“The State of Theology” survey published by Ligonier Ministries in the last couple of days focused on evangelical responses to various theological questions.
The statement “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature,” received over 50% agreement from evangelical Christians. And the statement: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God,” which was espoused by the heretic Arius received 78% agreement from the same group of evangelicals surveyed.
To what do we owe this vast chasm between basic Christian doctrine and widespread confusion?
Will Willimon writing for the Christian Century asserts that truthfulness is most clearly seen in its practical force. “How shall they know you are my disciples? When you love one another.” This was Jesus’ simple response. At the same time we must not forget that truth is contextualized in history by the writer of history. Life cannot be divorced from truth. Life is formed and lived out by truth if it is to be lived out accordingly. Pagans may conform externally to the law, but manifest “enlightened self-interest” in their actions. The Christian faith, on the other hand, sees truth affecting both external and internal motivations. These motivations are self-less and are shaped by the God/Man who was the embodiment of truth Pilate wondered about. As Willimon concluded:
Christianity is not another philosophy or some primitive system of belief; it is a community of people who worship the Jew whom Pilate sent to the cross.
This devotion to the Jewish Messiah is what enlivens the Christian truth and what changes the world.
On this past Sunday, I observed in my sermon that truth telling is necessary, but most of the life of the early church was in truth living. The saints did not spend most of their time proclaiming truth, rather, they spent most of their time living truth. In fact, this was much of the attraction to the Jewish Messiah (Acts 2:43-47). Yet, many think that truth telling, that is, bold truth telling–which is usually synonymous for rudeness and lack of winsomeness–is the primary means of attracting the unbelieving world to Christ. Hence they will spend the majority of their efforts proclaiming, but not living. Of course, there is no need for a dichotomy; the simple point is that our presentation needs to be bathed in grace and gentleness (I Peter 3:15). Ed Welch summarized well this point when he wrote:
It is not enough for us to merely speak the truth. We don’t just wrap a lavish gift in a trash bag and toss it to someone. One of the pleasures of ministry is that we get to wrap it, include a personal note, maybe even a thoughtful poem, and then smile as the other person enjoys the present.
With a baby shower in two days, graduation coming in less than two weeks, a baby coming in less than two months, I am in a cleaning mode. I have spent the last 60 minutes sorting through hundreds of books in my garage–which I call my class C books–trying to minimize the inevitable pain of moving one day. I was struck by how many books I have gathered over the years that are totally useless. They range from fantasy fiction to 16th century art. I don’t know why I thought I would one day ever be interested in such subjects. What I do find as I grow older is that life does not afford you the time to master too many subjects. In the last three months I have limited myself to buying very specific books that will aid me in my calling as a pastor and as a student of the Word. I confess getting rid of about fifty books had a satisfying effect on me.
I heard some portions of the Ehrman/Wallace debate. Here is a major argumentation for Ehrman’s theory that the Bible cannot be trustworthy: a) There are about 400,000 variants in the Greek text. b) The Greek text contains less than 200,000 words, c) Therefore, there are more textual variants than there are words in the New Testament. Hence, the Bible, according to Ehrman is not inerrant.
Dan Wallace’s critique is quite striking. His point is a simple one: a) The reason there are more textual variants than the words in the Bible is because there are many Greek texts. b) The more Greek texts available, the more the variants. c) Therefore, Ehrman’s argument proves nothing.
If there were only five Greek manuscripts available and there were over 400,000 variants, then there may be a problem. Nevertheless, there are hundreds and hundreds of Greek manuscripts available (not to mention the oral tradition, and the patristic witness, and so on). The more the witnesses the better the ability to reconstruct the original. Unlike great works of literature, which contain one or a few manuscripts, the New Testament provides an abundance of evidence– in both oral and written tradition– that the present set of Greek texts available is reliable beyond a scribe’s dream.
Thanks to James White for some of the observations.
Editor’s Note: I would like to begin blogging through Piper’s book. I have no intention to be thorough, but merely to offer some thoughts–whether one paragraph or ten.
Pastor John Piper’s book The Future of Justification attempts to answer Bishop N.T. Wright’s profound affect on the Protestant world. Piper’s book is sure to add a new volume of scholarly dialogue. Though I have not yet begun to interact with the substance of the book, the Acknowledgments offer a helpful model for future interaction. On page 10, Piper writes that “more than any other book…this one was critiqued in the process by very serious scholars.” Among those scholars was Wright himself who offered a 11,000-word response to Piper’s first draft. As a result, Piper’s book will be better for this rich interaction. This to me, is a helpful model for proper engagement. Can you imagine what this would do to our churches if certain Presbyterian writers showed the courtesy to send their first drafts to their theological opponents?
As many may have already noticed, I have not written extensively on this blog this year, with the exception of three short pieces on my reading of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. This has been for obvious reasons. Among them, I will intend to keep this page dedicated to readings and classes related to my seminary curriculum (this may change in the future). It will help me to be more focused on more pertinent things.
However, if you are interested, I have added a few extra links on the cover of the blog. One entitled: News and Blogs Updates (perhaps not the most captivating title) will focus on posting the most interesting on-line read I come across on blogs or news events, etc. This will be updated regularly, so always check for new links.
The Current Reading section will be an up-to-date list of my Sabbath and weekly reading. It is a helpful way to keep my few readers informed on my readings and able to interact with me concerning any of them.
My audio section is the beginning of a greater work. It has a page where I have made some random recordings for personal use that may be a help to some (such as Greek Vocabulary, readings from the Valley of Vision, etc.). This section will be updated as often as possible. There are some books that I intend to put into audio (yes, I am well aware of the ridiculous copyright laws).
Finally, my Journal section will be a personal headquarters for my day-to-day activities, reading comments, and any meaningful (at least to me) interaction or thoughts on my days.
I have just recently read Nouwen’s classic: In The Name of Jesus. In 107 short pages he establishes a Biblical model for leadership. From prayer, to popularity in ministry, to being led, Henry Nouwen sets a a trajectory that if followed may bring a renewed experience in the area of leadership. treatment of the book to follow…