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December 2004

December 23, 2004

This is the third article in the series “Five Things Every Christian Needs To Know.” Yesterday we examined the doctrine of Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone. We saw that the first thing every Christian needs to know is that the Bible alone is the infallible rule of faith for the church. We further defined the doctrine, saw why it was known as the formal principle of the Reformation and examined what Scripture says about Scripture. Today we will examine the practical implications of this doctrine.

It seems that most Christians go through their lives feeling some measure of guilt that they do not love the Bible more. So often we take time to do devotions out of guilt and not because we truly desire to study the Word, learn about God and have Him challenge us. More often, perhaps, we do not read the Bible at all. In the past men and women have died to defend our right to read the Scriptures and even today people are dying for their devotion to the Word. Many more would give all they have for the ability to feed on the Words of God, yet so often we who have unlimited access to the Bible see it as a burden and not a delight. Ben Merkle wrote critically of today’s Christians when he said:

“We have created a culture that sees regular Bible study as a pain and not a blessing. We refuse to put effort into our Bible study, insisting on having our Bible studies livened up to entertain us. Instead of regularly reading our Bibles, we take a quick read of the uninspired, inspirational paragraph of our daily devotion book. Our Bibles are marketed by adding footnotes and short stories that are supposed to make the Bible relevant to today’s youth, the working mother, or nicotine patch users. Our eschatologies are shaped more by tabloids and TV, than by the study of Scripture. We are bored of our Bibles and truly need to reform our view of Scripture. What a joy it should be to read the Word of our Lord.”

Protestant churches continue to pay lip service to Sola Scriptura. Almost every church has within its statement of beliefs an affirmation of Scripture Alone. “The Holy Bible is…the supreme standard by which all human conduct creeds and religious opinions should be tried,” reads one. Another reads “We believe in the Scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament as verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing. We believe the 66 books of the Old Testament and New Testament are God’s completed and sufficient revelation for the total well-being of mankind.” It would be a rare (and probably heretical) evangelical church that did not profess such a belief. But, as we know, professing a doctrine does not necessarily mean we truly believe or understand it. Many Christians inadvertently and out of ignorance, violate this precious doctrine that they profess to believe.

In the previous article I suggested that the primary concern facing believers today as it pertains to Sola Scriptura is the sufficiency of the Scriptures and that will be our focus for today. Thus I am presuming a belief in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, issues that confronted Protestantism at different times in her history. Here is a statement about scripture’s sufficiency, taken from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology:

The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.

We will turn now to the practical applications of this doctrine.

Scripture tells us how we are to behave and what we are to believe

If we believe that Scripture contains all the words of God he wants us to have at this stage in the history of the redemption of His people, we can with certainty believe that it instructs us today what we are to do and to think. This does not mean that it will provide direct answers for any question that may confront us, but that it will shed God’s light on any issue of genuine importance. While God does not tell us whether the carpets in our home should be grey or black, the Bible will certainly instruct us as to how we should choose a country, city or house to live in. If Scripture is silent on an issue, we can safely assume that that God does not require us to act in a certain way or believe a certain thing in that situation.

The primary application for this is that we should carefully search the Scriptures on an ongoing basis so that we know what God tells us through them. How are we to know whether the Scriptures provide guidance on an issue if we do not know the Bible? Christians are duty-bound to know the Scriptures, so we can believe what God demands we believe and act in the ways He would have us act. We have no excuse for ignorance.

God does not require us to believe anything about Him or His redemptive work that is not found in Scripture

Everything we need to know about the life and work of Jesus in order to trust and obey him perfectly is contained in the Scriptures. This is not to say that everything Jesus ever said and did is recorded in the Bible, nor that it is impossible that some words and deeds of Jesus are recorded elsewhere. However, even if we found other teachings of Jesus, they would have no direct value to us in what we should believe or how we should live our lives. They certainly would not be needed to formulate doctrines and teachings, for everything we need is already recorded for us.

This tells us that we do not need to search outside of Scripture for what we should believe or how we should act. We do not need other Scriptures, nor tradition, nor the authority of a church to tell us these things.

God does not forbid anything that is not explicity or implicitly forbidden in Scripture

The first verse of Psalm 119 tells us that they are blessed “whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!” Nothing is to be considered sin that is not implicitly or explicitly forbidden by God in the Scriptures, for if a man were to adhere perfectly to what the Scriptures teach, he would be blameless before God. This is exactly what Jesus did on our behalf. Humans are adept at adding to Scripture all sorts of traditions that violate this rule. We add rules about alcohol, types of food, birth control and other legalistic “sins” that are not forbidden in Scripture.

It requires care to know what is sin and what is not, as the Pharisees found time and again when they attempted to test and chastise Jesus. A believer is to derive delight from obedience to God, but we can take no true pleasure and cannot bring God glory through obeying rules that we have created and elevated to the status of Scripture. Many believers live in constant guilt and worry about sins that are not sins at all!

God does require anything of us that is not explicity or implicitly commanded in Scripture

Just as nothing is sin that is not forbidden by Scripture, so God does not require of us anything that He does not demand of us in the Bible. This is perhaps the most relevant of all applications to today’s believer. So many Christians constantly search outside of the Scriptures to find God’s will. They look for external situations that they declare to be God’s leading. They search for inner peace or strong feelings that they call the Spirit’s guiding. There can be no absolute assurance when we search subjective means to find God’s will. Instead we are to dedicate ourselves to searching the Scriptures where God has already revealed His will for us. A most damaging teaching that arises in the church is that God has a secret will for our lives that we need to search out and find, less we live a second-rate Christian life. This is not so! God has revealed in His Word all we need to know to live before Him in joy and victory, bringing constant glory to His name.

God reveals to use what we should emphasize in our teaching and actions

A defining mark of cults is that they major on the minors, raising to prominence things that God does not emphasize. An example of this is the Mormon belief in baptism for the dead, a doctrine based on just one verse of the Bible and refuted by many more. By diligently searching the Scriptures we can gain knowledge of what God emphasizes and base our lives on what He considers most important. More often than not, an emphasis on the minor points of doctrine reveals human pride rather than a heartfelt desire for God’s glory.

Wrapping It up

Sola Scriptura was known as the formal principle of the Reformation and it continues to be of foundational importance to the church today. We, as the church of Christ, need to recover a biblical view of the Scriptures, not merely professing adherence to this doctrine, but truly living and believing it. Each of the practical implications of this doctrine centered around one thing: we need to know, honor and love the Word of God. We need to believe that it is authoritative, trust that it is inerrant and prove with our lives that we believe it is sufficient. I will close with some words written by John MacArthur:

This book contains: the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers.

Its doctrine is holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be saved, and practice it to be holy.

It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here heaven is open, and the gates of hell are disclosed.

Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, health to the soul, and a river of pleasure. It is given to you here in this life, will be opened at the judgment, and is established forever.

It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and condemn all who trifle with its contents.

Read it, learn it, love it, live it.

Suggested Resources:

  • Scripture Alone by James White is an excellent and readable introduction to this doctrine. I have previously read and reviewed it here.
  • Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem devotes chapters two through eight to The Bible.
  • Whatever Happened To the Gospel of Grace by James Boice contains a great introduction to this doctrine as well as the other four solas. I have read and reviewed this book here.
December 23, 2004

The Tiniest Baby - No baby as tiny as 8.6 ounces had ever survived before Rumaisa Rahman was born Sept. 19. Rumaisa was delivered by Caesarean section, along with her twin sister, at just 26 weeks. Remarkably, she was free of collapsed lungs, pneumonia and other complications usually associated with such an extremely premature birth. If she survives, and at this point it is likely that she will, she will be the smallest baby in history who has done so. Rumaisa is expected to go home to Hanover Park during the first week of January. Her fraternal sister, Hiba, is scheduled to go home next week. You can read the story here.

Snow Day - We are in the midst of a major snowstorm here. I took a peek outside and it seems we have already had a good 10 or 15 centimeters of snow and are expecting at least that amount again by this afternoon. It will apparently be followed by a few millimeters of freezing rain just to top it all off. So my challenge is to find the sweetspot for shovelling the driveway - the time where the snow has finished by the freezing rain has not yet started. I am glad I do not need to drive to any jobs or meetings today as the roads are an absolute mess. We are supposed to drive into Hamilton to visit my wife’s relatives this evening, but that is looking doubtful.

Firing Open Theists - The Board of Trustees at Huntington College in Indiana has decided they will not allow John Sanders, a prominent Open Theist, to remain on staff at their college. While they believe it is acceptable for a staff member to be Open Theist, they do not believe he should teach his beliefs to students. “The issue, according to both Sanders and G. Blair Dowden, the college’s president, is not Sanders’ belief in open theology, but his notoriety in advocating the doctrine.” It seems Sanders will not be fired, but will simply not have his contract renewed. Christianity Today has more.

Tolerance Act - “Australia Pastors Convicted Under New Tolerance Act.” That is a headline I have seen in all sorts of news outlets. Isn’t it strange that a law designed to protect tolerance will convict people whose conscience binds them that something is sinful? Pentecostal Pastor Daniel Nalliah (president of Catch the Fire Ministries) and speaker Pastor Daniel Scot both face financial penalties for speaking out against Islam, having spoken out about it being a sinful, godless religion. You can read more about the case here. It is a sad day for Australia and I am sure Canada will not be far behind in charging anyone who speaks out against, well, anything…other than God. He seems to be fair game. But that is fine, as God is perfectly capable of defending Himself both now and in eternity.

December 22, 2004

In the first article of this series I indicated that there are five things every Christian needs to know. These five things are distinctives which divide Christianity from every other religion. Further, they divide true Christianity, Protestantism, from Catholicism and cults and all other attempts to combine the wisdom of men with the wisdom of God. Today we will turn to the first of these five important points.

Here is the first thing every believer needs to know: The Bible alone is the infallible rule of faith for the church. This is known in theological circles as the doctrine of Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone. This may seem to be quite an obvious doctrine to some, yet I would encourage you to keep reading to examine if you really do believe this, to see how an improper view of this doctrine can taint your walk with Christ, and to learn how a strong view of the Scripture’s authority is necessary for a strong and living faith.

At the time of the Reformation, when this doctrine was formulated, the church was just barely emerging from hundreds of years of rule by the Roman Catholic Church. For the Reformers, this doctrine had to do with the Bible being the final authority for Christians over against the authority of tradition, popes and church councils. The Reformers were convinced that the Bible claimed for itself the place of ultimate authority - an authority it could and would not share with anyone else. Martin Luther summarized this beautifully and courageously when, before the Diet of Worms, he said “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God…God help me! Here I stand.” In more recent times, the emphasis of this doctrine has shifted. This is not to say that the content of the doctrine changed, but rather that it came under attack from a different angle and Scripture’s authority needed to be defended from a different attack. In the last century Sola Scriptura became the battlecry of those who sought to defend the Bible’s inerrancy under the attacks of liberals who taught that the Bible was merely a flawed human book. These people tried seperate the Jesus of the Bible from the real Jesus. This battle was fought and won twenty years ago. In the contemporary church we find the emphasis shifting again. Having defended the Bible’s authority and inerrancy, today we fight to reestablish the sufficiency of Scripture.

Defining Sola Scriptura

Before we go any further, let’s further define this doctrine. Sometimes it is best to establish what something is not before we define what it is, so here are three things this doctrine does not teach:

  • The Bible is the only place where truth may be found and is the only way God has revealed Himself.
  • The Bible is equally clear to everyone.
  • We do not need the authority or instruction of the local church.

All three of these are erroneous views. God has revealed Himself in many ways, and Scripture is but one of these. The Bible is not equally clear to all people, as some are more easily able to grasp certain concepts than others. And finally, the Bible does not nullify the authority of the local church or the necessity of proper instruction.

I have earlier defined Sola Scriptura as meaning “The Bible alone is the infallible rule of faith for the church.” The Cambridge Declaration, formulated by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals provides a more detailed but still succinct definition:

We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.

We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.

The Formal Principle

The Reformers referred the Scripture Alone as being the formal principle of the Reformation. They used this phrase to express that this doctrine was the one that formed and shaped the rest. They would have been unable to formulate any other doctrines were it not for this one, for all depended on the source of Divine authority. Had the Reformers determined that the Roman Church was, as she claimed, the ultimate authority, the Reformation would have ended then and there. But when they found that the Bible reserved this position for itself, they were able to look to it to determine what else it said about the faith. Where the Bible contradicted the Church, they deferred to Scripture’s authority.

The Bible derives its authority from its very nature of being God-breathed revelation. It has often been argued that Protestants use circular argumentation to establish and prove this authority. After all, when asked how we know the Bible is the ultimate authority, we can only claim that the Bible tells us so. We are left with the question of how the Bible can claim for itself this authority. The answer is suprisingly simple. If the Bible is the highest authority, to what higher authority can it refer to prove this claim? Think of a soldier who has been promoted to the rank of colonel. How would you or I be able to verify that this man was, indeed, a colonel and not a sergeant or a private? We would ask a higher source of authority, perhaps a general, to verify this. The Bible has no higher authority to which it can appeal, so it appeals to itself. Anyone who claims authority over Scripture must first invalidate the claims Scripture makes about itself. We will now turn to some of those claims.

What Scripture Says About Scripture

There are many passages of Scripture we can refer to that will show us the Bible’s view of itself. We will turn to a few of these and see what they tell us about Scripture.

It is infallible in its totality. “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7)

It is inerrant in its parts. “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5,6)

It is complete. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18,19)

It is authoritative. “Your word, O LORD , is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89)

It is sufficient. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16,17)

It will accomplish what it promises. “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

These are no small claims. The Bible clearly claims for itself a position of supreme authority over the Christian, binding his conscience and giving assurance that the Scripture alone is the final authority. Furthermore, it condemns anyone who would claim this authority for himself or seek to add to or take away from it.

In our next article we will examine the implications of this doctrine on the Christian life and show why this truly is something every Christian needs to know.

December 22, 2004

‘Tis The Season To Be Surveyed - A national survey of 1100 physicians conducted by HCD Research and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City has found that 74% of doctors believe that miracles have occured in the past and 73% believe they can still occur today. Physicians surveyed crossed all religious and denominational boundaries. “The picture that emerges is one where doctors, although presumably more highly educated than their average patient, are not necessarily more secular or radically different in religious outlook than the public, stated Dr. Alan Mittleman, Director of The Finkelstein Institute.” They survey also found that over half regulary attend worship surveys and nearly half believe that prayer is very important to their lives. I have to wonder if these statistics are too vastly different from any cross-section of the American population. You can find more about it here.

What Makes Google Tick? - Every time we need to do a search we just know that Google will be there, waiting patienty to comb the Internet on our behalf. But of course behind that simple, plain little page is some of the most incredible technology known to man. ZDNet takes a fascinating look behind the scenes at Google. Did you know that Google only uses small, cheap servers rather than huge, expensive ones? Did you know that they have tens of thousands of these machines searching and indexing the web? Did you know that they handle over 1000 searches per second?

Bush Supports Cross-Hating Movement - Here is a strange story. President Bush and his father have both expressed support for a group of church leaders that endorse throwing crosses into the trash. One leader said: “The fact that the cross is a symbol of division, shame, suffering and bloodshed prove that it is not of God but Satan. On this 18th day of April 2003, we are beginning a new history. Pastors, please, help me to bring the cross down, because it is not of God but the devil.” The movement is closely affiliated with Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church who is positioning himself as the new messiah. Last week, the movement’s leaders presided over a Washington prayer breakfast featuring messages of thanks from both Bush presidents. Of course one has to wonder if the message of thanks was merely some mostly-meaningless, standard message or if it was a personal greeting actually written or endorsed by the President. You can read more here and here.

Support Scott Peterson - Would you like to support a man who murdered his wife and child? If so, this story is for you! Scott Peterson’s lawyer is now accepting online donations to fund the continued investigation into who really killed Laci Peterson. “We believe Scott Peterson has been unjustly convicted. This site will continue to monitor the happenings in this case until justice is finally served.” If you have always dreamed of donating money to a murderer and a slimely defense lawyer for whom no crime is too vile, this is your chance!

December 21, 2004

Road hockey is a Canadian tradition - so much so that we invented the word “shinny” to describe the informal games that are played on driveways, roads and parking lots across the nation. It seems that today’s youth generally prefers to play hockey on the PlayStation and it is becoming more and more rare to see panting kids, huffing and puffing up the road with frozen cheeks, frozen noses and missing teeth. But I digress. When I was in grade school I knew that any self-respecting boy had to have a hockey stick at school throughout the duration of the school year. Every recess and lunch break afforded us the opportunity to head outdoors, even if it was just for fifteen or twenty minutes, to play a bit of pick-up hockey. Of course the difficultly always arose that we needed to divide into teams. Now there were two methods of doing this. The first was an egalitarian method where all the sticks were thrown into a pile and a blindfolded person (actually, the blindfold was usually just a “touque” (another Canadian word, this one meaning “hat”) pulled over the person’s eyes) would divide them into two groups. The group your stick was in defined which team you would play for. The second method was the skill-based method where two captains would be elected and they would pick their teams as they saw fit. Naturally the most-skilled players were picked first and the least-skilled were picked last. While I was never a standout player, it was blessedly rare for me to be the last guy picked. Last guy picked was a position of shame and embarrassment and was reserved only for the most clumsy, least-athletic guy in the class. Of course the least-athletic guy was also considered the class loser. Popularity in grade school was largely determined by one’s ability to succeed in sports. Those who simply did not have the coordination and skill to do well in sports ranked at the very bottom of the pecking order.

As I reminisced about my childhood I became profoundly thankful that God didn’t use either of these methods to choose a people for Himself. The Bible tells us that God predestined to salvation those who would believe in Him. While we do not know exactly how He chose who would be among the elect and who would not, we do have some ideas about how He did not do this.

God did not sort people into a pile, determine how many he wanted to spend eternity in heaven with Him, and then go through them and count names off like a gym teacher. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, in! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, in!” We know this is not the way He acted because in the first verses of Ephesians Paul tells us that we were predestined “in accordance with his pleasure and will.” It was not mere statistics or chance that we were saved. Rather, we were saved by an act of God’s will.

We also know that God did not choose people based on what they had to offer Him. He did not choose us based on our love for Him, our desire to be His children or on the skill we could exhibit in serving or worshipping Him. Paul illustrates this in the letter to the Romans. Writing about Jacob and Esau he tells us that God announced His decision concerning which of the twins would love Him before they were even born so that “God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls.” (Romans 9:11-12)

Jon Foreman of the band Switchfoot wrote a song called The Beautiful Letdown where he describes the church. “We are a beautiful let down, painfully uncool, the church of the dropouts and losers and sinners and failures and the fools.” I love those words. Any time I feel like I have something to offer God or somehow that I deserve God’s love, those words spring to mind. The church is not made up of the best of people - the most intelligent, the most athletic, the coolest, the funniest, the most-skilled. No, the church is made of dropouts, losers, sinners, failures and fools. It is made up of fools who have been made wise by God so that we can trust in Divine wisdom rather than the wisdom of this world. It is made of those who have left behind careers, dreams and riches to seek after God. It is made up of people who are empowered by God Himself so that He can live life in and through them. It is made up of those to whom God has given grace to see that success in His eyes is often failure in the world’s.

God has chosen a people for Himself, and thanks be to Him, He has done so using Divine wisdom that transcends any human mind. We do not know on what basis He chose us, but we do know that He set us apart to bring glory and honor to Him, both here on earth and for eternity in heaven. Or as Ephesians puts it, we were predestined “in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” What a joy and honor it is to praise Him for His wisdom, knowing that our obedience brings glory to His name. God be glorified in and through me!

December 21, 2004

Over a short series of articles, I am going to introduce five things I believe every Christian needs to know. This is not to say that one cannot be saved if from ignorance he does not know these, but that these five things are of foundational importance to the faith. One may be a Christian without knowing them, but one’s walk with Christ will be greatly enhanced by understanding, applying and treasuring them. To deny them, however, is to undermine the very bedrock of the faith.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, and especially if you have been part of a Reformed tradition, you may well know of these five things. While their origin is the Bible, they were not formulated as doctrines until the time of the Protestant Reformation. This is often the way God has revealed truths about Himself. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity was not formulated until several hundred years after the death of Christ, though it was clearly revealted in the Bible all along. For the Reformers these five things defined what it meant to be a Protestant. The Roman Catholic Church could not and still cannot abide by these five things and has declared them to be anathema - false doctrines. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons along with other cultic groups cannot hold to them. These five things define Protestantism, even crossing the boundaries between Calvinism and Arminianism, and hence define a biblical view of the Christian faith. It is sad, then, that they are not better-known among believers. Very few churches today invest the time and effort to teach and defend these fundamental doctrines.

Yet whether we are aware of them or not, these five things continue to define us as Protestant even to this day. When we lose sight of and deny these distinctives, it could be argued that we are no longer Protestant at all, and hence are no longer a church that is truly grounded in the Scripture. These things tell us how we can know about God and define our relationship with Him and His relationship with us. These five things will enrich our walk with God, will ensure that we have a proper view of ourselves in relation to God, and ultimately impact every area of our lives. They are of critical importance to the Christian life.

Here are the five things, then, that every Christian needs to know:

  1. The Bible alone is the infallible rule of faith for the church.
  2. Our salvation has been accomplished soley and fully by Christ.
  3. It is only by God’s grace that we are given salvation.
  4. While we are saved by God’s grace, He does this only through the instrument of faith.
  5. Because of who He is and what He has done, we owe all glory to God alone.

You may also know these five distinctives as the five solas of the Reformation. The Reformers formulated five doctrines which defined their disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church. They defined these as Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone). Over time the emphases of these doctrines has changed. For example, at the time of the Reformation the emphasis on Scripture Alone was to defend against the Papal claims that the church was the ultimate authority in matters of life and faith. Later the emphasis changed so that the innerancy of Scripture became the focus of Protestant apologists. Today the emphasis has shifted again as we will see in our next article. But while the emphases may have changed, the doctrines themselves, being firmly rooted in the Bible, remain unwavering.

When I say that we need to know these five things, I do not merely mean that we need to have some knowledge of them, much as I may know that the capital of Ontario is Toronto or that George W. Bush is President of the United States. In the abstract, these five things will have little impact on my life. Instead I need to know them in a deep, personal, spiritual way, searching for them in the Scriptures and asking the Holy Spirit to help me apply them to my life. I need to regard them as foundational to my faith because they are foundationally important to God. When speaking of faith, the Reformers drew a distinction between ascientia, a Latin word which indicated mere mental assent to a fact, and fiducia, which involves trust, acceptance and giving oneself over. We need to have that sort of regard for these doctrines. Having been convinced that they are fully biblical, we need to give ourselves over to them.

Through this series I will introduce the five topics, provide their historical and contemporary contexts, show their biblical bases, and provide some ideas of how they can and should impact the lives of believers today.

December 21, 2004

News Trends of 2004 - James Jewell, author of the Rooftop Blog has compiled a list of what he considers to be the top news trends among Christians of this past year. It begins with and obvious and most-contentious one - The Passion of the Christ - and closes with another that has generated its share of controversy this year - the faith of George W Bush. Here is his complete list:

  1. The Passion of the Christ: The Movie
  2. Islam’s War on Christianity
  3. Evangelical Political Muscle
  4. Same-Sex Marriage Set-backs
  5. Crisis in Catholicism
  6. Mainstreaming of Christian Books
  7. New Media Sources for Conservative Christians
  8. DeChristmasizing of America
  9. The Ideological Alignment of the Church
  10. The Personal Faith and Integrity of President Bush

You can read about how he came up with this list as well as an explanation of each headline by reading the article.

Basilica Bar - St Peter’s Basilica now has its own rooftop coffee bar. Though it opened several months ago, its existence has only just become public. “Located on the terrace at the base of the cupola designed by Michelangelo, it commands a breathtaking view of St Peter’s Square all the way to the Tiber River and beyond. It is open to tourists who have already visited the top of Michelangelo’s dome and who want to stop for a coffee or soft drink on their way back down to earth.” And in other Vatican news, did you know that the pope has an email address? I am guessing he doesn’t check it all himself! I wonder if he gets those spam emails I get offering him a license to marry people in any state or country. This news prompted someone in a chatroom yesterday to suggest that the pope probably doesn’t type very quickly, but he mustn’t make any typos, at least when he is emailing ex cathedra!

Snuggling - Snuggling is not a word that is a consistent part of my vocabulary. I guess it just seems too iffeminate. However, today I will choke down my pride and post a link to a nice little article over at Crosswalk that talks about snuggling (with a baby, that is). My wife and I have often rejoiced in the fact that our children love to cuddle and I don’t quite know what I would do if I had some of those stand-offish children that would rather be on their own than on someone’s lap. “If there really is a best thing to snuggling, this would have to be it … revived by thoughts of long ago … a bundle wrapped together, two of us sharing the morning … the best thing of all surely being the promised assurance between human beings that what happens to you will happen to me … because I share your heartbeat.” I think when my days of parenting little ones is over, that is what I will miss most.

Christmas Music - Every year, right around this time, I start to think that I really ought to add some Christmas music to my collection. I have hundreds of albums but only one or two Christmas albums, and frankly they are so bad that I never listen to them. I do tend to put on The Messiah a few times, but that is about as far as I go. I have never enjoyed the standard Christmas carols and just haven’t found anything that strikes my fancy. Does anyone have some suggestions for some “different” Christmas music?

December 20, 2004

This post has been prompted by regarding IX Marks Ministries and their review of the teachings of Rick Warren, as summarized and popularized in his books, The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life and his program 40 Days of Purpose. We live in a very non-judgmental age. The first rule of the postmodern mindset is that "what is good for you is good for you, what is good for me is good for me." Absolutes are out, relative values are the rule of the day. Even Christians have slipped into this mindset and constantly quote Jesus' words that we should "judge not lest we be judged." This verse is often quoted without any view to its proper meaning, but instead is seen as a blanket statement that we are not to pass judgment on what other believers do, think or believe.

As they released their reviews of all things Purpose-Driven, IX Marks included a letter than outlined why they felt they needed to do this. I would like to examine this a little bit, not as it deals with Warren in particular, but how it deals with any issue relevant to Christians. I find it an excellent example of how to properly approach the criticism of another believer. While it may cause pain to have to criticize the teachings or even the actions of another believer, there are many times that this is necessary. Here is the first part of that introduction:

Why Him? Why Now?

Come on. Isn’t this a little overboard? Do we really need to dedicate a whole edition of 9News solely to reviewing the Purpose Driven works of Rick Warren? After all, it’s been almost ten years now since “The Purpose Driven Church” was published; not exactly cutting edge journalism at its finest, huh? And Warren himself is a conservative, Bible-Believing Evangelical! So why not go pick on someone who’s denying the gospel, or persecuting Christians, instead of nitpicking a sincere pastor who’s helping churches grow? Besides, Warren’s books have been some of the hottest selling evangelical publications since the Bible itself! He’s got us on display tables in Barnes and Noble, Borders, even Wal-Mart sells The Purpose Driven Life in bulk. Evangelicals haven’t seen this kind of broad-based cultural acceptance since Jimmy Carter and the year of the Evangelical. And on top of all that, it’s WORKING! Warren’s program seems like one of the most successful evangelism and discipleship programs in the history of programs. So why don’t we just shut up and ride the wave?

Believe us, we’ve thought about it. These are all questions that we’ve been asking ourselves here at 9Marks for almost a year now. And that’s not to mention that it feels like we’re picking on someone a lot bigger than us. Warren has sold millions of his books. We’ve sold around…well, let’s just say we’ve sold fewer of ours - considerably fewer.

While this was evidently written particularly to address Rick Warren, with a few words changed here and there it could fit any of the “big” ministries out there. Billy Graham, John Eldredge, Bruce Wilkinson - any of these men and so many others have had their books and teachings explode in popularity and impact believers across all denominational boundaries. In many cases their teachings have even impacted unbelievers, changing perceptions of what the Gospel is and what their responsibility towards God is. These people have a very wide reach and have made a significant impact on the Christian landscape. As such they should not be surprised to find their ministries coming under ever-closer scrutiny from inside and outside the church.

The introduction continues:

First of all, let us affirm that we love and respect Rick Warren as a Christian brother, and we consider him a genuine comrade in pastoral ministry. His heart for evangelism is second to none. His passion to see people reached for Christ is pulsating, contagious, and quite frankly, convicting. His sincerity is unquestioned, and his apparent success is unparalleled. And we agree with Warren on the fundamentals of the faith. In fact, one of our primary concerns in releasing these reviews has been that we’ll be misperceived as turning our guns on our own guys if we say anything corrective. We’re not shooting at our comrade in arms here. Our intent is constructive, not destructive.

This is a paragraph that probably cannot apply to every situation. I cannot know for certain whether anyone else is a believer. The important point of this paragraph as we extend it to other situations, is that the person whose ministry is being called into question seems to hold many Christian beliefs and seems to be sincere in his desire to better the church. But now we get to the heart of the matter:

It is precisely the broad-based popularity of the Purpose Driven model that piques our curiosity. If so many churches are picking up the ball and running with it, shouldn’t we at least be concerned to figure out if they’re heading towards the right end zone? Our concern is not borne from jealousy of Warren’s success. Rather, it’s borne from jealousy for the church’s health. We want to help the church think biblically about who she is and how she works, and evaluate the Purpose Driven model in light of the biblical data.

We’ve made every effort to tread carefully. Several recognized leaders of the Reformed evangelical community have critically evaluated these reviews and given constructive feedback. We sent all three to Rick Warren himself for review, but due to the busyness of his schedule, he was understandably unable to give them attention, but graciously encouraged us to post them anyway. So, with all those caveats and disclaimers on the table, we’d invite you to think with us for a little while about the Purpose Driven works of Rick Warren. “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1Thess 5:21).

We see that the short version of IX Marks’ answer as to why they would critically examine Purpose Driven principles is because of its wide acceptance in Christian circles. Their chief concern is with the health of the church, and obviously underlying that, is a concern for God’s glory. Jealousy for the health of the church is a noble goal and is an attitude every Christian should seek to foster. If the church was so important that Jesus died for her, it stands to reason that we should be quick to run to her defense. Any teaching that is as wide-reaching as Purpose Driven principles, Wild at Heart, Prayer of Jabez (and I could go on and on) demands close analysis, particularly by those God has especially equipped to do this. I especially appreciated IX Marks’ willingness to send their reviews to Warren for his consideration before posting them. It is unfortunate that he was unable to read them as I would have been interested to read his response. I am reminded of what Joh Calvin once said. “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s Truth was attacked and yet would remain silent.”

In this situation I believe IX Marks Ministries has modeled a very biblical and inoffensive method of dealing with tough issues within the body of Christ. If people are offended or upset at what they have written, it will be based on their comparison of the teachings they are examining with Scripture and not on their format or methodology. And that is exactly as it should be. The men of IX Marks have shown love and grace and have gone out of their way to show that their concerns are not petty, but are rooted in a love for our Lord and a concern for His glory. Thus I hold this as a wonderful example of criticism done right.