Don’t Confuse Your Favorite Theologian with Jesus

I’ve finished reading the 61-page Introduction to The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, a cause for celebration.

Incidentally, I am reading a translation done by O. R. Johnston and J. I. Packer, so if you know those names, I assume they are the ones who wrote the Introduction.

The conclusion emphasized the centrality of denying free will and promoting the concept of monergism in salvation (the idea that God acts alone in saving people; we have nothing to do with it).

Faith is only something God gives you after He regenerates you, they say. Then they say this:

to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other.

Eesh. That makes me cringe all over the place. But they go a step further. Disagreeing with Luther is un-Christian and also, get this, don’t know if you knew this or not, but disagreeing with Luther means you disagree with Jesus Himself.

I’m serious. Here’s the quote:

If the almighty God of the Bible is to be our God, if the New Testament Gospel is to be our message, if Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever–is any other position than Luther’s possible?

Double eesh.

Let me answer that question with a very definite “yes.”

Disagreeing with Luther is not disagreeing with Jesus. Statements like this should alert you that you’re dealing with fanboys.

He went through a list of Reformers who held Luther’s views on this issue, including John Calvin, of course. They maintain that all the Reformers, at least the ones they like, all agreed on our inability to have faith and be saved unless God does it all.

One thing all these Reformers, at least the ones they mention, have in common is that they all loved Augustine.

Disagreeing with Luther does not make you disagree with Jesus Christ; it makes you disagree with Augustine. Which is totally fine by the way.

1 John 2:27 says “the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you.” If you have the Holy Spirit you don’t need a man to teach you.

If your doctrine is entirely based on a person, you’re not using the Holy Spirit. If you think you need to adhere to Luther or Calvin or Augustine or me in order to know Jesus, you’re out of your ever lovin’ mind.

People can help teach you, but to think you need a person to know Christ is insane. Never, ever elevate a person’s teaching to a level where you think disagreeing with them is disagreeing with Jesus.

Agree with Jesus; to the extent we agree with Jesus is the extent to which we will agree with each other.

This Introduction has entirely creeped me out.

Wrong Doctrine, Mystery, and Faith

The Introduction of Bondage of the Will is summarizing Luther’s words on two main issues of salvation:

1. Can man save Himself outside of God’s willing it and making Him saved? Luther’s answer is no.

2. How can God send people to hell for doing what God made them do? Luther doesn’t know.

On both points, the conclusion is that God does stuff that doesn’t make any sense to us. In fact, God often does stuff that contradicts Scripture.

I kid you not, that’s what the Introduction says: God does things that contradict Scripture. Of course he tones it down a bit to say “it seems” like it contradicts Scripture, but let’s be real here. Luther says stuff that contradicts Scripture is clearly what is being said.

Here’s a quote from Luther:

If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith.

The author of the Introduction then says in the sentence after this quote:

And it is here, when faced with appearances that seem to contradict God’s own word, that faith is tried; for here, reason rises up in arms against it.

I already had trouble with what Luther has said about free will. I already thought Luther contradicts Scripture on any number of points. But to hear him come right out and admit that he does, AND FURTHER, to say that he has to contradict Scripture in order to have faith is unreal.

Let me throw one verse at you to contrast with the two quotes above, one of my favorite verses because it clarifies so much, Romans 10:17:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

According to the Bible, God’s Word, faith means listening to God’s Word, believing exactly what God says.

According to Bondage of the Will, Luther’s word, faith means what you have when what you think disagrees with God’s word or when you don’t understand it.

It’s always amazing to me to watch people believe things and then struggle with how what they believe does not agree with the Bible. This is where “mystery” comes in.

Back to the Introduction:

Everything that God reveals about Himself transcends man’s comprehension; every doctrine, therefore, must of necessity terminate in mystery, and man must humbly acquiesce to having it so.

This is completely false. If everything God reveals is revealed to make no sense, then why did He reveal it? What’s the point of God revealing things if even after revealing it we don’t understand it?

God reveals things to be understood; that’s kind of the point of revfelation. The secret things belong to God; the things that are revealed belong to us.

Are there aspects of what God says that leave us with wonder and further questions? Certainly, but to assert that every doctrine God reveals leaves us sitting here not comprehending things is just nuts.

It’s mind boggling when theologians come to see that the Bible doesn’t say what they believe, that they don’t use that opportunity to change what they believe. Oh no! On the contrary, they get busy saying how the Bible is wrong or unclear.

They then use their non-sensical doctrine that the Bible disagrees with to be a sign of mature faith! You have faith when you have no clue what you’re talking about!

The Bible says faith is hearing God’s word. Faith is not what you have when you don’t understand God’s Word. God said stuff to be understood. Understanding God’s Word is actually what Faith is.

“By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, sat around wondering at the mystery of what God told them to do.” Not what it says.

By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, did exactly to the letter what God said because that’s what faith is: understanding and acting on exactly what God says. Faith does not show up in mysterious unclearness and uncomprehendingness.

If faith means trusting God when you’re clueless, then Romans 10 is out. I sincerely would mistrust anyone who told me faith is what you have in confusion. “I don’t understand anything, but oh well, guess I’ll push through and just believe.” That’s not faith.

Faith is unshakable confidence that God speaks truth and regardless of what I believe, think, or prefer, what God says is true, right, and understandable and then acts on it.

I fail to see how Luther’s understanding of faith would foster spiritual growth. Luther’s end of faith is complete confusion, not certainty–all doctrine terminates in mystery. That has to mean that the more you grow, the less you know. That’s just crazy.

Grace and Free Will

The other day I wrote a post about the long standing Christian tradition of opposing grace with human effort.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace. If you do stuff, you can’t have any relation with God’s grace.

Therefore, the people who emphasize grace the most are the ones who say they don’t do anything.

This explains why Calvinist doctrine, summed up with TULIP, are referred to by them as “the doctrines of grace.”

Calvinists go whole hog on this issue. They don’t think we do one thing on our own. Every single molecule of creation is always doing exactly what God tells it to do. Therefore, you don’t do anything. In their mind, this is why their doctrines are “THE doctrines of grace.”

The Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will (yes, I’m still reading the Introduction), says:

The denial of ‘free-will’ was to Luther the foundation of the Biblical doctrine of grace, and a hearty endorsement of that denial was the first step for anyone who would understand the gospel and come to faith in God.

The author goes on to say that Erasmus (the guy Luther argues with in Bondage of the Will) thought people had an ability to do a small thing to be saved, we had something to do with it, not meriting our salvation, but there was something we did to initiate it.

Luther says “No.” There’s nothing we contribute. Salvation is of grace. If we did something then God owes us salvation, and God does not have to pay anyone for services rendered.

This is funny. Read the quote above again.

Did you see it?! Luther says heartily denying free will is the “first step” in coming to faith in God! Isn’t that something I have to do to get saved then Marty?!

This is where this whole “there’s no free will” argument just gets ridiculous.

Luther goes on to say that people who think they are saved by work and effort at least put a high price on salvation. Erasmus, who thinks it’s only a little thing we do to get salvation, treat salvation as though it’s cheap.

OK, but if people who do a lot for salvation hold salvation highly, and people who do a little to get saved value salvation cheaply, then please tell me how people who don’t think you do anything to get saved value salvation!

I’m still in the Introduction and I’m about to lose my mind.

Jonathan Edwards and Being Saved by Works

Jonathan Edwards is considered by some to be America’s greatest theologian. I don’t know about that.

What I do know is that Jonathan Edwards is a Calvinist of the first order. John Piper credits much of his Calvinistic preaching to Jonathan Edwards.

If you want Calvinist doctrine; read Jonathan Edwards.

Calvinism teaches that man does not have free will. That God ordained before your birth whether you would go to heaven or hell. You have nothing to do with it. The only people who believe the Gospel are people God previously regenerated.

I don’t know if Edwards went for all that, but many modern Calvinists who worship at the feet of Edwards certainly do.

That being the case, I was shocked to read the following quote from Jonathan Edwards the Preacher by Robert Turnbull. Quote is on page 98.

“The only hope of escape [from eternal punishment] is by the free gift of salvation from God. This cannot be won by man’s efforts, but if one is violent in seeking salvation and diligent in fulfilling all the duties God has prescribed, there is the probability that God will give him saving grace–although, of course, He is not bound to do so. Therefore be violent for the Kingdom.”

Did you catch that? Let me quote one part for emphasis:

This cannot be won by man’s efforts, but if one is violent in seeking salvation and diligent in fulfilling all the duties God has prescribed, there is the probability that God will give him saving grace

This is as unbelievable sentence. Not only does it make no theological sense, I’m not even sure it makes common sense. Words cease to mean things when used like this.

It’s just like the Westminster Confession–God has ordained everything that comes to pass, but He’s not the author of sin. He ordains everything but He doesn’t ordain sin? So does He ordain everything or not? Calvinists are famous for making bold statements that are completely undermined in the next sentence. If you question this, they’ll just tell you you’re dumb and it’s all a “mystery.”

Edwards is going all out Pelagian with this one. I wish people would actually read the theologians they so admire. I guarantee you’ll admire them less after a while! Which is perfectly fine because you’re supposed to be following Christ and adhering to His word anyway.

Later on the same page, the author says about the above quote, “Such discourses Edwards claimed were the ones most remarkably blessed.”

The appeals that worked were the ones that were completely contrary to his Calvinist doctrines. In other words, Edwards was a Calvinist until he wanted results. He pragmatically chucks Calvinism to get the numbers!

The author of this book is a huge fan of Edwards. It was close to a hagiography. So I was doubly stunned when I read this page.

I have never met a Calvinist who was a consistent Calvinist. Calvinism makes no sense and everyone knows it. Even Jonathan Edwards knew it. He was man enough to admit it, and sleazy enough to drop it in order to manipulate people.

God bless us, every one.

Augustine and the Crusades

I am not a fan of Augustine. I think he did more damage to the church than any other human being. The odds that he’s a saint are minuscule, in my occasionally humble opinion.

Focusing in on just one area of his heretical ideas, here’s a quote from a new book entitled Crusaders by Dan Jones. The quote is from page 46-47.

“[Augustine} understood that once Christianity had swapped the status of renegade cult for that of imperial creed, the tenets of faith would have to be made compatible with the demands of an empire built for war. In City of God Augustine put up a robust defense of Christianity’s place within the Roman state, arguing that “the wise man will wage just wars . . . it is the injustice of the opposing side that lays on the wise man the necessity of waging just wars.” Elsewhere he suggested four clearly identifiable conditions under which a war could be considered just: It was fought for a good cause; it’s purpose was either to defend or regain property; it was approved by a legitimate authority; and the people doing the fighting were motivated by the right reasons.”

This rationale, according to Dan Jones, was the foundation for the Roman Catholic Church to do the Crusades.

The Crusades are one of the ugliest chapters in Church History. Any book on the Crusades will leave you shaking your head in disbelief at the stuff done in the name of Christ.

Clearly the church of the day was not listening to Christ, the Bible, or anyone who had the Holy Spirit. They were listening to Augustine, however.

Before Christianity was the official religion of Rome, it was a tiny little cult that was constantly beaten on. With official status came entanglement in politics.

Every time the church gets tied in with politics the church loses. Massively. Before long the church is doing evil things in the name of Christ.

Please read church history. Please keep the church out of politics and politics out of the church. Christianity operates better as an oppressed faction than a ruling party.

Please read Augustine and find out how much insanity in Christianity came from his deranged head.

Please read the Bible. Read and understand and you’ll never listen to Augustine, go crusading, mix politics and religion, or have any level of earthly success, which is always the foundation of eternal, heavenly success.

Let the reader understand.

Reformation Day Reminder

Today is Reformation Day, the alleged date that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the Wittenberg church’s door.

Luther was certainly right to have a problem with the indulgences of the Catholic Church and call them out on their profiteering.

As with most reactionary responses, it went to an equally ridiculous extreme. Luther invented the concept of Sola Fide, which refers to being justified by faith alone.

The only problem is that the only time the Bible mentions “faith alone” is in James 2:24

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

So, you are now left having to choose between Sola Fide or Sola Scriptura. Faith Alone or Scripture Alone? Choose carefully, because it can’t be both!

Guess which one Luther chose? You guessed it: he went with his pet doctrine over Scripture.

“Therefore St James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it . . . The epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the Papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest…Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove . . . I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.”
–Martin Luther

This Reformation Day, take some time to reflect on your faith. How much is based on Scripture and how much is based on defending doctrines that your guys hold? How much of the Bible do you need to throw away to maintain your doctrine? Is your faith consistent with Scripture? Do you know the Scriptures well enough to answer that question? If not, don’t you think you might want to figure that out before you stand before God and give an account?

Don’t worry about reforming the church; reform your own faith.

Evangelical Christians and Politics

I am reading a book called, The Evangelicals. It is a history of the Evangelical movement within American Christianity, particularly the political involvement they have gotten into over the years.

It’s a 600 page book. The first 200 pages dealt with Wesley through Billy Graham. The last 400 is from Billy Graham to today. It has bogged down tremendously.

One fascinating thing that stands out to me is how ridiculous, from a historical perspective, church leaders look when they get involved in politics.

Politics is driven by fear. There are HUGE problems, so vote for us to solve them. If they solved them; you wouldn’t need them anymore! So, they never get around to solving issues, just changing them and freaking everyone out along the way so they get votes.

When the Church, which is allegedly filled with people with eternal hope, gets involved in temporal squabbles heightened by fear, they look really stupid.

This is especially true when they fall for predictions about the future. There have been so many “threats” to us that should have wiped us out. But none of the major fears ever developed and predictions, predictably (!), fail.

What happened was Evangelicalism, which originally just meant people who were focused on the Gospel (the “evangel” part of Evangelical), got wrapped up with politics. Billy Graham solidified the movement. He thought he was doing the right thing at the time. Richard Nixon broke his heart.

The church got sucked into Republican politics with the Moral Majority and so forth in the 1970’s-90’s. They got carried away and got used, while America continued to remain firmly nowhere near Evangelical ideals.

So, the church learned its lesson. It got tired of being lumped in with rightwing nutjobs. Which brings us to today.

While reading this book about the roaring 70’s-90’s Republican Christian Might, a debate over the Social Gospel erupted.

The Social Gospel, often called Social Justice, Movement is nothing more than leftwing nutjob thinking.

The lesson the church apparently has learned from our losing with the Right, is to join the Left.

I fully expect that in about 40 years all these church leaders fired up over the new leftwing Social Justice stuff will look just as ridiculous as the rightwingers of the 70’s look to us now.

Allow me to posit a theory.

Perhaps the lesson the church should have learned from the disastrous Moral Majority days, is not to shift from the Right to the Left, but rather to stay out of the world’s fray to begin with.

Something like, oh, I don’t know, come out from among them and be separate. What fellowship has light with darkness? Set your affection on things above and not things on the earth. Not falling for the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches that choke out spiritual growth.

Maybe something like that. You know, like, what the Bible says and stuff.

Just a theory.

Health and Wealth is American Christianity

A recent LifeWay study found that 75% of Evangelicals believe that God wants them to materially prosper.

The Health and Wealth Gospel used to be a peripheral message in the church; it is now one of our new fundamentals of the faith.

The Bible is massively against materialism and material success. It, in fact, says that the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke out faith.

If you trace back the Health and Wealth Gospel you will find it originated around a guy named DL Moody.

Moody, in order to fund his revivals and his schools, hit up businessmen constantly for money. In order to get money from rich guys, you have to preach a message that doesn’t make rich guys feel guilty.

Mr. John Wanamaker was a successful businessman. He invited Moody to speak at a lecture for businessman that would be “tailored more than any that preceded it to the needs of business and professional people who wanted to be freed from the guilt of doing what they were doing.”

In other words, don’t make them feel guilty for making money.

Moody dipped into Health and Wealth teaching when he wrote, “It’s a wonderful fact that men and women saved by the blood of Jesus rarely remain subjects of charity, but rise at once to comfort and respectability.”

He later said, “I don’t see how a man can follow Christ and not be successful.”

Clearly, DL Moody was not as extreme as some of our modern televangelists. But he got awful close. There is a dark side to American revivalists, one that seems to follow the tents. DL Moody, Billy Sunday, right on up to the modern televangelists.

There’s something about coming up with a message that appeals to a large audience that seems to feed on materialism. Perhaps because people want wealth and desperately want to get rich quick. If we can make the Gospel sound like the trick, people will “get saved.”

I’m not trying to besmirch anyone’s character, I merely point out Church History facts. The Health and Wealth Gospel didn’t drop out of the sky! There’s a logical and recorded development that got us where we are today.

If you think Christianity is going to make you rich, successful, and respectable, I suggest not reading the Bible, for that will end your dream.

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.

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.

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.

3 Problems With Luther’s Opinion of James

Earlier I wrote about Martin Luther’s problem with the book of James. Luther wants justification to be by faith only. James disagrees with Luther. This led Luther to say the following:

“Therefore St James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it . . . The epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the Papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest…Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove . . . I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.”

I would like to make several points about this quote.

First, he says James has “nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.” This is a common attack on James, probably from people copying Luther. James only mentions Jesus Christ twice. He makes no mention of resurrection, Gospel, the cross, or any other Gospely words.

The reason is not because James doesn’t know the Gospel or is somehow opposed to it (his half-brother was the Messiah, people!). The reason is because he’s writing to a group of people, Jewish Christians, who already think they are saved and yet are showing no signs of conversion.  He is writing to defeat easy-believism. He wants people to know that even demons believe! Faith isn’t the whole story.

James is an epistle intended for an audience in our day as well. James is very practical. People don’t like practical; we like the theoretical. We’d rather theoretically believe we are saved than actually have to practically live as though we were. James knows our state today; it was the same state of religion in his day. There is nothing new under the sun.

Secondly, Luther says James gives us trouble because “the Papists embrace it alone.” Most of the push-back I’ve received about questioning justification by faith alone, has been phrased in fears of Catholicism. I have been accused of being Catholic and of dragging my church back into Catholicism. I find this ridiculous.

I am not Catholic. I feel creepy just going into Catholic type places. I am not telling anyone to become Catholic. I don’t want you to light candles, do holy water things, do hand motion kneeling things, baptize babies (which Luther did despite his “by faith alone” bluster), or any other man-made, humanly devised rituals that accomplish nothing but feelings.

Accusing people of becoming Catholic, or undoing the Reformation, for questioning the unbiblical idea of justification by faith alone is merely the modern day political response of your enemy politician being Hitler. I recommend some more thought on the issue rather than a flippant dismissal and fearmongering about being Catholic.

Here’s a little historical fact for you: James was not Catholic.

Third, Luther says “some Jew” saw Christian faith and said ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.” Notice what Luther did to James’ quote. Luther says James “urges works alone.” Did you get that? Did James ever say people were justified by works alone? No he did not.

The main problem with Luther’s theology appears to be a habit of putting “alone” in places where no one put “alone.”

This is where you know Luther is getting carried away. He’s just making stuff up now. He made up that Paul said we were justified by faith alone, which Paul never said. He made up that James said we were justified by works alone, which James never said.

Slightly rephrasing quotes is quite common in Christianity, and other areas as well. Get original quotes, not people’s quotations of quotes. Go to the source. James and Paul don’t say what Luther says they say. Read the Bible. Seriously. Read the Bible. Check what you hear with Scripture. Test the spirits.

Luther was right to question the Catholic Church, particularly on their idea that you need the Catholic Church, its priests, and systems to get right with God. You don’t. Kudos to Luther for sticking his neck out to fight that fight.

But Luther is just a guy and just as fallible as a pope, which amounts to a lot fallible. I am also fallible. Here’s some news: you are fallible too.

Our job is to read Scripture and help each other understand more and more of it. To assemble together to encourage one another to good works, and so much the more as we see the day approaching.

Why the Church is Talking About Healing so Much

My last few posts have been about Charismatic Healing doctrines. I am hearing Christians talk more and more about healing these days, which got me thinking.

Back in the 60’s-70’s the Charismatic emphasis was on love and happy thoughts, Hippies for Jesus and Jesus People.

In the 80’s Charismatics emphasized speaking in tongues.

In the 90’s it was all about prosperity and wealth.

Now it seems Charismatics are pushing physical healing.

The emphasis did not exclude the existence of these other things, they all go together, but there were definite emphases.

Most of these, with the exception of tongues, since I can’t think of why that was specifically there then, are a direct reflection of culture.

Hippies were big around Jesus People time, we promised getting high on Jesus and not on drugs. Wealth was big around the US’s booming economy followed by recessions and uncertainty. It is no surprise that in our day of constant talk about universal health care and the expense of medical treatment, that the church is pushing free health care by the Spirit.

The church is simply using what flesh people want and then promising those same flesh benefits.

Does it work? The charismatic church has been the largest growing segment of Christianity in the last 50 years, and it’s not even close.

It’s no surprise that if you want to attract people, promise them their fleshly desires at no charge.

Unfortunately, the filled churches are talking about flesh experiences so much, they rarely get around to spiritual teaching.

The church has sold our birthright for a bowl of pottage.

If only the Bible had a warning about how dumb that is.

We should all be in a state of mourning for the condition of the church today.

Definitions of Sola Scriptura Undermine Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura, the idea that the Bible is our sole source for spiritual truth, is a fine idea, not actually applied by anyone ever.

We should uphold Sola Scriptura as our aim, yet honestly admit that much of our doctrine is based on other stuff.

In fact, many who hold to Sola Scriptura have never reada the whola thinga. How, pray tell, do you claim to base all your doctrine on a book you’ve never read, let alone endeavored to understand?

“My doctrine is based on the Bible,” say all manner of people who disagree with each other on basic doctrines.

How can this be true? Is the Bible this open for interpretation? Is it that confusing? Or are people using other things to decide what they believe?

Peter does say the scriptures contain many things hard to be understood. Above that, people twist them all out of proportion. (You can read Peter’s take on that here.)

The Bible does need to be interpreted, but the authors had one intent in mind and it would serve us well to discover that.

But that’s hard. So we fall back on other authorities while still maintaining the veneer that we hold Sola Scriptura.

Check out these definitions of Sola Scriptura that come right out and say Sola Scriptura isn’t actually a thing other than in word.

By Sola Scriptura Protestants mean that Scripture alone is the primary and absolute source for all doctrine and practice (faith and morals).

There is one word in there that shoots this whole definition to pieces. Did you catch it? The word is “primary.” Primary implies secondary. Primary means there are other sources. It just does. Words mean things. Something cannot be primary and absolute at the same time. They cancel each other out. So, this is either an incredibly accurate definition of Sola Scriptura based on practice, or it’s bad writing.

Get a load of this definition I saw. This one cracked me up

For the Reformers, “Scripture alone” did not mean “Scripture all by itself.” Rather, Scripture was “alone” as the only unquestionable religious authority, not the only religious authority.

Oh, that’s too much, you guys are killing me. Sola doesn’t mean Sola. Again this is either a really honest definition recognizing reality, or it’s bad writing. I think it’s actually being honest. They know Sola Scriptura is just words without meaning, because they just denied the meaning with their words.

Again, Sola Scriptura is a nice idea, but no one does it. There are some who at least admit as much.

We don’t like Sola Scriptura because it puts the Bible in the hands of the reader, which is out of our control, and who knows what they will come up with.

If you let people find out what the Bible says, they’ll probably disagree with you and cause problems. So it’s best to leave the door open for other authorities so you can smash those who veer out of the way. Welcome to Church History.

Sola Scriptura: it’s a nice idea that no one does. Feel free to be the first.

The Tithingman

Church services are not always the most thrilling events. Everyone knows this, especially pastors who are in charge of such events. You can’t be on your A Game all the time.

You all have it pretty easy today. Most periods of church history had much longer church services. Marathon sermons and prayers that took up a large portion of your Sunday.

What’s a pastor to do if church services are boring and they last a long time?

Invent a new church office: The Tithingman.

The Tithingman’s job was two-fold.

First, he made sure people actually showed up to church. If he caught you somewhere other than church on a Sunday, or saw you walking through town, he’d jump out and drag you into church. How he did this while being in church himself is still beyond my mental capacities.

Secondly, he made sure people in church were behaving, or as was more likely the case, not sleeping. He was given a long stick. One end was sharp and the other had a softer thing on it, like a feather or rabbit’s foot.

A Tithingman and his stick of discipline. Amen.

The Tithingman would go ahead and whack a sleeping man or an unruly child. Women got the soft end and a little nudge. Either way, they woke up. If you persisted in your disrespect to the church, the Tithingman had the right to punish you, often with time in the public stocks.

Although we often look back at history as darker times and people who were backward, the Tithingman seems like a really good idea. I’m all for it.

Always Doubt “Prominent” Theologians You’ve Never Heard Of

I’m reading a book written to show that Muslims, Jews, and Christians should all be able to get along since we all hold Abraham highly. We just need to agree on Jesus and everything will be fine.

The book is written by a Muslim, so the majority of the book is written to disprove the idea that Jesus Christ was actually God in the flesh.

If Christians would stop saying Jesus was God, then Jews and Muslims and Christians would be at peace.

One slight problem: if Christians did that there would be no Christianity. Christ being God is kind of our thing.

While attempting to disprove the deity of Christ, the author pulls up many texts and theological books to cast doubts on the person of Christ.

This is not my first theological book I’ve ever read. I’ve been around a while now. I’m adept at spotting signs that a guy is puffing up a weak point.

One tactic he uses frequently is in quoting a theologian (always one who is doubting the divinity of Christ) he says “noted theologian” or “prominent theologian.”

I’m a well-read Christian. I am familiar with all prominent and noted theologians. I’ve heard of just about everyone. If I haven’t heard of them, trust me, they aren’t noted or prominent.

In fact, those are superfluous words. If a theologian is prominent or noted, people would already know them. “Prominent” means “immediately noticeable, widely known.” If you have to inform us he’s prominent, then he isn’t prominent.

This is by no means unique to this particular author. I’m sure the reason he does this is because he’s writing primarily to a non-Christian audience who wouldn’t know a Christian theologian if he smacked them in the face (not that a Christian theologian would ever do that). But I’ve seen this many times, and never once have I read it about a theologian I’ve heard of.

There are a lot of bad theologians out there and a ton of false information. Be skeptical of quotes from “prominent” and “noted” people.

–Written by Jeff Weddle, prominent moron

Sunday Sabbath and Letters From Jesus

The Catholic Church, like many churches, have invented their fair share of new doctrines. Convincing people to buy into these new doctrines was not always easy.

One of the ways employed several times to convince people was to suddenly find or receive a letter from Jesus Christ telling people to do exactly what it was the Catholic Church had been telling people to do! Pretty handy.

There was one letter, received from heaven, telling people that Sunday was the Sabbath day and should be a day of rest.

Although Constantine had made Sunday the official day for Christian worship (although it was hard to tell who he was actually telling people to worship), tying in Jewish rules of rest into Sunday’s was a much later idea.

Initially, Sunday Sabbath didn’t catch on too well. Until, lo and behold, Jesus done wrote us a letter!

Here are the contents of Jesus’ letter from heaven telling people to not work on Sundays.

                 A LETTER OF JESUS CHRIST.

WHOSOEVER worketh on the Sabbath-day shall be cursed, I command you to go to church, and keep the Lord’s Day Holy, without doing any manner of work. You shall not idly spend your time for bedecking yourself with superfluities of costly apparel, and vain dresses for I have ordained a day of rest.  I will have that day kept holy that your sins be forgiven you.  You shall not break my commandments, but observe and keep them, write them in your heart, and steadfastly observe that it was written with my own hand and spoken with my own mouth.  You shall not only go to church yourself, but also send your men-servants and your maid-servants, and observe my words and learn my commandments; you shall finish your labour every Saturday in the afternoon by six o’clock, at which hour is the preparation of the Sabbath.  I advise you to fast five Fridays every year, beginning with Good Friday and continuing the four Fridays immediately following, in remembrance of the five bloody wounds which I received for all mankind.  You shall diligently and peaceably labour in your respective callings, where in it hath pleased God to call you.  You shall love one another with brotherly love; and cause them that are baptised to come to church and receive the Sacrament, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, and to be made members of the Church, in so doing I will give you a long life and many blessing; and your land will flourish and your cattle bring forth in abundance; and I will give unto you many blessing and comforts in the greatest temptations, and he that doth to the contrary shall be unprofitable. I will also send hardness of heart upon them till I see them, but especialy upon the impertinent and unbelievers. He that hath giving to the poor shall not be unprofitable, remember to keep holy the Sabbath day, for the seventh day I have taken to rest myself.  And he that hath a copy of this my own letter, written with my own hand, and spoken with my own mouth, and keepeth it without publishing it to others shall not prosper; but he that publisheth it to others, shall be blessed of me, and though his sins be in number as the stars of the sky, and he believe in this he shall be pardoned; and if he believe not in this writing, and this commandment, I will send my own plagues upon him, and consume both him and his children, and his cattle. And whosoever shall have a copy of this letter, written with my own hand, and keep it in their houses nothing shall hurt them, neither lightning, pestilence, nor thunder, shall do them any hurt, and if a woman be with child, and in labour, and a copy of this letter be about her, and she firmly put her trust in me, she shall safely be delivered of her birth.

The letter didn’t go over too well. But it does show the growth of the idea that Sunday was the Sabbath and that Jewish laws must be kept on that day.

Anytime someone has to get “new revelation” to prove their point, you can rest assured they are making stuff up. Don’t fall for it.

For more information on the subject of Sunday, check out this book I am currently reading.

Sixteen Precepts for Attaining Knowledge

Thomas Aquinas, a rather intelligent individual, was once asked how one should go about attaining knowledge. Here are his 16 pointers, all worthy of reflection. Keep in mind he was a monk with all stereotypical monkish behaviors. Not sure you need to go to that level, but in general, there is sound wisdom here.

1. Advance up the streams, and do not all at once plunge into the deep: such is my caution, and your lesson.

I bid you to

2. Be cautious of speech,

3. Slower still in frequenting places of talk:

4. Embrace purity of conscience,

5. Pray unceasingly,

6. Love to keep to your cell if you wish to be admitted into the mystic wine-cellar.

7. Show yourself genial to all:

8. Pay no heed to other folk’s affairs:

9. Be not over-familiar with any person, because over-much familiarity breeds contempt, and gives occasion to distraction from study.

10. On no account mix yourself up with the sayings and the doings of persons in the outside world.

11. Most of all, avoid all useless visits, but try rather to walk constantly in the footsteps of good and holy men.

12. Never mind from whom the lesson drops, but

13. Commit to memory whatever useful advice may be uttered.

14. Give an account to yourself of your every word and action:

15. See that you understand what you hear, and never leave a doubt unsolved:

16. Lay up all you can in the storehouse of memory, as he does who wants to fill a vase. ‘Seek not the things which are beyond thee’.

Noah Webster and the Vulgar King James Version

The King James Bible is too vulgar.

This was the opinion of Noah Webster, best known for his dictionary of American English.

Webster thought there were too many vile things not suitable for reading in the King James Version. He wasn’t talking about the stories of rape and murder; he literally meant some King James phrases.

For instance, the King James’ phrase describing men as those who “pisseth against the wall.” Or the people in Isaiah 36:12 who will “eat their own dung and drink their own piss.”

Webster thought this was crude, so he just called them “males” instead of referring to their direction of pissing. Instead of eating dung and drinking piss, he went with “they devour their vilest excretions.”

Webster also eliminated the names of certain body parts and avoided such words as “stinketh” in order to be pure. He said the King James phrases were “so offensive, especially to females, as to create a reluctance in young persons to attend Bible classes and schools.”

Noah Webster’s Bible initially sold for $3. Then for $2. Eventually it sold for $1.50. It was reprinted once before disappearing from book stores.

It was a nice try. I appreciate the attempt. But, in all honesty, this is where Puritan ideals implode. Humans are humans, and humans are gross.

There’s a lot of stuff in the Bible about bodily discharges. We can puritanically pretend it’s not there, or we can be real.

At the same time, there is too much flippancy and stuff done for shock value over bodily discharges. Finding someone who has enough sense to be polite is nice.

The Hebrew text does say those “who pisseth against a wall.” That’s the literal translation. That’s how men were described. It’s life. Should we then go around referring to other men as wall-pissers?

No, there is decency. Ephesians says we should put away from us foolish talking and jesting. There is a line of decency. There are cultural terms that are offensive to the next generations. But there is also a maturity that understands that and goes with it and treats it as maturely as possible.

I don’t think we should edit God’s word. I think we should rejoice that our God understands humanity and that humanity is represented realistically in the Bible. There is no sentimentalism attached to God’s view of your humanity.

Use this realism about humanity, which is gross, to drive us to God who is pure. Let us all anxiously await the day we can put off this body of our humiliation!

Great Name in Church History: Mesrop Mashtots

I am reading a book about the history of Bible translation and came across one of the greatest names in all of Church History: Mesrop Mashtots.

I conclude that it is impossible to improve upon this name.

It also reminds me of Napolean Dynamite.

Not only does Mashtots have a great name, he actually was an incredible person, one worthy of emulation, and also one most have never heard of.

Mashtots had a dream to translate the Bible into the Armenian language. Only one problem: the Armenian language had no alphabet.

But this didn’t stop Mashtots. He got on his donkey and rode around Armenia paying attention to the common sounds of their language. He teamed up with a calligrapher who associated Greek letters to these sounds and developed the 36-letter Armenian alphabet.

Alphabetizing the language didn’t solve the problem, because no one knew how to read it! So, get this, Mashtots persuaded the government to establish a nationwide school system!

Finally, after years of effort, Mesrop Mashtots created a literate Armenian nation able to read the Bible. Mashtots also invented the Caucasian and Georgian alphabets! Busy guy.

That my friends, is a life well spent. Makes my life look pretty pathetic.

Let Mashtots inspire you today: Find something helpful to do and go do it.

The Flat Earth, Heliocentric Universes, Science and Christianity

Modern Science/Atheism is intent on proving that Christianity, and religion in general, is anti-science. Although I cannot speak for everyone, this is just plain silly.

But, in an attempt to ridicule the other side (a common tactic of insecurity, by the way), the Church is accused of having believed in the Flat Earth and rejecting Heliocentric astronomy, etc.

However, if a person gets past the rhetoric and examines the accusations, you will realize that many of these attacks are fabrications.

The whole Flat Earth thing appears to be entirely invented by later generations to bash the medieval Catholic church. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to bash the Catholic Church, there is no need to invent more.

Many have said that Columbus’ voyage was ridiculed because he’d fall off the end of the earth. This appears nowhere in historical evidence. Rather than fearing Columbus would fall off the end of the earth, they were concerned the globe was too large for him to make it around before running out of supplies.

The Columbus falling over the edge myth seems to have been invented by Washington Irving in 1828. In fact, Professor Jeffrey Russell in his book Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians, says “No one before the 1830s believed that medieval people thought that the Earth was flat.”

So, what about Copernicus and his Revolution that the sun was the center of the universe and not the earth? Yes, the Catholic Church had a problem with him. The Council of Trent, which had a problem with everyone not Catholic, laid down rules to handle heretics. Copernicus was lumped in there with Luther and the rest of the “heretics” of the day.

Having the sun be the center of the universe did shake things up. It would be similar to suggesting today that Darwinian Evolution was wrong. Everyone knew the earth was the center, as sure as we know your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandma was a monkey.

The Catholic higher-ups, who were quickly losing power and influence, freaked. There is an account in Joshua where it says “the sun stood still.” Clearly it is the sun that moves, not the earth. Some also pointed to Psalm 93:1, which says in part, “the world also is established, that it cannot be moved.” A simple understanding of how figures of speech work can explain these phrases.

There is even a supposed commentary by John Calvin that says of this verse, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?” Problem is, no one has ever found anywhere where Calvin ever said this.

Andrew Dickson White is the originator of this “quote.” In his book, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, written in 1896, is where White makes this accusation. He also, incidentally, invents other myths about Christian hostility and supposed scientific facts. No one takes his work seriously.

However, these lies get told and retold, and after a while they become cited reality. Now, it is true that the Catholic Church tried to censor Copernicus. I will not defend the Catholic Church because the vast majority of their history is entirely insane.

But to assume that the Catholic Church represents all Christians is like assuming Joseph Stalin and company represent all atheists.

The Catholic Church actually never banned Copernicus’ book. They gave out edits that were to be made in copies. The problem is that Copernicus did the church a massive favor. Since he understood orbits and so forth, he more accurately predicted the timing of Easter than even the Catholic system! Their deal was not to ban the book, but to edit it, to tone it down.

For instance, The title of Chapter 11 in Book One of his On The Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres was “The Explication of the Three-Fold Motion of the Earth” was to be changed to “The Hypothesis of the Three-Fold Motion of the Earth.”

I am currently reading a book by a professor who traveled all over the world looking at copies of Copernicus’ Revolutions. He notes that hardly any contain these corrections. Pretty much the only people that took the corrections seriously were a few people in Italy. No one else seemed to bother. In fact, Copernicus’ book made it to China because of Jesuit missionaries (Jesuits are Catholics, incidentally.)

Summing it all up, although the Church is routinely bashed for denying science, the reality is that many who bash the church deny history. They invent ideas and then repeat them so it looks like their statements are adequately cited. But when you trace the sources back, you realize many of the charges are inventions.

Again, the Catholic Church did have a messy history with science. But keep in mind, they also have a messy history with Jews, Muslims, Lutherans, Protestants, Baptists, governments, people who want to read the Bible, and many other supposed enemies. I do not defend them. They have not done us any favors.

But next time you hear an accusation against the church, just like I encourage you to do when someone throws a Scripture reference at you: LOOK IT UP! You might be surprised what you find.

Why is the Pope Called “Pontiff?”

I came across this snippet in a commentary by John Walvoord, I do not know enough to validate its accuracy, but thought it was intriguing enough to look into. Here is his quote:

Crowns in the shape of a fish head were worn by the chief priests of the Babylonian cult to honor the fish god. The crowns bore the words ‘keeper of the bridge,’ symbolic of the ‘bridge’ between man and Satan.

This handle was adopted by the Roman emperors who used the Latin title Pontifex Maximus, which means ‘major keeper of the bridge.’ And the same title was later used by the Bishop of Rome. The pope today is often called the pontiff, which comes from pontifex.

I have come across one Catholic source that says pontifex means “bridge builder,” but they include nothing about fish gods.

The Latin Vulgate translates “high priests” of the Jewish religion as pontifices (plural) or pontifex (singular). This is more likely due to the already accepted notion of pontifex referring to a church leader when the Vulgate was being translated.

I have verified that early Roman Emperors after Christianity became the official religion, used the title.

I also came across an article talking about the pope’s hat that looks like a fish’s head, which is traced back to the Babylonian fish god, Dagon. It goes something like this:

popehat

 

popeheadThe problem with such things is that, although there may be a grain of truth in the pagan origins of much Catholic tradition, there is also a lot of conspiratorial witch hunting.

A lot of Evangelical commentators during the 1950’s had a field day with Catholicism, including My Boy, Harry Ironside, who said the pope is “the direct successor of the high priest of the Babylonian mysteries and the servant of the fish god Dagon, for whom he wears, like his idolatrous predecessors, the fisherman’s ring.”

Certainly there are threads of continuity with pagan religion, I find that to be undeniable. To say this is “direct succession” might be a stretch. However, it has more to do with Dagon than direct succession with the Apostle Peter.

In the end, there are many reasons I am not Catholic. This is one more.

C. S. Lewis Was No James Bond, But He Did Know His Christianity

Big news came out that C. S. Lewis was once a “secret government agent” for Britain’s MI6 in the early years of WWII.

This sounds much more exciting than the reality. It boils down that Lewis did a lecture on Norse literature broadcast to the inhabitants of Iceland to win over the Icelanders to the British cause of knocking out Germany.

So yeah, not exactly James Bond, and, quite frankly, rather click-baitish headlining.

Anyhoo, in the excitement over Lewis, his quotes are popping up around the internets. A great one of which I was reminded of:

“If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable,
I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

This claim seems rather silly in our day. Christianity has become all too comfortable. Our most famous preachers bask in the glow of celebrity, whereas the famous preachers of the past sometimes basked in the glow of the burning stake they were tied to.

Evangelical believers think the best proof of a Christian testimony is how suburban looking we are. How well our kids are doing. How “smoking hot” our wife is. How big our church is. How many cups of coffee we drink before church. How we use our phone to read the Bible, etc.

I suppose there’s nothing inherently wrong about any of those things, but when we make material success proof of spiritual success, we do miss the boat.

When Christianity is done right, the spiritual takes priority over the physical. This often shows itself through physical cost.

As the believer learns more about new life in Christ, he disentangles himself from the cares of the world. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. What man esteems, God despises.

Yet we continue to kid ourselves that the American Dream is also Jesus’ dream for us. We continue to find justifications for our carnal, flesh-focused minds as we drift into lukewarm apathy.

We use our apathy as proof of our supposed contentment. What we have is not actually biblical contentment, but rather worldly comfort.

C. S. Lewis, the definer of mere Christianity, knew Christianity had a cost, that it messed with life, that it was the great destroyer of comfort.

I wonder what we’ve lost in the last 50 years that he saw?

4 Point Book Review of Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom of God Is Within You”

Tolstoy wrote this book in 1894 in Russia. This was not a pleasant time to be in Russia. Tolstoy did not like what was going on, and how he did not get thrown in jail for vocalizing his displeasure is beyond me. My wife, who knows such things, tells me it’s because he was already such a celebrity there. The book was banned in Russia and was originally published in Germany.

This book is about Christian Pacifism. Tolstoy believes Christians should all be non-violent and expresses this point in rather heated language, ironically enough! Although he quotes the Sermon on the Mount a lot, he seems to have missed the bit about sin in thought, not just action.

Here are four points from this book, which I will begin with a verse he quotes to make his point:

  1. “The Kingdom of God is within you”
    This is Tolstoy’s main point: we belong to God’s Kingdom, we are that Kingdom, therefore, we don’t need man’s kingdoms. Tolstoy is pretty much an anarchist. He says Christians should resist mandatory military service, taking oaths, voting, and even paying taxes. He sees no point for human governments, as they are merely self-feeding power structures that oppress the masses. I guess I can’t disagree to a certain extent, but God did establish authority on earth that we are to honor and pay taxes to, but he skips those verses. It appears as though he thinks Christians, by obeying God, can reform society and create the actual Kingdom of God. Although a popular view of his time, two massive World Wars ended this doctrine quite soundly.
  2. “Resist not the evil.”
    This phrase is from Luke 17:21. Tolstoy says this verse is the foundation of all Christian pacifists. He gives a brief history of Christian Pacifism, which was interesting, and how all these movements based their beliefs on this verse. I do think this verse gets short-shrift in Christian thinking today. We too quickly want to bomb people and shoot them. I imagine “resist not the evil” actually meant “resist not the evil.” Although Tolstoy might go too far in his application, this verse ought to impact our doctrine to some extent.
  3. “An eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”
    Although this was a law for the Old Covenant, Tolstoy argues that Jesus Christ’s commandment to love your enemy replaces this old law. Therefore, capital punishment and all forms of self-defense are out the window. We are to love, regardless of what someone does to us. We are to do unto others as we would have done unto us. Love fulfills the law. He also repeats “Thou shalt not kill” and thus, there should be no war and no armies. All soldierly killing is against God’s law. Any attempt to sidestep and defend military killing is more evidence of the church’s collusion with temporal powers.
  4. “Worshipers in spirit and in truth”
    Not only is Tolstoy against political authority, he is also against clerical authority. He views the church as being in cahoots with the government–just another power and money hungry institution dumbing down people to do their will rather than God’s. I have sympathy with his point, but once again, he overstates the case and misses many verses that weigh-in on this subject. He has no use for the church, not just the Russian church, which was entwined with the Russian political authority, but all church, no exceptions.

In the end, Tolstoy is one angry man. He does have some legitimate grounds for his anger, but I think he devised an angry philosophy, found six verses that backed it up, and wrote a book. Some of this book reads like a diatribe, which a modern-day editor would have limited extensively.

Tolstoy lived in a rough time and I empathize with him. I do think he’s more right than he is wrong, and I do think he was trying to help, but he’s just too sloppy with his reasoning, too idealistic in his hopes, and too narrow in his usage of Scripture. The deeper irony of the book is that he, as a rich man of influence, can get away with standing up to the government! If he were a peasant, his book never would have been written, let alone published, nor would he have lived! As much as I appreciate his stance against evil, I don’t think it’s rooted in reality, nor in Scripture.

This is the kind of book I’d recommend, except that I fear people would think I totally agree! I don’t! But he does raise valid points we don’t consider enough in our endeavors to follow Christ. For that, I thank him for making me think about it.

4 Point Book Review on Augustine’s “The Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, and Love”

The Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, And Love was written by Augustine, who isn’t one of my favorite theologians. Augustine was trained in philosophy, so his writing is very philosophical.

I am not a philosophically minded person. I do not care about the deep, intricate cogitations of people’s brains that much, not even my own. Augustine will drill a subject to death, talking in circles, and going on and on and on. It’s writers like him that necessitated the invention of people called “editors.”

Although this was not light reading, it wasn’t the worst of the stuff I’ve read by Him. Here are four points I took away from this book:

  1. The Title
    Any book that has “enchiridion” in the title is going to be a piece of work. Enchiridion is an actual word, even though it’s not in my spell-checker. I looked it up in Webster’s Dictionary and it was there. It is from the Greek en– which means in, and the Greek word cheir meaning hand. In hand. The idea is that it is a handbook or manual. Huh, who knew. I also added a comma after Hope that is not in the original title. My wife tells me all lists should include a comma before the and, otherwise the last two things would be lumped together by the and. It makes me feel better that, although he philosophizes better than me, I can still correct his grammar. The book had little to do with faith, hope, or love and I have no idea why he called it this.
  2. Original Sin
    Augustine is fixated on Original Sin and has some rather strange views attached to it. Original Sin is the fault of sex. Augustine, in his Confessions, had a long, sordid sexual history. After he slew that beast, he tended to speak of sex as always being bad. Even marital sex was bad in his mind. Sex is what transfers Original Sin, therefore, sex has to be bad. He also thinks that kids are responsible for their parents’ sins, since the parent’s sex transferred their sin. He’s also somewhat convinced that kids are guilty for all their forefathers’ sins. His logic on sex would have to lead him there. He is very weird on this issue.
  3. Baptism
    I do not agree with his take on baptism, most of which comes out of his strange views of Original Sin, especially in the area of infant baptism. Infant Baptism, according to him, releases babies from Original Sin, but not any sins they do on their own. There are zero verses on this. He also completely botches the doctrine of baptism in relation to Jesus Christ, saying that Jesus will baptize with water and the Spirit, which of course the Bible never says. But he makes an effort to quote the Bible having said this, which I do not like. Several times he referenced verses that did not say what he said they said. I hate that.
  4. The Church Forgives Sin
    Augustine believes the Church is the only place you can go to remove your sins. I find this unbiblical. He even says that the man who does not believe the Church remits sins has committed the Unpardonable Sin. Wow. Surprisingly (sarcasm), he has zero verses on that one either. Since he puts more stress on baptism than he does on faith, and only the Church can properly baptize, the Church is the only place to get sins remitted.

I am not, and never have been, a fan of Augustine. He is considered to be the Father of the Catholic Church and also of the Reformed Church. Calvin’s Institutes are merely a recitation of Augustine’s writings. I disagree with Augustine’s views on predestination, non-elect babies going to hell, and various other Calvin-hijacked doctrines on this issue.

For instance, when trying to answer the Bible’s claim that God “who will have all men to be saved” when we know all men are not saved, says this:

We are not on that account to restrict the omnipotence of God, but are rather to understand the Scripture, “Who will have all men to be saved,” as meaning that no man is saved unless God wills his salvation; not that there is no man whose salvation He does not will, but that no man is saved apart from His will, and that, therefore, we should pray Him to will our salvation, because if He will it, it must necessarily be accomplished.”

Uh, no.

It’s a nice theory, but it’s not what the common sensical reading of the verse says. This is the kind of stuff that drives me insane.

Augustine is a philosopher and writes like one. Unfortunately, he starts with philosophical conclusions and picks and chooses verses that he thinks backs up his philosophy. I do not see him as a theologian, but a philosopher borrowing some God talk.

10 Facts About 1 John 5:7

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

This is 1 John 5:7 as it reads in the King James Bible. Most modern translations do not include this verse, or at least put a footnote telling you it isn’t original to the Greek. Although you will find some who will defend its inclusion, most believe it is a later addition. Although this verse will always cause debate, here are some facts about it:

  1. This verse is known as the Comma Johanneum, which is Latin for John’s Comma where “comma” means a short clause. You know it’s important if there are Latin words involved.
  2. This verse does not appear in any Greek text until the 1500’s. An earlier 10th century Greek text has it as a marginal note.
  3. The first debates in the Early Church were mostly about trinitarian theories. If this verse were in the original text, it would show up all over the place in the writings of the Early Church Fathers as a nail in the coffin, proof-text extraordinaire. Some defenders of this verse will attempt to show Church Fathers quoting the verse, but reading the quotes shows that none of the Fathers actually do.
  4. This clause might be from a fourth century Latin homily that made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the New Testament of Erasmus, and into the King James..
  5. “Saint” Augustine, who loved to argue about the Trinity (he wrote a large book originally titled, On the Trinity, as well as a commentary on 1 John), never once mentions this verse.
  6. This passage is so famously controversial, it even gets a mention in Edward Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
  7. Isaac Newton even mentioned this controversy when he wrote, “In all the vehement universal and lasting controversy about the Trinity in Jerome’s time and both before and long enough after it, this text of the “three in heaven” was never once thought of. It is now in everybody’s mouth and accounted the main text for the business and would assuredly have been so too with them, had it been in their books.”
  8. Various popes have gone back and forth on the accuracy of the Catholic Bible regarding this text. The last known papal statement on it (June 1927 by Pius XI) said it was open to dispute. The Jehovah Witness’ Bible (New World Translation) does not include it.
  9. Translations that do not contain 1 John 5:7 are not inherently anti-trinitarian and one should back off that notion right quick. The fact that this verse is not in early Greek manuscripts does not mean the Trinity is not a true doctrine. The Trinity is an extracted doctrine nowhere explicitly defined or defended in the Bible. The Trinity is a doctrine based on many verses in the Bible that logically lead to a trinitarian conclusion.
  10. The fact that there is a verse in some Bibles that is not original, should not shake your confidence in the Bible. Instead, it should raise it. There are people who study things and are careful with the Word of God. There are no extraneous bits in there that have snuck by us without study. The existence of the controversy over this verse should make that point clear.

The Danger of Putting Faith Over Love

If a person sees that the Bible puts love above faith, this will get that person off several hangups:

  1. You will stop obsessing about whether you believe all the “right things”
  2. You will then stop trying to argue people into submission to your beliefs
  3. You will then take an actual interest in helping them, not just forcing them to submit
  4. You will look outward to love God and others, no longer obsessing over your own righteousness or sinfulness
  5. You will no longer view your spiritual growth as merely marked by “stuff I don’t do any more”
  6. You will see that the call to love is hard
  7. You will be humbled rather than puffed up with self-righteousness

The Reformers, the first people in Church History to put faith over love (not that all the rest had love first), became very academic. They put philosophy into their religion, which then caused them to philosophize about original sin and total depravity and other things the Bible doesn’t say.

As they made everything academic, faith became known as “agreeing with what we say.” Spiritual growth was about conforming to your group and avoiding your group’s pet-peeve sins.

This made for very angry people. Calvin burned Michael Servetus at the stake for not agreeing with his doctrine. The only way a guy could do that is if he put faith above love! (I believe this is also why the Roman Catholic Church torched people as well. Although they did not put faith over love, they put their church over love.)

Faith became an intellectual pursuit. We judge whether people are believers by whether they agree with my doctrine. God judges whether we love Him.

Luther once said, “Faith, therefore, is a certain obscure knowledge.” Augustine said, “To believe means simply to affirm in thought.” And, “The certitude of faith is a kind of beginning of knowledge.”

Faith is then academics. Faith is knowing the right stuff. The problem is that the “right stuff” is different depending on whom you ask! Bring in burning stakes and church splits!

When we put faith first, we will put “agreeing with me” as our standard. When we put love first, well, then how you love others shows whether you love God.

Which is easier:

  1. To feel smugly satisfied in your understanding of God, or
  2. To love your neighbor as yourself

The Reformers thought the Catholic Church eliminated faith by works (religious ritual), and they were right in revolting against that.

Unfortunately, their answer was to repeat “Faith! Faith! Faith!” By doing so, they wanted to eliminate works. Although a fine attempt, it leads into the other problem, known as antinomianism–I can do what I want because I believe.

Certainly Luther, Calvin, and Augustine never went to antinomianism, but that’s only because they were horribly inconsistent. They knew works had to be in there somewhere, but they couldn’t figure out where. So, they simply told people to do good works, without ever explaining why, other than to stay humble or a vague appeal to “God’s glory.”

James did a fine job explaining faith and works. So did Paul. If you stick with them, you see that good works always equal love. Love is always the root of faith, the stuff by which faith works.

Where Praise and Criticism Come From

Found a good quote from C. S. Lewis about praising God. Lewis explains how he struggled with God asking for praise so often in the Bible. What’s up with that?

When people ask for praise it’s because they are arrogant and needy. Is that what God is? Lewis went on to think that praise is something you naturally do when you like something.

The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers praising their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.

But Lewis also then noticed something about the character of the ones giving the praise.

I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least.  The good critics found something to praise in many imperfect works; the bad ones continually narrowed the list of books we might be allowed to read.  the healthy and unaffected man, even if luxuriously brought up and widely experienced in good cookery, could praise a very modest meal:  the dyspeptic and the snob found fault with all.

Praise came from humble and balanced people. God isn’t asking for praise because He needs it; He asks for praise because it means good things from those who can do it.

Yes, God is infinitely deserving of praise, but we’re too stupid to know it. People who do praise God have figured something out. By seeing the bigness of God, they have also seen their smallness.

Humility is a great virtue. Humility means good things are going on in a person. Lewis sums up by saying:

Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.

Lewis grants that there are times when you can’t praise, when things are “intolerably adverse.” But they are rare occurrences.

If we are too quick to criticize, it means there are things wrong inside us, we are not internally healthy. People who always find fault with what others are doing, people who always hate a movie when others all liked it, one who can never be kept happy, is in a bad place spiritually.

Can you be humble enough to compliment something, or do you have to be a snob and show your superiority?

Praise is something that flows from a heart that sees how happy we are to have a God like ours. A proper view of Him, His salvation, His faithfulness to His Word, changes our view of life and all that it is as well.

Humble people praise; proud people tear down.

This is meaningful to me because I find fault too quickly.

See, I did it again. Ah, yes.

John Hay’s Opinions of Denominations

Reading a book about John Hay and John Nicolay, two guys who made a career out of knowing Abe Lincoln.

While John Hay was trying to make it in the world, before he knew Lincoln or had a career, he considered going into the ministry.

He decided not to because:

“I would not do for a Methodist preacher, for I am a poor horseman. I would not suit the Baptists, for I dislike water. I would fail as an Episcopalian, for I am no ladies’ man.”

He went into law instead.