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.

How To Define Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Problems With Substitutionary Atonement

Yesterday I did a post on the following quote:

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

The gist of the quote is that if you don’t believe in Substitutionary Atonement (to be called SA from now on cuz it’s hard to type!) then you aren’t saved.

This is a rather silly position to take. SA is Calvinism. What the author of the quote is saying is that if you’re not Calvinist you don’t believe the Gospel and thus are not saved.

In his quote, only Calvinists are saved. These are the same people who fought against the Catholic Church for saying only Catholics are saved!

I believe it is entirely possible to not believe in SA and still believe the Gospel, because SA is not the Gospel. SA is an attempt to summarize and explain the Gospel.

It gets some things right and presses other things out of measure.

I know it is possible to not accept SA and yet still believe the Gospel, because I do.

Here are my two main reasons for rejecting SA:

1. SA says that Christ died as your substitute. He died in your place. You were supposed to die, but instead Christ did. Although this sounds good and there are a couple verses you can misinterpret to make it sound like that’s what the Bible says, this isn’t right.

If Christ specifically died in the exact place of every believer, then He did not die in the exact place of every non-believer. This leads to Limited Atonement, the L of the Calvinist TULIP. This is, by far, their weakest point. It is refuted by many Scriptures. Limited Atonement is wrong. Anyone can come to Christ for salvation. He died for the sins of the whole world.

Limited Atonement rejects that idea because Limited Atonement is not based on Scripture; it’s based on the Calvinist philosophy of SA.

2. SA says that Christ died instead of you. He was your exact substitute, doing something you don’t have to do now because He did it for you.

This obviously isn’t true because everyone dies! This is also not true from a Gospel standpoint because, according to Romans 6 and many other passages, Christ didn’t just die for you, He wasn’t just some man who did some thing a long time ago for you. By faith you were crucified with Him, buried with Him, and raised up with Him to newness of life. I am crucified with Christ. The old man is crucified with its affections and lusts.

SA is all about Christ dying, not me. The New Testament clearly shows that we die with Christ and are raised up with Christ to newness of life. By faith, anyone can identify themselves with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not instead of or in the place of; it’s with.

SA is wrong. It ignores lots of Scripture. SA is Calvinism. Heaven contains non-Calvinists. You do not have to believe in SA to be saved. Rejecting SA is not rejecting the Gospel.

Rejecting SA is rejecting a human attempt to explain the Gospel, an attempt that fails in several ways.

Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word; hold loosely the ideas and philosophies of people. We’re saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by faith in John Calvin, Augustine, or anyone else. Please don’t forget that.

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Here’s another quote I saw that rankled me:

I don’t wanna hear ‘well done good and faithful servant.’

I just wanna hear, “yup, you’re in.”

This one bothers me on several levels.

First, who in their right mind would say they don’t want to hear God say to them, “well done, good and faithful servant?” I mean, why would you not want to hear that?

Second, the context of this biblical phrase is instructive here (imagine that).

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
–Matthew 25:21,23

What do you notice about both passages?

Here’s what I noticed:

Every one he said “well done good and faithful servant” to, he then told them to “enter in!”

In other words, the only ones God says are “in,” are ones who were good and faithful servants!

I mean, I don’t know. There are days I wonder.

But this is typical Christianity today. People don’t think what they do matters. That salvation and subsequent living have nothing to do with each other.

There’s a sanctimony here as well. I’m too good for doing good. As long as I’m in is all that matters; I don’t need praise, and certainly not reward.

That is asinine.

I’ve heard many people talk about the selfishness and materialism of serving God for reward. That’s just dumb. The Bible says many times God wants to and will reward service. It’s not wrong to want God’s praise and reward.

Again, this is another effort to make what I do a minor issue, and yet the Bible is so consistent and repetitive on this: what we do matters.

The only ones who get in are the ones who do what God has created them to do. This isn’t rocket science. Not is it legalism, nor works righteousness, nor telling people to work themselves into salvation.

It’s the power of the Gospel to transform sinners into saints!

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
–1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Substitution and Transformation

“The foundation and focus of the Christian faith is Christ’s substitution not our transformation. In other words, the language of Christianity is primarily substitutional not transformational.”
–Tullian Tchividian

When I read this quote, my brain went “Wait, what?”

Tullian is a hip pastor with a large church in his past. He was fired from said church due to an extramarital affair. He says things like this quote above that get a lot of applause, but probably also lead to extramarital affairs.

I really don’t get the statement. I have no larger context to judge his words by. All I have is this quote. So, I’ll examine the quote.

He seems to be saying that The Gospel is all about Christ. What happens to me is at least distant second, if not almost irrelevant.

I’ll grant some truth here. Christ’s Gospel is the foundation of everything. Me changing does not save people. So, if that’s all he means, then fine.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s all he means.

I think what he means is that transformation should hardly be talked about. That any talk of transformation is probably detracting from any talk of Christ’s substitution.

Transformation is a biblical concept. It is mention a number of times. Romans 12:2 would be the primary passage no doubt–be not conformed to the world bu transformed by the renewing of your mind.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says we will be changed into the same image of Christ from glory to glory. “Changed” is the same Greek word as “transformed” in Romans 12:2. The Greek word is metamorphoo from which we get our word metamorphosis.

Galatians 4:19 says that Paul labors until Christ be formed in them. “Formed” is the Greek word morph.

Transformation is a thing. It is also implied in many passages–we are now servants of righteousness not unrighteousness, we are new creations in Christ, old things are passed away and all things are new, put off the old and put on the new, raised up to newness of life, etc.

Meanwhile, substitution is mentioned zero times in the New Testament. It is mentioned twice in Leviticus concerning animal sacrifice.

In all honesty, I don’t see the substitution of Christ mentioned much at all. Substitution means in the place of.

Yes, Christ died for us, but nowhere does it say He died in the place of us, or instead of us. What it does say is that He died for us, and by faith we were crucified, bruised, and raised up with Him. “With” is different than “instead of.”

Tullian is emphasizing what Christ did to the exclusion of anything we do. Paul doesn’t put it that way. Transformation is the only way to know you are part of what Christ did.

Granted, my transformation is not as earthly significant as what Christ did for the sins of the world, but it’s pretty big for me! It lets me know if I’m in or not.

Tullian is not alone in this emphasis. Everyone wants everything to be about Christ, with no responsibility, transformation, or anything about me. But read the New Testament! It’s talking about what you do quite frequently!

Don’t make a false dichotomy where there is none. Everything Christ did, He did for our transformation. It’s the reason there is a Gospel.

Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
–Titus 2:14

Materialism and Free Will

It’s interesting to ponder why so many intellectuals are so intent (with their own free will) on proving that they have no free will. As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead pointed out ironically, “scientists animated by the purpose of proving themselves purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.” In my view, this is connected to the general nihilism of our culture, the collapse of values which has followed from materialistic science. Such absurd views could only arise – and make any kind of sense – amidst the climate of meaninglessness and confusion that scientific materialism has given rise to.

This is from an article in Psychology Today, not even a remotely Christian publication.

The premise of the article is why a flawed, yet oft repeated, psychological study is used to support the notion that we have no free will.

The author speculates that the false study is used because materialism (the view that only physical things are real, there is no spiritual component to life) desperately needs there to be no free will in order to justify sin.

OK, they didn’t exactly put it like that!

The reason why the experiment has been so enthusiastically embraced is surely because its apparent findings fit so well with the principles of materialism. It seems to prove what materialism implies: that human beings are automatons.

If we are automatons, doing what we’re programmed to do with no choice of our own, there can be no sin, accountability, judgment, or other such higher things. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die and none of it was your fault!

A denial of free will is nothing but an embrace of antinomianism. There should be nothing outlawed, as we can’t help what we’re doing anyway.

The Bible, in my opinion, flies directly in the face of such teaching. It’s one of the reasons why people don’t like the Bible and the Gospel.

Denying free will, responsibility, and judgment may make you feel better while living on earth, but what will you do in the end?

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
–Galatians 6:7-8