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…