You may have heard of the modern “word of faith” movement. It might be the fastest growing segment of professing Christianity today. According to those of this movement, the faith possessed by Christians can and should operate like a force or power. If you have legitimate faith, according to them, then you have the potential for and should expect to have power as well. In the word of faith movement, this power or force of faith exerts itself to obtain things that you want—prosperity, position, or health. If you just believe, your faith can operate through your words with God to get anything that you want; that’s what God wants to do, and Christians should expect it. So you could change the world, especially your own world, by means of this faith, to create a healing, cause a salvation, bring about a good relationship, or to change an economic situation.
Like the Pentecostal or Charismatic “word of faith” gets these blessings and changes individual realities, the faith of revivalists obtains spiritual results by means of personal faith. I believe that both of these distortions of scriptural faith come from the same influence upon American evangelicalism, that of Charles Finney in the mid nineteenth century. The perversion of revivalism is actually an earlier error, more in line with that of Finney himself. “Word of faith” was a later development as an outcome of the revivalistic thinking.
Both revivalism and “word of faith” have a similar emphasis on the ability of man to cause his own spiritual effects by the right use of means. Both believe that faith can solve every important problem and create their own desired results. In both cases, the results make it inappropriate to question the means—the end justifies the means.
Finney believed that the faith of a Christian could and should produce a revival. In modern revivalism, a person reveals his faith by paying a price to get the power that comes from believing. If he really has faith, then he will persevere to get the power from that faith by lining himself up with enough moral guidelines to reach some threshold that initiates the spiritual blessing that God wants to give, dependent on his faith. The faith that merits revival also reveals itself in really, really wanting it, manifesting itself in praying long and hard to get it.
How does the faith of revivalism and the “word of faith” movement veer off a scriptural understanding of faith? The faith of the Bible is not a power that someone possesses to control something in his future. The faith of God’s Word accepts the reality that the Bible promises it. And we can see that future is not normally one of success and great results and health and prosperity. Faith is not an instrument that people use to acquire the future on earth that they want, but a God-given means by which men will accept the future that God has already promised them. Faith trusts God with its future.
Jesus didn’t send out the twelve with promise that they could see tremendous results if they only had faith. He sent them all over Galilee and said that they should shake the dust off their feet outside of the town or city that didn’t believe what they said. At times, many believed—that is true. But that is not some kind of paradigm that believers should take as an expectation for their future.
Genuine faith itself is the substance, not the results of that faith. What is promised for that faith? As you look through Hebrews 11 you see it to be a lot of suffering, difficulty, and rejection. You see that in Abel, who was murdered, in Noah, who was mocked and jeered before he was vindicated much later by a worldwide flood, in Abraham, who never did possess the land to which he set out on his long journey, in Moses, who gave up the Egyptian court, and then those who were tortured and saw asunder to reward their faith. They went ahead and went through their characteristically difficult times because of faith. Faith had no connection to worldly success or earthly results. They did what they did because they had placed their futures in the hands of the God they trusted. Their faith was in what God would make of their lives.
The attraction of revivalism is that it guarantees the results an individual of faith would want to receive. The allure is not its historic or biblical theology. Revivalists utilize proof texts out of context and then mainly stories of former revivals that have occurred since the inception of revivalism. They brag about special moments in the past that have come because of power from God they received by faith. No one should depend on these experiences as hope for the future. We can’t and neither are we supposed to trust anecdotal material as a basis for Christian living or decision making.
In its own way, revivalism corrupts faith as much as the word of faith movement. It redefines and misrepresents scriptural faith. Revivalism doesn’t really trust in God. Trusting in God accepts the results that God gives and is content with the outcomes from obedience to the Bible. True faith doesn’t judge based upon assembly size, reaction to a post-preaching invitation, or numbers of professions of faith. Faith brings its own built-in rewards—the indwelling Holy Spirit, the pleasure of God, forgiveness of sin, joy, peace, and contentment. These are rewards of faith in the midst of a sin-loving and God-hating world, where God promises that all they who live godly will suffer persecution.
Deviating from a biblical understanding of faith is obviously going to have an effect on the nature of the gospel. Revivalism has harmed the gospel in this way. Revivalism diverted the focus of the gospel from God and the Bible to the short-term results of believing. Scripture concentrates on God’s nature and His promises. Small alterations are enough to ruin faith and then those changes become bigger through the years, enough for damning deceptions and a broad road leading to destruction.
No one wants to be seen as faithless, and yet he knows he will if his faith doesn’t produce the required result to be seen as faithful. Men know this, so they produce the result that will merit the correct evaluation from men. They give credit in the end to the faith that they possess, but the real praise should go to the methods that they used to produce their results. They say it is faith, but it really is a unique mix of various technology, motivation, propaganda, techniques, and enthusiasm. It takes the form of various styles of music, lighting, comforts, conveniences, advertising, programs, promotions, and compromises. In many cases, the result given credit to faith isn’t a genuine result. It hasn’t been produced by the power of God because of its mixture with the man-made method or strategy.
The manifestations of the perversions of revivalism are all over evangelicalism and fundamentalism, including in the churches or organizations or people who are critical of revivalism. Non-revivalist preachers and their fans also judge their success by how big they are, calling that the “blessing of God on their ministries.” And other non-revivalist preachers crowd around those men and their churches looking for what it is the “successful pastors” have in order to imitate their methods. The sad result is that the One upon whom true faith rests doesn’t get the credit He deserves for the genuine blessing that He has produced that has nothing to do with the trappings of buildings, bucks, or books published. Many of these well-known churches are as guilty of leaning on methodological manipulation as any staunch supporter of Finney.
May we return to scriptural faith. May we seek to judge based upon biblical criteria. May we correct our belief and practice according to the Word of God.
When I received Jesus Christ, I gave up my life. I surrendered my ambitions, my time, and my possessions to the Lord. I could have kept my life for myself, but I didn’t. Like Paul, I counted everything loss. I gave up any possibility of worldly success and popularity and even riches for this way I take. Why? I know how it ends. I know.
I understand how men judge success. I really do get what career choices are impressive to people. I have a good knowledge of how one reaches worldly fame. But no. I fully comprehend the reproach and hatred and rejection that comes with biblical Christianity. So why go the latter direction and avoid the former? I know what real success is, I know what pleases God, and I know that worldly fame is worthless.
Again, I know. I’m certain. I’m sure. When we read the Bible, we read faith and certainty. The language of God’s Word smacks of full assurance. Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded.” Luke wrote so that those reading would have certainty (1:4): “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” Paul told Timothy that “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” John wrote 1 John (5:13) “that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” Not hope so. Know so.
How can we say that we know something that we cannot see? We know because God’s Word can be trusted. “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). Paul to Titus (1:2) wrote: “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” We can count on God’s promises, because God does not lie. So we know. He does not lie. His Word is Truth (John 17:17). It is knowledge we can count on, not knowledge falsely so-called.
More than I’ve ever seen, men do not have the certainty of which God’s Word speaks. As it applies to faith and theology, many call this postmodernism, where skepticism and lack of objective truth prevails. Belief takes a back seat to feelings. Doubt reigns as authentic with certainty as closed and totalitarian. Nuance abounds. Dogmatism is not tolerated.
One would think that, of all things, Christianity would contradict postmodern philosophy. Satan wants doubt. He questions God. He attacks truth. Now Christianity cooperates with that plan and uses theology to explain, affirming the doubt that Satan and the world system spawns. Most responsible, I believe, are evangelicalism and fundamentalism for codifying uncertainty and doubt.
We live in a day of assault on meaning. We’re now arguing about the words and symbols that are used to communicate. Few can be sure anymore. Is that modest? I don’t know. Is that foul language? Maybe. Probably not. I don’t know. What’s the man’s role? Maybe this. Could be this. I don’t know. What’s male dress? (laughter) What we are sure about is how unsure we should be. Being sure is not only impossible, but it’s mean. It’s insulting. It’s disunifying. But I didn’t offend you? But you did. How? Why? You did. So stop. OK? Alright. There’s something to believe in.
You can see how masculinity disappears in such an environment. Or whatever we once thought it was to be a man. I don’t want to be dogmatic. In the absence of manhood, we get the replacement manhood found in harsh, loud music, denim, shaved heads, two days of facial hair, salty speech, and man hugs. And lots of “dude.” Dude this and dude that. Like dude.
I’m saying that evangelicalism and fundamentalism have retreated to uncertainty and doubt, leaving everyone who wants certainty nowhere to go. If you choose certainty, evangelicals and fundamentalists will mock you. Evangelicals have been doing this for a long time. Fundamentalists have gotten started a little more recently.
Alright, so what do I mean? By the way, I’m contending that I can mean something. I’ve got to do that for the sake of argument. You might laugh, but that’s where we’re headed, if we’ve not already arrived, with no offense to those who think no one can arrive, but can only take the journey. Where does this all break down? It breaks down primarily in three ways that are major components now of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
Number One Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
I don’t want to give my point away with my divisional word. Evangelicals and fundamentalists will stop reading because they think it is too funny. At least, lol. Evangelicals and fundamentalists gave away certainty when they transferred certainty from the text of the Bible they held in their hands, the apographa, and moved it to only the original manuscripts, the autographa. At one time evangelicals, which were then also the fundamentalists—they were the same group—believed what God inspired, verbal-plenary, they possessed. They believed God’s promise of preservation. They believed that they had every Word of God in their possession by which they could live.
Now they don’t believe that. They’ve explained it away. So now we’re not sure anymore about what God’s Word is. We’ve now got dozens and dozens of English translations, and people have waned in their confidence in Scripture, and ultimately in God. God said He would preserve every Word, but they say, “No.” Their position is not what Christians have believed through history. God had promised, so they believed in what they called “providential preservation” of Scripture. Now evangelicals and fundamentalists say we’ve got the “Word” (not the Words) and the “Message” (the particular Words don’t matter so much). We’re supposed to be satisfied with that even if God promised to preserve every Word.
Since we can’t be sure about the Words of God, then we can’t be certain about the promises of God. We lose seriousness and stability in Christianity. The Bible is one part God’s Word and the other part human speculation, and a new edition of Scripture could come out any year. I believe this is the most foundational of these three. We’re basing the biggest decisions of our life on a book that is now wrought with uncertainty because only the original manuscripts were the very Words of God—so says evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
Number Two Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
The new doctrine, which you won’t find in Scripture, that is now not only a doctrine but a major belief for evangelicals and fundamentalists, is that all believers unify only over “essential” doctrine. They say we give liberty in the non-essentials. And the essentials are an ever shrinking list and the non-essentials are a mounting, growing, gigantic list of doctrines. Because we have liberty in the so-called non-essentials, it ‘essentially’ doesn’t matter what you belief and practice in those areas. We’ll still have unity with you if you disagree only in the non-essentials.
Now if you disagree on the essentials, which, by the way, is a very amoebic, fluctuating list, then evangelicals supposedly can’t unify with you. The dirty little secret is that evangelicals don’t separate even over the essentials. They don’t separate–that’s only fundamentalists. And mainly fundamentalists and sometimes conservative evangelicals constantly argue over what the essentials and non-essentials are. They have stopped arguing over the very doctrine of essentials itself. You’ve got to believe that we unify only over the essentials. Why? Well, there’s no way you could “separate over everything.” You just can’t. Why? Cause that would be a lot of separation. Nobody separates that much. That’s just way too much separation.
This “essential”/”non-essential” doctrine has become a major doctrine in and of itself. Of course, that allows for uncertainty. You only have to be certain about the essentials. Everything else is sort of up for grabs. And if you are uncertain about a lot, that probably means that you get along with more people and you’re probably going to be liked more. And being liked is, well, big in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Standing only on the “essentials” probably also makes you “gentle,” which has risen in importance as a trait to have. And if you are still struggling along, attempting to get a grip on what Scripture says, not quite getting it, but really trying, you’re more intellectual and definitely more authentic. And what this does is exalt uncertainty.
I’ve noticed evangelicals and fundamentalists scouring historic materials, looking for people who communicated this essential-non-essential doctrine, quoting anybody that gives a possible whiff of it, trying to establish its historicity. And now it is preached quite a lot. And the ones pushing it are saying that this is the way to “unity in the church.” By doing so they redefine scriptural fellowship, church discipline, and many other doctrines. Uncertainty can triumph in the environment of “only essentials.”
Number Three Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
Evangelicals and fundamentalists teach a new uncertainty in the application of Scripture. Historic applications of Scripture to culture are now doubtful. The old standards are thrown out as Pharisaical and legalistic. Because of this, there is very little that you can see or hear that differentiates Christians from the world. This is doubt as it relates to the interpretation and application of the Bible. If we don’t even know what the Words are, how could we expect to know what it means. The latter seems far more elusive than the former.
At one time, we knew what male dress was. Now we don’t. We knew what modesty was. Now we don’t. We knew what fleshly lust and worldly lust were. Now we don’t. We know what worldliness was. Now we don’t. And even if we do, revert back to number two—it’s a non-essential.
All of these three combined result in a tremendous amount of disobedience to God, an extreme volume of unholiness, and a gigantic quantity of dishonoring the Lord. And above all these, uncertainty abounds. Because evangelicals and fundamentalist have codified uncertainty in these three ways, professing Christians are uncertain as to what Scripture is, what Scripture says, and how Scripture applies. And even if they are, it doesn’t matter, because you need only be certain about the essentials, which they are actually uncertain about.
Read this First Part even though It Is Exegesis
Christ is our life—physical, spiritual, and eternal. At some point in the future, we will appear with Him in heaven. We have the heavenly citizenship now, but then we will appear with Him, so we should live like that, and not like who we once were, children of disobedience, objects of God’s wrath, who lived according to their own desires and ambitions. While we are on earth, we need to die to the things that will not be in heaven.
Before we became in Christ by grace through faith, we lived earthly lives heading toward our natural destination. But now we have put off the old man, the one walking his own direction to his own drumbeat. We’re no longer motivated by idolatry and covetousness nor by anger and wrath. We’ve put off that lifestyle and we’re no longer that person, and we will live like it, so we should live like it.
Our minds have stopped suppressing the truth and believing the lie. They are renewed in the knowledge after the image of God to what we’ve been restored at our conversion. We’re not natural men thinking natural thoughts, but spiritual men with the tendency to think spiritual thoughts. We will and can live like what God created us for.
For everything that we now are, and for the position in which we now live in Christ, we put off those things incompatible with our appearance with Him in glory. V. 5 has a sample list of some of those and v. 8 presents another sampling. We will not and cannot continue in anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy (slander), filthy communication, and lying as a lifestyle.
Now For the Interesting, Controversial Application (Don’t Just Skip to This)
I want to take several moments to focus on one of these: filthy communication. What is “filthy communication?” To apply Scripture to present-day situations, we must know something about present-day situations. Even believing in the sufficiency of Scripture, we do not believe that every scriptural answer is explicitly found on the pages of Scripture. To apply Scripture, Scripture assumes we have some extra-scriptural knowledge, that there are truths that we can with certainty discern in the real world. The Bible itself is meaningless unless it is applicable to human questions and needs. Applying the Word of God requires a scriptural perspective on human experience.
Colossians 3:8 assumes we can know what “filthy communication” is. And yet there is no “chapter and verse” for filthy communication. None. So any four letter word is acceptable, correct? And if I make an application, I’m a Pharisee, right? Isn’t it true that I’m just adding to Scripture? So I’m a legalist that is attempting to be overly restrictive, by making the commandments of men to be equal with the Bible, right? If evangelicals and now even fundamentalists are going to be consistent, they’re going to have to say this, aren’t they? We are not told what the bad words are.
Or are we to assume that we can apply Scripture with certainty? Do we believe that we can get guidance from the Holy Spirit on applying what the Bible says? In this case, it is putting off filthy communication. The one Greek word translated into the English “filthy communication” is aischrologia. That Greek word is found only here in the New Testament. Friberg says it is “dirty talk, filthy or obscene language or speech.” BDAG says it is “speech of a kind that is generally considered in poor taste, obscene speech, dirty talk.” Liddell and Scott say, “foul language.” Thayer writes, “foul speaking. . . low and obscene speech.”
OK, can we know what obscene, foul, dirty, tastless speech is? I believe that Scripture assumes that we can. And Paul commands the Colossian church to put off this kind of speech. The saved person’s mouth shouldn’t be saying it. Let’s go one step further. It especially shouldn’t be said during preaching, as a part of an even more sacred kind of speech, a sermon from God’s Word.
The world likes to use filthy talk and this is one way that we Christians are different than the world. But let me speak as a fool for a moment to make a point. A way that professing believers can fit into the world is to use the salty speech that unbelievers use. Some might even say it is “contextual” or “missiological,” if we do. Unbelievers might be able to relate to us Christians better if we talked like they did. We wouldn’t seem perhaps so sanctimonious to them. They wouldn’t have to feel so cramped and that would spur some relationship that could work out in evangelism some down the road. And if we used it in preaching, we could attract unbelievers. They would really be able to identify with us and feel more close and then maybe get saved. In that sense, we are kind of being all things to all men. You get my drift, don’t you?
Of course, all of this violates Colossians 3:5-10. It’s not scriptural. It offends God. It manifests a kind of Christianity that isn’t even Christian, so it couldn’t be Christianity.
This very point is what often separates professing Christianity today. Evangelicals and even some fundamentalists today speak as though as they are on some higher spiritual plane because they don’t expect people to live what Scripture does not say. And it does not say what filthy communication is. Most of them apply this selectively, even as they will not apply this with regards to standards of modesty, designed distinctions in dress, separateness in music and dress, and appropriate entertainment. And then if there’s any question beyond that, they say, “Hey, yer majoring on minors!”
For instance, right now John MacArthur and the guys in his evangelical camp are against the Mark Driscoll people for using filthy communication even in the pulpit. They are very specific about this. Based on their own standard of application of scripture, they are being ascetic, overly restrictive, and Pharisaical themselves. That’s what the Mark Driscoll side thinks. And then the MacArthur group isn’t happy about the Pipers and the Carsons and those evangelicals. They haven’t come out strong enough against Driscoll—they still rub shoulders with him. And to them MacArthur is way too sure of himself. Way too certain. Driscoll is part of the quasi-emergent variety that is more nuanced in these things. He would say, let’s just love Jesus. C’mon guys. Of course, that’s how the John MacArthur guys would treat any of us that would apply this consistently all the way through. And the John MacArthur people call someone like me and others, “fire-breathing fundamentalists.” Hmmmm. Good point.
In other words, we can know what fleshly lusts are, what worldly lusts are, what the garment that pertains to the man is, what the attire of a harlot is, what an uncertain sound is, and more. We also can apply filthy communication to filthy television and movies. Evangelicals and now fundamentalists treat that like it’s off base. They have a different standard there now. And I mean now. Because Christians have historically taken a stand in these areas. This truly is a new kind of Christianity that can’t apply the Bible any more to the actual areas of our life, so that we really are different than the world. You can hardly tell the difference between a Christian and an unsaved person. They listen to the same kind of music, use similar speech, dress about the same, and have about the same kind of entertainment. It’s really an interesting deal for Christians. They are forgiven and in Christ and all that, plus just like the world. God isn’t glorified, but it really isn’t about God, is it? Somehow they’ve made what is about us to be about Him, but He isn’t fooled by that at all.
For instance, John Piper is Desiring God. Is he? Maybe John Piper himself does. I’ve read that he doesn’t have a TV. He has said a few things about a certain kind of questioning about whether rock music can represent God. He wants people to know that they can have their greatest pleasure in God. That’s all true, but it still shouldn’t be about our pleasure. It’s about God’s pleasure. And if we do desire God, we desire the God of the Bible and He hates filthy communication, filthy music, filthy dress, all of that. So if you desire that God, you also will hate what He hates. And the Piper people don’t seem like they do hate those things, so I question whether they do Desire God. They make a good point with their Desiring God. David panted after God like a hart after the waterbrooks (Ps 42:1). But it doesn’t do any good at all if the God you are desiring is the god of Hedonism.
Now there’s a kind of club that is self-authenticating that says this is all Christianity. They point at each other and say, “Yer right.” So they must be right. And so many people couldn’t be wrong. And look how it’s all working. It’s being so missiological and so many are being brought into the church. This is producing a great lack of discernment. God’s Word is being disobeyed. God is being dishonored.
I’m saying that this is a new refusal to put off the old man. Is there an acronym there? NRPOOM. Maybe not. It isn’t Christianity. That’s what Paul says in Colossians.
A Case for Christian Presuppositions
We have been inundated with books of the “evidential” variety, beginning with McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and most recently continuing with Lee Strobel and his very popular The Case for … series of books. I’ll not go so far as to say that these books have no value. No doubt, there are those who have come to faith in Christ after having taken a candid look at the evidence. Nor would I argue that there is not a veritable universe filled with evidence of our Creator. The whole earth is full of his glory.
But I have a problem with this method of evangelism. I believe that it elevates human intellect and invites men to come to Christ on their own terms. The Bible characterizes the world as having an autonomous self-sufficiency, and the evidential approach to apologetics appeals to this autonomous self-sufficiency. For, when an autonomous man is persuaded by human wisdom and evidence that he “just can’t answer,” that man has come to Christ on his own terms, rather than coming on Christ’s terms.
Christ’s call to salvation requires mankind to repent. But the evidential approach requires no repentance. It merely requires a progression in one’s understanding. The worldly mind promotes human reasoning above all else, and the evidential approach appeals to human reasoning. Paul often spoke of the worldly mind. In Colossians 2:8, he described it as philosophy that is vain deceit, and characterized it as “after the tradition of men… and not after Christ.” In I Corinthians 1:12, Paul tells us that “the world by wisdom knew not God.” And in Ephesians 4:17ff, Paul demands that we “henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind…” He says that their understanding is darkened, that they are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. We have not received the spirit of the world (I Corinthians 2:12), but the spirit of Christ. Nor will the spirit of the world ever bring a man to Christ, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spririt of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).
Brethren, I would remind you that it is the natural man who demands evidence (I Corinthians 1:22). But we refrain from speach that utilizes the words which man’s wisdom teaches (I Corinthians 1:23-24; 2:13). The worldly mind refuses to believe anything that does not meet its criterion for evidence. This is why men who lived during the time of Christ, who saw His miracles and heard His preaching and even made up lies to deny His resurrection did not become believers or disciples of Christ. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of evidence. They had more evidence than any man can possibly want in our day.
The world’s problem is and always has been its presuppositions. The world sets its presuppositions against the presuppositions that the Bible demands. And the world by wisdom does not know God. God requires a man to repent of these worldly presuppositions, or he will perish. And this, as I see it, is exactly the problem with the evidentialist approach to apologetics. Evidentialism appeals to a man to keep those worldly assumptions and come to Christ that way. So that when a man converts, he does not convert because he has submitted himself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He converts because he has persuaded himself that Christianity is the truth. He comes to Christ, not on Christ’s authority, but on the authority of his own autonomous mind.
As an aside, I believe that this kind of “converting” explains why so many of these converts continue to lead such a worldly and sensual lifestyle. They walk in Christ the way they received Him.
We receive Christ on His terms. He is God. He does not appeal to evidence when He calls men to salvation. He appeals to His own authority. He demands that we lay aside our own assumptions and take up the Christian presuppositions of Scripture. Sight does not make a man a Christian. And yet, many Christians in their desire to persuade men, appeal to their own self-sufficient sight by appealing on the basis of evidence. The just shall live by faith. We walk by faith, not by sight. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
The way that we received Christ is the way that we are to walk in Him. That includes, most obviously, our manner of living. But it also includes our thinking, our scholarly endeavors, and our witnessing. When we witness for the Lord, we are to witness in submission to His Lordship. No doubt, we are the people, and we think that we have found a better way. After all, these evidentialists, they are bringing many people to make a profession of faith. We can’t really see evidence of conversion, but at least people are giving lip-service to it, right? I mean, that’s probably better than nothing. Which reminds me, why am I wasting my time writing this when I could be out soul winning.
But Paul commands us to be rooted and built up in Christ. That is how we are to walk in Him. Stablished in the faith, as we have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. And as we do, Paul warns us, that is, those of us who are walking in Christ the way we received him, to “Beware lest any man spoil (take captive, carry off as booty) you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men (worldly presuppositions that demand evidence and refuse to acknowledge the authority of Christ in the realm of knowledge), after the rudiments of the world (autonomous self-sufficiency), and not after Christ.
In this, then, we should take note of yet another evidence of true conversion — that the former man of the world has repented of his former basic assumptions, and now has a new basic assumption. He now assumes that whatever God says in His Word is true, and he approaches Scripture that way. As Ephesians 4:20-24 teaches, that man has new committments, new assumptions, new presuppositions, a new love, a new direction, new evidence, a new life – behold, all things have become new!
One of my favorite songs to sing is “Blessed Be the Ties that Bind.” I know that when I was in college where a necktie was required in the dress code, the song title was used for a bit of a joke, but the six verses that we sing in our church when we take the Lord’s Table are always great. A story goes with the song, the writer staying at a small church instead of moving on to the bigger one because of, well, the ties that bound him there. We have two different similar tunes in our Trinity Hymnal, Baptist Edition, for that hymn, and we sing the one with the ties in the notation. “Blessed be-ee, the tie-ies that bind, our hea-earts in Chri-istian love.” I smile at the irony.
I do believe that the ties that bind the hearts of our church members, those body parts, in Christian love are a blessing. Certain ties bound John Fawcett, the author of the hymn, to his church. He didn’t move on to another church because of them. The ties that bind hearts in Christian love, actual Christian love, scriptural Christian love, that is, the only true love, not dumbed down sentimentalism, will be a benefit to a church member. But what about the ties that bind someone to a parachurch organization, an alliance, a league, a denomination, a convention, or something called a fellowship, but might be the furthest thing from fellowship?
Some ties are more like chains that really, really bind. They’re not blessed even if someone thought they were. The ties that bind men together into these extra-scriptural alliances are often not scriptural. Just the opposite, the ties are ties for ties’ sake. They don’t accentuate biblical doctrine and practice, but deemphasize it for the sake of the ties. These ties that bind are several, as I see it.
1. The Tie of Insecurity
Men need more confirmation than the Bible and a church can give. They’ve got to feel more importance than a singular church offers. The alliance tells them that they are significant. They belong. They matter. Their creeping doubts might be assuaged. How could someone be wrong when he’s got so many with him on his side? Or at least he feels like he does. When he stands before God, he’ll be able to turn to his alliance and they’ll have his back.
2. The Tie of Pride
Men often crave recognition. I know so and so and so and so knows me. I was there; were you? We all had a great time, didn’t we? Men come together in search for appreciation, something they may not feel where they’re at. They can go to find it.
3. The Tie of Mysticism
Men maintain a mystical church, an invisible body, a loyalty to a platonic unity. The elusive unity of the universal church must be somewhere, so let’s just make it up, invent it out of whole cloth. Is it about Jesus? No. If it were, doctrines would be featured, but biblical teachings must be placed in the refrigerator to make room for the hot oven of unity.
4. The Tie of Tolerance
Men cry out about the age of political correctness. But now we’ve imitated it with a more harmful and insidious theological correctness. It is called love. It is called balance. These are the ways that it deceives. And then if you point out doctrinal or practical error, you’re even said to be wasting people’s time. They could be out soulwinning, but you have taken up their time bothering them with a scriptural issue. It isn’t love. Love rejoices in the truth. It’s a replacement for Christian love that can be practiced in the flesh.
These ties not only bind, but they also blind. They forsake perspecuity and plainness for ambiguity and nuance. They abandon application and meaning for camaraderie and togetherness. We are not blessed with these ties.
I recently listened to this audio (below on an embedded youtube clip) in which Phil Johnson throws John MacArthur the ultimate softball in order to clear up the false assumptions made about his doctrinal stance on the blood of Christ. I have often defended MacArthur in the past on this issue. I read the original criticism of him by Bob Jones University in their former Faith for the Family. I knew what he said in his Hebrews commentary. I always hoped for the best. Love does hope all things.
The attack on MacArthur, that he says is untrue on this audio, is that he denies the blood of Christ. Is that true? Does MacArthur deny the blood? Well, it depends on what you mean by “deny the blood.” He doesn’t deny that Jesus bled when He died. He doesn’t reject that Jesus bled a whole lot. In other words, MacArthur doesn’t take the R. B. Thieme position that Jesus barely shed any blood on the cross.
However, when I listened to this audio clip, I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Here was the perfect opportunity for John MacArthur to clear up his blood position and I think that is exactly what he did. As much as any time I’ve heard him, he communicates his position. You can tell it bothers him that he has been attacked on this. I want you to listen before you read what I write below the clip. You make your own evaluation. Then read what I wrote. You will be welcome to comment and even defend MacArthur if you think that what he says is defensible.
John MacArthur is a very careful expositor. There’s a lot you can learn if you read his commentaries. He’s a great example for diligence in the study of scripture. And then he takes this type of position, among several others, that belie the scriptural evidence. And what does his position on this really mean to the nature of the gospel? Does it change it?
Johnson poses the situation that people have said that MacArthur denies that it was necessary for Jesus to shed His blood. Then he asks the question, “Could you tell us one more time your view on the necessity of Christ’s blood?” MacArthur starts by saying that he has been completely misrepresented. Well, he isn’t going to be misrepresented here. He’s on tape and he has been set up perfectly to clear up all twisting of what he believes. His first doctrinal statement is tell-tale. Listen to what he says and doesn’t say. It’s clear even by how he enunciates the words. Remember that we are talking about the necessity of Christ’s blood. And John MacArthur’s answer:
Of course I believe Christ had to die.
But that wasn’t the question. The question was about His blood, not His death. But John MacArthur far understates the necessity of Christ’s blood with His answer. He misses what scripture teaches on the blood of Christ.
After a little more personal material, MacArthur says:
Jesus died on the cross because that was what God predetermined He would do.
OK, we all agree with that, but he still hasn’t said anything about the blood. God predetermined that Jesus would died. Yes. But what about the blood?
After alluding to the text of John 3 with the lifting up of Jesus as the serpent and then referring to John 6 about Jesus drawing men to Himself, he comments:
I think the image of a bloody death is all over the Old Testament.
So there we get his first mention of blood and he uses it as an adjective for death. Bloody death. If you try to find that language in the Bible, “bloody death,” you won’t find it. But he is setting up his view and he will be very plain with it. He goes on, “Every animal that was sacrificed was a blood bath.” So he’s still not really talking about the blood of Christ, but the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. He continues, “Priests were butchers who stood ankle deep in blood. . . . The temple was a slaughterhouse.” And then concluding that point, he says, “The image of that was to depict a violent death.”
John MacArthur teaches that the emphasis of the blood of the Old Testament sacrifice was to show how violent the death was. Where do we get that instruction anywhere in the Bible? I don’t know of any place. The word (or forms of it) “violent” is found in the Old Testament many times, but it is never applied to the blood of the animals or of the Savior.
Finally, he makes the connection between the Old Testament imagery and Jesus, when he explains:
On the cross of Christ you have the Passover Lamb dying a bloody, violent death. It’s necessitated. It’s all the imagery of the Old Testament that directs itself toward that.
So if you can follow him, he’s saying that the necessity of the blood of Christ was to fulfill the imagery in the Old Testament sacrificial system of a bloody, violent death. He never, ever says “the blood of Christ.” It’s a bloody death. The Bible never says “bloody death,” but it does say “blood of Christ” (4 times), “blood of Jesus” (3 times), and “blood of the Lord” (1 time). Then he makes this astounding statement:
Having said that, you must stop short of saying that we are saved by the blood of Jesus.
Why? Why would anyone stop short of that? Isn’t that what these verses say?
Romans 3:24-26, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
Romans 5:9, “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”
Ephesians 1:7, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”
Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
Hebrews 10:19, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,”
1 Peter 1:18-19, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:”
Revelation 12:11, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
You want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t get why MacArthur would say that we “must stop short of saying that we are saved by the blood of Jesus,” when the Bible says that we are saved by the blood of Jesus. Well, he explains why it is that he says this:
In the sense that there is some efficacy in the fluid that poured out of His body.
He goes on:
I have tried to make that distinction—that when the New Testament refers to salvation by His blood that it is not talking about salvation by His fluid. It uses blood as a metaphor or a synonym for death because it conveys the violence of it. . . . We don’t want to get caught into this bizarre notion that somehow in the actual fluid that came out of the body of Jesus that there is saving power or saving efficacy.
After explaining that, MacArthur goes on to give an example of something people have said about Jesus’ blood that is beyond and different than what he said in this above paragraph, in order to somehow color what someone would believe if he said that there was saving power in the actual blood of Jesus. MacArthur then makes another important statement:
When the New Testament is talking about the blood of Christ it is talking about the death of Christ, but it uses blood because that is a metaphor that speaks of the violence of his death.
Where does MacArthur get this? I don’t know. It isn’t in the Bible. When we see the blood of Jesus in the New Testament, we are not looking at a metaphor or synonym or metonym or euphemism for Jesus’ death, all words that MacArthur uses to describe what the blood of Christ is all about. For one, the New Testament separates the death and the blood as two aspects of His sacrifice that were distinct and both individually necessary in Colossians 1:20-22:
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
In those verses you see “the blood of his cross” doing something and “the body of his flesh through death” doing something. Both were needed. Second, you get the two separate elements in the Lord’s Table—the bread and the cup. The bread symbolizes the death in His body and the cup portrays the sacrifice in His shed blood. So MacArthur is wrong in taking away this New Testament emphasis.
MacArthur uses the tone of his voice to mock the other position that is not his own. He talks in a condescending way about the blood being “fluid,” that salvation isn’t in the “fluid.” This is a strawman. Jesus’ blood isn’t just “fluid.” There is something more to Jesus’ blood than just the human. There is a Divine quality to the blood of Jesus that cleanses, something that MacArthur just ignores. And is not willing to believe that there is anything to Acts 20:28:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
At the end of the verse, it says, “with his own blood.” What is the antecedent of “his?” Yes, it is “God.” So Acts 20:28 says “God’s own blood.” One of the great mysteries of scripture is the hypostatic union. Jesus is fully human and fully Divine. There was something Divine to the blood of Christ, which is why the blood can cleanse. Yes, the blood itself. And you say, “How?” I don’t know, but it does cleanse. This is where MacArthur goes wrong. He’s sort of like the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Trinity on this. They don’t get how Jesus could be man and God, so they reject His Deity. MacArthur doesn’t see how the blood of Christ could cleanse everyone, so he just denies that it does anything of itself. It is only by Jesus’ death, according to MacArthur, that people are saved. But what about these verses?
1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
Revelation 1:5, “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,”
Hebrews 9:14, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
We never hear about the cleansing of His death, do we? Why? Because the blood of Christ is what does the cleansing.
MacArthur goes to more strawmen, “It wouldn’t have done any good if He had just bled and then lived.” He says this with a kind of tone of disdain as if there were all sorts of people saying this, when I haven’t heard anyone in my life or have read anyone who has claimed that Jesus bled and lived. Really?!?! Who are we arguing about here?!?!
Then MacArthur gets angry at the idea that Jesus could die in a way in which He would not bleed. And then he again explains that this would be preposterous because then Jesus wouldn’t fulfill the depictions in the Old Testament. And that’s the extent of MacArthur’s answer here.
Johnson tries to help, it seems, by asking MacArthur about those times that the New Testament talks about the cleansing of Jesus’ blood, but MacArthur gets it wrong again and even more so. He says that those are the times that the New Testament is talking about Jesus’ death. This is classic circular reasoning. If you go look at the passages to see if they mention Jesus’ death, you won’t find it in 1 John 1:7 and Revelation 1:5. So why are they talking about His death? Well, because blood means death. This is also begging the question.
To cap it all off, MacArthur makes this point, like this is a major point. “Jesus didn’t bleed to death.” That seems to contradict what he said earlier when he said that the shedding of the blood showed that Jesus’ life was leaving His body. So when He bled enough, wouldn’t that mean that He had died? But no, MacArthur says that Jesus died by asphyxiation. How do we know that? Because that’s how the thieves died and how history shows other crucified ones died. But is that how the Bible says Jesus died? No! It says that He gave up His own spirit. And when he gets to the very end he admonishes, “You just want to be biblical about it!” Right! I agree! Let’s be biblical about it. Or in this case, let’s not follow what John MacArthur says about the blood of Christ. He’s wrong.
I’m asking you the reader. What does this message do to the nature of the gospel? Does it change it? How far does changing scriptural truth about the blood alter the gospel itself? Is Jesus’ blood important enough for us to take a stand in separation over this understatement or even misstatement by MacArthur?
Over at my blog, I have been writing a series of posts (a four part series: part one, part two, part three, part four) about the faulty epistemology of multiple version onlyism. I hope that doesn’t stop you from reading this post. Epistemology is in essence how we know what we know. The two major categories I have considered are presuppositional epistemology and evidential epistemology. We should be presuppositional and I tell you why, especially applying this to the issue of the preservation of Scripture, in those four posts. You should read them. I’ve made it easy with the links. My last post over there, which I uploaded on April 21, 2009, Tuesday, has been linked to by a couple of sites (here and here) that deal with textual criticism.
This entree would probably be my fifth in this series and I’ll probably retitle it and post it over there. I don’t want to do that yet, because I want that article to run a fuller gamot before I post over it.
I introduced the last in the epistemology series with an article that came out in USA Today in its opinion section called Fightin’ Words, which was a positive review of Bart Ehrman’s book, Jesus Interrupted. In the book, it seems that Ehrman uses the typical techniques of biblical criticism to undermine the authority of scripture, primarily by attempting to make the Bible look like it contradicts itself. The point, of course, is that if the Bible does do that, then it isn’t inspired or divine. The author of the USA Today article mentions that James White makes a personal attack against Ehrman by speaking of Ehrman’s unbelieving bias, to which he, Tom Krattenmaker retorts:
If criticisms of Ehrman veer toward the personal it’s because his evidence — the Bible’s own text — is what it is. And there is no denying the inconsistencies he surfaces between the various Gospels and letters that form the New Testament.
Bart Ehrman, the chairman of the Bible department at the University of North Carolina, is a significant liberal to deal with. To start, Ehrman himself is a one time “born-again” evangelical who attended Moody, then Wheaton, and finally Princeton when he said goodbye to his faith. Then much of the attack on scripture that you might hear used by atheistic scientists and from anti-Christian Islamics comes from the pen of Bart Ehrman.
What Ehrman has done, and in a way of marketing genius, is taken the very old, academic arguments against God and the Bible and written them in very simple, story-like terms, attempting to get graduate school material into comic book form and to make dusty, theological material very accessible to the average person. As I have gone door-to-door out here in California, I have many times heard points made that I knew came from Ehrman. Ehrman’s books often become NY Times bestsellers and are featured at the front of mainstream bookstores. They provide talking points to those who have or wish to push the eject button on Christianity.
From a human standpoint, it is to Ehrman’s credit that he has not just written the books and then hid out in his little hovel in Chapel Hill. He has traveled around, very much like Christopher Hitchens has done after writing God Is Not Great, and debated those on the other side who oppose his view. Part of Ehrman’s schtick is his ability to talk in everyman language and to appear to have no harmful agenda. If you listen to him closely, it’s easy to see that he’s actually dishonest. He presents content that cannot rise above the level of speculation and yet makes it sound like it is the most likely scenario. Some of that is seen in this part of the USA Today column:
If the Bible is the literal word of God, Ehrman asks, how could it be inconsistent on so many details large and small? Let’s start with an example appropriate to the just-concluded Easter season marking the Savior’s death and resurrection: As Jesus was dying on the cross, was he in agony, questioning why God had forsaken him? Or was he serene, praying for his executioners? It depends, Ehrman points out, on whether you’re reading the Gospel of Mark or Luke. Regarding Jesus’ birthplace of Bethlehem, had his parents traveled there for a census (Luke’s version) or is it where they happened to live (Matthew’s version)? Did Jesus speak of himself as God? (Yes, in John; no, in Matthew).
What about that paragraph? Ehrman presumes that the gospel accounts contradict one another in the sections on His death and birth accounts and that the words of Jesus on the cross are contradictory. What do we say about what Ehrman expresses as apparent inconsistencies? If you are reading this, it isn’t difficult to answer these biblical criticisms. Knowing the nature of Christ, it is easy for us to believe Jesus questioned God (in fulfillment of prophecy, by the way) about forsaking Him and prayed for His executioners. They both happened. Neither of the accounts contradict each other.
Each gospel has a unique, eyewitness point of view. Each has a particular theme. Altogether they don’t contradict, but present a full, panoramic, textured picture of the life of Christ. Matthew doesn’t say that Joseph and Mary were living in Bethlehem. Matthew also presents Jesus as God and he believed Jesus was God as much as John did. We call this answer “harmonization.” The various accounts do harmonize without contradiction, which is the nature of eyewitness accounts. If they were exactly the same, we would have a bigger problem, because then we might think that the witnesses just plagiarized one another.
Biblical criticism has been around since the books of Scripture were inspired by God. The present form that Ehrman is attempting to popularize is another mainly post-enlightenment invention. Wikipedia gives a fine synopsis:
Biblical criticism, defined as the treatment of biblical texts as natural rather than supernatural artifacts, grew out of the rationalism of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century it was divided between the Higher Criticism, the study of the composition and history of biblical texts, and lower criticsm, the close examination of the text to establish their original or “correct” readings.
During the Enlightenment, the role of reason was held above Scripture. Reason was then used to analyze Scripture because the Enlightenment philosophers believed that reason was more trustworthy. This is the basic presupposition that evangelicals and fundamentalists should not agree with but is found at the basis of all critical methods. The modern academy has not stopped at the threshold of reason. New forms of reader-response criticism allow any ideology to critique Scripture. As a result a person is able to find whatever he wants in Scripture.
Some of the famous names of higher criticism, which did what Ehrman does in Jesus Interrupted, are Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza, Julius Wellhausen, David Strauss, Karl Barth, and Rudolf Bultmann. The modern day Jesus Seminar is a recent example of this ongoing pursuit of de-supernaturalizing the Bible and turning Jesus into a regular person. One sure byproduct of these efforts will be the disappearance of the institutions from which they gain their paychecks. There will be no longer any use in studying such an impostor, what Jesus will have become once they’re through with Him and their writings about Him.
What Is the Difference Between the Biblical Critics and Us?
We both operate with different presuppositions. Of course, they say that they are dealing with the evidence, allowing it to lead them to the truth. But our presupposition is that the Bible is inspired, God’s Word, and that Jesus is God, Lord, and Savior of the world. Their presupposition is that the Bible is one of many ancient texts written by men.
I recognize that most evangelicals and fundamentalists attempt to create at least in perception a great distance between higher and lower criticism. However, Ehrman doesn’t see the great gulf between them. He shifts back and forth between lower and higher very comfortably. In one book, he attacks the text of Scripture (Misquoting Jesus) and then he smoothly shifts over to his disection of the content of Scripture (Jesus Interrupted). He has the same presuppositions and uses the same methodology with both.
What we do with the varied accounts of the gospels again is called harmonization. We harmonize the text based upon our presuppositions. We have a high view of God, of Scripture, and of inspiration. We choose not to see contradictions because we know that God does not deny Himself (2 Tim 2:11-13). So to recap: we harmonize differing accounts based upon our scriptural and theological presuppositions. This is how Christians have operated historically.
Because God is always true and every man a liar (Rom 3:4), we also harmonize what we see outside of the Bible with the Bible. We don’t harmonize the Bible with what we see outside of the Bible. The Bible is the final arbiter of truth, so every truth claim is tested by the yardstick of scripture. In other words, we aren’t integrationists. Biblical critics, because of the unbelieving presuppositions, place their own reason above the Bible and so rather than questioning their own opinons and conclusions, they question scripture.
Examples of Biblical Criticism in Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism
I’m going to give two examples where post-enlightenment, unbelieving rationalism has influenced evangelicalism and even fundamentalism toward biblical criticism. This is also the replacement of presuppositional epistemology with evidential epistemology. Fundamentalism was by definition to be hostile to biblical criticism in any form. Here are the two.
1. Despite the fact that God promised to preserve every Word and make it available to every generation of believers, so that there is only one Bible, evangelicals and fundamentalists have subjected the Bible to lower criticism to produce multiple Bibles, all of which contain errors.
This was not the position of pre-enlightenment Christianity. Sure they knew there were errors in copies, but they believed that God had preserved every Word and that they were all available to believers of every generation. When that was mixed with rationalism and science, that changed. Evangelicals and fundamentalists stopped harmonizing and started submitting to evidentialism, giving up presuppositional epistemology. I recognize that fundamentalists would say that they are not biblical critics as textual critics. That’s not the same conclusion that an objective outside source would make. Harriet A. Harris in Fundamentalism and Evangelicals writes:
Fundamentalism in fact accords with evangelicalism which, according to McGrath, ‘accepts the principle of biblical criticism (although insisting that it be applied responsibly).’ The difference between the two positions becomes a matter of what sorts of biblical criticism are accepted, and how its responsible application is defined. Here we will discover no hard-and-fast distinctions between fundamentalism and evangelicalism, but varying degrees of acceptance of different forms of criticism.
2. Despite the fact that the biblical account is a literal twenty-four hour day, seven day creation, and a young earth, biblical criticism in cahoots with secular science has influenced evangelicals and fundamentalists to accept a subjective, day-age, old earth explanation of creation.
This bow to rationalism or Darwinism submits God’s Word to external “evidence” as superior and final arbiter in this matter. Even fundamentalists have implied that this is acceptable.
So, just to review. Historically believers have harmonized their interpretation of the evidence with scripture, not vice-versa. They have also harmonized apparent biblical contradictions. They have done this based upon their high view of God, scripture, and inspiration. They have presupposed the Bible as the sole authority for all faith and practice.