be the only true church, restored on earth in the latter days.

You can read the full debate here.

Related post: Should Christians Call Mormonism a Cult?

Should Christians Call Mormonism a Cult?

Should Christians call Mormonism a cult? Is the word “cult” a useful term in public speech today? These are some of the questions John Mark Reynolds addresses in his article: On “Cult:” Is the Word Useful in Political Speech? The question is especially important to consider with a Mormon, Governor Mitt Romney, currently running for President.

Reynolds points out that the word “cult” has at least three different meanings associated with it. It can mean either:

  1. the religious practices of a particular group,
  2. a group that claims to be Christian but denies orthodox doctrine, or
  3. a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister (Oxford American)

The first definition makes no value judgments and could refer to any religion (including the Christian faith). The second definition makes a value judgment as regards the truth claims of a particular group, i.e. whether or not the group aligns with historic Christian teaching. The third definition makes a value judgment as regards the social acceptability of the group.

When Christians speak of Mormonism, Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. as cults, we usually mean the word in the sense of the second definition above. We simply mean that these are groups which claim to be Christian but do not hold to key points of historic Christian doctrine – teachings such as the trinity, the deity of Christ, salvation by faith in Christ alone, or the Bible as our sole authority for faith and practice. These are areas in which Mormons deviate from Christian belief, and so, in this sense of the word, we could properly term Mormonism as a cult.

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Reading the Prophets (3)

We have been discussing two questions concerning the prophetical books in the Old Testament:

  1. Why are we so unfamiliar with them?
  2. Why are they important for us to study and learn?

In answer to the first question, I offered the following four reasons:

        1) Placement: at the end of the Old Testament

        2) Language: poetry rather than prose

        3) History: requires an understanding of historical events

        4) Theology: many messages of judgment and doom

Now we move on to the second question. Why are the prophets important for us to study and learn? Here are four reasons to consider:

1) We need the prophets to help balance out our unbiblical views of God.

We ended yesterday by talking about the messages of judgment that the prophets brought. And yet we saw that they also spoke words of comfort and hope. People often say things like, “The Bible says God is love. He doesn’t judge people.” But the same Bible that tells us that God is love also tells us that God judges and punishes sin. God is both loving and just. The prophets help us to develop a fully biblical picture of God.

2) The prophets deal with the weighty issues of life.

The prophets deal with the weighty issues of life – things like God’s character, God’s uniqueness, God’s sovereignty over the nations, God’s requirements for his people, the importance of justice and righteousness. Without the prophets our faith can grow shallow and weak, unable to stand up to the rigors and challenges of life.

3) The prophets point us to Jesus as the Messiah.

The whole Old Testament points forward to the coming of Christ, but as the time drew nearer, the prophetical books became more and more specific about the coming of the Messiah who would bring salvation for all the nations. Some of the most startling and clear prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament are found in the prophets.

4) The prophets help us understand God’s plan for the ages.

Without the prophets we could never make sense of what happened to Israel as God’s people. We would not understand God’s plan for his church in the present age. The prophets are critical for understanding God’s plan for the ages, including our own future.

Next week I will begin blogging through the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk is one of the Minor Prophets. It is a short book with a powerful message for today. I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to practice “reading the prophets” with me.

Reading the Prophets (2)

Yesterday we began discussing the Old Testament prophetical books. We saw that although these books comprise much of the content of Scripture, many people do not or have not read them. Why are we so unfamiliar with these books? We looked at two reasons in yesterday’s post:

1) Placement: at the end of the Old Testament

2) Language: poetry rather than prose

Here are two more reasons:

3) History: requires an understanding of historical events

A third reason is history. Reading the prophets requires an understanding of the historical events that took place at the time of their writing. The prophetical books take place largely during the time of the kings of Israel, the exile, and Israel’s return from exile. If you are not sure what I mean by the kings, or the exile, or the return from exile, that is exactly my point. When we don’t know the historical context behind the book, it is difficult to understand what the prophet is saying.

And in fact, the prophets take in more than just the history of Israel during this time, but also interact with the history of many of the surrounding nations as well. This is why it is very helpful to have a good commentary on hand when you are reading through the prophets.

4) Theology: many messages of judgment and doom

And then there is a fourth reason why we are not as familiar with the prophets, and that has to do with theology. The prophets present many messages of doom and judgment. That was one of their functions. We don’t like to think about God as a God of judgment. We like to think of God as a nice God who forgives everybody. And so people often have trouble relating to God’s judgments in the prophets.

Let me say something about that for a moment. God does not change from book to book in the Bible, or even from testament to testament. He is the same everywhere. You do not find a different God in the Old Testament than you do in the New Testament. You find passages relating to God’s judgment in all the various parts of the Bible, both Old Testament and New. And you find passages relating to God’s love, mercy and forgiveness in all parts of the Bible, both Old Testament and New. In fact some of the most beautiful and profound passages in Scripture describing God’s love and mercy are found in the Old Testament prophets. It is not a matter of different pictures of God being presented, but different emphases.

The prophets were sent for a very specific purpose. They were sent to warn Israel and the surrounding nations of God’s coming judgment for sin and idolatry in hopes that they would turn from their sins and thus avoid judgment. Sadly they did not, and so God’s judgment fell in full force upon them.

This leads us directly into our second question about the prophets. Why are the prophets important for us to study and learn? More on that tomorrow!

John Stott on Human Suffering and the Cross

Here is an excerpt on human suffering and the cross from John Stott’s landmark book, The Cross of Christ:

I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross’. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after awhile I have had to turn away. And in imagination, I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through his hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ … is God’s only self justification in such a world’ as ours.1 (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, pp. 335-336)

1 P.T. Forsyth, Justification of God, p. 32.