Q&A: What are the basic differences between Calvinism and Arminianism?

112651128

The fundamental difference between Calvinists and Arminians is this: Calvinists believe that human beings repent and believe because God causes them to do so by choosing them to be saved. Arminians believe that the ultimate reason people believe is our free will. Perhaps the clearest way to explain the difference is to contrast the five points of Calvinism and Arminianism, commonly known by the acronym TULIP.

Calvinists believe in total depravity. That doesn’t mean people are as evil as they can possibly be, but as sinners they have no ability to choose to be saved (Rom. 8:7-8). Arminians believe people are evil but still have the ability to choose to be saved. Calvinists believe in unconditional election. God from eternity past chooses from his own good pleasure whom will be saved (Eph. 1:4-5; Rom. 9:10-23). Arminians believe God looks ahead and sees who will believe in him and then chooses those whom he foresees will have faith.

Calvinists believe in limited atonement, or what is better described as particular redemption. That means Christ’s death is particularly for the elect and that he has purchased their faith (Rev. 5:9). Arminians believe in unlimited atonement, which means that Christ died for all people, and those who trust in Christ will be saved. Some people are four point Calvinists and reject limited atonement.

Calvinists believe in irresistible grace. This doesn’t mean that no one ever resists God’s grace, but that God overcomes the resistance and hardness of those whom he has chosen (John 6:37, 44, 65; Rom. 8:28-30). Arminians believe that God’s grace is not effectual and can be resisted.

Calvinists believe in perseverance of the saints (John 10:28-30; Rom. 8:28-39; 1 John 2:19). All those whom God has chosen will never fall away from the faith. Arminians teach that believers can lose their salvation.

25 questions to ask when looking for a church home

Survey questionnaire

If you are looking for a church home, the answers you receive to questions like these may help you determine whether a particular church is the one where God wants you.

Tips for using these questions:

Ask wisely. Talk to the pastor, if at all possible. If not, then ask another staff member of the church.
Ask personally. Visit or call him. Do not mail or fax these and ask for a written reply.
Ask courteously. Do not “grill” the pastor or ask aggressively.
Ask selectively. Do not ask all these questions at one time. The more serious you become about membership, the more appropriate it becomes to ask additional questions later.

These questions are not necessarily listed in the order of significance. Some of them may not be important to you. You may want to add others.

Realize that you may not be able to find a church near you which can answer all your questions satisfactorily. However, the Lord does want you to find a church home where you can be involved.

  1. How is a person made right with God?
  2. What is your position on the inerrancy of Scripture?
  3. Do you believe Genesis 1-11 is factual or symbolic?
  4. Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven?
  5. What is your position on the Lordship Salvation issue, i.e., can a person take Jesus as Savior without taking him as Lord?
  6. Do you believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin?
  7. Do you believe in the bodily return of Jesus Christ?
  8. Do you believe in a literal Hell?
  9. What is your position on the ordination of women for positions of church leadership?
  10. How do you deal with a young child who says he or she wants to be saved?
  11. How do you combat easy-believism?
  12. What are your views regarding divorce and remarriage?
  13. What is your position on the charismatic movement?
  14. How would you/the church handle a case of scandal or immorality by a church member?
  15. What is your position on church debt and is the church in debt?
  16. Have there been any splits in the church and have any pastors been asked to leave?
  17. What have been the high points (or the “best thing”) in this church in the last five years? In the last six months?
  18. What are the greatest strengths of this church? Weaknesses?
  19. How do you foster the spiritual growth of individuals in your church?
  20. What are your goals for the church?
  21. Would you mind telling me about your devotional life?
  22. Who are your favorite authors?
  23. What is the doctrinal statement of the church, and may I have a copy? (Note: Be cautious if the church has no doctrinal statement or cannot find a copy.)
  24. Does the church follow it’s constitution and by-laws, and may I have a copy?
  25. Does a large percentage of the church differ with your position on any of these issues?

You may also want to know if there is any antagonism by the pastor or the church toward any ministries that are important to you.

Other issues you might want to formulate questions about, if applicable to your situation, are: abortion, home-schooling, politics, etc.

Q&A: How does the order of creation demonstrate a model for male headship in the church?

dockers-feature-front

In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul says that a woman should not teach or exercise authority over a man. The reason he gives for this command is found in 1 Timothy 2:13 – “For Adam was created first, not Eve.” The reason women should not function as pastors or teach men is rooted in the created order according to Paul.

The point we should notice here is that Paul does not argue for male headship because of sin. Male headship is not the result of the fall but stems from God’s good creation. What we must recognize here is that commands rooted in creation are still God’s will for us today. For example, both marriage and the eating of all foods is a good thing because both of them were ordained for our good at creation (1 Tim. 4:1-5). So too, divorce is never God’s ideal because God indicated when he created Adam and Eve that one man should be married to one woman (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18-25). Jesus argued from creation in supporting the permanence of marriage (Matt. 19:3-12). In the same way, homosexuality is wrong because it violates the created order, for once again the creation account teaches us that sexual relations are restricted to marriage between one man and woman (Rom. 1:26-27).

We see, then, that male headship is not due to sin or to a patriarchal culture but is rooted in the way God created males and females. Men, of course, are to lead with love and wisdom. Male headship is not a privilege but a great responsibility.

For more information, please visit The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

A brief primer on the problem of evil

problem-of-evil

The problem of evil is certainly one of the greatest apologetic issues that Christians face today. In a postmodern world, people’s questions, objections, and problems with the Christian worldview are usually connected to the reality of evil in the world and their attempts to harmonize this reality with the seemingly contradictory notion of an all-powerful, all-good God. So valid is this issue that Ronald Nash, the late evangelical philosopher, said a few years ago (and I quote him loosely), “It is absurd to reject Christianity for any reason other than the problem of evil.”

We must be careful not to relegate this problem exclusively to the intellectual realm. I think that J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig have it right when they say we must distinguish between the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil (Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 536). The intellectual problem of evil asks, “Is it possible for a good, all-powerful God to exist in a world where evil is present?” The emotional problem of evil asks, “Why would God allow such a thing as _______?” See the difference? One question is concerned with the objective coherence of God and evil, the other is concerned with the subjective coherence of God and evil.

While I think the primary issue today is more with the emotional problem of evil, I do believe that the intellectual problem is one that must be faced before the subjective problem can be dealt with with integrity. Therefore, I believe that the two can be distinguished, but should not be separated.

The foundation for both comes from this syllogism:

1. If God is all powerful (omnipotent) and
2. If God is all good (omnibenevolent)
3. Then his goodness would motivate him to use his power to eradicate evil.

The intellectual problem of evil is easier to answer since evil’s existence does not, in reality, present a logical contradiction as the syllogism suggests. In other words, the conclusion is not a necessary conclusion, only possible one. While God could use his power to eradicate evil, His goodness does not necessitate such an act. The following will attempt to explain.

There are three possible defenses to the problem of evil:

1. The free-will defense: Many would say that God cannot create a world where there is true freedom, yet determine all that happens. In other words, being all-powerful does not mean that God can do anything. There are many things that God cannot do. For example, God cannot make a square circle, he cannot make a rock so big that he cannot pick it up, he cannot sin, he cannot commit suicide, and he cannot lie (Titus 1:2). In short, God cannot do anything that is inconsistent with his character and he cannot harmonize logical contradictions (since they are by definition that which are beyond reconciliation). It would be a logical contradiction to say that God can create a world where true freedom exists, yet evil is guaranteed not to exist.

Positives:

  • It does seem consistent with the very idea of personhood, which requires some degree of freedom.
  • God is not ultimately responsible for evil.

Problems:

  • True libertarian freedom is a difficult notion to sustain, both biblically and philosophically. While we make free choices, we make them based on who we are, which is not completely self-determined.
  • This seems to give ultimate control to human freedom, thereby diminishing the sovereignty of God.
  • This does not seem to adequately deal with the problem of natural evils (hurricanes, floods, droughts, etc).

2. The greater good defense: Others would say that God has a transcendent purpose that ultimately legitimizes all evil, even if our understanding of this purpose is absent. What might seem like meaningless suffering and pain to us is actually serving to produce transcendent good. For example, what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil (selling him into slavery out of envy), God used for good (preservation of the nation of Israel). While what the Jewish leaders did to Christ was evil (crucifying him on a cross), it served God’s purpose as a transcendent good (redemption of humanity).

Positives:

  • Strong biblical support.
  • Keeps God sovereignty intact.
  • Brings meaning to suffering even if we don’t understand its end purpose.
  • Analogies in our own experience (discipline of children, the pain of a workout, surgery).

Problems:

  • Can seem rather cold as a subjective defense of personal pain and suffering.
  • Would seem that God could find a better way, especially when the evil is so atrocious (loss of children, pedophiles, severe depression).
  • It is hard to conceive of any possible good that can be found in certain evils (prolonged suffering of those buried alive, miscarriages that are not even detected, suffering and pain among heathens who never hear the Gospel, etc.).

3. Evil defines good defense: This argument would propose that evil itself is a conduit through which good can find a definition and reality in contrast to its opposite. In other words, one cannot recognize, define, or appreciate good without evil. God allows evil so that good can be seen more clearly. As when a diamond is placed against a black background one can better appreciate its beauty, so when good is placed in the background of evil one can understand its true goodness. Other examples may be found in the assumption that without evil circumstances, there can be no acts of bravery, heroism, and self-sacrifice. Therefore, evil creates opportunities for good to present itself as truly good.

Positives:

  • Gives evil a purpose.
  • Finds analogies in real life where people find distinct dignity as they rise above humanities natural evil inclination toward selfishness through outstanding acts of sacrifice.

Negatives:

  • Seems like a rather cold way for God to define good.
  • The assumption that good cannot be defined or recognized without evil is hard to accept. Did God himself not know good until evil was present?
  • Does not explain meaningless suffering and pain or natural evils.

While I have presented these options as mutually exclusive, they are not. In fact, I don’t know of any who will actually defend the Christian worldview with regards to the problem of evil by offering any one of these alone as sufficient. Most will emphasize one more than another.

I believe that all of these have their place so long as they are defined correctly. I believe that human freedom is the ultimate cause for the genesis of evil (natural or moral). Yet I also believe that God is in providential control of all things, including evil, having a purpose which he reveals at his own discretion. I also believe that part of the good that comes from the allowance of evil is the opportunity for us to see true righteousness in all its beauty.

Whatever position that we take, we must be sensitive to the magnitude of this issue, especially today. We must also approach these issues with great humility, knowing that the problem of evil is a problem precisely because it causes great pain and suffering. Discouragement and disenchantment with God when evil is present must not be looked down upon with a smug attitude of theological elitism. Theological understanding mixed with some degree of agnosticism (i.e., not knowing) is vital. This should prepare us to face our own upcoming evils with deep roots. It should also give a foundation for tender comfort to those in pain.

Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

1 Peter 4:13 “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”

Hebrews 2:10 “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”

Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Why I believe the canon is fallible…and am fine with it

bible

I am looking on page 23 of my Bible and it has the list of books. The books all together number 66—39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. This is often referred to as the “canon” of Scripture. “Canon” (Gk. kanon) means “rule” or “measuring rod.” The canon of Scripture is the collection or a “rule” of books that Christians believe belong in the Bible. There are some variations among Christian traditions concerning the number of books. The Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox churches all use different canons (some eastern churches will vary, also). The Catholic and Orthodox include a group of books in their Bibles referred to as the Deuterocanonical books (“second canon”) or, as Protestants would call it, the “Apocrypha” (although the Orthodox church is not quite as settled upon the status of the Apocrypha).

The question How do you know what books belong in the Bible? is a significant one. The Catholics and Orthodox will normally refer to the establishment of these books as part of the canon by fourth-century councils. Catholics would further refer to the teachings of the council of Trent (1545-1563) which dogmatically and infallibly declared the current Catholic canon (including the Apocrypha) as being authoritative.

I believe that the 66 books of the Protestant canon belong in the Bible, no more no less. I believe that all 66 books are inspired, inerrant, and infallible. Yet the list on page 23 of my Bible is not part of the canon. In other words, the list itself is not part of the inspired word of God. I am using the English Standard Version, but it is the same in any version of any language. The NET Bible does not have an inspired list, even in the footnotes! There is no early Greek or Hebrew manuscript that solves the problem either. Therefore, I have a potential difficulty. Since I do not believe in an infallible human authority that can determine what books belong in the Bible, how can I be certain what books belong in the Bible?

It was R.C. Sproul who first made the claim that Protestants have a fallible canon of infallible books. A fallible canon of infallible books? What good is that? Catholics often jest about the seemingly ironic situation in which advocates of sola Scriptura find themselves. The doctrine of sola Scriptura was one of the two primary battle cries of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Essentially it means that the Scripture is the ultimate and only infallible authority for the body of Christ in matters of Christian faith and practice. Professing this doctrine does not mean that there are no other authorities, but that there are no other ultimate and infallible authorities. Catholics, on the other hand, will claim that they, due to their belief in a living infallible authority, have an infallible collection of infallible books.

Not only this, but what about interpretation? Not only do Protestants not believe in an infallible authority to dogmatize which books belong in the Bible, but they don’t believe in an infallible authority to interpret the Bible. Therefore, we can take this to the next level. Protestants have a fallible interpretation of a fallible canon of infallible books. Ouch! Sounds like its time to convert to Catholicism, eh?

Not so fast. In the end, this is an issue of epistemology. Epistemology deals with the question “How do you know?” How do we know the canon is correct? How do we know we have the right interpretation? Assumed within these questions is the idea of certainty. How do you know with certainty? Not only this, but how do you know with absolute certainty?

The question that I would ask is this: Do we need absolute, infallible certainty about something to 1) be justified in our belief about that something, 2) to be held responsible for a belief in that something. I would answer “no” for two primary reasons:

1. This supposed need for absolute certainty is primarily the product of the enlightenment and a Cartesian epistemology. To say that we have to be infallibly certain about something before it can be believed and acted upon is setting the standard so high that only God himself could attain to it. Outside of mathematics and analytical statements (e.g. a triangle has three sides), there is no absolute certainty, only relative certainty. This does not, however, give anyone an excuse or alleviate responsibility for belief in something.

For example, I believe that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. I prepare each day with this belief in mind. Each night, I set my alarm clock and review my appointments for the following day, having a certain expectation that the next day will come. While I have certainty about the sun rising the next day, I don’t have infallible certainty that it will. There could be some astronomical anomaly that causes the earth to stop its rotation. There could be an asteroid that comes and destroys the earth. Christ could come in the middle of the night. In short, I don’t have absolute, infallible certainty about the coming of the next day. This, however, does not give me an excuse before men or God for not believing that it will come. What if I missed an early appointment the next day and told the person “I’m sorry, I did not set my alarm clock because I did not have infallible certainty that this day would come.” Would that be a valid excuse? It would neither be a valid excuse to the person who I was supposed to meet or to God.

We have a term that we use for people who require infallible certainty about everything: “mentally ill.” Remember What About Bob? He was mentally ill because he made decisions based on the improbability factor. Because it was a possibility that something bad could happen to him if he stepped outside his house, he assumed it would happen. There are degrees of probability. We act according to degrees of probability. Simply because it is a possibility that the sun will not rise tomorrow does not mean that it is probability that it won’t.

The same can be said about the canon and interpretation of Scripture. Just because there is a possibility that we are wrong (being fallible), does not mean that it is a probability. Therefore, we look to the evidence for the degree of probability concerning Scripture.

2. The smoke screen of epistemological certainty that seems to be provided by having a living infallible authority (Magisterium) disappears when we realize that we all start with fallibility. No one would claim personal infallibility. Therefore it is possible for all of us to be wrong. We all have to start with personal fallible engagement in any issue. Therefore, any belief in an infallible living authority could be wrong. As Geisler and MacKenzie put it, “The supposed need for an infallible magisterium is an epistemically insufficient basis for rising above the level of probable knowledge. Catholic scholars admit, as they must, that they do not have infallible evidence that there is an infallible teaching magisterium. They have merely what even they believe to be only probable arguments. But if this is the case, then epistemically or apologetically there is no more than a probable basis for Catholics to believe that supposedly infallible pronouncement [either about the canon or interpretation of the canon] of their church is true” (Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, p. 216).

This means that we are all floating the same river, just different boats. Catholics have a fallible belief about an infallible authority; Protestants have a fallible belief about an infallible authority. Both authorities must be substantiated by the evidence and both authorities must be interpreted by fallible people.

This is the question that I have: In the end, what is the difference?

Do we have a fallible collection of infallible books? Yes, I believe we do. When all is said and done, all of our beliefs are fallible and therefore subject to error. I am comfortable with this. But remember, the possibility of error does not necessitate the probability of error. We have to appeal to the evidence to decide.

Carson on how to determine which biblical mandates are binding for us today

Todd-throws-stones

Here is a wonderful essay by D.A. Carson, offering some preliminary guidelines to answer the question, “What parts of the Bible are binding mandates for us, and what parts are not?”

He sets up the problem like this:

“Greet one another with a holy kiss”: the French do it, Arab believers do it, but by and large we do not. Are we therefore unbiblical?

Jesus tells his disciples that they should wash one another’s feet (Jn. 13:14), yet most of us have never done so. Why do we “disobey” that plain injunction, yet obey his injunction regarding the Lord’s Table?

If we find reasons to be flexible about the “holy kiss,” how flexible may we be in other domains? May we replace the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper with yams and goat’s milk if we are in a village church in Papua, New Guinea? If not, why not?

And what about the broader questions circulating among theonomists regarding the continuing legal force of law set down under the Mosaic covenant? Should we, as a nation, on the assumption that God graciously grants widespread revival and reformation, pass laws to execute adulterers by stoning? If not, why not?

Is the injunction for women to keep silent in the church absolute (1 Cor. 14:33-36)? If not, why not?

Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again if he is to enter the kingdom; he tells the rich young man that he is to sell all that he has and give it to the poor. Why do we make the former demand absolute for all persons, and apparently fudge a little on the second?

Here’s the outline of his introductory principles on the topic:

  1. As conscientiously as possible, seek the balance of Scripture, and avoid succumbing to historical and theological disjunctions.
  2. Recognize that the antithetical nature of certain parts of the Bible, not least some of Jesus’ preaching, is rhetorical device, not an absolute. The context must decide where this is the case.
  3. Be cautious about absolutizing what is said or commanded only once.
  4. Carefully examine the biblical rationale for any saying or command.
  5. Carefully observe that the formal universality of proverbs and of proverbial sayings is only rarely an absolute universality. If proverbs are treated as statutes or case law, major interpretive and pastoral errors will inevitably ensue.
  6. The application of some themes and subjects must be handled with special care, not only because of their intrinsic complexity, but also because of essential shifts in social structures between Biblical times and our own day.

Seven common fallacies of biblical interpretation

hqdefault

1. Preunderstanding fallacy: Believing you can interpret with complete objectivity, not recognizing that you have preunderstandings that influence your interpretation. This is also known as “presupposition fallacy.”

There is no such thing as a “white-coat” interpreter. In other words, there is no one who comes to the text as scientist who objectively interprets the data. We are all influenced by many things including our upbringing, culture, personality, and others preunderstandings. Once we recognize this, we are better equipped to interpret the text honesty. Otherwise, our preunderstanding will always rule over our interpretation.

2. Incidental fallacy: Reading incidental historical texts as prescriptive rather than descriptive.

While the Bible teaches us truths, not every incidental detail is meant to teach these truths. Much of the Bible is made up of information that is important to the overall story, but is not important in isolation to the rest. We must understand the difference between ”prescriptive” and “descriptive” material. Prescriptive: information that provides the reader with principles that they are to apply to their lives. Descriptive: incidental material that describes the way something was done but is not necessarily meant to encourage the reader in the same action.

Prescriptive: information that provides the reader with principles that they are to apply to their lives.Descriptive: incidental material that describes the way something was done but is not necessarily meant to encourage the reader in the same action.

Descriptive: incidental material that describes the way something was done but is not necessarily meant to encourage the reader in the same action.

A good example of this is the Apostles casting lots to elect a new Apostle to replace Judas in Acts 1. This is not meant to teach us how to elect church leaders, it is just the way it was done at that time.

3. Obscurity fallacy: Building theology from obscure material.

Much of the Bible is very clear and understandable. Some of it is very difficult to understand. Do not build theology and doctrine from passages of Scripture that are not clear. For example, it is very difficult to understand what Christ was talking about in John 3:5 where he mentions being “born of water.” “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” Because of its obscurity, one should not build a theology that places too much weight on what being “born of water” means. The Bible speaks clearly on many issues concerning salvation in other places. It is best to take the obscure passages and interpret them in light of the clear passages. In doing so, the interpreter can create an interpretive framework upon what these obscure passages cannot mean, even if discovery cannot be made with certainty about what they, in fact, do mean.

Obscure passages can be the most dangerous teachings in Scripture. Sadly, it is often the case that many people and traditions take obscure passages and pack their theology into them since there is no definitive way to say that they are wrong in their interpretation. This is a common fallacy committed among “Christian” cults. In other words, there simply is no more fertile ground for cults and false teaching than obscure passages of the Bible.

4. Etymological root fallacy: Looking to the root etymology of a word to discover its meaning.

The problem with this is that etymology can often be deceiving, such as in the English word “butterfly” taken from “butter” and “fly.” An etymological study of this word only confuses the current usage. The same can be said of the word “good-bye,” which is taken from the Anglo-Saxon, “God be with you.” When someone says “good-bye,” it does not necessarily (if ever) mean that they are calling a blessing of God’s presence to be with you.

From D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies:

“One of the most enduring fallacies, the root fallacy presupposes that every word actually has a meaning bound up with its shape or its components. In this view, meaning is determined by etymology; that is by the roots of a word.  How many times have we been told that because the verbal cognate of apostolos (apostle) is apostello (I send), the root meaning of “apostle” is “one who is sent.”?  In the preface of the New King James Bible, we are told that the literal meaning of monogenes is “only begotten.”  Is that true?  How often do preachers refer to the verb agapao (to love), contrast it with phileo (to love) and deduce that the text is saying something about a special kind of loving, for no other reason than that agapao is used?

All of this is linguistic nonsense.  We might have guessed as much if we were more acquainted with the etymology of English words. Anthony C. Thistleton offers by way of example our word ‘nice’, which comes from the Latin nescius, meaning “ignorant.”  Our “good-by” is a contraction for Anglo-Saxon “God be with you.” It is certainly easy to imagine how “God be with you” came to be “good-by.”  But I know of no one today who in saying that such and such a person is “nice”  believes that he or she has in some measure labeled that person ignorant because the “root meaning” or “hidden meaning” or “literal meaning” of “nice” is ‘ignorant’.”

5. Illegitimate totality transfer: Bringing the full meaning of a word with all its nuances to the present usage.

Take the Greek verb phileo. The UBS dictionary of the Greek New Testament lists these possible meanings: have deep feeling for; love; like (to do or be something); kiss. Some interpreters would commit this fallacy by using all of the nuances that the word phileo has when, in fact, it usually only carries one meaning that is determined by the context.

6. Selective use of meaning: Selecting the meaning you like best.

This is like the illegitimate totality transfer in reverse. Instead of the word carrying all the possible nuances, the interpreter will select which nuance he or she likes best. We must remember that the context determines the nuance, not the interpreter. One of my Greek professors in seminary suggested going even further by saying that meaning is determined even more so by the discourse and not just the context.

7. Maverick fallacy: Believing that you don’t need anyone but the Holy Spirit to interpret the text.

This is a common fallacy among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who believe that the Holy Spirit works in isolation from the community of God, both living and dead. Here, people believe that the Holy Spirit reveals the meaning of text to the individual as he or she attempts to discern the voice of God coming through the Scriptures, regardless of what the historic body of Christ has said. The basic problem with this fallacy is that God has always worked in community as the Body of Christ functions together. God most certainly expects the interpreter to draw from other people’s giftedness since we don’t possess all the gifts ourselves. Ultimately, this is a fallacy of arrogance. Use outside resources and you will be discovering the power of the Holy Spirit in the community of God. Work alone and you are probably working in your own power.

Why believe that Jesus is the only way?

4.1.1

Many Christians today don’t have a firm grasp on what the Bible says about Jesus. Was He just a wise man? A prophet? Douglas Groothuis presents biblical evidence for Christ’s lordship.

Spiritually Incorrect

“I love Jesus,” exclaimed a woman in the audience, “but He never wanted anyone to worship Him!” As I looked at the group of about thirty people, I saw nods of agreement and heard rumblings of approval. Another member of the panel discussion that I was on said, “I find the way of Jesus helpful, but I can’t exclude anyone’s spirituality outside of Christianity.” Someone else in the audience declared that Jesus was only a prophet and that the Quran was more important than the New Testament.

These comments were offered during a panel discussion on “spirituality.” Two of the other panelists were from a theological seminary where Jesus is not acknowledged as Lord and the Bible is not respected as God’s written communication to humanity. Another panelist repeatedly said all religions teach that we are one with God. She said she accepted Jesus — but only as one way, not the only way.

Recent polls show that a disturbing percentage of Christians fail to understand what the Bible tells us about Jesus. According to a Barna poll from 2000, about one out of four born-again Christians believes that it doesn’t matter what faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons. Fifty-six percent of non-Christians agree. Many today water down the radical claims of Jesus — to say that “Jesus works for me” instead of “Jesus is Lord.”

My experience highlights the challenge facing those who claim that Jesus is the singular way to God and redemption. Spirituality is “in,” but Christianity is often “out.” Our culture openly addresses the nature and needs of the soul and how to be spiritually successful. Most Americans have a positive view of Jesus, however blurry it may be. They see him as a sage, mystic, or a prophet. Yet when Christians affirm that Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life,” and that no one can be reconciled to God apart from him (John 14:6, NIV), many reject it.

Is there a strong biblical case for the supremacy of Jesus in a world of personalized spirituality? A careful look at the NewNew Testament — the main document we have about Jesus’ life — answers this question for us. I will present some of the biblical evidence that Jesus Christ was God Incarnate and the only way to abundant and eternal life. As Christians seeking to think biblically, it is important to know and affirm what the Bible says about Jesus and the way to salvation — whether it’s politically correct or not.

Prophet, Priest and King

Jesus never suggested that He was another prophet or that He was merely one of many mystics who tapped into spiritual power and knowledge. When Jesus was involved in a dispute about the Sabbath, He exclaimed that He was “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:23-27). Genesis 2:3 teaches us that God created and instituted the Sabbath; it was not invented by any mere human. Jesus is, therefore, claiming to have divine authority over the Sabbath as God.

In another argument about the Sabbath, Jesus proclaimed, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” At this, the Jews tried even harder to kill Him because He was “making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18). One should notice that Jesus did not oppose their conclusions.

Jesus ended another dispute by saying, “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus was referring to the time that God declared Himself to Moses as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). Hearing this, the Jews then tried to stone Jesus, because He was claiming to have existed as God before He was born. Jesus claimed to be God incarnate.

Although many claim that Jesus does not differ much from other religious leaders such as Buddha, Jesus’ claim to be God in the flesh singles Him out of the crowd. The Buddha claimed no such thing, nor did Muhammad or Confucius. But Jesus’ claims were not spoken in a vacuum. They were backed by His credentials. He fulfilled a host of prophecies given by the Hebrew prophets concerning His virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38), His divinity (Jeremiah 23:5-6; Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1), His atoning work on the cross (Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 2:24-25) and His resurrection from the dead (Psalm 16:8-11; Acts 2:24-28).

Besides this, Jesus substantiated His divine claims with a perfectly righteous life, compassion for the downtrodden (which was often expressed through His many healing miracles, including raising the dead), His genius and authority as a teacher, and His unsurpassed insight into the human condition. It is no wonder that people worshiped Him.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciple Thomas, who had doubted the reports that His master was raised from the dead. When Thomas saw Jesus, he cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Jesus accepted Thomas’ worship. The Book of Revelation tells us that a host of angels and saints are continually worshipping “the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 5:12-13; see also 7:17). No other religious leader in history is accorded this honor; none other deserves it.

Resurrection and the Life

To better understand why Jesus is the only way, we need to center on His death and resurrection. No founder or leader of any world religion claimed to die as a sacrifice for human sin in order to set us right with God. Nor is any other world religion based on the resurrection of its divine founder.

Jesus taught the Jewish teacher Nicodemus that God’s love was supremely expressed by sending His “one and only Son” so that whoever trusts in Him would not be lost but would experience everlasting life (John 3:16). Jesus is God’s only son, the once-for-all revelation of God among us (Matthew 1:23). He came not simply to display His deity in humanity, but to offer Himself as a sufficient sacrifice for our wrongdoing and separation from God. Jesus declared, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10) and “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Jesus announced to His disciples that He possessed “all authority in heaven and on earth,” and that they must “make disciples of all nations” by teaching them to obey His teachings (Matthew 28:18-20). This call to discipleship is rooted in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus in history. The origin and rapid growth of the Christian movement cannot be explained apart from this supernatural event.

The New Testament’s reports of the resurrection of Christ are written by eyewitnesses or those who carefully consulted them not long after the events occurred (2 Peter 1:16; Luke 1:1-4). Their truthfulness as historical documents stands up to careful testing. Confessing Christ as the risen Lord need not be and should not be a blind leap of faith in the dark. Indeed, Peter told his readers that they should “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Jesus is not a hobby. He is Lord. Therefore, Peter preached that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In a world filled with many false views of Christ, we can rest in the truth of the gospel, “because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Crude joking in Ephesians 5:4

nasb-key-word-study-bible-1

In previous word studies, I’ve devoted a good deal of space to the important principle that one must study all the occurrences of a word in their various contexts as part of determining word meaning in a particular verse. That works well when a word is used more than once. But what about a situation when a word only occurs one time and you can’t compare any other usages in the Bible? What do we do then? That’s precisely the problem in Ephesians 5:4.

In Ephesians 5:4, Paul warns readers, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking.” Two of these words are what scholars call a hapax legomenona word that appears only one time in a body of literature. In this word study, we’re going to focus on one of these words as a means of illustrating how to study a word that only occurs once.

STEP 1: Make the Switch to Greek and Establish a Preliminary Definition

Using The ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament look directly below the English translation “crude joking” in Ephesians 5:4. Here we find the topic of our investigation, the Greek word eutrapelia (ευτραπελία).

We can also establish a preliminary definition using the reverse interlinear. Take note of the number 2160 next to eutrapelia and look it up in the numerically keyed Greek Dictionary-Index appended to The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. This resource also reveals how many times a given word occurs in the New Testament, since it lists the occurrences.

Another strategy is to right-click eutrapelia in your Bible software and look up the word in Strong’s dictionary which suggests that eutrapelia means “coarse joking” or “vulgar jesting.” You may be wondering how that translation or definition was determined since our word appears only once. We’ll touch on that in a moment. For now, what we find in Strong’s is an acceptable starting point.

STEP 2: Briefly Track the Word through Greek Literature

Since our word only appears once, it may not be included in all types of lexicons. For example, in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNTA), there is no article for eutrapelia. A Greek-English Lexicon of the NewTestament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) contains an entry for our word, so that will be our source for tracking its usage in other Greek literature.

BDAG notes that several ancient authors used eutrapelia positively, for “wittiness.” Josephus (a first-century AD Jewish historian) used eutrapelia to describe the ice-breaking impudent humor of an emissary from the Jerusalem temple who won over the Roman King Ptolemy (Jewish Antiquities 12.173). BDAG also notes that, for Aristotle, the word described a kind of humor between “buffoonery” and “boorishness.” This is contrary to the “crude joking” of the ESV and our beginning definition from Strong’s, so it is apparent that the meaning of the word underwent a shift from the earlier period to the time of the New Testament. This doesn’t really help us determine the word’s meaning in Ephesians 5:4, but instead alerts us to another problem with word studies: word meanings change over time. We need to be wary, therefore, of assigning certainty to any meaning from a time period removed from the New Testament.

STEP 3: Survey the Usage of the Word in the Old Testament & Context

This step may seem odd since we are dealing with a single occurrence of a word. Despite having only Ephesians 5:4, we can still examine the immediate context of the occurrence. The prohibition against foolish or silly talk (morologia, μωρολογία) immediately before eutrapelia in Ephesians 5:4 is consistent with pre-New Testament meanings for eutrapelia. Since it also is a hapax legomenon, it isn’t much help on its own for justifying the “crude joking” idea we find in English translations. In Ephesians 5:3-5, Paul appears concerned with proper sexual conduct, condemning sexual immorality (porneia, πορνεία) and impurity (akatharsia, ἀκαθαρσία) twice (Eph. 5:3, 5). It is this immediate context that has led translators and interpreters to gravitate toward the notion of crude (sexual) talk for the meaning of eutrapelia in Ephesians 5:4. This choice is not entirely foreign outside the New Testament. Returning to BDAG, we note that the lexicon includes one citation from Isocrates (fourth century BC) that the editors deem has the meaning of “coarse jesting, risqué wit.” BDAG considers this a similar meaning in context to Ephesians 5:4.

Conclusion

As with other words that occur only once, we don’t have much to go on to determine meaning with certainty. We, therefore, have to exercise caution in our conclusions. Lexicons are limited in space, and so eutrapelia may occur many other times in Greek material with a broader range of meanings than indicated in BDAG. Likewise the immediate context of Ephesians 5:3-5 includes more elements than sexual immorality and impurity.

Paul also mentions covetousness, ingratitude, and idolatry in these verses. This compels us to admit that Paul’s understanding of eutrapelia may have been conditioned by those other terms. We can conclude that the immediate context and at least one reference outside the New Testament supports the association of eutrapelia with sexuality and impurity. We cannot conclude that this is the only reasonable possibility.

The canon as infallible sacred tradition

Christianity_Anno2_2

How do you know that the Holy Scripture is all you need? What tells you that? Might you need a God-led authority (like the Roman Catholic Church) to tell you that?” This was a question I recently came across from the depths of cyberspace. It’s a question sharply aimed against sola scriptura, but it’s a false question attacking an incorrect understanding of sola scriptura. Underlying this question is the assumption that the Sacred Scriptures are not enough to function as the sole rule of faith for the church. There must be something else a believer needs, like an infallible magisterium.

One part of this question is indeed true: if God’s voice of special revelation is found somewhere else besides the Bible, Christians are obligated to seek out that voice, and follow it with their entire heart, soul, mind, and strength. Protestants though argue the only extant record of God’s infallible voice of special revelation is found in Sacred Scripture. The burden of proof then lies on those who claim God’s infallible voice is somewhere else besides the Scriptures. If God’s infallible voice is extant today somewhere else, sola scriptura is refuted. If God’s voice is found in an infallible magisterium or unwritten traditions, sola scriptura is refuted.

This is why those of us defending sola scriptura constantly ask those attacking it to produce what they claim to have. If they have God’s special revelation elsewhere, throw it on the table and let’s get a good look at it. For those of you who’ve listened to Dr. White’s debates on sola scriptura, this is his pen example. In his old debate with Patrick Madrid on sola scriptura, Dr. White held up his pen and said:

If our debate this evening was that I was going to stand here and say that this is the only pen of its kind in all the universe, how would I go about proving it? Well, the only way I could prove the statement “there is no other pen like this in all the universe,” is if I looked in all of your purses, and all of your shirt pockets, and in all the stores in the world that carry pens, and look through all the houses, and all over the planet Earth, and the Moon, and the planets in the Solar System, and in the entire universe, looking for another pen like this. And, of course, I could not do that. But it would be very easy for Mr. Madrid to win that debate. All he needs to do is go out, get a Cross Medallist pen, walk up here, hold it right next to mine, and say, “See! Another pen, just like yours!” and he’s won the debate.

In light of this, I would assert that Mr. Madrid must either recognize this reality, and not attempt to win this debate by doing nothing more than depending upon an illogical demand; or, he must demonstrate the existence of “the other pen.” That is, he must prove to us what the Council of Trent said was true. I quote, “It also clearly perceives that these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us, transmitted as it were, from hand to hand.”

An argument like this is pointed directly at what Romanism claims to have: God’s voice elsewhere besides the Sacred Scriptures. Most often those defending Romanism claim to have God’s voice in Sacred Tradition. Getting them to throw this Tradition up on the table to take a look at is the problem. Typically only one thing is thrown up on the table as Sacred Tradition, the canon of Sacred Scripture. The canon is said to be an example of God’s voice of special revelation outside the Bible.

The first problem with this argument is that it goes to battle alone. If I quote a verse from the Bible, I can also have that verse joined by the entire text from which the verse is found. When someone uses the canon as an example of God’s voice in Sacred Tradition, the entire contents of Sacred Tradition still hides back up in the hills. Roman Catholics can’t produce what they claim to have. They aren’t even unified as to whether Sacred Tradition is simply the same material as found in the Bible, or if it’s information of another kind. One bucket of water in a desert is not proof that a large lake is just over the mountain.The second problem is a misunderstanding by Roman Catholics as to what the canon list is. The canon list is not revelation, it’s an artifact of revelation. It is Scripture which Christians believe inspired, not a knowledge of the canon which is inspired. The church has discovered which books are canon, they haven’t infallibly determined them to be canon. For a detailed explanation of this, track down a copy of Dr. White’s book, Scripture Alone, chapter five.

Third, Roman Catholics have often jumped on R.C. Sproul’s statement that the canon is a fallible collection of infallible books. The statement itself originates from Sproul’s mentor, John Gerstner. This statement is not an admission that there is an error in the canon. It is a statement simply designed to acknowledge the historical selection process the church used in discovering the canon. By God’s providence, God’s people have always identified His Word, and they didn’t need to be infallible to do so. Remember that large set of books in your Bible before the Gospel of Matthew? The church had the Old Testament, and believers during the period in which the Old Testament was written also had God’s inscripturated word, this despite a lack of magisterial infallibility.

Fourth, there is no reason to assume church infallibility in order for the church to receive the canon. That is, there is no reason to assume God’s voice of infallible pronouncement via an infallible magisterium. I recognize the Christian church received the canon. It does not though infallibly create the canon, or stand above the canon. The church was used by God to provide a widespread knowledge of the canon. The Holy Spirit had worked among the early Christian church in providing them with the books of the New Testament. This same process can be seen with the Old Testament and Old Testament believers. The Old Testament believer fifty years before Christ was born had canon of Scripture, this despite the ruling from an infallible authority.

First century Christians had the Old Testament, and had “certainty” that it was the very word of almighty. Clement of Rome frequently quotes the Old Testament. He does so, with the understanding that the words of the Old Testament are the very words of God. He was certain of it, this despite not having the alleged infallible ruling of an infallible authority. His use of Old Testament passages show a certainty that the words were God’s words. Or, think of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy. Paul notes that from infancy Timothy “knew” the Holy Scriptures (2 Tim 3:15): “and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” How was it Timothy could know the Scriptures were the words of God without an infallible church council declaring which books were canonical?

Obviously, the notion that an infallible authority can only provide canon certainty cannot be an accurate explanation of Christian reality. Think of all the New Testament writers. They freely quote the Old Testament with the certainty that it was the Word of God. Yet, no infallible source defined the canon for them. A “source” definitely received the Old Testament canon, but that “source” was not infallible, nor do I recall Rome arguing that the Jewish Old Testament leadership was infallible. There is no logical reason why the entirety of the Bible needs an infallible authority to declare the canon. It wasn’t needed previous to Trent, Damasus, or the pre-Christ Jewish authority.

How was it that Timothy had “certainty” the Old Testament was the word of God? It is God’s sovereign power that reveals the canon to His church, for His purposes. The people of God are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. It is they, who are given spiritual life and continually fed by its words. Jesus did this himself, as recorded in Luke 24:45, “Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” As to how a Protestant can have certainty on the canon, my certainty is in the providence and work of God. Only faith will read the Bible and hear the voice of God. God used means in giving us His canon, but like the Old Testament believers, those means don’t need to be infallible for one to know they are reading and hearing God’s word.

If sola scriptura isn’t sola, this certainly isn’t proven by Roman Catholic claims or argumentation. If Roman Catholic have God’s voice somewhere else other than the Scriptures, they need to prove it. Till then, I’ll stick with that which is God breathed and which can thoroughly equip a believer (2 Tim. 3:16). I’ll stick with that which is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”