Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Bible Publishing World's "New Coke" Moment?

If you are old enough to remember the 1980's in detail, then you must certainly remember the "New Coke" fiasco. This occurred when the Coca-Cola Company unveiled new plans to replace Coke with a "new and improved" Coke. Like some who remember where they were during historic occurrences, I remember where I was when I first heard of Coca-Cola'a actions. I was watching NBC News. The story on the subject featured blindfolded taste-testers sampling "Old" and "New" Coke; the "New" was almost uniformally preferred, according to the report. I experienced a form of angst. Later, Coca-Cola trotted out Bill Cosby to tout the new product as being the superior brew. My first taste of the "New Coke" confirmed my worst fears; it tasted like Pepsi. My taste buds rebelled. It wasn't long before the entire nation aligned itself with my taste buds. The outcry against the change forced Coca-Cola to bring back the "real" Coke, labeling the "real" Classic Coke, to be sold alongside the "New" Coke. Quietly, "New" Coke was pulled from the shelves, and Coca-Cola and Cosby hoped the world would forget the entire episode. But why did Coca Cola attempt this brazen act in the first place? Stereotyping. Many people in the 1980's assumed that the nation, especially the nation's young, had turned Yuppie. Advertisers convinced themselves and us that a new cultural dawn had occurred and one of the aspects of this new era was a preference for Pepsi over Coke. Misreading their marketing research, Coca-Cola thought that to survive the competition from Pepsi, its tried and true product had to be morphed into something that tasted more like Pepsi. How wrong they were. America had not opted to degenerate into the "Pepsi" generation. The "New" quietly disappeared. The "Old" remained. Ronald Reagan was in the White House. All was well with the world.

The news that the NIV is to be phased out and replaced with a version close to the TNIV reminded me of those long ago days. I wonder if if this episode might prove to be the Bible publishing world's "New Coke" moment.

First, I need to make some preliminary statements. It is not my belief that God prefers one Bible version over the other. I don't believe that reading certain translations will stunt your personal growth or theological acumen. The Holy Spirit is the interpreter of Scripture and will give you all the proper illumination of Scripture you need no matter what version (provided it is not a paraphrase) you prefer.

That being said, I do have my own preferences. I have read extensively in the NIV and most sermons I have sat under were preached from the NIV. I like the NIV, but it was never my favorite. In seminary, we examined the NIV in one class. We learned that during the translation, having many legitimate choices as to the correct English translation of a word, the translators almost habitually chose the word that had the least impact on the reader. For example, the word "contract" was used in the Old Testament where the better translation would have been "covenant." Not only that, but most of the NIV translators were of the Calvinist persuasion and the translation reflected that fact. For instance, the word "perfect" was left in Phil. 3:12, while the word "mature" appears in 3:15. "Perfect" should appear in both verses, but to accommodate this version to their theological preference, they changed the wording in verse 15. (It is true that other modern tranlations leave the word "perfect" out of Phil. 3:15. However, I have met those who worked on the NIV translation team relate that while the translators knew Phil. 3:15 should use the word "perfect", they deliberately chose not to do so, citing theological reasons.)

There seems to be a war for allegiance between the fans (and publishers) of the ESV and the TNIV. When I had first heard that the ESV was to be published, I waited in anticipation because it was to be a revision of the old Revised Standard Version. But I was disappointed with the results. While the ESV's translators did a great job creating a readable version while remaining a literal, as opposed to a dynamic equivalent version, style seems to have been sacrificed. To me, I found the New Testament ESV weak. Also, I believe that it is what the New American Standard is wrongly accused of being: wooden. As for the TNIV, I have never explored it. Until recently, I have never even seen it on the shelves in stores. Many object to it because of its gender-neutral language. While that would dispose me to be wary of it, I have heard that the gender-neutral language is not the only negative feature of the TNIV.

What are my preferences? Most of my reading and all of my preaching is done in the New King James version. I also like the New American Standard. My third choice? What used to be called the "communist" Bible: the Revised Standard version.

So what reasoning could have been behind the decision to phase out the most popular Bible version in the Evangelical world and replace it with something akin to the TNIV? Stereotyping possibly, and the desire to keep raking in the money by the publisher? There has been much discussion in the press and the Evangelical world concerning just who Evangelicals are, especially since the last presidential election. There have been many predictions that the Evangelicalism as practiced in this country for the past 20 or 30 years is dying out. It is maintained that younger Christians have rejected the current national leadership for the likes of Jim Wallis, Brian McClaren and Rob Bell. Some commentators believe that the results of the last presidential election proves that most younger Evangelicals are now Obama aficionados and issues such as abortion are no longer an important factor in Evangelical voting patterns. Abortion is no longer an issue, social justice Obama style, is the new political focus for the Church, these commentators tell us. We are also led to believe (sadly, perhaps correctly) that the younger generation of Evangelicals are more tolerant of alternative life styles and open to the belief that the Gospel is not the only way to God. I am not saying that those responsible for the NIV's phasing out adhere to these new attitudes. But it is possible that their decision was influenced by the perception that these commentators are correct. And so, to avoid having the NIV rejected in favor of other versions, to accommodate the new attitude, and to continue to make a profit, the publisher of the NIV felt it had to act.

But have those responsible for this decision misread the Evangelical public? Did personal perception affect their marketing research? Has a stereotype of Evangelicals affected their marketing research as stereotypes affected Coca-Cola's advertising research in the 1980's? I think it is too soon to conclude that such sweeping change has occurred in the Evangelical world. After all, Evangelicals did not vote for Obama in droves. In fact, Evangelicals voting for McCain kept McCain from losing in a landslide; many of the votes for McCain were actually votes for an Evangelical, Sarah Palin. If the Evangelical world was open to a Bible version that featured gender-neutral language, then why has not the New Revised Standard been a best seller among Evangelicals? Most people I know of who read that version are from mainline denominations, not Evangelical ones. What will be the reaction of the Evangelical world that has preferred the NIV to all other versions to this new version? Not to mention the still sizable fan base for the King James Version, a fan base which by my observation cuts across generational lines? Will they be tolerant of gender-neutral language? Or will the presence of gender-neutral language, plus the outcry among certain Evangelical leaders, doom the new version to be rejected by the Evangelical audience. Will parents, who have grown up with the NIV view the new version as being an unreliable version? That remains to be seen.

It may be that the new version of the NIV may be as much of a fiasco as the "New" Coke. The outcry against it may phonetically resemble another phenomenon from the 1980's: "I WANT MY NIV!"

Clouds of Witnesses: "The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story Of Chinese Christian Brother Yun" Part II

I started "The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun" this past summer. I posted my first review on 7/1. Little did I know that I would be engaged in so many other activities that it would take me this long to finish only 17 of the 29 chapters. Since my last review I read from chapter 6 through 17. This portion of the book deals with his years of brutal incarceration in a local jail and then in a labor camp for four years. The authorities demanded that he renounce his ministry and name his brothers and sisters who were his associates. He never did, even when he expected a life sentence or execution as his reward. Still he endured beatings by fist, blunt objects and electric batons. He also faced unsafe, unsanitary living conditions as well as near starvation. While Yun describes these conditions in unflinching detail, he focuses the reader's attention not on his misery and pain but on his experiences of being in the Lord's presence, how the Lord brought deliverance to him many times, and how the Lord turned bad situations into good, all the while providing Yun with continuous opportunities to spread the Gospel. Wherever Yun was held, he always left behind new brothers in Christ, even among the prison staff. In one encounter with a prison official, that official told Yun that he did not understand the Bible. Yun told him that if he repented of his sins and became Christ's disciple, then he would receive understanding from God concerning what the Bible says. That official did just that and not only was saved and received illumination concerning Scripture but also he was healed of an illness. One particularly memorable chapter chronicles the transformation of a brutal rapist and murderer into a disciple before his execution. (Yun later led his parents to the Lord.) It is interesting to note that when Yun witnessed, he did not ask, but commanded obedience to the Gospel, a command which was obeyed by his hearers. Is this just a cultural thing, or are we missing something here in the West? All throughout Yun's incarceration, whenever God brought comfort to him, that comfort came mainly through Scripture verses brought back to Yun's memory. Yun's earlier obedience in reading and memorizing Scripture helped make this possible. Visions were also a means used by the Lord to sustain Yun. The supernatural workings of God play a big role in Yun's story; in fact, some of the miracles described in the book have generated some skepticism. One miracle in particular has generated some controversy; Yun fasted in prison for 74 days. I know that sounds impossible; I can remember how in Britain in the 1980's, imprisoned members of the Irish Republican Army fasted until death. None of them lasted more than thirty days. Yet when reading "The Heavenly Man", a Christian, even a modern Western one like me, must approach any testimony of God's dealings with individuals with a belief that God still works through miracles to accomplish His purposes. That does not mean that we must accept every account of supernatural happenings. When I was a pastor in North Carolina, I met a woman (not from my Church) who claimed that God caused her to float ten feet up in the air. On television once I heard one evangelist claim he saw someone under the power of the Holy Spirit do a thirty foot back flip. One reason I can discount these two stories is that such displays serve no purpose, while the miracles described by Yun served God's purposes for Yun perfectly. The 74 day fast was not planned in advance. While Yun was in prison, he was told by the Lord to abstain from food; Yun had no idea the fast would last so long and his attitude for God's power to sustain him that long is one of humble gratitude. Yun makes no sweeping claims for authority because of the fast. As I read the account, I believe I was reading a true modern day account of God's supernatural power in action on behalf of one of his servants suffering for the Gospel. One more post on "The Heavenly Man" will appear on this blog once I finish it. I urge any reader to read this book. It is a blessing and a faith-strengthener. ("The Heavenly Man" was co-written by Paul Hattaway. Here is a link to another book he authored.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "No Final Conflict: The Bible Without Error In All It Affirms" by Francis Schaeffer.

In keeping with my continuing interest in Biblical Inerrancy, last Friday I read a very short pamphlet on the the subject by Francis Schaeffer entitled "No Final Conflict." Schaeffer's concern when he wrote this (1975) was whether Evangelicalism would remain true to a doctrine of inerrancy and infallibility. Would the Evangelical world adhere to the conviction that the Bible is the verbal communication of God true in all it states involving history and the cosmos? Or would the view that the Bible was true only in what it affirmed about religious matters? This is not a matter that is now irrelevant to today's issues. Today we see those in the Evangelical World laud Francis Collins as the perfect example of a scientist and a believer with a strong doctrine of Scripture. This is incredible considering the fact that Collins believes that the natural world can tell us nothing about God. Collins totally ignores Scriptures most famous example of Natural Theology (God reveals Himself in nature) in Romans 1. (See my review of Collins's "The Language of God" here and especially here and here.) In matters concerning the cosmos, where the findings of modern Evolutionary dogma conflicts with Biblical material,Collins sides with Evolutionary dogma. Collins is just the sort of scientist Schaeffer warned us against in 1975, a scientist who claims that the Bible can teach us nothing in which science has an interest.

As Schaffer points out, Evangelicalism's position concerning the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture is the one position that has been the historic teaching of the Church since its beginnings. "Evangelicalism is not consistently Evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who do not." This statement of Schaeffer's is relevant to two strands of current groups claiming to be Evangelical. The first is the Emergent Church, which denies the importance of the propositional nature of the truths contained in Scripture. The second are those who claim to be Evangelical yet argue against the inerrancy and infallibility of Scriptures with discredited arguments from the past which have their origin in the denial of the divine origin of Scripture. This second group repeats these same arguments without explicitly espousing the unbelief in the divine origin of Scripture these arguments are rooted in. Such arguments include a denial of Mosaic authorship of Genesis or the entire Pentateuch or that there was more than one author of Isaiah.

The contents of the book of Genesis can't be divided into religious truths and those statements we can ignore because they touch upon the areas of history and the cosmos. As Schaffer points out, Genesis is a book which contains religious truth in a book about history and a book that touches upon the cosmos as well. To those who accept the historic validity of Genesis only from chapter 12 on, Schaeffer responds with two agruments: internal and external. The internal argument demonstrates the unity of the entire book of Genesis. The first example demonstrating the unity of Genesis is the use of toledoths, or those passages that are expressed this way in the King James Version, "these are the generations of." This phrase appears uniformally at the end of the section preceding it rather than at the beginning of the section following. This is the case throughout Genesis, indicating a unity. This phrase is repeated in the first 11 chapters of Genesis six times, while the rest of the book repeats it 5 times. This nearly equal distribution throughout both both sections of Genesis is evidence of a unified whole. (Gen 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, 37:2) A second internal evidence to a unity of the entire book is the feature of the narrator consistently dealing with unimportant matters first before proceeding on to important ones. Often when brothers are introduced, the brother less important to the story is mentioned first and then the narrator moves on to the more important brother. The external argument Schaffer makes is that the New Testament assumes, and at times affirms, that the entire book of Genesis is a book of history. (Mt 19:4-5 (here Jesus links Gen 1 and 2, undercutting the theory that Gen 1 and 2 contain two separate creation accounts), Lk 3:38 (which mentions Enos, Seth and Adam as historic figures), Rom. 5:12 (the historicity of Adam is equal to the historicity of Moses), Rom 5:15 (the historicity of Adam is equal to the historicity of Christ), I Cor 6:16, 11:8, 9, 12, 15:21, 22, II Cor 11:3, Eph 5:31, IITim 2: 13-14, I Jn 3:2, Jude 11. Schaeffer clarifies the phrase "the Bible is not a science textbook." The statement is true in that science is not the Bible's central theme. However, the phrase should not be used by Christians to mean that the Bible has nothing to say concerning anything science has an interest in. The Bible does speak of the cosmos in reference to its central theme. Gen. 1 speaks of the creation of the cosmos. The focus on Gen. 2 is upon mankind. Because of what we read in the previous chapter, we can understand mankind's setting.

"No Final Conflict" has a whole chapter on the freedom anyone has in interpreting Scripture in determining the origin of the created world, including how old is the earth. I won't go into detail here but will say that what Schaeffer presents can prevent Christians from being too dogmatic with other Christians on their own take on what the Bible states about creation. (I am speaking here of disputes among all who affirm the historicity of the Bible's account of creation.) The realization that the genealogies in both New and Old Testaments were not meant to be read as straightforward chronologies may blow some minds, especially those who believe that the Bible explicitly states that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Yes, I believe in the Bible's account of creation, but I have always been skeptical of the earth being so young. Examples include the following: Gen 5:32 and 9: 24 where the order of Noah's sons is different, Ex.2, where the reader may infer that Moses is the older son is clarified by Ex. 7:7 in which it is stated that Aaron was actually 3 years older, IChron. 6:3-14 and Ezra 7:2 shows that Ezra deliberately left out some names (which was a common practice in ancient genealogies), IChron 26:24 omits 400 years of history, Mt. 1:8 omits three generations. The purpose of these genealogies is not to present chronological history, Schaeffer points out, but to show that certain Biblical figures came from a specific origin. The genealogies were more interested in showing trends of history rather than all figures of a family tree. Genesis 10 shows one man could bring forth not sons but whole peoples and places (v. 4, 7, 15); this would indicate greater passage of time than allowed in certain theories of what the Bible actually says of creation. A much more detailed study of these matters can be read in a book I read in seminary, "The Ancient Orient and the Old Testament" by K.E. Kitchen (a book I hope to study soon on my study blog).

"No Final Conflict" is just a pamphlet less than 50 pages, and it is a fast read, but how much valuable insight it contains! This is well worth your time and money. It was originally published by Intervarsity Press. It is usually available to order with other Schaeffer works.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Various Links Unrelated To Each Other

An article on words banned from our nation's school textbooks.

California's budget crises is a dire warning of what lays ahead for the entire country if we don't change the way we spend tax payer money.

Are suburbs the most dangerous places in America? Interesting Article.

First the Feds want our guns, now they are coming after our knives. (Actually I don't posses either.)

America has declared war on me!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: " 'Fundamentalism' And The Word Of God" by J.I. Packer. Part V

Last night I finished " 'Fundamentalism' and the Word of God" by J.I. Packer. This last portion is mainly dedicated to a critical analysis of Liberal scholarship and Literary Criticism up to the time that Packer wrote this particular book. While Packer wrote this book in 1958, his analysis of those who criticize the Evangelical view of Scripture is not completely dated. Even those who label themselves Evangelicals have continued to adopt the tents of Literary Criticism when considering the Inerrancy of Scripture or individual books within the Scriptural Cannon.

Literary Criticism began with a call among 19th century scholars to do justice to the human characteristics of the Bible. These scholars correctly pointed out that previous exegesis of the Bible was concerned entirely with doctrinal content. Each book of the Bible had its own historical background which was being ignored. So far, so good. Unfortunately, this movement was influenced by the Romantic revolution which emphasized emotion over reason; Scripture was seen not as an authoritative guide to doctrine and conduct for the Christian but a record of human religious experience. The divine origin of the Bible was rejected by this movement. Eventually, the key to unlocking the meaning of Scripture, according to Literary Criticism, was Evolution. The Bible was considered to be a record of primitive religious thoughts and practices evolving into more advanced forms until the final product emerged, the religion of the New Testament. Israel's faith was seen to be an internal phenomenon, not a historical record of a Deity who is totally separate from the created world molding a people through a series of divine encounters. Ethical monotheism was seen to be introduced not by Moses, but later prophets. This view is articulated by those who still adhere to the JEPD theory popularized by Wellhausen, even though that theory has been refuted by modern scholarship decades ago. Even today in the Evangelical world there are those who still espouse the view that Moses was not the author of the book of Genesis. To those who say that Evangelicals have broadened the Evangelical view of these matters, I say if one holds these views, one is not an Evangelical, whether you label yourself one or not, whether you label yourself a Wesleyan or Calvinist. By the time Packer wrote " 'Fundamentalism' and the Word of God", non-Evangelicals had publicly abandoned the old Liberal Criticism, yet they still maintained the presuppositions of that view, primarily that we cannot accept the view of Scripture as divinely inspired as a starting presupposition when analyzing Scripture. What Scripture says about its own origins was still rejected. Those Packer criticized believed that Scripture contained not Biblical fact but a Biblical outlook. Packer briefly mentions Neo-Orthodoxy, which views the Bible as containing God's infallible truth within Man's fallible word. The contents of Scripture are increasingly seen to be a myth, which Packer defines as a quasi factual narrative, which, despite its form, is intended only to tell us some truth about our own lives in the present without reference to events past and future. I am concerned with the contemporary trend to speak of Scripture in mythical terms such as "the meta-narrative." When you start using myth, or the language of myth, as a vehicle to promote Scripture as the "superior meta-narrative", you run the risk of adopting language and religious ideologies incompatible with Biblical doctrine, confusing everyone concerning Biblical truth. The result could be a form of non-Christian mysticism.

Although I have finished " 'Fundamentalism' and the Word of God", I am not finished with it, or the subject. I will post the Scripture references provided by Packer on my study blog. The next edition of "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual" will consider the subject further, including a review of Francis Schaeffer's "No Final Conflict." Being a Wesleyan in theology, one may wonder if I will explore non-Calvinists on the subject. I most certainly will. The subject of inerrancy and infallibility will be explored in great depth by the Hand (that's me) on this blog and on my study blog.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our Many Levels Of Response To Islam

The Church's response to Islam takes place on many levels. As individual Christians who live in free societies, it is not wrong, it is not un-Christlike, to be vigilant concerning the efforts of militant Islam to transform our societies into an Islamic culture and eventually into Islamic states. Western societies must be especially combative concerning attempts to introduce Sharia Law into its legal systems. (See two articles from Daniel Pipes, here and here, on this subject.) Nor is it wrong for Christians to support current military campaigns against the Taliban and Alqaeda in Afghanistan. Christians can agree or disagree on the current war, but some believe that the war could threaten the Christian witness to Muslims world-wide. I don't believe that we should abandon our military response to those who are dedicated to our destruction for the sake of Missionary strategy. (I will soon post an article on this subject.) We are citizens of this nation and have an obligation to support the government when it is acting the upon the President's oath before God to protect us from all enemies foreign and domestic.

Yet fear of militant Islam should not be the governing motivation in the Church's response to Islam. We need to remember that most Muslims do not support the violent tactics of Islamic militants. In fact, according to Keith Small, an American who has spent about sixteen years reaching out to Muslims in Britain, since 9/11, more Muslims than ever before have become disciples of Jesus Christ. These new brothers and sisters do not want to become members of a violent religion which brooks no intellectual challenge concerning its religious tenets. Here is a link to a talk given by Keith Small on reaching Muslims for Christ. His presentation concerns evangelizing Muslims in a university setting, but he gives many insights that could help us witness to Muslims in any setting. Those who wish to minister to Muslims through their local church will find this talk (running time 88 minutes) very helpful. In fact, as Small points out, group events, such as debates between Christians and Muslims, offer for some Muslims the only chance they may ever have to hear the Gospel and a challenge to Islam. Individual Muslims may fear seeking out answers to questions concerning Islam and Christianity on their own. The notes to this talk, included in this link, will direct you to resources to aid in reaching out to Muslims.

Certainly public forums are a legitimate venue for dialogue with Muslims. Rick Warren recently addressed a Muslim audience. It is a pity that audio for this talk cannot be found. He has come under fire for his speech because he did not make a formal presentation of the Gospel. Warren stated on his blog that before we can reach Muslims for Christ, we must show that on some issues we share common ground and can work together. The Church has been practicing this to some extent with other groups before Warren came along. Protestants and Catholics have fought together in the trenches against abortion. Christians and Mormons share the same concerns concerning this nation's moral slide. Warren cites I Cor. 9:19-23 as his Biblical mandate in engaging Muslims this way. Paul did become all things to all men to win them to the Gospel. Yet citing one passage, in the Living Bible, does not do full justice to Paul's outreach to those who did not worship Jesus. In Athens, Paul had to witness in an entirely different way than he had when he spoke before a Jewish audience. (Acts 17:22-34) In Athens, Paul had to deal with a polytheistic society who knew nothing of the one true God or the need for a Messiah and Redeemer. Yet even in this context, Paul did not neglect the message of repentance or the Resurrection. (Acts 17: 30-32) While Paul sought to be a servant to all men, he did not neglect to debate with those he was trying to reach. He spent two years in the School of Tyrannus debating and reasoning with those who challenged the Gospel. (Acts 19: 9-10) As Keith Small points out in his talk, debates between Christians and Muslims may be the only time the Gospel is presented to individual Muslims. Debates may be the only time a Muslim may hear a challenge to the tenets of Islam. Yes, dealing with issues of common concern between Muslims and Christians may be a legitimate Christian witnessing endeavor, yet Rick Warren needs to think a little more deeply concerning his theology and strategy of outreach to Muslims. (He needs to be wary of picking and choosing one verse in whatever translation fits what he is trying to say. I don't think the Living Bible's translation of ICor 9:19-23 is entirely true to the original message of the author.) Some Christians actually fasted during Ramadan. I have not yet given this any serious consideration whether this is a helpful strategy of outreach or whether it is a legitimate Christian witness. What do you think?

Whatever opportunity we may have to witness to Muslims, whether as individuals or in debating before an audience, Keith Small says that the most effective witness is to follow IITim 2: 24-26: "And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will." (NKJV) If through the Holy Spirit we can maintain our Christlike response, even under the most heated opposition, Muslims will respect that. And that respect can be the first step for Muslims to come to repentance and become disciples of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: " 'Fundamentalism' And The Word Of God" by J.I. Packer. Part IV

J.I. Packer's " 'Fundamentalism' And The Word Of God" has been the focus of the past few Friday evenings. Two chapters were read this past Friday: "Faith" and "Reason."

Faith: Having previously established Scripture as of divine origin and as the controlling authority in all matters of doctrine and conduct for the Christian, the next step is to receive this view by faith. (Packer only deals with the intellectual and cognitive aspects of faith here.) Faith conveys trust and the specific character of trust is defined by the object of our trust. One may trust in God, or man, or things. Yet the nature of trust in each case is different. Trust in God is unique because to trust in Him is to trust in the Creator who declares mercy to his creatures who have sinned against Him. The Bible speaks of faith in a two-fold manner: trusting in the words of God (God's truth) and trusting in the God who speaks them (God's person). The first is basic to the second; one must know something about God before one can know Him. Truth is fundamental to trust. While faith is more than belief in sound doctrine, for we are to believe in the person of Jesus Christ, faith is not any less than belief in sound doctrine. We trust Christ because of what Scripture says of Him is right. On what basis are articles of faith to be received? As of divine origin in the God who does not lie, according to Packer. He goes on to state:

"It is fundamental to the nature of faith to take God's word for things; acceptance in the authority of God is the biblical analysis of faith on its intellectual side. The first manifestation of faith is cognitive...". Whether the vehicle of truth is an apostle, a prophet, or Jesus Himself, that truth is the divine utterance of God. "Faith apprehends their testimony to God as being God's own testimony to Himself, and receives and responds to it as such."

The ground of faith then is Man's recognition of God's Word for what it is. But how does sinful man achieve such recognition? It is the work of the Holy Spirit to enlighten us concerning God's self disclosure. This illumination occurs, according to Packer, only in conjunction with the reading or hearing of God's Word. Only in such a context is faith born. Faith begins as an acceptance of the Word's articles of faith as truths of divine origin. Packer states:

"The evangelical certainty of the trustworthiness and authority of Scripture is of exactly the same sort, and rests on exactly the same basis, as the Church's certainty of the Trinity, or the incarnation, or any other catholic doctrine. God has declared it; Scripture embodies it, the Spirit exhibits it to believers, and they humbly receive it, as they are bound to do."

The birth of faith as Packer describes it lines up with my own experience. However, Packer maintains that after the cannon of Scripture was completed, there are no more direct revelations from God. What does he say concerning the testimonies of third world Christians who had little or no Christian witness and no access to Scripture yet claimed to have received visions from God commanding acceptance of the Gospel?

Packer ends the chapter with a quote from Calvin: "Whenever we are troubled at the small number of those who believe, let us counter that by calling to mind that none grasp the mysteries of God save those to whom it has been given." Packer is a Calvinist and no doubt Calvin's theology of predestination has influenced his thinking. Yet the truth of Packer's overall thesis concerning the divine revelation of Scripture, its infallibility and inerrancy, transcends theological systems. Some on the Wesleyan side would claim that inerrancy is a Calvinist notion born during the Fundamentalist/Modernist conflict. Some would like to cast the debate in such terms as Calvinism v. Wesleyan Arminianism, but such a framing of the issue has no intellectual validity.

Reason: Those who disagree with Packer claim that what he proposes concerning the divine origin of Scripture flies in the face of modern scholarship. To agree with Packer is to bury one's head in the sand. Instead, Packer's critics would say, the truth must be faced and Scripture must be approached with an open mind free of bias. Packer contends that these critics are the ones who fail to honor reason by not approaching Scripture with Christian reason. By denying what the Bible claims about itself, these critics reveal their own bias and discourage Christians from using their minds in conjunction with their faith. Christian reason is part of faith and to exercise it does homage to God. According to Packer, the proper relationship between Christian reason and faith is three-fold:
1. Reason is to receive the teachings of God as a little child. Then the Church and individual Christians, aided by the Holy Spirit, must think through the various strands of teaching in relationship to each other, as the Scripture teaches. Any critical approach to Scripture must appreciate it as it is, God's truth in writing. "The only biblical criticism which they can consistently regard as valid is that which takes as its starting point the Bible's account of itself."
2. Reason is to apply the teaching of God's Word to life. Christians must seek constructive relationships with other branches of knowledge and interests, working out what Scripture teaches in all aspects of ordinary life, whether we are contemplating moral, social, personal, political,or aesthetic concerns. Christians have failed to do this in the past, according to Packer, for three reasons: an overly individualistic preoccupation with personal salvation, an aggressive anti Christian attitude among secular intellectuals and an anti intellectualism within the Church which puts more emphasis on feeling right than thinking right. In fact, Christians have learned to compartmentalize; they separate their secular life from their religious one. Packer proclaims this to be an aspect of the ancient heresy Manicheism, which declares that only the spiritual is good, the material world is evil.
3. Reason is then to apply God's truth to others. Packer states: "Faith is not created by reasoning, but neither is it created without it." God created Scripture within an ancient Eastern environment and ancient Eastern thought forms. Scripture has to be translated into modern terms before modern men can grasp it. But we must remember that we are to present Scripture in modern terms, not present modern concepts in Scriptural terms. Our presentations of Scripture cannot be done on a rationalistic basis alone. Evangelicals dissent from modern Literary Criticism of the Bible not because they are willingly ignorant of its conclusions but because Evangelicals recognize its methods as illegitimate. They reject the attitudes that newer must be truer, the old is out of date, change is always progress and Evangelicals refuse to deny what Christ Himself has proclaimed concerning Scripture because the tenets of Literary Criticism are sacred cows. The Bible teaches a positive doctrine concerning the divine origin of Scripture and Christ incorporates that doctrine into His teaching.

I should finish " 'Fundamentalism' And The Word of God" this next Friday evening.

Friday, September 4, 2009

This Is Sad. Blog Post #250

A new study has been released concluding that majoring in the Humanities or Liberal Arts poses a greater threat to the religious faith of college students than majoring in the Sciences. It appears that the current postmodern philosophy touted in many Liberal Arts programs overwhelms the faith of many students, teaching them that there is no such thing as absolute truth. This is particularly sad to me when I consider that God used the study of history and literature to prepare my mind to accept the Gospel.

Many consider the study of the Humanities to be an impractical pursuit in this day and age. Here is the text of a speech reminding us just how valuable the study of the Humanities is.

Around The World

Remember the South Korean hostage crises? Last year a group of South Koreans went on a thirty day mission of mercy in Afghanistan. They were kidnapped by the Taliban and held for ransom. Two of the Koreans were executed before the rest were released. (See the link below for posts on this blog covering the crises.) The government of South Korea, in response, has been considering a ban on all missionary activity in the entire Middle East.

Here is an article dealing with the disturbing news that Vladimir Putin is enlisting the aid of the Russian Orthodox Church in cementing his power. It looks like the price for giving the Orthodox Church power in Russia is the suppression of all other forms of religion, including all other branches of the Christian faith.

Brazil is considering a ban on the public display of religious symbols.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: " 'Fundamentalism' And The Word Of God" by J.I. Packer. Part III

The fourth chapter of " 'Fundamentalism' and the Word of God" by J.I. Packer is quite packed with important insights concerning the concepts of infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. Even though Packer wrote this in 1958, what he writes on these subjects is still relevant today. Packer was responding to the arguments put forth by the Liberal Tradition of Christianity concerning the Divine nature of the Word of God and its authority in matters of doctrine and conduct. Today there are those who claim to be within the Evangelical tradition who put forth some of the same arguments in slightly different language.

After having established the authority of Scripture for the Christian in the previous chapter, Packer encourages us to appeal to Scripture for Scripture's own attitude towards itself, Scripture's own way of approaching its contents. The sole test for correct doctrine concerning the Word of God is does such doctrine line up with the way the Bible itself presents the doctrine of Scripture? "Scripture itself is alone competent to judge our doctrine of scripture" writes Packer. Packer examines the Bible's own view on the following three issues in assessing the correctness of a doctrine of Scripture: 1. The Divine origin of Scripture, 2. Scripture's nature as the Word of God and 3. How Scripture is to be interpreted.

1. The Divine Origin of Scripture: Packer points us to 2Tim 3:16, which teaches that all Scripture is of Divine origin. The Greek word for inspiration Paul used in this passage is "theopneustos" which means in the AV, "given by inspiration of God." In reference to Scripture, the noun "inspired" can be used in two different ways: first it can be defined passively, referring to the "inspiredness" of Scripture. Or it could be defined this way according to Packer: "...the supernatural, providential influence of God's Holy Spirit upon the human authors which caused them to write what he wished to be written for the communication of revealed truth to others." Human writers were used as a means to an end, but which actually terminated, not on them, but on what they wrote. These writers were predestined human vehicles of inspiration performing their tasks mainly through their own human abilities. They did not always know that they were writing cannon. Luke wrote his gospel because it seemed good to him at the time and what he wrote was the result of his first hand historical research. This view has been mistakenly referred to as dictation, that the mental activity of the writers was suspended as God dictated every single word, every punctuation mark. As Packer points out, no major Protestant theologian has ever endorsed such a theory. This view is still ascribed to Evangelicals by those opposed to the use of the words "inerrent and infallible" in describing Scripture. The writing of Scripture was not a process of dictation but one of what Packer calls "accommodation": "God completely adapted His inspiring activity to the cast of mind, outlook, temperament, interests, literary habits and stylistic idiosyncrasies of each writer." God's acting upon the activities and personalities of the writers can be labeled as "concursive"; God's influence is exercised in, through and by means of the writers own activity in such a way that their actions were spontaneous and free while being divinely controlled. The result was not just the fruit of their own labor, but the work of God as well. Some would assert that this means that the Word of God was tainted by the thought of sinful men so that the entire Word was not uncorrupted by human imperfection. Those who hold this view believe that free man and the actions of God are mutually exclusive. This view is deistic, viewing God as powerless to protect His Word from corruption.

2. The Nature of Scripture: The Word of God is a real unity, a single book with a single author, God the Spirit. The New Testament writers referred to the Old Testament writings as either graphe (Scripture), or hai graphai (the Scriptures). Both words convey a complete single document set apart from all others by its divine origin. It has a single theme: God the Son and the Father's saving purposes which all revolve around the Son. Packer expresses the matter this way: "Our Lord is therefore the key to Scripture, and its focal centre; there is a sense in which all bears witness of Him, and in this common reference the heterogeneous contents of the Bible find their unity." Not all passages speak of Christ in the same way, but no part of Scripture is without reference to Him or can be understood apart from Him.

God's Word is a propositional revelation. Liberal Christianity views God's revelation as one of Divine actions, not one of revealed truths. These actions, Liberals say, were written down for us by reliable but fallible men. What they wrote, according to Liberals, is not a final source for theology, doctrine and practice. Yet that is not the case. Without God revealing doctrinal truth to Man, Man would have no understanding of God's purpose for Christ's mission. Therefore in giving us a gospel explaining His actions, God acted in a redemptive matter on our behalf. Without written truth, there could be no obedience to God on our part.

Now we come to consider the words which many ascribe to Scripture: infallibility and inerrancy. While both words have a long pedigree, there is no recognized precise meaning among Christians for these words anymore. While according to Packer these words are not essential to expressing the Evangelical view of Scripture, it does not necessarily follow that these words should be dropped from Evangelical vocabulary. The word infallible as used by those who first applied it to Scripture means "never deceiving, never misleading, and so is wholly trustworthy, reliable." Inerrant means "wholly true." Packer explains: "Scripture is termed infallible and inerrant to express the conviction that all its teaching is the utterance of God 'who cannot lie' (Titus 1:2), whose word, once spoken, abides forever (1Pet. 1:23-25 and Ps 119:84) and that therefore it may be trusted implicitly." God's Word is infallible because God himself is infallible. The infallibility of Scripture is simply the infallibility of God speaking. What Scripture asserts in its entirety is to be received as the infallible Word of the infallible God. To assert biblical infallibility and inerrancy is to confess faith in the divine origin of the Bible and the truthfulness and trustworthiness of God. "The value of these terms," Packer tells us, "is that they conserve the principle of biblical authority; for statements that are not absolutely true and reliable could not be absolutely authoritative." To ascribe to Scripture infallibility and inerrancy does not extend these terms to cover interpretations and teachings from Scripture. Nor does the doctrine of infallibility and inerrancy prejudge what Scripture says. Nor does such a doctrine ignore the various genres of Scripture and the principles required in interpreting truth written in these different genres. Nor is the doctrine of infallibility and inerrancy of recent vintage. The Reformers asserted this doctrine in response to the over-allegorical interpretation of the Bible practiced in the Middle Ages. The Fundamentalists asserted this doctrine in the face of the attack upon the Bible's divine origin and truthfulness which has its roots in literary criticism. This doctrine does not have its roots in Enlightenment thought, which some today assert, even in Evangelical circles.

3. The Interpretation of Scripture: In rightly interpreting Scripture, each passage must first be analyzed in its immediate context. Then we must determine the meaning of a passage in the context of its position within the book. Then we examine the passage in the context of the Bible as a whole. To interpret Scripture literally is to interpret a passage using the accepted rules of grammar/discourse and the passages place in history. Literalistic interpretation is not being literal. While we must respect the place of symbolism in the Scriptures, we must also protest the imposition of inappropriate literary categories upon Scripture that Literary Criticism of the Bible encourages. The inability to harmonize all Scripture is no grounds for rejecting Scripture as God's Word. It is in the nature of faith to believe on God's authority truths which cannot be rationally demonstrated or exhaustively understood. To grasp spiritual truth requires spiritual receptiveness. In other words, we need the Holy Spirit to reveal the truths contained in Scripture. More than a century of Literary Criticism has thrown some light on the human side of the Bible. But has it given us a clearer understanding of Scripture's message than was possessed by the Reformers or the the leaders of the 18th Century Evangelical revivals? Packer is doubtful.

I think that two more posts will be needed to cover the rest of the book.