Monday, August 28, 2006

Gospel Debate (4) Written Verses Living Word

In the Gospel Debate (2) John stated the following that is similar to his response to my email. Here is post #12 as well as his response to my email. It seems that the we are starting to see that how one views the Bible radically shapes how one understands the good news.

JOHN (from previous post):

For me, and officially for the ELCA, the bible is the norm and standard for faith and life. How we understand, interpret and use the standard of the Bible is informed by an awareness that there are many apparent inconsistencies and many sides to issues as presented in the Bible—often even within the same book. Applying literary, historical and sociological analysis can often help us to see this. Also, the tools of lower textual criticism—paying attention to the variances among extant manuscripts, lead us to exercise caution, since we can see that the texts as we have them have changed in transmission—sometimes in very significant ways (as with the ending to Mark’s gospel). What this boils down to for me is that the question of what you call “sufficiency” is muddled by the need to use extra-biblical resources to gain what amounts to a seldom 100% certain standard. But then, to me that’s fine, since it’s not the Written Word in the Bible that’s the ultimate Revelation-Word, but the Living Revelation-Word in Jesus Christ. Also above the written Word (for me) is the Proclaimed Word that’s inspired by this Christ. It’s these forms of the Word that produced the Word of the Bible. In other words, I see the Bible as sort of “frozen slices” of Living and Proclaimed Word, passed down to us across a chasm of time from ancient people of faith. This passing down was, of course, mediated along the way by people like medieval monks, renaissance scholars, and eventually more modern people of faith who used (and still use) use scholarly methods to aid them in transmission. And thank God for this—since these frozen slices provide the meat for countless sermons and a major vehicle for the Spirit of Christ to teach and guide the church. Have you ever stopped to think, though: what would it be like if we didn’t have the Bible? Would God’s Revelation continue to be available? My answer is yes! The Bible isn’t the source of that’s the Living Christ himself!

JOHN (Response to email):

"It seems to me that you want to accept the truth claim of eternal life with Christ without the truth-claim of the death He saves us from. If the Bible points us to the truth-claim of the Living Christ---what does this Christ save us from? What is that truth claim?"

I think it's not a matter of not accepting the truth claim, it's a matter of a different understanding of the nature of that truth claim, and of how it should be used.

Certainly the promise of eternal life saves us from the fear of what might happen to us after we die--whether that be eternal suffering in the flames of hell or eternal nothingness or isolation.

To me, I have the experience of salvation from that fear in the present, and that enabel me to experience a different kind of salvation here and now--a salvation for--salvation for growing in love for God and neighbor and care of God's creation. I can talk about this kind of salvation with confidence...that because in Christ I have the hope and assurance of eternal life with God, I'm freed from a self-centered preoccupation with earning my way into heaven--free to spontaneously live out a response to God's love in Christ and to leanr to follow my Lord in a life of self-emptying love and service. These are present "realities" that I can confidently bear witness to based on my own experience. I don't have the experience--and neither does anyone else--that enables me to say with any certainty what the nature is of God's salvation after death. Death is like a great curtain of mystery; the Scriptures themselves are hardly homogeneous in their portrayal of what is to come on the other side of that curtain. All I can do is trust the fundamental promse that God will hold onto me in death even as God holds onto me in life...and that somehow there wil be some way of being in relationship wiht god and wiht others i ahve known in this world...that to me is what the "resurrection of the body" means; the body is our current means of living in relationship. For me, that's enough! and for me, to say more is to get into the speculative.

This brings me to a major assumption I am aware I operate out of--you can dig into this more if you want...maybe we'll both learn something. Before you continue reading at this point, I'll need to verbally give you the "goldfish illustration," so I don't have to write it out the goldfish illustration, we have a metaphor for our human limitations when it comes to comprehending the reality of God. To me, theology is "faith seeking understanding," and what I'm aware of is that I operate out of the assumption that, even though God chooses reveals God's self to us in a variety of ways, our capacity to really grasp the nature of that revelation is still limited by the gulf of "scale of being" between us and God. That is, even though God has embodied himself in Christ and inspired the writers of Scripture and others to make known to us what's important in the face of our human condition, it's all still very fuzzy to us simply because what there is to know is so far beyond us. As Paul put it, "Now we see as in a mirror dimly, then we shall see face to face." I love that, because there is the promise of a much clearer perception of the reality of God in the future...but we aren't there yet. Hence, the need for a great deal of humility when it comes to our truth claims. We can experience God through faith, but that is on a different order of knowing than, say, the claim that I am a 47 year old American male with hazel eyes and chronic rhinitis. Different orders of reality, I guess.

"I don't understand why we can take "Christ", and Savior, and Life, as truth claims and support them from the Bible, and see the same emphasis on hell, sin, wrath from the same Bible and call it "arrogant" to support those truth-claims. Is it humble to point to actual verses in the Bible that speak of Christ's saving love and arrogant to speak of what the Bible says He saves us from?"

To me, in my arrogant judgment, it's not the truth claim itself that makes it arrogant or not, but the way it's used and the impact it has on people. I can confess Christ and the salvation and life he offers--and I can even speak of his deliverence fro the powers of sin, death and the devil, and it need not oppress people if I am presenting this in a way taht folks experiecen as genuine good news for them. But if and when I start to wield Scripture, or any Biblical image, in a way that oppresses people by heaping guilt and shame on them by insisting that what i cam speaking of is objective reality that they must accept--even if my motive is to get them to the place where they can be delivered from guilt and shame through the gospel, then I think i am functioning in an arrogant and destructive way. the pharisees of jesus time appear to have been of such ilk; I know that at times my own preaching and witness has strayed into this territory.

We Lutherans like to talk about a Law/Gospel dialectic--about the need to make a clear distinction between Law and Gospel, and to use each properly. That is, the Law has a few uses, but its primary one is to show us our need and drive us to Christ. For most of us Lutherans, all good preaching has some element of both law and gospel. But our understanding of Law is that it's built into the fabric of creation, and therefore it's primarily experiential in nature. therefore, I think it's Paul who talks about the OT Law as being a "shadow of what was to come." Following Luther's lead, most Lutherans turn to the 10 commandments as a fundamental articulation of Law, and we hold them up like a mirror so that we can see ourselves in our need for god's saving help. but even the commandmetns, i think most of us would say, are subject to the transformations of time and example would be the commandment that prohibits coveting our neighbor's wife. We can see from it's context in the commandment that this prohibition understood woemn to be the property of men...not a view consistent with most people I know today--even the most conservative fundamentalists no longer try to justify treating women as chattel. The law is built inot the fabric of human existence, but it must be conhstantly articulated anew..and therefore handled wiht care. I do't know about baptists, but too often, we Lutheran preachers go about the task by haplessly throwing people down into the mud wiht the law so that we can hose them off with the gospel.

The point is, the gospel is not about hosing us off. We can be and are (if we feel the need and trust the promise) washed anew and cleansed of our guilt, but the real purpose of the gospel is to get us into a wholesome relationship with God, not to wash us off. If someone is already operating with a sense of being in a wholesome relationship with God, why would we want to throw themin the mud of guilt and fear of hell, just to hose them off again...unless we are simply needing to establish control? The historical context of the reformation (exsessive preaching of the Law, fear of hell or pergatory, sale of indulgences) gives me and many of my colleagues a lot of cause to be suspicious of any such leanings--in ourselves or in anyone else.

Have to get back to this later...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Gospel Debate (3) Choosing Truth Claims

Here was my response to the previous email. What issues would you raise with this? Are they the same issues as stated in the previous responses? Let's continue to applaud John for his dialogue with those who at this point disagree with him.


First of all---i love the spirit of your response. I appreciate your patience.

As to what I agree with you on---
I feel that ultimately the Bible does speak of promises that we are called to believe--ultimately the promise of the gospel--that by repentance and faith in the substitutionary work of Christ, we can be saved, justified and indwelt by His Spirit.

I do agree that evangelicals chase rabbits--facts in Scripture that lead people away from the "main thing" which is the gospel.

But this gospel of reconciliation and justification is held up by "facts." If we take the "fact" of justification through the cross (which you adhere to) we have to ask what the implications are. You admit that justification/reconciliation is a truth-claim. The proclamation that Christ death on the cross and resurrection is a truth claim. A truth-claim supported by the Bible. So, if we have "facts" about Christ and his reconciling work, we have to ask what "facts" or truth-claim lends itself to our need for justification. Moreover, where do you get support for these truth claims except from the Bible. So now the question becomes--what truth claims do you accept or reject?

Moreover, people who claim inerrancy for the Bible are not as concerned with minor pieces of trivial data (well, some would sadly) but major articles of doctrine--major "truths" that if you can't give an affirmation to or a denial of you will lose the gospel.

It seems to me that you want to accept the "truth claim" of eternal life with Christ without the "truth claim" of the death and judgment He saves us from. If the Bible points us to the "truth claim" of the Living Christ---what does this Christ save us from? What is that "truth claim"?

I don't understand why we can take Christ, and Savior, and life, as truth claims and support them from the Bible, and see the same emphasis on hell, sin, wrath from the same Bible and call it "arrogant" to support those truth claims. Is it humble to point to actual verses in the Bible that speak of Christ's saving love and arrogant to speak of what the Bible says He saves us from? Do you see my question?

The danger of picking and choosing what is inspired and what is not is that you can quickly make the Bible mean what you want it to mean. You begin to evaluate the text instead of letting it evaluate you. Given our condition, we can make light of the cross--and see ourselves as a lot less depraved as Jesus taught we were. The less we see our need for a Savior, the less we value His sacrifice, and the less glory we give to God. I don't believe the Spirit in us will lead us to value the cross less--but more.

For instance---you take Col. 1:20 to say that Christ has reconciled "all things to himself"--a truth claim. However, Paul was writing to assure a people who had trusted in Christ's saving work to let no gnostic legalist tell them they weren't saved. So, he speaks of their identity in Christ. But that identity was always qualified by thier faith in him. Otherwise he wouldn't have added,

Col 1:23 "if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister."

The promises of their being baptized with him in his death and resurrected with him in his resurrection was contingent upon their union with Christ---described by Paul as "recieving" Him.

Col 1:6 "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him."

No wonder Paul spends his life proclaiming Him "according to the power He works in me." Without the proclamation of the gospel--they would not hear, they would not believe, they would not be in Christ, but rather they would be in sin.

But according to our discussion---these things really aren't needed--for everyone is justified and inhabited by Christ in some measure. So I see you holding fast to Col. 1:20 as a truth claim you would shout from the rooftops. But when it comes to "faith alone" i.e. sola fide truth claims, there seems a slightly ashamed fear. Why is it okay to hold to Col. 1:20 and ignore hundreds of others that qualify that promise to those who put faith in Christ?


Rob Tombrella

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Gospel Debate (2) Inspired or Inerrant?

Here's John's response to the last email. What are your thoughts over the issues raised?

Inspired means just that--inspired...God-breathed. Not "inerrant"--which I see as a claim that was part of a 19th century reaction to the extremes of the Enlightenment. This term didn't exist before the Enlightenment. I think many folks have confused facts with truth...that is, "if it's not factual, it's not really true" (or God-inspired).

From what I can tell, people in the ancient world that produced the Bible didn't share the same concern for factual veracity that we did, but felt it perfectly permissable to play loose with facts in order to accomplish their agenda in writing. A concern/value for facts is a product of Enlightenment thinking. The irony is that the same people who reacted against Enlightenment thinking have bought in to the "truth as facts" logic in coming up with and embracing the claims of inerrancy.

Plus, I don't feel the need to commit intellectual suicide or do mental gymnastics to be a faithful Christian--I see too many instances of biblical error to buy in to inerrancy. This doesn't bother me at all, though, since, just as I or any other preacher in a Sunday morning service can be "errant" and still proclaim the Word of God for our audience, so can the biblical witness be errant and still be the Word of God. To be human is to be with error; our merciful God elected to incarnate his Word in very human beings, in order to "reconcile the world to himself." "Inspired by God" doesn't have to mean perfect; "God-breathed" simply means God is at work in and through it. The Bible itself makes no claims of inerrancy, by the way...because it's a pre-enlightenment collection of books!

As for my discomfort (as you put it) with definitive statements about stuff like hell, that's simply part of a hesitance to participate in truth-claims that I view as arrogant, that I believe have a growing irrelevance for many people, and that I'm convinced have undermined the ability of many to comprehend the actual meaning of the Scriptures. As for sins, I don't have any problem talking about sins as sins; I just don't want to participate in getting overly focused on what I consider to be the symptoms of the fundamental problem: our state of alienation from God. To me, the gospel of justification/ reconciliation through Christ is God's healing remedy for the condition of sin, and as we claim this remedy daily and let God's Spirit do its work on our hearts and minds through both inner and external processes, we can see some change in/relief from the symptoms--although never anywhere close to a complete cessation, since the condition of sin is lifelong even when we make use of the remedy. Thank God for the remedy, though, since with it we can experience the blessedness of walking with God even when we suffer the consequences of sins--ours and other peoples'.

What can we trust? The promises of God, that call our faith into being and lead us into a right relationship with God through faith--not faith in facts but in the reality of God and the dynamic truth of a relational God--a living reality that meets us where we're at, not a collection of facts to be mined out of the Bible and boiled down to doctrines. Ultimately, we can trust in God--the God who, with all their foibles and discrepencies, the books of the Bible bear witness to.

Please know that for me, in no way does not accepting the factuality of many Bible passages make it any less simply leads me to be much more cautious in making truth claims and endorsing doctrines. To say the Bible has errors doesn't make it an untrustworthy document; it makes it a document we need to make use of a lot less arrogantly than we often do! For me, the main function of Scripture is to bear witness to Christ; it's not the only witness we have, and so I don't need to depend on it as perhaps many of my fundamentalist brethren seem to think they need to. In addition to the Scriptures, we also have our own witness to the Living Christ, as well as the witness of 2,000 years of other believers--empowered by the gifts and presence of God's Holy Spirit in and among us, who is still inspiring and breathing today just as in those biblical writers.

In addition, to me it often seems the fundamentalist approach to the Bible leads folks to witness to and emphasize many things other than all kinds of peripheral doctrines and moral claims that are not essential to and often interfere with promoting faith in the Living Christ. Not that non-fundamentalist folks don't have their own problems this way...we're all sinners--broken people whose approach to faith and it's vocations are stained by our sinful condition--leading us to commit sins of ommision and commision in the way we witness to our faith!

Well, you asked:)

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Gospel Debate (1) Rightly Dividing Figs

Here's the comical way we began. What are some questions or comments you would have so far? We invite your response. In a few days John will respond.

Check out II Kings 20:1-7.

Perhaps we need to alert the R&D dept. of some drug company. There may be something to this fig thing!

i love figs---i'm glad it seems to be the fruit of choice in the Bible. see Hab. 3:17-19

But now you drew me in----do you believe this story actually happened? do you believe this happened literally? yeah or nay?

Hey, unless there's a good reason to doubt it, I have no trouble accepting it's veracity. I like the approach of John Bright, the biblical historian who wrote A History of accept the biblical narrative as archeological evidence, and put it alongside of other evidence to come to conclusions about what occurred.
Of course, you understand that it doesn't really matter to me whether it actually happened or not...what's important here is that God mercifully heals, that God's healing can be in, with and through natural or medical remedies, and that for "his own sake" and "his servant David's sake," he chooses to save his people--and not because of anything people choose to do!

agreed----that would be the over-arching emphasis---a healing God who loves to display his glory in that way.

Here's a question that rings in my ears though on reflection of some of the things you said about the authority of Scripture. You seem very uncomfortable with saying definitively whether or not there are such things as "hell" "heaven" (or paradise--to quote Jesus), or calling acts of the sin nature as "sins"---things that the Bible seems so clear on.

Here's my deal. I realize that the Bible needs to be interpreted in it's context---but that it is also "God breathed (2 Tim. 3:16)." You seem to read the Bible with the idea that you can't trust it. Before you say anything hard and fast about a doctrine--you seem compelled to qualify it with statements like "'s a 2000 year old document...written to a specific people that we really don't know that much about...written by a person with an intended message we can't say for sure about." I know that might seem charicature--but I know you to be too gracious to be upset by that. Tell me if I'm wrong in this.

You mentioned yesterday you don't interpret Scripture by Scripture---how do you interpret Scripture? And furthermore---why do you have such a hard time believing the Bible means what it says it means? What is inspired and what is not inspired? What can we trust, and what can we not trust? For example, if the Holy Spirit inspires men "moved by the Holy Spirit" to write that Christ was "born of a virgin" and then entrusts the meaning behind that with the Apostles--how can it "ultimately not matter?" so long as you affirm Christ's divinity? It seems to me that you approach the Bible looking for the broadest possible stroke.

If you believe that God became a human embryo and floated in amniotic fluid, was 100% God and 100% Man in the incarnation, was resurrected from the dead----why do you feel like this God has left us with an inaccurate and untrustworthy document--a document we are far too removed from to say anything definitive on?

It was good to hear your thoughts on these things--and you are a good listener---something I'm sure your wife and children appreciate. Again, these questions are far removed from "figs".....

Friday, August 11, 2006

Justin Childers to Christ Baptist Church

After a long season of prayer and anticipation, Justin and Jeanna are moving to Wilson, NC, to be a part of a church plant modeling itself under Mark Dever's 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. For those who know them, be in prayer for them in this season of transition. Justin has played a catalystic role in my walk with Christ over the years and continues to spur me on. He is also one of my top 10 preachers I hear Christ through.

Best Posts on the Internet

This series by Phil Johnson is why God allows blogging. It thunders with hope-giving truth! Have you guys read any of these?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Gospel Debate

A few months ago I began what has become an ongoing dialogue (or heated debate at times!) with a new employee named John (a friend from work and ELCA clergy).

We began discussing what we agreed with and what we disagreed with about the gospel first over lunch, and then in a series of emails that have not stopped.

After discussing this, starting Monday we would like to invite you into this ongoing debate between John and I on the essence of the gospel. Note, not necessarily the centrality of the gospel. We would both agree to the centrality of the gospel. But rather, the essence of the gospel--what is the gospel verses what it isn't and how we defend our beliefs.

We have both agreed to ask our friends to participate in this debate and to keep it friendly and aim to truly understand the case for the other side.

We are not representative spokesmen--but it will be interesting to see in the coming days how a clergyman from the ELCA camp understands the gospel verses a person from a Sovereign Grace Ministries camp.

We will let you begin where we did, with a couple of short emails--and let the conversation unfold. On each post, we want you to comment on what you agree with or disagree with about what has been said and why.

Friday, August 04, 2006

What Craig does on Sunday

Aside from the showmanship, how does the video of this magician show what the best preachers do? Enjoy the ultimate Friday post.

Good Point

From Calvary Chapel's statement on the emerging church.

"There are those who say that Emergent movement has some good points, but so does a porcupine. You are better off if you don't get too close!"

Fight for Faith

"Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Tim 6:12 ESV)."

"I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25 ESV)."