Sola Scriptura: Brief Reflections

One of the central themes of my theological studies at this moment is the question of Sola Scriptura. This pedagogy of the Reformation has at times as Richard Pratt stated, “been twisted to fit the individualistic tendencies of American Christians.” Sola Scriptura as defined by the Reformers is not a declaration of the autonomy of humans to isolate themselves for forty days and forty nights and discover new truth yet unknown in 2000 years of Christianity, but rather it is an alternative to such practices.

The very soul of Sola Scriptura is not that all we need is Scriptures, but rather that only the Scriptures can shape our thinking. As the Confession states, it is “sufficient for faith and life.” The current tendency of individual Christianity towards isolationism has led the Church to lose its commitment to the very doctrine they cherish. The church properly defined is made up of the “called out ones.” This is a statement of utter dependency on communal living. It is the community that Christ came to save and deliver. The purpose of the Church is to invite individuals to join a community. Jay Adams once wrote that there is “no place for lone ranger Christianity.”

The Scriptures have been preserved and given to the benefit of the Church as a whole. It is in this environment which we will find growth and a greater passion for God’s special revelation. It is also there in the “communion of saints” that unregenerate people come to embrace the gospel in all its fullness  As Augustine has said: “There is no salvation outside the church.” The proper interpretation of that statement is that there is no truth outside the community of believers. Simply put, there is no other way to know God outside an environment committed to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.

The Apostle’s Creed says, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints.” This historical truth reveals the apostolic intent which breaks the sinful tendencies of our fallen hearts to divorce ourselves from our need for one another.

What about third parties?

Most people see votes on third parties as wasted votes, perhaps even worse than useless. The general assumption is, if a third party candidate has no chance of winning, then it is foolish to lower the chances of the next-best, big-party candidate. Voting for a lesser-of-two-evils candidate who can win would be better than voting for an ideal candidate who will lose. Read the rest…

Theocentrism vs. Anthropocentrism

One common and constant reaction in Reformed circles is to distance oneself from an anthropocentric theology. We are rather more concerned about pontificating theological ideas into the ethereal world of abstractions. Of course, abstract theology is the foundation of true theology. Anthropocentric ( man-centered) theology also must play a specific role in the lives of Biblical students. Perhaps a brief explanation of this will take away some of the initial fear of a synergistic view of life. In fact, this is not in any way related to a synergistic theology, for synergism relates primarily to the system of soteriology.

The primary concept that must be grasped at the outset is that the greatest commandment is not summarized in one overarching statement, but rather Christ himself summarized it into two. In Matthew 22, Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God, and almost as if in the same breath, he proceeds to give a further command. This commandment He says is “like unto the first,” and that is to love your neighbor as yourself. Notice that the distinctive similarity is “love.” Love is the essence of both commandments.

One interesting idea in this text is the Old Testament reference taken from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19 respectively. Love in that context refers to loyal duty, a delight or a pleasurable experience. This love runs in direct contradiction to the modern concept of love in our society. So, to put things into perspective, doing theology or practicing theology is not only theocentric but also anthropocentric. That is, doing theology is directly related to loving man. It is a loyal duty to do theology with the purpose of serving your neighbor. For the student or theologian, theology has a dual affect. It goes not only to the transcendent sphere but also to the human sphere. It serves the purpose of edifying the body and ministering to our neighbors. This proper distinction helps us to avoid a common error, which is: to understand theology simply in a celestial fashion.  A proper balanced approach does justice to a love for humanity and a love for God.

Seminary begins with Richard Pratt

For some reason or another I have not had a chance in the last two weeks to post anything. An unexpected event called “Charley” had the audacity to interrupt my perfect schedule. As one witty fellow has said before: “We make up schedules and the Almighty destroys them.”

Now, a new set of challenges have come my way and are beginning to affect me in a way Charley could not. Some may call this challenge “Prattinism.” Yes, what I feared is happening. Richard, as he prefers to be called, is already taking away some of my sanity with his intimidating and straight-forward approach to theology. Indeed, my thinking is already going through some rearranging. Believe it or not, I thought I had it altogether (after all, we Presbyterians tend to think that way). How cruel of another Presbyterian to destroy my perfect set of presuppositions of theology and how it is to be played out in my life! Oh Richard! What can I say? Well, at least this much I know in my naivety: Prattinism runs in direct contrast to comfort. Oh by the way, if you feel comfortable about the intricacies of your systematics, come and join us at RTS in the fellowship hall at 8AM on Wednesday mornings and join other 80 pilgrims in a fun experience commonly known as the DARK SIDE.

A Brief Response to a friend concerning Christian Liberty and Evangelism

You wrote:

You did not respond to my conjecture that you are referring merely to the abuse of something as an excuse for avoiding it. If someone was falsely assured, it is the preacher who is in condemnation as a teacher (James 3:1).

First, you have now and before misquoted the statement. It goes as follows: “The abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” By the way, I am not the originator of that quote. It was written by someone (perhaps Luther) who certainly understood the extremes taken by some in order to avoid certain freedoms that we have in Christ.
Let me give you an example as to how that quote plays well with certain situations. One clear example is the often pulpit cry that drinking is associated with pagans therefore, as Christians we should not drink. This concept was also coincidentally an essential message of Charles Finney and other revivalists of the early 19th century. In this case, I plug in that quote immediately and say that since the Scriptures many times endorses or even demands the people of God to drink, then for the sake of Scriptures, drink (Psalm 104:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7). The abuse of some is not an argument against its proper use. In the case you used, I suggest that the quote cannot be used in that context. It contradicts its purpose. In other words, the abuse of something that is found in the Scriptures is not an argument against its proper use. However, I do not believe whether it be the invitational system, raising hands, walking down the aisle, or any of these Finneistic novelties in American evangelicalism are Scriptural, but rather are used to lead many to a false profession of faith and furthermore to guilt-bound “christianity.”

You went on to say:

Oh yeah, and my Dad was saved in an ice cream shop by a man who used the simple gospel via the four spiritual laws. Even though I have a pastor at my local body, he has been my pastor for almost 23 years. Indeed the four spiritual laws are the Truth and the gospel is simple, but it’s not merely an action one can claim to have taken, and we agree.

To this I would simply reply that I am not in any position to judge anyone’s conversion experience. The Four Spiritual Laws from my perspective do not contain an accurate representation of the gospel (though I am convinced it has been used for good, after all there are Scriptural quotations in them). It misleads the Christian to think wrongly of the concept of the Lordship of Christ by confusing categories of Christian experience (the false idea of “carnal Christianity is one o them). Thus, my contention is that this approach completely distorts Paul’s meaning in I Corinthians 3.

Finally, just a few corrections in order to help further dialogue. You mentioned a few strongly Reformed categories and distinctive such as Family Worship and Home Education. I deeply admire your parents for a strong emphasis on family and education. As I have come to know you and your family, it is evident that all of you have a strong passion for our Lord. However, family and education devoid of Reformed confessions and a strongly covenantal view of family denies the Reformed faith. As you may know Mennonites, the Amish, and others, also have a strong view of courting, family and so on; but yet they clearly deny the Reformed perspective on God’s sovereignty and Covenant Theology.
I hope this helps our future interaction…
Your brother in Christ.

Should Christians vote for Bush?

This may be an easy question for Christians to answer, but should it be that easy?
In this article which appeared on a few months ago, the writer analyzes the Bush administration and brings to the surface facts that are not very well known nor heard of in your conservative talk-show program. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking Biblically about these issues. Well, read for yourself!


Charles Finney: Revivalism and False Assurance

It is generally agreed among scholars that Charles Finney brought into the American culture the definitive catechism of revivalism. Its affects are lasting and still endure in evangelicalism. Not only was there a denial of the monergistic work of the Spirit but also an emphasis upon the sinner to ask, cry, repent, receive, walk down the aisle, raise his hand, pray a prayer, and all the meticulous and intricate steps to finally arrive at a place where you can feel secure in your salvation. After all, John says, “these things I have written that you may know that you have eternal life,” (I John 5:13) and whatever “knowing” requires that is what I will do. Of course, after this series of sentimental experiences comes the guilt years, which usually occur during the teenage years if you grow up in a typical evangelical home.

It may seem odd to think that such series of decisions would be equivalent to the gospel. The reality is that this list of necessary occurrences in order to experience true salvation is foreign to the Biblical text. It belittles the message of the cross and further enhances the confusion in the already confused and troubled evangelical mind.

There is no denial that revivals have brought about genuine conversions, but I do deny that it has been beneficial to the body as a whole. A multitude of souls is even too expensive a price in light of faithfulness to the truth. As someone has stated:

Revivals ‘may be useful’ – or even necessary – just as violent remedies are not the proper and ordinary means of saving life, but such remedies are not the proper and ordinary means of sustaining and promoting health.

It is health we need. We have plenty of remedies, just not the right ones. As Steve Schlissel once put it, “There is too much evangelism today, just not the right kind.”

In order for the gospel of grace to be preached effectively we need to destroy the concept of self-reliance and resurrect the concept of dependence. It is God alone who brings about revivals, that is, a revival of the heart. Souls need to be resurrected from their spiritual death. The author of resurrection is said to be like the wind and you can’t tell the wind to meet you in a cold evening at a tent revival.

The shocking consequences of this mentality has led some to atheism or to a moderfinneygif.gifn form of Pelagianism. If we seek to be conformed to the standards of modern evangelicalism, we lose our Biblical identity, but if we seek to apply gospel truth to our everyday, then we destroy our fleshly instincts. This is exactly what we are called to do: to lose our lives in order that we may walk according to the Spirit. The Christian may find rest in the gospel even today.

The calamity befallen in the church is a direct result of a foundational misunderstanding of the good news; that is: you can never get over it. You need it everyday and every hour. If you want to be assured of your faith, then trust in the gospel again and again. Taste of the goodness of the vine in the table of our Lord. Abandon the hypocrisy of weekly re-commitments and embrace Christ once and for all.

Animosity for animosity’s sake…

How can we claim so fervently to believe in a gospel of peace when we are at war with members of our own covenant family? I am utterly befuddled by the animosity I have seen lately. Call it blog wars or theological disputes, the Scriptures condemn such behavior. It is antithetical to the gospel of grace and it causes even greater damage to the image we display to the watching world.

Perhaps the “iron sharpens iron” principle has been turned into “iron destroys iron.” Can we make our points and be satisfied with that alone? Or are we so desperate for attention that we prefer to add a little “flavor” so to speak to enhance our theological “brilliance?”

Blog writers, channel friends, and anyone else… how about we do a little soul searching for the sake of peace and unity? Hey, talk about being schismatic… don’t be an example of what you are trying to avoid. With that in mind, let the soul searching begin! Paul reminds us to “count others more significant than yourselves.”

Catholicity, Orthodoxy, and Lordship