Avoiding arrogant theology

Bible teachers have their more sophisticated ways of saying, “Nanny nanny boo boo.”

And perhaps we Calvinists are especially susceptible to this temptation to pump our team more than focusing on biblical truths.

We would do well to track with John Frame’s observations and maybe adjust our attitudes accordingly.

Frame writes in Evangelical Reunion:

[I]t is not hard to convince people of Calvinistic teachings when you avoid using Calvinistic jargon. . . . [T]here is a slogan among the Reformed that “anyone who prays for another’s conversion is a Calvinist.” . . . If you pray for the soul of another, you believe that person’s decision is in the hand of God, not merely a product of the person’s “free agency.” . . .

It seems to me that what we call Calvinism today is simply a spelling out of the heart instincts of all believers in Christ. I can easily persuade myself that the whole church will be Calvinist eventually, if we allow people to read Scripture as it stands, without feeling that we have to rub their noses in historic controversy.

There is a certain “smarty pants” theological attitude in wanting to show people of the other party that our team was right all along. We sometimes feel that we need to do that to make our case maximally cogent; but in fact that attitude detracts from the cogency of our case. We give people the impression that to acknowledge the biblical principle they must also acknowledge us, our denomination, our historical traditions. But no. Although biblical principle deserves their allegiance, our “team” does not necessarily deserve it (74-75. paragraphing added).

The danger of the Sinner’s Prayer revealed

An Example of the Sinner’s Prayer:

Dear God, I know I’m a sinner.  I know my sin deserves to be punished.  I believe Christ died for me and rose from you grave.  I trust Jesus alone as my Savior.  Thank you for the forgiveness and everlasting life I now have.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

I can remember early in ministry looking for the Sinner’s prayer in Scripture, and when I couldn’t find it, I was shocked.  I can also remember being terrified early in my ministry that I would get the sinner’s prayer wrong whenever I attempted to point sinners to Christ with it; for, if I got it wrong, regardless if they prayed it or not, they would still be lost!  This mentality is wicked, for it adds to the gospel of Christ.  By believing that sinners cannot be saved without the Sinner’s Prayer (see above), we communicate that the Sinner’s Prayer is essential for salvation, even though the Bible knows no such reality.  In his dissertation on the subject, Paul Harrison Chitwood warns us of the Sinner’s Prayer:

This ethical consideration for evangelism applies to usage of the Sinner’s Prayer in much the same manner as the first.  When a prayer is the supreme goal of a witnessing encounter and based upon that prayer we determine our success or failure in leading lost souls to conversion, we run the risk of allowing that prayer to become a stumbling block.  On the one hand, we may as [Jim] Elliff charges, bring people to “believe in the efficacy of a prayer and not the efficacy of Christ’s work.”  When we do so, the prayer becomes a stumbling block to that person’s salvation, the chief stumbling block indeed.  On the other hand, we may communicate to people who have not prayed the prayer that they are lost and without praying the prayer they cannot be saved.  I refer back to the incident recounted by George Martin in which a pastor had a young boy repeat the prayer again to be certain he had done it correctly so the church family could, in good conscience, acknowledge the boy’s salvation.  We also recall Leonard’s comments, “At the slightest doubt, simply pray the prayer again and settle it.  Lots of people repudiated earlier events—childhood professions dimmed by age, aisle walking without understanding, praying the prayer without meaning it, or praying the wrong prayer.”  It may very well be that we have indeed “enthroned” the Sinner’s Prayer to the point that it has become a stumbling block instead of a stepping-stone as a method in evangelism (pg. 122-123).

When pastors, evangelists, church leaders, etc. make the Sinner’s Prayer necessary for salvation, they add to the gospel; and thus, make it twice as hard for someone to truly trust in Christ (It is no different than making baptism necessary for salvation).  In other words, in trying to simplify the gospel, we’ve actually added to it, possibly eliminating the gospel in the process; for, if your hearer(s) trust in the prayer instead of in Christ, they are doomed for hell while possessing [false] assurance of their salvation.

Return to the Bible friends!  Do not add to the gospel.

Don’t equate historically early with theologically accurate

Beware of imputing advantage to antiquity. Seventy years after the death of Jesus the churches had neither the collected New Testament nor a living apostle. It was a precarious and embattled time.

Neither the experiences nor the teachers of the first 300 years of the church are as reliable as the finished New Testament. The church did not rescue the New Testament from neglect and abuse. The New Testament rescued the early church from instability and error.

We are in a better position today to know Jesus Christ than anyone who lived from AD 100 to 300. They had only parts of the New Testament rather than the collected whole. That’s how valuable the fullness of revelation is in the finished Bible. Beware of idealizing the early church. She did not have your advantages!

Advice for theological students and young pastors by Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung details 45 things that he wishes he knew whenever he first started in ministry.  It’s important to read the counsel of wise men that have come before or have more experience than us, for “those that do not know the past are doomed to repeat it.”  In other words, let us learn from DeYoung’s mistakes instead of making them ourselves!

Excerpt from part 1:

1. Take advantage of opportunities to be taught by others. Get the most out of books, lectures, and special speakers in seminary, because soon you’ll be doing all the putting out with few people to put it in to you.

2. Beware of closing your heart to people.

3. Be a pastor for the whole church, not just part of it (don’t be just one group’s champion).

4. Establish your priorities at the church early and clearly. I suggest: preach, pray, and people.

5. Work hard to foster deep spiritual fellowship with your closest leaders (e.g., staff, elders, deacons).

The other 15 points of part 1 can be found here.

Excerpt from part 2:

21. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Get in touch with seminary profs.  Try to get a top notch speaker in once in awhile.  Make contact with churches your respect. Build a network and learn from others.

22. Keep reading.  Please keep reading.  Boldly ask for a book allowance. The rule is not absolute, but I question a man’s call to ministry if he does not like to read.

23. Man is not justified by preaching.  Some sermons are a home run. Other times you’re lucky to bunt your way on.

24. Don’t preach your issues from seminary. I can almost guarantee no one in your church doubts the Pauline authorship of Ephesians. It says “Paul” in their Bibles so they’re good to go.

25. Sometime in your first two years, preach about prayer, evangelism, giving, and the authority of Scripture.

The other 20 points of part 2 can be found here.

Q&A: Can’t anyone be a preacher?

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Questions & Answers

One common American evangelical idea is (quite American): if a person wants to preach, shouldn’t he/she be able to do so? This is one of those areas in which the civil/cultural ideas of the day have trickled into the church, affecting her right down to the core. In other words, we all have the right to _____, so of course we all have the right to be a preacher in a church. However, the Christian way here is at odds with the American way. Darrin Patrick says it well.

“Many people wonder why it is necessary to have qualifications for a pastor. They might think, ‘If someone wants to be a pastor, should he not have that right, regardless of whether he meets a list of criteria? And who decides what the criteria are anyway?’”

“The truth…is that all of us see the need for criteria in other professions. No one would board a plane if they knew that the ‘pilot’ loved planes but didn’t have a pilot’s license. No one would want to be operated on by a ‘surgeon’ whose primary credential was that his father was a doctor. A young couple would not entrust the design of their dream home to an ‘architect’ whose portfolio was the back of a Lincoln Logs box. Qualifications are important in every job, and the more important the job, the more important the need for stringent qualifications.”

“The New Testament places a very strong emphasis on the importance of appointing qualified elders in the church. As Alexander Strauch notes, ‘The New Testament offers more instruction regarding elders than on other important church subjects such as the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Day, baptism, or spiritual gifts.’ Moreover, there is more teaching in the New Testament about the qualifications for eldership than about any other aspect of biblical leadership.”

“The reason for this strong emphasis is that elders are charged with the sacred task of caring for the eternal souls for whom Christ died. Since a pastor has the extremely important job of teaching and caring for eternal souls, it is important to make sure the wrong men are not appointed to this office. When an unqualified doctor performs surgery, or an unqualified pilot flies planes, or an unqualified architect builds a house, people get hurt and things fall apart. It is no different in the church: people usually end up getting hurt when they are under unqualified leaders, and everything from marriages to the church itself is likely to fall apart.”

Taken from pages 43-44 of Darrin Patrick, Church Planter (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).

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


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 continuinglegal 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 a 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.

Unholy Trinity

TBN Networks Logo(2)

I avoid the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). For many years TBN has been dominated by faith-healers, full-time fund-raisers, and self-proclaimed prophets spewing heresy. John Macarthur wrote about the false gospel they proclaim and the phony miracles they pretend to do almost two decades ago in Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. See especially chapter 12).

Recently, however, I decided to sample some of the current fare on TBN.

But it left me outraged and frustrated—and eager to challenge the misperceptions in the minds of millions of unbelievers who see these false teachers masquerading as ministers of Christ on TBN.

I’m outraged at the brazen way so many false teachers twist the message of Scripture in Jesus’ name. And I’m frustrated because I’m certain that if these charlatans were not receiving a large proportion of their financial support from sincere believers (and silent acquiescence from Christian leaders who surely know better), they would have no platform for their shenanigans. They would soon lose their core constituency and fade from the scene.

Instead, religious quacks are actually multiplying at a frightening pace. One thing I discovered to my immense displeasure is that TBN is by no means the only religious network broadcasting poisonous false doctrine around the clock. The channel lineup I receive includes at least seven other channels whose schedules are filled with false teachers and charlatans. There’s The Church Channel, Daystar, GodTV, World Harvest Television (LeSEA), Total Christian Television, and several others. Some of them feature blocs of family television programing and a few fairly sound teachers who provide moments of escape from the prosperity preachers. But all of them give prominence to enormous amounts of heresy and religious claptrap—enough to make them positively dangerous. And TBN is singularly responsible for kicking that door open so wide.

The continued growth and influence of TBN is baffling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the thick aura of lust, greed, and other kinds of moral impropriety that surrounds the whole enterprise. A long string of scandals involving notable charismatic televangelists between 1988 and 1992 should have been sufficient reason for even the most credulous viewers to scrutinize the entire industry with skepticism. First came the international spectacle of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s moral, marital, and financial collapse. That was followed closely by the revelation of Jimmy Swaggart’s repeated dalliances with prostitutes. Shortly afterward, an episode of ABC’s Primetime Live exposed clear examples of deliberate fraud on the part of three more leading charismatic televangelists. Those incidents were punctuated by a score of lesser scandals over several years’ time. It is clear (or should be)—based on empirical evidence alone—that preachers promising miracles in exchange for money are not to be trusted. And for anyone who simply bothers to compare Jesus’ teaching with the health-and-wealth message, it is clear that the message that currently dominates religious television is “a different gospel; which is really not another” (Galatians 1:6-7), but a damnable lie.

TBN is by far the leading perpetrator of that lie worldwide. Virtually all the network’s main celebrities tell listeners that God will give them healing, wealth, and other material blessings in return for their money. On program after program people are urged to “plant a seed” by sending “the largest bill you have or the biggest check you can write” with the promise that God will miraculously make them rich in return. That same message dominates all of TBN’s major fundraising drives. It’s known as the “seed faith” plan, so-called by Oral Roberts, who set the pattern for most of the charismatic televangelists who have followed the trail he blazed. Paul Crouch, founder, chairman, and commander-in-chief of TBN, is one of the doctrine’s staunchest defenders.

The only people who actually get rich by this scheme, of course, are the televangelists. Their people who send money get little in return but phony promises—and as a result, many of them turn away from the truth completely.

If the scheme seems reminiscent of Tetzel, that’s because it is precisely the same doctrine. (Tetzel was a medieval monk whose high-pressure selling of indulgences—phony promises of forgiveness—outraged Martin Luther and touched off the Protestant Reformation.)

Like Tetzel, TBN preys on the poor and plies them with false promises. Yet what is happening daily on TBN is many times worse than the abuses that Luther decried because it is more widespread and more flagrant. The medium is more high-tech and the amounts bilked out of viewers’ pockets are astronomically higher. (By most estimates, TBN is worth more than a billion dollars and rakes in $200 million annually. Those are direct contributions to the network, not counting millions more in donations sent directly to TBN broadcasters.) Like Tetzel on steroids, the Crouches and virtually all the key broadcasters on TBN live in garish opulence, while constantly begging their needy viewers for more money. Elderly, poor, and working-class viewers constitute TBN’s primary demographic. And TBN’s fundraisers all know that. The most desperate people—”unemployed,” “even though I’m in between jobs,” “trying to make it; trying to survive,” “broke”—are baited with false promises to give what they do not even have. Jan Crouch addresses viewers as “you little people,” and suggests that they send their grocery money to TBN “to assure God’s blessing.”

Thus TBN devours the poor while making the charlatans rich. God cursed false prophets in the Old Testament for that very thing (Jeremiah 6:13-15). It’s also one of the main reasons the Pharisees incurred Jesus’ condemnation (Luke 20:46-47). It’s hard to think of any sin more evil. It not only hurts people materially; it deludes them with groundless hope, deceives them with a false gospel, and thereby places their souls in eternal peril. And yet those who do it pretend they are doing the work of God.

That’s not all. Almost no false prophecy, erroneous doctrine, rank superstition, or silly claim is too outlandish to receive airtime on TBN. Jan Crouch tearfully gives a fanciful account of how her pet chicken was miraculously raised from the dead. Benny Hinn trumps that claim with a bizarre prophecy that if TBN viewers will put their dead loved ones’ caskets in front of television set and touch the dead person’s hand to the screen, people will “be raised from the dead . . . by the thousands.”

Ironically, one doesn’t even need to be an orthodox Trinitarian in order to broadcast on the Trinity network. Bishop T. D. Jakes, well known for his rejection of the Nicene creed in favor of oneness Pentecostalism, is a staple on TBN. Benny Hinn has repeatedly attempted to revise the doctrine of the Trinity in novel ways, notoriously teaching at one point that there are nine persons in the godhead.

And yet evangelical church leaders typically show a kind of benign tolerance toward the whole enterprise. Most would never endorse it, of course. They may joke about the gaudiness of the big hair and tawdry set decorations on TBN. Ask them, and they will most likely acknowledge that the prosperity gospel is no gospel at all. Press the issue, and you will probably get them to admit that it is a dangerous form of false doctrine, totally unbiblical, and essentially anti-Christian.

Why, then, is there no large-scale effort among Bible-believing evangelicals to expose, denounce, refute, and silence these false teachers? After all, that is what Scripture commands church leaders to do when we encounter purveyors of soul-destroying substitutes for the true gospel:

The overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain (Titus 1:7-11).

Those who remain silent in the face of such grotesque lies may in fact be partly responsible for turning people away from the truth. Consider the testimony of William Lobdell, religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times, who once considered himself a devout evangelical Christian, but after doing a series of investigative reports on the moral and doctrinal cesspool at TBN; then “finding that his investigative stories about faith healer Benny Hinn and televangelists Jan and Paul Crouch appear to make no difference on the reach of these ministries or the lives of their followers, he [gave] up on the beat and on religion generally.”

All those who truly love Christ and care about the truth have a solemn duty to defend the truth by exposing and opposing these lies that masquerade as truth. If we fail in that duty because of indifference, apathy, or a craving for the approval of men, we are no less guilty than those who actively spread the lies.


Weekly Devotion 5/5/2013: Isaiah Volunteers for Service

Weekly Devotion logo
This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Weekly Devotions

“I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me’” (v. 8).

- Isaiah 6:8–13

During the second half of the twentieth century, the rise of the evangelical megachurch was a big story in American religion. Of course, the mere existence of large churches was nothing new in Christian history; many ministers and churches have had a great impact numerically. So, there is nothing wrong with a large church in itself.

However, many of the evangelical megachurches during that period drove increased attendance by tailoring their worship services to unbelievers. Pastors preached sermons that often had more in common with self-help books than the gospel. Downplaying or ignoring the reality of sin altogether, many churches filled pews because there was little in their services to make unregenerate people feel legitimately uncomfortable.

No doubt, much of this approach to ministry was driven by good intentions. Nevertheless, it reflected a mindset that sees the eager reception of the church’s message by a large number of people as the measure of ministerial success. Yet before we are too hard on such churches and their efforts, let us remember that we are all tempted to evaluate our ministries similarly. The answer to this temptation is to pay attention to the prophets, who tell us that true success in the Lord’s eyes is faithfulness, not numbers.

This truth is particularly clear in today’s passage, which records how Isaiah volunteered to go to Judah and preach a message on behalf of the Lord. The prophet almost certainly did not expect to hear what God told him would be the outcome of his ministry. Instead of bringing vast numbers of Judahites to repentance, the Lord was sending Isaiah to preach so that the people’s hearts would be hardened even further (Isa. 6:8–10).

If our vision of God is not big enough, this truth will be hard for us to accept. In His sovereign purposes, the Lord has chosen to withhold His salvation from some people. One way He does this is by working through the preaching of His Word so that the reprobate choose to deny Him. This is not unjust—no sinner deserves God’s redemption (Rom. 9:1–29). While we preach the gospel and hope for all who hear it to respond in faith, the fact is that the Lord has ultimately ordained for some to reject it. When the gospel falls on deaf ears due to the offense of the gospel itself and not our offensive actions, let us not think that we are failing and change our methods. Rather, we must continue serving God faithfully no matter the outcome He brings (Matt. 24:45–51).

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry writes, “Even the word of God oftentimes proves a means of hardening sinners.” This is seen most clearly in the ministry of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God Himself, whose parables were given to harden the hearts of some and create faith in the hearts of others. Let us not be ashamed of the teaching of Scripture, for as it is accurately proclaimed, it always accomplishes God’s intent for it (Isa. 55:10–11), which is not always an individual’s salvation.

Passages for Further Study

Exodus 7:1–13
Luke 19:11–27
2 Corinthians 3:12–16
Hebrews 11:32–40

Courtesy of Ligonier Ministries

Why the dove? Ambrose of Milan on Jesus’ baptism


From his book, Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke with Fragments on the Prophecy of Isaias:

“‘[H]eaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended in bodily shape like a dove’ (Luke 3:21-22). Why like a dove? For the grace of the washing requires simplicity, so that we may be ‘innocent like doves’ (Matt. 10:16). The grace of the washing requires peace, as in an earlier image the dove brought to the ark that which alone was inviolable by the flood (Gen. 8:10-11)…In that branch, in that ark, was the image of peace and of the church. In the midst of the floods of the world the Holy Spirit brings its fruitful peace to its church.

David too taught [about] the sacrament of baptism…with the Spirit of prophecy, [saying,] ‘Who will give me wings like a dove?’…

Because the Father did not wear a body,…the Father wished to prove to us that he is present in the Son, saying, ‘You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:22). If you wish to learn that the Son is always present with the Father, read the voice of the Son saying, ‘If I go up into heaven, you are there. If I go down into the grace, you are present there’ (Ps. 139:8).”

Ambrose (ca. 333-397 AD) was the bishop of Milan, as well as Augustine’s teacher. He is most well known for his defense of the Holy Spirit as a divine part of the Trinity.

Why I believe the canon is fallible…and I’m fine with it!

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 (as well, some eastern churches will vary still). 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 indeed. 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 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 Scripture 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 an fallible canon of infallible books. Ouch! Sounds like it is 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 had 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 truly come. While I have certainty about the sun rising the next day, I don’t have infalliblecertainty 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 am 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 aprobability 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 a 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.

(HT Parchment and Pen)