Does Doctrine Matter Anymore – To Pastors?

(Volume 22, Issue 4, July/August 2016) What comes to your mind when you think of pastors and, especially, pastoral responsibilities?  The range of response could be from that of shepherds, administrators, CEOs, promoters, organizers, evangelists, and Bible teachers, among other options. Without discussing any of these roles at this point, I would suggest that few would see pastors as theologians.  Theologians reside at seminaries and other academic settings, not at churches.  While some pastors might be known as adequate, even excellent, expositors of the Scriptures, they most likely are not seen as theologians today.  This has not always been the case. Some History Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, in their fine little book The Pastor Theologian, Resurrecting an Ancient Vision, document that until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries it was pastors who were on the cutting edge theologically within Christianity.  Resisting the temptation to critique much of the theology prior…

Does Doctrine Matter Anymore?

(Volume 22, Issue 3, May/June 2016) A recent front page article featured in our local (Springfield, Illinois) newspaper was entitled “Mega-Growth.” The article described the phenomenal numerical increase of three of the largest churches in our area. What is it about these churches that have sparked their growth? Why are people flocking to these churches rather than to others? In response one of the pastors said, “Understanding budgets and balance sheets is as important as understanding church doctrine.” Another pastor said, “Church members are more interested in relational issues than doctrine. People care less about questions pertaining to what a church doctrine is and more about the question, ‘Does this church care for me?’”[i] We should not minimize the importance of fiscal responsibility, organizational needs and loving community, but not too many years ago Christians sought out churches that reflected what they believed the Bible taught. No longer. As is evident by what these pastors said,…

The Holy Spirit’s Witness

(Volume 21, Issue 4 Jul/Aug 2015) I have written a number of articles, even a book or two, [1] challenging “Christian” mysticism which is so prevalent in evangelical circles today. What do I mean by mysticism? John MacArthur’s definition of a mystic is helpful: “The mystic disdains rational understanding and seeks truth instead through the feelings, the imagination, personal visions, inner voices, private illumination, or other purely subjective means.”[2] More than one kind of mysticism falls under the umbrella of this definition. There is classic mysticism as practiced for centuries by some Roman Catholic monks and nuns (as well as numerous Eastern and animistic religions), that has more recently found its way into Protestantism via Richard Foster and the Spiritual Formation Movement. Classical mystics follow a defined path to an inexplicable experience of union with God which begins with purgation (emptying of mind and emotions), followed by enlightenment (extra-biblical insight…

The Image of God

(October 2014 – Volume 20, Issue 5) Author: Shaun Lewis The Portland Vase was an exquisite discovery near Rome in the late sixteenth century. An artisan had crafted the vase during the reign of Tiberius Caesar (AD 14-37). After many generations, it eventually passed from memory. Rome fell, and the Dark Ages came with the Renaissance and Reformation periods following. Through it all the vase remained unscathed until February 7, 1845 when an inebriated visitor to the British Museum shattered it. One could still see what the shards once formed, but they were only shards. The Portland Vase was restored, however, but the process required another 144 years to complete. The story of mankind is similar to the Portland Vase. God created man in His own image, and gave him a glory not surpassed by the angels. Yet, with one act, that image shattered and man became a ruin of…

The Crossless Gospel – Part 2

(April/May 2011 – Volume 17, Issue 2) In the first paper on the “Crossless Gospel” I identified four distinct positions taken by evangelicals in regard to the gospel.  These four schools of thought have much in common but disagree on important points.  The “Gospel is the Kingdom” view is the idea that the gospel is essentially the proclamation that Jesus is Lord over all things and it is the mandate of the church to work toward social/political/economic justice throughout the world.  Some, such as N. T. Wright, would add a spiritual dimension to the agenda and call men to reconciliation with Christ while others, e.g. Brian McLaren, would see this invitation as unnecessary.  Those who proclaim the gospel of “Lordship Salvation” are concerned with a right relationship with Christ.  They believe such a relationship is possible only on the basis of the finished work of Jesus Christ who now offers…

The Crossless Gospel – Part 1

(February/March 2011 – Volume 17, Issue 1) It is a bit unsettling to realize two millennia after the coming of our Savior to earth that His followers are still debating the content of the gospel, the good news, which He came to bring.  This is not to say that there is not a degree of unanimity among those claiming to be evangelicals.  It is hard to disagree with Paul’s clear statement in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 which informs us that the gospel that saves us concerns the death of Christ for our sins (i.e., as our substitute), His burial and resurrection.  In these few words we learn that the good news centers around the cross on which the incarnate Son of God died in order that He might save us from our sins and give us eternal life.  This shorthand version of the gospel is expanded through other Scriptures.  When we…

Atonement Wars – Part 2

(December 2010/January 2011 – Volume 16, Issue 6) In Part one of “The Atonement Wars” a number of atonement theories having found favor at various points in church history were explained.  These included the moral influence theory, Christus Victor and the Ransom to Satan theory.  While I reject the last of these theories, the other two have biblical backing and thus fill out our understanding of why Christ went to the cross.  However, I believe the central teaching of Scripture in regard to Christ’s cross-work is best defined as the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA).  It is PSA that is facing resistance from many who would be happy to embrace the cross as a moral example of love or a victory over the forces of evil.  Yet the Bible teaches that while Christ’s death was a great example and resulted in the defeat of evil forces, more importantly His death was…

Atonement Wars – Part 1

(October/November 2010 – Volume 16, Issue 5) When Steve Chalk and Brian McLaren accused evangelicals who believed in the substitutionary death of Christ of embracing a form of Divine child abuse,[1] Christians everywhere did a double-take.  Having sung with gusto for years that great line penned by Charles Wesley, “Amazing love, how can it be that Thou my God shouldst die for me” Christians could not believe that they were being accused of promoting child abuse by men who claimed to be at least on the fringes of the evangelical community.   What McLaren and Chalk had done was bring to the surface for all to see the long-standing debate by theologians about the meaning of the cross.   Almost no one in Christian circles doubts the historicity of the crucifixion, but why Christ died has long been contested.  Of late, due to the rising popularity of everything from the Emergent Church…

Discernment Ministry – A Biblical Defense

(October/November 2009 – Volume 15, Issue 6) We live in an environment in which it is most difficult to stand for the faith.  Not only will those who attempt to be on the front lines of discernment face the guns of those in opposition, but they may be hit by “friendly fire” as well.  For example:  I recently wrote what I thought was a rather innocuous article expressing a high view of Scripture including a belief in its sufficiency.  I was nevertheless surprised to receive a quick e-mail rebuke by a pastor who also claimed to believe in the inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Bible and who ultimately accused me of taking what he called a “biblical charismatic” view.  When I inquired as to how that could be since I believe God speaks to us today only through Scripture and charismatics believe God speaks through means beyond the written…

Turning to God – Part 2

(December 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 12) As I began a long walk, I realized that a small rock was in my shoe. I could either continue to walk without removing the rock, live with the irritation and possibly rub a blister on my foot, or I could remove the rock. Repentance has become that kind of irritation for much of modern Christianity. Some, such as Zane Hodges, believe that repentance has no connection with salvation whatsoever, “Though genuine repentance may precede salvation… it need not do so. And because it is not essential to the saving transaction as such, it has in no sense a condition for the transaction” (Absolutely Free, p. 146). Others, such as Charles Ryrie, see repentance as necessary but redefine it to mean, “Changing one’s mind about his former conception of God and disbelief in God and Christ” (So Great Salvation p. 98). In other…

Turning to God – Part 1

(November 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 11) Confusion! The understanding that salvation is the result of God’s grace alone, received through faith alone in Christ alone, was the cornerstone of the Reformation and is universally recognized by all true Fundamental/evangelical Christians. Nevertheless, all aspects of this trifold pronouncement of solas are under attack today within evangelical circles. For example, the Gospel is the good news that God provides the gift of forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation, by grace alone. Yet, while all Christian branches would champion the idea of grace it is becoming increasingly popular to understand that grace can be dispensed through certain sacraments, or obtained as a result of certain efforts on our part. Correspondingly few would deny that salvation is based on Christ and His shed blood, but some are contending that even those who have never heard of Christ or His cross can find redemption. Fortunately, even…

The Role of Women in Ministry – Part 3

(November 1998 – Volume 4, Issue 10) The Christian community is fighting great battles over the role of women in ministry and the secular community is taking notice. For example, U.S. News and World Report, August 10, 1998, offered a special report entitled “The Bible According to Eve” outlining, with some accuracy, the issues and conflicts: In June, nationwide front-page news was made when the Southern Baptist Convention voted to add a clause to the denomination’s statement of beliefs affirming that a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband (p. 47). Not all Southern Baptists agreed, and the issue of women in ministry was avoided altogether. The latter could of course have been predicted by the fact that there are already many women pastors in the Southern Baptist denomination. A few weeks later the Vatican warned that Catholics who continue to argue in favor…

The Role of Women in Ministry – Part 2

(October 1998 – Volume 4, Issue 9) First Community Church is in turmoil. Michael and Jane Gregory are one of the five founding couples of the church and have believed since the church was started three years ago that they should have an equal part in its ministry. Recently Jane has expressed an interest in becoming a member of the pastoral staff, and is taking every fourth Sunday morning sermon in order to show the community that their church is on the cutting edge of relevant ministry. Michael, who is a co-pastor of the 150-member church, is in favor of the move. Several of the elders, however, are opposed to it on what they call “biblical grounds.” Several women in the church have said they will leave the church if it “promotes sexism” by barring Jane from the pulpit. A few members have presented to the elders a plan for…

The Role of Women in Ministry – Part 1

(September 1998 – Volume 4, Issue 8) Someone has said that there are two views of the creation of women, one held by women, the other by men. Women say that God made man, looked at him, and said, “I can do better than that!” So He made woman. Men hold that after God made beasts and man, He rested, then He created woman, and neither beast, nor man, nor God has rested since. All joking aside, few subjects are more controversial today than the role of women in society, ministry and the home. This is true even, maybe especially, among evangelical Christians. Views that were considered unquestionably true a few decades ago are now disputed. Even the interpretation of pertinent scriptural passages, long considered settled, is now being challenged. It is our intention to develop a careful overview of this important and volatile subject. We will start with a…

The Problem With Leaven

(October 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 10) The author of Underserving, Yet Unconditionally Loved writes: To many people, grace is nothing more than something to be said with heads bowed before dinner. But that idea, simple and beautiful as it may be, is light-years removed from the depth of meaning presented in Scripture regarding grace. This biblical concept of grace is profound, and its tentacles are both far-reaching and life-changing. Were we to study it for a full decade we would not come close to plumbing its depths. I never knew Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of the seminary I attended. He had died a few years before I began my theological studies in 1959. Some of my mentors and professors, however, knew him well. Without exception they still remember him as a man of great grace. He was an articulate defender of the doctrine and an authentic model of…

The New Perspective on Paul – Part 3

(April 2007 – Volume 13, Issue 4)  In the NPP, justification has nothing to do with salvation and everything to do with the church, or community. Declaring that the evangelical church has misread Galatians from ancient times, Wright assures us that he and his comrades have discovered what Paul really meant, The problem he addresses is: should his ex-pagan converts be circumcised or not?… It has to do quite obviously with the question of how you define the people of God: are they to be defined by the badges of Jewish race, or in some other way?… Who belongs to Abraham’s family… Justification, in Galatians, is the doctrine which insists that all who share faith in Christ belong at the same table, no matter what their racial differences, as together they wait for the final new creation… Justification is not how someone becomes a Christian. It is the declaration that…

The New Perspective on Paul – Part 2

(March 2007 – Volume 13, Issue 3) In part one of our series on the New Perspective on Paul, we examined the origins and surveyed its basic teachings. We concluded that introduction by stating that the NPP bases most of its theological views on its understanding of the rabbinical teaching of what is known as “Second Temple Judaism.” Second Temple Judaism This leads us to a brief discussion about what Judaism of the New Testament times actually believed and taught. Foundational to NPP theology and without which the system collapses, is Sanders’ thesis that Judaism of Paul’s day (often referred to as Second Temple Judaism or Palestinian Judaism) was not a self-righteous, merit-based religion. Long before the Reformation, Augustine had defended the faith against Pelagianism which taught that salvation was obtained through works. The Reformers, they claim, had read their struggle with Catholicism back into the New Testament texts and…

The New Perspective on Paul – Part 1

(February 2007 – Volume 13, Issue 2) The lovers of God’s truth can be excused if they seem to be a little “under the weather” lately, for everywhere we turn there are attacks on cardinal doctrines of the faith which most of us have considered secure and untouchable for years. Nathan Busenitz says it well, It seems like just about every major doctrine of historic Christianity is currently under attack. Theology proper faces the Open-Theism debate; bibliology is still reeling from higher criticism; and pneumatology is split over the Charismatic question. For Christology the issue is the lordship of Christ; for anthropology it’s Christian psychology; and for ecclesiology it’s the Church-growth movement.[1] Not even the gospel is safe from attacks by those who claim to be part of the church. As a matter of fact, the foremost battle being waged at this moment is over soteriological issues. Emergent church leaders are…

The Imminent Return of Christ and the Pre-Wrath Rapture

(December 1995 – Volume 2, Issue 2)  Many who have been influenced by the Bible school movement, Dallas Seminary, or the Scofield or Ryrie Study Bibles have unquestionably accepted the doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture of the church. This is the view that our Savior will gather to Himself all church age saints before He brings great judgment upon the earth during the seven year period commonly called the Tribulation (but better named, Daniel’s 70th week). We have always been aware that there are other theories but for the most part we have given them little thought. For example, there is the Midtribulation Rapture view that teaches that the church must go through the first three and a half years of the 70th week before she is raptured. This would mean that the church would have to endure the first six seal judgments (Rev 6) before she is removed. The Posttribulation…

The Afterlife – Part 4

  Four Views on Hell Within Protestant circles there have been, and are, four primary views on the nature of Hell: 1. Universalism — In its simplest form universalism is the belief that eventually all mankind will be saved. Origen (ca. 185-254) was the first serious Christian theologian to espouse universalism. But he stood almost alone in his day, and for centuries to come, in promoting this view (see Shedd, page 3). Following the death of Origen, universalism received no serious support in the Christian community until the late eighteenth century when the roots of what would later be the Unitarian-Universalist Association were formed. A parade of liberal theologians and churches have since embraced some form of universalism including, Emil Brunner, C. H. Dodd, William Barclay, and to some extent Karl Barth. Some even see Pope John Paul II as making universalism overtures. For the true lover of the Word…

The Afterlife – Part 3

(March 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 3)  My how things change. The Pope recently came out with a series of proclamations about the afterlife. First he took the puffy clouds out of heaven. Then he removed the brimstone from hell. Now he has cleaned up purgatory! The Pope has declared that none of these places are really physical addresses to which souls are dispatched. Rather, heaven is a “spiritual union with God.” Hell is just “the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God.” Officially the Catholic Church has never and can never change its doctrines, so it is not surprising to find the Catholic theologians lining up behind the Pope and declaring that the church has always believed these things. But the average Catholic would certainly be mystified to hear that this is not a change, and medieval Church theologians would be absolutely dumbfounded. In truth the…

The Afterlife – Part 2

(February 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 2) Dante’s classic poem, The Divine Comedy, which has done more to shape our modern view of hell than any other work opens with these words, “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.” Like Dante, few of us pay much attention to the afterlife until some circumstance forces us into the dark woods of despair and confusion. And like Dante, armed with a little knowledge, mixed with tradition, experience and imagination, we will come up with a strange and distorted concept of eternity. Ask almost anybody on the streets what they think about heaven or hell, and they will have an opinion; an opinion based upon some mixture of what they have read and/or been taught. A recent survey of those who claim to be evangelical Christians reveals that seventy-seven…

The Afterlife – Part 1

(January 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 1)  Introduction A few years ago a virtually unknown author, Betty Eadie, sprang to immediate celebrity status by writing the runaway best seller entitled Embraced by the Light. This was the most recent and popular book detailing the experiences of people who believe that they had died, gone to the next life and then returned to this world. Here are some of the things that Eadie said we have to look forward to after death: A nonjudgmental “savior of light” who will ultimately forgive everyone (universalism). We therefore have no reason to fear death. Returning home: Our human spirit has eternally existed in heaven. Some spirits have chosen to go to earth, either to fulfill some mission or to learn lessons that would help them mature. When we come to earth we often come as friends or family of these spirits that were close to…

Open Theism – Part 4

(August 2002 – Volume 8, Issue 6)  The Unsovereign God If God’s inability to know the future is the core doctrine of open theism, then God’s lack of sovereign power and control over the universe is the foundation of, or better, heart of openism. It is because these theologians want to believe that God is not in authority that they must believe that He lacks knowledge of certain things. Here is the argument: If God reigns supreme in such manner as to always get His own way (as Calvinism teaches), then man’s choices are not truly free. Even if God simply knows perfectly the future actions of His creatures (as Arminianism teaches), they are not free because those actions are frozen in future time and thus unalterable. Free choices under Calvinism are a myth and under Arminianism a mirage. What are we to do if we are to maintain both the…

Open Theism – Part 3

(July 2002 – Volume 8, Issue 5)  The Frustrated God In the mind of the open theist, God not only does not control most events on this planet, He is also blindsided by many of them – not able to foresee the future (as we saw in our last paper). Additionally, the God of openism apparently has no real purpose in most incidents – being almost as clueless and frustrated as we are. We encounter this rather unappetizing view of God in a story Gregory Boyd tells of a dedicated young lady who desired to be a missionary to Taiwan. She prayed earnestly for a likeminded husband and God led her to just the right man. Not only was this young man’s heart set on a lifetime of ministry in Taiwan, but also God confirmed that their marriage was His will by overwhelming her with “a supernatural sense of joy and…

Open Theism – Part 2

 (June 2002 – Volume 8, Issue 4) The God Who Is Pretty Sure The preeminent doctrinal shift required by open theism, the one upon which all the others rest, is the limiting of the omniscience of God. Open theologians hotly deny this, claiming they stand hand-in-hand with classical theists in the belief that God knows all things and is infinitely wise, resourceful, and competent. However, they add a little phrase that totally changes the landscape. God knows all things, they proclaim, that are knowable. That is, there are certain things that are outside the range of knowledge – even to God. God knows the past perfectly; He sees everything going on in the present with complete accuracy; but He cannot know the future for the future has not taken place. Boyd says it as clearly as anyone, In the Christian view God knows all of reality – everything there is to…

Open Theism – Part 1

(April/May 2002 – Volume 8, Issue 3)  Any war is composed of major battles and minor skirmishes. The skirmishes, while often little more than irritants in the big picture, nevertheless cannot be ignored. True casualties are often the result of such conflict and the military ignores them at its own peril. Still, the war is won or lost on the front lines where the primary clash is taking place. So it is on the Christian battlefield. Relatively minor challenges to truth are constant. Overemphasis on this doctrine, ignorance of another, inordinate attention on emotions here, encroachment of the world’s mindset there. Such altercations are disregarded at the high price of casualties among believers and churches alike. While we agree with the Puritan Richard Baxter that “charity should be practiced in all things”, we must also recognize that minor attacks on our flank, left unchallenged and uncorrected, tend to evolve into full-blown…

Mysticism – Part 5

(May 2005 – Volume 11, Issue 5)  Pietism & Subjective Christianity Balance. Is there anything more elusive? Most of us are constantly striving for balance, whether it is with our time, money, diet or relationships. If few of us are ever content that we have found just the right balance in these areas of life, the same can be said for the historical church. God’s people tend to swing from one extreme to another with great regularity, causing considerable tension within the body of Christ. One such tension has been, and still is, between the academic and the experiential, between those who place great emphasis on the theological and those who place the bulk of their emphasis on the subjective. Subjective oriented believers cast the term “dead orthodoxy” at their counterpart. I vividly remember an extremist group marching around the walls of Moody Bible Institute when I was a student there,…

Mysticism – Part 4

(April 2005 – Volume 11, Issue 4)  Mysticism’s Inroads Most evangelical Christians probably would not recognize themselves in the previous discussion of mysticism (as found in our last three papers), but there are subtle influences at work drawing believers in this direction even without their knowledge. While firmly denying any part in classical mysticism many are actually participating in time-honored mystical practices. It must be recognized that many are doing this unintentionally for new opportunities are turning up that seem to defy recognized categories. Some are innocently adopting ancient mystical practices because they are being endorsed by trusted Christian leaders, or even the medical community. The danger is that involvement in some of these things; no matter how pure the motive, may easily lead the participant away from a biblical faith and into the quagmire of subjectivism and mysticism, or at times even into the occult. I will only take time…

Mysticism – Part 3

(March 2005 – Volume 11, Issue 3)  Contemplative Prayer, the Heart of Mysticism The heart and soul of mysticism, any type of mysticism, Christian or otherwise, is the art of meditation or contemplation. Georgia Harkness informs us that “among the church fathers, ‘contemplation’ was the usual term to designate what was later to be called mystical experience.”[1] Contemplative prayer, also known as centering prayer and breath prayer, is rapidly gaining popularity and acceptance in evangelical circles, so it is vital that we understand exactly what is being promoted and why we are concerned. What is Contemplative Prayer? First we must distinguish between normal prayer, which is found, recommended, and demanded throughout Scripture and contemplative prayer, which is not. Prayer is our communication with God. If the Lord speaks to us through His Word, we speak to Him in prayer. Such prayers are rational, intelligent and flow from our minds. Paul said…

Mysticism – Part 2

(February 2005 – Volume 11, Issue 2)  Modern Christian Mysticism Medieval mysticism has managed to survive within small pockets of Roman Catholicism for centuries but has gone largely unnoticed by evangelicals. It is true that a few groups, such as the Quakers, have always kept some aspect of mysticism within range of evangelical awareness, and elements of mystical practices have actually thrived in charismatic circles right down to the ranks of Fundamentalism. But classical mysticism was virtually unknown in Evangelical circles until 1978 when Quaker minister Richard J. Foster published Celebration of Discipline, the Path to Spiritual Growth. Hailed by Christianity Today as one of the ten best books of the twentieth century and voted by the readers of that magazine as the third most influential book after the Bible, Celebration of Discipline has blown the doors off evangelicals’ understanding of spirituality. What Foster has done, in essence, is reintroduce to…

Mysticism – Part 1

(January 2005 – Volume 11, Issue 1)  Mysticism, a Way of the Past, the Wave of the Future I am often asked what I see as the next important challenge facing evangelical Christianity. Such questions are asked in the wake of major movements that have changed the face of evangelicalism in the last two decades, including the market-driven church and the closely related “Purpose Driven Life” (PDL) campaigns that have so greatly impacted God’s people. The legacy of both of these movements will not be that the church discovered new ways of worship, or new methodologies to replace the outdated. Instead, I fear that they will be remembered by future generations for their undermining of the authority of Scripture. To be sure these movements were not the genesis of the lack of confidence in God’s Word – there have been many forerunners. Actually they have capitalized upon this trend and have…

Lordship Salvation

(March 1995 – Volume 1, Issue 5)  No one is espousing a works salvation. …No one is denying that salvation is by grace through faith alone. The question is, “What is saving faith?” Few things have rocked the Bible believing community in recent years like the “Lordship Salvation” controversy. This is true for various reasons. First, the discussion strikes at the very heart of Christianity. Few things are more important than the issue of how one becomes a Christian. Also, all those who are drawing up the battle lines are godly men, who love the Word, and are careful students of it. Each of the major writers involved in this controversy holds a high view of Scripture, and each would support their view from study of the Bible alone. Yet, these men of God have come to different conclusions on this most vital of doctrines. The purpose of this newsletter is…

In Search of Truth

(April 2008 – Volume 14, Issue 4)  A few years ago I wrote a book entitled This Little Church Went to Market: Is the Modern Church Reaching Out or Selling Out. There I explored in detail areas in which I believe the “seeker-sensitive” church model is missing the mark biblically, especially in regard to its gospel and doctrinal messages. That book was followed by This Little Church Stayed Home, a Faithful Church in Deceptive Times. The original intent was to identify the marks of a truly biblical church standing firm in the face of wide scale assaults by the forces of deception. While a portion of that volume was in fact dedicated to this intent, I also felt compelled to specifically address the areas of deception surrounding the rapidly growing emergent church movement. I am in the process of writing a third book in the “Little Church” series. This will be…