We don’t want to see the gospel spoiled. We desire to preserve the truth. If we hope for either, we must understand the way God designed to keep both intact. I’m not going to carry nuclear materials in a brown paper sack and not expect bad things to happen. We can say we care about the gospel and the truth, but we don’t and can’t respect either when we leave them unprotected.
The gospel and truth are popular topics today. I’m happy about that. I love the gospel and the truth. We have seen new alliances form today with the gospel supposedly at their center. They have set aside other doctrine—ecclesiological, eschatological, pneumatological—in order for what they say is a stronger emphasis on the gospel. I believe, however, that the greatest threat to the gospel and the truth relates to container in which they are held. The truth, and therefore the gospel, is to be protected and propagated by the church (1 Tim 3:15) and if so, it must be the church alone responsible for that task. However, it must be the church, the actual church, the scriptural church, that does the protecting. We should assume that something different than what Scripture presents as the church could protect the truth. And there are very distinct views of the church. One is that the church is universal and visible. Another is that it is universal and invisible. And a third is that it is local and visible. Each of those three is different than the other.
To see all of this, I want to provide a snapshot of what occurred in the history of doctrine. First, the Bible stands as the sole and final authority for faith and practice. The writing of the New Testament brings us back to the beginning of Christian belief and practice. Genuine doctrine springs from the Bible. Scripture provides the means for judging how men and institutions departed from the truth. The New Testament is a historical record. We can be sure of the history there, because it is inspired by God. We can’t be entirely certain of all the other history, because it truly was written only by men. From the period beginning shortly after the New Testament was completed in the first century, we can read what we call the “church fathers” or the “patristics.” Today when we read those writings, we are getting really only an edition of what they wrote, one that is less certain in its veracity than Scripture, because the patristics don’t come with the promise of preservation. It is possible, even probable, that later these writings were edited to look closer to Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholic theologians read their version of the church fathers. Later, the reformers read a probably amended edition of the church fathers and then the interpretations of the theologians who read them. The Protestant reformers corrected the soteriology of the church fathers and the Catholic theologians. They went to the Bible to do that. However, they didn’t amend the ecclesiology or the eschatology or even much of the hermeneutics of the church fathers and the theologians of Roman Catholicism.
What is clear from reading the writings preserved by Roman Catholicism, called the church fathers or the patristics, is that many of them mixed Greek philosophy with Scripture in their doctrine. By the time we get to Augustine in the 5th century, we have someone who combined the ideas of Plato with Christianity. Augustine originated the invisible church concept in the Donatist controversy. He was influenced by the Platonist belief that true reality was in the invisible, and if the visible represents the invisible, it always does so partially and imperfectly. The allegorical hermeneutic of Origen, borrowed by Roman Catholicism, also influenced the reformers in their ecclesiology, eschatology, and system of interpretation.
The purpose of this post is not to expose the passages necessary to understand what God’s Word says the church is. It is to show that the wrong view of the church will affect the preservation of the gospel and the truth. Someone may say that he shows his great love for the gospel by only dividing over the gospel or what some call “gospel-related truths.” However, I contend that if he does not hold the right view of the church, he contributes to the destruction of the gospel. The gospel can’t be preserved in a leaky container or its contents will be spoiled.
The same people most responsible for spoiling the gospel in history, Roman Catholics, are also most responsible for corrupting scriptural ecclesiology. The Catholics invented the universal church and then the invisible church. The Protestant Reformers did not amend that false teaching. Only churches who remained separate from Catholicism kept a scriptural ecclesiology, the belief in an only local and visible church. Through history they have been known by different names, but today they are called Baptist.
Scripture teaches an only local and visible church. Only that church, the only scriptural one, can keep the truth. The Lord Jesus Christ and His inspired New Testament give only a local and visible church, the only true church, the necessary means to keep the truth and therefore the gospel. Churches keep the truth through discipline, through the offices of the pastor and deacons, through the practice of separation, and through the purity of the ordinance of the Lord’s Table. A universal and invisible church is a leak container that will not preserve the truth. It treats the truth like an open pick-up truck treats an pile of tomatoes. If a few of the tomatoes fly or drop out, it won’t really matter as long as many or most get to their intended destination. Something beyond or in addition to a true church does not have the means necessary to keep the truth. For sure non-church institutions, like colleges or mission boards or publishers, can preserve the truth. The very existence of these parachurch organizations threaten the truth and the gospel. Cobbling together a coalition big enough to support the extra-scriptural institution requires laxity of doctrine.
No kind of viable, practical unity around common doctrine is possible and is not even available to all professing believers from all the various evangelical denominations. To attain some faux unity, doctrines and truths will be devalued and dropped by the wayside. Without the means possessed by true churches to keep the truth, doctrines will leak and leak until very little Scripture is believed and practiced. I believe the wrong view of the church has done more damage to the truth and the gospel than any other doctrine. Great damage will continue to be done to the truth and the gospel until there is a return to a biblical ecclesiology in Christianity.
God has not left men without a basis for discerning true spirituality. 1 John 4:1 indicates that genuine Christians can test “the spirits whether they are of God.” At the same time, most people have been deceived in this area. The road is broad that leads to destruction (Mt 7:13-14). As a means of validating their condition, men seek after signs (1 Corinthians 1:22) that very often are counterfeits that lure men into a false sense of spiritual security. From the teaching of Jesus (Mt 7:21-23), we know that at the judgment seat, their tragic deception will be exposed with no future opportunity for correction. Men can be fooled into trusting in fraudulent indicators of their spiritual states.
In the first chapter of his epistle, James says men deceive themselves with the faulty notion that God accepts the mere hearing of His Word. This reveals the nature of people’s deceit. They can rationalize a tolerance of their own disobedience to what God said. Satan is a deceiver and liar, who would have men mislead by their own unreliable measurements of spirituality. And the Devil majors on spiritual subterfuge in particular—it’s his domain of activity (Eph 6:12).
On the other hand, the Word of God is sufficient (2 Tim 3:15-17). We don’t have to be deceived. We have the truth, which sets us apart from spiritual error (John 17:17).
Who Is Spiritual?
Sometimes you might hear someone say, “He’s a spiritual person.” Based on a scriptural evaluation, that would be the same as saying, “He’s a saved person.” Every saved person is a spiritual person, because at the point of his justification by faith, he has received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9, 1 Cor 6:19-20, 1 John 3:9). Only believers are spiritual. No unbeliever is spiritual, even if he says he’s “a spiritual person.”
No believer is any more spiritual than any other person. The Holy Spirit is a Person. When someone receives the Holy Spirit, he has all the Holy Spirit that he will ever get. He doesn’t need any fresh outpouring or anointing. The concept of “more spiritual” isn’t in the Bible. God does command believers to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), which is to be controlled by the Spirit (Rom 6). When a believer is controlled by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in various ways described in the New Testament.
How Does the Holy Spirit Manifest Himself?
The New Testament indicates several different ways that we can discern true spirituality. We should expect all of these of someone who is spiritual. Because everyone has equal spiritual resources (Eph 1:3; 2 Pet 1:1-4; 1 Cor 1:7), everyone also has equal opportunity for manifesting true spirituality. In other words, no one is breathing any kind of pure spiritual air that sets him apart from any other believer.
God isn’t responsible for spiritual lack. When a man is tempted, he is drawn away of his own lusts (James 1:14). The Holy Spirit will show Himself through a believer, but more than any one thing, self gets in the way. Humbling self is an important first step to revealing true spirituality.
First, a person who is filled with the Spirit is letting the Word of Christ dwell in him richly. Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16 are parallel passages. Someone who is controlled by the Holy Spirit is also controlled by God’s Word. When we disobey Scripture, either in thought, word, or deed, at that moment we are also either resisting or quenching the Holy Spirit. True spirituality manifests itself in obedience to the Bible. A Christian life obedient to the Spirit will look like Scripture.
Second, the Holy Spirit will show Himself through the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I don’t think the emphasis of “fruit” is in the nature of bananas, apples, or oranges. Fruit is production. The Holy Spirit will produce a certain type of attitude that will result in a right kind of behavior. That disposition is seen in the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t something you work on, but a work that the Holy Spirit does in and through you. And that fruit will show up because the believer submits to the Holy Spirit. The fruit is all or nothing. He either is manifesting the Holy Spirit or he isn’t. If he is, then all of the fruit will show up. Others will see the Holy Spirit and not self when the Christian is filled with the Spirit.
Third, when the Holy Spirit is in charge in someone’s life, this will show up in God-honoring music (Eph 5:19) and perpetual thanksgiving (Eph 5:20). The Holy Spirit directs the Spirit controlled person toward praise and thanks, both pointing toward God and away from self.
Fourth, the Holy Spirit will transform the relationships of those who are controlled by Him (Eph 5:21-6:8). This is how the Holy Spirit fulfills the law through love. The Christian is directed by the Spirit to meet other’s needs, which are all different by Divine design. A child has a different need from a parent, an employer from an employee, and a husband from a wife.
Fifth, the particular spiritual giftedness of the Spirit-filled person will show up in His church (1 Cor 12). The Holy Spirit divides to a church as He wills, providing it His own unique blend depending on its needs. When the Christian submits to the Spirit, he will fulfill his part in the body. The whole church is more important than his part in it. Jesus will be glorified by being manifested by the Spirit through the church in the world.
Sixth, he will preach the Word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). No believer has any more power than any other believer. He can be more bold, however, depending upon his submission to the Holy Spirit. If he’s bold, the Holy Spirit will work through the Word of God unto the salvation of souls. There is no unique power for evangelism. The power rests in the Scripture through the Spirit. Boldness will look, well, bold. Some may confuse this for pride, because proclamation of truth lacks the nuance that some expect of a fake humility.
We have these six means for detecting true spirituality. They could be faked for a period of time, but not for long. However, we should content ourselves with what God’s Word reveals as genuine indicators. The replacement gauges of spirituality provide people with false positives, fooling them into a dangerous spiritual ease.
How Does the Holy Spirit Lead?
Part of discerning true spirituality revolves around the discernment of the will of God. How does the Holy Spirit lead? We’ll approach this question next time.
Two evangelical or fundamentalist churches could be nearly identical in their doctrinal statements but still be quite different, as much distinct in their view of spirituality as are the disparate understandings of “belief in Christ” terminology for a Mormon and a conservative evangelical. Yes, I believe there’s that much noncomformity. This undiscriminating approach to spirituality, I believe, may be the most damaging, though ignored, situation in the church today. One finds its reality in varying degrees of subjective experience, while the other looks to an objective faith, yet both, again, with the same theological creed. The similarity of the latter provides cover for the contrast of the former, the diversity explained as a matter of preference or taste.
Church members, professing believers, wish for an authentic spiritual experience in their church attendance. They judge authenticity by excitement and emotion, even enthusiasm, which might manifest itself in several varied ways. It’s not that feelings would be their chief criteria if they were asked to mark a box on a checklist. These same people don’t believe they are being guided by their feelings or that their emotions are being swayed by external factors to produce a false sense of spirituality. Their feelings, however, are what are telling them that their experience is authentic, especially in their “worship.”
Scripture shows that true spirituality is judged by God’s Word, by the truth. The two types of churches I’m talking about would both agree with that. However, that is not how the individuals often judge whether spirituality has been attained. They might ascertain the spiritual condition by means of release of emotion, shouting, tears, swaying, giddiness, head bobbing, jumping, toe-tapping, or hand waving, all possible indications of something happening in the realm of genuine spirituality. It also might show up with signs of power, that is, hands raised or movement toward the front at an invitation. What might not be considered is that all or some of these spiritual barometers might be caused or initiated by human manipulation of some kind, either through the rhythm of the music, the rise and fall of someone’s voice, a story, the lighting, clapping, or by the suggestion of the speaker to a wanting audience. The shared experience of the crowd further validates the authenticity. Something good must have happened.
Certain symptoms of legitimacy accompany the concoction of fraudulent spirituality—tightly closed eyes, head tilted heavenward, certain hushed tones, or the Clintonesque biting of the bottom lip. This is assembly line authenticity, Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Can realism. A trembling, purposefully scratchy voice, cries out a plaintiff wail with all the gusto that fake authenticity can muster.
The shared emotions of a church galvanize the people like some chant in the pregame ritual of a football team. This does have a sort of power. Many may think of this as heavenly power as they undergo its effects, persuaded that they must have connected with God. They may even mistake it for love between one another because of the shared warmth. It has the power to succeed at attracting or keeping people who wish for something more or different than faith. Churches not aligning themselves with these ways feel a pressure to use the same methods of provocation.
Many who choreograph these types of experiences, that replace true spirituality with the fake, know what they are doing. They know what certain rhythms do. They want the lighting in the building and the cadence of the speaking and the chords and the speed of the music to have their effect on a crowd. They manufacture the feelings with fleshly means and then call it spirituality. Some of the purveyors of these schemes are modern Calvinists, who, while trumpeting the sovereignty of God and bewailing the new measures of Arminianism, whip their own brand of religious ecstacy.
The faux spirituality conforms to a perverted view of Divine immanence, God’s relatedness, stemming from a post-enlightenment evacuation of Divine transcendence. The new emphasis on God’s immanence corresponds to a cultural shift in focus from God to man. Sin is less a concern in its offense of God as its psychological implications for men. The spirit engendered in a church service has the power to overcome a broken relationship or downcast countenance, providing the desired therapy.
Church music, and even all music, reflects the new view of spirituality. Man’s taste has become preeminent in musical composition and performance, both style and words. I believe the music has had a more detiorating effect on the perversion of spirituality than even the substance of the lyrics in church hymnody. Professing Christians have watered down the doctrinal content of hymns, but that has followed the use of popular tunes, which are popular because they lure where luring occurs—the flesh. Man’s flesh isn’t drawn away by his spirit, but by his flesh, and enticed.
Not only have churches been fooled in this particular false spirituality, but also an imposter in the realm of something perhaps even more wicked, that is, mysticism, a secret spirituality found in eastern religions and felt in the their music and worship. They produce natural, whispery, repetitious sounds that our culture has now accepted as something in touch with God. It sometimes takes on the calmness of the surface of a mountain lake or the lapping of the waves on the seashore. The connection isn’t with the God, Almighty God, the Lord of Hosts, but the god of this world, who is also the god of pantheism. These rhythms and sounds are now incorporated into modern worship music, again fooling people with a counterfeit spirituality.
In the 1960s, the Jesus movement portrayed itself as authentic Christianity, tapping into the counter-culture sweeping the United States and then the world. The emotions and even rebellion young people felt in their relations to traditional family and government structure and authority was revealed through their music. These feelings were real. The music itself became, to them, an expression of their inner yearnings. The people involved put on no airs—in their dress, with their hair, with their physical touch. They didn’t hold back, just let it hang loose, elucidating the kind of liberty they felt in Christ. They also talked “like so sincere.” The Jesus people took that music and incorporated it into Christian worship. The music itself became associated with authenticity and genuine spirituality. Other forms were stilted, repressive, and against the feeling of the movement. The music not only reflected the emotions, but produced or proliferated them. They were accepted as evidence of spirituality. This movement has bridged the gap for all forms of the world’s music as true expressions of man’s relationship with God.
Not every church takes the tactics to their furthest end. Don’t think that because someone is worse than you that you get a pass on these techniques and this warping of true spirituality. Many churches have stirred up their own unique stew of varied strengths and styles.
This attack on the meaning of spirituality is an attack on the truth. There is true spirituality defined by Scripture. Genuine spirituality is sanctified by God’s Word, not by people’s feelings.
I think that what we have here is equal to the perversion of false doctrine. We have dumbed down or altered spirituality and then many other theological concepts necessary for true worship and obedience to God, including love and the nature of God Himself. God does not receive the affection of which He is worthy. And many men through this deceit are further tangled in a web of pseudo-spirituality from which for many there is no escape.
Back in the day, well, of Noah and his family, so way, way back in the day, the truth took a very small minority and yet it was still the truth. We see this again and again in Scripture. We don’t see the truth attract a majority of people. The smaller group always believes what’s right. I think most who are reading this already knew this.
So when we look at history to calculate what people have believed, we don’t expect the right position to be held by a majority of people or even necessarily a majority of professing Christians. We want to see if anyone at all took a particular position. Some will depart from the faith (1 Tim 4:1); not everyone. A total apostasy counters Christ’s promise that the ‘gates of hell would not prevail against His church’ (Mt 16:18). We would expect to find evidence of someone holding the right position. If we can’t find our view anywhere in history, we should be concerned. However, if we find that our belief represents a minority in history, that does not work against that position being the right one. Based on what we see in Scripture, the minority view is more likely also the right view.
God said He would preserve His Word. He didn’t say He would preserve history. So when we study history, we have take several factors into consideration. First, we are often getting someone’s slant on what happened. Many times the victor lives to tell the story and he tells it like he wants it to be remembered. Second, men can lie, because they are liars. God never lies, but men do. Third, we would expect true believers to be persecuted, and if that’s the case, they might not be able either to write their thoughts or have them preserved. Fourth, not much history is available period before the advent of the printing press, so that alone might result in a skewed perspective of what happened before 1440. The dark ages really are dark ages. Considering all of these factors, we do our best to sort through all materials available and make a judgment on the validity of the sources. We can assume that the Holy Spirit will bear witness to the truth.
With the above criteria in mind, how does one approach, for instance, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)? That confession represents a lot of professing believers in the 17th century. Should we just assume that all the positions of the Westminster divines were true because the WCF is so accessible and so predominant? Like with any position we’re studying, we start with what the Bible says about it, comparing Scripture with Scripture. After we’re sure the Bible teaches a doctrine, we look to see if other people believed it. If we can’t find it in the WCF, then we look elsewhere. When we look at other sources of historic information, if we find that belief expressed by others, we consider the integrity and veracity of the non-WCF group or person who believed differently than the WCF. There may be a good explanation why they differed, and why the WCF may have had the position wrong.
The Westminster divines were free to write and publish their confession. It was printed and widely disseminated. Other groups in less favor with various governments found it exponentially more difficult than the Westminster group to propagate their doctrine in written form. They lived with much greater opposition and with fewer opportunities, in part because what they did preach and teach was, in fact, the truth. Satan and his system oppose the truth. I recognize that this makes sense as a typical argument for fringe thinkers espousing heterodoxy. That’s why we must weigh the quality of the source and compare its conclusion to the exegesis of Scripture from which we start. That must first stand up to the scrutiny of a literal hermeneutic.
The Westminster Confession of Faith teaches a position of the perfect preservation of Scripture in the language in which it was written, a view that necessarily results in a belief in only one Bible. That’s also the only position found in history before the 19th century. I can’t point to any statement of doctrine that disagrees with that bibliology before the 19th century.
The WCF also says the church is all believers, but not everyone took that traditionally reformed position on the church. Something entirely different is seen in the Schleitheim Confession, which predates the WCF, as well as in the first century writings of Clement of Rome (96AD). The first use of the words “catholic church” don’t appear until 106AD, just once with Cyprian of Antioch, and then later only in The Martyrdom of Polycarp in 155AD and the Muratorian Fragment in 177AD. Universal church postdates local only ecclesiology. The WCF supporters may have outnumbered the proponents of the Schleitheim Confession, but this is a case where the majority is wrong.
Our approach to historical theology is not to believe the position held by the most. We should believe what the Bible teaches and then look to see if we can find that in history. We shouldn’t be surprised if a smaller number believed the truth than didn’t.
Faith believes what God said just because He said it, not because it’s been proven to us or because we’ve experienced something. Since faith puts confidence in what God said as true only because He said it, it is faith in things that we cannot see. At one time, theology was the queen of the sciences because God’s Word was considered evidence. The Enlightenment and its consequences changed this way of thinking for professing Christians.
A big clash exists in evangelicalism over the age of the earth—new earthers versus old earthers. The new earthers take the Genesis account literally. The old earthers are influenced by “human observation and discovery.” For instance, they look at the time it takes for light to travel from distant stars and assume that the universe must be billions of years old or else we wouldn’t be able to see these stars through a telescope. So there’s a challenge from science to the record of Genesis 1-3.
Many more evangelicals believe in evolution than what you would even imagine, and especially among the so-called elite and scholarly. This debate among them elevated in March when a well-respected Old Testament Hebrew scholar, Bruce Waltke, posted a pro-evolution statement on a well-visited evangelical website. Several conservative evangelicals have reacted to his statement in very heated fashion. Rightly so. I don’t want to get into extreme detail here, but the paradigm for evangelicals and their faith changed well before this debate began. I do think we have some pot calling the kettle black occurring here.
Evangelicals long ago started discarding scriptural and historic belief for sight. Nothing is more important to faith than the Bible. The Bible promises its own perfect preservation. Evangelicals and fundamentalists took this same paradigm of unbelief long before Bruce Waltke and these old-earth evangelicals. They now say that the Bible never really taught preservation per se. Well, not that the Bible wasn’t preserved—it was, just in a way that you have no hope of a perfect Bible and the one you have you really don’t know the number of mistakes. Just in too, that’s what the Bible has always taught. No one has said this before, but as I speak, well, that’s what it says about itself. I know that some evangelicals and fundamentalists are now saying that they are getting their doctrine of the preservation of Scripture from the Bible.
Having said that, most evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t believe in the perfect preservation of Scripture. Kevin Bauder represents their position on this when he writes in Only One Bible? (p. 155) that Scripture does not affirm that “any singled printed text preserves all of the words and only all the words of the autographa.” He continues: “Such a specific affirmation clearly lies outside of the teaching of Scripture.” Those two statements he makes in the first paragraph of his chapter, “An Appeal to Scripture.” The very next line, which is the first sentence of the second paragraph, he writes: “If the preservation of the Word of God depends upon the exact preservation of the words of the original documents, then the situation is dire.” That last statement is the rub for evangelicals and fundamentalists.
From Bauder’s statements, really just quoted as a representation, because this is the stand of almost all of evangelicalism today, you can see that they depend on their sight and their observation, i. e., their scientific discovery, for their position on preservation. Again and again, evangelicals say that miracle was not the means of God’s preservation. No miracle involved. Supernaturalism was not the means. You would see this many times in Only One Bible? This was not always the case among Christians. At one time, pre-enlightenment and textual criticism, relying on the Bible alone for their doctrine (sola scriptura), they believed in the perfect preservation of Scripture.
Preservation passages are being twisted with the same pattern as creation passages. If you are going to discard the promises of preservation found in the Bible for the science of textual criticism, that without theological presupposition proudly follows the “evidence,” then next will come other doctrines of scripture like creation. That’s not all, of course, because the abandonment of a grammatical-historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3 undermines the entire rest of the Bible, including the gospel itself.
A second part to this paradigm is the new evangelical emphasis on primary versus secondary doctrines. They rank doctrines for the purpose of cobbling together alliances. These old earth evangelicals want to keep the faux unity between them and the new-earthers. They attempt to do this by categorizing this creation doctrine as a non-essential. I read this all over. They insist that it does not affect the gospel, and since the gospel is “first in importance,” the old earth position should not separate them from the new-earth evangelicals. They just differ on a tertiary issue. This, of course, is ripped right out of the conservative evangelical and fundamentalist playbook. If the conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists do not agree to see the nuance between the two beliefs, and not to agree to disagree, they’re the ones causing unnecessary division in “the Lord’s body.” Evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t mind that you believe in the perfect preservation of Scripture. They just don’t want you to cause division over it. Keep the peace.
So let’s review. Evangelicals already moved into the conform-scripture-to-science column with textual criticism. The doctrine of perfect preservation was as firmly established as a Christian belief as teaching on creation from Genesis 1-3. So here we have just more of the same. And now we can still all get along because none of these are essential doctrines. Chalk it all up to a paradigm of evangelical unbelief.
The book I edited and in which I wrote, Thou Shalt Keep Them, provided exegesis of key preservation passages in the Bible in their context. There were several passages that we did not deal with that will be part of a second volume when it comes out. One of these is Isaiah 59:21. Recently, I merely mentioned Isaiah 59:21 as a part of the introduction to a post at my blog on the LXX issue. A young man named Adam, attending Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, decided to attack this particular article. He dealt with it as though this really was the major work that I had done as an examination of passages which teach the perfect preservation of Scripture. I only quoted Isaiah 59:21, no more. I provided no commentary, but this is what he wrote concerning that:
Now, one has to really shake their head at the gross misuse of scripture here. Take, for example, the quotation from Isaiah 59. The context is Israel’s transgression before the Lord [vrs.12-13], and the resultant mistreatment of them by their enemies [vrs.14-17]. However, the text says that God will repay them for their deeds, and will bring them a redeemer, so that all will fear the Lord [vrs.18-20]. It is in that context that you find the statement about the covenant being with them in verse 21. Hence, the words here are the *promises* of God to his people, not individual words of the text itself. It is parallel to the usage of Numbers 30:3:
Numbers 30:2 “If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
Now, are we really to suggest that his vow was just one word? No, of course not. Yet, this is the very same context of covenants and promises of vengance etc. that we find Isaiah 59:21! All I can say is that this is a gross misuse of Isaiah 59:21.
He says that I grossly misuse scripture by relying on Isaiah 59:21 as a verse on the preservation of scripture. I’ve preached through the whole book of Isaiah, verse by verse and word by word through the Hebrew text. It took me about three or four years.
He talks about the context of Isaiah 59:21, but he really does not go back far enough to understand what Isaiah 59 is about. He needs to see the entire chapter if he wants to properly understand the context. A proper reading of Isaiah 59 will show that v. 21 really does teach the perfect preservation of Scripture to every generation of believer.
Context of Isaiah 59:21
Isaiah 59 allows us to see the world like God sees it, and in this chapter he depicts salvation for Israel and for all mankind. For our own well-being, we must give heed to this portrayal by God of His salvation. Chapter 59 begins like chapter 58 with a concern expressed as to why God is not answering prayers and why Israelites do not seem to sense His presence. They were not experiencing God’ s promises for one reason: their sin. Sin was the barrier between them and God, and this is the theme of Isaiah 59:1-8. As the people recognize the cause for their difficulties, they respond to God first by crying out to Him (vv. 9-11) and then confessing (vv. 12-15).
Isaiah 59:15-21 ends not only this chapter but an entire section that began in 56:1. God is pictured as a Mighty Warrior that defeats Israel’s enemies. But who are her enemies? The enemy isn’t the Canaanites, but her inability to live the life of God. God wants righteousness and He will come to deliver them from sin, and in so doing, Israel can become what God intended her to be. God will come to defeat sin in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:13-17 hearkens back to this text in Isaiah. God’s victory over sin has worldwide implications—from the east to the west God will be glorified. His ultimate purpose for attacking sin was so that He might be a Redeemer (59:20).
The Teaching of Isaiah 59:21
In the final verse of Isaiah 59, v. 21, God pronounces a covenant with those He redeems, those whom He saves from sin. And here it is:
As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.
The “them” are the ones that God’s hand is not to short that He cannot save (cf. 59:1). He guarantees those who turn from their transgressions several things.
First, God’s Spirit will not depart from them.
Second, God’s Words, which He has put in their mouth, will not depart out of their mouth. God makes a promise that these whom He has redeemed will always have His Words accessible to them. God will always provide for them what they need to know Him, believe in Him, and live for Him. Adam offers the typical, faithless treatment of “words.” He says, “These are not the individual words.” Instead, they are merely the “promises.” Where does he get that? Ironically, not in the words of Isaiah 59:21. He reads “promises” into the verse, that isn’t there, and it seems so that he might keep alive the uncertainty of the text that will permit his continued textual criticism.
Third, God’s Words will not depart from the mouth of those believers’ seed and their seed’s seed from that point unto forever. We’re still living under this promise to believers.
God promises perfect preservation and availability of His Words to every generation of believer.
Regarding Isaiah 59:21, consider others who write about this verse. John Owen called Isaiah 59:21 “the great charter of the church’s preservation of truth.” Edward Young in his classic commentary on Isaiah writes (p. 442): “The gift of the Spirit (cf. John 16:13), who will instruct the Church in all truth and in the comforting, saving words that God has given her, will abide with her seed forever. The Lord is declaring that His eternal truth, revealed to man in words, is the peculiar possession of His people.” John Owen and Edward Young both see this verse the same way that I do. Adam would have to chide them as well for their “gross misuse” of scripture—pretty cheeky for someone in his M.A. program in divinity school.
I am amazed at the extent to which men will pursue a goal of attacking the doctrine of the perfect preservation of Scripture. Why not accept the plain reading of the text? God’s Word sustains authority and God offers His people certainty. We should cherish these wonderful gifts of God’s grace. Every generation of God’s redeemed really do have every one of His Words by which to live.
Recent reactions to the Together for the Gospel (T4G) meeting in Louisville expose the fundamental error for evangelicalism and fundamentalism. One of the most popular and well-read bloggers in evangelicalism, Tim Challies, covered T4G, obviously at its invitation, and afterward explained what he thought was so good about the T4G brand of togetherness. I’ll break down his argument later, but Ben Wright, one of the bloggers on the SharperIron blogroll, revealed (probably unintentionally) the thinking of fundamentalists and evangelicals on togetherness, unity, and fellowship. He writes concerning Challies’ argument: “There may be another argument that reaches his conclusion, but I don’t think he gets us all the way there.” You see, the “conclusion” and “getting all the way there,” that is, to this utopian evangelical unity, is what is important to evangelicals and fundamentalists. They come with the arguments later. This, by the way, is pragmatism. You start with a desired conclusion and assume an argument. The conclusion is big enough and important enough to them to pervert scripture to get there.
And pragmatism was David’s ox cart in 2 Samuel 6. He needed the ark to get from point A to point B, that is, to reach his desired conclusion, and that desire led him to the ox cart. It was the best, fastest, and easiest way to get the ark from point A to point B, so the cart was the means that David justified for transportation. It wasn’t the scriptural means to get there. It wasn’t a godly method. It wasn’t how God wanted things done. But it would work. It was utilitarian. All that was proved wrong when Uzzah touched the ark and died. David got out of the ox cart business. You would think that professing believers would end their ox cart fascination for ever after that. But ox carts will be built if the conclusion is what guides the argument. You want to get to point B after all.
Now some might argue that Ben Wright, featured at SharperIron, is just a young man, one of the restless, petulant, and angry reformed, regularly disrespectful and impudent to older separatists whom he doesn’t like, using the faux authority that SI provides him as a reward for his ejection to the big tent of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is true that his blog reads mainly as a bitter evangelical rant against his personal distaste with traditional fundamentalism, but I think his point does speak for evangelicalism and now a sizable segment of fundamentalism (why he gets SI promotion). You have a conclusion, unity, and better, significance or bigness, and so now you just have to start looking for the arguments to get you there.
Challies’ arguments for T4G togetherness do represent the kind of stretch that evangelicals and fundamentalists invent to reach their desired ends. They also generally approve of these types of attempts, as long as whatever the reasoning, faulty or not, directs them to their theologically correct conclusion. “Just keep trying, Tim, you’ll finally get us to our goal.”
The first Challies’ argument is in essence that not all doctrinal error is sin, so you don’t have to correct the error and can still be in unity, even for a difference like infant sprinkling versus believer’s baptism. Now Challies says that some doctrinal error is sin, like preaching that Jesus isn’t God or saying that homosexuality is permissible. Why? No reason in particular. Those doctrinal errors won’t threaten the T4G coalition. However, he says we should not see all doctrinal error as sin because doctrinal error is merely the consequence of sin, just like illness is the consequence of sin. His basis for this in scripture? Nothing. And then I think we get a second argument, which is that conscience is the guide in the doctrines that divide godly men. Since two men who differ in doctrine both are persuaded in their own conscience that they are right, neither should they “abuse” the other’s conscience by dividing over those differences. Challies ends by writing this:
I am encouraged to see Christians uniting across lines that were once considered too wide to cross. Together for the Gospel is an excellent example of Christian leaders being willing and eager to put aside secondary differences for the sake of the gospel. While they disagree on many fine points of doctrine and even many very important points of doctrine, they all hold tightly to what matters most–the gospel message. This is one line that would be too great to cross but one, within which, there is opportunity to practice humility and fraternity. They join together not to condemn, not to argue, but to affirm the common bond of gospel unity. Though never downplaying differences, neither do they seek to bind one another’s conscience. And this, I think, is how God wants us to be as just a foretaste of that greater, more complete, perfect unity to come.
The conscience is a God created warning device within us that is trained by what we know and believe. Challies is arguing that keeping a properly operating conscience is more important than believing right on “secondary differences.” In other words, what informs the conscience is less important to Challies than the conscience itself. For instance, a conscience may be informed by false doctrine that infant sprinkling is correct, but it is better for T4G and evangelicals to preserve the smooth function of the conscience than to tell the conscience what is true. The conscience has been raised in this argument above Scripture and above the Holy Spirit. That kind of thinking is permissible to evangelicals and won’t send you off the T4G reservation, because it is an ox cart that can bring them to their desired destination.
SharperIron linked to Challies’ post without disclaimer, as if this were an important bit of interaction for the contemporary fundamentalist thinker. The concluding paragraph of Challies presents numbers of awful points. He’s happy that men are coming from widely divergent points of view in order to “unite.” He disintegrates a biblical doctrine of unity. In the last line of his essay, he says that the unity that we have now is different than the one we’ll have together in heaven. The unity I seek, the one in Scripture, is the same as the one in heaven and the one Jesus prayed for in John 17.
Challies explodes a scriptural understanding of humility and fraternity. He implies, of course, that people who emphasize doctrine for unity are proud. On the other hand, those who put aside difference to get together are the humble ones. The problem is that they don’t “downplay” differences, they just ignore them. Challies also says that arguing about differences wouldn’t be humble and would “bind one another’s conscience.” What that is, I don’t know. Feeding a conscience with the truth won’t bind a conscience. The reality is that the conscience operating correctly should be warning someone that something is terribly wrong at the T4G conference. All of this combined devastates discernment in the people that need it the most, Christian leaders. We could rename the conference, Together for Devastating Discernment—T4DD.
What I hadn’t heard during that week was that there was one more conference during the same time as T4G and IBFI, that is, Wheaton’s Theology Conference, featuring the British theologian, N. T. Wright. Christianity Today quotes Wright saying, “Nothing justifies schism.” Brett McCracken breaks down the idea in his CT article that these two massive and sold-out conferences should be getting together to fulfill a New Testament understanding of unity. I don’t agree with any of this, but McCracken writes concerning T4G and the Wheaton conference:
Are we on the same page on the core issues? Can we agree on the claims of the creeds? Yes? Then let’s hash out the details of theological minutia (which is definitely important) in a spirited, friendly debate as the people of God exercising the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2).
He concludes his article:
What if both conferences had merged and two seemingly antagonistic groups of Christians put aside their differences for a few minutes to just sing (in both conferences the hymn “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” was sung), side-by-side, in worship of the triune God who gives the same grace through which all who follow Christ have been saved? That would be a unity the rulers of the world would truly be afraid of.
This two evangelical factions seem to know what the conclusion should be. Now if they can just find the ox cart that will get them there. Ask Tim Challies. He’s already got one built.
If you see the evangelical or fundamentalist ox cart on its way somewhere, wait for someone else from whom to thumb a ride. Unity is found in the assembly, the church. Outside of the church, it is found in churches of like faith and practice. Same belief and practice are the basis of the unity, just like we see in the Bible (Eph 4:1-3). And that’s the only unity that pleases God. The ark of the covenant was the presence of God. The presence of God is purity, holiness, and righteousness, both doctrinally and morally. His presence was not meant for our ox carts.
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.
The grass gets tall this time of year in Northern California. It is the end of rainy season. When I cut the tall grass, two things often happen. One, some of the grass doesn’t get completely clipped. Two, you’ve got to mow again really quickly just to keep up. I went back and forth with my mower in no special pattern to get the job done. Some of the long grass needs another run. The yard, of course, in this instance is non-revivalist fundamentalism (NRF). I made a pass over NRF several days ago with some random sweeps of my mower, that is, questions for NRF. I got some answers, but I would like to follow-up because of the eclectic nature of my interrogation.
In some good fundamentalist fashion, people read into me and my column. Some of that was due to how I mowed the grass the first time. I had a few lines in there that could have provoked some young Freuds to get me on their couch. Because of the link over at SharperIron, the nature of the comments seemed as though I may have written a column about SharperIron, when that was just one of my questions. As a result of that, some speculated that I must be trying to become a member again. Others assumed that I was pouting over a lack of attention.
I was in fundamentalism for a lengthy time. The point of fundamentalism I agree with, that is, purity of doctrine. If that is the major idea of fundamentalism, I like it and have sympathy with fundamentalism and fundamentalists on that. I also think I have now lived a little so that I can judge history a little better, so I wrote the first post. I would prefer to keep this all to the actual lines I typed, although the psychoanalysis was interesting.
I read comments that misrepresent what I wrote. They verge on more psychoanalysis. For instance, I haven’t said anything about stifling discussion on issues or “blocking out other views.” We should prove everything, hold fast to that which is good. Regarding SharperIron (SI), I’m saying only that I see it left-leaning on the fundamentalist (right)-evangelical (left) scale.
I think where the “stifling discussion” point segues with the essential-non-essential issue is that, I believe, evangelicals have been those who talk most about ranking doctrines. They do this to avoid separation. The truth is that the fundamentalism I grew up with wanted to talk about everything that might be scriptural. I find it is the evangelical side that “blocks out views.” They don’t want to talk about cultural issues unless it suits their fancy (“smutty pulpit speech”—see Phil Johnson and John MacArthur). This isn’t anything that I had heard in fundamentalism, while I was in it. Everything in scripture was important in the fundamentalism I knew. Maybe that’s what McCune and I have in common—he and I are old school in this way.
Hopefully you, like I, have a biblical grid that screens all that you read and hear. If we do have one of those, we should all leave it in the “on” position, evaluating everything in light of scripture. I’m curious at least when professing fundamentalists don’t use the Bible to judge. Perhaps it is what I should expect today. I don’t think I read any comment here or in the filings thread at SI that exposed my post to God’s Word. The only valid criticism of fundamentalistic positions should be biblical, shining light on error.
Someone wrote this:
But are there not degrees of separation, just as there are degrees of agreement and degrees of practical importance? (cf. Mohler’s triage) Brandenburg’s (and McCune’s it seems) view of pan-importance is true in one sense, but I don’t believe that we ought to be separating over baptism in the same way that we separate over the virgin birth. Haven’t some evangelicals been a little more discerning – and hence a little more biblical – in their application of separation when they have paused to identify the exact level of disagreement?
The answer to this should come from scripture. Some, it seems, think that asking the question qualifies as an argument. Or, someone should be shamed by even bringing up the topic. Or, that the question alone shows the lack of common sense involved in taking a different view. I’ve never thought of these tactics as replacing biblical authority. You still need “thus saith the Lord.” And I don’t think anyone should trust common sense.
I haven’t found evangelicals will separate at all. I don’t even hear them talk about separation. It is as if it has dropped out of scripture. By the way, where is that criticism of evangelicalism and this dearth of biblical teaching at SI? Show one good dealing with separation by an evangelical, when they are supposed to be the master exegetes of scripture. Young fundamentalists don’t like some of the positions of older fundamentalism and their criticism of fundamentalism, even saying that evangelicals are “more biblical” than fundamentalism. It really is a matter of personal comfort on where the line is drawn; it isn’t a matter of trying to find out what the Bible says about why and how to separate.
Keep on your biblical thinking caps. Consider this again that Joel Tetreau writes: “We could get more accomplished because our partnerships would be larger.” Where do you get a scriptural basis for “larger partnerships” as a motive for what we do as Christians? How are we guaranteed at all through this pragmatic approach in getting “more accomplished” either? I see scripture teach the opposite. Think Egypt. You think you’re safer, but not only is it wrong and it doesn’t trust God, it doesn’t end in more being accomplished.
This statement made in response to my post is typical of a fundamentalist argument today:
That camp makes little distinction (beyond lip service) between the fundamentals and rural, turn of the century American culture. . . . The real force of true fundamentalism is a loyalty to the Word of God, not a canonization of any particular culture or era of time. If it is otherwise, I want nothing to do with it.
This has already been standard fare for evangelicals. To start, it is incredibly simplistic on the matter of culture. Second, it is no argument or at least an illogical one. Third, it is dangerous and ignorant (1 John 2:15; Rom 12:2).
What Issues Are Important to God
Some talked about the issues that are important to God. We don’t have to guess on that. We can go to scripture and see how God operates with regards to what He said. He wants us to take seriously everything that He said. Now I can hear the response: “No one is saying we shouldn’t.” It is what I read from fundamentalists and evangelicals now.
Joel Tetreau wrote:
Well for starters Brandenburg would separate from all of us….oh yeah he’s already done that….my bad, I forgot. Sorry Kent! What would that do for fundamentalism’s MO?
I’m not a fundamentalist. It’s true. Greg Linscott got it right. It’s because fundamentalism is too ecumenical, that is, it is ungodly in this way. However, what I’d like to point out here is the last statement. Look at it. I believe that sentence is tell-tale. It really does explain the biggest issue: what will other people think of us? Oh my! It should be: what does God know about us? We’re not walking by faith when we’re concerned with how the evangelicals view us. There are reasons they are more popular and get published by major publishers, and we shouldn’t admire them for it.
Some of the discussion about my first point veered off topic regarding my beliefs. One person said that my beliefs were rejected by most of fundamentalism a long time ago. I don’t think that fundamentalism takes the time to consider an exegetical defense of biblical ecclesiology. I also believe they haven’t sorted through historic bibliology, which is why, I believe, we have a mutating doctrine of inerrancy today in addition to major attacks on meaning, interpretation, and application of scripture that has eroded the authority of God’s Word.
Like God is Truth, God is perfect in the unity of His attributes, all in an irreducible and unseparable whole. He isn’t holy at the loss of love or loving to the detriment of holiness. Joel Tetreau writes this:
Fundamentalism because it has become fixated on “separation first” instead of “unity first” has become….well, ill. . . . (Don’t you think Biblical evidence suggests we start with unity first, and then separate instead of starting with separation? I don’t think this should be that hard. I mean count up the times the NT writers speak to unity and then count up the times they mention separation.).
Both separation and unity are taught in the NT. Both should be obeyed, neither to the exclusion of the other. Since God cannot deny Himself, we can practice both according to Scripture. Our position is correct only if we can be consistent in obedience to both unity and separation. Something JG wrote at SI sheds light:
Seems to me that if unity is first, rather than holiness, you’ve got a major problem. Unity is always within the confines of truth, or it is not real unity.
A major part of my first post was about a wrong evaluation of fundamentalism. To give a proper view of fundamentalism, you have to consider it in its cultural and historic setting. People say accurately that fundamentalism isn’t monolithic. That’s true, but it also applies to the setting for the various eras of fundamentalism. It isn’t like early 20th century fundamentalism has some grand stamp of approval from God. We see it for what it is.
I’m not a fundamentalist because I can’t justify fellowship with disobedient brethren anywhere in Scripture. I believe infant sprinkling constitutes that. However, I am a fundamentalist in spirit and by dictionary definition. I adhere strictly to a standard. I believe that we love God and others by battling for that which is of the greatest benefit: the truth. I believe there is an idea of fundamentalism that is worth saving.
I don’t see a valid historic argument to beg for a paleo-fundamentalism that includes conservative evangelicals. I know we don’t have a biblical basis for fellowship with them. However, we are judging fundamentalism at the time of a more singular American culture. Not only has fundamentalism changed, but so has evangelicalism. The issues have changed since that time. There is a lot more toleration of false doctrine and practice now than there was then. The culture has eroded. We would do well to keep this in mind in this discussion.
This talk of unity is more in common with the onset of new-evangelicalism than the oldest brand fundamentalism. I get the idea of “looking for unity.” I don’t see it in scripture. I’ve found that you don’t have to look for unity. You find it and it’s based on what you believe and practice. Unity happens with people and churches with the same positions and application of those positions. The way to find unity that you might be looking for is through reconciliation. Reconciliation, however, only occurs based upon scripture. We aren’t right to “reconcile” by ignoring the truth. We attempt to reconcile by preaching the truth, very much like someone who is reconciled to God. That occurs when the nature of a lost person is converted to line up with God, not when God approves of something less than Who He is.
Based on the terms for reconciliation that I mentioned in the last paragraph, I think that I work at unity more than fundamentalists and evangelicals. Rather than give up on evangelicals or fundamentalists, I am often talking to them with the purpose of helping us come to the same doctrine and practice. This is love. We ought to be patient. We ought to take some grief along the way. At some point we may need to determine that future contact will not be the right way to go. I don’t think we get unity by ignoring our differences in the matter of fellowship. We honor God by taking seriously what He says.
New-evangelicals were the ones who denigrated militancy and favored getting together. They were more concerned with how they were perceived by the world, its academic institutions and its scholarship. We should have one goal: the pleasure of God. Our labor is not in vain in Him.