Fundamentalism, Higher Criticism, and Evolution

Christian Fundamentalists are often portrayed as evil, nasty people. Often they get lumped in with Muslim Fundamentalists. Muslim Fundamentalists kill people. Christian ones don’t! Yet many secular sources will tell you a fundamentalist is akin to a terrorist.

“Fundamentalist” is a term that actually means something. Generically the term means someone who boils their faith down to strictly defined core beliefs, or fundamentals. Fundamental basically means foundational, things you build on.

Christian Fundamentalism began in the 19th Century. As with most movements, it was a response to other forces.

The two main forces Christian Fundamentalism responded against were

  1. German Higher Criticism
    Higher Criticism treated Scripture as a historical document that needed to be analyzed and checked for errors. It focused on who wrote what, when was it written, and who added what to the text over the years. Not entirely a bad desire, yet ended up denying inspiration. Truth in the Bible became subjective and Biblical authority was undermined.
  2. Evolution
    During the same time period, Charles Darwin popularized evolution. This created tension between the Biblical account of Creation in Genesis 1 with supposed geological and biological facts concerning the age of the earth and the origin of life.

When these two forces began clamoring, Christians felt attacked. They doubled down defending the fundamentals of their faith:

*Inerrancy of Scripture
*Literal interpretations of miracles, creation, virgin birth of Christ, the resurrection, etc.
*Belief in the Second Coming of Christ
*The Atonement of Christ

The fundamentals of the faith were put together in a 12-volume set of essays originally called, The Fundamentals. Something often lost is that these volumes were put out by the Presbyterian Church.

Things have gotten more confusing since then! The Presbyterian angle has all but died off, but still exists. There is a dispensational wing of fundamentalism fostered by Lewis Sperry Chafer through Dallas Seminary. A more evangelistic, not quite as theologically rigorous, branch spawned by DL Moody and Moody Bible Institute.

Northwestern College, now called University of Northwestern in St. Paul (where I just dropped off my daughter last weekend to begin her freshman year), had a prominent part in early 20th century fundamentalism. William Bell Riley traveled the nation forming a group of fundamentalist churches called the World Christian Fundamentals Association. It eventually faded away and supplanted by such groups as the Independent Fundamentalist Churches of America.

It is now embarrassing for most to be called a fundamentalist. Most will deny the name and few will point out, let alone celebrate, their fundamentalist past (I also went to Northwestern College and never knew of its role in fundamentalism even though I worked in Riley Hall for four years!).

Although some of the fundamentalist methods are hokey today, their intent was good. They attempted to defend what they believed against secular, modernist, liberal attacks.

Paranoid? Maybe, but history has shown they had a point. Don’t be afraid to learn Church History. It’s fascinating to see how all these things work together as Christians make their way through history.

American Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism is the belief that humans, by revamping society by means of taking over the world with Christianity, will usher in the Kingdom of God.

After this Golden Age ushered in by God’s people, Christ will return (hence “Post” millennium–Christ returns after the Golden Age we establish).

This used to be a standard view of many people, and was particularly popular in America in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s most famous theologians, was a postmillennialist. When he looked upon the results of the Great Awakening, he said:

‘Tis not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, that is so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or at least a prelude, of that glorious work of God, so often foretold in Scripture…. And there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin in America.

The Great Awakenings felt like the start of something big. It also fed into the notion that America was the shining city on a hill, leading the world to the coming of the Lord.

The Millennium, for postmillennialists, is not necessarily 1,000 years. When Revelation 20 mentions 1,000 years 7 times, 1,000 years merely represents an age.

In order to believe Postmillennialism you have to interpret the Scriptures symbolically, or spiritually, or at least not literally. This is true whether you are dealing with the 1,000 years of Revelation 20 or the prophecies about judgment in Revelation before then, or prophecies concerning the regathering of Israel, etc.

You also have to believe in the power of humanity to reform the world and that the church will win in the end. A little too ambitiously optimistic for this guy!

It was a heady time in America when Postmillennialism was popular. The Enlightenment filled humans with grandiose ideas of their potential. America was optimistic and two Great Awakenings swept the land. Christianity was large and in charge. The Battle Hymn of the Republic is pretty much a Postmillennial rally song.

A funny thing happened on the way to the humanly ushered in Millennium: the world wide scope of evil on display in the 20th Century. Pretty hard to come out of two world wars, depression, sexual revolutions, and whatnot and conclude we were making progress toward a Golden Age of Christian Victory.

Very few people are postmillennialists today. But I imagine it will come back if we have a sustained period of peace.

In fact, the modern Social Gospel movement borrows much postmillennial thought.

It is my contention, that when the Church concentrates of societal reform, they will lose their identity and purpose. The Church does not exist for the world. The Church exists for the edification of believers so they can be edified and built up to love their neighbor.

It’s easy to blur that line, or put the cart before the horse on that one, or replace “neighbor,” which is a person, with “society,” which is an unidentifiable mass of people. Regardless of how well the Church does in their mission, I guarantee you human endeavor will not bring Christ back.

Postmillennialism is basically Humanism with a Christian veneer. I suggest not falling for it, or its modern manifestation: the Social Gospel.

R C Sproul’s Calvinism is Mind-boggling

Here are two quotes from RC Sproul. These are not obscure quotes. These are oft repeated quotes from him.

If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.

This quote says that every single piece of creation is doing exactly what God tells it to do. “Sovereignty,” for Sproul, means God is in meticulous control of everything. Being in charge means dictating absolutely everything that everything does. If God is not dictating every element of creation, then God is not sovereign.

So now, the exact same man says this quote:

Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority.

Every sin is going against God’s sovereign authority. Sin is cosmic treason.

I don’t get it.

I know this is where the Calvinist chalks things up to “mystery.” But no, this isn’t a mystery, one of the two has to be false.

If every molecule is doing what God tells it to do, then how can molecules join together to commit cosmic treason?

The best solution to the contradiction is not chalking it up to mystery, and it certainly isn’t deciding that nothing is really sin, but admitting his understanding of sovereignty is wrong.

God is sovereign. Sovereign does not mean making every part of creation do what He wants it to do.

God establishes boundaries. Creation is free inside those boundaries. God is in control to restrict any violation of the boundaries. Nothing is out of His reach to intervene.

I do believe sin is cosmic treason. I’ll take that quote over his molecule quote, that one is just nuts.

Don’t get carried away in your theological ideas. Pretty soon you don’t make sense. Incoherence isn’t proof of mystery; it’s proof your theology has derailed.

Suffering is Not Optional

American Christianity is ridiculously happy.

We are living in the most prosperous nation in the most prosperous time of history. We revel in our abundance, comfort, and ease.

Rather than chalking it up to fortune for being born in this time and an amazing amount of hard work by those who came before us, we instead convince ourselves our abundance is a result of our faith.

We show our faith by pointing to all our stuff. “See how much God has blessed me? I must be doing it right.”

Christians are not allowed to mourn these days. If you do, you’ll get a lecture, “Hey, we don’t mourn like the world does. Knock it off, you’re making us uncomfortable while we sing our happy songs.”

The most amazing thing about this embrace of happiness, comfort, and ease is that the New Testament is pretty much against happiness, comfort, and ease!

There are several verses neglected by our modern happy Christianity.

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
–Romans 8:17

If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:
–2 Timothy 2:12

There are many verses in the NT about suffering, trials, tribulations, and testing. We are following Jesus Christ, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. We’re following a crucified Savior.

How this gets interpreted as happy, happy I have no idea. Notice these verses are saying you won’t reign with Christ, nor will you be glorified with Him, if you don’t suffer. Suffering is like a big thing, a determiner of your salvation.

The Bible does talk about joy and rejoicing frequently. Typically they come up in weird places though. Take 1 Peter 4:13 for instance:

But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

We rejoice when we are suffering. We tend to think rejoicing and joy show up when I am comfortable and everything is going great. The NT puts joy in the opposite experience.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
–James 1:2

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,
–1 Peter 3:14

And, of course, don’t forget the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. Blessed are you when terrible, rotten, nasty things happen to you.

It takes no spiritual strength to be happy when everything is happy. But you know the Spirit is working in you when you can have true joy when all earthly things are falling apart.

Suffering is good for us. People don’t get nearly as depressed in suffering as they do in overloaded comfort and ease. Just observe our culture.

I once heard it said, “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.”

Indeed. If you follow Christ, you will suffer. If you suffer for following Christ then you know you are a child of God. If you are a child of God then you know you have an inheritance that is undefiled and fadeth not away.

The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Suffering teaches. Tribulation works patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed.

I could go on and on, because the NT is all over this issue. Modern American Christianity pretends it doesn’t exist and carries on ignoring page after page of God-breathed writing.

Read the Book. Follow Christ. You will suffer if you do this. But He promises it’ll be worth it in the end.

John Wesley on Being a New Creation

Here’s a quote from Wesley’s Notes on 2 Corinthians 5:17, which says if you are in Christ you are a new creature:

He has new life, new senses, new faculties, new affections, new appetites, new ideas and conceptions. His whole tenor of action and conversation is new, and he lives, as it were, in a new world. God, men, the whole creation, heaven, earth, and all therein, appear in a new light, and stand related to him in a new manner, since he was created anew in Christ Jesus.

The Gospel isn’t something you believe so when you die you go to heaven. You believe the Gospel so that right now, in this present world, you have new spiritual life that will extend throughout eternity.

The Gospel is life-changing, not just after-death-changing.

What is Christ’s Active Obedience?

I came across the following quote:

“If not for Christ’s active obedience and righteousness, received through faith alone, no one would receive eternal life”

A professor at Reformed Theological Seminary said it. So, let’s analyze the theology by looking at some words.

Since the professor teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary, we can safely conclude we are hearing Reformed Theology from him. “Reformed” basically means “Calvinist.” I’m sure there are more ins and outs to it, but basically, that’s what it means. This will give us a foundation upon which to analyze what we’re hearing.

Tip #1 in analyzing theology: Figure out who said it. Who are they? What do they believe? Where did they say this?

Active Obedience:
This is a theological term; it is not a biblical term. Therefore, in order to define what it means, we must go to that theological camp to figure out what the term means.

Tip #2 in analyzing theology: Define your terms using people who use that term. Don’t use opposing theological camp definitions. This is a Reformed Theology term, so use Reformed Theologians to define it.

Here is a quote from Wayne Grudem in an article on, a place to find all things Reformed.

If Christ had only earned forgiveness of sins for us, then we would not merit heaven. Our guilt would have been removed, but we would simply be in the position of Adam and Eve before they had done anything good or bad . . .
For this reason, Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for his whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience would be counted for us. Sometimes this is called Christ’s “active obedience.”

The primary verse used to defend Active Obedience is Romans 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Tip #3 in analyzing theology: Look up key verses listed in support of the doctrine. Does the Bible say what they say the Bible says?

OK, now we analyze the parts.

Tip #4 in analyzing theology: Think critically about what you are being told.

The initial quote from the professor says Christ’s active obedience and righteousness is what grants us eternal life through faith.

Active obedience refers to Christ’s sinless life on this earth. Christ’s actual righteous deeds are counted to us, so we pass as righteous.

Therefore, being justified (being made righteous) seems to rest solely on Christ’s active righteous deeds done during His life.

Here’s the strange thing about this: the resurrection is completely unnecessary. Click on the link above to the article written by Grudem. He wrote this article to define active obedience. He does mention “passive obedience” and says that refers to Christ’s “suffering and dying for our sins,” so at least the first half of the Gospel gets mentioned! But there is no mention of Christ’s resurrection in this article about being made righteous.

Here’s why this is problematic for me, and others. Romans 5:19 is the key verse for active obedience, it’s the verse that gets the closest to sounding like it.

The disobedience is talking about Adam’s sin in eating from The Tree. It’s not referring to his entire life of active disobedience, but rather a one-time act. The same is true for Christ’s obedience. The verse is not referring to every single obedient thing Christ did in His earthly life, but is rather referring to a one-time act: more than likely His death–“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:9).

I do not think a person can legitimately take the Greek to mean that Romans 5:19 refers to Christ’s active obedience. It’s referring to one thing.

Furthermore, according to the same context, Paul speak of our justification (justification means being made righteous). He never says our righteousness was achieved by Christ keeping the law for us, but notice what he does chalk our righteousness up to:

who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
–Romans 4:25

Justification was accomplished not by Christ’s life, nor even His death alone, but also by His resurrection.

One of my main problems with the teaching of Active Obedience is that it

1) Makes justification based on works. Paul is adamant on the point that works of the law don’t justify. If that’s the case, why do we think Christ’s works of the law justify us? If righteous come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain!

2) Makes the resurrection pointless. The entire Monergism definition of Active Obedience  never once mentions the resurrection. It gets skipped. The reason why is because they don’t really need resurrection, yet Paul says Christ’s resurrection is what justifies us!

The quote above by the professor does not even mention any aspect of the Gospel and yet is about how to receive eternal life! If we’re saved by Christ’s active obedience, then the Gospel is not needed.

I know Reformed Theology is not trying to undermine the Gospel, but frequently, in order to support their ideas, it does.

Be sober and watch and pray.

6 Things to Do When You Have a Bad Day

My family recently adopted a dog. She is precious. She is adjusting well to life in our family.

Today, however, was a little rough. She was a bit hyped up today. She was jumping on people and yelping and just all-around getting carried away. Then she peed on the kitchen floor.

This wasn’t one of her best days.

As I put her in her kennel for the night, I patted her precious little head and said, “Do better tomorrow there little dog.”

As I walked into the house I thought, “You know, that’s not bad advice.”

Sometimes you just have a bad day. You fall into laziness. You give in to temptation. You snap at someone. You regret what you did or didn’t do. You had a bad day.

What should you do when you have a bad day?

  1. Review the day. Analyze what went wrong. Why do you feel crummy? What led you to fall? If any glaring sins pop into your mind, agree that they were bad and talk to the Lord about them. Learn from what you did.
  2. Look forward. Nearly every day before nodding off, I sigh a prayer that says, “Well, Lord, one day closer to being with you.” Look forward to the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
  3. Resolve for tomorrow. One thing to do before nodding off at night is to make a list of things to do tomorrow. Put things on there that keep you busy and address the errors of today.
  4. Wipe the slate. Another good thing is to apologize before sleep. If you hurt, lost your patience with, or wronged anyone, address the hurt and apologize. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath or anyone elses!
  5. Read the Word. A great thing to do before bed and right when you wake up is to read a couple pages of Scripture. Put some living word in your brain before bed. Can’t go wrong there.
  6. Do better tomorrow. Remember the crummy feeling you have when you mess up a day. Whatever fleshly lust you indulged that momentarily felt good; the gross feeling removes any joy. Learn from the sorrow and do better tomorrow!

The Downfall of Institutions and Pride

The central point of Romans 9-11 that is missed because of our fixation on Calvinism, is the warnings about rejoicing at the fall of the “others.”

Paul explains the interaction between Jews and Gentiles in those chapters. The Jews were chosen to bring forth the Messiah. Through them, by way of the Messiah, all nations would be blessed.

Unfortunately (if that’s the right word), the Jews rejected their own Messiah. In so doing, they were cast aside for a time. But also, fortunately (if that’s the right word), through the rejection of the Messiah salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection is fully revealed, so much so that Gentiles will be drawn to The Light.

Paul warns Gentiles not to get arrogant. Gentiles will think Jews were set aside because Gentiles are better. Paul says not to go there!

“Don’t get a big head, Gentiles, if God cut out the original people, you better believe He’ll cut out new rebellious people.”

This issue has implications for other contexts as well.

Last week the Catholic Church got busted and I saw many a Protestant Evangelical proudly preening. “What’d you expect from them? You don’t see that problem in our churches.”

Willow Creek is falling apart and many with small churches like to point out the megachurches and the flashy suburban Christian stuff. “What’d you expect from them? You don’t see that problem in our churches?”

Republicans and Democrats trade these shots on a daily basis, pointing out the fault in the other side. “What’d you expect from them? You don’t see that problem on our side.”

Here’s the thing: Is is on your side, you just forget it or justify it more easily.

When we point out the failures of others, our own ego gets a boost. When our egos get boosted, we soon fall into our own pits.

Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Pride comes not only through your own success, but also by observing other people’s failures.

Pride will knock you down. Legitimate wrong should be addressed and punished. But gloating over sin, over destructive behavior in others, is not helping; it will only foster the same arrogance that produces sin to begin with.

Pursue righteousness. Other people being sinners does not make you or your side righteous. Doing righteousness is what pursuing righteousness is. Do that.

Blinded By The Fight

The Catholic Church took a big hit last week. The largest child abuse case was detailed in Pennsylvania. The offending priests were shuffled around, no one took action to stop the abuse.

Willow Creek Church is falling apart as board members and clergy resign after founding pastor Bill Hybels was accused by multiple women of adulterous relations. No one took the allegations seriously as they were going on.

Ohio State football is going through a similar ordeal. Which reminds us of the disgusting revelations of the Joe Paterno Penn State program.

The president and other politicians can say and do all manner of ridiculous things and yet their party continues to back them.

There is a pattern here!

Institutions take on a life of their own. Members of the institution feel that their institution is doing great work, they must be preserved so their work can carry on.

If a bad apple gets in the bunch, cover it up! The institution is bigger, and the work is too important for one person to bring it down.

Everyone is guilty of this fault. We are a communal people and we’ll defend our communities to the death.

Of course, if the other side does an equally bad thing, that’s the worstest thing ever! Hitler!

Human institutions appear important, but they are like all earthly things: temporal.

But our eyes get clouded. We start looking to the things of this earth and defending them. We will compromise our values, our morality, and our witness to maintain the important work of our institution.

People get hurt when institutions become too big. The poor kids whose lives will forever be scarred, it boggles the mind how such sickness can take place, let alone be covered up.

The power of institutions is a scary thing. What institutions carry too much weight for you? Your political party? Your football team? Your denomination? Your theological camp?

We each have at least one institution we defend. Be careful. No matter how big or how important you think your institution is, it’s not bigger than the Gospel and the simple truth that we are to love our neighbor and do righteousness.

Don’t be blinded by the fight for your institution. The only fight to fight is the fight of faith.

How to Un-vain Your Vain Life

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity” is the cry of Ecclesiastes.

This was written by a man who experienced everything, so he knew what he was talking about.

One of the reasons his life was vain is because he focused it on himself. The pronoun “I” shows up about 50 times. “My” shows up 17 times and “mine” appears 8. “Me” shows up a lot too.

Ecclesiastes is not a long book!

I gave my heart to know wisdom. . .
I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure. . .
I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine. . .
I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards. . .
I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees. . .
I got me servants and maidens. . .
I gathered me also silver and gold. . .

Solomon gave himself to various pursuits, all fine things, nothing wrong with any of them. But he went all in for these things. He experienced each to its full.

When he was done, the thrill was gone and he concludes:

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

The world thinks we only have one life. That being the case, you better live it to its fullest. Grab all you can. YOLO!

Solomon did and it was empty.

If you go after life, act as if this is the only life you’ll get, you will live a selfish, narcissistic lifestyle. It will be all about you. And there is nothing more empty than that.

Solomon’s conclusion goes like this:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Solomon’s conclusion is that temporal things are empty, but we can live for something higher. Fear God, which means keep God’s commandments.

Here’s the cool thing: God’s commandments are called “the law.” There is one word out there that fulfills the law: LOVE!

Love is something you do FOR OTHER PEOPLE!

When Solomon lived for himself, his life was empty. Nothing lasted, nothing brought true pleasure and there was zero eternal fruit.

You can take Solomon’s word for it and learn young to stop living for yourself. Instead, live in the fear of God by doing what God says, which is summed up with love.

Give yourself for others. Spend your money on others. Use your time and energy to help and encourage others.

If nothing else you will get eternal reward. But on top of that, you can live in such a way as to not feel entirely pointless, fruitless, and vain.

Love is what you do to un-vain your vain life. Give it a try.

When the Bible Interferes With Your Doctrine

Occasionally, when you read the Bible, it will become apparent that what you were taught is not what the Bible says.

What to do when the Bible disagrees with your doctrine?

Usually you start by asking your teacher, “Hey, how comes this here verse don’t say what you done told me?”

Your teacher will more than likely explain the verse away, or list 14 other verses that distract the issue, and let you know that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation. They will tell you that the problem, of course, lies with you and your uneducatedness. Good thing you have such a wise teacher!

You will then go back and read the Bible some more and you will come across the same question. You will remember what your teacher told you. You will look up the 14 verses that were listed, which you are now also more familiar with. Sometimes your understanding really was off and the teacher was right.

But other times you will figure out that the answers you were given don’t quite seem to jive with Scripture. In fact, often times, they conflict with verse after verse.

For many years I, along with just about every evangelical, was taught that we are saved by faith alone. I assumed the Bible said this. There are 14 verses people will list to prove that we are saved by faith alone. None of those 14 verses says we are saved by faith alone.

In fact, the only time the Bible mentions being justified by faith only is in James 2, where it clearly says we ARE NOT justified by faith only.

There are volumes written to explain why we are justified by faith alone and how you just don’t understand James, or you don’t understand why you don’t have to listen to James, or some other explanation you don’t understand.

You can hear the answers and have it explained to you 4,000 times and still not be able to get around James saying we are not justified by faith only.

So, at a certain point you have to decide: will I go with the doctrinal gymnastics of my group, or will I simply take the plain language of the Bible and go with that?

Most go with the group.

Some go with the Bible. I recommend going with the Bible.

Take the simplest explanation of each passage, which can only be seen by the context. Pretend that every verse means exactly what it says, stop trying to cancel out one verse with another one, and you’ll be amazed at how much more easy the Bible is to understand.

Stick with that simple message and act as though it were true.

If the simple message of the verses disagrees with your doctrine, make appropriate adjustments to your doctrine. Do not adjust the verses to your doctrine!

Everyone knew what James was talking about until Martin Luther invented justification by faith alone. Ever since then people have been trying to reconcile man’s ideas with James’ inspired message. And this is one example of about 5,000 where our man-made doctrine disagrees with Scripture.

Everything is simplified if you just drop man’s ideas and stick with the God-breathed words of Scripture.

You will be amazed at how consistent and simple the Bible is once you decide to stop defending your doctrinal camp. It’s truly beautiful and I highly recommend it.

Act as though the Bible is true. Do the work to find out what it means based on the context. Put those words into action. Faith comes by hearing God’s Word. If you are following man’s doctrine and not God’s Word, then faith is not what you are doing.

God’s Word is what has life. Don’t let man’s ideas keep you from the living Word of God.

Two Challenges to Learning Doctrine

Learning doctrine is pretty straightforward:

Learn the doctrine!

That’s it! Pretty easy, eh?!

Doctrine is just a fancy word for teachings. Learning doctrine means to learn what the Bible teaches. Note it does not mean learning what people say the Bible teaches, but what the actual Bible actually teaches.

Learning what the Bible teaches is pretty straightforward:

Learn what the Bible teaches.

That’s it! Pretty easy, eh?!

One would think so. It seems all a person would have to do is read the Bible and learn what it says.

If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. Hardly anyone is. I think there are two hurdles that prevent us from learning what the Bible teaches. Two thing we must clear first in order to be taught from the Scriptures.

1. You can’t be afraid to leave wrong teaching.
All of us have learned poor doctrine. All of us have gone along with a teacher or a group because we didn’t know what else to do. We didn’t fully understand the Bible, how could we? We just started learning what we were taught! While trying to learn it for ourselves, we trust other people who’ve been around longer to steer us in the right direction. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes those who teach you haven’t learned themselves. They are merely teaching what they were taught with little personal examination in between.

You can’t be afraid to leave old, bad teaching. If something is bad, it seems it would be easy to drop it. You would be wrong! There is reputation: I’ve staked things on this teaching; if I leave it now I’ll look like a fool. There is peer-pressure: this is what my group thinks; if I reject it they will turn on me. There is respect: just because your teachers were wrong, doesn’t mean they are bad people, but if you disagree with them they might interpret that disagreement as disrespect. There is safety: it’s easier to stick with what you’ve got than to let go of the safety line and swim out into the deep alone.

Your desire to learn truth needs to get to a place where your desire overcomes your fear. Where regardless of the cost or inconvenience or sheer terror, I must get to the truth. Paul reached a place where he counted all his life as dung for the excellency of gaining Christ. That’s the moment; that’s the feeling; that right there is faith. Faith is scary.

Do you have the guts to let go of those things that are behind in order to grab hold of what lies before you in Christ?

2. You can’t be afraid to adapt to new teaching.
Once you’ve convinced yourself to let go of the old, faulty teaching (and not everything you learned before is faulty necessarily. Don’t throw out the good old baby with the dirty old bathwater!), you now have the challenge of learning and adapting to new teaching.

Learning means getting more information. When you get new information it will change what you do. You now know more and this new knowledge will bring added insights and perspective. You can’t keep doing the old things with the new information.

When you learn biblical doctrine, your new life in Christ will be radically different from your old life in the flesh. Old things are passed away, all things have become new. There is a new training and a new discipline to bring about a new life. Getting yourself to act on that new information is scary. You’ll feel stupid, self-conscious, foolish, and tentative. Does this really work? Is this worth it?

Remember when Israel left Egypt? They hated enslavement in Egypt. They got the guts to leave it and immediately started complaining about their new free life. “Can’t we go back to Egypt where we at least had good food to eat?”

This is the struggle of faith. That’s why the OT was written for our learning! Israel struggled to believe that God knew what He was doing. We laugh at them and mock their wimpiness while we run from new freedom in Christ today!

We’re doing the same thing.

Living with God, learning His ways, is terrifying to your flesh. Your flesh wants no part of it; it still wants to be in bondage where at least decisions were taken care of for you.

Learning aint easy because learning changes things and change is tough. Learning aint easy; but it’s totally worth it. When you become a man, put away childish things. Adulthood is freaky, but totally worth it. Grow in Christ. Learn. Live with confident hope that what Christ calls you for will indeed set you free. The just shall live by faith. Live by faith.

Can People Understand the Bible?

The institutional church–the human structure as opposed to the Spirit indwelt members of the Body of Christ–has long wanted to keep people ignorant of the Bible.

This was done most effectively in these ways:

  1. Lighting people on fire. Consider carefully why there is a church tradition of burning people at the stake for wanting to make the Bible understandable. Why would that be?!
  2. Confusing people. Human philosophy is confusing and makes little sense. Yet human philosophy is the basis of much established doctrine. Add to that tradition and human power and the institutional church becomes more hindrance than a help.

Institutional theology–what the institutional church teaches–eventually tell people that they don’t need the Bible. This is done by literally telling people that, or more subtly, teaching doctrines that get you to doubt the authority of Scripture.

You know you are hearing institutional theology when you hear people bash the Scriptures as too confusing, irrelevant, subservient to new revelation, needs to be taken with our interpretation, or other such tactics.

Bible Bashing always boils down to: You need us to tell you what the Bible really means and what God wants you to do.

What God wants you to do always, for some reason, ends up serving the people who tell you what God wants you to do. Weird how that happens.

You need the Bible. That’s why God revealed it!

As institutional theology belittles the Scriptures, the Scripture remains firm that you need Scripture!

“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”

Scripture was written for our learning so we can have hope. If you can’t understand scripture then you can’t have hope!

Institutional churches know that this is true. They don’t want you having hope! They want you to live in dependence upon them, that way they can have hope that at least they’ll get paid!

OK, there goes my cynicism again.

But seriously, the more institutional a church the less hope and the less talk of growth and learning. Churches can’t afford to have their people learn and grow for fear they will leave.

Better to eliminate such ideas and keep everyone happily conformed and obedient.

Faith is risky. It’s scary for the one exercising faith and it’s terrifying for the institutional church to see people walk away from established church doctrine, because then the institutional church won’t be needed anymore.

You can understand the Bible with the Holy Spirit and a true desire to know what the Bible says. The Church, by which I mean people in the Body of Christ, are mutually equipped by the Spirit to help others grow in their understanding of Scripture and growth into Christ.

Church without the Holy Spirit is just a bunch of people waffling around in ignorance, pretending to know stuff to sound spiritual. They will fall into a ditch.

You can know God and you can understand the Scriptures; that’s why the Scriptures were revealed!

Why Is Learning Hard?

Christianity contains a lot of learning. Jesus Christ offers us a new life, one different from our old life. This new way of life must be learned, it is not automatic.

Your old way of life was also learned. We learn to talk and feed ourselves from constant attention and repetition, sprinkled in with complete failures, until we learn what we’re doing. The new way of life is no different.

One of the primary aspects of kids learning is this place called “school.” The word “school” is a fascinating word.

“School” is used one time in the KJV, in Acts 19:9 where Paul disputed in the “school of Tyrannus.”

The word “school” is from a Greek word scholay. Here is the definition of scholay. Are you ready? For real? Here’s the definition from Thayer’s:

1) freedom from labor 2) a place where there is leisure for anything, a school

The word scholay, from which we get “school,” is a word that means leisure!

As I saw it put, “The name for the institution of education and learning means ‘leisure.'”

What in the world do you do with that?!

The idea is that kids go to a place where nothing else is happening, completely freed up for thinking and learning.

One of the reasons why it’s so hard to learn is because people get so busy, wrapped up in doing things, that we don’t take the time to think and ponder and figure things out.

I recently read a neurologist’s findings that our addictions to technology and social media are rewiring our brains and making them infantile in physical structure. We have the attention span of a very small child.

If you have no attention span, you will not be thinking. If you’re not thinking, then you won’t be learning.

You need to take time to learn, time where there isn’t stress and distraction. A time of leisure to think.

I have heard people say their best time for this is while driving, or biking, or running, or while sitting in their favorite chair.

You need time and peace in order to think. This is increasingly difficult in our distraction filled society, and it’s making us dumber.

Don’t be dumb. Find a place of leisure, a place for education and learning. Read. Think. Write. Examine. Question. Relax. Learn.

The Queen of the Sciences and Why Theology is Confusing

Back in the day, Theology was viewed as The Queen of the Sciences. This seems ridiculous in our day as theology is generally bashed on by mainstream science people.

Theology was the Queen of Sciences because Theology studied God, the greatest subject, and God provided a unifying framework all other sciences fit into. One’s knowledge of God informed his view on everything else.

This sounds good and lovely, but it also had a bad aspect to it. Since theology was a science that fit in with all other academic fields of study, theology borrowed the authorities of those other fields.

If you read theology, especially old stuff written before or during the Reformation, you will notice how frequently theologians quote philosophers.

By “philosopher” I mean pagan, heathen scum philosophers! People who were not coming from, nor going to, a God-centered view of life.

It’s somewhat bizarre to come across statements by our revered theologians praising heathen scum philosophers, but most back in the day.

Here’s an example from the fruity, mystic theologian Meister Eckhart:

What the philosophers have written about the natures and properties of things agrees with [the Bible}, especially since everything that is true, whether in being or in knowing, in scripture or in nature, proceeds from one source and one root of truth . . .  Therefore Moses, Christ, and the Philosopher teach the same thing, differing only in the way they teach.

When he refers to “the Philosopher” in this quote, the context shows he is referring to Aristotle! Although I’m sure he’s not saying Aristotle and Christ are equally inspired, I do think he blurs the line.

You may not have heard of Meister Eckhart, and that’s OK, I bring him up because he’s one of many theological authors who follows the trend of his time in praising and using philosophers to prove theological points.

Perhaps you’ll know my next example better, John Calvin. Here’s a quote from his Institutes:

When, therefore, we discover the wonderful light of truth in the works of pagan authors, that should alert us to the fact that man’s nature, though fallen from its integrity and profoundly corrupt, is nevertheless adorned with many of God’s gifts. If we recognize the Spirit of God as the unique source of truth, we will not despise truth wherever it appears, unless we wish to offend God’s Spirit. For we cannot disparage the Spirit’s gifts without attracting his contempt and reproach.

I’d agree that pagans can stumble across truth and even say things that are true. No problem there. But to say that pagans are moved by God’s Spirit, so make sure you listen to pagan philosophers or else you’ll incur God’s wrath, seems a stretch.

This is also the guy who says we are totally depraved, and yet totally depraved people who are totally unable to respond to the Gospel, can still preach Spirit directed truth that you’ll be reproached for not listening to.

John Calvin was the first of many inconsistent Calvinists.

But this is standard classical theology. They like philosophers. They borrow from the academic, scientific culture around them. Calvin is based on Augustine and Augustine is based on Greek Philosophers.

Calvinism is not biblical; it’s philosophy with a handful of verses attached. This quote was taken from a chapter entitled “The Knowledge of Man and Freewill.”

Calvin’s views of freewill are based on pagan philosophy. He’s pretty much admitting that.

Augustine and Calvin are oft quoted, and they oft quoted pagan philosophers. They didn’t view the Bible as their sole source of authority. They thought philosophers could help out. In many cases, they took their philosophy and made the Bible fit it.

Be wary of basing your beliefs on people who base their beliefs on people who based their beliefs on pagan philosophers!

The believer does not need to read or understand pagan philosophy, nor does a believer need to fear the Spirit’s reproach for ignoring pagan philosophers.

Be careful out there. If classical theology confuses you, that’s probably a good thing!

Theologians: Making the Bible Complicated for Thousands of Years

I am reading a biography of Meister Eckhart, an Augustinian monk from the 14th century. He was attempting to bring some reform to the corrupt, materialistic Catholic Church.

In so doing, he became one of the foremost mystics in Christian theology and is a little weird. He felt it was important for people to actually know Christ through mystical experience, rather than ritual motions, although he still kept ritual motions.

In a section talking about Eckhart’s education in the monastery, I read this paragraph:

Lectures on Lombard’s Sentences provided Eckhart with his first experience in the sophisticated practice of scriptural interpretation, or exegesis. Most crucially for his own religious thinking, he learned how to move from the sensus historicus, or literal sense, of Bible passages to various spiritual senses that reveal certain ‘deeper truths’ on the reading in question. The allegorical, or metaphorical, interpretation of a scriptural passage, for instance, viewed people and actions described in a symbolic manner, together conveying an essential spiritual truth.

Along with the literal and allegorical sense, there was also the moral or tropological sense, and the anagogical sense.

Each of the four interpretations, according to his teachers, pointed in a different direction . . .  each sense was true, Eckhart learned, but not readily apparent to the casual reader, hence the need for a trained preacher.

The reason we need a trained clergy is because regular people are too stupid to see these “deeper truths.” I like that the author says these senses are “not readily apparent to the casual reader.” Yeah, no kidding!

Seeing these deeper, hidden truths, and needing to be educated by people who are initiated in special ways of reading the Scripture, is the realm of theologians.

The main job of a theologian is to make the simple Scriptural meanings massively more complicated so they can feel smart and sell you things.

Yes, I’m a tad cynical of theologians. People who use big words like tropological and anagogical are not people who are going to help you understand the Bible! Use real words, people!

People who use big words are not trying to help. They are trying to make sure you realize they are smarter than you and you should bow before their awesomeness.

I don’t trust them and neither should you.

Read the Bible. Take the common sense interpretation and put it into practice. You will grow that way.

Theologians can help, but if you find that all they do is confuse you and make it harder, than don’t mess with them.

Pretty much the only reason I listen to theologians is because everyone else is basing what they believe off of what these guys said.

If you want to know where different Christians are coming from; read theology. If you want to know God and follow Christ; read the Bible.

You do not need to read big-worded theologians to know Christ. For many, theologians actually keep people from knowing Christ.

Keep it simple. Don’t let smart people discourage you. Know Christ.

Force-Feeding Doctrine and 10 Signs That You’ve Been Indoctrinated

“Doctrine” in the Greek is simply a word that means “teaching.” When the Bible speaks of sound doctrine, it’s talking about what the Bible teaches. When the Bible speaks of bad doctrine, it’s referring to doctrines that people invented.

We are supposed to maintain and hold to sound doctrine–what God said in His Word–and we are to avoid bad doctrine–stuff that people make up.

The only way you know you are hearing sound doctrine is if it lines up with Scripture.

Doctrine can be good or bad; it depends what it’s based on.

But even if a teacher has good doctrine, that doctrine can be taught in a bad way.

“Doctrine” is the root word of “indoctrinate.”

Indoctrinate has two meanings according to Websters:

to instruct especially in fundamentals or rudiments: to teach.

This seems like a fine thing. It simply means to teach something, usually foundational, basic stuff. No problem there that I can see. But here’s definition number 2:

to imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle

OK, here’s where trouble comes!

To indoctrinate in a bad way means to get people fired up about your particular brand of teaching. It becomes less about what is taught and more about defending what was taught. It gets rabid, hostile, partisan, and fighty.

The attempt is no longer to teach, as much as it is to defeat the other side and win members to your party.

The quote I riffed on last week was this:

A rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a rejection of the gospel. Either you’re saved through the work of Christ on the Cross, or you’re not saved at all.

To me, this sounds remarkably like indoctrination! People who think their doctrine is the Gospel, that their doctrine must be believed in order for you to be saved, are in the indoctrination camp.

Coming to Christ is secondary to adhering to their theories and their group. If you dare veer from their group you will feel the wrath of the group upon your tiny-brained little head!

What is more important to you: bringing people to Christ, or adding adherents to a doctrinal camp?

Preach the word. Do this in season and out. You will preach doctrine if you do this, as doctrine is in the Bible.

But if promoting a particular brand of doctrine overpowers the proclamation of God’s Word, then you are indoctrinating people.

Here are ten signs you’ve been indoctrinated: (perhaps a couple by themselves don’t mean anything, but if a number of them match, watch out!)

–You have no idea how to defend what you believe, so you tell people to read This Guy or talk to This Pastor, you rely upon something someone else said or wrote to defend your stance.

–You see your pet doctrine on every page of Scripture, to the extent you can no longer actually read the Bible without seeing your camp’s fight cry on every page, and that’s not because your doctrine is actually on every page either; you just can’t see the Scriptures anymore because your doctrinal branding has clouded your vision.

–Your doctrine can be immediately labeled because it sounds exactly like all those people in that group.

–You feel pressure to conform to everything everyone in your group is saying and doing. There is no room for questions, doubts, or any freedom to do anything outside of the approved norms.

–You quote people as much as or more than Scripture.

–You frequently, like every time you open your mouth, get corrected by the Gurus of your group until you only say the party line.

–Your faith is not leading to joy but to guilt-ridden pressure to  keep up with The Group and make sure you measure up at all times, along with judgment on those beneath you.

–You begin every attempt to teach God’s Word with a detailed explanation of Your System that people “need to understand first.”

–You believe that only people who agree with your doctrine are saved.

–You honestly think that bringing people to Christ is exactly what bringing people to your doctrinal camp is.

Entrance into heaven is not granted because you agree with a group. You get in because you love, believe, and obey the Lord Jesus Christ.

Don’t let your doctrine overpower the Word of God.

How to Find a Church With Sound Doctrine

It is my contention that there is no magic Right Doctrine Level that Christians can achieve. My opinion, based on Scripture and experience, is that doctrine is teaching, and every day we are taught. Therefore doctrine (teaching) is always in flux, and, if it’s led by the Spirit, will be fluxing (?) (growing) better every day.

Therefore, I believe the longer I live and learn the Bible, the better my doctrine will become. I will know more as the Spirit faithfully and patiently teaches me.

This is why I think it’s quite silly to look for a church with “perfect doctrine.”

Yet I hear many Christians bemoan their inability to find a church with “good doctrine” let alone “perfect doctrine.”

Now, let me assure you, finding a church that even mentions biblical doctrine is getting increasingly difficult. I’m not belittling the challenge.

What I am saying is that most Christians make it more difficult.

When Christians tell me they “can’t find a church with good doctrine,” here’s what they mean: “I can’t find a church that tells me exactly everything that I already believe.”

I mean, seriously, what else could they mean?!

If you don’t already think you have good doctrine, how would you know how to detect good doctrine? If you do have good doctrine, then a church with good doctrine would tell you the exact same stuff, thus no learning nor growth could occur!

The reason most people can’t “find a good church” is because they can’t find a church that preaches every tiny detail of their personalized, particular doctrines.

Instead of looking for a church that has “good doctrine” when you mean “my doctrine,” look for a church that emphasizes the Bible and helps you use it.

My goal as a pastor is to help people learn to handle the Bible correctly. We may diverge on points of doctrinal understanding, but my intent is to help people know how to use the Bible and figure it out for themselves.

Find a church that honors the Scriptures and helps you analyze and think about it. A church that helps you understand context and how to find the meaning of a passage.

I’m frankly disturbed by how many pastors I know who have told me they’ve never read the Bible. As cynical as I am, that still stuns me.

If a guy doesn’t know how to read and study the Bible, how is he going to help you do that?

The job of a church is to grow people into Christ, the Word made flesh. Find a church that studies the Bible and helps you study it, not just a church that makes you conform to a set of beliefs.

Pastors are people too. They grow. They change beliefs (they should do these things anyway). There are no pastors out there with Perfect Doctrine. None. There are no churches out there with Perfect Doctrine.

The best you can hope for is a church and a pastor who will help you grow into Christ and get better doctrine. Sign up for that and you’ll be just fine.

Doctrine and Salvation

All Christians will tell you that salvation is by grace through faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

At the same time, start talking to these Christians and you’ll see that many of them will have divergent beliefs as to what salvation is, what faith is, what grace is, and maybe even in who Jesus Christ is.

And pretty much all of them will, at some point, say, “If you don’t believe what I believe about this doctrine then you aren’t saved.”

“This doctrine” can be Calvinism, substitutionary atonement, eternal security, the trinity, creationism, particular brand of End Times views, etc. I’ve heard all of these used at various times as eternity determining Shibboleths.

It appears to me that many believers think there’s this magic moment where all of a sudden, BOOM, I have right doctrine! Now that I’ve achieved right doctrine, I am saved! Yippee!

I can honestly say to you that I do not know when I was saved. There was a prayer said when I was a kid, I remember that. But faith didn’t really grow in me until college. Before that it was just kind of this thing that was there that people around me did.

When I began thinking about my faith, I went with various doctrines that sounded good, because I didn’t know any better. I believed substitutionary atonement and Calvinism, two things I now find problematic.

I believe I was saved at the time, which is why I made progress and why I put work in to figure out what I believed. I was pursuing Christ, which led me to question doctrines I had empty-headedly received simply because I didn’t know any better.

If I were to say “If you’re a Calvinist you can’t be saved” I would be saying that I wasn’t saved! If I said, “Anyone who believes in substitutionary atonement isn’t saved” I would be saying that I myself wasn’t saved when I believed these things.

But I can’t honestly say that. I didn’t know what I believed, it wasn’t personal, but those things were the best explanations at the time.

Sunday School Faith is going along with what you were taught as a kid and just accepting it and hanging on to it because that’s what I was given, that’s what I’ll take.

Sunday School Faith is fine if you’re a kid in Sunday School! If you’re 47 now and haven’t progressed beyond Sunday School Faith, that’s a problem!

You should have begun examining, testing, and thinking about what you believe. Unless you had a perfect Sunday School (you didn’t), you will find things you no longer agree with once you start learning the Bible.

And this is perfectly fine. This is not a rejection of Sunday School. Nor is it saying you weren’t saved until you had achieved Perfect Doctrine.

It’s called growth. It’s called sanctification. I worry more about people who still believe everything they were taught as kids then those who’ve turned on much of what they were taught.

At least they’re finally thinking about it!

Give each other some space to grow. Some freedom to think and question. Those who sit in some ivory tower and proclaim that “only people who believe everything I believe are saved” are stifling growth.

I’d rather have you disagree with me and grow into Christ than agree with me and not grow at all.

There were other elements of my upbringing I examined, rejected, and then later saw that they were actually right! I held a doctrine, rejected the doctrine, and later took that doctrine back. You don’t know everything. You should be learning every day. When you learn new things your beliefs should change.

There is no magic Right Doctrine Level you achieve.

Doctrine means “teachings.” If you’re learning, you’re being taught, and this teaching is what doctrine is! The idea is not to have this magic level of perfect doctrine; the idea is to grow into Christ.

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death
–Philippians 3:10

What Is Sound Doctrine?

Last week I talked about being careful about how we define the Gospel and what we believe. It is better to quote Scripture than theologians. This is true for several reasons:

Theologians are human and can be wrong; the Bible is God-breathed and is truth.

Theologians use big words to sound smart and right; the Bible just explains stuff without trying to impress.

Theologians make money by saying new things; the Bible was freely given and freely received.

Theologians often build off what other theologians said rather than off the Scripture; the Bible was revealed and approved as given and is our solid ground.

Theologians evolve theology; the Scripture is based on God’s revelation and does not change.

Many get upset when you push-back against church doctrines too much. You will be accused of being arrogant and on a slippery slope to heresy. Church tradition is upheld as a valid source of doctrinal belief.

As much as I believe the Body of Christ contained many people through the years who wrote brilliantly about the Bible, I still don’t think we need Church Tradition to have sound doctrine.

Read some Church History and observe Church Tradition and how ugly, confusing, and wrong it was over the years. Whose church is it that has this magic tradition we should adhere to? Why do we not listen to Church Traditions of churches we disagree with that are older than ours?

Again, I’m not bashing those who have come before us, nor am I saying I have it all right so who needs anyone else. What I am saying is that I have no more faith in myself than I do anyone else!

What I do have faith in is God and His Word. My attempt is to study His Word, to use it rightly so I will mature in the faith.

Verses get thrown around at this point trying to prove from Scripture that we need to listen to Church Tradition (again, I think Church Tradition can be helpful, but I do not view it as a source of authority on what to believe).

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.
–Romans 16:17

See, right there! Paul says to stick with the church tradition you were taught! True, but is he referring to Church Tradition as we understand it?

Timothy was taught by the Apostles, people who wrote the Epistles. There was no Church Tradition at this early stage of the Church! Paul is saying to stick with the Apostle’s teaching. He wants us to do that too. Guess where you can find the Apostle’s teaching? In some fabricated apostolic succession theory? Nope. You find it in the writings of the Apostles found in your Bible.

Any of the verses used to say that someone should stick with what they were taught are talking about apostolic revelation, not Church Tradition. Don’t let people fool you on that one. There was no Church Tradition when the Bible was written.

Instead, base your doctrine on the Word of God. One thing the Bible warns us about is getting sucked into following humanly devised doctrines.

Ephesians 4 says we need to be hooked up with a local body of believers in order to grow into Christ so that

we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

We need other believers to keep us in check, to preach the Word, and grow us into Christ so that we don’t get tricked into following people!

I think that’s cool. We need spiritually gifted people to keep us from falling for spiritually deceptive people.

Eyes that can see by the Holy Spirit will be able, with diligence, to understand the Scriptures. When you are taught by the Spirit and the Scriptures, you can then teach others what the Scripture says by the Spirit. This protects people from fleshly deception.

Spiritually gifted people are not interested in getting followers of their doctrine; they are interested in getting people to know Jesus Christ. Watch out for people who talk more about their theologian and their pet doctrines than biblically pointing people to Christ.

We need the Bible. Use the Bible. Memorize the Bible. Get your doctrine from the Bible. Define your doctrine with Bible verses, and not just scripture references tacked on in parenthesis that may or may not say what you said, but I mean actually quote scripture to define what you believe.

People in the Church can help you, but none are infallible. You don’t win points with God by believing what some guy said. Read the Bible. Figure it out. Use all the helps that are available. Use the gifted people in the Body of Christ. Pray for illumination from the Spirit and get to work!

Confused By Doctrine

Most evangelicals were raised with the substitutionary atonement theory of the Gospel, whether they know those words or not. Most evangelical teaching is based on what other people said, not necessarily on the Bible. But we confuse the two. We assume, because good evangelicals teach us, this must be what the Bible says.

When a person comes along and says, “What about this verse?” And that verse pokes a hole in our long-held doctrine, we don’t quite know what to do. People respond in the following ways:

  1. Attack! Call the questioner a heretic scum and let them know they are veering into dangerous territory. How dare you poke on the Church’s doctrine, you ingrate!
  2. Ignore. Immediately chalk that person up as a heretic and no longer listen. Keep yourself in your safe bubble and keep smiling, happy to be the one person on earth with 100% correct doctrine!
  3. Confused Apathy. Doctrine is hard, I don’t get it. All you bookish people can argue; I just love Jesus, even though I have no idea what it is He actually did (There is a point here at some level, but doctrinal ignorance is not spiritual bliss). Doctrine does not need to involve big words and official lingo. The more people use that stuff, the less confidence you should have in them. Doctrine is what the Bible says; not what theologians say.
  4. Examination. One would expect that, if we are learning more every day about the Bible, our doctrines would change. I’m really not sure why we are afraid to change doctrine. When someone disagrees, you don’t have to immediately give up and accept the new thing you heard, please don’t! Don’t change for change’s sake. But you should examine it, know what your stance is, how you would explain it. Do some work. Think it through. Ask some questions.

The tendency to make doctrine solely for smart, academic seminarians is a really bad idea. Everyone has doctrine. Doctrine is simply what you’ve been taught.

None of us has had perfect teachers. None of us. No one.

Therefore, one would assume we’ve been taught incorrect things. This is not disparaging your teachers; this is human reality. What your fallible teachers have taught fallible you should be examined by you at some point.

I would venture to say that’s a lot of what spiritual maturity is all about. Paul says when he became a man, he put away childish things.

Kids are taught lots of things, some good and some bad. As kids grow up, they learn to question their teachers and not just swallow everything they are told. Mature people put what they’ve learned into action. Lots of those things don’t work. When you realize that, you begin to examine what you were taught.

This is education.

Don’t be afraid to think about the Bible. Please don’t be afraid to think about stuff that pretty much every evangelical says! Many who have taught you have never read the Bible.

Doctrine is not scary, nor is it confusing. Most doctrinal confusion stems from “How come the Bible doesn’t say what I was taught?” This really isn’t a confusing issue: It’s because you were taught wrong stuff!

Read the Word. Pray for the Spirit’s help. Don’t let complex, big-worded doctrine confuse you and make you think the Bible is too hard. The fact that you can’t understand theologians is not a bad thing! The Bible never asked you to understand them!

For example, when it comes to Substitutionary Atonement, it doesn’t matter if you understand those words, or if you like them, or if you can even pronounce them. What matters is if you know that Jesus Christ did everything necessary for your salvation and your trust is in Him and the power of His Gospel to transform your life.

Here’s what CS Lewis says about Substitutionary Atonement. I like it, cuz it’s what I’m trying to say, only he says it better, except he does leave out the resurrection, which was also pretty huge:

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself.

A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works.


Doctrine does not require large theology books. It requires the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Get those things and then use them. Doctrine will take care of itself.

Consequences of Substitutionary Atonement

Substitutionary Atonement (SA) is a flawed understanding of the Gospel, in my opinion. SA says that Christ died in the exact place of every believer so they don’t have to.

The Bible says believers were crucified with Christ. “With” is different than “in the place of.”

As an example, when Christ was crucified, two thieves were crucified too. Listen to how the Bible talks about this:

Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left
–Matthew 27:38

These thieves were crucified with Christ. By “with” it is meant that they were also crucified alongside of Christ! In no way would we take “with” here to mean “Christ died in place of those two thieves.”

So, later, when Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ,” there is no way Paul is saying “Christ was crucified in my place so I don’t have to.”

Yet the Church has taught this idea of substitution for about 600 years. Wrong doctrine leads to wrong living. What we believe determines what we do. We want to get our thinking right so our lives are right.

We can now observe trends in the church since SA was invented and has taken root, and quite frankly, I’m not impressed.

SA has led to several flawed outcomes:

  1. Calvinism. It is particularly seen in the completely anti-biblical notion of Limited Atonement as we’ve discussed. Calvinism is wrong, and it’s wrong because it’s based on a faulty notion of the Gospel. Calvinism is SA; SA is Calvinism.
  2. Easy-Believism. It’s great to talk about how some guy 2,000 years ago did some painful thing for me and all I do is believe it like a fairy tale, and then reap the benefits. If Christ did it all for me and it’s all about Him, then I’m basically inconsequential. Who cares? I believe the story so I’m done.
  3. Health and Wealth. Christ took all the bad stuff, all we get are the blessings. Christ did the suffering so we could live it up. My increasing bank balance proves the degree to which I believe in Jesus Christ. Suffering and death are far removed from health and wealth doctrine.
  4. Biblical Illiteracy. If Christ did the dying and the raising and I have nothing to do with anything, then in what sense do I need any instruction about anything? Who cares what I do if all that matters is what Christ did? If I’m not crucified with Him, then I am not raised up with Him to new life, so who needs instructions about how to live a new life? The Bible becomes irrelevant.
  5. Let Go and Let God. Christ does it all, we passively sit by and let all the stuff Christ did take care of everything. We idly sit by, being stoic and victorious in our happy thoughts. Christ does the suffering; we do the sitting and smiling.

The Bible does not teach that Christ died in your place. The Bible says Christ died for you, and, if you believe His Gospel, you are crucified, buried, and raised up with Christ. This looks like a loss of all things related to your old way of life. It looks like an actual death takes place, old things are passed away. There is then a new life identified with Christ’s resurrection life. We need to be taught this new way of life by the Spirit, who mortifies the deeds of the body and instructs us in what to do so spiritual fruit results.

Today’s evangelical Gospel is completely passive to the believer. It’s all about what some guy did 2,000 years ago and we just sit and soak up the benefits.

The New Testament does not speak this way.

There is a fight to be fought, a race to be won. There is an enemy to resist. There is supposed to be sacrifice, suffering, and cross carrying. There is a life-giving love for others, including enemies. There is a humility and a service, the mind of Christ, that lays down life for the benefit of others.

This new way of life is only possible through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of His Spirit working in us. There is no way we can do this on our own. But this in no way means we don’t have something to do with it! There are tons of commands in the New Testament, things we’re supposed to do, and there’s a coming judgment to assess how we did with what we were given.

SA is a passive understanding of the Gospel: what someone else did in your place that you have no part in. The New Testament speaks of the Gospel as being vital, alive, incredibly active and life-changing. There is power here, power at work in the believer. It’s not simply a historical fact that we intellectually are cool with.

This is life! This is power! This is something exhilarating and life altering! The Gospel makes things happen to you. It rebirths you, raises you up to new life, gives you resources to defeat and put to death the affections and lusts of the old way of life, and come alive to new life in Christ.

There’s so much here, and I think SA completely undermines it and gives believers the idea that the Gospel is just a cute story we believe about some historical figure and since I’m in the club that likes that story, I’ll just carry on like before, happy I’m in the right club.

The Gospel is not a passive acceptance of a story. It’s a new way of life! A life we get by joining in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

How To Define Doctrine

I’ve been riffing about this quote the last few days:

A rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a rejection of the gospel. Either you’re saved through the work of Christ on the Cross, or you’re not saved at all.

This quote makes it sound as if penal substitutionary atonement is the Gospel. Salvation would then be pinned upon believing penal substitutionary atonement.

I believe penal substitutionary atonement is a man-made doctrine, a result of Calvinistic philosophy, and is not inherently Biblical.

“Penal substitutionary atonement” is mentioned zero times in the New Testament, written after there was a revealed and understood Gospel.

Now, I know, “Trinity isn’t in the Bible either, yet you believe in that.” True. The concept is there and the doctrine of the trinity is the best explanation I’ve heard of how the Bible speaks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Penal substitutionary atonement is not, in my opinion, the best explanation of the Gospel.

Furthermore, having an unorthodox doctrine of the trinity (one that does not measure up to the man-made definition of what the trinity is), does not disqualify you from salvation.

However, I have heard proponents of the trinity say that if you reject their notion of the trinity you can’t be saved. I’m not sure about that.

I do think wrong views of who God is will impact your doctrine on many levels and it is a vital doctrine, but can anyone fully explain it?

The Trinity is never explicitly explained in Scripture, whereas the Gospel is repeatedly explained. The Trinity is a pretty good attempt to draw together hints in the Scripture about God. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is not a very good summation of all the Bible clearly and repeatedly says about the Gospel.

The fact that we have definitions that we like and agree upon does not mean we actually understand it correctly. In other words, just because you think you’re right doesn’t necessarily mean you are right!

Making people believe your idea, no matter how orthodox (accepted) it may be, is still not a basis of salvation.

Back to penal substitutionary atonement. If penal substitutionary atonement is equal to the Gospel, and must be believed to be saved, shouldn’t these concepts be explicitly stated?

Yet the word “penal,” “penalty,” “penalize,” or any other word with “penal” in it is never once used in relationship to the Gospel in the New Testament.

The word “substitute,” “substitution,” “substitutionary,” or any other word with “substitute” in it is never used in the New Testament in relationship to the Gospel.

Allow me to really shock you and say that the word “atone,” “atoned,” “atonement,” or any other word including the root “atone” is never used in the New Testament in relation to the Gospel (“Atonement” is used one time in the KJV when they mistranslated a Greek word).

It seems weird to me that believing penal substitutionary atonement is required in order to believe the Gospel when none of these words is ever used in relation to the Gospel.

There are, no doubt, verses that people can list that hint at these words (Isaiah 53 being the closest to the idea), there may be concepts that are similar, but alas, none of these words is ever used.

I do not have to believe your doctrine in order to believe the Gospel. I do not have to use your non-biblical words. In fact, I prefer not using the word “trinity” simply because it’s not a biblical word. I prefer “godhead” much better, because there is at least biblical precedent for using such a word.

When we explain to people what we believe, what our doctrine is, it is always best to quote Scripture. It is better to say it the way the Bible says it than to quote what people said.

I, in no way, think doctrine is unimportant. On the contrary, I think doctrine is so important that we should be very careful in what we say it is and how we define it. Instead of using our words, ideas, and concepts, it seems better to quote Scripture.

If a person were to ask me, “Hey, Jeff, what is the Gospel?”

I would not answer by quoting the definition of penal substitutionary atonement. I would instead quote 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

I can rest on that. I’d rather rest on the foundation of Scripture than on the teetering, fallible doctrines of men. If someone has a problem with my defining biblical quote, then I end up defending the Bible, which is way better than defending what some guys said.

If your doctrine uses non-biblical words, I am immediately skeptical. I assume human philosophy has entered your doctrine. I also wonder how well you know the Scripture. Is this unfair judgment on my part? Maybe, then again, the Bible tells me to test the spirits and I don’t mess around with that.

Doctrine is important. The Gospel is important. So important that we should be very careful in how we define it, explain it, and defend it. You can’t go wrong quoting the Bible. Do so.

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