Friday, November 16, 2012

IS JESUS REALLY THE ONLY WAY?


Though some may think of me as an opinionated, narrow-minded curmudgeon, I tend to judge myself as a bit too open-minded.  I attempt to be open to and tolerant of new ideas held by others, even though I frequently disagree with them.  However, by being tolerant I occasionally find myself in the intellectual company of those whom at second glance I might judge to be heretics.  (I know that’s a bad word, not to be used today, but in some cases I can’t think of a better one.)
I wrote a couple of posts a while back, reviewing and interacting with the writings of Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, leaders in the emerging/emergent church movement.   Though I disagreed strongly with their writings, looking back I feel that I was a bit na├»ve.  I simply interacted with the articles using what seemed to me to be logical exegetical arguments.  I did not question their motives.

But having found out a bit more about these men, I believe that they need to be pointed out as purveyors of doctrines that deny the foundation of biblical Christianity; they are not simply misinformed or poor exegetes.

Recently a friend forwarded to me some further information on McLaren and Bell, along with an article by McLaren entitled, A Reading of John 14:6, dated 2007 (brianmclaren.net).  McLaren is not simply an author and preacher in the emerging/ emergent church movement; he is a board member and instructor at Mars Hills Graduate School in Seattle, now known as the Seattle School of Theology, a bastion of emerging/emergent theology.

I had originally planned to go through the article, dealing with what at first appeared to me to be faulty exegesis, but as I read, re-read and re-re-read, I kept finding myself more and more befuddled by McLaren’s spin.  The article is a bizarre mix of faulty exegesis, faulty logic and worst of all, faulty theology.  Dare I call it just plain heresy?  Dare I question the author’s motives?  Anyway the following thoughts aren’t meant to be a point-by-point discussion of the article, but they are an attempt at a rebuttal.

The text that the article is concerned with is John 14:6:  “Jesus says to him (Thomas) ‘I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”

This text has been understood by many – I would say most - readers as a clear statement by Jesus that He is the only way to God.  And a clear corollary to this statement would be that there is no other way to God.  Ah, but this is not the way it is to be understood, says McLaren!

“It is one of the questions I am asked most frequently, ‘Do you think Jesus is the only way?’ … The question raises another question, actually:  ‘The only way to what?’”  After this he goes on to tell us that there are many ways:  Buddha, Mohammed, Marx, Freud, televangelists.  Of course, each way ends up at a different destination.  “But if you are asking about the Kingdom of God coming to earth ...,” then, of course, all these others “will step back and Jesus will step forward.”

McLaren is very clear that he doesn’t like the “idea called the ‘exclusivity of Christ.’”  In order to refute this horrid doctrine, he chooses to rephrase it in his own words (the “straw man” argument).  He can’t out and out say that Jesus is not the only way to God.  He rather caricatures those who believe this “idea” as really being more concerned about Jesus being “the only way to avoid burning forever in hell …,” that the “idea” really means that “all who do not consciously and decisively accept Jesus as their personal savior will burn forever in hell.”

McLaren seems to have a fixation on the idea of eternal punishment which apparently is why he keeps introducing it here to convince us that this was not what Jesus was talking about in this passage.  I agree Jesus wasn’t.  He was talking about His being the only way to God!

McLaren keeps reiterating his straw man arguments.  He brings up Thomas’ question in verse 5 and informs us that, “It’s clear he is not asking anything like ‘Will people who have never heard of you go to heaven?’”  And then he goes on to inform us that Thomas was not thinking of all the other people of various religious persuasions.  He tells us that Jesus’ words in John 14:6 “are not intended as an insult to the followers of Mohammed, the Buddha,” etc.

It’s apparent that McLaren’s main concern is that if we believe that Jesus’ claims are exclusive, if Jesus really is the only way, then others will be shut out.  He wants us to believe in an inclusive Jesus, a nice guy Jesus, who accepts any and everybody (excepting, I suppose, those narrow-minded bigots who believe that Jesus really IS the only way to God).

A few words about McLaren’s argument, which I believe are characteristic of much of the emerging/emergent movement:
·        It is arrogant, even Gnostic.  Though inclusivity is almost a mantra, it is itself exclusive.  He holds himself and his knowledgeable associates above those who are “…perfectly in synch with the general cluelessness of the disciples.”
·        It is dogmatic while trying to sound anything but.  This I believe is symptomatic of the soft view of truth associated with the postmodern thinking of many in the emerging/emergent movement.  His qualifiers:  “It’s far more likely …,” “… which seems to suggest …”  “It’s as if …” may sound like he is trying to avoid dogmatism, but they hide his real dogmatic agenda.
·        Even if his “exegesis” of John 14:6 were correct (it’s not) and Jesus was not claiming exclusivity here, McLaren would still have to contend with the vast number of claims Jesus made elsewhere.  There are other “I Am’s” in John’s gospel.  Is McLaren capable of explaining away the apparent exclusivity in all of these?
·       Similarly McLaren’s fierce opposition to those who speak about hell seems to run into the problem that Jesus spoke frequently about hell – in fact, more than all other New Testament writers combined.
·        McLaren stands opposed to 2,000 years of biblical understanding.  Though this does not necessarily mean he is wrong, it would seem that this would at least temper his arrogance. 

McLaren’s contradictory footnote, though it sounds pious, shows what his real theology is:   “By the way, it would also make me want to scream if you misread what I’m saying to mean, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe. Anything goes. God doesn’t care.’ That would be equally ridiculous! By looking at what Jesus cares about, we see what God cares about, including what makes God angry: carelessness towards the poor and vul­nerable, putting religious rules over relationships, complacency, a lack of compassion, and so much more.”

He has been spending page after page attempting to convince us that it really doesn’t matter what you believe about the person of Jesus, except that He is not the only way to God.  It’s “what God cares about,” the ethics of Jesus, not His claims to exclusivity, that are important.

If we buy into McLaren’s argument, we are left with a Jesus who is not the only way to God, but simply a great moral teacher.

I have to give McLaren and his associates credit.  He has found a neat way to avoid the exclusive claims of Christ.  He has no need to do as Thomas Jefferson and many others have done, just rip all of Christ’s claims out of the Bible.  He has no need to see Jesus as a good but deluded man.  He can instead, by exegetical legerdemain demonstrate that Jesus’ claims weren’t actually claims to exclusivity at all!

“The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who doesn’t believe in the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath abides on him” (John 3:36).  I wonder what McLaren does with this verse.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

HOW SHOULD I PRAY?

A friend sent me the following e-mail the other day:
 
I saw this post on facebook today.  "...She developed a blood clot which has caused her great injury, and could end her life if it goes badly from here. She has great care and great friends. Now I would like you... my facebook family... to pray for Melissa along with me. Please ask God to heal her of this situation. Thank you for sharing in this effort."

This reads to me like God has inflicted or allowed this condition on this person and is content to sit back and do nothing unless a lot of us start praying. What would life, death or sickness even look like to God? If I pray for this am I really saying, "God, you messed up. This lady shouldn't be sick..." That sentence seems a little absurd. I remember reading somewhere in Matthew, Jesus saying not to pray for things, that God knows what you need. The only kinds of prayer that make any sense to me at all are:
1.       Prayers of gratitude/thanks (gratitude for life, not for scoring a touchdown).
2.    Prayers for guidance.

3.     Maybe prayers for strength, in terms of convictions, not physical strength.

If you choose to share any thoughts on this I am interested. (Or, you probably already have posted thoughts, in which case a link would be great.)

The above questions and comments are similar to those I’ve often heard, even uttered or at least, thought myself.  What should I pray for?  How should I pray?  If God is sovereign, why pray at all?  The following remarks are not intended to be definitive answers, but simply thoughts on the subject that will hopefully be of some help in moving toward answers.

Looking back over my 300+ posts, I realize that I haven’t said much about prayer, even though it is essential to my life, though I found a few posts.  One was A MODEL PRAYER, in which I made some comments on what is known as the Lord’s Prayer.  This was part of a series I had been doing on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Another, CORPORATE CONFESSION, was a plea for the church to adopt the form of the great Old Testament prayers to our current situation.  Another was PRAY FOR OUR PRESIDENT, another plea.

I have always been hesitant to speak or write on the subject of prayer, one reason being that I have this little uncomfortable feeling that my personal prayer life is inadequate.

But, I also find that it’s hard to know where to begin.  The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is full of prayers – conversations with God, as well as instructions/ commandments on how prayer is to be done.  One would think that I, who for years taught theology in college, would have a clear theology of prayer.  I don’t.  The following thoughts are not an attempt at that, but simply to interact with the above questions.

First of all, we can take comfort in the fact that God knows our weakness and ignorance in prayer and doesn’t seem to be bothered by it.  In fact, He has provided us with a divine “Interpreter” to make sure we get it right.  As Paul tells us in Romans 8:26, 27:

“And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we don’t know what we should pray even as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with unspoken groanings.  And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is because He intercedes for the saints according to God.”

We are ignorant, but God provides every believer with the indwelling Holy Spirit as Paul explains earlier in this chapter.  The idea I get from this is that though I in myself may pray in ignorance as to the “what’s” or “how’s” of prayer, the Holy Spirit reads my intents and communicates these with the Father.

Of the many instructions on prayer in the New Testament, one seems to override the others:  “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Though there have been many attempts at explaining this passage, or explaining it away, we are confronted with what at first seems an impossible command.  And yet, I and many others take great comfort in this command.  Here’s my take on the command.

I am to live every moment of my life in the consciousness of the presence of God.  He is aware of every thought I think and every word I speak.  So when I reason, when I plan, when I daydream, He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is in on my reasonings, my plans and my daydreams, whether or not I am clearly conscious of His presence.  So in a real sense, every thought I think, even every sentence I write is a prayer.  And, of course, there are many times during the day when I actually utter a prayer, whether formally or informally.

I’ll not here attempt to deal with the fact of God’s sovereignty in life, death and illness, except to say that the Bible teaches over and over again that He cares about our pains and sufferings and we are told to take them to Him and to make our requests to Him, not because He doesn’t know, but because He cares.

“Don’t be worried about anything, but in everything, with prayer and entreaty with thanksgiving make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

I am a firm believer that God is the One who heals.  In fact, I believe that all healing comes from God, whether He uses medical means, natural means or an occasional miracle.  I also believe that even though we may pray for healing we must recognize that it is always in His sovereign control.

Uni and I receive many requests similar to the one referred to above.  They come by facebook and e-mail.  We often pass them on to others.  At times, we stop as soon as we read a request, utter a brief prayer and then move on.  Sometimes we write them down on our daily prayer list.  And many times we ourselves initiate a request.  It is comforting to know that there are brothers and sisters around the world praying for and with us.

The passage referred to above – Matthew 6:8b, “… your Father knows what you need before you ask Him,” is not meant to discourage but to encourage prayer.  Perhaps I should repeat my comments given in my post, A MODEL PRAYER:

“The question is sometimes asked; if He knows what we need, then why bother to ask? I have to say that there are no easy answers to this question, even though many have been attempted. But I’ll take a shot at it.

First of all, though He knows our needs, we don’t always come to Him with our needs, but rather with our wants. It’s not that He doesn’t often give us our wants; He does. But I believe that what He seeks for us in our prayers is that we make our needs into our desires.

We are like little children. We want stuff, we want toys, we want pleasant things. We are often satisfied with lesser things than our Father seeks for us. But He knows what our real needs are.


And I believe that while He desires to meet our needs and does, His real longing is that we seek Him. Not simply what He can provide, but Him. As a father and grandfather, I believe that in a small way I can understand this. I am not a wealthy man. I cannot (as God) provide rich gifts for my children and grandchildren. But I can provide them with love and my great desire is for them to reciprocate.”


I recommend Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer:  Does it Make Any Difference?http://billball.blogspot.com/2010/07/pray-for-our-president.html

Saturday, November 10, 2012

HERMENEUTICS AND THE ROLE OF WOMEN

I received the following comments and questions regarding my post:  IS EVERYTHING IN THE BIBLE TRUE? :

“… how do I know when a writer is expressing his opinion and not a direct edict? I don’t care so much about the O.T. as I don’t live under that covenant. But how do I know in the New Testament? In Romans 7 and I Corinthians 7 it’s pretty darn clear. But what about places like I Timothy 2 where he says 'I want' and 'I do not' all over the place?

Naturally, I want 1 Timothy 2 to be just Paul’s opinion – those of a man who lives in a patriarchal society that greatly inhibited the roles of women – but I don’t want to force my opinion onto the text. I would look at it in light of other scripture but I don’t see Peter, James, John or even Jude addressing the role of women in the church.

So my main question is: when no one else discusses the subject, how do I know when it’s the writer’s opinion vs. God’s instruction?

And my secondary question is about the role of women in light of the above.
 
And last, in that vein, the woman who wrote about Biblical Womanhood in Sojourners mentioned that Jesus did not come to set up more laws which seemed right but is it?  I do find her comments about how the new 'laws' enforce the existing power structure at the time to be very compelling - we know the gospel is not about power by servanthood - any comments on all of this?"

Wow, there are two very different questions here:  one on hermeneutics or interpretation; and the other about the role of women.  The two are, however, inseparable.

The first regarding when a writer is expressing his own opinion, versus a direct edict:  I believe we are to take the apostolic writings as authoritative unless there is a qualifier, as I mentioned in the previous post.  I used 1 Corinthians, chapter 7 as an example, because Paul, in this chapter puts qualifiers on much of what he says:
·        “Now I say this as a concession not as a commandment” (verse 6).
·        “I don’t have a communication from the Lord, but I give advice as one shown mercy by the Lord as being faithful” (verse 25).
·        “… I suppose ...” (verse 26).
·        “… and I want to spare you …” (verse 28).
·        “Now I’d like you to be free of care …” (verse 32).
·        “I’m saying this for your benefit …” (verse 35).
·        “… according to my opinion; and I suppose that I too have the Spirit of the Lord” (verse 40).
In this same passage he also uses seven “but ifs” (verses 9, 11, 15, 21, 28, 36, 39).  He allows for exceptions.

He seems to be making clear distinctions between commands versus advice, opinion or exceptions.  Commands would be binding.  The others would not.

We should also notice that Paul’s opinions or bits of advice don’t contradict his authoritative remarks.

As far as Paul’s “I want(s)” in 1 Timothy 2, I’ll agree that when he does this he is giving non-authoritative advice.  He actually only uses the word once in this chapter – verse 8, although some translations add it in verse 9.  The verb he uses – boulomai – usually has the meaning of “wish,” “want” or “desire,” even “intend” and this is the way Paul uses it elsewhere:
·        “… I intended to come to you at first …” (2 Corinthians 1:15).
·        “I wasn’t vacillating when I intended this, was I?” (verse 17)
(Apparently Paul didn’t come when he intended.)
·        “Now I want you to know brothers …” (Philippians 1:12).
     Also see Titus 3:8 and Philemon 13.

He uses it twice elsewhere in 1 Timothy.
·        “So I want the younger (widows) to marry …” (5:14).
·        But those who want to get rich …” (6:9).

However, Paul uses a different word in 1 Timothy 2:12:
·        “… but I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man …”  The verb epitrepo always has that meaning – “permit” or “allow.”  See Matthew 8:21; 19:8.

Paul only uses it in two other places:
·        “… if the Lord permits” (1 Corinthians 16:7).

And in what is relevant to the passage in 1 Timothy:
·        “… for it is not permitted for them (women) to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34).

I’m not going to get into all the questions regarding women’s roles except for a few attempts at clarification especially of some of the details of the 1 Timothy 2 passage.
·        The context of this passage seems to be of universal application.  Any attempts to interpret it as dealing with specific incidents in a specific church, run into a problem.  The word “all” is used six times in the first eight verses:  “First of all  all people … all those in authority … all godliness … all people … a ransom for all … in every place.”
·        The word translated “quiet” or “quietly” in verses 11 and 12 does not necessarily mean “silence” but an attitude of restfulness or stillness.  It is used in verse 2, not of women only, but of us all.
·        I believe the two verbs that Paul forbids:  “to teach” (didaskein) and “to exercise authority” (authentein) are linked together.  Paul is not forbidding women to teach altogether, but to teach men in an authoritative manner.
·        The related passage cited earlier (1 Corinthians 14:34) should be interpreted in light of the 1 Timothy passage.  Paul in this passage (1 Corinthians 14:26-36) is not demanding total silence of women.  He had previously (11:5) mentioned women “praying or prophesying” in the assembly.  Here he is speaking of the exercise and regulation of the various gifts in the assembly, in this case of a teaching/learning situation.  And as the 1 Timothy 2 passage, 1 Corinthians 14 appears to have universal application – “… as in all the churches …” (1 Corinthians 14:33); it is not directed merely to a specific problem in Corinth.

Yes, it is true that Jesus did not come to set up new laws, but there are other factors involved.  We must be careful that we don’t use this truth to discredit the authority of the New Testament.  This has been done many times to justify all sorts of behavior (i.e., “Jesus said nothing about gay marriage, therefore it’s permissible.”)

But Jesus did teach ethics and He based much of His ethical teaching on the Old Testament – and even tightened up some of its principles.  (See:  THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.)  “You have heard that it was said … but I’m saying to you …” (Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43).

The New Testament writers – Paul, James, Peter – also based their ethical and doctrinal teachings on the Old Testament and also on Jesus’ teachings.  See:  FORFEIT AND GAIN and PAUL AND JESUS.  I believe the reason we see more “laws” in the epistles than in the Gospels is that the writers were dealing with ethical, moral and governing problems of first generation, mostly  gentile Christians in the new churches they had planted.  The apostles had different functions from those of Jesus.  They were planting churches and seeking to establish them.

In conclusion, I believe that the New Testament gives women, along with men, the freedom to teach, preach, evangelize or whatever they feel led of God to do, with the one exception being that in 1 Timothy 2:12.  Its application today may be debated, but I would say that it certainly forbids women from a role as senior pastor in a church.

I feel a bit of irony here, as I at one time was considered by many of my other evangelical friends as being too liberal, (and still am by some), having women deacons or song leaders in my churches and being married to a woman church office manager (Uni).   I felt there was a line drawn, but saw no reason not to push right up to the line.

Today, however, I feel that many have crossed the line and left me behind and I am perceived by many now as being too conservative.

Friday, November 2, 2012

IS EVERYTHING IN THE BIBLE TRUE?

My Sunday school class has been studying the book of Ecclesiastes.  As we work our way through the book, every now and then some astute (and bold) class member will note that the things said in the book often appear contradictory – not only with other Scripture, but also within the book itself.  When such a comment was made this past Sunday, I replied that not everything in the Bible is true.  This caused many eyes to open wide and a few looks of despair to appear.

Though my attempts at explanation seemed to satisfy some, I suspect that a number were left confused.  And, of course, more questions were raised.  Now I usually don’t mind leaving people with a few unanswered questions, but I feel their questions demand answers.   So please let me explain.
·        “All Scripture is,” as Paul says, “God-breathed …” (2 Timothy 3:16).  I was not attempting to deny this truth.  The doctrine of the inspiration and authority of the Scripture is foundational to all we believe.

·        The Bible, as an inspired book, records truthfully, even when it records untrue statements.  For instance, the third chapter of Genesis records the Serpent’s claims to the woman, “You will not certainly die, because God knows that in the day you eat from it (the forbidden  tree) your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4, 5).  Though recorded accurately, this is a bald-faced lie!
·        The Bible also truthfully by inspiration records uninspired dialogs and conversations.  The greater part of the book of Job is filled with philosophical arguments and meanderings of five fallen men as they argue and contradict one another.  Though there is much truth spoken, it takes discernment to sort it out.  It is not till we reach the final chapters that we are given, “Thus saith the LORD.”
·        Even the clear commands and promises given are often given to particular people at particular periods of history and should not be taken as having universal application.  (See:  THE PROMISE.)
·        Many of the prophecies – promises and threats recorded are in some ways conditional, and at times the conditions are not recorded, though they may be inferred.  For instance, Jonah’s proclamation, “Forty days hence Nineveh will be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4), did not come to pass, apparently because the people of Nineveh repented.  (This really ticked Jonah off – 4:1ff.)
·        The Bible is not one book.  It is a library consisting of sixty-six volumes of various genres:  history/biography, poetry, prophecy, philosophy, didactic/instructional.  And many of these genres overlap.  The truths presented in these genres differ.  The book of Proverbs, for instance, presents general truths which are not necessarily true in every instance.  The “train up a child” proverb (22:6) has caused much grief for parents for whom it has not come true, even when it seems that conditions have been met.
·        There are places even in authorative instructional materials where the author gives his opinion, which while inspired is not necessarily authorative.  Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 distinguishes three different sources for his instructions.
(1)   The Lord’s (Jesus’) authoritative command, “… I give instruction – not I but the Lord” (verse 10).
(2)   His own authoritative command, “Now to the rest I say, not the Lord …” (verse 12).
(3)   Opinion or advice, “… I don’t have a commandment from the Lord, but I give advice …” (verse 25); “Now I say this as a concession, not as a commandment” (verse 6).

Usually when it is mere opinion, the author makes that clear.

All of the above is not given to cause confusion or cast doubt on the inspiration, truthfulness or authority of Scripture.  It is given to clarify by showing us that we must interpret Scripture correctly.

I believe that there are two dangers to be avoided.  (I’ve seen both of these extremes used many times on college term papers.)
·        We must be careful not to use the Bible as a book of verses, to be pulled out of context in order to make a point.
·        We must also be careful of the opposite extreme, of regarding a passage as of dubious authority because of its context.  (“Oh that passage wasn’t meant for me!”)