Theologically Driven


Theologically Driven
Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

6 Major Problems with Today’s “Tolerance”

by Ben Edwards

There have been two subtle but significant developments in our society in recent years in our response to people and ideas. The first is a growing inability to distinguish between ideas and the people who espouse them. Rather, debates about the merits of a particular position in public discussion quickly move to discussions of the persons who espouse those positions. One potential reason is the growing confusion, aided by public education, about objective facts. If there are no objective truths, then ideas are not truly distinct from persons but are instead vitally connected to the person or community that holds to a position—that is what subjective truths are.

The second development concerns how we react to ideas/persons. Some ideas/persons are viewed as valuable and praiseworthy. We want to celebrate these ideas/persons, setting them forth as models for others to embrace. Other ideas/persons are recognized as being different from a position we might hold but are still seen as good positions. We may not celebrate or promote them, but we can certainly affirm the person/idea. It’s not for you, but it’s still good. But what if we encounter a bad idea/person? Our response in these situations is to reject them. We point out that there is no place in a modern society—in this day and age—for people/ideas like that. We shake our heads in disdain. “How could someone still think that?” “Shocked that this could still happen today.” We don’t want to allow these wrong ideas/people in society. This new development means that if you hold a position deemed wrong by society, people now work to exclude you from society.

Perhaps you might notice that a reaction that has historically marked Western society is missing from the previous paragraph: tolerance. People still talk about tolerance, but their understanding of tolerance is indistinguishable from the response of affirmation mentioned earlier. Today, tolerance means to accept or approve different opinions.

Historically, though, tolerance included disapproving something. In fact, the very term implied that something was disagreeable or abhorrent. (E.g., if I invited you to an opera and you replied “I guess I could tolerate it,” I wouldn’t conclude that you would enjoy it.) If you didn’t think an idea was wrong you couldn’t tolerate it. Tolerance meant you disagreed—even strongly—with something, but you would not use coercion to suppress the idea or the person who held the idea. Though you may find the idea completely foolish, you think a healthy society must not stamp out all ideas you believe to be wrong. As the saying often (improperly) attributed to Voltaire goes: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

But today we no longer seem to have the option to agree to disagree—we either have to agree or reject. People can’t be wrong, unless they are so wrong they must be rejected. What are some of the negative consequences of this approach?

No Basis for Evaluating Ideas. Even under the historic understanding of tolerance, there were limitations to what might be tolerated. Some ideas should be rejected, or at least never promoted or acted upon (e.g., genocide). But how do we decide which ideas should be rejected? Since our society largely rejects objective truth, what is the standard for determining whether an idea is acceptable or not? Currently, it seems that popular opinion has become the standard. Once an idea is no longer held by the majority, it should no longer be allowed in society (and woe to those who do not change their stance quickly enough!).

Another potential candidate for evaluation seems to be people’s feelings. Positions are considered wrong if they offend someone. It doesn’t matter whether or not something is true (because how could anything be true), it only matters whether or not it bothers someone (except, of course, WASPs. Since they already enjoy the privilege of a favored status it is no problem to offend them).

Condemns People Rather than Ideas. When we are able to distinguish ideas from people, we can reject ideas without rejecting the person. For example, two people might disagree about whether or not the minimum wage should be raised without claiming the other either hates the poor or wants to promote sloth. But today disagreements quickly move from evaluation of ideas to labels of the opponent. People who disagree on an issue are now labeled as bigots, intolerant, narrow-minded, judgmental, etc. Now the merits of particular positions can be conveniently ignored, since the person who espouses the view is seen as unloving.

Trivializes Everything. This new approach trivializes issues in one of two ways. We could add a fourth category to the responses of celebration, affirmation, and rejection—indifference. It’s ok to be wrong on a position that doesn’t matter. So, while you might think that cats are better than dogs, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t care that you are wrong, since it’s not an important issue. Thus, in order for differing opinions to be allowed in this society, the opinion must be about insignificant matters.

But if there is no objective truth, does anything really matter? That’s why I can affirm your position if it is different from mine. I don’t have to see it as wrong because nothing is wrong. Which means nothing is right. Which means nothing should really matter. (As a side note, perhaps one of the reasons people are so virulent in their rejection of “wrong” ideas/people is they are trying to convince themselves that something matters, even though their worldview does not allow anything to matter).

Harms Every Position. Because contrary opinions are so quickly stamped out in our society, people are dissuaded from offering an idea or an opinion that might not fit with the current status quo. In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill points to a significant benefit of tolerance (and conversely, the significant danger of suppressing contrary opinions).

The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion, is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

It Promotes Intolerance. Since we have lost the ability to believe people should be allowed to be wrong, we no longer have a real category for tolerance. That means that those who are wrong are threats to society and should be punished. Unfortunately, we don’t need government to enact that punishment. We now have social media mobs that can destroy people who transgress the court of popular opinion. We have become skilled at stamping out diverse opinions in the name of diversity.

Leads to Totalitarianism. Since there is no objective standard to evaluate things, those with power are able to set the standards. The position with the most backing gets to stomp out the other positions. Unfortunately, that rarely stops with the positions with which you currently disagree. As George Orwell said in his proposed preface to Animal Farm: “If you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you. Make a habit of imprisoning Fascists without trial, and perhaps the process won’t stop at Fascists.” Or make a habit of destroying those who are “wrong,” and perhaps the process won’t stop with those who are currently considered “wrong.”

 


Unchurched Christians, Minotaurs, and Other Mythical Beasts

by John Aloisi

From time to time I’ve met professing Christians who for one reason or another claim that they do not need to be part of a local church. In most cases, they seem to believe that because God has placed them in the universal Church, they can worship God just fine apart from a local body of believers. I’d like to suggest that such a view is not only mistaken, but is also harmful to the unchurched person and dishonoring to God.

Everywhere one looks in the NT, one sees believers actively participating in a local body. In fact, the NT knows nothing of a perpetually disconnected Christian. The apostle Paul says roughly as much about healthy unchurched Christians as he does about minotaurs, unicorns, and leprechauns. From the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, everywhere the NT assumes that those who profess faith in Christ in this dispensation are part of a local body of believers. Much of the NT was originally written to specific local churches and addressed questions about how the local church should conduct itself. The professing believer who attempts to live apart from a local church will not be able to obey a significant portion of the NT (1 Tim 3:15). Although I’m thankful for access to good books and sermons produced by believers all over the world, it is first and foremost within the context of a local church that believers are to be instructed in the Word and exhorted by fellow believers (>Eph 4:11–13; 1 Tim 4:11–16; 2 Tim 4:2; >Titus 3:1–2). Those who profess Christ but remain disconnected from a local church need to realize that they have turned away from one of God’s clearly intended means of spiritual growth: the leadership and fellowship of a local assembly.

More importantly, those believers who choose to live apart from a local church dishonor the head of the Church. Both the Church universal and the church localized are God’s idea, not man’s (Matt 16:18; >Acts 2:41–47). God’s Word never depicts local church involvement as optional for the believer. And God certainly didn’t intend for there to be two kinds of Christians, those who worship him within a local church and those who just do their own thing. Those who profess to follow Christ while remaining disconnected from a local church are really saying that they know better than God.

The local church is one of God’s gifts to his people. It is a means by which they can be taught, encouraged, and exhorted to follow Christ. And ultimately, local church involvement is an essential part of a genuine Christian profession. Apart from such involvement, the profession itself can only be incomplete and highly suspect.


Who is Jesus? Mark’s Two Options

I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark together with some Christians and “seekers” over the past several weeks. (We’ve been using a fantastic study put out by the folks at The Good Book Company entitled Christianity Explored.) One thing that has struck me while re-reading Mark is that no one in the narrative doubts that Jesus had power. No one doubts he’s a wonder-worker. That part of his identity was really unmistakable. You don’t find anyone going around trying to dispute it, trying to prove that Jesus really didn’t heal the fellow with leprosy (Mark 1:40-45), the lame guy who’d been lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), or the synagogue leader’s daughter (Mark 5:21-43). Maybe some did—though I suspect they would have had a difficult time, considering the nature of the maladies Jesus cured. (They were slightly higher up on the difficulty—and conspicuous—scale than headaches or insomnia.)

What you find instead are his religious opponents waiting around “to see if he would heal [anyone] on the Sabbath” (Mark 3:2), because, in their view, that would prove that he was colluding with the devil. In fact, this is what leads his opponents to make the implausible suggestion that Jesus healed sickness and cast out demons—i.e., that he brought order out of the chaos sin created—by the power of devil (Mark 3:20-30 and par.; see also Matthew 9:27-34; John 8:48-59; John 10:1-21)! Considering Jesus’ unmistakable power and his attitude toward the law, that was the only option open for them.

What I’ve tried to say to my friends throughout our study is that this is precisely how Mark wants to leave his readers. He only gives us these two options: either Jesus was in league with the devil and was justly crucified as a messianic pretender OR he was Israel’s long-awaited messiah, sent from God to do away with humanity’s sin once-and-for-all (see, e.g., Mark 10:45). There’s really no middle ground.* There’s no version that allows readers to conclude that Jesus was simply a good teacher or an inspiring example. His amazing works and attendant claims refuse to fit into such tight quarters. They will not be domesticated like this. They demand a more profound verdict.

*Editor’s note: For early non-Christian corroboration of Mark’s portrait, see, e.g., the Jewish tradition preserved in Justin, Dial. 69.7 (cf. Deuteronomy 13:5); Jos., Ant. 18.63–64 [XVIII, iii 3]; and b. Sanh. 43A.


Do I Answer a Fool? Or Do I Not?

by Bob McCabe

In Proverbs 26:4 we are commanded not to answer a fool, but in the very next verse we’re commanded to answer a fool. On the surface I am in a quagmire since both commands seem to be in conflict with each other. So do I or do I not answer a fool? This raises a larger issue about how to apply the various sayings found in the book of Proverbs.

One of two broad categories of proverbs is known as prescriptive proverbs (the other is descriptive). A prescriptive proverb does more than simply tell about the way life is. It seeks to characterize an attitude or an action in order to influence behavior (Klein, Blomberg, Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 313–14). The focus of this post is to describe three types of prescriptive proverbs that will assist in applying them.

1. A prescriptive proverb that allows for exceptions is a generalization. At the minimum, there are two categories of generalizations. First, some proverbs allow for limitations in various circumstances. The example we initially saw in Proverbs 26:4-5 is certainly an example of this. There are contexts when we should avoid answering a fool lest we look like the fool; however, there are other settings when we should answer the fool so that he does not look wise in his own eyes. We must use godly discernment in determining which proverb to follow. In addition, wise planning with proper advice is praised in Proverbs 15:22. However, this is balanced by Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Parsons, “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Proverbs,” BSac 150 [1993], 160). The foolishness “bound in the heart of a child” in Proverbs 22:15 may provide a hindrance to the proverb in Proverbs 22:6 (Zuck, “A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs, in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, 234). Second, other proverbs are generalizations because they are bound to the dispensation of law. For example, Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.” The blessings of wealth were promised to obedient Israelites in Deuteronomy 28:8-14. This type of promise has temporal limits since it is not made to believers in the New Testament. At times, a generalization may even be limited in the dispensation of law. An example of this is Proverbs 10:30, “The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in the land.” When this text says the righteous will not “be uprooted,” the sage is referring to righteous Israelites not being uprooted from the land of Israel. However, there were exceptions to this, viz., Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. While we recognize this type of exception, my point is that the “land” emphasis in this proverb reflects that its was written under the dispensation of law and its direct application pertains to those living under the law, though its application allowed for exceptions.

2. A prescriptive proverb that has no exceptions is a moral absolute. This will often be true in proverbs dealing with an action or characteristic of God. Proverbs 11:1 says, “The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him.” Another example is Proverbs 14:31, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” The instructional material in Proverbs 5against adultery by maintaining a proper marital relationship is a moral absolute. It upholds the moral absolute, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).

3. A prescriptive proverb may contain both a moral absolute and a generalization. Proverbs 3:1-2 is an exhortation to honor one’s father with a promise of long life and peace. The command to honor one’s parents is a moral absolute; however, the promise about long life is only a generalization, for Jesus Christ was the embodiment of honor to His earthly parents, yet He was crucified in His early thirties. “God in His sovereignty may make an exception as in the case of Jesus” (Parsons, 161, n. 72).

May God grant us discernment as we apply the wisdom of Proverbs.


When the Law of Moses Calls for Death

by Mark Snoeberger

A while back Bob Jones University made the news by apologizing for statements made a generation ago suggesting that homosexuals should be subjected, like they were during the Mosaic economy, to capital punishment. This mea culpa was a welcome one insofar as the offending statement was insensitive, vindictive, even hateful. But among the tweets and chatter that ensued, it was surprising to see how many bloggers (critics and defenders of BJU alike) made no apparent differentiation between the words spoken in 1980 and the words written in the 15th century BC. Moses is apparently guilty of hate speech, too!

This is a troubling sentiment, I think, and one that seriously erodes Old Testament credibility and authority. Surely as inerrantists we must conclude that Moses was right to write what he did! It is in view of this fact that I ask today, What should we do with Moses and his copious assignment of capital punishment for seemingly trivial crimes (or in some cases, perhaps, for no crime at all)? Shall we defend him? Blush for him? Distance ourselves from him by denouncing the Law as inherently evil and, too our great relief, dead and gone?

It is true that the Mosaic Law has been set aside, and its temporal sanctions suspended in Christ. And with the dissolution of the Jewish kingdom, there is no longer a theocratic representative living on earth with the authority to enforce God’s expectations in the civil sphere. Still, we must surely also say, “The Law was holy, and its commandment holy, righteous and good” (Rom 7:12ff). Further, we must affirm that the God who established that Law is immutably pure in his ethic. So how should we deal today with actions that Moses regarded as capital offenses?

As I see it, there are four categories of capital offense detailed in the Law of Moses, and each requires its own nuanced response. Note the following:

  • Offenses violating the sanctity of human life. Moses requires that “first-degree” murder be punished by the forfeiture of life (Exod 21:12, 14; also Lev 24:17, 21), with special emphasis on those who sacrificed their children to the gods (Lev 20:1–5). Negligence resulting in death could also be a capital crime (Exod 21:28–29), especially in the case of unborn children (Exod 21:22–25), though this was not true in every case (Exod 21:13). Perjury in capital cases was also a capital offense (Deut 19:16–19), ostensibly because it might result in the unjust loss of life. The fact that God persistently commands human governments to guard human life with capital force, not only in the Mosaic economy but beyond (Gen 9:6), seems to leave no room for debate—God expects collective mankind, being ever in his image, to exercise due process and execute murderers.

In modern society some oppose capital punishment uniformly, even in the case of murder, but this is not a universal sentiment. Indeed, of all the categories of capital punishment found in the Mosaic Law, this category receives the smallest amount of cultural resistance.

  • Offenses savaging the humanity, purity, and dignity of “innocents.” Included in this category are offenses such as unequivocal, non-consenting, sexual assault (Deut 22:25–27) and kidnaping for the purpose of human trafficking (Exod 21:16). Since the command to execute criminals of this type is restricted to the Mosaic economy, I do not find capital punishment a mandate in the modern era; still, the fact that God found such crimes ethically worthy of death in one era seems to suggest that modern governments that conclude similarly are well within their rights to do so.

As with the previous category, many non-Christians are of a similar mind in this matter (after all, it was not Christians that made Taken a blockbuster movie).

  • Offenses of a religious nature. As a theocratic state, there was no separation of church/state, God/Caesar, or saeculum/sacrum in the Mosaic economy. As a result, the selfsame Israelite system prosecuted both civil and religious This is why, during this window of history, God required capital punishment for the crimes of sorcery (Exod 22:18; Lev 20:27; Deut 13:5), blasphemy (Lev 24:14, 16, 23), false prophecy (Deut 18:20), and egregious Sabbath violations (Exod 31:14; 35:2).

I have already tipped my hand in revealing that I believe this category of capital punishment to be restricted to the unique circumstances of the Jewish theocracy. By contrast, NT revelation sharply distinguishes the jurisdiction of church and state: the state has no jurisdiction in the church and as such should not prosecute religious crimes; and the church, while free to exclude someone from its membership, has no power to take away his life. And to the degree that religious organizations (Christian, Muslim, or otherwise) transgress (or have transgressed) this distinction, I believe they are wrong.

  • Offenses against divinely instituted civil institutions. These offenses represent the most broadly disputed category of capital crimes in the OT, and have three distinct sub-categories: (a) crimes against divinely prescribed authority within the institution of the family (Exod 21:15, 17; Lev 20:9), (b) persistent refusal to submit to divinely instituted civil authorities in otherwise non-capital crimes (Deut 17:12), and (c) a range of offenses against the divine institution of marriage, including adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), bestiality (Exod 22:19; Lev 20:15­–16), homosexuality (Lev 20:13), special instances of fornication (Deut 22:23–24), special instances of incest (Lev 20:11–21), special instances of prostitution (Lev 21:9), and lying about one’s virginity (Deut 22:13–21).

It is these “crimes” that earn the greatest attention among Bible-haters. None of these offenses seem capitally egregious, it is argued, and many of them offend no one at all—they’re mutually consensual! How can these be capital crimes? The answer is simple: Our Creator God found these activities to be of such an egregious nature as to threaten the viability of his creative design for humanity. And as is his prerogative, he assigned them capital import. And since he is the Creator and we are creatures, we really have no recourse but to acknowledge his right to do so.

Now, I would hasten to add that the capital response to such activities was apparently not immediate in every case. Mercy was often granted (see Lev 18:29 within its context), with capital force apparently reserved for repeated offenses coupled with recalcitrance or violence. Further, as was the case with the offenses in category 2 (above), the mandate to punish such activities capitally ceases after the Mosaic economy. Still, it seems hazardous to say that what God declared to be capitally odious and deleterious to the human race in 1400 BC must now be regarded as ethically benign, much less respectable.

There is no doubt that the Mosaic Law offers challenges to the contemporary church that are exceedingly complex, and the above should not be regarded as the final word on the topic. However, whatever answers emerge to the tensions at hand, we surely cannot give in to the contemporary opinion that Moses (and by extension, Yahweh) was once a moral monster perpetrating a primitive and reckless law code from which our enlightened modern society has escaped. Perhaps its is fair to say (using contemporary legal language) that Christ has ushered in an age in which “mandatory minimum sentencing” has been withdrawn with respect to many of these offenses perpetrated against God. However, since God is absolutely immutable in his ethical character, moral culpability for sins against God and his created order has by no means relaxed with the coming of Christ.


If God Knows Everything, Why Should We Pray?

by John Aloisi

In his commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, John Calvin discusses Jesus’ statement that the “Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6:8). Calvin addresses the question of why believers should pray if God already knows what we need. He suggests the following as at least a partial answer:

Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things (Calvin, commentary on Matt 6:8).

When praying, believers never tell God something he doesn’t already know. But God has chosen to use prayer as a means by which God’s people express their dependence upon their Father who knows all things and can actually do something about the most puzzling problems of life.


Church History Resources for Children

by John Aloisi

Most seminary students are involved in teaching children in some venue or another. Many are husbands and fathers, and so are responsible for training their own children on a daily basis. Others are not, but are still involved in teaching children within the context of their local church. Although sometimes viewed as something less than real “ministry,” teaching children is a significant ministry opportunity in and of itself. It’s also a great training ground for learning about ministering to people of all ages and backgrounds.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a wonderful series of books for teaching children about church history. To date, Reformation Heritage Books has published four volumes in the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series by Simonetta Carr. This fairly new series is designed to introduce children to key figures in the history of the Christian church. So far, available volumes have covered John Calvin, Augustine, John Owen, and Athanasius. In addition, a book on Lady Jane Grey is currently in the works. And anticipated volumes include sketches of Anselm, John Knox, and Jonathan Edwards among others.

The CBFYR series is aimed at children ages 7–12. But the beautifully illustrated books have been perfect for teaching 5 and 6 year olds in our church’s Sunday morning kindergarten class as well. The books are clear, engaging, and substantive enough to communicate meaningful information about some remarkable men who stood for Christ in a variety of historical circumstances. My own children love these books, and on numerous occasions I’ve come downstairs in the morning to find an early riser stretched out on the family room floor reading about Athanasius or one of the others. They’ve received the books as Christmas presents and on other special occasions, and each time they’ve been excited to devour the new volume.

If you are wondering why believers should be concerned about teaching church history to children, the author of this series has written a helpful article on that subject. Assuming you are convinced of the value of teaching children about church history and are looking for a tool that will help you introduce children to Christian servants of the past, I can think of no better series of books to help you accomplish that goal.


Walk by Faith: A Misused Verse?

by Bill Combs

Most of us are familiar with how 2 Cor 5:7 reads in the KJV, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” If you do a Google search on this verse, you will find explanations of what this means, such as, “the Bible challenges us to ‘walk by faith, not by sight,’” or you are to “walk by faith, not by sight,’” or you ought to “walk by faith, not by sight.’” You have probably heard the same kind of thing in sermons. Just to clarify, the word walk in this verse is, of course, used in the metaphorical sense of “live”; so the NIV, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” Thus, Paul’s words are taken to be an exhortation or command to “live by faith.” According to this view, we are challenged to rise above our normal Christian experience, and rather than operating from a worldly perspective (“living by sight”), we should conduct our lives and make our decisions based upon our faith and trust in the God and his Word. There is nothing wrong with this idea in and of itself. It is theologically accurate to say and to insist that the Christian must always seek to live by faith and trust in God and his promises, and not be motivated by only what he or she can see and hear in their present circumstances.

The problem is that this is not what the text says, nor what it means. Paul is not commanding the Corinthians to “live by faith”; he is making a statement: the Corinthians are living by faith.

Our text is also popular in the Word of Faith movement, which I won’t take time to describe at this point. Another popular TV preacher in that movement, Frederick Price, closes every sermon by citing 2 Cor 5:7.

But in all these instances, this text has been stripped of its context and a new meaning assigned to it. Paul is not saying that we “should live by faith” or that we “ought to live by faith.” No, he directly and unequivocally says that we, all believers, do, in fact, live by faith. But why does Paul make this statement?

Verse 7 is rightly understood to be a parenthesis in the thought of vv. 6–8.

(6) Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (7) For we live by faith, not by sight. (8) We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Let us go back for a moment to the beginning of chapter 5 in order to get the broader context. Paul begins in v. 1 by explaining what happens to a believer who dies, “if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed.” Fortunately, Paul says, we can look forward to a resurrection body, “a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” But until then “we groan” (v. 2), knowing that our present bodies are subject to ailments, injury, and disability. And since we know that “as long as we are at home in the body we are away [in a spatial sense] from the Lord” (v. 6), we “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8). All believers here on earth are presently “away from the Lord” in the sense Paul means in v. 6.

But Paul’s reasoning in vv. 6 and 8 could leave the wrong impression. That’s why he interrupts v. 6 with 7 before he completes his thought in v. 8. The “for” that begins v. 7 is what the standard Greek dictionary (BDAG) calls a “marker of clarification.” One could easily take Paul’s statement in v. 6 to mean that since believers are presently “away from the Lord,” they enjoy no fellowship with him at all. But, of course, that is absolutely false, for, you see, Paul says (v. 7), “we presently live in the realm of faith ["by faith"], not in the realm of sight.” Paul is contrasting actually seeing the Lord (“at home with the Lord”) with our present experience of believing in the Lord without seeing him (“away from the Lord”). For now believers “live in the realm of faith,” trusting in the Lord whom they have not seen, but one day they will “live in the realm of sight.” This is same sort of contrast we see in John 20:29 and 1 Pet 1:8.

So although we are presently “away from the Lord,” this does not mean that we are cutoff from fellowship with the Lord. But for now we live “in the realm of faith,” which is no hindrance to communion with our Savior, though truly we look forward to the day when we will live “by sight.” Then, as the hymn writer puts it, our “faith shall be sight.”


How to Approach Evangelizing at Work

by Mark Snoeberger

In our last post we appealed to John 17 to show that a properly ordered witness for Christ must avoid the two poles of (1) being both in the world and of the world, hoping the gospel will advance wordlessly through personal intimacy alone (Christ of culture) and (2) being neither in the world nor of the world, hoping the gospel will advance through remote belligerence alone (Christ against culture).

If the reader is familiar with H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, he will recognize two of Niebuhr’s five approaches, adapted here for my purposes. Niebuhr actually proposes three intermediate approaches, but I will select just one for further consideration: Christ and culture in paradox. (Note: I am using these categories somewhat differently than Niebuhr does, but I think they are helpful enough to be repurposed.)

In the paradox model, the Christian lives in two realms—as a citizen of the present, earthly/civic realm, and as a prospective citizen of heaven. In both these realms, Christ rules the believer’s activities, but in very different ways. In the earthly/civic realm, Christ rules indirectly through the dominion mandate by which everyman may, by submitting to God’s sovereign lordship over Creation, effectively rule over all that God has made as his vice-regents on earth. We do so by cultivating common/moral virtue, the sciences (Gen 1:28–31), and civic structures (Gen 9:6); by stewarding divinely granted “property” (whether material/physical, intellectual/ideological, ethical, etc.); and by obeying the second great commandment of loving neighbor as self (Matt 22:39). Specifically, this takes the form of being the very best possible citizens, workers, spouses, parents, students, and neighbors in the natural realm and under divinely imposed natural law. This is the duty of every person, and we should encourage/expect every person around us (regenerate and unregenerate alike), being fellow-image-bearers, to aspire to these selfsame goals. This is the duty of all image-bearers.

The believer’s goal in living this way is not only or even primarily to woo people into the second or heavenly/ecclesiastical realm (where Christ rules through shepherds in covenanted communities bound by the regulating principles of a comprehensive and inspired canon). Both Paul and Peter, however, suggest that by living in this way, even “without words,” we will routinely encounter opportunities for the Gospel (Titus 2:1–10; 1 Pet 3:1; etc.)—and we should be ever looking for these. By setting Christ apart as Lord we will invariably stimulate people to ask us the reason for the hope that lies within (1 Pet 3:15). And the Christian Gospel is our answer, delivered from the standpoint of a clear conscience and in a context of mutual respect earned by “good behavior” (v. 16).

So if a believer should find himself working, say, in a public school setting, the approach would not be unregulated Gospel declaration (which will get one fired) or withdrawal to engage in remote denunciations of that “wicked and irremediable public school system” (the Christ against culture approach). Nor should the believer simply seek to “blend in” with the sterile, non-theistic worldview that usually prevails in this setting—and, frankly, in almost every civic setting (the Christ of culture approach). Instead, the believer should view himself as an agent of common grace, moral virtue, and neighborliness, humbly and proactively being the best citizen, steward, worker, and ethical mentor that he possibly can be with God as his witness. The believer need not continually announce his faith, but neither will he be able to conceal it; indeed, in very short order, he will be asked to offer a reason for why he is the way that he is. And the Gospel will have its day.

As circumstances allow, this approach can also countenance a more assertive face—after all, if unbelievers can ask believers reasons for the hope that lies within, the believer can freely inquire about the reasons for the unbeliever’s hopelessness, too! And by doing this, we can gently push open doors to the hopeful introduction of the Christian Gospel.

In either case, though, a paradox/antithesis will emerge. It must emerge. Believers and unbelievers all live in the very same world, but they have radically different worldviews that cannot long remain a secret. And it is the Christian’s role to deliberately enter this common world determined not to “become like the fool” (Prov 26:4), but instead to invite and answer the fool’s inquiries (Prov 26:5) with gentleness and respect (1 Pet 3:15) so as to introduce them to God.


Who is the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament?

by Bob McCabe

As one reads the Old Testament, he will undoubtedly notice the mysterious references to the angel of the LORD. Is this an angel like Michael who was sent out by the LORD? Or is this some kind of manifestation of deity? Who is the angel of the LORD?

Let’s initially examine the term angel (in Hebrew, mal’ak). This word can also be rendered as “messenger.” Mal’ak generally indicates one who is sent, a messenger or a representative. It can refer to human messengers sent by human officials (Gen 32:3) or by God (Isa 42:19) as well as to supernatural messengers sent by God. In reference to this latter group, it may refer to a created order of supernatural beings, angels (Gen 19:1, 15). The issue for us concerns whether this term can refer to the infinite supernatural Being, God. In order to prove that this term can refer to God, we will need to examine when it is used in connection with the phrase “of the LORD.” While this expression is used thirty-nine times in the Old Testament, we will examine two of these.

The first passage is found in Exodus 3:1–14. While tending the flock of his father-in-law at Horeb, Moses saw that a burning bush was not being consumed by the fire. As he approached the bush, v. 2 clearly states that the angel of the LORD appeared to him in the flames of the bush. It is stated in v. 4 that the LORD spoke to him from within the bush. In v. 6 the Being in the bush further identifies that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As the conversation continues between these two, the Being in the bush announces His name, “I AM WHO I AM” (v. 14). Thus, this passage indicates that the angel of the LORD mentioned in v. 2 is clearly identified by Himself and accepted by Moses as the infinite God.

Zechariah 3:1–10 is our second passage. The content of Zechariah’s fourth vision focuses on Israel’s future cleansing from sin and reinstatement as a priestly nation. Verse 1 introduces the participants: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him” (NIV 2011). More specifically, these participants are Joshua the high priest, the antecedent of “he” is the interpreting angel (he is referred to in 1:9, 14, 19; 2:3; 4:1, 3, 5; etc.; in light of 1:9 the interpreting angel was apparently present to explain some of the details of these visions to Zechariah), the antecedent of “me” is Zechariah, the angel of the LORD, and Satan. In this verse Joshua is described as standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan is pictured as standing at the right hand of the angel of the LORD to resist him. With this introduction to the vision we should note that the angel of the LORD is the focal point around which the following context revolves.

The first half of v. 2 reads like this: “The LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan!’” In light of the participants mentioned in v. 1, we could read this verse in this fashion: “And the LORD, that is the angel of the LORD, said unto Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan.’” Therefore, v. 2 identifies the angel of the LORD as the LORD and indicates that there is a distinction between the angel of the LORD and the LORD. This identification is further substantiated in v. 4. If we follow the context of vv. 2–4 carefully, we should notice that it is the angel of the LORD who forgives sin in v. 4. Since God is the only one who forgives sin, it is readily apparent that the angel of the LORD is God. Consequently, this passage provides solid support for both the deity of the angel of the LORD and his distinctiveness from the LORD.

Who is both deity and yet a distinct person from the LORD? Since no one has ever seen God the Father (John 1:18; 1 Tim 6:16) and since the Holy Spirit never takes on bodily form, this suggests that the supernatural Being to which this expression refers is the second member of the Trinity (also compare Exod 3:14 with John 8:58). Therefore, the angel of the LORD was a temporary manifestation of the LORD Jesus Christ in a preincarnate form. It is important to make a distinction between Christ’s preincarnation and incarnation. His incarnation is a permanent union where God the Son took on full humanity becoming the God-man. His incarnation began with His miraculous conception and will continue throughout eternity. Christ’s preincarnate form was a transitory visible manifestation of God the Son. After His incarnation, Christ never appears again as the angel of the LORD. As we view the angel of the LORD, we can see how God through progressive revelation provided data in the Old Testament for the doctrine of the Trinity that is more completely elaborated upon in the New Testament.


Don’t Abandon Children’s Ministry!

by Pearson Johnson

This past Sunday evening, we had our annual Ministry Equipping and Training Seminar here at Inter-City Baptist Church. During this time we have ministry-specific seminars and also general sessions. I did a general session on “Discipling the Next Generation: The Mission and Goals of the ICBC Children’s Ministry.” There is a lot of discussion in families and churches, much of it critical, of the role of age-graded children’s ministry–especially among those in favor of so-called family integrated churches (for a brief, helpful article on that movement, see Doug Brown’s article here.)

Here at Inter-City, we don’t just have Sunday School, Junior Church, AWANA, and other programs just because “that’s the way we have always done it.” For us, our children’s ministry has as its mission to honor God by making and maturing disciples who are becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ among the children of our church and community.  This mission reflects our church’s mission and is specific to children. Paul’s exhortation and Timothy’s experience in 2 Tim 3:14-17 guide us in setting our goals, which are as follows:

  • To see children in our church and community led by the Scriptures to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (v. 15, “from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”)
  • To see children of all ages learn from the Scriptures and learn to honor the Scriptures (v. 14–15, “continue in the things you have learned... and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings…. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable”)
  • To see children live under and in accordance with the Scriptures, being prepared for adulthood (v. 14, “continue in the things you have… become convinced of”)
  • To provide mentors and examples for our children in the body of Christ, allowing a variety of church members to exercise their gifts and abilities in influencing our children (v. 14, “knowing from whom you have learned them.”)
  • To see children matured in the faith, prepared for a life of service to God through the local church (v. 16–17, “All Scripture is… profitable… that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.)

We believe discipled parents are key to those who have one or both parents in the church, so we provide nurseries to lovingly care for small children so parents and others are not distracted in giving their attention to preaching and teaching. We provide Sunday School to give regular, systematic teaching of the Bible and theology to children. We provide Children’s church on Sunday mornings to give opportunities for age-specific preaching and singing, yet still in a God-honoring format similar to our adult services. We provide AWANA both for outreach and discipleship on Wednesdays. All of these programs serve our mission and goals, not vice-versa.

Parents have the responsibility to evangelize and train their children, but it is also the responsibility of the church to evangelize and disciple people of all ages, and a well-organized children’s ministry can help accomplish these goals. Don’t abandon ministry to children!


Stay Sharp, Pastor!

by Pearson Johnson

If you have been in ministry for a number of years since seminary, you know how easy it can be to get into a ministry routine and allow other things in your life to become your first love, whether it is a hobby, a recreational pursuit, or other amusement. We, as pastors, need help in staying sharp, setting priorities for continued growth in knowledge and ability in that which is our main calling–the ministry. Here are some tips for doing so:

1. Take a class. Perhaps every other year or once a year, enroll in a class at a nearby seminary or online that will push you to read, study, and interact with others. At DBTS we allow grads to audit a class and provide a discounted audit rate for non-grads. We are now offering a few remote classes and other schools offer good online courses. You may even want to pursue another degree if your circumstances permit it.

2. Form a reading group with other nearby pastors. Many pastors form a regional reading group, reading through a book together and meeting to discuss it weekly or monthly. This exercise provides mutual encouragement and edification.

3. Start a new series or class. Pastors, you can offer an elective Sunday School class on a particular topic, a Bible Institute level class, or small group study that will push you to read and study in a new area.

4. Submit book reviews or articles. Many blogs and journals will receive book reviews from pastors willing to invest the time in reading newer books and offering a critical review. Others accept submissions of articles. Set a goal to do one or two of these per year for your benefit and hopefully for the benefit of others as well.

5. Read biography and history. Reading biography and history will usually lead to a refreshing of your desire to re-engage in ministry growth. When you see how others poured their lives into people or how others erred in history, you will be all the more passionate about your ministry and careful with the truth.

6. Attend a conference. Ministry-specific conferences on preaching, counselling, or theological issues can be helpful in keeping us sharp. The large rally-type conferences are encouraging (and often expensive) and helpful to a point, but smaller, more interactive conferences and seminars can be most profitable for the purposes of staying sharp.

These suggestions are some ways I have sought to stay sharp in ministry–now over 15 years past my M.Div. Do you have other ways you have sought to stay sharp in ministry? Please feel free to comment.


The Secret to a Successful Pastoral Ministry

by Pearson Johnson

Many people promise to provide the secret to a successful pastoral ministry. Conferences, curricula, and consultants like to offer products for discouraged pastors. Attend this conference and you will come away with a ministry-changing model. Purchase this curriculum (with video of guy with fashionable glasses or foreign accent!) and you will regain interest (and keep purchasing so you will maintain interest). Listen to this expert who can diagnose your problem and lead you to renewal. Pastors soon feel as if they cannot possibly lead a ministry with only the Word and the Spirit’s gifts.

In quite another manner, Paul encourages Timothy in >2 Timothy 4, verses 2 and 5, with the not-so-secret “secret to successful ministry.” He renews our focus even when people will not endure sound doctrine and seem to want novelty. Though his instructions may not fill a conference schedule or provide an eight-session video series, it is expert advice from God the Spirit through Paul.

1. Preach the Word — In verse 2, Paul emphasizes that a steady diet of preaching the Scriptures will keep your flock on course. The preaching is not just explaining the text, but our preaching is also characterized by timeliness, correction, rebuking, exhorting, encouragement, patience, and careful instruction in how to handle life’s circumstances.

2. Be serious about the ministry — the Scripture calls us to a relatively simple ministry even though performing it is not always easy. In contrast to the drunkard, who is unpredictable and unstable and tries to escape real life, we as pastors should be sober, diligent, consistent, and focused on the ministry of the Word and prayer both publicly and privately. Our responsibility for souls warrants a serious and sober mindset in ministry.

3. Endure hardship — there will be tough times and difficult people that will bring hardship in ministry. We are to endure it—not react to it or run from it—endure it. Trust the ministry of the Word and the power of the Spirit to change the wrong attitudes of those causing the hardship. We really cannot speed the process of endurance, but we can appreciate what endurance produces even while enduring.

4. Work hard to share the gospel — in the area of evangelism like no other, we tend to look for a silver bullet—a new program, event, or emphasis that will reach people. Our desires our honorable, but Paul tells us that sharing the gospel is going to take work. Someone once said, “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.” I fear it is the same in some of our ministries—we need to do the work of proclaiming the gospel to those in our community to see the church grow. Otherwise, weeds of discord, selfishness, pride, and distraction will grow in our church.

5. Keep a well-balanced ministry — Paul rounds out his instruction with this little phrase—“fulfill your ministry.” In essence, maintain a well-balanced approach to the various aspects of your ministry. Balance public ministry with personal relationships. Reach the world, but also the neighborhood. Work for outreach, but also for edification. Exhort, but also encourage. Consider the proportion of your ministry in light of what we are called to do here.

Pastor, if you are discouraged, perhaps you are really going through a time of endurance. Keep working hard using your gifts while trusting the Spirit. This is the secret to a successful pastoral ministry!


Is Allah a God of Love?

by Ben Edwards

It is common today to hear people talk about a God of love, often connected with the idea that all religions teach about a God of love. In a recent panel Q&A, I was asked “Can we call Allah a God of love?” My brief answer was no, since he is not portrayed that way in the Qur’an. For example, in the book God of Justice: A Study in the Ethical Doctrine of the Qur’an, Daud Rahbar, the late Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religions at Boston University, argues that the primary motivation for ethics given by the Qur’an is fear of God’s stern justice.

Though it is common to see fear as the essential motive for ethical behavior in Islam, it is uncommon to see that fear directed towards stern justice. “It is a fact well-recognized in scientific scholarship that Fear of God is the dominant sentiment in Qur’anic morality. But that the roots of this sentiment are in God’s stern justice and not in the preponderant malignance of the arbitrary will of a capricious sovereign is a fact scarcely recognized” (5). Thus, Rahbar sets out to demonstrate that the conception of God in the Qur’an is not of a capricious God, but of a God who enacts certain justice.

Though I am unconvinced that Rahbar conclusively destroys the idea of a capricious God in Islam, I did find his discussion on the absence of love in the Qur’an and the prominence of love in the Bible fascinating.

Nowhere [in the Qur’an] do we find the idea that God loves mankind. God’s love is conditional (172).

In Christianity Love becomes the essential motive principle of virtuous conduct. Why? The answer is simple. In Christianity God is, before anything else, the Father. His Love transencds His Justice. In Qur’anic thought Fear of God becomes the essential motive-principle of virtuous conduct. Why?… The answer to why fear-motive prevails in the Qur’an is that Qur’an’s God is, before anything else, a strict judge. His justice is unrelaxing. He will forgive none but those who believe in Him and obey commandments….

The relationship of love… is a reciprocal one. The Qur’an never enjoins love for God. This is because God Himself loves only the strictly pious. To love God one must presuppose that God is reciprocating the sentiment. And to presuppose that is to presume that one is perfectly pious. Such presumption the Qur’an never allows. Even the most virtuous men as prophets are constantly reminded that they are sinful creatures who must ask forgiveness of smallest sins whether they are aware of them or not. Side by side with such a conception of God’s unrelaxing justice love for God would certainly be out of place (179–80).

In the Bible [the] central notion is God’s Fatherhood and his love for mankind. And so it is love between man and God on which all Christian morality rests…. In the Qur’an the corresponding central notion is God’s strict justice. And so on fear of God’s strict justice of the judgement day depends the fulfilling of the law and the whole moral value of Qur’anic duty (223–4).

I agree that love is a central notion in the Bible, but I disagree that the Christian God’s love transcends His justice. Rather, His love leads Him to remain just while providing a way for unjust sinners to become just in His sight. God makes believers perfectly just. That’s why the Christian God performed the greatest act of love possible, and Christians in turn love God.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)


Wanting to Be Noticed

by Mark Snoeberger

We live in a hyper-sexualized and semi-pornographic culture. The problem dominates popular advertising, pervades our entertainment choices, and even weasels its way into our churches. The concept of modesty is no longer a legitimate standard for censure, but an object of censure. We’ve come to the point that modesty is sincerely regarded as a vice and not a virtue. To advocate for modesty is to advocate for legalism, intrusiveness, outdated traditions, and overbearing patriarchy: don’t tell me what to wear and don’t tell me what to do.

Stunning as it has been, though, the triumph of immodesty and hyper-sexuality is not itself the root problem. Instead, these problems are symptomatic of a more serious one: the problem of celebrity. The English word celebrity derives from the Latin word celebrer, “to frequent” and more remotely from the Latin celer, “to hasten.” The desire for celebrity is, at its heart, the desire of a person to be “frequented”—to turn heads and command the notice of others. To become a celebrity is simply to succeed in being noticed regularly.

The bestowal of esteem or “notice” is a ubiquitous practice among humans, and is intrinsically unobjectionable. What makes the bestowal of esteem good or bad is the basis upon which it is awarded. Traditionally, one earns the right to be noticed, heard, and otherwise esteemed through modest means (a carefully constructed, holistic montage of age, experience, education, wisdom, gravity, industry, skill, refined rhetoric, etc.). In our electronic age, however, it is possible to turn heads apart from any of these. One can be noticed without any sort of success at all. I can become an instant e-celebrity (or is it an iCelebrity?) almost by accident. The modest path to earning notice is no longer honored; indeed, those who take this route are fools. There is a shorter way.

Perhaps nowhere is the desire to be noticed more evident than in social media, where a single question infects us all: Will anyone notice? Every regular user of social media, no matter how virtuous, has asked this question at some point. This guiding question can be subdivided into sub-questions such as “How many friends do I have?” “How many ‘likes’ have I received?” and the gold standard, “How many comments (positive or negative, it really doesn’t matter) have I generated?” And it doesn’t take long to discover that the most reliable way to be noticed is by shocking others through immodesty.

We tend to associate immodesty with the quest for celebrity through the inordinate visual exploitation of that which should remain secret. And when all other means of celebrity fail, this particular form of immodesty remains the best way to generate celebrity (ref. Miley Cyrus). But immodesty is not limited to the exploitation of one’s visual qualities; it really encompasses in its scope every inordinate exploitation of self designed to accelerate personal celebrity. And it is a virus that infects us more deeply than any of us imagine.

So what are we to do?

  • First, we must confess our pride—this is, after all, what immodesty and the desire for celebrity truly are. Life is not all about me; I have a larger purpose.
  • Second, we must identify and purge immodesty in all of its forms from our lives, not only from what we wear (though it may include this), but also from what we do, what we say, what we tweet, and even how we worship and evangelize.
  • Third, we must self-consciously divert our own attention away from that which is immodest and instead value what legitimately earns our notice through sober and dignified means.
  • Finally, we must make room in our lives for seasons of withdrawal from public discourse to cultivate chaste thoughts, affections, and good works that are entirely secret. In other words, we need to break away from the debilitating need to be seen by men and instead practice living without distraction for the God who sees the heart.

The world sees the call to modesty as a call to counter-culturalism, to traditionalism, to introversion, or worse. And we must admit that sometimes modesty can take on these illicit forms. But at its heart, the call to modesty is nothing more than a call to humility—a call to take the attention that has unduly accrued to me and redirect it to that (and ultimately to That) which truly deserves our attention.


For to me, to live is Christ...?

by Jared Compton

One of the best-known lines from St. Paul is found at the beginning of his letter to the Philippians where he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). I think this was my life verse for at least a few years. In fact, I’m pretty sure I put the reference under my name in a handful of my friends’ high-school yearbooks. The problem, however, is that it’s never been obvious to me exactly what this verse means. I’ve known, of course, that it has something to do with Paul’s commitment to Christ. I just haven’t been sure about much beyond this. After all, Christ isn’t an obvious pair with gain. We’d expect something more like “For to me, to live is loss and to die is gain” or “For to me, to live is pretty good; it’s not terrible. But, to die—to rest with Christ, that is gain indeed.” Why does Paul use Christ here? What’s he trying to say?

The key, it seems to me, is found in the five verses that follow, which suggest that were Paul to continue to live, his ongoing ministry would benefit the Philippians (vv. 24–25; cf. also “fruitful labor” in v. 22) and, as a result, would benefit Christ (v. 26)—in an even greater way than would his martyrdom (v. 20). They’d be strengthened in their faith and would, therefore, boast in Christ as a result of Paul’s renewed ministry (cf. 2 Cor 1:11 with Phil 1:19, 26). So, we might restate what Paul says in v. 21 like this: For to me, to live is gain for you—and, thus for Christ—and, in at least one sense, loss for me (v. 23b), and to die is gain for me and loss for you—and, thus, in at least one sense, for Christ (cf. v. 20b with v. 26). Admittedly, stating it this way isn’t quite as elegant, but I think it captures what Paul is after.

What’s more, while Paul doesn’t quite say it, he gives the impression in vv. 24–26 that he’s chosen to live for the benefit of others rather than to die for his own benefit. This is, in any case, what he’s convinced God has decided. On this reading, then, Paul’s brief autobiographical reflection here plays a vital role in the letter, illustrating one of its central themes: Christians live worthy of the gospel when they, like Christ, put others’ interests before their own (2:4; vv. 5–11). The point of the reflection, then, is pretty clear, even if the logic of v. 21 is a bit compressed: Paul was willing to put others’ gain before his own. And the challenge for us, therefore, lies right on the surface: how can we, who are likewise called to imitate Christ’s selfless sacrifice—his loss, do anything less?


How Can We Know God Preserved Scripture?

Webster defines corollary as “(1) a proposition inferred immediately from a proved proposition with little or no additional proof, (2a) something that naturally follows: result, and (2b) something that incidentally or naturally accompanies or parallels.” Thus to say that preservation is the corollary of inspiration means that preservation is a doctrine that can be “inferred immediately” from the “proved proposition” of inspiration; preservation “naturally follows” or “parallels” inspiration. To say that there is a correlation or parallel between inspiration and preservation does not reveal anything about the exact nature of that preservation. It is perfectly reasonable to assert a corollary between inspiration and preservation without asserting that preservation be in every way equal to inspiration—for example, that inerrant inspiration demands inerrant preservation. This is the fallacy of the KJV-only position, which takes the corollary to demand a kind of preservation that is perfect, or almost perfect, and uses that argument to restrict preservation to a specific translation (KJV).

A right understanding of the corollary suggests that there is no real purpose or value in inspiring a document that is not preserved. What, we might ask, would be the purpose of producing an authoritative record (inspiration) and letting it perish? Why, for instance, let Paul write an inspired letter to the Romans and then have it perish on the way to Rome? Of course, that did not happen, but could it have happened? If one denies a corollary between inspiration and preservation, Paul’s letter could have perished before it got to Rome. 

The purpose of inspiration was to produce Scripture (graphē, 2 Timothy 3:16), a written record, a deposit of divine truth for the readers, not the writer. Without preservation the purpose of inspiration would be invalidated. Since it was clearly God’s intention that Paul’s inspired letter to the Romans be read by the Romans—it could not have perished—there must have been a divine work of preservation at work for at least a few weeks or months until the letter was received by the Romans. This suggests that there is some degree of correlation between inspiration and preservation. And the letter to the Romans was not meant just for the Romans. No, Scripture was intended for just the original recipients—“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Similarly, Paul warns the Corinthians using the example of Israel’s failure: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). If the Old Testament Scriptures (“these things”) were “written down,” that is, inspired for the purpose of instructing future believers (“warnings for us”), that purpose for the inspired writings demands their preservation.


2 Extremes to Avoid for Evangelizing at Work

by Mark Snoeberger

I work in an almost exclusively Christian environment. With the exception of a few brief encounters with folks delivering packages, reading the gas meter, and such, my whole workday is spent with believers. I’m not the best person, I admit, to speak of sharing Christ in the workplace. Recent changes in my family’s situations, however, have left me thinking very hard about the topic, and I feel enormous pressure to offer them timely advice before their fresh opportunities deteriorate (as they so often do) into situations where opportunities for the Gospel have been effectively crushed.

In my experience, there are two major poles to avoid when answering this question. The first I’ll call the Christian Conquest approach. In this approach everyone around me is the enemy of Christ, and my sole purpose is do battle with them until they submit to Christ. To this end, I wear my Christianity on my sleeve: I post Bible verses all over my cubicle wall, hand out tracts liberally, tell everyone around me and especially under me that they must be born again, and start evangelistic conversations in any place and at any time. If a friendly group of co-workers asks me to come to the office party and share a few beers, I say, “No way! I don’t drink, and unless I absolutely have to, I avoid anybody who drinks because I’m a CHRISTIAN! Don’t ask me to hang out with you until you repent and join me at church.”

There’s a tiny part of me that admires a person like this, because he is willing to endure ridicule and social ostracism in order to make Christ known. And at the end of the day, so long as the Gospel is proclaimed, God sometimes uses this approach to save people. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best approach. Here’s why:

  • It’s unethical. If you’re being paid to make widgets and you decide to stop making widgets in order to share the gospel on company time, you are stealing from your employer, and that’s wrong. Just because the success of the Gospel is the Church’s highest mission does not mean that evangelism automatically trumps all of the believer’s other responsibilities (Titus 2:9).
  • It’s ineffective. Of course, just because something is ineffective does not make it wrong, but some things are ineffective because they are demonstrably wrong. And being a bad worker, and obnoxious person, or a hater crushes legitimate opportunities for the gospel (see, e.g., Matt 5:16; Titus 2:1–10; 1 Pet 3:1, 13–17). If your whole office regards you as snobbish and obnoxious, you are not being a good witness, no matter how many Bible verses are pasted on your wall (electronic wall or cubicle wall, it makes no difference).
  • It’s contrary to the essence of the Gospel. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God,” of course (1 John 2:15–17), and this must be remembered, but somehow that truth must be harmonized with the requirement to be the “friend of sinners” and even to “eat with them” (Matt 9:10ff; 11:19; etc.). Whatever our relationship to unbelievers is to be, it most emphatically is not hostility! We hate their corrupt garb, yes, but all the while we must show mercy (Jude 23).
  • It’s sometimes even illegal. If you are being paid to do civic services or provide civic instruction in the civic arena, and you decide to offer religious services/instruction instead, you just might be fired. And if you do, it won’t be because you’re suffering for Jesus; it will be because you didn’t do your job. More on this in my next post.
  • This goes to a deeper philosophical issue: this approach doesn’t have a good handle on what it means to live in God’s two “kingdoms.” Some things we do in life as members of human society, as image-bearers living out the dominion mandate; other things we do as members of local Christian societies, as ambassadors living out the Great Commission. And while these spheres don’t conflict, neither can we conflate them.

The second pole I’ll call the Christian Synthesis approach. Everyone around me is a victim of sin, and my goal is to relate with them until I start to rub off on them. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share Christ, but that’s pretty awkward and off-putting, so I’ll be slow and subtle about it—so slow and so subtle that somehow it never happens. If a friendly group of co-workers asks me to come to the office party and share a few beers, I’ll go, but avoid getting tipsy by using some sort of lame medical excuse (or maybe I’ll blame the overbearing wife—that will get a good laugh and make me look relevant). If the topic of religion happens to come up, I’ll take them to an event at a relational, relevant church and hope the preacher gives a friendly, low-key Gospel message so I don’t have to do it. Realistically, though, it’s quite possible that religion will never come up in conversation—I might age out without anybody even knowing that I’m a Christian. Oh well, I tried.

The strength of this approach is that it takes seriously the expectations that Christians be the “friend of sinners” and even to “eat with them.” But there’s no antithesis—nothing at all that “sets Christ apart as Lord” or compels unbelievers to “ask the reason for the hope that I have” (1 Pet 3:15). It exemplifies Carson’s complaint that “to the degree that... Christianity has assimilated itself to the dominant ethos, reasons for anyone joining it are harder to come by” (Christ & Culture Revisited, 118) and suggests to thoughtful minds that there is no difference at all between unbelievers and believers save that believers are sinners saved by grace—an oft-repeated but savage lie. Instead it is a kind of “relational evangelism” that has never progresses past the “relationship.” And without a propositional Gospel, no matter how relational, it isn’t evangelism.

It seems to me that all believers are drawn to one of these two poles, and while my descriptions may be extreme, we all trend one way or the other. Some of us see the Christian’s role as standing against world. Some of us see the Christian’s role as being a part of the world. The truth is somewhere in between: Christ wants us—in fact he prays for us—to be in the world but not of it (John 17:15–16), a very delicate balance that can sometimes prove elusive. We’ll look at what this might look like in part 2 of this post.


6 Historical Positions on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

by Mark Snoeberger

A few months ago Bill Combs and I released a pair of blog posts that raised ire among some of our readers relative to the debate concerning divine sovereignty and human freedom. One of the barriers to fruitful dialogue that emerged in the ensuing discussion was one of definition—a failure to define historical positions in ways mutually acceptable to all participants in the debate. This failure has the potential to lead first to equivocation, then misrepresentation, followed by ad hominem attack, and even charges of heresy. This is unfortunate.

The following is a faithful attempt not (1) to debate the question or (2) to attach labels to people who don’t like to be labeled. Rather, it is an attempt to faithfully describe six key positions using historical descriptions (though not necessarily labels) that proponents of each position (whether historical or modern) can embrace:

  • A Pelagian is one who believes that man needs no assistance to come to God. By his own unaided power any man can avoid the pitfalls that ensnared Adam and generate all the faith and action necessary to follow Christ’s superior example and so be accepted by God. This belief was condemned as heresy at the 15th Council of Carthage in A.D. 418. This position is rare among evangelicals, and the label should not be assigned lightly.
  • A Semi-Pelagian is one who believes that every man, though weakened by the Fall, yet retains the ability, based on the power of choice granted him in the imago dei, to make a divinely unaided and a priori contribution of faith leading to his own justification. Any divine grace offered thereafter is truly grace, but grace of an a posteriori nature. This belief was condemned as heresy at the Second Council of Orange in A.D. 529.

NOTE: The term semi-Pelagian is unknown in antiquity, first appearing formally as a pejorative label for the 16th-century teachings of Luis de Molina, or what is sometimes known as Molinism—teachings that generally (though not perfectly) resemble the ancient position condemned at Orange. Some have suggested that the label Massilianism (a term that reflects the geographic center of the more ancient position) is more accurate, but it has not caught on. The result is a real historical position with definite modern representatives, but one with no label other than a pejorative that modern proponents of the position do not accept. This is a conundrum with no clear resolution; still, any suggestion that the historical position is imaginary because of the absence of a mutually agreeable label is unacceptable. The historical position described above does exist today, irrespective of the elusiveness of a label. The term should not be used, however (as it often is), in a historically inaccurate way to discredit those who hold to the Arminian position.

  • An Arminian is one who believes that man, though rendered totally depraved by the Fall, receives from God the non-efficacious power of alternative choice via prevenient grace either (1) at birth or (2) through the hearing of the Gospel. Thus aided by God, any man may, without compulsion, either reject or embrace Christ. If a man chooses to embrace Christ, this faith event triggers additional divine graces (the anachronistic grace of election based on God’s prior knowledge of the faith event, and the subsequent graces of justification and sanctification).

NOTE: Arminianism has never uniformly taught that the believer may lose his salvation. Instead, the question remains an open one, both historically (see the words of Arminius himself and the Five Articles of the Remonstrance) and also today (see the doctrinal standards of the modern-day Society for Evangelical Arminians and the representative words of Roger Olson, arguably the foremost Arminian of our day). All this goes to suggest that the question of eternal security should not be treated as a defining issue for the position here described. To do so without qualification is to introduce a red herring.

  • A Moderate Calvinist is one who believes that all men are rendered totally depraved by the Fall, but that God, in accordance with his pre-temporal and unconditional electing decree, issues efficacious grace to his elect alone so that they may then exercise faith unto a regeneration and justification that can never be forfeited.
  • A Full or Historic Calvinist is one who believes that all men are rendered totally depraved by the Fall, but that God, in accordance with his pre-temporal and unconditional electing decree, efficaciously regenerates his elect, creating “new creatures” who gladly exercise faith unto a justification that can never be forfeited.

NOTE: Calvinism has never uniformly taught a definite or “limited” atonement. The question remains an open one that has long been the topic of intramural debate among Calvinists (see, e.g., the historical canons of Dordt and this recent contribution to the debate). Again, all this goes to suggest that the extent of the atonement should not be treated as a defining issue in describing the Calvinist position.

  • A Hyper-Calvinist is one that holds to the immediately preceding position, but teaches additionally that (1) believers have no responsibility to indiscriminately call the lost to repent and believe in Christ for salvation and/or that (2) unbelievers have no duty to repent and believe in Christ for salvation.

NOTE: Few believers ascribe to the label hyper-Calvinist; like the label semi-Pelagian, it is uniformly pejorative. However, it is a historical position with modern proponents: the position cannot be rendered imaginary due to the elusiveness of a label. The term should not be used, however (as it often is), in a historically inaccurate way to discredit those who hold to the Calvinist position.

Conclusion: The question whether a modern position may be logically crafted so as to present a viable via media or whether elements of these historical positions may be so combined as to offer a viable hybrid position will be graciously left open today. What is hoped, however, is that the historical parameters of the debate have been faithfully delineated.


How Long, Lord? Will You Forget Me Forever?

by Bob McCabe

I have cried out with these words from Psalms 13:1 on a few occasions. How do I know that it is legitimate to apply this verse to my life? And what about other psalms? While there are many ways to determine this, one is to consider a psalm’s historical setting. In examining this, there are two areas to consider.

The first is from the superscriptions that begin a number of psalms. For example, Psalms 3, an individual lament, informs us of two things: the author—”a psalm of David”—and the historical setting—”when he fled from his son Absalom.” The second area would be from the other biblical data found within the psalm itself and from any other place in the canon. For example, Psalms 2:1-3 indicates that this royal psalm was written during a time of turmoil in Israel, and Acts 4:25 says that David was responsible for Psalms 2. The combined data shows that this psalm was written in a time of turmoil during the reign of David.

However, we should be careful not to become excessively precise in identifying the historical details when a psalm as well as any other portion of Scripture does not provide specific information. It appears that the authors of many psalms wanted their inscripturated poetry to be used by other worshippers so they purposely communicated on a more general level. This was part of the their intention. In this type of context, we need to be content with a general knowledge of the historical setting. The superscription for Psalms 13, an individual lament, states two items: its musician—“for the director of music”—and author—“a psalm of David.” Unlike the heading in Psalms 3, Psalm 13 provides no information about its historical setting, though the superscription suggests that this psalm was composed during David’s lifetime. The content of Psalms 13 gives more information. This psalm indicates that David was in a time of extreme spiritual agony where God’s face seemed hidden from him and his enemies would triumph over him. In this agony, David prays to God and turns in faith to focus on God’s unfailing love (Psalms 13:5). In the end, he will be able to sing God’s praises about his goodness (Psalms 13:6). As the content of this psalm suggests, the details of this psalm could have taken place a number of different times in David’s life. He wrote this lament psalm in a generalized manner so that it could be used by other struggling worshippers like myself. In the final analysis, we can use this individual lament to guide us to rejoice in God’s goodness and his unfailing love.