The Bible can take it – a serious and critical stance toward the Bible will lead you toward it and not away from it.

Ben Witherington is generally recognized as a top New Testament scholar. See his book listing here at Amazon.

Ben was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill when I was the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff there. It was clear then that he was an independent thinker, attentive, cautious and not given to rashness, seriously engaged with the life of the mind. In the video below he recalls his college days and the process by which he drew close to the Bible and gained confidence that it will not lead away from the light but toward the light. This video is a part of a larger response to Bart Ehrman who teaches at UNC-Chapel Hill and who as a former Evangelical Christian became convinced that the Bible is not an inspired and infallible book authored by God. See his book listing at Amazon here. He is a biblical text critic who has concluded that not only is the Bible a mere human book but it in significant measure is edited in such a way as to deceive and mislead. Ehrman is  no longer not only not a Christian but one who believes there is no God at all.

Both Witherington and Ehrman are text critics at a high level. Here is Witherington’s story of how serious text criticism led him to the orthodox understanding of the nature of the Bible.

What’s Wrong with Calvinism – Three Part series by Jerry Walls

Roger Olson has posted recommending the three-video series by Jerry Walls. I could only find two of them on youtube to view and also commend them to you. Dr. Walls earned his PhD in philosophy from Notre Dame.

Most of my theological life has been immersed in the world of Calvinism and the Westminster Standards. I think I know it pretty well. Eventually the dissonance that it required me to live in became too much. Perhaps more than any other occasion, it has been the preaching of John Piper which made the fork in the road for me. I love Piper’s preaching and his loyal adherence to orthodoxy in both belief and practice. His book Desiring God is one of my top five all-time favorites. His clarity on the necessity of the new birth rings true. His courage to shine a light of exposure in the cellar of church doctrine is commendable. No one gets a free pass in Dr. Piper’s world to compromise the authority of God’s Word. I listen to most of all his sermon and have read most of his books.

He, being the loyal man he is, will go where the logic of Calvinism goes. And as he does so it has pushed me to reconsider how far I can go with him. Not as far as he would like!! His nominalism leads to an irrationalism to which I cannot hold. By nominalism I refer to the belief that something is right and good simply because God does it. The right and the good have no independent existence. They are just names (hence the word “nominalism). This leads to a feidism that defies in an ultimate way any defense of God, a theodicy, if you will. So, if God passes over those whom he could save through election but for his own glory chooses not to, who are we to declare this evil? Here appeal is made to Romans 11.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.  (Rom 11:33-36)

What this entails for me is that theoretically God can do what virtually all people would call evil, not saving those you have the power to save, and yet it be called good. If this can be called good, because God is the one who does it, then the true distinction between good and evil is erased. Or, what is worst, what we call evil becomes necessary to God’s glorification, since he non-elects in order to glorify himself, bringing to himself a greater glory than would be his if he simply elected all. This kind of trajectory comes too close to pantheism to be, perhaps even panentheism.

Ultimately in Calvinism, evil becomes necessary to the glory of God. I vigorously reject this. This is an erasure of all moral categories and makes ethical discussion absurd. What is more, it erases any kind of hope for a natural theology, per Aquinas.  If you can look a man in the eye and say to him that he may have been passed over by God’s love and chosen for damnation and then not flinch, there is perhaps nothing you can’t say to another human being, or do. Moral categories have flown away and evaporated into the atmosphere.

Here are the two videos by Jerry Walls that I was able to find.


Winsome Words 8/19/12

My idea of God is not a divine idea.  It has to be shattered time after time.  He shatters it Himself.  He is the great iconoclast.  Could we not say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?  All reality is iconoclastic.”
CS Lewis

From time to time, many times, in fact, I have woken up, as it were, to find that I was worshiping a God I had imagined existing rather than the God who does exist. I made him up. These “Gods” have some points of contact with the real God, enough points that unless I look closely enough I can easily assume the counterfeit as the real.

This experience is so frequent that when someone tells me they believe in God, I am inclined to ask “which one”? The same for the atheist who says he does not believe in God at all. I ask which God is it in which they do not believe. Often I find that the God they do not believe in is a God I do not believe in either.

How do I find if my God is a counterfeit God? Invariably the God I construct never commands me to forsake my sin NOW.  This God I construct ends up always taking my side in controversies. He also is amazingly tolerant of lack of time to pay attention to him. He hangs around, hears some prayers, gives some gifts, understands my weaknesses, strokes my ego and is generally compliant to the way things are.

He doesn’t start off being all these things at once, but over time the shape takes the form. And every time I get shocked back into reality by recognizing my idolatry and knock this totem off the pole, he resurrects. Not in three days. But like the gathering of a sandbar from tidal waves, it all comes back together again, unawares and without intention.

How shall I worship the true God? First, I must immerse myself in his story. Not the one I make up as if my experience of God is the last word about the God who is. The reliable story is the Bible story. It is full of episodes when the true God stands up amongst the false gods, like on Mt Carmel or in Egypt confronting Pharaoh. Second, I must fiercely attack every sin that rises up within me. Make no truces. I must be about, to use an old King James word, mortifying the flesh. The false god promises me that he will do this for me. The true God tells me that I myself must raise the knife. If the god I am serving has become rather comfortable with my sin, the warning light has come on my spiritual dashboard and the bell is chiming. Third, if I no longer am moved by the condition of others, there’s a good chance I have changed gods. God is a sending God. Whoever meets him ends up moving somewhere on a mission, like an Abraham who was called to be a blessing to the nations of the earth. Like Jesus, who clothed himself in flesh and moved into the neighborhood and became a next door friend. If my world has become the 21st century trinity–me, mine, my–then the true Trinity might be missing. Fourth, if I am no longer tugged toward a great sacrifice, a great striving, then my god is probably not the true God. The real God tells me that the harvest is ripe and to pray for harvest hands to reap. If the God I know is subsumed under the category of me and mine, then I need to take another look.

There is a fine line between knowing God better and seeing more clearly and actually worshiping a stealth god who has under cover set himself up in temple but is an abomination no matter how many obeisances I give to him. I must be Gideon-like and destroy the family god with whom we have all become most familiar.

Winsome Words 8/15/12

Thoreau once remarked that the ancients—with their gorgons, unicorns, and sphinxes—imagined more than existed, whereas moderns cannot even imagine so much as exists.

The 21st century mind is reductionist – the real, the objective, the “thingness” of things, is reduced to the material world. After all, we say, we are not the ancients with their intuitions of a world behind the world we see, the world that produced mythologies, devils, the world of the dead, paradise. We are grown up now.

So how does it feel to be grown up??? How does it feel to have closed the door to the other world? We don’t even do Freud anymore, with his dream interpretation. Ours is the world of brain chemistry, not meaning and imagination. We have created a world without soul and wonder why we are restless, rudderless and without any sense of cosmic drama. Yes, we no longer see what does exist and are so far from the guilt of imagining the unreal that the real is no longer even interesting.

Winsome Words 8/12/12

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.  Thomas a Kempis

To refuse anger is simply humility. The angry man has forgotten, or ignores, the truth he knows in his heart – that he feels a powerlessness before the great onslaught of evil. He has struggled with it, confessed it, turned away from it, asked for prayer about it. And yet it remains! Now will he turn to another who is like himself and be angry over some shortcoming? This is madness. I do not mean here that the Christian has no moral commitments or standards to which he aspires and with which the community of Christ is to be measured. It is only that in the midst of so doing, his heart is always touched by memory of his own failures and some sense of empathy that putting away sin and selfishness is not a small thing. 

The more sanctified one is, the truer this will be. For the nearness to Christ comes at the price of a heightened sense of one’s own true dependence on the mercy that flows freely from the throne. The measure of that stream is measured more accurately – the depth of its flow, its great width and expanse. Such mercy and yet still such sin remaining – if not in outward deed then in sluggishness of heart and fluctuation of spiritual desire. Can the man who sees this river become angry with those who have been overcome? No, not for those who who have beheld the vastness of its endlessness. 

Al Mohler’s Story of Reversing Liberalism at Southern Seminary

History has demonstrated time and again that once a school or a denomination begins to drift on the authority of the Bible it is almost impossible to reverse the trend. Liberalism almost always wears the cloak of tolerance and compassion, and our cultural matrix virtually ensures that this is all anyone hears. Who could ever be against tolerance and compassion? Of course, it is never, by definition, compassionate to tell someone the Bible says or the Bible allows something that it does not. But all truth telling in the Bible springs from the love of God. He will tell us the most horrible and dark things about the human condition and need for salvation in order that he might save us.

In my time history has not repeated itself in two instances. The first is the reversal of liberalism in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The second is the remaking of Southern Seminary, a Southern Baptist school. The latter example is one nearer my field of view. Al Mohler’s election as President of Southern constituted one of the last moves of the theological conservatives in the reversing of theological liberalism in the SBC, a process that took 20 years. Mohler recounts the brutality of it all in a talk that is in two parts, here and here. It is worth the listening to.

One of the takeaway lessons is that unbelief in institutions always begins as a shadow thing. By this I mean that the old vocabulary, the old hymns and the old piety are shields that hide the doctrinal change. People don’t stand up and assert that they no longer believe in the virgin birth. They merely assert that they believe in the “miracle of Christ.” They don’t come right out and say that Jesus and the Father are not one. They teach that Jesus’ union with the Father was unique, by which they mean that he only had a higher consciousness of God though not of the substance of God. They don’t deny that the Bible is inspired of God and that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. They merely speak of the progress in the history of redemption by which they mean that the human conceptions of God evolved from the primitive and ancient world to that of enlightened modern times. Etc.

While liberalism creeps into a denomination step by step, conservative corrections cannot happen step by step in the nature of the case. In essence Al Mohler, as a young man of 33 and new President of Southern, fired 50 or so of the seminary’s 55 professors. It is a dramatic story of virtually one man (and the Board of Trustees) against a whole seminary faculty given 31 days notice. This will go down in the annals of American church history as an unparalleled story. It is something that Harvard, Yale and Princeton could not do, or did not do. It takes too much courage, too much bad press, too much sacrifice, too much immediate loss.

Southern went from over 3,000 students to 1,500 in no time and lost millions upon millions of endowment money. But today it is 3,100 in enrollment with growing esteem and a student body that reflects a constituency much broader than Southern Baptist.

I share Southern’s conservative Evangelicalism, even if not its High Calvinism. Its professors have unbridled confidence in the Bible as inspired of God and its doctrinal confession is fully Christian in all the historical meanings of that term. Praise God for a modern miracle.