Sola Scriptura, the Canon, and Rome

Do we need an infallible church to tell us what is in the Canon of Scripture? Is Scripture alone a sufficient final authority in matters of life and faith? Is sola scriptura even biblical, or do we need to give equal weight to authoritative church tradition? These questions are tackled in an unmissable discussion between Dr. James White and Dr. Michael Kruger, President and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, North Carolina. Dr. White writes:

Our visit was prompted by a phone call made by a Lutheran to Catholic Answers Live back on 10/31/13. We played the entire call before the program started, and we played the heart of the call, where the Roman Catholic priest made the key assertions about canon and scriptural authority, during the interview with Dr. Kruger. We covered a wide variety of topics relevant to the canon issue. Truly one of the most useful programs we’ve ever done! Enjoy and learn!

Audio and video of the discussion are available on the Alpha and Omega Ministries website. Dr. Kruger’s introduction to the discussion on his Canon Fodder website is also well worth reading.

Historians are not infallible

Paster Gervase Charmley has written two short articles pertinent to the recent debate between Dr. James White and Chris Pinto on the authenticity of Codex Sinaiticus, an important fourth century Bible manuscript:

In case you missed it, here is the debate:

LCMS Theology Commission: Avoid NIV 2011

The Cyberbrethren blog reports that the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relation’s executive staff has warned against the 2011 version of the New International Version translation of the Bible. The NIV 2011 replaces the previous and widely used 1984 edition.

The four-page statement of opinion from the CTCR staff (PDF) outlines their concern with the use of gender-inclusive language in the NIV 2011. One of the examples discussed is Psalm 8:4–5:

Psalm 8:4-5 in NIV 2011 reads: “What is mankind [collective noun substitution for “man”] that you are mindful of them [plural substitution for “him”], Human beings [plural noun substitution for “son of man”] that you care for them [plural substitution for “him”]? You have made them [plural substitution for “him”] a little lower than the angels and crowned them [plural substitution for “him”] with glory and honor.”

Once again, the rationale for the translation changes seems to be the desire to emphasize a universal truth about all humanity—that humankind has received glory and honor as the crown of creation. The translation decisions, however, obfuscate other things. First, and most importantly, the decision to use plurals here vitiates the Messianic meaning of this psalm, its particular application to Christ. Hebrews 2:5-9 quotes Ps 8:4-5 and notes that these verses testify to our Lord Jesus. He is the Man to whom the Lord gives all glory and honor; the Son of Man to whom all creation is subject. He is the One who exceeds the angels in glory and honor, even though he was made to be lower than them for our salvation.

Second, we should note that the substitution of a generic term like “human being” or “human beings” for “son of man” (a consistent pattern in NIV 2011), impoverishes the understanding of “Son of Man” as the self-designation our Lord uses throughout the Gospels. Jesus uses a term (a particular idiom, “son of man”) from the Old Testament that indicates full humanity and refers it to himself. This is of great importance, especially when it is seen in the light of Daniel 7:13-14. There that same term, “son of man,” is used in a prophecy of our Savior’s incarnation, where “one like a son of man” is “given dominion and glory and a kingdom” in which all nations are included under a rule that shall never be destroyed.

The statement, which is worth reading in its entirety, concludes:

Given the significance of this issue and these examples, we find the NIV’s Committee on Bible Translation decision to substitute plural nouns and pronouns for masculine singular nouns and pronouns to be a serious theological weakness and a misguided attempt to make the truth of God’s Word more easily understood. The use of inclusive language in NIV 2011 creates the potential for minimizing the particularity of biblical revelation and, more seriously, at times undermines the saving revelation of Christ as the promised Savior of humankind. Pastors and congregations of the LCMS should be aware of this serious weakness. In our judgment this makes it inappropriate for NIV 2011 to be used as a lectionary Bible or as a Bible to be generally recommended to the laity of our church. This is not a judgment on the entirety of NIV 2011 as a translation—a task that would require a much more extensive study of NIV 2011—but an opinion as to a specific editorial decision which has serious theological implications.

How to hear the voice of God

We all want to hear from God. Now you can share the secret closely guarded by our forebears in the faith. This simple yet ancient formula will enable you to experience the voice of God speaking directly into your life:

  1. Get hold of a reliable translation of the Bible, such as the NKJV or the ESV. (Sorry, no, The Message doesn’t work for this spiritual discipline.)
  2. Open it.
  3. Read.

Some preliminary musings on sanctification

In this post: Introduction; What is sanctification? The essential difference between justification and sanctification; The relation of justification to sanctification; Whose work is sanctification?; Through what means does God work sanctification in us?; Parting thoughts

In response to my post of Dr. Rosenbladt’s refreshing presentation, The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church, both Charisse and Jason weighed-in on the topic of sanctification. I greatly appreciate thoughtful comments like theirs, and I read them all with care and interest. I respond here with some initial thoughts.

I have been observing some of the wider debate on sanctification that has recently been occurring.

I say ‘debate’, but some of what I have been seeing has been, regrettably, outright and uncharitable hostility towards those of us who would argue that sanctification is God’s work in the life of the believer, rooted in the Gospel, and causing us to produce fruit. Careless (and certainly, as far as I can see, unwarranted) accusations of antinomianism have been thrown around by some, though there have been many other, more honourable, voices also engaged in the discussion. I wish all were as measured in their comments as are Jason and Charisse.

I have been forcing myself to read some blog posts that I find intensely frustrating, as I want to be sure that I am properly grasping the nuances of the opposition’s position and understand their arguments. I am inclined to suspect that much of the heat is the result of various misunderstandings of what other people are actually intending to say, and perhaps a fair degree of people talking past each other by using identical terminology to mean different things. Which is not to say that there are not also important differences of substance at play here – there most certainly are.

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Why do so many Christians love C.S. Lewis?

C. Michael Patton of Credo House Ministries makes a thought-provoking case for why so many Christians appreciate C.S. Lewis – despite his decidedly questionable theology – but nevertheless castigate Rob Bell for superficially similar failings.

Patton makes a good argument: that Lewis set out to defend orthodoxy and the person and work of Jesus Christ, whereas Bell seems to delight in challenging them. And, no doubt, this provides a substantive part of the answer to Patton’s question. Much of what Lewis writes is helpful, and the broad appeal of his apologetic work undeniable. But I am not sure that Patton has quite explained the entirety of Lewis’ attraction.

Now, I am far from an expert on Lewis. I read the Narnia series as a child, along with The Screwtape Letters, and then some of his other works in my early twenties. Much more recently, I read and enjoyed his fictional Cosmic Trilogy. I very much appreciated Lewis’ essay, On the Reading of Old Books, which he wrote as the introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ work On the Incarnation. Everyone should read that essay. Nevertheless, there is very much of Lewis’ work that I have (yet) to assimilate, though his general theological perspective is apparent in what I have read.

Lewis was certainly not orthodox in a great deal of his theology, as Patton observes. Even in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for example, it is decidedly odd that Aslan pays a ransom to the Snow Queen. Lewis’ view of Scripture was rather lower than many of us would think proper. He believed in a form of purgatory. And he had inclusivist tendencies – the belief that a person could ‘belong to Christ without knowing it’ (Mere Christianity). Lewis’ views on evolution, though – particularly in later life – are perhaps not as straightforward as Patton seems to suggest.

Why, then, given his questionable-at-points doctrine, is Lewis as popular as he his among those who would – notionally, at least – subscribe to sounder doctrine?

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5 classic Bible twists (and how to correct them)

There’s a superb post by Ben Mordeci, over at Founder and Perfecter. Ben deftly covers these oft misused passages:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Where there is no vision the people perish. (Proverbs 29:18)

The power of the Gospel

What is the Gospel?

I briefly covered this in my article, The mysterious case of the disappearing gospel. But the topic is so important that I return to it here.

St. Paul defines the Gospel very clearly and concisely in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

1 Cor. 15:1–8, NKJV

The Gospel, then, is the fact that Christ died for sinners, was buried, and rose from the dead.

Spiritual growth? There’s an app for that

The folks from Leadership Network are into innovation in a big way. And they have something shiny and new. It’s called Monvee.

Remember, Leadership Network is the organization that helped infect the church with the twin blights of Seeker Drivenism and Emergence Christianity. Leadership Network has marketing clout, and knows how to use it. Monvee could be huge.

One of the problems with the Church Growth Movement’s seeker-driven approach to mass-producing disciples is that it has largely failed to consider how to make disciples who are growing into spiritual maturity in Christ. When the most mature members of your own congregation tell you that they are ‘not being fed’, there’s a problem. And when the mainstream media writes that ‘megachurches like Saddleback are market-driven, with transcendence not on the menu’, and worse, describes you as the ‘butt end of Christianity’ using the words ‘bland, cheerful, dull’, the scary prospect of irrelevance beckons. And with irrelevance comes that worst nightmare of the Church Growth CEO pastor – stagnant or shrinking congregations.

Monvee is the solution to this problem of stalled Christian lives lacking in transcendence. Market research has uncovered a missed opportunity, and Monvee is the new product that has been created to fill this void.