“I believe God is actually ahead of us, calling us, drawing us, and inviting us, pulling us all“
Aristotle introduces his Nicomachean Ethics with these words: “Every skill and every inquiry, and similarly every action and rational choice, is thought to aim at some good; and so the good has been aptly described as that at which everything aims.”
While Aristotle identifies different intermediary goods on his way to his ultimate good (happiness), he underscores the importance of the question, “Good for what?” In Aristotle’s view, we can’t really define good until we understand at what goal the good aims. While his conclusion is problematic, his line of questioning is insightful.
Likewise, we can’t answer the question “What are the essentials?” until we first answer the question, “Essential for what?” One popular website asserts that, “The Bible itself reveals what is important and essential to the Christian faith. These essentials are the deity of Christ, salvation by God’s grace and not by works.”
While this sounds like a helpful enough answer, I wonder upon what basis the writer identifies these doctrines over others as essential. Are these intermediary essentials or they ultimate essentials?
Reprinted with permission from Baptist Bulletin Nov/Dec 2012. All rights reserved.
People like me (a 20-something rookie pastor) have probably noticed a trend making its way through social media, bumper-sticker Christianity, and Christian bookstore T-shirt sections. What I’m noticing is not really a new trend or even an original spin on an old idea. It is a mind-set toward Christianity that, as far as I can tell, has influenced every generation since at least the Reformation. The phrase “Christianity is not a religion” is being touted as a fresh way of looking at the relationship of individual disciples of Christ to the practice of Christianity.
Some readers may be familiar with YouTube sensation Jefferson Bathke. Using poetry to express social commentary, Bathke has released a number of videos online that have reached tens of millions of viewers. One of his latest, released in January, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” has garnered over 20 million views. In the opening, Bathke asks, “What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?” Admittedly there has been a great deal of response and assessment of this video in the evangelical blogosphere, but most responses do not address the underlying issue prompting such a statement. Is Christianity a religion or not?
This is not a question being raised solely in liberal denominations and emerging groups. This is a sentiment identified on T-shirts and social media of fundamental Bible college students and of individuals in your church and mine, that is, the next generation of Regular Baptists.
The concept of religionless Christianity is pleasing to the “spiritual but not religious” generation of Oprah and The Shack. People, especially young people, love the idea of Christianity without the rigorous restrictions and expectations of their parents’ and grandparents’ Christianity.
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Last year, under the editorial direction of Andreas Kostenberger, Zondervan began the Biblical Theology of the New Testament Series. The first installment was Kostenberger’s contribution A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. The BTNT series seeks to provide a biblical theology of the entire NT in eight volumes with a biblical/thematic approach.
This year the next volume is A Theology of Luke and Acts by well known Luke commentator Darrell Bock. Darrell Bock has written a few other books on Luke and Acts: Luke (IVP), Luke (NIVAC), Luke (BECNT), and Acts (BECNT). A Theology of Luke and Acts is not a commentary but rather a thematic look at the biblical theology of Luke and Acts as a literary unit.
The essential purpose for Luke-Acts is “to show that the coming of Jesus, Christ, and Son of God launched the long-promised new movement of God. The community that has come from his ministry, the suffering these believers experienced, and the inclusion of Gentiles are part of God’s program promised in Scripture” (p. 29). According to Bock, Theophilus needed assurance that this new movement (Christianity) was a legitimate work of God given the amount of persecution it underwent. Luke assures him that the persecution is not a judgment of God but rather part of the plan of God to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations.
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In your most recent edition of AISI, you recommend Thayer’s “A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.” I have used this lexicon extensively since the day my former pastor helped me pick out my copy at a local used book store. At that time, my pastor told me to watch out for Thayer’s doctrine with regard to the Trinity or deity of Christ, or perhaps his potential unitarianism. My pastor said he hadn’t found it, but he had been made aware of the warning and was just passing it on to me. I haven’t found it either. For a while, I have been using the Thayer’s edition that is online at Blue Letter Bible. I found the same warning there. They post this disclaimer online:
Caution: According to Baker’s modern copyright edition, Thayer was apparently not doctrinally sound in all areas, particularly in the area of the trinity, and so the user must be on guard. We would be appreciative of any actual examples of doctrinal error, so they can be marked with “caution” tags.
Brother K., you seem to be a person who is typically aware of this kind of information, so I thought I would ask you if you can shed any light on this. Do you know of any specific unsoundness in Thayer’s lexicon? Do you know of any particular entries where the user might be cautioned? Do you have any biographical information on Thayer (or perhaps on Grimm) that would uphold or refute this warning?
When you ask people, “Who are you?” they usually answer first by giving you their name. A name, however, is only a label. It does not reveal the identity of the person to whom it is attached.
If you persist, “Yes, that is your name, but who are you,” then people invariably begin to give you answers grounded in their relationships to individuals, objects, and activities. They will identify themselves as the son or daughter of a particular person, or perhaps as the spouse of another. They will tell you about their job and their hobbies. They may identify themselves as fans of a particular sports team, followers of a particular author, or as devotees of a particular kind of music.
What all of these identifiers have in common is that they are external to the individual. People can say who they are only by pointing to things outside themselves. We know who we are only in terms of our relationships to other things, be they persons, activities, or objects.
In other words, our identity is not in ourselves. In order to know who we are, we must look outward. Our identity is formed by the persons, objects, and activities with which we bring ourselves into relationship.
God is not like that. God knows who He is, not by looking outward, but by looking inward. Nevertheless, God’s identity is still relational. He knows who He is, not by His relationship to persons, objects, and activities within the created order, but by His relationship to Himself.