From the Archives: Fulfilling God's Law by Walking in the Spirit

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Originally posted March, 2011.

The God of the Bible is presented without apology as a law-issuing God who expects us to be law-keeping people. God does not ask permission to assert Himself as the arbiter of human ethics (Gen. 2:15-17). He determines for His creatures the standard of right and wrong and we are duty-bound to know His commandments and honor them.

Such notions are naturally unsettling, particularly when one begins to comprehend precisely what God requires of us. I am reminded of a conversation I had with a stranger seated next to me on a commercial flight home from the east coast some years ago. I came to find out later that he had grown up in a strict Jewish family in which God’s Law to Israel was studied and honored. He was heading to Minneapolis on business and initially asked my advice on the hottest downtown night clubs. We were obviously strangers. He may as well have asked my advice on nuclear physics.

Perhaps it was my bald ignorance of the Minneapolis night club scene that piqued his curiosity, but in any event he began to probe to discover who I was. When he learned the orientation of my life as a minister of the gospel, he proceeded to poke fun at the religion he had long ago left in the dust. Along the way, he explained, he had decoded the vision of God presented in the Hebrew Scriptures. “What is the tastiest meat?” he pressed me. I hesitated. “Obviously, it’s pork,” he asserted with an air of confidence. “So what does God say? ‘No pork.’”

In his view, the God of the Bible calibrates laws so as to drive his children crazy. To whatever they naturally want, whatever is pleasing to their humanity, God says “No.” To whatever they find distasteful, God says “Yes.” As far as my friend was concerned, God’s laws are designed to increase our misery. And I fully suspect that as he headed off to downtown clubs later that evening, he was intent on violating several of those laws. Read more about From the Archives: Fulfilling God's Law by Walking in the Spirit

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Book Review - John Knox (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)

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Image of John Knox (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)
by Simonetta Carr
Reformation Heritage Books 2014
Hardcover 64

The Christian Biographies for Young Readers series introduces children to key figures from church history. Author Simonetta Carr and illustrator Matt Abraxas offer a compelling and beautiful historical account of the life of each Christian figure profiled in the series. To date, the series includes volumes on John Calvin, John Owen, Augustine of HIppo, Athanasius, Anselm of Canterbury, Lady Jane Grey, and now, John Knox.

The life of John Knox

John Knox’s life has action and adventure enough for any young reader. His story is told with an eye to historical accuracy and with an eye to a child’s mind. From humble beginnings, Knox finds himself as a bodyguard to Reformer George Wishart, who is captured and killed. Knox goes from hiding out in St. Andrews Castle, a Protestant stronghold, to cowering in the belly of a French galley as a slave. He finds unexpected freedom and returns to pulpit ministry in England, but soon has to flee in exile to Geneva where he comes under the tutelage of John Calvin. He returns to Scotland in time to help lead the Reformation movement there. Knox the fiery preacher, delivers a sermon that sparks an all-out revolt and ultimately wins Scotland’s religious freedom. Knox’s life is not only eventful, but it provides teachable moments for children to study the Reformation and to learn what was wrong with the Roman church. It also teaches children the sacrifice that people faced to follow Christ in years gone by. Read more about Book Review - John Knox (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)

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Are the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds Sufficient?

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Here we discuss the idea of whether or not the Apostles and Nicene Creeds are a sufficient basis of doctrinal agreement for the Church today. This view, called “Paleo-Orthodoxy,” has been espoused by theologians like Thomas Oden, who argues that the creeds embody the consensual doctrinal affirmations of the early church fathers. This idea is also proposed by Jim Belcher in Deep Church which we reviewed at DrIBEX Ideas (you can find those reviews by searching the blog for “Belcher”).

Before we think through this proposal, perhaps it would be good to post those creeds so we can better understand what we are discussing. This will also be helpful for readers who do not affirm the creeds as part of their weekly liturgical worship. I will list the creeds as they are recited today although the clause, “He descend into hell,” was not in the earliest form of the Apostles Creed (see my earlier post on that subject). Read more about Are the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds Sufficient?

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Renewing Dispensational Theology: A Suggested Path, Part 1

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For one reason or another traditional Dispensationalism has been abandoned by all but a relatively few Bible students. The wild success of the Left Behind novels is no sound indicator to the contrary. Two much better indicators which point decisively the other way are the degree of serious attention given to this point of view in most Biblical and Systematic theologies, which is nugatory; and the stunning lack of scholarly works in these areas by Dispensationalists themselves. As to the latter, I believe I could count on one hand the publications of traditional Dispensationalists of the past generation which even attempt to rival the surfeit of such work from covenant theologians. I say it as a friend; Dispensationalism may be likened to an old car pulled to the side of the road with serious transmission problems. And it has been there for a good long while looking like it needs hauling away.

I feel no need to prove this, as any perusal of the volumes of biblical and systematic theology which have been rolling off the shelves for the past 25 years will show that their authors don’t consider Dispensationalism to be much more than a smudge on the edges of the theological map.

This being said, here are some thoughts on five sectors of truth where Dispensational Theology (DT) might be renewed.

1. Self-Understanding: What Are We About?

In many ways, defining oneself by “dispensations” is more restricting than defining oneself under the theological covenants of Covenant Theology (CT). The dispensations of Dispensationalism are in reality blinders which severely attenuate the exciting potential of plain reading of the Bible. They are non-essentials which have been borne aloft for so long that no one has bothered to look up to see how abject they actually are. What do the concepts “innocence,” “conscience,” “government,” “promise,” “law,” “church” (or “grace”), and “kingdom” have in common as theological ideas (other than their obvious adoption by dispensationalists)? Read more about Renewing Dispensational Theology: A Suggested Path, Part 1

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Does Every Believer Have a Spiritual Gift?

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The phrase “spiritual gift” is only employed five times in the NASB New Testament. In Romans 1:11 (χάρισμα ὑμῖν πνευματικὸν—charisma humin pneumatikon) it is in reference to something Paul wanted to impart to the entire church at Rome. In 1 Corinthians 12:1, Paul prefaces the entire discussion of manifestations of the Spirit with the expressed desire that the Corinthians be aware of spiritual gifts. But while the Greek includes spiritual (πνευματικῶν—pneumatikon), it does not include any term for gifts.Thus, while the NASB reading implies that the context following 12:1 is a discussion of spiritual gifts, the Greek does not necessarily support that implication. In 1 Corinthians 14:1 and 12 likewise, the NASB includes the phrase “spiritual gifts,” but the Greek only includes the term “spiritual” (πνευματικά/πνευμάτων—pneumatika/pneumatōn) and no term from which the NASB translates “gifts.”

Finally, in 1 Timothy 4:14 Paul warns Timothy not to neglect the spiritual gift within him. In light of the limited number of references in the NASB (five), and the even smaller number of actual references in the Greek (two), there is no biblical data to support the idea that every believer has, specifically, a spiritual gift. On the other hand, there is data that supporting every believer’s having a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). Read more about Does Every Believer Have a Spiritual Gift?

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Beyond Lines in the Sand - Thoughts on Joining the IFCA

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I’ve just submitted my testimony, doctrinal statement, and personal philosophy of ministry overview to the leadership of the IFCA International, formerly the independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA).The IFCA allows you to join as either a ministry or as an individual. While the congregation I pastor will remain independent of official group membership for now, I am joining as an individual minister of the gospel.

I’m excited about my new membership in an association of leaders and ministries that is hardly new. The IFCA has a fantastic heritage. Several friends, family members and ministries I have great respect for are, or have been, associated with the IFCA. Not too long ago our friends at Clearwater Christian College near Tampa joined the IFCA. This is a decision I’ve been working through for several years and I wanted to share a few thoughts on the move in hopes that it can help others who are working through similar types of decisions.

I want to say that first of all, in a sense, I view joining a group like the IFCA as not being a direct response to any Scriptural imperatives for leaders or ministries. Rather, it is similar to the reasons for having Sunday School. Sunday School is nowhere commanded in the New Testament, yet teaching and leading God’s children in grace and truth is certainly an imperative found within the Scriptures. In a similar way, leaders and congregations certainly coordinated ministry and worked together throughout the early NT church. So the question is not really “should we cooperate?” but rather “with whom should we cooperate?” Read more about Beyond Lines in the Sand - Thoughts on Joining the IFCA

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From the Archive: Singin' About Dyin'

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Originally posted 10/3/12.

When my dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer a few years ago, quite a few changes occurred in my perspective on life and death. The brevity and fragility of life were no longer abstractions. I truly felt them. One result of this new awareness was that I began to notice all the hymns and songs with stanzas about dying.

I recall selecting some songs for Sunday school one day. As I glanced down the list of songs in our database—those we hadn’t sung in a long time, I came to a title I’d passed over many, many times. This time it gripped my attention. A song that had seemed frivolous and silly to me before now moved me deeply as words and music played involuntarily through my mind.

Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away
To a home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.

The congregation sang it in Sunday school. It’s providential that I was at the piano because I don’t think I could have sung it. Though it had never been more than a light, peppy trifle to me before, it was now too strong to sing.

For a while, quite a few songs were hitting me like that. Read more about From the Archive: Singin' About Dyin'

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Forgetting the Doctrine of Separation?

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From Voice, Mar/Apr 2014. Used by permission.

This is a call to purity and balance. It represents that truth of God’s Word which has fallen upon the rocks of neglect in today’s American Church. It represents teaching from the Bible which seems so terribly out of harmony with our American culture. It almost seems pugnacious, no matter how graciously it may be stated.

This is about the doctrine of separation, biblical holiness in life and relationships.

I have watched with growing dismay as so many in the American evangelical church have cheerfully descended into theological illiteracy lacking any sense of doctrinal discernment which is based on the careful study and application of the Scriptures. And the “problem is that even the mildest assertion of Christian truth today sounds like a thunderclap because the well-polished civility of our religious talk has kept us from hearing much of this kind of thing.”1 Read more about Forgetting the Doctrine of Separation?

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