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.

Two Religions (Genesis 4:1–16 Sermon Audio and Transcript)

This is the audio and approximate transcript (based on my speaking notes) from a sermon I preached yesterday evening from the Genesis 4:1–16 account of Cain and Abel. The highlight is towards the end, when we see how Abel points us to Christ and His work for us.

(My apologies for the occasionally variable audio quality – there were some drop-outs with the radio mic and I had to splice from my own iPad recording at a few points.)

Preface

When I last spoke earlier in the year, we looked at Genesis chapters 2 and 3. We saw the deception of Eve by the Serpent in the Garden, and the deliberate and wilful disobedience of Adam. Sin entered the world through Adam, and death through sin. We noted how in the first recorded Gospel, God promised a Seed. We saw that this seed was the Lord Jesus Christ, who would destroy all the works of the evil one, wash away the sins of his people with His blood, and clothe them with the royal robes of His perfect righteousness.

This evening, we shall see the corruption of sin and death being outworked in the lives of Cain and Abel, Adam’s sons. And we shall see again how the Old Testament scriptures testify of Jesus and His work.

Genesis 4:1–16

1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” 2 Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

6 So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

8 Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”

He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. 11 So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.”

13 And Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.”

15 And the Lord said to him, “Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.

16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden.

Amen.

Introduction

Our text presents two distinct religions, two utterly different ways of approaching God and living before Him. One is a religion of works; the other of faith.

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He Gave Them New Clothes (Genesis 2:4–3:24 Sermon Audio)

I was recently asked to preach at relatively short notice, so what to do? I dusted off my He Gave Them New Clothes post and added an introduction to turn it into a sermon proper. This is the result:

The sermon itself starts at 13 minutes 20 seconds into the recording. It is preceded by two Bible readings – a few verses from Luke 24, and then the main text from Genesis 2:4–3:24.

He Gave Them New Clothes

A narrative meditation upon the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience, from Gen. 2:8–3:24. Audio from a sermon based on this post is available.

They were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.

They are in the midst of a garden paradise, recipients of the bountiful goodness of the Lord God. He had created them and placed them there with a blessing: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’

Near to where they stand is the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Before the woman had been created, the Lord God had commanded the man concerning that latter tree, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’

Also in the garden is a serpent. He is more cunning than any beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

The serpent speaks. The woman listens.

‘Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?’

An ostensibly innocuous question. And the woman has the answer, so she thinks.

She converses with the serpent.

‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”’

The woman overstates the prohibition.

Perhaps this is her error, or perhaps it was the fault of her husband when he relayed to her the Lord God’s command.

One of them, certainly, had added a hedge to God’s word – one tiny addition. For God had commanded the man not to eat of the tree’s fruit, but He had said nothing about not touching it.

(How easily we add to what God has spoken.)

With that one addition – oh how small and seemingly insignificant! – the woman opens the door to her adversary the Devil.

The serpent, liar and murderous deceiver that he is, assures the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

And so the woman entertains temptation and gazes at the tree.

What a beautiful tree! How good it would be for food!

Enticed by her desire to become wise like God, she reaches out and takes its fruit.

(See, she is unharmed! The serpent was right! Surely there is no danger here.)

Having suffered no consequence from touching the fruit, she eats it. In contravention of God’s command, a fatal act.

The woman also gives to her husband, who is with her.

(Why has he not intervened to keep her from harm? Does he not see the danger?)

The man had heard the clear words of God’s voice forbidding him to eat this fruit. He had heard the Lord God’s prescient warning, ‘For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’.

In wilful, unbelieving rebellion against his Creator, the man raises the fruit to his lips and eats.

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Gay Christianity Refuted: James White’s Full Response to Matthew Vines

On 8 March 2012, 21 year old Matthew Vines gave an emotionally charged presentation entitled The Bible and Homosexuality. He attempted to argue the case that ‘loving’ homosexual relationships were compatible with biblical Christianity. Many found it persuasive.

Photo: Alpha & Omega Ministries

Over several recent episodes of his webcast, The Dividing Line, Dr. James White, director of Alpha & Omega Ministries and author of The Same Sex Controversy, has responded systematically to Vines’ entire presentation. Now available as a single five-hour long programme, White’s rebuttal is essential listening for anyone wishing to understand the true biblical position on homosexuality. Download it for free from the Alpha & Omega Ministries website.

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What’s Wrong with Wright: Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul

Bishop N.T. Wright (a.k.a. Tom Wright) has undertaken sterling and valuable work in defence of the historicity of the New Testament and the resurrection of Christ. Unfortunately, he is also a leading proponent of the New Perspectives on Paul.

Those, like Wright, who advocate the New Perspectives, posit that the Reformers were wrong in seeing first century Judaism as a religion of legalistic works-righteousness. As Dr. Cornelis P. Venema (President of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, where he is also Professor of Doctrinal Studies) writes in his very helpful little book addresing the the New Perspectives, Getting the Gospel Right:

The problem with the Judaizers’ appeal to the ‘works of the law’ was not its legalism, Wright insists, but its perverted nationalism. (p. 37, original emphasis)

Venema continues in his description of Wright’s views:

One of the unfortunate features of the Reformation and of much evangelical thinking, according to Wright, is that they reduce the gospel to ‘a message about “how one gets saved”, in an individual and ahistorical sense’.

In this way of thinking, the focus of attention, so far as the gospel is concerned, is upon ‘something that in older theology would be called an ordo salutis, an order of salvation’. Because of its inappropriate focus upon the salvation of individual sinners, the older Reformation tradition was bound to exaggerate the importance of the doctrine of justification.

Whereas the Reformation perspective understands the gospel in terms of the salvation of individual sinners, Wright maintains that Paul’s gospel has a different focus. According to Wright, the basic message of Paul’s gospel focuses upon the lordship of Jesus Christ.

(pp. 39–40, bold emphasis mine)

So, according to Venema, Wright thinks that the Reformers inappropriately focused on the salvation of individual sinners and exaggerated the importance of the doctrine of justification (how we obtain a right standing before God).

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The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church

My friend Jason Coyle reminded me in a recent comment of what he called ‘Dr. Rod Rosenbladt’s…brilliant address, “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church”’.

In this superb talk, Dr. Rosenbladt explains why so many people end up leaving our churches not just disillusioned, but angry. He goes on to present the undiluted Gospel as the antidote.

You can listen to (or watch) this address for free on Dr. Rosenbladt’s New Reformation Press website:

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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Christmas homily: the birth of Christ as the fulfilment of prophecy

This is a near-transcript of a short talk I gave just before Christmas last year. You may, if you wish, read about the occasion and listen to the audio.

Our text is Matthew 1:18–25:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.’

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

With all the myths of the Christmas season – Father Christmas, Rudolf, Mr Ebenezer Scrooge – it is tempting to think of the birth of Jesus as just one more made-up story among many. The nativity as an incidental artefact of a busy midwinter festival. A diverting scene to amuse the children.

But the birth in Bethlehem of a baby boy called Jesus really happened.

Not a myth, but an actual event in history.

No chance occurrence, but the beginning of the fulfilment of dozens of Biblical prophecies.

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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)