Shout to… who?

First, Jean, I know… it’s “whom” but that just sounds too uptight.

Like most Americans, I shifted into a surreal cloud when the American Idols sang “Shout to the Lord.” Darlene Zschech’s great praise song has captivated the church for the last 8 years. It’s one of my favorites. Margi and I watched and listened in stunned amazement that such a blatantly Christian song would come from the show that gave us Simon Cowell.

It’s funny how the mind plays tricks. Neither of us noticed the word change… the original song begins, “My Jesus, My Savior, Lord there is none like you.” The American Idol version began, “My Shepherd, My Savior…” Honestly, I didn’t catch it; it took some blog reading and YouTube viewing to realize this change. Here’s the video. Focus on the first line:

However, I am not bothered by it… only in the sense that I never expect the world to act like a friend of Jesus. And therefore, it’s a nice surprise when they do.

Still, I was gratified that a popular Christian song could be enjoyed by much of the nation. I’m not waving my giant foam finger of shame at FOX or American Idol. Their whole “Idol Gives Back” program and their emphasis on “inspirational” songs–nicely matched, by the way, by unusual kindness from Simon Cowell–was an excellent example of the best fallen human nature can muster.

A fifth century British monk named Pelagius denied both the doctrine of Original Sin and of salvation by God’s grace. Pelagius taught, in effect, that we are not so fallen that we need salvation, and that what we do need we can contribute by our own efforts. Salvation is a synergy, he maintained, between our effort and God’s. Here are a few other points of Pelagianism:

  • That Christ’s death did not atone for sin, but rather stands forever as an example of self-giving love.
  • That the moral strength of human will has the capacity to make us virtuous in the eyes of God.
  • Mankind is essentially good; we sin only because we mistakenly follow the example of Adam, instead of the example of Christ.

Whatever you might think of Pelagianism as a philosophy, it does not agree with the Bible. Romans 5:12-17 makes it clear that when Adam sinned, we all sinned. Meet Original Sin. 1 Cor 15 makes it clear that Christ died as a substitute for our sins. Meet Vicarious Atonement. Eph 2:1-3 and Romans 3 make it clear that we are morally incapacitated and “children of wrath.” If you don’t agree, your argument is with the Bible, not with me.

Pelagianism has made a comeback. It is the religion of Oprah with a veneer of Christianity. It is the same thing that so many “emerging church” leaders are propogating. It’s good, old-fashioned Pelagianism, and Christians have called it heresy for fifteen centuries.

American Idol sang “Shout to the lord” (small L). I’m told that if you download the iTunes rendition, it keeps in the name “Jesus.” That’s good. But does it matter? Does it matter when American Idol goes straight from “Shout to the lord” to Ben Stiller’s unfunny toilet humor? Or that Ryan Seacrest could raise the hopes of Michael Johns, and then crush him two seconds later. This is the world in which we live. This is the world in which we have to keep faith with God. I’ll take a cultural step in the right direction any day. It’s good for society at large. But it won’t save anybody. All the “giving back” in the world won’t save a soul. Ditto for “inspirational” music or moments or calenders. It won’t save anybody.

That takes the preaching of the Cross. That takes the proclamation of “Christ crucified.” I’m glad whenever Christ is preached. But let’s make sure we’re preaching the right Christ… the one who died as a substitute for our sins, rose again, and offers life to all who receive him.

“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Ga 6:14.

“but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,” 1Co 1:23.

“For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 1Co 2:2

LATE ADDITION:

It was pointed out to me (and I confirmed online) that the Idols sang the song TWICE, and the second time (the one I watched) kept the name “Jesus” which is very cool.  Not only because Jesus was praised, for which I rejoice, but also because it helps me know I’m not going nuts.  I was certain I heard, “my Jesus” and then all that I read said no… and, since I watched a recorded version, I didn’t know they sang it twice.  So I’m not hearing things.  Yet.  Not too much, at least.
bg

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46 thoughts on “Shout to… who?

  1. I’m so glad you’ve blogged on this… I have to admit, I wasn’t as ‘not bothered’ as you – but am thinking you’ve summarized the issues beautifully here. I was alarmed – not because ‘Shout To the Lord’ is OUR song and no one else can use it. But because I cannot help wondering how many who are not firm in their faith in Christ continue to be drawn in by this new ‘religion’ – Pelagianism, Tolerance, Universalism – whatever you want to call it. Where it’s perfectly fine to sing a Christian worship song, then with the next clip, have people dancing seductively and grabbing their body parts… It’s not the ‘One Way’ – far from it. But because it accepts and can use the Name of Christ and worships philanthropy, it’s starting to sound a lot like it to the ‘young’ in Christ. I know He said it would happen, but it’s really getting to me – more and more lately.

    Also thankful that you tied in Oprah to the conversation – just did a recent post to collect thoughts on that (I haven’t watched the show). Someone dear to me who does watch took notes this past week: Oprah extolled ‘A New Earth’ and in answer to questions from well-meaning Christians about whether it contradicts their faith, she claimed that it couldn’t because it’s not a religion. That it was just ‘honey in the tea’ of whatever else we believe. That she’s a Christian too – and ‘A New Earth’ helped her to see that the message of Jesus isn’t really all about the Cross – but about how he lived… how we can live a better life. And I know of Christians who know much – but not enough to distinguish these messages that appear to be positive toward Christ, from outright, insidious false prophesying.

    Don’t want to get fearful, obsessive, or fanatic. But I feel more actively engaged in needing to fight off this stuff lately. It’s tiring and frustrating – makes me mad for people I love who don’t know what they’re getting sucked into. What’s the best book you know of on combatting this specific message we’re hearing on AI, Oprah, Obama, Wallis, McLaren (the list is getting SOOO long)? Are there any yet? Is there a better name or definition for this message so we can better warn people of it?

  2. Maybe they should have sung “Shout to my God!” Guess not…

    Dr. G, thanks SO MUCH for continuing to preach “Christ crucified.” There’s absolutely NO hope without that fact. Thanks for continuing to hold fast and not caving into the lie that is so “accepted” today – the church of Oprah comes to mind….

    XOXOXO

  3. Preaching Christ crucified is of utmost importance, though I’d contend that preaching the Trinity and the Incarnation concurrently is necessary for the Cross to be understood in its fullness. It is indeed the crux of salvation. It is the point around which the Christian story revolves.

    But isn’t it a shame to only understand Christ’s message of “the Kingdom of God is at hand” as an empty sign pointing to the Crucifixion? Evangelicalism seems haunted by the desire to reduce or boil down the Christian story to one idea. Augustine’s anti-pelagian works address the problem of that heresy without this kind of reductionistic tendency. The centrality and the primacy of the Cross is maintained while elaborating the richness of the aspects of the story that are “carried up” (to use Augustine’s platonist language) by the death and resurrection.

    While I recognize that so many theologies that maintain a continuity between the eschaton and our times fall into eschaton-immanentizing pseudo-pelagianism (liberation theology, Rahner’s work), perhaps there is a way to live with the strength of Christ in a way that allows us to participate in God’s redemption of the World. Aren’t we “more than conquerors” when we confess Christ and are given a heart of flesh?

    When we (correctly) emphasize the Cross, but we do so to the vacuity of the other facets of Christian life, we risk understanding the Churches work in history to be signing people up for Heaven and then waiting for Tim LaHaye novels to come true. I’m not comfortable with that. It isn’t a posture that is in continuity with Christ’s teachings in the Gospels.

    but what do I know. I prefer “Project: Runway” to American Idol.

    Texts to check out:
    Henri de Lubac’s “Medieval Exegesis: The 4 Senses of Scripture”
    Maurice Blondel’s “Letter on History and Dogma”

    Godspeed,
    Jon

  4. Bill…this post is an excellent polemic to the pop and emergent (vs. emerging) teachings about the atonement. While I think you and I agree Jesus was an example even in his dying on the cross, the legal justification is a REAL thing, not just metaphorical. It is central truth that Jesus died for our sins because we are all sinners and born into sin. Thanks for your post. I would love for you perhaps to write a book on the atonement? I LOVE story and narrative, but really the most powerful redemptive story is that of a hero dying to save undeserving souls. Jesus.

  5. Pingback: Rich Kirkpatrick's Weblog

  6. As an emergent I wish people would take half a second to understand what we really believe before they trot out this Pelagian rumor. But sometimes that’s just too much to ask…

  7. Thanks to Rich for pointing me here and thanks to Bill for the insightful and thoughtful post to remind us that there continues to be nothing new under the sun.

    I didn’t see it when it aired, but obviously it has since been well-documented on the interweb and I have seen the YouTube version of it. Yes, initially I was put off by their “rejection” of using Jesus’ name, but as I thought about it, what else would I expect them to do?

    I will say, though, one thing about this song that has often given me a little cringe is the modal mixup in the lyric. Beginning with “My Jesus…” then appropriately affirming him as “my Savior,” but then moving to words of the Psalms used to describe Yaweh, the Father, rather (not the Son) (i.e., Tower of Refuge and Strength) (Mountains bow down, seas roar at the sound of your name). Further you have lines like “My Comfort,” which would describe the Holy Spirit, at least his role, less that of Jesus…

    Anyway, it’s still a great song and I am surprised/bewildered to hear it make an appearance on American Idol.

  8. Hi Julie,
    Thanks for visiting and thanks for your comment. I hope you know that I write as a big fan and advocate of the emerging church in its methodology and many of its values. However, as a reader of numerous articles and books, I am concerned about some of the theological drift I read… and there we part company. Some of it is Pelagianism. Some of it is Universalism. And to me, that’s where some part with Scripture.

    That’s not to say that all Emerging church leaders are “off” theologically. Nope. Not at all. As I said in an earlier blog, I love Mark Driscoll’s recent book, Vintage Jesus. There’s a lot of good stuff happening out there. We need to be discerning.

    Thanks again.
    Bill

  9. Jonathan,

    “When we (correctly) emphasize the Cross, but we do so to the vacuity of the other facets of Christian life, we risk understanding the Churches work in history to be signing people up for Heaven and then waiting for Tim LaHaye novels to come true. I’m not comfortable with that.”

    I love your passion and depth… but I haven’t read as much philosophy as you and am often at a loss as to how to comment. I would like to agree with your line I quoted above. No decent ministry that I know of emphasizes the Cross “to the vacuity of other facets of the Christian life.” Paul, without being reductionistic, still made Christ crucified the core of his message. As evangelicals, we adhere to that core–not to the neglect of other doctrines, however. (I’m speaking ideally). Yes, he preached the kingdom of God… but still, the Cross was the core.

    What I’m reading in so much of today’s literature, to me, neglects the Cross–the centerpiece of God’s work, God’s word, and Christ’s atonement.

    And it is precisely that particular neglect (i.e.,. Calvary, the subsitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement, necessitated by Original Sin)–not the neglect of the kingdom of God, or of other facets of the Christian life–but the neglect of the Cross that makes it so easy to slip into Pelagianism. Indeed, the neglect or minimizing of Calvary/vicarious atonement as the solution to inherent sinfulness, is the hallmark of Pelagianism.

    Bill

  10. V,
    Thanks for the encouragement. Since you ask, one book I like is “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church” by D.A. Carson. I think he does a really good job framing the issues and dialoging with emergent teachings. It’s a little technical, but a very good summary of the issues.
    There are other, more belligerent, books, but I’m not ready to give them thumbs up.

    Bill

  11. Sorry Bill,

    but I am with Julie:

    “Some of it is Pelagianism. Some of it is Universalism.”

    Cite your sources professor!!!

    😉

  12. Steve,
    Fair enough: I’ll give you a couple of examples, and how about this deal… will you give me an example or two of where D.A. Carson doesn’t “actually understand what he is critiquing” and some examples where Brian McLaren explicitly upholds Jesus Christ, through his shed blood (however he words it is fine), as the hope of salvation and eternal life?

    Here’s my first example: it’s tough to offer, because most emergent writers take pages to make their points, and rarely offer clear, concise statements…

    Book: Frequently Avoided Questions. Author: Chuck Smith Jr. (don’t confuse him with his dad).

    page: 67. Smith says that evangelicals have “commandeered” the word gospel for “their short-form message of salvation.” He then approvingly quotes N.T. Wright who gives a fuller definition of the gospel than simply that message centered on the death and resurrection of Christ. Wright affirms that the gospel is more than the message of Christ’s death, but also political and ecological “questions of the day.” [By the way, I would affirm that the word “gospel” can indeed have a wider meaning, but it also has a technical meaning, narrowly defined by Paul himself (1 Cor. 1:1-4) in terms of substitutionary atonement (Christ died FOR our sins and rose again).] So to broaden the term GOSPEL in salvific concepts does injustice to Scripture. Smith then goes on to say (p. 69):

    We also have a new understanding of the Good News. It calls for radical change and allegiance. In the New Testament we find communal, social, and political concerns, as well as personal concerns (as in, personal Savior). The fact that Jesus addressed human physical need as well as spiritual need, that he cared for people on the margins of society and turned a critical eye toward hypocrisy, expands our understanding of what the gospel is and does in community.

    The logic is painfully convoluted and full of false dilemmas and straw man arguments. Ultimately, IT IS A MESSAGE DEVOID OF THE CROSS. Not only has the Gospel as Paul defined it, been shunted to the side, it has been neglected altogether. Not perhaps intentionally, not viciously, but in a “baby out with the bathwater” way. Smith continues:

    New-school Christians have a high regard for the greatest and second-greatest commandments-to love the Lord our God with all our heart, strength, and mind; and to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matt. 22:36-39). The application of these commandments is evangelism as Jesus demonstrated it and comes before any sort of methodology, publication, or script. The type of evangelism that is concerned only about winning souls, while neglecting the needs of individual men, women, and children, is a contradiction of Scripture, which tells us that God made humans in his image and that salvation means wholeness as well as rescue.
    According to new-school believers, it is not their job to convert people.

    Again, all is well and good, but look at what is missing in this brand of evangelism. The message of Christ and him crucified. This is what makes me sad, mad, and scared. I do not see this anywhere. For the sake of brevity I won’t give extensive quotes, but I will merely point out a universalistic streak in Smith’s teaching in chapter on “Do Good People Go to Hell?” with my running commentary in brackets:

    What new-school believers are discovering is that evangelists have misled them by giving them the im¬pression that the gospel is primarily a fire-insurance policy [a logical fallacy called “poisoning the well” and “straw man argument”]. They are also learning that important themes like salvation and redemption have application to this present life and not exclusively to the next [true, hence “straw man argument”]. What this means is that redemption is a work God does within the world we now inhabit, and we have not even begun to appreciate the breadth of its application. God wants to redeem not just our eternal souls but every part of our thinking, speaking, doing, and being.

    I’ll finish later… gotta run to church…

    [TO BE CONTINUED AS THE NEXT BLOG]…

  13. Yes… Bob Kauflin (Sovereign Grace Ministries) also addressed the AI display on his blog, ‘Worship Matters’ recently. Though Bob was also cautious to not be overtly negative about use of the song in that context, he did comment that it could be an indication of Christianity being “swallowed” by culture. I’m seeing now that teaching that removes the message of the cross from the CENTER of the gospel will, ultimately, make the trip down the esophagus all the easier.

    The world apart from Christ can and does embrace showing love to people in the form of poverty relief, hunger relief. It can and does embrace spirituality that expresses love, and even honor, toward God and people. It can and does embrace ‘redemption’ that relates to restoration of earth’s communities and individuals. But it will not embrace the cross of Christ – nor His Resurrection. That alone is what will remain “foolishness” to those who do not see.

    For we who are clinging to the cross, it is not because poverty and hunger relief doesn’t matter. Not because loving God and people aren’t the two top commandments. Not because we don’t desperately long for redemption in every sense – as a whole. It’s because, if the cross is not the CENTER of what we teach, what we embrace as ‘truth’ can and will be swallowed whole by the culture around us – and many will rejoice, believing they have simply made ‘truth’ more relevant. Prophecy warns that many will be deceived because many WILL be deceived. Because the deceptive message has all the elements of what is true… but is missing its core. In the end, (and even now), only the teaching of the cross will keep the line visible.

    Bill, you and Bob both boiled it down to the same place: the cross of Christ. It’s helped me clarify thoughts around what’s at the heart of what is going on here: a shift to our becoming a more ‘swallowable’ church. Thank you… And I will check out D.A. Carson.

  14. Bill,
    I wonder if we can speak of the Cross as the pinnacle or peak of the Christian story instead of as the “core.” If something has a core that is indispensable, then what surrounds the core is implicitly dispensable. It can be cut away, polluted, lost or just generally undervalued.

    If we talk about the Cross as the pinnacle of God’s work in history/creation or as the peak of theology, I think we may have a more apt metaphor:

    On the one hand, there is the idea that the Cross is that event (or place, to stick with the image) from which all of the particularities of Christianity can best be seen, like surveying a swath of land from the summit of a mountain. The reality of the Cross provides the proper perspective to make sense of the many rich and multifaceted aspects of Christian Life. If you aren’t looking at the Kingdom of God (which is at hand) from the Cross (and, as I said, Incarnation and Trinity), you’re doing it wrong. John Paul II does a great job of this in his Theology of the Body, where he builds a complex and marvelous theology of the human body and sexuality which is Christocentric.
    (Incidentally, this tends to be my issue with Focus on the Family. Their advice is often culturally “judeo-christian” in values, but rarely are its principles really strongly tied to a distinctively Christian theology, i.e. the Trinity, Incarnation and Death-and-Resurrection. They seem to lean more on conservative psycho-sociology than the Christian story in its fullness. But I suppose that is neither here-nor-there.)

    On the other, we can use this image to discuss the methodological and denominational differences we encounter in the complex tapestry of contemporary Christianity. One has to traverse some particular path up the mountain to the Cross, whether it be the north, south, east or west face. Each path is a different, but likewise valuable experience. The different paths and their different journeys are GOOD, but lack meaning if they don’t lead to the Cross. One face may be covered in rich, thick greenery of tradition. It is sometimes slow goings but the surroundings are lush. Another face may be craggy and exciting, covered in the minerals and precious metals of innovation. A third may be gentle and sloping, the winding path of deliberate, side-by-side discipleship. Its not that the particularities of each journey are unimportant. How could the journey to something so glorious as the reality of a God, three-in-one as Love-Loving-Love, who became a man that died for our sins and rose again to conquer death be unimportant?
    No, each path basks in the glory of that reality and is good and rich and full because of it. Lighting candles? If it bespeaks the Salvation Economy, then it is good. Video Screens? If they participate in the remembrance of what Christ has done for us, then they are good.

    American Idol folks singing a pretty, but slightly played-out worship song? Well, if it isn’t in sight of the the three-point crown of the Mount of God (Trinity, Incarnation, Cross), then I don’t particularly care. A win for the “judeo-christian values” of some subculture? Maybe. Significant in the Kingdom of heaven? …probably not, on my estimation.

    I hope the ratings were good.

  15. Jonathan,
    I really like the imagery of the mountain with the gospel being the pinnacle. Nice job also on the varying paths to the top.

    I would like to figure out how you can work in one change to your metaphor.

    To place the Gospel at the top of the mountain could inadvertently imply that a seeker must master to some degree all the lower doctrines–must traverse a complex landscape of theology and doctrine and Trinitarianism and the incarnation before arriving at the Gospel.

    I have always viewed the Gospel as the simplest subset of all doctrines necessary to salvation. The Gospel represents the ABC’S of the faith. By placing it at the peak, might it become the XYZ’s? How might you alter your metaphor to make the gospel immediately accessible to the “least among us” and to a child?

    Bill

  16. hrm…yes, that’s a valid concern. I think I’ll turn to Augustine again on this one.

    In his text “De Trinitate” or “On/Of the Trinity” he writes that we must have faith seeking understanding. We must believe before we can know. Elsewhere, he writes that we must love God before we can know God.

    So, while the accessibility of the Gospel to the “least among us” is not because it is necessarily simple or shallow. Quite the opposite. It is SO sublime and rich and overflowing in meaning and power and glory that if one attempts to tackle it with reason alone…

    Well, its not an ascent we can make on our own, even with the help of all the Revelation of scripture, nature or tradition God has deigned to share with us. We tend to get stuck. The history of Western philosophy bears this out. Thus our need for the Holy Spirit.

    I’m a snowboarder, so perhaps I’ll lean on that to fix up our metaphor a little. Some (very brave/crazy) people go back country snowboarding in places where you need to be dropped in at the top of a mountain by a helicopter. This way, you make your first run through the desired terrain STARTING from the top. Then, if you want to go back and do some part of the run again, you’ve gotta do the hard work of slogging back up with your snowshoes and your pack and your board.

    Maybe faith is a bit like this? That our faith, as graced to us, starts us in a place that we could not climb to by our natural ability. This is the position Augustine takes. We must first believe, then we become capable of the (glorious) work of ascending the rich meanings and lessons of Christian doctrine, retracing with more rigor and thoroughness that terrain we were carried over by the Holy Spirit when we were newly-born Christians.

    That has certainly been my experience as I learn about and study Christianity further and deeper. My faith in and my commitment to the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Cross provides me with the courage and resources to ask difficult-but-rewarding questions, in order to uncover the many treasures hiding, folded in the mysteries of God’s work in history. This is harder than the initial encounter, but it is inexhaustibly fulfilling.

    So, I suppose that uncovers my frustration with the way that the “essentials” get emphasized in evangelicalism. At our best, we recognize the fact that the essentials are necessary for our clear-sighted exploration of the many facets of Christian life. However, I feel we often fail to build in structures to our churches to carry discipleship and the pursuit of faith-seeking-understanding as far as it might go. I suppose we get afraid of overwhelming the new-comer, and that is understandable. Our communities, when they are free to be themselves, look peculiar to the outsider. but if the seed has fallen upon the right soil, won’t they be enticed by the promise of more riches in Christ to be uncovered, not intimidated?

    We always keep the 3-pointed crown of Christianity in sight, to keep our bearings. But it is a glorious peak and it can be seen from some surprising places.

  17. Wow.

    Great comments.

    The first Pelagian in human history was Cain.

    He offered his “good fruits” to God instead of the blood sacrifice, which Abel had provided to God — and was accepted.

    Why?

    Abel received God’s righteousness because he offered his sacrifice in faith (Heb 11:4). Cain’s sacrifice was without faith, because he offered something “good” that was without the shedding of blood (Heb 9:22).

    Why?

    Underneath the veneer of Cain’s human good was sin “lying at the door” (Gen 4:7). Cain rejected God’s righteousness for his own righteousness.

    The sacrifice of Jesus was superior to that of Abel’s blood sacrifice, Christ crucified (Heb 12:24).

    We are justified (like Abel) through our faith in the blood of Christ crucified. In other words, no pelagianism.

    Grace.
    Joe

  18. I think I’m kinda getting what Jonathan is trying to say – maybe sort of…

    Yes, we need to come as children, in faith and belief in the “core” doctrines of the Gospel – no works, faith alone in Christ crucified alone (not forgetting the RESURRECTION, of course!!) – to obtain our salvation (ONE WAY, no compromise whatsoever!). Like I’ve said before, the sanctification process is the challenge to us Christians – how do we get from new birth to maturity in the Almighty Creator God? As we are growing, the glorious “mysteries and treasures” of God are learned and experienced. Again, our growth is by the power of God – loving Him and learning more about Him. It returns almost full circle back to US sharing the simple Gospel in terms children can understand to have that new birth too.

    Seems clear enough to me, without all that studying of everything else, thinking we’re finally educated enough and use the best words to get this message across, trying to not offend the “foolishness” of the world, or just feeding the body and forgetting the soul issues. Somewhere, we’ve lost that initial intent of God to bring reconciliation back to Himself and WE have tried to remedy that in our own ways, by our own strength, and our own definitions. Silly, foolish Christians! We need to wake up and refocus!

  19. i left this blog and then immediatly began listening to a sermon by Bill Johnson from Bethel. (pray partnering with god)

    What a complete contrast.

    Where this blog finds “heresy” the Bethel congregation rejoiced. To be honest it was so refreshing to listen to someone who doesn’t feel like they have to be the “heresy police”. The scriptures speak of a time when “all will know the Lord” and yet there are those who must create dissintion and distiction between themselves and “the rest of the world”

    Too Bad. maybe we should take a lesson from Idol Gives Back and not spend 80% of the church offering on PAID ADMINISTRATORS. In fact in most churches the number of dollars spent on the poor, widows, orphans and missions is less than 10%.

    Focusing on our differences only creates more power for the ones who are pointing out those differences. It is a basic political tactic, and the church has been using it for years.

    Peace.

  20. Hi Max,
    I’m not sure what you are saying… are you saying that we should have no particular viewpoints/doctrines/teachings that are essential? Are there differences between Christianity and, say, other world religion? If so, what are they? And when Christians begin teaching the exact same things that world religions teach, is that okay? Or should someone say something?
    And what would you do with these Bible verses:
    “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 3.
    “And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” Ga 2:4,5.
    Bill

  21. Sorry Max, this blog does NOT focus on dissension – you should read more of it.  Dr. G focuses only on the theology that diminishes or eliminates the foundation of salvation as faith alone (absolutely NO works) in Christ Jesus alone (born, died, and resurrected) by the grace of God as a theology that is misleadingly false and should be brought to mankind’s attention for clarification.

    Of course, he brings to us other topics of interest to him which we can read or not read by our own choice.    

  22. Exactly.

    There obviously has to be things that are different in regards to viewpoints/doctrines/and teachings.

    There is most certainly “contending” that needs to be done. And we must “guard” against anyone trying to steal or “spy out our liberty…”

    However, (and this is quite important)

    the things that you refer to as “doctrine” and what i read in the Bible as “doctrine” are two different things.

    The “doctrines” as you see them were created by the eccumenical counsels.

    The “doctrines” as I see them were taught by Jesus and the early church.

    For instance in the very verse you used (Gal. 2:4,5) the issues is that there is someone, or a system, that is putting a rule or law on the believer. In this case it is circumcision.

    This is exactly what we should contend for…that no person, or system, would lay a heavy burden on the “church” that needs not be there.

    We need to be carful not to take what the Bible refers to as “doctrine” and apply that to the doctrines that have been created by man.

    Peace.

  23. i’m sorry Jean, i am only reffering to this entry, not the entire blog.

    To say something like…

    “by the way, by unusual kindness from Simon Cowell–was an excellent example of the best fallen human nature can muster.”

    as Bill did in the first entry is pretty much making a distinction. I’m not sure if Bill knows something that I don’t know, but I have no clue what Simons spiritual state is, and if he is a “christian” (i use that term lightly since 90% of Americans are christian) then Bill has just attributed the works of Christ to the World. Not good.

    All I am saying is that there is no need to bash American Idol. I think taking the stance that Bethel has taken is far more productive. They sowed the YouTube clip at their Sunday night service and rejoiced.

    They also took the opportunity to pray for the person who is in the midst of the American Idol buisness, who is a believer and has probably worked hard to get a song like that on national television.

    Just like us Christians, we have one of our own working on the inside to get this song on, and when they do we bash it and use it as an oppotunity to find some sort of heresy or area where they do not live up to the requirements of our laws.

    Reminds me of the crusades, Christians killing Christians.

    Peace.

  24. Max,
    I think you mis-read me. I did not bash American Idol for that song. I said it was a pleasant surprise. Like you I suspect there are a couple of Christians on the inside who made that song happen… and for that I rejoice.
    At the same time, I am trying to say something akin to what Jonathan said in his first entry above, that it might score a few points for cultural Christianity, but that’s about it. Christ is preached and in this I rejoice.
    Bill

  25. Crusades??? Wow, that’s harsh. I am personally thankful for this blog. It helps me to be discerning in these times of political correctness that often twists the gospel be it ever so slightly. For isn’t our “struggle not against flesh and blood, but the against the rulers, against the power, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Eph. 6:12

    I hear/read Bill preaching and defending the faith in the TRUTH of the Gospel….great news of God’s amazing love and grace for all who don’t deserve it one bit. Like Paul, I think Bill is doing his readers a great service to be able to see reality and then provide the world with the Truth of God’s grace. I’m grateful he doesn’t candy coat everything and gets to the issues. I see this as very loving, not critical. I didn’t read a bashing on the song sung on American Idol, I just a commentary on how things are from a spiritual perspective. Didn’t God say in the OT, that even their praises stunk? (sorry, can’t find the references right now), because their hearts weren’t clean. Let’s praise the LORD in truth and Grace in the name of JEsus Christ by proclaiming a clear gospel of God’s amazing Grace and Love for us.

    thanks Bill and all your commenters….it’s such a safe and wonderful site to learn and grow from.

  26. sorry,

    that was for Bill.

    And i agree with the verse you posted also Cheri.

    One question, you referenced the OT and in the next sentance “the gosple”

    what was “the gosple” in the OT?

    Peace.
    (and my apologies for the harshness, too much caffine today)

  27. I think the gospel in the OT was the same one we have today…God by His grace will Himself redeem us through faith in His Son…..(in OT the ONe to come…in NT…Jesus Christ who came. …And we will be people His people and He will be our God.

  28. Max,
    You said:
    the things that you refer to as “doctrine” and what i read in the Bible as “doctrine” are two different things.
    The “doctrines” as you see them were created by the eccumenical counsels.
    The “doctrines” as I see them were taught by Jesus and the early church.

    I think this is just chronological snobbery. Your ability to correctly read the scriptures (and, in fact, to read the scriptures at all) is a product of the effective history of the Church, for better or for worse. Doctrines like substitutionary atonement, the Trinity and the (orthodox) Incarnation provide a schema that prevents mis-reading of the texts.

    Why can’t the work of the Church in history be the on-going (small “g”) grace of God through the Holy Spirit working itself out concretely? Sanctification is not an immediate process or atleast, it seems that is not God’s will before the eschaton. We are yet fallible. Post-scriptural doctrines can help us with that as a community. Why assume that the work of the church in history is ALWAYS perverting? That just doesn’t seem self-evident to me.

    Why can’t the work of the church, in both the form of character formation (Discipleship) and intellectual formation (indoctrination…but forget those negative, modernistic associations with this word) provide structures to prevent hermeneutic missteps? Why can’t that be good?

    I will restrain the desire to blather on about how Christianity has adopted a false standard of knowing from greek philosophy….but do tread carefully, as it is just barely contained. 🙂

  29. I’m not sure that I would stand firm with the “ability” of the church to interpret the scriptures during the period that immediatly followed the “Dark Ages”.

    Also, I don’t think that church history “ALWAYS” perverts the gospel or understanding of the life and teachings of Christ. So I agree that is not something that is self-evident. However, there most certaintly are cases where the Scriptures have been changed, and not to bring it up again but the Crusades are a pretty good example of the mental state of the church that produced our doctrines.

    The work of the church can play a positive role in regards to our intellectual formation, just look at Martin Luther. But this is also an example of how it took someone to stand up against the “system” and speak out against a legalistic view of the Scriptures that had been passed down by his church fathers. (i know this is an over used example, but it does work)

    I also agree that the Hellenizing of the church has had some major effects on how we view and read the Scriptures….good & bad. I would love to hear what the books you are reading have to say on the subject.

    Peace.

  30. My point is a bit more far reaching, though. Perhaps that makes it hard to see.

    What I’m saying is that the readings and applications of scripture in history, between their authoring and now, create the horizon of possibility against which they can appear as meaningful now, per se. Its not that the history of the church hinders or helps us in some ancillary way in engaging the task of reading scripture (Bill’s going to disagree with me here) clearly and with certainty. Its not as though we could step out of history and choose to read scripture without the help or hurt of the Church’s work. Its not a veil or a lens you can pick up or put down.

    Instead, the “effective history” (and I’m borrowing this term from a very difficult book by Hans Georg Gadamer called “Truth and Method”) of the West’s readings of Scripture are always creating the ability for the texts of Scripture to MEAN for us. To be intelligible at all. It creates the realm of possibilities from which we can determine intelligible interpretations.

    All of that complicated philosophy stuff to say this:

    I think that it is hermeneutically naive to think that you can make a real and fixed distinction between the two kinds of “doctrines.” Language, culture, history and dogma all mediate (in a realm of emergent probability…that is; non-absolutely) the reality of God and Scripture to us. If you try to cut those particulars away to get at “essentials,” “fundamentals” or “foundations,” you aren’t clearing your vision.

    You are blinding yourself.

    The trick is to figure out how the concrete particulars and the essentials aren’t at odds. That requires changing what counts as knowing. And that’s really hard.

    The above I think is a more authentically post-modern outlook than the murky, late-liberal, late-modernist meanderings of the Emergent authors (McLaren, etc). It probably also makes me really threatening to contemporary evangelicalism, which maintains a mistaken standard of what counts as knowing.

    As for Books:
    older
    St. Augustine’s “On Christian Doctrine”
    St. Augustine’s “Confessions”
    St. Bonaventure’s “Journey of the Mind to God”
    recent and easier
    James K Smith “Who’s afraid of post-modernism?”
    Stanley Hauerwas “Resident Aliens”
    recent and harder
    Maurice Blondel’s “History and Dogma”
    Louis Dupre’s “Passage to Modernity”
    Bernard Lonergan’s “Method in Theology”

  31. I rather liked hearing the words rather than having them drowned out by drums and guitars!

    –old grouch

  32. Jonathan… and others…

    So, if you were on an airplane that was going to crash, and your neighbor turned to you and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” what would you say?

    You do not have time to preach the collected works of Augustine. Or of Paul for that matter. You must distill the essence of the gospel message into a couple of minutes; into an irreducible minimum.

    I do not ask this because I want to truncate the gospel. On the contrary, I want to discern that which is central; that which is of the essence of the gospel. I can’t help but point out that when the apostles did this, they spoke of the Cross, and of the Saving work of Christ. They preached Christ CRUCIFIED, and for [as a substitute for] our sins. And they taught that relying on him was our only hope.

    Once we have distilled the core of the gospel, then I am comfortable with just about any superstructure you might build around it; as long as that superstructure is congruent with “for by grace are you saved, through faith…” and “we preach Christ, and him crucified.”

    Bill

  33. But Bill, I think that is a false question.

    I initially had written a long treatise on all the problems with it, but I think instead I’ll just briefly outline the assumptions that it betrays.

    – Belief and faith are mentally maintaining that a set of theological propositions have a positive Truth Value despite a lack of empirical proof.
    (This is not a biblical understanding of belief.)

    – Salvation is attained by a theological method. The four spiritual laws, etc. We can be certain of salvation if we follow the method.
    (This is a product of modernistic, enlightenment epistemology, not Scripture. )

    – The concrete particulars are less important than the essential, abstractions of Christianity. Concrete particulars are probably made up by people and therefore a-moral.
    (this is Western, not Christian)

    – Salvation is ALWAYS individual.
    (Again, modernistic. This assumption falls apart in the face of the Old Testament)

    – Moral actions, moments and concerns can be meaningfully atomized and examined. Context cannot have bearing on moral matters.
    (This has much more to do with Kantian ethics than anything in the Bible.)

    – Truth is univocal and representational.
    (St. Thomas Aquinas demonstrated pretty convincingly that we can say NOTHING univocally of God that is true. Even Scripture is analogical and a mediation. and that’s not a bad thing.)

    Besides, almost all of us become Christians with many wonderful years ahead of us to blossom and grow in community. Why are you so enamored of figuring out the means of skating by with the irreducible minimum? Why not revel in the ever expanding richness of the Biblical narrative as a whole?

    And if you want one, isn’t it pretty clear in Luke 23:42-43?
    “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
    He replied,”Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

    But that doesn’t seem very helpful in terms of the “essence of the Gospel.” It just seems like all you have to do is ask for mercy from Christ, the incarnation of a merciful God. It’s not terribly complicated. A child could understand it. No need to argue atonement theories.

    But once you have, come into the house of God and enjoy the wedding feast. It’s a great party.

  34. Jonathan,

    Really? A “false question”? To ask “what must I do to be saved?”

    It is a legitimate question, if for no other reason than that a man in Scripture asks it and is honored with an answer (the Phillippian jailer).

    As I carefully stated, I am not trying to figure “out the means of skating by with the irreducible minimum?” As I said, “I do not ask this because I want to truncate the gospel. On the contrary, I want to discern that which is central; that which is of the essence of the gospel.” No skating in sight if you ask me. May I respectfully say that this criticism of evangelicals is innaccurate.

    Unless you want to make the word “gospel” mean “everything the Bible teaches,” it follows that we have to define it. Once we allow that it must or can be defined, it follows that there is an irreducible minimum.

    This doesn’t “skate” or indicate that I’m “enamored” of anything. It means that I have hundreds of people who ask me what things mean, and I have to give them an INTELLIGIBLE answer that actually honors scripture and works in their lives. I believe that something happens to us after we die. I believe the Bible tells us much (not all) about what it is. I believe that Jesus and his atoning work make the good stuff in the next life possible. I believe that a personal response to Jesus is the requirement for the good stuff in that next life. I believe that God calls all Christians to simply that message and proclaim it around the world and next door too. I am an evangelical. I believe that all of the above is biblical, by any sound reading.

    I disagree on several of your assertions about my assumptions;…

    1. There is a theological component to salvation, like it or not. “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Ro 10:14. That does NOT imply that we must be theologians… which was my whole problem with your placing of the gospel at the pinnacle of the mountain, if you recall.

    2. Western can be Christian. I don’t understand your point about the concrete v. abstract. The truth of scripture transcends labels like Eastern or Western, and to disparage Western thought as an importation into Christianity is neither accurate nor fair.

    3. The salvation of a person’s soul is indeed always individual, though it often spreads to others. So, guilty as charged. Call me western AND call me biblical. God does not “save” (in the sense of redemption from sin and identification with Christ and justification and all that) groups because of the faith of one. To say that God saves us as individuals does not makes us guilty of “individualism.”

    4. The atomization of moral issues is not an implication of; anything I’ve said.

    5. If truth is not univocal (unambiguous), at least on occasion, and at least on the gospel, then we have no basis even for this discussion. As to truth being analogical, I don’t see how that fits the discussion.

    6. I am not enamored of skating by anything. I am an evangelical. As much as I hope for a great life here and now, I hope and labor for a greater eternity for my friends, family, neighbors, city, country, and church attenders. I am convinced that a person must respond to the message of Jesus Christ with faith in order to obtain eternal life. Is that not biblical? Why would you disparage that as Western and reductionistic?

    “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1Jo 5:11,12.

    I can’t believe that you actually intend the wholesale dismissal of evangelicalism, which boasts quite a few great minds and a solid foundational base… even more importantly a solid biblical base. I think I know you better than that. I am just echoing the teachings of generations of Christians: Tozer, Spurgeon, Packer, Stott, Puritans, etc. I’m not sure about your starting points, and frankly I can’t answer all your objections. But at least I take comfort knowing I’m in really, really good company.

    Bill

  35. A couple quick things and then perhaps I’ll let this conversation rest.

    – I didn’t mean that “how shall I be saved” is a false question. I meant the situational question of being on an airplane, etc. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. The internet isn’t always the best medium for these discussions, yeah?

    – Re:4) that you’ve provided the above moral situation in which the complicated factors of how that question becomes conspicuous are evacuated. That’s what I meant by atomizing moral concerns.

    -Re:5) My comments here are derived from the distinction between representational certainty of a truth (the common western epistemology we’ve inherited from the enlightenment) and adequational understanding of truth. The difference is that the former is all or nothing and admits of only univocal or equivocal meanings. The latter admits of more or less adequate understandings of the real and of analogical meanings, in which the ineffable can be mediated to us. Analogy is a middle path between equivocal and univocal meanings. It comes from the Thomist tradition.

    Lastly, I suppose my ambivalence about my own evangelicalism is obvious. Indeed, I could nit pick or just reassert my continuing disagreements, but all in all, I must admit that your responses are absolutely reasonable. You are indeed in the company of very intelligent, rigorous scholars.

    I hope everyone can appreciate that I’m just trying to represent some different schools of equally intelligent and rigorous scholars. I fear the illusion that the answers are intuitively self evident. Understanding the Truth is hard, and sometimes troubling work. Which is why encountering the Truth in Faith is such a blessing.

    Thanks for the good conversation.

  36. Bill,

    I am so thankful for your gift of teaching (your ability to take some hard concepts and make them understandable).

    the question about the gospel instantly made me think of a sermon you preached a while back (Look and Live).

    thanks again to all the commenters…so interesting.

  37. This was your earlier post…

    I think that it is hermeneutically naive to think that you can make a real and fixed distinction between the two kinds of “doctrines.” Language, culture, history and dogma all mediate (in a realm of emergent probability…that is; non-absolutely) the reality of God and Scripture to us. If you try to cut those particulars away to get at “essentials,” “fundamentals” or “foundations,” you aren’t clearing your vision.

    You are blinding yourself.

    The trick is to figure out how the concrete particulars and the essentials aren’t at odds. That requires changing what counts as knowing. And that’s really hard.

    So. i guess you were right about not understanding your view. I don’t. Please try and help me.

    Peace.

  38. sorry i tried to make your post italicied but no such luck.

    it ends with “that’s really hard”

    and this was Johnathan’s post…

  39. Anyways,

    Bill.

    My response to your question “How do I get saved?” is a good one.

    I would say…
    “what ever you have done for the least of these my brothers, you have done to me.”

    Kind of like the C.S. Lewis theory.

    It is slightly difficult to answer the question because God doesn’t judge everyone the same. To whom has been given much, much is required, and vice-a-versa. So, there are sure to be people “in heaven” that we would have never expected and also many who would be expected that will not be there.

    Luk 6:46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

    Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.
    Mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works?
    Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
    Mat 7:24 Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock:

  40. hey max,
    go check out my comment on the new entry about love. there’s a paragraph about “horizons of meaning” in there that should help clarify what I’m talking about here.

    If you still have questions, shoot me an e-mail at jonathan.heaps @ gmail.com
    (spaces are to keep me from getting spammed. ignore them.)

  41. Hi Max,

    I had a few thoughts after reading the great verses you posted. In Luke 10 after the Lord appointed the seventy to go to every city He was going to, said in verse 20 “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

    I wonder if in Matt 7, where those are told to depart, are told because they were relying on their works (prophesying, casting out demons, many mighty works in Jesus’ name) instead of relying on Christ Himself. They were professing what THEY had done instead of saying, Lord have mercy on me the sinner?” and then trusting in HIM as their Savior.

    It seems the gospel is good news because Jesus is a Friend of sinners, who saves us because He is good (not because we are) and our response is receiving. It’s understanding His grace that causes us to rejoice and trust in Him more and love Him for who He is…then we can share that love with the world He loves.

  42. Wow. All I can think of is what Jesus said in Luke 19:40 when the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke his disciples (probably the whole crowd) at the triumphant entry. “I tell you”, he replied, “if they keep quiet the stones will cry out.” Boy, when Jesus is praised maybe even unintentionally, I get blessed! Of course, I get blessed when I hear Christmas carols in the malls, because, just because He is being praised!
    Wow. Praise His Name! Simple, huh.

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