Thursday, March 29, 2007
Recent revelations of the sexual promiscuity of high-profile evangelical leaders like Ted Haggard, and now famed Southern Baptist evangelist/preacher/pastor, Rick Ousley, has once again caused a degree of melancholy to cast its long, gray shadow over my soul. Each time a leader falls I am reminded of how many of my college and seminary compatriots have not made it. I ask myself, “Will there be anybody left standing when it’s all said and done?”
Some of my friends have left the ministry due to frustration and burn-out; others left for financial reasons; some left because of family situations; and yes, some left because of infidelity. If you would have told me twenty-five years ago that so many of my friends and so many well-known ministers would not make it in the ministry I would have laughed. I laugh no more.
It makes me grateful for my dad. My dad is a godly man who pastored mainly large, county-seat type churches. He faithfully served these congregations, preaching and teaching God’s Word verse by verse. Along with my mother, he raised four children, all of which are in the ministry in some capacity.
My dad is still preaching revivals and now serves on staff at a church. He is as red-hot for Jesus now as he ever was. Mom and Dad are approaching 50 years of ministry together. Thanks mom and dad! Because of your example, and with the help of the Lord, I will love my wife and kids, preach the Word – I am determined to finish well (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Bloggers beware. This one blisters. I have been contemplating for some time (roughly nine months) the goal, the mode of operation, of some of the future, would-be leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, i.e. Burleson, for example. I have been, in particular, thinking about the subjects that they use to illustrate their new-found liberty in Christ that has released them from the chains of the good-ole-boy SBC system to a new era of truly biblical ministry and missions. I speak namely of the two issues of drinking alcohol and speaking in tongues.
At the Greensboro convention (’06) Mr. Burleson gave an impassioned plea as to how he had been freed from the legalism of a myopic, narrowed-minded, biblically uninformed Southern Baptist perspective on the subject of drinking alcohol. He even posted on his blog how drinking wine had actually assisted him in leading a person to Christ.
In addition, the subject of speaking in tongues has become a hot-button issue as an indicator that a person has been released from the chains of traditionalism to the freedom of spiritual empowerment that may be expressed in practicing a private prayer language. These two subjects, more than any other, have been continuously raised as the marks of a mature believer, a person who has moved past the silly answers Southern Baptists have given in the past in relation to these two issues.
Needless to say, these two issues have raised quite a stink among Southern Baptists.
When I listened to Burleson at the convention and read his blog I thought a very profound and theological thought – YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME? These two important, but secondary issues are the high-water marks of spiritual maturity? These two issues are the badges of maturity of the new SBC leaders? As Burleson gave his eloquent soliloquy on this issue, and other issues, I thought to myself- YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME?
Alcohol and tongues mark spiritual maturity? Brothers and sisters, we’re in trouble if these are the marks of spiritual maturity.
Let me be clear. Some of the answers Southern Baptist leaders have given on these issues in the past have been silly and uninformed. Let’s also be clear – Scripture does not specifically forbid taking a drink; it does forbid drunkenness. And whether one is a cessasionist, semi-cessasionist, or one who believes in the continued operation of all the gifts, including tongues, these issues are never used in Scripture as the exclusive markers of spiritual maturity. In essence, these new would-be leaders have made what have been traditionally viewed as secondary issues central issues to the evaluation of the spiritual maturity of the believer and, in part, of an entire convention.
I do not drink because I have made it a non-issue in my life, not because I’m a prude or narrow-minded or believe that if I take a drink I’ll lose my salvation, etc. I have simply declared that volatile issue a non-issue in my life. I am free from the entire decision-making process as to whether or not to take a drink in a given situation. Should I imbibe? Who is watching? Is there an immature brother or sister present? What are the consequences if I drink? Etc. I never have to look over my shoulder when it comes to alcohol. I am free to move forward without having to worry about this issue. Besides, most Christians I know who desire to drink spend so much time arguing themselves and their associates into or out of drinking that it gets ridiculous. I am stunned at how much time some people spend on this issue. If you choose to drink, have at it. But remember what one mature layperson told me one time – the world will never fully understand a believer who has a Bible in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. So, why make it an issue?
And concerning tongues? Never in Scripture is speaking in tongues required to demonstrate salvation or spiritual maturity. If a person desires to speak in tongues in a private prayer language that is his/her business. Yet, I do know from Scripture that this gift was divisive even back during the earliest times of the church. Just ask the First Baptist Church of Corinth. I can fully understand why a mission sending agency as large as the International Mission Board would regulate this issue. The IMB has not obliterated or banned a ‘spiritual gift,’ as some have argued; they have simply said that this gift is so controversial that we do not want it to become an impediment to the cause of Christ.
So, I say to our would-be future SBC leaders – YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME? Get over it and grow up. Now if you want to talk about some core issues let’s talk about the exclusivity of Jesus Christ (which is under attack), the authority of Scripture, the integrity of leadership marked by personal holiness and questions like ‘Is Allah the God and Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?’ or what about the issues of open theism and how such a concept destroys the biblical doctrine of God? What about the growing interface between the concept of biblical humanity and the field of genetics?
If I were to raise an issue that is controversial, yet that may demonstrate more spiritual maturity than either of the aforementioned issues it would be foot-washing (John 13:1-17). Can you imagine hundreds of Baptist churches conducting foot-washing services? In fact, some brands of Baptists consider foot-washing to be a third ordinance, in addition to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Can you see me standing up at a convention meeting and asking the messengers to adopt a resolution on foot-washing? Yet, foot-washing is never a requirement for service and is not the only way to demonstrate spiritual maturity. This is why I don’t push the issue at all. But you get my point.
So, if we are going to make alcohol and speaking in tongues central issues rather than secondary issues we have deeper problems then we think. YOU GOTTE BE KIDDING ME!
From 1969 to 1975 my family lived approximately ten miles from Glasgow, KY. My dad pastored a rural church just outside of Cave City. Not too far from our home was a spot-in-the-road town known as Goodnight, KY. Mr. Quigly, a Deacon in the church my dad pastored, owned an old-time ‘dried goods store’ in which you could purchase anything your heart desired, i.e. groceries, fishing tackle, farm implements, and clothing. You could even buy stuff ‘on credit.’ The store no longer exists. Mr. Quigly is with the Lord. Oh, what days.
One of my favorite things to do during the summer time was to ride my bike to Goodnight and to Mr. Quigly’s store and purchase a bologna, cheese and cracker sandwich, an RC and a moon pie. It was heaven. I remember that in the back of the store was an open area with a potbelly stove in the middle of the room. During the winter time it always crackled with a warm fire; in the summer time it was a great prop. Always positioned around the stove, winter or summer, were the men of the community who would whittle, chew and spit, and discuss everything from marriage, politics, children and, in general, how life was changing too fast and that the world was ‘going to hell in a hand-basket.’ Not much was accomplished, most of the opinions were just that, opinion, and on rare occasion someone would come up with a significant idea, but not too often.
I thought of this scene the other day when I was attempting to get my mind around the concept of blogging. Does blogging really accomplish anything? Are bloggers just ‘blowing smoke?’ Should we pay attention to bloggers? Since we no longer have front porches and back-room places to share ideas, we now have the internet. Blogging, in my opinion, is the new room in the back of the store where people gather around computers and share their opinions without accomplishing much. It’s like blowing off steam. Not much is accomplished, but you feel better afterwards. In other words, blogging is mainly ‘smoke and mirrors,’ an outlet for politically and theological soliloquies that are often times all ‘sound and fury signifying nothing.’
So, I admit it. My blog is simply one opinion among others gathered around the new potbelly stove known as the computer. Not much is accomplished, but somehow I feel better after a good vent.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Recently, Southern Seminary President and leading evangelical spokesman, Dr. Albert Mohler, posed the question (in his March 2nd, blog piece): if it was definitely known that we could identify the gene that causes homosexuality in pre-born babies would it be ethically appropriate to remedy this malady with hormone therapy?
Mohler’s ‘conversation starter’ has certainly caused a stir, though, in my considered opinion, a stir that must take place. We have been on a collision course with the entire field of genetics for some time now. And as always, our scientific developments in this field have outpaced our ethical abilities to deal with what we are now capable of. Specific baby production, elimination of certain diseases, physical and even personality alteration capabilities are now within our grasp. The fear of ‘playing God’ is upon us.
While I agree that this subject needs to take place, I was disappointed that Mohler didn’t spend more time on the subject of original sin. This subject helps put the entire issue into focus. Let me explain.
For some years now I have been saying that the scientific community will find the ‘gay gene’ whether or not it existed. I have believed this because of what I see as a bias toward all things secular and open.
Further, for the sake of argument, I have always granted that the discovery of a ‘gay gene’ (and the gene that causes all other sins and maladies) does not, however, mean that such behavior is now right, natural or moral. I say this because of the Christian doctrine of original sin.
Scripture tells us that when Adam and Eve ‘fell’ in their sin that God pronounced four curses: God cursed the serpent, Satan (Gen. 3:14-15); God cursed the woman (Gen. 3:16); God cursed the man (Gen. 3:17-19); and, God cursed the earth or the natural order of things (Gen. 3:18-19). This final curse, I believe has affected all things – not just moral and spiritual things, but all things biological and systemic.
This is part of the reason behind natural disasters, that people contract cancer and die, and the reason for many other physical maladies plague us are all the result of sin in a ‘secondary sense.’ It would be like living in a contaminated room – all things are affected.
This means that just because we have mapped the human genetic code does not make all things right or permissible. My contention is that the DNA map is not the pot of gold at the end of the scientific rainbow because the map itself is corrupt. This is why the possible discovery of a ‘gay gene’ does not normalize homosexuality. It simply affirms the fact that sin has affected all things, spiritual, moral, physical and genetically. No wonder the entire creation groans for redemption (Rom. 8:22) and no wonder God will need to create a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:5).
In this case, it may mean that treatments will be needed prior to birth and certainly after birth. But that subject is for another post.
Monday, March 12, 2007
It’s Monday and the simultaneous feelings of depression and elation visit heavy upon me. It is the post-Sunday recount where every word is reviewed, every criticism is evaluated and every victory cherished. I ask myself, ‘Why is it I pastor?’
At first, the answers are hard to find. When I answered the call to ministry I didn’t sign up for the constant criticism doled our by half-committed church members; I didn’t sign up for making sure that I was in proper décor more than I was grounded in proper doctrine; I didn’t sign up for the petty concerns such as it’s too hot, too cold, too loud, too soft, too fast, too slow too… (fill in the blank). Further, I didn’t know that when I answered the call to ministry I would be required to be omnipresent (everywhere at all times for all people), omniscient (all-knowing even if not told), and omnipotent (able to change all things in a single decision).
It can be depressing to know that a large number of church members are more concerned about the creature comforts of the church than they are missions and ministry of the church. While it is detrimental to have a CEO mentality as a pastor, it is equally as dangerous for the church to have a ‘hired gun’ mentality toward their ministers.
So, why is it that I continue to pastor and preach?
· Because God called me.
· Because I love His church (the people) no matter how frustrated I may become with her.
· Because the church is God’s church; it is His problem.
· Because self-centered churches have always been a problem (i.e. Corinth).
· Because God is able to overcome my many weaknesses and sins.
· Because I love His Word – it will not return void.
· Because along the way you meet and get to know a few people who ‘get it.’
Ultimately, I do not quit the ministry because God has proven Himself faithful to His church, to me and my family, and, most importantly, to His Word. God uses messed up churches, inferior preachers and impossible means to demonstrate that He did it. This is why I do not quit.
Friday, March 9, 2007
On July 21st, 1998, I was invited to open the U.S. House of Representatives with prayer. It was a high honor to open such an esteemed, deliberative body with prayer. My wife and I looked forward to the experience as we traveled to Washington D.C. Our brief trip to D.C. would prove to be an incredible learning experience in more ways than one.
On the actual day I was to open with prayer I asked the question - 'Would Speaker Gingrich be in 'his chair?' I knew from watching C-Span that the Speaker is a busy person and cannot always preside due to meetings and scheduling. In this case, he/she will appoint a "Speaker for the Day." Fortunately, Speaker Gingrich was 'in his chair.' I prayed. Immediately after opening ceremonies concluded, Mr. Gingrich, along with me and my wife, followed by a large entourage, walked to his office. We spent nearly an hour with Mr. Gingrich, Rep. Bob Clement and even met some diplomats from Communist China. It was thrilling.
Gingrich told me that he had just written a new book but that it had not been released yet. He said that he would send me a copy once it arrived. We parted company impressed with Speaker Gingrich's kindness and generosity. I seriously doubted he would remember to send me a copy of the book. Yet, I appreciated the thought.
Several weeks later a package arrived with a signed copy of Speaker Gingrich's book. I received this package on the same day Speaker Gingrich had to resign from office because of personal impropriety. I looked at my wife and said, 'Oh, how the mighty have fallen.' The irony of the moment was not lost on me. Just a few weeks prior we had been the guest of one of the most intelligent men (a Ph.D. in History, author, Professor, political mastermind) ever to hold one of the most powerful offices in the world. Now he was resigning in disgrace.
Sadly, the old saying, 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,' is absolutely true. This is why personal accountability is essential. So much for my one encounter with Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
2 Timothy 3:14 - 4:5 (NIV)
Introduction: There’s a new heresy in town and it’s called “open theism.” Touted by a handful of supposed evangelical theologians who argue they are being true to a literal reading of the Bible, open theism’s tenets are very simple, yet profoundly destructive to a historically biblical view of God. The main ‘teaching points’ of open theism are:
- God not only created this world ex nihilo, but can (and at times does) intervene unilaterally in earthly affairs.
- God chose to create us with incompatibilistic (libertarian) freedom – freedom over which H cannot exercise total control.
- God so values freedom – the moral integrity of free creatures and a world in which such integrity is possible – that H does not normally override such freedom, even if He sees that it is producing undesirable results.
- God always desires our highest good, both individually and corporately, and thus is affected by what happens in our lives.
- God does not possess exhaustive knowledge of exactly how we will utilize our freedom, although He may well at times be able to predict with great accuracy the choices we will freely make.
Open theism argues that an honest and literal interpretation of certain biblical texts can only lead the thoughtful reader to one conclusion: God learns as we learn, is often surprised by what His creatures do, changes His mind often, is rarely left with more than ‘reaction options’ to what His truly free creatures do, does not have perfect foreknowledge and could even be said to have made a variety of mistakes and miscalculated risks along the way in creating and ruling the world.
For example, “open theists” interpret such texts as the testing of Abraham in sacrificing Isaac (Gen. 22) and the prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36-46) as giving clear indications of the learning curve God goes through as He reacts to the free decisions of His creatures. In the one case, God learns that Abraham can only be trusted after he offers Isaac as a sacrifice [“Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Gen. 22:12]; and, in the later case, God watches to see if Jesus will go to the cross and learns that Jesus will die on the cross only after he confesses in Matthew 26:39,42,44, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
A casual reading of the basic tenets of “open theism” causes even the most open-minded believer to cringe with holy fear. The consequences of this skewed view of God is that we are left with a “diminished God,” who has little knowledge, debilitated power, a heart full of regret and remorse and a God who is constantly surprised by what his creatures do. In essence, “open theism,” no matter how hard its tries, is simply a recapitulation of the diminished God of process theology. The faulty nature of this view of God not only flies in the face of a complete picture of a biblical view of God, but it ultimately leads to a damaged and diminished faith. If God is diminished, then the gospel is diminished, the church is diminished and God’s kingdom work is diminished.
This new version of an old heresy joins other modern-day heresies such as the Jesus Seminar movement enjoined by John Dominique Crossan and Robert Funk, certain aspects of the higher-critical method of scripture study that deny the reliability of the biblical texts and the eternal search for the historical Jesus that is reincarnated on a regular basis. In the face of these heresies that threaten the gospel, what is the pastor and average layperson to do?
One response is to know that such heresies are not new. In fact, they have been around since the beginning of time. These erroneous teachings also remind us that “…the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine” 2 Tim. 4:3. The time for heretical teaching – though heresy has always existed - has arrived in full force, especially in a post-modern, fully secularized world where the world impacts the church more than the church impacts the world. In fact, what is so disturbing about the modern-day incarnations of ancient heresies is that many of them now develop out of or receive the blessing from the church. The Apostle Paul’s wise counsel to young Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5 is needed once again:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
Four safeguards are given in this text to protect the believer and the church from the myths and heresies that serve as the seedbed for erroneous teaching. They are: A Holy Life, Holy Scripture, A Holy Calling, and Holy War .
I. A Holy Life, vs. 14,15a.
Paul begins by reminding Timothy that one safeguard against heresy is extremely practical – the safeguard of holy living. 2 Timothy 3:14,15a. outlines the foundation of Timothy’s holy life, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures…” Paul’s advice to Timothy was very simple. Timothy was to keep learning and applying what he had always known about God because not only was what he had learned true, but it had been passed on to him by people of holy character.
Timothy was the recipient of a holy heritage passed on to him by the matriarchs of his family, Lois and Eunice. 2 Timothy 1:5 notes, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” It was his mother and his grandmother who communicated gospel truth to him and who lived out that gospel truth in daily living. Paul wanted Timothy to know that there is no substitute for holy living.
It is very easy for the believer to let down his/her guard in a post-modern world. Worldly systems of thinking and believing can easily creep in and become the seedbed for wrong thinking. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 describes in graphic terms the consequences of what happens when holy living is eclipsed by personal sin:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” The final phrase is key, “Have nothing to do with them.” Holy living is an essential safeguard against unholy thinking. This was true in Timothy’s day; it’s true in our day, as well.
II. Holy Scripture, vs. 15b.-17
But holy living is not enough of a safeguard against misguided teaching. Holy living alone is not adequate to resist unholy untruths. In fact, many of the great heretics of the church believed they were doing the work of God. This is why 2 Timothy 3:5 suggests that those who teach heresy often have “…a form of godliness, but deny(ing) its power.”
Why is holy living not enough? Because in the end, holy living remains a subjective experience. What is needed is an objective guide that transcends subjective experience. This is where God’s Word is needed. It is also why Paul would write to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15b.-17, “…the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is God-breathed (inspired) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God’s Word is the objective standard by which we are to live and judge all truth. Notice several things that outline the holy, objective nature of God’s Word:
· God’s Word is “…able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” God’s Word is the means by which God saves sinners. While it is Jesus who saves; God uses the Word of God to communicate the gospel to unregenerate minds and hearts. As the Word is preached the Holy Spirit uses the Word as the “…sword of the Spirit…” (Eph. 6:17) to convict sinners of their sin and to convert them through faith in Jesus Christ. This is why Romans 10:14,15 reads: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” God’s Word declares and clarifies the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
· God’s Word is Holy Spirit inspired: “All scripture is God-breathed (inspired)…” Two truths emerge out of this phrase. First, the text states that “All scripture…” is inspired. This means that both the Old Testament (Mt. 5:17-20) and the New Testament (2 Peter 3:15-21) are inspired. The Bible is not a word about God; it is not simply a word from God; rather, it is the Word of God Himself. And since it is from God it is reliable, infallible, trustworthy, inerrant and sufficient. Second, “All scripture is God-breathed (inspired)…” Not only is the entirety of God’s Word sufficient, but the sufficiency of scripture is rooted in its inspiration. The word for inspired literally means ‘breathed out of God.’ The nearest we come in scripture to having the process of inspiration described is 2 Peter 1:21 where the text states, “…men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” God used men – their personalities and backgrounds – to write down exactly what He wanted written down. This is why the Bible is time-bound in that it records the events of specific people groups and specific places; yet, it is timeless and eternal because as God’s Word – his principles, precepts and eternal truths – God Himself communicates with clarity, precision and accuracy through these events, people groups and places.
· God’s Word is useful for “…teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” While God’s Word is the means God uses to bring people to faith in Jesus and while it is inspired, it is nonetheless a very practical and helpful book. The Bible is not simply an ivory tower experiment. It is an all-sufficient, Spirit inspired book practically beneficial for those who read and study it.
o teaching (doctrine) – this is the content of God’s Word that teaches the truths about God, salvation, the church, and the other great doctrines of the church;
o rebuking (reproof) – this is the activity of God’s Word that confronts wrong behavior and wrong belief;
o correcting – this is the restoration of something to its proper condition; this is the restorative power of God’s Word;
o training in righteousness – this means that God’s Word is sufficient to train a person in how to think and live righteously.
· God’s Word leads to a mature person, “…so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The inspired, but nonetheless, practical nature of God’s Word results in a person fully equipped for God’s Work.
In the end, God’s Word is the objective rule by which we live and think as believers. And while holy living is an essential safeguard against heresy, the all-sufficient Word is the objective standard by which all beliefs are to be evaluated. The person who strays from or denigrates the Bible is the same person who ends up in error.
III. A Holy Calling, vs. 1,2
The text now moves from a call for personal holiness and an understanding of the holiness of God’s Word, to a holy calling to preach God’s Word: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and our of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” Rather than wilt under the heat of erroneous teaching from godless men, Paul was reminding Timothy that he lived under the mandate of a holy calling. This calling is clarified in verses 1,2. Several points are worth noting in these two verses:
The place of our calling – “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead…” The preacher is called to preach to many by an audience of one (Isaiah 6:1-8). Ministry is not simply a vocational choice among other vocational choices. The ministry of preaching the Word is a calling that must be taken seriously. The God who will “…judge the living and the dead…” will also one day judge those who are called to teach God’s Word (James 3:1). The place of our calling is before a holy God.
The priority of our calling – “…and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge…” Since Jesus’ return is imminent, we must preach the Word. Further, since men and women are dying now, separated from God because of sin, we are to preach the Word. It must be the priority of the preacher specifically and the believer generally to preach God’s Word in the face of the heretical claims of evil men and the onslaught of worldly, post-modern, secular thinking. We preach, not because it is popular, but because it is the priority of a called person to communicate the truths of scripture so that they may shine of the light of God’s gospel on the darkened heart (2 Cor. 4:5,6).
The purpose of our calling – “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and our of season; correct, rebuke and encourage…” The preacher of God’s Word does not preach himself (2 Cor. 4:5). The preacher is authorized to preach only the Word of God. And he is to do this in every season of the year. Unlike various hunting seasons that mark the calendar year, preaching the gospel is always in season. The consequence of the faithful and consistent preaching of God’s Word is the correction, confrontation and encouragement that take place in the life of the believer.
The procedures of our calling – “…with great patience and careful instruction.” Two procedures should mark the preaching of God’s Word: 1) patience – this means that the preacher must not become discouraged or sidetracked in declaring the Word of God. Too many preachers drift off into heresy because they don’t see immediate results. Sticking with the Word is essential if error is to be avoided and God’s people are to be built up in their faith. 2) careful instruction must also mark the preaching of God’s Word. This means that the preacher must study and declare God’s Word with precision and dedication. We must be like the Berean Christians of Acts 17:11 who “…received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Their patient precision with God’s Word helped them avoid doctrinal error.
The calling to preach and apply the Word of God with precision and patience is essential to the faithfulness of the church to God’s kingdom ministry. This is why Paul challenged Timothy to remain faithful to holy living, to God’s holy Word and to the holy calling to preach the Word even in the face of opposition.
IV. A Holy Warning, vs. 3,4
Why would Paul spend so much time instructing Timothy in the varied aspects of gospel ministry, especially the ministry of preaching the Word? Because Paul knew that people have short memories when it comes to God’s Word. This is why verses 3,4 state, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. The will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” Incredible! Paul’s warning to Timothy to remain faithful to God’s Word came against the backdrop of outright unfaithfulness. In just a few short years, after the ascension of Jesus, some in the church would fall into outright heresy. Look at the differing aspects of this move from orthodoxy to unorthodox belief:
“…men will not put up with sound doctrine.” The first step toward unorthodox belief is a decision to resist or disagree with the sound teachings of God’s Word. Often, rebellion against God’s truth is the beginning place for a slide into unsound teaching. The tendency to reshape God’s truth in the image of man has been true since the Garden of Eden where Satan twisted God’s truth to tease, appease and entice Eve and Adam to sin against God (Gen. 3:1-7).
“Instead, to suit their own desires…” Heretical belief begins with rebellion against what is true and right and builds as a set of beliefs are pieced together into a theological construct that suits the desires of the shaper of the new theology. This is called neo-orthodoxy. In this progression from Biblical orthodoxy to unorthodox beliefs, the center of belief moves from God to man.
“…they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Heresy begins with a resistance to truth and a reshaping of its tenets and eventually develops into a codification process where unorthodox teachers teach with authority things that are untrue and unbiblical. Such teachers appear to be “above board,” but in the end they are destroyers of people’s faith. They tickle people’s ears with nuanced half-truths and re-declarations of historic beliefs.
“They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” The final result of the development of heretical teaching is the acceptance of supposed “new truths,” which are actually myths and wives tales.
Paul wanted Timothy to avoid heretical teachings by being faithful to God’s Word, but also to avoid heretical teachers who lead people to stray from God’s truth. 2 Timothy 3:6-9 describes these restless, ruthless teachers in the following manner: “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses (Ex. 7:11), so also these men oppose the truth – men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.” Such are the people who teach heresy – both then and now!
V. Some Holy Advice, vs. 5
Paul concludes his encouraging challenge to Timothy with some practical advice found in verse 5: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” Rather than get sidetracked into developing “new” teachings, as is often the case with heretical teachers, Paul challenges Timothy with some very practical advice that is worth hearing once again.
· “But you, keep your head in all situations…” This simple phrase can also be translated to be watchful and ready. Too often, the teacher and preacher of God’s Word will hear of a new angle or teaching that sounds good, but is nevertheless unbiblical. In his desire to “stay up with the times” he loses his head in his desire to keep pace – to keep current. He buys into a teaching that skews the faith and ends up teaching heretical things to an unsuspecting church. This is why Paul reminds Timothy to keep watch – to keep his head – in all situations, especially as enticing theological fads come and go.
· “…endure hardship…” Ministry can be rough, especially when others abandon the truth. It is difficult to remain faithful in an unfaithful age. Yet, the minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ must keep true to the Word even if it warrants enduring hardships from time to time.
· “…do the work of an evangelist…” In the midst of confronting the casual Christianity that emerges out of heretical teaching, Paul reminds Timothy that the chief aim of the gospel is to save lost sinners. This is why the work of evangelism must be kept front and center. Developing new truth that appeases the otherwise sinful heart is not the issue; the issue is that the desperately wicked heart needs to be renovated and regenerated by the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.
· “…discharge all the duties of your ministry.” Simply stated, Timothy must be a faithful minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And while ministry can be tedious and even boring, God honors the faithfulness of his servants.
Conclusion: God desires for his church to be built up in the “…most holy faith…” (Jude 20), ministering and serving in ways that honor Christ. In order to do this, it is essential that God’s people – his ministers and his people – remain faithful to God’s Word, avoiding error and rejecting untruths, half-truths and various kinds of heretical teachings. As Jude 3 urges, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men who condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ out only Sovereign and Lord.”
Such a warning is needed today. Men such as Gerd Lüdemann, who has served as theology professor at Vanderbilt University and the University of Göttingen Germany, are teaching heretical truths under the guise of mature Christianity. Ludemann would write in his 1994 publication, The Great Deception: And What Jesus Really Said and Did, the following denunciation of Christianity: “I have come to the following conclusion. My previous faith, related to the biblical message, has become impossible, because its points of reference, above all the Resurrection of Jesus, have proved invalid and because the person of Jesus himself is insufficient as a foundation of faith once most of the New Testament statements about him have proved to be later interpretations by the community. Instead, the church came; it recklessly changed the message of Jesus and in numerous cases turned it against the mother religion of Judaism.” As a result, Lüdemann calls himself a non-theist theologian. His views are so radical that even the liberal University of Göttingen as removed him from his tenured chair of theology, a move that Lüdemann still doesn’t seem understand or comprehend.
Contrast Lüdemann’s descent into heresy with the faithfulness of R.G. Lee, who for thirty-two years faithfully proclaimed God’s truth as pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church (1927-1960). R.G. Lee was a man bent on remaining true and faithful to God’s Word, to God’s church and to doing God’s work God’s kingdom way. Rather than being dazzled by his own intellect, which could have easily taken him down the same road Lüdemann traveled, Lee understood that the human mind, as well as the human heart, was sinful and reprobate apart from a saving, transforming experience with Jesus Christ. Lee was not open for error. Instead, he was open to hear God’s Spirit speaking to him through the Bible. May God give us more men and women in the church who are more open to God’s truth than they are open to error.
 David Basinger, “Practical Implications,” in Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker and David Basinger, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 156.
 Bruce A. Ware, God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2000), p. 17.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1996). Johnson deals a devastating blow to the Jesus Seminar’s main arguments.
 David S. Dockery, Christian Scripture: An Evangelical Perspective on Inspiration, Authority and Interpretation (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1995). Dockery gives three full chapters (Chapters 3,4,5) to a thorough discussion of the various options and nuances of the issue of inspiration.
 Rob Simbeck, “The Body of Jesus Rotted in the Tomb,” The Nashville Scene 28 Feb. 2002 [Nashville, TN.]
 Editors, PayDay Everyday: The Incomparable Memoirs of a Pulpit Giant (Nashville, TN.: Broadman & Holman, 1974), p. 86.
Joanna Moore, Church Services
R.G. Lee Center for Christian Ministry
I love the church. Let me repeat, I love the church. The church is the called out people of God on whom the Lord has set His affection and power and through whom God has sovereignly decided to accomplish His kingdom purposes on earth. The church will never go out of existence (Mt. 16:13-20). She will always be the apple of God’s eye.
Having acknowledged the permanence of God’s people (even at the low ebb of being just a remnant from time to time in history), let me also suggest that the current version of the church in America is sick (see Rev. 2:1-7; 3:14-22). Though there are pockets of spiritual activity, much of what we call ‘church’ is a poor substitute for biblical Christianity. In spite of millions of dollars spent on the church growth industry, the average local church is in serious trouble. Apathy and indifference are widespread.
What makes this analysis of the church all the more ironic is that Christianity in many parts of the world is doing just fine. Great movements of God in Asia, South America and in some of the former Soviet republics remind us that the gospel is at work, even when persecution is pervasive and oppressive. What happened to the church in America? Why is American Christianity so sick, dead and dieing? Here are some observations I have made based upon my own struggles, the challenges I see in the church and the current societal climate.
Passion-less, Man-Centered Worship
First and foremost, I observe passion-less, man-centered worship. By worship I am referring not just to the worship of the gathered church, but to a life wholly committed to the exaltation of God. Sadly and wrongly, we have separated corporate and individual worship to the extent that our lives are now compartmentalized and spiritually disjointed. We have embraced the notion that worship is for Sunday, but not for Monday through Saturday. As a result, we do not see our work and our play as possible expressions of worship and activity for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
Further, worship participation, church attendance and Bible study have become for many American Christians either a form of maintaining a general sense of morality or a social event where felt-needs are expressed and personal satisfaction is sought, but where God is secondary. And I’m not referring to the ill-fated dichotomy we have created between traditional and contemporary worship styles. Often, I find both ‘styles’ to be quite boring and ultimately self-centered because both have come to focus on me, my wants, my needs and my desires. What I’m speaking of is the very purpose of worship.
Worship is not primarily for us, although we reap the benefits of true worship. Worship is either individually or corporately counting God worthy, glorifying Him for His many attributes, His character and His purposes. Worship is where we seek His agenda and not our own. But in this we have failed. As a result, our preaching, singing and praying have become means by which we obtain our dreams and fulfill our personal needs rather than exalting God and seeking His glory in all the earth.
We are shocked to discover that a truly seeker-sensitive service is sensitive to the only true seeker in the church – God (Jn. 4:21-24). When worship is not about God it becomes about us. And when worship is about us it becomes morbidly introspective. No wonder our worship services lack passion, zeal and focus. Rather than make God the center of our worship, we ‘doctor’ up our services thinking this will remedy the disease of boredom and disinterest.
Excellent music of all kinds is good, testimonies, skits, dramas and of course the preaching of the Word are all means by which we worship God. But let us remember that the means of our worship ought not become the focus of our worship. To truly focus on God Himself is the ultimate goal of worship.
Is it any wonder that our personal and public worship experiences are ultimately unfulfilling when we are ultimately focused on self alone? And is it any wonder that many pour out of the church or, worse yet, never darken the doors of a fellowship of believers because we have forgotten what it is to be stricken by the terror and awe of a great and mighty God or the amazing grace of a merciful Savior? No wonder both the regenerate and unregenerate are commonly bored by ‘church.’ Self is essentially boring; God is eternally glorious and fascinating.
The core of what troubles Christianity in America is the loss of passionate worship defined not by worship style or genre, but by the all-consuming desire to seek God’s glory. The consequences of this singular issue are significant, i.e. indifferent indifference, the demotion of God as God and the elevation of the autonomous self.
Indifference: Or, I Don’t Care and I Don’t Care that I Don’t Care
My dad once told me that indifference was the most challenging spiritual disease to combat because it was difficult to ascertain its cause and even more difficult to remedy. I believe his observation is correct. Indifference or an ‘I don’t care’ attitude has invaded the church in epidemic proportions and is a direct result of our disjointed, indifferent worship of God. In addition, a secondary and corollary disease now accompanies this dreaded disease that can best be described as ‘I don’t care and I don’t care that I don’t care.’
Scripture calls this the sin of being lukewarm or half-committed (Rev. 3:15-16). In other words, we have become incredibly complacent about spiritual things. We can take it or leave it. We can attend or not attend worship – and not be bothered by our inconsistency. We can read or not read the Word – and not be bothered by our biblical illiteracy. We can witness or not witness – and not be bothered by our lack of urgency for hell-bound sinners.
And why are we so indifferent? It is because we have demoted God and elevated self. God, truly preached, lived, understood and worshipped, is never boring. Yet, satisfied with morbid introspection and self-exaltation, godless, passion-less worship always produces indifference and apathy.
As a result, spiritual things have become optional. Just like purchasing a new car with our choice of options, we have chosen to elevate ‘optionality’ to an art form. Gathering for worship on a consistent basis is no longer a priority; it is now one option among many in an otherwise too busy life. Scripture reading is but one option among the many new bestsellers and/or current magazines. Viewing the world from a Christian perspective is now optional based upon what we think is essential. If God is ‘persona non grate’ in my life and if self is supreme, then why chose for God?
And what is most troubling of all? We don’t care and we don’t even care that we don’t care. In fact, many Christians don’t care that churches are half-empty, that membership roles are filled with unconverted persons and that a general lack of holiness pervades American spirituality.
God as the God of the Gaps
As result of our passion-less, man-centered worship and icy spiritual indifference we have come to view God as the ‘God of the gaps.’ To serve a God of the gaps is to serve as God who is only good for the areas of life that we cannot control ourselves. And since through technology and modern scientific advancements we can control more of our lives than at any other time in history, the place for God has become condensed to the small, remaining gaps of life.
The consequence has been a devastating demotion of God. God has been reduced to being a buddy, a friend, a confidant or a helper. He is not sovereign, master, Lord or controlling agent of all created things. And if God is so small then He does not deserve my undivided attention or my undivided commitment.
The consequences of serving and worshipping such a small god are monumental. No wonder the church is powerless, prayer-less and passion-less. If God is so small then what power does He have to affect the outcome of things or to alter the course of human history? If God is so small then why not reduce our praying to simply praying that He’ll comfort the sick, but not shake the very foundations of human existence? And if God is so small what reason is there for us to seek Him with zeal, passion and laser-like focus?
I’m My Own Authority
The outcome of all this ‘me-centeredness’ is a self-absorbed church membership acting on its own authority rather than on God’s authority. The concept of objective authority is beyond us because we have come to fully embrace the sovereign self as the arbiter of all things important. The consequence of this is that the church is filled with individual, sovereign authorities attempting to ‘do things for God’ based upon personal choice. No wonder most churches meander and drift.
Competing authorities cannot co-exist (Mt. 6:24). This is why many Christians will say that they are a ‘person of the Book,’ yet do not live by the Book. This is why many will balk at the spiritual leadership God has designed for the church because it conflicts with their own self-autonomy. If I’m my own authority then God’s authority has no place in my life, in the life of the church or in my family.
The absence of a respect for authority also means the demise of humility as a worthy Christian characteristic. In essence the question is: if I’m my own authority and I’m not under any authority but my own then why should I humble myself before God or, for that matter, demonstrate humility toward others in sacrificial service? Self-rule and a rejection of spiritual authority is not just about rebellion, it is about pride.
The reason God does not seem to ‘move’ in His church as many desire is that she is filled with self-autonomous pride to the extent that individuals end up dictating the parameters of His authority and influence over our individual and corporate lives. No wonder James 4:6, “But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but give grace to the humble.”
Personal preference over priority!
If self is the final arbiter of all things then personal preference is the criteria for methodology. The church, filled with passion-less, self-centered believers, usually ends up inverting the importance of personal preference with spiritual priorities. In other words, when a subjective perspective on all things spiritual rules the day, then personal preference rules the day. The result is that sides are drawn in the church economically, racially, musically, theologically and personally. Conversely, the priorities of doctrinal orthodoxy, personal holiness, congregational unity, evangelism and missional intentionality are considered secondary or ancillary issues.
Personal preference diminishes the desire for biblical patterns and methodologies. Woe to the pastor who dares to lay out the clear patterns for church leadership, spiritual discipline, evangelism, theological doctrine and kingdom priorities. Often he will be criticized and ridiculed for being a spiritual zealot or a fundamentalist. It is true that truth must be spoken in love (Eph. 4:15), but it is equally true that love without truth is no love at all.
What would happen in the churches if the basic biblical patterns for individual and corporate life were actually taught and practiced? In my considered opinions the church would at first be emptied out the many half-committed ‘believer’ who fill her ranks. However, eventually true believers would arise and the true church would emerge in spiritual power.
Finally, saturated with self-centeredness and the rule of personal preference, the church has wedded itself to political methodologies to carry out her agenda. In essence, since she has abandoned God’s biblical patterns for spiritual power, the church has wrongly gone looking for a process that will influence culture.
Rather than being salt and light as God’s people, many churches have sold their soul to the political process to the extent that many identify some churches with one of the two major parties dominant on the American political scene. As a result, not only has the church tied her hopes for cultural transformation to the political train, but she has become internally politicized so that congregational decisions are not made by prayer and fasting, but through political alignments and coalitions based upon the dominant ‘personal preference.’
This is not to say that individual believers and gathered assemblies are to be unconcerned about public righteousness, abortion, homosexuality, corporate greed, racial injustice, etc. Instead, it is to ask, ‘How does the church impact culture with God’s kingdom agenda?’ Answer: Culture must be transformed from the inside out, from the bottom up, from the local to the national, from the individual to the corporate.
Further, culture is impacted through the clear, diligent and consistent preaching of God’s Word which transforms the individual which alters the gathered church which infiltrates the community which changes cultural tastes and appetites which filters its way to every facet and dimension of human existence.
It is interesting to note that the early church had no political agenda per say. The agenda of the early church was biblical, spiritual and transformational. Any contact early believers had with the political process was of a secondary kind that was always in service to the more important agenda of spiritual truth.
Because major portions of the American church have identified with a particular political party, many unbelievers no longer view the church as a place of possible transformation, but as just another political party. And with the ever increasing distrust of politics, is it any wonder that many have come to distrust the church?
Is There Hope?
Is the hope for the church? YES! While many things must happen, let me offer just few suggestions that may serve as the beginning of a renewal movement.
God must be glorified! This sounds so simplistic, doesn’t it? Yet it is true. God’s rightful place as the center of our individual and corporate lives must be restored. It was not a waste of ink when Matthew recorded the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” God is the center of our life! God is our life! He must be, He will be, exalted among the nations.
We must come to the end of ourselves! As God is exalted, we must diminish. Our great God is jealous for His glory. He will not, He cannot, share the spotlight. He alone can rightly claim center-stage. Humility must become the high-water mark of the church. Then, and only then, will God’s power flow to us and through us in life-changing, world-impacting influence. As pastor James reminds us (4:10), “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” The source of our power is not our personal gifts and resources; the true source of our power is an absolute dependence on God.
We must affirm and practice God’s Word! If we say we are people of the Book we must actually become people of the Book in how we live and in how we function as a body of believers. We must once again affirm 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Putting the ‘Book into practice’ must become the norm.
Finally, we must once again seek God’s kingdom agenda. Our prayers and our faith practices must be captured in the closing lines of Jesus’ model prayer in Matthew 6:10, “…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our ministry philosophy must be captured in what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Our boldness must be described as that of the early believers in Acts 5:32, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
The result will be a God-saturated, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered, Word preaching and practicing church able to glorify God and influence the nations with His kingdom purposes and priorities.
What is the role of religion in the public square? Some would for a Christian theocracy. Others would suggest a completely religion-free public square. But are these the only options? Either a public square dominated by religion? Or, a public square devoid of spiritual import? These questions are important especially when it appears that Christianity is on the defensive in favor of a secularized public square. To answer this question we must revisit some American history.
In a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut dated January 1, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson opined on the non-establishment clause of the 1st Amendment arguing for “building a wall of separation between Church and State.” Jefferson, a deist at best, was responding to an inquiry concerning his view of state-sanctioned churches. Non-conformists were concerned that those who favored a state church would win the day and exclude all other expressions of religious conviction. He was also responding to his critics as to why he did not follow the pattern of his predecessors, Washington and Adams, in declaring national days of prayer, fasting and worship.
Jefferson’s “wall of separation” was used to assure the Baptists that he opposed a state-sanctioned church, arguing that “religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions.” The phrase was used by Chief Justice Morrison Waite in 1879 and again by Justice Hugo Black in 1947. Thus, the phrase “wall of separation” settled into the American conscience.
What are we to make of this phrase? First, though helpful, it is not in the Constitution. The 1st Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” At minimum, this means two things. The state will not establish a state church and the state will not interfere with religious practices.
Second, some argue that this phrase excludes all religious expressions from the public square. But does it? Jefferson argued that the 1st Amendment guaranteed freedom for religion as a moral dimension of a democratically governed people. He also argued for the freedom of religion in that each person was free to worship or not worship according to the dictates of his own conscience. Further, Jefferson, I believe, argued that the “wall of separation” was more for the protection of the church than the state. This is why Jefferson was not arguing for freedom from religion in the public square.
America is a constitutional, representative republic. A Christian theocracy is not an option any more than would be a state run by Mormons, Muslims or Buddhists. While there is freedom for and of religion, it must be acknowledged that though America’s founding documents are not explicitly Christian, the founding spirit of this nation was consistently Judeo-Christian. It has been the favored religion of this nation, which is no small admission.
This does not exclude expressions of religious convictions by non-Christians. It simply acknowledges that the Judeo-Christian worldview has been firmly ensconced in American public life, which has served us well since our inception.
Therefore, to answer the question, ‘What is the role of religion in the public square?’ is to ask the question, ‘Can I separate my private convictions from my public opinions?’ Since my answer to the later is no, my answer to the former is that I come to the community table as a convictional Christian. It is there in community meetings and in public gatherings that I express my religiously informed convictions with clarity, conciseness and humility, as would any citizen of any religious stripe. To do otherwise would violate my conscience. I cannot check who I am at the door of public involvement.
To quarantine the public square from religious conviction is to leave her bare, devoid of any moral and spiritual influence. Such a move would supplant America’s spiritual and moral roots, a development that would in the end neutralize moral conviction and rob us of our grand, constitutional and declared affirmations: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…and for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
We live in exciting days of evangelistic possibilities. Like never before, people are searching for spiritual answers to meaningful, eternal questions. And though many of these answers are misguided and empty, the spiritual yearning of the human heart ought to remind us that God has wired us for worship. It should also remind us that the harvest of souls is plentiful and ready, but that the workers are often few and minimal (Mt. 9:38). The gospel is the answer to the human condition and evangelism is the sharing of the gospel with every person in every sphere of life on every continent in every way possible that does not compromise the gospel itself.
You would think that in a ‘culture of evangelistic opportunity’ the church would flourish, but it is not. Nearly every survey in recent years reveals that church attendance is down as a percent of the population and that churches have become more insulated from culture than ever before. While we’re singing “Rock of Ages” the world is racing toward a Christ-less eternity.
In addition, attempts to move the church forward in evangelistically engaging the culture with the gospel are often met with resistance. The favorite mantra of many in the church is “I Shall Not Be Moved.” No longer is the church interested in the Pauline model exampled in Acts 17 where Paul marched into a pagan environment and boldly engaged the philosophies and beliefs of the day with a clear presentation of the gospel. These days, most want to continue what was rather than face what is, to preach to the choir rather than engage a culture of unbelief.
Granted, while some of today’s newer models of cultural and evangelistic engagement are shallow and unbiblical, adopting new means of spreading the gospel without changing the gospel is essential. Throughout history the church has utilized cultural methods without compromising the gospel.
Here’s a brief list: 1) Did you know that the organ appeared in taverns in the middle ages as well as in churches?; 2) Did you know that during the Reformation the reformers adopted ‘bar tunes’ as melodies, inserting words of sound Christian doctrine so that the common people would sing the songs?; 3) Did you know that in 1780 when Roberts Raikes started ‘Sunday School’ he was first denounced as someone out to upset the traditions of the church?; 4) Did you know that in the 1960’s when bus ministry was at its beginning point many denounced the use of such secular means of reaching people as compromise with the world?; 5) Did you know that when ‘sound systems’ were first introduced in the church some decried that the church had compromised with the world?
My point is obvious – changing the gospel and in eliminating sound doctrine is inadmissible. In addition, preaching is the primary means God has ordained to spread the gospel. Yet, each new generation of believers is interested in using whatever means is available to communicate and spread the gospel i.e., music, technology, media, drama, etc. I see in many youth and collegiate-aged students a desire for sound and deep doctrine; yet they desire to place their methodological imprint on spreading the gospel.
As a result, we have reached an impasse in the culture of the church where we are divided over all the wrong things. In fact, we have arrived at a day where people in the church are more upset with the type of music that is offered up in worship than they are the type of Christ that is preached! Amazing! As Jesus noted about the Pharisees in Matthew 23:24, we are straining on gnats and swallowing camels.
We are straining on the gnat of methodology.
Each new generation brings with it new methods of communication and organization. This causes conflict with the previous generations who are absolutely convinced that their way was the only way. This is why there is so much conflict in the church at this time over how the church ought to be organized for effectiveness. Should we be elder led, pastor led or deacon led? Is Sunday School the only form of small group interaction or does a Thursday night Bible study suffice? Should the church have ministry teams accomplishing one purpose or standing committees that deal with many issues? And what method of evangelism is most effective? Door to door? Event evangelism? Person to person? EE? CWT? Share Jesus Without Fear?
While we’re straining on the gnat of methodology we’re swallowing the camel: 1) of preaching that is topical and not exegetical; 2) of spiritual leadership that is personality driven and not spiritual in nature; 3) and, on traditions that are man-centered and not Christ centered. Methodology is important. But method is an ever-changing means for a never-changing goal of pursuing the kingdom of God and preaching the gospel to the nations.
We are straining on the gnat of music and worship style.
Music is an incredible gift from God to the church for His glorification. The types of musical genres that are exampled in Scripture and that have been used throughout the centuries are multiple and varied. Yet, the pastor and/or music leader will receive more grief these days over the type of music in the church than he will the type of gospel that is preached from the pulpit. I have been in churches where the ‘right’ music was sung – both traditional and contemporary services – but where the preaching was horrendous and the doctrine was shallow and degrading of our great God. In other words, many will choke on a gnat of music and swallow unsound, unbiblical doctrine.
We are straining on the gnat of generational differences.
The field of sociology has provided for us many good and wonderful perspectives on the cultural differences that dominate the interaction of how people relate to each other. There are differences in how people of differing ages and cultures approach life. However, these differences are often elevated to such a degree that many have bought ‘hook, line and sinker’ the concept that the generations cannot, ought not relate to each other and that cultural differences are impassable.
Yet, the gospel transcends all cultural and generational differences because in the gospel the most basic of human needs is satisfied with the only thing that can satisfy the human heart – God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. We will choke on the gnat that teaches that teenagers cannot worship with the elderly and that people of different cultures cannot serve together, yet swallow silent bigotry, insensitivity, ageism and the homogenous unit concept that has infiltrated the churches.
We are straining on the gnat of the traditional vs. the contemporary.
I have come to personally despise the terms traditional and contemporary. Why? Because it robs each term of its best use! Tradition is best used to describe those things that carry over from one generation to the next and that seem to transcend cultural shifts. Contemporary is simply a word to describe what is current, new, altered and different. However, for some the term traditional has come to describe that which is resistant, stubborn, lacking vision and narrow-minded. The term contemporary has come to mean shallow, fleeting, temporary and meaningless. In other words, we will swallow unsound doctrine and shallow spiritualism, but choke on our differences, both cultural and generational. Further, both traditional and contemporary models of church life will choke on self-important and fleeting methods, and yet swallow the fact that some things never change but are often over-looked, i.e. doctrinal fidelity, spiritual fellowship, meaningful ministry, the glorification of God.
My deepest concern is that while we are choking on these gnats we are simultaneously swallowing some huge camels, i.e. unsound teaching, doctrinal ambiguity, personality-driven leadership, competition with the entertainment world and the adoption of unbiblical priorities that rob us of the joy of passionate, God-centered worship, personal evangelism and worldwide missions.
No matter the methods and techniques we utilize, we cannot, we must not abandon “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” At the same time, we must choose methods that augment and promote biblical fidelity and our missional, evangelistic purposes knowing that the gospel was never intended to be contained in old wineskins. I would rather eat a gnat – methods and styles that change from generation to generation even if they’re not my personal preference - than I would to swallow, as if unimportant, the great truths of Scripture that never change. It is time for the church to lift her head up from choking on the minimal and non-essential to see the fields that are ripe with the harvest of human souls.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Dr. Kevin Shrum
With the advent of the new Shelby County Baptist Association (Memphis, TN) in expanding its borders to include NE Arkansas, NW Mississippi, NW Alabama, Western Kentucky, SE Missouri, West Tennessee and Southern Illinois and in changing its name to the Mid-South Baptist Association of Churches (MSBAC) the question of how a Baptist church associates with other Baptist churches has been moved to the front burner once again.
To those who are unaware of what has been happening in Southern Baptist life over the past 25 years such a proposal may come as a surprise; to those who have observed the shifting alliances and affiliations of local Southern Baptist churches over that same period this proposal is a natural outcome of the redefining of what it means to be a local, Southern Baptist church.
How can we sift through what is happening in these realignments? Let’s begin with an assumption – Southern Baptist life will never again be what it was from its inception through the 70’s. This is both bad and good.
The down side of this equation is that a clear definition of what a Southern Baptist church is – “a Southern Baptist brand recognition, so to speak” – is difficult to ascertain. In general, the ‘monolithic sameness’ that once generally existed in Southern Baptist churches has broken down to reflect a regionalism/localism defined by style and homogenous demographic categories.
And while each Southern Baptist church has always been unique in its own right, the differences in how churches constitute themselves has evolved to encompass differences heretofore unrecognized.
The positive dimension of this realigning is that churches are developing innovative ways to reach the lost and to minister to their members that better fit the social, economic and cultural setting of the church. The challenge will be for churches to keep the best of Southern Baptist belief and ministry, while augmenting innovation.
We can also get at understanding these realignments by looking at some of the dividing lines that may define the future of Southern Baptist church associations.
Theological – Doctrinal fidelity is key to understanding church association. Since the vast majority of Southern Baptist churches define themselves with terms like conservative, orthodox, biblical, it should come as no surprise that most Baptist churches will align with other churches that are of ‘like mind and faith.’ These alignments may cross state borders as in the case of MSBAC. Could it be that the ‘Baptist Reformation’ of the 80’s, 90’s and beyond simply exposed the already engrained belief systems of Southern Baptist churches? Could it be that the moderate churches were already moderate and the conservative churches were already conservative, etc.? The struggle of the conservative movement didn’t ‘cause’ a church to believe a certain way; rather, it simply exposed what was already believed. Statements of faith will continue to define what it means to be a Southern Baptist church. Pressure will be placed on state conventions to better define doctrinal positions before churches align or continue to align themselves with that convention. Generic belief statements will not get it.
Denominational – By ‘denominational’ I am referring to our national and state convention entities. Denominational loyalty has crumbled in recent years. While the majority of SBC churches still look to the Southern Baptist Convention and their state conventions for leadership in the areas of missions, evangelism and education, many Southern Baptist churches now readily consider using non-Southern Baptist study materials, mission opportunities, camps, retreats and ministry resources to accomplish their purpose as a local church. The outcome of this development could be that a Southern Baptist church will maintain as primary its association with the SBC, while developing alliances with other church groupings and/or para-church movements that address a particular ministry need that may not be addressed by the larger national/state convention. The convention - state or national - that denies this development, choosing to operate with an antiquated model of denominational loyalty, will be left out in the cold.
Structural – This leads to the next issue – structure - in how a Baptist church associates with other Baptist churches. By structure I am referring to the posture of a convention toward its member churches. For too long both national and state conventions operated with a ‘hand it down’ attitude toward churches, i.e. we develop it in Nashville or in the state convention office and hand it down to the churches expecting the church to implement said program whether or not it worked or met a need. In turn, many local churches abdicated their role as an incubator for effective ministry ideas and leadership. This condescending attitude is being rejected as local, Southern Baptist churches return to the concept of what it means to be a local, autonomous church. Further, for denominations/conventions to survive in the future the structure and the posture of the organization toward the local church must humble itself in developing a ‘helping hand’ attitude in place of the ‘hand it down’ attitude. A structural change already under way in many state conventions shapes the structure of the organization as a ‘ministry clearing house’ for resources, ideas, personnel and ministry assistance.
What is the future of how Baptist churches associate with churches of ‘like mind and faith?’ Only God knows the answer to this question, but I suspect that we will see local, Southern Baptist churches continue to align themselves with already existing associational and convention entities, while at the same time developing new and dynamic ways of interaction with other ‘like-minded’ Southern Baptist and non-Southern Baptist churches/ministries for the accomplishing of specific purposes that cannot be addressed otherwise. These alignments will cross state and organizational borders.
Which leads me back to the proposal of the MSBAC. When I first read the proposal my heart was filled with excitement and then questions. As a native of Southeast Missouri, I remember many churches feeling isolated from the central office of the Missouri Baptist Convention in Jefferson City due mainly to time and distance. I can readily see the attraction to align with a new association more accessible.
Further, the churches in the region under consideration in the MSBAC share many common economic, cultural and regional similarities. A church in west Tennessee may have more in common with a church in northeast Arkansas than it does a church in middle or east Tennessee. In addition, the sentiment may be that the state office has not been responsive enough the theological and ministry concerns of this region.
Finally, what does the MSBAC have in its region that can help resource churches for ministry? Think about it – there already exists medical entities, retreat centers, at least two Baptist colleges and a myriad of ministry mechanisms unique to churches in the region.
MSBAC will not be unique. Such alliances and associational configurations will be the wave of the future. This means that the number of states with two conventions may increase and multiply as churches find ways to minister to a growing, divergent American populace.
Dr. Kevin Shrum
Every New Testament scholar and biblical theologian takes a risk in responding to every theological fad and/or new discovery that supposedly sheds light on the claims of Christianity. To respond to these ‘trendy notions’ is to give recognition and dignity where it is not deserved. However, from time to time, a response is required not so much because of the validity of the new claims as it is that the general public no longer possesses the wherewithal to appropriately respond. The public in general, and many in the church in particular, no longer possess the basic information required to respond to the outlandish claims of those who would seek to diminish the basic assertions of historic Christianity. This brief overview of the historical veracity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is, I believe, in order.
Introduction: The Advent of Biblically Illiterate ‘Sound Bite Intellectuals’
Here we go again. Every Christmas and Easter either the secular press or a select group of ‘biblical scholars’ unveil supposed new and startling revelations about the church, the gospel, and/or the central character of the Christian story, Jesus Christ. These new revelations are offered in an effort to 1) expose the alleged secrecy of the church (i.e. Dan Brown’s, The Da Vinci Code) that has clouded the real truth about Jesus Christ, 2) to shed new light on the gospel in such a way that the gospel is diminished and its content destroyed (i.e., John Dominic Crossan and Robert Funk, co-founders of the Jesus Seminar, and Bishop John Shelby Spong in Resurrection: Myth or Reality?) and to 3) ultimately take off some of the supernatural and other-worldliness luster of the gospel that the church has affirmed for two thousand years (i.e., Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino’s recent, The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence that Could Change History). In fact, this latest book will be on display in a Discovery Channel’s TV special to be aired Sunday evening, March 4th, 2007, 9 ET, 8 CT.
The disappointing thing about these ‘new discoveries,’ and the others that have preceded them and that will surely follow, are that they are not new. Many of the arguments presented in the Jacobovici and Pellegrino’s book have been around for decades. Most of them have been thoroughly debunked by sound, biblical scholarship, archeological discoveries, and textual verifications. It is apparent that those who produce and publish such materials have a financial motive. In other words, Jesus sells. In my humble opinion, the steady stream of these ‘new revelations’ in books and magazines each Christmas and Easter is driven by 1) greedy marketers, 2) all-too-willing and obscure bible scholars looking to make a name for themselves and 3) an ill-informed public that is always on the prowl for a scandal. And what better person to scandalize than Jesus, what better institution to scandalize than the church, and what better claim to scandalize than the claims of the gospel?
Even more disappointing is the reaction of an entertained crazed culture that is easily beguiled and deceived. Why is it that the average layperson readily accepts the errant propositions of already debunked, illegitimate scholarship? Three factors are at play: First, with the rapid development of media technology and techniques (most of which can be used for the good, if properly used), the vast majority of Americans have become ‘sound bite intellectuals’ who are prepared to uncritically accept whatever they hear and see from radio and TV as ‘the gospel truth.’ Most Americans have stopped doing the hard work of the kind of intellectual engagement that is required to sift through differing truth claims, an engagement that is required of a mature human being, particularly of a self-proclaimed Christian. In other words, many will view the Discovery Channel special and accept the assertions made on the program simply because it is being aired on a major cable network. Americans have somehow lost the notion that just as there are no completely objective individuals there are no completely objective media outlets – everybody has an angle.
Second, with the onslaught of ‘sound bite intellectuals’ the realization has come that we are a biblically illiterate society. I am continually amazed how biblically uninformed the general public is concerning God’s Word. Not only are all kinds of notions and phrases attributed to God’s Word that are not there – i.e., ‘God helps those who help themselves’ – but all kinds of notions and phrases that are there are denied on the basis of a truncated view of God and His Word – i.e., ‘Thou shall not commit adultery.’ Combine the gullibility of the public with a parallel biblical illiteracy and it makes for a receptive audience for the enemies of the cross and a minimalistic gospel.
Third, and maybe most tragic, is the lack of authentic, sound, thorough, and comprehensive Bible teaching in the church that only exacerbates the aforementioned problems. The gospel that is preached in thousands of churches across America is, at best, a mere shadow of the life-changing, historical, supernatural, revelatory gospel of Jesus Christ that is clearly and unequivocally outlined in God’s Word. The gospel that is preached today talks little of sin, minimizes the need for repentance, diminishes the ‘otherness’ of God, destroys the divinity of Jesus and virtually obligates God to meet the so-called felt needs of a self-centered public and childish church. Combine the factors of a sound bite society and a biblically illiterate public with a ‘gospel-less church’ and the result is fertile ground for heresy.
In a recent op/ed piece in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ, 3.2.07, W13), Ben Witherington, III, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., defined the cultural milieu in which we find ourselves when it comes to dealing with novel claims about Christianity:
"Year after year in spring, a new crop of religious dandelions pop up in our post-Christian culture. Like the real ones growing in my yard, they make a colorful splash that briefly captures our attention, until we realize that they are only shallow-rooted weeds, not beautiful flowers planted long ago in the deep rich soil of the past, such as Easter lilies.
Last year (2006), it was the Gnostic nonsense of the “Da Vinci Code.” We’ve had the “gospel of Judas Iscariot,” written centuries after the eyewitnesses were dead. This year it’s a variation on the “Da Vinci” theme. We are not only being told that there was a Mrs. Jesus (aka Mary Magdalene). We are also informed that her tomb and that of Jesus have been found in Jerusalem; that DNA testing has proved that they are not related and so must have been married (how exactly does it prove that?) and that an ossuary or small casket of at least one of their offspring has been found as well. News at 11! R, in this case, Discovery Channel’s documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” scheduled for Sunday night (4.4.07).
In a surreal moment on “Larry King Live” earlier this week, the film’s producer, James Cameron (of “Titanic” fame), told us with a straight face that we should all be thankful that we now have tangible evidence that Jesus existed. Actually, no serious historian of biblical antiquity has ever doubted that there was a historical Jesus. Yet it tells us a lot about the state of our culture that Mr. Cameron’s remark, backed by pseudo-science, could be seriously made on national television and that the film’s book has already shot up to No. 5 on Amazon’s rankings. We are a Jesus-haunted culture that is so historically illiterate that anything can now pass for knowledge of Jesus.
No doubt there are those who welcome “evidence” that undermines the foundation of Christianity. Many people, though, are simply beguiled by the “obsolescence factor” in our technologically driven society - the “newer” must be “truer” and “better.” This outlook, when applied to a subject like the historical Jesus, attracts all sorts of unbridled speculation, and worse.”
Witherington is correct. The recognition of what he calls “obsolescence factor” is key. He is not arguing against all aspects of modernity. He is simply noting that modernity can fool a person into thinking that nothing in the past is credible, verifiable, worthwhile or substantive. So, what do we know about the historical events surrounding the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ? What we can know about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection may surprise you!
Resurrection: What are we talking about?
Before we make a case for the resurrection, we must establish what it is we are talking about. What does the term mean? For example, the great German New Testament scholar of the 40’s and 50’s, Rudolf Bultman, willingly used the term ‘resurrection,’ but did not mean by it what Christianity has historically claimed. Rather than using the term to describe the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, Bultman used the term to describe the resurrected ‘spirit of Jesus’ and the subsequent resurrection of the depressed spirits of the disciples, most of whom had abandoned Jesus and who thought that the movement Jesus started had ended with His death. In contrast to this view, historic Christianity has always claimed that while Jesus did experience a new spiritual dimension as a result of His resurrection, His resurrection also included the raising and transformation of His body. In other words, the resurrection was both a corporeal event in that it encompassed the material body of Jesus and a spiritual event in that Jesus was free of previous physical constraints in inhabiting a resurrected, glorified body.
In addition, by resurrection we do not mean resuscitation. For example, in John 11 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. But is this the same type of resurrection Jesus experienced and that one day we will experience? Yes and no! Yes, Jesus overcame the power of death in order to raise Lazarus from the dead. But notice that Lazarus returns to his previous state of being instead of experiencing a new dimension of existence. It may be better to say that the raising of Lazarus from the dead was more akin to a resuscitation than a resurrection, without diminishing Jesus’ power over death. Lazarus would die again. The kind of resurrection Jesus experienced was not a resuscitation because Jesus was raised to never die again. Thus, by resurrection we mean that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead to a glorified state of being that He previously enjoyed prior to His incarnation; it is a resurrection we will one day experience as we are raised to a new state of existence that we have yet to experience as our souls are joined with a glorified body that will eternally exist in the presence of God.
What are we to Make of These New Claims?
Is there a thoughtful, measured, biblical response to the claims of Jacobovici and Pellegrino? I believe there is. Let me begin with two assertions that nearly everyone agrees with, both liberal and conservative scholars alike. First, no one disagrees with the fact that just a few days after His crucifixion the tomb of Jesus was empty. This fact is not in dispute. What is in dispute is how the fact of the empty tomb is explained. Even Jacobovici and Pellegrino offer an alternative explanation for the assertion that Jesus’ tomb was empty – it was the wrong tomb. An empty tomb has been replaced by a new tomb discovered in 1980 in a Jerusalem suburb known as Talpiot. Nevertheless, it is an alternative explanation to the biblical account that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was raised from the dead. But a new tomb location is not the only theory offered to explain the empty tomb. Down through the years numerous explanations with varying degrees of acceptance have been offered as theoretical hypothesis for the fact of the empty tomb. We will look at some of these theories.
Second, nearly all scholars affirm the veracity of texts that have import on this subject. For example, virtually all New Testament scholars, both those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus and those who do not, affirm that 1 Corinthians 15 is the earliest formulation (circa AD 55-56) of the gospel that is rooted in the belief that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead: (v. 3-5ff.) “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared…” What follows the assertion of Jesus’ appearance is a substantive list of those who were privileged to personally and corporately encounter the resurrected Christ. Again, the authenticity of this text is not in question.
The veracity and authenticity of the biblical narratives is given tedious attention in Philip Comfort’s monumental work, Encountering the Manuscripts (Broadman/Holman Press, 2005). Needless to say, the New Testament documents we possess are as authentic as any ancient documents we possess, probably more so! The number of full and partial documents we possess (15,000+) that attest to the Bible’s authenticity, along with the multiple copies of the New Testament books we possess demonstrate a remarkable level of verifiability. What is in question is how these texts are to be interpreted in relation to the traditional claim that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead on the third day. In other words, is the plain reading of the text the best explanation for the empty tomb? Or, are we to look for alternative explanations? In summary, we have two assertions upon which we can begin a thoughtful response to the claims of Jacobovici and Pellegrino – an empty tomb and historically verifiable texts. Let us now look at some of the theories that have been given in explaining the empty tomb.
Empty Tomb Theories
The ‘empty tomb’ theories are numerous and range from plausible to bizarre. These will be listed these in no particular order:
· The Stolen Body Theory - The first and most obvious theory is recorded in Matthew 28:11-15: “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” The stolen body theory has been an oft-repeated theory, discussed in differing forms and motifs, but with the same outcome.
· The Swoon Theory – This theory “posits that Jesus fainted on the cross and only appeared to be dead. Jesus then awoke and recuperated in the damp coolness of the tomb and subsequently fully recovered.” (Doug Powell in Christian Apologetics: A Clear and Complete Overview, Holman Reference, 2006, p. 270). While this theory may sound plausible, it also raises more questions then it answers - i.e. How did Jesus recover? Where did he recuperate? Doesn’t this contradict the well-documented Roman practice of not taking a person off a cross until dead?
· The Twin Theory – This rather bizarre theory argues that Jesus had an unknown, identical twin that assumed the role of the resurrected Jesus after the crucifixion (Powell, Christian Apologetics, p. 274). This theory is akin to a fraud, a motive that would have been completely contrary to what we know about Jesus from the four gospels. Further, there is no evidence to support such a theory historically, textually, or biographically.
· Hallucination Theory – This theory suggests “that in the midst of their profound grief, the disciples and other followers of Jesus experienced hallucinations in which they saw Him raised from the dead.” (Powell, Christian Apologetics, p. 278). The reason this theory has never been widely accepted is due to the nature of the public appearances of resurrected Lord. If Jesus had appeared to His followers individually or in small groups it could be argued that they may have hallucinated in seeing the resurrected Lord. However, 1 Corinthians 15 states that Jesus appeared to individuals and to a large number of the disciples, making it nearly impossible to postulate a comprehensive hallucinatory experience for such a large number of people. This theory also carries with it the weakness of failing to explain the empty tomb.
· Additional Theories – In addition to these major theories, such minor theories as:
o 1) The ‘bait and switch’ theory that argues that Jesus was replaced with a stand-in at the last minute and was never crucified at all. This theory is sometimes based on a spurious reading of Luke 23:26 where is it is noted “As they led Him (Jesus) away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.” It is argued that Simon from Cyrene replaced Jesus on the cross. Again, this theory carries no historical evidence and fails to explain the empty tomb.
o 2) The ‘Islamic theory’ is that Jesus was never crucified at all but somehow escaped the cross, only to reappear to His disciples. They, in turn, wrongly applied the concept of resurrection to Jesus Christ. According to the Qur’an Judas was crucified instead of Jesus (see the Qur’an, surahs 3:55 and 4:157-58 and Ergun and Emir Caner in Unveiling Islam: An Insider’s Look at the Muslim Life and Beliefs, Kregel, 2002).
o 3) The ‘shallow grave theory’ has been suggested by John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar. This theory suggests that the empty tomb can be explained by arguing that Jesus died and was then subsequently buried in a shallow, unmarked grave where a pack of dogs consumed the body. The weaknesses of this theory are obvious as well. Not only does it fail to explain the empty tomb and the well-known, well-publicized request of Joseph of Arimathea to bury the body of Jesus in his own tomb (Lk. 23:50-56; Mt. 27:57-61; Mk. 15:42-47; Jn. 19:38-42), but it also fails to explain the well-documented post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (1 Cor. 15).
o 4) A final ‘catch all’ theory is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was simply a legend that was perpetuated by the disciples in order to start a movement that had actually failed with the demise and death of their leader, Jesus Christ (see Bishop John Shelby Spong’s book, Resurrection: Myth or Reality, A Bishop’s Search for the Origins of Christianity, Harper Collins, 1994).
In summary, those who propose such theories go out of their way to avoid a plan reading of the text. In fact, one could argue that it takes greater faith to believe some of these theories than to believe the truth. Having surveyed some of the alternative explanations of the empty tomb and the resurrection, let’s survey some reasons, both biblical and logical, as to why it is plausible and probable that Jesus Christ did, in fact, rise from the dead on the third day.
The Biblical Foundations and Logical Supports for the Resurrection:
An Overview of William Lane Craig’s article entitled ‘Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? In Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, ed., Zondervan, 1995, pp. 141-176).
In what may be one of the best, most succinct, brief arguments for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Professor William Lane Craig (Ph.D., University Birmingham, U.K.), begins his article with the following declaration: ‘In seeking the best historical explanation of the evidence concerning the resurrection of Jesus, we employ a model of inference common to all inductive reasoning, including the natural sciences, known as inference to the best explanation. According to this approach, we begin with the evidence available to us. Then out of a pool of live options determined by our background beliefs, we select the best of various competing explanations to give an account of why the evidence is as it is and not otherwise.’ (p. 143) Craig begins with three well-known, well-documented, widely-accepted facts: 1) Jesus’ empty tomb, 2) the postmortem, post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and 3) the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. These three factors must be accounted for before accepting an alternative claim other than the one offered by the scriptures and the gospel – Jesus was bodily raised from the dead.
Jesus’ Empty Tomb
According to Craig, there are numerous plausible, biblical, and logical reasons that support the historical fact that the tomb of Jesus was empty soon after His death and burial. What is the supporting evidence for the empty tomb?
· The historical credibility of the burial based upon the gospel texts is largely undisputed (i.e. Mt. 27:57-61; Mk. 15:42-47; Lk. 23:50-56; Jn. 19:38-42).
· Paul’s testimony provides further verification in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared…” The dating of this confessional tradition is often dated to AD 30-36, making it nearly impossible to deny that Jesus was buried.
· The burial story is considered to be a part of the pre-Markan passion story, since Mark was one of the first gospels and records Mark’s insights as a reflection of the Apostle Peter’s testimony.
· The story of Jesus’ burial is simple and basic and lacks theological reflection and apologetic development, making it an unadorned claim. Too often lies, fables, or myths come with flowery language that clouds the issues of truth and verifiability. Not so with the burial accounts of Jesus.
· Joseph of Arimathea is a historical character.
· Joseph burying Jesus in his own grave is probably historical.
· Jesus was buried late on the Day of Preparation; the body could not have been left on a cross according to the Jewish regulations for holy days.
· The observation of the burial by the women is probably historical. According to Mark 15:40-41: “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.” Since the testimony of women in Jesus’ day was often discounted, why would the early gospel writers mention their names in both observing Jesus’ burial and in recording their witness as the first appearance of the resurrected Lord if it would have undermined their story, unless the claims of the disciples were true?
· The graves of Jewish holy men were often well-preserved and cared for, so that you also have Joseph of Arimathea’s reputation at stake.
· No other burial tradition exists.
· The investigation of the empty tomb by Peter and John is historically probable (Jn. 21:24).
· It would have been virtually impossible for the disciples to openly proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty. For example, between the crucifixion/resurrection event and Pentecost was fifty days in which the disciples prayed and waited. This would have provided plenty of time for the empty tomb and resurrection claims to have been debunked by the Jewish leaders and the enemies of Jesus. Yet, on the day of Pentecost Peter had not changed his mind or his claim concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see Acts 2).
· The earliest Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb. That is, the Jewish opponents of Jesus never denied the fact of the empty tomb. Further, they attempted to cover it up by paying off the guards (Mt. 28:11-15).
· The fact that the early disciples did not venerate or memorialize the burial place of Jesus may indicate that the tomb was empty.
In summary, these accumulated affirmations concerning the empty tomb make for a good case that, in fact, the tomb was empty. But an empty tomb alone does not fully account for the claims of the gospel. Craig moves to outlines numerous reasons for his affirmation concerning the truth of the gospel by looking at the postmortem, post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.
Postmortem, Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus
The numerous accounts of Jesus appearance make for a substantial argument that Jesus physically/spiritually appeared after His death.
· Paul’s testimony outlines the vast number of people who witnessed Jesus’ appearances, i.e. Peter, the Twelve, five hundred other believers, James, all the apostles, and then to Paul himself (see 1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
· The Gospel accounts of the appearances of Jesus to the women and the disciples are historically reliable.
· Jesus’ appearance at the Lake of Tiberias seems plausible (John 21).
· Jesus appeared on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35).
· Jesus appears in Galilee (Mt. 28:16; Acts 1:6).
· Jesus’ appearances are spiritual-physical appearances. Prior to His crucifixion Jesus was limited in that He was bound by corporeal dimensions. Yet, something happened in the resurrection that gave Jesus an added dimension of experience in that He could physically appear and eat fish (Lk. 24:40-43) and at the same time appear and disappear in locked rooms (Jn. 20:19-31).
· Craig calls the transformation of Jesus’ earthly body a soma pneumatikon, a transformation that does not rescue it from materiality, but from mortality. This is the first indication of what our resurrected bodies may be capable of (see 1 Corinthians 15:42-58).
· In every account, the gospels confirm that the appearances of Jesus were physical.
In summary, Craig argues that the converse side of the empty tomb is best explained by what the biblical texts state – the tomb was empty because Jesus had been bodily, supernaturally raised from the dead to a new dimension of existence as a forerunner of our resurrection bodies.
The Origin of the Disciples’ Belief in Jesus’ Resurrection
In what may be one of the best arguments for the historical accuracy and reliability of the claims of Christianity is the Christian movement itself. Most alternative theories break down when one takes into account that not many days after Pentecost the church was under persecution for preaching the gospel (Acts 81ff.). To preach a lie is one thing, to die for a lie is quite another. And yet the early disciples were more than willing to suffer for Christ’s sake and the gospel. What would make sensible men and women preach, teach, live, and die in the way the early believers did, and every subsequent generation since? In spite of the institutionalization and politicizing of the church and in spite of her well-documented failures throughout the centuries, there is something at the very core of the church’s belief system that is substantive, historical, and necessary. Apart from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, critics have a difficult time in explaining the continuing life of the church and the relentless affirmation of the resurrection in her preaching. Underneath the forms and structures the church has adopted throughout the centuries there is a bedrock truth that cannot be denied and that will not be dismissed - “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen!” (Lk. 24:5-6)
The early believers were absolutely convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead. As a result, both the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ formed the content of their message (see Acts 2). While the evidence is substantive, faith remains the requirement for the Christian walk. Though Jesus appeared to enough persons to substantiate His resurrection, the vast majority of believers are dependent on the eye-witness accounts of the early disciples and personal faith. We must be reminded of what Jesus said to doubting Thomas in John 20:28-29. When Thomas realized that he was actually seeing the resurrected Lord, touching and speaking to Him, he blurted out, “My Lord and my God!” And what was Jesus’ response? “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not yet seen and yet have believed.’” We are among those who believe but have not yet seen Him. But one day all that will change for we will see Him as He is, in all of His glory and majesty! Until then, we will faithfully serve and patiently tolerate those who would claim otherwise.