Friday, September 14, 2007


Uni and I were watching the news the other evening when Michael Vick came on to make a statement after his trial. Uni and I turned to each other and almost in unison said, “I bet he found Jesus!” And sure enough he said he had!

I know I’m not the first to notice this, but seems like everyone is “finding Jesus” nowadays. It’s hard not to be a bit skeptical. We sure can’t blame the news media for their cynicism.

Politicians and CEOs, when caught with one hand in the cookie jar, are quick to place a Bible in the other hand. Celebrities (i.e., people who are famous for being famous) find God (or some reasonable facsimile) in jail or just before their trials. These people disgust us with their behavior and we don’t really want to believe them.

But wait a minute! What about grace? This behavior is nothing new! Look at some examples from the Bible. In 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah confronts King Ahab, one of the most evil kings who ever ruled in Israel. Ahab had just committed a judicial murder and Elijah read him the riot act (read 1 Kings 21:17-24). Verse 25 says of him, “Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him.” Yet verse 27 tells us of his repentance. “And it came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently.” Look at God’s pronouncement in verses 28 and 29. “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.’”

Or the story of David, the greatest king Israel ever had, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Here’s a man who committed adultery with his neighbor’s wife and then had him put to death. The whole story is in 2 Samuel 11. He covered it up and didn’t repent and confess until confronted by Nathan the prophet (2 Samuel 12:1-14). And David is held up as an example of faith throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

There are many other examples in the Bible and history. Many people come to faith in Christ only during or after a major crisis. “There are no atheists in foxholes,” is a well-worn saying. Death row is a fruitful field for evangelism.

So what am I saying?
-- God only saves sinners. There are no other kinds of people that He saves.
-- God only saves those who recognize that they are sinners. Christ died for our sins. If we don’t know we have any we can’t accept His offer.
-- God often has to “hit us upside the head” to get us to recognize our need. We have many motives for coming to faith in Christ and as far as I know none of them are completely unselfish. We come to Christ because we have a need.

We are not the ones to set the criteria for whose conversion is real. That is God’s prerogative, not ours.

Yes, we are to recognize when behavior is out of line with profession. I’m not advocating gullibility. But I am advocating grace.

Bill Ball

Thursday, September 6, 2007


A while back I read the book, What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills. (See blog: WHAT DID JESUS MEAN?) I loved this book and have recommended it to others with a few caveats, the main one being his acceptance of the views of “historical criticism” – a late date for the composition of the gospels and the pseudonymous authorship of some of Paul’s epistles and the epistles of Peter. I felt, however, that this did not affect the thesis of his book.

Well, then I read Wills’ next book, What Paul Meant and was sadly disappointed. Here Wills lets his historical-critical views reign. He throws out six of Paul’s 13 canonical writings: Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy. Even those he accepts as genuine aren’t spared: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians are composites of 2 or 3 letters each (pages 15-17). Acts is to be treated “with great caution when it purports to be telling the story of Paul” (page 1).

Wills gives very few notes as in many of his books on historical subjects. He quotes or refers to a few “experts,’ whose opinions he feels are to be accepted as true.

So are we to accept what Wills tells us Paul meant, based on his views of what Paul really said?

Wills’ book joins the ranks of those by other “experts” who pick from the Bible what they feel is authentic and reject the rest. Usually what they find inauthentic is whatever disagrees with their viewpoints. Paul (or Jesus) couldn’t have said the things he allegedly said, because they don’t fit with what I think that he thought. The argument is totally circular. Some of the writings attributed to Paul are dated as “late” or inauthentic not because of textual evidence, but because the content supposedly disagrees with what Paul said. And the “fact” that Paul didn’t say these things proves they are inauthentic!

Come on! To hold views like these requires a faith, not in the biblical writings, but in the ability of the student to pick and choose for himself what is authentic.

I remember long ago hearing some preacher say that there are two questions that need to be answered: “Has God spoken? And “If so, what has God said?” Authors like Wills and many others seem to be trying to answer the second question without answering the first.

If we spend our time and efforts constantly examining and reexamining biblical writings to determine whether they are true, we will never be able to really know what God said.

I would rather hold the position held by Christians through the centuries that the whole Bible is as it claims to be, the Word of God, that it is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16 – literal) and is without error. I do not have the authority to pick and choose portions of it and reject others. I have many reasons for holding this view, but I hope the following will suffice.

First, a supernatural author requires a supernatural book. This may sound overly simple, but it seems to me to be essential to one’s whole attitude toward the Scriptures. Our view of God and our view of Scripture are inseparable. Our concept of God comes from the Bible, which we believe to have come from Him.

The Bible witnesses to its own inspiration and inerrancy. It claims to speak for God --- to be His Word, and nowhere does it even hint that it may contain error in any field.

If we are in doubt about what the Bible says in any area, we are at least partially in doubt about what it says in any other area, and we are left in doubt about its statements concerning the person and works of God. All we are left with is a weak and limited witness which, like the witness of natural revelation, can never bring us to a sure knowledge of Him.

Second, the only alternative is subjectivism. If the Scripture contains error, even though slight, we need some criteria for distinguishing truth from error, of ascertaining the “true facts.” Are all historical records and data to be disposed of? If not which do we retain? Some facts seem to be required for our faith and practice (1 Corinthians 15). Do we retain these? How do we distinguish? Do we go along with what was known in the 19th century as “the assured results of higher criticism”? Does the changing world of science give us any criteria?

Whatever the criteria I choose, any are changing and dubious. I am left with only myself as the final judge of what is true and what is false. Or I can choose to remain in doubt. I do not desire that responsibility.

Bill Ball