Owen Strachan with Tim Keller
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Manhattan pastor Tim Keller for Christianity Today. The interview was about Keller’s new book Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (Dutton, Nov. 2013). It’s a book that would be marvelous to read whether for one’s own edification or for the purposes of discipleship or evangelism. If you’re in college ministry, and in particular ministry to thoughtful students on a secular college campus, this book will be very valuable.
In the course of my free-ranging conversation with Keller, we touched on some matters that were not directly related to the book and thus weren’t included in the CT interview. I was helped and heartened by Keller’s characteristically winsome, gracious, and convictional thoughts on these topics, and I’m glad to share them.
Keller on quoting cultural authorities in his preaching to “bring people along”:
The only reason to do so is if you’re in an Acts 17 setting. In Acts 13, Paul goes to a synagogue and expounds the Bible. But these are people who trust the Bible…so Paul does a very simple exposition. In Acts 17, Paul’s talking to people with no faith. There’s disagreement over how much he’s quoting, but he quotes poets and pagan authors and makes a more common appeal to natural reason, as it were.
What I try to do since I have people in a spectrum—people who don’t trust the Bible at all or people who trust it a lot—so what I do is expound Scripture, and then I add sources where people agree. I’m not basing my authority on Dylan Thomas, but when I’m able to bring in someone that the broader culture really trusts, it helps the people who doubt biblical authority to see how the Bible is true.
If I was speaking in a Mars Hill situation, I might give a topical talk like Paul did. So most of my preaching is somewhere in the middle. I’m supplementing my points to make it a little easier for the skeptic to accept my point. I’m trying to bring people along; I want the person to come with me. In the earlier parts of my sermon I’m trying to fortify—this psychologist says that, and so on. But at the end, I’m bringing in Jesus as the solution to the problem, and I’m not using those sources anymore.
Keller on how the church should speak to the issue of homosexuality:
You always want to speak in the most disarming way, but still be very truthful. Both disarming and truthful. I’m not sure most of us speak in that way—trying to be both. Ed Clowney, former President of Westminster Theological Seminary, said this many years ago: We tend to say we preach the Bible, but you tend to preach the answers to the questions you’ve posed to the Bible. Whether you know it or not, you read the Bible with certain questions. A Korean might have a question in mind when he reads that an African wouldn’t have. Right now our culture asks certain questions and we can’t help but respond to them. We do that in the most disarming way, but to some degree we can’t ignore the culture’s questions. We need to give biblical answers to the culture’s questions. You don’t give them the answers they want, you give them the answers they need. You can’t be a responsible pastor if you don’t.
If we are going to shepherd and teach, we must give the most disarming and truthful answers.
Keller on how the church should handle the shift to transgender identity in the broader culture:
Jerome Kagan in The Atlantic has talked about how we’re all wired—there are three basic ways to deal with threats. Some run, some fight, some stop and get philosophical. You find this insight in neurochemistry—across 36 cultures, these instincts are wired into us. These are very much who we are. In only a small percentage of the threatening situations is our habitual approach the right one. The worst thing parents can do is listen to the culture when it says, “Let your child be who that child is. Don’t try to change him.” Kagan says that’s the worst thing you can do. Children need to be pulled out of their natural instincts. Parents need to intervene and not let their natures run them. Doing so is a form of child neglect.
I’ve never forgotten that with the transgender question. We’re told we can only affirm [this identity] today. The lack of wisdom in this response will become more evident over time. We’re now a radical individualistic culture. If you do anything against it, you’re sacrilegious. I think we’ll see 20 years of mistakes, and then we’ll realize it wasn’t a good idea.
Keller on the state of the complementarian movement:
The arguments are pretty well made now. At this point, complementarians need to get our own house in order and show that our families and churches are thriving places. That’s more important than anything right now….Kathy and I are very committed to saying that Christians are committed to complementarianism.
By Kevin DeYoung
So you’ve become convinced that the Bible supports gay marriage. You’ve studied the issue, read some books, looked at the relevant Bible passages and concluded that Scripture does not prohibit same-sex intercourse so long as it takes place in the context of a loving, monogamous, lifelong covenanted relationship. You still love Jesus. You still believe the Bible. In fact, you would argue that it’s because you love Jesus and because you believe the Bible that you now embrace gay marriage as a God-sanctioned good.
As far as you are concerned, you haven’t rejected your evangelical faith. You haven’t turned your back on God. You haven’t become a moral relativist. You’ve never suggested anything goes when it comes to sexual behavior. In most things, you tend to be quite conservative. You affirm the family, and you believe in the permanence of marriage. But now you’ve simply come to the conclusion that two men or two women should be able to enter into the institution of marriage–both as a legal right and as a biblically faithful expression of one’s sexuality.
Setting aside the issue of biblical interpretation for the moment, let me ask five questions.
1. On what basis do you still insist that marriage must be monogamous?
Presumably, you do not see any normative significance in God creating the first human pair male and female (Gen. 2:23-25; Matt. 19:4-6). Paul’s language about each man having his own wife and each woman her own husband cannot be taken too literally without falling back into the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage (1 Cor. 7:2). The two coming together as one so they might produce godly offspring doesn’t work with gay marriage either (Mal. 2:15). So why monogamy? Jesus never spoke explicitly against polygamy. The New Testament writers only knew of exploitative polygamy, the kind tied to conquest, greed, and subjugation. If they had known of voluntary, committed, loving polyamorous relationships, who’s to think they wouldn’t have approved?
These aren’t merely rhetorical questions. The issue is legitimate: if 3 or 13 or 30 people really love each other, why shouldn’t they have a right to be married? And for that matter, why not a brother and a sister, or two sisters, or a mother and son, or father and son, or any other combination of two or more persons who love each other. Once we’ve accepted the logic that for love to be validated it must be expressed sexually and that those engaged in consensual sexual activity cannot be denied the “right” of marriage, we have opened a Pandora’s box of marital permutations that cannot be shut.
2. Will you maintain the same biblical sexual ethic in the church now that you think the church should solemnize gay marriages?
After assailing the conservative church for ignoring the issue of divorce, will you exercise church discipline when gay marriages fall apart? Will you preach abstinence before marriage for all single persons, no matter their orientation? If nothing has really changed except that you now understand the Bible to be approving of same-sex intercourse in committed lifelong relationships,we should expect loud voices in the near future denouncing the infidelity rampant in homosexual relationships. Surely, those who support gay marriage out of “evangelical” principles, will be quick to find fault with the notion that the male-male marriages most likely to survive are those with a flexible understanding that other partners may come and go. According to one study researched and written by two homosexual authors, of 156 homosexual couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity, and of the hundred that had been together for more than five years, none had remained faithful (cited by Satinover, 55). In the rush to support committed, lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships, it’s worth asking whether those supporters–especially the Christians among them–will, in fact, insist on a lifelong, monogamous commitment.
3. Are you prepared to say moms and dads are interchangeable?
It is a safe assumption that those in favor of gay marriage are likely to support gay and lesbian couples adopting children or giving birth to children through artificial insemination. What is sanctioned, therefore, is a family unit where children grow up de facto without one birth parent. This means not simply that some children, through the unfortunate circumstances of life, may grow up with a mom and dad, but that the church will positively bless and encourage the family type that will deprive children of either a mother or a father. So are mothers indispensable? Is another dad the same as a mom? No matter how many decent, capable homosexual couples we may know, are we confident that as a general rule there is nothing significant to be gained by growing up with a mother and a father?
4. What will you say about anal intercourse?
The answer is probably “nothing.” But if you feel strongly about the dangers of tobacco or fuss over the negative affects of carbs, cholesterol, gmo’s, sugar, gluten, trans fats, and hydrogenated soybean oil may have on your health, how can you not speak out about the serious risks associated with male-male intercourse. How is it loving to celebrate what we know to be a singularly unhealthy lifestyle? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the risk of anal cancer increases 4000 percent among those who engage in anal intercourse. Anal sex increases the risk of a long list of health problems, including “rectal prolapse, perforation that can go septic, chlamydia, cyrptosporidosis, giardiasis, genital herpes, genital warts, isosporiasis, microsporidiosis, gonorrhea, viral hepatitis B and C, and syphilis” (quoted in Reilly, 55). And this is to say nothing of the higher rates of HIV and other health concerns with disproportionate affects on the homosexual community.
5. How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?
Christians misread their Bibles all the time. The church must always be reformed according to the word of God. Sometimes biblical truth rests with a small minority. Sometimes the truth is buried in relative obscurity for generations. But when we must believe that the Bible has been misunderstood by virtually every Christian in every part of the world for the last two thousand years, it ought to give us pause. From the Jewish world in the Old and New Testaments to the early church to the Middle Ages to the Reformation and into the 20th century, the church has understood the Bible to teach that engaging in homosexuality activity was among the worst sins a person could commit. As the late Louis Crompton, a gay man and pioneer in queer studies, explained:
Some interpreters, seeking to mitigate Paul’s harshness, have read the passage [in Romans 1] as condemning not homosexuals generally but only heterosexual men and women who experimented with homosexuality. According to this interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstances. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any Jew or early Christian. (Homosexuality and Civilization, 114).
The church has been of one mind on this issue for nearly two millennia. Are you prepared to jeopardize the catholicity of the church and convince yourself that everyone misunderstood the Bible until the 1960s? On such a critical matter, it’s important we think through the implications of our position, especially if it means consigning to the bin of bigotry almost every Christian who has ever lived.
Source: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org (June 17, 2014)
By Joe Carter
In Scripture the word “father” is found more than 1,100 times. Yet in America it’s become increasingly harder to find a father in the home. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of three children — now live in a home in which the biological father is absent.
Increasing father involvement in their children’s lives is one of the most important ways to address material and spiritual poverty in this country. One way we can do that is to reiterate the importance of fathers and the difference their presence makes. Almost every study conducted in the social sciences confirms what the Bible teaches — fathers matter.
Here are 25 facts from social science research on the effects of having a father in the home:
- Children living with fathers in the home tend to fare better on cognitive achievement and behavioral outcomes.
- Adolescents living in intact families tend to report closer relationships with their fathers.
- Among urban fathers, those who frequently attend religious services tend to be more engaged with their children.
- Close relationships between adolescents and their fathers are positively associated with adolescents’ psychological well-being.
- Adolescents with more involved fathers tend to exhibit lower levels of behavioral problems.
- Adolescents who report having more positive relationships with their fathers are less likely to engage in delinquency.
- Adolescents who report having more positive relationships with their fathers are less likely to abuse substances.
- Individuals whose fathers showed more involvement in their lives early on tend to attain higher levels of education.
- Growing up without a father appears to be associated with greater likelihood of incarceration later in life.
- Fathers’ religiosity is linked to higher quality of parent-child relationships.
- Fathers’ engagement in their children’s activities was linked to higher academic performance.
- Among adolescent girls, those who have a strong relationship with their fathers are less likely to report experiencing depression.
- Close father-adolescent bonds protect against the negative influence of peer drug use.
- Adolescent girls who have a close relationship with their fathers are more likely to delay sexual activity.
- . Adolescent girls whose fathers were present during their childhood are less likely to become pregnant.
- Adolescent males who report a close relationship with their fathers are more likely to anticipate having a stable marriage in the future.
- Men who become fathers outside of marriage are more likely to be poor.
- Fathers of intact families spend, on average, more time with their children.
- Children raised in intact families by happily married parents tend to be more religious in adulthood.
- Children raised in intact families are more likely to have stable and healthy romantic relationships as adults.
- Intact families are more likely to provide a safe home for children.
- Adolescent girls who have never lived apart from their parents are less likely to report sexual abuse than those who have.
- Girls who experienced a parental separation during childhood are more likely to engage in early sexual activity.
- Among teenage boys, those from intact families with frequent religious attendance average the fewest sexual partners.
- Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor.
By Christopher Yuan
In March 2012, Matthew Vines posted a video on YouTube suggesting that “being gay is not a sin,” and that the Bible “does not condemn, loving, committed same-sex relationships.” He spoke eloquently from the heart with poise, conviction and vulnerability. The video quickly went viral.
Vines is a bright young man raised in a Christian home. At age 19, he left Harvard University after his third semester so that he could come out to his family and friends in Wichita. He knew that his father would not agree with the way he reconciled his sexuality with Scripture. So Vines sought to arm himself with biblical scholarship on the affirmation of same-sex relationships and strove to convince his family and church that they were wrong—that homosexuality is not a sin.
Vines’s new book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, expounds further on the arguments made in his video. His aim is not to present new information, but to synthesize gay-affirming arguments and make them accessible for a broader and younger audience. Vines does a good job fulfilling this goal. Unfortunately, his book consists of some logical and exegetical fallacies, and it does not address the shortcomings of the authors to whom it is most indebted. And although Vines professes a “high view” of the Bible, he ultimately fails to apply uncomfortable biblical truths in a way that embraces a costly discipleship.
Good and Bad Fruit
God and the Gay Christian begins with an emotional appeal from Matthew 7:18, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.” Vines states that universal condemnation of same-sex relationships has been damaging and destructive for those who identify as gay Christians, producing bad fruit (depression and suicide, for instance). In contrast, Vines asserts that loving, same-sex relationships produce good fruit. Additionally, he claims that the biblical authors did not understand sexual orientation as a fixed and exclusive characteristic. Recognizing that celibacy is a gift, Vines contends that this gift should only be accepted voluntarily. Citing 1 Timothy 4:3, Vines even argues that those who forbid gay marriage are false teachers who promote hostility toward God’s creation.
Six biblical passages directly address homosexuality, and Vines insists that none address same-sex orientation as we know it today. Thus, in Genesis 19, the sin of Sodom is not related to loving, consensual same-sex relationships, but to the threat of gang rape. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are not about committed same-sex relationships, but about the improper ordering of gender roles in a patriarchal society (men taking the receptive, sexual role; women taking the penetrative, sexual role). Paul in Romans 1:26-27 is not referring to monogamous, gay relationships, but instead to lustful excess and the breaking of customary gender roles. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul does not condemn same-sex relationships as an expression of one’s fixed and exclusive sexual orientation, but instead condemns the economic exploitation of others.
After discussing these six passages, Vines passionately argues that God blesses the marriages of same-sex couples. Marriage as a one-flesh union is a reflection of Christ’s love for the church. This relationship between Christ and the church is not a sexual union based upon gender complementarity. Therefore, Vines asserts that “one flesh” refers to a binding covenant of deep relational connection that is not dependent upon gender differences. For Vines, “sexuality is a core part of who we are” and same-sex orientation is “a created characteristic, not a distortion caused by the fall.”
In Vines’s 2012 video, he presents himself with a gentle and winsome demeanor. The tone of God and the Gay Christian is quite different. Unlike others who advocate respectful dialogue on this divisive issue, Vines charges that those who do not affirm same-sex relationships are sinning by distorting the image of God and are essentially responsible for the suicides of many gay Christians. Insinuations like this do not help to foster respectful dialogue on this already divisive issue.
Emphasis on Experience
Throughout the book, Vines declares that he holds a “high view” of the Bible. From this perspective, he says, one can still affirm gay relationships. One of the main weaknesses of God and the Gay Christian is that Vines’s methodology of biblical interpretation clashes with the high view of the Bible he claims to hold. A high view of Scripture is more than just talking about Scripture. It is learning from Scripture. Vines certainly talks about Scripture, but he tends to emphasize his experience and tangential background information, downplaying Scripture and its relevant literary and historical context.
Experiences do inform our interpretation of Scripture. As a racial minority, biblical texts on sojourners and aliens mean more to me than to someone who is not a racial minority. However, experiences can also hinder the interpretation of Scripture. Although it is impossible to completely distance the interpretive process from one’s experiences, it is important to recognize our biases and do our best to minimize them. A high view of Scripture involves measuring our experience against the Bible, not the other way around.
It appears to me that Vines starts with the conclusion that God blesses same-sex relationships and then moves backwards to find evidence. This is not exegesis, but a classic example of eisegesis (reading our own biases into a text). Like Vines, I also came out as a gay man while I was a student. I was a graduate student pursuing a doctorate in dentistry. Unlike Vines, I was not raised in a Christian home. Interestingly, a chaplain gave me a book from a gay-affirming author, John Boswell, claiming that homosexuality is not a sin. Like Vines, I was looking for biblical justification and wanted to prove that the Bible blesses gay relationships. As I read Boswell’s book, the Bible was open next to it, and his assertions did not line up with Scripture. Eventually, I realized that I was wrong—that same-sex romantic relationships are a sin. My years of biblical language study in Bible college and seminary, and doctoral research in sexuality, only strengthened this conclusion. No matter how hard I tried to find biblical justification and no matter whether my same-sex temptations went away or not, God’s word did not change. Years later I found out that the gay-affirming chaplain also recognized his error.
In God and the Gay Christian, Vines relies heavily upon other authors, many of whom also began with a strong gay-affirming bias. John Boswell was an openly gay historian. James Brownson, a more recent scholar, reversed his stance on the morality of same-sex relationships after his son came out. Michael Carden, a fringe gay Catholic who dabbles in astrology, has written on the “homo-erotics of atonement” and contributed to the Queer Bible Commentary, which draws upon “feminist, queer, deconstructionist, utopian theories, the social sciences and historical-critical discourses.” Dale Martin, an openly gay man, believes neither that Jesus’ resurrection is a historical fact, nor that the historical Jesus believed he was divine. These views do not represent a “high view” of the Bible.
Leaning upon experience rather than biblical context leads Vines to some inaccurate interpretations. For Vines, “bad fruit” in Matthew 7:17 refers to the experience of emotional or physical harm. But this does not line up with the storyline of the Bible. Under Vines’s definition, crucifixion, martyrdom and self-denial would all be considered “bad fruit.” Matthew 7:14 reads, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Following Jesus is not easy and can result in very difficult trials. Vines also neglects to note that two different Greek words are translated into one word, “bad.” “Bad tree” literally means a rotten or diseased tree, while “bad fruit” is literally wicked or evil fruit. From the context of Matthew 7, “bad fruit” does not mean emotional or physical harm but refers to sin.
For Vines, “sexuality is a core part of who we are.” This perspective makes his experiences (feelings, attractions, desires, orientation) essential to his identity. Our society may place a great emphasis upon a sexual identity, but Scripture does not. As a matter of fact, our identity should not be placed in anything (such as our sexuality, gender, or race) other than Jesus Christ.
Vines asserts that the biblical authors did not understand sexual orientation as we do today, as a fixed and exclusive characteristic. It is one thing to say that the biblical writers were ignorant. But it is a whole different matter to claim to hold to a “high view” of Scripture and imply that the author of the Bible, God himself, does not understand sexual orientation.
Vines is wrong to claim that orientation is fixed and exclusive. Although male sexuality may be more fixed, the latest research in lesbian and feminist studies shows that female sexuality is quite fluid and not as fixed and exclusive as Vines claims. The view of same-sex orientation expressed in God and the Gay Christianmirrors Vines’s own gay-male experiences. But according to the latest research, it does not represent the broader gay and lesbian community.
God and the Gay Christian includes a good amount of historical background information. For a non-academic book, it is impressive to see all the references to primary sources, such as Plato, Aristotle, Philo, Josephus, Jerome and Augustine. It is disappointing, then, to see insufficient interaction with the actual biblical texts. Investigating historical context is very important, but this must go hand in hand with the investigation of a passage’s own literary context. It is easy to deconstruct one or two seemingly inconvenient words in light of tangential background information, but only if one disregards the immediate historical and literary context in which these words appear.
Vines discusses why Christians do not obey all the laws in the Old Testament. However, he does not discuss why Christians do obey some laws in the Old Testament. There is much discussion about the relevance of Old Testament law. But where the New Testament reaffirms it, Christians remain obligated to obey it. Paul reaffirms Leviticus 20:13 in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, using a compound Greek word (arsenokoitai) taken from two words found in the Leviticus passage of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
Vines dismisses this important allusion. He contends that the parts of a compound word do not necessarily help uncover the meaning. As an example, he states that “understand” has nothing to do with “standing” or “under.” Yet etymologists (those who study of the origins of words and the historical development of their meanings) can trace the origin and meaning of “understand” to Old English.
Vines notes the use of arsenokoitai in the vice lists of three second-century texts. Even though he admits the vice lists are of limited help, he tries to link arsenokoitai to economic exploitation through word association. Vines might have a case if every vice in each list is related to economic exploitation. But these lists contain a variety of vices, related and unrelated. For instance, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 mentions idolaters, adulterers, drunkards, and slanderers.
Vines also asserts that arsenokoitai is only minimally associated with sexual sin because it is not always mentioned alongside other sexual sins—and when it is, it is separated by three words. This is insignificant, and ignores other, more relevant historical information. The Greek Old Testament was probably the most widely read piece of literature among first-century Jews and Christians. The two words, arsen (male) and koite (bed), occur together six times in its pages. On four occasions, the reference is to women lying with men, and on the other two (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) the reference is to men lying with men. Vines and others who rely upon second-century texts to explain arsenokoitai, dismissing the Greek Old Testament, are inconsistent in applying background information. Again, their biases prevail in their attempt to interpret Scripture.
For Vines, Leviticus 20:13 is not a universal condemnation against same-sex intercourse. Rather, it is “centered around the proper ordering of gender roles in a patriarchal society.” Men were not to act like women by taking the receptive role. Ironically, Vines dismisses Philo (a first century Jewish philosopher) for explicitly linking Sodom’s sins to same-sex behavior, but then affirms Philo for linking the sin of Leviticus 20:13 to “being treated like women.” This is another example of bias and an inconsistent use of background information. If the sin of Leviticus 20:13 is merely a matter of men adopting the woman’s sexual role, then only the man in the receptive role should be condemned. However the verse states that “both of them have committed an abomination.” Both men are condemned.
Vines exhorts gay-affirming Christians to help usher in a modern reformation by “speaking the truth,” which for him starts with personal life stories. Indeed, we must share our personal experiences, but experience should not replace truth. I completely agree with Vines that many gays, lesbians, and other same-sex attracted people have struggled to reconcile their faith and sexuality without much help from the church. Some churches are unwilling to talk about homosexuality, afraid that it will open up a can of worms. Other churches only talk about the immorality of it, while neglecting to discuss how the transformative message of the gospel is also for gays and lesbians. We must do a better job of walking with those who are working through issues of sexuality, regardless of whether they are acting upon their temptations or not.
We have failed to provide gospel-centered support for same-sex attracted Christians. As a 43-year-old single man who did not choose singleness, I know firsthand the challenges of obedience. But there are also blessings, just as marriage involves challenges and blessings. The church must have a robust, practical theology of singleness which involves more than just abstinence programs and the Christian singles ghetto (also known as the “college and career” group). We are not ready to address the issue of homosexuality (or even sexuality in general) if we have not first redeemed biblical singleness.
We have failed to walk alongside same-sex attracted Christians to whom God has provided a spouse—of the opposite sex. Vines limits the power of God by actually believing that there is no possibility for gays and lesbians to marry someone of the opposite sex. He even believes that encouraging such marriages “is not Christian faithfulness,” because they would most likely end in divorce. In this, he offhandedly dismisses many marriages that have not failed. Certainly, there are challenges with these relationships, and getting married should never be the main focus. But fear of failure should not trump gospel-centered living.This is true Christian faithfulness.
We have failed to offer Christ to the gay and lesbian community. We have also failed by giving the impression that orientation change and reparative therapy is the solution. Sanctification is not getting rid of our temptations, but pursuing holiness in the midst of them. If our goal is making people straight, then we are practicing a false gospel.
Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but was accused of being a friend of sinners. Too often, we are more like the older, self-righteous brother of the prodigal son, and our hearts are hardened toward the lost. This is truth at the expense of grace. But the approach that Vines suggest—grace at the expense of truth—also misses the mark. It overlooks the theology of suffering and gives us Christ without the Cross. Jesus, who personifies love, came full of grace and full of truth (John 1:14). Might this be how we live as well.
Christopher Yuan (www.christopheryuan.com) is co-author, with his mother, of Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God, A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope (WaterBrook Press). He teaches the Bible at Moody Bible Institute and has an international speaking ministry.
Source: Adapted from http://www.christianitytoday.com (June 9, 2014)
As Christians we have the great privilege of knowing that God speaks to us through his Word, the Bible. There is no other book like it—no other book that rewards us with God’s own words. But to know what God says to us, and how God means for us to live, we need to do a little bit of work. Every Christian, and every preacher in particular, has to go from the text to today. We all wonder, “But what does this mean to me?” or “What does this mean to my congregation?”
Every word of the Bible was written at a certain time and in a certain context. Even the most recent of those times and the nearest of those contexts is at a great distance from us in time and space. Thus, when we read the Bible, we have to determine how those words apply to us today in our very different times and very different contexts. It is not always a simple task.
We have all seen situations—and many of us have caused situations—where we have been sloppy in going from the text to today. The young man who marches three times around a young woman and waits for her walls of romantic resistance to crumble is not properly understanding how to go from the text to today. Similarly, the muscleman who tears a phone book in half while quoting, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” is not properly accounting for the context of that verse.
There are different ways Christians attempt to get from the text to today in ways that are faithful and accurate. I’m going to borrow from my friend James Seward and display one of these ways with a triangle that has four T’s on it. Look at figure 1 and you’ll see it: One triangle, three corners, four T’s.
We will begin with the right side of the triangle. Let’s let the top corner represent our text—any text within the Bible. The bottom-right corner will represent today. You can see this in figure 2. What we are prone to do is to hurry our way from the text to today, just like that young man and that muscleman. We underestimate or under-appreciate our cultural and chronological distance from the text and are too quick to assume we know how to apply the text to our lives today. We sometimes get it right, but often we do not. Every Christian acknowledges this as a potential problem and different traditions attempt to deal with it in different ways.
I am convinced that the most faithful way to deal with it leads us to the bottom-left corner of the triangle. The TT down there stands for them/then—the people for whom the words were originally written (see figure 3). What if, instead of going straight from the text to today we go from the text, to them/then, and only then to today? In this way, before we apply the text to ourselves, we attempt to understand what the words meant to those who first heard them. So when Paul wrote the church in Philippi and said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” what did he mean? What did he mean to communicate to them/then? Once we have established what the text meant to them/then, we can more accurately apply it to ourselves—to us/now.
How can we go from the text to them/then? Broadly, through prayer, through meditation, and through study. We pray and ask the Holy Spirit to illumine the text so we rightly understand it; we meditate on the text, expecting that God will reward this deep contemplation with greater understanding; we study the text through cross-references, word studies, sentence diagraming, commentaries and other resources. We do all of this to understand what the text meant to the original recipients.
Once we have done that—once we have a solid understanding of what the text meant to them/then, we are prepared to visit the third corner of the rectangle. Now we take what we have learned and we ask how it is meant to impact us today. How do we do this? Largely through prayer and meditation, though some further study may be involved. Now we pray and ask God to show us how he can apply his truth to the specifics of our lives and times; we continue to meditate on the text, looking for immediate application, and still trusting that God will use our deep contemplation to give us insights into his Word. You can see this all in figure 4.
In his book Expositional Preaching, David Helm gives an example of how he, an experienced preacher, was too quick to go from the text to today. He had determined that he would preach 2 Corinthians 8-9 at time when his church needed a financial boost. Even before he began his sermon preparation he knew what he would say—he had a major theme, he had an outline, and everything else he needed to make a great, Bible-based appeal for money. But as he dove into the text he realized that his understanding of the text was too simple: this text isn’t about regular and cheerful giving to meet the church budget, but about a famine relief collection for churches full of Jewish Christians. He came to see that this collection was meant to serve as a test of these Corinthian Christians so that if they gave generously, it would show that they aligned with Paul and the gospel over against the so-called super-apostles. When he went from the text to today he had one sermon, but when he went from the text to them/then to today he had a very different one, and one that more faithfully understood the original meaning of the text. I suspect almost every preacher—every expositional preacher, at least—has had a similar experience at one time or another.
A couple of weeks ago I quoted David Helm and his concern with lectio divina. His concern is exactly this—that lectio divina may too quickly move from the top of the triangle to the bottom-right. It moves from one corner to the other through prayer, meditation and contemplation, but in all of that may not adequately account for the distance between the text and today. This is true, at least, when lectio divina is done apart from serious study and serious work in the text prior to that contemplation. On the other hand, people who value study may be too reliant on their effort while short-changing both prayer and meditation (and I put myself squarely in this camp). And this is why I find this simple triangle so helpful. In three corners and four little T’s it helps us move from the text to today in a way that faithfully captures what God means to communicate to us.
Source: http://www.challies.com (June 2, 2014).
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones on “What is an Evangelical?”
Dr. Lloyd-Jones (20 December 1899 – 1 March 1981) was a minister in the 20th century who spoke concerning the issues within evangelicalism with an almost prophetic character. Lloyd-Jones recognized that evangelicalism, in a desire to influence wider society and academia, was making compromises that would lead to the inevitable decline in gospel preaching and godly living. At the 1971 IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) conference the doctor spoke on the topic “What is an Evangelical?” While addressing the particulars that an evangelical believes, Lloyd-Jones stated “the first is the doctrine of Scripture.” In the extract below the preacher expands what a true evangelical should believe regarding this central doctrine.
The basis of faith says: ‘We believe in the divine inspiration and entire trustworthiness of holy Scripture as originally given, and its supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.’ I contend that it is not enough just to say that; we have got to go further. There are people who claim to subscribe to that doctrine, who, I would suggest, in some of their statements raise very serious doubts as to whether they really do accept it…
It seems to me that we have got to spell out much more clearly the whole notion of revelation. It is difficult to do that in a short statement. The basis speaks of ‘the divine inspiration and entire trustworthiness’, but we must go beyond that. We have got to assert today this category of revelation. We have got to exclude the notion that men have arrived at the truth as a result of searching and thinking, or by means of philosophy. We must affirm that it is entirely given, that ‘holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Pet. 1:21), or, as Paul is constantly reminding his readers, that his gospel is not his own, ‘For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 1:12). We have to underline in a new and very definite way the whole notion of revelation and also, in the same way, of inspiration, showing that by inspiration we do not mean that these men were inspired in the way that certain poets have been ‘inspired’ and given glimpses into truth, but that they were actually controlled by the Holy Spirit. ‘Borne along’, as Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:21, or as Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 3:16: ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God’; it is ‘God-breathed’. These things we must assert with particularity.
In the same way we have got to assert today that we believe that Scripture contains propositional truth. This has often been the dividing line between evangelicals and pseudo-evangelicals. I have noticed over the years it is one of the first points that indicate a departure from an evangelical position when men begin to object to, and to reject, propositional truth, as Karl Barth did and as most of his followers still do. But we claim that in the Bible there are propositions, truths stated in propositional form, with regard to God and His being and His character, and many other matters. We have got to assert this element of propositional truth.
Likewise we have to assert particularly the supernatural element in the Scripture. What do I mean? Well, we have got to emphasize that we believe in prophecy in the sense of foretelling. The emphasis today is on ‘forthtelling’. We admit that we agree that prophecy is forthtelling but, over and above that, it is foretelling. To me one of the profoundest arguments for the unique inspiration of the Scriptures is the truth of prophecy, the fulfillment of prophecy. We have got to emphasize this extraordinary manifestation of the supernatural.
We have also to insist upon a belief in the literal truth and historicity of the miracles of the Old and the New Testament, because there are people who say that they can still subscribe to our general statement about the inspiration and the authority of the Scriptures, who increasingly are denying the historicity of many of the Old Testament miracles, and indeed are trying to explain away some of the New Testament miracles in terms of science or psychology. We must assert the historicity of these manifestations of the supernatural.
Then the next thing to be said under this heading of Scripture is that we must believe the whole Bible. We must believe the history of the Bible as well as its didactic teaching. Failure here is always an indication of a departure from the true evangelical position. Today there are men who say, Oh yes, we believe in the Bible and its supreme authority in matters of religion, but, of course, we don’t go to the Bible for science; we go to it for help for our souls, for salvation and help and instruction in the way to live the Christian life. They are saying that there are, as it were, two great authorities and two means of revelation: one of them is Scripture and the other is nature. These they say , are complementary, they are collateral, and so you go to the Scriptures for matters concerning your soul, but you do not go to them to seek God’s other revelation of Himself in nature. For that, you go to science.
You are familiar with this view which, it seems to me, is not only extremely dangerous, but tends to undermine our whole position. We have got to contest it, and contest it very strongly. There is one thing about this present tendency which is quite amazing to me, and it is that those who advocate it seem to think that they are saying something quite new; but it is not new. It is precisely what Ritschl and his followers were teaching a hundred years ago. ‘Judgments of fact’ and ‘judgments of value’, as they called them. It is just a return to that. That is how evangelicals in the last century went astray in the 1840s and subsequently. That is precisely how it came about. Their argument was that they were merely out to defend the truth of the gospel against this increasing attack from the realm of natural science. And that was the method they adopted. They hold that the Bible is only concerned with ‘religious’ truth and so, whatever science may discover, it cannot affect this truth.
Our friends today with the same motive- and let us grant that their motive is good and true- are doing exactly the same thing. It seems to me that in so doing they are on the same path as the followers of Ritschl and others, and it always ends in the same result, namely that the gospel itself is compromised. We must assert that we believe in the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis and all other biblical history.
Source: The full manuscript of Lloyd-Jones’ address may be found in Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered On Various Occasions 1942-1977. Edinburgh U.K.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013. (pages 299-355).
By Ernest C. Resinger
Many who regularly occupy church pews, fill church rolls, and are intellectually acquainted with the facts of the gospel never strike one blow for Christ. They seem to be at peace with his enemies. They have no quarrel with sin and, apart from a few sentimental expressions about Christ, there is no biblical evidence that they have experienced anything of the power of the gospel in their lives. Yet in spite of the evidence against them, they consider themselves to be just what their teachers teach them — that they are ‘Carnal Christians’. And as carnal Christians they believe they will go to heaven, though perhaps not first-class, and with few rewards.
That something is seriously wrong in lives which reveal such features will readily be admitted by most readers of these pages; no argument is needed to prove it. But the most serious aspect of this situation is too often not recognized at all. The chief mistake is not the carelessness of these church-goers, it is the error of their teachers who, by preaching the theory of ‘the carnal Christian’, have led them to believe that there are three groups of men, — the unconverted man, the ‘carnal Christian’ and the ‘spiritual Christian’.
My purpose in this essay is to argue that this classification is wrong and to set out the positive, historic, and biblical answer to this ‘carnal Christian’ teaching. The argument from Church history is not unimportant, for it is a fact that less than two-hundred years ago this teaching was unknown in the churches of North America, but I am concerned to rest my case on an honest statement of the teaching of the Bible. I have written after study, private meditation and prayer, and after using many of the old respected commentaries of another day, but my appeal is to the Word of God and it is in the light of that authority that I ask the reader to consider all that follows.
I must also confess that I am writing as one who, for many years, held and taught the teaching which I am now convinced is erroneous and which has many dangerous implications. As one who has deep respect for many who hold this position, I am not going to attack personalities, but to deal with principles, and with the interpretation of the particular passages of Scripture on which the teaching is built.
In matters of controversy it must ever be kept in mind that a Christian’s experience may be genuine even though his understanding of divine truth is tainted with error or ignorance. The opposite is also possible — a man’s intellectual understanding may be good and his experience poor. I pray that if I am in error on this or any other doctrine I shall be corrected before I leave this world. I trust I am willing ever to be a learner of divine truth.
I know that one of my motives is the same as that of many who hold this erroneous view, namely, to advance biblical holiness and to seek to ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Savior’.
To accomplish my purpose it is of the greatest importance that the whole subject should be set on a proper foundation. I do not want to make a caricature of the view of others and then demonstrate success by tearing it apart. I shall also seek to avoid disproportionate and one-sided statements. The danger that we may ‘darken counsel by words without knowledge’ is still with us. I pray that this effort will elicit truth and that the existence of varied opinions will lead us all to search the Scriptures more, to pray more, and to be diligent in our endeavors to learn what is ‘the mind of the Spirit’.
My greatest difficulty will be to achieve brevity because this subject is so closely related to, and interwoven with the main doctrine of the Bible, particularly with justification and sanctification, the chief blessings of the new covenant. The subject therefore involves a right understanding of what the gospel really is and what it does to a person when applied efficaciously by the Spirit. Our view of this matter will also affect our judgment of the relationship of the Ten Commandments to the Christian in the area of sanctification, and of the biblical doctrine of assurance.
Some of the fundamental questions which need to be faced are these:
1. Are we sanctified passively, that is, ‘by faith’ only, without obedience to the law of God and Christ? If sanctification is passive — a view represented by the slogan ‘Let go and let God’ — then how do we understand such apostolic statements as ‘I fight’, ‘I run’, ‘I keep under my body’, ‘let us cleanse ourselves’, ‘let us labor’, ‘let us lay aside every weight’? Surely these statements do not express a passive condition, nor do they indicate that by one single act we may possess the experience of ‘victory’ and thus become spiritual and mature Christians.
2. Does an appeal to the so-called ‘carnal Christian’ to become a ‘spiritual Christian’ minimize the real conversion experience by magnifying a supposed second experience, by whatever name it may be called — ‘higher life’, ‘deeper life’, ‘Spirit-filled life’, ‘triumphant living’, ‘receiving Christ as Lord, and not merely as Savior’, and so on? The words we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17, ‘Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’, do not refer to a second experience but rather to what happens when any real conversion occurs.
3. Has the ‘spiritual Christian’ finished growing in grace? If not, what is he to be called as he continues to grow in grace? Do we need to make yet another class whose members are the ‘super-spiritual Christians’?
4. Who is to decide who the carnal Christians are, and exactly what standard is to be used in determining this? Do the ‘spiritual Christians’ decide who the ‘carnal Christians’ are? Does a church or preacher decide where the line is to be drawn that divides the two classes or categories? Since all Christians have sin remaining in them, and since they sin every day, what degree of sin or what particular sins classify a person as a ‘carnal Christian’?
5. Do not all Christians sometimes act like natural men in some area of their lives?
6. Do not the inward sins, such as envy, malice, covetousness, lasciviousness (which includes immorality on the mental level) demonstrate carnality as much as do the outward and visible manifestations of certain other sins?
In Romans 8:1-9 there is a division stated, but it is not between carnal and spiritual Christians. It is a division between those who walk after the flesh (the unregenerate) and those who walk after the Spirit (they that are Christ’s). There is no third category.
Again, in Galatians 5:17-24 we have only two classes or categories — those that do the works of the flesh and those that are led by the Spirit. There is no third or fourth class or group.
My purpose, then, in these pages is to contend that the division of Christians into two groups or classes is unbiblical. I want also to show the dangerous implications and present-day results of this teaching.
The interpretation that I will seek to establish is a result of studying the proven and respected commentators of former days, such as, Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole, John Gill, and John Calvin; and theologians such as Charles Hodge (of the old Princeton Seminary), James P. Boyce (founder of the first Southern Baptist Seminary), Robert L. Dabney (the great theologian of old Union Seminary, Virginia) and James H. Thornwell (distinguished Southern theologian who was Professor of Theology at Columbia, South Carolina). I have also examined the writings of John Bunyan and searched the old Confessions and Catechisms, such as The Heidelberg Catechism, and Westminster Confession (that mother of all Confessions), the Baptist Confession of 1689 (The London Confession, later known as the Philadelphia Confession), and the Declaration of Faith of the Southern Baptist Church.
In all these sources there is not one trace of the belief that there are three classes of men. All of them have much to say about carnality in Christians, and about the biblical doctrine of sanctification and its relationship to justification, but there is no hint of the possibility of dividing men into ‘unregenerate’, ‘carnal’ and ‘spiritual’ categories. If the sources I have named had come across the ‘carnal Christian’ theory, I believe that with one voice they would have warned their readers, ‘Be not carried away with divers and strange doctrines’ (Hebrews 13: 9).
I confess that I take up my pen in this controversy with deep sorrow. Although the teaching that I wish to expose is so relatively new in the church, it is held by so many fine Christians, and taught by so many able and respected schools of the present day, that I can only approach my present undertaking with caution and anxiety.
We live in a day when there are so many books and such a variety of teaching on the subject of the Christian life that Christians are ‘tossed to and fro’, and liable to be ‘carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Ephesians 4:14). There is also the Athenian love of novelty and a distaste for the old, well-tested, and beaten paths of our forefathers. This excessive love of the new leads to an insatiable craving after any teaching which is sensational and exciting, especially to the feelings. But the old paths lead to a ‘meek and quiet spirit’ which the apostle Peter commends: ‘But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price’ (I Peter 3: 4).
The Issue in Controversy
At a church service that I attended recently, the preacher, a sincere minister, was expounding 1 Corinthians chapter 3, and he said to a large congregation, ‘Now after you become a Christian you have another choice — either to grow in grace, follow the Lord and become a spiritual Christian, or to remain a babe in Christ and live like natural men.’ He used 1 Corinthians 3: 1 — 4 to state that there were three categories of men — the natural man, the spiritual man, and the carnal man. He described the carnal man as being like the natural man who was unconverted.
This is the essence of the ‘carnal Christian’ teaching. One reason why it is so widespread is that it has been popularized for many years in the notes of the Scofield Reference Bible. A statement from these notes will indicate the precise nature of the teaching: ‘Paul divides men into three classes: “Natural” i.e. the Adamic Man, unrenewed through the new birth; “Spiritual” i.e. the renewed man as Spirit-filled and walking in the Spirit in full communion with God; “Carnal”, “fleshly”, i.e. the renewed man who, walking “after the flesh”, remains a babe in Christ.” (Scofield Reference Bible, pp. 1213, 1214.)
It is very important to observe the two main things in this Scofield note. First, the division of men into three classes; second, we are told that one of these classes of men comprises the ‘carnal’, the ‘fleshly’, ‘the babe(s) in Christ’, ‘who walk after the flesh’. To ‘walk’ implies the bent of their lives; their leaning or bias is in one direction, that is, towards carnality.
We ought not to miss three very salient and important facts about the teaching:
First, we note again that it divides all men into three classes or categories. With this fact none of its proponents disagree, though they may present it differently and apply it differently.
Second, one class or category is set out as containing the ‘Christian’ who ‘walks after the flesh’. The centre of his life is self, and he is the same as the unrenewed man as far as the bent of his life is concerned.
Third, all those who accept this view use 1 Corinthians 3: 1-4 to support it. Consequently, if it can be established that the preponderance of Scripture teaches only two classes or categories of men — regenerate and unregenerate, converted and unconverted, those in Christ and those outside of Christ — the ‘carnal Christian’ teaching would be confronted with an insurmountable objection. It would be in conflict with the whole emphasis of Scripture and of the New Testament in particular.
Before I turn to some of the errors and dangers of the ‘carnal Christian’ teaching it may be wise to indicate what I am not saying.
In this discussion of the ‘carnal Christian’ theory I am not overlooking the teaching of the Bible about sin in Christians, about babes in Christ, about growth in grace, about Christians who back-slide grievously, and about the divine chastisement which all Christians receive.
I acknowledge that there are babes in Christ. In fact there are not only babes in Christ, but there are different stages of ‘babyhood’ in understanding divine truth and in spiritual growth.
I also recognize that there is a sense in which Christians may be said to be carnal but I must add that there are different degrees of carnality. Every Christian is carnal in some area of his life at many times in his life. And in every Christian ‘the flesh lusteth against the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:17).
All the marks of Christianity are not equally apparent in all Christians. Nor are any of these marks manifest to the same degree in every period of any Christian’s life. Love, faith, obedience, and devotion will vary in the same Christian in different periods of his Christian experience; in other words, there are many degrees of sanctification.
The Christian’s progress in growth is not constant and undisturbed. There are many hills and valleys in the process of sanctification; and there are many stumblings, falls and crooked steps in the process of growth in grace.
There are examples in the Bible of grievous falls and carnality in the lives of true believers. Thus we have the warnings and the promises of temporal judgment and of chastisement by our heavenly Father.
These truths are all acknowledged and are not the point of this present discussion. The question we have to consider is: Does the Bible divide men into three categories? This is the issue at the heart of the ‘carnal Christian’ teaching.
The teaching that I am opposing involves nine serious errors:
1. The misuse of I Corinthians 3
First: This ‘carnal Christian’ doctrine depends upon a wrong interpretation and application of 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, ‘And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ… are ye not carnal?’ To understand the true meaning of these words it should be remembered that 1 Corinthians is not primarily a doctrinal epistle. Like all Scripture it contains doctrine, but it was not written — as was the Epistle to the Romans — to lay doctrinal foundations. Paul’s immediate concern in writing this Epistle was to deal with practical problems in a young church. In the third chapter, and earlier, he is dealing with the danger of division arising out of a wrong esteem for those from whom they heard the gospel. They were looking at second causes and forgetting the God to whom alone all glory belongs. Instead of saying, ‘We are Christ’s disciples’ and recognizing their union in him, they were forming parties and saying, ‘We are Paul’s for he founded the church in our city’; or ‘Apollos is more eloquent than Paul and he edifies us more’; or, ‘We are of Peter’. Thus opposing parties were set up.
It is important to see that the whole context is dealing principally with this one problem of unwholesome division. However, it has a common root with all the other problems in 1 Corinthians — the defrauding of one by another, the disorder at the Lord’s Table, and so on. All the problems were the result of carnality, the outcome of that remaining principle of sin in all believers which Paul describes in Romans 7:2I-23: “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”
In endeavoring to understand how Paul thinks of those he addresses in 1 Corinthians 3 we must bear in mind the designation he gives to them in chapter 1. He says they are ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus’, they are recipients of ‘the grace of God’, enriched by Christ ‘in all utterance, and in all knowledge’ (1:2-5). They are rebuked in chapter 3, not for failing to attain to privileges which some Christians attain to, but for acting, despite their privileges, like babes and like the unregenerate in one area of their lives.
This is very different from saying that the Apostle here recognizes the existence of a distinct group of Christians who can be called ‘carnal’. When Paul comes to speak of classes, he knows only two, as is clear in chapter 2 of this same Epistle where he divides men into ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’, and says, ‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man’ (1 Cor. 2:14-15). Under the term natural the Apostle includes all those persons who are not partakers of the Spirit of God. If the Spirit of God has not given to them a new and higher nature then they remain what they are by their natural birth, namely, natural men.
The spiritual may be but babes in grace and babes in knowledge. Their faith may be weak. Their love may be in its early bud, their spiritual senses may be but little exercised, their faults may be many; but if ‘the root of the matter’ is in them and if they have passed from death unto life — passed out of the region of nature into that which is beyond nature — Paul puts them in another class. They are all spiritual men although in some aspects of their behavior they may temporarily fail to appear as such.
Certainly these Christians at Corinth were imperfectly sanctified, as indeed are all Christians to a greater or lesser degree. But Paul is not saying that they were characterized by carnality in every area of their lives. He is not expounding a general doctrine of carnality but reproving a specific out-cropping of carnality in one certain respect. When Paul does state a foundational truth respecting the position of all Christians it is in such words as, ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature’, and for all who are ‘in Christ’ it is also true that, ‘old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’ (2 Cor. 5:17). There is no place for two classes of Christians in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, and indeed no place for it anywhere in the teaching of Scripture. To interpret 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 in such a way as to divide men into three classes is to violate a cardinal rule for the interpretation of Scripture, namely, that each single passage must be interpreted in the light of the whole. It was a wise saying of one of the church fathers, ‘If you have one Scripture only on which to base an important doctrine or teaching you are most likely to find, on close examination, that you have none’.
2. New covenant blessings are separated
Second: The ‘carnal Christian’ teaching divides the two basic blessings of the new covenant because it denies that one of them is experienced by all true Christians. Let me point out how basic the covenant is to Christianity. Jesus was the mediator of the new covenant — Hebrews 8:6-10: ‘But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises’. The New Testament preachers were ministers of the new covenant — 1 Corinthians 3:5, 6: ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament (A.S.V. new covenant); not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.’
Every time we come to the Lord’s table we are reminded of the blessings of the new covenant — Luke 22: 20, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood…’
These facts are enough to establish the importance of the new covenant. But what are the two blessings of the new covenant? The answer is clearly seen in many scriptural statements:
‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah … I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts … I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more'(Jeremiah 31:31-34).
‘For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them’ (Ezekiel. 36: 24-27).
‘Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more’ (Hebrews 10:15-17).
It is important to note that this is one covenant with two inseparable parts — the forgiveness of sins and a changed heart. When a sinner is reconciled to God something happens in the record of heaven, the blood of Christ covers his sins. Thus, the first blessing is the forgiveness of sins. But at the same time something happens on earth in the heart, a new nature is given.
From the above Scriptures we also learn that Christ purchased the benefits and blessings of the new covenant. And the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that the gospel which the apostles preached as the gospel of Christ was the gospel of the new covenant. Therefore, whatever else sinners may receive when they are savingly called by the gospel, they must come into the primary blessings of the new covenant, namely, the forgiveness of sins and a new heart.
Well, what is the forgiveness of sins? It is an essential part of the justification of a man before God. And what is a new heart? It is nothing less than sanctification begun. But the ‘carnal Christian’ teaching appeals to those who are supposed to be justified, as though a new heart and life are optional. Sanctification is spoken of as though it can be subsequent to the forgiveness of sins and so people are led to believe that they are justified even though they are not being sanctified!
The truth is that we have no reason to believe that Christ’s blood covers our sins in the record of heaven if the Spirit has not changed our hearts on earth. These two great blessings are joined together in the one covenant. The working of the Spirit and the cleansing of Christ’s blood are inseparably joined in the application of God’s salvation. Hence the teaching which calls for an act of submission or surrender (or whatever else it may be called) subsequent to conversion in order that the convert may live the spiritual life, cuts the living nerve of the new covenant. It separates what God has joined together.
3. Saving faith and spurious faith are not distinguished
The third major error is that this teaching does not distinguish between true, saving belief and the spurious belief which is mentioned in the following Scriptures: ‘Many believed in his name … But Jesus did not commit himself to them’ John 2:23,24. ‘Many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him’ John 12:42,43. ‘These have no root, which for a while believe’ Luke 8:13. Simon Magus ‘believed’ and was baptized but his heart was ‘not right in the sight of God’ Acts 8:12-22. In other words, it was ‘belief’ without a changed heart and because this was Simon’s condition Peter says he would perish unless he came to true repentance: he was ‘in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity’ (vs. 23). And the evidence that Simon Magus was indeed unsaved can be seen in his prayer. He, like all unregenerate people, was only concerned with the consequence of sin and made no request to be pardoned and cleansed from the impurity of sin. ‘Pray ye,’ he says to Peter, ‘to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me’. Like the so-called ‘carnal Christian’ he wanted Jesus as a kind of hell-insurance policy but he did not ask for deliverance from sin!
In all these scriptural instances men ‘believed’; they had ‘faith’, but it was not saving faith. And all ‘carnal Christians’ profess their faith but it is not always saving faith.
Charles Hodge, following the Scriptures, makes a clear distinction between the different kinds of faith, (1) Speculative or dead faith, (2) temporary faith, (3) saving faith.’ Robert Dabney differentiates, (1) Temporary faith, (2) historical faith, (3) miraculous faith, (4) saving faith.’ The ‘carnal Christian’ teaching makes no allowance for these distinctions, it gives little or no recognition to the possibility of a spurious belief, instead it implies or assumes that all who say they ‘invite Jesus into their lives’ are in possession of saving faith. If these professing believers do not live and act like Christians, their teachers may well say that it is because they are not ‘spiritual Christians’. The fact is they may not be true believers at all!
4. The omission of repentance
A fourth flaw in the ‘carnal Christian’ teaching lies in its virtual exclusion of repentance from the conversion experience. This is implied by the suggestion that the ‘carnal Christian’ has not changed in practice but lives and acts just like the natural man. This teaching is obviously set forth in the diagram given above where self is still on the throne in the case of those in the second group. But thus to suggest that repentance, including a changed attitude to sin, is not an essential part of conversion is a very grave error. It is to depart from the apostolic gospel. No one who so minimizes the necessity of repentance can say with Paul, ‘I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 20: 20, 21).
John Cotton, one of the Puritan leaders of New England, was right when he wrote: ‘There is none under a covenant of grace that dare allow himself in any sin; for if a man should negligently commit any sin, the Lord will school him thoroughly and make him sadly to apprehend how he has made bold with the treasures of the grace of God. Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid: None that has a portion in the grace of God dareth therefore allow himself in sin; but if through strength of temptation he be at any time carried aside, it is his greatest burden’.
5. Wrong teaching on assurance
In the fifth place the three-class theory is prone to give assurance to those who were never really converted. When a person professes to belong to Christ and yet lives like the world, how do we know that his profession is genuine? How do we know it is not genuine? We don’t! There are always two possibilities: he may be a true Christian in a condition of back-sliding, or it is quite possible he was never savingly united to Christ. Only God knows. Therefore when we speak of a back-slider two errors must be avoided: (1) Saying unequivocally that he is not a Christian; (2) Saying unequivocally that he is a Christian. The fact is that we do not know, we cannot know
The Bible certainly teaches that to make men consider they are Christians when in reality they are not is a great evil, and insofar as the ‘carnal Christian’ theory allows for a whole category of ‘Christians’ whose hearts are not surrendered in obedience to Christ, its tendency is to promote that very evil. Nothing could be more dangerous. Lost, self-deceived souls who should be crying out to God for that supernatural change which is made known to themselves and to the world by a changed heart and life are often found hiding comfortably behind this very theory. As long as they believe it they will never seek a real salvation. Although they profess to hold evangelical truth their position is far worse than that of natural men who know that they are not converted!
The ‘carnal Christian’ teaching ignores much biblical teaching on the doctrine of assurance, especially those Scriptures which show that Christian character and conduct have a bearing on our assurance. The short First Epistle of John was written in order that those who believe may know that they have eternal life; that is, may know that they are born of God (5.13). Throughout the Epistle John stresses the marks that accompany the new birth (3:9; 5:18). He shows that a man born again is not at home in the realm of sin, and that disobedience to God’s commandments cannot be the bent of a Christian’s life, as the ‘carnal Christian’ teaching would lead us to believe. ‘For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith (5:4). ‘And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him (2:3-5).
From such texts it is clear that obedience is intimately related to assurance; if we do not live and practice righteousness we have no reason to think that we are ‘born of God’.
Again, Jesus said, ‘If you love me, keep my commandments,’ (John 15.10) not, ‘To be a spiritual Christian keep my commandments’, for obedience is for all disciples. ‘Follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14). ‘Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him’ (Hebrews 5:8, 9). ‘But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation, because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy'(1 Peter 1:15, 16).
The Bible makes it crystal clear that there is a close relationship between assurance and obedience; but the ‘carnal Christian’ teaching gives assurance to those who are at home in the realm of sin. They are classed as Christians. Many times this is a false and damning assurance because such have no biblical reason to believe that they are Christians at all.
6. A low view of sin.
Sixth: The fruits of this teaching are not new to Christianity even though the teaching appears on the present scene under a new mask. It is the old doctrine of Antinomianism. Paul attacks this in Romans 6:1, 2 when he asks, ‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid…’ By implication, the answer of the three-category teaching to Paul’s question is, ‘Yes, you can continue in sin and be a carnal Christian’. And that is Antinomianism!
7. A second work-of-grace made necessary
Seventh: ‘carnal Christian’ teaching is the mother of many second work-of-grace errors in that it depreciates the biblical conversion experience by implying that the change in the converted sinner may amount to little or nothing. It goes on to say that the important change which affects a man’s character and conduct is the second step which makes him a ‘spiritual Christian’.
8. A wrong view of Christ
Eighth: The ‘carnal Christian’ teaching is also the mother of one of the most soul-destroying teachings of our day. It suggests that you can take Jesus as your Savior and yet treat obedience to his lordship as optional. How often is the appeal made to the so-called ‘carnal Christians’ to put Jesus on the throne and ‘make him Lord’! When they accept Jesus as Lord, they are told, they will cease to be ‘carnal Christians’. But such teaching is foreign to the New Testament. When our Lord appeared in human form in history the angel announced his coming in the words, ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11). He cannot be divided. The Savior and Lord are one. When the apostles preached they proclaimed Christ to be Lord. To bow to his rule was never presented in the Bible as a second step of consecration. ‘For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake’ (2 Corinthians 4:5).
When sinners truly receive him they do receive him as Lord. ‘As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him’ (Colossians 2:6).
Matthew Henry, in his Introduction to the Gospel according to Matthew said: ‘All the grace contained in this book is owing to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior; and, unless we consent to him as our Lord we cannot expect any benefit by him as our Savior.’
Charles Haddon Spurgeon warned his students: ‘If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows the Lord’s will but does not mean to attend to it, you are not to pamper his presumption, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved. Do not suppose that the Gospel is magnified or God glorified by going to the worldlings and telling them that they may be saved at this moment by simply accepting Christ as their Savior, while they are wedded to their idols, and their hearts are still in love with sin. If I do so I tell them a lie, pervert the Gospel, insult Christ, and turn the grace of God into lasciviousness.’
It is vital in this connection to notice how the apostles preached the lordship of Christ. The word ‘Savior’ occurs only twice in the Acts of the Apostles (5:31; 13:23), on the other hand the title ‘Lord’ is mentioned 92 times, ‘Lord Jesus’ 13 times, and ‘The Lord Jesus Christ’ 6 times in the same book! The gospel is: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’
It is the ‘carnal Christian’ teaching that has given rise to this erroneous teaching of the divided Christ. When Peter preached what we might call the first sermon after our Lord’s ascension he made it abundantly clear that we do not make Christ Lord at all: ‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36). God has made him Lord! ‘For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord of the dead and living’ (Romans 14: 9). And the same grace which saves brings sinners to recognize this. But the three-category teaching invites ‘carnal Christians’ to make Christ Lord and thus become spiritual Christians. Again, we see that this is treating our acceptance of his lordship as something additional to salvation, when, in fact, recognition of him as Lord is an integral and necessary part of conversion. A. A. Hodge has written:
‘You cannot take Christ for justification unless you take him for sanctification. Think of the sinner coming to Christ and saying, “I do not want to be holy;” “I do not want to be saved from sin;” “I would like to be saved in my sins;” “Do not sanctify me now, but justify me now.” What would be the answer? Could he be accepted by God? You can no more separate justification from sanctification than you can separate the circulation of the blood from the inhalation of the air. Breathing and circulation are two different things, but you cannot have the one without the other; they go together, and they constitute one life. So you have justification and sanctification; they go together, and they constitute one life. If there was ever one who attempted to receive Christ with justification and not with sanctification, he missed it, thank God! He was no more justified than he was sanctified.”
9. False spirituality
Ninth: This teaching breeds Pharisaism in the so-called ‘spiritual Christians’ who have measured up to some man-made standard of spirituality. There ought to be no professed ‘spiritual Christians’, much less ‘super-spiritual’ ones! George Whitefield, a man who lived very close to his Savior, prayed all his days, ‘Let me begin to be a Christian’. And another Christian has truly said: ‘In the life of the most perfect Christian there is every day renewed occasion for self-abhorrence, for repentance, for renewed application to the blood of Christ, for application of the rekindling of the Holy Spirit’.
The effect of believing the truth set out in these pages ought to be that we long to see more true evangelism.
The ‘carnal Christian’ teaching is, after all, the consequence of a shallow, man-centered evangelism in which decisions are sought at any price and with any methods. When those pronounced to be converts do not act like Christians, do not love what Christians love, and hate what Christians hate, and do not willingly serve Christ in his church, some explanation must be found other than calling upon them to ‘decide’ for Christ. They have already done that and have already been pronounced by the preacher or personal worker to be ‘Christians’. But when they don’t act like Christians something is wrong. What is it? The teaching I have sought to answer says that the trouble is that they are just ‘carnal Christians’; they have not made Christ ‘Lord’ of their lives; they have not let him occupy the throne of their hearts. Once this explanation is seen to be unscriptural it will also be seen to be closely connected with an initial error over evangelism itself. Too often, modern evangelism has substituted a ‘decision’ in the place of repentance and saving faith. Forgiveness is preached without the equally important truth that the Spirit of God must change the heart. As a result decisions are treated as conversions even though there is no evidence of a supernatural work of God in the life.
Surely the best way to end this evil is to pray and labor for the restoration of New Testament evangelism! Whenever such evangelism exists it is certain that men will learn that it is not enough to profess to be a Christian, and not enough to call Jesus ‘Lord, Lord’ (Luke 6:46). The gospel preached in awakening power will summon men not to rest without biblical evidence that they are born of God. It will disturb those who, without good reason, have believed that they are already Christians. It will arouse backsliders by telling them that as long as they remain in that condition the possibility exists that they never were genuine believers at all. And to understand this will bring new depths of compassion and urgency to the hearts of God’s people in this fallen world.
One of the greatest hindrances to the recovery of such preaching is the theory we have considered. To reject that theory is to be brought back to a new starting-point in evangelism and in the understanding of the Christian life. It is to bring God’s work into the center of our thinking. It is to see afresh that there are only two alternatives — the natural life or the spiritual life, the broad way or the narrow way, the gospel ‘in word only’ or the gospel ‘in power and in the Holy Ghost’ (1 Thessalonians 1:5), the house on the sand or the house on the rock.
There is no surer certainty than the fact that an unchanged heart and a worldly life will bring men to hell. ‘Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience’ (Ephesians 5: 6)
It is not only in the world today that evangelism is needed. It is needed in the church.
The False Teachers: Creflo Dollar
By Tim Challies
Creflo Augustus Dollar, Jr. was born in College Park, Georgia on January 28, 1962. Though he was raised in a church-going home, he did not have a conversion experience until the summer following his freshmen year at West Georgia College. Even after this experience he felt no pull toward full-time ministry as his heart was set on being a professional football player. It was only after that football career was cut short by injury that he began to consider other options. In 1984 Dollar received a Bachelor of Science degree in education and soon began work as a educational therapist. The next year he married Taffi, with whom he would eventually have five children.
While recovering from his football injury, Dollar had begun to lead Bible studies among his fellow students and he gained a reputation as a skillful and charismatic teacher. He called his study “World Changers Bible Study.” By 1986 he had determined that he was not meant to be a therapist but that the Lord was calling him into full-time preaching ministry.
He and Taffi founded a church and they held its inaugural worship service in an elementary school cafeteria. Only eight people attended that service, but the congregation soon grew and was renamed World Changers Church International (WCCI). In less than ten years the church had grown exponentially and Dollar’s sermons were being broadcast over the radio through Creflo Dollar Ministries. In 1995 WCCI moved to its current location, the 8,500-seat World Dome in College Park, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.
Today World Changers Church International serves nearly 30,000 members each week through the main campus, 6,000 through an affiliated congregation in New York City, and thousands more through many satellite campuses across America.
Dollar is known for his extravagant wealth which includes two multi-million dollar homes, expensive cars, and even a private jet. Creflo Dollar Ministries made headlines several years ago when it was one of six ministries audited by U.S.Senator Charles Grassley. “My goal,” he said, “is to help improve accountability and good governance so tax-exempt groups maintain public confidence in their operations.” The ministry was deemed uncooperative. MinistryWatch, an organization that reviews Christian ministries based on their financial accountability and transparency awarded Creflo Dollar Ministries an F rating and has added it to their Donor Alert listing. Dollar made headlines again in 2012 when his daughter called police to their home, charging that Dollar had choked and hit her. Dollar denied the charges which were dropped after he completed an anger-management program.
FALSE TEACHING: PROSPERITY GOSPEL
Creflo Dollar is one of the foremost proponents of what has become known as the prosperity gospel. This doctrine teaches that God has promised his people financial and other forms of prosperity in this life, if only God’s people will take the necessary steps to claim it. A uniquely American creation, this false teaching has since been exported across the world where it has especially taken root in the developing world. In one of his Bible studies Dollar lays it out:
As the righteousness of God, your inheritance of wealth and riches is included in the “spiritual blessings” (or spiritual things) the apostle Paul spoke of in Ephesians 1:5. Based on Psalm 112:3, righteousness, wealth and riches go hand—in—hand. You have every right to possess material wealth—clothes, jewelry, houses, cars and money—in abundance. It is that wealth that not only meets your needs, but also spreads the Gospel message and meets the needs of others.
The Bible says that wealth is stored up for the righteous (Proverbs 13:22, New American Standard). However, it will remain stored up until you claim it. Therefore, claim it now! You possess the ability to seize and command wealth and riches to come to you (Deuteronomy 8:18). Exercise that power by speaking faith-filled words daily and taking practical steps to eradicate debt. Like God, you can speak spiritual blessings into existence (Romans 4:17). Remember, doubt keeps silent, but faith speaks!”
The way such prosperity is activated is by the planting of seeds, so that the person who wants financial prosperity must plant a seed of financial prosperity. Needless to say, such seeds are usually through a donation to a ministry like Dollar’s.
You can say, “Oh, God, I need money! The rent is due. The baby needs shoes. And what about my breakthrough?” But if you haven’t sown financial seed, how can you expect a financial harvest?
If you wanted to grow apples, would you plant cucumber seeds or pumpkin seeds? You would not! So why do people expect to receive financial increase when they purposely plant anything and everything but what is needed? They will plant hope seed, shout seed, dance seed, and even “claim it” seed! All of these are good things, but alone and without the appropriate seed, they are unproductive.1
FOLLOWERS & ADHERENTS
Creflo Dollar is one of the most prominent and most successful teachers of prosperity theology. He preaches live to tens of thousands of people each weekend and his “Changing Your World” broadcast extends to nearly every country on earth. He publishes CHANGE magazine which has 100,000 subscribers, and he has written several bestselling books. His voice extends around the world and every week hundreds of thousands or even millions of people listen to him.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS
- The Abrahamic covenant is a means to material entitlement. Prosperity teachers look to God’s covenant with Abraham and see its fulfillment as providing material prosperity to Christians today. Dollar’s mentor Kenneth Copeland says, “Since God’s Covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this covenant, you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now!”
- Jesus’ atonement extends to the “sin” of material poverty. They hold that Jesus’ atoning death provided not only for our spiritual needs but also for our financial prosperity. Thus it is only sin that keeps us trapped in poverty or anything less than abundant wealth.
- Christians give in order to gain material compensation from God. Creflo Dollar and others like him teach that giving to the Lord’s work is primarily a means of gaining further compension from God.
- Faith is a self-generated spiritual force that leads to prosperity. Many prosperity gospel preachers, Dollar among them, teach that we, like God, have the ability to speak reality into existence when we speak in faith. Thus faith becomes a force that allows us to speak prosperity into our lives.
- Prayer is a tool to force God to grant prosperity. Dollar writes, “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass. … It is a key to getting results as a Christian.” Thus prayer is little more than a means through which we bring about our desires for wealth.
Al Mohler says it well: “Prosperity theology is a False Gospel. Its message is unbiblical and its promises fail. God never assures his people of material abundance or physical health. Instead, Christians are promised the riches of Christ, the gift of eternal life, and the assurance of glory in the eternal presence of the living God. In the end, the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises far too little. The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers salvation from sin, not a platform for earthly prosperity. While we should seek to understand what drives so many into this movement, we must never for a moment fail to see its message for what it is — a false and failed gospel.”
Source: http://www.challies.com (May 29, 2014)
Fast Facts on Tactfully Sharing Christian Convictions on Controversial Cultural Issues from Christian Ministries International.
When asked for your opinion on a controversial cultural issue, first ask your questioner, “Do you consider yourself to be an open-minded person who is tolerant of people who hold different beliefs from yours?”
The above question will disarm your discussion partner of ad hominem attacks (calling you names like “bigot”) and force them to engage in a rational discussion of the issue and your beliefs.
Explain that all of your personal beliefs as a Christian ultimately rest on three fundamental questions: Is there a God? Has He spoken? And if so, will we obey?
Point out that if God exists, and if He’s spoken on a given issue, the only appropriate response from us is obedience.
Share what God has revealed as truth on the issue you’re discussing. If your discussion partner protests, remind them that our personal opinions are irrelevant if God exists and if He’s spoken.
Offer to examine these fundamental questions with your discussion partner. Continue to point them to the evidence of a Creator who has revealed truth to His creation.