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    Higher Criticism treated Scripture as a historical document that needed to be analyzed and checked for errors.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.

Reformed:
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 Monergism.com, 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 Monergism.com 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!