Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

New poll reveals where evangelicals diverge from orthodox Christian theology

Got this Christianity Today article from my friend Eric Chabot, who blogs at Think Apologetics.

Excerpt:

A survey released today by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries “reveals a significant level of theological confusion,” said Stephen Nichols, Ligonier’s chief academic officer. Many evangelicals do not have orthodox views about either God or humans, especially on questions of salvation and the Holy Spirit, he said.

Evangelicals did score high on several points. Nearly all believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead (96%), and that salvation is found through Jesus alone (92%). Strong majorities said that God is sovereign over all people (89%) and that the Bible is the Word of God (88%).

And now the bad parts:

Almost all evangelicals say they believe in the Trinity (96%) and that Jesus is fully human and fully divine (88%).

But nearly a quarter (22%) said God the Father is more divine than Jesus, and 9 percent weren’t sure. Further, 16 percent say Jesus was the first creature created by God, while 11 percent were unsure.

If that’s a problem for you, then read this post from Come Reason.

More badness from the original article:

But if evangelicals sometime misunderstand doctrines about Jesus, the third member of the Trinity has it much worse. More than half (51%) said the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being. Seven percent weren’t sure, while only 42 percent affirmed that the Spirit is a person.

And 9 percent said the Holy Spirit is less divine than God the Father and Jesus. The same percentage answered “not sure.”

Like Arianism, confusion over the nature and identity of the Spirit dates to the early church. During the latter half of the fourth century, sects like Semi-Arians and Pneumatomachi (Greek for “Spirit fighters”) believed “in the Holy Spirit”—as the First Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) taught—but said the Spirit was of a different essence from the Father and the Son. Some said the Spirit was a creature, and others understood the Spirit to be a force or power, not a person of the Trinity.

At Constantinople, 150 bishops assembled to discuss these heresies, among other issues, and affirmed that “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have a single Godhead and power and substance, a dignity deserving the same honor and a co-eternal sovereignty, in three most perfect hypostases, or three perfect persons.” Affirming the full divinity and personhood of the Holy Spirit, the church ruled out Semi-Arianism and Pneumatomachianism.

Here’s another:

Human nature and salvation were other areas of confusion for respondents. Two out of three (68%) said that a person obtains peace with God by seeking God first, and then God responds with grace. A similar percentage (67%) said people have the ability to turn to God on the own initiative. Yet half (54%) also think salvation begins with God acting first. So which is it?

In the fifth century, a British monk named Pelagius reportedly argued that people can choose God by the strength of their own will. Adam’s sin, he taught, did not sabotage human freedom, so we still have the ability to choose and follow God by the strength of our will.

His school of thought, known as Pelagianism, was denounced at the Council of Carthage in 418 and later at the Council of Ephesus in 431. A variation, known as Semipelagianism, cropped up shortly thereafter, affirming original sin but teaching that humans take the initiative in salvation. The Council of Orange in 529 rejected Semipelagianism as heretical, maintaining that faith is a gift of God’s grace and does not originate in ourselves.

More than half of survey participants (55%) said people have to contribute to their own salvation. This, however, is a debated issue. Some Christians—such as Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and certain Protestants—believe humans cooperate with God’s grace in salvation. Others believe our efforts can contribute nothing, though a response to God’s grace is a necessary element of conversion. Nevertheless, historic Christian teaching in all branches maintains that whatever role humans play is ultimately inspired by the work of God’s Spirit.

My view is “our efforts can contribute nothing, though a response to God’s grace is a necessary element of conversion”. Nobody desires God, but if we reject his drawing of us to him, in whatever form that takes, we are responsible. That’s my view, anyway!

Go take a look at the article and see if you commit any of the heresies.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , ,

J. Warner Wallace: important differences between Christianity and Mormonism

Here’s a podcast featuring J. Warner Wallace. This is an after action report from Wallace’s recent missions trip to Utah to evangelize Mormons.

The MP3 file is here. (74 minutes)

Topics:

  • Mormons disagree with Christians about the nature of God, Jesus and salvation
  • The differences are so dramatic that the two religions are completely different views
  • Mormons try to portray themselves as a denomination of Christianity
  • The Utah missions trip: how Christians were trained to engage with Mormons
  • Mormonism is a works-based religion – you earn your way to eternal life by doing works
  • In Christianity, eternal life is a free gift from God to anyone who accepts Jesus as their leader and redeemer
  • Mormons believe that doctrines can change from generation to generation (progressive revelation)
  • Mormons commonly make the case for a works-based theology by appealing to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
  • Mormons believe that you have to be perfect in order to get “exalted” eternal life
  • Christians are perfect because Jesus has paid the price of our rebellion against God
  • Christians: Jesus’ sacrifice pays for anything evil that we have done and could do
  • Christians are made perfect because Jesus’ perfection is applied to them
  • Christians are not practically perfect, but they are perfect by accepting that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross
  • God credits righteousness to Christians because Jesus has already died to pay off the punishment for their sins
  • The good works that Christians do are a voluntary response to this free gift of salvation
  • The good works do not secure a Christian’s salvation, they are the natural outworking of accepting the gift of salvation
  • The Mormon view of the afterlife is different from the Christian view
  • The best Mormon afterlife (“exaltation”) requires continued righteousness to the end of one’s natural life
  • This is not compatible with Christian teaching about salvation being by grace and not by doing good works (Gal 3:10-14)
  • Mormons can never know whether they are saved or not until the day they die
  • Christians can be sure of their salvation from the moment they accept Jesus as their leader and redeemer
  • The Bible is clear that we can know whether we are saved or not (John 5:9-14)
  • It is inconsistent for Mormons to claim to be Christians and then try to convert Christians to Mormonism
  • The reason why Mormons go door to door is because they think Christians are wrong
  • The Mormon view of Jesus is nothing like the Christian view of Christ (from the Bible)
  • Mormonism is polytheistic, whereas Christianity is monotheistic
  • Mormon “gods” are just beings who have a human nature who were “exalted” for doing good works
  • When debating Mormons, they will try to argue that Mormonism is true because it results in good works
  • The Biblical standard for a good prophet is to see whether his prophecies come true
  • The Mormon view is that Joseph Smith is reliable because he did good works
  • But good works are not a good way to test truth claims – a person could be “good” and still say false things
  • A good question to ask Mormons: is the Book of Mormon ancient? It claims to be ancient, but is it?
  • They may try to answer this question by appealing to fideism: praying for confirmation by burning bosom
  • But this is not a question that can be assessed by subjective feelings (just pray about it)
  • This is a question that needs to be assessed by historians using historical evidence
  • There is no historical or archaeological support for the claims in the Book of Mormon
  • In contrast, we have direct eyewitness testimony about the life of Jesus in the New Testament
  • We have fragments of NT manuscripts dating back to first century so we know that the New Testament is ancient

You can find lots more awesome J. Warner Wallace podcasts here. Also, I know a secret – his new book is coming along well, and he actually posted a picture of all the books he read preparing for it on Facebook. It’s a lot! The title is “God’s crime scene”.

Previously, I posted my refutation of Mormonism which used two evidential arguments. And J.W. Wartick has posted two philosophical arguments against Mormonism as well.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

J. Warner Wallace: 10 important questions for Jehovah’s witnesses

So there’s this group of people called Jehovah’s Witnesses that use Christian language to describe a religion that denies key parts of the Christian worldview. Since you may might them knocking on your door to tell you about their worldview, it might be worth it to read this post from J. Warner Wallace over in advance.

I’ll just post a snip of the first I use when they come to my door. It’s also the first on Wallace’s list:

If I am to accept the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witness religion, I am first going to have to trust the source of this teaching. But how can I trust someone who claims to speak for God when they have been wrong about prior predictions?

There are a number of false predictions made either by Charles Russell, subsequent leaders of the church or the Watchtower Organization itself, including this limited sampling:

1886 The Millennial Reign Has Already Begun “The outward evidences are that the marshalling of the hosts for the battle of the great day of God almighty, is in progress while the skirmishing is commencing.” (Watchtower reprints 1, page 817 January 1886)

1897 The Millennial Reign Began in 1874 “ Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present, since October 1874” (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 4, page 621)

1899 The Times Described in Revelation 16 Have Begun “…the ‘battle of the great day of God Almighty’ (Revelation 16:14), which will end in A.D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth’s present rulership, is already commenced.” (The Time Is at Hand, page 101 – 1908 edition)

1916 The Millennial Reign Began in 1873 “The Bible chronology herein presented shows that the six great 1000 year days beginning with Adam are ended, and that the great 7th Day, the 1000 years of Christ’s Reign, began in 1873.” (The Time Is at Hand, page ii)

1917 Armageddon Has Begun “The present great war in Europe is the beginning of the Armageddon of the scriptures.” (Pastor Russell’s Sermons, 1917, page 676)

1918 The Saints Will Be Resurrected in 1925 “Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews 11, to the condition of human perfection.” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, page 89)

“1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies…We are standing at the very portals of that blessed time!” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, page 105)

1922 Jesus Will Return in 1925 “The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures than 1914.” (The Watchtower, September 1st, 1922, page 262)

1923 Jesus Will Return in 1925 “Our thought is that 1925 is definitely settled by the Scriptures. As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith than Noah had upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge.” (The Watchtower, April 1st, 1923, page 106)

1925 Jesus May Return in 1925 “The year 1925 is here. With great expectation Christians have looked forward to this year. Many have confidently expected that all members of the body of Christ will be changed to heavenly glory during this year. This may be accomplished. It may not be. In his own due time God will accomplish his purposes concerning his people. Christians should not be so deeply concerned about what may transpire this year.” (The Watchtower, January 1st, 1925, page 3)

1940 Armageddon is Eminent Within the Year “The year 1940 is certain to be the most important year yet, because Armageddon is very near.” (Informant, May 1940)

1941 Jesus Will Return in Months “Receiving the gift, the marching children clasped it to them, not a toy or plaything for idle pleasure, but the Lord’s provided instrument for most effective work in the remaining months before Armageddon.” (The Watchtower, September 15th, 1941, page 288)

1946 Armageddon is “At the Door” “…the disaster of Armageddon, greater than that which befell Sodom and Gomorrah, is at the door.” (Let God be True, 1946, page 194)

1968 Jesus Will Return in 1975 “Why are you looking forward to 1975?” (The Watchtower, August 15th, 1968, page 494)

“Just think , brothers, there is only 90 months left before 6000 years of mans existence on earth is completed… the majority of people living today will probably be alive when Armageddon breaks out.” (Kingdom Mystery, March 1968, page 4)

This is the quickest way to see why you should not convert to their organization. In the Bible, it’s a serious crime to make a prediction about the future and then have it not come true. It’s actually a capital offense, and it’s something that “false prophets” do. But it happens all the time with JWs. Just remind them of this and say “I cannot be affiliated with any organization that fails to get their truth claims right over and over again, because it shows me clearly that they don’t speak for God”.

Wallace actually has the quote from the Bible in his point 3:

Deuteronomy 18:20-22:

20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’

21 You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’

22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

The other one I use is John 1:1, which Wallace’s first point under the “Biblical Questions” heading.

If you want a longer treatment of this topic, check out Michael Licona’s PDF document on Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , ,

William Lane Craig lectures on failure in the Christian life

I found this audio on Brian Auten’s Apologetics 315 web site.

Here is the MP3 file.

And here is my summary.

Intro:

  • the topic of failure is not one that is often discussed by Christians
  • failure #1: failure in the Christian life which is the result of sin
  • failure #2: when a Christian is defeated while trying to serve God
  • the consequences for failure #1 can be worse for the Christian
  • the consequences for failure #2 can be worse for the world as whole
  • how is it possible for a person to fail when they are obeying God? (#2)
  • how can it be that God can call someone to a task then let them fail?
  • failure is not persecution – persecution is normal for Christians
  • failure is not trials – testing is normal for Christians to grow

Bill’s failure:

  • Bill had submitted all the coursework for his second doctoral degree
  • but he had to pass a comprehensive oral examination
  • he failed to pass the comprehensive exam
  • Bill and Jan and his supporters had all prayed for him to pass
  • how could God allow this to happen?

Solution to the problem:

  • God’s will for us may be that we fail at the things we try in life
  • there are things that God may teach us through failure
  • Bill learned that human relationships are more important than careers
  • we need to realize that “success” in life is not worldly success
  • true success is getting to know God well during your life
  • and failure may be the best way to get to know God well
  • it may even be possible to fail to know God while achieving a lot
  • the real measure of a man is loving God and loving your fellow man

Practical:

  • give thanks to God regardless of your circumstances
  • try to learn from your failure
  • never give up

The ending of Bill’s story:

  • Bill spent an entire year preparing for a re-take of his exam
  • Bill was awarded his second doctorate “magna cum laude” (with great distinction)
  • Bill learned that American students are not well prepared for exams
  • the year of studying remedied his inadequate American education
  • in retrospect, he is thankful for the failure – he learned more

If you like this, you should pick up Craig’s book “Hard Questions, Real Answers“, which has a chapter on this problem. And here is a similar lecture that Dr. Craig gave at his home church in Atlanta on the same topic. I’m not posting this because I’ve had a catastrophic failure or anything. But I think in this economy, I am seeing a lot of my plans dashed and I am being forced to circle the wagons a little and take fewer risks. I am being forced to aim for smaller goals, and plan for future difficulties. It does bother me that I can’t comfortably take risks to achieve the best goals that I want to achieve. But I have to play the hand I’m dealt, and do what looks doable right now. Some of my friends are having the same problem of having to recalculate what is probable and what is possible.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What does the Bible say about capital punishment?

Note: This post has a twin post which talks about the evidence against capital punishment from science.

First, let’s take a look at what the Bible says in general about capital punishment, using this lecture featuring eminent theologian Wayne Grudem.

About Wayne Grudem:

Grudem holds a BA from Harvard University, a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. In 2001, Grudem became Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary. Prior to that, he had taught for 20 years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he was chairman of the department of Biblical and Systematic Theology.

Grudem served on the committee overseeing the English Standard Version translation of the Bible, and in 1999 he was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is a co-founder and past president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is the author of, among other books, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, which advocates a Calvinistic soteriology, the verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the body-soul dichotomy in the nature of man, and the complementarian (rather than egalitarian) view of gender equality.

The MP3 file is here.

A PDF sermon outline is here.

Topics:

  • what kinds of crimes might require CP?
  • what did God say to Noah about CP?
  • what does it mean that man is made in the image of God?
  • is CP just about taking revenge?
  • what does CP say about the value of human life?
  • does CP apply to animals, too?
  • could the statements supporting CP be understood as symbolic?
  • one purpose of CP is to protecting the public
  • another purpose of CP is to deter further wrongdoing
  • but the Biblical purpose of CP is to achieve justice by retribution
  • does the Pope make a good argument against CP?
  • what is the role of civil government in achieving retribution?
  • do people in Heaven who are sinless desire God to judge sinners?
  • should crimes involving property alone be subject to CP?
  • is the Mosaic law relevant for deciding which crimes are capital today?
  • should violent crimes where no one dies be subject to CP?
  • is CP widespread in the world? why or why not?
  • what are some objections to CP from the Bible?
  • how do you respond to those objections to CP?
  • should civil government also turn the other cheek for all crimes?
  • what is the “whole life ethic” and is it Biblical?
  • what do academic studies show about the deterrence effect of CP?
  • how often have innocent people been executed in the USA?
  • should there be a higher burden of proof for CP convictions?

You can find more talks by Wayne Grudem here.

What about the woman caught in adultery?

Some people like to bring up the woman caught in adultery as proof that Jesus opposed capital punishment. But that passage of the Bible was added much later after the canon was decided.

Daniel B. Wallace is an eminent New Testament scholar who also teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary, an extremely conservative seminary.

About Dr. Wallace:

Dr. Daniel B. Wallace

  • Professor of New Testament Studies
  • B.A., Biola University, 1975; Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979; Ph.D., 1995.

Dr. Wallace influences students across the country through his textbook on intermediate Greek grammar. It is used in more than two-thirds of the nation’s schools that teach that subject. He is the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible and coeditor of the NET-Nestle Greek-English diglot. Recently his scholarship has shifted from syntactical and text-critical issues to more specific work in John, Mark, and nascent Christology. However he still works extensively in textual criticism, and has founded The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, an institute with an initial purpose to preserve Scripture by taking digital photographs of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts. His postdoctoral work includes work on Greek grammar at Tyndale House in Cambridge and textual criticism studies at the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster.

And Dr. Wallace writes about the passage in John on Bible.org.

Excerpt:

One hundred and forty years ago, conservative biblical scholar and Dean of Canterbury, Henry Alford, advocated a new translation to replace the King James Bible. One of his reasons was the inferior textual basis of the KJV. Alford argued that “a translator of Holy Scripture must be…ready to sacrifice the choicest text, and the plainest proof of doctrine, if the words are not those of what he is constrained in his conscience to receive as God’s testimony.” He was speaking about the Trinitarian formula found in the KJV rendering of 1 John 5:7–8. Twenty years later, two Cambridge scholars came to the firm conclusion that John 7:53–8:11 also was not part of the original text of scripture. But Westcott and Hort’s view has not had nearly the impact that Alford’s did.

For a long time, biblical scholars have recognized the poor textual credentials of the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11). The evidence against its authenticity is overwhelming: The earliest manuscripts with substantial portions of John’s Gospel (P66 and P75) lack these verses. They skip from John 7:52 to 8:12. The oldest large codices of the Bible also lack these verses: codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both from the fourth century, are normally considered to be the most important biblical manuscripts of the NT extant today. Neither of them has these verses. Codex Alexandrinus, from the fifth century, lacks several leaves in the middle of John. But because of the consistency of the letter size, width of lines, and lines per page, the evidence is conclusive that this manuscript also lacked the pericope adulterae. Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, also from the fifth century, apparently lacked these verses as well (it is similar to Alexandrinus in that some leaves are missing).The earliest extant manuscript to have these verses is codex Bezae, an eccentric text once in the possession of Theodore Beza. He gave this manuscript to the University of Cambridge in 1581 as a gift, telling the school that he was confident that the scholars there would be able to figure out its significance. He washed his hands of the document. Bezae is indeed the most eccentric NT manuscript extant today, yet it is the chief representative of the Western text-type (the text-form that became dominant in Rome and the Latin West).

When P66, P75, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus agree, their combined testimony is overwhelmingly strong that a particular reading is not authentic. But it is not only the early Greek manuscripts that lack this text. The great majority of Greek manuscripts through the first eight centuries lack this pericope. And except for Bezae (or codex D), virtually all of the most important Greek witnesses through the first eight centuries do not have the verses. Of the three most important early versions of the New Testament (Coptic, Latin, Syriac), two of them lack the story in their earliest and best witnesses. The Latin alone has the story in its best early witnesses.

[...]It is an important point to note that although the story of the woman caught in adultery is found in most of our printed Bibles today, the evidence suggests that the majority of Bibles during the first eight centuries of the Christian faith did not contain the story. Externally, most scholars would say that the evidence for it not being an authentic part of John’s Gospel is rock solid.But textual criticism is not based on external evidence alone; there is also the internal evidence to consider. This is comprised of two parts: intrinsic evidence has to do with what an author is likely to have written; transcriptional evidence has to do with how and why a scribe would have changed the text.

Intrinsically, the vocabulary, syntax, and style look far more like Luke than they do John. There is almost nothing in these twelve verses that has a Johannine flavor. And transcriptionally, scribes were almost always prone to add material rather than omit it—especially a big block of text such as this, rich in its description of Jesus’ mercy. One of the remarkable things about this passage, in fact, is that it is found in multiple locations. Most manuscripts that have it place it in its now traditional location: between John 7:52 and 8:12. But an entire family of manuscripts has the passage at the end of Luke 21, while another family places it at the end of John’s Gospel. Other manuscripts place it at the end of Luke or in various places in John 7.

The pericope adulterae has all the earmarks of a pericope that was looking for a home. It took up permanent residence, in the ninth century, in the middle of the fourth gospel.

As this debate between Peter Williams and Bart Ehrman shows, there are only TWO disputed passages in the entire NT that are theologically significant. The long ending of Mark and this adultery passage. A good case can be made for the long ending of Mark, but it’s best not to assume it in a debate. The adultery passage is practically impossible to defend as authentic. Dr. Wallace talks about both passages in this Parchment & Pen article. Wallace has also debated Bart Ehrman in the Greer-Heard Forum. What that debate showed is that the New Testament text is actually quite reliable except for those two passages, but it’s important to be honest about the two places that are not well supported.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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