Reclaiming the Mind: Eight Issues that Do NOT Make or Break Christianity

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I have read Lewis' Mere Christianity. I liked it a lot. His chapter on morals is simply some of the best stuff I've ever read. Lewis' point was to discuss broad-brush issues, not delve into deeper things - hence the title. The book itself is a transcript of wartime radio addresses he gave, which explains the easy conversational tone of the book.

I understand the spirit in which Patton's post was given. I disagree with him on everything, but rather than outline my disagreements with his entire post I'll just deal with one main issue - are we cheapening the Gospel by reducing our focus to a "mere Christianity" type of approach?

I suppose it depends on where you're coming from. If you're engaged in evangelism (and apologetics falls into this category), you might not want to engage on election, God's providence (ok, maybe that one, in a surface level kind of way), decrees, etc. You're probably focusing on the Gospel. If you're speaking to an un-churched person, you'll probably have to go deeper and develop a framework for them to even understand the Gospel in the first place (e.g. Paul's Mar's Hill sermon - Acts 17:16-34).

However, can you really disconnect your witness from some deeply held convictions? Are we cheapening God's revelation by reducing it to a series of simplistic ideals, and chucking out everything that is controversial or that "good men disagree on?" Don't we have an inherent obligation too stand for what we believe is the truth, and stop equivocating?

"That sounds great, Tyler. I just have one question - why would God destroy everybody on the earth if he's so loving?"

"Well . . . that's kind of open to debate, Jim. Good men disagree on what Genesis actually is saying. I personally don't think it's really worth fighting over."

"But don't all the Bible stories say He did? I remember that from when I was a kid!"

"Well, yeah . . . but people reach their own conclusions on that, you know."

"It seems pretty clear to me! It says it, doesn't it? Are you saying the Bible is inaccurate?"

"Well, actually, good men disagree on that, too."

"What do you think?"

"Jim, I think we ought not to argue so much among each other about these things. Christ is what matters!"

"But, if the Bible is from God, wouldn't He be able to make it completely accurate if He wanted to?"

"Uh . . ., Jim, actually, good men disagree on that too . . ."

This is a bit tongue in cheek, but you get my point. Patton seems willing to reduce Christianity to the Cross and nothing more. If inerrancy and inspiration are up for grabs, what in the world do you have to witness with? I'm not accusing Patton of turning into theological Jell-O, but some of his less discerning followers may take his post as impetus to go that route.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Since when did Y/E = Bishop Ussher's calculation?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

James K's picture

What a shock that it comes down to evolutionism and a Bible that isn't perfectly reliable.  Just shocking...

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

DavidO's picture

So, Jim, how old can the earth be and still be young?

Jim's picture

DavidO wrote:

So, Jim, how old can the earth be and still be young?

Don't know but I don't think it began in 4000 BC

--- 

I stand on these points:

  • A literal Adam and Eve
  • A literal 6 day creation
  • Sin and death started with the Fall 
  • Universal flood with 8 human survivors
Alex Guggenheim's picture

Michael Patton, for all of his zeal, tends to state the obvious. To me he often attempts to dazzle with fractions while leaving theological algebra and calculus largely unattended. But worse, when he does state  the obvious, regularly he is poorly informed or quite prejudicial in his handling and articulation of facts resulting in embarrassing claims such as the assumption that all young earthers subscribe to a 6,000 year old earth (I am young humanity, old earth btw).

 

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Alex,

How do you arrive at young humanity/old earth?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Alex:

Maybe I'm just naive (very possible!), but I've honestly never heard of this view before. It seems unique to me. Could you PM me, or just expound a bit further? I don't buy it - but I am intrigued, if that makes any sense!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

DavidO's picture

Jim wrote:
Don't know ...

 

Ok.  But you claim to be "young earth".  So you feel that at some point there is a dividing line between old and young.   Are you saying less than billions more than 4000?

 

Fair enough if you are, I'm just curious. 

Jim's picture

DavidO wrote:

Jim wrote:
Don't know ...

 

Ok.  But you claim to be "young earth".  So you feel that at some point there is a dividing line between old and young.   Are you saying less than billions more than 4000?

 

Fair enough if you are, I'm just curious. 

Still don't know ...but not billions

My guesstimate = 10,000 BC 

Don Johnson's picture

But Andy Efting pointed out a factual error I made in the post. I deleted the paragraph that mentioned Tom Schreiner. I think the statement I cited is in his commentary somewhere, probably in chapter 3, but I can't verify it at the moment. I should know better than to simply rely on memory like that. I apologize for the error.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dave Gilbert's picture

Silly question I know, but ever since re-activating my membership at this forum ( I used to go under the name "Dave G" ) I've seen more people post things that make me wonder why I bothered...many I see post here seem to doubt something about God's word, whether it be Preservation, Creation, Separation, Inspiration or many other "-ations" that I won't get into. Why is this? I suppose I'll save that for later. For now, I'll just comment on this article:

 

Many of the eight issues written about in this article should drive a deep wedge between those who believe, and those who don't, if you ask me. You may say something like," I agree to disagree"...fine, but that doesn't change anything. The Bible says what it says, and having a Bible that was translated by questionable people motivated by money or worldly esteem ( that doesn't say the same thing in the same way as something that was translated 400 years ago ), is only the tip of the iceberg. Houston, we have a problem. I hate to be a cynic, but what I see as "Relative Christianity" will only keep acquiescing to the demands of the world more and more until full-blown apostasy sets in...but I'm getting side-tracked. I could type until my fingers bleed about such subjects as the translation issue, "Christian Contemporary Music", "Christian Television", "Christian Fiction" and so forth, but that isn't the focus of this post.

 

1) Young earth creationism = Fact, if anyone cares to do the math. It's not all that hard either...Ussher used the chronologies found in God's very word. I don't even get to the point of using this term, as what's important is whether or not the person I'm talking to believes Genesis literally.

2) The authorship of the "Pastoral Epistles" = Paul, but inspired of the Holy Ghost. The argument is whether or not Paul's writing them should be a factor to divide...no, but we already know who wrote them, so what's the problem?

3) The inerrancy of Scripture = Fact. Anyone who disagrees with this I view as not of God, and I won't have fellowship with them...why is this even "negotiable"? 2 Timothy 3:16 among others.

4) Whether the Flood covered the entire earth. = It did, and to the height of roughly 22 feet ( 15 cubits as found in Genesis 7:20 = 18 inches x 15, so about 22.5 feet ). Why is this questioned by anyone who professes Christ and claims to believe His word?

5) The character witness of Christians = This one I have to agree with the author. God elects, and the Elect can be some pretty bad examples at times.

6) The inspiration of Scripture = Fact, and another non-negotiable. If someone professing Christ denies the inspiration of His word, then I part ways abruptly with them after the first and second admonition. 2 Timothy 3:16, Titus 3:10

7) The unity of Christianity = This is highly dependent on whether the people uniting are uniting behind the religion of " Christianity ", or are actually God's Holy-Spirit-indwelt children uniting behind the truth of Scripture and in spirit. Denominations are constructs of man, not God. How does this apply, you may ask? It applies if people actually read the Bible and believe what it says, not what they think it says. Proverbs 3:5.

Cool The theory of Evolution = A third and final "non-negotiable". Anyone who believes this garbage and claims to be a called child of God should really stop and think about the seriousness of their situation, IMO. Other than the fact that nobody has conclusively managed to prove this theory any father than when it was first trotted out ( under the guise of science ), it is 180 degrees the other direction and a complete denial of Genesis. In addition, I was taught this ( and actually believed most of it up until I was in Junior High School ) as a child in public schools and am well-versed in it...however, as I got older, I realized that Darwin's theory is just that...a theory ( and not a very well-substantiated one at that, considering the rather large holes that have yet to be filled with "proofs" ) and one that takes more faith for me to believe than God's word. In scientific language, Darwin's theory isn't even really a theory, but appears to be rather a scientific hypothesis.

 

To me, most of these 8 points  are only representative of what lies under the surface when I meet another person who professes Christ...the real issue is, do they read their Bibles, do they believe what they read, has their thinking been changed by it, and are they willing to be corrected by God's word if that thinking hasn't been changed yet? If the answer to most of these questions is "No", then I will not fellowship with them ( because God commands me not to ).

 

I'm not sure, but it seems as if the author of this article is standing on Christ's resurrection above all other things, when the truth of God's word in all points should be what he stands on ( if he's actually a genuine believer ). As for some of the posts I've read here on the forums, it appears as if many people here are somewhat spread out ( for various reasons ) on what God's word says about many things. This concerns me, but not greatly so...after all, I came out of a fundamental Baptist church not knowing anything about God's gift of grace and repentance through election and within a few years I understood it very well.  All I did was read God's word and believe what it says. Wink

 

Dave.

Brent Marshall's picture

After reading the filing and earlier posts, I pulled a book from my shelf and read the following:

Creation is a theological issue, not a scientific one. Scripture is our only credible source of information about creation, because God Himself was the only eyewitness to the event. We can either believe what He says or reject it. But no Christian should ever imagine that what we believe about the origin of the universe is merely a secondary, nonessential, or incidental matter. It is after all, the very starting point of God's self-revelation.

   * * *

When I encounter people who think evolutionary doctrine trumps the biblical account of creation, I like to ask them where their belief in the Bible kicks in. Is it in chapter 3, where the Fall of Adam and original sin are account for? Is it in chapters 4-5, ... because if you bring naturalism and its presuppositions to the early chapters of Genesis, it is just a short step to denying all the miracles of Scripture — including the Resurrection of Christ. If we want to make science the test of biblical truth rather than vice versa, why would it not make just as much sense to question the biblical record of the resurrection as it does to reject the Genesis account?

This is from John MacArthur's foreward to Mortenson and Ury's book, Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth (available from Amazon and other booksellers). I read this book during my program at Central Seminary, and I highly recommend it.

Things That Matter

As the quantity of communication increases, so does its quality decline; and the most important sign of this is that it is no longer acceptable to say so.--RScruton

Ron Bean's picture

I appreciate Dave's comments. Sometimes I feel that some of us are afraid of being absolutely sure of anything. The result is that more and more things that used to be essentials are now negotiable. Maybe we need a few more "Here I Stand" people.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Steve Newman's picture

I guess we shouldn't be surprised that people in the pews are asking why they can't just choose the parts of the Christian life they want to live when the leaders are choosing which parts of the Bible they want to believe. 

Why do we have to give anything away? Paul chose to give the whole counsel of God. We do a discredit to those who hear us (believers or unbelievers) when we choose to do less.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

TylerR wrote:

Alex:

Maybe I'm just naive (very possible!), but I've honestly never heard of this view before. It seems unique to me. Could you PM me, or just expound a bit further? I don't buy it - but I am intrigued, if that makes any sense!

If you do not mind, Tyler, here is a link to Evidence for God, A Biblical Case for Old-Earth. I do not subscribe to every detail but there is sufficient exegetical, theological and scientific material which represents, in many ways, why I am compelled to view the earth as old and humanity as young. It is a worthwhile read.

Jay's picture

I have to admit that I was pretty surprised myself at the points that the author is willing to yield on.  Some of this stuff is critical, and I'm surprised that he'd just give up on these things and think that it's not a problem.  I don't know if he's just not thinking this idea through or what, but I should hope that he will reconsider at some point.

The major points in his post that I had issues with are:

3. The inerrancy of Scripture

6. The inspiration of Scripture

7. The unity of Christianity

8. The theory of evolution

Then to close with this paragraph:

I hope you understand the spirit of this post. In the end, my argument is that our focus should be on the person and work of Christ. In essence, if the resurrection of Christ happened, Christianity is true. If it did not, Christianity is not true. This is why I call myself a “resurrection apologist.” When I am defending my faith to myself and others, ninety-nine percent of the time, this is where I camp. It is not that these other issues are not important or worthy of debate and discussion. It is not as if these other issues don’t have implications. However, none of them make or break our faith. Therefore, we should adjust our thinking and our witness accordingly.

How does he know that any of this is true (especially the resurrection) if he's not willing to defend that the scripture is inerrant/inspired?  That's pretty basic Scriptural doctrine, and just about every other major point of doctrine is dependent on it.

I would suggest that Mr. Patton spend some time reading some church history and follow the track of institutions and churches that did give up on these kinds of things.  In every case that I'm aware of, people that ended up giving away on these 'non-make or break' issues ended up sliding into rank theological liberalism within a few years.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Phil Siefkes's picture

How about reading the follow post to the article under discussion. It is amazing what understanding context can do.

That said, I'm convinced the list of nonnegotiables is longer than some in the Gospel-only crowd would like to assume.

Discipling God's image-bearers to the glory of God.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Jay wrote:

How does he know that any of this is true (especially the resurrection) if he's not willing to defend that the scripture is inerrant/inspired?  That's pretty basic Scriptural doctrine, and just about every other major point of doctrine is dependent on it.

I would suggest that Mr. Patton spend some time reading some church history and follow the track of institutions and churches that did give up on these kinds of things.  In every case that I'm aware of, people that ended up giving away on these 'non-make or break' issues ended up sliding into rank theological liberalism within a few years.

Well now, today we can agree and your point is more than general, it is significant. I wonder the answer M. Patton would give to your question.

James K's picture

Alex, I must say I am surprised to see that you would adopt such a view.  There is nothing within the biblical text to suggest anything more than actual days, evening and morning.  It is an attempt to bring science into exegesis.  You rightly rail against calvinists for bringing augustinian philosophy into exegesis, but you do the same thing with other philosophers with Gen 1.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Well, to you it might seem it stems from philosophy but that would only mean you do not know or understand the reason for my position which is first and primarily, exegetical and secondly theological. Neither of which are philosophical. My old-earth view is not based on an interpretation of six days.

MShep2's picture

The article would have been much more useful if Patton's subject would have been, "Eight issues that do not determine whether or not you are a Christian." Since there are errors out there being taught I can easily believe that someone may truly give himself to Christ but not believe or understand these any or all of these issues.

However, saying these issues do not make or break Christianity stretches the argument well beyond the breaking point. Yes, some of them, such as belief in an old earth and/or evolution are not complete deal-breakers. However, Christianity would be "broken" without the inspiration and/or inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, and a few other things he mentions.

I feel like he is doing the same thing as Steven Hawking who thinks that because he can imagine a multiverse where one of the infinite universes has laws which allow something to come from nothing - and that universe created ours, there is no need for God. Yes, Patton can imagine a Christianity without the inspiration/inerrancy of the Bible, no virgin birth, etc. but that doesn't make it so.

We must work within the parameters of the Christianity which we have and here there are a number of non-negotiables. Any other type of Christianity wouldn't work or God would have done it that way (or made it an option).

MS
--------------------------------
Luke 17:10

Jay's picture

Phil Siefkes wrote:
How about reading the follow post to the article under discussion. It is amazing what understanding context can do.

That said, I'm convinced the list of nonnegotiables is longer than some in the Gospel-only crowd would like to assume.

Phil,

I did read the follow up article, and now I only have one question.  If the author's point was to emphasize not to get sidetracked on these issues in evangelism, then why not say that?  Why say things like:

However, in Christianity, both for our personal faith and our public witness, we need to speak with the emphasis necessary to carry our faith truly. It is my argument that often – far too often – conservative Christians become identified with issues that, while important, do not make or break our faith. This creates extremely volatile situations (from a human perspective) as believers’ faith ends up having a foundation which consists of one of these non-foundational issues. When and if these issues are significantly challenged, our faith becomes unstable. I have seen too many people who walk away from the faith due to their trust in some non-essential issue coming unglued. That is why I write this post.

Here is a list of what I believe to be eight issues that do not make or break our faith...

I hope you understand the spirit of this post. In the end, my argument is that our focus should be on the person and work of Christ. In essence, if the resurrection of Christ happened, Christianity is true. If it did not, Christianity is not true. This is why I call myself a “resurrection apologist.”

If he wants to be a "resurrection apologist", that's fine.  If he wants to be an evangelist and write about witnessing experiences and tips, that's fine too.  But at a bare minimum, he's going to need to be clearer in his communication if this article is about witnessing strategy, especially in light of that opening paragraph or two.  He's clearly arguing that Christians can come unglued when challenged on 'some non-essential issue'.  He clearly states that 'a denial of this doctrine is not a test of one’s status before God' (Point #3).

He continues in the same vein in his comments, when he writes (Comment 7)-

No. I don’t believe the virgin birth is tied so closely with person and work of Christ that it qualifies. Important? Definitely. But frankly we don’t know exactly why Jesus had to be born of a Virgin. We THINK that it has to do with his association with original sin and guilt, but we don’t know. And had Matt and Luke left out this bit of info, the Gospel would remain as it is. Now, if you are asking why Jesus HAD to be born of a virgin, you are asking the wrong man. We can find that out in glory. Does that help?

So either he's blissfully ignorant of Romans 5 and Hebrews 7:11-28, or he's just not paying attention.  Or something.

FWIW, I agree with his tactic of pushing the Bible back at the atheist and telling him to read it anyway; I would like to handle similar situations in the future if they come my way.  I'm not breaking out torches and pitchforks to burn the guy at the stake.  I think that he needs to be clearer, or I think he ought to take the article down because there is clearly a significant level of confusion about what he meant.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

TylerR's picture

Editor

I have been ruminating on Patton's article for the past day or so. I just cannot understand why somebody would be willing to throw out so much. This goes back to the courage of convictions - don't Christians believe in anything anymore? Mere Christianity is kindergarten stuff. I am glad that God has blessed Patton as he has witnessed to people, but he has to stand on something, doesn't he? I cannot ever imagine evangelizing and always seeking to steer every conversation to the historicity of the resurrection.

Mere Christianity does produce theological Jell-O. There is more to the Bible than 1 Cor 15. If God just wanted us to focus exclusively on the resurrection, perhaps He wouldn't have given us the other 65.9 books in the Bible? 

Patton is a smart guy. God has used him to build a very unique ministry. He should know better. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Sean Fericks's picture

I think a literal, 6-day Creation is important for at least one key theological reason.  After God created, it was very good.  But then, Genesis 3.  Prior to sin, we believe there was no death.  Evolution requires death, lots of death, lots of trial and error, lots of the results of sin.  Romans 5:12

Or do theistic evolutionists hold that survival of the fittest was in tact prior to man's fall, but man was exempt prior to the fall?  Gets a bit tricky.