Monday, May 29, 2006 - Greensboro, North Carolina: : Using technology to reach people

Activity: A pastor, blogger and teacher at Winston-Salem Bible College, Reaves served as chaplain for the Winston-Salem Polar Twins hockey team. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, reading and playing the guitar.

Education: Reaves attended Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute for two years before receiving a bachelor's degree in Bible from Lancaster Bible College. He has a master of divinity degree in Christian apologetics and biblical language from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Family: Reaves is married to Donia Reaves, a stay-at-home mother. They have two children: Solomon, 5, and Salem, 18 months.

GREENSBORO -- For Russ Reaves, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, technology is another effective means of sharing the Gospel and spiritual understanding with people.

For years, he has posted his sermons on the Internet, and he has his own blog where he writes entries for others to read and respond to.

"I talk about anything and everything," he said. "In general, I believe God honors the going out of his Word."

Reaves said he hopes his blog attracts the unbeliever as well as the believer.

"An unbeliever might read something that ultimately leads them to Christ, or a believer might come there and find hope for what they are going through in their Christian life."

Reaves, 32, and some friends also recently started a second blog, which discusses issues of faith in the arts. Articles that he has written about "The Da Vinci Code'' are on that site.

"With the release of the book and now the movie, that site has gotten a lot of traffic lately," Reaves said. "First of all, I point out the historical errors in the book, contrast the book with the Bible and thirdly demonstrate the authenticity and authority of the Bible."

Pastor of Immanuel since September, Reaves said he enjoys being in an urban environment. Previously, he was pastor of Hillcrest Baptist in Kernersville.

"I like the multicultural nature of our ministry," he said.

Three international congregations -- Chinese, Ethiopian and Laotian -- meet at the church, and Lutheran Family Services conducts its New Arrival School there.

The school provides English and cultural orientation classes for refugees.

"Our own congregation is made up of folks from Asia, Africa and all parts of North America," Reaves said. "I have an obligation to preach God's Word here, present a relevant witness to our community and be compassionate to those in need."

Missions work also is important to Reaves, who has traveled to places such as Kenya, Ukraine and Senegal.

Longtime friend Al Hodges, director of global equipping for the International Missions Board, described Reaves as a visionary.

"He's very progressive as far as leading his people to engage in missions, but he's conservative in his theology," Hodges said. "He's very enthusiastic."

Curry Murray, a member of the church's pastor search committee, said he likes that Reaves preaches from the Bible.

"He's very, very intelligent, his sermons are first-rate and he's a good organizer and planner," Murray said. "He's just what we needed."

A Winston-Salem native, Reaves did not grow up in church.

"By 18, I was intellectually determined toward evolution and atheism," he said.

The influence of Christian friends changed his mind.

"They demonstrated what it's like to be a Christian and shared God's word with me," he said. "As I read the Bible, God began to work on my heart."

He gave his life to Christ in 1992 at age 18.

With plans to become a history teacher, Reaves headed to UNC-Charlotte.

"Then the Lord called me into the ministry," he said.

Reaves said his background has made him a careful student of the Bible.

"I think that's why I've always had an interest in apologetics and studying how to better defend the Christian faith," he said. "It's helped me to not be bound by tradition and look for what the Bible says."

Looking to the future, Reaves said he hopes Immanuel can again be known as a church for all people.

"Immanuel has a history of that," he said. "What goes on at Immanuel today is the fruits of the convictions of former pastor Paul Early, and I hope we can further his work."

Reaves also has set personal goals for himself that he strives to meet each day.

"When my life is over, I hope it can be said of me that I was a faithful follower of Christ, a good husband and father, and that I taught people the word of God."

Contact Jennifer Atkins Brown at 574-5582 or

Harmony in the Church: Philippians 4:2-3

I suspect that one of the major dilemmas that besets churches in our day is that of broken fellowship between its members. Something happens, something is said, something is done by one party to another, and then those two individuals have a falling out. It usually goes beyond the individuals to families, to circles, and eventually leads to factions: the “us” and the “them.” If you are unaware that this sort of thing goes on in churches, praise God. You have managed to operate in some twilight zone where you were unaware that this sort of thing happens among Christians. Many people on the outside of the church are aware of this reality, and they use it as an excuse to stay away from church. But really, is it any better on the outside? Do they really treat people better on the outside? No. The fact of the matter is that wherever there are people, there is a propensity for disagreement, and disruption of relationships. We are all sinners and as such, each of us carries around within ourselves a depravity that unchecked has the potential to be destructive. Friendships are wrecked by it. Families are divided because of it. Homes are destroyed by it. And sadly, even churches are not immune to it. While we may recognize the reality of broken relationships in every stratum of society, it is especially tragic when it affects the church of Jesus Christ.

In John 17, we have a record of the prayer of Jesus uttered in the Garden of Gethsemane moments before His betrayal. And in that prayer, His attention was not directed only toward the agonies He was about to suffer, but to a broader scope of concern. As He prayed for His disciples, Jesus said (Jn 17:20-21), “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Notice the reason for His prayer. So that the world may believe that You sent Me.

He repeated the concern in the next two verses, praying: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” Again notice the reason: So that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me

When the followers of Jesus Christ are divided, it causes the world to doubt the claims of Christ. It causes lost people to assume that we have no more answers to life’s problems than they have. It causes them to reject the love of God that we claim to have come to know. Do you have a friend or a loved one, a neighbor or a coworker who is resistant to the Gospel of Christ? Have you examined your relationships to see if you may be poisoning the well of grace by broken fellowship with another believer?

And while we may think that once upon a time there was a glory day in the past when Christians did not wrestle with this issue of broken fellowship, the Bible demonstrates otherwise. The echo of that prayer of Christ had hardly vanished from the garden before the believers began experiencing the very division that concerned the heart of Christ in His hour of prayer. Here in the first century, in the very beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ, Paul speaks about a rift between two church members and calls for the resolution of it.

Some of the English translations use a rigidly literal English phrase to describe the goal for this relationship: that they might be of the same mind. The NIV has agree with each other. In the NASB, we find Paul’s exhortation translated that these two Christians might live in harmony. Do you think it would be an insult if I said to this choir, “You never sing in unison!” If you do, then you don’t realize that choirs are not supposed to sing in unison. They sing in harmony. There on the printed page of their anthems are four notes in exactly the same location. One person can’t sing four notes. But four people can sing them. And the sound resonates beautifully when those four distinct notes blend together in harmony. Everyone knows their part. The bass, the tenor, the alto, and the soprano. Where are the Sopranos? Some people are so unfamiliar with the concept of harmony, they think that the Sopranos are part of the Mafia. They will go to lunch today and say, “There were half a dozen Sopranos at church today,” and everyone will think we are operating an organized crime ring. No, we have a choir who understands what it means to be in harmony.

Like that choir, we are to be in harmony – not in our singing, but in our living. We don’t have to be clones of one another – robots who come in semiweekly to be reprogrammed. There is room for individuality in the body of Christ. There is, in fact a demand for it. Each of us have different personalities and areas of giftedness. And for the body to operate properly, each part must work in harmony together. This is what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:21, “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” We need for each one to be the individual God created us to be, but to do it in harmony, working together with every other part of the body of Christ so that we might be and do all that God intends for His church. When there is a lack of harmony, the church is crippled. It is handicapped, because two or more of its members have ceased working together. This is what Paul confronted with this call to harmony.

I am certain, or at least I hope, that we would all agree with the theoretical need for harmony. Where we need divine assistance is in the pragmatic implementation of it. How do we heal the ruptured fellowship and return to the harmony God intends for us – the harmony for which Christ prayed? I believe this passage is one of several which are especially helpful in that task.

I. Harmony in the Church Requires Mutual Responsibility (v2)

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche …

Notice that Paul does not take sides. He gives the same exhortation to both parties. It is of interest that he doesn’t address the cause of their rift, and he doesn’t address who is at fault. The fact of the matter is that those things are unimportant. What is important is that here are two sisters in Christ, who do not get along, and it is a black-eye on the testimony of the church. So, each party needs to take responsibility and make things right. There is no room for one to say, “Well, I will forgive her if she comes to apologize to me.” There is no room for the other to say, “If I did something wrong to her she needs to come and tell me.” The demand is for each one to take responsibility for the broken relationship and go forward. On both sides there is a need for forgiveness. And if you harbor bitterness toward another believer until that person confesses their wrongdoing, you will become a very miserable person. Extend forgiveness EVEN IF the other person never acknowledges that they have done wrong.

Sitting and waiting for the other person to move toward reconciliation does nothing for harmony. Actively seeking restoration of fellowship is the first step in the right direction. Each one must do this. That means if you know of a hindered relationship you have with someone in the church, you need to go make it right. Don’t go issuing blame. Don’t go in a spirit of bitterness. Don’t even go and say, “I want you to know I forgive you for what you did to me.” That will only widen the gap. Forgive them in your heart, give up the grudge. That is easier said than done. Here’s a little secret of how to do it. Think about what that person did to you, and how it makes you feel. Now think about the worst sin you have ever committed, and how that must make God feel. Then think about this – if the blood of Jesus is enough to reconcile you to the holy God you offended by your sin, then it is enough to reconcile you to this brother or sister in Christ for a lesser matter. So go to them and say, “I am sorry we have been not getting along well. I am ready to put it in the past. Will you?” And then, by your actions and attitude, demonstrate your genuine Christian love for that person.

Now, what if they don’t receive you? What if they tell you to go fly a kite? Well, notice what else Paul says:

II. Harmony in the Church Requires Intervention and Accountability (v3)

Indeed, true companion, I ask you to help these women.

To ensure that the process of reconciliation is taking place as it should, Paul says to a trusted fellow worker at Philippi that he should intervene and see to it that they settle matters. Sometimes, we aren’t willing to do our part, or the other person isn’t willing to receive us, so it becomes necessary to involve a third party who can hold both sides accountable. Paul didn’t invent this idea. It is straight from Jesus. In Matthew 18, He prescribed a process for dealing with differences between believers. There in Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus says when there is a dispute between believers, they should have a private conversation about it. And if the matter is not resolved, one or two others should get involved. So here in Philippians Paul appeals to his true companion or loyal yokefellow to help the women resolve their disharmony.

Some have speculated about the identity of this companion or yokefellow. We do not know who this person was, and we have no way to determine it, but perhaps this is intentional. In Galatians 6, Paul says when a brother falls into sin, “you who are spiritual” should intervene to restore him. Who is spiritual? Well, apparently those who get involved and seek to restore the erring brother. So here, who is Paul’s true companion and loyal yokefellow? Anyone who for the sake of harmony in the Church steps in to resolve the differences between believers. It could be you or me, if we are willing to let God use us in this way.

III. Harmony in the Church Requires Transformed Attitudes (v2)

Live in harmony in the Lord

In order for there to be harmony restored to the Philippian church, Euodia and Syntyche need to have a change in attitude. The Greek wording here is literally to think the same. Now, how can these two women who have had some sort of falling out begin to think the same? It is only possible in the Lord. If they remain concentrated on their own likes and dislikes, tastes, preferences, and opinions, then there will always be grounds for disharmony. But if there thoughts are lifted above these petty matters, and fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ, then they will be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

The Greek word in this verse which refers to thinking or attitude is a form of the the verb phroneo. It occurs in two other significant passages in the book of Philippians. Look back at Chapter 2, verses 5-8 –

Have this attitude (that’s the same Greek verb) in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

So the attitude of Christ is a humble, self-denying, self-emptying attitude. He became a servant; The God of the Universe became a man. For our benefit, He laid His own glory by, and became like us. And His humble condescension involved obedience, surrender, suffering, and even death in the cruelest form imaginable. Bear in mind that Paul’s intent is not solely Christological, for he begins by saying, have this attitude in yourselves, and then he explains the attitude. So, as we look at Christ, we can emulate Him by forsaking our own preferences and tastes for the service and benefit of others.

Another important place where this Greek verb phroneo occurs is in 3:15, where Paul says that all mature Christians should have the same attitude. So, this tells us that a lack of harmony between believers indicates a lack of spiritual maturity on one or both parts. Where there spiritual maturity, there is a common attitude. Of course this attitude is reflective of the mind of Christ in 2:5-8, but Paul describes in Chapter 3, verses 7 through 14 how this takes shape in the life of the Christian. You remember how we have described that attitude: self-denying, Christ-prioritizing, righteousness-receiving, resurrection-pursuing, limitation-recognizing, past-forgetting, forward-reaching, onward-pressing.

Now, tell me, if our attitudes were like this, where would there be room for disharmony? Within this attitude, there is openness for diversity of preferences and tastes and opinions, but ultimately a surrender of the self for the sake of another and for the sake of Christ. This is how we live in harmony in the Lord.

IV. Harmony in the Church Requires a Churchwide Commitment to the Mission of the Gospel (v3) …these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

The tragedy of the fallout between Euodia and Syntyche is that it hindered a great work that had been going on for the Gospel in Philippi since Paul’s first visit there in Acts 16. They shared my struggle in the gospel Paul says. The word in Greek is synathleo. The root is the origin of our word athletics. They were on the same team. This team is striving together to reach the world for Christ. But when the team is not playing together in harmony, then it becomes harder to complete that task.

I need not remind you that the stakes in this task are eternal. Souls are hanging in the balance. Will they spend eternity with God in heaven, or separated from Him in hell? This much we know: when the church is splintered by disagreements and conflict, then the harmony of the team is ruptured. So we are preoccupied with petty concerns while the world waits for us to get back to the task to which God has called us – sharing the gospel with a lost and dying world. So the call is to for unity for the sake of unity. So many churches are aiming for this – unity with no unifying foundation. The call is to unity for the sake of the Gospel. The Mission of the Gospel is the foundation of our unity and it is the goal of our unity. Since Christ has redeemed us by this Gospel, and called us to share it with others who face the potential of eternal hell, what other issue could be so important to keep us divided in the body of Christ? For this cause, we can live in harmony.

And we must realize that if we are not willing to be at harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are making a very bold statement. We are saying that we refuse to have the mind of Christ in us, we refuse the assistance of other believers who would reconcile us, we refuse to be a colaborer in the advance of the gospel. In fact, we are saying that we have little regard for Jesus Christ, who prayed that we would be one in Him so that the world would know Him.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Toward a Biblical Understanding of the Gospel

We have been commissioned by the risen Lord Jesus Christ to go into all the world and make disciples. This begins with the people of God living holy lives and sharing the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ with nonbelievers. Yet, there is much confusion today over just what this “gospel” is. According to the Apostle Paul, the gospel is not an invention of human beings, but of God (Galatians 1:11). Therefore, there is no other gospel but this one (Galatians 1:6-9). So, in order for us to be effective at our task, it seems that we must come to an agreement about this all-important matter.

The English word “gospel” comes from the Anglo-Saxon, “God-spell,” meaning “a God story.” Of course, we cannot base our understanding of important theological terms on English word studies. When we look to the Greek New Testament we find the word euangelion behind the English translation “gospel.” Generally, the word means, “A message of victory, or some political or personal message of good news.” More specifically, Greek scholar Robert Mounce defines the gospel as “The joyous proclamation of God’s redemptive activity in Christ Jesus on behalf of humans enslaved by sin.”[1] In his preface to the New Testament, William Tyndale said that the gospel is that “good, merry, glad and joyful tiding that makes a man’s heart glad and makes him sing, dance and leap for joy.”

The problem today concerning our misunderstanding of the gospel is multi-faceted. One reason is seemingly ecclesiastical confusion. Will McRaney cites an actual comment made by a nonbeliever: “I think every church is saying something different.”[2] Most church leaders would scoff at this notion, but if it is not true, then apparently we are at least convoluting the issue so much that the perception has arisen. When it comes to the gospel, if the trumpet blasts an uncertain sound, there is literally hell to pay. The eternity of an inestimable multitude hangs in the balance depending on us to know what we are talking about!

Perhaps we have become confused because of evangelistic shortcuts. Rather than teaching believers what the gospel is from a doctrinal perspective, churches have resorted to pragmatic methods of getting people to respond to the gospel. While no one would cast aspersion on the intentions of these efforts, it is plain to see how the emphasis shifts from accurate articulation of the gospel to the response to the gospel. So, the gospel is often reduced to a memorable outline, acrostic, story, or visual demonstration, rather than a thorough explanation of the doctrinal realities that comprise the gospel.

Another reason for contemporary misunderstandings is cultural pluralism. We often hear it said that it doesn’t really matter which system of beliefs a person adopts, so long as he or she is sincere. However, is it not true that you can believe something sincerely, and be sincerely wrong? If I believe sincerely that I am Superman, and attempt to leap a tall building in a single bound, or outrun a speeding bullet, I will be sorely disappointed and disillusioned over the error of my sincerely false belief.

Finally, perhaps there is confusion today resulting from what John Stott has called, “our guilty silence.” There may be few things that believers and unbelievers have in common, but one of them is certainly that neither is very comfortable when it comes to evangelism. It seems that we are eager to discuss every other subject except this all important one.

Tom Steffen writes, “As human agents of the gospel, we present a flawed message. We tend to redefine the gospel, wrap it in cultural attire recognizable mostly to us, take shortcuts, lay little foundation, assume that our hearers understand much more than they probably do, forget our message’s connection to the physical world or follow-up, and communicate it in ways that require mental gymnastics from the listeners.”[3]

By now we are accustomed to reading descriptions of certain things by first stating what that thing is NOT. Here perhaps we will find it helpful to delineate a few “non-Gospels” that are frequently substituted for the authentic one. The “Tylenol Gospel” is the offering of Jesus Christ as the cure for “whatever ails you.” Promising a nonbeliever that Jesus is the answer for his or her depression, sexual frustrations, or slumping batting average is theological malpractice. I heard a professional golfer in an interview a few years ago say that his return to form was due to his newfound faith in Jesus Christ. This would cause many of us to wonder if we have committed apostasy considering our woeful slices and hooks! Christ never promised to settle all of our felt needs. In fact, He promised that we would encounter many felt needs in life as we follow Him (John 16:33). The Gospel of Jesus Christ promises to remedy mankind’s greatest need – that of being reconciled to a holy God in spite of our inherent sinfulness.

Related to this is “The Missing Link Gospel,” which psychoanalyzes a person’s life and offers Christ as the missing piece to life’s puzzle that is keeping the individual from being all they want to be. I also call this “The Condiment Gospel,” because Christ is presented as an additive to sprinkle over one’s life, without recognizing that the main dish is defiled. Not too far removed from this is “The Public Relations Gospel” reduces Christ to whatever the preacher or proclaimer feels will draw a crowd. The cost of discipleship is minimized to make the message more palatable. After all, who could grow a megachurch in our day by offering a Jesus who bids His followers to come and die?

Finally, “The Personal Opinion Gospel” falls short of the biblical message in presenting a Jesus that is sufficient for me, but optional for you. This is the danger of only using the personal testimony in sharing the gospel. In Africa, I have heard many hair-raising testimonies of how an existential or emotional event led one to adopt a certain religion and now they held to it with unwavering conviction. Their testimonies for ISLAM were more compelling than many I have heard from Christians. One television personality (who happens to be guilty of proclaiming ALL of these non-Gospels, and often in the same sermon) told a talk-show host on live television that he was blissfully ignorant of the eternal destiny of sincere Hindus. He posited that while Jesus was his personal choice of religious options, he would not declare that He was the only way. We must be careful of claiming LESS for Jesus than He claimed for Himself (John 14:6).

In order to rightly understand and proclaim the gospel, we must have a biblical theology, biblical anthropology, biblical Christology, and soteriology. Sadly, many Christians (and not a few church leaders) will assume these words to be glossolalia or at least from a dead language. I humbly offer the following as a concise summary of the gospel. If in some way my understanding of the gospel is doctrinally deficient, I plead with the body of Christ to use the Scriptures for the God-breathed purpose: teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

A biblical theology begins with the existence of God. This may sound redundant, for the word “theology” is the study of God, and it seems a futile effort to study something that does not exist. The Bible makes no argument for God’s existence. It is merely stated as a point of fact from the very first verse. As a former atheist however, I have special interest in this discussion. My “angle” as an atheist was “Deus absconditus” or “the hiddenness of God.” I recall many conversations with Christians wherein I stated that if God was real and really wanted me to believe in Him, He should make Himself more obvious to me. No Christian I encountered could give me a reasonable explanation of His existence. I became a theist by reading the Bible. Since the Bible contains no argument for God’s existence, one might wonder “what did it.” Simply put, in reading about Samuel’s encounter with God in 1 Samuel 3, I just began to wonder if perhaps I had ruled Him out prematurely. The Holy Spirit did the rest. So I do not believe that arguments are necessary or sufficient to convince an unbeliever, but I do believe that reasonable arguments exist, and therefore Christians ought to be prepared to employ them in dialogue with unbelievers.

We cannot assume today that when we say “God,” people immediately understand to Whom we refer by that moniker. There are many belief systems built on unbiblical notions of God or gods, and therefore, beyond pointing to His existence, we need to be prepared to point to His uniqueness. Specifically, this begins by asserting that by definition there can only be one God. If there is more than one, then there would be a differentiation in divine attributes between the two or more proposed gods. One would make up where the other was lacking in some attribute. But if a being lacks a divine attribute, then he (or she as the case may be) cannot be God. If there is no differentiation of attributes, then there is only one God. Two things that are absolutely identical with no distinguishing mark of differentiation are not two things at all, but one. From here, we can present arguments pointing to the God of the Bible as “the God who is there.”

Once we establish that the God of the Bible is the God who is there, we can establish the marks of His identity. He is Creator. He is Sovereign. He is Triune. He is Holy. He is Love. Will Metzger rolls these attributes into three headings: God is Creator, Father, and Judge.[4] As Creator, we claim that He made us and owns us by divine right of creation. As Father, He loves us and wants us to know Him and be with Him forever. As Judge, He made the laws that govern humanity and holds us accountable to them. Man is not the captain of his own soul or master of his own fate. God rightfully owns him and holds him accountable for his life. While these ideas will undoubtedly need to be developed further in dialogue, these categories of thought summarize biblical theology.

A biblical anthropology involves the reality that man is created in the image of God. However, because of the fall, man became inherently prone to sin and is now lost apart from the forgiveness of God. A quick examination of the Law of God revealed to Moses and encapsulated in the Decalogue reveals the truth of our depravity. If one is blind to his or her external violations of God’s standard of holiness, the Sermon on the Mount will certainly reveal the inner sinfulness that plagues humanity. Jesus summarized God’s expectation of His human creatures in two commands amounting to loving God completely and loving our neighbors selflessly. The simple question, “Have you done this perfectly throughout all of life?” will quickly expose the scar of our soul. While most people are quick to measure themselves against lesser standards, we must show them God’s standards and ask how they measure up to them. We do not offer the law as a checklist for salvation, but as an indicator of the need for salvation. It convicts, but it does not convert. Rather, it shows the need to be converted. The law is like a mirror. A mirror shows your hair needs fixing, it doesn’t fix your hair. So the Law reveals our sinfulness; it is not the remedy for it.

When we fail God’s standards, we demonstrate ourselves to be sinners. We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. We are born in sin, and the proof of it is in how our lives are lived when unchecked by moral boundaries. Watching a toddler willfully disobey his or her parents is a vivid and undeniable illustration of our depraved nature. J. I. Packer has succinctly defined conviction of sin as the awareness of wrong relationship with and separation from God because of sin; conviction of specific acts of sin; and conviction of the helpless state of sinfulness that continually produces sinful choices and attitudes in me. If I kept a journal of every thought, word and deed I committed in a single given day, I certainly would want to keep it locked tightly for fear that others would know the shamefulness of my sins.

Biblical Christology begins with the demonstration of the futility of public opinion to determine the person and work of Jesus Christ. It matters not who people say He is: teacher, moral example, prophet, miracle worker, religious leader. What matters is who He claimed to be: Son of God (God incarnate); forgiver of sins; the exclusive means of salvation. These are His own claims. The question is whether, in making these claims, He is lying or telling the truth. C. S. Lewis gave us that great trilemma that has been summarized by others as Liar, Lunatic, or Lord. Only one of those labels can be applied to Jesus. If He was lying in His claims, then there is no room to say that He is a good teacher, moral example, or godly prophet.

Biblical Christology extends beyond “who He is” to “what He did.” The Scriptures teach that the eternally existent Divine Logos became incarnate through a virginal conception and birth. He lived a sinless life, affirming His claims through many signs and wonders. Yet, the sinless Son of God died a sinner’s death as the substitutionary atoning sacrifice for our sins. It was impossible for death to keep Him in its grasp, for he rose from the dead bodily and demonstrated Himself alive “by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1). After a number of days, He ascended into heaven where He presently intercedes on our behalf with the Father.

The resurrection is the lynchpin of biblical Christology. He offered the sign of Jonah as the only sign confirming His nature and work. As Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days, so the Son of Man would be in the belly of the earth. The fact remains that the tomb sealed by royal order was found empty on the third day. There is no satisfactory naturalistic explanation for this undeniable fact. The most reasonable explanation for the empty tomb is the bodily resurrection of Christ.

A person might intellectually subscribe to all of the above and remain unregenerate. Herein lies the need for a biblical soteriology in our understanding of the gospel. Intellectual or historical acknowledgement of the facts of Christianity is not salvifically efficacious. The response to the gospel must include repentance and faith (Acts 20:21). This is not two acts, but one. It might better be described as a repentant faith, or a faithful repentance. Turning to Christ involves turning from sin and false belief. Metzger says, “Repentance without faith is legalism,” and “Faith without repentance is unfounded optimism.”[5]

We must avoid any ideology or terminology that implies that the object of our faith, hope, trust, or confidence is in our own actions or desires. We have to be very clear that salvation is of the Lord. We convolute the call of the gospel by associating it with an outward performance of works, such as a prayer, a card, walking forward, even baptism. If these external expressions of faith and repentance are mistaken as substitutions for the internal reality of regeneration, justification, and sanctification, may confuse the person and possibly give them false assurance.

Saving Faith is trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He alone is Master of the person’s life; He alone will save them from hell. If their confidence is not in this reality, then the person cannot claim to be saved. Saving faith is is volitional and active. The biblical command is to begin to live out that trust which has been committed to Jesus. As we respond to Jesus, there is a surrender to His Lordship (Matthew 7:21; James 4:7-10); a repentance from sins, sinfulness, and false belief (Acts 3:19-20; Matthew 4:17; Acts 17:30-31); and a belief and trust that includes but is not limited to intellectual agreement. It goes beyond intellect to volitional action (Ephesians 2:8-10; John 20:29; Hebrews 11:6; James 2).

It is plain to see that sharing the gospel this thoroughly is not something that can be done on a chance encounter in an elevator or in the duration of an airplane flight (unless we are circumnavigating the globe!). Sometimes, we have the opportunity in such brief conversations to harvest a faith that has been planted and watered by others, but we can by no means assume that in three minutes or less we can lay a foundation and build a superstructure. Any effort to do so rivals salesmanship or manipulation, and the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ deserves much more integrity. We must be committed to the task of making disciples over the long course of developing personal relationships, through which we can genuinely and authentically communicate our faith in its fullness to the unbeliever. This may take hours, days, weeks, months or years. And if this seems an unreasonable amount of time, we must compare it to the eternity which is at stake. The potential of spending years investing in the soul of unbeliever pales in comparison to the eternity that individual stands to endure in eternal separation from God in hell. We must commit to the task!

I hope that this article contributes to the discussion of the biblical gospel and moves us closer to the center of the target.

[1] Robert Mounce, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Second Edition), Walter Elwell, ed.

[2] McRaney, The Art of Personal Evangelism.

[3] Tom Steffen, “Flawed Evangelism and Church Planting”, Evangelical Missions Quarterly 34 (1998): 434.

[4] Will Metzger, Tell the Truth.

[5] Ibid.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

On the Scent of a TULIP, and Whether It Bears Thorns

With the debate raging in contemporary Baptist life concerning Calvinism, I have been asked with increasing frequency my position in the discussion. I find it interesting that the debate is not between Calvinists and Arminians, but rather between those who are Calvinist and non-Calvinist. Even those who are non-Calvinist in Baptist life affirm many of the points of Calvinism. But they typically do not embrace all of what have come to be known as "The Five Points of Calvinism," which have been articulated memorably as "TULIP":
  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistable Grace
  • Preservation/Perseverance of the Saints
Some have found thorns on the TULIP, particularly when it comes to differences in understanding concerning election, the atonement, and the irresistability of grace. To them, it seems that this system does not allow for any personal freedom of choice. Those who embrace the TULIP insist that man has a capacity for choosing, but that capacity is confined within certain boundaries established by the sovereignty of God and/or the sinfulness of mankind, and therefore man is not an autonomous moral agent.

Up front in the discussion, it must be recongnized that the greatest minds of church history have debated this issue for centuries and yet it remains a dividing line between believers. Therefore, we must with humble realism acknowledge that we are only hoping in our day to glean from and add to the age-old conversation. None of us should be so bold as to say we have it all figured out. We ought to recognize that there are limitations to every system, and only the Word of God is infallible.

Admittedly, the doctrine of election is the most troubling of those doctrines related to evangelism. However, we do not have the liberty to say, “I do not believe in election or predestination.” The fact is that the Bible teaches these things. Ephesians 1:4-6 is only one example of many that could be offered which affirms election: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

Some, however, emphasize "free will" to the exclusion of election by saying that an individual’s choice for Christ was solely self-caused with no external influence. Here again, the Bible does teach that there is a choosing on the part of the individual. Second Peter 3:9 is a fitting example of this: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Because humanity does not exist in an autonomous vacuum, perhaps the term “free will” is a bit of a misnomer. There is no place where we may conduct ourselves free from external influence. Perhaps it is better to use the phrase “power of moral choice.” “In the phrase power of moral choice, the word power signals that man has been given the ability (authority) to make authentic choices from the options permitted within his circumstances. In that way his choices may be limited,” but not his ability to choose. [1]

The problem for this debate is that while the word of God clearly establishes God's providence, sovereignty, foreknowledge, and electing purposes, there remains a measure of moral freedom on the part of human agents. So, is there a way to bridge the gap between Calvinism and Arminianism, or at least between Calvinism and non-Calvinism? I have become persuaded that the doctrine of middle knowledge (scientia media) set forth in antiquity by Luis de Molina and popularized in recent days in the writings of William Lane Craig and others offers us help and hope in the dialogue. At the risk of over-simplifying the doctrine of middle knowledge, I shall attempt to provide a condensed summary. The full explanation of the doctrine is complex and involves many tedious philosophical distinctions elements which are beyond the bounds of this forum. According to the doctrine of “Middle Knowledge,” God knows everything. He is meticulously omniscient. He knows the things that are, the things that will be, and the things that might be. He knows that if He creates a certain state of affairs, certain and specific outcomes will be. Included in these potentialities that God knows are the choices that human beings will make in certain providentially ordained circumstances. He knows for instance, that if He creates a world which includes me, and that my life endures the circumstances it did prior to 1992, and that I hear the gospel on July 31 of that year, that I will choose to accept Jesus. He also knows that there are other worlds that He can create in which this will not happen. In fact, this world which He actually created may be the only possible world in which I would choose to be saved. It may be the only possible world in which I would exist.

For reasons known only to Him, God chose to create a world – this world that we know and in which we live. Why this world and not another? His reasons for choosing this world are known only to Him. He is sovereign, meaning that no one or nothing determines the choices He makes. He has His own reasons for all that He does, and ultimately, "The End for Which God Created the World" (to borrow from Jonathan Edwards) is to bring the most glory possible to Himself. God was pleased, again for reasons unknown to us, to create this world in which we now live. When He did, He elected, He predestined all those whom He foreknew would make a choice to believe in Jesus in this world. Those who do not choose Jesus in this world were foreknown to Him as well. In this way, God receives glory for electing all those who are in Christ, but He cannot be blamed for the “reprobation” of souls to hell. They are unredeemed because of their choices. So we are able to say that salvation is all of God’s grace. We did not do anything to earn or deserve God’s choosing, and we cannot boast in our choice, because if one microscopic variable had been rearranged by God’s providence, we would be lost. Yet His election and predestination through His divine foreknowledge does not counteract our power of moral choice. The choice was ours to make, and we did – either for salvation or destruction.

This should not be confused with the view known as "simple foreknowledge," which states that God elects those whom He foreknows will choose to be saved. That view makes God the reactor as opposed to the initiator of salvation. He does not elect on the basis of His foreknowledge. He elects on the basis of His creative purpose to bring glory to Himself. It is unconditional. Nothing I do makes me disposed toward His election. My election is encompassed in the actualization of this present world, which God in His sovereignty was pleased to create. Again, in some other possible world, I might have used the same power of moral choice to reject Christ, so it is not God's foreknowledge of me or my choosing which gains me election. It is all of God's grace that He should be pleased to actualize the world which involves me being saved.

We cannot say that election is “unfair.” God is the standard of fairness, and all of our standards have been warped by sin. "Fairness" would require everyone to perish apart from God in hell for eternity, for "All have sinned," (Rom. 3:23). We all deserve hell because of our sins. God is just in letting us all have our eternity there. However, in His lovingkindness and grace, He has chosen to save some through faith in Christ. The only ones who can claim God has not dealt fairly with them are the ones who are saved!

Election affects evangelism, not by weakening our efforts but by strengthening them. Rather than causing us to rest on our laurels trusting God to save all those He elected without our involvement, election assures us that if we share the gospel, those who are elect will respond. We do not have to depend on manipulation, emotional appeal, trickery or the devices of men to persuade the lost to repent. We have the assurance of God that He will use our Spirit-empowered witness and His divine word to draw the elect to Christ. Those who do not respond to our witness may do so at a later, and if they never do, then they are not elect. This should give us confidence in our witness and remove the fear of rejection or failure.

Postscript: The doctrine of middle knowledge is maleable. I know Calvinists who hold it, Arminians who hold it, and none-of-the-aboves who hold it. There is room for diverse understandings of the nature of man's freedom (libertarian, determinist or compatibilist), and other theological intricacies. In recent days, due in large part perhaps to Gregory Boyd and others attempting to restyle Open Theism as "Neo-Molinism" that many people confuse middle knowledge with openness, or at least put forth a slippery slope argument (nearly always fallacious) saying that it will lead to openness. This could not be further from the truth. Middle knowledge in no way limits God's foreknowledge or omniscience. Rather, it seems to me that any rejection or denial of middle knowledge DOES limit God's omniscience because it denies Him the foreknowledge of possibilities. Acknowledging God's knowledge of possibilities (or counterfactuals, or potentialities) does not mean that God is ignorant of what REALITY will in fact transpire. He knows from eternity past what circumstances will providentially come about and what choices moral agents will make in those circumstances, as well as the outcomes of those choices, the responses to the outcomes, ad infinitum.

I would challenge the reader to investigate further the doctrine of middle knowledge. For Calvinists struggling with how to integrate it into their system, see Terrence Tiessen's book Providence and Prayer.

Second Postscript:
Some have asked the significance of the name "middle knowledge." Molina's understanding was that we must comprehend God's knowledge in three LOGICAL (NOT Chronological) "moments." Of course God does not actually ponder this, for His omniscience has for eternity been all-encompassing (remind me to tell you about the conundrum at the Hare Krishna compound over this one - maybe in the comments section). It may be helpful to think of these as "categories" rather than "logical moments" of knowledge, but I think I would urge caution in either case. By God's natural knowledge, He perfectly and eternally knows all necessary truths and possibilities. By His free knowledge, He knows what is. This is His perfect knowledge of that which actually exists. Molina posited that in between these two was scientia media (middle knowledge), "through which God knows, prior to His own free decrees, how any possible rational agent would freely act in any possible situation," (Alfred Freddosso).

[1] Bruce Little, Creation-Order Theodicy (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005), 9.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dr. Frank Page on SBC Presidential Nomination

Press Releases

Click the above link to read a press release by Dr. Frank Page, pastor of First Baptist Church, Taylors, SC, concerning his nomination for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Page was ordained at Immanuel in 1974, and has family members with close ties to us still. I appreciate all that Dr. Page has stated in the press release. I also applaud his courage to throw his hat into the ring for this important presidential election. It could be the most important since the conservative resurgence began.

Dr. Page has my full support for President of the Convention. His church's Cooperative Program giving is exemplary, his convictions are consistent with the direction of our convention, and his passion for missions and evangelism is evident. I pray that Baptists will practice what we preach in Greensboro this year. We always proclaim in secular elections that people need to vote on the issues. Dr. Page has identified the issues and taken a stand on them. I trust that we will not allow powerful personalities to persuade us to vote according to lesser standards.

By the way, Josh Wells (whom you may know as FreeTibet05 on the Sacred/Secular blog) and I had a very enjoyable visit to FBC Taylors when we were students at Fruitland (before Dr. Page became their pastor). We almost barged onto the platform by accident because we opened the wrong door, and they didn't even ask us to leave when we broke into fits of laughter as the guest choir sang "Zekiel Saw De Wheel." No disrespect intended, but hearing a group of caucasian suburbanite Baptist college students, croon with opera stylings, "Wheel, O Wheel; Wheel in de middle of de wheel" was more than we could take.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Citizens of Heaven: Philippians 3:20-4:1

There is much discussion in the news these days about citizenship. Who can become a citizen? What does it take to become a citizen? What does it mean to be a citizen? What privileges and responsibilities do citizens have? The United States of America is a nation founded by immigrants coming to a new land, and populated by the native dwellers of that land, the descendants of immigrants, and new waves of immigrants that have flowed incessantly into America since the days of our founding. So, in these days, important questions are being asked, and hopefully answered, concerning laws of immigration and citizenship. It is not my purpose here today to deal with questions of American citizenship. This is for the lawmakers to work out. My concern today is of another kind of citizenship.

Philippi was once a great city, named for Philip II of Macedon who gained control of the city in 358 BC. Philip named the city after himself, which historians have claimed was the first time anyone ever did that.[1] His son made that city the base of his twelve year quest for world domination. Philip’s son was Alexander the Great. In 168 BC, Philippi was conquered by the Romans, and between 42 and 30 BC, Antony and Octavian established a colony of there, reviving the decimated city by populating it with Roman war veterans. Octavian declared Philippi to have the full rights of Italy (ius Italicum), meaning that, though Philippi was 800 miles from Rome, its citizens enjoyed the same rights and privileges of those who lived in Rome. Most of them had never even been to Rome, but they enjoyed the benefits of Roman citizenship though they lived far away.

The Philippians were proud of their Roman citizenship, evidenced by their declaration in Acts 16:21. It was Paul’s announcement of his own Roman citizenship that spared him from further mistreatment in the city. So when Paul speaks of citizenship, the Philippians immediately perk up. They were citizens of Rome. Paul was a citizen of Rome. But they shared a different citizenship as well – one that transcends boundaries and genealogies. Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” In the time we have today, I want to examine four realities that Paul deals with in these verses related to our citizenship.

The first is very plainly stated:

I. Our citizenship is in heaven. (v20a)

We must bear in mind that these verses do not occur in isolation. The statement begins with a conjunction that is translated as for in most English translations. And you remember Schoolhouse Rock: Conjunction Junction, what's your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses. So a conjunction hooks something up to what came before it. The Greek conjunction gar that is used here has explanatory force. Like the word for it gives a reason.

Paul has told the Philippian Christians that they are to emulate his example and that of others who are following in the path of Christian maturity. They are to ignore the examples of the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is their shame, who set their minds on earthly things (3:18-19).

The reason for this twofold instruction is that our citizenship is in heaven. As citizens of Rome were expected to promote the interests of their homeland wherever they may be, so should the citizens of heaven. They may have never even seen Rome, but their allegiance was to Rome. So it is with the citizen of heaven. We are under the authority and care of our homeland – heaven. We owe our allegiance to heaven and its Glorious King. In some coffer of Rome there were scrolls containing lists of all those who were the authentic citizens of Rome. So in heaven, our names are enrolled in the Lamb’s Book of Life, the citizenship registry of the Kingdom of God, if we are truly citizens of that place.

We are an outpost colony, an embassy if you will. And as such, each follower of Christ is an ambassador. We are citizens of heaven who are assigned to a mission here on earth. An ambassador goes to live in another country, but he goes to represent the interests of his own country. So, he does not immerse himself in the culture of the foreign country in which he lives, but rather keeps his mind on the things in his home country. He flies the flag of his home country. He tells people about the wonders of his home country and how they might enjoy them by traveling there. He speaks on behalf of his king to the kings and peoples of other lands, and he seeks to represent that king with accuracy and authority. His desires are on the pleasantries of home.

So we are ambassadors of heaven. We represent the interests of heaven and our Heavenly King. We do not entangle ourselves in the trappings of this place, but we fix our thoughts on things above, not on things of earth. Our conversation is to be filled with the language of heaven and our King, and we speak in such a way as to make people long for Him and that place. Of the citizen of heaven, Charles Erdman wrote, “Their hopes are centered on its glories.”[2]

Notice also that Paul does not say our citizenship will be in heaven. No, this is a present reality. NOW we are citizens of heaven, living under its law, acting in accordance with its interests. M. R. Vincent said, “Their connection with it is the basis of their life of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, as distinguished from the life of belly-worship and worldliness.”[3] What enables us to go through life without obeying every prompting of our bellies, our appetites and carnal desires? What enables us to live without setting our minds on earthly things? It is the confident awareness that we are citizens of another land – already the believer in Christ belongs to heaven, and our heavenly King deserves our full allegiance and devotion. This brings me to the second reality of our heavenly citizenship:

II. We are eagerly waiting for a Savior from heaven (v20b)

While we live in this foreign land – this enemy occupied territory – we wait in eager anticipation for one from the homeland to come and deliver us. We are waiting, but we are not wondering. Countless people under the Old Covenant were told that God would send a Messiah – a redeemer for them, and generations later, many wonder if He ever will. Many more have given up waiting and wondering. They figured that if God didn’t deliver them from the Holocaust, He never will. In a conversation with a Jewish rabbi in Raliegh, I asked what the present state of Messianic expectation is among Jewish people. The rabbi, chuckling, referred me to a book by Robert Levine entitled There is no Messiah, and You are It. The subtitle is The Stunning Transformation of Judaism’s Most Provocative Idea. In this book, Levine suggests that people should give up on waiting for a messiah to come and repair the world. The messiah is not a specific individual who will save the world but rather a belief that every person, doing his or her part, together can save the world.[4]

Let me remind you that we are the ones who put the world in the shape it is in now, so I don’t know how in the world anyone thinks we can remedy it that way. Bear in mind, the book was recommended to me by a rabbi. Levine is a Reformed Jewish rabbi, and the book is published by a Jewish publishing company. While these views about the Messiah would not be shared by every Jewish person today, they are certainly very popular and becoming increasingly popular.

I am so glad that we are not wondering. We are waiting. We know who He is. Paul says, “the Lord Jesus Christ.” We know Him for He has already come once. In the Person of Jesus Christ, God Himself came to dwell among us (John 1:1, 14). In the first sermon of the Christian church, Peter said on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22-24, turn there please):

Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this one, delivered overy by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agone of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

In John 14:2, Jesus said some often-quoted words: In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. Jesus has promised that He would prepare the place of our citizenship for our dwelling. And in the next verse, John 14:3, He made this promise: If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

The citizens of heaven are eagerly waiting for these promises to be consummated. The Lord Jesus Christ is coming again. He is coming from heaven. He is coming to take us to the place of our citizenship. The writer of Hebrews said this (9:28): So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. In other words, when He comes again, there will be no cross. There will be no other remedy for human sin than the one already supplied when He came the first time. He has dealt fully and finally with sin. When He comes again, it will be to consummate the redemption of those who have come to Him through faith and repentance and now eagerly await Him.

This brings me to the third reality of our heavenly citizenship:

III. The Savior from heaven will make us fit for heaven (v21)

Look what Paul says He will do: He will transform the body of our humble estate into conformity with the body of His glory.

The enemies of the cross that Paul described in v19 are obsessed with their bodies. They worship the appetites of their bodies. They glory in the shamefulness of their bodies. Their minds are fixed on the earthly activities of their bodies. But these bodies that we occupy now are temporary dwelling places. In 2 Corinthians, Paul calls these bodies tents. We are just occupying them as we sojourn through this land en route to our home. We don’t want to adopt the Gnostic heresy that they are inherently evil and should be renounced. The KJV rendering the term vile is misleading. These bodies, tainted and ravaged by the effects of sin though they may be, were nonetheless created in the image of God. Therefore we should not disregard totally the human body, but neither should we make our earthly existence in these bodies our ultimate concern.[5]

The bodies that we now have are humble. They are lowly. They have limitations and weaknesses. We are susceptible to illness, injury, cravings, and sin. But these bodies will be transformed. This is what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 15. He says there We will not all sleep (that is his metaphor for death), but we will all be changed. In other words, some will be changed through resurrection, others through rapture, but surely no one will enter heaven wearing these humble bodies. He says the perishable must put on the imperishable and mortal put on immortality.

These mortal and perishable bodies will become glorious. But they will not be a display of our own glory. Notice that we will be transformed into conformity with the body of HIS glory. Peter, James, and John saw a glimpse of that glory at the Mount of Transfiguration. John saw it in a vision on Patmos as he wrote the Revelation. But our eyes have not beheld Him in that glory… YET. But John says in 1 John 3:2, “It has not appeared as yet what we will be, but we know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him just as He is. One glimpse of the coming King of heaven and we will be transformed into His likeness. How will He do this? By the same power that will put all things under subjection to Himself. Nothing is too difficult for God.

Now what effect ought this have on us? That is the fourth reality:

IV. Our heavenly citizenship produces spiritual stamina for us on earth (4:1)

Knowing that our citizenship is in heaven, and that Christ is coming to transform us into His glory should motivate us to press on until the day it happens! Stand Firm in the Lord! Paul’s statements about the coming transformation in 1 Corinthians 15 culminate with the admonition of verse 58: Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. John’s statements about our transformation at the coming of Christ conclude with the words of 1 John 3:3 -- And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He [Christ] is pure. In other words, the realities that we have described here ought to in no way produce spiritual lethargy on our parts.

They ought to motivate us to active purity, to steadfastness, to an abundance of work for the Lord, to STAND FIRM until He comes.

If you are a believer in Christ today – you have given your life to Him as your Lord and Savior – then you are a citizen of heaven. Christ is coming for you to take you to your eternal home. He is preparing your eternal dwelling place and in His perfect time, He will come again. When will this happen? I don’t know when, but I know that He keeps His promises. We might taste death before He returns, but that will not stand in the way of Him transforming us into the likeness of His glory. And until He comes, or until our death, we must stand firm. We must press on. We must keep ourselves pure. And we must labor for the Master so that when He comes He will find us faithful.

There is one thing you must know about heavenly citizenship: there will be no illegal aliens there. You can’t sneak across the border or go on a temporary visa or guest worker program. Heaven is a place reserved only for its citizens. And while that may sound discouraging at first glance, I assure that it is wonderful news, because the borders are open and citizenship is offered freely to you. You don’t have to sneak into this Kingdom. The King, Jesus Christ, stands at the border with His arms open wide to receive you. If you will turn from sin and cling to Him by faith as Lord and Savior, you will be made a citizen.

[1] Cited in Richard Melick, NAC: Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, p22.

[2] Charles Erdman, Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, 116.

[3] M. R. Vincent, ICC: Philippians, Philemon, 119.

[4] Statements condensed from synopsis and reviews of Levine’s book at

[5] Melick, 144.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Canes Win! Canes Win! Canes Win!

How about those Canes? Next challenge: Buffalo.

... But it's just a novel ...

According to a George Barna study cited in today's Baptist Press, the Da Vinci Code is much more than just a novel. Below is material copied and pasted from that article:

One out of every five Americans has read "The Da Vinci Code," and 2 million of them have changed their religious beliefs because of it, a new Barna Group poll indicates.

The poll was released May 15, just four days before a movie based on the novel hits the big screen. According to the poll, roughly 45 million people -- 20 percent of those polled -- have read the book "cover to cover." Among those who have read the book:

-- Twenty-four percent said the book was "extremely," "very" or "somewhat" helpful to them in relation to their "personal spiritual growth or understanding." That's some 11 million people, an online analysis on Barna's website notes.

-- Five percent said the book led them to change some of their beliefs or religious perspectives. That translates to 2 million people.

Is the Canon Shot? DaVinci Decoded, Part 6

In our final installement of "DaVinci Decoded," we are going to look at the development of the Biblical Canon (Canon with one “n”, not cannon, like the weapon). Now, if that is a term which is unfamiliar to you, the Canon has come to mean the authoritative collection of Scripture that we deem to be inspired. The word “canon” means “rule” or “standard”. This issue comes up throughout the DVC, and the discerning reader is left with many questions. Namely, how reliable is the biblical canon? Or as I have turned the pun, “Is the canon shot?”

The Code says: “Everything you need to know about the Bible can be summed up by the great canon doctor Martyn Percy. … ‘The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven.’” (p231). I don’t really know anyone who is arguing this rather ludicrous suggestion. But we do claim a divine origin of the Bible, that it is God’s word. But the DVC denies this …

The Code says: “The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions.” (p231).

We do not claim that man did not have a part. 2 Peter 1:20-21: But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

It is untrue to suggest that the Bible has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. Each new translation or revision has sought to conform the text more to the most ancient and accurate manuscripts.

The Code says: “The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.” (p231). We have doubly dismissed this, by looking both at the career of Constantine and the Council of Nicea. We said that this is likely a confusion based on the fact that Constantine did order and finance the printing of 50 Bibles for certain clergy, but he did not have any say as to the content of those Bibles. He allowed Eusebius to use his own guidelines for which books to include.

Other claims made in the Code are:

- “Thousands of documents already existed chronicling His (Jesus’) life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history. … Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned.” (p234).

- “His (Jesus’) life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land. … More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.” (p231).

We have already acknowledged that there were other writings in existence that mentioned Jesus. But mentioning Jesus does not make something Christian scripture. The Quran mentions Jesus—it is not Christian. And very few of these other documents actually claim to be gospels. Eighty is certainly an unrealistic figure. And they were certainly never “considered” for inclusion in the NT, but were pretty much rejected on first encounter because of their obvious divergence from Christian orthodoxy. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John paint a picture of Jesus the God-Man. Most of the rejected writings emphasized a more spiritual Jesus than human one.

- “The modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda—to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use His influence to solidify their own power base.” (p234).

Again, we have debunked this by removing Constantine from the picture of canonization altogether. The only agenda in the canonization process was to preserve the truth and to defeat false testimonies concerning Jesus.

- “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.” (p235).

This is an epistemological claim that says Dan Brown’s sources are more trustworthy than ours. There simply isn’t any reason to believe that. On what basis do we declare that the writings of the NT are false? On the basis that other writings contradict them? Well, who’s to say that those writings are not false? In fact, as we shall see in our next discussion, the NT overwhelmingly passes every examination for historical reliability. F. F. Bruce has said that if the NT were a strictly secular book, its authenticity and reliability would have never been called into question.

- “History has never had a definitive version of the book.” (p231).

This is by far the most ludicrous canonical claim of DVC.

What criteria are there for a book being considered “Canonical” by the early church:

- It has God’s authority for what it says.

- It is not just a record of revelation that was given, but in fact IS the revelation in and of itself.

- It is an inspired text, coming through a divinely inspired human agent.

So, how did we get a Canon, an acceptable list of Scriptures:

The Old Testament Canon was closed about 400 BC with Malachi, the last writing prophet. Our Old Testament is the same Hebrew Bible that the Jewish community has relied on for centuries. It is the Bible Jesus used. The Council of Jamnia in 90 AD ratified the 39 books of the traditionally accepted Old Testament canon.

The “Apocrypha” contains writings that were never accepted in the Jewish canon for reasons of authenticity, historicity, and doctrinal contradiction. These books are accepted by Catholics, and rejected by evangelicals. The Anglican position on these writings is that they are profitable for example of life, but not to establish any doctrine.

Jesus promised divine empowerment for the writing of the NT (John 14:25-26). There is significant evidence to support a first century writing of all books of NT. Most of the books have evidence supporting their writing prior to 70 AD, and some perhaps as late as 90 AD. New Testament “Collections” were slow in forming because of geographical dispersion of writings.

The New Testament writers appealed to their authority as apostles

- 1 Jn 1:1-3; 2 Pet 1:16-18; 1 Cor 15:8

The writers spoke of the authority of their own writings

- 1 Thes 5:27; Col 4:16; Rev 1:3

The writers referred to the authority of other writings

- 2 Pet 3:15-16; 2 Tim 3:16

The Church Fathers used the bulk of the NT in their writings. The only books not clearly referenced are Mark, 2-3 John, Jude, and 2 Peter.

- Clement, Polycarp (a disciple of the Apostle John), and Ignatius (a disciple of Polycarp).

The early church had specific reasons for the formation of early canons. Marcion (90-160 AD) was a heretic who denied the essential truths of Christianity and formed his own Bible (c. 140 AD). He accepted the Gospel of Luke, and 10 Pauline Epistles. He acknowledged that the books he rejected were accepted by the church, and written by the apostles. Inadvertently, he tells us that there was an “accepted list of Scriptures” even at this early date.

Persecution also affected the canon. The church had to determine what it was willing to die for. By and large Christians determined that they were only willing to die for the writings that they were certain were authentic, authoritative, and orthodox.

Around 170 AD, Tatian’s Diatesseron was produced as an effort to harmonize the gospels. The material found in Tatian is exclusively from the four canonical gospels which we have today.

The Muratorian Fragment (c170) was a significant archaelogical find. It is a canon list which mentions all NT books except Hebrews, James, First and Second Peter, and with no additional books than the ones now in our canon.

By 200 AD the entire NT Canon is recognized with the exception of 2 Peter, and with no additions. However, it would be an error to say that the early church doubted the canonicity of Hebrews, James (even Martin Luther questioned its canonicity), or the Petrine Epistles. These writings were being debated because many believers accepted them immediately as authoritative. In the end, they were universally affirmed.

In 367 AD, more than 40 years after Nicea, Athanasius’ Canon recognized our 27 NT books plus/minus none. Thirty years later, the Council of Carthage (397 AD) issued this statement: “Aside from the canonical Scriptures nothing is to be read in church under the Name of Divine Scriptures.” Our 27 NT books were listed without addition or exception.

So, what shall we say? Is the canon shot? No, but it seems that the Code is! In summary, a vast majority of the New Testament canon was overwhelmingly affirmed prior to 200 AD. Those parts which were not universally affirmed were affirmed locally in many areas. And so we might say that, “The church did not make the Canon, but the Canon indeed made the church.”