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When it comes to cultural issues, the topical Bible teacher has it easy because they can just avoid controversial issues. Whether the issue be a doctrinal debate such as the doctrines of election, predestination, reprobation, wrath, holiness, etc., the topical preacher just never creates a topical study based on those doctrines. He just avoids them altogether. The same is true for cultural issues. The topical preacher will not come under persecution from the culture because they control their talks and they can avoid talking about whatever they want to talk about including debating cultural issues. If the culture is for something that the Bible is against then the topical preacher merely avoids the issue by not talking about that in his topical Bible talks.
Not so with the expositor of God’s Word. Expository preaching requires boldness because the expositor of God’s Word will not be able to avoid dealing with tough theological issues nor can the expositor avoid dealing with cultural issues as they come to them in the text. Whether the issue be divine election or whether the issue be adultery and divorce, the expositor must teach the Word of God faithfully and must not allow their opinions or the opinions of culture to gray the Word of God. The Bible is clear on most issues and the expositor must allow the Bible to speak for itself on cultural issues. The expositor cannot avoid what the Bible says about various issues or doctrines. They must deal with them to be faithful to God. This is the conviction of the expository preacher. We believe that every word in the Bible is vital and important because all of the Bible is from God and given to us by His Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We believe the Word of God and not the opinions of men are what we need to hear and heed (Matthew 4:4). We believe that the Bible and not the preacher or the culture is the final say on all issues (Hebrews 4:12-13; 2 Peter 1:16-21). The Word of God alone is the absolute truth of God (John 17:17) and it alone is the inerrant and infallible Word of God (John 10:35).
Expository preaching is dangerous but is necessary for the glory of God. If we really believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God (as it is) then we must believe that every word is from God and every word must be dealt with. Granted not all of Scripture is clear as others (2 Peter 3:15-16) but the job of the Bible teacher is to labor through the Scriptures to explain the Scriptures. It is not our duty to avoid the Scriptures because we merely don’t want to teach them or we don’t want to deal with them. We must be faithful to Lord God and proclaim all His Word (Acts 20:27).
I do pray that topical preachers will take a stand for the truth of God and will teach the Bible faithfully but I fear that many of them will give in to pressure from the world to avoid teaching on topics they know will bring controversy. In my 20 plus years as a disciple of Jesus, most of my life as a disciple has been under topical preachers. Sadly, I have never heard one teaching on difficult doctrines such as election or perseverance of the saints. I have heard countless topical talks aimed at pleasing my flesh or another “law” teaching designed to teach me how to do something like have a better marriage, raise better kids, be a better worker, etc. but rarely have I sat under a Bible teacher who dealt with cultural issues head on. If they did, they gave their opinions while not dealing in-depth with relevant passages of Scripture. I have seen a few topical teachers have series’ on tough issues like “Is it okay to drink alcohol?” or “What does the Bible say about…” but again, they skim the issues and they often give their opinions. Exegesis is often not the focal point.
The expositor of God’s Word will be the most persecuted preacher in the coming years (2 Timothy 3:12). More and more Bible teachers will continue to move toward topical teaching because of the culture (2 Timothy 4:3-4). The true expositor will find themselves alone (2 Timothy 4:5). They will find that they alone, at times, will speak for God. They will often feel like Elijah in 1 Kings 19:10 and will feel as if they are facing the wicked forces of this world alone. I pray that they know that they are not alone. We are promised persecution (Matthew 5:10-12) and we are promised that all men will hate us because of Christ (John 15:18-25). I pray that we will focus on pleasing God above our flesh (1 Corinthians 10:31) and our focus will be on eternity (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). The Word of God is able to save sinners as we faithfully preach God’s truth to this wicked generation (2 Timothy 3:15). Let us not shy away from verse by verse preaching of the Word of God.
I finally got around to downloading and listening to the Chamberlain Holiness Lectures
delivered last fall by Rev. Dr. Calvin T. Samuel
at Wesley Biblical Seminary
. I’ll say first that I wish had not waited so long. Anyone interested in what the Bible has to say about holiness needs to listen to these talks – multiple times. Samuel is Director of the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, England, and his work in these lectures is winsome, wise, relevant, and scholarly. These talks have challenged and illumined my thinking on biblical holiness in a variety of ways. Here’s a quick overview and a couple of points that I found particularly important.
The first lecture takes up a variety of introductory issues related to the importance of holiness, what holiness looks like, and how it is attained. If you only listen to one of the talks, be sure it is this one. It will give you a good introduction to the significance of holiness not only in our readings of scripture but in all of life. The second lecture provide a rich picture of holiness by tracing the motif in the Old Testament through the priestly, prophetic, and wisdom traditions. The third looks at holiness in Paul, and the fourth takes up the relationship between holiness and purity in the ministry of Jesus. All in all, Samuel demonstrates an impressive knowledge of holiness in both testaments and in the secondary literature that will push us to think more carefully about the way scripture deals with the topic.
I greatly appreciated what Samuel calls “360-Degree Holiness”, which is also the name of the lectures. By this, Samuel means that God’s sharing of his own holy character with us should transform us in such a way that we engage the world in mission to further spread God’s holiness. One of the ways Samuel fleshes this out is by contrasting holiness as a defensive posture with holiness as an offensive posture. A defensive attitude toward holiness seeks to protect holiness from the things that defile it. In contrast, an offensive attitude toward holiness sees holiness itself as an agent that transforms the unclean into that which is pure. This offensive posture, Samuel argues, characterizes the ministry of Jesus. When Jesus touched a dead body, he wasn’t worried about becoming ceremonially unclean. Rather, the dead body was transformed into a living body. That which once defiled has become pure by means of his touch. This raises questions with regard to our own posture toward holiness. Do we see holiness as something that needs to be protected? Or do we see it as a powerful agent that transforms the world?
The Eschatological Nuance
One particularly important topic that Samuel takes up is what he calls the eschatological nuance. This is a way of getting at the tension in scripture (and particularly in Paul) that we live in a time of tension in which the reign of Christ and the kingdom of God have been inaugurated even though sin and death have not been finally exiled from God’s good creation. Samuel emphasizes that holiness belongs to the age to come and is experienced presently only in anticipation of the consummation of the kingdom.
This is something Wesleyans need badly to wrestle with. We tend to refer to entire sanctification as full salvation. However, all holiness is an anticipation of the ultimate (and full) salvation that will be ours when Christ comes and raises our bodies from the dead. The perfection of our holiness in the present serves to point forward to the magnificence of God’s transforming power that will be fully manifest when he transforms our bodies from humility to glory and from death to life. The present transformation of our character points forward to the final transformation of our whole self, including our bodies. As far as I can tell, and I’ve looked into it a bit, this is not something that Wesleyans have generally taken on board in the way we talk about holiness. It is, nevertheless, the way the Bible talks about holiness. In this way, Samuel’s work in these lectures challenges Wesleyans to constantly ground our vision of holiness in biblical revelation.
These are just a couple of ways these lectures have impacted my thinking with regard to holiness. They can be downloaded from the WBS podcast page
. Scroll down until you see the four entries titled “Chamberlain Lectureship Series.” Or, if you prefer, the transcripts can be downloaded
from the main event page; the transcripts include footnotes which will aid you in tracking down the sources with which Samuel interacts. If you are at all interested in holiness – and you very well should be! – attend to these talks with care.
When it comes to cultural debates, we disciples of Christ must not forget that we are dealing with more than just a difference in opinion over an issue but with an entirely different world view. The disciple’s world view comes directly from the Bible. It is a biblical worldview. Our view of all of life flows from our relationship with the one true and living God. We obey Him because we acknowledge His absolute Lordship over all things (1 John 2:3-6). No matter what the issue may be, we view it from the perspective of the Bible. It doesn’t matter what the issue may be, we always begin with what does Scripture say about this issue or what guidelines do the Scriptures give us about this issue. Our primary focus is on the glory of God in all things (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our focus is on pleasing God and giving Him glory and honor in all things.
Paul the Apostle argued this way with the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians Paul dealt with many various sins. Divisions. Sexual immorality. Lawsuits among brethren. Division over spiritual gifts and improper uses. The role of women in the fellowship. The abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Yet he seemed to always point back to the glory of God. What God said was what mattered. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul deals with the issues involving sexual immorality (we humans are still the same are we not?). In 1 Corinthians 6:12 he quotes the Corinthians and then turns the quotes of the Corinthians around to show that our focus is not on self-pleasure but upon the Lord Jesus Christ and how we can please Him. He ends 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 by telling the Corinthians that disciples are temples of the Holy Spirit and he ends by telling us to glorify God in our bodies which are temples of God. The focus of Paul was clear: glorify God who alone is worthy of worship.
Cultural debates are difficult for the true disciple because we begin where unbelievers don’t and that is with the glory of God. We begin with this and not with self-pleasure, license for sinning, or the focus on what we desire or want. We begin with pleasing God and we remain committed to that principle throughout a civil debate. In all things the disciple of Christ begins the question with, “Does this glorify God or not?” and move from there. What has God said in His Word about this? What does our position do for the glory of Christ?
It is almost a given then that the disciple of Jesus must first deal with the non-Christian worldview that the unbeliever is expressing but don’t allow them to borrow from our worldview to prove their point. For instance, the whole idea of fairness or equality must be based on a biblical worldview. The unbeliever borrows from a Christian worldview to prove or disprove their point. We should not allow them to borrow our foundations while denying the Word of God on a given issue. The disciple should consistently question their foundation. On what right do you have to borrow from the Christian worldview while denying the Lordship of Christ over all things in your life? This frames the debate in a much different fashion. It points to the lostness of the unbeliever, that they are dead in their sins apart from the life of Christ (Ephesians 2:1-3) and it shows their ignorance of what Christ has said in His Word about cultural issues or at least principles of holiness.
Never get caught up in a debate where you are put on the defensive while the unbeliever borrows from your worldview. You can presume two things about all unbelievers. First, they know that God exists and that He is real but they want to suppress that knowledge because of their sin (Romans 1:18). Secondly, the unbeliever begins with a worldview that pleases self above God (Titus 1:15-16). The disciple begins with an opposite view with the glory of God reigning supreme and a worldview that seeks to glorify God completely.
I urge you to listen to the following mp3 from Gary DeMar. You can find the teaching here.
I found this article interesting that was written by Dr. Ben Witherington from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective over same-sex struggles and in reality, the battle against sin that we all face and not just those who struggle with homosexuality. We all battle sin. I would be foolish to say we don’t. 1 Corinthians 10:13 makes it clear that while we struggle with sin, we can escape sin. Sin is not normal for the disciple of Jesus who has been freed by God’s grace (John 8:31-38). Paul the Apostle makes it clear in Romans 6 that we are not to abide in sin now that we have been set free by God’s grace and we are now to be slaves of righteousness through faith in Christ Jesus.
The Church must help those who struggle with sin. There are many people who struggle with all types of sin who do want freedom in Christ. They want to be in a fellowship where James 5:16 is practiced (not with a clergy) but with other saints who can help, pray, love, and sometimes rebuke them in their discipleship. Discipleship is not a one-man event. It is a body function. We all battle sin. We all need each other. We need grace, mercy, and we need brothers and sisters who will stand with us and help us fight against sin. I might not struggle with homosexuality but I do have to battle against lust. I need the church just as much as my brother or sister who battles same-sex desires.
You can find the post here.
A sister in the LORD spurred these thoughts this afternoon … Our Calvinist friends are quick to tout their embrace of the five SOLA of the Reformation. I don’t blame them at all for we Arminians also embrace the same five SOLA. Some Calvinists have even suggested dropping the TULIP in favor of promoting Five SOLA instead. I am not sure what they would think to accomplish by doing such because it would take away one of their war clubs. How does a Calvinist reply after touting Five Sola only to hear “So what? We do too”? Only Scripture, Only Faith, Only Grace, Only Christ, Only God’s Glory … yeah that sounds about right although I have wondered how you can have five “only’s” and still be true to any of them. It is kind of like being faithful to your only wife, all five of them. However, I think we are missing the most important Calvinist SOLA of all. This is the one that lets them declare a secret will at odds with the revealed will of God. You know, that SOLA that let’s God take no pleasure in the death of the wicked but takes pleasure in what follows for an eternity. Of course, I can only be thinking of that great Calvinist SOLA … the one that occurs when the Calvinist tries to cover up the implications of his theology … SOLA Eclipse!
In Matthew 3 we read the account of John the Baptist. We read that this great prophet of God was the forerunner for the Christ (v.3). We read that his appearance was not that impressive (v.4) and yet we read in verse 6 that “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him.” Impressive to say the least that large crowds were gathering to hear this prophet of the Lord.
What was John’s preaching? What was it that drew large crowds to hear him? We read in Matthew 3:2 that his preaching was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We read in Matthew 3:7-12 the style of his preaching:
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Notice how confrontational his preaching was. Notice how bold he was in his call to repentance. John’s preaching on repentance was more than just theological in nature. His preaching on repentance demanded a transformation in life. Verse 8 is one of my favorite passages for preaching on repentance.
Amazingly we read of these large crowds that came to hear John preach. Jesus said about John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11 that “there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” Yet we find nothing in the pages of Scripture about any miracles that John did nor do we read that John gathered a crowd through human means. You’ll find no posters, no advertisements for his preaching, we find no glamour, no lights and whistles, nothing to create a stir with his own means. John simply preached repentance and obeyed God faithfully.
John recognized the source of his success. In John 3:27 we read these words from the lips of John, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from above.” John knew that his ministry was from God. He knew that his mission was to preach the gospel and leave the results to the Lord. Large crowds came to hear John but his focus was on pleasing God. He rightly acknowledged that Jesus had to increase while he decreased (John 3:30).
What an amazing focus. Too often modern Bible teachers draw crowds using worldly means. They think that a video, gimmicks, tricks, advertisement, music, showmanship, etc. will draw the crowds but certainly not the preaching of the Word of God. Unlike the Apostles in Acts or the prophets in the Old Testament, modern preachers falsely believe that it is the duty of us to draw the crowds. Further, we don’t even preach today what John preached: radical repentance. We don’t call people to forsake their sins (perhaps because we ourselves are struggling with some pet sin) nor do we preach a call to complete transformation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We dare not preach that God requires us to be righteous before Him both by faith (positionally) and practically (Hebrews 12:14; 1 John 2:3-6; 3:6-10). We dare not do as John the Baptist did and call out people for their sins.
I believe that what we need is a good balance of grace and law preaching. Charles Finney said, “Where I found much grace preaching, I preached law. Where I found much law preaching, I preached grace.” Ray Comfort often says, “Grace to the humble; law to the proud.” We need to preach grace to those who are humble before God and broken over their sins. We read in James 4:7-10 that God draws near to us when we draw near to Him. Further we read that God opposes the proud but He gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). Yet we must preach the law of God to those who want to abuse the grace of God (Jude 4). We need to warn those who falsely believe God’s grace allows them to abide in sin (Hebrews 10:19-39). We need to warn those who would claim the name of Christ while living in sin and blaspheming His holy name with their lives. The balance to preaching is grace and law.
Preaching is our duty. The application of our preaching is up to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will bless faithful preaching such as that of John the Baptist. I pray to the Lord that He would rise up and anoint great men of God such as men like John the Baptist or great women of God such as Deborah (Judges 4-5). Saints of God who will powerfully declare God’s truth to this generation and will not fear the flesh. Certainly we will face trials just as John did (Matthew 14:1-12). Being faithful to God will cost us (Hebrews 11:32-38). Yet our passion should always be like that of John the Baptist, to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and faithfully serve Him. We may lose our heads but we will be rewarded in eternity for His glory.
Oh God raise up more true prophets of God!
This is pretty creative. HT: HipandThigh Blog.
I have no doubt that the United States Supreme Court will rule in favor of same-sex marriage this week. I would be utterly shocked if the high court ruled against the issue. At the heart of the debate is Proposition 8 in which the measure was passed twice by the residents of the state of California to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court will hear the case of whether this is unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court rules against Proposition 8 they will in essence abolish state bans on same-sex marriage or will overturn the 31 states who have written into their state constitutions that marriage shall be between a man and a woman. It would be a landmark win for the homosexual agenda and would almost overnight turn the United States into a nation that must permit same-sex marriage.
I believe the court will rule in favor of same-sex marriage for several reasons. First, we are under the judgment of God and according to Romans 1, homosexuality is one of the evidences of this judgment. How can God not judge the US with the millions of unborn that we have murdered? We tolerate violence in popular culture and we give approval to all forms of ungodliness. If you read Romans 1:18-32, you’ll no doubt know that we are there. Our culture is full of sin.
Secondly, the rise of acceptance of homosexuality has been nothing more than staggering. We have gone from the early 1990′s when homosexuality was tolerated but to be kept behind closed doors to full-blown acceptance and even viewing homosexuality as a better life style than heterosexuality. Lots of things have contributed to this acceptance including Hollywood and secular media to postmodernism and the idea that there are no absolutes, no boundaries to cross. Anything goes and YOU decide what is best for you but you must not push what is best for you upon others unless what is best is also deemed best by the culture. In this case, homosexuality is deemed a good thing by culture and so culture wins. The Supreme Court will listen to the culture and will ignore the Bible and thousands of years of civilization to establish a new “class.”
Thirdly, the failure of the Church to preach the gospel. The seeker church led to the emergent church and in turn has produced nothing but liberalism all over again. The true Church of Christ must stand and preach the gospel but the seeker church, with her eye on power and money, has produced nothing. Therefore, we reap what we sow and thus we are now reaping 30 years of seeker church methods and teachings. The result: sin accepted by the culture and by the compromising church.
What should true disciples of Christ do? I believe the answer lies in being a true disciple of Jesus. Titus 3:1-7 should be our text. We read:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
We must recognize that our world is under the power of Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4). Our battle is not with homosexuals or with liars or with thieves. Our battle is with spiritual forces at work in our world to corrupt people and keep them from Christ (Ephesians 6:12). Our enemy is not a certain group of sinners but is the father of lies himself (John 8:44). The world lies under the control of the enemy and people blindly follow his commands. By nature, all flesh is corrupt before God (Genesis 6:5) and we are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) apart from the grace of God (Ephesians 2:6).
Paul says in Titus 3:3 that we ourselves were once just as sinful as the people around us. We are saved from sin only by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are not saved because we chose to stop sinning. We are saved from sin and its power only by the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16). In fact, Titus 3:4 reminds us that it was God our Savior who saved us by His own mercy. We are now regenerated by the Spirit (John 3:3) because of the work of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30) and not by our flesh. Sin is so powerful that it takes the supernatural power of God to break us and save us.
Is this not the sinful world around us? Our world is so sinful, so corrupt. Yet we too once were lost in this world. If you are a disciple of Jesus you can testify that you once were bound in your sins and without hope. You didn’t go seeking after Christ. He came seeking after you (1 John 4:10). It was the grace of God that intervened in our lives and this is why we are saved.
Our reaction then to this sinful culture should be to preach Christ. Christ is the hope. I don’t believe the answer lies in politics or in the Supreme Court or in the White House but in the gospel. The cure for the United States (and all nations) is the gospel. Our hope lies not in a leader or a group but in the gospel. The Church must preach the gospel to all sinners and we will see the glory of God as He saves sinners by His grace. Our battle is not with any one sin. Our battle is against Satan and thankfully he is a defeated foe (Hebrews 2:14-15). Let us preach this truth, that Jesus saves sinners and we will see a mighty revival in our world.
I highly recommend you to get a free copy of The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul for the Kindle. This book is a wonderful book that explores the depths of the cross. It is a book that each disciple should read in preparing for Resurrection Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, before we can celebrate the empty tomb, we should tremble at the cross as we recognize what our Savior did for our salvation (Galatians 1:4).
This deal will not last long.
A good post on the use of the word “all” in the Bible. We must allow the Bible to determine when all does mean all. We must seek to avoid allowing our theological persuasions to interpret biblical words.
We continue in the midst of what has often been called a “Trinitarian revival,” but with The Quest for the Trinity
, Stephen Holmes argues that the revival would be more properly termed a revision. He writes:
I argue that the explosion of theological work claiming to recapture the doctrine of the Trinity that we have witnessed in recent decades in fact misunderstands and distorts the traditional doctrine so badly that it is unrecognizable (xv).
Having spent the last several years dipping into the literature on the doctrine of God, both ancient and modern, I was, to say the least, somewhat jarred by this claim. The so-called revival has been received with enthusiasm by many in all the major Christian traditions, and welcomed as a promising foundation for ecumenical dialog. After all, if there is one thing Christians can agree on, it is the Trinity. That Holmes would challenge the consensus by arguing that the contemporary debates are in fact a departure from the historic formulations of the doctrine of God points to the value of this book. Whether or not one agrees with Holmes, anyone interested in the doctrine of God and the way it has been handled by modern theologians will have to engage the argument of this book.
That argument begins with a survey of 20th century treatments of the Trinity including the particularly noteworthy contributions of Barth, Rahner, and Zizioulous (chapter 1). Among the contemporary writers Holmes finds a common interest in locating the doctrine of God in the gospel narratives, a focus on the personal nature of God, the entanglement of the life of God with world history, and the univocal use of language with regard to God and the created order. Chapter 2 takes up the biblical material and provides a critical analysis of the way the relevant texts have often been read. The rest of the book (chapters 3-9) traces the way the doctrine of the Trinity has been handled from the Patristic period to the present.
Holmes finds general consensus with regard to the doctrine of the Trinity up through the time of the Reformation. He even casts doubt on the oft repeated idea that the doctrine of the Trinity was lost prior to the present revival of interest. Even during the anti-Trinitarianism of the Enlightenment, there were numerous theologians arguing for the historic doctrine. From the ancient church through to the Reformation, Holmes identifies a common interest in using all of scripture (not just the gospels) as a basis for Trinitarian thinking, an insistence on the ineffable and simple unity of the divine nature, and the recognition that language about God could be adequate, though always inexact. When compared with the many and various approaches to the Trinity in the modern period, Holmes finds these concepts generally absent and sometimes even rejected. As a result, he sees the extensive interest in and writing on the Trinity as a departure from the historic doctrine. Holmes certainly recognizes what is at stake if he is right about the irreconcilable differences between the ancients and the moderns. If the more recent formulations are right, then “we need to conclude that the majority of the Christian tradition has been wrong in what it has claimed about the eternal life of God” (2).
In my judgment, Holmes is correct that many modern theologians depart in substantial ways from the historic formulations of the Trinity, though I am hesitant to issue a blanket statement that all recent writers commit such a departure. I think we must recognize that the task of modern Trinitarian theology is not quite the same as that of the ancients. The ancients had the great responsibility of forging language that accurately reflected the truth about God in scripture and the worship of God in the church. Theirs was a foundational task, and we do not have to repeat the work that they have already done so well. The task of Trinitarian theology in the present is to explore the implications of the historic doctrine. It sometimes sounds as if Holmes is suggesting that anything other than a repetition of the ancient formulations is a departure from them; but is it not the case that we can stand on their work to consider further and unforeseen implications? Holmes is certainly right that some modern writers completely revise the doctrine of the Trinity. However, the charge is less clearly substantiated against others. Each new contribution must be weighed on its own merits and evaluated with regard to the degree that it faithfully builds on those who have gone before.
The Quest for the Trinity has much to commend it. Holmes’ detailed account of the doctrine of God from the early church up to the present will greatly benefit anyone interested in understanding the historical development of Trinitarianism and will make it a valuable text in courses on the doctrine of God and historical theology. The summaries of the historic formulations give us a criteria to help us judge the degree to which new contributions stand in continuity with or break from the central components of the doctrine. All in all, this is a very valuable book that will help us approach the doctrine of God with heightened care and increased critical awareness.
*Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for a complimentary review copy of The Quest for the Trinity.
When I was in high school, we had a Bible study group that would meet several times a week to pray and study the Bible. Sadly, many of those people who attended our Bible study are no longer seeking God at all. Most of them are living in sin and rebellion against God and unless they repent, are headed toward the wrath of God.
A few have survived. I, by God’s grace, am one of those. I don’t take credit for my salvation. It is God who saved me. It is God who keeps me. I am saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:8-9). In my 20 plus years as a disciple of Jesus, I have fallen into sin many times. I would be foolish to not say so. I am not advocating living in sin (1 John 3:8) but I am simply acknowledging that, if left to myself, would fall into sin and fall away from Christ. It is the grace of God alone that has saved me and kept me to this hour. It will be grace that will lead me home.
I want to tell the sad story of two of our Bible study students. If I could take you back to 1992-1993, both of these young men would be on fire for God, both hungry for the Word of God, both hungry to share their faith with the lost, both found at our monthly prayer meetings. Both of these young men would claim to hold to conservative, orthodox faith in Christ. Both would claim that Jesus was the only way to God, that salvation was found only in Christ. Both would reject liberalism and the cults. Both would have gladly defended the Bible as the Word of God.
Today, both of these young men are involved with liberalism. Both are religious. One is a United Methodist pastor. The other has earned his doctorate from Vanderbilt University in religion and is wondering in the emergent movement (or happily what is left of it). I listened to my old friend who pastors a UMC church tonight as he taught on Genesis 1. He rejected the idea of creationism and opted for God “using” evolution to create the world. My old friend was trained at Chandler Seminary which is a very liberal seminary for the UMC at Emory University in Atlanta. His church is nothing but a social gospel institution that teaches nothing. I have listened to many of his sermons seeking to hear his heart and I have concluded that he has no basis, no authority by which to speak for God, and he offers nothing. Nothing. No substance. No salvation. No hope. He wants religion but rejects true Christianity.
My other friend wanders about in postmodernism. He has long since rejected the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God. He holds to the postmodern mindset of no absolutes. He does not preach Christ as “the way” (John 14:6) but as “a way” to God. His latest pondering has been the same as UMC pastor above, social justice and social causes. In particular, fighting for homosexual rights (despite the fact that he has not a homosexual).
This is what happens when Christ is replaced: we fill our lives with idolatry. In the UMC pastors life, he has replaced the orthodox Jesus with a Jesus of liberalism, a Jesus who never ever judges sin, who loves, who is pragmatic, who always forgives and in no way is wrathful toward sin (what is sin?). His idol is a false Jesus.
My other old friend has replaced Jesus with the idolatry of social causes. The gospel has been replaced with self-help, helping others and in short, good works (at least good as they deem them to be good as a collective).
What could have prevented their falls? I look back and see that both were very much into “church” as we knew it. Both came from typical evangelical homes where you are saved by a prayer and church became one youth event after another. Both were not well discipled at all. The UMC guy above fell away early on at about the age of 16 or so and didn’t return to “faith” until after 9/11. The emergent guy was “converted” to postmodernism when he opted to attend a liberal Baptist college, Columbia Seminary, after undergrad work. Both were discipled by the world. Both loved the world. Both gave in to the world.
My hope is that both will be saved. I am sure both would likely claim to be Christians. They would avoid being labeled “liberals” or even evangelicals. Both would not feel comfortable around me or around orthodox Christians. Ironically, it was the emergent guy who first introduced me to John MacArthur. Before he deleted his emergent blog, I read, with tears, as he vented toward MacArthur and Al Mohler whom he called “the twin popes of the evangelical church.” My prayer is that, at some point, both of these men will repent. Both know the truth. Like Romans 1:18, they are suppressing the truth of God for their sins. Both want religion. Both want respect. Both are lost without the grace of Christ.
I ask you to pray for my old friends. Pray for the Spirit of God to convict and convert them (John 16:8-11). I also urge you to guard your heart and stay focused on Christ and His Word (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 12:1-2). The Christian life is full of temptation, sins, and the allure of the world. I pray that you resist the devil (1 Peter 5:8-9). I pray that you love holiness and fear God (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15-16) and I pray that your love for Christ only increases all the more as time goes by (Colossians 1:9-14).
In lieu of my recent interaction with C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism”, I though I would highlight a relevant post from a while back:
I ‘ve Finally Come to Embrace Open Theism
My homily from Ash Wednesday
has been published at Seedbed and can be found here
. This reflection was born out of reading Douglass Campbell’s work on Romans 6. Here’s the key quote:
Freedom is not a matter of sheer
choice…but of an incremental creation of new possibilities for bodily action
that must be learned and internalized…Freedom is therefore complex,
communally mediated, and embodied. Above all, it is learned and hence taught,
much as someone is only free to play a violin beautifully after years of
practice and instruction (Four Views on the Apostle Paul, 132).
What a remarkable thing to say. Campbell’s description of freedom cuts against the grain of the way we usually think about freedom as the ability to choose one option or the other. It’s not clear to me that such an approach deals adequately with the biblical insistence that we come into the world as slaves to sin and that we are only freed through the gracious act of God in Christ and on the condition of faith in him. Neither does the typical understanding of freedom deal adequately with activities that require the cultivation of a particular skill through extended training and discipline. I am free to play the guitar, but I am not free to play it as well as those who have instructed me over the years. A student who has just learned to form the C chord is not free to play like Robert Johnson. I wonder if this is not one reason that the Christian life and discipline is so difficult for so many of us. Do we recognize that a relationship with the God who formed us in his image cannot be reduced to single moment of choice? Is not our walk with Christ and the freedom that is found in him something that must be practiced? Something in which we must have ongoing training?
I’m interested to hear from you. Does the Campbell quote challenge the way you think about freedom?
Indeed, the whole treatise of Edwards, in which he has written three hundred pages on the human will, is based upon this blunder. His almost interminable chain of metaphysical lore, when clearly seen in all its links, is most palpably an argument in a circle. He assumes that the mind is similar to matter, in order to prove that it can only act as acted upon; and then, because it can only act as acted upon, he infers that, in this respect, the mind, like matter, is governed by necessity. Although he turns the subject over and over, and presents it in an almost endless variety of shape, it all, so far as we can see, amounts to this: The mind, in its volitions, can only act as it is acted upon; therefore the will is necessarily determined. And what is this but to say that the will is necessarily determined, because it is necessarily determined? Can any real distinction be pointed out between the labored argument of Edwards and this proposition? But we shall soon see that this assumed position – that the mind can only act as it is acted upon – is philosophically false, This grand pillar upon which the huge metaphysical edifice has been reared, may be shown to be rotten throughout, yea, it may be snapped asunder by a gentle stroke from the hammer of reason and common sense; and then the edifice, left without foundation, must fall to the ground.
From: Thomas Ralston on the Freedom of the Will Part 9: The Doctrine of Motives
The affirmation, that the greatest motive invariably governs, is a mere assumption, incapable of proof. We ask, how does any one know that he is governed by the greatest motive? The answer, and the only answer possible, is, that he is thus influenced. But, how does he know that he is thus influenced? Because the greatest motive governs. And thus the assumption is the proof, and the proof the assumption, and finally they are both assumptions, incapable of any proof. This is reasoning in a circle with a short curve. It is simply saying that we know how man is influenced, because we know the nature of the cause; and we know the nature of the cause, because we know how he is influenced.
From: Ransom Dunn: A Discourse on the Freedom of the Will
Also, the Calvinist (at least those who follow Edwards) begs the question with regards to choosing according to our greatest desires. Well, how does the Calvinist know this? How do they know we never make choices according to an inferior motive or desire? The answer: the choice always reflects the greatest desire, or else the choice would not be made, since we choose according to our greatest desire (which is circular and reveals a tautology, “the prevailing desire always prevails” or “the prevailing desire is the prevailing desire”, etc.- which isn’t saying much).
It reduces to a bare assertion. It is our greatest desire because we choose it, and we choose it because it is our greatest desire. Therefore, “choice” and “greatest desire/strongest motive” become conflated so that the claim is simply “we choose because we choose”, or “we choose according to our choice”. And yet Calvinists try to paint Arminians as illogical because they believe the Arminian position amounts to “we choose because we choose”. That is not an accurate description of the Arminian view, while it is essentially what the Calvinist, who lodges the objection, actually believes.
It is also interesting that many Calvinists complain that Arminians base their arguments for free will on intuition, while appealing to intuition concerning the belief that we always choose according to our greatest desire…
From Comment Section of The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics -Fallacy #1: “If we have libertarian free will, what makes us choose one way or the other?”